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Category: Culture

Twit Show
When Elon Musk finally took charge of Twitter, I felt the springs of schadenfreude bubbling up in my psyche. If the first few days of his reign there are any indication, there will be a long (and entertaining) festival of humiliation for The Richest Person in the World (TRPITW).

I have not always felt this way. When I first learned of the possibility that he might take control of this powerful communications pipeline, it gave me a chill. This guy? In control of Twitter? Trump unchained? No-o-o-o! It seemed like just another ominous sign among all the other disturbing news these days.

As I see the story unfold, though, I am less concerned. The TRPITW, I believe, may have bitten off more than he can chew. This deal, in fact, could well undermine his entire empire. It’s a money thing, as this article explains. Briefly put: the debt from this purchase, along with the declining revenues from a more vitriol-based product, may end up eating him alive.

But the mere sight of a rich guy losing gobs of money is not what really makes the schadenfreude flow. That will come from the day-to-day deflation of his planet-sized ego.

The drama will be enhanced by the fact that Elon is possessed of a very large set of rabbit ears. He is hypersensitive, in other words, to even the tiniest hint of criticism. His involvement with Twitter will call forth a torrent of abuse each time he or his team of content moderators makes a call — from both the right and the left. His history predicts that he will not be able to resist entering the fray.

I suppose he might figure out a way to avoid calamity (he did, after all, figure out how to make those big rockets land butt-first). This trick, however, would require a depth of interpersonal savvy that TRPITW does not seem to have.

It’s already started. Elon’s recent tweet about the Paul Pelosi attack is a precursor to the ugly silliness that is bound to follow. He’s taking a beating for it all over the internet, including on Twitter. And he is not handling it well. What’s more, advertisers are already balking at the prospect of a vicious, hateful Twitter.

Oh, I know that the general trend of distressing news is likely to continue. Signs of the apocalypse will abound. The shit-show will no doubt begin in earnest. But at least I can look forward to Elon Musk’s spiteful tweets. With each, I suspect, will come a surge of dark joy to float my boat on these troubled waters.
Strike Nowhere
There is a safeguard, under law, that is meant to protect us from crappy products. The Implied Warranty of Merchantability it’s called, and it holds that anything we buy in the course of normal commerce must be fit to use for the purposes it is intended.

If you buy a broom, it has to be good for sweeping. If you buy a house, it has to be habitable. And, I would say, that a box of “Strike Anywhere” matches would have to contain matchsticks that would ignite if scratched firmly against almost any surface. As to that last item, let me assert that the Diamond Match Co. has violated my warranty with their crappy matches.

There was a time when saying that a match could be struck anywhere could be relied upon. Oh, you couldn’t ever strike them on the leg of your magenta velvet bell bottoms, but on your dungarees? Oh yes. And plenty of other surfaces, too, including your thumbnail.

Sadly, those days are gone. No more Ohio Blue Tips, no more Diamond red and whites. Just these lame green and beige Strike Nowhere matches that won’t even light when you drag them across the sandpaper on the box.

What’s more, I’ve seen nothing about swat teams swooping in to close down any match factories. So much for my Implied Warranty of Merchantability. Maybe I can use it to start my wood stove.
Tennis, No One?
About three years ago, I started getting the Tennis Channel as part of my cable TV package. I had always yearned to have such access, but I had been too stingy to spring for the ten dollars a month they were asking.

But those days are gone now. Somehow, my prayers must have been heard by Comcast. I now enjoy 24/7 professional tennis on my big screen — at no extra charge. I would have thought that I’d eventually get bored with it, but that has not happened. For some reason, this particular sport has been endlessly fascinating in a way that no other, including baseball, has ever been. Even matches between second tier players — or even third tier, if the competition is fierce enough — are still drawing me in.

Nor am I differentiating on account of gender. I find that the offerings of the Women’s Tennis Association are no less interesting than those of the all-male Association of Tennis Professionals. If anything, the women’s game is more interesting. Men’s tennis (owing chiefly to advances in racket technology) is often reduced to one big serve, one big forehand, point over.

Moreover, tennis seems to be broadly enlightened as professional sports go. With a little pushing, of course. Billie Jean King and her cohort started the Virginia Slims tour back in 1973, and that effort has led to equal pay for women in the Grand Slams and some of the other big events, at least. Still not all the way there, but no other sport has done so well with pay equity.

Tennis has comported itself pretty well with racial equality, as well. Like soccer, it is a truly international sport, so you might expect that to be the case. The organizations around the sport, however — including the Tennis Channel itself — have made a credible effort to reach into minority communities to find talent at every level.

The players themselves, moreover, seem uniformly thoughtful, well-spoken, and bright. There are some boneheads, of course, but the two associations (which are largely controlled by the players themselves) have surprisingly good records for righteousness. As evidence of this claim, I point to the story of the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.

Peng, who was once ranked by the WTA as the No. 1 women’s doubles tennis player in the world, recently posted online that she had been sexually assaulted by Chinese ex-vice premier Zhang Gaoli. The post quickly disappeared, and so did Peng. Everyone expressed “concern,” including the International Olympic Committee (the Winter Olympics will be held in China in a few months), but no one did anything.

Except, that is, for the WTA. They have now cancelled all of their upcoming tournaments in China. This action will cost the association hundreds of millions of dollars. That is a sacrifice with some hair on it. In doing so, they have made everyone who’s done less, especially the IOC, look like chumps. Also on the chump list, it should be mentioned, is the ATP. The men have so far declined to step up in solidarity with their sisters. Individual male players have come forward, but they just don’t pack the punch, financial and otherwise, that the entire official organization would. C’mon, guys.

I will probably continue to watch the Tennis Channel, even though there might be a big gap in their programming where WTA events in China used to be. Or maybe I’ll just skip over those gaps and not watch TV at all. Not much hair on that sacrifice, I’ll admit, but at least I’d be chumping out the ATP.
Open and Shuttered
There was a time when the grand hallways and escalators of the Lloyd Center teemed with shoppers. Families crowded into the Food Court, devouring platefuls of mediocre fare. They packed the ice rink. They had meet-ups and hang-outs and bump-intos under the wide, soaring rooftops of this indoor mall.

But most of all, they shopped. They flocked here from all over Portland, surging in and out of thriving retail venues, purchasing many millions of dollars worth of the goods and services offered within this wondrous temple of American consumerism. It was, literally and figuratively, a towering success — a success matched by other giant malls all across the country at the end of the last century.

But that was then. The economy and the culture have since shifted under the foundations of these complexes. Amazon and other online sources, seizing on their tax advantages and the freedom to set up shop anywhere, as long as a freeway was close by, made retailing ultra-convenient. Who wouldn’t want to order a computer, say — of the exact model and specification desired — and have it delivered the very next day? Bye-bye, brick and mortar.

And then came the pandemic. After that blow, it has been either adapt or die. A few of the big ones, like the Mall of America in Minnesota and the American Dream in New Jersey, are still going, but a midsized operation like the Lloyd Center struggled to handle the changes in the world outside. And now it is a zombie mall, still open but decaying from the inside.

The flagship stores have sailed, and all the mall rats have moved on. The Food Court on the third level has gone dark, and the vaulted spaces above it that once seem to speak of the limitless power of in-person commerce are now filled with gray emptiness. A few uncertain shoppers poke their heads into the outlets whose leases have not yet run out, but even though we are only weeks away from Christmas, there is none of the usual holiday hustle and bustle.

Out on the ice rink, a man teaching his daughter to skate has all the space they could need. The teenage elves employed by the mall still gamely smile and pirouette, but their gestures are empty. There can be no holiday joy without the symbol that most represents the season of giving. No, not the baby Jesus…Santa! His altar of Christmas wishes, the beating heart of any healthy mall, is conspicuously absent.

The mall Santa is a sad enough spectacle under the best of circumstances. If he is not there at all, why even bother? Take down the giant bows and tinseled spruce and fir. Give the elves their severance pay, and send them home. Shoo out the hapless merchants and whatever shoppers remain. Christmas is cancelled. The mall is dead.
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Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz