Friday, September 19, 2014

Alaska Election Gets Yet Stranger As Oil Consultant Brad Keithley Pledges $200K To Change Election

Brad Keithley is apparently taking advantage of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and will, according to APRN, spend $200,000 of his own money in order to pursue his concern that the state is spending too much money.

From his blog at Alaskans For Sustainable Budgets:
Today I am taking the next step in the effort by announcing the legislative races in which I intend to participate.  They are House Districts 15, 19, 21 and 25.  I also am going closely to watch Senate Districts K and N, and, after studying the dynamics at play, House District 9 over the next two to three weeks with the possibility of participating in them as well.  A brief description of the reasoning follows:  [You can read the rest here] [And you can check on the Alaska election districts here.]

He identifies spenders and savers.  He's targeted two incumbent Republicans and will support their Democratic opponents;  one Democratic incumbent and will support her Libertarian opponent; and another Republican over a Democrat in a seat with no incumbent.

His basic criterion is whether the candidate will vote for a sustainable budget.

There are a couple more races he's considering campaigning in.

 Is this a good thing?  If you are a challenger struggling to raise money to unseat an incumbent, this probably looks good.  Keithley isn't going to give money directly to candidates, because there are limits to how much you can give as an individual.  Instead he will essentially have a PAC that will independently support candidates. 

To what extent will this affect what the chosen candidates say and do?  The blog acknowledges that some of his choices are just based on questionnaires returned to him by candidates and that they might not follow through.  But he's not worried,
 "If Moore fails to live up to his words I will work to defeat him also in two years"
 For $200,000 you can be an Alaskan Koch it seems. Keithley isn't taking on the governor's race, but given Bill Walker's rhetoric on the budget deficits at the announcement of the Walker/Mallot ticket, it would seem Keithley would be supporting him, especially since the incumbent Sean Parnell was one of the architects of the current deficit budget that Keithley opposes. 

One of the incumbents he opposed came out fighting,  accusing Keithley of being a bully who takes advantage of women.  

This is not politics as usual.  It will be interesting.  November 4 is only seven weeks away. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Can We Simplify Politics? Simpolfy Thinks They Can

A family member runs a business incubator - called Fledge - for socially-conscious startups.  They have a new group that started a week or so ago.  The website tells it succinctly:
Fledge helps impactful entrepreneurs take their ideas and prototype-stage companies into reality, via an intense, 10-week program of guidance, education, and mentorship, plus a large and growing network of support from past fledglings and hundreds of mentors.
Fledge receives applications from around the world, inviting just 6-7 to participate.  Each team is paid for the privilege, in exchange for an investment in a unique revenue-based model, where you ultimately keep the ownership of your startup.
Our goal is to help foster a wave of companies that make not just a measurable impact in the world, but a noticeable improvement in the lives of everyone on the planet.
So I was looking at the list of new Fledglings and one jumped out for me - mainly because it's a topic I know a little about.  It's called Simpolfy and the aim is set up a website:
"that simplifies politics so you can hold your representatives accountable to you!"
Their particular goal is a) to simplify complicated legislation and b) communicate to users about bills of interest to them.   You can get more details directly from Simpolfy's Indiegogo page where I got the video below.

This is a great concept.  There's simply way too much data out in the world for people to keep track of what's going on.  But simplifying legislation is also difficult.  I tried to do that when I blogged the legislature.  If you hang out at the committee meetings and read the bills carefully, you can get a good idea of what's in the bills.  But really good bill writers know how to word things, using references to other legislation, or specifying parameters so that even clever folks can't figure out that the intent is to favor a particular company or to make it impossible to, say, get an abortion.

This also raises questions for me about what they do with the information they collect from users.  It would seem of great interest to politicians and their handlers.  But these things can be worked out and I'm sure that's what they are busy doing now.  The bigger goal - turning data into useful information - is a worthy one, something that other websites - such as those that parse political ads to determine if they are truthful - have been successfully doing. 

At the end of the ten week period the Fledglings present their companies at Demo Day.  If you're in Seattle October 23 you can go see the presentations, but get your tickets early.  I was able to attend one of these and it was an exciting evening of possibilities.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Leaving LAX - Light Games

These are all straight from the camera, no photoshop and in chronological order from taxiing to take off.  I like the latter ones best. 

The red comes from the decorative light tubes where the airport road connects with Sepulveda.

I have no idea why the blue lights in the foreground look stable while the background lights reflect the slow shutter speed and the planes movement.  

These shots remind me that what we see is that tiny part of the world that our eyes are wired to capture and our brain is wired to interpret.  With different eyes, we'd see different things and know different things.  For example, what if we didn't see skin pigment, just whether people were benevolent or threatening. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chinese Week At UAA - Food, Movies, And Other Treats

The Confucius Institute at UAA is sponsoring a Chinese culture week.  There's food, movies, and other activities. 

This is a heads up for next week.  It looks like everything is free.  I'll have to check if they have free parking passes for events too. 

I'll try to find out more about the movies - there are three short films - the poster they sent me is a little hard to read.  

Click to enlarge and focus

The Confucius Institute is the Chinese version of things like the American Libraries abroad or the German Goethe Institute, used to spread Chinese culture around the world.  The Confucius Institutes are connected with universities.  There have been some reports that they are part of the Chinese espionage system.  Whether that's true or not, these events are available and past events that I've attended were pretty good to excellent. 

I'm at LAX waiting for my plane out of the heat and back to decent weather. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who Skips Fisheries Debate? [UPDATED]

[UPDATED 1:45pm:  Apparently, not Dan Sullivan any longer.  According to Lanie Welch's column in today's ADN:
"The lure of reaching a statewide audience was too much to pass up for U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Sullivan, who will be at the Oct. 1 fisheries debate at Kodiak after all.    Sullivan was able to reshuffle a packed travel schedule to fit in the fisheries event, said Ben Sparks, campaign manager. Sullivan initially was going to be in Bethel on a multi-day swing through Southwest Alaska during the time of the Kodiak event. “Dan recognizes the importance of Alaska’s fisheries, and our campaign has rescheduled our southwest swing to ensure that Dan could make the debate. He looks forward to a healthy exchange of ideas with Mark Begich on the future of Alaska’s fisheries, and is excited to attend the debate in Kodiak,” his campaign said in a prepared statement."

The original post below should be read with the above in mind.]

This letter to the editor was in the ADN Sunday. [I couldn't get the link to the ADN, but it was also in the Kenai Peninsual Clarion]:
"Who skips fisheries debate?    I had to ask myself this week does Dan Sullivan actually want to get elected in November? I’m not sure he does, since he chose to skip the fisheries debate in Kodiak. Or he is a complete fool and had no idea the giant mistake he made by turning down this debate.    Either way, Sullivan just proved what Sen. Begich and Democrats have been saying all along he doesn’t know or care about Alaska.    Bill Starnes"

Why couldn't he make it?  According to debate organizers, via Lanie Welch, ADN's fishing reporter:
"Sullivan campaign manager Ben Sparks told debate organizers that Sullivan does not have a prior commitment keeping him from the fisheries debate, but that “he is just too busy with all the traveling he is doing.” The two-hour debate is broadcast live to over 330 Alaska communities."

I think at least three more credible possibilities beyond the two Starnes gives:
  1. He knows that Begich, after six years in the Senate and as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard knows his fisheries much better than Sullivan and that Sullivan would look bad in comparison.
  2. He knows his policies as Attorney General and Natural Resources Commissioner - helping get rid of local input in development, on Pebble Mine, and other issues wouldn't sit well with the fishers anyway.
  3. He's simply biding by the old saying, attributed, incorrectly it seems, to Abraham Lincoln, 
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
Maybe a combination of all three.  He knew this was a fight he couldn't possibly win. 

[Note on dubiously attributed quotes:  The link goes to a website called Quote Investigator:  Exploring the Origins of Quotes.  It looks like a much better sources than all the spurious 'quote' sites that just copy things incorrectly from other places.   The discussion on this quote makes it highly unlikely that it came from Lincoln and also looks at similar sentiments from the bible.]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Counterintuitive - Swimming Pools And Drought

"As California's drought worsens, swimming pools have become a target for those who think the classic backyard oasis wastes water. Some water districts have prohibited new pools from being filled and have limited how much water existing pools can use."  From the  LA Times 

I'm in LA right now.  California is in a severe drought.
"With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages."
 California's first seven months of 2014 have been the hottest on record.  And to make the point, at 10 am today it was already 88˚F downtown with 25% humidity. Now, at 11 am, it's 93˚.   Fire danger is high. 

TWater levels are low.   The state of California has been taking steps to get water consumers to reduce their water usage. 

Swimming pools would seem to be a slap in the face to everyone trying to save water. 

But the the LA Times article headline actually is:
"Water agencies are learning pools aren't a big factor during drought"
The article tells us (in part):
"Analyses by various water districts, along with scientific studies, conclude that pools and their surrounding hardscapes use about the same amount of water as a lawn of the same size. Over time, pools might even use less water. With pool covers, experts say water evaporation can be cut by almost half, making pools significantly less wasteful than grass and about as efficient as drought-tolerant landscaping."
"Facing complaints over a recent ban on filling pools, the Santa Margarita Water District conducted its own water-use analysis. It found that pools require thousands of gallons of water to fill initially, but they use about 8,000 gallons less water than a traditional landscape after that. By the third year, the analysis found, the savings add up, and a pool's cumulative water use falls below that of a lawn."
 I always like it when things we think are so obvious turn out not to be true.  But also, let's be careful with this as well.   The article doesn't tell us the specific 'scientific studies' but it does mention the pool lobby was involved.
"At least two California water distributors have rolled back pool-filling limitations after being contacted by the pool lobby and crunching the numbers." 
Whose numbers did they crunch?  The pool lobby's?   Compared to green lawns, pools might use less water (after three years), but there are relatively few green lawns left as water restrictions are in effect.  And drought-tolerant landscaping probably is more environmentally friendly and heat reducing than the cement that surrounds most backyard pools.  And their calculations seem to assume that people conscientiously use their pool covers when the pools are not in use.  I suspect that isn't the case. 

While looking for the scientific studies online, I found a more thorough San Gabriel Valley Tribune  article on this back in July with an aerial view of pools.

ISPACA (International Swimming Pool and Automatic Cover Association) has a list of studies that shows pool covers save energy and water, but most seem to be focused on the energy savings.  A US Department of Energy study they list does also say there are water savings, but doesn't compare the savings to lawns.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Well, they were going to fill this parking lot at Rose and Venice Beach today no matter what they charged.  And for all day, I guess that's not too bad.  But it's the highest I remember seeing. It was supposed to be pushing 100˚F downtown and the beaches were supposed to pretty warm as well. 

I got my bike ride in before ten and you could feel the beach was drawing people towards it.  But the breeze from riding the bike felt nice and it seems to have turned out not quite so bad as expected. says it's only 84˚ in downtown LA now (about 4pm) and 79˚ in Santa Monica.

But it got pretty warm in my mom's house.  Being pretty close to the beach means that you almost never need air conditioning.  I closed most of the windows as the day warmed up, but I've opened them now and there's a "cool" ocean breeze coming in. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Money's capacity to turn morality into a matter of impersonal arithmetic . . ."

I'd been reading David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years so I had a newly focused understanding when I read this sentence from the LA Times story on the pending Detroit bankruptcy settlement:
"The creditor was frustrated that a deal had been reached to transfer the works in Detroit Institute of Arts to a public trust and use foundation money to nearly make city pensioners whole, while other creditors were expected to receive pennies on the dollar."
The unusual part of this story is that the pensioners would be paid before the money creditors and their insurance companies. 

Why is this unusual?  Because usually the bankers get paid first - as we know from the housing crash when the bankers, who pushed lenders [borrowers] into loans the bankers knew the lenders [borrowers] couldn't pay, got paid, while homeowners lost their houses.

Graeber argues that our unquestioned moral certainty that "people must pay their debts" makes it easier for bankers and other lenders to enforce collection of debts, even if the conditions were impossible for the borrower from the beginning. 

He discusses how to distinguish between moral obligations and debts.  This is, he says, the basic question of the book.
"What, precisely, does it mean to say that our sense of morality and justice is reduced to the language of a business deal?  What does it mean when we reduce moral obligations to debts?  What changes when the one turns into the other?  And how do we speak about them when our language has been so shaped by the market?  On one level the difference between an obligation and a debt is simple and obvious.  A debt is the obligation to pay a certain sum of money.  As a result, a debt, unlike any other form of obligation, can be precisely quantified.  This allows debts to become simple, cold, and impersonal - which, in turn, allows them to be transferable.  If one owes a favor, or one's life, to another human being - it is owed to that person specifically.  But if one owes forty thousand dollars at 12-percent interest, it doesn't really matter who the creditor is;  neither does either of the two parties have to think much about what the other party needs, wants, is capable of doing - as they certainly would if what was owed was a favor, or respect, or gratitude.  One does not need to calculate the human effects;  one need only calculate principal, balances,  penalties, and rates of interest.  If you end up having to abandon your home and wander in other provinces, if your daughter ends up in a mining camp working as a prostitute [he'd given such an example from Nepal], well, that's unfortunate, but incidental to the creditor.  Money is money, and a deal is a deal."
Thus when the bankers call on the City of Detroit to pay up, the public outside of Detroit is primed to assume the city has been deadbeat and even though it's unfortunate, the banks have a right to take over the art at the Art Institute and get paid before retirees get their pensions.  

The Art Institute raises other issues to be argued about, but not here now.

But the retired employees also had a deal with the city.  They worked for years with the knowledge, based on a written contract, that after they worked a significant part of their lives they would get a pension. For many - particularly those in professional positions - they gave up the immediate higher pay and bonuses they could have gotten in the private sector for the pension.

Graeber's point is that by adding the moral imperative to pay one's debt to the business impersonality of 'a deal is a deal' lenders have gotten away with insisting on being paid, even if the lending conditions and paying consequences are inhumane.  Because humanity has been taken out of the equation.
"From this perspective, the crucial factor, and a topic that will be explored at length in these pages, is money's capacity to turn morality into a matter of impersonal arithmetic - and by doing so, to justify things that would otherwise seem outrageous or obscene. The factor of violence, which I have been emphasizing up until now, may appear secondary. The difference between a "debt" and a mere moral obligation is not the presence or absence of men with weapons who can enforce that obligation by seizing the debtor's possessions or threatening to break his legs. It is simply that a creditor has the means to specify, numerically, exactly how much the debtor owes."
I already knew something about how the language of instrumental rationality has taken over the language substantive rationality.   Very simply that means that the rational thinking processes we use to achieve a goal or solve a physical problem (say build a highway) are different from the rational thinking processes needed to consider moral questions (if the highway through a neighborhood is a good a good thing.)   I studied under Alberto Guerreiro-Ramos while he was writing The New Science of Administration, in which he argues that the distinction between the two different rationalities has been lost as people use instrumental rationality to resolve moral questions.  As when economists are called into court to help determine the value of the deceased's lost life, so the family can be paid off.     Guerreiro-Ramos
"was one of the earliest scholars to point to the risks of a social science that took homo economicus as its referent. A solution that he offered for this dilemma was to recognize the importance of non-market settings in which people could pursue other, non-materialist interests."
But I hadn't thought about - and that is Graeber's point - how the moral weight of paying one's debt assists international lenders in collecting their money even though the both the terms of the original loan and the consequences of collecting payment are unjust, even inhumane.

He does point out that the financial crisis of 2008 did loosen people's firmly held beliefs enough to get a conversation about this started.  But that has faded.  But the terms of the Detroit settlement seem to suggest that maybe there's been at least a little shift.

I do think this is an important book.  The previous post on it gave an example of international lenders unconscionable actions in Madagascar.  Here's another one from the book about Haiti.
But debt is not just victor's justice; it can also be a way of punishing winners who weren't supposed to win. The most spectacular example of this is the history of the Republic of Haiti - the first poor country to be placed in permanent debt peonage. Haiti was a nation founded by former plantation slaves who had the temerity not only to rise up in rebellion, amidst grand declarations of universal rights and freedoms, but to defeat Napoleon's armies sent to return them to bondage. France immediately insisted that the new republic owed it 150 million francs in damages for the expropriated plantations, as well as the expenses of outfitting the failed military expeditions, and all other nations, including the United States, agreed to impose an embargo on the country until it was paid. The sum was intentionally impossible (equivalent to about 18 billion dollars) , and the resultant embargo ensured that the name "Haiti" has been a synonym for debt, poverty, and human misery ever since. 

The whole book is online and I would encourage readers to at least bookmark it, but even better, read the first chapter.  It reads far more interestingly than people would expect from a book on finance. You can find the passages in this post by cutting them here and pasting them into the search at the pdf file of the book.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

So Predictable

August 20, 2014  (after Prop. 1 which would have repealed the big oil company tax break lost):
"Gov. Sean Parnell says it’s now time for the oil industry to increase its investment in oil field projects that create jobs for Alaskans."

September 8, 2014
"ExxonMobil told state regulators again last week not to expect an increase in oil production on the North Slope, arguing it is a “reasonable approach” to conclude that a long-term decline is continuing."*
That this was going to happen was so obvious that 89,608 Alaskans voted "Yes" on Prop. 1 on August 18.  That's only 10,147 fewer than those who voted "No" despite the stars being lined up for the "No" campaign:
  • There were no real contests on the Democratic ballot to get Yes votes out.
  • There were a number of interesting contests - particularly the Senate race - on the Republican ballot
Thus many more Republicans were likely to vote
  • The "No" campaign spent 30 or 40 times more money than the "Yes" campaign

So Gov, a question.  What are you planning on doing when the other oil companies do not increase their investments in oil fields?   You going to say you need more proof like you did with the National Guard?  Even if you have proof, what will you do?  Being loyal to your friends is a virtue, Gov, but only if you have better quality friends. 

*To be fair, the article also said that Tesoro challenged Exxon's prediction. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jelly Fish, Puffins, And Starfish Lunch

jelly fish

jelly fish

early morning over Seattle

tufted puffin

starfish eating a fish

Got to go with my granddaughter and daughter to the Seattle aquarium between flights today. 

When I flew in, just the peak of Rainier was showing in the distance.

And when I left in the afternoon.

And a little closer as we flew by.