Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Slack Line Juggler Santa Monica Beach

This post is dedicated to my friend JK.

Another day with workers putting in moulding, doing electrical work, and various odds and ends at the house.  Phone calls to arrange further stuff, moving furniture, figuring where to hang pictures, and other work preparing my mom's house for rental for most of the year when we're at home in Anchorage.

I couldn't wait to get on the bike and ride down to the beach and then north along the beach bike trail.   I try to go earlier, because it gets more crowded as it gets closer to the sunset.  Today I had to stop and take some pictures. First, they had a much longer slack line than I've seen there before - it's the first one you see in the video.  Then on another wire was a juggler.  I also pan on the trail so you can see the traffic I have to navigate in this section of the trail, just south of the Santa Monica Pier (which you can see in the background.  Watch for the roller coaster.)

That spot on my camera is getting annoying. Sorry.

Once I get past the pier, the traffic thins out.  There is one short row of houses, separated from the beach by the public bike trail.

And there was a film crew camped out in one of the parking lots.

And I was getting back to the point where I leave the beach and head home, the almost full moon was rising to the east.

And to the west the sun was slipping down toward the ocean.

Here's why I did the video - you can see that a still shot just do this juggler justice.  You need to see the balls moving while the juggler goes up and down on the slack line.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Happy Birthday Mom

We've been working from early morning each day trying to get my mom's house ready for renting.  We got new beds, cleaned the yard just to fill the compost garbage for Monday night pickup, fussed with the alarm system, got the electrician, someone to steam clean the sofa and other upholstered furniture.  We visited my 96 year old step mom, who was briefly awake and engaged in a limited way.  I got ride in to the beach to simply to work off all the anxieties that were building up - it worked.  We had the electrician and the repair man.  Moving furniture back into the house from the garage now that the wood floor has been sanded and redone.  Maybe the car will fit in tomorrow.

picture from previous visit
Also squeezed in a trip to the cemetery today to wish her happy birthday.  I cut some flowering jade plant, a bird of paradise, and some epidendrum from my mom's yard, and we took out some of the dead flowers from last time and stuck in the new ones.  My wife's parents, my brother, and another close family friend are there too.   Last year I put some soil in the vases and stuck the jade plants in.  A caretaker at the cemetery waters them and the jade plants are growing and healthy.  So the flowers were just to add some color for a while.  She would have been 96 today.

And so as I was sorting out the books I opened Erich Maria Remarque's Shadows in Paradise to see why my mom  still had that book.  Here's the prologue:
"I lived in New York during the last phase of the Second World War.  Despite my deficient English the midtown section of New York became for me the closest thing to a home I had experienced in many years.
Behind me lay a long and perilous road, the Via Dolorosa of all those who had fled from the Hitler regime.  It led from Germany to Holand, Belgium, Northern France, and Paris.  From Paris some proceeded to Lyons and the Mediterranean, others to Bordeau, the Pyrenees, and across Spain and Portugal to Lisbon.
Even after leaving Germany we were not safe.  Only a very few of us had valid passports or visas.  When the police caught us we were thrown into jail and deported.  Without papers we could not work legally or stay in one place for long.  We were perpetually on the move.
In every town we stopped at the post office, hoping to find letters from friends and relatives.  On the road we scrutinized every wall for messages from those who had passed through before us addresses, warnings, words of advice,  The walls were our newspapers and bulletin boards.  This was our life in a period of universal indifference, soon to be followed by the inhuman war years, when the Milice, often seconded by the police, joined forces with the Gestapo against us."
My mom's Via Dolorosa was a little more straightforward.  At age 17 she finally got her visa and a ticket to sail from Hamburg to New York.  It was late August 1939 when she left home for Hamburg, leaving her parents behind.

Reading this and thinking of my mom and other family members whose trips were more arduous and followed Remarque's path more, the journeys of today's refugees seemed more real, and I seemed more connected.  Lacking visas, at the mercy of local police, finding word from relatives wherever you can (for those with cell phones today, this is probably easier), and getting advice from other travelers - some of it good, some of it not - wherever you can.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Getting To Know Some Local Transgender Folks Before You Vote On Prop 1 On April 3

We are taught to think of gender as an either/or case of male or female.  It's just how you're born.

But we have lots of evidence that it's not that easy.  If it were, all men would have strong 'male' traits and women would all be 'feminine.'  But we know that's not how it is.  If we took all men, I'm guessing we'd get a bell shaped curve of 'masculinity' and 'femininity.'  A similar curve for women would overlap that for men.

Many cultures recognize the fluidity of gender and the fact that some people clearly do not fit the gender category their private parts seem to indicate.  A number have special roles for people who seem to carry both genders.

Many babies are born with ambiguous genitalia and doctors have traditionally decided what gender they should be right after birth, often with surgery to make the baby conform to the doctor's decision.

This is all relevant in Anchorage now because Jim Minnery  and the Alaska Family Council and friends have gotten Prop 1 onto Anchorage's April 3 local ballot.

So I want to post some video I made at a panel discussion last August here in Anchorage.  Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, moderated this panel with three local transgender folks and two parents of transgender kids.

Here's a link to the ballot measure and explanations at Ballotopedia.  (I found that site easier to read than the Municipality's site on this.)

On first blush, I can understand the idea of women not wanting men to use the women's bathrooms, though since women don't use urinals, it's my understanding their public restrooms all have private stalls.  So that should be, for the most part, moot.  Locker rooms and showers are perhaps a different story. Or so the sponsors of Prop 1 would  tell you.  (Actually, they'll tell you public bathrooms are a problem.)

Current Anchorage law allows transgender folks to use the bathroom that they identify with.  No problems have been brought to the public's attention that I know of.  The number of transgender people in Anchorage is very small.  The problems the initiative's sponsor cite are all hypothetical. And unlikely. I doubt too many men will dress up like a woman just to spy on women in the women's restroom.  And they could do that now and it would be illegal if they weren't transgender and were there to spy on women.

I also understand, and am more sympathetic with, the opponents' argument.  I suspect their key objection is the initiative's essential denial of transgender identity.  Even the US military recognizes this, but Prop 1 would make the gender listed in someone's birth certificate the only thing that counts.  Here's a statement from (part of the Prop 1 campaign):
"In September of 2015, the Anchorage Assembly forced an ordinance upon residents that allows men to enter women’s spaces — public bathrooms, showers, locker rooms and changing facilities." 
I think this shows clearly that they deny the existence of transgender people.  There is nothing in the ordinance that allows 'men' into women's restrooms, only transgender people who identify as women.  I'm not trying to answer all the questions people have about transgender folks here.  I'm not that well-versed myself.  But I know that for a number of people, the physical gender parts don't always match the mental gender identity of people.  I also know that nobody in their right mind would claim to be transgender if they weren't.  There's far too much heartache and prejudice that comes with such an identity.   I'd also note that the Assembly passed the ordinance 9-2.  That's not even close.  That's not 'forcing.'  The representatives of the vast majority of Anchorage voted for the current ordinance.  If people were 'forced' they could have voted out people at the last Municipal election.

As both of the parents on this panel in the video say, 'before I had a transgender child, I really knew nothing about what the word means.'  My own knowledge, while probably more extensive than the average person's, is still sketchy, but I did post last August about my own education on this topic,  just before Mara Keisling moderated this panel.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

This Guy Nails It - Overton Window And How Trump Recalibrates "Normal"

Here's what I realized back in the early 70s: the Vietnam war protestors who were burning draft cards and pouring blood over Selective Service files, were making conservatives crazy, but they were making my quieter protests seem much more rational and reasonable.  And this phenomenon seemed true for all sorts of issues.  The crazies on the extreme push the conversation.  My ideas, that seemed extreme before, now seemed moderate.

I've been saying that that's what's happened in this country in the last 20 years - but now to the right.  Ronald Reagan, then Fox News, and talk radio have redefined normal.  My best example of this is Richard Nixon - the 'evil president' under whom we got the Clean Water Act, The Environmental Protection Act, The Freedom of Information Act, The Privacy Act, the opening to China, and on and on.  But the right has pushed the scale so far to the right that all those things now seem far left.

So Carlos Maza explains all that in this video.  I'd had no name for this phenomenon.  Carlos calls it  the Overton Window and explains it in terms of Trump.  But of course, the US political debate had shifted way to the right way before that.*  Here's Wikipedia's description.

*I'd note that people on the right would say things have been shifted way to the left, and on a few issues they're right - gay rights and legalization of marijuana for example.  But I would argue that in part this has to do with the fact that there are plenty of gay Republicans and pot smokers, so they've been infiltrated from inside on these issues.  But on guns, climate change, consumer rights, tax fairness, deregulation, the money of the very rich who have a vested interest in these issues has helped push things way to the right, compared to where we had been going.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Snow In Seattle, Cold And Clear In LA (And Simon Winchester's Pacific On The Way)

It snowed yesterday on Bainbridge and my granddaughter couldn't get enough playtime.  Throwing snow at me, eating snow, making little snow people, rolling in the snow, and just reveling in the bright, bright sunshine.  Slides go really fast when you're wearing a slippery snow suit.  Lots of laughing and running and reveling in nature's white gift.

By today there was a thin layer of cloud, threatening to snow again.  But we were able to walk to the ferry and then to the train to the airport without rain or snow.

The security line was snaked all around, we saw police officers, a dog sniffing people lined up.  Fortunately we were in pre-check so the wait was short.  I booked the flight via Alaska Airlines, but our flight was on Virgin.  The plane coming in was late and we left 25 minutes late, but we eventually got to LA a little early.  I'd been wondering why nearly all our flights in last couple of years have been on time or early.  I finally surmised that Alaska simply projects the flight to take longer than they need to.  That way, they score high for 'on-time' flights.  Even if they leave late, they get where they're going on time or even early.  But I hadn't had the time to try to check the details - like see how long other airlines say a flight from city A to city B should take.  And then I heard a piece on NPR the other day that confirmed my suspicions.  It's probably not a bad thing.  As they said on the show, people are happier when they get somewhere early than if they get there late.  I just found a 2015 article on this phenomenon.

Anyway, the Alaska-Virgin merger is moving along.  I watched Alaska Airlines baggage vehicles loading our Virgin flight.

I got to do some reading on the flight.  I'm reading Pacific for our next book club meeting (well, the next one I can attend.)  The first section has been a page turner, except it was so depressing that I didn't want to read it.  Simon Winchester picks 12 events from 1952 that took place somewhere in or around the Pacific.  The first one is about nuclear bomb testing in the South Pacific, and he highlights the US cavalier approach to the people living where they wanted to do their testing - Bikini Islands.  Arrogance, racism, relocation of people to much less suitable islands, and using people as human Guinea pigs.  There are plenty of bad guys to go around in these 45 pages or so, but I'll just mention Alvin Cushman Graves.  Winchester gives him little slack for his handling of Pacific nuclear tests, particularly the last one that was significant more powerful than he expected and devastated, once the people of Bikini and sent radioactive material over a large area of the Pacific.  Neither the Atomic Heritage Society (not unexpectedly), nor Wikipedia give any details of the Castle Bravo test.  From Winchester:
"The solid compound in the new bomb was lithium deuterium, an amalgam of lithium and isotopic hydrogen.  And no one knew exactly how much hydrogen it would release, or how big the detonation would be.
The testers would soon find out.  And because of the other uncertainty - over the weather, and more specifically, the direction of the winds on detonation ay - a great many others would find out as well."  
The normal winds had been blowing toward the west, the normal condition, and the US had put out a vague warning for ships to stay out of a 57,000 square mile 'danger area.'  Though they didn't explain the danger.  However, the night before the test, the winds switched to the east.  And at sunrise there was a powerful gale in upper altitudes.

"Graves was told of the wind direction and knew that radiation would spread downwind and contaminate, at the very least, Rongelap Atoll.  But he had his orders, which were to proceed with the test without delay.  Moroever, whatever the wind direction might be, no one had any idea how much radiation would be produced.  Not that this was strictly relevant, of course, since Graves still cleaved robustly to his views about the malingerers who had concocted all this fuss about radiation being so terribly dangerous." [pp 70-71]
He gave the order to detonate the bomb.  I'd note that Graves was a physicist who had been in charge of nuclear testing and himself had almost been killed in an accident that killed the man next to him.  Doctors thought he would die, but he did recover.  Though many suspect his fatal heart attack 20 years later was related.
"At 6:45 am on that clear, windy, blue-sky Pacific morning, it was as if the world had suddenly stopped, blinded by a vast white light of an intensity never before experienced.  The iron gates guarding some terrible inferno seemed to clang wide open and unleash a ball of fire and shock waves and roarings of unimaginable speed, violence, and loudness.  A white fireball four miles across was created in less than one second  A minute later a cloud of debris ten miles tall and seven across rocketed into the sky.  Ten minutes on, it was twenty-five miles tall and sixty miles across."
It uncashed huge amounts of radiation and quickly arrive at Rongerap Atoll, 120 miles to the east where the islanders had no idea what was happening.  As they became ill with radiation poisoning.  They were evacuated after being hosed down several times.
"We were like animals,"  said an islander named Rokko Langinbelik, who was twelve at the time.  "It was no different from herding pigs into a gate."
While Japanese fisherman who also were in the path of the radiation got treated quickly by Japanese doctors, the islanders were not.

I really hadn't intended to get into all this but it's eating away at me.  The treatment of the Marshall Islanders and the callous denials that the US had done anything wrong, even blaming the Islanders for their own tragedy.

You can read more on their fate, which continues to this day, at this site on Bikini Islanders. 

While the book transported me far out into the Pacific, the map on the screen in the seat back in front of me, had airplane located off the coast of Africa.

Only 8000 miles from Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, soon we were in the LA basin which was clear, cool (for here - in the high fifties (F)), and windy.

Downtown and the mountains beyond were crystal clear.  We were at my mom's house in just about an hour from landing, via public buses.  The house is in good shape now after the work we had done last time and while we were gone.  But we have a busy week ahead of us before seeing the other grandkids in SF, then a little more time in Seattle.  And finally home.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Money, Amygdala, Adults, Youth, Truth, Fiction, And Violence

We were talking about students from Parkland, Florida rising up in protest, and my daughter said, well, they've been reading books and watching movies that feature young heroes fighting against corrupt adult regimes.

A little later I saw this tweet:

Nothing can be boiled down to a simple answer, but it is worth playing with ideas to see where they lead.   This post is just thinking out loud.

Capitalism reduces everything to money.  The corporation's bottom line is all that matters.  The only way other values - family, morality, nature - matter in a corporate world is if they impact that bottom line.

Corporations have been by-passing reason and rationality for decades with ads that play directly to people's emotions.  They trigger buying by appealing to the amygdala, sometimes known as the reptilian brain, or primal brain.
'The primal brain is also in charge of, what are often referred to as, the four Fs: Feeding, Fighting, Fleeing, and… Reproduction' . . " (From Interaction Design Foundation.)
 From Brand Strategy company Tronviggroup:
"The reptilian brain first wants to know if the thing is threatening or desirable (edible, sexually attractive). It ascertains this from what it can see, smell, taste and touch, not what it can deduct by rational means. All these evaluations occur without recourse to the rational mind.

The limbic brain then responds emotionally and asks, “Is this my friend? Can I put my trust here?” This is the essential brand level stuff that generates loyalty, as discussed in The Difference Between Marketing and Branding."
So car companies, food companies, drug companies all get us to buy things not by logic, but by emotion.  And for entertainment companies, emotion is part of the product itself.  So Disney, Weinstein, Viacom, and others use violence and sex to sell movies. [From the Weinstein article cited below.]
". .  one entertainment marketer with 35 years of experience [said]: 'Abject violence has proven successful, and as long as it is, it will be produced because it’s profitable. It’s the accepted way of life rather than asking is this the right thing to do?'”
This is supported by studies that find a correlation between violence and film profit, though one study found that sex and nudity decreased profitability, but
"violence and frightening/tense scenes, were much more likely to predict financial success."
Then there's this interesting quote from Harvey Weinstein in 2014:
“He spoke about his own children and how he no longer wanted to feel like a hypocrite. “The change starts here,” the man who produced Quentin Tarantino’s violent Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and D’jango Unchained told Morgan. “It has already. For me, I can’t do it. I can’t make one movie and say this is what I want for my kids and then just go out and be a hypocrite.” 

So if violence works for film makers, why shouldn't it work for news programs?

Entertainment corporations nowadays own companies that produce the news.  Disney owns ABC.  21st  Century Fox owns Fox News.   One wonders about the amount of time that the news shows spend covering school and other mass shootings.  Particularly compared to  other deaths - like car deaths or heart disease.

Are real life shootings just a form of entertainment for the news industry now?  Certainly were used to sell newspapers all along.

Clearly shootings are important news content to be covered.  But are they becoming the real life entertainment like that portrayed in The Hunger Games?

Perhaps the students see their tragedy as offered up for profit - certainly for the gun companies if not for the media.  And are the students responding to the youth fiction and superhero movies leading them to see themselves as the necessary saviors of humanity against a corrupt and unfair world created and controlled by adults?
‘We’re Children. You Guys Are the Adults.’
First the students said this, demanding the adults take action.  But seeing the adults squirm rather than act, the kids are seeing their own need to take action.

The Right immediately cranked up a conspiracy campaign claiming the students were 'crisis actors' controlled by a left-wing conspiracy.  From the LA Times:
"The video suggested that he is actually a performer, paid by sinister left-wing forces to advocate repeal of the 2nd Amendment. . .
"Effective smear campaigns don't just tell you what you want to hear. They're also arousing. Unlike harassment and bullying, but like gory and pornographic images (or drugs like meth and cocaine), attack propaganda shoots straight to the limbic system where our baser nature resides: fear, anger, sex and the instinct to protect children.
The Hogg video hit the spot, stimulating viewers through the crude intoxication of fury. No need to feel sympathy for this survivor. He's a player in a vast conspiracy. . . 
"The video simply excited the hindbrain more than the demonstrations, and we couldn't get enough of it.
Indeed, the attack on Hogg created a taste for more of the same, or at least YouTube did. As Paul Lewis observed in the Guardian, YouTube with its "Up Next" algorithm rewards consumers of pornography with more pornography, and propaganda with more propaganda."

Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook are also businesses that profit by people being punched in the amygdala.

But I do hope that people with experience and expertise in administration and mobilization do come to assist these kids, because passion gets you started, but organization gets you to the finish line.

This is related but seemed to distract from the topic, so let me play it out here.

I've been wondering about how much sex and nudity in movies is there simply because directors took advantage of their power over actors to get them to take off their clothes and simulate sex acts.  With the Weinstein aftermath, that seems a lot more likely.  And are those who gain power in the film industry necessarily Type A personalities, just to get into those positions?  And are they more inclined to make movies that are full of ways to kill people?  And would average people be as imaginative in how to use guns if they didn't have so many role models on television, video games, and movies?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"Whatever you eat, a $200 lunch or a $2 hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise" and Other Thought-Provoking Quotes

Artist  Maurizio Catelan, in article about the Guggenheim museum declining President Trump's request for a Van Gogh for the White House, but offering instead Catelan's solid gold toilet,
“Whatever you eat, a $200 lunch or a $2 hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise,” he has said.

From a paper called "The Economic Roots of the Rise of Trumpism" from the German Center for Economic Studies in Munich (CESifo) we see that many US children don't even get the $2 hotdogs:
 "Six million children are reported for maltreatment to U.S. agencies annually,33 and five children die daily due to abuse or neglect.34"
If you follow the links on the two footnotes, the six million figure is lower than the source, though it apparently covers a wide range of issues reported.  The figure from the second footnote is 1670 deaths per year, which divided by 365 days equals 4.57 which they rounded up to 5.  But it's still a shocking number.  If these numbers are accurate, then more kids in the US die from neglect or abuse by their parents than in school shootings.

This is a purely economic look that offers lots of interesting statistics that they use to explain Trump's election.  It doesn't seem to consider other contributing factors.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Leader in UK (From BBC) on what would change if he becomes Prime Minister:
"A Labour government, he said, 'will take decisive action to make finance the servant of industry, not the masters of us all'". 

Rachel Crooks quoted in a Washington Post article about how the forced kiss she got (when she was a 22 year old office worker) from Trump affected her life:
“It was one of the first real failures or defeats of my life, where the world wasn’t what I hoped it was going to be, and I started to really doubt myself,” she said.
“Nobody would touch you, especially not Trump. You look like a boy. A gun to your head would be good for our nation.”  (Annonymous email to Crooks) 

This next quote from ImperfectCognitions seems a perfect response to all the Trump supporters who deny the truth of her story, including friends and relatives:
"You’re arguing with someone – about politics, or a policy at work, or about whose turn it is to do the dishes – and they keep finding all kinds of self-serving justifications for their view. When one of their arguments is defeated, rather than rethinking their position they just leap to another argument, then maybe another. They’re rationalizing –coming up with convenient defenses for what they want to believe, rather than responding even-handedly to the points you're making. You try to point it out, but they deny it, and dig in more."
The article is well worth reading.  It goes on to say that those who think they are more rational and wouldn't let their biases affect their judgment are possibly more susceptible because they think they aren't.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Babylon Berlin (Netflix) Looks At 1929 Berlin As Democracy Struggles To Survive

Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch)
This tight German series focuses on a Köln (Cologne) police officer, Gereon Rath, transferred to Berlin.  There are lots of plots and subplots.   A secret army unit is rebuilding the German air force clandestinely in Lipetsk outside of Moscow and plotting with a rich industrialist.  Trotskyites have brought a train full of poison gas and gold to Berlin.  There's factions inside the police department, and everyone seems to cross paths in the Armenian's nightclub/whore house, which gives the Armenian useful knowledge and power.

The Weimar Republic is only a few years old as Germany tries to recover from WWI and the sanctions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, which, forbade Germany from having an air force.

Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries)
There are lots of other characters with rich parts, but the other key character is Charlotte Ritter, living in a wretched flat with difficult relatives, making ends meet working at the Armenians nightclub and aspiring to become a police detective in a force where women are only in supportive roles.

The New York Times writes:
This new epic crime drama, set during the Weimar Republic, the chaotic 15-year era that preceded the Third Reich, is widely predicted to become an international television sensation. Reportedly the most expensive German-language TV show ever produced,  . . .
"The makers of “Babylon Berlin,” however, were interested in exploring the prelude to the Third Reich. 'All these people didn’t fall from the sky as Nazis,' Mr. Handloegten said. 'They had to become Nazis. . .'
“In 1929, there were no Nazis in Berlin,” said the producer Stefan Arndt. “You cannot see or even smell that there’s danger coming.”
The acting is superb and the story gripping, with a dash of history just before the collapse into fascism.   A big hit since it began airing in Germany last October, it's on Netflix now.

[Screenshots turned out black, so I took photos of the screen to get the images.  These stills don't do these two charming actors justice.  And if you're having trouble seeing links to the NYTimes and other papers, try opening a "new private window" in your browser and pasting in the URL.]

Monday, February 19, 2018

Graham v MOA #9: Exams 2 - Can You Explain These Terms: Merit Principles, Validity, And Reliability?

The Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) Charter [the city's constitution] at Section 5.06(c) mandates the Anchorage Assembly to adopt
“Personnel policy and rules preserving the merit principle of employment.”   AMC 3.30.041 and 3.30.044 explain examination types, content, and procedures consistent with these merit principles.  
Âs defined in the Anchorage Municipal Code Personnel Policies and Rules,
“Examination means objective evaluation of skills, experience, education and other characteristics demonstrating the ability of a person to perform the duties required of a class or position.” (AMC 3.30.005)
[OK, before I lose most of my readers, let me just say, this is important stuff to know to understand why the next posts will look so closely at the engineer test that Jeff Graham did not pass.  But it's also important to understand one of the fundamental principles underlying government in the United States (and other nations.)  And I'd add that the concepts behind merit principles are applied in most large private organizations to some extent, though they may have different names.

Jeff Graham's attorney made me boil this down to the most basic points to improve the likelihood I wouldn't put the jury to sleep.  So bear with me and keep reading.

And, you can see an annotated index of all the posts at the Graham v MOA tab above or just link here.]  

Basic Parts of Government In The United States

Governments can be broken down into several parts.
  • The elected politicians who pass the laws and set the broad policy directions (legislature)
  • The elected executive who carries out the laws.
  • The administration is led by the elected executive - the president, the governor at the state level, and the mayor at the city level.
  • Civil Service refers to the career government workers who actually carry out the policies.  There are also appointed officials at the highest levels who are exempt from some or all of the civil service rules.

Merit principles are the guidelines for how the career civil servants are governed.  

So What Are Merit Principles?

Probably the most basic, as related to this case, are:
  • Employees are chosen solely based on their skills, knowledge, and abilities (SKAs) that are directly related to their performance of the job. 
  • The purpose of this is to make government as as effective and efficient as possible by hiring people based on their job related qualities and nothing else.  
  • That also means other factors - political affiliation, race, color, nationality, marital status, age, and disability should not be considered in hiring or promotion.  It also means that arbitrary actions and personal favoritism should not be involved
  • Selection and promotion criteria should be as objective as possible.   

So Steve, what you're saying, this sounds obvious.  What else could there be?

Before the merit system was the Spoils System.  Before merit principles were imposed on government organizations, jobs (the spoils) were given to the victors (winning politicians and their supporters)   The intent of the Merit System is to hire the most qualified candidates.

In 1881, President Garfield was assassinated by a disgruntled job seeker, which spurred Congress to set up the first version of the federal civil service system - The Pendleton Act.

Only a small number of federal positions were covered by this new civil service act, but over the years more and more positions were covered and the procedures improved with improvements in the technology of testing.  The merit system, like any system can be abused, but it's far better than the spoils system.  Objective testing is a big part of applying merit principles.

What does 'objective criteria' mean? 

Objectivity has a couple common and overlapping meanings:
  • Grounded on facts.  Grounding your understanding or belief on something concrete, tangible.  Something measurable that different people could 'see' and agree on.
  • Unbiased.  A second, implied meaning from the first, is that you make decisions neutrally, as free as you can be from bias, preconceived ideas.  That’s not easy for most people to do, but there are ways to do it better. 

What Ways Can Make  Tests More Objective And Free Of Bias?

I think of objectivity as being on one end of a continuum and subjectivity being on the other end.  No decision is completely objective or subjective, nor should it be.  But generally, the more towards the objective side, the harder it is to introduce personal biases.* 

objective ...............................................................................................subjective

First Let's Define "Test"

In selection and promotion, we have tests. Test is defined as any thing used to weed out candidates, or rank candidates from poor to good.  So even an application form can be a test if it would lead to someone being cut out of the candidate pool.  Say candidates are required to have a college degree and someone doesn’t list one on an application.  They would be eliminated already.  

Again,  how do you make tests more objective?

There are two key terms we need to know:  validity and reliability.

What’s Validity?

Validity means that if a person scores higher on a test, we can expect that person to perform better on the specific job.  
Or saying it another way, the test has to truly test for what is necessary for the job.  So, if candidates without a college degree can do the job as well as candidates with a degree, then using college degree to screen out candidates is NOT valid.  

And what is reliability?

Reliability means that if  a person takes the same test at different times or different places, or with different graders, the person should get a very similar result.  Each test situation needs to have the same conditions, whether you take the test on Monday or on Wednesday, in LA or Anchorage, with Mr. X or Miss Y administering and/or grading the test.  

How Validity and Reliability Relate To Each Other

To be valid, the selection or promotion test must be a good predictor of success on the job. People who score high on the exam, should perform the job better than those who score low.  And people who score low should perform worse on the job than people who score high.

BUT, even if the test is intrinsically valid, the way it is administered could invalidate it.  If the test is not also reliable (testing and grading is consistent enough that different test takers will get a very similar score regardless of when or where they take the test and regardless of who scores the test) the test will no longer be valid.  This is because the scores will no longer be good predictors of who will do well on the job.

How do you go about testing for validity and reliability?
This can get complicated, especially for  factors that are not easy to measure.  I didn't go into this during the trial.  I wanted to point out some pages in a national Fire Safety Instructor Training Manual used by the Municipality of Anchorage, but I was not allowed to mention it.  It talks about different levels of validity and how to test for them.  It also says that for 'high stakes' tests, like promotion tests, experts should be hired to validate the test.  The jury didn't get to hear about this. But it's relevant because as I wrote in an earlier post, the people in charge of testing, and specifically in charge of the engineer exam, only had Level I certification, which allows them to administer training and testing designed by someone with Level II certification.  It's at Level II that validity and reliability are covered.  

There really wasn't need to get detailed in the trial, because the oral exam was so egregiously invalid and unreliable that you you could just look at it and see the problems.  And we'll do that in the next posts.

That should be enough but for people who want to know more about this, I'll give a bit more below.

Extra Credit

*"the harder it is to introduce bias"  There are always was that bias can be introduced, from unconscious bias to intentionally thwarting the system.   When civil service was introduced in the United States, there was 'common understanding' that women were not qualified for most jobs.  That was a form of bias.  Blacks were also assumed to be unqualified for most jobs.  Over the years these many of these sorts of cultural barriers have taken down.  But people have found other ways to surreptitiously obstruct barriers.  

Merit Principles

If you want to know more about merit principles I'd refer you to the Merit System Protection Board that was set up as part of the Merit System Reform Act of 1978.  

A little more about reliability problems (because these are important to understand about the engineer promotion exam)

In the main part of this post I wrote that all the important (could affect the score) conditions of the test need to be the same no matter where or when or with whom a candidate takes the test.  Here are some more details
  • Location - If one location is less comfortable - temperature, noise, furniture, lighting, whatever - it could skew the scores of test takers there.
  • Time -  could be a problem in different ways.  
    • All candidates must have the same amount of time to take the test.  
  • Instructions - all instructions have to be identical
  • Security of the test questions - if some applicants know the questions in advance and others do not, the test is not reliable.

The scoring, too, has to be consistent from grader to grader for each applicant.

And there are numerous ways that scoring a test can go wrong.
  • Grader bias  - conscious and unconscious.   Raters who know the candidates may rate them differently than people who don’t know them at all. 
    • The Halo effect means if you have a positive view of the candidate, you’re likely to give him or her more slack.  You think, I know they know this?  
    • The Horn or Devil Effect is the opposite - If you already have a negative opinion about a candidate, you consciously or unconsciously give that a candidate less credit.  These are well documented biases.
    • Testing order bias affects graders and candidates.  
      • After three poor candidates, a mediocre candidate may look good to graders.  
  • Grading Standards - Is the grading scale clear and of a kind that the graders are familiar with?
    • Are the expected answers and how to score them clear to the graders?
    • Do the graders have enough time to calculate the scores consistently?
  • Grader Training -
    •  If they aren't well trained, it could take a while to figure out how to use their scoring techniques, so they score different at the end from the beginning. 

How Do You Overcome the Biases In More Subjective Tests Like Essays, Interviews, and Oral Exams?

Despite the popularity of job interviews, experts agree that they are among the most biased and result in the least accurate predictions of candidate job performane.  Or see this link.

You have to construct standardized, objective rubrics and grading scales - this is critical, particularly for essay and oral exams.

On November 9, 2016 when the electoral college vote totals were tallied, everyone saw the same facts, the same results.  But half the country thought the numbers were good and half though they were bad.

When evaluating the facts of a job or promotion candidate, the organization has to agree, before hand, what ‘good’ facts look like and what ‘bad’ facts look like. Good ones are valid ones - they are accurate predictors of who is more likely to be successful in the position.   Good and bad are determined by the test maker, not by the graders.  The graders merely test whether the performance matches the pre-determined standard of a good performance.

What’s a rubric?

It’s where you describe in as much detail as possible what a good answer looks like.  If you’re looking at content, you identify the key ideas in the answer, and possibly how many points a candidate should get if they mention each of those ideas.  It has to be as objective as possible. The Fire Safety Instructor Training Manual has some examples, but even those aren't as strong as they could be.

Good rubrics take a lot of thought - but it's thought that helps you clarify and communicate what a good answer means so that different graders give the same answer the same score.

Here are some examples:
UC Berkeley Graduate Student Instructors Training
Society For Human Resource Management - This example doesn't explicitly tell graders what the scores (1,2, 3, 4, 5) look like, as the previous one does.
BARS - Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales - This is an article on using BARS to grade Structured Interviews.  Look particularly at Appendices A & B.
How Olympic Ice Skating is Scored - I couldn't find an actual scoring sheet, but this gives an overall explanation of the process.

My experience is that good rubrics force graders to ground their scores on something concrete, but they can also miss interesting and unexpected things.  It's useful for graders to score each candidate independently, and then discuss why they gave the scores they did - particularly those whose scores vary from most of the scores.  Individual graders may know more about the topic which gives their scores more value.  Or may not have paid close attention.   Ultimately, it comes down to an individual making a judgment.  Otherwise we could just let machines grade.  But the more precise the scoring rubric, the easier it is to detect bias in the graders.


Q:  What if a candidate thinks she got the answer right on a question, but it was scored wrong?

Everything in the test has to be documented.  Candidates should be able to see what questions they missed and how they were scored.  If the test key had an error, they should be able to challenge it.

Q:  Are you saying everything needs to be documented?

If there is going to be any accountability each candidate’s test and each grader’s score sheets must be maintained so that if there are questions about whether a test was graded correctly and consistently from candidate to candidate, it can be checked.

In the case of an oral exam or interview, at least an audio (if not video) record should be kept so that reviewers can see what was actually said at the time by the candidate and the graders.

Q:  Have you strayed a bit from the Merit Principles?

Not at all. This all goes back to the key Merit Principle - selecting and promoting the most qualified candidates for the job.  There won’t be 100% accuracy. But in general, if the test is valid,  a high score will correlate with a high job performance.  But unless the test is also reliable, it won’t be valid. The more reliable the test, the more consistent the scores will be under different conditions and graders.  The best way to make tests more reliable is to make them as objective as possible.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Send This Powerful Video By Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS Student To Your Congress Members

Please watch this video of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school student talking about stopping mass shootings at schools.  It's powerful.

I predict the survivors of this shooting will be cited in years to come as the turning point, where the NRA's stranglehold on Congress began to fade.  If #Metoo is galvanizing women, this shooting - if this video is an indication - is going to galvanize students and their parents.  Any time the pendulum goes too far in one direction, it can start swinging back very quickly.

I urge you to send the link to this video -

-  to your US Senators and Congress Member. Just google the name + contact info. If you don't know the name, google [Your State} US Senators Contact Info and [Your Zip Code] US Congress Member Contact Info.  Or go to

The forms are quick and easy. If each Senator and Rep get 100 people sending in this video, it will make a difference. 1000 people would be even better.

I'd note my previous post was about Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the woman after whom the high school was named. She is credited with saving the Everglades among other things and died at 108.

 I'd like to think that the young woman in this video got some of her passion and courage to act from having a school named after such a powerful and determined role model.  (I would just note that I'm sure that during much, if not most, of her life, Marjory Stoneman Douglas didn't think of herself as powerful.)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Marjory Stoneman Douglas - A Remarkable Woman Who Lived To 108

The first thing I noticed when I googled "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School" was a bio of a woman who lived to 108, was a key, if not 'the' key, person behind saving the Everglades, and who has a lot of stuff named after her besides the high school.

Highlighting her seemed a good idea, but I got caught up in examining Trump's speech on the shooting.  Now as I am ready to post about her, I see that others had the same idea since the shooting.

But for those of you who haven't heard already, this is a good time to get to know a remarkable woman.

From Wikipedia intro on her:

"Marjory Stoneman Douglas (April 7, 1890 – May 14, 1998) was an American journalist, writer, feminist, and environmentalist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development. Moving to Miami as a young woman to work for The Miami Herald, she became a freelance writer, producing over a hundred short stories that were published in popular magazines. Her most influential work was the book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), which redefined the popular conception of the Everglades as a treasured river instead of a worthless swamp. Its impact has been compared to that of Rachel Carson's influential book Silent Spring (1962). Her books, stories, and journalism career brought her influence in Miami, enabling her to advance her causes.
As a young woman Douglas was outspoken and politically conscious of the women's suffrage and civil rights movements. She was called upon to take a central role in the protection of the Everglades when she was 79 years old. For the remaining 29 years of her life she was "a relentless reporter and fearless crusader" for the natural preservation and restoration of the nature of South Florida.[1] Her tireless efforts earned her several variations of the nickname "Grande Dame of the Everglades"[2] as well as the hostility of agricultural and business interests looking to benefit from land development in Florida. Numerous awards were given to her, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she was inducted into several halls of fame.
Douglas lived to 108, working until nearly the end of her life for Everglades restoration. Upon her death, an obituary in The Independent in London stated, "In the history of the American environmental movement, there have been few more remarkable figures than Marjory Stoneman Douglas."[3]"

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The President's Speech On Florida Shooting - Between The Lines

Here's my take on the President's speech this morning on the Parkland school shooting.  I've done a reasonably close transcript (since I couldn't find any yet)[I did find one before I was done here- it's officially a 'statement'' not a speech] and I'll comment between the lines of his speech.  Let me say, that much of the rhetoric and tone were appropriate for this sort of situation.  But given the President's own words and behaviors, much of it seems ironic.  And if we look carefully at the text, we'll see it's full of clichés but lacking any real substance.  This would be an appropriate speech, perhaps after the first school shooting this year, but ABC News reports there have already been 18 school shootings in the first 45 days of 2018. (Not all were intentional, some were suicides.)

Our president and legislators can't keep using the same condolence platitudes.

But before I look at the speech in detail, I want to point out this was very much "a speech."  He's using his speech voice as he reads.  He is not speaking 'from the heart' or in his natural voice.  That's fairly easy to test.  Just listen to the last line of the speech:

"Thank you and God bless you all." 
If he were actually feeling the words he was speaking, his 'thank you' would have been real.  But it wasn't.  He didn't even know that he'd just said 'thank you'.  How do I know that?  Because immediately after finishing the speech, he says in a much more natural tone of voice:
"Thank you very much."  
You can hear the switch from speech voice to real voice clearly. Here's the end tape of the tape.  [I have it set to begin at 6:22.  It seems to do that the first time you play it, then it goes back to the beginning.  Which allows you to hear the whole speech if you have nothing better to do.]

The Speech  [Trump's words are in italics and indented.  Mine are not.]

My fellow Americans, today I speak to a nation in grief. Yesterday, a school filled with innocent children and caring teachers became the scene of terrible violence. hatred, and evil.
Cliché alert.  What does 'innocent children' actually mean? These are high school students, not elementary school kids.  They may be relatively young, but I'm guessing innocent is not the best word to describe most of them.  The shooter, after all, was one of the students last year.

Cliché alert:  'Evil.'  While evil is used to mean unspeakably bad, Collins also defines it this way:
"Evil is a powerful force that some people believe to exist, and that causes wicked and bad things to happen."
Evil, in this religious sense, is an underlying natural force in the world.    It's often used to deflect blame or suggest there are no solutions.    Later in the speech Trump talks about tackling the issue of mental health.  Is he demonizing mental illness?  Or is evil just one of the words speechwriters always choose for this topic?
"Around 2:30 yesterday afternoon, police responded to reports of gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a great and safe community."
I guess it isn't all that safe.   Or if people thought it was, it means there are no safe communities.

"There, a shooter who is now in custody opened fire on defenseless students and teachers.  He murdered 17 people and badly wounded at least 14 others.  Our entire nation with a one heavy heart is praying for the victims and their families.  To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly,  we are here for you whatever we can do, whatever you need, to ease your pain."
Does that include this student from the high school who tweeted in response to Trump's condolence tweet ?

I can't confirm this really is a student at that school, though Newsweek quoted the tweet.  But I'm sure there are some students at the school who feel this way.  Will gun control be off the agenda when Trump visits the school, like it was in this speech?

"We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.  No child, no teacher should ever be in danger in an American school.  No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning." 
True, though I wonder how many parents actually kiss their high school students before they head off in the morning?    And we've been having school and other mass shootings regularly going back before Sandy Hook.  Things haven't gotten safer.  What concrete action do you plan to take?

"Each person who was stolen from us yesterday, had a full life ahead of them, a life filled with wondrous beauty and unlimited potential and promise.  Each one had dreams to pursue and love to give, and talents to share with the world.    And each one had a family to whom they meant everything in the world."
This is really quite beautiful and insightful.  And he read it well, but I have some questions.  Does he feel this about the kids in ghetto Baltimore?  The women who are accusing him of sexual abuse?   What about the Dreamers he wants to send back to dangerous, if not life threatening, situations?  These are, I'm afraid, just words that the President read, that someone else wrote for him.
"Today we mourn for all of those who lost their lives.  We comfort the grieving and wounded. And we hurt for the entire community of Parkland, Florida  that is  now in shock and pain and searching for answers.  To law enforcement, first responders and teachers who responded so bravely in the face of danger:  We thank you for your courage."  
Appropriate sentiments, not much substantive content.

"Soon after the shooting I spoke to Gov Scott to convey our deepest sympathies to the people of Florida and our    determination to assist in any way we can.  I also spoke with Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and  Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.   I’m making plans to visit Parkland to meet with families and local officials and continue coordinating the Federal response." 
 Pam Bondi, if you recall, was deciding on whether to prosecute Trump University when her campaign got a $25,000 check from aTrump foundation.  She made her decision shortly after to drop the case.
"In these moments of heartache and darkness, we hold on to God’s word in scripture, “I have heard your prayer, and seen your tears, I will heal you.”  We trust in that promise and we hold fast to our fellow Americans in their time of sorrow."
I'm not a biblical scholar.  But I'd note this quote comes from a story in  II Kings 20:5 and also in  Isaiah, Chapter 38.   Hezekiah is ill.  Isaiah hears from a prophet that Hezekiah will die. Isaiah tells Hezekiah, who then prays to the Lord to remember he's lived a good life.  It is then, that Isaiah hears the words Trump quotes.
"Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’"
This is not a prayer for grieving parents, but for a dying King who is given reprieve.

But Trump is talking to the grieving relatives of dead children and teachers, and unlike Hezekiah, they won't be healed.
"I want to speak now directly to America’s children."
This is perhaps the scariest part of the speech for me.  How many people would want Trump to give advice to their children?  Especially their high school age daughters?  Gives me the creeps.
"Especially to those who feel lost, alone, confused, or even scared.  I want you to know that you are never alone and never will be.  You have people who care about you and love you and will do anything to protect all.  If you need help turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer, or a faith leader.  
In general, this is something a loving and caring president might tell children.  Yet, for the most vulnerable of children, this isn't necessarily true.  Think of the children of religious families who were kicked out when they said they were gay.  The kids of drug addicts may not have anyone.  And I know that a lot of African-American parents would not tell their kids to report things to local police officers.   Kids with mental health problems feel isolated.  Like the shooter.  Who was helping him?  Apparently there were lots of signs he needed help desperately.  Are people like him included here? Or are they the evil Trump warns about?
Answer hate with love and cruelty with kindness.  We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life  that creates deep and meaningful human connections and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors."
Really?  Trump is telling people to answer hate with love, cruelty with kindness?  Create deep and meaningful human connections?  Were the speechwriters giggling at the irony as they wrote this?
"Our administration is working closely with local authorities to investigate the shooting and learn everything we can. " 
He also tweeted that 
"We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico."
 ...people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. All buildings now inspected....."
Can we believe him?

"We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools tackle the the difficult issue of mental health."
As much as Republicans want to talk about mental health, rather than guns, as the way to prevent shootings, their track record on supporting mental health regularly comes into question.

"Later this month I will be meeting with the nation’s  governors and attorney generals [sic] where making our schools and children safer will be our top priority."
I can't find anything about a meeting between the president and the governors and AG's.  The only official looking schedule for the president I can find is at Fact Based, but it only goes backward in time from today.  Not into the future.  

There is a National Governor's Association Winter meeting scheduled for February 24-  in DC.  Maybe that's what he's referring to.  Its agenda doesn't include school shootings or mental health.  How exactly does the president meet with the 50 governors and attorneys general? Almost half the state AG's have already sued the President over various issues in his first year in office.   So they don't seem to have "created deep and meaningful human connections" with the president yet.

They're only meeting for two days and they already have a full agenda.  I just don't see this as more than a way to look like he's going to do something.  The kind of thing the next sentence of his speech warns against.
"It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference.  We must actually make that difference.  In times of tragedy, the bonds that sustain us are those of family, faith, community, and country.  These bonds are stronger than the forces of hate and evil.  And these bonds grow even stronger in the hours of our greatest need."
So we're supposed to rely on our bonds of family, faith, community, and country to end school shootings?  More on the forces of hate and evil.
"And so always, but especially today, let us hold our loved ones close, let us pray for healing and for peace, and let us come together as one nation and wipe away the tears and strive for a much better tomorrow.  Thank you and God bless you all."
That ends the official speech, but then, finally, Trump talks in his real voice.  Which, as I pointed out above, shows that he wasn't even comprehending what he was reading.  Since the end of the official speech already ended with a thank you.
Thank you very much.
I'd also point out that simply talking about mentally ill people being the problem is also problem.  TheNational Alliance on Mental Illness claims that18% of US adults experience mental health problems in any year.  That's almost 20% of our population.  The vast majority are NOT high risk to be shooters.  Linking mental illness so broadly to mass shootings is likely to continue the stigma of mental health, and  mean fewer people seek treatment for their mental health problems.            

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Seattle Basking In Cold Sunshine and Soccer

The clouds and rain took a break for the last few days and we've had sun, since Friday I think.  It's a very different look.

The weekend consisted of three soccer games for me.  I drove the youngest of the three step-grandsons to Olympia for his game on Saturday.  Sunday there were two championship games at Starfire soccer complex near SEATAC.  It was mostly sunny, but being outside in the low 40s˚F weather with a constant breeze was bracing.  But the oldest's team won the US Youth Soccer Championship for Washington.  The game was tied 2-2 at the end, so it went into a scoreless 30 minute overtime. So it was decided on penalty kicks.  Here's a bit of the ballet of the last game.

A very exciting, if chilly day.

The sun continued Monday.  After dropping Z off, I did my walk through the park then drove off the island to get a headlight bulb, picked Z up in the afternoon and took her to theater camp, then home to check out a kindergarten school for next fall.  It's an alternative school in the regular school district, but it's small and students are chosen by lottery.

Today was sunny again, but colder.  Right around freezing.  There was frost on the lawn.

And ice in part of the pond.

And the puddles were more seriously iced up.

My granddaughter's life is pretty full.  There was an astronomy activity at the planetarium Saturday when we got back from the soccer game.  But all the activities give her opportunities to learn through playing and she enjoys them.  And she helped me change the headlight bulb yesterday.  And keeping up with her is cutting into my blogging.  But I'm sure it's much more worthwhile.