Saturday, October 31, 2020

When Our Sphere Gets Shrunk, There's More Time To See What's Still There - The Sun And The Moon And Merton

 Last night, when I went outside, the moon was already big.  And a little googling helped me set my camera so it wasn't washed out.  

And today the sun streamed through the windows to highlight parts of this bouquet KS dropped off the other day.  

I love how flowers go from youth to old age in a week or so, revealing wonders before returning their atoms to the earth for other flowers to use.

I didn't mention flowers in the post title, mostly because what struck me was how the sunlight changed them.  I think of these pictures more about light than the flowers.  But, yes, the light spotlights details of the flowers.  

And tonight I watched the moon through the bare branches of a birch in the back yard.

And let me slip in this last picture - from one of the Olé classes I'm taking this month - Thomas Merton.  I first learned about Merton on an early Talk of the Nation show.  I was stunned by all the people who called in to talk with host Ray Suarez about this modern monk/philosopher, people who were moved and inspired by his words in his many books.    I learned that I had a couple of 'connections' too Merton.  (We can connect with people in odd ways because our paths have crossed, sort of.)  Merton died in Bangkok in 1968, electrocuted in a shower.  At least that was the story I heard.  I was in Thailand teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer.  If I read about his death at the time, I don't remember at all.  I didn't know who he was and probably would have passed over it quickly.
Image from Kathleen Tarr's Olé presentation

Merton also spend some time that year at a monastery in Eagle River, Alaska, a community that is part of the Municipality of Anchorage.  
I got a chance to talk to Ray Suarez some time after the Merton show when he was visiting Anchorage and told him how remarkable I thought the Merton show was.  He said that was an early show, but when the Merton call-in was so wildly successful, he knew that Talk of the Nation would be a success.  It turns out that Kathleen Tarr, who's teaching the class is a serious Merton scholar and that has added to the richness of that first class.  Three to go.  

On a more somber note, something I'd hoped this post would stay away from, I learned, as I was looking up Merton's death just to confirm the details, that a book was published in 2018 saying that his death was murder, not an accident.   The story of his death by electrocution in a shower in Thailand was very plausible to me.  Someone I knew had been knocked unconscious in a shower when the light went off and he tried to turn it back on.  Fortunately, he got up shortly and was fine.  

And enjoy the sun, the moon, and even think about reading a book by or about Thomas Merton.  It's something I look forward to myself.  

Friday, October 30, 2020

Trump Administration Will Boost US Economy For Years: A Guide To The Many Jobs For Attorneys To Prosecute The Corruption

 The American Prospect has mapped out, federal agency by federal agency, the corruption of the Trump administration.  Mapping Corruption: The Interactive Exhibit   

This is one of those overview articles that are useful to save as a future reference .  I can't do it justice.  You need to look at it yourself. 

The article starts with an interactive map of the Mall in Washington DC and you can click on any of the federal agency buildings and jump to get the details of that agency. 

Original Image is at The American Prospect
The original interactive image is from The American Prospect

 But here are a few snippets.  It starts with the Department of Agriculture.  The subheadings are adjusted to each agency, but Quick and Dirty and What am I Doing Here? seem to be part of each agency.

"Agriculture Department


Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was the subject of multiple ethics complaints and investigations during two terms as governor of Georgia. In one headline-making case, he approved a tax bill with a little-noticed provision that retroactively saved him $100,000 on a land sale.

Perdue has filled the department’s top ranks with former agribusiness executives and lobbyists, along with an unusual number of Trump campaign workers without other obvious qualifications.

The Agriculture Department has OK’d sharply higher line speeds for hog and poultry slaughterhouses and cut back on USDA meat-safety inspections, letting some big employers hand that responsibility off to low-wage workers.

While in Wisconsin for a conference of dairy farmers at a time of widespread distress and a surge in farmer suicides, Perdue implied that they should just get used to it, telling reporters, “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.”

The department has proposed taking three million people off food stamps.

The department has loosened many environmental and health and safety regulations and dismissed concerns over climate change."

And here's another from the Department of Education:


Secretary Betsy DeVos inherited money and married money. She has had almost no personal experience with the public schools.
Her brother, Erik Prince, founded the private military company originally known as Blackwater but renamed Xe Services after its involvement in a notorious 2007 mass killing of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
Her father-in-law, Richard M. DeVos, founded the multilevel marketing giant Amway and used Republican Party connections to throttle a federal investigation depicting his company as a pyramid scheme.
DeVos has been a leading bundler of campaign money for Republican candidates in her native Michigan and across the country.
Her family has poured millions of dollars into private Christian schools and campaigns for “school choice.” The goal of her educational activism, she has said, is to “advance God’s kingdom.”
She refers to education as an “industry” and has called public education “a closed market,” “a monopoly,” and 'a dead end.'”

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Anchorage Is Close To A COVID-19 Cliff

I've been tryin to keep my COVID-19 posts in separate place from my normal blog posts.  But things are getting worse fast, so here's today's update.  We're about to go off into significantly faster spread.  We already have, but it could get even worse.  And hospital beds could get scarce, not only for COVID-19 patients, but for everyone else.  We need some serious isolation but it appears our governor is following Trump's lead.   The table with all the numbers are in the COVID-19 tab just below the orange blog header above.  Here's a direct link.

Thursday, October 29, 2020 - Sit down.  6 new deaths.  That matches the highest death count on Sept 25.  We've had nine deaths in the last three days.  There were 12 new hospitalizations.  With yesterday's 13, that's 25 in two days.  34 in the last three days.

There were 359/349* new resident cases and our current total cases is 14,456.  That total increased by 3600 cases since last Thursday!  It took us 5 months (March-August 8) to get our first 3600 total cases.

There are 7932** active resident cases now in Alaska. Plus 412 non-resident active cases.  

There were about 3700 new tests reported today and our Test Positivity jumped to 8.1.  (We skipped 7 altogether.)   

There are 67 COVID-19 patients in hospitals plus another 22 suspected COVID-19 patients in hospitals.  We're down to 27 available ICU beds.   This is not a good time to have any kind of emergency health problem requiring an ICU in Alaska.  At this rate we're a week or two away from no available ICU beds unless they can set up some new ones.  The overflow hospital set up at the Alaska Center early on is now closed, though I suspect it still could be reopened.  (I have a call into UAA Public Relations office and will update this if I get something more definite.)

The sun just came out.  Take solace in such simple pleasures.  

*I determine new cases by subtracting yesterday's total cases from today's.  The State's dashboard often has numbers that are slightly different because they are constantly updating and correcting (say, moving a report to a different day or from non-resident to resident, etc.).  So I report the daily new resident cases with two numbers:  mine/State's.  

**I should emphasize that these are 'reported' cases.  Active case totals are a bit sketchy because they have to subtract recovered cases and those reports seem to be a lower priority.  If people don't self report the State has to track them down.  So take this number with a grain of salt.  It's a ballpark figure  

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Inability Of People To Master The Complexity Of The World - Trying To Start A Conversation About Evil Geniuses

 I want to post about Kurt Anderson's Evil Geniuses, which I got from my local library the other day, at the recommendation of Kathy in Kentucky in response to a post I did about how Sheldon Whitehouse used part of his confirmation hearing time to step back and offer some of the forces that are the context of this most recent Supreme Court nominee hearings.  (Thanks Kathy.)

I'm not far into the book.  I'm not even out of the Roman numeral numbered pages yet.  But it's clear that this is one of those books that attempts to explain the bigger economic and political forces at work in the world today.  

We shouldn't feel too bad if this is all new, because only a few people in any society are focused on seeing path the stories and myths that shape a culture while it is actually happening.  And it's not always easy to have access to forces that are working in the shadows.  

But as I thought about what I meant newly understand as I embark on reading this book, I realized that relatively few people actually carefully read long non-fiction work that explains how society really works.  

I think about the simplistic soundbite slogans that are being thrown around in lieu of serious debate. People aren't seeking knowledge and enlightenment, they are seeking only to cement their power, or their perceived power.  But, of course, 'they' lumps everyone together and hides the variety of levels of expertise, knowledge, and understanding of different phenomena that affect our lives.  Even the most educated, who know some area in spectacular detail, can be ignorant of most of the rest of the world.  

So I don't know how our society can best reestablish any sense of good will and trust.  But I do think, based on what I've read so far, that this book offers a much broader view of how the United States has shifted over the last 60 years or so.

I'm not sure how much of this book I can engage here on this blog, but let's at least start with the Table of Contents.  

I used to ask my beginning graduate students in public administration, what they thought we were going to study.  I'd warn them that most of the articles and books we'd read would only be interesting if they were asking the questions that the book answers.  That these works weren't like fiction or even newspaper articles.  In those genres you generally know all the concepts the words represent.  You generally know the basic narratives.  It's just that the specific characters and specific actions and locations change.  But you know all the words.  You know "a man"  "murders" and such words.  But in more academic work, you come up against words and concepts you may not already know.  Or, even more dangerous, you know them in a popular sense, but not in a specifically defined academic sense. 

So one exercise I'd run the students through on the first night was this:

Step 1:  If you were writing a textbook on public administration, what would be your main chapters?

Step 2:  I'd give them time to write out chapter titles, 

Step 3:  We'd share some on the board.  

Step 4:  I'd then read the chapter titles.  

And I'd tease them.  "If your friend had told you before class that the professor would read you the chapter titles and you would all be listening carefully, you would have thought your friend crazy.  If I give you the answers to a crossword puzzle you haven't worked on, it has no meaning.  But after you've struggled with the puzzle, the answers suddenly are very meaningful.  And that's what we've just done.  And I recommend you do similar exercises with everything you read this semester."

So, readers, get out a pen and paper or an empty file and keyboard and write down the chapters you'd write about if you were writing a book called Evil Geniuses:  The Unmaking of America, A Recent History.

I know most of you want to skip the exercise.  Life's too busy.  But if you actually got this far, let me urge you to look away from here and take five minutes to think about the topic and what chapters you might write.  The point is not to see if you can get close to Kurt Anderson's actual titles, but to tap into your own thoughts before you compare them to his. He has 22 chapters


[The GIF is only ten seconds.  I couldn't quickly find one that goes for five minutes.  Sorry.]

OK, now that you have your chapter titles go through Anderson's table of contents.  For some of you this will make a lot of sense - and you'll have a good idea of where he's going with this book.  Others will also think it makes sense, but their sense will take them in a very different direction from Anderson.  For others it will be mystifying.  But you know other things.  

I hope to post more from this book because:

  • I'm hoping it's as good as it looks it will be
  • Writing about what I'm reading helps me understand and and remember it
  • Relatively few people actually read books like this so I can help others who won't get to read it learn what's in it
  • And some of you might be moved to get your own copy to actually read
  • If it's as good as I hope  (good here meaning helping to explain the forces that have gotten us to October 2020 in the US and the world)
  • Because knowing how something works gives you a chance to be able to fix it in a more nuanced way than just bashing it

Kurt Anderson:  Evil Geniuses:  The Unmaking of America, A Recent History (2020)


1.  Land of the New:  America from 1600 to 1865

2.  Land of the New:  An Economic History, from the 1770’s to the 1970s

3.  Approaching Peak New:  The 1960s


4    The 1970s:  An Equal and Opposite Reaction

5.  The 1970s:  Liberalism Peaks and the Counterrevolution Begins

6.  The 1970s:  Building the Counter-Establishment

7.  The 1970s:  From a Bicentennial Pageant to a Presidency

8.  The 1970s:  Neoliberal Useful Idiots


9.  The Reagan Revolution

10. Raw Deal:  What happened in the 1980s Didn’t Stay in the 1980s

11. The Rule of Law

12.  The Deregulation Generation

13.  The Culture of Greed Is Good

14.  How Wall Sweet Ate America 

15. Workers of the New World, You Lose

16.  Insecurity Is a Feature, Not a Bug

17.  Socially Liberal, Fisally Conservative, Generally Complacent

18.  The Permanent Reagan Revolution

19.  The 1990s:  Restrained and Reckless


20.  Rewind, Pause, Stop:  The End of the New

21.  The Politics of Nostalgia and Stagnation Since the 1990s

22.  Ruthless Beats Reasonable

23.  Winners and Losers in the Class War

24.  American Exceptionalism


25.  Winners and Losers (So Far) in the Digital Revolution

26.  How the Future Will Work

27.  This Strategic Inflection Point

28.  What Is to Be Done?

29.  The Plague Year and Beyond

Hope to share more of this in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Dear Senator Murkowski:

[I got an email saying to write my Senators about the Supreme Court nomination, so I wrote Senator Murkowski, even though she already said she would vote to confirm.  I know that as a Republican she's under great pressure to vote yes.  It's easy for all of us without that pressure to fault her.  And I do believe she's wrong.  But I also have taught ethics to graduate students and public officials.  It's MUCH easier to decide another person's ethical decision than it is to make our own.  When everything one has worked for is threatened, it's often hard to do 'the right thing.'  I advised my students to save up, as fast as they could, a year's salary so that when they are asked to do something illegal and/or unethical, they could refuse, knowing that they had a year to find another job.  

What I wanted to emphasize in this letter is that the Republicans have totally messed up the process of nominating Supreme Court justices.  The Federalist Society and others have spent 40 years or so focused on developing a theory of law that would favor the interests of corporations and people with lots of money.  The Democrats missed what was happening for way too long - that was there mistake.  But McConnell's holding up of Obama judges and the Merrick Garland, messed with fair play.  He could do that not because it was right, but because he had the votes.  

So this is what I ended up sending Senator Murkowski yesterday]:

I realize your decision to vote for Amy Coney Barrett was not an easy one and that my voice will have no impact on that decision.

But this is so important I feel compelled to write anyway.  

In the past, most Supreme Court justices were confirmed with comfortable majorities, with many if not most members from both parties voting for them.  It was only when Republicans started voting Federalist Society influenced candidates, who were far to the right and did not represent the views of the American public, that  bi-partisan votes ended.  And it has only been a few times.  (not sure the chart below will show up properly. If not, it's from the US Senate website here:


To Replace



Result & Date***

President Trump, Donald
Barrett, Amy ConeyGinsburgSep 29, 2020
Kavanaugh, BrettKennedyJul 10, 201850-48  No.  223COct 6, 2018
Gorsuch, Neil M.ScaliaFeb 1, 201754-45  No.  111CApr 7, 2017
President Obama, Barack 
Garland, Merrick B. ScaliaMar 16, 2016N
Kagan, ElenaStevensMay 10, 201063-37  No.  229CAug 5, 2010
Sotomayor, SoniaSouterJun 1, 200968-31  No.  262CAug 6, 2009
President Bush, George W. 
Alito, Samuel A., Jr.O'ConnorNov 10, 200558-42  No.  2CJan 31, 2006
Miers, HarrietO'ConnorOct 7, 2005WOct 28, 2005
Roberts, John G., Jr.1RehnquistSep 6, 200578-22  No.  245CSep 29, 2005
Roberts, John G., Jr.O'ConnorJul 29, 2005WSep 6, 2005
President Clinton, Bill 
Breyer, Stephen G. BlackmunMay 17, 199487-9  No.  242CJul 29, 1994
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader WhiteJun 22, 199396-3  No.  232CAug 3, 1993
President Bush, George H.W. 
Thomas, Clarence MarshallJul 8, 199152-48  No.  220COct 15, 1991
Souter, David H. BrennanJul 25, 199090-9  No.  259COct 2, 1990
President Reagan, Ronald 
Kennedy, Anthony M. PowellNov 30, 198797-0  No.  16CFeb 3, 1988
Bork, Robert H. PowellJul 7, 198742-58  No.  348ROct 23, 1987
Scalia, Antonin RehnquistJun 24, 198698-0  No.  267CSep 17, 1986
Rehnquist, William H. 2BurgerJun 20, 198665-33  No.  266CSep 17, 1986
O'Connor, Sandra DayStewartAug 19, 198199-0  No.  274CSep 21, 1981
President Ford, Gerald 
Stevens, John Paul DouglasNov 28, 197598-0  No.  603CDec 17, 1975
President Nixon, Richard 
Rehnquist, William H. HarlanOct 22, 197168-26  No.  450CDec 10, 1971
Powell, Lewis F., Jr.BlackOct 22, 197189-1  No.  439CDec 6, 1971
Blackmun, Harry FortasApr 15, 197094-0  No.  143CMay 12, 1970
Carswell, G. Harrold FortasJan 19, 197045-51  No.  122RApr 8, 1970
Haynsworth, Clement, Jr.FortasAug 21, 196945-55  No.  154RNov 21, 1969
Burger, Warren 3WarrenMay 23, 196974-3  No.  35CJun 9, 1969

When Supreme Court justices are confirmed on strict party lines, it projects a clear 

problem for the credibility of the court.  I know you said that now you are voting on the qualifications of the candidate, but clearly the process is still a serious problem when you will have a justice who was opposed by all the Democratic Senators who represent far more US citizens than do the Republican Senators.  From a 2018 article (

 "In the outgoing Senate — the Senate that placed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court — the 49 senators in the Democratic “minority” represent almost 40 million more people than the Republican “majority.” In the incoming Senate, the Democratic “minority” will still represent millions more people — despite the fact that Republicans grew their “majority” last night."

The removal of the cloture rule in court cases in general and Supreme Court cases in particular has meant that judges who are acceptable by at least some members of the minority party is no longer necessary.  

I would argue that these are procedural issues that are destroying the credibility of the US Supreme Court, just as the Congress' credibility has been seriously harmed in recent years.  

Voting Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court with only Republican votes moves the US government to further dysfunction.  The tactics of Majority Leader McConnell to not allow Obama court vacancies to be filled - including the outrageous maneuvering over Merrick Garland and then the even more outrageous change of "principle" to approve Barrett in the middle of voting.  This reveals McConnell as simply ignoring democracy and using the power he's accumulated - including changing the cloture rule - to force one more far right Republican justice onto the court.  And it will force Democrats to use similar kinds of actions to reestablish a US Supreme Court that is more in line with the values of the US population and interpretations of the Constitution that value individual human rights over the rights of multinational corporations.  And Republicans will loudly cry foul, as Democrats are doing now.

I've voiced my approval of actions you've take as Senator when they represented my values and I've voiced my disappointment with other actions you've taken.  

I know you walk a thin line, and I don't know that if you voted against Barrett it would even be enough to block her appointment.  But I'm extremely disappointed now at your decision and ask you to reconsider it, given that her appointment will mean all out warfare between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate for years to come.

[This won't (perhaps hasn't by now) changed Murkowski's vote, but it does mean to me that Alaskan Democrats will need to find a strong candidate to run in 2022.  I suspect that fact that she showed doubts at all, made her persona non grata among the Republicans and they will find an alternative candidate in the Republican primary.  Though we are voting on a proposition this election that would change our voting to Ranked Choice.  If it passes the control of the parties will be weakened.  So everything is up in the air.  Even the removal of a demented president is being left to the public because the Senate Republicans didn't have the integrity to do the job themselves.  Any private corporation would have removed a CEO like Trump - either by gently by taking away his powers, or by firing him.  The Republican  Senators couldn't do that.  They have no credibility.   

And, by the way, it didn't seem worth the effort to even copy this and email it to my other Senator Dan Sullivan.]