Observations Along the Road

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

Wanting to Believe

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 15, 2015 @ 11:02 am PDT

Loch Ness (A New Musical)userpic=theatre_ticketsThis year seems to be starting out on a particular theme — one that is emphasizing creativity and expressiveness.  We saw that creativity earlier this year at ZJU’s 50 hour theatre; it was also apparent in the creative reimagining of Pulp Fiction.  We’ve seen super expressiveness on stage as well, both with the puppeteers of Avenue Q, the clever ideas behind Serial Killer Barbie, and the wonderfully expressive lead in Redhead. We saw both combined in the new musical now playing at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hils: Loch Ness.

Loch Ness, a new musical by the father/son team of A. D. Penado (FB) (lyrics and book) and Marshall Pailet (FB) (director, music, books), tells the story of the Loch Ness monster, of course (although that term is a little pejorative :-)). But that’s only part of the story in Loch Ness (the musical). The real focus of the story is on belief, holding on to that belief in the face of reality, recognizing when to give up on a mistaken belief, and coming to the realization — when you do so — that what you gain by giving up may be much more than you gain by holding on. Loch Ness (the musical) is a story about relationships and love — but it isn’t the traditional romantic love that was celebrated in the Chance’s last musical, She Loves Me; rather, the love celebrated in this musical is the love between parent and child, and between child and parent. The two notions — belief and love — combine to create the necessary “I want” that propels the story forward, and provide to be what, ulitmately, make the story successful.

So what is the story behind Loch Ness? It centers around the Westerbook family: the father, Dr. Thomas Westerbrook and his daughter, Haley Westerbrook (and her pet frog, Mudpie).  The Westerbrooks recently lost Haley’s mother in an aircraft disappearance over the North Sea. After searching and searching and searching — exhausting all family funds — Dr. Westerbook gave up the search. The only work he could find was for a wealthy patron, Leana Callaghan, who had once seen the Loch Ness monster when she was young and snapped a picture of her (which looks like a smudge). After a timely inheritance, she now had the funds to prove she exists. She hired Dr. Westerbrook to do the search. Haley comes along, although she’s supremely pissed at her father for giving up the search for her mom and keeps running away and rebelling. Assisting Dr. Westerbrook in the search are Captain Jameson (who prefers to be called “CJ”, the C being for Captain) and two French research assistants, Pierre and Eclair. Not surprisingly, during one of her rebels, Haley discovers Nessie. Nessie, too, is searching for her mother and wants to return to the North Sea to find her. She believes that she can, if only she can get big enough. This gets to the underlying myth of this show: Nessie shrinks when she is photographed and reality comes into play; she grows when people simply believe in her. This starts Haley’s quest: to get people to believe in Nessie while preventing her father’s mission (and Lady Callaghan’s mission) to provide photographic proof of Nessie. If Haley succeeds, Nessie has promised her that she will take her to the North Sea to find her mother. Lurking behind everything is the mysterious “Oiler”, who keeps muttering about things in the Scottish highlands. I won’t spoil the twists and turns of the adventure along the way, but suffice it to say that by the end of the show, both Haley and Nessie have found what they needed, even if it was not necessarily what they believed. The overall effect was just beautiful, creative, and touching.

Katie Brown, Nessie, and Julia Cassandra Smith. Photo ©2014 True Image Studio provided by the Chance Theatre press websiteMuch credit goes to the direction of Pailet (FB), the choreography of Kelly Todd (FB), and the masterful scenic and puppet design of Fred Kinney (FB) and Megan Hill (FB). These folks used creative collaboration to create an environment where Nessie came to life through the work of multiple puppeteers. Using the same technique seen in Avenue Q, the puppeteer’s faces were visible and were amplifying the limited expressiveness of the actual puppet head (which was a single-rod puppet). Katie Brown (shown to the right) served as the main face and voice of Nessie (more on her later), while other actors doubled controlling other parts of Nessie and were equally visible and expressive. It was remarkable to see and emphasized why intimate theatre is a necessity — in the scale of a large auditorium, this magic would be lost for much of the audience.

Julia Cassandra Smith and Nessie/Katie Brown. Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance Theatre press websiteMusically, Loch Ness was well-assembled as well. A complaint with many new musical writers these days is that they don’t know how to write musicals. The songs seem like the novelty songs of old — dropped in because they wanted music at that point, but the music simply repeats what had been said in the story, or provides an entertaining diversion. This was a problem in the recent Serial Killer Barbie.  I’m pleased to say that this musical gets it right — the songs are integral to the story and propel it along. I’d give specific examples with the names of the song, but (alas) no song list was provided and one could not be found online (even at the press site, hint hint). A few musical moments do stick in my mind the morning after. In Act I, there is the moment where Nessie and Haley express their shared hope, their desire to fly back to their mothers. This is just a beautiful song that moves the story along perfectly. Another song that sticks in my mind is the opening to Act II, where CJ, Pierre, Eclair and the Oiler express their joy at finally realizing Nessie is real. The creative musical nature of the number was remarkable. Lastly, there is a touching song in Gaelic that perfectly captures the emotion between parent and child.

Loch Ness Set. From Marshall Pailett's websiteI mentioned the set design earlier with the puppet, and I’d like to discuss it before I go into the actors. The picture to the right, from Marshall Pailett’s website (there were no good set pictures on the Chance website), gives you an idea. There was this large wooden sided pit with Viking wood carvings in front, topped by a movable bridge that could slide back and forth. The bridge represented the ship or land; Nessie and her puppeteers moved in the pits, ducking under the bridge as necessary. At the back of the set were wooden doors that could open up to prove a few specific locations. Dealing with the movable bridge and its back and forth was a different style of choreography on top of the few somewhat traditional dance numbers (this was more of a performance than a dance show). The set worked magic to create the sense of place, especially in the opening where fog machines were used to great effect to create the image and feel of steam rising off the Loch, and the bridge creating the image and feel of being out on the water. You may have heard the phrase “stage magic”. This was stage magic — art and imagination combined to create something real but not realistic, something that bridged the world between the imaginary and the concrete. About my only worry is whether this would scale — it wouldn’t work in many theatres, might lose the magic in large theatres, and there could be problems (as noted in the talk-back) in theatres with balconies. Then again, those are problems you want to have to solve, because that means a future life for the show.

Turning to the performances — they were remarkable (however, I’ve come to expect nothing less from the Chance Theatre (FB)). In the lead tier were Julia Cassandra Smith (FB) as Haley, and Katie Brown (FB) providing the “face” and voice of Nessie.  Both were remarkable. Smith’s Haley was youthful and playful and gave off a delightful depth of spirit — and she had a wonderful voice. Brown’s face was remarkably expressive and just made you melt; again, she also had a delightful voice that worked quite well with Smith’s.

Loch Ness - Jackson Tobiska, Matt Takahashi and Angeline Mirenda . Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance Press websiteIn the second character tier were Jackson Tobiska (FB) as Dr. Thomas Westerbrook and Angeline Mirenda (FB) as Leana Callaghan. We’ve seen Tobiska before in both Triassic Parq and Lysistrata Jones. He plays the scientist well, and captured the fatherly nature of the character quite well. He had a very nice singing voice. Mirenda was seemingly the villain of show — the women hellbent on proving the existence of Nessie. She captured that aspect of the character well both in look and performance.

As we enter the next tier, we’re getting to characters who not only played their “name” roles, but who also helped manipulate the puppets. The first half were the main ship characters: Alex Bueno (FB) as CJ, Keaton Williams (FB) as Pierre, and Gina Velez (FB) as Eclair. We’ve seen both Bueno and Williams before in Parq and were impressed with them then; they were perfection here. Velez is new to us but was also fun to watch. As their name characters they were delightful — both in the little comedy asides (in particular, CJ and the coffee cup at the beginning of the show, and the interactions between Pierre and Eclair) and in their singing and dancing (as I noted before, the opening of Act II is just spectacular). Williams and Velez were also notable for their manipulation of Nessie — especially when they were working close to Smith’s Haley, where the expressiveness of their faces (especially Keaton William’s face) was indescribable for what it added to the show. You can see the three of them in the image to the right.

Loch Ness - Gina Velez, Alex Bueno and Keaton Williams. Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance press siteRounding out the characters in the show were Corky Loupe (FB) as the Oiler, Matt Takahashi (FB) as Angus Ogilvie, and Laura M. Hathaway (FB) as the Balladeer. We saw all three before in She Loves Me. These roles were minor, although Louple’s Oiler provided a wonderful comic relief in his few songs and asides — in particular with the toaster joke (no, not that toaster joke) and the percussion in the Act II opener. I couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of the Balladeer; I saw her more as an echo of the mother who was lost at sea (and it might have been better to refer to her that way). All three provided other background characters and puppet manipulation, and were wonderful in those aspects (in particular, the pub crawl scene).

Music for this show was prerecorded to provide the lushness that that the composer wanted. Mark Sonnenblick (FB) was the Musical Director, and Ryan O’Connell (FB) was the orchestrator.  I do have a few wishes for the music: (a) that a song list was provided somewhere — this not  only helps those who want to share the show with our friends, but helps match the songs with the actors that performed them (a boon to the actors); and (b) that there was a cast recording. I strongly suggest that a Kickstarter be considered for such a recording (hell, if Evil Dead: The Musical or Now. Hear. This. can do it) — it can not only promote the show, but would preserve this wonderful cast (and might even provide income for the Chance). (PS: There also needs to be a scene list in the program)

I’ve talked before about the wonderful set and the Nessie puppet. Remaining credit in those areas goes to Baxley Andresen (puppet mechanics/fabrication) and Amy Ramirez (FB) (props designer). The sound design was by Ryan Brodkin (FB), and was notable not only for the quality of the amplification (which did occasionally overpower the singers, but that was positional and got adjusted during the show), but more so for the ambient noise that was provided that increased the feeling that one was at the Loch. Lighting was by Jonathan Daroca (FB) and it effectively established the mood. I particularly noted the effect of the LED lighting used on the side; I don’t recall this use of LED lighting before at the Chance.  Costumes were by Rachael Lorenzetti and worked quite well. The tight skirt and hose on Lady Callaghan actually made her character seem more evil; Haley’s outfit made her more kid-like, and the outfits of the crew made them appear to be suited for a ship. There were also all those woolens and plaids! There was no credit for makeup or wigs. Remaining show credits: Nora Ives (FB) (Associate Director), Nichole Schlitt (FB) (Stage Manager); Mary Kay Fyra-Mar (FB) (Executive Producer); Lee Seymour (FB) (Associate Producer). I’m not going to list all the Chance staff positions that were in the program; you can find them listed on the Chance website. Two that are worthy of note are Oanh Nguyen (FB), the artistic director, who presumably picked this show for the season (good choice!); and whomever is the marketing director (I’m guessing Molly Dewane, based on a web search), for her well-done speech before the show.

Loch Ness: A New Musical continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) until March 1. Tickets are available through the Chance website; they may also be available through Goldstar. The show is well worth seeing.

The Chance Theatre is lucky — they are in Orange County and not affected by the proposed changes to the 99 seat plan from AEA. These changes, if enacted, could create major changes in the intimate theatre scene in Los Angeles County — and have the potential to at worst decimate it, and at best move many small theatres to eschew the use of actors belonging to Actors Equity or other unions. This will hurt everyone — actors, producers, and audience members. I strongly urge everyone to read about the proposed changes. Colin Mitchell and Bitter Lemons has been doing a remarkable job of being THE source for information about this. Read. Learn. If you are in a position to do so, speak up about it. Alas, I don’t believe Actors Equity would care about the opinion of audience members (that is certainly not their constituency); they likely don’t care about the Producers either (or they wouldn’t have proposed this). They certainly don’t understand the Los Angeles theatre scene. Still, if can never hurt to let your opinions be known — as audience members, we can also choose to stay away from Equity productions under this proposal — after all, a show without an audience. Whatever you do, be out there to support LA Theatre and Southern California theatre.

Dining Notes: Yet again we had an excellent meal before the show at True Shabu. Wonderful organic hot-pot cooking, with farm fresh and healthy ingredients. It’s a shame it is so far away, or we would eat there more often.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Theatre continues this afternoon with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB). The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon (for example, I just booked “Loopholes” for the first weekend in May). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Saturday News Chum: Deaths, Mergers, Departures, Health, and Foreign Aid

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 14, 2015 @ 10:14 am PDT

userpic=lougrantFinally, it’s Saturday. This has been a busy week — I’ve been accumulating articles, but haven’t had time during the week to post them. Before we jump into the stew, Happy Valentine’s Day to those that observe. What are we doing? We’re going to a wonderful organic Shabu Shabu restaurant we’ve discovered, and then seeing a musical story about the Loch Ness monster. And you?

  • Deaths in the News. A few major deaths have happened in the last couple of days that are quite noteworthy — primarily because these are people about which no one says anything bad. Really good people are rare to come by, and we’ve lost three. The first is Stan Chambers, long-time newscaster at KTLA — and by long, I mean 63 years! This is someone beloved in the news industry, a fixture in Los Angeles, who just reported the story and the facts. Forget your Brian Williams and Dan Rathers — this was the real deal, a reporter to look up to. The second is Gary Owens, a long-time radio and TV personality in Los Angeles. Again, this is someone who everyone looked up to, who helped loads of people with their careers, and of whom no one said anything bad. The third is Florence Sackheim, a long time member at Temple Beth Torah — again, this is someone who was there for everyone else, and whom no one had anything bad to say about.
  • Corporate Mergers. There are a number of corporate mergers of interest. Two weeks ago. Staples made an offer to buy Office Depot Office Max. This is a major consolidation in the office supply industry, and I think it is a bad thing. Loads of stores will close, loads of employees will lose jobs, and prices will rise without two equivalent competitors. Where are the regulators. In a similar consolidation, this week Expedia made an offer to by Orbitz. Expedia already owns Travelocity, so this is a major consolidation in the online travel booking industry. Again, I think this is a bad idea, although there’s a little less of a problem here in that the two services were about the same on price.
  • Going Away. Last week, the news was focused on Radio Shack going away. This week brings news of some other going-aways. First, Costco is celebrating Valentine’s Day by breaking up with American Express.  Well, the breakup will happen in 2016. AmEx has already been hammered as this brings them a lot of business; I know it is the only reason we have a non-corporate Amex card. Costco is reportedly near a deal with a new issuer; it is unclear whether accounts will be transferred, or reapplication will be necessary. In another going-away, the rumors are increasing that the Riviera Hotel may soon be closed and demolished. This makes me sad — there’s not much of 1950’s Vegas left on the strip — some two-story wings at the Tropicana and the original 9-story 1955 Riviera are about it. When the Riviera goes, so goes the history. However, the plan makes sense: the place has become a dump and cannot compete with the newer hotels; it is on the slow end of the strip next to a dead partially completed hotel, across the street from Circus-Circus and… not much else, as Echelon/Genting World is still under construction as well. Supposedly, the Riv is being bought by the Las Vegas Convention Bureau, who want to extend the Convention Center’s reach up from Paradise Blvd to LV Blvd, between Convention Center and Riveria Blvd. Not much is there — the parking lot that was the Landmark, a Dennys, a Walgreens, the Riv, and a 3-story apartment complex and some small businesses. I think we can kiss the Riv — and it’s history — goodbye.
  • Nose and Throat. A week or so ago, on This American Life, I heard a segment on a annoying condition (for some) called Vocal Fry. I’d never heard of it, or could even notice it — so luckily, Mental Floss had a nice article on Vocal Fry.  Now that I know what it is… I still don’t get why people are annoyed. People’s voices are their voices. Get over it. In another interesting article, Vox had a nice exploration of mucus. I actually found this interesting, as I have continual sinus trouble (and I’m also one of those addicted to Afrin).
  • You Know How Foolishly Generous Those Americans Are. So said Stan Freberg in United States of America, and many people believe America gives too much Foreign Aid. However, those beliefs don’t correspond with the facts — and American really doesn’t give that much foreign aid. In fact, less than 1 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget goes to foreign aid. The largest portion of the money goes to health: a third of the U.S. foreign aid budget in 2014, or more than $5.3 billion. The next two biggest portions go toward economic development and humanitarian assistance. Small sums of aid support democratic elections in other countries. A tiny portion goes to protect forests in countries where logging is destroying natural habitats. Some aid funds programs that train local law enforcement to combat drug trafficking. (But no foreign aid goes directly toward another country’s military.) Proof again that most people wouldn’t know the facts if they bit them in the …
  • Dealing with Death. One problem when you die is that you can’t update your Facebook anymore. Fear not. Facebook will soon let you appoint a digital heir.  This is actually a good thing, as  there are more and more memorial Facebook pages, and it would be nice to know they are memorials (so you don’t keep wishing them a happy birthday).
  • Used Bookstores in LA. LAist attempted to do a list of the 10 best used bookstores in LA. Used bookstores are great, and we have lost some significant ones in the last year — both Cliffs and Brand Bookstore are gone. But LAist missed some great ones — in particular, Bargain Books in Van Nuys, and Books 5150 in Chatsworth. But this is no surprise — all those Los Angeles lists are done by westsiders who forget that the valley exists.
  • Women and Work. Last week’s Backstory was on women and work.  As part of this, they did a special segment on women in computing.  Well worth listening to, and something we should encourage. The segment gives me the opportunity to pimp for a project of ACSA: the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security.


Saturday News Chum: Retirees, Dues, Ethnic Markets, Death, and More

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 07, 2015 @ 7:37 am PDT

userpic=observationsIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clear out the links. I’m doing it a little earlier than usual today, as I’ve got a Bat Mitzvah service at 9 AM and the party afterwards that will take up much of the day:

  • What is this word, “Retirement?”. This article is here because it has some interesting things to say about my place of employment. It is about “boomerang” workers: people who retire, and then come back to the company to continue working on a part-time basis. This is something vitally important at the ranch: we depend on the corporate memory and deep skills of these workers; newbies don’t often break the depth of experience and familiarity with lessons learned required. I should note that the ranch was also ancillarily (if that’s a work) related to another article in the news: an article about a firebombing in Manhattan Beach. The mom in that family is our general counsel. I am appalled that in this day and age incidents like this happen; I am grateful that her family is safe.
  • Doing Away with Dues. One big distinction between synagogues and churches has always been how they are funded. Churches are truly faith based: they rely on big donors and “pass the plate” weekly — there are no membership dues. Synagogues have traditionally been dues based, which resulted in their being treated as fee for service. A few congregations are experimenting with doing away with that, and moving to a “pay what you want model”. It is unknown whether it will work — we’re in our second year of trying it with our men’s organization at TAS. This builds on the earlier question of what synagogues can learn from megachurches.
  • Mexican Markets. Alas, the secret is out. Shopping at ethnic markets is where it is at. Here’s an interesting article looking at the 5 things you learn shopping at Mexican markets. I’ll say that they are true — I regularly like to shop at the two Asian markets near us, and we love to get our tea at some of the Russian and Armenian markets. We rarely shop at the majors (SuperValu == Vons == Safeway == Albertsons, Kroger == Ralphs) anymore.
  • Restaurants and Death. Here’s an article that I found interesting: What happens when a restaurant dies? I’ve never quite understood the restaurant business: how you estimate food, how you deal with the waste, how you optimize cooking times, and such. This article explores what happens when a restaurant closes: the impact on employees, where all the equipment goes, where all the food goes.
  • Guys and Dolls 2. If you recall, when I posted on the Colony season, I mentioned they were doing a new Frank Loesser musical based on the Damon Runyon stories. Here are more details on that show courtesy of Playbill. It’s not quite a sequel; it is set in the same universe but uses other short stories by Runyon in a series of scenes. It also recycles other Loesser music as well as songs cut from Guys and Dolls.
  • Losing Weight. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been struggling with weight. Although I don’t formally diet, I try to stay away from junk. I try to exercise, but time often doesn’t permit it; plus when I do, I don’t see much loss. As you get older, the weight gain is stubborn. Here’s an interesting article about a new pill under development. It tricks your body into thinking you’ve eaten, and thus adjust your metabolism to burn the bad fat and transform it into the good kind. It will be interesting to see if this pans out in studies.
  • iPod Alternatives Update. Just a quickie one here. The Pono Player is out. The opinion on it is meh. The reality is that most people are satisfied with MP3s and can’t hear the difference. I’m more concerned about the criticisms of the Pono’s form factor and interface. After all, the Pono allows one to go up to 192GB of storage.  I’m not sure it is worth the interface problems. Please, Apple, please: come out with an iPod Touch or equivalent with significant storage or support for microSD memory cards. You’ll get back the iPod Classic market if you have that Touch with 256GB.
  • Anthem Hack. I’ve been watching the news on this with interest, primarily because I’m an Anthem subscriber. As with any of these hacks, there’s not much I can do about it other than watch and wait — how corporations protect our data is often beyond our control. I did note a couple of articles of interest. The first provides a bit more detail, and demonstrates how this was a targeted attack against Anthem. I’m sure there was social engineering involved as well. These are the hardest types of attacks to prevent. I think a big fallout of this will be calls to encrypt the data at rest, forgetting the fact that you have to decrypt the data if you are going to operate on it, and it is at this point that data is vulnerable. The second attempts to say how to protect yourself, but IMHO gets much wrong: Anthem has indicated they didn’t go after medical data, meaning they didn’t go after website accounts or patient records or stuff like that. The advice that she gives are generally useful and good to do; they are just unrelated to Anthem. Her first advice is most useful — enacting a credit freeze. However, if you do it now you have to pay for it. Anthem is determining who was affected, and if you were, they will pay for the monitoring and freeze. I’d rather let them pay for it (as long as they don’t raise rates to cover it, but I’ve got a feeling that they have insurance in place to cover it).


The Drugs We Need

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Feb 04, 2015 @ 11:42 am PDT

userpic=progenitorivoxYesterday, when I got home and caught up on Facebook, I discovered that some Facebook friends had posted the image below, which was shared from the “National Vaccine Information Center” (an innocuous sounding group, until you visit their website and discover that they are against vaccination). This image, and the discussion that accompanied it, stuck in my craw. Trying to write a cogent response within the Facebook response limitations was difficult, so I decided to let it simmer and write something up over lunch. Here’s the image that prompted everything:

Anti-FDA Image for Discussion Purposes
Let’s start by acknowledging that the FDA isn’t perfect. There is clearly a problem with the approval process, because it often takes far too long to get approvals to bring drugs to market, especially when there is urgent need. There are also issues where the FDA does not detect fraudulent data submitted by the drug manufacturers and testers, and let’s drugs through that shouldn’t get through. Both of these are real problems, and both are partially addressed by the same solution: increase the funding to the FDA so that they may, in turn, increase staff to review reports and verify results. Many of the anti-Vac are also anti-government, however, and so they are leery of more government funding to do anything. Sorry, but independent review of drug testing results and protocols fits within the mandate to promote the general welfare, and is a task that must be free of any interference from drug manufacturers. That is a government function.

So let’s talk about the claim in the viral image. How does the FDA prove a drug safe and effective? They go through a multi-year process that involves modeling, animal testing, and eventually, testing in human subjects. The human testing is both for efficacy and to ensure the drug is not harmful. Any reaction identified by the human subjects is noted and goes into the list of potential side effects, just to be on the safe side (translation: there is no guarantee those effects will happen). However, because some conditions are rare and it is difficult to get a suitably sized statistical test pool, and given the wide variation in reactions in humans, problems do get missed. Additionally, testing time is also limited. This is especially true for cumulative side effects that might not be noticed in a 1 year or 2 year test… but only after 25 years of use (which is difficult to test).

So the FDA testing protocol isn’t perfect? What is the alternative? I don’t see the people knocking the FDA coming out and proposing an alternative better protocol. I don’t see them saying we should use drugs without any testing. As for other counties — most other countries don’t have a protocol as strong as the FDA. There are only a handful of countries — Canada, UK, Germany — where I would trust their testing protocols as a viable alternative.

This is all an area of risk mitigation, not 100% risk avoidance. Drug testing does not eliminate the risk, but reduces it substantially. Many things are not risk free, but we accept the risk tradeoff. Taking an airplane — actually, less risk than driving on the street. Have a pool in your home — there’s more risk there than having a gun in the house.  Are there risks with vaccines? Sure, but those risks are very small (and do not include autism — that link has been dis-proven). Anything you put in your body can harm you, from too much water to a single peanut. For the vast vast vast majority, there is no risk with vaccines. On the other hand, the risks of being unvaccinated (as we are currently seeing) are high, for it can expose other people at risk — the elderly, the immune impaired — and has a high likelihood of death for those people.

The summary: Do read and be informed about the drugs you take. Read the inserts with the drugs (which is something the FDA mandates, by the way, and contains information from testing). If you are worried, go to reputable sites to see the incidents of side-effects, and remember that more people are likely to complain when something doesn’t work than will comment when something does work. Talk your fears over with your doctor, but don’t be afraid of science, and despite what you see in the movies, don’t be afraid of government scientists. They actually are working for you and watching out for your best interest (which cannot always be said of corporate science). But in the end, don’t fall for wanting no risk: go for reasonable risk.

ETA: Epilogue: Here’s an interesting article recommended by Mark Evanier: “Rise Of The Know-Betters: Just The Facts About Anti-Vaxx“. It has a good collection of pointers that refute the supposed “facts” stated by the Anti-Vacc movement (I don’t use Vax; Vax is a computer system once manufactured by Digital Equipment, thank you, just as an E Ticket is something that was once used at Disneyland).

ETA № 2: Here’s more info from Vox, including a pro-vacc position from Benjamin Franklin.

Another Redhead Near Universal

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 01, 2015 @ 7:39 pm PDT

Redhead (Theatre West)When you think of Universal City and redheads, you probably think of Lucille Ball. While Lucy is a fixture on the Universal lot (and often played by a talented actress of my acquaintence), she’s not the only redhead of note — at least for one more week. Down Cahuenga Blvd from Universal there is another redhead worth seeing — the musical Redhead, being presented in a lightly staged version by Theatre West (FB) as a benefit for the Betty Garrett Musical Comedy Workshop.

Right now, you’re probably going “Redhead? What’s Redhead? I’ve never heard of it.“. That’s not a surprise. As I implied in my  last post, I have a large collection of cast albums and show information. I’ve had the musical Redhead in my collection for some time, but had never seen it before. When it was on Broadway (in fact, it was running on Broadway when I was born), it was popular. It won 5 Tony Awards in 1959, including Best Musical, Best Lead Actor (Richard Kiley), Best Lead Actress (Gwen Verdon), and Best Choreography (Bob Fosse) [although admittedly it was a weak year]. It marked Fosse’s debut as both director and choreography. Yet since it closed in March 1960, it has never returned to Broadway. In fact, it has had only three productions of note anywhere. Due to its rarety, Theatre West chose to produce it as part of this series, and record it for posterity. I had heard about the production and wanted to see it, and it happened to hit the sweet spot of an open weekend, tickets on Goldstar, and something I wanted to see.

Nowadays, the story of Redhead would be dismissed as something light. It was written by Dorothy Fields, Herbert Fields, Sidney Sheldon, and David Shaw, with music by Albert Hague (Prof. Shorofsky from Fame), and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Here’s the the high level synopsis from MTI: “When a young actress is murdered in 1900s London, the enterprising Simpson Sisters’ Waxworks installs a tableau of the grisly deed. Muscle man Tom Baxter, the actress’ friend, comes to complain, and there he meets Essie Whimple, a plain girl with a hyperactive imagination. Smitten with Tom, Essie pretends to have been attacked by the murderer, as well, and hijinks ensue – complete with cunning disguises, spine-tingling chases, and an ill-fated show at the Odeon Musical Hall!”

Ah, that phrase “hijinks ensue”. It should be a warning sign of a light plot. Alas, there is no longer full detailed synopsis online — MTI only gives three-quarters of Act I. Basically, here’s what happens. In 1890’s London, a young actress is murdered by an unknown killer who strangles her with a purple scarf. After the murder, the Simpson Sisters Wax Museum (run by Maude and Sarah Simpson) installs a tableau of the murder, designed by the niece of the sisters, Essie Wimple. Wimple, 29, has never had a beau, but keeps having visions of the man she will marry. Near the waxworks is the Odean Musical Hall, run by Howard Cavanaugh. Howard and his cockney comedian, Goerge Poppett, attend the opening of the tableau, together with Inspector White, who has never failed to solve a case. When the tableau opens, they are surprised to see the killer has a blank face. In comes Tom Baxter, the newly-highed strongman from America, objecting to the display. He doesn’t want to see the girlfriend of his best friend, Sir Charles Willingham, displayed like that. While they are arguing over the display, the scarf disappears. Essie, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Tom, and schemes to be together with him by lying that she saw the killer. She goes into protective custody at the Odeon, and she and Tom start falling in love (aided by George, who dresses her as a redhead, Tom’s favorite type). This all goes to hell in a handbasket when Tom asks Essie to identify the killer. She goes into a trance and has a vision and identifies a man that looks like Sir Charles. In telling Tom this, the lie is revealed, and Tom stomps out. End of Act I. Act II starts with Tom trying to date other women and failing, and Sir Charles trying to meet with Essie to ask her some questions about the killer. This leads to Essie hiding with some ladies of the evening in a bar, getting arrested, and then coming up with a complicated scheme, suggested by George, to unveal the killer by putting the head she made on the wax tableau. Tom reveals his love and vows to help her, but unbeknownst to both of them, George is the killer dressed up as Sir Charles. When the scheme comes down a slapstick chase ensures, and … well, you can guess the ending… this is a musical, after all.

As I said: a light and silly plot. It wouldn’t pass muster today; it would be dismissed as light entertainment. But with Gwen Verdon as Essie, Richard Kiley as Tom, and direction and choreography from Fosse, it wowed the audiences — beating out Flower Drum Song and Goldilocks (as I said, a light year for competition). But it is still worth seeing — even with the silly plot. There is some clever and energetic music from Hague and Fields; the songs (while not particularly “stick in your head”) are entertaining, and it is a fun diversion. Think about it this way: not all theatre is Sweeny Todd; there is room in the space for the Mamma Mia as well. This is in that latter ilk.

As I noticed, this is lightly staged. In fact, it was advertised as a concert version, but there are minimal props to establish place and light costuming appropriate for the show. The fact that it appears more staged than it really was is a credit to the director and choreographer, Mark Marchillo (FB). Marchillo turned what was primarily a concert into a show — I felt like I was watching a musical production equal to that of any other intimate theatre in Los Angeles. I didn’t miss the set dressing or elaborate props. This is a case where I’ll give the director props for bringing the acting team together to create this illusion in a short time. What do I mean by “a short time?” The lead actress provides the details on her Facebook: there were just 13 rehearsals, folks!

As for the acting team: It was generally wonderful. In the lead position as Essie Wimple was Caitlin Gallogly (“Official” FB)… and I was smitten. This young woman had one of the best voices I’ve heard in ages, a remarkable comic stage presence, and great dancing ability. I’ve heard people go on and on about Verdon (and I saw her back when she was in Chicago in LA, as well as in numerous movies). But she never won me over, and her singing voice was never pure. Gallogly won me over instantly with a personality and enthusiasm that was just remarkable, and an incredibly pure and wonderful singing voice. If anything, her only drawback was that she was too beautiful to be a plain girl that couldn’t get a beau at 29. Suspension of disbelief and all that rot — that’s how great her performance was. She was great in all of her numbers, being they romantic (“The Right Finger of My Left Hand”) or humorous (“Erbie Fitch’s Dilemma”). Playing against her was Michael James Thatcher (FB) as Tom Baxter. Although he didn’t appear that muscular, his set of pushups on stage proved otherwise. More importantly, he had a chemistry with Gallogly that worked quite well, and had a singing voice that was very strong (although not quite Richard Kiley). You could see the talent in his voice in numbers such as “My Girl is Just Enough Woman for Me”. Both were just a joy to watch.

In the second tier, on Essie’s side, were Barbara Mallory (FB) as Sarah Simpson and Linda Rand (FB) as Maude Sympson. Both captured the characters well, and it was interesting to see the difference between the two: Sarah with the sly side that understood what Essie was going through, and Maude as the older and more cautious sister.  The two actresses were able to bring out these aspects well, and were a hoot in their joint number “Behave Yourself”.

Also in the second tier, on Tom’s side, were David Mingrino (FB) as Howard Cavanaugh and John David Wallis (FB) as George Poppett. Mingrino gave off the appropriate air of the theatre owner more concerned with his show than the people, and provided the necessary opening exposition. Wallis was fun to watch as Poppett; throughout most of the play he gave out absolutely no indication of the dark side to come. He sang well in the “Uncle Sam Rag”.

Rounding out the cast in smaller named roles were Anibal Silveyra (FB) (Inspector White), Marjorie Vander Hoff (FB) (May), Kerry Melachouris (Tillie), and Donald Moore (FB) (Sir Charles Willingham). My only complaint here was with Silveyra; his accent was too strong to make him believable as a Scotland Yard Inspector. Vander Hoof and Melachouris were spectacular, together with the rest of the ensemble and Gallogly, in “We Loves Ya, Jimey”.

Rounding out the production was an ensemble consisting of Rebecca Lane (FB), Michael ‘Tuba’ Heatherton (FB), Lee Meriwether (FB), and Janie Steele. There were also four dancers on stage, chosen from this pool of eight from the Los Angeles Ballet Academy credited in the program: Lauren Barette (FB), Paris Bromber/FB, Lauren Galiote/FB, Lee Grubbs/FB, Sarah Miller, Lexi Nitz (FB), and Simone Woodruff/FB. Notable in the ensemble was Heatherton’s performance as the London Bobbie (especially in the Jail Cell tango). The ensemble sang well, although one or two (I’m guessing Janie Steele, from her web page) had very powerful voices. The dancers were good and it was interesting watching them become integrated into the action. This musical was at the end of the era when there were big exclusive dance sequences. There were some slight costuming problems with the dancers, but as this was a short run semi-staged, they get a pass.

Music was provided by Jake Anthony/FB on the piano; Anthony also served as  Musical Director.

Turning to the technical side: there were minimal sets and props. Lighting was by Yancey Dunham (FB) and worked well to establish the mood. Costumes were by Emily Brown Kucera (FB) and worked well, with the exception of the aforementioned problem with the dancers (who need seem straightening on their stockings, and some minor adjustments to keep the visual appearance clean). I particularly enjoyed the costuming of the leads (especially Essie’s costumes), as well as the Simpson Sisters. Roger Kent Cruz (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by Connie Ball. Graphic design was by Doug Haverty (FB). Publicity was by Philip Sokoloff (FB).  Redhead was produced by Jill Jones (FB).

Redhead (the musical) has two more performances at Theatre West (FB): Saturday February 7 @ 8 PM, and Sunday February 8 @ 2 PM. You won’t have the Super Bowl as your excuse next week, so go.  Tickets are available online, by calling the box office at (323) 851-7977. Discount tickets at Goldstar are sold out.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: We have no theatre next week due to a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, February 7. The next week makes up for it with two shows: “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB) on February 14 and “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15. The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon. Those who enjoyed the Marcy/Zina songs should note that there’s a Marcy and Zina concert at Pepperdine on Tuesday, February 3; alas, as it is a weeknight, I probably won’t make it. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Seeing A Different Side

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 01, 2015 @ 11:00 am PDT

Cantors Concert (TAS)A Cantors Concert. When you hear that phrase, you probably think of a long religious service with lots of liturgical music. While, indeed, that is a form of a musical presentation given by a cantor, it is part of a worship involving a congregation (which you must never refer to as the “audience”, as Rabbi Sheryl always used to remind me). A true concert provides the opportunity for a cantor to perform in front of an audience. It provides the opportunity for a cantor, who is a trained music professional as well as a liturgical leader, to make selections designed to showcase their talent. It also allows the community to see a cantor as more than just a religious musician, to see the cantor as a fully-rounded entertainer. These concerts can also serve as fundraisers for a congregation, where congregants, friends, and family can support both the cantors on stage and the congregation as a whole through their paid attendance. Given this, one can look at a “cantors concert” through multiple aspects: the performance aspects, the fund-raising success, and the extent to which it deepened the relationship between the audience (which contained some percentage of congregation members) and the cantor.

I mention all of this because last night I attended the Cantor’s Concert at our synagogue. I was torn: do I write it up (because I write up every live performance I go to), or do I take a pass (because I’m president of the Men’s Organization at the synagogue)? I decided to write it up. Firstly, because I believe in the organization, and I believe in the talent we have in our cantor, cantor emerita, and cantorial intern. Secondly, because I believe that by publicizing the event, I’ll either entice someone to come visit our synagogue, or I’ll entice someone to support a cantors concert near them. Lastly, because I believe it is important to encourage attendance at live performances. You can see a movie anytime — a concert, play, musical, or other live performance is by its nature “one time only”. Every performance is different. Just ask anyone who has seen Frank Ferrante or Dame Edna, and you’ll know what I mean.

Last night’s cantors concert featured the three cantors associated with Temple Ahavat Shalom: Cantor Jen Roher, Cantor Emerita Patti Linsky, and Cantorial Intern Lily Tash. The program was titled “Songs About Life, Love, and Other Necessities”. It featured the following songs (performer shown in {}):

  1. “Magic To Do” (Pippin) {All} [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  2. “What I Did For Love” (A Chorus Line) {Tash} [M: M. Hamlisch / L: E. Kliban]
  3. “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” (Avenue Q) {Roher} [M/L: R. Lopez & J. Marx]
  4. “100 Years” {Linsky} (M/L: J. Ondrasik)
  5. “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” {All} [M: S. Secunda / L: J. Jacobs, S. Cahn, S. Chaplin]
  6. “Far From The Home I Love” (Fiddler on the Roof) {Tash} [M: J. Bock / L: S. Harnick]
  7. “Taylor, The Latte Boy” {Roher} [M: Z. Goldrich / L: M. Heisler]
  8. “Defying Gravity” (Wicked) {Linsky}  [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  9. “The Man I Love” / “Nice Work If You Can Get It” / “Fascinating Rhythm” {Roher} [M: G. Gershwin / L: I. Gershwin]
  10. “Lullaby of Broadway” (42nd Street) {All} [M: H. Warren / L: Al Dubin]
  11. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” {All} [M/L: D. Raye, H. Prince]
  12. “It Don’t Mean a Thing” {Linsky} [M: D. Ellington / L: I. Mills]
  13. “For Good” (Wicked) {Linsky, Roher} [M/L: S. Schwartz]
  14. “Alto’s Lament” {Tash} [M: Z. Goldrich / L: M. Heisler]
  15. “Music and the Mirror” (A Chorus Line) {Roher} [M: Marvin Hamlish / L: E. Kliban]
  16. “I Am Enough” {Linsky} [M/L: P. Linsky]
  17. “Seasons of Love” (Rent) {All} [M/L: J. Larson]

In general, this was a good selection of songs for the theme, although the lyrics of the opening selection didn’t really fit the show (I have never really realized before how specific they are to the show Pippin). Picking a set of songs for a show is difficult. Although I have some minor quibbles with the selection (some shows were a little over-represented, and it was surprising to not see any Kander/Ebb, Coleman, Ahrens/Flaherty, or Maltby/Shire), those are mine. The audience was unaware and enjoyed every selection; the songs worked into the theme well.

Overall, the performances were good. There are a few I would like to single out:

The trio did very well on the jazzier / swing numbers. The voices blended very well and provided exceptional harmony in songs like “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, and particularly “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” featured some really good scat singing and wonderful piano, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” has some wonderful audience interaction. Given the quality of songs like these, the group should consider focusing next year’s concert on this style of music. It could be truly exceptional.

In solo performance, Cantorial Intern Tash did very well on both “Far From The Home I Love” and “Alto’s Lament”.  On the former, she hit the emotional aspect well as she related it to her own life; on the latter, she was able to pick up and amplify the comic aspects of the song.

Cantor Roher also had some performances worthy of highlight. Her introductory story on “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” was interesting (and prompted a mention of the “Marvin Hamlisch Story” after the show, given the other Hamslich songs); the song itself was well sung. In addition to her singing, her acting side shone on “Taylor, The Latte Boy” where she was able to personify and become the character in the song. Her enthusiasm and joy was contagious (in a good way) during “Fascinating Rhythm”, and she wowed with her dance moves in “Music and The Mirror”. Overall, Cantor Roher’s performance and selection enabled the audience to see a truly different side of her. In addition to the singing ability, she has a playful performance side and remarkable enthusiasm that can’t always be expressed on the bimah. It was a delight to see them here.

Cantor Linsky was exceptional in “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, not only for the singing but in remarkable interactions with the audience and the musical combo. She was very touching in her own composition, “I am Enough” and handled “Defying Gravity” (a difficult number) quite well.

The three were backed by a very strong musical combo consisting of Chris Hardin on keyboards, Kirk Smith on bass and guitar, and Dan Schnelle on drums.  The three were very good, and shone during the jazzier numbers. I could just imagine how well the three might do on  jazzier Cy Coleman music. The interplay with the artists was also very good, especially in “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and the opening of “Taylor, The Latte Boy”.

Overall, the show was enjoyable, and was warmly and enthusiastically received by the audience.

Turning to the technical side of things: Sound was provided by Drew Dalzell and Diablo Sound.  We’ve seen Drew’s work before at The Colony Theatre (FB), and the quality of the sound here demonstrated why the congregation needs to upgrade the bimah sound system (anyone got a spare twenty thousand to donate?) Lighting was the standard bimah lighting; the facility doesn’t provide a lot of flexibility in that area. The other aspects of the production were smooth; Wendy Krowne, Jan Saltsman, and the Concert Committee deserve commendation for the hard work that went into this. My only quibble was that there needed to be the obligatory cell phone reminder — the folks sitting next to me kept bringing out their cell phone and texting during the performance, which was quite distracting. One would hope that, in this day and age, “the announcement” would no longer be necessary. Hope, alas, sometimes gets dashed on the sharp rocks of reality.

During the show, it was reported that this Cantors Concert was the most financially successful concert in the history of Cantors Concerts at TAS. This is very good thing. If you missed this concert, you’re out of luck — it is a one time event. I’m sure there will be another one in 2016, and before then, you can come and hear Cantor Roher on the bimah almost every Friday night.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: February performances start later today with a concert performance of the musical Redhead at Theatre West (FB).  We have a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, February 7, so there is no theatre scheduled that weekend. The next week makes up for it with two shows: “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB) on February 14 and “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15. The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon. Those who enjoyed the Marcy/Zina songs should note that there’s a Marcy and Zina concert at Pepperdine on Tuesday, February 3; alas, as it is a weeknight, I probably won’t make it. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

California Highway Headlines for January 2015

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 31, 2015 @ 8:09 am PDT

userpic=roadgeekingA new year. Let’s start it off with a bunch of new highway headlines:

  • Arroyo Seco Parkway At 70: The Unusual History Of The “Pasadena Freeway,” California Cycleway & Rare Traffic Plan Images . This Winter marks the 70th anniversary of the oldest freeway in the United States: The Arroyo Seco Parkway opened on December 30, 1940. Built during the Great Depression, construction of the parkway put a lot of people to work.
  • Lawsuit says NBCUniversal, Caltrans broke law in offramp closure. NBCUniversal and Caltrans broke state law by inadequately studying the environmental effect of a plan to close a major 101 Freeway offramp, according to a new lawsuit filed by residents. The southbound Barham Boulevard exit ramp is set to permanently close, probably in the coming year, as part of NBCUniversal’s $1.6-billion Evolution plan to expand its Universal Studios theme park.
  • More commuters look to Metro van pools as alternative to solo driving . Driving solo to work continues to define L.A.’s entrenched car culture. But commuters across the county are increasingly turning to alternatives such as the van pool, a venerable ride-sharing option that can reduce air pollution, travel times and transportation costs. At Metro, which administers the largest public van pool operation in North America, participation has more than doubled in the last six years, with a total of 1,375 van groups operating today. Officials expect that figure to grow by at least 8% in 2015.
  • Cajon Pass Commuter: Caltrans will widen, realign parts of 138. Next summer, Caltrans will be seeking bids on a $31 million project to widen and realign the two-lane highway, according to Caltrans Public Information Officer Tyeisha Prunty. Although it’s a widening project, it’s not exactly the type of widening you or I would probably wish for. I say if you’re going to do it, make it a four-lane road all the way from Lake Arrowhead Road to Interstate 15, figuring that as soon as the Tapestry Project in Summit Valley gets going we’re going to need additional lanes to support all the commuters who move into that area. Remember, that development is projected to add 19,000 housing units, so at least 50,000 — and probably many more — residents will be making the Summit Valley their home when the project is completed.
  • A Plan to Make Los Angeles’s Oldest Freeway Less Terrifying. The hairpin exits and abrupt onramps of the historic Arroyo Seco Parkway, that part of the 110 Freeway that runs north of Downtown, are collectively one of the scariest things about driving in Los Angeles. The 1940 freeway was the first in the western US and built for 27,000 cars a day moving at 1940 speeds; today it sees 122,000 cars a day (traveling at 2015 speeds). Rather than just accepting this fate, residents who live in areas adjacent to the freeway and the offending ramps have banded together to try and gather support for an idea (previously introduced by Caltrans) that would reserve the right lanes on both sides of the freeway just for drivers exiting or entering the parkway, says Eastsider LA. Here’s another article on the same subject.
  • Caltrans seeks public input on Last Chance Grade ideas. Caltrans is sharing ideas for potential ways to reroute U.S. Highway 101 with the public for the first time through a series of workshops. The workshops will be an opportunity for the public to provide input on a feasibility study that Caltrans is conducting in an attempt to find a long-term solution for the Last Chance Grade — a stretch of U.S. Highway 101 about 12 miles south of Crescent City that has been continually shifting throughout the years, causing catastrophically dangerous and expensive landslides.

Saturday News Chum Stew: A Quilt of Churches, Stores, Rail, History, and E-Tickets

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 31, 2015 @ 7:56 am PDT

userpic=lougrantIt’s Saturday, meaning it is time to share and comment upon some interesting links that crossed my path. So, while you enjoy your morning tea (coffee? — it only belongs in ice cream or covered in dark chocolate), here are somethings to think about:

  • That’s a Crazy Quilt. Many many years ago, a football player by the name of Rosie Greer (I wonder if anyone remembers him anymore) made the news because he did needlepoint. Male fabric artists tend to be fewer, but bring an interested aesthetic to the craft. Here’s an interesting article about male quilters (of which I know a few). What do I mean by different? One fellow made a “quilt” consisting of interlinking blocks of concrete, stone and ceramics that are meant to be walked and danced on rather than slept under. One is 19 by 22 feet and made from six tons of concrete and 500 dinner plates cut into 4,000 pieces. There’s even a “crazy quilt” made from the scraps of his concrete projects. The exhibition that this article is discussing might be of interest to my wife (who is also a quilter).
  • The Megachurch. Two articles about megachurches. The first concerns the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys, now better known as Shepherd of the Hills. Shepherd has a megachurch in Porter Ranch, across from the center with Walmart, Ralphs, and other Big Boxes. They have just broken ground on a $35 million, 58,600-square foot building, featuring a 3,500 seat auditorium that will be used for worship services and community events, will feature a café with a stage for live music, a bookstore and a large outdoor veranda with seating, fire pits, a waterfall, a fountain and environmental art. It will also boast a tower that will give visitors a panoramic view of the San Fernando Valley. This is a church that is growing. Meanwhile, to the east, is my congregation: Temple Ahavat Shalom. We’re smaller, and facing the challenge of membership (as are many Jewish congregations). An interesting piece in the Forward opines that it is time for the Jewish Megachurch. The notion is that congregations need to take a page from what the evangelicals do. This is not saying a change of belief, but how we express that belief, how we relate to other people, and how we turn Judaism from rote ritual to something enthused with joy and authentic energy.
  • Commuter Rail in Los Angeles. Those are likely two words you never thought went together (“Commuter Rail” and “Los Angeles”). But they do. The 351-mile rail corridor that runs along the coast between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo is the second-busiest intercity route in the nation.Its annual passenger load of 7.4 million is surpassed only by that of the northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., which handles more than 11.4 million a year. The LA Times recently wrote about the little known agency that keeps that corridor running smoothly: the LOSSAN RCA. Trains that run on this corridor include Metrolink, the Pacific Surfliner, the Coaster, and Amtrack cross country trains (Coast Starlight) and loads of freight. The article notes that LOSSAN will be taking over management of the Surfliner from Amtrak.
  • Preserving for Posterity. Two articles related to preserving information for posterity. The first relates to Google’s abdication of its original mission: to make information uniformly accessible. Google has been slowly let letting its archival projects die: Google Groups (originally the DejaNews archive — remember that?), Google Books, and much more. Luckily, the Internet Archive Project has been picking them up. For anyone with an interest in history, we can be thankful that the Archive is there, and can shake our fist at Google for giving up on saving history. The second relates to the fact that history takes space, and the off-campus library facility at UC Berkeley needs room. This facility provides the off-site archive not only for the libraries at Berkeley, but for all the Northern California UC campuses as well as other organizations.
  • A Cascade in Woodland Hills. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the closure of the two Macy’s at the Westfield Topanga Promenade (leaving that mall with no anchor stores). It noted that Westfield of Borg wasn’t worried (even though they are building a new shopping connector between the Promenade and its sibling, Topanga Plaza, to the north). They’re experts on repurposing lost anchors. Well Westfield now has its hands full, as Sears has announced they are closing their Topanga Plaza store. While I don’t think this complex will become a dead mall,  there are only so many theatres that can go in, and all the other big boxes have existing stores in the area. This should put Westfield to the test.
  • Restaurants in Los Angeles. A number of interesting stories about restaurants in LA, as this is Restaurant Week in LA. The first looks at 26 Classic Restaurants in Los Angeles.  I’ve been to some of these, can’t afford others. I’m thinking Musso and Franks would be good for the Conference Committee dinner.  Mark Evanier has also chimed in with his thoughts on those restaurants. The week has also brought out an article about the original locations of many of LA’s iconic fast food restaurants, as well as an article mentioning the origins of our nearby deli (one of the best in LA).
  • Air Force One. “Get off my damn plane”. Ah, what a fun movie. But I digress. The USAF has announced the aircraft that will replace the existing Air Force One: The Boeing 747-8 — the newest craft in the 747 line and a frame that Boeing has been having difficulty selling. It’s a four engine craft and has great range; perhaps the 787 frame was too new. The actual replacement is a few years out, as they still need to bid on the outfitting. Next up: What to do about the aging Air Force Two, which is 757-based and has no real equivalent US-built replacement these days.
  • An e-Ticket. The last is a quick quip that made me feel old. In an article about a collection of Disneyland original memorabilia being sold was this: “And that glass E-ticket sign is one of only two made. It’s estimated to go for $15,000 to $20,000. (The E  here doesn’t refer to electronic tickets; it signified a coupon for the most popular, top-tier rides at Disneyland.)”. Sigh. To think we’re in a generation where an eTicket is something very distinct from the E Ticket of old. Who among you reading this has no idea what an E Ticket means in relation to Disneyland, and think of an E ticket as something you store on your mobile device?