Observations Along the Road

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

Changes to the California Highways Web Site – July / August 2016

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 10, 2016 @ 3:14 pm PDT


Labor Day weekend. A traditional time for me to do computer updates, be it writing code while on vacation in Hawaii listening to the Jerry Lewis Telethon when I was in college, or doing updates in the early morning while on vacation (while looking at I-15 in front of me, near one of the most spectacular bridges on that route). Hopefully, these will take less time than the last batch. [Update: They didn’t, which is why I’m finishing things post-vacation at my desk, listening to the music I picked up on vacation.]

Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the the AAroads forum. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from Mike Ballard(2), Coatimundi @ AAroads(3), Concrete Bob @ AAroads(4), DTComposer @ AARoads(5), Jonathan Ledbetter(6), Sparker @ AARoads(7), Scott Presnel (ACSAMapCollector) @ AARoads(8), Quillz @ AARoads(9), Max Rockatansky at AAroads(10), Joe Rouse at AAroads(11), and Joel Windmiller(12): Route 1(7,8,5), Route 2(1,8), Route 4(1), I-5(1,7,11), I-8(6), I-10(1), Route 11(1), Route 14(2,11), I-15(1,7), Route 17(1), Route 29(1), Route 37(1), LRN 43(7), Route 45(7), Route 49(1,11), US 50(11), Route 58(7,11), Route 59(7), Route 65(7,4), Former US 66(1,7), Route 76(1), I-80(1,12), Route 85(1), US 97(6), Former US 99 and current Route 99(1,7), US 101(1,7,9), Route 102(7,11), Route 107(7), Route 116(1), Route 120(1,7), Route 140(7), LRN 161(7), Route 167(7), Route 172(7), Route 180(7), LRN 190(7), I-210(7), Route 262(7), Route 263(1), Route 271(7), Route 276(3), US 299/Route 299(1,10), Route 371(1), US 395(1,2), I-405(1,8), I-580(1), I-710(1), Riverside County Route R2(7,10). I’ll note there were some particular good background information posts on AAroads — I’ve hopefully been able to capture that information so it isn’t lost into the void (with attribution, of course).

Added a link in the FAQ to California’s Postmile Service, an interesting site to map postmiles to geographic locations. Hat tip to Jonathan Ledbetter for the link.

Noted a post by Quillz on AAroads on 7/16/2016 that provided the sign specifications for the 1934 “bear” shield signage. This was put on the pre-Interstate numbering page.

Added some observations on the chronology of LRNs from Sparker at AAroads.


Vote Early, Vote Often – Election News Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Sep 09, 2016 @ 11:48 am PDT

userpic=voteIn this collection of news chum, I’m clearing out some accumulated articles regarding the upcoming election. I’ll note upfront that some of these items relate to elections other than the Presidential one — yes, there will be other things on the ballot:

  • Changing Voting Systems. I’ve always liked LA County’s voting system: You mark a paper ballot with an ink-stamp, which is then optically read for counting (and checked, when you deposit it, for over/under voting). But LA County wants to change the system. An article from back in June notes how LA County envisions the future: instead of being directed to designated polling stations on a single Tuesday, voters will be able to choose from hundreds of voting centers around the county during a 10-day window leading up to election day. Further, instead of marking their selections with pen and paper, they will enter their selections on touch-screen ballot-marking devices, print out a paper ballot to review their selections, and feed the ballot back into the machine to be stored and counted. They have developed prototypes of the new machines. Further, LA officials believe that with voters no longer confined to a single polling place, many of the issues with voter rosters that led to provisional ballots will not occur.  Voters wanting to cast a cross-over ballot could have selected the correct ballot through the system’s user interface. This approach dovetails quite nicely with a measure reported on in August. The measure, SB450, which has been sent to the Governor for signature, would give local officials the power to close thousands of neighborhood polling places. In their place, counties would open temporary elections offices known as “vote centers” sprinkled throughout communities, locations offering a wide variety of elections services including early voting and same-day voter registration as well as a limited number of in-person voting booths. SB 450 would offer each of California’s 58 counties the chance to embrace an alternative to traditional elections. In most of those counties, every registered voter would receive a ballot in the mail and polling places would be scrapped. Voters would be able to turn in ballots either at secure drop boxes placed around the county or at the new “vote center” locations. Some of those vote centers would be open at least 10 days before election day, and would allow last-minute registration, a check of existing registration status and the ability to cast a vote in person even if the voter lives in a different city inside county lines.  Unlike traditional polling places, the vote centers are envisioned as staffed by paid workers with more than the few hours of training normally given to temporary poll workers. My thoughts on the matter: I can see what they are trying to do and the advantages, but there is also something to be said for local voting and knowing the people in the neighborhood.
  • A Gigantic Ballot. The hot air in California in election season will not come from the Presidential candidates (who just visit California for our money), but our propositions.  California’s November ballot is going to be very long. In additional to the Presidential campaign, a Senate race (between two Democrats), House, State Senate, and Assembly races, 17 measures have earned a spot on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot, a bumper crop of voter choices ranging from marijuana legalization to repeal of the death penalty and even new workplace rules for actors in adult movies. Four of the propositions earned a spot on the fall ballot with only hours to spare on Thursday, including two tax proposals and a sweeping prison proposal championed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Six of the 17 propositions seek to amend the state constitution. They include Brown’s effort to revamp the rules on parole from state prison, and a requirement that neither house of the Legislature pass any bill that hasn’t been available for public review for at least three days. Nine measures will ask voters to enact new state laws, with proposals on everything from new background checks for buying ammunition to a $9-billion bond for school construction and modernization projects. Voters will consider, too, the merits of an effort to impose a cap on prescription drug prices paid by state healthcare officials that will be fought with an expensive opposition campaign by the pharmaceutical industry. The ballot also includes a referendum —  voters will choose to accept or reject a law that bans single-use plastic bags statewide. They have just started printing the ballot guide for all those propositions. It is going to be 224 pages, and cost $15 million to print. It describes some of the most complex laws ever proposed, initiatives with details so granular that they could easily confound all but the most expert legal minds. Leading the pack is Proposition 64, the much-talked-about effort to fully legalize marijuana use for California adults. The broad question may be straightforward, but the initiative is not. Even the guide’s overview analysis of Prop 64 is 10 pages long. The actual proposed state law to make pot legal takes another 33 pages of the document, more than 17,000 words in all. My thoughts on the matter: I’m going to have to wade through all of this to come up with my ballot recommendation. How many other people are going to bother?
  • An Expert Negotiator. Donald Trump has emphasized his business skill at negotiating. It appears that skill may create a war — yes, expect a real war — with Mexico when they attempt to take back California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. You see, when the Donald was in Mexico recently, he intimated that he might suspend NAFTA, the free-trade treaty. Mexico’s response? A Mexican senator has filed a bill in their legislature that makes “full use of the foreign policy mandate given to the Mexican Senate by the Constitution,” and if Trump did break NAFTA and start a trade war, it would by law cause our neighbors to reconsider every treaty signed between our two nations. Every treaty. Think about that. Now research the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War and gave the U.S. ownership of California and land that would eventually become New Mexico, most of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. If that treaty is reconsidered, Mexico could claim ownership of those lands. This is the impact of diplomacy by someone who isn’t a diplomat, or educated on the nuances of the impact of what they say or do.
  • Candidates and Teflon, Bullies and Good Kids. Have you ever wondered why anything outrageous is reported about Clinton and becomes a major scandal, whereas all of the outrageous things about Trump get seemingly swept under the rug. It turns out, there is a reason. The media has been trained to not trust Clinton, and to call to investigate her at the drop of a hat. Why? The reporter’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” — a credo that, humorously, was originally written as a smear of the self-righteous nature of journalists. And so the justification for going after a public figure increases in proportion to his or her stature. The bigger the figure, the looser the restraints. After a quarter of a century on the national stage, there’s no more comfortable political figure to afflict than Hillary Clinton. The Clinton rules are driven by reporters’ and editors’ desire to score the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism: the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family’s political empire. At least in that way, Republicans and the media have a common interest. Of course, never mind that all these scandals are not true, and have been proven to be not true. As for Trump, no one cares about his well-known acts of naked corruption. Why? It comes down to this: The difference between Trump and Clinton is that Clinton bleeds when they hit her. Writing about Trump’s corruption long ago hit the law of diminishing returns, because everyone knows he’s corrupt and his supporters like it. It is news to no-one. Clinton, however, is clean—but her supporters waver at the thought of dirt. In other words: The media beats up on Clinton for the same reason bullies beat up on kids: because they get joy when the kid reacts to their torture. Clinton reacts to the charges (I know, just like a girl 🙂 ). Trump bullies back and ignores the charages. The net result: Yet again, we give our attention to the bully, and not the good kid. Of course, in the end, it is meaningless, because facts don’t matter to Trump supporters. Again, this is like the real world, where the parents always stand by their child who is bullying (sometimes even after they drive someone — or a country — to suicide).
  • The Ultimate Question: Who Is Qualified?. Vox had some interesting analysis of why Trump will never be elected. It isn’t the stupid things he says or does; it isn’t his embrace of Putin; it isn’t his disclosing what happens at intelligence briefings. It will ultimately be because voters don’t believe him to be qualified. Here are the telling paragraphs:

    The problem Trump faces is more fundamental than mere candidate preference. He currently fails to clear the most basic bar of the presidency. A majority of voters simply don’t think he’s qualified to serve as president. And it’s not just qualifications — they don’t think he has the personality or temperament to serve as president (67 to 31 percent), they don’t think he has a solid understanding of world affairs (64 to 33 percent), and they don’t think he’s honest and trustworthy (62 to 34 percent).

    This is how Trump’s candidacy differs from Clinton’s. Observers often note that Clinton, like Trump, is viewed unfavorably by most Americans, and that’s true (though the 50 percent unfavorable rating Clinton posts in this poll is quite a bit better than Trump’s 63 percent unfavorable rating). But while many Americans don’t like Clinton, they do believe in her ability to do the job. Majorities think her qualified to serve as president (60 to 38 percent), that she has the personality and temperament to serve as president (61 to 38 percent), and say she has a solid knowledge of world affairs (72 to 25 percent).

    So this, then, is the election as it stands today: Most Americans don’t like Donald Trump and they don’t think he’s qualified, temperamentally fit, or sufficiently knowledgeable about world affairs to serve as president. Most Americans don’t like Hillary Clinton, but they do believe she’s qualified, temperamentally fit, and sufficiently knowledgeable about world affairs to serve as president.

    As PJ O’Rourke put it, when he endorsed Clinton: “I am endorsing Hillary, and all her lies and all her empty promises. It’s the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she’s way behind in second place. She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

    Or, as the Dallas Morning News put it in their endorsement of Clinton: “There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November. […] We’ve been critical of Clinton’s handling of certain issues in the past. But unlike Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has experience in actual governance, a record of service and a willingness to delve into real policy. [… Clinton’s shortcomings …] Those are real shortcomings. But they pale in comparison to the litany of evils some opponents accuse her of. Treason? Murder? Her being cleared of crimes by investigation after investigation has no effect on these political hyenas; they refuse to see anything but conspiracies and cover-ups. We reject the politics of personal destruction. Clinton has made mistakes and displayed bad judgment, but her errors are plainly in a different universe than her opponent’s. […] After nearly four decades in the public spotlight, 25 of them on the national stage, Clinton is a known quantity. For all her warts, she is the candidate more likely to keep our nation safe, to protect American ideals and to work across the aisle to uphold the vital domestic institutions that rely on a competent, experienced president.

November is going to be interesting folks, and it is rapidly approaching. Stay educated, stay informed, and learn the truth about your candidates. Don’t just live in the bubble chamber, but explore all sides, and recognize their bias. Remember that it is vital that you vote, and that you vote for the right person, not the bum. Now, I shall finish my lunch…..

Gluten-Free: Growing Faster than Bread Rises. But is it (insert word)?

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Sep 07, 2016 @ 11:50 am PDT

userpic=gluten-freeThis week, a large number of articles related to food and gluten-free diets have come across my RSS and news feeds. These articles are of interest because my wife is celiac and gluten-free, and we know a number of friends and relatives that need to be gluten-free for similar reasons. We’ve often discussed the growing “gluten-free fad” (which has now become the butt of comics), and whether it is good for Celiacs — on the one hand, there may be more places where it is safe to eat; but on the other hand, if they view it as a fad and not a medical necessity, they may not be as clean in their handling and true Celiacs will get poisoned.

Let’s start with the grown of gluten-free. An article came out this week on Vox looking at the growth of the number of Americans who say they are gluten-free vs. the number that are actually Celiac. The article noted:

The number of Americans who say they are gluten-free has more than tripled from 2009 to 2014.

But the number of Americans who have celiac disease, or the inability to digest gluten, has stayed pretty much same.

This means more people are simply choosing not to eat gluten, even when there is no good scientific evidence to support cutting grains from their diets.

New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the percentage of Americans practicing a gluten-free diet rose from 0.52 percent in 2009 to 1.69 percent in 2014. But the percentage of Americans with celiac disease actually declined slightly from 0.70 percent in 2009 to 0.58 percent in 2014 (although the study said this decline wasn’t statistically significant).

USA Today had a similar report, derived from the same research:

About 2.7 million Americans avoid gluten in their diet, but 1.76 million have celiac disease, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine this week.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys showed from 2009 to 2014, participants who reported having celiac didn’t exceed 0.77%. During the same period, participants who didn’t have the disease, but avoided gluten more than tripled.

A study released in July, said those without celiac who experience abdominal pain, bloating and fatigue after eating wheat and related products could have a weakened intestinal barrier, another reason they might go gluten-free.

Why could this be? Why are people who don’t have Celiac seemingly feeling better off gluten? Here are two more articles that might bring the pieces together. First, there is a report that birth by Ceasarian section appears to increase obesity risks, seemingly because such newborns are not exposed to bacteria in the vaginal tract. Next, there is a report that a common bacteria is showing promise for treating Celiac disease. Now, add into that mix the info in my previous post about soap — namely, that the FDA is requiring manufactures to pull common anti-bacterial agents out of soap — and you might have the answer.

Our Microbiome, and more specifically, how we are screwing it up.

Consider this: There has already been research showing how the intestinal microbiome can influence our mood and our tendancy to obesity (or our ability to lose weight). We’ve also seen the growing use of antibiotics everywhere — not just as prescribed medicine, but in soaps and animal feed. We’ve seen more and more people trying to correct things with pro-biotics. I think it is conceivable that we’ve mucked up our guts, and created — through damage of the microbiome — guts that do better on a no gluten or low gluten diet.  This would explain why more and more Americans are going gluten-free and feeling better while doing so, while those diagnosed with an actual disease haven’t increased.

How is society reacting to the increased desire for gluten free? Not always in the right way — no big surprise there.

As I said: a collection of GF related articles. Something to certainly chew on (unless you’re sensitive to the subject).

The Simple Things: Soap. Ice. Orange Juice.

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Sep 05, 2016 @ 7:10 am PDT

userpic=foxy🎶 Soap. Soap. Soap. Soap. Soap. Soap. Soap. Soap. 🎶

Sorry. Just trying to sing about 8 bars.

Shall I go out on that joke? No, I’ll do a blog post first. That’ll help. But not much.

Seriously (and with apologies to the Smothers Brothers and Stan Freberg, whose material I just stole), I’d like to share some articles and commentary on some simple things in the news: Soap, Ice, and Orange Juice.

  • Bar Soap. You probably don’t think much about soap. I guarantee you use it every day, but have you pondered about the form it comes in, or what is in it? Probably not, but others do. For example, have you ever wondered which is healthier to use: bar soap or liquid soap? Bar soap is more convenient, but sales are going down, and the soap leaves that wet surface. Bar soap does indeed tend to let bacteria idle on its surface, but that’s not necessarily going to be a problem. In 1988, the Dial corporation subsidized a study [PDF] in which they purposely drowned bar soap in illness-generating ick like E. coli at levels 70 times higher than what would be found with typical household use. After washing with the infected bars, a test group of 16 hand-washers had no detectable levels of the germs on their hands. No one has gotten sick from bar soap, and commercial bar soap is required to have antimicrobal ingredients (even if not explicitly antibacterial).  I’ll also note that most artisan soaps (think Lush and such) are bars, not liquids.
  • Antibacterial Soaps. Most of the soap we use on our hands these days is antibacterial soap (think Dial). Many have railed against this, arguing that use of such soaps creates more resistant bacteria (and here’s an interesting digressive thought that went through my head: do anti-vaxxers use antibacterial soap, which can also harm children? If so, why do they like viruses over microbes?). However, that’s going to change. Within a year, antibacterial soaps as you know them are disappearing from the market. The US Food and Drug Administration just released a new, exhaustive report and ruling that there’s actually no good evidence they perform any better than plain old soap and water when it comes to preventing illness or the spread of bacteria and viruses. Further, the agency is banning companies from using 19 common “antibacterial” chemicals — such as triclosan and triclocarban — in products going forward. (You can see the full list of ingredients here.) Manufacturers have a year to reformulate products or remove ones with these chemicals from the market.
  • Ice. You (at least for most of my readership) probably think little of ice. You use it every day: In iced tea, in iced coffee, in your soda, in your drinks, in your cooler. You exist in air conditioned comfort, in your car, in your room. You want things cold, not lukewarm.  An interesting article opines that the desire for ice is uniquely American. Only in America are you served cold water with ice, do you find iced drinks everywhere, find ice buckets in your hotel room and machines with free ice down the hall. In Europe and other countries, ice is less ubiquitous. Things are served at room temperature — tap water, etc. It’s something I just never thought about it — but I’m American. [And here’s another digressive question: Is the desire for ice not only an American thing, but a white privilege thing? Do cultures of people of color have the same desire for ice, or is the desire for “ice cold stuff” a manifestation of privilege?]
  • Orange Juice. If you’re old enough to remember the 1970s (and weren’t stoned at the time), you likely remember Anita Bryant selling Florida Orange Juice. You probably haven’t thought a lot about orange juice since then, and you’re not alone. Sales of orange juice is dropping — and sales of frozen orange juice concentrate from Florida (think those cylinders of Minute Maid in the freezer section) are dropping significantly. They are dropping so much so that the frozen concentrated orange juice market has seemingly disappeared. Certainly the futures contracts are worthless; people have moved over to futures in those other breakfast staples: pork bellies (bacon) and coffee. Americans drank less orange juice in 2015 than in any year since Nielsen began collecting data in 2002, as more exotic beverages like tropical smoothies and energy drinks take market share and fewer Americans sit down for breakfast. The number of futures contracts held by traders has dropped by more than two-thirds from a 1997 high of 48,921, to 15,410 contracts last week. There were 71 players in the futures market as of last week, compared with 168 in 2004. As for Florida, it is already on track for the smallest harvest in 52 years. So what do you have with breakfast?


Covering Up

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Sep 04, 2016 @ 10:14 pm PDT

userpic=ipodI spent today recording LPs to my iPod (over 39,000 songs now!). A question came to mind: What do artists like Elvis Presley, Roger Whittaker, Theo Bikel, Chet Atkins, Al Hirt, Herb Alpert, Barbra Streisand, and Frank Sinatra all have in common. They are cover artists, not singer-songwriters performing material that they have written themselves. At one time, the cover artist was the main artist: others did the writing, they did the performing. That changed in the 1960s, thanks to duos like Lennon-McCartney.

So, here’s the question: Other than Broadway vocalists (who have always been cover artists), who are the modern-day cover artists — artists who primarily perform music written by someone else? Further, who of today’s singer-songwriters — not artists from before 2000 or Broadway — are the most covered artists?

California Highway Headlines for August 2016

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Sep 01, 2016 @ 7:55 am PDT

userpic=roadgeekingAugust. The beginning of brush fire season in Southern California. So far this month, we’ve seen numerous highways closed due to brush fires, from Route 14 and I-15, to Route 1, to the routes up in Lake County. We need the other LA to send us some rain. So while you’re staying safe (hopefully) on the roads, here are some headlines from the month:

  • Calaveras State Route 49 Rumble Strip Safety Project Complete. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has recently completed an $823,000 rumble strip safety project on State Route 49 (SR-49) at various locations throughout Calaveras County. This project installed rumble strips which are ground into the pavement and designed to alert drivers when their vehicles leave their traffic lane. As tires pass over the rumble strips, drivers can hear the noise and feel the vibration produced by these rumble strips…
  • Highway 99 rest area off-ramp to close for roadway repairs. The California Department of Transportation sent out two commuter alerts for Tulare County motorists. First, the southbound Highway 99 off-ramp to Dodge Avenue will be closed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. The exit also serves the CH Warlow rest area, just north of Traver.
  • Motorists flocking to newly opened I-580 express lanes in Alameda County. Motorists took nearly 1.9 million trips on Interstate 580’s new express lanes in Alameda County in the first four months the lanes opened to vehicle traffic earlier this year, according to a recent report. The $345 million project opened on the notoriously congested Tri-Valley corridor in mid-February to solo drivers, who pay an extra toll to use the lane, and to carpoolers, who can drive for free.
  • The Future of Neighborhoods: Removing Urban Freeways Gains Fresh Traction. Growing up on the north side of Charlotte, North Carolina, Anthony Foxx remembers the geography of his childhood being defined by a quiet neighborhood of ranch-style houses, well-kept lawns—and an imposing brick wall at the end of the block. On the other side of the wall, there ran a high-speed on-ramp that connected the eastbound lanes of Interstate 85 with the southbound lanes of Interstate 77, two highways that cradled the northeast corner of the neighborhood. For Foxx, the wall, the highways, and the hum of traffic blended into the background. He knew nothing different. Over time, he came to understand they weren’t part of the neighborhood at all but more like interloping house guests.


Needling (Anti)Vaxxers About Risk (or This Isn’t Your Father’s 11/780)

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 29, 2016 @ 11:51 am PDT

userpic=mad-scientistWhat’s this I hear about people being anti-Vax? Don’t they realize that without the Vax, and its older sibling, the PDP 11, there might not have been the Internet as we know it? I mean, Unix was developed for the Vaxxen. Oh, wait, I wanted to write about a different Vax. Nevermind.

Seriously, now that we’re past that bad but obligatory pun, I’d like to talk to you about a different sort of “vax” — vaccines, and their well-publicized opposition, the “anti-vaxxers”. These folks have been in the news lately because of a recently enacted California law that requires parents to vaccinate their children except when medically-contraindicated (no exemption for belief or parent choice), and a Federal Judge upholding that law. Do a search on the Internet related to that law, and you are overwhelmed by the anti-vax opposition sites, such as this one, masquerading as an information site. Closer to home, the subject is on my mind because of a recent discussion with a relative who is in the anti-vax camp, where she asked if she was anti-science because she was skeptical of many things such as the planethood of Pluto, the accuracy of meteorologists, and science’s disbelief (until recently) about the value of the microbiome. This particular post was prompted by a “Fuck You Anti-Vaxxer” rant a different friend posted, which made me realize that a more reasoned screen was necessary.

Let’s work through this and some of the arguments together. The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is that being an anti-vaxxer is not necessarily being anti-science, but it is a clear demonstration of how humans want to blame something or someone when something goes wrong, how humans have difficulty separating correlation and causality, and how bad we are at judging and assessing risk. When properly assessed, the best way that a parent can reduce risk for their child is to ensure they are vaccinated.


Pressing Out Meaning | “Gutenberg, The Musical” @ Backyard Renaissance

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 29, 2016 @ 9:51 am PDT

Gutenberg, The Musical! (Backyard Renaissance)userpic=theatre_ticketsThe ideas for musicals come from the many places. Books. Movies. More movies. Far too many movies.  Grey Gardens came from a documentary about a crazy heiress.  [title of show] came from a festival application. Then there is the show we saw last night from Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (FB) at the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego: Gutenberg, The Musical! It came from, well, a slush pile of bad musical submissions.

Perhaps I should explain this a bit more. Scott Brown and Anthony King (FB), who wrote the show, were Junior High School friends who were working as interns at theatre companies. They were tasked with attending new musicals, and reading through the slush pile of submitted musicals and unsolicited demo recordings of musicals. They were seeing bad musicals. Really bad musicals. They began to wonder how the authors of those musicals didn’t realize they were so bad. So, they decided to write their own intentionally bad musical. They would figure out the absolute worse subject for a musical and go for it. As Hitler was already taken, they went with Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the Printing Press.  It died. They reworked it for Upright Citizens Brigade. It lived. They expanded it to 45 minutes, then to a full-length off-Broadway show. They recorded a cast album.

I should say upfront that this show is bad. But bad in a good sense. Think about Batman in the 1960s. The show was bad but in an intentional way, in a way that played up the knowledge that you were in on the joke that it was bad, and so you went along for the ride, and it ended up being good, and in fact making a positive and deep commentary on a number of things. Well, perhaps not that far. But it was bad in an intentionally funny way, and that made it good.

Here’s an example that perhaps illustrates this. Early in this show, one character is secretly in love with another character, and offers to make him some lamb stew. He replies, “I love ewe.”. She hears “I love you.”  Yup. Do we go out on that joke? No, we do reprise of song, that help. But not much.

In any case, Gutenberg, The Musical! is presented as a musical about Gutenberg. But it is not presented as a traditional musical. Rather, it is presented as a backer’s audition, with the two ostensible authors playing all the roles (in the spirit of Murder for Two). How do you tell the myriad of characters apart? Each character has their own hat. A baseball cap. With their character stenciled on it.

As the story of Gutenberg himself doesn’t cry out for musicalization, the authors go the historical fiction route. They set the story in the fictional berg of Schlimmer, Germany. That should be a clue right there. They invent a fictional love interest, a buxom blond wench named Helvetica. They invent an antagonist, an evil (or should that be eeeeevil bwah ha ha) monk named, well, Monk. They invent a deep and meaningful commentary they want to make — since this is Germany, they must mention the holocaust. And they come up with a story: Gutenberg wants to make people read, and so invents the Printing Press. Monk wants to keep people stupid so he can tell them what is right and wrong without them knowing (and remember, boys and girls, that Monk almost rhymes with Trump). Helvetica loves Gutenberg, but is afraid of losing her wine-pressing job and him after he invents the printing press, and so falls under Monk’s spell (after listening to Trump’s, I mean, Monk’s, lies) and destroys the press. You can take it from there.

So the story is campy. Intentionally campy. Aside from the hats, there is continual breaking of the fourth wall, continually skewering of musical conventions and existing musicals, inspired sillyness (such as the water schprizting bottle), and, well, everything you would expect at a bad backers audition. In doing so, Gutenberg does something similar to [title of show] — it exposes the side of theatre that is rarely seen: the developmental side. What Gutenberg is demonstrating is what many musicals go through, and what many potential producers have to suffer through: the backers audition that can be both great and horrifying at the same time. The badness of the musical proposal combines with the earnestness of the authors to create something bigger than itself. You might say that it becomes a monster in its own right, but I wouldn’t go that far … and here’s why.

When you scrape off the veneer of bad backers audition, and think about what it being said, there is a deeper valid commentary being made (just as the wine press presses out the good juice from the grapes). The commentary has nothing to do with the holocaust, but with the importance of reading, knowledge, and independent thinking over just listening to the platitudes of misguided leaders. In the story, Monk intentionally wants to keep the village and the villagers stupid, so that he can exert his power over them by telling them what he wants them to think their books of authority say. Does that sound familiar? I’ve alluded to Trump before, because I think it is a clear analogy. We get political leaders who want to tell us what the Constitution says, what they believe our laws say, what they think we should do. Another example: I’ve recently been in some discussions with anti-Vaxxers (which will be my next blog post). They’ve been brainwashed by leaders who tell them what the science says, what the statistics means. Never mind whether it is true or not — these people tell them what they want them to hear to serve their own ends. Gutenberg, on the other hand, wants transparency and critical thinking. He doesn’t want to tell the people how to think — he wants them to be able to read and think about it on their own, to come up with their own opinions and understanding. He knows that what will make the true technological revolution is not a piece of machinery, but what that machinery enables. Beneath all of the camp of this musical is a deep message about the power of independent critical reading and analysis over the tyranny of ignorance. And that, friends, is a wonderful and true message.

Now, a story is nothing if it isn’t performed well. Our two erstwhile authors, Scott and Anthony, well, Doug and Bud (as the characters are named) are played by Anthony Methvin (FB) [Doug] and Tom Zohar (FB) [Bud]. These two young men bring the right amount of earnestness, sillyness, and talent to the role, believably coming the authors of the musical. They handle all the different hats they have to wear well, rapidly becoming all the different characters. Including rats and dead babies. Also notable is the cat, Biscuit, whose bio is hilarious. I figure he has a big future on Broadway.

The scenic design is understandably…. nothing. A piano. A folding table covered in hats, with a few props underneath it. This design, together with the simplistic props, comes from the Executive and Artistic directors of BRT — Jessica John Gerke (FB) and Francis Gerke (FB). The real “set” comes from the wide variety of hats, which serve as the “costumes” — which were also designed by Jessica John Gerke (FB). I’d say they were an inventive idea, but considering the cover of the cast album, my guess is that they were at least inspired by the original UCB design. Nevertheless, they were executed well and worked great for the story — and were incorporated well into the staging of director Kim Strassburger (FB) and the dance/movement of choreographer Katie Whalley Banville (FB). A little elaboration on that: although these were just two guys wearing hats, they were doing so in extremely inventive ways: such as a line of hats on a string for a chorus line, or literally wearing many hats at one time. There were commentaries on large dance numbers in musicals, on pointless charm songs, and much more — all executed in a humorous and entertaining fashion that wasn’t necessarily part of the script. That, I believe, is what the director and choreographer brought to this show.

On to the piano. There is no explicit credit for the on-stage pianist, so presumably it was the music director Lyndon Pugeda (FB). It looks like him at least (although he needs to update his official website — it dates to 2012 and references (heaven forfend) Myspace). Although not a formal character, he played with the actors and provided quite a few humorous moments of his own. Plus he played the keys well.

Back to the production credits. There was no credit for sound design; as there were no sound effects, there might not have been any sound design. Lighting design was by Curtis Mueller (FB), and worked within the restrictions of the space — a few lekos, a few scrollers, and what looked like a moving mirror spot. Then again, this was a backers audition — you don’t need a lot of lighting effects. Anthony Methvin (FB) was the producing director, and Taylor Todd (FB) was the stage manager. Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (FB) is under the artistic direction of Jessica John Gerke (FB) and the executive direction of  Francis Gerke (FB).

Gutenberg! The Musical! continues at the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego’s University Park community through September 4th. Tickets are available through the BRT website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. It is worth seeing.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre 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), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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:  September returns to conventional theatre. The second weekend sees us back at Muse/ique (FB) for Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend brings I Love You Because at the Grove Theatre in Burbank. The last weekend is The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and it looks like a theatre in Pasadena will be presenting the musical Funny Girl. November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.