Sunday, January 31, 2016

Smooth And Wise - Some of US's Most Astute Observers Of Racism In Anchorage Monday And Tuesday

First Alaskans are having a blockbusting conference on racial equality Monday and Tuesday with outstanding national and local experts here.

Here's the whole program.  Things start at 8am Monday, but you could probably drop in whenever you have time.

Also, you can watch the keynote speakers live online.

Here's one of J. Smooth's recent videos.

And Tim Wise's.  Tim's been here before with Healing Racism In Anchorage and I got to meet him then.  He was fantastic.  He knows his stuff!

Here's more on some of the speakers from First Alaskans' website:

Panigkaq Agatha John-Shields & Piiyuuk Olivia Shields (Yup’ik) – powerful mother/daughter educators for indigenous knowledge systems and advocates for racial equity.
Tim Wise – among the nation’s most prominent antiracist essayists and educators. He has spent the past 20 years speaking on methods for dismantling institutional racism.
Maori Whanau – featuring Kate Cherrington and invited guests – the indigenous peoples of New Zealand have a unique voice and experience that can inform and inspire us to look beyond the status quo at what is possible when respect for indigenous peoples is the foundation upon which the wider racial equity movement is built upon.
Jay Smooth – a New York-based hip-hop scholar and cultural commentator, best known for his award-winning Ill Doctrine web video series, shares messages that both call out what is happening while giving solid instruction and ideas on how to transform our society.
Gyasi Ross – an attorney, author, and spoken word artist from the Blackfeet and Suquamish Reservations. Ross uses storytelling to deepen the understanding of Native American and social justice topics, giving us the opportunity to better understand, from a creative, cultural, and political context how history, oppression, and laws work.
E.J.R. David – a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, from Barrow, known for his advocacy and commitment to his Filipino heritage, and his research and publications on micro-aggressions, internalized oppression, and post-colonial psychology, to name a few. He is also a founding member of We Are Anchorage and is a member of the FAI ANDORE Visionary Council.
The 1491s – a sketch comedy group based in the wooded ghettos of Minnesota and buffalo grass of Oklahoma using humor to bring light to issues that indigenous communities face in America today.
There will also be an array of other Alaskans dedicated to racial equity, with powerful stories and expertise to share. The speakers will also have an opportunity to host interactive workshops and dialogues for deeper connection to their work, methods, and knowledge.
The theme is built upon respect and inclusion, and the summit is open to those interested in advancing racial equity as a shared value of all Alaskans. This is a working summit, so participants should be prepared to be part of making it a great experience. It will be an intergenerational, multicultural gathering, and youth under 18 are welcome with a chaperone. Our goal is that participants will leave the summit inspired and prepared to act and engage in exponential change at all levels – systemic, institutional, interpersonal, and personal.
Media credentials are available upon request. The registration fee will be waived for students and Elders.

Updates On Old Posts - Porno Condom Use in LA, Paxson's Poster And Creole Cowboy

Life moves along and things I've blogged about evolve.

An LA Times story the other day says a settlement looks close in the lawsuit against an LA vote to require porn actors to wear condoms.  The original post was in 2012  when voters approved the measure, and there was a follow up in 2013 when the first court decision came out. Apparently the condoms will stay, but the enforcement will be weaker.

And this year's Anchorage Folk Festival poster was done by Paxson Woelber, who I interviewed in 2009 when two of his short animations were in the Anchorage International Film Festival.

And don't miss the last night of the festival - Sunday, starting at 7pm at Wendy Williamson auditorium at UAA.  Jeffrey Broussard & the Creole Cowboys will play again.  The festival is free and it's one of the events that makes Anchorage a great place to live.

Is this part an update?  Well, the poster leads to the festival and I've got posts from previous folk festivals.
2011.  This one has Kabala Shish Kebab.
2008.  Cajun and Creole is pretty popular up here.

There's a bit of video from Friday night to give you a sense of what they're like.  And only a sense, since I recorded this with my tiny Canon Powershot.  If you go to the festival, you'll get to hear their sound for real.  They'll be a number of other acts before them, you can come when you want.  Friday the auditorium was packed.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Why Did The Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor? Has Anything Changed?

The China Mirage tells the story of how missionaries serving in China and wealthy descendants of opium traders (like both the Roosevelt presidents) believed in the Christianization and Americanization of China and were easy prey for the Soong sisters who were married to Chiang Kai-Shek, Sun Yat Sun, and the richest man in China, banker H.H. Kung.  Their Chinese father had gone to college in the US in the late 1800s and became a Methodist.  And saw how much money Christians were sending to China and decided to take advantage.  All three sisters had gone to Wesleyan college in Georgia and spoke excellent American English.  Their brother TV Soong, graduated from Harvard and played an important role negotiating with top American leaders, including President Franklin Roosevelt.

Author James Bradley makes the argument that the Soong family took advantage of Americans' desire to believe that China was ready to become Americanized and Christian.  They helped form, with a number of prominent Americans, including the son of American missionaries in China, Henry Luce, the owner of Time  and Life magazines, The China Lobby.  Bradley tells us Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Mayling were on Time's cover more than any other people on the planet, including being Man of the Year in 1937. The Lobby painted this greatly misleading picture of China for politicians and the American public.

This false image of China played well and led, according to author Bradley, to disastrous results in China and Southeast Asia.  By aligning with the Soongs and Chiang Kai-Shek, Americans failed to see the rise of Mao in China and speeded up World War II's spread  into the Pacific. The US gave money and weapons to the Soong-Chiang alliance to fight the Japanese who had invaded Manchuria, but Chiang was more interested in fighting Mao and Ailing, the oldest sister, was more interested in filling her husband's bank.

There are lots of examples in the book of Americans dealing with the Soong-Chiangs - Americans who spoke no Chinese and had no background in Chinese history or present.  They'd go to China for a week on tour led by the Soongs, and come back with reports of their great army and how some military help would keep the Japanese at bay.  Bradley even says that the Soongs staged war zones and suggests that the Japanese soldiers they showed them in the binoculars were really Chinese actors.  The results almost always that the Soong's, with their perfect American English, good looks, and charming ways, successfully sell their highly misleading story of China and China's affinity to the US.

Overlooked was Mao's growing power and bond with Chinese peasants who made up most of the population, the loyalty and enthusiasm of Mao's army, or the incompetence of Chiang's army, and Chiang's interest in fighting Mao rather than the Japanese.  And not known to most, was that many of those Americans - missionaries, diplomats, businessmen - who lobbied for the Soongs, were also on their payroll.

Here's the plan one of their American educated Chinese employees offered to gain US support:
"1.  Recruit American missionaries, arm them with evidence of Japanese atrocities, and have them return to the U.S. to give testimony and speeches. (Tong emphasized that the American target audience would not know that the paid missionaries were acting as agents for the Soong-Chiang syndicate.  Tong wrote that he would 'search for international friends who understand the realities and politics of the Chinese war of resistance and have them speak for us, with Chiinese never coming to the fore.')
2.  Hire Frank Price (Mayling's favorite missionary) to lead the missionary campaign.
3.  Recruit American newsmen and authors to write favorable articles and books."
Besides lobbying for money and arms, they were lobbying to stop the US from selling oil and steel and other materials to Japan, which Japan used to invade and bomb China.  People at the State Department feared an embargo would prod Japan to retaliate.  At the very least, Japan would head south to take over the oil in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).  Having read other accounts of this battle in FDR's administration, I'm surprised that Bradley never (well, I still have another hundred pages to go, but I'm 3/4 into the book) mentions another argument - the money that US oil companies were making and and how that was helping an economy still recovering from the Great Depression.

Probably, you can see where I'm going with all this.  We know this is still going on today.  Who did the Bush administration rely on for advice on invading Iraq?  Which Afghans and Syrians have been advising our government on Afghanistan and Syria?  To what extent have Western educated natives of those countries been able to have undue credibility because their knowledge of English and of the US was so superior to our knowledge of their countries?  And how misleading were their assessments of how the war was going and how was their own personal wealth affected?

There were Americans who understood what was going on in China.  The US embassy's military attaché in China, in 1936, Colonel Joseph Stilwell, for example,
"observed Chiang's dragooned 'scarecrow' soldiers:  many were less than four and a half feet tall, under fourteen years of age, and barefoot.  Stilwell wrote in his diary, 'The wildest stretch of the imagination could not imagine the rabble in action except running away.'
Forty pages later,
[Colonel Stilwell] wrote:  'No evidence of planned defense against further Japanese encroachment.  No troop increase or even thought of it.  No drilling or maneuvering.  Stilwell also observed Mao's warriors, about whom he noted, 'Good organization, good tactics.  They do not want the cities.  Content to rough it in the country.  Poorly armed and equipped, yet scare the Government to death.'"
Then there's the secret army that FDR sends to China (led by the man who will be Stilwell's biggest nemesis later when Stilwell's in command of the US military in China.)
"Roosevelt was now running an off-the-books secret executive airforce through Ailing's front companies.  Claire Chennault was a private contractor - a mercenary - being paid by the China Lobby.  Roosevelt was sheep-dipping:  taking U.S. personnel, cleansing them with the fiction of their resignations, and then sending them off as secret mercenaries.  Today, many mistakenly believe that Chennault's mission was an American invention controlled by the U.S. military, but when he returned to Asia, Chennault reported back to Washington not through American military channels but privately, through his boss, T.V. Soong."
Bradley argues that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because Dean Acheson managed to block oil shipments in August 1941 without Roosevelt knowing.  This, plus the mercenary air force in China, and the movement of US navy ships to Hawaii, sent signals to Japan that led the Japanese to do what neither the Japanese nor the Americans wanted - start a war between the two nations.  While our history books paint the Pearl Harbor attack as a dastardly, the US was already supplying China with bombers and pilots - offensive weapons that could be used to attack Japan.

Disturbing that not much has changed.  Even though we have better access to information about what our leaders are doing, there is still much we don't know.  And Edward Snowden is still in Russia because they don't want us to know.  Democracies are in a quandary.  There's a need for voters to be able to assess what their leaders are doing, yet you don't want your enemies to know as well.  But better understanding of the Soongs well funded and massive campaign at the time, might have helped people ask for a more accurate assessment.  It will be very interesting to hear what Obama and others have to say in 20 years about who was doing what to influence our foreign policy in his administration.

I'm a little skeptical of Bradley.  I think he too may be overly sold on his own thesis.  Despite the power of the China Lobby, FDR's leadership style has his subordinates constantly in competition.  Instead of groupthink, there seemed to have been epic battles over policy, with FDR getting to hear a wide range of views.  Though the groupthink link above gives the failure to anticipate the bombing of Pearl Harbor as an example.  The book makes it clear that Secretary of State Hull was vehemently opposed to the oil embargo in fear of prodding the Japanese into a Pacific war, but I don't think bombing Hawaii was what they had in mind.  This may not have been so much groupthink as failure to understand what the Japanese were thinking.  There's an interesting passage in the book where Secretary of State Hull negotiates with the Japanese ambassador, a former naval admiral whose English was poor.  They didn't use an interpreter and the book's account has the ambassador not understanding Hull's warning and sending back to Japan a totally incorrect interpretation of Hull's message.

While we are warned that history repeats itself, it's also true that picking the wrong examples from history leads to bad assessments.  The domino theory was a key argument to get into Vietnam after Eastern Europeans fell into the Soviet sphere in 1946.  But was it the right one?  Would the Southeast Asian countries have fallen one-by-one to Communist leaders had we not gone to war in Vietnam?  That's still debated, but in part, we supported authoritarian pro-Western leaders (at least those who portrayed themselves that way as did the Soongs) over the nationalist, anti-colonial leaders, like Ho Chi Minh, who found support from the Soviets when we rejected them.

Life is endlessly complicated and seeing through the complications to the real issues is too.  Probably why a candidate like Trump appeals to a sizable minority - he makes it all simple.  He tells them what they want to believe, just as the Soongs did.

[Update Jan 31, 2016:  I should have mentioned that a 2012 post goes through Doris Kearns Goodwin's description  (in No Ordinary Time) of the lead up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Bradley's book cites Goodwin's book, and there's nothing that's inconsistent, but the two emphasize different details.]

Friday, January 29, 2016

Officials Shoot Oregon Protestor - What Does The Video Mean?

Officials shot one of the Oregon protesters at a road block.  They've released the video.  Lots of thoughts go through my head. 

Once more, why aren't officers trained in non-lethal restraint and capture? A shooting and a death should be the very last resort.   Cops who kill should be thought of as failing to do their jobs.  But they need better training.   I think of Asian martial arts masters whose training is for self-defense, and who use their control of their bodies to disarm their enemies. But a gun is so much easier. No years of training of the body and the mind.  Just pull a trigger.

I can't help but think - well, white guys get shot too.  But that's not the answer.  No one should get shot except in the most extreme circumstances.  I think the approach to wait things out was good.  Let the cold and the boredom take down the protesters.   The buildings are high priority places, particularly in the winter.  But then, why this?  Where's Zorro with his whip when we need him?  Where are all the Kung Fu masters?

I think of how people watching this who have no sympathy for the protesters, DO have sympathy for other protesters, and vice versa.

I think, in the future, others who see this will think:  if they're just going to die anyway, why not crash into the vehicles and take some cops with them, rather than swerve off into the snow?   Or maybe he thought he'd get around them.   This does counter the report that he was on his knees with his hands held high, but it still doesn't look good.

OK, these are all things that go through my head as I watch the video.  Maybe it only means that a cop, in a high adrenalin situation panicked and pulled the trigger.

The bigger issues are why Americans are angry and divided.  They involve the income disparity in the US.  College grads facing graduation with huge debts that cut down their options.  They need to get a job and pay off the debts.   They have less room to fail.  Of course, that's a luxury that Americans have had - second, third, and fourth chances - that other people around the world don't have. Many don't even have first chances.  

And even those who went into 'sure career' fields, like petroleum engineering, find out that timing is everything.  And it's older folks facing retirement with not much savings.  It's hard working folks who have saved their money who think their success is solely their own doing, who don't see the help they got along the way.  And feel no sympathy for those who didn't have the skills or the will power or the luck to retire financially comfortable.  And maybe they've got money, but the pursuit of that money has left many of their family members wounded.

The reports of white males' life expectancy dropping surely tells us something about the fears behind their bravado.
" Mortality rates were 60% to 76% higher than they would have been if the trends of the 1980s and 1990s had continued in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma."
Six of the seven mentioned are in the top ten most religious states.  And six are the six poorest states in the country (Oklahoma is #13.)

Anger and violence breed anger and violence.  Cooperation and generosity require a basic level of self-confidence and trust.  Yet even the most bitter are willing to give their money or their time to help others.

There are no easy answers.  We need to start talking to each other, stop demonizing each other, find common ground.  We need to stop fomenting hate and giving attention to those who do.

Ramble, ramble, ramble.

One thing that I can only hope might come from this video:  Angry white males watching this might, for even an instant, relate to angry blacks watching their sons shot by police.  Though most of the blacks we've seen killed on video last year were unarmed.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

41˚F And Treacherous

41˚F sounds pretty reasonable for an Anchorage January evening.   But freezing rain on already cold streets is nasty.

A sheet of ice on the street.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Senate Majority Poll Finds 48% Of Survey Takers Support A State Income Tax at 25% Of Federal Income Tax

When I got the email survey last week from the Senate Majority, my eyebrows went up a bit when I saw that their income tax question pegged the tax at 25% of the federal income tax.  I'd just heard the governor's state of the state address where he proposed a 1% level.

Surely, this was meant to suppress the income tax support, I thought.  And today's ADN had a commentary by Dermot Cole making that same point.

And now I got an email with the results of the poll.  I checked the question on income tax first.  Even at 25% of the federal tax, 49% responded positively!  That must be a surprise to the Senate majority.

Click to focus 

There are several full blog posts to write about here.

1.  About the governor's state of the state address - which I thought was a refreshingly clear, straightforward, and honest outlining of the situation.  He laid it all out.  This much is our gap.  We can:

  • Cut
  • Use Permanent Fund and Other Reserves
  • Raise New Revenue

He pointed out that cutting all state employees wouldn't put much of a dent into the deficit.  For some people, shutting down government is the only way they will start to see all the things they depend on the state government for.  Immediate impacts will be no state troopers, no snow plowing or other road maintenance, prisoners would all starve in their cells or have to be released.  You think you'd have trouble flying because Alaska hasn't adopted real ID drivers' licenses, wait until we have no licenses at all, or license plates.  What will the Canadian border folks do with all our out of date plates trying to go through?  The airports would shut down.  Then there are things that will take longer to happen - people will start getting sick from things like bad water.  But that's another post.

The governor offered some options - what he wanted from the Permanent Fund (no limits, but the dividend would come off oil royalties, not investment earnings as I understood the speech), what size income tax (1% of Federal), and no sales tax.  He explained why he made the choices he did - income tax would capture those who were not residents of Alaska but worked here and sales tax is local government's way to raise money and he didn't want to add a state sales tax on top of the local taxes.

And then he said he wasn't set on the specific options, but he was set on the outcome.  He got the biggest applause when he said, "I will always put Alaska’s future above my own.  I didn’t run for gov to keep the job, but to do the job."

2.  About the different revenue options and who wins and loses from each.

Since corporations don't get Permanent Fund Dividends but they do pay income taxes, you can guess what they want.  More money from the Permanent Fund and no income taxes.  We should tap into the Permanent Fund, because that's what it was set up for in the long run - to be an endowment for Alaska.  The non-renewable oil could be turned into renewable capital, and a portion of the state's budget could be funded from the interest.  They key is how big a hit the Permanent Fund should take now and whether income taxes should also be added in.

Poorer folks get a bigger benefit from the PFD than the wealthy.  They would pay less in income taxes.  And they would pay a bigger percent of their income on a sales tax than the wealthy.

And who has the money to sway the public?  The poor and middle income or the wealthy and the corporations?  You can see where this is leading.

GCI has already started a coalition to push for big hits for the Permanent Fund.

But 48,2% in support of an income tax that's 25% of the federal tax is huge!

But the legislative majority hasn't been too good about paying attention to what people think if it's not what they think.  They're still suing the governor over medicaid expansion, despite overwhelming public support.

I'd also note that the * with the explanation for the 25% figure (that's what Oregon has) was NOT on the survey itself.

Here's a link to all the poll responses.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What's Jamie Love Doing These Days?

When we got to Anchorage in 1977, Jamie Love, as the founder and director of the Alaska Public Interest Group (AKPIRG) was reviled daily in the Anchorage Times for raising questions about equity, about the environment, about anything that challenged those with power.  I don't have the constitution to take that kind of regular abuse and I was in awe of him.

Stephen Cysewski posted a FB link to a Guardian article about Jamie today, fighting big pharmaceutical companies whose patents often mean people die because they can't afford the jacked up price of drugs.  It's worth reading.  One more person who cut his teeth in Alaska and went on to make a big difference in the world.  Way to go Jamie.

It begins like this:
"On a hot August afternoon in 2000, four Americans arrived for a secret meeting at the central London penthouse flat of an Indian billionaire drug manufacturer named Yusuf Hamied. A sixth person would join them there, a French employee of the World Health Organisation, who was flying in from Geneva, having told his colleagues he was taking leave. 
Hamied took his guests into the dining room on the seventh floor. The room featured a view of the private gardens of Gloucester Square, Bayswater, for which only the residents possess a key. The six men sat round a glass dining table overlooked by a painting of galloping horses by a Mumbai artist (Hamied has racehorses stabled in three cities). The discussion, which went on all afternoon and through dinner that evening at the Bombay Palace restaurant nearby, would help change the course of medical history.
The number of people living with HIV/Aids worldwide had topped 34 million, many of them in the developing world. Hamied and his guests were looking for a way to break the monopoly held by pharmaceutical companies on Aids drugs, in order to make the costly life-saving medicines available to those who could not pay.
 Hamied was the boss of Cipla, a Mumbai-based company founded by his father to make cheap generic copies of out-of-patent drugs. He had met only one of the men before – Jamie Love, head of the Consumer Project on Technology, a not-for-profit organisation funded by the US political activist, Ralph Nader. Love specialised in challenging intellectual property and patent rules. For five years, he had been leading high-profile campaigners from organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières in a battle to demolish patent protection."

Here's the whole article. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

I Don't Believe In Contests, But . . .

Today was supposed to be the deadline for submitting material to the Alaska Press Club Annual Contest.  These are awards the organization gives out to its members every year.  There are lots and lots of categories and not too much about how they are judged.  My understanding is that the submissions are sent out to judges out of state - a different judge for each category - and they decide.

Each submission costs $15 to send in by the early deadline and $20 by the late deadline.  Today was the early deadline, but I got an email saying it was extended until tomorrow.  The fees, from what I can tell, help pay for the Press Club, which puts on an annual conference that has pretty interesting speakers from around the country and beyond.  I've done a few posts from the conferences over the last couple of years.

I'm leary, though of these kinds of contests.  Do they really mean anything?  I submitted stuff for a couple of categories a few years ago in the hopes that there weren't many bloggers who would submit and if I won, I could then point to my Press Club award as some sort of independent evaluation that the blog was not just one of the thousands of Alaska blogs.  I even won a couple of awards which served my purpose.  The next year all my submissions were lost.  I got a refund eventually.  Last year I got a couple more awards - in the best news and current events blog category and in the best commentary blog category.  I even got an award in the arts reporting, which wasn't restricted to blogs.

I have continued to participate in the contest because I find it useful to go through a year's worth of posts and assess how well I did.  Are there posts I'm proud enough to submit?  Reviewing them makes me proud sometimes and often makes me cringe.

So I'm hoping to have a list of posts to send in tomorrow for the best news and current events blogs category again.  And also maybe a couple of other categories.  Looking through the list of categories, it appears they've combined the news blog and commentary blog and added a 'best feature blog' category.  I've been trying to review the year's worth of posts, and I have some long lists of potential ones to submit, but I'm glad for the extra day.  But winnowing them down to about ten to package together is hard.

I was trying to get posts that I thought were good and important.  But as I made a last sweep through Blogspot's back pages that shows number of hits and comments, I was surprised by which posts had the most hits.

Comments about computer problems score high.   I don't get that many hits.  It's hard to say because the two different measures I use differ wildly.  Statcounter says I average about 9000 page views a month or 300 a day.  GoogleAnalytics gives me about 1500 - 2000 page views a day.  That's a big gap.  Of course, those hits aren't all for the current day's post.  There are over 5000 posts in the archives and google send people into those older posts.

My hypothesis about the relatively low number of comments is that my writing is usually not confrontative or inflammatory.  It's more calm and reasoned.  People don't feel compelled to disagree or correct errors.  Another possible explanation is that many posts are so long and complicated that people never get to the comment button.  But I get enough feedback from folks that the people who matter in particular issues do read what I write about those issues.

So, this list is much longer than I can offer the Press Club, and these aren't necessarily my favorite posts, though some are.  They're just the posts with the greatest number of hits (from Blogspot.)  I'm putting the number of hits and comments next to them.  If there's only one number, it's the number of hits and there were no comments.

Here are posts that the most readers saw.

Sitemeter Out of Control  -  2374 hits  24 comments

Happy Thanksgiving Political Correctness  1648    I do think this is an important post.  I was very surprised to see it had gotten so many hits.

Selma's Garbage Bag Problem  -  1156  6   Again, surprised about this.  This is not a very important post, though it does fit the 'how do you know what you know?' theme of the blog.

Famous People Born In 1915 - It Was A Very Good Year  -  1117   -  This is an interesting post and it makes sense that lots of people got here.  There was a follow-up post or two.

The Impact of Modern Day Shaming - 784  14   - Not a bad post, it looks at how people judging others on the internet can really disrupt others' lives.  A little herd mentality.  Another ways of knowing post.

Hello Statcounter Goodbye Sitementer - 567  -  This is a followup to Sitemeter Out of Control.

Why I Live Here - Quill Bailey and Rachel Barton Pine, and Eduard Zilberkant Play Down The Street - 507 4   I really like that this one did well.

Would More Women Police Officers Reduce Police Violence?    - 496  A solid post.  One I'm considering for my list for the Press Club.

Soon I'll do the posts that I liked the post.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Serendipity? Coincidence? Or Is Everything Just Connected?

We tend to see coincidences all the time, that there's a million to one chance of these things happening.  But I'm convinced it's just that most people are bad at math and worse at statistics and probability.  I did a post in 2014 on a chance meeting I had once where it turned out the odds were not really as great as they first seemed.

That's all introduction to two connections that came from reading last week.  Amazing how reading books fills in holes in one's knowledge.  I'd picked up two books from my daughter and son-in-law's bookshelves while waiting for things to get moving.  One fairly deep, one more a sensational "action packed thrill ride" as the back cover described it.

1.  Here's a headline from last week:
"Putin's agents accused of killing Litvinenko left polonium radiation in British embassy"
Normally, I'd have just read the polonium part and it wouldn't have meant anything.  It would have been just another word.  Even though I didn't understand it, I got the context, and probably wouldn't have looked it up.  Though blogging has gotten me to look up things a lot more so I don't miss something before I post.

But I've been reading a biography of Marie Curie - Obsessive Genius  by Barbara Goldsmith.  As part of Curie's discovery of radioactivity and of radium, she and her husband Pierre also discovered another radioactive element which she called polonium after her native country Poland. (Her maiden name was Sklodowski.)  The discussion of the process of discovering polonium suggests the difficulty of separating it from other substances and of measuring it, but also of its power:
"Pierre scrawled in their workbook that Marie had produced a substance accompanying bismuth that was 17 times more radioactive than pure uranium alone, then two weeks later 150 times as radioactive, then 300, then 330.  The radioactivity of this last substance was so great that Marie was convinced she had discovered a new element.  But how to confirm it?  A sure way was by a fetid now as spectroscopy and the EPCI was fortunate in having a resident expert in this field, Eugéne Demarçay.  Spectroscopy involved the heating of an element until it became a glowing gas and then refracting the light it emitted through a prism.  This resulted in a rainbow pattern of light, or spectra.  No two elements produced the same pattern of light.  .  .  Demarçay tested Marie's substance but said it was not sufficiently pure to produce a spectrum.  Though bitterly disappointed, she marched back to the laboratory.  Within ten days she had, in her words, "obtained a substance 400 times as active as uranium alone."  Demarçay tested this substance, but once again could not produce a clear spectral line." [p. 86]
But given other researchers racing to publish, they published their results, with appropriate qualifications, and eventually, the existence of a new element, polonium, was established.

2.  Jack Reacher, the hero of Lee Child's Bad Luck And Trouble, finds himself in Seattle (as I do right now.)  He had to immediately get to LA.
"[He] bought a one-way ticket on United to LAX.  He used his passport for ID and his ATM card as a debit card.  The one-way walk-up fare was outrageous.  Alaska Airlines would have been cheaper, but Reacher hated Alaska Airlines.  They put a scripture card on their meal trays.  Ruined his appetite."
I did have to smile.   I fly on Alaska Airlines a lot.   I also had to look at when the book was published. Copyright was 2007.  I remember those prayer cards.  They were religiously fairly bland, but still irksome to have a corporation that had me locked in to flying tube for several hours telling me that I needed to pray.  But the cards are gone now.   Alaska Airlines didn't stop using the prayer cards until 2012.  Of course, the free meal trays on flights are also gone.  I wonder how long it took Alaska Airlines folks to find out they'd been slammed in a "#1 New York Times Bestselling author" as the book jacket proclaims.  I guess that means that at least one of his books had been number one, but not this one.

Coincidences?  That I read about polonium in the news and in the book at just about the same time?  No.  Many books I read connect directly to something else that's going on while I'm reading the book. If you read a lot, you're going to know more.  If you know enough stuff, you're going to find connections to what you know everywhere.  And as you know more, words like polonium take on deeper meanings, ideas grow from slogans to complex relationships.  You start seeing patterns.  Things start to make sense. The complexity part was one of the reasons I posted the cartoon the other day.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

What If Media Audio For Black and White Street Violence Were Switched?

We took our granddaughter to a music class.  You know, sit in a circle, move your arms and legs to the music, dance around, keep time with sticks, and other toddler appropriate rhythm activities.  The teacher singing songs to children and making them all feel comfortable and getting them involved.

But there was more to this talented woman that playing with toddlers.  We got to talking before the class and she said she was really interested in how things seem versus how they really are, about how people know things.  As we talked more she suggested this video, which is a pretty good followup to yesterday's post.

It looks at media coverage of street violence - black lives matter demonstrations and white students after a sports loss.  Amazing the different rhetoric - thugs vs. students,  riot vs. party gone awry, criminals v. young people.  Coverage of black demonstrations questions "where's the leadership" but when white students turning over cars and burning the campus there are no question about where their parents are.

Then they replay the shots of white violence, but use the audio from coverage of black protests.

A great way to get people to see how the media subtly projects racist views that see blacks as bad guys and whites as just getting a bit out of hand.

This comes from a group called Brave New Films.

[Yet another Feedburner problem.  This seems to be getting all too common. I add these notices for two reasons. 1.  For those who found this post another way, I'm sorry if you were fooled into coming back. And 2.   I'm also keeping track of how many times Feedburner takes more than an hour or two to kick in.]

Friday, January 22, 2016

"They stomp on our neck, , ,"

This is the kind of rhetoric that gets conservatives telling black protestors to stop whining.

Except this wasn't black lives matter folks who said this.  No, this was my former governor when she endorsed Donald Trump the other day.

From New York Times (Palin's Trump endorsement speech):
“They stomp on our neck, and then they tell us, ‘Just chill, O.K., just relax.’ Well, look, we are mad, and we’ve been had. They need to get used to it.”
It's amazing how people can feel their own pain and get outraged about it, but have no patience for the pain of others.  And that goes for liberals who can't get into the heads of poor white males who see their position in the world declining rapidly.  I'm not saying these folks are right, but at least I can imagine why they're mad.

And here's another Palin bit I picked up at Immoral Minority that he got from ABC.
"My family is no different than other families that are dealing with some of the ramifications of war. And just really appreciate people who will support our troops and make sure that they are treated better than illegal immigrants for one."

Let's look at that second sentence.
"support our troops and make sure they are treated better than illegal immigrants for one."
First, let's look at the term 'illegal immigrants.'   What makes an immigrant 'illegal'? I think what people actually mean by this term is something like 'immigrant who broke the law coming into the US"?   Cause if that's the case, shouldn't we call US citizens who break the law while living here "illegal citizens."?  Like people who drive over the speed limit?  Or drive while legally drunk?  Or who punch out their girlfriends?

Second, what about our troops who ARE illegal immigrants?  What do you do then?  Distinguish between our troops who are fully documented US citizens or residents and those troops who are not?  We could come up with a catchy slogan, "Support our troops, but only if they are legal US residents."

Yes, for those scratching their heads about 'illegal' troops, the military has a program to take in undocumented immigrants.  A couple of 2014 bills, for example, to expand this practice were sponsored by Republicans: Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., and Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

Why, you might ask, do I even bother looking at what Palin says?  Mostly I don't, but these quotes were in my face online (another good reason to be online less) and I like to have tidbits like this ready in case I run into a Palin/Trump believer.  Unfortunately, most of them seem to be so busy being righteously indignant about their loss of privilege with the erosion of racial and gender discrimination that facts and rational arguments don't make an impact.

A Bit of Exercise

The sun's been finding big holes in the clouds that dumped a couple of inches of rain yesterday here on Bainbridge Island, so I grabbed my daughter's bike and moved my legs.  I stopped at Manitou Beach, a tiny stretch of rocks and shells and driftwood with a mirage of downtown Seattle floating out in the distance.

Looking closer to in.

A driftwood shellf.

A stray rain cloud blew by while I was stopped at the beach so I decided to head back.  But the sun was out again on the way home.  It's setting now, still light, but the temp has dropped about 20 degrees since earlier this afternoon.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Bittersweet Humor - Science v. Everything Else And Delta's Breakup Letter To Juneau

This certainly is relevant to this blog's theme of how we know things.

Click to enlarge and focus - Found in LA Times Jan 20, 2015

My immediate reaction was a bittersweet smile.  So true.  So sad.  But this really depends on how one defines science.

Full blown rigorous western science with quantification and experimenting doesn't answer every question, but not everything can be broken down and measured.  Particularly social behaviors.

And there are less rigorous (in a pure science sense) ways of knowing.  Scientists in Alaska have learned to pay attention to traditional Native Alaskan knowledge on things like weather, animal behavior, ice conditions, medicinal herbs etc.  There's just a long accumulation of knowledge over generations.

Even the divide between simple, quick, superficial answers versus more complex ones can be questioned.  Many biblical justifications we hear are long and complex.  They can also be just wrong. And there is also a lot of wisdom in the bible, but like with the Constitution, it has to be interpreted in the context of what science has since revealed.  For instance the requirements to rotate crops, to leave the leftover harvests on the ground for the hungry, the ideas about jubilee years when debts are forgiven, are all good for social animals to heed.

I'll leave it at that.  It's a heavy, grey, rainy day on Bainbridge Island, makes Anchorage inviting, especially with the reports I'm seeing on great auroras.   I've got a short time here before I'm playing grandpa again..

So let me offer you, for another bittersweet smile,  this link to Delta's breakup letter to Juneau posted on One Hot Mess Alaska.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why Our Factory School System Fails Many Students

I'm reading a biography of Marie Curie and I was struck by the description of two key players - Curie's husband Pierre and New Zealand born scientist Ernest Rutherford.  Both were very slow in learning to read and write, but their minds were already working overtime on science. Consider what would happen to these kids in your local school district.

From Obsessive Genius:  The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith:
"At an early age [Pierre Curie] was unable to read or write but had an ability to visualize mathematical concepts far beyond his years.  His father, unusually enlightened for his time (1860's France), had realized that his son's spirit would be broken in a regular school.  He had decided on home schooling Pierre, aided by his wife an Jacques  Today, one would diagnose Pierre Curie as dyslexic.  His handwriting remained that of a child and his spelling was abominable.  .   .
At fourteen, Pierre developed an attachment to an excellent tutor who taught him mathematics and latin.  By the age of sixteen he had received his science baccalaureate and  . . . taking a degree in physics at the Sorbonne and enrolling at the School of Pharmacy in Paris . . ." (p. 57)
And later he would get a Nobel Prize in physics with his wife Marie.

And then there's a similar account a little later:
". . . [in] 1883, a boy of eleven, Ernest Rutherford, stood on the porch a New Zealand farmhouse while a thunderstorm approached.  His father, awakened by he storm, went downstairs to join his son.  What was he doing?  Ernest replied that he had figured out that by counting the seconds between the lightening flash and the thunderclap and allowing one second for the sound to travel 400 years, he could tell how close they were to the storm's center.  Until then Ernest, one of twele children of a potato farmer, had like Pierre Curie been considered slow.  Home-schooled, at eleven he could read but not write.  At twelve, he was lucky enough to find the first of a series of gifted teachers who inspired him to learn.  When he received his first full scholarship he told his mother, "I'e dug my last potato." [p. 80]

Ernest Rutherford went on to get the Nobel Prize in chemistry, though this bio doesn't mention that he  was slow to reading and writing.  A shame.

Why Is This Important?

Schooling used to be reserved for those who could afford to hire tutors for the kids.  As we moved to mass production schooling, we adopted the rationale of mass production factories.  Except in factories, the raw materials are relatively the same, whereas kids aren't.

But our schools have curricula that assume a kid's ability in all subjects will be at a certain level at a certain age.  If they aren't, the kid is considered a bit dim.  I've posted on the subject before.  Kids who do not have an academic bent, often learn fairly quickly that they are not as good as the others.  Instead of seeing where each kid is and then designing a curriculum for the kid, we design a curriculum for all kids a certain age and force the kid to conform or fail.

In doing so, we waste so many brains.  We cause kids to grow up feeling inferior and marginalized.  I'm sure a lot of home schooling parents and charter school supporters are people whose own school experiences weren't positive.

And this is one of those areas where the people on the left and the right agree there's a problem, but disagree on the solution.

UPDATED 1:30pm:  I probably should have said I'm not necessarily endorsing the book or the NYTimes review of it.  The best thing about the book is that it's short and gives some insight that I wouldn't otherwise have on Curie.  But I also wonder about how Goldsmith chose what to include and what not?  I'm sure it's not an accident that she put in the two references quoted above about kids who learned to read late, but were otherwise geniuses.  But the example of the thunderstorm in Obsessive Genius leaves out a part listed in the Rutherford link.  That he'd gotten a book on science in school that had an experiment about how to figure out the distance away of a cannon.  It's still clever to transfer that experiment to the thunder, but not as original as it might seem.  It's also at odds with the quote about him being kept out of school still when he was eleven.  There's not enough detail in the notes for me to understand how she determined what was the more accurate interpretation of the paper trail on Curie and others.

I'm adding this because there's yet another Feedburner problem.  This seems to be getting all too common. I add this for two reasons. For those who found this post another way, I'm sorry if you were fooled into coming back. And I'm also keeping track of how many times Feedburner takes more than an hour or two to kick in.] UPDATED 6:30pm:  The second try didn't catch Feedburner either. I found some unnecessary html code had gotten into the post (probably from cutting and pasting the quotes). Let's see if getting rid of that helps. But this one is a little trickier because there was a comment which gets lost when I delete the previous version of this post (so it's not up on the blog twice) and so I'm including the comment here at the end of the post.

UnknownWednesday, January 20, 2016 at 2:43:00 PM AKSTRemember when they would teach children to ask questions? Now they drug the kids who ask too many questions.

This time it got picked up within a minute.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Confessions Part 2 As We Leave Anchorage

I posted some thoughts on confessions just before boarding a plane to Seattle.  But I had more thoughts as we took off and before we got into the clouds.

Cook Inlet Ice as we take off

Making a Murderer is a disturbing yet compelling Netflix documentary series.  I gave some details of the confession - what it sounded like in the news and how it was actually obtained - in the previous post.

Here are some more thoughts the show raised for me.

Some specific issues for me:

The Certainty of the prosecutors and the defense attorneys.  The prosecutor and the investigators - even the initial court appointed defense attorney - were all certain that Steve Avery (Brendan's uncle) was guilty and that Brendan was an accomplice.  They didn't even consider other leads.  This certainty seemed to justify the way they got the confession.  They knew for sure that Brendan was guilty and they just needed to get him to admit it.  The defense attorneys were also certain.  The first court appointed attorney was sure of his guilt.  Later, the better attorneys who took over were sure of Steven Avery's and Brendan's innocence.  It's the job of the defense attorney to defend the accused.  But it's the job of the prosecutor to uphold justice.  His job in court is to present the evidence against the accused, but when information comes out that raises doubts, he should just relentlessly go after a conviction.  If the wrong person is convicted, it means the actual murderer is still loose and liable to find new victims.

Getting a Confession - How far to push?  If someone is guilty, it's better for the prosecution to get a confession.  It makes it easier to convict and you can get evidence on other culprits.  Prosecutors even make deals with suspects - 'We'll offer you less time in prison if you confess and cooperate with us on others involved in the crime."  It can also save the time and expense of a long trial if the suspect confesses and pleads guilty.  And if there is still an imminent danger - an unknown partner in crime still on the loose and dangerous - there is the added urgency of protecting people from harm right now.

Foraker and Denali Get Some Morning Sun

But what if the suspect is not guilty?  How far should the interrogator push?  This was a big issue with Guantanamo prisoners and waterboarding and other torture.  If the suspect is not guilty, one is inflicting unnecessary pain and/or anguish to an innocent victim or one gets a false confession when the suspect says whatever the interrogator wants him to say.

Findlaw tells us this was the reason for the protections against self incrimination in the US Constitution:
"The right against self-incrimination is rooted in the Puritans’ refusal to cooperate with interrogators in 17th century England. They often were coerced or tortured into confessing their religious affiliation and were considered guilty if they remained silent. English law granted its citizens the right against self-incrimination in the mid-1600s, when a revolution established greater parliamentary power.
Puritans who fled religious persecution brought this idea with them to America, where it would eventually become codified in the Bill of Rights. Today, courts have found the right against self-incrimination to include testimonial or communicative evidence at police interrogations and legal proceedings."
Getting a Confession - Use of Guile:  

Another issue is the use of lies to get a confession.  Interrogators led Brendan to believe that by telling the truth he would make his troubles go away.  He told them he needed to get back to school so he could turn in a paper and they implied that he needed to answer the questions first.  They asked if he wanted to go to prison for the rest of his life and when he said no, they said, then write down what you did.  They told him, "We know what you did, we just want you to say it."  Well, they didn't know.

About to fly up Eagle River valley 
Frontline tells a similar story about a girl name Troung:
"The detective also tells her that, if she confesses, they’ll “walk right out here, to special
crimes juvenile” to “talk to a social worker.” If not, he’ll consult with the medical examiner and start working on a murder case against her. . .
Finally Truong confesses, after being reassured by the detective that “maybe something good will come out of all this,” and that the courts will decide on what “treatment” she should get in the juvenile system. . ."
When you are dealing with a guilty suspect, you may have to use tricks to break them down and confess.  There are lots of strategies that we see in cop movies all the time, like Good Cop/Bad Cop.  But how does that work with the not guilty suspect?

The Frontline show goes on to say false confessions aren't as rare as people think.
"But are false confessions actually that rare? Brandon L. Garrett, a University of Virginia School of Law professor who recently wrote a book called Convicting the Innocent, says his research “suggests that innocents actually confess to a lot.” Forty of the first 250 people exonerated based on DNA evidence, or 16 percent, falsely confessed."
And why do people confess falsely?  They quote Troung about why she confessed, which sounds similar to Brendan's story:
So why did Truong confess to something she says she didn’t do? Why would anyone? “It was a pretty long two hours,” she told Boeri, “and all I could hear throughout those two hours was that they were going to give me help if I confessed.”
They falsely told her and Brendan that all they had to do was confess and they could go home.  In Brendan's case, that's all he wanted - to go home.  But they lied to him and chained him up and imprisoned him.  Is that kind of lying acceptable?

I think that different techniques are acceptable in different circumstances.  I'm not sure where the lines should be drawn, but introverted kids, like Brendan, with a low IQ and an inability to understand what is happening, are clearly on the no guile side of the line.  More important than locating that line, may be to insure that the person has an attorney present, though in Brendan's case, his attorney was part of the problem - enough so to be kicked off the case by the judge.

And over the Chugach 
Innocent or Guilty Presumption And The Need For Closure

We have trials to determine guilt or innocence.  The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Yet in the Avery case and in Brendan's case, it's clear that even Brendan's attorney considered him guilty.  (see the previous post on this.)
The Sheriff - It's critical police keep open some doubt about the suspect's guilt, simply so they don't stop looking for other suspects.  In Steven Avery's case, the sheriff's office ignored a tip from the local police that there was another suspect they'd been surveilling, except for the time of the crime.  That other suspect eventually - after Avery served 18 years in prison - was proven to be the culprit.  And he committed more crimes in the meantime.  And Avery, through DNA tests was proven not to be.
The Victim's Family - They want to believe the person who did that to their family member has been caught and punished.  In the Avery/Dacey cases, the victim's brother was certain from Day 1 that Avery and Dacey (Kevin) were guilty.  They ignored the inconsistencies.  But the family really does have an interest in the real perpetrator being caught and punished.  In Avery's original conviction (when he was proven innocent later) the victim positively identified him.  But later on, when the DNA proved he hadn't done it, she apologized.
The Media - They want to sell advertising.  They have a strong incentive to report the most titillating stories they can.  The reports of Brendan's confession dripped with blood and sex and murder.  The reports made it sound like Brendan, after stewing on this for months, came in and spilled his guts.  There's no hint the police picked him up at school and painstakingly fed him the story they believed and manipulated him until he eventually wrote what they wanted him to write.  The media didn't ncecssarily presume guilt as much as presume that sensationalism gets ratings.  But in going for gore, they planted the the presumption of guilt in the minds of their viewers and probably in their own minds.

Need For Closure
I suspect that the quick presumption of guilt in this case reflected a very human need for closure.
The Sheriff - When a brutal crime is committed in a small town, law enforcement has to feel some responsibility for not having prevented it.  Thus the sooner they catch the culprit, the closer they are to redeeming themselves.  And there has to be at least subconscious antagonism toward the suspect for making them look bad.
The Victim's Family - They too want to put this to rest as quickly as possible.  Knowing the person who hurt or killed your family member has been caught and is being punished, for many, is a big part of the grievance process.  Retribution seems to be part of human society.  So much so that punishing the wrong person is not a worry for most victims' relatives.  I'm not saying they knowingly will accept any culprit to punish, guilty or not, but rather their need for retribution helps them see guilt, even in the innocent.
The Media - They probably have the least need for closure, as the 2014 Republican presidential race demonstrates.  As long as an issue gets viewers and sells advertisements, they'll feed it to us.
The Public - They share the police and victim's family needs.  They want to know the perpetrator is off the streets and they are safe so they can go on leading their lives normally.  They want to believe that justice will prevail.  They've watched enough police and lawyer television shows that they believe that in the end, the smart defense attorney will pull her client out of the fire.  Until they experience their own injustice at the hands of the police or the courts, they just want the culprit caught and punished and they don't probe too deeply into the matter.

One Other Issue - Media Manipulation Of Trials

My sense is that the filmmakers seriously made this film because they thought an injustice was done.  At least that's how it came across to me.  But how do any of us know whether they fairly represented all sides of this case?  Because they were taking the side of the economically and educationally poor, outsiders of this community against the establishment - particularly the sheriff department and the court system - that their motives are relatively clean.  But then, how poor are the Avery's?  They've got 40 acres of land, they've got a great vegetable garden.  Is there a bigger story that the filmmakers missed that someone is trying to get their land?  Probably not.  It's upstate Wisconsin and there is probably plenty of land available.  You see how many threads one could unravel and follow here?

The film makers here did a great job of mixing entertainment and documentary.  A documentary should be accurate and explain complicated relationships AND be interesting to the viewer so they watch the whole thing.  That happened here.  I know my wife and I were totally pulled into the story and we were rooting for the good guys and angry at the bad guys.  The filmmakers succeeded in their mission.

 But will others see this model and do similar types of films, but with a sponsored message?  Will corporations use this style to push their agendas?  Will criminal organizations make similar films to make their own members look innocent?  This documentary wasn't available when El Chapo met with Sean Penn, but maybe he was thinking along the same lines.

OK, there are all kinds of directions this can go.  Lots of issues.  But enough now.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Laugh Hard

I'm trying to get Part 2 of the confession post up, but in the meantime, somehow my granddaughter and I got on the subject of frogs catching flies with their tongues.  In 2016, you can then say, "Let's find an example on Youtube."  The first one's we found were frogs catching flies, not with their tongues though, just jumping fast with their mouths open.

But then we found this one and we both started laughing and laughing.  I finally had to say, just one more time after she watched it five or six times.



[Sorry for those seeing this reposted - Feedburner problems again. This seems to be getting all too common. I add this for two reasons. For those who found this post another way, I'm sorry if you were fooled into coming back. And I'm also keeping track of how many times Feedburner takes more than an hour or two to kick in.]

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Why Do People Confess To Stuff They Didn't Do?

We watched Making A Murderer on Netflix this last week.  I didn't know how to write about the show without talking about what happens.  But then I saw a short article in the paper yesterday saying that Steven Avery has filed an appeal.

So, if you are in the middle of watching Making of a Murderer, you probably should stop reading right now.  Not that I'm going to give any spoilers.

There's a newscast early on that talks, in the normal urgent, almost astonished tone of news broadcasts, about the confession of Brendan Dacey, the 16 year old burdened with guilt, who told investigators in gory detail how he went to his uncle's trailer and found a naked woman handcuffed to the bed.  She begged him to help her.  Instead, at his uncle's urgings, he raped her an slit her throat, and shot her in the head.  Then they burned in in the burn put out back."

Sounds pretty damning doesn't it.

But as the show continues, you see the hours it took to get the confession from this low IQ, quiet, introverted kid.  They didn't use physical force.  They didn't even raise their voices.  But they constantly told him they were there to help him - his court appointed lawyer wasn't there and his mom said she wasn't even told about the interrogation - and all he had to tell the truth.  He kept denying things until he starts guessing at what they want to hear.

"What did you do to her head?"
"We know, we just need you to tell us."
On and on until
"Hit her."
"Is that all"
We know there's more.
What else did you do to her head?
"Cut off her hair?"
It goes on and on until the detective asks if they shot her in the head.

The cops were sure they had the right guy and they used every trick to get him to confess.  It wasn't hard with a very immature, slow, quiet teenager, with no record at all.  (At one point he's on the phone and tells his mom, "they said I was inconsistent.  What does that mean?"  His mom doesn't know either.)

Here are some pictures of his court appointed attorney's investigator interrogating Brendan.  This guy is supposed to be working for Brendan, but he's working hard to get a confession.

"Do you want to get out and have a family someday?"  Image from Making a Murderer

"Well, that means you have to cooperate with me" - Image from Making a Murderer
He tells Brendan to draw a picture of the woman handcuffed to the bed, and Brendan does as he's told.  In a conversation with him mom, when she asked why he confessed to something he didn't do, and where did he get these ideas from, he says, "I guessed what they wanted, like I do in school."

Here's that same interrogator, in the courtroom responding to Brendan's new attorney, one with experience in coerced confessions.  Remember, this guy was supposed to be on Brendan's side. He's talking about Brendan's family, the Avery's.

These people are pure evil  - image of Brendan's mother and grandmother

"A friend of mine suggested 'This is a one-branch family tree'"

"Cut this tree down.  We need to end the gene pool here"
 The only thing positive I can say about this guy is that he seems to believe in evolution if he's talking about genes.   He gets this guy to acknowledge that he was trying to get the confession to help the prosecutors' case against Brendan's uncle.  (I didn't use 'admit' because he doesn't seem to think he did anything wrong.)  Brendan's new attorney is incredulous about the interview and this testimony.

While Brendan's confession is not allowed in Steve Avery's trial, it is allowed in Brendan's.

The film makers clearly believe that Steve Avery is innocent and that Brendan's confession is coerced and pure fiction.  There's a lot they left out - the trials lasted weeks.  One tantalizing lead I would have like to know more about was when they asked if the story about the assault and murder wasn't true, where did he get his ideas.  Eventually he says he read it in a book and names the book.  The show didn't say if anyone followed up and found a copy of the book.

My flight to Seattle is about to board, so I'm going to post this, but I may add some more later.  Or make a Part 2. (My granddaughter said, "I want you to come to my birthday party."  What could I do but say yes?)  But I can say, I'll never 'hear' a reported confession the same again.

Confessions Part 2 is here.

UPDATE Jan 20:  Here's an LA Times article about LA settlements with two men wrongly convicted of murder who served 34 and 26 years in prison and who were awarded $16 and $7 million.  I don't think confessions were involved, but there was enough wrongdoing by police officers that city attorneys argued against going to court.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Snow, But Still Out Of Synch

I posted a picture of our snow free back yard the other day.  It's white again.  But according to the ADN today, businesses in town that depend on snow and cold are hurting and that we have had very little snow this year.

image from Alaska Dispatch News

And that three inches all came in the last week.

Their other charts show we have had more snow than last year - which was a record low snow year, but we've had more "no snow depth" days than last year, only six days (through Jan 15) behind the record "no snow depth' year to this date - 2007-2008.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Road Closed Lost And Found

This barrier and sign have been at this alley since last fall, maybe September or October.  Some utility did some work in the alley then left.  But they also left the sign behind.  I called MLP and asked if it were their sign and if not could they check with other utilities who might have left it.

But it's still here in January.

Maybe it belongs to a contractor.  I couldn't find any identifiers on it.  I'm thinking about offering it on Craigslist.  Anyone leaving something like this lying around for three months is guilty of littering and surely this could qualify as abandoned.

On you can buy a Road Closed sign like this from $42 to $72 depending on the quality.  I suspect this is the cheaper quality.  And I found similar traffic barricades ranging from $463 to $896.

You'd think someone would have notice these missing.

Well, if you lost these, let me know and I'll tell you where they are.  Or if you're looking for something like this, I'll tell you too.

[Sorry for those seeing this reposted - Feedburner problems again. This seems to be getting all too common.]

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Today's IRS Time: One Hour 30 Minutes [UPDATED After Visit To Local Office]

[Update at the bottom] Monday I called the IRS again in hopes of resolving the payroll tax snafu for my mom's caregiver.  Regular readers know my mom died in July.  Although she had an experienced accountant and he'd suggested I hire ADP, one of the largest payroll companies in the world, to take care of the caregivers' state and federal taxes and other deductions, things got screwed up.

The payroll company did all the deductions at first.  Then they told us that, for a small household account with just one employee, they don't do the federal taxes.  They  had done the first three quarters in error and it was my responsibility to do the fourth quarter deposits.  In conversations between ADP and the accountant, they decided to put all the deductions into my mom's personal income tax return and ask that the money ADP deposited be transferred there.  And I found a payroll company that specialized in home care employment so this wouldn't happen again for 2015.

Then I started getting letters from the business side of the IRS saying they had $12,000 but no returns and from the personal side saying they had a return, but that I owed $12,000.  Sounds pretty simple right?  The business side just needed to transfer the $12,000 to the personal side.  That's what I thought anyway.  After regular monthly notices and phone calls, in September a business side IRS agent said that the way to resolve this was to amend the personal income taxes and leave out the payroll information and submit 941 forms to the business side.  And tell them to transfer the fourth quarter payment that went to the personal side to the business side.  (Remember, my mom is now dead, which seems weird to me, but the IRS doesn't worry about such things, those most of the agents I've talked to have been quick to offer condolences.)

That was done by early October.  I also was told that the power of attorney I had that allowed me to speak on my mom's behalf was no longer good because she had died and that I had to file a Form 56. (This is important to understand today's encounter and why I'm headed over to the IRS office now.)  I filed Form 56 on Oct. 16 - I have a copy of the stamped form in front of me because I went to the IRS office to do this.

I kept getting various notices - mostly fines and penalties adding up on the missing payments.

So, Monday I called the IRS again.

Agent 1:  On the business side.  Said she couldn't really help and I should talk to the personal side.  Besides, her shift was over and the next shift person was waiting to use the desk.  She transferred the call.

Agent 2:  On the personal side now.  Spent more time looking into it and finally said that the case had been sent to Advanced Account Services and she'd transfer me to someone there.

Agent 3:  The man at Advanced Account Services said he'd never heard that term before, but would like to help.  It should be easy to fix, but unfortunately, the computers had been down since 10am Eastern time (it was now around 5pm Eastern time.)  I'm not sure how the previous two agents I spoke to had looked up my stuff on the computer if it had been down all day, but I try to be polite on the phone calls so I didn't say anything.  He said I should call the Tax Payer Advocate.

Taxpayer Advocate:  The recording said they were there to help people who either had a hardship or who had problems that couldn't be resolved.  But the lady who answered the phone asked if I had a hardship.  Well, I'm not going to be thrown out of my house because of this delay, so I said 'no' but I have a long unresolved problem.  She said that they can only help people with hardships.  I pointed out what the recording said.  She said, "We got a notice recently that we are only to deal with hardship cases and she was sorry the recording had not been fixed."

I understand that Congress is not funding the federal government to the level they need to deal with the workload.  So I can understand that the IRS is trying to focus on the most urgent problems - like people who are in a financial crisis.  I also suspect this is part of the legacy of the Reagan policy to "starve the beast."  Today, the tax cut policy, along with actually cutting the budget, this means that government agencies like the IRS are understaffed.  You can wait 90 minutes for someone to answer your call.  (Today it was only 35 minutes fortunately, but as April nears it will get horrendous.)  This causes people like me, who have done everything they were supposed to do and paid their taxes correctly, to get really frustrated.  If I didn't have special expertise in public administration, I would probably be ranting and raving about how bad government is.  I suspect that there are some among the Republicans who want exactly that to happen.  I at least understand it's not the IRS, but Congress that's the problem for me.  Well, I do think someone at the IRS should have been able to fix this.  But this is an aside from my story here.

Senator Murkowski's office:  OK, if an agent tells me to use the taxpayer advocate and the advocate says they can't help me, I need to go to a higher authority.  I called my US Senator's office and gave them permission to get information about my (mom's) taxes.

Today.  I began at 8:05am.  I waited 35 minutes on hold.  The agent listened and spent a lot of time looking at the (now lengthy, I'm sure) record on the computer.  But it boiled down to this:  "You aren't authorized to represent this account."   Again, she tells me, because my mother died, the power of attorney is no longer valid.
Me:  "But I filed a Form 56."
IRS:  When?
Me:  I have a copy of the stamped form here.  October 16, 2015.
IRS:  We don't have a copy.  You sent one for the personal side, but not the business side.  You need to fill one out with the EIN number (my mom had to be a business to do the payroll deductions and so she was assigned an EIN number.)
Me:  The Form 56 I submitted has both the EIN number AND my mother's social security number.
IRS:  Well, we don't have it.
Me:  Can't you call the personal side (of the IRS) and get a copy?
IRS:  No.

Mind you, I've talked to about five or six agents on the business side since my mother died.  Only Monday and today did this issue of the power of attorney come up.

So I'm off to the IRS to file a second Form 56 and this one will only have the EIN number on it.


I know I should proof this, but I need to get to the IRS office and I have a ton of other things to do as well.  So please correct the typos as you read.

UPDATE 1:29pm (original posted at 10:30am today) -  It took less time to walk (15 minutes) to my local IRS office and wait there (3 minutes) than it took earlier to wait for an agent to talk to me on the phone (35 minutes.)  The agent who saw me did NOT say she couldn't talk to me.  She did NOT say she couldn't see the business side or the personal side.   I'd gone in to refile Form 56 which allows you to represent someone you have power of attorney for after they die.  Well, that's not entirely correct.  It allows you to establish that after the death you still have the authority to represent the deceased.  I'd already filed the form in October for both the business and personal side.  The personal side has said they have it, but the business side today said I needed one for the business side before she could talk to me.  Even though the form I'd filed listed both the EIN (for business side) and the SS#.

But Ms. E took the old form I'd filed (and had stamped because I'd filed it in person) and said I didn't need to refile.  Instead she went into the computer and went to the business side and added the Form 56 info for them.  She checked what they were doing and she checked on what the personal side was doing.  The personal side had received the amended return in early December and there was a note to transfer the money over to the business side when the review was completed.  She went into the collections side and put in a note saying to hold off on collections because they were processing the amended form.  While she didn't move the money over and make all the issues go away, she did more than any of the folks on the phone have done.

She said there's a big push to do everything electronically, but what I needed couldn't be done that way.  Or via the phone easily.  So being a walk in at the local IRS was both faster and more productive that calling on the phone.  At least in the Anchorage office.  AND I got a nice walk through the fresh snow instead of sitting around on hold.

[Sorry for those seeing this reposted - Feedburner problems again. This seems to be getting all too common.]