News Chum: Myths and Legends

Before I get started on the year-end highway page updates, I wanted to clear out some accumulated news chum. This collection all are connected by the theme: Myths and Legends.

  • The First Jet. What was the first commercial jetliner? You probably are thinking the Boeing 707. But that would be incorrect. The first commercial jet was the DeHavilland Comet.  This was unveiled to grand acclaim in 1952, and all were grounded by 1954 by a simple design flaw. What lessons can be learned here, beyond the classic one: that the first to the market isn’t always the one who wins with a given product. Just ask Xerox PARC.
  • Crowdsourcing. If you were one of the few who watched “Wisdom of the Crowd”beyond the myth of Jeremy Piven, you were exposed to the myth that crowdsourcing is often the answer to make anything better. But guess what? Crowdsourcing doesn’t always give the right answer. The problem? The crowd is easy to sabotage. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the current occupant of the White House, elected through targeted sabotaging of the crowd.
  • New Media is Always Better. We have grown up on the myth that newer is better. But is it? We were told CDs are better than Cassettes and Vinyl. DIgital music is better than anything. But digital music is much harder to keep forever, especially as one moves from machine to machine, and format to format, recorded CDs degrade … while vinyl from around 100 years ago is still playable. Will your digital book be around in 100 years? Probably not readable, but that printed one is just fine. Now we are moving to streaming video — and guess what — that’s really bad news for our classic film and video history.
  • Art vs. the Artist. The continually unfurling world of sexual abuse claims is rapidly destroying the mythos of many artists. The great stand-up Bill Cosby has been felled, the director Woody Allen is tainted, the song and dance man Kevin Spacey is destroyed, the producer Harvey Weinstein… well, you get the idea. Just recently I learned about another one. Marion Zimmer Bradley. This article talks about the reconciling of the art of “The MIsts of Avalon” with the sins of the author. I wasn’t into that book, but I was a big Darkover fan, and now am curious whether it seeped into that mythos.
  • There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute. One of the holiday movies I wanted to see was The Greatest Showman, primarily for the Pasek and Paul music. But it has been savaged in the reviews (LA Times, Vox). The sin? Not bad performances, but not telling the reality of the story — about how Barnum himself was a sham and not the story he purported to be. Now, the musical Barnum whitewashed his story in the same way, and in many ways the story told of Barnum is clearly as much Humbug as the Humbug Barnum sold. But oh, we must destroy the myths these days.



I’ve Got a Little List…

One last news chum posts for today: just three little lists that caught my eye, so I can find them again:

  • Toe Socks: Best Toe Socks of 2017. Since I started wearing toe socks, I no longer get blisters on my toes — a big win. I can also wear socks with my Five Fingers.
  • Yiddishist Gifts. Gifts for the Yiddishist in your life. Oh, Erin, any of interest?
  • Folk Music. Top 17 folk albums of 2017. Tom’s newest is on here. Also on here is a Klezmatics album, which I’ll look for at tonight’s show. The Kweskin Unjugged looks interesting. I’m curious about what folks think of the others?



More Hidden Implications: Subscriptions, Hair, and Navigation

Continuing our discussion on hidden implications from here and here, here are three more musings on hidden implications from recent news:

  • Discount Entertainment. The Verge had an interesting article on Moviepass,  a service that provides flat rate discount movie tickets that has theatres scared, because it undercuts their discounting. Why are theatres scared? Two reasons. First, it changes the value customers put on tickets. Further, as it pays theatres full price, there is the risk it will go up: taking its cheap consumers with it.  This isn’t just a problem for the movies. I’ve seen live theatre bemoaning discounters such as Goldstar or the tix booths, as they train consumers to expect discounts — and they won’t pay retail again. If they can’t get the ticket at a discount, why go? I know I’ve done that sometimes. Ticketing services want customers to pay full price, even if that price is a lowered price in a less desirable seat.
  • Body Hair. There’s an interesting article in the Atlantic on the war on women’s body hair. The premise is that the cult of hair removal is a form of gendered social control. It imposes extra costs (both monetary and time) on women just to comply with societal convention (and don’t even think about the implications of … shall we say Brazilian removal … on the subject of sexual harassment and desires for young women).  Here’s what the article says, “Hair removal, at its core, is a form of gendered social control. It’s not a coincidence that the pressure for women to modify their body hair has risen in tandem with their liberties, Herzig argues. She writes that the effect of this hairlessness norm is to “produce feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, the sense that women’s bodies are problematic the way they naturally are.””
  • Traffic. Google Maps and Waze have been bad news for local communities. Sure, they get YOU where you are going faster, but at what cost? They have increased traffic in communities that weren’t planned for such traffic. Measures instituted in response — from traffic calming to reporting false accidents to …. — just make it worse for the local residents. Is this just a growing example of the self-obsession of society: I’ll do what’s best for me and my prosperity, and to hell with anyone else?



Environmental Warriors

In my last post, I wrote about the hidden implications of the reconciliation tax proposal. Since then, I’ve seen another series of implications of things discussed: environmental implications. In particular, a new argument as to why both Bitcoin and Porn are bad: they use too much electricity.

Stay with me, this is complicated.

For Bitcoin, new coins are created by solving complex math problems. With the high value of bitcoin, everyone wants to mine. But, according to Wired, that could be a significant draw on the electrical infrastructure:

In a report last week, the cryptocurrency website Digiconomics said that worldwide bitcoin mining was using more electricity than Serbia. The country. Writing for Grist, Eric Holthaus calculated that by July 2019, the Bitcoin peer-to-peer network—remember BitTorrent? Like that—would require more electricity than all of the United States. And by November of 2020, it’d use more electricity than the entire world does today.

All this for a currency that doesn’t really exist. Making paper money costs a lot less.

As for Porn: We have moved from a world where people bought DVDs or videocassettes and watched at home, or in shared spaces like theatres, to individual consumption over streaming networks for free. And that, my friends, may not be good for the environment (who cares about morals, or the actors):

Using a formula that Netflix published on its blog in 2015, Nathan Ensmenger, a professor at Indiana University who is writing a book about the environmental history of the computer, calculates that if Pornhub streams video as efficiently as Netflix (0.0013 kWh per streaming hour), it used 5.967 million kWh in 2016. For comparison, that’s about the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year. And operating with Netflix’s efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes.

and later in the article:

For Ensmenger, this epitomizes the problem with the digital economy, where so many of the costs are outsourced or hidden that consumers believe everything is free. Most sites offer their free videos by selling advertising to companies that track consumer behavior, and these cookies require a considerable amount of energy. More importantly, consumers don’t have to think about the significant environmental costs of constructing and destructing electrical products, such as screens, servers, and hard drives.

This is actually pretty interesting: costs being hidden from the consumers and shifted onto someone else (in this case, likely taxpayers and ratepayers who build the power plants).

Now broaden the picture: “cutting the cord”, as we know, doesn’t reduce costs. It just means you write more checks, and possibly even more if net neutrality goes away. But there is also the cost of all those streaming servers and the cost of the bandwidth, and who will end up paying for it?

As historians like to say, “It’s complicated”. Much more complicated than you likely thought.


Collateral Damage / Thinking Only of Myself

userpic=trumpWhile eating lunch today, I’ve been reading FB and the LA Times. The LA Times had a really really interesting article about all the production and support people that have been hurt financially in the fallout of all these sex scandals. On FB, there was an Occupy Democrats meme about how Congress should stop all legislation until the Russia scandals are investigated and resolved.  Both are related to collateral damage.

Websters defines collateral damage as ” injury inflicted on something other than an intended target; specifically : civilian casualties of a military operation.” We’ve been seeing a lot of non-military collateral damage of late, and if you think about it, it is often caused by people being selfish and thinking only of themselves:

  • In these Hollywood sex scandals, actors, producers, and directors — i.e., men in power — are selfish about their sexual desires and impose themselves unwanted on others. When this catches up with them and they get fired, their productions in progress are shut down. There is disruption in production, and uncertainty and stress in production companies. These people — from the makeup artists to the script copyists to the food and craft services to the camera operators — they did nothing wrong. They have been planning their lives on a steady job that goes down because of a dick. That’s unfair collateral damage.
  • In Washington DC, this plays out another way. Congress works to serve its donors and the specific small core that gives them the edge in primaries, because they know party loyalty will do the rest. This tax bill is a great example. It serves the wealthy corporate donors quite well — and directly — and serves the self-interest of the Congress-critters by keeping them in office. It is you and I that are the collateral damage. A coworker on my van estimated that with the proposed changes in the tax code, his tax bill will go up $11,000. The citizens in high tax states are collateral damage. The middle class are collateral damage. The poor are collateral damage. Schoolteachers and graduate students are collateral damage. That’s unfair.
  • Thinking of a STOP WORK in Congress or letting the government shut down? That hurts loads of people, from the direct government employees to the contractors, from those depending on government checks to those providing health services. All have plans thrown in disarray, all have their lives in turmoil, because of political children thinking only about their political self-interest and not the people they work for.
  • At the Presidential level, we have a clear example of a President who is only thinking about his self-interest, not caring about collateral damage. Obama snubbed him in some way, so he’ll undo everything Obama did — right or wrong. Who cares who is screwed, as long as the short-term glory goes to … you know who. We have the undoing of regulations to help industries that praise him, never mind the collateral damage to the people (environmental regulations are a great example of this). We have taunting and pissing matches over twitter, making the world arguably more dangerous. All because of someone with inflated self interest.

When we look at how are are commanded to behave in the various moral codes in the world, there is one commonality: a concern about others in the community. Do not put a stumbling block before the blind. Do unto others. Welcome the stranger.

We have become a society obsessed with self — something Noel Paul Stookey predicted a long time ago would happen. We’re obsessed with the selfie; with film cameras, we primarily took pictures of others. We’re obsessed with our self interest at work and in life: how does this benefit me?

Even if we don’t reach the level of asking how our actions might benefit others, we should at least take the small step of thinking about how our actions might impact others. Before you grab that pussy, ask yourself: If I got fired or divorced because of this, who would be hurt? Before you vote in favor of that tax bill, ask yourself: who will be hurt if this passes? Thinking about the negative impacts of your actions is just as important as thinking about the positive ones, if not even more important.


But What Do We Do With The Leftovers?

Observation StewTwo days after Thanksgiving. You’ve made your stock from the turkey carcass, and have just about finished the meat in the frig, but you’re still working on all the sides that were leftover. All. The. Sides. So many sides. Here on this blog, we face a similar problem: What to do with all the links accumulated that just stubbornly refuse to theme? The answer, of course, is to make stew:

Inequality and Battles

  • The Internet and Inequality. One of my major complaints is the assumption that everyone has fast internet (an assumption that will be even more challenged if we lose net neutrality). For example, we move the best quality TV to subscription channels and pay-pay internet, and we forget what the leaves the rest of the country with — the large portion that still doesn’t have internet or only has dialup or phone services. Wired has an interesting article on how the slow internet is fueling inequality. Now think about how this inequality will be further fueled when the telecom companies are the ones controlling the pipes, who can see what, and who can’t see what.  Control of the message can be for good (filter out the stupid) or for bad (filter out those who disagree).
  • Fonts and Culture Wars. Here’s another battle of interest: Fonts. Fonts can have a subtle but significant effect on culture and culture wars, according to Wired. For example, think how you perceive documents written in Blackletter or Comic Sans, or the fact that certain languages, by the nature of the writing, make it hard to text. Truly an interesting article on the impact of design.
  • Weaponizing Taxes. When people complain about taxes, they often talk about its use to support the defense establishment. But the tax code can be used as a weapon itself, and that is what this administration is doing. The “reform” bill shows that the right understands how the rules of the economic game are shifting — toward capital and away from labor (even away from the labor of the wealthy). Thus, they are adjusting it even further to reward business and investing, and to care even less about income earned from wages. They are adjusting the code to work against progressive measures like education and middle class wages, they are working against progressive states that used state tax codes to help their people.

Los Angeles

Honoring the Past

  • Getting Rid of Stuff. Here’s an interesting dilemma: How do you honor the past when cleaning out stuff? Specifically, how do you honor your parents when cleaning out their house? This is a growing question as the Millenials and Gen Y adopt the less is more attitude, and have to deal with the debris of the “accumulate” generation.  As the article notes: If we do it right, we preserve and transmit their memories and values to the next generation. If we do it wrong, we may open lasting wounds within our families and ourselves.
  • Reusing Sacred Spaces. During Thanksgiving, a popular song is Alice’s Restaurant, about a couple that bought a church and converted it to a house. The issue is a serious one: What do you do with sacred spaces when the community goes away? In Maine, the answer is to convert an old synagogue into high-end apartments.  The 15 members of the Auburn ME Beth Abraham Synagogue sold the building last week to a developer. On Sunday, the community will take a final tour of the building and then ceremonially move a Torah scroll to the nearby 100-family Temple Shalom Synagogue Center, an independent and egalitarian congregation (formerly Conservative) that Beth Abraham members will join. The building, after removing a few more liturgical pieces, will then become 10 apartments.
  • Repatriating Bones. One of the forgotten Native American tragedies has been the treatment of Southern California tribes and their relics. So it was quite a pleasant surprise to read about the repatriation of a large collection of Tongva/Gabrielano remains from Catalina Island. This is happening for many reasons, including increased awareness and casino proceeds.



Thanksgiving and Black Friday News Chum

Ah, Thanksgiving is over. People can start putting up their holiday decorations, and oh the shopping at those Black Friday sales. Have we got a bargain for you here on this blog: A sale on some slightly used news chum, cleaning out the inventory with a Thanksgiving and Black Friday theme. Shall we start?

Thanksgiving Music

Reading the social networks yesterday, the music of choice is that classic about T-Day Turkeys: Alice’s Restaurant. Here’s an interesting article on the Jewish connections of the song,  including the connections between Alice’s Restaurant, Meir Kahane, and Donald Trump.

The Stuffing

Stuffing is typically made from bread, so here are two interesting articles related to the Gluten-Free lifestyle. The first talks about the increasing growth in people going gluten free, when in reality the problem might not be gluten — it might be fructans instead. The second looks at some recent genetic engineering that aims at developing a gluten-free from of wheat.  I’d be too worried about cross-contamination in that case.

The Dessert

Ah, the dessert. A sugar high from all those pies. But we now know that the real culprits in our diets might not be the fat, but all that sugar. Further, we’re just learning that the sugar industry took lessons from big tobacco, and tried to hide the truth from us.

Cleaning Up Afterwards

Three articles related to cleaning up after that big dinner:

Going Shopping

Going shopping afterwards? Here is some useful information:



Essay Prompts: Correlation is not Causation

Here’s an interesting fact: Humans are stupid. I don’t mean to imply we don’t have intelligence (although some who claim to have a high IQ, well, let’s just say they get elected to public office on other qualities). Rather, we put our trust in things we shouldn’t (and not just politicians). We are horrible at judging risk. We often see things that just are not there. We often believe the most ridiculous nonsense about cooking, such as fresh ground salt is better.  Worst of all, we often confuse correlation with causation.

  • Correlation: a mutual relationship or connection between two or more things
  • Causation: the relationship between cause and effect; causality.

Here are two examples of this confusion I’ve seen in my news feeds and on FB:

One fellow wrote about a friend of his that got a good report from the doctor in a followup visit, stating: “He’s definitely living proof that God answers prayers.” No, he isn’t. It is wonderful that the friend is doing better, but there is no causality here. You can pray to God or a Saint and get better, but that is not proof that God or the Saint was *why* you got better, no matter what the Pope says. There is no proven or provable, testable, repeatable method of showing that one action causes the other.

Another fellow wrote about high tax states, citing a article that he believed said that “high state taxes cause people to leave those states, making it very difficult to actually increase tax revenue, no matter how high their tax rates get.” Again, there’s no causality here. Yes people leave high tax states, but they leave low tax states as well, for many many reasons. Taxes may be a reason, but typically it isn’t the precipitating reason. And in the absence of clear evidence that whereever taxes are higher, people leave, this is just correlation. There are many high tax states where people don’t leave (witness property values in California) and high tax countries where people don’t leave. Further, “people” is far too nebulous a category, for all people are not the same. Are you talking those with wealth? Those on fixed incomes? Retirees? People in particular industries? The issue is just too nebulous to attribute to causality.

Always remember storks and babies. I had a statistics professor explain it this way: You may think there is a causality between storks and babies, because whereever there are more babies, there are more storks. But that’s a spurious correlation: there are more babies where there are more storks because there are more babies in big cities, and big cities often have zoos, which have more storks. No causality there.

Keep this in mind as you read your papers.