🗯️ Tearing Down the Wall

userpic=divided-nationThere seems to be two worlds out there. In one world — let’s call it the red world — the only thing standing between us and death and destruction would be a physical wall on the Southern border. In the other world — let’s call it the blue world — the fear leading to the call for the wall isn’t there, and there is the belief that other mechanisms will suffice. The red world believes that the blue world want “open borders”, when that isn’t what they are saying. Neither side is listening to the other, and the government is (partially) shutdown. I’m a believer in risk management and risk reduction, and so I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject:

  • What is the threat? If the concern is true outside terrorists (as opposed to the homegrown ones who have been doing the mass shootings), they haven’t been sneaking through the unfenced areas of the Southern border. They have been coming through the airports, coming through normal border checkpoints, and overstaying visas. They are best addressed not through a wall, but through increased CBP mechanisms and personnel, technological observations, enforcement of visas. A wall does nothing to reduce this risk.
  • If the concern is “bad hombres” — i.e., gang members — again, there is no evidence that they are sneaking through the unfenced portions of the border. There is also scant evidence that the threat is there. Yes, there have been a single handful of police officers shot by undocumented immigrants. But what is the overall threat to the population at large? That’s negligible. We must deal with acceptable risk, not complete risk avoidance — and there is a level of risk in law enforcement. We are not seeing crimes throughout the country by this particular group, nor is the percentage of crimes by this group demonstrably rising. In short, there is no evidence that a physical wall would provide any reduction in anything related to “bad hombres”. It is fear and uncertainty, animated by racial hatred and a particular segment of the media who are using the issue to divide when there is no significant risk.
  • If the concern is the immigrant caravans on the border: they are not at unfenced areas of the border, nor is there any evidence that they are attempting to cross at those points. They are refugees, and the best way to address those individuals is to provide more personnel to process their requests fairly and expeditiously.
  • A physical wall is a band-aid on a wound: it addresses the symptom of the problem, not why the problem is happening in the first place. Although the red world is loath to consider spending money outside the US, the funds proposed for a wall would be better spent making the home nations of the immigrants better places. If conditions are better at home, there is no need to come to America for opportunity. Further, the cost of making those countries a better place is much less than building a physical wall, and has much less environmental impact or impact on the lands and properties of Americans living at the border.
  • Security must be looked at as a comprehensive picture. While we argue and shut down the government over a physical wall, we have furloughed significant work on improving and strengthening the Cybersecurity of our nation. NIST’s cybersecurity work is on hold. NSF’s cybersecurity research is furloughed. Increasing our cybersecurity is vital to our national security, and sacrificing that to the wall is idiotic. Our enemies have and will use our technology to subvert our systems and use them for their own aims — and they have done so in recent elections. They are perfectly happy to sit in their home countries and do it electronically, while laughing at our debate over a wall on a border they would never cross. The shutdown has also reduced the border security workforce at the airports (TSA) — again, weakening our security infrastructure.

Border security is important, and ensuring entry to the US is vetted and legal is significant. However, a physical wall is not the right way to do this, and it provides insignificant risk reduction. Fear has been created over a risk that just isn’t there, and the actual numbers don’t back up the claims. If there must be funding for a wall, let’s start the right way: determine the most impactful 100 miles that need new wall, and fund that now to provide risk reduction in conjunction with other security mechanisms, because the risk reduction of all wall segments is not equal, and not all require immediate funding. Most importantly, don’t let the focus on the wall battle distract from other border security, including securing our electronic borders.

P.S.: The answer to securing our electronic borders is NOT to declare a national emergency and shut off all electronic communications. Just imagine the impact of that on American business and commerce!

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🛣️ December 2018 Headlines/Articles about California Highways

Another year has come to an end. It’s been a roller-coaster this year, with funding battles galore, the passage and fight over SB1, and lots of highway work, and great highway history research. In terms of my pages, it has seen the addition of maps to every page, and planning begun for a site overhaul. But the news, as always, continues. Here are your headlines and other related articles that I uncovered during the month of December:

  • Connecting Pasadena Project. Fill the 710 Ditch. (Facebook Page) Community Initiative to reconnect Pasadena by restoring city streets and replacing the 710 Highway Stub with buildings, homes, businesses, parks, gardens.
  • Plan calls for Route 66 to become National Historic Trail. A new proposal moving through Congress seeks to designate Route 66, the highway that connected Chicago to Los Angeles and was once an economic driver for small towns across a post-World War II United States, as a National Historic Trail. U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Jim Inhofe announced this week the introduction of a bipartisan bill that would amend the National Trails System Act and include Route 66 in an effort to help revitalize cities and small towns that sit along the historic corridor.
  • Long Beach’s Pico Avenue offramp closes permanently to make way for new bridge. As the replacement for the Gerald Desmond Bridge moves closer to completion, traffic options around the Port of Long Beach are being reduced. Eastbound traffic coming off the Gerald Desmond has been funneled onto Pico Avenue to get around the construction site. That still will be the case, but now there will be only one offramp from Pico Avenue. The other offramp is being closed permanently to clear space for bridge construction.
  • 710 Freeway Extension Funds Redirected to So Pas Freeway Ramps. The positive ripple effects for So Pas stemming from the defeat of the 710 Freeway extension keep on coming. Not only is the extension dead in the water after years of struggle, but now funds that were once set aside for that project could be redirected to fix the 110 on- and off-ramps at Fair Oaks Avenue, according to city officials. If the Metro Board of Directors, at its next meeting, Dec. 6, approve the funding recommendation as expected, the money could be made available as soon as July of next year, according to city officials.
  • Caltrans Completes Project That Repaves 15 Miles Of State Route 49 In Tuolumne County. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has completed a highway improvement project that has repaved 15 miles of State Route  49 (SR-49) in southern and northern Tuolumne County. The project extended from the Tuolumne/Mariposa County line to the SR-49/SR-120 junction, a 6.5-mile stretch of highway. The project also paved north of Pesce Way and continued on SR-49 for 8.5 miles until it reached the Tuolumne/Calaveras County line.
  • Metro’s $400 Million Roads Plan Is an Act of Climate Change Denial. After decades on the books, community voices — supported by NRDC and countless others — prevailed and the 710 North “gap closure” project is dead. Good riddance. But the plan on how to spend the $400 million in leftover money is an affront to the health of San Gabriel Valley residents and our climate future.
  • County wants traffic action plan. County supervisors motivated by the “nightmare” traffic jam witnessed Thanksgiving weekend through the Grapevine and along Interstate 5 have called for an emergency mobility action plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation by Supervisor Kathryn Barger for agencies to devise emergency mobility action plans that would be used whenever the I-5 shuts down due to crashes, weather or construction.
  • McCarthy Announces $17.5 Million DOT Grant to Expand Route 46 through Lost Hills. Today, Congressman Kevin McCarthy is pleased to announce the U.S. Department of Transportation’s intention to award a $17.5 million grant to the Kern Council of Governments for Kern County California State Route 46 Widening Segment 4B project. The grant award is from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grant program. This project will widen a 5.3 mile segment of 2-lane highway to a 4-lane highway.

Read More …

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🎥 Look, Up In The Sky, A Beloved Children’s Character | “Mary Poppins Returns”

Mary Poppins Returns - The MovieChristmas Day is special. No, not for the reason you think. It is the one day each year when we eschew live performance for filmed. This year’s selection: Mary Poppins Returns.

I was four when the original Mary Poppins movie was first released, and I’m sure I saw it in theaters sometime thereafter. I don’t have much memory for the movies I saw when young. But I know I was familiar with it from repeated viewings over the years, and it fit well with my musical loves. After all, what kid didn’t love the classic Sherman and Sherman tunes.

However, there was one person that didn’t like the original Disney version: the author, P. L. Travers. As captured in the movie Saving Mr Banks, she was very disappointed with how Walt Disney treated her character.  She didn’t like Dick Van Dyke (she had wanted Laurence Olivier); she thought Julie Andrews was too pretty, sweet, and saccharine. She hated the music. You can find more information about her here.

Although most children these days are unfamilar with her work, Travers wrote 8 books about Poppins, starting in 1934. They present someone much less saccharine than the Disney nanny. As one page noted: Travers tapped into a rosy revisit of her childhood—the aptly named Mr. Banks is a banker (though not a drunk), the mother is flighty (but not suicidal), and Mary Poppins, like Travers’s great-aunt, is the Banks children’s caring if unsentimental ballad, “tart and sharp.”

I’m also familiar with the subsequent theatrical version, with added music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. In 1993, theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh met P.L. Travers and acquired the rights to develop a stage play adaptation of her Mary Poppins books. She only agreed to a stage production as long as the creators were all English, and included no one who had worked on the film. She died in 1996. In 2001, Mackintosh and the head of Disney Theatrical Thomas Schumacher opened talks on a possible collaboration, so that the stage play would be able to use the songs from the Disney film. With both sides committed, a preliminary outline of the show was written in 2002. The theatrical version drew on some themes from the movie, some stories from the books not included in the movie, and changed the timeframe somewhat.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that Mary Poppins, like the women herself, is a complicated property. The new film, Mary Poppins Returns, has to be viewed in relationship to the original books, to the original beloved Disney film, and as a standalone property for those without prior context.

I think, on all three measures, it falls short. That’s not to say the music isn’t good, that there aren’t some wonderful performances, or that it isn’t enjoyable. Rather, it is to say that it doesn’t fully capture the magic of the original — in short, it tries to hard. It doesn’t capture the Mary of the books, for this Mary is too much the center. And as a standalone, it drags at times and has various continuity errors. But there is many the flawed property that takes on a life of its own, and in spite of its flaws, becomes timeless. Look at the musical Wicked, which didn’t garner great reviews at its opening. Newsday wrote of the original: “Whew! Hard to swallow and, after an hour or so, hard to sit through. There is nothing wrong with good, clean fantasy, if there is some sort of explanation to make it more than just a succession of camera tricks.”  What will be the long term verdict here? Hard to say.

I think the biggest problem with the story was that it suffered from sequel-itis — a common stage problem where you attempt to repeat what worked in the original, to lesser effect. Let’s jump into an animated thing. Let’s have a big dance number with a British worker class. Let’s have a mystery old woman. Let’s have a crotchety old banker. Let’s have a sequence with a crazy relative. When sequels work and surpass the original is when they find a new story with the known characters, not when they repeat the old story This had too much repetition of the old (or seeming repetition).

With respect to the story, it is a sequel to the original, and drew on elements of the stories found in the books Mary Poppins Comes Back (for her entry on the kite, the balloon lady, the entry into the Royal Daulton dish, and the subsequent repair with Topsy Turvey). But other elements were new: moving up a generation to when Jane and Michael were adults; the foreclosure subplot; and some of the more fantastic elements that seemed to be showing off the new animation techniques. I think the story, for the most part, worked satisfactorily. At times it dragged, and at times it seemed to suffer from what Newsday noted: “a collection of camera tricks” — in other words, the events moved from vignette to vignette, where each vignette seemed more designed to thump a lesson into little heads than to advance character or plot.

Further, there were times in the story where the characters turned and focused on the specialness of Mary Poppins: let’s get her on the stage, let’s get her to sing, let’s get her to do the magic. I’m not sure Travers would have been happy with that notion; it grated at me as a problem for a nanny that didn’t want to draw attention to herself. Yet she was also a very vain woman, so would that have appealed to her vanity?

Music-wise, the tunes were no Sherman/Sherman collaboration. Sherman and Sherman had a distinct feel to them; we saw a new Sherman/Sherman show at the end of 2017 in the LATC production of Levi! (CD is available). S/S songs were hummable; they were earworks that stuck with you. Stiles/Drewe of the theatrical version also created tunes in that style; it would have been nice to see if they could have done the movie. Homage, as it were. I tend to like Shaiman and Wittman‘s music — they did Hairspray, and Cry Baby – The Musical, and Smash, and Catch Me If You Can, among others (and are working on a Some Like It Hot musical). They did a reasonable job here — some songs were good, and I’m looking forward to getting the album. They didn’t hit it out of the park like the original, alas. I did appreciate the use of the Sherman/Sherman songs as underscoring.

The performances were very strong. Emily Blunt‘s characterization of Poppins was different from Julie Andrews, but worked. She captured the additional vanity and brought a bit more of an adult womanly tinge to the character — a little  less sweet, as it were. Lin-Manuel Miranda was strong as Jack, proving his versatility as a performer as well as a musical theatre star. But who I really liked was Emily Mortimer‘s Jane. She brought a magic to that character that shone whenever she was on screen.   She also had a strong chemistry with Ben Whishaw‘s Michael Banks.

In terms of the children: Pixie Davies (Anabel), Nathanael Saleh (John), and Joel Dawson (Georgie). Most were, well, children, but I was really taken with Davies’s Anabel. She brought a knowingness and sly smile to the character that reminded me a bit of Audrey Tatou’s Amelie. Great performance.

Moving to some of the baddies and specialty characters (and smaller roles). Colin Firth‘s evil banker was a bit too cartoonish and over the top. Julie Walters‘s Ellen was a bit better, and a nice homage to the befuddled original. Meryl Streep can have fun with any roles, and she enjoys the comic ones — so she nailed her Cousin Topsy. And as for Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury — well, they steal the show with their talent.

As I noted, there were a number of continuity problems (like what happened to the briefcase when they went to visit Topsy). But I’m mentioning continuity now because of the required PC casting. Not surprisingly, there was color blind casting — one would have to in this day and age. Would a British bank in the 1930s have hired like that? Unclear. Would there have been mixed couples in the UK then? Again, unclear. However, the casting did jar one out of the timeframe — and that was a bit more of a problem. Finding the right balance in a period piece is hard. Speaking of jarring — I agree with one critic I read that the BMX bike stunts were unnecessary and seemed out of place for the period. They could have been cut with no loss of value.

Technically, the animated sequences were top notch, and I appreciated the use of hand-drawn vs. computer animation. I also liked the costumes in the china sequence, which had me wondering if they were painted on or real costumes.

Summing things up: Is this worth seeing? I think so. It will likely become a classic; it has strong performances and good music. It isn’t to the level of the original, but that doesn’t make it bad on its own.

And with that, our theatrical (live and film) year of 2018 comes to a close. May your 2019 be filled with spectacular and memorable performances.

***

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (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:

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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.

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📰 Oh, Look, A Package from Amazon

Let’s open another package from the news chum tree, shall we? How about this one from Amazon…

  • Fighting the Marketplace. Increasingly, Amazon is less a seller of goods than a network connecting a buyer and a seller, while pretending that Amazon is doing the selling. I’m sure that you’ve noticed this more and more. But the market isn’t quite so clean as you might think. For sellers, Amazon is a quasi-state. They rely on its infrastructure — its warehouses, shipping network, financial systems, and portal to millions of customers — and pay taxes in the form of fees. They also live in terror of its rules, which often change and are harshly enforced. A cryptic email from Amazon about a purported complaint can send a seller’s business into bankruptcy, with few avenues for appeal. Amazon’s judgment is swifter and less predictable, and now that the company controls nearly half of the online retail market in the US, its rulings can instantly determine the success or failure of your business. Amazon is the judge, the jury, and the executioner.
  • Counterfeits and Amazon. Another big problem at Amazon is counterfeits, which often benefit Amazon. Mixed in with Amazon’s inventory of authentic merchandise are crude copycats. Some look like the real thing but didn’t include a real vendor’s name. Others bear the name but aren’t made by the real company. Often, there is no way for even the savviest Amazon shopper to avoid the threat of counterfeits. The goods may look real online, but there is no guarantee of authenticity — whether sold by a brand, a third-party seller or Amazon’s direct-sales arm. And the reviews don’t help, because of review gaming.

Perhaps brick and mortar has a purpose after all?

Here are a few more technology items of interest:

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📰 As If By Plan or Design

Look, there are still boxes under the news chum tree. Take this pretty one. So carefully wrapped, as if there was design aforethought to it:

  • Only the Best. When you think about interesting designed retail in the 1970s and early 1980s, one chain comes to mind: Best Products. I’ve noted a few articles on this subject worth sharing. The first looks at the abandoned architecture of the Best stores. The second explores the nature of the Best Product showroom architecture, incorporating environment into design. As the latter article notes: “The intentionally crumbling brick at that Houston store, known as “Indeterminate Façade,” and the eight other showrooms SITE designed, were simultaneously iconic and controversial, and most importantly for BEST, they brought in customers.”
  • Prime Numbers. Prime numbers are great for many because they are so unpredictable. But — surprise, surprise — researchers have discovered a pattern in prime numbers. Specifically, a team of researchers at Princeton University have recently discovered a strange pattern in the primes’ chaos. Their novel modelling techniques revealed a surprising similarity between primes and certain naturally occurring crystalline materials, a similarity that may carry significant implications for physics and materials science.
  • British Place Names. Ever need to decode British place names. Don’t worry, there’s a pattern there too.
  • ADHD Storytelling. Yes, there’s a pattern to that as well.
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📰 Ouch! I Got a Paper Cut! Time for Urgent Care!

So many boxes under the news chum tree! Which one should I open next? How about this one, with a lovely blue cross and a blue shield? I just hope I don’t get a paper cut opening the package — you know how insurance can be.

  • Why People Avoid The Doctor. The results of an interesting Medicare Advantage survey shows why people avoid the doctor: alas, their presentation is a slideshow, but reasons range from the cost, to not having the time, to thinking there is nothing wrong with them, to preferring natural remedies. Me? I figure that if I make my schedule so busy, my body won’t have time to fail. Alas, that’s not working.
  • Insurers Don’t Make It Easy. Dealing with Insurance is probably one reason people don’t go to the doctor. Take CPAP machines. Sleep apnea is a fast-growing health complaint among Americans, and that has triggered a set of deceptive and unethical measures by US health insurers to shift the cost of using CPAP machines (the forced air machines that sleep apnea patients rely on to stay healthy) to the people who use them, with the effect that it’s often much cheaper to pay cash for your machine and its consumables than it is to get them through insurance. NPR also had an exploration of the problem.
  • Doctors and Computers. Modern medicine. Computers were supposed to make it easier. But doctors hate their computer systems. A 2016 study found that physicians spent about two hours doing computer work for every hour spent face to face with a patient—whatever the brand of medical software. In the examination room, physicians devoted half of their patient time facing the screen to do electronic tasks. And these tasks were spilling over after hours. The University of Wisconsin found that the average workday for its family physicians had grown to eleven and a half hours. The result has been epidemic levels of burnout among clinicians. Forty per cent screen positive for depression, and seven per cent report suicidal thinking—almost double the rate of the general working population. Doctors are among the most technology-avid people in society; computerization has simplified tasks in many industries. Yet somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers.
  • Standing Desks Don’t Help. If you are like me, you’ve (reluctantly) been moved to a standing desk, because the old sitting computer desks with ergometric key trays are harder to find than unsalted fries at a McDonalds.  Research, however, suggests that warnings about sitting at work are overblown, and that standing desks are overrated as a way to improve health. Standing is not exercise, and it isn’t necessarily better for you.
  • And Sex is Overrated. Well, at least in the eyes of young people, who according to one article are having a lot less sex. The stock markets aren’t the only thing that is tanking, the Atlantic says we are in a sex recession. From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent. In other words, in the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
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📰 Calzones Under The News Chum Tree

Oh, look, there’s much more under the news chum tree. What’s this? It looks like a lovely wrapped calzone…

  • Tacos, Sandwiches, and the Cube Rule. Categorizing and classifying food is difficult. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Is a ravoli? A taco? Where do these things fit on the spectrum. Two articles I’ve seen attempt to address this. The Cube Rule is perhaps my favorite. It classifies using the number of sides of a cube. Just a bottom? Toast. Top and bottom? A sandwich. Bottom and sides? A taco. Top, bottom, and sides? Sushi. Everything but a top? Soup in a bread bowl. All sides? Calzone. No sides. Salad. Another approach uses a three axis decision path: soup / salad / sandwich. It claims to contain the full spectrum of human consumables by plotting them as (x, y, z) coordinates in (soup, salad, sandwich) space. However, none of these address the question of whether cereal is soup.
  • The Oil Economy When you go to the market, you’ll see lots of oils on the shelf: olive, avacado, walnut, grapeseed, soy, rapeseed (canola), peanut, and even vegetable oil, which they get from carrots. What you won’t see is cottonseed oil — at least in raw form — because cotton is poisonous to humans (as food). The problem is that the seeds, like the cotton plant’s leaves, contain little dark glands full of something called gossypol. Gossypol in and of itself is a toxin. It’s helpful for the cotton plant, because it helps fend off insect pests. But it makes the seed unhealthy for people to eat. It’s toxic to most animals, too. But cotton produces a lot of seeds — more seeds that fluff. Cows can digest it. You can get the oil and purify it. But one scientist got the idea to genetically modify the plant to not produce Gossypol, and the FDA has approved it, and now the seeds can be used as broader food.
  • Enjoy Your Christmas Watermelon. Vegan on Christmas. How about a baked watermelon instead of a ham? While we’re at it, here are some more interesting facts about watermelons.
  • Thai Restaurants and Cambodian Donut Shops. Have you ever wondered why there are so many Thai restaurants? Thank the government of Thailand, which intentionally bolstered the presence of Thai cuisine outside of Thailand to increase its export and tourism revenues, as well as its prominence on the cultural and diplomatic stages. In 2001, the Thai government established the Global Thai Restaurant Company, Ltd., in an effort to establish at least 3,000 Thai restaurants worldwide. As for those Cambodian Donut Shops, that’s all thanks to the Donut King. His story is told in two episodes of The Sporkful (part 1, part 2). Ted Ngoy arrived in southern California in 1975, as part of the first wave of refugees to flee Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 1970s. They arrived in Orange County, near LA, with a few suitcases and no money.At first Ted worked as a janitor, but then he started working nights at a gas station to make ends meet. That’s where Ted saw his first donut shop. He made that a success, opened more. Soon Ted and his wife sponsored visas for refugees, set them up with donut shops, trained them in the business, and took a cut of their profits in return. By 1985, ten years after Ted arrived in California with nothing, he was making $100,000 a month.
  • All You Can Eat. Have you ever wondered why you see so many buffets at restaurants? Restaurants love them. The reason why is that they are a certified moneymaker. Variety and Volume make a killer combo. When you load up a buffet with lots of choices, customers get excited. And since the self-service model is much faster than the waiter-and-menu system, guests are in and out quicker. They are also major labor-saving devices, and therefore cost-saving devices. They are also specifically laid out to get you to fill your plate with the cheaper options first, so that you have no room for the more expensive items.  They provide a way to repurpose leftovers.
  • Fish and Cheese. It was a joke in Come From Away, which we saw Friday night. Yet Cod Au Grautin is a thing in Newfoundland, so much so that the Ahmanson Theatre tweeted a recipe for the dish. But why is there so little combination of fish and cheese? Where did the prohibition come from? It is ancient and strong, but localized. Although some think it is a universal rule, but there are dozens of centuries-old dishes combining seafood and cheese that are beloved outside the United States—in Greece, Mexico, France, and even in specific pockets of the U.S. itself. So who do we blame? The Italians. Italians are very religious about mixing cheese and fish or seafood, it just isn’t done.
  • What Has Man Wrought? While we’re sharing items from Gastro Obscura, here are two more that taken together say quite a bit about modern man and our relation to food. First, according to a recent study, the broiler chicken, now the most populous bird on the planet, will someday be a defining feature of the Anthropocene, a greasy marker of our epoch. This for a bird  that has an average life expectancy of six weeks, has been bred to live fat and die young, with a fragile skeletal structure, porous bones, and extremely massive bodies that render them totally incapable of surviving without human-created technology on modern farms. Second, Americans have planted so much corn it has changed weather patterns. Studying observed data, researchers found that between 1910-1949 and 1970-2009, average summer rainfall in the central U.S. increased by up to 35 percent. According to subsequent 30-year regional climate simulations, they determined that increased corn production appears to be boosting average summer rainfalls by five to 15 percent and decreasing average summer temperatures by about one degree Celsius.
  • The Burner Culture. If you are like most people, you have a four-burner cooktop. Two large. Two small. Have you ever thought about why that is, and what burner you should use for what task? Probably not, But there is rhyme and reason to burner placement. The largest burner is called a “power burner,” and it’s specifically designed for searing meats and boiling water quickly. The medium-sized burners are “all-purpose” or “standard” burners. And the smallest burner, which is known as a “simmer burner,” is designed for low-flame cooking (think delicate work like tempering chocolate).
  • And a treat at the end. Just for you. All of See’s Candies are gluten-free.
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📰 Plastics

Oh, look, there’s another pretty box under the news chum tree. It’s oddly hard. Let’s take off the wrapping. Hmm, it seems to be made of plastic:

  • All That Glitters. We’ve all seen glitter, but have you ever wondered how it is made? Here’s an in-depth exploration of the process of making glitter, or as it might be better known, aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate. What is it made of? Think mylar. Think very fine aluminum. Think a process similar to those potato chip bags you hate. There’s holographic glitter. Iridescent glitter, with over 230 layers, each as think as half the wavelength of light. Most significantly: all the modern plastic glitter that has ever been created is still right here with us. According to Dr. Victoria Miller, a materials science and engineering professor at North Carolina State University, the plastic film from which most glitter is made takes about 1,000 years to completely biodegrade on Earth. Snap, chuff, sparkle, sparkle indeed.
  • Plastic Sustainability. A major problem with clothing is the waste. Most of the clothing we wear, when it gets old, goes into a landfill. Most plastic goes into the same, never to biodegrade. It’s a big concern (listen to the Articles of Interest podcast on blue jeans, and you’ll be amazed at the waste). So it is interesting to read that Everlane’s new collection of puffer jackets, fleece pullovers, and streamlined parkas is made from recycled plastic bottles. Adidas has a goal of using recycled ocean plastic in all of its products by 2024, and Everlane’s “ReNew” collection of outerwear is the first step in a wider push to entirely eliminate virgin (or newly made) plastic from its operations by 2021. That will involve substituting all of its synthetic fibers with renewed alternatives, replacing the virgin plastic bags it ships products in with recycled bags, and getting rid of single-use plastic in its stores and offices.
  • Plastic Pens. Think about the humble Bic plastic ballpoint pen. Disposable. Yet it has had a significant effect, changing how we write about the world. Yes, the ballpoint pen killed cursive. The ballpoint’s universal success has changed how most people experience ink. Its thicker ink was less likely to leak than that of its predecessors. For most purposes, this was a win—no more ink-stained shirts, no need for those stereotypically geeky pocket protectors. However, thicker ink also changes the physical experience of writing, not necessarily all for the better. As for me, I’ll stick with my pocket protector — and my fountain pens!
  • Plastic Souvenirs. I think I posted this a while back, but it caught my eye again. Do you remember the “mold-a-rama”, the machines that would make plastic souvenirs out of plastic pellets. There are two companies that make the machines, which are still going strong.
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