Sunday, May 31, 2009

How much is $54.84 * 16?

Do the math before you read further.

Linda at Celtic Diva wrote last week that she was being charged $65,706 for her request for public records. She posted the following response she got to her request:

To provide complete responses to the email portions of your request, we will need to electronically search the email accounts of the 71 current and former employees who have worked in the Governor's Executive Offices since December 2006. For that electronic search, we will need the assistance of the State Security Office in the Department of Administration, Division of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS). ETS estimates that each email account retrieval, search, and record production will require 16 hours to complete. The ETS hourly rate is $54.84, so ETS estimates its costs per email account will be $925.44. Based on that estimate, ETS's estimated costs for obtaining records from 71 employee email accounts total $65,706.

I have a search function on my email. I can get the list of emails I've received and sent to someone up in a couple of minutes. Why should it take computer experts so much longer?

I asked someone I know and trust on technology issues. Here's my source's response to the question whether it should really take that long to do such a search:
no. it's stonewalling. it's not impossible that it took 16 hours the
first time, if they spent 15.5 hours screwing around, but for all
future times, it ought to take 5 minutes.

Aside from that, am I missing something? Let's see:

$54.84 * 16 hours = $925.44

How did they get that? When I do it by hand I get $877.44. When I do it again on a calculator I get the same. If they can't even multiply correctly, how can they be expected estimate the time correctly, or even do the programming they need to find the emails?

But $877.44 is still outrageous and $62,297.24 ($877.44*71 searches) is still way too pricey.

I also looked up ETS on the web. They have a link to a page of consulting rates. There's no position listed at $54.84.

Maybe Sarah Palin is beginning to understand why Randy Ruedrich was so irritated with her when she made ethics complaints against him. Do you think she's apologized to him?

Grand Opening of Anchorage's Newest Stairwell

There's been a lot of hoopla about the grand opening of the new addition to the Anchorage Museum. We've been watching the building take shape for a couple of years now. And you can probably tell from the title that I wasn't captivated.

It was a chilly, blustery day, but people swarmed all over the outside and inside of the museum. There was entertainment out in the street and in the auditorium.

And some people were outside eating despite the chill.

Here's where you go in. OK so far. On the left of the front counter you can see the Library and Archive. Unfortunately, that wasn't open yet. Behind me are the Muse Cafe (I wonder how many museums have cafes with that name - [the first ten pages on google only found one at the Palm Springs Museum]) and the gift shop. We didn't look at them until later. But then you go into the museum. Or so I thought.

The first gallery you enter features a four story stairwell. The room is windowless, with dramatic lighting so that you get the full effect of this grand work of art.

The stairwell!! This is positively and totally avant garde. And you thought we were some hicktown whose museum would feature items of local artistic and historical significance. No way. Our grandest new work of art, with a four story gallery all to itself. is an homage to Anchorage fitness - a stairwell. No wimpy escalators for us.

The second floor galleries were closed off still. Who needs a gallery when we have this incredible stairwell?

There was a traveling Gold exhibit on the third floor to the left. But fortunately, the tickets had all been given away so we didn't have to get off the stairwell.

It seemed a bit strange that they had such a nicely printed sign to tell us this. If they knew in advance, why advertise it in the newspaper? It wasn't just this sign, there was another one behind the front desk that said it was sold out and that sign wasn't one you could easily get reprinted the last day.


Looking away from the gold exhibit, you could see these frosted windows. When we got to the fourth floor, we got a possible reason for the frosted windows.

The stairwell ended on the fourth floor.
I think there was another closed gallery to the left as we reached the top of the magnificent stairwell. To our right we saw that the fourth floor windows were clear.

Looking at the view - the roof of the existing museum building, a roof that doesn't fit the glitz of the new addition - offered a possible explanation for the opaque windows below. How about a roof garden? I know, I know. All these clever ideas cost money. And if I donate $5 million they would be happy to put in a roof garden with my name on it.

But there was a small gallery on the fourth floor. Appropriately, it was dedicated to the new addition to the museum.

And here is where my sense of the importance of the stairwell was confirmed. There, in blood red, was the stairwell marked out on the sketch of the museum. It is the centerpiece, the masterpiece, the piece d resistance, of the addition. I always allow for the possibility I'm wrong. But what else could that red zigzag be?

In this gallery you can learn about the architect, David Chipperfield, stairmeister.

Unfortunately, all these descriptions are in the laudatory tone of book jacket covers. Usually museum curators are more objective, but I guess this is their baby, not their exhibit.

Now really what does this actually say? I'm starting to feel bad now. I sat next to the author of these words at the Tuesday Dr. Brokenleg breakfast. It's much easier for me when I don't know the people I write about. I wish, though, that I'd seen the museum before the breakfast. Then I could have asked the director some questions. But these words could be written about any museum anywhere. There is nothing specific about Anchorage or the building here.

Function, in the shape of a stairwell, absolutely drives form, but they don't mention that. And now back to the centerpiece of the new addition. This stairwell isn't just on the left and the right, part of it goes up the middle too.

There was also a choice of an elevator. An elephant sized elevator. I understand they need a giant elevator to get crates with large pieces up to the galleries. Probably there was another elevator somewhere. I didn't see it. But no one would build a wing with just one elevator for four stories. I know we Alaskans are tough and will want to only take our magnificent stairs to get to the galleries. But some of the tourists are a little older and they might appreciate an elevator. But if there were only one, how long would they have to wait?

Once we got back down to the bottom and marveled anew at this spectacular new piece of functional art, we wandered to the old section of the museum and into the theater where we were just in time to hear Gabriel Ayala of the Yaqui people of southern Arizona. The video is short, and the audio is from my pocket Canon Powershot, but it will give you an idea of how sweet his sound is.

We then went back out the new main entrance. On the way we checked out the new cafe. There were about five items for eating and about five pages of wines, beers, and other alcoholic beverages. There was no shortage of $40 and up bottles of wine. When we finally got to order, it turned out they were out of what we wanted. No problem. This was their first day with real people and will probably be the busiest day they will have for the next five years at least.

I got the basic overview of the new addition and the park from the fourth floor gallery. I've added a bit to help flesh it out. I was really looking forward to all the birch trees, but at this point there's nothing there but dirt. Somewhere I read it would be landscaped this summer.

OK. I'm a bit taken aback by what's inside the museum. I recognize that the second floor and fourth floor galleries aren't open yet and we couldn't get into the Gold exhibit because the tickets were snapped up already. And presumably there will eventually be art pieces in the lobby. But to walk into a room that has nothing but a giant staircase left me feeling flat. There's an awful lot of space taken up by stairs. And there is nothing to see from the stairs. No view outside, no overview of a gallery. You really have to hike a bit before you ever see anything that resembles art (ok, it is a very nice staircase) or history or science. And today, if you didn't have a gold ticket, there was no art to see in the new building, unless you count the drawings of the building on the fourth floor. A little history in there too.

Unlike the last museum addition which is human scale and whose stairway (on right) complements the room, the new stairwell exists in isolation and the size dwarfs humans. I'll withhold further judgment until the other galleries are opened up, but I still don't see how they will get around having this giant stairwell at the center of the new addition.

The outside of the building looks fine. Though this picture of the Figg Museum in Davenport, Iowa shows that Chipperton used leftover ideas in Anchorage.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Garden - Aphid, Phlox, Narcissus, Forget-Me-Not, Hosta

How do so many of these critters show up so suddenly on one particular plant? I didn't quite find the exact answer, but here's something from the Horticulture website of the University of Wisconsin

The life cycle of most species is rather complex. In Wisconsin aphids spend the winter as eggs. When these hatch in the spring, they produce only wingless females that give birth to live young (without mating = parthenogenetic reproduction). Each female aphid reproduces for a period of 20–30 days, giving birth to 60–100 live nymphs. The nymphs look like the adults but are smaller. The nymphs mature and can produce offspring within a week when temperatures are high. Eggs within these females start to develop long before birth so that a newly born aphid can contain within herself not only the developing embryos of her daughters but also those of her granddaughters which are developing within her daughters. This 'telescoping of generations' means aphids can build up immense populations very quickly. Under ideal conditions, one cabbage aphid could produce 1,560,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 offspring by the end of a growing season. (Obviously this doesn't happen, since natural controls – such as weather and predators – eliminate significant numbers of aphids.)

From Backyard Nature, a little more on the life cycle of the aphid:

An "average" aphid life cycle would be something like this:

In spring an egg hatches, producing a wingless female aphid who soon begins parthenogenetically producing new wingless females. Generation after generation of wingless females survive one another until hot weather comes or maybe the plant on which they are living dies and then suddenly some of the females grow wings and fly off. At the right you see what a winged aphid may look like, though they come in many colors and shapes. This new generation of female winged aphid very well may at this time find a plant host of a completely different species from that on which their spring generations have developed. For instance, Green Peach Aphids overwinter as eggs on peach and related trees but in spring they move to various weeds and agricultural crops, and then still later they move to potato crops, only in the fall returning to peach and related trees.

Typically late in the year when it's time to move back to the plant species on which the aphid overwinters, finally some aphids develop into males as well as females. Sexual reproduction then takes place and when the mated females return to the winter plant-host they lay fertilized eggs. Then next spring the females hatch from the eggs and the cycle begins again, with no males in sight.

Last year I didn't clean these guys off frequently enough and they seriously stunted the growth of the Thalictrum and its flowers. So I just keep wiping or hosing them off.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dr. Brokenleg Lecture - Belonging, Mastery, Independence, Generosity

On Tuesday, Dr. Martin Brokenleg, in Anchorage through the work of a new coalition of groups including Healing Racism in Anchorage, called Anchorage Community Diversity Project, began his week of work in Anchorage with a breakfast talk that I covered here.

During the day he worked with school district folks and in the evening there was a long session at UAA. For me there wasn't anything startlingly new, but I appreciated his way of presenting it. He was extremely open and supportive and his approach offered model of what young people need to grow up whole that was based on his own Native American heritage, yet also had hints of Maslow, Covey, Myers-Briggs, and other models of behavior used, say, in mainstream management programs.

I'll offer a few things he said that I found useful and then post some slides of his basic model.

He repeated some key ideas from the morning session:

"We meet on the basis of our sameness and grow on the basis of our differences."

"No one can grow up in America and not be taught racism. Whites too are negatively influenced. If you are white and you feel you have to be careful about what you say so as not to offend someone of a different race, then you are a victim of racism." (somewhat paraphrased)

In the evening he focused on how people need lots of people to be raised right. In his culture, all his parents brothers and sisters are considered his parents. All his cousins are considered brothers and sisters. And all his nieces and nephews are considered his grandchildren. The nuclear family - mother, father, and children - living alone and seperated from the rest of the family is a unique development of the modern world, spurred on by capitalist system's need for consumption. With each nuclear family, you need a separate house, separate washer and drier, stove, televisions, cars, etc.

But you lose the support of all your family in raising your children, in helping out when you're ill, and in supplying wisdom and diversion. A husband cannot fulfill all his wife's emotional needs and vice versa. Sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, all offer unique forms of social and emotional support. Sure, we can recreate such communities, but we need lots of people for our emotional growth and health.

My wife has observed that whatever strange behaviors one has, there is at least one other person in the family who shares those traits and understands you and can offer you support.

Dr. Brokenleg went on to talk about what a person needs to be spiritually strong. He
identified four factors we all need:

  • To be important, Significance
  • Competence
  • Sense of Personal Power
  • Knowing one's own Goodness
He then said that in the modern world these factors had been substituted:

Significance substituted by Individualism
Competence substituted by Winning
Power substituted by Dominance
Goodness substituted by Affluence

He himself offered a slightly different terminology for the four and put them around a medicine wheel. (I didn't get a picture of his medicine wheel, this one I got from Cherokee Indian Art. Dr. Brokenleg is Lakota I believe.)

First, one must belong, must have significance. He gave a story about how his aunt walked four miles through a snow storm to see him and say goodbye to him when he was leaving for college. An act like that was a demonstration to him of his significance, his belonging.

Mastery (competence) comes after the belonging. It gives you the skills you need to function in life.

Mastery makes it possible for independence (power). At this point you know who you are and are not susceptible to peer pressure. In getting to independence, he said there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment doesn't work. Punishment simply leads to obedience, you do it because you are forced to and someone is watching. Discipline gives one choices to learn and improve. Discipline leads to an ability to make good choices. (I should have taken better notes here so I could better explain the difference.)

Finally, when you have mastery and independence, you must share that with others. This is generosity (knowing one's goodness.)

I think there is a lot of wisdom here. I believe that raising children is the most important place we can put our energy and attention. If we raise them right, all the interventions we have created (police, drug rehabilitation, etc.) would be unnecessary. And this is as good a guide for raising children well as any I've seen.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Healing Racism in Anchorage Discussion Group Tonight

A compass piece by Grace Jang, a journalist at KTVA, was published in today's ADN. She wrote about being at a local talk radio show.

As part of the discussion, the talk show host brings up race and begins to imitate an Asian accent: "Ah, you like, ah, you know, you like a rice."

Both his guests, neither of whom is Asian American, groan disapprovingly.

Seconds later, he interrupts his guest with another Asian imitation.

And then again:

"I can dog Koreans because I'm married to one."

She goes on to write that the manager apologized to her (she's Korean-American) and she told him it was no problem. But later...

I discuss the issue with my co-workers and the response is almost unanimous: Why didn't you say something right then and there?

My response: I'm a reporter. I was there to observe. Never in my decade-long career in journalism have I ever been the story, been in the story or been part of the story -- nor do I wish to be.

But wasn't I offended as a Korean American? The host disrespected you personally and professionally.

Honestly, I respond, I hear that kind of stuff so much, it becomes white noise. Especially from a conservative radio talk show.

Later, at home, I wonder: What would I have done had I been a listener in my car? Would I have said something? Was I hiding behind my profession?

This the sort of incident that requires us to have organizations like Healing Racism in Anchorage (HRA) where people have studied the issue of racism and understand the various forms of denial. Where we have searched for techniques to gently, but seriously, explore the issue and help people learn skills to interrupt racism. (I have been on the steering committee of HRA for a number of years.) HRA was one of the sponsors of Dr. Brokenleg's week here in Anchorage.

Tonight, HRA is beginning one of our six week courses. It will meet

Thursday nights from 6:30pm - 9:30pm

at UAA's Rasmuson Hall 207A

until July 2. If you are interested you can register at the door, subject to space.

It will look at the word racism and the various meanings people attach to it. It will look at how racism in American history - from slavery to the displacement and slaughter of Native Americans to the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII - all leave a legacy that affects not only the descendants of victims, but also of the perpetrators.

The discussions are hard, but the ground rules require everyone to be respectful, and encourage everyone to honestly explore their beliefs and feelings on this topic. There is a structured curriculum based on research done on racism and the healing of racism.

The charge is $25 for members of Healing Racism Anchorage and $50 for others. (Membership costs $25)

I tend not to read the ADN online because the comments are so uncivil. I went there today to get the link. In this case though, the comments help make the point that racism is alive and well in Anchorage. People have strong beliefs and don't even realize that what they are saying reveals an ignorance about people who are different from them. There are also some more enlightened comments. Here are a few of the comments:

jjmichaels wrote on 05/28/2009 01:15:14 PM:

I'm very offended by these comments, because who, who, who will speak for the rice. Maybe it was offended for being likened to a Korean. And what about the Chinese? They love rice. And how can you "dog" Koreans without a barking buffet? Maybe if people weren't so thin skinned when it comes to satire and the mere use of words, there would be no racism. Your wounds are all self inflicted. Perhaps you should spend you time concerning yourselves with things that actually HURT people. I think you would have more than enough to keep your simple minded selves busy.

A little blaming the victim here. It's your fault that you're so thin skinned. Where's your sense of humor?

cafeina wrote on 05/28/2009 01:22:05 PM:

I grew up in multi-cultural neighborhoods, went to diverse schools and have always had friends from diverse backgrounds (both ethnic and social). As a child, I thought that people viewed others as individuals not as stereotypes. I didn't really know what racism was. Then I grew up.

There are many people who understand that there is only one race: human. There are people who respect and celebrate cultural diversity. Then there are those who see skin color and stereotypes only. There are those who make racist remarks without remorse. And most frighteningly, there are those who fully believe the stereotypes, racist beliefs and preconceived notions.

You absolutely have to pick your battles in order to survive in this world. But as humans, we need to speak up whenever we see injustice. That is the only way that this world will become a better place. Racism is a learned behavior. It is spread from generation to generation. The only way to end racism and hate is to spread a new message for

aabco7 wrote on 05/28/2009 01:26:10 PM:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

The concept of Americans being first and foremost something else "_(fill in the blank here with say Martian--American is divisive. We are all Americans. Or not.
Americans are indivisible according to the pledge of allegiance, not divided by color, origin etc. To continue to use this terminology is in itself horribly damaging and offensive. Stop with the hyphenated name calling!

valleydrummer wrote on 05/28/2009 01:33:03 PM:

Just to set a few things straight, the Korean people, as wonderful as they are, are not a "race". They are a nationality and have their own distinct culture. I lived there for three years and learned to love and respect their culture. I also learned during that time that they, as a group, are some of the most racist people on the planet.

The idea that cultural diversity is somehow good is nonsense. We have a culture here in the USA. We developed it by taking things we liked from many, many others. When people from other countries view us, they do not make comments about race, they just say, "american", it's too bad we don't do the same.

My experience is that most minorities in the US would be more than happy to blend in. But as Grace Jang says, " I hear that kind of stuff so much, it becomes white noise." The point is that others insist on the difference, that you aren't as American as white people.

And on the positive side, maintaining one's cultural heritage adds richness to the mix that is the United States. Certainly Italian-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans, German-Americans all can be both American and can remember their ancestry as well. I find that it is often people who have no knowledge of where their ancestors originally came from who resent those who do.

It's such a shame that people still harbor such distrust and sometimes even hate for people they don't know or undertstand.

Men Jerry Prevo Would Ban from Anchorage Schools

[Note: The pictures in this post are NOT mine. To see the source of the picture, click on the picture.]

In his ADN letter opposing the addition of "sexual orientation" to Anchorage's anti-discrimination ordinance, Reverend Jerry Provo wrote:
Maybe, worst of all, this ordinance would allow a man who teaches a second grade class or any grade to show up as a woman in the classroom and the School District could do nothing because of this ordinance.
I confess that I laughed when I read this letter last Friday. Phil had an overview of some of the blogs that showed how each point in the letter was dead wrong. The letter is ludicrous. His biggest worry was about men dressing like women. Where are his public crusades against drunk drivers? Against redlight runners? Against heterosexual adulterers? It seems to me that murder and adultery are both prohibited in the Ten Commandments, not in some obscure passage in Deuteronomy along with other obscure prohibitions that we no longer observe. After all, what is the big deal about men who want to dress like women?

Men have a long tradition of wearing clothes that are more like women's clothes than the "pants of the family" we associate with men in the US.

Religious men, particularly, seem to like to wear gown like clothing. Probably foremost is the Pope who wears some of the most elaborate clothing of anyone in the world. But this trend of dressing in garments more like women's clothing isn't confined to Catholics. Protestants also find this appropriate for the leadership.

Like these Episcopalians.

And Russian  Orthodox.

Muslims clerics don't wear trousers either.

Nor Buddhist monks. They wear robes.

Nor Hindu priests

Even rabbis.

All the religious leaders I know of are also considered teachers. Would Rev. Prevo protest any of these people teaching in an Anchorage school wearing their work clothes? (I know some people are thinking "separation of church and state," but it's ok. If they are teaching ABOUT their faith and NOT teaching their faith, it's ok. And most such religious leaders also have expertise in other areas they might teach.)

And it's not just religious leaders who wear clothing that would be more closely associated with women than men.

Surgeons wear gowns at work.

And academics also have a tradition of wearing gowns. Even our former President whom Rev. Prevo supported so strongly.

And would Rev. Prevo prevent these two gentlemen from coming to class dressed this way to talk about Scotland?

OK, these men aren't exactly dressed as women, but my assertion that what they wear is more like women's garments than men's is much closer to the truth than Prevo's various assertions about the 'horrible' things that would happen if the ordinance passed.

And what should we do about all the women teachers who come to school already wearing pants? Prevo doesn't raise this 'serious' problem. My belief is that in our society it's less of a problem for a woman to dress like a man, because it's natural for people to want to be mistaken for the people who have the most power. But it seems perverted, to some people, for people with power, to try to be like those with less power. So men shouldn't dress like women. It's giving away their male based privilege.

Sorry I can't let go of this quite yet. I suspect Prevo knows this is ludicrous, and he probably knows that those who introduced the ordinance did so because they think they have the votes to pass it. Last December, Frank Schaeffer was interviewed on National Public Radio. You can hear the interview at the link. From the NPR page:

Frank Schaeffer's parents, Francis and Edith, were best-selling authors who were instrumental in linking the evangelical community with the anti-abortion movement.

But after coming of age as an evangelist and helping to organize religious fundamentalists politically, Schaeffer had a crisis of faith: Though he is pro-life, he decided that abortion should remain legal.
One of the things he says in the interview is that abortion and gay issues were no big deal with his father when Frank (the son) was little. They became big issues for evangelicals because whenever they talked about them, they got lots and lots of donations.

So, I'm guessing that Prevo has a knee jerk reaction to the word 'gay'. It's less about stopping the ordinance than it's about raising money. This letter isn't aimed at the vast majority of people in Anchorage. It's far too silly. It's aimed at the rabidly ignorant who will open their wallets to fight the 'perverts.' So when Prevo writes:
It would allow any man to dress like a woman and use any public women's restroom. Ladies, do you want that to happen?
it's to alarm those folks who don't think into supporting Prevo's high lifestyle.

Of course, thinkers would shake their heads in disbelief. What's to stop men from dressing up as women now and going into women's bathrooms? The law? It's illegal to go through red lights, to litter, to beat up women, yet people do these things every day. And when the ordinance has passed and is law, I promise you that it won't prevent the police from arresting men who dress as women to get into women's restrooms.

First, the ordinance says:

The assembly finds that invidious discrimination in the sale or rental of real
property, financing practices, employment practices, public accommodations, educational institutions, and practices of the municipality, based upon race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, marital status, age, veteran’s status, or physical or mental disability, adversely affects the welfare of the community. Accordingly, such discrimination is prohibited.
Only the bold is new language. It is already illegal based on sex. So using Prevo's logic, men already can't be prevented from using the women's room. But simple practical logic tells us that since men already have an equal, alternative place to wash their hands, they aren't being discriminated against. In fact at big events, the lines are usually longer at the women's restrooms, not the men's. Sexual orientation doesn't change the fact that gay men are still men. So the same logic that applies to "sex" will apply to "sexual orientation." If it didn't happen when 'sex' became a protected class, it won't happen now.

Second, even if the ordinance did what Prevo asserts, the sexual orientation clause wouldn't save men who dress up as women to get into the women's room. Why not? Simple. Gay men aren't sexually interested in women. It is only straight men who would try to see women's private parts exposed. And they couldn't claim they were being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

There is one serious issue here though. Transgender folks. Despite what we've been taught, the distinction between men and women is not as clear cut as we tend to believe. This topic is far too complicated to start after I've already written so much here. My advice is for people to read Eugenides' Middlesex. Wikipedia says:

Middlesex is a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. It was published in 2002 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003.
The narrator and protagonist, Calliope Stephanides (later called "Cal"), an intersexed person of Greek descent, has 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. The bulk of the novel is devoted to telling his coming-of-age story growing up in Detroit, Michigan in the late 20th century.
I'm not an expert on this topic, but this novel gives at least one view of the topic in a way that makes the issue understandable to people who otherwise might dismiss people having a sex change as crazy. And it is a well written and interesting story. I would say this is the easiest way to get a good understanding of the topic.

I raise this because there are people who, as they are transitioning from one gender to another, will be using new restrooms. (I notice that Prevo isn't worried about women coming into men's rooms.) If someone reads Middlesex, and their mind isn't totally shut down, they will understand that these people pose no threat at all to women in the restroom.

I'm not satisfied with what I've found on the topic online for those who want to know more, but are not ready to get Middlesex from the library. Here's the Mayo Clinic's take on ambiguous genitalia.