Tuesday, April 30, 2013

chinaSmack - What Do You Call A Phony TV Expert?

One of the best ways to learn about other cultures is, of course, to be there and have friends who can explain things that don't show up in the books about the culture.  The internet offers glimpses like these.  Yesterday I stumbled onto one that gives lots of insight into what's happening online in China.

It's a glossary of Chinese online slang, but by using characters and English they seem to have developed a particularly rich code.  For instance, this is the Chinese character for convex - 凸.  You'll see below how it's been given new meaning.  Some are terms we can all relate to even if we don't have an equivalent in English. 

As I poked around the website, I realized there's a lot more to it than a glossary. It's a good way to get a sense of what's happening in China's cyberspace.
"chinaSMACK provides non-Chinese language readers a glimpse into modern China and Chinese society by translating into English popular and trending Chinese internet content and netizen discussions from China’s largest and most influential websites, discussion forums, and social networks."
 It says it started this way:

"Started in July 2008, chinaSMACK began as a personal project for Fauna (coyly pictured above), a young Shanghainese girl committed to improving her English language skills by translating the Chinese internet stories, pictures, and videos that were popular online. Despite English being taught to nearly every schoolchild in China, she knew her English would never be functional without daily practice.
She hopes you’ll never go back and judge her earliest translations."
Of course, this is just one little window and doesn't represent everything but it's part of a much bigger picture.  I did check with a Chinese friend who said what he saw rang true. 


I'll just offer some tidbits from the glossary.  Here's one we could start using:

砖家 [zhuānjiā / zhuan1 jia1]
noun.
A pun on 专家, expert, created by Chinese netizens to refer to false experts often used on television or in the news to advance certain agendas rather than the truth.


I can think of a couple of situations where some people would have used this in the US:

被自杀 [bèi zìshā / bei4 zi4 sha1]
verb/expression.
Literally “to be suicided”, referring to a death that has been ruled a suicide to cover up a murder.


We've all been in this situation.

手贱 [shǒu jiàn / shou3 jian4]
expression.
Online, usually refers to someone tempting fate by clicking on a link to view something they then regret viewing.

Remember convex (above)?

[tū / tu1]
emoticon
Often used online to represent giving someone the middle finger.


Calling out online shills:


五毛党 [wǔ máo dǎng / wu3 mao2 dang3]
noun.
People who are allegedly and secretly paid five mao (50 cents RMB) per post/comment that praises, supports, or defends from criticism/attack the country, government, or Communist Party. Netizens who are very nationalistic are often accused of being part of the “50 cent party” spreading propaganda or “guiding” public opinion.

And again:

水军 [shuǐ jūn / shui3 jun1]
noun.
Literally “water army”, referring to individuals, groups, or even companies that can be paid to post comments on the internet to help shape public opinion on any subject, often hired by companies to promote themselves or slander competitors


 chinaSMACK looks like an interesting site overall to see what is happening on Chinese internet.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Again, The Alaska Supreme Court Tells Redistricting Board They Meant What They Said

I haven't written about the latest Supreme Court decision on the Alaska Redistricting Board because I didn't have a copy of the order.  I couldn't find it on the Supreme Court website and requested a copy over the weekend. I got one today.  It says pretty much what I expected from the ADN articles (one and two.)  Basically that they meant what they said in the previous orders. 

There was a time when the Board was doing an outstanding job of putting all the paperwork filed before the Alaska Supreme Court on their website.  But they no longer have an Executive Director and the site is on life support.

Basically the Court has said several times now, "You have to start from scratch to create a map of Alaska House districts (the Senate districts are combinations of two House districts) by following only the Alaska Constitution's requirements."  (Following an earlier Supreme Court Decision that calls this the Hickel process.)  Then, and only then, can they make the most minimal changes necessary to those districts to accommodate the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act.

I'm not sure what the Board's strategy is right now.  It's tempting to assume they're just having a temper tantrum because they didn't get what they wanted from the Court.  But they've been clear that they want to see what the US Supreme Court will do in the Shelby County v. Holder case which challenged the section of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that requires them to get clearance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) before the plan can become law.  That decision should come in June. 

One would think that this would mean they would get started making a map based on the Alaska Constitution.  That's what the Court keeps telling them they have to do.  Then when the Shelby County decision comes down they would be way ahead.  If they don't have to get clearance from the DOJ, then they should be done, maybe.  (Even though they don't need to get clearance before hand, Alaska Native interests will be making sure that the Board hasn't diluted there representation in the legislature. The rest of the VRA would still be intact and it requires that Alaska Natives (in Alaska's case) be treated fairly.) 

If they are required to still get DOJ clearance, they will have done the first step of the Hickel process - made a map based on the Alaska Constitution.  Their next step would be to make the most minimal adjustments to that map that are necessary to comply with the VRA.

But the ADN reports the Board isn't going to do anything until the Shelby decision is announced.  I can't think of any logical, legitimate reason for the delay that is based on any of the information that I've seen. 

One has to consider their abrupt decision to NOT hire an Executive Director after they interviewed three candidates in March.  They were forced into releasing the resumes of the candidates by the Anchorage Daily News and they held the interviews publicly.  As I reported at the time, I can't see any explanation for their action other than the open session meant they couldn't hire a political ally - Fairbanks aide to former Senator Seekins - and apparent friend of Board Member Holm, Brian Hove.   Of the three candidates who stayed in for the interviews, Hove was by far the least qualified and least prepared.  The obvious choice for the position was a retired army Lt. Col. who had a PhD in Human Geography (important because she possessed the technical GIS skills critical for the job and the social science skills of how to balance the competing requirements) whose doctoral dissertation was on the impact of the military on Alaska Natives.  This is important because it means she's traveled to rural parts of the state and knows a number of the Native leaders - a huge asset in complying with the VRA.  It was after the interviews and apparently in the executive session (which would violate the public meetings act)  that they decided to not hire anyone.  The only explanation my usually imaginative mind can come up with is that they wanted to hire Brian Hove, and would have if the names and interviews had been secret.  But given that everyone could see that he was the least qualified of the three, they had no choice but to choose an executive director with perfect qualifications for the job or decided to not hire anyone.  This suggests to me that they didn't want someone with excellent GIS skills that they didn't control.

There's another dynamic in play here as well.  The board members were appointed by the Governor (2), the Senate President (1), the Speaker of the House (1), and the Supreme Court Chief Justice (1).  The first three, despite the fact that the appointments are to be made without regard to political affiliation, all appointed the four Republicans.  The Supreme Court Chief Justice - the Board's current nemesis - appointed the lone Democrat, Alaska Native Marie Green.

The Board, in public, has been extremely polite and accommodating to Green on all things Native.  And she seems to have decided that as long as the Native issues are resolved to her satisfaction, she'll go along with what the Board wants to do.

But what happens now?  The man who appointed her has retired from the Court, but retired judges can be called into serving in a case from retirement.  Given he was an integral part of this current round of redistricting, and was in on this latest opinion, there is reason to believe he will probably stay on this case until it is resolved.  As some members of the Board become openly hostile toward the Court and Carpeneti in particular, how will this affect their relationship with Green?

More important, if the Shelby case releases the Board from its need for pre-clearance from the DOJ, how will that affect how they treat the Alaska Native districts?  Will they continue to be as solicitous of Green?  Will she continue to be, in public, as cooperative as she's been in the past - always voting with the rest of the members?

Will the Board give up Native seats if they aren't required to get pre-clearance?  What kind of law suits will that cause?  

If the Board stalls long enough will it be too late to make a new map for the 2014 election?  Clearly, the majority is pleased that their redistricting plan has shifted the power in the state legislature strongly to the Republicans.  (If Democrats would have been running the show, they would have tried to shift things in their favor.)  But are they now trying to make the Supreme Court look partisan to help drum up support for those trying to dismantle the Alaska's Judicial Council and its influence on the appointment of judges?  (I have to say in my opinion the Judicial Council has an incredibly open and fair process that gathers assessments of judges from attorneys, jurors, court employees, social workers who deal with the court, and others to rate judges and judicial candidates.)

How much of this recalcitrance is the Court going to take from the Board before they decide to simply appoint a panel to do the redistricting as has happened in prior redistricting?  

(This is starting to sound like a promo for a daytime soap opera isn't it?  Who said redistricting was boring?)

I'm sure there is a lot more going on behind the scenes that I've missed.  I do need to talk to some of the players involved again.  This is just my reaction based on what I've seen at the Board over the last two years.  

Below is the Court's opinion.  They did clarify one point - that the Board didn't need to change all the existing districts as long as they were developed anew as part of the Hickel process. 



In the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska In Re 2011 Redistricting Cases,   

Supreme Court No. S-14721 Order
Date of Order: April 24, 2013
Trial Court Case # 4FA-11-02209CI
Before:    Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree and Stowers, Justices, and
Matthews and Carpeneti, Senior Justices*

The Alaska Redistricting Board has requested clarification of our order of December 28, 2012, as amended on petition for rehearing on February 12, 2013, in two respects. The Riley respondents oppose the Board’s request for clarification and raise additional matters. Having reviewed the request for clarification, we respond to the Board’s request as follows:

1. A new Hickel plan is required because the legal error found by both the superior court and this court was the Board’s failure to begin by constructing districts to comply with the requirements of the Alaska Constitution.

2. The first step in the redistricting process is to construct districts that comply with the requirements of the Alaska Constitution. As long as the Board begins by constructing districts that meet the requirements of the Alaska Constitution — that is, as long as the Board follows the Hickel process — the fact that a resulting district is the same as or similar to a previous district will not in and of itself preclude the new district from being approved.

3. Whether Article VI, section 10 of the Alaska Constitution requires public
hearings following the adoption of the Board’s plan or plans and whether the Board’s proposed timeline is sufficient to allow judicial review of the Board’s work are not properly before this court. Any party may seek to have these matters heard in the superior court.
* Sitting by assignment made under article IV, section 11 of the Alaska


cc:
Supreme Court Justices
Clerk of the Appellate Courts
/s/ _______________________________ Jolene Hotho, Deputy Clerk
WINFREE, Justice, would deny the motion, and therefore dissents.

Distribution:
Michael J Walleri
Jason Gazewood Gazewood & Weiner PC
1008 16th Avenue, Suite 200 Fairbanks AK 99701

Thomas F Klinkner
Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot
1127 W 7th Ave Anchorage AK 99501

Michael D White/Nicole Corr
Patton Boggs LLP
601 W 5th Ave Ste 700 Anchorage AK 99501

Natalie A Landreth
Native American Rights Fund
801 B St Ste 401 Anchorage AK 99501

Joseph N. Levesque
Levesque Law Group,LLC
3380 C Street Suite 202 Anchorage AK 99503

Carol Brown
Association of Village Council Presidents
PO Box 219 101A Main Street Bethel AK 99550

Marcia R. Davis
Calista Corporation 3
01 Calista Court Anchorage AK 99518

A. Rene Broker Jill Dolan
Fairbanks North Star Borough
PO Box 71267 Fairbanks AK 99707

Scott A Brandt-Erichsen
Ketchikan Gateway Borough
1900 1st Ave Ste 215 Ketchikan AK 99901

Thomas E. Schulz
715 Miller Ride Road Ketchikan AK 99901

Joseph H McKinnon
1434 Kinnikinnick St Anchorage AK 99508

Christopher Lundberg
Haglund Kelley Jones & Wilder, LLP
200 SW Market Street, Suite 1777 Portland OR 97201-5771

Brooks W Chandler
Boyd Chandler & Falconer LLP
911 W 8th Ave Ste 302 Anchorage AK 99501

Jonathan K. Tillinghast
James Sheehan
E. Budd Simpson, III
Simpson, Tillinghast, Sorensen & Lorensen
One Sealaska Plaza, Suite 300
Juneau AK 99801

[I put very few links in this post.  Just about every sentence could be linked to an older post that goes into more detail or explanation.  If you want more, go to the Alaska Redistricting Board tab at the top of the page or click here.  It has an annotated index of all the posts on the Redistricting Board.]

Sunday, April 28, 2013

When Nietzsche Wept I Made A Linzer Torte

This is a post about serendipity and how I came to bake a Linzer Torte.



It's also about changing - changing all these ingredients into a torte.  I could include the changes that reading a particular book causes in one's understanding of the world, but that's too much.


So how did I get to the spot where I had all these ingredients measured and waiting to be combined?

About a year ago I was headed to Juneau and my friend Paul with whom I was going to stay while there, asked if I could bring him the book The Spinoza Problem from Anchorage. I started reading it while I was there, but Paul suggested I read an older book by the same other author, Irvin Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept.  [I thought I'd posted about the book in the past, but I can't find such a post, only one that mentions The Spinoza Problem in passing.  There's a lot in both these books to chew on and so I'm guessing I kept putting off actually writing a post.]

Anyway, I recommended Nietzsche to my book club and eventually we got to it - last Monday and I was the host.  We try to have some snacks that are mentioned in the book.  But I had borrowed Paul's copy and returned it long ago.  So I emailed Paul, who is also an incredible cook, and suggested that since he'd originally recommended the book and since he's interested in food, maybe he could scan the book and come up with a recommendation for something I could make for the group.  He enthusiastically accepted the challenge and the next day I had two recipes for Linzer Torte and one for Apple Strudel.  (The book takes place in Vienna in the late 1800s.)

The strudel recipe looked like more things could go wrong.  I chose the Joy of Baking Linzer Torte recipe.  Above you can see all the ingredients gathered.  I had no idea how much butter these tortes have in them.  I haven't had that much butter in the last ten years - except maybe what's hidden inside things like, well, Linzer Torte and or food I eat in a restaurant. 






The first thing to do is put the raspberries and sugar into saucepan and boil off the liquid. 













Then I mixed the rest of the ingredients.









The major adjustment I made to the recipe was that I didn't have hazelnuts and we did have some almond meal, so I didn't crush my own almonds.  I just used the almond meal.  The dough was very different from bread dough.  Not as sticky, but all that butter made it very oily.  


The recipe said to divide the dough into two balls.  This one had to be flattened between wax paper and put into the refrigerator.  This part of the would later be cut into strips that I would (very badly) braid across the top. 










The other half of the dough on the bottom of the pan and poured the raspberry sauce into the pan.













The chilled dough broke very easily and as you can see, the braiding was pretty sloppy.  Then whatever was leftover was put around the edge of the pan. 













And here it is out of the oven.














The powdered sugar was sort of like make up, covering some of the flaws I'd had in the braiding. 

The book club members were all very polite and complimentary.  Paul said people always say nice things when they find out you made it yourself.  But I've tasted his masterpieces and they're incredible. (You can see what I mean at a post about what he made for an Easter brunch a couple of years ago.)  This was good, but anyone who really knew about Linzer Torte would know it was my first try.  (And yes, we had whipped cream for each piece.)

Go back and compare the finished torte to all the ingredients in the first picture.  I think it's pretty amazing how human beings have figured out how to take a bunch of items - whether it's to make food, a machine, a book, a painting - and transform them into something else. 

USS Anchorage To Be Commissioned In Anchorage May 4 After May 1 Block Party


USS Anchorage - screenshot from video below.
The USS Anchorage (LPD 23) will be in town this week.  She was christened in New Orleans on May 28, 2011 when she was 85% completed.  Looking online I see that the commissioning was originally scheduled for last fall.  But PRWEB has this announcement: 
"Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has approved the date of May 4, 2013 as the day of commissioning for the Anchorage (LPD 23). Early this year it was announced that the commissioning would be held in Anchorage, a first for the city and the state of Alaska.
The commissioning is a formal ceremony in which the ship officially becomes a unit of the operating forces of the United States Navy. It is the final, most significant event, and the occasion when the ship "comes alive" and becomes a United States Navy Vessel."

The USS Anchorage is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship.  Don't know what that means? Or why it's LPD 23? These terms and lots of other interesting tidbits are in the Navy's FAQs  I've posted at the bottom of this post.

Actually, this is the second USS Anchorage.  The first one is sitting on the bottom of the sea off of Kauai.  She  was used as target practice in 2010 after being decommissioned in 2003.  She was commissioned in 1969.  You can read more about her here and here.


Before the commissioning on Saturday (May 4), the Port of Anchorage is throwing a block party at Town Square on Wednesday (May 1) from 5-9pm.

And there are Public Tours:  

Thursday, May 2 starting at 1:00 p.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, May 3 starting at 2:00 p.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m

Or you can go on this cool video tour from the ship's website.


Tickets for the commissioning itself are sold out, but you can watch the ceremony online.
 It's at 10am - 11am.


Here's some technical data from the ship's website:

Length: 684 feet (208.5 meters).
Beam: 105 feet (31.9 meters).
Displacement: Approximately 25,586 long tons (full load).
Speed: In excess of 22 knots
Crew: Ship’s Company: 360 Sailors (28 officers, 332 enlisted) and 3 Marines.
Embarked Landing Force: 699 (66 officers, 633 enlisted); surge capacity to 800.
Armament: Two MK 46 Mod 2 guns, fore and aft; two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers, fore and aft: nine .50 calibre machine guns.
Aircraft: Launch or land two CH53E Super Stallion helicopters or two MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft or up to four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, AH-1 or UH-1 helicopters.
Landing/Attack Craft: Landing/Attack Craft: Two LCACs or one LCU; and 14 Amphibious Assault Vehicles.
From what I can tell, the ship cost $134 million plus another $18 million modification of the contract.


Here's a video of the christening.  On the video you'll hear from a number of folks including the ship sponsor.  If you want to know what a sponsor of a ship is and more about Mrs. Conway, the sponsor of this ship, there's a bio on the ship's website.  She's scheduled to be in Anchorage for the commissioning. 






The document below comes from a Navy website.  It was put up before the date and location of the commissioning was launched. 



Friday, April 26, 2013

Why Is It Hard To Talk About Racism?

I co-facilitated a workshop today on Why It's Difficult to Talk About Racism.  The participants were divided into groups of five or six and they came up with a lot of reasons.  Probably the main reasons are:


  • Fear/Discomfort
    • of getting hurt
    • of offending someone
    • of saying something stupid
  • Ignorance 
    • not much experience/training in how to talk about it
    • not much knowledge about facts and underlying causes 
  • It's a VERY Sensitive Topic
The groups today presented long lists of reasons, most of which were variations on these themes.    Below are some other responses.   From the  Daily Kos:
  • IT IS FREAKIN' UNCOMFORTABLE.
  • WE ALL FEEL THREATENED.
  • WE GET DEFENSIVE. 
  • Afraid of using the wrong terms or otherwise saying something offensive.
  • Afraid of being called a racist or otherwise ‘attacked’
  • Don’t want to have to change how I talk etc. 
  • Afraid that changing things means losing something (while denying white privilege)
  • Conversations feel disrespectful.  People of Color hear the same stories and excuses over and over again from whites when race comes up.  Things like “I don’t see race” or “Prove it to me” or “It takes time.”  These things assert the validity of the white person’s world view and deny the person of color’s experience.
    From:  People of Color Organize "10 Conversations On Racism I'm Sick of Having With White People"
  • Example:  Talking about race is difficult and I generally don’t get into discussions of race unless I am around other people of color. I don’t like talking about race with most white people because many are blissfully unaware of their privilege. When around other people of color, I usually get into good, deep discussions. When I have gotten into discussions with some white people, I have often gotten, “Oh, it’s not really like that. Maybe you’re exaggerating” or “You’re just too sensitive. I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that.” These things all negate my experience and more often than not, I am told by white people that I’m making it up. I can’t get in discussions about race for my sanity’s sake.
    From:  Resist Racism -  16 thoughtful observations on race by commenters
  • It’s exhausting and for some traumatic to talk about race.
  • Forced to be spokesperson for my race.
  • Feel like I have to teach (for free) the people who make my life difficult.  
 One frustration people -all people - have when talking about racism is not knowing what they can do about it.  In a long post about why it's hard to talk about racism in The Stranger  Jen Graves addresses this questions for whites who are skeptical of the stories told by people of color:
“So one answer to the question What can I do? is simple: Listen. Believe."
 It seems pretty obvious to me that most people of color would have a more heightened awareness of racism than most whites. It doesn't mean they can articulate it well or that they don't, on occasion, see racism when it isn't there.  And it doesn't mean that some whites aren't pretty savvy on this topic.   In general though, this advice, "Listen. Believe"  is pretty good.  Don't interrupt.  Don't deny other people's experiences. Ask for more explanation and context if you must, but pay attention to the emotion when they tell you. 


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Treadwell Certifies Referendum

From the Lt. Gov's webpage:

 

Treadwell Certifies Referendum

Lt. Gov. Treadwell Certifies Referendum
April 25, 2013, Anchorage, AK – Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell today certified 13SB21, the referendum application to reject Senate Bill 21 on Alaska’s oil taxes passed during the legislative session that adjourned April 14, 2013.
The lieutenant governor signed the certificate after consultation with the Division of Elections, which determined the application included a sufficient number of sponsor signatures, and the Department of Law, which concluded that the proposed bill is in the proper form under Article XI of the Alaska Constitution and AS 15.45.
The lieutenant governor notified the primary sponsors of the petition, Victor Fischer, Bella Hammond, and N. Jim Whitaker, Jr.
The Division of Elections will prepare petition booklets for the sponsors to gather signatures from around the state. The petition must be signed by qualified voters at least equal in number to 10 percent of those who voted in the last General Election, who are resident in at least three-fourths of the House districts of the State, and who are equal in number to at least seven percent of those who voted in the preceding General Election in that House district. Based on the 2012 General Election, sponsors will need to gather at least 30,169 signatures from qualified voters.
The referendum petition must be filed on or before July 13, 2013.

Chasing My Tail


This is sort of how I feel this week.  I'm supposed to send in my paper (for the PATNET conference in San Francisco at the end of May) by next week.  I've got several blog posts - including one on Begich's press memo on his vote against universal background checks - that need more work.  I've got some work to do with the Citizens Climate Lobby local group today and tomorrow, and tomorrow I'm doing a workshop with Warren Jones at the YWCA on "Why is it so difficult to talk about racism?"  (It's from noon to 1:30 with a suggested $5 donation to cover costs if you want to come.) 

Also, I finally broke down and bought a new camera that I'm hoping will let me take better distance shots.  Like this dog next door.   He was barking a lot yesterday, but they were so sweet about it when I asked them to take him in. 


I've been looking at cameras for a couple of years now as I pass the cameras at Costco and this seemed like the right combination of features and price.  (Though it cost more than my first car.)  I did notice right away that the manual focus is a lot less smooth than my old film Pentax.  And the instruction book is over 300 pages.  I wanted a Canon on the grounds that there might be some overlap between how my Powershot works and this one does. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Help Kenyan Kids With Their Homework With Solar Lanterns - Through Tayasola

[UPDATE Dec. 23, 2013:  Here's a new post about where this project is today.]

E.F. Schumacher, in Small is Beautiful argued that foreign aid projects should be scaled to the needs of the receivers.  Giant projects are often inappropriate and costly while small projects fit the needs and capacity of the receivers. But a lot of foreign aid is just a way for American companies to get the US government to buy their (sometimes surplus) stuff and send it overseas.  Think of all the unfinished and/or unused projects in Iraq that have transferred billions from the US treasury into corporate accounts. Big companies aren't interested in appropriate technology.  But in many cases it's what will make a difference.  Like the this project I'm going to tell you about.

While we were on Bainbridge I met Alma Lorraine Bone Constable who's trying to set up a small business that will distribute small solar light kits to school children to use at night to do their homework.  (She gave me a kit to put together and it was easy.)  The solar lanterns would replace the kerosine lanterns now used, which in addition to needing costly carbon based fuel, aren't particularly healthy indoors, and they're a fire danger.

But they don't just get the kits, they learn about solar energy. They are encouraged to find other ways to apply the technology.  If you want to help with this go to Indiegogo and make a contribution.

I challenge you to watch the video chat I had with Alma.  Why do I have to say that?  Because people are in a hurry and it's easier to skip on to the next link.  But Alma's a person well worth meeting.  You'll find out how she got into this project. And when you finish the movie, I challenge you (again) to think about what surprised you, and what that means about how your first impressions can fool you - especially when there isn't enough time to get the information needed to correct them.





I should disclose that Alma's in a class that my son-in-law is teaching. That's why I know about this, but it  isn't why I'm posting this. It's just good stuff. She's now raising money at Indiegogo - a fundraising site like Kickstarter.

People are always saying that they'd like to help others in need, but they don't know how.  Finishing everything on your plate doesn't really help starving kids elsewhere.  But putting your movie popcorn money into solar lanterns does.

It won't disturb your lifestyle at all. It will just take a few minutes. You can help the kids with a small donation, a fraction of what you spend a month on your cell phone bill. And the kids in Kenya will be able to do their homework with sustainable solar lights that you'll have helped them get. Here's the link again to Indiegogo.

And you can even get a kit yourself if you donate at the right level.  

The organization Alma mentioned that first got her to Africa is Cultural Reconnections.  Norma, are you listening?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Caller to Reporter: "I'm Going To Kill You"



Screen Shot from Reportero-Reporter Segrio Hara relating phone call he got
Serious journalists in Mexico can have short careers.  Bernardo Ruiz's film Reportero,  first showed here last December at the Anchorage International Film Festival.  It's gripping film documenting reporters risking their lives to cover the narco wars, and many losing their lives.


You Can Make A Difference

I asked Ruiz after his keynote address at the Alaska Press Club conference Saturday what viewers could do to help support reporters trying to uncover the drug dealers and the government workers who support them.  Go ahead and start the video.  You don't have to watch it all (it's short).  You can just listen as you read below.








Screen shot from Reportero Trailer
My question was how viewers could support journalists like these.  He offered a couple of organizations that protect journalists around the world that we can support:

Committee to Protect Journalists - "CPJ promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. CPJ takes action wherever journalists are censored, attacked, imprisoned, or killed for their work. Our advocacy helps to ensure the free flow of news and commentary."

Article 19 - This one just got graphic threats in the Mexican office which you can see at the link.

Reporters Without Borders -They too help endangered reporters.  They also have a World Press Freedom Index. 

Reportero is a very compelling movie.  If you watched the Sopranos or the the Wire, well this is the real deal.  Not only does he tell the reporting story, you get to know the reporters as well.

You can order copies from the ReporteroProject website or Quietpictures.com



This is happening in Mexico, in large part because of the demand for drugs in the US and the availability of guns - all kinds of guns - just over the border from Mexico in the US.
Screenshot from Reportero trailer

I wonder how many people who are so violently opposed to any law to expand background checks have as much respect for the First Amendment as they claim to have for the Second Amendment.  Clearly many in Mexico feel their right to own guns also gives them the right to prevent others from talking about what they do with those guns. 

Smoothly Blending Words and Images, Still and Moving - Neal Mann on Multiplatform Story Telling

Neal Mann's Friday presentation focused on Twitter and a bit of what he does as the Social Media editor at the Wall Street Journal - basically using social media to get WSJ stories out to the world AND using social media - particularly Twitter - to keep track of what's happening.  The Boston bombing which was unfolding over social and mainstream media emphasized the point he was making.

Saturday's talk was called Multiplatform Storytelling and he had two areas to cover:  multimedia platform story telling and stories of longevity.  He never made it to the second part. (Or did he and I missed it?  I don't think so.)  Everyone in the room seemed totally absorbed.  The video shows the beginning of the presentation.  I was sitting up close so I encourage you to at least watch the first 30 seconds.  He's a dynamic speaker and while he's in the US anyway, he's got a cool accent.


)

This presentation was very confirming. Neal's talking about what I try to do here - blend the written word, photos, and video into a story.  My execution isn't as good as my imagination - it would take a lot more software savvy on my part to get things to move and stretch the way I'd like. I've been putting up integrated posts for over five years now  with just a Canon Powershot and a Macbook and this jack-of-all-trades blogger didn't know that the reporter, the photographer, the video guy, the tech guy, and the editor were all supposed to be different people.  If I didn't try to get something out every day, I might be able to spend more time learning enough code to make the screen flow and stretch the way I'd like it to. What I'd really like is something like the NobodyHere site I featured a year ago February.  It's utter genius.

Neal, if you read this, what were you going to say about longevity stories?  Does my coverage of the Alaska Redistricting Board fit with what you were going to say. (See the Redistricting Board tab above.) 

[UPDATE March 12, 2014:  Viddler video replaced with YouTube.]

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Notes Of A Reluctant Twitter Newbie - Thanks Neal, I Think

[Note:  This post is for people scratching their heads about Twitter.  I need to do these first impressions while they're still fresh in my head.]

As I started writing this, someone on the radio was singing "I didn't wanna do it , I didn't wanna to do it . . ." and I thought, how apt.  [If the culprit - Neal Mann - and I had our way, instead of the words, you would hear Judy Garland singing them.]  He baited the hook on Friday at his talk that focused on his use of Twitter as the social media editor at the Wall Street Journal.  

Saturday's talk at the Alaska Press Club conference on multiplatform storytelling - sunk the hook. There's some good video of Neal starting the session.

So here's my Twitter experience so far:

1. Signing up
  • You need a name.  I used mine.
  • Then a username.  Finding an unused username wasn't easy.  All the variations of What Do I Know? were already taken. (A reason I should have done this when first invited six years ago?) I'm not completely happy with the one I chose, but I like the idea and the alliteration:  whisper2world.  Seems appropriate to Twitter.
  • Password - they tell you how good it is.  I played around until I moved from 'ok' to 'perfect.'  Didn't need to type it a second time. 
  • Agreement wasn't even that long and unreadable.  Still, I only skimmed it.  
2.  Personalization and automatic follow suggestions.  You have to decide if you want this or not.  They'll recommend Tweeters to follow based on my browsing.  I didn't like the idea, but it said I could change it to 'no' any time.  Turns out I got all these recommendations, clearly not based on my browsing.  Mostly celebrities.  I have turned this off.  But they are still recommending people for me to follow.  I found instructions to hide the recommendations at this website.  It requires AdBlock+, which I have already, thanks to a commenter recommendation.  But I couldn't get the instructions to work.  When I go to AdBlock+ things don't look the same as in the examples.  Another website also wants me to use AdBlock+ and I found the page and pasted in the code, but it doesn't seem to work either.    It's annoying and I'll find better instructions.  (I thought maybe if I sign out and back in it would work, but it didn't.)

3.  First Tweet was a reply to Neal Mann's (@fieldproducer) Tweet that he was going to present again to the AK Press Club.
15h
Thx for two great presentations in Anchorage. You pushed me over the Twitter cliff
There are too many in Spanish.  I'm hoping I'll be able to edit the list to work for me better, but it's a good start.  I'll substitute some German ones for the Spanish ones.  The lists are what he said would be a good way to set up your own personalized news feed.  This will take some adjusting, but looks promising.

For starters I'm following six others: Dan Bern , Mother Jones , Heritage Foundation , Citizens Climate Lobby , and Diane Benson .   I'm not sure how, but Diane found me as soon as I went live and is following me and somehow I was following her.  I don't think I did anything to make that happen, but as long as there aren't too many tweets, it's ok for now.   

 5.  It's not hard, but there are things to figure out.  The upper left looks like this:

When you put the cursor over the icons,
  • the little house says 'home,'
  • the @ says 'connect'
  • the # says 'discover,' and 
  • the pawn says 'me'
It's not totally intuitive what they have.  Connect relates to contacting others and discover is for finding others. 


Early Reactions:
  • Messages:  One thing I was hoping for was to be able to send messages to people I wanted to contact who only had Twitter accounts as contact info.  Your choices for contacting are to send a public 'tweet' or a 'direct message.'  BUT, you can only send a direct message to someone who is following you.  
  • Blog Promotion:  Perhaps I can use this to let more people know about blog posts, we'll see.  It won't matter if no one is following me I'd guess.  
  • Time Waster:  While this gives me very brief notices of things that are out there, this could be a giant time drain.  I have enough to write about without any help from Twitter.  I don't need to stay current on a whole array of events like a WSJ editor does.  Discipline, Steve, discipline.  
  • Links:  It says that links will automatically be shortened to 20 characters, but that didn't seem to happen with the first link I put in.  

Meanwhile, Twitter offers lots of help:

I found Twitter for Newbies
And there's also a Twitter Glossary.
And there are more pages.  Sort of like going on a trip and learning some of the basic language and customs of the country you're going to visit. 

But I also took today's (April 21, 2013) Doonesbury as a warning closer to my gut instincts.  Here's the last panel:

 
Last panel April 21, 2013 Doonesbury
















[I'm not sure if the link takes you to this particular strip or the generic 'today's strip.' In any case this is the April 21, 2013 strip.]

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Who's In Space Now? How Far Is Mars?

Do you know how many humans are currently in space and where they are from?  How Many People Are In Space Right Now? tells you the current number, their names, and nationality. 

And while we're in space, to get a sense of how far away Mars is from earth check out Distance to Mars.

Want To Do Freelance? Advice From Freelancers

David Holthouse, Carol Simons, Lew Simons, Wesley Loy, Sarah Gonzales

[These are pretty rough running notes of the panel]

Q:   How did you start freelancing?

Holthouse:  If you have a story, rather than pitching, just do the story, and then try to sell the complete story.

Carol:  I'd followed my husband.  At AARP and Smithsonian, what I expected - never took phone calls and gave my email.  As many pitches as you can.  Send me five short pitches.  If you knew I would only pick one to see your writing.  Find the right editor.  I asked for tips:  know your subjects and know you have to earn money, includes writing things you don't want to write.  Freelance success - $99/year - cheaper than American Society for Authors - good website.


Wesley Loy:  I've been freelancing seriously since 1999.  Most of that time I was a business reporter at ADN.  I've been on my own making a living as a freelancer for about three years.  I was on a specialized beat - commercial fishing.  An obscure Washington magazine that covers fishing called me and asked me to freelance.  Since I left the ADN I've done more for this magazine.  There are some that question doing stuff on the side, but my editor said it was ok.  I'm not up here to play around - I'm from Tennessee - no biking or hiking - I'm here to write.

Sarah:  Reporter in LA, went to parties met a lot of editors, photographers.  Got into freelancing more seriously.  Hard to do it full time.  Do a story, maybe get $250 or even $1000.  It's hardly worth it.  Friends looking at possibility of long term projects you do on contract, instead of one-offs, or even a show.  Got our own funding independently - grant funding.  Set up Content Producers Guild.  A network of people to work with.  When working as an independent it's lonely, so this helps with a network.  Way to have more steady revenue stream.  Still doing stories you want to do.  If you have a project, talk to me or email me.

Q:  If you haven't freelanced, how do you get the attention of an editor?

Wesley:  One of the editors at ADN was freelancing for the Washington Post, and I asked him how to do that.  Hal called the national editor he worked with and said, "My boy here has a story he wants to do."  No internet then.  Had to come to UAA library to read the story a few weeks later.  Did a couple more later.  Always a different editor.  Had to make a cold pitch.  Last story made the front page.  It was about a small mouth bass - I was in Tennessee then.  Last times I did a pitch they didn't now who I was and got nowhere.  Use your connections.

Carol:  Who you know is important.  Take every business card and use those.  Keep pitching.  One freelancer had a goal of x pitches a month and every rejection got her closer to her goal.  Eventually you develop a relationship with the editor.  In Washington, the Associations all take freelance because they have good.  Quirky stories really sell.

Wesley:  That's what I got the Washington Post to buy - quirky stories about animals.

Lew:  Wes' story about changing editors is very common.  The National Geographic was very stable.  Called the Golden Coffin.  Everything stayed the same.  Then it changed, the circulation was declining, and they didn't know what to do.  Should we become more relevant, political, get away from nature?  While I was with them they changed editors and staff photographers.  You never knew who you would get.  I had a great relationship with this guy.  All of a sudden he's to another position and the new person didn't feel the same about me.  Cast that net wide.  . .   A friend in SE Asia was freelancing with a pseudonym because AP wouldn't let him freelance.  

Q:  Can you pitch to more than one outlet at the same time?

Lew:  I've pitched to two different outlets, but made them different enough that it's ok.  I only got one.

Carol:  I asked an editor.  She said if you have a personal relationship with an editor, pick that one.  But she said it was ok to pitch to multiple outlets now.  Have to give to the first response.

David:  A couple motivations:  1) to do work your heart is really in.  2) to make a living.  If just repackaging stories just to pay bills, what's the point?

Wes:  The point for me is to pay bills.

Wes:  What do they pay?  Fish Magazine - $.40/word.  Pacific Fisheries.  These are shoestring operations.  When I get a check, I go to the bank that day.  National Fisherman - the flagship of commercial fishing magazines.  It pays less than the other.  I did a profile of a fisherman, took forever.  $150.  Local publication - Petroleum News - $.35 a word, because I write 2000 words a week.  No serious journalism.  News of record.  Not real fulfilling.  Pays my bills.  Lately, Alaska Business Monthly.  Every state has one of these.  Pays lousy, but I'm grateful.  $.25 a word - 1500 words - get about $300. 

Q:  To David - you said you'd go out and write the story.  Do you pitch the idea or whole story?

David:  I'd send the whole story, not the pitch.  Once you have a relationship with the editor you can pitch.  Tailor to the publication.

Laurie Townsend:  Interesting you say you sent the whole story.  We'd prefer a pitch so we can help shape the story.  Know the deadlines.  If you call us at 4pm, well I don't have time to chat then.  Call in the morning when I'm not getting ready to go on.  You have to do a lot of pitches to eat.  If you get them both accepting, I'd say I already sold that pitch but I there's a different angle to the story I could do.

Q:  How'd you get comfortable to live without a safety net?

Wesley:  I have good relationship with the Fish magazines.  If you have enough volume with steady clients.  I have contract with these two for X words.  That's $750 a week gross.  It's not junk, but it's good informative stuff for a very specific audience.  I have a high standard.  You can make a living at it.

Lew:  I came back from Japan and worked at Knight Ridder.  Terrible time.  Realized I had to work on my own.  Carol had a job.  I had to work, didn't want to work for nothing.  A friend said, if you are happy writing stories you like going where you want to go, even if the pay isn't what it was, it won't matter.  No one goes to journalism to get rich.

Carol:  Can you make a living off of freelance?  It's not easy.  If you have a spouse, one of you needs a job to have health insurance.  It's a hard way to make a living.

Sarah:  I've managed freelancers.  Value people who are professional and on-time and don't ask a zillion questions.  People I would never work with again are really precious with their writing. 

Laine Welsh:  I make it work.  I stuck to what I love - fish.  I have a radio show, then I sell the script.  I have a regular column.  Try to sell the same thing three times in different formats.  I'm a gun for hire - editing, narration, script writing, but all fish related.  Lots of little things come in.

Q:  Repackaging stories?

Wes:  Pitches to multiple outlets.  Between these two magazine.  Big trial about price fixing in fishing, few reporters covering it.  I did a story for this magazine - Pacific Fisheries - then an east coast magazine wanted one, but the stories were very different.  The editor of one magazine saw the story in the other magazine and I got fired.  I probably should have been more upfront.  But they were really different stories.  Later, they approached me and I write for them again.  Why?  Because there are very few people who write about fish in the biggest fishing state in the country.

Q:  How do you pitch for radio? 

A:  Laurie Townsend - for breaking news it's a little hard for someone I don't know.  I've thought about David's sending out the whole story.  It makes sense - they can see that he's a good writer and don't have to wait for the story.

Q:  What about designers.

Carol:  They have a whole art department at AARP where I work. 


I didn't catch everything, but this should give you an idea of how things went.  


Bernardo Ruiz - Covering the Narco Wars

I'm in a session now listening to Bernardo Ruiz talk about his movie Reportero which blew me away at the Anchorage International Film Festival last December.  The movie followed the journalists covering the drug wars in Mexico and how doggedly they follow the drug wars risking their lives.




Reporters were getting killed - he mentioned about 50 murders.  His main subject, Sergio Hara, working for the paper Zeta, had received a death threat and sent his wife and child away, but kept reporting.  Other media stopped reporting on narcotics out of fear.  Yet this reporter keeps on his beat.   The film showed on PBS and you can read a longer description of it there. 

Bernardo just said that he didn't mean this to sound like a memorial, because Sergio is still alive and well and reporting.   I've done a short video of the opening of this talk.  It should all be available as a podcast at UAA eventually.  But this will give you a clue.



)


[There's a second post with a short video answering my question about what viewers can do to help support Mexican journalists.]


 [UPDATE March 12, 2014: Viddler Video replaced with YouTube.]

Friday, April 19, 2013

To Tweet Or Not - WSJ's Neal Mann Makes It More Compelling

My first invitation to tweet was about six years ago.  I turned it down.  It's grown on the radar but my basic reaction has been, "the only reason to tweet is that people are saying I should"  rather than it does something I need.  When I checked with my kids, they both said, "You have a blog."

Recently I wanted to contact someone and could find no email addresses - only a Twitter account.  But I had to join Twitter to send a message.  He didn't hear from me.




Today, at the Alaska Press Club conference I went to hear Neal Mann of the Wall Street Journal's social media editor talking about social media in news.  Basically the whole conversation was about Twitter and how he and the Journal use it. 


Neal uses Twitter as a news source.   He's got structured lists to watch different subjects and different tweeters.  He talked about setting up a personalized news channel and following particular stories as well as interactions with his 60,000 followers.  Here are a couple of his tweets Friday: 

  1. About to talk to journalists at Alaskan Press Club about social media & journalism, plenty to talk about from Boston coverage.

He said his followers are a source for stories.   But there's a need to verify their identity.  He talked about ways to do that.  On his page, above, you can see the blue dot next to his name which is Twitter's way to verify celebrities and businesses - that this really is that person's Twitter account.  You can also look at how many tweets the person's posted and how many followers he has to get a sense. 


He said Twitter also gives writers, photographers, and videographers a huge platform for pushing their content, which his WSJ job has him doing for reporters there.  Through Twitter each reporter has his own brand.



To the right, he's explaining the parts of his Twitter Deck.

I got a sense of a lot more potential on Twitter, though his news beat is different from what I'm doing here.  I'm still concerned about this being yet another time drain and distraction.  I've got a lot non-blogging projects on my list.  Should Twitter get added to that list?  Will it make my life easier or harder?

Here's a bit of video I found at beet tv where Neal covers about some of the things he talked about today.  I enjoyed this session a lot.  It stimulates a lot of thinking. 











There were several other sessions I attended and there are more tomorrow. Sorry, I'm way behind here. Also met with my UAA new faculty group for lunch. One of them brought his four month old son and I got to play surrogate grandpa for a bit.

If anyone has thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of Twitter, don't be shy about sharing.

Boston Marathon Suspects 1 and 2



These are the pictures the FBI has put up at 2 am Eastern Time.

together


Suspect 1 closer



Suspect 2

I was sure they would have had disguises.  If these really are the people who left the explosive devices, they would appear to have been pretty careless.  With all the security cameras around these days, not to mention people's phone cameras, one would have to assume your image would be captured. 

These pictures are certainly good enough that people who know them can identify them and I'd guess the FBI has their names and information by the time I get up tomorrow morning.

I've noted before and I'll note again - we are much more concerned about intentional harm than 'accidental' harm.  (I use quotation marks because much accidental harm is preventable.)  The Marathon bombings got much more attention than the West, Texas explosions, even though the latter has more deaths.  Partly this might have been fatigue on the part of the media having the Texas deaths follow so closely to the Marathon deaths. 

We all can understand intentional deaths viscerally and they feel so much more outrageous, I think, because we feel they didn't have to happen.  Lucky for corporations whose products and practices kill people, that we're less angry at them for putting profit over people, or ruthlessly ignoring common-sense safety practices.  That we don't feel as strongly that they didn't have to happen, even when that is often the case.  Coal mines that hadn't complied with safety requirements.  Dumping of toxic wastes where they contaminate the drinking water and the air. The human relationship between a person violently killing another person with a gun, knife, or a bomb, is somehow more compelling than someone killing another through neglect or greed.  The latter are harder to see.  But the corporate toxic dumps around the world are killing more people, more horribly and slowly,  than all the bombers combined.  And in my mind delusional killers are less responsible than well educated, well compensated corporate managers whose decisions kill their workers and their neighbors. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Alaska Airlines Contractor Fined for Exposing Workers "to blood borne pathogens and body fluids including vomit, urine, feces and blood"

Seattle's free newspaper The Stranger  reports today that the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has fined an Alaska Airlines baggage handling contractor for not protecting employees from various body fluids. 
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has fined Alaska Airlines-contractor Bags, Inc. for failing to protect workers from exposure to blood borne pathogens and body fluids including vomit, urine, feces and blood. In issuing more than $12,000 in fines, L&I cited the Alaska contractor for four serious violations of state health and safety laws, and two general violations. Under state law, “serious violations” are issued when “there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result” if the problem is not fixed.
You can find the full text of the L&I enforcement action here.
 This is the first time I've ever been glad that Alaska Airlines is headquartered in Seattle instead of Anchorage.  I can't imagine any of our state departments in this administration caring about something like this, let alone doing anything about it.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Anchorage Has The Three Most Diverse Census Tracts In United States

[UPDATE May 30, 2013:  Chad Farrel did a presentation on this at the Alaska Press Club in April 2014 which gives more info about this study.]

People are surprised to hear about Anchorage's diversity.  The school district regularly throws out the fact that over 100 different languages are spoken in the homes of their students.  But last week the Anchorage Daily News published an article on University of Alaska Anchorage sociologist Chad Ferrel's work showing that the three most diverse census tracts in the US are in Anchorage.

"As of 2010, Anchorage's Mountain View neighborhood is the most diverse census tract in the entire U.S. In fact, three of the top 10 most diverse are in Anchorage, followed mostly by a handful from the borough of Queens in New York. 

Based on the index, Anchorage Census Tract 6 (Mountain View) scores 96.3 out of a possible 100 in its diversity. The other two top census tracts in Anchorage, Tract 9.01 and Tract 8.01, are roughly northeast neighborhoods -- bounded by Ingra Street on the west, Boniface Parkway on the east, Debarr Road on the south, and Glenn Highway on the north."

image from Anchorage Daily News



So, what exactly does that mean? From ARCGIS:
The Diversity Index shows the likelihood that two persons chosen at random from the same area, belong to different race or ethnic groups. The index ranges from 0 (no diversity) to 100 (complete diversity). The diversity score for the entire United States in 2010 is 60. This data variable is included in Esri’s Updated Demographics (2010/2015).

This is part of an ongoing series of articles by former ADN reporter Kathleen McCoy who now works at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  She's been highlighting different UAA faculty and their research.  The whole article is worth reading.  Here's a bit more:
A chief reason why Mountain View ranks as so diverse may not seem intuitive at first. Yes, people from around the world live there. But it scores so high because such a significant percentage of whites also live there,

"A key thing to remember is that white people contribute to the diversity of a neighborhood," Farrell said. Many other high-diversity tracts in the U.S. lack a white presence.

Alaska's other natural diversity driver is the relative size of its Alaska Native population, sending it to the front of the demographic charts over and over.

Taking diversity analysis to the neighborhood level is more revealing than looking at it citywide, Farrell explains. A community may have all the various ethnic groups living within it, but if they don't share neighborhoods, the community is far less diverse that it looks at first glance.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What Do We Know About The Boston Bombing?

NPR has been making a lot of noise this morning about the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  It's like they know this is important and they should spend a lot of time on it, but they don't really have anything substantive to say. So they keep playing the same things over and over.  I haven't looked at other media so I'm not sure what they're doing.

What do we actually know?

Of the basic news questions, what, where, when, who, and why, we know a little about what, where, and when.

WHAT?

I say a little because the 'what' that we know is the result:  two "improvised explosive devices" exploded [our understanding of what exploded is also still evolving] and three people were killed and over 150 injured.  We know about the action of some of the responders, especially the medical response.  There is a lot of 'what' that we don't know- all the action that led to the explosion or what he or they are doing now, whatever security precautions were taken by the race officials, and a myriad things we haven't even thought of yet.

The President, in his short statement today,  took it from the concrete and descriptive to  abstract interpretation:
"This was a heinous and cowardly act and given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism,"
How much was he thinking about the grilling he got over how fast he called the Benghazi attack terrorism?  

WHERE?

The explosions happened near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  But we don't know where they were planned, where the bomber(s) is now, where another explosion might be planned.

WHEN?

Again, we just know the timing of the explosions - the Anchorage Daily News reports it as "shortly before 2:50pm about four hours into the race."  We know nothing about how long this has been in the planning and whether another time is already planned.  We don't know when suspects will be apprehended or a trial will be held.

We really know very little about what, where, and when.  But compared to who and why it seems like a lot.

WHO?

We know very little about the victims and while we all have concern for them, I think we're most curious about who planted the explosive devices.  The President narrowed it down to:
 "a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual."
Foreign or domestic covers the likely universe of suspects, but I think the rest of this may be a bit narrow.  When exactly does a 'group,' say, become an 'organization'?  And what turns a group or an organization into a 'terrorist organization'?  By detonating the explosive at the Boston Marathon, the perpetrator became a 'terrorist' if he/they didn't fit that category before.  But I suspect the President's words imply an existing organization with an already existing identity as terrorists.  But is that an identity they have themselves or an identity the US government or some other authoritative body puts on them?  (Were the original Boston Tea Party participants patriots or terrorists?)

I'm not trying to question whether this was a terrorist act, but rather whether this might have been carried out by an organization whose existence is known, but hasn't previously been considered terrorist.  Or the more chilling possibility of someone trying to stir up fear for political gain.  (I'm reading The Man Without A Face:  The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin which begins with apartment bombings around Moscow and other Russian locations that were blamed on Chechen rebels, but were apparently the work of the Russian Federal Security Service to build fear and nationalism among the Russian voters.)

And 'malevolent individual' again leaves out that in-between category of group. Plus it would seem that 'malevolent individual' merely tells us it's a person with the intent to do evil to others - not anything we didn't already know.  What if it was a delusional person who thought he was saving himself or others this way?  I'm merely saying we shouldn't close off reasonable options.

Terrorist groups tend to take credit for their projects.  We've been told no group has claimed credit and that the Pakistani Taliban denied responsibility.  Nor, apparently, had there been prior warning.  Though it's probably too early to be sure about that. 

He also told us who in terms of people in charge by telling us he was briefed by his National Security Team which includes
"FBI Director Mueller, Attorney General Holder, Secretary Napolitano, and my Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco"

WHY?

Ultimately, this seems to be the question most on people's minds.  The main clues we have at this point relate to the target, or what we assume to be the target, the Boston Marathon.  What does it represent?  Who would want to attack that symbol?

Boston:  Irish, liberal, Catholic come to mind. Boston Tea Party, abolition, elite education (Harvard and MIT plus a bunch of other universities), Logan Airport where 9/11 terrorists started, Red Sox, Cheers.

Marathon:  Running marathons is an 'achiever' sport.  It's not something people do lightly and for the Boston Marathon you have to qualify by running other marathons.  It's a non-motor sport.  An individual sport (not a team sport - though there are groups that run as teams.)  It takes endurance and planning. 

There are lots of possible motives there.  But it could be that the bomber is from Boston and it was just a convenient target.  Or that this was a personal attack on someone disguised to look like a terrorist attack.  (Probably not likely, but it should still be a backup motive until they're certain.)

It's more likely that the culprit(s) will be found through following the evidence he left at the scene, through photos or videos, or through a tip from an insider or someone who knows the bomber (like the Unabomber's brother sending info), rather than starting with the motivation.  But considering motivation certainly helps law enforcement prioritize their efforts.  (Though I would expect the bomber to have been well disguised so the photos will not be that easy to interpret.)

It seems prudent at times like this to take everything you hear with a grain of salt.  There's much that isn't known.  But the authorities also know, but aren't telling.  (Obama took no questions after his statement today, suggesting to me he does know more and doesn't want to have to evade questions.)

And, in a day or two, we can probably expect a full press Republican attack on why the US was not prepared for this event and how poorly the President responded.  That's just how they work.

But for a day or two, everyone will hold their tongues, make obligatory statements about unity and prayers for the victims and their families. 

Most average Americans will be sending genuine love and prayers to the victims and their families and paying special attention to the people around us.  Perhaps we can tap into these feelings of shock and outrage to understand how the people of Iraq and Afghanistan feel after the bombings that kill civilians there.  And how some might raise an eyebrow about our reaction today in contrast to our response to the events in their countries where far more are killed this way and where we have such a large presence.