Observations Along the Road

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

Archive by Date: March 1st, 2017

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.

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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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California Highway Headlines for February 2017

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 01, 2017 @ 5:02 am PDT

It has been another rainy month for California. Great for our reservoirs. Great for the drought. Not so great for our road system. Here are some headlines from February (excluding things like mudslides and temporary storm damage):

  • OCTA Signs Design-Build Contract for I-405 Improvement Project. On January 31, 2017, OCTA’s CEO, Darrell Johnson, signed a $1.2 billion contract with OC 405 Partners for the design and construction of the I-405 Improvement Project. This is the largest contract in OCTA’s history. With this signature, OCTA has issued Notice to Proceed No. 1 to the design-build team, which marks the official beginning of the I-405 Improvement Project. In November, the OCTA Board of Directors selected OC 405 Partners to design and construct the I-405 Improvement Project. OC 405 Partners is a team of firms led by OHL USA, Inc. and Astaldi Construction Corporation.
  • Rising seas and pounding storms taking toll on Highway 37. Surveying flooding along Highway 37 in January, ecologist Fraser Shilling began doubting his projections for when climate change will cause severe, perhaps catastrophic impacts on the major North Bay thoroughfare. In an influential 2016 report used as a guide for the highway’s future, Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, had established a timetable of several decades for those impacts to be fully realized.
  • Highway 37 flood fix could happen this year. Caltrans is looking at an $8 million fix along Highway 37 in Novato to help stave off flooding that shut down the road after heavy storms. With renewed focus, the State Route 37 Policy Committee met Thursday at Novato City Hall to discuss flooding and short- and long-term solutions to fix the increasingly busy thoroughfare.

(more…)

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