Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Minimum Daily Requirement of Truth and Acceptable Daily Levels of Lies

I first remember being aware of blatant false advertisement as a kid - maybe I was ten, but I'm really not sure - when I ordered the 'fresh strawberries' for dessert in a restaurant.

They brought me very recently thawed frozen strawberries.  I was indignant. "These aren't fresh!" I said to the waitress.  Without blinking an eye, she replied, "Yes, they're fresh frozen."  I couldn't believe it then, and I still can't believe that people can so blatantly twist the truth.

This all comes up as today I looked at this cereal package and  thought, "What does this have to do with Grapes or Nuts?"

So I checked out the ingredients:

Do you see anything related to grapes or nuts?

That reminded me of a photo I'd taken earlier this summer thinking there'd be a time it would fit into a blog post.

"good food for the fun of it"

We see this sort of thing so often that we forget to react, "Why is this 'good' food?"   "Good" for what?  Frito-Lay company?  (Owned by Pepsi, another healthy food company) Good for diabetes?   Hey, I like crispy food and potato chips are among the crispiest.  

But most of us know that more than a couple really aren't that healthy.  

Actually, when I went to the FritoLay website, I realized that things aren't quite as bad as they used to be when chips were made with trans fats.   The ingredients (from their website) are to the left.   This doesn't look all that bad.

This is for a two ounce container of chips, a serving size is one ounce.  15 chips = one ounce = 150 calories, 90 from fat.

Ingredients:  Potatoes,  Sunflower or Corn oil, and salt.  

It is clear that they are VERY conscious of consumer interest in health. They have a number of webpages dedicated to answering questions about nutrition and health.  There's no more trans fats.

But let's remember that these are ultimately written by marketing folks, not doctors.  And they are not all that easy to deconstruct.  Let's just look at a couple of their FAQ's on their "Straight Talk on Snacking" page.

"Q:  Aren’t all fried foods unhealthy?
A:  Actually, no. Frying itself isn’t unhealthy—it’s the type of oil in which the frying is done that  matters. Certain oils, such as tropical and partially hydrogenated oils have saturated fats or trans fats, which are considered “bad fats.” But Frito-Lay chips are fried in healthier oils like corn and sunflower oils, which contain 80% or more of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat—the “good fats.”"
  • "Frying itself isn't unhealthy" - when I looked up "Is frying unhealthy?"  just about all the links on the first three pages said yes.  Here's one from a doctor's website explaining why.  I'm not saying it is, but I'm pointing out that a lot of people would disagree with Fritolay's statement. 
  • OK, they talk about the trans fats - partially hydrogenated oils and saturated fats - as the bad fats.  (Large food companies only changed from trans fats when they feared they would be banned, now they don't even mention they used those fats and didn't so voluntarily drop them.) 

In their next FAQ - "But aren't your chips high in fat?" their answer contains this explanation:
. . . The good news about all our chips is that we make them with “good fats”—polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which have heart health benefits because they can actually lower bad cholesterol, so long as the total calories consumed do not increase.

"Good fats' is relative.  Webmd says,
when eaten in moderation and used to replace saturated or trans fats, can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. (emphasis added)
OK, this suggests eating 'good fats' doesn't by itself lower your risk. The risk is lowered because you substitute them for the 'bad fats' and thus you have less harm than if you had the 'bad fats' instead.  The bad fats they used to use until the government leaned on them to stop.  But that's not all.  Webmd continues:
Polyunsaturated fats, found mostly in vegetable oils, help lower both blood cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels -- especially when you substitute them for saturated fats. One type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-3 fatty acids, whose potential heart-health benefits have gotten a lot of attention.
But it turns out the 'good fats' that really do the work of lowering risk of heart disease are the fats with Omega 3 that are found in some fish and SOME oils.
Omega-3s are found in fatty fish (salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel), as well as flaxseed and walnuts. And it's fish that contains the most effective, "long-chain" type of omega-3s. The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 servings of fatty fish each week.
"Plant sources are a good substitute for saturated or trans fats, but they are not as effective as fatty fish in decreasing cardiovascular disease," notes Lichtenstein. Do keep in mind that your twice-weekly fish should not be deep-fat fried!
We can also get some lowering of heart disease risk from monounsaturated fats, but when they list the best sources, Fritolays'  corn and sunflower oils are not among those listed.  

The other "good guy" unsaturated fats are monounsaturated fats, thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. Mediterranean countries consume lots of these -- primarily in the form of olive oil -- and this dietary component is credited with the low levels of heart disease in those countries.
Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but solidify if refrigerated. These heart-healthy fats are typically a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, a nutrient often lacking in American diets. They can be found in olives; avocados; hazelnuts; almonds; Brazil nuts; cashews; sesame seeds; pumpkin seeds; and olive, canola, and peanut oils.

So, while corn and sunflower oils are among the group of oils that can lower heart disease risk, they aren't among the oils that really do the most.  So their answer that their potato chips help lower the risk of heart disease, is, at best, misleading.  At worst, dishonest.  

Let's look carefully at one more of their FAQs about health.  

Q:  Won’t eating chips make me fat?A:  Weight and weight gain always goes back to calories in, calories out. Frito Lay chips (and any food, in fact) can be a part of a healthy lifestyle but moderation is important. Frito-Lay offers a number of options to help with portion control, including our multipacks and variety packs, which are an easy way to ensure the right portion, and fresh-tasting chips every time. And our 100 Calorie Mini Bites offer 100 calorie portions of some of our most popular brands including DORITOS® and CHEETOS®. 
So, what they are saying is that if you just eat a few potato chips as a snack, you won't get fat.  They are suggesting here that if you buy their one ounce bag, you will have a reasonable amount and then stop.  

Before I go on, let me remind you that this is the company that had one of the most successful advertising slogans of all times:  "Betcha can't eat just one..."   Now they are saying, "Sure they are healthy.  If you only eat 15 chips a day."

I'd also note that if you  go to thefind.com you can compare prices of buying Fritolay products in different packaging options.   You can buy 104 one ounce packages for $42 and you can buy one 12 ounce package for $3.99.  That comes out to:

one  ounce package = $.40 per ounce
12 ounce package   =  $.25 per ounce

Healthy packages are a lot more expensive.  And these appear to be wholesale prices.  I'm sure that the retail markup on a single one ounce bag is a lot more than the markup on a single 12 ounce bag.

I guess the most telling part here is the where they say, "Fritolays (and any food, in fact) can be part of a healthy life style, but moderation is important."  ANY food, no matter how unhealthy, as long as you just take a bite or two, can be part of a healthy diet.  I don't disagree with that. 

This has turned out to be a much longer post than I ever anticipated when I took the picture of the Fritolay truck. 

Back to Truth and Lies

But let's close by reminding you that the point was not so much how healthy potato chips are, but how our sensitivity to TRUTH has been eroded by the marketing of products that is a fundamental part of a capitalist society.  (I realize that some people will start calling me a communist because I've used "capitalist" in a way that is not completely positive.  But the key is whether my comment is accurate or not.  And marketing is a fundamental part of capitalism.)  Marketing has become a high science, and truth and ethics are not a major part of  marketing curricula.  

That same science today is applied to political candidates and political movements.  All parties use it, some more skillfully and less ethically than others.  So we need to awaken our thinking skills.  One in particularly, that Brain Power author Karl Albrecht called "crap detection" is critically important in this effort.  It involves seeing through the bullshit to get closer to, if not that elusive entity 'truth,' then at least to reasonable accuracy. 

The Private Sector, Without Government Oversight, Isn't Going to Tell Us

Now I also need to point out, that if it weren't for government regulation, we would have absolutely no idea what ingredients are in the foods we eat.  We'd have no way of getting even partial honesty from these companies.  Without government agencies monitoring health, we'd have no reliable data on the impacts of food and the food industry on health. (And even government data is often shaky given the influence of business on government.) The private sector wouldn't take up the cause because their reason for being is to make a profit and thus to make whatever food  people will buy as cheap as possible.  And, in our ignorance of what is in the food we buy, we would have no way of evaluating whether the food was healthy or not.  Our basic choices would be based solely on how it tastes, how it is marketed, how much it costs.  

Even with all the information we do have available, many, many people either do not read the labels or choose to make decisions about what they eat emotionally rather than rationally.  Obviously, emotion - in the form of "I really want some chocolate" - is always going to be an important and legitimate factor in choosing food.  But that needs to be balanced by understanding how much salt, how much fat, etc. is in a product. 

From Food to Politics

And  so when we move to other areas of our lives, besides food, we are so used to 'truthiness' that we easily fall into believing those things that support what we want to believe.  We discount the problems with foods we really love.  We discount the problems with politicians who says things we approve.

What if political ads had to come with percent of daily  requirements of Truth and acceptable daily levels of Lies

EXTRA:  Some other snack options

Remember, 15 potato chips have 150 calories, or about 10 calories per chip.

Fruits contain 15 grams of carbohydrate and 60 calories. One serving equals:
1 small Apple, banana, orange, nectarine
1 med. Fresh peach
1 Kiwi
½ Grapefruit
½ Mango
1 C Fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries)
1 C Fresh melon cubes
18th Honeydew melon

Vegetables contain 25 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrate. One serving equals:
½ C Cooked vegetables (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, cabbage, etc.)
1 C Raw vegetables or salad greens
½ C Vegetable juice
If you’re hungry, eat more fresh or steamed vegetables.

So when it comes to calories:

One apple + one banana + 1/2 cup of fresh berries   =   15 potato chips


Six cups of salad with raw vegetables (you could put on some lemon oil) = 15 potato chips

Betcha can't eat just 15 though.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Flowery Distractions So You Won't Notice My Unwritten Posts

I have a small pile of unwritten posts - the Democratic Unity Dinner last Tuesday, How Exit Glacier introduced me to Salfón, el limpiador de tejados, something on the uniting possibilities of funerals, the Charter College Graduation, and others that will probably slip away as time passes and more current events take priority.

So I was going to post these photos from the botanical garden yesterday just because I thought they were pretty neat.  In one case, I was smart and took a picture of name of the flower so I'd remember. This red one is a masterwort - Astrantia "Ruby Wedding" Apiaceae.

But I got so caught up shooting these two that I forgot to the the name.

I was even going to ride back to the gardens and find out.  A good excuse to get some exercise.  But I had some things to take care of and then it started to rain really hard. 

Hard enough that the drops were actually splashing on our deck table.  And I decided you're going to have to just appreciate the flowers and their insect friends as anonymous visitors to the blog.  But I'm now on the lookout for a good insect field guide, one that allows me to distinguish between different types of flies like the two in the pictures above.

Even though the rain is down to a light drizzle now, my back fender somehow disappeared Saturday when we were out in pretty substantial rain.  You can get a sense from this picture of water in Chester Creek gushing out from under New Seward Highway.

Vote Here To Know God

This is what I saw when I voted last week.  I have no problem visiting a church for someone's wedding.  I visited churches voluntarily when we were in England this summer.  I even went to the Anchorage Baptist Temple for Sen. Ted Stevens' memorial.

But when my right to vote at my local polling place requires me to enter a church, it doesn't feel right to me.

What's your problem Steve?  What's the big deal?  It's just a building.  No one is asking you to pray before you vote.  (Would that help get my candidates elected?) 

As I wrote last year when I voted at the Municipal election, "Would anyone be troubled if they had to vote in a mosque?"  Given the debate over a proposed mosque in Lower Manhattan, I'm guessing there are a few people who might not feel comfortable voting in a mosque.  Then why, in a nation that constitutionally protects freedom of religion for all, should anyone be required, in order to vote, to attend a house of worship?

I think it's about power and equality.  When the vast majority of people actively support the idea that every religion should be treated  with equal esteem and respect before the law, when some religions aren't favored over others, when a significant and politically active segment of the population does not believe its their job to convert everyone to their belief - then we can start talking about being less concerned about celebrating religious holidays in public schools and voting in houses of worship.

It seems to me that as the people who have been traditionally privileged before the law - whites and males (is there anyone who doesn't believe that whites and males have been historically privileged in the US?) - are feeling uncomfortable in the US as the laws are being changed to balance things a bit, starting with abolishing slavery, voting rights for women,  rights for women over property and in marriages, equal access to public accommodation, housing,  education, jobs,  and voting.   Isn't this what moving back to basic American values is all about?  Taking back America?  That discomfort they feel, that's how it feels to vote in a church.

[Note:  I set this up to post Monday morning early but accidentally posted Sunday morning.  Before I could correct this, there was already a comment, so I'm posting the comment in this reposting at the correct time.

Dean has left a new comment on your post "Vote Here To Know God":

Where your polling place is has an enormous psychological impact. Great article on this very topic in this month's Miller-McCune Magazine]

[Update Sept. 3:  A Pakistani friend emailed that in Pakistan they do NOT vote in mosques, only in public schools.]

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Arctic Streakers Agility Club

Last Sunday, while on a bike ride we ran into a bunch of tents in the Waldron Park off Tudor Road east of Seward Highway.  We discovered the Arctic Streakers Agility Club.  

Wikipedia seems to have the best description of agility

Dog agility is a dog sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Dogs run off-leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles.
Consequently the handler's controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler.
In its simplest form, an agility course consists of a set of standard obstacles, laid out by an agility judge in a design of his or her own choosing on a roughly 100 by 100-foot (30 by 30 m) area, with numbers indicating the order in which the dog must complete the obstacles.
Courses are complicated enough that a dog could not complete them correctly without human direction. In competition, the handler must assess the course, decide on handling strategies, and direct the dog through the course, with precision and speed equally important. Many strategies exist to compensate for the inherent difference in human and dog speeds and the strengths and weaknesses of the various dogs and handlers.

The North American Dog Agility Council website tells us:
The North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) was formed in 1993 to provide North American dogs and their handlers with a fast, safe and enjoyable form of the sport of dog agility. NADAC sanctions agility trials sponsored by affiliated clubs.
The purpose of a NADAC agility trial is to demonstrate the ability of a dog and its handler to work as a smoothly functioning team. With separate class divisions for Veterans and Junior Handlers and a variety of games, NADAC dog agility offers something for everyone!

Looking a little further, I found the United States Association of Dog Agility Clubs.  I wonder what the story is about these two organizations.

As evidence of the pioneering spirit and leadership role of USDAA and its supporters, we count among our accomplishments -
Introduction of the sport to North America in its international form (1986)
  • First organization in the world to separate competition into four jumping height divisions, fostering participation among competitors with virtually all sizes of dogs
  • First officially sanctioned event in the United States and North America (1986)
  • Introduction of the first competitive tournament series in North America - the "Grand Prix of Dog Agility®" (1988)
  • Introduction of the first certification tests in the world in five distinctive classes of competition (1990)
  • First U.S. canine sports authority to field teams in "world" competition (FCI World Dog Show, Germany, 1991)
  • First championship tournament series on a major national television network when the USDAA Grand Prix of Dog Agility® Championships was telecast on Animal Planet (1999)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Alaska to be Buried in Virginia

Speaker after speaker told us at Ted Stevens' memorial in Anchorage that, in Lisa Murkowski's words, "Ted was Alaska."

The Anchorage Daily News reports today that Ted is to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Blogger Blocks Spam Comments!

When people leave a comment on a post, I get an email notice with the comment.  Yesterday and today I got such emails.  The comments were spam and I was going to delete them, but they weren't posted.  "Did Blogger block them?" I wondered.

Today I checked Blogger settings and there's a new comment category and there's a Spam tab.  And that's where those two messages ended up.  This is a real improvement.

I'm sure there will be some legitimate comments that end up in the spam basket, but we'll be able to let them be posted.  But will I know from the email that it wasn't posted if it isn't spam and I don't go to the post to see the comments there?  I'm not sure.

Here's what blogger says when click the link "more about Blogger's spam filter."

Spam Inbox

Blogger now filters comments that are likely spam comments to a Spam Inbox, much like the spam folder in your email. When someone leaves a comment on your blog, it will be reviewed against our spam detector, and comments that are identified as possible spam will be sent to your blog’s Spam Inbox, found at Comments | Spam.
You can help improve our ability to automatically detect spam comments by checking your Spam Inbox and deleting spam comments and marking real comments that may have been flagged as spam as Not Spam.
We are always seeking feedback on how to improve this feature, so please share your feedback with us by clicking on the Report Spam Filtering Issues.
If you have questions about what constitutes spam on Blogger, please review our Content Policies.

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Papilio canadensis - Time for a Break from Politics

Our neighbor called us to see this strange bug he'd found. 

The closest thing I could think of was a tomato worm, but this was much smaller and didn't have the horns.

The fake eyes, with eye brows even, give it a really strange appearance and makes that section look like the head. 

I suspect the head is really that little fuzzy thing in front.

I checked with the Cooperative Extension and they suggested it was

Papilio canadensis -the caterpillar of the Canadian Tiger Swallow Tail.   With a name, I could check on line.  This appears to be what it is, though the ones I saw online were bright green and this is more brown.  Perhaps it's at a different stage of its life.  The 'eyes' are right and the ones online also have dots along the back of the 'neck.'  And they live in Alaska and they eat birch and aspen among other leaves.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Alaska Election Context 3 - How Vulnerable Was Lisa Murkowski?

In Part 1 I looked at looked at Alaska's registered voter rate (apparently 96%).
In Part 2 I looked at the US Senate race and how the primaries work in Alaska.
In this post I'll look at Sen. Lisa Murkowski's background.

[UPDATE Aug 28:  A reader sent me this link to Anchorage attorney Don Mitchell's Huffington Post piece on the same topic, which has the same gist, but gives much richer detail than do I.]

These are thoughts aimed more at non-Alaskans.  Alaskans know all this and will, no doubt, correct me if I misreported anywhere.

Lisa Murkowski was a Republican state legislators with whom Democrats could live and  Republicans had some problems.  She was for women's rights, if not completely pro-choice, friendly, smart, articulate, and not of her father, Senator Frank Murkowski's, generation.  'Environmental' wasn't an epithet to her. 

She won her 2002 reelection to the State House by only 52 votes in the Republican primary  and then faced no opposition in the general election. 

That same year, her father had deciding to leave the Senate and run for Governor of Alaska.  In a January 2008 post speculating why Murkowski might have decided to leave to the Senate to run for governor I wrote:
The oil controlled state legislature passed a bill that said, in case a US Senate seat becomes vacant, the newly elected governor, not the currently sitting governor, makes the appointment. Everyone knew the purpose was to give Murkowski the power to appoint his successor. If this hadn’t passed, retiring governor Tony Knowles would have appointed the next US Senator. But it did pass assuring that, if Murkowki won, he could appoint his daughter. If he lost, he was still in the Senate.
This was settled before he ran for Governor.  Republicans didn't like the idea of a Democrat appointing Murkowski's successor and, given the reaction when he did appoint his daughter to the position, most people hadn't  anticipated that Frank would appoint Lisa. 

Appointing Lisa to the US Senate was the first seriously unpopular act of the new Governor.  Most people thought it was tacky at best, unethical or even illegal at worst.  Rival Republicans for the position were pissed.  The more conservative Republicans were particularly dismayed, while the moderate Republicans were less upset.  Democrats were ambivalent.  They thought it reeked of nepotism, but of all the Republican contenders, Lisa was probably the best in their eyes.

Gov. Murkowski went on to do a lot of things that got everyone mad from cutting benefits to seniors to buying a private jet - with administrative funds when the legislature said no.  (One of Palin's first acts as governor was to announce she was putting the jet on e-bay.)

Since Palin's run for governor knocked off Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2006, there has been no love lost between the Murkowskis and Palin.  As an Alaskan, if I had to pick between  Sarah Palin and Lisa Murkowski to represent my state to the world, it would be Murkowski hands down.

But, when Lisa Murkowski got to the US Senate, she got into a much less flexible Republican majority where she forgot the words 'global climate change' and probably left the room entirely when abortion came up.  She quickly moved into the party leadership by moving way right.  There had always seemed to be a real ideological difference between Murkowski the elder and Murkowski the younger, but that seems to have mostly evaporated.

There was some question about whether Lisa could get elected on her own, but she had no real primary competition in 2004 when she had to run.  In the general election Republicans saw her as the lesser to two evils and united behind her against former Democratic  Gov. Tony Knowles.  At that point, I think, people thought she'd established herself, even if the Republicans didn't love her.

But Palin knew that Murkowski's Republican support was pretty shallow. And there is still a lot of resentment toward her dad and her original appointment.  There was even talk that Palin might run against her.  But then she'd have to take a pay cut and lose some of her spotlight.   But she probably saw this current race as a good opportunity to settle old scores.  Even if Miller hadn't gotten this close, she would be telling Murkowski to watch her back.

Add to that a primary with 25% turnout and a ballot measure on abortion and she was vulnerable. All Miller needed to do was get about 9% of Alaskan voters to vote for him. 

So while this seems to come as a huge surprise, the conditions were ripe for it to happen if the right factors came into play.  And they did.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Alaska Election Context 2 - US Senate Race

[This is the second post on this topic.  The first post  focused on the problems of determining the actual numbers of registered voters in Alaska which, if compared to the Alaska voting age population, would mean 96% of voting age Alaskans are registered.]


Few people voted Tuesday.  The winners of the US Senate races got votes from between 3% and 9% of the voting age population.  That means over 90% of the voting age population voted for someone else or didn't vote.  75% of the voting age population didn't vote at all. 

Alaska's Population

The US Census gives the population of Alaska in 2008 as 686,000.
The Alaska Permanent Fund estimates the 2008 population as 679,720 and 2009 population as 692,314.

Registered Voters
That same Census Bureau estimates the voting age population of Alaska as 506,000 in 2008.
The Alaska Division of Voters, as of August 3, 2010, says there are 487,575 registered voters.  As I noted in a previous post, this would mean that Alaska has about 96% of its voter age population registered while the US average is closer to 70%.

How the Alaska Primaries Work

The Republican primary is a semi-closed primary.  That means that only Republicans appear on the ballot and only Republicans and people not registered with another party can vote in the Republican primary.  So, Republicans, independents, and undeclared voters can vote.

The other parties have a blanket primary.  That means the other parties (Libertarian, Democratic, Alaska Independence, etc.) have their candidates all appear on one ballot and anyone, including Republicans, can vote on this ballot. 

There were three ballots.
  • ADL - This includes Alaska Independence Party, Democrats, and Libertarians, and both ballot measures.
  • R - This is the Republican Ballot, plus both ballot measures.
  • M - This is just for ballot measures. There are no candidates.
Each voter had to choose one ballot.
Republicans could choose any ballot.
Undeclared and Independents could choose any ballot.
Democrats, Alaska Independence, and Alaskan Libertarian Party members could choose the ADL ballot or M ballot.

I would guess that most voters probably did not understand all this and it had to be explained by the election workers. 
    There were two ballot measures.
    • Prop. 1 to severely limit lobbying by public officials and employees and non-profits, but not businesses.  (It lost resoundingly.)
    • Prop. 2 to require doctors to notify the parents of girls under 18 before they can have an abortion. (It won 55%-44%)

    How many people voted?

    ADL Ballot Total votes for statewide races
    • Senate - 30,855 (one Libertarian and three or four relatively unknown candidates)
    • US House - 33,192 (one candidate, State Rep. Harry Crawford)
    • Governor - 39,768 (two high profile Democrats, one Libertarian, one Alaskan Independent)
    • Lt. Governor - 37,149 (three Democrats - one got 67% - and one Libertarian)

    R Ballot Total votes for statewide races

    • Senate - 92,386 (Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller)
    • US House - 62,590 (one candidate, incumbent Don Young)
    • Governor - 90,938 (six candidates, including sitting Governor)
    • Lt. Governor - 84,928 (seen by many as the most contested election, four candidates, three high profile)

    M Ballot- Voters could vote on the ballot measures on all three types of ballots.  So, these vote counts reflect all three ballots and are the highest.  The election results do not distinguish the votes of the different ballots on these measures, or even how many people voted for them on which ballots.

    Measure 1 - 134,471
    Measure 2 - 134,981

    Votes for US Senate Races

    ADL Ballot

    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    438 100.0 %
    Times Counted
    41923/487456 8.6 %
    Total Votes

    Haase, Fredrick LIB 4849 15.72%
    Kern, Jacob Seth DEM 5978 19.37%
    McAdams, Scott T. DEM 15347 49.74%
    Vondersaar, Frank J. DEM 4681 15.17%

    R Ballot

    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    438 100.0 %
    Times Counted
    93170/487456 19.1 %
    Total Votes

    Miller, Joe REP 47027 50.90%
    Murkowski, Lisa REP 45359 49.10%

    The box below shows that overall, 24% of Alaskans of voting age voted in the US Senate race.  The Democratic winner had about 6% of Alaskans of voting age and the two Republicans who were almost tied, each had about 9%.

    What does it mean? 

    Without good polling to hear from the voters themselves, the numbers leave a lot of unanswered questions.

    1.  How many Independents and Undeclared took Republican ballots, Democratic ballots, M ballots?  My guess is they were more likely to take Republican ballots.

    2.  How many Independents and Undeclared voters voted for Miller?  And Why?  Clearly some were swayed by the Tea Party rhetoric.  Some, no doubt, we're voting against Murkowski.

    3.  If Miller wins, how many of his voters this time will vote for him in the general?  How may others can he attract in November?  If the Tea Party folks were fired up, are there that many left who will vote for him in the Fall?

    4.  If Murkowski wins, what will the Miller voters do?  Sit out?  Vote for Murkowski?  Vote for McAdams? Vote for the Libertarian Party candidate?

    5.  McAdams is just as unknown today as Miller was three months ago.  Can he get Alaskans excited?  He has a great Alaskan profile - fisherman, small town mayor, but basically a 'real person' rather than a politician.  Will he attract Outside money to counter the money the Tea Party has sent to Miller?

    6.  Will Murkowski's close race make her seem more vulnerable even if she wins?

    7.  Is Miller so extreme that when his positions are known Alaskans will reject him when more show up to vote?

    All these questions and others may or may not be answered in the next few months.  I think the key point here is that really very few people have voted.  That means that so far very little support has been given to anyone.  If the Tea Party really spent half a million dollars on Miller, it means helped get a victory (even if he doesn't win) by spending $10.63 per vote. 

    All things being equal, Alaska voters tend to be more conservative.  The key to winning for Democrats is identifying non-voters who can be cajoled at worst and excited at best to come out and vote.  Obama energized a lot of Alaskan liberals to vote in 2008.  But, that said, it's easier said than done.

    Scott McAdams Alaska US Senate Candidate - Video

    I first met Scott last February in the Capitol hallway in Juneau.  After he told me what he did I realized he would be good on tape and posted a short video of him then.  With the Tea Party putting Joe Miller ahead of Sen. Murkowski, Alaskans as well as Outsiders are now asking, "Who is Scott McAdams."

    There was a hint of what he had inside in the February video.  Tonight, at the Democratic Unity Dinner at Kincaid Park, on a spectacularly beautiful evening, Scott ignited those present as people realized that this guy is real, is articulate, has a brain, and could be our next US Senator.

    The video shows most of his eleven minute talk.  I cut out some of the applause, but otherwise left it pretty raw.  I'll bet he grows tremendously as he travels the state in this election.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Alaska Election Context 1 - 96% of Alaska Voting Age Population Registered to Vote

    It would appear from the data available that somewhere between 94% and 97% of Alaskans of voting age are registered to vote.  The national average is about 70%.   Basically, what I think this means is that the Alaska Division of Elections list of registered voters is carrying a lot of names - I'm guessing about 125,000 or 25% - of people who are no longer Alaskan residents - they've either moved away or died.


    Registered Alaska Voters = 487,000  - official (Table Y below from Div of Elections)
    Voting Age Alaskans  = 506,000 (2008 Census Data) (Table 16 below)
    Percent of Voting Age Americans Registered to vote = 68-70% (Table 1 below from 2010 Census Survey)
    Percent of Voting Age Alaskans Registered to Vote = somewhere from 94% - 96%
    70% of Voting Age Alaskans
    (if the same as general US rate) = 354,200
    Number of Possible Phantom Registered Alaskan Voters = 133,000 (about 27%)

    In the rest of this post I'll go through the numbers.  In a follow up post I'll speculate what this means about the Republican primary yesterday that has Joe Miller slightly ahead of incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski.

    The Numbers

    From the Alaska Division of Elections website, we learn that there are 487,575 registered voters in Alaska. 

    (I realize these tables go into the right column, but otherwise the numbers are too small for most and the lost numbers don't matter much.)

    (438 PRECINCTS) 487,575 14,464 74,802 9,392 126,486 78,189 177,219 2,373 2,892 1,758
    (These numbers are at the very bottom of the page on the website.  Here's what all those initials mean:

    Political Parties:
    A – Alaskan Independence Party
    D – Alaska Democratic Party
    L – Alaska Libertarian Party
    R – Alaska Republican Party

    Political Groups:
    G – Green Party of Alaska
    M – Republican Moderate Party Inc.
    V – Veterans Party of Alaska

    N – Nonpartisan (no party affiliation)
    U – Undeclared (no party declared)

    Less than half a million may not seem like much to most US citizens, but according to the 2008 Census data there are only 502,000 Alaskans of voting age.  This number comes from a 2010 US Census Statistical Abstract Resident Population by Age and State: 2008 [Excel 143k] | [PDF 446k]

    I got 503,000 by adding up the totals for the age categories over 18.  But that is a 2008 population and this is 2010.  Can we get more up-to-date data?  Well, the Alaska
    Department of Revenue Permanent, Fund Dividend Division's Annual Report, estimates the 2009 population at 692,314.  But their 2008 estimate of 679,720 was actually lower than the Census Bureau's 2008 estimate of 686,000.  The Permanent Fund estimates annual population increases between .7% and 1%  for 2005-2008.  From 2008-2009 they estimate a 1.9% increase in population.  If I increase their 2009 estimate by 1% for 2010, I get 699,237.

    from 2009 Permanent Fund Dividend Annual Report

    Then if I take the percent of the population over 18 from the Census Bureau 2008 population in the chart (Table 16) above,  about 73% of the population is of voting age.  That comes to 506,000 of the 2008 Census population total, and 519,000 using an estimate based on extrapolating from the Permanent Fund numbers. 

    I don't suspect that any sort of Chicago shenanigans, that people were voting in the name of any of these phantom voters. (Though if there were a headline that this did happen, I wouldn't be surprised either.)  Alaskans move about a lot more than the average US citizen.  People come and go.  We have a large military population, some unknown number  of which take on Alaska residency because of the Permanent Fund Dividends.  When I spoke to an elections official last spring, I was told they purge the lists on a regular basis (I remember that it was something like four or five years of not voting to get off the list.)  I remember my son was on the list when I would go to vote for a long time after he was no longer a resident.  Perhaps the state should rethink how often the list is purged.  Or at least study whether our phantom number is significantly greater than in other states.

    NOTE TO READERS:  Most of you aren't going to go through all the numbers and the math and are going to just trust me.  That's probably a mistake.  I wouldn't intentionally play with the numbers, but I wouldn't be surprised if I made a mistake or two.  My brain is no longer capable of looking at all this and as a blogger I don't have an editor.  And I want to get this out and I have to leave already.  I don't think any possible mistakes will affect my conclusion that we have a lot of people on the voting rolls that aren't Alaskan residents any longer. 

    With 97% reported Joe Miller Still Leads Murkowsi

    Miller, Joe   REP   45,909    51.09%
    Murkowski, Lisa  REP 43,949 48.91%

    Miller will  run against Sitka, Democrat Scott McAdams for the US Senate.  Will the Democrats try to get him to step down so a better known Democrat can run?  I'm not sure what conditions would have to be met for them to do that.  And it would be even more embarrassing if Miller to win anyway.

    No surprise:  Don Young versus Harry Crawford for US House.

    Berkowitz 48%    French 38% for Democratic Governor candidate.

    Parnell, 43,764  49.49%
    Walker, Bill 30,019  33.95%
    Samuels, 12,420   14.05%

    Lt. Gov   Rep. Treadwell (53%)  v. Dem Benson (65%0)

    Con Bunde's old Senate Seat  Anchorage hillside will be a woman - Giessel (47%) (R) v. Reiser (D)

    Peggy Wilson keeps her  SE House seat 52% to 47%

    I'll post this now and then finish adding the other close races.


    Steve Thompson wins Jay Ramras open Fairbanks house seat with 54%.

    The closest raise was to fill John Harris' Valdez House Seat on the Republican side:

    Feige, Eric A. REP 666 33.57%
    Fellman, Pete REP 658 33.17%
    Haase, Don REP 660 33.27%

    Carl Gatto keeps his Matsu seat with 54% of the vote.  And Mark Neuman keeps his with 65%.

    Bill Cook won the Rep spot in Nancy Dahlstrom's old seat with 39% in a three way race.  Lindeke won as the only Dem.

    Rep. Charisse Miller got 75% of the vote in her Anchorage seat.  Rep. Bob Lynn got 69% to keep his.

    Appointed Rep. Neal Foster got 57% to keep his Nome seat.

    Measure 1 to severely limit lobbying by governments and nonprofits lost 63% No to 37% Yes.
    Measure 2 to require parent notification of a minor's abortion won 55% Yes to 45% No.]

    All the results from the elections website are below

    State of Alaska 2010 Primary Election
    August 24, 2010
    Unofficial Results


    Registered Voters 487456 - Cards Cast 134102 27.51%Num. Report Precinct 438 - Num. Reporting 429 97.95%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    429 97.9 %
    Times Counted
    40596/487456 8.3 %
    Total Votes

    Haase, Fredrick LIB 4730 15.85%
    Kern, Jacob Seth DEM 5781 19.38%
    McAdams, Scott T. DEM 14802 49.61%
    Vondersaar, Frank J. DEM 4524 15.16%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    429 97.9 %
    Times Counted
    90618/487456 18.6 %
    Total Votes

    Miller, Joe REP 45909 51.09%
    Murkowski, Lisa REP 43949 48.91%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    429 97.9 %
    Times Counted
    40596/487456 8.3 %
    Total Votes

    Crawford, Harry T. DEM 32062 100.00%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    429 97.9 %
    Times Counted
    90618/487456 18.6 %
    Total Votes

    Cox, John R. REP 5220 6.04%
    Fisher, Sheldon REP 20365 23.56%
    Young, Don REP 60859 70.40%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    429 97.9 %
    Times Counted
    40596/487456 8.3 %
    Total Votes

    Berkowitz, Ethan A. DEM 18718 48.64%
    French, Hollis S. DEM 14964 38.88%
    Toien, William S. LIB 1367 3.55%
    Wright, Donald R. AI 3434 8.92%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    429 97.9 %
    Times Counted
    90618/487456 18.6 %
    Total Votes

    Heikes, Gerald L. REP 355 0.40%
    Hlatcu, Merica REP 499 0.56%
    Little, Sam REP 1366 1.54%
    Parnell, Sean R. REP 43764 49.49%
    Samuels, Ralph REP 12420 14.05%
    Walker, Bill REP 30019 33.95%

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    36% of the Vote In - Miller leading Murkowski 51%-48%

    [Update 10:27:  looking at the 9:47 count, Anchorage has large percentages reported (58%- 77%) but with some very low ones like the Mt. View district.  Districts with low reporting:
    Kodiak 0%; Bethel 0%;  Kotzebue 4%; Nome 11%;  Dillingham 9%;  the giant rural district 6 that includes Tok   3%;  Juneau 20%. Ketchikan 22%.  These probably bode well for Murkowski, but who knows?]

    It's not clear which precincts aren't in yet.    No votes from Anchorage District 20 - Mountain View area legislative race.  Kodiak races have nothing. Juneau only has about 2 of 9 precincts in Egan's race.  Some other SE Alaska votes are missing or lower percent than overall.  Some Anchorage races are 58% and 68%.
    Below are all the results as of 9:36pm from the election site.

    State of Alaska 2010 Primary Election
    August 24, 2010
    Unofficial Results


    Registered Voters 487456 - Cards Cast 66051 13.55%Num. Report Precinct 438 - Num. Reporting 159 36.30%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    159 36.3 %
    Times Counted
    19183/487456 3.9 %
    Total Votes

    Haase, Fredrick LIB 2340 16.91%
    Kern, Jacob Seth DEM 2528 18.27%
    McAdams, Scott T. DEM 6867 49.62%
    Vondersaar, Frank J. DEM 2103 15.20%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    159 36.3 %
    Times Counted
    45740/487456 9.4 %
    Total Votes

    Miller, Joe REP 23251 51.24%
    Murkowski, Lisa REP 22124 48.76%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    159 36.3 %
    Times Counted
    19183/487456 3.9 %
    Total Votes

    Crawford, Harry T. DEM 15139 100.00%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    159 36.3 %
    Times Counted
    45740/487456 9.4 %
    Total Votes

    Cox, John R. REP 2679 6.14%
    Fisher, Sheldon REP 10509 24.08%
    Young, Don REP 30453 69.78%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    159 36.3 %
    Times Counted
    19183/487456 3.9 %
    Total Votes

    Berkowitz, Ethan A. DEM 8822 48.41%
    French, Hollis S. DEM 7446 40.86%
    Toien, William S. LIB 627 3.44%
    Wright, Donald R. AI 1327 7.28%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    159 36.3 %
    Times Counted
    45740/487456 9.4 %
    Total Votes

    Heikes, Gerald L. REP 175 0.39%
    Hlatcu, Merica REP 248 0.56%
    Little, Sam REP 721 1.61%
    Parnell, Sean R. REP 21895 49.01%
    Samuels, Ralph REP 6140 13.74%
    Walker, Bill REP 15495 34.68%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    159 36.3 %
    Times Counted
    19183/487456 3.9 %
    Total Votes

    Benson, Diane E. DEM 11102 65.36%
    Brown, Jeffrey D. LIB 1601 9.42%
    Moreno-Hinz, Lynette DEM 902 5.31%
    Powers, J. J. "Jack" DEM 3382 19.91%


    Number of Precincts
    Precincts Reporting
    159 36.3 %
    Times Counted
    45740/487456 9.4 %
    Total Votes

    Burke, Eddie REP 5231 12.50%
    Lupo, Bob REP 961 2.30%
    Ramras, Jay REP 13302 31.77%
    Treadwell, Mead REP 22370 53.43%

    Early Morning Election Day

    As regular readers might remember, I originally went down to Juneau as a volunteer staffer for Rep. Max Gruenberg.  So when he and his wife invited us to hold campaign signs I thought I needed to say yes.  It is primary election day.  Besides, it would be a chance to chat with them.  Rep. Gruenberg is unopposed in the primary, but he does want to have his name out.  The idea of holding a campaign sign on a street corner to wave at cars going by is low on my list of things I want to do.  Plus it was at 7:30 in the morning.  But I advise others to do things they normally wouldn't, so I should too.  So there we were as the sun was blindingly coming over the Chugach Mountains. 
    The weather was perfect - sunny but not too warm.  Drivers waved and I got to talk to some of the kids walking to Clark Middle School and introduce them to their Representative in Juneau. 

    Mt. View Community Council member Joyce saw as at the corner and joined us for breakfast at the Mountain View Diner - a Chanlyut project, where Noble's Diner once was.  The food was good and we had a nice chat. 

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    2010 Alaska Proposition 2

    [UPDATE 2012:  Here's the post on the 2012 Prop 2 to reestablish an Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program.]

    I've been trying to avoid this.  KSKA has done a pretty good job and you can listen to Kathleen McCoy's Hometown Alaska show with guests representing both sides.   And Lisa Demer at the Anchorage Daily News on Friday covered it in depth. 

    So I can just step back and leave the details to the others and try to put it into a larger perspective.

    The PR characterization by the pro and anti forces:

    PRO:  Alaskans for Parental Rights
    ANTI:  Alaskans Against Government Mandates

    Comment:  The pro forces win here, by being closer to what the measure is about.  The bill would require notification of parents before a pregnant girl under age 18 can have an abortion.  The anti forces seem to have taken a lesson from some of the right wing groups that have stretched the names they use to fight things they don't like.  Many things the government does (including things the anti-forces believe in) are 'government mandates' and yes, this would require doctors to inform the parents, I think this is fairly misleading.

    What it's really about:

    This is basically an anti-abortion measure.  An earlier law which required parental consent for an abortion for girls was thrown out by the Alaska Supreme Court.  This is an attempt to at least require parental notification.  But is this about parental rights?  Technically, yes, but it sure smells like it's really an attempt to make it harder to get an abortion.

    What it's really about 2:

    This is also about the balance of power between parents and their daughters.  The pro forces would give more power to the parents.  The anti forces would maintain the daughters' freedom to make these decisions.

    The anti forces argue that there are girls whose dysfunctional families make it impossible, even dangerous, for the girls to go to their parents.  90% of the girls, they say, actually do talk to their parents.  Their concern, they say, is the 10% in dysfunctional families, or who may even be pregnant by a family member.

    The pro forces say they have taken care of this by including an option to have a judge make the decision.  (Would you trust a random judge to make this sort of decision for you?)
    The anti forces are particularly concerned about rural girls and the difficulties they already face.

    Types of Parents and Types of Kids

    As I see it, we have a continuum of parents from 

    1. Parents who essentially have abandoned their kids to do their own thing - either because they are working so much, or they are dysfunctional and can't control their own lives let alone their kids' lives. 
    2. Parents who teach their kids to make age appropriate decisions about their lives and encourage them to become independent and think for themselves as they mature and give them the skills and information to do this - including birth control and sexual health information.
    3. Parents who want to keep a close control of their kids and have very specific expectations for how their kids should behave and what they should do, even if the kid doesn't fit their mold.  
    There are more different kinds of parents along the line and I'm sure readers could fill in different types of parents and where they fit on the continuum.

    There are also different kinds of kids:


    1.  Kids who are physiologically incapable of making many decisions for themselves.  FAS kids, for instance, come with many different kinds of abilities, some of whom really can't make good long term decisions and need protection from being taken advantage of even as adults.

    2.  Kids whose families have not prepared them to make responsible decisions or who temperamentally are not suited to making important decisions on their own.

    3.  Kids who have good smarts and have been trained or simply had an aptitude  to take personal responsibility and make important decisions about their lives.

    I guess what I'm saying is that we can't generalize about the power relationship between kids and their parents.  In some cases the kids are better equipped to make important decisions about their own lives.  In other cases not.

    There are cases where good kids make it through bad families, and there are cases where despite the best parenting, the kids turn out difficult.

    I would argue that most parents would like their kids to consult them for important decisions.  And I dare say that in most families this happens.  In cases where girls cannot be persuaded by counselors to include their parents in the decision, I would guess that the girls probably have a good reason.  But not always. 

    Does it really matter if it passes or not?

    In the KSKA debate both sides seemed to agree that there were about 125 girls under 18 who have abortions in an average year in Alaska.  If it's true that 90% inform their parents (and I didn't hear the pro-forces challenge this), then all this is about 12 girls a year.  It doesn't stop them from getting abortions, it only delays it for 48 hours or so.  This may prevent a few girls from getting abortions, or, as the anti forces argued, it may cause some girls to take desperate measures to end their pregnancy.

    Anti-abortion advocates will say that each abortion is a murder and so any abortion prevented is worth any effort.  I don't think abortion is a good thing.  No surgical procedure is a good thing if it can be prevented.  Rather than spend all this time and money on trying to change the law this way, it seems to me that everyone's time would have been better spent on serious sex education and birth control to make sure that there are simply fewer unwanted pregnancies and this would decrease the number of pregnancies.

    Other Issues

    It was suggested that this law would make doctors consider their own legal liability when trying to determine what is best for their patient.  Doctors have to deal with informing parents and in some cases getting girls to judges. 

    The pro forces have very effectively taken the comparison between parents permission required for schools to give a kid an aspirin to their not even being informed that their daughters are pregnant.

    There is a major difference here though.  Schools are not medical institutions and except for school nurses the personal are not medically trained.  These rules are in place to be sure that a teacher or an aide doesn't give an aspirin to a kid who is allergic to aspirin and would have a serious reaction.

    Doctors, however, will be making the decisions about whether the child has an abortion.  I don't know how they work out getting the girl's medical record before making this decision.  And some girls may not even have a medical record. 

    I did another post the other day that suggested if people didn't read and/or understand the bill, they should either not vote or vote no.  I would advise anyone who hasn't read this bill and doesn't understand it after they read it, should simply skip this measure and go on and vote for the candidates.  Or they should vote no.