Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Questions from the Press.

At the Niners-Saints Game, Nov 27, 2022. 

 I serve as a trustee of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, in the northern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. In that capacity, sometimes the press asks me questions about a given subject. I generally prefer when they do that in writing, because I can answer the questions and post them, so that constituents and stakeholders can see not just what was put in the newspaper, but the context of the conversations. 

 I think that making sure the press gets answers is important. I don't know of anyone who has figured out how to make a democracy work without newspapers. Press freedom is properly the fourth protection guaranteed in the First Amendment for a reason.

 On Tuesday December 6, I received the following questions from Dan Johnson, a reporter for the Sonoma Index-Tribune (Sonoma County has three "major" newspapers, the I-T, the Petaluma Argus-Courier and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, all of which are owned and controlled by the same company). I have printed his questions and my written answers to them below. The questions concerned the settlement of a dispute between the school district and the local construction trades council (a group of construction unions, such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters, amongst others).   

So, without further ado:

1. Why did you vote in favor of the settlement?

It seemed to me that the general sense of the board was that the agreement was in the interests of the District, and I agreed with that evaluation. 

2. What is your reaction to the passing of it? Were you surprised? 

The PSA that was approved had been discussed for some months by the attorney representing the District and the attorney representing the building trades, and the final document reflected careful work by both lawyers. Given that the District and the building trades had told their attorneys to try to come to an agreement, I think that the success of the negotiation, and ultimate approval of the proposed PSA resulting therefrom, is not a surprise.

3. How will the settlement help the district?
I think that the agreement will provide jobs that prioritize a locally based skilled and trained workforce, and joint apprenticeship opportunities for Sonoma Valley students. These joint apprenticeship opportunities will afford students access to career pathway options that will provide family supporting wages, healthcare and retirement benefits, and the ability to live and work in their own community. 

4. Do you think that critics of the settlement made some valid points, and if so, what were they?

I thank the members of our community who took the time to share their thoughts with the board, both those who were in favor and those who were against. The democratic process depends upon constituents and stakeholders taking the time to express their beliefs. I don't have any other comment in response to this question. 

5. It seems to me that the two main changes in the ultimate agreement are shortening the agreement to five years and covering all work costing more than $212,500, rather than $50,000. Were there other significant changes in the agreement?

Regarding the specific changes from the agreement passed on 11-17-20, the issue was briefed by our attorney, Glenn Gould, for the board, and I would point you to that presentation. 

6. How could this process have been handled better by the board?

The settlement was handled in the fashion that one would expect. The board received legal advice that was of high quality, and acted accordingly. 

7. Several trustees said that they felt it was time to move on and focus on the needs of the students? Do you share this feeling?

I am always focused on the needs of our students. As far as my fellow trustees are concerned, I believe their words speak for themselves. 

8. How will the board be able to deal better with such matters in the future?

This was the final act of this board, and it will have no other matters to deal with in the future. 

9. Would you like to say anything else?


10. I’m wondering how the changes I mentioned in question No. 5 came about. It seemed that The North Bay Building Construction and Trades Council opposed negotiating with SVUSD about the agreement, and yet two main concessions were made. Did the council end up negotiating with SVUSD attorneys?

After Sonoma Valley Unified lost twice in court hearings, Michael Allen, a former state assemblyman and representative of the building trades, reached out to the District to see if a compromise could be reached, which was what led to the settlement. 

11. Initially, the document was referred to as a project labor agreement, but at some point, it began being referred to as a project stabilization agreement. Why the change and what did it mean?

It has always been referred to as a project stabilization agreement. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Holographic Universe.

Discoverer of the 

The New York Times wrote recently on the Holographic Universe, something that the truly great PBS Space Time has visited as a topic repeatedly. The interesting point is always, for me, that the information content of any three-dimensional space is limited to the number of bits that can be encoded on an imaginary surface surrounding it, and that limit is defined by the Planck length. The consequences of this are mind-bending.  

"'It's completely crazy,' [says Leonard Susskind], in reference to the holographic universe. 'You could imagine in a laboratory, in a sufficiently advanced laboratory, a large sphere — let’s say, a hollow sphere of a specially tailored material — to be made of silicon and other things, with some kind of appropriate quantum fields inscribed on it.' Then you could conduct experiments, he said: 'Tap on the sphere, interact with it, then wait for answers from the entities inside ... [o]n the other hand, you could open up that shell and you would find nothing in it,' he added. As for us entities inside: 'We don’t read the hologram, we are the hologram.'"

Wikipedia has a dense, but good article on the same subject. This also leads to the AdS/CFT correspondence, which really makes a lot more sense after watching this video from Matt O'Dowd.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Trust in the Supreme Court.

"Confidence in Institutions"
Gallup, June 1-4, 2013, 
available at
 From Gallup this morning:

"Trust in many U.S. institutions has declined in recent years, but the loss of faith in the Supreme Court is especially notable, given the high levels of trust it has enjoyed historically."

As I wrote back in 2013, and as I have done pretty often over time, trust in government is the sine qua non of democracy. The "great deal/quite a lot" level of trust for the Supreme Court is down to 25%; this is less than banks used to be in 2013, and is within the margin of error for big business at that time. Most institutions in American life (with the exception of organized labor) have lost trust recently, but none from so high a starting place, and so precipitously. As the article's lede notes:

"This represents a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago, including seven points since last year, and is now the lowest in Gallup's trend by six points. The judicial branch's current tarnished image contrasts with trust levels exceeding two-thirds in most years in Gallup's trend that began in 1972."

Prior posts re the United States Supreme Court:

  1. Turnout, Serrano, and the Outlier.
  2. 34 Cents of Your Property Tax Dollar Goes To Our Schools. 
  3. Brown, Budgets, Prisons, and Contempt.
  4. A Society Can Be Judged By Entering Its Prisons.
  5. Standing, Blogging, and Prop 8. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Hurricane Ian and Government Accountability.

Witnessing the damage from Hurricane Ian, the striking failures of local government to prepare their constituents feels all too familiar to residents of Sonoma County, few of whom forget the night of October 8, 2017. The failure of local government to inform residents in harm's way of the approaching danger sears memories years later. 
Image Courtesy National Weather Service. 
Use pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 105.

To see this replicated by Lee County, Florida in the face of Hurricane Ian reminds that information from authorities in a crisis proves often unreliable. Worse, accountability after the fact is usually prevented by a smokescreen of finger-pointing and obfuscation.

This New York Times article, however, pushed across the line from mere spin to outright absurdity. Lee County, Florida, failed to warn citizens in time of the need to evacuate, despite a detailed plan prepared in advance that noted exactly how much warning was required. In defense of the County's behavior, "the county commissioner ... said that one challenge the county faced was that the local schools had been designed to be shelters and that the school board had made the decision to keep them open on Monday." 

To be clear, the county commissioner went so far as to blame the local school board for the civil authority failing to prepare citizens from the thoroughly understood threat that precisely this type of storm approaching created. The school board that was, of course, looking to the county for the very advice necessary on whether to stay open or closed. 

As a school board trustee myself, I could only shake my head. I note once again that school boards are a convenient target, whether fairly or not, for almost everything.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Space Rendezvous.

 One of the most technically difficult and impressive acts humanity has ever achieved is the rendezvous of spacecraft in orbit. Interestingly, the American and Soviet approaches to the problem were different; while astronauts until quite recently controlled the process manually (Buzz Aldrin's Ph.D thesis concerned how to do so), since 1967 the Soyuz spacecraft have been able to do so autonomously. The Igla system, followed by Kurs, paved the way for autonomous resupply of Mir space stations at a fraction of the cost of manned spaceflight, a feat only matched by the Dragon capsules of SpaceX as recently as 2012. 

From the Economist.
This American tendency to rely upon a skilled human operator also found its way into the distinction between earlier Airbus and Boeing aircraft, with the European consortium leaning towards fly-by-wire, systems with the then-Seattle based manufacturer only following later. 

I mention this point today in light of the rapid perceived advances in AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning). Much ink has been spilled regarding recent advances in language processing and image creation (this article is a nice example from the Economist). 

But such technologies have long existed in some of the most challenging engineering spaces faced by humankind. Is the current surprise regarding AI/ML more due to the fact that it is now able to address the routine activities formerly used to sideline (if not belittle) the technology, when the practical application of the same has long since progressed past triviality to indispensability? 

Previous posts on Economist issues:

  1. Nordic Success.
  2.  @TheEconomist (Ann Wroe?) on Dr. Robert McClelland and #JFK.
  3. Further Reading.
  4. Where Newspapers Are Headed ...
  5. @TheEconomist on a hybrid #VirtualParliament.
  6. @TheEconomist on #Homelessness in @SFGov.
  7. The Life Pressed Out.
  8. Why Travel Matters.
  9. @econbartleby and @billswindell at @TheEconomist and @NorthBayNews, respectively.
  10. @AmExperiencePBS @RobertKenner-- the 1918 Pandemic.
  11. The Return of #Cash.
  12. California, where Malala Yousafzai becomes Janet Yellen.
  13. The Plutonium Standard.
  14. Beikoku and Eikoku.
  15. Secession is a bad idea, full stop.
  16. QE4.
  17. Brown, Budgets, Prisons, and Contempt.
  18. Executive Orders.
  19. #rebeccapurple.
  20. The Streets Should Fit the Trees.
  21. @TheEconomist on Alcohol and Health.
  22. What Do Bubbles Look Like, Pt. 2.
  23. "Bringing Up Baby Bilingual"
  24. Freshman Teams, Student Performance, and the Case For SVUSD's Master Plan.
  25. Dual Immersion Enhances Attention.
  26. Trust Levels of News Sources.
  27. Slouching Towards Utopia.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Slouching Towards Utopia.

Brad DeLong 
One thing I like to do from time to time, is recommend a good book. Brad DeLong has been an economics and history professor at UC Berkeley for a long time, and I have enjoyed reading his posts. He has recently put together many of his thoughts in a book, Slouching Towards Utopia, which I am reading and recommend to anyone interested in the history of the "Long 20th Century" from 1870-2010. The Economist's very positive review of the book is here.

Brad DeLong has come up on this blog before -- here's a list of the times I've mentioned him previously:

  1. Paul Krugman: "Brad, Don't Get Too Excited."
  2. QE4.
  3. Brooks and Krugman.
  4. Nothing So Dear as #cheapmoney 
  5. Le Mieux est l'ennemi du Bien.
  6. @RobertJShiller and the #EMRATIO.