Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"If people believe there's an imaginary river out there . . .

 . . .you don't tell them there's no river there.  You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river."

Who said that to whom?

It's from a San Francisco Chronicle book review of Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge.

Image:  Invisible Bridge Over Invisible River

I'm just stalling and using up space so you can't peek to find the answer.   Reviewer Kevin Canfield explains the bridge in the book's title:
"Reagan's rhetorical bridge - the one that connected him with millions of likeminded voters, and later delivered him to the White House - was built on a foundation of uncompromising patriotism and smoldering resentment. It was a message that aggrieved conservatives (and, curiously, more than a few Democrats) found irresistible."
The New York Times reviewer, Frank Rich, explained it this way:
The key to Reagan’s political success, in Perlstein’s telling, was that he recognized what many Republicans did not — that Americans craved “a liturgy of absolution” and “an almost official cult of optimism” postulating “the belief that America could do no wrong” or “that if America did it, it was by definition not wrong.” That’s why Reagan stubbornly insisted on minimizing the crimes of Watergate even though polls suggested he might be punished for it and even after most of his ideological soul mates jumped ship. That’s why Reagan never stopped insisting that we came home from our humiliating defeat in Vietnam “as winners.” He propped up such illusions by ignoring facts or inventing them. But the will of his listeners to believe — and his gift for making them feel good in his presence — conquered all.

As you can tell, it's a book that people will like or hate depending on their political beliefs.  The SF Chronicle liked it.  So did the New York Times.

Ariel Gonzales' review in the Miami Herald, though, is titled:
"Liberal bias permeates Rick Perlstein’s time capsule of the pre-Reagan era"
But the review itself seems to have more respect for Perlstein than does the title:
But the camera is brutally honest and unforgiving in Perlstein’s hands. Expect no balance from this author, who never attempts to hide his liberal bias.
Regardless of your party affiliation, you may still enjoy his observations, which are often revealing and insightful.  .  .
If you hold Reagan in semi-divine status, however, this book is not for you. While Perlstein admires his “gift” for reducing complex problems to easily digestible partisan soundbites, he regards Reagan as a divider — a much more genial character than Nixon, yet just as culpable for widening ideological fault ines.[sic]
OK, who told whom to build an imaginary bridge?

Perlstein says it was Nikita Khrushchev to Richard Nixon.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Stand Up And Say No - Monument In San Francisco

While walking the baby today, we passed this little monument in front of a house. A monument to people standing up and fighting the plans the experts had created to build freeways all through San Francisco.

From a Wired post on plans that didn't get carried out:

1948 San Francisco Highway Plan

San Francisco is one of the few American cities that was not completely carved up by the postwar highway building frenzy, but that doesn’t mean no one tried to do so. This 1948 plan details a projected network of elevated freeways throughout the city. Parts of the Central and Embarcadero freeways were constructed, but angry citizens of the city successfully rallied for the cancellation of further roads. This “Highway Revolt” was not limited to San Francisco. Many other cities fought back against plans to raze whole neighborhoods for elevated roads, and today many urban highways are being cut back or demolished entirely. The dismantling of the Embarcadero freeway following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake helped usher in a rebirth of the San Francisco waterfront and the SoMa district.
So people in Anchorage - and anywhere else that has highway and other project planners set on streets and highways and bridges that the people don't want - take hope.  It can be stopped.  Bragaw doesn't have to split the University land.  And the Knik Arm Bridge doesn't have to be built. 

I suspect for Bragaw we could find a list of contractors who are hoping to get a piece of the $20 million allocated and who supported Dan Sullivan (the mayor) who asked Rep. Stoltz to put the money into the budget.  And a list of large Pt. McKenzie landowners might help us identify whose pushing the Knik Arm bridge. 

This is also a monument to little monuments (these are like big action figures) that remind us when we stumble onto them,  that people got out and fought for what they believed.  And won.

UA President's Retention Bonus Part 2: My Questions, Their Answers, And The Contract

After writing my earlier post on the president's retention bonus, but before posting it, I decided I should check with the Board of Regents, so I sent this set of questions.  The response letter did not address the questions one by one.  Instead it was one long answer.  Below I attempted to find the answers to each of my questions in their response and in the contract and put them after my questions.   You can judge for yourself if I've accurately and fully done this task by looking at their response letter at (1) near the bottom of the post.  The contract itself - "the Agreement" - is at (2) below.)
Q1.  Can you explain to me what the logic behind this was? 
  • President's salary is 25-28% under market for systems presidents at comparable universities
  • Board believes President's leadership has been exceptional
    • Evidence includes the Shaping Alaska’s Future initiative (www.alaska.edu/shapingalaskasfuture), a collection of 23 different effects or outcomes the university intends to achieve within five thematic areas. Agreement on this important strategic direction for the entire UA System represents unprecedented collaboration between multiple stakeholders. Quite simply, it has never been done before at UA. 
    • The board has also seen first-hand strong evidence that Pat Gamble understands and anticipates national and state trends and has learned the
      details of university operations and educational processes in the State of Alaska.
Q2.  Was there a threat that President Gamble would leave if you didn't do this?
Answer:  It appears the answer is 'no.'
  • "Pat Gamble is an accomplished nationally known and exceptional leader, who could readily take his skills elsewhere or simply decide to retire."
  • Salary is "already 25-28% under market for system presidents at comparable universities.  . . . "  Rather than increase his salary, which would give him no incentive to stay, they decided to use a retention bonus, which "addresses the market issues while creating a powerful incentive for President Gamble to stay on board."
Q3.  Was there any discussion about other ways this money could be used - like hiring faculty or other direct program benefits?
Answer:  Response letter did not address this question.
Q4.  Was there any opposition to this proposal? Can you tell me what the discussion was about?
Answer:  Not really addressed.  See Q5.

Q5.  Was the vote unanimous? If not, who voted for and who voted against this item?
Answer (from the email, not the attached Response Letter):  "The vote tally for approval
of the presidential contract during the June 2014 meeting was 10-1 ."
  The letter did not say who voted against.  I learned through other channels the no vote was Kenneth Fisher.
Q6.  Was there any sort of review packet of his work, say as faculty are required to turn in each year?  Was there any sort of quantification of the benefits the President brought to the university that could be tied to the amount of bonus?
Answer:  This was not answered directly. It appears the answer is no.   Some of the reasons they listed for finding the president exceptional are listed in the answer to Q1.  The letter also included:
"President Gamble also has worked with governance and the board to make real progress on longstanding academic issues that will facilitate student access and success. Those include improved graduation rates, student advising, better service to students and working more closely and effectively with the state, the K-12 system, and all of Alaska's employers.  President Gamble also has maintained good working relationships and open communication with the legislature and governor. The funding of the UAF heat and power plant and the continued progress on the UAA and UAF Engineering buildings is evidence of that relationship."
Q7.  Was there any discussion of faculty or staff bonuses and the propriety of paying the President a bonus when others, not only aren't getting bonuses, but instead are being cut? 
Answer:  The letter did not address this directly.  Perhaps this was intended to address it:
"We understand some people will disagree with our approach. We cannot always agree on every issue. Ultimately, however, I believe the board’s decision was in the best interests of the University and the state, and we stand by our decision to offer the performance- based retention incentive in lieu of a market adjustment."

Q8.  In the Summary of the June 4-5, 2014 meeting, it says: "The Board of Regents approves an extension of Patrick K. Gamble's contract of employment as president of the University of Alaska System at an annual salary of $320,000 per year, retroactive to June 1, 2013, and continuing through May 31, 2016, with terms as authorized by the board."
a.  Why was it made retroactive? 
Answer:  Because he has been working without a contract since June 2013.

b.  What was his annual salary prior to the June meeting? (Presumably, since the pay increase was made retroactive, it was lower than $320,000. If it was already $320,000, why was it made retroactive?)
Answer:  It was $320,000.  Retroactive, as mentioned, because he was working without a contract since June 2013.
c.  What are the "terms as authorized by the board."  I assume this is the $320,000 bonus, but are there other terms besides that one?  
"With the incentive approach, if the president voluntarily departs the university before the end of his contract term, he does not get a dime of the incentive.  The president also remains an at-will employee, so the board may terminate his employment for no reason or any reason at any time.  If the Board terminates the president's contract at-will, the incentive amount would be reduced proportionately."
There are also provisions in the contract - copy at bottom of this post -also provide for proportional payment if the president gets sick and can't work for three months, gets disabled, or dies.

Additionally, the contract includes a number of perks:
  • the president is required to reside in provided residence which "is to be used for official business and entertainment associated with your position.  The University provides for maintenance, utilities, and domestic assistance . . "
  • "an allowance for a vehicle appropriate for University business, entertainment and other purposes."  This includes "maintenance, repairs, fuel, insurance, and other costs."  However, personal use has to be reported to the IRS as additional compensation.
  • 240 hours a year annual leave plus sick leave at 4.62 hours/pay period (two weeks)
  • relocation expenses up to $27,000 on termination
Q9. Can you please send me a copy of the contract between the President and the Board of Regents?
Answer:  The contract was also sent and along with the "2013 Retention Addendum" contains all the details.  I've posted the contract at (2) below.

(1) The University's letter in response to my list of questions:


(2)  The President's 2013 Employment Agreement

There's a lot to digest here.

In the abstract, there are good reasons for retention bonuses, the question is whether they apply in this case.
Part of the answer depends on how a)  how good a job the president has done and is expected to do in the future and b) the likelihood he would leave before the end of the contract.
Another question the Board seems to not have addressed is the appropriateness of high salaries for public university presidents.  The Alaska governor makes $145,000 a year (compared to President Gamble's $320,000 and the governor turned down the additional $6,000 a year recommended by the Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission.  Although a governor's spokesperson had said the governor approved the increase, 
"His office says he changed course  'in light of budget constraints and upon further reflection.'"
In a follow up post I will try to assess the Board's decision.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Earthquake Special

I woke up just before 7am to a few cries from the little one.  As my son and I got ready to walk the dog and the baby, he asked if I'd felt the earthquake, a 6 point something in Marin (across the Golden Gate from San Francisco) at 3:30am?

Nope.  He didn't either, but he did wake up to the dog's barking.  Nothing in the apartment fell. 

And it took me a couple of seconds to understand this sign we passed on our walk.

San Francisco is still standing as you can see below.  Though there apparently was some damage in Marin.

The sun has since burned through the fog. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tight Parking, Shoerageous, And Other Random San Francisco Shots

A grandpa trip to SF got me up at 5:45am to help feed the little guy.  The point was to give the parents a little time so sleep and do other things.  We did have him for a couple of early morning hours and then another two hours walking.  Some things are worth getting up early for.

Here are some random shots so far.

I looked at the truck and the garage and laughed.  But then I saw the woman opening the garage . . .

So I pulled out the camera.

And in she went.  It dipped down enough, barely enough, to fit.   That was last night.

Grabbing late breakfast at the Country Store after a long morning walk with the baby and the dog.  One car pulled over to comment on the dog - they also had a corgi.  Oh, yeah, and the baby's cute  too.

In the afternoon, we went to visit other friends of our son that have young babies too.  I was somewhat surprised by the crowd of people at the park on the grass.  I'm used to people  like this at the beach, but not in a park.  I thought there was a concert or something, but no, just people hanging out.  Lots of dogs and lots of babies.  And apparently alcohol is allowed in public parks here. 

I looked twice as we passed this shoe store.  Then turned around and looked again.  These shoes were paper mache, ceramics, and various other materials.  It was the Creativity Explored gallery.   

From Creativity Explored on the exhibit:
Shoes can communicate so much about the wearer: athletic, flamboyant, casual, professional. Green said, “Gerald and I got the idea for this show from looking at everyone’s shoes – all the styles and brands.” Wiggins commented on Green’s and his curatorial role: “We pick what artwork goes into the front gallery and the windows, choose the backdrops, decide on frames and arrangements – we’re in charge of the whole thing, which is really fun.”
. . . Participating artists include: Ian Adams, Zachary Adams, Antonio Benjamin, Laron Bickerstaff, Andrew Bixler, Elana Cooper, Christina Marie Fong, Joseph "J.D." Green, Nita Hicks, Camile Holvoet, Eva Jun, Hector Lopez, Berhta Otoya, Paul Pulizzano, Yolanda Remirez, Ethel Revita, Emma Reyes, Clementina Rivera, Ka Wai Shiu, Miyuki Tsurukawa, Kathy Wen, Gerald Wiggins, and Doris Yen.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Board of Regents Give U of Alaska President $320K Retention Bonus - Part I

[I wrote this post two weeks ago and then decided I should probably get more information from the Board of Regents.  I got their response yesterday (my mailbox was too full for their first try).  This post is already fairly long, so I've decided to post this pretty much as is.  Part 2 will look[s] at the questions I sent the Board and their response, including the President's new contract.  There may be a Part 3 which would probably analyze their response and the contract.]

A bunch of issues here:

1.  How much should the president of a public university get paid?
2.  What other options are there?
3.  Why would the Board of Regents do this?

First, the facts. 

From the Alaska Dispatch News:
Amid budget cuts and campus layoffs, the top executive of Alaska’s public university system has been offered a $320,000 retention bonus.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents in June voted to offer a contract extension to president Pat Gamble that includes the bonus.
Gamble will receive the money, equal to one year of his salary, if he stays at the helm of Alaska’s public universities until 2016.

From the University of Alaska website:
Patrick K. Gamble became the University of Alaska's 13th president on June 1, 2010.
Prior to joining the university, he served Alaska for over 9 years as president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Railroad Corporation. He currently serves as chair of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation Board of Directors.
Gamble served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a four-star general in command of U.S. air forces throughout the Pacific Region.

How much should the president of a public university get paid?

There are two basic approaches to salary:
  • Pay is related to the value of the work to the organization
  • Pay must be competitive to other organizations employing similar positions
  • And then there are all the people who work simply because they love the work - some in this group get paid well; others almost nothing
From what I can tell, the Board of Regents is mostly using the second criterion.  Again from the ADN article:
  • "Six-figure retention or performance bonuses are increasingly standard for university presidents, said McConnell."
  • "Gamble’s pay package is modest compared to his peers, said Kate Ripley, a university spokeswoman."
But there is some comment about performance:
  • "Ripley, the university spokeswoman, said the Board of Regents 'strongly supports his leadership and the work he's doing, specifically with the Shaping Alaska's Future initiative, improved graduation rates, mandatory student advising, better service to students and working more closely and effectively with the state, the K-12 system, and all of Alaska's employers.;”
I don't know if there are any measures that compare his salary to his contribution to the university.  It was easier to determine that with the former President Hamilton because he clearly got large budget increases from the legislature while under President Gamble the budget has been cut and programs are being cut.  

What alternatives are there?

There have been a couple of different perspectives on the rising salaries of university presidents.

In Canada, four faculty members applied as a group, for the $400K president position at their university. One of the four asks:
". . . should university boards be spending $400,000 and more on any one person, when so many faculty lines are frozen, and earning well below one-fourth of such a salary?"
In their application, they wrote:
"As you can see, four people can manage this job far more effectively than any one single person, however qualified that person might be for a half-a-million in compensation. We can spell off the dreary business of Convocation, with one person attending/presiding while the other three continue on with the much-needed work of the president/vice chancellor's office, rather than having to take a week's hiatus every April. Sick days will be irrelevant, since three other people will be available to fill in if one person is ill or on leave. Most importantly, we each pledge to teach one undergraduate class per year - which we would bet none of your other candidates are proposing to do! - both as a way of "walking the talk" about the "importance of higher education" and our "world class students," and as a means of contributing to the current climate of austerity at the University of Alberta, in which everyone - even in the highest levels of administration! - is called to pitch in and do their bit."

Another approach was recently offered by Kentucky State University interim president Raymond Burse, who is giving back some of his salary.  From Kentucky.com:
Raymond Burse, interim president of Kentucky State University, has given up more than $90,000 of his salary so university workers earning minimum wage could have their earnings increased to $10.25 an hour.
"My whole thing is I don't need to work," Burse said. "This is not a hobby, but in terms of the people who do the hard work and heavy lifting, they are at the lower pay scale."

So, what about here in Alaska?

"I don't need to work" is true of President Gamble as well.  He's retired as a four star general after 34 years.  According to USA today in 2011:
"Now, a four-star officer retiring in 2011 with 38 years' experience would get a yearly pension of about $219,600, a jump of $84,000, or 63% beyond what was once allowed. A three-star officer with 35 years' experience would get about $169,200 a year, up about $39,000, or 30%."
So let's assume he's getting somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000 a year from his military pension.  And with nine years as president of the Alaska Railroad he's surely got some pension coming in there too.  With his UA salary of $320,000 it's a good possibility he's got half a million dollars coming in each year.   So, President Gamble, by most people's standards, doesn't need an extra $320,000 to stay on as president. [Just after I originally wrote this, but before I posted it, Marcelle McDannel had an opinion piece in the ADN pointing out that Gamble's salary puts him into the 1% and raises questions about the spirit of public service.]

My belief is that someone serious about improving the University of Alaska - or any public university - should be embarrassed by making so much more money than most of his employees.  I know that my years teaching at the university were not in pursuit of a high wage, but because I had a job I believed was important and I worked hard to do the very best I could at it.  I personally don't see how anyone really dedicated to his work would just drop it midstream because someone offered more money to start anew in a different organization.  Especially at a time when the university's budget is being cut.  I'm not even asking him to give up a quarter of his salary like President Burse, though that would be nice too.

Sure, there will be many who say that he earned his military pension - and I agree.   I'm distinguishing between what is legal, reasonable, and decent.  He's not hurting financially in any way, but the institution he's leading is.  Someone who is truly dedicated to the University and was already earning about half a million a year, wouldn't accept taking that extra $320,000 for himself.  It makes me think of the time when women were paid much less than men because it was felt, their husbands were supporting them and this 'second' job was just gravy anyway.  One could argue that this second job is just gravy anyway here too, without the residue of gender discrimination.  He could use it to support improving the university. Perhaps ask the Regents to put it into a fund he can use at his discretion for programs or students.   But different people see the world differently.  That's my take on it. 

Why did the Board of Regents do this?

Let's look at who is on the Board.  I've taken information on their education and work experience from their bios on the University website

Regent Dale Anderson:
  • currently works in the financial services industry and owns Auke Lake Bed & Breakfast. He brings to the board extensive life experiences from both the private and public sector. He has owned and operated numerous enterprises as well as served as a member of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, legislative aide for the House Finance Committee in the Alaska State Legislature and as commissioner of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. 
  • holds a certificate of judicial development in administrative law from the University of Nevada and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Oral Roberts University. He is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Alaska Travel Industry Association, Juneau Chamber of Commerce and the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau

Regent Timothy Brady:
  • president of Ken Brady Construction Company, where he has worked in various positions over the past 30 years. 
  • holds a bachelor of science degree from Arizona State University's School of Engineering, Division of Construction.

Regent Fuller Cowell:
  • He completed his bachelors of business administration with an emphasis in marketing at National University, Sacramento, California graduating Summa Cum Laude. Cowell completed the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg Business School, Northwestern University, in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Cowell’s newspaper career took him from a newspaper carrier at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner to director of operations of the McClatchy Company and ultimately publisher of Alaska’s largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News. He spent ten years commercial fishing in Area E, which includes Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta. 
Student Regent Courtney Enright:
  • working toward a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s in business administration at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
  • currently is interning for Baker Hughes Inc. In the past she has worked as a research lab technician for the Alaska Space Grant Program and as an intern for Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski

Regent Kenneth Fisher:
  • is an Engineer Officer with the U.S. Public Health Service currently working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 in Juneau, Alaska, where he serves as the Senior Representative to the State of Alaska. 
  • graduated from Michigan Technological University in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science in engineering. In 1998, he completed a Legislative Fellowship with the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.

Regent Jyotsna Heckman:

  • earned a bachelor's and master's degrees in Business from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has also attended graduate school for financial studies at Georgetown University and Southern Methodist University 
  • retired as the President & CEO of Denali State bank in December 2011 after twenty six years of service with the bank. She currently serves as a director on the bank's board

 Regent Mary Hughes

  • graduated from the University of Alaska with a BBA in Management in 1971 and earned her juris doctorate from Willamette University College of Law in 1974.
  • A partner in the law firm of Hughes, Thorsness, Gantz, Powell & Brundin until 1994, she served as the Anchorage Municipal Attorney from 1995-2000 and Of Counsel with the firm until May 2005 when she became Alaska State Director for the Office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a position she held until January 2008
Regent Pat Jacobson:
  • graduated in 1969 from the University of Arizona with a BA in Elementary Education, and from the University of Alaska in 1972 with an MA in Elementary Education. Regent Jacobson taught various elementary grades, primarily gifted classes, for 26 years, 25 of which were in Kodiak. 
Regent Gloria O'Neil:
  • President and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) since 1998, Gloria has led the organization’s growth in becoming one of the major social service providers in Alaska, currently offering more than 50 essential programs that serve more than 14,000 Alaska Native and American Indian people each year.
  • earned her Master of Business Administration degree from Alaska Pacific University, and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology, with a minor in Business Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Regent Michael Powers:
  • Chief Executive Officer for Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and Denali Center in Fairbanks, Alaska.   He first served at Fairbanks Memorial as its Chief Financial Officer in 1986 and was named CEO in 1995. 
  • earned a master's degree in Healthcare Services Administration from University of Wisconsin/Madison, and a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Lawrence University.  He earned a higher diploma in Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College – Dublin, as a Rotary International Graduate Fellow.
Regent Kirk Wickersham:
  • is an actively retired attorney and real estate broker. He is the developer and owner of FSBO System, Inc. a company that provides professional coaching to home sellers, and a former chair of the Alaska Real Estate Commission.
  • a graduate of the University of Alaska, Yale Law School, and has a master’s degree from the University of Colorado.  
There are a number of folks here who look like they should be interesting and thoughtful.  It's probably a little unbalanced in terms of educational and professional diversity.  And I suspect political diversity. 
  • Sixty percent work in high level private sector positions and five have business degrees.  These might be expected to be comfortable high corporate salaries. 
  • Five were appointed by Sarah Palin (one of those had originally been appointed by Tony Knowles.) 
  • Five were appointed by Sean Parnell  
But we shouldn't jump to conclusions based on such little data.  Though we know that the Board did make this offer.  They all have email addresses and phone numbers at the linked bios if you want to ask.  I suggest you email them and ask them to explain the decision.

I went to the Board of Regents' page that has minutes of their meetings.  The latest they had was a Summary of Actions for the June 5-6, 2014 meeting.  So they're two months behind

Part II will cover my questions to the Chair of the Board of Regents and her response along with a copy of the President's contract. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mr. Rooter Makes Alaska Plumbers Seem Like A Bargain

We got into LA at midnight, got to my mom's and went to bed.  The next morning when I got up the plumber was coming in.  The caregiver had called because the shower knob wasn't working right and the kitchen faucet was leaking.  I'm thinking, I could do this myself, but, ok, let the plumber do it.

He shows me the agreement to sign.  $988! 

"What?! This is for real?" I asked.  "Even in Alaska this would be very high."  They were going to go buy the parts and come back. 

"The parts don't cost that much.  I'll go to the hardware store and get them."

"OK"  he says, "that will make it much cheaper.  I'll refigure the estimate."

He comes back after a while having recalculated the bill.  Now it's only $488. 

"It was $500 for parts?"  I asked incredulously.  "That leaves almost another $500 for labor?  Even if it takes you an hour for each faucet, that's almost $250 an hour."

He points out that since my mom is a member of Mr. Rooter, there's a discount for that, and also a 15% senior discount.  That was already taken off the bill!

"OK, I'll get the parts and call you back."

Silver faucet pops up out of pipe and leaks
I drove to B&B Hardware.  They're a crazy old time hardware store.   I ask for the someone to help with plumbing and they point me to guy who's helping another customer in Spanish.  He turns out to be from Peru. When she's done, I explain what I need.  I took pictures so I show him the kitchen sink issue first.  This part pops up when you turn the water on.

He pulls out a demo of that wall mounted fixture and shows me the part.

"Mine doesn't have this red o-ring."
"That's what keeps it from popping up."   Long story short, he finds an o-ring that sells for 40 cents.   Yes, 40 cents.  Then he gets what I need for the shower.  That's a lot more expensive - $8.95.

In the picture you can see two grooves.  The lower one has a black O-ring.  The upper one has nothing.  That's what was missing. 

I go home and get the kitchen sink fixed in eight minutes.  The shower is a little trickier because an old screw is rusted into the old fixture.  So I can't secure the new faucet handle in with a screw. But I made a few adjustments and the shower handle fits on and works.  I may do a little more work late.

But for under $10 and less than two hours, this amateur plumber, fixed what the 'professional'  plumber said would cost $988.

In my opinion, that borders on criminal.  Get little old ladies (my mom's 92) and get a cute young, sweet talking salesman to accompany the plumber, and presto, lots of bucks.  Add in guarantees - for who knows how much extra - and senior discounts, and you quickly convince these folks who really don't understand plumbing, that you are giving them a bargain when you're making huge, evil profits. 

I don't even want to think about how much my mom has paid to Mr. Rooter before.

On the up side, I saved her $990, which is more than cost of our trip down here.  And I met Fernando, who was very helpful, and he will come out to my mom's if she has any other plumbing problems.  He said he was flying several times a year to Peru when his mom was older, so he understands. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Different View Of Election Day - Part 2

As we flew out of Anchorage yesterday, I couldn't help but think about how the mudflats and glaciers and clouds, were doing their own thing, oblivious to the decisions Alaska voters were making.

 Are they affected by our decisions?  Definitely.  Glaciers are shrinking, the water is growing more acidic and changing the flora and fauna.  Human decisions about energy play a big role here.  But whether Alaskans get a few billion dollars more or oil companies do, affects nature minimally.

The first three pictures are closeups from the following picture.

Wait, you say, we're changing the landscape.  Yes, but it's always changing.  The mountains rise and fall and other mountains rise.  That's what our natural environment does.

And this is a wider angle view of the previous picture.

And I won't even address those who deny that climate change is impacted significantly by human action.  Those folks are willfully ignorant - they have personal reasons for rejecting what most scientists believe.  For those who still believe the Koch brothers' drivel on climate change, check the skeptical science website


For those who don't know the flight out of Anchorage I'm not putting these up in chronological order.  First we passed over the mudflats across the inlet from Anchorage.

This appears to be the shortest distance between Anchorage and Matsu (the bit of land next to the engine) approximately where the proposed Knik Arm bridge would go.  There are lots of people in our state (and around the world) who love to build things, but they aren't so good at funding the maintenance of what they build.  In the background is most of the "Anchorage Bowl".

At first I was worried I'd only see clouds as we got into the Chugach range.  Nice clouds for sure, but I'm always awed by the views of the mountains and glaciers and water around Anchorage and Prince William Sound.

 The serious impacts of climate change will be on humans and other species that will find their way of life disrupted by the rapid changes that human-generated climate change causes.  We're already seeing it in fiercer storms, rain concentrated in some areas and missing in others.  Rivers changing courses.  Northern oceans, without the ice cover, erode the shorelines.  No problem, just natural changes, unless you live there.

People opposed to immigration will have to figure out what to do when the people of Florida and Manhattan start leaving as the water laps higher and higher. 

We were further south here - I'm guessing over coastal British Columbia. 

Looking-into-the-sun photos do distort the colors a lot.  It was beautiful, but the contrast between light and dark wasn't so stark. 

People opposed to giving women birth control choices  have to consider how climate change will impact many of those babies born around the world because women had no access to birth control. Agriculture and housing will be devastated by severe weather events.  The ensuing struggles for food will lead to human violence even more brutal, because it's conscious violence, as people fight just to survive. 

But the mountains and glaciers and mudflats and oceans will adapt to new chemicals, new weather patterns, new organisms. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Different View Of Election Day - Part 1

These backyard visitors weren't at all interested in the election.

This steller jay was looking for the bag of peanut shells we had on the deck.  (I didn't do anything to enhance this photo.)

My presence didn't deter him at all.  He scolded me and told me to leave so he could go about his business.

This black capped chickadee was keeping more to itself in the trees.


Political Sign Battles

Seward Highway, between Northern Lights and Benson, was one of the battlegrounds in the fight over Proposition 1.  On the Benson corner, were the No folks.

On the Northern Lights corner were the Yes folks.

I couldn't help thinking this was like going to a college football game.  There were the good guys (your team) and the bad guys (the other team.)  You sat on different sides of the stadium and yelled for your team and against the other team.

The political sign version includes cars driving by the sign holders and honking if they like the political message, sometimes even waving.  Sometimes showing a thumbs down.

What strange ritual is this?  I thought about it while I was there.  First, Alaska has no billboards, so yard signs and corner demonstrations take the place of billboards.  But the level of discourse between the two sides and between the sign holders and the drivers was the same level as the Bruins and the Trojans.  Or Palestinians and Israelis.

Signs don't expand the rational debate.  But I suspect they impact the emotional debate.  Clearly seeing a group of people holding signs for what you believe must give a sense of solidarity.  And if your position is an underdog position, it's probably encouraging to see your side represented - the more signs, the more encouraging.  I suspect people weigh how the election is going by the number of sign wavers for each side.  And, the ability to get folks out onto the streets is an indicator of how much support each side has. It's about winning and losing, about power, not really about the impact of the different tax schemes on the state. 

Any Proof Signs Matter?

Not a lot.  One professor, Costas Panagoloulos,  did some experiments in New York that say they do, but I'd like to see his findings replicated in other places before I whole-heartedly accept his findings.  Here's an excerpt of a 2012 NPR interview:
SIMON: How did you measure the effectiveness of yard signs?
PANAGOPOULOS: What I designed was a randomized field experiment that randomly assigned to different voting locations in Manhattan during the 2005 mayoral election - to be treated with street signs that said, Vote Tomorrow, that encouraged people to vote. These were nonpartisan signs held up by groups of volunteers at strategically selected precincts. And then after the election, we measured voter turnout, and compared those places where we had volunteers with street signs to those places where we did not have volunteers with street signs. And we found that turnout was significantly higher in those voting locations and precincts where we did expose voters to street signs.
SIMON: But isn't getting someone to vote different and, in a sense, easier than getting them to vote the way you want to because of a street sign or yard sign?
PANAGOPOULOS: Well, I think what we wanted to demonstrate was that this particular technique - holding up some type of sign - can be effective. Now, we had a nonpartisan message. We assume that a partisan message could have been as effective - perhaps it would have been more effective, if anything. But our first cut at this was to see if they could be effective. And given that we found that they are effective, we now presume that they can be effective as partisan messages to promote a particular candidacy.
Instead of waving signs at corners, I'd like to see the active campaign volunteers of both sides sit down for dinner together - six per table - and let voters see videos of their dinner discussions.  That would give a lot more information than signs with slogans.  And the volunteers would find out that 'the enemy' was more rounded and human than they expected.

For instance, I suspect the assumption held by some that oil company employees are all going to Vote No isn't all that accurate.  It's probably true that the most vocal opponents of Prop 1 work for oil companies or subcontractors.  When I went to the public testimony for HB 110, an early version of SB 21, all the people speaking in favor, identified themselves as connected through work or family to the oil industry.

But no employer is universally loved by their employees, who see all the warts of their bosses.  And even though the oil companies, as reported in the ADN, have been sending out emails telling their employees to vote No - I imagine a lot of the employees might disagree or just resent their employer telling them how to vote.  (In today's paper, it says,
"Companies supporting the tax cut were shuttling workers to the polls in vans . . . but officials said they had not told the employees how to vote."
While I was looking for evidence of the effectiveness of sign waving, I found this anti-sign waving blog post that included this tidbit:
I actually have been a sign waver in the past, but only when strongly encouraged to do so by an employer with substantial financial interest in a certain candidate. I did so begrudgingly and hated every minute of it as I tried to fake a smile at drivers who mostly just wanted to get to home as soon as possible without having to send a half-hearted greeting my way.
People with the Yes signs wondered how many of the No sign holders were there as part of their job.  And when someone waved an Alaska flag among the Yes signs, it was suggested the No folks should have a British flag.  See, what I mean?  It's like football fans finding ways to out do the fans of their opponents.

I did see a man near the Yes signs who looked familiar.  Then it hit me - he looked like Vic Kohring.  I don't think I've talked to Vic since the trial.  We had a brief but cordial conversation.  I realized later that I didn't ask why he was standing with signs in mid-town Anchorage if he's running for a Senate seat in the Valley. I checked, now.  He's running for US Senate, not state senate, for the Alaska Independence Party slot.

And I met one of Don Young's Republican primary opponents - John Cox.  Forrest Dunbar, the Democratic house candidate who's unopposed in the primary, came up to say hi and I got this picture of the two of them.

I asked Cox about the gun he's wearing.  He told me he's a strong open-carry advocate.

I should be done now, but after my afternoon in the sign battles I couldn't resist posting this picture I ran across when I got home by Polish artist Pawel Kuczynski published (with other pictures) at The Mind Unleashed.

While there are a lot of informed voters, this picture depicts some of the uninformed.  Not to mention those who have dropped out of voting because they don't see the point.  We'd have a lot different country if they voted.

Art by Pawel Kuczynski; image from The Mind Unleashed

 The election equivalent of the grass these days is "JOBS."

NOTE:  For those wondering - especially after the previous post - I was holding a Yes sign.  I'd been called and asked to help out and I don't believe that blogging should cause me to give up participating in the political process.  Pretending I don't have a position on issues doesn't make my blog more objective.  It's better to be upfront about about my beliefs and activities, write as objectively as I can, and let the reader sort things out.