Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'rant'


Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Nov 25, 2014 @ 6:32 am PDT

userpic=soapboxYesterday, a Grand Jury delivered an indictment. But, you say, the news says they decided not to indict. That may be the case regarding the officer, but that decision itself was an indictment of our legal system, and highlighted both its strengths and its failures. The reaction to it was a statement as well — a statement that many people don’t understand the legal system, and that many people do not understand the ways to bring about change.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: I was going to title this post “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty” (in deference to an old Doonesbury comic). It is clear the officer, Darren Wilson, shot Michael Brown. There is no disputing that fact.

However, the law does not view all shootings as equal. This goes back to biblical days — the commandments do not say “Do not kill”, but “Do not murder”, making that fine distinction between killing and murder. We kill every day in war, but do not prosecute the soldiers. We watch TV shows where cops kill clearly bad guys, and that is justified with no penalties. So “guilt”, at least for the killing, is only the first step.

The next step is determining which of the many crimes for which Wilson could be charged would have sufficient evidence to convince a jury to render a unanimous decision that he is guilty. First degree murder is out: you clearly couldn’t show premeditated intent. As this article noted, second-degree murder charges were theoretically possible, but this choice was unlikely if jurors decided that Wilson feared for his life when he killed Brown. If jurors concluded that Wilson was negligent when he shot Brown, they could have gone with a charge of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

Let’s look at that “feared for his life”, and add in the complicating factor. We’re dealing with a police officer here, not a normal civilian. Police officers, by definition of their role, are expected to carry guns and occasionally use deadly force, with justification, as part of their job. As a result, there are strict definitions of the conditions when such force is justified; if those conditions are met, murder charges cannot be substantiated. In this case, it isn’t “white privilege”, but “police officer privilege”. One of those conditions is “fear for your life” (and that is an internal judgement call, something slippery to disprove).  The other is to prevent a known felon from escaping.

Now, add to this that a Grand Jury’s function is not to judge guilt, but to decide if there appears to be sufficient evidence to convince a jury to render a guilty verdict (which must be unanimous). In other words, the Grand Jury needed to review all of the evidence provided, and make a determination that it convincingly and unambiguously demonstrated that the officer had no reason to fear for his life, no reason to believe that Brown was a likely felon, and no reason to believe he was trying to escape. From what I’ve read, the evidence wasn’t quite that clear.

This left the Grand Jury with a difficult meta-decision: Do they indict on weak evidence, and risk a Not Guilty version at the trial, or do they not send the case to trial unless it is clear that Guilty would be returned. If you think the reaction to non-indictment was bad, just imagine the reaction to a Not Guilty verdict.

Next, let’s explore the question of whether white privilege was involved. I believe that it was, but its involvement was subtle. A long history of such privilege probably led to a different quality in the evidence based on who gave the evidence (I wanted to say “race”, but that’s incorrect). There was also the impact of the skin color of the people who collected the evidence, and a judgement by the Grand Jury of how the skin color of the eventual jurors might judge the evidence. It was also present in the decision of whether the officer feared for his life — that fear was also the product of prejudice and privilege. This is all subtle, but present.

In the end, an indictment was delivered: an indictment of our criminal justice system. It is a system that ultimately does not judge guilt or innocence, but whether specific crimes can be proven. The standard of proving those crimes is harder if they were committed by a law officer in the performance of their job. It is complicated by the fact that, in the general sense, the legal system works very hard to keep the innocent out of jail, making standards of proof difficult. And yes, it is an indictment of the inherent privilege effects in that system, for subjective belief is involved, and the jurors eventually judge the evidence through the lenses of their biases. This isn’t CSI with purely factual evidence and a purely factual decision.

You’re probably asking, if you’re read this far, if I agree with the decision. That’s hard to answer. Do I feel the shooting was justified? Based on what I heard, no. Do I believe the Grand Jury decision was correct? Having not read all the evidence, I can’t answer whether it would be sufficient to convince a jury unanimously that the shooting was justified, because all jurors do not think as I do. I can believe that the Grand Jury might think the evidence was insufficient. That is the fault of the prosecutor, who had the responsibility to build a convincing case. This prosecutor did no such thing — he dumped the mounds of evidence on the Grand Jury and left it to them to build the case, connect the dots, and decide the charges. That poor performance probably led directly to the Grand Jury decision, which may have been what the prosecutor wanted.  Do I believe the system is biased towards the police? Yes, and we’re not helping by giving them former military equipment and creating the mindset of “them against the enemy”, as opposed to protecting the population. There are deep mindsets to change here.

In the beginning of this post, I talked about how to bring about change. I’ll note that looting is never the way to bring about change. Protesting can be, but not violent protests that result in creating biases against the protesters. King and Gandhi had it right — non-violent protest is the way to go, if one must protest. The best way to bring about change is from within, but it is often too slow for many people’s taste. Voting is important, but even more important is doing — getting people educated about the inherent biases and problems in the system, and then getting them to run for office to change the laws and the system to reduce or mitigate that bias.

Here’s the TL;DR summary: The system is broken. Most people don’t understand the system. The system worked, but didn’t give the answer the unwashed masses thought it should deliver. To fix the problem, violence is not the answer — get educated about the problems and work to fix the system from within.


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Religion’s Influence in America

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Sep 22, 2014 @ 11:54 am PDT

userpic=levysAs I sit here and eat my lunch, the headline in today’s LA Times screams “Americans fear religion losing influence, say churches should speak out more“. The article notes that only about three in 10 Americans see the Obama administration as “friendly to religion.” About four in 10 rate the administration as neutral and another three in 10 call it unfriendly. To me, I find the article infuriating. Here’s why.

We don’t have freedom from religion in the country; we have freedom of religion (and I consider atheism to be a religion as well — religion is a faith that cannot be proven or disproven without the use of miracles). Every individual in America has the right to practice whatever religion they wish, and to let it influence their lives and behaviors as they wish. Churches have the right to speak out as they wish (as long as they don’t endorse specific candidates). So, if religion is losing influence, it is because we the people have chosen to make it less influential. The government has nothing to do with it.

But, you say, there is a war against Christmas or against Christians. Sorry, there isn’t. You can personally be as Christian as you want. Wear your cross. Wish me Merry Christmas. What appears to be a “war” is one of two things: a government institution attempting to not show favoritism of one religion over another (as the constitution prohibits establishing a state religion), or bureaucrats going above and beyond to be “fair.”

Before you claim there is a war, put yourself in a minority religion’s shoes: I’ve had miss about 5 meetings scheduled by others, including an award lunch, because they were scheduled for this Thursday (which, if you look at your calendar, is Rosh Hashanah). But do they miss meetings because someone schedules them on Christmas or Easter?

Further, the same people that bemoan religion losing influence are equally quick to condemn those areas where religion has undue influence — especially when that religion isn’t theirs. Look at the fears of Sharia (Islamic Law) or the areas with Orthodox Jewish law. Alas, in American, fears of religion losing influence are actually fears of Christianity losing influence (which doesn’t even consider the fact that the type of Christianity often pushed by those wanting it to have more influence is not the type of compassionate Christianity this non-Christian believes Jesus would have taught).

For all the arguing about whether religion has influence, the truth is: religions still have a lot of influence. We all have a common moral code that eschews murder and encourages honesty. We all strive to make lives better for the poor, to help the hungry, to heal the fallen, to care for the widow and orphan. We all work for a society that emphasizes love and emphasizes that children should be raised in a loving family. These, my friends, are universal qualities found in all religions — I know them to exist in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What no longer has influence is intolerance driven by religion, or arbitrary punitive codes anchored in practices from ages ago.

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I Come To Mourn a Click-Wheel…

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Sep 11, 2014 @ 11:48 am PDT

userpic=ipod…not to praise it. During its revamp of the Apple Store this week, Apple quietly and without ceremony removed the iPod Classic from the line up. There have been wistful reminiscences, but most have just been nostalgia. The belief from much of the world — especially the connected and early adopters — is that one no longer needs to carry all your music in your pocket. Who needs storage when you can have streaming. In my opinion, these folks have “drunken the kool-aide” of the music industry. Here’s why this is deluded thinking:

  • Not every location can stream. You can’t stream music when you’re on an airplane, in a subway, or far away from modern communications. Often, these are the times when you most want your music.
  • Not everyone has unlimited free bandwidth. Streaming often uses limited cellular bandwidth or requires you to pay for wireless (if free wireless is not available, such as on an airplane). This is one reason why the cellular providers don’t want phone manufacturers to put lots of storage on phone and to have bandwidth heavy apps. They make money off you.
  • You don’t physically possess your music. When your music is in the cloud or streamed, you don’t own it — you lease it. The cloud storage provider could delete that music at any time, and you would have no recourse. When you have the music stored on your device you possess it. You can copy it. You can make backups. You can make CDs or cassettes or other physical media. It is yours to edit and play with.

Further, the death of the iPod Classic is a movement away from the single purpose device. Single purpose devices can be devoted to doing one thing very well. Multi-function devices, such as phones, often do multiple things at varying levels. The 128GB of storage on your phone may sound large, but it means your music is competing for space with your photos, text messages, videos, and applications. So why don’t they give you more storage? They would rather you back up your data to the cloud (using bandwidth, possibly using storage you pay for, and making it susceptible to security breeches).

The iPod Classic was a simple device. It played music, video (and a few games). It had a simple interface which was notable less for the click wheel, and more for the fact that you didn’t have to look at it to use it. This made the device usable by the visually impared — something that is not true for smart phones today, which have no tactile feedback

Did the iPod Classic have its problems? Sure. There are those that complained about the hard disk, but the hard disk is suitably reliable if you realize it is a hard disk and treat it carefully. SSD may be more robust to vibrations, but it has more significant wear issues over time. There are iPods from its first introduction that are still being used. How long does your SSD device last?

There is a complaint about sound quality, but that comes from people who want lossless audio. You could store lossless audio on the iPod, but space limitations rapidly hit you. There is the Pono player coming out that encourages lossless, but it has a horrible form factor and doesn’t solve the space problem: you have 64G internal, and up to 128G on an SSD card that you can swap for different libraries.

Apple has written off the true music collector. Had they come up with a simple update to the iPod Classic that moved it to the lightning connector and a 500GB or 1TB drive, they would have had a significant sales bump as all those people currently owning Classics replaced them. They opted not to, because they see their future in streaming and leasing music, not selling music and supporting the listener.

As for me? I truly love having my entire music collection with me at all times. It allows me to listen to all of it — and to all of it I do (I have playlists that help). My iPod is with me on the van in the morning, in the background playing while I work, providing podcasts on the way home, and playing music to put me to sleep. It plays and is used in environments where a phone cannot stream — on the LA Metro underground, on an airplane, and in other isolated locations. As such, I’ve already got a backup iPod Classic 160GB in the shipping stream — I’ll alternate it with my current player, which I play 8-10 hours daily, and which has 34,606 songs (and 34,899 tracks overall). I’ll look into other players if they offer the same storage and can move my iTunes metadata. Of course, I could always just upgrade the drive to 240GB. Once I have a backup, that might be an option. That might just do me for a while…

…a few months, at least  :-).

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Believing in Untruths

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 22, 2014 @ 4:48 pm PDT

userpic=obama-supermanEarlier today, I wrote about a fundraising event for REP that occurred in response to an incident that happened earlier in June. In this event, a version of a story was spread that was exaggerated in ways to make people believe an untruth — in this case, they believed this untruth because it fit their conception of what likely happened, not what really happened. As someone who tries to look at things neutrally (although I have progressive leanings), I see this all the time. I especially see it on Facebook, where rabid partisans on both sides of the political spectrum spread their untruths about the other side in order to support their views. Yes, I said both. I see some of my very liberal friends constantly making fun of the conservatives; and I see conservatives spreading untruths about the liberal side.

The latest example of this flew across Facebook a little earlier today: a link to an article titled “This “Top 10 Reasons To Vote Democrat” List From Allen West Is One Of The Best Things On The Internet“, posted at The Federalist Papers.org. But when you look at this list from the perspective of the truth, you discover that each one of these things is actually based on a false belief about Democrats. Let’s look, shall we?

  • I’ll vote Democrat because I can’t wait for college football season to be delayed or cancelled because the student athletes are union employees.” When you think about it, unions are actually a pretty Tea Party concept: individuals deciding to dictate their own future instead of letting the government do it. Individuals collectively bargaining for better conditions, better wages, a better future. They are not depending on the government to achieve this goal: they are doing it themselves. So this builds on the misconception that unions are bad things. It also builds on the misconception that the Democrats specifically made student athletes union employees. This was a specific legal decision by a in a specific case interpreting law; it was based on a number of factors, including the time students devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which were equivalent to a contract for compensation.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I believe oil company’s profits of 4% on a gallon of gas are obscene, but the government taxing the same gallon of gas at 15% isn’t.” This plays on the conception of evil government taxing. But is this true. Companies are entitled to reasonable levels of profits; the usual assumption is that many of those profits will be returned to shareholders or into research and development. When profits go for other purposes — like insane executive salaries — people get upset. But more significantly, where does that government tax dollar go? It goes to pay for all those roads people drive upon. The gas companies pay nothing for the infrastructure upon which they depend. The 15% tax on fuel is not obscene.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I believe the government will do a better job of spending the money I earn than I would.” This is a common belief. The problem is that people would not spend money on common good. If you kept more of your tax dollar, would you pay for roads? Would you pay for the lighthouses? Would you pay for the air traffic controllers? Would you pay for the coast guard? Would you pay for the national clocks? Would you pay for the organizations that establish neutral and accurate national standards? In truth, in many areas, the government does do a better job at spending money than you do. One other note: Although you might spend money better, do you believe that is true for everyone?
  • I’ll vote Democrat because Freedom of Speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.” What’s funny here is that it is the Democrats that are usually at the forefront of defending the rights to free speech through the ACLU. On the other hand, who has attempted to limit magazines and subjects that they felt were offensive? Who has attempted to limit the presentation of non-Judeo-Christian religious views and symbols?
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I’m way too irresponsible to own a gun, and I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers and thieves. I am also thankful that we have a 911 service that get police to your home in order to identify your body after a home invasion.” So many things here. First, it is not *you* owning a gun that is worrisome; it is that depressed psycho neighbor of yours. You’re fine. Second, the statement about the local police creates the implication that people use their personal firearms to protect themselves from murderers and thieves — which in really does not occur. Name 10 recent incidents where a murder or theft was stopped due to a local person using a handgun? As for 911, identification of the body is not done by first responders. The first responders are there to find the person who did the murder, and start collecting evidence. Don’t you watch CSI:?
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I’m not concerned about millions of babies being aborted so long as we keep all death row inmates alive and comfy.” Again, multiple issues here. No one is in favor of abortion; no one believes it should occur willy-nilly. The belief is that a woman should have the right to choose what happens to her body; if the conservative side is so in favor of a small government that doesn’t restrict them, they should be in favor of keeping the government out of telling women what they can or cannot do with their bodies. As for the death row inmates: the concern here is the same as with abortion: loss of innocent life. Mistakes happen, people lie or misinterpret evidence, and innocent people do land on death row. Why is it right to not kill an innocent when they are a baby, but OK when they are an adult. As for alive and comfy, you obviously haven’t been in prison — but there is also this little thing called the constitution that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I think illegal aliens have a right to free health care, education, and Social Security benefits, and we should take away the Social Security from those who paid into it.” Actually, the Democrats don’t believe illegal aliens have a right to free health care, education, and Social Security Benefits. They do believe they have a right to some health care, because if they are infectuous they can infect a citizen just as well as a non-citizen. Some of the rights that have been extended have been done by courts — consisting of both liberal and conservative judges — interpreting the law of the land. As for Social Security, you’ll find that it is the Democrats that have been defending Social Security against attempt to put it in the risky stock market and other investments.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I believe that businesses should NOT be allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give the rest away to the government for redistribution as the Democrats see fit.” Democrats believe businesses should be able to make profits. They also believe — just like everyone else — that businesses should pay their fair share of taxes.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I believe liberal judges need to rewrite the Constitution every few days to suit some fringe kooks who would never get their agendas past the voters.” Except, of course, when it is the conservative judges that rewrite the constitution through decisions such as Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. Fringe Kooks exist on both sides, boys and girls.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I think that it’s better to pay billions for oil to people who hate us, but not drill our own because it might upset some endangered beetle, gopher, fish or frog.” Oil is a limited resource. It is best to use as little as possible, irrespective of where we get it, because we cannot make more. But in reality, the oil companies go where the profits are. If it was cheaper to sell domestic oil at the same price, they would. Imported oil is cheaper. Environmental protection is only one part of that. As for the endangered species (which were protected by a Republican administration), we never know what we might learn — what new scientific or health discoveries might be made from them. But more importantly, the reality is that endangered species don’t stop most oil drilling — it is people wanting to protect their water, their air, or their community from the pollution that comes with oil drilling — or the risk of an oil spill, which we all know never happens (and when it does, is cleaned up with nary a trace). Sometimes the easiest way to get a legal hook to stop the action is… you guessed it… the endangered species act.

I do this not to pick on the conservative side, but to urge people to look at partisan statements — from either side — neutrally. Find out the facts — don’t believe the sensational lies you read from either side. Get your news from multiple sources, and listen and attempt to understand — even if you don’t agree — from friends of all ilks.

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Bleeding All Over The Place

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 12, 2014 @ 8:52 am PDT

userpic=securityAll this week, I’ve been following the news of the Heartbleed Flaw. If you haven’t heard if it — or if you have heard and don’t understand it — XKCD gives a good explanation. Basically, the flaw was an “old-school” programming error: someone allocated a buffer without clearing it first. In Orange Book terms, this was an “Object Reuse” error; the Common Criteria called it “Residual Information Protection”. Problems like this were common in old MS-DOS, where you could create a file, move the file pointer to some far out place, write a single character, and close the file. What would be left in the middle was whatever was lying on the disk. Heartbleed was the same thing:

Heartbleed Explanation When Heartbleed was first reported, panic ensued. You probably remembered this. This was the “Death of Commerce on the Internet!!!” Bruce Schneier (who I normally respect) said, “”Catastrophic” is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.” I, however, felt that panic wasn’t warranted. I’m pleased to see that, as time goes on, others are realizing that as well.

Does that mean this isn’t a serious problem? Au Contraire! Rather, it is a problem on the system owners end, who need to change all potentially exposed certificates. It is a problem for all the hardware devices that embedded OpenSSL in firmware in an unchangable and un-updatable way. All those devices have to be trashed and replaced. It’s a problem for all those who depend on others to maintain their web site. For example, I’m on Westhost. Here are their instructions to site owners regarding Heartbleed.

Why was this problem so great? OpenSSL was free code, so everyone thought it was good and used it. Forbes thinks this is indicative of a big problem with open source and its funding — there were about 4 people who were charged with maintaining this, all volunteer. Again, I disagree. The problem is not the funding or the maintenance, but the fact that the authors were not thinking about security from the get-go. They hadn’t been inculcated with secure programming practices that would have eliminated any object reuse issue. Being aware of how to write secure code eliminates many problems: boundary errors, object reuse errors, mishandling of input errors. All showed up here, and all are techniques any secure programmer worth their salt would know.

So, again, should you worry about this? You certainly shouldn’t panic. If you have an account on an affected site, then you might change your password if you are really worried about your data (e.g., I don’t care about Yahoo; my mail account there is only for spam) or you use that password elsewhere. If, by rare chance, you have exposure on a financial website or a government website, then do change your password.

Most importantly, get a little perspective. Although this is a lot of work for site owners, this isn’t anywhere near the headache of a Target breach, or the breaches we hear about every day where this database or that database of credit card numbers is exposed, or major medical databases are exposed. Worry about those. Most importantly, continue to consciously think about cybersecurity in whatever you do, and whenever you authorized information. For example, does the Facebook android app really need all those permissions it asks for?



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STEM and Cybersecurity Education – A Monday Lunchtime Rant

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 24, 2014 @ 11:39 am PDT

userpic=cardboard-safeYesterday, my RSS feeds highlighted a provocative article: “STEM Stinks for Cybersecurity” (Forbes Magazine). In this article, the author argues that we don’t need more people with university degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics — what we need is more people with Vocational Training (he calls it VoTech) who are familiar with the security tools and know how to run the security tools. I think this position misunderstands both STEM and Cybersecurity.

Let’s start with STEM. The author seems to believe that the emphasis on STEM is at the university level — that we only want STEM degrees. That’s wrong and misguided. Emphasizing STEM is important much earlier — from the first days of education to the end of high school. We need to be raising students that are unafraid — who perhaps even love — science, engineering, math, and technology. The ability to understand these disciplines is key to having adults who think critically, and who can recognize pseudo-science when they see it (and thus, believe neither the creationists nor the climate-change-denouncers). Being familiar with these disciplines is also key if you are going to exist in the modern world, where technology is everywhere (and technical terms are everywhere). They are particularly important even if you are going into VoTech — just because you are working with tools doesn’t mean you don’t apply scientific principles or use mathematics. In fact, most CNC tool programmers use mathematics regularly. Familiarity with technology is required in almost every field today — even the soft fields are making extensive use of technology.

Let’s now turn to the question of whether VoTech is sufficient for Cybersecurity. I’ll start by saying that I have no problem with encouraging vocational technology — I think it was a disaster when shop classes were removed from schools, and I’ll support vocational training. Having trained machinists and technicians and repair support is vital to the success of most operations (and it should go without saying that all need to be familiar with STEM). But with respect to Cybersecurity, my opinion differs.

Technicians trained in using tools are only as good as the tools they use. While this is fine in manufacturing, it’s not in Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity tools can only find what they are programmed to find — which are signatures of yesterday’s attack. VoTech Cybersecurity experts, as a result, can typically only find what the best of their tools find. Perhaps, as they gain lots of experience, they will be able to go outside of that box and identify additional attacks. The basic trainee won’t; our systems won’t have time to wait.

Cybersecurity requires individuals who are familiar with technology, systems, mathematics, engineering… and can think critically, and can present their thoughts and findings (which is where the arts come in, and why you see a movement from STEM to STEAM). Successful cybersecurity is much more than running vulnerability scans. It is getting in with the engineering team from day 0 — identifying the security requirements and how they trade off other engineering and mission requirements. These are skills you learn in engineering courses and software and system design courses, not vocational training. It is being able to recognize results and findings that just seem off, and having the ability to track down the root cause (and not just the symptom of the day). The ability to recognize that “this doesn’t smell right” is a critical thinking skill; I don’t believe a VoTech trainee will have that without significant experience. Successful cybersecurity is being able to assess your findings in the context of the larger system, mission, and business picture — a perspective that someone who is only familiar with tools will not have. Successful cybersecurity is looking at all aspects of the system from the low hardware up through the design layers, from operational procedures and processes to suppliers. An emphasis on tools alone does not give that ability. Lastly, cybersecurity requires individuals that can think out of the box, because that’s what the adversaries do. Stopping the script kiddies is easy; VoTech can easily catch the low-lying fruit. The real threat comes from the determined adversary, and they don’t do what you (or your tools) expect.

Don’t get me wrong — technicians are important. If that is the highest level of skill you can obtain, and you’ve had that K-12 STEM/STEAM education, go for it. Some people work best with their hands. But if you can go on and get that STEM/STEAM degree, you will be much more successful and much more useful in the field (plus, you’ll earn significantly more over your lifetime — enough, perhaps, to pay off your student loans :-)).

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Monday Rant: How To Get More People to the Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 03, 2014 @ 11:27 am PDT

userpic=theatre_ticketsMonday’s at lunch are my normal time to write rants. Today’s is based around an article a friend sent me entitled “Arts Education Won’t Save Us from Boring, Inaccessible Theater“. In it (and I recommend reading it), the author discusses why the audience for live theatre remains white and greying. He opines that it isn’t because of a lack of arts education; rather, it is because of the content of the shows, the nature of the edifaces, and the policies they impose. Some of the ideas he discusses are ones that Ken Davenport has discussed before on his excellent Producers Perspective blog. I agree with the author somewhat, but disagree with him as well.

First, the goal of arts education is not to get people into the theatre. The goal of arts education is to encourage an appreciation of creativity in all of its forms: be in drama, comedy, dance, art, or music. The creative process in the individual informs other areas of life and produces more rounded individuals. Remember, what we call scientists today were philosophers in the past; their artistic side encouraged their scientific endeavors and vice-versa.

Does having younger playwrights bring younger people in the theatre? Not necessarily, because one never sees the playwright. What brings people into the theatre are good stories that are relevant to them; stories that are well-written and engaging. What does this mean in practice? The playwright doesn’t need to be young, but needs to understand the sensibilities of the young. This can be helped with an appropriate dramaturg who can shape the story so it appeals to a younger audience. A critical player in this is the Artistic Director, who also has the young sensibility. The artistic director needs to not only program for the reliable older audience, but include in the season mix material to challenge the older audience and bring in the younger audience.

When plays speak to the audience, the audience comes. A good example of this is the Pasadena Playhouse: when it presents plays with African-American themes, the African-American audience comes out in droves (and, alas, the non-African-American audience often doesn’t). The problem is that when those themes go away, the audience doesn’t stick. Audiences come out for specific shows; they aren’t subscribing.

I posit the notion that audiences don’t subscribe because of cost. A vision might be interesting, but when you have to drop $800 or more for two seats in one shot — well, it is easier to buy the seats for individual shows. One of the reasons I like the Colony Theatre is that they allow me to split my payment; I believe that if more theatres offered split payments for seasons (2 or 4 payments), they would get more subscribers.

Another reason theatres have trouble getting subscribers is that they don’t cultivate relationships. Relationships between the theatre and the audience are vital. From the audience perspective, the relationship makes you care about the theatre — it makes you want to support them, it makes you want to donate, it makes you care about the existence of the organization. From the theatre’s perspective, it allows you to know the audience, and just how far you can challenge them. It also creates your best ambassadors, for what brings people into the theatre is word of mouth.

This is the other thing that is hurting the theatre community: we are losing the voice of the critics. Trained critics help the audiences discover shows — they alert people to what might be of interest. Arts education might make you receptive to theatre, but unless you know what shows are out there you won’t go. For many theatres — especially small ones with no advertising budget — the only mediums are email and postcards, which tend to go only to audiences that already know you or know theatre. Critics are in major media outlets, and are seen much more broadly. Even if the critic doesn’t like the show, the description of the show might speak to you.

Lastly, the author blames theatre policies. I agree with him on some points — there should be an easier ability to obtain refunds if plans change or to reschedule tickets, but I can also see the problem that if tickets are returned too late, they can’t be easily resold. Other points he is off about — there is a certain etiquette that people must understand that is simple common courtesy: turn off your phones, don’t illuminate your face during a show, and arrive on time.

So what are your thoughts? How do we get more people to the theatre?


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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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