🎭 When The House Collapses | “Dear Evan Hansen” @ Ahmanson

Dear Evan Hansen (Ahmanson)My brother died when I was 10 (he was 18). My parents told me one story of why he died, but I’m not sure I ever processed or believed it. A few years ago, I learned that his life was much more complicated than I imagined, that there were undercurrents and understories that gave a completely different spin on what he was going through. My parents (to my knowledge) never knew that stuff — they gravitated to the story that gave them comfort — something that fit their image and that their brains could accept.

From what I’ve later learned, my brother may have been dealing with some form of depression — which we didn’t know as much about in 1970. Depression, and other forms of mental illness, have a significant impact on society (as we have seen far too often in today’s society). But it is something we’ve hesitated to talk about.

Occasionally, a musical comes along that does attempt to open the dialogue. Quite a few years ago, the musical Next to Normal burst upon the scene, exploring the impact of bi-polar mental illness not only on the individual but on the family surrounding the individual. It was raw, real, and won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for its efforts.

A couple of years ago, another musical dealing with mental illness hit the boards of Broadway: Dear Evan Hansen. The North American Tour of the musical just hit the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in Los Angeles, and last night we saw it — on the heals of the Thousand Oaks Shooting, and the deadly and destructive Camp, Hill, and Woolsey fires.

Dear Evan Hansen (book by Steven Levenson; music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) tells the story of (duh) Evan Hansen, a high school student with severe social anxiety, with a single mom who is working so hard to support her family that she has little time for her son. Evan’s therapist has assigned him the task of writing letters to himself to help deal with that anxiety. After a day when incidents at the first day of school make Evan feel transparent and unseen, he writes a letter to himself detailing his feelings. Connor Murphey, another loner student — who has also been dealing with depression and drugs —  finds the letter on the printer. As it mentions Connor’s sister, Zoe, who Evan has a crush on, he teases Evan about the letter and takes it with him. When Connor commits suicide a few days later, his parents find the letter and believe it to be his suicide note. Grasping at straws, they believe Evan was the friend they never knew their son had, and draw him into their circle to learn more. With Evan’s anxiety, he can’t bring himself to correct them. With the help of his family friend, Jared, Evan builds a backstory of his friendship with Connor. This draws Evan even further into the sphere of the Murphy family, and ever closer to Zoe. A similarly unseen girl at school, Alana, similarly latches onto her “close acquaintance” with Connor, and soon there is a blog and a project dedicated to his memory, an effort to ensure that no one will be forgotten.

End of Act I, and a good place to pause to explore the story to this point. When I discussed it with my wife at intermission, she was very bothered by the story, because it was all built on a lie — the fake premise that Evan actually was friends with Connor, and all the pain that could come from it when the house of cards collapsed. That bothered me as well, but I saw a lot more. First, as noted above, I saw the parallels to Next to Normal: the study of how someone’s mental illness impacted the family around him. In this case, it was how Connor’s depression and suicide drove the narrative of Connor’s family, destroying relationships. I saw how the desire to believe that their son was normal led that family to grab anything and ignore other facts. I also saw the message that likely resonated the most with the audience — the message drummed into the audience’s head as Act I reached its crescendo: NO ONE DESERVES TO BE FORGOTTEN, NO ONE DESERVES TO FADE AWAY. That fear of not being seen, of being invisible, of not making a difference is a powerful one. It is something that the audience ate up, permitting them to set aside the recognition of the lies that led to the message.

But the problem with a house of cards is that the slightest windstorm will topple it. That windstorm occurs in Act II, as it must inevitably. By the end of the act, the message of not being forgotten that was beaten into your head in the first act has been replaced by something — in my opinion — that is more important from a mental health perspective: honesty. The key scene here is near the end of the act, when Evan is alone with his mother, admitting for the first time the truth about what had happened. His mom, similarly, shares the truth of what is happening with her. In doing so, we see the power of telling the truth about what is going on in our lives to those we love, and the importance of listening and being there through the hard times. Connor’s suicide was the result of his not being able to communicate his depression to those around him. Evan’s house of cards  came from Evan not being able to admit to himself the truth. Healing came when the truth was admitted and heard.

The first step on not being forgotten, on not facing away, is to be seen. The next step is to be heard. The third step is to be listened to.

My wife left the show lukewarm to the story — the whole notion of lying and the construction of the house of cards really bothered her. It nagged at me, but I found the overall messages of the show to be quite powerful: the importance of not forgetting people, the importance of seeing people, the importance of listening to people, the importance of telling the truth of what is going on in your lives to those around you. I saw the message this show imparted about the damage that can be done to not only you, but to your friends and family, if you construct that house of cards to protect you. I saw the power of the love of a family to heal.

The show gave me some insight on what my parents must have gone through when my brother died. It is quite likely they knew the true situation, but it was too painful for them, and so they constructed the house of cards of belief to get themselves true. Then, as we’ve seen from what is happening in Washington DC, if you tell a lie long enough it becomes the reality you remember and create, and it became the story that they told.

I prefer the likely truth. But I’m an engineer.

Under the direction of Michael Greif (who also directed Next to Normal and Rent), the show has powerful and raw performances. This isn’t your typical musical with large song and dance numbers (although there is choreography by Danny Mefford (FB)). Rather, it is mostly family situations, teen interactions, and exposure of raw nerves and emotions, especially in the second act.

Leading the performance team is Ben Levi Ross as Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony does the role on Wed, Thu, and Sat matinees, and Sun eve.). I found Ross’s performance powerful, capturing the social anxiety well. His collapse in the 2nd act is spectacular. He has a strong singing voice, and handles his numbers well.

As his mother, Heidi Hansen, Jessica Phillips (FB) is somewhat lightly used in the first act, with a perfunctory single-mom role. But where she shines is in the 2nd act, particularly in the penultimate number “So Big/So Small” where every parent will recognize her raw emotion and feeling for her son.

The Murphy family is represented by the catalyst for the story, Marrick Smith (FB) as Connor Murphy; Aaron Lazar (FB) and Christiane Noll (FB) as his parents Larry and Cynthia Murphy; and Maggie McKenna as his sister, Zoe. Smith’s role is small: you see him at the beginning as himself; later appearances are as a figment of Evan’s imagination. Still, in those numbers, Smith is still quite fun to watch. Lazar and Noll are strong as the Murphy parents. Lazar, in particular, was very strong in the “To Break In a Glove” number, and Noll was just great throughout. McKenna brought an interesting look to Zoe, and a delightful smile in her “Only Us” number in the 2nd act. McKenna had a great singing voice. All shone in the “Requiem” number.

Rounding out the cast were Jared Goldsmith as Jared Kleinman, and Phoebe Koyabe as Alana Beck. Both were very strong, particularly in the “good for You” and the “Disappear” numbers.

The “Community Voices”, who are heard in the “Disappear” number, are: Becca Ayers, Mary Bacon, Gerard Canonico, Jenn Colella, Adam Halpin, Mykal Kilgore, Stephen Kunken, Tamika Lawrence, Carrie Manolakos, Ken Marks, Asa Somers, Jason Tam, Brenda Wehle, Natalie Weiss, Tim Young, and Remy Zaken. Understudies were Stephen Christopher Anthony and Noah Kieserman (FB) for Evan, Jared, and Connor; Jane Pfitsch (FB) and Coleen Sexton (FB) for Cynthia and Heidi; Ciara Alyse Harris (FB) and Maria Wirries (FB) for Alana and Zoe, and John Hemphill for Larry. Jane Pfitsch (FB) was Dance Captain.

Music was provided by an on-stage band under the direction of, and conducted by, Austin Cook [Keyboards]. Garrett Healey was the Associate Conductor. Other band members were: Matt Sangiovanni and Matt Brown [Guitar]; Ryan McCausland [Drums]; Matt Rubano [Bass]; Jen Choi Fischer [Concertmaster]; Linnea Powell [Viola]; David Mergan [Cello]. Rounding out the music credits: Robert Payne [Local Contractor]; Randy Cohen [Keyboard Programmer]; Jeremy King [Assoc. Keyboard Programmer]; Enrico de Trizio and Scott Wasserman [Abelton Programmers]; Emily Grishman Music Preparation [Music Copying]; Alex Lacamoire [Music Supervision, Orchestrations, and Additional Arrangements]; Ben Cohn [Assoc. Music Supervisor]; Michael Keller and Michael Aarons [Music Coordinators]; Justin Paul [Vocal Arrangements and Additional Arrangements].

Finally, turning to the production and creative team: The combination of David Korins‘ Scenic Design and Peter Nigrini‘s Projection Design worked together to create a modernist set that  primarily consisted of moving scrims with projections from internet social media as well as scenes (although the piercing blue of the end scene was remarkable), and little in the way of traditional place-establishing scenery, although there were numerous place establishing props. These worked well Nevin Steinberg‘s sound and Japhy Weideman‘s lighting designs. Emily Rebholz‘s costumes and David Brian Brown‘s hair seemed, well, everyday — which means they did what they were supposed to do, making the characters appear as relatable teens and parents. Other production credits: Tara Rubin Casting [Casting]; Judith Schoenfeld [Production Supervisor]; David Lober [Production Stage Manager]; Michael Krug [Stage Manager]; Sarah Testerman [Asst. Stage Manager]; Juniper Street Productions [Production Supervisor]; Adrienne Campbell-Holt, Sash Bischoff, and Adam Quinn [Assoc. Directors]; Danny Sharron [Asst. Director]; Jonathan Warren and Mark Myars [Assoc Choreographer]; Liz Caplan Vocal Studios LLC [Vocal Consultant]; and Buist Bickley [Production Properties Supervisor].

Dear Evan Hansen continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through November 25, 2018. Tickets are available through the Center Theatre Group website. They do not appear to be available on Goldstar.

Note: As always, we seem to hit at least one Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS performance every year. Last night was no exception; the actors were out with their red buckets. We expect to get hit up again tonight at A Bronx Tale. So, we’ll hit you up as well. Donate to BC/EFA here.

***

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:

Tonight continues the theatre with A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); Monday we have 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 Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights 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) (although that is starting to look less likely).

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

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-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.

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🗯️ Band-Aids vs. Solutions

I woke up this morning to the news of the horrible gunman attack in Thousand Oaks, about 40 minutes away from my house (40 minutes is a nothing drive here in Southern California).

Shit.

If you think this is going to be a post calling for more gun control, think again. If you think it is a post calling for more guns to solve the problem, again, think again. Much as I would love more gun control as an overall risk reduction approach, it won’t solve this problem.

I’m an engineer at heart. Limit weapons is only attacking the symptom of this problem. It won’t stop the attacks, it might just make them a little less deadly. Then again, if they shift to bombs, it makes it worse. No, we need to ask ourselves: Why is this happening? What is causing so many disaffected white men — and don’t kid yourself, attacks like these are predominately by white men (not women, not minorities, not ISIS) — to turn to mass destruction as the solution to their problems? Is it violence on TV, violent video games, violent rhetoric, perceived loss of privilege, or something else that is driving them to do it? Why is it happening more and more frequently? Most importantly: What can we change is society to address the root cause?

Thinking about gun control instead of the underlying problem is characteristic of society today. We think about the band-aids, not what is causing the abcess. We worry about immigrants and building walls, without thinking about why they are leaving their countries, and what we might do to address the need to leave. It might actually be less expensive to improve lives in those countries than to build a wall or to send troops to the border. We worry about trade imbalances and what it is doing to businesses in our country, and attempt to impose tariffs as a solution — when we could address the underlying problems and make American products better and more competitive so that other countries want them, even after the advantages the countries give to their own products. That is ultimately a better solution. We rage on about health care and what the government involvement should be, while forgetting about the people and what keeping them healthy can do for society overall.

We spend so much time, effort, and money addressing symptoms of problems, and so little time actually trying to make the problems actually go away. We’re popping pills to hide the pains and control the condition, never taking the time to actually get better.

Let’s resolve to try to actually fix the problem this time.

/end rant

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🎭 Lizards and Lovers | “She Loves Me” @ Actors Co-Op

She Loves Me (Actors Co-Op)What is the odd connection between the Austin Lounge Lizards and the musical She Loves Me? The last time we saw She Loves Me, back in 2014 at the Chance Theatre, we saw an afternoon matinee, and then rushed to Culver City to see the Lizards at Boulevard Music. Last weekend, we actually moved our tickets for She Loves Me  at Actors Co-op (FB) to Sunday so we could see the Austin Lounge Lizards at Boulevard Music on Saturday night. We still rushed on Sunday: this time from Stitches So Cal in Pasadena to Hollywood for She Loves Me.

Oh well, at least it allows me to repeat my description of the show itself.

For those unfamiliar with She Loves Me, you probably know the story but by another name. The story started out as the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. This was later made into the movie The Shop around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in 1940. It was then re-made into the movie In The Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in 1949. Most recently, it was re-made into the movie You’ve Got Mail in 1998 with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. On the stage, however, in 1963 Parfumerie was turned into the musical She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff (book — he later went on to do the book of Caberet), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics — he next went on to Fiddler on the Roof), and Jerry Bock (music — and again Fidder).

The basic bones of the story are simple: Single man has a pen pal with whom he is falling in love. Single gal has a pen pal with whom she is falling in love. Single man and single gal work at the same place and hate each other’s guts, without knowing that each is the other’s pen pal. Now, bring them together with some catalyst, turn the gears, and enjoy the show.

In the case of She Loves Me, the story sticks pretty close to the original source. Georg is a clerk at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest in 1937 (although there are no hints of war — evidently, the real world doesn’t intrude on this story). He works together with the other clerks: Ilona, Sipos, and Kodaly, and the delivery boy Arpad, for Mr. Maraczek. When the competing parfumerie closes, one of their clerks, Amalia, talks her way into a clerk job (which upsets Georg, who starts getting on her case). While all this is happening, Kodaly is busy persuing anything in a skirt — in particular, Ilona. When Mr. Maraczek suspects his wife of cheating, he starts bearing down on Georg, who passes the pressure on to the rest of the staff — making things even testier with Amalia. His only consolation is his pen-pal, who he has never met or seen, but loves anyway. He schedules a rendezvous with her, without knowing she is really Amalia. They day they are to meet, Georg gets fired and send Sipos to tell his unknown date he won’t be there. Sipos sees it is Amalia, and gets Georg to go talk to her. Thinking he is spying on her, they have a gigantic fight. End Act I. In Act II, of course, all things predictably come together in predictable fashion, which I, predictably, won’t spoil :-).

The music in this story is just a delight. From the initial “Good Morning, Good Day” to “Days Gone By” to “Tonight at Eight” to “Try Me” to “Ice Cream” to “She Loves Me” to “A Trip to the Library” — it is just a joy. If you haven’t heard the score, I strongly suggest you pick up one of the cast albums out there. You’ll fall in love with it.

So, we’ve established that we have a classic love story with a winning score. Why isn’t this musical done more? In 1963, there were the big song and dance numbers that people expected, and it was booked into the wrong theatre at the wrong time — and thus lost money. This led to a perception that it was a failed show. Remember , however, that Chicago was a failure when it first hit Broadway. Often great shows aren’t always profitable or recognized as such. You can learn more about the show and the details of the synopsis at Wikipedia.

So how did Actors Co-Op do, when compared to Chance? Under the direction and choreography of Cate Caplin (FB), the actors were clearly having fun with the piece, and that fun was projected to the audience. The overall company was quite fun to watch, and there was lots of joy in the production.

In the lead positions were Claire Adams as Amalia Balash and  Kevin Shewey (FB) as Georg Nowack. We had seen both before in the Actors Co-Op production of Violet back in May: they were strong then, and they gave strong performances now. They have great singing voices, wonderful personalities that come through in their performances, and a nice chemistry between the two of them (demonstrated exceptionally well in the second act).

In the second tier, we had the other clerks at Maraczek’s: Darren Bluestone as Steven Kodaly, Beau Brians (FB) as Arpad Laszlo, Avrielle Corti (FB) as Ilona Ritter, and Tim Hodgin (FB) as Ladislav Sipos. I was really taken by the performances of Corti and Hodin. Both had these wonderful twinkles and characterizations that made them a delight to watch; both also sang well.  Brians brought a great boyish charm to Arpad, and was strong in his numbers. I was a bit less taken by Bluestone: he had fun with the Gaston-ish primping, but otherwise, I got no real sense of his character or what he was bringing to the role.

In a slightly smaller role was Greg Martin (FB)’s Mr. Maraczek. He brought the right amount of gruffness and tenderness to the role, and was fun to watch.

Rounding out the cast in small named roles and ensemble positions were Carolyn Carothers (FB) [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]; Cy Creamer (FB) [Keller]; Phil Crowley [Headwaiter]; Tyler Joseph Ellis (FB) [Busboy, Arpadu/s]; Rachel Geis [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]; and Carly Lopez (FB) [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]. All were fun to watch, especially the mix in the 12 Days to Christmas sequence. The customers, in particular, brought some interesting and different characterizations to their tracks each time they appeared.

Understudies were Lea Madda (FB) [Ilona Ritteru/s]; and Susanna Vaughan (FB) [Amalia Balashu/s].

The biggest difference from the Chance production was the orchestra. Whereas Chance had a single piano and gypsy violin, Actors Co-Op had 6 pieces: Keyboards (Anthony Lucca, who also served as conductor); Violin (Miyuki Miyagi); Cello (Cyrus Elia); Reeds (Austin Chanu); Trumpet (Nathan Serot); and Percussion (Ian Hubbell). The orchestra had good sound, although a few notes sounded a bit off.

Turning to the technical and production: Stephen Gifford (FB)’s set design was, as usual, elegant and worked well within the confines of the Schall Theatre space. It was supported by Lori Berg (FB)’s property design. Michael Mullen (FB)’s costume design also worked well in conjunction with Klint Flowers wig, hair, and makeup. Sound design was by Adam R. Macias, with lighting by Luke Moyer (FB).  Derek R. Copenhaver (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by  James Ledesma (FB). Other credits:  Heather Chesley (FB) [Artistic Chairwoman];  Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager]; Nora Feldman [Publicity].

She Loves Me continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through December 16, 2018. It’s a cute show; you’ll enjoy it. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Website; 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:

Next weekend 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 Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights 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) (although that is starting to look less likely).

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

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-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.

 

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🎶 My One Band is the One True Band | “Austin Lounge Lizards” @ Boulevard Music

Austin Lounge Lizards (Boulevard Music)My dear departed friend Stuart Schaeffer did two outstanding things for me, musically: he introduced me to the music of Big Daddy, and he introduced me to the Austin Lounge Lizards. The Lizards are a satirical bluegrass band out of Texas, and their music is just great. Although described as “bluegrass”, they run the range from acapella choral singing to rock and roll, from the aforementioned bluegrass to country, and pretty much everything in between. Their lyrics skewer people and topics, and are cleverly written. Whenever we learn they are coming to town, we do our best to see them (but, alas, they often conflict with prescheduled theatre).

Luckily, although there was a conflict, it was with a subscription show, and we were able to change our tickets to Sunday. So last night we got together with some friends and went down to Boulevard Music in Culver City to see the current incarnation of the Lizards do their show. The Lizards are down to two of the three founding members (Tom Pittmann having retired, but Hank Card and Conrad Diesler are  still there), and have been joined by two original Lizards, Kirk WIlliams and Tim Wilson. For two songs, Corey Simone, who was also a former Lizard and now has a band in the area, joined the group.

To make my life easy, I copied their set list before the show. This show was a little different in that there were a number of non-Lizard rock numbers worked in between the traditional Lizards fare. Here is the set  list, with a few comments. I’ve done my best to get the full names of songs (non-Lizard songs in italics):

  1. Highway Cafe of the Damned
  2. Ashokan Farewell / War Between the States / War
  3. We’ve Been Through Some Crappy Times Before
  4. That God Forsaken Hell-Hole I Call Home
  5. Grunge Song
  6. The Dogs, They Really Miss You / Walking the DogIggy
  7. Boudreaux Was a Nutcase
  8. Black Helicopters
  9. Buenos Dios, Budweiser
  10. Gospel Medley: One True God / Three Sinners / Zen Gospel Singing
  11. (Intermission)
  12. Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs
  13. Carazon de Goma (new song)
  14. Creep / Shallow End of the Gene Pool / People are Strange
  15. Another Stupid Texas Song
  16. Strange Noises in the Dark
  17. Have You Ever Seen the RainIrma / Acid Rain Keeps Falling / Beatle
  18. Jesus Loves Me (But He Doesn’t Like You)
  19. The Chester Nimitz Oriental Garden
  20. The Zombie Song Monster’s Holiday
  21. Hillbillies in an Haunted House
  22. (curtain call)
  23. Old Blevens
  24. Stop in the Name of Love Can’t Do / Cornhusker Refugee / My Boyfriend’s Back

I still  think they need to combine “Stupid Texas Song” with “I’m Leaving Texas” from Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public.

Alas, they didn’t do a number of my favorites, but that’s the nature of any show. What’d I miss? Saguaro, The Drugs I Need, Rasputin’s HMO, Go Ahead and Die (a great medley trio there), Industrial Strength Tranquilizers, Bust the High School Students, Big Rio Grande River, Half a Man, and Big Tex’s Girl… for a start.

But still, it was a great show, and you can never get all the songs you want.

***

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:

Today brings She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) a visit to 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 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 Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights 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) (although that is starting to look less likely).

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

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-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.

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🗯️ Pressure Relief Valves

Recently, we had to replace the fill valve in our toilet. We went to our local plumbing supply store and got the replacement part, but called a plumber to install it as neither of us have the mobility to get in the tight area required to install it. That plumber, after going outside to “examine” the pressure regulator, later proclaimed that the pressure regulator had failed and our water pressure was too high. That could result in all sorts of damage if we didn’t repair it. He, of course, could do so for around $500.

We suspected he had played with the regulator and broken it. But our pressure was too high. So we called the plumber we should have called in the first place. He examined it, and noted that once installed, if you adjust it you break it. It was broken, and he replaced it and the pressure relief valve as well. Out the door, just over $300. The pressure in our house is lower, damage averted (hopefully).

***

Recently, I went to the doctor because my legs were swelling. He took my blood pressure: 159/119. Although I had been fighting high blood pressure for years, this scared him. We adjusted meds, added walking, and I’m the winner of compression stockings. But the meds are working. For the last three weeks, my lower number hasn’t gone above 80; my higher number tops at around 140. This morning at work, I was 98/58. I’m now getting to deal with the impacts of lower blood pressure: a bit more fatigue, a bit less energy. I’m told my body will get used to it. More importantly, however, the lower blood pressure will reduce the stress on my systems. I’ve already seen a significant reduction in my migraine frequency.

***

Lowering the pressure in your house, and in you, is a good thing. Society these days, however, is also showing signs of being under too much pressure. Systems are failing from the pressure, and the mechanisms we have in place to serve as pressure regulators also appear to be failing. And so the pressure keeps building and building, to what appears to be an inevitable explosion that won’t be pretty. In fact, just like your plumbing, it could leave shit everywhere.

Luckily, however, you have the power to fix that regulator, and it doesn’t cost all that much. All that it needs is: your vote. By mailing in your ballot, or going to your polling place and voting, you can fix the pressure regulator. You can ensure that our regulation mechanisms that are in the system can start working again. You can hold our leaders responsible, in the same way (and with the same scrutiny) that the previous administrations had been held accountable.

But accountability isn’t the only way voting brings pressure relief. Our government gains its authority by the acceptance of its authority by the people as a whole. When our leadership is elected by a mere 20% of those eligible to vote, can it really be called a government of the people? We need voting numbers in the 80% to 100% of legal, eligible voters. Show that this administration is accepted by the people, or demonstrate that it does not (and needs to be replaced). That alone is your power, and you gain it by understanding and studying everything on your ballot, and voting with your brain (and not doing what social media tells you).

You have the new pressure regulator and relief valve in your little hands. Tuesday, you can install it. Together, we can reduce the pressure in our nation, and make our systems healthy again.

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🛣️ 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 …

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📰 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.

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🗯️ 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.

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* 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.

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