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Category: Culture

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.
Shoot the Moon
Multimillionaire Richard Branson finally did it. He built a quasi-rocket ship, got on board, and rode it into outer space.

Well, sort of outer space. It was more like the edge of outer space, really. Far enough up there (40 miles, he said) to experience zero-G and float around for a few minutes before returning safely to Earth.

It was a so-so achievement, but at least he has bragging rights in the rich-guys-in-space race. Jeff Bezos has bragging rights as the richest guy in space, but he could only manage second place behind Branson. Bezos did go a bit higher at 55 miles, and he used a real rocket ship (not a tricked-out airplane) to make his trip, but he did not get the winner’s trophy.

Neither rich guy orbited the Earth — much less travelled to the Moon — so we’re not going to call them astronauts. Alan Shepard, the first American “in space”, bar-r-rely earned that title when he went up 116 miles. Still, you have to hand it to them for putting their butts on the line for their commercial venture. They could have died.

But they didn’t. And so they have a right to stick their chests out and grab some headlines. Their success, however, leaves a large question now begging to be answered: what about the other super-rich spaceman? Where is the irrepressible Elon Musk in this battle of egos? When is he going to show the same kind of confidence and daring for his product?

I don’t want to get into testosterone-shaming, but I think it’s time for Elon to show us what he’s got. Not just the big rocket ship, but the cajones to get in it and blast off. Either that, or his epitaph will be “Third Place”. Or worse, “Participant.”

Furthermore, he will need to up the ante if he wants a win in this rocket-measuring contest. That means going in orbit, at least. And not by hiring some poor schmuck to do it. If Elon really wants to win this thing once and for all, he’s got to go himself.

Musk on the Moon or bust!
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Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz