Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'rant'

My Dues Are Too High! (A Lunchtime Musing)

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Feb 20, 2014 @ 11:36 am PDT

userpic=tallitYesterday, I read a very interesting piece on Kveller titled “My Local Kosher Market is Closing & I’m Part of the Reason Why“, and I set it aside to write a post related to it. Yesterday evening, Rabbi Lutz posted a link to an article about why one should choose synagogue membership. Both are worth reading, so I’ll wait while you do so.

(taps feet, looks at watch, taps feet again, while the theme from Jeopardy plays in the background)

OK, so now you’ve read them. What both emphasize, in slightly different ways, is the importance of having the Jewish community — and by extension, Jewish communal institutions — there when you need them. The value of these institutions cannot be viewed solely on what you get back in services over a given time period. In fact, looking at Jewish institutions (or any religious institution) in a fee-for-service manner just will not work. You can’t say: I pay $2000 a year to be a member, and that’s cheaper than buying the services ala-carte.

The reason we join together in the groups we do (be that brotherhoods and sisterhoods, or the congregation as a whole) is to create a community, pure and simple. We want to create a community that will be there to support us — to help us and lift us when we are having trouble, to be there to share our joys. We build relationships within the community, and we help others in the community. We may not always like everyone in the community, but the community should have common values, goals, and mores. Most importantly, we want the community to be there when we need it.

In the past — at least in the progressive Jewish communities — we’ve been told that there is a price of admission to the community (boy, doesn’t it sound wrong when I put it that way?) This price: dues. There are dues for the synagogue, dues for brotherhood, dues for sisterhood. This notion of dues turns people off. It is one thing to have fees for specific services (such as a fee for religious school)… but being told by some entity that you must pay $X to be considered a part of the community seems wrong (although, to be fair, they do allow you to negotiate the value of $X depending on your circumstances).

How do Christian congregations handle this? Ever hear of something called “faith offerings”? Ever seen the basket passed? Congregational support is often done at the end of services with passed baskets, with people giving as the community moves them. This never took hold in Jewish communities because of the traditional prohibition of handling or carrying money on Shabbat. There is also tithing (giving 10% of your “income”) to the church, but (to my knowledge) this is unlike dues in that it is voluntary, not a price of admission.

Some Jewish institutions are exploring a different model. In $mens_club, we’ve done away with our dues system, and made all men in the congregation members. We have ask them to send in support to the community, if they feel the community is valuable, in an amount they deem appropriate. If we do our job right and build a valuable community with strong relationships, then people will want the community to exist and will be willing to support it financially. Yes, it is a risk. However, it is a better level of feedback than robotic collection of dues for an organization that might no longer have a purpose.

What it boils down to is this: You need to support your communal groups if they are to survive and be around whenever you need them. You might not utilize them every day; you might not get back in services what you contribute in support. If you want them to survive, you contribute. This is true whether the organization is your congregation’s brotherhood or sisterhood, whether it is the congregation itself, or whether it is your local Kosher market or JCC. If an organization has value to you, support it.


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Monday Rant: Spy Agencies Spy. That’s a Surprise?

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jan 27, 2014 @ 11:47 am PDT

userpic=securityMonday’s seem to be my day to rant over something I saw while skimming the news at lunch. Today’s rant is prompted by the article “Report: Spy agencies collude to gather personal data from mobile apps” in PCWorld. Thanks to Snowden’s disclosures, the world appears to be up in arms that spy agencies are (heaven forfend) spying, and (heaven forfend again) spying quite possibly on them.

Guess what. That’s their job. It’s in their name. They are spy agencies.

Think about this: Imagine you are the head of a spy agency. Imagine you have been tasked to find enemies who are tasked with harming the country you are sworn to protect and defend. Wouldn’t you do anything you could think of to find them? In this quest, would you care at all about the other information gathered along the way that shows people who might be people? Probably not. That stuff is chaff, not the nuggets of grain you want. You have to sort through a hella lot of chaff to find the occasional grain.

So why is everyone up in arms about this? I opine there are two reasons.

First, there is a growing distrust of government and government agencies, egged on by the wackos and conspiracy theorists whose voices are amplified by the Internets. Read any newspaper during WWII. There were much much more flagrant violations of rights during those times than today, but they were swept under the rug. People no longer trust government, and no longer believe it is working in their interest. That’s why they are scared. It is also a significant concern independent of the spying — we need to restore the faith that the government is on the side of the people. [Or, as some might argue, we need to restore government that is on the side of the people. Both views beg the question of what “on the side of the people” means.]

Second, there is a growing surprise that the government can find out as much as they can. Part of that, my friends, is on all of our backs. We’ve been so eager to adopt new technology before it is mature, and before the security and privacy safeguards have been designed and are strong. Is it any surprise that designed-in weaknesses are exploited? Similarly, we have failed to keep our laws up to date with all the facets of technology. So is it any surprise that people are exploiting those laws?

So spy agencies spy. It’s the scorpion and the frog all over again. What should we do about it all?

First, work with lawmakers to enact updated laws that appropriately protect privacy while providing national security and dealing with current and future technology.

Second, vow not to adopt the latest and greatest until you know it provides you a level of protection that you want. Let companies know you’re willing to pay for security, not go cheap for compromises.

Third, understand where the threat lies. The government could care less about the chaff. Big business, on the other hand, loves the chaff. They mine it, research it, learn your habits, so that they can sell you more and more. Remember: if it is free, you are the product. Be careful who you give your information to.


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Hypocritical People

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jan 21, 2014 @ 6:05 pm PDT

userpic=soapboxTwo articles this week have caught my eye because they clearly elucidate some interesting positional tension.

The first, an opinion piece by the attorney for the McMath family (the parent’s of the brain dead girl in Oakland) has the following paragraph:

Those who attack Nailah’s decision and who are “pro-choice” on the issue of abortion should think hard about the fallout from their insistence that the family’s personal and private decision about when life ends can and should be overridden by doctors or the state. The same rights that support the choice made by Nailah also support contraceptive rights and abortion rights.

The other is an article about the television series “2 Broke Girls“, and its pushing the boundary of proprietary in the 8pm hour. That article contained the paragraph:

“CBS has no obligation to only create child-friendly programming so your kids aren’t subjected to sexual suggestion, especially at night – and the FCC isn’t here to raise your kids,” said L.A-based pop culture expert Jenn Hoffman. “Ironically, the same values-obsessed people who want the FCC to swoop with an iron first and regulate our airwaves are often the same people who want the Federal government to leave their speech, guns, heath care and  churches alone. At some point you have to choose what type of country you want to live in and stick with it.”

Being consistent on your positions is not easy, from either side.

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Perpetuating Misconceptions

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jan 13, 2014 @ 11:23 am PDT

userpic=schmuckRecently, a link has been going around the Interwebs that has been infuriating me. This link, likely based on this Slate article, purports to provide the basis for Jewish names. It provides a map and detailed explanations for many Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish names. The information on the name origins in the article is essentially correct, so why am I mad enough to write a post over lunch ranting about it? Here’s why.

There is no such thing as a Jewish Name.

Perhaps I should explain. There are people who are Jewish. They have names. But the name in isolation from the person is not Jewish. People with Eastern European names (such as those in the article) may or may not be Jewish — to view them as Jewish on the basis of their name alone is stereotyping. Further, there are people with names not covered in the article that are Jewish. People convert to Judiasm. People convert out of Judiasm. People change their names. People get married. It is wrong to assume that everyone named Cohen or Levy or Goldberg is Jewish. It is wrong to assume that someone with the last name of Davis or Smith or Jones isn’t. It is also wrong to assume that the person of color sitting next to you isn’t Jewish — two years ago the Southern California Regional Man of the Year (from the Men of Reform Judaism) was a Chinese fellow that had converted to Judaism and was very active in the community.

There are black Jews, there are Asian Jews, there are African Jews, there are Hispanic Jews, and there are Jews from almost every country and ethnicity in the world. This is because Judaism is, at its heart, a religion. It is a belief system that people can adopt; when they do, they are just as Jewish as someone from birth. People can also choose to leave Judaism and move to other belief systems. The point of this is: You can’t determine someone is Jewish by name alone; to do so is succumbing to a stereotype.

If you circulate the article, don’t refer to “Jewish names”. The article discusses names common to Jewish people of Eastern European origin.

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Setting the Example for Women in Engineering

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 08, 2014 @ 7:50 pm PDT

userpic=boredSometimes, the stars align. Other times, it is the articles that come across my screen.

A few days ago, Gene Spafford wrote an excellent essay over at CERIAS on the need for more women in engineering, more particularly in Computer Science, and even more particularly in Computer Security. Even more importantly, he listed things in the article that both men and women should do to bring about this change. I’ll repeat the first five of his fourteen rules for men:

  1. Simple: be aware. Help others be aware. Don’t limit your involvement to this, but everything else flows from this.
  2. If you have children, encourage them and their friends to consider computing in school. Be supportive of anyone trying an IT profession. Be positive and not condescending.
  3. If you are a teacher/professor, don’t let the male students bully or harass the females. You are there to create a learning environment for everyone. Generally speaking, many women are less quick to respond to questions as they think about how to frame the answers, and they tend to let others speak without interruption; males generally are the opposite. Don’t let anyone be interrupted when speaking, and ensure that everyone gets a chance.
  4. At a conference or professional meeting? Don’t assume that the women are less important than then men there — especially if they look young! Address everyone equally. No one should be invisible. Would you want people to ignore you or trivialize what you had to say if you looked different than you do? Address the person, not the appearance.
  5. Don’t ever touch a woman, without her clear uncoerced permission, in any manner that you would not touch a male authority figure. That is, would you touch your boss/professor/policeman in the same manner — without getting slugged/fired/arrested? Thus, shaking hands, fine. Catching someone if they stumble, fine. A greeting hug? Let her initiate it. Grabbing their butts? Definitely no. Use the same rule of thumb for language. Would you proposition a male policeman you just met?

For the women, he gives specific pointers to resources (although he forgot the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security sponsored by ACSA — contact me if you want information on that and I’ll get you to the right people). One thing that he surprisingly does not mention is the importance of role models. Many of the women I know in the field went in the field because a role model showed them it was possible. There are many such role models, from Sally Ride to Grace Hopper to Marilyn Jorgenson Reece, the engineer who designed the I-405/I-10 interchange. I’d like to mention two that were written up recently. The first is the President of my employer: Dr. Wanda Austin, who worked her way up as an engineer. The second I just read about: Mary Sherman Morgan, the first female rocket scientist.

The road isn’t easy. The LA Times just had an interesting article about the insidious effect of a sport on the climb: golf. It appears many female executives don’t feel at ease cutting out of work to do “business” on the golf course, and male executives (thinking they don’t play golf) aren’t inviting them. This is the same subtle segregation that occurred back in the old athletic clubs and fraternal societies, and served to exclude women from the business world. Battling the attitudes is part of the first step.

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Post-Holiday News Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Nov 29, 2013 @ 6:05 am PDT

userpic=chanukah-christmasOn this “Black Friday”, let me save you from shopping hell with a few news articles on recent and upcoming holidays:

  • Gettysburg Address 150th. Last week was the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Here’s what that address would have looked like had Lincoln used Powerpoint.
  • Black Friday Bargains are not Bargains. A few days ago, I wrote about the protest against stores opening on Thanksgiving. I tried to make the point that the issue wasn’t stores being open (after all, many business are open on Thanksgiving), but the encroachment of Christmas (and particularly Christmas shopping) onto Thanksgiving. But is “Black Friday” really the bargain people think it is? The answer is… no. “Black Friday” is a hoax; despite all the “savings”, retail profits are actually higher during the holiday period. That’s right: stores have hoodwinked you into thinking you need to cram your shopping into the last weeks of the year; they then cram their stores with higher profit items and a few loss leaders to bring you in. This all reflects the other point I made in my post: the actual observance and meaning of all the fall and winter holidays has been usurped and coopted by big business, who see in the holidays not “cheer and goodwill” but a chance to make a profit. Stan Freberg was right.
  • A Potlatch. An op-ed piece in the LA Times summarizes what has happened quite well: Christmas (and Chanukkah to a competing extent) have turned into a potlatch. A potlatch was a festival of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest during which the host distributed property and gifts as a way to demonstrate wealth, generosity and social standing. Guests would reciprocate at a later time with items that matched or exceeded the value of the original gifts, or risk being humiliated. The op-ed notes that the holidays have turned into times where “people continue to buy one another things just because they “have to get someone a gift,” even if it may be re-gifted, returned or never used. Our society’s barely restrained annual celebration of blatant commercialism approaches the seemingly needless exchanges and even destructiveness of the potlatch.” I particularly like the op-ed’s conclusion:

    Let’s stop buying and giving things people don’t want and don’t need. If you feel a need to give, give food to the hungry, clothes and toys to those in need, or donations to victims of storms, violence or conflict. A plate of homemade cookies or some other delicacy delivered personally is a much better way to remember friends and family than a meaningless generic gift, a “dustable” to sit on the shelf or yet another ill-fitting sweater in the wrong color. And most older people need even fewer things. Unfortunately, what they really want — youth, vigor, health — are things we can’t give them. But they, and I’m sure many others, would appreciate a call, a card or a visit from family, neighbors and friends. So will you.

In closing, and related to this, let me share the lyrics to my favorite Christmas song — a song that you never hear on the airwaves, perhaps because of its “subversive” message. It was written by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, in 1963:

And it came to pass on a Christmas evening / While all the doors were shuttered tight. Outside standing, lonely boy-child / Cold and shivering in the night.

On the street, every window / Save but one, was gleaming bright. And to this window walked the boy-child / Peeking in saw, candle light.

Through other windows he had looked at turkeys; Ducks and geese, cherry pies. But through this window saw a grey-haired lady / Table bare and tears in her eyes

Into his coat reached the boy-child, Knowing well there was little there. He took from his pocket / His own Christmas dinner / A bit of cheese, some bread to share

His outstretched hands / Held the food and they trembled / As the door, it opened wide. Said he, Would you share with me Christmas dinner / Gently said she, Come inside

The grey-haired lady brought forth to the table / Glasses two and her last drop of wine. Said she, Here’s a toast to everyone’s Christmas / And especially, yours and mine

And it came to pass on that Christmas evening / While all the doors were shuttered tight / That in that town, the happiest Christmas / Was shared by candle light


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Open on Thanksgiving

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 27, 2013 @ 7:16 am PDT

userpic=chanukah-christmasThis morning while getting ready for work, I was thinking about all the kerfluffle over stores being open on Thanksgiving. You know what? I have no problem with it. The stores being open are not the problem. They are the symptom.

First, let’s get the stores out of the way. Truthfully, most of us have no problem with businesses being open on Thanksgiving. We like to be able to go to the market if we forgot something. We like to be able to tank up our cars, or even order something in if we’re too tired to cook. Employees that have to work on Thanksgiving are typically well-paid (which is a bonus to them), and their employers often give them other perks to make up for their being away from their families.

Further, those who are so “offended” about stores being open on Thanksgiving are not doing it because Thanksgiving is a national holiday. They don’t demand that stores be closed on Veterans Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, or the 4th of July. Why Thanksgiving?

The answer is because this has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, and everything to do with Christmas. Their issue is not with the stores being open; their issue is with the fact that if the stores are open they will go out and go shopping. It is that quest for the bargain. It is yet another example of America’s worshipping of symbols — and in this case, the symbol is not the Christmas tree, but the wrapped present.

Now, I’m no Christian. I haven’t studied the New Testament. I’m not intimately familiar with Jesus’ teachings. But I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t his followers to chasing the bargain, going out solely to give more and more of their money to businesses large and small. He would much rather see that money go and do good for those who cannot afford to do so. But, alas, doing good for the poor and needy doesn’t seem to be the “American Way”. Tom Lehrer said it best: “Angels we have heard on high / Tell us to go out and buy!”

So, when you see Christmas marketing creeping earlier and earlier, and merchants getting more and more aggressive, don’t blame the merchants. They are just trying to make a living in a tough economy. Blame the society that has turned the winter holidays — neither of which had anything to do with gift giving and shopping Shopping SHOPPING — into the major commerce point of the year. If you’re Christian, celebrate the birth of Christ by emulating what he taught. If you’re Jewish, celebrate Chanukkah and fight the urge to assimilate and be like the Greeks. But please, don’t celebrate the overindulgence culture so prevalent this time of year.

The stores may be open. That’s their choice, and we don’t need to blame them for it. They are gambling that people will shop. However, their being open doesn’t mean you have to shop. Actually, to be precise, it doesn’t mean you need to start shopping for Christmas. Shop for Thanksgiving, fine. Shop as you normally would, fine. But for material presents? Feh!

Maybe — just maybe — your money can be better spent this holiday season. Give to a charity. Give to a non-profit. Do good.

Oh, and have a happy Thanksgiving, and Chag Sameach! Chanukah starts tonight!

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Tacky, Tacky, Tacky

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Nov 26, 2013 @ 11:34 am PDT

userpic=turkey,turkeys[A lunchtime musing…] As you know, we got to a lot of live theatre. For some of these shows, we bring along my mother-in-law. Last Saturday’s show was one such show. While eating dinner before the show, she shared with us a note that she received from the independent Senior Living facility she’s at. This note gave a variety of sandwich options — Roast Beef, Salami, and Tuna (IIRC) — and sides. My M-I-L said that these were box dinners for the residents staying in for Thanksgiving, as the dining staff was getting the night off to be with their families.

My first reaction was to be very thankful my M-I-L is joining us for Thanksgiving.

My second reaction — and my reason for writing this post — was how tacky this action by the facility was. I can understand wanting to let staff be with their families on the holiday. I can also understand the expectation that many residents will be with their families that day, and thus not utilizing the dining hall. But there are going to be a number of residents whose families are far away, or who do not have relatives that can host them, or who simply do not have relatives that care. For them, offering sandwiches is a slap in the face. At least the facility could have gone to Togos (there’s one in Granada Hills) and offered the #5 (Turkey and Cranberry) as a choice. But they could also have worked with a local restaurant to provide to-go turkey dinners to be delivered — Abes Deli, which is a block away, has a Roast Turkey dinner on the menu.

Why am I writing this? Primarily, to encourage people to think about the seniors near them that may be in such facilities. Check and make sure they are getting proper Thanksgiving dinners (if they want). Perhaps offer to invite such a senior to your dinner.

Thinking ahead: What are they going to do about Christmas — even more of a family holiday. For us, we’ve already invited my M-I-L to join us for our traditional celebration: a movie and Chinese food.

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