Observations Along the Road

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

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.

 

The Religious Line

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 10, 2017 @ 12:01 pm PDT

While eating lunch today, I was reading my RSS feeds when I saw a very interesting post come across titled, “Why can’t we accommodate florists denying services to gay couples?” This was on my religious feeds, so I thought it might be interesting, so I gave it a read. Here are two paragraphs that stuck out at me, and actually prompted this post:

If you think small business owners should be allowed to discriminate against any customer on the basis of any sincerely held religious belief, then fine. Be it same-sex marriage or interracial marriage or interfaith marriage or whatever marriage, the objecting service provider gets to have her way.

But if you want to forbid florists from refusing service to mixed-race couples but allow Baronelle Stutzman et al. to refuse service to a same-sex couples, you have to come up with some persuasive secular reason for considering discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation less deserving of legal protection than discrimination on the basis of race.

Basically, the courts CAN NOT decide if a particular religious belief is valid or represents a religion, only that it is sincerely held. You can state that your religion is that it is right to kill and eat people, and to have sex with rabid monkeys, and all the court cares about is that it is sincerely held. That’s all.

So why don’t we then have rampant murder and cannibalism? Simple. Because some laws override religious beliefs — often laws that impact someone else other than the person holding the belief. We don’t allow murder because it is someone else getting killed (the whole abortion debate is about when a foetus becomes “someone else”, because you are allowed to do whatever you want with your body). Similarly, in the case above, the question is what takes precedence over what: are laws about discrimination more important than laws about religious practice. In general, we have said yes: sincerely held religious beliefs must give way if they are discriminatory. TL;DR: You can’t discriminate based on race and use religion to make your case.

So, following on to this, we as a society have decided that one cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation. That impacts someone else. Thus, given that discrimination takes precedence over religion, that means even if you believe that gays cannot marry, you still need to make them a cake. The quality of the cake — which is what ensures repeat business, is a separate issue.

This, by the way, is where the whole transgender bathroom issue is going (which, you know, is really not about bathrooms). As a society, we are moving in the direction of not discriminating based on gender choice (or whatever the term is — I’m not sure). That means that bathrooms must be open to all, as discrimination takes precedence over religion. So how would that be fought? By finding something that takes precedence over discrimination — safety. We can discriminate against sexual predators because of the safety to children. So the same argument is used against trans. Never mind that it is a false argument. The hysteria permits the discrimination. [Which, by the way, is why we must fight it: false facts are false facts.]

P.S.: Speaking of false facts, did you know that chemtrails can protect against vaccine injuries?

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).

Compassion and Leadership

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 07, 2017 @ 11:39 am PDT

I’ve been increasingly dismayed by the hatred I’m seeing in political arenas these days, especially from those who profess to be Christians. Now, admittedly I’m Jewish and not an expert on Christianity, but my understanding is that Christ preached love, understanding, and compassion for people, and rallied against the moneychangers and those who accumulated wealth for wealth’s sake.

What brought this to the fore of late was reading the proposed GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The proposal, according to the LA Times summary, would ensure that no federal funding can be made, either directly or indirectly, by Medicaid to a healthcare organization that “provides for abortions,” other than those done in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. That not only defunds Planned Parenthood, but any hospital that performs abortion. Further, According to a House Ways and Means Committee digest, the measure forbids spending federal tax subsidies on health plans that include coverage of abortion, even if the customer doesn’t get an abortion. This denies women the right to a safe abortion guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, under those timelines — and that in many cases has the government interfering with the practice of the mother’s religion (which might permit abortion). Further, you would think that a group so concerned with the life of a child would ensure it is born healthy, if they are going to prevent abortion. But no. According to the summary, as of Dec. 31, 2019, ACA rules that required qualified health plans to provide hospitalization, maternity care, mental health services and other benefits would be sunsetted at the federal level. So not only is abortion prohibited, but there would be no requirement to provide maternity care. This isn’t compassion, this is hatred towards women.

Further, studies are showing that the new proposal will cost 6 to 10 million people their health insurance. It will raise premiums on older people. It will cost Obamacare enrollees about $1500 more each year. It slashes funding for vaccines and public health. The plan will be really bad for the sickest Americans due to the continuous coverage requirement. Oh, and it encourages health insurers to pay their top executives more.

This is just an example. Hatred from the Conservative side is rampant, and has been for many years. I’ve had conservative friends wish all liberals dead. I’ve seen hatred towards immigrant groups. I’ve seen hatred towards the poor. Yet these are from people who profess to be Christian, who profess to want to have Christian values throughout society. They are using Christianity as an excuse for their hatred, and that’s wrong. I know that’s not what Christianity teaches, as I have seen numerous compassionate Christians who are living that compassion every day.

In a VCStar interview with Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, he was asked about his passion and liberalism. I found his response quite interesting:

I also think for the liberal, it’s the willingness to take a chance, to share and to reach out and to find new ways to interact. I think the conservative mold is essentially to protect your resources or to protect what’s yours; and I don’t know if I should say this to a tape recorder because I don’t know when it’s gonna return to bite me in the ass, but I would say organized religion is very much the same way. When Luther nailed that note to the door complaining about the abuses of the church, he was also in a sense talking about the strict format that had to be obeyed, when really, his feeling was — and I think it’s gaining contemporary recognition — that spiritually, matters of the heart, are for us to decide individually, and that’s scary for the church because that means that essentially everyone is an angel. Everyone is essentially creating their own religion, and that’s scary for people who have put their faith in dogma and in routine. That’s not to say that I don’t have routines that I find comforting – and I’m sure that you do too – but when they exclude other people, create difficulties or lack of respect for other people, then I think we need to re-address obeying forms and start obeying the compassion in our hearts.

Compassion in our hearts. Our political system here in America is one that permits many spiritual paths, and explicitly recognizes that one group cannot impose a spiritual path on another. The Supreme Court recognized that when it found a compromise position on abortion: a point before which it was legal, and a point after which it was not. This is a clear middle ground between those who believe life starts at conception (a Christian view) and those who believe it starts when the infant takes its first breath (a Jewish view). Ultimately, however, it is not an outside party’s choice to make: it is the woman’s choice, in consultation with her spiritual advisors.

If our society is going to show compassion, it can’t be Dickensian, putting the poor in workhouses and letting people die if they can’t afford healthcare. That appears to be the goal of the GOP proposal — and this administration as a whole: benefit the wealthy, let those who have the privilege take advantage of everyone and everything that does not. That’s not Compassionate Conservatism — that’s “I’ve got mine, I’ll take yours”.

Some argue that compassion shouldn’t come from the government; it should come from the churches helping the people directly. Obviously, these people are not familiar with the teachings of the RamBam, Moses Maimonides, and his levels of charity:

  1. The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support someone by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .
  2. A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.
  3. A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.
  4. A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.
  5. A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
  6. A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.
  7. A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.
  8. A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.

Support from the government is at the first two: we know not to whom we give, and they do not know who gave it. Helping provide medical care and job training is above that — we help find them employment and strengthen their hands. The GOP proposal is at the bottom — inadequate giving and unwilling giving.

Our political leaders have a responsibility not only to represent their major donors — the people with the money. They have the responsibility to represent and protect the people with no voice, the people who don’t have the funds for PACs. When their compassion is only for the wealthy who look like them and who were raised like them, this isn’t a government of the people, by the people, and most importantly, for the people.

It Was Bound to Happen

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 06, 2017 @ 12:32 pm PDT

userpic=trumpA few thoughts that have been rumbling around this old head:

Thought the First. You know, it was bound to happen, and we’re just lucky that it took this long. We’ve had a string of 45 employees over more than 200 years, and this is the first with obvious mental problems. We just hadn’t thought out the policy on how to handle such cases.

Thought the Second. Let’s look closely at President Trump’s charges, in a logical fashion. We begin by asking not whether Obama wiretapped him, but was he wiretapped in the first place:

  • Wasn’t Wiretapped. Than this issue is moot, and we’re just dealing with a delusion.
  • Was Wiretapped. If he was wiretapped, then the question is: who ordered it. It could have been President Obama, but there are also other possibilities:
    • President Obama ordered it. This would be direct personal order, which is against the law. Still, let’s assume he broke the law. He’s not the one installing it, so who would install it. Not Radio Shack. Most likely the FBI or the NSA — and both the FBI and DNI heads have indicated this hasn’t happened. Further, supposed this had happened. To what purpose would the information be used? Not to help Clinton — we can all see how she lost — and how she couldn’t get any traction on her claims against Trump. So she didn’t anything juicy, even if it was there. Releasing it publicly would be admitting guilt, and there is no public release. So there’s no real motive here.
    • A FISA Court ordered it. This is the legal way it would be done — recall the Patriot Act Rules for domestic surveillance. But this would require there be sufficient evidence. It is also plausible: there were two prior applications to FISA to investigate Russian interference before the election, which were turned down. A third application with sufficient evidence could have worked. It would also tie with the known facts that the FBI was investigating Russian interference.
    • Some other entity ordered it. This would be a foreign government or a business competitor looking for actionable information for an advantage. That advantage could be leaking it so as to make President Trump look bad.

So if we use Occams Razor, what is the most plausible explanation? A FISA court ordered this, meaning there was sufficient evidence to convince them. That’s not good for Trump. (PS: A joke I saw going around says that Obama didn’t order a wiretap, he ordered a baby monitor).

Thought the Third. I was thinking today about how far are we rolling back the clock. After all, all the EPA and other regulations weren’t always there: this country treated its people and the environment pretty bad in the 1800s. So if we look at all the regulations Trump is rescinding (for no laws have been passed by Congress — to my knowledge — so far), what is the earliest one? My guess, right now, is we’re back to the 1950s at least.

Thought the Fourth. Leprechauns from Ireland keep stealing me Lucky Charms. Why aren’t they subject to extreme vetting?

Thought the Fifth. There is a distinction between Un-American and Illegal. There are many things that we may believe are against the American ideas of equality and freedom, but for which out laws have not caught up. Our challenge is to enshrine our ideals in our laws, and ensure they are enforced. The problem is that our laws legislate ideas that we now feel are outmoded, dated, or discriminatory.

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.

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.

 

Attitudes Towards Israel

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 03, 2017 @ 4:58 am PDT

Here’s a provocative question: Does one always have to agree with what the government does if one loves the country? Did those Conservatives that hated President Obama and his policies during his administration love America any less? Do the Liberals who currently opposed President Trump and his policies hate America? I think the answer is clear: Americans can disagree with the government and their policies with loving America any less.

So why is it assumed that American Jews must agree with everything the Israeli government does if we are to support Israel?

Some discussions with my daughter have brought this question to my mind. She has gotten involved with the #IfNotNow movement. This is a movement that is putting pressure on American Jewish institutions (such as AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to end their support for the Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories (such as Israel’s construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza). They are organizing a protest against AIPAC at the end of March here in LA, and my daughter asked if I was interested. I looked at their principles, and they seem reasonable: ending support for the occupation, celebrating Jewish diversity, speaking publicly, and being non-violent. While writing this up, I found this interesting article on their protest last April. With all of this on my mind, two articles that came across my RSS feeds and news reading struck a resonating note, and prompted this discussion.

The first was an article from the Jewish Journal on a Bernie Sanders speech at J-Street: In this speech, he pointed out that one could sharply criticize the Israeli government’s policies and be pro-Israel. He also blasted President Donald Trump for retreating from a commitment to a two-state solution and not speaking out forcefully against anti-Semitism and bigotry. He laced his call to urge Israel to adopt more progressive policies with appeals to progressives to embrace Israel as a Jewish homeland. As Sanders said, “We can oppose the policies of President Trump without being anti-American.  We can oppose the policies of Netanyahu without being anti-Israel. We can oppose the policies of Islamic extremism without being anti-Muslim.”

The attitude that Sanders is protesting is one I’ve seen from members of my congregation; I’m unsure if it is the leadership’s view. There are those in our congregation who are enamored of the views of Prager U (i.e., Dennis Prager’s site, which, like Trump University, isn’t a real university), and who seem to believe that every Muslim is an extremist, and every Muslim is taught from birth to hate Jews and hate Israel. I think the response to the recent vandalism attacks in St. Louis and Philadelphia have demonstrated the opposite: it is the Muslim community that has helped the Jewish community rebuild; in turn, the Jewish community has helped rebuild mosques in the US. If anything, I think the recent attitudes in the US have strengthened Jewish-Muslim relationships in a way that benefits both communities. Muslim veterans are even offering to defend Jewish sites. Yet there are many that refuse to see this.

The two communities can live together in peace, and have done so in the past when extremism and hatred is not in the picture. That’s not the case now. A subset of Palestinians and many in the Palestinian leadership are opposed to Israel’s existence in any way, shape, or form, and they are doing whatever they can to make Israel look bad in the eyes of the world, to provoke Israel to attack them, and to put civilians on both sides in danger. Israel isn’t helping them by building settlements in disputed areas, or through how they respond to attacks (although no one expects them just to sit silently). Meanwhile, misinformation is fed out to supporters around the world, inflaming attitudes as opposed to calming attitudes.

This brings us to the second article: from the NY Times on “Liberal Zionism”. For those unfamilar with Zionism, it is the desire for a Jewish Homeland — a Jewish-majority state where Jews will be safe. It was advanced by Theodor Herzl back in the early 1900s, and led to the Balfour Declaration in 1919 that artificially created many of the states in the Middle East out of former Ottoman Empire territory as British and French protectorates. Zionism and the Holocaust in WWII is what led to declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. Opposition to Zionism, by some, is viewed as equivalent as opposition to Judaism; many antisemites hold the belief that Zionism is racism. Zionism is what drives much of the policies of Israel: the goal of maintaining a Jewish majority in the state of Israel so as to preserve Israel as a Jewish state. In many ways, this is similar to opposition to immigration here in America: there is fear that as the Hispanic population grows, America will lose its character as a “Caucasian” (i.e., European-based) nation. This fear has driven many to support Trump (it is not a fear that I personally have).

The opinion piece in the Times talked about the growing alliance between Zionist leadership and politicians with antisemitic tendencies (such as Trump, Bannon, and his followers). The author believed this alliance had the power to transform Jewish-American consciousness for years to come. It talked about how, in the last few decades, many of America’s Jewish communities have grown accustomed to living in a political contradiction. On one hand, a large majority of these communities could rightly take pride in a powerful liberal tradition, stretching back to such models as Louis Brandeis — a defender of social justice and the first Jew to become a Supreme Court justice — or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched in Selma alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the other hand, the same communities have often identified themselves with Zionism, a political agenda rooted in the denial of liberal politics. Specifically, it is the traditional Zionist policies that have pushed down rights for the Palestinians, and has supported the Israeli government’s occupation (which ties into #IfNotNow).

Here’s an interesting quote from that opinion piece:

But despite sympathy and solidarity with Israel — or better, because of it — any Jew who remains committed to liberalism must insist that nothing in Jewish history can allow the Jews to violate the rights of other ethnic and religious minorities, and that nothing in our history suggests that it would be wise for us to do so.

This is all the more true because by denying liberal principles, Zionism immediately becomes continuous with — rather than contradictory to — the anti-Semitic politics of the sort promoted by the alt-right. The idea that Israel is the Jews’ own ethnic state implies that Jews living outside of it — say, in America or in Europe — enjoy a merely diasporic existence. That is another way of saying that they inhabit a country that is not genuinely their own. Given this logic, it is natural for Zionist and anti-Semitic politicians to find common ideas and interests. Every American who has been on a Birthright Israel tour should know that left-leaning Israelis can agree with America’s alt-right that, ideally, ”Jews should live in their own country.”

The opinion piece seems to be arguing for a different form of Zionism: a form of Zionism that preserves Israel’s character as a Jewish state without having the hatred for Muslims and Arabs; a form of Israel that is officially Jewish while still ensuring the rights of other religions to practice. Can this be done? One need look no further than many Commonwealth nations such as the UK and Canada. Officially, they are Christian nations, but they permit free practice of religion. There is no reason that Israel couldn’t remain a constitutionally Jewish state even with a population that included large numbers of Muslims and Christians. Judaism, as a religion, accepts that there are other religions in the world that are practiced; Progressive Judaism accepts that there are many valid paths to God — a believe that goes back to the Noachide laws that are the basis for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I found an even longer piece on Liberal Zionism in Tablet, but it is unclear if it is the same LZ as in the NY Times piece. In particular, the piece goes back and forth between Liberal Zionism and Liberal Nationalism, but only giving loose definitions of Liberal Nationalism. There are no definitions of LZ or clarifications of the differences. As for Liberal Nationalism, it defines that as follows: “liberal nationalism takes the natural tendency to clump together and infuses the resulting communities with democratic ideals.” But having read through the article a number of times, I can’t figure out their point, other than their form of Zionism is opposed to Trumps’ form.

The desire to maintain the Jewish character of the state of Israel is the real Zionist notion. One way to achieve that is the two-state solution: segregating Palestinians into their own state, and Jews into another. As we’ve seen, that is fraught with tension. Trump’s latest opening of an idea of a one-state solution has different tensions: how do you preserve the Jewish nature of a democratic state if you have a voting public that is equal under the constitution and Islam is in the majority. There are many untested ideas, from two-states sharing one-territory (cooperation on secular issues — roads, highways, etc.) to a constitutionally Jewish state with freedom to practice religion (the UK model), to an Islamic state. But, as with replacing Obamacare, it is a very complex issue. If it wasn’t complex, it would have been solved by now.

This all made me curious what ARZA’s attitude on all of this is. ARZA is the Association of Reform Zionists of America — basically, the Reform Movement’s Zionist arm. They are opposed to illegal settlements and the regulation bill, yet still believe in the two-state solution, stating: “However, given demographic realities in the region, one democratic state between the Mediterranean  Sea and  the Jordan River would eventually bring an end to Israel’s character  as a Jewish  State. The alternative, Israel’s rejecting democracy,  should be unthinkable.” I also found an extremely interesting piece on the ARZA blog from December by Liya Rechtman:

As a Jewish Israeli-American, I believe that the same standards apply to my American patriotism as to my Zionism. That is to say, protesting and criticizing Israel is an act of love and necessary for the continued viability of the Zionist project.

I am writing now from my favorite café in Jerusalem. I am here between meetings with my editor (about a piece I’m working on the uniqueness of Israel as a physical place) and my anti-Occupation collective. I am deeply committed to the vision of the Association of Reform Zionists of America to connect American Reform Jews to Israel and build the Reform Movement in Israel, and I stand with If Not Now when they protest Jewish institutions that refuse to stand up against the Occupation. These actions and affiliations are not in contradiction with each other but in concert.

I am not the same kind of Zionist as my parents, but I am a Zionist. I am a Zionist in that I care about the future of the Jewish people, and our future is inextricably intertwined with the Jewish State. I am a Zionist in that I am a feminist and therefore I believe in the specificity of space, and that the material, tangible world matters. I am a Zionist in that I believe in the right of all peoples, including the Jewish people, to self-determination.

Reading through all of this, whereas I had feared our approaches might be different, we seem to have come around to the same place in the end.