Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Interconnections - Oil and Democracy, Microbes and Human Behavior

The world is complicated and humans are constantly tracking down the linkages between different factors.  The first seems much easier to understand, though confirmation bias plays a big role in how easy it is for someone to understand the link between oil and democracy.

1.  Oil's Impact on Democracy

From Philosophasters

Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo was a prominent Venezuelan politician who served two terms in office with the Centrist Betancourt Administration (1947-48 & 1959-64). As Minister for Energy he was drawn into conflict with the U.S. under Eisenhower who had negatively affected quotas on Venezuelan oil by favouring new trade agreements with Canada and Mexico. Alfonzo’s response was to form an alliance with oil producing Arab nations in an attempt to regulate the global oil market. His ideas came to fruition with the establishment of 'The Organisation of Oil Producing Countries' - OPEC.
However, protection within the market and the promise of unfettered wealth arising from Venezuela’s immense oil reserves were undone by what economists came to term the 'natural resource curse'; the sudden influx of money would cause the national currency to dramatically appreciate, wages are driven up, prices inflate, manufacturing, imports and exports all slump. Though this was yet to occur for Venezuela during the early OPEC years, Alfonzo saw it all coming. In a prophetic 1975 speech he uttered the infamous lines: "ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see; oil will bring us ruin. Oil is the Devil's excrement".

  • Rachel Maddow

    Posted: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 20:01:14 -0000
    MSNBC host Rachel Maddow talks about the oil and gas industry’s impact on democracy around the world, tying in Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump, and more. On October 6, 2019, Rachel Maddow came to the Sydney Goldstein Theater to read from her new book “Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth”. Maddow spoke to Dan Pfeiffer, a former advisor to President Barack Obama who now co-hosts “Pod Save America”.
I highly recommend Confessions of an Economic Hitman.  It tells the story of how international corporations funnel trillions of public dollars into their own coffers.  It's short and easy to read.  The link tells more about why I recommend it.

2.  Gut Microbes' Impact on Behavior.  

From Science Magazine
Animal sociability through microbes
Accumulating evidence suggests that the microbiota living in and on animals has important functions in the social architecture of those animals. Sherwin et al. review how the microbiota might facilitate neurodevelopment, help program social behaviors, and facilitate communication in various animal species, including humans. Understanding the complex relationship between microbiota and animal sociability may also identify avenues for treating social disorders in humans.
Science, this issue p. eaar2016
These studies are in mice and from the abstract All I could tell was that it affected 'sociability.'
I learned about 10 years ago how my body's functioning was dependent on microbes living inside me.  Finding out the there are 10 times more microbial cells in my body than human cells caused a major shift in how I understand the world and what it means to be human.  I'd note that because the microbial cells are very small, they only make up about 1-3 percent of human body mass.

3.  Census Methodology Impacts on  Gerrymandering

It's no secret that how and who the Census Bureau counts in decennial census counts impacts elections. People who pay attention to the news are aware of the Trump administration's attempt to add a question about citizenship on the 2020 census which would have (and even though it failed, still might have) the effect of causing non-citizens to hide from census takers.

But this article is about how the census bureau counts prisoners - in the community where the prison is located.  Here's the beginning of a primer from the Prison Gerrymandering Project:

"The way the Census Bureau counts people in prison creates significant problems for democracy and for our nation’s future. It leads to a dramatic distortion of representation at local and state levels, and creates an inaccurate picture of community populations for research and planning purposes.
The Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the towns where they are confined, though they are barred from voting in 48 states and return to their homes after being released. The practice also defies most state constitutions and statutes, which explicitly state that incarceration does not change a residence."

4.  Blogger Best Wishes and Better New Year

I couldn't find any studies on how blogging good wishes for the new year actually impacts people's
New Year.  I did find this opinion heavy and fact light article on the effects of kindness.  One link is to a Dr. Emoto (really!) who studied how kindness helps water crystals form better and since human bodies are 60% water (plus 3% microbes) being kind helps the water in your body.

There's something off balance in the number 2019.  2020 is much more in tune with human aesthetics.  So I'm wishing you all a great 2020.  Find the good in every day.

Monday, December 30, 2019

"The solution was clear, Wendell said: Buy the votes of Senators" - Being Better Citizens Today By Knowing The Past

Alaskans are likely aware of William Seward more than the rest of the country.  After all, he was the man who arranged to buy Alaska from the Russians, and we even have a state holiday honoring Seward.  But that doesn't mean know much about him.  A local journalist, Mike The Man Who Bought Alaska:  William H. Seward.  He also wrote companion book - The Man Who Sold Alaska: Tsar Alexander II of Russia.  The books came out in 2017, to celebrate Alaska's 150th year as part of the United States.
Dunham, made an effort to educate us when he wrote the book

I read the Seward volume flying down to LA.  It's short and easy to read.

I learned that Seward did a lot of other things besides buy Alaska.  And I already did a post on some of that.

This post is to remind us that history is worth studying so that we understand more about the present.  I've got a few quotes that don't need much comment from me.

Immigration Fights
"Prejudice against Catholics,  especially Irish, was perhaps more intense in New York than prejudice against blacks.  Religious instruction was part of every elementary school curriculum and the doctrine taught would be Protestant, with a good measure of virulent anti-Catholicism thrown in.
Irish immigrants balked at sending their children to such schools and, as a result, many children of Irish parents didn't attend school at all.  Seward's efforts to see that educational funding was shared with Catholic schools raised the ire of the anti-immigrant party that took the name "Know-Nothings."  (p. 26)

Ignorant Voters
"To win the big Northern states of New York and Pennsylvania, Clay positioned himself as the pro-immigration candidate, hoping to obtain the support of German and Irish newcomers who tended to vote Democratic.  It backfired.  Anti-immigrant riots broke out in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.  The Know-Nothings backed Martin Van Buren, an unabashed nativist.  Clay lost New York and Polk won the election.
The Know-Nothing movement was to me a source of apprehension,"  Seward said.  "When I saw not only individuals but whole communities and parties swept away by an impulse contradicting the very fundamental idea on which the Government rests, I began to doubt whether the American people had such wisdom as I had always given them credit for."  (p. 30)]

Congressional Relationships I
"The first blows of he Civil War came in May of 1856.  Sumner gave a two-day speech dripping with pornographic innuendo and pillorying South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, comparing him to Don Quixote, infatuated by a harlot.
Two days later, Butler's cousin, Representative Preston Books, stalked into the Senate, found Sumner at his desk and demanded an apology.  Sumner refused, not even looking up from the paper he was writing on.  Brooks used his cane to pummel the Massachusetts Senator nearly to death.
Brooks was exonerated by the House of Representatives. . ." (pp. 39-40)

Bad Supreme Court Decisions
"In March 1858 the Supreme Court gave its verdict in the case of Dred Schott, a slave whose master brought him to a free state.  Scott argued that, as an American citizen in a state that did not allow slavery, he ought to be free.  The court, however, declared that under the Constitution blacks were not and could never be citizens.
Seward denounced the Dred Scott decision in terms that would be considered impolitic if applied to a Supreme Court decision today. "Judicial usurpation is more odious and intolerable than any other among the manifold practices of tyranny," he said, and argued that it was time to reorganize the judicial branch to bring it 'into harmony with the Constitution.'"  (p.  40)

Congressional Relationships II
"Through all the bitterness of the Kansas-Nebraska debates, the attacks in the press and even from friends, Seward remained personally on good terms with members of the other side, dining, drinking, joking and playing whist with them when they weren't in verbal combat on the floor of the Senate.
He closely cooperated with pro-slave Democrat Texas Senator Thomas Rust and even planned a trip around the world with him.  When Rust killed himself in 1857 after being diagnosed with cancer, Seward called it a tragedy for both himself and the country.
In the following year, Mississippi's Jefferson Davis spent weeks in a darkened sickroom because of an eye infection.  Seward visited almost every day, reading the newspapers to him and filling him in on the gossip of the capital."

"Seward took the lead in preparing Johnson's defense.  Working with Democrats and the few moderate Republicans still speaking to him, he obtained a top defense team and raised funds to cover their costs.  He turned to the most powerful lobbyist in Washington, Cornelius Wendell, a man who knew the minds - and the price - of every member of Congress better than they knew themselves.
The solution was clear, Wendell said:  Buy the votes of Senators.  The cost:  a quarter of a million dollars.  Seward raised the money.  Wendell got it to the right people."

Sunday, December 29, 2019

AIFF 2019: The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open Is Now On Netflix

Life is going by too fast for me to keep up with all the posts I want to write - like one on my favorite films from the Anchorage International Film Festival 2019.

But one that I did really like, The Body Remembers What The World Forgot is now available on Netflix.

The film, written and co-directed by Canadian Indigenous woman Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who also plays one of the two main characters.  The other lead is also a Canadian Indigenous woman.

This was the kind of film you go to festivals to see.  It's not from a Hollywood point of view.  It tells its story the way it needs to tell it without having to satisfy funders or marketers.

[Note:  Netflix doesn't allow screenshots - they come out black.  So I had to take a photo.  I apologize to the film makers for the quality.]

So the pace is not what people are used to, at least what non-Native people are used to.  There are lots of long pauses in the dialogue.  The whole story takes place in real time.  Very real time because, after the title appears, about 12 minutes into the film,  it's basically one long scene in one long camera shot.  (I read that they had cameras ready to pick up where the other ran out of battery)  So they couldn't cut from the women getting into the taxi at the apartment  to where they get out at the safe house.  You watch them get in, then you get in with them and travel the whole distance in very close proximity.

I knew that a film in the festival had been done as a single shot, but I didn't remember which one.  After a while I began to look for the cuts from shot to shot and there weren't any.  Paying attention to the camera made it easier for me to just sit back in the taxi and ride along and not get impatient with the pace.

And having just had seven weeks of a class on homelessness, this film helped illustrate things I'd learned.  There are no easy answers.  People don't break habits quickly.  Helping can be trying.  There are serious societal structural problems that result in homelessness and while individuals can perform acts of kindness, they are only temporary solutions at best until the system is worked on.  And adding in the issues of indigenous peoples in North America requires understanding even more factors.

I would urge people who have Netflix to at least watch the beginning of the film - not as much for the content, but for the feel of this very intimate film.

And I'd like to thank Netflix for putting films like this up.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

El Sueño Americano

The only word in the title that might give non-Spanish speakers any difficulty is Sueño, and the poster on the left should clear that up.

This post is based on an exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.  We went because they have an excellent children's space called Noah's Ark which I've posted about before.

There was enough for four or five posts, and given I still have grandchildren around, I'm just going to focus on one and try to get this done quickly.

Here's the artist's statement.  I saved it in higher than normal resolution in hopes you could read it.

Let me highlight this paragraph:
"These confiscations struck me as wrong.  The cruelty of stripping away such personal items from vulnerable people is dehumanizing, both to those whose belongings are taken and to those who enforce the policy."
Combs and Brushes

A few things here:

  • The artist, Tom Kiefer,  started this in 2007, during the 2nd Bush administration, so dehumanizing immigrants isn't something that began under Trump.
  • As someone who worked at a US Border Control Facility, he noted that it dehumanized the officials who enforced these policies as well as the victims.
And people are leaving ICE.  From the Los Angeles Times in January 2019:
"In March 2017, McAleenan said Customs and Border Protection normally loses about 1,380 agents a year as agents retire, quit for better-paying jobs or move. Just filling that hole each year has strained resources."
This is from an article that is focused on recruitment:
"In a sign of the difficulties, Customs and Border Protection allocated $60.7 million to Accenture Federal Services, a management consulting firm, as part of a $297-million contract to recruit, vet and hire 7,500 border officers over five years, but the company has produced only 33 new hires so far. " [Emphasis Added]

Some Items Confiscated

A large percentage of ICE agents are Latinx according to this Pacific Standard article by Khushbu Shah.  He reports on the 100 interviews by Assistant Professor David Cortez who examined the relationships these officers have with their jobs and why do their jobs.
"Cortez has found that many of the agents he spoke with drew a distinct line between their empathy and their careers. A Latino agent in Texas recently told Cortez he is aware that he might be on the wrong side of history, but the money was too good to quit. The cities where many of the agents come from in the Rio Grande Valley are some of the poorest in the state of Texas, a state in which nearly one in five people lives below the poverty line. The starting salary, in turn, under Customs and Border Protection is nearly $56,000, well above the region's median household income of $34,000."

This is the inscription plate from a bible with notes on travel through the desert and other dates and notes.


These are pain tablets.

It's important to remember that the oppressor is dehumanized as much as the oppressed.
And to connect a few more dots, the breaking of unions has allowed the lowering of salaries for many jobs as well as the loss of health benefits and pensions.  And these conditions make it easier to recruit people into the military and other sorts of occupations where people are dehumanized.

And today is nearly the end of 2019 and we're just seeing these images, which began in 2007, now, 12 years later.  Justice takes so much longer than the original acts of abuse and criminality.  

Friday, December 27, 2019

Being A Tourist In Town Where I Grew Up - The Observatory, Travel Town, Visiting Dad

A spectacularly clear day when we left this morning for the Griffith Park Observatory.  The freeway was fairly empty and we made great time, with views of mountains all around with lots of snow.  More than I remember ever seeing.  Not just Mt. Baldy and Mt. Wilson, but all the way around.  Here's just a portion from the Observatory.

 Once we got to Los Feliz, just below the Observatory we hit traffic.  The Observatory doesn't open until noon and it was only 11:45 am, but it was a great day to see views from this spot and everyone was there.  I remember as a kid coming often with my dad and even bringing my son here when we still lived in LA.  The parking lot was where on the right about where that car is.

There is still a lot fairly close, but it was full and most people parked below in the Greek Theater parking lot and walked about a mile up.  A continuous stream of people.  It was like a pilgrimage.  People from all over the world.  You can see a bit of the crowd in the picture below.

Below you can see the Hollywood sign from the upper deck of the Observatory.  

One of the telescope domes.

Inside was pretty chaotic.  But admission is free and there are lots of great astronomy exhibits.  You do have to pay for the planetarium shows

 Here's some of the art deco designs along the roof.

Then off to the other side of Griffith Park to Travel Town.  

Another free attraction.

Although it doesn't call itself a museum, it seems much more a museum than yesterday's visit to the Cayton Children's Museum.


The highlight for the kids was the two loops around Travel Town on the miniature train.  And buying snacks in the gift shop.

I took this picture of the hillside from the train to show how green things are after the recent rains.

And about a mile from Travel Town is the cemetery where my father is buried, so we went to visit him as well.  It too is in Griffith Park, a place that he and I spent a lot of time when I was a kid.

 As we pulled up near the grave site, there were deer visiting too.

The light was great as the sun was getting lower in the west.  Sunset in LA has been right about 5pm these days.  (LA is on the east side of the Pacific Time zone, so it's light at 6am, but dark early now.  Check a map.  LA is further east than Reno, Nevada!)

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Lots Of Kid Time

We went to the Cayton Children's Museum in the Santa Monica Mall.  It was crowded and noisy and I'd say that museum is a pretentious name for this indoor playground.

A recently refined definition of 'museum'  from the International Councils of Museums
"Museums are democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.
Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing."
Well, that certainly sounds like a definition created by a committee.  I imagine that many of the great museums of the world wouldn't qualify as museums under that definition.  I think the intention is good, but I'd probably separate those things that have been traditionally considered the basic of a museum  "hold artifacts and specimens in trust for society" etc. as the broad definition.  Then I would have listed the aspirational democratic standards (not for profit, participatory, diverse, transparent, etc.) as qualifications for museums that want to be members of the International Council of Museums.

I didn't notice any artifacts and specimens in this museum, unless they were thinking of this as a museum of children's play spaces.  I didn't notice too much addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present.  OK, I don't want to belabor the point.

There were great net tunnels hanging from the ceiling with kids climbing through.  And other fun spaces to navigate, but it wasn't much more than a glorified playground.  I didn't see any conflicts between kids, they all seemed to have enough to keep them busy.  And there was a diverse array of people enjoying the play space.

I've got lots of pictures, but most have my grandkids in them and I don't post their images on the blog.  Here's a picture of my son and myself as rendered in some sort of electronic wall.  I'm on the left.

And the quietest room had low tables with water colors and papers.

Car seat rules make life much more difficult than it was when I was a kid.  Even when my kids were kids.  Some of us drove home and some of us took the bus which had a pretty direct route for us and the SF kids are very used to riding the bus and we had lots of fun.

The weather has been kind.  The two rainy periods this week were during the night.  It was another sunny day, though the temperature only got up into the low 50s.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Why It's Easy To Stay A Trump Loyalist

One's political loyalties, are, at base, emotional.  Whether you're for Trump or against him, emotions play a big role.

Trump does a great job of distracting attention from what's really important.  His Twitter ranting keeps the Left occupied with disbelief, outrage, and non-stop explanations of why Trump is wrong, demented, lying, evil, and/or (pick your own adjective.)  Making the Left angry (a too commonly felt emotion these days)  is one of the things Trump supporters love about him.

Meanwhile there are many ways that Trump is using his presidential power to help himself and his financial supporters - from filling his hotels to cutting regulations and on and on.  A few of these are covered briefly and sporadically the media.  They spend much more time covering his tweets or the horse-race aspects of the Democratic nomination processes. (Who's ahead or behind and why.)

Refuting Trump's claims to his followers is hard, not only because of Fox Lies (a better title than News)  and trolls from wherever, but ALSO because the stories are so complicated.

Seth Abramson keeps telling us to pay attention to the details of the Trump shenanigans.

I've been following Seth Abramson  on Twitter for a couple of years now.(I can't figure out how to tell when I started following someone on Twitter, but it's at least before Proof of Collusion came out.)  He's been tracking all the media reports on Trump related activities for his books Proof of Collusion and Proof of Conspiracy.  These are two excellent ways to get the big picture of many of Trump's convoluted intrigues.

IT'S EASY TO STAY A TRUMP LOYALIST BECAUSE  all the intrigue is so complicated.  There are so many players and so many things done clandestinely. Abramson's books are like the program you get at the baseball game or the theater that explains who all the players are.

Abramson has a long Twitter thread today which makes this point.  I'm embedding the thread at the end of this post because I realize lots of my readers don't use Twitter and don't know quite how it works. Tweets can only  be 280 characters.   A thread is a series of linked Tweets so someone can tell a longer story.)

The thread explains the Trump Ukraine history from today, back through the July 24, 2019 phone call through to March 2016.

Here's some of the thread:
Seth Abramson
2/ The Ukraine scandal is *insanely* complex. My research suggests it's *more* complex than the Russia case—which was already wild as hell...but media *must* find a way to explain it to America during this "lull" in the impeachment story. *Teach* America about the Naftogaz angle.
11:04 AM · Dec 24, 2019·Twitter Web App
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
Replying to
3/ Here's the simple version: Trump has been laundering campaign donations using Giuliani and Parnas in exchange for helping the two men do business in Ukraine. All of which is part of a shakedown of Ukraine to politically *and* financially benefit Trump, Putin...and nobody else.
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
4/ The Ukraine scandal begins in *March 2016*. Yes—I'm serious. Trump has been scheming over how to use Ukraine to his benefit for *over four and a half years*. The July 25 Zelensky call was a *minor episode* in a *years-long* course of conduct that was criminal, start to finish.
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
5/ Within *two days* of pro-Kremlin operative-in-Ukraine Paul Manafort joining Trump's campaign in March 2016, Trump—whose only Ukraine policy to that point was "let Russia have Crimea without penalty"—was *directing his national security team* to deep-six all lethal aid to Kyiv.
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
6/ So Kremlin agent Manafort—who signed a deal with Putin lieutenant Deripaska in 2006 to aid Putin in America; Google it—joins Trump's campaign and *immediately* Trump is *proactively* setting up an anti-Ukraine foreign policy that goes *beyond* opposing sanctions on Russia.
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
7/ Within *days* of Russia's hack of the DNC being caught, that same Kremlin agent—Manafort—is telling Trump Ukraine did it, not Russia, and Trump is going on the stump and saying "no one knows" who did the hack. Folks, this... *isn't* rocket science for a criminal investigator.
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
8/ Trump then spends the next two years trying to ensure Manafort doesn't talk to the feds... partly by *threatening Ukraine* out of assisting Mueller. And that includes blocking military aid to Ukraine...*in 2017*. And yet we're pretending this is all about one call in mid-2019?
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
9/ I mean *jeez*, do people realize Mulvaney was only *made* Trump's acting chief of staff in December 2018 (but Trump made *sure* he kept his OMB job!) *because* Mulvaney helped Trump shake down Ukraine in late 2017 and early 2018? That is *how Mulvaney got his damn job*, folks.

Here are a couple more:

15/ The president's personal attorney as recently as 48 hours ago *flew on the private jet* of the chief villain in this whole story, Dmytro Firtash.
That's right: the degrees of separation between Trump and the chief villain of this years-long story is {*checks math*}... *one*.
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
16/ Except it's not! It's *zero*. Because—surprise ending!—it turns out that Donald Trump was going to *go into business with Firtash* in the late 2000s, in a deal that was to be set up by... hmm, let me check my records... someone pretty obscure, surel—
—Paul Manafort.
Seth Abramson
Dec 24
17/ Is anyone surprised Trump lied about how well he knows Manafort, just like he's lied about how well he knows Felix Sater (that lie was under oath!) or Lev Parnas or even (now that he's saying he never told Giuliani to go to Ukraine, and doesn't know who his clients are) Rudy?

It's so complicated that most Lefties trying to dispute Trumpies don't really have an inkling of all the details and those that do have trouble keeping it all straight.

Here's a link to the whole thread.

And I shouldn't neglect wishing a Merry Christmas to those celebrating.  Tonight is the fourth night of Chanunka.  Some might say that the fact that one of the holiest days of Christianity is a national holiday is proof that Christians hold a privileged role in the US.  But others might argue that Christmas as it's celebrated in the US nowadays is proof of the power of capitalism instead.

Enjoy your life whatever you celebrate.  Find good in every day and everyone.  

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Gramping Trumps Blogging

Grandkids are a great source of energy.  LA has defied the weather predictions.  Yesterday there was just the slightest drizzles.  Today there were ominous clouds off on the horizon as we set out for the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits.

This is one of those places I spent a lot of time as a kid.  Before the museum and the other neighboring museums.  Before most of the big buildings along Wilshire.  When there were just a few fenced off tar pits and concrete replicas of giant sloths, saber tooth tigers, and other critters.

For those who don't know, these tar pits, smack in the middle of Los Angeles, trapped many, many Pleistocene Era animals.   Here's a the largest tar pit there with a replica of three mastodons, one trapped in the tar.

 From Live Science:
The Pleistocene Epoch is typically defined as the time period that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. The most recent Ice Age occurred then, as glaciers covered huge parts of the planet Earth.
I guess those folks who believe in a literal bible and that the earth is only 6000-15,000 years old just don't take their kids to places like this where their beliefs will be challenged.

Dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period.  From the Natural History Museum (London):
". . .  66 million years ago, over a relatively short time, dinosaurs disappeared completely (except for birds). Many other animals also died out, including pterosaurs, large marine reptiles, and ammonites."

So this was after dinosaurs were gone and there's no dinosaur bones at the La Brea Tar Pits.

I was very skeptical about them messing up "my park" when they began the Page Museum, but they hid most of the building under this build up grass hill that kids can climb up.  And the frieze on top depicts the various large animals found here.

It's hard to pick favorites.  The saber tooth tigers have to be up there.

This is still a very active excavation and you can see workers meticulously cleaning bones that come out of the hard asphalt.  They also find insects and even seeds of plants.

Then we regrouped at Santa Monica Beach so the kids could play at the sandy playground near the Santa Monica pier.  Unfortunately the carousel was closed for a private party.

The clouds were moving in and the wind was blowing, but the kids had a good time.  It still hasn't begun to rain, but it's coming surely.

I remember Christmas Eve being a day of horrible traffic in LA, but today it was almost a ghost town.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Man Who Bought Alaska Checking Some Claims

As occasionally happens, this post began with one destination in mind and ended up somewhere else.  I'll make this Part I and do a second post to cover my original intention - some historical references that give a little more perspective on our present day situation.

[Actually, it's ending up with yet a different ending.  I'm putting the sentences of the second revision in [brackets] so you'll know what was in the original post and the revised post.  The original post was really just going to be quotes putting today's politics into some context.  And that's still coming.]

I read Mike Dunham's The Man Who Bought Alaska on the plane down here.  It was a gift for a friend who couldn't find it in LA.  He also wanted The Man Who Sold Alaska but Title Wave didn't have it.

Alaskans probably can figure out that it's about William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State.  It's just over 100 pages and written at about a high school level (intended reader level, not writing level.)  So a lot of things were mentioned about Seward, but there wasn't much back up other than a bibliography in the back.

But I learned a lot in a short time about someone important to Alaska.  It also highlights Alaska's first governor - the military man first put in charge of the state after it was purchased from Russia.  His name was Jef Davis.

Some things I learned about Seward.  Again these are things that Dunham claims.
  • As Governor of New York he started the practice of giving books to prisoners.
  • As Secretary of State he initiated the transatlantic telegraph cable because he was frustrated by how long it took to communicate with Europe.*
  • He initiated the cross continent railroad system.**  
  • The plot to assassinate Lincoln include assassinating Vice President Johnson AND Secretary of State Seward.  And a knife wielding intruder, according to Dunhan, did gain access and did stab Seward several times.  Johnson's assassin, Dunham tells us, chickened out.  (A Smithsonian story confirms that Johnson and Seward were targets.  And also Grant.)
[The second revision comes because when I tried to find quotes to support my characterizations of what Dunham wrote, I couldn't.  I had marked page numbers for some quotes (and I have those), but I also thought these actions were also noteworthy.  I did find the assertion about the books to prisoners, and that doesn't seem totally unreasonable.  I was more concerned about the transatlantic telegraph wire and the transcontinental railroad.  The best I could find on a quick perusal (I gave the book to a friend and I didn't have much time to check carefully when we met again) were much more limited than I remember.  Like he played an important role in . . .   So, I'll keep this post in as a lesson on the need to actually check and document what you're asserting and point out that I couldn't do that here.]

*These seemed like outlandish claims.  When I googled who initiated the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, I got the name Cyrus West Field.  When I added William Seward to the search terms I got a CIA Library document that said, in part:
"Seward had first discussed the new transatlantic cable with the parent company, the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company, at a celebration in New York on 29 August 1866 honoring President Andrew Johnson. At the conclusion of the evening's festivities, one of the directors of the company, Mr. Wilson G. Hunt, asked Seward why the federal government did not use the new Atlantic cable. It was a question that would eventually lead to a $32,000 claim against the State Department. Seward told Hunt that the tariff was too costly and that 'the Government of the United States was not rich enough to use the telegraph.'"2
**About the Railroad, Wikipedia says:
In 1852, Judah was chief engineer for the newly formed Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first railroad built west of the Mississippi River.  .   .
In 1856, Judah wrote a 13,000-word proposal in support of a Pacific railroad and distributed it to Cabinet secretaries, congressmen and other influential people. In September 1859, Judah was chosen to be the accredited lobbyist for the Pacific Railroad Convention, which indeed approved his plan to survey, finance and engineer the road. Judah returned to Washington in December 1859. He had a lobbying office in the United States Capitol, received an audience with President James Buchanan, and represented the Convention before Congress.[30] . . .
In February 1860, Iowa Representative Samuel Curtis introduced a bill to fund the railroad. It passed the House but died when it could not be reconciled with the Senate version due to opposition from southern states who wanted a southern route near the 42nd parallel.[30] Curtis tried and failed again in 1861. After the southern states seceded from the Union, the House of Representatives approved the bill on May 6, 1862, and the Senate on June 20. Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 into law on July 1."
There's no mention of Seward.  Now, Seward may have persuaded Lincoln to sign the bill, but Dunham's claim gave Seward a much greater responsibility for the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad.
This is a very different slant than what Dunham offered.  [And, it seems I can't actually find the words in Dunham's book that made believe he'd made such claims.  So when I wrote the title - Checking Some Claims - I meant I was going to check whether the claims were accurate.  But it turns out Checking Some Claims means checking whether he actually made such claims.  And I couldn't find that he did.]

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Bernie Sanders Rally at Venice Beach Today - Lots of Pics

When we preparing for this trip to LA I was thinking I should see if any of the presidential candidates were having rallies while we are there.  We just don't get this sort of thing in Anchorage.  Jane Sanders did come up to Anchorage in March 2016, and  the Alaskan Democrats went for Sanders in the caucuses.

 It seemed this was a chance.  And when I saw the poster the other day, for a rally with AOC and Bernie Sanders just two miles away, well, I had to go.  Glad I did.  Seeing candidates in real life with a big crowd makes a difference.  But, of course, that sort of chemistry also excites Trump supporters.

I got there about 9:45am.  It said doors open at 10:30, but I wanted to be sure I got in.  I needn't have worried. It was an outdoor rally just south of the skate board park.  It was extremely well organized and there were volunteers everywhere:  guiding where to go, with petitions to sign, selling T-shirts, hats, etc.  Passing out posters and pins.   Once I got through security, I found a spot on a small grassy hill.  There was already loud piped in music.  I was only two hours early.

A lot of people just settled in.

Then it switched to live music with a band called Local Natives. 

  Jessey and Joy played.  

And Young The Giant.

Bernie Sanders may be the oldest candidate, but the music was young and so was the crowd.

Councilman Mike Bonin spoke.

Councilman Gil Cedillo spoke

Treeman was there too.

Cornel West introduced AOC.

And finally Bernie came on to speak at 2:30pm.

 Here are two men who were close by during the whole event.  William (I think, but it could have been Michael - if you see this correct me) and James (he gave me his card - he's a stuntman.)  And no, they didn't know each other before today.  They're just posing for the picture.

And this is the back of Mark's shirt.  He was on the other side of me.

And I couldn't resist talking to the guy who made this giant Bernie flag in Thai and English.  J was hungry - it was 4pm and the only thing she'd eaten all day were the granola bars I had in my backpack.  So I only got part of the flag in the picture.

I understand that there are people who react to Bernie the way I react to Trump.  (Some have already made snide comments on my Tweets today (easier to do at the rally.)  But the problems I have with Trump were reflected in the Tweets - nothing substantive, just negative.  As I see the world AOC and Bernie Sanders understand the world and that humanity not cruelty and nastiness is what the US should be about.  They understand that Climate Change is like the waterfall we are headed towards and if we don't make serious adjustments now, everything else that people are fighting about simply won't matter.  

I've got some video and I'll try to get that up soon.