Monday, September 24, 2018

Alaskans In LA Times Stories

Saturday's  LA Times' page 2 had just one story,  by Alaska's Zachariah Hughes , about a transplanted North Carolinian in Kotzebue.  In part:

“I like the fall up here,” said Jay Denton, an educator raised in North Carolina who’s spent the last decade in the small towns and villages of the region. Now he lives in Kotzebue, the town of some 3,200 residents about 20 river miles from Hugo’s bald dome. 
Denton stared down at the broad cursive of the Noatak River as it trickled from the western edge of the Brooks Range toward the Chukchi Sea, flanked by taxi-yellow willows and spiky green spruce and miles of rolling tundra.

Fall in the Arctic is something to behold. It begins with a rush of chilled air that prompts the vegetation to change, a shift in the light, and a flurry of movement, both human and animal. It is a season of paradoxes as the flora and fauna come alive on the cusp of winter. But there’s also the inevitable feeling of decay, of an ephemeral landscape slipping away.

Lillian Lennon photo in LA Times

Today, a long story on the ups and downs for transgender folks nationally, includes a picture of Anchorage's Lillian Lemon, who worked to defeat the referendum that would have repealed transgender rights in Anchorage.

"In April, transgender people got some support from voters in Anchorage. By a 6-percentage-point margin, they defeated a ballot measure that would have repealed a trans-inclusive civil rights ordinance and required transgender people to use public bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender at birth.
For activists, that result was heartening in light of events in Houston in 2015 after its City Council adopted an ordinance that included protections for transgender people using restrooms based on gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance gathered enough signatures for a repeal referendum, then campaigned using the slogan “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.” By 61% to 39%, the anti-bias ordinance was repealed."
I included the Houston part, just so Alaskans don't get complacent.  The article also mentions a similar referendum is on the ballot in Massachusetts.  

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Autumn Equinox Is Gone

We hiked the Wolverine Peak Trail today as the colors are changing.

Bark on an old birch trunk.

Meanwhile at home, the birch leaves have begun to fall as well.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

I could laugh at this, except that a Supreme Court seat is at stake

When I read about Kavanaugh confirmation strategist Ed Whelan concocting bizarre stories to explain Kavanaugh out of trouble over Dr. Ford's charges of sexual assault, I couldn't help but think of 10 year olds thinking they could outsmart their grandmother with some crazy story about how the window got broken but not by them..  (For those who have been marooned on a desert island, the story Whelan came up with, is that Ford misidentified the person who sexually assaulted her.  It was really some other guy.)

The excuse is so full of holes, I just had to look online to find the worst ever alibis.  

Whelan's efforts seem about as simple-minded as the ideas listed in a post at Cracked  entitled, "The 7 Stupidest Alibis in the History of Crime"

First, there are the stories that, like Whelan's, try to blame someone else:

#7  "My cat downloaded all that child pornography."
#1  "It was my evil twin!"

Whelan's story falls right into this pattern. The evil twin seems to be the best fit -  the other guy supposedly looks a lot like Kavanaugh.   But Whelan's efforts have fallen apart, badly. 

Just in case he's working on more cockamamy excuses, we can look at the other five stupidest alibis.  

Here are two I'll call the  "I'm immune" alibis:

#5  "I am a Texas Republican sovereignty."  

I guess Kavanaugh was counting on a version of this one before Ford showed up, only Kavanaugh's variation is "I'm a member of the Federalist Society."  I guess he's still using that and Grassley is still accepting that as a valid excuse for anything.  Though Whelan (the head of the "Ethics and Public Policy Center, mind you, and a fervent Federalist) is helping, along with Kavanaugh to strip off the veneer of purity and respectability the Federalist Society has long dazzled Republicans with.

The other example of "I'm immune":
#2  "I worship the Norse gods!"
Kavanaugh's offers, "I worship the constitution” which up til now has made him immune to most everything.

What should I call this next one?  The plagiarist alibi?
#4  "Did you see Law and Order last night? It was exactly like that."  
Actually, Democrats are using  this one:"Did you see the Anita Hill hearings?  It was exactly like that."

Then there are these two that blame "things" for their behavior.   
#3 "I shot someone six times because I was on a diet."  
This worked for Dan White, and perhaps Kavanaugh would argue the alcohol made him do it, but that would acknowledge he did it.  But given what Whelan's done already, who knows? (Actually Snopes explains that White didn't actually claim the Twinkies made him do.   I'm letting you know so I'm not spreading false rumors.)

# 6 "The alignment in my car is bad."  (You really have to go to Cracked to appreciate the absurdity of how this and the other alibis were used.)

This would be a variation of the diet alibi, like "the bed in that room knocked me on top of her."

As the title says, I could laugh at this, except that a Supreme Court seat is at stake.

 [The #s are the rankings that Cracked gave these alibis.]

Friday, September 21, 2018

Reading Press Releases Between The Lines - Anchorage Airport

Here's a press release I got by email from the Anchorage Airport today.  My comments are below.
Cargo Ranking: Up one spot to #5 in the world, remains #2 in the US
(ANCHORAGE, AK) — Airport Council International (ACI) released its Annual World Airport Traffic Report yesterday with 2017 numbers. Last year, more than 2.7 million tonnes of cargo transited through the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
Airport Manager, Jim Szczesniak said, “The airport remains a substantial part of the world air cargo system, that’s good for Anchorage and good for the State. We continue to promote our strategic location, and the synergies that Anchorage can provide in air cargo transfer, e-commerce distribution centers, major and minor aircraft maintenance and repair, and aircraft parts warehousing. This all translates to good paying jobs for Alaskans.”
Anchorage Airport is located on transpolar flight routes between Asia, North America and Latin America.
Total cargo volumes handled by airports experienced a record increase of 7.7 percent from the previous year.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is less than 9.5 hours from 90 percent of the industrialized world and serves more than 5 million passengers annually. The airport accounts for 1 in 10 jobs in Anchorage, accounting for more than 15,000 jobs in Anchorage and a $1 billion in earnings.
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities oversees 239 airports, 10 ferries serving 35 communities, more than 5,600 miles of highway and 731 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska. The mission of the department is to “Keep Alaska Moving through service and infrastructure.” [emphasis added.]

Let's look at the wording.

We are told in the headline and first paragraph that ANC went up one spot in the world rankings in 2017 and that we increased by more than 2.7 million tonnes of cargo.  

The every next paragraph begins by mentioning Airport Manager Jim Szczesniak.  I would suggest that the placing of his name like that would imply that he should take credit for this increase.  But I'd note that Szczesniak's appointment as the Anchorage Airport manager came in January 2018.  So he had nothing to do with the 2017 increase.  It might have been nice to give former airport manager John Parrott credit.  But then Parrott was asked to leave by the governor last October for undisclosed reasons.

But I'd also note things that the article doesn't mention:

If you click on it you'll be able to read it better.  Or go to the original here.

The press release tells us that world-wide air cargo increased by 7.7%.  It doesn't tell us (but the chart does)  that Anchorage increased only by 6.7%. In fact, of the top 10 airports internationally, Anchorage's increase was the 7th highest, or fourth from the bottom.  Of course, to be fair, the less you have to start in actual quantity, the easier it is to get a higher percentage increase.  But then again airports #1 (Hong Kong) and #3 (Shanghai) increased by 9.4% and 11.2% respectively.

The Airports Council International's press release, on which the Anchorage Airport press release is based, also tells us that the biggest growth in passengers and cargo comes from Asia.  So, in some ways Anchorage's growth is due to our lucky global location equidistant between Asia, Europe, and Eastern US.  (The press release doesn't mention Europe, but does mention Latin America which didn't used to be in the airport's publicity.)

International passenger service via Anchorage is way down (since 1990) due to planes that fly longer distances and passengers who want to get wherever they are going faster. (It was great for Anchorage residents who could fly directly to Europe and Asia.)  But freight fleets would rather carry more paying cargo weight than fuel weight, so a stop in Anchorage lets them carry more cargo and less fuel and then pick up more fuel in Anchorage. And credit must be given to the airport for being ready to take on more traffic.

I understand that the purpose of the press release is to make their organization look as good as possible.  But it's also the role of journalists to point out what they don't say.  On that count, I'd like to also note how the press release talks about all the jobs the airport provides.  It doesn't talk about all the noise Anchorage residents had to endure this summer and the even more noise they will have to endure next summer.  It also doesn't talk about all the pollution that is added to Anchorage's air and water.  (I found lots of interesting information and you can easily find studies that downplay the amount of air pollution  But check the dates of the studies.  And who did them.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Why I Live Here - Meeting Friends On The Bike Trail

I was biking home.  Just got under the first bridge under Seward Highway (going east), along Campbell Creek, when I see this moose coming in my direction.  I pull out my pocket camera and shoot a bit of video.  Then back up.  Then back up more - this time to the bike trail bridge over the Creek.  It's still coming.  But then it veers off into the bushes below the bridge.

This is why people can't move away from Anchorage.  These encounters are just too cool.  The greenbelt cuts through town.  About 10 minute bike ride from my house.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Failures of Truth, Failures of Justice, and Failures of Love

There are parts of the Gates of Repentance Prayer Book that keep me coming to High Holiday Services every year.  The section that outlines all the sins we may have committed this last year and should strive to avoid next year is a good example.  This is useful to reflect on more than annually.
Failures of Truth 
We sin against you when we sin against ourselves.
For our failures of truth, O Lord, we ask forgiveness. 
For passing judgment without knowledge of the facts,
and for distorting facts to fit our theories.
For deceiving ourselves and others with half-truths,
and for pretending to emotions we do not feel. 
For using the sins of others to excuse our own,
and for denying responsibility for our own misfortunes. 
For condemning in our children the faults we tolerate in ourselves,
and for condemning in our parents the faults we tolerate in ourselves.   

Failures of Justice
For keeping the poor in the chains of poverty,
and turning a deaf ear to the cry of the oppressed.
For using violence to maintain our power,
and for using violence to bring about change.
For waging aggressive war,
and for the sin of appeasing aggressors.
For obeying criminal orders,
and for the sin of silence and indifference.
For poisoning the air, and polluting land and sea,
and for all the evil means we employ to accomplish good ends.  

Failures of Love
For confusing love with lust,
and for pursuing fleeting pleasure at the cost of lasting hurt.
For using others as a means to gratify our desires,
and as stepping-stones to further our ambitions.
For withholding love to control those we claim to love,
and shunting aside those whose youth or age disturbs us. 
For hiding from others behind an armored of mistrust,                                                and for the cynicism which leads us to mistrust the reality of unselfish love.  
I'm not very religious.  I'm fairly certain man created God and not the other way around.  But I've been lucky to have the ability to pick out the useful from the problematic.

I can read academic theories and find those parts that seem to be a good description of how the world works and not be hung up on those parts that seem less useful.  Theorists trying to put together an explanation of some aspect of the world, often get parts right and parts wrong.  

And with religion, the same is true.  I'm not much of a theist.  I can take the bible as stories from which to learn, but I also recognize that many of the laws we find there made sense in the context of social and political and economic life of 3000 years ago, but no longer are make sense.  And can even be harmful when twisted to the ends of the ambitious.   There are parts of the High Holiday services that I find offensive.  But many parts are still wise.

I'm not alone in picking and choosing.  Few people follow all the 613 commandments Maimonides extracted from the Torah. (You can see the history of this and list of commandments at Wikipedia.)

Some say that the dietary restrictions were connected to health - eating shellfish in hot climates with no refrigeration is risky.  Some may be moral - slaughtering animals in the quickest and least painful way.  Others say that keeping Kosher requires a self-discipline that is useful in other parts of one's life.  Other than Orthodox Jews, I'm not sure there's anyone who follows all the bible's dietary laws today.  Though lots of Jews try to observe a few of the commandments - like not eating pork.  (Sources conflict and tell us they do, partly because the Bible doesn't explain the reasons.  Here are a couple:  Judaism 101 on Kashrut;  Biblical Archeology on Making Sense of Kosher Laws; or Jewish Food Hero on Kosher Explained. )  

There have only been one or two years when I've failed to go to High Holiday services.  It began  family custom.  My mother would take me every year, though we didn't go to services weekly.  I think for her it was a connection to her parents, who she never saw again after she left Germany as a teenager.  And the rabbi we went to for many years was an old  white bearded, German rabbi who is still my image of a 'real rabbi.'    It's also way of staying connected with a community bigger than just the family.  The Jewish New Year celebrations are also an important personal day of reflection.  

It's a time to think about how one has lived one's life during the year that's ending and to ask forgiveness for one's sins.  And also to forgive those who have sinned against us.  The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time for repentance.  On Rosh Hashanah "it is written" but on Yom Kippur "it is sealed." 

"It" is who shall live and who shall die during the next year.  Those ten days are one's time to convince God that your repentance is sincere.  In my mind, what's written is in pencil and can still be erased.   Do I believe someone is writing everyone's name in the book of life or the book of death?  Not really.  But it makes the abstract more concrete.  It reminds me that it is a time for me to reflect on how I can be a better person in the next year.  

So I focus on those parts that reflect my values, and take as metaphorical those parts that portray a patriarchal God demanding total obedience.

Attending to these Failures of Truth, Justice, and Love would bring the United States and the world to a much better place.  These values don't require anyone to adhere to any religion.  They are self-evident to most human beings.

And for those I've wronged in the past year.  Please forgive me.  As I forgive those who have wronged me.  Shana Tova.  (As I read the first article I found on the meaning of Shana Tova, I quickly realized this was not the message I wanted people to get.  The next google hit turned out to be a response that expressed my feelings about the first article.) 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Anchorage's Great September

The warm (for Anchorage high sixties and low seventies) sunny days began just before Labor Day and today continued the trend.  But it's getting darker faster each evening, it's colder in the mornings, and when the sun slides out of sight, the temps drop quicker each day.  Down into the low forties at night.  Still eating on the deck, savoring this great weather.

But the birch out front is now all yellow.

(The tree branch in front is a mountain ash. Those leaves are green and the berries are as fat and red and plentiful as I can ever remember.}

But the birch is having trouble holding all its leaves.

While North Carolina and Southern China are experiencing the worst of what climate change means for humans, Anchorage, for now, are getting one of the more comfortable side effects. (But Alaskan villages are being captured by the sea, as winter sea ice that protected the land from the ravages of winter waves thins and even disappears.  And as permafrost melts, roads and buildings built on top of it lose their footing.  And the oceans warm and acidify changing the life cycles of salmon and other marine creatures.)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Does An Accusation Of A 33 Year Old High School Sexual Assault Matter?

We've been hearing about a letter alleging Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a girl in high school. Should that have any bearing on Kavanaugh's confirmation to the US Supreme Court?

None of us are the same people we were in high school.  Or so we would like to think.  Sure we change in many ways, but many of our behaviors then, good ones and not so good ones, still are part of us.

But is the story true even.  The Washington Post has an article today about the woman who wrote the letter detailing why she didn't talk about it sooner (well she did with her therapist and her husband) and why she did now.  Why she wanted it to be anonymous and why she's coming out publicly now.

After reading the article, I'm going to assume that it's quite likely this did indeed happen.  Kavanaugh categorically denies it, but the article brings out aspects of Kavanaugh's past that didn't surface in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.  These facts lend credence to the accusations.

"In his senior-class yearbook entry at Georgetown Prep, Kavanaugh made several references to drinking, claiming membership to the “Beach Week Ralph Club” and “Keg City Club.” He and Judge are pictured together at the beach in a photo in the yearbook.
Judge is a filmmaker and author who has written for the Daily Caller, The Weekly Standard and The Washington Post. He chronicled his recovery from alcoholism in “Wasted: Tales of a Gen-X Drunk,” which described his own blackout drinking and a culture of partying among students at his high school, renamed in the book “Loyola Prep.” Kavanaugh is not mentioned in the book, but a passage about partying at the beach one summer makes glancing reference to a “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who “puked in someone’s car the other night” and “passed out on his way back from a party.”
Through the White House, Kavanaugh did not respond to a question about whether the name was a pseudonym for him."
Kavanaugh was an athlete, his mother was a judge.  I suspect if there were any serious issues in his life, his parents were positioned to make sure he didn't get into serious trouble for them.

The accuser is a college professor in Palo Alto, California who teaches at a college that is in a consortium with Stanford.  So she teaches Stanford graduate students psychology.  On the surface, there is nothing in her life - aside from a 33 year old sexual assault - that might account for her wanting to put her life onto a Republican target with a letter that probably wouldn't stop Kavanaugh's nomination anyway.

And the overwhelming number of sexual assault accusations turn out to be true.  There's no evidence so far that she was paid or otherwise pressured to make these accusations.  I'm sure that will come - the accusations, probably not the evidence.

So should a 33 year old drunken romp on a bed with a girl who didn't want to be there, matter in the nomination of Kavanaugh?

Again, these points I'm making, assume this happened.  (I'll make some points later that assume it didn't happen.)

1.  Kavanaugh never was confronted with this accusation and has never been held accountable.  And this stuff happened often back then (and still today).  Girls and women simply had to deal with things like this on their own.  This would be one example of a situation where he suffered no consequences for his inappropriate behavior.  Getting drunk during high school when his drinking was illegal, is another.  Sure, lots of people get drunk in high school, but for this future judge, it's another example of breaking the law with no consequences.  He even bragged about it in his yearbook.

2.  Kavanaugh categorically denied this ever happened.  That's textbook response for powerful men being accused of rape or sexual assault.  Though some, like Sen.  Franken, take responsibility for what they did and resign their positions.  If this did happen, Kavanaugh is lying.

3.  If a 33 year old high school indiscretion doesn't matter, then why not acknowledge it, apologize, and say that was long ago and I've learned and I'm no longer that person?  Trump didn't even have to apologize or say he was no longer that person.  But Supreme Court judges are expected to be truthful.

4.  In many of the #metoo cases we've seen in the last year or so, after a high profile accusation, other women come forward.  By rushing the vote to approve Kavanaugh, the Senate might be able to get him onto the court before anyone else comes forward.  Though this sounds like a particularly inept assault and perhaps it was a one-off.  Even if it wasn't, it may not have happened often or past high school or college.  But we should give others a chance to come forward.

5.  The accuser's hired an attorney who specializes in women accusers.  The attorney told her to take a lie detector test before she did anything else.  She passed the test.  I'd like Kavanaugh to take such a test if he's so certain it never happened.

6.  Republicans had a list ready of 65 women* who knew Kavanaugh in high school who all attest to his upstanding character.  (Does that include his self admitted drunken parties?)  If there are questions about the accuser's credibility, I'd like to see some reporters check with these women on how their names got on the list and whether they knew their names were going to be used to counter a sexual assault charge.

 Kavanaugh, and his Senate supporters, at his confirmation hearings, repeatedly talked about how Kavanaugh hired more female interns and people of color than the average judge.  While this is admirable, there's also something about men who surround themselves with women subordinates.  (It's interesting that google did poorly when I asked "male executives with mostly women subordinates."  It gave me articles about whether men or women are better bosses for women.  So I'm going to go with undocumented hunches here.)   My sense is that women, generally, are less confrontative than men.  Women are socialized to make nice.  (See Deborah Tannen's classic work on how men and women talk and act at work.)  I'd guess that, on average, life is easier, more pleasant, with women subordinates who are more grateful for getting an opportunity and less likely to challenge their boss.  He talked about all his mentoring - as girls basketball coach, all the women interns, the black students at Harvard.  All these are laudable things, but he actually used the young basketball players as props as they sat behind him one day during his hearings.  One can't help but wonder how much of this is stuff he's done to make his Supreme Court application look better.  Like high school kids volunteering at soup kitchens so they can put it down on their applications.

7.  If Kavanaugh gets confirmed to the Supreme Court, we'll have two judges on the court who got there despite credible accusations of sexual harassment/assault by women college professors.

What if the accusation is false?

1.  The committee could wait to be sure that accuser is lying.  They could wait to see if any other women come forward.   They could ask Kavanaugh to take a lie detector test.  (While they're at it, they could ask him some of the questions he seemed a bit cagey about during the public hearings.)

2.  Even if Democrats took the Senate in November, the Senate would still have a almost 2 months to confirm Kavanaugh before the new Senators are sworn in.  But given Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, it would be tight.

3.  Senator Harris quoted Kavanaugh on 'rushed decisions.'
"As Judge Kavanaugh relayed to me in our meeting, with respect to judicial decisions, rushed decisions are often bad decisions. I agree. But this time, this is for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court."

3.  If would end up hurting the credibility of Democrats.

I suspect the Republicans and Kavanaugh, want him on the court so bad, and they feel like they are so, so close, that they want to rush this through before anything comes up that might quash their hopes.  They've already rushed the hearings through without hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that Democrats requested.  They're going to accept Kavanaugh's denial and not give time for others to come forth.  They want this done before the November election, even though the numbers suggest that they have a decent chance of keeping the Senate majority.

*I randomly picked a name from the list of 65 women who signed the letter supporting Brett Kavanaugh - Cindy Urgo - and google got me to her Youtube channel.  It has four videos up.  All with religious songs.   This is the most recent (2013):

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Good Analysis Of How Television Subtly Influences How People Are Perceived

This tweet - and the comments - shows us how people can be influenced by the setting of the interview.   If you click on the tweet, you can see the thread of comments that analyze the setting.  Most comments, I think, are on the mark.  A few may be seeing more than is there.  It would be interesting to hear from the people who set this up.  How much of this was done consciously - was the bust behind Banning really lit up more than the other one intentionally?

Click on the tweet to see the thread of analysis.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Great Day For A Long Ride To A Short Hike - Bodenburg Butte

With all this sunny dry weather I've been wanting to get out in the woods, but there were meetings and various chores that got in the way.  But today it was nice once again and we had nothing to interfere.

I wanted to go to Hatcher Pass, but talked myself into Bodenburg Butte - a hike I'd never been on.  All these years, it just never was a destination.  Hatcher Pass seemed like a more spectacular location.  I heard the views were good, and it's only a 3 mile round trip - though half of the hike is up.  So we got onto the Old Glenn Highway just before the Knik River.   Haven't been on that road for a long time either.

Even though I'd read the directions saying to go past Bodenburg Loop as we approached from the south, I turned there anyway.  Oh well.  This got to the south trail that was not recommended.  But since I don't think I've ever been on the loop, it was good to see.

Here's the Butte from the south.

A sign about a third of the way up - where we stopped to eat lunch - explained the geology:

I guess reading this is a bit of an eye exercise.  It says:
"Bodenburg Butte is an example of a Roche Moutennee, a French word describing a rock formation created by a passing glacier.  During the last ice age, the Knik Glacier moved through this valley, shaping the landscape that you see today.  As the frozen river of ice flowed through the area, it carried away tons of softer rock, carving out a valley.  The knob of much harder bedrock that was unmoved by the glacier's advance is what we know today as the Butte." 

This is looking up from the lunch spot.  I was trying to figure out where the trail was when I heard a familiar, but bizarre croaking/cackling sound.  There were lots of trees above, but for a moment I could see a flock of Sandhill cranes flying way above.

Soon I saw our way up.   First wooden stairs.

Then they changed to wood with earth packed in and  cable replaced the wooden handrails

This really is the most unAlaskan hike I can think of in Alaska.  It's a hump not a mountain.  It's in a rural area with farms and houses all around it.  And it has stairs.  A sign at the top said there are 505 steps.  That's not counting the unstaired trail.  But my knees said thank you.

And soon we were at the top and there were wonderful views in every direction.   Here's looking south.  I was near that white roof in the lower right when I took the top picture of the whole Butte from below.  There's even a reindeer farm down there.

And to the east is the Knik Glacier and the braided Knik River that flows from it.

And then I saw something moving down below.  I think it's a juvenile bald eagle - the head and tail feathers are white yet.

And it did lazy circles up on the warm, calm air.

Until it was above me.  

Needless to say, the trip down took much less time than going up.  Altogether, with a lazy lunch and some time enjoying the views on top, it was about two hours.  I'm guessing this is Palmer and Wasilla's version of Flattop.  But it's a lot easier to get great views.  As you can see it was a mostly sunny day, but the air wasn't particularly clear and sharp.