Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Repacking My Bike Bearings at Off The Chain - When People Are Better Than Books

I went to Off The Chain Wednesday to fix a flat.  I know, I shouldn't have to get help to fix a flat, but the nut was on so tight I simply could not get it loose.  And I've been wanting to go to Off The Chain - Anchorage's do-it-yourself bike cooperative to work on my bike sometime.

I learned about this place when I posted about Bikerowave - a similar place in L.A - and a reader pointed out there was also such a place in Anchorage. 

As  you can see from this picture, I got way beyond changing a tire, and that's one of the reasons I love the concept of these kinds of places.

There's such a difference between trying to figure out how to do this in a book and having a real live human being gently walking you through the steps.  Pointing out where the tools are, and even how to use them if necessary.  But he doesn't do it for you, but he'll give you as much help as you need to do it yourself.  The picture above came after this next set of pictures.



That scruffy looking old dish turned out to be a high powered magnet so that all the parts I put it were safe from spills.  Though I did drop one ball bearing.  (They had plenty of others, though I found it.  Another I found stuck to the blue magnet after I got a new one.  If you look carefully at the top photo, you'll see there are ten ball bearings.  One didn't fit right, because there were only supposed to be nine.

Anyway, you can see where the ball bearings are housed.  The top image of it, shows it after I took the ball bearings out, but before I cleaned it.  The one on the right is cleaned.  And then I added new grease.

 Then, I was ready to put the bearings back in and take the picture at the top.







Here's where I did most of my work.  A steady stream of folks came in and started working on their bikes.











Above you can see most of the shop.



To get to the ball bearings I had to take the freewheel off.  I'd never figured out how to do that.  In picture A there's a black hole in the middle.  I painted it pink in photoshop so you could find it easily.  B shows the special tool you need to loosen the flywheel.  It's that bolt like item and it has protrusions that go into the pink hole and a similar one on the other side.  Then you loosen it.

You can read a book and figure out how to do this.  But it's so much easier and faster and fun to have a human being help you.  In a place where they have all the spare parts and tools you might need.

The guy who helped me, Dave, is in the middle in the green t-shirt and gloves. 

At Bikerowave they have a sign in sheet where you put your name, time you arrived, and what work you are doing.  Then they charge you $7.50 an hour for bike stand time plus parts which were ridiculously cheap. 

At Off The Chain they have a donation box and recommend $5 an hour.  Dave and the other helpers are volunteers. 

A lot of things are better to read.  But fixing a bike, especially when you try things you've never tried before, is so much easier with a human guide than a book.  And unlike a place like REI where you drop your bike off and it disappears into the back to be repaired, at this place, getting your bike fixed is a learning experience.  And it's affordable. 

Here's a link to Off The Chain's website, which says:
"Off the Chain is a low cost, volunteer run, 501(c)(3) bicycle collective open to the Anchorage community. Off the Chain teaches people of all ages and backgrounds how to repair bicycles and strives to increase bicycle ridership, awareness, and safety through community service and education.
Shop
Off the Chain is open to the public during shop hours. During open shop hours you have access to our tools, library and advice from our volunteer mechanics. We have an inventory of refurbished bicycles, used parts and basic new parts available."

  Winter hours are 3-7 on Wednesdays and Sundays 3-8pm.  But call first - 907.258.6822 - to be sure they're open.  If they don't have a volunteer or two, they won't be open. 

It's on the West side of the old Matanuska Maid building between Northern Lights and Benson. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Things People Sent Me - Service Dog Attacks; Maria Kang; US Wealth Distribution Ignorance; Internet Security; And More

People have been sending me links - not for the blog necessarily - and I've got all these open windows that I need to get rid of.  So here are some things you might find of interest. 

Large number of Attacks on Service Dog
"Frequency and Location of Attacks The Seeing Eye 2011 dog attack and interference survey revealed that 44% of respondents (324 out of 744) had experienced at least one attack. Of those, 58% were attacked more than once. Findings also showed that 83% (617 respondents) had experienced interference by an aggressive dog. The vast majority of attacks (80%) and interference (83%) occurred on a public-right-of-way such as a sidewalk or roadway. In cases involving the most recent attacks, 74% happened when respondents were being guided by their dogs within 30 minutes walking distance from their homes. Most of them (80%) travel by foot within their neighborhood on a daily basis."
The complete survey is available at Seeing Eye.



Op-Ed: “Looking Good” is Overrated: One Mom’s Response to Maria Kang

This is an opinion piece at The Feminist Wire and begins:
Maria Kang, you look fabulous.  I fully commend you for the work you put into a goal that was important to you, and I congratulate you on your success.  I admire you for your self-reflective journey, your honesty in your writing, and your acknowledgment that everyone is different.  I looked pretty good before I got pregnant, but nothing like you. I also have an eight-month old baby, and a couple of older kids at home.  I have to say, I certainly don’t look nearly as good as you do now!
I'm not swimming in that part of the internet where the Maria Kang poster appeared so it was all new to me.



XKCD -  Poster "20th Century Headlines Rewritten To Get More Clicks"

I can relate to this as I generally resist the temptation to make my post titles a little sexier.  My rule is that it has to be directly relevant to the post.  And I've even posted once or twice about the phenomenon of writing headlines for clicks - such as the use of lists of the X Most Awesome Ys.   The only trouble with the poster is that you have to know about things that happened more than ten years ago to get what the rewritten headline refers to.  Some examples at the link:

1955 - Avoid polio with this one weird trick 
1989 - You won't believe what these people did to the Berlin Wall (Video)



Remembering Hugh Fleischer  -
Please join us for a memorial service honoring the life of Hugh Fleischer in the Tikahtnu Ballroom of the Dena'ina Convention Center, 600 W. 7th Avenue.
Tuesday, November 5 at 5:00 PM
Where: Dena'ina Convention Center/Senior Activities Center 
This is a real difficult one for me.  Hugh died recently after making all sorts of contributions to the Anchorage community and the event is being held at exactly the same time I agreed to be on a panel at UAA.   But it looks like things will go on later than the panel and I can come by then.


Pounding Pavement By Heal Or Toe -

 I think this was sent to me as a follow up on my post about barefoot running.  This NY Times article says, "not so fast" and points out that people who land on the ball of their feet get problems too, just different ones from the people who land on their heals.  And this is particularly poignant because I have had problems with my right heal (ok Harpboy?) and that's where the article says 'barefoot' runners get problems.  I finally got an appointment with a podiatrist for next Monday to see how to start running again without permanently damaging my heal.  The person who made the appointment said the doctor is a runner. :)



9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact 
  I think this came from an email too.  It's a video that compares:

1.  What Americans think the distribution of US wealth should be.

Screen shot from 9 out of 10 Americans Are Wrong video
In this one the richest make roughly 10-20 times more than the poorest.  


2.  What Americans think the distribution is.

Screen shot from 9 out of 10 Americans Are Wrong video

In this one the richest make roughly 100 times more than the poorest. 

3.  What the distribution of wealth in the US actually is.


Screen shot from 9 out of 10 Americans Are Wrong video
The video gives a different ratio on this one - the average CEO makes 380 times what the average worker in the company makes. 

4.  What the distribution actually looks like when you cut off the top of the curve that goes out of the picture and re stack it onto the graph.



You can see the repasted tip for the top 19%, but the narrator of the video says they had to make a whole new column off the chart to show how much the top 1% has.  It comes to 40% of the wealth in the US.  While the bottom 80% has only 7%.

The point of the video is that our understanding of reality is totally wrong.  And I would suggest when you hear Republicans charging people with trying to foment class welfare, it's part of the campaign to keep the American public ignorant of the reality.

I haven't check this video's numbers, but even if he's off by a lot, it would still be shocking.   Here's the whole video at You Tube.

I can't tell when it was posted, but it says that it's been watched 11 million times and there are 37,000 comments. 



Ten Steps You Can Take Right Now Against Internet Surveillance - This comes from the Electronic Frontiers Foundation.
   "The good news, if you can call it that, is that much of what the NSA is doing is mass surveillance on everybody. With a few small steps, you can make that kind of surveillance a lot more difficult and expensive, both against you individually, and more generally against everyone. . .
  1. Use end-to-end encryption.
  2. Encrypt as much communications as you can.
  3. Encrypt your hard drive.
  4. Strong passwords, kept safe.
  5. Use Tor.
  6. Turn on two-factor (or two-step) authentication.
  7. Don't click on attachments.
  8. Keep software updated, and use anti-virus software.
  9. Keep extra secret information extra secure.
  10. Be an ally.
The link gives more explanation of each of the steps.  If you wouldn't leave your house or your car unlocked, why would you leave your data unlocked?  Because keys and locks are easier to understand than encryption.  And that's what NSA and others take advantage of.

[UPDATE Oct. 30, 2013 12:28pm - Feedburner note - this one posted within 30 minutes.  Let's hope this becomes the norm again.]

Jury Duty Day 2 And More Feedburner Complaints

As I said at the end of the last post, I didn't have to go in today and it was a beautiful day.  Worked at home most of the time.  Called in today and they don't need any jurists tomorrow.

I'm still a lot frustrated by feedburner not pinging other blogs in a timely way.  Here's an example of what I mean.  This is the Blog List from  Off and On The Alaskan Parkinson Blog 
I posted that at about 6pm yesterday and it only got to other blogs around noon today. [UPDATE 11:30pm Actually, I put that post up twice to see if the second one might be picked up when the first one wasn't.  I didn't check which one the links went to.  I would guess the second one would have been picked up and so the first one - had it been a different post altogether - never would have made it to the other blogs for their readers to link from.]   For a lot of posts, it probably doesn't matter, but if I'm posting something timely, it does.  Or if I post several posts in a day, they may not all get up.  I'm trying different things, and there are some instructions from feedburner about the code I could fix.  If I understood the html code well enough to be sure I wouldn't make things worse.


And then sometimes it works right away.  Grrrrrrr. [UPDATE 9pm:  This one seems to have gotten up pretty quickly.  The first person I can see through Sitemeter getting to this post from another blog was about 45 minutes after it was posted.  So it worked fine this time.  What about next time?  I'll start keeping track on the posts until it either goes away on its own or I figure out how to fix it.]

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jury Duty Day 1




There was a line outside the court building for going through security when I got off the bus this morning downtown.  But we could keep our shoes on.

The jury assembly room is on the second floor.  I checked in and got a one page form to fill out - name, profession, past jury experience, organizations you belong to, hobbies.





Another third of the jury assembly room is to the right
It's a big room.  The phone call yesterday said they were taking jurors 1-415.  I had my computer, but never took it out.  I'm reading Vic Fischer's autobiography and I find it fascinating.  He was born in Berlin to American parents in 1924 - a time and place I've had a lot of interest in and have recently read about.  I just wanted to read.  So it was fine that I wasn't called in the first three groups - about 40-50 in each group.  But then they asked those still left there to fill out another form.  This one asked about whether we had experienced sexual abuse, knew anyone who had, or had been involved in organizations related to this issue.

Our group got sent to the third floor and we were called in alphabetically, so I was number 2.  The jury selection, we were told, was going to take the rest of the week.  Prospective jurors would be questioned in some cases individually.  It probably could have been done a lot faster if the judge hadn't talked so slowly.  And he said 'uhhh' so many times that I checked my watch for a minute.  25 times.  That's almost one 'uhhh' every other second!  The days would be from 8 to 1:30pm I think he said and only Monday through Thursday.  Then the trial would last through the week of November 11. 

He went through the questions again on the questionnaires we'd sent in when we first got the notices.  Anyone not an American citizen?  Anyone not over 18?  Not an Alaskan resident?  No one raised their hands.  For that last question he said, "Good, because the names are taken from the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend applications."

Then we were asked if we knew the defendant, his attorney, or the prosecutor - who were all in the room - or any of the potential witnesses.  Their names were put up on a screen and read.   A woman knew all the police officers.  Turned out she's a police dispatcher.  Said she doesn't know them personally, just as a dispatcher.  He kept her in the pool but said the attorneys would surely have more questions. 

Then we got to scheduling.  "Does anyone have an important activity that will interfere with this trial or would take a financial hit because of the schedule?"  Another man said he had a doctor's appointment next Monday morning.  The judge said they could accommodate that.  I said I had a plane reservation for November 7 to visit my 91 year old mom who is not well.  I was excused.  As I was leaving another woman said she was the sole support for a young relative and couldn't take that much time from work.  I think she was excused too.  By then it was about 1pm. 

We have to call in each night this week to see if our numbers are called again.  The judge said that last week there was judge training in Girdwood, so things were extra busy this week.  (I called.  I don't have to go Tuesday.)
 


Then I walked across rainy and darkly overcast downtown Anchorage to meet J for lunch.

Past these Russian dolls looking out the closed gift shop window at the rain.










This car hood catching and mixing rain drops. 


















Past the Club 25 building and Cyrano's across the street.












There seemed to be a number of new places I hadn't seen before, like the Bubbly Mermaid.










And across the Museum grounds.





Jury Duty Day 1





There was a line outside the court building for going through security when I got off the bus this morning downtown.  But we could keep our shoes on.

The jury assembly room is on the second floor.  I checked in and got a one page form to fill out - name, profession, past jury experience, organizations you belong to, hobbies. 





Another third of the jury assembly room is to the right
It's a big room.  The phone call yesterday said they were taking jurors 1-415.  I had my computer, but never took it out.  I'm reading Vic Fischer's autobiography and I find it fascinating.  He was born in Berlin to American parents in 1934 - a time and place I've had a lot of interest in and have recently read about.  I just wanted to read.  So it was fine that I wasn't called in the first three groups - about 40-50 in each group.  But then they asked those still left there to fill out another form.  This one asked about whether we had experienced sexual abuse, knew anyone who had, or had been involved in organizations related to this issue.

Our group got sent to the third floor and we were called in alphabetically, so I was number 2.  The jury selection, we were told, was going to take the rest of the week.  Prospective jurors would be questioned in some cases individually.  It probably could have been done a lot faster if the judge hadn't talked so slowly.  And he said 'uhhh' so many times that I checked my watch for a minute.  25 times.  That's almost one 'uhhh' every other second!  The days would be from 8 to 1:30pm I think he said and only Monday through Thursday.  Then the trial would last through the week of November 11. 

He went through the questions again on the questionnaires we'd sent in when we first got the notices.  Anyone not an American citizen?  Anyone not over 18?  Not an Alaskan resident?  No one raised their hands.  For that last question he said, "Good, because the names are taken from the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend applications."

Then we were asked if we knew the defendant, his attorney, or the prosecutor - who were all in the room - or any of the potential witnesses.  Their names were put up on a screen and read.   A woman knew all the police officers.  Turned out she's a police dispatcher.  Said she doesn't know them personally, just as a dispatcher.  He kept her in the pool but said the attorneys would surely have more questions. 

Then we got to scheduling.  "Does anyone have an important activity that will interfere with this trial or would take a financial hit because of the schedule?"  Another man said he had a doctor's appointment next Monday morning.  The judge said they could accommodate that.  I said I had a plane reservation for November 7 to visit my 91 year old mom who is not well.  I was excused.  As I was leaving another woman said she was the sole support for a young relative and couldn't take that much time from work.  I think she was excused too.  By then it was about 1pm. 

We have to call in each night this week to see if our numbers are called again.  The judge said that last week there was judge training in Girdwood, so things were extra busy this week.  (I called.  I don't have to go Tuesday.)
 


Then I walked across rainy and darkly overcast downtown Anchorage to meet J for lunch.

Past these Russian dolls looking out the closed gift shop window at the rain.










This car hood catching and mixing rain drops. 


















Past the Club 25 building and Cyrano's across the street.












There seemed to be a number of new places I hadn't seen before, like the Bubbly Mermaid.










And across the Museum grounds. 





Sunday, October 27, 2013

Going To Court Tomorrow

I got this in the mail a couple of months ago.  And this evening was my first day to call in to see if I need to go in.  I have to be in the jury assembly room at 8am.  The recording said there was free parking and free bus for the first day and free wifi in the jury assembly room. 

From previous jury calls, I know that a lot more people get called than actually serve on the jury.  Last time I wasn't called at all and by the afternoon they said I needn't come back.  In previous times I've been called, but not selected to the jury.  And a few times I've served on a jury. 




From the the US Constitution:

Article III, Section 2

The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any state, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.  (From Cornell University Law School)

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. (From Cornell University Law School]

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.  (From Cornell University Law School)


Jury duty, like voting, is one of the most basic duties of American citizens.  To the extent that we take this duty seriously and serve with care and fairness, our justice system has a chance of working reasonably well.   I realize there are people who don't want to serve on juries - their lives are busy and they feel they can't take the time.  But if I were the defendant, I'd sure hope that people like me would have filled out their forms and not tried to get out of this remarkable part of our judicial system.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ron Mueck Hyperreal Sculpture - Images To Stretch Your Mind

image from web designer depot
Ron Mueck makes these incredible sculptures.  They play with out senses -how can they be so realistic and not real?  Or realistic yet so big?  They force us to think about things we see so often that we take them for granted.  We're given permission to stare.  And wonder what it means to be human. 

Here's a site with a bunch of photos of Mueck and other hyperreal sculptors.  I'd don't like using other people's photos, so I'm just using a couple in hopes you'll check out the other sites. 

Website with about ten hyperrealist artists.




From Sculpture.org




This site has an interview and lots of pictures to show how Mueck makes these sculptures.












 

And here's Jamie Salmon, another hyperreal sculptor talking about how he made the Sumi Wrestler.




Have fun

Signs That Fall Is Ending



In the spring and fall you hear the geese as they pass above in giant V's.  Usually I'm not in a position to get a good shot.  The other day I was in a position to get a shot that at least had the whole formation in it.



Today's bike ride brought me past a few puddles that had frozen in the cooler nights we've had the last couple of days.  This is east Anchorage where temperatures can be 10 - 15˚ F cooler than more western locations. 




And then there was this interesting cloud formation while I was waiting for the light to change.  Looking at a google page of clouds, I found Genus cirrocummulus.  It's not a perfect match, but the closest I could see.  Anyone know?


Here's the Wikipedia description and photo.  Do you see a similarity?  The page has lots, lots more clouds.

Genus cirrocumulus

A large field of cirrocumulus stratiformis

Cirrus fibratus radiatus
A A large field of cirrocumulus clouds in a blue sky, beginning to merge near the upper left.
Wikipedia cites Typhoonchaser  for this shot
Abbreviation: Cc[11][2]
Clouds of the genus cirrocumulus form when moist air at high tropospheric altitude reaches saturation, creating ice crystals or supercooled water droplets. Limited convective instability at the cloud level gives the cloud a rolled or rippled appearance. Despite the lack of a strato- prefix, cirrocumulus is physically more closely related to stratocumulus than the more freely convective cumulus genus.[12

Friday, October 25, 2013

Scam Alert: Anil Singh Called From Microsoft This Morning To Fix My Computer - But Not My Feedburner Problems



I got a call this morning telling me to go to my computer so he could help me fix my problems.
Steve:  What problems?  How would you know I had computer problems?
Anil:  From the error messages.
Steve:  I don't even use Microsoft.
Anil:  You have an Apple.
Steve:  Why are you calling me?

And I hung up the phone. 



I know that you never give out any information to unsolicited callers, but still, I wondered.  I've been dealing with a feedburner problem and one of my email accounts has been overly inclusive in blocking spam and tech support is currently working on that.  And it's a Microsoft Outlook system.

The Feedburner sends out messages to people who subscribe to my blog and to websites that have my blog listed in their blogrolls.  While most people get here through search engines, new posts get most of their initial hits from people who see the new post title on one of the blogs that has What Do I Know? listed.  It's been working very inconsistently and I've found advice telling me how to ping the information manually, but even that wasn't working last night.  If anyone else is having that trouble, Unzip Tech is the most helpful site I found for this.   I'm hoping this time I got it fixed for good.  We'll see. (Or not see if I didn't fix it.)

For those interested in Redistricting, the main post that didn't get linked elsewhere is on 
the issue of compactness in house districts 3 and 5 in Fairbanks which are in dispute before the judge now. 


I did google 'spam microsoft help phone calls' and here's what Microsoft says about this sort of call on their website:

Avoid tech support phone scams

Cybercriminals don't just send fraudulent email messages and set up fake websites. They might also call you on the telephone and claim to be from Microsoft. They might offer to help solve your computer problems or sell you a software license. Once they have access to your computer, they can do the following:
  • Trick you into installing malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords. They might also then charge you to remove this software.
  • Take control of your computer remotely and adjust settings to leave your computer vulnerable.
  • Request credit card information so they can bill you for phony services.
  • Direct you to fraudulent websites and ask you to enter credit card and other personal or financial information there.
Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes.

Telephone tech support scams: What you need to know

Cybercriminals often use publicly available phone directories so they might know your name and other personal information when they call you. They might even guess what operating system you're using.
Once they've gained your trust, they might ask for your user name and password or ask you to go to a website to install software that will let them access your computer to fix it. Once you do this, your computer and your personal information is vulnerable.
Do not trust unsolicited calls. Do not provide any personal information.
Here are some of the organizations that cybercriminals claim to be from:
  • Windows Helpdesk
  • Windows Service Center
  • Microsoft Tech Support
  • Microsoft Support
  • Windows Technical Department Support Group
  • Microsoft Research and Development Team (Microsoft R & D Team)
 There's a lot more at the link.

Redistricting Board Back - To Close Meeting

11:34  Call meeting back to order.
Torg:  All present.  Met in Exec. Session on litigation issues with attorney and we have no actions based on that.  Comments from members?
Brodie:  Happy to have Mike back and at work
Green:  Thanks for getting us together and update and having Mike back.
Holm:  I concur.  Happy Halloween.
Motion to adjourn.  Approved.
Torg:  Thanks to you all and Happy Halloween. 

Alaska Redistricting Board Meeting Friday - They Go Into Excecutive Session

I'm on the phone line - 1-855-463-5009 - waiting for the meeting to begin.
The AKL-TV says no live streams scheduled for 48 hours.

The Board members are talking to each other about the weather in Fairbanks now.  Marie Green is talking about the AFN conference.

Mike White doesn't sound real good.  It's hard to understand him. (He had surgery in his mouth recently.)

They're waiting for Bob Brodie. . .

11:03 -  still talking about the weather, no snow yet in Fairbanks, it was raining in Kotzebue when Marie left.  They're waiting for Bob Brodie.  No mention of Peggyann McConnochie.

Torgerson asked about AFN turnout.  Marie said not as many as when in Anchorage.  Costs of getting to Fairbanks more. 

Sounds like they have:

Chair John Torgerson, Jim Holm, Marie Green.

There's Bob Brodie.  Peggyann McConnochie won't join them.

Starting rollcall:
Torgerson, Brodie, Green, Holm there, McConnochie absent.  Michael White is also there.

Motion to approve agenda seconded. Approved. 4-0.
Going to Executive Session to discuss litigation issues.  Approved 4-0.
11:10 - they are disconnecting and calling to another teleconference number.  They are gone.  And it looks like the AKL-TV never was activated. 

There was no mention of how long it would be  - well, when they were chatting before the meeting they said it probably would be a short meeting.  So I don't know if we'll stay connected or they'll end this call and we have to guess when to call back. 

11:13 - so far it seems I'm still connected.

Alaska Redistricting Board: Compactness And Fairbanks Districts 3 and 5 - Part 1

[Note:  The Board is Scheduled to meet in executive session today - see details at the bottom of this post.]

There's a legal challenge in the Superior Court in Fairbanks to the Alaska Redistricting Board's most recent Proclamation Plan which sets the boundaries for all the legislative districts in Alaska.  (These are State House and Senate seats only, because Alaska has only one representative in the US House.)

These challenges have been filed and the various parties have responded to each other and I've written some posts on these.  But I really haven't scratched the surface.  I've been trying to
  1. understand all the various documents themselves (When I started working on this, new documents kept coming in and I was traveling and while I read them, I had trouble taking notes and comparing in detail what everyone said about everyone else's filings.)
  2. organize the material so that readers can make sense of it
I've written up notes.  I've looked at maps, tried to make sense of them, and cut and pasted new maps so they were easier to see.

I even considered chucking the whole project and just waiting for the judge to outline those points he can make a summary judgment on and those that need court time to clarify enough to judge.  I think for much of this that may end up happening, but I'm going to make a stab at discussing the issue of compactness in two districts in Fairbanks - 3 and 5 - that the plaintiffs have challenged.

And while I don't know as much as I'd like to know on this, I probably still know enough to make people's eyes glaze over.

So, in this post, I'll talk about compactness and its importance in determining fair districts.

COMPACTNESS

The Alaska Constitution offers several criteria the Redistricting Board needs to meet:
  • Compactness
  • Contiguity
  • Socio-economic integration
Contiguity is probably the easiest - all parts of the district have to be connected.  Even that seemingly simple definition gets ambiguous when you deal with a state that has the coastline of Alaska and so many islands.  Contiguity over water has been accepted by the Supreme Court, but it helps if there are regular ferry and/or flights between those parts separated by water.  Land transportation (roads) is also not required in areas where villages are scattered and no roads connect them.

Socio-economic integration is probably the hardest to test for and in some ways the Courts have simplified this in urban areas (or given up?) by saying that any district within a borough boundary is socio-economically integrated.

Another important federal and state criterion is one-person-one-vote which gets boiled down to deviation.  That means every district should have as close as possible to the same number of people.  That way, each representative and each Senator have very close to the same number of constituents.  The term deviation will come up in relation to House Districts 3 and 5.  

The fight over the Fairbanks districts is focused on compactness.  (This is also an issue for some other districts in Mat-su and Kenai, but that's more than I'm ready to write about.)

ESRI, the company that makes the software that the Board uses to do its mapping defines compactness this way:
Compactness is having the minimum distance between all the parts of a constituency. The most compact districts form either a circle, square, or a hexagon.
There are a number of data quality checks contained in Esri Redistricting Online that allows you to measure whether a district plan adheres to certain standards.
 Basically, they are saying the most compact area is a circle.  The more you deviate from a circle, the less compact you'll be.  But, of course, geography - mountains, lakes, rivers, etc. - means that people don't live in perfect circles, but that's the ideal.

Redistricting The Nation offers this diagram:



There are lots of ways to calculate Compactness that go beyond just eyeballing. The ESRI site lists different mathematical techniques:
  • Polygon Area Test compares the areas of each district. The area is reported in square miles.
  • Perimeter calculates the perimeter of the district, including inner holes. The perimeter is reported in miles.
  • Reock Test calculates the ratio of district area to the smallest circle containing the district.
  • Area / Convex Hull Test determines the ratio of the area of the district to the convex hull area of the district.
  • Grofman Test calculates the ratio of the district perimeter to the square root of the area.
  • Schwartzberg Test is the ratio of the perimeter of the district to the perimeter of a circle of an equal area to that of the district.
  • Polsby Popper Test calculates the ratio of the same area of the district to the area of a circle with the same perimeter.
  • Holes determines the number of holes (geography clusters that are fully enclosed) within each district.
The Redistricting The Nation site points out that these different techniques yield inconsistent results and suggests we ask:
"Should compactness be a requirement in the redistricting process?"
They immediately respond:  
While geometric compactness measures may appear to be neutral, combined with geography and real-life patterns of population distribution they may produce reliable political outcomes. One study* concluded that a compactness requirement reduces the representation of racial minorities. Other scholarly work** identifies a variety of biases inherent in automated redistricting and compactness standards, including favoring the majority political party. Clearly, other important components of the redistricting process, such as aggregation of "communities of interest" [this would be Alaska's socio-'economic integration]  are not necessarily well served by examining only compactness.
A number of scholars have suggested that compactness measures are best used not as absolute standards against which a single district’s shape is judged, but rather as a way to assess the relative merits of various proposed plans. Above all, compactness is most meaningful within the framework of an institutional redistricting process.
I think that means you have to consider compactness as one of a set of criteria.  And here's an example of what the Board says when they are challenged on compactness.
"Such narrow-sighted redistricting that fails to consider the map as a whole is unworkable."
But the plaintiffs also made arguments that one factor.  They most often seem to focus on the Board's emphasis on very low deviations, and say low deviations are the only factor to consider.   You have to balance different factors.

These criteria are important because, as hard as determining compactness is, it's easier than knowing the intent of the people drawing the lines.  So if districts look peculiar and there isn't a reasonable explanation for it, then lack of complexity can be a proxy for gerrymandering.  Said another way by Redistricting The Nation:
One of the "traditional" redistricting principles, low compactness is considered to be a sign of potential gerrymandering by courts, state law and the academic literature.

So, instead of arguing about gerrymandering, the plaintiffs and the Board are arguing about compactness.  But really it's about gerrymandering.  In the next post on this, I'll look specifically at what the plaintiff's and the Board have both said about House Districts 3 and 5 regarding compactness.

And by the way, today at 11 am, the Board is meeting.  Mostly, judging from the agenda, it will be in executive session and they aren't likely to talk for the record afterward.  I think I'll just call in.  From the Board's website: 

  • Alaska Redistricting Board Meeting October 25, 2013 at 11 AM. View Agenda
The meeting will be teleconferenced at 1-855-463-5009 and streamed at AKL.TV.  Here's the Agenda.
 
  1. Call to Order
  2. Roll Call
  3. Approval of the Agenda
  4. Executive session to discuss litigation issues
    The board will disconnect from the teleconference net work and call back in for the executive session.
  5. Reconnect to the teleconference network.
  6. Board action if necessary
  7. Adjourn
In addition to the actual legal issues they need to discuss for the upcoming trial (if they have one it's scheduled for early December in Fairbanks), they also have an attorney who's recently had surgery for serious skin cancer inside his mouth.  It's not certain when he'll be able to talk again.  The chemo, according to his letter to the court, should be done by around Thanksgiving.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Symbolic Protest Against Parnell's Intimidation Of Public Interest Lawsuits

When Alaska Constitutional Convention member Vic Fischer and the wife of the Governor who established the Alaska Permanent Fund, Bella Hammond, signed onto a lawsuit protesting action taken  by the Pebble Mine developers, little did they think they would be hit with a $1 million bill for legal expenses.

People were out to protest the Governor's decision to stick it to Vic and Bella.



The Governor's former Attorney General, Dan Sullivan promised in his confirmation hearings, that he would fight the US government by filing suit against every action that infringed on Alaska's sovereignty (just about any action the feds take in their minds).  The administration sees this as a way to wear down the Feds  and keep them from requiring resource extracting corporations - large and small - to prove they won't do any serious environmental damage while they are taking Alaskan resources to the bank. When they sue the federal government, the administration is using money that belongs to the State of Alaska, that is, money that collectively belongs to all the residents whether they agree with the Governor or not. 

So it's no wonder that when others sue those corporations and oppose what the Administration wants to do, they assume it's the same sort of political tactics they use.  They go into win-lose mode and declare these people enemies of the State (anti-development is one such term) and set up obstacles to do what is their own strategy against the feds.  Parnell and his associates can't imagine or understand that there are people who do this sort of thing out a belief in public duty and public good.  For Parnell it's just a tactic to maintain and increase their power.

But some people use these sort of lawsuits the way they were intended. Not simply as a way to clog up the process or to protect their personal financial stake, but  because they strongly believe it's in the best interest of the future of the state.  Of course, Parnell says he believes that too, but when his actions are always on the side of large corporations - ones he used to work for like being the lobbyist for Conoco Philips - the lines between public and private good are seriously blurred.  A large, multinational corporation that, despite their feel good ads and pocket-change-to-them strategic contributions to the community, really have no interest in Alaska except how our resources will help their company's bottom line. Sure, as individuals, their employees may enjoy Alaska's wonders, but their collective work as employees is NOT for Alaska, it's for the corporation and its stockholders. 

Individuals who raise objections to their projects are dubbed "anti-development" as though all development were good and all opposition to development were bad.  These folks go to court, risking their own money, to fight their case.   Most jurisdictions recognize this sort of public interest lawsuit and protect the folks that undertake them.  But the Parnell administration got legislation passed to prevent such suits that oppose their projects and their corporate backers by intimidating them with the threat of having to pay the State's legal fees.  Now if they sued the state over offering abortions or for the right to buy as many automatic weapons as they can afford, I'm sure he would not think they needed to pay the court costs if they lost.  And I don't think the State of Alaska will pay the Feds' legal costs if they lose any of their suits against the Feds.  And even if they do, it's our money, not the Administration's personal money.  This is part of the stifle dissent campaign that shut down coastal zone management programs.  We're the state with the largest coast and the only coastal state without a coastal zone management program.  No program means no pesky local folks raising objections to corporations developing projects that threaten their community and environment. 

The Feds, in other words, should leave Alaskans alone to do things their own way, but the local communities should simply let the State do whatever it pleases to them.   This inconsistency suggests to me that the issue isn't so much to protect Alaskans' best interests, but to protect the Parnell Administration to do what it wants to protect its corporate sponsors.

I realize that Parnell and Sullivan (the one running for Senate, not the mayor) have converted to the church of commerce which says that whatever corporations do is good, so that their sense of the public good is consistent now with their actions.  We all seek confirmation in ideologies that support what we want to do.  But some ideologies better match what how things actually work in the world. And they make us, sometimes, give up what we want for what is the right thing to do. 

And so I'm sure that Parnell and his backers looked at today's rally with disgust and condescension.  Taking to the streets to protest simply demonstrates your lack of power.  If you have real power, you talk to the Governor privately without inconvenient questions being raised.  You work out your deals and you do what you want as unobtrusively as possible.  But you are always ready to squash any opposition. 

The protestors used all the symbolism of the location they could. 

On the plaza of the Atwood Building that houses so many state offices, with the large faceless building looming over them, they mocked Parnell's "Choose Respect" anti-domestic violence campaign by holding a large sign in defense of two Alaskan icons: the last active signer of the Alaska constitution Vic Fischer; and the wife of the governor who established Alaska's Permanent fund, Bella Hammond.  It read:   "Real Alaskans Don't Bully Their Elders."

They mocked the anti-tax line often used by conservatives, and used by Anchorage Assembly Chair last night, to justify the draconian anti-union ordinance passed last spring, that seniors will lose their homes because they can't pay the property tax.  The other big sign said, "Don't Evict Bella Hammond" (with the attempt to charge her exorbitant court fees.)


These are the same kinds of tactics the Palin administration (of which Parnell was a part) used by charging huge sums for public records requests.  

And behind the demonstrators loomed the huge (and in my opinion, awful) mural of some of Alaska's founders - Ernest Gruening, Bill Egan, Bob Bartlett, and Ralph Rivers.



I realize that I'm sounding a little ideological myself here.  But how else can you explain what's going on?   With corporations being seen by the Supreme Court as 'people' deserving the constitutional rights reserved for individual human beings (though actual human women, Indians, and slaves weren't originally given all these rights)  like freedom of speech, we now have inordinate corporate money funding pseudo think tanks to pump out studies that discredit legitimate science on everything from evolution to the link between cigarettes and cancer, or the harmful effects of all the chemicals in household products,  to global climate change and they push a corporate agenda that has created the greatest disparity in wealth America has seen for nearly a century.  They're funding the Tea Party members of Congress who shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act.  While they justify this because, they say,  the ACA will bankrupt the US, and they want to keep federal spending sustainable, they absolutely refuse to consider any new taxes to help reduce our debt, even though the tax rates today are the lowest in 50 or 60 years.  And they had no such misgivings about the money to be spent on their (and it was mostly their) war against Islam (well for some that's what it is) which brought huge corporate profits for defense contractors at the cost of countless lives interrupted and ended. 

Not only do they kill in the name of Christ, they promote guns, not helping the poor, and treating foreigners with hostility and deportation.  That's not the Christ I've been told about who said things like:
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.
As you can see, I'm agitated today.  I can find you links to support all I say, and I'm confident that in 20 years, most sane and rational folks won't see anything amiss in a post like this.  (I'd like to think that's true of sane and rational folks today.)  But I'm also mindful not to fall into the same strident rhetoric of the people I oppose because of their abuse of facts, of truth, of the people they are supposed to represent, of their power. 

But I think my words and actions are moderate compared to the people who support the Governor and encourage him with model legislation from ALEC to pass laws that intimidate publicly minded citizens from legally protesting programs they see as harmful to our way of life.  People like Vic Fischer, Bella Hammond, and the other, less well known, people who expect that Pebble Mine, like most other huge mining operations around the world, will take its money out of state and leave in the state huge environmental degradation.   The history of mining suggests this is not an unreasonable expectation.

I would note that Michael Dingman has a piece in the ADN today that argues in part, that:

"Something happened in court last month that the anti-development folks don't want you to know about.
Rather than focusing on the facts of the court case -- which they don't want you to know -- they are going to show you photos of former State Senator and Alaska Constitution Delegate Vic Fischer and former First Lady Bella Hammond because they are sympathetic Alaskan heroes.
Don't fall for it."
I would argue that my claims about Parnell's pro-corporate stands are much easier to document and much more accurate than Dingman's characterization of Fischer and Hammond as part of the anti-development movement.

Vic Fischer and Bella Hammond and I are not anti-development.  He was part of the constitutional convention that wrote in Article 8:
"It is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest. "
And then went on to innumerate how to allocate those resources.  That's not anti-development, but apparently Governor Parnell believes his administration alone should determine what 'consistent with the public interest' means.

Bella Hammond's husband ushered in oil development and, understanding that oil was a finite resource added a program to reserve a portion of the wealth raised for the use of future generations.

Governor Parnell's notion of public interest appears to have been affected by his years arguing the interests of Conoco Phillips before the legislature.  The real problem in Alaska is that people are not at all alarmed by this obvious conflict of interest.  I guarantee you that if the former lobbyist for the Sierra Club were running for Governor, the Right would create such a screech and howl in the election that you'd think Satan himself were running.  Alaskans - and the Democrats play a role in this - would see that conflict, but don't seem to have a problem with the Governor's obvious conflict.  I think we have petro dollars - we know about the Corrupt Bastards Club  before Citizens United - and later Citizens United to thank for this. 

Bella Hammond and Vic Fischer (and I) are for development that will benefit the people of Alaska and is sustainable and won't damage the other resources important to Alaska.  Immediate short term profit for political supporters shouldn't be the standard, but rather the long term benefit to Alaska's current and future residents.  These don't seem to be worries for the Governor and his people.  And that worries me too.  What also worries me is their stifling of channels of dissent where citizens can raise legitimate questions.  To the Parnellites, any hint of a question of their intent brings out a loud charge of anti-development. It's either or.  Development is good.  Any opposition is bad.  It's an almost biblical application of good and evil, and they always see themselves among the good.

[I've been having problems with feedburner lately intermittently working and not working to connect my posts to subscribers and other weblogs.  This one was posted Oct. 23 but has not been linked elsewhere, so I'm reposting it to see if that will help..]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Assembly Repeals New Labor Law. Mayor Vetoes Their Vote

Anchorage Assembly Meeting - click to enlarge
The Assembly voted 7-4 to repeal Assembly Ordinance 37 which squeaked by last year after Assembly Chair Ernie Hall cut off public participation.  The ordinance pretty much gutted collective bargaining in Anchorage and Ernie Hall nearly got voted out of office by a write in candidate who came within several hundred votes after joining the campaign two weeks before the election.   Some have argued this was similar to the anti-union ordinances that have been pushed by the Koch brothers in places like Wisconsin.  It was a hugely divisive ordinance. 

Tonight, after a lot of testimony, the Assembly voted 7-4 to repeal the old ordinance.  This was possible because Tim Steele was elected over appointed Assembly person Cheryl Frasca and because Adam Trombley and Bill Starr, who both voted for the original legislation, tonight said there were flaws in the bill and they were willing to work with others to make a better ordinance.   Trombley and Starr voted with Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Paul Honeman (who was there by teleconference), Patrick Flynn, and Tim Steele. 

You can see all the Assembly profiles here
Mayor Sullivan (r)


However, as soon as the bill passed, the Mayor immediately vetoed it and had his veto already written, printed, and ready to hand out. 

The no votes sounded pretty adamant about their votes and to override the Mayor's veto requires eight votes.



Here's the veto.  I saved it as very big file so you can read it easily if you click on it.



































For me the big question is why did Starr and Trombley change their votes?  Both were strongly supported by the mayor and have voted with him on most if not all critical votes.    Both said they were willing to meet with those who so strongly opposed 37 and work out a better ordinance.

Yet I can't help think that after watching how Ernie Hall almost got beaten in the last election - by a write-in candidate no less - that they are looking out for the next election in April 2014 when their terms expire.  They can say to the unions that they voted to repeal the ordinance.  And if they did their homework and counted the votes, they knew that the ordinance would stay in place with the mayor's veto.  Starr comes from Eagle River which tends to vote pretty conservatively, so perhaps that isn't his motive.  On the other hand, I don't know how many union voters live in Eagle River and Municipal elections don't have that much of a turnout usually.  Trombley represents East Anchorage which is a lot more volatile and former state legislator Pete Petersen has already said he was going to run against Trombley.

I generally stay away from Assembly meetings.  The ones I've gone to have sucked a lot of blogger time out of me.  If I went regularly I'd have no time for anything else.  We went to the discussion on democracy and the role of government upstairs, and after we stuck our heads in to see how things were going.   So I'm not completely clear on the timeline of this.  But a petition to repeal Ordinance 37 got enough signatures.   In a video interview I did with Assembly member Dick Traini during a break in the meeting [see below], he said the Assembly plans to put the repeal measure on the April municipal ballot.  He also says the mayor plans to veto that, but he's sure the Assembly will win in court.  The elections are handled by the Municipal Clerk who works for the Assembly, not the Mayor.




But if the ballot included repeal of 37, then a lot of union folks are sure to vote.  Municipal elections - especially when there is no mayoral race - have turnouts under 20%.

So Assembly members Trombley and Starr had some incentive to repeal the measure already.  That would keep it off the ballot and not as many union members would vote.  And this way they can say they already voted to repeal it.

Interesting dynamics.

[UPDATE Jan 18, 2014:  Judge sided with the Mayor on his ability to veto the vote.]

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Raking Leaves for Mulching Reveals The Moss

With all this back and forth, I find myself waking up and wondering where I am.  When we get to my mom's or back home or to our granddaughter's, we have to readjust to a new setting, new routine, new organization and time schedule.  And gardening.  Oh dear.  Can't plant seeds.  Too much to ask a house sitter.


































But today in the sunshine I raked the leaves and mulched the flower beds.  It felt good. 

As I pulled leaves to one side, the bright green moss below was revealed.  I'm all for letting nature do most of the work, and she comes through with the moss every time.






Such amazing stuff, the moss.  Some of my neighbors are not as excited about our natural look, but I'm always able to find justification for my inclinations.  From Garden Trappings:


"Years ago moss was viewed as an interloper on the lawn and great pains were taken to eradicate it.  Now, ever so slowly, moss is creeping into garden landscapes and in some gardens has become the surprise star of the show.  This fragile, sun-shy species believed to be one of the first forms of plant life on earth has delighted Japanese gardeners for centuries.  Moss gardens are edging into western landscapes as gardeners finally pay respect to its serene beauty and its utilitarian benefits of drought resistance and low maintenance.  Moss is a great substitute for the thirsty grass lawn."


Landscaping
Benefits of Moss
    • Drought Tolerant/Uses less Water than Grass
    • Low Maintenance/Never needs Mowing
    • Hypo Allergenic
    • Stays Green Throughout the Year
    • Adds Beauty, Charm & Serenity
    • Repels Weeds
    • Prevents Soil Erosion"

What more could one ask for?  Unfortunately the moss is mainly on the north side of the house, only about as far as the house blocks the sun in the summer.  From that point on, natural means dandelions and clover.  I'm working on justifications for that too.  Clover's good for the soil and dandelions are such a beautiful yellow.  And they're edible.

And as long as we have to yoyo up and down the West Coast, the garden is going to have to mostly look after itself.