Pretty Please (with a wooden bridge on top)?

I recently received two rather pleasant replies to my letter to the Anchorage Assembly regarding the ongoing obfuscation by MOA Parks and Rec Superintendent Spoth-Torres concerning trail bridges in Anchorage. The link to the local story is well worth the read if you get a kick out f people treading on their tongues.  Of course, Jennifer Johnston is not “my” Assembly person. I am represented by an ex-cop frightened of marijuana who thinks the solution to the Anchorage homeless problem is to push the homeless out of his neighborhood, and an ex-State-legislator that doesn’t care about issues unless they specifically negatively impact him personally. I have regularly asked the Assembly Chair to request that IT check the status of MOA mail because it appears that these two fine fellows can’t manage to respond to e-mails, though Assembly members from the other side of town can,  but that is a rant for another day.

Jennifer is a very pleasant woman (click here for a recent pre-election recap regarding the folks discussed here) from Hillside (don’t confuse Hillside with the East side)  who has been a voting member of the “cripple Anchorage by supporting the Mayor’s attempts to collapse the Anchorage budget” caucus.  In other words, if there is any basis for the contention that the bridge collapse is directly attributable to the shoddy attempts of some of our right wing budget hawk “conservatives” to take credit for the Anchorage “lifestyle” while not paying for much of anything, she is neck deep in that cesspit.  Of course, as the note suggests,  she will of course come out smelling like a rose but she didn;t ask anyone to skimp on construction or maintenance now, did she?  But to be fair, she DID ask John Rodda to provide the necessary information to me, although that is very unlikely to ever happen — we shall see.

The other note I received was from Amy Demboski, another Republican, this time from Chugiak (where people in Anchorage live who hate Anchorage) whose debut issue as a candidate for Mayor was to opt Anchorage out of BoldAmythe State wide marijuana initiative which required that Alaska regulate marijuana like alcohol.  Her campaign resulted in  the appearance of some rather tacky graphics (an example appears to the left) and quite a bit of outrage (except from the supposedly “liberal” East side ex-cop, who is of course not liberal at all, except perhaps in Anchorage, where axe-murderers might be described as local celebrities.)  The measure failed 9-2 and demonstrated that Amy has the pulse of the people (the State-wide measure passed in Anchorage by a very impressive margin) and knows when she has support so as not to waste the time of the public or the Assembly.

But enough ad hominem — Amy thanked my for bringing “this topic” to light, which is all very good until I started parsing “this topic”.  Amy certainly is SO clueless that she means the collapse of MOA bridges because there was no maintenance.  Well, to be totally honest (a trait we really don’t see much down at City Hall of late), there wasn’t even a maintenance schedule, thanks of course to Spoth-Torres who has been the Parks Superintendent for, well, frankly too long, thanks in part to her feckless supervisor, John Rodda, the guy who turned a bunch of teens loose to whack our nicest urban forest because some people called John – John could amazingly remember no names, no numbers, no nothing – and told him the scawey twees fwightened them, and yes, the same guy Jennifer suggested should be pleased as punch to provide me the records that demonstrate he has been totally irresponsible in performing his duties. Roger that.

Whoops,  back to Amy. What then could she have meant by “this topic”.  Would it be the fact that the bridges examined by the MOA contractor were only the bridges on the Coastal Trail, only one of the major trails in Anchorages trail system and home to only a portion of the bridges in Anchorage, most of which are low clearance bridges crossing the many creeks draining the Chugach Mountains and running through Anchorage to the Inlet we foul because we don;t fully process our sewage.  Crap, another tangent.  Amy!  Or did she mean just the fact that the current Mayor seems to have installed a bridge that his staff have identified as inappropriate for the community?  Beats me what she meant; for all I know she will introduce a measure seeking to opt Anchorage out of bridges!

In any event,  here is my note (typos corrected) and Jennifer’s response.

John, could you provide Mr. Grober with background information? Thank you, Jennifer Johnston
From: Marc Grober [] Sent: Thursday, December 18, 2014 3:38 PM
To: WWMAS Assembly Members
Subject: Bridges

Dear Assembly,

Remarks by Ms. Spoth-Torres quoted in the local paper of record,

Spoth-Torres said the parks department has tried to research how the bridges were originally designed. It’s still not clear why those decisions were made, she said.

“But what we do know is, we would never do that now. Or even 10 years ago, 15 years ago,” she said.

Wooden bridges have an aesthetic edge in Anchorage, Spoth-Torres said. People love how they look.

But she acknowledged that in a coastal winter environment, materials like steel are far more durable.

suggest that the Department, a) claims that wooden bridges were built at some point because the public likes how they look, and b) in a coastal winter environment, steel is more durable.

This raises a number of questions for residents on the East side, and I ask the Assembly’s assistance in obtaining answers (in that the Department is rarely forthcoming in providing responses.)

Specifically, on the East side we have a number of wooden as well as steel bridges, Most anyone I have asked has indicated that the steel bridges are well designed, elegant and preferable over the rather clunky wooden bridges that the MOA has placed, so the first question would be to determine if the Department in fact ever obtained data as to what type of bridge the public prefers, or whether Spoth-Torres was making things up as she went (again.)

Additionally, it appears that the MOA has very possibly placed wooden versus steel bridges simply because the administration at the time didn’t want to have to bear the expense of appropriate construction (in other words, cynically figuring that the bridge would collapse on another’s watch.) Of course, we would not be able to determine if that were accurate unless we had data (preferably in a spreadsheet) of when the bridge was built, designed, funded (not to mention specifics of the bridge design as far as load, recommended maintenance schedule, etc.)

Lastly, having had numerous years in which to plan and implement a bridge replacement in RJSP (one of the wettest locations for a bridge in Anchorage) the Department installed a wooden bridge in a locale known to be constantly wet. Is Ms. Spoth-Torres telling us that a wooden bridge was selected though she knew better because people on the East side are too stupid to know the difference, because there is something different about this wood design than that used elsewhere, or that Stantec included the new RJSP bridge in its analysis? Certainly, it would have made a great deal of sense to determine if the bridge that the Sullivan Administration just installed a few months ago suffered the same defects as the MOA’s contractor says produced the disaster downtown.

In as much as my requests for similar data have resulted in months of having to threaten the Department of Law with litigation, and in as much as this is really a city wide concern rendered so much more distressing by the State of the MOA presentations the Administration has produced, I would appreciate it if the Assembly would act in concert to get to the bottom of this issue, and at least as far as those of us crossing a new wooden bridge are concerned, satisfy our curiosity as to why the MOA would install such a bridge if Spoth-Torres knew that it was inappropriate.

Thank you,

Marc Grober

p.s. In as much as people on the East side seem to have a devil of a time communicating to east side Assembly persons via e-mail, I would certainly appreciate an undertaking (or not) that you are willing to pursue such an investigation.

Generosity of Spirit

I recently saw a  post about an apocryphal Anchorage police officer who would let drivers off a drunk driving arrest if they could recite the names of Santa’s reindeer.  As the potential source of such a libelous contention, I thought I had better set the record straight.

It was the day of Christmas eve 1978 if I recall correctly, and I was defending a DUI in the old Anchorage State Court House (the one that has recently been plucked from existence that used to stand in front of the red brick ‘tower of justice’.) I was pretty harsh on the arresting officer (I had only been practicing law for a year, was full of piss and vinegar, and had the facts at my back) and got an acquittal for my client. I left the Courthouse and went across the street to celebrate. Several rounds later I picked up my girlfriend and we went out on the town. After partying for hours, we walked to the car and I started to drive home. It was dark and the streets were largely empty. I got confused and I turned the wrong way down Fifth Avenue. Before I could pull a U-turn a police office had sighted me. I pulled over, dug out my license and registration, rolled down the window and waited. It was not going to be the night I had planned.

And then, just as I thought things could not get worse, who should approach the car but the officer I had eviscerated just hours earlier. We exchanged polite greetings, and the officer very generously told me that he understood that we both had a job to do, that I had done mine, and that perhaps, had he done his a bit better things would have turned out differently, but that he had no bad feelings over the situation, and it being Christmas eve and all, if I could name 6 of Santa’s reindeer he would consider that an adequate field sobriety test as he had seen no other evidence of intoxication.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 8.16.00 AMI was overwhelmed with this guys spirit, but being very Jewish and not a little under the weather, I realized that my mastery of Clement Clarke Moore was as shady as his claim of authorship — I could not recite the necessary lines! I stumbled over Comet and Dancer, and catching my lady friend’s dirty looks I chirped Vixen and Cupid. Uhhhh, Blintzes (“I mean Blitzen, Officer”). And I was done. I mean I was done, my goose was cooked. I could see the officer getting irritated (he would have to stay long after his shift doing paperwork on an ingrate) and I would be lucky if my girlfriend had two words for me. Stick me with a fork.

Just then I happened to look in my rear view mirror where I saw the traffic light behind me turn red. It came to me (yes, in a flash), and I blurted out (it felt like I screamed it) RUDOLPH!!. No one was going to take issue with that (however off color the response may have been) and heaving huge sighs of relief all the way around, we all took our leave of each (the office vouchsafing my U-turn, lol.)

I tell people this and other tales of Anchorage in the 70s because they convey a sense of who we were, and who we have become. I never heard of any officer doing this as a regular schtick — the officer with whom I spent a few minutes that evening certainly had not offered that to my client, or I would have been a fee poorer, — but it would not be the first time that I heard one of my stories come back to me.


“Twas the Night Before Christmas – Project Gutenberg eText 17135”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Happy holidays, where ever you find them….

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

The Divided

My review of The Divide on GoodReads appears below.  Yes, I was a bit frustrated that in all the reviews of this book there was not a single mention of this glaring error,  which of course led me to wonder how many other errors there were in this or any of the other books being touted from bestseller and other “lists”. And so I started a journey.  First I attempted to being this to the attention of the publishers, who indicated they weren’t interested and I should write to the author, so I did.  The author failed to respond. I commented on book reviews at major publications (no traction) and eventually added some material to the wikipedia page on the book (limited to the the book text on the issue, and the contents of the report, with a footnote to a link for the letter sent to publisher and author.).  It turns out that wikipedia requires that entries must reference published sources, and published does not include self-publication. In other words, if you have a letter from the President that says that he wants to get something accomplished regarding immigration in 2016, you can’t reference that letter until some bozo on HuffPo mentions it first. Lions and tiger and bears!

Don’t get me wrong!  I think it’s a very strong book and makes powerful arguments. But at least one claim is introduced as based on an argument that is easily demonstrated to be false.  But that is not my underlying concern here.  My real concern is that the book is being lauded for its expert research, while no one will even acknowledge any errors in the book.  And so, to Goodreads (as I mention, my review appears at the foot of this post.  )

But first, the impetus for this post. It turns out that noting that the first chapter of a wildly popular “liberal” book is based on the deliberate misrepresentation that the Obama Whitehouse was involved in Senator Ted Steven’s prosecution is nitpicking about something no one remembers has turned me in to FoxNews style Obamabot who wants to dump the baby with the bathwater! Read it for yourself:

[Geoffrey] “* * *  As usual, this book is expertly researched.  * * *”

[Marc] “Amazes me people can say this work is expertly researched when the first chapter is in fact based on gross inaccuracies.”

[Geoffrey] “Yeah, your review looks a bit to much like a FoxNews tactic turned Obamabot defense: find one nit to pick about a paragraph no one remembers, and say that the baby must go with the bathwater. Not buying it.”

[Marc] “Interesting comment. My concern is that Taibbi’s argument is that the Dems are as guilty of the offenses he presents as the Republicans (which is arguably true) but as a basis for that argument he launches in to a wholly unrelated domain regarding Senator Stevens and then totally botches his argument (no, the Dems had nothing to do with the Stevens prosecution and the documentation of this error, which goes to the basis of his argument, has nothing in common with Fox News, lol.) Yes, the book is expertly argued, but no, the book is not expertly researched, if by that you mean that the research supports the argument. I did not say toss the baby with the bathwater, but I am saying that we need to spend more time with the research that is offered to support such books, because, as you intimate, no one is in fact reading the footnotes. Moreover, if you wish to argue that the argument regarding Stevens is nominal and unimportant, then I suppose that is a criticism of Taibbi, as in, why would he include as a major part of an early chapter in his book a claim (that is demonstrably false) intended to set up the one the premises for the rest of the book. This is not about political partisanship; this is about the publication of widely acclaimed books that have major misrepresentations anchoring their arguments.”

[Geoffrey] “I assume you’re one of those commenters that gets paid by the word. I didn’t know you guys trolled even goodreads. Is this a proving ground you experiment in before graduating to Facebook and Twitter?”

[Marc] “Let’s try to stay focused, shall we?
You claim the book is expertly researched.
I demonstrate that a major argument in the first chapter is based on gross misrepresentation of the facts that can be appreciated by anyone.
You fail and or refuse to acknowledge the errors and claim I am “nitpicking”
I point out that getting one’s shorts in a twist about a typo in a footnote is nitpicking, while demonstrating that the introduction of a major theme in the book, complicity of the Democratic party, based on a false argument, is not, whether or not the the argument is viable (I agree it is) or well made (I also agree it is).
The upshot would appear to be that you don’t know what “expertly researched” means and you are frightened of rational discussion (do the mean little wordies bitesies?)
When you wish to contribute something substantive, let me know. I enjoy Taibbi’s writing and am disappointed that this kind of crap pops up as a cornerstone of a major theme in his book.”

In sum, Solomon’s wisdom (yes, I know I am mixing metaphors, but Solomon’s ancient test to determine what is really important seems related to bath water here…) has been turned on its head.  We are being asked to ignore the bathwater because of the baby. And we are attacking those that read critically.  If that sounds like a far right tactic, well, guess what, it appears to be a a tactic of the left now too.

My question to Taibbi, and Taibbi groupies I suppose, is what The Divide would look like if the error I found (and other errors if they exist) are removed.  If there would be no real impact on the argument, then why not fix the errors, admit the mistakes and move on (as opposed to pretending that the basis for your argument is unimportant.)  If, on the other hand, addressing errors would be problematic, then that is truly a cause for concern.

In other words, such issues challenge an author’s credibility. At least for those who remember what he wrote…




The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth GapI was puzzled by Matt Taibbi’s attack on the Obama Whitehouse over the Steven’s litigation, as much of Alaska was puzzled by the apparent intent of the Bush Whitehouse to not only keep Stevens out of the Senate, but to accomplish same illegally. The suggestion that Obama or his appointees, whatever you may think of the current administration, had anything to do with the Stevens prosecution other than the “clean up” (such as it was) is simply ludicrous. Yet, there it was, introducing and underscoring “Unintended Consequences.”

“The so-called Schuelke report would not come out for three more years, but when it did surface, it contained a startling tale. Obama’s new appointees had inserted a young prosecutor named Brenda Morris as lead prosecutor in the Stevens case days before trial, infuriating the rank-and-file prosecutors in Alaska who had run the case since its  inception.”

But the Report (which can be found here for those without ECF access:…) had no trouble being seen, was circulated almost as soon as it was filed with the Court, and stated,

“Senator Stevens was arraigned on July 31, 2008, and his attorney,
Brendan Sullivan, requested an October trial date so that Senator
Stevens, who was running for re-election, could clear his name before
the November election. Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutor, acceded to
the request and suggested an earlier trial date, Sept. 24, 2008, which
was accepted by the Court and Mr. Sullivan. That date was later advanced
and jury selection began on Sept. 22, 2008. The prosecutors had
anticipated the possibility of a speedy trial request by the defense,
decided in advance to consent if one was made, but they were unprepared
for a speedy trial.”

In other words, Schuelke states in his report that Brenda Morris was lead prosecutor in the case long before a highly contested election. The suggestion that an Obama administration had anything to do with obstructing discovery in the Steven case (which, by the way, played out in September and October of 2008), let alone submarining the litigation through a last minute change in personnel, is simply untenable.

How could the editor’s fact-checkers have made it through the galleys of the first chapter of this book without noticing such a glaring mistake. How many other errors does the book contain, and can I trust Matt Taibbi any more? There are many divides in our society, and one of them is the divide that separates those that argue from fact from those that make things up as they go along. I am now distressed that I no longer am sure sure on which side of that divide Matt resides.