Monday, April 29, 2019

AK Press Club 2: Lakshmi Singh Gives Keynote

Lakshmi Singh before her talk
Lakshmi Singh was the keynote speaker Saturday afternoon at the Alaska Press Club annual conference.  As a very well known and recognized voice on NPR and I was looking forward to the talk.

First I'll highlight some of what she said.

Below that are my rough notes of the talk.  Treat them with caution.  Videos of all these session are supposed to be available at the AK Press Club site.  But they aren't up now.   If I find out more I'll put it up.

Basically Singh talked about restoring trust of media among the public.  She talked about NPR's rules of verification.
1.  The two source rule - get the story from at least independent, reliable sources, get a third if possible or unsure.  Make sure they all aren't relying on the same original source.
2.  Take no detail for granted - always check
3.  Go to the original source of the news - say a family member or spokesperson for a death
(There was one more I didn't get down fast enough)

She mentioned that a Bartlett High School student had emailed her a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to get extra credit for class.  She didn't know Singh would be in Anchorage shortly, and she said she visited the class Friday.

She also talked about the ethical question of informing sources of risks.  Say, doing a story on drug addiction, should they alert an interviewee that the story would be online and 20 years down the road, a prospective employer might find it.  She said some didn't think that was their responsibility, but she felt it was, saying, "Would it make it harder to get the interview?  Yes.  But our job isn't  to do it the easy way."

There was a question about the amount of analysis on NPR and the questioner felt that it added to the sense of media bias, because it's basically opinion and prediction.  She said she could only talk for the news programs and what they do, but the questioner said that the listener who listens to many NPR programs a day, hears lots of 'experts' analyzing rather than reporting facts.  Earlier Singh had related how she'd suggested to the Bartlett students, who had trouble trusting any news,
 If you can't trust [the network], then start with one reporter who always seems to be on his or her game.  Maybe that's where we can start to build trust.
Her response to the question didn't seem to satisfy the questioner, nor me, nor another person I talked to afterward.  It's been my perception that NPR has leaned over backwards to appear fair.  And this attempt at neutrality, especially when dealing with a president who ignores the truth and the constitution for self-aggrandizement.  Acting 'fair' in response means you've already lost ground, just by treating the outrageous as something debatable.  And, of course, one can ask, "What's the alternative?  To also be uncivil? No, but being more relenting (and this does happen sometimes on NPR) in questions is probably one option.  But this is a bigger issue than what the questioner was proposing.

In response to another question about how she chooses items to air, Singh gave a set of priorities:

  • Which affects most people?  
  • Which will change fastest in next hour?  (Not sure where this was going.)
  • Which grabbing national attention, even if not personal impact, but historically important?  Notre Dame fire.  Why did you lead with that:
  • Immediacy and impact. 
  • She said she was also focused on health, particularly women's health, stories that have been  underrepresented over the years.  Underrepresented voices and get those stories told.

Below are my rough notes of the talk:

 To Serve the Governed - LAKSHMI SINGH

Talk about personal attacks we get, something we all deal with.  Was originally titled to serve the governed.

Press was protected in the Constitution to serve the public, and only a free press can expose the government.  Supreme court ruling, Nixon attempt to suppress details of the Vietnam war.   Personal privacy vs. protection of the nation.

Begins with separating fact from fiction - requires stepping out of info silos.  Basics:
1.  two source rule
2.  take no detail for granted
3.  go to original source   ??? one more
4.  they also rely a lot of local NPR stations who have better local contacts to verify stories - but this too depends on NPR's experience with the local sources.
5.  clarify for the listener where and how they got the information rather than just report it as a fact (the next day I heard that in a report on the Poway Synagogue shooting - the reporter said they got the info from a synagogue member and friend of the woman killed.)

This is all being tested.  Channel surfing, headlines,  but now my day begins with sorting through Trump's tweeting.  So many decisions, changing policies, hires, dismissals - not confirmed yet but get an idea of where going - revealed on Twitter.

Next step for me - talking with colleagues  Which P's remarks news value for our audience.
Need to fact check president.
Recall hosting ??   - asked if considering child separation.  Pres. said it was Obama who had actually separated kids.  He, Trump, stopped.  - trying to get to the audio.  Immigration experts, during GWB and Barrack  - family separations not on same scale as Trump.  We know 2700 families affected, true figure unknown.
True he signed an order that ended family separations, but had gotten lots of pushback.  Required far more detailed explanation from journalists.
April 9 or 10, NPR covered immigrations.  He met with reporters - CNN, Fox, MSNBC in our office - see where reporters are heading, if we don't have anyone there, I have to look at where to focus in next 30 min if my news cast is coming.   Trump, talking to Rep Donors in Texas.  I was at odds with our news people on how to cover remarks about violent criminals....  He'd make charactiastions about undocumented immigrants.  This is a false characterization - fear mongering - thinking.  I'll cover this.  Fears people had shared with Trump which he repeated.  Colleague felt rhetoric so irresponsible, it would be irresponsible for NPR to cover it.  That news conference specifically.  I felt for that very reason we had to fact-check the president.  Figuring will take, some we won't.  In that conference were so out-there, that I felt we had to at least report on it and correct.  If he said this, this is actually the fact.  It took about 20 seconds coming out of him.

Same as with his comment that Obama had family separations and he stopped it.  People agreed but only aired it once  All the editorial pitfalls we have to miss minute by minute, it will get harder and harder as technology advances.  How better guide audience to distinguish fact from fiction?  What should I do to get your confidence?

Teenagers keep it real.  A few weeks ago a student at Bartlett high emailed me.  Needed to get extra credit.  She had no idea I would be in Anchorage.  I showed up in class yesterday morning - 7:30am.  I'm happy to report.  She got a solid A.

Had good discussion about whether they had trouble sorting fact from fiction.  Generation with lots of options for getting their news.  Implication of lack of trust on their personal lives.  I wanted to do more listening - genuine reasonses

Racially mixed group, socially there.  Had access to NPR teacher puts on 3x a week.  Help put what they were learning in perspective.
Some influenced by families, some not.
Overall, it was hard [for them] to figure out if things presented as fact, really are.
Say, climate change.  Crisis in trust in media overall.
Left them with - NPR exhaustive work on getting right, not perfect, and if wrong, we immediately own it and correct it.  If you can't trust that, then start with one reporter who always seems to be on his or her game.  Maybe that's where we can start to build trust.
Seemed to resonate with students who talked to me after class.

Another way journalists tested - two source rule.    How many of you 70% of time rely on two sources - say wires.  Have you adjusted that to include other sources before you include a story.
We do heavy attribution.  7:30 something has happened.  Start vetting.  Call other stations and how other news is reporting it.  And then, if we still haven't independently verified - we might say "multiple news stories are reporting" or "according to LA Times" .  Feels clunky - get story out there so audience knows you aren't oblivious, but you haven't personally verified.

Two sources ok for some stories ok
Death on prominent figure, but we don't unless verified from family member or publicist.  We can have three sources, but could get their info from the same source.
Trying to compete with other news outlets - we learned that doesn't really matter.  If we want to keep our audience we have to keep integrity.

Rely on local journalists on the ground with own sources - we recognize it varies from local journalists - weight that and if have good handle on story, reliability - they may be asked specifics about their sources.  Not unusual to get a report from a local station - we ask who the sources are - PD, which person?  Is that the spokesperson for the PD?

Covington video - at NPR realized better to wait.  We did a writeup about the process of having to wait.  Disagreements over that resulted in lawsuits.

Say, interviewing about opiod epidemic and they share their story about addiction.  20 years later, it could be discovered by future employer.  Are we required to let interviewee know.  Some yes, others no.  Make it harder to get interview?  Yes.  But our job isn't to do it easy way.

Big fan of 'reportables'.  Feeding info to editors, more vetting, ready for air.  Emailed throughout the network.  When I see 'reportable" on my email - I might be in middle of broadcast - I'll know I can just read it.  There have been errors, but more often than not, worked really well.  Can do fast turnaround on breaking stories.  Often our own reporters verifying with our own sources.

Our listeners have made NPR primary sources - still offers contextual news on multiple platforms.  Our audience growing, younger listeners, so we're doing something right.

Like to turn this over to you for questions.  1:40

Q:  ???
A;  Clear that this is a developing story and will change.  Depending on story.  When I need to know about wild fires, know I can rely on AP more than Reuters.  Going to websites, getting info directly.  Updated more frequently and faster than wire services can do.  They've decided to focus on specific pieces, regions.  NPR relying heavily on member stations.  Hard to know there's a story and we can't call a member station.    You know your local sources.

Q:   ????
A:  2 or 3 different sources - I think this is what happened.  I wasn't in newsroom.  Systematic breakdown.  Multiple people, NPR reporter, correspondent and local NPR from another source - turned out all getting from the same place.  Same law enforcement official?  not sure.  So producer at the time, no longer there . . . went with that, thinking we had multiple sources saying the same thing.  Began immediate discussion at highest level.  How could we have allowed this to happen.  Took responsibility as a network.  We won't talk about the death of anyone until we can independently verify.
Q:  What was the Q?  A:  [I didn't catch this fully, but it was about a report that someone who died, but hadn't really. I've looked up such stories at NPR and they did report Rep. Gabby Gifford had died.]  Daily News called us to stop broadcasting, she's not dead.
A:  Don't know details.
Q:  Everyone working in newsroom knows agony of being right.  Comment on perception of media bias based on - opinion itself feeds the perception of partisanship.  Too much speculation of facts.
A:  We have journalists report what we know and don't know.  Then analysts who explain what they think might happen.  We're careful to qualify what we say - expect, not sure, etc.  Using our experience to tell you what you should look out for.  But at the end of that path, it could be the exact opposite.

More on analysis vs news, how we pick the analysts.
Q:  suggesting that contributes to sense of not reporting facts?
A:  Particular example.  Last year fatigue of Trump coverage syndrome - here's the liberal voice, here's the conservative voice, let's  fight it out.
A:  I have a different perspective - we're always talking about balance.  As newscaster, there's no room for speculation.  What you're talking about is - it's the whole flavor of that media outlet.  NPR itself helps feed this perception of bias.
A:  I might agree on certain stories, or timing of an interview,  I hear you.  Overall, we've gone to great lengths.  Some think we're part of the liberal media.  Other times think we're not.  Or are we always on the fence.

A: Which affects most people?  Which will change fastest in next hour?  Which grabbing national attention, even if not personal impact, but historically important?  Notre Dame fire.  Why did you lead with that.  Immediacy and impact.  I'm also focusing on health, particularly women's health, stories that underrepresented over the years.  Underrepsented voices and get those stories told.

Q"  ??[This was a question about why they covered a story in the Iditarod]
A:  Iditarod story  followed by teachers strike.  I wanted to do story about dogs.  could switch from people are striking, dogs are striking too.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Too Nice To Stay In - Short McHugh Creek Hike And Potter Marsh Swan

The Jacob's Ladder was already blooming on the south facing slopes.  

Looking across the inlet, there was something fuzzy in that avalanche chute - blowing snow?  Or water falling already?  

Several posts in draft but needing more attention.  Lakshmi Sign was the keynote speaker at the Alaska Press Club conference yesterday and Brett Wilkison's  presentation on lessons learned from the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat's Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of the Santa Rosa fire and its aftermath had a lot of interesting bits.  Stay tuned.  

Friday, April 26, 2019

AK Press Club Conference: Threatening Situations, Getting Noticed, Student Projects

People registering before the first set of panels. I

 got into a lot of discussions until late, so this post is mostly pictures of Friday at the Alaska Press Club conference.

The first panel is heavily redacted - we had two folks from the FBI who were there on the condition that there would be no recording or photos of the session.  The speakers wanted everyone, including themselves, to be able to talk openly about their experiences.   I asked after it was over if I could at least generally describe it here and was told, "Sure."

The theme was basically:  the world has gotten more dangerous and journalists and newsrooms need to know how to avoid dangerous situations and get out of the ones they didn't manage to avoid.  There were examples of actual situations, role playing, and discussion.

I thought it was a very well done presentation - the Special Agent and the Press Person were both great speakers - articulate, funny, and knowledgeable.  But when I talked to someone at lunch, he  wasn't that impressed.  He agreed that the style was great, but asked me what I had actually learned.

When I thought about it, the advice was pretty thin.

  • Be aware of your situation - know where all the exits are.
  • Trust your instincts if you feel uncomfortable
  • Does your newsroom have lockable doors?
  • When confronted by someone:
    • call 911
    • Put space between yourself and the person
    • Get away

These are all good reminders, and the role playing made people of situations they could get into.  But if things got really dicey, these might not be sufficient.  But then, there might not be good options in some situations other than not getting into that position in the first place.

Getting Noticed - Ed Jahn 

Over the years I've heard a lot of panels on how to connect online so you get more readers or listeners or viewers, and so this wasn't that new for me.

Student Forum

I only got to see Irena (sorry if I didn't spell that right, I was going to ask, but you left when I wasn't looking) and Suzanne talk about their student project to go to Juneau and attend committee hearings and talk with some of the legislators.

Alaska In Focus - Courts

Judge William Morse opened up saying he didn't want to talk much so people can ask questions

Judge Jennifer Henderson

The first part was mostly about how the Alaska Court system is set up.  It's hard to listen to someone talk about those kinds of details without some visual backup to help with the connections and relationships.  Toward the end we stuff more directly useful for journalists after John McKay asked a questions about brand new rules for brining cameras and electronic devices into the courtroom.

I think it was the Clerk of Court who pointed out the link to Courtview.

She also handed out some useful information:

  • Alaska Court Rules - Rule 50 - Use of Cameras and Electronic Devices in Court Facilities
  • Definitions of Criminal Hearing Types and Associated Terms
  • Original Charging Documents

Alberto Arce:  Caravan Narratives in Journalism:  Immigrants, AsylumSeekers & Refugees

This talk reminded me of the term 'normalization' - where people get used to outrageous things so they are no longer outraged  After Trump was elected it was often talked about in list on the steps to losing a democracy.

This came to mind because Alberto was so passionate about his topic - including the fact that as an immigrant, he was outraged by being called 'the enemy' by the president.  And more so by friends, in Fairbanks where he's  been a visiting professor for a year, Tell him not to worry.

He also talked about the 'caravans' of Central Americans, which he covered as an AP reporter, walking long stretches with the immigrants.  Alberto is originally from Spain.

I ended up talking him over to the reception at the Writer's Block and got a chance to chat about a lot of things with him.

Another full day tomorrow, including the keynote address from NPR's Lakshmi Singh.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Trump, Dementia, Mexican Border, Woodrow Wilson

From Daily Caring:
"Seniors with dementia falsely accuse family of terrible things“You stole my wallet and all my money!”
“You’re keeping me prisoner in my house!”
“You’re trying to poison me!”
Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia commonly accuse the people closest to them of theft, mistreatment, or other terrible things. While cases of true abuse do exist, oftentimes these accusations are completely untrue and are caused by delusions – strong beliefs in things that aren’t real.
It’s important to remember that your older adult isn’t creating these delusions to hurt you. Their brains are failing and the delusions and paranoia are symptoms of the disease.
We explain why this happens and share 8 ways to calm the situation and kindly deal with these dementia accusations."

From the LA Times:
"On April 13, a Mexican military patrol spotted an unmarked vehicle on the south side of the border fence outside El Paso, and confronted the two people inside.
They turned out to be U.S. Army soldiers, and the spot where they were parked was U.S. territory.
The two sides talked, the Mexican military contingent left, and the U.S. soldiers went on their way.
That’s the story according to official statements from Mexico and the United States.
Then there is President Trump’s version.
“Mexico’s Soldiers recently pulled guns on our National Guard Soldiers, probably as a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers on the Border,” he tweeted early Wednesday.
He went on: “Better not happen again! We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border.”
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, eager to avoid any confrontation with the country’s northern neighbor, vowed Mexico would investigate."

This is one of a two year barrage of such accusations.  I used to think this was a mafia boss bullying, bluffing activity that he used because it effectively scared off most people - like contractors he refused to pay, or opponents in the Republican primary.  But I'm thinking now that it also includes some dementia.

It was 100 years ago this year (in September) that Woodrow Wilson's stroke led to his wife becoming the defacto president of the US.  She concealed the level of his inability as much as possible.

Today, White House officials are reported to have blocked a number of our president's actions to block the Mueller investigation and aides complain that the president is unfit for office.

By the way, here are the eight recommendations from Daily Caring.

  1. "Don’t take it personally
  2. Don’t argue or use logic to convince
  3. Use a calm, soothing tone and positive body language
  4. Create a calm environment
  5. Stick to simple answers
  6. Distract with a pleasant activity
  7. Keep duplicates of frequently misplaced items
  8. Seek support and advice from people who understand"
But these don't work when the patient has control of the US government and is encouraged by lots of other demented individuals in the right wing media.  

Meanwhile the Republicans in Congress are like the dementia patient's relatives in denial who are afraid to acknowledge what's happening in front of them and let Father empty the bank account, drive the car, and tear apart the family.  

Chimp On Smart Phone

I've been amazed at how quickly young - under 5 for example - kids learn how to use an iPod or iPhone.

But this chimp's use is eerie.  I don't know what it means, but it's worth thinking about.    Just because primates can use a technology doesn't mean they understand what they're doing.  They could probably be taught to use a voting machine too.

I don't often put up other people's videos, but this one is challenging what I think I know.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Pinks and Purples

I was going to just let a day slide with no post.  Lots of things to do.  But then I looked out the window  (it's 9:50pm now and that was ten minutes ago).  The camera just couldn't capture the color on the freshly snowed mountains, but this gives you an idea.  I ran out and got the picture with a telephoto lens.

I did try the panorama setting on my iPhone first, but the mountains looked much further away than they did in person.  That was from the window.  But now that I look at it, the tree patterns are kind of nice.

They're a muted grey now as I look outside.  But these other two pictures were on my camera and there seemed to be a theme.  Well, the second two probably go together better.  And no, those trees shouldn't be right in the middle, but I was after maximum pink.

The geranium petals were from a plant that bloomed inside, and then settled on the counter like this.

[UPDATE April 25, 2019 - Based on Barbara's comment, I'm adding this video of suminagashi]

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

"If we want more stability in state services, there’s a simple answer"

That was the title of an ADN editorial board editorial Sunday.  

First and most obvious, if there were a simple answer it would have been found long ago.  There are no simple answers in politics or government (which are not the same things, though they overlap.)

So what is that simple answer according to the editorial board?

After listing numerous shortfall's in this year's budget, they tell us:
"There’s also a simple solution that would go far toward helping restore that stability: Honesty in the budgeting process."

I agree that honesty in the budget process is helpful for the public to understand what's going on.  But is it simple?  Hell no.

First, the budget has to account for billions of dollars, so it's going to be long and complicated no matter what.  But sure, there are ways to make it easier to follow or harder to follow.
Second, the politicians - the governor and the legislators - who are trying to please constituents and funders with rewards that might not be appreciated by most, try to hide those items.   Questionable special favor allocations or cuts are well hidden in rows and columns of numbers that are hard to comprehend.
Third,  in these times of ideological warfare, many items will come under attack no matter how good they are for the general public.  Either they're ideologically unacceptable for one side or the other, or they might appear as a 'win' for one side and loss for the other.
These are just a few reasons why achieving a transparent budget is NOT simple.

Let's move on to the third paragraph of the editorial:
 "Sometimes, as with the senior benefits program, speedier processing of benefit applications results in more people than expected joining a program, draining funds more quickly. But failing to foresee scenarios like that - or deal with them swiftly when they arise - is a failure of leadership. Like not considering prices below $60 per barrel of oil as a realistic possibility for tax purposes, as happened before the 2014 price slump, failing to recognize or plan for the possibility of an uptick in benefit recipients is an indictment of our elected and appointed representatives."

OK, usually people are complaining that government doesn't act fast enough.  But when they do, they get criticized too.  Are they saying that by getting eligible people into the program quickly, the cost is too high?  If so, it's one of the few times I've seen government criticized for doing too good a job.

Let's look at the failure of leadership comment.
"But failing to foresee scenarios like that - or deal with them swiftly"   
Government is not a business where the CEO has the final say.  In a democratic government, decision making power is divided in different ways.  Broad policy making is supposed to be reserved for elected officials and their helpers, the high level appointed officials.  Career public servants are then asked to fill in the mechanical details of,  and then carry out, the policies.

But it's more complicated than that.  Power is split between the governor's office and the legislature (and, if needed, the courts.)  But the legislature is further split between the Senate and the House.  And each of those bodies is split between Republicans and Democrats and a few independents.

Leadership in such a situation isn't easy.  What's needed is peacemakers, maybe even therapists, as much as leaders.  But how do you make peace with people who see you as the enemy and whose supporters (voters and funders) tell them not to compromise?

In contrast, a marriage is simple.  There are only two policy makers and possibly some subjects of the policy (children.)  Often in a marriage, one of the two policy makers dominates the other.  Occasionally, the two work together in harmony.  But frequently they fight and disagree on everything.

Ask any divorce attorney how 'simple' it is to get angry spouses to work out the settlement of their property, and custody of the kids, even of the dog.

Then the editorial talks about oil tax credits.
 "they’re a classic example of the state’s destabilizing tendency to make a promise and then leave those who make plans based on that promise holding the bag, making residents wary and businesses disinclined to make investments in Alaska."
And to not look partisan, the editorial suggests the administration oughtn't renege on the two year school funding or senior benefits.

But this is the nature of a two year legislature that cannot commit funds beyond their two year session. (And since the new session just began, last year's commitments aren't law.)  It's also the nature of the power of large corporations to extract benefits from a legislature it paid for (in campaign contributions, in propaganda campaigns, and strong arm lobbying.)

When a commitment is made against the strong objections of the minority, then when that minority gets more power, that commitment will be challenged.  The oil companies have been telling Alaskans for years how they're going to pick up and leave if they don't get their way.  Well, either they've been bluffing or they've been getting their way.   [Figuring out comparative tax regimes is even more opaque than the Alaska budget.  Here's a long essay on whether Alaska oil taxes are fair by King Economics Group.  Unfortunately it doesn't compare our taxes to those of other oil producing states and countries.   And, it turns out, Ed King, according to his LinkedIn page,  has been Alaska's Chief Economist since Dunleavy took control in December 2018.    This ISER report also is focused only on in-state.   This OPEC comparison of oil taxes isn't about the industry taxes, but taxes at the pump. Finally, this ADN article says ConocoPhillips' Alaska region is its most profitable by far.  But that's not the point of this post, but I didn't want to make a statement without some backup.]

In the last paragraph, the ADN comes to its conclusion.
"So what’s the better answer? Make the hard choices — fund services fully or be up-front about the fact that they’ve been cut — instead of kicking the can down the road."
So, now they seem to be acknowledging that the 'simple' answer is really a 'hard choice.'  They don't talk about who has been kicking that can.  About the Republicans being in power for most of the last ten years when the budget kept going up, or how the Democrats have been trying to raise revenues with income or sales taxes, but the Republicans continue to block that.

Their simple isn't simple.  It's pap.

Here's a headline that caught my eye several years ago.
"For GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, solving the nation’s biggest challenges is pretty simple — “it’s not rocket science,” as she likes to say."
Here was my response:  Note To Carly Fiorina: Solving Nation's Problems Harder Than Rocket Science  It delves into other aspects of the difficulty of good government.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Snowy Branches

The trees are playing peekaboo with the snow.  It was clear for several weeks.  Then snow.  Then gone.  Then snow, then gone.  This morning there was a light dusting, but now it looks like winter again.  But it's mid-April and we know it will be gone again soon.  Maybe even tonight.  But it's so beautiful.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

To Keep Warm, You Can't Regenerate Your Heart, But Salamanders And Zebrafish Can

I spent today mostly reading Waiting For Snow In Havana."  My book club meets tomorrow and I had a lot of pages left.  I finished it and there is much that is good in the book, but I think a good editor could have helped Carlos Eire cut lots of pages.

So I don't have the creative energy to do much here.  I did jot this done recently and so I'll leet you off easy.  A brief contemplation about your heart.

From Science:
"The price of staying warm
Among vertebrates, zebrafish and salamanders can regenerate their hearts, whereas adult mice and humans cannot. Hirose et al. analyzed diploid cardiomyocyte frequency as a proxy for cardiac regenerative potential across 41 vertebrate species (see the Perspective by Marchianò and Murry). They observed an inverse correlation of these cells with thyroid hormone concentrations during the ectotherm-to-endotherm transition. Mice with defects in thyroid hormone signaling retained significant heart regenerative capacity, whereas zebrafish exposed to excessive thyroid hormones exhibit impaired cardiac repair. Loss of heart regenerative ability in mammals may represent a trade-off for increases in metabolism necessary for the development of endothermy."

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Real Snow, Not Metaphorical Snow

While Barr and Trump and others do a snow job in response to the Mueller Report, apparently giving Senate Republicans enough cover to stay silent,  nature gave Anchorage some real snow yesterday.  

But just like real snow, metaphorical snow starts to show through as people test it.

And with just a little bit of heat, it turns to slush.

And then liquid.

And what it was trying to conceal becomes visible again.

Friday, April 19, 2019

"Someday, and that day may never come. . ." How To Avoid Admissible Evidence

When teaching ethics, I found this clip from The Godfather to be invaluable.

What evidence is there here of a bribe?  I'm forgiving you a debt in honor of my daughter's wedding.  Someday.  Someday in the distant future, or maybe not so distant, or maybe never at all, I may ask you to return the favor.

Imagine the Mueller investigation trying to present this transaction to the grand jury.  Well, unless there was a recording of this, there's nothing to present.  Only the evidence.  Well, this guy had a debt that was never recorded.  And . . . maybe he does this other thing for the Godfather.  Is that quid pro quo?  Or is it just a favor?  Is it a bribe?  Is it illegal?  Is it collusion?  Would a grand jury say it was beyond a reasonable doubt?

Here's a Tweet that picks up on this ambiguity.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What Does "Lightly Redacted" Look Like?

Here's a look at all the pages in the Mueller Report.  You can see it better here.

I was a bit irked that I saw headlines describing the Mueller report as 'lightly redacted' without the quotation marks.  That was Barr's office's description of it, his spin.  And it was clear that he saw his job as not just the head of the DOJ, but as a defender of the president.

So when I saw this view of the Report, I thought it was worth considering.  I don't see enough government reports like this to know if the Mueller Report is lightly redacted, moderately redacted, or heavily redacted.

If we simply go by percentage of blocked text, I suppose this is lightly redacted.
But another way of thinking about it is how it compares to other such reports.
Another way to think about it is whether the parts redacted really need to be redacted for genuine legal and security reasons, or because they reveal things the president doesn't want to reveal.

I'm not using the term 'lightly redacted' ironically, because I don't know the answers to any of those questions.  I'm just offering this visual of what has been described as 'lightly redacted.'

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

This Is Why So Many Establishment Politicians And Their Supporters Hate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Let me just say it out front.  I think AOC is one of the best things to happen in 2018/2019.   In this post I'm going to explain why I think she's pissing off so many people in Washington and beyond. But if you aren't interested in that, just scroll down to the bottom for her positive look to the future and when it gets trashed by the president and others, you can come back and see why I think they do that.

  • She's smart in the sense that she understands how lots of things fit into the larger macro picture.
  • She's articulate.
  • She's able to show her love of life.
  • She's able to respond to her detractors with wit, humor, dance, and hope.
  • She's not shy.
  • She's using her new Congressional seat to actually do things this country needs.
  • She's savvy with social media.  
  • She's able to give voice for women and people of color and working people.
  • She's beautiful.  (This isn't something that we're supposed to comment on, but we all know that it doesn't hurt.)
OK, let's take a short side trip.  When I was a junior in high school, I delivered the mail as a Christmas break job.  I delivered in my own neighborhood, my own street even.  I was fast.  My supervisor was my regular mailman.  After a couple of days he pulled me aside and said, "Steve, you get paid by the hour and when you finish your route, your time is up.  What's your hurry?  Pace yourself.  When you get to your house, take a break before starting again."  

Later, as a grad student, I learned about 'soldiering' when I read Frederick Taylor's The Principles of Scientific Management.  He described how workers get into a comfortable pace or work and how frisky new workers (like me delivering mail) upset that comfortable pace.  So the workers first start to subtly hint to the worker (as my supervisor did) to slow down and take it easy.  If that doesn't work they get more aggressive, which could lead to sabotage and even physical violence.  

I think this is the reason there's so much negative press about AOC.  She's making everyone look bad.  

For the Republicans it's about everything:  
For Democrats the issues are, perhaps, more procedural.  
  • She challenges the speed they are moving toward change in Climate and Health Care etc.
  • Her activity and social media savvy and presence make them look like they're doing nothing.
  • She brings a bright spark of life to a job they're doing with less sparkle.
  • She got elected by defeating one of their inner circle in the primary
  • She's challenging the way they operate, their rules, their beliefs about what's possible
Trump's election showed weaknesses in the Democratic common wisdom.  He exploited the fact that Democrats championed people of color and women in a way that made white males the enemy.  The only terms negatively describing a group of people that Democrats didn't 'ban' were words like hillbilly and white trash.  Trump gave that group respect.   AOC's parents were poor.  They nearly lost their home to the 2008 housing crisis.  An event that led to her to find out about her congressional rep's power structure in New York.  Like many of today's college grads, she ended up doing minimum wage work.  So she's reached out to the Trump voter, whom she knows as someone who has lived their life.  

He also used social media to by-pass the press and talk directly to his followers.   And AOC is as good a politician in using social media.  She doesn't just use it, for her it's almost an art form.  

And while some Democrats embrace everything she brings to Congress and their party, others see her as interfering with their routine, their way of seeing what's possible and how to get there.  

Here's the video.  It's a bit of social science fiction. 

It looks to the future, what the world would look like if things got better because of the policies she's pushing.  And it's pretty close to how I envision things, though I'm less sanguine about what technology will do for us.  Like all predictions there are probably flaws, but the attacks on her New Green Deal are much harsher than other people's predictions of the future, predictions that are less imaginative, more mired in the past.

And the video is beautiful.  The artist [Molly Crabapple] does a great job. (If I find out the name I'll add it here.)  This format has come a long way since I wrote about The Story of Stuff and then the followup about Victor Lebow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Campbell Creek - Still Some Snow

Biked over to Campbell Creek yesterday to see if the snow was gone from the trail as it is from the Chester Creek trail from UAA to Goose Lake and on around to Alaska Native Medical Health Consortium (ANMHC).  It's close, but there are still snowy/icy/slushy spots like this one.

I made it through on several of these patches, but decided I'll wait another week to see if my regular run up to Campbell Airstrip is ice free.  But the views of the creek from the various bridges is, as always, wonderful.

Monday, April 15, 2019

How Can This Happen? Notre Dame On Fire

The first time I visited Notre Dame Cathedral was in 1964.  Then again in April 1965. (I was a student in Germany that year.)

Then this picture (and the other two) was from a visit to Paris in 2016 for a 60th birthday party of a relative I first met back in 1964.

And today I see this on the internet.

Whatever one thinks of religion or the Catholic church, this building and the other Cathedrals like it are monuments to human vision, science, art.  To imagine structures so huge, with indoor spaces so magnificent reflects the impossible that humans can achieve.  To know that these structures took centuries to build reminds us of humanity's patience and persistence.

How does a fire break out in such a treasure of human ingenuity and reverence?  I don't know.  With all the stone one would think that the many, many candles could do no harm.  But parts are built of wood as well.  We'll know more.

It's not the first time the Cathedral was in disrepair.  From the Cathedral's own website:

"One of the most notable monuments in Paris (and in all of Europe for that matter) is the Notre Dame Cathedral. This Catholic treasure is over 800 years old. It is located on a small island called the Ile de la Cite in the middle of the River Seine. The building of the cathedral was completed over the course of 200 years; it was started in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII and was completed in 1345. 
As is the case with most notable historical monuments, The Notre dame Cathedral Paris has its own share of both the glorious and the tragic historical moments that will forever remain indelible in the mind of people everywhere. Among them is the crowning of Henry VI of England right inside the cathedral in 1431. The Cathedral was at one time in a stage of total disrepair and close to the point of being demolished, but was later saved by Napoleon who himself was crowned Emperor in 1804 inside the Cathedral.   
After restoring the Cathedral back to its formal beauty and in the midst of World War II, it was rumored that the German soldiers might destroy the newly installed stained glass. It was therefore removed and only reinstalled again after the war had ended. The steps were taken because of only one particular archeological glass window called the Rose window which is supposed to be the biggest glass window in the world produced in the 13th century."

Meanwhile, from CNN:
"French President Emmanuel Macron just announced that, starting tomorrow, he will launch an international fundraising campaign to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Macron, speaking from the scene, described the fire as a “terrible tragedy," but added the “worst had been avoided." He noted that the cathedral's facade and two main towers did not collapse during the fire.
“I’m telling you all tonight — we will rebuild this cathedral together. This is probably part of the French destiny. And we will do it in the next years. Starting tomorrow, a national donation scheme will be started that will extend beyond our borders," Macron said."

Two Reading Tips - EPA Climate Change Report And William Barr's History Misleading Congress With A Summary

This post offers an introduction to two articles that I think are worth reading.  One is about an EPA report on economic impacts of Climate Change and how we can reduce them.  The other gives some background on William Barr and how he mischaracterized to Congress an internal Justice Department memo in 1989.

The Climate Change one isn't news to people immersed in the topic, but adds the weight of Trump's EPA giving the warning. And it's something to pass on to skeptics.   The Barr piece is important context ( that I haven't seen elsewhere)  for his summary of the Mueller Report

Part 1:  Climate Change

Even when the fire is raging and police and firefighters issue mandatory evacuation orders, there are people who refuse to leave their homes.   Climate change happens more gradually than raging wildfires, but the devastation is more extensive and the damage will continue to increase if we don't slow things down.   Here's an LA Times article* about a recent EPA report on the future economic impact of climate change and how a carbon pricing scheme could reduce the future impacts by half.
"By the end of the century, the manifold consequences of unchecked climate change will cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars per year, according to a new study by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Those costs will come in multiple forms, including water shortages, crippled infrastructure and polluted air that shortens lives, according to the study in Monday’s edition of Nature Climate Change. No part of the country will be untouched, the EPA researchers warned.
However, they also found that cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and proactively adapting to a warming world, would prevent a lot of the damage, reducing the annual economic toll in some sectors by more than half."
This is from the Trump administration's EPA!!!!!  (Do I need more than the exclamation points, each of which represent another outrageous decision by the EPA to loosen standards that help individual companies and compromise the future for the rest of us?)

Who could sit around, unconcerned about climate change?  I ask that question daily.  Here's my current version of the answer:

  • people who don't know - they only know what's on the news and the media's 'balanced' coverage which gives the 1% deniers equal time with the 99% of scientists who know that climate change is real, gives them a false sense that it's still up for debate
  • people who have a vested interest in not knowing - they have corporations or jobs or investments in those corporations that are maintaining their current lifestyle  (this includes politicians who get significant funding from those oil and coal interests)
  • people who don't care - they think that they will be gone before the real impacts hit and they don't have kids or grandkids who will be affected; or they, for whatever reasons, can't concern themselves with the fate of others

I'm convinced that Climate Change is the most serious challenge to human existence (both in terms of surviving, and for those who survive, living in a world with a regular life with access to food, housing,  and safety.)   That's why I belong to Citizens Climate Lobby and why our local chapter was pleased that we got the Anchorage Assembly to pass a resolution endorsing the current Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.  It's true, the Assembly's resolution, by itself, does little.  But as part of the CCL's webpage of all the other endorsers, it's like a signature on a petition with many, many others.  It's telling legislators who are concerned about the politics of Climate Change, that there are many people and organizations out there that have their backs.

In any case, I'd recommend reading the LA Times article so when you talk to deniers or avoiders you have data to push them closer to understanding why we can't dawdle on this.

*Note:  There are two LA Times articles.  One was a last week in something called LA Times Science Now and it includes a useful chart.  The other is a shortened version in today's regular LA Times.

As if that weren't enough for one post, here's another piece to help people understand William Barr and his history of writing summaries for Congress.

2.  William Barr's Past Summarizing For Congress

Just Security  has an article on a 1989 situation where then Attorney General William Barr misled Congress with a summary of a Justice Department document that, when finally made public, showed Barr's deception. An excerpt:
"Members of Congress asked to see the full legal opinion. Barr refused, but said he would provide an account that “summarizes the principal conclusions.” Sound familiar? In March 2019, when Attorney General Barr was handed Robert Mueller’s final report, he wrote that he would “summarize the principal conclusions” of the special counsel’s report for the public.
When Barr withheld the full OLC opinion in 1989 and said to trust his summary of the principal conclusions, Yale law school professor Harold Koh wrote that Barr’s position was “particularly egregious.” Congress also had no appetite for Barr’s stance, and eventually issued a subpoena to successfully wrench the full OLC opinion out of the Department.
What’s different from that struggle and the current struggle over the Mueller report is that we know how the one in 1989 eventually turned out."

It got Barr off the hook in the short term and he was no longer Attorney General when it was finally made public.  My experience is that people tend to use the same strategies that served them in the past.  If Barr can keep the Mueller Report hidden until after the 2020 election, he'll have done his job.  Compare this good-old-boys-protecting-their-own behavior with the tell-it-like-it-is language of people like Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

We need to see the Mueller Report!  

Remember, you're not helpless.  You have power.  You can let your Congressional Rep and your Senators see these documents and let them know how you feel.  No, your one contact (phone, email, or mail) won't change things, but along with thousands of others, it will.  (The links help you connect with your members of Congress.)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

VW Van Revival - Our Camper Has Been A Big Part Of Our Lives

Here's part of an article on how early VW Vans are the new hot vehicle in the old car

LA Times
From 1950 to 1979, the German automaker churned out over 4.7 million of them under different names and models —Westfalia, Samba, Kombi, Transporter — to create one of the most beloved lines of cars worldwide. Its basic frame — a raised, boxy body, a weak engine in the back, bench seats on the inside, a plethora of windows — attracted a devoted worldwide following. Aficionados turned them into everything from surf wagons and homes to taxis and work trucks. Even movable beer gardens.
“It’s the most easily recognized van or commercial vehicle on the planet,” says Brian Moody, executive editor of “Low operating cost, low purchase cost when Volkswagen made them. Globally, you can talk to a Brazilian who has great VW Bus memories. A Mexican. A European. An Indian. Not everyone had a Mustang convertible.”
But over the last decade, this once-humble workhorse has become something it’s never been: one of the hottest “gets” in the vintage auto world.

We got married in January, but we were both teaching elementary school.  So the honeymoon was postponed until summer.  We wanted to drive (from LA) to Machu Picchu but there were no Lonely Planet guides then and the Auto Club maps were blank as you got near the Panama Canal.  We decided my VW bug wasn't a good idea and we should get a van.  As we got closer to the end of the school year, we decided Machu Picchu was probably overly ambitious if we wanted to be
back in time for the fall semester.  So we
decided to head north instead - to the end of the 'road.  We looked on maps to find out where that might be.  There was Hudson Bay on the other side of the continent and there was the Great Slave Lake and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.

 And then, we decided a van would still be better than my bug.  So that's how we ended up with a 1971 VW camper.  I was hoping to find some pictures of it on that trip, but I couldn't find those slides.

But the next summer we planned out a more realistic trip headed south.  We had seen an Academy Award nominated short of Mayan ruins and J fell in love with Tulum, and Palenque  and Chichen Itza looked good too.  We took around two months on that trip.  I found a slide of the van in (then) British Honduras.  We'd spent a night in the capital

We were on our way from the coast to Tikal in Guatemala.  We really didn't know if we could get there via this route until we started meeting travelers who were driving the other way and said we could.  The road from the capital (I remember it as Belize City, but Wikipedia says it change to Belmopan in 1971, the year before we got there) to Guatemala was dirt.  We saw that
there was a viewpoint a big waterfall 17 km or so off the main road.  We got there and had it all to ourselves.  So we decided to spend the night.  It rained all night and the road back to the main road was pretty muddy and we got stuck twice on hills.  A British army Land Rover towed us up to the top of the first hill and another Land Rover with tourists staying a little bird watching resort pulled us out the second time and all the way to the resort where we had lunch and saw some birds.

In 1977 we drove from LA to Anchorage.  We started out with a three year old and a three week old baby.  It was a great trip, even when the engine blew out on the Oregon/California border.  A tow truck got us to Brookings, Oregon  where the mechanic ordered parts that afternoon from Portland and we were headed out the next day about 3pm with a new motor.  We had a ferry to catch and he did everything he could so we could get it.  And we did.  Here we are after crossing the Canada/Alaska border after driving from Haines.

In 1980 I had a year long fellowship at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and we drove to DC.  That was a great year and van gave us no trouble. We were taking the kids to Disney World over the spring break. As the  break was nearing, the first space shuttle was set to take off.    It got delayed a few times until it was close enough to our planned trip.  So we took off a day early and drove all night to arrive at Cape Canaveral by 6am for the
launch.  It was delayed again.  So we went off to our hotel room at Disney World and the next day watched the launch from the balcony of our room.  It wasn't as impressive as being right  there, but we did see the white trail as it lifted off into space.  After Disney World we went back to Cape Canaveral as tourists and this picture was at the beach there.

By 1995 the floor of the van had holes in it.  It would get wet inside on rainy days and during breakup.  Our mechanic - Kurt Schreiber in Wasilla (that's another story) - told us we'd gotten our money's worth and it was time.   A young man who was working the summer at Denali bought it and took it up there as his living space.

We looked at replacing it with a new one, but the price was 10 times the original price.  But after two years, and a visit from old friends who rented a camper on their Alaska adventure, we realized how important the van had been in our marriage.  I wanted to be in the woods in a tent.  J wanted to be in a hotel.  The van had been our compromise.  And I was getting really antsy about not being out enjoying the Alaska summers.  So we asked our kids who were in Seattle and Boston at that time, to check out new vans to see if they were significantly cheaper than one in Anchorage.  (The kids had been concerned when we sold the first van.  We'd had since before they were born, the told us, and if we could get rid of the van, we could get rid of them too.)  The VW dealers in Boston laughed at our  daughter when she asked about campers.  They just didn't sell them at all.  Our son had better luck in Seattle.  He could get one for $32K ($5000 less than in Anchorage).  So he did and drove it up to Vancouver.  We met him and our daughter and my dad and step-mom there (luckily there were good non-stop flights that summer from Anchorage).  After we all had our Vancouver reunion, we drove back up to Anchorage.  Here's our first or second night out of Vancouver.

It took a bit of getting used to the automatic (no stick was available) and power windows and different interior arrangements.  But the pop-top was a great feature, we had a lot more power on hills, and J loved that the heater warmed the car to more then 10˚F above the outdoor temperature. And it even has another heater for camping in the cold.  The first time we were camped with snow around us our little digital thermometer said "cold" in the morning.  It didn't go below 32˚ we later found out.  But I could turn on the heater and J stayed in the sleeping bags until it reached 50˚.

So the article meant a lot to me.  We didn't get it because it was a hippie van (and really the earlier models were more in that image) but people assumed that for a long time.  We just liked that we could buy a car with a bedroom and kitchen for not much above the average car price.  And yet it's not any longer that the larger sedans and it fits in most parking garages.  And we've saved a lot of money being able to sleep in the van on long trips.  Even more important, we could easily spend the night in the woods, and even cook (in the new van) and eat indoors if the weather was terrible. And yes, the second one is outside in front of the house now.  It's 22 years old.  We did have some significant preventive maintenance done two years ago, including an undercoating so we don't get wet in the rain.   We're looking forward to our annual spring Denali trip for a few nights before the buses start and they close the road to cars at Savage River.

Here's what it says right now:
Road Open To: Mile 15
The Denali Park Road is currently open to Mile 15, Savage River. If wintry conditions occur, the road may close at some point closer to the park entrance. Though many trails are snow-free, Savage River Loop and Savage Alpine Trails have significant ice.
We'll wait until the road is open to Teklanika.  

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Ice On Lake, But Not On Trail

After the monthly Citizens Climate Lobby meeting this morning, I biked to Goose Lake and then down the path parallel to Northern Lights and back around past APU and then west along University Lake and on home.  The trail has practically no snow at all.  Here and there some along the edge of the trail.  A few spots still have easily avoided remnants of winter.

Monday I had checked the Campbell Creek trail east of Lake Otis and it was still covered with snow and ice.  I should check it out tomorrow.    As you can see in the picture, Goose Lake still is covered with ice.

But not the bike trail.

And the biker enjoyed his ride.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Olé - Chugiak Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Wants Your Thoughts On Closing The UAA Campus There.

Today was the second Friday with my three Olé classes.  As I wrote last week, I'm taking a class on Brain Neurons, one on Photojournalism, and one on the Origins Of English.

The Secret Life of Neurons
These were the learning objectives in the Brain class.  If you click on the picture it will enlarge and focus better.

An easy to share part of the class is this video from the "2 Minute Neuroscience" series on Youtube.

This was one of two we saw today:

The meaning of intelligence came up today after looked at a chart that showed the ratio of brain weight to body size of many different animals.  It seems one of the dolphins is higher in this than humans.  (Whales have heavier brains, but the ratio to body weight is lower.)  She mentioned that the brain of a certain moth has one part that is highly developed and researchers discovered this was the part of the brain that helped the moth evade bats.  That isn't what I would call 'intelligence' since the moth is not thinking about that, just some part of the brain automatically does it.  Prof. Hannah even said (after class) that the moth can get better at evading bats (at least the ones that don't get eaten first.)  My prior understanding of intelligence was going beyond what the body does automatically.  But as I thought about the different kinds of intelligence Gardiner discusses, some are more like the moth's ability.  Say someone with high interpersonal intelligence.  Perhaps someone's brain is really good at face recognition and interpreting body language, so the person can 'intuitively' know how another person is feeling.  But that person may not know they are better at this than others.  She may assume everyone has this ability.  And she can get better and better at this with more experience.  Is that different from the moth's ability to avoid being caught by a bat?  And  Gardner calls that one type of intelligence.    Perhaps it's the vocabulary that is lacking.  Or is this an ability and when one becomes conscious of it and consciously uses it we can call it intelligence.  I still have to think more about this.

Professor Hannah also passed around models of six or seven different animal brains and we were supposed to figure out which was which.  We didn't do too well, but in our defense, we really needed to have them all in front of us at once.  I only ever saw two as they were passed around.


The guest lecturer in the Photojournalism class was Scott Jensen, a 22 Emmy award winner who was born at Providence Hospital and eventually went outside and worked in television and has returned to Alaska working with the ADN and KTVA television in Anchorage.

Erik Hill, who is the teacher, offered us some links to some of the photojournalism awards that have come out recently.

World Press Photo Awards - The winning picture is at the top of the page.  "Crying Girl on the Border" by  Photographer John Moore.  It just eats at me.  Maybe because I've just been with my grandkids and saw the two year old, toward the end of the day start to cry for her mom (who was out of town for work which was why we were there.)

Origin of English,
On the surface this sounds incredibly dry but it keeps me riveted.  Trying to convey things we covered - like alphabets and  pronunciation of Old and Middle English, well I don't think I can do that.   But here's another video.  This one from the Open University.  But, unfortunately I can't figure out how to embed it here, so you have to go to the link.  It's History of English In Ten Minutes.  The link takes you to the first of ten tracks.  This one on Anglo-Saxon.  Well worth it and shorter than the Neuroscience video.

But I can give you some of our homework, which is to find a video of someone reciting the beginning of Canterbury Tales.  Here's what I found with someone reading the old English words, but the modern English translation is there too.

And tonight, when I got home, there was an email from Olé with a link to a survey that the Chugiak/Eagle River Chamber of Commerce has about the closing of UAA's Chugiak/Eagle River campus.  Olé offered classes there in the past.

Here is my response to question 8.

Do you have any suggestions, ideas or options for continuing a UAA campus here in Chugiak Eagle River?

157 characters left.

If anyone wants to fill out the survey,  here's the link.  After all, Eagle River and Chugiak went for Dunleavy last November and they regularly send very red reps and senators to Juneau.  Did they think they'd get spared?