Friday, August 18, 2017

She Stands By Her Man - Both of Them

So Axios had a couple of posts up yesterday, one after the other.

The first was about Sen. McConnell and Trump feuding.  They show McConnell's tweet supporting Sen. Flake's reelection a few hours after Trump tweeted his support for Flake's opponent in the Republican primary.  Then they go on to explain why it matters.
McConnell, who was reportedly livid with the way the president handled the violence in Charlottesville, has been engaged in an ongoing feud with Trump following the president's series of tweets criticizing the Majority Leader's performance. McConnell's latest statement in support of Flake only adds fuel to the fire.

Their earlier post which was the immediately before the McConnell piece was titled :
"White House calls it quits on Infrastructure Council"
Screenshot from Axios


And had this picture:


The woman on the right is Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation, who probably could use the political support of an Infrastructure Committee.  But more than that, she's also Mitch McConnell's wife.

What I didn't know until I googled Elaine Chao to double check her position in the Trump administration, was that after this press conference, she was asked about Trump's tweets that criticize her husband.  Her answer:

"I stand by my man - both of them."







Thursday, August 17, 2017

NPR Adopts Simplistic "Good People"/"Bad People" Dichotomy

The use of terms like 'good guys' and 'bad guys' in political discourse has increased over the years.  That oversimplification of terms is reminiscent of Hollywood's white and black cowboy hats and the religious dichotomy of good and evil.  

Life isn't that simple.  First of all, people are either good or bad.  Most are a mix of morally positive and negative behaviors.  In Born A Crime, Trevor Noah writes about his step-father Abel who gets nasty when he's drunk.  
"The Abel who was likable and charming never went away.  He had a drinking problem, but he was a nice guy.  We had a family.  Growing up in a home of abuse, you struggle with the notion that you can love a person you hate, or hate a person you love.  It's a strange feeling.  You want to live in a world where someone is good or bad, where you either hate them or love them, but that's not how people are."
Lots of intercommunications experts (for example) tell people to talk about behaviors rather than to talk about their character.

So it's depressing to hear hear this sort of language on NPR, where they like to think of themselves as having a somewhat higher standard of reporting.  Their code of ethics talks about their guiding principles:
"Our journalism is as accurate, fair and complete as possible. Our journalists conduct their work with honesty and respect, and they strive to be both independent and impartial in their efforts. Our methods are transparent and we will be accountable for all we do."
Those principles include Impartiality:
"We have opinions, like all people. But the public deserves factual reporting and informed analysis without our opinions influencing what they hear or see. So we strive to report and produce stories that transcend our biases and treat all views fairly. We aggressively challenge our own perspectives and pursue a diverse range of others, aiming always to present the truth as completely as we can tell it."

Yes NPR too slips into the simplistic and dichotomous thinking of 'good people' and 'bad people' too.
[An abbreviated excerpt from the audio interview.]
Rachel Martin:  The president said there were good people on both sides, did you see them?
UVA Professor  and 'presidential historian' Michele Hemmer:  The people who came on behalf of the white nationalists were not good people. . .  Among the counter protesters there were plenty of good people, but not among the white nationalists.  
I realize they were working off of things Trump said.  (Though I could find 'very fine people' in his recent discussion rather than 'good people.')  But rather than fall into the trap of adopting this good/bad dichotomy themselves, it would be better to step back and point out how simplistic and misleading it is.  Thinking about Trevor's step-father, I'm wondering about the 'plenty of good people' among the counter protesters.  Are they good because they are against racism?  Are they being labeled 'good people' because of what they are doing on that day?  Do any of them get drunk and beat their spouses and children?  Would that disqualify them form being 'good people'?

Not only are they simplifying human complexity, they are also dropping their impartiality to make a judgment call about the morality of the marchers and counter-marchers.  Not about the morality of their actions, but whether they are 'good' or 'bad' people.

What I want to know is why these men have adopted white supremacy as their guiding principle.  Do they believe it?  Do they do this simply because it makes others angry?  Do they feel so isolated and unloved in their lives that espousing white supremacy is a way to justify why people don't like them?   Not only is that a much more nuanced way of thinking about the neo-nazi marchers, but it's the only way we, as a society, can start to figure out how to locate people who are vulnerable to this path and how to rescue them before they swallow this poison.

OK, I know these terms are a short hand.  Radio news formats allow a limited amount of time to tell the story.  But the more we use this short hand, the more we also think it.  And as soon as we put someone in the 'bad person' category, we're less concerned about what happens to them.  That's why we allow terrible things to happen in prisons.  It also inoculates 'good people' from harm when they do terrible things.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who's The Average Person?

A letter in Tuesday's Alaska Dispatch News says:
"I refer to the phenomenon of the disappearance of affordable homes.  The average person is no longer able to afford a home."
The US Census Bureau data says that 60% of people in Anchorage lived in owner occupied homes between 2011 and 2015.

The same Census chart shows the median household income in Anchorage for that same period was $78,326.  (I'd note that median is the number in the very middle from highest to lowest.  There should be as many people above the median as below it.  It's not an average where a small number of very rich people could offset a lot of very poor people to have a misleading 'average income'.)

The per capita income was $36,920.  They define that to be the mean income of every man, woman, and child.  So, this number is the 'average' and is not the 'middle' number.  Obviously, adults earn a lot more than do children, though in Alaska, Permanent Fund Dividend checks mean the average child here probably earns more than they do in other states.

I'm guessing the letter writer thinks of herself (and maybe the people she knows) as 'average persons.'  But the way I read this, the average person is the typical person, the one that is like most of the others.  So 60% living in owner owned homes means to me that the average person can afford a house.  I realize that the people in the homes include children and spouses.  And if we simple look at adults, the percent living in owner occupied homes is probably lower.  But more than half of all people in Anchorage, during that recent time period, did live in owner occupied housing.

The same chart listed 8.7% of people in Anchorage as living in poverty.

This is not to say that working for a living is what it used to be.  It's not.  It used to be pretty easy - if you were white and male - to earn a good living, live decently, and afford things like buying a house. But a lot of people who start off with very little - many immigrant families for example - are willing to work very hard, live frugally, and save money to buy a home.  A lot of people who grew up comfortably seem not willing to give up the life style they've grown up with, but aren't earning enough money to maintain that lifestyle.  It's a shock when they find that not only aren't they keeping up, they are falling into debt.

Part of the problem is that more and more of the income of businesses is going to the higher levels of management and less and less is going to the workers.  Statista.com offers this chart comparing the US gap to other countries:

Click on Chart to enlarge and focus or go to Statista


And here's a Seattle Times article on the subject.  The subtitle of the article is:
"The average CEO earned 20 times the average worker pay in 1965. Now S&P 500 CEOs make 335 times the pay of their average employee."
 So while it appears to me that 'the average person' in Anchorage can afford to buy a house (or at least lives in an owner occupied house) it's also true that the hefty PFD cut Alaskans got will impact the 'average Alaskan' worker much more than it will the oil and other large corporate executives.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Worth Noting - Redistricting, Court Info, Teaching Tolerance, Trees and Crime



Free Law has put up 1.8 million free opinions from PACER.  What's PACER you ask.  From PACER's website:
"The PACER Case Locator is a national index for U.S. district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts. A subset of information from each case is transferred to the PACER Case Locator server each night.
The system serves as a locator index for PACER. You may conduct nationwide searches to determine whether or not a party is involved in federal litigation."

Teaching Tolerance has lots of resources for educators.

Do trees lower crime?  That's the claim a Chicago group is making after mapping tree density in 284 municipalities in the Chicago area.  My reaction was 'whoa, that's correlation, not causation.'  My take would be it's the other way around:  Where there's less crime, people plant more trees.  Where people have more money they have bigger lots, more trees and more park area.  And where there are already lots of trees, the property values are higher, and wealthier people buy the land.  But the article expected people like me:
"Of course, skeptics might argue that this sort of data is only correlation, rather than causation. Underserved communities have high crime and fewer trees—not high crime in part due to fewer trees. So to support their claims, CRTI compiled all the benefits that trees provide, with citations for the various studies backing up the claims. One of those studies suggests that trees 'may deter crime both by increasing informal surveillance and by mitigating some of the psychological precursors to violence.'”
Yes, I've posted about the psychological benefits of trees, but I'm still skeptical.  Trees may, to a certain extent 'sooth' a community, but I'm still guessing that there's an economic correlation between low income and fewer trees and that the economic factor is the bigger driver of crime.  I would guess that Anchorage has a pretty high level of trees per people and a fair amount of crime.  And much crime happens where trees give cover for the homeless who commit crimes in the greenbelt areas.  But it's interesting research.  And I'd love to be wrong on this.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Anchorage Jury Sides With Firefighter Against Municipality of Anchorage

Thursday afternoon, August 12, 2017 an Anchorage jury found that the Municipality of Anchorage caused harm to firefighter Jeff Graham by violating the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  They also found that the MOA caused harm to Jeff Graham by violating the implied promise of good faith and fair dealing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.   The case stems from AFD promotional exams that Graham complained were biased and unfair.

The plaintiff’s economics expert had put the damages at $1.7 million.  The MOA’s expert had put the damages at $200,000.  The jury’s award was closer to the latter - a little over three times the MOA estimate and about one-third of the plaintiff’s estimate.  

The trial began on July 17 and the jury began deliberations on Tuesday August 10.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Anchorage People Gather In Support of Democracy

Somewhere between 300 and 400 people gathered on the Anchorage town square.  I just crossed out my first couple of attempts to describe why they were there.  The speakers talked about welcoming all people, love, making America stronger for all.  Signs people held were in support of love and diversity and against hate.  You can see some below in the pictures.  I'm just posting here to document Anchorage's participation in the nationwide demonstrations against the white power violence in Charlottesville.

As you can see, I clipped three photos together and photoshopped them to give a little more accurate perspective of the view I saw.  If you click on any picture it will get bigger and sharper.











































































The mayor and his wife were there.


Some Native Drumming.



















And as I was leaving, I ran across this young man with this unexpected sign.  I wanted to ask him what he was doing in Indian country, but others were talking to him and I didn't want to wait around.  Ah, the power of simplistic thinking.  But consider some of the implications.

Some 230 million Euro-Americans would need to find space in Europe and leave just the United States alone - not counting Canada, Central America, or South America.  (And I'm not counting Hispanics, who, I assume would go to Europe too.)  Some 40 million Africans-Americans would be headed back to Africa.  That would leave what is the US today with about four million "Indians."  I'm basing my numbers on this census data, but I wasn't scrupulously careful here.  These are just ballpark figures.  

And what about people with mixed parentage?  There's lots and lots of them.  Do they get to choose which heritage they're going with?   Maybe their destination will be Australia since it isn't mentioned here.  Who will make those decisions?  What can these folks take with them?  Will the inhabitants of the listed continents be able to allow people from other continents to come live in their continent?  What about to work?  Who will make these decisions?  Only the racial purists?  Or will there be a democratic vote?  

What exactly does the last part mean?  "The existence of my people is NON-NEGOTIABLE"?  Who are his people?  Europeans?  Northern or southern?  Neanderthals were in Europe when the first humans showed up about 40,000 years ago.  From what we know now (not necessarily what we'll know in 20 or 50 years), all the humans came from Africa in the first place, and when they left, they mated with Neanderthals.  

And, of course, all this assumes something called 'race' exists in more than the most superficial physical characteristic.  I understand that people want to know who they are and if their parents haven't done a good job of raising them, they'll latch onto whatever people or groups reach out to them and nurture them.  So lots of lost souls - whether educated or not, from any rung of the economic ladder - can get attracted to explanations that answer their questions about themselves.  This man's solution does reveal a lack of thinking through how all this would work, or even the idea of 'my people.'   




Anchorage Rally Against Racism Planned For 3pm Town Square Sunday

From We Are Anchorage FB page:

Details
In response to the growing hate and racism across the country - with the events in Charlottesville being a painful example of our tense racial climate - we are calling on all people in Anchorage (and surrounding areas) to come together on Sunday, August 13th, 3pm at Town Square Park in Downtown Anchorage! We call on everyone to unite against racism and to stand together - AS ONE - to loudly proclaim that racism has no place in Anchorage and in our Nation! #AlaskaAgainstRacism #DefendCVille
PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD AND WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AT THE RALLY! (Bring Signs and Your Energy!!!)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Summer Jazz Last Night And Tonight At UAA

Two hours of wonderful jazz last night at UAA.  There's a jazz camp this summer with 20 students on all sorts of instruments from sax, clarinet, piano, drums, guitar, to trumpet.  Most are young students but a few are adults.  A group of Anchorage jazz musicians is working with the campers, with each faculty having a small team.

Last night the faculty gave a concert.

Tonight the students give a concert.

If you like jazz, this is a great little venue - up close and inexpensive.  (This is real jazz, no Kenny G here.)

It was a pleasure to let the sounds of these musicians wash over and through me.  The metaphorical spotlight constantly highlighted different members of the band.

Here are some pictures from last night.  Sorry, no music, beaus I didn't get permission before the performance.







Before things started I got a few pictures.


















Here's John Damville (sitting at the drum) talking to saxophonist Ron Belinsky and trumpeter Yngvil Vatn Guttu.










I did sneak a couple of pictures during the concert.  This one shows, from left to right, Bob Andrews, base; Yngvill Guttu, trumpet; Ron Zelinsky, sax;  a student whose name I didn't catch who joined them on two numbers; and Mark Manners, guitar.

Then I got the drummer, Cameron Cartland, whose hidden in the picture above.



The UAA recital hall is a sweet room for music.  It's intimate and the acoustics are fantastic.  This concert starts at 7:30.  While it's not the faculty tonight, they sounded pretty proud of the work the campers are doing.  The details are in the poster above.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Spore Print

Back yard.

Big white mushroom.

Under, dark brown gills.

Spore print:




Maybe a horse mushroom, but not sure enough to eat it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

How To Raise A Kid Who Was Born A Crime

I'm reading Trevor Noah's Born A Crime.  Lots to chew on with every page.  It starts with a copy of the Immorality Act, 1927 which states that 
"1.  Any European male who has illicit* carnal intercourse with a native female, and any native male who has illicit carnal intercourse with a European female . . .shall be guilty of an offense and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years."
Part 2 says the same about females, but their maximum imprisonment was only 4 years.  In Chapter 2, Born A Crime, we learn:
"I grew up in south Africa during apartheid, which was awkward because I was raised in a mixed family, with me being the mixed one in the family.  My mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, is black.  My father, Robert, is white.  Swiss/German, to be precise, which Swiss/Germans invariably are.  During apartheid, one of the worst crimes you could commit was having sexual relations with a person of another race.  Needless to say, my parents committed that crime." 
So why is Trevor, in that situation, a living crime?
"In any society built on institutionalized racism, race-mixing doesn't merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent.  Race-mixing proves that races can mix - and in a lot of cases, want to mix.  Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race-mixing becomes a crime worse than treason."
To find out how his mom and dad got together, you'll need to read the book, but to follow up on the title of this post, I want pull out a few quotes about how Nombuyiselo reared Trevor.

While other members of the family had names with meaning, which the children inevitably lived out, Nombuyiselo wanted Trevor 'beholden to no fate.'  So she gave him a name with no meaning built in.
"She wanted me to be free to go anywhere, do anything, be anyone. 
She gave me the tools do do it as well.  She taught me English as my first language.  She read to me constantly. . . My mom would bring home boxes that white people had donated - picture books, chapter books, any book she could get her hands on. . .  
If my mother had one goal, it was to free my mind.  My mother spoke to me like an adult, which was unusual.  In south Africa, kids play with kids and adults talk to adults.  The adults supervise you, but they don't get down on your level and talk to you.  My mom did.  All the time.  I was like her best friend.  She was always telling me stories, giving me lessons, Bible lessons especially.  She was big into Psalms.  I had to read Psalms every day.  She would quiz me on it.  "What does that passage mean?  What does it mean to you?  How do you apply it to your life?"  That was eery day of my life.  My mom did what school didn't.  She taught me how to think."

I'm skipping over a lot, but I do want to capture what I thought were key parts of the upbringing without sticking in whole pages.
"Food, or the access to food, was always the measure of how good or bad things were going in our lives.  My mom would always say, "My job is to feed your body, feed your spirit, and feed your mind."  That's exactly what she did, and the way she found money for food and books was to spend absolutely nothing on anything else.  Her frugality was the stuff of legend.  Our car was a tin can on wheels, and we lived in the middle of nowhere.  She had threadbare furniture, busted old sofas with holes worn through the fabric.  Our TV was a tiny black-and-white with a bunny aerial on top.  We changed the channels using a pair of pliers because the buttons didn't work.  Most of the time you had to squint to see what was going on.
We always wore secondhand clothes, from Goodwill stores or that were giveaways from white people at church.  All the other  kids at school had brands, Nike and Adidas.  I never got brands.  One time I asked my mom for Adidas sneakers.  She came home with some knock-off brand, Abidas.
"Mom, these are fake,"  I said.
"I don't see the difference."
"Look at the logo, There are four strikes instead of three."
"Lucky you,"  she said.  "You got one extra."
After writing more about all the places his mom would take him in their spare time - to fancy white neighborhoods, ice skating, the drive-in movie theater - he tells us why that mattered:

"My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do.  When I look back I realize she raised me like a white kid - not white culturally, but in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster, that I should speak up for myself, that my ideas and thoughts and decisions mattered."

But if you think his mom treated him like a little prince, well, you'd be wrong.

"My mother used to tell me, "I chose to have you because I wanted something to love and something that would love me unconditionally in return - and then I gave birth to the most selfish piece of shit on earth and all it ever did was cry and eat and shit and say, "Me, me, me, me me."
My mom thought having a child was going to be like having a partner, but every child is born the center of its own universe, incapable of understanding the world beyond its own wants and needs, and I was no different."

As Noah traces his upbringing, he does it with the background of the ending of Apartheid in South Africa and his perspective is a little different from what we normally get in the media.

And how does this sort of child rearing work?  In Noah's case, pretty amazingly.  Here's this poor (in the literal sense) mixed race South African kid being raised by a single mom, not fitting in either the black world or the white world because his light skin reveals the crime his mom committed.  Yet from their he eventually got out of South Africa and took over when Jon Stewart left The Daily Show.  That says a lot for him mom's parental skills.  There are millions of talented kids out there, but most of their talents will never be more than partially realized.  This is why I think parenting is the most important job in the world and screwing up that job makes a civil society that more difficult.


*It seems to me the word illicit here is superfluous.  Using it implies there was such a thing as non-illicit carnal knowledge. . .   But I'm assuming that in this system, mixed marriage was also illegal.  So there would have been nothing but illicit carnal knowledge between the races back then.