HillHooey, and Not Innovative at That

Having seen the fanfare, perhaps it’s best if we have a look at under the hood at what little Clinton has actually published regarding her latest “bold” attempt to “help” the college student. For example:

A smaller proportion of millennials today are starting new ventures as compared to their predecessors.[12] This is not for a lack of desire—more than half of America’s millennials say they want to start a business—but barriers like student debt and a lack of access to credit are holding young people back.[13] Hillary is committed to breaking down barriers and leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs and innovators who are launching their own start-ups. Hillary will allow entrepreneurs to put their federal student loans into a special status while they get their new ventures off the ground. For millions of young Americans, this would mean deferment from having to make any payments on their student loans for up to three years—zero interest and zero principal—as they work through the critical start-up phase of new enterprises. Hillary will explore a similar deferment incentive not just to founders of enterprises, but to early joiners – such as the first 10 or 20 employees. Additionally, for young innovators who decide to launch either new businesses that operate in distressed communities, or social enterprises that provide measurable social impact and benefit, she will offer forgiveness of up to $17,500 of their student loans after five years. https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/factsheets/2016/06/27/hillary-clintons-initiative-on-technology-innovation/

In fact, most federal student borrowers are already eligible for income based payments, minimal payments are always preferable collection-wise to deferment, and the plan is for a deferment of payment, not a suspension of accrual of interest. Moreover, such a plan does nothing to assist in capitalizing any business, especially as the loans render the borrower (and likely his family) unable to borrow any further funding.

Can I run a lemonade stand and get a 1/10 of the cost of my Bachelor’s degree forgiven? That would be a great question, but you won’t find any answers from the candidate, because the whole scheme is largely just lemon meringue pie (I won’t say “in the sky” because there is nothing really grand or elevating about the comments).

I think most “innovative” and “entrepreneurial” business initiative is simply cannibalistic, as I suggest above, much like the finance sector really does NOT increase our domestic production. The mass of Americans can’t do Algebra, their core problem being the inability moldy-peachesto understand use of symbols, which would likewise preclude them from becoming effective programmers. We don’t need high tech jobs… we need jobs sweeping streets, and growing food. We need more doctors and engineers. We need more manufacturing jobs.

We are well on our way to the future that H. G. Wells described.  Fruit, anyone?

Protect This…

Recently I have been hearing another radical refrain, that being that the U. S. Constitution (as opposed to a scramble of Marines) protect my rights. Apparently small minds are working overtime…

Frankly, the Constitution has never protected anyone’s “rights”. The Constitution embodies a rather terrible bargain that was supposed to give voice to the conscience of a new people. As it was flawed, so were the consciences of its people. Waxing more and more selfish, as possessive narcissists are want to do, they pushed harder and harder until the fabric of consensus was simply too brittle to serve, to calcified to persevere.

The U. S. Constitution is essentially a side of mutton (that being the nature of parchment); it lays around like a dead sheep and doesn’t do much at all. Tough to do much when you are housed in a bullet proof glass case, after all.

Courts have very little enforcement power, and rely almost entirely on the executive branch, while legislatures, well, they legislate….. they have no muscle (and perhaps collectively show little to recommend them much of the time. The Supreme Court simply ignores the Constitution when it serves their purpose, as do the Congress and the Administration. So who or what does protect our rights?

Setting aside for another time the substantial question of whether we have any “rights”, the real answer to that question is to be found above, where we started.  It is found in the willingness of the polity NOT to push things to the braking point.

I teach my students that the crux of the U. S. Constitution is, “Give a little to get a little” (as much an understatement I suppose, as Hillel’s description of Torah) and while that brings smiles to their faces, I am very serious.  Literalists, in a sense, can’t be taken serious because there has never been a word written which was read the same way twice.  The essence of man is fractiousness, and the genius, if any, of western jurisprudence is the vagary of the “law” not its specificity. As with matter, it is the space between that is remarkable, and forbearance is as much the space between as mystical volume between nucleus and electron…

When we abuse the social fabric (the delicate consensus that allows us to live together in some remote semblance of peace) the disturbance ripples through our reality. Ignorance begets ignorance, hate begets hate, violence begets violence. Social behavior is not managed by a sharp, “NO!”, hurled by a two year old. It is managed by “moral suasion” (and Winthrop advises that moral suasion may be as ineffectual as legislation when it comes to wives).

What secures our rights is no more, nor any less, than Hillel’s prescription: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor; this is the whole law. All the rest is a commentary, go and study it.”


Winthrop, John, and James Kendall Hosmer. Winthrop’s Journal : “History of New England”, 1630-1649. Volume 1. New York : Scribner, 1908. Accessed June 16, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/winthropsjournal00wint#page/278/mode/2up .


Taxing Alaskans: An Open Letter To Commissioner Hoffbeck

Dear Commissioner,

I sent the material below to a number of Anchorage legislators earlier this week, and Andy Josephson asked me if I would share it with you. My point in sending this to the legislators was that while it seems that one and all in Juneau talk about wanting to hear from the public, the public statements of those asking for input seem to reflect little of what passes for what is discussed on the street. In the meantime, we are bombarded by schemes that most see as dubious at best, and all lacking much in the way of documentation, modeling, etc. If you want to make an impression on concrete learners, you have to come up with some manipulables…

Folk on the street elected our Governor because they had had enough of Parnell. I think they would have elected a gorilla if they had to, meaning no disrespect to Governor Walker. And now, the Governor has another chance to repudiate the policies that Parnell championed, and the people of this State are ready to rally around the Governor, as they rallied round him with respect to Medicaid Expansion.

The fact is that most Alaskan make no net payment for any State or Local service. Period. Moreover, those who do pay a little something are 1%ers, and frankly can afford paying their way. Alaskans can afford MORE than a 15% nominal tax and we insist, across the board, on our willingness to raise taxes on ourselves to maintain the quality of life we enjoy as long as the taxes are not wasted. Let’s get to taxing!

Thanks for reading,

Marc Grober


Dear Legislator,

Please review this Google Doc spreadsheet  . It provides a brief examination of the revenue that a 15% nominal graduated income tax might generate on its own. [the spreadsheet has been embedded below to make it easier for the reader]

As State Income Taxes and Local Realty Taxes are deductible from Federal Tax, the total tax burden on “middle class” Alaskans would rise only a few points. As noted this basic analysis uses SOI brackets for ease of gross computation; actual brackets could be significantly skewed placing a greater burden on those itemizing.

Additionally, however, if we use a State Income Tax as a tool by which we can leverage other taxes we can also look at half a billion gallons of fuel used on the highway annually (about half gasoline and half diesel), and if we impose a $6/gallon tax, and then exempt first 100 gallons per household for 261,000 households we get another half a billion in revenue (yes, prices of shipped goods will rise across the board, which makes it more economical to buy local….) AND then we need to add the tax to private non-commercial airplane fuel

Lastly, removing the booze excise tax and replacing it with a retail tax starting at a dime per mL of actual ethanol, as in a 750 ml bottle of liquor at 100 proof might produce .48 (ABV)* 750 (mL) *$1 (tax) * .1 (multiplier) = $36 for a fifth of booze. Likewise a 750 ml bottle of wine would produce .13*750*$1*.1=$9.75 on a bottle of wine, and even after a modest exemption for a gallon a month, we have added another chunk of change and a real complement to a marijuana tax.

Now, repeal SB21 and dump all industry subsidies, and we are pretty close to being self-sufficient

Let’s put an end to the whine of the middle class welfare queens. Let’s put an end to the silly chatter about economic deportation of seniors, and let’s recognize that the median income in Alaska is over $70K (over $80K in urban Alaska), and Alaskans not only can pay their way, they have repeatedly told the focus group held by far right ideologues that they are WILLING to pay the taxes necessary to maintain their quality of life.

Stop talking about playing with the PFD: that is simply a shell game as any economist will tell you. The PFD – except in the Unorganized Borough, which is another matter altogether – is simply an in lieu transfer; PFD’s, while they provide an interim multiplier effect, also underwrite most of Municipal taxation on resident populations.

Stop talk about tapping reserves, as we all know legislators can’t be trusted in the hen house.

Promote a comprehensive tax regime that will meet Alaska’s real budget requirements.


That Is the Whole of the Law

שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי, אמר לו: גיירני על מנת שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת. דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו. בא לפני הלל, גייריה. אמר לו: דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך – פירושה הוא, זיל גמור.
I posted the above to Facebook as it cuts through all manner of bon mot about charity and pierces to the heart the matter of refugees Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 2.58.51 PM(to employ an Aristotelian view, it must be an expression of “good” as it appears in almost every human culture in one form or another). Some “Liked” the post (I can only hope they read Hebrew….) but I am sure most had no idea what it was (but didn’t ask). So what does that make me?  Harrrummmppphhhhh…..
The quote is from the Mishna, the first part of the Babylonia Talmud, Seder Moed, Tractate Shabbat, Folio 31a (translation and URL for source below). The Babylonia Talmud contains the ethical principles laid down by the rabbis, and it is the feed stock for the parables of the New Testament gospel canon. There is a generation between Hillel and his arrival from Babylonia, and the ministry of the person purportedly known as Yeshua, and some argue Yeshua was an inlaw of Hillel’s. Yeshua, who was born and who died a Jew, would have been steeped in the dynamics of Judaism of the time and the tensions between form and substance, and between assimilation and tradition. Suffice it to say, that much of the gospels are lifted from the Mishna. In fact Joseph McCabe argues that, “we are then compelled to conclude that the writers of the Gospels borrowed from the Jewish Schools most of the parables they ascribed to Jesus, and in most cases lowered or destroyed the ethical value of the parables in so doing..”

Do not allow another to be treated in a manner in which you would not want to be treated. That’s it.  That’s “good”.  Everywhere you go, throughout history. Except among Christians in the United States in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

We put Emma Lazarus’ poem (New Colossus, written as a donation for the auction to support the funding of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal) front and center so as to avoid the shame of our behavior:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But we have long ago slammed the golden door in the faces of the wretched victims of our blind self-interest. And thinking of these self-righteous Christians, I come to think of Jonathan Edwards terrifying sermon on the text “Their foot shall slide in due time. Deuteronomy 32:35″ . They are condemned, by their own faith, as sinners in the hands of an angry god, and their foot shall slide in due time.
Hypocrisy is no foundation for any tomorrow.  Garrison Keillor is oft lampooned by the snobs of the Thinkeries, but I would like to borrow his closing and tweak it, just a bit — ‘Be well, do good, and keep in touch.’

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ [footnotes deleted]

Feingold, Henry L. Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust. Syracuse University Press, 1995. See Chapter 6 for a comparative discussion https://books.google.com/books?id=ts5lKWho2YwC&pg=PA94#v=onepage&q&f=false

Casting the First Stone

How IS a niqab like a gay wedding?

That is my take on the furor going on in Canada right now (more on that later) but first let’s talk scarves and stuff. The Q’uran does not require Muslim women to wear any specific type of garb; it only mandates modesty (and it mandates that of men AND women) and makes oblique reference to scarves and outer garments. It is the fundamentalist interpretations of verses in an-Nur and al-Ahzab that results in some male Islamic leaders insisting on niqab, burqa, etc.  But it IS clear from the Q’uran that the underlying purpose here is modesty – the expressed intent is to avoid inflaming “base” desire.  This may be all well and good until the proscriptions are employed as a tool a) to demean/denigrate, or b) to make unidentifiable (the Q’uran specifically states that women should be known and thereby not abused.)

But the discussion above focuses on the purpose of this dress for Muslims. We can increase the social coScreen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.56.47 PMmplexity of such proscriptions by adding cross-cultural interpretation. While one may see a specific act as an act of modesty, another may see it as an act of defiance, secretiveness, a token of second class status, etc. Hijab and yoga pants? Can you say form over substance? Frightened yet?

Now fundamentalist Christians are no strangers to ignorance and foolishness, knowing little both as to their own religious history and theology, and as to anyone else’s. They by and large subscribe to a ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy, a policy even more extreme than Islam. And the more ignorant the Christian, the more extreme the position.  Just consider the cross which arguably symbolizes victory over death, in the kind of twisted ass-backwards logic of Paul et al (and Paul was one whacked out nutter….) In other words, the cross is a symbol for many of a categorical rejection of reality, despite the fact that such a position was not historically or theologically present in their religion until long after the alleged Yeshu was dead and gone (as he apparently was born and died a Jew.)

And so, the French look to ban both in secular space because both could be seen as acts of civil violence much as Romans saw Jewish refusal to abide by Roman civil religion (which was not,  in today’s sense, religious at all.) Culture warriors like Scalia, talk about American civil religion; Scalia dreams of being a Roman patrician, and sees the United States through the same kind of rose colored glasses that some of our propounding pops did.  Meanwhile the French, who brought religious liberty to most of the world at the end sharp end of Napolean’s legions, are the ones who argue that the only real way to address religion in a secular state is to ban it from the public square.

I was reading a thread based on a piece by Paula Simons in the Edmonton Journal,  (and the Facebook commentary on that piece) and the thought occurred to me that in as much as the burqa etc are interpretations by fundamentalist clerics of the scriptural prescriptions intended to avoid inflammation of passions, how would the Court address the possibility that the burqa wearer might inflame the passions of another woman by exposing herself to a female Court staffer?  Not what the Q’uran said, but surely closer to what it meant than shrouding all women from head to toe?

At the core all have to realize that we are rapidly approaching, as the battle over rights for LGBT in the US evidence, a time when “religious belief” will equate to whatever any group of bigots decides upon at any given time. The modern state can neither function nor co-exist with such personal freedom. So yes, what is sauce for the goose comes with the gander, but that works both ways, and the arguments in Canada ring strangely similar to those in the US where “liberals” get snarky about “anti-science climate deniers” and then without batting an eye talk bloody jihad on Monsanto. It would be wholly inappropriate to promote any policy without exploring the eventual impact of that policy. And while I would not want to aid and abet a racist, even racists can stumble on something important from time to time (even if they do so for the wrong reasons.)

Neoliberals ignore the fact that Locke was fundamentally inconsistent, but did make it clear that while individuals should be free to elect whether to become a member of some polity on reaching some age of majority, once a member, that individual was subject to the tyranny of the majority. It is the Leviathan or anarchy, says Hobbes, and I think he is correct… Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.53.40 PM No line is required until a line is demanded, and as we discussed before, the genius of Canada, if you will, is that Canadians have been able to get by with greater vagary than their cousins to the South. The bigger question for Canada is not where the line will be, but whether they can manage to avoid drawing it…. and avoiding a line is the responsibility of EVERYONE.   Harper and his crowd may well be xenophobic racists twits (I think the evidence in support of such a claim mounts every time one of his crowd opens their mouth) but every bright line drawn renders the system a little more brittle, until the social contract shatters under the strain. Am I entitled to a law that says that I can marry a Doberman (as opposed to a Poodle?)


Surah Al-Ahzab – The Noble Qur’an – القرآن الكريم

Surah An-Nur – The Noble Qur’an – القرآن الكريم

The Qur’an and Hijab | Hijab, The Muslim Womens Dress,Islamic or Cultural? | Books on Islam and Muslims | Al-Islam.org

A Peri-Patrick Pelagianation

As I sit in the evening sun this bright St. Patrick’s day,  I think it most fitting to give some thought to Pelagius, who was after all the target of Patrick’s assault on Ireland (no,  it certainly was not the snakes, unless, as one might consider Patrick thought, Pelagius was the snakes.)Pelagius

There is a dispute as to whether Patrick’s mission involved pushing Church orthodoxy (some arguing that Palladius, first Bishop of Ireland, was sent “ad Scotus” for that purpose, and not Patrick, the latter little more than a devout simpleton sent to Erin to bring the Celtic pagans to Christianity), as orthodoxy was a critical concern of Constantine’s Church, and the proclivity to identify heresies where ever it looked continued to be a hallmark of the Church in the 5th century.  What could Pelagius have written that would have the Church so wound up? If we turn to the Catholic Encyclopedia we find that Pelagius and his noble buddy lawyer, Caelestius, had the effrontery to suggest that:

  1. Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.
  2. Adam’s sin harmed only himself, not the human race.
  3. Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.
  4. The whole human race neither dies through Adam’s sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.
  5. The (Mosaic Law) is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.
  6. Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.

And what, you might ask,  does that mean? Well, it means that Pelagius rejected a good deal of the nonsense that Augustine, and Paul before him, invented.  Original sin (the bit that suggests that we are all tainted with Adam’s sin, even new born babes)? In the trash. Mosaic Law? More than adequate; NT NOT obligatory. Redemption from sin only through Jesus?  Not likely.  And the final coup? You didn’t need the Church as a middle man…..  OH MY!!!!  Pelagius felt that one could find one’s way to heaven without the benefit of clergy. His heresy, in retrospect, is likely closer to the historical Jewish Jesus than much the world has seen since, and Mother Church was hearing none of it.

In Patrick the Church continued to take hard right turns,  rejecting the very message that supposedly gave rise to the Church in the first place, but cementing its authority, which arguably was Constantine’s intent, those many decades earlier.  For the 21st Century, we find ourselves celebrating Patrick’s feast day while complaining about the lack of social and economic justice, about the crisis of inequality, about rampant capitalism that invariably leads to wage enslavement. Instead, we should all be hoisting a pint to dear old Pelagius,


In addition to the Catholic Encyclopedia you might find the following interesting on whether Pelagius was, well, right:



http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/episcopalians-maybe-pelagius-was-right/ and the results of the vote: https://www.episcopalatlanta.org/News/newsView.asp?NewsId=409681234

The Horse Behind the Cart

Some weeks ago, Kathleen McCoy spent not a few column inches of the local rag  in her puff piece lauding UAA’s Terry Kelly, “Ethicist handles heavy issues with a light touch.” Unfortunately, one can only conclude that this is further evidence that UAA is not a real educational destination.

UAA’s Terry Kelly must be more a stand-up comic than an ethicist. According to McCoy, he argued, in the most bizarre example of political correctness to date, that if you act in such a way as to make some one else be suspicious of you, you have acted unethically. Yes, you heard me. By way of example, Kelly offered a homily where a husband and wife pledge to be sexually faithful, and then hubbie goes off to spend Friday nights reading at the whorehouse. Kelly claimed that hubbie is acting unethically because his pathetically insecure wife is banging her head against a wall. Really?

Kelly then went on to confuse matters with a retelling of the Clinton/Lewinsky gaffe, misrepresenting the facts and of course drawing the wrong conclusion. He finally tackled his real target (after an unfortunate attempt to hijack the theory of cognitive dissonance), which appeared to be the impact of government officials receiving gifts. He apparently closed with something along the lines of “trustworthy behavior is persuasive behavior, and untrustworthy behavior is unethical.”

Yes. Instead of arguing that trust is based on ethical behavior, he argues that ethical behavior is based on trust. Very inventive. Or delusional. The word trust comes from the Norse “traust” and is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “to have belief or confidence in the honesty, goodness, skill or safety of a person, organization or thing.” Trustworthy of course is to be worthy of trust. Ethics, per the Oxford Dictionary, are, “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity”, and the entry goes on to explain:

Schools of ethics in Western philosophy can be divided, very roughly, into three sorts. The first, drawing on the work of Aristotle, holds that the virtues (such as justice, charity, and generosity) are dispositions to act in ways that benefit both the person possessing them and that person’s society. The second, defended particularly by Kant, makes the concept of duty central to morality: humans are bound, from a knowledge of their duty as rational beings, to obey the categorical imperative to respect other rational beings. Thirdly, utilitarianism asserts that the guiding principle of conduct should be the greatest happiness or benefit of the greatest number

So we can take ethical to mean, depending on the system to which you subscribe, compliance with some code of conduct. In sum, we may have confidence that others may conduct themselves ethically, but if we lack confidence how can that possibly change whether the erstwhile target of out attentions is ethical or not?

What Terry Kelly has proposed is nothing less than a feedback loop, a neurotic echo chamber where what is real is not what you do, but what someone perceives you to do. While in a very primitive form this may hearken back to the social psychology of the ’70s and the concept of the social construction of reality, it beggars the concept of ethics, for it renders ethics dependent on the feedback loop and enables insecurity. You can only be as ethical as you convince your observer you are. He has turned philosophy into advertising, for under his rules, one becomes ethical not by adhering to a code, but by convincing others that one does, and after all, that is what our politicians try to do today, and is exactly opposite of the point we think Kelly was trying to argue. Kelly has shifted the subjective lens, and lost sight of the situation entirely.

Anchorage making headway on valuing human life

Honestly, I have a hard time seeing putting a police officer on the street without a partner.  Just the effects of TV drama?  I don’t think so. I just see approaching a potentially violent situation without backup as creating unacceptable risks, and that goes for the police officer, the private citizen, and anyone close enough to be hit by flying lead.  While the law in Alaska expects people to retreat if possible (until Democratic State Senator Wielechowski has the opportunity to reintroduce the ALEC crafted stand your ground legislation he sponsored last session), what are our expectations of a police officer confronting an individual ‘wielding a stick’? Anchorage decided to find out earlier this week.

Police received a number of calls about a man creating a disturbance in Mountain View (blocks from a substation created to keep a lid on disturbance in this neighborhood.)  Callers indicated that the man was likely intoxicated and bellicose, was screaming and yelling and had just attacked a dog. One officer drove up 15 minutes later, apparently spotted the man creating the disturbance, who on seeing the officer started walking towards the officer in an aggressive manner with the stick. The officer fired several rounds at the man, killing him, as another officer drove up. A disturbance which had been going on for over 15 minutes without any apparent physical injuries to anyone was over in seconds with one man dead at the hands of the very persons called to resolve the problem.

Should the veteran officer have simply kept his distance until back-up arrived? Who really wants to second guess an officer who perceives himself being attacked? I think such questions simply scapegoat the officer while the real culprits skate by. The real issue here is that the officer really had no non-lethal option, and the real reason that a non-lethal option wasn’t available is named Mayor Dan Sullivan. No, Mayor Dan was not there at the time,  but in a very real sense he might as well pulled the trigger himself.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, while ‘Alaska State Troopers and some law enforcement agencies in the Lower 48 outfit all officers with Tasers, but in Anchorage only about 35 to 40 percent of officers carried the “less-than-lethal” devices last year, according to funding request the department made to the 2011 Legislature.’ And the paper goes on to state that an Anchorage Police Department spokesperson, Dave Parker went on to indicate that, ‘In the case of the Mountain View shooting, police procedures likely would not have allowed the officer to use a Taser even if he had one, Parker said. That’s because at least two officers would need to be on hand, one to use the Taser and one to back up with lethal force, if necessary.’

What we are seeing, then, is a very cynical approach to urban law enforcement. The current administration apparently believes that the true cost of the lives lost to such exchanges is less than the cost of ensuring that no APD officer has to address street crime without a partner.  One can imagine the Anchorage Risk Manager tallying things up; what’s the cost of killing half a dozen ‘unimportant’ people as compared to the cost of putting enough of those greedy union cops on the payroll? You want to know what the average value of a police killed citizen in Anchorage is? This week it was arguably about $100,000, but wait till the end of the year and divide the cost of providing adequate police officers by the number dying such unnecessary deaths. There you will find Mayor Dan’s pound of flesh.

Why is “Planning” a Dirty Word?

For those watching, “21” now seems to be generating as much nervousness as “666”, from the world-wide cabal associated with Agenda 21, to the purported local attempt to enslave Anchorage through the initial Title 21 rewrite. It seems that the crypto-conspiracists see “planning” as anathema to civil liberty. While those less hysterical may simply see the hands of the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers at work (is there something about the letter “K”…..)  the unfortunate truth is that, as a society, we often produce lousy planning.

An old saw, likely promoted by those who have been recently offered their freedom from employment, advises, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It is the small stuff, however, that ensures your that Mars probe doesn’t crash into the planetary surface, and the same applies to designing the urban environment of Anchorage’s future.  Take the example of the newly redone bicycle trail that passes by the corner of Bragaw and Northern Lights Boulevard (you’ll find me at the fancy green railing on the south side of the street.) But watch your step!   You probably don’t want the water pouring across the trail from the black, brackish pools of the fen to the south soaking your new kicks.

This piece of trail,  the most important bike path in the part of Anchorage most heavily used by bicycles, connecting Muldoon to downtown,  was closed for two years during construction of an extension, that while very nice, did not need to close down this critical thoroughfare.  A year after the trail opened again, the cracks are already appearing and here, at the corner of Bragaw and Northern Lights, you’ll notice a length of some 30 feet of trail covered with run-off making its way to the street across the trail (and yes,  it IS treacherous in the Spring and Fall when it frosts and freezes.) From here to Nunaka Park this sight is all too common, and will eventually result in expensive repair, or worse, a decaying infrastructure. Why?  Because someone at the MOA Planning Department didn’t sweat the small stuff.

If the Municipal planners can’t manage a bike trail that has proper drainage and doesn’t turn into crumbs in 2 years, can we depend on them to do much else? Conspiracy? No. Just sloppy, negligent work. Do you want the person who is responsible for the water running over the bike trail also responsible for planning the storm sewer next to your home?  I thought not.

Voting Issues in the US; HAVA na gila

Oregon has been experimenting with voting by mail. While there may be downsides to accompany the positives (see, e.g. http://archive.fairvote.org/turnout/mail.htm) The Carter-Baker Report suggests that Vote by Mail (VBM) may increase turnout by 10% in low profile election and does not bring new voters to the process,  but it does appear to have an impact on ballot integrity . Washington also does vote by mail.  Oregon is now moving to include e-mail voting  and even offer the ability to vote by ipad.  The Oregon voting site is at http://oregonvotes.org/

While the efforts in the Pacific North West may improve the voting experience by increasing the period during which one may vote and providing alternatives to to using suspect voting machines, most jurisdictions in the US still use one of the least “fair” voting systems available,  and most Americans haven’t a clue about the relative benefits of PR, or Proportional Representation, as opposed to the “single-member district plurality system” in use in most jurisdictions in the US today.

Douglas J Amy at Mt Holyoke College has put together an online library on the subject. Amy is also the author of a number of books on the subject, one of which is available online in pdf format and another which is a comprehensive extension of the materials published on the Mt. Holyoke web site.   He not only explains the difference between the typical US system and PR,  he also provides an accessible explanation of different types of voting systems.

Some other resources on voting systems?

  • Of course there is a wikipedia page,  which affords a decent introduction to the subject as well as some excellent links and references for further study.
  • My friend David Lippman has a published a wonderful online book, Math in Society, which addresses voting issues in various systems and would be a welcome addition to any high school math teacher’s arsenal of resources. It can be downloaded from David’s site as well a accessed online via scribd
  • Another excellent resource on voting systems, this one with a European twist, is provided by the Electoral Reform Society

The title of the note? “Gila” is the English transliteration of a Hebrew word for joy, and “na” is us. Together with “hava” (be) they are used in the Hebrew song “hava na gila”, or let us be joyful.  Of course, HAVA in this case is the Help America Vote Act: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:H.R.3295:  For a list of resources on the Act, see, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help_America_Vote_Act