Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'news-chum'

Of Historical Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 21, 2017 @ 12:10 pm PDT

Over the last few days, the RSS feeds and various other sources have unearthed a number of articles that provide fascinating histories of various things. So I’ve decided to bring them all together into this historical prespective:

  • Graf Zeppelin Stamps. As I work at home, behind me is a needlepoint I did ages ago of the $2.60 Graf Zeppelin stamp. I recently encountered a history of this series of three stamps, most of which were destroyed by the post office. At the time, the Zeppelin was the largest flying machine the world had ever seen. Its operating costs were proportionate, clocking at about $4 per mile (or $54 per mile in today’s money). Although passengers paid steep ticket prices, especially on early flights, the ship could only hold about 20 of them at a time, limiting that revenue stream. So the operating company turned to what supported most airline companies in those days: air mail. They commissioned special stamps from the countries on the tour route. Only letters with these stamps on them would be accepted onto the airship, which would then deliver them to their destinations. The arrangement was that 93 percent of the proceeds from each stamp was funneled back into German Zeppelin Airship Works. The US eventually agreed to make such stamps: 65c, $1.30, and $2.60, with the hope that collectors would buy most of them and they could keep the funds. But this was the height of the depression, and the few bought were used on letters.
  • Three Clubs. If you go to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, one of the venues is the Three Clubs Bar — but not being a bar type, I’ve never gone in. Still, I have an actress acquaintance of mine who does a regular Harry Potter-themed burlesque show there, so it is on my radar. Yesterday, LAist published a fascinating history of the bar, from its early days, its 1950s vibe, its appearance in the movie Swingers, to its current revitalization as a theatre-venue thanks to the HFF. There’s even a great picture of the actress I know, Kim Dalton (who I still believe is another Megan Hilty waiting to be discovered).
  • Les Miserables. Speaking of theatre, let’s pivot to the musical and the book Les Miserables, which is about a man who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. NPR just did a history on bread at that time, and it is really interesting. There was no sharper marker of economic status in 19th-century France than bread. The country was divided into rich people who ate soft white bread (larton savonné) and poor people who ate coarse black bread (larton brutal) made from rye, into which bakers mixed sawdust, tree bark and other additives. The loaf that Valjean stole was the standard loaf of the poor in nineteenth-century France, an oval loaf weighing four and a half pounds, with a thick black crust and heavy grey meal inside. Not the sort of thing you would want to eat nowadays.
  • Universal City. Pivoting next to film, yesterday also brought a really interesting history of how Universal City got started. Yes, the tour was there from the very start, as early as 1913 with the first studio. After setting up shop, Laemmle came west to scout San Fernando Valley locations on which to construct a larger studio in early 1914, and quickly informed Southern California of his search. He bought a full page advertisement in the February 19, 1914 Los Angeles Times, proclaiming, “We want a ranch of 600 to 1200 acres on which to product moving pictures.” He estimated the company spent $1 million a year in business around the studio, and that other businesses servicing it would also greatly contribute to the economy. Universal offered employment to hundreds, and shopkeepers would make money off of these individuals, so he asked what inducements cities would offer to land their business, not unlike rich sports team owners looking for cities to pay for construction of fancy new sports arenas for their teams. And thus… Universal City.
  • Appliances. When I was young, appliances — once called “white goods” because that was the color they came in — lasted forever. A refrigerator or washing machine would last 25 years. Nowadays, things don’t last as long. Recraigslist has an interesting essay on the subject, exploring the reasons why appliances don’t last as long as they used to.
  • Diplomacy. A bit less of a history, but an exploration of the board game Diplomacy, which I used to play all the time. There’s a bit of history, but this is more an exploration of the game at the level of international competitions. I played this during high school — along with Machiavelli — and ran an occasional tournament at a local game convention in the 1980s. Today I can’t scare up a game — no one wants to play an 8 hours game when one could play 4-6 eurogames in that time.

 

--- *** ---

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)

 

--- *** ---

I Didn’t Know That!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 18, 2017 @ 9:53 am PDT

This week’s news chum brings together a number of articles that present facts that you might not have known, but that are fascinating to read. Shall we begin? I quote a bit more from the first article, simply because the words crack me up every time I read them.

  • Fighting Capitalism. As you may have just read, Hasbro has dropped three timeless Monopoly tokens — the thimble, the boot, and the wheelbarrow — and replaced them with a T. Rex, a Penguin, and Rubber Ducky. Some speculate that this is further evidence that what was once a game that protested capitalism is being further eviscerated to celebrate it instead. After all, all three tokens eliminated fit into the theme of capitalism and its discontents: the railway baron’s top hat, the worker’s thimble, the boot with the strap by which to pull one’s self up, and so on. But after Parker Bros purchased the game, it has slowly and surely been turned into a game demonstrating how fun it is to make lots of money and bankrupt your friends. But fear not. A wonderful Vox article identifies the hidden anti-capitalist meanings behind the new tokens: (1) The T. Rex stands for the inherent predatory nature of capitalism. When you use the token, you’re saying, “Behold, I devour all that stands before me, just as capitalism devours the rights of the workers.”; (2) The Penguin. It carries a double meaning. It stands for the coldness of Wall Street, and also for the profit-driven destruction of the polar ice caps. Plus it was a classic Batman villain. (3) The Rubber Ducky. It seems to say, “Much like water off of this duck, the inhumanity and decadence of late capitalism just rolls off my back.”
  • Time Zones. You’ve heard of “fun with flags”; here’s fun with time zones. Some timezones have 1/4 and 1/2 hour offsets. Some are next to each other, but when you cross only the date changes. Some even allow you to go back in time.
  • Chemistry and Ironing. Here’s why your shirts come out of the dryer wrinkled, the easy way to unwrinkle them, and the chemistry behind no-wrinkle fabrics and treatments.
  • Making Lemonade. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When genetics gives your vitilgo, turn it into art.
  • Pennnnnnnnnnnnnies. Here’s a history of coin-elongation machines,  which you’ve probably seen, but never thought about.
  • Decluttering. Here’s why it is so hard to let go of stuff.

 

--- *** ---

Things You Should Know

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 14, 2017 @ 11:18 am PDT

Amongst the political and transitional news chum I’ve been collecting of late, there are a number of articles that are more informational — that is, they provide some really useful tidbits and insights. I’d like to share them with you:

 

--- *** ---

I Gotta Go

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 13, 2017 @ 8:28 pm PDT

This morning, Facebook reminded of a post I did a year ago on things transitioning away. Since thing, of course, more things are transitioning, and I seem to have accumulated quite a few in my news chum pot. So let’s clear them out (and, interestingly, one is an update on an item from the post a year ago). Of course, the one thing we would like to transition away hasn’t yet. I’ll keep hoping.

  • Popular Photography. When I was young, I remember subscribing to both Popular Photography and Modern Photography, when I went through a phase playing with my dad’s Konica SLR. But now film cameras are relics, film is hard to find, and while digital photography is strong, print magazines celebrating it are long gone — and especially the advertisers selling photo equipment and chemicals to amateur darkrooms are gone. So it is no surprise that Popular Photography is going away, both as a print magazine and as a website.
  • LA Restaurants. Of course, many restaurants in Los Angeles have transitioned away, but quite a few linger in the memory. Here is an interesting look back at some of LA’s legendary restaurants, many of which weren’t all that fancy.
  • European GM Cars. There once was the day when GM imported their European cars to the US — I remember the days of GM marketing Opel. Partially, this was because GM didn’t know how to make small cars. GM figured that out, and Opel disappeared in the US. Then GM bought Saab, and that disappeared. Then GM stopped designing real Saturns, and rebadged Opels as Saturns. Then Saturn disappeared. Now GM is disposing of its European operations. So where will GM get small cars with a design flair?
  • Your CD-ROMs. Remember when you carefully took all your LPs and recorded them to cassettes. Then cassettes disappeared. So you took all your LPs and rerecorded them to CD-ROMs to preserve your music forever. Guess what? Those CD-ROMs have probably chemically degraded and are worthless.  Lucky you, you’ve put your music in the cloud now, and that will never disappear. Right?
  • The 747. Last year, I wrote about how United was retiring its 747. Well, the 747 is in steep decline: it seems no one wants to fly passengers on something with four engines that guzzle fuel. They would rather used 777s and 767s and 787s — all two-engine, ER capable. So the 747 is entering the last refuge of the wide-body: the flying-truck freight business. After all, that’s where the few remaining DC-10s are — flying for FedEx. Oh, and that Airbus 380 everyone redesigned their airports for? Almost no orders.
  • The Critic. No, I don’t mean the excellent TV show, which is long gone. I mean the art critic, the theatre critic, the classical music critic. Those jobs are dying on the vine as media realizes they don’t bring in the clicks. I sometimes wonder whether anyone reads my theatre criticism posts, so I clearly understand what they are saying.

 

--- *** ---

Survey Sez….

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 11, 2017 @ 10:34 am PDT

When you read the news for fun, you run across a lot of surveys. Some are good science and good statistics, some are good science and blow the statistics, some get the stats right and blow the science, and some, well, just blow. Here are some articles about surveys I’ve seen of late — let’s figure out what blows, what sucks, and what is the truth:

  • Gluten-Free and Diabetes. The Telegraph in the UK is reporting on a Harvard study that appears to suggests that ingesting only small amounts of gluten, or avoiding it altogether, increases the danger of diabetes by as much as 13 per cent. The study seems to be aimed at the growing number of people who have gone on gluten-free diets because they believe it is better for their health, as opposed to the small percentage that have Celiac (or as they spell it in the UK, Coeliac) Disease or a true sensitivity.  The study was observational, and examined 30 years of medical data from nearly 200,000 patients. They found that most participants had a gluten intake of below 12g a day, which is roughly the equivalent to two or three slices of wholemeal bread. Within this range, those eating the highest 20 per cent of gluten had a 13 per cent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with those eating up to 4g a day. So what’s the problem? First it is observational, not rigorous. Secondly, they didn’t tightly control the factors, for the study also showed that those who eat less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fibre, a substance known to protect against diabetes. So is the finding really that if you go on a gluten-free diet, you need to eat more fibre?
  • Exercise and Weight Loss. We’ve all been through the drill: you want to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise. But is that true. Vox undertook a review of over 60 studies on the subject, and discovered that exercise isn’t  a significant factor. What you eat is important, how much you eat is important, when you eat is important, and even the biome that digests your food is important. But if you think you can eat loads of junk and then burn it off exercising, you’re wrong. This doesn’t mean that exercise doesn’t have health benefits — it does; however, it isn’t a significant factor in weight loss. The article is long and goes through 10 key points, and is difficult to summarize here. But it is an interesting read.
  • Chemtrails and Vaccines. I linked to this yesterday, but I like it so much I’ll include it in again (until my sister-in-law believes it 😉). In a new study coming out of Brown University, researchers concluded that being sprayed with chemtrails actually has a positive effect when it comes to vaccine injuries. While not all the data are available from the study just yet, it appears as though only 20% of the children who were severely sprayed with chemtrails ended up developing autism after their vaccines; a much lower rate than the 80% who normally get autism from vaccines. Correlation? Causation? Or just a fake study?
  • Depression and Food. You are what you eat — or to be more precise, you are what the bacteria in your gut eat. We are increasingly finding out that our antibacterial environment and our fear of germs is a bad thing. Some bacteria are good for us — they manipulate our metabolism in a myriad of ways, from determining how we put on weight and influencing our moods. The latter is the topic of this Mental Floss link.  A study published this week in Nature Scientific Reports finds that beneficial bacteria commonly found in yogurt can help relieve depression-like symptoms in mice. The scientists began by collecting a group of unlucky mice and subjecting them to a variety of intense stressors. Some were kept in crowded cages; others had to sit under strobe lights or listen to loud noises. Predictably, the stressful situations took a toll, and the mice began exhibiting what the researchers called “despair behavior.” The researchers collected poop samples from the mice before and after the stress sessions, then ran genetic analyses to determine the species and quantities of bacteria living in each mouse’s gut. The results showed that the stress resulted in a pretty significant drop in a microbe called Lactobacillus—the same type of so-called “good” bacteria found in yogurt. But the rodents’ despair would not prove permanent. The researchers began giving the mice small doses of Lactobacillus with their meals, and, over time, their symptoms resolved.
  • Napping and Mental Awareness. We all like to doze off at work, but our bosses tend not to like to see us doing it. Perhaps this study will change their mind.  Studies have shown that short naps can improve awareness and productivity. You don’t need much; just 15 to 20 minutes can make a world of difference. According to a study from the University of Colorado Boulder, children who didn’t take their afternoon nap didn’t display much joy and interest, had a higher level of anxiety, and lower problem solving skills compared to other children who napped regularly. The same goes for adults as well. Researchers with Berkeley found that adults who regularly take advantage of an afternoon nap have a better learning ability and improved memory function.

 

--- *** ---

Building a Chain of Chum, Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 04, 2017 @ 10:22 am PDT

Observation StewOver the past few weeks, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of news chum (that is, links and articles that I found interesting) that refuse to theme or create a longer post. So let’s just clear the chum, and for fun, let’s see if we can build a chain connecting one article to the other. To start the screw, so to speak, let’s begin with…

  • High Tech Condoms. I don’t know where I’m going on this, but I know what’s coming, excuse me, cumming. I mean, this brings the Internet of Things to its logical climax. I mean, it’s thrust — what it pounds into you — is that not everything needs to be connected. I’m talking, of course, about the i.Con — the First Internet Connected Condom. I’m sure that you, like me, is asking — but why? According to the article: The i.Con tracks speed, “average thrust velocity,” duration, skin temperature, girth, calories burned (no joke) and frequency of sessions. Most importantly for many, no doubt, will be how a wearer stacks up to the average and “best” performers — though a sexual partner will likely have an insight or two about that. Statistics are tracked via an i.Con app. The i.Con is also supposed to be able to sense sexually transmitted diseases [but what if the technology gets a virus?].  The ring will come with a one-year warranty and have a micro-USB charging port to provide up to eight hours of juice after a single hour of being plugged in. Supposedly “all data will be kept anonymous, but users will have the option to share their recent data with friends, or, indeed the world.”
  • Security of Medical Data. Of course, we all know our medical data is secure, right? Right? RIGHT? Well, not really. I found an interesting article this week on Medjack, a medical trojan. The problem is that the proliferation of literally insecurable medical systems running orphaned operating systems with thousands of know, unpatchable defects provides a soft target for identity thieves looked to pillage your health records. One trojan, Medjack, enters healthcare facilities by penetrating these badly secured diagnostic and administrative systems and then fans out across the network, cracking patient record systems. These records are used for tax fraud and identity theft, and to steal narcotics prescriptions that can be filled from online pharmacies and then resold on the black market.  Security firm Trapx says that “every time” they visit a healthcare facility, they find Medjack infections running rampant on the network, using exploits designed to take over Windows 2000 systems to seize control of the creaking, non-upgradeable systems that are inevitably found in these facilities.
  • Google Maps Data. Speaking of data, have you ever wondered how Google Maps gets its accurate traffic data. Of course, the answer is from you.  The Google Maps app on Android and iOS constantly send back real-time traffic data to Google. The data received from any particular smartphone is then compared to data received from other smartphones in the same area, and the higher the number of Google Maps users in an area, the more accurate the traffic prediction. Using the historical data it has compiled over the years and traffic data from mobile devices using the Google Maps app, the company is able to create models for traffic predictions for different periods. For example, the modelling techniques would be able to predict that certain roads would experience more traffic during rains than other times of the year. Google also takes traffic reports from transportation departments, road sensors, and private data providers to keep its information up to date. The accuracy of location data is unmatched only because of its users, since the billion Google Maps users on the road act as sensors for the app, which make the service as precise as possible.
  • Bus Disposal. One way to avoid traffic is to take the bus. But have you ever wondered what happens with buses when they die? Here’s an interesting article on what happens to Muni Buses in San Francisco when they are retired. Some, of course, are scrapped. Others are reincarnated as mobile showers for the homeless, airport shuttles and odd uses all across the Bay Area — even after accruing more than 400,000 miles on the road apiece. That’s due to the ingenuity of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s 300 or so mechanics. This all occurs in Muni’s Islais Creek Yard, a bus yard in San Francisco’s south side, that serves as a staging area for buses that are set to be sold, scrapped or otherwise discarded. One of the more interesting conversions, after the bus was stripped of useful parts, was for the nonprofit Lava Mae, which converted four old Muni buses into mobile showers for San Francisco’s homeless residents.
  • A Flight of Angels. Of course, talk of buses takes us to other forms of transit such as trains. One unique train that existed in Los Angeles is coming back to life, again. It appears that Angels Flight, a tiny funicular in downtown LA, will be running again by Labor Day. A nonprofit has been in charge of the attraction for more than a decade, but a new private operator, ACS Infrastructure Development, Inc., is taking over for the next 30 years.  The funicular is over 100 years old, and has been inoperative since 2013 due to an accident.
  • Clintons on Broadway. Of course, talk of trains takes us to subways, and no where are subways more popular than in New York. However, I doubt that either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton take the subway when they go to Broadway. Since losing the election, Hillary has been regularly attending Broadway shows, usually to a very receptive crowd. At least four times since November. At each theater appearance, Mrs. Clinton is greeted as a vanquished hero — standing ovations, selfies, shouted adulation. Mrs. Clinton has been attending Broadway shows for years, often when she has had a personal connection to an artist, a producer, or to a show’s subject matter. As for Obama, he was seen on Broadway taking his daughter, Malia, to “The Price”. The daddy-daughter duo headed backstage after the play — a new revival of the Arthur Miller classic — and met with the cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Danny DeVito, Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht.  Contrast this with Trump and Pence. Since the election, only Pence has been to Broadway — to see Hamilton, and we all know what happened there.
  • Sushi. If you’re going to a show, naturally  you have dinner first? How about sushi? Here’s an interesting history of Sushi in the United States. Although there were a few restaurants experimenting with raw fish in 1963 in New York, Los Angeles was the first American home of authentic Japanese sushi. In 1966, a Japanese businessman named Noritoshi Kanai brought a sushi chef and his wife from Japan, and opened a nigiri sushi bar with them inside a Japanese restaurant known as Kawafuku in LA’s Little Tokyo. The restaurant was popular, but only with Japanese immigrants, not with American clientele. However, as more sushi spots opened in Little Tokyo, word got back to Japan that there was money to be made in America. Young chefs, tired of the rigorous and restrictive traditional culture of sushi making in Japan, struck out on their own in LA. The first sushi bar outside of the Little Tokyo neighborhood popped up in 1970, next to the 20th Century Fox studio. And then came Shōgun, … and you can predict the rest.
  • … and Beer. If you are having sushi, you are likely having beer, wine, or saki. These beverages come in bottles of colored glass, and have you wondered how glass gets its color? Here’s an infographic explaining how different chemicals result in different glass colors.
  • … on a Table. Additionally, you are likely sitting at a table to eat that sushi and drink your beverage. Speaking of tables, here’s a collection of interesting periodic tables.
  • Plus Size Fashions. To finish off the chain, if you eat too much at that table, you get fat. We know a lot about size acceptance for women, but what about men (and us CBGs — chubby bearded guys). Here’s an interesting article on plus-size fashion… for men.

 

--- *** ---

Cataloging Society

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 01, 2017 @ 11:43 am PDT

In my day, we had to walk 7 miles uphill in the snow just to get to school every July. Oh, wrong soapbox speech.

Do kids today know what catalogs are? Nowadays, catalogs are rare: you search online for anything you want. Having a thick book or magazine like item with pictures and descriptions is very rare — perhaps you might see them in office for office supplies, and perhaps you might get a Harbor Freight catalog in the mail. But even as late as the 1990s I used to get catalogs from Lands End and LL Bean and order from them; catalogs of folk CDs and needlepoint. I still get catalogs of each from Upton, and occasionally from Stash. But the days of the think “find everything” catalog are long gone. Does Sears or Montgomery Wards or JC Penny even still have their catalog departments?

Catalogs are treasured because of how they reflect, and to some sense, change, their society. Here are three recent news articles about how catalogs and magazines have influenced society:

  • Shipping and Handling. Nowadays, you think nothing of ordering something from Amazon and having it shipped to your account. But that wasn’t always the case. Whereas letters would be delivered, shipping packages was resisted by the postal service — and even when it came in, domestic package delivery lagged far behind. What changed it? Rural Free Delivery (RFD) and the Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs. Both companies’ catalogs, each debuting in the late 19th century, successfully capitalized on the expansion of the country’s mail and package delivery systems, in particular the novel service of postal delivery to rural addresses. When Wards started, as long as you could get to the closest rail station to pick it up, Montgomery Ward could help you save a few bucks and get a better selection than the nearby general store. But (according to the article), the biggest problem that mail-order catalogs faced at the turn of the 20th century was the fact that their intended audience—often rural, as that was 65 percent of the U.S. population at the time—didn’t have easy access to mail delivery. Outside of cities, the infrastructure just wasn’t there, and often people had to pay just to get someone to simply deliver their mail to them—let alone parcels, which the U.S. Postal Service didn’t handle at the time. The solution to this problem was something called rural free delivery, which was heavily pushed by farmers’ advocacy groups. Despite the growing desire to create mail delivery in rural areas, there was much pushback on the issue within Congress due to the high cost, and as a result, the idea only came about in baby steps before finally rolling out wide in 1902. This need to get mail to rural areas was a major driver behind infrastructure building, leading to the creation of roads, eventually allowing cars to drive on those roads to deliver mail. Things improved enough that, by 1913, the U.S. Post Office itself was delivering domestic post packages.
  • Jewish Catalog. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s remember the wonderful Whole Earth Catalog out of the Whole Earth store in Berkeley (Whole Earth also gave us the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL), one of the first BBS).  That catalog inspired some counter culture folks in Mass. to create the First Jewish Catalog — a wonderful hand-drawn catalog of everything Jewish. I still have my copy. There were later two additional volumes with more information, but less hand drawings.  In essence, the First Jewish Catalog and its companion volumes were the FAQ of their day — everything you needed to know about Judaism and practice, distilled down, with addresses and phone number. Tablet Magazine has a great article about how the catalog holds up today. It makes me want to go home and look at the three volumes that I’ve got, and remember. Here’s an excerpt of their description: “The book that does it all, offering sensible peer-to-peer advice, just enough halakhic wisdom (you’ll find no better synopsis of the kosher laws), and the best diagram for wrapping tefillin that was ever rendered by your friend in Hebrew school who was always sketching things under his desk. The best pictures look like Shel Silverstein’s (I won’t die from surprise if someone writes in to say they were Shel Silverstein’s). It tells you how to build a sukkah, how to affix a mezuzah, which blessings to say over what, and how to get by when hitchhiking around Israel (“Get a haircut; Israelis are wary of foreign ‘hippies’”). It offers instructions for sitting shiva, and it tells you where in all the major American cities you can rent Jewish movies. ” They conclude by noting: “Of course, all the information the catalog gives is now available online, in a multitude of places. To learn how to pray, you can find Reform sources, Conservative sources, a dozen flavors of Orthodox sources. You can find melodies by dozens of composers, you can put “Jewish” in the search-bar of your video streaming services, you can visit a website that tells you what drinks are kosher at Starbucks. But in diversity, we sometimes wish for unity. The Jewish Catalog is one of those books, like Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers, or Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar, that you could spot on the bookshelf of a certain kind of Jew and just nod, slowly, and give a look that says, “Yeah.””
  • Playboy. If you were a soldier in the 1960s and 1970s, Playboy Magazine was essentially a catalog of trends back home. So claims an opinion piece in the New York Times. According to the article, Playboy’s value extended beyond the individual soldier to the military at large; the publication became a coveted and useful morale booster, at times rivaling even the longed-for letter from home. Playboy branded the war because of its unique combination of women, gadgets, and social and political commentary, making it a surprising legacy of our involvement in Vietnam. By 1967, Ward Just of The Washington Post claimed, “If World War II was a war of Stars and Stripes and Betty Grable, the war in Vietnam is Playboy magazine’s war.” Here’s where the cataloging of society comes in: The centerfold and other visual features in the magazine served another, unintentional purpose for American troops in Vietnam. Playboy’s pictures and often-ribald cartoons conveyed changing social and sexual norms back home. The introduction of women of color in 1964 with China Lee and in 1965 with Jennifer Jackson reflected shifting attitudes regarding race.  Over time, the centerfolds pushed the boundaries of social norms and legal definitions as they featured more nudity, with the inclusion of pubic hair in 1969 and full-frontal nudity in 1972. The Washington Post reported that American prisoners of war were “taken aback” by the nudity in a smuggled Playboy found on their flight home in 1973. The nudity, sexuality and diversity portrayed in the pictorials represented more permissive attitudes about sex and beauty that the soldiers had missed during their years in captivity. The magazine provided regular features, editorials, columns and ads that focused on men’s lifestyle and entertainment, including high fashion, foreign travel, modern architecture, the latest technology and luxury cars. The publication set itself up as a how-to guide for those men hoping to achieve Mr. Hefner’s vision of the good life, regardless of whether they were in San Diego or Saigon. There’s a lot more in the article, but the basic notion is that the magazine shaped the soldier’s view of what was happening “back home”, the attitudes towards the war, and the general changes in society.

--- *** ---