Tuesday, September 20, 2022

This LA Times Story Tells us Prisons Are A Criminal Justice Joke

[The point here is the excerpt below from an LA Times story.  But I ended up putting a lot of context before the excerpt.  You an skip down to the quote if you think you know all the introductory thoughts already.  And, of course, you don't need my permission to do that, or whatever you want.]

I've watched enough prison movies and read enough books and articles to know that the US prison system doesn't work very well*.  First of all we top the world in prisoners per 100,000 population:

The countries on this list are not among the most enlightened and prosperous.  But we're on top.  By a lot.  

Our justice system massively discriminates against people of color.

"Nationwide, Black people are locked up in state prison at a rate of 1,240 per 100,000 residents, as compared with 261 whites. That’s 4.8 times greater incarceration of Black than white people, based on 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. On average, one of every 81 Black Americans is in a state prison.

In California, it’s worse. One of 62 Black Californians is in state prison."

The editorial goes on to counter the traditional response that it's because people of color commit more crimes, but rather it's discrimination throughout the justice system.

When people make lascivious remarks about what evil things might happen to a young defendant when he reaches prison, do you smile or do think that something is wrong with prisons? If you smile or if you're the one who makes the joke, you're part of the problem.  

What about people who are wrongly convicted?  The Innocence Projects around the US have gotten 399 prisoners exonerated.  Those are just the people who were able to get enough evidence to prove their innocence, even though it's guilt that is supposed to be proven in court. 

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery, EXCEPT for prisoners.

"Thirteenth Amendment

Section 1

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

  Prisons and companies who get prisoners to work for them take advantage of this exception.  

So all that was preface to this excerpt from an  LA Times story that appeared last week about the Mexican Mafia (their term) that has operated in San Bernardino for decades (again, according to the story). 

This excerpt truly tells us of how truly corrupt and failing these prisons are.  (Yes, I know they depict this in tv shows and movies regularly, but still it's shocking.)

Moreno was Rodriguez’s “secretary” — a role once typically filled by women who were not in prison, who used visits and letters to pass messages from Mexican Mafia members to their underlings. But the proliferation of contraband cell phones in the state prison system has proved a “game changer,” testified Lt. Eddie Flores of the San Bernardino Police Department. Prisoners can now communicate directly with one another to arrange drug deals, order assaults and organize collection rackets, Flores testified.

Phones are smuggled in by correctional officers and “free staff” — plumbers, electricians, food preparers, Goo Goo testified. “I’ve seen nurses bring ‘em in, I’ve seen ‘em flown in on drones.”

A phone costs about $1,200 in prison, he said. “You kind of learn how these things work, the economics. If you’re bringing in too many cell phones, flooding the yard, the price drops.”

Goo Goo described his daily routine as Rodriguez’s man on the street: “I’d get up in the morning — it’s like going to work, having a job,” he told the jury. First he would call someone in the prison system, usually Moreno.

From his cell at the state prison in Calipatria, where he was serving 10 years for possessing an assault rifle, Moreno would tell Goo Goo what needed to be handled that day. “Patch this up here, that there,” he recalled. Deliver drugs. Pick up money.

That's from LA Times,  but if you can't get in, it's also on Wildlandfire News.

*Whether the prison system 'works well' or not, of course, depends on whose objectives you measure it by.  The official objectives to get dangerous criminals off the streets so they can't keep committing crimes, to mete out justices, to rehabilitate offenders, or the objectives of other players like the prisoners who are well connected, the owners of the private prisons, or the various people who work in the prison who can double and triple their salaries by smuggling in contraband.  

Sunday, September 18, 2022

"If an explanation contradicts the sense of who a person is, it can be damaging. There should be more attention paid to the way people describe their own distress."

"If an explanation contradicts the sense of who a person is, it can be damaging. There should be more attention paid to the way people describe their own distress."

This comes from a September 18, 2022 LA Times interview of writer  Rachel Aviv [Mental illness, as told by the patients].  The book features four people with mental health problems, talking from their own experience.  

There are lots of interesting thoughts, but this one grabbed my attention most.

I couldn't help but think about gay and transgender people having other people trying to deny their stories.  And it hit me.

People who react so strongly to LGBTQ folks are trying to deny evidence that contradicts their own world view.  Making LGBTQ people disappear, helps keep their own world view whole.  

Of course, that goes for lots of other attempts to censor, oppress, and otherwise hide that which contradicts people's dogma.  In these four tales, people with mental health problems are disbelieved because people want to believe that science can cure them or perhaps to deny the possibility they may be or become mentally ill without a way out.  Defund the Police disrupts peoples belief that police will protect them.   The Catholic Church denying Galileo's proof that the earth goes around the sun.  Everyone who ridiculed Darwin because Evolution was at odds with the story of creation.  

Of course, though maybe not obvious,  the first part of the quote refers not only to the patient (in this case) but also to the person who denies the patient's story.  

People say there may be no reasoning possible with hardcore Trump supporters.  But perhaps simply asking them to explain their world view might make their grievances understandable.  You needn't believe it,  you probably can't alter it.  But listening is the first step.  For them and for us.  I know a serious conversation for an hour might help a true believer see this "liberal" as not embodying their stereotypes.  

That's it.  That's all I have to say.  

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Critical Mass Bike Ride Anchorage Today

Image from BikeAnchorage

 People gathered at Loussac Library at 11 am.

My very rough count near the flag poles was 150 - 200 bikers.  They said the previous ride - in 1971 - had 300 riders.  But in 1971 there were a lot fewer competing events in Anchorage.  But also a lot fewer people overall.  People kept coming.

The point, according to the organizers, was to increase awareness of the need for better accommodation of bikes and other non-car vehicles and pedestrians in Anchorage.  I rode near the front of the pack.  Here we were waiting for the light to turn left from 36th onto Denali.  

It was a little sketchy at some intersections.  Volunteers blocked traffic at some points, but it all looked pretty loose.  Fortunately, drivers seemed patient and many waved and honked (short taps, not long angry ones).  

Here's looking back on Northern Lights, waiting for the light at Arctic, I think.  The lights did break up the long train of bikes a bit.

Almost back at our starting point. 

It could hardly have been a nicer day - sunny and in the low 60s - but there was a strong south wind. As we got back to Loussac people peeled out of the crowd of bikes.   

Thursday, September 15, 2022

COVID Is Still Here And Where To Check The New Expiration Date Of Your Home COVID Tests

With vaccinations people are feeling more secure that COVID won't kill them.  I see fewer masks indoors these days.  

The State went from daily reporting to weekday reporting to Monday, Wednesday, Friday, reporting to once a week reporting.  

But people are still dying of COVID, right here in Alaska.  28 new deaths were reported this week. (Although there's a new report each week, deaths seem to get accumulated over a period of time and then are reported in bulk.  These were the first deaths reported since August 24, 2022)

I'm still reporting these every week, but not in the main part of the blog.  They're reported in the Alaska Daily COVID-19 Count 3 tab just below the blog header.

Here's my latest report from that page:

Wednesday, September 14, 2022 - I'm getting this up on Thursday.  People are treating COVID as though it were gone.  To the extent that I even forgot to update this yesterday.  But the numbers are a reminder that this isn't over.  And that people are still dying of COVID, even here in Alaska.  

25 new deaths were reported this week.  These are the first deaths reported in three weeks because, I'm assuming, it takes a while to gather these numbers.  It would be truly shocking if these were all in the last week. It would be useful to know what the vaccination status of those dying was.  They may report that somewhere, but I'm not digging deeper than the main dashboards now.

21 more people were hospitalized in the last week.  Actual number of COVID patients in the hospital reported as 66, up four from last week.  Number of vents is down two to zero.

Number of ICU beds available statewide is 21 (down from 34 last week) and one in Anchorage (down from two.)  I believe this is not a COVID specific number, but includes all ICU beds in the state regardless of illness.  

Even new resident cases are up - 980/950 compared to last week's 879/902.  Ditto for non-resident new cases:  544 new cases, up from 519 last week.  A regular warning on these last numbers - many, if not most, tests are self tests which tend not to be reported, so the reported numbers don't tell the whole story.  


COVID Home Test Expiration Extension

Are your at home COVID tests expired?  The FDA has extended expiration dates. My June - Aug 2022 expired home tests are now good to Dec 2022 to February 2023.  Check yours here: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-covid-19-and-medical-devices/home-otc-covid-19-diagnostic-tests#list

A little ways down it has a list of many different products for home testing. Each has a link to see the updated expiration dates.  That's where you'll find the details.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Rain Feeds Creeks, Fall Sneaks In

 Anchorage has been getting a lot of rain this summer.  

Biking yesterday, Campbell Creek was definitely higher than about a week ago. I'm not sure it's obvious in these two pictures, 

September 5, 2022

September 13, 2022

There were lots of areas along the trail with standing water - the ground too saturated apparently to absorb more water.

And the leaves are starting to turn.

Meanwhile, whoever mowed the lawn near the Waldron Homestead Park left an awful lot of cut grass on the bike trail.  This is where the bike trail comes into Shelikof Street.  Does the Muni do this or is it contracted out?

That was mostly yesterday. Today, when I tried to take a bike break at the Alaska Botanical Garden, I discovered they have new fall hours.  Saturdays and Sundays, though they're going to also be open Mondays.  Though in the smaller print it says the "Bootanical Garden" will be open Mondays from September 24 through October 24.  

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Contest: How Often Do The Words Man (Men) and Woman (Women) Appear In The US Constitution?

The first contest on this blog was in July 2009.  That was a pretty passive contest.  The winner was the person who was listed as visitor #123,456.  We had one winner and some that were close.  The winner, BonzaiJay, later sent me a picture of his prizes.

The second contest was in May 2012.  That person had to guess how many dandelions were in the bag I'd collected in my front lawn.  She won a dinner at the Thai Kitchen.  But she'd moved to Juneau and I don't recall she ever collected her prize.  

So it's been ten years since I've had a contest.  This one requires more work.  Here's an intro:

The Supreme Court's majority has made a lot of noise about strictly following the original text of the US Constitution.  So I pulled up an online version of the Constitution  and searched it for some key  words.  

Reviewing the Constitution this way, it's clear that all USians should read the Constitution at least every six months, if not more frequently. [I saw someone use that term and I'm trying it out as a substitute for Americans when I only mean people in the US and not all of North, South, and Central America.  I've been using US residents, but USians is so much easier]

So to encourage you, here's the CONTEST.  

Make a copy [take a screen shot or a photo] of the chart below and fill it out.  You can just guess.  Or you can go to an online copy of the Constitution and search the terms.  There will be prizes for the top three submissions.*  You can email your answers my email address: whatdoino (at) alaska (dot) net. You can try this link but I can't make it work in my draft -  Email me

In Constittuion? 

How often?





























The more I've read about originalism or textualism, the more I'm convinced I was right from the beginning:  It's basically no more, probably less, objective than living constitutional theories. 

Meanwhile, you might want to read (or reread) my posts on Originalism:

Thursday, February 25, 2016   I Think Scalia's Originalism Is Like Intelligent Design Of Constitutional Theories

Monday, March 20, 2017    As Neil Gorsuch Takes Center Stage, What Exactly Is Originalism About?

Monday, October 12, 2020     Revisiting Originalism

*Since this contest requires some work, I'm not sure there will be that many submissions. So, the odds for those who do submit would seem pretty good.  Prizes will be determined by interests of the winner and my imagination and geography.  (Mail v. local pickup may affect size.)  

I have no idea how many people will submit, if any.  But I'll start with people who get the most correct answers.  But since you can look these answers up, there's the possibility of more than three with the same correct answers.  In that case, if someone chooses to write a few comments about what they learned from the exercise, I'll evaluate those comments. (And post them with your permission.)  If it''s a draw and there are no comments, I'll choose randomly.  

Deadline for submission:  September 21, 2022

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Looking For Queen Elizabeth II In Invisible Cities

Queen Elizabeth II from
National Portrait Gallery

The news of Queen Elizabeth II's death comes as I'm reading Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.  Calvino's book imagines the tales that Marco Polo told Kublai Khan about the cities Polo had visited, many in Khan's empire, many not.  

Polo laments the impossibility of accurately describing these cities.  He raises questions about how to merge the past and the present,  the apparent and the invisible, the body and the soul of the cities he's visited.  Nothing is as it seems, or at least nothing of importance is.  His stories remind me of ethnographer Clifford Gertz' 'thick description".  The stories would suggest  caution taking too seriously the people explaining the meaning of Queen Elizabeth II's passing.

Let me give you an example. I also ask you to slow down.   Calvino wasted no words.  Read each word.  Maybe even read the passage twice.  

"In vain, great-hearted Kublai, shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high bastions.  I could tell you how many steps up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs;  but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing.  The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past:  the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper's swaying feet;  the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of the queen's nuptial procession;  the height of that railing and the leap of the adutererer who climbed over it at dawn;  the tilt of the guttering and a cat's progress along it as he slips into the same window;  the firing range of a gunboat which has suddenly appeared behind the cape and the bomb that destroys the guttering;  the rips in the fish net and the three old men seated on the dock mending nets and telling each other for the hundredth time the story of the gunboat of the usurper, who some say was the queen's illegitimate son, abandoned in his swaddling clothes there on the dock.

As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands.  A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past.  The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the blisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls." 

Queen Elizabeth is like a Calvino city.  Her death is not simply the death of one human being. It's a death in a monarchy that goes back more than a millennium.  It's the death of the heir to an empire that ruled much of the world, claiming the riches and labor of the people who were subjects of that ruling royal family.  While Queen Elizabeth II reigned longer than any other monarch in her family, she also reigned over the sharp decline of the empire and of the family's power and scope.  

Henry VIII image Wikipedia

"Queen Elizabeth II is the Church of England chief, officially known as the Supreme Governor, and sits at the helm of a centuries-old British institution established by the monarchy. Its founder was Tudor monarch King Henry VIII, one of the country's most infamous leaders, who created the breakaway institution after turning his back on Catholicism. Centuries later, the Queen has emerged as another landmark ruler who continues to honour the former King's religious practices. But people have questioned whether the two figures who share a throne also share blood.. . 

While there is no direct line between the two, the modern royals have a distant connection to the Tudors.

They owe their existence to Queen Margaret of Scotland, grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots, and King Henry VIII's sister."  (From Express)

 Henry VIII lived from 1491 - 1547. 

What is real and what is imagination?  What is real, but incomplete?  How many Queen Elizabeth IIs are there?  The one seen by her father King George VI?  Her's sister's Elizabeth.  Her husband's.  The views of her children and grandchildren.  There's Gandhi's Queen Elizabeth. Nelson Mandela's? John F. Kennedy's? Churchill's?   Marilyn Monroe's or Elton John's? And every British subject has their own version of the Queen.  

Shakespeare wrote a plays about Henry VIII.  Netflix aired a television series about Elizabeth II.

Where lies the true Elizabeth II?  Nowhere and everywhere would be Calvino's Marco Polo's answer.  

Invisible Cities also includes descriptions of conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo.  
In this excerpt I'm only using Kublai Khan's thoughts.  For perspective, Khan lived from 1215 - 1294.  Calvino wrote about him in the 20th Century.

Kublai Khan from WikePedia
"From the high balustrade of the palace the Great Khan watches his empire grow.  First the line of the boundaries had expanded to embrace conquered territories, but the regiments' advance encountered half-deserted regions, scrubby villages of huts, marshes where the rice refused to sprout, emaciated peoples, dried rivers, reeds.  "My empire has grown too far toward the outside.  It is time,"  the Khan thought, "for it to grow within itself," and he dreamed of pomegranate groves, the fruit so ripe it burst its skin, zebus browning on the spit and dripping fat, veins of metal surfacing in landslips with glistening nuggets.  

Now many seasons of abundance have filled the granaries.  The rivers in flood have borne forests of beams to support the bronze roofs of temples and palaces.  caravans of slaves have shifted mountains of serpentine marble across the continent.  The Great Khan contemplates an empire covered with cities that weight upon the earth and upon mankind, crammed with wealth and traffic overladen with ornaments and offices, complicated with mechanisms and hierarchies, swollen, tense, ponderous.

"The empire is being crushed by its own weight," Kublai thinks, and in his dreams now cities light as kites appear, pierced cities like laces, cities transparent as mosquito netting, cities like leaves' veins, cities lined like a hand's palm, filigree cities to be seen through their opaque and fictitious thickness."

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Update On My Summer Bike Ride Across Turkey Using Anchorage Bike Trails, Wanders Off Into Otter Attacks And Feeding Ducks

This summer's goal has been to bike from Istanbul to Cappadocia.  By my initial calculation, that was 750 kilometers (466 miles).  So that was my target until I found a site (Ride with gps) where people track their bike rides.  I found someone who had made my trip. Ending up in Avanos.  But he was taking a longer route - it looks like he tried to avoid the main highways that would have more traffic.  His route was a total of 889 kilometers (552 miles.)

So yesterday I got up to 751.8 kms.  Using the Ride with gps site, you can find exactly where that is. You can toggle between km and miles.  You can see the distance (and other factors) by putting the cursor along the route.  I can see I'm riding along a lake, but on the biking map there wasn't a specific place to look up.  Had to go to Google maps to find Aksaray and some pictures.  This seemed the nicest.  

Photo from Google Maps

Of course, I'm doing this along the bike trails of Anchorage - anywhere from about 6km to 20km on any given day.  To make it to Avanos, I've got about 140 kms left to go.  Cappadacio is a region of Turkey where there are lots of caves.  Here's a link to a site with a short video that gives you a sense of the other-worldly landscape of the area and some of the towns there.  

But I only have pictures of the Anchorage bike trails, but they're pretty amazing too.  So here are some from the last several days of biking mostly along Campbell Creek trails.  

Campbell Creek near Lake Otis.

Going east from here, the creek winds back and forth, leading to a series of bridges along the trail.

Much further up the creek is this bridge near Campbell Airstrip.  There is a mix of hiking, mountain biking, ski trails, and dog sled trails in this area.  

This part of the creek, and the trail, is west of Lake Otis and goes south to Taku Lake and beyond. 

Yesterday there were lots of people fishing at Taku Lake.  I was taking a picture of three people fishing together (looked like a family) when this guy moved from the group.  If you look closely you can see the fish he just pulled out of the lake.  

Below is Goose Lake on another day in very different light.  Yellow leaves are starting to show.  This is a spot where people feed the ducks.  I stopped to take a picture and all this ducks moved in my direction looking for handouts.  Here's a link to a National Geographic website with a long explanation of why feeding bread to ducks is not good for the ducks.  Just one of many points:

“White bread in particular has no real nutritional value, so while birds may find it tasty, the danger is that they will fill up on it instead of other foods that could be more beneficial to them,” says a spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
There's a lot more on the subject at the link above.

At University Lake near Alaska Pacific University, which has become a popular dog park, I found a warning for another hazard.  

It's only recently that I've become aware of river otters in Anchorage.  In August 2021 there was a report of river otters attack dogs in Anchorage.  That story made it to The Guardian in UK as well as many other news outlets.  The earliest report of aggressive river otters in Anchorage I found was 2019 which called the river otters "a new menace for Anchorage dogs."   Sea otters, in the ocean, have been here for as long as I've been in Alaska.  

Here's a picture of Taku Lake yesterday.  The 2019 otter attack was here.  I've never seen river otters in Anchorage, but I did see a beaver once at Taku.