Observations Along the Road

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

Signs of the Times

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 09, 2016 @ 3:48 pm PDT

userpic=rough-roadRecently, I have seen various things that remind me of how society has changed since my youth — whether it is for the better, I’ll leave to you decide. It is markedly a loss of innocence and a growth of awareness.

  • When I was up at camp Friday night, I noticed in the dining hall a brit that all campers had to sign. This evidently has been part of camp for the last (mumble) years since the current director came, and I think is it a good thing. It requires all campers to acknowledge that camp is a mutually supportive safe space, that embraces individuality. Back when I went to camp in the 1970s, we had that feeling (although there were a few bullies), and I believed that everyone came away with the impression that camp was a safe space. I certainly did, and I was one of the more individualist campers out there. But today we have to say it and remind people — a sad commentary on not only the prevalence of bullying, but the acceptance of bullying in some circles.
  • Back in the 1960s, the Smothers Brothers had a routine about updating old musical standards that reflected societal mores no longer in vogue — the example I remember was the all-white MacNamera’s Band requiring integration. The other day I read a review of Beauty and the Beast in the Daily Cal that captured another thing people might have missed, best embodied by this paragraph: “At this point, most audiences — and, indeed most Americans — know the plot of “Beauty and the Beast”: Belle, a brilliant woman utterly suffocated by the patriarchy and her small town, escapes marrying a misogynistic, violent, entitled alpha male (Gaston), and ends up being held captive by another man in his castle. ” The reviewer goes on to castigate the show as outdated, but you’ll find a large number of Broadway successes (and even Shakespearean successes) have such equivalent dated values, from Merchant of Venice to How to Succeed to Flower Drum Song to … you name it. My comment is more on the increased awareness we have of these issues — our increased recognition of art that accepts violence and perpetuates stereotypes, or that appropriates culture. Again, a loss of innocence from our youth, but perhaps for a good reason.
  • The third item is also from the Daily Cal, this time looking at the Venmo culture. Again, here’s the key paragraph: “Short Venmo transactions — supposedly aimed at discreet, cold-cut convenience — were enough to make me feel left out. Something about the nature of their publicized transactions screamed: “We don’t want to announce to the world that we hung out, but we still want you to see and imagine what we did.” And that’s when it struck me: We, as Millennials, have entered a whole new territory of humblebragging.” Through Facebook and Venmo and Twitter, we’ve entered the era where we regularly state our status by sharing our activities, humbling our friends who cannot afford such luxuries. I’ll admit I’m guilty of that with my theatre reviews — it is hard to know the balance. But again, the issue here is awareness — we’re increasingly aware of when privilege comes into play.
  • That brings me back to camp. While at camp — with this increased sensitivity — I was realizing that most of our Jewish summer camps are camps of privilege — just due to the nature of the makeup of Judaism as predominately white. There are black Jews and hispanic Jews and Jews in lower socioecomic spectra, but what do we do to reach out to them to provide that camp experience — that safe shared space. If they came, would it be humble-bragging of our position? I don’t know, but it would be good to find a way to reach out.


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Understanding Diversity

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 24, 2015 @ 8:17 am PDT

userpic=twogentlemenPrologue. As I’ve noted before, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Perhaps too many, as it takes a lot of work to keep current; this is partially because there is such a resurgence in the number of really good podcasts. I’m learning about more and more everyday, and there just isn’t time to listen to the podcasts that sound interesting. Now I’m “old-school” on my podcast listening: I actually download them daily to an actual iPod, as opposed to using streaming data to listen to them on a mobile platform. I find that I can only listen to spoken-word podcasts in certain environments (primarily those where I’m not consciously using the “reading” portion of my brain): driving, shopping, working out, walking. Further, I can’t just sit back and listen — if I do that, I’ll fall asleep (which I blame on conditioning from the vanpool). As a result, I’m regularly backed up on podcasts; my typical backlog is on the order of 15 podcasts, not counting Woodsongs.

Boy, I’m starting to feel like Ira Glass opening an episode of This American Life (one of the podcasts I listen to).

So the other day, I’m shopping at Trader Joes and listening to a recent episode of the Startup podcast. Startup was the first podcast from Gimlet Media, and originally told the story of the startup of Gimlet. It has gone on to look at other startups, such as DatingRing, but it occasionally tells Gimlet’s story. Right now, they are doing a half-season on Gimlet, and the latest show tackled the question of Diversity.

I strongly urge you to give it a listen. This episode explores the level of diversity of Gimlet Media. Although they have made an effort for male/female balance, they are working to correct a significant white/people of color balance. The episode explores why that divide exists, how diversity begets more diversity, and why the question of diversity is more than skin deep. That’s meant to be literal: for there are questions of diversity across religion, orientation, political spectrum, etc. Alex Bloomberg of Gimlet rightly points out why diversity is so important: it enables them to tell a better story that exposes all sides of an issue.

This post consists of three acts (no, that’s not right). Well, there are three articles that came across my feeds this week that illustrate this so well.

Act I: Dating Apps. The first was a post by Ferrett Steinmetz over on LJ (you do remember LJ, right). It explores a new dating app: this time it is one developed by women for women. Dating is similar to porn, in that what women want and need in the experience is often drastically different than men, and yet it is mostly a male-centric industry that is producing the product. This results in an inherent bias in the product towards the male point of view. Nowhere is it clearer than this dating app: whereas men want to see the widest variety of women, the women only care about those men who are somewhat local, who are congruent on interests, and who have a mutual interest in them. In fact, it restricts the profiles that you can see to those where there is a mutual match of criteria. This is a clear example of what a different perspective can bring, and why that perspective is so important.

Act II: Wearing the Hijab. The second was an article in the Washington Post, which was subsequently echoed by other outlets such as NPR. The article looked at the recent movement to support Muslim women by wearing head scarves as a show of solidarity. The problem? No one asked Muslim women what they thought about this. Modern Muslim women haven’t adopted the headscarf out of choice or even out of religious reasons; it has been forced upon them by the male-dominated atmosphere of Islam. They would prefer an approach that actually encouraged Islam to liberalize its attitude towards woman, instead of reminding them of their second class citizen status. It is as if society said they wanted to support Jews by dressing in long black frock coats, growing long beards, and wearing tzittzit and kippot. So where did the headscarf notion come from? People who did not understand the Islamic culture, but “meant well.”

Act III: The Theatre. Broadway Bullet, Episode 608, was specifically focused on women’s voices and diversity in the theatre. Again, this is an issue I’ve brought up many a times — as recent as last week, in fact. In order to draw audiences to the theatre, we need to have diversity in the writing of the shows. We need diversity in the casting so that what is on stage reflects what is (or what should be) in the audience. We need diversity in the back and front of house production and creative positions as well. This diversity ensures we hear the voices we need to hear. But far too often, theatre go for what is safe, and that is shows often by white men aimed towards the white mindset.

Post-Logue. These are just three examples, and show why diversity is so important, and is so much more than tokenism. It is a change of attitude, a desire to bring not only diverse people but diverse viewpoints to issues. These articles — and it is emphasized in the Startup Podcast — show how these diverse viewpoints can improve the end product, often by coming at issues from a very different place and experience.

P.S.: You’re probably wondering why I chose the userpic. Two Gentlemen of Verona — at least the  musical version from the New York Shakespeare Festival — was one of the first productions that emphasized diversity and color-blind casting. It wasn’t a bunch of white men spouting Shakespeare.

P.P.S.: So what podcasts do I listen to? Here’s the current subscription list: The Allusionist, BackStory, Broadway Bullet, The Ensemblist, Freakonomics; Gastropod; Invisibilia; Irish and Celtic Music Podcast; LA Observed; Opening the Curtain; The Moth; NPR Technology; Planet Money; The Producers Perspective; Quirks and Quarks; Reply All; Science Friday; The Specialist; Startup; Theater People; This American Life; Wait, Wait, Dont’ Tell Me; The Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour; and 99% Invisible. There are quite a few more I’d love to add to the list, but I just don’t have the time. [ETA: Over the weekend, I added Surprisingly Awesome and Answer Me This.]

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And take a tip from La Belle France: “Viva la difference!”

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 22, 2015 @ 8:00 pm PDT

Observation StewLet’s end this week of news chum posts with song lyrics in the title with a very apropos song for a “news chum stew” post: Pete Seeger’s All Mixed Up. The point of the song is a timely lesson for all of those who profess hatred or refuse to permit in refuges:

There were no red-headed Irishmen
Before the Vikings landed in Ireland
How many Romans had dark curly hair
Before they brought slaves from Africa?
No race of man is completely pure,
Nor is anyone’s mind, that’s for sure
The winds mix the dust of every land,
And so will woman and man.

And now, on with the stew:


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Repent, and Ye Shall Be Saved

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Apr 30, 2014 @ 11:41 am PDT

userpic=soapboxWhile eating my lunch today, I was reading the LA Times, and saw an article about how Donald Trump had purchased another golf course. This got me thinking about Donald Trump pulling a Donald Sterling, and how Sterling was banned for life from the NBA. This, in turn, got me thinking about our punative culture. For as much lip service as we give to religion, our attitude in the US seems to be: make a mistake once, and you’re branded for life.

Consider: Sterling clearly made racist remarks — wrong, misguided, and every kind of stupid. But the actions that were taken in response provide no ability to Sterling to ever recover — even if he was to sincerely learn from his mistake and change his ways, there’s no undoing the ban. Similarly, for those that commit any level of sex crimes — even if they were very young — there is no opportunity with the way our society brands and ostracizes such offenders that they could ever change their ways and be trusted. I’m sure you can find numerous additional examples: politicians are still held accountable for stupid statements and behaviors in their youth. We put many people in jail, and then brand them as “once-in-jail” for life. You can’t escape the permanent record.

All this from a society that is actually one of the most religious ones around. I know that both Judaism and Christianity  teach — in fact, they emphasize — the ability to sincerely repent from one’s wicked ways. They teach that one can move from leading a life of sin, and be reborn on a good and spiritual path. I believe the teachings are that if one is on that path sincerely, the past is the past. Yet for all the religious talk, we’re not doing that.

Was society always this way? I think not. Look at George Wallace. Once he was an ardant racist and segregationist. Later in his life, he recanted those early beliefs, and changed his ways (and was viewed differently).

I want to be clear that I’m not defending the behavior of Sterling or sex offenders. Rather, I’m raising the question of repentance: can one truly repent in front of society (and, if one believes, in front of God), what is the motivation for repentance if society refuses to accept it, and whether we can be as religion-centered as we claim if we eschew the notion of repentance in practice?

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Saturday Stew: Clearing out the Groupatwos before Pesach

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 12, 2014 @ 9:18 am PDT

Observation StewIn the Talmud, there is a learned Rabbi who opines that groupatwos are to be considered Chametz during Passover. Luckily, this week was so busy I accumulated a bunch of groupatwos. So let’s get that feather and that candle and get them out of the links list before Passover starts Monday night:


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Seminal Points: The ABCs

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Jul 18, 2013 @ 5:30 pm PDT

userpic=cyborgToday’s collection of news chum all fits in the categories of stories related to seminal inventions or time points:


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It’s All Happening At The Zoo

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Nov 08, 2012 @ 11:39 am PDT

Earlier this week, I did a post about how we are attempting to combat stupidity by getting rid of Buckyballs. That post came to mind while I was eating lunch, when I saw an article about some historical photos of the San Francisco Zoo. We’ve been hearing a lot about zoos of late, usually in conjunction with “teh stupid”. There was the child who fell into a painted dog enclosure and was mauled, after his mother stood him on the railing. There is the man who attempted suicide by walking into a tiger enclosure at the Bronx Zoo. I’m sure you can think of other incidents.

I don’t want to discuss the issue of whether zoos are good or bad. Rather, I’m more interested in looking at what zoos were versus what they are today.

Take a look again at the pictures from the San Francisco Zoo. We have interactions with animals you would never have today, such as children feeding large wild animals. It isn’t just San Francisco either. It is easy to explore the old Los Angeles Zoo, and to see how close one could get to the animals and the risk from the exposure. The St. Louis Zoo had children interacting with elephants. I’m sure you remember visiting the zoo as a child, and the things you could do that you cannot do today.

This all goes back to the original issue of risk. Back when I was growing up (whippersnapper!), there was so much less concern about risk to children. Adventure was part of growing up. Although I’m sure that incidents happened, they certainly didn’t get the instant coverage and hoopla they get today, and thus they were less in the overall societal consciousness. In short: We didn’t worry (or we were too busy worrying about “the bomb” to worry about our children).

Today? It seems that worry has turned into big business. We worry so much we pay legislatures to create rules to protect ourselves from ourselves (Measure B, the condom measure, is a great example of that). We remove products from markets; we close attractions. We monitor our children 24/7, and keep them tethered to us with cellphones. Has the risk changed, or are we just more aware of it?

To look at the other side: Is this a bad thing? Our children are certainly safer. Isn’t it better to know the risk and to act on it than to live in ignorance?


P.S.: There is a great quote in that Measure B article I linked: “Sure, Pas is pretty close to the Valley, but we think porn should look to Vernon–it’s sparsely populated, full of warehouses, and already smells like sausage. “

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Why Do We Have Taxes?

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jan 24, 2012 @ 11:31 am PDT

As I’m sitting here eating my lunch, I’m reading the articles about Mitt Romney and musing about taxes. Have you ever thought about our tax system and why we have taxes? I bet if you asked people why taxes exist, after bitching that they are too high, they would say “To fund the government.” But they attempt to do a lot more than that, and that’s where our problems start.

If taxes were simply to fund the government, we’d probably have the same rate for all types of income, across people and businesses. But we don’t. We have differing rates for different things, and deductions and rules hither and yon. Why? The answer is simple: to help those we want to help, and to encourage behaviors we want to encourage.

This is where “the rich are different from us” comes into play. Most people you likely know earn most of their money through their jobs. That’s normal income. The “rich” don’t earn their money through their salaries: they earn it through investment income, dividends, bonuses (often in the form of stock that is later sold), and such other ways. Passive income like that is taxed differently. Basically, the normal income is taxed so the poor should pay less and the rich more. However, the rich pay less because their income is passive income, and that is taxed lower supposedly to encourage people to invest in stocks and bonds and industry.

This may help you understand Mitt Romney’s taxes. His income is in categories that are taxed at lower rates, because that is behavior that Congress wanted to encourage. Similarly, this is why loopholes such as that exploited by Newt exist. Newt took advantage of an S Corporation: A corporation that exists solely to funnel corporate income, losses, deductions and credit through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. The income can go to the shareholder in two ways: as salary, or as pass-through income. Guess which is taxed lower? Guess where Newt funneled his income?

This is one reason why the President is going to call for Tax Reform during the State of the Union. The problem is not that taxes are too high (actually, they may not be high enough). The problem is that we don’t have a clear mission for what our tax system is to do and fund, and what we want to encourage and discourage. The current system is so arcane as to be inequitable. The goal of the tax system should be that the tax burden should borne by those that can afford to bear it, and the tax system should encourage what makes America strong: getting an education, locating businesses in America and employing American workers, investment in America through home and business ownership and stewardship, and doing good for others through charitable works. Doing the right things should receive incentives; doing the wrong things (such as offshore outsourcing) should be discouraged.

Let’s heed the call for Tax Reform, and think about how we truly want to raise money to fund government operations (we can debate later about what is the appropriate size of government; we can hopefully all agree we need some government).

Music: Our Men in San Francisco (The Limeliters): The Rising of the Moon

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