Saturday News Chum: Deaths, Mergers, Departures, Health, and Foreign Aid

userpic=lougrantFinally, it’s Saturday. This has been a busy week — I’ve been accumulating articles, but haven’t had time during the week to post them. Before we jump into the stew, Happy Valentine’s Day to those that observe. What are we doing? We’re going to a wonderful organic Shabu Shabu restaurant we’ve discovered, and then seeing a musical story about the Loch Ness monster. And you?

  • Deaths in the News. A few major deaths have happened in the last couple of days that are quite noteworthy — primarily because these are people about which no one says anything bad. Really good people are rare to come by, and we’ve lost three. The first is Stan Chambers, long-time newscaster at KTLA — and by long, I mean 63 years! This is someone beloved in the news industry, a fixture in Los Angeles, who just reported the story and the facts. Forget your Brian Williams and Dan Rathers — this was the real deal, a reporter to look up to. The second is Gary Owens, a long-time radio and TV personality in Los Angeles. Again, this is someone who everyone looked up to, who helped loads of people with their careers, and of whom no one said anything bad. The third is Florence Sackheim, a long time member at Temple Beth Torah — again, this is someone who was there for everyone else, and whom no one had anything bad to say about.
  • Corporate Mergers. There are a number of corporate mergers of interest. Two weeks ago. Staples made an offer to buy Office Depot Office Max. This is a major consolidation in the office supply industry, and I think it is a bad thing. Loads of stores will close, loads of employees will lose jobs, and prices will rise without two equivalent competitors. Where are the regulators. In a similar consolidation, this week Expedia made an offer to by Orbitz. Expedia already owns Travelocity, so this is a major consolidation in the online travel booking industry. Again, I think this is a bad idea, although there’s a little less of a problem here in that the two services were about the same on price.
  • Going Away. Last week, the news was focused on Radio Shack going away. This week brings news of some other going-aways. First, Costco is celebrating Valentine’s Day by breaking up with American Express.  Well, the breakup will happen in 2016. AmEx has already been hammered as this brings them a lot of business; I know it is the only reason we have a non-corporate Amex card. Costco is reportedly near a deal with a new issuer; it is unclear whether accounts will be transferred, or reapplication will be necessary. In another going-away, the rumors are increasing that the Riviera Hotel may soon be closed and demolished. This makes me sad — there’s not much of 1950’s Vegas left on the strip — some two-story wings at the Tropicana and the original 9-story 1955 Riviera are about it. When the Riviera goes, so goes the history. However, the plan makes sense: the place has become a dump and cannot compete with the newer hotels; it is on the slow end of the strip next to a dead partially completed hotel, across the street from Circus-Circus and… not much else, as Echelon/Genting World is still under construction as well. Supposedly, the Riv is being bought by the Las Vegas Convention Bureau, who want to extend the Convention Center’s reach up from Paradise Blvd to LV Blvd, between Convention Center and Riveria Blvd. Not much is there — the parking lot that was the Landmark, a Dennys, a Walgreens, the Riv, and a 3-story apartment complex and some small businesses. I think we can kiss the Riv — and it’s history — goodbye.
  • Nose and Throat. A week or so ago, on This American Life, I heard a segment on a annoying condition (for some) called Vocal Fry. I’d never heard of it, or could even notice it — so luckily, Mental Floss had a nice article on Vocal Fry.  Now that I know what it is… I still don’t get why people are annoyed. People’s voices are their voices. Get over it. In another interesting article, Vox had a nice exploration of mucus. I actually found this interesting, as I have continual sinus trouble (and I’m also one of those addicted to Afrin).
  • You Know How Foolishly Generous Those Americans Are. So said Stan Freberg in United States of America, and many people believe America gives too much Foreign Aid. However, those beliefs don’t correspond with the facts — and American really doesn’t give that much foreign aid. In fact, less than 1 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget goes to foreign aid. The largest portion of the money goes to health: a third of the U.S. foreign aid budget in 2014, or more than $5.3 billion. The next two biggest portions go toward economic development and humanitarian assistance. Small sums of aid support democratic elections in other countries. A tiny portion goes to protect forests in countries where logging is destroying natural habitats. Some aid funds programs that train local law enforcement to combat drug trafficking. (But no foreign aid goes directly toward another country’s military.) Proof again that most people wouldn’t know the facts if they bit them in the …
  • Dealing with Death. One problem when you die is that you can’t update your Facebook anymore. Fear not. Facebook will soon let you appoint a digital heir.  This is actually a good thing, as  there are more and more memorial Facebook pages, and it would be nice to know they are memorials (so you don’t keep wishing them a happy birthday).
  • Used Bookstores in LA. LAist attempted to do a list of the 10 best used bookstores in LA. Used bookstores are great, and we have lost some significant ones in the last year — both Cliffs and Brand Bookstore are gone. But LAist missed some great ones — in particular, Bargain Books in Van Nuys, and Books 5150 in Chatsworth. But this is no surprise — all those Los Angeles lists are done by westsiders who forget that the valley exists.
  • Women and Work. Last week’s Backstory was on women and work.  As part of this, they did a special segment on women in computing.  Well worth listening to, and something we should encourage. The segment gives me the opportunity to pimp for a project of ACSA: the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security.



Part of the Herd

userpic=observationsThis lunchtime news-chum post might also have been titled “It Takes a Village”, for it looks at the effects of choices you make on the larger community:



Keeping Your Insurance

userpic=progenitorivoxA quick morning post before I get off to get ready for work… I’m seeing a number of people advocating that people should be able to keep their insurance, just as the President promised. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is working with Mary Landreau to get a bill passed to modify the ACA to let people keep their grandfathered policies as long as the companies choose to offer them. This worries me, and here’s why.

First, the finances of the ACA are a delicate balancing act. In order to be able to cover pre-existing conditions, preventative care, maternity needs, etc., the insurance companies need sufficient bodies in each pool. If people stay in their lower-cost policies that don’t cover those areas, the pools may not balance … and there may be financial problems in the long run.

Second, this provides no guarantee people can keep their policies. Insurance companies can still decide they don’t want to offer those low cost polices, and there’s nothing Congress can do about it. Congress cannot dictate what plans a company must offer, only the minimum coverage for new plans.

Thirdly, it does nothing for people who want those low-cost plans. Insurance companies will still not be allowed to enroll new people in the plans that don’t meet the minimums. Thus, slowly over time, the number of people in the grandfathered plans will diminish making them economically not-viable, resulting in the cancellation of those plans.

Just something to think about. Now off to the showers.


Saturday Miscellany: GF Foods, Plantar Fasciitis, West LA Markets, and Bag Closures

userpic=observationsThe “clearin’ of the links” post seems to be increasingly moving from Friday to Saturday, so let’s just go with it. There is some slight connection between these stories, but not enough to make a full themed article:

  • Gluten Free Waste. My wife is gluten-free, for a reason. She’s dealing with Celiac, and there’s a medical basis. But for many people, going GF is the latest food fad. A recent Time article posits that we are wasting billions of dollars on GF food unnecessarily. They cite a new survey from market research firm the NPD Group that found America is cutting gluten out of its diet in a big way, with just under one-third of 1,000 respondents agreeing with the statement: “I’m trying to cut back/avoid Gluten in my diet.” Time notes that is the highest level since the company added gluten consumption to the surveys it does about Americans’ eating habits in 2009. TIME labeled the gluten-free movement #2 on its top 10 list of food trends for 2012. Time’s contention is that many of those paying a premium to avoid gluten are doing so without any legitimate medical reason. From what I’ve seen of fad diets, I’d tend to agree. As always, we’re heading towards a GF bubble here.
  • Foot Pain. Another article that hits close to home deals with Plantar Fasciitis. This is something I dealt with recently — it impacted my ability to exercise tremendously, and it took me almost a year to get rid of it. They recommend shoe fixes, but I haven’t seen that my fancy insoles made a big difference. More important, to me, was a “boot” I wore at night that prevented the Plantar from relaxing, so it didn’t get re-inflamed when I stood up in the morning. That, combined with anti-inflammatory medicine, seemed to make the biggest difference.
  • Remember Market Basket. Curbed LA had an article this week about a sad Pavillions at Wilshire and Stoner being closed, and talking about redevelopment that might occur at the even sadder (but open) Santa Monica and Barrington Vons. This caught my eye because of the location. You see, many many years ago (back in the 1970s and 1980s) the Wilshire and Stoner location housed the Market Basket where we did most of our shopping. My parent’s accounting office was in the Barrington Plaza next door, and I was always picking up stuff there for them (either there or Westward Ho on San Vicente). Wilshire and Stoner was also the location of the Crocker Bank where I got my first credit card (which I still have). In the 1990s, they “redeveloped” the parcel putting in an office building, but with a covenant that they retain a market there for the Seniors living in the Barrington Plaza. They put in a fancy Ralphs… which died. Then came the Pavillions, which died. Meanwhile, the really old Marina style Vons on Santa Monica stays busy.
  • There’s Profit in Everything. We often think about the big parts of business, not the little parts. For example, when we talk GF bread, we think about the bread itself not the bag… or how they close the bag. Well, Businessweek did that thinking. They have a really interesting article on a big battle between the clip-on bag closer and the twist-tie closer manufacturers to gain market share. As I said, big business… and not something you commonly think about.

Music: The Legendary Josh White (Josh White): “Trouble in Mind”


Friday, umm, Saturday news Chum: Comments, Entertainment, Medical, Razors, and Property News

userpic=observationsYesterday was February 1st, and so the Birthday Song Poll preempted the normal news chum collection. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a collection of marginally interesting news articles for you. Heaven forfend!


Friday News Chum: Redistricting, Fonts, Liddsville, Dogs, Lawns, Apollo 11, Stomach Flu, and Postage

userpic=headlinesWell, it’s Friday at lunch, and you know what that means — time to clear out the accumulated links that couldn’t be formed into a coherent theme. Well, at least I couldn’t figure out a theme. Perhaps you can:

  • Impacts of Redistricting. Let’s start with a couple of aspects of redistricting. First, in California, the state senate districts have staggered elections and terms (just like the real senate). This means when redistricting occurs, there is a short period where some people might have two state senate representatives and others might not have a state senate representative at all. The state senate has just addressed the quirk, assigning senators to those areas that ended up without representation. If you are wondering how this happens, The no-senator areas, known as deferrals, stem from the interplay of the Senate’s election schedule and redistricting. One-half of Senate seats are up for election every two years and the 2011 remap moved some residents from odd-numbered districts scheduled to be on the ballot in 2012 to even-numbered districts on the ballot in 2014. The result is that those areas have no senator for two years. Here’s another redistricting issue: Redistricting in many states results in gerrymandering, where districts are created to have majorities in one party or another. The Republicans in Virginia and a number other “swing” blue states are attempting to take advantage of this by allocating electoral votes to the winner of the district. It’s one thing to allocate proportionally based on total state voting, but doing it by congressional district allows the gerrymandering effect to predominate, disenfranchising those in the minority in the district.
  • Readability. Let’s move away from politics. You’re reading this post on your computer, in a serif or non-serif font, depending on your preference. Mine’s serifed. We’ve always believed that serifed fonts were more readable because the serifs helped move your eye along the line. Guess what? Serifed fonts may not be more readable. Ariel or Lucida Sans for the win!
  • It Won’t Be The Same Without Charles Nelson Reilly. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s will remember Lidsville, a Sid and Marty Krofft series about talking hats. It may even live in that scary memory place with the Bugaloos, the Banana Splits, and H.N.R. Puffnstuff. Well, this article will really cause you to flip your lid. Alan Menken, composer of such shows as Little Shop of HorrorsBeauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and many others, is working on a live-action movie version of Liddsville (as well as a musical episode of The Neighbors). Dreamworks is producing.
  • Turning Wolves into Dogs. There has been a lot of debate of how the wolf was domesticated and became man’s best friend, the dog. A story in the Washington Post posits that it was moving to a diet of grains and potatoes that did it. A team of Swedish researchers compared the genomes of wolves and dogs and found that a big difference is dogs’ ability to easily digest starch. On their way from pack-hunting carnivore to fireside companion, dogs learned to desire — or at least live on — wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes. As it turns out, the same thing happened to humans as they came out of the forest, invented agriculture and settled into diets rich in grains. Co-evolution at work!
  • A Concrete Jungle. Los Angeles has been referred to as a concrete jungle. San Francisco, on the other hand, has a problem with concrete lawns. Specifically, under San Francisco city law, at least 20 percent of a front yard must consist of permeable surfaces with vegetation, mostly to allow for proper drainage and to keep the neighborhood looking green. Homes can be reviewed for compliance every time an owner does construction on the driveway or property. However, this is ignored more in the breach, and now the paved-over lawns in San Francisco are creating environmental concerns due to excessive drainage.
  • Learning from the Past. Another thing that those of us from the 1970s will remember is the Apollo Program and the launches to the moon. Bet’cha thought it was dead. Well, not quite. NASA has started testing a vintage F-1 series engine from the Saturn V.  The hope is that it could become a template for a new generation of motors incorporating parts of its design. Those of us who live in the San Fernando Valley remember well the roar of those engines — they were built in Canoga Park and tested in Chatsworth!
  • Getting Sick of It All. I’m sure you have all heard the exhortations about the Influenza going around the country, and you have gotten your flu shot (except those of you who don’t believe in vaccines — but that’s a different debate). There’s another “flu” going around (with “flu” in quotes since it really isn’t a flu), and this one doesn’t have a vaccine: There’s an epidemic of norovirus, a/k/a “stomach flu”, going around. It’s a pretty strong variant (from Australia, where they make things stronger). This variant causes nausea, forceful vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, accounted for 58% of outbreaks of norovirus nationally. Norovirus typically begins very suddenly and lasts one to three days. Most people recover without treatment, but some require rehydration with liquids or intravenous fluids. The disease is most severe in the elderly and can also hit young children hard. Norovirus is extremely contagious. The best protection is vigilant hand washing with soap and water. If surfaces may have been contaminated, the CDC recommends disinfecting them with a diluted bleach solution made of five to 25 tablespoons of household bleach to a gallon of water.
  • Stamping It Out. And lastly, first-class postage is going to 46¢ on Sunday, with postcards going to 33¢. I’m sure most of you are unfamiliar with postage and postage stamps, as you have never written an actual letter or paid a bill by mail. You see, people once communicated not via email, but by putting pieces of paper in an envelope, affixing a money-equivalent to the envelope, and giving it to someone to take to the recipient. Seriously, even those of us that use postage stamps forget the price of postage these days, as most first class stamps are “forever” stamps. So pick up some forever stamps now, before the price goes up. Those dollars you save might buy you a cup of coffee. I emphasize the “might”, given Starbucks’ prices. You’ll do better at McDonalds!



News Chum – Old Things: Dumb Phones, Old Medicine, and Building with Books

Today’s lunchtime news chum presents three articles about old things:

  • Stupid Phones. A CNN reporter has an article where she defends her use of a stupidphone. Although I’m not the luddite she is, I too have a phone without a data plan. Why? The primary reason is that I’m cheap, and data plans are expensive. Second, I’d probably waste far more time futzing around on the nets than I already do (did I say that with my outside voice?). But I’ll probably cave at the next replacement, depending on the cost of Verizon’s data plans.
  • Expired Medicine. A recent study has shown that most drugs are actually still good for years and years after their expiration date (aspirin being a notable exception). This, of course, is published after I cleaned my dresser and got rid of a load of expired medicines. Still, it is useful to know. The same, by the way, is true of much food, where the “expiration” date is really a “best by” guess. Speaking of medicines, CVS has been refilling prescriptions without consent and billing insurance companies. The LA Times is investigating this, and wants to know if it has happened to you. I’ve never trusted the current incarnation of CVS — the outlet near us has screwed up prescriptions, been late on filling things, and has been uncommunicative. I’ve been very happy to be able to return to our local Walgreens.
  • Building with Books. Old fashioned books. Most of us love them; some of us are replacing them with digital books. But what should we do with the books and books that fill our house. Perhaps build another? This interesting Curbed article looks at what happens when people build things with books. The results are well worth reading.

P.S.: There’s an election coming up. Read. Investigate. Be informed. I’m going through my sample ballot, and you can find the results of my research in the following two posts (a third should be up by this weekend):



Friday News Chum: Obits, Animation, Non-Christian Christians, Fecal Transplants, 404 pages, and Close Shaves

Well, it’s Friday at lunch, and that means it is time to clean out the news chum links, toss them into the water, and see if anyone bites on them for discussion.