Thursday, February 28, 2019

Working Conditions of Some Folks Who Feed Your Electronic Media Habits

Some pieces on the less visible side of our rapid adoption of electronic media.

Computer Games - From Real Life

"During a quarterly earnings call on February 11, Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard — one of the biggest companies in video games, publicly traded with a market cap of about $35 billion — announced excellent news for investors: His company had just completed a “record year” of revenue. But then he had even better news for them: Activision Blizzard was set to lay off 8 percent of their workforce, to further increase shareholder margins, meaning 800 employees would be losing their jobs.
The cycles of extreme crunch and job churn have meant that game employees often burn out after a few years in games: In 2017, the industry had the highest turnover rate of any in the country. Games companies are not troubled by this, because they bank on the aura that their products and their fan communities give them. The idealism and passion of the young people who come to games hoping to work in a field that inspires them and brings them joy end up making them ripe for exploitation, a pattern many young writers, actors, and musicians might recognize. At so-called triple-A studios like Rockstar or Ubisoft, they get chewed up and spit out in the name of creating an expensive few hours of pleasure for middle-class consumers."

Casey Newton's The Trauma Floor:  The Secret Lives of Facebook Moderators in America, tells the story of contract workers who screen FB posts to eliminate inappropriate posts.  It starts of at a training session:
"For this portion of her education, Chloe will have to moderate a Facebook post in front of her fellow trainees. When it’s her turn, she walks to the front of the room, where a monitor displays a video that has been posted to the world’s largest social network. None of the trainees have seen it before, Chloe included. She presses play.
The video depicts a man being murdered. Someone is stabbing him, dozens of times, while he screams and begs for his life. Chloe’s job is to tell the room whether this post should be removed. She knows that section 13 of the Facebook community standards prohibits videos that depict the murder of one or more people. When Chloe explains this to the class, she hears her voice shaking." 
The piece goes on to talk about how these employees are NOT really FB employees and their pay and working conditions are much different from those in Menlo Park. Interviews with a number of former and current employees reveals high mental health problems, with sex and drugs a common way to cope.  While there are counselors, they aren't there all the time.   A long section in the middle discusses the difficulty of interpreting the rules for what is allowable and what isn't.  As you can imagine there is a fine balancing act between not offending people and not being overly protective.

"In some cases, the company has been criticized for not doing enough — as when United Nations investigators found that it had been complicit in spreading hate speech during the genocide of the Rohingya community in Myanmar. In others, it has been criticized for overreach — as when a moderator removed a post that excerpted the Declaration of Independence. (Thomas Jefferson was ultimately granted a posthumous exemption to Facebook’s speech guidelines, which prohibit the use of the phrase 'Indian savages.')"

The scores employees get keeps track of their accuracy.

Eventually gets to tour the Phoenix workplace under controlled conditions where employees say things aren't as bad as he's been led to believe.

And finally (for this post anyway) (and a slightly different focus)  "AR Will Spark the Next Big Tech Platform—Call It Mirrorworld" in Wired, by Kevin Kelly.  This begins with a description of AR as experienced by Mythbusters' Adam Savage:
“I turned it on and I could hear a whale,” he says, “but I couldn’t see it. I’m looking around my office for it. And then it swims by my windows—on the outside of my building! So the glasses scanned my room and it knew that my windows were portals and it rendered the whale as if it were swimming down my street. I actually got choked up.” 
Kelly gives an overview.  (Wired assumes everyone knows what AR means and doesn't define it.  But I suspect not all my readers do.  It stands for Augmented Reality.)
"The first big technology platform was the web, which digitized information, subjecting knowledge to the power of algorithms; it came to be dominated by Google. The second great platform was social media, running primarily on mobile phones. It digitized people and subjected human behavior and relationships to the power of algorithms, and it is ruled by Facebook and WeChat.
We are now at the dawn of the third platform, which will digitize the rest of the world. On this platform, all things and places will be machine-­readable, subject to the power of algorithms. Whoever dominates this grand third platform will become among the wealthiest and most powerful people and companies in history, just as those who now dominate the first two platforms have. Also, like its predecessors, this new platform will unleash the prosperity of thousands more companies in its ecosystem, and a million new ideas—and problems—that weren’t possible before machines could read the world."

So what?

Every new technology inherently brings change to the society that adopts it.  I remember reading about an indigenous group of people's first contact with foreigners, who gave metal hatchets to people in the group.  The possession of tools like these had been restricted by tradition to village leaders.  Now everyone had such a tool and the whole social order of the community fell apart.

We've been on an incredible technology ride as we adopt one new technology after another with very little concern for how these technologies have and will impact us.  Digital imagery manipulation has destroyed the idea of photos and videos as reliable evidence of truth.  And the internet is currently being used to further destroy any notion of a provable truth.  Democracy requires a level of agreement on what is true.

But aside from the content of the internet and how it influences our world views, there is also the impact of how the technology is produced - the materials, the work settings, wealth redistribution.  And capitalism itself makes it hard to control the impacts of new technology.  Cloning and genetic modification of humans will happen (have happened?) despite strong ethical concerns.  Capitalists supply what they think they can profit from.  We know, for example, the free market plays a key role in the extinction of species - either because some part of them is valued like rhinoceros horns, or because their habitat is destroyed as a side-effect (externality) of resource development and the unregulated dumping of waste.

Before you give up because you think the problems are too great to solve, remember your own consumption and waste management strategies.  Talk about the side effects of computer games with your friends and relatives who made Activision Blizzard a $35 billion! company.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Cohen Testimony, Republican Response

Let's be clear.  Michael Cohen is NOT a nice guy.  He grew up with friends - like Felix Sater - whose parents were part of the Jewish-Russian mafia.  Here's Wikipedia's says about his personal life:
Cohen married Ukraine-born Laura Shusterman in 1994.[17][18][19] Laura Shusterman's father, Fima Shusterman, left Soviet Ukraine for New York in 1975.[19] Cohen has a daughter, Samantha, and a son, Jake.[20] Cohen's wife, according to the Wall Street Journal, is implicated in potential criminal activity, and Cohen's father-in-law is the one who introduced him to Trump according to a Trump biographer.[21][22] Cohen's uncle is a doctor who treated members of the Lucchese crime family.[19] The uncle owned "El Caribe Country Club," known to be frequented by individuals associated with the Russian mafia: Evsei Agron, Marat Balagula, and Boris Nayfeld.[23]
Before joining the Trump Organization, Cohen had purchased several homes in Trump's buildings.[13] A 2017 New York Times article reported that Cohen is known for having "a penchant for luxury"; he was married at The Pierre, drove a Porsche while attending college, and once owned a Bentley.[17]
He was surrounded by people who abused the law for their own benefit, including his boss for ten years, Donald J. Trump.

So, it's understandable that the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee today, have repeatedly hammered him over his reliability as a witness. He was called the first witness before Congress who'd ever been convicted of lying to Congress.  (That should probably be fact checked.) He was even called a pathological liar by one.

House Oversight Committee Rep. Stuebe of Florida complained about how Cohen lied to Congress (he didn't say "in defense of Trump.")  Did Stuebe or any of the Republicans complaining about that dishonest testimony today, raise serious questions about Cohen's truthfulness at the time?

I doubt any did.   I tried to find transcripts of the testimony but I can't.  [Anyone with a link or a copy, please send it to me.]  The closest I got was this:

NBC News report on the October 2017 testimony of Michael Cohen where he lied to defend the president:
"But Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who is leading the committee’s Russia probe, said Cohen answered his questions to his satisfaction and saw no need to invite him back."
"A Democratic congressman asked Cohen if he had ever used an alias in the past, raising one in particular: Michael Hacking. Cohen explained it was related to a taxi company he had owned — hack in this case being a reference to New York’s yellow cabs.
“They really thought they had him, that this was an alias he used to hack into people’s phones. It was almost too good to be true,” said Republican Rep. Peter King, who as a New Yorker was one of the few present who immediately saw the humor in the exchange. 'It was a moment of levity. I don’t know if the Democrats found it as funny as I did.'”
So these are two cases of Republicans at the time who were 'satisfied' with Cohen's testimony or found levity in the fact that a Democrat was tripped up by a hacking reference.  No outrage though then, about Cohen's testimony, which today they declare to be a disqualifier for him as a witness.  They called this hearing a waste of time when they should be doing far more important stuff.

Considering that the Republicans are standing firm to defend the most prominent serial liar in the world, it's clear to me that their attacks on Cohen are not about his lying, but about his defecting from the Trump team.

Do they mean that everything he's said today is a lie?  What about when he said that Trump would never hit his wife?  What about when he refused to rule out selling his story in books and movies?  What about when he said he had no direct knowledge of collusion between Trump and Russia over the election?  Were those lies too?

All white collar crimes depend on insiders, people who have questionable if not terrible pasts.  It's because they are the people who know what happened.

The real irony in all this, is that the Republicans are furious at Cohen for once lying to protect Trump.  The same sort of loyalty to Trump they were demonstrating at the hearing themselves.  It's only when he stopped defending Trump that they got mad at him.

The afternoon session begins soon.  You can watch it live here:

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Text of Michael Cohen's Testimony Before House Committee On Oversight And Reform [UPDATED]

At some point we will get to the tipping point and Trump's presidency will be understood by most to be doomed.  He's already done dozens of things that would have destroyed any previous president.  Part of his protective wall, has been the Republican controlled  US Senate.  Cohen's testimony makes it harder for them to plead lack of proof.  This is a very clear, "The emperor has no clothes" moment.

I don't know that Cohen's testimony will be that tipping point.  Part of me thinks the tipping point  will be something that is far less legally problematic, but will somehow strike a nerve in the US people like other outrages haven't.

But this - courtesy of Politico - is the kind of thing many have been expecting a long time.  Coming from Trump's own personal lawyer, who worked for him for ten years and saw him behind the scenes, it's very damning.

He says a lot here, but he also says he has no first hand evidence of collusion with Russia.

Basically, he calls Trump a racist, a conman, a cheat.  But read it yourself.  Tipping point?  I don't know.  It will be harder for Republicans to credibly maintain their denials.  Certainly this is landmark testimony.

John Dean was Nixon's white house lawyer.  He's the one whose Congressional Testimony changed the Watergate momentum.  It's interesting that Michael Cohen's middle name is Dean.

[UPDATE March 6, 2019: I just got this notice from SCRIBD: "This is a notification that Scribd’s BookID copyright protection system has disabled access to Micahel Cohen Statement (id: 400620375). This does not necessarily mean that an infringement has occurred, or that you have done anything wrong. BookID is part of Scribd's diverse efforts to reinforce the copyrights of authors and publishers. Like all automated systems, it will occasionally identify legitimate content as a possible infringement. Unfortunately, the volume of content in Scribd's library prohibits us from reaching out for verification before BookID disables content. Scribd frequently updates BookID in order to reduce false positives. Authors that publish to Scribd's subscription reading service through one of our publishing partners may also find that BookID may remove uploads of duplicate or similar content from personal Scribd accounts. If you believe that this removal is an error, please forward a copy of this notification to along with a clear explanation of your issue. Our team will review your request and will restore content as deemed appropriate." I sent them a letter saying that this was a public document and I didn't need copyright permissions. But then I linked to find that I had found that someone else had already put the document up and so I saw no reason to duplicate it on SCRIBD. But apparently the entity that put it up is charging people to read it. So I'll try to find another copy and put it on my account. Sorry.]

[No sooner than I got my note up, it's working again.  Oh well, now people can read it again. Good.]

[Got an email - they fixed it.  And it turns out I had put it up.  Not sure why the link above sent me to someone else's post.  Now it goes to mine again.  They responded really quickly.]

Monday, February 25, 2019

So, What Exactly Is The Green New Deal? Here's A Copy Of The Resolution

Like a lot of people, I suspect, I liked the idea of a Green New Deal, but didn't really know much about the details.  So I looked online to find the document that spells it out.  What I got was the resolution that was introduced in Congress.  You can scroll down to find it all below.

Some thoughts:
1.  It's more a set of goals and priorities than a plan of things to do.  Though it does have some specific targets, like reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40-60% from 2010 levels by 2030
2.  It pulls together a whole range of issues that are normally dealt with (if at all) separately, and by the grouping of them here, makes the point that they are all related and must all be considered jointly.
3.  It sets out lots of important social/economic values - like protecting marginalized folks (a long list that goes from indigenous folks, to depopulated rural communities, low-income workers) - as needing to be protected from negative consequences of the changes.

The Right Wing Nay-Sayers have already begun attacking it for all sorts of reasons that boil down to demonizing it among the Right and splitting support on the Left.   I hope people are learning to see through such tricks.

FDR's New Deal was a series of bills all tied together by a common concept of getting people jobs, food, hope.  This could be the same.

I hope that a carbon fee and dividend bill - one has already been introduced in the House - will be one of the first successes of the Green New Deal.  All the analysis I've seen shows a Carbon Free and Dividend Bill is the most politically feasible and most effective way to quickly start reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.

I wanted to break it down and make it more consumable, but to do that right is going to take some time and creativity.  In the meantime, here's a copy of the resolution.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Vampire Blood Offer, Anti-Semitic Comment, GND And Anti-AOC Tweeters, And "That Ain't Actually True"

There's so much to write about, but not nearly enough time to do it well.  So let me just offer some highlights.

On my post Vampire History Of Alaska, I got a comment from Leonard who has become a vampire and is offering vampire blood to others.  Is this like ISIS recruitment?  Just a joke?  A scam?

On a 2010 post Does Lisa Murkowski's Religious Preference Matter? I got a new comment that makes allegations about Jews that I really can't understand.  I do understand that part that suggests Murkowski is a secret Jew who's made her way into a power position.

Both of those comments force me to decide if I should just delete the comments, or leave them there to let people see how bizarre some people are.  I've responded, with some hesitation, to the anti-semitic one - because I think people should see the kinds of things people right, and to put them into context, though I couldn't commit to dealing with every allegation in detail.

Then there's the Green New Deal.  I've started a post on that, but I need to do more research.  As someone who has spent a lot of time finding out about climate change, I'm for the idea, but I realized I didn't know all the details.  What I have learned through my involvement with Citizens Climate Change is:

  • Climate Change is real
  • It's caused by humans
  • 'Fighting' Climate Change isn't going to bring economic ruin, but rather will add jobs to the economy, and keep the US competitive as the world shifts to new sources of energy
  • A carbon fee with dividend is a market based approach that is the most politically viable and technically effective way to go 

All the scare stuff is by those with vested interests in fossil fuel based energy, people who use it to stoke partisan enmity, or those who who just resist change in general.

And as I read about the GND, I've noticed an unusual number of attacks against it and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.  When she tweets, there are way more anti-AOC responses than there should be.  People who follow her only to attack her it would seem, or are getting sent to attack her tweets by others.  I have checked out a few of these people.  Like Forrest Cook.  His Twitter page says he signed up in July 2009, he's got a total of 13 Tweets and 6 followers.

Of those 6, three are clearly from Kansas (as is Cook). Four have 25 or fewer followers and aren't very active.  Two followers, including Shinobi Ninja, have lots of posts and followers.

Cook's first tweet was July 21, 2009.  
Cook's second tweet was Feb 19, 2019.  And 17 more since then - including today Feb 24, 2019.
He's following 45 Tweeters - including all the Democrats who have announced for President, AOC, Bill Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi.  (He's also following Trump, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Kevin McCarthy.

How many newly reactivated Tweeters are out there?  Was Forrest recruited to reactivate?  Was his Twitter handle taken over?  Or has just gotten back into this on his own?   I sent him a tweet asking what got him started again. Here's his response:
"I just never got into Twitter until recently...time to enter another fold of Social Media...although, no mater the venue, the message, the hate and the angst is still the same"

There's more:

Andrew Sullivan  reacts to a new book - Frédéric Martel's In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.  Here's just a snippet.  You can read it all here.
"I’m no naïf when it comes to the gayness of the church. I’ve lived in it as a gay man for all my adult life, and my eyes are open. And so the book did not surprise me, as such, but it still stunned, shocked, and disgusted me. You simply cannot unread it, or banish what is quite obviously true from your mind. It helps explain more deeply the rants of Pope Francis about so many of his cardinals, especially his denunciations of “Pharisees” and “hypocrites,” with their sexual amorality and their vast wealth and power. “Behind rigidity something always lies hidden; in many cases, a double life,” he has said. He has excoriated “hypocrites” who live “hidden and often dissolute lives,” those who “put makeup on their soul and live off makeup”; he has exclaimed in public that “hypocrisy does a lot of harm: it’s a way of life.”
The only tiny consolation of the book is the knowledge that we now have a pope — with all his flaws — who knows what he’s dealing with, and has acted, quite ruthlessly at times, to demote, defrock, or reassign the most egregious cases to places where they have close to nothing to do. And if you want to understand the ferocity of the opposition to him on the Catholic right, this is the key. His most determined opponents are far-right closet cases, living in palaces, leading completely double lives, backed by the most vicious of reactionaries and bigots on the European and American far right, and often smarting at their demotions."
Finally, a very subtle and essay by a black Southerner on the difficulty of speaking honestly - Kiese Laymon's "That's Not Actually True."

"Weeks after I finish my audiobook, I will be interviewed on NPR by a much older white man from up north. I will imagine him sliding around his office in his socks. Near the end of our interview, he will sincerely ask me why I still talk to my mother. I will say, “Oh my god.” Then I will tell him the question should be why do we still talk to y’all when, northern or Southern, y’all refuse to critically engage with your investment in your belief that niggers ain’t shit. I will answer the question before the older white man from up north can answer and say, “If y’all ever paid us what we worked for, we wouldn’t talk to y’all. You know that right? We really wouldn’t. But we ain’t got no money so we talk to y’all. And we hope it makes our checks bigger.”
That’s not actually true."

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Virginia Redistricting Reform, The First Big Step

The US Constitution requires a decennial census in order to determine the current population so that states can be allowed an appropriate number of representatives in Congress.  Once the number is set, states redraw the maps.  It's at this point that gerrymandering becomes a potential problem.

Since Alaska has only one House member, that part is moot.  But our redistricting board maps the districts for the State House and Senate.  Right now, the Governor gets to choose two members of the board, the Speaker of the House and Senate President each choose one, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court also gets to choose one.    That's a total of five.  And it's been a pretty partisan project in the past.

A number of states have made changes.  It would behoove Alaskans to look at what's all going on and think about a better system for us as well.

Virginia took a big step to ending partisan gerrymandering in redistricting.  From One Virginia 2021:
Here are key elements in the reform passed by the House of Delegates and the Senate on Saturday:

The post says it still has to be passed again by next year's Virginia General Assembly and by the voters in November 2020.   Here's a slightly different take from WTOP.

Friday, February 22, 2019

API Contract Awarded - NO BID - To Wellpath by Alaska Gov. Dunleavy

At the bottom of this post is a copy of the contract I found posted at DHSS today between the State of Alaska and Wellpath, for the latter to take over operations of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.  Before we get there, I'll just highlight what I see in the contract.  There seems to be a fair amount of boiler plate (standard contract wording) and then specifics.

I see two phases:
Phase 1 - Startup  when they will figure out how they're going to pull this off
("contractor shall take all actions reasonably necessary for API to be in full operation and capable of serving patients by June 30, 2019. . .")   
It's not clear what's happening in the mean time.  Is the current state staff doing the work?  I haven't heard about the place being shut down and patients sent elsewhere.  But I would imagine staff is all looking for work somewhere else.  It does say that
"Wellpath shall provide sufficient staff to effect a transition of existing staff and all services to assume complete operation of API no later than July 1, 2019." (p. 6/21)
Phase II - Beginning July 1, 2019 is when they take over.
"Commencement of Phase 2 will begin on the Operations Date, upon acceptance of completion of Phase 1.  Upon commencement of Phase 2, Wellpath shall be authorized to manage and operate all aspects of API. . . "

Appendix C is Description of Services.

Then there are Exhibits:

Exhibit 1 - Staff Planning
Several pages listing positions and number of people to fill them.  Note there are only

12.5 positions listed under Healthcare
130 positions under Nursing
48.5 positions for "Treatment/Mental Health"
34 positions for "Safety"

28 of these are for "Therapeutic Safety Technicians."  When I looked up what that meant, I found a LinkedIn job announcement from Wellpath for this job posted 'one week ago."  They are no longer accepting applications.   It requires a minimum age of 19 and a high school diploma.

Here's the contract's summary of the Staffing Plan:

ARNP refers to Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners.

Appendix D:  Payment for Services

Phase 1 Startup Billing is for $1 million.   This is to figure out how they plan to take over operations. If this were a a competitively bid contract, it would seem to me this work would have been done by the companies doing the bid on their own dime.  I could be wrong, but I know companies put in a lot of prep work in their bids for contracts.

Phase 2 Operations Budget is for $1,383.82 per diem for 80 available beds.  Or $110,705.60 per day.  Or over $40 million for a year.
Phase 2 Estimated Annual Pass-Through Expenses:  $3,266.525.

So, as best as I can read this, the bill will be for about $43 million a year.
Looking back at previous budgets, I see API listed at around $33 million a year.

[NOTE:  Budgets were never my area of expertise.  I only occasionally try to get into them to find things, so I'm making preliminary observations here, waiting for others to jump in and clarify all this more accurately.]

[UPDATE Feb 22, 2019 9:00pm - I forgot to put up this image for people who would like to see who these people are who are now taking over API.  Wellpath CEO Jorge Dominicis, Correct Care Solutions co-founder Jerry Boyle, Wellpath President Kip Hallman.]

Image from

Alaska Politics From Afar

We'll be back in Anchorage in about a week.  Meanwhile gramping duties divert my blogging concentration.  I've been the healthiest adult for the last few days - my coughs much better, but others have it now.  So yesterday I dropped nieta at a program at the Kidimu and picked her up two hours later.  (No school this week.)  Later we went shopping for dinner with a stop at the library to drop off a book and get another.  Walking home with two bags of groceries - it was ok, but I should have thought about weight a bit more when I was shopping.  Then back to the library for READ to a dog a little later after preparing the veggie chili.  Today a friend comes over and we'll walk down to the Historical Museum after lunch here.  It's all good, but there is soooo much happening in Alaska, so let me try to at least mention some things.  I will say that I'm pleased with the much increased coverage of Juneau by the ADN and by AKLedger and Dermot Cole since I tried to blog the legislature in 2010.  

It was clear to me back in 2013 that Dunleavy was a danger to Alaska.  I watched in Anchorage as he chaired the special session of the Senate committee that was charged with moving the legislation (Erin's Law) out of committee to allow the full Senate to vote on it.  The bill was to require age appropriate lessons in schools on child molestation and teach kids how to report it.  Dunleavy took the clean, three page bill that had passed overwhelmingly in the House and added six pages that gutted much of the original bill and added a bunch of stuff on parental rights.  Parental Rights, I found out at the time, is code for things like home-school, anti-public school, and giving fathers more power in custody issues.  In the Erin's Law case it would mean giving abusive parents more control to keep their kids from finding out how to report sexual abuse.

So, it was clear that Dunleavy was working from some weird ideological place that allowed him to ignore the damage he was doing to kids in Alaska.

And that's my best guess about what's happening now.  After Dan Sullivan's family in Ohio bought him the Alaska US Senate seat over Mark Begich, Dunleavy's brother, also Outside, figured he could buy the Alaska Governorship the same way.  And he did.  And Mark Begich - the Alaskan born and raised Democrat - was the victim once again.  Along with his brother's money (and who else's we don't know) comes a crazy anti-government, libertarian opportunity to experiment by cutting money from Alaska education and everything else.

It's like, hey, if you guys help me get my brother get elected, you can then show the world how your ideas of cutting government will work.  But we already know this failed spectacularly in Kansas and Wisconsin and Michigan among other places.

And unlike those places, the Republicans in the Senate aren't as ideologically crazy as the ones in the other states.  Well, a few are.  And somehow - I still haven't figured it out - the Democrats have managed to get themselves into a bi-partisan majority in the State House.  So Dunleavy won't have it as easy getting his budget through in Alaska as the others did in their states.

But, if someone breaks into your house and lets the water overflow in the tubs and toilets, turns off the heat in the winter, and randomly destroys things, it's going to cost a lot to get it back into livable shape.

So I'm looking forward to being back in Alaska so I can get a better sense of how much damage we're going to incur from this ideologically-crazed governor and his (I need a gender neutral word for 'henchmen')

I'm also thinking about how democracy can survive if a majority of voters can be swayed by lies and nonsense, and another significant chunk thinks their participation is pointless.  We may not get our ideal candidate, but Trump and Dunleavy should have taught enough people that less than ideal is way better than horrible.  

That's the key question for me - how do we help citizens care enough to figure out what candidates will really do before they vote for them.  And to help other citizens to overcome their belief that their vote doesn't matter because all candidates are bad.

But the kinds of propaganda that the Nazis used to gain power has been perfected by Republican marketing geniuses with no morality.  We have Fox News as the most recognized example, and Putin's been using those techniques to wreak havoc in the US 2016 election, in Brexit, in the French election, in Ukraine, and in Italy.  He's showing the way to kill democracy is to kill truth.

Alaskans, let's not let our state Senate prop up Dunleavy the way the US Senate has been propping up Trump.  (And there are good signs they aren't.)  This guy has to go.  As fast as possible.

I realize this might sound like a rant to some, but I'm pretty sure my take here is accurate.  And I have two six year olds coming over for lunch in 30 minutes.  But I also wanted to mention the election board in North Carolina that invalidated a US House election because of a consultant who committed election fraud (note:  NOT voter fraud) by manipulating mail in ballots.   I'd note we had this same thing happen on what we believe to be a much smaller scale when Rep. LeDoux hired a California election consultant to get her Hmong constituents to vote.
"A subsequent count of absentee ballots gave LeDoux a 117-vote win. But state elections officials also said they found evidence of voter fraud among the absentee ballots, and they sent their findings to prosecutors for review.
Elections officials said they received absentee applications in the names of seven dead people. Those ballots were not mailed out, but officials also identified 26 suspicious ballots that were returned.
All 26 of those votes went to LeDoux."
That consultant died and it appears that ended deeper investigation into the issue.  But let's be vigilant.   Republican election fraud, voter suppression, and gerrymandering are  much bigger threats than Republican imagined voter fraud.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Seattle's NW Flower And Garden Festival

Being dependent on a ferry to get places really puts a cramp on one's outings.  We wanted to go to the Flower and Garden Show, but our granddaughter - on a week school break - had a morning program at the KidiMu that ended at 12:30pm. It's right near the ferry terminal, but fhe ferry for Seattle leaves at 12:20, which we missed, of course, and then again at 1:30pm. So we got a late start.  Catching the bus up to the convention center meant walking half a mile when the trip wasn't more than a mile.  So we walked.  (I think there were better bus options but I didn't see them when I looked.)

But we got there.  We went before in 2013.  It's a little crazy - lots of vendors selling garden related and not-so-related stuff.  (Like rain gutters with screening to keep the leaves out, and hot tubs, hazel nut shells for garden paths. )  There was lots of candy and artsy stuff as well.  But there were also lots of bulbs and tubers and potted plants for sale.

These metal and glass insects were the most dazzling things I saw for sale.  I was always a bug freak as a kid and my time in Thailand was highlighted in part by the abundance of magnificent insects, including scarab beetles like the one above.  I've included the picture below so you can get some sense of the sizes.

Our six year old enjoyed trying out the trampoline (all zipped up inside of a net).  The other part (well, besides food and winning a small pot with sprouting daffodils) was the display gardens.  These are gardens designed specifically for the show that compete for prizes.  There were 21.  It wasn't the gardens so much, but the scavenger hunt for kids.  She got a list of all the gardens and she had to find the model airplane in each garden.  A few were out in plain sight, others were a little trickier.

This one - the Herban Sanctuary - is described in the program
"You're stepping into the year 2050, with the urban center of Seattle serving as the 'sci-fi like' setting.  But rays of hope and positivity abound:  medicinal and edible plants are integrated into a planting scheme emphasizing native plant material  And resident have fully embraced clean energy, with use of solar panels and cooker.  A unique feature:  a tent that serves as a central gathering place for inspiration and healing. . . "


"Now a UNESCO world heritage site, these splendid gardens were laid out as a Persian "paradise garden." [Now in Lahore, Pakistan]  Constructed in `1641, they are representation of an earthly utopia where humans co-exist in perfect harmony with all elements of nature."

 Meanwhile, we went from garden to garden looking for the hidden airplanes.  Some, like the one on the left, were almost invisible.  This one is a black airplane in a dark tree.  It's in the middle of the picture, but I can't even see it anymore - even when I enlarge it.  But the young one was persistent and found them all.

It's a clever way for the Show to keep kids interested while the parents and grandparents are taking in the gardens, though we got hijacked into helping find planes.

These two were from "Orchids in Balance."

"Imagining Ireland:  Myth, Magic and Mystery" featured a rainbow of primroses which had a pot of gold at the end (the bright yellow just to the right of the leprechaun house on the left.)  This one had the airplane flying out in the open on a steel frame.  And one of the creator's relatives didn't like it particularly, so he made two more much fancier model planes to fly with it.  And my plane collector was rewarded with a bit of gold from the end of the rainbow.

This dragon was part of "Mystic Garden" a beautiful Chinese style garden.  

In San Francisco's Japanese Garden we were shown a 400 year old bonsai tree.  Since San Francisco isn't nearly that old, and the Japanese garden is much younger, I asked.  It had been begun in Japan long ago and brought over much later.

So when I saw this 520 year old Alaska Yellow Cedar, it didn't make sense.  How would a Japanese gardener get such a tree 500 years ago?   It turns out, the tree is that old, but it's only been 'in captivity' we were told for a much shorter time.  It was a natural bonsai found in the wild.  It was only after we left for home that I began thinking about people digging up 500 year old trees in the wild to display as bonsais.  Are people really allowed to go into forests and mountains and dig up these ancient trees?  Do they need permits?  Are there limits on how many can be "captured"?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Killers Of The Flower Moon - Chilling Story Of Power, Collusion, Racism, That's Relevant Still Today [UPDATED]

David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon tells the chilling and disgusting story of how white men in
power murdered scores, maybe more, Osage Indians in the 1920s, to get their 'headrights' which was their right to their share of the oil wealth. The headlights couldn't be sold, but they could be inherited.

Grann's interviewed children and grandchildren of murdered Osage.  He reviewed archival documents in libraries and agencies, What he found reveals a much bigger impact than others had.  The FBI quit investigating when the got convictions of two key people, but Grann suggests a lot more people were involved in the murders - both as perpetrators and as victims.

Basically, most ofl the important white men in Osage territory were involved.  The Osage had chosen what they thought was relatively desolate land in Oklahoma on the belief that whites would take over any decent land, as had happened to them previously.  But they did have a good attorney and they reserved the underground rights to all their territory.  When oil was discovered, they became rich.  That in itself was a problem because whites derided the idea of rich Indians living in nice house with fancy cars and clothes.  And the idea that Indians had whites working for them in their houses.

The law also had problems with the idea of rich Indians.
"The law mandated that guardians be assigned to any American Indians whom the Department of the Interior deemed "incompetent"  In practice, the decision to appoint a guardian - to render an American Indian, in effect, a half citizen - was nearly always based on the quantum of Indian food in the property holder, or what a state supreme court justice referred to as "racial weakness." (p. 78)

So the headright owners had to have a white guardians watch over their money.  This position gave the guardians many opportunities to syphon off money for their own uses.   But this wasn't enough for the white power structure of the area.  They began a long and relentless crusade to murder Osage headright owners to gain control of the money.  They used guns, they used poison, they even blew up someone's house.

They got away with this because all the key people - the mayor, the private investigators the families of Osage hired, the doctors who did autopsies, the undertakers, the various attorneys, the judges, the bankers, the juries, when there was one, were all involved.  All benefited financially.

It's a horrible story that should be highlighted in American history books, but isn't.  The FBI got involved because they'd already been embarrassed by an earlier case involving the Osage.  Hoover wanted to establish his new agency's credibility.  An upright Texas ranger who'd joined the FBI took over the case and managed to get witnesses to testify who hadn't before.  But when they got a few men convicted - notably William Hale and his nephew Ernest Burkhart -  they stopped there, not investigating the many other suspicious deaths.  Both these men were not given the death sentence for killing Indians, and were out of prison after serving relatively short terms.

Here's a bit of a summary from near the end of the book.
"I remembered the Shouns.  They were the doctors who had claimed that the bullet that had killed Anna Brown had disappeared  The doctors who had initially concealed that Bill Smith had given a last statement incriminating Hale and who had arrange it so that one of them became the administrator of Rita Smith's invaluable estate.  The doctors whom investigators suspected of giving Mollie Burkhart poison instead of insulin.  Many of the cases seemed bound by a web of silent conspirators  Mathis, the Big Hill Trading Company owner and the guardian of Anna Brown and her mother, was a member of the inquest into Brown's murder that failed to turn up the bullet.  He also manage, on behalf of Mollies' family, the team of private eyes that conspicuously never cracked any of the cases.  A witness had told the bureau that after Henry Roan's murder, Hale was eager to get the corpse away from one undertaker and delivered to the funeral home at the Big Hill Trading Company.    The murder plots depended upon doctors who falsified death certificates and upon undertakers who quickly and quietly buried bodies.  The guardian who McAuliffe suspected of killing his grandmother was a prominent attorney working for the tribe who never interfered with the criminal networks operating under his nose.  Nor did the bankers, including the apparent murderer Burt, who were profiting from the criminal "Indian business."  Nor did the venal mayor of Fairfax - an ally of Hale's who also served as a guardian.  Nor did countless lawmen and prosecutors and judges who had a hand in the blood money.  In 1926, the Osage leader Bacon Rind remarked, "There are men amongst the whites, honest men, but they are might scarce."  Garrick Bailey, a leading anthropologist on Osage culture, said to me, "If Hale had told what he knew, a high percent of the county's leading citizens would have been in prison"  Indeed virtually every element of society was complicit in the urderous system.  Which is why just about any member of this society right have been responsible for the murder of McBride, in Washington:  he threatened to bring down not only Hale but a vast criminal operation that was reaping millions and millions of dollars." (pp. 590-91)

In the background, we learn a little about the development of police departments in the US and some about J. Edgar Hoover's beginnings at the FBI.  We learn about private detective companies like Pinkerton and the William J Burns International Detective Agency.   And we learn about how greed and prejudice trumped justice.

Often the web of connections that enable the well-to-do to commit crimes in impunity is invisible to those on the outside.  This book shows those connections and how insidious they can be.  This is a valuable lesson as Mueller unravels the connections that Trump had with Russia.  And, of course, Trump had in New York that allowed him to swindle and scam clients, contractors, and the public through connections with New York high society and lawyers who would buy off any potential threats with a binding non-disclosure agreement.

It's also a reminder that reading well researched and written books can offer us a much better overview of a situation than the daily snatches of news that pop up and disappear, leaving us with a temporary outrage, but no context to put it in or to help us remember the details.

[UPDATE Feb 21, 2019:  As an exclamation mark to my comments about how this is relevant still today, here's a Miami Herald story about a judge ruling. 

"A judge ruled Thursday that federal prosecutors — among them, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta — broke federal law when they signed a plea agreement with a wealthy, politically connected sex trafficker and concealed it from more than 30 of his underage victims.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra, in a 33-page opinion, said that the evidence he reviewed showed that Jeffrey Epstein had been operating an international sex operation in which he and others recruited underage girls — not only in Florida — but from overseas, in violation of federal law.
'Epstein used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him.,’’ wrote Marra, who is based in Palm Beach County. “Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others.'’’
This is exactly the kind of thing that happened in Oklahoma around the Osage killings.  Judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and the wealthy worked out deals that they hid from the victims.    In this case, the prosecutor then is now Trump's US Secretary of Labor.  And in the researching I've done in the last few years, I've run across stories saying that Trump was one of the people who enjoyed going to Epstein's parties and the young girls he provided.  From Think Progress:
"Trump told New York Magazine about his relationship with Epstein in 2002.
'I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said at the time. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it: Jeffrey enjoys his social life.'”
Bill Clinton and many others were also party-going friends of Epstein according to this article.

My point is not to indulge in gossip here, but to make the bigger point:  That white men (particularly) in power take care of each other to cover up their illegal and often despicable actions.  And it's still happening today.  Epstein's out of prison after a short stint, Trump is president, and Acosta is his Secretary of Labor.  The victims still have gotten no real justice.  Exactly like the Osage Killings.

Monday, February 18, 2019

McCabe's Interview With 60 Minutes And Seth Abramson's Explanation

Andrew McCabe's interview with 60 Minutes yesterday offers more evidence of what anyone paying attention knows:  our president is unfit for office and more than likely to be under the influence of Putin.  You can see the interview here:   Andrew McCabe: The full 60 Minutes interview.

But I'm going to add to it a Twitter Thread by Seth Abramson:  

For those who keep a healthy distance from the various social media outlets like Twitter, a thread is a string of tweets all tied together. It's a way to get past the character limit of tweets.  Abramson is the author of Proof of Collusion. It's a book that pulls together all the media sources to spell out Trump's activities relating to Russia, before and after he became a candidate.  It also gives lots of background on who all the players are.

This Thread is Abramson's response to the  Ex-Acting FBI director McCabe's 60 Minutes interview.  Abramson is just a really smart guy who, among other qualifications, graduated from Harvard Law School and practiced as a prosecutor for a while.

So I'm going to highlight a couple of the tweets in the thread.  You can see the whole thread at the link above.

The rogue FBI agents in New York and NYPD, who threatened to leak info about the Clinton emails if Comey didn't go public and who leaked info to the Trump campaign, and whether Trump knew about them (he did.)

3/ I've written of how these rogue agents, in conjunction with rogue NYPD officers—including, it appears, the man running the Weiner investigation, who donated to Trump's campaign in October 2016—leaked false info and/or coordinated false leaks with top Trump adviser Erik Prince.
4/ The question has always been how much Trump knew of what his advisers Giuliani, Prince, and DiGenova were doing to make contact with rogue FBI and NYPD officials, facilitate their illegal pre-election leaks to media, and use those leaks and a threat of more to blackmail Comey.
5/ This was critical because those illegal leaks were, per IG Horowitz, a major consideration in Comey reopening Clinton's case—a decision that, per polling data, gave Trump the presidential election. If Trump knew of these crimes, he was part of a conspiracy that made him POTUS.
6/ In the first minute of CBS's interview, McCabe reveals that Trump *was aware* of a bloc of FBI agents who'd been secretly working against Comey—we now know, by illegally leaking false information about the Clinton case to the media through Trump advisers—and said so to McCabe.
7/ "I heard that you were part of the Resistance," President Trump said to Acting FBI Director Andy McCabe. Trump went on to explain that he knew of a bloc of FBI agents who "did not support Jim Comey...[who] didn't agree with him, and the decisions he made in the Clinton case."

Rosenstein's offer to wear a wire when he talked with the president.
37/ When Rosenstein "absolutely serious[ly]" volunteered, *twice*, to wear a wire into the Oval, it was shocking in its novelty but not its investigative sense. If indeed the FBI had an active counterintel probe open then, which it did, a wire would be *one* investigative method.
38/ Anyone shocked by more than the historic novelty of the act Rosenstein described—who cannot see its investigative sense—simply does not understand or has refused to process how historically serious it is when the FBI and DOJ determine a POTUS could be a witting foreign agent.
39/ If there's one thing *every person America must accept* as a condition of citizenship it's that our Constitution *is* the document from which our laws emanate. *Any* person in the Oval who's a foreign agent *must* be removed *immediately* by impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

Why they didn't invoke the 25th Amendment?

78/ So when DOJ says there's "no basis" to use the 25th, it's saying that until its Russia probe concludes, it is the finding of Main Justice (*and*, I would note, of *McCabe also*) that the threat from Trump is not *so* imminent that the investigation can't be allowed to finish.
79/ And—follow me—once you've said that the potential national security threat is *not* so imminent the investigation can't finish, you're *also* saying that the appropriate remedy once it's finished, if malfeasance is found, is impeachment not the 25th. That's all DOJ is saying.
Trump has no such scruples about calling something an emergency.

Here he discusses McCabe's comment that Trump said he believed Putin over his own intelligence agencies.
81/ So now we come to the scariest part of the McCabe interview—a discussion of which will close this thread. McCabe reveals to CBS that Trump said he believed *Russian intelligence* on North Korea's nuclear capabilities over U.S. intelligence.
That's a national security threat.
82/ Those who say McCabe's statement on what Trump said in a security briefing isn't credible are—excuse me, I don't know how to say this politely—not living in the reality the rest of us are. Trump has *repeatedly* and *publicly* accepted the Kremlin line over U.S. intelligence.
83/ Indeed, McCabe's statement that Trump said "I believe Putin" when confronted with intel that North Korea is still a significant national security risk for America—dismissing what his own intelligence was telling him—is so consistent for Trump it bolsters McCabe's credibility.

Here's a link to the 60 Minutes Interview:  Andrew McCabe: The full 60 Minutes interview.

If you are represented by a Republican US Senator, contact that Senator and ask how s/he continues to tolerate in office a president who believes Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies.  It's easy to send emails to US Senators.  Just go to this link.  The more they hear, the harder it will be to continue to let this disaster continue.

Think about the investigations the Republican Congress pursued with so much less justification.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

"The Government" Can't Be The Enemy Because "The Government" Doesn't Exist

This is pretty elementary stuff, but there's a lot of people who seem to be totally ignorant of the distinctions I make below.  I'm just talking about the United States today.  Just a couple of points to make today:

1.  "The Government" doesn't exist because there are many different governments.  There is NO one government.

2.   "The Government" doesn't exist because there are different parts of government that play different roles. Complaining about government because you don't like a particular politician makes no sense.

1.  "The Government" doesn't exist because there are many different governments.

Let's start with the obvious.  There's the United States government.  Then there are the fifty state governments, plus DC and the territorial governments.

Then there are the the local governments of the various cities and towns across the nation, not to mention the county governments, and special districts from school districts to road districts.
"Census Bureau Reports There Are 89,004 Local Governments in the United States"(2012)
So when someone tells you "The government is the enemy" you need to ask, which government are you talking about?  And then, which specific part or department are you talking about?

2.   "The Government" doesn't exist because there are different parts of government that play different roles.

In the US, governments have some very distinct parts:

Elected officials make the broad policy decisions.  Their major qualification limits tend to be age and citizenship or residency.  The major practical qualifications are ability to raise money, charisma, and to a certain extent, looks.  These are the people who pass the laws.

Appointed officials make up the next tier.  They are appointed by the elected officials to help them make the policy and run the government.  Again, qualifications are pretty loose.  Mainly you helped someone get elected, are a friend of someone who helped someone get elected, or in some cases, you happen to have experience and training in the area you were appointed to.  This is a remnant of the spoils system - when all public employment was based on political party and favors owed.  These folks general leave government if their candidate loses the election.

Civil Servants make up the bulk of government employees. These are the people ruled by the merit system.  The merit system came as a response to the spoils system.  It set up things like qualifications for employees that were work related, and rules for employment that made sure civil servants weren't fired for political reasons.  They give civil servants due process protections for their job.  They can't be fired without just cause.   These employees generally have jobs as a career and, until recently, they had pensions when they retired.  (This, of course, was true for private sector employees as well until business interests got laws past that made unions weaker and weaker.)

Civil servants have to carry out the laws.  They don't make them, the elected officials do, though they may work with appointed officials to write rules that work out the details of how to carry out the laws.

So, again, when someone complains about 'the government' ask not only which government they are talking about, but whether they are talking about politicians, appointed officials, or civil servants.

Final note:  This is a democracy.  It's not perfect one.*  But determined citizens can get the information they need to make informed decisions.  And without government as a check, large corporations would be free to do far worse to people.

Alaskans, any of you who were paying attention, are not surprised by our governor offering a budget that cuts the University by 44%.  Remember, unlike civil servants, elected officials don't have to have any skills other than raising money and pandering.

But in all of this, like in all of life, there are good politicians, good appointees, and good civil servants.  Prejudice is when you prejudge someone by the category they are in.  So the lazy commentators who want to throw the bums out - without distinguishing between the good ones and the bad ones - are as much of a problem as the bad ones.

*  There are lots of flaws in how our democracy works.  The writers of the Constitution 'gerrymandered' the Senate by giving all states two Senators.  When the country was founded, that wasn't too outrageous because the populations of each of the new 13 states were relatively small.  But the range from the smallest state (Tennessee at 35,691) and the largest state (Virginia at 691,937) was already almost 20 to 1.  But perhaps that assumed that as a frontier state, Tennessee had lots of room to grow.  But today California's 39,776,830 citizens have two Senators, just the same as Wyoming (573,720) and many other states with smaller populations.  That's more like 60-1 and the idea of one person one vote is sorely violated.  And it's why the Republicans still control the Senate.

And Republicans have done their best to create districts in some states so that while the split between parties is relatively even statewide, Republicans get huge majorities in the state legislature. (Yes, Democrats have done this too, but since the Republicans gained control of so many state houses before the 2010 census, they were in charge of redistricting last time round.)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Travel Day Included Modern Art In SF With Granddaughter

The northbound trains into San Francisco on weekends, don't go beyond Bayshore.  Then you switch to a bus that takes you the rest of the way to CalTrain Station.  (Not sure what the people going to the South San Francisco stop were supposed to do.)

From there we hoofed it to the Museum of Modern Art to meet our son and nieta.  The nieto wasn't feeling too good, so he stayed home with his mom.  But I do like this museum a lot.  We didn't stay too long - a 2year old's patience in a place full of things you can't touch is limited.  And we had to pick up our stuff and then get back down to BART and to SFO. 

But here are a couple of pictures from the museum.  

Ron Mueck is one of the more challenging artists.  I'd never seen his work in person, but somewhere on this blog I've linked to his super real giant sized human figures.  This was only a head, not even that much.  A face.  Three feet or so from chin to scalp.  The guy in the back with the ladder and the police officer on the far right are also sculptures.  They're both by Duane Hanson.  

This one, by Chuck Close, is interesting because when you step back it's something very different.  



Some other 'classic' modern artists:  Calder

And Warhol:

And here's a view of downtown SF from one of the museums great windows.

 I have to mention the joy of standing on the platform at the BART station and hearing a beautiful
soulful rendition of YellowBrick Road, followed by Sittin at the Dock of the Bay.

Our benefactor was the man behind the pillar at the right of the photo.  Thanks again.  A wonderful way to wait for the train.

Our flight left SFO about 35 minutes late. 

The pilot said he'd made up some time, but he also said we're going to land at some remote spot on the tarmac and be shuttled by bus to the terminal.  There were a few folks with tight connections and he asked that they be allowed to get off first.  Well, the few quickly became an endless line of people until those in front - we were in row 8 - had enough and started getting up.  We had a close ferry connection, but we waited.  It turned out not to matter.  We were among the last people on the first bus, which meant we were at the door and among the first to get off.  They dropped us off where you can either catch the trains to S or N, walk to B, C, or D, or go out to baggage.  With the delays, we got to the ferry at 8:09.  It left without us at 8:10pm.  I'm not a happy camper.  This winter I've been good at fighting off various bugs, but a cough has settled in my chest in the last few days.  So waiting 50 minutes in the chilly terminal for the next ferry wasn't a pleasure.  Anyway, I'm working on this as we ferry across and had some clam chowder to soothe my cough a bit.  

Friday, February 15, 2019

Emergency Evacuations In Planes - Some Thoughts and Recommendations

We've been in the exit row on a lot of flights.  These rows have a lot more leg room but you have to agree that you are able to follow the procedures to open the emergency exit on the window.  But the instructions available are very detailed.  Here's what you get:

Specifically the lower part - Emergency overwing exits.  This is pretty vague.

The flight attendant has to get everyone in the two rows to say 'yes' out loud, affirming that they can and will perform the emergency procedures.  But it's really not clear what that means.  The person at the window has to open it.  But what are the others supposed to do?  What happens when you get the emergency door open?  You're out on the wing.  How do you get off?  It's kind of high off the ground.

These are questions I've had, so I've looked around on line.  Here's what I've found:
  1. Finding videos for what you - as a passenger - are supposed to do, is difficult.  I have some videos below that you can see, but they don't really help much.
  2. An old study says that the more people are prepared, the better they respond. 
  3. Crew gets lots of training.
I was beginning to think that the airlines didn't take this passenger exit row thing too seriously.  That they aren't expecting people to have to use the emergency exits.  

But I looked up how many emergency landings there were.  As a percentage of flights, it's rare, but as the list of emergency landings of commercial planes in the US 2018 below shows, there were 201 emergency landings listed for the US in 2018.  That's almost two every three days.  

( I copied the list so I could  sort it and look closer.  There were several events that were listed as in the US but weren't - from UK, Ireland, Scotland, India.  I got rid of those to get to my total.       And since there were some non-US incidents listed here, there could well be some US incidents listed elsewhere by mistake.)

The category this website allowed me to search for was:
  •  Emergency, Forced Landing, Diversion - Commercial
That doesn't mean all, or even most were landings that involved emergency evacuations from the plane.  Some (many?) involved passenger illness or drunkeness or other disruptive behavior which probably wouldn't require emergency evacuations.   Here's the list by state.  You can see the details at the original site linked above.  You have to fill in the parameters yourself.   I've highlighted Alaska Airlines simply because that's the airline I'm on the most.  I've also highlighted the five states with the most emergency landings in red.  Except for North Carolina (#9 in population), they are the highest population states.

Alaska 5

Arizona 4


California138/12  Alaska Airlines

Connecticut 3





Hawaii34/27 Alaska Airlines















New Jersey3

New Mexico5Alaska  6/11
New York14

North Carolina13

North Dakota3



Oregon2Horizon 4/28
Pennsylvania6Alaska 5/15
Rhode Island2

South Carolina4






West Virgina3


Here are a few of the articles I've found on this topic:

Plane Exit Row Seating is a  Responsibility  - This is written by "John J. Nance, ABC News' aviation analyst, is a veteran 13,000-flight-hour airline captain, a former U.S. Air Force pilot and a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves."  He recommends training and certifying passengers on how to open the emergency doors and giving them priority to these seats with extra leg room .  It begins:
"Of course I can open that hatch if needed!"
It's the battle cry of the long-legged coach passenger who's figured out that even a middle seat in the emergency exit row of most single-aisle airliners has as much leg room as first class. There are even small turf battles among the highest-level members of different frequent-flier plans as they try to jockey for priority seating in the emergency exit row. And experienced travelers know how to sidle up to the agent at the departure gate and request to be one of the defenders of passenger safety, in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation.
Because that's exactly what you're asking for when you accept or request an exit row seat: The responsibility to move fast and efficiently to open the hatch in the it-almost-never-happens-but-could event that your jetliner has slid to a stop on the ground and the flight attendants relay an order to get out of the airplane fast.
That moment -- as utterly rare as it is these days -- is not the time for realizing your shoulder won't handle 40 to 50 pounds of unhinged door."

Susannah Fox's personal experience of an emergency exit:  This is her first hand account of having to evacuate a plane which hadn't yet taken off.  An engine had caught fire.  Here's an short excerptt:
"A line from the safety demonstration popped into my head like a snippet of an old song: “the closest exit may be behind you.” That was true in my case, but there was a bottleneck. People were refusing to go down the slide. I craned my neck and saw that some of the people hesitating at the back of the plane were older adults who were understandably afraid of hurting themselves. I could hear the flight attendants cajoling them, telling them that we had no choice: The only way out was down the slide. Their voices grew increasingly sharp as the time ticked by."

Many Passengers In Exit Seats Benefit From Extra Briefings - From the Cabin Crew Safety study. This 2001 publication reviews procedures and studies from different airlines and countries.  They don't really make recommendations, but from one study it says that the more instructions passengers get, the better prepared they are.  Not really surprising.

I had trouble finding good videos, but today, as I'm about to post this I looked again and others popped up.  This first one shows how to open the exit row emergency door and what to do after.  But it's a nine minute video and 'nothing happens' until 6 minutes in.  It's mostly talking - not useless info, but this is not the kind of video that will teach people quickly what to do.

Wall Street Journal Video about evacuations:  This is a passengers video from his phone as he evacuated.

Baltic Air Training Video - it starts with talk, but then demonstrates how to open the door and how to use the safety strap on the wing.

Here's an ancient (1960sh)Western Airlines training video for evacuating a 737  Despite its age, this was the one that gave the most practical visuals of what happens.

Training Video for Chinese - a little odd.  In one scene smoke comes out and the passengers sit there until they disappear in the smoke.  This seems to be intended for crew.

On a February 9 flight from Seattle to San Francisco we were once again in the exit row.  The flight attendant perfunctorily asked each of us if we could and would carry out exit row responsibilities.  She had to ask one person to say it out loud.  Then at the other end of the row she asked a person I couldn't see several times until she said 'yes.'

Later, another flight attendant came by with the drinks tray and to take food orders.  The person at the other end wasn't answering her questions.  The flight attendant realized she didn't understand English and said she had to move to another seat.  And sitting behind her was one more person in her party who didn't understand English.  I complimented the flight attendant, Sherry, for doing her job and told her I was working on this post.  I told her the emergency info they hand out are just pictures and not particularly clear.  She answered some of my questions:

  • When you pull down the handle in these planes, the window automatically pulls itself up and out of the way.  
  • That the back wing flaps lower so it's not so far up off the ground.  (I said that it looked pretty high from the wing to the ground  - were we supposed to just jump?)  She added that when you open the emergency door, a rope comes out that people can use to sort of rappel down to the ground.  (Or is this just the rope that gets tied to the wing to hold on to on the wing?)
  • She also said our job was to get the emergency door opened and go on the wing, then crew will help people get down.  
  • They get lots of training on this.  

After rereading all this, here are my recommendations.
  1. Alaska Airlines (or Boeing or Airbus) should make an emergency training video for passengers that shows exactly what someone like me, sitting next to the emergency exit window, would do in an emergency - opening the window, getting on the wing, how the rope works, what the others in the exit row do, what the crew's role is, etc.
    1. This can be available:
      1. in the inflight video entertainment package
      2. in the terminals
      3. on the Alaska Airlines website (and all other airlines of course)
  2. Put emergency exit windows in the terminals where people could try them out.  If this is too costly, then videos showing how they work.
  3. Airlines allow passengers to get the same kind of training that flight crew get for emergencies
    1. Then, exit row seating would only be available to people who had taken the training and been certified.  Because exit rows have lots more leg room, this would be a bonus for many.
    2. I'm guessing many people would pay a reasonable fee for this training if it meant priority seating in exit rows.
I realize that airlines don't want to alarm passengers by showing them videos of people having to evacuate a plane.  The Jaws effect, if you will.  For example, Alaska Airlines asked a non-profit they were sponsoring, to change the name of an event from "Turbulent" to "Tail Winds."  
"Alaska Airlines, an event sponsor, suggested the change at the last minute because of turbulence’s negative connection to air travel."
So they are clearly sensitive to these issues.  

But if kids can do lock down drills in schools, airline passengers can watch videos that show them how to get out of the plane quickly and safely in an emergency.

The February 2019 Inflight Magazine on Alaska Airlines has an article saying that Alaska has been rated as one of the 20 safest airlines in the world.  The article quotes Max Tidwell, Alaska's VP for Safety as saying:
"Safety is our top priority and is firmly ingrained in our culture, as we are personally committed to the safety of our guests and one another."
I'm hoping he will pay attention to the issues I'm raising here and consider implementing the recommendations that I'm borrowing from people with greater expertise than mine.