🛣️ Headlines About California Highways – October 2018

October has been a busy month. Adding maps to the county routes was completed, and I’ve started work on doing a normal round of updates. Elections are soon here, and if you want to see progress on California’s roads continue, vote “NO” on Proposition 6. You can find my summary ballot post here — it points to all the more detailed posts. About Proposition 6, I say:

Repeals a 2017 transportation law’s taxes and fees designated for road repairs and public transportation. Fiscal Impact: Reduced ongoing revenues of $5.1 billion from state fuel and vehicle taxes that mainly would have paid for highway and road maintenance and repairs, as well as transit programs.

You have to ask on this one? I’m the California Highway Guy.

Let me give some history on how California has traditionally funded its roads. I’m quoting from my Chronology here: In 1947, in response to the recommendations of the Joint Interim Commission on Highways, Roads, Streets, and Bridges, the Legislature passed the Collier-Burns Act (Chapter 11). This act, among other things, (a) Raised the gasoline and diesel fuel tax to 4.5 cents per gallon; (b) Increased automobile registration fees from $3 to $6, with a proportionate increase in the weight taxes on trucks; (c) Created a fund for all highway revenues and motor vehicle taxes. (d) Revised apportionment of revenues from fuel taxes to cities, counties, and the state. (e) Directed gasoline tax and registration fee revenues toward construction of freeways in urban areas and highways in rural areas of the state. (f) Divided state highway construction funds with 55% allocated to the southern half of the state, and 45% to the northern half of the state. This was a significant shift from the previous 49%/51% allocation. This also provided minimum funding for each county. Since 1947, the fuel tax increased very little, certainly not equivalent to the increase in costs. During that time, fuel economy went down, more cars went electric, and construction costs skyrocketed. There were insufficient funds for maintenance. So about a year ago, the legislature passed SB1. This increased the exise tax and diesel fees, increased other fees such as weight fees and fees for vehicles that don’t use fuel.  There are specific purposes for which these funds can be spend — basically, things under the purview of the California Transportation Commission. This includes not only roads, but transit, air facilities, rail, and such. It can also be spent on local (city and county) highways. The law has strict rules on accounting for costs. There is complete transparency on how the funds are being spent; just visit http://rebuildingca.ca.gov/.

There are some people who are upset that the fuel tax went up, notably Republicans who hate any form of tax. Never mind that this is a tax that is going to services paid for by the users of those services. Never mind that having safe roads and modern transit systems make the state better for business and to live in.

The “Yes” side is intentionally trying to mislead. They bring up problems with mismanagement at the DMV. Never mind the fact that this tax has nothing to do with the DMV. They bring up problems with mismangement of high speed rail. Never mind the fact that SB1 has nothing to do with high speed rail. They want you to translate your hatred of DMV or transportation bureaucracy into voting down an excise tax the greatly benefits, and already has benefited, the state.

The “No” side has almost unified support from the cities and the media. If you read my headline article, you’ll find the editorials. SacBee: “Hating Caltrans isn’t a reason to repeal the gas tax“. LA Times: “It’s hard to overstate how destructive Proposition 6 would be for California. Vote no.”. SF Chronicle: “No on Proposition 6 — cynical political ploy would destroy California’s roads“. Redding (a part of the state that doesn’t love taxes): “Gas tax increase repeal supporters not telling entire story to voters“.  Mercury News: “No on Prop. 6 to keep state roads, transit funds“. SD Union Tribune: “Proposition 6: Vote no because gas tax-funded improvements are much-needed“. Petaluma: “Vote no on Prop. 6 gas tax repeal.” The San Bernardino Sun even has a look at how roads would change if it was repealed.

Look at the “No on 6” website for more details. This one isn’t just a no, it is a “hell no!”

In between all of this, however, I have been collecting headlines. Here’s what’s been posted about California Highways in October:

  • Caltrans Will Begin More Than 120 New “Fix-it-First” Projects This Fiscal Year. Caltrans will begin more than 120 new “Fix-it-First” projects this fiscal year (July 2018 – June 2019), replacing, repairing and improving more than 6,700 lane miles of pavement, 250 culverts and 320 bridges across the state, due to funds from Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017. These projects got the green light after the department received almost half a billion dollars of SB 1 funding for new state highway maintenance projects this fiscal year. New SB 1 funded maintenance projects coming to your area include: …
  • Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao formalizes Interstate 5 grant. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao came to the Santa Clarita Valley on Monday to formalize the presentation of a $47 million grant to Metro to build truck lanes and extend high-occupancy vehicle, or carpool, lanes running through the SCV. Chao was joined by Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste to talk about the I-5 Golden State Chokepoint Relief Program the grant is planned for.
  • ENR California Best Projects 2018 Highway/Bridge: State Route 76 East Segment. The 5.2-mile improvement project on State Route 76 included widening a two-lane road to a divided four-lane highway and updating bridges over the San Luis Rey River. The project team worked around Native American protected sites in a sensitive river floodplain. “The team was six months early in the delivery despite working in a pretty highly environmental area,” a judge said. The project restored 1,600 acres of habitat, and the team scheduled vegetation clearing and pile-driving around habitat breeding seasons. The project also built a bridge over culverts supplying water to the San Diego area. To protect the culverts, girders for the new bridge were transferred in mid-air using two cranes, each positioned at different bridge abutments.
  • District 10 – State Route 99/Fulkerth Road Interchange Project. The project will widen Fulkerth Road to accommodate six to seven lanes, with five-foot wide shoulders and six-foot wide sidewalks; Widen the northbound (NB) off-ramp to provide two lanes where it connects to Fulkerth; Reconstruct the NB on-ramp to provide two mixed-flow lanes and one future high occupancy vehicle (HOV) preferential lane with provisions for future ramp metering; Realign the southbound (SB) off-ramp to improve intersection spacing and provide three lanes where it connects to Fulkerth; Realign the SB on-ramp to improve intersection spacing, and provide two mixed- flow lanes and one future HOV preferential lane with provisions for future ramp metering; Align Dianne Drive with existing Auto Mall Drive, eliminating the offset local street intersection on Fulkerth Road; Signalize the Dianne Drive/Fulkerth Road, State Route 99 (SR-99) SB ramps/Fulkerth Road and SR-99 NB ramps/Fulkerth Road intersections. This project includes $5.5 million from the Local Partnership Program, part of Senate Bill 1.
  • A Historical Context and Methodology for Evaluating Trails, Roads, and Highways in California. This study was prepared in response to the need for a cohesive and comprehensive examination of trails, roads, and highways in California, together with a methodological approach for evaluating these types of properties for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The study documents the development of trails, roads, and highways in California from prehistoric times to the creation of today’s modern highway system. This holistic approach was predicated upon the strong relationship between California’s modern highway system and trails and roads that span hundreds, if not thousands, of years. While railroads and bridges played a significant role in the state’s transportation history, neither property type is discussed in any detail in this study, since a plethora of published and unpublished books and articles have already been written about railroads, and a historic context study and evaluation process has been adopted for bridges. While this study does address archaeological resources, the focus is largely on built environment properties, particularly roads and highways. In addition to Appendix A and B of the report, 10 additional appendices have been digitally scanned for reference, along with the digital version of this study.

Read More …


📰 The Beautiful People

[This post makes me feel like Ira Glass. So perhaps I should assume the persona]

Recently, we’ve been seeing a whole lot of ugly. Ugly behavior in politics. Name calling. Bullying. Lies, innuendo, and gossip. But I’m tired of talking about that. I’d like to focus on a different type of ugly — one triggered by a number of articles that I have read, and a podcast I listened to on the way home. Some of this makes me think of someone we know… and I’ll leave it at that.

So the question is: What makes a person beautiful? Is it how they look? How they smell? Their size? Their behavior? Here are some items I’ve seen of late that explore the issue, and like Ira Glass of This American Life, we’ll divide it into four acts.

Act I: Beauty is Only Skin Deep

Most of us — at least in the technical field — don’t care about makeup. We see the inner person, and judge beauty based on how someone behaves, how they treat other people, and what they do. But there is a subculture of young women (and I’m guessing some guys) that are obsessed with looks and makeup. I’ve seen this first hand: I know someone who is obsessed with makeup — so much so that their Instagram is filled with faces of their face with various different makeups. There’s a name for that phenomenon: Instragram Face. Alexandra Jones describes it in a fascinating piece from the BBC:  “the make-up look that has dominated social media for the past three years… Search the make-up hashtag on any social media site and you’ll come across it. The unique flaws that make us who we are, that make humans so attractive, have been replaced by one face. The Face. Photo-perfect skin and sculpted, contoured cheekbones, wide almond-shaped eyes which taper up into a feline point, and that full, inescapable mouth. This look is what Twiggy’s lashes were to the 1960s and what Kate Moss’ dewy skin was to the 1990s.”

I know it well. The person I know worshiped that look, which we all thought hid her natural beauty. But she would not be deterred. Jones’ piece, which is well worth reading, describes her quest to live with that look for a week. What was once a quick dab before she left because a routine that took, at best, 45 minutes in the morning. She couldn’t go out in the sun because her face would melt. Men start making lewd comments at her; it is something my wife refers to as a “fuck me” face, designed to be attractive to the male patriarchy (and, due to the time and cost, it keeps women in 2nd place). Further, it actually makes skin worse. Take off the makeup for a year, and your skin is much much better.

Then there is what this makeup subculture does to people. Gimlet’s Reply All touched upon this recently in the 2nd “Yes, Yes, No” segment of their show “Alex Jones Dramageddon”. They explored a recent incident in the Beauty YouTube subculture where a number of beauty vloggers had to make apology videos due to their poor behavior. I’ve known folks that are addicted to watching these videos, faces in screens for hours at a time. More on that in Act IV.

People need to realize that the best makeup is … none. Our flaws and our imperfections are what make us beautiful, what give us character. We aren’t all the same; we shouldn’t look the same.

[ETA: A reader in another venue pointed out that my commenting with my attitude on makeup may be sexist. That certainly wasn’t the intent — I feel the same way regardless of sex. However, it was a fair comment in that it was judging on looks, which is wrong. If you find makeup something that improves your self  esteem and makes you feel better, go for it. I do suggest you read the linked articles however — they were talking more about doing it based on a cultural pressure from others. If you use makeup, or make other fashion choices, do it because it is right for you.]

Act II: Something is in the Air

My wife likes to tell the story of an exchange student that lived with them when she was in high school. This person never bathed; instead, they used excessive cologne. As someone who suffers from migraines, I can just imagine what that fragrance in the air would do. A recent article explored how fragrance is the new second hand smoke. As the article notes; “Hundreds of studies over the last two decades are finding “fragrance” in beauty products and household cleaners are just as bad or worse for our health than secondhand smoke. Is it time for fragrance-free workplaces, hotel rooms and sections in restaurants?”

As a migraine sufferer, I can say, “Yes, please”.

Let’s look at two things fragrance does, both bad. First, it covers up the smell of clean, which is…. nothing. Using fragrance to mask BO is silly; just take a shower instead. You want your house to smell clean: air it out, instead of using air freshener, use fresh air. And as for perfume: why try to imitate animal pheromones when your natural ones will attract much better. People should be attracted for you for who you really are, not a fake image created through makeup and perfume. That image will always be destroyed when they see the real you.

As for fragrance, it can be bad for you. As the article notes:

“The average U.S. consumer today is as uneducated about the dangers of synthetic fragrances as the average American was to the dangers of second-hand smoke in the 1960s… Those dangers include chemicals that are known neurotoxins, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, DNA mutagens, allergens,  hepatotoxins  and  reproductive toxins all hidden under the simple ingredient label “fragrance.” Manufacturers of beauty and cleaning products don’t have to disclose the hundreds of potential chemicals that could be used to make their fragrance, because they are considered “trade secrets” by the FDA. Around 90% of the chemicals included in the label “fragrance”  are synthesized from petroleum or coal tar.  Toxic chemicals commonly found in products with “fragrance” on the ingredients list include acetone, phenol, toluene, benzyl acetate, limonene and formaldehyde. A 2008 analysis of 6 top selling laundry products and air fresheners found “nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from the products, and five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants which the Environmental Protection Agency considers to have no safe exposure level.”

Act III: The Last Acceptable Discrimination

Society is increasingly frowning on discrimination and making fun of the attributes of people (well, unless you’re the President or those who find his behavior acceptable). Sex, race, religion, orientation — all are out for teasing. But fat? Fat seems to be the last area where you can discriminate, where you can make fun — because we all know that obesity is bad for you. But what if it isn’t?

A great article in the Huffington Post was going around Facebook recently titled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong“. The article talks about how obesity has grown in society, and notes the establishment response to it:

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.

But, as the article goes on to note, the solution of dieting doesn’t work. Most people that go on diets gain it all back. Further, “the second big lesson the medical establishment has learned and rejected over and over again is that weight and health are not perfect synonyms. Yes, nearly every population-level study finds that fat people have worse cardiovascular health than thin people. But individuals are not averages: Studies have found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy. They show no signs of elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance or high cholesterol. Meanwhile, about a quarter of non-overweight people are what epidemiologists call “the lean unhealthy.” A 2016 study that followed participants for an average of 19 years found that unfit skinny people were twice as likely to get diabetes as fit fat people. Habits, no matter your size, are what really matter. Dozens of indicators, from vegetable consumption to regular exercise to grip strength, provide a better snapshot of someone’s health than looking at her from across a room.

Our society wants to have someone we can intentionally hurt and look down upon. But why?

Act IV: The Screens

Earlier, I mentioned the young person we know that was addicted to Beauty YouTube. How many of us know young people that are addicted to their screens, and who seem to have no attention spans. How do we address it? ADD medication. Perhaps that’s the wrong answer. Perhaps we need to address the screens.

A recent study shows a connection between heavy screen use and ADD in teens. It’s not at the level of a causal relationship yet, but studies show that teens who spend a lot of time using digital media show an uptick in symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That doesn’t mean parents should panic about teens texting at the dinner table; it just means that if your kid is a heavy media user, maybe you should have a conversation about why they like it so much. The study monitored ADHD symptoms in a group of nearly 2,600 high school teenagers. Students who used multiple types of digital media multiple times a day were roughly twice as likely to report new symptoms of ADHD over a two-year period than their less digitally active classmates, according to the study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Now, combine that with the images they are seeing — the prevalence of Instagram Face, the emphasis on weight, our leadership role models — and we wonder why kids today are as they are.

Take off that makeup, get rid of the fragrance, don’t worry about how you look, and pick up a good book. You’ll be much happier.


🗯️ Understanding My Liberal Political Views

A friend of mine recently posted a great summary of what being a liberal means, written by Larry Allen. It struck very close to home, as I was recently accused of being a socialist, just because I’m a registered Democrat. So I’d like to adapt Allen’s piece to detail my views. For the record, “Socialism” includes workers owning the means of production, and in general, an opposition to Capitalism. “Democratic Socialists” believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.  That includes the traditional workers owning the means of production. Although both Socialists and Democratic Socialists might register and run as Democrats, that doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party as a whole — or even most Democrats — hold those views (just as White Nationalists and Antisemites might register as part of the Republican party, and even run for office as Republicans does not mean that all Republicans are White Nationalists or Antisemitic).* – See the bottom of the post for an even better discussion of this

So what do I believe. Here is Allen’s piece, adapted a bit:

  1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period.
  2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Why? Because someone else’s inability to take care of their health can directly affect me and those I love, both in the diseases to which I am exposed, and the costs I pay for medical care. Somehow that’s interpreted as “I believe the Affordable Care Act is the end-all, be-all.” This is not the case. I’m fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it’s impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes “let people die because they can’t afford healthcare” a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I’m not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.
  3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I’m mystified as to why it can’t work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt, or to have debt service organizations that put money above the students. You want the future of America — you want to make America successful — it is through our students.
  4. I don’t believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don’t want to work (which is a distinct group from those who can not work). I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. However, I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Further, I have a problem when those who have the ability to pay taxes go out of their way to avoid doing so through corporate structures, shell corporations, and other chicanery. The wealthy are a part of society, and they need to act that way. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating many of our problems. For those that believe this makes me a Socialist or Communist, I suggest you look up the definitions of those terms.
  5. I don’t throw around “I’m willing to pay higher taxes” lightly. If I’m suggesting something that involves paying more, well, it’s because I’m fine with paying my share as long as it’s actually going to something that I believe in. There are many things the government spends money on that I don’t agree with, such as giving tax breaks that increase corporate profits.
  6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion-dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn’t have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.
  7. I am not anti-Christian. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; *compulsory* prayer in school is – and should be – illegal). All I ask is that Christians recognize *my* right to live according to *my* beliefs. When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I’m not “offended by Christianity” — I’m offended that you’re trying to force me to live by your religion’s rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia law on you? That’s how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don’t force it on me or mine.
  8. I don’t believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe they should have the *same* rights as you.
  9. I don’t believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN’T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they’re supposed to be abusing, and if they’re “stealing” your job it’s because your employer is hiring illegally). I’m not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc). I do believe there should be process of vetting immigrants and those claiming refugee status; I think there should be a path to citizenship for those that pass vetting. That’s different than an open door policy. Most importantly, I don’t fear the immigrant, because immigrants have brought so much to America.
  10. I don’t believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It’s not that I want the government’s hands in everything — I just don’t trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc. are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they’re harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation. Remember this: Every government regulation is there because some individual or company tried to play fast with what they could do, and someone or something got hurt or could be hurt. Regulations are in place because the people we trusted to not abuse the system abused the system.
  11. I believe there are some in our current administration that behave in a way that can be seen as fascist. This is because I have studied antisemitism, and the history of facism, and I see the similarities.
  12. I strongly believe in consistency: If a particular behavior is wrong, it is wrong no matter who is doing it, and no matter their party affiliation. If you would investigate Hillary for her use of a private server, investigate Trump for his use of private phones. If you would investigate a foreign government being involved in Hillary’s campaign, do it for Trump. Same level, same intensity. Wrong behavior is wrong.
  13. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege — white, straight, male, economic, etc. — need to start listening, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that’s causing people to be marginalized. We need to turn down the hate, and ensure everyone has equal advantage.
  14. I am not interested in coming after your blessed guns, nor is anyone serving in government. What I am interested in is sensible policies, including background checks, that just MIGHT save one person’s, perhaps a toddler’s, life by the hand of someone who should not have a gun. Think incremental risk reduction, as opposed to a complete solution.
  15. I believe in so-called political correctness. I prefer to think it’s social politeness. If I call you Chuck and you say you prefer to be called Charles I’ll call you Charles. It’s the polite thing to do. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you’re using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person? Further, how does it hurt you to examine your rhetoric — what you say and how you say it? Why do we need to speak in a way that intentionally hurts others, when we can be sensitive.
  16. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. Why? Simple. We know that coal and oil are limited resources, and some of the materials produced from them are critical to society, such as plastics. Therefore, it makes sense to conserve them for that use when sustainable fuels can be used for other purposes. Science also shows that the climate is changing (there’s no disputing that) — the only dispute is whether mankind is causing it. We need to prepare for that change, and even if there is the smallest chance we are accelerating it, we should do what we can to slow that down. Placing America first does no good if the Earth is uninhabitable.
  17. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human. They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should have the same rights as men and should be free from abuse. Why on earth shouldn’t they be?
  18. I believe that any living US citizen should be able to, encouraged to, and has the responsibility to vote. I have no problem with registration of voters to ensure that, with commensurate ID requirements, as long as the ability to get those IDs is not onerous for disadvantaged segments of society: the economically disadvantaged who have limited time off work, the single caregivers who can’t take significant time away from those they provide care to, the homeless and nomadic poor who might not have street addresses, the folks with limited mobility who do not have cars or easy transportation. Make it possible for those folks to get the required IDs if they are indeed US citizens, and I have no problems with IDs. Alas, the ID requirement these days is often being used instead of a poll tax to keep citizens from voting, just because segments feel those citizens might vote in a way they do not like.

This is a living document. Don’t be surprised if I add more, or clarify what is here.

* Over in another FB discussion, Sam Manning described the political philosophies this way, which I really liked:

Most people are confused about political definitions as indicated in the above. Communism is defined two ways, politically and economically.  Don’t confuse Totalitarian Communist systems with softer systems that are democratic socialist systems and capitalistic. There are benign forms of socialism in Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. China is Totalitarian politically and Capitalistic simultaneously. 

Normally, anarchists and radicals are linked to the left. A Liberal isn’t any of the above, they simply believe in change and that government can improve our chances.

Nazis are racist and believe in a state-industrial alliance.  Fascism and Nazism are linked but Nazism is Hardline Fascism. Rigid Fascists states include Italy in WWII, Argentina under Peron, Paraguay under Stroesner, Spain under Franco, Chile under Pinochet. 

Reactionaries are linked to the right and believe in paternalism and a landed aristocracy classically.

Conservatives are linked to the right but are not any of the above. They tend to support the status quo and emphasize the status quo.

Moderates cherry pick from both conservatives and liberals.

Progressives in both the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States support workers, fair elections, and free enterprise.

Americans tend towards moderation, compromise, and civil discourse traditionally. We do have eras where our rhetoric becomes bizarre. Still, we progress when we use evidence and sensible compromises to adjust our nation, slowly or more quickly, contingent on circumstances.


🗯️ Private Thoughts vs. The Public Square

In Judaism, there is a prohibition against Lashon Hara, disparaging speech. Gossip and slander are serious sins in Judaism. Judaism forbids causing any deception or embarrassment through speech; it is forbidden even if the statement is true. There are just a few exceptions. The following is an excerpt from the excellent Judaism 101 page on the subject (and here is a link to a longer version of the feather story):

Judaism is intensely aware of the power of speech and of the harm that can be done through speech. The rabbis note that the universe itself was created through speech. Of the 43 sins enumerated in the Al Cheit confession recited onYom Kippur, 11 are sins committed through speech. The Talmud tells that the tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view, behind two protective walls (the mouth and teeth) to prevent its misuse.

The harm done by speech is even worse than the harm done by stealing or by cheating someone financially: money lost can be repaid, but the harm done by speech can never be repaired. For this reason, some sources indicate that there is no forgiveness for lashon ha-ra (disparaging speech). This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the seriousness of improper speech. A Chasidic tale vividly illustrates the danger of improper speech: A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.” The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, “Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.”

Speech has been compared to an arrow: once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped, and the harm they do cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.

Which, of course, brings us to Facebook and other social media.

Think about what you post and what you share on the social media you use. Think about what your friends share. Ask yourself: How much of it is, essentially, gossip and innuendo? How much of it is the telling of tales? How much of it is implication without proven fact? How much of it is bullying, the calling of names? How much of it is intentionally designed to make fun of, to “own” a particular side (in a bad sense)? How much of it is harmful speech?

How much of it do YOU originate, propagate, or share?

Remember again: Speech has been compared to an arrow: once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped, and the harm they do cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.

This is not just a problem for the Conservatives. This is not just a problem for the Liberals. Both sides do it.

Think what you wish, privately. Think closely about what you post, what you say, and how you say it. Stick to proven facts, not rumors. Let’s get disparaging speech off social media.


🎭 An Interesting Beast | “Shrek: The Musical” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Shrek - The Musical (5-Star)Musicals take interesting paths. Some are clear hits, running forever on Broadway, and taking their own sweet time on hitting the regional market (ex: Wicked). Some are perennials: classics on Broadway and on the regional market (ex: Fiddler). Some are Broadway hits, but never quite get the knack of the touring production, and never quite make it in the regional market (ex: Natasha, Pierre, …). Some are so-so on Broadway, and perhaps they do a tour, but then they fade away (ex: Catch Me If You Can). Some fade away as soon as they open on Broadway (ex: Tuck Everlasting).

But then there are shows that embrace the tour. They get reworked for the road, and that rework makes them much stronger than the original Broadway production. The reworked version works well, and quickly goes into the regional market and becomes a staple production, from the school level to the community theatre to the larger regional theatre.  These are shows like Legally BlondeThe Addams Family, and Shrek.

Here in Southern California, it seems to have been a season of Shrek. I recall quite a few productions: Simi Valley, one in Santa Clarita, loads of school  productions. But they weren’t there when 5 Star Theatricals (FB) announced their production at the beginning of the year. The season they announced was intriguing: Shrek (perhaps overdone at the school level), Matilda (first large regional production), and West Side Story (appropriate, for Lenny’s 100th). Two were new for 5-Star. This was also coming after some turmoil at the company: Will North, who had picked the prior season (JosephHunchback, and Beauty and the Beast) and had starred in Hunchback, quickly disappeared and Patrick Cassidy (FB) was there as Artistic Director. Quite likely, it was North that picked the current season, which Cassidy got to execute. We renewed — not only because the shows are interesting, but because 5-Star has a great mission in serving the Ventura County community that is deserving of support.

Back to Shrek (which we saw Saturday night at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) in Thousand Oaks): The stage production lasted a year on Broadway, and was mostly true to the movie. You could see the story points from the Dreamworks Movie and the original book by William Steig that the book author (and lyricist), David Lindsay-Abaire (FB), and the composer, Jeanine Tesori, wanted to preserve. But some elements kept changing and adapting on tour and in the West End, and these made it back into the show that was eventually licensed. [This highlights yet another difference between stage and screen. The screen stays the same, forever: story and performance. Stage adapts: what was on Broadway is different from the tour and regional, and performers constantly change, and every performance is unique.]

As with The Addams Family, the eventual licensed version became stronger than the original. There also seemed to be a bit more freedom — I noticed some very topical additional to the show, and references to shows that were produced after Shrek was on the Great White Way. This is good, and it reminded me that we shouldn’t assume we know a property from the Broadway production and the cast album, and that there is value in seeing a show you already know again.

The story of Shrek is essentially the movie on stage, with some slight modifications for the limitations of live action over animation. The Wikipedia page has a good summary of the original Broadway production. The licensing page from MTI (click on synopsis) provides a summary of the licensed version. I’ll wait while you read (plays with phone and taps feet).

Watching the show, a number of thoughts came to my mind. The first was something that happens more and more of late: there were resonances with current events. In this case, Farquaad’s notion of petty dictatorship, the hatred of the other Fairy Tale creatures and the desire to keep them out and walled away, and the subsequent reveal that he, too, was one of them, had far too many echoes of the current occupant of the White House, a leader for whom the size of his ego makes up for his other shortcomings. There were other echoes of politics as well, including songs about building a wall. At least I don’t recall any consent issues in the show (that has made a number of other shows much more creepy), although there was a great Cosby reference.

Second: This show was a love-letter to Broadway. Just as the original movie had loads of references to Disney and other children’s movies, this show had loads of references to other Broadway productions. There were lines from Gypsy, Fosse style dancing, references to Dreamgirls and Les Miserables and Wicked and Beauty and the Beast. There were puppets from the Lion King. There was even a reference to Kinky Boots. If you are Broadway-aware, see if you can catch all of them.

The message of the story — thanks to the current situation — transcended the original as well. Coming out of the original production, one would have been imbued with the message of the importance of being who you are, and that there is someone out there who will love you for who you are. But today, the message of “letting your freak flag fly” has a difference resonance — especially as we are in an election season where those whose voices have been trampled by the pandering to the Trump base can finally speak back up and assert our power. The ending of the show is a clear reminder of the importance of “letting your freak flag fly” at the polling place the first Tuesday in November.

In summary, this was a show that entertained the kiddies at one level, with the storytale antics and fart jokes of the original. But for the adults, it was something that transcended the original Broadway production. It brought a level of self-awareness of what it was, with an undercurrent of political meaning, that adults would pick up on. As such, it was very very enjoyable.

It didn’t hurt that, under the direction of Kirsten Chandler (FB), the performances were very strong. This was supplemented by the great choreography of Karl Warden (FB). Of course, this wasn’t quite at the pinnacle of the previous Beauty and the Beast with the original Broadway Belle, but it was very very good. I’ll note here the one big drawback with this show: For most of the characters, the heavy costumes and heavy makeup often obscure the actor as the physical presence. These costumes also tend to limit what is possible in terms of the choreography — it’s hard to dance in oversize shoes and donkey hoofs. That’s a problem not of this production, but endemic to this show and other similar animation adaptations.

In the lead position was Trent Mills (FB) as Shrek. Mills, who looks to be a newer performer in the area, did a spectacular job and held his own against his Equity colleagues. He had a very strong singing voice, and generally brought the right presence to Shrek, capturing the humor well.

Rounding out the lead triumvirate were Lawrence Cummingsæ (FB) as Donkey, and Alison Woodsæ (FB) as Princess Fiona. We have seen both recently on the 5-Star/Cabrillo stage in The Little Mermaid. Cummings projects a great attitude and is seemingly game for anything. He has a strong singing voice, and handles the comedy and movement of the character well. Woods, also, is strong and possessed of a lovely singing voice. For this character, she captures the feistyness of the Fiona quite well, and seems to be having quite a bit of fun in “I Think I Have You Beat”. Both are very fun to watch. The only weakness with Fiona was the transformational makeup, and I don’t believe that was an actor issue.

This brings us to  Marc Baron Ginsburgæ (FB) as Lord Farquaad. We’ve seen a lot of Marc of late, from his Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast and his remarkable Levi Strauss in Levi! (not to mention other Cabrillo/5-Star roles). He’s a remarkable character actor and singer, and the Southern California area is lucky to have him in so many shows, for the always guarantees a good show. That’s no different here: he brought a level of fun to Farquaad, capturing the innate absurdity and projecting it out well. [Odd thought: Ginsberg as Pseudolus in Funny Thing. Just saying. Or as Meyer Rothschild in The Rothschilds. Yes, he has that range.]

The remaining performers had multiple tracks and roles for the most part, also serving as part of the ensemble (the exception were the younger performers). This group consisted of the following folks — and there are a few whom I single out at the end: Kyle Frattini (FB) [Pinocchio, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Deanna Anthony (★FB, FB) [Mama Ogre, Mama Bear, Dragon, Ensemble]; Zachary Thomson [Young Shrek, Dwarf]; Bayley Tanenbaum [Young Fiona]; Kate Godfrey (★FB) [Teen Fiona]; Gabrielle Farrow (FB) [Queen Lillian, Wicked Witch, Ensemble]; Dominic Franco (FB) [Peter Pan, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble];  Sara Gilbert (IG, FB) [Ugly Duckling, Ensemble, Fionau/s]; Kevin Gilmond (FB) [King Harold, Captain of the Guard, Pied Piper, Bishop, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Isaiah Griffith (FB) [Bricks – Pig, Knight, Ensemble]; Augusto Guardado (FB) [Sticks – Pig, Knight, Ensemble]Mitchell Johnson (FB) [Big Bad Wolf, Dragon Puppeteer, Ensemble]; Drew Lake (FB) [Fairy Godmother, Dance Captain, Ensemble]; Colden Lamb (FB) [Straw – Pig, Ensemble, Dragon Puppeteer]; Julia Lester (FB[Sugar Plum Fairy, Gingy, Ensemble]; Natalie Miller (FB) [Shoemaker’s Elf, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]Kat Monzon (FB) [Little Bo Peep, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]; Matthew Christopher Thompson (★FB, FB) [Papa Ogre, Papa Bear, Thelonius, Knight, Ensemble, Shreku/s]; and Alexa Vellanoweth (FB) [Baby Bear, Blind Mouse, Ensemble]. Of this group, there are a few worth special notice. First, there is Deanna Anthony — who has a truly remarkable gospel and theatre voice, which she uses to great effect on “Forever”. Also notable was Julia Lester’s double duty, and her ability to switch quickly from Gingi to the Sugar Plum Fairy voice, all while belting out the lead in Freak Flag. The actors that did the puppetry of the dragon (Frattini, Franco, Gilmond, Johnson, and Lamb) did remarkable work on bringing the dragon to life. On the kid side, both Tanenbaum and Godfrey had very strong voices and captured their characters well (although it is interesting to see how Fiona got smaller moving from teen to adult — usually, its the other way around). The three blind mice — Miller, Monzon, and Vellanoweth — were hilarious during their number, making stumbling around into an art.

Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the direction (and conduction) of  Dan Redfeld (★FBFB), and contracted by Darryl Tanikawa (FB). The musicians were: Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Matt Germaine (FB) [Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax]Melissa Hendrickson (FB[Horn]Bill Barrett (FB) [Trumpet, Piccolo Trumpet, Flugelhorn]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone, Bass Trombone]; Ruth Bruegger (FB) [ViolinI, Concertmaster];  Sally Berman [ViolinII];  Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; Steve Bethers [Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Ukelele]; Gary Solt  [Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin];  Chris Kimbler (FB) [KeyboardI]Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard SynthesizerII]Shane Harry (FB) [Electric Bass, Acoustic Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith (FB[Percussion].

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side. The sets, scenery, and props were provided wholly or in part by 3D Theatricals (FB). This included the first time I can recall seeing a turntable on the Kavli stage. Some elements were quite clever, some looked a bit shopworn (perhaps rented out a bit too much without refurbishment), and some seemed a bit more amateur (a scrim or two). I miss the days Cabrillo built their own, but these were serviceable and gave the “Broadway” level to which 5-Star strives, but couldn’t afford if it had to amortize the sets over two weekends of performance. Additional props were by Alex Choate (FB). The costumes (supplied by 3D) were coordinated by Kathryn Poppen (FB), with hair and wig design by Jim Belcher (FB), and makeup by Denice Paxton (FB). For the most part, these worked — although the heavy costumes in this show often hide the beautiful and expressive faces and movement of the performers (which isn’t a fault of the team, but inherent in the show). A few costumes could use a little work: Young Shrek needs to grow into his head, and the transformed Fiona (likely due to time) needed a bit more ogre and a bit more green to fully pull off the transformation. Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design mostly worked: the sound effects were spot on, including the synchronization for the dwarf at the end, but there were points where the performers voices were lost in the hall (especially up in the Mezzanine). Hopefully, that can be adjusted before the final weekend.  Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design worked well, and there wasn’t overuse of the spotlight as we used to see in Cabrillo productions. Rounding out the production team:  Jack Allaway [Technical Director]; Talia Krispel (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Tawni Eccles (FB) and Julian Olive (FB) [Asst. Stage Managers]David Elzer/Demand PR [Press]Richard Storrs (FB) [Marketing Director]; Fresh Interactive (FB) [Marketing Team]; Jason Moore [Original Direction]; Rob Ashford [Original Direction]; and Patrick Cassidy (FB) [Artistic Director].

Shrek: The Musical continues at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) for one more performance today, and for next weekend. It’s a fun show and a great diversion, with some very strong performances. Tickets are available through the 5-Star box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.


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. 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:

October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with the Austin Lounge Lizards at Boulevard Music on Saturday, and She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) on Sunday, and a visit to Stitches So Cal sometime over the weekend.  The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Friday, and Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB).

January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and ends with 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), but much of February is also open.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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.


🛣️ Changes to the California Highway Web Page: July-October 2018

Phase 2 of the site refresh is done — the second half of the “Mapping Project Phase”. In this phase, maps illustrating each route were added to the County Sign Route pages. This uncovered loads of errors in the database, and loads of errors in Google Maps. It also shows much more visually the rhyme and reason behind the county sign routes. It is a shame that the counties have not done a better job signing these routes or calling attention to them — many of them look quite useful and interesting to drive. It is also interesting that many counties do not choose to participate in the program, or do so only sparingly.

Next up: A normal update, processing headlines, legislative actions, and CTC minutes.


🤣 It’s All How You Look At It (PS: The Banks are Closed Today)

[Today is Illegal Immigration Day — the day that we celebrate when the inhabitants of Miami Beach discovered an illegal boat person on their shore, and made the gigantic mistake of offering him and the others on his boat asylum… and look at what happened. In Los Angeles, of course, they just renamed the day Indigenous People Day. Back in the 1950s, however, the day was called Columbus Day, when we celebrated a city in Ohio for reason no one really knows, other than we needed to give bankers a 3-day weekend in October, because we all know they need the respite.]

In 1961, the humorist Stan Freberg issued Volume 1 of The United States of America, a musical telling of the founding of America through the Battle of Yorktown (Volume 2 goes through the end of World War I (“They’ll never be another war…”)). The first scene on Volume 1 relates the story of how the Indians discovered Columbus. Although many things have changed since 1961 when this was recorded — Columbus is no longer held in the same regard, the portrayal of the Native American would likely be very different — there are still points that ring true, especially the exchange:

Columbus: Alright. Hello there. Hello there. We white man. Other side of ocean. My name, Christopher Columbus.
Chief: Oh, you over here on a Fulbright?
Columbus: No, no. I’m over here on an Isabella, as a matter of fact. Which reminds me. I want to take a few of you guys back on the boat to prove I discovered you.
Chief: What you mean discover us? We discover you.
Columbus: You discovered us?
Chief: Certainly, we discover you on beach here. Is all how you look at it.

As today is Columbus Day, let us remember that unfortunate day that the Native Americans discovered a Italian sailor, and the world was never the same. Just look at all he brought us: “real food: starches, spaghetti, cholesterol, … all the better things. That’s called progress.”

I present a transcription of the scene, just as it happened:

Read More …


🎭 Controlled Explosions, Under Pressure | “Oppenheimer” @ Rogue Machine

Oppenheimer (Rogue Machine)Most people who read these particular posts may think I’m a theatre reviewer. While it is true that I go to lots and lots of theatre, and I write up every show that I go to, that’s not my full time profession. Similarly, although I do the California Highways Web Page, I neither work for the Transportation Department, nor am I a historian. Rather, in my full-time life, I’m an Engineer, doing cybersecurity, working (shall we say) for the public good. This means that my heart is with science and mathematics (which is where my degrees are); my wife is similar attached to Chemistry, Physics and Engineering. This is all a long-winded way of saying that when I learn about a good hard science play, we want to go.

When I first heard about the play Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB), I mistook it for a play produced many years ago by LA Theatre Works (FB) as part of The Relativity Series, a collection of science themed plays. I was confusing it in my head with Copenhagen, a play about Warner Heisenberg,  Moving Bodies, a play about Richard Feynmen, and The Real Dr. Strangelove, a play about Edward Teller. All dealt with the same events as Oppenheimer, all involved J. Robert Oppenheimer as a character, and all involved the development of the atomic bomb. But none of them were Oppenheimer. In any case, I coordinated some tickets for the show remembering that I liked it — then I realized it was a different show. But never mind — it was about science, and I was looking forward to going to it.

At this point, I’d like to emphasize how vitally important it is to have and to get people to see plays about science. Theatre excites, theatre raises questions, theatre starts discussions. Theatre gets people thinking. Further, theatre doesn’t have the distance of movies; you see these are people just like you. It can excite and encourage people to go into the sciences, to see the value of science, to not fear science, and to see the value of critical reasoning and thinking, and the pure joy that can come from it.

Last night was the opening night of Oppenheimer, as well as being the opening night for Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) at their new digs at the Electric Lodge (FB) in Venice, and it was that — electric. Although the show was long — 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission — the time just flew by. The story and the presentation were so engrossing it drew us in; we left thinking this was the best drama we have seen to date in 2018*. Just like our favorite show of 2017 (This Land at Company of Angels), it touched upon an area we love; it also got the facts right and made us think. It left us talking about the show and its ideas, and wanting to strongly encourage others to go see the show. It took a complex issue and made it understandable and entertaining. It showed the power of theatre.
* The best comedy was Paradise, which we saw a few weeks ago at Ruskin Theatre Group.

Oppenheimer, written by Tom Morton-Smith in its American Premiere, tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is generally known as the father of the Atomic Bomb. It starts in his early days when he was splitting time between Caltech and UC Berkeley, and dabbling in leftist ideas and leftist politics — as were many scientists and philosophers in the days after the Great Depression, when socialist ideas were in vogue and helping the nation recover under FDR. The scenes alternate between establishing Oppenheimer’s social character and social circle, and establishing his scientific credentials and his scientific circle, which often overlapped. We get to meet some of the key scientists in Oppenheimer’s circles — his brother, Frank; Bob Serber, Joe Weinberg, Hans Bethel, and later, Edward Teller. We get to see the extent to which they were involved in leftist and Communist causes, we get to see Oppenheimer’s lover Jean Tatlock, his colleague’s wives Charlotte (Serber) and Jackie (Oppenheimer), his future wife Kitty, who he stole from another professor, Richard Harrison. We see the fervor and the passion — both for their causes, and even more so, for the atomic science that is developing as they hear and read reports from folks like Heisenberg and Bohr in Germany.

Oppenheimer - Cast Photo StripWe also get to see this academic exercise make the transition to a military exercise, and how the families and relationships deal with the strain of that transition — and the moral impact of what they are actually developing. As this is occurring, we also see the impact of the past coming back to haunt them (just like so many Livejournal, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts of today). We get to see the strengths and the weaknesses of Oppenheimer’s character — his devotion to the science, but the weakness with the women. We see how politics and ambition created difference between Oppenheimer and his brother Frank, how it may have led his lover to suicide, and how his handling of incidents came back to haunt his life.

From what I know of Oppenheimer and the other characters at the time, they got the story right — although a bit simplified for a theatre audience. This comes not only from the plays I’ve seen, but the research I’ve done and reading of Feynman’s books. They got the science right. They got the way the military behaved right. In fact, it brought to mind the notion of Program Protection — the concept of protecting CPI (Critical Program Information) to prevent your adversary from being able to duplicate your technology and field it before you. Those are terms from today’s DOD (DODI 5200.39, 5200.44), but those notions are clear in this play with Oppenheimer’s strong desire to protect the information they are developing. According to my wife, they even got the projected equations correct.

In other words, in the story aspect of this show — they got it right. They made it exciting. They got the right balance of technical, people, and story to make it interesting, but not insulting to those who understand the technology and the history. You’ll walk out of this show both enlightened, informed, and entertained. A great combination.

A few additional notes:

  • I appreciated the opening number of Act II, “We’ll Meet Again”. I have no idea whether the younglings attending the theatre will recognize that as the closing song in Dr. Strangelove. I did.
  • The “Little Boy” monologue reminded me of the similar scene in the musical Allegiance about the dropping of the bomb, and the reaction from the other side. It is interesting to think about the two productions in juxtaposition, and the overall message of what it says about the war effort, and what Americans are willing to do when they believe they are at war with an intractable enemy.
  • There were some interesting comments in the story about the importance of science and scientific thinking, and how it can combat the ability to believe anything you hear. There were specific references in there to vaccinations, and it was eerily foreshadowing the current administration (this was written in 2014) with its anti-science attitudes towards climate change, research, and so forth.

Under the direction of John Perrin Flynn (FB), the actors were believably their characters, and clearly seemed to be enjoying their parts. Flynn had to corral a very large cast (much larger than you usually see in LA’s intimate theatre), and he pulled it off with a precision and storytelling flair that made me think this should be on the larger stage — the Mark Taper, the Ahmanson, or dare I say it (dare, dare): New York. The story, direction, and performance is of that caliber.

In the lead position was James Liebman (FB) as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Liebman captured the look and personality well, tall and gangly, quick to respond, projecting the right aura of confidence in his knowledge and rightness, but a bit less sure in the social situations. He clearly seemed to enjoy this role, and that joy was projected to the audience.

Moving to the next tier, let’s turn to the scientists whose characters stuck in my mind: Ryan Brophy (FB) [Frank Oppenheimer], Mark Jacobson (FB) [Bob Serber]; Michael Redfield (FB) [Hans Bethel, Piano Player, Musical Director]; Dan Via (FB) [Edward Teller]. This was primarily because their characters appeared throughout the entire storyline or were particularly memorable. Brophy captured the younger brother well, both with the competition aspect with his older brother, as well as the stronger fervor for the leftist causes. Jacobson was very strong as Serber, one of the key secondary scientists and the only one — other than the Oppenheimers — who was presented as having a family. He radiated the scientific excitement well, and served as a great sounding board for the lead. He was fun to watch. Redfield’s Bethel was a European representative, again capturing the science well. Lastly, Via’s Teller was more the elder scientist, presenting a man much more interested in the science than the weapon.

As a digression, regarding the “stuck in my mind”: This was a large cast show, and it was difficult at times to tell characters apart and remember their names. The program would be helped with a few pages of Dramatis Personæ, identifying the major characters and their roles, and perhaps a little historic background.

Continuing the second tier, let’s look at the lead women: Rachel Avery (FB) [Kitty Harrison]; Kirsten Kollender (FB) [Jean Tatlock]; Jennifer Pollono (FB) [Charlotte Serber]; and Miranda Wynne (★FB, FB) [Jackie Oppenheimer]. Let’s start with Kollender — she’s one of the first we see, as Jean, Oppenheimer’s lover. Her performance exudes vivaciousness and sex, but even more so, her suicide scene in the second act is extremely touching and emotional, and was just a great performance. Turning to Robert Oppenheimer’s other woman — Kitty. She gives off a different vibe — one more of lush aloofness, with an emphasis on the lush. She makes you wonder what her relationship was with the man — was he a way to get away from one husband, or was there true depth of feelings here. The actress captured that aloofness well. Pollono and Wynne had more supporting roles to their husbands, although Wynne captures the energy of her character well, and Pollono gets a wonderful moment during the second act when she stands up as a department head. All were really fun to watch.

In the third tier were the scientists who either had smaller roles (such as those brought into Los Alamos for the bomb work), or those who disappeared before Los Alamos primarily due to their leftist affiliations: Rick Garrison [Klaus Fuchs]; Zachary Grant (FB) [Robert Wilson]; Daniel Shawn Miller (FB) [Luis Alvarez, Doctor]; Brewster Parsons (FB) [Joe Weinberg]; Brady Richards (FB) [Richard Feynman]; and Kenney Selvey (FB) [Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz]. All captured the scientific curiosity and energy well, and came across believably as scientists who knew what they were doing and the gravity of it.

Also in this tier was Ron Bottitta (FB) [General Leslie Groves, Albert Einstein]. In my professional life I have worked with numerous colonels, lt. colonels, and even the occasional general in Space Division. Bottitta captured the senior officer quite well — the authority, the intelligence, and the calibrated bullshit tolerance level. He was fun to watch.

In the last tier are the smaller roles and the ensemble members: Marwa Bernstein (★FB, FB) [Ruth Tolman, Choreographer], Daniel Jordan Booth (FB) [Soldier, Ensemble]; Jason Chiumento [Soldier, Policeman]; Brendan Farrell (FB) [Kenneth Nichols, Richard Harrison]; Rori Flynn (FB) [Waitress, Ensemble]; Scott Victor Nelson (★FB. FB) [Haakon Chevalier, Colonel Paul Tibetts]; Delilah Bank [Little Boy]; Landon Tavernier (FB) [Peer de Silva]; and Rachel Sorsa (★FB) [Singer]. A few performances are worth highlighting here. Bank was spectacular in the Little Boy monologue that I mentioned earlier. Nelson was strong as Tibetts in his one scene, capturing the Army Air Corps pilot quite well (remember, the USAF was not created as a service until 1947, after the war).

Understudies were: Daniel Jordan Booth (FB), Jason Chiumento, Rori Flynn (FB), Daniel Shawn Miller (FB), and Jennifer Sorenson (FB). Sophie Pollono was listed in the program as “Little Boy”; it is unknown whether she alternates in the role with Bank, or Bank was a replacement.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side of the team. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz (FB)’s set was both sparse and spectactular, showing the power of theatre to not need the realism of film. Simple walls with hooks and squares, a few benches, some chalk, and a few wood hanging pieces, and your mind created the necessary barracks and parties and rooms and such. Realism is highly overrated. This design combined with the projection design of Nicholas E. Santiago to create a holistic fusion providing not only the place but the setting. Projections provided the titles for each scene, and they provided selected additional scenic elements. These aspects were supported by Matt Richter’s (FB)’s lighting design and Christopher Moscatiello‘s sound design. Richter’s lighting utilizing moving LEDs and moving mirror lights, in addition to both LED and lekos to highlight portions of the stage and particular characters, they also provided an effective flash during the bomb sequences. The sound design also worked well during the bomb sequences, providing the deep notes of the explosion quite well. The final key piece of the design picture was Dianne K. Graebner‘s costume design. Although we had a few minor quibbles with the military costumes (unsurprising, as we both work with, and have worked with, the military extensively) that we let her know about during the opening reception (and which will likely be corrected), the costumes overall fit the period well and provided the final piece in establishing the time, place, and setting. Rounding out the production team were: Barbara Kallir (FB) [Asst. Director]; Sam Kofford (FB) [Asst. Director]; Steve Vance [Scientific Advisor]; Susan Wilder [Research]Marwa Bernstein (★FB, FB) [Choreography]Michael Redfield (FB[Music Director]; David A. Mauer [Technical Director, Bomb Design]; Amanda Bierbauer [Production Manager, Prop. Design]; Victoria Hoffman [Casting]; Tor Brown [Lighting Co-Designer]; Michelle Hanzelova [Projection Co-Designer, Key Art Design]; Jacquelyn Gutierrez [Asst. Scenic Design]; Judith Borne [Publicity]; and Corryn Cummins [Social Media]. There was no explicit credit for stage manager (tsk, tsk); presumably, that was Amanda Bierbauer.

Oppenheimer continues at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) until December 30th. Go see it, it is one (if not the) best dramas we have seen in 2018. Tickets are available through the Rogue Machine box office. They do not appear to have a listing on Goldstar.


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. 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:

October continues next weekend with Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 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.