Friday, June 30, 2017

Is There Time To Both Garden And Blog?

I ran into an old UAA colleague at the botanical garden yesterday and she asked what kind of plants I was looking for.  Shade.  I need things that grow in the shade.

Monk's Hood

M is a botanist and asked if I wanted some monks' hood.  They're one of my favorite Alaska
wildflowers so I said yes!  Today I went over with my granddaughter to get some monk's hood.  I ended up with a ton of different plants from M's amazing garden.  She needed to pull things out, she said, so I rationalized I was helping her thin out her garden.  Even after a mom and two calf moose pruned her garden and spent the night last night.

But then I got home and had to plant and water everything.

My yard is essentially wild.  Part of it is natural Alaskan wild - spruce, birch, cottonwood with an undergrowth of high bush cranberry.  Other parts are pretty scraggly looking.  I'm not a fan of lawns and ours is a mix of grass, clover, moss, and dandelions.  And there are a few beds that I've tended to that look like a garden that's not totally wild.

But as I tried to find places to plant all of M's gifts, I realized there were places on the sides of the house that I'd just given up on.  We don't usually go that way and when I tried to put raspberries in, they didn't do well at all.  I found one sprouting as I was seeking out spots I could at least give the plants a temporary home until I figured out where I wanted them.  I also thought I'd test different locations to see which ones thrived where.

And as I did all this, I realized how much I like digging in the dirt but also how much time it takes to keep everything in tip top shape.  M's garden is truly amazing.  There are beds everywhere and everything is blooming.  Or at least it seems that way.  I still have to move the sprinkler to water some of the out of the way spots I planted.  And I have to do an inventory of where I planted everything so I'll know what didn't make it.  (I'm assuming I'll know what did survive.)

A couple of discoveries while I was wandering the yard.
1.  My flax plants that I started from seed and looked so terribly frail when I planted outside, are still alive several weeks later.   This is exciting because the last time I planted flax, they survived and receded about 16 years.  Last year I realized I was down to my last surviving cluster of flax plants so I got more seeds.  The flax flowers are about dime sized and the bloom all summer long.

2.  The choke-cherry (May Day tree) whose branches I cut off earlier this spring to keep the flowers from sending seeds all over is totally gone!  I had just cut off all the branches.  It was just over the fence in the alley.  I couldn't even see a trace of the trunk - it was about four or five inches in diameter.  I'm guessing the electric utility must have taken it because it was growing under the power line.  I thought I was going to have to do away with the rest of the tree.  Whoever took it down, thanks.  I still have another one in the yard to deal with.  I cut off all the flowers, but left it because the leaves are doing a good job of screening the neighbor's yard.

Ok, back to the original question.  Yes, I think one can do both, especially if one is a garden blogger, which I am on occasion.  The key to the garden, I'm trying to convince myself, is to regularly spend 30-60 minutes in the garden doing stuff and occasionally taking on longer projects.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Today Was International Mud Day

Z and I went to the Alaska Botanical Garden today to buy some shade loving perennials and had some extra adventures besides.

It turned out to be Mud Day, but they were just setting up and we couldn't stay that long.

From Days of the Year:
"The creators of International Mud Day wanted to find a way to help all of the children of the Earth feel closer to each other…and what a better way to do it than through the Earth itself? International Mud Day began in 2009 at a World Forum event, when Gillian McAuliffe from Australia and Bishnu Bhatta from Nepal got together to talk about ways to encourage feelings of community and appreciation for the world around us. The collaboration that followed has inspired educators, children,and families across the globe, from Holland to Nepal to the United States, to celebrate International Mud Day together each year on June 29. Regardless of age, race and religion, covered in mud, we all look the same!"
We also got to sit in on a worm workshop for kids that was about the role of worms in composting.  There was even a scavenger hunt things to look for in the worm bin compost.

The botanical gardens are really growing up and are looking more and more like a serious botanical garden and not just some plots dug out in the woods like it did in the beginning.  The irises were blooming in Lile's Garden, one of the nicest spots in the garden.

If you have any young kids who need entertaining, one easy option - if they can play outside - is a spray bottle.  We've found these great when we've had people over with kids, and here's the one that my grand daughter loves this one (with some help from photoshop.)

Z went swimming with her grandmother after helping start a loaf of bread.  Lots of fun today.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hanging Out With My Granddaughter

I stayed with the car while J went into the baggage area.  Then she came out carrying my granddaughter who then ran to me and gave me a great big, long hug.  As I've posted before, not ever having met any of my own grandparents, I didn't realize what I was missing.  We have lots planned for her visit. 

Today we tried out the new bicycle trailer.  Last year we borrowed the kind that's like a stroller attached to the back of a bike.  This time I got a bike off Craigslist that attaches to my seat stem.  I told her she can't fall asleep this time - she's got to keep her hands on the handle bars and feet on the peddles. She hasn't mastered riding a bike on her own and I was completely sure how this was going to work out.  

But as soon as I started pedaling, everything was just fine.  She was totally delighted.  We got to Campbell Creek and stopped on the bridge to check for salmon.  

Here's the bike with the trailer attached under the seat.  We did eventually have some problems because it wasn't attached tightly enough.  No danger of it coming off, but it twisted to left and I'd here, "I'm sideways" and we'd stop and and adjust it.  

I hadn't seen any salmon yet this summer, but there they were today.   I don't have a polarizing filter on my little camera - I don't think I can even put a filter on it.  But there are six or seven reddish shapes under the water above the white water around the rocks.  They were easier to see in the original and you might do better if you click on the picture, or just check the picture below.   It was like they were daring each other to be the first to try to break through. We waited about five minutes - which is like an hour for a four year old - and then we rode on.

At the next bridge the fish were easier to see.  

If you start in the lower left corner and look up toward the middle along the plants, you should see the reddish shapes in the water.  By this time though, the attachment was getting looser and the trailer was shifting more frequently, so we turned back and went to the playground by Lake Otis.  Kids playgrounds have gotten much more interesting and much safer over the years and she had a great time exploring.  This playground also has one of those community library boxes and she got some books and we read a while.  

By then, the trailer was getting looser so we walked the bikes home.  I need to tighten it better.  But we made some lunch and ate on the deck.  Z has a little sprayer and is spraying everything with water.  I had thought she might find the crossword puzzle interesting.  Her vocabulary is big enough that she'd get some of it.  After I filled in a few, she wanted the pen, and to my surprise wrote in the letters.  It was slow and they weren't always facing the right direction, but she did do it.  I can read them anyway, but I know what she was trying to write.  Like 10 down is GRAB. I had to tell her the letters.

I'd show you some playground pictures, and I wouldn't have cut off the rest of the bike in the first picture, but grandchild pictures are off limits.  Which is fine.  There are some strange people lurking out there - none of my regular readers, of course.  Well, maybe a few.  Here's a picture of the bike trailer when I bought it.  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Notes On The News: The Symbolism Of Killing Obamacare, Of Travel Bans, Hawaiian Shirts, And Of Income Taxes

[These are my quick reactions to things I saw in the Alaska Dispatch News, paper edition, today.  Links are to what I could get online.  The ADN takes national stories from other papers, so the links get to them instead of ADN and may have different headlines.  And even the ADN articles online may have different headlines than the paper edition.]

1.  CBO:  22 million would join uninsured  

My Take:  The Republican brand has been anti-Obama for so long that they have forgotten what they are for.  Their key symbol of Obama has been the ACA or what they dubbed Obamacare.  And Trump, who wasn't particularly involved in Republican politics before his campaign, piggybacked on the Fox News generated hate of Obamacare among his 'base' and made 'repeal and replace' one of his key campaign goals.

So now  Majority Leader McConnell is willing to wreak havoc for tens of millions of Americans who will be edged out of health care access, just so he can say, "We got rid of Obamacare."  It would be fascinating to know what psychic demons are driving McConnell's sick mission.

This is all symbolism, with potentially deadly consequences for many Americans.

2.  Supreme Court to hear case on travel ban

Basically the court said the 90 day ban on people coming from six Muslim nations and the 120 day suspension on the nation's refugee program, could happen, but with limits.  Trump claims victory, travel advocates say the decision will impact only a few.
"The court said the ban could not be imposed on anyone who had 'a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.'”
Immigrant advocates say such a bonafide relationship means people with relatives in the US, who have been accepted into universities or been offered jobs, or asked to give a speech.  Most applicants meet these standards, the advocates say, so the ban will affect few people.

But I'm looking at the issues of dates and security.  This ban was imposed right after Trump took office, in late January.  A CNN report from Jan 29 says:
Trump barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for at least the next 90 days by executive order, which a senior White House official said later Friday is likely just a first step toward establishing a broader ban.
"Trump also stopped the admission of all refugees to the United States for four months.
During that time, Trump's secretary of state will review the application and screening process for refugees to be admitted to the US."
So they've had plenty of time - more than the 90 and 120 days - to expand the ban and review the refugee process.    They should be ready now. If not,  it will be nearly another 120 days before the court hears the case.  So it will be moot.  Except probably what they wanted won't be allowed.

Trump said in February, "nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated."  Of course we all knew, and we all know now that if Trump doesn't know something, he believes 'nobody knows' it. Middle East peace isn't as easy as he thought either.  

He also had no idea of the high level of vetting that already existed for refugees  to get into the United States.  And he still has no idea of the suffering and hardships and fear refugees experience trying to get out of danger and into a permanent home, and how his polices just makes things worse for them.  And our Republican controlled congress. . . well see the first headline above.  The bans were just symbols for his base and his own ego.

3.  Rick Koch (1956 - 2017) 
"For the Celebration of Life, attendees are invited to wear loud Hawaiian shirts, awful camouflaged shorts and/or mismatched prints in honor of Rick's truly horrendous fashion sense."
An obituary that starts out like this suggests that the good things it says about Rick Koch are probably true.  He died too young (age 60 in a motorcycle accident), but it sounds like he was a good man who loved people and helping out.

3.  How to fix alaska's fiscal problem for the long haul

When I read this title, it hit me:  everyone is talking about a fiscal problem.  Alaska has no fiscal problem, we have an ideology problem  - the Senate majority is so stuck on the evils of an income tax that they can't see the forest for the trees.  As this opinion piece spells out, the compromise our legislature just made, pretty much drained the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR).
 A $13 billion CBR could have generated $650 million a year – year after year after year. At the end of the coming fiscal year, according to press reports, only $2 billion will be left.
This is a good piece (translation:  I agree with most of it, though I think he's a bit near-sighted about the Permanent Fund) and I recommend people read it.  A step in changing the ideology problem in the state senate is the announcement that Fairbanks representative Scott Kawasaki is seriously considering running for the state senate seat now held by Senate Majority leader Pete Kelly.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Anchorage Pridefest 5: Fire and Brimstone

The Pridefest was not all sweetness and light.  There were a few folks who were there to pass on their interpretation of God's word, and it wasn't pretty.   I went to the spot to figure out what was going on. There was this big sign, the rainbow flag, drummers, and people dressed like angels.  I asked one of the angels what was happening and why she was there.  Her reply was something like, "I get harassed every day.  I don't need to hear it at Pridefest where I should be safe with welcoming people."

So, the angels and the flag were surrounding the protests, blocking them from view and the drums were drowning out their message.

There are lots of interpretations of the bible.  Many conclude that homosexuality as we know it today is not what the bible refers to.  For example, this evangelical who believes practicing homosexuality is a sin, argues that the sin of Sodom was NOT homosexuality.
"There’s nothing in Genesis 19 that talks about gay people. The main sin committed in Genesis 19 was attempted gang rape. And I don’t know any gay person who’s trying to justify gang rape. In fact, whenever Sodom is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, the city is usually described as being inhospitable and not caring for the poor — an ironic description of many straight Christians."
I'm not a biblical scholar and don't know Hebrew or Aramaic, so I'm not qualified to interpret these passages.  I can only point out that various Christians (and Jews) have different interpretations about what the bible says about homosexuality.  Another writer I saw claims the opposite of this quote - that Sodom was not about lacking hospitality and it was all about homosexuality.

The woman in the white tee shirt with the microphone was droning on and on.  I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it really didn't make any sense to me.  I'm sure all the drumming didn't help.  Someone told me that this group was from the Valley and they showed up last year and no one was prepared.  This year they were prepared.  They were even passing out earplugs.  [My wife, who wasn't there, thinks the word 'droning' is too judgmental.  Normally I'd try to find another word, but 'harangue' isn't neutral either.  But to my ear, both are good descriptions of lecturing to a crowd of people who simply don't want to hear what you have to say.]

This does, of course, raise free speech questions for some.  As the first woman I spoke to said, "This is the one day I shouldn't have to hear this sort of thing."  I expect 99% of the people at Pridefest don't want to hear this woman.  They've heard messages like hers all their lives.  One could argue she's disturbing their peace.  But Pridefest isn't shutting her down, they're just counter protesting her.  And anyone who wants to know what her message is can come in close and listen.

I'd note the implication of 'real Christians' on the tee shirt would seem to be, "If you disagree with me on this, then you aren't a real Christian."  I've always heard the the most important message of Christianity was: "do onto other what you'd have others to do onto you." That's not something these folks are doing.

If you click on the image, it will get clearer and you can see at the bottom it references Matthew 19: 4-7.

Well, here's Matthew 9 4-7
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’1 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’2? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7  “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Hmmm, good question.
 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Leviticus says the punishment for all sexual immorality starting with adultery and including 'a man lies with a man as with a woman' is death.  I haven't heard about anyone picketing the divorce courts.  I did look quickly to make sure and only found reference to people opposing orthodox Jewish men who don't allow their wives to divorce.  I wonder if the picketers at Pridefest voted for the president who's on his third wife and was practicing sexual immorality with his second wife when he was still married to his first wife?

But let's read the rest of this section of Matthew:
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Professor of Theology and Ethical Studies Stephen J. Patterson interprets what "when a man lies with a man as with a woman" might mean in the context of the Middle East 2500 years ago.  He argues it does not mean what we call homosexuality today.  Instead he argues it's a form of dominance by one heterosexual male over another.  He then points out the example Jonathan and Samuel, "“Your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women.” 

I'm not a biblical scholar and I don't necessarily buy this interpretation, but enough denominations of Christianity, not to mention of Judaism, accept gay love and marriage that I have to believe that when reading the original Hebrew and maybe even Aramaic, there's lots of room for interpretation.

I don't have a neat ending for this.  I'm just documenting what I saw and what I've been able to find online to help me interpret the bible passages.  I don't pretend that these interpretations I've quoted are 'right' just that they exist.

Anchorage Pridefest 4: Dogs of Pridefest

Let's start with little dogs.  Rachel's got her pup in a front pack because it's got a recovering foot.  But the dog attracted a hello from a vet and there was a long discussion. There's hemp based medication you can get for dogs.  One issue I hadn't thought about given the legal status of marijuana in Alaska now, was an increase of dogs coming to the vet after consuming cannabis edibles.  They either come in very dopey or very wired.

There were also middle sized dogs.

And very big dogs.

The first post on Pridefest covered this year's parade.
The second covered businesses that had booths at the Pridefest.
The third was people.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Anchorage Pridefest 3: People I Met

What a difference a year makes.

I met Chris Constant last year at Pridefest.  I'd heard his name and vice versa, but we'd never met.  He had a booth as part of his campaign to be on the Municipal Assembly for downtown Anchorage.  Here are some more pictures from last year's fest.

One thing he told me last year, was he was hoping to be the first openly gay Assembly member.  He's pictured here with his mom.

He did get elected to the Assembly (our city council).  But is he the first openly gay Assembly member?  Sort of, but Felix Rivera, another openly gay candidate was also elected, so they are the first two.  When I asked him how things have been so far, he told me that there have been about 100 votes since he was sworn in.  And he and Amy (Demboski who is also on the Assembly and ran for Mayor with a very anti-gay platform) have voted the same except for three times.  But, he added, he also has voted differently from most of his more liberal colleagues about three times as well.

Another reminder that the media's focus on conflict means we think there's a lot more conflict and less cooperation than there really is.  It is easier, and more necessary, for the Assembly members to get along with each other.  There are only eleven members and the meet all year.  They have to find a way to do more than just make nice.

And here's Felix with Elvi Gray-Jackson, the long time assembly member he replaced.

This young man agreed to a picture.  I don't think I got his name, it's not written down in my notes and it was before a got a pen from Konrad at the Alaska Club booth.

But I got this picture of two more rainbow beards later and these are Thomas and Keith.

Here's my friend Kokayi with a friend of his whose name I didn't catch.

And here are some friends from University of Alaska days.

Travis (on the left) is a friend I know from Citizens Climate Lobby and he's in charge of community outreach at St. Mary's.  And to mess with people's stereotypes, he's also a  BP engineer.

And finally, for this post, we have Mary Jo Torgeson, Anchorage's library director.  I'd never met her before and we had a great discussion on a variety of library related topics, but I'll focus on the renovation.  First, why is it so late?  Well, the as-builts weren't accurate and the found things - like pipes of a different size - that caused a lot of delays.  Second, some wanted to close the library during some of the construction which would have sped things up, but keeping it open was the decision.  I don't know how long it would have been closed, but it's been under construction for over a year now and I think I'd prefer it open even if that meant it took longer.  Here's the first post I did on the renovation - back in February 2016.

But the news is they're planning an opening on July 17.  Though there still we be more internal work to finish up even then.

Here's a link to Anchorage Pridefest 1:  The Parade.
Here's a link to Anchorage Pridefest 2:  Businesses with Pridefest Booths

Anchorage Pridefest 2: Businesses With Pridefest Booths

I'm didn't get them all, and I'm not counting the food trucks here, but here are some of the companies that were at the festival.  

I'm going to start with this one - The Great Land Infusion Pharmacy - because it seems the company that's feels most at home at the Pridefest.  The pharmacy is on Tudor right near Lake Otis.  These are pharmacists Rod and Justin

and they were highlighting PrEP, and HIV prevention drug.

From the CDC website:
"Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. The pill (brand name Truvada) contains two medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine) that are used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV. When someone is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines can work to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection.
When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%. PrEP is much less effective if it is not taken consistently."

This is Bill from the Cake Studio and he assured me that they wouldn't turn down making a cake for a same sex wedding.

Mara sells stun guns and pepper spray and other tools aimed at women who feel they need some protection.  Many years ago, my wife and daughter attended a women's self defense class in town that  they felt was quite useful.  The key lesson was how to be alert and not get into risky situations - being mindful of where you are and who is around you.  Mara demonstrated a hand held stun gun that has a wrist band.  If it gets disconnected from the wrist band, it won't work.  She said it causes a severe muscle spasm.  I think classes for how to use things like this would be helpful.  But there are times when having one of these would be helpful.  This company does not have stores, just individual sales folk.

Konrad is the membership coordinator for several of the Alaska Club locations.  He's a great salesman, getting his message across, but careful not to be pushy.  He was giving out coupons for free introductory visits.

Gabe Larson actually works at the Native Hospital and this is a sideline - emergency medical aid at events like this until the Fire Department arrives.  He says he has had very few serious situations in the various events he's been at.

AARP was here with a number of other not-profit organizations.

And BP and Wells Fargo also had booths.

Next post I'll put up pictures of people who I met - some I already knew, others I met for the first time.

The first post on Pridefest covered this year's parade.
And also up now: Pridefest 3 - People I Met

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Anchorage Pridefest Part 1: The Parade

I joined the group from Congregation Beth Sholom marching in the Pride Parade in Anchorage today.    I'm splitting this into two or three posts, starting with the parade.  But it was a good day, lots and lots of people out, quite a few company sponsors, some protesters, and lots of dogs and food.

So let's start with prepping for the parade around 8th and F Street.

Right behind Congregation Beth Sholom was the National Park Service.

I knew who Sally Ride was, but knew nothing about Pauli Murray until I got home and googled.  Very briefly, she was born in 1903, lost both parents very early, but got herself to Hunter College, but dropped out after she couldn't get work during the crash in 1929.  University of North Carolina wouldn't admit her in 1938 because she was black, but her case was widely known and she met Eleanor Roosevelt.   She did graduate from Howard, and though she got a prestigious scholarship into Harvard Law School, was rejected ultimately because she was a woman.  Instead she went to Boalt School of Law at the University of California.  It gets better and better.  You can read all about Pauli Murray here.

From Out History:
"Albert Cashier was born Jennie Irene Hodgers on Christmas day, 1843 in Clogherhead, Ireland. . .
Cashier then found his way to Illinois as a stowaway[3][4], though the timing of this is also unclear. He worked a few different jobs including as a laborer, farmhand, and shepherd[5], all the while passing as male. In August of 1862 he enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry, Union army of the American Civil War as “Albert D. J. Cashier” in Belvidere, IL[6][7]. He remained in the army for three years before he returned to civilian life[8]."
Finally, Gilbert Baker.  He's the man who created the rainbow flag.  I didn't know about him either.  He died March 31 this year at age 65.  Let him tell you about the flag's creation himself in this video I found at Gilbert's website which has more videos:

One of the great things about blogging is that I learn all this stuff I didn't know and probably wouldn't have known if I weren't going to write about what I saw and did today.

Here's a shot of people on the float of the Asian Community as we marched by and they were in a cross street waiting to join the parade.

I'm not much of a parade person, but it was fun seeing the people lining the streets from within parade itself.

I'm guessing that this is Daphne, since the Anchorage Pridefest website says that Daphne will read the group bios as they get to this point.  And that's what she's doing here.

I have lots more pictures.  I'm trying to figure out how to organize them.  There are a number of dog pictures, there's the strange protest group that got masked by white angels and drums, there are the businesses and other organizations that had booths, and just a mix of other people I met along the way.  More soon.

Anchorage Pridefest 2 is now up.
So is Pridefest 3 - People I Met

Friday, June 23, 2017

Like Father Like Son, Or Like Mother Like Daughter, Or Like Father Like Daughter, Mother Like Son?

The magpies are still spending parts of their day in our back yard and they aren't exactly welcoming if I want to spend some time on the deck.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

John Oliver Challenges Coal Mogul To a Duel, Mogul Accepts

I was going to use a poker metaphor for this, but a reddit discussion suggested the terms I was going to use - call and raise - are problematic.

A fellow Alaskan blogger posted a youtube video the other day of John Oliver calling out a West Virginia coal king Bob Murray on a number of issues.  I thought it was brilliant the way he has mastered a technique of using humor and visuals (in the Jon Steward model) to take complex issues and explain them simply, without losing the complexity.  In this case it involved
  • Trump's hypocrisy about promising and claiming new coal jobs
  • Murray's hypocrisy over his concern about coal miner safety
  • The first amendment 

In the piece, Oliver tells us that HBO got a cease and desist order telling them to not air the segment and that Murray has sued other media, including the New York Times over something they wrote.  It all sounds very Trumpish (It will be interesting how that word will eventually be defined when it enters the Oxford dictionary).

Today we learn that the threatened law suit has been filed in West Virginia  circuit court.

Here's the offending segment.  Judge for yourself.

HBO and Time Warner have deep pockets, but it is troubling when the very rich use libel and defamation law suit threats to shut down media that criticize them.

I've been threatened twice over posts here. One post about the Alaska International Film Festival which has nothing to do with Alaska except the pictures on its website and a post office forwarding service with an Alaska address earned me a threatening letter from their attorney.  The other got me an email that threatened a law suit.

The first was a bit scary as I had to consider the costs of potential lawsuits as a price of blogging.  While I was adamant about not taking down the post, I did have some difficult days calculating what standing by my post might cost me.   I was lucky to have access to a great attorney who ended the threat with one letter, but others who were threatened by them pulled their posts.   These threats are a real danger to free speech.   Gawker was put out of business by a lawsuit.

Murray seems a lot like Trump in that he can't handle any criticism.  John Oliver does come on very strong, but I'm confident - especially since he knew a lawsuit was likely - that he can document all his claims.

Let's see how far this lawsuit gets.  In this case, the defendants have the resources to fight.  In fact, John Oliver says in the segment that he knows such a suit is coming.  My concern is for smaller media, including individual bloggers, who can be much more easily shut down by the threat of a lawsuit.

NOTE:  I've been listening and reading the news lately with an eye to the percent of articles/segments that focus on conflict.  It's clear that conflict is the bread and butter of news.  Even NPR calls their news articles 'stories.'  At last April's Alaska Press Club conference here, NPR reporter Kirk Siegler  talked about how to create a good story and he identified tension as the second factor after a strong character.

But the constant focus on conflict (or tension) leads to a distorted perception of the degree of conflict in human life compared to the cooperation.  News shows will report the car accidents each day, but not the millions of drivers who used their turn indicators, slowed down to let someone in their lane, and did all the other cooperative activities necessary for freeway drivers to negotiate their way to their destinations.  We all hear daily things like "Two people were shot to death today in a robbery."  But how many times have you heard a newscaster say, "6170 people died today of heart attacks." 

Just as stories of murders far outnumber stories of other kinds of deaths, stories of conflict hugely outweigh stories of cooperation.  And in both cases people's perceptions are grossly distorted so they think of terrorists as a far bigger threat than they really are compared to other causes of death, and to think that conflict is far more common than cooperation.  

So when I post a story like this one that does focus on conflict, I ask myself what are the reasons that this story is worth posting.  Here's what I think is important in this story:
  • Oliver's skill in presenting the facts of a complex story in a way that retains the complexity yet is compelling to viewers.  He doesn't dumb it down, he raises the level of his viewers.  It's a model to study and emulate, though without the insults.
  • The danger to free speech from very wealthy people who don't like to be criticized.  This threat of lawsuits is very real - particularly for smaller scale journalists than those at HBO.  It's a consequence of the great divide between the very rich - for whom $10 million is pocket change - and the rest of us.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Cost Of Airshows, What I Know About You, And Unobtrusive Measures

As the title suggests, I'm trying to kill three birds with one post.  But everything is connected and so I'm showing just three of the interconnected issues here.

Let's start with the cost of airshows.

I wrote a post in 2012 called Air Shows And The Cost Of Military Fuel.  I gathered what information I could and made some very general calculations.  I wasn't terribly happy with it because there were so many unknowns.  But there wasn't all that much out there and apparently still isn't since that post still regularly gets a fair number of hits from all over the world.

But as I checked StatCounter* this morning, I noticed a hit from Lockheed Corporation.  And then one from Boeing.  And another one last night from the US Senate.

click image to enlarge and focus
What I Know About You

That image above is a Photoshopped grouping of three different records from StatCounter.

StatCounter is one of many tools websites, including blogs, can use to track visitors to their sites.  I moved to StatCounter from Sitemeter after Sitemeter gave me all sorts of problems.  I suspect my regular readers got tired of my complaining and were happy when I switched and they stopped hearing about it.

Everyone who surfs the web should know about the information that is collected from them by each website they visit.  Sitemeter packaged that data about each individual visitor in a whole page that included more that StatCounter individual reports.  But StatCounter packages the info in a way that makes it faster to view and breaks out a lot more information in different reports.

But all these programs simply use the information that your computer collects on visitors and packages it in different formats.

If you click on the image, it will enlarge and focus so you can read it.  I don't get all this information from everyone.  First, I suspect there are a lot of visitors StatCounter doesn't even report.  I say this because Google Analytics says I have a lot more visitors than StatCounter reports, but it doesn't give me such detailed info on each visitor.
Also, some visitors have scrubbed their info - whether their internet provider does that, or they have done it themselves.  Another way is to use a proxy server which hides all the info.

I'd also note that if you use the private browsing feature of your browser, that only hides info about what sites you visit on your own computer.  You still leave tracks at the websites you visit.

I have put this sort of info up now and then because I think most folks really have no idea of how much info they leave around while surfing the web.  And I'm often surprised at how organizations leave their names up so people can see that they have visited.  And part of me doesn't want to post things like this which may alert them and cause them to disguise their identity.  I like knowing that these visitors visit.

I'd also note that all this information - plus more - is how browsers and others make lots of money selling it to advertisers.   These are, unobtrusive measures, because most people leave these tracks without knowing.  The main way people have any clue about any of this comes from the pop-up ads we get after visiting a particular site.  If you delete the cookies, some of them will end.

Unobtrusive Measures

"Unobtrusive measures are measures that don't require the researcher to intrude in the research context. Direct and participant observation require that the researcher be physically present. This can lead the respondents to alter their behavior in order to look good in the eyes of the researcher. A questionnaire is an interruption in the natural stream of behavior. Respondents can get tired of filling out a survey or resentful of the questions asked.
Unobtrusive measurement presumably reduces the biases that result from the intrusion of the researcher or measurement instrument. However, unobtrusive measures reduce the degree the researcher has control over the type of data collected. For some constructs there may simply not be any available unobtrusive measures."
The site goes on to identify three different types of unobtrusive measures.

I mention this because these tracks that people leave on websites are a form of unobtrusive measure.  My use of it is very informal and unorganized.  Every now and then I'll suddenly get a bunch of hits for an old post and it will alert me that something is happening related to something in the post.  Once I got a bunch of hits for a post about the director of the Alaska DMV, mostly from Texas.  So I started checking and found out she'd taken a job as the head of the Texas DMV.  The counter alerted me to that.

Another time a post suddenly got a bunch of hits and it turned out a British newspaper had a puzzle and my post had one of the answers. Here's a 2009 post that chronicles that event and several others where I was alerted to something by the hits on a particular post.

So, for what it is worth, today I got three hits on this post about the cost of fuel for airshows.  Three isn't a lot of hits, but when they are from Boeing, Lockheed, and the US Senate, it suggests that perhaps someone is looking into that issue.

Now, I don't know if the visitor from, say Boeing or the US Senate, was doing this officially or it was just someone privately surfing while at work.  But given the three hits from these three I suspect there's an interesting reason.  Is a budget committee examining the costs of air shows?  Or is it something else buried in the post?  For most google searches I no longer get the actual search terms - that's something they've done to improve user security - so I don't know for sure what they were looking for.  I just know where they landed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Alaska Budget Crisis - Head Tax

There's so much to write about, but not nearly as much time to do sufficient research to say something  that adds meaningfully to what others have already said.  So I'm going to keep this really focused.

Senator Click Bishop has introduced SB12 which establishes a head tax.  I had some questions about how that would work and contacted my Senator, Berta Gardner.  So I can say something with a bit of authority on this.

We used to have a head tax - I remember it being minimal, like $10 from everyone's first paycheck of the year.  But if 200,000 people got at least one paycheck a year (our population was much lower then) it would still amount to $2 million.   Sen. Bishop's bill would have several levels based on income, so it would be somewhat progressive.

However, it's only for people on a payroll.  So people with other kinds of income - pensions, rental properties, investment income, etc.  would not have to pay.  That seems blatantly unfair and why a graduated income tax is a better option.  Though I'd vote for the simplest-to-calculate income tax possible - like a percent of the federal taxes.  Minimum wage workers shouldn't have to pay if people with much larger, but unearned, incomes don't.

The one benefit of this tax is that it does include non-residents who work in Alaska.

Senator Gardner also wrote it could be part of the compromise package  if the Senate ever agrees to any new revenue.  She also said there haven't been any hearings on the bill.

Monday, June 19, 2017

LA Times Headline Jumps To Conclusions: "Cosby case deadlock reflects our cultural split" (And Side Note On Google Search Problem) [UPDATED]

Does that deadlocked jury really reflect our cultural split?

Maybe, but since we don't know what happened in the jury room  there is so far no basis for that conclusion.  If it said, "Crosby case" (without the deadlock), I wouldn't have reacted like this.   I think it's worth calling out the headline writer and to some extent the reporter on this.  It seems a clear case of using this story as a pretext to discuss what the reporter was thinking about the case.  Not what the facts showed.  Because the only facts we have about the deadlock is that it deadlocked.

[NOTE:  I haven't figured out how to get the link to the article when I read print facsimile version of the LA Times.  So after I finished this post, I went back to get the link.  It gave me a different online version of the article which has a completely different headline.  Had I read this headline, I never would have written this post:
"One night, two stories: In the Bill Cosby saga of sex, race, celebrity and alleged assault, even the jury couldn't agree on the truth"
Online headline writers have more space to use than print headline writers.  But my point about the print headline is still valid.  I'm glad to see the online headline writer was more careful.  And since you'll get the other headline at the link, here's a screenshot of what I saw first:]

Here's the beginning of the article:

NORRISTOWN, Pa. — The dozen jurors in the Bill Cosby sexual assault trial spanned a diverse demographic range: white men in their 20s and 30s, middle-aged African Americans, elderly white women.
With that diversity also came deadlock. On its sixth day of deliberations, the jury found itself unable to render a verdict — like so much of this country, unable to find consensus on charged questions of race, age, power and gender."
I'd also note that reporters are not usually the ones who write the headlines, though this sentence seems to give the headline writer the needed prompt:
"The jurors did not speak with reporters, but their inability to reach a verdict, after more than 100 hours of testimony and deliberations in this suburban Philadelphia courtroom, brought home how divided opinions are about Cosby — and about a lot more."
Before we can reach this conclusion, we need to know a few things:

1.   How many jurors vote for guilty and how many for not-guilty?
  • If only one or two jurors held out, then their deadlock doesn't represent "our cultural split."  11 -1 or 10-2 are huge majorities.  I was on a jury where one woman refused to find the young woman defendant guilty of drunk driving because, as she told us, it could have been her daughter.  It's easy to imagine a juror who's had sex with a drunk friend identifying himself in the same situation, using the same sort of personal logic to say 'not guilty.'  
  • If more jurors held out, and the debate focused on whether the plaintiff consented and/or whether Cosby was the victim of race discrimination, then perhaps the headline would be justified. Or not.   And if the debate was about reasonable doubt  (and the article says the deadlocked jury asked for a definition of that term) then it really might have been just that and not particularly reflective of cultural splits.  I'm assuming, for example, that the number of other accusers, who say they were assaulted the same way and who have not filed law suits, was not allowed into the trial.

There are lots of reasons juries deadlock.  One juror may so irritate another juror that the second just won't go along with whatever the first one decides.  Or a juror feels strongly that government is screwing over people.  We don't even know, in this case, whether the majority was for not-guilty or guilty.

[A Note On Juries.    I did try to find studies on why juries deadlock.  This revealed a problem with google's search algorithm - the first ten pages were almost completely about the Cosby case, nothing generic about deadlocked juries, and nothing about why they deadlock.

I did find one book The Jury Under Fire: Myth, Controversy, and Reform  by Brian H. Bornstein and Edie Greene.  Google got me to page 73 which discussed how jury size (12 or 6 jurors) affected deliberations and how the unanimous vote rule (as opposed to using a majority vote) affected decisions.  It also mentioned that only two states - Oregon and Louisiana have majority rule, but they require at 10 jurors in some kinds of cases and 11 in murder cases.  It also cited some numbers:  2% of federal trials and 4-5% of state trials result in hung juries.  There were also some caveats because most studies of juries are done on mock juries not real ones.]

[A Further Note on Google and Hung Juries.  Before posting this, I decided to try a different browser.  I used Bing.  And bingo (sorry), I got better results than with google.  Here are the reasons for hung juries from one study

This covers only 46 cases and presumably none with the kind of celebrity buzz as the Cosby trial.  I'd say 'cultural split' might fit in 'dysfunctional process'  or 'unknown.'

A study by the National Center for State Courts found:
"In examining the data, researchers found one or more of the following traits consistent in a hung jury compared to one that reaches a verdict:
• weak evidence
• problematic deliberations
• jurors’ perception of unfairness"
"Cultural split' might fit into the last two categories.  We just don't know what happened.

My point?  Even with reputable media, we need to be ever watchful that the facts support the conclusions.   Here I think the story reflects what the reporter thinks about the case, not about the hung jury.  When the article was posted we didn't know any more about the jury than it was deadlocked.  (I couch it that way, because I don't know if any of the jurors have said anything publicly as I write this.   Using Google and  Bing I can't find anything about a juror talking to anyone about the details of the split or the issues that caused the split.)

[UPDATE August 24, 2019:  A Los Angeles Times article discusses a current Supreme Court case about the constitutionality of Louisiana's majority rule..  It says Louisiana's voters changed the rule to unanimous in 2018, but the case is an earlier one.  Oregon is now the only non-unanimous jury verdict state and
"Michael Kron, special counsel to Oregon’s attorney general, said that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Ramos, it would be reversing its 1972 ruling that the Constitution does not bar states from allowing nonunanimous verdicts."
Others argue that Oregon might have dozens, not hundreds of cases and that the original Oregon constitutional amendment to have non-unanimous verdicts 
"The decision by Oregon voters in 1934 to allow split-jury verdicts was fueled by white supremacy and anti-immigrant sentiment. One newspaper said immigrants from southern and Eastern Europe had made the requirement for unanimous verdicts 'unwieldy and unsatisfactory.'”]

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Every time Trump has broken a window, GOP leaders have obediently swept up the glass."

Some articles I found worth reading.

1.  From the LA Times:

"Every time Trump has broken a window, GOP leaders have obediently swept up the glass, if sometimes after some initial grumbling. Their deference could explain why Trump might imagine Republicans would ultimately defend him even if he fired special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, as he’s reportedly considered this week."
As I've said before, this is like watching a car racing toward the cliff in slow motion.  Slowly Republicans in Congress - at least in the Senate - are going to figure out that the short term benefits of having a so-called Republican in the White House do not outweigh the long term harm of having Trump in the White House.

2.  From the New York Times, a long article about Kris Kobach, a smart guy whose moral reasoning seems particularly warped.   His mission is to pass the most restrictive voter registration laws possible to keep non-whites from voting.  He did that as Kansas Secretary of State and now he's the "vice chairman of a new Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to be led by Vice President Mike Pence."  This guy uses up a lot of the ACLU's resources.

Raspail's The Camp of the Saints is also mentioned in the article.  Fits in well with the Bannon crowd.
"At the A.C.L.U. hearing, Kobach argued that his restrictive measures were justified by the high stakes. 'We are preventing noncitizens from voting in elections,' he said. “And when a few noncitizens vote, those can swing a close election.'”
And when a lot of citizens are prevented from voting, those can swing less close elections.

When I read about people like this my mind screams, "WHY????"   Why does his brain work this way?  Is there something about his brain chemistry that's different from most people?  Was he picked on as a kid?  Maybe that difference caused him to be picked on.  There are lots and lots of other possible explanations.  Figuring out these things - rather than just dismissing him as evil or whatever else - is what will move us along as a species.

3.  Mapping Police Violence

I'm not sure what you'll get since the link goes to the main page, which I assume changes.  But the website tracks blacks and whites killed by police.  The statistics are shocking and surprising.  It's all about graphics and data.  A number of different displays.  And there's a link to download their database.

There are lots of possible explanations for these seeming disparities, but the data aren't as easy to get. Is it simply more racist cops in some places?  Better police training in some places?  Different policing styles, like beat cops?  Age of the population or other factors that matter?  Stability of the population?  Lots to think about here.

Magpie Playground And Body Guards [Updated]

Parents are pretty aggressive about protecting their young, and birds are no exception.  There's a magpie nest not far from our house and now that the young can fly a bit, they've found our trees to be a great playground.  Here are two young ones.  There are several more.

The easiest way to distinguish them from the adults is there short tails.   They're starting to make quite a racket which is what got me to look out the window.    And today when I went out to get the mail, the noise got exploded as I opened the glass outer door.  

An adult got between me and one of the young ones screeching.  

Another flew down at me from the other side.  (I'm not as foolhardy as it may look.   I had the storm door for protection.)

It sat on the railing a couple of feet from me and glared.  

Meanwhile the other one found some food on the roof.  (An old mountain ash berry?) and fed it to the young one in the tree.   It's practically placing it in the young's stomach!

From a little further back, here's another shot.

And when I tried to venture out, the two adults let me know I shouldn't.  

They are such beautiful birds.  In the sun the black shines blue and green.  But no one would ever call them song birds.  More like screech birds.  Unlike the larger, all black ravens, who have a whole repertoire of amazing sounds.

[UPDATE  3:20pm:  The young ones are now in the backyard.  I can see four at the same time.   The parents are giving them space to explore, but when I opened the back door, I could hear them screeching somewhere in the background.    One on the deck.

Another in a flower bed.

And two more up in a tree.