But What Do We Do With The Leftovers?

Observation StewTwo days after Thanksgiving. You’ve made your stock from the turkey carcass, and have just about finished the meat in the frig, but you’re still working on all the sides that were leftover. All. The. Sides. So many sides. Here on this blog, we face a similar problem: What to do with all the links accumulated that just stubbornly refuse to theme? The answer, of course, is to make stew:

Inequality and Battles

  • The Internet and Inequality. One of my major complaints is the assumption that everyone has fast internet (an assumption that will be even more challenged if we lose net neutrality). For example, we move the best quality TV to subscription channels and pay-pay internet, and we forget what the leaves the rest of the country with — the large portion that still doesn’t have internet or only has dialup or phone services. Wired has an interesting article on how the slow internet is fueling inequality. Now think about how this inequality will be further fueled when the telecom companies are the ones controlling the pipes, who can see what, and who can’t see what.  Control of the message can be for good (filter out the stupid) or for bad (filter out those who disagree).
  • Fonts and Culture Wars. Here’s another battle of interest: Fonts. Fonts can have a subtle but significant effect on culture and culture wars, according to Wired. For example, think how you perceive documents written in Blackletter or Comic Sans, or the fact that certain languages, by the nature of the writing, make it hard to text. Truly an interesting article on the impact of design.
  • Weaponizing Taxes. When people complain about taxes, they often talk about its use to support the defense establishment. But the tax code can be used as a weapon itself, and that is what this administration is doing. The “reform” bill shows that the right understands how the rules of the economic game are shifting — toward capital and away from labor (even away from the labor of the wealthy). Thus, they are adjusting it even further to reward business and investing, and to care even less about income earned from wages. They are adjusting the code to work against progressive measures like education and middle class wages, they are working against progressive states that used state tax codes to help their people.

Los Angeles

Honoring the Past

  • Getting Rid of Stuff. Here’s an interesting dilemma: How do you honor the past when cleaning out stuff? Specifically, how do you honor your parents when cleaning out their house? This is a growing question as the Millenials and Gen Y adopt the less is more attitude, and have to deal with the debris of the “accumulate” generation.  As the article notes: If we do it right, we preserve and transmit their memories and values to the next generation. If we do it wrong, we may open lasting wounds within our families and ourselves.
  • Reusing Sacred Spaces. During Thanksgiving, a popular song is Alice’s Restaurant, about a couple that bought a church and converted it to a house. The issue is a serious one: What do you do with sacred spaces when the community goes away? In Maine, the answer is to convert an old synagogue into high-end apartments.  The 15 members of the Auburn ME Beth Abraham Synagogue sold the building last week to a developer. On Sunday, the community will take a final tour of the building and then ceremonially move a Torah scroll to the nearby 100-family Temple Shalom Synagogue Center, an independent and egalitarian congregation (formerly Conservative) that Beth Abraham members will join. The building, after removing a few more liturgical pieces, will then become 10 apartments.
  • Repatriating Bones. One of the forgotten Native American tragedies has been the treatment of Southern California tribes and their relics. So it was quite a pleasant surprise to read about the repatriation of a large collection of Tongva/Gabrielano remains from Catalina Island. This is happening for many reasons, including increased awareness and casino proceeds.

Sexism

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Things Come and Things Go

Today’s collection of news chum addresses two areas of interest to me: origin stories, and reports of things disappearing. Origin stories are interesting because we don’t often know where some popular things come from; many come from new or emerging trends. Disappearance stories, on the other hand, are often reflective or indicative — again — of trends in society.

 

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This Is My City

As Jack Webb almost once said (yunguns, look him up), “This is my city, Los Angeles, California”. Here are a few stories I’ve accumulated over the weeks about my city, and places that I’ve actually been to or near:

  • Earl Carroll Theatre. I was at this theatre many years ago to see Ain’t Misbehavin‘. I didn’t know its historical significance then. It later became the Nickelodeon Studios, and will now be refurbished. Much of the glory is still there, as these photos show.
  • Daniel Freeman Hospital. The place where I entered the world many many (many) years ago. Later bought by Tenet Healthcare, and then closed. It is now being torn down, to become luxury homes.
  • Westside Pavilion.  Back when I was at UCLA in the late 1970s, this was a small surface shopping center with a market (Vons, IIRC), a good sushi place, a Sees Candy, and a large May Company (with a spiral driveway where I scraped a car once). Then it was “mallified”, taking all the character out of it and become an haven for the wannabe rich (the rich had Century City). It expanded, took out a perfectly good bowling alley. Today? Malls are out of favor, Nordstroms ran to Century City, and Macy*s (nee Robinsons May nee May Co) is closing. Anyone want to buy a mall? Rumor is that with retail out of favor, this will either become open-air shopping (like it was originally), or mixed use with housing and shopping near the Expo line.
  • The Panorama. When we went to go see Man Covets Bird, there was this odd little theatre across the street that we later learned was the Velaslavasay Panorama, an old fashioned type of entertainment from the time before movies. They’ve reopened, and there’s one last chance to view their installation of Effulgence of the North before they change it. It is described as  “a panoramic exploration of the limitless horizon which lies beyond a frigid terrain, illuminated by the ethereal Aurora Borealis.” Next to be installed: Shengjing Panorama. You have until Sunday to see it.
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The Worst Programming Language

Yesterday, while reading my RSS feeds, a post came across titled, “Perl is the most hated programming language“.  The article was referencing a Stack Overflow report that was characterized as saying: “Perl, the Old Spice of programming languages, is the most disliked by a significant margin, reports Stack Overflow. Delphi, used by children to write viruses for adults, and Visual Basic, used by adults to write games for children, are running neck-and-neck for second place. Trailing far behind are PHP, for people who still don’t care about security, and Objective-C, for people who still don’t realize they work for Apple. Coffeescript, a language designed to make Javascript more annoying, takes sixth spot; Ruby, very briefly popular among people who wanted to write web apps without actually doing any work, lurks in seventh.”

Now them’s fighting words.

I also took a look at a discussion on the subject over on Slashdot, where the comments were equally derogatory towards Perl, as well as a number of other languages. It is a amazing the hatred cluelessness out there. This is a discussion that has been going on forever about what is the most hated, the worst, the ugliest, the … programming language. I know. I’m a Compusaur — I’ve been programming since the mid-1970s, cutting my teeth on languages like BASIC, FORTRAN IV, and APL, and I’ve used even older language. I’m also — and I can say this with absolute confidence — the person who has been programming in Perl the longest with the exception of Larry, it’s author. I’m Perl’s Paternal Godparent; Larry, Mark, Jon, and I were carpooling to SDC when he wrote the first version of Perl, and I’m the person who was doing combo Perl-QMenu scripts to support the BLACKER program. I’m the one who knows that Perl would not exist without the TCSEC (Orange Book), so don’t say the NSA hasn’t given you anything.  I wrote the first version of the history section in the Camel book, fuggahdsake.

But back to the question at hand: Whenever anyone tells you that something is the worst or the most hated, you must learn context. You think Perl is bad for readability? Try reading APL or LISP, and remember that COBOL was designed to be readable.  Different languages and different editors are good for different things. Almost everything has strengths and weaknesses.

Perl is best at what it was originally designed to do: Text manipulation and report generation. It is great for easy text parsing scripts thanks to regular expressions and associative arrays, and implementing state machine parsing tools isn’t complicated. I have a large tool that at its heart is perl; it is perl that helps me generate the California Highway pages. But is perl the best language for system administration (which is what the Stack Overflow folks do)? No.

I’ve worked with loads and loads of languages, from Algol to Zed (well, I’ve looked at a little Zed — it is a formal methods language like Ina-Jo or Gypsy). I’ve written large programs in Algol 68C and PL/I (actually, both PL/C and PL/I (X)). I’ve worked in BASIC (especially RSTS/E Basic, which was a model for some Perl syntax), Fortran IV and 77 and WATFIV, COBOL, C, Ada, and APL. I’ve even done some LISP and SNOBOL, as well as MINITAB. To me, the language I had the most is Excel Spreadsheet Macro Languages, for I’ve seen difficult to find errors in that language to devastate organizations.

But most of the “kids” responding to that poll grew up in a different era. They learn Java and C++ and drink the Object Oriented Kool-Aide. They deal with PHP and Python and hosts of other new scripting languages, and complain about the old — without realizing that the newer languages are building upon the foundations of the previous ones, correcting the mistakes for a new generation.

In reality, the programming language you hate the most is the one that you’re unfamiliar with, that someone wrote bad code in, with no comments, that you have to maintain. Just as you can write easy to maintain code in any language (including APL — but in APL you can write it in one line), you can write garbage in any language.

All it takes is talent.

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Design Origins

One of the podcasts that I really like is 99% Invisible. This podcast explores unseen design. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the categories of news chum that catches my eye has to do with design. Here’s some that I’ve seen recently:

  • Orange Handled Scissors. We all have them, if not multiple pairs. I’ve got two staring at me from my desk: one real, one a knockoff. Yet have you ever wondered who invented them. Two recent articles, one from Mental Floss, and one from Co.Design, provide the answer. You probably remember the scissors that were common before the orange wonders: either silver or black handles, all metal, and heavy. This changed in the 1960s, as plastic was just starting to become a popular material. Fiskars began using the light, strong compound to make tabletops and dishes, but one of the company’s industrial designers, Olof Bäckström, sensed an opportunity to completely reinvent one of the company’s signature goods. Using plastic, he created a lighter scissor handle that was curved to fit the hand, thus making them easier to hold. Ultimately, this tweak also helped make the scissors easier to manufacture, helping them become affordable to the masses. Why Orange? At the time, Fiskars was making orange juicers from orange plastic. The first prototype for plastic-handled scissors was created with plastic from a juicer that was left in a machine. Fiskars employees ended up liking this original look so much that they ultimately voted to stick with it.
  • Common Typographic Symbols.  We use symbols like “@”, “#”, and “&” every day, but do you know where they come from? Mental Floss did an article recently on the origins of 6 common typographic symbols: “@”, “0”, “#”, “&”, “…”, and “+”.  Now you know will know why & == “and per se and”.
  • The Barcode. You likely think grocers invented the barcode. But you would be wrong. The original bar codes were invented by railroad companies to keep track of railroad cars.  The US rail industry, due to its large size and the sheer amount of stuff being delivered on its tracks at all times, had a fundamental challenge: Tracking where an individual car was going was really hard, and cars would often get lost.  The industry needed a solution that workedwhile the train was moving, perhaps as fast as 60 miles per hour. No delays allowed. No stopping, either. And because trains travel through all sorts of elements—rain, snow, wind, light, dark—that tracking has to work in basically any setting. And because it had to go on so many train cars, it had to be cheap—no more than, say, a dollar per device. The solution: KarTrak. Using a series of reflective color bars as a layer of abstraction from the complicated codes, the codes were then optically scanned using helium-neon lasers that were intended to pick up the details of the codes, no matter the weather. It worked, and was a success for a while, but soon petered out because of the cost of the scanners and lawsuits.
  • Craigslist. The site is ugly and text-based. Trades are risky and often prone to fraud. Yet it is highly successful, with numerous less-successful imitators. Why is Craigslist so successful. Wired explored the history and the reasons. First there were garage sales and the Recycler. Then came the internet, and with it, so many new ways to buy and sell used furniture. It was a serendipity engine that made it infinitely easier for people all over the world to exchange old lamps. One of the most useful tools was a list maintained by a guy named Craig. Craig’s list wasn’t a list so much as a collection of listings—a free online classifieds service that made its inky predecessors seem obsolete. Craig Newmark founded Craigslist in 1995 as an email list of interesting events in and around San Francisco. The list soon mutated into a stand-alone website. Why is it successful?The site is whatever its users need it to be at any given moment in time: a housing agency, an employment office, a matchmaking service, a lost-and-found board, a town square. Or an ideology.
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Transformative Technologies

Riding into work on the vanpool this morning, my mind started musing on transformative technologies — specifically, the beam. Just think about it for a bit. What transformed a simple small room residence into a castle was the ability to have large roofed congregating areas — great rooms. What made the Great Room possible was the beam: a single long span strong enough to support a roof without the need for pillars in the way. But what did it take to get us the simple beam?

In the days when all we had was wood, we might be lucky to find a single tree that was large enough to give us the beam, but we then had to mill it to make it be what we wanted. That milling required small metal devices: axes, saws, sawmills. This is why the ages of metals were so important: they gave us the ability to mill wood (and cook, and so many things).

Suppose we couldn’t find a single tree long enough. We might combine multiple smaller pieces to make a beam. That required two more transformative technologies: glue and the nail. We don’t often think about glue and adhesives, but they are what make it possible to create long beams by gluing together multiple small beams. These are then strengthened by nailing them together (and later, screws and bands). Nails and screws are a key technology: they allow us to fastened in a strong manner. Just think about the difference in strength between a peg and a bolt or nail.

There are other technologies that the beam leads us to. Consider beams made out of metal. That requires, at minimum, foundries and forges to make long long pieces of metal: longer than can be worked by a single individual alone. There’s also cement, which can combine with natural objects to give us concrete. Concrete allows us to move from whatever natural rock we can find into shaping rock into the image we want. In some ways, brick is less transformative, because brick requires mortar for longer pieces, and mortar can fail.

Now, when we look at today’s world, what is the key overlooked technology? Looking at the last 300 years, what invention completely transformed society? My answer is the same as was given in the classic movie The Graduateplastics.

When we think of hydrocarbons, we generally think of oil and gas and how they changed transportation and make large scale electricity possible. But now think about the role of plastics in your everyday life, and just try to imagine a world without them. Insulation on wires. Cases for computers. Uses in circuit boards. Medical uses, from syringes to pill bottles to gloves to sterile enclosures. Think of how much plastic goes into a car. Think of how much you use everyday — and how much you throw away, from sandwich bags to trash bags. Think about the use for leftovers, for piping, even in the clothes and buttons we wear.

When we worry about the impact of the cost of oil and the fact that it is a limited, non-renewable resource, think about where much of our plastic comes from. A small percentage is recycled, and a small percentage comes from renewable oil — corn, soy, etc. But the bulk? Petrochemicals.

When you look around your world, what little technologies do you realize are critical to life and society?

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Chained Chum Looking for a Theme

Observation StewAs I read the various posts that become essay prompts, I collect articles of interest that become themed news chum posts (which typically require three or more common-theme articles). Sometimes, however, the themes never materialize or prove insufficient for a post on their own. When that happens, we have chum looking for a theme… like this. However, in writing these up, it turned into a “chain”, post: where there might not be a connection between the articles, but there is a chain of connection between any two bullets.

  • You’re The Top. Food waste in this country is incredible. From perfectly good food we throw away because it is “expired”, to edible food we don’t realize is edible. In the latter category go the tops of many of the vegetables we eat. But they don’t have to go into the trash: here’s how to use them. Here’s a great quote: “We throw an enormous percentage of food away, not only wasting food we know about but also food we don’t think of as being part of the farm-to-table sequence. Sometimes, when I’m at my neighborhood farmers market pulling beet greens and carrot tops out of the discard bins behind the produce stalls, someone will ask me what I’m doing with them. Or, more often, they’ll ask the nearby farmer whether the tops of the various vegetables they’re buying are edible. Fresh greens are gorgeous, fragrant, healthful and enormously flavorful; they’re also endlessly useful in cooking. Not only do we use herbs and greens in soups, salads, sauces and stocks, but also in bouquets garnis, as garnishes, even in cocktails. Why we value some more than others is pretty arbitrary.”
  • Is all Salt the Same? Speaking about food ingredients, normally, when we think of an ingredient, we think it is interchangeable. After all, does it make a difference what brand of pasta we use, from what company the herbs are sourced? Well, it turns out that when you’re talking about salt, it does. I’m not talking sea vs iodized: I’m talking Kosher Salt. Not all Kosher Salt is the same. Representative quote: “a cup of Morton is nearly twice as salty as Diamond Crystal. Its thin crystals, made by pressing salt granules in high-pressurized rollers, are much denser than those of Diamond Crystal, which uses a patented pan-evaporation process, called the Alberger method, that results in pyramidal crystals. While different brands of fine sea salts and table salts generally have around the same weight by volume, kosher salts do not. “And it’s not only the weight,” says Lalli Music. “Morton is a coarser salt. It takes a little longer to dissolve.” So even at the same weight, it actually performs differently. It’s easier to add too much of the slow-dissolving Morton salt because it may not have fully liquefied when you’ve tasted something.” The difference is so telling, recipes have to specify the brand.
  • Clip It. Little things like salt are critical. We often don’t think about these little things. For example, clips. Now I’m not talking MS Clippy (although I did read a fascinating history of Clippy). No, I’m talking bread clips, those little pieces of plastic that close our loaves of bread. It turns out there is a whole family of different clips and types, and some have gone as far as to develop taxonomies of the clips. Favorite quote: ““Much like insect wings,” the site authors elaborate, “occulpanids are grouped according to the dentition (or lack thereof) in their oral groove, which often dictates both their ecological niche and biogeographic location.” Each bagged specimen is also tagged on the site with an “ecological classification” based on the biomes in which it has been found (e.g. grocery aisle, hardware store, asphalt road, landfill, oceanic gyre or gastrointestinal tract).”
  • Knit One. Clips bring things together, as does knitting. My wife is a knitter, so articles on knitting catch my eye. The first in this group explored the history of knitting, from the earliest  days to the present day. Representative quote: “Despite high hopes, my research revealed neither mortals nor gods. Instead, knitting’s history is made up of an assortment of clues, competing theories from scholars and half-rotted fragments on the verge of disintegration. Not exactly the fun romp through fairy tales I was hoping for. Unlike spinning or weaving, knitting doesn’t figure in any ancient myths. In fact, there isn’t even an ancient Greek or Latin word for knitting! The word “to knit” didn’t make an appearance in the Oxford Unabridged English Dictionary until the fifteenth century and wasn’t part of any European language until the Renaissance. All this confirms that knitting is a relatively new invention.”
  • Purl Two. The other knitting articles are connected in a different way: the describe two groups of knitters on each coast. On the East Coast, Alan Cumming (of Caberet) fame has opened a new club that has a stitch-and-bitch night. In a club promising “Downtown Debauchery”, “It’s like a jamboree, with our ‘Knitmaster’ Tom teaching people different types of stitches, and having a weekly challenge, such as hat, scarf, shawl, and then working to have a few gifts for the holiday season,” Nardicio revealed.  On the West Coast, a tight knit (heh) community has formed around a UCLA Campus Club that teaches knitting. Now, this isn’t a touchy-feely “north campus” club, but a club that meets in the Engineering building.  Started by a third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, the i-KNIT-iative knitting club meets in Boelter 5514, providing a space for members to learn how to knit, crochet and do other forms of needlecraft, while socializing and de-stressing in the process. The club is also working to produce scarves and beanies for donation to homeless shelters around Los Angeles at the end of fall quarter. While members bring their own projects, the club supplies materials such as bags stuffed with yarn and knitting needles for members who plan on donating their finished product.
  • Men Using Their Organs The Right Way. Knitting is an activity you do when you’re bored. Where is the best place to be bored? A baseball field. But all is not boring there. Here are two interesting stories about baseball organists. The first is about the organist for the Boston Red Sox, Representative quote: “They’ve devised various challenges to accomplish this. “Sometimes, he plays a song, and I’ll play a song it reminds me of,” Kantor says. “We also do theme nights.” Earlier this year, when members of the ‘67 pennant-winning team were in attendance, they only played songs from 1967. On July 20, the anniversary of the first moon landing, they always stick to songs about space. “Fans will get into it, too,” Connelly says, if they notice. When the April 21 game became an impromptu Prince tribute, it made national news.” On the other end of the country, there is the organist for the LA Dodgers, who tries to do something similar. Representative quote: “Ruehle took over in 2016 following the retirement of longtime Dodger organist Nancy Bea Hefley, who had held the post for a remarkable run of 28 years. But he has quickly earned the respect of music aficionados among the Chavez Ravine crowds for his savvy use of pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, classical and other genre song snippets woven in with the boilerplate baseball-organ repertoire.” Both articles highlight one of those things that are often in the background, yet are so importance for providing a special ambiance.
  • So Is That XL, or XXL? An old joke, oft told between guys about their organs, is that comdoms only come in L, XL and XXL, because no one would ever buy a small. But with condoms, size is importance and not all men are the same: and you don’t want it slipping off because it is too large. This has led to a new business: Bespoke Condoms. A Boston-based company has begun selling custom-fit condoms in 60 sizes, in combinations of 10 lengths and nine circumferences. As the custom-fit condom company, Global Protection Corp., pressed the F.D.A. and industry standards associations for changes, a key priority was smaller sizes, said the company’s president, Davin Wedel. Until recently, standard condoms had to be at least 6.69 inches long, but studies find the average erect penis is roughly an inch shorter.
  • Getting the Rage Out. Now we move from one form of baseball bat to another: real baseball bats. In Los Angeles, a downtown “Rage Room” has opened. Here, co-founders Peter Wolf and Edwin Toribio allow guests take out their angst on a variety of delightfully fragile inanimate objects with their weapon of choice. As Emperor Palpatine would say, “Let the hate flow through you.” Rage Ground offers five separate rooms of various sizes for smashing, though they’re all linked in such a way that a large group could turn them into one massive anger-fueled free-for-all for around 25 guests at a time. Various packages include a variety of objects to obliterate, including glassware and household appliances. For instance, a $13.99 starter package gets a single person five minutes with three small items and two medium items. The “Get Smashed” package ($29.99), which is particularly popular, scores one person 10 minutes with eight beer mugs, five shot glasses, and three martini glasses. For an extra fee, Rage Ground also offers specialty items for destroying (they’re currently all out of Trump pinatas), or guests can make a special request for a particular item in advance.
  • Native LA. Speaking of Los Angeles, last week brought Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles. Yes, the banks were closed. But it did bring out an interesting article on the natives of Los Angeles: The Tongva-Gabrieliño tribe. California was home to thousands of people before Spanish settlers arrived—around 350,000 across the whole state—and the Los Angeles Basin in particular was home to the Gabrieliño-Tongva people. The movements of the Tongva peoples set the stage for what would eventually become Los Angeles. Their footpath through the Sepulveda Basin was the original 405 freeway. The L.A. State Historic Park was formerly a fertile basin within a mile of Yaanga, the Tongva people’s largest known village in the area. The Hahamog’na, a band of the Tongva peoples, settled along the Arroyo Seco river, which now comprises Northeast Los Angeles.
  • Jacked Around. The Tongva got jacked around, but if they were buying a new iPhone or Pixel, that couldn’t happen. No jacks. The 3.5mm jack is increasingly disappearing — for no good reason other than profit. Don’t believe the BS about more space in the phone. 3.5 mm jacks provide a universal way for things to connect. Bluetooth is touted as universal, but typically tends to be a walled garden forcing you to a particular manufacturers product for the best sound.  Always remember this: Even if you are the customer, shareholders come first. Changes made aren’t always for the benefit of the customer, but for the profit of the company.
  • Software Replacements. A great example of this is software, where a few articles on replacements caught my eye. Google is replacing the easy to use Google Drive with Backup and Sync. What’s changing are the apps. The major difference between Backup and Sync and Drive File Stream is the latter’s ability to stream files from the cloud—the popular “placeholder” capability that can display copies of all of your cloud-based files, without actually storing them on your PC. Backup and Sync syncs files more traditionally, placing local copies on your desktop, and then backing them up in the cloud. If you want to back up your photos and videos, you’ll use Backup and Sync. Ditto with a generic USB drive that you want to add to the cloud. On the Microsoft side, Skype for Business (the meeting app we love to hate) is going away. It is being replaced by Microsoft Teams, ostensibly to put pressure on Slack. Microsoft is also promising better meetings with Teams in the future, thanks to AI. Microsoft is building in machine learning, cognitive services, and speech recognition to improve a meetings experience and make it easier to set them up and receive follow ups after the meeting has concluded. But some replacements are never as good as the original. For example, RSS and similar syndication is still the best way to keep on top of things.  [and although not mentioned in the article, Newsblur is still my RSS reader of choice.]
  • Running Away. All these changes make you want to run away. If you do, you probably want a passport, given the mess with RealID. The winter is the best time to get one, according to the LA Times. They report that the State Department is claiming that Americans should apply for or renew their passports before January because processing times are shortest between September and December. Demand for passports typically heats up in the new year and continues into summer. If you want to get your passport back quickly, now is the time to apply or renew. Why get a passport? Something called the Real ID Act will go into effect in 2018. The law, passed in 2005, requires state driver’s licenses to meet certain security standards to be considered a valid federal ID you can use at airport security checkpoints. California is one of the states whose driver’s license does meet the requirements. If you have a license issued by a state that’s not compliant, a valid passport is your best bet for airport identification. Not to mention that you need a passport now to go to Mexico or Canada. [Hmm, mine is from 1976. I think I should renew.]
  • End With The Best. If the fall is the best time for passports, here are some more bests: (1) Best VPN services; (2) Best Art Supply Stores in LA.

 

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Hatred and Jews

Two articles that have crossed my feeds of late both highlight the issue of hatred: one of hatred of Jews, the other of hatred by Jews. Both demonstrate significant failures of our society.

The first was brought to my attention by Rabbi Barry Lutz of our congregation. Titled “Reform is Not a Four-Letter Word“, it describes a problem that is growing in Israel these days: the divide between the “ultra-Orthodox” (note that I do not put all Orthodox in this category) and the more progressive movements within Judaism. I’m familiar with this divide, for it isn’t a new one. Back in the early 1990s I started a mailing list where we explicitly prohibited that device, as the RCO fights (as well called them) were taking over soc.culture.jewish (the Usenet group) with their invective and hatred. It seems this hasn’t gone away: some ultra-Orthodox are using “Reform” as an insult. As the author of the opinion piece writes:

Still, I’d probably not have gotten around to writing this piece had Deri’s remarks not been echoed – almost drowned out – by those of Shlomo Amar, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and past Sephardic Chief Rabbi, who proclaimed a few days later that Reform Jews are worse than holocaust deniers.” You can catch his remarks, word for word, on the ultra-Orthodox Haredi website Kikar Shabbat as he responds to the latest appeal of progressive Jewish groups to the Supreme Court regarding the Kotel (Western Wall). “They don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray, they want to desecrate the holy,” was Amar’s take on the matter. “Today there was a hearing on the Kotel on the petition of the cursed evil people who do every iniquity in the world against the Torah,” he added, including both Conservative Masorti Jews as well as the Women of the Wall (original and otherwise) as objects of his wrath as all were party to this litigation.

Did you catch that? Reform Jews are worse than holocaust deniers. Who needs Nazis in the streets when we have the ultra-Orthodox to hate us (without ever knowing what Reform really is, just like many of the Nazis know Judaism only from false stereotypes like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion). Hatred built on fake news and fake information is not new, folks; it has long been the domain of the ignorant, uninformed, and more importantly, those who do not want to be informed.

The current alt-Right and neo-Nazi — hell, Nazi — movements are bringing this all back to America. I met Shmuel Gonzalez when he recently gave a talk to the San Fernando Valley Historical Society on the community of Boyle Heights. This was an ethnically mixed community east of DTLA that — in the days of red-lining — brought together Jews and Latinos and Russians and Japanese and Blacks and all sorts of ethnicities into a loose coalition that worked for the rights of workers and the rights of people. Those Jewish Community Centers you see these days where nice economically advantaged families bring up their children outside of the horrid public schools were once Yiddishist centers fighting for workers and teaching English to immigrants. Shmuel, a very nice and gentle fellow, talks about this history all the time and preserves the Jewish heritage of those communities while celebrating both his hispanic and his Jewish background. Shmuel describes himself as follows in a recent post on his Barrio Boychik blog: “I am an activist historian and community organizer from Southern California; many of you might know me as the author of the Barrio Boychik blog, which is dedicated to presenting our local heritage of civil rights activism, with special focus on the historical and present inter-section of Jewish and Latino civil rights organizing. As a Mexican American of the Jewish faith, I also proudly serve the as teacher of Jewish education and leader in sacred Hebrew ritual, serving Southeast Los Angeles and North Orange County.”

Shmuel was recently at a counter-protest of the America First Rally – an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rally organized by the so-called “alt-Right” – at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, California on Sunday, August 20, 2017. As he writes on his blog:

On this day I was in attendance to stand with local friends and business people as they stand against hate. Among them my good friend and a father figure to me, Irv Weiser; whose family came to this country as refugees following the holocaust. I came to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he protested against this nationalist hate rhetoric. There were just a few dozen anti-immigrant/refugee protesters that day, a mixed race group of far right extremists that noticeably even had neo-Nazis and white supremacists participating in the event; while there were several hundred counter-protesters in attendance. After the right-wing protesters group dwindled they started making incursions into the counter-protest, to get in people’s’ face and to agitate the crowd; they caused some minor scuffles and were shooed back by the police. While documenting the event on video, I followed the right-wing group back. By this time the right-wing protesters on the other end were encircled and engaging a crowd. I engaged the right-wing protesters in their rhetoric angering them several times with just verbal rebuttals, while also taking video of the protest.

He continued:

As I was still documenting this event on video with the camera running, I went in for a close-up shot as we argued, and one of them quickly approached and hit my hand, sending my camera flying. At that point I was immediately arrested by five officers in riot gear from the Laguna Beach Police department. I was arrested, instead of these nationalist extremists who wanted to assault me. And that was just the begin of a long ordeal. I would be arrested, taken to central jail – where I would be subjected to racist and anti-semitic treatment by the jailer.

His blog provides all the details of this, and he has a court date this coming Monday. Why they arrested a counter-protestor, and not the perpetrators of hate is beyond me.

The reason I bring up Shmuel’s story (in addition to bringing it the attention it deserves) is to highlight the hate aspect of it. Both stories — the one from Israel, and the one from Orange County — deal with hatred of Jews. One is from the ultra-Orthodox (many of the same folks who, in America, are still supporters of Trump). One from the alt-Right — again, a supporter of Trump. Further, as I write this, a bipartisan group in Congress has sent a resolution to Trump condemning such behavior . Why did Congress send it? According to the Washington Post: “Trump was roundly criticized by lawmakers of both parties last month after he blamed “both sides” for the Aug. 12 violence that resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, as well as his suggestion that some “very fine people” were among the white-nationalist marchers.” Of course, the White House is saying he will sign it but the reason why is unclear: political expediency, or because he really believes in it. I guess we’ll find out in the after-the-fact tweets.

Whether the behavior is from our fellow Jews or from the alt-Right/neo-Nazi groups: we must fight hatred in any form. Further, as in the early days of Boyle Heights, we must remember that our cause is tied up with the immigrant — be they be from South of the Border, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. Hatred of minorities in any form eventually turns to us Jews, and we have to stop it before it starts. Both of these stories are lessons and poignant reminders of where things can go.

 

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