Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who's The Average Person?

A letter in Tuesday's Alaska Dispatch News says:
"I refer to the phenomenon of the disappearance of affordable homes.  The average person is no longer able to afford a home."
The US Census Bureau data says that 60% of people in Anchorage lived in owner occupied homes between 2011 and 2015.

The same Census chart shows the median household income in Anchorage for that same period was $78,326.  (I'd note that median is the number in the very middle from highest to lowest.  There should be as many people above the median as below it.  It's not an average where a small number of very rich people could offset a lot of very poor people to have a misleading 'average income'.)

The per capita income was $36,920.  They define that to be the mean income of every man, woman, and child.  So, this number is the 'average' and is not the 'middle' number.  Obviously, adults earn a lot more than do children, though in Alaska, Permanent Fund Dividend checks mean the average child here probably earns more than they do in other states.

I'm guessing the letter writer thinks of herself (and maybe the people she knows) as 'average persons.'  But the way I read this, the average person is the typical person, the one that is like most of the others.  So 60% living in owner owned homes means to me that the average person can afford a house.  I realize that the people in the homes include children and spouses.  And if we simple look at adults, the percent living in owner occupied homes is probably lower.  But more than half of all people in Anchorage, during that recent time period, did live in owner occupied housing.

The same chart listed 8.7% of people in Anchorage as living in poverty.

This is not to say that working for a living is what it used to be.  It's not.  It used to be pretty easy - if you were white and male - to earn a good living, live decently, and afford things like buying a house. But a lot of people who start off with very little - many immigrant families for example - are willing to work very hard, live frugally, and save money to buy a home.  A lot of people who grew up comfortably seem not willing to give up the life style they've grown up with, but aren't earning enough money to maintain that lifestyle.  It's a shock when they find that not only aren't they keeping up, they are falling into debt.

Part of the problem is that more and more of the income of businesses is going to the higher levels of management and less and less is going to the workers. offers this chart comparing the US gap to other countries:

Click on Chart to enlarge and focus or go to Statista

And here's a Seattle Times article on the subject.  The subtitle of the article is:
"The average CEO earned 20 times the average worker pay in 1965. Now S&P 500 CEOs make 335 times the pay of their average employee."
 So while it appears to me that 'the average person' in Anchorage can afford to buy a house (or at least lives in an owner occupied house) it's also true that the hefty PFD cut Alaskans got will impact the 'average Alaskan' worker much more than it will the oil and other large corporate executives.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Worth Noting - Redistricting, Court Info, Teaching Tolerance, Trees and Crime

Free Law has put up 1.8 million free opinions from PACER.  What's PACER you ask.  From PACER's website:
"The PACER Case Locator is a national index for U.S. district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts. A subset of information from each case is transferred to the PACER Case Locator server each night.
The system serves as a locator index for PACER. You may conduct nationwide searches to determine whether or not a party is involved in federal litigation."

Teaching Tolerance has lots of resources for educators.

Do trees lower crime?  That's the claim a Chicago group is making after mapping tree density in 284 municipalities in the Chicago area.  My reaction was 'whoa, that's correlation, not causation.'  My take would be it's the other way around:  Where there's less crime, people plant more trees.  Where people have more money they have bigger lots, more trees and more park area.  And where there are already lots of trees, the property values are higher, and wealthier people buy the land.  But the article expected people like me:
"Of course, skeptics might argue that this sort of data is only correlation, rather than causation. Underserved communities have high crime and fewer trees—not high crime in part due to fewer trees. So to support their claims, CRTI compiled all the benefits that trees provide, with citations for the various studies backing up the claims. One of those studies suggests that trees 'may deter crime both by increasing informal surveillance and by mitigating some of the psychological precursors to violence.'”
Yes, I've posted about the psychological benefits of trees, but I'm still skeptical.  Trees may, to a certain extent 'sooth' a community, but I'm still guessing that there's an economic correlation between low income and fewer trees and that the economic factor is the bigger driver of crime.  I would guess that Anchorage has a pretty high level of trees per people and a fair amount of crime.  And much crime happens where trees give cover for the homeless who commit crimes in the greenbelt areas.  But it's interesting research.  And I'd love to be wrong on this.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Anchorage Jury Sides With Firefighter Against Municipality of Anchorage

Thursday afternoon, August 12, 2017 an Anchorage jury found that the Municipality of Anchorage caused harm to firefighter Jeff Graham by violating the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  They also found that the MOA caused harm to Jeff Graham by violating the implied promise of good faith and fair dealing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.   The case stems from AFD promotional exams that Graham complained were biased and unfair.

The plaintiff’s economics expert had put the damages at $1.7 million.  The MOA’s expert had put the damages at $200,000.  The jury’s award was closer to the latter - a little over three times the MOA estimate and about one-third of the plaintiff’s estimate.  

The trial began on July 17 and the jury began deliberations on Tuesday August 10.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Anchorage People Gather In Support of Democracy

Somewhere between 300 and 400 people gathered on the Anchorage town square.  I just crossed out my first couple of attempts to describe why they were there.  The speakers talked about welcoming all people, love, making America stronger for all.  Signs people held were in support of love and diversity and against hate.  You can see some below in the pictures.  I'm just posting here to document Anchorage's participation in the nationwide demonstrations against the white power violence in Charlottesville.

As you can see, I clipped three photos together and photoshopped them to give a little more accurate perspective of the view I saw.  If you click on any picture it will get bigger and sharper.

The mayor and his wife were there.

Some Native Drumming.

And as I was leaving, I ran across this young man with this unexpected sign.  I wanted to ask him what he was doing in Indian country, but others were talking to him and I didn't want to wait around.  Ah, the power of simplistic thinking.  But consider some of the implications.

Some 230 million Euro-Americans would need to find space in Europe and leave just the United States alone - not counting Canada, Central America, or South America.  (And I'm not counting Hispanics, who, I assume would go to Europe too.)  Some 40 million Africans-Americans would be headed back to Africa.  That would leave what is the US today with about four million "Indians."  I'm basing my numbers on this census data, but I wasn't scrupulously careful here.  These are just ballpark figures.  

And what about people with mixed parentage?  There's lots and lots of them.  Do they get to choose which heritage they're going with?   Maybe their destination will be Australia since it isn't mentioned here.  Who will make those decisions?  What can these folks take with them?  Will the inhabitants of the listed continents be able to allow people from other continents to come live in their continent?  What about to work?  Who will make these decisions?  Only the racial purists?  Or will there be a democratic vote?  

What exactly does the last part mean?  "The existence of my people is NON-NEGOTIABLE"?  Who are his people?  Europeans?  Northern or southern?  Neanderthals were in Europe when the first humans showed up about 40,000 years ago.  From what we know now (not necessarily what we'll know in 20 or 50 years), all the humans came from Africa in the first place, and when they left, they mated with Neanderthals.  

And, of course, all this assumes something called 'race' exists in more than the most superficial physical characteristic.  I understand that people want to know who they are and if their parents haven't done a good job of raising them, they'll latch onto whatever people or groups reach out to them and nurture them.  So lots of lost souls - whether educated or not, from any rung of the economic ladder - can get attracted to explanations that answer their questions about themselves.  This man's solution does reveal a lack of thinking through how all this would work, or even the idea of 'my people.'   

Anchorage Rally Against Racism Planned For 3pm Town Square Sunday

From We Are Anchorage FB page:

In response to the growing hate and racism across the country - with the events in Charlottesville being a painful example of our tense racial climate - we are calling on all people in Anchorage (and surrounding areas) to come together on Sunday, August 13th, 3pm at Town Square Park in Downtown Anchorage! We call on everyone to unite against racism and to stand together - AS ONE - to loudly proclaim that racism has no place in Anchorage and in our Nation! #AlaskaAgainstRacism #DefendCVille

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Summer Jazz Last Night And Tonight At UAA

Two hours of wonderful jazz last night at UAA.  There's a jazz camp this summer with 20 students on all sorts of instruments from sax, clarinet, piano, drums, guitar, to trumpet.  Most are young students but a few are adults.  A group of Anchorage jazz musicians is working with the campers, with each faculty having a small team.

Last night the faculty gave a concert.

Tonight the students give a concert.

If you like jazz, this is a great little venue - up close and inexpensive.  (This is real jazz, no Kenny G here.)

It was a pleasure to let the sounds of these musicians wash over and through me.  The metaphorical spotlight constantly highlighted different members of the band.

Here are some pictures from last night.  Sorry, no music, beaus I didn't get permission before the performance.

Before things started I got a few pictures.

Here's John Damville (sitting at the drum) talking to saxophonist Ron Belinsky and trumpeter Yngvil Vatn Guttu.

I did sneak a couple of pictures during the concert.  This one shows, from left to right, Bob Andrews, base; Yngvill Guttu, trumpet; Ron Zelinsky, sax;  a student whose name I didn't catch who joined them on two numbers; and Mark Manners, guitar.

Then I got the drummer, Cameron Cartland, whose hidden in the picture above.

The UAA recital hall is a sweet room for music.  It's intimate and the acoustics are fantastic.  This concert starts at 7:30.  While it's not the faculty tonight, they sounded pretty proud of the work the campers are doing.  The details are in the poster above.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Spore Print

Back yard.

Big white mushroom.

Under, dark brown gills.

Spore print:

Maybe a horse mushroom, but not sure enough to eat it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

How To Raise A Kid Who Was Born A Crime

I'm reading Trevor Noah's Born A Crime.  Lots to chew on with every page.  It starts with a copy of the Immorality Act, 1927 which states that 
"1.  Any European male who has illicit* carnal intercourse with a native female, and any native male who has illicit carnal intercourse with a European female . . .shall be guilty of an offense and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years."
Part 2 says the same about females, but their maximum imprisonment was only 4 years.  In Chapter 2, Born A Crime, we learn:
"I grew up in south Africa during apartheid, which was awkward because I was raised in a mixed family, with me being the mixed one in the family.  My mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, is black.  My father, Robert, is white.  Swiss/German, to be precise, which Swiss/Germans invariably are.  During apartheid, one of the worst crimes you could commit was having sexual relations with a person of another race.  Needless to say, my parents committed that crime." 
So why is Trevor, in that situation, a living crime?
"In any society built on institutionalized racism, race-mixing doesn't merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent.  Race-mixing proves that races can mix - and in a lot of cases, want to mix.  Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race-mixing becomes a crime worse than treason."
To find out how his mom and dad got together, you'll need to read the book, but to follow up on the title of this post, I want pull out a few quotes about how Nombuyiselo reared Trevor.

While other members of the family had names with meaning, which the children inevitably lived out, Nombuyiselo wanted Trevor 'beholden to no fate.'  So she gave him a name with no meaning built in.
"She wanted me to be free to go anywhere, do anything, be anyone. 
She gave me the tools do do it as well.  She taught me English as my first language.  She read to me constantly. . . My mom would bring home boxes that white people had donated - picture books, chapter books, any book she could get her hands on. . .  
If my mother had one goal, it was to free my mind.  My mother spoke to me like an adult, which was unusual.  In south Africa, kids play with kids and adults talk to adults.  The adults supervise you, but they don't get down on your level and talk to you.  My mom did.  All the time.  I was like her best friend.  She was always telling me stories, giving me lessons, Bible lessons especially.  She was big into Psalms.  I had to read Psalms every day.  She would quiz me on it.  "What does that passage mean?  What does it mean to you?  How do you apply it to your life?"  That was eery day of my life.  My mom did what school didn't.  She taught me how to think."

I'm skipping over a lot, but I do want to capture what I thought were key parts of the upbringing without sticking in whole pages.
"Food, or the access to food, was always the measure of how good or bad things were going in our lives.  My mom would always say, "My job is to feed your body, feed your spirit, and feed your mind."  That's exactly what she did, and the way she found money for food and books was to spend absolutely nothing on anything else.  Her frugality was the stuff of legend.  Our car was a tin can on wheels, and we lived in the middle of nowhere.  She had threadbare furniture, busted old sofas with holes worn through the fabric.  Our TV was a tiny black-and-white with a bunny aerial on top.  We changed the channels using a pair of pliers because the buttons didn't work.  Most of the time you had to squint to see what was going on.
We always wore secondhand clothes, from Goodwill stores or that were giveaways from white people at church.  All the other  kids at school had brands, Nike and Adidas.  I never got brands.  One time I asked my mom for Adidas sneakers.  She came home with some knock-off brand, Abidas.
"Mom, these are fake,"  I said.
"I don't see the difference."
"Look at the logo, There are four strikes instead of three."
"Lucky you,"  she said.  "You got one extra."
After writing more about all the places his mom would take him in their spare time - to fancy white neighborhoods, ice skating, the drive-in movie theater - he tells us why that mattered:

"My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do.  When I look back I realize she raised me like a white kid - not white culturally, but in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster, that I should speak up for myself, that my ideas and thoughts and decisions mattered."

But if you think his mom treated him like a little prince, well, you'd be wrong.

"My mother used to tell me, "I chose to have you because I wanted something to love and something that would love me unconditionally in return - and then I gave birth to the most selfish piece of shit on earth and all it ever did was cry and eat and shit and say, "Me, me, me, me me."
My mom thought having a child was going to be like having a partner, but every child is born the center of its own universe, incapable of understanding the world beyond its own wants and needs, and I was no different."

As Noah traces his upbringing, he does it with the background of the ending of Apartheid in South Africa and his perspective is a little different from what we normally get in the media.

And how does this sort of child rearing work?  In Noah's case, pretty amazingly.  Here's this poor (in the literal sense) mixed race South African kid being raised by a single mom, not fitting in either the black world or the white world because his light skin reveals the crime his mom committed.  Yet from their he eventually got out of South Africa and took over when Jon Stewart left The Daily Show.  That says a lot for him mom's parental skills.  There are millions of talented kids out there, but most of their talents will never be more than partially realized.  This is why I think parenting is the most important job in the world and screwing up that job makes a civil society that more difficult.

*It seems to me the word illicit here is superfluous.  Using it implies there was such a thing as non-illicit carnal knowledge. . .   But I'm assuming that in this system, mixed marriage was also illegal.  So there would have been nothing but illicit carnal knowledge between the races back then.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Unfortunate Wording - ". . . I also got a huge tattoo on my thigh behind my parents' back."

From Carolyn Hax's advice column as read in the July 23, 2018 Alaska Dispatch News:
". . . I also got a huge tattoo on my thigh behind my parents' back."
This sounds like a pretty complicated tattoo.

The subtitle of an article headlined "Premera expects drop in Alaska Individual market premiums"
"Insured residents could pay more than 20 percent less in 2018, the company says"
 My problem with this sentence is obvious isn't it?  All they had to do was substitute "over" for "more than."

In any case, someone should show this to Mitch McConnel and the other ACA-phobic Republicans

And from the same front page:
Gray Wolves Win Battle To stay on Endangered Species List"

 I get it that people fought to keep the wolves on the list, and succeeding can seem like a victory.  But from a larger perspective, being on the endangered list is hardly a victory for a species.  It's a sign that the species has lost big time and is in danger of extinction.  The battle should be to get them (legitimately) off the list.

From Aetna about renewal of a drug prescription:
"We contacted your doctor for approval to renew this prescription.  Your doctor did not approve our request because he or she has already sent us a new prescription for you or already responded to the renewal request."
Huh?  What does that mean?  It's renewed or not?  If my doctor already renewed, then why did you tell me on the phone my prescription needed to be renewed and why did you contact him again?  It sounds like it's been renewed.  So why not just say that?  Anyway, the pills came a couple days later.  But they really need a good editor for these messages.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Whitewashing History

The Guardian has an article by Sunny Singh that asks why Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk only shows white soldiers fighting and dying.  In fact, the article explains, there were many Indians as well as Asians and Africans recruited from the British empire who fought there too.  The French army also contained many North Africans.

How would knowing this change change modern day attitudes toward immigrants?  That's the basic question the article  asks.

This jumped out at me because I recently read (and posted about) Amitav Ghosh's novel The Glass Palace which also focuses on how Indian troops were vital to the British army in Asia, yet they never got credit (or blame.)  One Indian soldier to another after a Japanese surprise attack in Malaya, from that post:
"You know, yaar Arjun, over these last few days, in the trenches at Jitra - I had an eerie feeling.  It was strange to be sitting on one side of a battle line, knowing that you had to fight and knowing at the same time that it wasn't really your fight; knowing that whether you won or lost, neither the blame nor the credit would be yours.  Knowing that you're risking everything to defend a way of life that pushes you to the sidelines.  It's almost as if you're fighting against yourself.  It's strange to be sitting in a trench, holding a gun and asking yourself:  Who is this weapon really aimed at?  Am I being tricked into pointing it at myself?""I can't say I felt the same way, Hardy."

And Singh's criticism of the movie seems to echo this - that the Indian (and other forces from the empire) will be erased from the story.  

Here are some excerpts from the Guardian article:

"To do so [leave out the darker troops], it erases the Royal Indian Army Services Corp companies, which were not only on the beach, but tasked with transporting supplies over terrain that was inaccessible for the British Expeditionary Force’s motorised transport companies. It also ignores the fact that by 1938, lascars – mostly from South Asia and East Africa – counted for one of four crewmen on British merchant vessels, and thus participated in large numbers in the evacuation.
But Nolan’s erasures are not limited to the British. The French army deployed at Dunkirk included soldiers from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and other colonies, and in substantial numbers. Some non-white faces are visible in one crowd scene, but that’s it. The film forgets the racialised pecking order that determined life and death for both British and French colonial troops at Dunkirk and after it.
This is important, firstly, because it is a matter of factual accuracy in what purports to be an historical portrayal – and also because it was the colonial troops who were crucial in averting absolute catastrophe for the allies. It is also important because, more than history books and school lessons, popular culture shapes and informs our imagination not only of the past, but of our present and future."

It's interesting when you contrast this historical inaccuracy with film makers who say they can't put blacks or Asians into certain roles, because ti would be factually inaccurate.  But here they can put whites into the roles of the Indian and Asian troops, equally inaccurate.  

And Singh believes this whitewashing of history makes it easier to condemn immigrants today and vote for Brexit.

"Could we still see our neighbours as less than human if we also saw them fight shoulder-to-shoulder with “our boys” in the “good” war? Would we call those fleeing war “cockroaches” and demand gunboats to stop them from reaching our white cliffs if we knew they had died for the freedoms we hold so dear? More importantly, would anti-immigration sentiment be so easy to weaponise, even by the left – in the past and the present – if the decent, hardworking Britons knew and recognised how much of their lives, safety and prosperity are results of non-British sacrifices? In a deeply divided, fearful Britain, Nolan’s directorial choices succeed as a Brexiteer costume fantasy, but they fail to tell the story of Operation Dynamo, the war, and Britain. More importantly, they fail us all, as people and a nation."

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Loussac Facelift Done, But Not All The Stitches Out Yet

The Loussac library renovations in Anchorage were supposed to be done last October.  They had the grad reopening July 19, but I couldn't go.  I did finally get by there today while running some errands.

In the image below, above is the architect's rendition and below is what it looks like today.  The black is unfinished, so those white panels may still show up.  The stairs have been gone a long time and William Seward is now down in this entrance way - lower left of lower picture.

When this is all complete, I'll do a series of pictures from before renovation to completion.

The new entrance is on the ground floor.   The lobby is approximately the old lobby for the Assembly (Anchorage's city council) on the left and the Marston Theater on the right.  [I made some changes to this paragraph and the next, because they needed it.  I think I must have switched something around it it didn't make sense anymore.]

Here's what it looks like inside.  There used to be a conference room straight ahead, and the elevator and indoor stairs to the second floor - which was the library entrance - are gone.  There's a cafe here to the right now.   Those doors (below the yellow panels) are the entrance from the lobby to the library

Some of this is for former Anchorage residents who are living Outside now.  To the left from this point is the entrance to the Assembly chambers.

And to the right is the Wilda Marston Theater.

Besides the cafe, the lobby sports this huge metal sculpture hanging from the ceiling.  I'm guessing it might be a whale.  There's  boat way up near where the tail would be and another whale or large fish. I'm guessing there will be other interesting views of this from the second floor.  I didn't go up today.

It didn't dazzle me at first sight.  But looking up into the 'mouth' was interesting.

Aside from the colored lights, there's a mirror.

There was also a exhibit of photos of people who use the library.  Good pictures by Joshua Corbett.  Here are two.

Here's inside the library inner entrance.  So far, there isn't much inside those doors yet.  There's someone to check out books off to the right.  There are some unfinished stairs to the right.

There's this large Rube Goldberg like machine that the librarian said takes book back upstairs from the book drop.  I'm waiting to see it in action, though it does seem a bit excessive for this mundane task.

My only serious disappointment is the same I had after the downtown Museum was renovated - the entrance no longer takes you into the heart of the building - the books.  There are none in sight so far. Instead you now have to negotiate either an elevator or stairs to actually get to the books.  (At the museum, you don't see any art or exhibits until you walk quite a ways.)

When I walked out, the Alaska and Anchorage flags were waving in the breeze with the US flag.

The library now has is probably the world's fanciest book drop sign.  Though I haven't investigated this claim and who knows what other libraries have.   Let's hope they never have to move the book drop.

There are caribou etched (I guess) on a metal sign.  This is on the west side of the library where the entrance has been during the renovation.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

More Summer Flowers

It's not exactly like having new house guests throughout the summer, because most of these flowers are perennials who live here all year, though the flowers only show up for a few weeks in the summer.  

So as the earlier ones fade, new ones provide an ever changing array of colors and shapes.

Appearing for the third time in the garden, and I don't remember their names.  That's a problem with a couple more this year.

Some more lilies popped open.

And a couple of annuals.  The nasturtiums popped out of the ground early, but took a long time to bloom.  Now there are lots and lots of flowers.

And this pansy.   Actually, the pansies have been blooming a while, but I just noticed this purple one.\

And finally this large hosta leaf.  The flower is starting to face, but the leaf is impressive too.

I hope to be back to normal blogging soon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Anchorage Garden Tour Was Sunday - Fun and Inspiring As Always

The Anchorage Garden Club no longer has big tour articles in the ADN.  I assumed it was because
the crowds were getting too big, but I'm not sure.  Now you have to check the Garden Club website to find the details.  It always seems to be at the last weekend of July, so I checked with google.

There were only six gardens this year - two near each other in east Anchorage, two near by in Oceanview, and two Lutheran Church community gardens.

Some highlights:

Oceanview delphiniums and still blooming peonies.

Alaska railroad engine runs through this same garden.

Lutheran Church of Hope has a community garden that's growing food for the food banks.  There's lots of food growing here.  It's surrounded by a six or seven foot fence to keep the moose out.

And the water comes from a fire hydrant.  I asked about this arrangement and I was told the church was required to put it in when they expanded.  It's on their property, they paid to put it in, and they get the water bill.  And I know I have a few readers who find mechanical pictures far more interesting than the flowers and vegetables.

This was a beautiful and unexpected garden in east Anchorage.  Behind the trees in the back is a fork of the Chester Creek system.

I think this is a spirea.  If you click on the picture it will enlarge and focus better.

Central Lutheran Church started creating a rain garden on the edge of their parking lot, which drains down toward the garden.  The first section is being planted with iris and ferns.  Then there's a berm.  That first section is to filter out any toxic residues from the parking lot.  To the left of the picture they are starting to plant edibles.  They are testing the soil to be sure that the filter system works.  I think it's important that people begin recognizing how much nature acts as a natural infrastructure to clean water and air and move water around.  An older post on E.O. Wilson's The Future of Life, talks about the enormous economic value of the natural infrastructure.

And finally, a peony, still gorgeous in middle age.

I might add that all the gardeners who opened their homes were as helpful as others have been in the past.  Two were even giving away some gotten plants and seeds.