Class Warfare Blog

June 2, 2019

I Went Through Childhood Never Having Been Asked What I Wanted for Dinner

Filed under: Culture,Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:10 pm
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Last night I saw a TV commercial in which a bright and chipper Mom asked everyone what they wanted for dinner. Each kid chimed in with a different idea (pizza, spaghetti, whatever) and then Mom miraculously whipped up food that met all of these requests! I do not remember what the commercial was for (Miracle Whip?) because I had a moment of reverie trying to remember if I had ever been asked what I wanted for dinner. (When I reached a certain age it became very important for me to remember things. I have gotten to the stage in which I can remember that I once knew something but couldn’t remember what it was and sometimes I can then wrestle mightily with age and actually come up with what I thought I knew but had feared I had forgotten. Other times, of course . . . <cricket, cricket, cricket> memory gone!)

The best I can recollect, I can’t remember being asked what I wanted for dinner, at home. In very rare visits to restaurants (McDonald’s was considered a restaurant) I was allowed to select certain things but at home, nada.

In no way do I feel deprived. I had a loving and protected childhood. It took quite a while but I finally discovered that this was not the norm, TV shows like Leave It To Beaver, and Father Knows Best to the contrary. We ate dinner seated around the dining room table every evening. TV viewing was restricted to after dinner and Saturday morning cartoons. (We had but one set and it was black and white.)

I remember family meetings, around that self same table, in which we discussed where and when we were going on vacation. Us kids were not asked where we wanted to go or what we wanted to see but we still got excited about going on a trip. (I do remember being 14 and not wanting to go on vacation as it would gut my summer baseball season and I was allowed to stay home by myself for two weeks. Today that might be considered child abuse but I felt very trusted (and I got $20 to spend on groceries that, yes, I cooked myself).

It seems possible that children are now asked more often what their preferences are for such things. I don’t really know, but I suspect that this came about (if it did) based upon advertising.

In my world as a youth print and TV ads were generally not directed at children. The first of those in my recollection were Saturday morning commercials for breakfast cereals and toys. This was a time period where the audience was rather well defined (adults didn’t get up early on Saturday to watch Beanie and Cecil or Kukla, Fran, and Ollie) and it was felt that kids had some leverage in asking for sugary breakfast cereals and toys. Of course, enough whiny kids begging for such things resulted in editorials in newspapers decrying the adverts directed at children.

Soon to follow was fashion for kids. (Every boy I knew in my youth wore teeshirts and jeans or chinos, except the Catholic school kids who wore the current school uniform.)

I do not take my oft taken stance of the grumpy old man chasing the kids off of his lawn in this case, but I do wonder about consequences. Kids seems to be more focused on money and acquisitions than when I was young. My main source of income was scrounging soda pop bottles in the creek, taking them in for the deposits. (In high school I had a $2 week allowance (for dusting and vacuuming the house every Saturday on top of doing my normal chores and I felt quite flush.) Kids now seem to have more disposable income that some of their parents. They also seem to have more of everything that did we as kids.

Things change . . . often for the better and often not. Handling such changes should be given more room in our educational curricula as, for example, our political stances toward long-term phenomena, such as climate change, show we need better tools in this area.

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March 20, 2019

Watch the Test Scores, Watch the Test Scores, You Are Getting Very Sleepy

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:24 pm
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In the age of Trump, distraction has become the primary tool of many politicians. This also applies to charter school advocates.

One reason charter school supporters and promoters dogmatically fixate on pedagogically meaningless test scores is because they do not want to draw any attention to the real underlying problem with charter schools, which is that they are privatized, marketized, corporatized, deregulated, deunionized, non-transparent, pro-competition, political-economic arrangements that siphon billions of public dollars from public schools every year and make rich people even richer while drowning in fraud, corruption, waste, arrests, scandal, and racketeering.

Shawgi Tell

January 14, 2019

Why Would Teachers Strike?

The teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are going to strike. Why would they do that? As all union officials know (I was one previously), strikes are “lose-lose” propositions, so their only justification is that without one, the losses will be much greater.

In reasonable school districts, teacher strikes just do not happen, that is because of mutual understanding and respect. On the other hand LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who came to the job with no background in education, commented to a reporter regarding the strike that “There are ways to educate kids that don’t rely on a physical body.” In other words, teachers are not necessary.

I wonder if the good superintendent would have the same attitude were he to need a substantial surgery, or were facing a threatening lawsuit, or whose tax forms were in terrific disarray? Would he have said “There are ways to operate on people’s bodies that don’t rely on a doctor.” or “There are ways to defend yourself in court that don’t rely on a lawyer.” or “There are ways to straighten out accounting messes that don’t rely on accountants.”?

Were this gentleman a skilled negotiator he would have realized that uttering such a statement, especially to a reporter and no matter how much he believed in it, had no “up-side.” It not only doesn’t produce any positive effect for “his side” but it mobilizes those on the “other side” against you. If you want labor peace, start with respect (it is easy to grant, not so easy to earn) and understanding (The rule for negotiators is: “seek first to understand before being understood.”).

I am not totally opposed to non-educators being selected for these positions, but I am against stupid people being hired for such positions.

October 30, 2018

Sometimes You Don’t Have to Even Read the Book!

The Amazon posting for the book College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students by Jeffrey J. Selingo supplies the blurb below. Reading just the blurb tells me that reading the book is unnecessary as I already know the arguments are, well, mistaken.

* * *

What is the value of a college degree?

The four-year college experience is as American as apple pie. So is the belief that higher education offers a ticket to a better life. But with student-loan debt surpassing the $1 trillion mark and unemployment of college graduates at historic highs, people are beginning to question that value. 

In College (Un)bound, Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor at large of the Chronicle of Higher Education, argues that America’s higher education system is broken. The great credential race has turned universities into big business and fostered an environment where middle-tier colleges can command elite university-level tuition while concealing staggeringly low graduation rates, churning out graduates with few of the skills needed for a rapidly evolving job market.

Selingo not only turns a critical eye on the current state of higher education but also predicts how technology will transform it for the better. Free massive online open courses (MOOCs) and hybrid classes, adaptive learning software, and the unbundling of traditional degree credits will increase access to high-quality education regardless of budget or location and tailor lesson plans to individual needs. One thing is certain—the Class of 2020 will have a radically different college experience than their parents.

Incisive, urgent, and controversial, College (Un)bound is a must-read for prospective students, parents, and anyone concerned with the future of American higher education.

* * *

This book is only five years old but is out-of-date already. The reason it is is not because of advances in technology, but because research has already showing some of the darlings of that time (MOOCs, for instance) are not what we hoped they might become.

The mistake made by all who argue “technology will transform education” is one of perspective. There have been transformative technologies in the past that have had massive impacts on education, for instance the invention of the moveable-type printing press, the prior invention of paper, etc. But if you look at the history of such innovations you will find them littered with mistaken claims for “technological transformations.”

Think about motion pictures and how they have transformed education.

Think about filmed animations and how they have transformed education.

Think about the telephone and how it has transformed education.

Think about television and how it has transformed education.

Think about computers and how they have transformed education.

Think about cell phones and how they have transformed education.

Actually none of these things have transformed education, although all have had some small impact. I currently operate a small business via email and the Internet. That business existed before email and the Internet were invented, but while those inventions make my job a great deal easier, they still result in a product consumed by a bunch of people. I can generate my product more cheaply this way and that has allowed us to stay in business, but we aren’t exactly getting rich. Big impact for us, not a whole lot of change in output.

The same is true for education. Email and programs like Skype allow me to have conversations with people all over the world. If I had needed to do that back in the day of physical mail being my only option, it would have taken far longer, but it still could have been done. Many of these technologies are similar, they speed things, e.g. like communication, up but don’t fundamentally change what is done, e.g. communicated.

Technology will have an impact on education, but there will be nothing particularly earth shaking for the simple reason that education is a social process. The whole reason for bringing people together on a “campus” is to facilitate the social interaction between students and students, students and teachers, and teachers and teachers. Sure, you could do it all using a messaging app, but a great deal would be lost. Communication is a small percentage about just the words, there are many other things to be considered, a more important part being the emotional affect of the communicators. And, yes, I am aware of emojis and their use. But emojis are chosen by the person madly typing away and they may or may not be accurate or may even be flat-out lies. If someone directly in front of you is claiming to be satisfied but is clearly not so, you can tell this. Every one of us has the ability to read the mental state of other people. We suspect when we are being lied to. We can detect uncertainty in the speech of another. We can tell duplicity and myriad other things, like when a conversant is disdainful.

Education is not just about accumulating facts and skills. One is also learning how to communicate with others, to reason effectively, to learn the tools of a trade. Photographers know that learning how to use their cameras and lighting accessories, etc. is fundamentally important but that is not what photographers learn about in most photography courses. They learn about leading lines in compositions, balance, tonality, all kinds of things that can make a photograph into a work of art or a brilliant illustration of a concept. Similarly when people become educated, they are not just learning facts, techniques, and skills. They are developing attitudes, the ability to speak in front of others, even groups, to convince, to describe, etc. To do this requires social interaction and anything that gets between two human beings engaged in this diminishes the communication.

So, if you are waiting for technology to transform education, don’t hold your breath. The critical factors are still social interaction, inspiration of individuals to work hard on a topic and then come together to defend and attack ideas flowing through those communication channels.

And, if you prefer to think of me as a modern day Luddite, a hater/fearer of technology, you couldn’t be more wrong. What I fear is bullshit artists who make claims for tech and people that are misleading and lead young people astray. There is no app for that.

Addendum Oh, btw, there is plenty wrong with higher education, but the use of “ed tech” isn’t a solution for any of those things.

July 10, 2018

How Stupid Are We?

Are teachers taking “penny wise, pound foolish” to a new extreme? Not long ago we were treated to a display of anti-worker politics in the state of Wisconsin by its newly elected Republican governor and its republican dominated state houses. According to OurFuture.org, there were consequences for state workers “One Wisconsin labor organization representing teachers lost 60 percent of its members. Overall in Wisconsin, the percentage of union members in the workforce declined from 14.1 percent in 2011 to 9 percent in 2016. Simultaneously, pay and benefits declined. For teachers, salaries sank 2.6 percent and benefits dropped 18.6 percent.”

Now, consider that union dues are somewhere around $100 per month, working ten months per year so the total cost is about $1000. By “saving” that money by dropping their union membership or refusing to pay “fair share fees” (which BTW by law cannot include charges for political representation, which makes the SCOTUS ruling based upon free speech a farce), this is what the total cost was: apparently those unions lost $3000 per year in fringe benefits right away (https://money.cnn.com/2017/11/17/news/economy/wisconsin-act-10-teachers/index.html) and then they lost even more in salary reductions and missed salary increases. Save $1000 to lose $6000-$10,000 or possibly your job! What a bargain! Sign me up … not!

Boy, all of you teachers fleeing your unions or refusing to pay fair share fees are really showing them!

Politically teachers need to wake up. The people behind these political moves are anti-union, pro-business plutocrats. They are not your friends. You do not have access to them. Your union, on the other hand, is made up of your colleagues, who you do have access to, and if you do not like the direction your union is going, you can run for office and change it from within!

I learned this lesson the hard way also … but I did learn it.

Support your local union or start counting your food stamps because that is where you are going.

 

 

 

May 15, 2018

The Basic Problem with Our Religions

Filed under: Culture,Education,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
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A philosopher named Owen Flanagan quoted someone as saying that “A good human life is lived at the intersection of the true, the good, and the beautiful.” It seems that we all come equipped to determine what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful as part of our basic makeup, so if the aphorism is true, we all have the capability of living a good life. But if you ask a Christian apologist what is the true, what is the good, and what is the beautiful, they will respond that God/Jesus is the truth, only He is truly good, and He and His love are the beautiful. Humans, on the other hand, are depraved, sinful, and unworthy, and that none of those three (truth, good, beauty) come from anywhere but their god. Humans can be saved from their sinfulness, but only through faith in their god or at least obey the gods directives as interpreted by their gods servants.

I am reminded of a phenomenon of the 1970’s and 1980’s called Erhard Seminars Training or EST. This was a self-improvement program designed to improve the lives of the participants. The beginning of the course was described as being brutal as the participants were verbally abused into a state of pliable acceptance, then they were built up into different people, presumably better. Old school military training was similar, but the initial stages were more physical. “Recruits” were abused verbally and physically to make them more pliable for training into better soldiers (any number of movies have highlighted these processes—Private Benjamin, Full Metal Jacket, An Officer and a Gentleman, etc.).

The religions in this country favor depicting potential believers as being unworthy, sinful, even abominable, before offering the “cure.” They describe the world around us as being filled with temptations and dangers, for which they have, of course, solutions. They refer to their followers as docile animals, as their “flock,” as “lambs and sheep,” and as children, with priests referring to their parishioners as their children (My Son, My Daughter, My Child) and accept the title of “Father,” all of which disempowers the parishioners and puts them into the pliable state of a child, ready for indoctrination.

As a teacher I was taught that my primary goal was to provide a “safe learning environment” for my students, so they could learn free of coercion, bullying, sarcasm, and humiliation. I taught college kids, adults, so was that requirement because all of my students had already been safely religiously indoctrinated as children and it was now not okay to coerce them? Why does this “safe, learning environment” requirement not apply to religions, which terrorize young children with images of their loved ones burning in Hell. (Please don’t tell me this doesn’t happen, I have spoken to too many people who have confessed their nightmares regarding their grandparents or other loved ones roasting in fire.)

Why do not we use, as a theme for educating our children the simple phrase “a good human life is lived at the intersection of the true, the good, and the beautiful” and operate as if we believed that?

Spelling Counts! (Really!)

Filed under: Education,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 9:13 am

Every city has assholes in it, but apparently KC is above average.

April 29, 2018

Wither Public Education?

I was reading a comment recently that in the U.S. no one expects to be given housing or food and drink or medical care, but all parents expect their children to be given a good education. The “why” of this was immediately apparent … because we have already paid for it. Education is funded through property taxes and state taxes with a smidgen of federal funds thrown (but always with strings attached, so those are not funds to support ongoing efforts). If you are a homeowner and say that you are unfairly singled out for these taxes, please realize that those of us who do not own our homes (of which I am one) pay rent, which is used by the rental unit’s owner to pay his property taxes. And we all pay income taxes or other taxes to our states. We are also not paying just for our own kid’s educations, but everyone’s, as part of the commonweal.

So, in our “pay as you go” culture, we have paid for the “go” but it is currently under attack.

As a scientist and a trained meeting facilitator and a sports coach I know that the most important part of solving problems is the careful elucidation of what the real problem is. If you misidentify the problem, the odds of you solving it plummet.

With regard to public education, the problems have been misidentified for years. Starting roughly in 1983 with the publishing of a major (and very flawed) study given the title of “A Nation at Risk,” which launched the false narrative that American public schools were failing, a systematic false narrative about “the problem” was being proffered. The nation, at the time of that study, was in the throes of a recession, and the authors of the report blamed the schools, which is patently stupid because the lag period between youths being in public schools and being out in society where they can have a major impact on the economy has to be measured in decades. Nothing happening now could be caused by the state of schools now; twenty years ago, maybe.

In any case, since that time a major disinformation campaign has been continuously waged against public schools (they are failing and the sky is falling, too). The current object of that campaign is to “privatize” public schools so as to extract profits from them. The justification for the profits is as spurious as the disinformation about what is wrong with our schools. The justification is that “market forces,” aka “school choice,” will solve all of the problems. This is a belief in what I call “market woo” and really should be advanced by “experts” dressed up as witch doctors because it has as much value as does spiritual medicine. The real justification for the profits is the profits themselves. Being able to extract profits from the huge pile of money set aside to educate our kids is the primary motive and it has the oligarchs drooling.

As to the “real problem” with public schools I offer the following: if you segregate out public schools in relatively wealthy parts of the U.S., you will find that they perform at very high levels. Massachusetts public schools, for example, perform on international tests higher than the current darlings of those tests, e.g. Singapore, Finland, etc. This fact alone obliterates the claim that government cannot do public schools well.

Now, if you think I am going to follow this up with a claim that schools are underfunded, you will be quite wrong. They are often underfunded and that is part of the problem, but school funding alone will not make the schools that are not performing at a high level do so. (The wealthy cannot claim that school funding is not an issue when they are sending their own children to schools that have very high levels of funding.) Careful studies show that there are real roadblocks to performance in schools. (Hint: teacher competence is not a major concern here, even though that has been part of the misinformation smear campaign of the oligarchs.) The roadblocks are poverty, racism, and violence. In school districts where the students are chronically hungry and receive threats of violence on a frequent basis, we now have solid research showing that almost nothing else can be done to raise performance up to the levels of schools in which these forces are absent. Asking the schools to fix these problems is stupid. We can ameliorate them a little. We can escort students to and from schools, but they are being preyed upon in the neighborhoods as well. Fear for one’s physical safety is an all-consuming distraction. We can provide school breakfasts and lunches (and I recommend we do that for all students) and by so doing that we can ameliorate the effects of hunger on being able to concentrate in class. (My son wrote a history of school lunch programs, so we have a great deal of history with regard to what does and does not work in that, plus we have examples in other countries as to what is possible.)

It is now clear that the “reformers” claims of the value of vouchers and charter schools are bogus. These “solutions” were proffered as solutions for “the problem.” Since the problem was a false construct in the first place, the solutions were hardly likely to work and have been proven not to. They also have unleashed a tide of corruption as fly-by-night charter operations which have bilked states out of many millions of dollars. This has become such a common event that a premature closing of charter schools has become commonplace.

This is a con, pure and simple. The con artists (in order to extract our money) established “the problem” and “the solution.” (Any time the problem and solution come from the same source, you know it is a con.) The con artists did a good job of obfuscating who is behind the scam, but we can see it all now. And politicians, who are receiving “campaign donations” from charter schools(!!), are always willing to “serve the public” by giving us what we want: “school choice.” But we don’t want school choice, that is their solution. We want the good education for our children that we have paid for.

A careful consideration of the real issues shows that the “crisis” in our schools was not there in the first place. The real problems center on inconsistency. We demonstrate, on a daily basis that we can “do” public schools very, very well but we also demonstrate that we are willing to accept a very much lower standard of performance in some schools. Much of this attitude is racist and some is politically and religiously motivated, but it does not solve “the problem.”

If we want to continue the “pay as you go” system we have created, with all of its incentives, what is the incentive in crippling some of our citizens with a poor education, so they cannot earn enough to pay for a decent life for themselves and their families? The answer is that there is none, that the effort to undermine the education of the poor is fueled out of animus and this just has to stop.

We can start by “calling bullshit” on the public education reformers. If you need any ammunition, any of Diane Ravitch’s recent books will do (Reign of Error or The Death and Life of the Great American School System, etc.) And do realize that our democracy is teetering. While we should be making efforts to strengthen it, it is being undermined by authoritarian rich assholes and one of their leverage points is public education. Privatize that, let public schools wither away, and our democracy is in extreme peril.

April 28, 2018

Give Me the Child …

Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.
Jesuit maxim widely attributed to Ignatius Loyola;

In a blog post on the website of The Institute for New Economic Thinking (The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools by Lynn Parramore—April 6, 2018) the author summarizes part of the opinion of Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, thus:

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research shows that the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits.

She went on to say: “In the words of Noam Chomsky… ‘students will be controlled and disciplined.’ Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.”

While reading this I am also reading the book “Why We Do What We Do: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy” by Edward L. Deci. I reached a point in that book in which a long standing question of mine got answered. That question is: why do kids in kindergarten and the early stages of their educations show so much curiosity when that is no longer in evidence when they get to middle school and high school?” It seemed to me that education had the effect of beating the curiosity out of kids. I wondered why. According to Deci “It is truly amazing, as pointed up by our (research) findings, that if people are ongoingly treated as if they were either passive mechanisms or barbarians needing to be controlled, they will begin to act more and more that way (p. 84).” Controlling behavior includes structuring the environment, establishing the rules, enforcing the rules, defining the rewards, etc.

When Chomsky says “students will be controlled and disciplined” he is saying “more than they are now,” the effect of which is to stifle curiosity, creativity, political will to resist the “rules,” etc.

The oligarch’s effort to dismantle public education and remake it under their “leadership” is motivated by a desire for worker drones that will shut up, do what they are told, accept whatever salary and benefits they are offered, and not make problems.

It seems that 1984 is coming, just 30 years later than predicted. And there is no Big Brother;  there are, however, quite a number very wealthy men, old white men, who are auditioning for the role.

March 2, 2018

A Review of Ugly Delicious

Filed under: Culture,Education,Race — Steve Ruis @ 11:04 am
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I just finished watching a Netflix serial documentary Ugly Delicious with David Chang and a bunch of other chefs and food writers … and comedians (?). The term ugly delicious is what David Chang uses for home cooked food that everyone loves which doesn’t show up on restaurant menus. Mr. Chang is a celebrity mega-chef but an ordinary guy, in the sense of he doesn’t put on airs. (Chefs used to be ordinary guys/gals but now that we have made some of them celebrities, some have gotten a bit … aloof, shall we say.)

I had read a review of Ugly Delicious in the NY Times that was a bit sniffy, objecting to Mr. Chang’s use of the F-word for one, which I found ordinary and refreshing. (The Times reviewers seem to all come from the Pecksniff Academy.)

The show is not just about food, but food as a element of culture, how food is interwoven with culture, privilege, and racism. For example, in Japan fried chicken and watermelon is a big seller in restaurants. In the U.S. you would not find that combination on a menu unless it was a black-owned and back-operated restaurant, and then maybe not then, too. Mr. Chang is seen educating himself (and us) about the racism involved in fried chicken (in the U.S. and nowhere else).

Another theme is that American appreciation of Asian foods is stuck on a stultified menu that almost cannot be changed: fried rice, eggroll, and General Tso’s Chicken, etc. … and if it is Asian food it needs to be cheap. When tourists go the China and get authentic Chinese food, they are often disappointed as it is nothing like what is served here. One element of what has created this situation is indeed racism, but one aspect of this wasn’t touched upon. It seems to be the case that a person’s taste in foods seems to be set by the time they are about six years old. If children are fed hot peppers, in that time, they will like hot foods later, for example. I now live in the Midwest and I hear people complain about a dish being “too spicy” because it included Fresno chilies. Fresno chilies! For the Midwesterners reading this, Fresno green chilies are right next to Bell peppers in heat, there is almost none. But children raised on bland food would find them too spicy to eat as adults. The lesson here is if you want to have your children grow up to appreciate a full range of food tastes, don’t shackle them while they are young. If they have a narrow diet while young, they will have a narrow diet when older, same is true for a wider diet. (I had a mixed upbringing, having a wide variety of dishes served to me, but regarding vegetables, we ate a lot of green beans and corn and not much else. So, I like vegetables, as long as they were green beans and corn. I have since learned to like other veggies, but Brussels sprouts eluded me for almost 70 years and cauliflower almost as long. (It doesn’t help that Midwesterners boil all vegetables until mushy and if not, they are creamed or fried. My mother was from Iowa, even though I was born in California.)

Of course, there are extremes for every palette. Mr. Chang relates a story of when he first tried “Hot Chicken” and bragged a little about liking “very hot” food before being served. I will not spoil the story by relating it here, but let me just say Mr. Chang had an out-of-body experience.

This is not a series just about food. It is about people and how food can bring us together as one big family. Very touching, very well told stories, and fascinating, at least to this old fart.

Highly recommended—worth watching—Ugly Delicious.

Addendum I wonder what the budget was for this series as they shot footage all over the world. If Netflix can keep up the pace, I will keep subscribing.

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