Leader of a Golden Age, and Points for Good Penmanship

I spent too much time playing the latest game in the series known as Civilization. It is the flagship of a game genre known as 4X: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate. You play the leader of a civilization and you must raise your civilization to be the greatest one in the world.

At the start of each game, you choose which historic culture to base your civilization on. This has been eye-opening for me, because I discovered I was much more familiar with Philip of Spain and Peter of Russia than I was with Poundmaker, a great leader indigenous to my own continent.

So as I adopt the cultures of these great leaders in the game, I take a little time to read up on the actual historical figures. I recently totally crushed the world as Tamar of Georgia. I had not heard of her before, but she was king of that country and presided over a golden age, after a perilous political dance in part because no one had ever ruled that country who didn’t also have a penis.

Her timing was good; when the fourth western crusade smashed itself against the muslim states to her south, Tamar was able to expand her nation significantly. Her second husband was a capable and savvy guy, and went out to kick ass while Tamar kept things running at home. (The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas and I are a very similar team.)

Tamar’s first husband, was, apparently, a pretty-boy asshole, and her shucking him marked a major turning point in Tamar’s independence from the families that meant to control her.

Here is Tamar’s signature:

If I hadn’t already been convinced that she was awesome, that would have done it. Just even try to follow the pen strokes. And the dots! The dots! It’s not so much a signature as abstract art. Even when we write letters with our hands anymore, they don’t look like that.

We have that document, but we’re not exactly when she died or where she was buried. But in Georgia, they remember her. And now I do, too.

Jury Life Pt. 2: Voir Dire Day 1

We were gathered, the citizens of group 45A, filling the gallery of a courtroom. In front of us there were three people — two lawyers and the defendant.

The prosecuting attorney, who I would soon learn was an Assistant District Attorney, was a tall woman, brown-skinned, with short, tightly-curled hair parted on the left side. Ms Hawkins wore a businesslike skirt and jacket in neutral browns and grays. The skirt stopped short of her knees, which I expect was intentional, but the sleeves of her suit were too short for her long arms. Her hands were also long, with long, expressive fingers. If she plays basketball, I bet she’s pretty good at it. Or piano. She mentioned later (in one of those calculated asides to make her likable to the jury) that she was almost 40 years old. I would not have guessed that.

To her right the defense attorney stood with the defendant. Ms Li also wore a skirt and suit, but was much more willing to embrace color, coming to court in blue with colorful accents. She didn’t have any physical traits that jumped out at me on that first impression; it wasn’t until she spoke that we learned her true superpower.

The defendant. Shit, just a kid. Brown-skinned, short, skinny, close-cropped black hair. Clearly coached by Ms Li to be respectful and friendly. Nice smile, shirt and tie over slacks.

The courtroom was laid out much like any other; there was the gallery occupying half the space, then the tables for the defense and the prosecution, and the jury box to the left. Some time after the original design of the courtroom half of the space between the counsel and the judge’s bench had been usurped by a large clerical area. The loss of this space to the demands of rigor and documentation led to some awkward logistics during testimony.

There was a small stuffed pig overlooking the clerical zone. It was a human touch I found encouraging.

“All Rise!”

We rose, except the defense, who made a habit of standing long before the call to rise came. Enter the judge, Nahal Iravani-Sani. “You may be seated, thank you for the courtesy,” she said. Her voice was gentle and friendly. Her wavy dark hair and olive complexion confirmed what I had assumed she would look like, based only on her name. She wore long black robes, of course.

From the first words she spoke, I could tell she appreciated the potential jurors packed into her courtroom. She recognized that the most annoying part of the process is the waiting. But before we could go any farther, we would all have to leave the room while she heard members of 45A ask to be released for reasons of hardship. “Hardship to your employer is not adequate,” she admonished.

We all left. The jury waiting room was fairly empty now; I found a seat and read some terrible space opera on my phone. That first day I didn’t want to bring anything extra — I had the nightmare scenario of having a backpack of stuff an no place to put it. Which was silly, in retrospect, but I’d rather not assume. So on my phone I was scrolling through a story that put sailing ships in space, while I and the rest of 45A that were not asking for hardship excuses cooled our heels.

Finally we were called back and there were several empty chairs in the gallery. Now it was time to get down to business. Eighteen names were called. I was not one of them. Those called filled the seats in the jury box, then a row of six chairs in front. From here on, jurors in those seats were not referred to by name, but rather by the number of the seat they occupied. Judge Iravani-Sani apologized for the impersonal nature of that policy, but told us that it was to protect the anonymity of the jurors.

Judge Iravani-Sani addressed all of us. “This case involves domestic violence,” she informed us. “While we all have strong feelings about that — of course we do — what we’re asking of you is to judge this case impartially, and to presume the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.” *

Each juror found a list of eleven questions to answer waiting on their chair. “Juror number one,” the judge said, “Please read each question out loud for the record, then your answer. The rest of the jurors need only give their answers.”

The first few questions were ordinary. “Do you have friends or family in law enforcement?” would lead to extra follow-up by the judge if the juror answered “yes”, to establish whether that relationship would lead to the juror giving automatic preference to the testimony of cops. Through this process the judge was carefully and skillfully preventing people from disqualifying themselves. “Knowing you feel that way, do you think you can still listen to the facts of the case?”

But then there was the question that asked, (something like) “have you ever been witness to, or a victim of domestic abuse?”

“No,” said Juror one. There were follow-up questions about a couple of his answers, but then it was on to the next juror. “Yes,” said Juror two when he reached the Big Question. He had seen domestic abuse. Discussion with the judge followed. It was Dad, maybe, the stories have all blurred. Can he remain impartial in this case? He said he thought he could.

On we went “No,” said juror three to the Big Question. “No,” said juror four. “Yes,” said juror five. The judge followed up as before. “Yes,” said Juror six.

I looked over to the person sitting closest to me in the gallery. He looked back at me, also wide-eyed. Six random people, three of them have directly experienced domestic abuse. By the time we got through all eighteen jury candidates, there were probably ten who had direct experience with domestic abuse.

Think about that. Remember that this courthouse is in one of the most prosperous cities in the world.

After the judge took them through the questionnaire, it was time for the lawyers to interview the initial eighteen. Whereas before it had simply been disturbing, now it got both fascinating and even more disturbing.

The prosecutor wanted to make sure that jurors didn’t hold it against the people that a domestic issue was being decided in the courts. Ms Hawkins asked each juror whether domestic violence should be reported to the police, or whether it should be handled by the family.

Holy crap. I don’t have hard numbers, but almost every person who had witnessed domestic abuse, when asked, “did you call the police?” said “No.”

“Why not?”

The answers to that were universally tentative.

Why not? There was a camp that said that domestic abuse should be handled inside the family, and that there was no cause to involve outside authority. Then there were others who said that domestic abuse was obviously a crime but even they didn’t call the cops. People who know their friends are getting beat up don’t call the cops.

It’s understandable at one level; your friend’s life is shitty enough already, and if they want the cops they’ll call for them, right? Who are you to escalate someone else’s issues?

She was sitting somewhere around seat 16 when she was first interviewed. In her fifties, or perhaps a hard forties, or even a brutal thirties. She has not had a soft life. “Oh, I have a lot to say about this,” she said. And she did. Family members on the giving and receiving end of domestic abuse, including a sister who has a tongue as sharp as shark’s teeth, and uses it to hurt. Plenty of interaction with law enforcement in her family, but none of that (as far as I could tell) was related to the domestic abuse.

The woman in seat seven, an older woman, thought that the family should handle things unless it got really serious. How serious? her questioners persisted. “Cuts and bruises, that’s OK,” she said. “Maybe broken bones? Definitely if she dies.”

Another guy, both he and his mother were beaten by his father. “But it’s OK now, they’re divorced.”

It was somewhere around then that the lawyers and the judge met to eliminate some of the first eighteen. Several were dismissed with cause; the jurors in the lower seats were shifted to fill the holes.

Soon after that, the day was over and I found a crowded bus home. I found myself with a lot to say about the events of the day, and a fierce desire to talk about what I had heard and learned with my sweetie. Alas, my lips were sealed.

The next day, I had my chance to speak.

Tune in next time for Voir Dire: Jerry Speaks his Mind!

____

* Not all quotes here are exact.

I am a Juror

I have been asked by my community to sit in judgement of a neighbor. Neighbor in this usage is a broad term; the plaintiff is accused of crimes that happened in Santa Clara County, and that is where I live. But Neighbor here is not geographical. Neighbor in this case means someone who shares values similar to mine. If the dude down the street sacrifices virgins to the Great Lord of Darkness, he is not my neighbor, proximity notwithstanding.

When I sent notice to the folks who work around me that I would be out of circulation for a while, one response I got was “High five for doing your civic duty.”

I wrote back, “I actually feel strongly about that; juries are in fact a bulwark against tyranny.”

And I believe that. I believe that jury duty is a sacred trust, a bond between citizens, the last line of the law in a society governed by law. I am proud to be selected as a juror, vetted by both the people and the defense, and each has entrusted me with keeping an open mind.

Maybe this case is not one that defines our democracy. But maybe every decision by every jury does define who we are. I want to explore this more, but out of respect for the process, I’ll shut up now.

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2019: The Year I Communicate

While I try to figure out where the fuck WordPress had hidden basic stuff like where I set the category and keywords of a post, I’d like to talk about the upcoming year.

Oh, for crying out loud, I’ve accidentally published this episode already, while I have yet to find how to set the category for my post. You know what the next episode will be about.

ANYWAY, it’s a new year and I have resolutions. Actually, only one resolution. Communicate. I will talk to my friends this year. I’ll drop a message every now and then. I’ll post here on the blog on a regular basis. And most important of all, I’ll start reading my email again.

I have come to hate noise. It’s why I never visit Facebook anymore. And my email is so filled with noise that I have simply stopped reading it. The terrorists (and the marketers) have won.

This year, at least I start talking again. I was never much for listening anyway, except for the comments here at MR&HBI, which is honestly the social contact I pine for the most.

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The Rolling Stones are Selling Cars

While I work on my 2k for today (first chapter coming, for what it’s worth), I have football playing on the TV. Which means I have football advertising on TV. I’ve noticed two ads for automobiles that use adaptations of Rolling Stones pieces for the music.

Both are questionable choices.

Lexus, I think it was, went with “Sympathy for the Devil”. Nothing like a song about the insidious and seductive nature of evil to sell an automobile. But perhaps this was calculated; the target demographic for that car might be looking for a little sympathy.

Ford, meanwhile, in an extend ad with a message about building the future I thought was pretty effective, underlayed the message with an instrumental version of “Paint it Black”. A song about death. The whole ad came off pretty well, and the arrangement of the music was properly atmospheric, but… it’s a song about the death of a loved one, and the borderline insanity of the bereaved. Not really fitting the message of “the future belongs to the ones who actually make things.”

Maybe it’s just that Boomers like me, while they build their retirement wealth, forget what the songs of their youth actually meant. Maybe boomers like me are just pleased to hear music we recognize — maybe we are just gullible sheep. “They’re catering to us!”

How long until “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols is in a Jaguar commercial?

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Holy Shit, NaNoWriMo Starts in Six Hours

Maybe I should come up with a story to tell.

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Getting Personal

Google is selling its new phone based on an AI-enabled ability to inject advertising into the pictures you take. “It tells me where I can get those special-edition shoes!” This is, apparently, a good thing. Google, goggling over your photos, and selling the data to its clients.

Hopefully, that’s opt-in. Like, you have to invite the vampire into your house. But I suspect that buying that almost-as-good-as-an-iphone-but-hella-cheaper includes in the terms of service, “all your picture are belongs to us.” So you have to ask yourself, “what is my privacy worth?” When you take a picture, is that picture yours, or is it just another vector of your profile?

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Gilfoyle Gotsta get Paid

That, my friends, is our little asshole dog, Gilfoyle. He’s got a strut, and chicks dig him.

And yes, we put shoes on our dogs sometimes. The pavement gets hot around here in the summer. Once we found the right shoes Gilfoyle didn’t care about them one way or the other, but Lady Byng loves to run when she’s wearing her shoes. I’ve tried a couple of times to get video, but I’m sprinting to keep up and holding a leash, so the results have not been good.

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Drew Brees

On this Indigenous Peoples’ day, I’m in a noisy place watching the Saints play the Redskins.

I’ll give you a moment.

Irony aside, what just happened is that the Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, just broke the all-time record for passing yards. I don’t know how long that record will stand, because the league is constantly altering the rules to favor passers. But still, this is a big event, sports-wise.

I remember his first game. I was with Squirrely Joe, in a sterile sports bar in Las Vegas. The Chargers were getting their asses kicked. Down by 17, they pulled their venerable, highly-respected starting quarterback to put in the backup they thought would carry the team one day.

The first pass Brees attempted was terrible. With the cameras on him, the team went back to the huddle and he was almost laughing at himself, taking full responsibility for the failure.

Then he hit a pass, and another, and suddenly a defeated team was looking crisper, hungrier. Whatever he was doing in that huddle infected everyone; there was some magical energy Brees was putting out that changed the team. Of course the defense caught the bug too, and the game swung decidedly for the Chargers.

The Chargers lost that game; there simply wasn’t enough time for Brees to finish the comeback. But I knew, I KNEW, after that first terrible play, before he did anything else, when he was statistically the worst quarterback ever, that Drew Brees was the real deal. I knew by the way he handled that mistake, by the way he interacted with the other players on his team, that he was a leader, and that he expected more of himself, but allowed himself to make mistakes.

When the Katrina/Bush disaster hit New Orleans, Brees showed his true blue again. San Diego had given him up in favor of their new kid, and I understand that decision — Brees was having trouble with his shoulder. Down in New Orleans, when things were really bad, Brees was a good neighbor to many who needed one, and in the following months he worked hard to help rebuild the city. He’s going to retire a Saint, or blood will flow.

He knows that, but he’s playing year-to-year with them, rather than making things ugly by trying to extort a longer contract. He loves his job. He loves his team and the city that hosts him. He loves them enough to trust them to know when it’s time to say goodbye.

After all these years, when I watch him play I still see that rookie, after his very first terrible play. That’s the same football player who just set an all-time record, the player dark agents from Canton may eventually have to shoot so they can set up his shrine in the hall of fame. The same guy. Maybe he’s sharpened his skills a bit since, but his ability to inspire those around him was obvious from the beginning.

Football is a team sport like no other, a collection of specialists with a common goal, and leadership matters in football more than anywhere else. Linemen block just a little bit harder when they are protecting Brees; receivers run their routes a little more crisply. “84 jump into the stratosphere and push off passing 747 into the corner of the end zone” would sound almost plausible if Brees said it. There are better throwers in the league. There are much better scramblers and runners in the league. But there is no better leader.

Kaep is back!

A little bit less than a year ago, when the last NFL season was still young, the Official Sweetie of MR&HBI pointed out to me that a legit NFL quarterback was unemployed because of his political stand.

I demurred. Colin Kaepernick was the flash-point of activism and he was unemployed, but I gave my sweetie the cringie-face and said, “the problem is that he’s actually not very good.”

After that conversation, several NFL teams hired backup quarterbacks and even a starter who were worse than Kaep in every measure.

Kaepernick is a dick, make no mistake. He hit on a teammate’s girl, and he required ridiculous privileges when he could get them. He is not friendly to his fans. Having him in the locker room will be a challenge. But in a league that hires actual fuckin’ murderers, and glorifies a coach who banged his assistant’s wife, being an asshole is hardly a disqualifier.

And seriously, some of the chumps hired over a man who was one bad coach-decision away from being a Super Bowl champion are ridiculous. Kaep has a beef.

He is suing the league. I’m no lawyer, but I think he has a case.

Enter Nike. A major sponsor of the NFL. On opening night of the new season, Nike introduced an ad campaign that cut Kaep as a hero, among many other hometown heroes you have never met, just trying to do what is right. Word on the street is that Nike did not inform the NFL of the content of the ad until maximum buzz could be achieved.

Kaep, for his part, has put a chunk of his personal fortune into addressing the issues he knelt to protest. So asshole rating is reduced several points. Kaep believes in the cause. That simple fact is really, really important. Obviously this is not a cynical career move for him. He’s making a stand for justice.

Honestly, I don’t like Colin Kaepernick as a person, but I respect what he is doing. To my sweetie, I was wrong back then. Clearly there has been collusion, and it’s time to make the league pay.

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Sucker Bet

While reading an article about sports, I clicked a supporting link and found myself here, at the NBA futures page at a gambling Web site. I’m curious about numbers and things, so I looked at the odds for a bit.

At this moment, there is an anomaly. “Anomaly” in my newly-minted dictionary of gambling terms is a time when a safer bet pays better than a riskier one.

In the NBA more than any other sport, random luck plays a smaller role in the outcome of games, and of seasons. There are no Cinderellas in the NBA. So when the Golden State Warriors managed to abuse the byzantine salary cap rules to land yet another all-star in Boogie Cousins for a season while the closest competitors went downhill, the gambling world said, “Fuck it, the Warriors are going to win the championship again.”

To bet on the Warriors winning the title next year, Las Vegas is giving you 10/17 odds. That is, the payoff is based on a 0.588 probability that they will win. Well over a coin flip.

But then I noticed this: on that same page the odds Golden State has of winning the Western Conference are 4/9, or 0.444 percent. Hence, a better payoff. Here’s the thing: The Warriors will not win the championship without first winning the division final. Yet somehow the bookies are paying less for the championship?

Yep. If you want action on the Warriors, don’t be a chump. Don’t follow the blind money to “Warriors win it all!”; follow the slightly-better-informed money to “Warriors make me money!”

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Time Not Well-Spent

Here it is, Whiskey-Exemption Thursday, and my weight is on-target so I can even have beer. The purpose of Thursday is to devote an evening to pushing the writing forward, and hang the consequences.

What have I been writing this fine evening? I’ve been trying to come up with the least-objectionable way to emulate Swift’s extensions to Protocols in php. The answer: there is no way.

Begin geek

Coding with php is coding with flint knives and bearskins; the power of php is in its wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am ability to do a quick task and then to go away.

Bless the movers behind php, they’re trying to evolve their language to catch up with the way people are using it these days. If they had known Drupal was coming along, they might not have been so quick-and-dirty before. Drupal might be slightly less awful as a result.

There are design patterns enabled by Swift that I get a little misty contemplating. Being able to add extensions (with executable code!) to protocols is enormously powerful. Having experienced that, I wanted to do the same thing in php, creating a trait “taggable” and having classes that used it automatically injected with the implementation. Injected, not inherited. Ain’t gonna happen.

End geek

At least now I’m writing prose about writing the code rather than writing the code itself. Progress, I guess.

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The Thursday Whiskey Exemption

In my days, I’ve only had success with one diet plan: set a target weight each week, lower than the week before. If, when I weigh myself in the morning, I am above the target weight, then I may not consume alcohol that day. Pretty simple, and embarrassingly motivating for me.

I lost more than 30 pounds on this plan, then events intervened, weakness ensued, work pressure ratcheted up, and I have now gained most of the weight back. In January I resolved to get back on the plan, but here’s the thing: While I don’t think my writing is any better after a couple of beers, it’s certainly more prolific. So now I do a dance between health and writing, and lately writing has been winning. But now blood pressure is a factor.

So I have launched my pound-a-week program again, with one modifier. On Thursdays, even if I’m over my weight target, I may have whiskey. I used to call Thursday “Beer-blogging day” — it was an evening where I set aside time to ramble for a bit, and to work on other, more serious projects. Whiskey is a little bit less fattening than beer, so I’ve decided this time around to try to relieve the tension between obesity and creativity by allowing a Thursday whiskey exemption.

For the record, on this particular Thursday I was below the weight threshold for the week anyway. The first few weeks of a new diet are actually pretty easy.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

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The Journey Home: The Fading Glory of the Southwest Chief

I wasn’t paying close attention at the time, but in the late 1970’s the US government decided to buy out all the failing passenger rail services, with the goal of preserving some semblance of intercity passenger rail in this country. Out west, cities are far apart, and the new czars of rail travel realized that comfort and convenience would be paramount for success.

They took a design from the Santa Fe line, adapted it, made it too tall to work east of Chicago, and the Superliner was born. Superliner I was the last passenger coach built by the renowned Pullman company, while the Superliner II, a smoother-rolling variant that was a little more… judicious with the output from the toilets came along a short time after that.

None have been built since. Sure, there have been upgrades (self-contained toilets retrofitted, electricity available everywhere), but the rolling stock is aging.

On electricity — long ago I took a ride and there was exactly one electrical outlet available to coach-class passengers. A little community grew around that outlet, and while the cafe attendant tried to regulate us, we worked out a better system on our own.

But while the cars have been superficially modified to evolve with the needs of the passengers, there’s really no denying that they are getting older. Train 4 from Chicago to Los Angeles brought that home to me. Some cars had trouble with toilets. The public address system was spotty — at one point the attendant for my car got on the PA to say that the rest of the announcements were’t coming over our PA. Apparently there were a couple of dicey almost-missed-stop moments in my car.

The dining car’s air conditioning failed; my waiter said that on the last leg of the journey one of the crew knew what switch to throw, but now he was gone. Sounds to me like a circuit breaker.

The cars themselves still felt solid, we moved along smoothly. But it’s the little things, the door latch that required coaxing, the outlet that just won’t let go, that give you the feeling that maintenance is falling behind. And as the cars get older, the maintenance requirements are just going to increase. It’s going to require commitment to keep these cars comfortable and safe, and when the little things start to slide, it’s an indicator that the commitment is not there.

Twice on my journey east I heard a rumor that Amtrak would be canceling the long-haul western routes. If that’s true, I’m glad I took this ride. The subject of California’s high-speed rail also came up often. To which I said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I would honestly prefer it if the state spent maybe one percent of that cost to upgrade the low-speed rail already in place along that line (California has already pitched in to pay for other Amtrak upgrades in the state.) It’s beautiful country. Slightly-less-slow service would attract a lot of new customers, at a price the high-speed option could never touch.

I look forward to rolling along the coast in a brand-new Superliner III, then turning inland on the Southwest Chief, its rolling stock gleaming in the desert sun — the iconic journey that everyone must do at least once. The Route 66 where someone else drives.

Those will be the days.

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Not a very Remember-y Day

Went to sleep early last night, after a day of restraint and sobriety. Woke up this morning, had a bit of an epiphany, then set about my day feeling perky and downright sharp.

So far today, I have locked myself out of my room not once but twice. Then I walked from the residence hall down to Massachusetts Street, only to realize I didn’t have my wallet.

To make things worse, during my walk down a woman on a park bench had complimented my shirt and then as an afterthought had complimented my beard. Then I passed a nice lady who was raising money for a church-based project to house the homeless, who remembered my “beautiful beard” from the previous day, when I had made a donation.

I couldn’t go back the direct route, or I would pass these people twice more. I had to go around. Putting some serious mileage on my new shoes today.

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