Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Fog Rolled In, I Got A Flat, And We Get Picked Up By A Good Samaritan








The workers were here at 9am and finished up the ceiling.

I got a call from my friend B - he wanted to bike to Palos Verdes, starting around Redondo Beach.  It was sunny and beautiful and getting out of the house so the workers could do their thing without me around seemed like a great idea.


As we cruised around the beach cities looking for a parking spot, we entered the fog.  Low, grey clouds.
Here's a shot of it.







And it was chilly.  A very damp, low 60s. (I know, chilly is relative.) After a bit we needed to get off the beach bike path and head up hills through Torrance.   I stopped partway up the hill to watch the fog roll up from the ocean.


As we got further up, the sun was visible, sort of.







And then as we rode higher, we got above the fog.   There's Palos Verdes above us, visible.





And this, I'm pretty sure, is Malaga Bay.  You can see the wall of fog sitting there waiting over the ocean.   There were 20-30 surfers out in the waves below.


But soon we were in the fog again.  B kept checking the map on his phone to see how much further it was.  I didn't actually know what 'it' was, except "Palos Verdes."  As far as I was concerned, we were already in PV.  Should we go the rest of the way?, B asked me.  I told him I didn't know where we were going or why it would be worth the extra three miles uphill.  I was also thinking about the two foot wide bike path on the other side of the street and the cars whizzing by.  Our side had about ten feet of parking area that was also a bike lane.  Finally B said it was Terra something resort.  Then I remembered I'd just read about them hiring foreign interns and using them to replace their minimum wage workers.  Human trafficking was in the headline.  I didn't need to go there.  B suggested I might interview some of the workers for the blog.  I was thinking about when it gets dark in LA (early - about 5:30pm in late December).  We went a little further and turned around.

We'd gone about nine miles.  After about a mile my bike was getting very sluggish and making a strange noise.  When I looked down I could see my back tire was flat.  We found the nail.  B's repair kit wasn't working - no patches and his hand pump didn't work on my valve stem.   I told B to ride ahead to the car and I'd walk as far as I could and he could pick me up.  We were about eight miles from the car.  He wanted me to turn my bike upside down so people could see we were in trouble, and he'd hitch a ride in a pick up truck.  I'm not sure why I didn't want to.  I guess I was embarrassed that I didn't have stuff with me to fix the flat.

Five minutes, that's all B wanted, then we could go with my plan.

After four minutes I was ready to start walking, then a pick up stopped.  B ran and talked to the driver and soon the bikes were in the bed and we were in front with Steve Lavine who had been out for a walk.  He used to run and bike and hike, but he had various health issues now and it was even a struggle to walk.  We met a new friend who took us all the way back to the car.  He said he was headed our way anyway and it wasn't too far extra.  B was pleased to have been right and I wasn't upset I was wrong.


Oh, and Steve has a second cousin Norm LaVine who lives in Anchorage. Hasn't seen him in 25 years.   If anyone from Anchorage knows him, tell him we are trying to convince Steve to come visit him in Anchorage.

Thanks, Steve, for ending our bike ride with a spectacular show of good will.  Getting a ride back was great, but getting to know a total stranger  who'd stop and pick up two guys with bikes was even better.



I'm not that surprised, but we do get jaded by our media that tends to focus on the tiny number of people who do harm each day rather than on the 350 million other US inhabitants who are like Steve Lavine.






















Saturday, December 30, 2017

If Alabamans Had Seen "The Shape Of Water"," Doug Jones Would Have Won By A Landslide

The workers came to replace the popcorn ceiling at my mom's house yesterday - we weren't expecting them until Tuesday, but they called Thursday and said, "how bout we start tomorrow?"  So my daughter's family we're getting ready to go back to Seattle.  I was busily packing things and moving furniture to the garage, before the workers came.  I dropped the family at the airport at 2pm (really hard to see my little angel go, but we'll catch up with them in Seattle in a few weeks), and then rushed to meet my college roommate for a late lunch before he went to a UCLA basketball game.  (We did that together in the Golden Age of UCLA basketball in the mid-sixties.)  Then we were free and wanted to let the workers do whatever they were doing without us.  So we checked the films showing at the theater nearby.

I'd seen the LA Times Billboard Critics Choices for Best Films yesterday.  I tend to agree with Kenneth Turan, so I wanted to see his top pick, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.

I've put the six critics' choices into a table.  You can see their picks for other categories as well here.




Chang
LATimes
Turan
LATimes
O'Neil
Gold
Derby
Thompson
Indiewire
Sperling
Vanity Fair
Whipp The
Envelope
Call Me By Your Name
1
8
5639
Darkest Hour
2
44425
Dunkirk
3
33114
The Florida Project4
7

1
Get Out5

746
Lady Bird
6
108557
Mudbound75
9

The Post
8
61
6
The Shape of Water
9
22373
Three Billboards Outside
Ebbing, Missouri
10
19282
Phantom Thread

76


The Big Sick
9
8
8
Blade Runner 2049


10
10
Detroit

10




[The numbers show the order the critics listed them.  I'm assuming they ranked them with their favorites on top.]

But Three Billboards had already begun, so we went for The Shape of Water.

NOTE:  I'd suggest going to see The Shape of Water without reading anything about it.  Let it unfold without any preconceptions or expectations.

I sat there in amazement through the whole film.  It's was a totally unexpected story, a little bizarre, but I got past that pretty quickly.  I'm just beginning to think about the symbolic meaning of the story.  This definitely goes to on my top movies of the year - though admittedly I haven't seen too many on the list (Florida Project, Get Out, and Mudbound).  This one is so original and powerful and good;  it's why I rely on Kenneth Turan's judgment.  So now I have to see Three Billboards.

So What Does Doug Jones Have To Do With This?

One of the actors is Doug Jones - like the new Senator from Alabama.  And it's no spoiler if I tell you that we never see Doug Jones' face, so it is possible it's the same person.  And if it had been shown in Alabama, I suspect many of the people would have been impressed by the character Doug Jones played, and voted for him.  Though I can imagine some of those folks who take the bible literally might have some serious problems with the Doug Jones character.



Friday, December 29, 2017

While Trump Cites Eastern Cold To Dispute Climate Change, I Submit California Warmth

Aside from getting stuff cleaned out in my mom's house so that we can have some repair work done, we did make it to the beach Thursday afternoon.  So did a lot of other folks.  I went by bike and the bike trail along the beach was like bike freeway traffic.  There's room - between Venice and Santa Monica for two bikes in each direction.  But there were clots of bikes, motorized scooters, skateboarders (with and without motors), Segways, and other sorts of wheeled transportation that made it necessary to pass.  There's separate pedestrian walkways for part of the distance.  At other points, there's just room for single file pedestrians on the edge of the bike trail, though tourists tend not to realize this or that they are standing in the middle of an active bike trail.

But this post is about the warmth.  It wasn't hot yesterday (in the 70s), but it was just comfortable to lie in the sun and Z and I spent a lot of time playing in the surf.  I had on trunks, and she had on a bathing suit, but for the most part I kept my trunks dry, but I had to pick her up out of the incoming surf a few times to keep her from getting drenched above her thighs.  That's not us, but you get the idea.



And considering it was a Thursday, there were a fair number of folks enjoying the rays.


AND OF COURSE, the cold in the Midwest and the East  and the warmth in LA prove nothing about climate change.  The anecdotal temperatures are weather, not climate.

From NASA (you know those elites who send missions to the moon, Mars, Jupiter, etc. based on so called science):
"The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere "behaves" over relatively long periods of time."
There's a lot more at the NASA link.

As Stephen Colbert pointed out -

"Global warming isn't real because I was cold today! Also great news: World hunger is over because I just ate."

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Unintended Consequences

Two of our current president's goals are to lower immigration and renegotiate NAFTA and he just got a tax bill that greatly reduces taxes for corporations and the wealthy.

But in this world everything is interrelated.  NPR reported a drop in the Mexican peso.
"The fear south of the border is that with corporate taxes lower in the U.S., Mexico won't look as attractive to businesses. A possible drop in foreign investment here sent the peso tumbling this week to its lowest level in nearly 10 months. Mexico's central bank tried to perk up the peso by selling off an additional $500 million in a foreign currency auction. The tactic usually gives the peso a boost, but there was no such rally this time."

If unemployment in Mexico rises and the value of the peso drops, there will be much greater incentive for unemployed Mexicans to come to the US and work for US dollars that they can send back home where their value will be much greater than working for pesos.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Graham v MOA #5: A Much Better Overview Of Why This Case Is Important


Graham v MOA - Overview of Why It’s Important

[This is an overview to explain what I see as a major problem.
MOA = Municipality of Anchorage
AFD = Anchorage Fire Dept
 My evidence in this post is minimal.  This series of posts will offer detailed evidence.]


  1. There was a wrongdoing.  Jeff Graham was intentionally and unfairly denied promotion.   This was proven in court to the satisfaction of the jury.  
  2. The problem is structural and individual.
    1. The exam process did not follow the MOA Charter requirement that it comply with ‘merit principles’.  Instead the oral exam (particularly) was so subjective that graders could give whatever score they wanted.  The only remaining evidence was the sketchy notes of the graders.  No recordings, audio or video.  This subjective exam was abused to prevent Jeff Graham from promoting.
    2. The exam was part of a good-old-boy system that demanded loyalty and punished those who didn't toe the line.
    3. The wrong doing was aggravated by the response to Graham’s protest of the exam.  It was not taken seriously, there was no investigation.  Constructive critiques of the exam by two other firefighters were also ignored.
    4. In court, evidence was presented (and not refuted by the Municipality) that the head of the training academy said he would never let Jeff Graham promote.
 ******************************************

After Jeff Graham was told he had failed the oral exam, he filed a complaint.  The complaint was never followed up on by AFD beyond a quick rejection.  In addition, two other fire fighters also filed more generalized constructive critiques of the exams that also were ignored. 

The correct response, in 2012,  to Graham’s complaint about the exam would have been to look into the complaint, to look at the exam.  Anyone with professional testing and training knowledge and experience would have recognized the problem with the test immediately.  

Another correct response (given AFD demographics - about 2% female and about 85% white) would have been to seriously examine why the demographics are so different from Anchorage demographics.  They could have, for example, hired objective outside experts to meet with people of color and women in the department to find obstacles to entry and promotion so that more underrepresented groups could get into and promote within the system.  

Instead of investigating and correcting the problem, the department saw Jeff Graham as the problem and the department pulled all its forces together to fight him when he got no response and finally sued the MOA.  Organizations count on their greater resources to keep people like Graham from taking them to court.  But Jeff Graham felt seriously wronged and wanted to correct the injustice he had suffered.  

Why did this happen?
  1. People in charge of testing and promotion were not qualified.  There is a state certification program. The test makers only had Level 1 certification and thus were not certified to make a test, only to administer a test created by someone with Level 2 certification.
  2. Accountability systems - like the Human Resources Department - did not do their work to insure the exams complied with merit principles.
  3. The system has aspects of a good old boys system where if you fit in with the crowd and you stay quiet and loyal, you might get ahead.  This is not unusual, and we are currently seeing nationally the consequences of such systems in the sexual assault scandals.  If people are afraid to speak up, wrongs go on forever.  
Therefore, the highly subjective oral exam allowed the good old boys to select who they wanted to promote and in Graham's case, keep out the ones they didn't want to promote.  And this promotion exam was the only passage way up the ladder from the position of fire fighter.  

Why should you believe what I say here?  Lots of reasons.
  1. My expertise.  I have academic training and practical experience in the field. I have a PhD in public administration, with a masters level specialization in personnel management.  I worked as special assistant to the director of Employee Relations at the MOA for two years (1982-84).  I was chair of the University of Alaska Anchorage grievance committee for two years and I was later the campus and statewide grievance rep for my faculty union. I sat on numerous search committees.  I taught public personnel administration for 30 years.  I’ve also published in this field.
  2. My access to the case - I served as an expert witness for the plaintiff.  This allowed me to see much of the documentation of the testing and other activities.  I also attended the trial so I was able to hear the evidence offered by the MOA.  
  3. The demographics of the Anchorage Fire Department compared to a) the rest of the MOA and b) the population of Anchorage are abysmal.  The AFD - according to the deposition of the Deputy Chief - has about 2% women and about 85% whites.
  4. A superior court jury, after a three week trial, found the MOA guilty of bad faith and unfair treatment in Jeff Graham’s case.  They awarded him $660,000.  (The judge later approved additional legal fees.)
  5. A fire fighter eyewitness testified at the trial that the head of the engineer promotion and testing academy told him and some others that “As long as I’m in charge of promotion, Jeff Graham will never promote.”  The city did not refute this testimony in court.  
  6. The PowerPoint used to prepare fire fighters for the oral peer review covered slides which point out - unintentionally - some of the problems with the test:
    1. “Is This A Popularity Contest?”  - they say they talked about this to dispel rumors, but obviously the rumors must have been pervasive enough that they felt the need to officially address them.  Their proof that it wasn’t?  They simply asserted it wasn’t. And blamed sore losers who'd failed the exam for the rumors.
    2. Candidates were told to expect ‘skeletons’ to be brought up at the oral exam.  I'd note the MOA has disciplinary procedures with proper investigations for dealing with behavior that violates MOA regulations.  There were no disciplinary issues with Jeff Graham.  The promotion exam is not the proper place to raise unfounded and unproven "skeletons" against people. 
    3. Candidates were told to prepare ‘nuggets’ or stories about themselves that would prove their character and that the nuggets could be ‘irrelevant’ to the job of fire fighter.  I'd note again, that the merit principles require that all criteria for selection and promotion be directly job related and predictive of success on the job.  
  7. The oral exams were not validated even though the national fire safety instructor training manual the department uses says that high impact exams such as promotion exams should be validated professionally.  
  8. Merit principles require tests that predict who will be good at the job, or what is technically known as 'valid.'   A valid test in this case would mean test takers who score higher will be more successful engineers and those who score lower will be less successful.  There are technical ways to validate a test.  Another key factor is reliability - that the conditions of the test - location, time, graders, etc. - don't bias the outcome.  Tests need people with technical training to ensure a test is valid and reliable.    A number of key people, including the test makers, were unable in depositions to explain:
    1. merit principles
    2. validity
    3. reliability
  9. Aside from not being validated, the oral exams were so obviously subjective that they allowed graders great leeway.  There are too many serious problems with the exams to address them here.  But I will in other posts.

As I said at the beginning, a wrongdoing happened and was compounded by the fire department uniting to fight Jeff Graham instead of investigating the problem professionally.  They strongly supported the people who caused the problem and fought against the victim of the problem.  The dynamics of this are the same as the dynamics that have kept so many women (and men) from reporting sexual assaults and even rape.  Fear of retribution kept many fire fighters silent about problems, even though they signed statements that required them to report any violations of the integrity of the exams.  

Thus closing this particular case doesn’t solve the problem.  It’s a systemic problem that still exists.  

Remedies
  1. The most basic remedy already exists.  In fact the MOA Charter requires it be used. The Charter requires the application of merit principles in all personnel decisions.  Unfortunately, no one in the fire department involved in the case knew anything about merit principles.  Thus, the first recommendation is to train all the top level executives and all the employees involved in personnel actions where decisions are made about employees (selection, promotion, discipline, etc.) in merit principles and how to apply them.   
  2. The MOA needs to hire enough professionals skilled in testing, to 
    1. review selection and promotion testing in all departments to be sure tests are valid and reliable and there is accountability if they are not 
    2. develop new testing procedures in those departments where tests are not valid and reliable, starting with those most out of compliance
    3. train relevant people in the departments 
    4. have professionals investigate complaints and suggestions about testing procedures
    5. establish procedures to record all oral exams
  3. Get demographic data for all departments to determine how close the MOA reflects the demographics of the working age population of Anchorage.
    1. This should include age, gender, ethnicity, at a minimum, at all levels of each department
    2. Departments below a to-be-determined percent of the general population demographics must develop plans for making their departments more welcoming and for developing pools of qualified candidates for future openings - if necessary, this could use the UAA ANSEP model where recruitment goes as far as preparing  high school students to develop the skills needed in key areas.  
  4. The merit principles required in the MOA Charter need to be resuscitated by
    1. extensive training of employees and the public on what merit principles are and how they work,
    2. reviewing how many current executive level positions should actually be civil service positions with civil service protection from arbitrary firing.
  5. Departments need to be much more open to their employees’ suggestions and complaints.  If necessary this means publicizing the role of the ombudsman office more and increasing the ombudsman staff skilled in administrative investigation.  Or setting up an investigation team in Human Resources.
    1. This includes the legal department, which should be reviewing the meaning of ‘duty to client’ when they are government employees.  Is their duty to the employee in the department who has the authority to call them in?  Is it to the MOA as a whole?  Is it to the public?  What should they do when these duties conflict?  If the legal department had considered the fairness of the system and what happened to Jeff Graham instead of whether they thought they could beat a discrimination case, this never would have happened.  I'd note this case followed closely a discrimination case in the Police Department that the MOA also lost. Department heads who have done wrong or have allowed wrong to be done on their watch, shouldn’t be able to use the MOA attorneys to cover up their mistakes and persecute employees who are the victims of the wrong doing.  
  6. It would also be nice to promote Jeff Graham.  He actually passed the test back in 2008, but a day or two later he was told he hadn’t been eligible to take the test.  It’s true he hadn’t been a fire fighter for the required five years, but he had been a mechanic in the fire department for eight years (and the duties greatly overlap with engineer)  and the HR department and Fire Department waived the requirement because of ‘equivalency’ as they did for other fire fighters.  And in 2012 he passed the written and practical tests with high scores.  But a third exam - the subjective oral exam - was added.  If you fail any one of the three exams, you can’t promote.  Graham failed the oral exam by one point after a ‘skeleton’ in the form of a rumor he’d never heard about before was sprung on him in one question.  (Each question had about four minutes to be addressed.)
Jeff Graham initially filed a racial and age discrimination complaint.  Those are hard to prove.  It was the only legal grounds he was aware of for such a complaint.  He didn't know anything about the merit principles in the Charter.  The MOA claimed there was no racial discrimination, but in the trial, these other issues came out and the jury found the MOA violated its obligation of good faith and fair treatment.  

The beauty of the merit principles is that they protect everyone from discriminatory practices - whites as well as people of color, men as well as women.  They require tests to, as much as possible, discriminate solely on whether someone is likely to be successful on the job.  


My Goal

My goal in these posts is to raise awareness of the problems that this case has raised.  It got almost no media coverage and many of the issues are 'invisible' in that they are very detailed issues of policy and administration.  I hope to be able to make them visible and explain them and their significance in these posts.  

Ultimately I hope the MOA will seriously review the internal structures that increase the likelihood that employees will be treated fairly, like the merit principles in the charter require. Hiring and promoting employees based on their qualifications for the job and not their connections, generally leads to a more effective and efficient government.  So does an administration that takes complaints seriously instead of punishing the complainers.  


This is the overview.  The other posts will fill in the details.  As I post them, I'll add links to them here.  

You can see an index of all my posts about this case here - or at the Graham v. Municipality of Anchorage tab just below the "What Do I Know?" banner on top of the blog.  

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Santa Monica Sunset







We spent a couple of hours at the play equipment near Santa Monica pier as Z walked the balance bars, crossed the monkey bars, climbed ropes, swang swings, and generally stretched her muscles and worked her balance.  But she didn't know she was exercising, she was just having fun.  We left as the sun was lowering over the Pacific.  (I started thinking about how to say that differently.  We know the sun doesn't lower itself, that it's the earth's rotation, not movement of the sun that causes us to move to dark in the evening.  Yet we still say rise and set.  I wonder how many people really think it's the sun moving.) (Well I googled it.  From Time:

"Does the Earth go around the sun, or does the sun go around the Earth? 
When asked that question, 1 in 4 Americans surveyed answered incorrectly. Yes, 1 in 4. In other words, a quarter of Americans do not understand one of the most fundamental principles of basic science. So that’s where we are as a society right now.
The survey, conducted by the National Science Foundation, included more than 2,200 participants in the U.S., AFP reports. It featured a nine-question quiz about physical and biological science and the average score was a 6.5."


And a bit later, from Venice.




And let me slip in this picture I took as we walked back to the car.  It's one of the murals we saw at the Skirball Saturday in the Ken Gonzales-Day exhibit.  This mural is Dogtown and having seen one of the Dogtown movies explains a bit more of the mural.  


Though having grown up in this area in the late 50's and early 60's when skateboarding was invented and we simply nailed the front and back ends of roller skates to 2X4s and zoomed down the hills (our street was perfect), I'm a little skeptical of getting background from a Chicago based movie critic.








Monday, December 25, 2017

Durrell Loses Control Of His Story

As a blogger, I find that what I write doesn't always go the way I planned.  Thus, while visiting someone today, when I picked up  Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals from their bookshelf and read the introduction, I could sympathize.
"This is the story of a five-year sojourn that I and my family made on the Greek island of Corfu.  It was originally intended to be a mildly nostalgic account of the natural history of the island, but I made a grave mistake by introducing my family into the book in the first few pages.  Having got themselves on paper, they then proceeded to establish themselves and invite friends to share the chapters.  It was only with the greatest difficulty, and by exercising considerable cunning, that I managed to retain a few pages here and there which I cold devote exclusively to animals."

I knew who Lawrence Durrell was, but not Gerald.  It turns out he was Lawrence's younger brother, but also a well known animal conservationist in his own right.  Here's Wikipedia's bio.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Surface Tension LA and Noah's Ark

The Skirball Museum was chosen as a kid friendly meeting place for my daughter and an old friend.  There were two dynamite exhibits - one temporary and one permanent.  If you're ever in LA with young kids, be sure to check out the permanent one.



First The Temp Exhibit - Surface Tension LA


The most striking thing when you walk into the room is the map of LA on the floor.  It has every street. But no names.  It goes from the beach on the west to way off in the east, well past East LA.  I confess, it's part of LA I don't know at much about and there were no red circles with numbers out there so I didn't look too carefully.  North/south is more constrained - from the near valley north to not even LAX to the south.  There's a bit of South LA that goes out the doorway into the hall.

Z immediately began running the freeways.

And you can also see the red circles that have numbers.




The numbers show the locations of murals which are pictured on the wall.  The picture below just shows a few of them.


Just checking out the city and trying to figure out where places were without the street names.  It made curved streets make more sense in this huge map format.  And then there were all the murals.  Some of which I knew - including the "Pope of LA" that we saw in downtown the other day.

And the security guard was really into the project, asking us what we thought it meant.  He went on to say something about no one mural tells the story, but the combination of all the murals makes a statement.

Ken Gonzales-Day who conceived of this project and took thousands of pictures of murals, wrote on a description of the exhibit in the room:
"I believe these images reveal more about Los Angeles and its communities, its struggles and its losses, than one can find in any book.  I witnessed memorials to those lost and to those who inspire, as well as the rage and political frustration of city residents, and even resistance to displacement.  In a city of contested spaces, these are traces of its people:  material celebrations and negotiations of the politics of place, often painted side by side."


Gonzales-Day is an art professor at Scripps College in Claremont.  His personal website has more on his art, including a larger picture of this exhibit with many more of the murals.  It's the third dot at the top of the page.


Second, The Permanent Exhibit - Noah's Ark

I have to say upfront that this is the best interactive kid space I can recall ever having been to, and I've been to a lot.  It's aesthetically beautiful, it's resourceful, imaginative, and full of interesting things for kids - and adults - to do.  They also limit how many people can be in the space - you get tickets that are good for a specific 90 minute block.  We had 2pm-3:30 on the Saturday before Christmas.  There was lots of room for the kids to explore.

If you live in LA and have young kids (3-9 is probably ideal) or your visiting from out of town, this is a great spot to go.  It's not photogenic - big pictures don't show the detail, which is what's so amazing, and pictures of the details miss out on how it all fits together.  Maybe it would be fairer to say I wasn't up to the task of digitally capturing this place.  Plus I only had my small camera with me and my kids have a ban on family pictures on the blog.

But here are a few attempts.

There's just so much going on in the room, so many nooks and crannies, so many animals, things to push or pull or crank or climb up, under, into.  This is one room that is 'inside the ark.'




We first got a kid friendly intro to what we were going to see.  Part one was the storm, with rain and wind and lightning.  Part two is the ark.  Part three is the rainbow, a room where everyone can work with paper and colored pencils and stencils.  World Immigration Day was earlier in the week, so there was a place to write notes to immigrants and hang them up.

Most everything in this exhibit is made of recycled objects.  As you can see, the elephant's trunk is partly made of bamboo steamer baskets. It was all very clever.  Like this alligator, made out of a violin case, violin and the teeth are little plastic tubes.




In the storm room, there were lots of cranks to turn.  This one made lightning in the glass tube.  Another blew air into a tube  showing wind as the leaves inside flew all over.  And there were drums and other ways to recreate thunder.














There were neat ways to climb up.  A pulley to send messages or whatever up to folks on a different level.














And interesting ways to get back down.




There wasn't any real biblical indoctrination - just the most basic telling of the story of Noah's ark and the animals.  They even had fake animal poop in the section of the ark that held the animals.  And brooms and dustbins to clean it up with.

A truly wonderful place for young kids to explore and climb and have great adventures.

Here's where you can learn a lot more about Noah's Ark.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

DTLA With My Granddaughter and Wife Part 2: Who Killed Liberty, Maiolino, And Roses

[Part 1 is here.]

We left off in the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles.  As we moved along we came across this image of the statue of liberty by Daniel Joseph Martinez.  When I found the title - Who Killed Liberty, Can You Hear That, It's the Sound of Inevitability, The Sound of Your Death - it made sense.  But I wondered about more politically conservative people.  How might they react to this?  Even though they rail against government, how their religious rights are violated by things like gay marriage, how they are economically less well off, etc., would they appreciate this symbol of all those things?  Or would they see it as a desecration of a traditional monument to freedom?  Or have they soured on the Statue of Liberty because it represents a pro-immigration stance?
click on image to enlarge and focus


Then we walked a little further and saw this work extended into the next room.    This  second picture was taken by Z, my four year old partner in crime.  She has had no trouble picking up how to turn on the camera, how to press part way to focus, take the picture, then  open the window and press the view button, then move from picture to picture.  And her composition isn't bad either, though she did cut off the base of the statue.  The base is a mirror and she got in trouble with the guard for touching it.  My wife was closer to Z at the time, so she got written up, though the guard was apologetic and said there was clearly no damage and nothing would come of it.  



The main exhibit was by an artist I'd never heard of - Anna Maria Maiolino - but who had a large body of work in many different media.   There was a large room of pieces with torn paper, some of which was sewn up, or thread played a key role in the image.  Here are a couple of examples of the torn paper without thread.  (My camera had difficulty knowing what to do - I take that as a tribute to the artist who was tricking the camera's auto settings and chiding my slow progress in mastering the manual commands.  The first two attempts came out almost white.)


Here's a close up of another one with torn paper.  I think the original was much whiter, but I don't have it in front of me, so I'm not going to try to fiddle with the photo to replicate something I'm not sure of.



Here's something on the artist.




This one was called By A Thread and shows the artist in the center attached by threads to her mother and daughter.






And this one is The Hero.




But let's look at different media.






I was enjoying the shapes and positioning and textures and the imagination that created these pieces, I really wasn't of thinking about what it all meant, so I didn't take pictures of the descriptions, so I can't give these names.






















Don't know what these are, but I do remember looking to see what they are made of - cement.



And finally, still Maiolino,


You can see a lot more images of her work at the MOCA website.


One of the downtown places I'd never been to, but had heard about and wanted to see was the Last Book Store.  But first, this mural we passed as we walked to the bookstore.  An exhibit on murals in LA we saw today at the Skirball says this is Eloy Torrez' "Pope of Broadway."  The sun was brightly reflecting off the wall fading out the colors, and with a four year old in tow, it's harder to run back up the block to from where the colors were better.


Then finally to The Last Bookstore.


I'm afraid I was expecting the most incredible bookstore ever.  It isn't.  Powell's in Portland is much better.  I like Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle better.  This one is quirkier than those two.









This building was a bank before it became a bookstore (a transformation I highly approve of.)  You can even go into the old safe to peruse books.  Maybe I just needed more time to get the feel of this place, but I as I walked through aisles and aisles of books, books weren't calling out to me to stop and pick them up.  And there are lots of signs saying, "No public restrooms."   This was more a bookstore in a gritty downtown block that seemed to be trying to figure out how to discourage the homeless.


It wasn't warm and inviting.  There were some places to sit and read, but not enough.


Z found a book she liked in the kids' section and her grandmother, of course, made sure it came home with us.  We wandered down to the Metro station - Z never stopped looking around, never complained about anything, and when I asked if she wanted to stop at the rose garden on the way home enthusiastically said yes.  So we got off at the Exposition Park station for a quick fragrance check on as many roses as we could before the next train came by.



This is a rose garden that I visited as a young child myself.  The Natural History Museum is nearby as well as the coliseum,

Wikipedia says the garden is seven acres.

"In 1986, plans to dig up the garden to build an underground parking garage led to protests in the media.[15][17] The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial opposing the plan: "There are times when the leaders of Los Angeles seem perversely intent on living up to the image that many outsiders have of them—insensitive and uncouth rabbits who would, say, dig up a garden to put in a parking lot."[18] The garden had also been threatened by an earlier proposal by the Los Angeles Raiders football team to convert the garden into a practice field for the team.[16] In order to protect the garden from such threats, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991."

I also read that the garden is closed from January 1 to March 1 for pruning, so this was likely the last chance to see these flowers this year for us.

And as I look at this last picture, I can't help but see similarities between this rose and the Disney Concert Hall that began Part 1 of these DTLA posts.


Friday, December 22, 2017

DTLA With My Granddaughter And Wife Part 1- Gehry, Rothko, and Ray

We took the Metro downtown Thursday, checked out the Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry - one of my favorite buildings anywhere.  It's a photographer's dream.

Looking Up

A passage way

Gehry isn't my focus here and these pictures are probably mystifying to someone who doesn't know this building.  You can see other images I've taken of the Disney Concert Hall here.

The Disney Concert Hall is across from the Broad Museum.  The Broad is only a little over a year old can get tickets online, but when I've tried early the first day of the month, it was always already sold out.  You can wait in line and get tickets made available that day.  So we thought we'd try that.  But two hours waiting in line didn't seem like a good use of our time.  Especially with a  four year old.  (Almost five she'd tell you.)
and it's free.  The image to the right is from the Disney garden looking down at the line for the Broad - this is the part that is around the block from the entrance.  Those are people to the left of the cars at the bottom of the picture.

So we walked down the block and went to MOCA - the Museum of Contemporary Art.  This isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I love art work that pushes against restraints.  They had a room full of Mark Rothko's.  Again, I know that the literal minded just don't get this stuff.  That's not a put-down, but an observation on how our brains work differently - partly by genetics and partly by training.  Fortunately, I had a father who took me to all sorts of art exhibits as I was growing up.


Here are two Rothko's and a gallery visitor.













And here is the one on the right close up.  You can tell I haven't captured the colors quite right.  The one below is, I believe, more accurate.  I can get lost in these paintings, particularly when I'm looking at part of one up-close like this.  Read the explanation below if you're not convinced.








I know some people are scratching their heads about this. "His four year old could do this."  So I'm adding the description to it.

For visually impaired readers, I'll send you a text version of this if you email me. (Right hand column above Blog Archive.)




















My granddaughter did find these two photographs of interest.  They're by Charles Ray and are called the plank pieces.   I asked if we should try that when we got home and she emphatically said "No!"


The Tate Gallery has a lengthy explanation of these two paintings.  Part of me says that one should just look and think about what one sees.  But often we just don't know enough about what the artist was thinking or the context of the times, so reading about a work helps us appreciate it.  Here are some excerpts from the Tate article.
"Ray created the work using his own body, experimenting with the ways in which he could balance himself against the wall using a single plank of wood. The critic Michael Fried has noted that ‘both arrangements, it seems clear, could have been achieved only with the help of at least one other person, who, however, does not appear in the photographs.’ (Fried 2011, p.72.) Indeed Ray deliberately presents the arrangements of body and plank as completed structures, offering no evidence of how the artist arrived in these poses. The works were created while Ray was still a student at the University of Iowa (1971–5) where he studied under Roland Brenner, a former student of the sculptor Anthony Caro. Studying Caro’s work and sculptural techniques (such as welding and bolting metal) was a formative experience for Ray, as the artist recorded in an interview: ‘Caro’s work was like a template; I saw it as almost platonic.’ (Charles Ray and Michael Fried, ‘Early One Morning’, Tate Etc., no.3, Spring 2005, p.51.) 
While a student, however, Ray also became interested in the work of minimalist sculptors such as Robert Morris, Donald Judd and Richard Serra. In works such as Shovel Plate Prop 1969 (Tate T01728) Serra had used balance alone to support a heavy sculptural structure. This carefully judged equilibrium is seemingly precarious, pressing the sculpture into a charged and potentially dangerous relationship with the viewer. In response to such works, Ray began to experiment with balance and tension in his own sculpture, dispensing with the bolts and welding he had adopted through studying the work of Caro. In doing so Ray erased distinctions between sculpture and body. As he has said of Plank Piece: ‘My body is a sculptural element pinned to the wall by a wood plank.’ (Quoted in Nittive and Ferguson 1994, p.30.)"

It's getting late, so I'll stop here.  I'll add more in part 2.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Graham v MOA #4: Some Media Coverage, Finally

Casey Grove reported about the trial on APRN (it's dated 12/19/17 online).  His piece begins:
"The municipality of Anchorage has paid one of its firefighters more than three-quarters of a million dollars after his successful lawsuit against the fire department. 
It’s the second large civil award this year the municipality has paid to a public safety employee, after two police officers won $2.7 million last summer in a lawsuit over racial discrimination."
The dollar amount is different from what I reported back in August because Casey has added in the lawyers fees while I only had what the jury awarded Graham at the end of the trial.

It's been frustrating that, besides this blog, I'm unaware of any other media coverage of the case aside from this report and an earlier one by Casey back in April.  Obviously the MOA is happy that this is not covered and Graham's attorney doesn't feel it is professional to seek out publicity.  I've followed his lead here.

That said, I'd note that Casey learned about the case from me last April at the Alaska Press Club conference.  Casey had given an interesting talk on covering court cases which included different ways to get information on cases.  Afterward I mentioned one he hadn't mentioned - depositions.  Jeff Jarvi (Graham's attorney) had told me that depositions were open to the public.  The only problem was that the public doesn't have any way of knowing when they are held and who is being deposed.  I didn't know that before this case.  Casey asked how I knew this and I told him I was involved in a case, then asked me about the case I was involved in and I reluctantly told him. He looked it up and called the attorneys for both sides.  Jeff Jarvi questioned Casey about how he found out about the case, and like a good reporter, Casey said he couldn't divulge his sources.  I know that because attorney Jarvi told me about Casey's call and asked me if I had been Casey's source.

So why am I telling you this?   First, I think people should know about how the media work.  I didn't intend to tell Casey about the case, but as he pressed, I had no reason not to tell him the name of the case.
Second, and more importantly, is that this case was below the radar of Anchorage media. Even though it ended in the jury finding for the firefighter to the tune of $660,000.  And as Casey reports it was the second major case the MOA lost in 2017 - the first one involved the police department.

How many other stories are we missing?  This was a case where the jury, after three weeks of trial, found that the Municipality of Anchorage had breached its contractural duties of good faith and fair treatment.  That's a pretty big deal in my opinion.  And if it had been settled back in 2012 when Graham initially complained to the department of the unfairness, it could have easily been handled internally.  And, as I hope to explain in this series of posts, this was not simply about Jeff Graham. He was one of the few foolhardy enough or stubborn enough or mistreated enough  to stand up to the, yes, good old boy system in the fire department.

My Reaction To The Story Itself

It's hard to cover a lengthy trial that you didn't attend.  I salute Casey for making the effort.  You can read, or listen to the whole story yourself, but I did want to pull out this quote from  Anchorage Fire Department Deputy Chief Jodie Hettrick:
“It was a little frustrating for our side not to know exactly what they [the jury] felt that we did wrong,” Hettrick said. “Because we want to treat our employees fairly and equally and make sure that they don’t feel the department is doing something wrong. We want to fix things. It’s just hard to do that when you don’t have all the details.”
Hettrick said the oral exams are very similar to a job interview for any employer, and the fire department uses a scoring system for each question.
This is more than a little disingenuous.  It's the jury's job to determine the verdict.  In this case the jury wasn't asked if the MOA was "guilty" or "not guilty."  Instead, the jury had a series of yes/no questions that were finally agreed on by the two attorneys with the judge, as best as I can tell, being the final arbiter of what the jury instructions would be.  It isn't the jury's job to tell the MOA how Jeff Graham was mistreated.  It was their job to answer those yes/no questions.  And to calculate a monetary remedy.

I wish Casey had asked her if she had contacted any of the jurors to ask them.

Jeff Graham's attorney outlined in great detail how Graham was mistreated and what specific problems existed with the testing during the trial.  At least as much as he was allowed by the MOA's attorney's objections and the judge's sustaining the objections.  Deputy Chief Hettrick sat through the whole trial.  So if she doesn't know what the problems were, that, in itself, is a problem.

I will spell all that out in detail once again in these posts as best as I can - particularly concerning the highly subjective oral exams.  I will go through them in more detail than most people want to hear I'm sure.

A lot of it is technical and at first blush might not seem problematic, except to someone who has been trained in testing.  Unfortunately, the people in charge of testing (and the training for the tests) did not have the state certification that would have qualified them to designed the training and created the tests.  They had Fire Safety Instructor Training Certificate Level I.  (This includes now Deputy Chief Hettrick who was in charge of Training overall in the Fire Department at the time.  Though in her defense, she'd only just been hired.)  Level I certifies you as qualified to give training and exams that were designed by someone else.  Someone who had a Fire Safety Instructor Training Certificate Level II.  Hettrick defended this lack of proper certification by saying that there was no law in Anchorage that required it.  That doesn't change the fact that these folks didn't have the training which would certify their ability to create a training program and develop promotion tests.

I've concluded that these posts will have a lot of repetition and that isn't a bad thing.  It takes awhile to have enough context for specific facts to gain significance, like the training certificate levels.