Thursday, October 20, 2016

"I'm all of those things at once."

“I am an immigrant. I am also a human being, an American, a Vietnamese, an Asian and a refugee.” I’m all those things at once. I think that’s absolutely a crucial decision for me because we live in a society where people are pressured to choose their identities. Especially for Asian-Americans, we’ve grown up in a society that often makes us decide whether we’re all American or whether we’re Asian. That’s a false choice, so we have to rebel and proclaim that we can be many things at the same time.
The writer is Tranh Nguyen, USC Associate Professor of English and American studies and ethnicities.  He also has a recent Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his novel The Sympathizers, which my book club read and discussed while I was away and I have to get and read.

His statement just seems so self-evident.  We aren't one of the many labels we bear.  Think of all the labels people can (and do) use to think and talk about you.  Everything from sister, mother, daughter, skier, reader, dancer, red-head, gardener, idiot, shopper, passenger, American, Alaskan, Republican, Italian, drummer, fisher, cook, teacher, neighbor, etc.  You aren't just any one of those, you are all of those sometimes and some of those all the time.

But I hear people declare that someone can't or shouldn't be a hyphenated American.  They have to choose, just as Professor Nguyen writes.

But this piece in the USC alumni magazine goes on to focus on refugees particularly.
"Refugees bring with them these histories that make potential host countries uncomfortable…. The reason they became refugees is what we ourselves might have had a hand in. Refugees are a living reminder that the things we take for granted—the safety of our homes, the safety of our country—are fragile. We see other countries being afflicted by war or natural disaster from a distance, and we assume that can’t happen to us, but if those refugees start coming to our shores, then they become these living reminders."
That second sentence jumped out at me.  Why did we get Vietnamese refugees?  Because after the French pulled out of Vietnam and gave the Vietnamese their independence, the US insisted in jumping in and assuming that we could do what the French couldn't.  And by 1975 we realized that we couldn't either.  But a lot of people died before that happened.  And a lot of money was diverted from building infrastructure and education to airplanes and guns and bombs and transporting soldiers half-way across the world.  And eventually Vietnamese refugees, mostly people who, because they aligned with the US, were suspect when the US lost and pulled out.

Central American refugees are a major reason why Trump became the Republican candidate for president.  We've used Central America as our private cache where we got bananas, sugar, coffee, and other commodities.  We overthrew governments we didn't like.  Reagan even made a deal to sell arms  to Iran (even though they'd taken over the US embassy and kept Americans hostage there until Reagan was inaugurated)  to get money to Nicaraguan rebels after Congress nixed any funding.

Some American politicians express shock about the possibility that Russia is trying to influence the US election,  yet anyone with a knowledge of US covert operations to overthrow governments that weren't friendly to our interest has to be smirking just a little bit.  See for example from Foreign Policy of seven nations the US overthrew.

The point is that we have often made life difficult in countries around the world to the extent that people needed to leave.  We've even hurt economies by dumping surplus US agricultural projects into countries which destroyed the local agricultural infrastructure.  While this CATO Institute analysis assumes all our aid has been catastrophic 'even if the intentions were good,'

I'd take some issue.  A lot of AID did good things - particularly in health infrastructure and education.

I would also question the good intentions of most US AID.  Another CATO commentary tells us most foreign aid is really aid to US business:
“'fully 80 percent of the foreign assistance budget is spent right here at home, on American goods and services.'” Moreover, claims the exporters’ lobby, aid also helps poor countries develop the institutions necessary to “foster trade, and to attract private investment - the very things that make possible American exports.”

Basically, US aid helped US companies by restricting the aid to US products, often surplus.  Usually such aid helped US businesses more than the receiving country.  And it often actually hurts the local businesses who couldn't compete with the sudden influx of cheap, subsidized US food or goods.

The idea that refugees are coming to the US because of things we did is not even imaginable for many, perhaps most, Americans because they have no idea what we've done around the world.  And our schools and media tend to keep it that way.

But back to Nguyen's discussion of labels.
"Perhaps the biggest misconception is that refugees are only victims. People see these horrible images: The Syrian boy face down on the beach in Turkey has now become iconic. That image made me physically ill in a way I have not felt in a long time. It reminded me of the fact that the Vietnamese were portrayed in the same way. It led to the perception that poor Vietnamese people are victims. Of course, they were. The Syrian people, including that boy, are victims. But that doesn’t define them. The idea that refugees are victims simply becomes a way of not sympathizing with them. We continue to treat them as less than humans. If you see people only as victims and therefore as less than human, they’re still not the same as you are."
Again, he's talking about people dismissing refugees as one dimensional - in this case 'victims'.

The only way I see that we can change people's attitudes about refugees is for them to meet them and other non-refugee immigrants.

And to remember that most immigrants to the US were well educated before they got to the US.  Here are a few prominent immigrants to the US:

Albert Einstein
Henry Kissinger  
Robert Murdock
Nikola Tesla 

Neil Young
Joseph Pulitzer  
Irving Berlin
Ayn Rand

Bruce Willis
Sergey Brin*  
Alex Trebek
Cary Grant
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Jose Conseco
Mikhail Baryshnikov
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross  
*I'm guessing this name is less familiar than the others.  He's one of the co-founders of Google.

And Anchorage has its own fair share of prominent immigrants who make a huge contribution to our city and state.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"No one has more respect for women than I do"

This is going to be the quote of the debate.  Maybe the election.  One tweeter likened it to "I am not a crook"

"The crash occurred when a witness said . ."

What could a witness have said that would have caused a crash?

I'm guessing something was cut out out of this sentence and no one checked what was left,  because I can't imagine someone writing it or an editor missing it.  No author is cited.  If you leave out "a witness said" it's fine.  And attribution is helpful.  "according to a witness" set off in commas would do the trick.

The rest of the sentence is:
". . . the Civic ran a red light while traveling eastbound on Dowling, striking a Jeep Wrangler ;  the complaint said."
A good example of why Strunk and White said to keep related words together.

Quote from the Alaska Dispatch News.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

AIFF 2016: What's In A Name? Anchorage International Film Festival Films Selected - The First Look

Looking at the lists of films selected in the various categories for the first time each year is always exciting.  There's not much to go by - film titles, names of directors, countries.  It's like being in a big room with strangers many of whom you will soon get to know.  Some will become great friends, others nodding acquaintances, others you'll never connect with.

But for now all you've got are appearances and stereotypes.  Does a film title catch your fancy?  Intrigue you enough to want to know more?  Maybe you have a connection to particular country that's represented by a film or two.  And perhaps there are some interesting or even familiar names.

That's where we are now as the 2016 films selected for this year's festival have been posted on the AIFF2016 website.  At this point I'm just going to give a brief overview and comment briefly on some of the names and titles that caught my attention.

From the poster for Attila Szász' Demimonde

The background for the Features list isImage .  Szász is a Hungarian film maker whose The Ambassador To Bern won the Best Feature at AIFF in 2014.  You can see a Skype interview I did with Szász back then.  There's also transcript.  Part 8 talks about the film (Demimonde) he was starting to work on (which was why none of the film crew could make it to Anchorage that year).

Screenshot from the trailer of Karan Ananth's Indian film The Blind Side.

The background is a  

Here's some dialogue I created from three other titles from the documentary list.
A:  Goodbye Darling, I'm Off To Fight 
B:  I'll Wait Here 
A:  Walk With Me
As you can see, at this point, these are just words on a page that have whatever meaning you might invest in them.  But before long, as we learn more about the films and, hopefully, see them, they will show us who they really are.

 Image from the trailer of Richard Harper 's Evil's Evil Cousin.

Some of the shorts titles that seemed to have some superficial connection at this point:

Black Cat
Like a Butterfly
Row 1,
Sing For Your Supper
No Touching
Virgin Territory

Row 1, This Path
Thunder Road
Row 1,

Background is screenshot from A Reasonable Request 
You can't help but assume that a title like A Reasonable Request will be anything but reasonable.

Some other titles:

There were the titles with numbers:

  • 20 Matches
  • How To Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps

But maybe the second one should have been paired with

  • Fresh Chocolate Bar

And there are time related titles:

  • On Time
  • Late Night Drama

ANIMATION, which was a little thin last year, has a robust roster of films this year.

Image from  Elif Boyacioglu's The Teacup

And there's lots of mischief we can do grouping some of the titles

Food Puns Colors Time
Notorious Corn Pug of War Red Just Like It Used to Be
The Old Man and the Pear No Touching Green LightA Space In Time
Under the Apple Tree Virgin Territory
The Land Before Time Machines
Time Chicken

Image screenshot from Daven Hafey's We Eat Fish

Some Intriguing Titles:

  • The Girl Who Spoke Cat
  • You bruise, You lose
  • GlaswAsian Tales
  • Welcome to the Last Bookstore

  • At this point I know next to nothing about these films, though finding pictures for this post gave me a bit more information.  We have titles (and you can see all the titles and names of directors and countries and lengths of most of the films at the AIFF2016 website.  Soon we'll know a little more, and eventually, we'll be able to see many of these films and meet some of the filmmakers.

    Note:  Since the Alaska films didn't have countries listed (last year all but one was a US filmmaker), I've listed the titles.

    Note 2:  HTML Table Generator has revamped its page and I'm having a bit of trouble making the tables work here in blogger.  I can't see the final table when I'm composing or in Preview which means I have to post it to see if I got it right.  So forgive the different kinds of tables.  I'll get this eventually.  

    Monday, October 17, 2016

    "Conflicts of Interest and the Medical Value of Tree Frog Raise New Questions About Newstown Marshes"

    That was the headline on the news article I submitted last night for my online class on Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens from the University of Melbourne through Coursera. The lead paragraph went on:
    "New revelations arose this week about the mayor’s personal financial interests in Futopia’s Newstown Marshes project and about the potential medical value of the endangered auburn tree frog.  More questions linger about the effectiveness of the flood control projects given the impacts of climate change on future flooding."
    Over the several weeks of the course, new information emerges on the "Newstown" website which includes background on key players, press releases, interviews, and other bits of information on the events of the fictional community of Newstown, somewhere northwest of Melbourne, Australia.  Each week a little more is revealed.

    Last week our assignment was to write a lead sentence for the story of the Newstown Marshes development.

    This week we had to do a whole story.  I submitted mine just before the deadline - which is somewhat confusing for a class with people in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

    The key story revolves around a land development deal in environmentally delicate marshlands.

    This week the instructors conducted video interviews;  one example of a poor interview and one of a good interview with each of the key players.  I do interviews now and then for the blog, and I know about preparing for them as an academic, but I haven't previously read stuff about how journalists do it.  One issue that resonated with me is that most journalists don't like confronting people about things they don't want to talk about.  That made it feel a little less daunting.   There was also an interesting lecture on interviewing people undergoing trauma - something that some journalists routinely, but isn't normally part of my blogger beat.

    My blogging experience has helped me to review information quickly and see the whole story and then fill it in with facts and quotes.

    After submitting our stories, we then have to grade four of our classmates' papers as well.  There's a template for grading that makes it fairly easy to mark levels on different aspects - like covering all the key facts in the story.

    When I taught, I had  developed my own template for grading my students' papers which helped considerably to articulate to students what I was actually looking for and what I thought they did well or poorly.  It also forced me to give examples of why I gave a lower or higher grade.  Sometimes, in looking for those examples, I found my score on that factor was wrong, and I'd change it.

    The templates for the course are similarly useful, but we're also limited in comments to:

    The aspect of this article I most enjoyed was…
    The most useful suggestion for improvement to this article I can make is…
    The spelling and grammar errors I identified (if any) in this submission were…

    I think limiting the areas for improvement is a good idea because taking criticism is difficult.
    People can deal with one point, but lots might be overwhelming. And since everyone in this class is getting feedback from at least four classmates, that should suffice.  It also helps to make one's  point by identifying specific concrete examples and how to improve them.  This allows you to get straight to the issue without having to use judgmental terms.  

    I've found that the papers I've had to grade were really quite good.  Generally they got the key ideas and were written in clear English.  Better than some graduate papers I've read here at UAA.  But I also suspect that a lot of people aren't actually turning in assignments because the number of  assignments listed is far short of the number of students who were originally signed up for the class.

    A couple more things of interest in this assignment for me included the inverted pyramid idea and the Hemingway editor.

    The inverted pyramid was offered as a template for writing news stories - with the most important
    Image from Cyber College
    points at the top, and then filling in the less important ones further down.  While that's generally a good way to write, specifically identifying it as an inverted pyramid was helpful.  And I think I've heard that before, but I haven't thought about it that way when I've been blogging stories.  And while I'll think about it now, I'm not sure that's the format I want to always use.  I like to give a lot more context and to speak directly from me to the reader about what I'm doing and why.  (Which is what the ethical principles I wrote about recently say to do.)

    The Hemingway Editor is a tool to check the readability of your article.  You just paste it in and it gives you a score and marks your article up in different colors.

    0 of 9 sentences are hard to read.
    9 of 9 sentences are very hard to read.
    2 phrases have simpler alternatives.
    3 adverbs. Aim for 2 or fewer.
    1 use of passive voice.Aim for 2 or fewer.

    My sense is that this is a simple formula related to things like  number of words in a sentence and doesn't assess how well the words were put together.  One paper I had to grade got a horrendous Hemingway score, but was really quite readable.  With all the attribution we had to use in our stories, the sentences got a little longer and more comma'd up than the Hemingway editor likes.  But if it's done well it's fine.

    But I think dropping work into the Hemingway editor is not a bad idea to remind me to look for easier ways to say something.  

    I think there are a couple more weeks left of the class.  Overall, it's not too taxing.  The online interface is good.  We see the instructors in video, but we have no interaction with them at all.  We do have discussion boards, but there's relatively little extended discussion.  Teaching assistants monitor the discussions.  It's an alternative to getting information from a book, or maybe it's using the internet to augment what you can do with just print and it's not as linear as a book.  And I am able to take this class for free.  Maybe the paying students get more attention, but it doesn't appear so.  What they get is a certificate at the end.  

    Saturday, October 15, 2016

    Election 2016: What The Glass Ceiling Looks Like

    [This started out fairly focused, but the causes of the glass ceiling for women aren't simple.  Nor do they explain everything in this election.   This isn't intended to be the final treatise on obstacles Hillary Clinton faces in her campaign because she's a woman.  But it is intended to give it some context.  The basic point is this:  Because she is a woman she has more hurdles on her way to the White House than a man would and here are some reasons why and some numbers.]

    Rarely are women kept out of higher positions simply because they are women.  No, it's because they aren't aggressive enough, or they're too aggressive.  There are gaps in their resume, or times when they weren't in the office when we needed them (maybe because they took off time to have and care for a child while the fathers stayed at work.)

    Deborah Tannen has spent her career as a linguist documenting the differences between men and women's talk and why they handicap women in male dominated institutions.

    Norming is one of her topics. [I can't find a good overview.  Try checking out her book Talking 9-5.] The norm has traditionally been a white male in a suit.  That's what leaders are supposed to look like.  And people who don't look (and act) like a white male, have trouble moving up out of subordinate roles.  Not so much because they are women, but because they aren't men. They don't match our image of the Norm.    Individuals who differ from that norm stand out.  They don't fit in.  The more they differ from how we expect them to look and act, the harder it will be for them to succeed.  Maybe they're just not part of the team, like the white males who don't wear a suit or don't go out drinking with the guys.    Blacks stand out, because they're not white.  The whiter they are, the less they stand out.

    Women stand out in a lose-lose sort of way.  The more they try to look or sound like men - cut their hair short, wear suits, raise their voices, talk dirty - the less they look like the women men think they should look like.  We've all seen the lists of descriptors for men and women who behave the same way.  When women act like men act, they're punished for it.   Where men are seen as strong, women are seen as pushy.   Women just don't fit our images of what the ideal leader should look like and men (and women) don''t see this as discrimination.  For them it's simply 'the truth.'

    Here's a clear example of how 'norms' play a role in Americans choosing people who look like our ideal of a leader from a 2012 article on The American College President Study:
    "In 1986, the first year of ACE’s college president study, the demographic profile of the typical campus leader was a white male in his 50s. He was married with children, Protestant, held a doctorate in education, and had served in his current position for six years.
    Twenty-five years later, with few exceptions, the profile has not changed."
    The study does note that the percentage of women presidents in those 25 years rose from ten to 26.

    But underlying this, I would argue, is the fear of change, of losing power that men have in our (and most other) society.

    C. Jane Kendrick on Weekend Edition today gave one reason why this happens as she talked about campaigning for Clinton in Utah:
    ". . . when I think about how people feel about Hillary here in Utah, it's not simply that they disagree with her. It's that they hate her. I think there's a character assassination that happened in the 1990s, long before she ever ran and I think long before Bill was president, that started with questioning women's roles and gender roles. I think she really pushed Utah's buttons.

    ". . . she poses a huge threat to the system that works in Utah. I think she poses a threat to the patriarchal system. She poses a threat to gender roles. Everything that I was taught to hold dear is the opposite of what Hillary has - who she is, except for, you know, being a grandmother and a mother, which I think a lot of women here, in my past, growing up, would say perhaps she didn't do enough of that."

    Sure, people who strongly believe in the free market as the perfect system, who believe abortion is murder, and that guns are as essential an extension of the human anatomy as a cell phone, all have 'rational' reasons to oppose Clinton.  But to hate her?  To make her into a demon?

    The Republicans have been smearing their  male opponents with sophisticated propaganda too.  Their crowning achievement was the Swiftboating campaign that took Kerry's heroic war record and made him into a traitor with lies and innuendo.

    And that's what they've been doing with Hillary Clinton since Bill Clinton walked onto the national stage.

    A PEW study discusses the top qualities people look for in a leader and perceived gender differences in those qualities. Honesty comes out on top among the top four traits.  And women are perceived as far more honest than men.  There's little doubt in my mind that's why the Republicans' most constant sound-bite on Clinton is about her being dishonest.  Just as they worked hard to whittle away John Kerry's war hero advantage over the draft dodging George W. Bush, they are pounding on Clinton's honesty.

    But this is against the backdrop of women not looking like our norm for leadership.  After all, Catholics still won't accept women priests, let alone a Pope.  Orthodox Jews still segregate men and women, and Fundamentalists tell us women should obey their husbands.

    Of course, Clinton's being a woman is only one of the many obstacles she has faced in her quest for the presidency.  We only pick a president every four years.  That's a possibility of 25 slots per century if no one were ever reelected.  The odds are extremely low for men too.  But even lower for women.

    And while I have doubts about some of Clinton's past and how it would play out in a Clinton presidency, I've had those doubts in every election since I first got to vote for president in 1968.  Nobody's ideal candidate is ever on the ballot.  All candidates have warts.

    But in my observation of presidential election for the last 50 years or so, no basically well qualified male candidate's election, given an opponent like Trump,  would still be in doubt.  Lyndon Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater, whose policies were not nearly as bizarre as Trump's and whose character was not in question.  Not even marginally qualified male candidates with an opponent like Trump would have anything to worry about.

    We have memes that talk about women (or substitute whatever group that doesn't fit Tannen's idea of the American leader norm) having to work twice as hard as men, such as Charlotte Witton's:
     "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult."
    I'm sure lots of men dismissed this because of what they would have called her smart ass conclusion.

    What's particularly telling when this double standard is applied to women, are that facts that women belong to
    • the richest and poorest (and all those in-between) economic classes, 
    • the best and worst educated, 
    • every different religious denomination
    • every ethnic group
    AND they make up slightly more than 50% the population.  Yet

    I can't find numbers on the percent of women heading labor unions, but this article begins:
    "Why do unions have so few female leaders? On the face of the facts, that doesn’t make sense. After all, 45.5 percent of unionists are women."

    I already mentioned that only 26% of university presidents.  You get the picture.

    Where are women doing 'better'?  An Education Week article titled "Women on par with men in principalships" tells us:
    "Looking at data for the 2007-08 school year, the report shows that 50 percent of public school principals and 53 percent of private school principals were female that year."
    But that doesn't look all that good when you consider that men made up less than a quarter of the public school teachers, the pool from which principals are drawn.*

    While women might not get top head chef positions, according to QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) magazine in 2011
    "more than 50 percent of restaurants are now owned by women"
    And the book Supervision in The Hospitality Industry*  tells us that
    "more than two-thirds of the supervisors in the food service industry are women"
    Which makes sense, but is a dubious achievement,  because the New Republic lists the food service industry as the lowest paid in the nation.  

    When you consider that just over 50% of the population is women, these numbers show that more is going on than "they aren't as good."  There are paths to many jobs that women haven't been able to get on.  Many commercial pilots, for example, got their training in the military when women weren't allowed those jobs.  Trade apprenticeships didn't take women.  And so on.

    But think about this.  Until very recently, every married man was married to a woman.  And many, if not most, had daughters.  They all had mothers.  Yet they continued to make decisions and to support a system that made the women in their lives second class citizens.  

    This is deeply embedded in our psyches, and we still have a lot of self-reflection to do. This campaign has started some of that.   Just as no one expected Nixon to start the US talking to China, no one expected Trump to start us talking about the prevalence of sexual assaults. (A key difference was that Nixon went to China consciously and purposely.)  

    But when anyone says they can't vote for Clinton because she's not honest, or because of emails, or the Clinton Foundation, start asking them about what they know about male candidates of the past and the baggage they had.  Ask them specifically what they know about her dishonesty, or is it just a word they associate with her.  Then ask them about their fathers' treatment of women.  Ask them about their fathers' attitude about family.  Their own ideas about families.  You might prepare by reading what George Lakoff says on that. Go down to where he talks about conservative and liberal conceptions of family.

    You can also see Deborah Tannen's take on the election before the Democratic primary was over.
    And here she's discusses the interruptions in the first debate.

    I'm reasonably confident that Clinton is going to win, but I shouldn't have any doubts about it given the qualifications of these two candidates.  And if you think things got bad when we elected a Black president, just wait until we have a woman president.  All the misogyny that's bottled up will come exploding out.  And only when it's all out in the open for everyone to see, will we be able to process it and move on.  

    Again, sorry seems a little disjointed, but the world I'm writing about is also disjointed.  There's no simple cause and effect.  Lots of factors play roles in this first US election with a woman as a candidate from a major party.  

    *I'd note that in 1970 I taught 5th grade for a year in Los Angeles.  I was one of very few male teachers, though the principal and the vice principal were both male.  One day, the vice principal invited me to go to an event for male teachers.  He explained that this was the route to become a principal. 

    New Post, Fitness, Garden Work, and Windows, While The Weather's Good

    Was getting business done today while the sun was out and the sky was blue.  It was down to 29˚F (-2˚C)  this morning, but closer to 50˚F (10˚C) when I biked to the oral surgeon to get my new post checked out.  Last week, when he put it in, I had to have a driver to take me home.  But today he was just checking it and he was pleased with his work.  It's a long process getting an implant.  The dentist said an implant was a better option than a crown some time ago.  Then it had to be extracted and packed with bone that needed to meld with my own bone.  (It wasn't easy getting that picture.)

    When that was set, he put in the post (last week) and now it's three more months until the post is tightly embedded in the bone.  And then, finally, a fake tooth gets snapped onto the post.  I've got a retainer like device with a 'flipper' - a temporary fake tooth, but it's a hassle.  It fits well and you'd never notice it, but it's not fun to eat with it in.  And the plastic backing rests on the roof of my mouth, so it always feels dried out.  And it catches my tongue so I feel like I'm talking funny.  I think I would have skipped the flipper if I'd have known I couldn't eat with it in.  (Well you can eat with it, but it's not comfortable.  It would make a good diet tool.)  I guess it's a question of how willing you re to walk around with a missing tooth, cause it takes a long time to be able to put in the implant.  Mine is not right in the front, but you can see it when I'm talking.

    I stopped at the YMCA on the way back to check on the various exercise classes.  Two weeks ago in San Francisco, my son took me to his gym where they had an open day for potential new clients.  It was an hour of circuit training - pulling, pushing, jumping, lunging, carrying, running - and I was pleased to be able to keep up with the rest of the crowd - if a little bit slower - who were mostly 20 years or more younger.  But the next four days, muscles I haven't heard from in years, were all letting me know they didn't appreciate me waking them up.  But it felt great during that hour and the rest of the day.

    J's been taking some of the Y classes and so I went to find something that might challenge my body more than biking can do, especially as we move toward winter.  We'll see.  I figure the best way to keep moving is to keep moving and to push those muscles a bit.  But I'll build up more slowly than two weeks ago.

    Then back home to work out in the back yard. Yesterday I planted a bunch of narcissus bulbs.  I had a bare spot in the front yard where I'd taken out some of the mountain ash shoots that I'd let grow into small trees over the years.  But they're starting to block the sun too much.

    The first bag of 18 bulbs was disappointing.  I'd say about eight were either dried out totally or they were mushy soft.  The other two bags were good, and I had more bulbs than would fit in the space.  We'll see next spring whether my plan for a stream of daffodils works out or not.

    Today I raked leaves for mulch.  Online it said to mulch with evergreen branches so I trimmed a couple of the fir trees in back and then covered them with leaves.

    And then I tackled the rain gutters.  The one in front had lots of wet compost.  The one in back just had dried leaves.  Finally, I washed the windows in the front.

    My window washing kit makes it pretty easy and it seemed like a good idea to get this done while the weather was almost warm.  The windows look much better.

    Also watched some 'good' and 'bad' videos of interviewing people for my Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens.  It was nice to know that lots of journalists dislike the confrontation often necessary when interviewing folks for a story.  Basically, what I saw as the differences between the good and bad interviews (of the same people) were 1) getting to the point and not doing a lot of apologizing for having to ask hard questions, and 2) being prepared so you know enough to ask the hard questions.  I always admired Lisa Demer's tenacity in interviewing and not being easily brushed off - starting back in 2007 at the political corruption trials and later in Juneau.

    The last several nights @Auroranotify has been proclaiming northern lights and the sky's been clear, but I've only seen, one night, the palest-you-wouldn't-see-'em-if-you-weren't-looking-really-hard wisps of lights.  I just went out on the deck and nothing tonight either.

    Thursday, October 13, 2016

    Goodbye To The King of Thailand

    First let me send my condolences to my friends in Thailand.  This is a day that was long expected, yet when it actually happens it is still a shock.

    The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej,  was a daily part of my life for three years, when I taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer.  His picture was in every classroom, in every restaurant, in every house, in every shop, at the end of every movie when the audience stood up to a picture of the King and the national anthem.  I guess that could be a little creepy, except that everyone* revered the King and he was constantly visiting people all over the country, often opening hospitals for the poor, or agricultural projects in hill tribe villages.

    Memory is a tricky thing.  The only time I consciously remember seeing him in person was at a royal ploughing ceremony at Sanaam Luang (the open space in front of the King's palace in Bangkok).  The slides are dated June 1969, but it took several weeks for slides to come back from Australia or Hong Kong where I had to send them for developing then, so I'm guessing this was in May.

    This is the only picture I know of that I took of the King.  My sense is that I was present at other times when the King was in public, but nothing specific comes to mind.  The King is in the middle watching the ceremonial oxen passing him.

    Wikipedia offers some history of the ceremony:
    "In Thailand, the common name of the ceremony is Raek Na Khwan (แรกนาขวัญ) which literally means the "auspicious beginning of the rice growing season". The royal ceremony is called Phra Ratcha Phithi Charot Phra Nangkhan Raek Na Khwan (พระราชพิธีจรดพระนังคัลแรกนาขวัญ) which literally means the "royal ploughing ceremony marking the auspicious beginning of the rice growing season".[2] 
    This Raek Na Khwan ceremony is of Hindu origin. Thailand also observes another Buddhist ceremony called Phuetcha Mongkhon (พืชมงคล) which literally means "prosperity for plantation". The royal ceremony is called Phra Ratcha Phithi Phuetcha Mongkhon (พระราชพิธีพืชมงคล).[3] The official translation of Phuetcha Mongkhon is "Harvest Festival".[4] 
    King Mongkut combined both the Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies into a single royal ceremony called Phra Ratcha Phithi Phuetcha Mongkhon Charot Phra Nangkhan Raek Na Khwan (พระราชพิธีพืชมงคลจรดพระนังคัลแรกนาขวัญ). The Buddhist part is conducted in the Grand Palace first and is followed by the Hindu part held at Sanam Luang, Bangkok.[5]"

    Here are a couple more pictures from that day.

    I had taught English for two years in Kamphaengphet, a wonderful quiet upcountry province.  In 1969 I was serving a third year as a primary school supervisor for English teachers.  I was living in a room at an elementary school - Wat Rakhang - across the river from the King's palace and Sanam Luang.

    Here's the ferry I took to get from the Bangkok side of the river to the Thonburi side where I lived.  In those days the weekend market - now at Chatuchak - was also located at Sanam Luang.  It was a much smaller enterprise.  While much of Bangkok has been totally transformed, the area around the King's palace and right across the river in what was then Thonburi, is comparatively unchanged.

    There's much to say about Thailand now and the potential turmoil that has been expected to follow the King's death - he's been living in a hospital, not far from where I lived for several years now.  The Crown Prince has had a very public playboy life while his sister has been the one who has followed in the spirit of King Bhumipol and visited villages and helped promote the well being of Thais around the Kingdom, particularly the poor.  She greeted returned Peace Corps volunteers at the 45th anniversary of Peace Corps Thailand.  The King was 88 and was the longest serving monarch in the world.  I think that title now transfers to Queen Elizabeth.

    I haven't kept close watch on Thai politics, but with King Bhumibol now gone, all sorts of forces are unleashed.  Here's New Mandela's article What Now?  And here's Asian Correspondent's story on the succession, coincidently, it includes a picture of the Crown Prince at the Ploughing Ceremony last May.

    Here's a link to a post I did in 2009 when I ran into a picture of the King (in a coffee shop) with Elvis Presley. 

    *Not quite everyone.  In the south of Thailand the Muslim population was less enamored.  And I remember how shocked I was at the end of a movie in the south when people just walked out ignoring the national anthem.

    I'd finally note that I was rather lucky finding these slides amongst the many stashed away and only vaguely sorted.  I was also able to find a little slide viewer which I used to take pictures of the slides.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    Using Your Fame To Prey On Women Is NOT The Same As Defending Yourself From A Woman Sleeping With Your Husband

    Marjorie Dannenfelser is the president of the pro-life organization, the Susan B. Anthony List.  She was interviewed this morning by reporter Steve Innskeep on NPR's Morning Edition.

    She strongly objected to Trump’s words about assaulting women on the tape that was released last week.
     “What we just heard . . . is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable.  It is not to be set aside.  The assault and offense of women.  You know for any woman who has ever been assaulted, this is a trigger moment for them.  It brings back a flood of memories that are horrible and that’s no excuse. ”
    But then she goes on.  
    “For any woman who has been assaulted  and then ignored, or blamed, they should be upset by Hillary Clinton’s behavior and her treatment of the women that in a serial fashion, went through her husband’s life.  She then blamed and destroyed, ridiculed, ignored.  When you think about the women on college campuses today who often are having that happen to them, that’s a trigger moment for them.” 

    Steve Innskeep interjects to say that fact checkers only have evidence that Clinton did publicly attack Jennifer Flowers, but they found no evidence that she had attacked other women who’d had relations with her husband. 

    Let’s get this straight.  

    Clinton, a married woman, ‘attacking’ a woman who had an affair with her husband, IS NOT anywhere near a moral equivalent to Trump’s bragging about using his celebrity and power to get away with sexual assaults on non-consenting women.

    These are totally different behaviors, with totally different motivations and consequences. 

    In fact Dannenfelser’s wording - in both cases she talks uses almost the exact same phrasing - raises questions for me about who helped her script this interview.  

    About Trump:  “for any woman who has ever been assaulted, this is a trigger moment for them.”

    About Clinton:  “For any woman who has been assaulted  and then ignored, or blamed . . . When you think about the women on college campuses today who often are having that happen to them, that’s a trigger moment for them.” 

    That grammatical symmetry is not accidental.  These comments were scripted to make them sound like the moral equivalent of each other.  

    It also helps her rationalize that despite Trump’s behavior - and we have to remember it’s not just this tape but his behavior throughout the campaign and his business career that is being challenged daily - her single issue of ending abortion is important enough to overlook everything else in Trump’s record.

    I'd note that our polarized culture - and the media have assisted in exacerbating people's ideological differences - makes it hard for people like Dannenfelser to consider the possibility that working with her 'enemy' might actually help reduce the number of abortions.  Planned Parenthood - the icon the anti-abortionists use as the enemy - counsels women on birth control and does a significant job in preventing unwanted pregnancies.

    I'd argue that Trump as a candidate has been a role model for increasing the number of, in Dannenfelser's words, "outrageous and unacceptable" behaviors among his followers that will lead to unwanted pregnancies.  And as president, Trump's model would probably cause the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions to go up.  

    Life is complicated.  The simple cause and effect relationships that people glom onto, tend to be far more complex.  Think about the Three Strikes You're Out legislation that was supposed to cut down on crime, but instead swelled the US prison population, hugely increasing the costs, and ruining the lives of countless people who were no danger to anyone.

    The anti-abortion movement has the same perverse consequences.  They throttle the most effective anti-abortion organization because 3% of its work involves abortions.  And they send the most reactionary, bigoted men to Congress, simply because they say they oppose abortions.  

    But that is exactly what the larger script writers intended.  To get those who think in simple cause-effect relations into voting Republican.  Talk about trigger words - the conservative movement has been masterful in creating sound bites to get people angry and voting.  

    Of course, it plays well with Trump’s hardcore supporters, many of whom, I’m guessing, were not offended by the tape.  Clinton’s supporters dismiss it as soon as they hear who Dannenfelser is, perhaps even without even listening to and parsing it out. 

    And I doubt such arguments work any more with independent voters.  

    Tuesday, October 11, 2016

    Glorious Morning

    Here's what I saw this morning when a friend dropped her 3 month old off.  This isn't a regular gig, but they needed some back up and when we're far from our grandkids, we're more than happy to help out now and then.

    Today would also be my step-father's 100th birthday.  And it's the anniversary of my father's death.  So having new life around is wonderful.  We raked some leaves this morning and now she's napping so I have a moment to post something, but nothing too long.

    I'd note that Yom Kippur begins at sunset tonight as well and from sunset today until sunset tomorrow we fast.  It will be time to ask forgiveness for all the wrongs we've done to others over the year and to forgive those who have wronged us.  Even if one doesn't believe in God, one can take part in these important acts.  From ReformJudaism:
    "Yom Kippur means "Day of Atonement" and refers to the annual Jewish observance of fasting, prayer and repentance. Part of the High Holidays, which also includes Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. In three separate passages in the Torah, the Jewish people are told, "the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self-denial."(Leviticus 23:27). Fasting is seen as fulfilling this biblical commandment. The Yom Kippur fast also enables us to put aside our physical desires to concentrate on our spiritual needs through prayer, repentance and self-improvement. 
    Yom Kippur is the moment in Jewish time when we dedicate our mind, body, and soul to reconciliation with God, our fellow human beings, and ourselves. We are commanded to turn to those whom we have wronged first, acknowledging our sins and the pain we might have caused. At the same time, we must be willing to forgive and to let go of certain offenses and the feelings of resentment they provoked in us. On this journey we are both seekers and givers of pardon. Only then can we turn to God and ask for forgiveness: 'And for all these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement.'”