Saturday, February 13, 2016

"The road is wedged into the forest like a needle stuck into a ball of yarn."

Sometimes a sentence will jump right out at me. make me stop and think.  This is from a story about coming upon a car that had just hit a moose on a darkening mountain road in Maine in The Sun.  Actually, there are two stories.  The driver and the passenger, both writers coming back from giving readings at a nearby college, both give their own separate accounts of the encounter.  This is from the second one by Sarah Braunstein.

My mother used to knit and I used to hold the yarn on my hands as she would roll it into a ball.  Or I'd roll it.  I can feel the ball of yarn in my hand and see the needle stuck through the winding yarn.  But as I thought about the image more, I wasn't so sure it worked.  The yarn makes a good tight tangle of forest, but a road in such a place wouldn't be straight like the needle, rather it would wind this way and that.  But maybe Maine roads are straighter.

The interview in that edition also caught my attention.  It's with an anthropologist, David Lancy, about child rearing in the West compared the the rest of the world.  I found my self alternately agreeing and disagreeing with Lancy's statements.

His basic argument is that in most cultures in the world, the elders get the attention and are catered to.  In the West it's the kids.  And he doesn't seem to think this is good for how the kids develop.  I remember long ago working in Thailand  being amazed at how much young kids could do - probably best characterized by an image in my head of a five or six year old with a younger sibling hitched to the hip.  And I remember how much freedom I had as a child to wander the neighborhood with other kids.  I walked to school on my own from the first grade through the 12th.  So part of me agrees with Lancy that this loss of freedom and independence is regrettable.

There's much in the interview that will outrage folks as he talks about the subordination of women and female genital mutilation in the context of the whole culture.  He gives some caveats and says he doesn't approve, but not demonstrably enough.  I chalk this up to possibly the limited time he spoke to the interviewer or how the interview was edited.  He just couldn't give all the context.  I also attribute it to an anthropological approach, where he's being descriptive of how things work in a different culture and also evaluating things in terms of that culture.  But it's going to rile people.

Lancy also talks about anthropologists using 'cultural relativism' as a lens, so that they evaluate a culture, not in comparison to other cultures, but in the context of each culture itself.  The opposite of cultural relativism, he says, is ethnocentrism, which most non-anthropologists use.  Ethnocentrists judge other cultures in comparison to their own, which, more often than not, is the best.

And yet, in the end, he's judging Western child rearing as wanting compared to how other cultures rear their kids.

I think perhaps he should have stepped back a bit further and talked more about the context of child rearing in Western societies.  In that context, the child rearing he describes, might actually be appropriate for getting one's kid on a track that will get her into a good university and eventually to a good job.  It's the modernist, rational world that these kids are growing up in that leads to a capitalist society in which money is the most important indicator of status and importance that's the problem.  And where fewer and fewer people are getting richer and richer and more and more are slipping into a barely making category.

It's a provocative piece.  Well worth reading and discussing.

And finally, I just started William Gay's the long home.  In the first two pages I was already struck by three words that I realized I would never write.  Not because I've never heard of them, but because they're in my passive vocabulary, not my active vocabulary.

  • sepulcher  ". . . or some great internal storm, flaring the hollows of the world, lightning quaking unseen in sepulchers dark and sleek and damp .  .  ."
  • tintinnabulation "He threw his arms about his head and leapt up wildly while rocks were falling on the roof in a rising tintinnabulation . . ."
  • languorous "The bespoke him with languorous foreboding . . ."
And Gay offers us wonderful images such as:
". . . aged by the ceaseless traffic of the years . . ."

Again, I had to stop and savor the words, roll them over in my mouth, tasting them, as I consider this idea of 'the ceaseless traffic of the years.'  I saw freeway traffic, years like cars constantly driving past, but it could also refer to the trafficking of goods.

Getting these delicious images within a few hours of each other reminded me how so much writing today is like fast food, easy, but unsubstantial.   And how I need to be more thoughtful in crafting my own prose.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Good Kids

Despite my bad influence most of their lives, my kids have turned out great.*

*Due to their discomfort being spotlighted, I'll just leave it at that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Initial Thoughts: New Hampshire

What does New Hampshire mean?  You can't ignore 60% of the vote.  

Here are a few thoughts:

1.  Can Sanders (ie a 74 year old, Jewish, self declared democratic socialist) win in November?
2.  If he did win, could he accomplish any of the things he's wants to do?
3.  Would Clinton have done better if she weren't a woman?
4.  What about Kasich?

1.  Can Sanders (ie a 74 year old, self declared democratic socialist, and a Jew) win in November?

Social reality, as opposed to physical reality, is what we decide it is.  Social reality changes over time.  Our understanding of physical reality changes.  Same sex marriage, for example, is now legal.   If enough people decide being a socialist isn't the kiss of death, then it isn't.   Republicans have been calling Obama a socialist all along and they'll do the same with Clinton.

Sanders' advantage is his self labeling.  He's not afraid of the label and he'll stand up and challenge people who use the word as a slur.  I suspect the next year Americans will get schooled in socialism and related concepts.

Can a Jew be elected?  If a black American can be elected, surely being Jewish won't be the factor that prevents someone from becoming president.

Reagan was the oldest person to be elected president in 1980 when he was 69.  You can send Sanders a 75th birthday card on September 8.  But times have changed.  Trump will be 70 on June 14,  and Clinton will be 69 on October 26.  I kind of like the idea of having a president who is older than I am again.

Can he win?  If he's running against Trump?  Only 35% of the Republican voters voted for Trump.  I'd bet that more Clinton voters would back Sanders than Trump voters would support another Republican.  

Republicans are probably smiling at Clinton's loss in New Hampshire.  They've been worrying about running against her.  They've set up all sorts of campaigns to block her - from Benghazi to Lewinsky.  Bernie Sanders would be an easy opponent as far as they're concerned.  But they dismissed Trump too.

2.  If he did win, could he accomplish any of the things he's promising done?

First, promising is not the right word.  He's promoting things like free community college and single payer health plan, but I don't think he's promising them.  Few American presidents can get all the programs they want.  Even one or two major accomplishments is a big deal these days.  

So, no, he's not going to get everything done.  But ideas take a while to germinate, grow, and bear fruit.  Electing a man who strongly champions new ideas, means those ideas will move from the 'pipe-dream' category to the possible, even probable category.  It will be out there and there will be more support.  And they're more likely to eventually take hold.

How much a President Sanders gets done will depend on how his candidacy would affect the congressional elections.  Can he pick up a bunch of Democratic senators?  Getting a majority in the House will be harder, but the size of the Republican majority can be shrunk.  Though gerrymandering after 2010 will slow things down.  While there are no district line drawing for the Senate (since every state gets two Senators), the existing state lines give red states a lot more clout than their population warrants.

3.  Would Clinton have done better if she weren't a woman?

I'm sure that there are people who either consciously or unconsciously react less positively to Clinton the candidate because she's a woman.  Maybe even five or ten percent.  Possibly more.  Women are judged differently than are men.

But I think that it's more about who this particular woman is.  She's supported the economic establishment over the years and the money people have supported her.  Despite her denials, it's hard to imagine that those ties won't impact her decisions.  Now, she could argue that her connections will make it easier to negotiate changes, but I suspect that her past positions including her husband's passing of NAFTA and her more recent support for PPT, make a lot of Democratic voters nervous.

One could just as well ask if she'd be the candidate if she weren't a woman.  Would she be running for president if she hadn't been first lady?  If she hadn't married Bill, would she have had her own political career and gotten to the point she's at?

My sense is that she's just a bit too wonky. She doesn't have the charisma that Bill has.  And charisma - a comfortableness with people, an ability to make others feel comfortable and to make them trust you - plays a big role in presidential elections.  

The heart makes the ultimate decision among candidates.

4.  What about Kasich?

For me, his second place finish among the Republicans was the big surprise.  Will he get some attention now that could move him up in future primaries?  Or will he be pulled back down in Southern states?   

Just some quick thoughts after the primary.  Interesting times.  

Monday, February 08, 2016

Mahomet, Illinois

I don't think I've done a post quite like this one.

Mahomet, Illinois had 7,258 people in the 2010 census.  95.88% were white.  (Down from 97.94% white in the 2000 census.)  It's voter registration is:
Democratic:     505  or 12%
Green:                 4 or 0.10%
Non-Partisan   1,692 or 41%
Republican      1,926 or 46%

I know you're asking yourself some variation of, "What?!!"

Someone from Mahomet, Illinois dropped by this blog and I thought it interesting that an Illinois town had a variation of the Prophet Mohammed's name as the town's name.  Who are these people?
Or was this an Indian name?

So I looked it up.  Originally the town was called Middletown because it was between two larger towns.  But another town already had that name and mail deliveries were getting confused.  So in 1871 they changed it to Mahomet.

From Wikipedia:
The Illinois town's name derives from the "Mahomet Lodge," the local Masonic Lodge at the time the town was searching for a new name. Its use as the name of the lodge was a manifestation of the Freemasons' liberal use of religious names and stonemason tools and symbols."This claim needs references to reliable sources. (April 2009)" An alternative theory states that the name Mahomet was arbitrarily assigned when the conflicting names were noted by the US Postal Service.
[UPDATE 6:20pm: See comments that challenge this account and offer evidence the town was named after Native American Mahomet Weyonomon.  Comments also have interesting info about Mahomet possibly being a sunset town - a town were black were not allowed after dark.]

I did look up ethnicities and religion.  I would imagine that Muslims might find a town named after their prophet attractive.  The census data said there were 34 Arabs.  I also found a list of religious participation.  In general, religious participation seems significantly lower than the national average.  And there are double the Muslims than the national average and more Muslims than LDS, Presbyterians, and Jews.

Religion  Mahomet, Illinois United States
Percent Religious 34% 48.78%
Catholic 7.8% 19.43%
LDS 0.84% 2.03%
Baptist 4.18% 9.30%
Episcopalian 0.45% 0.65%
Pentecostal 4.64% 1.8%
Lutheran 2.96% 2.33%
Methodist 4.51% 3.93%
Presbyterian 1.52% 1.63%
Other Christian 5.22% 5.51%
Jewish 0.37% 0.73%
Eastern 0.11% 0.53%
Islam 1.64% 0.84%

BUT, take this with a big grain of salt.  I checked to see if the percentage of Muslims was greater than other Illinois towns.  First I checked Champaign, IL, ten miles from Mahomet. Champaign is the county seat and has 200,000 population.   It had exactly the same statistics. So these numbers mean nothing, really, for the Village of Mahomet.  I'm leaving them in here though as a reminder to folks, to double check things you find on the internet.

I couldn't help wondering what do people living in a place called Mahomet think of their town's name these days?  So, I googled, "discussion of name change Mahomet, Illinois."   I got the minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Village of Mahomet, July 28 2015.

A Mr. Thompson wanted to change the name.  Here's the full report from the minutes:

PUBLIC COMMENT: Mark Thompson, had distributed a document on the American Flag. Thompson had mentioned the gold braid on the Village’s American Flag at a previous meeting.
Thompson stated he had expected to come to the meeting a few months ago but due to the death of his mother-in-law he could not attend. He also mentioned he had come to what he thought was the Board meeting but was mixed up on the date and showed up on a Wednesday.
Thompson began to speak to the name of Mahomet. He stated the Village of Mahomet can mean only one and that is “The Village of Mohammed. [sic] He stated there is no other meaning. Thompson stated there are 14 Christian churches in this town and no Mosque. He stated Mahomet being named after the Prophet Mohammed was an apostasy.
Thompson referenced the 1st commandment that “there shall be no other gods before me”. He stated he believed it was a slap in God’s face by having a town named Mohammed. Thompson distributed a document called the Life of Mahomet and History of Islam to the Board and the press.
Thompson stated as a Christian he is deeply offended by the Village being named after a Muslim Prophet. He stated the Confederate flag has been banned because someone was offended and added that he is much more offended by our town being named Mahomet.
He stated the name can be changed. He asked what he would have to do to start the process. He asked if he brought a petition, how many signatures would it take to change the name. He asked if he should start a Go Fund Me campaign and take this nationally to see how many Americans are also offended.
Thompson stated that Muslims are killing Christians every 5 minutes in the world but the Muslims would tell you they are a people of peace, but there are a revolutionary group of Muslims and they should not be ignored. He stated having our town named Mahomet was not compatible with our constitution.
He stated just recently there have been shooting in America that can be traced back to radical Muslim thinking.
He stated he was not here to make a speech, but looking for an answer. He asked if they could answer this tonight.
Widener stated he believed Thompson would not receive an answer tonight but he has the right to pursue whatever he believes he needed to do.
Widener stated he did not know the answer to this question. Lynn asked Thompson if he understood how much money it would take to change the name. Lynn stated making a change like this through the mail system could cost millions of dollars.
Thompson stated as a Christian he is offended by the name and he would hope others are as well.
Thompson stated he understands it costs money but he hopes everyone understands that the name Mahomet. He added that he had mentioned a Go Fund Me campaign and believed it would be supported nationwide.
Thompson added that the word Mahomet appears on our water tower so that is what people see when they enter our town.
Thompson stated he was disappointed in the response from the Board. He stated he believed the right answer would have been to encourage Thompson to circulate a petition.
Attorney Evans asked Thompson his address. Thompson stated his address was xxxx N., Dewey, but added that his children went to school in Mahomet. Brown stated this Board’s jurisdiction was on for the corporate limits. He stated if Thompson wanted to collect signatures he would need to canvas both the Village and Township, but this Board’s concern would be with the residents inside the Village limits.
So apparently Mr. Thompson doesn't even live in the Village of Mahomet.  I suspect that he's someone the Trustees know and are polite to, but don't take seriously.

I couldn't find anything else on the name change, but I suspect it didn't get much further than this.

Given the anti-Muslim sentiments among some in the US today, I'm glad to see that there is a town named Mohamet and that it's not interested in changing its name.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Happy Year Of The Monkey

From Chinese Fortune Calendar:
"2016 is the 4713th Chinese Year. According to Chinese Horoscope calendar, the first day of Red Monkey is on February 4, 2016. This day is not the Chinese New Year Day. Most of Internet Chinese horoscope sites use Chinese New Year Day to determine the Chinese zodiac sign, which is wrong. Chinese New Year Day of Red Monkey Year is on February 8, 2016. This is the reason that some people confuse their Chinese zodiac signs."

The picture comes from my copy of the Monkey King and the illustration is by Zdeněk Sklenáf.  This picture is from chapter 9, 'The Monkey King disrupts the Peach Banquet.'

The Chinese Fortune Calendar also tells us about Monkey King:
"Monkey King is a main character in the Chinese classical novel Journey to the West. Monkey King was born from a stone and acquired supernatural powers from a Taoist master. It's very naughty, went to heaven, stole an elixir of life, ate many peaches of longevity, and then rebelled against heaven. All guardians or generals of heaven cannot conquer the monkey. Finally Buddha tamed and jailed it in the bottom of Five-Element mountain. The monkey had to wait Master Xuan-Zang monk for 500 years to rescue it. Then the story of Journey to the West began. The monkey had to escort the master monk to bring Buddhist sutras from India to China. At the time of the journey, the stone monkey was about 850 years old."

From Your Chinese Astrology:
The people born in the year of the monkey are of great intellects and skillful. They are usually good leaders. Quick and intelligent as they are, they can win prizes frequently from childhood, thus, often appreciated by parents and teachers. Besides, they are most in good physical conditions. Not only good in fortune when they are young, but also perfect after middle ages. As they are good at saving up money, they usually live lives without worrying about food and clothing.
The people under the sign of the monkey are sometimes a bit quick-tempered. This may hinder them from getting success. So, they should learn to be patient to overcome. They also like to project themselves to attract others. As they have extraordinary ability to distinguish between things, they can always make good decisions. In their families, they are usually considerate and thoughtful.

The monkey people born in different periods of a day have different personalities and fortune:The Monkey people born in the morning usually treat others kindly and politely. They would not like to push themselves forward. When dealing with things, they are usually actively to round off their work. However, they regard their interests much more important than work. Sometimes, they may give up a good job in order to have more time on their hobbies. So, when finding jobs, they had better choose one that they are interested. However, like the monkey scampering in the trees in nature, the Monkey people are not steady. They are fond of social activities and circulate among many friends. Nevertheless, they have few bosom friends.

To test this, here are some people born in the Year of the Monkey:

Leonardo de Vinci (1452)
Charles Dickens (1812)
Oscar Schindler (1908)
Elizabeth Taylor (1932)
Michele Kwan (1980)
Yao Ming (1980)

Here's a whole list of famous people born 1908.

Here's some flashy juggling, balancing, and acrobatics from the Beijing Opera about the Monkey King.

Two Dead Mice

Mid December I posted that we had a mouse and I'd bought a catchem-alive mousetrap.  Well, we still had a mouse two weeks ago.  One day Joan saw him scampering along the wall from the kitchen to the living room.

The next day she had an arsenal of mouse catching weapons.  No more Mr. Nice guy.  Now it was no more mice guy.

There were two chic little white plastic mouse traps - variation of the old wooden ones that snap shut, but these you opened more like a clothespin.  Much less danger of trapping your own finger.  And there were sticky strips to put in their paths.  Sounded awful and I mentioned calling PETA.  She was undeterred.  There's even something called 'better than cheese' that you put in the trap.

Long story short - the next morning there were two dead mice.  One on the sticky strip and one in a trap.  Now, it was my job to get rid of the mice.  She was finished with her work.   I rarely use the page break option - not even sure it will work - but I don't want to offend anyone with a dead mouse picture.  [I had trouble with the page break option long ago when I tried to use it.  ]

I did realize that most of my mental mouse images come from Walt Disney - particularly the mice in Cinderella which is what makes this so disturbing.  But, while we'd never seen both mice at the same time, I was beginning to think we needed to end this before there were babies.

[I tried it and it didn't work on Safari or on Firefox.  The right code is in, but there's no page jump option.  If anyone has some tips, please let me know.  Meanwhile, I'm leaving the pictures off.  If you must see them,email me.  I also did leave the page break code in, so if you DO see it, let me know that too. ]

[Yet another Feedburner problem.  This seems to be getting all too common.  Though I seem to have made it two weeks this time without having to post something twice.  I add these notices for two reasons. 1.  For those who found this post another way, I'm sorry if you were fooled into coming back. And 2.   I'm also keeping track of how many times Feedburner takes more than an hour or two to kick in.]

Friday, February 05, 2016

Odds And Ends - Central American Peaks, 99 Year Life Ends, Race, Police, And Headlines

A colleague has driven from Seattle to Mexico in the hopes of climbing the highest mountain in each Central American country.  (I actually have a book of the highest peaks in all the US states, but doubt that at this point I'll reach the tops of too many of them.)  Anyway, Sharman's blogging the trip and some of you might like to follow along.  Her partner Mike made it to the top of Mexico's highest mountain Citlaltépetl, but Sharman decided not to fight the altitude and only went part of the way.

Frank at 99
My step-mother's husband died the other day. (She married him after my father died.)  We saw them Here's a video I made of the two of them in 2008, with more biography of each.
in early January.  Frank was 99.  He grew up in Czechoslovakia, speaking Hungarian and Czech and was in Nazi work camps during WWII.  His younger brother Larry got out of Europe before WW II to study at UCLA.  Larry died a couple of years ago.

Time speeds along.  The Anchorage IRS advocate (I didn't know each state had one.  Sen. Murkowski's office contacted her on my behalf.) called yesterday to let us know she's working on the case and will get back to me.

I probably should have mentioned yesterday for folks not in Anchorage that the library steps are getting torn down to reconfigure the entrance. We aren't tearing down the library.  The fact that money was found for this is a positive sign.   The old entrance was a compromise between the original architectural design and lack of funds to do it right.  That led to the main entrance being on the second floor with a big staircase.  Not terribly accessible, especially in the winter when the steps got covered with snow.  So they built a cover.  But now they are planning to put the main entrance on the ground floor.  I haven't seen the detailed plans.

I still have video from the racial equity summit Monday and Tuesday. (And from other encounters as well.)  A regular reader also send a link to an interesting article about researchers demonstrating subconscious responses that show racism based on very quick (less than a second) views of people.  Clever techniques to figure this out.  Interesting article.   Here's the beginning.
"Jennifer Eberhardt presented her research at a law enforcement conference, she braced for a cold shoulder. How much would streetwise cops care what a social psychology professor had to say about the hidden reaches of racial bias? Instead, she heard gasps, the loudest after she described an experiment that showed how quickly people link black faces with crime or danger at a subconscious level. In the experiment, students looking at a screen were exposed to a subliminal flurry of black or white faces. The subjects were then asked to identify blurry images as they came into focus frame by frame.

The makeup of the facial prompts had little effect on how quickly people recognized mundane items like staplers or books. But with images of weapons, the difference was stark—subjects who had unknowingly seen black faces needed far fewer frames to identify a gun or a knife than those who had been shown white faces. For a profession dealing in split-second decisions, the implications were powerful." [To read the rest]
This is particularly interesting in light of Mike Dingman's commentary in the ADN today about police reaction to the Mayor's intent to diversify the Anchorage police department.  The headline was:
"Mayor calls for diversity in APD, and some folks get the vapors"
But then again, I'm seeing more and more sensational headlines these days.  When you read the article it doesn't seem as extreme as the headline.  Like this teaser on the cover of the ADN today:
"In sharp clash, Clinton and Sanders swap barbs and views
In a brutally caustic debate Thursday night . . ."
Really?  If the Clinton/Sanders exchange was 'brutally caustic' how would you describe the recent Republican debates.  In the article (link is to original NY Times article) it tells us that Clinton said,
". . . months of criticism by Mr. Sanders over her taking speaking fees from Wall Street banks amounted to a suggestion that she was corrupt — or, as she put it, a 'very artful smear.'
Is this an attempt to be even handed?  To make the Democrats look as belligerent as the Republicans?

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Loussac Steps Starting To Go

I went to the library Saturday and was surprised to see the steps still intact.  They shut the library down for ten days, but it seems that was to set up the new library entrance on the west side.

The stairs and their covering were still there Saturday.

But I went back yesterday - Wednesday - and they'd started chipping away (literally.)  It looks like those steps are pretty solid.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Shaving Legs And Armpits

The other day I was thinking about how back when I was  a student in Germany in the mid-1960s the women students didn't shave their legs or armpits.  As a good American student my first reaction was shock.  But over the year I got to regard it as normal.  I considered a post about how corporations shape our thinking and behavior so they can sell more stuff, but other things came up.  I don't even remember how the topic came up.

And then I ran across this posted on a friend's FB page.

Visiting Alaska While We're Home

One of the most common axioms in Alaska is that Anchorage is just 20 minutes from Alaska.  And while we've been going back and forth so much lately, I have to remember that while we're back home in Anchorage, to make sure we go see a bit of Alaska each time.  So Sunday, with blue sky and sunshine and relatively warm weather (20s), we headed to McHugh Creek.

Note that it was January 31 and the water of Turnagain arm was . . . water.  Not ice.

And the trail was ice and snow free as we started off.

I checked the rock map.  Wish I could read the story it's telling us.

Further up the trail, there were patches of ice.  It's ironic.  All the snow is gone, except on the trail where people's footsteps packed the snow down and it became ice.  The very reason I work hard to keep our sloping driveway snow free - so it doesn't become an ice slope.

There was also ice over the creeks the path crosses.

All these pictures are much sharper if you click on them.

Two ravens began a raucous alert.

And above we saw the reason, flying over.

It looked more like early fall as the setting sun put an orange glow on the hillside.

So good to get out and walk in the woods.