Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'rant'

The Tension of Speech

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 14, 2016 @ 5:22 pm PDT

userpic=soapboxHere are two situations for you to think about:

  • Arts Integrity Fires Bitter Lemons: «LA Bitter Lemons, an outspoken Los Angeles theatre site which Arts Integrity’s director challenged over its pay for review strategy about a year ago, has posted a short piece by editor Colin Mitchell which seems, in essence, to “blame the victims” of Profiles for not speaking up sooner. Read it if you must, but given this manner of engaging with a serious problem at one theatre that, unfortunately, is likely happening at other theatres and in the arts at large, Arts Integrity believes Bitter Lemons has gone from bitter to vile, and will no longer give further consideration to writing that appears on the site again.» [Note that since Colin Mitchell’s piece has been posted, Colin has been fired as Editor-in-Chief by Publisher Enci Box, who has apparently assumed editorial function; Colin still seems to be part owner of the site, as no statement has been made to the contrary.]
  • Donald Trump Revokes Press Credentials from the Washington Post. «Donald Trump announced on Facebook yesterday that he would rescind The Washington Post’s press credentials. Reporters from the paper will no longer be able to cover his campaign events in person.» Essentially, the Washington Post has been barred from Trump events because they made comments pointing out where Trumps statements were in error or had unsubstantiated accusations.

In the first situation, the community wants to tar-and-feather an entire site because its editor said something very controversial. You see few speaking up for the site’s right to publish, and even fewer (if any) speaking up for the clown that made the offensive statement. In the second, you have people up in arms about the revocation of the “press credentials”, arguing that the paper should be able to say what it wants. As for me, I see hypocrisy if one is acceptable and the other isn’t. (In case you can’t figure it out, I don’t like either)

Now, I’m not defending at all what Colin said. But I do defend his right to say it. Just as the ACLU was right in defending Nazis when they wanted to march. A hazard of our rights to have free speech in this country is that sometimes there is uncomfortable and painful speech we have to hear. About the only good thing about such speech, indeed, is that it is out in the open and you can identify who is saying it. That same freedom of speech permits those who think the speaker is wrong to pummel them for it, to point out the errors of their ways, in hopes that reason will prevail and they will learn and change (of course, we tend not to accept that change when we see it, but that’s a different rant — just consider, if Colin were to apologize today, and indicate that the comments had made him see the error of his ways — would the community accept it?).

It is also perfectly acceptable for a press outlet, such as Bitter Lemons, to fire a columnist if their speech does not fit within what the site considers the bounds of their editorial position (or what their advertisers will accept, more often, alas). Freedom of speech does not mean I have to publish what you say, only that you have the right to publish it somewhere. Presumably, Colin is free to go to WordPress.Com and create a free blog of his own for anyone to read. [That’s what I’ve done, although I’m self-hosting.]

What bothers me more is that people are tarring-and-feathering the Bitter Lemons site just because of Colin, just like Trump is revoking the credentials of the Washington Post because he doesn’t like that reporter. Enci, as Publisher, has removed Colin from his editorial role (and presumably other roles, except perhaps ownership). Enci has stated she wants the site to have a new direction, working with the community. We should be giving her the benefit of the doubt, and helping her to right the ship. Independent of Colin’s missteps, the Lemon has been a good site for the community: aggregating reviews, getting commentary out there, getting news out there, supporting the publicity efforts of the community when the large print media has been pulling away. We can’t — and we shouldn’t — throw away that good because of the bad editor. Let Enci restaff, refocus, and rebuild. Further, let’s help her distance herself from the Colin era so we can make the community stronger.

We need to be very careful here: In the Chicago incident, people were afraid to speak up because of the reaction it would engender. We need to let people know that it is OK to express an opinion that differs with the community, that might be controversial, that might be shining light in an area where the cockroaches scurry. Hell — we’ve seen Colin do just that with some of the unethical producers in this city. That means, sometimes, we will hear an opinion that we don’t like. But that risk must be there, if we are to have the freedom. Freedom exists in a world of tension. We’ve seen that with the tension between the right to be safe and the right to keep information private. There’s a similar tension with the press. We need to be careful, even as we may tune out a specific speaker, that we don’t eliminate their right to say something in the process, or create collateral damage on those who simply were the conduit.

As a PS, for those talking about integrity and bringing up the integrity of accepting money for reviews. I’m an audience member — not in any way connected with the theatre save plunking my money down at the box office, and sharing my opinion afterwards. I work in an industry that hammers the importance of ethics, and the risk of the appearance of unethical behavior into us. We cannot accept anything from a supplier more than a donut.* I have had theatres offer me comp tickets as a reviewer, and I refuse them for that reason. I will pay what I would pay on Goldstar. So with respect to reviewers, as long as they are accepting free tickets, they are as tainted as money directly going through the site to their pocketbooks. You want integrity in reviewers? Create a site where the reviewers are paid through crowdfunding, donations, and subscriptions (in the model of Consumer Reports), and they are assigned to review shows… and to pay for their tickets like any other audience member. Then I’ll believe the integrity of their reviews. Otherwise, just let me know, for each reviewer, what form of bribe they accepted — comp tickets to pay-to-review — and I’ll judge based on their track record whether I agree with their reviews. Oh, and yes I understand it is “tradition”. That doesn’t make it right.
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*: Link is an example, not the organization I support.

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Recognizing Harassment

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 11, 2016 @ 7:04 am PDT

userpic=theatre_musicalsI often bring lessons and teachings from my workplace to my hobbies, such as attending theatre and writing up shows. A prime example of this has been our training regarding ethics, which is the clear reason I do not accept comp reviewer tickets. The other days some incidents have come to light regarding another workplace training I have received; incidents that make clear that the theatrical community is in clear need of similar training.

The incidents in question occurred in the non-Equity theatre community in Chicago, and were written up extensively in the Chicago Reader (note that the article behind the link is likely to be triggery to those that have suffered abuse). They concern the Profiles theatre and some of its artistic leadership. It details specific incidents of unwanted sexual and physical advances against actors, in an environment where there were no union protections. The Chicago community is working on a solution; hopefully they will achieve it.

This shitstorm hit the fan, and spread its noxious odor over LA when the editor-in-chief of Bitter Lemons, Colin Mitchell, wrote an op-ed piece essentially saying: they were consenting adults, and they should have taken the personal responsibility to stop it. And the gates were opened, and verily, Colin stepped into it. Deeply.

Let me state the definition of sexual harassment from the EEOC website:

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

It is clear from the article that the situation in Chicago was clear sexual harassment. The complicating factor was the nature of non-equity theatre: there was not necessarily an employee-employer relationship. But even that is not required under EEOC rules.

Now, I am not an actor. I’ve never been one. I’ve never worked in that community. I am, as they say, a professional audience. At work, we are regularly required to have harassment training. This is not training on how to harass, ye of little minds. It is training on how to recognize harassment, and how to report it. If there is not such a thing in the theatrical community, there should be. The only thing that should be making actors uncomfortable in the theatre should be the ideas in the script; the work environment must be supportive, not hostile.

In response to Colin’s article, the Hollywood Fringe Festival has issued a statement severing their relationship with Bitter Lemons. While I agree in principle, I’ll just note that Bitter Lemons is more than Colin Mitchell. I believe the ball is now in the courtyard of Bitter Lemons. There needs to be a pubic response to Colin’s behavior, and this needs to be more than statements by Enci Box, the publisher. At minimum, this should be mandatory sexual harassment recognition training for those who work for Bitter Lemons, and perhaps funding such training for the LA Theatrical Community. Perhaps it is providing an ombudsman for the LA Community to report such incidents when Equity is not involved.  Bitter Lemons needs to make clear that Colin was not speaking for Bitter Lemons, and that Bitter Lemons strongly disagrees with the positions that Colin has taken.

There certainly should also be some response involving Colin specifically. At minimum, Colin’s editorial voice should be removed from the site for an identified period of time, certainly until after all those in publicly visible positions have undergone appropriate training. There have simply been far too many instances in the last year where Colin, as the voice of Bitter Lemons has stepped in it. Enci, and perhaps some of the other columnists, must become the voice of Bitter Lemons and demonstrate that Colin’s attitudes are not the attitudes of the organization.

I say this as someone who has gotten to know Colin, and at times, even defended his actions. This time, however, his action has demonstrated that he doesn’t understand the issue. His response has offended the community and hurt the reputation of Bitter Lemons. There must be distance between the man and the website.

Many years ago, at a former employer, we were having ethics training. The instructor said something I will always remember. He said (essentially) “I can’t teach you ethics. You are either ethical or you are not. However, I can teach you the law, and the penalties for violating the law.”

What has happened in Chicago is (to me) clear sexual harassment. It has created a hostile work environment. The appropriate organizations should be legally called to task for the behavior, and there needs to be community enforcement and education that such behavior is not tolerated. We have that in the aerospace industry. There’s no reason it can’t be in the theatrical community. Further, such enforcement and education should not just be in Chicago, but in every community with non-equity theatre. Sexual harassment and hostile workplaces are illegal, be they a traditional industry like aerospace or a non-traditional industry like the theatre.

(As an aside, I’ll note that sexual harassment has no place anywhere. That includes in other volunteer artistic organizations such has historic dance or theatre guilds (there has been an image related to this going around Facebook, part of the Standing Up for Safer Spaces movement), at technical conferences (a large concern in recent years), at non-technical conferences (again, a large concern, especially amongst those clowns who believe that cosplay equals consent), and in the gaming world (cough, Gamergate, cough). Harassment of others is never acceptable. Alas, we have at least one presidential candidate who presents the attitude that harassment of others is acceptable — ridicule, name calling, etc. But that’s the subject of another post)

As for Bitter Lemons, an organization I’ve supported in the past. I hope that they can clearly distance themselves from Colin, and clearly demonstrate that he does not, and in the future will not, speak for them. Only by doing that can they rebuild any relationship with the LA Theatrical Community.

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The Future of Music

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 13, 2016 @ 7:25 am PDT

userpic=white-ipodEven though I’m on vacation this week, I’ve still been reading news and collecting articles. One subject that has been popular this week has been Apple, iTunes, Apple Music, and the future. Here are some of the discussions that caught my eye:

  • All About the Benjamins. A number of articles have been circulating about the skyrocketing value for older iPods, such as this article, which notes that the U2 edition of the iPod is now supposedly fetching $90K, but of course only if it was factory-sealed in its box. To us old timers, this sounds like the Cabbage Patch Doll craze of many years ago, or the Beanie Baby craze. iPods are meant to be used: to hold music, to play music, to be the center of your musical life. They are not meant to remained boxed. I have two iPod Classics, each modified to have a 512GB SSD memory instead of the 160GB Hard Disk, and I use them everyday (in fact, I’m using one of them as I write this up: currently playing, “Fireflies” by Vana Mazi from the album Izam Anav).
  • W3C, DRM, EME, and other Acronyms from Hell. Yesterday, on Boing Boing, was an open letter from the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) to W3C (the Web Advisory Council) about their stance on new DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology for the web. They are creating a video DRM standard designed to prevent people from implementing it unless they have permission from the big movie and TV companies, by invoking the notorious Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its international equivalents. Earlier in the week there had been a similar article about how earlier attempts at DRM could have killed iTunes and the iPod. That article noted that “iTunes was able to become a powerhouse in music by allowing Apple customers to legally format-shift their digital music. The fact that the RIAA hated this, said it was (or should be) illegal, and tried to stop them didn’t mean that Apple couldn’t go on.” I’ve been format-shifted music I own for years, and there’s nothing that can stop it (especially if you’re willing to go the old analog route, and actually do analog re-recordings of music). I do analog recording from LPs, CDs, and cassettes; digital ripping of CDs, and purchase music digitally. Back when I was much younger, I even recorded off of AM or FM radio (that’s how we used to “stream” music 🙂 ).  I’m of the belief that people should actually own copies of the music they listen to; if they do, they should have the ability to format-shift their purchase so they can use it.
  • iTunes and Destroying the Will to Collect Music. However, these days, collecting music has gotten much harder. Our interfaces to manage the music doesn’t help — witness how many people complain about iTunes (which is likely still the largest music manager for MP3 players and their brethren).  Here’s one man’s story about how iTunes destroyed his desire to collect music. What with fears about iTunes replacing carefully curated tracks with similar versions on the cloud, to the tendancy of iTunes to lose tracks or delete music, the ability to manage a collection — especially large collections — gets difficult. I can understand the concern. If you’ve visited our house, you know I have a large collection of LPs and CDs (and once upon a time had a very large collection of cassettes recorded from those LPs and CDs). I have just under 38,000 tracks in iTunes, and plan to add more. I recognize how I’ve grown tied to iTunes and its play counts and ratings, as well as how easy it is for iTunes to screw up and lose music.
  • iTunes vs. Apple Music. But the music industry may be trying to screw listeners once again. There are conflicting stories out there about how Apple is going to kill the iTunes store within 2 years; but then again, it may not. The conflict (and the reason for the conflicting reports) is the movement to streaming music (which I view as an insidious plot). Supposedly… Apple wants to get out of the profitable business of “selling” people music through the iTunes store, and replace it with the streaming of music through Apple Music, where you can stream tracks you are leasing (but I put “selling” in quotes, because in someways it was leasing as well, because Apple could delete the trick, or might have DRMed the track). I tend to side with the folks that say Apple isn’t doing this now, simply because it is a profit center. I think the risk of it going away is there, especially if more people move to storage in the cloud and a streaming model. Luckily, I think the artists still want to have the ability to get music in the hands of their fans — be it  through download, CDs, or other means. I have yet to hear rumors that Amazon is getting out of the digital music field — and I always get my music through Amazon if I can as they do not DRM protect their tracks; I subsequently import them into iTunes (which moves them out of Amazon Music’s reach).

So what is the upshot of these articles. I think it is simple. People have always wanted to own the music of the artists they like: be it sheet music in the early days, LP recordings through much of the 20th century, cassette records, and later CDs and digital tracks. With recording technology, they like — and need — the ability to format shift their music to formats of their choosing. They also need the ability to pass their music collections to their children (something that may be difficult to do). We should not be forced to buy new copies of recordings we own every few years, despite what the music companies claim.

As for Streaming Music: Streaming music is demon spawn. It is a reinvention of the radio, but under your control. However, with streaming, you not only pay for the music, you pay for the bandwidth used to deliver it. Further, the streamers can lose the ability to send you the music at any time. Further, it is only good if you have a signal to stream the music. Fight streaming. Purchase your music, record it to a format you can use, and just play from your collection — non-streaming or local (i.e., your house) streaming. Oh, and that iPod Classic you’ve got in your closet — don’t sell it as a Cabbage Patch MP3 Player, and don’t throw it away. Replace the hard disk with SSD, load it up, and use it. You can have your entire music collection with you, and listen to the songs you want.

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Who Is The Customer?

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 06, 2016 @ 11:30 am PDT

userpic=theatre_ticketsI like to joke that with all the theatre that I attend, I’m a professional audience member.  On April Fools day 2015, I took that a step further, and announced the formation of a union for audience members: the League of Audiences, Fans, and Others Organized for Los-Angeles-Theatre. After a recent discussion with Colin over on Bitter Lemons, building off my post on how the Fringe Festival might treat its audience better, perhaps I shouldn’t have been joking.

In every business, you will have a producer, who produces a product or service, that is sold to the customer. You can often gain insight into the business, and the problems and risks, by understanding exactly who that customer is. Often it isn’t clear. For example, take Facebook? Who is the customer. If you think it is you the user, you’re wrong. Customers pay for goods and services. You get Facebook for free. So who is the customer? That’s right: the advertisers. Now ask yourself: What is the product? The answer is: your user data.

In terms of the theatre, it is an interesting question to ask. Let’s look at the Fringe Festival. To hear the lead organizers talk, it is the producers and actors. That’s pretty clear when you see all the workshops, and all the resources made available to the participants. When you go to the Hollywood Fringe website, and click on the big “Schedule” button — it asks you to schedule a show. Ticketing is at the single person level. Again: All geared towards the producers and actors. Where is the audience — and I should clarify, the TICKET PAYING audience — in the equation? Does Fringe central open up with the very first production for the audience? Can pins be obtained in advance? Is there a mechanism for people buying tickets for couples? Have arrangements been made for parking, or even recommendations? What information is provided to audience members before they arrive in terms of where to eat, where to park, where to pass time between shows? I think you know the answer. The Fringe Festival does not consider the audience their customer, at least at the present time.

How can the Fringe solve this problem? That’s easy: devote dedicated staff time to improving the audience experience.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have services like Goldstar, which Colin railes against in a recent post over on Bitter Lemons. His complaint there is about Goldstar’s skew towards the audience, where they provide loads of services. I note quite a few of them in my comments on that post:

  • An easy way to find shows of interest, from a wide-variety of venues — often, much wider than is available from either Footlights or LA Stage Tix
  • The ability to see reviews and recommendations about the shows and venues
  • The convenience of an easy to use online and app interface.
  • Discounted seats. Everyone likes to save money
  • For red-velvet members, the easy ability to cancel a show, without penalty, if plans change. That’s often priceless, and often makes me use Goldstar over another service where — if reviews indicate a show is a stinker, I’m stuck.
  • The ability to “star” shows and venues, so I can easily learn when a company or theatre I like has a new show, or when new tickets are available.
  • They cover lots of cities. I’ll be in the San Francisco area next week, and I’m seeing two shows. One I have tickets to from a Kickstarter (otherwise, it’s on Goldstar) — the Boy from Oz from Landmark Musicals. The other — ACT San Francisco’s Last 5 Years — is from Goldstar. I didn’t have to hunt around to find how to get discount tickets — or tickets at all — in a different city.

The primary complaint against Goldstar is that they often strong arm theatre to give large blocks of tickets to the service, and there is a push to make many of the complementary, which brings no income to the producer. He also complains about Goldstar’s fees, but as I note above, they do provide a lot of service for their fee (certainly more than Ticketmaster).  Note that the Fringe is that the other end of the spectrum: low fee, but low additional benefits for those ticketing through the service.

So, to bring this all home, what can we learn from all of this?

The Fringe has a producer and artist focus — and makes it difficult for the customer. Goldstar has great customer service, but with a big cost to the producer (of aggressive discounting). What is needed is balance: a complete understanding of all the customers — producers, artists, and audience. The successful approach — one that brings customers in and keeps them coming back  — is one that understands the need of all of them and benefits them all. I’m not sure yet that intimate theatre has found the right balance.

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A Rumination: Women and the Draft

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 14, 2016 @ 6:31 am PDT

userpic=war-not-healthySometimes, you just see an article or a headline and it starts a rumination in your head. So it is with an opinion piece in the LA Times this morning titled: “Should women register for the draft? That’s the wrong question to ask about our military.” I have a number of thoughts on this…

I still remember, many years ago, when I dutifully sent an address change to selective service (I think it was when we moved in 1989), and I got back a letter saying, “You’re too old; you no longer need to send us address changes.” I’m at the tail end of the old draft era, and at the beginning of the new draft era. My brother had to register for selective service, and had the real risk of being sent to Vietnam, if he hadn’t been in school. When I turned 18, that draft was already over. A new form of selective service — register only, but no service — started in 1980. So I registered, but President Carter told us we wouldn’t need to go.

As a result, I’ve never been called up or had to serve in the military. At 56, and with my various medical issues, that’s unlikely to happen now. However, once I graduated college I started serving the nation, and have actually been serving the nation for my entire working career. I’ve been helping develop, evaluate, and acquire secure systems that the Government needs; I’m actually cognizant and proud every day that I do so.

So do I think women should register for the draft? I think it is an absurd question in many ways.

First, there’s the “women” aspect. Not having women register means that we see some inherent difference in their ability to serve. The military has been co-ed for many years; women are now fulfilling combat roles. Further, denying the military the talents of women would put us at a severe disadvantage. Further, we’re in an era were we are erasing the gender-bound roles. We have marriage equality, and we’re bringing in equality for the transgendered. With that, we shouldn’t have the distinction at all. The requirements to register should apply to all adult citizens.

But then, there is the question of “registering” at all. If we require all adults to register, irrespective of sex, then doesn’t your selective service number become your defacto national ID? Who needs social security numbers anymore — just use selective service IDs. But if government is as much of a “big brother” as one says, there shouldn’t be the need to register because everyone should be automatically registered. After all, you have to get a social security number when you are born. You’re going to be someone’s dependent. You’ll be on the records. The government knows who the adults are from the tax records; even if it didn’t, “big data” out there does know. Why require registration when it isn’t technically necessary. A separate registration is an artifact of a pre-Internet era.

So let’s set aside the question of whether women should register, or whether there should be registration at all — and go instead to the question of whether there should be Selective Service. Here I think our laws are too lax. I think there should be required service to the nation. I’m not saying there should be military service, or that it should be volunteer. I believe that everyone should be required to do some form of service to the nation in their life. It could be service in the military. It could be working for the Federal government either directly or as a contractor (as I do). It could be doing research for the national good. It could be working with the Peace Corps, or helping to rebuild our cities. It could be working with charities or religious groups. Whatever is done, we live in a special nation with wonderful freedoms (despite its various flaws) — and we should all be working to make it better.

But the article in the LA Times that started this rumination was moving more in the direction about our military being too big. I’ve seen comments to that effect before, along with the chart that shows that defense spending occupies over 50 percent of the Federal budget. Usually, when that chart appears, it is accompanied with an exhortation that the funding should go to some other purpose — perhaps more subsidies to the poor or other redistribution schemes.

I look at government spending a different way. Instead of looking at government spending by department, look at it this way: how much of Federal spending is spent on jobs: either direct Federal employees or people working for Federal contractors? In doing so, note that Federally-funded research is also in the jobs category. How much is spent on acquiring things: building infrastructure, renting infrastructure, maintaining infrastructure, acquiring material — be it weapons systems, computer systems, or whatever. In that acquisition cost, think only of the physical items — the people that build them are jobs, not things. Lastly, how much is spent on subsidizes to people: programs like welfare, veterans services, tax breaks, and such.

When you look at the government that way, I’d suggest that the vast bulk of Government expenditures is for jobs. Be they jobs at Defense Contractors, the military payroll expense, employees at Agriculture, NIH, researchers. A much smaller percentage is on acquiring things; a similarly small percentage in on subsidies. So, making the significant cuts at defense as people propose would create significant unemployment; it would result in the loss of many well-paying jobs and hurt the middle-class of this country.

That’s not to say there isn’t waste that couldn’t be cut. There is lots of waste, much created because there were a few people who abused the system, and so entire levels of cruft are built up to prevent that abuse from happening again. But the notion of seeing the defense budget as solely for weapons of war is the wrong way to look at it. The bulk of the defense budget is spent on people: the military, the defense contractors, the veterans. The actual physical weapons are just a small part. That $35 million bomber: the raw cost of the components is nothing compared with the labor cost to build it, maintain it, and acquire it.

So, circling back to the original trigger for this rumination: Should women be required to register for the draft? You should walk away with the following points:

  1. It is silly to even attempt to make a gender-based distinction such as this these days.
  2. Separate registration shouldn’t be required in this era of big data. The government knows who the over 18 adults are already. Registration should be automatic.
  3. We think of selective service as being called to work in the military. In reality, all of us, as citizens of this nation, should be required to do some form of service that benefits the nation over our lifetime.
  4. Military spending isn’t for the machinery of war. Military spending is in reality a gigantic jobs program, including both those who work for the DOD, as well as supporting services and defense contractors. It is also a subsidy program for veterans. The raw material costs for things acquired is minor when compared to the other functions.

I thank you for your attention.

 

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Perhaps Not What They Wanted

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 27, 2016 @ 6:32 pm PDT

userpic=dramamasks

Dogs got to bark, a mule’s got to bray.
Soldiers must fight and preachers must pray.
And children, I guess, must get their own way
The minute that you say no.

Why did the kids pour jam on the cat?
Raspberry jam all over the cat?
Why should the kids do something like that,
When all that we said was no?

Today, the licensing group for the upcoming production of Harold Pinter’s “The Room” made an interesting request demand of The Wooster Group, who is presenting the show at REDCAT in downtown L.A. from Feb. 4 to 14.  Their request, as the Wooster Group relayed to critics in an email (and which Bitter Lemons reported):

On January 11, 2016, Samuel French instructed the Group that all promotion and reviews of the production would be forbidden. The Group appealed this decision, and Samuel French subsequently lifted the restriction on promoting the production, but informed the Group that the restriction on reviews will remain in place. Samuel French’s licensing agreement states that “There may be absolutely No reviews of this production; e.g. newspaper, website posts etc.” The Group was also informed that they could not currently receive permission for future performances of the production being planned in New York City and Paris.

Guess what, Samuel French. I’m not a critic. I’m a blogger. Further, I’m the one that dictates the content on my website — no one else. I’m not writing the post on Facebook or another site with a Terms of Service. I run my own WordPress installation.

However, I’m not posting a review of the show, only because my weekends are already filled during its run. So I’m doing the next best thing. Go here. Buy tickets. Then take Colin up on his offer and send him your review to post. The ability of an audience member to share their opinion of a show should never be stifled. [However, it might be qualified — so if you do see a preview or a work-in-progress — please qualify your opinion.]

Sure as the June comes right after May!
Sure as the night comes right after day!
You can be sure the devil’s to pay
The minute that you say no.

Make sure you never say…
No!

[Lyrics: “Never Say No”, The Fantastiks]

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Musings on ⇒ Porter Ranch and Ancillary Damage

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jan 15, 2016 @ 12:05 pm PDT

userpic=disasterI seem to be in a musings mode this week, and today my lunchtime thoughts are about the clusterfuck that is the Aliso Canyon (Porter Ranch) gas leak (SoCalGas Aliso Canyon Leak Info Site)

For reference, this map shows approximately the distance from my house to the leak (it’s about 7 mi, uphill, to the leak); this page shows an estimate of the areas impacted. Here’s my previous post on the subject. Recent news has shown how massive of a clusterfuck this is turning into:

We don’t live in Porter Ranch. We do live in Northridge, downhill and downwind from Aliso Canyon. There are mornings we have smelled the mercaptan, but it isn’t persistent or heavy. The YMCA I go to is in Porter Ranch; our synagogue is on the edge of Porter Ranch. I don’t personally know folks who have evacuated yet, but I’m sure I’ll learn more names when I go to the next temple event.

Fixing the leak isn’t easy. They’ve already undermined the wellhead, and made the problem worse with each stoppage attempt. The crater around the wellhead is now 25 feet deep, 80 feet long and 30 feet wide. The wellhead sits exposed, held in place with cables attached after it wobbled during the plugging attempt. The well pipe and its control valves are exposed and unsupported within that hole, atop a deep field of pressurized gas. So Cal Gas is now attempting to stop the leak by drilling relief wells to intercept the damaged well. Workers are not expected to reach the base of the well, 1.6 miles below ground, for at least six weeks. If it fails, highly flammable gas would vent directly up through the well, known as SS25, rather than dissipating as it does now via the subsurface leak and underground channels. A blowout would also increase the amount of leaked gas, causing greater environmental damage. This is on top of the risk of a massive fire if ignited by a spark. This well is in the middle of a brushfire area, and is subject to very strong winds.

Further, this is a problem that won’t go away when they finally fix the leak. Businesses have been impacted (the Y is almost empty when I go up there). I know it is impacting our synagogue, and I could easily see it creating difficulties for the upcoming cantoral search. It is going to drastically lower the property values of homes in Porter Ranch (which weren’t cheap — I’d guess between $750K and $1.5Mil), and I could see numbers being abandoned out of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and distrust). It is going to impact the property values of neighboring communities as well, and will certainly make it difficult for those looking to sell.

Then, of course, there is the increased cancer risk, which might not appear for decades and would be difficult to positively attribute to this source.

Further, our society being what it is, lawsuits will abound. Already, the sharksarecirclingand smellingthe chum. Who will they sue? SoCalGas, which is part of Sempra Energy, which was formerly San Diego Gas and Electric. Where do they get their funds? Ratepayers. Who will pay for the lawsuits? Ratepayers and Insurance Companies. Further, you know the actuaries at those insurance companies will increase their rates in response: both for the utilities affected (hitting the ratepayers), as well as for homeowners and businesses living in the area. These will all come back to bite those in Porter Ranch and neighboring neighborhoods.

The sad part of this all is that I don’t see any good resolution, and those of us in the area are stuck, either in one end or the other.

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A Dinner Costs How Much?!?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 12, 2015 @ 2:40 pm PDT

userpic=acsacFriday, the ACSAC conference ended for 2015. This year (and next year), the conference was in Los Angeles at the beautiful Universal City/Los Angeles Hilton; this meant that on top of my usual Training Chair hat, I was Local Arrangements Chair. That means I was the coordinator for the event: assigning the rooms, picking the dinner entertainment (more on that in the next post), and selecting all the menus. When I first saw the hotel menus, I was shocked at the prices: lunch prices between $40 and $50; and dinner prices even higher. In fact, when I got the end of day survey for the first day at the hotel, I had trouble answering the question: was this a good value for the price? How can you judge, when gallons of coffee are so expensive.

But as the week went on, I grew to understand the prices are so high. In many ways, this is the same reason that the prices are so high in well established and fancy restaurants. And, no, the reason is not “because they can”. The reason is service.

When you go to almost any restaurant, the bulk of the cost of your meal is not the food costs. Food costs, right now, are relatively low. Delivery costs to your location are higher, but even those aren’t the bulk of the cost due to the volume being shipped. The most significant factor in the cost of a meal out is the labor. In fact, the labor is so expensive they increase the size of the portion so you don’t feel guilty paying that price. [And, of course, we’ve all be taught to clear our plates and not waste food, and so you have one reason behind the growth in obesity. In fact, there might be an interesting statistical study in the correlation between the cost of labor, portion size, and obesity in society.]

In a hotel — especially in a hotel that focuses on service such as a ★★★★ hotel — that cost is magnified more so. Everywhere I turned around at the HUC (Hilton Universal City) there was someone from Banquets making sure that all our needs were met, someone from IT making sure the A/V was right, someone from … you get the idea. Who pays for that service? It isn’t room rental — often room rental is gratis if you make a particular number of room nights and a minimum food and beverage. In fact, the answer is in that sentence: it is in the room rates, and the food and beverage costs. A certain amount of labor can be absorbed by the room rates, but the hotel also must be competitive. The bulk of the labor is captured in the F&B costs.

So, let’s go back to the question: is it a good value? We had only compliments on the quality of the food, and the quantity was almost too much (must remember that for next year). Most importantly, there were no complaints about service or the meeting rooms. The hotel staff was there whenever we needed them, often going above and beyond (with no additional charges). So, looking back in retrospect, I think it was a reasonably good value.

(Of course, that still didn’t mean I didn’t wince a little signing the final event orders. Who wouldn’t? But I also now better understood why I was paying what I was paying).

By the way, this is something that the great unwashed public — and even Congress — doesn’t understand. We’ve all read of the DOD acquiring toilet seats that cost $200 each, when they are $10 at the hardware store. We get incensed about the price, without knowing that they have unique manufacturing requirements that prohibit volume manufacturing, that they have documentation and maintenance requirements for their lifetime, and that they have the overhead of the administrative employees at the corporation that manufactures them, which has much lower volume to spread that overhead across when compared to a bulk manufacturer. Similarly, we hear stories of conferences with the $15 muffin or the $45 rubber chicken, and think the government is wasting money. It isn’t: that money goes to all the people employed by the hotel, providing all the service, and spending that money in the community. Yes, there are some conferences with boondoggles, but most food costs are not the boondoggles. Now you understand.

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