Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'musings (general)'

Deep Questions

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 19, 2017 @ 10:14 pm PDT

Inspired by some podcasts I’ve been listening to and some articles I’ve been reading, here are some deep questions:

  • Is cereal a soup? After all, soup is food in a nutritious liquid.  [Corollary: Is oatmeal stew?] (inspired by this)
  • Is a taco a sandwich? After all, when you take a single slice of bread, put PB&J on one side, and fold it over, it is still a sandwich. (inspired by this)
  • Is a Snuggie a blanket or clothing? (inspired by this)
  • Is a cheesecake or a tart a pie? [Corollary #1: Is pizza a pie?] [Corollary #2: Is yellowcake a cake?] (inspired by this)

 

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Conspiracy Theories: The Key is Plausibility

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 18, 2017 @ 9:32 am PDT

userpic=trumpPresident Trump is a never ending source of conspiracy theories. From his farcical belief that Obama directly wiretapped his phones, to the notion that the former President is part of some sort of “Deep State” conspiracy with George Soros to usurp his throne his office — it’s all conspiracy, all the time.

It’s Just an Excuse

On Friday, news came out that a laptop was stolen from an Secret Servent agent’s car. The agent told investigators the laptop contained floor plans for Trump Tower, evacuation protocols and information regarding the investigation of Clinton’s private email server, according to sources. An agency-issued radio was also taken, according to Politico. Other items stolen include “sensitive” documents, an access keycard, coins, a black zippered bag with the Secret Service insignia on it and lapel pins from various assignments — including ones involving President Trump, the Clinton campaign, the United Nations General Assembly and the Pope’s visit to New York, sources said. Sources and neighbors said the thief stepped out of a dark-colored sedan, possibly an Uber, and darted into Argentieri’s Bath Beach driveway about 3 a.m. According to the neighbors, a video of the theft “showed somebody running to the car and running back out.  They knew what they were doing, absolutely. They knew what they were hitting.”

In parallel news, the Secretary of State threatened North Korea. On his first trip to Asia this week, Tillerson had declared that diplomacy has failed to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, and that a new approach was needed. On Friday in Seoul, he warned ominously that all options were on the table to counter the threat from Pyongyang. President Trump weighed in Friday by goading China over Twitter for not doing enough to help prevent its ally from “behaving very badly.”

What if these were connected? What if this was just a coordinated conspiracy to frame North Korea and to give us an excuse to preemptively attack them and remove the threat. Another part of the government could easily have worked with the Secret Service on the threat to give the attack a public start, and then arrange an attack on Trump Tower that looks like it was from North Korea. We would then have to respond.

But its only a theory.

Budgets and Donations

Another headline I saw this morning talked about a significant surge in donations to Meals on Wheels after they were threatened with funding cuts. There have been similar significant surges in donations to Planned Parenthood. Environmental organizations are seeing donations surge. ACLU is seeing memberships and donations surge. Non-profit news organizations are seeing donations surge. NPR, NY Times, WSJ — all surging. On the other side, there has been a significant drop in gun and ammo sales since the election, although the NRA reads the stats differently.

What if this was the plan all along? What if Trump is making all these outrageous budget plans specifically in order to make people treasure the endangered organizations more, and to get them more money in donations?  He then lets Congress eviscerate the proposals, simultaneously convincing the arch-conservatives he tried to do the right thing, getting them to change Congress to be more right-wing at the next election for voting them down (thanks to gerrymandering), and bringing in more funds for the organizations.

But its only a theory.

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Fundamental Differences

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 08, 2017 @ 12:32 pm PDT

userpic=divided-nationThere’s an old joke that goes: There are 10 types of people in this world, those that see the world in binary, and those who…

I’m here all week folks. Try the Haddock sandwich. It’s delicious. Early in the week.

But seriously, there are significant dichotomies in thinking in this country — so much so that purple America has all but disappeared. We divide ourselves into conservatives vs. liberals, Democrats vs. Republicans, Trump-lovers and Trump-haters, Red States and Blue States, and we no longer meet in the middle.

This was driven home by a post by Mark Evanier that I read over lunch, which talked about two types of healthcare providers: Those who are in it primarily for the money and those who are in it primarily to help people. He said it’s very important that when two or more doctors open an office together, they all be from the same mindset. He drew a similar dichotomy regarding the health care political debate:

There’s a bit of an analogy between the two kinds of doctors and the two kinds of politicians now debating health care. It’s not exact but certainly, the problem faced by anyone trying to craft an Obamacare replacement is that they’re trying to negotiate a compromise between two parties working at cross-purposes. One side doesn’t care if 10-20 million people lose their insurance and tens of millions more see whopping price increases. They don’t care as long as it doesn’t rebound on them politically…which it will. I don’t see how you arrive at a workable plan if you need to simultaneously please those who want a good government-monitored health care system and those who don’t.

I’ve noted a somewhat similar divide between conservatives and liberals — and note these are generalizations. Conservatives appear to be focused on what is in it for them: what will make their business stronger, what will increase their self-wealth, what will increase their self wealth even more if they become wealthy (the musical 1776 captured it well: they would rather plan for the possibility of being rich, than face the reality of being poor). Thus, they want to reduce corporate taxes, they want to reduce personal taxes, they want everything to be back on the individual and be the product of hard work and hard work alone. Work is its reward; a corollary  of that is no work, no reward. Liberals, on the other hand, think about the other first. They don’t have a problem with taking a little from everyone to help those without — be it welfare, the elderly, the veterans, providing training. Raise up all of society and everyone wins, not just me. Different attitudes, different to reconcile.

That difficulty in reconciliation is playing out in a lack of toleration. Whereas in the past we might have written off the dichotomy because we liked the person even if we hated the attitude; today, we’re quick to drop the ban hammer. Perhaps it is because Facebook and other social media make it so much easier to find new friends that don’t require the mental toleration effort. When faced with a friend with whom you continually butt heads, there’s not a lot of penalty by just ignoring them, by “unfriending” them on social media, by banning them from everyday contact — relegating them to be brief person-to-person contact where you feign politeness. I know I have to fight that tendency — I know there are friends who will constantly respond to my articles and disagree, and other friends for whom reading just raises the blood pressure. I’m sure some of them will comment on this disputing my points.

I’m perhaps too idealistic to believe that the conservative side has no empathy, no concern about others. Perhaps the circle they care about is smaller, perhaps their end goal is the same and we disagree only on the means to get there. But then again, perhaps they are just in it for themselves, and caring is only a veneer. But even when faced with that evidence — and we’ve seen it in a few leaders — it just goes against my fundamentals. But then again, a common complaint in college was that I was too nice.

But whether the “other side”, however, you see it, is good, pretending to be good, pretending to be evil, or is pure evil, we need to find a way to work things out and meet in the middle. Unlike some other countries, the two state solution is not an option for the USA (and there’s now even a debate as to whether it is even an option elsewhere).

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You Have To Be Carefully Taught

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 05, 2017 @ 11:07 am PDT

userpic=divided-nationOne of the things that has truly dismayed me about our current political atmosphere between liberals and conservatives is the pure hatred between the groups. When I see a Conservative friend write about legislators scurrying like cockroaches after the President’s speech to Congress, and wishing that all libtards would die, does he realize he’s wishing death to a cockroach like me? When I see liberal friends refer to those who voted for Trump as idiots, does he realize he is referring to friends of mine?

This was brought to mind when I read the following paragraph in a recent article:

People don’t come out of the womb hating their neighbor. Hate is taught and learned. Hate comes from the inside. It’s felt and it lingers. Hate pushes you to find revenge for what you feel is unjust and unfair.

This was not an article about politics. It was an article about a white woman who married a black man, and saw the reactions of others. But the same notion is true. It is a notion that we see, alas, in our President — who when acting “presidential” calls for unity, but then goes out of his way to make outrageous claims about anyone who does not agree with him. We see it in his desire for a homogeneous society, a society where all immigrants subsume their cultural identity to the assimilated whole. We see it in his choice of advisors, who see this country as a white Christian nation — and work to bring that about.

What makes this country strong is diversity. Science shows us that diversity makes us better thinkers. According to that article:

The most successful civilizations throughout human history have demonstrated the ability — no matter how warily — to adapt through acculturation and evolve alongside others. The benefits of diversity today are largely acknowledged and often desired, as companies strive to innovate and political parties vie for voters. But the pushback against diversification, exemplified so powerfully in political upheavals in 2016, speak to the enduring fear of change and differences, even though the latter is often a societal concept, like race.

A similar message is echoed in today’s NY Times in an article about biracial people, such as President Obama:

What President Trump doesn’t seem to have considered is that diversity doesn’t just sound nice, it has tangible value. Social scientists find that homogeneous groups like his cabinet can be less creative and insightful than diverse ones. They are more prone to groupthink and less likely to question faulty assumptions.

What has made our political nature strong is our ability to find compromise between views. The majority does not have the ability to ramrod their choices through (or they should not). They have to find compromises — solutions that not everyone likes, but they can tolerate and live with. We have also had the ability to respect those we disagree with: to like them as people even as we dislike their politics.

We have lost that. It has been a slow process that started with the loss of trust brought on by Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, the campaigning tactics of Ronald Reagan, and the polarization that arrived with the election of Bill Clinton. It has culminated with the election of a petulant spoiled brat, who throws a Twitter tantrum everytime he doesn’t receive 100% adulation or adoration or get his way.

We have to find a way to restore the balance, to restore the respect. We have to break the cycle of hatred. We have to look past the labels to the people inside, and remember that we can agree to disagree.

It is only in this way that we can save our country.

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What’s The Incentive?

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Mar 02, 2017 @ 7:30 am PDT

As you may know, I vanpool to work. I’ve been doing so since the early 1990s; I’m currently the operator of the van. This means that I lease the van from the vanpool company, collect the fares monthly from my passengers, and pay the lease. We get a nice incentive from LA Metro for keeping our van at least 70% full, and my employer takes care of fueling the van for us (although we pay for the fuel and the fuel attendant). Riders who work at my employer get a tax-free credit of what they pay for the vanpool to a maximum $255 a month as an IRS credit. Combine this with lower insurance costs for driving less, and I actually save money by living further away from work and not driving my personal vehicle.

One of the downsides, however, is I periodically have to find new riders (PS: If you commute from the northern San Fernando Valley to El Segundo, (Vride Finder; on the Metro Finder, enter start 91324, end 90245 and we’re van “Tribure/Chimineas Northridge  91325” Van 1645) working 7am to 330pm M-F, 📲 call me or 📧 email me or PM me if you are on FB). So my virtual ears picked up when I read an article today about how to encourage employees to not use their personal vehicles.

The answer: eliminate the subsidy that employers get for providing parking, and make employees pay to park. Keep the subsidies for transit and car/vanpools. Quoting from the article:

Among the more galling subsidies, writes Susan Balding at Greater Greater Washington, are commuter parking benefits. Many employers provide free parking as a perk, and the federal tax code allows car commuters to write off up to $255 a month in parking expenses.

Thanks to a change in the law in 2015, transit riders can write off the same amount, but the impact is overwhelmed by the traffic-inducing effect of the parking benefit. Baldwin says if we’re going to make a dent in congestion in major cities, parking subsidies have got to go:

And this:

Parking benefits, you likely won’t be surprised to hear, also drive up congestion. And beyond that, they leave governments with even less money to repair roads and keep up public transit systems: As of 2014, the parking benefit translated into about $7 billion a year in lost tax revenue (because the money used toward the benefit is not taxed). To put that in perspective, the Federal Transit Administration’s total appropriations in 2016 came to just over $11 billion.

Now taking transit can be time consuming. One article shows that transit, unless you have a convenient route, can take twice as long as driving. But carpooling and vanpooling doesn’t have that problem (well, unless you’re like our van, and we run a surface street route to make it easier for our riders — this adds about 1/2 hr on the valley end). Quoting from that article:

For New York metro residents who take public transportation, a door-to-door commute averages about 51 minutes. That’s much longer than the 29 minutes typically spent by those who drive alone. Similar discrepancies exist around Los Angeles, where despite the region’s traffic woes, drivers arrive at work an average of 22 minutes faster than public transportation riders. In nearly every metro area, driving to work remains far quicker than using a bus or train, taking less than half as long in some places.

So, here’s my question to you: If you had to pay to park at work, with no subsidies, would that encourage you to take transit, carpool, or vanpool?

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State of the Cheetoh

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 01, 2017 @ 11:12 am PDT

userpic=trumpGiven all my posts of last week, you’re probably wondering what I thought of the speech last night. I heard most of it while I was editing the MoTAS newsletter until the Internet decided to slow down and cut it off near the end.

First impression: Aliens replaced Donald Trump. As some commentators noted, this was the Presidential Trump who read from a teleprompter, not the Tweeting Trump who is off the cuff. Thus we had words from a speechwriter with a bit of Trump interspersed. This meant it was actually intelligible and parsed, which made for a much pleasant (although less humorous and painful) speech.

Second impression: There were actually some parts of the speech I agreed with. Some of what he said about his ideas for an ACA replacement superficially sound like good ideas. Some of his goals for improving infrastructure and our highways are great. I was surprised when he talked about clean air and clean water — those are good goals. His ideas about reaching out and trying to work together are good. The problem is: are they achievable? Is he budgeting for them, and will that budgeting work? So far, I see no evidence of that. He’s cutting the EPA. He wants to cut the funds for healthcare, which he thinks is complex. He’s talking a trillion for infrastructure, yet cutting taxes. He talks about working with the Democrats, yet continues to insult and belittle them. Right now, his good ideas are just words — I’ll believe them when I see the specifics. The LA Times headline said it best: His speech offered optimism, but little clarity.

But in other areas, he expressed policies and ideas that were abhorrent. I disagree completely with the notion and cost of a wall. I disagree with the statement that we aren’t vetting immigrants sufficiently, or that immigrants are the cause of all terrorist incidents. I disagree with a voucher approach that sends Federal dollars to religious institutions, or that takes funds away from public schools. Just like we pay for lighthouses and roads and similar services for all, we must pay for public schools even if we choose to send our children elsewhere. Educating the country isn’t “fee for service”, it is our responsibility to ensure a knowledgeable electorate so that we don’t up with elected officials like, well, the person giving the speech.

I disagree with his views on trade: making it more expensive for foreign countries to sell stuff in America doesn’t bring jobs to America, it just makes things more expensive for Americans. Similarly, penalizing companies for moving production out of America only is significant if that production is for America. Making things in foreign countries for consumption in foreign countries is good business, for the same reason that making stuff in America for Americans is good business. You would think he would be a good enough businessman to know that, but his experience is in real estate and marketing his name, not manufacturing.

I agree with removing the Defense Sequester, but hesitate on the military spending until I see where it is going. I don’t believe we necessarily need more hardware except as replacement and modernization. We do need more funds for cybersecurity. Note that I view the Defense Budget unlike most: to me, it is a white-collar welfare jobs program, putting highly skilled people to work in the interest of the Nation — either directly or through contractors. I am on that welfare.

I disagreed with his characterization of the previous administration and the state of the country when he took office, although I recognize that one can find statistics that support almost any interpretation of the views. There was a significant portion that viewed the previous administration as successful. As President, his job is not to place blame, but to make things better and fix problems.

He talked about cutting back government. He seems to forget that cutting back means putting people out of work. Government jobs are, first and foremost, well paying jobs. Government cutbacks are layoffs. If he is talking about saving American Jobs, he needs to remember that Government Jobs are American Jobs. Keep them, just make sure they are working for the American people effectively.

With respect to his Supreme Court nominee, I agree that he is a skilled jurist. But so was President Obama’s nominee. If you want to demonstrate that you want unity, either withdraw Gorsuch’s nomination and replace it with Garland, indicating you will nominate Gorsuch for the next vacancy, or make a commitment to nominate Garland for the next vacancy. That is how you will assure swift confirmation of your nominee.

I appreciated that he opened with condemnation of the recent hate crimes against JCCs and Jewish Cemeteries, although I wish he had explicitly called it antisemitism, and said that he explicitly repudiated any of his supporters who held such antisemitic views. In an ideal world, he would have said he would purge his administration of anyone who hated another citizen just because of their religion. Then again, that would mean that Bannon would have to go, and he and possibly Pence might have to quit. I could live with that.

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A War Not Fought By Soldiers

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Feb 28, 2017 @ 7:57 am PDT

According to Donald Trump, we’re in a war. But this is not the war against ISIS; it is not the war against terrorism. But it is a war for the soul of America.

Let me explain. An article in the LA Times this morning had the headline: “The real goal of Trump’s executive orders: Reduce the number of immigrants in the U.S.” Why does Trump want to do this? Here’s how the article starts:

Behind President Trump’s efforts to step up deportations and block travel from seven mostly Muslim countries lies a goal that reaches far beyond any immediate terrorism threat: a desire to reshape American demographics for the long term and keep out people who Trump and senior aides believe will not assimilate.

In pursuit of that goal, Trump in his first weeks in office has launched the most dramatic effort in decades to reduce the country’s foreign-born population and set in motion what could become a generational shift in the ethnic makeup of the U.S.

Think about it this way: Before the 1960s, what was the goal of immigrants? To blend in. To become part of the American culture, to melt into the great American melting pot and become indistinguishable from everyone else. Distinctive cultural traditions were lost: this was the era of Reform Judaism and religious practice that looked like Christian practice. It was white bread — everyone blending in. Comfortable conformity. This is the era where the White Man was superior. It is also the era to which much of small town America aspires: it is in many ways the epitome of small town America. This is the era that Trump, and many of his followers, pine for.

When you look at the post-1960 era — and especially what America has become — it is best expressed by a phrase from that era: “Black is Beautiful”. We celebrate our distinct culture. It is the era of Black Studies and Women Studies and Asian Studies in college. It is the era of wearing our religious identity “in your face”: hijabs, kippot, turbans, all are beautiful. We celebrate our origins and we keep them separate. We are no longer a homogenous melting pot with a uniform flavor: we are a diverse multiflavored broth where you can taste every distinct flavor. We don’t hide our diversity, we insist and treasure it.  We insist on it at work because it makes us better thinkers. We work to make up for past mistakes with affirmative action programs and providing extra advantages to classes previously disadvantaged — all so we can have more diversity. We don’t want our immigrants to assimilate and blend in. We want them to stand out, celebrate their origins, and be diverse.

[ETA: In a comment on Facebook, I used this analogy: Think of America as a large box of crayons of all colors. The Trump Administration wants to go back to the melting pot: where these crayons are melted together (assimilated) into a single homogeneous color, all the same. He is protesting the approach of the recent generations, which is to recognize that while we are all crayons, it is the variety of colors that makes us beautiful and stronger.]

President Trump, his advisors, and all their followers hate this. Their answer: reduce those immigrant groups that won’t assimilate into the whole. The Mexicans. The Muslims. (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t go after the Orthodox Jews at some point, the Amish having been here far too long). How do we do this? Hmmm, just look at those executive orders.

(Psst. There was once another leader in the 1930s who wanted a similar goal for his nation. We know how that ended, especially for those groups that were different.)

Seeing the truth is the key. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

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The Oscar Screwup: Bad Design and Narcissism

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 27, 2017 @ 6:25 pm PDT

Last night was the Oscars, and if you saw it (as I did), you saw the screwup where the movie La La Land was announced as the Best Picture winner, and then there was an “ummm, we made a mistake”, and Moonlight was announced as the real Best Picture winner.  You may have even heard how it happened: Price-Waterhouse (now PWC), thanks to the LA Times releasing the names of the winner back in 1940, now handles things with the utmost secrecy: two people tabulate the results, they prepare two identical sequences sets of envelopes, and one is on either side of the stage to cover wherever the speaker enters from. They handed one envelope for Best Actress just before Best Picture, and somehow when the speakers entered from the other side, they were also handed Best Actress instead of Best Picture. The rest, as they say, is history.

What is unanswered is why this happened?

The real reason appears to be: Bad Design. According to the LA Times, a new envelope design — red with the category embossed on the front in gold lettering — could have been a factor. This year, a new company was used to print the envelope. Previous envelopes were gold, affixed with large ecru labels stating the categories in a proprietary typeface that provided contrast and legibility. This year’s new cards, with the  lower contrast gold printing on red envelopes, could have been hard to read in the lighting backstage. I’ve seen similar problems with logos in the past: Wells Fargo Bank is particularly bad, with yellow text on a red background (which makes it difficult to see on a sign). Bank of America had a similar design problem: after their merger with a NC bank,  they had a good logo with red and blue lettering, but they put it on a red background.

Of course, this being the US in 2017, there is also a fake reason: Narcissism. According to Donald Trump, the it was Hollywood’s obsession with attacking him that contributed to the botched best picture announcement. Yeah. Right.

Then again, Gene Spafford opined a different reason: “Warren’s mistake is understandable. La La Land won the majority vote. Moonlight won the Oscar Electoral College vote.”

In other news, Elon Musk says he is sending two well-paying private customers to the moon and back next year. To paraphrase another friend on FB: Can we get him to send four administration officials on a one-way trip instead. Pretty please?

[ETA: PS: The solution is easy: QR codes and apps. On each award card, print a QR code with the category. Put that code on the envelope as well. When stuffing the envelope, use an app that requires scanning both and gives an error if they aren’t the same (e.g., ensuring right card in the right envelope). Award night, the director of the show uses an app to indicate the current award being given out (he knows this because he or she has to cue the graphics). When handing the card to the presenter, they scan the code on the envelope. If it doesn’t match the award being given, an error is given. Plus, this gives an audit trail, something PWC would love.]

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