Thursday, July 30, 2020

Highly Recommend Watching Stateless On Netflix

Stateless is an Australian TV series about an immigration detention camp, "based on true events".  The key event is an Australian woman who ends up in the camp.    


An Afghan family on the run to Australia.  

Two of the guards.  We see how the life of the one on the left deteriorates because of what he has to do in the detention center.  But his life is further complicated because his sister is a fervent immigrants rights activist.  

Tamil refugees who confine themselves to the roof and put razors to their throats when officials try to get them down.  There was no explanation of how they ate or took care of other needs, or why they couldn't be gotten when they were asleep.  But they did like to send these messages to media in helicopters.

The series was released on Australian television in March this year and on Netflix in July.  

Compared to the views we've gotten of kids in cages and refugees packed into much too small areas in the US, this camp looks pretty good.  But these detention centers in Australia were shut down in 2013.  Now refugees are detained offshore.  From Human Rights Watch:

"Since July 2013, Australia has forcibly transferred more than 3,000 asylum seekers who traveled there by boat to camps on Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

This experiment in human suffering as a deterrent has not worked. Seven years on, more than 370 people still choose to endure horrific hardship in Papua New Guinea and Nauru rather than return to conflict and persecution in their home countries. They languish in limbo, separated from families, futures uncertain. The United States has taken more than 700 people in a resettlement arrangement with Australia, and over the years the Australian government reluctantly transferred more than 1,200 asylum seekers and refugees back to Australia for medical treatment. Some of those in Australia live in uncertainty in the community on temporary bridging visas, but more than 200 are detained in centers or hotels."
I'm posting this  because the story is well told from different perspectives and reminds us that there are lots of desperate human beings who have displaced for various reasons who face persecution at home.  And with climate change, more and more people are going to be displaced.  

The US has not just wasted four years, but put tens of thousands of these fragile people under increased stress because we have a president whose longest lasting close advisors include hateful people like Stephen Miller.

This show is a reminder of why immigrants come, that they are intelligent human beings, and that we're contributing to the wretched conditions of their lives.  

Will it help convince anyone if I mention that Cate Blanchett has a supporting role in the series?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Living In A Pandemic Is A Little Like Living Abroad

When you live in a different country you have to adjust to different ways of doing things.  I don't mean a two week vacation and staying in hotels, I mean spending a much longer period, say a year or more in a different culture.  Learning the local language and living and working with people of that country.  Of course, some of these issues arise on a shorter visit, like how do you get food?  How does the money relate to your home currency?  

Since March, we had to start to figure out what restaurants and stores were open and how to get food safely.  It didn't take too long to find restaurants that delivered or how to order groceries online for delivery or pickup.  But shopping on the grocery apps is a lot different from pushing a cart through the store.    

How are the rules different from where you came from?  We're still working on this.  Masks?  Well, sure of course.  But where are masks enforced?  Biking, I tend to be the only one who has a mask ready to pull up when someone is approaching.  And some people forget to keep their distance.   For those still flying, there are all sorts of changes.  What about money?  Do you want to exchange cash?  And I've never washed my hands this much.  

Finding compatible friends is another tricky thing.  How strict are your family and friends about masks and distancing and attending events?  Which friends might expose you to the virus?  There's the awkward discussions as you start discovering which of your friends practice the same level of safety that you do.  And your friends can surprise you by taking more risks or being much more careful than you expected.  

After the first month or so the initial shock wears off a bit, but what you thought you knew may change and you have to adjust.  What good are masks?  Well it appears the early advice was intended to keep people from buying masks that medical workers needed, and no one really knew enough to know if they also protected the wearer or just those around the wearer.  The way health experts are learning about the virus - how it travels, who it impacts, how to treat it - that's what happens to expats living abroad.  Some things you learn are helpful, some things you learn turn out to be wrong.  

Language hasn't been an issue.  More like going to another (in my case) English speaking country.  Some words have different meanings, others are new ones you need to learn, but most of the basics are the same.  

One of the most important benefits of living abroad is the perspective you get as you compare what you're experiencing to what things were like back home.  At first there's a tendency to find the differences annoying, but after a while, you start to see that back home doesn't always do things as well as you thought.  The forced changes make you appreciate what the new country has that you don't have back home, or you learn that some things are actually easier, or people friendlier, or have more leisure than people back home.  

In the US, the worst president ever happened to be in office when the pandemic arrived and that made things far worse than they had to be.  The lies and misinformation, as time passed, made the pandemic worse and I believe the pandemic should get credit for the crowds who have been out protesting for Black Lives.  Many people had been stuck at home for a month when George Floyd was killed, and many were out of work or out of school, so they had the time to demonstrate and the need to get out and voice their frustration.  

So people are also discovering that government services like public health, need to be based on scientists and the politicians have to defer to the experts.  We're seeing in the US what happens when the federal government fails miserably.  For hundreds of thousands of people, that lesson will come too late, because they have been extremely ill or have buried loved ones. Or were buried.  How many will learn that there is a big difference between the politicians and the career civil servants?  

In the field of public administration we often say that no one notices government until things go wrong.  Those things that government provides, that people take for granted, tend to be invisible until the system is broken - public health, for instance.  Experts tend to agree that public health projects like clean water systems and sanitary sewage systems have saved far more lives than all the miracle drugs and glitzy modern surgeries.   

The failure of the Trump administration to see the danger and take appropriate action has proven that point.  People have begun to appreciate the expertise of public health officials and the importance of basing decisions on science rather than perceived political impacts.  

But bad government has also been exposed by George Floyd's death - on top of all the other blacks killed by police and shared on social media.  In this case the pandemic has also helped white US see the problems with police that people of color have known all along. 

One thing that's different between the pandemic and travel abroad, is that when you are living in other cultures you generally have a good idea of how long the adventure will be.  Not so with this pandemic.  At first people were saying the pandemic would be a couple of months, but now it's clearly going to continue well into next year.  So we'll have plenty of time to ponder what parts of normal we want to return to and what new normals we want to create.

Another big difference is that when you live abroad, you experience all the newness and the mental adjustments as an individual.   When you get back your family and friends have no clue that your head has changed dramatically.  For vets this is often a very traumatic experience.  People don't get it and often they can't or won't try to explain it.   

This pandemic is something people are experiencing simultaneously around the world.  We're all going through this.  I'm hoping that that will make it easier to start making 'normal' more equitable, more sustainable,  kinder, and livable.    

Monday, July 27, 2020

"You cannot imagine the guilt I feel, knowing that I hosted the gathering that led to so much suffering. " Updated

This Dallas Voice article raises a number of issues.  Here are two excerpts, but the whole article is harrowing:
"Full disclosure: I am a gay conservative, someone that often juggles persecution for my sexuality while being true to my values. Such a combination requires a lot of tenacity to earn respect from either group.
I admit I voted for Donald Trump in 2016. I admit traveling deep into the conspiracy trap over COVID-19. All the defiant behavior of Trump’s more radical and rowdy cult followers, I participated in it. I was a hard-ass that stood up for my “God-given rights.”
In great haste, I began prognosticating the alphabet soup about this “scamdemic.” I believed the virus to be a hoax. I believed the mainstream media and the Democrats were using it to create panic, crash the economy and destroy Trump’s chances at re-election."
What kind of person can believe the Democrats would set up a hoax to create a panic and crash the economy?  Really!!!???
To test questions like that I try to turn them around and see if I can conceive the same kind of accusation against Trump and the Republicans.  I can't believe Republicans in general would crash the economy to hurt the Democrats. That they would do lesser damage to win, yeah, that I can believe.
Trump, well I'm not so sure.  He is sooooo self centered that he only does things that he perceives to help himself and his family.  We do know that he has supported all sorts of hoaxes - such as the birther movement.  And I think the evidence is clear that he knew it wasn't true, but he clearly didn't like Obama and wanted to hurt him as much as he could.  So he is capable of supporting hoaxes, even creating them to help himself or hurt his perceived enemies.
Could his total failure in dealing with COVID-19 be intentional and not just incompetence?  I think not.  He sees the economy as a poll of how he's doing.  Rising stock market prices prove he's improving the economy in his mind.
The only way I can imagine him intentionally hurting the country is if the Russians and others have significant leverage on him that he does their bidding lest they expose whatever they know and it would hurt his finances, election chances, or his ego.  That, I can imagine fairly easily.  Certainly he's done plenty to hurt US interests at home and abroad that makes no sense to rational people, except that those things are all in Putin's best interest.  And since Trump refuses to let us know what he talks to Putin about, there's plenty of circumstantial evidence, including that refusal.
We know that he desperately doesn't want his taxes made available to the Congress, the Grand Jury (another appeal today), or the American people.  If the taxes would make him look like a powerful multi-billionaire, he would let them be public.  There's clearly some dark secrets he doesn't want exposed.

I think it's easier to believe something about someone else, if it's something you would do yourself.  So liars believe that everyone lies, but honest people often believe liars because they can't imagine someone telling such lies.  So, while I don't know that Tony Green would try to  tank the economy in general, I believe he might go to extremes to hurt his enemies, which is the basis of his belief - that the Democrats would do this to hurt Trump's reelection.  And we can see that Trump does this regularly - spread hate and discord - to hurt the Democrats and stir his base.
What's so confusing here is this:  if he's gay, he must know some liberal folks, so I'd think he'd be a little bit more immune to the far right conspiracy theorists.
"You cannot imagine the guilt I feel, knowing that I hosted the gathering that led to so much suffering. You cannot imagine my guilt at having been a denier, carelessly shuffling through this pandemic, making fun of those wearing masks and social distancing. You cannot imagine my guilt at knowing that my actions convinced both our families it was safe when it wasn’t.
For those who deny the virus exists or who downplay its severity, let me assure you: The coronavirus is very real and extremely contagious. Before you even know you have it, you’ve passed it along to your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors."
The article chronicles not only Green's own harrowing health problems with COVID-19, but the story includes all the friends and relatives who got serious COVID-19 infections - including a death - because they came to a party that he gave after assuring them that it was safe.

I also think - wow - this story is the perfect story line that liberals want to hear.  "I didn't believe in the virus.  I got really sick and infected many friends.  I was so wrong and I'm so sorry."   Is this story real?  There was nothing up about it on Snopes and I've sent an email to the managing editor of the Dallas Voice.  I'll get back to you when she confirms it's a legit story.
[Updated July 27, 2020 9pm:  I got an email back from Tammye Nash of the Dallas Voice.  She wrote:
"I do not know the guy personally, but some other folks do."]

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Getting Out Safely - Trip To Portage

We've been mostly homebound since we got back to Anchorage early March.  There was a masked trip to the doctor that week for a COVID-19 test that the State nixed.  Then a follow up to get tested for other things, that all turned out negative.  Since then the only places I've been 'inside' is our house and car.

I order groceries online for curbside pickup.  Same with library books and at Title Wave.
My outings are reserved to our yard and my bike rides which are on a route that sees no more than 5-10 others on the trail in a 6-9 mile roundtrip ride.  And we've had no visitors.  We have a carpet sitting in a warehouse that was supposed to be installed in March, but we didn't want anyone in our house for two days.

So yesterday was our first trip out of town. (The last gas receipt I have is for October.)  It was raining when we left - which I hoped meant we'd see fewer people.

I was taken aback by all the traffic.  This is one of the most beautiful rides in the world, even on a rainy day.  But all the traffic, some construction,  and the low visibility dimmed my pleasure.  Lots of RV's and boats.

I get that camping is healthy outdoor sport, but we have a virus and our state active case numbers are rising rapidly. We've got 1503 active cases as of today, more than double the 718 we had two weeks ago on July 10.  If you try, you can minimize your contact getting outdoors, but how many are distancing and masking when they encounter others?  Based on people I see on the bike trail, not many.   People take risks all the time, so COVID-19 is just one more risk to many, like smoking or driving down the Seward Highway.  Both of those also involve endangering others.

When we turned onto the Portage Road the traffic ended for us.  We pulled in and walked the trail through a variety of landscapes just off the road.

Devils club from below (above) and from above. All shiny from the rain.

There are still some hanging glaciers up on the tops of the mountains.

At one point I  was  photographing  these brown birds on the chance I could identify them later ( haven't had yet).  I heard some sneezing.  That wasn't good.  We'd only seen a couple people - well away from us in the campground.  We had been on the trail about 90 minutes and these were the first others we had encountered.  We pulled up our masks and proceeded.  There was a couple around the bend, in their 60s or 70s maybe.  She pulled up a mask when she saw ours.  But the sneezer didn't have one.  I was pissed at him, but the serenity of the hike wasn't disturbed and I had no interest in stopping to tell him how I felt about him sneezing maskless on the trail.   I assumed enough time had passed since he'd sneezed that gravity and the rain and our masks would protect us.  They only other person we saw even somewhat close was the campground host who came by to tell us day hikers should not park in the campground.  I was disturbed again that he was going around giving people papers to sign without a mask.  Since we were leaving, he never got closer than ten feet or so.  


I get it that I'm on the extreme isolation side of the COVID-19 response spectrum.  I have that privilege because I'm retired, I have a house and yard.  But I also monitor Alaska's COVID-19 count daily on this blog (see tab under the orange banner on top) and I'm acutely aware of how our active cases have doubled in the last two weeks to 1503.  That's not a lot compared to other states, but those states had low numbers once too.  

The ride back home was easier.  The traffic was coming in the other direction.  That's tricky on the Seward Highway where people get impatient behind bulky campers and pass where they oughtn't.  But we had a car ahead of us to block any impulsive drivers.  (I realize that's a pretty grim form of defensive driving, but on that mostly two lane road out of town with more than its share of head on collisions, it's a coping mechanism.)  

We stopped briefly at Potter Marsh, but didn't stay long.  It was windy and we were ready to get home and have dinner.  But we'd had a great day and a reasonably safe outing.  

Thursday, July 23, 2020

"the onliest thing I can do is let 'em see they ain't broke me." AOC Pulls An Ollie Grimes On The Floor Of Congress

I just read the section in Leonard Pitt's novel The Last Thing You Surrender, where Oliver is beaten up by five white men led by Earl Ray, a poor white man.  It's World War II.  They are all working in a ship building factory near Mobile, Alabama.  No ambulance was willing to take Ollive and the factory supervisors allowed a couple of black workers to take him to
"a white hospital that maintained a small ward for Negroes in its basement. . ."

Thelma, who carpools to the factory with Ollie and four other black women goes to see him in the hospital that night.  She finds him sitting up, dressed, bandaged up and he tells her he has a fractured skull.
Thelma gasped.  "Well then, why you sitting up in bed?  Why ain't you lying down?"
He smiled  "'Cause I'm going home," he said.  "In fact, your timing couldn't be better.  I was wonderin' how I was gon' get there."
Thelma was scandalized, "Home?  I ain't takin' you home.  You need to stop bein' such a stubborn jackass and stay here so the doctors can fix you up."
Some indefinable sorrow crept into his eyes then.  "Honey, I aint the one sayin' I got to go home," he explained in a patient voice. "They is."
. . . Doctors done already give me my discharge papers and my prescription.  You gon' stand there all night, or you gon' help a man up?"
She gets him home and he tells her he'll be waiting for her to pick him up tomorrow.  She argues he can't go to work in his condition.  He says if she doesn't pick him up, he'll have to take the bus.
"Ollie looked at her. "That crazy bastard like to kill me."  he said.  "Ain't nobody gon' arrest him, 'cause they was all wearin' masks, so I can't swear in court it was him - and that's if they'd let a nigger testify in the first place, which they won't.  But it was him. . .
A fierce light danced in his one good eye.  "So the onliest thing I can do is let 'em see they ain't broke me.  That's the onliest revenge I get against 'em, to walk through that gate on my own two legs when the bell ring tomorrow mornin' and let 'em see - let 'em all see -even after what they done, Ollie Grimes still standin'." (emphasis added)
[Auto-correct hates this dialect.  I hope I fixed all its corrections and reconnections.]

This is what I immediately thought of when I watched the video below of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking on the floor of the US House of Representatives addressing the fact that Rep. Yoho of Florida had called her names and degraded her on the Capitol steps, and then the next day gave a non-apology apology.  Listen to her speak in her own words.  It doesn't matter what you think of her politics.  The Republicans have abandoned all decorum and decency.  There was a time when members of Congress, despite their differences, treated each other with, at least, outward courtesy.

AOC has a little more power to confront her tormentor than Ollie had. But it's the same situation. A white man beating on a woman (this time) of color because he's got some sort of chip on his shoulder and thinks he can insult her with impunity. When are these guys going to learn?

I'd note that Wikipedia says Rep. Yoho, a veterinarian, is NOT running for reelection in November.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

What We Didn't Learn In History About Plagues

Andrew Sullivan has an essay in New York Magazine: "A Plague Is an Apocalypse. But It Can Bring a New World. The meaning of this one is in our hands"  on the history of plagues, or maybe plagues in history, is a better way to phrase it.  As I think about my knowledge of such things, I was taught about the Black Death and as best as I can remember, the message was:  "You should be glad you live in a civilized society where this doesn't happen anymore."

And I probably learned that just after a vaccine for polio had been created.  I don't recall anyone connecting the scourge of polio with the Black Plague.

Sullivan starts with what he calls, perhaps the deadliest plague - when small pox came to the "New World" and killed of 90% of the indigenous people there.

Then he goes back to the Roman Empire.  Here's a description of one of many plagues.

"John of Ephesus noted that as people “were looking at each other and talking, they began to totter and fell either in the streets or at home, in harbors, on ships, in churches, and everywhere.” As he traveled in what is now Turkey, he was surrounded by death: “Day by day, we too — like everybody — knocked at the gate to the tomb … We saw desolate and groaning villages and corpses spread out on the earth, with no one to take up [and bury] them.” The population of Constantinople was probably reduced by between 50 and 60 percent. The first onslaught happened so quickly the streets became blocked by corpses, the dead “trodden upon by feet and trampled like spoiled grapes … the corpse which was trampled, sank and was immersed in the pus of those below it,” as John put it."
Sullivan points out that it is, precisely, the move toward civilizations and living with domesticated animals that allowed for viruses to be transmitted from animals to humans.  And travel then carried these to others.

An interesting piece, worth reading.  A lot longer than a tweet, but a lot more comprehensive and worth reading.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Responding To ADN Commentaries On Systemic Racism And White Privilege

I want to respond to two recent Anchorage Daily News commentaries on race.  The first titled:  "Is our problem with racism systemic?"  Michael Oblath asked whether racism was genetically built into human beings, because, as he writes,
"If true, how could we ever heal?"  
And in the next sentence he essentially says no.
"Racism then, is a conscious choice we make, and is not systemic"
 I have questions about how he reached that conclusion, but my main concern is how he framed ‘systemic racism’ as an individual issue rather than how it’s normally seen,  as a societal systemic issue.  Perhaps, given the word constraints the ADN imposes, he left out any mention of societal systemic racism.  But because he wrote, "Racism then . . . is not systemic" I feel compelled to reply.

Our society has built legal, educational, financial, and cultural obstacles  that systematically set up barriers for people of color, particularly black Americans, that white Americans don't face. 

Housing covenants kept black Americans from buying property in white neighborhoods. Red-lining kept property values low in black neighborhoods and made loans in those neighborhoods hard to get, keeping property values there low.  Schools in those neighborhoods were poorer so the students had a harder time getting into colleges.  So people couldn't get the kind of jobs that would move them out of poverty.  Bank loans in those ghettos were hard to get, so starting a business was a greater challenge than in white areas.

The media - news, tv, films - projected images of blacks living in slums, poor, uneducated, and likely criminals. Politicians campaigned with these biased images. Reagan railed against "Welfare Queens in Cadillacs.”

These biased portrayals,  reinforced whites stereotypes of blacks.  The forces that kept black baseball players out of major league baseball for so long have also kept blacks out of other white domains.  Instead of seeing the systemic legal and administrative barriers, whites internalized these images of  people with no work ethic, with lower educational ability, who often turned to crime.
Thus teachers assumed they were less intelligent.  Lenders believed they wouldn't pay back their loans.  Employers feared they wouldn't work hard and honestly.

Thus systemic societal racism was reinforced by individual prejudice.  Without being aware of and understanding this systemic racism, it is very hard to understand the concept of White Privilege which was the topic of the second commentary I want to address. by Alexander Dolitsky, titled:
"White privilege in America today"
Dolitsky tells how he immigrated to the US from Russia at age 25 with nothing and has managed to overcome obstacles to success.  I sincerely congratulate him on his achievements.

It seems, though, that Dolitsky feels he did all this through his own hard work and that white privilege played no part.  "What exactly is my ‘white privilege?’  I and millions of other immigrants faced challenges not encountered by people born and raised here . . .”  He resents being accused of benefiting from 'white privilege.'  He writes:  
"I and many other Caucasian immigrants are supposed to be ashamed because we are white? I am offended by this racial slur — or stereotype."
I’d note that my parents were 17 and 23 when they arrived in the US, alone, with very little, and learned English and made successful lives in the US too.  

To respond to  Dolitsky's belief people think he should be ashamed of being white:  No, immigrants need not be ashamed of being white. And yes, Dolitsky’s hard work was the key to his success.  But the structural racism I outlined above meant it was easier for him than, say, an immigrant from Somalia or Haiti. 

Black immigrants, in addition to the things Dolitsky faced,  have to worry about being routinely stopped by police because they look ‘suspicious.’ They have greater difficulties renting an apartment or getting a job because of people's stereotypes of black skinned people.  They may find it harder to mingle with white Americans socially, to date white Americans, because of the color of their skin.  

But just as immigrants face obstacles and overcome them, many African-Americans manage to overcome the racial barriers they face as well.  

But even successful blacks know that when they are out in public, they are no longer doctors, lawyers, professors, or CEOs.  They are just seen by many as ‘black’ to use a polite term.  And successful blacks still worry when their teenage kids go out. They know that when white teenagers get rowdy, it's "kids just being kids." But when black kids do the same thing, they are much more likely to be arrested.

If one only sees systemic racism as an individual problem and not a societal problem as Oblath discusses it, then one doesn’t see all the structural systemic obstacles that blacks face in the US that whites don’t face. 

We could say that White privilege = (obstacles blacks face) - (obstacles similarly situated whites face.)  By 'similarly situated' I mean whites who basically have a very similar background and general characteristics as a comparable black.  Yes, for example, disabled whites have obstacles most able-bodied people don't have.  But not as many as a disabled black person with basically the same background.   

So, no, Dolitsky shouldn't be ashamed of his white skin.  And he should be proud of what he’s achieved. But he should recognize that if he’d immigrated from Africa, he would have faced additional obstacles.  Those additional obstacles are what we call 'White Privilege.'  

Talking about “White Privilege” doesn’t take away any of his achievements.  But denying white privilege exists makes it harder to dismantle the extra obstacles black Americans face. 

And I'd note many, if not most, white Americans have no sense of the daily indignities many blacks face, simply because they are blacks. Many blacks have dealt with this by limiting their interactions in the world as much as possible to places where they are known.   So it's much easier to understand an immigrant not understanding.  White media, until very recently, has ignored all this.  The narrative has been that once legal segregation was over, everyone was treated the same.  

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Robots, Internet, Long Distance Babysitting

Part of my electronic babysitting duties includes helping my grandson construct robots.  The book has dozens of robots with all the parts ready to be punched out of the templates and then constructed with a little help from glue.   I read the directions and he does the work.

If you can't read the description, the EVV is a professional stunt-bot and dare devil, 3 feet tall.  It's abilities include extreme agility and strength; complete lack of fear.

Here's the completed robot - the EVV.

Last night our internet crashed, after business hours.  This morning we got through after about 25 minutes.  While they couldn't fix it while I was on the phone, but once she sent it to the next level it was back on.

And it seems much better.  We've been having really slow speeds.  Too slow to have one grandkid on Jitsi and another one on Zoom.  But today while I was with M, Z called to see if we could zoom, and they both worked fine.  But I passed Z off to her grandmother.  I wasn't up for both on two different platforms.

It's certainly not the same as being there, but it is like being in the same room.  Sometimes we have conversations, sometimes we just do our own thing, but we can hear each other and make comments.  The kids are good at working on things independently, but they do like someone around to show their work to.  An arrangement that works for me.  And attending to your grandkids is always a legitimate excuse to not be doing other things on your list.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Mask Murderers? And Another Misleading Headline On Race Relations

1.  Virus Notes

Yes, it's a paradox - the more you shut things down, the more it hurts the economy, but then the less you shut things down, the higher the cases go, and that hurts the economy too.  So, accept the economy is going to take a big hit.  If most people wear masks in public, we could open sooner.  Now, will that be with a few deaths or with lots of deaths?  That's the decision.  It's not the economy this time, it's the virus, stupid!

Since I wrote that note here a few days ago I ran across an article  From University of California San Francisco:
"The latest forecast from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests that 33,000 deaths could be avoided by October 1 if 95 percent of people wore masks in public."
 30,000 deaths!!??  Dare I call those not wearing masks in public - Mask Murderers?  It almost works, though unmasked murderers would probably be more accurate.  

And if you think there are hardcore folks who won't wear masks, because they won't give up their constitutional rights, wait until you tell parents they have to send their kids to schools that aren't COVID-19 safe.  But DeVos is all about destroying public schools and transferring public school funds to private schools.  This move by the president bleeds money from public schools, and gives Republicans new ways to point at how bad public schools are.  But I think the president's dementia is so obvious to so many people now that it will backfire.

2.  Misleading Headlines  - in March 2019 I put up a post that is still getting regular hits today on Misleading Headlines.  That article goes into the history of misleading headlines.

Well I was struck yesterday by  a very misleading printed LA Times headline, which had a much better headline in the online version.  I've seen that before.  I guess editors have more room online.  I'm not sure how many people actually buy hard copy papers because of headlines any more, but if they do, there is the pressure to make them more compelling still I guess.

The paper headline and first paragraph was:

"Outlooks on race turn gloomier
"Californians’ perceptions of race relations in the state have shifted dramatically since the spring, with views statewide having grown significantly gloomier than they were five months ago, according to a new statewide poll."
Here's screenshot of the paper version:

I read the article, and actually, it's a hopeful article.  Basically, it said that since COVID and George Floyd, people's beliefs about race relations in the US are less positive.  That's not gloomier, which suggests things are getting worse.  But what I took from that was that white people's attitudes got more realistic.  And you have to stop denying before you start changing.  So it's all good.  

When I looked for the link to the online version to put on this post, I found a very different headline - one that mirrored my take on the article:

"Views on race relations in state alter dramatically as more white people see reality of discrimination, survey shows"

NOTE:  I've put up screenshots of the headlines, but I've also repeated them with text.  I do this when I can and it seems important, because seeing-impaired readers can't 'read' images.  the programs that turn text to sound can't read images.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Why Being Right Is So Satisfying, Even When You Would Prefer To Be Wrong

As those of you who follow this blog somewhat regularly know, I've been monitoring the daily changes in Alaska's COVID-19 count. (See the COVID-19 tab above.)  I've also been trying to keep up with what various people are discovering about the virus and how it spreads, both for my own personal protection as well as to be informed when I comment on our numbers.

When the Governor loosened the isolation rules for Alaska, I predicted that we would see an uptick in our numbers.  And that's happening.  Yesterday we had a new case high of 51 (not including non-residents) and today we blew past that with 64 new cases.

As the numbers have gone up I've been thinking about the internal conflict between wanting to be right, but wanting the virus to stay controlled, with low daily new case counts.

I can only speak about myself here. I  googled "Why do people want to be right?" to see what those who study this might say, compared to what I think.  But all the hits were for "Why do people NEED to be right?"  That wasn't my question.  All those articles talk about a culture of competition, needing to win, needing to not be wrong.  Much is in the context of marriage counseling - Would you rather be right or happy?  The articles talk about the complexity of issues and different perspectives which make 'being right' far more ambiguous.

But I've never been particularly competitive.  When I played tennis, I cared more about playing well than who won.   And I've figured out that in most cases, I don't NEED to be right.  My striving tends to be for understanding.  I could argue with someone about a topic and I can be pretty aggressive about it.  But it's not to 'win.'  It's to challenge the other person to show me the flaws in my thinking so I can get closer to the truth.

After that search for studies on why people want to be right failed, I remembered that BF Skinner had said that being right can itself a positive reinforcer.  And I found this: 

"According to Skinner, simply "being effective" or "being right" may be innately reinforcing."  
 Though since Skinner was usually a stickler for objective proof, this seems a little  soft for him.  He defined a reinforcer as something that causes you to repeat a behavior, when he saw people getting the right answer repeating their actions, with no apparent rewards,  he decided being right itself was the reinforcer. Not quite as objective as rats getting food by pushing a lever.  But  I think it is true for me.

A lot of this became much clearer when I took the DISC - a management personality test -  a long time ago and found out I was on the bottom of the Dominance scale.

For each of the four scales, Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness, there's a list of positive descriptors for each of the four characteristic and a negative list.  The thesis is that when you're doing well, you would exhibit the positive aspects and when stressed, the negative aspects.  For instance, if you score high in Dominance, the top of the scale was a descriptor like "Leader" on the good side and "Tyrant" on the negative side.  (I'm going by the test I took over 40 years ago.  I'm having trouble finding detailed descriptions of today's versions of the DISC - maybe because they want you to take the test before revealing the meaning.)

 I was stunned to learn I'd scored on the bottom of the Dominance scale.  My descriptor on the positive side was "Meek."  If that was the positive side, I was afraid to look at the negative side.  I felt better when I read the dictionary definition of meek.  (When I check online definitions today, their more like what I was thinking back then - spineless.)

But basically as I remember the definition that comforted me was something about not wanting to dominate other people.  So the biblical quote about the meek inheriting the earth, made more sense.   I think that's a natural tendency in me that was only strengthened by living in a Buddhist country for three years.

So, when I claim that my sometimes persistent  style is not about beating the other person, I have my DISC score to back me up.  I don't want to be right as much as to find out what is right.  If you present me with logic or evidence that is convincing, I'm happy, and I'll willingly acknowledge that you were right.  (Unless you've been a real jerk about it, then I'll do it a little less willingly.)

So as I try to answer this question about why is being right so satisfying, it's not about winning.  Rather, it's about having my understanding of things confirmed.  Having the way I think and solve problems proven to be useful to successfully navigating the world.

Lots of things in the world, as the psychologists pointed out in the articles on 'needing to be right'  just aren't right v wrong issues.  There are lots of complications and shades of gray.

So when there is something where facts can bear out what your mental models predicted, it's satisfying.  I think that's one reason why sports are so popular.  At the end of the game there's a resolution.  Your predictions about the winner or the score or the nature of the game, is known fairly quickly at the end of nine innings or four quarters.

The spread of COVID-19 is also born out with facts.  Based on what the science was telling us about how the virus spread, I believed that if more people mingled in public, in closed spaces, many without masks, that our numbers would rise.  And that's what's happening.  (And it's why our president wants to stop testing - so the numbers won't prove him wrong.  I'd note that I'm sure Trump would test over the top of the Dominance scale.)

Feeling good about predicting that our numbers would go up comes from the sense of control one gets from knowing that one can examine a situation and sort through different arguments and pick the ones that predict what actually happens.  It makes me feel safer when I stay home and avoid any indoor contact with others, and limit my outdoor contact.  I can lower the odds of contracting COVID-19.  The risks I take are minimum - biking on sparsely populated bike trails, with a mask ready to pull up if someone approaches, ordering food online and having it delivered to the car in the parking lot.  Washing my hands after getting the mail or newspaper.  Probably getting a little extreme, but it doesn't take that much effort or time.

I imagine others might come up with other non-winning kinds of reasons being right feels good.

Yet I don't want our COVID-19 numbers to go up.  I guess it's like betting against your favorite team - you don't want your team to lose, but if you're going to lose, you get something positive out of it.  I wonder if those folks who bet on a steep drop in the stock market have mixed feelings when they win big on someone else's disaster.   I suspect not.  There, being right is rewarding, but mainly because it allows one to cash in.

This all gets more complicated when there are real or perceived consequence for being wrong.  Politicians who downplayed what COVID-19 would do, tend to scramble to find the right language to say they were right all along, but that circumstances had changed.

And I would say, that you needed a better model that would have considered those possible circumstances and the probability they would occur.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Garth Jones Leaves A Big Hole As He Leaves Us At 95

I saw the obituary in the ADN yesterday morning before my bike ride.  The picture was of a man who lived  at least 25 years before I met him - young and handsome.

As I rode, it hit me that this man influenced my life more than most people I've known - if it weren't for Garth Jones, it's unlikely I would have ended up in Alaska.  He was the Dean of the School of Business and Public Administration in the late 1970s and was looking to fill a position.  He contacted his colleagues at USC, where he had taught earlier and one of them showed me the job announcement.  I'd been in Anchorage about 8 hours - from 6am to 1pm - about eight years earlier after Peace Corps training.  I'd gone home to LA for the weekend and then flew to Anchorage to meet the plane that was carrying us all to Tokyo, then Hong Kong, then Bangkok.  It had been a spectacular August day and I was astounded by how beautiful it was.

But I wasn't finished with my dissertation and had seen too many people who had taken jobs before finishing their degrees.  It was clear I needed to finish before leaving so I didn't apply.  But the faculty member had stayed another year and when I was finished, the position was open and I applied and was selected.

So in September 1977 I met Garth Jones, my new boss, and the only other faculty member there with a degree in Public Administration.  He was also probably the oldest member of the SPA faculty.  And I'd never met a person like him in my life.  He nurtured me and he drove me crazy.  Over the years he shared a lot about his life, and while I was trying to impress him as a young faculty member, he seemed also trying to impress me.

Early on I remember a dispute we had.  The university had $10,000 allotted to open a childcare center.  I had two children under 4 years old.  A preschool on campus would be perfect for us.  Garth was 100% opposed.  University money should be spent on students and college education, not child care.  So Garth, I continued, supposed someone donated $10,000 to the University that could only be used for day care, would you still be opposed?  Yes, I would.  Young children should be at home raised by their mothers.

He came from a poor Mormon sheep farming family in southern Utah. At times there wasn't a lot of food, he'd tell me. He married into Mormon royalty.  Women were supposed to stay home and take care of their kids.

But, Garth, I argued, you told me I couldn't afford to live in Anchorage if my wife didn't work.  So how can she work if we don't have child care?  You're different Steve.  You're Jews and you value education and take care of your kids well.  It turned out that Garth had a strong admiration for Jews, though it didn't always come out in ways that sounded complimentary.

What this exchange meant to me was that while we disagreed strongly on a number of important issues, Garth would be honest with me if I pushed past his initial assertions.  It was also my first introduction to his, sometimes odd, but sincere admiration for the value that he felt Jews put on education and scholarship.

Garth also had an inherent thirst for learning which, in his telling, made him something of an oddball in his community as a kid.  He had read voluminously and there were lots of words he had read, but had never heard anyone say out loud.  For a number of these book-learned words, he had his own unique pronunciation.  He'd made his way through college and into the State Department and ended up in Pakistan where he helped establish the discipline of public administration there and helped teach the members of the civil service.  As someone from a poor background, he was not a typical foreign service officer.  He learned Urdu and got along too well with the locals.  When he was reassigned to Indonesia the same thing happened.  He told me he got chastised for getting too close to the natives.  Perhaps my Peace Corps experience in Thailand was something he could relate to when he saw my application.

When he came back he got a faculty position at USC which had faculty who had had grants to help with Garth's public administration work in Pakistan.  He also published an article that was critical of the State Department bureaucracy that was unusual in its very personal tone as well as its frankness.  I immediately gained a lot of respect for Garth when I eventually read the article.

"Failure of Technical Public Administration Abroad:  A Personal Note" begins:
"Am I a Dodo?
Thirteen years of one’s professional life is a sizeable period to devote largely to one cause: technical assistance in public administration abroad. Ten of these years were spent in Southeast and South Asia, equally divided between Indonesia and Pakistan, and three years were spent in Los Angeles serving as the academic advisor to the University of Southern California Pakistan project. Since November 1956, my life has been almost completely absorbed in reforming or building public administration systems in Asian cultures-and I mean absorbed. During my last tour abroad, six weeks short of five years, I spent only two weeks in the United States and only six weeks away from Pakistan. My professional perspective of foreign aid is solely field oriented. My knowledge of Washington operations remains largely confined to memoranda, periodic meetings with headquarters personnel in the field, short and hurried debriefings in Washington, and scholarly works. Washington operations in my mind represent a rather confused, and I guess, distorted picture. I have never spent enough time in Washington to understand the real "bureaucracy" if that is ever possible.
With my return to the United States in September 1969, I felt for the first time in my professional life that I was a "Dodo." Was I professionally obsolete in my chosen vocational field of foreign aid? My thinking on the subject appeared certainly out of keeping with the current trends as I "felt" and "saw" them in the field.
Few persons - practitioners and scholars alike - question the prerequisite of a reliable public administration system for mounting a successful, planned development program. Beyond this, little can be written. Technical assistance in public administration the world over is yearly being given less importance in planned development programs. I do not believe that this decline necessarily indicates that the mission of technical assistance has been successfully accomplished, but rather that those of us who have a vested interest in public administration technical assistance have not been able to convince those who exercise "real bureaucratic" power that we have a valid body of knowledge which is useful in the development process."
As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) I could relate to someone on the ground in Asia thinking that those in Washington DC (the headquarters in Bangkok, even) didn't have an understanding of things 'on the ground' upcountry.

This slightly renegade outsider perspective also tied us together.

There's lots of posts worth of Garth stories, but let me just note a few more issues:

Donations - Garth amassed a enough money, that he was regularly setting up scholarships for students, research awards, and donations to academic programs he thought were doing important things.  

Marie - No post about Garth would be complete with mention of his wife Marie.  She was a force of nature and a fearless promoter and protector of Garth.  If you were on her good side, your life was made easier.  If you were on her bad side, watch out.  She also fiercely watched out for their children as did Garth.

Racquet ball - Garth was winning racquet ball games with much younger opponents well into his 60s.  He didn't run around much on the court, but he would regularly put the ball in the farthest corner from you, or he'd hit so it died and rolled on the ground after barely touching the front wall.

Mormon Rebel - Garth wrote regularly for a Mormon journal called Dialogue. The link goes to an issue with an article by Garth.   It's a journal on the fringes of the faith, enough so that its editor at one point got excommunicated.  While Garth was regularly meeting with local Mormons giving counsel and help as needed, and considered himself a devoted Mormon, he didn't necessarily agree with all their policies.  I remember him talking about birth control and the problems he saw with large families, where children ended up raising their brothers and sisters because there were too many for the parents to give close attention to them all.  His support and contributions to the Dialogue were one way he expressed this.

The world has lost a truly unique person, full of contradictions, who spent his whole life working to make the world a better place.  I can hear his chortle like laugh as I write this.  The closest I ever heard him come to swearing was his regular exclamation - "What in Sam Hill!!" - though Hill usually sounded like it had an 'e' in it.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

While All Eyes Were On The President's Tax Returns, The SC Made A Big Decision For Native Americans

This post is here just to draw attention to this case.  Justice Gorsuch wrote the opinion and was joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan.  The opening of Gosuch's opinion in McGirt v. Oklahoma reads:

"On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever. In exchange for ceding “all their land, East of the Mississippi river,” the U. S. gov- ernment agreed by treaty that “[t]he Creek country west of the Mississippi shall be solemnly guarantied to the Creek Indians.” Treaty With the Creeks, Arts. I, XIV, Mar. 24, 1832, 7 Stat. 366, 368 (1832 Treaty). Both parties settled on boundary lines for a new and “permanent home to the whole Creek nation,” located in what is now Oklahoma. Treaty With the Creeks, preamble, Feb. 14, 1833, 7 Stat. 418 (1833 Treaty). The government further promised that “[no] State or Territory [shall] ever have a right to pass laws for the government of such Indians, but they shall be al- lowed to govern themselves.” 1832 Treaty, Art. XIV, 7 Stat. 368.
Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said other- wise, we hold the government to its word."  (emphasis added)
McGirt appealed his conviction on sex abuse in Oklahoma state courts arguing that because they occurred in Indian Country the State did not have jurisdiction.  The Supreme Court agreed.

From the National Congress of American Indians:
“Through two terms of the United States Supreme Court, and as many cases and fact patterns, this question has loomed over federal Indian law. This morning, NCAI joins the rest of Indian Country in congratulating the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and proudly asserting that its lands remain, and will forever be considered, Indian country – as guaranteed in their treaty relationship with the United States,” said NCAI President Fawn Sharp.

I don't know much about the history of this case, but my sense is that it's a pretty big deal.  I'd note the Chief Justice Roberts argued the Venetie case before the Supreme Court.  He was a dissenter in today's decision.

State officials in Oklahoma seem to be pledging to make this all work out.

This week's decisions seem to indicate that not all the members of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court are as predictable as some expected.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Corona Art - Old Friend Gets Recognized Again

Got an email today from my friend Tomás.  He's a friend I met through the blog.  He left a comment and we connected before he returned with his family to Spain. That story was in 2010 and includes Exit Glacier.  He's been in Kentucky this year while his wife teaches Spanish in a high school.  Tomás is an architect and artist.

He wrote to let me know that the Washington Post invited readers to send in their pandemic art.  They got 650 submissions and Tomás was picked in their top 20.  Here's his picture, Corona Rising.


You can see the other 19 they picked, plus some of the honorable mentions here.  It's an impressive collection of very different visions.  

Sunday, July 05, 2020

History Catching Up To Us - Civil War Statues And Integrating New Orleans Schools

Rick Steves interviewed Jason Cochran, author of "Here Lies America." Cochran spoke about traveling to places where bad things happened and how they've been repackaged.  He talks a lot about the South - he's from Georgia - and how civil war battlefields were rebranded into tourist spots that glorified the world.  Here's a bit about a concerted effort to place Johnny Reb statues all over the South in the first two decades of the 20th Century.
"Drive through American South, and I’m from Georgia by the way, in front of almost every court house  in every town, you’ll see the famous little statue of Johnny Reb, the guy from the Confederate Forces.  Every little town you go to you’ll find this.  What I discovered in the course of researching this is that never were these things placed there right after the civil war.  The war ended in 1865.  Look at the next one you drive past, look down at the plaque, look at the year.  I’ll bet you anything it is probably from the 19 zero years or the 19 teens.  You have to wonder.  This was 50 years after the fact.  There’s a story here.  How did they all suddenly show up. . .  It was a concerted propaganda effort for lack of a better word. I think it was an education effort is the way they would have put it.  Let’s pretend you’re a resident of the South and probably 25 years old in 1900 and your grandfather is a mess because he had been. in the war.  You hear stories about how much land you used to own so you’re upset that you don’t own that anymore.  So there’s a lot of resentment happening in the South.  So the children and the grandchildren of the people who went to the civil war and suffered those blows and death those blows, they were the ones who built these statues. Because they wanted to reframe or expand upon how people saw the South and what they thought they were fighting for at the time.  There are people, even today, who would tell you that what is written on those statues is not what they would have put on them in the 1860s because the passage of time had colored things, but it was an effort.  There were women’s groups, by the hundreds of thousands women joined these groups, they would put out a catalogue and you could pick which statue you wanted and they would send their members to hector and lobby local governments.  They would make sure those statues were never placed in the cemetery, where these statues would usually go, but in front of a school or town hall where people would make sure to see it."
 I was impressed at how apolitically this was all presented, as if there were no controversy going on today about removing statues that glorify the Confederacy.  It's just presented as factual history.

And related, is this passage from the book I'm reading for my next book club meeting - The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom.
"Woodson Elementary, McDonogh 96, Hoffman Junior High, and Booker T. Washington - Josephe's, Elaine's, and Ivory's schools - were segregated for all of their school years and long after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, the results of which were not seen in New Orleans until November 1960 when three six year-olds, Tessie Provost, Leona Tate, and Gail Etienne, dressed in full skirts and patent leather shoes, with massive white bows atop their heads, arrived in an all-white McDonogh 19, where they would remain the only three students in the school that entire year, taught in classrooms with brown paper taped to windows, blocking sun and jeers from white parents raging outside.  The same day in November first grader Ruby Bridges, the lone black girl surrounded by three US marshals, integrated William Frantz Elementary, spending half a school year as the only student.  A decade later, on the even of the 1970s, integration in New Orleans high schools would still cause riots.  Four decades later, it would remain factually incorrect to describe New Orleans schools as fully integrated."
Karens and Kevins have been around a long time.  

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Hope This Independence Day Gave You Time To Reflect

European royalty was assumed to be anointed by God.  From Wikipedia:
"The divine right of kings, divine right, or God's mandate is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It stems from a specific metaphysical framework in which the king (or queen) is pre-selected as an heir prior to their birth. By pre-selecting the king's physical manifestation, the governed populace actively (rather than merely passively) hands the metaphysical selection of the king's soul – which will inhabit the body and thereby rule them – over to God. In this way, the "divine right" originates as a metaphysical act of humility or submission towards the Godhead."
While the Declaration of Independence uses words like 'Creator' it only mention's God once, and then it is "Nature's God."
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The Declaration then goes on to talk about 'consent of the governed.'
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, , ,"
That's a break from being anointed via the Divine Right of Kings.  The colonists weren't without precedent.  Medieval barons had forced concessions from an English King centuries before with the Magna Carta.

That "the governed," by the time the Constitution was written,  didn't include women, men without property, or Native Americans, or Africans raises questions about the ideals.  Though as we know from modern times, politics requires compromise, and if all the colonies were going to be in this new union together, resolving the conflict by abolishing [slavery] was not a negotiable item for slave owners.

The NYTimes has a podcast up called 1619 (link to Apple podcasts) - the date the first shipment of slaves arrived in the colonies - that attempts to tell the history from a black perspective.  Adam Serwer has an Atlantic article that outlines the controversy it's raised among some prominent historians.

Hope you've been able to safely enjoy this holiday and that our nature imposed restrictions enabled you to ponder it in a new light.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Short Takes - RPCV Joins Alaska SC, Maxwell Arrest, Racism Like Apple Pie, Russian Bounty

Note: Another big COVID increase today.  Click COVID tab above for daily
updates on state case counts

1.   Alaska's newly appointed Supreme Court justice Dario Borghesan is an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) who served in Togo.

2.   Just hearing her name on the news for being involved with Jeffrey Epstein doesn't give you a sense of Ghislaine* Maxwell's role in the Jeffrey Epstein world.   The Netflix series Jeffrey Epstein:  Filthy Rich brings their crimes clearly into the light.  And how well connected rich people can get away with things on a scale 'normal' folks would never even imagine.  Well worth watching.


This says it all.  But for many people it makes no sense at all.  Which proves the point.**

4.  Did Russia pay the Taliban bounties to kill US troops?  Of course.  Just like we armed and paid the Mujahideen to do the same in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union took over there.  But since Afghanistan bordered the Soviet Union** and the US is half a world away - it's much easier for Russia to do.  But even with the geographic advantage, the Soviet Union was forced out of Afghanistan.

*Throughout the Netflix series the pronunciation of her name was in serious conflict with my natural visual bent.  I'd have done better had I never seen it written.  But this is irrelevant.  She's a seriously evil person and her arrest may bring some comfort to her many victims.

**I realize this is a bit enigmatic for those who don't think of racism as being like apple pie.  If this leaves you scratching your head, just leave a (civil) comment and we can talk about it.

***Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were then part of the Soviet Union.  Today they are independent countries and are between Russia and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Summer Visit By Downy Woodpecker And Fledgling

There was a Downy woodpecker in the yard.  In a tree next to the deck, and our presence didn't seem to bother it at all.

It was making holes.

Then there were two.

It turns out, the first one was the parent, mom, I'm guessing because of the coloring.  And she was getting bugs and feeding them to the second one.  This was the best picture I could get of a feeding.

Then she pecked away for more food.  Our trees must have lots of bugs in them.

Then she'd fly off to another tree.