Thursday, March 31, 2016

Last Day To Apply For Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Check

We were headed to a meeting downtown around 2pm and noticed the line outside the PFD office.   A lot shorter than the lines at the Democratic caucus Saturday.

March 31 is the deadline to file.

Lots of question marks over the future of the fund, as corporations want to tap into the fund now that oil prices are low and the state's short of money, rather than to impose income taxes.  That makes sense since in Alaska, corporations aren't yet 'people' when it comes to applying for a Permanent Fund Dividend.  Since the amount of the checks is based on a five year average, the drop in oil prices this past year shouldn't have too big an effect this year.

From the Permanent Fund website:
"How the PFD amount is calculated
  • Add Fund Statutory Net Income from the current plus the previous four fiscal years.
  • Multiply by 21%
  • Divide by 2
  • Subtract prior year obligations, expenses and PFD program operations
  • Divide by the number of eligible applicants"

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Will Alaska Buy Virgin? Will Jet Blue? Will All Three Combine? [Updated]

I'm not sure why I got this message through LinkedIn or how to link to it. It's from George Hobica at Airlineswatchdog.  You have to register to get the new alerts there, so I'm just handing off below the key points.  He doesn't like the name Alaska for an airline.

"Bloomberg is reporting that Virgin America is entertaining sale offers to jetBlue and Alaska Air. 
Which combination makes more sense? From a route perspective, jetBlue and Virgin America have a lot of overlap (lots of trans-con routes such as Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Washington, JFK to the West Coast), so Alaska Air would be a better match, although jetBlue also has a large presence in the Caribbean and Latin America, which neither Alaska nor Virgin has. On the other hand, Alaska flies mostly Boeing 737s, while jetBlue and Virgin share the same Airbus aircraft, which would make maintenance, crew training, obtaining a joint operating certificate, and purchasing less expensive. 
Perhaps we'll eventually see a three-way tie-up? Alaska/jetBlue/Virgin into a carrier more capable of competing with United, Delta, American, and Southwest? I vote for the combined carrier to operate under the jetBlue banner. It's just a better airline name than Alaska, which as a brand is too tied geographically to a particular state (even though it flies everywhere these days). And I've never liked the sexual connotation of "Virgin." Sorry, Richard Branson, you cheeky thing."

JetBlue has been keeping Alaska prices low from Anchorage to places like Seattle and LA.  Combining them doesn't sound like a good move for Alaska passengers.

[UPDATE April 5:  The New York Times documented the official announcement that Alaska Airlines bought Virgin.  Of the possible combinations, this one seems the most promising for people living in Alaska.  The two weren't really competing the way Alaska and Jet Blue were, so the immediate effect shouldn't be to raise rates.  And Virgin has a loyal customer base that, I'm told by a friend who flies Virgin a lot, expects better service than Alaska gives.  The New York Times puts it this way: "
"a brand beloved by its cadre of customers who adore its cheeky image, onboard Wi-Fi and soothi"ng onboard purple lighting."
Well, the planes to and from Alaska (the state) tend to be mostly the new style with plug-ins at every seat.  Wifi is pretty common on most Alaska flights already (Go-Go, not free, but the same is true for Virgin).  But if the New York Times reporter flew on the planes we flew between Seattle and Chicago and Seattle and San Francisco, I can understand his ho-hum expectations.  They were the old planes without the plug-ins and cleaner look.

Virgin has spots in San Francisco so there's hope for some non-stops from Anchorage to San Francisco (where I have a cute little reason to travel.)  The biggest challenge it seems, based on comments from L below, will be meshing the Airbus fleet with the Boeing fleet, as well as the two cultures.  Alaska is a well run airline and I'm betting that in three years this will be a success, but there are no guarantees.]

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Media Focus On 31 [38] Deaths In Belgium - Not 21,000 Who Died Worldwide Of Starvation That Day

Despite what any of us think about our own media sophistication, the media's coverage of 'the news' definitely impacts what we think is important.  Those with the best critical thinking skills can comb through a report and find the inconsistencies, the inaccuracies, the lack of historical or social context.  But what about the stories that simply aren't told at all?  Like the 21,000 people who die each day of hunger?

The amount of coverage given particular events affects how people think and their understanding of how the world works, and ultimately how they vote.  I thought about this as I read  a Sunday New York Times column in which Nicholas Kristoff, discusses the media's role in helping Trump win Republican primaries.  In part:
“Trump is not just an instant ratings/circulation/clicks gold mine; he’s the motherlode,” Ann Curry, the former “Today” anchor, told me. “He stepped on to the presidential campaign stage precisely at a moment when the media is struggling against deep insecurities about its financial future. The truth is, the media has needed Trump like a crack addict needs a hit. . .”
". . .An analysis by The Times found that we in the news media gave Trump $1.9 billion in free publicity in this presidential cycle. That’s 190 times as much as he paid for in advertising, and it’s far more than any other candidate received. As my colleague Jim Rutenberg put it, some complain that “CNN has handed its schedule over to Mr. Trump,” and CNN had lots of company.
The piece looks at how some of the most media savvy folks (reporters and editors) got caught up in the Trump coverage.  Some were taken in by Trump.  Most seem to have been taken in by how a Trump story boosts ratings.  And I'm sure there were plenty in the media who knew exactly what they were doing when they put Trump on prime time or the headlines.

So let's look again at our fear of terrorists and how the news stokes it.

We've had saturation coverage of the bombings in Brussels this week.  31 people died.  That's one less than the number of American citizens killed by terrorists worldwide in 2015 as reported by START (Study of Terrorism And Response to Terrorism)

Yet, 21,000 people worldwide die of hunger daily!  Yes, daily, as in every day of the year.  Can you picture a few kids, bones showing through their skin, breathing their last breaths?

Have you ever seen a headline that said, "21,000 people dead of hunger yesterday (and the day before and today and tomorrow, and  . . .)"  Of course you haven't  In fact, terrorism kills a very small number of Americans and a larger, but still relatively small, number of others per year.  Statista says that 37,000 people died, worldwide in terrorist attacks in 2015, or about about 100 per day.  Not a small number unless you compare it to the people who die of hunger each day.

For a little more perspective, here's a table showing the the top causes of death (for Americans) annually and daily.  How many of these do you see in the media?  Most frequently the ones that happen in public.  The more blood and violence, the more likely it will be covered.  The others are only mentioned if a famous person dies of them.  (I added in terrorism and subtracted 32 from the 'all other causes' stats.)

Cause of Death (US) Mostly From: Statistic Brain Total/year Total/Day
Heart Disease616,067 1,688
Cancer 562,875 1,542
Strple 135,952 372
Chronic lower respitory disease 127,924350
Accidents (Unintentional Injuries) 123,708 339
Altzheimer's Disease 74,632 204
Diabetes 71,382 196
Influenza and Pneumonia52,717 144
Nephritis, Nephrotic Syncrome, Nephrosis  49,448127
Septicemia 34,828 95
Suicide 34,598 95
Chronic Liver Disease 29,165/td> 80
Hypertension 23,965 66
Parkinson's Disease 20,058 55
Assault (homicide) 18,361 95
Terrorist Attack 32 0
All Other Causes 451,032 1,236
Total Annual U.S. Deaths 2,432,712 1,236
[NOTE:  Gun deaths are hidden in accidental, suicide, and assault figures.]

Think about how many headlines you see about these different causes of death each week.  How does the coverage affect our perceptions of the danger of each and how much money is spent to prevent each?

The World Food Program (WFP  )calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year  to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children around the world.   Surely the  7.4 billion people alive now can scrounge up that much.  Bill Gates could handle that for 22 years just with what he has today before he ran out of money.  And he is attempting, through his foundation, to make effective expenditures around the world.

 The White House's 2017 anti-terrorism budge   for just two Departments is $11 billion:
"provides over $11 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of State to support U.S. efforts to continue to hunt down terrorists; provide training and equipment to forces fighting ISIL on the ground; help stabilize communities liberated from ISIL in Syria and Iraq; disrupt ISIL’s financing and recruitment; strengthen our regional partners, provide humanitarian assistance to those impacted by the conflict; and support a political solution to the Syrian civil war."
Global Terrorism Index 
Note:  This is only Departments of State and Defense.   This does not include the Departments of Homeland Security or Justice. (Finding a simple map of agencies with counter terrorism missions is not easy.)

But we don't need Bill Gates or the US Government.  A list at Mental Floss tells us that Americans spent in 2011:

  • $34.6 billion on gambling
  • $4.2 billion on perfume
  • $11 billion on engagement and wedding rights
  • $1.7 billion on Valentine's Day flowers (that's just one day!)
  • $25. 4 billion on professional sports
  • $18 billion on credit card late fees

And world wide people spent

  • $5 billion for ringtones

That comes to $100 billion a year!  I'm not saying people should give up all this, but  I suspect that some clever social media entrepreneurs should be able to figure out a way to painlessly intercept 3% of that to feed the 66 millio school age kids the World Food Program estimates are hungry around the world.

We just need to know the numbers.  And the media has a responsibility to track those numbers as they write their stories and give us information that helps us better understand the big picture - not just the easiest sensational event that happened yesterday.  The media have a responsibility to put things in context and make the most significant issues we face as compelling as the stuff they focus on now.

Note:  The exact numbers of people dying of hunger and terrorism vary from source to source because of how numbers are tracked, what years are reported, etc. The numbers I've used are clearly in the ballpark.   Here are a couple of other sources I looked at.

 17,000 kids under five died daily 2013

Global Terrorism Numbers Chart

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Alaska Democrats Caucus Heavily For Bernie Sanders

My district voted 238 for Sanders and 80 for Clinton.  As I was walking out I checked at the desk that was collecting the tallies and was told that the rural districts were mostly reported and had a similar break down - 3-1 for Sanders.

Some numbers first.   I've gone through the division of elections list of registered voters, updated March 4, 2016.  I've gone through each district and collected the

total of registered Anchorage Democrats:  32,485    (The vast majority of registered voters have not identified a political party.)

As I got near West High I was glad I'd gone by bike because people were parking  and walking up to a half a mile away.   There was a huge line when I arrived about 10am and I was told the auditorium, largest auditorium in the state and seats 2000.)

where they were having presentations, was already full.

[Photo:  the line stretches out the same in the other direction.  The target was the auditorium entrance which is the highest point in the building ahead]

So, the auditorium already had about 6% of the Anchorage registered voters.

It turned out I had to go to a table for my precinct which was on the other end of a very crowded hallway.  There were no open paths to go in either directions.  Every now and the there was an opening and a trickle of people went one way - usually the opposite direction from where I needed to go.

A couple of shots of the crowd I was in.

I'd guess there were at least another couple of thousand,  (which would add up to at least 12% of the Anchorage Democrats)  if not more just in the hallways trying to get to their desk to sign in and get a district card.  It turned out my desk was next to another entrance and it seemed to make more sense to go out and walk around the building rather than try to fight my way back through the throng.

It turned out there were still lots of folks trying to get into the building from this entrance.

And they couldn't get in because the fire marshall was there and they weren't letting people into the building.  (This made Loussac Libray look like a wilderness area.]

How many still outside or already into caucus rooms?  Conservatively, I'd say maybe another 1000 which would get the totals up to about 18% of registered Democrats.   But that number is misleading because a lot of people were registering to become Democrats on the spot.  Is that a high number for caucusing?  I checked Iowa caucus number for Democrats - the report I saw didn't yet have the total number but said there were 240,000 who caucused in 2008.   I check the Iowa Democratic registration for January 2008 and it was just over 600,000.  So that's about 40%.  But that's a big caucus state that gets lots of attention because it caucuses first in the country.  Alaskans aren't really used to caucusing.  The last caucus was 2008 for Obama and I'm trying to compare the turnout in my head to then.  It was at a different location, on a weeknight.  The building was packed, but not quite as bad as today.  But I think things were spread out differently so you didn't have the registration desks in the hallway blocking the halls.

As I walked around the building I passed the fire vehicle.  There was also a big truck.

Eventually, I made it to the rooms designated for my district.  One for Clinton and one for Sanders.  But they'd already liberated a second, and then a third, for Sanders.  The picture above is the original Sanders room.

As I said, my district voted 238 to 80 for Sanders over Clinton.

On the way out I stopped at the desk that was collecting all the totals.  My district was one of the first
to turn in their numbers.  But the reports from other districts in the rural areas were in and I was told the numbers were roughly the same proportion for Sanders.

Right now Google has posted this:

"Alaska caucus Last updated Mar 26, 2016 at 2:01 PM AKT REPUBLICANDEMOCRATIC Mar 26 16 delegates 38% reporting
Delegates Votes
Sanders (won) 9 78.7% 181
Clinton 0 21.3%
49 Source: AP "

A. Fog Of Politics B. Privacy And Security

A.  Fog of Politics

As I get ready to head out to the Democratic caucus in Anchorage this morning, the world outside is shrouded in fog.

OK, I apologize, Part B will live up to its name much better than Part A.

B.  Privacy and Security

Image from The Intercept

There was a live panel discussion on Privacy and Security last night in Arizona that was also online.  It's definitely worth watching.  Noam Chomsky, Edward Snowden, and Glen Greenwald.  If you know who those people are, you know this is worth watching.  If you don't know who they are, you should at least look them up.   Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, was the moderator.

Here's the link:

The discussion ranged from definitions of privacy and security to the tension between them.  They talked about the top secret and other designations and how no one has identified anyone who has been killed because of Snowden's leaks, or even the Wikileaks.  How most of the things labeled top secret are for the security of the government officials, not for the security of the public.  It's a very thoughtful and rational discussion.  Everyone should watch this, and contrast it to some of the shrill and thoughtless rhetoric of the political debates.

It's long.  You can watch it in two sittings or just listen to it while you're doing mindless household tasks.

One topic that came up was how individuals can secure their own lives and this morning on Twitter,  Martin Shelton has linked to his own guide on how to do this - Securing Your Digital Life Like a Normal Person

More on the caucus when I get back tonight.

Friday, March 25, 2016

How Safe Is Loussac During Construction?

I voted at Loussac Library Wednesday.  Here's the atrium with the original steps removed.  The whole atrium is blocked off.  (From the Alaska Collection silo.)

This next shot shows the wall that's been created to block off the atrium from the inside on the second and third floors.

The library was packed Wednesday, even though it was sunny and nice out.

But there was only one working elevator.  When I was ready to go, the first time the 3rd elevator door opened, it was too full to get in.  (Well, I suspect New Yorkers would have been able to squeeze in, but Alaskans like a little more personal space)  You can see people waiting for the elevator on the right.

There is a big staircase from the second to third floor, except it's in the atrium area that is currently blocked off.  So you can't walk from the second to the third floor.   You have to take the elevator.  And passage ways are much narrower than normal.  With the entrance and checkout on the ground floor, it's disorienting.

While I was waiting for an elevator, I asked a librarian whether there were stairs.  She pointed to the far corner and said there are emergency stairs, but an alarm will go off if you take them.  I pointed out that there weren't any obvious signs leading people to the exit stairs.  "We've mentioned that at staff meetings,"  I was told.

I suspect that the fire marshals assumed there would be two working elevators, but even then, it seems to me that the lack of stairs between the second and third floor is a serious problem.  At the very least, they could open the emergency stairs between those two floors so people who'd rather walk, could do that.  People around me didn't know if there were stairs from the first to the second floor either. (The steps and elevator in the old entrance are obviously - from the top picture - gone now.)

Here's a before and after picture of the steps from February 4 and today.

(Careful readers will note that I said it was a nice sunny day today.  There were clouds and this picture was taken while a cloud blocked the sun.)

Why I Live Here: 10 Minute Interview With Jane Sanders

The Alaska Dispatch News said that Bernie Sanders' wife would be in Alaska for three days and that she was going to meet with media this afternoon.  I emailed the Sanders Alaska campaign to find out where and didn't have that much time to get my stuff together and go down to the Lakefront Hotel (the old Millennium on Spenard).

When I got to the hotel there were several other news people, a couple of whom I knew.  It was then I learned this wasn't just going to be a press conference, but that we would each get five minutes one-on-one with Jane Sanders.

Living in Anchorage has meant, on a number of occasions, that I've been able to meet people whom I would never meet if I lived in LA or Seattle.  We're a small place and when important people are here, there's much more chance to connect with them.

So below is my video of our talk.  I normally have talked to people standing up and hold my camera close to my face and the interviewee.  But we sat at a table and and I put my camera on the table which resulted in a terrible camera angle, with Jane Sanders seeming to be looking up.  She was looking at me.  So I apologize to Mrs. Sanders for messing that up.  But I think it's still worth posting the whole ten minutes (as it turned out) of our conversation.

I also seem to have cut out the beginning of my first questions which gives the context for the end of it that starts the video. Here are the questions I asked.  The first part of Question 1 didn't get recorded so it's helpful to have the whole question here.

Question 1:  The symbolic value of electing an African-American president in 2008 was pretty big.  It sent an important message to African-Americans and other people of color, and to the world.  Electing Hillary Clinton would also have an important symbolic value for women.  What does Bernie Sanders have to offer to women to offset the symbolic value of electing a woman?

Question 2:  The Sanders campaign has been about revolution.  I get that Part A of the revolution is getting elected.  But then, what is Part B?

Jane Sanders mentioned making a college education accessible to all, which led to a third question about the corporatization of universities negatively affecting both faculty and students.

Later, there was a gathering of Bernie Sanders supporters in the hotel.  I decided to stay and see how that went.  I'd guess there were between 150 and 170 people there, filling the room.  There was no public announcements that I know other than on the Sanders' Alaska website.   It was a highly enthusiastic crowd and it seemed to me there were lots of folks under 40 and a reasonable collection of folks over 60.  Those in-between were underrepresented.  I'll try to put up more on that later.

The Alaska Democratic Caucus is Saturday.  I also got a phone call this afternoon that hooked me into a conference call from Bill Clinton.  So maybe this is a teeny taste of what Iowans must feel like before their primary.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dear Sen. Pete Kelly, I Have Some Questions

 Alaska Commons quotes you, Senator, and I have a few questions.   First, here's the Commons' quote:
“I’m not someone who says we should have a government this size,” Senate Finance Co-chair Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) began.
As a matter of fact, I’d like it to be smaller, but the fact is that, adjusted for inflation and population growth, I think last year was about the lowest spend we’d had going all the way back to 2003, which was the other low point.
That isn’t to say, “Oh great, we need to tax people.” That isn’t where I’m going with it. The point is that… we’re at the point where we have to view differently how we interact with the administration. One of the things that [Walker] has been so reluctant to support are unallocated reductions. I don’t blame him. What that does is it puts most of the onus onto the executive to figure ways to make government smaller. That’s the way any corporation’s going to work. That’s the way any board of directors — whether it’s a non-profit or a profit-seeking corporation — that’s the way they’re going to work. They’re going to say to the president, “We’re out of money. You’ve got to figure out how to manage this thing. Sorry. That’s your job.”
So what we’ve heard in the past — and I’m not trying to criticize. I think these kinds of backs and forth [sic] were appropriate in years past when we would do something like that, and the governor would say something like, “You’ve got to do your job.” No. The job of the executive is to manage the administration. That is not our job. We are not up to the task because we are a board of directors. That isn’t how a board of directors works. And I think we’re to the point now where we do have to eliminate programs. We probably have to hand the governor an unallocated [reduction]. My apologies. The unallocated that we put into the budget earlier had program reductions and reforms and those kinds of things to back that up. They’re still there… Those statute changes are working through the legislature, but it’s time now to say,
“Uh-oh. We’ve got to make this thing smaller.” And we’re not going to sit at this table and go through line by line and say, “You can lay off that guy and lay off that guy or reduce that program or stop matching those funds.” That is the job of the executive. And I think we just have to deliver a smaller budget, and we have to do it fairly quick because the air’s out of the tires as of that spring forecast.”
Because the Environmental Protection Agency and non-governmental organizations inhibit resource development, Kelly said, “The only choice we have now is to deliver some draconian cuts to the governor.”

First, I would say that you and I have totally different views of the role of government and the role of business.  But let's just start with things that don't stem from those differences.
"One of the things that [Walker] has been so reluctant to support are unallocated reductions. I don’t blame him. What that does is it puts most of the onus onto the executive to figure ways to make government smaller. That’s the way any corporation’s going to work. That’s the way any board of directors — whether it’s a non-profit or a profit-seeking corporation — that’s the way they’re going to work. They’re going to say to the president, 'We’re out of money. You’ve got to figure out how to manage this thing. Sorry. That’s your job.'”
This is not my experience, Senator.  Boards of directors are there, especially with non-profits, to help the organization succeed.  They set policy.  Often the Board members are expected to donate a significant sum and to assist in fundraising.   Especially when times are rough.  But you seem to have   taken raising money off the table.  Most members of boards want their organization to thrive and grow.  You sound like you don't even like the government you're there to serve.    Usually, when an organization is out of money, the board does everything it can to help the organization raise more money to achieve its mission. But you seem to be saying, well, it's tough times Gov, you're on your own.

"I think these kinds of backs and forth [sic] were appropriate in years past when we would do something like that, and the governor would say something like, “You’ve got to do your job.” No. The job of the executive is to manage the administration. That is not our job. We are not up to the task because we are a board of directors. That isn’t how a board of directors works. And I think we’re to the point now where we do have to eliminate programs. We probably have to hand the governor an unallocated [reduction]."
Senator, first, I'd humbly disagree with your characterization that the legislature is a board of directors.  Most non-profit boards don't get paid and like for-profit boards, they meet infrequently.  The legislature has a constitutionally mandated role that is far more significant than a board of directors'.  It's that branch of government (which is much more significant than a non-profit or for-profit organization) that is supposed to allocate funds for the government to use to operate.  They're also supposed to raise new revenues when the government is running out of money.

The Alaska State Constitution says the legislature will pass laws and the governor will execute them. Let's just look at one section - Health, Education, and Welfare - of the Alaska Constitution:
1. Public Education The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.
§ 2. State University The University of Alaska is hereby established as the state university and constituted a body corporate. It shall have title to all real and personal property now or hereafter set aside for or conveyed to it. Its property shall be administered and disposed of according to law.
§ 3. Board of Regents The University of Alaska shall be governed by a board of regents. The regents shall be appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by a majority of the members of the legislature in joint session. The board shall, in accordance with law, formulate policy and appoint the president of the university. He shall be the executive officer of the board.
§ 4. Public Health The legislature shall provide for the promotion and protection of public health.
§ 5. Public Welfare The legislature shall provide for public welfare.
The responsibility is vested in the legislature to provide, not the executive branch.  Now, I understand that the legislature can delegate its authority to the executive branch.  But you're not making that argument.  You're just saying that it's not your job, when it appears that it actually is.

And, excuse me, but I have one more question on this part of your quote.   If it was "appropriate  in years past" as you've said, then why is it inappropriate now?  What exactly changed?  I realize in the past, when the legislature was spending lots of money, and even last year before oil prices plummeted,  the legislators could take credit for the spending of money on projects.  Now that there isn't enough money, and people are going to get hurt by the cuts, I can understand that you might rather put all the blame on the governor.  How else can you explain your change in attitude?

Especially, since you and the rest of majority legislature have picked things the governor can NOT cut,  like  tax credits on the oil companies, and  continuing funding for mega projects like the Knik Arm Bridge.  (Even after the federal DOT rejected their loan requests  for a seventh time because of faulty projections of revenues).  So, from my perspective, you aren't exactly keeping hands off.  You seem, instead to be protecting things you want to keep, but then telling the governor he has to be the one who, because there's no money left, has to cut schools and to programs that assist the disabled and the elderly, etc.

Instead of working hard, like the boards of directors in your analogy, to raise more money when a key revenue source dries up, you are explicitly telling the governor, he's not allowed to raise more money.
"Because the Environmental Protection Agency and non-governmental organizations inhibit resource development, Kelly said, 'The only choice we have now is to deliver some draconian cuts to the governor.'”
So, Sen. Kelly are you saying, "We could have raised more money and kept the same size government if we kept exploiting Alaska's non-renewable resources, but the EPA and environmentalists won't let us?"  I know that is the line that the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity have been peddling.  That would also explain why the legislature is continuing with its half a million dollar appeal of the expansion of medicaid in Alaska.   But while Shell did claim EPA regulation caused them to leave Alaska, we all know the real reason was that they didn't strike oil and because the price of oil crashed. And our revenue shortfall isn't because of regulation either, it's also because the price of oil crashed. After all, you and your colleagues gave the oil companies a huge credit recently, which is now part of our budget problems. Please explain to me what I'm missing.

But, Senator, this last quote seems to suggest that if the price of oil hadn't crashed,  we wouldn't have to cut the budget.  If that's true, then your real objection isn't so much big government, but paying for government the way every other state does - through taxes, instead of the oil windfall we've been enjoying for 40 years.

And since you refer to developing natural resources - which our state constitution encourages we do in a thoughtful way -  I'd also like to point out that the inhibiting factor for the development of our most important renewable resource - our people - is the legislature.  For the majority cutting schools seems to cause much less angst than cutting oil company subsidies and mega-projects.

One last point, Senator.  You talk about draconian cuts, as do many people.  I'd like to point out what that term originally meant.  From Merriam-Webster:
"Draconian comes from Draco, the name of a 7th-century B.C. Athenian legislator who created a written code of law. Draco's code was intended to clarify preexistent laws, but its severity is what made it really memorable. In Draco's code, even minor offenses were punishable by death, and failure to pay one's debts could result in slavery. Draconian, as a result, became associated with things cruel or harsh." 
There's more to the quote.  It says that nowadays people use the term to refer to things as trivial as parking fines going up, so in that sense, your usage isn't out of the ordinary.  It's like like calling a school principal who enforces a dress code a Nazi.   It's hyperbole.  It often comes from someone who knows the word, but isn't really familiar with its origin and the horror that really happened.

I noticed, Senator, from your website, that you got a Bachelor's degree in Management from Liberty University, which touts itself as the world's largest Christian university as well as the nation's largest online university.  And since you graduated while you were serving in the legislature, I can understand the convenience of an online degree.  The university's website also tells us
"Learn, develop, and grow at Liberty so you can impact your culture as a Champion for Christ."
Since you got your degree in management, I'd be curious what you studied about government and how government is fundamentally different from private sector management.

I'm also curious, Senator, how you reconcile being a Champion for Christ with making draconian cuts that will undoubtedly make life much more difficult for Alaska's poorest people?

And maybe some day we can meet for lunch and you and I can discuss all these things.   I'm sure you have lots of stories you can tell me and that perhaps I might have some insights you haven't heard before.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Breakup used to be in March and April.   Nowadays, break up happens after each sizable snow storm.
We had a record breaking snow fall Saturday, and the bike paths were pretty wet yesterday, but the snow is mostly gone.  But here's a picture of Campbell Creek from yesterday.

No, I couldn't figure out what kinds of tracks those were.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why Has Brussels Become The Terrorist Capital Of Europe?

Is it really the terrorist capital?

From the director of UC Berkeley's Institute of European Studies:
Belgium has a sad record. With some 450 jihadists, it is Europe’s largest contributor per capita of ISIS fighters in Syria. The country has also been mentioned in connection to a series of recent ISIS attacks: In May 2014, a returned jihadist from Syria opened fire at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. In January 2015, two suspected jihadists were shot by the police in the city of Verviers. In August 2015, two members of the U.S. military stopped a jihadist attacker who had boarded a train in Brussels.
Business Insider offers similar statistics  and then goes on:
Muslim immigrants are not well integrated into Belgian society despite decades of immigration there from countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, and Algeria. 
While Muslim Belgians make up only 4% to 6% of the country’s population, some politicians say their very presence threatens the Belgian way of life. 
Wearing a face veil can earn you a $200 fine in Belgium, and far-right anti-immigrant political groups have achieved healthy levels of support. 
Vlaams Belang, a Flemish political party that has advocated deporting Muslim immigrants who don’t renounce their faith, has achieved upward of 20% of the vote in some regional elections.
When I was a student in Germany back in the mid-60's one rarely ever saw a dark-skinned person.  Well, not unless you include Italians and Greeks as dark-skinned.  They were in Germany as guest workers because after the war, Germany had a shortage of men to work in the factories.  Then came Turks.  These folks, originally, were expected to return to their countries when the work was done.  But things don't work out the way you planned.

The rest of northern Europe had varying degrees of guest workers.  Some had immigrants from former colonies after liberation of the those colonies.  In any case, all these countries were relatively homogenous before all this.  I say relatively because there were Jews, Gypsies, and other stray populations.  And, of course, Switzerland is divided into three different language groups.

And the Belgians, even before 'others' came, were divided among the Flemish speakers and the French speakers.  The linguistic disagreements spilled over into policy disagreements and after the June 2010 election, it took 540 days for the Belgians to form a government.

My sense from the visits I've had in Belgium coincides with the Business Insider quote about poor integration.  This is true, of course, of the other European countries with large Muslim populations, but Belgium seems even worse.  Some may stem from the fact that the Flemish and the Walloons (French speakers) already don't get along that well and they don't have time for getting to know and understand their new citizens.  Instead the immigrants end up in ghettoes and feel unwelcome.  Ripe for recruitment.

It's tricky using US standards to judge what's happening in European nations.  Our history of race relations - from Native Americans, to African-Americans, to Japanese-Americans, and Latin-Americans - is pretty dismal and we have hundreds of years of history.

Original photos (bf) from Daily Mail  and (wf) here.
But this looks bad.  Again, most whites in the US know very clearly that blackface is insulting and demeaning.  I don't know the context in Belgium.   For them things we would consider blatant racism is stuff that they might think, "Oh, I didn't know that was offensive."  That, of course, is the case for more subtle things in the US, like telling someone with Asian features how good their English is (without considering that they might be native-born Americans.)   That's my short preface on this picture I photoshopped and the story below of the Belgian foreign minister, Didier Rehnders from last March.

From Al Jazeera
"Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders appeared in blackface at an annual folklore festival in Brussels on Saturday, causing an international media storm that put a spotlight on the country's race relations and led to calls for the former colonial power to grapple with its bloody history.
Dressed as an “African notable,” according to the City of Brussels, Reynders tweeted a picture of himself at the Noirauds event, a yearly festival dating back to 1876. At the rally, Belgium’s wealthy citizens don top hats, ruffs and blackface — all under the eye of Belgium’s Queen Paola, who presides over Les Noirauds, or The Blacks. The country’s elite collect money for disadvantaged children and a kid's trip to the circus.
 The images quickly circulated around the world after French broadcaster France2 reported on the event, noting that the tradition’s imagery could appear racist but that this didn’t dissuade Reynders from taking part.
 The minister told the broadcaster it was “a very enjoyable experience” to participate in the folkloristic tradition while raising money for the children. “I think that’s what counts most today,” he said."  [emphasis added]
Hey, it's just folklore, nothing racist.  Just imagine John Kerry showing up in blackface and saying it's just folk tradition.

So what folk tradition?  From an NBC story which says that Black Pete helps Saint Nicholas at Christmas time.  His picture on merchandise greatly boosts sales.  You know how touchy some American Christians get about tinkering with their Christmas traditions.  Here's from the NBC report:
Traditionalists say Black Pete is just part of an innocent children's holiday which also includes singing songs, exchanging poems, gifts and spending time with family. Some even say he only appears Black because he was covered in soot when he came down the chimney bearing gifts. For them, it is in no way associated with slavery or racism. 
However, those against the tradition quickly point out that the character comes from the 19th century children's book "Saint Nicholas and His Servant," in which the servant, Black Pete is described as a Black Moor from Spain. While Black Pete may be part of Dutch folklore, his portrayal is part of historically negative stereotypes of Black people dating back to colonialism.  [emphasis added]
And Belgium's history of colonialism is particularly nasty.  The Belgians were late getting colonies. In part because Belgium didn't gain its independence from Holland until 1830.  According to Wikipedia the Belgians tried to make a deal to colonize Hawaii, but that fell through.
"Colonial rule in the Congo began in the late 19th century. King Leopold II of Belgium, frustrated by his nation's lack of international power and prestige, tried to persuade the government to support colonial expansion around the then-largely unexplored Congo Basin. Their ambivalence resulted in Leopold's creating a colony on his own account. With support from a number of Western countries, who viewed Leopold as a useful buffer between rival colonial powers on the Continent, Leopold achieved international recognition for a personal colony, the Congo Free State, in 1885."
And as I said, King Leopold's rule was particularly brutal.

Excerpted from History Today:
Leopold’s hell operated by an insane logic. Villages were set quotas of rubber and the gendarmerie were sent in to collect it – a process that was sped up by looting, arson and rape. If a village failed to reach its quota hostages would be taken and shot. To ensure that the gendarmerie didn’t waste their bullets hunting for food, they were required to produce the severed hands of victims. As a consequence a trade in severed hands developed among the villagers and those police that couldn’t reach their quotas. . . 
. . . Sheppard, a Presbyterian missionary, recalled in his diary passing by more than a dozen burned villages. He was taken to the headquarters of a gendarmerie recruit called Mlumba Nkusa, described by Sheppard as ‘a most repulsive looking man’ because his teeth were filed into sharp points, his eyebrows were shaven and his eyelashes plucked out. Leopold had demanded that Mlumba collect 60 slaves and a huge amount of rubber, but only eight slaves and 2,500 balls of rubber had been gathered. ‘I think we killed between 80 and 90,’ said Mlumba of the local workers. He took Sheppard to a hut reserved for the rape of hostages and to another for the preservation of collected hands. Sheppard counted 81 hands hanging over the fire. The Congolese horror ended when international outrage compelled the Belgian state to take control of the colony in 1908. Estimates for the number of people killed range between two and 15 million, easily putting Leopold in the top ten of history’s mass murderers. When he died in 1909 the king’s funeral cortege was booed. Conceptually Leopold’s reign of terror was a bridge between the imperialism of the 19th century and the totalitarianism of the 20th.  [emphasis added]

Belgium is the home of the EU.  It's a modern country in many ways.  Its people are educated.  But on these issues, apparently not well-educated.  It has a bloody colonial history and its elite seem to be clueless about their immigrants' cultures and needs.   There's nothing here for Americans to get smug about since Americans are mostly unaware of their white privilege and bristle when it's pointed out.  American blacks are better integrated into our society.  They breast-fed and raised the kids of slave owners.  Yet they still get treated horribly by our justice system.  More horribly than others.

None of this is intended to excuse, in any way, ISIS terrorist attacks.  But I'm guessing that if immigrants to Belgium were treated with respect and helped to become part of Belgian culture, they wouldn't find ISIS recruiters so tempting.  But when the Flemish and the French in Belgium still take 540 days to agree on forming a government, it's understandable why they don't get along better with their immigrants.

And that doesn't mean that warm, hospitable treatment of each immigrant would eliminate every extremist among  their Muslim population.  After all, there are extremists among Christians and among Jews as well.  (And other religions too.)  I suspect you'll find, among these folks, a number of people using fundamental religion as a cover for whatever social and mental issues they have.

Note:  I'm not an expert on Belgium.  Over the last twenty years or so, I've been to Brussels maybe five times - for professional conferences and to visit a first cousin of my father.  I've done some googling to check my acquired knowledge.  I've also spent time talking to people about immigrant issues in Germany, both Muslims and ethnic Germans.  And I've looked around the internet to supplement what I know, also double checking the facts I've found to make sure I'm not quoting some  outliers nobody else agrees with.

Monday, March 21, 2016

What Merrick Garland And Donald Trump Have In Common

[Warning:  I'm just letting my brain work out a bit here.  I'm trying to puzzle out some meaning from the bizarre stories we get from the so called news these days.  Consider these rough notes on strange times for future reference.]

Basically, the Republican establishment is doing all they can to block both their nominations.

Part 1:  What little birdie is tweeting into Sen. McConnell's ear?

McConnell has stated (in slightly different words) that the constitution gives the president only three years per term and so the president shouldn't put forward a nomination to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.  And so the Senate will not hold hearings on the nomination of Merrick Garland.  Where is this specious argument coming from?
  • The Federalist Society which has been working so hard to take over US judgeships in order to get courts to take stronger pro-business, anti-regulation decisions?  I can understand their frustration as their years of planning and grooming look wasted as the Republican party implodes.  
  • CEO's who have court cases coming up before the Supreme Court?  As I understand it, a new justice wouldn't be able to weigh in on cases that have been argued already at the Supreme Court.  But there are plenty more cases in the pipeline.  This would make the most sense because these are people who have a short term interest in not having one more liberal judge on the court before their case gets heard.  
Think Progress writes:
"McConnell responded that he 'can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association [and] the National Federation of Independent Businesses.'”
They'd never want to do that, but sometimes you have to do things you'd rather not do.

The article then goes on to discuss the court cases the NRA and NFIB have had before the Supreme Court and how they are trying to get the court to approve something Congress explicitly voted down.  I'm sure other groups with such interests in the composition of the Supreme Court have access to McConnell and his friends.

Otherwise, I can't fathom McConnell's logic, as he argues today that Garland's nomination won't be heard even after the November elections.   But I know most things make sense when you know all the details.  Maybe if we knew who McConnell lunches with and what they tell him we'd understand this better.

There's got to be more to McConnell than most of us get to see.  He's been married to two strong women.   His first wife was Sherrill Redmon who is a feminist scholar and was the head of Smith College's women's collection.  His second wife is Taiwan born, former Bush Secretary of Labor and head of the Peace Corps, Elaine Chao.

What he says about Garland makes little sense, except when you're surrounded by people who reinforce your skewed view of the world.  After all, it doesn't look like, at this point, the Republicans are going to retake the White House.  If we get the second President Clinton, she'll likely appoint a more liberal candidate.  And if the Republican party continues on its current track, the Democrats could retake the Senate.  One letter writer in the LA Times, suggested President Clinton could appoint the soon to be out-of-work Barack Obama.  But he might have to recuse himself in cases arising from his administration, so that probably isn't a good idea.

Or maybe McConnell's buddies are planning a coup after the November elections, but then getting rid of a Supreme Court justice or two would be a minor problem.

Part 2:  And then the New York Times reports:
"Republican leaders adamantly opposed to Donald J. Trump’s candidacy are preparing a 100-day campaign to deny him the presidential nomination, starting with an aggressive battle in Wisconsin’s April 5 primary and extending into the summer, with a delegate-by-delegate lobbying effort that would cast Mr. Trump as a calamitous choice for the general election."
Who are these 'Republican leaders"?  The article doesn't say much.  In normal times, one would think that a Republican Senate Majority leader would be one of them, but McConnell is never mentioned.  We get:
  • " William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, has circulated a memo to a small number of conservative allies detailing the process by which an independent candidate could get on general-election ballots across the country."
  • "David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, which has spent millions on ads attacking Mr. Trump, said his group met on Wednesday and concluded it was still possible to avert Mr. Trump’s nomination."
  • "Trump opponents convened a series of war councils last week. . ."
  • "To justify rejecting Mr. Trump in Cleveland, Republicans say they will have to convince both delegates and the public that it was not the party’s obligation to hand him a nomination he did not secure on his own.
  • 'The burden is on Trump, not the party, if he fails to clinch the nomination,'  said David Winston, a Republican pollster who advises the House leadership. 'He has presented himself as the ultimate dealmaker, and it’s on him to close this one.'” "Mitt Romney, the party’s nominee in 2012, attempted to bridge that divide on Friday by revealing that he would support Mr. Cruz in Utah. . ."
  •  "About two dozen conservative leaders met Thursday at a private club in Washington, where some pushed for the group to come out for Mr. Cruz to rebut the perception that the stop-Trump campaign was an establishment plot. 'If we leave here supporting Cruz, then we’re anti-establishment,' said one participant, who could be heard by a reporter outside."
  • ". . . Erick Erickson, an influential conservative commentator, who convened the meeting."
I understand the NY Times writer interviewed people who didn't want to be named, but he's left it pretty vague.  Who are these 'conservative leaders' and who in the Republican party would acknowledge them as leaders?

Erick Erickson, by the way, according to Wikipedia, is a 40 year old blogger, newscaster who was born in Louisiana, went to school in Dubai from age 5 to 15 while his father worked for Conoco-Philips.  This is who convenes two dozen conservative leaders?  Just a few years ago, blogger was a dirty word.

This opposition to Trump makes more sense to me than the opposition to Garland.  In fact it's gratifying to know that top level conservatives are appalled by Trump's racism and inciting violence.  Because it marks progress. Racism and violence never seemed to bother them in the past.  They embraced the Southern Strategy and have fought against voting rights for people of color and supported law and order legislation that disproportionately imprisoned blacks, they're against immigration reform, they love the NRA and talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh.  So to oppose violent racists is progress.

I can't help thinking it's really more about Trump's unpredictability and the fear of losing the power they have in Washington.   And all the things they've been able to do all these years without any serious accountability to the public.

But I don't have access to their texts or phone calls, so I really don't know specifics.  But with stories like these about 'leading conservatives' plotting to keep Trump from getting the nomination, I'm sure they're going to win the hearts and minds of their Tea Party core.

Photoshopping Spring Icicles

The sun is rising from the east now.  That may not sound like a big deal for most, but in the winter in Anchorage, the sun barely peeks up above the southern horizon.  Now it's in the east, and by the solstice it will be rising in the north, circling around the sky, and then dipping down again in the north.  So I had a little sunlight behind these icicles.

My autofocus was trying to decide if I wanted the icicles or the trees in the background.  So I took one of the pictures with the icicles  way out of focus and played with it in photoshop.

On top is the original picture with the blurred icicle.  Some interesting shapes, but not a very pleasing picture.

In the middle is the same picture after playing with it in curves.  I like the background here, but not the icicle.

And on the bottom, is using filters on the picture above it.  I'm pretty sure I used reticulation in the sketch folder, but I can't replicate it.  I get the purples, but not the greens.

In this last group, the middle picture is the original - the icicles somewhat out of focus.  Again, a bit of curves help, and then back to filters.  The one on the right is the posterize filter.  Can't remember the one on the right.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Why Passover And Easter Are A Month Apart This Year

Well, almost a month.

It seemed to me, though I'd never actually looked it up, that Easter and Passover were generally pretty close together and it had something to do with the last supper being a seder.

 But I noticed this year that Easter is March 27 and Passover doesn't begin until April 22.

 I got an answer - but I decided to double check and the other answers were overlapping, but not quite exactly the same. So here are three sources. This one is about why they are both generally around the same time, from My Jewish Learning:
"First, their inviolable matrix is spring. In each case, the calendar is adjusted to ensure that the holiday is celebrated early in the spring. For the church, which believed that the resurrection took place on a Sunday, the First Council of Nicaea in 325 determined that Easter should always fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. In consequence, Easter remained without a fixed date but proximate to the full moon, which coincided with the start of Passover on the 15th of Nissan. 
By the same token, the rabbis understood the verse “You go free on this day, in the month of Aviv” (Exodus 13:4) to restrict Passover to early spring — that is in a transitional month when the winter rains end and the weather turns mild. The word “Aviv” actually means fresh ears of barley.   
Moreover, since the Torah had stipulated that the month in which the exodus from Egypt occurred should mark the start of a new year (Exodus 12:2), the end of the prior year was subject to periodic extension in order to keep the Jewish lunar calendar in sync with the solar year. Thus, if the barley in the fields or the fruit on the trees had not ripened sufficiently for bringing the omer [the first barley sheaf, which was donated to the Temple] or the first fruits to the Temple, the arrival of Passover could be delayed by declaring a leap year and doubling the final month of Adar (Tosefta Sanhedrin 2:2). In short, Easter and Passover were destined to coincide time and again. .  ."
Here's the first one I found that looked at why the two were not so close together this year.  It's from Studies In The Word, and has the dubious title of "Why the Jewish calendar will be incorrect in 2016":
In trying to follow Exodus 12:2, Exodus 13:3-4, 7-10, and Numbers 9:2-3, Judaism [I didn't know that Judaism could speak] says that Passover, which they celebrate on Nisan 15 rather than on Nisan 14, must not fall before the northern hemisphere spring equinox (Tekufot Nisan). The spring equinox currently occurs each year on March 20th or 21st and is that time when day and night are of approximately equal length. The spring equinox establishes the first day of spring. It is a solar, not a lunar, phenomenon. 
But current Jewish calendar procedures periodically conflict with the use of the equinox to establish the first month of the religious year: 
In 2016, Nisan 14 (Passover) can fall on March 22, the first opportunity for the 14th day of a Biblical month to occur after the equinox. But the Jewish calendar sets Nisan 14 at April 22nd. Why? Because the Jewish year 5776 (the spring months of 2016 fall within the Jewish year 5776) happens to be the 19th year of the 19-year calendar cycle and is then, by Judaic definition, a leap year (the 13th month must be added). This forces the first month to begin one month later than it normally would. Unfortunately, their calendar leap year tradition is so rigid that they fail to follow what we agree is the correct interpretation of the scriptures listed above, that God gave them, which strongly imply that the Passover must be kept at the first opportunity on or after the spring equinox. 
What allows them to ignore their own calendar rules? One reason they feel free to adjust the calendar to their liking is because Leviticus 23:2 and 4 are interpreted by Jewish Oral Law as saying that the people are allowed to keep the Holy Days on whatever day is most convenient.

Another site I looked at explained why Easter and Passover were several weeks apart in 2014 - which shouldn't be related to a 19 year cycle if 2016 is on that cycle.  Part of this explanation comes from an astronomer:
"The Last Supper was indeed the Passover; thus Holy Thursday, in the year that Christ was crucified, fell on Passover. That made Easter, the day that Christ rose from the dead, the Sunday after Passover. 
Because Christians in different areas were celebrating Easter on different days, the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325, established a formula for calculating the date of Easter. That formula was designed to place Easter at the same point in the astronomical cycle every year; if followed, it would always place Easter on a Sunday after Passover. And indeed, that formula is still followed today. 
Why, then, will Jews celebrate Passover beginning on April 19, 2008, while Western Christians will celebrate Easter on March 23? 
The answer, as William H. Jefferys, the Harlan J. Smith Centennial Professor of Astronomy (Emeritus) at the University of Texas at Austin, explains, is that, since the standardization of the Hebrew calendar in the fourth century A.D., "actual observations of celestial events no longer played a part in the determination of the date of Passover." Thus, "the rule for Passover, which was originally intended to track the vernal equinox, has gotten a few days off." 
The same thing has happened with the Eastern Orthodox calculation of the date of Easter. Because the Eastern Orthodox still use the astronomically incorrect Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar that was adopted in the West in 1582, the Orthodox will celebrate Easter this year on April 27. 
With the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the West brought the calculation of Easter back into sync with the astronomical calendar. In other words, the Western date of Easter is the most closely aligned to the astronomical cycles on which the date of Passover is supposed to be based."
This last one  "the rule for Passover . . . has gotten a few days off" but that doesn't explain why it was three weeks off in 2008 and is again that far off in 2016, which the second reference says is due to the Jewish calendar leap year.

I've quoted a little more than I normally would because there are lots of nuggets and I don't think I could summarize as neatly as the writers did.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Real Snow

Compared the the anemic snow we had earlier this week, today it's been snowing steadily all day.  I swept - yes the broom was easier with the two or three inches of light fluffy snow - the driveway and sidewalk this morning.

Here's a glimpse of the snow in the backyard.

And then this afternoon I shoveled another five or six inches that accumulated since the morning.

The equinox officially begins here this evening.

Where To Invade Next

We saw Michael Moore's Where To Invade Next Wednesday night.

It's simplistic.  It's silly.  The premise is that Michael Moore is going to invade other countries and take home their best ideas.  He plants an American flag in these various nations and claims their good ideas for the US.  And most of the people he talks with, tell him with a big smile, he's welcome to take the ideas.

In the end, I thought the films strongest point was that the different parts of the world are doing many things better than we do in the US.  While one could quibble that Moore cherry picks the best examples and ignores the problems, the overall impact is simply showing Americans the level of services that people get in other countries, and he quite cleverly gets many of his foreign informants to say that the idea originally came from the US.  Presumably to appease those Americans who can't deal with the idea that the US isn't number one for everything.

It reminds of me of when the Chinese showed American films that displayed the levels of crime and discord in the US, what the Chinese saw were typical American kitchens, that everyone had a car, etc.  That's what this film has to leave Americans with - the realization that there places around the world where they have figured out how to do things much better than we are doing them.   Even Trump supporters can't help but see that the rest of the world isn't living in poverty under evil socialist tyrants.

We see, for example, vacation time for workers in Italy,  school lunches in France, mid-day lunches at home in Spain, prisons in Norway, schools in Finland, drug enforcement in Portugal (no one is arrested or imprisoned there for using drugs;  instead they have treatment programs), and women's health clinics in Tunisia, as well as the position of women in Iceland where he interviews the first woman president who was elected back in the 1970s.  

I was wondering whether I should even try to write about this film.  And then I saw this article in the
 Los Angeles Times today by a visiting professor whose kid spent time in a Finish school.  It really backs up everything Moore was trying to present.
"In Finland, children don’t receive formal academic training until the age of 7. Until then, many are in day care and learn through play, songs, games and conversation. Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest. School hours are short and homework is generally light. Unlike in the United States, where many schools are slashing recess, schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, 'There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.'”

"In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: “Let children be children,” “The work of a child is to play,” and 'Children learn best through play.'”
Now we need more first hand experience articles say for Norwegian prisons and with American students getting free education at the University of Slovenia (well, Moore did interview some who went there to avoid the high cost of US college tuition.)

I suspect the segments that will irritate believers in hard work and discipline the most are the Norwegian prisons and Finnish schools.  For some conservatives, treating people with respect is difficult.  Kids and prisoners should be disciplined and punished if they disobey the rules.  But these examples suggest the hardline discipline and control models may not be as good as the decency and respect models.

Despite the political rhetoric, we aren't the best at everything.  We're good at a lot of things, but we can learn a lot from other countries.  This film is a good start for folks who consciously or unconsciously think, while complaining, that we are the best at everything.

After writing this I found the NY Times review, which is more or less on the same vein as mine.  Though he felt it was more a bad reflection of the US rather than a good reflections of the places Moore visited.

Friday, March 18, 2016


It's not good when the dentist says, "This was the most difficult filling I've one this year."  OK, it's only March, but still.  I inherited relatively good teeth and soda just wasn't part of my growing up or adulthood.  Cavities have been rare and slow to develop.  So I'm not used to the dentist saying you have a cavity, particularly a bad one.  But somehow this one didn't show up clearly in last year's X-ray, but did with a vengeance this year.

It was a surreal experience.  The cotton swab with what looked like congealed blood on it, used to numb my gums worked.  I really didn't feel the needle that killed the pain and feeling.  I just lay back on the chair as fingers and tubes filled my mouth.  Didn't feel the drill at all.  But another device that vibrated strongly brought my full attention back to my mouth.  But I felt somehow disconnected from what was going on in there.  In was only at the end that I thought about pulling out my camera and documenting the invasion.
And apparently this one is just a temporary filling until we decide what the next steps are.

Just for the record, here are stats on dental health from the National Institutes of Health:
"Prevalence ( Table 1)
  • 92% of adults 20 to 64 have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.
  • White adults and those living in families with higher incomes and more education have had more decay.  [This is a surprising finding.  Perhaps they're more likely to see a dentist and get recorded.]
Unmet Needs ( Table 2)
  • 26% of adults 20 to 64 have untreated decay.
  • Black and Hispanic adults, younger adults, and those with lower incomes and less education have more untreated decay.
Severity ( Table 3 and Table 4)
  • Adults 20 to 64 have an average of 3.28 decayed or missing permanent teeth and 13.65 decayed and missing permanent surfaces.
  • Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more severe decay in permanent teeth.
  • Black and Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more untreated permanent teeth. 
Tables 1 through 4 present selected caries estimates in permanent teeth for adults aged 20 to 64 years and for selected subgroups.
Units of Measure: Dental caries is measured by a dentist examining a person’s teeth, and recording the ones with untreated tooth decay and the ones with fillings. This provides three important numbers:
FT (filled teeth): this is the number of decayed teeth that have been treated, which indicates access to dental care;
DMT (decayed and missing teeth): this is the number decayed and missing teeth that have not been treated, which measures unmet need; and
DMFT (decayed, missing, and filled teeth): this is the sum of DMT and FT, and is the measure of person’s total lifetime tooth decay.
In addition to counting decayed and filled teeth, this same information can be gathered at the tooth surface level. Since every tooth has multiple surfaces, counting the decayed or filled surfaces provides a more accurate measure of the severity of decay. The following tables list both methods of measuring caries."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Talking With Republican Members of Congress About Climate Change

South Florida Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo was the speaker on Saturday's international phone-in Citizens Climate Lobby meeting.  He talked about his bi-partisan committee on climate change in the House.  If you're a Republican who wants to join, you must invite a Democrat to join at the same time, and vice versa.

Since I wasn't in Anchorage, I checked online to find the local chapter contact info for  Bainbridge Island.  The group was very welcoming and I enjoyed getting to meet people there who were also CCL members.  They gave me some ideas to bring back to Anchorage for our chapter work.

Bainbridge Island CCL meeting March 2016

Curbelo's interest comes from representing South Florida. He knows that without strong, immediate action, rising oceans due to climate change will inundate his district.  He even jokes with his House colleagues that they need to act because when his district is underwater he'll move to their district and run against them.

He identifies two extremes - the deniers and the alarmists.  As a Republican talking to Republicans, I guess that is helpful.  But I would take exception to arguing that those extremes are equivalent.  While there are people who may claim exaggerated dangers for climate change, many of those who were called alarmists in the past have been proven to have understated the dangers or how quickly things like Arctic ice cap melting was going to happen.  "Alarmists' are, at worst, exaggerating the truth.  Deniers are flat out wrong, and some have knowingly lied publicly to cast doubt on the very real dangers of climate change.

But it's not the policy of CCL to argue with partners, but to find what they have in common, and you can get the sense of that if you listen to Saturday's meeting which you can do below.

The most positive message I got from Rep. Curbelo was when he said there are many Republicans who are ready to come out of the Climate Change closet and support efforts to cut carbon.  He suggested that once the primaries are over, more Republicans will get on board.

Curbelo likes the carbon fee option because it's a market based solution.  He even pointed out that we already have a default carbon tax - the cost of the EPA - and that a market based fee would be more predictable than EPA regulations.

As I've said before, I joined CCL because I think climate change is the single most important issue facing the world and that CCL is one of, if not the, most efficient and effective organization I've ever come across.  And it takes a fairly Buddhist approach to connecting with other people who are normally considered adversaries.

After Curbelo, there's a connection with one of the Canadian members who talks about Trudeau's visit to Washington, and also his plans for a nationally integrated carbon fee program.  Then preparations for district meetings and the national conference in DC in June.  A key issues is learning to listen rather than try to respond immediately when talking with congress members and their staffers.  Mark, the coordinator, also talked about the explosion of international members in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America which has happened since the climate summit in Paris.

Supreme Court Showdown

McConnell in February:
“'The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President,” McConnell said in a statement."
And today we get from NPR:

"HATCH: What I know about Judge Garland - he's a good man, but he shouldn't be brought up in this toxic environment. I'm tired of the Supreme Court being used as a battering ball back and forth between both sides.
Which toxic environment is he talking about?  The one that began with McConnell saying that the Republicans' top priority was to make Obama a one-term president?  The one where Republicans have been holding up hearings on most Obama nominated judges?  The one where Republicans have voted over 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act?    I think if sometimes Obama gets a bit touchy, it's understandable.   But if one really believes a piece of legislation is detrimental, shouldn't they fight to prevent it?  Yeah sure, but when every piece of legislation is a crisis and no judges can be approved in the first, second, or third, let alone fourth year of Obama's term, then you have to rethink your position.
MCCONNELL: It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election."
Scalia died.  Obama is responding to that vacancy on the court, by doing his constitutional job of nominating Supreme Court judges.  Obama didn't pick when Scalia died.  The judge he's nominated - Merrick Garland - appears to be the least political judge he could have found who would also be acceptable to his own party.  The Republicans have had a long term strategy through the Federalist Society to turn out judges who will be decidedly more conservative in their decisions.  Leaving vacant judgeships is less of a concern for Republicans in the Senate than preventing liberal or even apolitical judges from being appointed.

There's no question that Democrats are just as concerned about a judge being appointed who would overturn Roe v Wade and other key issues as the Republicans are concerned about approving judges who would affirm Roe v Wade.  But the president was elected and his level of popularity is higher than the Senate's, despite how much he's been bashed by the right for the last seven years.

It is the job of the US Senate to approve or reject the president's nominations to the court.  Not holding a hearing is a form of rejection.  One could argue the constitution doesn't require them to hold hearings, but if they refuse to confirm most judges (and other appointments) there comes a time when government is unworkable.  And the dysfunction becomes worse than any specific appointment could be.  Presidential year and  yearlong vacancies are rare.  The last Supreme Court approval in an election year  was  Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy  in 1988.   The last year long (363 days) vacancy on the court was over 45 years ago - in 1969.

Obama's nominee - Merrick Garland- appears to be the most appealing nominee (to today's Republicans) a Democratic president could make.  He's white.  He's male.  And he's 63 years old. That makes him older than Roberts (who has served 10 years already), Sotomayor (who has served six years), and Kagan (who has served five years.)  He's apparently not ideological.  But still, even if he makes decisions based on the law and the facts, that's not good enough for Republicans.

Republican intransigence has paid off for them by forcing Obama to nominate someone with a less liberal bent than he might have preferred.

But refusing to even hold hearings could backfire on the Republicans.  First, it could look like - to independent voters - as though they were simply blocking the candidate in hopes a Republican president will give them a better option.  And few would argue believably that this isn't the case.  Such voters might sit out the election or vote Democratic.

Second, if they don't win the presidency in November, then the next president is likely to go for a much more liberal supreme court nominee.  And given the meltdown in the Republican party, there's a good chance that many conservative voters could simply sit out the election.  If that happens, the Democrats could even take back the Senate making confirmations easier.

The Republicans do have an out.  They can wait to see how the November elections go and then approve Merrick after the election.  Should the Democratic candidate win along with a change in party leadership in the Senate, I suspect they will quickly ratify Merrick before the new president is in office.

It would be nice though, if McConnell would just say:  "We are going to block this nominee because we're hoping a Republican president will fill this position with someone who will vote the way we want him to vote."  Well, he's getting as close to that, and it's obvious to most people that that's what he means.