Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Alaska Jewish Museum & Community Center Land Exchange

We got a notice in the mail about an "Informational Meeting" about a proposed land swap 'related to the development of the Alaska Jewish Museum and Community Center." It was at Rogers Park Elementary School library. We got there a little late and it was fairly crowded - maybe 35 people or so.

(If you click on the picture you can get a larger version.)

Basically, the group owns a one acre parcel on 36th Avenue (the grey line on the bottom of the map). 36th is a four lane road that goes through two residential neighborhoods and carries a lot of traffic to the University of Alaska Anchorage. There are no commercial properties until you get further east or west. There's a church across the street from the property. There is a wetland area designated Jaobson park next to the site, and another park, David Green Park across 36th, which has a playground. A couple houses face 36th in the last block or so before the university. So as you drive this stretch you mostly green from fenced back yards, park, or wetlands. (Well now you see mostly white.)

The currently owned parcel is the orange rectangle at the bottom left of the map. Right now there is only a mikva on that lot, and it was built about 8 years ago. A mikva, a ceremonial bathhouse. According to

"... the most important and general usage of mikvah is for purification by the menstruant woman.

For the menstruant woman, immersion in a mikvah is part of a larger framework best known as Taharat Hamishpachah (Family Purity). As with every area of Jewish practice, Family Purity involves a set of detailed laws; namely, the "when," "what," and "how" of observance. Studying with a woman who is experienced in this field is the time-honored way of gaining familiarity and comfort with the practice. In cities or communities with large Jewish populations, there may be classes one can join. The majority of women, however, come by this knowledge through a more personal one-on-one encounter. While books are a poor substitute for a knowledgeable teacher, select titles can be used as a guide to this ritual or for quick reference (see suggested book list in appendix to this essay). What follows is only a brief overview of these laws. It is not, and was not intended to be, a substitute for proper study of this subject.

Family purity is a system predicated on the woman's monthly cycle. From the onset of menstruation and for seven days after its end, until the woman immerses in the mikvah, husband and wife may not engage in sexual relations. To avoid violation of this law, the couple should curtail their indulgence in actions they find arousing, putting a check on direct physical contact and refraining from physical manifestations of affection. The technical term for a woman in this state is Niddah (literal meaning: to be separated).

Exactly a week from when the woman has established the cessation of her flow, she visits the mikvah. Immersion takes place after nightfall of the seventh day and is preceded by a requisite cleansing. The immersion is valid only when the waters of the mikvah envelop each and every part of the body and, indeed, each hair. To this end, the woman bathes, shampoos, combs her hair, and removes from her body anything that might impede her total immersion."

It was also interesting to read on that website that:

"Today it is not just a Jewish metropolis that can boast a mikvah. In remote, even exotic, locations- Anchorage, Alaska, and Bogota, Colombia; Yerres, France, and Ladispoli, Italy; Agadir, Morocco, and Asuncion in Paraguay; Lima, Peru, and Cape Town, South Africa; Bangkok, Thailand, and Zarzis, Tunisia; and almost every city in the C.I.S. (former Soviet Union) -- there are kosher and comfortable mikvahs and rabbis and rebbetzins willing and able to assist any woman in their use."

At the meeting there was some disagreement about what was said when the mikvah was built. One man said that it was only going to be a mikva, and no they were not planning to build anything else. Rabbi Greenberg, standing in this picture, said they had always planned to build a synagogue there, but at the time they didn't have enough money to do that as well. But now they have decided to also have a Jewish Museum attached as well. They have enough room for the synagogue and the museum on the one acre. According to John Nabors, the project manager, the buildings can take up to 30% of the property and thus the synagogue and attached museum meet that requirement. The problem comes in because "the city requires parking..." for about 70 cars. So they would like the parcel in yellow next to the orange box for parking. That is part of the designated Class A wetlands (Otis Lake drains into this area) owned by the city. Lot 14 - the backwards L shaped Yellow in the upper right quadrant of the map - is owned by people involved with the synagogue and they want to swap that land for the parcel next to the proposed building.

T There was a lot of discussion about drainage. An engineer, an architect, and a landscape architect all spoke. A woman from the Anchorage Waterways Council was also there and answered questions, such as, "It appears to me that the parcel they want to trade which is practically unbuildable because of the water is much less valuable than the parcel with frontage on 36." She said, (I'm paraphrasing) "You are absolutely right from a real estate perspective. The land on 36th is much more valuable. But from an ecologically standpoint, Lot 14 is far more valuable. The 36th lot has been filled in by the City when they widened 36th to four lanes. The City essentially destroyed that part of the wetland."

There was discussion about neighborhood basements being flooded. There were promises made that the footpaths from the neighborhoods through the wetland to 36th would be preserved for the public use. And that the parking lot would be open to the public to visit Jacobson Park and that the synagogue group would donate $100,000 to make improved access to the park. And all of this is in writing in the brochures announcing the meeting.

So, this was a meeting put on by the people who want to build. It was not a community council meeting, nor a city run meeting. John Nabors said at the very beginning of the meeting that they have not applied for any permits and so the city really has no official position on this. But they have spent a lot of time talking to people at the City from the mayor to people in the various departments that will be involved in permitting.

The apparent purpose of the meeting was engage the community in dialogue and win their support prior to an Assembly meeting on Feb 13 at which time the Assembly will vote on putting the land swap on the ballot for April 3. If that is passed, then there needs to be Corps of Engineer Approval for building on the wetlands, and various other approvals. The land swap will be contingent on all the other "dominoes falling into place."

We left the meeting after about 2 hours so I'm not sure what else was discussed. Nobody, by that time, had raised the question that had been brought up during the legislative session about the $850,000 that was appropriated by the Alaska Legislature last spring for the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and Community Center. Some people had been concerned about the state giving money for religious purposes. It was argued that the museum would cover the history of the Jewish people in Alaska, not be a center to celebrate religious practices, though most Jewish Community Centers do have various religious ceremonies and activities in them. The fact that the synagogue and the museum will essentially be one large building would seem to bring that question up again. Is someone going to audit how the money is spent to be sure that the state isn't funding the practice of a religion? If you look at the list of other projects funded by the legislature you'll see some other museums. I just took the A's a little past Alaska Jewish Museum on the list. Is the Alaska Native Heritage Center different from a synagogue? They cover the history and traditions of the various Alaska Native peoples. They even have various dancing and other traditional native spiritual activities. Is that different?

Grant RequestedProject Name Grant Approved
Other Anchorage Organizations
African American Historical Society - Resources, Equipment & Supplies $30,000
Airport Heights Community Council - Community Patrol Supplies $10,000
Alaska Air Show Association - Arctic Thunder Air Show $61,000
Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum: Building Demolition, Facility Improvements, and construction $750,000
Alaska Energy Authority - Study of Operating the Electrical Intertie Grid $800,000
Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and Community Center $850,000
Alaska Judicial Observers, Recruit/Screen/Train $30,000
Alaska Native Heritage Center Expansion $250,000
Alaska State Troopers Museum - Archive Program $200,000

Overall, the meeting was very civil. John Nabors wanted badly to have an organized, rational, linear presentation from the beginning to the end. The sort of thing that gives one a good overview of the whole project, and is often fairly boring to listen to. Various members of the audience asked questions that took things in other areas, but were more interesing to listen to. The times I've met Rabbi Greenberg, he has greatly impressed me by his wisdom, knowledge, and decency. For a Lubavitch rabbi, he has made various adaptations to accommodate for the realities of Alaska life. He has had relatively good relations with the Reform synagogue in town, and a number of Jews attend both synagogues. Some congregants drive to services, not something normally done at orthodox synagogues. He studied in Jewish Schools where they do not explore the American constitution, so I wonder about his understanding of the subtleties of the separation of church and state. Bit given his scholarly mind, I'm sure he has explored the issue.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves. Given the rampant development in Anchorage, the fact that wetlands are being filled in right and left, I suspect that this project will proceed as scheduled and that this organization will make sincere efforts to be good neighbors.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Intimate Partner Violence Prevention

So what is intimate partner violence? That was one of the topics discussed in small groups at an all day meeting I went to yesterday. The other tricky question is what is the difference between prevention and intervention? I've been over this territory this year as part of another group of some of the same people who were there yesterday.

Basically, we are talking about domestic violence, plus. Domestic violence would be husband-wife or couples living together, and various combinations of exes. The plus would add to this same sex couples and people who are dating, including those who may not be having sexual relations. So this would include kids who are dating. As I understand this, this plus stuff is intended to increase the types of people who are covered. Violence goes from the obvious physical to verbal and psychological. It includes things like stalking and other controlling kinds of behavior. [WARNING: Don't quote me on any of this. I'm still trying to work it all out in my own mind. You can look up "Intimate Partner Violence Prevention" on google and see what everyone says. Or go to the CDC site and see what they say.

Prevention is a term the CDC is pushing hard. Their intent as I understand it, is to put more money and programs into preventing intimate partner violence before it even begins. The basic strategy is to expose people - younger people mostly - to how to have healthy relationships, particularly relationships that have a romantic or sexual aspect.

So the grant money is not allowed to be spent on intervention. Intervention being actions taken to stop already occuring intimate partner violence. The dilemma comes when you try to separate the two. Some things are obvious. The police coming to arrest a batterer is clearly intervention. Working with the battered spouse to help prevent future incidents as well as doing the same with the batterer tends to be seen, by the CDC, as intervention rather than prevention. They have terms like primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention that tries to make these distinctions. I strongly support the focus on prevention. That is why I'm even involved with this project. For every couple that could turn to violence to resolve their differences but who learn how to resolve those differences in other ways, our community saves a lot of future time and money doing intervention. It also saves a lot of time and money for other family members and friends whose lives are interrupted by such violence. But people who are at the forefront of this issue, almost necessarily are involved with intervention. They have to be doing both. Yes, we want to stop future violence, but if there are battered folks right now, they can't be ignored.

In any case, the emphasis on prevention is wise in the long term. And the debates that the distinctions cause are probably good because they make the participants think about all the implications. What about kids who witness violence at home? Is working with them intervention or prevention, for example. But this is almost a chicken and egg debate and after the discussion, with heightened awareness, the people directly involved need to be given some leeway to make common sense decisions about how the intepret this. Since there seems to be pretty good evidence that many batterers were battered or witnessed battering as children, they are the likeliest to become violent later, and thus the group where prevention would have the biggest long term impact.

We didn't spend a lot of time yesterday discussing this. Most of our time was in small groups determining how we are going to develop a statewide plan to prevent intimate partner violence. Different groups took different aspects of the tasks - getting an inventory of already available resources to document what we already know from existing data about the issue; developing the plan itself; setting up an evaluation protocol; dissemination of the plan and the information in it. I was extremely impressed by the competence and commitment of the 20 or so members of the steering committee. They represent expertise at various levels - from people currently working directly with youth and couples to higher level administrators, planners, and researchers. And while we could have more representation, we did have males as well as females, Hispanics and Alaska Natives as well as whites. And rural as well as urban residents. There was no bickering, even over the definitions. Everyone seemed to understand the inherent problems of defining terms, the importance of working on it, and the need to not worry about resolving all the loose ends. I think this has the potential to be a project that makes a difference in the lives of Alaskans.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

American Soldiers Abducted by Group Disguised as Americans

Story of soldiers' slayings revealed slowly
Correspondent's tenacity helped unearth the truth

Anchorage Daily News

Published: January 28, 2007
Last Modified: January 28, 2007 at 03:34 AM

BAGHDAD -- I was nearly done eating today when Hussam Ali, our stringer from Karbala, buzzed the gate to our floor and charged into the room.
Hussam is thin like a runner. His cheekbones look sculpted and his skin is darker than olive. He has a thin mustache. And he was excited like any reporter with a big, big story.
Hussam had been up well past 2 a.m., talking on the phone to bureau chief Leila Fadel about the events of a week ago Saturday in his town. That's when four American soldiers, most likely all from Fort Richardson, were abducted and executed, still handcuffed, following a brazen raid on a provincial government compound.
Army officials finally acknowledged the abductions last night in a press release e-mailed to media 11 p.m. Iraq time. Prior to that, the official story made it sound like the soldiers had died in battle, not murdered in, or just outside, the Chevy Suburbans abandoned by the attackers miles from the compound.
But Hussam began discovering the truth earlier this week, having heard from the police in the neighboring town of Hilla, where the Suburbans -- and the slain Americans -- were found. But the U.S. Army refused to confirm or deny the account until The Associated Press sent a report over its wire last night. . . .

At dusk on Saturday, Jan. 20, Hussam was in his house, a few hundred yards from the compound, when he heard a huge explosion. He raced out the door and headed toward the sound of gunfire. Early-arriving pilgrims in the streets were scattering. Hussam thought a mortar had landed in their midst. Then he saw smoke rising from the compound. Was it a car bomb, he wondered?
With snipers on the roofs, he didn't want to get too close to the walls. He took cover beside a police car abandoned in the middle of the street. He was on the opposite site of the compound from the gate. He could see military vehicles burning inside but not the Suburbans roaring off with their captives.
Women and children were racing out of a small door in the wall to his left. They had been visiting their men in jail. Hussam asked what they had seen, but they wouldn't talk to him.
It grew very dark. The power was cut. The gunfire had stopped. Hussam made his way to the gate. The guards were still jumpy and excited. He asked them who the attackers were.
"Americans! It was the Americans!" they shouted.
As surreal as Iraq can be, that still made no sense to Hussam. But the attackers came up in a half-dozen or more Suburbans, just like Americans travel. They had U.S. documents and wore U.S. uniforms. At least one was very light-skinned and spoke in English. {Get the whole Anchorage Daily News story clicking here.]

Think about what this means. Iraqi insurgents or maybe Al-Qaida, or Iranians got US vehicles, or US looking vehicles, dressed in US uniforms, with US papers, breeze past the checkpoint, attack, and kidnap four American soldiers. One of the reasons I thought our invasion of Iraq was a mistake from the beginning was that I knew we were sending young American troops into a culture they knew nothing about, where people speak a language they don't understand. As a former Peace Corps volunteer who lived as the only American in a small Northern Thai provincial capital for a year (a second volunteer showed up the second year) I understand a little bit about living in a foreign culture. And we had enough intensive Thai language training before we left that I could get by in Thai (emphasis on 'get by') when I arrived. That was good because my Thai was better than the English of most of the people I met. I know how totally ignorant I was - despite our language and cultural training - when I arrived. And the more language and culture I learned, the more I realized how much more there was that I would never comprehend.

So our troops were going to be dependent on Arabic speaking interpreters. But how do you know which interpreters are on 'our' side? So we are in a country, where, for the most part, we are dependent on bi-lingual Iraqis for communication. Yes, I know there are some American soldiers trained in Arabic, just like I was trained in Thai. I could get by, but I certainly didn't understand everything they were saying, or the nuances, or even the irony.

And the war is in their home territory. Where they know when things feel abnormal. Where they have relatives and friends. Where they know the shortcuts between the houses, between the towns. Where they had secret hiding places as kids. US soldiers know none of this.

And many of them speak English. Certainly far more Iraqis speak pretty good English than American troops speak even the most basic Arabic. I know about translators, because a person in my town took English lessons from me because she wanted to deal directly with the foreigners building the road in our area when she negotiated with them to lease the dump trucks she owned. The Thai translator the foreigners had was shaking down all the would-be contractors for kickbacks. In the end, she woke me up one morning at 6am insisting I had to come as her translator because her English wasn't good enough yet. And afterward the foreigners offered me the job as translator, because they knew theirs wasn't conveying everything honestly. (I didn't take the job, I had my classes to teach.) And I know about translators because of a research trip to Beijing with my Hong Kong college students. My students quietly told me what was actually being said as opposed to what the translator had conveyed. This wasn't about bribes, but about Chinese ideas of what is appropriate and inappropriate to say. So that my questions sometimes were rephrased, which explained why the answers made little sense sometimes. Also, because direct translations from one language to another are very difficult to make. The translations are literally accurate, but the words in English don't mean what they mean in the original language.

So already, just the problems of going into a different country, without knowing the culture, without having historical links and personal connections, put us in a real disadvantage. In this newsreport, it is the Iraqi reporter who lives in the neighborhood, was there when the kidnapping took place, and could go around and ask the soldiers and others what happened, who got the story. Not the American journalists trapped in the green zone. [after reading the blog I need to correct this, he isn't in the Green Zone, but he has been, so far, trapped in his hotel.] So even the journalists are relying on the word of Iraqis who may well be accurate reporters of what happened, or could even be plants for the opposition. It takes a while to develop the kind of relationship and cultural sensitivity to know the difference.

Aside from my own overseas experience, the film, Battle of Algiers, about the uprising in Algiers that eventually got the French out and gained Algeria's independence, taught me long ago how difficult it is to fight an urban war in a foreign land against a united people. I was glad to see the film was on the must-see list in Washington, DC a couple of years ago. Apparently the right people didn't see it, or if they did, thought like the French, that they knew better. Given our involvement in Iraq and Afganistan, I think all Americans ought to slip down to their video rental store and check it out. Even if they have to read the subtitles.

But all of those comments are just background for the real importance of this story. First, note that in the story "At least one was very light-skinned and spoke in English." There is an assumption that Americans are 'very light skinned." Or that Iraqis are not. Of course, we know that the US military is made up of soldiers of every shade of skin.

Second, whoever conducted this raid, understood the Americans far better than the Americans understand them. They were able to disguise themselves as Americans. These are people every bit as smart as the smartest Americans over there, but they have the advantage of knowing the home culture and language, as well as knowing enough of the American culture and language to pull pretending to be Americans.

This report suggests that up to now soldiers riding in US looking vehicles and wearing US uniforms and carrying US papers and speaking at least some English, have been assumed to be Americans and they pretty much get waved through the checkpoints. If that is true, and this news story is true, then American soldiers are no longer going to be able to trust American soldiers. Not only will they be fighting the 'enemy,' they now have to be very careful of their own troops, who may actually be the enemy.

And given that many of our troops are brown skinned and have accents, what is going to happen to the morale in our troops? Are American soldiers who look like they could be 'them' and don't speak accent-free American English going to be suspect? I would guess that might have been one of the objectives of the raid - to sow doubt among American soldiers about who is actually American.

After I wrote this, I went back to the Anchorage Daily News website and began reading Rich Mauer's blog. I know Rich and talked to him a couple weeks ago because he'd written such a good piece on the FBI investigation of Alaskan politicians. That's when I learned he was headed for Iraq. Reading his blog reinforces all the stuff I've said above about knowing the language and the culture. So far Rich is locked up in a dark hotel room getting news from Iraqi reporters and news wires. You can read his blog yourself. But reporting is different from running a military campaign. We need lots of eyes and ears. As someone who's just been plucked off the streets of Anchorage (he's got good reporting skills, but his experience in Iraq is not much different from most others in Anchorage) he will see and hear things that are different from what more experienced Iraq hands will see. All is new and different and his eye is more like the average Alaskan's, so perhaps his reporting will connect to them more. His blog reports are certainly interesting. In addition to checking out Rich's blog, you might also want to check out the website and blog of Dahr Jamail, another person from Anchorage who has been covering Iraq as an independent reporter for several years now. When wandering around the streets of Bagdad got too dangerous, he pulled out of Iraq, and is now reporting about the mideast more generally.

Bohemian Waxwings and the Mountain Ash Trees

Our living room window faces south, so when the waxwings come to feast on our berries I'm always filming into the light. (The sun is basically on the southern horizon all winter when they come to claim their prizes from the Mountain Ash trees.) And this being the first time I videoed the birds, using my digital camera, I totally forgot about the sound. Luckily, the music on the radio is ok, unfortunately, my wife was talking on the phone. But, for the time being, I'll post it as a way to entice you to find links to better pictures of these beautiful birds. And as a reminder to others who might forget their camera is recording sound as well as video.

These are the second set of tree trimmers maintaining our mountain ash trees.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Spring - A Sneak Preview

Wow, the sun was streaming in the windows this morning. The plows had been pushing all the snow into the middle of the road and were finally loading them into trucks to haul away. The sky was blue. It seemed like it had been a long time. A column in today's paper confirmed it. It has snowed in Anchorage 22 of the last 25 days! So that's why I've given up running for shoveling snow. And why the snow kept getting plowed, but never cleared.

I finally started digging out a parking space because I couldn't park in the street any more without blocking the street. You can see Jan 10, then Jan 12 almost ready. Wednesday a city pickup was blocking our driveway. The lady said, "They're going to plow the street on the 26th, so you have to move the car. But since it's a VW van - and I have one too - I was going to knock on your door instead of leaving a yellow notice on your car." She was very nice and friendly, but that doesn't seem like a very efficient way to notify people.

If my car hadn't been parked there when she came by, I wouldn't have know they were coming today. But since she told me, I parked it in the driveway yesterday, and well before that sun was up and streaming, we heard snow removal equipment. They started at about 7am in the neighborhood, and they were still at it at 3pm.

Here's the street all blocked up since early January. And today after it was all cleared.

But, we have our street back. It really is nice to have a parking place I don't have to carefully squeeze into because of the snow all around. On the other hand, it was starting to get cozy on the street. Now it looks so wide and bare. Not complaining. Especially since it was 42 F (yes, above, it doesn't get that cold here) which means some melting and certainly that will turn to ice when it freezes again. At least up to now, it's stayed below freezing and the worst we had was hard packed snow, not ice. But they've cleared the streets, so that will minimize the mess.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Taylor Branch

One of the best parts of my college education was the almost weekly appearance of prominent speakers at UCLA. For the most part these were well known people - recent Time magazine covers - and being able to see and hear, and in some cases talk to, the human beings behind the mythical characters portrayed on television, magazines, and books when a long way to making me realize that, in fact, famous, even great, people, were first of all just people. Two of the most memorable were Margeret Mead and George Wallace. Sitting on the floor around the famed anthropologist with 20 other students and talking to her was like leaving reality and entering into the magical world of books and media.

Wallace was governor of Alabama. Alabama was seething with demonstrators. Police and marchers were in daily conflict over the contradiction between the US Constitution and the Jim Crow laws of the South. The shocking images of dogs attacking, and police beatings unarmed and peaceful demonstrators were on television every night. Wallace was clearly one of the devil's emissaries. What could he possibly say or do that could change our minds? Obviously, nothing. When I got to the auditorium about an hour early - I knew it would be crowded - the first three or four rows were already filled with Black students. By the time he came to the stage, the room was packed and there was a collective tension and anticipation. I don't remember what he said, but within five minutes of taking the stage, Wallace's humor, charisma, and obvious intelligence had disarmed the audience. We laughed at his jokes and we listened to his words. We didn't agree with his beliefs about segregation, but there was obviously much more to this man than I, and I'm sure most of the audience, was prepared for. And it made it much easier to understand why the people of Alabama had elected him. It had a profound impact on how I evaluated people from then on - particularly those I only knew through the media. It began opening me to see the myths we absorb as we grow up. As any people grow up. I'd bought into all the demonizing of this man. Don't misunderstand me here, I still believe the legally sanctioned segregation was abhorrent. But I learned that human beings were much more complicated than I'd ever imagined.

So I'm pleased to say that in the last few years, the University of Alaska Anchorage has hosted far more prominent speakers on campus. Jared Dimond, Francis Collins, and Alan Lightman all gave very powerful presentations last year. While these aren't speakers of the same national prominence, they are a start. Of course today, campus speaking has become much more of a business rather than an honor and public service, with the most sought after speakers earning tens of thousands of dollars for a presentation. Nevertheless, it is still important for us to see and hear in person, the people we see on the flat screen.

In any case, tonight we heard Taylor Branch speak. He said a number of significant things. What he said about the importance of myth and stories in our culture and how they shape what we think and do goes right to the heart of my last publications. He also told stories of his childhood - how his stories shaped his knowing of the world. The black employee at his father's Dry Cleaners with whom his father had a real friendship, and how Taylor joined the two of them at Atlanta Cracker baseball games. Except that at the stadium, the employee had to sit in the colored section while he and his dad sat in the white section. How shocked he was when his father spoke at the employee's funeral, and cried. And how he somehow knew as a child that this topic of race relationships was not to be discussed. Harold Napolean talks about great silence among Alaska Natives, how the great epidemics that wiped out Alaska Native villages in the late 19th and early 20th Century were also not spoken about. Which was also true about children of holocaust survivors generally not hearing from their parents' stories. I know I never asked about what had happened to my grandparents who never got out of Germany. It was a subject that just wasn't to be raised, and I didn't until I was in my twenties.

He also talked about his battles with the academics at Princeton who discouraged him from doing his policy research summer trying to register black voters in rural Georgia, because real research was done at established institutions. And how turning in his summer diary was also frowned on, but he insisted because Washington policy and what he experienced were two totally different realities. This too resonated with how my experiences as a student in Germany and a teacher in rural Thailand taught me - experientially - what my later graduate programs didn't cover. And how, in his case, one faculty managed to help him get parts of his diary published.

And in terms of substance, he argued that there are three American myths that prevent us from seeing the important and positive legacy of the civil rights movement in the United States. Myth 1 - Race is both 'solved' and 'unsolvable.' Once the laws that specifically blocked access to equality were ended, the other actions, like Affirmative Action were too idealistic and ineffective because these things just can't be solved through government. Myth 2 - Politics failed in the 1960's, it overreached itself. Basically, that Government is bad. Myth 3 - Violence is the strength of the US. The importance and contribution of the non-violence of the civil rights movement is not understood or even seen. It's influence in the rest of the word - the non-violent overthrow of the Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations, for example - is not acknowledged.

I've paraphrased these fairly briefly, and don't do him justice here. Though I'm a firm believer that what he is calling myths and stories and narratives are, in fact, often unconscious and uncritcally believed. And when they are wrong, their basic invisibility and the taboo on challenging them, as was the case of segregation in the South, prevents us from even considering other possibilities. One example he gave was how various Southern politicians argued loudly that the only way integregation could come to the South was through violent imposition and this would never succeed. That integration would destroy the South. Branch argued that, in fact, as soon as the blight of forced legal segregation was ended, the South could join the rest of the nation. Major league sports moved into the South. Southern politicians could be considered for President (Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Bush) of the US, and the economy took off. The energy that had been spent enforcing segregation, and the suppressed potential of Black Southerners, were now available for more positve work.

City Moose

How can something as enormous as a moose become invisible in the middle of town? Well, see if you can find this one lying down in my neighbor's front yard.

Here's the moose just a few minutes before, eating snow. Well, there isn't much open water around.

But even in this enlarged picture it is almost impossible to see the moose unless you know it is there. It's the brown area between the two trees, lying down in the snow. Part is sticking out slightly to the left of the left tree.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Borat and post Borat

I think we were preparing for or gone to India when Borat first opened here. This week it's at the Bear Tooth, our favorite movie theater where you can have dinner while you eat and movies are only $3.

So after all the hype it seemed to me that Borat was Everything is Illuminated plus Candid Camera with no boundaries. It would have been hard to take all the Jew jokes if Cohen weren't Jewish. Making that a running theme, sort of gave him permission to hit on everyone else.

[Hey, I know the pics are fuzzy, but it was dark and I don't like using the flash, and here especially it would have been tacky. Anyway, you get the point of how the Bear Tooth works.]

I got to talk about it afterward at a returned peace corps volunteer party - with people who hadn't seen the film, but had heard about it. In Germany it is illegal to publicly deny the holocaust. For an American, that grates badly against my First Amendment sensitivities. Our ideology is that if your ideas are good, through open discussion they will win out. Suppressing people's thought only drives it underground. I say ideology there because I'm sure the Founding Fathers did little or no empirical study on this and we know that those who can control access to information or to dissemination media can screw up that assumption, at least in the short run. But it seems to me that neo-Nazis are alive and well in Germany despite the prohibition.

Well, Borat made me realize how much we self censor in the US. Given what I see in the movies and on tv it's hard to believe that we self censor at all. But Borat really was over the top - especially in putting down lots of different types of people. And in exposing people who agreed with his racist, sexist, and other prejudiced ranting. (Though someone said they'd seen a tv interview of the car salesman - who told him how fast he needed to drive to kill Gypsies - who said he'd actually questioned his goal of killing gypsies and finally said 30 miles an hour to shut him up after constantly being asked the question. So we don't know what people really said and what was edited. But this wasn't supposed to be a documentary, it's a made up story, so I'll allow him that much.)

The point I'm trying to get to is that it is probably better to have people say this out loud where everyone can hear it, rebut it, etc. than to repress it and send it underground. Especially in the age of Google where anyone can get to anything anyway. The key is that children get the care, attention, and education they need so they don't feel so alienated in the first place, and so their crap detectors are working well.

I know I caught myself a couple of times thinking, "I shouldn't be laughing at this," and I suspect others felt the same. And if this starts a trend of similar movies we're in serious trouble. Actually, I don't think too many people could pull something like this off. Ideally, people who watched the movie started talking about why it was both terrible for him to say all those things and also ok. Life isn't simple.

And at the party I ran into Jack Dalton.. I knew him years ago when he was a student at UAA and a waiter at the Golden Pond restaurant, a Chinese restaurant run by Charlie, who now owns Charlie's Bakery. A long article in the Anchorage Daily News recently focused on how in college he began exploring his birth parents' Alaska Native culture and how he has a flourishing business now as a Story Teller using Alaska Native themes with modern twists. He gets contracts at school districts, museums, and other venues - including private homes - all over the country.

And thanks Sunny, for hosting the party

- it was a State of the Union party and I'd thought I missed it yesterday. But she emailed me today strongly suggesting I show up. I didn't catch the hint. It turned out I'd won the grand prize by guessing how many standing ovations the president got. (That's why it was today, so she could count that as well as use of different words such as democracy, terrorist, math (Sunny teaches math)). Anyway, by her count there were 3.5 standing ovations which I guessed exactly. And the prize is pretty neat - two tickets to the Pamyua concert next Thursday.

[Hey I know these pictures aren't that sharp either, but it was fairly dark, don't like flash, etc. Sunny is the sunny one in the middle. And I figured it was ok to cut off Jack's head since you can see it in the other picture. You probably didn't even think to complain about cutting off his body from that one.]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

And the baby is now here

The shower has now resulted in its natural consequence. Saturday, after the ethics forum, I went over to Alaska Regional Hospital to welcome to the world young "I". Regional is like a ghost town. Almost no one around. But I found the mother-baby wing and the birthing room, Mom, Dad, and son. And my wife had gotten there before me.

One room for the mom, an extra bed for the dad, plenty of room for them to spend the time together with the baby. We didn't have that opportunity way back when. I had to leave Joan alone at the hospital. And the baby didn't stay with her all night. The nurse came in for something, the baby was feeding, so she just said, "No problem, I'll be back later." They could have used a small fridge. And the cafeteria wasn't open on the weekend, just a Subway.

Anchorage Folk Festival

So after seeing Babel Friday afternoon and having dinner at the Saigon Pho, I did a little work in the office and then we walked over to the Wendy Williamson Auditorium to catch a bit of the Anchorage Folk Festival. This wonderful show happens for two weekends every January, plus various other shows and workshops during the week. Most of the performers are local, but they also bring up one or two guest groups from Outside. And it is all free. You can see their website by clicking on the title above.
Anyway, we got there in time to hear the Alaska Native Heritage Dancers and the guest group from Hawaii, Ho'Omalie.

There's nothing I can say that can really capture the mood and great music, so I'm adding a short video clip. Alaska Native music and dance - and there are a lot of different language groups that have different traditions and ways of making music and dancing - are not something I was used to when we arrived in Alaska. It was hard to take the first few times I heard it. I really didn't know how to listen to it. But over the years I've grown to appreciate it. No, more than that. It really reaches inside me and touches vital parts of me. I used to think that Hawaiian Natives were luckier because their music is so easy for outsiders to appreciate. But, listening to the Alaska group followed by the Hawaiian group, I found myself saying, "Wow, the Hawiaains have nothing on the Alaskans tonight."

But you can judge for yourselves. I've made a tape with some short snippets of both. (I looked carefully through the program booklet to see if there was anything about not videotaping and could find nothing. Even so, I've kept the clips short like they do on sites that let you sample music before you buy it. I'm hoping that maybe someone might want to hear more of this. Or come to this weekend's part two.

You can see the schedule of events by clicking on the title of this post and going to the Festival website. Another part I haven't mentioned is all the groups hanging around the lobby and hallways jamming. The video starts out with such a group.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Babel and Pho

Wow! Babel caught the feel of each of its locations - Southern California, Northern Mexico, Moroco, and Tokyo. OK, I haven't been to Moroco, but there was something about the camera and the editing that picked up lots of little details that said to me, "This director is seeing the world differently than most American directors." Having spent a fair amount of time in non-Western countries, I recognized these images. (And, of course Alejandro González Iñárritu isn't a United States citizen.) I knew that the film connected these different locations and perhaps the critics who didn't like the film thought the connections were too easy - the American tourists in Moroco, connected to their children left in Southern California in the care of their Mexican nanny. That doesn't spoil anything and I won't reveal the Japanese connection. The more complex, and to me more significant institutional connections were not even touched on. That would be a legitimate critique. But I doubt that was what they didn't like.

Or perhaps they thought the portrayal of the industrial world citizens too negative and the citizens of Moroco and Mexico too positive. While I suspect that some groups of tourists would have reacted better, I know that the impatient Brit on the bus has very real models. And that American tourists as wrought up as Richard (Brad Pitt) are also not uncommon. And I suspect the alienation of the Japanese school girl is also real. And the Morocan police weren't portrayed all that positively and Santiago (Gael García Bernal) certainly made some pretty bad choices. The fact that Pitt's character had no family or friends who could take the kids for a while, seemed a bit hard for me to conceive. While the mobility of Americans pulls many from their connections, it seems a family as well off and established as this family ought to have been able to call on friends or relatives. Perhaps that was the Mexican stereotype of Americans who have abandoned their kids to Mexican caregivers.

It did make the Morocans - the goat herders and the villagers where Pitt and Blanchet awaited help - into human beings. They weren't complete people, but we got past the normal stereotypes we might have had. And the Mexican wedding was something anyone in any culture could understand.

Having the Japanese girl be deaf was an unexpected extra twist, showing her own alienation not only from her Dad (who could sign), but from other Japanese.

But all in all, a film depicting the problems of communications really takes us a step closer to being able to communicate with others. This was a film with a different perspective, one that I recognize as closer to the world I see, than most Hollywood films. For that reason, I applaud it.

We talked about the film afterward over Vietnamese noodles at Pho Saigon restaurant.

I did peruse some of the reviews of the movie. Most were pretty positive and the negative ones were mostly about the gap between what was attempted and what was achieved by the film makers. But this comment on Lisa Schwartzbaum review is what I thought the negative American reviews would look like:

"This is a great movie for elitist and (properly) self-loathing white American liberals. They can sit in their comfy theatre chairs and watch Brad Pitt go through all of his cliche'd UgAm histrionics, contrasted with the Deep Nobility of the 3rd World characters and smile their self-satisfied smiles and say to themselves "How awful THOSE types of Americans behave... no wonder the rest of the world hates us !" Then they can drive home in their Prius or other socially acceptable vehicle, pick up a little Starbuck's on the way ("they DO support the environment, you know"), and revel that their sense of being "emotionally drained" at this experience of High and Culturally Sensitive Art is the stamp of legitimacy on their highly evolved Liberal Sensibilities. Truly, their emotional reaction to this formulaic drivel is proof of their Great Worldliness.
I want my 10 bucks back."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ethics Hot Topic in Alaska these Days

Juneau Legislature studies ethics reform
LEGISLATURE: Gov. Palin releases report; lawmakers spend day in workshop.
The Associated Press

Published: January 19, 2007
Last Modified: January 19, 2007 at 02:06 AM

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sarah Palin and lawmakers agree ethics reform should be addressed in this legislative session, but to what degree and by whom is already causing some divisions.
The third day of the 25th Legislature was devoted to the issue as lawmakers attended a daylong ethics workshop while the governor held a news conference to announce a report from her two-man ad hoc ethics Cabinet.
Called "Ethics White Paper," the report was penned by former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea and Ethan Berkowitz, a former House Minority Leader and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. [Click on the title to link to the Anchorage Daily News for the rest of this story.]

Alaska Common Ground and the League of Women Voters have been working with the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics since last May to hold two public forums (one in Anchorage and one in Juneau) using the Outside experts brought to Alaska to do the training for the legislators and for their staff. I was asked to moderate the one in Anchorage. So Friday I was doing last minute preparations - communicating with the panelists about the questions and working with Peg Tileston, director of Alaska Common Ground.

Today (Saturday) was the forum at the Anchorage Senior Center and it seemed to go off well. Our Outside expert, Butch Speer from Louisiana gave a ten minute talk that put legislative ethics into national perspective. The indictment of one of our legislators is certainly not an isolated incident. (And one of the attendees today suggested there will be more indictments here before long.) The heads of the Alaska Public Offices Committee and the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics both had ten minutes to explain what their offices do. The panelists included Butch Speer, Arlis Sturgulewski (who's had a long career of civic activity including being a State Senator), Larry Persily (editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News), Jim Liszka (an university dean who has a book on morality), and Herman Walker (a public member of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics). Panelists did not give opening statements - it was all question and answer - and that seemed to move pretty well. Then the audience broke into groups and discussed what average citizens can do - and what they personally could do - to continue pressuring legislators to be more ethical.

Most of the attendees were people who are already pretty active in civic affairs and it would have been nice to see more younger people there. But as one participant pointed out, an answer to a story about how reporting unethical behavior is a sure way to ruin one's political career, a fairly recent whistleblower who would not go along with blatantly unethical behavior is now our governor.

Out North Independent Exposure

Since the fundraiser for Elvi was right near Out North, and it was almost 7 pm as we were leaving, we drove over, got our tickets and went in. Mike, the Director of Out North, told us they'd start when we were ready. It turned out we were the only two folks there for a Thursday night with fresh snow. We offered to take a snow check and let the projectionist and usher go home, but the usher was a volunteer and wanted to see them too, so we sat down and watched.

I wasn't all that impressed with this set of short films. There was interesting filming technique, but they seemed like assignments to show mastery of some technical skill and none really impressed me as a total film. There were a few that seemed better than others - Between You and Me - was technically neat and the story of a man interrupting a street assault and then finding the victim's digital camera on the street afterward was nice. But I think his using the pictures in the camera to track down the owner appealed the digital convert in me. Mostly it seemed pretty student film - not great student film, just better than average student films. We also need better quality projection equipment there.

But overall, just seeing the different ways people used their cameras was fun and, while the image with this post may not show it, got me thinking about things I could do. And wondering how they did the things they did in their films.

Local Elections

Wednesday night was a fundraiser for Sheila Selkregg's campaign for the Municipal Assembly. Her mother had this position when we got to Anchorage. Sheila's got great professional credentials and like her mom, she's doing this because she believes in community, in the possibility of creating a better place to live through technical skills, compassion, and imagination. There were a lot of people we hadn't seen for a while. It's great to have someone else take the time to invite people you want to catch up with.

And Thursday night was Elvi Gray-Jackson's fundraiser. I've known Elvi since the early 80's. She too is a strong, competent woman, passionately pursuing a better Anchorage. And we live in Elvi's district.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ears still work

My daughter's been pestering me for several years not to get my hearing tested. It does seem that I miss words here and there, especially in a noisy restaurant, but what I hear is often far more interesting than what the people are actually saying. But when my doctor said there was no wax blocking my right ear, I went to Costco for a hearing test. My wife, an audiologist in a former life. came along too. Joe Riggs at Costco took all the time I needed to find out who he was and his credentials - worked his way up from making hearng aids, knows a lot on the technical side - and was comfortable answering my questins. The audiogram showed a slight loss, but still within normal hearing range. No aids recommended. Dropoff was well above normal voice range.

And we learned that hearing aid vendors cannot charge for hearing tests in Alaska. But Costco needs to figure a better way to work with the hearing folks. Some guy knocked on the door in the middle of the testing to get an answer for a customer who I guess was in the checkout line. Normally they have two poeple there and they didn't want this other customer to wait too long. But you really shouldn't be interrupting a hearing test.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Where do these folks find all these words? Surge? The same letters also spell 'urges'. It rhymes with dirge and purge. Of course we know they didn't want to talk about an escalation which would remind older folks of Vietnam. But surge?

The first definition in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary is:

1: to rise and fall actively : TOSS (a ship surging in heavy seas)

So is this going to be the rise before the fall? The heavy seas doesn't bode well.

The fourth definition is the closest to what I guess Bush means.
4 : to rise suddenly to an excessive or abnormal value (the stock market surgeed to a record high)

Excessive or abnormal? Excessive doesn't bode well either. Abnormal, I guess that might fit.

Let's see, my blog had a surge of visitors last week, but the surge subsided this week. I did get what appears to be a hit from 'The Bestest Blog of All-Time" randomblog link.

From Sunset to Amnesty International to Ramin to Charity Navigator

Shot this sunset pic walking home from the University locker room, where I had to empty my locker before the new semester. Got home and got the mail. No, we don't have Sunday delivery, just forgot it yesterday.

In the mail was a donation request from Amnesty International. Which reminded me that there are people around the world sitting in prison because they said or did things, that we, in the U.S., take (or used to take) for granted. While I can enjoy the sunset, I thought about Ramin whom I met in Goa. Ramin was in an Iranian prison for four months in 2006 - without a view of the sunset. I wrote a long post about our conversations, but he aked that I not post it since he still has to face trial in Tehran this year. I mentioned him in an earlier post, that you can read here. There's a link at the previous post to more information about him. I also won't post his picture until he says it's ok.

So, now that I've asked you all to send stamps to India in the previous post, I'll also request you think of those less fortunate than you and do a little something to help them out. Being a political prisoner is one of the grimmest situations. (Yes, I know there are other equally grim situations, so we needn't waste time arguing over what is the grimmest.) You could be in isolation, you don't know how long you will be there, you don't know if your family even know where you are or even that you are alive. Your whole world is controlled and dominated by your captors. Amnesty International works to find out who is imprisoned and to get word to them that the world knows they are there. Also to pressure governments to get them out of prison and until they are out, to treat them more humanely. Their site also shows they do a lot more. And for those Americans who go to the site and get upset about their Guantanamo Bay campaigns, just remember that the Chinese, the Burmese, the Sudanese all react similarly when outsiders point out their flaws. Except, of course, for the victims and their families.

And I've talked about giving to charity smartly and mentioned Charity Navigator in an earlier post. Amnesty International got an overall rating from Navigator of 49.43, which sounded pretty low, but then I looked at how they did their ratings and the specific numbers for Amnesty. Amnesty got two stars ** out of four possible. Two stars means "Needs Improvement: Meets or nearly meets industry standards but underperforms most charities in its Cause." But since 50 points is the cutoff for three stars, Amnesty was just .57 points from *** which is "Good: Exceeds or meets industry standards and performs as well as or better than most charities in its Cause." The highest rated charity got 69.53 (The American Friends of I.D.C). **** (over 60 points) means "Exceptional: Exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its Cause" Amnesty did well on administrative costs (2.9%), but their fundraising costs (20.6%) lost them points in the ratings. The cutoff for fundraising is 20%. Had they raised another $1,366,700, (they did raise $40,612,588), they would have gotten a few more points and been in the 'good' category.

Charity Navigator's ratings. according to their site, are based exclusively on IRS Forms 990. There is no evaluation of how well the charities carry out their missions. Amnesty did win the Nobel Prize, so they have been pretty carefully scrutinized. I haven't investigated Charity Navigator the way they investigate charities.. Their website is extremely transparent. They tell you their exact methodology for rating. They also acknowledge that they are just one source of information that you need when donating to charity. They do give points differently to different kinds of organizations, based on various factors, But they don't seem to evaluate whether, say, a charity has one or two major regular donors, thus keeping down their fundraising to almost nothing. They also don't consider whether staff get health benefits. A charity that gives health benefits will clearly have a lower administrative efficiency (on Navigator's scale) than one that doesn't. (Thanks Monica for that point.)

But when you donate, visiting Charity Navigator will make you a far more sophistifated and effective donor. So go there now so you can bookmark the site. There are lots and lots of interesting things there. Here's their list (I've only copied the headings, not the explanations) of:

Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors

1. Be Proactive In Your Giving
2. Hang Up The Phone / Eliminate The Middleman
3. Be Careful Of Imposters and Sound-Alike Names cover the difference.
4. Confirm 501(c) (3) Status
5. Check The Charity's Commitment To Donor's Rights
6. Obtain Copies Of Its Financial Records
7. Review Executive Compensation
8. Start A Dialogue To Investigate Its Programmatic Results
9. Concentrate Your Giving
10. Share Your Intentions And Make A Long-Term Commitment

The ten best practices of Savvy Donors (above) is at the top of their Tips list which also includes:

6 Questions To Ask Charities Before Donating
Tips For Older Donors
What To Do When A Charity Calls
How To Stop Solicitations By Mail
Protecting Yourself From Online Scams
Tips For Giving In Times Of Crisis
Evaluating Charities Not Currently Rated by Charity Navigator
Tax Benefits of Giving
Guide To Donating Your Car
Guide to Donating Noncash Items
Guide To Volunteering
Guide To Giving In The Workplace
Giving Statistics
A Donor's Bill of Rights
Giving Calculator

Stamps II

I got a beautifully addressed envelope from Geeno thanking me for the big envelope of stamps I sent him. His letter was very appreciative. Geeno's the guy (click here for the previous post with picture)) we met in Kumarakom who collects stamps. So, again, take out an envelope, put his address on it, and when you throw away envelopes, tear off the stamps and put them in the envelope. When you have a good bunch of stamps in there, take it to the post office and send it. Remember to ask for nice stamps to send it, not the automated strip. You can click on the picture and enlarge his address, print it, then tape it onto an envelope.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Under 30 at Out North

Under 30 is Out North's annual production of local actors (and often people with no acting experience) performing their own work, which has to be under 30 minutes long. What was particularly interesting was the influence of Lisa Kron on two of the pieces. Kron's performance in October which I discuss in the linked post, was a one woman show with three story lines intertwined, including a slide show of the trip she and her father took to Auschwitz. In her case, the slides were imaginary, but she used a pointer to point out all the details to the audience. All three stories were told simultaenously, so she had to move around the stage as she switched from story line to story line. The spot light would go out in one place, the come on to capture her in another spot on the stage picking up that story line.

Pam Cravez' "The Art Show", which she began to develop before Kron's performance here in October, reminded me immediately of Kron. She too talked about her father. Instead of imaginary slides, she had actual paintings of her father on easels on the stage. As Kron used the imaginary slides to help get into her stories, Cravez used the real pictures.

In "Three Continents" Kristina Church, Vicki Russell and Mark Muro each told their own travel story using the same Kron technique of interweaving the stories but here each story had its own actor. In some cases the two other actors would slip into supporting roles for the other two stories.

At the post show discussion, the actors thanked Kron for helping them work on their productions while she was here. It really is a great example of how a tiny regional theater can benefit from importing national talent for short runs of their show AND for workshops with local actors. Her influence was very visible in last night's performances.

The final piece, "Merrow" by drama therapist Joan Cullinane transformed the audience. After slithering in as a mermaid, she used puppets and the audience to run through a damning indictment of modern bureaucratic pychology professionalism. It was deeply moving, funny, and she raised important issues about mental health and mental health care. Her character's persona took over the small theater and the mesmerized (a word used by two audience members in the post-show discussion) audience. When she asked audience members to find the cards with the DSM Code Numbers of different mental illnesses under their seats, and then called to the stage all those who had the 'winning' diagnoses, no one hesitated to join her on stage and act out their symptoms. This piece should be seen by lots and lots of people, particularly those health care professionals.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

AAUG - Goodies, Prizes, Auction, and Info

The Alaska Apple User Group met last night. While there are tons of places on line to get information, there is something nice about being able to ask a live person questions. This picture shows the table of books, software, and accessories that you can take and keep if you do a review. Last night I took a Mouse Pad with a gel wrist rest, a book on podcasting, and "internet cleanup" - software to 'Protect Your Privacy on the Mac.' So far, I've tried the mouse pad and I'm not sure there is an improvement. The book looks good because my wife - who has a strong audio background - is looking for a digital recorder, with possibly podcasting in the future. Haven't loaded the software yet.

I also talked with an ichat video conference user whose going to help me work out the connection to my mom. I've got a friend with a pc and we haven't been able to make that connection work. What I downloaded from the web said he needed to disable his firewall and he wasn't willing to do that. But my mother has a Mac and we haven't been able to make that work either. This guy is also exploring Skype as an alternative cross platform video chat forum. We'll see.

This other picture shows the library, where you can check things out for a month. And then there is a raffle and auction. All the goodies are donated by manufacturers who obviously want some exposure for their products. Seems like a good deal all around. Even my skeptical nature sees this all as a good thing. Am I missing some lurking evil here? Again, this is a community, like the, that exists pretty much below the radar of most people, but has proved to be a real help. Oh, did I mention their free weekend seminars? Actually, I may have in a previous postabout our first AAUG meeting. And also the post on Naked Conversations, a book on blogging I reviewed.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Next Time Don't Blame the Kids for Taking Stuff From the Back of Your Pickup

.Ravens just like to have fun.
They don't care if it's only 5 degrees Fahrenheit
And sometimes they leave a calling card.

Dianne And The Cookie Dough Prophy Paste

This is Dianne's normal view of me. Just a mouth. I see her two or three times a year when she cleans my teeth. She chides me for not flossing more, she tells me about her family, she makes gently snide comments that always carry a smile. Today she started off by telling me the previous two patients had cancelled and so I was gonna get the lectures she had left over from them as well as my own. And, of course there is little I can say back, and even when I can, I have to be careful since she's holding sharp instruments in my mouth. But the final reward for an hour of guff and poking is Cookie Dough Prophy Paste - the stuff they polish your teeth with at the end. It tastes so good, I don't even rinse it out. Dessert at the dentists.

Having my little Canon with me, means I can take pictures of the people who, over the years, play a small, but important part in my life. Knowing that Dianne is the one who will clean my teeth, makes going to the dentist something to look forward to. Thanks Dianne.

And, coincidentally, we had dinner last night with another Dianne, but I couldn't find my camera, so that will come another day.

Carving a Parking Space or White on White

It's hard to see much here, because the snowplows just keep pushing the snow to the sides of the street. We now have about a ten foot snow berm in front of the house. My car is in the garage because if I parked it in the street it would block the road. But my wife would much rather have hers there than have to go outside to a cold car. So my exercise these days is digging out a parking place between the mailbox and the street. The picture is from the driveway. The mailbox is to the left of the picture. The street is barely visible in all the white. I'll leave a protective wall of snow between my car and the drivers. It appears it will be a while before the city starts clearing the snow.

Slow, but sure, gets the job done. I've already made a lot of progress!

In the name of blogging research only

I started this blog to find out about the blogging world. Now I've run into this particular blog several times and so I have put up a link and filled out their form. The Bestest Blog Ever is another of those blogs set up just to increase blog traffic. I'm really not sure if this is a good thing or not. Visually, it's the used car lot of the blogosphere. It's a guy in the green plaid suit that never fit. Maybe it's the weather affecting me.

By the way, based on the sitemeter referrals, so far the site that has generated the most hits (not counting the new stream coming in from Google) was from my Maytag repair thread on

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Google finally kicks in

I started this blog just to see how blogs work. One of my early questions was about how the giant search engines, especially Google, find you and then get you reasonably close to page one. I read some of the Google help information, did get confirmation they knew this blog existed, and even was able to find myself through Google if I used the right combination of very particular search words. But after a week or so even that didn't work. When I learned about the specialized blog search engines, I resigned myself to being found that way.

But as I was looking at the site-meter report yesterday, there were suddenly 'lots' of people getting to the site through Google. Not sure how or why.

About site-meter. I got that up mid-October and anyone can check out the site traffic. Just click on the counter number at the bottom of the right hand side of the blog. You can see all the information that sites get about their visitors.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Infamous versus Capote

We saw Infamous tonight at Bear Tooth. It isn't too often that we get to see two different contemporary takes on the same story. Yes, we have remakes of old films, and copies of successful non-English films by American film makers, but not two crews working on the same story, independently at the same time. And getting both out into theaters. Both these movies follow Truman Capote's trips to Kansas to cover the murders for his book In Cold Blood. I thought the first one to come out - Capote - was a strong movie. But Infamous seemed significantly better. I'm still trying to figure out why. I think it just felt more natural. The photography wasn't as dramatic, and Toby Jones as Capote seemed to become his character and make it believable that this unusual man could win the trust of his informants. In comparison, Philip Seymour Hoffman seemed to be working hard throughout the movie to keep in character.

The story also raises questions about the relationship between the writer and the subject - a relationship I've been keenly aware of while writing a blog and one my daughter raised questions about the other day.

Ultimately I was struck by this opportunity for film students to see the final products of two good crews working on the same story.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Corina and Toby's Baby Shower

So I went to my first baby shower Saturday. (Men were specifically invited.) Kathryn, the soon to be father's sister, formally known as Katy, organized much of it, including a soup she called borscht, but which had so little beet in it, that it wouldn't have qualified as borscht in my family, but also meant I could try it. It was good. And four loaves of no-knead bread.

As they opened the gifts, all sorts of thoughts went through my mind.
-Just the cute bag that gift was in cost more than most Indians make in a day.
-What if they made those clothes for adults? Particularly men. It would be interesting.
-That kid has more clothes than we had for a month in India.
-This isn't as bad as I expected
-This baby is going to have great parents

Just as we were all sitting eating, the snow plows pulled into the cul-de-sac with all these cars parked against the snow berms. Toby ran out with two plates of cake for the drivers, but they'd just eaten. But they said they'd come back in if people would move their cars for five minutes. So their street got plowed.

I think it's great to have a prebaby party and getting presents for their new baby. Everyone was friendly and there were lots of laughts. There were no embarrassing games. In the context of modern day Anchorage, it was probably a fairly understated event. But having recently been in India, and living in a state where many rural Alaskan villages don't have running water and sewer systems, this kid got a lot more than he will need. And Toby and Corina are, I'm sure acutely aware of how 'rich' they are. Corina grew up in Moldova and they help people there all the time. So, I'm not being critical here, I'm just musing.

[These pictures were taken earlier. I forgot my camera at the shower. I trust you can figure out who is who.]

The Reality Isn't

When people say, "The Reality Is" they are really saying, "I'm interrupting this conversation to bring you THE TRUTH." Don't let people get away with that. That is just a mild form of shaping reality, the kind of thing George Orwell warned about in his classic 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language" in which he discussed, among other things, how politicians shaped public opinion through the use of metaphors. George Lakoff's work on framing is a modern day version of that.

The Union of Concerned Scientists' recent study "Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics
to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science"
gives another glimpse of how people's reality can be shaped:

In an effort to deceive the public about the reality of global warming, ExxonMobil has underwritten the most sophisticated and most successful disinformation campaign since the tobacco industry misled the public about the scientific evidence
linking smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. ... Like the tobacco industry, ExxonMobil has:
Manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence.
• Adopted a strategy of information laundering by using seemingly independent front organizations to publicly further its desired message and thereby confuse the public.
Promoted scientific spokespeople who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings or cherry-pick facts in their attempts to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists that burning fossil fuels has contributed to global warming and that human-caused warming will have serious consequences.
Attempted to shift the focus away from meaningful action on global warming with misleading charges about the need for “sound science.”
Used its extraordinary access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming.

How people know what they know is clearly something school children should be learning from Kindergarten on. After all, if they are in school to learn, they should be learning about how people learn. But they should also be learning to understand how others attempt to influence what they know and believe. If democracy is to really work, and not inevitably be taken over by large corporations who can pay scientists - as the tobacco companies and Exxon do - to pervert data that is not in their interests, or to raise doubts about things like evolution, then we have to be savvy consumers of data. We need to know how to spot the bullshit and raise appropriate questions. This goes for any sort of dogma whether it be on the left, right, east or west. This starts with recognizing phrases like "The reality is..." and interrupting them immediately.

Of course, as the pictures (top from today's Anchorage Daily News, bottom one I just took of our indoor/outdoor thermometer) in this post prove, the reality is that global warming isn't happening.