Thursday, October 31, 2019

Ted Talks As News - Trees And Food -The Good News The MSM Tends Not To Cover

I woke up early this morning - too early to get up, but late enough that I was awake.  So I plugged in the headset for my phone and listened to a Ted Talk.  Suzanne Simard "How Trees Talk To Each Other."

No, this wasn't some vague imagining about talking trees.  It was based on Simard's childhood and  education.  She did studies with isotopes to see how they moved from one tree to another through the mitochondria in the soil.  And how all this interconnected-ness makes forests more resilient to things like climate change.

This isn't technically 'news' because this talk is about ten years old.  And it's based on research she began that's much older.  And I've heard hints of this, but never anything so coherent that it made sense to me.  But don't take my word for it:

Next up was Jamie Oliver - Teach Every Child About Food

Screenshot from Jamie Oliver's Ted Talk
His basic message is that food is the number one cause of death in the United States. He backs it up with this chart. All the ones in red are 'diet-related diseases.' (Heart disease, cancers, stroke, diabetes.)

Jamie is a chef.  He talks about power - about fast food and markets owned by corporations and that food now is  largely processed and full of extra ingredients, while 30 years ago it was mostly fresh and local.  (This talk was given in 2010, so that would get us back  to 1980.)  He talks about portion size and labeling problems.  At home and school kids are eating food that will kill them.
Milk, he says, now has sugar added, though he's talking about chocolate milk. He uses a wheel barrow full of sugar cubes to show how much sugar kids get from five years of school lunch milk. School food systems are run by accountants, not food experts.

Lightbulbs turned on above my head.  This isn't new to me in general. I grew up when most food was fresh or lightly processed and fruits were only available in season.  Growing up in LA meant we probably had more fresh vegetables and fruits all year than people in colder climates.   But he's talking about more than that. He's talking about taking the power back from the big agricultural corporations.  And he thinks they should be sued like the tobacco industry was.  So, you can understand why this stuff doesn't get much attention on corporate media which makes its money from advertisements from, to a great extent, the food industry - fast food, processed food, soft drinks, beer, etc.

Then came Britta Riley and A Garden In My Apartment

This talk is about hydroponics. .  Just growing some of our own food, she quotes Michael Pollen, is one of the best things we can do for the environment.  This is what got her started.  Listening to experts talk about the food problem, she quotes Pollen further, is precisely how we got to where we are.  NASA's hydroponics in space inspired her.  She wanted to get into this, but didn't want to copy the food corporations, so she set up a website where they displayed their products and they crowd sourced to keep improving the systems.  They have 18,000 people connected through the website.  R&DIY - she calls it Research and Development Do It Yourself.  Anyone around the world can duplicate these products themselves for free.   And this is now a community.  We should ditch the term consumer and get behind the people doing things themselves.  The website - - isn't working now.  Not sure where to find this community today.

Followed by Roger Doiron - My Subversive (Garden) Plot

Doiron took the whole idea of gardens as a way to take back food and make it healthier and fresher a little further.  His plot is to radically alter the balance of power, not just in our own country, but around the world.  Here's what he says near the beginning:  Food is a form of energy, but also a form of power.  When we encourage people to grow their own food, we're encouraging them to take power into their hands, power over their diets, power over their health, and power over their pocketbooks.  And we're also talking about taking that power away from someone else.  Those actors who have power now over food and health.  See gardening as a healthy gateway drug to food freedom.  Not long after you start a garden, you starting thinking, "I might want to learn how to cook."  He talks about Michele Obama's vegetable garden at the White House that he helped on.  And the food needs of the planet as the human population grows   Plenty to chew on.

Then, finally, I heard Ron Finley - A guerrilla Gardener in South Central LA

He got in trouble with the City of LA because he planted a food court in front of his house on the strip between the sidewalk and the street with edibles.

Screen shot from Ron Finley Ted Talk

The city owns that land, he said, but the homeowner is supposed to keep it up. Fortunately he got enough publicity to overcome that obstacle.  His job is to spread the idea of growing your own food, and in particularly in neighborhoods that are food deserts.  He says that LA owns enough vacant lots to create 20 Central Parks.

The corporate news media today - and that includes to a certain extent National Public Radio - are focused on offering a constant diet of breaking news, with headlines and video, aimed at attracting the most possible eyeballs.  We get short vignettes that often disappear and we never learn what happened.  Or the opposite, as with the never ending election coverage, where the focus is on the horserace, not where the horses are headed.  We only hear about who's up this week, this day, this hour.  Every new poll becomes top news.  Conflict sells.  What we need is cool headed analysis of the policy proposals and how candidates plan to carry them out.

What these Ted Talks suggest to me is there is a lot going on in the US (and the world), but it's not initiated by corporations and it doesn't get much coverage.  It's people taking control of their own food, in this case, something that agribusiness, which advertises widely on corporate media, doesn't really want being covered.  These people powered activities don't get covered much, unless there's conflict or violence involved - say the Keystone Pipeline standoff last year.

So I suggest you watch and listen to the positive things people are doing all over the country, the innovations that come from crowdsourcing, or in response to the disgust with the hazardous - to the environment, to health, to sustainability, to family finance - offerings of corporate America.  Check out the endless options from Ted Talks and go looking for other podcasts that do similar things.  There's lots of good news out there.  It doesn't need blood covered to be covered by the news.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dear Dan Sullivan, I'd Like To Recommend John F. Kennedy's Profiles In Courage

You served in the Marines and still do part of the year.  The Marines are known as courageous and never giving up until they have victory.  They are also supposedly fighting for democracy.

I don't have any details on how you served on the battlefield, but in Congress, I don't see any courage or backbone or do or die fight for Democracy.  Instead I see you and many other Republican Senators holding back, weighing the personal consequences of doing the right thing, and waiting until it is safe.

That doesn't seem to me to be the Marine we elected to the Senate.

The evidence against the president is overwhelming.  Just read, or have your staff read for you, Seth Abramson's Proof of Conspiracy and then let me know all the places he's wrong.

Just read the Mueller Report.  The whole report with the grand jury material as well.

I would also suggest you read John F. Kennedy's slim volume, Profiles in Courage, which is about eight US Senators.  (The link takes you to an online version.)  I know your time is limited, but sometimes people need to take a break to reflect on their values.  There's also a free audio version so you could listen while working out.

Kennedy writes:
"This is a book about that most admirable of human
virtues — courage. “Grace under pressure,” Ernest
Hemingway defined it. And these are the stories
of the pressures experienced by eight United States Senators
and the graee with which they endured them — the risks to
their careers, the unpopularity of their courses, the defama-
tion of their characters, and sometimes, but sadly only some-
times, the vindication of their reputations and their
A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which
in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to
insist upon or reward that quality in its chosen leaders today
— and in fact we have forgotten."

Kennedy, the junior Senator from Massachusetts when he wrote the book, also asked readers to be understanding of the pressures a senator faces.  He quotes two former senators and others whose descriptions of the senate are not laudatory.  Then he continues:

"I am convinced that the complication of public business and the com-
petition for the public’s attention have obscured innumerable
acts of political courage — large and small — performed almost
daily in the Senate Chamber. I am convinced that the decline
— if there has been a decline— has been less in the Senate
than in the public’s appreciation of the art of politics, of the
nature and necessity for compromise and balance, and of the
nature of the Senate as a legislative chamber. And, finally, I
am convinced that we have criticized those who have for-
lowed the crowd — and at the same time criticized those who
have defied it — because we have not fully understood the
responsibility of a Senator to his constituents or recognized
the difliculty facing a politician conscientiously desiring, in
Webster’s words, “to push [his] skiff from the shore alone”
into a hostile and turbulent sea. Perhaps if the American
people more fully comprehended the terrible pressures which
discourage acts of pohtical courage, which drive a Senator
to abandon or subdue his conscience, then they might be
less critical of those who take the easier road — and more
appreciative of those still able to follow the path of courage."

Senator, this book is short and the stories of
  • John Quincy Adams 
  • Daniel Webster
  • Thomas Hart Benton 
  • Sam Houston
  • Edmund G. Ross 
  • Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar
  • George Norris 
  • Robert A. Taft
may, I hope, remind you of your duty to truth, to the people of the Alaska and the United States, and to the Constitution as you ponder the pros and cons of voting to convict the president if and when the Senate takes up his impeachment.  Also talk to Alaska's senior Senator who seems to know some of this already.

[I'd note that Kennedy cites these Senators for specific acts that displayed great courage. Those acts have not always redeemed other actions these men committed.  And perhaps John F. Kennedy's view from the US  culture of 1955 would not always be consistent with more modern understandings of American history.]

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Pushing Around Leaves

The cottonwood trees in the back have been acting as personal trainers, giving me a certain number of new leaves each day to sweep up off the deck.  I think they used up their supply finally.

In front the mountain ash leaves have been dancing with the wind into different patterns on the driveway.

Looks a little like a map.

They tend to crowd together against steps and in corners.

And this October has allowed me time to procrastinate gathering up enough leaves to cover the various flower beds.  Yesterday was a record 54˚F in Anchorage, today was balmy again.  The low temperatures have been regularly higher than the normal lows.  You could say, well, it's just a blip, except we've had the 'warmest month ever' regularly this year.  

Cottonwood leaves covering the back yard.  I just need to rake up enough to get the flower beds covered.  There are some decaying amur maple leaves in the mix too.  

 And here's a small bed that I just used mountain ash leaves to mulch.

It's so wondrous that the trees give us this free mulch to protect the wintering plants from the cold and then this all goes into the compost heap where it becomes compost to fertilize everything next year.  

After all, that's what happens in untended forests every year.  Somehow they manage to maintain exquisite gardens without humans to take care of them.  

Monday, October 28, 2019

ACS Tech Help Doesn't Exist After 5pm Saturday Until 8am Monday, But Finally Our Internet Is Working Again [UPDATED]

So, Saturday night, about 10:45pm, our internet stopped.  It's pretty dramatic when you're streaming a movie.

We'd had an interruption just last Wednesday as well.  ACS (Alaska Communications Systems) phone tech couldn't fix it, but the next level was able to do something that got it on again in a couple of hours.

But when I called to report Saturday night, the recording said to call again during business hours.  Business hours do not include Sunday!   I was encouraged to report online.  But I never use the online system and couldn't figure out my id and password for sure, or even if I had one.

I did try to update my password with a user id that did get the response that they had send me an email telling me how to do that.  But I never got the email.  I tweeted ACS, but no response.  But even if you report it on Sunday, nothing will happen until 'business hours."

So this morning I finally got through and within 90 minutes (I only just tried the internet now after having breakfast) it's working again.

In this internet era,  how can an internet service have a 38 hour period where there is no one to restore someone's interrupted internet service?  Before I got my smart phone - which was only last December - I had no backup if internet went out.  And blogging on my phone is painful.

It turns out that you can't (have an internet service with a 38 hour help blackout period.)  ACS has this announcement on one of their webpages:
"We know how important it is to have a reliable internet connection. That’s why we are committed to keeping you connected with our reliable, dedicated business internet services that include a 24-hour repair guarantee. In the case of an outage, it is our priority to fix your internet within 24 hours of your initial call to tech support. If we are unable to fix your internet connection within 24 hours, you will be eligible to receive a $100 account credit.
In the instance that we don’t meet our 24-hour repair guarantee, simply call our Account Support team within 30 days of the outage to claim your credit."
Let's see if this works.  I see two potential problems for me:
  • This is on a page for business customers, not residential customers
  • It says within 24 hours of your initial call to tech support, but you can't get tech support between 5pm Saturday and 8:00 am Monday.  They didn't answer my initial call, but I made it around 11pm on Saturday night and service was working at 11pm Sunday night, or even until around 9:30 or 10am Monday.  
There are caveats below  including that it only applies to business customers.  But there is a different phone number that I'll try next time I have an outage during non-business hours.   
Alaska Communications Tech Support at 855-565-2556.
I'm less interested in the $100 than just getting my service back. (Though if I'm paying for service they don't provide, I should have a refund, right?  But $100 is way more than one 40 hours blackout.)

I have left a message at their corporate number.

[I'd note that when people have problems like this with a government agency, the reaction is often to rant and rave about how bad government is.  So I'd note that if that is a reasonable conclusion to make, then it would be equally justifiable for me to rant and rave about how bad business in general is.  But I think neither is a sensible response.  My problem is with a specific business, just as people having trouble with a government agency is a problem with a specific agency.  And with government, we are all the owners.  If we don't elect competent representatives, that's our problem.  And if we complain about having bad choices, that's also our problem.  In a Democracy we have to work to keep it working - even if that means finding and supporting good candidates to run.  Or even running for office ourselves.]

It's nice to have these little, eventually solvable problems, in these times of huge seemingly unsolvable ones.  But the House is working on impeachment, and there are things we can do about climate change - a carbon fee and dividend,  non-fossil fuel sources of energy; changing our eating and agricultural habits.  Solving little problems gives encouragement for the bigger ones.

And not having internet for a day, well, before the 1990s, I didn't have internet every day.  I finished a book yesterday and did household chores and had brunch with friends.

But still.  ACS, please get your act together.  I like having a local internet carrier rather than some conglomerate.  But I'm sure you can devise a work schedule to take care of problems between Saturday night and Monday morning.

[UPDATE October 28, 2019:  Over the weekend I also send a message to ACS via Twitter.  The Twitter reader apparently was off until Monday morning too because I got a message this morning telling me to call in today.  I responded with a brief summary of my issues and a link to this post.  I just got another Twitter message from ACS:

"Hi Steven, we're sharing your blog post with our tech support manager. Thanks, for your thoughtful comments. We are sorry for the trouble with your service this weekend. We appreciate you."]

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Thinking Break

So, does that mean a break from thinking?  Or a break so I can think?  More the latter, but it's the thoughts invading my brain more than my deliberately saying, "Whoa, I need to stop and think a while."

So this post is just a brief (yeah, that's always my intent) overview of the action taking place in my brain, in hopes of not forgetting the many loose ends.  [And it didn't stay brief so I'm adding an overview so you don't get lost in the meanderings.]

  • OLÉ classes - Project Innocence and the Fairbanks Four  and a proposal for police to have Devil's Advocates keeping them from straying after the wrong suspects
  • OLÉ classes - Homelessness 
  • The Struggle for Modern Tibet
  • Dan Sullivan and the tension between loyalty and the rule of law and Profiles In Courage

I've bolded these highlights and enlarged them so you can scan on down to the ones you're most interested in.  Or just quit right here.

Thursday I went two OLÉ classes:  The Innocence Project and the Pebble Mine class.
Friday was State and Federal Courts in the morning and Homelessness in the afternoon.

I'm also reading ahead for my December book club meeting - The Struggle for Modern Tibet, by Goldstein, Stebeschuh, and Tsering.  It's Tsering's story and the other two helped him getting written down in English.  He's a Tibetan, from a peasant family, who gets to Indian and works with the Dalai Lama's older brother and then manages to get a scholarship to the US.  He feels the Tibetans in India who follow the Dalai Lama are basically supporting the old Tibetan class system and he feels appreciation for the Chinese who are interrupting that and bringing roads and schools and hospitals to Tibet.  He wants to help with bringing Tibetan culture into the modern world (he was partly influenced by reading medieval Western history in the US and thinking they had the same kind of religiously dominated class system then too, but were able to modernize yet keep their distinct cultures.  Everyone thinks he's crazy to go back, but he does and gets sent by the Chinese to a    that is training Tibetans to be teachers and to go back to Tibet.  It's the beginning of the Cultural Revolution and gets to go on a field trip to march before Mao at Tiananmen Square.  That's as far as I've gotten.  I'm still waiting to see how it ends up.  (Well, I know he got back to the US somehow and with the two co-authors to write the book.)

Tibet was one of about three or four topics that my Chinese students were united and unbudging on:  China saved the Tibetans from a slave culture run by the Dalai Lama and the ruling class.  And Tshering gives support for this interpretation.  So I'm challenging my own Western take on Tibet by even reading this book.

So what else am I thinking?

The Innocence Project - Thursday was the last class.  The executive director and until recently the only employee, Bill Oberly, is the main speaker, sometimes backed up by Board president, Mark Johnson.  Thursday, Bill finished up the reasons people are wrongly convicted and then chronicled the Fairbanks Four trials, the one case the the Alaska Innocence Project has overturned and gotten the wrongly convicted freed.
As he told the saga, he illustrated the reasons for wrongful convictions he'd just finished.  The problems included:

  • false confessions
  • false eye-witness testimony, 
  • misuse of forensic pattern identification (in this case using bootprints to 'prove' a suspect's boot was involved) (I did a blog post on this topic a week or so ago)
  • false informant testimony
  • police misconduct (intentional and unintentional)

In fact, all of the problems as Oberly tells it (and I don't doubt him, but he's my only source) seemed  to stem from police misconduct - from how they got the confessions, how they pressured a witness to tell their story even though it was different from the witnesses original and then later story, and the coached testimony of a prison inmate who said one of the Fairbanks Four had confessed to him in prison.

This issue is one that's been rummaging through my brain and has come up with the idea that police (and probably many other types of government, and for that matter private companies) need to have some form of Devil's Advocate involved in murder and other felony investigations.  The Devil's Advocate would be there to challenge the lead investigators when they seem to be caught up in confirmation bias (seeing the facts that confirm their suspicions, and not seeing ones that challenge their theory of the case).  The Devil's Advocate's job would be to put pressure on the investigators when their not following proper procedures for interrogating suspects (no lawyers, no parents even for minors, planting false scenarios (in this case on pretty intoxicated suspects who couldn't remember anything from the previous couple of hours), etc.

We have people who do this sort of work after the fact - Ombuds offices, Inspectors General, etc.  But if this work had been done on the front end, innocent people wouldn't end up spending five, ten, fifteen, and more years in prison.  And the actual murderers wouldn't still be loose killing other people.  And overzealous cops and prosecutors would be checked early, and perhaps disciplined or terminated before doing more damage.

Would this cost more?  Cost isn't supposed to be a factor in getting to justice.  But trying innocents suspects costs way more than the cost of a position of Devil's Advocate.  And if the victims are able to sue and win a wrongful conviction case, well, there's money that would have funded a dozen Devil's Advocates.

I've not given details of this case yet and won't today.  So it's hard for readers to feel the injustices done in this case.  But I've recommended several times already that readers here watch the Netflix short series When They See Us about the Central Park Five.  All the reasons for wrongful convictions are clearly illustrated in that case.  It's heartbreaking, but compelling viewing.  And all five have been exonerated and released.

Tied to all this is a notion of written about professionally on corruption.  There's a natural tension in all of us between following our human social value of loyalty and the value of following the rule of law.   We all have genetically built into us a loyalty to our 'group' whether that be family, team, school, profession, work group, whatever.  And that notion of loyalty is reinforced by our society and every other society.  Studies show that loyalty is a more important value for political conservatives in the US than for liberals.  We can see that playing out in Washington now as the Republicans are being held tightly in control by the president, despite their private misgivings.  It's the power that mafia bosses and platoon leaders and sports coaches have.   They are far less likely to vote, as the Democrats did with Senator Al Franken, to give up one of their own because of a violation of principles.

The idea of rule of law is, in part, to counter blind loyalty so that people are treated fairly and equally.  While loyalty can work in concert with the rule of law, it can also thwart the rule of law.  In police and military and corrections organizations unwritten "Codes of Silence" or "The Blue Wall" will keep police and corrections officers from reporting crimes within their ranks.

This loyalty vs rule of law tension also got me to thinking about one of my Senators - Dan Sullivan.  While he has said he did not vote for Trump, he's since been caught up in the loyalty to the Republican Bully in Chief (sorry conservatives, that characterization is pretty accurate - just look up any literature on bullying and the spell they hold on those around them).  He even signed Sen. Graham's letter condemning the House impeachment investigation.  (My other Republican Senator did not.)

So I've been wrestling with how to reach out to him - not to attack him, but to find ways to open his brain to alternative ways of seeing all this.  He's a Marine (still in the reserves) and their values are all for courage.  But they are also indoctrinated into a loyalty to the Marines that means not following orders to run into danger takes less courage than not.  So while he might have tremendous physical courage and be willing to risk his life on the battlefield, the moral courage to break with his loyalty to the president and the Republican Party is much more difficult.

So how can someone talk to him about that?  I've started looking at John Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage (it's available at the link online.)
 Kennedy wrote about six US Senators who stood out by overcoming all the pressures weighing dow US Senators.  Maybe that would help, but I doubt it.

I'm also pondering all the data we've gotten on homelessness.  The Municipality of Anchorage is participating in a data gathering and management plan based on a nation wide data system, Built For Zero. It tracks monthly:

  • newly homeless (and where they come from in terms of previous housing)
  • current homeless
  • exiting homelessness

 The intent is to always have enough beds so that zero people spend the night homeless.  It involves collecting and sharing data on all the homeless, why they're homeless, what level of services they need, etc. so that they can find the right level of help for people in different categories of need.  And always making sure there are enough beds.   The plan they have addresses most of the questions the class raised the first week.   Here are some links - though they don't quite deal with some of the programs and data we've seen in class:

That's just a smattering of the activity going on in my skull.  When things get so busy, it's hard to sit and write something that doesn't meander a bit.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Alaska Heritage Museum - Seal Gut Parka, Wooly Mammoth Tusk, And Other Dazzling Objects

It's not exactly hidden away, but I've never noticed a sign outside announcing it.  The Alaska Heritage Museum is inside the lobby of the, now, Wells Fargo Building.  I say 'now' because this used to be the National Bank of Alaska Building (from
"Even though the art-gallery-sized space feels intimate, this is the largest private collection of its kind in Alaska.  The museum was started by the First National Bank of Alaska in 1976, as a way for the bank’s owners, the Rasmussen family, to create a space for high-quality art and artifacts largely from Alaska's native tribes, such as the Northwest Coast Indian, Athabascan, Aleut, Yupik and Inupiaq tribes." also says the museum is in downtown, but I think most Anchorage folk would disagree, saying it's in midtown.  A heftier walk for tourists in downtown hotels, but still doable.

My Pecha Kucha class was in the library of the museum and after the last class, I decided to take some pictures to give folks an idea of the range of items.  By the way, the museum is free, and as the sign says, it's open Mondays through Fridays from 12 - 4 pm.  

Those are murres, not penguins, as pawns on the left.

 The sign says this is an Athabascan Chief's Coat.  The beaded coat and the seal gut parka below were the two most stunning items for me.


Here are assorted SE Alaska items.

Mike Healy is an interesting Alaskan character - an important sea captain of the north as the story says.  All the while, it seems one of his major attractions to historians, is the notion that he 'passed for white" although his mother was a "light skinned" slave.  Of course, that sort of characterization reminds us that for the dominant culture, if you have 'a drop of black blood' then you are black.  Even though most of your heritage is white and no one suspects you aren't white.

I've put this sign up twice to highlight the problems I'm having with editing on iPhoto lately - the edits don't stick when I export the photo.  I upped the contrast so it would be easier to read.  So if I'm insistent, I have to take a screen shot of the edit and use that.  Which is what I did for the version below.  But, of course, that degrades the quality in different ways.

A reminder, also, that most pictures enlarge and focus better if you click on them.

Here are some much older artifacts.  Some 2000 years old.

Even older - 12,000 to 15,000 years old - is this wooly mammoth tusk.

And much more recent are these Russian samovars.

The museum is at the corner of C Street and Northern Lights, in the Wells Fargo Building.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Steller Jay, Escape Room, Homeless Camp At Valley Of The Moon

A Steller Jay dropped by yesterday just outside the kitchen window.  These bird are beautiful and brazen and there's some kind of a turf war in our yard now and then between the jays and magpies.

My OLÉ one time class at the Anchorage Escape Room near G and 5th Avenue, was a lot of fun.  There were about ten of us on this hour long adventure to escape.   And it took all of us to figure out the clues to open pad locks that got us more clues to get us to the final room and out the last door.  There were some cool surprises.  I don't want to say more.  Here we are gathering in the downstair office.  The room with the Tree Door is a new escape adventure that isn't completed yet. They want to make it perfect.  We went into the door on the left.

Our group reminded me that everyone has something valuable to contribute if others just give them a chance.  We didn't get out in the allotted hour, but since there was no one else waiting, they let us keep going and we got out in 90 minutes instead of 60.  They said only 30% of the groups make it out in 60 minutes.

I was pleased that the weather was warm enough and dry enough I didn't have to think about ice and could ride downtown for the escape room.

On the way home I passed a large homeless camp in the woods to the east of Valley of the Moon Park.  I'd guess there were 15 to 20 tents.  I didn't see anyone so could do an impromptu extra-credit for my Homelessness class.  Last Friday's was full of the kind of data I was looking for.  Dr. Richard Mandsager was the speaker and he had lots of data about the different causes of homelessness, how many in the different categories in Anchorage, and looked at the larger environmental factors that push people into the streets.  I hope I can get more into that here one of these days.

The sign says, "Camp Here - Occupy to Overcome."  (I'm having trouble with iPhoto.  It's not saving the edits when I crop photos.  And Apple would rather we move 'up' to their newer software, Photo, and hook us into paying monthly fees for iCloud.   No wonder no one has any money.)

Monday, October 21, 2019

A Chilean Student's View Of Chile's Current Upheaval

This a follow up to yesterday's post on Chile's protests and government response.  It's based on a Skype chat with Sebastían, my college student friend in Santiago.  He was the catalyst for yesterday's post.  I'll use some images of the Skype chat to give a sense of this 'interview' but I've abbreviated it somewhat to cut out repetition and side conversations. I've made the images as big as I think I can fit them here.  You may have to work a bit to read them, but the visual of the chat seemed to capture our chat better than just the words.

I began by letting him know I'd posted about our previous chat (he'd said it was ok),  about the protests, whether he had any comments, (he did) and  by asking how he got to school today if the subway stations were damaged.

[Note:  OCDE - mentioned below- is Spanish initials for OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ]

Let's look at that picture of crowd for a subway train in Santiago at peak time a little larger.  

Also, some clarification - "minimum salary is 300,000 clp (Chilean pesos).  300,000 clp would be (today) $413. That's per month.  Here's a chart from wage that shows 300,000 clp is below what a single person needs to live.  

Data for Chile Sept. 2019 - From wage

Let's catch up a bit. First he sent me to an instagram that shows Chile's current president Pinera saying "Estamos en guerra" or "We are at war." Then it shows president Pinochet saying almost the exact same words 30 years ago. [I couldn't figure out how to get the GIF from Instagram to here (this is just a screenshot, but if you click on the image below, it will take you to the GIF.]

And an Instagram response:

Then he sent me to this video on Twitter, shot from a window above, of police or military, who could be snorting coke.  Or not.  You can judge for yourself.

And this video Esto pasa en Chile - This is happening in Chile.  It begins with the president saying we are in war.  Then it has shots of the police attacking citizens.  Some particularly troubling ones include police cars intentionally running over people fleeing.


There is so much conflict around the world now:

  • Hong Kong 
  • Kurds in Syria
  • The British are in knots over Brexit
  • Venezuela 
  • Yeman 
  • Refugees in camps around the world
  • US president facing impeachment

It's easy to not pay attention to what's happening in Chile.  But one of the Instagram sites Sebastían sent me to had this message:

"Friends of the world TV is not going to show this, help us to make visible. THE POLICE AND THE MILITARY ARE KILLING PEOPLE!"

Which included this:

[Translations from Google Translate.  Overall it's a messy translation so that's all I'll offer.]

Here's the Spanish from the Instagram, but I can't seem to get the link right on my Mac - it works on my phone.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Chile Subway Fare Hike Protests And 7pm Curfew

My Chilean friend had said he could not get to his university classes Friday because the subways were jammed and not moving because of protests.  Today I sent the picture from the Anchorage Daily News, showing students throwing wood onto a bonfire.   His reaction was,
"But it doesn't show the military occupation, civil population hurt by police forces, tear gas thrown to people with kids."
And he sent me some Instagram videos.

And I found this AFC (Agence France-Presse) news footage (among others) on Youtube.

A while later, I asked if he was having his weekly big family dinner tonight.  No, he said.
"Curfew is at 19:00."

Coverage of events like this - particularly to the rest of the world that knows little about the context in a far off country, especially one that isn't in the news that much - is difficult.  Video likes action - fires, fighting, visually compelling conflict in general.  The students look like vandals in some of the video I saw, but the coverage doesn't talk about the high unemployment, high prices, etc. that the people of Chile have been enduring.

And when the US press says things like, "protesting a 2 cent increase in fares" it sounds a little ridiculous.  But when you convert $1 US to Chilean pesos - you get Chilean 710 pesos. (When we were there in early July this year, it was about 680 pesos.)

So what we see is translated as a 2 cent increase, is really a 14 peso increase.

It's easy to find economic analyses that emphasize economic measures that investors might want.   It's harder to find analyses that look at how the economy affects the people.  Here's the end of a World Bank analysis which I'm including because it was updated just a week ago.
"Encouraging innovation, improving the linkage between education and the labor market and promoting the participation of women in the labor market are also essential for improving long-term prospects. On the social front, enhancing the quality of health and education services and reducing constraints to access to well-targeted social policies will be key for reducing the remaining poverty and strengthening the middle class."
Last Updated: Oct 14, 2019"
Wikipedia's entry on Economy of Chile begins this way:
"Chile is ranked as a high-income economy by the World Bank,[17] and is considered as South America's most stable and prosperous nation,[18] leading Latin American nations in competitiveness, income per capita, globalization, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption.[19] Although Chile has high economic inequality, as measured by the Gini index,[20] it is close to the regional mean.[21]"
So, even though it has the highest GDP in South America, its income inequality is the same as its neighbors.  For Alaskans, I'd note that salmon and tourism (after copper) are among the largest experts.  They also have Alaskan sized earthquakes and mountains.

[UPDATE Oct 22, 2019:  Follow up post here.]

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Come For An October Bike Ride With Me

After snow threats the other day, we have sun again and I chucked my chores to take advantage of good biking conditions.  

I never tire of this view.  Summer or winter.

Going up Stuckagain Heights, this is, I think, north fork of Campbell Creek.

A little further and the view is grasses and trees.

And the north [south]fork from the bridge at Campbell Airstrip.  

And on the way back.  One of the few other bikers I saw today.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Why People Are Falsely Convicted

Here's some info from the Innocence Project class I'm taking through OLÉ.  I'd note that most of the information in this post comes from the class, though I've added some links for people who want to dig a little deeper.

The Innocence Projects seeks to help prisoners who have been wrongfully convicted to get released from prison.  To date, according to the class, 367 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing and 162 actual assailants identified.  (That is the people who actually committed the crimes.)

6 Common Causes of Wrongful Conviction
1. Eyewitness misidentification
2. False confessions or admissions
3. Government misconduct
4. Inadequate defense
5. Informants (e.g., jailhouse snitches)
6. Unvalidated or improper forensic science

Today I'm going to just look at number 6.

6.  Unvalidated or improper forensic science
“When we looked at all the cases of people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence, we found that in 60 percent of those cases, experts who testified for the prosecution produced either invalid evidence or the misapplication of science in their testimony.” Peter Neufeld, Co-founder of the Innocence Project

  • DNA is now 'the gold standard' for criminal cases.  However, there are cases of contamination of DNA - the DNA that is gathered at the scene, or contamination in the lab.  But modern technology is more likely to be able to detect contamination.  
  • Odontology - This is used most effectively when there's a fire or accident, and the teeth are used to identify a body.  But there were experts who claimed to be able to match teeth based on bite marks and a number of people have been convicted based on testimony from 'experts.'  But it turns out this can be bogus.  There was no real science behind it and different experts could interpret it differently.  
  • Pattern Evidence - Shoe Prints, Tire Tracks, and bullet striations - all these methods were also shown to be unreliable, that is, different experts could come up with different conclusions and there was no scientific standards for showing how close the match was.  You can read more about this and scientific advances here.
  • Arson - Again, a few 'experts' gained credibility on being able to determine arson.  However, the case of Cameron Todd has debunked this method.  Todd, unfortunately had been put to death before the evidence in his trial was faulted.  
  • Fingerprints - once the gold standard (before DNA) the infallibility of fingerprints was shattered in a case that came from a terrorist bombing in Madrid.  The Spanish police put fingerprints out worldwide and the FBI found an attorney in Oregon whose prints matched.  And he'd recently become a Muslim.  Three FBI fingerprint experts agreed and sent the data to Spain.  The Spaniards were dumbfounded.  How could this be?  There was no record the lawyer had ever even been to Spain.  Other fingerprint experts identified an Algerian terrorist whose prints matched better than the Oregon attorney.  Because of this case, they no longer say they're 100% sure.  Instead they say "it matches on these points."  Here's a link to the FBI's report on that case.
  • Shaken Baby Syndrome - A pediatrician in 1971who had a number of infant deaths tried to figure out what had caused them and decided it might stem from shaking the baby.  He came up with three symptoms.  If the baby had those three symptoms, then the last person in contact with the baby was guilty.  The case of Audrey Edmunds was the case that eventually debunked that theory. She got out of prison, but there are still many other prisoners in prison because of the shaken baby theory.  
That should be enough for one bite.  I'll add more in future posts.  I'd also recommend watching "When They See Us" to those who have Netflix.  It's about the Central Park Five.  I didn't want to watch it at first, but it got good reviews, and so I checked the first episode and then finished them all.  Including the last one with Oprah Winfrey (who was the producer of the film) interviewing the  key actors AND the actual exonerated men who had been wrongly convicted.  That show illustrates most of the six common causes listed above.  It does a particularly good job on false confessions, which most people have trouble understanding.  

Thursday, October 17, 2019

On The Edge Of Snow - And OLÉ Classes Continue

It was in the mid 30s when I went to Pecha Kucha class yesterday, but the streets were good, so I biked.  My presentation was ok, people said nice things afterward.  Here's the first of the 20 slides.

and I tried to make the case for how learning another languages let's you escape the confines of English (or whatever your first language is) as you learn that the words and grammar of one language reflect the world differently from other languages.  This shows most concretely in the fact that words of one language don't translate exactly into the words of the other language.  Even concrete objects might not translate right.  Banana would seem an easy translation, but in Thailand there are about 20 kinds of bananas that regularly show up in the market and many people there pick bananas off trees in their garden.   And that, say, a black cat, has meanings in one culture that it might not have in another.  And words that describe relationships get even trickier.

The Thai words closest to brother and sister really focus on the older/younger relationship more than the gender relationship, or even the blood relationship

People without any blood connection use the terms for older and younger about each other all the time. (And it's different from the more recent US use of 'Bro'.)  At one point I asked somebody, after he'd introduced me to his sixth or seventh 'brother', how many brothers did he have.  Oh, they aren't that kind of brother, he said.

The class liked the blue and red circles I used to show how much the English and German or Thai words overlapped.  I didn't think of that until I was finishing the last slide, the night before the presentation.  Then I went back and put in circles for the different slides that compared English and German or English and Thai words.  Good thing I did.  I argued that when the words don't overlap completely (usually the case) is when you learn what your own language doesn't capture about the world.  And the less the words overlap, the more you learn about yourself and the world.

It was just starting to rain when I returned yesterday.  It was more a light drizzle, and the drops were tiny specks of hail.  Much better than raindrops, not as good as snow.  I could feel them on my face.  But I got home fine, but I was expecting snow on the ground this morning.

There wasn't any and the street in front of our house was wet, but not icy.  And large chunks of sky were blue.   So I biked.  For the most part it was ok but then I saw a police car's lights flashing ahead and this car on the side of the road.

The culprit seems to have been a piece of light brick colored cement at the intersection.  While all the other surfaces were fine, that piece of cement was really slick.  Was there a second car involved?  I don't know.  A stop sign had been flattened.  (I thought I took a picture, but it's not on my phone.)  I walked the bike around the debris and down the hill.  Back on the flat I rode carefully to the church where today's OLÉ classes were held.

By 2:30 when I came back, the sun was out and any ice or frost that had been there was either a puddle or dry pavement.  But I did have two voices in my head this morning.  One said:  "Don't be such a wimp.  You can't let a little weather threat keep you off the bike."  The other said, "A broken arm would really be a pain.  Don't be stupid."  Stupid beat wimp today, but I know I should be more careful.

The classes today were good.  The Innocence Project class was a continuation of last week's list of reasons innocent people are convicted.  I'll put that into another post.  It's interesting.  And this class is a great one after seeing "When They See Us" the Netflix series on the Central Park Five case.  Everything they talk about in the class happens in the series.

The afternoon class was on Pebble Mine.   We've had a representative from Pebble. A person from the Army Corps of Engineers, whose in charge of the Environmental Impact Statement, and today, was someone from Bristol Bay Native Corporation who are strongly opposed to the mine.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Invisible Power - How Powerful People Protect Themselves

In a Columbia Journalism Review article,   Lyz Lenz writes about interviewing Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law professor who recently resigned after details came out about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.

In it she helps clarify how powerful people (usually men) are able to get away with things by wielding their power through fixers.
"Sitrick is a fixer who has made a name for himself cleaning up the messes of rich and powerful men (and some women, too). 
“Mike, am I the lead steer?” I’d asked Sitrick when he called. The “lead steer” is Sitrick’s idea that all it takes to change the direction of a media stampede is for one journalist to take a contrarian view of the story. It’s a theory that holds well for ranchers trying to redirect a stampede. And it’s worked for Sitrick, who has orchestrated positive press for some odious clients.
"4: The Plan
In 2011, Michael Sitrick sued Jeffrey Epstein, over an unpaid bill for PR services. In that lawsuit is a detailed outline of services rendered.
It’s a plan that shows a comprehensive outline of reporters who were contacted about stories and who reached out for interviews. The idea was this: connect with reporters, offer access, overwhelm them with data, threaten their access if things go sideways, go over their heads. That is how men like Epstein went unchallenged for years. How a journalist can know something, but never be able to say it. On August 22, NPR’s David Folkenflick detailed how Epstein allegations went unreported by Vanity Fair. The story alleges that Epstein pressured the magazine’s editor, Graydon Carter, and that Carter caved."

We already know about the insidious use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) that require someone to never mention what happened to them again as a condition for a payment - generally known as hush money - like Trump's deal with Stormy Daniels and others.

 I'm putting this short paragraphs from Lenz here like  research notes.  These sorts of explanations of tactics get lost in the longer article.  I want to record this clearly and as I come across similar flickers of light shining into the dark shadows that protect the powerful, I'll add new posts.

[This was supposed to go up yesterday, but I've been so busy prepping my pecha kucha presentation that I forgot.  The presentation is tomorrow, and if I get far enough along with it today, I'll tell you more about it later today.  Don't hold your breath.]

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Euphemism Alert: What The Hell Is An 'Associate'?

Lots of media outlets used the word "associates" of Giuliani to describe the men arrested the other night trying to leave the country.  From Google:

2 Giuliani Associates Arrested With One-Way Tickets at U.S. ... › politics › lev-parnas-igor-fruman-arrested-giuliani 
Two Giuliani Associates Who Helped Him on Ukraine Charged › articles › two-foreign-born-men-who-helped-giuliani... 
Two Giuliani associates were just arrested. Here's what we ... › opinions › 2019/10/10 › two-giuliani-ass... 
Two men connected to Giuliani's Ukraine efforts charged with ... › politics › guliani-client-arrested-campaign-finance
 (CNN) Two associates of Rudy Giuliani connected to efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden were ... 
2 Giuliani Associates Arrested On Campaign Finance ... - NPR › 2019/10/10 › 2-giuliani-associates-arrested-on-campai...
Arrest of Giuliani associates tied to Ukraine scandal renews ... › Politics › story
Two Giuliani associates arrested on campaign-finance ... › politics › story › donors-arrested-giuliani-ukrai...
2 Giuliani associates connected to Ukraine probe arrested ... › live-news › impeachment-inquiry-latest-2-giuli...

CNN at least wrote "with links to" in the headline, but then in the first sentence we see "associates."  NPR used 'with links to" in the lead sentence instead of 'associates."

The word 'associate' just seems wrong here.  It seems to have too good a connotation.  It sounds like a euphemism for a darker kind of connection than an "associate."  And besides that, what exactly is the connection among Giuliani and these two men?  I suspect a more sinister term would be more appropriate, but there's not quite enough information for me to figure out what it is.  In what sense did these men 'work with' or 'work for' Giuliani, and by extension, the president?

I looked up associate to see if I was just out of touch with other uses of the word.

associate noun from Merriam Webster 

1: one associated with another: such as

aPARTNERCOLLEAGUEbusiness associates

bCOMPANIONCOMRADEa close associate during his college years

2aan entry-level member (as of a learned society, professional organization, or profession) an associate of the Royal Academy

3often capitalized a degree conferred especially by a junior college associate in arts

Definition 1a seems the closest - "one associated with another such as: PARTNER, COLLEAGUE"

But the two men are  not attorneys in Giuliani's firm.  Does this mean that Giuliani was a 'business partner' of these two men?  And what business is that exactly?

The articles talk about what these men did for Giuliani - basically

The NPR article only says this about their connection to Giuliani:
"Two Florida-based businessmen who helped President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in his efforts to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine have been arrested and charged with campaign finance violations in a separate matter.
It goes on to quote the indictment:
According to the indictment, Parnas and Fruman face two counts of conspiracy and one count each of false statements and falsification of business records. Two others, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, each face one count of conspiracy.
The indictment alleges the men "conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with candidates, campaigns, and the candidates' governments." 
So is 'co-conspirators' a better word?  "Fellow schemers?"  What exactly is the connection between Giuliani and the men?  Did he hire them like someone would hire a private investigator?  That wouldn't make them associates.  Did he ask them to do this work like a Mafia boss would ask an underling to do his dirty work?  Did he pay them a fee?  A bribe?  A reward?

You get my point I think.  I think 'associate' is a much nobler sounding term than the stories suggest is the actual relationship between Giuliani and these two hence men.

And all this raises another issue.  The pack journalism that the use of this term by all these different media outlets indicates.  Someone used the word 'associate' and they all grabbed it, presumably in their rush to get something published.  And since editors, rather than reporters, tend to write headlines . . .

The race to be the first to print a story is an old one in American journalism along with the lurid and often misleading titles that sell newspapers, and now clicks.  Getting the best story should be the goal.  The only people who can change the behavior of the media are the consumers of media - by being thoughtful about where they spend their clicks.  But as long as clicks are free, that's not going to happen.  And the construction of paywalls by the media outlets who think of themselves as the best (because, they believe people will be willing to pay for their stories) means that as people realize that the NYTimes, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post all will require a subscription, these will get fewer clicks.  Unless they have something you can't get anywhere else.