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Going to Archival Mode

As most readers know, I’m a librarian. In my field there’s a saying that an untended social media outlet is like an unstaffed front desk – something we like to avoid.

I’ve been mostly scarce here and I’ve decided it’s time to bring this blog to a close. I will leave the current content up, but I do not intend any additional posts and will not respond to comments on any post but this one.

When I started this blog years ago, my main purposes were:

  • Share things that interested me
  • Share my photography
  • Write about politics and sometimes religion

In the past few years, I find that I’ve been sharing most things on Facebook. Also been sharing more of my political thoughts there – though I’ve gone back and forth over whether Facebook is the best place for that. I find a get a lot more reaction and discussion to things I post on Facebook than I do here.

This past year, I read a book that has led me to change how to approach politics, though I’m still in the process of implementing it. The book is:

Akadjian, David. 2014. The little book of revolution: a distributive strategy for democracy.

Mr Akadjian expresses a number of principles but two of the basics that are leading me to focus on Facebook as opposed to keeping a blog are:

  • Speak about your values as opposed to getting into fact wars
  • Focus on people you have a chance to persuade instead of wasting time on extremists who will never change.

I could do the first on this blog, but the second will be much easier on Facebook, since I know my friends better than the general audience of this blog. So that, combined with that I’m already sharing more stuff on Facebook, is leading me to freeze this blog.

If you’ve been interested in my “Working through CRAAP” series or other library/information/media literacy sorts of things, I am keeping my “professional” blog at librarianfromalaska.wordpress.com.

Thanks to all of you who have been regular readers of this blog. I’m somewhat sorry to leave most of you, but no one can be everywhere at once. We need to make decisions about where to spend our energy and I’m choosing an outlet with higher engagement.



Working Through CRAAP: Healthcare Statistics

Note: This is NOT a fact check, it is a display of my own thought process. It is up to YOU to decide whether something is true or not.

It’s time to once again work through to  the CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose) Test – a tool that can be used against information items from across the political spectrum. It’s time to provide another example.

I recently collected this image on Facebook:

Picture of uncited statistics relating to US healthcare.

Collected on Facebook 12/18/2016

Here’s how I worked through the CRAAP Test.

Currency: The timeliness of the information.  When was the information published or posted?

Because of the creator note in the lower-right corner (FBDavidAvocadoWolfe), we know it was posted to Facebook by David Wolfe on November 22, 2016. In his post, he does not offer any context or data sources. There are 459 comments as of 12/18/2016 and it is possible he commented further, but I am analyzing the picture itself.

That’s the timeliness of the picture. We know NOTHING of the timeliness of the statistics. When were we 60th in life expectancy? And so on. Mr. Wolfe doesn’t tell us that.

Timeless stats are usually a red flag for me in sharing. I know that statistics change over time, so if I want to comment on current policies, I want the latest stats. If I’m having a conversation about historical circumstances, I’d want the stats of the time. Statistics without dates don’t help either circumstance.

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.  Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?

It’s relevant to me as a citizen and that if we’re paying top dollar for care, I want top quality or a detailed explanation of why higher spending is required for the measures we achieve.

Authority: The source of the information.  What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?  Is the author qualified to write on the topic?

For me, this one is a little bit tricky. While Mr. Wolfe is a health and nutrition author (Facebook, Website) who does not document formal education in his about pages, a discussion of his exact qualifications doesn’t feel right to me in this context. With this picture, Mr. Wolfe isn’t doing anything besides quoting statistics, and anyone is qualified to do that. If I were analyzing an article on his findings on cancer or aids treatment, a deeper look at his qualifications would be needed.

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.  Is the information supported by evidence?  Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?  Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?  Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

As I said above, none of the statistics/rankings have dates. So if Mr. Wolfe is talking about some other point in time than “Latest available statistics in December 2016”, that would be a different analysis.

Let’s look at each of Mr. Wolfe’s claim’s in turn:

The USA spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world but is …

The claim that the United States spends the most on healthcare than any other nation in the world is very common, and true as recently as 2012 as documented in this PBS interview with Mark Pearson, head of Division on Health Policy at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OECD is an international organization respected for its statistics gathering.

Health Costs: How the U.S. Compares With Other Countries
BY JASON KANE (PBS Newshour) October 22, 2012 at 10:30 AM EST

When I searched this claim on Google, I was careful to search for [health care costs by country] rather than something like [US spends more on health care than anyone else in the world]. That’s because I was interested in the accuracy of this claim and not trying to search for its source.

60th in life expectancy

In my searching, I found a table in Information Please Almanac titled Life Expectancy for Countries, 2015. This table listed the United States at 43rd place, with a life expectancy of 79.68 years. This is well below many first world countries (Japan 84.74, Sweden 81.98) but ahead of the actual #60, Albana (78.13 years).

Unlike Mr. Wolfe, Information Please Almanac cites its source, the 2015 CIA World Factbook. While the Factbook has traditionally come out in print, the CIA only maintains the latest version at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/. As of 2016, it has the US ranked at 42nd in life expectancy.

While I accept publicly accessible statistics from the CIA at face value, I won’t judge you if you do not. One thing that makes me have faith in the accuracy of CIA’s number is that the US ranking is very low for industrialized countries. You’d think that if the Factbook were a propaganda tool, the US would always be in the top five of every country comparison.

If you don’t accept the CIA’s numbers, the next step would be to search for a country government’s home page and search for their health statistics. Make sure you get the same year for a given stat as the CIA World Factbook and compare the two. If you find discrepancies, leave a comment with the URL of your source.

1st in cancer

For cancer statistics by country, I located a 2012 table from the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF), an organization representing cancer prevention groups in a number of countries. Their staff appears to consist of health professionals with documented educational histories.

WCRF’s table shows the following cancer rankings for the United States using 2012 data:

  • Both Sexes – 6th (between Norway and Ireland)
  • Men – 9th (between Denmark and the Czech Republic)
  • Women – 2nd (Between Denmark and South Korea

So, close to true for women, but no #1 ranking.

41st in infant mortality

My search for [country rankings infant mortality] led me to the CIA World Factbook. Its 2016 country comparison table for infant mortality (where #1 highest) gave the US a ranking of 169 and an infant mortality of 5.8 deaths per 1000 births. The actual #41 for 2016 is Sao Tome and Principe, an African island nation, with 46.6 deaths per 1000 births.

If you don’t trust the CIA, see my suggestions under life expectancy above for fact checking them.

1st in obesity

I found two tables I found relevant in checking this claim:

Obesity – Adult Prevalance Rate (CIA World Factbook, data from 2008)

Fattest Countries in the World (Information Please Almanac, Citing World Health Organization (WHO) Data for Overweight and Obese, data from 2014)

The CIA ranked the US at 18th and WHO ranked the US at 8th. They weren’t exactly comparing the same thing. The CIA only looked at obesity, while WHO added in people who were overweight but not obese. But even with that help, the US can only get to 8th highest.

33% of Americans are diabetic and

When I want US health data, I go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if I want national data and to individual US state health departments if I want to verify state level data.

As of this writing, the latest full diabetes statistics report from the CDC is:

2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report

According to this report, 29.1 million people or 9.3% of the population have diabetes. This figure is accepted by the American Diabetes Association, a group with no interest in under-reporting.

Autism is up from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 88.

Interestingly, this is the one place where current reality is more grim that Mr. Wolfe makes it out to be. The CDC has a page on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the current term for autism and related conditions. This page has these stats (2012) on prevalence:

  • About 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. [Read summary] [Read article]
  • ASD is about 4.5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189). [Read article]

I could not find support for the claim that the autism/ASD rate has ever been 1 in 10,000. But there are more diagnosed cases now than Mr. Wolfe’s number, which CDC gives as being the rate of ASD in 2008, in a table on the CDC ASD page.

Purpose: The reason the information exists.  Is its purpose to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?  Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?  Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

While Mr. Wolfe offered no commentary when he first posted his picture, it seems like he’s trying to persuade people that the US needs to do something different about health care.

Because most of the claims are somewhat inflammatory and were unsupported assertions, I’d lean towards calling it propaganda, particularly the claim about diabetes which is more than three times its actual value.

In my view, Mr. Wolfe’s Facebook page and author website appear to have a bias against Western medicine, but I have no way of knowing if that affected his choice of statistics. Misleading statistics about the US health care system are thrown about by adherents of Western medicine as well.

After running this CRAAP test, this is not an image that I would share on social media if I were making a point in the US health care debate.

Working Through CRAAP – Protecting a Muslim

This is NOT a fact check. A fact check is where I test whether something is true or not, come to a conclusion, and expect you to believe me. While I hope that you would believe me if I’ve done my work correctly, many fact checking sites are routinely dismissed as “being in the tank for ____.” So I don’t want to do a lot of work on a regular basis and have you dismiss it out of hand because you don’t agree with me politically. Also, there are just too many news items and resources to check them all. You don’t need me or anyone else trying to keep up and tell you what’s true.

What you need is a tool to make your own choices about an article or resource that hold up to the scrutiny of others that you talk to or dispute with. You need a tool that can potentially poke holes in their articles with more convincing power than “____ a person I admire, says it is so.” What you need is the CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose) Test – a tool that can be used against information items from across the political spectrum.

In this new, occasional, series of blog posts, I will work through the CRAAP test items I come across on the internet or in e-mail. I don’t care whether you agree with my conclusion – I want you to see my process.

Here’s an item I got in e-mail the other day from the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR):

CAIR Thanks Staff of New Mexico Business for Coming to Aid of Muslim Woman Harassed by Customer

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 11/25/16) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today thanked the managers and staff of a business in New Mexico who came to the defense of a Muslim woman harassed by another customer.

CAIR also asked police to investigate the incident as a possible hate crime.

The Muslim customer, who wears an Islamic head scarf (hijab), was verbally harassed by another customer at a Smith’s store in Albuquerque, N.M., on Wednesday morning. The harasser reportedly yelled: “Get out of our country, you don’t belong here, you’re a terrorist!”

A witness said almost all the store employees stopped what they were doing and came to the defense of the Muslim customer. The witness said: “There was even another woman that like went over to the woman in the hijab and put her arm around her and gave her hug and held her while the Smith’s employees came.”

Staffers got the harasser out of the store, but she reportedly waited in the parking lot for the Muslim woman to come out. “So all the Smith’s employees gathered around this woman and escorted her to her car and helped her load her groceries,” the witness said.

Police arrived too late to intervene in the incident.

SEE: Picture Captures Person Accosting Woman Wearing Hijab at Smith’s

“This collective defense of a person being harassed because of her faith shows the best of our nation and can serve as an example to others at a time of growing Islamophobia nationwide,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. “We urge law enforcement authorities to investigate this incident as a hate crime.”

Hooper noted that CAIR has documented an unprecedented spike in incidents targeting Muslims and other minorities in recent months, and particularly following the November 8 presidential election.

CAIR: Appetite for Hate Crimes a Growing Realty Across U.S. (CNN)

The Washington-based Muslim civil rights group is asking Muslim community members who believe their rights have been violated to contact local police and CAIR’s Civil Rights Department at 202-742-6420 or by filing a report at: http://www.cair.com/civil-rights/report-an-incident/view/form.html

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

Here’s how I looked at the item through the lens of CRAAP:

Currency: The timeliness of the information.  When was the information published or posted?

I was sent this e-mail on 11/25/2016, about two days that this story in New Mexico was said to have taken place. It wasn’t an effort to create an emotion based on something that happened years ago.

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.  Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?

For me, this e-mail was quite relevant because I come from a perspective that every human being matters and no one should be mistreated on the basis of who they are as a human being. If I was writing a paper on the treatment of Muslims in modern America, this story would be relevant.

Authority: The source of the information.  What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?  Is the author qualified to write on the topic?

There is no identified Individual author for this newsletter. Based on the logo and e-mail address (not pictured), it clearly came from CAIR. I do expect that a Muslim organization is qualified to write on the treatment of Muslims.

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.  Is the information supported by evidence?  Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?  Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?  Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

I saw no spelling, grammar or typographical errors in this item, indicating that the editor took the time to proofread their work.

The information is supported by evidence and I did verify the story through another source. While the e-mail provided me with a link to the story, I instead went to Google and searched [muslim smith’s new mexico]. The first hit for me turned out to be the same item that CAIR cited:

Picture captures person accosting woman wearing hijab at Smith’s
By Madeline Schmitt
Published: November 24, 2016, 5:30 pm Updated: November 24, 2016, 5:49 pm – http://krqe.com/2016/11/24/picture-captures-person-accosting-woman-wearing-hijab-at-smiths/

KRQE appeared to be a local Albuquerque TV station. After verifying that their account matched what CAIR presented, I looked for the station’s About page. I found it at http://krqe.com/2001/03/15/about-us/. It seems like the real thing to me.  KRQE also has a staff bios page, where you could read that Madeline Schmidtt was an army brat and find out where else she has been a reporter.

In addition to the KRQE story, there was another story in the Albuquerque Journal that corroborated CAIR and KRQE and offered additional details based on interviews:

Muslim shopper wearing a hijab harassed by woman at grocery
By Maggie Shepard / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, November 26th, 2016 at 12:05am
Updated: Saturday, November 26th, 2016 at 11:13am – https://www.abqjournal.com/896172/muslim-shopper-wearing-a-hijab-harassed-by-woman-at-grocery.html

I’ll leave it to you to make a judgment about the credibility of the Albuquerque Journal. I found the story convincing it was the second story to confirm CAIR’s account.

Purpose: The reason the information exists.  Is its purpose to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?  Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?  Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

I would say that CAIR is likely biased in favor of Muslim welfare, just as the Catholic Diocese of Juneau is biased in favor of the welfare of Christians, especially Catholic Christians.

This particular item appears to be factual to me and intended to inform people on the CAIR list that there are non-Muslims willing to stand up for Muslims in difficult situations.

My conclusion – this was an accurate recounting of a peaceful event.

In general, I like to see things from a few independent sources before I’ll believe it. I think this is even more true for things that produce anger and/or fear than for a positive event like this.

Now that you’ve seen my process and how relatively straightforward it seems, I hope that you’ll try out the CRAAP test on something that you’re curious about or maybe something you’ve never thought to question before.

The Washington Post: Fake news is just the beginning

Fake news is just the beginning


This article focuses on the coming technological unemployment. This is something that neither Clinton nor Trump talked about on the campaign. I doubt either candidate had a plan for it.

Buts it’s coming. How we meet it will channel us into a better world or our worst nightmare.

The Washington Post: This ancient Chinese bird kept its feathers, and colors, for 130 million years

This ancient Chinese bird kept its feathers, and colors, for 130 million years


Amazing article on the power of science. Also example of the international breadth of the global scientific community.

Donald Trump, President Elect

Since I spent so much of election season urging all of you to vote, I figured I needed to do at least one post-election blog entry on the 2016 Presidential Election.

Donald J. Trump is President-Elect of the United State United States. He won the Electoral College vote, which is what counts in our system. As of this writing and with two states still completing their vote counts, Hillary Clinton appears to be winning the popular vote, currently 60,467,601 to the President-Elect’s 60,072,551. Only Michigan and Vermont have incomplete results and I’ll update this entry once those are done.

Over on Facebook, I have seen some assertions that Donald Trump won the popular vote as well as the Electoral College. If you wish to challenge the vote numbers I got from Politico, the only thing I’ll accept are vote totals from a given state’s election office, which you can find from the USA.gov directory of state election offices. If you find state numbers that differ from Politico’s let me know the specific state and the specific vote totals you found and I’ll have another look at the numbers.

In any case, for purposes of determining who is President of the United States, IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER that Clinton won the popular vote. It hurts me to say this and I wish it weren’t true – but it is. Until we have the state led National Popular Vote compact OR the Electoral College is abolished through a Constitutional Amendment, the Presidency is determined by votes in the Electoral College. Under that Constitutional process, Donald J. Trump is President-Elect of the United States.

Technically, the Electors of the Electoral College do not meet until December 19th and technically there is nothing under the Constitution that says they have to respect the results of their state. They could, in theory flip the election to Hillary Clinton or even to someone we haven’t heard of. This is why there are petitions circulating asking the Electoral College to dump Trump. But this is very unlikely to happen and I personally do not want to happen, as much as I think Hillary Clinton would have been a much better President than Donald Trump. So why won’t they change?

  1. Electors are usually partisans of their candidate and have pledged their vote to their party. They’re coming into the Electoral College believing their candidate is the best choice for President.
  2. If the Electoral College flipped the election to Clinton, it would set a precedent that any election result could be changed in future elections. Parties would try to the flip the Electoral College EVERY SINGLE ELECTION, regardless of the results. It would usher in a period of extreme political instability. Hillary Clinton herself understands this well which is why she is not contesting the results and we should follow her lead.

None of the above means I think Donald Trump will be a good President or that I approve of the Electoral College. No on both counts.

But as much as I find President-Elect Trump worrisome for many reasons (misogyny, racism, zero governmental experience, so easily provoked) he’s still President Elect of the United States.

Because of this I want him to succeed and not fail — at things beneficial to the country. Congressional democrats should NOT give him the Obama treatment as tempting as that would be. They should not dismiss Democratic or independent sounding ideas just because they are Trump branded.  They should not try to block votes on appointments – they should insist on multiple hearings and extreme vetting of Trump’s picks. They should be prepared to find ways to do this vetting themselves if the Republicans are in a rubber stamp mood.

They and we should stand firmly against anything bad for the Country proposed by new Administration. We should reject efforts to place restrictions on any religious group or new barriers based on race, gender or orientation. We should be prepared to back up our opposition with economic boycotts and civil disobedience.

Last night President-Elect Trump and his family were interviewed on 60 Minutes. There were a few hopeful signs, like his seeming acceptance of marriage equality (not shared by his Vice President Mike Pence or new “Chief Strategist” Steve Bannon). When directly asked by Stahl what he would say to people using racial slurs to harass in his name, he told them to stop. This wasn’t as convincing as I would have liked, because he claimed not to know it was going on. But the man is a Twitter enthusiast. It’s hard to believe he didn’t see some of the things going on.  But he didn’t deny these slurs were happening and agreed that it was a bad thing.

Another bit of good news – thanks to Trump, the Trans Pacific Partnership is dead. Trump, and Congressional leaders of both parties agree. But then he appointed the former head of the alt-right, birther news site breibart news as his “Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor.” I don’t find that a hopeful sign at all.

But, since you have to go with the President you have and not the President you hoped for, I wish President Trump well to the extent he helps working families, rebuilds infrastructure and works to bring people together. I do want him to remember that more people who came to the polls voted for someone else and act accordingly in a non-vengeful way.



Electoral College FAQ (US National Archives) – https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/faq.html

2016 Presidential Election Results (Politico) – http://www.politico.com/2016-election/results/map/president

Constitutional Amendment Process (National Archives) – https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/constitution

Key Dates for the Electoral College – https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/key-dates.html

Restrictions on Electors – https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html#restrictions

Trump election: Priebus and Bannon given key roles (BBC) – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37970146

President-elect Trump speaks to a divided country on 60 Minutes – http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-donald-trump-family-melania-ivanka-lesley-stahl/

A Plea to Protest Voters

The authors of these pieces rarely line up their preferred Presidential voting strategies — third-party, write-in, refusal — with the electoral system as it actually exists. In 2016, that system will offer 130 million or so voters just three options:
A. I prefer Donald Trump be President, rather than Hillary Clinton.
B. I prefer Hillary Clinton be President, rather than Donald Trump.
C. Whatever everybody else decides is OK with me.
That’s it. Those are the choices. All strategies other than a preference for Trump over Clinton or vice-versa reduce to Option C.

via There’s No Such Thing As A Protest Vote – Medium

Back in August, Clay Shirky posted a piece on why protest votes at the Presidential level mostly get ignored. The Electoral College isn’t set up to receive different messages than what Clay shows above.

So unless you really cling to the belief that Clinton and Trump are moral equivalents, you should reconsider your vote if you haven’t voted early.

If you think it’s ok to vote third party or stay home because you live in a safe state for one or the other candidate, check out polling and predictions before you vote. Even ALASKA, which hasn’t gone blue since 1964 is looking close:




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