Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Graham v MOA #10: The Exams #3: The Oral Technical Exam

[All of the posts in this series are indexed at the "Graham v MOA' tab under the blog header above.  Or you can just click here.]

The details are complicated so here's an overview of some key problems; details below.
  • Overall, oral exams (including interviews) are highly invalid and unreliable predictors of success on the job, despite the fact that they are used a lot.
  • Imagine  a question about how to do something fairly complex like, "tell me what you know about brakes."  Where do you start?  You have four minutes.  Go.  
  • The graders may or may not understand the answer, but they have four or five pages taken from a textbook,  they can scan through, with nothing to indicate what's important and what isn't.  
  • The grading scale has uneven intervals - 5, 4.5, 3.5, 2.5, 1.5, 0 - with 3.5 being the lowest possible pass.  This odd scale is not what people are used to and skews the grades downward.
  • You have to answer each question, they have to assess your answer, all in about four minutes.
  • Lack of Accountability.  There's no recording, no way to check to see what a candidate actually said.  
That should give you an idea of the kinds of problems that exist with the oral technical exam that Jeff Graham took.

The Details

As I mentioned in an earlier post, firefighters first have to pass a written exam on technical issues.  Questions come from a national bank of questions that have been shown to be relevant to being an engineer (the next step above fire fighter).

Then comes the the practical exam.  Here the firefighters have to get onto trucks and use equipment based on 'evolutions'  (AFD's term) which are more or less scenarios that the firefighters have to role-play.  This is the most hands-on part of the exam process.

If you pass these two tests, then you can go on to the oral exams - made up of ten questions of the technical oral exam and then of five questions of the 'peer review' oral exam.  That's fifteen questions in an hour, or four minutes per question.

Jeff Graham passed the written and the practical exams.  His dispute was over the oral exams which he complained about as being subjective and easy to manipulate.  So let's, in this post, look at the problems with the technical part of the oral exams.

All Oral Exams, Including Interviews, Are Suspect

Before we even start on the oral technical exam,  I need to reiterate this point I made in an earlier post.

Despite the popularity of job interviews, experts agree that they are among the most biased and result in the least accurate predictions of candidate job performane.  

 You can read the whole article or search the internet on this topic and find I'm not exaggerating or cherry picking.  It's pretty much only people who conduct interviews who think they know what they're doing.
" interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates."
"Research that my colleagues and I have conducted shows that the problem with interviews is worse than irrelevance: They can be harmful, undercutting the impact of other, more valuable information about interviewees."

Or see this link.  I offer a few quotes.
"Consider the job interview: it’s not only a tiny sample, it’s not even a sample of job behaviour but of something else entirely. Extroverts in general do better in interviews than introverts, but for many if not most jobs, extroversion is not what we’re looking for. Psychological theory and data show that we are incapable of treating the interview data as little more than unreliable gossip. It’s just too compelling that we’ve learned a lot from those 30 minutes."
Some of these comments are made about unstructured interviews.  The AFD engineer exam was a structured interview which researchers find to be a little better.  But still not that good.  From one of the most well known academics writing on human resources management, Edward E. Lawler III:
"Years of research on job interviews has shown that they are poor predictors of who will be a good employee. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the key explanation is that individuals simply don’t gather the right information and don’t understand what the best predictors of job success are. A careful analysis of the background of individuals and their work history and work samples are more accurate predictors of success on the job than are the judgments which result from interviews."
The graders in the AFD oral exam did not have background information on the candidates' performance, they didn't review the performance reviews done by the candidates' supervisors.

Excuse me for reiterating this point.  It's one that is counter to people's perception and to practice.  But it's important to make this point loud and clear from the beginning.

My Problems With the Exams

On the positive side, the AFD oral technical and peer review exams were structured.  But there were numerous problems with the structure.

The Questions

There were ten questions on technical topics.  My understanding of the conditions of my reviewing the  exam questions themselves, is that I can't talk about the specific questions publicly.  Only things that were discussed publicly in court.

There were ten technical questions.  The MOA provided no evidence - though Graham's lawyer asked the MOA to provide documentation of how the exams were validated or even that the exam was validated.  That is, we have no evidence to show that the ten questions were predictors of a candidate's likely success in the position of engineer.  There is content related to the job, but AFD has produced no evidence showing that, for example, a candidate with a score of 90 will be a better engineer than a candidate with a score of 65. It may very well be that AFD may only be testing who has the best oral test taking skills.

Two of the ten were about how to prepare for the exam itself.  The test creator said these were intended to be softball questions to relax candidates.  Graham was scored low on them.  The other questions were about things like how equipment worked and about AFD procedures for different things.

The Answers

For tests to be reliable, the graders need to be able to compare the candidate's answer to the ideal answer.  The key points should be listed with the value of each point.  The graders were given a package of answers.  Some questions had no real answers attached.  Most looked like they were cut and pasted together from text books or AFD policy and procedure manuals.  For one question, I timed myself reading the four pages of answer that were provided.  It took me 11 minutes and 30 seconds just to read the answer.  But there are only about four minutes available per question. How can a grader reliably a) listen to the candidate's answer, b) take notes, and c) read through the answer sheet to match what the candidate said to the expected correct answer?  He can't.  Graham appears to have done better on the few questions that had bullet points on the provided answers rather than several pages raw material.

Assuming that the question itself is valid, the answer sheets graders had should have had a list of key points that the candidate should mention for each question.  The best such answer sheets would identify the most important points that should be in the response with a score for each.  There was nothing like that.  Instead the graders had to balance the answer the candidate gave, the pages of 'answer' copied out of the text or manual, and give the candidate a score on a completely different score sheet.

The Grading Scale

Rubric For Oral Technical Exam

5  - Outstanding, exemplary performance far exceeds expectations

4.5 - Above average performance exceeds level of basic skills/abilities

3.5  - Adequately demonstrated the basic abilities/skills

2.5 - Needs improvement, falls short of what is expected

1.5 - Unsatisfactory, performance is substandard

0 - Unacceptable, does not demonstrate comprehensive and/or application of required skills sets

Note:  There's a half point difference between "Outstanding" and "Above average".  Then it drops, not .5 like from 5 to 4.5,  but  1 point to 3.5 "Adequate".  So a grader could think, ok, this is good enough, it's adequate.   But 3.5 isn't 'adequate' it's really 'just barely adequate."  It's the lowest possible passing score.  The top two scores are very high marks.  The next one is barely passing.  1.5 is "unsatisfactory", but 3.5 (the same interval from 5 as 1.5 is from zero

But on the bottom of the scale, it goes from 0 to 1.5 - both of which are almost equivalent failing grades.  But the 1.5 is the same interval as from 5 to 3.5.

1.  This scale has uneven intervals. That is, the distance between the points on the scale are not the same.  Look closely.  The top two scores are both strong passing scores and the bottom two scores are both very poor failing scores.  But the top two are separated by .5 points, while the bottom two are separated by 1.5 points.   That's the same interval as from 5 to 3.5.

If 1.5 is 'unsatisfactory' the 3.5 should be "satisfactory' but it's only 'adequate' and more accurately 'barely adequate' because 3.5 is the lowest you can get and still pass. 3.4 is a failing grade.  (It's less than the 70% (20*3.5) needed to pass.)

The scale skews the scores down.  The points graders can mark go from 100% (5) to 90% (4.5) to 70% (3.5) which is the lowest possible passing score.  Why isn't there an 80% (4)?  That's what normal scales with equal intervals would have next.

2.  Passing on this test is 3.5. It took me a bit to figure that out, but 70% is the passing score, so each of these numbers need to be multiplied by 20 to get the actual score.  70% (3.5*20) is the minimal passing score.  Let's compare that to other scoring forms you know.  Say the standard Likert scale on most surveys:
"How do you feel about the Principal's performance this year?
5 – strongly approve
4 – somewhat approve
3 – neutral/no opinion
2 – somewhat disapprove
1 – strongly disapprove" (from Brighthub Education though it had the scale reversed)
Note that here a score of 3 is in the middle and is neutral, whereas in the AFD rubric, 3.5 is the lowest passing score.  The 3 or neutral would have a range from 3.5 to 2.5.  So a 3.5 would be on the high end, not the low end  as it is on the AFD scale.

I chose this 5 point scale, because the AFD calls its scale a five point scale.  But if you look at it, it's really a six point scale, since it has six possible scores from 0, 1.5, 2.5, 3.5, 4.5, and 5.  They didn't even realize they had a six point scale!   In most six-point Likert scales, there are three positive and three negative options. On such a scale (5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0)  a 3.5 would be a strong passing score, not barely passing.

Let's look at it again from a different angle.  In the common academic scoring system, 90-100 is an A, 80-89 is a B, 70-79 is a C, 60-69 is a D, and below 60 is an F.

But in the AFD system, below 70 is an F.   On the AFD scale the first two numbers (a ten percent interval) are both very good scores.  The next score (20 percent less) is barely passing.  All the rest are failing scores.

Why does this matter?  First, it matters because the intervals are not equal.  It's not common to have uneven intervals  so that the distance between one score and another can vary from 10% (5 to 4.5) to 20% (4.5 to 3.5) to 30% (1.5 to 0).

It matters because the scale isn't like any scale we normally see and so the graders don't have a good sense of how skewed it is toward failing candidates.  The 3.5 isn't 'good', it's barely passing.  Yet most people are used to the academic scoring system and would assume that 70% would be something like a low C.  There is no 'good' on this scale.  There's 'walks on water,' 'really outstanding,' then 'barely passing'.  It took me a while to understand why the scale seemed so off.  I don't imagine an AFD grader would figure this out in the time they have to grade.  There isn't enough time to even figure out what the right score should be, let alone analyze the scale to see how skewed it is.


Tests have to be both valid and reliable.  Valid means a high score predicts success (in this case, 'will perform the job well') and a low score predicts (in this case) 'will perform the job poorly'.  Even if the test itself is valid (and the AFD never did have anyone test for validity), they also have to be reliable if they will be accurate predictors.  Without reliability, the scores aren't accurate, and so the test is no longer a good predictor (no longer valid.)
Reliable means that the same candidate taking the test under different conditions (different time, different place, different graders) would essentially get the same score.

Given the lack of clear answers for the graders to use to compare the candidate's answer to, and given the lack of a clear rating system, it's not likely that this is a reliable test.

And in fact, when I looked at the scores individuals got on the same question by different graders, there were some big differences in score.  Some were a point off, some were 2 points off and even 2.5 points off.  There were even a few that were 3 points off.

That may not sound like much, but on a six point scale, it's a lot.  Even though they actually used a six point scale, they said that 3.5 was equal to 70% - the lowest passing grade.  So each point was worth 20%.  Therefore, two points equals a 40% difference.  2.5 equals a 50% difference on the score.  3 equals 60%.  If this test were reliable, the scores by different graders shouldn't vary by more than 10% or so.  That would be half a point on any question.

On this exam,  graders gave scores that were up to 60% (3 points) different for the same candidate on the same question!  That's the difference - in an academic setting - between a 95% (A) and 35% (low F).  But even a one point difference is a 20% difference - that could be a 90% and a 70% or the difference between an A- and a C-.   That's a huge spread, and it's there because the answer sheets don't tell the graders what a good answer looks like, and the grading scale easily tricks graders into giving lower ratings than they realize they are giving.

The two people in charge of setting up the tests (and the overall training director at the time) were actually not qualified to prepare the tests.  They all had Alaska Fire Safety Training Instructor Certificate Level 1.  They were eligible to administer training and tests that had been prepared by someone else, someone with a Level II certificate.  Here's the earlier post on the certifications.


The exam is an hour long.  Some of the graders wrote brief notes on their score sheets, but there isn't much room.  Those notes are the only record of what actually happened in the oral exam.  There's no way for the candidate or the graders to check what was actually said.  Even as they review the pages that contain the answer, they can't replay the tape to see if the candidate covered something or not.  And years later?  At trial?  Well I know that five minutes later my wife and I have totally different recollections of what each of us said.  And in trial, there were a number of occasions when Jeff Jarvi, Jeff Graham's attorney, asked the graders about something they had said at their depositions or at the State Human Rights Commission hearing.  They'd answer.  Then Jarviv would have them read the transcripts, and the transcripts were not at all what they remembered.

Video or audio recordings of the oral exam probably could have averted this whole trial.  The tapes would have demonstrated whether Jeff Graham had covered the points as he said he did, or that he didn't as some of the graders said.

Not having recordings means no one can check how well the graders did their jobs.  Or whether people with low scores really did answer less accurately than people with high scores.  And it means that candidates can't get feedback on how they did so they can better prepare for the next exam.  (I'd note, that as a professor, the most convincing way to demonstrate to students that his paper wasn't very good, was to have them read the best papers.  It worked every time.)

Unequal Conditions

One other twist here.  This takes us ahead to the oral peer review, but it affects how people do on the technical as well.  Prior to the oral peer review, candidates are 'pre-scored' by the graders based on their personal knowledge of the candidates.  Imagine random co-workers some who might work closely with you and others who don't, evaluating you based on, well, whatever they want.  No one asks the basis.  It's not based on written materials they have about your work history, because there is the option of N/O - not observed.  If there were some written documentation, they wouldn't need the N/O option.

When the candidate walks into the room, he (it's almost always a he) is given his pre-scores.  If you pass (get over 70%) you can choose to spend more time on the technical questions and skip the peer-review questions altogether.  You can gain 20 minutes.

Imagine the emotional impact of being told, before you even start the oral technical exam, that the graders had failed you on the pre-scoring of the peer-review.  Or that they passed you with a high score.  In Jeff's case, he was stunned to learn he'd been failed by the graders in the pre-scoring of the peer-review.  It set him back as the technical oral began.

You've Made It To The End

If you made it this far, congratulations.  Going through details like this is necessary to truly get a sense of how badly these exams were designed and implemented.  But it does take work.  Thanks for hanging in there.  These are the kinds of details that jury had to sit through over the three week plus trial.

This post covered the technical oral exam problems and the next post will cover the oral 'peer review' exam that was part of the one hour along with the technical oral exam.  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Rights Of Children Of Anonymous Sperm Donors; Stopping Gerrymandering; Montana History; And Cambridge Analytica FB Harvesting Explained

While I'm busy on other things, here are some interesting articles to keep you busy.

Anonymous sperm and egg donation has consequences for donor offspring like me.
By Courtney McKinney - In adoptions, the child's welfare is the major factor in placement decisions. But McKinney points out that in anonymous sperm donor babies, the child's interest is not a factor.  The article looks at the implications and possible remedies.

The Geeks Who Put A Stop To Pennsylvania's Gerrymandering - This article explains in pretty clear language how the experts demonstrated to the Court that the Republicans had intentionally packed and cracked districts so that Republicans got 72% of the seats with only 49% of the vote.  It's a good roadmap of how to quantitatively and qualitatively demonstrate gerrymandering and intent.

I'd note that as of March 19, 2018, the US Supreme Court rejected the Republicans second attempt to block the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling.

Montana Historical Landscape - this blogger posts pictures of historical buildings and sites around Montana grouped into categories - by location, function (restaurants in historic buildings, public gymnasiums).  A great, specialized site.  I got there because google said I had a lot of links from the site, but I couldn't find anything that linked back to my blog.  My post that most fits with what is done there is one on Clinton, BC.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: 'We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles' – video - watch Christopher Wylie explain what he and Cambridge Analytica did (and also explain how and why they got that name.)  Take it with a grain of salt, but it's interesting and pretty clear.  

Sunday, March 18, 2018

We've Been Here Before - Time To Contact Your Republican Congress Members To Protect Mueller

For those who weren't around, and those who didn't get the meaning of all this when they read it in their history.  From the Washington Post: Watergate 25:
Nixon Forces Firing of Cox; Richardson, Ruckelshaus Quit
President Abolishes Prosecutor's Office; FBI Seals Records

By Carroll Kilpatrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 1973; Page A01
In the most traumatic government upheaval of the Watergate crisis, President Nixon yesterday discharged Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus.
The President also abolished the office of the special prosecutor and turned over to the Justice Department the entire responsibility for further investigation and prosecution of suspects and defendants in Watergate and related cases.
Shortly after the White House announcement, FBI agents sealed off the offices of Richardson and Ruckelshaus in the Justice Department and at Cox's headquarters in an office building on K Street NW.
An FBI spokesman said the agents moved in "at the request of the White House."
Agents told staff members in Cox's office they would be allowed to take out only personal papers. A Justice Department official said the FBI agents and building guards at Richardson's and Ruckelshaus' offices were there "to be sure that nothing was taken out."
Richardson resigned when Mr. Nixon instructed him to fire Cox and Richardson refused. When the President then asked Ruckelshaus to dismiss Cox, he refused, White House spokesman Ronald L. Ziegler said, and he was fired. Ruckelshaus said he resigned.
Finally, the President turned to Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, who by law becomes acting Attorney General when the Attorney General and deputy attorney general are absent, and he carried out the President's order to fire Cox. The letter from the President to Bork also said Ruckelshaus resigned.
These dramatic developments were announced at the White House at 8:25 p.m. after Cox had refused to accept or comply with the terms of an agreement worked out by the President and the Senate Watergate committee under which summarized material from the White House Watergate tapes would be turned over to Cox and the Senate committee.
In announcing the plan Friday night, the President ordered Cox to make no further effort to obtain tapes or other presidential documents. , , 
You can read the rest here. 

I can believe that there aren't 50,000 people who are seriously concerned about the possibility of Robert Mueller being fired by Trump.  (That's what Trump does best, right?)  And I bet those 50,000 could each write a quick email, letter, or leave a phone message with their Republican Congress members.   There are currently 238 Republican members of the House and 51 Republican Senators.

50,000 letters to Republican members of Congress (house and senate) would - if they were evenly distributed - come to about 103 messages per member.  I have three Republicans representing me, so I have to send three messages so we'd probably get more than that per Senator and House member.

Californians and other deeply blue state residents - send your folks letters to share with their Republican colleagues.

Doesn't have to be complicated.  "Don't allow Trump to get away with firing Mueller." That's the basic message.  My emails to my two Senators and my Representative called on them to work with their Republican colleagues to let the president know they would not stand for his firing Mueller, and if he does, to start impeachment hearings.

I'm sure many of the high school students who walked out on Wednesday for an end to school shootings can see the relationship between this issue and theirs.  Let them join the cause.

You can find your House member contact info here.
You can find your Senator contact member here.  (top left)

I'd note that despite the Saturday massacre, impeachment hearings proceeded and Nixon eventually resigned rather than get removed by Congress.

But if Republicans don't stand up to Trump if and when he fires Mueller, they never will.  And Trump has until November to mess with the elections.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why I Live Here - Intimate Evenings With Incredible People: Dainis Medjaniks [Corrected]

Last night we heard a violin come alive - coaxed by a very talented violinist, music of great composers, and a room in someone's house that gave the notes space to fly and dance in the air and in our heads.

Although i was close enough to see the violinist's expressions as he played, I spent much of the concert with my eyes closed entranced by the intricate ballet of sounds that surrounded me.  The violin truly showed its soul, tempted by the perfect set of conditions.

The Back Story

Anchorage is a small town, really.  About 300,000 people.  And Alaska is a state most everyone wants to visit, even if it's only to say "I've been to all 50 states."  So lots of brilliant and talented people come here and often they perform or give talks or meet with the public.  So over the 40 years I've lived here I've had the chance to meet with people I never would have met, say, if I had stayed in Los Angeles.

Last night was one of those occasions. A friend invited us to a concert by young Latvian violinist.  The one page program we got last night included the pieces he was going to play on one side and a biography of accomplishments of Medjaniks in his short career.

When the emailed invitation came a couple of weeks ago saying that if we wanted to come, we should reserve soon, seats were very limited.  It sounded like the perfect Anchorage concert - an international musician in a small intimate session.  The contribution was modest and all would go to the artist.  AND we would be back in town.  Couldn't pass it up.

This picture is posed, after the concert.  Even if I had my small camera with me - I left it in LA and it's supposed to be coming home courtesy of the US postal service - this was not the night to intrude.   I did borrow my wife's phone to get these pictures before and after he played.

This was a night to bathe in the magic vibrations that flowed from Dainis' violin, not to be distracted by a camera.  An audio night, not a visual night (though the setting was beautiful.)  The evening's program includes this note about the violin:
"Sebastian Klozt of Mittenwald, Germany made the violin Dainis plays in 1782.  The violin from the Foundation of Lower Saxony is on loan to him."
If you aren't the calculating type, it was born six years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, when George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin  were fighting for the United States' independence.  Before Napoleon ruled France.  It's aged very well.

[CORRECTION - March 20, 2018:  This is a great story, but I learned a couple of days later, it was old information.  Dainis had been lent that old violin for several years, but the time was up and the violin he had with him here was a new one - made by the mother of the cellist in a group he plays with.  That one is on loan too.]

And I knew that nothing I could do would come close to capturing the experience, but I did find this video online of Dainis in 2015.

Dainis Medjaniks - Preliminary Round 1 from JosephJoachimTV on Vimeo.

As is the custom in Anchorage, guests left their shoes at the door, including Dainis.  I asked him if this was the first time he performed before an audience in his socks, and he smiled and said, "Yes."

Thank you to the host whose home was perfect for this concert and whose hospitality is greatly appreciated.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Back In Anchorage

We left a sunny Bainbridge by ferry

Walked up to the train station to catch the light rail to the airport.  Flew out of Seattle and over clouds most of the way home and arrived about 8 pm over mostly cloudy Cook Inlet, but with hints of the sun.

There was sun yesterday morning, but wet snow by evening.   It is breakup - lots of puddles in the streets.  Temperature now is 35˚F on our backyard thermometer and the snow on the railing in the picture below is almost all gone.

Now we have to take stock of our neglected house and bring it into the modern world.  It's easy to get used to a water stain on the ceiling, old worn rugs, cracks in the cement, and other minor problems.  I've even tried to line up people to help out, but I was either uncomfortable with them, or they didn't have time.  But after our experience with fixing up my mom's house in LA, it's time to get serious and get our house to the point that visitors don't wonder how we live in such a well worn space.

But first I have to shovel snow a bit.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Bainbridge High School Student Walkout

I went over to Bainbridge High School to see the student walkout this morning.  Here are some pictures and a bit of video.

Students lying down in protest for 17 minutes of silence.

Community members were gathered across the street from the school.

And I got the video at the end as the students were getting up and going back to class.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pink and Upside Down

It's amazing what one warm day can do.  Here on Bainbridge Island the daily highs were in the low 50˚s F (about 10˚C).  Then Monday it was up to 63˚F.  Yesterday it got to 73˚F (22˚C).  Today it's back to the 50s.  But after dropping off my little angel at school, there was new pink in the park.

This bit of rouge wasn't there yesterday morning.

The reflections in the water also caught my eye once again.  This time I flip them so the reflection is on top.  It's always useful to rethink those things we take for granted.  Like right-side-up and upside-down.  Like reality and its reflections - after all, most everything we know about what other people think and feel, we know through reflection.  Through their words, their actions, their presence or absence.  The traces they leave behind.

This last one is hard to tell.  But if you flip your screen, you can tell.

These pictures are just a diversion tactic as I try to get back into the Graham v MOA posts (see tab above).  They are getting very technical now, so I'm working hard to figure out ways to get the point across - that these are really blatant problems with the testing -  without someone having to read everything.  It can get tedious.  But I'm hoping my analogies will tempt some to read the details.

We're also coming to an end of our visit with my granddaughter and her family.  We've had a wonderful time together.  She's bossy and demanding at times (but always with a smile if I push back at all) and other times just as sweet as can be.  Tomorrow night we're scheduled to be back home for a prolonged period of time.  I can't wait.  But leaving my sweetie is not easy either.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

So, Where Should Trump And Kim Meet?

The obvious first choices are Pyongyang and Washington DC.  But that would require one to come to the other, to meet on the other's home turf.  Let's back up and set some key criteria for determining the location?

Criterion 1 - they should meet on relatively neutral ground.
Criterion 2 - each should travel roughly the same distance
Criterion 3 - Security, both need to feel safe

These seem to be the biggies.  I would guess only #3 is a deal breaker.  If one side gives in on one criterion then they need to gain on another, or on what comes out of the talks.  So Pyongyang and DC are not totally out of the question, but if Trump goes to North Korea, Kim would have to agree to close down his nuclear weapons.  That would be my condition at least.  If Kim came to DC, he'd have  to at least to go to an NBA game. But security might be an issue like it was for Kruschev when we was denied a visit to Disneyland in 1959.

So where else might they meet?

There's Switzerland - a neutral country of sorts - where Kim went to school.

Anchorage is almost half-way between Pyongyang and DC - a little closer to Korea, but part of the US.  By mid to late May the leaves will be back on the trees.  And there's a small but visible (South) Korean population.

Or out on a ship in the North Pacific in international waters?  Whose ship?  FDR met Churchill on a ship of Newfoundland in August 1941.  But that was a secret meeting - FDR told the press he was going on a short fishing trip.  Churchill had to brave German u-boats to get there.  Security was important, but it was a meeting of close allies.  It was not a highly publicized meeting like this one will be.

Beijing would be happy to host, I'm sure.  The US leans on China to deal with its neighbor.  It could work, but then Xi would get some of the glory.  Probably not.

And then there's Moscow.  Putin could just tell Trump directly what he wanted him to do.  And Russia borders North Korea too.  And Trump could bask in Putin's macho image.

Seoul?  They were the messenger to Trump about the invitation.  But security and other issues would seem to be a big hurdle.

When President Johnson agreed to peace talks with the North Vietnamese, location took a while to settle:
Geneva, where the 1954 talks had been held that resulted in the division of Vietnam into North and South. Hanoi rejected this on the grounds that it had ‘unhappy memories’. It then suggested Phnom Penh. This was rejected by Washington. Instead, the US offered 5 other capitals in Southeast and South Asia, including New Delhi, which was favoured by Saigon. Hanoi rejected these options and proposed Warsaw, which the US also rejected. The US then countered by proposing 9 capitals all of which were again rejected. Ultimately, after weeks of bargaining, Paris was chosen as the site to hold preliminary talks (officially referred to as ‘official conversations’ to avoid being confused with ‘negotiations’). 
Then came the question of who would be invited, and then there was the battle over the shape of the table:
These discussions, which began in November 1968, were centred on questions about the shape of the conference table, how many tables there should be, and how they would be placed. These discussions became known as the ‘battle of the tables’ and would last ten weeks until mid-January 1969 as fighting continued to rage and Richard Nixon won the presidential election. From the start, it was recognized that a triangular table (with the North Vietnamese/NLF combined but the US and South Vietnamese separate) would be a non-starter as it would imply that the Communist side was outnumbered two-to-one.  [These two quotes came from Defense In Depth]
I can sympathize with Trump wanting to get past all these seemingly petty details of status and appearance, but it's March 11 now, and the proposed meeting is in May, so they don't have time to dawdle on such things.   Can the 'Mentally deranged U.S. dotard' and the 'little rocket man' get over their past insults to resolve all these details that quickly?

And just for the record, let me put Mar-a-Lago on the list.  It defies my criteria, but it wouldn't surprise me.

This Won't Be Nixon's Trip To China

I remember being in the car during the summer of 1971 a winding road along a river somewhere in Idaho, when we heard on the radio that Nixon was going to China.  Perhaps Trump remembers that too and how Nixon got so much glory from that.  But this is not the same.  China was the most populous country in the world and through a rabid anti-communism combined with support for the nationalist Chinese who had had to flee to Taiwan, the US had spent years pretending that Taiwan was China and the mainland didn't really exist.  Or at best was a temporarily runaway province of Taiwan.  Nixon's move, preceded by months of negotiations by the adept if ethically-flawed Henry Kissinger, was really bringing the US to a reality its leaders had ignored for decades.

This meeting with Kim Jong Un is something entirely different.  First, and foremost, it's a distraction from all the political hornets swarming around the White House.  There's a certain part of me that agrees with Trump, that the State Department is often so full of itself*, it can't do things simply because, 'well, we just don't do that.  We have to go by protocol.'  But the career people at the State Department have done their homework and understand the implications of what they say and do.  No matter how cautiously.  Trump still thinks this is some simple business deal where he can sit down and work things out over a meal.  He'll use his great ability to read people to decide what to do - and that won't happen until the middle of the meeting.  (Of course, that's said with the long list of people who have left their positions in the Trump administration in mind.)

*I'm biased here.  Back in 1970, when I was slowly making my way home from Peace Corps Thailand, the package of materials that came with the news that I'd passed the Foreign Service written exam, caught up with me while I was visiting a friend in Uganda.  I went to the embassy in Kampala to talk to someone about what life in the foreign service was like.  He spent the whole time telling me about all the servants I would have and the protocol of calling cards and who comes and goes first at official parties.  That, and the idea of having to officially defend the US military in Vietnam, led me to skip the next step in the process - the interview.  I know that the State Department has changed over the years, but I do believe a bit of the upper crust proper way of doing things still persists.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Why Is A Mallard Drake's Head Green? Or Sometimes Blue/Purple?

If mallards weren't so common, we'd all go nuts when we see them.  The iridescent green head is so striking, and the white right around the neck!  But familiarity breeds, maybe not contempt, but loss of sensitivity to their beauty.

But sometimes, in different light, the head looks blue or dark purple.  (I really would have cropped this to just show the water patterns, but since I need to show you a blue/purple head, I left that in too.)

I thought I'd find out how this works - the color change.  I didn't quite, but I found an interesting blog post at the Nature Niche that not only talks about the color change, but also about mallard drakes whose heads stay blue.

While watching the ducks on a pond at Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery (Shasta County CA) one mallard caught my attention. The head of this mallard was blue. Because the iridescence and color of birds is affected by the angle of observation, I watched this particular mallard for nearly fifteen minutes, yet the blue color never varied. This was not a blue-green color nor was the mallard’s head simply “dark”  due to shadows – the head was a constant, beautiful, rich blue. On occasion I hear about a blue-headed mallard and have even seen mallards whose heads seem blue in certain light. But the blue head color proves in reality to be brilliant green when the duck moves. No matter how this duck moved or how the light changed, its head was blue. I wondered why?
He doesn't claim scientific proof, but did collect some research online.
According to Nina G. Joblonski  in her book “Living Color”, the intensity of the mallard’s  iridescent green head feathers is related to the level of testosterone, higher levels of this hormone resulting in brighter green color. But since a non-breeding or eclipse male has a nondescript brown head similar to the female, where does a blue head enter the picture?
But, Steve, you still haven't explained why sometimes green and sometimes blue/purple in the same bird.  I didn't find the answer exactly, but here's something on butterflies:
The combination of a butterfly's structural and pigmented color can create interesting effects. For example, if you saw a butterfly with yellow pigment underneath a structure that creates a blue iridescent color, you might see a green shade, made by the merging of the two colors. Or depending on your viewpoint, you might see blue, yellow, green or a combination of the three. Your view would change as the butterfly moves its wings and the light enters at different angles.

These shots come from my walk around the park yesterday after dropping off my granddaughter at her pre-school.  Unlike the other day when the good pictures were hiding in the grey, yesterday they were right out there daring this photographer to try to catch them.  I'll offer a few where I got close.

First I caught the flattened reeds floating in the water.   But then I saw the sun was floating just below.  You can see where the two pictures would overlap if I combined them, but I'll leave them separate.  It forces you to look at both pictures a little more carefully.

A little later, the sun dared me to shoot it straight on, not as a reflection.

This robin was holding its ground.

There are also signs of humans in the park.  (Beyond the folks walking their dogs or jogging and the benches etc.)

And this rhododendron bush that was blooming despite the delayed spring weather.

This was all on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle.

Friday, March 09, 2018

“LGBTQ activists have used bullying and blackmail tactics to strong-arm corporate America” -Minnery's Tired Rhetoric And False Accusations

From an Anchorage Daily News article on companies coming out against Proposition 1 in Anchorage's April municipal election:
"In a  February  email, Minnery [the executive director of the socially conservative advocacy organization Alaska Family Action, the main group organizing in support of Prop. 1] accused Anchorage’s business community of caving to a special-interest group. 
“LGBTQ activists have used bullying and blackmail tactics to strong-arm corporate America,” Minnery wrote." [emphasis added]
Prop 1 is an attempt to go back to the 'good old days' when right wing evangelical church leaders - Jerry Prevo in particular - could bring out their members with rants about the evils of homosexuality to defeat attempts to give legal protections to the LGBTQ community.  When the Assembly finally passed such an ordinance, this coalition then delayed things long enough to have an incoming mayor veto it.  But the last round saw the Anchorage Assembly pass the legislation by and 9-2 margin and it was signed by the new mayor.

Prop 1 is an attempt to undo that measure by raising fears about 'men' going into women's bathrooms and essentially denying the existence of transgender people, by defining people by the gender marked on their birth certificates, which people would have to show if challenged in a public restroom!

This quote reflects the same kinds of lies and scare tactics they've always used.

Strong-arm tactics

Strong-arm tactics?  Really?  Let's look at some dictionary definitions of that term:

Merriam Webster:
"using force or threats to make someone do what is wanted"
Collins dictionary:
"If you refer to someone's behavior as strong-arm tactics or methods, you disapprove of it because it consists of using threats or force in order to achieve something."
Let's look at the organizations that are opposed to Prop 1, that Minnery thinks were 'strong-armed' by the transgender community, one of the most vulnerable communities in the US.

11.17 Design Studio LLC
Anchorage Economic
   Development Corporation (AEDC)
Anchorage Chamber of Commerce
Arctic Choice
Arctic Incident Response, LLC
Arctic Wire and Rope
BDS Architects
Beartooth Theaterpub & Grill
Broken Tooth Brewing
Cabin Fever
Classic Woman
Coordinators Interior Design
Dos Manos Gallery
Favretto Limited
Fire Island Bakery
First National Bank
K2 Avication
K2 Dronotics
KPB Architects
Law Office of Glenn E. Cravez, Inc.
Mad Dog Graphics
Moose’s Tooth
Mystic Productions Press
Perkins Coie LLP
Quilted Raven

Rust Flying Service
Second Run LLC
Side Street Espresso
Snow City Cafe
South Restaurant
Spenard Roadhouse
Stoel Rives LLP
The Boardroom
The Sourdough Mercantile
The Writer’s Block Bookstore & Cafe
Tiny Ptarmigan
Two Friends Gallery
United Physical Therapy
Visit Anchorage
Wells Fargo
Wooly Mammoth

Only a few of these are 'corporate America.'

For the most part these are small businesses in Anchorage.  Those I know are owned by people who would have volunteered to support the campaign against Prop 1.  They wouldn't have needed to be strong-armed.  Can you imagine the folks at Fair Alaska threatening Rust Flying Service or Mad Dog Graphics into getting on the list?  How?  Boycott their businesses? Ludicrous.  Telling them they would go to hell for eternity?  Sorry, that's Minnery's line.

Even more ludicrous is to think they could have strong-armed the national companies like BP, Perkins Coie, Stoel Rives, Re/Max, or Wells Fargo.

Strong-arming is what Prevo's friends do to get legislators to vote against women's rights to free choice or gay rights issues.  They use religion on some, threats to withdraw political support and give it to a candidate's opponent.

And as I've said before, people tend to accuse others of what they do themselves, because they assume everyone does it.  That's how they justify their own actions - "everyone does it, we'd be a disadvantage if we didn't."

I thought maybe Minnery had recognized the error of his approach when he held "Love Your Gay Neighbor Night" in 2014, but I'm afraid not.  Rather, he's now back to using "bullying and blackmail tactics to scare" voters into making the lives of transgender folks much more difficult.

My expectation is this campaign is the last gasp on this issue.  It's what Minnery knows how to do - fight to impose his religious beliefs on others in some twisted logic  that if gays have rights, he loses his rights.  He picks obscure parts of the Bible to justify his stance, while ignoring far more important lessons from Christ, like "Do Onto Others. . ."

I expect Anchorage voters to roundly defeat Prop 1.  The big unknown is how changing to mail-in voting will affect turnout.   Let's hope Minnery gets the message and finds more positive things to work on.

For more on this ballot issue see an earlier post with video of some local transgender folks and their parents talking about why this vote is so important to them.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Put Trump Tweets On Bottom of Page 17 If Cover Them, You Must

How should the media cover Trump?  He is the president so what he does should be covered.  And Trump has taken great advantage of that rule-of-thumb.  His every tweet is news, the more outrageous the better.

My suggestion:  Set up a "Trump Tweet" section in the back pages (say page 17, though for papers like the Anchorage Daily News, not every every edition has 17 pages.  That just means no Tweet coverage that day..  They'd be there no comment. The section is just so the reader who wants to know, can go there.  And also to maintain a record of his fickleness, his contradictions, and his breaches of decorum and law.

This removal of the tweets from the front page, takes away what I'm sure is one of his goals - to be on the front page every day and to divert attention from the more significant misconduct his administration is committing.  This diminishes his ability to set the daily agenda.

There are lots of tricks we have to learn how to handle a president who disregards decency, truth, and the social norms that make a civil society possible.  In many ways, Trump's tweets have offered a window into what he's really thinking, which I suspect is not radically different from what officials in in previous administrations were thinking - particularly in regard to race, gender, and the economically disadvantaged.  Trump's tweets remind us of the truths about people in power we'd rather not know.

How we get rid of this president, I'm not sure.  Since the Republicans are in the majority in both houses, and since they have this ability to look the other way on his racism and sexism and stupidism, (though apparently not his tariffs), we have to depend on Mueller's investigation.  But what happens when he's got everything ready?  Can he prosecute the president like any other person?  I thought that was why we have impeachment.

This is different from Watergate.  First, Democrats were in charge of the House and Senate.  Second, the House Judiciary Committee did the investigation, not a special prosecutor, as the evidence began to mount, and the tide turned.  But there has been so much evidence of Trump's wrong doings - his pussy grabbing tape, his incitement of racists and sexists, the Trump university scamming of students, all the women who have accused him of sexual abuse, his using the White House for financial gain.  Any one of these would have pulled down past presidents. Will the Republican House ever take an impeachment seriously?

It's one thing for the people who elected Trump to get burned for their stupidity and willful ignorance.  But the rest of us are just as screwed.  Trump's directly or indirectly giving Putin exactly what he wants:  the weakening of the US on the world stage, the deterioration of Western alliances and cooperation.  All of these make it easier for Russia to get away with whatever Putin wants to do on the world stage.

The mid-term election is just a few days less than nine months away.  Long enough to have a baby or do severed damage to the United States.  And since the Republicans are dead set against abortion, we're likely to have to wait the whole nine months before serious action will be taken to get Trump out of the presidency.  Unless Mueller has evidence that is so compelling that 20 Republicans in the House and 10 in the Senate are persuaded to join the Democrats to free us of this malignancy in the White House.

[Yes, this is a departure from my normal posts, but I learned early on blogging that 'neutrality' is not the goal of journalism.  Neutrality in the face of clear cut malfeasance is no different from not intervening to stop an assault.  Trump's presidency is the greatest crisis in my lifetime (and I lived through the civil rights movement, Vietnam, Watergate).  Staying neutral is a political act that supports Trump's vandalism against democracy.]

It's a gray, wet day today.  Maybe that colored this post.

But things will get better.  Be polite and respectful with the people you disagree with.  Acknowledge their pain, their legitimate complaints.  Counter their arguments with facts, but don't make it personal.  

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Bad Camera Day

Yesterday the sky was blue blue.  The water in the park was mirror still.  The pictures were all around me waiting to be captured.  And as I pulled out my camera it got caught on the open sound card door. Damn, I'd left the card in the computer when I downloaded pictures the night before.

But today, clouds bled the richest blues from the sky.  A breeze rippled over the reflections in the water.  The great pictures were hiding.  So here's one from when we were landing in Seattle Monday. I think this is the Bremerton ferry coming into Seattle.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

What Makes A Self Made Man? Why Is "Earning It" "The Old-Fashioned Way"?

The cover has his picture and the words:

"The Self Made Man
USC Trustee Mark Stevens built success the old-fashioned way.  He earned it." 

I don’t know Mr. Stevens and this response isn’t about him.  

It’s about whoever wrote the text on the cover.  

I have a couple of problems:

These are weary cliches that promote the myth of the old Protestant Work Ethic.  What actually makes him a self made man?  

There’s nothing in the article that is linked to this title and subtitle.  It’s as though someone just picked the cliché out of thin air.  

So, what makes him a self made man, as though he alone is responsible for his success?  Let’s see. 

The article says 
  • he was adopted by a family that included an electronics test engineer father.  
  • Who, by the way, got his training from the Navy.  

We know nothing about his birth parents, but do you think he would have done as well in life if his birth parents kept him and they were addicts?  
  • Is it possible that his adoptive father had an influence on his choice of occupation?  
  • What if he had gone to a school that was wracked with violence and drugs?  
  • What if he hadn’t had teachers who took an interest in him?  
  • Who paid for the scholarships that enabled him to go to USC?  

Many successful people do think of themselves as self-made men.  But that ignores all the people who helped them along the way, all the institutions paid for by people they never met, that helped them gain skills and connections.  It ignores the society they live in that has a strong economic system that gives (some) people (more) opportunities (than others).  

Let’s look at the second part of the title:  “build success the old fashioned way.  He earned it.”

Why is earning one’s success ‘old fashioned’?  Is there an implication that successful people today no longer work hard and earn their success?  What exactly did he do so much better than the rest of us to 'earn' his billions?  What percent of his clients' earnings did he get to keep?  In this case does 'earning it' mean he just picked a profession that is structured to make a few people obscenely rich?

Lots of people work hard to earn a living, but not in fields that so richly reward them for their work. When someone becomes a billionaire, it suggests to me that others have paid an exorbitant price for the service or product that got the billionaire so much more money than 99.9% of the population.  

I think of school teachers, of farm-workers, of wait-people in restaurants, nannies, truck drivers, and many many others.  Our society is structured in such a way that certain occupations don’t get richly rewarded (economically)  no matter how hard the people work.  And a few are wildly compensated.  

Let’s be careful about the clichés and have the cover titles reflect that the title-writer actually read the article.  

And again, I want to reiterate, that these questions don't reflect on Mr. Stevens at all.  He isn't quoted as thinking he is 'self-made' and didn't get help from countless other people and institutions along the way.  

Monday, March 05, 2018

How Fast Is A Knot? Why? And Childhood Dreams.

Our San Francisco weekend was spend either with the grandkids or sleeping.  Here's a glimpse.

There it is.

"The number of Knots that slipped through a sailor's hand in 28 seconds denoted the speed of the vessel in Knots."


"A Knot is placed every 47ft - 3 in."

This knotty info was in the bookstore at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Site, right near Fisherman's Wharf.  We got to board an old ferry and this tugboat - Hercules.

They also have a workshop where craftsman restore old boats and ships.  I was intrigued by the 3rd label on this set of drawers of tools.

What was in the Childhood Dreams drawer?  It turned out to be wrenches, but I guess it represents why a lot of the volunteers spend time there working on the boats.

Here's the view from the roof of the building at the AirBnB we're staying at.  It's a great, large bedroom and bathroom in a fifth floor apartment.  The owner is at the other end, and while we're allowed to use the kitchen and living room, we don't have much time.  And it's only six blocks from the family.  And it was a great price.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

This Guy Really Doesn't Want You to Pee or Park In His Driveway

We're in San Francisco visiting grandkids and their parents.

While waiting for the order to come, out side in the intermittent sun and it was suggested I take my grandson up the street so he wouldn't fidget too much.  We got to a little driveway with these two signs.

This is obviously a recurrent problem because this person went to great lengths and spent a bit of cash to make these signs.

I stopped at the end of the last sentence to check if he did post any video of violators on Youtube.  Closest I could find was this video about using pee-repelling paint in San Francisco.  It causes the liquid to bounce back on the perpetrator.  Probably not helpful for homeless people who don't have easy access to clean clothes or a washing machine.

[If you're visually impaired, the top picture shows a no-peeing sign (silhouette of a man peeing with a red circle and line through it) and then two other images.  First a man peeing against the wall, then a Youtube sign.  The second picture shows a metal sculpture of a tow truck pulling a car.]

Friday, March 02, 2018

Dear Sir, Couldn't You Have Held Off The Rain Another Couple of Hours?

The last few days have been mildly frantic - I try to remember to breathe slowly, remind myself that none of this is very important, get in a bike ride, etc. - as we tried to get the house ready for rental.  A company called TurnKey is handling it and so far their reps have been terrific.  It's sort of a cross between AirBnB and a Vacation Rental company.  But they're good for folks like us who live far away from the property.

I only wish my mom could see what her house looks like now.  The stuff inside, couldn't have been done while she was still living here.  The commotion would have just been too much.  But the deck outside would have been great.  But she wanted bricks - "Mom, how are you going to go down the stairs and then negotiate bricks in your wheel chair?" - and I countered with a wood deck at the same level of the living room - "No, the opossums and raccoons will get underneath".  It was a stand off.
But she would say regularly, "When I'm dead, you can do what you want."  So now there's a beautiful wooden deck that I know she would have loved.

Anyway, here's some light relief from a book I found in the house, published in 1942, called Dear Sir.  These are supposed to be letters that government agencies received from citizens.  I picked a few quickly.  Trying to get short ones, so you get an idea.

"Navy Relif Fund
Los Angeles
Enclosed find my check for $2.00.  You'll pardon me for not signing it, but I want to remain anonymous.

Col. Arther Mc.Dermott;
Selective Service
535 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York
After four months of Army life and much sober reflection I have decided that I cannot support my wife the manner to which she has become accustomed on my army pay of $50 amonth.  Please consider this my resignation from the armed services.
Private Leonard K----------
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Please tell me if I must give my right aeon my application for a food ration book.  I am really 43, but my husband things I'm 36.If I tell him the truth he will probably divorce me.  Please answer my question by writing me by writing to the newspaper in the personal column addressed to "Belle of the South", and please say it is ok to falsify your age.Thank you very much.  I hope you will be able to keep me from getting a divorce and still keep me eating.
Worriedly yours,
Mrs. ....
You get the idea.

They predicted heavy rains to start last night - periods with .5 inches per hour.  The ground was wet when we woke up this morning, but the rain was barely a mist.  I was able to keep cleaning up, throwing out trash, etc.

But it just started raining heavily.  Time to abandon our usual bus ride to the airport in favor of calling a Lyft.  You can't really see the rain coming down, but we'd be pretty wet before we got to the bus stop, let alone waited for the bus.  It had snowed and the temps were in the 30s when we left Seattle last week, so I left my raincoat for my warmer coat.  San Francisco is supposed to be rainy too, but there are two grandkids there to warm us up.

*OPA was the Office of Price Administration