Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Fish Fall in Love - Another Iranian Film about a Woman Owned Restaurant

We saw an Iranian film at Out North last night The Fish Fall In Love (Mahiha Ashegh Mishavand) by Ali Raffi. The main focus was a restaurant run by a woman and her female helpers. It was a delightful film - it was good we ate before we went because the food looked fantastic. (There's a trailer for the movie in the link. J wanted to go eat after the movie at the seaside fish shack in the trailer. Me too. But that is NOT the main restaurant in the movie.)

We recently saw another Iranian film -Border Cafe - with a woman owning a restaurant. I don't want to jump to conclusions based on two films, but given how few Iranian films we get to see, I'm guessing this is more than a coincidence. Both films took place far outside Tehran. In the first film, a woman starts the restaurant after her husband dies and she doesn't want to move into her brother-in-law's compound. In last night's movie, the woman starts the restaurant when her beau disappears, and she apparently (since that wasn't shown) moved into his abandoned house where she has the restaurant until he reappears some 20 years later (which is where the movie begins.)

As I said when I wrote about Border Cafe, while Iran is a major topic of our national foreign policy makers, Americans have precious little contact with what is going on in Iraq. These two films, by Iranian film makers, give us a relatively non-political glimpse of life in Iran today. I think most Americans would be surprised at how 'normal' things look. I think about when we were in China. I heard the story about how the Chinese government began allowing American films on television reasoning people would see how violent and decadent the US was. Well, viewers saw the gangsters and druggies, but they also saw inside people's houses and that everyone had a car. These films give a similar view into Iran.

Fresh Snow

We've had more snow since I cleared the driveway Wednesday.Yesterday the snow plows cleared the street and I had to do a little more shoveling - not a good idea - to get the van off the street and into the driveway. Since then we've gotten a few more inches. Here's the deck - then and now -

and the trees in the back yard. There are still a few stubborn leaves.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

OK The Film Festival's Complete Website is Now UP

Rand has been working pretty hard to get the 'real' website up. From what I can gather, the person who was going to do it, didn't, and so Rand ended up creating it in the last couple of days. It's a big improvement over the early abbreviated version. It isn't as aesthetically pleasing as we might like, but all the information you need is there, with easy navigation, and lots of links. And if you find any important glitches let Rand know.

Here's the AIFF Main Link. On the other pages, for now, you have to go all the way down to the bottom to get back to the links.

The eagle-eyed might notice that this blog is linked on their main page. What's up with that? Well I blogged the festival last year and they liked what I did and asked if I would be the official blogger. They promised me I could say what I wanted, but I decided it was better to blog on my own and then if I write something that upsets one of the film makers, the Festival isn't responsible. They also threw in a free pass for me this year.

I probably won't say anything terrible about a film, but I did rant about one film last year that I thought was exploiting its subject as well as boorishly demeaning a whole country. I mentioned in an earlier post that if I sound a little promotional at times, it's only because I like films and I like the kinds of quirky films that show up at festivals, so I want as many people to know about the festival as possible so the festival will continue. Will I fudge on what I write to get people out? No way. There are plenty of people in Anchorage who like films. They're my main target. To get them out of the house in the dark December chill when inertia tugs heavily if they even think about leaving the house. But if others who normally don't go out to films hear about a movie on a topic they're into, that's good too.

And maybe if enough people come in from the Valley, they can work with the organizers to have a Valley venue too next year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Minor Quake

The house just moved a bit. I'd guess it was under 3.5, but it all depends on how far away it was and how deep down.
[Update: Saturday, 1pm]: When I looked at the link on the 3.5, it said

Less than 3.5   Generally not felt, but recorded.

which meant that I was probably wrong. So I just checked and found this:

So today I found all this on the USGS (United States Geologic Survey) site:

So it was about 150 miles north (as the raven flies).

It was a bit unnerving to see all the recent earthquake activity in Alaska. Most of this we never feel in Anchorage. Alaska is just to the right of the middle near the very top with all the little red and orange boxes.

Anchorage International Film Festival -Special Workshops

There will be four special workshops at the Film Festival - all on the weekends. The workshops, from my experience, give you a chance to hear directly from the film makers and get a behind-the-scenes view of the movie. Sort of like the extra material on DVD's except it's real life and you can ask questions. Going to a workshop may mean you miss films playing at the same time, but catching up via dvd or even Youtube in the future is probably easier than getting a chance to interact live with the film makers themselves.

The workshops are $7 each. If you have an "all films and events" pass, you're covered.

Sunday, December 7, 2pm, Out North:

[All images can be enlarged by double-clicking on them.]

Andrew MacLean, an Inupiaq filmmaker, a local boy with a Sundance Prize, will talk about how he made the film Sikumi. The film itself will be shown

  • Saturday December 13 at the Bear Tooth at 12:45 pm in the program "Snowdance Shorts" - a collection of Alaska related short documentaries.

I would hope that Alaska Native parents especially can take advantage of this opportunity to bring their kids. Role models are really important and there aren't that many opportunities to see prizing winning Alaska Native film makers (or any prize winning film makers for that matter.)

Photo of Andrew McLean from Native Works. There's also a bio there.

Friday, December 12, 8pm Out North:

Local talent time. Lots of people now have video cameras - even if it's just the one on your digital camera. So spend some time and make a short video during the conference. What can you lose? Watch for the instructions one week from today - Friday, December 5 - on the AIFF website.

Saturday December 13 11am, Out North:

I haven't seen any of the films, so I can only go by the titles and descriptions. But "The Last Days of Shishmaref"* sounds like a film that all Alaskans should watch. I bumped into a woman Monday who is studying the moving of Alaskan villages due to global warming problems and this sounds like an issue we haven't even begun, as a State, to understand. The movie itself will be shown twice:
  • 12/7 Sun 6:15pm Bear Tooth
  • 12/13 Sat 12:30pm Fireweed Theatre
So, if you go to the first showing, you'll have questions to ask Jan Louter, and can still catch the second showing if you want to see it again.

*The picture of Loutan is from the site linked above. The website is worth checking out, almost a whole project of its own, including blog excerpts like this one:

This makes me think a little about the criticism I read about Claude Lévi-Strauss:
It is perfectly true that an experienced anthropologust, visiting a "new" primitive society for the first time and working with the aid of competent interpreters, may be able, after a stay of only a few days, to develop in his own mind a fairly comprehensive "model" of how the social system works, but it is also true that if he stays for six months and learns to speak the local language very little of that original "model" wll remain.
The awe and amazement one feels on coming into a completely foreign environment can have one filling in the missing details with our own preconceptions; the quote from Jan's blog does have that amazed and dazzled tone to it. On the other hand, outsiders see things others don't see, and so they also can contribute meaningfully to the conversation. And relatively few urban Alaskans have been to Alaskan villages so this film should give us a peek at Shishmaref through the eyes of a Dutchman.

Saturday, December 13 3pm Out North

I was wondering if this might not be interesting for kids so I googled Jeff Chiba Stearns and got to his MySpace page. [The picture on the right is from his meditating bunny site.] These links took me into many different directions. Jeff has a number of incarnations including snowboarder. If I understood it right, he's a neighbor - he lives in British Columbia. Here's the trailer for one of his animated films, What Are You Anyways?

At the film festival, his short animation, Yellow Sticky Notes, will be shown in a late evening collection called "Love and Pain, Short Films for Adults"
  • December 12 Fri 10:10pm • Bear Tooth [Not sure where I got this, the right times are below]
  • Wednesday, December 10 at 5:30 PM - Anchorage Museum

  • Saturday, December 13 at 12:30 PM - Anchorage Museum (Jeff will be at this showing)

I've sent Jeff an email to see if the workshop will be appropriate for kids. When I hear from him, I'll let you know.

[Update Saturday Morning: Jeff emailed back that yes, children are welcome:

"The animation workshop is geared toward all ages. So, yes, suggesting it would be great for kids is good. I always gage the direction of my workshops by the range of ages in the audience. I think the kids should be over the age of 8 since I will get a bit technical and really young kids will get bored. The workshop is geared towards teenagers and adults, too."
There's an interview with Jeff at Vancouver Animation where he talks about Yellow Sticky Notes, the film showing in Anchoage.]

Lots to keep us all pretty busy.

Claude Lévi-Strauss One Hundredth Birthday - Happy Birthday!

Today - November 28, 2008 - is finally the day Claude Lévi-Strauss turns 100. And yes, he is still alive. I've tried during this last week to offer a glimpse of what he's written and what others have said about him. It's stayed on the fairly heavy side, so for today, here's something everyone can relate to. This takes place in 1941 (I think) when he arrived in the US to teach at Columbia University.

...I arrived in the spring and classes were already over. I went to introduce myself at the New School where I was told all of a sudden, "You can't posibly call yourself Lévi-Strauss. Here you'll say your name is Claude L. Strauss." I asked why, and they said, "The students would find it funny." Because of the blue jeans! So for several years I lived in the States with a mutilated last name.

Ever since, this unfortunate coincidence has continued to haunt me. Like a ghost! Hardly a year goes by without my receiving, usually from Africa, an order for jeans. Shortly after 1950, in Paris, a total stranger came to my door, saying he sold fabric. He had found my name in the telephone book and wanted to propose my name for a pants factory. I objected, saying my position at the university and as a scholar was incompatible with that sort of undertaking. He told me not to worry and explained that the affair would never see the light of day, all he would have to do was suggest it. "Rather than lose exclusive rights to their brand-name, the company would pay handsomely to halt the project. All we would have to do is split the proceeds." I declined.

A few years ago I was at Berkeley as a visiting professor. One evening my wife and I wanted to have dinner in a restaurant where we didn't have reservations. There was a line. A waiter asked for our name so he could call us when our turn came. The moment he heard it, he asked, "The pants or the books?"

One has to admire the level of education of the waiters in California, for in Paris, when my wife leaves her name in a store for an order and people exclaim because it is such a well-known name, it's always because of the pants, never the books
From Claude Lévi-Strauss and Didier Eribon (1988) Conversations with Claude Lévi-Strauss
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 30

The rest of the posts in honor of Lévi-Strauss' birthday are here.

I've seen almost nothing in the mainstream media about this 100 birthday. Googling today, I did find this audio report on National Public Radio.

[Update 9:30pm: Anthropologi has a list of web tributes to Lévi-Strauss.]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coup Coming in Thailand?

The ADN finally had a picture of the protests in Thailand on the front page of the B section yesterday. I guess Alaskans could be affected by the Bangkok airport being shut down so they thought it was news.

For those who want to know more about what's happening, Bangkok Pundit keeps a running account with links to news sources:

A Coup in the Works?

Posted by Bangkok Pundit | 11/27/2008 03:08:00 PM [remember they are about 16 hours ahead of Anchorage, so this report is about an hour old as I'm posting]

Thai Rath reports that PPP MPs believe there will be a coup tonight and are going to mobolise "red shirts". Also, that all 6 coalition parties agreed to use legal measures against the PAD who have broken the law to try to provoke a coup. PPP MPs have promised to mobolise not less than 20,000 persons per MP.

In Bangkok, MPs from the coalition parties will ask people to bring their cars on the streets or taxis to close roads to prevent a coup. The coalition parties believe a coup will happen tonight..

They are also going to release details of the financial backers of the PAD especially Bangkok Bank and Kasikorn bank. They will need to ask society's questions and explain to the people why they shouldn't withdraw their money. They will also opppose the purchase of goods from PAD supporting companies. They believe there will be no bloodshed.

Surapong has disclosed that 33 MPs have written a letter to the PM to fire Anupong. He says there is a "smell" of a coup in the air.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

He Said, She Said

The ADN reported the other day on the disagreement about who will become mayor when Mark Begich steps down to become US Senator:
But chairman Matt Claman and vice-chair Sheila Selkregg have very different recollections of commitments that may or may not have been made at a private meeting in April that led to their leadership positions.
I know both these people and think they're both good mayoral material though with very different strengths. I also learned a long time ago, that what I thought I said and what my wife thought I said (and the same about what she said) are often miles apart.

One communication model identifies several places where the message can go wrong.

1. There's the sender
2. The sender has to create a message (the idea he wants to get to the receiver)
2. The message has to go through a medium or two (maybe just a shrug of a shoulder or raising of an eyebrow, or an actual formal language with words which then have to be conveyed through speech, an email, a note, etc.)
3. Then the receiver has to interpret the message she receives.

Each step of the way is fraught with potential problems.
  • Has the sender really figured out what idea he wants to send, or is it still a vague idea?
  • Has the sender translated it into a clear message? If the message is verbal, are the words chosen and organized unambiguously?
  • Does any of the message get lost in the medium through which it is sent? Is the ink smeared? Does the tone of voice send a different message than the content?
  • Finally, does the receiver use words the same way as the sender? How does her mental filtering system modify the meaning of the message?
It's very possible that they are both 'right.' The message that he 'sent' may well be what he said it was and, the message she received may also be what she said it was. But when two people, even two good people, strongly want the same thing, their communications may get skewed. Or worse.

I hope they can both put this all in perspective. We need another good mayor. And an assembly that can work closely with the mayor, but also stand up to the mayor when necessary. Good luck to the both of them and to all of us.

Driveway's Good, My Back Isn't

There were several new inches of snow this morning and I went out to clear the driveway. Our new neighbors had already shoveled the sidewalk all the way to our driveway! I like these neighbors. The snow was soft and dry and it was easy to clear, but I could also feel a little stitch in my lower left back. I put ice on it as soon as I got in, but I'm still walking funny. The deck in back is going to have to wait. But it's pretty and if I don't clear it now, there won't be any cars driving on it to make it much harder to clear later.

The table is open for tomorrow and J has a turkey hiding in our refrigerator. Being mostly vegetarian means that Thanksgiving is still turkey. But she did get another range grown organic bird. If you want the organic spiel, with video, you can look at last year's turkey post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Anchorage International Film Festival - New Website Coming Soon

I talked to Michele at the Anchorage International Film Festival today. I was concerned about the website. Yes, she knew, and they are feverishly working on the new website. The current website will disappear and the new one will take its place Wednesday or Thursday. So be patient.

I also learned why there were blank pages in the program guide. That's what they sent to the Press and the blanks were for advertising. So, the complete program is already available as a downloadable PDF at the current AIFF site, or in readable form in my last post, and when the next Anchorage Press comes out, probably Thursday. That gives you a week to plan what movies you want to see.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Anchorage International Film Festival Program Guide and Tickets

This week's Press should have the whole AIFF program in it. But for those of you who want it early, there's a peek below. Of course you can get your PDF copy from the website I downloaded it last week and again today, but I can't seem to get the bottom of page 11 or pages 12, 14, or 16. Fortunately, the critical page is 15 which has the week's schedule.

Ticket Prices:

The price is $7 for most screenings.(See the program guide for special prices on classic movies, family matinees and Snowdance shorts.)

A six-pack punch card good for any six screenings is also available for $36.

Special event tickets for the opening night gala, Martini Matinee and the Golden Oosikar Awards are available at the venues the day of the event.

All Events Pass is $75 includes all the films and special events.
All Films Pass is $60.

Advance Passes Punch card Purchases

Purchase your festival passes or punch cards in advance or during the festival at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, AMIPA or

Note: AMIPA is on the 3rd floor of the UAA Library. I can't find the link on the website for purchasing tickets.

The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and Regal Fireweed will also sell passes and punch cards during the festival's run.

Note again: Pages 11, 12, 14, and 16 are missing. You can enlarge the pages with down arrow on the right. You can also print the pages full size. I'm posting the top of page 11 (I had to delete 11 for it to work with Scribd] below.
Anchorage International Film Festival 2008 Online Guide
Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Culture Alaska Movies

Top of Page 11 - Double Click to enlarge

A lot of people have done a lot of volunteer work to make this film festival possible so go through the program and find something you like. If you're going to see at least ten films (that's one per day, or several bunched up on the weekends) then get the All Film Pass for $60 (and save $10).

There's also stuff for kids.

Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with the Festival. They liked how I blogged last year's festival and they've given me one free All Film Pass. They may even link to here, but I otherwise I'm just a film lover who's pushing the festival in general so that we have enough attendance that this becomes a regular event.

Claude Lévi-Strauss One Hundredth Birthday - Post 7: Friendly Ciriticism

[All my Lévi-Strauss Birthday posts are here.]
None of these Lévi-Strauss posts are intended to be accurate reflections individually or as a whole. They are basically snippets from a small pile of books and from websites that I find interesting and perhaps someone else will too.

From Edmund Leach (1970) Claude Lévi-Strauss, New York: Viking Press, pp. 11-13

This search for "fundamental properties" is a recurrent theme in all Lévi-Strauss' writings, but it is not just a matter of antiquarian curiosity. The point is rather that what is fundamental and universal must be the essence of our true nature, and we can use an understanding of that nature to improve ourselves:
The second phase of our undertaing is that while not clinging to elements from any one particular society, we make use of all of them in order to distinguish those principles of social life which may be applied to reform our own customs and not those of customs foreign to our own. . . . Our own society is the only one which we can transform and yet not destroy, since the changes which we should introduce would come from within. (Tristes Tropiques, pp. 391-92)
As this passage shows, Lévi-Strauss is a visionary, and the trouble with those who see visions is that they find it very difficult to recognize the plain matter-of-fact world which the rest of us see all around. Lévi-Strauss pursues his anthropology because he conceives of primitive peoples as "reduced models" of what is essential in all mankind, but the resulting Rousseau-like noble savages inhabit a world very far removed from the dirt and squalor that are the field anthropologist's normal stamping ground.

This is important. A careful study of Tristes Tropiques reveals that, in the whole course of his Brazilian travels, Lévi-Strauss can never have stayed in one place for more than a few weeks at a time and that he was never able to converse easily with any of his native informants in their native language.

There are many kinds of anthropological inquiry, but Malinowski-style intensive field work employing the vernacular, which is now the standard research technique employed by nearly all British and American social anthropologists, is an entirely different procedure from the careful but uncomprehending description of manners and customs, based on the use of special informants and interpreters, which was the original source for most of the ethnographic observations on which Lévi-Strauss, like his Frazerian predecessors, has chosen to rely.

It is perfectly true that an experienced anthropologist, visiting a "new" primitive society for the first time and working with the aid of competent interpreters, may be able, after a stay of only a few days, to develop in his own mind a fairly comprehensive "model" of how the social system works, but it is also true that if he stays for six months and learns to speak the local language very little of that original "model" will remain. Indeed, the task of understanding how the system works will by then appear even more formidable than it did just two days after his first arrival.
Well, I certainly can relate to this. When I had been in Thailand six months, I thought I was just figuring it all out. But after a while, the longer I stayed, the less I knew. Not because I actually knew less, but because my awareness of what I didn't know was growing at a much faster pace than what I did know.

Lévi-Strauss himself has never had the opportunity to suffer this demoralizing experience, and he never comes to grips with the issues involved.

In all of his writings Lévi-Strauss assumes that the simple, first stage "model" generated by the observer's first impressions corresponds quite closely to a genuine (and very important) ethnographic reality - the "conscious model" which is present in the minds of the anthropologist's informants. In contrast, to the anthropologists who have had a wider and more varied range of field experience, it seems all too obvious that this initial model is little more than an amalgam of the observer's own prejudiced presuppositions.

On this account many would argue that Lévi-Strauss, like Frazer, is insufficiently critical of his source material. He always seems to be able to find just what he is looking for. Any evidence, however dubious, is acceptable so long as it fits with logically calculated expectations; but wherever the data runs counter to the theory Lévi-Strauss will either bypass the evidence or marshal the full resources of his powerful invective to have the heresy thrown out of court. So we need to remember that Lévi-Strauss' prime training was in philosophy and law; he consistently behaves like an advocate defending a cause rather than a scientist searching for ultimate truth.

But the philosopher is also a poet. William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity (1933) belongs to a class of literary criticism which is wholly antipathetic to contemporary structuralists, but none the less it makes excellent introductory reading for any would-be student of Lévi-Strauss. Lévi-Strauss has not actually published poetry, but his whole attitude to the sounds and meanings and combinations and permutations of language elements betrays his nature. His grand four-volume study of the structure of American Indian mythodoly is not entitled Mythologies but Mythologiques - the "logics of myth" - and the object of the exercise is to explore the mysterious interconnections between these myth-logics and other logics. This is poet's country, and those who get impatient with the tortuous gymnastics of Lévi-Straussian argument - as most of us do - need to remember that he shares with Freud a most remarkable capacity for leading us all unawares into the innermost recesses of our secret emotions.

I'm not sure if this is damning with faint praise, or, what I would rather see it as, an acknowledgment that while Lévi-Strauss does not practice what most anthropologists practice, it's because he is doing something else. I'd go on to say something more sublime, but I'm like that anthropologist who has visited this Lévi-Straussian village for a few weeks. All my impressions are suspect. But there is a lot to churn the brain cells.

The Problem with Snark

I critiqued a letter to the editor a week or so ago. I normally try to edit out any tone of condescension, but the letter really pushed my buttons, and my wife had been out of town and unavailable to check my baser impulses. I've thought about it a couple of days.

The real key to whether snark is appropriate or not depends on the writer's goal. Some possible goals of political blogs.
1. To vent.
2. To stir up the believers.
3. To have authentic discussion in which the writer and the reader/commenter with a different world view are both open to learning something new.

For goal one, snark works just fine.

For goal two, snark can elicit a short term emotional satisfaction - our governor used this effectively to stir up the so-called Republican base. But having non-thinking followers who drool at the sight of their perceived enemies' blood is not a goal of mine. I'd rather have readers who are seeking to resolve problems, interested in understanding thinking that is different from theirs, who are respectful, or at the very least, not disrespectful, of the people with whom they disagree.

For goal three, if the opposing parties agree on a set of rules in which sarcasm is seen as witty or clever and where the debate is really just a sport, then snark probably is not a problem. It may also be a necessary part of some such games where not insulting your opponent is taken as a sign of weakness.

However, for those who passionately hold strong beliefs the snark is seen as a lack of respect. And everybody, ultimately, wants to be taken seriously as a human being. Snark, sarcasm, tone - are all like fingernails scratching 'I'm smarter than you' on a blackboard. The writer may indeed be smarter, but that is not really relevant. If one's goal is to produce facts and logic to show why one strategy is more likely to succeed than another, one has to listen to those who disagree. Listen to understand why they disagree - logical reasons why, emotional reasons why, political reasons why - so that one can address those issues and show the other person why one's own story about the world does not threaten the other person's interests.

Thus, for me, in most cases snark is an expensive luxury - it may feel good, it may get your co-believers cheering - but it tends to shut down the people with whom you want to communicate. I'm fairly confident that the Limbaughs rather enjoy torquing off Democrats, but that doesn't change their minds. It does solidify those who already agree with him.

How many committed Democrats reading this changed their minds because a Republican canvasser explained why McCain was the best candidate? Why would they believe that a Republican could be convinced if they couldn't? But changing those minds is the ultimate challenge. And when you take that challenge, you have to listen carefully, and you will modify 'what you know', despite your certainty in what you already believe. (I know, the Democrats would answer, "Because we're right." But the Republicans believe the same thing.)

I wrote all this a week or so ago. Since then I've seen some letters written by people who'd been through a training session on racism, set up to deal with some racist comments by members of the organization. The training was respectful, in-depth, and dealt with emotional as well as political, economic, and social aspects of race. I was surprised by the the way the letters described people's discomfort during the sessions, gratitude at the opportunity to gain a different perspective of the issue, plus examples of their changed behaviors.

Changing how people see the world IS possible, but it requires understanding the other person's emotional and theoretical world views. It requires respect. And the ability to tell your story in terms that the other person can accept. And the changers also will modify their own world views in the process. Snark is like sand in the gears of this process.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Claude Lévi-Strauss One Hundredth Birthday - Post 5[6]: Myth, History, Stevens' Legacy, and Palin's Turkeys

[All the Lévi-Strauss Birthday posts are here.]
OK, I've got a post title, but can I put it all together so it makes sense to readers? I've titled this blog "What Do I Know?" because I think the question is a critical one for us all to ponder, all the time. The Lévi-Strauss quotes at the beginning of this post look at how anthropologists gather indigenous myths and then how they give them meaning. After the quotes, I look at two current Alaskan (but also national) stories and try to give perspective on how we - mainstream journalists and bloggers as well as general citizens - create our own cultural myths and write our history. I'm the first to acknowledge that I'm not necessarily interpreting Lévi-Strauss accurately, but I think it is still legitimate to let his writing stimulate ideas that can then be used to see 'today' from a different perspective. How do we know?

Lévi-Strauss, in Myth and Meaning ponders in a chapter called "When Myth Becomes History" how we should interpret the meaning of the collected mythology of 'primitive' peoples. In this book he is particularly looking at North and South American myths. The ones in this chapter are particularly relevant to Alaskans since they are about Indians living on the edges of Alaska. I'll try to pick out a few quotes and then make a huge leap and relate this to current Alaska myth making.

Lévi-Strauss begins the chapter raising two problems for the mythologist:
  1. There are two different types of mythic material
    -one type of collection is "like shreds and patches...disconnected stories are put one after the other without any clear relationship"
    -the other type is "coherent mythological stories, all divided into chapters following each other in a quite logical order."
  2. What does the collection mean?
Dealing with the second question, he discusses who collects the myths using what framework.
This second problem is, though still theoretical, of a more practical nature. In former times, let's say in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, mythological material was collected mostly by anthropologists, that is people from the outside. Of course, in many cases, and especially in Canada, they had native collaborators. Let me, for instance, quote the case of Franz Boas, who had a Kwakiutl assistant, George Hunt (as a matter of fact, he was not exactly Kwakiutl because he was born of a Scottish father and Tlingit mother, but he was raised among the Kwakiutl, married among the Kwakiutl, and completely identified with the culture). And for the Tsmishian, Boas had Henry Tate, who was a literate Tsimshian, and Marius Barbeau had William Benyon, who was also a literate Tsimshian. So native co-operation was secured from the beginning, but nevertheless the fact is Hunt, Tate, or Benyon worked under the guidance of the anthropologists, that is they were turned into anthropologists themselves. Of course, they knew the best legends, the traditions belonging to their own clan, their own lineage, but nevertheless they were equally interested in collecting data from other families, other clans, and the like.

When we look at this enormous corpus of Indian mythology, such as, for instance Boas' and Tate's Tsimshian Mythology, or the Kwakiutl texts collected by Hunt, and edited, published, and translated too by Boas, we find more or less the same organization of the data, because it is one which was recommended by the anthropologists: for instance, in the beginning, cosmological and cosmogonic myths, and later on, much later on, what can be considered as legendary tradition and family histories.

It has so happened that this task, started by the anthropologists, the Indians are taking now up themselves, and for different purposes, for instance, to have their language and mythology taught in elementary schools for Indian children. That is very important, I understand, at the moment. Another purpose is to use legendary tradition to validate claims against the white people - territorial claims, political claims, and so on.

So it is extremely important to find out if there is a difference and, if there is, what kind of difference between traditions collected from the outside from those collected on the inside, though as if they were collected from the outside. Canada is fortunate, I should say, in that books about its own mythology and legendary traditions have been organized and published by the Indian specialists themselves. This began early: there is Legends of Vancouver by Pauline Johnson, issued before the First World War. Later on, we had books by Marius Barbeau, who was, of course, not Indian at all, but who tried to collect historical or semi-historical material and make himself the spokesman of his Indian informants; he produced, so to speak, his own version of that mythology.

More interesting, far more interesting, are books such as Men of Medeek published in Kitimat in 1962, which is supposedly the verbatim account collected from the mouth of Chief Walter Wright, a Tsimshian chief of the middle Skeena river, but collected by somebody else, a white field worker who was not even a professional. And even more important is the recent book by Chief Kenneth Harris, who is also a Tsimshian chief, published in 1974 by himself.

So we can, with this kind of material, make a kind of experiment by comparing the material collected by anthropologists, and the material collected and published directly by the Indians. I should not say 'collected,' as a matter of fact, because instead of being traditions from several families, several class, several lineages put together and juxtaposed to each other, what we have in these two books is really the history of one family or one clan, published by one of its descendants.

I'm skipping an interesting chunk that compares Chief Wright's and Chief Harris' histories.

It is practically the same story in both books: it explains that the city was destroyed, that the remnants of the people went on the move, and started difficult peregrinations along the Skeena.

This, of course, could be a historical event, but if we look closely at the way it is explained, we see that the type of event is the same, but not exactly the details. For instance, according to the version, there can be at the original a fight between two villages or two towns, a fight which originated in an adultery; but the story can be either that a husband killed the lover of his wife, or that brothers killed their sister's lover, or that a husband killed his wife because she had a lover. So, you see, we have an explanatory cell. Its basic structure is the same, but the content of the cell is not the same and can vary, so it is a kind of mini-myth if I may say so, because it is very short and very condensed, but it has still the property of a myth in that we can observe it under different transformations. When one element is transformed, the other elements should be rearranged accordingly. This is the first aspect of these clan stories that interests me.

...What we discover by reading these books is that the opposition - the simple opposition between mythology and history which we are accustomed to make - is not at all a clear-cut one, and that there is an intermediary level. Mythogology is static, we find the same mythical elements combined over and over again, but they are in a closed system, let us say, in contradistinction with history, which is, of course, an open system.

The open character of history is secured by the innumerable ways according to which mythical cells, or explanatory cells which were originally mythical, can be arranged and rearranged. It shows us that by using the same material, because it is a kind of common inheritance or common patrimony of all groups, of all clans, or of all lineages, one can nevertheless succeed in building up an original account for each of them. [From Claude Lévi-Strauss (1979) Myth and Meaning, New York: Schocken Books. pp. 35-41]

So, as I understand this, basically Lévi-Strauss is asking questions about how basic stories are told - how they are framed, interpreted, and turned into history. He starts right at the very beginning, how the person - whether outsider or insider - just in the very act of writing down the story, has to make choices of how to organize it. And later he relates the issue of why they write it - is there some purpose it is going to serve? To help secure an anthropology reputation? To keep the attention and funding of the anthropologist? To make land claims?

So when we read the accounts of modern day 'chiefs' like Chief Stevens and Chief Palin, even the most careful recorder will be distorting the stories. Less scrupulous recorders are consciously or unconsciously radically skewing the story to promote their interests. Of course, this conceit is nothing new to any of us. But it is also true that we often tend to forget that our stories aren't 'the truth' but rather they are 'our truth.'

Right now there are two stories being written in Alaska. The Palin story is more at the cell level as Alaskan blogs (and others - the first Alaska blog to show up when I googled the turkey story was on page 5) are taking on seemingly small, trivial incidents, such as the Thanksgiving Turkey Pardoning story (See Celtic Diva, Mudflats, and Immoral Minority for example.) And challenging the story-making power of the mainstream media. In this story, two of the Alaskan bloggers were on the scene of the turkey pardoning and have vigorously challenged the versions of the incident from the Governor's office and the television and newspapers.

(Double click to enlarge)

In the second instance, the Anchorage Daily News editorial section carried a full page of five writers speculating or advocating how history will (or should) remember Ted Stevens. It seems that this corresponds more to Lévi-Strauss's anthropologist taking the existing collections and trying to give them meaning. For all of his career - save for the last couple of years - the cells of the Stevens myth have been written by the mainstream media in Alaska, which have ranged from fawning - the Anchorage Times - to the ADN, which has been basically positive bordering on timid, with just a few recent (last several years) but seriously in depth questioning articles usually authored or co-authored by Rich Mauer. Today's spread is 60% hagiography, 20% laudatory, and only the last of the five pieces raises, fairly gingerly, serious issues.

I'm using the Lévi-Strauss material in part because I'm reading it this week. But I think it informs what we are doing today, by getting us to step back and look at ourselves as we document (and have documented) Alaska history. As a blogger I've tended to do more interpreting of existing stories than actually writing the stories - the Anderson, Kott, and Kohring trials being the major exception where I was documenting the stories.

In this blog I've tried to keep from jumping to conclusions about Palin. I've tried to present the facts (including the facts of how I knew what I knew) to let the readers make their own conclusions. Though sometimes I've revealed my own conclusions. Occasionally, I've wondered whether the constant in-your-face reporting wasn't getting carried away with its own importance while essentially dealing with basically trivial material while key policy issues go unexamined.

But in the context of Lévi-Strauss' thoughts on myth and history, it's clear the 'cells, ' on which history is built, need to be carefully examined. The careful examination of the Palin stories documents alternative interpretations of what the mainstream media report. While there are bloggers, in Alaska even, whose writing is merely thoughtless venting, there is a core of Alaskan bloggers who have vigorously fought to bring out what they have seen as the truths that weren't otherwise being told. I've watched them with admiration, even if I've winced now and then, as they tenaciously dug into the details of a story and put them out for the world to see. Thanks folks.

In Stevens' case, the cells were never challenged until the very end of his career, and so we have a mass of cells that add up to the interpretation of "Stevens the great man of Alaska History" or "Stevens the great man who whose final days are a footnote."

Only the Michael Carey piece today hints at why, if Stevens was so great and formidable, he wasn't able to keep himself in the Senate. There are lots of things Stevens could have done - straightening up the Republican Party in Alaska; legitimately securing his economic future (Senators make a fair amount of money and their retirement programs would be welcomed by most Americans); standing up for principles besides winning and 'bring home the bacon for Alaskans' - such as the rule of law. (Recent stories in the ADN talk about him bragging about breaking the law to lobby for Alaskan statehood for instance while working for the federal government.  If 'the ends justify the means' is your motto, anything is acceptable if the prize is good enough. And eventually, the law is seen as technicality not to worry about.

So, while it is clear that Ted Stevens' intelligence and tenacity on behalf of Alaska have put roads, schools, hospitals, airports, and museums across Alaska as well as securing Alaska Natives significant land and cash through ANCSA, today's stories will, I suspect, be followed up by more careful analysis as time goes by. There are lots of stories to be written. Why, for example, did the FBI and the Public Integrity Section under a rabidly partisan Republican administration, in a Justice Department that fired attorneys for not vigorously investigating Democrats on flimsy evidence, or for investigating Republicans at all, take on the senior Republican in the US Senate?

Unfortunately, bloggers weren't around to challenge the Stevens myths earlier in his career, challenges that might have made him more self reflective, less accepting of the misdeeds of the Republican money folks, less likely to take the good old boy perks for granted, generally more thoughtful about what and how he did things. Challenges that would have corrected the record that historians will use to eventually write the history of Alaska and Stevens' place in it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Barack Obama's First Day in the Oval Office with Friends

I mentioned earlier my computer art class assignment to take four different downloaded photos and make your "fantasy" picture by combining them. Well, I got a little carried away and added a few more pictures than I had to. So here's my fantasy - Obama's first day in office with a number of people who helped pave the way. There are many, many I've left out, but here are a few key ones. (Double click to enlarge the image.)

Our current assignment is to do a 30 second video. At last we're using a tool I know as much about or more than most of the others - iMovie. But we are also using Photoshop's animation capabilities. The first attempts have been tedious, but are looking good. I have some real video and some hand made animation. I'm not sure if I'll combine them or just do the animation.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Claude Lévi-Strauss One Hundredth Birthday - Post 5: Criticism

[All the Lévi-Strauss Birthday posts are here.]

An anthropologist friend of mine with whom I shared a quote from Levi-Strauss wrote the following in an email:
I have never been a fan of Claude Levi-Strauss in spite of his nice quote. His work has little credibility among most anthropologists who understand cultures as being bound to place. His universalism has little relationship to meaning as understood by the people he writes about.
Critiques of Lévi-Strauss certainly belong in this series of pre-birthday posts on the anthropologist, but I'm having trouble finding them on line. When I got this message I called another anthropologist and while he was more receptive to Lévi-Strauss, he agreed with the general message of this criticism. I'm a little wary of trying to paraphrase him, but what I understood him to say was that Lévi-Strauss was more interested in using information about various cultures to develop his theory of universalism and that he wasn't focused on understanding the meaning of things in a culture as the culture itself interpreted that.

So I'm digesting this. Basically, I'm a strong proponent of the necessity of understanding the what words, actions, etc. mean to the actors themselves, so I should basically be of the same view as these two anthropologists towards Lévi-Strauss. But what I've read so far doesn't seem to be at odds to the perspective they say he doesn't have. I respect both these people's professionalism so I have to ponder on this. I'm trying to find critiques that will help me see what they are pointing at.

My basic response is to resist - but... are these two mutually exclusive? But he writes with intelligence and sensitivity that makes me believe that he had to understand this issue. But maybe his intent - to create this universalist theory, to extract commonalities among people around the world - is simply different from anthropologists who work with people. Certainly the 'binary opposition' that is clearly a part of Lévi-Strauss' work at first raised questions for me. But, he seems to understand the dangers of binary choices.

As I looked for something critical of Lévi-Strauss I found The Ethnological Imagination
by Fuyuki Kurasawa which talks a little about some of these topics, but the writer is supportive, not critical. I'll see if I can nail down some of the criticism. My second source did point out that some people were pointing to Lévi Strauss as an early forerunner of Chaos theory and fractals and pointed me to On the Order of Chaos by Mark S. Mosko, Frederick H. Damon - particularly Chapter 2: From Lévi-Strauss to Chaos and Complexity by Jack Morava - but I'm not even going to try to get into that here.

So, here's part of the Kurasawa book, which seems to me to be an attempt to address Lévy-Strauss' detractors, but I obviously need to do some more work here. If you can read these screen captures, fine, otherwise you can go to the link for The Ethnological Imagination above.

Kayak for Lunch?

Sometimes you see a picture that really grabs your attention. Like this one that I ran into at Fishingfury:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Claude Lévi-Strauss One Hundredth Birthday - Post 4: Surrealism, New York, Native American Artifacts

[All the Lévi-Strauss Birthday posts are here.]

The following is from Claude Lévi-Strauss and Didier Eribon (1991) (translated by Paula Wissing) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[Prior to this passage, he returns to France after spending 1935-39 in Brazil. He gets drafted into the army, but through some lucky events, does not end up in battle. He got demobilized and assigned to a college. But the racial laws are coming and he gets fired. Through help from an aunt in the US, he gets invited to the New School for Social Research and comes to New York in late 1940 or early 1941.]

D.E. Once you arrived, you got to know the surrealists in exile in New York.
C.L-S. Breton and I kept up our friendship. He introduced me to his old circle.
D.E. You were a young, unknown university professor, and you became part of a group of famous artists - stars, even - Breton, Tanguy, Duchamp...
C.L-S. And Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Matta, Wifredo Lam. . . Masson and Calder were living in the country. I went to see them on a few weekends.
D.E. Did you like the members of the group?
C.L-S. Some of them. I liked Max Ernst right away, and he is the one I stayed closest to. Tanguy, whose painting I admired a great deal, was not an easy person. Duchamp had great kindness, and for awhile Masson and I were very close. I also became friends with Patrick Waldberg. Our friendship continued after the war ended.
D.E. Peggy Guggenheim was financing the existence of the group?
C.L-S. She helped this or that one out financially, but Max Ernst, whom she married, was more affluent than the others. They were leading the Bohemian life in Greenwich Village. Until Max Ernst left Peggy Guggenheim. One day, Breton called to ask me if I had a small sum of money to buy back one of his Indian objects from Max Ernst, who was now broke. This historic object is now in the Musée de l'Homme.
D.E. This little world had its social side, too?
C.L-S. We saw one another at various people's homes. The "truth game" was very fashionable.[Footnote 4: A kind of psychoanalytic parlor game, of which André Breton was said to be particularly fond, the object of which was to elicit the participants' intimate feelings. Peggy Guggenheim mentions it in her memoir Out of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict (New York: Universe Books, 1979). -trans.] And we would go out to sample the exotic restaurants of New York.
D.E. Playing the "truth game" with people like that must not have been easy!
C.L-S. There was a lot of consideration for outsiders: myself, Pierre Lazareff, who sometimes came, also Denis de Rougemont.
D.E. How did you meet Lazareff?
C.L-S. Breton, Duthuit, and I needed extra money and were working for the radio service directed by Lazareff at the OWI, the Office of War Information, on broadcasts for France. There we all were, among people from different backgrounds, and sometimes we would get together outside of work. There I became friends with Dolores Vanetti, with whom Sartre was later to fall in love.
D.E. Describe your radio work.
C.L-S. I'd already had some experience with radio. To be less of a burden to my parents, I found a job as a student reading the bulletin for the Bureau International du Travail over the microphone at Radio Tour Eiffel in the basement of the Grand Palais. This was why my father painted me as a speaker when he made the huge (30X5m.) murals for the Madagascar Pavillion (a country where he'd never set foot) for the Colonial Exposition.
Two or three times a week in New York, André Breton, Georges Duthuit, Robert Lebel, and I would read the news and propaganda texts issued by Lazareff's offices. I was given Roosevelt's speeches to read because it seemed that my voice could be heard best over the jamming.
D.E. How did you happen to find the work?
C.L-S. Through Patrick Waldberg, whom I've already mentioned. He worked there too. He was both a poet and art critic. Later he wrote about Max Ernst and published some charming books on the turn of the century epoch. At the time we never would have guessed that back in Paris he would become a corresponding member of the Institute de France! He used to drink and lead a wild life, going to little bars in Harlem where he would sometimes bring me along.

D.E. If I'm to believe your essay on New York, one of your main activities at this time was acquiring artwork.
C.L-S. Max Ernst had a passion for primitive art. On Third Avenue - which was very different from what it is now - he discovered a little German antique dealer who sold him an Indian artifact. At that time you almost never saw such things for sale. Max Ernst told us about the dealer. We had very little money, and whoever had a few dollars would purchase the coveted object. Since our antique dealer had found an outlet, more and more objects became available. In fact - I can tell the story now because it has been published - they came from a major museum that was selling them because they were considered duplicates of works in their collection. As if there could be duplicates! When the dealer discovered he had a market, he became the intermediary between the museum and ourselves.
D.E. Did you know that at the time?
C.L-S. We very soon found out. With the help of the guard, he took us into the museum storehouses, in an isolated building in the New York suburbs. We would make our selection, and a few days later the objects would appear in his shop.
D.E. What became of the things you bought?
C.L-S. I brought them back with me to France. But I had personal problems and had to sell them at Drouot's in 1951. The Musée de l'Homme and the museum in Leiden bought several of them. Also private individuals, such as Lacan and, I believe, Malraux, bought a few others. I have two or three of them.
D.E. Did you maintain your ties with the surrealists after the war?
C.L-S. With Ernst, Breton, and Waldberg, yes. I lost track of the others.
André Breton went back to France before I did, since in 1945 I was sent back to New York as the cultural counsellor to the French embassy. So we didn't see one another for three years. We had a ritual going to the flea market every Saturday with his small band of followers. It was considered a great honor to be allowed to accompany Breton on this occasion.
D.E. Were you ever banished from the realm?
C.L-S. Of course we had a row, for which I was unwittingly responsible. Breton had been asked to do a book that was to be called L'Art magique. Inspiration failed him, and as one often does at such a pass, he made up a questionnaire, which he sent to me and some other people. I admired Breton. When we looked at art he had an infallible eye for objects, he was always right on the nose, never hesitating in his assessment. But the term "magic" had a precise meaning for me, it was part of the anthropological vocabulary. I didn't like to see it put to dubious uses. Instead of stating my objections, I preferred simply not to answer. Breton sent me another questionnaire. I was in the Cévennes on vacation with my son from my second marriage, who was seven at the time. The questionnaire came with reproductions of artworks you were supposed to rank as "more or less magical." Even if I objected to the project, I thought it would be interesting to have a child's reaction, and I thought it would interest Breton in the same way. Particularly since my son ranked the pictures without any hesitation. I sent it to Breton, who responded with an acerbic letter. The book came out, with my son's answers included. But the copy he sent to me bore a curt dedication to my son.
D.E. And you didn't see one another again?
C.L-S. We more or less reconciled our differences but it wasn't the same.
D.E. And with Max Ernst?
C.L-S. Our friendship continued after New York. There was never a problem. When the Collége de France invited me to give the lectures for the Loubat Foundation - I was not yet a member, it was about the time I was turned down - Max Ernst came to hear me. I happened to describe a Hopi divinity while expressing my regret that I was unable to obtain a slide to illustrate my point. The following week, Max Ernst brought me a drawing big enough to show for a lecture. I still have it. Max Ernst's attitude toward anthropology was the opposite of Breton's. Breton distrusted it, he didn't like having scholarly matters get between him and the object. Max Ernst collected objects but also wanted to know everything about them.
D.E. Did this contact with the surrealists influence you? I mean your work? Rodney Needham, in an article in The Times Literary Supplement in 1984, compares your work to that of the surrealists.
C.L-S. In a way, the comparison is valid. It is true that the surrealists and I all belong to an intellectual tradition that goes back to the second half of the nineteenth century. Breton had a passion for Gustave Moreau, for the whole symbolist and neosymbolist period. The surrealists were attuned to the irrational and sought to exploit it from an aesthetic standpoint. This is part of the same material I work with, but I am guided by the intention of analyzing and understanding it while remaining sensitive to its beauty.
I will add that among this group there was a climate of intellectual ferment that did a great deal for me. Contact with the surrealists enriched and honed my aesthetic tastes. Many objects I would have rejected as unworthy appeared in a different light thanks to Breton and his friends.
D.E. You say in The View from Afar that the books in your Mythology series are put together like Max Ernst's collages!
C.L-S. The surrealists taught me not to fear the abrupt and unexpected comparisons that Max Ernst like to use in his collages. This influence can be seen in The Savage Mind. Max Ernst built personal myths out of images borrowed from another culture. I mean from old nineteenth-century books, and he made these images say more than they did when viewed by an innocent eye. In the Mythology books I also cut up a mythical subject and recombined the fragments to bring out more meaning.

pp. 31-35

His tone is very modest as he talks about people who are giants of the 20th century. Normaly, I would put links to key names, but there are so many well known people in here and it is late. Google it yourself. :)

Complete Sentence Controversy

From 60 Minutes, Andy Borowitz

Obama's Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy

In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tick, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.

But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring.
Continued here at the Huffington Post.

This would be funny if it weren't so true.

Ropi Survives Pálotas

For months now, Ropi, an 18 year old high school student in Budapest, has been blogging about the agony of preparing to dance the Pálotas, a traditional Hungarian dance, at a school performance. The tales of stepping on his partner's feet have been tucked in between accounts of ancient Roman history, scores on math tests, his thoughts about his somewhat cool personality and what others say about it, and what he will do when he gets out of school. It's a blog I follow regularly because it is so charmingly mixes maturity well beyond his 18 years with honest, age appropriate concerns about life, girls, parents, and the future. The look of his blog changes too, reflecting his own experimenting with who he is and could be.

So I was delighted when he posted this video of the dance. There is something very universal, in 2008, of a school dance in a decorated gymnasium, with parents taking shaky videos of their kids' performances. (Yes, there are places where kids don't even go to school, let alone have video cameras, but there are also many places where they do.) Ropi is the tallest kid in his class and he's wearing blue. I think he's right there in the beginning with his back to us.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fluorescent Bulbs - Dimmers and Mercury

Back in April 2007 I did a brief post on moving to fluorescent light bulbs. We've been changing to the fluorescent bulbs as the old ones burn out. But the one over our kitchen table burned out pretty fast. I thought they were supposed to last longer. Well, I put in a new new. Several days later as I was sitting at the table, there was a poof sound and the light went out.

I mentioned this to someone who does maintenance stuff and it came out that most fluorescent light bulbs DO NOT work with dimmer switches. So I started looking for fluorescents that are ok for dimmer switches. Costco didn't have them. Fred Meyer didn't have them. I called Lowe's. They had them. But I couldn't find them. A very nice sales woman was sure she had seen them, but she didn't seem to have any more knowledge about where they were than I did. She asked another salesperson who said they were "right here" but a women had bought them all and was headed to Wasilla to buy all the ones they had.

I thought that a bit weird, but who was I to question him. The nice saleswoman took me to the info counter where the lady shrugged her shoulders. "I'll look it up in the computer for you if you have a few minutes" the nice salesperson said. I wandered to
the garden shop and when I came back with some cyclamen (pink) and kalenchoe (yellow,) she was waiting for me just around the corner from where we were looking. The whole end of the shelf was dimmable fluorescents.

But there was one more issue. These things have mercury and you aren't supposed to just throw them out. So what do you do? As I was researching this, I also was reminded that batteries have mercury too. From a Lawrence, Kansas recycling site:

Developing awareness of household batteries and their current use is essential to understanding the importance of this collection program. The following list provides facts about battery use and its impact on our solid waste stream:

  • 2.5 billion dry cell batteries are sold in the US each year
  • An estimated 530,000 pounds of batteries require disposal daily
  • Americans own over 900 million battery operated devices
  • The average household batteries accounted for 89% of the mercury in the municipal solid waste stream
  • Alkaline and carbon-zinc batteries are the most common types of batteries consumed, comprising 90-93% of all batteries in the residential waste stream
  • In a recent EPA study, nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) rechargeable batteries were found to contribute over 50% of the cadmium in the waste stream
An Anchorage Daily News online post - is this on the recycling and renewables blog? can't tell for sure - from March 2008 written by Kevin Harun says:

Improper disposal of fluorescent lamps includes discarding them in the trash and intentional crushing. Improper disposal of fluorescent lights may eventually make its way into soils and water bodies. When the lamp is crushed, the mercury expels into the air and may contaminate the surrounding area.

If a lamp is crushed, intentionally or unintentionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly recommends that people present leave the area for at least 15 minutes.

Proper disposal of fluorescent lamps is as follows: Once the lamp is removed, place the lamp in original packaging or a long cardboard box. Do no tape the lamps together. Store them in a dry place.

Once you are ready to dispose of them, bring them to Total Reclaim, Inc in the Huffman Business Park. Total Reclaim, Inc. will charge 18 cents per linear foot for them to be properly disposed of. Total Reclaim may be reached by calling 561-0544.
Types of lamps to look out for:
• Fluorescent – Straight, circular, or U-tubes
• High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps
• “Green Tip” or “low mercury” lamps
• Neon lamps, and
• Any other lamps that may contain mercury, lead, and high pressure sodium.

What's wrong with this solution? It gives people these personal costs:
a. storing their used bulbs
b. taking them to the Huffman Business Park
c. paying someone to take your bulbs
for basically communal gain
a. reducing mercury (and other) contamination

The Municipality is relying on people's concern for the public good to do the right thing. Certainly, there are people who will do this. But all the costs are personal and the rewards are communal- keeping mercury out of the landfill. OK, I guess knowing you did something good for the community for some people is a personal reward.

But it's so much easier to just dump the bulb into your garbage bag and have Solid Waste people pick it up.

This is a case of the bulb companies being inefficient - using economic terms - because their product has externalities (polluting the environment) that we have to pay for which they don't have to consider in their costs. (An externality is a cost that is passed on to the community and does not show up in the cost or price of the item, so the manufacturer makes a profit by having everyone else subsidize the costs of cleaning-up his garbage. This is one of the problems with the market that even classical economists identify.)

So ideally, the manufacturers find a way to make an efficient light bulb without using mercury or other toxic materials. But until that day, they should be charged a recycling fee high enough to recover the mercury in the bulbs. It could be used by the Municipality to pay people to bring in their old light bulbs and perhaps a little bonus to make it worth their while to drive to the recycle place. In communities with poor folk, the collection of such recyclables with return deposits (like aluminum cans) is often done by the poor who can raise money this way and clean the environment.

So, I now have a dimmable fluorescent light bulb ($11 - yikes!) and when I'm done with it, I get to pay someone to take it off my hands.

Claude Lévi-Strauss One Hundredth Birthday - Post 3: What Others are Saying

Today I'm going to give you glimpses of what others - people who know this topic much better than I - are saying about Claude Lévi Strauss' 100th birthday. [All the Lévi-Strauss Birthday posts are here.] In each case you are only getting a small portion of what they have written. You can read the rest by following the links. These are in the order that I found them.

From Robert K. Blechman at Blogcritics - Sci/Tech
Beyond his well-known scholarly accomplishments, I think I can say without fear of contradiction that Professor Lévi-Strauss' personal longevity is a testament to the positive benefits of the pursuit of structural anthropology on long life and good health. Just carrying around his four-volume, 2200 page oeuvre, "Mythologiques" will improve your muscle tone and cardiovascular capacity...

Some critics get hung up on discrepancies within the structural methodology which Lévi-Strauss used to explain mythology, totemic systems and kinship systems. Other criticism focuses on how a particular interpretation doesn't fit the recorded ethnography for a culture. While the methodology itself, or its particular application may be subject to review and revision, what is important is that Lévi-Strauss demonstrated that there is a universality to the human mind, and given sufficient symbolic material, all peoples -- whether within an oral culture, a literate culture or our post-literate culture — still retain a commonality which can be explored through our symbol systems and perhaps understood in terms of the underlying structures transmitted via the stories told.

Our own "modern" culture also has a mythic "score," but being part of it, it is difficult for us to see. The distinctions between "raw" vs. "cooked," "nature" vs. "culture" and "modern" vs. "primitive" that Lévi-Strauss finds in his studies of North and South America native populations drive the narratives, beliefs and social customs of 21st century populations as well. [continue here.]

From Patrick Wilcken at the Times [London] Literary Supplement: [Note - this looks like the really authoritative piece to read]

The century of Claude Lévi-Strauss: How the great anthropologist, now approaching his 100th birthday, has earned a place in the prestigious Pléiade library

In 1938, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss drove a mule train up a derelict telegraph line, which wound its way across the scrublands of Mato Grosso state in Brazil. He headed an ethnographic team conducting fieldwork among the semi-nomadic Nambikwara who roamed the plains through the dry season. Photographs from the journey look dated even for their era. Men in pith helmets mingling with virtually naked tribesmen, mules heaving crates of equipment through the wilderness, laden-down canoes and jungle campsites – it all has the feel of some grand nineteenth-century scientific expedition. Yet, after the Second World War, Lévi-Strauss would add a modern twist to anthropology with the development of a completely new way of thinking about ethnographic data...

As he approaches his 100th birthday on November 28, Lévi-Strauss has become one of the few living authors to find a place in Gallimard’s Pléiade library. From the almost weightless Bible paper and soft leather cover to the pale pink flyleaves and the gold-embossed “Claude Lévi-Strauss Oeuvres” on the spine, Gallimard has retained the library’s old-world gravitas. In a testament to just how differently the publishing industry works across the Channel, this 2,000-page, seventy-euro edition sold 13,000 copies in its first three months...

The first thing one notices about this book is a huge absence. Organized chronologically, the collection skips from 1962, when Lévi-Strauss had only recently entered the Collège de France, to the mid-1970s, after his retirement; from the birth of structuralism in the popular imagination to the beginning of its decline. The core of Lévi-Strauss’s career when he was professor at the Collège, a media celebrity and one of the most influential theorists of his age, has been excised. Lévi-Strauss has opted for what he described as his “petites mythologiques” over the centrepiece of his career, the monolithic Mythologiques quartet. A further absence is his PhD thesis, Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949), the reinterpretation of the field of kinship studies which established him as a leading thinker in post-war France. As Lévi-Strauss himself made the selection, it seems a timid assessment of his own output. [continue here]

Here are some 1988 (so he's 79 or 80) video interviews in French with several anthropologists (Lévi-Strauss is the first). These aren't related to his birthday, but they give us a chance to see and hear the man. Even for those of us who don't understand French - you surely can pick out some words, including the French pronunciation of his name - they are worth watching.
Entretiens avec Claude LÉVI-STRAUSS, Jean-Pierre VERNANT, Jacques Le GOFF, Pierre BOURDIEU, Andre, COMTE-SPONVILLE, Michel TOURNIER et Luc de HEUSCH. 1988
(part 2 is here)

And one in English, no, it turns out to be in French too. This is 1972 I believe, so he would be 63 here (his birthday is the end of November).

This link at YouTube will give you more videos from these two sets of interviews.

For a detailed discussion of Lévi-Strauss' political development, we have
An essay to mark the 100th birthday of Claude Lévi-Strauss: Anti-Historicism and the Algerian War

Andy Blunden. May 2008


The publication of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s “The Savage Mind” in early 1962, as France stood on the precipice of civil war, launched a trend of “anti-historicism” in social philosophy. This “anti-historicism” had its roots in Durkheim’s sociology and structural linguistics, and while remaining a positive contribution to scientific technique, the ethical and political implications of this turn were far reaching and mixed. The point of this article is to show how social movements impact on the development of science. In spite of Lévi-Strauss’s adoption of the cloak of scientific objectivity, his “anti-historicism” was a direct response to the Algerian struggle for independence and presaged the decentred post-colonial world then emerging from such struggles across the world. The impact of this “anti-historicism” on science and politics shifted over the following decades but such transformations were also responses to social movements, whether or not they were valid scientific paradigms shifts. I will explain what I mean by “anti-historicism” later, once some of the nuances of Lévi-Strauss’s position and its relation to the Algerian independence war have been explored.

Lévi-Strauss’s Intellectual Development up to 1962

At school in the 1920s, Lévi-Strauss was involved in moderate socialist politics and at university was general secretary of the Federation of Socialist Students for a time, but his experience of the Second World War and in Brazil led him to a political position of refusing to accept the superiority of his own Western European culture, inclusive of both the dominant capitalist culture and the socialist alternative. He did not ‘drop out’ though, but adopted as his central value Western society’s key achievement, science, and worked assiduously to secure a place in that society as an esteemed scientist. His greatest fear was the prospect of the world being subsumed by a monoculture, and above all he valued cultural diversity, which, somewhat ironically, he credited as both the content and the source of progress.

His commitment to cultural diversity and admiration for ‘primitive’ (Lévi-Strauss’s word) cultures pre-existed all of his scientific discoveries as an anthropologist, and indeed motivated his interest in anthropology. But he almost never lent his name and prestige to a cause or spoke out publicly against the destruction of the ‘primitive’ cultures he so admired, almost never. Lévi-Strauss consistently adopted the cloak of scientific objectivity and rightly judged that his political aims could best be furthered by distancing himself behind the mask of science. Lévi-Strauss’s trope of discovering his political beliefs to be scientifically proven facts is really a very dogmatic mode of political argument.

By his own account, in his youth Lévi-Strauss had three ‘intellectual mistresses’: geology, Freud and Marx. But he was never a Marxist in any recognizable sense; Marx for him was an icon of ethical skepticism and scientific critique, but he never accepted Marx’s commitment to socialism, class struggle nor his historical method. Likewise, geology and psychoanalysis stood for the need to probe below surface impressions to the underlying structures. His public admiration for Marx and Freud did however serve to give him a probably undeserved reputation for being on the Left. [continue here]

And excerpts from the Jewish Daily Newspaper The Forward's article in honor of Lévi-Strauss' 100th birthday:
Claude of the Jungle
The other Lévi-Strauss turns 100

On November 28, the centenary of the legendary French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss will be fêted in Paris. As a centenary celebration of a legend, however, it is rather unusual, as the birthday boy is very much alive and well.

Born in 1908 to a French-Jewish family — his grandfather served as a rabbi in Versailles — Lévi-Strauss made his name with such key texts as “Tristes Tropiques” (“A World on the Wane”) in 1955 and “La Pensée sauvage” (“The Savage Mind”) in 1962. . .
[The photo came with The Forward article and is a Getty Image.]

His sheer mastery of a vast number of subjects — a friend, writer Claudine Hermann, once said that Lévi-Strauss “gave me the impression of universal knowledge” — has left some readers with the image of a remote, aloof observer. Yet over the years, the supposedly cool and reticent Lévi-Strauss has granted increasingly telling glimpses into his personality and motivations.

Among these, unquestionably, are his Jewish roots, as he recently explained to the newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur. “In grade school, I was called ‘dirty Jew,’” he said. He went on to recall fistfights provoked by antisemitic school bullies: “Suddenly finding oneself contested by a community to which one believed oneself to belong entirely may lead a young mind to take some distance in terms of social reality, insofar as he is forced to look at it simultaneously from within, where he believes himself to be, and from without, where he is placed.” This sense of dislocation as a French Jew, he implies, was a natural mindset for studying other cultures, and especially for reserving judgment on their qualities and right to exist. He survived World War II in exile, and part of that time was spent in New York, teaching at The New School. Faculty members there advised him to call himself “Claude L. Strauss,” lest Yankee students laugh too much at the coincidence between his name and that of the Bavarian-Jewish immigrant tailor who introduced denim blue jeans.

In 1952, a scant few years after he learned the full tragedy of the Nazi occupation of his homeland, Lévi-Strauss wrote a text that continues to resonate, “Race and History.” [A small part of which I excerpted in the first post of this series.] Sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the book made the case that fighting the notion that some races are inferior to others also means combating the concept that some societies are culturally superior to others. Its adamant originality may have been influenced by a close wartime friendship with surrealist poet André Breton, whose “imaginative vivacity” he lauded in a moving tribute to another writer, Georges Dumézil, at the French Academy.

The rest of the Forward piece is here.

I feel a little embarrassed because there are so many people so much more knowledgeable than I on this topic. So I have a responsibility to point out some of them and what they are saying about Claude Lévi Strauss. More tomorrow. And, oh yes, even before reading this last piece above, it became very clear that most people looking up Levi-Strauss are looking up the jeans. Is there some distant relationship between the two? Maybe that will come up as I continue this.