Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump Threatens To Kill (At Least) 25.3 Million People

[Note to Readers:  This was meant to be a short response to Trump's comment at the UN this morning about destroying North Korea.  But as I read the whole speech, (which you can read here) I realized that there was a lot more to it than just that comment.  Though that comment certainly stands out.  Analyzing the whole talk is worthwhile.  My initial reaction is: 

  • There are a lot of worthwhile aspirational ideals
  • There are lots of contradictions between those ideals in some places and what he says in other places.
  • There is nothing particularly thoughtful or detailed.  
  • There are some parts that might be revealing of how Trump thinks about the world (though I suspect he tends to 'feel' rather than 'think')
When I tried to find some factual reference for the consequences of the US attacking North Korea, I found a long New Yorker article dated yesterday by Evan Osnos who was in North Korea in August.  The article itself offers a lot of context for North Korea's behavior, for our (mis)interpretations or them and theirs of us.  

So I'm going to stick to the comment on destroying North Korea in this post, recommend the New Yorker  article to readers, and maybe be able to review the speech and the article in separate posts.]

Post starts here:

Trump doesn't exactly say he's ready to kill 25.3 million people.  I doubt he has any idea of the population of North Korea or has visualized what his threat would mean. Here's what he actually said:
"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about; that’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do."
There are SO MANY different angles one could (and should) address this.  I'm just going to look at the implications of "totally destroying North Korea."  

1.  North Korea had 25.37 million people in 2016.  But experts argue that an attack on North Korea cannot be undertaken without North Korea also attacking South Korea, whose population was estimated to be 51 million in 2016.  

From a long New Yorker article by Evan Osnos, dated September 18, 2017: 
"The Obama Administration studied the potential costs and benefits of a preventive war intended to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Its conclusion, according to Rice, in the Times, was that it would be “lunacy,” resulting in “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties.” North Korea likely would retaliate with an attack on Seoul. The North has positioned thousands of artillery cannons and rocket launchers in range of the South Korean capital, which has a population of ten million, and other densely populated areas. (Despite domestic pressure to avoid confrontation, South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in, has accepted the installation of an American missile-defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or thaad.)
Some two hundred thousand Americans live in South Korea. (Forty thousand U.S. military personnel are stationed in Japan, which would also be vulnerable.) A 2012 study of the risks of a North Korean attack on Seoul, by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, estimates that sixty-five thousand civilians would die on the first day, and tens of thousands more in the days that followed. If Kim used his stockpiles of sarin gas and biological weapons, the toll would reach the millions. U.S. and South Korean forces could eventually overwhelm the North Korean military, but, by any measure, the conflict would yield one of the worst mass killings in the modern age."
Were Trump to really attempt to 'totally destroy North Korea' he would find himself moved high onto the top ten list of the world's mass murderers - along with Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.

There are many ways one can look at this statement.

  • Is it just bluster?  
  • What kind of language is appropriate in the UN?  
  • How will the UN members react?
  • How will North Korea react?
  • Does Trump's behavior give license to others to act badly?

All of these could be discussed seriously.

  • Are there times when bluster is appropriate and inappropriate.  One could argue that Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump might have a lot of similarities and thus can understand each other's bluster.  But that's open to a lot of debate.  
  • One could argue that the UN is overly stuffy and people say what's polite and never confront serious issues and thus some bluster is needed to shake the place up.  I think that might be true on some issues, but frank talk does not equal bluster.  
  • Maybe, as the rest of the paragraph suggests, this 'totally destroy' language is simply to provoke the UN to do its job of ensuring peace.  

I would note that Kim Jong Un might rather like the nickname "Rocket Man."  From the New Yorker  article:
"On an embankment near a major intersection, workers in gray coveralls were installing an enormous red sign that praised the 'immortal achievements of the esteemed Supreme Leader, comrade Kim Jong Un, who built the nuclear state of Juche, the leader in rocket power!'”

Go read the New Yorker article, it's got much more meat than I can add here.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sanctuary State - Why It's Harder For Trump To Dominate US Than It Was For Hitler To Dominate Germany

Back in February I did a post called Structural Difference Between US and 1930's Germany That Makes It Harder For Trump which recalled the lessons I learned from my mother who grew up in Nazi Germany and how that helped me see, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, the stark differences between a centralized national bureaucracy and one where each state had significant independence from the capital.

Screenshot LA Times 9/17/17

Yesterday I was reminded of that lesson once again when I saw this headline for an LA Times story:  State to become a 'sanctuary'.

In a centralized bureaucracy like they had in Nazi Germany or have in Thailand, all government is controlled out of Berlin or Bangkok - education, police, health, everything.

But in the US the federal government is in charge of certain things and states have the power over everything else.  The Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
(Article 1 of the Constitution which enumerates the federal powers is not nearly as brief.)

Some of that state independence has eroded as Congress has, over the years, tied federal funding to compliance with the federal mandates.

But individual states, police departments, school districts, can risk the funding if they object strongly enough to the federal demands.  They can, essentially, tell the feds to go to hell.   In this sanctuary case they are telling state employees not to enforce (partially at least*) immigration laws because those are federal, not state, responsibilities.  And in this sanctuary case, it appears that so far, the courts have agreed with the states that the feds can't withhold federal funding to sanctuary cities.  (That's also mentioned in the LA Times story.)

Of course, states rights are a good thing when they protect what you feel is important, but not when they protect things to which you object.  The rights of African-Americans were horrendously violated in the post-civil war south through to Jim Crow and even after the civil rights acts of 1964, on the grounds of 'states rights.'  And the states that have legalized marijuana are improvising a tricky dance with the feds around conflicting laws.

But I'm pleased to see how many Americans are standing up for the rights of immigrants, particularly the DACA folks.  We've come a long way since Japanese-Americans, including US citizens, were incarcerated during WW II, with very little objection from the rest of the population.

*The new sanctuary law in California, the article tells us, does allow some cooperation, mainly regarding immigrants with criminal violations.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Having Trouble Figuring Out What's Politically Correct And What's Just Correct?

I don't see much difference in concept among these events.  But some have been called politically correct while others aren't.  Can you guess which of these events have been labeled 'politically correct' and which ones haven't?

The only distinction I can see is if the action is taken by liberals, it's political correctness.  If by conservatives it's not.

Which just helps demonstrate what I've said all along - political correctness is when someone behaves  a certain way so as not to rile the powers that be.  But the Right has done its PR magic to make it seem that only the Left is politically correct.  When the Right does this, it's just the right thing to do.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Turntable's Working Right Again Thanks To Old Fashioned Craftsman

The turntable is old.  From the sixties, and it had a serious problem:  the arm didn't lift high enough when the record was finished and it scratched its way back.  The only way I could safely listen to a record was to be careful to catch the arm when the record was done.  You know I'm going to miss my cue now and then.

I'm listing to Aftermath as I write this thanks to Jan Ok Han who runs Sunset Service out of his house.  I got his name from Obsession Records a while ago and I finally called him a couple of weeks ago.  He repairs electronic equipment, like turntables, and he also teaches guitar.  When I dropped the turntable off we had a wide-ranging conversation that included a history lesson on Korea and Japan and information on classical guitar in Anchorage.  That's what I meant in the title about old-fashioned techie.  

There are folks at Best Buy or the Apple store who will take time to talk to you about your computer or camera, but Mr. Han is really an artist who takes great interest in and care of items he works on.  He explained to me in detail what he was going to do and today, what he did.  No giant corporation is tracking data in this transaction.  This is an interaction of love (of what he's doing) and trust between the customer and the  craftsman.  There's both the time and interest for there to be a human interaction rather than just a commercial one.  

Here he's showing me his own guitar which he repaired.  He was showing me how the finish where he repaired the hole wasn't perfect.  It was hard to tell.  He doesn't repair guitars for others now.  This one took too long to do for a customer he said.  

David Oistrahk is playing Prokofiev now.  It reminds me of an incredible concert I went to in Florence the year I was a student in Germany.  Oistrakh was magnificent.  There was a standing ovation at the end, but most of the people left.  There were maybe 40 people left in the audience, yet he played another encore.  It was one of those concert experiences when you leave your body and fly with the music.  

Thanks Han for the pleasure of meeting you, for fixing my turntable, and reconnecting me with Oistrahk right now.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

For Something Totally Different - Casting Out Nines

My son-in-law sent me this video.  It's always cool to learn new tricks, especially when they are 'simple.'  I've put quotes around that because this trick is simple up to a point.  The practical part.  The explanation of why it works might need a couple of reviews to catch.

Trust me here and just start watching this.  If you don't like it, just stop.  But you won't stop if you have any curiosity at all.

He does say that people used this trick back in the old days, before calculators. Well, I learned arithmetic before there were cheap, readily available handheld calculators, and I don't remember anyone ever mentioning this.

He explains why the nines don't matter by giving the example of there being seven days in the week so the sevens don't matter.  But he doesn't exactly say that we're just using nine digits (which I guess get us back to zero which also doesn't matter).  I'm assuming that's the link to seven days of the week.    Anyone know if that's right?

Also, anyone know where he comes from?  I'm assuming UK, but what part?  Listen to how he says Monday for example.  That must narrow it down for people who know British dialects.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Vietnam War, Fiber Infrastructure, Chinese Language, Community Engagement

I was in meetings most of today and then went to see the Alaska Humanity Forum's preview of Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War.  We saw excerpts of each episode.  As someone who lived through that period, I didn't hear anything new.  There was discussion afterward.  But first AKHF director asked audience members who were veterans to stand.  Then those who were Vietnam veterans to stand.  Then those who had family members of friends who were veterans.  Then questions were asked - "Why did you come here tonight?" was the first one - and we were asked to discuss them with people nearby.  

I was struck, after watching the excerpts that covered soldiers from both sides as well as protesters, that people who protested the war weren't asked to stand.  And one of the audience did make that comment to the whole group.

The series will be worth watching when it comes on - not only for people who lived those years, but more so for those who only know the historical myths of that period.

But that's all excuse for why I haven't posted today and to explain why I'm taking the easy way out and letting you know about some talks coming up in the next few days at the UAA bookstore.
They are all free.
(There's free parking for these events in the parking lot near the bookstore.  And for people who can't make them, the videos will eventually be online, probably here.)

Thursday, September 14 from 5:00 pm-7:00 pm
Darrel Hess presents Leave It To Beaver, Cocaine & God: My Journey to Community Engagement

In  Leave It To Beaver, Cocaine & God: My Journey to Community Engagement Darrel Hess talks about growing up in the shadow of domestic violence, his arrest for selling cocaine to an undercover Alaska State Trooper, coming to terms with his sexual orientation, his relationship with God, and his struggles to find himself and his place in the world.
Today, Darrel Hess works as Anchorage’s Municipal Ombudsman and is a member of the Advisory Council for UAA’s Center for Community Engagement and Learning.   A pillar in the Anchorage community, Darrel Hess has served as Anchorage’s first Homeless Coordinator and was a member of the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission.  He has served on the board of Identity, Inc.  and is the recipient of the 2014 Alaska First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Award.
Everyone is encouraged to welcome and meet the dedicated and amazing Darrel Hess. 
There is free parking for this event in the South Lot, Sports Complex NW Lot, West Campus Central Lot, and Sports Campus West Lot.

Friday, September 15 from 3:00 pm-5:00 pm
Dr. Shinian Wu presents Linguistic Challenges in Learning Chinese
Dr. Shinian Wu presents linguistic challenges and cultural congruence in learning Chinese as a second language. His talk will discuss contrasts between Chinese and English, how languages create socio-cognitive processes in language socialization.

 Dr. Shinian Wu. Professor of English and director of the graduate program in Applied Linguistics, English Department, Grand Valley State University, Michigan.
This event is sponsored with the UAA Confucius Institute. Everyone is welcomed to attend. There is free parking at UAA on Fridays.

 Saturday, September 16 from 1:00 pm-3:00 pm
Dr. Sebastian Neumayer presents Fiber Infrastructure and Natural Disasters
Dr. Sebastian Neumayer, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, UAA, shares his research on the effects of natural disasters on fiber infrastructure. While investigating the survivability of networks in the face of geographically correlated failures, he will discuss algorithms that identify the most vulnerable parts of real-world networks to large-scale disasters.
In addition to his academic research, Sebastian Neumayer will discuss The BTC Ring, an open-source Bitcoin project that integrates jewelry and digital assets. The BTC Ring can mitigate the risk that traditional jewelry has to loss and theft as well as can be used as an alternative to diamond engagement rings.
Everyone is invited to attend this fascinating event and learn how we can better prepare for "natural" environmental and emotional disasters.
There is free parking at UAA on Saturdays.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Falling - A Blue Bridge, Morning Nip, First Yellow Leaves, End of Summer Anchorage Botanical Garden

I woke up and looked out into the backyard.  The sun lit up a a section of yellow cottonwood leaves.  Fall's on the way.  But when I went back out later to catch it in my camera, the light had changed and it wasn't as obviously fall.

Here's a bridge I cross on my most common bike route.  The morning light, as the sun rises later and from a more southernly angle, isn't summer light any more.

OK, so it's not Amsterdam, but the bike rack was full when I visited the dermatologist this morning for a checkup.  It's been a while, but he didn't find anything of interest.

Then after a lunch with a friend, I went off to go home the long way.  I felt sluggish and the bike seemed  particularly clunky, but slowly I got into it and when I got to the cutoff where I had to decide to keep riding further or loop back home, I found myself going for the longer ride.

I turned around at the Campbell Airstrip trail head, but first went to the bridge and listened to the creek a while.  Here is the view from the bridge looking west.

And looking east.  There was a man sitting on a bench near the parking area with his little white dog and we chatted a bit.  He talked about dredging for gold near Nome.  There was a guy from Yugoslavia, he told me, who had a young son, maybe four or five.  One day the guy was going out on the water to dredge and asked the man to watch the boy.  They did some work in the sand and the boy was very helpful.  At the end of the day, he told the boy he worked so hard that he should pay him a dollar.  And the boy looked at him and held out two fingers.  Smart kid, he said.

Then I stopped at the botanical garden on my way home.  Here are some shots as most of the flowers are gone, but there still are many out.

I looked around for the sign that seemed to be connected to this pinkie. I just confirmed with google that this is the flower for that sign.  It's a filapendula Kahome or Meadowsweet.  From the Missouri Botanical Garden:
"Genus name comes from the Latin words filum meaning a thread and pendulus meaning hanging for the root tubers in some species that hang together with threads.
‘Kahome’ is a dwarf form of meadowsweet. It is an upright, clump-forming perennial that typically grows only 8-12” tall and features branched, terminal, astilbe-like panicles (corymbs) of tiny, fragrant, rosy pink flowers in summer. Compound-pinnate, bright green leaves (7-9 lance-shaped leaflets each) provide a fern-like appearance. This is a good foliage plant that is valued as much for its leaves as it is for its flowers."

This one's a Globe Thistle.

And here's a lily finishing out its life cycle.

And the seed pods of a peony.  

This is part of Lile's Garden.  It's a wonderful spot, though at first I was a bit conflicted.  Originally, the garden was dirt paths through the woods with an opening here and there with some planted things in amongst the natural Alaska landscape.  But the Alaska Botanical Garden has worked hard to be more than a bunch of volunteers putting some plots in the wilderness (quite literally.)  And this space is elegant and beautifully designed with a great array of plants and flowers.  Most things are gone now in early September.  I sat down on a bench.  It was cloudy, but felt comfortable enough to sit down and enjoy the garden.  I went to pull my book out of my backpack and that's when I discovered that I must have left it where we had lunch.

Now that I'm home, I checked a little more on this serene (I just saw that ABG uses the same word, so it must be true, right?) spot.  From the Alaska Botanical Garden website:
"Lile’s Garden
This peaceful and serene garden is named in honor of Lile Bernard Rasmuson. Recently completed, it was designed by renowned landscape  architect, Carol R. Johnson, in conjunction with local firm, Earthscape. Plantings and selections were guided by local artist and Garden Designer Ayse Gilbert. Fruit trees hardy to Southcentral Alaska are showcased  here, as well as a  “Gold Medal” Peony collection and Primula collection."
'Renowned landscape artist.'  So I checked on that too.  She's headquartered in Boston.   Check out what other things Carol R. Johnson's company has designed.  We're in good company.

Finally as I was leaving I was struck by the quiet beauty of this ornamental cabbage.

The Thai Kitchen had my book waiting for me.

Monday, September 11, 2017

"...when burdens like poll taxes and literacy tests were imposed on citizens and registering often required a trip to the local courthouse, voter turnout was far higher than it is now."

Here's the quote from the New York Times article:
"Mr. Gardner said he did not necessarily favor imposing new qualifications for registering and voting, but he added that when burdens like poll taxes and literacy tests were imposed on citizens and registering often required a trip to the local courthouse, voter turnout was far higher than it is now."
So who, you are asking, is Mr. Gardner?

He's the Democratic Secretary of State from New Hampshire (who is in charge of voting there) and he's on Trump's commission to investigate voter fraud.

There's lots more to this article, but lets just address this idea first.

When states had poll taxes and literacy tests (which the US Supreme Court at first ignored by ruling these issues  fell under states' rights, but eventually ruled unconstitutional), a relatively few people were actually allowed to vote.

So, yes, if you count 'turnout' as the percentage of people registered to vote who actually voted, turnout was probably pretty high.  But if you count the voting age population, most of whom were blocked from voting because of poll taxes and literacy tests, then actually, the turnout was dismally low.

Carol Anderson wrote in White Rage:
"1898 Williams v. Mississippi 
"the justices approve the use of the poll tax, which requires citizens to pay a fee - under a set of very arcane, complicated rules - to vote.  Although the discriminatory intent of the requirement was well known prior to the justices' ruling, the highest court in the land sanctioned this formidable barrier to the ballot box.  In fact, Justice Joseph McKenna quoted extensively from the Mississippi Supreme Court's candid admission that the state convention, 'restrained by the federal Constitution from discriminating against the negor race,' opted instead to find a method that 'discriminates against its [African Americans'] characteristics' - namely poverty, illiteracy, and more poverty." (p. 36)
 Anderson notes the impact of this decision.
"As late as 1942, for instance, only 3 percent of the voting-age population cast a ballot in seven poll tax states." (p. 36)" [emphasis added]
Given that Mr. Gardner is a Democrat, my question is whether he made this statement sarcastically or  whether he was seriously thinking about one of the stated goals of the commission:  to find out why voting turnout is so low.

The article states that the entire New Hampshire Congressional delegation asked Mr. Gardner to resign from the commission, but he refused, asking
"whether any of the legislators had ever quit a congressional committee because they disagreed with the views of another member."
I'm not sure that's a fair analogy because Congress members have an obligation to their constituents and sitting on committees is just one of their responsibilities.  On the other hand,  Gardner was appointed to this commission which is seen by many as a way to push the conservative goal of reconstructing obstacles to voting by black and other people of color who are likely to vote for Democrats.  The leader of the committee is the Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach who has made voter suppression a career goal.  

The New Hampshire congressional delegation's request that Mr. Gardner to resign, according to the article,  came about because:
"the commission’s de facto leader has warmed up for the session by suggesting that the election in November of Senator Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat, was rigged. . .
His accusation was based on data from Mr. Gardner’s office showing that 6,540 people in New Hampshire registered to vote on Election Day using out-of-state driver’s licenses to verify their identities, but only 1,014 of the registrants later obtained a New Hampshire license.
Mr. Kobach said that was evidence that the remaining 5,313 registrants were illegal voters from other states — enough voters, he noted, to supply the narrow margins of victory for both Ms. Hassen and Mrs. Clinton."
The article goes on to explain that New Hampshire law allows college students, whose homes may be out of state, to vote in New Hampshire.  They can have out-of-state drivers' licenses as proof of identity.  And most of the incidents where out-of-state licenses were used, were in college towns.

I'm tempted to write, "In this age of fake news . . ." but really, fake news has been part of US history from the beginning.  The difference today is

  • there are more 'publishers' thanks to the internet making everyone a potential publisher, who can spread fake news far and wide
  • there are more 'publishers' and so there are now actually challenges to fake news and people are aware of this phenomenon, whereas in the past, if the three main network television stations or the key newspapers said something, most people didn't have access to the underlying facts that would challenge the 'news'
It's always good to go through these exercises of hearing statements and then getting to see the rest of the context of the story.  It reminds us to always be asking, questioning, and then finding out the whole story.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

One Story of Irma Refugees: Friend And Her Family Flee Sarasota

I just talked to my friend Lynne.  She moved to Sarasota to be with her then 90 year old dad last year. Lynne has been my guide into the world of blindness and it was with mixed feelings that she decided to leave Alaska.

Sarasota is on the west coast of Florida.  It's low lying, near the water.  And in the path of Irma.  She told me they were looking to get to higher ground - probably a nearby hotel. [UPDATED:  They were in a mandatory evacuation area and had been told to get out.]   But her son called from Seattle and told her to get out of Florida.  She has a cousin in Tennessee.  Her dad, who's pushing 92 now and her older brother weren't sure about the 760 mile drive to Tennessee, but finally agreed.

The three of them, plus Lynne's guide dog, got in the car at 7:30 pm Friday night and drove 20 hours to Franklin, Tennessee.  Dad drove.  Oh year.  The cousins are there.  There on vacation in Hawaii, but they told them they could stay in the house.  They arrived yesterday (Saturday) afternoon about 2:30 Central time.  So now they are adjusting to the new situation.  For a blind person, that's a lot more difficult than for sighted people.  She has to figure out the paths she can take around the house without bumping into things.  And she can't just look into cabinets and closets, she has to feel for things.  And cans of food don't usually have Braille labels.  There are apparently lots of stairs which are harder on her dad than on her.  She just needs to know where they are.  He can see them, but has trouble getting up and down them.  She's still trying to figure out how to connect to the wifi.

But they're out of the storm (for now anyway).  They don't know how long they'll be there or how it will work out when the family gets back.  Their condo is on the ground floor and they're worried about what will be ok when it's over and they get back.

But for now they are safe and adjusting.

[UPDATE Monday Sept 11:  Lynne got word that there's no flooding but the evacuation is still in place and roads are impassable - lots of trees down and still falling.  They're also waiting for the electricity to go back on.  Maybe they'll spend the night somewhere on the road so they don't have such a long drive.]

The Basic Plan To Save The Planet As We Know It

Here's a pretty much random quote.  I just opened the book and started reading and found this interesting, but I'm sure I could do that with almost any page in this book.
"Most landfill content is organic matter:  food scraps, yard trimmings, junk wood, wastepaper.  At first, aerobic bacteria decompose these materials, but as layers of garbage get compacted and covered - and ultimately sealed beneath a landfill cap - oxygen is depleted.  In its absence, anaerobic bacteria take over, and decomposition produces biogas, a roughly equal blend of carbon dioxide and methane accompanied by a smattering of other gases.  Carbon dioxide would be part of nature's cycles, but the methane is anthropogenic, created because we dump organic waste into sanitary landfills.  Ideally, we'd do it differently.  Paper would be diverted for recycling and food scraps sent to composting or run through methane digesters.  When they are not entombed, these wastes can create real value.  But as long as landfills are piling up, we must manage the methane coming out of them.  Even if we stopped landfilling immediately, existing sites would continue polluting for decades to come."

Landfill Methane is #58 in Paul Hawken's (editor) Drawdown:  The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming.   

The book's premise is that we have to cut back - drawdown - on carbon emissions.  And not only is this possible, but it's a great opportunity to rethink how we do everything which will lead to a better life for all.

He breaks down that overwhelming goal into more manageable tasks.  If you wanted to climb the highest peak in North America - Denali - you'd also have to break that overwhelming goal into smaller doable tasks.

After almost six years of monthly Citizen Climate Lobby (CCL) meetings, I understand that the biggest obstacle to cutting back on carbon emissions is people's belief that it can't be done, or that it can't be done without ruining our economy and way of life.  I understand that both of those beliefs are wrong. Many, many people are working on ways to change how humans get and use energy.  Reversing our carbon use is very doable and it will make life better and create lots of jobs.  BUT it will force change on many people as some kinds of work disappears and new kinds arrive.

But as our current national attack by hurricanes shows us, the rules of climate are changing.  100 year, 500 year, 1000 year floods are happening with a frequency that shows the old equations are no longer valid.  Global warming is changing the conditions of earth,  giving us more frequent and more powerful storms.

Paul Hawken seen from Anchorage CCL meeting Aug 2017
So last month, Paul Hawkens was the speaker at the monthly CCL speaker.  Local chapters around the world connect by video conference.

 I took notes and was duly impressed, but never managed to post about it.  (You can see the video of the meeting here - the Paul Hawken intro comes at 2 minutes in and he begins a little after 3 minutes.)

The book has 80 ranked 'solutions divided into seven 'sectors.'

1.  Buildings and Cities
2.  Energy
3.  Food
4.  Land Use
5.  Materials
6.  Transport
7.  Women and Girls

The quote at the top about Landfill Methane came from the section on Buildings and Cities.  Landfill Methane is ranked as solution number 58.

The top ten solutions are listed below

Top Ten Solutions
1.  Refrigerant Management
2.  Wind Turbines (Onshore)
3.  Reduced Food Waste
4.  Plant Rich Diet
5.  Tropical Forests
6.  Educating Girls
7.  Family Planning
8.  Solar Farms
9.  Silvopasture
10. Rooftop Solar

Each solution has calculations on "Total Atmospheric CO2-EQ Reduction" and Net Cost (US$ billions) and Lifetime Savings.

This is an amazing book.  It's visually beautiful and it essentially has the basic plans for saving the planet as we know it.  That's all.

So, why am I posting this a month after the meeting instead of posting about today's meeting?  Well, George Donart, the dynamo leading our Anchorage chapter, took orders for books at the last meeting and he brought them in for us at this meeting.  So I'm newly recharged by the book.

This book would make a great gift for anyone about ten or above.  I'm thinking graduation gifts, gifts for college students, for people you know who don't have climate change on their agenda of important issues.  For people who are concerned about climate change but think there's nothing we can do about it.  For teachers.  For people who are worried about climate change don't know what to do about it.  For yourself.

It's almost like a coffee table book.  You can pick it up and read about one or two solutions.  Then pick it up later and look at the rankings.  Another time read the introduction.

And the CCL website gives you lots more information and you can find the local chapter nearest to you. at this link.

Is my title an exaggeration?  I don't think so.  Climate change related events - and that includes things like the war in Syria - has disrupted the lives of more people, I would venture, than any other single cause in recent years.  If we don't reduce our carbon emissions things will only get worse.  The money we will spend on rebuilding Houston and (as I write this Irma's eye is about to hit Florida.

Screen Shot Google Crisis Map 12:41am Alaska Daylight Time
I personally don't think there is a more significant issue facing humankind.  And as the sectors in Hawken's book show, the solutions cover all aspects of how we live.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Aurora Notify Twitter Feed Lit Up Yesterday - But We Had Clouds - More Aurora For Tonight

When there's a significant event on the sun likely to cause northern lights, my Aurora Notify feed tells of the approaching light show.  First there are pictures from northern Europe - maybe Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland.  Then perhaps someone in Iceland posts a picture and then we started getting the Canadian reports.  So Alaskans have plenty of time to prepare.

So the notices Wednesday and Thursday were pretty enthusiastic.  From the National Geographic:
"According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center, the sun began unleashing its fury on Wednesday at 5:10 a.m. ET, with an X2.2 flare. Just three hours later, the sun produced a second flare measuring a whopping X9.3—the most powerful on record since 2006.
The strongest solar flare measured in modern times happened in 2003, when scientists recorded a blast so powerful that it was off the charts at X28."

Except it was cloudy yesterday in Anchorage.  I went out several times to check.  I even found a USAIRnet site that has maps of current cloud cover.  Last night it showed Anchorage cloudy to Wasilla, but Palmer was showing clear.  Did I want to drive 45 miles for the chance of seeing the aurora?  If I didn't live in Alaska, probably I would have.  Today we had sun and clear skies.  Normally I'm content with clouds and rain at night and sun in the day.  But would the clear skies hold out to tonight?  It's 3:30pm now and the clouds are back.  But the cloud cover map from 2:53 shows us clear still.

At the site, the page is interactive and you can put the pointer on any of the circles and get more information.  Maybe these are just local thin clouds and a little further north it will be clear this evening.  These is supposed to be a pretty big solar storm.  (Is there any relationship between solar storms and hurricane intensity?*)

Today, as it gets dark in Europe, the Aurora Notify tweets are starting again.  Here's one from today:

I'll check the skies tonight and this map and the reports as the roll in and decide if I'm going for a ride to the north.

*I couldn't just leave that question hanging.  With google, no one has an excuse not to find out the facts.  NASA has a great page on solar storms FAQs.  [Really, I need to be more careful.  It's got a page full of information, but I don't know enough to evaluate how good it is. It looks good to this solar novice.]

Question 14 is:
"What are some real-world examples of space weather impacts?"
It talks about power outages, satellite communication problems, and impacts on radio waves, but not on earth weather per se.  But if the satellites went down, tracking the hurricane would probably be more difficult.

Nature has a 2008 report of a study that suggests there is a connection, but not what I expected.  They tracked hurricane activity and solar activity and found with high solar intensity, weaker hurricanes.  But there seems to be a lop of skepticism about the link.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Manhattan Short - Anchorage October 2 (And Atypical on Netflix)

Monday, October 2, 2017 at the Bear Tooth in Anchorage.

The Final 10 are:
Do No Harm (New Zealand), Behind (Spain), Fickle Bickle (USA), Hope Dies Last (United Kingdom) The Perfect Day (Spain), Just Go! (Latvia), Mare Nostrum (Syria), Viola, Franca (Italy), In a Nutshell
(Switzerland) 8 Minutes (Georgia). Click Here to read interviews with the Final 10 Directors

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Taku Lake, Campbell Airstrip Foxholes, Shaggy Mane,

A couple of shots from the last several days as I wander the bike trails trying to keep my blood flowing.

This was Taku Lake a couple of evenings ago as I tried to slip in a bike ride while it wasn't raining.

Going up the new bike trail again on Campbell Airstrip Road - there's good new bike trail for about .7 miles which connects to the old bike trail that ends at the Campbell Airstrip trailhead - I ran across this new sign on local foxholes.

click on image to enlarge and foc

I was thinking as I stopped to take a picture of the sign, that I should get it while it's new (it wasn't there last week) before the spray painters arrive.  It added a dimension to this part of town I'd never thought about.  I saved it as a fairly large file so you an click on it to enlarge and focus better.

Here are the foxhole pictures enlarged:

I've seen foxes in the Anchorage bowl, so I'm sure there are some in the woods around here, but for today, this is a different kind of fox hole.

Finally, I saw my first shaggy mane mushroom today.  It's a little early.  This is one of my favorite mushrooms.  They are delicious to eat and easy to identify.  I haven't seen any other mushrooms that look even remotely like these.  They do turn inky black after a while and then they're inedible.  I've written more on them with a picture of one going black here.

So while we did our weekly video conference with our grandson (and his little sister who is beginning to pay attention to us on the screen briefly) I showed him the mushroom, cut it up, got some garlic, onion, and tomato.  Cooked them up in some olive oil and then added a little white wine.  Mmmmmmmmmmmm.  

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Would The US Be Different If Women, Or People of Color, Or Blind People Had The Power Of White Males In Our Society

I've often spoken to my friend L about what it means to be blind.  The human-created world is designed by sighted people.  What would be different, I asked L, if blind people had designed things?  She was uncharacteristically silent.  She'd never asked herself that question despite being a blind activist.

And I think we should start thinking about how the world would be different if women had the power of men.  Or African-Americans had the power of whites.  Or a coalition of people of color.  Or atheists.  How would things be different?   A thought experiment if you will.

Let's be clear.  Despite the fears of evangelical Christians that they are being discriminated against and despite the fears of white middle class workers that their cultural identity is disappearing, white males, are still firmly in power.

Let's just look at some numbers.  (Except for presidents - one Catholic and the rest Protestants - I couldn't easily tease out the religion information.  It won't be as stark as the president numbers, but I'm sure the vast majority of the people in these top positions are Christians.)

White     Other     Male      Female
US Presidents 98% 2% 100% 0%
US House 79% 21% 81% 19%
US Senate 90% 10% 79% 21%
Fortune 500 CEOs       96% 4% 94% 6%
US Population 77% 23% 49% 51%

Sources:  House and Senate, Fortune 500 gender, Fortune 500 race, US Population

The numbers come from different years, but they give us a stark example of how white males overwhelmingly hold the top positions of power in the US government and in the largest corporations.  Only the US House of Representatives is close to matching the population race statistics, and even there it's a four to one advantage for whites. (I'd guess that gerrymandering people of color into packed districts plays a part here.  Black Reps often get 60-90% majorities when they are all packed into a few districts, thus wasting votes for Democrats that could have made other districts more competitive.) It's also four to one for males even though females make up slightly more than half the population.

I understand that most white males probably don't feel that powerful.  And they aren't.  They can't find a job, and if they have one it doesn't pay as much as it should.  They're kids don't listen to them.  Even Trump must be complaining about his lack of power to do things.  Individually most Americans don't feel too powerful.  But look at those numbers!   The people in power in this country have been white males since the beginning, and the rules have been made by people who see the world from a white male perspective.  If the average white male doesn't feel powerful, just think how the average female and the average person of color, or the average non-Christian must feel.

Would women earn as much as men if the top positions gave them the high level power men have  now?   Would birth control costs not be covered in many health insurance policies while viagra is?  Would there be universal child-care?  Or would men stay home and take care of the kids?

Would prisons be populated disproportionately by people of color if they sat in these top positions of power?  Would black wealth be equal to white wealth?

People these days don't have much alone-without-a-screen thinking time.  But I'm going to challenge you to imagine how the world if different groups of people had controlled the top positions of government and business the way white males have.  What laws would be different?  How would our lives be different?

Perhaps we all feel so powerless because the gap isn't so much about gender or race as it is about class.  For a while we had a viable middle class and the gap between the salaries of those at the top of the organization weren't nearly as extreme as they are today.  And with that money, the wealthy can use sophisticated advertising techniques to convince white males it's about race and gender, not about class.

Perhaps the biggest fear of white males as they feel power slipping away (though the numbers show that their perceptions are quite different from the facts) is that people of color and women will treat white males the way white males have treated people of color and women.  That is a scary thought isn't it?

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Should Anchorage People Move To Avoid N. Korean Atomic Bomb?

It's hard for most people to imagine how close Anchorage is to Korea.  When Korean Air flew non-stop, we could get to Seoul in about seven hours.   Flying over the pole works.  We got to Paris last summer in about ten hours (not counting the time on the ground in Iceland).  That's about how long it would take to fly to New York if there were non-stop flights.

It helps to see these distances on a polar map.  Don't mind my messy lines.

Original Polar Map from Winwaed blog

Pyongyang to Anchorage = 3564 air miles
Pyongyang to Honolulu = 4597 air miles
Pyongyang to San Francisco - 5597 miles

Does my title question strike you as alarmist?  I'm sure that a lot of people in Houston are asking themselves if they should have heeded warnings, warnings that said climate change was making more forceful storms and that Houston's development in open areas needed to drain water in a flood plain would result in disastrous floods.

With the news this weekend of a much larger nuclear weapon than previously tested in North Korea, I think it's reasonable to ask this question about staying or moving.  So let's look at the key questions:

1.  Can and will North Korea build a bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching Anchorage in the next year or two?  It's looking increasingly possible.

2.  If they can, would they use them to target the US?  Americans have a highly distorted view of the world.  In our minds, its ok to have troops and ships and planes stationed all over the world, yet we got crazy when the Russians tried to put missiles into Cuba in 1962.  Other countries also don't like 'enemy' troops so close by.  We've had troops in South Korea since we fought North Korea in the 1950s.  Of course the North feels threatened.  We like to joke about how crazy the North Korean leadership is (and it's certainly unique in the world today), but according to a Heritage  Index of 2017 US Military Strength the US has
"some 54,000 military personnel Department of Defense civilian employees in Japan" and  "maintains some 28,500 troops in Korea." 
Yet any attack on the US by North Korea, let alone a nuclear attack, would be suicide.  But if they thought we were attacking them, I don't doubt that they would attack us - if they could - as well as the much more populated nearby South Korean target.  That 'mutual assured destruction' was supposed to be the deterrent during the Cold War.

3.  If they could and they would, would Anchorage be the target?  Hawaii probably has much more appeal.  There are more people in Honolulu and a large US military presence.  When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the US military presence in Alaska was tiny in comparison.  Seattle and San Francisco and Los Angeles are much better targets.  But Anchorage is closer.
Today Anchorage has a joint army/air force military base with a combined population of about 11,600.   The US tests anti-ballistic missiles from Kodiak, Alaska against potential attacks from North Korea which would make a tempting target as well.
The most compelling reason, in my mind, to attack Anchorage is that it is the closest US target, meaning the US defenses would have less time to respond.

4.  What could stop them?

  • Chinese and Russian influence on North Korea
  • Economic sanctions - these could make it impossible to complete their weapons, or it could just make them more desperate.
  • Conducting ourselves less threateningly - if Pyongyang thinks a US attack is imminent, if we could find a way to convince the that's not the case, it might work.  But if preparing for a US attack is simply a way to keep the North Korean population afraid of war and supportive of the government, it won't.  
  • Anti-ballistic missiles maybe.  They seem to have a spotty record with targets they knew were coming.  

So, is it time to look at real estate outside of Anchorage?  I'm sure few Alaskans are going to move at this point because of North Korea.  While Alaska did have a monster earthquake in 1964, relatively few people died and most people here now, weren't here then.  We feel safe.    Just as the people of Houston did a few months ago. Moving means disrupting our lives. But if the odds of an attack seem low, the odds of surviving a successful attack would be nil.  Only a tiny fraction of the people in Houston died.  That wouldn't be the case here.  

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Stretching Credulity - Anchorage Police Need 40 Hours To Provide Data To Reporter

Here's the tweet from an Anchorage reporter:

APD = Anchorage Police Dept    
MOA= Municipality of Anchorage

A Related Story

Back in 1982 or 3 when I was working in the Human Resources department of the Municipality, a request came in from the League of Women Voters.  They wanted to see how much women and men got paid for the same work.  They asked if they could have it in two weeks.  The person who handled that had it done in an hour or two.  Then she held on to it for a week.  I asked why.  If they know I can get this information this fast, they'll be flooding me with requests.

I understood the logic, though I wasn't completely comfortable with it.  But they had started with a two week request so it seemed ethically ok.

Jumping ahead 35 years to the present - A Few Thoughts

1.  MOA should be tracking overtime routinely.  The Municipality should be on top of overtime for all the departments, just as a matter of keeping spending down.  When you get enough overtime in a department, it's time to start weighing whether it wouldn't be cheaper to hire new employees.  Every 40 hours (or so depending on the department) of overtime would pay for a new employee working regular time.  Departments with hundreds of hours of overtime  are paying time and a half when they could be hiring new employees to work at the normal pay scale.  This article about overtime at the Fire Department would suggest the MOA is keeping track of their overtime at the Fire Department.  APD has similar issues, so it would make sense they were tracking that too.

2.  Modern computers make tracking this sort of information almost instantaneous.  If the MOA was able to get the information in the League of Women Voters story above in two hours or less in 1984, then there is no reason that the information that Travis Khachatoorian  requested can't be found in an hour or less 35 years later.  If they can't do that, they need to hire some competent computer programmers in Finance.

3.  The first five hours request processing time should be free.  OK, I'm using 2011 information here, but John McKay's Open Government Guide says the first five hours should be free. See page 9.  Also go to page 37 to begin the section on electronic records.  I'm not sure if the laws have changed or not, but electronic records capability are much faster now.  There are also provisions that allow for waiving fees in the public interest.

My Conclusions

There are several possible (not mutually exclusive) conclusions:

1.  The MOA is using archaic software that makes it hard for them to get this information quickly.  The scandal over the SAP computer project lends some credibility to this conclusion.

2.  The MOA can get the information much more quickly than they say, but doesn't really want the information out and is hoping the reporter will find another story to pursue.

3.  The MOA finance department is not the right department to ask for this sort of information.  Possibly payroll could do this more quickly.  But Travis says he asked the APD for the information, so they should have sent it to the right department.

4. This should be a very easy thing to find out on the computer.  If it isn't  the computer expertise at the MOA is much worse than the SAP problems suggest.

My gut says the problem is with number 2, but I'd need to get more data to be certain.

Friday, September 01, 2017

It's So Much Easier To Destroy Than To Build

This is so obvious.  Something we all know.  Yet we need to be reminded regularly.

I was reminded this morning as I took apart the jigsaw puzzle we'd worked on intermittently since June and only finished this week.  Here's what the finished puzzle looked like after two months of 'construction':

And here's what it looks like now - after about a minute of work:

We drop a porcelain bowl that shatters in seconds.

We see this when a wrecking ball or a fire takes down a building.  All the time to acquire the money and materials and designs.  All the time to gather the people who put those materials into place and then maintain them.  The time to gather the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the photographs, the shared events, and other memories of a place.  Years of work and play can become rubble in minutes.

We see this in a violent death.  Years of becoming a human being - the learning, developing, building relationships destroyed in an instant.

And, less obviously, Trump has been trying to dismantle the government.  Pulling out of the Paris Agreement.  Banning transgender folks from the military.  Cracking down on immigrants and threatening to end DACA.

And Trump's also finding out how difficult it is to create things - like a healthcare program where “Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

We've been watching the speed of destruction in Houston this week.

Yet, destroying individual items, buildings, people is much easier and faster than destroying larger systems - a city like Houston, the US government,  the ecosystem of the earth.  With slow-building disasters, you have time to avert them.  But the gradual nature also lulls people into not seeing what is happening and where it leads.

I worked for NOAA during the year that Reagan was elected and came into office vowing to cut back on government.  I'd been there long enough to see that the agencies were made up of people with years of experience all over the country.  They understood weather, oceanography, atmosphere, marine mammals.  They also understood the vast network of people who monitored these things to make weather forecasts, to map the coastlines, to protect seals and whales.

As Reagan planned (unsuccessfully) to dismantle agencies like NOAA, I saw not just interchangeable parts that could be easily rebuilt by ordering so many meteorologists and atmospheric scientists off the shelf.  Rather I saw complex networks of human beings that over the years, working together on various projects in different locations, had built an understanding of how to make the organization work and had built an understanding of who to call on for this expertise and that.  They'd built, through years of interaction, a trust amongst each other.  Something that takes a long time to build.  A commodity we aren't seeing among the people Trump has gathered to help him in the White House.

So, the thought that some NOAA agencies might be axed, was horrifying.  So much that had been built up over so long would be lost and could not be replaced except over another very long period.

I think about this as I hear that Trump wants to cut the State Department by a third.  Wants to get rid of the special envoys for the Arctic and for Climate Change.

Fortunately, human systems, human communities are not as vulnerable to instant destruction (unless all the humans are destroyed).  In fact, bureaucracies are designed to resist quick, impetuous changes.  But that doesn't mean a lot of damage can't be done.

One last thought:  how do we come to understand why some people either don't see or don't care about such destruction of things and people?  Don't understand or don't care about what will be lost?  What can we do, as a society, in the way parents rear their kids and schools educate them, and societal structures encourage or discourage them, that minimizes the number of folks vulnerable to such destructive impulses?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Sprinkling Of Sun; A Family Of Mergansers

It's been rainy lately.  I try to sneak in a bike ride when the rain pauses and streets are only damp.  So when I got up this morning and saw the sunshine sprinkled into our yard, I decided to bike right away before the predicted rain came back.

Once I was on the bike trail I started thinking about the platform that looks out over the creek.  It's had a chain link fence blocking it with a "Park Closed" sign since last summer. The ramp to the overlook wasn't all that even so they might have thought it was unsafe.  Or they may have closed it because it had become a hangout for homeless folks.  I thought:  I really need to check whether they're ever going to open it.

And then I rounded the bend and there was a Muni vehicle in front of the walk way, and more important, no fence.  I stopped and talked to the guys at the truck.  The part of the platform that was over the creek was having trouble.  The creek was messing up the post that held it up.  They'd cut off about half the platform.  But it was now open.

I went out onto the deck to see how much was left - about half - and looked out over the creek to see what looked like a family of mergansers just below me.

I got a good bike ride in and then came home to eat breakfast and read the paper - while we still have one now that the ADN has filed for bankruptcy and the Binkley family of Fairbanks is set to be the new owners, maybe.

Did a number of things on my to-do list today.  I finally called the name I'd gotten of someone who can fix my turntable and dropped it off with him.  An interesting man.

Late August In Anchorage: It Gets Dark Again At Night And There Are Raspberries

I took out the garbage tonight at about 10:30pm and it was dark!

It's the end of August and in 30 weeks it will be the equinox when everyone, everywhere gets the same amount of light.  Then those of us further north, get more and more darkness.

But it's also the time when I can go out into the backyard and pick raspberries every day.

There's lots to write about.  I've been trying to imagine what it's like to be in Houston these days.  We are seeing lots of pictures of roads turned into rivers and someone posted a picture of a guy catching a fish by hand in a foot of water in his living room.  But it's not like everyone in Houston has been washed out of their homes.  It's just that the media focus on the most dramatic scenes.  The Guardian reports that:
"More than 2.3 million people live in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city. Tens of thousands of homes in and around Houston are semi-submerged and thousands of people have sought emergency shelter from the wind and rain. Officials estimate that 30,000 residents are likely to need shelter."
My calculation says that 30,000 people is 1.3% of Houstonians.  I'm not hearing much about the other 98.7%.

And it feels like we're in a constant bombard of craziness from, it's not clear.  Trump supporters?  Russian bots?  Right wing propaganda mills?  A combination?  So many counter attacks to take the attention off of Trump, to try to put anti-trumpets on the defensive.  To let them pass unanswered leaves some people vulnerable to believing the nonsense.  Things like "where was Obama during Katrina?"  (He was representing the state of Illinois in the US Senate.)  But to have to keep answering everything takes our eyes off the really important and damaging destruction of the Trump administration.  Like dismantling the State Department.  Is that part of his instructions from Putin?

Netflix has the Manchurian Candidate.  If you've never seen it, you should.  If you have, it's time to see it again.

I haven't had a chance to write about my short jury duty call.  I got called for a jury, along with 59 other potential jurors.  Jury selection took two days and 30 potential jurors, including a current state legislator.  Eventually they got 14 (two alternates), and I was never more than an observer of the jury selection.  The legislator didn't make it onto the jury either.

Remember the number above - 1.3%.  The media want sensational stuff to get your eyeballs for their sponsors.  And that's true for all the news, not just Harvey.  Remember, for every person who gets shot on any given day, over 300 million people didn't see or hear any gunshots.  But those stories aren't as interesting.  So don't let the news get you down.  Just turn it off and go for a walk or a run or a bike ride.  Get into a park or a garden or the woods or by the ocean or other natural waterway.  Take advantages of what you do have and be kind and loving to those who don't have.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Puzzling Over Escher

I found an old jigsaw puzzle in the garage when I was decluttering.  I'm not a jigsaw puzzle person.  I figure they are just time sinks without much gain.  In a time when there was no radio or television, not to mention internet, maybe they might have been a way to pass the time, but I'm much too busy to need a jigsaw puzzle in my life.

According to puzzle warehouse,
The origins of jigsaw puzzles go back to the 1760s when European mapmakers pasted maps onto wood and cut them into small pieces. John Spilsbury, an engraver and mapmaker, is credited with inventing the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767. The dissected map has been a successful educational toy ever since. American children still learn geography by playing with puzzle maps of the United States or the world.
Yes, I learned the 50 US states that way.  That's a great use of puzzles.

But I do like MC Escher.  So I pulled the puzzle box upstairs and started putting the borders together.

So I came to this as jigsaw novice.  But it did seem to me that there were certain difficulties in this puzzle"

  • black and white
  • white border
  • lots of similar features scattered throughout the picture

 I can imagine that a Jackson Pollack would be a lot worse, but this one seemed more than enough of a challenge.

So, if you can't group pieces by color, what do you use?  Starting with the border, I found I had to group pieces by shape, since all the pieces were simply white.  This was back in June I think.  Because then my daughter arrived for several weeks and she got us past just the border.  But it was clear there was one missing piece.  There simply was not another piece that had one totally flat edge, yet there was a missing piece in the lower right hand side.

At some point I decided to take pictures of the puzzle each night, just so we could remind ourselves that we did actually make some progress.

This is August 18 with some of the loose pieces in the middle.  We got to a point where we stopped trying to add to what was already in the puzzle and try to work on pieces that had similar images.  I say images because they weren't all that clear.  You can see the hole in the lower right hand corner on the border.  Even when there were no pieces left, that was still a hole.

Here's August 19.  We've taken the extra pieces out of the middle of the puzzle, mostly.  There is progress from one day to the next, but you have to look closely to see it.

Somewhere along the way I tried to count how many pieces were already in the puzzle and how many were left.  The box said there were 551 pieces and my numbers were far short of that.  So in addition to the problems I mentioned above, we also had an undetermined number of missing pieces.

But by this point we were going to push all the way to the end.

Here's some more jigsaw history from puzzle warehouse:

"Puzzles for adults emerged around 1900, and by 1908 a full-blown craze was in progress in the United States. Contemporary writers depicted the inexorable progression of the puzzle addict: from the skeptic who first ridiculed puzzles as silly and childish, to the perplexed puzzler who ignored meals while chanting just one more piece; to the bleary-eyed victor who finally put in the last piece in the wee hours of the morning.
The puzzles of those days were quite a challenge. Most had pieces cut exactly on the color lines. There were no transition pieces with two colors to signal, for example, that the brown area (roof) fit next to the blues (sky). A sneeze or a careless move could undo an evening's work because the pieces did not interlock. And, unlike children's puzzles, the adult puzzles had no guide picture on the box; if the title was vague or misleading, the true subject could remain a mystery until the last pieces were fitted into place." [emphasis added]

Well, we did turn into those folks addicted to getting this thing done.  How long would this have taken if there was no picture on the box?  That's something they wouldn't even allow at Guantanamo. I ended up looking at the cover picture very closely trying to figure out from the background, which piece of pillar fit in which part of the puzzle.

We kept switching from grouping the pieces by shape and then by content (as hard as that was to figure much of the time) and then by shape again.

Here's August 23.  Some days we only got a few pieces added.  But if you look closely, we did fill in some holes and filled in along the inside edges.

August 26 and things seemed to be moving faster, after all there weren't as many pieces to choose from any more.  And it seemed like there were far fewer missing pieces than I had thought.

And then, on August 27 we were out of pieces.  There were only nine missing pieces.

So, now we have to figure out what to do with this puzzle.  After all that work, just taking it apart and putting it into the box seems terrible.  Some things you make are intended to disappear - like a pie.  But it's anti-clutter season in our house, so this will go back in the box, and we'll give it a way.  And the next victim will at least know that there are nine missing pieces.

It did make me think of the assignment I had in the computer art class.  We had to digitally recreate a masterpiece.  I certainly learned a lot more about the picture I had chosen.  And in this case I got to know Escher's painting in much more detail than I ever would have.
Also learned to look at shapes AND content.  There were lots of different shapes but they fell in clear patterns.  Here's an example of three-knobbed pieces.

And I was reminded once again that slow but sure wins the race.  Well, I'm not sure about the race, but it does get the puzzle done.

And jigsaw puzzles, like other puzzles, take you out of daily routine.  The work on the puzzle seems to block out other things.  The other parts of your brain get a rest.

Jigsaw puzzle benefits lists 42 benefits of doing jigsaw puzzles.  I think this sentence gives an overview - though not the specific individual benefits.  Those are at the link.
"The educational value of doing a jigsaw puzzle is twofold: first, by building up a base of useful individual skills; secondly, by transferring these skills to other situations where they can be applied to solve new problems."