Observations Along the Road

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

A New Years Stew: Buildings, Books, and Booms; Music, Medicine, and Mattel

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 02, 2016 @ 1:00 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s the first weekend of the new year, and as is traditional, it’s time to clear out the accumulated news chum from the week — the chum that couldn’t be used to create a coherent themed chum post of 3 or more articles. So let’s see what is in this week’s stew:

  • Saved! The first news chum item was to be about where I live now, but that became its own article. So let’s talk about where I used to live: North Hills.  At the corner of Devonshire and Sepulveda is a shopping center we used to frequent (especially when Hughes was still there). Today, the Hughes Ralphs has closed, and so has Mission Hills Bowl, and rumors are circulating about redevelopment of the center. This week, some good news came out of this: the bulk of the center appears to be saved, and the Mission Hills Bowl building will remain.  The Googie designed Bowling Alley by LA architect Martin Stern Jr. will be saved as part of a new commercial development that will include a mix of retail, restaurants, medical office, gym, warehouse, and bank uses spread over one and two story buildings.
  • Booking It. When Borders and Barnes and Noble took off, the prediction was that they would kill the small bookstore. They almost did, but the bookstores hung on. Now Borders is gone, and B&N is on the ropes, being killed by Amazon. What is still surviving? The small independent used bookstore. In fact, used bookstores are making a comeback. The reason isn’t surprising, when you think about it. It costs more to ship used books than to just sell them locally. Here’s the quote that BoingBoing used from the original article: “Used bookstores, with their quintessential quirkiness, eclectic inventory and cheap prices, find themselves in the catbird seat as the pendulum eases back toward print. In many cities, that’s a de facto position: They’re the only book outlets left… And it’s a business with good economics. Used bookstores can beat Amazon and other online booksellers on price, offering shoppers both a browsing experience and a money-saving one. Also, profit margins on used books are better than new ones — so good that many indies are adding used sections.”
  • Travelling? Good News and Bad News. Traveling in the new year? You need to watch out if you live in Alaska, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Washington, Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, Minnesota or American Samoa. Your state is bumping into (or has gone past) the RealID deadline, and your state IDs may not be acceptable to TSA or the DOD. About the only good news here is that California got granted an exemption. I have no idea what this means: in particular, it could mean that everyone in the state needs to be issued a new ID. Ouch!
  • New Album from Paul Stookey. As you have likely figured out, I love folk music… and my first love was Peter, Paul, and Mary. Thank’s to Noel Paul’s Facebook account, I just learned that Noel Paul Stookey issued a new album in September 2015. I’ve already grabbed my copy, it is it like one of his recent concerts (i.e., very good).
  • Going Boom. Here’s a fun article: The history of the Toy Chemistry Set. What started out as a kit for the academic world became something to encourage men to become scientists (why would women care about chemistry), and then got neutered as society became worried about safety and homemade bombs.
  • More Problems from Inflammation. The inflamatory response is turning out to be the culprit is more and more problems. We’ve seen articles in the past linking it to arthritis and migraines. Here’s an article showing the link between depression and inflammation. Quite an interesting read, and it shows why we might not need to monkey with brain chemicals to address depression.
  • Deaths of Note. We’ve had a number of notable deaths at the end of the year, such as Wayne Rodgers and Natalie Cole. Here’s one you may have missed: Ruby Cavanaugh, namesake of Ruby’s Diners.
  • Sign of the Times? Mattel, owners of the American Girl line of dolls, has introduced a diabetic kit for their dolls, allowing girls with diabetes to have a doll that is just like them. While I applaud the production of the kit, what does it say about the prevalence of diabetes in our society that this needs to be a thing?

 

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Going, Going, Gone: Remembrances of Eras Gone Past

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 24, 2015 @ 9:33 am PDT

userpic=tombstonesThis is another in my ongoing series of news chum posts about things that are going away. In doing this, I’ve come to realize another connection between the items: they are emblematic of an era that has also passed:

  • The 747. Production of the Boeing 747 — an iconic jetliner of the 1970s and 1980s — is slowing and may soon die. Right now, the fate of continued production is in the hands of a Moscow firm: specifically, a Russian freight company that promises to buy 18 over the next few years. If that pledge falls through, and finding financing won’t be easy, Boeing faces a tough choice: End production and take a financial hit, or try to limp along until a cargo rebound yields more sales. For now, Boeing’s backlog is enough to keep building 747s only through mid-2017. Boeing would really like to keep production limping along at least under Congress orders a new Air Force 1: the current AF1 is a 747-200 that is over 20 years old. What’s killing the 747? On the passenger side, it is size: most routes are not economical for the capacity of the plane. Overall, it is pure economics: a four-engine plane guzzles a lot more expensive jet fuel than a two-engine plane. Both of these work to kill the demand. The death of the 747 is the death of an era: the era when flying was glamorous, of piano bars and lounges in the sky. We’re left with an Air Bus.
  • The Vegas Showgirl. The MGM Grand in Vegas has posted a closing date for Jubilee, the last hotel-produced Vegas-showgirl spectacular. At one time, the Vegas showgirl was in every hotel. Hotels produced their own entertainment, and each show featured long-leggy girls, often topless, in a very Vegas-styled entertainment. Today, most shows are four-walled: the hotel rents the room to the promoter, who handles everything else. This results in very different entertainment than in the 1960s-1980s. Jubilee was a relic from that era, and — like the 747 — was no longer economical or the draw.
  • The Physical Camera Store. Bel Air Camera in Westwood has closed as of yesterday. At one time, camera stores were everywhere. There were at least three that I recall in Westwood, all feeding off the neighboring community and college kids with cameras. Now there are none (just like there are no more record stores in Westwood, when once there were at least 3). This, again, is the passing of two eras. The first is the continued decline of Westwood as a college town for UCLA; it is not what it was when Star Wars first premiered at the AVCO. The second is the passing of the film camera. What was once expensive photographic equipment is almost worthless — I know I have expensive film cameras and lenses from my dad that I’m not sure I could give away. We’ve gone to digital, and thus all the infrastructure devoted to lenses, lens effects, developing, mounting, etc. has all been rendered, if not obsolete, than rarely used.
  • LA Chinatown. A few months back, I wrote about the reopening of Empress Pavillion, a long-time dim-sum palace in Chinatown. While it was closed, the business had to shift to Monterey Park — which is where the Chinese community had moved as well. A move, by the way, similar to the migration of Jews from Boyle Heights to the Westside. This week confirms that shift: that Chinatown is perhaps in name only, and is more of a tourist Chinatown than a true home for that culture. The confirmation: Empress Pavillion has closed again as a restaurant and will only be used for banquets and events. Chinatown — your era has passed.
  • Curvy Women. Some of us are old enough to remember the days of the pin-up calendar. Think LeRoy Neiman, and the nudes he would draw for Playboy. An article this week reminds us of one pin-up heroine that has been forgotten: Hilda. Hilda was the creation of illustrator Duane Bryers. She was one of pin-up art’s best kept secrets: voluptuous in all the right places, a little clumsy but not at all shy about her figure. I actually think she’s a lot sexier than the stick-figures society is obsessed with today.
  • Soviet Era Buildings.  This one is just creepy. Here’s a collection of photos of abandoned Soviet era buildings. They are reflective of an era and of an artistic style that has (thankfully) all but disappeared.

 

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Up in the Air

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 29, 2015 @ 8:30 am PDT

userpic=psa-smileOne last themed news chum as appetizer before we serve the stew. I’ll let you decide if this is suitable to spread on crackers.

  • Another Nail in the Coffin of Third-Party Travel Agents. As I wrote in my aphorism post, travel websites make their money by steering you to hotels. Just as with travel agents of yore, they earn commissions and referral fees. The hotels, naturally, hate this — not because they want to save you money, but they want that commission profit for themselves. Just as we have seen elsewhere in other industries, they will be doing whatever they can do to up their profits. Here’s another example of that trend, this time in Las Vegas: As part of MGM’s profit growth plan, the company intends to realize further income by asking customers to help them put a boot on the neck of 3rd party travel retailers. The target? The 15% cut MGM pays to Expedia Inc. (Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire, Trivago, Travelocity, Orbitz etc), Priceline Group (Priceline.com, Kayak, Booking.com, Agoda, OpenTable) and even family-owned shops like Jadd Fong Travel in north east Albquerque, New Mexico. How are they going to do this? MGM Resorts International is going to begin penalizing guests who book via third parties, not by direct confrontation but by withholding services and adding fees. Forewarned is…
  • Flying the 727. Those of us who are old enough will remember the Boeing 727. Here’s an interesting report on the refurbishment of an early 727, and what it was like to fly it.
  • Speeding Up Boarding. Here’s an interesting report on a patent by Airbus: The plane, instead of being a single, contiguous hull, would have a huge hole in the middle where the passengers and luggage would normally be. Instead of boarding the plane directly, passengers and luggage would be loaded into a separate “cabin module.” Then, when the module is ready to go, it’s simply dropped into the airplane. You would take your seat in the module, from the comfort of the departure lounge… and then descend into the airplane when it’s ready to go. Interesting idea? Will it ever happen?

 

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This is the city, Los Angeles, California. I work here.

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Nov 27, 2015 @ 7:47 am PDT

userpic=los-angelesToday’s news chum post brings a collection of stories about Los Angeles, and all things Los Angeles:

  • The Feud. KCET has an interesting article on “the feud” — that is, the supposed ongoing rivalry between Southern and Northern California. KCET’s attitude: “get over it”. I would tend to agree. I’ve seen numerous people from Northern California who are disdainful of Southern California, making fun of all sorts of supposed and real attributes of Southern California folks. Southern California folks, however, don’t seem to have the same dislike of the area, finding it a very nice place to visit. There are dichotomies in California, but neither the Tehachapis or the SLO/KER/SBD northern county lines are not one of them.
  • The Triforium. In a downtown mall that really isn’t a mall but a lunch hideaway for jurors, there exists a sculpture that doesn’t work. The Triforium, originally designed as a “‘polyphonoptic’ sculpture,” was intended by mosaic artist and sculptor Joseph Young to have its nearly 1,500 glass bulbs on the six-story structure light up “in synchrony to music from a 79-note glass bell carillon.” But it was ahead of its times, and never quite worked right. It became more of a mockery than an attraction. But that may be changing. A Triforium Refurbishment is in the works. United behind the present Triforium restoration project is a group including noted LA booster/explorer Tom Carroll from the Tom Explores Los Angeles web series, the group YACHT of the 5 Every Day app, the executive director of the Downtown LA Art Walk, and Councilmember Jose Huizar. According to their website for the undertaking, the group is hoping to refurbish the piece, updating its computer technology to something more modern—”a nimble and inexpensive computer system that can achieve Young’s original goals”—and replacing the bulbs with efficient LEDs. They’re also planning to create an app that would allow anyone to compose their own “polyphonoptic” music and send it to the Triforium to be played out of those ladybug-like speakers, offering a whole new opportunity for engagement with the sculpture. Would you like to help? Here’s more information.
  • The Times. Los Angeles used to have a great paper: The Los Angeles Times. Local, with bureaus all over the world, it rivals the NY Times. Nowadays, it is a shadow of its formal self. Page count has dropped. Ad revenue has dropped. To compound matters, the Times has been saving money by downsizing, which makes the product worse, so revenue drops more, so they downsized more. The LA Times just completed another series of buyouts, and the people left Wednesday,  and the draw-down of talent is significant. It’s got me questioning whether I still want to subscribe, but the other local papers face equally whittled staff and equally bleak prognoses. I’d consider the NY Times (where real journalism still exists), but (a) it’s New York, and (b) it exhibits such a paternalistic “look down the nose” attitude towards LA. SCPR/KPCC had an interesting take on the downsizing, as it looked at the changes in the Food section over the years. When one of the food editors who is leading started, “We needed a huge staff because, typically, the Food section was 70 to 80 pages every week, and during the holiday season we would publish two sections a week and sometimes those would be hundred-page sections.” These days, it is a lot smaller.
  • The Traffic. Everyone talks about the traffic in LA. It is one of my fears for conference attendees in just over a week. We have horrible bottlenecks on our freeways. The problem is induced traffic. A freeway gets widened with a new mixed-use or HOV lane, and it speeds up. As a result, more people take the freeway (either through new jobs, or a return to solo driving)… and the traffic ends up worse. I’ve seen this firsthand: right after the 405 construction process ended, traffic was better. Now it’s worse: our drive home is more often over 100 minutes, as opposed to the previous 85. It’s just that the traffic is in a different place. So how do people get around it? Waze. But Waze is creating another raft of problems, because traffic, like water, will find a way. Waze is moving traffic to tiny city streets, many of which were not designed for that traffic load. Again, I see that everyday. I theorize that is why the left from Chatsworth onto Wilbur, which used to take 1-2 lights, now regularly takes 4-5 lights.
  • The Airport. It is Thanksgiving weekend; one of the busiest traffic weekend. This drew out a number of articles on the historical LA Airport. We have an LA Magazine article on the origins as Mines Field, including a really neat map. Next we have a photo archive of the LA airport from the Mines Field days to the reconstruction in the 80s. Lastly, we have a history of the LA Airport Theme Building. I have this odd connection to the airport. I grew up near the airport, and had friends who lost their houses in the airport expansion to jet traffic in the mid-to-late 1960s. I attended synagogue on Airport Blvd, and never knew why that was the name — learning later that it was the main route into the “interim” terminal that was at Airport and Century. This was the terminal that was used after the Mines Field days, but before construction of the new LAX in the late 1950s.  Here are more images. PS: While writing this, I discovered that the Hyatt hotel at Sepulveda and Century was the first Hyatt hotel.

 

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Looking everywhere, going nowhere

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 18, 2015 @ 11:56 am PDT

userpic=travelToday’s news chum post continues the trend of using a song lyric in the title. Does anyone recognize the song? If you figure it out (or cheat), I’ll note that even thought the line fits the post, the overall song doesn’t really. In any case, today’s post — focused on going nowhere — is about transportation in the news. Transportation, in fact, that may get us nowhere fast. Here are a few transportation articles I’ve corrected, while I eat my lunch…

 

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Mama, mama, forget your pies

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Nov 12, 2015 @ 7:14 pm PDT

userpic=tombstonesIf you can’t figure out why this post is named what it is, you’ll have to read to the end. If you get the connection, I’ve just created an earworm. In any case, this post is a requiem for some things that are nearly or dearly departed:

Oh, right, the title of the post. Take a listen:

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Shticks of One and Half a Dozen of the Other: Saturday Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Oct 24, 2015 @ 11:06 am PDT

userpic=schmuckThis has been the second very busy week in a row. I’ve accumulated a number of articles, but there are no coherent things, but lots of things I want to comment upon. So let’s get started with this news chum collection:

🏥  Sexism in the Emergency Room. The Atlantic had a fascinating article that I certainly believe: Doctors Tend To Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously. It is sad to think that this type of sexism still exists in the medical profession, but it does. There are fewer research projects to see the effect of medicine on women, and often a woman’s complaint is dismissed as hysteria (and by the way, if you don’t know the origin of that word, you should — it’s relevant). In this article, a woman almost dies because the doctors don’t believe her complaint about serious pain.

💏 Contributions of the Yiddish Theatre. As my daughter is busily studying Yiddish at UC Berkeley, news about Yiddish tends to catch my eye. Here’s an article about how the first lesbian kiss on stage was in a Yiddish theatre production. Specifically, the 1923 English-language production of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance, at the Apollo Theater on 223 West 42nd Street, presented the first same-sex kiss in the history of Broadway, leading to the entire cast’s being arrested on obscenity charges. Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman’s Indecent, having its world premiere at the Yale Rep in New Haven this month, is a delightful, unexpected, and surprising play about Asch’s play.

🎭 To Review Community Theatre? An article in the On Stage Blog has prompted some interesting discussion. Its question: Should theatre reviewers review community theatre, and if they do, should they give an honest assessment? A fascinating question: after all, these are not professional actors, so should we hold them to the same quality standards? They are often true amateurs, and the directors are equally amateurs. Personally, I tend to agree with the VC On Stage Blog: I review honestly, but try more to couch my review as constructive criticism (how to improve, instead of “Bob stunck”).

🏊 A Hole in the Ground, Filled with Water. With the current drought, there’s more an more interest in demolishing pools. It’s an interesting question, and one that I’ve thought seriously about. Pools can add to the value of a house, and in general a pool actually uses less water than a lawn. But they can leak easily — I’m pretty sure our pool has a leak somewhere in the piping deep underground that feeds the pump (I have to add water weekly). But the cost of removing the pool can be quite high — multiple thousands of dollars to remove the decking, break up the shell, etc. If it costs only an extra $50 to add water per month, it is cheaper to add water. Never an easy question.

💳 American Express in Trouble. Here’s a fascinating article about the woes of American Express: Specifically, the loss of their US contract with Costco is a big deal, no matter what they say. Amex no longer has the prestige it once had, and its higher fees often make people less likely to accept it. They can hang on, but they may be going the way of Diners Club over time.

💊 The Cost of Generics. By now, our insurance companies have drummed it into our heads: Buy generics, it is cheaper. But as we’ve read in the news, the cost of generics is actually rising, often thanks to greedy manufacturers. Who is that hurting? Small pharmacies, who are finding that their insurance reimbursements do not cover the cost of the generics. This means, due to insurance contracts, they often lose money on generics. Welcome to screwed up health care in America.

🔯 Holocaust Revisionism. This week, we had an interesting example of Holocaust Revisionism… from an Israeli leader, who proclaimed that Hitler didn’t want to kill the Jews — it was an Arab idea. Dr. Deborah Lipstadt — who was my professor for a number of Jewish Studies courses at UCLA including ones on Zionism and Antisemitism — wrote a very good rebuttal and analysis of Netanyahu’s statement. (if that link doesn’t work, go here, and then click on the article). As Dr. Lipstadt noted: “Netanyahu, however, did not paint [the Grand Mufti] as a supporter of this genocide. He credited him with coming up with the idea. There is a vast difference between the two. Historians continue to debate who originated the idea of the Final Solution. No serious historian, however, has ever laid the decision at the feet of the mufti. These are scary days in Israel. Arabs, some of whom have been incited to act by religious and political leaders, have stabbed, hacked, and stoned Jews. Others have mowed them down with cars. This inexcusable barbarism does not, however, legitimate rewriting of the past.”

🍕 Feeding the Addiction. I really try to avoid becoming an addict. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I am addicted to Afrin, but that’s a different story. This week I learned I really am an addict. So, here’s goes. My name is Daniel, and I’m addicted to Cheese.  Yup, a new study has shown that Cheese Addiction is real. Cheese happens to be especially addictive because of an ingredient called casein, a protein found in all milk products. During digestion, casein releases opiates called casomorphins that play with the dopamine receptors and trigger that addictive element. The LA Times drilled down even deeper into the study, and concluded: So the decision to call cheese crack is entirely yours. And if the University of Michigan study makes you feel better about eating a quesadilla for lunch and half a cheese board before dinner, so be it.

🍷 Liquid Refreshment Andrew Ducker over on LJ alerted me to this article, which is related to a different type of food addiction. Yes, there are people who feel better after drinking blood, but no they are not vampires. The article is an interesting study of sanguinarians  — real life “vampires” and their communities.

💥 I Feel The Earth Move. Everyone started to run scared in LA after an article from NASA saying the chance of a major earthquake in the San Gabriel Valley is 99.9% in the next two years. But then again, Dr. Lucy Jones disputes the findings.  Specifically, a yet unpublished study from seismologists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab predicted with 99.9 percent certainty that we’d get a 5.0 quake sometime within the next couple years. They were 35 percent certain that it would be even bigger, registering at 6.0 or worse. However, Dr. Lucy “Earthquake Lady” Jones, a seismologist who works with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on earthquake preparedness, noted that the claim that it’s such a high probability is made in a paper by one individual group of researchers, and the paper doesn’t document how they came up with that number so it’s impossible for us to even evaluate whether or not the statement has any validity, because they didn’t say why. She also noted this is not an official NASA claim, and pointed out that a lot of us might not even be able to feel a 5.0 quake. What’s more likely? Dr. Jones says a more likely figure is a 2 percent chance of SoCal getting a big quake—7.5 or greater—each year. But there is a certainty that eventually be a big one, so it also helps to be prepared.

💺 The First Jumbo Jets. Airline Reporter had an interesting exploration of Delta Air Lines and their first jumbo jets: the 747-100s. Delta ended up settling on the DC-10s and L-1011s, and of course, now uses different jumbos. The article provides a great insight on why airlines order what, and what happens to an aircraft after it is no longer needed.

🍏 They’re back. Yay. Pippins are back in markets. Get them while you can.

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At Last, The Stew: Tasty Links in a Simmering Sauce

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Oct 17, 2015 @ 3:30 pm PDT

Observation StewAnd finally, some tasty news chum stew, which has been simmering in the bookmarks for a couple of weeks:

 

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