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Some more clearing out of the news chum. This collection is mostly Pesach (Passover) Related, with a few articles at the end that are more peripheral:

Passover

Peripheral

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The Robber Bridegroom (LAVC)My musical taste is wide and varied (if you hadn’t figured that out by now), but one of my favorite styles is folk, which then connects to bluegrass, some elements of country, and celtic. My Uncle Tom had similar tastes, and many years ago he introduced me to a favorite musical of his, The Robber Bridegroom (book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry, music by Robert Waldman, adapted from the novella by Eudora Welty, based on an even older folktale). Especially for when it was first produced in 1975, it was a rarity among Broadway musicals, for it had a country and bluegrass score, with the musicians on the stage. I can count the musicals that have done this on one or two hands, the latest being last season’s Bright Star with a score by bluegrass artist and comedian Steve Martin.

We first saw The Robber Bridegroom in 2011 at ICT Long Beach (FB); it tends to be rarely done. Last week I learned that LA Valley College (FB)’s Department of Theatre Arts was doing a student production of the show (FB). We decided to give it a try, and squeezed it into the weekend. As I wrote back in 2011:

[The Robber Bridegroom] tells the fable of the Robber Bridegroom in 1795 in Rodney’s Landing, Mississippi. It is a fable about, as the song says, “A gent and a robber all in one, A girl who made the moon burn like the sun. A greedy witch, A man that rich. A brain that big, A filthy pig. A talkin’ head. … Once upon a Natchez Trace!” So let’s meet the characters. The “gent and robber all in one” is Jamie Lockhart, a gentleman robber who is also the Bandit of the Woods. He charms to get in, and takes what he wants. The girl who made the moon burn like the sun is Rosamond, the beautiful daughter of the “man that rich”, Clemment Musgrove, a wealthy planter, and the step-daughter of the “greedy witch”, Salome, current wife of the planter. Rosamond wants love, and finds it with the Bandit of the Woods, but doesn’t want to get married to the gentleman her father prefers, Jamie Lockhart, who wants to marry Rosamond not for love, but for the plantation. The “brain that big” refers to the brain the size of a pea belonging to “Goat” the simpleton hired by Salome to kill Rosamond to gain the reward of a suckling pig. The “filthy pig” refers to Little Harp, a thief and robber who travels the country with the talkin’ head of his brother, Big Harp, and who plans to steal both the gold and the girl of the planter. “Once upon a Natchez Trace”, of course, refers to the historic forest trail that connects landings like Rodney MS with the mouth of the Mississippi in New Orleans LA. As you can imagine from this cast of characters, we have a backwoods story of greed, love, lust, and desire. Quite a fun tale.

This production, as I noted earlier, was a student production under the direction of Cathy Susan Pyles (FB), with musical direction by Evan J. Marshall (FB). The fact that this was a student production means the range of talent and experience is wide and varied. We had some performers for whom this was their first time on stage … ever. We had some who had been in a fair to large number of amateur and other unspecified shows. In other words, this was a cast with a range of raw talent in both performing and singing. The latter is significant, for LAVC does not have a formal musical theatre program, and so there was not a formal effort to improve and strengthen vocal quality with this show (at least noted in the program, as there was no credit for vocal coaching, and no vocal coaches on the LAVC faculty). Again, raw talent up and coming, gems that required various levels of polishing. One doesn’t go into a show like this expecting virtuoso Broadway-caliber performance; one expects to be able to note strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, the performers expect this as well, taking any weaknesses as areas to work on for the future. And thus, the caveat is ended.

In the lead positions were Jacob Reynolds/FB as Jamie Lockhart and Tiffany Fuller/FB as Rosamund. Both were good (at least to my untrained eye) on the performance side — believable as their characters, having fun with their roles. I was particularly smitten by Fuller’s performance (and not just due to her smile and other charms) — writing this up I discovered she was from Kentucky, and that clearly showed in the accent and country mannerisms she brought to the role. Both had good singing voices that were pleasant to listen to, but that could use a tad more strength and volume.

Rosamund’s family was portrayed by Nicholas Goodreau/FB as Clemment Musgrove (Rosamund’s father) and Victoria Pizarro/FB as Salome (Rosamund’s stepmother). I quite enjoyed Goodreau’s performance — he had the right bearing and style for the role. For the most part his singing was good, especially in some harmonies, although there were just a few time he was a little off. This was Pizarro’s first time on stage, according to her credits. Especially in consideration of that, her acting performance was strong and it was clear she was having fun. Where the inexperience showed was vocally, although it was unclear the extent to which that was part of her character. Her voice was a bit weaker and all over the map at times. An area to work on.

The other major characters were R. J. Godinez/FB (Little Harp), Robert Butler/FB (Big Harp), Tristan Samson/FB (Goat), and Cameron Caddell (FB) (The Raven). As his character, Butler’s performance was more limited (he was a talking head in a box, after all); but the others were all strong as their characters. I was particularly taking with Godinez and Samson’s performances and characterizations; both also had good singing voices was reasonable strength. I did really like Caddell’s voice as the Raven — it was quite lovely — and her peformance was remarkably athletic in all the climbing and jumping and movement she had to do.

Most of the cast also played members of the ensemble. Other ensemble members and minor characters were: Serena El-Farra (FB) (Ensemble, Goat’s Mother); Carlos A. Gomez Jr./FB (Ensemble, The Caller); Ann Kriss/FB (Ensemble); Chase Mac Leay/FB (Ensemble, Landlord); Mariam Petrosyan/FB (Ensemble, Goat’s Sister); Zihan (Layla) Zhao/FB (Ensemble). There was quite a skill mix here, but all were clearly having fun and doing their best to be characters at the given place and time. Singing-wise, there was a wide range of performances, from strong singers to weak. There was also a good variety of shapes and looks. A few specific notes: Although she didn’t have a large singing role, the few times I could single out El-Farra’s voice, I was quite impressed with it. On the other end of the spectrum, Zhao needs to work a bit on her voice. Not singing (as I don’t recall being able to single out her singing voice), but more moving past her native accent to get the words out a little bit clearer and stronger.  I also recall that I enjoyed Petrosyan’s voice the one or two times I could pick it out, and thinking Kriss could have made an interesting Salome.

On-stage music was provided by a four-piece bluegrass group led by Evan J. Marshall (FB) on Mandolin. Rounding out the group were Mike Ley (FB) on Bass Fiddle, Alex Finazzo (FB) on Guitar, and Hiro Goto (FB) on Fiddle. Jean Sudbury (FB) does the fiddle on March 25 (tonight). I was very impressed by the music during the show, and will actually look for albums from the Mandolin and Guitar artists.

There was no specific choreography credit.

Robber Bridegroom Cast and Musicians (LAVC)Turning to the production and creative side: The scenic and lighting design by Jennifer L. Read (FB) was quite strong. I still recall the scenic design of the ICT production, with a large metal scaffoding in a U-shape with a large center portion. Read’s design was very different: very wooden and muscular, with a wood floor, sawhorses and planks, and a wooden structure along the back of the stage with ladders and ropes and such. She much of had fun shopping at Home Depot or Lowes :-). It worked quite well and was used in many creative ways by the cast to create all sorts of objects. The lighting design was equally strong, combining use of Lekos and what appeared to be some LED lights and spots to establish mood and focus attention. Mary Reilly‘s costume design seemed appropriately rural and rustic, as befits Rodney MS at the end of the 18th century. The costumes also served to distinguish the characters well and were quite fun to watch. To the right is a picture of the cast and musicians, which also shows the wonderful set and costumes (picture snarfed from the director’s FB page — and shows L-R, (back row) A. Kriss, C. Caddell, C. Mac Ley; (back +1) T. Fuller, J. Reynolds; (back + 2) M. Ley, H. Goto, R. Butler, Z. Zhao, V. Pizarro, N. Goodreau, M. Petrosyan, S. El-Farra, E. Marshall, A. Finazzo; (front -1) C. Gomez,  R. J. Godinez; (front) T. Samson).

Rounding out the production credits were: Victor Gonzalez/FB – Production Stage Manager; Mark Svastics (FB) – Technical Director; Jade Hill/FB and Ryan Schmitt/FB – Assistant Stage Managers.

The Robber Bridegroom (FB) continues at LA Valley College (FB) throughout this weekend, with matinees today and Sunday, and an evening performance tonight and Sunday night. Tickets are available at the door or via BrownPaperTickets.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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: This evening our gears shift to Gershwin, with the touring company of An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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One of the folders I have on my list of bookmarks is something labeled “Useful Stuff” — a collection of references and links that I keep coming back to because they are so useful. As I just added one today, I thought I would share the list with you:

  • Temporary Email Addresses. Have you ever had to give an email address to a site when you didn’t want to? Matadors CCU wrote about an interesting solution to that problem today: FakeMailGenerator.com provides a free disposable email address that lasts as long as you have the window open. Email sent to the account automatically pops up, but everything about the account goes away when you close the window.
  • Network Tools. The DNS Toolbox provides a large number of DNS-based tools. However, it can’t do the good traceroute to bad.horse (you must try it). For that, use the Online Visual Traceroute.
  • Finding a Real Person. Tired of calling a number and ended up in voice-menu hell? Here’s how to get a real person. Also useful is gethuman.com.
  • Credit Reports. Federal law (until Trump changes it) requires each credit reporting agency to give you one free report a year. Here’s how to request it. Hint: Do a different agency every four months, rotating, to keep up to date.
  • 2FA. We all know how important it is to use two-factor authentication. What if you lose your phone and it is the 2nd factor. Here’s what to do. By the way, if you don’t know how to turn on 2FA, here’s how for many sites. Also useful is the 2FA List.
  • URL Encoding and Decoding. If you practice good security hygiene, you know what the URLs are before you go to them. But that’s difficult when URLs are encoded with loads of % codes, or it is a tiny URL, or a URL in an email. URL-Encode-Decode allows you to encode or decode a URL from the UTF % forms. GetLinkInfo takes a URL and follows all the redirections to the end, letting you know if it is safe.
  • Characters and Emojis. Three useful sites here. The Character Entity Reference Chart is a list of all HTML encodable character. Character-Code provides a list of all sorts of characters that you can cut and paste, including some iconic symbols. Both are incomplete when it comes to Emoji; for that, you need Emojipedia.
  • Time. Figure out the time anywhere with XKCD Now.
  • Password Generation. XKCD can also help you with XKPassword, a password generator. I also like the nonsense word generator.

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If you’ve been following the technical news the last few days, I’m sure you’ve seen the articles about the vulnerabilities discovered in Lastpass (a popular password manager, and one that I use). You may have even seen people complaining that Lastpass was slow to fix vulnerabilities and that one shouldn’t use browser extensions and such. To me (someone who works in cybersecurity), this demonstrates yet again that most people have no idea at all how to assess risk.

This is a great example of this. The vulnerabilities announced above depend on visiting a malicious website. Think about the websites you visit on any given day. The vast majority are probably from some small set of the same sites: social media, news sites, banks, well-known shopping sites, perhaps well-known games. All with low odds of being malicious. Your only exposure might be if you click on an ad (most of us don’t do that) or click on an unknown link in an email (your mother taught you better). So, for the vast majority of people, the odds of going to a malicious website that has a newly released vulnerability that targets a specific password manager is low. Although you may see FUD (fear, uncertainty, distrust) otherwise, such as this statement on the Lastpass forums:

You mentioned exposure. There is always the possibility that someone discovered the bug previously, harvested the information and is sitting on it. Due to the nature of LastPass the level of the compromise is greater than any other tool or device as it would provide information to all passwords (as I understand it), not merely a matter of changing the password to your email or facebook account but could consist of updating 100’s of passwords. That 2FA appears to have been side stepped by this compromise is a large worry.

(2FA refers to two-factor authentication). Let’s assume, as this author did, that someone discovered the bug previously, harvested the info, and is sitting on it. Exploitation still requires visiting a malicious website, and it having a targeted attack in place. From the Lastpass blog on the subject:

To exploit the reported vulnerabilities, an attacker would first lure a user to a malicious website. Once on a malicious website, Tavis demonstrated how an attacker could make calls into LastPass APIs, or in some cases run arbitrary code, while appearing as a trusted party. Doing so would allow the attacker to potentially retrieve and expose information from the LastPass account, such as user’s login credentials.

Based on this description, they wouldn’t even be obtaining all passwords. They would have to do so one at a time. If you practice good security hygiene and enable 2FA whereever you can (not just Lastpass), even if you did visit a malicious website, and even if they had a targeted attack, and even if they guessed one account right, 2FA would defeat them on that account, or you would have noticed something.  In other words, low odds of it being exploited.

As for the time to correct the problem, Lastpass had updated extensions in place (which auto-update) within 24 hours. The researcher that identified the vulnerability even acknowledged as much in this updated article (scroll to the bottom). We’ve gotten used to reported Windows vulnerabilities — which might be in the wild — being corrected in a month if we’re lucky. Similarly for Flash vulnerabilities. Both see much greater use, and much greater exposure. Here you had reasonably rapid correction of a bug.

Tavis Ormandy @taviso : Two more LastPass bugs fixed today https://bugs.chromium.org/p/project-zero/issues/detail?id=1188 … and https://bugs.chromium.org/p/project-zero/issues/detail?id=1217 …. Very quick response from LastPass, < 24hr.

Tavis Ormandy @taviso : Very impressed with how fast @LastPass responds to vulnerability reports. If only all vendors were this responsive

Lastly, there are folks out there that believe software should be bug-free. Programmers believe that as well, but recognize it is an impossibility. Turing Award Winner C.A.R. Hoare said it best:

There are two ways of constructing a software design: One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. The first method is far more difficult. It demands the same skill, devotion, insight, and even inspiration as the discovery of the simple physical laws which underlie the complex phenomena of nature.

Dahl, Dykstra, and Hoare, back in 1972, also noted that provably bug-free software is impossible: “Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence.” We should expect our software to continue to have bugs, perhaps becoming more esoteric and harder to exploit as time goes on, but there none-the-less. All we can ask then is rapid patching.

 

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Over the last few days, the RSS feeds and various other sources have unearthed a number of articles that provide fascinating histories of various things. So I’ve decided to bring them all together into this historical prespective:

  • Graf Zeppelin Stamps. As I work at home, behind me is a needlepoint I did ages ago of the $2.60 Graf Zeppelin stamp. I recently encountered a history of this series of three stamps, most of which were destroyed by the post office. At the time, the Zeppelin was the largest flying machine the world had ever seen. Its operating costs were proportionate, clocking at about $4 per mile (or $54 per mile in today’s money). Although passengers paid steep ticket prices, especially on early flights, the ship could only hold about 20 of them at a time, limiting that revenue stream. So the operating company turned to what supported most airline companies in those days: air mail. They commissioned special stamps from the countries on the tour route. Only letters with these stamps on them would be accepted onto the airship, which would then deliver them to their destinations. The arrangement was that 93 percent of the proceeds from each stamp was funneled back into German Zeppelin Airship Works. The US eventually agreed to make such stamps: 65c, $1.30, and $2.60, with the hope that collectors would buy most of them and they could keep the funds. But this was the height of the depression, and the few bought were used on letters.
  • Three Clubs. If you go to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, one of the venues is the Three Clubs Bar — but not being a bar type, I’ve never gone in. Still, I have an actress acquaintance of mine who does a regular Harry Potter-themed burlesque show there, so it is on my radar. Yesterday, LAist published a fascinating history of the bar, from its early days, its 1950s vibe, its appearance in the movie Swingers, to its current revitalization as a theatre-venue thanks to the HFF. There’s even a great picture of the actress I know, Kim Dalton (who I still believe is another Megan Hilty waiting to be discovered).
  • Les Miserables. Speaking of theatre, let’s pivot to the musical and the book Les Miserables, which is about a man who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. NPR just did a history on bread at that time, and it is really interesting. There was no sharper marker of economic status in 19th-century France than bread. The country was divided into rich people who ate soft white bread (larton savonné) and poor people who ate coarse black bread (larton brutal) made from rye, into which bakers mixed sawdust, tree bark and other additives. The loaf that Valjean stole was the standard loaf of the poor in nineteenth-century France, an oval loaf weighing four and a half pounds, with a thick black crust and heavy grey meal inside. Not the sort of thing you would want to eat nowadays.
  • Universal City. Pivoting next to film, yesterday also brought a really interesting history of how Universal City got started. Yes, the tour was there from the very start, as early as 1913 with the first studio. After setting up shop, Laemmle came west to scout San Fernando Valley locations on which to construct a larger studio in early 1914, and quickly informed Southern California of his search. He bought a full page advertisement in the February 19, 1914 Los Angeles Times, proclaiming, “We want a ranch of 600 to 1200 acres on which to product moving pictures.” He estimated the company spent $1 million a year in business around the studio, and that other businesses servicing it would also greatly contribute to the economy. Universal offered employment to hundreds, and shopkeepers would make money off of these individuals, so he asked what inducements cities would offer to land their business, not unlike rich sports team owners looking for cities to pay for construction of fancy new sports arenas for their teams. And thus… Universal City.
  • Appliances. When I was young, appliances — once called “white goods” because that was the color they came in — lasted forever. A refrigerator or washing machine would last 25 years. Nowadays, things don’t last as long. Recraigslist has an interesting essay on the subject, exploring the reasons why appliances don’t last as long as they used to.
  • Diplomacy. A bit less of a history, but an exploration of the board game Diplomacy, which I used to play all the time. There’s a bit of history, but this is more an exploration of the game at the level of international competitions. I played this during high school — along with Machiavelli — and ran an occasional tournament at a local game convention in the 1980s. Today I can’t scare up a game — no one wants to play an 8 hours game when one could play 4-6 eurogames in that time.

 

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Martha (Whitefire Theatre)If you’ve actually been reading these theatre writeups to the end, you’ll know we have tickets for the Martha Graham Dance Troupe (performance information) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) in late May. So when one of the publicists that thinks highly enough of me to view me as a critic emailed me information on a one-woman show on the life of Martha GrahamMartha, currently running at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) through April 16 — my virtual ears perked up. Here, I thought, was a great way for a dance novice like me to get familiar with a troupe I’ll be seeing; for with all the theatre I’ve attended, I’m dreadfully deficient in the dance arena. I may know theatre choreography, but the world of dance is often very different — theatrical dance as practiced today is very different than modern dance that tells a story solely through movement and expression, not music and lyrics. Martha, for me, provided the backstory and background of the woman who, according to many, was to the dance world what Picasso was to the art world or Frank Lloyd Wright was to the architecture world.

As a result, going into the show, I had no idea what to expect. I know this was a one woman story about the life of Martha Graham, portrayed excellently by Christina Carlisi (FB). But what approach had playwright Ellen Melaver taken to tell the story? Would it be focused on facts and dates, the chronology of life, a sequential portrayal of events? Would it be focused on the person behind the story, providing less of a factual focus and more of a focus on the drive and the persona — what made Martha Graham the unique force she has remained to this day?

The answer is that the author chose the latter, framing the story around the time Graham was in her early 70s, when she was doing a remounting of Clytemnestra with her dancing the lead. Some catastrophic incident occurred during the performance, prompting her board to send her a request to please transition from performing to choreography — a request that would require her to acknowledge her age and her mortality. This she viewed as a death sentence, for dance was her life — and so she started willing her body parts to her critics, friends, and family. In doing so, she also recounted what drove her to the dance, what kept her in the dance, what she contributed to modern dance, and what she gave up to do so. In the end of course, she grudgingly comes to the realization that she will have to start transferring her dances to her proteges, fitting her belief that dance only lives on if it is performed as originally danced.

[In reality, this likely corresponds to the late 1960s, as Graham last danced Clytemnestra in 1967. She died in 1991 at age 96, making her around 71 in 1967. This was a period of time when rheumatoid arthritis was hurting her greatly, she was increasingly turning to alcohol, leading to her doing her last dance in 1970. She regained control of her life around 1973, and Graham continued to do choreography until her death in 1991.]

One expression of Martha Graham captured in the show was that she saw dance like a beautiful shell on the beach. But if when uncovered it was half there and worn down, the beauty was gone. The entire body had to be there to be beautiful, the entire spirit is what made the performance. The audience could easily tell when the performance was just a facade. I’m pleased to say that Carlisi, working with director Stewart J. Zully (FB), didn’t have that problem. Carlisi, interpreting the script, captured not only the drive of Graham but the ego. It was clear that Graham considered herself above the nominal dance world: she was a goddess of dance, immortal, ageless, timeless. She sacrificed the fullness of her life  for the dance; she expected the dancers who worked for her to do the same. This was captured and expressed quite well by Carlisi. She also changed the language of dance, moving dance from the improvisational combinations that depended on the interpretation that day of the dancer, or the mechanical dancing that resulted from counted combination of steps, to a style focused on what the body said, on repetition, on “contraction and release”.

There were snippets throughout the performance of various Graham dances (choreography for the show was by Camille Loftin (FB)); alas, I’m not familiar enough with the Graham repertoire to know if they were represented correctly. There was a fair amount of emphasis on her interpretation of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Springs (a piece we know and love), especially as the vehicle for her brief marriage to Erick Hawkins. There were also numerous references to a Louis who was presumably her accompanist and someone close to her, but who was never otherwise explained. I learned, after the show when doing research for this writeup, that Louis referred to Louis Horst, a composer from Denishawn (the school where she first learned dance), who was her oldest friend and musical collaborator. Horst died in 1964, making the death still fresh in the context of the 1967 timeframe of the show. Given the nature of the show as an exploration of Graham’s ego and personality, but not a hard and fast recitation of history, the show could be improved by including in the program a brief chronology of Graham’s life and key events/performances, as well as some of the key people referenced in the show.

No where is this lack of context better illustrated than in her continual requests to have Louis play the Maple Leaf Rag, which you do not hear until the end. It turns out that the Maple Leaf Rag was the last dance she choreographed completely, finishing it in 1990. It is unclear when she started work on the piece.

So, in short, performance-wise, the production was illuminating and excellent preparation for our VPAC show in May. The program that accompanied the show could be improved with a little more context on dates and names. That is likely something that would occur in a larger mounting of the show were it to occur at a mid-size or larger venue; the framing context was missed in the intimate setting.

Production-wise, the staging was simple. The scenic design, for which there is no credit, was two boxes on the stage and a rack of costumes and costume pieces. The staging was augmented, at times, through the use of selected projections (there is no specific credit for projection design — this is likely covered by David Svengalis (FB)’s overall technical design and direction). The costumes themselves were simple and generally flowing, and were designed by Candice Cain (FB). Lighting design was by Derrick McDaniel (FB), and continued the overall transition into multicolor LED lighting from the single color Lekos and gels of the past (although a few Lekos were used). The Artistic Director of the Whitefire Theatre is Bryan Rasmussen (FB). The show was produced by Windy Productions.

The West Coast Premiere of Martha continues at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) through April 16, 2017. Tickets are $25 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets. 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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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 week brings brings a student production of The Robber Bridegroom at LA Valley College (FB) on Friday and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

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Inspired by some podcasts I’ve been listening to and some articles I’ve been reading, here are some deep questions:

  • Is cereal a soup? After all, soup is food in a nutritious liquid.  [Corollary: Is oatmeal stew?] (inspired by this)
  • Is a taco a sandwich? After all, when you take a single slice of bread, put PB&J on one side, and fold it over, it is still a sandwich. (inspired by this)
  • Is a Snuggie a blanket or clothing? (inspired by this)
  • Is a cheesecake or a tart a pie? [Corollary #1: Is pizza a pie?] [Corollary #2: Is yellowcake a cake?] (inspired by this)

 

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This week’s news chum brings together a number of articles that present facts that you might not have known, but that are fascinating to read. Shall we begin? I quote a bit more from the first article, simply because the words crack me up every time I read them.

  • Fighting Capitalism. As you may have just read, Hasbro has dropped three timeless Monopoly tokens — the thimble, the boot, and the wheelbarrow — and replaced them with a T. Rex, a Penguin, and Rubber Ducky. Some speculate that this is further evidence that what was once a game that protested capitalism is being further eviscerated to celebrate it instead. After all, all three tokens eliminated fit into the theme of capitalism and its discontents: the railway baron’s top hat, the worker’s thimble, the boot with the strap by which to pull one’s self up, and so on. But after Parker Bros purchased the game, it has slowly and surely been turned into a game demonstrating how fun it is to make lots of money and bankrupt your friends. But fear not. A wonderful Vox article identifies the hidden anti-capitalist meanings behind the new tokens: (1) The T. Rex stands for the inherent predatory nature of capitalism. When you use the token, you’re saying, “Behold, I devour all that stands before me, just as capitalism devours the rights of the workers.”; (2) The Penguin. It carries a double meaning. It stands for the coldness of Wall Street, and also for the profit-driven destruction of the polar ice caps. Plus it was a classic Batman villain. (3) The Rubber Ducky. It seems to say, “Much like water off of this duck, the inhumanity and decadence of late capitalism just rolls off my back.”
  • Time Zones. You’ve heard of “fun with flags”; here’s fun with time zones. Some timezones have 1/4 and 1/2 hour offsets. Some are next to each other, but when you cross only the date changes. Some even allow you to go back in time.
  • Chemistry and Ironing. Here’s why your shirts come out of the dryer wrinkled, the easy way to unwrinkle them, and the chemistry behind no-wrinkle fabrics and treatments.
  • Making Lemonade. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When genetics gives your vitilgo, turn it into art.
  • Pennnnnnnnnnnnnies. Here’s a history of coin-elongation machines,  which you’ve probably seen, but never thought about.
  • Decluttering. Here’s why it is so hard to let go of stuff.

 

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userpic=trumpPresident Trump is a never ending source of conspiracy theories. From his farcical belief that Obama directly wiretapped his phones, to the notion that the former President is part of some sort of “Deep State” conspiracy with George Soros to usurp his throne his office — it’s all conspiracy, all the time.

It’s Just an Excuse

On Friday, news came out that a laptop was stolen from an Secret Servent agent’s car. The agent told investigators the laptop contained floor plans for Trump Tower, evacuation protocols and information regarding the investigation of Clinton’s private email server, according to sources. An agency-issued radio was also taken, according to Politico. Other items stolen include “sensitive” documents, an access keycard, coins, a black zippered bag with the Secret Service insignia on it and lapel pins from various assignments — including ones involving President Trump, the Clinton campaign, the United Nations General Assembly and the Pope’s visit to New York, sources said. Sources and neighbors said the thief stepped out of a dark-colored sedan, possibly an Uber, and darted into Argentieri’s Bath Beach driveway about 3 a.m. According to the neighbors, a video of the theft “showed somebody running to the car and running back out.  They knew what they were doing, absolutely. They knew what they were hitting.”

In parallel news, the Secretary of State threatened North Korea. On his first trip to Asia this week, Tillerson had declared that diplomacy has failed to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, and that a new approach was needed. On Friday in Seoul, he warned ominously that all options were on the table to counter the threat from Pyongyang. President Trump weighed in Friday by goading China over Twitter for not doing enough to help prevent its ally from “behaving very badly.”

What if these were connected? What if this was just a coordinated conspiracy to frame North Korea and to give us an excuse to preemptively attack them and remove the threat. Another part of the government could easily have worked with the Secret Service on the threat to give the attack a public start, and then arrange an attack on Trump Tower that looks like it was from North Korea. We would then have to respond.

But its only a theory.

Budgets and Donations

Another headline I saw this morning talked about a significant surge in donations to Meals on Wheels after they were threatened with funding cuts. There have been similar significant surges in donations to Planned Parenthood. Environmental organizations are seeing donations surge. ACLU is seeing memberships and donations surge. Non-profit news organizations are seeing donations surge. NPR, NY Times, WSJ — all surging. On the other side, there has been a significant drop in gun and ammo sales since the election, although the NRA reads the stats differently.

What if this was the plan all along? What if Trump is making all these outrageous budget plans specifically in order to make people treasure the endangered organizations more, and to get them more money in donations?  He then lets Congress eviscerate the proposals, simultaneously convincing the arch-conservatives he tried to do the right thing, getting them to change Congress to be more right-wing at the next election for voting them down (thanks to gerrymandering), and bringing in more funds for the organizations.

But its only a theory.

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Along with Donald Trump’s budget proposal comes news of significant cuts at the EPA, both in research funds and in regulations. An article in Governing Magazine uncovers an interesting debate regarding those cuts with respect to infrastructure funding: Is it right to gut environmental regulations that both delay and raise the cost of infrastructure funding in order to get more infrastructure faster? Quoting from the article:

President Trump has made no secret over the course of his campaign and early administration that he thinks it takes too long for infrastructure projects to get approved and built. A report from The Wall Street Journal last week indicated just how much he’d like to speed things up: The president wants states to start building within 90 days of getting federal money, compared with the years it can take for projects to start now.

The biggest hold-ups for most projects, though, come from federal — not state — regulations. State and county transportation officials say federal environmental, safety and workplace reviews can more than double the time it takes to complete a project.

But, they add, a GOP-controlled Congress and new administration provides the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate many of those long-standing environmental laws.

“We are not talking about trying to go out and gut the environmental process,” says Tim Hill, the administrator in charge of environmental services for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). “That’s not what states are about. They support clean air. They support clean water. They want to make good, common-sense decisions. But they want common-sense decisions in a process that allows flexibility.”

Of course, many environmental groups are wary of any major changes to landmark environmental laws, especially because Congress has already sped up many parts of the reviews in recent years.

“They already won,” says Scott Slesinger, the legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The problem isn’t and has never been [environmental reviews] that have caused the delays. It’s other stuff. It’s money. It’s local opposition. It’s supply-chain problems.”

This is something that can be clearly seen in California. Before the days of the EIR, roads could be built anywhere and everywhere, seemingly. Since the EIR process started, there are meetings and research and reports even to widen a road in place. The article talks about the many regulations and laws affecting infrastructure funding, from the Clean Water Act to the Endangered Species Act to the National Environmental Policy Act to the Buy American provisions. Quoting again from the article, regarding the NEPA:

The scope of the review depends on the size of the project. Projects that cost less than $5 million — which are the vast majority of transportation projects — are generally excluded from the impact study. Slightly larger projects, like a new intersection or highway on-ramp, require a more involved process called an “environmental assessment.” The biggest projects, like ones that require new rights of way, require a full environmental impact statement.

It’s the biggest projects that tend to get the most attention, and they’re the ones with the longest approval process. For projects approved in 2011, for example, the average time the NEPA process took was more than six years.

Congress responded to criticism about the lengthy reviews when it wrote its last two major surface transportation funding bills in 2012 and 2015. Federal lawmakers, for example, expanded the types of projects that were exempt from the reviews. They also allowed states to conduct their own NEPA reviews on behalf of the federal government, which California, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Utah have opted to do. Hill says Ohio saved $4.6 million in the first three months of doing the reviews itself.

So what do you think is the right answer? Do you think infrastructure trumps environmental quality. Literally?

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Amongst the political and transitional news chum I’ve been collecting of late, there are a number of articles that are more informational — that is, they provide some really useful tidbits and insights. I’d like to share them with you:

 

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userpic=trumpFor years, Republicans and Libertarians have campaigned on the platform of smaller government. Government is too big! It spends too much! It has too many needless regulations that hamper the freedom of business to innovate (and make profits, never forget the profits). This was a stated goal of the Tea Party: Reduce government. This has been the goal of the Norquist pledge: Reduce taxes, reduce government. But, of course, they all knew it would never happen so it made a safe campaign promise that suckered drew in the voters. Because, heaven forfend, if it ever happened the people would realize all the benefits that these hated government services provide. Further, they would come to realize that the states cannot afford to provide them through internal budgets alone; remember, the poorer (often “red” states) depend on funds from the richer (often “blue” states) to provide these services through the balance the Federal level provides.

Then along came Donald Trump. A wealthy businessman (successful is up for debate) invested heavily in real estate. A businessman trained to get what he wants, run businesses into the ground, and complain about federal regulations that impact his ability to do business and make money (never, ever, forget the make money part). A businessman who believes that he would be more successful if he didn’t have to ensure safe workplaces, provide medical care, ensure that his construction preserved the environment. A businessman with wealthy partners, often heavily invested in energy industry that depend on the raping of the environment to make money (never, ever, ever, forget the make money part). Further, a businessman with charisma and TV smarts, a businessman who knows how to make an audience believe he is talking to them, and looking out for their interests.

Donald Trump and the Republicans/Libertarians. A match made in heaven. I know. Jesus told me about it when I called his 1-900 number the other day. It’s just like a fairy tale.

Of course, those who have seen Into the Woods knows that fairy tales aren’t pretty. Often what you wish for has unforseen consequences.

The Republicans (at least the voters) wished for Donald Trump. They got him. Their wish came true. And along with Trump came his minions and advisors, publicly dedicated to the task of “deconstructing the administrative state”. Of course, that’s a “con” job, and when you remove the con, what do you get? Destruction of the administrative state.

This becomes clear when one sees the outlines of Trump’s proposed budget. CNN describes it thusly:

His first budget — expected to be unveiled later this week — will mark Trump’s most significant attempt yet to remold national life and the relationship between federal and state power.

It would codify an assault on regulatory regimes over the environment, business and education bequeathed by former President Barack Obama, and attempt to halt decades of steadily growing government reach.

[…]

Trump will highlight his priorities by upping military spending by $54 billion, and is also expected to boost funding for homeland security — money that may be used to toughen immigration enforcement and to build his wall on the southern border.

The President will cement his “America First” policy by slashing State Department funding, foreign aid spending and grants to the United Nations, officials have already made clear. And nowhere is his assault on government expected to be as dramatic as at the Environmental Protection Agency — which is bracing for a massive reduction of its budget.

[…]

Another key Trump campaign promise was his vow to his voters, especially those in blue collar Midwestern swing states that he would not touch entitlements like Social Security or Medicare — vast repositories of taxpayer dollars that with along with interests on the national debt make up two-thirds of the federal budget.

That means that discretionary spending is vulnerable, especially to an administration that wants to make a political point.

[…]

Such warnings are why agencies like the EPA and the Education Department that have long been in conservative crosshairs are particularly vulnerable in the Trump era. Federal funding for other Republican targets — like National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities may also be under threat — even though they account for a comparatively small area of overall spending.

Americans want clean water and clean air. They want all those cute cuddly animals they see in nature documentaries. They want to be able to go out to National Parks and see the beauty of nature. But the environmental regulations that give them all that? Those are what Trump is cutting.

Americans want their children to be educated, and to get a quality education so they can get good jobs. The desire for the best education possible is true whether they send their kids to public, private, parochial, or home school. I guess there is nary a parent that says, “I want my kid to grow up stupid, like me.” When they live in poor areas with substandard education — either public or private — they want money redistributed by the Federal government from richer areas to pay for it. Gutting the Education department and ceding this to the state? That cuts those funds.

Americans want peace. They don’t want to send their sons and daughters to fight (and die, never forget die) in foreign lands. War is averted through diplomacy, not military might. Cutting the State Department and Foreign Aid cuts diplomacy. It makes the world less safe.

But what about jobs. President Trump campaigned on the promise that he would create so many jobs. Job creation would be yuge. So yuge you wouldn’t believe it. So what is he doing? According to the Washington Post:

President Trump’s budget proposal this week would shake the federal government to its core if enacted, culling back numerous programs and expediting a historic contraction of the federal workforce.

This would be the first time the government has executed cuts of this magnitude — and all at once — since the drawdown following World War II, economists and budget analysts said.

[…]

The cuts Trump plans to propose this week are also expected to lead to layoffs among federal workers, changes that would be felt sharply in the Washington area. According to an economic analysis by Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, the reductions outlined so far by Trump’s advisers would reduce employment in the region by 1.8 percent and personal income by 3.5 percent, and lower home prices by 1.9 percent.

Among Trump’s expected proposals are an increase in military spending of $54 billion, more money to start building a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico, and the creation of new initiatives that expand access to charter schools and other educational programs.

To offset that new money, Trump will propose steep cuts across numerous other agencies. Although final numbers remain in flux, his advisers have considered cutting the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by $6 billion, or 14 percent, according to a preliminary budget document obtained by The Washington Post. That is a change that Trulia chief economist Ralph McLaughlin said could “put nearly 8 million Americans in both inner-city and suburban communities at risk of losing their public housing and nearly 4 million at risk of losing their rental subsidy.”

Preliminary budget documents have also shown that Trump advisers have also looked at cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s staff by about 20 percent and tightening the Commerce Department’s budget by about 18 percent, which would impact climate change research and weather satellite programs, among other things.

Trump and his advisers have said that they believe the federal workforce is too big, and that the federal government spends — and wastes — too much money. They have said that Washington — the federal workers and contractors, among others — has benefited from government largesse while many other Americans have suffered. Federal spending, they have argued, crowds the private sector and piles regulations and bureaucracy onto companies.

Here’s something people don’t often think about: government employment is white-collar welfare, a gigantic jobs program. Cutting the Federal workforce sounds good, but at its heart it is a massive layoff by the world’s largest employer, causing people to lose their incomes, health benefits, and much more. When you are a dad or mom and your employer cuts your job, it doesn’t make a difference whether you are at GM or the EPA. It is a job — it is what pays your bills. So Trump, who promised to create American jobs, is destroying them.

But that’s not all he is destroying. To fund an ineffective wall, he is taking people’s homes. He is decimating the funding for public housing, and threatening the subsidies that enable people to have roofs over their heads. He will not only create more jobless, but more homeless people.

He is also making people less safe. Cutting climate and weather research cuts the very satellites that tell people when major weather events are happening, that tell farmers when to plant, that ensure our safety from natural disasters. All to build a wall.

And then there is healthcare. Trump promised a program that was better than Obamacare. He promised more would be covered for less cost. But what is he actually proposing? According to the CBO, via the Washington Post:

Twenty-four million fewer people would have coverage a decade from now than if the Affordable Care Act remains intact, nearly doubling the share of Americans who are uninsured. The number of uninsured people would jump 14 million after the first year.

The Republican legislation would lower the deficit by $337 billion during that time, primarily by decreasing Medicaid spending and government aid for people purchasing health plans on their own.

Premiums would be 15 to 20 percent higher in the first year compared with current Obamacare premiums, but 10 percent lower after 2026.

Older Americans would pay “substantially” more, and younger Americans less.

The plan to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding would leave many women without services to help them prevent pregnancy, resulting in “thousands” of additional births, which would in turn jack up Medicaid costs. Sandhya Somashekhar reports: “The analysts estimated that excluding the women’s health organization from the Medicaid program for one year, as congressional Republicans have proposed, would particularly affect low-income areas and communities without many health care options, leaving 15 percent of those people ‘without services that help women avert pregnancy.’ The reduction in services would reduce federal spending on Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, by $178 million during 2017, the analysts estimate. But they believe the savings would be partially offset by the fact that there would be ‘several thousand’ more births paid for under Medicaid, which already picks up the costs of about 45 percent of all U.S. births; many of those new babies likely would qualify for the Medicaid program.”

The mechanism for persuading healthy Americans to stay insured would be largely ineffective, and it would ultimately lead to about 2 million fewer Americans buying insurance each year. Juliet Eilperin explains: “GOP lawmakers are determined to repeal the individual mandate.… But by jettisoning what has grown over time to a hefty penalty, several experts said, lawmakers have crafted a financial incentive that many consumers are unlikely to find compelling. Under the House GOP proposal, any consumer who opts out of getting insurance would have to pay a 30 percent surcharge on one year’s premium upon re-enrolling.

The deficit would be cut, but at what price? Despite the promise, less people would be covered, more people would be uninsured, and often, the coverage would be worse. This would hurt the American people.

As I said at the beginning: Be careful what you wish for. The wish for a smaller government, lower taxes, and less regulation will make our nation worse off. People will lose jobs, homes, and lives. The quality of life, for the most vulnerable segments of our population, will be significantly worse. The rich, and possibly the upper middle class. They’ll make out great (unless they have government jobs). We’ll go back to the days of dirty air, polluted water, expensive medical bills, poor schools, and lack of enforcement of constitutional protections regarding the government supporting particular religions and preventing discrimination. Not a better world at all.

But government will be smaller and cheaper. Right. Perhaps this is: “better, faster, cheaper” — pick any two. Better is likely not true. So what about faster? Nope — all we get is cheaper. One way Trump is working to reduce government is by not filling lower tier positions. This is creating significant problems and slowing processes down.

As the New York Times chronicles at length in a new report, the Trump administration is having the slowest transition in decades, far behind where his predecessors usually were seven weeks into the job. Trump has filled most of his Cabinet, but he has not nominated anyone for more than 500 other vital posts.

That means that in department after department, countless operations are on standby or moving at a glacial pace because the president has failed to appoint the senior personnel required to keep the train rolling.

Further, the federal hiring freeze he instituted means that as people retire or leave for other positions, they aren’t replaced. What will that mean for getting your passport processed by when you need it? That farm report? That federal rebate?

So is Trump’s election a fairy tale? Will we live happily ever after having gotten the wish for a smaller, deconstructed government? Some will of course. The wealthy always find a way to win. But those of us who aren’t the top 1%? Will we live happily ever after?

Sure. Trump has promised it. We all know how well his promises work out.

P.S.: Your toaster oven is watching you.

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I Gotta Go

Mar. 13th, 2017 08:28 pm
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This morning, Facebook reminded of a post I did a year ago on things transitioning away. Since thing, of course, more things are transitioning, and I seem to have accumulated quite a few in my news chum pot. So let’s clear them out (and, interestingly, one is an update on an item from the post a year ago). Of course, the one thing we would like to transition away hasn’t yet. I’ll keep hoping.

  • Popular Photography. When I was young, I remember subscribing to both Popular Photography and Modern Photography, when I went through a phase playing with my dad’s Konica SLR. But now film cameras are relics, film is hard to find, and while digital photography is strong, print magazines celebrating it are long gone — and especially the advertisers selling photo equipment and chemicals to amateur darkrooms are gone. So it is no surprise that Popular Photography is going away, both as a print magazine and as a website.
  • LA Restaurants. Of course, many restaurants in Los Angeles have transitioned away, but quite a few linger in the memory. Here is an interesting look back at some of LA’s legendary restaurants, many of which weren’t all that fancy.
  • European GM Cars. There once was the day when GM imported their European cars to the US — I remember the days of GM marketing Opel. Partially, this was because GM didn’t know how to make small cars. GM figured that out, and Opel disappeared in the US. Then GM bought Saab, and that disappeared. Then GM stopped designing real Saturns, and rebadged Opels as Saturns. Then Saturn disappeared. Now GM is disposing of its European operations. So where will GM get small cars with a design flair?
  • Your CD-ROMs. Remember when you carefully took all your LPs and recorded them to cassettes. Then cassettes disappeared. So you took all your LPs and rerecorded them to CD-ROMs to preserve your music forever. Guess what? Those CD-ROMs have probably chemically degraded and are worthless.  Lucky you, you’ve put your music in the cloud now, and that will never disappear. Right?
  • The 747. Last year, I wrote about how United was retiring its 747. Well, the 747 is in steep decline: it seems no one wants to fly passengers on something with four engines that guzzle fuel. They would rather used 777s and 767s and 787s — all two-engine, ER capable. So the 747 is entering the last refuge of the wide-body: the flying-truck freight business. After all, that’s where the few remaining DC-10s are — flying for FedEx. Oh, and that Airbus 380 everyone redesigned their airports for? Almost no orders.
  • The Critic. No, I don’t mean the excellent TV show, which is long gone. I mean the art critic, the theatre critic, the classical music critic. Those jobs are dying on the vine as media realizes they don’t bring in the clicks. I sometimes wonder whether anyone reads my theatre criticism posts, so I clearly understand what they are saying.

 

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Fun Home (Ahmanson)There’s a quote that occurs in one of the first songs of the musical Fun Home, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through April 1, 2017, that struck a nerve: “chaos never happens if it’s never seen”. That describes many families: there is utter chaos behind a carefully manicured facade. Perhaps that commonality is one reason why Fun Home won so many Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2015. Perhaps it is the fact that it is one of the few musicals that focuses on the experience of a Lesbian finding herself (think about it: most stories that you see on stage dealing with LBGTQ focus on the G — male homosexuality. Perhaps it is the female strength of the creative team: based on a graphic novel by a woman (Alison Bechdel (FB), who is also famous for the Bechdel Test), with music by a woman (Jeanine Tesori), and stage book and lyrics by another woman (Lisa Kron). Whatever the reason, Fun Home caught my attention when it was in its Off-Broadway run at the Public (which is when I picked up the cast album). I enjoyed the music, and was pleased when it made it to Broadway, and then announced the tour. By now, you should have figured out that’s where we were last night, instead of hearing a Purim Schpiel. After all, if I want to hear about a evil madman with a plot to destroy a people, and the clueless leader that he works for and is able to manipulate, I’ll read the news.

Fun Home tells the true story of Alison Bechdel, which she captured in her non-linear graphic novel of the same name. It addresses how Alison realized that she was a lesbian, while dealing with her father who was a closeted gay man who never admitted it to himself. Shortly after Alison came out to him, he committed suicide by standing in front of an oncoming truck. It addresses the chaos behind her life: the dangerous behaviors, the domestic violence, the neglect.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this has adult themes.

It also speaks to a certain audience. I’ve noted before about how when we go to a theatrical piece about the black experience, the hue of the audience changes. For Fun Home, it wasn’t hue but orientation. There were distinctly and clearly more gay couples at this musical than I have seen at many other shows. So many so, in fact, that I was much more conscious about the ring of keys on my belt. (See the show. You’ll understand.) I think this is because this is a musical that speaks to the gay and lesbian experience in a way that hasn’t been addressed in a musical before.  Other musicals play the gay aspect for either fun (think The Producers, think La Cage Aux Folles, think Victor Victoria), or the tragedy is the focus. This musical really focuses on Bechdel’s statement from one of her comics: “What would happen if we spoke the truth?”. This is a family that goes from denial and chaos to the truth in a way that is both tragic and comic. For some, the truth brings growth and freedom. For others, it brings a realization about the life squandered, the mistakes made, the lost communication and chances.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this musical will make some people uncomfortable.

Reading the critical reviews of this, it is universally loved. Talking to some others more used to the conventional musical, the appreciation is different. They like the music, but are less turned on by the story. As someone squarely in the baby-boom generation, I can see how this would make some uncomfortable. It may bring up things they didn’t want to face; it may make them realize problems they hadn’t known were surfacing. It could also just be an unrelatable demographic.

As for me, I found the story and the way it was told fascinating. The approach taken was to tell the story from the point of view of Alison at three different points in her life: Small Alison [about 10-12] (Alessandra Baldacchino (FB) at our performance, alternating with Carly Gold (FB)), Medium Alison [about 19-20] (Caroline Murrah (FB), the understudy, at our performance, normally Abby Corrigan), and Adult Alison [about 30] (Kate Shindle (FB)). Except for near the end, it is small and medium Alison that are interacting with her parents Bruce (Robert Petkoff (FB)) and Helen (Susan Moniz (FB)), her siblings Christian (Pierson Salvador (FB)) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond (FB)), and her partner Gail (Karen Eilbacher). Adult Alison observes it all as a memory, commenting and drawing and providing context and, of course, captions. Note that all of the other characters (Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy) — primarily the boyfriends of Bruce — are played by Robert Hager (FB).

As directed by Sam Gold (FB), the production unfolds quite smoothly. The actors seem to be having quite a bit of fun with their roles. I particularly noted this for a number of numbers with Small Alison such as “Come to the Fun Home” and (of course) “Ring of Keys”, and with Medium Alison in “Changing My Major to Joan”. Adult Alison got her chance in “Telephone Wire”. All sang and performed quiet well. Note that this isn’t your typical show with chorines and choreography for large dance numbers, except perhaps for “Raincoat of Love”. Danny Mefford (FB) designed what choreography there was.

Rounding out the swing and understudies were Michael Winther (FB) (u/s Bruce), Amanda Naughton (FB) (u/s Helen, Alison), Sofia Trimarchi (u/s Small Alison, Christian, John), Caroline Murrah (FB) (u/s Medium Alison, Joan), and Anthony Fortino (FB) (u/s Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy). Fortino also served as Dance Captain.

The music was under the direction of Micah Young (FB), who also played keyboard in the onstage band. Others in the band were Jakob Reinhardt (FB) (Guitars); Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB) (Basses); Philip Varricchio (FB) (Reeds); John Doing (FB) (Drums/Percussion); David Mergen (FB) (Cello); Jen Choi Fischer (FB) (Violin/Viola). Other music credits: Alex Harrington (FB) – Associate Music Director; Antoine Silverman – Music Coordinator; Billy Jay Stein (FB)/Strange Cranium (FB) – Electronic Music Programming; Kaye-Houston Music [Annie Kaye, Doug Houston (FB)] – Music Copying; Chris Fenwick (FB) – Music Supervision; John Clancy (FB) – Orchestrations.

Turning to the creating and production design: David Zinn (FB)’s scenic and costume design started as an attic of memory. At times it turned into a dorm room, and then a wall in New York, and then most interestingly, that wall rotated up to create a ceiling for Alison’s house in Pennsylvania. Tres neat! In general, the design worked quite well. It was augmented by the lighting design of Ben Stanton, which was very rainbowish (appropriately, for an LBTGQ show) and occasionally shone into the audience. One thing I didn’t realize until I saw the page on Stanton’s lighting design was that the original production was designed for a thrust stage or a stage surrounded by audience, not the proscenium of the Ahmanson or most tour houses. Thus the interesting design was a tour-specific adaptation that worked quite well given the limitations. Zinn’s costumes worked well with Rick Caroto‘s hair and wig design. I can’t speak to how appropriately period they were or how appropriately lesbian they were (but then again — here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays look like everyone else — heaven forfend! (said tongue-in-cheek) — and here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays do tongue-in-cheek as well — oh, how do I get out of this hole I’ve dug for myself 🙂 ). The sound design by Kai Harada was good, but there were a few late microphone pickups that were likely the fault of the local sound board. Rounding out the production credits: Jim Carnahan CSA and Jillian Cimini CSA (Casting); Michael Camp – Company Manager; Shawn Pennington – Production Stage Manager.

Fun Home continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) until April 1. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

As it somehow happens every year, we caught another Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (FB) performance. Supporting this organization is even more important given the recessive administration currently in office. I gave at the show; you can give by clicking 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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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 week brings  Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The end of the month brings An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

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The words we use are vitally important; I often say that 90% of everything is how we say things, not what we actually mean. I remember learning this ages ago when looking at the papers with respect to Israel and Vietnam: different impressions come from the use of “freedom-fighter” vs. “insurgent” vs. “guerilla”.

A recent article related to President Trump brought this back to mind. In a musing yesterday, Mark Evanier wrote:

I think though we sometimes devalue the word “lie” by applying it to anything your opponent says that you can possibly spin as untrue. Years ago, a gent who worked for the National Weather Service told me, “We’ll predict a 60% chance of rain for Los Angeles…and then even if it rains in the valley but not in the basin, we hear from people in the basin who accuse us of lying. Not even of being wrong, which we weren’t. They say we lied.”

As a staunch believer in the maxim, “Never attribute to deviousness, that which can be explained by incompetence,” I often think the “L” word is inapplicable. People — even people I don’t like — do make mistakes. They misspeak. Or they make logical assumptions which turn out to be wrong. A lot of people have jumped on Trump for spelling the word “tap” with two P’s in a recent, infamous tweet. These are apparently people who never made a typo themselves.

I, too, believe in the maxim (which I call an adage) of never ascribing to malice what one can ascribe to stupidity. There are kerfuffles I see every day that people jump on as malace — Spicer’s flag pin being upside down, Kellyanne Conway sitting on a sofa in the Oval Office informally. Folks — that stuff doesn’t manner. They are errors of stupidity, not intentional malice, signals, or disrespect.  They aren’t worth the time to discuss.

Mark’s article was triggered by an opinion piece in the Jewish Journal wondering whether Trump was worse than a liar. Here’s a quote from that article:

Midway through the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last week on “Maintaining Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump,” Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens tried to summarize his in-depth analysis of President Trump’s dicey relationship with the truth.

“If I had to sum it up in a single sentence,” he said, “this would be it: Truth is what you can get away with.”

When I heard that, a light bulb went off. I thought of a book I read years ago, “On Bullshit,” by former Princeton professor and moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt.

One of the key insights in the book is that bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,” Frankfurt writes. “Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”

When we use the word “lie”, there is an implicit assumption of intent: the speaker knows the truth, and is intentionally telling you something other than the truth. But if one is truly incompetent, truly stupid, truly ignorant, truly lazy enough not to know, then is that false statement a lie or just evidence of stupidity. Do we believe that Trump knows the truth? Or is he just making it up as he goes, bullshitting us because that works in business, and most people are too stupid to do the research to find him wrong. In business, you pull values for things out of thin air, and if your buyer believes you, you win.

Believing the lie and getting wrapped around the wheel of bullshit brings me to my other point: When have we (and by “we”, I mean us liberals) fallen into the same tropes that other side used against Obama? I look at my news feed on Facebook, and I see people believing all sort of bullshit about Trump, and getting all worried about truly minor things. I see folks being Chicken Little running around. I’m not saying it may not be justified. However, to an observer, it looks like the same scare tactics that the Conservatives used against Obama. Calling him names. Thinking everything is a sign of dictatorship on the way (the latest is worrying about the administration firing 45 US attorneys at DOJ, when this happens with every change of adminsitration and party).

There are plenty of things this administration is doing that are highly problematic. Gutting science. Gutting health care. Gutting programs designed to protect the American people from all forms of fraud and abuse. Gutting social programs. Dr. Martin Luthur King Jr. once said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”. Have we forgotten that?  But worrying about a flag pin? Feet on a sofa? The first lady’s tits? C’mon.

The change we need isn’t found in the sofa cushions. The change we need is found in fighting for the things that really matter.

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When you read the news for fun, you run across a lot of surveys. Some are good science and good statistics, some are good science and blow the statistics, some get the stats right and blow the science, and some, well, just blow. Here are some articles about surveys I’ve seen of late — let’s figure out what blows, what sucks, and what is the truth:

  • Gluten-Free and Diabetes. The Telegraph in the UK is reporting on a Harvard study that appears to suggests that ingesting only small amounts of gluten, or avoiding it altogether, increases the danger of diabetes by as much as 13 per cent. The study seems to be aimed at the growing number of people who have gone on gluten-free diets because they believe it is better for their health, as opposed to the small percentage that have Celiac (or as they spell it in the UK, Coeliac) Disease or a true sensitivity.  The study was observational, and examined 30 years of medical data from nearly 200,000 patients. They found that most participants had a gluten intake of below 12g a day, which is roughly the equivalent to two or three slices of wholemeal bread. Within this range, those eating the highest 20 per cent of gluten had a 13 per cent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with those eating up to 4g a day. So what’s the problem? First it is observational, not rigorous. Secondly, they didn’t tightly control the factors, for the study also showed that those who eat less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fibre, a substance known to protect against diabetes. So is the finding really that if you go on a gluten-free diet, you need to eat more fibre?
  • Exercise and Weight Loss. We’ve all been through the drill: you want to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise. But is that true. Vox undertook a review of over 60 studies on the subject, and discovered that exercise isn’t  a significant factor. What you eat is important, how much you eat is important, when you eat is important, and even the biome that digests your food is important. But if you think you can eat loads of junk and then burn it off exercising, you’re wrong. This doesn’t mean that exercise doesn’t have health benefits — it does; however, it isn’t a significant factor in weight loss. The article is long and goes through 10 key points, and is difficult to summarize here. But it is an interesting read.
  • Chemtrails and Vaccines. I linked to this yesterday, but I like it so much I’ll include it in again (until my sister-in-law believes it 😉). In a new study coming out of Brown University, researchers concluded that being sprayed with chemtrails actually has a positive effect when it comes to vaccine injuries. While not all the data are available from the study just yet, it appears as though only 20% of the children who were severely sprayed with chemtrails ended up developing autism after their vaccines; a much lower rate than the 80% who normally get autism from vaccines. Correlation? Causation? Or just a fake study?
  • Depression and Food. You are what you eat — or to be more precise, you are what the bacteria in your gut eat. We are increasingly finding out that our antibacterial environment and our fear of germs is a bad thing. Some bacteria are good for us — they manipulate our metabolism in a myriad of ways, from determining how we put on weight and influencing our moods. The latter is the topic of this Mental Floss link.  A study published this week in Nature Scientific Reports finds that beneficial bacteria commonly found in yogurt can help relieve depression-like symptoms in mice. The scientists began by collecting a group of unlucky mice and subjecting them to a variety of intense stressors. Some were kept in crowded cages; others had to sit under strobe lights or listen to loud noises. Predictably, the stressful situations took a toll, and the mice began exhibiting what the researchers called “despair behavior.” The researchers collected poop samples from the mice before and after the stress sessions, then ran genetic analyses to determine the species and quantities of bacteria living in each mouse’s gut. The results showed that the stress resulted in a pretty significant drop in a microbe called Lactobacillus—the same type of so-called “good” bacteria found in yogurt. But the rodents’ despair would not prove permanent. The researchers began giving the mice small doses of Lactobacillus with their meals, and, over time, their symptoms resolved.
  • Napping and Mental Awareness. We all like to doze off at work, but our bosses tend not to like to see us doing it. Perhaps this study will change their mind.  Studies have shown that short naps can improve awareness and productivity. You don’t need much; just 15 to 20 minutes can make a world of difference. According to a study from the University of Colorado Boulder, children who didn’t take their afternoon nap didn’t display much joy and interest, had a higher level of anxiety, and lower problem solving skills compared to other children who napped regularly. The same goes for adults as well. Researchers with Berkeley found that adults who regularly take advantage of an afternoon nap have a better learning ability and improved memory function.

 

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While eating lunch today, I was reading my RSS feeds when I saw a very interesting post come across titled, “Why can’t we accommodate florists denying services to gay couples?” This was on my religious feeds, so I thought it might be interesting, so I gave it a read. Here are two paragraphs that stuck out at me, and actually prompted this post:

If you think small business owners should be allowed to discriminate against any customer on the basis of any sincerely held religious belief, then fine. Be it same-sex marriage or interracial marriage or interfaith marriage or whatever marriage, the objecting service provider gets to have her way.

But if you want to forbid florists from refusing service to mixed-race couples but allow Baronelle Stutzman et al. to refuse service to a same-sex couples, you have to come up with some persuasive secular reason for considering discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation less deserving of legal protection than discrimination on the basis of race.

Basically, the courts CAN NOT decide if a particular religious belief is valid or represents a religion, only that it is sincerely held. You can state that your religion is that it is right to kill and eat people, and to have sex with rabid monkeys, and all the court cares about is that it is sincerely held. That’s all.

So why don’t we then have rampant murder and cannibalism? Simple. Because some laws override religious beliefs — often laws that impact someone else other than the person holding the belief. We don’t allow murder because it is someone else getting killed (the whole abortion debate is about when a foetus becomes “someone else”, because you are allowed to do whatever you want with your body). Similarly, in the case above, the question is what takes precedence over what: are laws about discrimination more important than laws about religious practice. In general, we have said yes: sincerely held religious beliefs must give way if they are discriminatory. TL;DR: You can’t discriminate based on race and use religion to make your case.

So, following on to this, we as a society have decided that one cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation. That impacts someone else. Thus, given that discrimination takes precedence over religion, that means even if you believe that gays cannot marry, you still need to make them a cake. The quality of the cake — which is what ensures repeat business, is a separate issue.

This, by the way, is where the whole transgender bathroom issue is going (which, you know, is really not about bathrooms). As a society, we are moving in the direction of not discriminating based on gender choice (or whatever the term is — I’m not sure). That means that bathrooms must be open to all, as discrimination takes precedence over religion. So how would that be fought? By finding something that takes precedence over discrimination — safety. We can discriminate against sexual predators because of the safety to children. So the same argument is used against trans. Never mind that it is a false argument. The hysteria permits the discrimination. [Which, by the way, is why we must fight it: false facts are false facts.]

P.S.: Speaking of false facts, did you know that chemtrails can protect against vaccine injuries?

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userpic=divided-nationThere’s an old joke that goes: There are 10 types of people in this world, those that see the world in binary, and those who…

I’m here all week folks. Try the Haddock sandwich. It’s delicious. Early in the week.

But seriously, there are significant dichotomies in thinking in this country — so much so that purple America has all but disappeared. We divide ourselves into conservatives vs. liberals, Democrats vs. Republicans, Trump-lovers and Trump-haters, Red States and Blue States, and we no longer meet in the middle.

This was driven home by a post by Mark Evanier that I read over lunch, which talked about two types of healthcare providers: Those who are in it primarily for the money and those who are in it primarily to help people. He said it’s very important that when two or more doctors open an office together, they all be from the same mindset. He drew a similar dichotomy regarding the health care political debate:

There’s a bit of an analogy between the two kinds of doctors and the two kinds of politicians now debating health care. It’s not exact but certainly, the problem faced by anyone trying to craft an Obamacare replacement is that they’re trying to negotiate a compromise between two parties working at cross-purposes. One side doesn’t care if 10-20 million people lose their insurance and tens of millions more see whopping price increases. They don’t care as long as it doesn’t rebound on them politically…which it will. I don’t see how you arrive at a workable plan if you need to simultaneously please those who want a good government-monitored health care system and those who don’t.

I’ve noted a somewhat similar divide between conservatives and liberals — and note these are generalizations. Conservatives appear to be focused on what is in it for them: what will make their business stronger, what will increase their self-wealth, what will increase their self wealth even more if they become wealthy (the musical 1776 captured it well: they would rather plan for the possibility of being rich, than face the reality of being poor). Thus, they want to reduce corporate taxes, they want to reduce personal taxes, they want everything to be back on the individual and be the product of hard work and hard work alone. Work is its reward; a corollary  of that is no work, no reward. Liberals, on the other hand, think about the other first. They don’t have a problem with taking a little from everyone to help those without — be it welfare, the elderly, the veterans, providing training. Raise up all of society and everyone wins, not just me. Different attitudes, different to reconcile.

That difficulty in reconciliation is playing out in a lack of toleration. Whereas in the past we might have written off the dichotomy because we liked the person even if we hated the attitude; today, we’re quick to drop the ban hammer. Perhaps it is because Facebook and other social media make it so much easier to find new friends that don’t require the mental toleration effort. When faced with a friend with whom you continually butt heads, there’s not a lot of penalty by just ignoring them, by “unfriending” them on social media, by banning them from everyday contact — relegating them to be brief person-to-person contact where you feign politeness. I know I have to fight that tendency — I know there are friends who will constantly respond to my articles and disagree, and other friends for whom reading just raises the blood pressure. I’m sure some of them will comment on this disputing my points.

I’m perhaps too idealistic to believe that the conservative side has no empathy, no concern about others. Perhaps the circle they care about is smaller, perhaps their end goal is the same and we disagree only on the means to get there. But then again, perhaps they are just in it for themselves, and caring is only a veneer. But even when faced with that evidence — and we’ve seen it in a few leaders — it just goes against my fundamentals. But then again, a common complaint in college was that I was too nice.

But whether the “other side”, however, you see it, is good, pretending to be good, pretending to be evil, or is pure evil, we need to find a way to work things out and meet in the middle. Unlike some other countries, the two state solution is not an option for the USA (and there’s now even a debate as to whether it is even an option elsewhere).

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I’ve been increasingly dismayed by the hatred I’m seeing in political arenas these days, especially from those who profess to be Christians. Now, admittedly I’m Jewish and not an expert on Christianity, but my understanding is that Christ preached love, understanding, and compassion for people, and rallied against the moneychangers and those who accumulated wealth for wealth’s sake.

What brought this to the fore of late was reading the proposed GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The proposal, according to the LA Times summary, would ensure that no federal funding can be made, either directly or indirectly, by Medicaid to a healthcare organization that “provides for abortions,” other than those done in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. That not only defunds Planned Parenthood, but any hospital that performs abortion. Further, According to a House Ways and Means Committee digest, the measure forbids spending federal tax subsidies on health plans that include coverage of abortion, even if the customer doesn’t get an abortion. This denies women the right to a safe abortion guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, under those timelines — and that in many cases has the government interfering with the practice of the mother’s religion (which might permit abortion). Further, you would think that a group so concerned with the life of a child would ensure it is born healthy, if they are going to prevent abortion. But no. According to the summary, as of Dec. 31, 2019, ACA rules that required qualified health plans to provide hospitalization, maternity care, mental health services and other benefits would be sunsetted at the federal level. So not only is abortion prohibited, but there would be no requirement to provide maternity care. This isn’t compassion, this is hatred towards women.

Further, studies are showing that the new proposal will cost 6 to 10 million people their health insurance. It will raise premiums on older people. It will cost Obamacare enrollees about $1500 more each year. It slashes funding for vaccines and public health. The plan will be really bad for the sickest Americans due to the continuous coverage requirement. Oh, and it encourages health insurers to pay their top executives more.

This is just an example. Hatred from the Conservative side is rampant, and has been for many years. I’ve had conservative friends wish all liberals dead. I’ve seen hatred towards immigrant groups. I’ve seen hatred towards the poor. Yet these are from people who profess to be Christian, who profess to want to have Christian values throughout society. They are using Christianity as an excuse for their hatred, and that’s wrong. I know that’s not what Christianity teaches, as I have seen numerous compassionate Christians who are living that compassion every day.

In a VCStar interview with Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, he was asked about his passion and liberalism. I found his response quite interesting:

I also think for the liberal, it’s the willingness to take a chance, to share and to reach out and to find new ways to interact. I think the conservative mold is essentially to protect your resources or to protect what’s yours; and I don’t know if I should say this to a tape recorder because I don’t know when it’s gonna return to bite me in the ass, but I would say organized religion is very much the same way. When Luther nailed that note to the door complaining about the abuses of the church, he was also in a sense talking about the strict format that had to be obeyed, when really, his feeling was — and I think it’s gaining contemporary recognition — that spiritually, matters of the heart, are for us to decide individually, and that’s scary for the church because that means that essentially everyone is an angel. Everyone is essentially creating their own religion, and that’s scary for people who have put their faith in dogma and in routine. That’s not to say that I don’t have routines that I find comforting – and I’m sure that you do too – but when they exclude other people, create difficulties or lack of respect for other people, then I think we need to re-address obeying forms and start obeying the compassion in our hearts.

Compassion in our hearts. Our political system here in America is one that permits many spiritual paths, and explicitly recognizes that one group cannot impose a spiritual path on another. The Supreme Court recognized that when it found a compromise position on abortion: a point before which it was legal, and a point after which it was not. This is a clear middle ground between those who believe life starts at conception (a Christian view) and those who believe it starts when the infant takes its first breath (a Jewish view). Ultimately, however, it is not an outside party’s choice to make: it is the woman’s choice, in consultation with her spiritual advisors.

If our society is going to show compassion, it can’t be Dickensian, putting the poor in workhouses and letting people die if they can’t afford healthcare. That appears to be the goal of the GOP proposal — and this administration as a whole: benefit the wealthy, let those who have the privilege take advantage of everyone and everything that does not. That’s not Compassionate Conservatism — that’s “I’ve got mine, I’ll take yours”.

Some argue that compassion shouldn’t come from the government; it should come from the churches helping the people directly. Obviously, these people are not familiar with the teachings of the RamBam, Moses Maimonides, and his levels of charity:

  1. The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support someone by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .
  2. A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.
  3. A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.
  4. A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.
  5. A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
  6. A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.
  7. A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.
  8. A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.

Support from the government is at the first two: we know not to whom we give, and they do not know who gave it. Helping provide medical care and job training is above that — we help find them employment and strengthen their hands. The GOP proposal is at the bottom — inadequate giving and unwilling giving.

Our political leaders have a responsibility not only to represent their major donors — the people with the money. They have the responsibility to represent and protect the people with no voice, the people who don’t have the funds for PACs. When their compassion is only for the wealthy who look like them and who were raised like them, this isn’t a government of the people, by the people, and most importantly, for the people.

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userpic=trumpA few thoughts that have been rumbling around this old head:

Thought the First. You know, it was bound to happen, and we’re just lucky that it took this long. We’ve had a string of 45 employees over more than 200 years, and this is the first with obvious mental problems. We just hadn’t thought out the policy on how to handle such cases.

Thought the Second. Let’s look closely at President Trump’s charges, in a logical fashion. We begin by asking not whether Obama wiretapped him, but was he wiretapped in the first place:

  • Wasn’t Wiretapped. Than this issue is moot, and we’re just dealing with a delusion.
  • Was Wiretapped. If he was wiretapped, then the question is: who ordered it. It could have been President Obama, but there are also other possibilities:
    • President Obama ordered it. This would be direct personal order, which is against the law. Still, let’s assume he broke the law. He’s not the one installing it, so who would install it. Not Radio Shack. Most likely the FBI or the NSA — and both the FBI and DNI heads have indicated this hasn’t happened. Further, supposed this had happened. To what purpose would the information be used? Not to help Clinton — we can all see how she lost — and how she couldn’t get any traction on her claims against Trump. So she didn’t anything juicy, even if it was there. Releasing it publicly would be admitting guilt, and there is no public release. So there’s no real motive here.
    • A FISA Court ordered it. This is the legal way it would be done — recall the Patriot Act Rules for domestic surveillance. But this would require there be sufficient evidence. It is also plausible: there were two prior applications to FISA to investigate Russian interference before the election, which were turned down. A third application with sufficient evidence could have worked. It would also tie with the known facts that the FBI was investigating Russian interference.
    • Some other entity ordered it. This would be a foreign government or a business competitor looking for actionable information for an advantage. That advantage could be leaking it so as to make President Trump look bad.

So if we use Occams Razor, what is the most plausible explanation? A FISA court ordered this, meaning there was sufficient evidence to convince them. That’s not good for Trump. (PS: A joke I saw going around says that Obama didn’t order a wiretap, he ordered a baby monitor).

Thought the Third. I was thinking today about how far are we rolling back the clock. After all, all the EPA and other regulations weren’t always there: this country treated its people and the environment pretty bad in the 1800s. So if we look at all the regulations Trump is rescinding (for no laws have been passed by Congress — to my knowledge — so far), what is the earliest one? My guess, right now, is we’re back to the 1950s at least.

Thought the Fourth. Leprechauns from Ireland keep stealing me Lucky Charms. Why aren’t they subject to extreme vetting?

Thought the Fifth. There is a distinction between Un-American and Illegal. There are many things that we may believe are against the American ideas of equality and freedom, but for which out laws have not caught up. Our challenge is to enshrine our ideals in our laws, and ensure they are enforced. The problem is that our laws legislate ideas that we now feel are outmoded, dated, or discriminatory.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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