Observations Along the Road

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

Things You Should Know

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

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

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

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

userpic=trumpFor years, Republicans and Libertarians have campaigned on the platform of smaller government. Government is too big! It spends too much! It has too many needless regulations that hamper the freedom of business to innovate (and make profits, never forget the profits). This was a stated goal of the Tea Party: Reduce government. This has been the goal of the Norquist pledge: Reduce taxes, reduce government. But, of course, they all knew it would never happen so it made a safe campaign promise that suckered drew in the voters. Because, heaven forfend, if it ever happened the people would realize all the benefits that these hated government services provide. Further, they would come to realize that the states cannot afford to provide them through internal budgets alone; remember, the poorer (often “red” states) depend on funds from the richer (often “blue” states) to provide these services through the balance the Federal level provides.

Then along came Donald Trump. A wealthy businessman (successful is up for debate) invested heavily in real estate. A businessman trained to get what he wants, run businesses into the ground, and complain about federal regulations that impact his ability to do business and make money (never, ever, forget the make money part). A businessman who believes that he would be more successful if he didn’t have to ensure safe workplaces, provide medical care, ensure that his construction preserved the environment. A businessman with wealthy partners, often heavily invested in energy industry that depend on the raping of the environment to make money (never, ever, ever, forget the make money part). Further, a businessman with charisma and TV smarts, a businessman who knows how to make an audience believe he is talking to them, and looking out for their interests.

Donald Trump and the Republicans/Libertarians. A match made in heaven. I know. Jesus told me about it when I called his 1-900 number the other day. It’s just like a fairy tale.

Of course, those who have seen Into the Woods knows that fairy tales aren’t pretty. Often what you wish for has unforseen consequences.

The Republicans (at least the voters) wished for Donald Trump. They got him. Their wish came true. And along with Trump came his minions and advisors, publicly dedicated to the task of “deconstructing the administrative state”. Of course, that’s a “con” job, and when you remove the con, what do you get? Destruction of the administrative state.

This becomes clear when one sees the outlines of Trump’s proposed budget. CNN describes it thusly:

His first budget — expected to be unveiled later this week — will mark Trump’s most significant attempt yet to remold national life and the relationship between federal and state power.

It would codify an assault on regulatory regimes over the environment, business and education bequeathed by former President Barack Obama, and attempt to halt decades of steadily growing government reach.

[…]

Trump will highlight his priorities by upping military spending by $54 billion, and is also expected to boost funding for homeland security — money that may be used to toughen immigration enforcement and to build his wall on the southern border.

The President will cement his “America First” policy by slashing State Department funding, foreign aid spending and grants to the United Nations, officials have already made clear. And nowhere is his assault on government expected to be as dramatic as at the Environmental Protection Agency — which is bracing for a massive reduction of its budget.

[…]

Another key Trump campaign promise was his vow to his voters, especially those in blue collar Midwestern swing states that he would not touch entitlements like Social Security or Medicare — vast repositories of taxpayer dollars that with along with interests on the national debt make up two-thirds of the federal budget.

That means that discretionary spending is vulnerable, especially to an administration that wants to make a political point.

[…]

Such warnings are why agencies like the EPA and the Education Department that have long been in conservative crosshairs are particularly vulnerable in the Trump era. Federal funding for other Republican targets — like National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities may also be under threat — even though they account for a comparatively small area of overall spending.

Americans want clean water and clean air. They want all those cute cuddly animals they see in nature documentaries. They want to be able to go out to National Parks and see the beauty of nature. But the environmental regulations that give them all that? Those are what Trump is cutting.

Americans want their children to be educated, and to get a quality education so they can get good jobs. The desire for the best education possible is true whether they send their kids to public, private, parochial, or home school. I guess there is nary a parent that says, “I want my kid to grow up stupid, like me.” When they live in poor areas with substandard education — either public or private — they want money redistributed by the Federal government from richer areas to pay for it. Gutting the Education department and ceding this to the state? That cuts those funds.

Americans want peace. They don’t want to send their sons and daughters to fight (and die, never forget die) in foreign lands. War is averted through diplomacy, not military might. Cutting the State Department and Foreign Aid cuts diplomacy. It makes the world less safe.

But what about jobs. President Trump campaigned on the promise that he would create so many jobs. Job creation would be yuge. So yuge you wouldn’t believe it. So what is he doing? According to the Washington Post:

President Trump’s budget proposal this week would shake the federal government to its core if enacted, culling back numerous programs and expediting a historic contraction of the federal workforce.

This would be the first time the government has executed cuts of this magnitude — and all at once — since the drawdown following World War II, economists and budget analysts said.

[…]

The cuts Trump plans to propose this week are also expected to lead to layoffs among federal workers, changes that would be felt sharply in the Washington area. According to an economic analysis by Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, the reductions outlined so far by Trump’s advisers would reduce employment in the region by 1.8 percent and personal income by 3.5 percent, and lower home prices by 1.9 percent.

Among Trump’s expected proposals are an increase in military spending of $54 billion, more money to start building a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico, and the creation of new initiatives that expand access to charter schools and other educational programs.

To offset that new money, Trump will propose steep cuts across numerous other agencies. Although final numbers remain in flux, his advisers have considered cutting the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by $6 billion, or 14 percent, according to a preliminary budget document obtained by The Washington Post. That is a change that Trulia chief economist Ralph McLaughlin said could “put nearly 8 million Americans in both inner-city and suburban communities at risk of losing their public housing and nearly 4 million at risk of losing their rental subsidy.”

Preliminary budget documents have also shown that Trump advisers have also looked at cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s staff by about 20 percent and tightening the Commerce Department’s budget by about 18 percent, which would impact climate change research and weather satellite programs, among other things.

Trump and his advisers have said that they believe the federal workforce is too big, and that the federal government spends — and wastes — too much money. They have said that Washington — the federal workers and contractors, among others — has benefited from government largesse while many other Americans have suffered. Federal spending, they have argued, crowds the private sector and piles regulations and bureaucracy onto companies.

Here’s something people don’t often think about: government employment is white-collar welfare, a gigantic jobs program. Cutting the Federal workforce sounds good, but at its heart it is a massive layoff by the world’s largest employer, causing people to lose their incomes, health benefits, and much more. When you are a dad or mom and your employer cuts your job, it doesn’t make a difference whether you are at GM or the EPA. It is a job — it is what pays your bills. So Trump, who promised to create American jobs, is destroying them.

But that’s not all he is destroying. To fund an ineffective wall, he is taking people’s homes. He is decimating the funding for public housing, and threatening the subsidies that enable people to have roofs over their heads. He will not only create more jobless, but more homeless people.

He is also making people less safe. Cutting climate and weather research cuts the very satellites that tell people when major weather events are happening, that tell farmers when to plant, that ensure our safety from natural disasters. All to build a wall.

And then there is healthcare. Trump promised a program that was better than Obamacare. He promised more would be covered for less cost. But what is he actually proposing? According to the CBO, via the Washington Post:

Twenty-four million fewer people would have coverage a decade from now than if the Affordable Care Act remains intact, nearly doubling the share of Americans who are uninsured. The number of uninsured people would jump 14 million after the first year.

The Republican legislation would lower the deficit by $337 billion during that time, primarily by decreasing Medicaid spending and government aid for people purchasing health plans on their own.

Premiums would be 15 to 20 percent higher in the first year compared with current Obamacare premiums, but 10 percent lower after 2026.

Older Americans would pay “substantially” more, and younger Americans less.

The plan to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding would leave many women without services to help them prevent pregnancy, resulting in “thousands” of additional births, which would in turn jack up Medicaid costs. Sandhya Somashekhar reports: “The analysts estimated that excluding the women’s health organization from the Medicaid program for one year, as congressional Republicans have proposed, would particularly affect low-income areas and communities without many health care options, leaving 15 percent of those people ‘without services that help women avert pregnancy.’ The reduction in services would reduce federal spending on Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, by $178 million during 2017, the analysts estimate. But they believe the savings would be partially offset by the fact that there would be ‘several thousand’ more births paid for under Medicaid, which already picks up the costs of about 45 percent of all U.S. births; many of those new babies likely would qualify for the Medicaid program.”

The mechanism for persuading healthy Americans to stay insured would be largely ineffective, and it would ultimately lead to about 2 million fewer Americans buying insurance each year. Juliet Eilperin explains: “GOP lawmakers are determined to repeal the individual mandate.… But by jettisoning what has grown over time to a hefty penalty, several experts said, lawmakers have crafted a financial incentive that many consumers are unlikely to find compelling. Under the House GOP proposal, any consumer who opts out of getting insurance would have to pay a 30 percent surcharge on one year’s premium upon re-enrolling.

The deficit would be cut, but at what price? Despite the promise, less people would be covered, more people would be uninsured, and often, the coverage would be worse. This would hurt the American people.

As I said at the beginning: Be careful what you wish for. The wish for a smaller government, lower taxes, and less regulation will make our nation worse off. People will lose jobs, homes, and lives. The quality of life, for the most vulnerable segments of our population, will be significantly worse. The rich, and possibly the upper middle class. They’ll make out great (unless they have government jobs). We’ll go back to the days of dirty air, polluted water, expensive medical bills, poor schools, and lack of enforcement of constitutional protections regarding the government supporting particular religions and preventing discrimination. Not a better world at all.

But government will be smaller and cheaper. Right. Perhaps this is: “better, faster, cheaper” — pick any two. Better is likely not true. So what about faster? Nope — all we get is cheaper. One way Trump is working to reduce government is by not filling lower tier positions. This is creating significant problems and slowing processes down.

As the New York Times chronicles at length in a new report, the Trump administration is having the slowest transition in decades, far behind where his predecessors usually were seven weeks into the job. Trump has filled most of his Cabinet, but he has not nominated anyone for more than 500 other vital posts.

That means that in department after department, countless operations are on standby or moving at a glacial pace because the president has failed to appoint the senior personnel required to keep the train rolling.

Further, the federal hiring freeze he instituted means that as people retire or leave for other positions, they aren’t replaced. What will that mean for getting your passport processed by when you need it? That farm report? That federal rebate?

So is Trump’s election a fairy tale? Will we live happily ever after having gotten the wish for a smaller, deconstructed government? Some will of course. The wealthy always find a way to win. But those of us who aren’t the top 1%? Will we live happily ever after?

Sure. Trump has promised it. We all know how well his promises work out.

P.S.: Your toaster oven is watching you.

I Gotta Go

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

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

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

 

“What would happen if we spoke the truth?” | Fun Home @ Ahmanson

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 12, 2017 @ 6:31 pm PDT

Fun Home (Ahmanson)There’s a quote that occurs in one of the first songs of the musical Fun Home, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through April 1, 2017, that struck a nerve: “chaos never happens if it’s never seen”. That describes many families: there is utter chaos behind a carefully manicured facade. Perhaps that commonality is one reason why Fun Home won so many Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2015. Perhaps it is the fact that it is one of the few musicals that focuses on the experience of a Lesbian finding herself (think about it: most stories that you see on stage dealing with LBGTQ focus on the G — male homosexuality. Perhaps it is the female strength of the creative team: based on a graphic novel by a woman (Alison Bechdel (FB), who is also famous for the Bechdel Test), with music by a woman (Jeanine Tesori), and stage book and lyrics by another woman (Lisa Kron). Whatever the reason, Fun Home caught my attention when it was in its Off-Broadway run at the Public (which is when I picked up the cast album). I enjoyed the music, and was pleased when it made it to Broadway, and then announced the tour. By now, you should have figured out that’s where we were last night, instead of hearing a Purim Schpiel. After all, if I want to hear about a evil madman with a plot to destroy a people, and the clueless leader that he works for and is able to manipulate, I’ll read the news.

Fun Home tells the true story of Alison Bechdel, which she captured in her non-linear graphic novel of the same name. It addresses how Alison realized that she was a lesbian, while dealing with her father who was a closeted gay man who never admitted it to himself. Shortly after Alison came out to him, he committed suicide by standing in front of an oncoming truck. It addresses the chaos behind her life: the dangerous behaviors, the domestic violence, the neglect.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this has adult themes.

It also speaks to a certain audience. I’ve noted before about how when we go to a theatrical piece about the black experience, the hue of the audience changes. For Fun Home, it wasn’t hue but orientation. There were distinctly and clearly more gay couples at this musical than I have seen at many other shows. So many so, in fact, that I was much more conscious about the ring of keys on my belt. (See the show. You’ll understand.) I think this is because this is a musical that speaks to the gay and lesbian experience in a way that hasn’t been addressed in a musical before.  Other musicals play the gay aspect for either fun (think The Producers, think La Cage Aux Folles, think Victor Victoria), or the tragedy is the focus. This musical really focuses on Bechdel’s statement from one of her comics: “What would happen if we spoke the truth?”. This is a family that goes from denial and chaos to the truth in a way that is both tragic and comic. For some, the truth brings growth and freedom. For others, it brings a realization about the life squandered, the mistakes made, the lost communication and chances.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this musical will make some people uncomfortable.

Reading the critical reviews of this, it is universally loved. Talking to some others more used to the conventional musical, the appreciation is different. They like the music, but are less turned on by the story. As someone squarely in the baby-boom generation, I can see how this would make some uncomfortable. It may bring up things they didn’t want to face; it may make them realize problems they hadn’t known were surfacing. It could also just be an unrelatable demographic.

As for me, I found the story and the way it was told fascinating. The approach taken was to tell the story from the point of view of Alison at three different points in her life: Small Alison [about 10-12] (Alessandra Baldacchino (FB) at our performance, alternating with Carly Gold (FB)), Medium Alison [about 19-20] (Caroline Murrah (FB), the understudy, at our performance, normally Abby Corrigan), and Adult Alison [about 30] (Kate Shindle (FB)). Except for near the end, it is small and medium Alison that are interacting with her parents Bruce (Robert Petkoff (FB)) and Helen (Susan Moniz (FB)), her siblings Christian (Pierson Salvador (FB)) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond (FB)), and her partner Gail (Karen Eilbacher). Adult Alison observes it all as a memory, commenting and drawing and providing context and, of course, captions. Note that all of the other characters (Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy) — primarily the boyfriends of Bruce — are played by Robert Hager (FB).

As directed by Sam Gold (FB), the production unfolds quite smoothly. The actors seem to be having quite a bit of fun with their roles. I particularly noted this for a number of numbers with Small Alison such as “Come to the Fun Home” and (of course) “Ring of Keys”, and with Medium Alison in “Changing My Major to Joan”. Adult Alison got her chance in “Telephone Wire”. All sang and performed quiet well. Note that this isn’t your typical show with chorines and choreography for large dance numbers, except perhaps for “Raincoat of Love”. Danny Mefford (FB) designed what choreography there was.

Rounding out the swing and understudies were Michael Winther (FB) (u/s Bruce), Amanda Naughton (FB) (u/s Helen, Alison), Sofia Trimarchi (u/s Small Alison, Christian, John), Caroline Murrah (FB) (u/s Medium Alison, Joan), and Anthony Fortino (FB) (u/s Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy). Fortino also served as Dance Captain.

The music was under the direction of Micah Young (FB), who also played keyboard in the onstage band. Others in the band were Jakob Reinhardt (FB) (Guitars); Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB) (Basses); Philip Varricchio (FB) (Reeds); John Doing (FB) (Drums/Percussion); David Mergen (FB) (Cello); Jen Choi Fischer (FB) (Violin/Viola). Other music credits: Alex Harrington (FB) – Associate Music Director; Antoine Silverman – Music Coordinator; Billy Jay Stein (FB)/Strange Cranium (FB) – Electronic Music Programming; Kaye-Houston Music [Annie Kaye, Doug Houston (FB)] – Music Copying; Chris Fenwick (FB) – Music Supervision; John Clancy (FB) – Orchestrations.

Turning to the creating and production design: David Zinn (FB)’s scenic and costume design started as an attic of memory. At times it turned into a dorm room, and then a wall in New York, and then most interestingly, that wall rotated up to create a ceiling for Alison’s house in Pennsylvania. Tres neat! In general, the design worked quite well. It was augmented by the lighting design of Ben Stanton, which was very rainbowish (appropriately, for an LBTGQ show) and occasionally shone into the audience. One thing I didn’t realize until I saw the page on Stanton’s lighting design was that the original production was designed for a thrust stage or a stage surrounded by audience, not the proscenium of the Ahmanson or most tour houses. Thus the interesting design was a tour-specific adaptation that worked quite well given the limitations. Zinn’s costumes worked well with Rick Caroto‘s hair and wig design. I can’t speak to how appropriately period they were or how appropriately lesbian they were (but then again — here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays look like everyone else — heaven forfend! (said tongue-in-cheek) — and here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays do tongue-in-cheek as well — oh, how do I get out of this hole I’ve dug for myself 🙂 ). The sound design by Kai Harada was good, but there were a few late microphone pickups that were likely the fault of the local sound board. Rounding out the production credits: Jim Carnahan CSA and Jillian Cimini CSA (Casting); Michael Camp – Company Manager; Shawn Pennington – Production Stage Manager.

Fun Home continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) until April 1. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

As it somehow happens every year, we caught another Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (FB) performance. Supporting this organization is even more important given the recessive administration currently in office. I gave at the show; you can give by clicking here.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  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: Next week brings  Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The end of the month brings An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

Lies vs. Falsehoods

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 11, 2017 @ 11:03 am PDT

The words we use are vitally important; I often say that 90% of everything is how we say things, not what we actually mean. I remember learning this ages ago when looking at the papers with respect to Israel and Vietnam: different impressions come from the use of “freedom-fighter” vs. “insurgent” vs. “guerilla”.

A recent article related to President Trump brought this back to mind. In a musing yesterday, Mark Evanier wrote:

I think though we sometimes devalue the word “lie” by applying it to anything your opponent says that you can possibly spin as untrue. Years ago, a gent who worked for the National Weather Service told me, “We’ll predict a 60% chance of rain for Los Angeles…and then even if it rains in the valley but not in the basin, we hear from people in the basin who accuse us of lying. Not even of being wrong, which we weren’t. They say we lied.”

As a staunch believer in the maxim, “Never attribute to deviousness, that which can be explained by incompetence,” I often think the “L” word is inapplicable. People — even people I don’t like — do make mistakes. They misspeak. Or they make logical assumptions which turn out to be wrong. A lot of people have jumped on Trump for spelling the word “tap” with two P’s in a recent, infamous tweet. These are apparently people who never made a typo themselves.

I, too, believe in the maxim (which I call an adage) of never ascribing to malice what one can ascribe to stupidity. There are kerfuffles I see every day that people jump on as malace — Spicer’s flag pin being upside down, Kellyanne Conway sitting on a sofa in the Oval Office informally. Folks — that stuff doesn’t manner. They are errors of stupidity, not intentional malice, signals, or disrespect.  They aren’t worth the time to discuss.

Mark’s article was triggered by an opinion piece in the Jewish Journal wondering whether Trump was worse than a liar. Here’s a quote from that article:

Midway through the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last week on “Maintaining Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump,” Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens tried to summarize his in-depth analysis of President Trump’s dicey relationship with the truth.

“If I had to sum it up in a single sentence,” he said, “this would be it: Truth is what you can get away with.”

When I heard that, a light bulb went off. I thought of a book I read years ago, “On Bullshit,” by former Princeton professor and moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt.

One of the key insights in the book is that bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,” Frankfurt writes. “Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”

When we use the word “lie”, there is an implicit assumption of intent: the speaker knows the truth, and is intentionally telling you something other than the truth. But if one is truly incompetent, truly stupid, truly ignorant, truly lazy enough not to know, then is that false statement a lie or just evidence of stupidity. Do we believe that Trump knows the truth? Or is he just making it up as he goes, bullshitting us because that works in business, and most people are too stupid to do the research to find him wrong. In business, you pull values for things out of thin air, and if your buyer believes you, you win.

Believing the lie and getting wrapped around the wheel of bullshit brings me to my other point: When have we (and by “we”, I mean us liberals) fallen into the same tropes that other side used against Obama? I look at my news feed on Facebook, and I see people believing all sort of bullshit about Trump, and getting all worried about truly minor things. I see folks being Chicken Little running around. I’m not saying it may not be justified. However, to an observer, it looks like the same scare tactics that the Conservatives used against Obama. Calling him names. Thinking everything is a sign of dictatorship on the way (the latest is worrying about the administration firing 45 US attorneys at DOJ, when this happens with every change of adminsitration and party).

There are plenty of things this administration is doing that are highly problematic. Gutting science. Gutting health care. Gutting programs designed to protect the American people from all forms of fraud and abuse. Gutting social programs. Dr. Martin Luthur King Jr. once said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”. Have we forgotten that?  But worrying about a flag pin? Feet on a sofa? The first lady’s tits? C’mon.

The change we need isn’t found in the sofa cushions. The change we need is found in fighting for the things that really matter.

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).