Thursday, May 26, 2016


"What Algorithmic Injustice Looks Like in Real Life" by Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, and Lauren Kirchner; ProPublica 5/25/2016

COMMENT: The idea that a computer program would "weed out human biases" shows that the people in the justice system do NOT understand computers. People write computer software and MAY in-code their own biases.

A computer program rated defendants' risk of committing a future crime.  These are the results.

Courtrooms across the nation are using computer programs to predict who will be a future criminal.  The programs help inform decisions on everything from bail to sentencing.  They are meant to make the criminal justice system fairer — and to weed out human biases.

ProPublica tested one such program and found that it's often wrong — and biased against blacks.  (Read our story)

We looked at the risk scores the program spit out for more than 7,000 people arrested in Broward County, Florida in 2013 and 2014.  We checked to see how many defendants were charged with new crimes over the next two years — the same benchmark used by the creators of the algorithm.  Our analysis showed:
  • The formula was particularly likely to falsely flag black defendants as future criminals, wrongly labeling them this way at almost twice the rate as white defendants.
  • White defendants were mislabeled as low risk more often than black defendants.
What does that look like in real life?  Here are five comparisons of defendants — one black and one white — who were charged with similar offenses but got very different scores.

Two Shoplifting Arrests

James Rivelli, 53.

In August 2014, Rivelli allegedly shoplifted seven boxes of Crest Whitestrips from a CVS.  An employee called the police.  When the cops found Rivelli and pulled him over, they found the Whitestrips as well as heroin and drug paraphernalia in his car.  He was charged with two felony counts and four misdemeanors for grand theft, drug possession, and driving with a suspended license and expired tags.

Past offenses:  He had been charged with felony aggravated assault for domestic violence in 1996, felony grand theft also in 1996, and a misdemeanor theft in 1998.  He also says that he was incarcerated in Massachusetts for felony drug trafficking.

COMPAS score:  3 — low

Subsequent offense:  In April 2015, he was charged with two felony counts of grand theft in the 3rd degree for shoplifting about $1,000 worth of tools from a Home Depot.

He says:  Rivelli says his crimes were fueled by drug use and he is now sober.  “I'm surprised [my risk score] is so low,” Rivelli said in an interview in his mother's apartment in April.  “I spent five years in state prison in Massachusetts.”

Robert Cannon, 18.

In December 2013, Cannon was caught shoplifting a cell phone and two pairs of headphones from a Wal-Mart (together valued at $171.52), and was charged with misdemeanor petty theft.

Past offense:  One earlier misdemeanor petty theft in Miami in 2012.

COMPAS score:  6 — medium

Subsequent offenses:  None.

He says:  We were unable to contact Cannon.  We visited his last known address and was told by the residents that they did not know him and that they could not pass on a message to him.

Two Drug Possession Arrests

Dylan Fugett, 20.

In February 2013, Fugett was charged with a felony for cocaine possession, and two misdemeanors for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Past offense:  In 2010, he was charged with a felony for an attempted burglary.

COMPAS score:  3 — low

Subsequent offenses:  Fugett was caught with marijuana and drug paraphernalia twice more in 2013.  Then, during a traffic stop in 2015, when he was arrested on a bench warrant, he admitted that he was hiding eight baggies of marijuana in his boxers.  He was charged with marijuana possession with intent to sell.

He says:  Fugett says his low risk score seems like an accurate assessment.  “Everybody sees me as a thug because I used to have earrings and tattoos,” Fugett said in an interview at his mother's house in April.  “But I really am just a big old teddy bear.”

Bernard Parker, 21.

During a January 2013 traffic stop for expired registration tags, cops found an ounce of marijuana in Parker's car.  He was charged with felony drug possession with intent to sell.

Past offense:  In 2011, he was arrested for running from the cops and tossing away a baggie that was suspected to contain cocaine.

COMPAS score:  10 — high

Subsequent offenses:  None.

He says:  “I haven't been in trouble with the law,” Parker said when interviewed at his grandmother's house in April.  “I try to stay out of their way.”

Two Burglary Arrests

Anthony Vitiello, 30.

In April 2014, a cop spotted Vitiello breaking open an air conditioner unit behind someone's house to steal copper tubing out of it.  When confronted, he admitted he had stolen parts from the same unit before and was coming back for more.  He was charged with felony possession of burglary tools and misdemeanor prowling/loitering.

Past offenses:  A felony charge for check-forgery and a juvenile misdemeanor.

COMPAS score:  2 — low

Subsequent offenses:  Three subsequent felony burglaries, all within the next year.  In one burglary, he threw a brick through a person's kitchen window and climbed in, but the person came home while he was there, and he ran away.  He then broke into another person's house, where he was finally caught.  In another burglary, he broke into someone's house and stole jewelry, a camcorder, three Kindles, a camera, and car keys.  Most recently, he broke someone's bedroom window, climbed in and stole $500 in cash.

He says:  We were unable to make contact with Vitiello.  We visited his last known address and left letters for him there but did not get any response.

Hassheim White, 18.

In January 2014, a cop stopped White and a friend on the street.  White was carrying a pair of car-stereo speakers, some flashlights, a tire gauge, and some coins.  He confessed that he and his friend had stolen them from cars they had broken into.  White was charged with two felony counts of burglary, misdemeanor petty theft and misdemeanor prowling/loitering.

Past offenses:  Two juvenile felonies.

COMPAS score:  8 — high

Subsequent offenses:  None.

He says:  “I'm done with that lifestyle,” White said in an interview at his home in April.  “It used to be home to home, couch to couch, theft to theft.  Now it's shift to shift, paycheck to paycheck.  I've got a child on the way.”

Two DUI Arrests

Gregory Lugo, 36.

In October 2014, Lugo crashed his Lincoln Navigator into a Toyota Camry.  When a police officer arrived at the scene of the accident, Lugo fell over several times and an almost-empty bottle of gin was found in his car.  He was charged with DUI and with driving with a suspended license.

Past offenses:  Three previous DUIs (in 1998, 2007, and 2012), and a misdemeanor battery in 2008.

COMPAS score:  1 — low

Subsequent offense:  Two days later, Lugo was charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery for domestic violence.

He says:  Lugo says he is now sober and a low risk.  “You take the alcohol away, and I am not a violent person,” Lugo said in an interview at his home in April.

Mallory Williams, 29.

In October 2013, Williams hit a parked car in a parking lot.  She was charged with six misdemeanor counts of DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, and resisting arrest without force.

Past offenses:  Two misdemeanors in Virginia in 1984 and 2006.

COMPAS score:  6 — medium

Subsequent offenses:  None.

She says:  We were unable to make contact with Williams.  She did not respond to attempts to reach her through her last known phone numbers and email addresses.

Two Petty Theft Arrests

Vernon Prater, 41.

In the summer of 2013, he shoplifted $86.35 worth of tools from a Home Depot in North Lauderdale, and was charged with felony petty theft.

Past offenses:  Prater served a five-year prison sentence in Florida for an armed robbery and another attempted robbery in 1998.  He was also arrested for another armed robbery in South Carolina in 2006.

COMPAS score:  3 — low

Subsequent offenses:  Prater went on to break into a warehouse and steal $7,700 worth of electronics, tools and appliances.  He was charged with 30 felony counts, including burglary, grand theft in the third degree, and dealing in stolen property when he pawned the stolen goods.  He confessed to the owner of the warehouse that he had taken the items because he had a drug problem and promised to pay him back later.  Prater received an eight-year sentence for the thefts and is now in Florida state prison.

He says:  We were unable to make contact with Prater through his court-appointed attorneys.

Brisha Borden, 18.

In 2014, Borden and a friend picked up a blue Huffy bicycle and a Razor scooter that were sitting unlocked outside an apartment building, and started to ride them down the street.  When the owner saw them and confronted them, Borden and her friend dropped the bike and scooter and ran away.  A neighbor called the cops, and the two girls were charged with misdemeanor petty theft and burglary.

Past offense:  Four juvenile misdemeanors.

COMPAS score:  8 — high

Subsequent offenses:  None

She says:  Borden did not respond to requests for an interview through friends, relatives, and letters left in person at her last known address.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

GUN CONTROL - The Best Argument Ever

From "West Wing"

Was reminded of this piece from a Facebook post.

This is the best pro-gun-control argument ever.

WATER CRISIS - The Truth Behind the Water Crisis in the West

"Drought be Dammed" by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica 5/20/2016

This story was co-published with The New York Times.

Wedged between Arizona and Utah, less than 20 miles up river from the Grand Canyon, a soaring concrete wall nearly the height of two football fields blocks the flow of the Colorado River.  There, at Glen Canyon Dam, the river is turned back on itself, drowning more than 200 miles of plasma-red gorges and replacing the Colorado's free-spirited rapids with an immense lake of flat, still water called Lake Powell, the nation's second largest reserve.

When Glen Canyon Dam was built — in the middle of the last century — giant dams were championed as a silver bullet promising to elevate the American West above its greatest handicap — a perennial shortage of water.  These monolithic wonders of engineering would bring wild rivers to heel, produce cheap, clean power, and stockpile water necessary to grow a thriving economy in the middle of the desert.  And because they were often remotely located they were rarely questioned.

We built the Hoover Dam, creating Lake Mead, Glen Canyon Dam and more than 300 other dams and reservoirs at a cost of more than $100 billion.  Such was the nation's enthusiasm for capturing its water that even the lower part of the Grand Canyon seemed, for a time, worth flooding.  Two more towering walls of concrete were proposed there, and would have backed up water well into the nation's most famous national park.

But today, there are signs that the promise of the great dam has run its course.

Climate change is fundamentally altering the environment, making the West hotter and drier.  There is less water to store, and few remaining good sites for new dams.

Many of the existing dams, meanwhile, have proven far less efficient — and less effective — than their champions had hoped.  They have altered ecosystems and disrupted fisheries.  They have left taxpayers saddled with debt.

And, in what is perhaps the most egregious failure for a system intended to conserve water, many of them lose hundreds of billions of gallons of precious water each year to evaporation and, sometimes, to leakage underground.  These losses increasingly undercut the longstanding benefits of damming big rivers like the Colorado, and may now be making the West's water crisis worse.

In no place is this lesson more acute than at Glen Canyon.

And yet even as these consequences come into focus, four states on the Colorado River are developing plans to build new dams and river diversions in an effort to seize a larger share of dwindling water supplies for themselves before that water flows downstream.

The projects, coupled with perhaps the most severe water shortages the region has ever seen, have reignited a debate about whether 20th century solutions can address the challenges of an epochal 21st century drought, with a growing chorus of prominent former officials saying the plans fly in the face of a new climate reality.

“The Colorado River system is changing rapidly,” says Daniel Beard, a former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees all of the federal government's dams in the West.  “We have a responsibility to reassess the fundamental precepts of how we have managed the river.”

That reassessment — Beard and others say — demands that even as new projects are debated, it's time to decommission one of the grandest dams of them all, Glen Canyon.

Glen Canyon Dam was erected as a political and environmental compromise, an evolution of the earliest water wars on the Colorado River.

In 1922 seven states — California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming — signed a compact agreement dividing the Colorado between them, and, later, with Mexico.  The northern states agreed to send an annual quota of water downstream to California, Nevada and Arizona, and the dam building began.  But the faster those states grew the more water they used, and by mid-century Colorado, Wyoming and the rest of the upper basin feared it was only a matter of time before the south laid claim to the entire river.  The northern states sought their own mega-dam — one which could give them control over the flow of the river and provide a gate through which they could mete out exactly how much of it was sent downstream.  Their political jockeying in Congress eventually won the promise that the federal government would build more dams in the north too.

In 1956 the Colorado River Storage Project Act paved the way for the construction of four more large power-generating dams in the upper basin of the Colorado River.  In its planning, the federal Bureau of Reclamation had zeroed in on a dam site on a tributary in northwestern Colorado called the Green River.  But the reservoir it proposed to create would submerge a tract of treasured, fossil-laden parkland called Dinosaur National Monument.  Environmentalists, led by legendary Sierra Club executive director David Brower in one of the nation's early epic conservation battles, fought passionately to preserve the monument.

All sides agreed instead to proceed at a remote spot in southern Utah called Glen Canyon, in a region far from highways, about 200 miles northeast of Las Vegas.  Glen Canyon Dam would help normalize the erratic flows of the Colorado, and flood a no-man's land of barren sandstone domes and inaccessible dendritic canyons — transforming them into a surreal oasis called Lake Powell.

Damming rivers this way is as old as civilization itself, stretching back some 8,000 years to the foothills of Mesopotamia.  From the start, the idea was to stem the risk of devastating floods by creating a catchment for the unpredictable torrents that rattle down from upstream.  Once a river was restrained, its domesticated waters could be guided through ditches and canals to irrigate land for agriculture, and to use the force of gravity to power its delivery over great distances.  For desert regions that got little rain, but watch seasonal snowmelt sluice by during the spring rush, dams became a way to capture that water and hold it until the time of year it was needed most.

With time, dams were developed especially for their ability to generate power.  And since force is not just a function of the amount of water flowing, but of the mass of water held behind the dam, the dams grew broader.  In 1942 the Bureau of Reclamation completed the low-slung Grand Coulee Dam, a butchy mass of concrete more massive than the Pyramid at Giza, stretching for nearly a mile across Washington's Columbia River.  It is still today the single largest hydropower producer in the country.

Glen Canyon Dam is of a different sort — a tall, elegant, sweeping structure engineered in an arch bowing against the pressure of the water, enabling a relatively thin sheet of concrete to withstand unfathomable forces behind it.  Arch dams like these were perfectly suited for the Colorado's narrow chasms, and Glen Canyon — like the Hoover Dam — created a reservoir so deep that the sheer height of the water behind it promised to generate enormous currents of power.  By all measures, its completion was a feat.

But it took 17 years for the reservoir to fill, and just 19 years after that, it began a steady decline.  Today its potential has been severely undercut by its own inefficiencies.  Thanks to the steady overuse of the Colorado River system — which provides water to one in eight Americans and supports one seventh of the nation's crops — Lake Powell has been drained to less than half of its capacity as less water has flowed into it than has been routinely taken out.  That relative puddle is no longer capable of generating the amount of power the dam's builders originally planned, and so the power has become more expensive for the government to deliver, with the burden increasingly falling on the nation's taxpayers.  Since the dam's power sales are relied on to pay for the operations of other smaller dams and reservoirs used for irrigation in the West, as Glen Canyon financially crumbles, so might the system that depends on it.

But it's not just the reservoir's overuse that is causing it to drain, it's the very site and concept chosen for Lake Powell itself, the reservoir loses an extraordinary amount of its precious water.  When a dam is built in the desert, its water is spread over a wide area under hot sun and wind, leading to massive evaporation.  More than 160 billion gallons of water evaporate off of Lake Powell's surface every year, enough to lower the reservoir by four inches each month.  Another 120 billion gallons are believed to leak out of the bottom of the canyon into fissures in the earth, — a loss that if tallied up over the life of the dam amounts to more than a year's flow of the entire Colorado River.  According to the environmental group Colorado Riverkeeper, if the lost water were sold, it would generate some $350 million each year.

Cumulatively these debits, Beard says, amount to “the largest loss of water on the Colorado River,” — an amount equal to six percent of its total flow and enough to supply some nine million people each year.

Not every dam site shares Glen Canyon's problems.  Each dam serves a unique purpose — whether it's power generation or water storage — and every region has different needs.

But Glen Canyon is far from the only project to fall out of favor — major projects are being decommissioned or reevaluated across the country.  In some places there isn't enough water to justify the environmental and economic costs of blocking a river.  In others the dams have turned out to block the flow of sediment, stop fish migration, or threaten endangered species in ways that weren't anticipated in the middle of the last century.

The Hoover Dam's Lake Mead, which Wednesday fell to its lowest level ever, 145 feet below capacity, also loses hundreds of billions of gallons of water to evaporation and is just 37 percent full.  The reservoir behind Arizona's Coolidge Dam, one of the first major projects in Western water development and one of Arizona's largest reservoirs, is virtually empty.

And dams are coming down.  Six Western dams were deconstructed in 2015 alone.  Just last month California and Oregon agreed to dismantle four more power-generating dams on the Klamath River, having realized that the facilities were crippling native salmon fisheries, which also have enormous economic value.  “This is a good exercise of humankind correcting some of the mistakes that it's made in the past,” California Gov.  Jerry Brown said when announcing the plan.  And in early May a federal judge in Oregon ruled that — because of extensive ecological damage — the system of dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers “cries out for a major overhaul.”

Still, on the Colorado, today's water managers refute the notion that it's time for a change.

Glen Canyon Dam may be past its prime, says Michael Connor, the deputy secretary of the Interior and a former Commissioner of Reclamation, but its not past its usefulness.  Though he calls the amount of water lost to evaporation and leakage “incredibly significant,” Connor credits Glen Canyon with numbing the pain of the recent drought.  “Look at the last 15 years,” he says.  “It's the lowest inflow in history and there's been no shortages on the Colorado River and that's because of Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell and Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.”

There is also a political tide to be reckoned with; the delicate peace struck between the seven competing states and Mexico — and the fear that they'd never again be able to reach an agreement the likes of which they all signed in 1922.  “Getting rid of Lake Powell… it would basically make the compact stand on its head,” said Bronson Mack, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas, pointing to the role that Lake Powell plays in guaranteeing the northern states have enough water to deliver to Nevada and the south each year.  “We've always said cracking open the compact is going to land seven states in decades of litigation, so there has not been an appetite for it.”

Decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam, however, could offer a solution that politicians cannot afford to ignore — a cheap, immediate, and significant new source of water where it is most desperately needed.

The idea is this: Since two of the nation's largest reservoirs — just more than 300 miles apart — depend on the same dwindling water source but are each less than half full, they should be combined into one.  Lake Mead would be deeper, and its evaporative losses would increase.  But the surface area of Lake Powell would be dramatically reduced, and the evaporated water from there would be saved.  Furthermore, moving the water out of Glen Canyon would move it from a valley that leaks like a sieve, into one that is watertight.  The ongoing losses in Mead — according to proponents of the plan — would be more than offset by the immense savings at Lake Powell.

In all, according to Tom Myers, a hydrologist who was commissioned to research the implications of the plan for the Glen Canyon Institute, an environmental group advocating for combining the two reservoirs, about 179 billion gallons of water would be saved each year — more than enough to supply the population of the city of Los Angeles.

The argument has logical weight because both reservoirs have been struggling to remain half full, and may not ever refill.  Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego gave Lake Mead a 50 percent chance of running dry by 2021.  The federal Bureau of Reclamation itself forecasts that the amount of water runoff will decrease another 9 percent by 2050 in the Colorado River basin, as temperatures increase.  And last year a group of academic researchers declared that the Colorado River basin — already in its 16th year of drought, may be headed toward the worst water crisis in 1,000 years.

Meanwhile the Bureau predicts that demand will continue to increase on the river so much that by 2060 the region will run short by a trillion gallons each year.

“They all show a huge deficit and they all show the reservoirs will likely never fill again,” said Eric Balken, executive director of the Glen Canyon Institute.  “So let's rethink the game plan here.”

According to the proposal the Glen Canyon Dam itself would not be removed.  Rather, its gates would be opened, and the water behind it allowed to pass through, restoring the natural flows through into the Grand Canyon just below it, draining the Lake Powell reservoir, and allowing the legendarily scenic landscape of Glen Canyon to be resurrected.

The water would not be lost.  It would simply flow down through the Grand Canyon and be recaptured behind the Hoover Dam in Lake Mead.

“To me it is a no brainer,” said David Wegner, who studied Glen Canyon as a scientist with the Department of Interior for more than 20 years, and later advised the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources on management of Western water issues.  “You've got very few options.”

According to Balken, the process could unfold in stages, and it wouldn't take much.  For a while, the water from the lake would simply drain through the dam, as if the plug were pulled from a giant bathtub.  The lake levels — already nearly 100 feet below their peak now — would be allowed to drop another 100 feet, until they reach the intakes for the dam's generators.  One option would be to maintain the lake levels there, allowing minimal power production.  Just that incremental shift would allow vast tracts of land now submerged to be restored.

A second stage of drawdown could lower the levels further, to a set of release pipes about 200 feet above the foot of the dam.  The dam's power plant would be shut down, saving tens of millions of dollars in operating costs.  It would also dramatically alter water flows through the Grand Canyon, and would have to be carefully coordinated with water levels in Lake Mead, downriver.  For the Colorado to be truly restored to its natural riverbed, a third stage, in which bypass tunnels would have to be drilled to allow the water to circumvent the concrete footing of the dam, would have to be pursued.

But proponents of the plan — which they call “fill Mead first” — say the lake may not need to be completely drained.  Every vertical foot the waters drop reveals whole stretches of long-drowned desert wilderness.  Much of the Glen Canyon valley has already been resurrected, as the lake levels have receded, and several of Powell's recreational boat launches now hang above the shoreline, dry.

As the waters fall further, broad swaths of river pinned between vertical canyon walls would be transformed into remote wilderness valleys, their floors once again inviting to explore on horseback or on foot.  Dozens of archaeological sites, their walls covered in petroglyphs, would be revealed.  For a while parts of these lands would be covered in a heavy silt, the result of decades of fine mud settling at the bottom of the lake.  But vegetation would quickly root in the fertile soils, and heavy storms would flush the mud out the bottom of the canyon, scouring the sandstone clean.  Eventually, perhaps after a few decades, even the white watermarks painted across the sides of the valley — telltale signs of the manmade flood — would begin to disappear.

As the silt gets washed downstream, a cloudy stew would course through the Grand Canyon, temporarily disrupting the gentle ecology of that part of the river.  But that silt has been sorely missed, and it would soon settle, restoring beaches long ago deprived of sediment.  The flow of the river through the Grand Canyon would once again be defined mainly by the amount of precipitation gathered by the mountains upstream.  Four native endangered species of fish would presumably thrive in their restored waters.

Restoring the land of Glen Canyon this way has long been the campaign of ardent environmentalists.  Brower — who mounted an intense effort to save Glen Canyon almost as soon as he'd agreed to allow it to be drowned — called the reservoir his greatest regret, and the Glen Canyon Dam has been a potent symbol of the desecration of wild places ever since.  Now the shortages on the river, and the promise that climate change are certain to make them worse, have breathed new, pragmatic life into their arguments.

Whether the “Fill Mead First” argument pencils out for its benefit to the water supply depends on whether Myers' assumptions about the amount of water that leaks out of the bottom of Lake Powell are accurate.  The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has long said that water that seeps into the ground eventually returns to the river.  Myers studied the fault patterns in the rock bed, and the direction of groundwater flow, and concluded that much of the water seeps away never to come back — an amount that adds up to about 124 billion gallons each year.  His research was published in the Journal of The American Water Resources Association in 2013.

Still, the river's water managers believe his models are flawed.  “We don't agree with the fundamental assumptions that this water is being lost permanently,” said Colby Pellegrino, the Colorado River Programs Manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.  Pellegrino's office ran its own numbers to see if combining the reservoirs would save water, and said the math worked out as a wash.

“This is an attempt to find a water supply rationale which supports their recreational focus and narrow view of what the river should look like,” she said.

From a viewpoint above Glen Canyon Dam, a placid lake stretches in one direction, and a tangle of electrical wires in the other.  The dam's power station is a nest of infrastructure locked behind a razor wire fence at the top of a vertiginous cliff, and it's capable of sending 1,320 megawatts of electric power shooting out across the moon-like landscape of southern Utah, toward millions of homes.

Glen Canyon Dam's staunchest defenders say its power output is clean, affordable, and vital.  Moreover, they say those who think climate change has doomed the traditional ways of managing the Colorado's water underestimate the political complexities of doing away with the power dams generate.

“The questions that are being asked are very legitimate questions,” Connor says.  “But you've got to have some political support… and that just doesn't exist.”

The government relies on Glen Canyon Dam to produce power — and not only to produce it, but to sell it, in order to repay the U.S. Treasury for a big chunk of the cost of Glen Canyon's construction and infrastructure upgrades, and to fund water conservation initiatives across Western states.

From the start, Glen Canyon was conceived as a giant hydroelectric generating plant, one so large its planners boasted that the sale of its power would not only pay for the dam's construction, but finance smaller dams across the West.  Today Glen Canyon is the largest facility run by the Western Area Power Administration, the federal energy agency that sells wholesale, federally generated hydropower onto the Western electrical grid.

The dam's power reaches 3.2 million customers from California to New Mexico, according to a recent analysis commissioned by the Glen Canyon Institute.  And while much of the power is resold at retail rates, its greatest dependents are Native American tribes and the U.S. Department of Defense — which are accustomed to getting their power wholesale, at a government-subsidized price that Glen Canyon Institute's consultants calculated was a little more than one third market rates.

Were Glen Canyon to stop operating, its defenders say, those who rely on its power would face astronomical price hikes — or perhaps lose their access to electrical entirely.

That may eventually happen, however, whether the river's managers agree to dismantle Glen Canyon or not.

The lower the lake level drops, the less power the dam can generate, and the less power WAPA has to sell.  Researchers in the northern Colorado River basin states have even begun considering when Lake Powell's lake levels might reach “dead pool,” or the level at which the turbines can no longer produce any power at all.

Already, the lake's levels have dropped more than 90 feet since 1999.  If they drop another 100 feet or so, the dam's turbines begin sucking air.  Glen Canyon has been generating at roughly 43 percent of its capacity.  Some experts predict in the future that nest of wires will convey, on average, about 600 megawatts of power.

That has left WAPA — and the Department of Interior — in a bind.  The agency has long-term contracts to deliver power, and it can't simply come up short.  When there's not enough water WAPA has to purchase the power it can't make itself in order to meet its obligations.  WAPA spent $62 million on extra power to fulfill its contracts in its fiscal 2014, and, after managing its water to bring the water levels in Lake Powell back up, $22 million for its 2015 operations, the vast majority of which was to make up for shortfalls at Glen Canyon.

The shortfalls — like falling dominoes — could eventually leave the region's broader dam and water infrastructure system in the lurch, as smaller dams and reservoirs that rely on money from Glen Canyon's power sales may have to do without.

For example the Dolores Water Conservancy District, a small utility in southern Colorado which operates the McPhee Dam, recently used $7 million in power-revenues from the Colorado River Storage Project to pay for pump upgrades at its facilities.  If Glen Canyon Dam wasn't generating power, that upgrade might never have happened.  “Without the basin power funds the viability of our project becomes a lot more challenging,” says the district's general manager, Mike Preston.  “I don't know how we would do it frankly.”

Meanwhile nature is weaning the West off its power subsidies all on its own.  As WAPA's costs increase, the economic benefit of the dam has already decreased.  If production drops further, the conservation programs paid for by the dam's slush fund will go unfunded.

Power consultants hired by the Glen Canyon Institute to analyze the impact of shutting down the dam found that western power consumers have already reduced their reliance on Glen Canyon power, and that power constitutes less than one percent of western supply.  There are end users that rely on Glen Canyon for all of their power — the Navajo Tribe, and the U.S. Department of Energy's labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico — and these few groups would expect large cost increases as their subsidies disappear.  But the vast majority of residential consumers would see their bills jump nominally, by just eight cents per month, should Glen Canyon shut down.

Still — as the Glen Canyon Institute report points out — if Lake Mead and Lake Powell were combined, that worst-case blow would likely be blunted.  With the added mass of water behind the Hoover Dam — another federal hydropower facility — generators there would produce more power than they do now, and that surplus, according to the Glen Canyon Institute, could replace about 17 percent of what Glen Canyon produces today.

The amount of water in Lake Powell, of course, depends on the amount of water that flows into it.  But even as the region scrambles to save its reservoir — and its river — projects are being planned which would take large additional amounts of water out of the Colorado before it can even fill Powell or fuel the Glen Canyon Dam.

Colorado is planning to build a new reservoir at a place called Windy Gap, and to more than triple the capacity of its Gross Reservoir by raising the height of the dam there.  Wyoming is considering an expansion of its Fontenelle Dam on the Green River.  Utah just filed an application to build a 140-mile pipeline to divert water out of Lake Powell.  The planned new projects would divert another 83 billion gallons of water away from Glen Canyon Dam each year

Downriver, New Mexico is preparing to spend close to one billion dollars to build a new dam and reservoir on the Gila River — a river mostly spoken for.  The project promises to capture water only in years when there is so much extra that Arizona right-holders downstream can't use it all, and to do so despite science which forecasts the Gila will have less and less water in the future.  Furthermore, like Lake Powell, the reservoir site in New Mexico also promises to leak, so much so that builders now want to line the entire reservoir valley with rubber before it's filled, an undertaking that will cost more than construction of the dam itself.

“Every supplier in the basin is trying to build anything they can to get as much water as they can,” said Gary Wockner, the executive director of the environmental organization Save the Colorado, “trying to get the last legally allowed drop that they can before the red flag goes up.”

That every drop of water on the Colorado counts is undisputed.  Last month the lower basin states announced they were close to a historic, and difficult, agreement to voluntarily cede a small share of their water, just to keep the reservoirs functioning.  An ambitious, multi-million effort to buy even small amounts of water off of Colorado farmers and send it to fill Lake Powell has, after two years, failed to garner more than a few million gallons.  It appears that stakeholders are ready to do whatever it takes, including re-envisioning the use of dams.

“I think it's questionable whether you can build a lot more reservoirs in hot, arid environments,” the Interior department's Connor told ProPublica.

Still, the proposal to “Fill Mead First” appears to be a step too far.

Ultimately the decision to drain Lake Powell — or perhaps to forgo any of the other new dam and water projects now in the works on the river — comes down to a question of whether the seven states and Mexico that share the Colorado river really need the water badly enough.

When they do, abandoning parochial concerns about how the river is supposed to work, and changing the status quo, however uncomfortable or complicated, will begin to seem worth it.

"There's just a lot that's built on this scheme of management and the existence of Glen Canyon Dam,” said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver's water utility and a former Colorado state negotiator on Colorado River matters.  Lochhead says the change would likely require an act of Congress, plus an agreement between seven state legislatures and a revised treaty with Mexico, and a multi-year federal environmental impact analysis.

“A half a million acre feet sounds like a lot of water,” he said, referring to the amount that would be saved by combining the Powell and Mead reservoirs, “but I don't think it's significant enough, frankly, to justify going through all of that.”

Monday, May 23, 2016

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 5/20/2016

"Shields and Brooks on the NRA's endorsement of Donald Trump and the Bernie Sanders factor" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2016


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including what the NRA's endorsement of Donald Trump means for GOP unity, whether Democrat Bernie Sanders still poses a serious threat to Hillary Clinton's nomination and what will happen to his supporters if she wins it.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "Your Song Changed My Life"

"NPR's “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen on the songs that change our lives" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2016


SUMMARY:  Bob Boilen is known for being the host and creator of NPR's popular “All Songs Considered” podcast.  But Boilen is also a former musician -- his band was the first ever act to play D.C.'s famous 9:30 Club.  Boilen's new book, “Your Song Changed My Life,” recounts the history of modern music through the voices he has encountered, and he joins Jeffrey Brown at the 9:30 Club to share a few of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Many of you may know Bob Boilen as the host and creator of NPR's “All Songs Considered,” one of the most downloaded music podcasts.

At the popular 9:30 Club here in Washington, D.C., recently, Jeffrey Brown sat down with Boilen, whose own band was the first to play at that club 35 years ago.

His new book, “Your Song Changed My Life,” recounts the history of modern music through voices Boilen has encountered.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Your book, “Your Song Changed My Life,” right, that's true.  I mean, a lot of people would say that, but why?  Have you figured out what it is that — about music that has that impact?

BOB BOILEN, Author, “Your Song Changed My Life”:  I think it's so visceral.

Music is so different than everything else.  It's not tangible.  You don't see it.  It hits you on a level that is deeper than what we do and see in everyday life.  I think it's pure emotion and tone, and a lyric.  Somebody saying a lyric that repeats over and over can be a call to action for somebody.

I tell stories of people whose lives were changed by a song, and often in those formative years, what some people call the reminiscence bump, where you're more likely to be susceptible to something, with hormones raging, or the first time you ever like heard somebody go, YAH!, you know, like, those things are impactful because they're firsts.  And…

JEFFREY BROWN:   You were looking for those moments from people.

BOB BOILEN:  Well, then it wasn't hard to find, either because so many musicians — there are 35 in my book, from — you know, you get Jimmy Page or a new artist like Hozier, or St. Vincent.

You get artists who became musicians because something like that happened to them, where they heard a song on the radio while they were 8 years old strapped to the back seat of a car.

Or, for Jimmy Page, he moved into a house that was empty and there was a guitar in that house, the only thing, right?
JEFFREY BROWN:  Did you see themes emerge when you’re talking to all these different musicians, anything that really stood out or surprised you?

BOB BOILEN:  Well, I think one thing is that parents (listen) you have a large influence on what your kids are going to like.

And for my generation, I was rebelling against my parents’ music.


BOB BOILEN:  But that’s not true anymore.  Most kids embrace their parents’ music.  Most kids look back with some sense of, I want to know more.

I’m curious what’s going to happen in the land of playlists.  Like, is your kid going to inherit your playlists?  Not likely.

DIPLOMACY - U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam

"Meet bicycle diplomat Ted Osius, America's modern ambassador to Vietnam" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2016

NOTE:  I am retired U.S. Navy (22yrs) and a Vietnam Vet.


SUMMARY:  Ted Osius' path to becoming U.S. ambassador to Vietnam began with bicycle diplomacy, soon after relations with Hanoi were restored in 1995.  As a consular officer, he pedaled the countryside and endeared himself to the Vietnamese.  Osius is gay and married, and represents a modern America: “I'm white, my husband's black and our kids are brown,” he says.  Special correspondent Mike Cerre reports.

MIKE CERRE (NewsHour):  Breakfast at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Hanoi, with a side order of Vietnamese language lessons.

TED OSIUS, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam:  I can speak what is a pretty difficult language, and I speak it pretty well.

I think, more often than not, people like to get out and mix it up, really learn what's going on in the countries where they serve and make a difference.

MIKE CERRE:  The closest most locals will ever come to a U.S. ambassador abroad is a passing motorcade or a heavily staged official event.

But given the tortured relations between the United States and Vietnam over the years, U.S.  Ambassador Ted Osius is dispensing with traditional protocols to help create a new reference point on U.S.-Vietnam relations.

His mission in Vietnam started with a 1,200-mile bike ride, the length of the country, as a U.S. consular officer in 1995, soon after official relations between the two countries were restored.  His bike diplomacy continues to be his signature style for interacting with the Vietnamese people, as well as local government officials.

While crossing the former demilitarized zone, once separating North from South Vietnam, a local woman offered a rare, but indelible Vietnamese perspective on what they call here the American war.

TED OSIUS:  And I asked her, “So, why are there so many ponds right here?”

And she said, “Well, that’s where the Americans dropped bombs.”

And she said — she went on to say:  “They dropped bombs on my village.  They dropped bombs, and I lost family members.”

And I said:  “Well, I need you to know I’m American and I work for the U.S. Embassy.”

And she said well, “Today — today, you and I are brother and sister.”

EGYPTAIR MS804 - Scrambling for Answers

"Solving the mystery of vanished EgyptAir Flight 804" PBS NewsHour 5/19/2016


SUMMARY:  The mysterious disappearance of EgyptAir Flight 804 and its 66 passengers somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea has left the international community scrambling for answers.  For more on what could have happened to the flight, Hari Sreenivasan talks to former National Transportation Safety Board chair Deborah Hersman and former Deputy National Security Adviser Juan Zarate.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  We return to EgyptAir Flight 804 and what could have happened to it.

Deborah Hersman served as chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 2009 to 2014 and is now president of the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization devoted to reducing preventable deaths and injuries.  And Juan Zarate was deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism during the President George W. Bush administration.  He's currently the chairman of the Financial Integrity Network, a consulting firm.

Deborah Hersman, I want to start with you.

At this stage, what are investigators thinking about?  What are they looking for?

DEBORAH HERSMAN, Former Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board:  Really, the first 24 hours, they're focused on response, recovery, and search for the aircraft, and so you can see clearly that's something that was a focus in this investigation.

But you want to gather any perishable evidence that might exist.  You want to make sure you know who needs to be interviewed, that you're able to connect all of the dots very early in the investigation and grab any of that information.

Analyzing the radar data is going to be important, because what they need to do now is pinpoint where that aircraft is, so they can identify not just the aircraft, the parts and take care of the humans, but also get those black boxes, which are really important to the investigation.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Juan Zarate, given what little evidence has come out so far, what are the signs that point to fowl play?

JUAN ZARATE, Former Deputy National Security Adviser:  Well, there aren't many signs.

And part of the reason you want to gather as much data and forensics as possible early on is try to give you clues.  But authorities are indicating there weren't signs in terms of intelligence that a threat was pending or threatening this particular airline or this route.

There has been no claim of responsibility yet, and certainly we don't have any evidence that we have seen physically that would demonstrate this is terrorism.  But we know terrorists have historically targeted aircraft.  It has psychological, human and economic impact.

We know that al-Qaida and ISIS have been perfecting technologies and trying to hit us on aircraft over the years, whether it's the underwear bomb plot out of Yemen, the shoe and liquid bomb plots out of the U.K., or even the downing of the Metrojet, the Russian airliner out of the Sinai by ISIS.

They have been trying to do this.  And they have had expert bomb-makers trying to figure out ways of evading the security technology that we have, Ibrahim al-Asiri, the master bomb-maker in Yemen who has been training individuals for years, as well as the Khorasan group, a senior group of al-Qaida figures in Syria that up to 2014 were trying to perfect non-metallic devices that could get on aircraft.

"Families weep as debris from EgyptAir disaster found in the Mediterranean Sea" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2016


SUMMARY:  Authorities on Friday said they found debris from EgyptAir Flight 804, which a day earlier plunged 38,000 feet into the Mediterranean Sea.  Relatives of the 66 people on the plane mourned as harsh reality set in.  Mystery still surrounds the cause — terrorism or catastrophic mechanical failure?  John Yang reports, and science correspondent Miles O'Brien gives his analysis of what we know so far.

Aviation Herald

GENETICS - "The Gene"

"Our long and winding road to understanding 'The Gene'" PBS NewsHour 5/19/2016


SUMMARY:  The field of genetics has seen exponential growth in recent years, and today may be on the verge of further breakthroughs that will radically change the way we function as a species.  But to understand genetics now, one must first understand its complex past dating back to the 19th century, a past chronicled in Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee's new book “The Gene.” Mukherjee joins Judy Woodruff for more.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  It seems as if there are important breakthroughs each year in the field of genetics and medicine.  In many ways, we indeed could be on the verge of historical changes in how we use DNA and how we edit our biological code.

But the moment can be deceptive.  The history of genetics is long and complicated, dating back to the mid-19th century.  It's full of exciting discoveries, endless mysteries and, even nefarious intent.

That's the ambitious scope of a new book, “The Gene: An Intimate History.”  Its author is Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, a cancer physician and an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University.  He's the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.”

Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, welcome to the “NewsHour” again.

DR. SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE, Author, “The Gene:  An Intimate History”: Pleasure to be here.  Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, an intimate history within what?  Just a short time after you have come out with this award-winning book on cancer, you tackle an arguably more complicated subject, the gene, and there is a personal connection.  Explain that.

DR. SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE:  Well, this book took actually a long time to write.  It was — it took six years to write this book.

And the book gets intimate right from the first page.  The story opens really with an exploration that was in the back of my mind where I — as I was growing up.  It was about my family's mental illness, two uncles consumed by schizophrenia and bipolar disease, and then, one generation later, another, so, on the same side of the family, also diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized, and the growing realization in my mind as a child that this wasn't — there was some heredity lurking, that genes were lurking behind mental illness, and that coming to fullness as I started to study medicine and realize that there was a genetic core to all of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  You sense, in reading this book, that there is an urgency to this, that you felt it was important to get this done now.  Why?

DR. SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE:  It's important to get this done now because we are at the — on the verge of unveiling or discovering and inventing astonishing new technologies that allow us to read and write human genomes.

And let me explain what I mean.  By read, I mean we can now begin to scan the human genome, your genome, mine, all the genes that you and I have, and ask questions about what it predicts for us in the future.

The technology is far from accurate, but, for instance, the risk of breast cancer may be present in a variation in your genome.  And by write, I mean something even more strange, which is that, lately — and this has been widely covered, but, lately, we have been able to — scientists have been able to go into the human genome and make intentional alterations, erase genes, change genes, change their content, et cetera.

That's a surprising thing to do and portends a very, very complex landscape for the future.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "Chasing the Last Laugh"

"Step aside Seinfeld — meet Mark Twain, the stand-up comic" PBS NewsHour 5/18/2016


SUMMARY:  Mark Twain once said that “hunger is the handmaid of genius,” and he was speaking from personal experience.  By 1894, Twain was an esteemed writer, an international celebrity -- and dead broke thanks to a few bad investments.  To stave off debt, he embarked on the world's first stand-up comedy tour, chronicled in Richard Zacks' new book, “Chasing the Last Laugh.”  Zacks joins Jeffrey Brown for more.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  In 1894, at age 59, Mark Twain was the highest-paid writer in the land, a national celebrity, author of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Prince and the Pauper,” and a slew of other books that are still required reading more than 100 years after his death.

But he was also nearly broke, after several investments and business projects went bust.

A new book captures what happened next, “Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour.”  It tells of Twain's travels and performances across the American West, to Australia and New Zealand, India, and South Africa.

I joined author Richard Zacks recently at one of Mark Twain's favorite Washington, D.C., haunts, the historic Willard Hotel and its Round Robin Bar.

So, we know Mark Twain had a lot of talent, but what probably many of us — and I didn't know — was one of his greatest talents was losing money.

RICHARD ZACKS, Author, “Chasing the Last Laugh”:  Extraordinary, a genius at it.

He lost money with the Paige typesetter.  He lost money setting up his own publishing company.  And he lost enough money to go deeply in debt at the point in his career when he thought he was just going to retire as America's greatest writer.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Already very famous, a lot — so much behind him, ready to glide out.

RICHARD ZACKS:  He was greedy.  He wanted to get paid higher royalties.  And he was convinced that, if he owned the publishing house, he could pay himself 90 percent royalties.

The trouble was that he so mismanaged the publishing house, that there was no money left to pay him any royalties.

JEFFREY BROWN:  So this was a point in his life where he really didn't want to be performing anymore.  Right?  That was behind him.

RICHARD ZACKS:  Right.  He wanted to kind of a literary giant.  And he said — not wanting to go on stage, he said, once an audience has seen you stand on your head, they expect you to remain in that position.  And he felt it was humiliating.
JEFFREY BROWN:  Yes.  So this is not stand-up comedy, the way we think of it, joke after joke after joke.  This is storytelling.  So what made it work?

RICHARD ZACKS:  The delivery is almost unique.

I think he was a once-in-a-millennium humorist.  He wrote about the boatman on — the Arab boatman charging so much to cross the Sea of Galilee, that they understood why Jesus learned to walk on water.


ANNIVERSARY - Mtount St. Helens

"From Mt. St. Helens' volcanic ashes, Mother Nature rebuilds" PBS NewsHour 5/18/2016


SUMMARY:  Wednesday marks the 36th anniversary of the deadliest volcanic event in U.S. history: the eruption of Mount St. Helens, which killed every living thing in a 230 mile radius.  But the slopes around the volcano are now beginning to repopulate with plant and animal life, giving biologists a unique opportunity to watch an ecosystem develop in real time.  Science correspondent Miles O'Brien reports.

MILES O'BRIEN (NewsHour):  Thirty-six years after its spectacular, deadly eruption, Mount St. Helens still rumbles and bears scars from that earth-shattering day.

But hike down the slopes, away from that jagged crater just a little, and you will see Mother Nature hard at work.  And there's a good chance you will bump into a team of scientists led by John Bishop.  He is an evolutionary biologist at Washington State University-Vancouver.

JOHN BISHOP, Washington State University-Vancouver:  The goal of our research is to understand how plant and animal communities reform after a catastrophic disturbance.

MILES O'BRIEN:  Bishop is one of a select group of researchers studying this rebound from a volcanic eruption.  Back in 1980, Mount St. Helens had given scientists all kinds of clues that a big disturbance was brewing.

Two months before it blew, the volcano was venting huge amounts of steam and there was a series of earthquakes.  Even with all those ominous signs, the eruption was larger than anyone predicted.  It happened at 8:32 on the morning of May 18, 1980.  An earthquake caused the north face of the mountain to collapse.

JOHN BISHOP:  After that, it uncorked an explosion that was directed horizontally, and leveled the forest to 13 miles out from the volcano.

MILES O'BRIEN:  The eruption column of volcanic ash and gas rose 80,000 feet, while a tsunami of 1,800-degree gas and rock raced down the valley at 450 miles an hour, a so-called pyroclastic flow.

JOHN BISHOP:  Anything biological that was remaining after the landslide would've been completely vaporized.  It was just a barren landscape, gray and pumice-colored.

MILES O'BRIEN:  It killed every living thing in a 230-square-mile area.  What was left was akin to a moonscape; 57 people died.  Some remains were never recovered.

Bishop and his team have had a front-row seat as nature got busy bringing this place back to life.  They wanted to know where it begins and how it takes root.  Here, it started with these purple flowers.  Alpine lupine were the first plants to return.  For many years, they were pretty much the only game in town.  But as they went through their life cycles over several seasons, they created soil from the volcanic ash.

And that made it possible for woody plants, like the Sitka willow, to find a home.  They are how a forest gets started, but it hasn't been easy for them.

RACE MATTERS - Urban League's 40th Annual Report

"Urban League calls for $1 trillion ‘Marshall Plan’ to address persistent disparities between the races" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2016


SUMMARY:  The title of the Urban League’s 40th annual "State of Black America" report is as stark as some of its numbers: "Locked Out: Education, Jobs & Justice." While much has changed, the report finds disparities between blacks and whites have barely budged.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to the league’s Marc Morial about why its “equality index” for blacks stands at just 72 percent of that of whites.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The National Urban League has released the 40th edition of its annual "State of Black America Report."  It’s designed to provide a snapshot of where African-Americans are relative to whites.

According to the most recent report’s calculations, across multiple facets of life, African-Americans experience equality at a rate of 72 percent, compared to white Americans, who score 100 percent.

Here to explain is Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

So, let’s start with that 72 percent number.  How do you get there?  What does that mean?

MARC MORIAL, President, National Urban League:  What it means is, if you compare things like unemployment, home ownership, high school graduation rates, college attainment rates, median income, African-Americans, on average, achieve 72 percent that of where whites are.

These are collective numbers.  We also do the same comparison for Latinos.  Latinos are at about 77 percent, whites being, of course, 100 percent.  So, it’s designed to make our discussion about persistent racial inequality precise, based on numbers, based on facts, and based on clarity.

So, we report this information every year.  This is the 40th year that we have done it.  And we not only report the information, Hari, but we also propose solutions.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  One of the indicators or one of the factors is income inequality, the gap there.  One of the largest income disparities that you point out, at least between black and white families, is in the Minneapolis metro area.

The average household income for a black family there is just over a third, 37.8 percent, of the average household income for a white family.  How does this happen?

MARC MORIAL:  This happens because the better-paying jobs, the higher-level jobs go to whites, and African-Americans are stuck in lower-paying jobs on an overall basis.

And we see this glaring disparity in places like Minneapolis.  It’s also present in places like San Francisco, where there is a tremendous amount of success, a highly educated work force.  African-Americans are far, far behind.

I hope that what this means is that, in a city like Minneapolis or a city like San Francisco, they won’t sweep these numbers under the rug, they won’t pretend that they don’t exist, and they will recognize and see it as a challenge for the civic, business and political leadership of those communities to try to address these disparities.

These disparities exist in virtually every major American metropolitan area.  It is just a question of to what degree.

VIDEO OF THE DAY - World's Best Airplane Emergency Landing

This is really, really funny!

Really like 'grandma's' ending 'comment.'

HARASSMENT - Combating Islamophobia

"Teaching ‘different is OK' to combat Islamophobia in U.S. schools" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2016


SUMMARY:  According to a new study, some 50 percent of all Muslim students in the U.S. have been bullied by their peers.  In mostly-white St. Cloud, Minnesota — where thousands of east African refugees have relocated — the problem got so bad that Muslim students walked out of the city's high school en massè.  John Tulenko of Education Week takes a look at the intersection of education and Islamophobia.

JOHN TULENKO, Education Week:  Hafsa Abdi, who's 18-years-old, remembers well the day four years ago when she was first bullied for being Muslim.

HAFSA ABDI, Student, St. Cloud Technical High School:  The last day of by eighth grade year, I was just going home, and then this boy — I think he was a year younger than me — he pulled off my hijab.  And at the time, I was wearing a longer one, so it was more easy to kind of like pull off from the back.

And then I also had like a pin underneath to hold it in place.  And then that kind of came loose.  So, like, at the time I was just trying to think of like five different things at one time, like trying to get the pin to not stab me in the neck, and then turn around to see who this kid is.

JOHN TULENKO:  In high school, the bullying continued, especially when she and other Muslim students would gather to pray.

HAFSA ABDI:  Mostly, the upperclassmen, they would come into the bathroom sometimes and start fighting with the Somali girls that were trying to wash for prayer, and then when it gets reported, nothing would happen.

JOHN TULENKO:  What would they say?

HAFSA ABDI:  So they'd be like, oh, well, why are you making the bathroom dirty, you stinky Somalian or you terrorist or stuff like that, or go back to where you came from.

JOHN TULENKO:  Where Hafsa comes from is Minnesota.  She was born here, after her parents fled Somalia to escape civil war.  Thousands of other East African refugees have also come to St. Cloud, changing the face of this mostly white, mostly Catholic small city.

WILLIE JETT, Superintendent, St. Cloud Area School District 742:  My job is to make sure that all children, whether it's their children, whether it's somebody brand-new to the country, that they have the best tools available to be successful here in America, here within our community.

JOHN TULENKO:  For superintendent Willie Jett, educating the new arrivals required changes across the board.

WILLIE JETT:  What we have had to do is start from ground zero.  You're trying to make sure that, (A) All the different languages within school are welcomed.

You're trying to make sure that you have interpreters.  You're making sure that you're revamping teaching staff and support staff and the way that you hold conferences, the way that you send messages home.  It's not what it was 20, 30, 40 years ago, even 10 years ago.

BOSNIA - The Sarajevo Mosque

"Is Saudi-funded mosque in Sarajevo threat to Bosnia's moderate Muslims?" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2016


SUMMARY:  International officials are convinced that Bosnia's brand of Westernized, moderate Islam is the best possible bulwark against radicalization.  The nation's official Islamic Community is cracking down on rural mosques that it says are too in line with Islamists — but some say the true extremist threat lies in the heart of the capital itself.  Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

MALCOLM BRABANT (NewsHour):  I'm in Central Bosnia, about 100 miles from the capital, Sarajevo.

I'm heading up to a remote mountain village called Osve, which is a place where, supposedly, there are some supporters of the so-called Islamic State.  There have been people who've gone from this village to fight in Syria.  Some have reportedly been killed.  And we're going to meet somebody who used to play rock ‘n' roll, but is now labeled by the head of the Islamic community in Bosnia as someone who is a terrorist.

Izet Hadzic used to be lead guitarist in a band called Black Lady.  After fighting in the Bosnian War, he abandoned what he thought was a decadent lifestyle and sought peace in religion.  He leads one of these so-called radical mosques.  While he's in dispute with the Islamic establishment, he insists he's no terrorist.

IZET HADZIC, Mosque Leader (through interpreter):  Where does it come from to call us terrorists?  It is because that people who look like us, have these beards, are doing such acts in the world, specifically ISIS and this cretin Baghdadi.

MALCOLM BRABANT:  Two doors away from Hadzic's small holding is the father of a young man killed in Syria.  Next door is a family Hadzic regards as extreme.  Bosnian intelligence officers are frequent visitors.

Hadzic unequivocally condemns Islamic State.

IZET HADZIC (through interpreter):  You can't call this jihad.  To take a gun while someone is walking down the street with his family and begin to shoot?  Can you imagine soldier doing this?  These people are equal to cowards.

MALCOLM BRABANT:  We had a polite, but frosty reception in Bocinje, a nearby village that was a stronghold of foreign mujahideen during the Bosnian War.  We hoped to interview a man who returned from Syria in 2014, but he didn't want to be filmed because of an impending court case.  His name is Ibrahim Delic.

Dozens of other Bosnians now in Syria are said to want to return because they are horrified by ISIS atrocities.  Crippled and radicalized during the Bosnian War, Delic recently talked to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.  Significantly, he criticized the Free Syrian Army, who are enemies of ISIS.

U.S. SUPREME COURT - Affordable Healthcare Act Birth Control Case

"President ties Supreme Court punt on Obamacare birth control case to Garland stalemate" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2016


SUMMARY:  Monday saw the evenly divided Supreme Court punt on two major cases, including a religious challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.  The no-decisions prompted President Obama to speculate the GOP’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination might be having an effect.  Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the supreme drama.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  It was a busy day at the Supreme Court.  The justices weighed in on a handful of cases, including what was supposed to be one of this term’s blockbusters: a dispute pitting religious freedom against mandate to cover contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

But the eight justices failed to offer a definitive decision, sending the case back down to lower federal courts.

President Obama addressed the decision, and speculated there might have been a different outcome if the vacancy left by the late Justice Scalia had been filled.  He spoke with BuzzFeed News.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Women will still continue to be able to get contraception if they are getting health insurance.

And we are properly accommodating religious institutions who have objections to contraception.  I won’t speculate as to why they punted, but my suspicion is, if we had nine Supreme Court justices, instead of eight, there might have been a different outcome.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  We break down the short-handed court and its rulings today with chief Washington correspondent for “The National Law Journal” and “NewsHour” regular Marcia Coyle.

Marcia, we spoke about this when the justices seemed to ask for more information from everyone, trying to figure out a third way.  So here was a decision without really a decision.

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:  Well, actually, that third way was sort of an opening for the court.

Right after oral arguments, when it looked like the court was going to divide 4-4, they issued a special order telling the parties, the government and the nonprofit employers, to brief their own suggested compromise, a compromise offered by the court itself.

Well, when the brief came back, Hari, it really didn’t look like there was a lot of room for compromise there.  But there was enough there that the court, in its opinion today, which was an unsigned opinion read by the chief justice from the bench, the court said, look, it looks as though there’s been movement on both sides here.  Let’s give the parties the opportunity in the lower courts to develop it before we, as the Supreme Court, would get involved in it.

And that’s what they did.  They said specifically they wouldn’t decide whether the government’s plan in practice now to accommodate religious objections substantially burdened these employers’ exercise of religion or whether the government had a compelling interest here or was choosing the least restrictive means to achieve that interest, which is the test under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

So, they vacated the lower court decisions in the seven cases that they had before them, and then they also had an additional six cases that were awaiting the outcome in today’s decision.  They vacated the lower court rulings in those cases, overwhelmingly had been in favor of the government.

And, basically, those federal appellate courts will be starting now from scratch to see if there really is an opening for a compromise here.


"Listening in on the ‘Black Hole Blues,’ the soundtrack of the universe" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2016


SUMMARY:  February saw one of the most important astronomical breakthroughs of the decade, as a team of scientists “heard” gravitational waves -- a key postulate of Einstein’s theory of relativity -- for the first time in human history.  Now, astrophysicist Janna Levin recounts that incredible discovery, and the human drama behind it, in her new book “Black Hole Blues.” Levin joins Jeffrey Brown for more.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  The sound lasted about a fifth of a second, but it represented gravitational waves created by the collision of two black holes with the combined mass of about 62 of our suns a billion light years away.

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space” is a story of things extraordinarily small and hard-to-comprehend large, and of the human drama in discovering them.

Author Janna Levin is a physicist and astronomer at Barnard College.  She’s also author of a novel, “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines.”

So, the blues, we’re sort of in the realm of metaphor here, but the idea is to hear the universe, at least as aspects that we can’t possibly see.

JANNA LEVIN, Author, “Black Hole Blues”:  Yes, most of what we know about the universe really does come to us from light.

And we have telescopes that span the range of light to take pictures of the sky.  This is utterly different.  This is not a form of light.  So when the black holes collided, they were like mallets on the drum.  They rang space-time itself.

JEFFREY BROWN:  But you have got to be able to hear them.

JANNA LEVIN:  Right.  So, you have to be able to record the shape of the drum.

And that’s basically what this experiment did.  It recorded the shape of the ringing drum from two black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago.

JEFFREY BROWN:  All right, so step back and explain to us as simply as you can, what is a gravitational wave?  And why is it important to our understanding of things?

JANNA LEVIN:  Yes.  Yes.

So, a gravitational wave is really a ripple or a change in the shape of space and time itself.  So, if you were floating near these colliding black holes, you would literally be squeezed and stretched.  And you would experience this squeezing and stretching.  It emanates from this collision.  It causes these ripples in space, kind of like fish swirling in a pond causing water waves.

And then they emanate out.  They travel at the speed of light, even though they are not light.  And eventually they make it here to the Earth.  If you were floating nearby, you might even literally hear the wave, because your ear could respond to the vibrations.
JANNA LEVIN:  Well, I think what people don’t appreciate is, that’s really how science is done.

People think that we just come down with these answers.  As scientists, we are full of answers.  That’s really not what it is like.  Scientists are full of questions.  Sometimes, the questions don’t lead you to the answer, but, sometimes, they do, and there is this great discovery.

But, yes, there is fighting along the way.  There is competition.  There are failures and successes.  And at the end of the climb, some people made it to the summit, and some people didn’t.

NOTE:  The above is the best definition of science I have ever read.

Simulation of Gravitational Lensing GIF by Alain r

Friday, May 20, 2016

AIRLINES - The 'Black Box' is Obsolete

"Ban the Black Box:  We Have Better Ways to Capture Plane Crash Data" by Jerry Adler, Wired Magazine 6/28/2011


The black boxes were sitting on the ocean floor in what would have been plain sight, if there were any light at a depth of 12,800 feet.  They were guarded by silent corpses, the passengers and crew of an Airbus A330 that plummeted to the bottom of the Atlantic in June 2009.  For nearly two years, the boxes—not black, actually, but bright orange—had lain amid some of the most rugged undersea terrain in the world, 11,500-foot mountains rising from the ocean floor, covered with landslides and steep scarps.  Until the days in May when an advanced robotic submersible, the Remora 6000, brought the two black boxes from Air France flight 447 to the surface, they were among the world’s most sought-after artifacts, the keys to understanding why a state-of-the-art widebody jet fell out of the sky on a routine flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 228 aboard.  Since no one knew the exact coordinates of the crash, the searchers had to extrapolate their grid from the plane’s last known location.  It took a team led by the king of undersea searchers, Dave Gallo of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to find the wreckage; Phoenix International, a deepwater recovery company, finally brought the recorders home.  Why did it take so long?  “You can find a needle in a haystack,” Gallo says, “but you have to find the haystack first.”

French accident investigators removed the memory cards, carefully dried them, plugged in the right cables, and soon announced that the boxes had preserved nearly all the data they had captured—two hours of audio recorded from the cockpit and a complete record of thousands of measurements taken between takeoff and the moment the Airbus crashed.  It was regarded, rightly, as a technological triumph.  Although voice and data recorders are built to withstand the most extreme conditions of shock, fire, and pressure—they get fired from an air cannon as part of the testing regimen—they are not designed to preserve data for so long at such depths.  The black boxes, built by Honeywell, had greatly exceeded their specifications.

But this elaborate and expensive undersea search could have been avoided; the technology has long existed that could make the recorders obsolete.  As the BEA, the French agency that investigates air accidents, struggled to explain the crash in two inconclusive interim reports in 2009, the question was already being asked:  If real-time stock quotes can be transmitted to anyone with a smartphone, why does the vital work of investigating an airplane crash still depend on reading physical memory chips that must be rescued from the wreckage?

The tragedy of Air France The tragedy of Air France 447 might have been on the minds of executives from Bombardier, the Canadian aircraft manufacturer, when they announced in 2010 that their new C-Series narrow-body jets, scheduled to come to market in 2013, would be the first commercial airliners built with the capability to transmit telemetry data instead of merely recording it.  The idea—to stream black box data in real time, either directly to a ground station or by satellite relay—isn’t new, even though there remains no consensus on whether to call it an uplink, which is conceptually accurate, or a downlink, which expresses the physical relationship of an airplane to the ground.

Bombardier is advertising the innovation not as a way to improve crash investigation—survivability of data after a crash isn’t something airplane manufacturers like to boast about—but as a way to give airlines a central database for routine information on airplane operations and mechanical performance.  At a minimum, the data could be stored securely as a backup to black boxes in the event of an accident.  One company, Calgary-based FLYHT AeroMechanical Services, already provides this service as an aftermarket retrofit; so far, smaller carriers and charters have been the main customers.