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We’re up to the closing three-day weekend of the summer, and that means it is time to start on a website update. It’s been a busy summer and a hot summer, with an almost 4,900 road trip from Los Angeles CA to Madison WI and back, out through the middle (Colorado, Nebraska) and back through St. Louis and the “mother road”. Work has continued on California Highways, especially thanks to some tax modifications that provided a much needed infrastructure boost to the state. As for that promised Infrastructure bill from the Feds, it remains just that, a promise.

Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I also reviewed the the AAroads forum. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from Mike Ballard(2), Bill Deaver(3), Andy Field(4), Gonealookin/AARoads(5), Ron Langum(6), NE2/AARoads(7), Alex Nitzman(8), Max Rockatansky/AARoads(9), Joe Rouse(10), Sparker/AARoads(11); Michelle Sandoval(12), Richard Severeid(13): Route 1(1), Route 4(6), I-5(1), Former US 6(2), I-8(1), I-10(1), Route 12(13), I-15(1), Route 16(1), Route 25(1), Route 27(1), Route 29(1), Route 32(9), Route 36(1), LRN 36(7,9,11), Route 37(1), US 40(9), Route 41(9,11), Route 43(9), Route 49(1,9,7,11), US 50(1,5,9), Route 57(1), Route 58(1,10), Route 62(1), Route 63(7,9,11), Route 65(9), Former US 66(1), Route 70(9), Route 75(1), Route 76(1), I-80(1,9), Route 87(1), Route 88(9,11), Route 89(1), Route 91(1), Route 94(1), LRN 94(11), Route 99(1,13), US 101(1,4), Route 104(9,11), Route 108(1), Route 120(9), LRN 120(9), Route 121(1), Route 124(9,11), Route 132(1), Route 134(1), LRN 135(9), Route 136(9), Route 138(1), Route 140(9), Route 145(9), Route 146(9), Route 152(1), Route 155(11), Route 158(9), Route 163(1), Route 172(9,11,7), Route 174(1), Route 178(1,9), Route 180(9), Route 201(9), Route 203(9), Route 204(1), Route 211(11), Route 237(1), Route 269(9), Route 270(9), US 395(1), I-405(1), US 466(3), Route 480(1), I-505(8), I-580(1), I-605(1), I-680(1), I-710(1), Monterey County Route G13(9), Monterey County Route G14(9), Tulare County Route J37(9); FAQ(12). Note: Almost all of the SB 1 projects discussed here are resurfacing or repair of infrastructure, not new construction or widening. Thus, they are below the level of detail that I normally capture in these pages.

Noted the passing of Matthew Salek’s Highways of Colorado (and updated the regional pages appropriately). If I had lights, I’d dim them in it’s memory as another major roadsite disappears.

Updated the highway types page to clarify the difference between being a scenic highway in the legislative code and being an actual state scenic highway. The Q2-2017 Mile Marker explained the difference: “Many highway corridors are eligible for Scenic Highway status, but receiving an official designation requires the local government to apply to Caltrans for approval and adopt a Corridor Protection Program. The local governing body must develop and implement measures that strictly limit development and control outdoor advertising along the scenic corridor. ”

Sometimes an innocent question can lead one down an interesting path. Such is the case with the question I received from David Walker, who asked “Who or what named the ditches on I-10?”. This led me to UglyBridges.com and the National Bridge Inventory. This resulted in an addition to the FAQ, and a list of ditch names for I-10. I thought I might add them for some other desert routes, but the interface doesn’t make that easy. Another query that didn’t lead to an easy update to the site was a reporter from the OC Register, Kurt Snibbe, who wanted to do a piece explaining California’s road signs. It didn’t quite fit into a particular road’s page, and didn’t quite fit onto a specific numbering page, so it was shoehorned into the page on signing standards and the FAQ.

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I guess there’s a time for everything, for I’m about to do something I never thought I would do publicly, on my blog. Recommend a porn site I recently visited; a site that was truly spectacular and astounded and excited me.

I learned about this site while reading my regular RSS feeds: one of the sites I read pointed to a podcast about the site and its founder.  From there, it was easy to follow the link to the site itself, and to the site’s Facebook Page. Last night, I spend a fair amount of time perusing both sites, and I even brought my wife over to join me in the activity. She was equally engaged with the sites.

Here’s the amazing thing: these porn sites are SFW. And yes, I’m talking about human adult porn, not food porn or horse porn or pet porn or any of the odd picture porn you see on the net.

Of course, I should make clear I’m talking about Porn for Jews. And before you bring in your stereotypes or tropes, don’t bother. This doesn’t play on those stereotypes. It is, however, intellectual porn — and porn that you will only get if you have a deep enough immersion in Jewish religion and culture. If you have that, you will find it hilarious.

Who knows? It might even turn you on. As for me, it’s time to polish the Yod.

(No, that’s not a Boston reference. That’s Yahd. Yod refers to the pointer one uses to read from the Torah. Erin made us one many years ago, and we need to regularly clean it. Get your minds out of the gutter.)

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I’ve been reading a lot today about the Equifax compromise, where, you, the person whose data Equifax collected, were caught with your pants down because — although you buckled the belt as you should — the manufacturer forgot to secure the buckle to belt. When you bent over to pick up that hot dog that landed on the floor — whoops, your privates, and those of 143 Million other Equifax individuals about which Equifax had data (about 44%) were put out there for all the world to see, to point at, and to laugh.

Don’t you feel embarrassed? Don’t you feel like you should lock yourself up in a dark room and hide forever?

You don’t need to. Equifax has provided a complicated checking procedure and registration approach that, ultimately, puts you in a queue for a paid year of credit monitoring, while you give up your rights to arbitration and class actions suits¹. Doesn’t that make you feel better? Oh, and that credit monitoring. I think you still need to give a credit card, so they can start billing you after the free year is over.² Still feel better? Remember, this is monitoring — it doesn’t stop anything and lets you know after the information is used. Of course, you can have confidence in Equifax that they will protect you after the breech, given how they have handled it. [ETA: Oh, and Equifax was sending people to a fake phishing site.]

¹: [Update: They later clarified this wasn’t the case, although initial language made it appear to be the case. Translation: Sloppy response to the situation; poor contingency planning.]
²: [Update: They since removed the requirement for a credit card; it was there when this article was written]

Of course, there are security folks proposing other solutions. Some suggest the easy solution of just giving everyone new, more secure, social security numbers. Alternatively, we could start using our RealID Drivers License, and have one national identity number.

More sane folks are recommending a two pronged approach that doesn’t requiring using Equifax’s protection: the most common approach is suggesting a fraud alert on your records, and paying to have a freeze to prevent new accounts. All good ideas.

As for me, I’m going to wait and see. With 143 Million pieces of data, their odds of picking me are, well, 1 in 143 million. That’s pretty small.  Plus the information has been out there for months — and with information like this, you have to use it quickly or it loses its value. Have we seen an uptick in identity theft? I haven’t heard of anything. I strongly suspect that this was a nation state, just like the OPM breach, and only select data will be used, for sophisticated spear phishing attacks. After all, why do they need to do the fraud when they can get you to unlock the door? Further, this isn’t the only attack: you’ve likely already had your information released (see this site).

Oh, and before you get scared about using the Internet, think about this: You don’t have to be an Internet user to have your information in the Equifax data. You just have to have had credit as some point in your life. The fault was with Equifax, the company you trusted to protect your data. Oh, that’s right. You didn’t choose Equifax. The fault was with Equifax, the company other companies trusted to give them accurate credit data. Equifax didn’t care about you or your credit. And neither did that little minx, Wendy*.

It is not in Equifax’s business model to protect your data: well, they’ll protect it only until they can sell it to the highest bidder. Remember the adage: If you get the service for free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. [Translation: Equifax and other credit reporters make money by selling your data. Until their customers — the financial organizations that buy their data — demand accurate information, nothing will change. They won’t demand as long as it doesn’t cost them. They don’t pay the cost of the identity theft — you do.]

Feel better now? If not, wait I bit. I’ll be posting something this evening that will make you feel much better, even if your pants are down.

P.S.: Speaking about phishing, my favorite theatre about spam is having performances on 9/10 and 9/17. Go see it. It had Gene Spafford rolling in the aisles.


*[Paraphrasing my favorite Alton Brown quote, long since removed from his website:]

Here’s what it comes down to kids. Equifax doesn’t give a damn about you. Neither does that little minx Rachel from Card Services or any of the other icons of finance. And you know what, they’re not supposed to. They’re businesses doing what businesses do. They don’t love you. They are not going to laugh with you on your birthdays, or hold you when you’re sick and sad. They won’t be with you when you graduate, when your children are born or when you die. You will be with you and your family and friends will be with you. And, if you’re any kind of human being, you will be there for them. And you know what, you and your family and friends are supposed to watch out for you too. That’s right folks, protecting someone else’s information is an act of caring. We will always be protected best by those that care, be it ourselves or the aforementioned friends and family.

We are having our information exposed and exploited and exploited again because we have handed a basic, fundamental and intimate function of life over to corporations. We choose to value our information so little that we entrust it to strangers. We hand our lives over to big companies and then drag them to court when the deal goes bad. This is insanity.

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userpic=divided-nationWith the upcoming publication of Hillary Clinton’s book, the debate has started up again on the role of Bernie Sanders on giving Trump the election. Per CNN: “In it, according to excerpts posted by a group of Clinton supporters, she criticizes her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, for running to be the Democratic nominee while not actually being a Democrat, and for targeting her in a campaign of character assassination, instead of doing a deep dive into policy.” This notion, predictably, has Sanders supporters responding on FB, and has reignited the debate about the election once again. Here are some of my thoughts, so I don’t have to keep posting them again and again … and again:

  • Get Over It! Much as I don’t like the result, the Electoral College voted and gave us Trump. Hillary Clinton lost, and we should just let her fade into the background and focus on the next generation of candidates.
  • …but don’t get full of yourself. However, the election was not a Trump landslide, despite what he said. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote; Trump was more strategic in where he won. Playing to Trump’s base is not what the country voted for.
  • Bernie Sanders could not have won. Sanders had a great very progressive message. Despite the positives in that message, he was doomed from the start. As we saw recently in Virginia, there are loads of people out there that hate both Jews and Blacks. Sanders was an ex-Socialist, New York Jew. This country was not ready for that messenger. They were barely ready for a Black President, and as we saw from the election, really weren’t ready for a woman President. Much as we think we’ve come a long way, the battle for true equality — and universal acceptance of that equality — isn’t over for different religions or women (and certainly not for the newer protected categories, including LGBTQ etc.).
  • Hillary cost Hillary the election. Although Sanders had an impact on Clinton, certainly, it is unclear if he cost her the election. What really lost the election was Hillary’s presumption of winning vs. hard work. She didn’t think strategically and ensure she had the electoral votes. It was the tortoise vs. the hare.
  • Messenger, not Message. What got Trump elected was not his message, it was the messenger (or for some, hatred of the other messenger). He was the “anti-establishment, anti-government, shake things up” candidate — who spoke off the cuff in the language of the people. He excited a segment of the population that hadn’t gotten excited before (Alt-Right), and implicitly gave them permission to enthusiastically go for him — in the strategic states. [ETA: He expressed broad ideas and goals with few specifics, letting people trust in the power of him to get it done.] Clinton was not exciting; she was more of the same. [ETA: That is: Detailed policy wonk positions, playing up experience in the status quo, dull political speech, yada, yada.] Trump (likely aided by Russia and social media) played up those flaws. Clinton didn’t excite voters, and the segment she spoke to weren’t the types that got enthusiastic. Sanders’ supporters were enthusiastic, but they couldn’t get enthusiastic about anyone other than Sanders, so they sat on hands at the general election (or — forfend! — voted for Trump because they hated Hillary so) — essentially, putting their dislike of the messenger over their like of the message (much of which Clinton adopted).
  • Although the Endpoints are Excitable, the Bulk is in the Middle. The endpoints — the alt-right, the arch-conservatives, the Sanders progressives, the semi-Socialists — make the most noise and think they are the most important, but they aren’t the bulk of the electorate. Those in the middle are — those who Bill Clinton, and to a lesser extent, Barack Obama — played to. The problem is: the gerrymandering and the nature of the primaries gives the edges a stronger voice in selecting the candidates these days, leaving the electorate to choose between the extremes. It often isn’t a good choice.

Post-election, it is clear that not much has changed. Trump’s base loves him no matter what he does. The rest of the Republican party doesn’t like Trump, but has no viable Republican alternative — and they won’t go for a Democrat. Meanwhile, the Democrats have lived up to their reputation of not being an organized political party. Neither Sanders or Clinton is a viable party leader — Sanders because (a) he’ll be too old, and (b) he isn’t really a Democrat, and Clinton because, well, she’s Clinton and folks are tired of dynasties (i.e., Clinton / Bush). The candidates that have been floated all have their flaws. The country is clearly not ready for another racial minority or a woman, and needs a more “status quo” (i.e., sigh, white male) for a cycle or two — which means both Booker or Warren, while great with their messages, are stronger in the Senate. It also excludes folks like Kamala Harris or Antonio Villagrosa. Much as I like Al Franken, he has a Sanders problem — Jewish, as well as being a former actor and comedian. The Democrats need to find a suitable candidate and start grooming and promoting them now — and, alas, by suitable I mean white, male, and Christian. A candidate who will make the country feel safe in the messenger, so the message can be heard. They haven’t done that, and looking at their bench of up and comers, they don’t have a lot of choice.

Actually, they do have one good possibility — Hillary Clinton’s former running mate. If he isn’t too tainted by that association, Tim Kaine of Virginia has the right credentials. Democratic, white, and Catholic. Able to speak to hispanics. Good on policy. A former governor. But surprisingly, I haven’t seen his name come up at all.

 

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While eating my lunch, I’ve been reading the news about DACA and the reactions thereto on Facebook. I’ve also been thinking about my recent trip, and Will Rodger’s famous statement that people’s minds are changed through observation, not argument.

When you look at most of the people supporting DACA, they are people that either know a dreamer directly, or are close to someone who knows one. They know the hard work these people put in; how they strive to make their lives better and the world a better place. They also know, from first hand discussion, what would happen to these people if they are kicked out of the only country they have known.  A similar narrative exists, by the way, for those who work with immigrants and refugees — legal or not. They know how much these people treasure this country, how hard they work to stay here and improve their lives. They know how important it is for their kids to be educated and go to college, and to exceed and do even better than their parents. These kids, with aspirational goals, are the dreamers we talk about with DACA. These are people that must succeed, for there is no significant welfare largess, so significant safety net.

I’ll note that this ethic: the ethic of hard work, of striving to be better, of pushing to move forward, learning, growing, and educating — and using all such opportunities available to you — this ethic is something that is often missing on those born in this country. I think we all personally know citizens that would rather wait for just the right job, are happy being on welfare and government assistance, are willing to work but not to work extra hard. Eliminating DACA will not suddenly employ these folks, will not solve the problems of society.

We just took a road trip through parts of the country that do not support DACA. From my observations, the people in those parts of the country don’t have the same level of interaction with Dreamers or Immigrants. Their view is not shaped by their experience and observations; that vacuum instead sucks up the arguments of bias. Essentially, in the absence of observation and experience, they are willing to believe what they are told about “those people”. They believe they are the ones taking the jobs away from them, sucking money from Washington, and generally abusing public service. The facts of the contributions of these people don’t sway them; in fact, no argument will. They are the people that will, alas, fulfill a different Rodgers adage: “There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”  The problem is that learning their lesson will hurt innocent people just trying to do good. Rodgers has an adage on their view of that as well: “Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.”

P.S.: For those who believe I’m quoting someone who was consistently liberal, remember it was also Rodgers who said “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

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August — The month for roadtrips. Hopefully, some of you have been having fun on California’s roads. Me? It’s been a roadtrip to Madison Wisconsin via I-15, I-70, I-76, I-80 and US 151. The return, through St. Louis, has been an equal roadtrip: I-90, I-39, I-55, I-44 (US 66), I-40 (US 66), and I-15. Of course, in and out of LA, we did the high desert route: Route 18, Route 138, and Route 14. If you want to read about those trips, I’ve done three posts: (#1: Get Your Kicks on Route 66; #2: The Evolution of the Hotel; and #3: Confederate Statues and Route 66). Of course, if you just want to read about what’s happening in hot California, here are the headlines I’ve accumulated this month:

  • OCTA Secures $629 Million Federal Loan for I-405 Improvement Project. A loan secured by OCTA marks a major milestone in funding the I-405 Improvement Project while saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Last week, OCTA signed the final documents with the U.S. Department of Transportation for the $627 million loan through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). The TIFIA loan will pay for a major portion of the $1.9 billion worth of freeway improvements set to begin construction early next year.
  • I-5 South County Improvements Project Overhead Sign Work is Completed. Construction crews have completed the overhead carpool sign installation on southbound and northbound I-5. The lane and full freeway closures for this work on I-5 are now complete. The construction on the I-5 South County Improvements Project began in 2014. The project will add nearly six miles of carpool lanes in each direction from Avenida Pico in San Clemente to San Juan Creek Road in San Juan Capistrano. The overhead sign work is part of the project’s San Juan Creek Road to PCH Segment. The remaining work on this portion of the project includes realignment of the median barrier, landscaping installation and final striping.
  • Highway 1 to be rebuilt on top of Mud Creek Slide. Here’s how Caltrans will do it. Drivers on Highway 1 will be going over — not around or through — the Mud Creek Slide when the coast route reopens. “The new roadway will be realigned across the landslide,” the agency said Tuesday in a news release, adding that the highway will be “buttressed with a series of embankments, berms, rocks, netting, culverts and other stabilizing material.”

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While riding along Route 66 and stopping for lunch in Seligman, AZ, an odd thought popped into my mind. It was amplified, a bit, by listening to a 99% Invisible Podcast on a Plaque for Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis. That podcast pointed out that monuments don’t just appear in the wake of someone’s death — they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place.

I noted in a past post how many towns along Route 66 are dying or waning, but have a growing business in Route 66 tourism. There are loads and loads of Tourist / Money Separators being produced with variants of the Route 66 logo. But there’s no love for Route 6 or 60 or 70 or 80 or 99. There’s just a little love for the Lincoln Highway (US 30 / US 40). Why so much love for Route 66?

But then I began to think about the nostalgia, and who you see in the material. I thought about the Green Book, the guide for Negro motorists that told them where it was safe to travel. I thought about the implicit Jim Crow rules in many states, and wondered how many Negros and minorities traveled US 66. Remember, the heyday that is being remembered is from the Steinbeck days to the Eisenhower era and the starting of the Interstates. That was the period of loads of discrimination, even in non-Southern states (think about Las Vegas and the Casinos, for example).

I then begin to think about Trump, “Make America Great Again”, and the nostalgia for the “Good ‘Ol Days”. Often, that is code speak for the days when men had the privilege, when more specifically, white men had the privilege. The 1930s through 1950s, those “Happy Days” that were lily white, except for that jungle rock music.

And so I wondered: Could the Route 66 nostalgia be similar to Confederate Statues? Could it be a veiled longing for when America was last perceived to be great, the days when minorities were in their place, when the White Male breadwinner could get behind the wheel of his gleaming Buick or Chevrolet and motor down the road, secure in the knowledge that they could find a clean motor court that would accept them, and gas stations with servile attendants to address their every need. Even during the dustbowl migration, when the great road was a path for survival, it was survival for the White Farmers escaping Kansas, looking for work in the fields of California, which didn’t have the need to import those braceros.

I thought about it, and the romance of the Mother Road wasn’t quite so romantic anymore. Bringing down the statues is raising awareness of many other ways of memorializing.

 

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Subaru UserpicAs we drove the “Mother Road” and along other former US highways and byways (US 6, US 151, US 30, etc), I couldn’t help but notice the evolution of the roadside motel and its branding. In the early days of the US highway system, things were mom and pop motels, local to the area. In the heydays of the Interstate and as the US system was bypassed, these became chains like Best Western, Travelodge, Motel 6, and Holiday Inn.

Today? We’ve seen very few Travelodges, Best Western has gone upscale and the motels have lost their “individually owned” character. We’ve seen nary a highway Holiday Inn. The old motels have moved their affiliations to American’s Best Value Inn, Knights Inn, and Budget Host, to name a few (the first two are now the budget brands of Wyndham). These brands seem to take the old hotels and keep them viable with a network, but leave the improvements up to the owner. Former budget chains — Ramada, Holiday Inn, etc., have gone upscale and disgorged their older properties. Perhaps the franchisee requirements and new standards were impossible for the older hotels to meet.

When looking at highway motels, it is clear which are loved, which are not, which are attempts to make money, and which are dying. It is easy to see the growing conformity of the franchise — travelers know what they get, and often pay extra for that conformity. Yet in our travels we’ve seen the hotelier who loves the business, and who care about their customers, and those are still nice to see. So is it still worthwhile to see out the individual hotel, the unique, the special? I think so, but I note that you can find that even in some chain hotels (as we did).

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We just got back from a long roadtrip: Los Angeles to Madison WI to St. Louis MO and back. We went out through the mountains (I-15 to I-70 to I-76 to I-80 to US 151), down through the heartland (I-39/90 to I-39 to I-55 to I-270), and back along former US Route 66 (I-44 to I-40 to I-15, with numerous digressions to the historical route). Here are a few observations on the trip:

  • Nevada/Arizona (I-15). Although the stretch to Las Vegas is well known, the drive further N through the canyons before St. George UT is beautiful. The Arizona stretch of I-15 is interesting when you understand that there is no accessibility to it from elsewhere in Arizona — ADOT must get to it through either NV or UT. In any case, the chiseling out of those canyons was remarkable, and it is just a great drive. I’ll also note that Nevada DOT does some beautiful bridges and interchanges.
  • Utah (I-15/I-70). The stretch of UT up to I-70 was an interesting drive, but even more interesting was I-70 through Utah. It was some of the most remarkable scenery I have ever seen — bluffs and plateaus and wonderful rock formations. Kudos to those who constructed the highway in this area for their hard work, and just imagine how hard it was for pre-Interstate travelers. The views are just spectacular, and the vista points are worth the stop. UDOT also does some beautiful bridges and interchanges.
  • Colorado (I-70). The stretch in Colorado between Grand Junction and Denver is spectacular as you drive along the origins of the mighty Colorado river, and through beautiful mountains and passes. Just… wow.  Also, we could tell we were moving east as the houses changed from stucco and brick to siding and brick. This is one stretch of I-70 with little to no cellular reception, at least W of Denver through Vail.
  • Colorado/Nebraska (I-76, I-80). This stretch is dull country. Flat fields of corn. You would tend to think of the plains as vast openness. Well, it is, plus corn and cows. The small towns are, well, small. Driving these roads, however, you can begin to get a sense of where Trump’s support comes from. These are very heterogeneous communities: mostly the same race, the same background, the same church. They have been hit hard by economic woes, by the money moving to the urban coastal towns, by the jobs that the legal immigrants are willing to take and do (and they don’t see in the faces the distinction between legal and illegal, so they are lumped together). The other — the person from outside their community, from outside their frame of reference — is to be feared, and Trump just played to that. I don’t think we saw a single synagogue in the small towns; the Jewish population must be negligible. This, I think, emphasizes the point that the best solution to racism is eliminating the bars of segregation. Intermingling changes people from “the other” to “my neighbor” — and it is true for race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or any other point of division you can think of.
  • Iowa (I-80). Rolling hills of farmland. It was weird driving it at night, seeing all the red lights on the wind farm towers without the ability to see them for what they were. Landing lights? Power lines? Nope, wind farm. I hadn’t realized how hilly Iowa was. Driving through Cedar Rapids on our way up US 151 to Dubuque was a land of farms, leading us into picturesque Wisconsin. We stayed at a small motel in Stuart, just outside of Des Moines. This was an example of a well-cared for old motel, unlike the motel in Julesberg CO.
  • Wisconsin (US 151). This is what farmland should look like. Postcard perfect. Beautiful country. Great cheese. Most importantly, it is where are daughter is, so “Go Badgers!”. Driving around the UW-Madison campus showed how pretty it was, and the town was easy to navigate.
  • Illinois (I-90, I-39, I-55, US 66). Our first impression of Illinois was having their hand out for a toll road: I-90 for the segment before I-39 splits off. After that, it was farmland, and highway signs that were much too wordy. We followed US 66 in some stretches paralleling I-55 for a bit, and it was well marked, although many of the 66 towns were dying or clearly dependent on 66 tourism. This was on the day of the eclipse, which we really didn’t see as we were in Rochelle IL where it was very cloudy. We did, however, see the incredible traffic on I-55 between St. Louis and Bloomington — all the people returning from viewing the eclipse. Bumper to bumper.
  • Missouri (I-270, I-44). First, I must note that St. Louis and its suburbs is still one of my favorite cities, and home to some of my favorite people. Driving through the Ozarks was interesting: I hadn’t realized that it was so forested and there were so many trees and streams. Beautiful country.
  • Kansas (US 66). We took US 66 out of Joplin because Oklahoma doesn’t make their turnpike prices and policies easy to find for tourists. This meant we actually traversed the portion of US 66 that cuts a corner of Kansas. These are towns that are clearly facing away thanks to the rerouting of 66.
  • Oklahoma (US 66, I-44, I-40). As noted above, Oklahoma does not make turnpike policies easy to find, and so we tried to follow 66. That didn’t always work, especially in Miami OK where 66 isn’t signed well when it meets US 59/69. This lead us in the wrong direction, and then nav took us even further afield. We eventually make it to Tulsa, however, and then to Oklahoma City where we were finally turnpike free. I-40 and following US 66 was much easier W of OK City, where it is signed as OK 66. Long flat prairie. Lots of dying towns.
  • Texas (I-40, US 66). US 66 was pretty easy to follow in Texas. Again, long flat prairie, with towns dependent on US 66. Amarillo had a load of construction along I-40 that made it hard to follow the frontage road. I really hate the frontage road onramps to I-40 that are neither well-marked, nor provide safe access. Only in Texas would the hotels have waffle makers shaped like Texas. I did have fun playing a lot of “I’m leaving Texas” songs as we left the state.  I did try to find the Cadillac Ranch, although I couldn’t find the cars.
  • New Mexico (I-40, US 66). Long, flat, and straight. That’s I-40 in New Mexico E of Albuquerque, with the occasional ride through US 66 towns such as Tucumcari. Albuquerque is neat: they are preserving the Route 66 neon along Central Ave, even if they aren’t preserving the buildings. There is also an incredible amount of public art in the city. Central Ave is really gentrifying. We also knew we were back in the West again, as stucco reemerged. The NM-DOT interchanges in Albuquerque are also quite nice; however, they make it a real pain to get on the freeway with the long frontage roads — especially near the I-25 / I-40 interchange. I’ve also decided that Santa Fe exists to separate wealthy people from their money. West of Albuquerque is flatland, with increasing bluffs and some lovely Route 66 diversions in both Grant and Gallop. Former trading posts along Route 66 were being replaced by Native American Casinos (I’m guessing slot machines are an easier way to separate tourists from their money than selling pottery and blankets). There are still Native American stores near the highway, and a few of the “old school” shops exist in the larger Route 66 cities. However, the merchandise seems mostly to be the same everywhere (including the jewelry), making me wonder how much is Native American made, vs. Native American ordered. New Mexico does a pretty good job of signing historic Route 66, but it is clear that many of the towns are highly dependent on Route 66 tourism and nostalgia — and there are so many dead / dying motels and gas stations. One other oddity: Unleaded gas is 86 octane in both Texas and New Mexico, not the 87 we’ve come to expect — which is a pain when your manual insists on 87 or higher.
  • Arizona (I-40, US 66). In many areas, the old 66 trading posts still exist, and seem nicer than the touristy ones. We particularly liked the ones just across the AZ/NM border in Lupton AZ. As we noted in NM, a lot of the old trading posts have been upsized into full casinos to separate the tourist from their money. We did take a number of US 66 diversions, especially those that were also Business I-40 loops. This included the classic towns like Holbrook and Winslow. Loads of loads of dead motels along the way (and dead gas stations). Were I still in the photography mode, there could be some beautiful photo-essays there. I still remember the dead outposts at Meteor City (the exit before the actual crater), Fort Courage, and a number along the path in Holbrook and Winslow. However, classic trading posts such as those in Lupton and the Jackrabbit are still around. As the “Route 66” song says, we didn’t forget Winona, although it was very forgettable — perhaps two gas stations. It was also well off the road and not on a Business 40 routing — you took County 515 up past Winona to US 89, and then US 89 into Flagstaff. Given there is a different routing now for former 66, I think the routing past Winona was an older one from perhaps the 40s, and was replaced by a more southerly routing that leaves 40 near exit 204 (then again, it could have been that Winona was near the highway, and was so dead with missed it and thought it was further up the mountain). and well off the road). ADOT doesn’t do pretty interchanges, and tends not to maintain old 66 except in the major Business 40 towns.
  • California. It is so nice to see postmiles and Botts Dots again (even though the latter is going away). California is doing a better job of signing Historic Route 66 along I-40, although it tends to spell it out vs. using the historic sign. However, they refuse to use the Business I-40 shield: they would rather spell it out. Seeing the SBD CR 66 sign reminded me of my role in getting that route created: they came to me for the sign specifications (and it should have been either N-66, P-66, R-66, or S-66 to be proper, given the county group). There are many dead hotels and gas stations in Needles, and an increasing number in Barstow. Next stop: Home!

We also noticed, along the road, the dearth of decent coffee shops. You only found good local coffee and tea — or even marginal Starbucks — in the larger cities. At the truck stops and gas stations along the major interstates — no decent coffee. In many of the small and dying towns — no decent coffee. It appears that Starbuck-style coffee shops, as opposed to diner-style coffee shops, only exist in areas with sufficient disposal income.

As for our thoughts on where we stayed, which will eventually go into reviews:

  • La Quinta, St. George UT. Very nice hotel. Some portions were under-construction, but no big deal. Very pet friendly, nice breakfast. In fact, it was so pet friendly that they had a “pet row” on the first floor; it turned out that next to us was the wife an Aerospace employee with her pet. It reminded how much we liked the La Quinta chain; when we last did Route 66 we stayed at a number of their properties.
  • Motel 6, Grand Junction CO. Cheap and clean, although you paid extra for the WiFi. Spartan furnishings, but worked well for the pet. And I do mean Spartan: thin smaller towels (but clean), lighter blankets, not updated for a lot of plugs, paying extra for the wi-fi, smaller rooms. But they were clean and everything worked. Motel 6 is what it advertises itself to be: clean and cheap. But that is also why we normally don’t stay there, except when I’m having to pay for two rooms and to have a pet-friendly motel.
  • Budget Host Platte Valley Inn, Julesburg CO. An old highway motel, pet friendly but that’s about it. Restaurant closed, about to reopen. Our daughter’s room smelled of animal urine (as the pet room), but then had a roof leak from an air conditioner so they moved her. Bathroom skimpy. The place needs some TLC. No working ice machine. Note that there are no restaurants nearby, and the ones somewhat close are closed by 8pm. Your best bet is to go to Big Bs Bar and Grill in Ovid — we had some great ribs there. (It turns out they used to run the restaurant at the hotel, but that’s a long story)
  • Stuart Motor Lodge, Stuart IA. Yet another old highway motel, but this one was loved. Nice room, nice amenities. Clean and cared for. Yelp reports it as closed, but it is open and we liked it quite a bit. I did get a chuckle from the sign at checkin that indicated that locals could not stay in the hotel. Hmmm. As for the hotel: Nothing particularly fancy, but we didn’t require fancy. It worked very well for my daughter’s dog.
  • Best Western East Towne Suites, Madison WI. The first hotel that didn’t need to be pet friendly. Nice, clean, comfortable, with a good breakfast. Good location: near I-90, and easy to get to our daughter’s room with lots of shopping nearby. When we go back to Madison, we’ll certainly consider this place.
  • Comfort Inn and Suites, St. Louis (Westport) MO. Not as nice as the reviews made it out to be. The Ice machine on the first floor wasn’t working, and the parking left a lot to be desired. We had some sort of water leak near the A/C that we realized the 2nd day, which left our room a bit musty. Still, for what we were doing, the location was nice.
  • Country Inn, Tulsa OK. Nice hotel with nice personnel. Decent breakfast. We’ve always liked this chain. They were easy to get to.
  • Sleep Inn and Suites, Amarillo TX. What is it with the Choice Hotel chain and water? First the door key wouldn’t work, so they moved us to a different (and much nicer room). Kudos to the very receptive front desk staff on duty that evening. This would have been great… except that there was a water leak by the A/C that left 1/3 of the room with a sopping floor, and although there was a TV for the in-room whirlpool, there were no controls for the TV. The Waffles were in the shape of Texas — only in Texas. Alas, the front desk staff didn’t stay good: we never got a receipt because the front desk clerk couldn’t be bothered to do it, insisting instead that our third-party booking company (AAA) would send us one. They never did.
  • Econolodge Old Town, Albuequerque NM. One of the nicer motels we’ve been at — good breakfast, good people. This was clearly an older hotel that had been updated by an owner that cared about the property. They even had posole out in the evening for guests, and made their typical breakfast very nice. One oddity: Their wireless network keeps changing its identification from “Econolodge N” to “Econolodge N+1”. We’re now up to 4. This isn’t a new network, mind you — you stay connected, you don’t have to re-login. It seems to be just a new name. The water problem here? The vanity sink drained slow — that was about it. So Econolodge was the best of the Choice chain.
  • Green Tree Inn, Flagstaff AZ. Nice room, no identifiable problems (except for the couple in the room next to us who were loud). The hotel has gone green, meaning pump bottles of amenities instead of little bottles. They also had an interesting stall shower instead of the usual tub/shower combination. They also had the largest bath towels of any of the hotels on this trip — a win in my book.  They were the only hotel to provide two luggage racks — another plus. They were in this area with loads of hotels off former 66, right next to I-40 where I-17 ends, over by NAU.
  • River Valley Inn, Needles CA. This is an older Route 66 hotel, but again well maintained. No breakfast. The room did have a ceiling fan, which was useful. But clean room (modulo the occasional small desert flying bug that goes with the territory), well insulated, that didn’t cost much.

On the whole, we put almost 4900 miles on the car in just under 3 weeks. The Subaru was a champ on the road, although it did have a bit of effort at the higher altitudes. But then again, so did I. The best full tank “milage to empty” was 690; typically it was between 500-560. A few more Mother Road observations in some follow-on posts.

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Pardon Me

Aug. 27th, 2017 09:16 am
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userpic=trumpAs I read all the discussions around Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, a few articles keep sticking in my head:

  • The Power to Pardon. First, to set the context, listen to this excellent TrumpConLaw podcast on the Pardon Power. In short, the President can pardon whomever he wants, but only for Federal crimes, only after the crime has been committed, and it can’t be a pardon from impeachment. Most Presidents (and Trump isn’t “most Presidents”) pardon on the recommendation of the Justice Department, only after some jail time has been served, and for the controversial ones, as their last action as President before they leave so they don’t have to suffer the political ramifications. But, as I noted, Trump isn’t “most Presidents”. He’ll get to deal with the fall out.
  • Why He Did It? (Take One). Vox has an interesting explanation of why he did it: To send a message that the enforcement of law and order takes priority over the actual laws. Arpaio was convicted of violating civil rights in order to enforce his interpretation of law and order, which is congruent with Trump’s interpretation. Or, as Vox put it, “Joe Arpaio recognized the fundamental truth of Trump’s worldview even before Trump did: that promising “law and order,” and protection from social disorder in the form of unauthorized immigration and street crime, didn’t require you to actually adhere to the rule of law.” This sends message #1 from Trump: “If you are doing what I like, I’ll protect you from the law.”
  • Why He Did It? (Take Two). The LA Times presents a different take on the subject: the Federal Government expects local help on dealing with immigration issues, to the extent they will shield those who violate civil rights to take actions against immigrants. It sent the message that using racial profiling was acceptable in Trump’s book.
  • Why He Did It? (Take Three). The Atlantic captures yet a third message in Trump’s pardon: Contempt for judges and the rule of law. As the Atlantic writes: “The Arpaio case was the very integrity of the federal judiciary. He was not convicted of an ordinary crime, but of deliberately disobeying a federal court order and lying about that; but beyond that, during the litigation that led to his conviction for criminal contempt, he hired a private detective to investigate the wife of a federal judge hearing a case against his office. Any judge can understand the threat posed by law enforcement personnel who seek to strike back at judges and their families, perhaps for purposes of blackmail or revenge—and the deep arrogance of a president who regards such behavior as praiseworthy. In fact, since even before the election, Trump has brandished his hostility to judges almost as aggressively as his disregard of racial decency. When federal district Judge Gonzalo Curiel was assigned the Trump University civil fraud case, Trump attacked the Indiana-born Curiel in front of a campaign rally as “Mexican” and “a total disgrace.” When Judge James Robart (a George W. Bush appointee) of the District of Washington enjoined the first version of Trump’s “travel ban,” Trump on Twitter dismissed Robart as a “so-called judge” and told his supporters “If something happens blame him and court system.”  When another District Judge enjoined his “sanctuary cities” defunding order, Trump publicly threatened to break up the Ninth Circuit. When a terror cell carried out a car attack in Barcelona earlier this month, Trump immediately zeroed in on the “travel ban” case, now pending before the Supreme Court: “The courts must give us back our protective rights,” he tweeted. Every indication is that Trump will respond to an adverse Supreme Court ruling on any important issue with a full-throated assault on the court and on the very idea of judicial independence. That the court’s majority is conservative and Republican won’t matter.”

In short, the simple takeaway is this: As President, Trump has the authority to pardon whomever he wants for a Federal crime. Once pardoned, one cannot un-pardon. However, the President has to deal with the fallout of his actions, and this will add to Trump’s shedding of any discretionary supporters. All that will be left is the hard-core (“rabid”?) base of those that place ideology and hatred of “the other” over the laws of this country. Trump never had any progressive support, and those who were supporting him for fiscal conservatism are coming to realize that there are better ways to achieve their goals, and better politicians to back to do so.

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The other day, I saw an article about the potential renaming of a “Jefferson Davis Highway” to something that didn’t celebrate the President of the Confederacy. It got me thinking about the cost of renaming things, and created the urge in me to explore it with a post:

  • Removing Statues. What is the cost of removing a statue celebrating a son or daughter of the Confederacy? First and foremost, there is the surface cost of removing the statue and moving it somewhere that places it in historic context. This, in general, is a cost incurred by government, not private organizations. There likely aren’t significant other references to the statue; it is relatively straightforwards.
  • Changing a Mascot. The next step up is changing a mascot, such as is common with schools that have a “Southern Rebel” as their mascot. In general, this would involve getting a new costume, perhaps renaming a building and changing a few signs. The impact on tradition is harder to cost.
  • Renaming a School or Building. A step up the cost ladder happens when we rename a building. What happens when we rename a public school from “Robert E. Lee Elementary School” to “Sojourner Truth Elementary School”. There is likely the cost of new stationary and new websites, and the cost of resigning the school. There is the association of the old with the new, and how one might deal with old yearbooks and such.
  • Renaming a Street. Here we see a significant cost increase. Changing Jefferson Davis Highway to Emancipation Highway impacts much more than a map. There is significant cost to government: street signs must be changed, directional signs on freeways require update. Property mapping databases require update. Similar updates must occur in all mapping services — an impact not to just the government, but many private organizations. Then there are all the businesses on the street that must update their advertising material and stationary, orders, and such. Homes must order new checks and such. This is a significant impact on private citizens, with no recompense from the government. How do we balance that cost against the impact of the name? Can there be a compromise of changing it to a less offensive name (perhaps dropping “Jefferson”)? This is a much harder question.

Then, of course, there is the overreaction renaming, such as ESPN pulling a sportscaster from a game because his name was “Robert Lee”, or similar reactions to the numerous folks named Jeff Davis and such. That is clearly stupid, and an overreaction (deserving of ridicule).

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userpic=divided-nationI have friends on FB of all political stripes, and I’ve recently been seeing some common themes from conservative friends that are starting to irk me — and so I’d like to expound upon them for a bit.

  • Erasing History. I have been seeing many conservative folks stating that the removal of Confederate Monuments is an attempt to erase history. Such an opinion reflects I biased misunderstanding of the rationale for removal. History, in general, cannot be erased. It leaves marks much deeper than monuments. The Civil War left a divided nation: a nation whose divisions (and their mishandling by the Democratic party of that era — which is different than the Democratic party of today) lived on in Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in the South. Blacks may have become citizens, but they never achieved full civil rights until somewhat recently. Most of the statues that went up in the 1910-1940 periods (and I’m distinguishing them from plaques recognizing actual burial places of soldiers) were put up not to remember the South’s loss in the war (which is what the history was), but to remind people of the “good old days” and what the South was fighting for — slavery and the subjugation of the black and poor. And yes, that is what the South was fighting for: cheap labor in the form of slaves. The recasting of the war as one for states rights was the real erasure of history, an attempt to play down the racial aspects of the war and to play up the economic. But if the war was for states rights alone, it would have been fought in the courts. Removing statues doesn’t erase history. Changing the narrative does. I strongly recommend that those who want to learn more about the statues listen to the Backstory Podcast episode that explores the battle over Confederate monuments. Lastly, I’d like those who still believe the removing the monuments is erasing history to consider this: Germany lost World War II. Do you see monuments in Germany to Adolph Hitler or major World War II German generals? Does the lack of those monuments diminish at all how the history of World War II is told? How would the presence of those monuments (if they existed) be viewed by Jews living in modern Germany? Would they be viewed as a gesture that reminds them of how the German culture and country wanted to exterminate and subjugate them, and is celebrating that aspect of their history? If you think about those questions, you’ll understand why the Confederate monuments are problematic.
  • It Offends Me. Another common thread I see on Conservative feeds is something along the lines: “X offends me, I want it removed.”. This is a play on the Conservative stereotype of the “Snowflake” — someone who protests at any offense. It also plays to the notion that the statues were offensive. That, to put it politely, is a pile of 💩. Simple offense is not cause for removal. The ability to offend is protected speech, and there is no restriction to being offended by what someone says. Trust me, if that were a reason for removal most of my Conservative friends wouldn’t be on Facebook, and they would have removed me as well, and FB would be a very empty place. However, there is a distinction when the speech is being made by the government, and the purpose of that speech is to impact a protected class — that is, a class that had no choice in the aspect that creates offense. Examples would be skin color, sex, sexual orientation (which isn’t a choice), and in some cases religion, which some groups believe is transmitted by blood. The Confederate monuments aren’t being removed because they offend in a broad sense, but because they are a government celebration of discrimination against a protected class. That is something different. I’ll note you’re seeing the push for removal against statues placed by governmental organizations or in public spaces. Private expressions and private spaces are up to the owner of their space, and the customers that owner wishes to court.

More on a similar and related issue this in my next post…

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We saw history happen last weekend in Charlottesville. History as significant as the shots fired at Fort Sumter. Just as with the Civil War, this is the beginning of a significant battle brought to the surface by, you guessed it, the election of Donald J. Trump. It is a battle that might leave our country in disarray, weakened for another power to come in, if we aren’t careful. And remember, there is one big difference between now and Civil War days: Russia is awake.

This musing was prompted by a piece in the LA Times that indicated how, after Charlottesville, cities were rushing to take down any Civil War statues before White Supremacists could rally around them. These Supremacists, awakened by the election of Barack Obama, called out of the dank recesses by the dog whistles of the Trump campaign, and emboldened by the subsequent non-discouragement of said administration, feel empowered in a way that hasn’t been seen for almost 80 years. As the LA Times has written:

To the white supremacists who gathered from across the country, the havoc in the Virginia college town and the international attention it earned them marked a win. To the counter-protesters, widespread acknowledgment of the threat posed by racism — evident in television images of Nazi symbols and other blatant bigotry — was proof they had prevailed.

It remains unclear what will happen to the racist movement that has been energized by the election of President Trump and was laid out for all to see in Charlottesville. But one thing seems certain: The fighting is not over. Both sides are gearing up for more.

White nationalists and pro-Confederate groups quickly announced rallies and speaking events in Virginia, Texas and beyond, gaining throngs of online supporters while the people who live in those places are already taking to the streets to warn them to stay away.

When Trump had his surprise victory, I felt that this was the final rally of the “White Privilege” folk — a final exercise in protest of the coming shift in America — a shift where the overall non-white or non-Christian population becomes the majority in this country, a shift heralded by the election of Barack Obama to a leadership that looks a lot more like our diverse nation than does the homogeneous complex we see these days. And Mr. Trump has been true to form: selecting individuals as leaders that reflect the White Christian view set, that work to undo advances that helped the minorities, to quick-cement in place privilege and power to those that have long held it — the upper white class.

Charlottesville has brought this to the fore. What could have been a simple exercise of free speech like the marches in Skokie turned — as the organizers likely intended — into violence. When the President did not immediately and swiftly condemn the specific cause of that violence, they were further empowered. His specific condemnation yesterday, read from a teleprompter, was “too little, too late”, especially when he followed it quickly with tweets complaining about how the media had blown this situation all out of proportion. Those who oppose the White Supremacists saw it as an insincere message written by the staff and not really felt by the President; the Supremacists saw it as a further insult by the leadership of the nation and wanted to fight more.

And so we have it now: The battle for the future of this nation. Does it move, as the President and Stephen Bannon’s factions want, to a more White and more Christian nation — a nation much like the United States of the period from 1860 to 1950? Or does it move to a Nation of the 1990s and 2000s: a nation that celebrates both the strength that comes from its diversity and the strength that comes from the unity of that diversity. Does it move to a nation that truly stands for the words in the Pledge of Allegiance: not specifically “under God”, but “with liberty and justice for all”? Does the influence of God in this great nation present itself in enforcement of the punitive restrictions of the Bible — hatred of gays, hatred of other nations, women as a distinct and hidden second class, punishment for abortion, or does God’s influence present itself in the compassionate aspects of the Bible: remembering that it is we too who were slaves and foreigners, that it is our job to help the captive, heal the sick, pick up the downfallen, aid the poor and show mercy (just as, as this non-Christian understands it, Christ showed mercy to Mary Magdelaine)? I know who I want to win.

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This collection has taken a while to ripen to fruition:

  • Knitting as a Patriotic Duty. Here’s an interesting article on how knitting helped us win the war. From knitting for the troops to encoding information in garments, knitting has been vital.
  • The Welcome Blanket. Here’s an interesting knitting project: The Welcome Blanket. The aim of the project is to use 2,000 miles of yarn to knit blankets. The significance of that staggering number? It’s the approximate length of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Those participating in the project are asked to knit (or crochet, or sew) a blanket that is 40 inches by 40 inches, which averages 1,200 yards. That means about 3,200 blankets will be needed to meet the goal. Participants are encouraged to make their blankets “something you would like to receive” and think of it as “a gift to a neighbor.”
  • Baby Hats. Don’t want to knit a blanket? How about baby hats? Oklahoma needs 5,000 of them, all in purple. Why? The campaign is part of an effort to raise awareness of Shaken Baby Syndrome, a form of abusive head trauma that’s a damaging parental response to excessive crying and can result in serious brain injury. The effort, dubbed “Click for Babies” after the sound knitting needles make, is intended to highlight the potential hazards of improper infant care. Why purple? Because the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome refers to an infant’s period of prolonged crying as the PURPLE period. The word is an acronym for reminders about the syndrome: L, for example, stands for Long-Lasting. Babies can cry for five hours a day, up to four months of age.

Don’t knit. Here’s a non-knitting item:

 

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Hamilton (Pantages)Singing and dancing founding fathers. They’ve trod the Great White Way slightly more times than professional sports have. Some — like 1776 — have been spectacularly successful. Others — like Mr. President, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Ben Franklin in Paris — have been less so. All have portrayed our leaders as ultimately human, as flawed men that have worked towards a more perfect union.

Two years ago, another musical in this genre burst upon the scene. In doing so, it did what few musicals have done since the Golden Age of Musicals. It entered the vernacular. It spoke a musical language that moved from the stage to the airwaves, with an album that has gone triple platinum. It spoke and moved the hearts not just of the greyhairs that typically attend musicals, but of the everyday people. It spoke to the people of today — the immigrants that works as hard as they can and give more than 100% to make this nation great, to the women who have worked equally hard and been equally smart but have often blended into the background. It demonstrated that the storybook history is fantasy, that the real sausage-making is only seen by those in the room where it happened, and that those who tell the story are just as important in coloring it — or removing the color — as those who were there. This musical, like West Side Story, Hair, and Rent, spoke to the people and conflicts of today while couching it in the language of the stage. This musical demonstrated to a generation the power of the stage, the ability of live performance to move hearts, tell a story, and change the world.

I am speaking, of course, of Hamiliton (FB), the Broadway blockbuster with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) (based on the book by Ron Chernow (FB)) that just arrived in Los Angeles, officially opening on Wednesday, August 16, with previews starting August 11. We were at the second preview last night at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), thankful for our season tickets that enabled us to see the show for a mere $46, when people are paying multiple hundreds and thousands of dollars for a seat (although the people sitting next to us paid only $10 thanks to the Hamilton Lottery). There is a reason to buy season tickets sometimes. There is a reason that one has to sit through The Bodyguard sometimes.

So does Hamilton live up to the hype? Is it the musical of this generation? We have to agree with Charles McNulty of the LA Times: Yes. Although there are some flaws, it speaks to an audience the way no other musical has since perhaps Rent. It energizes people not only about America but about the theatre. It is, at its heart, theatrical. It is something that hopefully will live on in its execution and its message. It will hopefully energize a younger generation on that unique American form that is the “Broadway Musical”, and it has already sparked / continued a move of popular composers back to the theatrical stage — and both popular and “Broadway” music will be the better for it. It already is.

I’m not sure I need to tell you the actual story of Hamilton. By now, you’ve likely listened to the album. You know it is the story of an immigrant that created the modern financial system. It is the story of a man that rose from nothing to be a Founding Father, but one whose imperfections ultimately brought him down. It is a demonstration that our founding wasn’t easy. It is the story of founders such as Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. It is not the story of John Adams or Benjamin Franklin — they already have their own musicals. It is the story of Alexander Hamilton. You still want the synopsis. Read Wikipedia.

The musical presents incredible performance. It has incredible choreography. It has an incredible ensemble (it is worth seeing a second time if only to focus on watching the ensemble as opposed to the principals). McNulty opines that it has a flawed book: “I have quibbles with the book, which suffers a few minor dips in its retreading of Alexander Hamilton’s revolutionary life story. And I’ve questioned the relative gentleness of Miranda’s take on Hamilton’s complicated economic legacy and the founding fathers’ personal relationship to slavery. “Hamilton” could probably have done more to connect the framers’ partisan squabbles with our own.” I, on the other hand, see the flaws of Hamilton in a more technical fashion. For a show to become a show of the ages, it must be reproducible for the masses. We know of West Side Story and Hair and Rent because they have been performed on stages from the amateur to the professional. On the other hand, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark? Yeah, a tour is promised, but we’re not going to see it in high schools? Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which we saw last week, may not do well on the intimate or regional stage just because of the technical demands. I’m unsure if whether the double-turntable staging of Hamilton will be possible on the high school, intimate, or regional stage. Will Hamilton move from the Broadway and Touring stage to the stages of the heartland of America? I’m not sure we know that yet. Some past blockbusters — Producers, Spamalot, and Rent have. Others haven’t. Et tu, Wicked?

But that just makes it more imperative that you go see Hamilton while you can. If you miss it this go around — either due to schedule, cost, or bad luck in the lottery — I can guarantee you that it will be back. This will be another Wicked, reappearing every few years to empty pocketbooks and win hearts — and everyone should see it at least once. Director Thomas Kail and Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler  have crafted an remarkable “whole”: a harmonization of the leads and the ensemble that tell a story in a way that hasn’t really been done on the stage before, except, perhaps, In The Heights (which was from the same team). This is worth seeing, and seeing again.

Describing the performance — in a review sense — is difficult. Gone are the days LA Civic Light Opera days where Los Angeles got the original Broadway cast. We have a cast trained on Broadway, but we don’t have Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) or Phillipa Soo. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. All of the leads are spectacular, demonstrating that this not a star dependent show. Just like some of the greatest television shows, the strength of this show is its its entire cast, the synthesis of talent and performance and energy that makes all it difficult to separate performances, for all are great — from Hamilton, Burr, and the other leads to the nameless background dancer.

Our top protagonists are Michael Luwoye (FB) as Alexander Hamilton and Joshua Henry (FB) as Aaron Burr. Luwoye brings a different intensity and style to Hamilton (at least audibly, as I only know Miranda’s performance from the album), but it is one that works well. Henry is just spectacular in his intensity as Burr. The two men — perhaps one of the most famous frenemies duos — have a great chemistry together on stage, and work well in the roles.

The Schuyler Sisters are the most prominent female roles in the story — Emmy Raver-Lampman (FB) as Angelica, Solea Pfeiffer (FB) as Eliza, and Amber Iman (FB★, FB) as both Peggy and Hamilton’s later lover, Maria Reynolds. They have perhaps some of the most complicated vocal harmonies and blendings in the score, and they handle them well. Each brings a unique look and style to the role, and provide both a touching softness and strength to the leads. They are a joy to watch.

The revolutionary team of compadres that form around Hamilton — Jordan Donica (FB) as Marquis de Lafayette, Mathenee Treco (FB) as Hercules Mulligan, and Rubén J. Carbajal (FB) as John Laurens — capture the headstrong nature of youth well. They reappear in the second act — Donica as Jefferson, Treco as Madison, and Carbajal as Hamilton’s son, Phillip. It is here where Donica shines as the effusive dandy Jefferson, primping and preening as he contrasts and battles with Hamilton. Treco’s Madison is a lot quieter, behind the scenes as Jefferson’s right-hand man. Carbajal — a local boy, having done In The Heights at the Chance Theatre (FB) — has some wonderful scenes as Phillip — especially in his duel.

Rory O’Malley (FB★, FB)’s King George is a spectacular dandy — someone whose “da da da da” refrain will stick in your head. He tends to appear on-stage by himself, in a world of his own — capturing the separation of King George from his subjects well. As a side note: When O’Malley as the King sang of John Adams, I noted that Adams does not appear at all in this show. Why? Because he’s the center of his own show and story, someone else tells his story. Similarly, Ben Franklin has no voice at all in this show (referenced in just one song); again, he’s not only in Adams’ show, but has his own show as well. Hamilton focuses on the founding fathers whose stories haven’t been told.

The other main founding father presented in the show is George Washington, portrayed by Isaiah Johnson (FB). Looking nothing like the be-wigged father on the postage stamps, he does a great job of leadership and mentorship in his portrayl.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble are (other named characters as noted): Raymond Baynard (FB) [also George Eacker], Dan Belnavis (FB), Daniel Ching (FB) [also Charles Lee], Jeffery Duffy (FB), Jennifer Geller (FB), Afra Hines (FB★, FB), Sabrina Imamura (FB), Lauren Kias (FB), Raven Thomas (FB), Ryan Vasquez (FB) [also Philip Schuyler, James Reynolds, and Doctor], and Andrew Wojtal (FB) [also Samuel Seabury] . This ensemble is spectacular: in constant motion, as wonderful background characters, as strong dancers, and people floating in and out. As you can, focus your attention and watch them closely, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

I’m not going to detail who understudies who, but there are a fair number of standbys [SB], swings [SW], and universal swings [USW]: Ryan Alvarado (FB) [SB], Julia K. Harriman (FB★, FB) [SB], Josh Andrés Rivera (FB) [SB], Amanda Braun (FB) [SW], Karli Dinardo (FB) [SW, Dance Captain], Jacob Guzman (FB) [SW, Dance Captain], Alex Larson (FB) [SW], Yvette Lu (FB) [SW], Desmond Newson (FB) [SW], Desmond Nunn (FB) [SW], Keenan D. Washington (FB) [SW], Hope Endrenyi (FB) [USW], Eliza Ohman (FB★, FB) [USW], Antuan Magic Raimone (FB) [USW], and Willie Smith III [USW].

The music in the show was sharp and clear, with the Hamilton Orchestra conducted by Julian Reeve (FB) [also Keyboard 1] and Andre Cerullo (FB) [also Keyboard 2]. The other orchestra members were: John Mader (FB) [Drums]; Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin]; Adriana Zoppo (FB) [Concertmaster]; Jody Rubin (FB) [Viola / Violin]; Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]; Trey Henry (FB) [Bass / Electric Bass / Key Bass]; Paul Viapiano (FB) [Electric Guitar / Acoustic Guitar / Banjo];, and Wade Culbreath [Percussion / Keyboards]. Other music related credits: Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor]; Randy Cohen (FB) [Synthesizer and Drum Programmer]; Matt Gallagher [Universal Music Associate]. Larger creative music credits: Alex Lacamoire (FB) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) [Arrangements]; Michael Keller (FB) and Michael Aarons (FB) [Music Coordinators]; Julian Reeve (FB) [Music Director]; Alex Lacamoire (FB) [Music Supervision and Orchestrations].

Finally, turning to the creative and production credits. The scenic design by David Korins (FB) was spectacular: a large brick background with scaffolding that some how transports well, including a deck with a double turntable. This was augmented by Howell Binkley (FB)’s lighting design, which not only impacted the actors but the back of the scenic designed, and used a type of LED mover I hadn’t seen before. Nevin Steinberg (FB)‘s sound design, as noted before, was quite clear; I noted they added additional speakers to improve the sound in the mezzanine and balcony of the Pantages. The costume design of Paul Tazewell and the hair and wig design of the very busy Charles G. LaPointe worked well for the movement and dance, and to establish the nature of the characters. Rounding out the production credits: J. Philip Bassett [Production Supervisor]; Hudson Theatrical Associates [Technical Supervision]; Kimberly Fisk (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Telsey & Company (FB) and Bethany Knox CSA (FB) [Casting]; Roeya Banuazizi [Company Manager]; Patrick Vassel (FB) [Associate and Supervising Director]; Stephanie Klemons (FB★, FB) [Associate and Supervising Choreographer]; Derek Mitchell (FB) [Resident Choreographer].

Hamiliton (FB) continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through December 30th. Tickets might be available through the Pantages website, but they might be expensive. Orchestra tickets start at $650, and resale prices vary widely. There is a $10 ticket lottery: either through the Hamilton App, or through the Hamilton Lottery Website. If you like the voice of Aaron Burr, Joshua Henry (FB), you might also look into the final production of the Muse/ique (FB) 2017 “Summer of Sound”: Glow/Town, on August 26,  featuring Savion Glover (FB) and, from the Hamilton tour, Joshua Henry (FB). Tickets are available from the Muse/ique website; discount tickets may be available from Goldstar. I find the Festival Seating just fine: general admission tables and chairs to see the show, and you bring your own picnic to enjoy. A perfect summer evening. Summer events take on the lawn in front of the Beckmann Auditorium at CalTech in Pasadena.

***

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) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (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:

For the remainder of August, we’ve got a little theatre vacation. I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have only The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). December brings ACSAC 2017 in San Juan PR, the Colburn Orchestra and the Klezmatics at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB),   Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB), and our Christmas Day movie. More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

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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Before I start my morning task of writing up Hamilton: An American Musical, a few observations on what I read when I got home. I had just spent three hours watching a musical that celebrated the men that fought for our freedom, and when I read Facebook, I was dismayed. I saw statements such as it was incompatible to be a Proud American and an Nazi sympathizer. People clearly do not understand America, and the strengths and risks of the American experiment. There is a reason the ACLU fights not only on the side of minorities, but on the side of Nazis and Racists.

Simply put: In American you can think whatever you want. You can be racist, you can be Nazi, you can be Socialist, you can be Communist, you can be Democratic, you can be Republican. For the most part, you can even say what you want (however, I believe you cannot encourage violence). You can protest, you can be silent, you can yell, you can scream. Of course, those who oppose your opinions have an equal right to speak back at you with their opposition. So yes, you can be a Proud America and think racist and supremacist thoughts.

What you can’t do, however, is violate the constitution or the constitutional rights of others. You cannot act in such a way that takes away the civil rights of others. You can think as racist as you want, but you can’t act in a racist fashion. You can protest all you want, but you can’t take away the life, freedom, and liberty of others. Had Charlottesville remained simply two vocal protest groups, it would have made the news one day and been gone, a demonstration of America’s strength again to hear repugnant views, relish in our remarkable country that permits people to say stupid things and not be arrested. But protests that kill and injure people cross the line — they move from action that is speech to action that impinges on civil rights and is thus illegal and unconstitutional.

So think however you want. Even write it up and protest — that is your right in this astounding country of ours. I may be offended by your words; I may be glad to know who you are and what you think so I don’t have to go anywhere near you. But I will defend your right to offend me with words. Cross that line of impinging rights. Act to deny any protected class — religion, sex, color, country of origin, orientation, etc. — their right to freedom and we will fight back to protect those rights.

Being an American isn’t easy. Our founding fathers and mothers fought for freedom from Britain so that the King could not dictate what we could say, think, or believe. Every day is a continual fight for those freedoms and rights, even if sometimes it is painful and hard to do. While we recognize the right of those who hold views repugnant to us to speak, we must protest loudly and clearly the movement of that hate from speech into actions against others, actions that took or injured the lives of those also expressing their views. We must use our speech — and our laws — to condemn such actions and ensure that those that take away constitutional freedoms learn what it is like to be deprived of theirs.

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I’m sitting at my computer this morning reading about the hatred expressed yesterday evening at UVA, thinking about an extremely interesting BackStory episode about race in America, and getting ready to go to Hamilton this evening… and I’m thinking about how this country started with speaches about freedom, liberty, and justice from one side of their mouth, and hatred for the other coming out the other side. Before the founding of this country, there was hatred based not on skin color, but on country of origin. It was America — Virginia, in particular — that created the distinction between “white” and “black”. It was America that created race hatred. It is America that has amplified hatred of foreigners — be they African, Irish, Italian, Chinese, or from the Middle East. It is American that has pushed hatred of others based on political party, on sexual orientation, on size, on appearance.

For a country that is about freedom and liberty, we’re damn judgemental. I blame the Puritans.

If we are going to succeed as a nation, and continue to prosper, we must get past this hate. We must unite against it. The “other” is not out to get it; homogeneity is not the answer to piece. Our nation was built upon the other. Our nation was built on the melting pot of ideas and, yes, cultures. Our nation wasn’t built on one side winning and the other side losing, but on compromise — on finding that middle group that moves us incrementally forward, ever advancing, ever improving, ever shaping our society to be better than it was before.

Since the 1990s, our politics have become increasingly divisive. The other side is not just wrong, they are evil. There is no reconciliation with evil, no granting them of any quarter. That’s wrong. Different ideas are not evil, they are just different. Refugees are not out to get us; they are out to make peaceful homes for their families. Gays and Transgenders are not out to destroy the cis world; they are just out to live their lives in piece. Almost all of us (except for a few aberrations) was the same thing: to live in peace, to have a safe place to live, to be able to earn enough to take care of our families, to love, to be loved, and hopefully, to leave the world a better place than we found it.

Let us remember what binds us together, and not see in another’s ascent an implication of our descent. There’s a meme going around that points out that the world isn’t pie: one person being successful doesn’t always comes at the expense of another.

Or, in the words of The Mad Show: (music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Stephen Sondehim):

We’re gonna stamp out hate
That’s our creed
Wipe out violence, intolerance and greed
We’re gonna start right now
Tomorrow is too late
We’re gonna stamp out hate.

We’re gonna stamp out hate
Stamp it in the ground
And then take happiness and spread it all around
We’ll put an end to grief
We can hardly wait
We’re gonna stamp out hate.

We’re gonna stamp out hate
Sock it in the eye
Shoot it in the stomach yelling, die, die, die!
We’ll pull its insides out
And look at look at what it ate
We’re gonna stamp out hate.

We’re gonna stamp out hate
Lash it with a switch
Amputate its arms and legs and see how long they twitch
We’ll put its toes on hooks
And dangle them for bait
We’re gonna stamp out hate.

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Over the past few weeks, there have been quite a few articles I’ve uncovered related to California and Los Angeles history:

Speaking of going away….

 

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Over the last few days, my newsfeed has been filled with people gloating over the fact that the fellow who came up with that original guidance — make complex passwords and change them often — admitted he was wrong. But, if course, as with most people, they are misinterpreting things. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Complex passwords are still critical, but the answer is not an unpronouncable mix of letters and characters — because you can’t remember that. You can get equal or stronger passwords by choosing random words from the dictionary (passphrases) because although the “string” is shorter, the alphabet is larger. Math is math.
  • Frequent changing of passwords defeats the strength not because frequent changing is bad, but because human nature is. If you change things frequently, you’ll go to patterns that make things easier to remember — and to break.

In reality, the best solution is still a high-quality Password Manager, with a strong master password. In the password manager, you can create strong passwords for all your sites — unique for each site — and not have to remember them. This is something recommend (and not using my Facebook authentication for everything, which is not only weak but gives FB far too much information). I’ve recommended Lastpass for a long time for this purpose. It can keep track not only of passwords, but all that information you fill into forms — such as credit card info — so that you are storing it in your encrypted password vault, not on another machine where you depend on their encryption.

Recently, Lastpass changed their charging model: they upped the price (without notice) of Lastpass Premium from $12 to $24 a year. Everyone was up in arms! Heaven forfend! Doubling the price! (Never mind the fact that we’re talking $1 a month, which is noise, but hey, it’s the percentage!). It’s a concern for me: we have three Lastpass Premium accounts. However, I plan to move to the Family pricing model (which is worth it for 2 or more family members); hopefully, Lastpass will provide a way to consolidate existing Premium accounts into a single Family account with prorata balances applying towards the fee.

In the larger world, NIST is simplifying their password recommendations. The folks at Lastpass believe that will make things easier, but I believe that the fundamentals still remain: pick a unique password for each site, make it suitably complex, ideally gaining complexity through words vs. characters. How to do that? Use the password generator in your password manager, use the nonsense word generator, or use the XKCD Password Generator, XKPasswd.

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Sometimes news chum is just useful information. Here’s a bunch of items, all related to your house or your household:

 

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