Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why Sen. Giessel Was Wrong Not To Swear In Oil Company Witnesses In April 2014

[This leads up to an LA Times article on oil company deception about climate change. You can skip down to the bottom, but I'm trying to tie a number of things together.]

In April 2014 there was an Alaska Senate committee hearing on SB 21 - the bill that gave oil companies huge tax credits and is now aggravating the Alaska budget situation already hurt by falling oil prices.  Sen. Cathy Giessel was the chair.

Sen. Hollis French requested that witnesses be sworn in.  Giessel responded in part:
“We are to conduct ourselves with some decorum, and to spring that on people who are coming to testify would simply be unprofessional of us,” Giessel said. “I’m not an attorney, as the previous speaker is, but it is my understanding that the preparation for testimony under oath is a different type of preparation than simply coming and providing information.” [emphasis added]
My original post on this at the time has much more detail.  I did point out at the time that the oil companies were not "simply providing information" and linked to the extensive presentations they had prepared.

Giessel is one of the oil industry's strongest  supporters in the legislature.  Pat Forgey, in a 2013 article on the oil industry's influence in the legislature, wrote:
"Next, Senate Bill 21 went to the Senate Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage. Giessel is married to Richard S. Giessel, who manages R&M Consulting's Construction Services business. The company touts its petroleum ties on the firm’s website, starting with construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline and continuing with recent work on various gas pipeline proposals.
Cathy Giessel's financial disclosure forms show Richard Giessel was paid between $200,000 and $500,000 last year."
Forgery's article looks at the lax conflict of interest rules that allow legislators with such clear conflicts to participate this way in the legislature.

Why shouldn't people testify under oath?  If the oil companies had nothing to hide, then they should have said, "Of course we'll testify under oath."

So, why all this history?  

Because in many ways, we've learned that the oil companies are either just wrong or flat out lying.  Here's a Fortune piece on BP that chronicles how their actual safety programs were far sketchier than their public pronouncements.  I looked at Shell's safety plans for the Chukchi back in 2013 and found them to have a lot less operational substance than one would expect.  And when the Kulluk had problems I reported on that, including this post which shows how empty of content their press reports were. 

And today, the LA Times tells us this once again in a story about how oil companies knew that climate change was real, but their advertisements denied the science was trustworthy.
“Let’s face it: The science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil,” the ad said. “Scientists cannot predict with certainty if temperatures will increase, by how much and where changes will occur.”

One year earlier, though, engineers at Mobil Oil were concerned enough about climate change to design and build a collection of exploration and production facilities along the Nova Scotia coast that made structural allowances for rising temperatures and sea levels.
So, Alaskans, as we prepare to vote on all the members of our state house of representatives and a third of the senators in November 2016, let's get smart about the people we elect.

The oil companies are NOT our enemies, but they are more like business adversaries.  Businesses are supposed to compete, that's why the market is supposed to work.  Even when they cooperate they are always testing each other.  The Alaska Republican Party wants us to believe everything the oil industry says.  And when there is major oil related legislation, oil industry employees turn out en masse - in the middle of work days - to testify.  Of course, they want to look good to their bosses, they want to protect their jobs.  So do the legislators who get strong financial support from the oil industry.

The State is already at a disadvantage when dealing with the oil companies, because so much of our proprietary information is public information, while the oil companies won't share theirs.  If you already know all this, then help educate the doubters by helping to gather and package information that shows:

  • the oil companies aren't our friends, they're adversaries - they want our resources at the lowest cost they can get
  • oil companies are headquartered outside of Alaska and their top executives have no long term interest in Alaska's future good
  • oil company contributions to Alaskan communities are calculated business expenses to gain public support and they are all tax deductible
  • oil companies don't tell the truth all the time - sometimes they think they do, but they're wrong, and sometimes, like the LA Times piece shows, they flat out lie
  • many legislators are beholden to big oil - some are oil company employees, others have business ties to them, and others just get important campaign donations from them, and they help them get our resources cheap
  • which legislators are most compromised and which stand up for Alaskans and the future of Alaska

If any of this comes as news to you, do your duty as a citizen and get informed before you vote.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"My client was too poor and disadvantaged to take responsibility." - Three Articles On Wealth And Power

Three articles today in the ADN about wealth.  Actually I'm guessing that one of them is about wealthy people, but the other two clearly are.  And while I saw them in the ADN, my links go to the original sources.

The first was originally a New York Times article about how the 400 wealthiest people have what amounts to their own private tax system that allows them to avoid billions in taxes.  And they use some of that saved money to give millions to support political candidates and organizations that support their loopholes.  I don't see anything wrong with financially supporting your political beliefs, but I do see something wrong with getting that wealth by cheating the system that allowed you to gain wealth in the first place, and I do have a problem with individuals and companies contributing such huge amounts to the political process that their political influence upsets the democratic ideal of one person - one vote. I'm using the blog here as a note pad because I need to follow up on this article.

The second article was what the ADN now labels "Talkers."  I found a Guardian article that gives more detail.  This article is about a couple who have gone to South Korea to clone their recently deceased dog for $100,000.  This is the one I'm assuming involves wealth. There are a lot of questions raised here and because dogs can be such an emotional issue, I don't want to raise them quickly and without careful thought.  Plus I want to know a little more about the couple involved.  The article says almost nothing about who they are and I'm just assuming they have some wealth if they can afford to do this.  And if there isn't significant wealth here, there certainly is an issue here about power.  But I do want to note this for now.  And if any readers have reactions, please leave a comment or send me an email.

The third article, again tracing back to the NYT, was about the young man who escaped a prison sentence after killed four folks in a drunk driving accident when his lawyer made up the 'affluenza' defense -
"he was too rich and spoiled to take responsibility"
The only way a court should accept such a plea is if the parents then become responsible for their kid's crime.   This sounds like the Twinkie defense. (The link says Twinkies played no role in the verdict, so maybe we should be skeptical about the role a affluenza too.)

I guess that public defenders are too rushed, too uncaring, too overburdened, too ethical, or not creative enough to come up with the 'poverty' defense - "my client was too poor and disadvantaged to take responsibility." 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

". . . if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract," Ellsworth Kelly and Haskell Wexler

The LA Times had two front page obituaries of people whose names weren't on the tip of my tongue. But they both struck me as people I would have liked to have known.

The first obituary was about Ellsworth Kelly, an abstract artist.  Here are a few things about him from the article that caught my attention.
The key to creative inspiration was in the world around him, not in other artists' studios or at the Louvre. If he paid close attention to, say, the contour of a window, the shape of a leaf, the play of light and shadows on man-made and natural forms, his art would emerge.
"I think if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract," the artist told an interviewer in 1991, reflecting on the evolution of his work. Six years later, when a Kelly retrospective exhibition — organized by New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum — appeared at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, he told a Times reporter: "I'm not searching for something. I just find it. The idea has to come to me … something that has the magic of life." [emphasis added]

I like the conceit that if one can "turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract." That describes part of what this blog is ultimately about:  exploring how we know what we know.  How much of what we see in the world, we see because of the models in our heads that cause us to see what we've already been trained to see and to label in just one way.  People who don't know much about flowers may see "a rose" in many flowers because that may be one of the few flower names they actually know.  A police officer may see a life threatening man because his understanding of black men comes from movies and television and not from close black friends.  But if we can 'turn off the mind" then we can see the world fresh again, with all sorts of new possibilities.

Here are some pictures from the blog that show my attempts to see new things in the ordinary.

None of these were pictures I sought. They found me.

I'd note that none of these images was altered, except for the frame added around the onion.

I'd note the idea that the models in our heads cause us to not see what is really there was shown in a different light on an NPR piece this morning, talking about how the gambler's fallacy also tricked judges, loan officers, and others who made decisions about people.  The study showed they consider how the previous decision went when they are making the current decision.

The second obituary was about cinematographer Haskell Wexler.  These words grabbed me:

Despite his success shooting big-budget films for major studios, Wexler, a lifelong liberal activist, devoted at least as much of his six-decade career to documentaries on war, politics and the plight of the disenfranchised.
“His real passion was much larger than just making movies,” said son Jeff Wexler a few hours after his father's death at a hospital in Santa Monica. “His real passion was for human beings and justice and peace.”
Isn't that really what's important?  Justice and peace for human beings?  Our society is so distracted by the demand to acquire material goods, that we're all to willing to look the other way when confronted with injustice and war.  We excuse ourselves because we 'don't have time to get involved' or we 'couldn't make a difference anyway.'  Yet, if we don't do something, who will?  If we don't elect representatives who care, who will?   There are lots of stories about ordinary 'powerless' people who have made a difference.  You don't have to save the world, you just have to make it a little better than you found it.  If half the people did this, we'd be in a much better world.   The Wexler obituary reminds me that I need to do more.

And you've probably seen some of his films, like Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolfe?  or Bound For Glory  or One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest or In The Heat Of The Night.   If not, you might want to look them up.

Less well known and less seen was his feature directorial debut, Medium Cool.  I remember when I was a trainer for a Peace Corps group at Hilo, Hawaii.  Medium Cool was playing with another film, but the newspaper didn't say which one was playing first. (They still showed double features in those days where you paid once to see two films.)  So I called the theater and asked which film was playing first.  He responded, "Which one do you want first?"  After a second to digest this, I said, "Medium Cool."

From the obituary:
"Described by Wexler as “a wedding between features and cinema verite,” the drama about an emotionally detached TV news cameraman was partly shot in Chicago during the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention. 
At one point, as the camera inches closer to a tear-gas cloud and a wall of police officers, a voice off-camera famously can be heard warning, “Look out, Haskell — it's real!” 
Considered “a seminal film of '60s independent cinema,” “Medium Cool” was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2003."

Meadowlark Lemon Takes His Leave

I saw Meadowlark Lemon and the Harlem Globetrotters at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.  I thought it was in the early 1960s, but the only mention I could find online of the Globetrotters around that time at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was in a history of the auditorium:
"And on February 3, 1959, Wilt Chamberlain and the Harlem Globetrotters whipped the Los Angeles Rams in a basketball game, 80-56." 
Whether it was that game or a later one in Santa Monica, I just remember laughing very hard and being totally amazed at what these guys could do with a basketball.  I'd note that some of the first UCLA basketball games I went to were also in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Below is a snippet of Meadowlark and the team that will give those who never saw the Globetrotters an idea of what they did on court.

Below that is a longer documentary that puts their comic talents into the context of their amazing athletic talents and race relations in the United States and the world - the real importance of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Men love their mothers, but spend their lives trying to win their fathers’ approval. " Paul Jenkins Opens Up A Bit

Paul Jenkins' Sunday columns tend to be full of bluster, Republican invectives against liberal positions; they're party line, fact-light, tirades.  On a level of right-wing political nastiness with Trump as an eleven, Jenkins tends to be in the 4 - 7 range with occasional outbursts that go higher.    I've always wondered where his rigidity and meanness to others comes from.  Is it just a role he's playing as the token local regular conservative columnist or does it reflect who he really is?  My sense has been that what you write does reflect who you are to some degree.

Sunday, Jenkins wrote about saying goodbye to his 93 year old father.  In that piece, he tells us a bit about who he is and how he got that way.   Having lost my 93 year old mother this year, I can understand what it's like.

He offers some strong and sex stereotyped ideas.  I think that while his generalization may often apply, and surely apply to him,  I've found that the roles he talks about can be reversed or shared in different ways by both parents.
"Fathers make men. Mothers polish them, smooth the rough edges, make them human -- but fathers make them. They are our first role models, the guys we emulate -- until, as teens, we decide they are stupid -- the guys who imprint upon us, in ways good and bad, a roadmap for our lives. Men love their mothers, but spend their lives trying to win their fathers’ approval."
Paul and my relationships with our parents were much different.   I had an easy relationship with both parents (who amicably divorced when I was about five), and I always felt I had their love and approval,  Though that didn't mean I could do whatever I wanted.  My parents were reasonable, strict, but flexible, and we could talk about why a rule mattered or didn't.  And if my argument was good, I could get them to change their minds.  There was one important rule my mom insisted on:  we did not go to bed mad at each other.

Jenkins didn't have that with his dad.
"Mine was perhaps the proudest, hardest man I have known. He knew the Depression’s hunger, the Dust Bowl’s calamity. He lived a life of personal honor. He would never lie. Never cheat. Never take advantage. There was right; there was wrong. He was an absolute stickler for personal responsibility and accountability, grim death on tardiness. It was the military in him, I suppose. “3 p.m. does not mean 3:01,” he would growl. “It means 2:55.” 
"A stern-looking man, even in his last years he could freeze people with a piercing look I have seen a million times. An imposing figure not to be trifled with, at 93 he still was tall and thin. He walked with his back ramrod-straight, and, this always amazed me, still squared his corners when he turned. He hated slouching and had very old-fashioned ideas about punishment.
 A free spirit, I rebelled early and we got along like a sackful of cats. He was, I was certain, quite insane. By my late teens, we were estranged. I escaped into the Army and we rarely communicated."
My dad grew up during WW I in Germany when food was scarce and then lived there through the post-war depression and as the Nazis gained power.  My mother was born after WW I, but was in Germany longer and suffered the humiliations and fears of Jews as the Nazis began their harassment of Jews.  She didn't get out until September 1939 as a 17 year old, leaving her parents behind.  So while I'm sure that Mr. Jenkins senior had it difficult, my parents had it at least as hard.  But debating who had it hardest is not a fruitful path.  In any case, I think a loving family trumps survivable, economic hardship.

After Jenkins' mom died in 2007, he writes that he and his dad started talking by phone and  that his dad talked to him for the first time about his early years, the military, and how he met Jenkins' mother.

He ends the piece dramatically,  telling us that his dad had a strong influence on him, for better and worse.
"Dads leave imprints. I am who I am largely because of my father. The good and the bad. I wish I had known him better. I wish I knew whether he approved.
I came to conclude long ago, that 'maturity' comes when we develop adult-adult relationships with our parents.  If they can't handle that, then the adult child learns to understand how they got the way they are, recognizes they can't change, and forgives them.  Their words no longer have the power to hurt.  Their approval is replaced by our own self-awareness, our own ability to self-evaluate, and ultimately, self-approval.  Jenkins, it seems, never got there.

In my unprofessional, but human, way of thinking, I'm guessing that all those columns in, first, The Times, then the Anchorage Daily News, and now in the Alaska Dispatch, were attempts to win the approval of father figures in the Republican party and in the oil industry.  All the money in the world can't buy peace if one is still seeking his father's approval.

Ultimately, we are all born into this world.  If we're lucky, our parents raise us and we learn to deal with others, first from our relationships with our siblings.  Then we, again if we're lucky, get some schooling, find a partner, and work to support our own families.  We watch our kids grow up, maybe have grandkids, and then we die.  These are the basics that nearly all human beings share, whether they're rich or poor, Americans or Syrians, Republicans or Libertarians or Democrats, male or female or somewhere in between.  We all face the ultimate questions of who we are, how to live, and how to deal with our impending deaths.  Everything else is decoration, often used to successfully avoid facing the critical questions.  I'd note that the academic field that deals with those fundamental questions is philosophy, part of the humanities that a number of politicians are trying to cut.  They'd rather we discuss which products we want to buy than what is a good life.

But with the death of a parent, we're forced, at least briefly, to face the most fundamental human questions.

And that's what Paul Jenkins seems to have done when his father died.  And in writing a bit about it, he shared his humanity with us, something he doesn't do much in print.  And when we share those fundamental issues, we see that as humans, we are all facing the same issues.  And when we make ourselves vulnerable by sharing our questions and doubts about life, we make ourselves approachable.  We are no longer any of the labels we mask ourselves with or are given by others.  We're just human beings.  And then it's easier to talk to each other and stop competing, stop trying to beat each other, and have a chance to share and work together to make this a better world for all.

I hope Paul Jenkins doesn't stop this self reflection now that his father's ashes have been laid to rest.  I hope he continues to reflect on who he is and who I am and who everyone he meets is.  That he sees us all as humans who also want the approval of their parents, and how the experience of gaining that approval (or not) shapes them, and that he can be sympathetic to them.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Pelicans, Herons, And More, Ballona Creek

After dropping off family at the airport, we stopped to walk along Ballona Creek on a sunny, cool, windy Christmas day.  Here are some birds we saw.

From the National Park Service:
"Brown pelicans weigh about 8 pounds and measure a little over 4 feet in length, with a wingspan of over 6.5 feet. The 6 subspecies of brown pelican are similar in appearance with slight differences particularly in breeding plumage. Sexes look similar, though males are slightly larger. Brown pelicans have short, dark legs, long, broad wings, a large, heavy all-brown body, and a huge bill. Webbing between all four toes makes the brown pelican an awkward walker, but a strong swimmer. In basic plumage, adults have a white neck and belly, pale yellow head with occipital crest, a brown body, brown eyes, a throat pouch that is reddish orange, and a billface that is paler at the base and tipped with yellow. As the breeding season approaches, the distal end of the bill turns reddish, the proximal end of the throat pouch brightens to a poppy-red, the iris turns a yellowish white to light blue, and a white stripe runs down the pouch side of neck, while the rest of the neck stays dark brown. Colors start to fade during the onset of incubation, and the yellow feathers on the head are replaced with white feathers."

From All About Birds:
The Sanderling’s black legs blur as it runs back and forth on the beach, picking or probing for tiny prey in the wet sand left by receding waves. Sanderlings are medium-sized “peep” sandpipers recognizable by their pale nonbreeding plumage, black legs and bill, and obsessive wave-chasing habits. Learn this species, and you’ll have an aid in sorting out less common shorebirds. These extreme long-distance migrants breed only on High Arctic tundra, but during the winter they live on most of the sandy beaches of the world.
It says 'black legs' and this one appears to have a gray leg.  I'm checking this out with my bird expert.

This is a surf scoter.

White crowned sparrow.

Western grebe

And a great blue heron

From Audubon:
"Widespread and familiar (though often called "crane"), the largest heron in North America. Often seen standing silently along inland rivers or lakeshores, or flying high overhead, with slow wingbeats, its head hunched back onto its shoulders. Highly adaptable, it thrives around all kinds of waters from subtropical mangrove swamps to desert rivers to the coastline of southern Alaska. With its variable diet it is able to spend the winter farther north than most herons, even in areas where most waters freeze. A form in southern Florida (called "Great White Heron") is slightly larger and entirely white."

Friday, December 25, 2015

Rest On The Flight To Egypt

This is one of those posts I could never, in a million years, have predicted I would put up here.  I found a 1994 calendar tonight.  (Unfortunately, it was good in 2015, but there are only six days left of this year.  The calendar is good again in 2022, which isn't that far off.)  It's a drug company promotional calendar which my mom got many of because she worked in a doctor's office.  It's paintings from the State Museum of Berlin.

detail from Altdorfer's Rest on the Flight from Egypt, 1510
Looking up pictures in a calendar, today with access to the internet, allows one to gain much greater depth of understanding than was easily available in the past.  So as I was checking on different pictures in the calendar, I looked up "Rest On The Flight To Egypt."  As with the previous pictures I looked up (this one is December) I expected to find it quickly.  I did, and I didn't.  I got a lot of hits for a picture of the same name by Caravaggio (1596-7), but the one in the calendar is by Albrecht Altdorfer and is dated 1510.

So I looked a little more and found a website that lists over 100 paintings with that same title!  You can see the list with links to the various versions here.  I guess that isn't so remarkable for biblical stories, but it did surprise me.

Here's Wikipedia's description of the subject matter (of the Caravaggio painting):
"The scene is based not on any incident in the Bible itself, but on a body of tales or legends that had grown up in the early Middle Ages around the Bible story of the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt for refuge on being warned that Herod the Great was seeking to kill the Christ Child. According to the legend, Joseph and Mary paused on the flight in a grove of trees; the Holy Child ordered the trees to bend down so that Joseph could take fruit from them, and then ordered a spring of water to gush forth from the roots so that his parents could quench their thirst. This basic story acquired many extra details during the centuries.

Caravaggio shows Mary asleep with the infant Jesus, while Joseph holds a manuscript for an angel who is playing a hymn to Mary on the violin."
From the photo I took of the calendar, you can't quite make out that Altdorfer's angels are also playing music, but with a small harp and a flute like instrument.

Actually, I thought I was going to put up pelican and other bird pictures today.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jews And Christmas

In the early 1990s, my Mormon dean gave me an article to read. He had always made comments about Jews being special and made exceptions for me on various things because I was Jewish. For instance,  he opposed the opening of a day care center on campus because little kids should stay home with their moms. When I pointed out that he had said I couldn't afford to live in Anchorage if my wife didn’t work as well, and therefore we needed day care, his response was that we were different, we raised our kids with much more care.  (He didn't know us well enough to reach that conclusion without his Jewish stereotype.)

It seemed that Christmas was a good time to share a part of this article, he gave me, written by Steve Siporin, a Jewish professor living in Logan, Utah.   It began as a requested talk to an honors program in 1990. The talk was open to the public and was later published in a liberal Mormon journal, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Though, one or two years later. I know for some the term "liberal Mormon"  is an oxymoron, but the journal existed and pushed the limits regularly, to the point that in 2014 the editor was excommunicated.

In the article, "A Jew Among Mormons",  Siporin discusses the special relationship Mormons have with Jews, how well his family was treated by their Mormon neighbors, and he points out that the first two Jewish governors in the US were in Mormon country - Moses Alexander in Idaho (1914) and Simon Bamberger in Utah (1916).

He also talks about Jews at Christmas time, the focus of this post.  This is one Jew’s experience with Christmas. I suspect it represents the views of many Jews, but certainly not all and maybe not even most. But for those who are offended by changing Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays and other forms of removing the religious aspects of Christmas from schools, perhaps this will give them a different perspective.
“We [Jews] carry history not only within our holidays, rituals, and books, but within our families as well. We have faced the same difficulties for many generations. Christmas, for instance, was the time of year I hated most as a child; but I was not the first (or the last) Jewish child to feel that way. At Christmas, all the differences between my non-Jewish friends and me grew larger. (One precocious Jewish child in Logan recognized the defining power of the holiday when she referred to Jews and Christians as "Hanukkah people" and "Christmas people.") I felt that overwhelming feeling of alienation most strongly in public school where Christmas seemed to take over the curriculum from Thanksgiving until the end of the year. I remember the stressful feeling during the long days of rehearsing Christmas plays and singing Christmas songs in school. Would I betray my religion by singing these songs that were clear expressions of a different religious belief? The argument that "you could just sing it but not believe" didn't cut it, even with an eight-year-old. Was it wrong to disobey my teacher and call attention to myself by not singing? My mother faced the same problem in the 1920s, and she told me how she used to sing out "loud night" instead of "silent night." Her powerless, child's protest might seem laughable to us, but how else could she maintain her dignity?
The point is that the same thing happens to my children today in Logan. When Christmas approaches, our usually sensitive system suddenly suspends the separation of church and state. Ethnocentrism takes over and runs amuck. To protest puts one in the position of Scrooge in the perennial favorite, A Christmas Carol. To protest is to spoil everyone's fun, to refuse to join in and be a part of it all. But Jews cannot, by definition, be part of Christmas, if they are to be Jews. 
During Christmas, I still want to disappear, as my ancestors did during Easter when it was unsafe for Jews to be seen in public. They hid in their homes, and I suspect that today many Jewish children are torn between wanting to hide and wanting to join. How often can one explain oneself? A simple, innocent question like "What did you get for Christmas?" sets up the conflict, even in children: Do I have to explain, to a perfect stranger, that I'm Jewish and Jews don't celebrate Christmas, and maybe embarrass him? Do I just lie and say I got X? This problem, of course, is not particular to Jews living among Mormons but to Jews living among Christians. 
I often wonder at the ‘Christians’ who say they feel persecuted in the United States.  Every president but one has been a Protestant.   Most of the governors and most heads of corporations have been white male Protestants.  Christians have had most of the positions of power in the United States from the very beginning.  And Christian ideas have been part and parcel of American culture.

It's true, that with the various civil rights movements from women's, black's, and gay rights, non-Christians have also begun to stand up for their rights, when in the past, they felt they had no power to protest the imposition of Christian religious traditions in public institutions, particularly schools.  I understand that Christians see this as taken something away from them, something they took for granted.  But to the rest of us it was something they imposed on everyone else, contrary to the notion of separation of church and state, contrary to the constitutional ban on government imposed religion.  It was a special perk that came, not from the constitution, but from the same kind of power that kept blacks and women and gays second class citizens in their own country.  Perhaps the excerpt above will show people how including religious practices in school truly discriminates against non-Christians.

And I would add, that this doesn’t mean schools shouldn't have classes that teach about different religions.  I think it would be wonderful for everyone to know about the many religions they don't belong to.  Though this has to be done carefully because even members of the same religion would disagree about what should be said about their religion.

And I can even foresee a day when different religious holidays can be recognized in schools.  It will be a time when no one religion is dominant, when no one is saying "The US is a Christian nation."   A half-hearted, "OK, let's add a Chanukah song so we can get on with the Christmas celebration," doesn't qualify.  It needs to be a genuinely respectful approach to different religious traditions.

But that can't happen until everyone is not just tolerant, but respectful, of other world views.  Non-Christians don't really want to celebrate Christmas any more than Christians want to celebrate the holidays of other religions.  Though I'd point out that since Christians embrace the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, there's little in a Jewish service that would be contrary to their religion.  But since Jews do not recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the main aspects of Christianity contradict the beliefs of Jews.

There's a difference between celebrating and sharing.  Sharing and learning about the holidays of different religions can, if done well, happen in public schools.  But the actual celebration of the holidays, which includes worship, should be done in the respective houses of worship and homes of the believers.  Many folks already get this.

But given the evangelical nature of some Christian denominations one wonders whether there aren't ulterior motives.    The mission statement of the Southern Baptist Convention is:
"As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations."
Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Sikhs and Bahá'ís and Jains and atheists can't help but be fearful that the Christmas program at school is, for some, a means not of just sharing their holiday,  but also is a way of 'presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person."

And as long as the leading candidate for president among the Republicans wants to ban Muslims from entering the US, we know that we aren't anywhere near that level of respect in the US.

I'd recommend the whole article,  "A Jew Among Mormons."  It's got lots of good insights.

[Sorry for those seeing this reposted - Feedburner problems again. This seems to be getting all too common.]

The Modern Family

I'm at the living room table at my Macbook.

My daughter is on the couch with her Macbook.

My son-in-law is in the easy chair with his iPad.

And I can see my wife in the kitchen with her iPad.

My granddaughter is in bed.   She doesn't have an electronic device.  She's been delighted with the
old phone we found in the garage.

I guess in a different era, after saying all we wanted to say to each other, we'd be watching television or reading.

But we did get a lot of things done today.  Couple of trips to the thrift shop to drop things off.  Got the picture back from the framer.  Got rid of some stuff on FreeCycleand found a a stroller there to use while my granddaughter is here.  Dug out the flower bed where the plumber thinks the roots are getting into the pipe, then he came over to dig further.  Talked to the IRS this morning, after a 40 minute wait, only to be told that because I didn't have my CAF number, she couldn't talk to me.  Mind you, I've spoken to IRS agents on the phone seven or more times this year and none has refused to talk to me without my giving them the CAF number.  They've checked the computer records and saw I had the right to talk to them about my mom's account and they talked to me.  The only thing Ms. Rutherford let slip today was that she could see I had a CAF number.  Actually, I don't believe I ever got anything telling me what it was.  For 2014 an agent got oral permission from my mom back in January I believe for me to represent her and he wrote that into the record.  And he told me to apply for 2015.  But for this year no one ever told me the number.  And no one has ever used that to not talk to me before.  I tried to call back, but got the recording that they were busy and to call back another day.  That's just a little bit of the day's chores.

There was also a rather frightening incident where I was trying to make a left turn.  I'd eased out to the center when there were no cars coming from my left, and was waiting for a clearing on the other side of the street.  A car appeared on the left and didn't see me until very late and slammed on the brakes and stopped about three feet from me.  My passenger thought he'd been texting and looked up and saw me. I know if he was looking where he was going, he should have seen me there long before he braked.  Cars on the other side then stopped and waved me on to make my left turn.  If he had waited another two seconds to look up and brake, I'd probably not be writing this now.  I just sat there watching the car come at me.  I couldn't go forward into the traffic.  I guess I could have jumped onto the passenger's lap, but I don't think I had time to get out of the seatbelt and do that.  And would being further from the impact location make up for not having my seatbelt on?  I didn't think of any of this until hours later.  I wasn't scared at the time.  I just watched it as though I wasn't involved. But later the awareness of how close I was to a life altering event broke through.  I'm a pretty careful driver, but I put myself into a vulnerable spot trying to make that left turn.  We put our trust in other drivers every time we're on the road, but how we drive increases or decreases our risks as well.  All this is to say, readers, drive with care.  Go a little out of your way rather than make difficult turns on busy streets.

The very best part of the day was I a ten minute conversation in gibberish with my granddaughter.  It was a back and forth exchange of nonsense sentences with intonations that made them into declarative sentences and questions, expressed surprise or mock disagreement.  There were smiles, serious expressions, and lots of laughter.  So much fun.  A wonderful reason to be careful and stay alive and mobile.

[Sorry for those seeing this reposted - Feedburner problems again. This seems to be a morning problem.]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Oil Jobs Down. Parnell, What About All Those Jobs SB 21 Was Supposed To Create?

Let's see.  If I recall right, Governor Parnell's every other words were Jobs and SB 21. and the oil and gas industry was plastering the state of Alaska with ads saying how jobs would be lost if people voted for repealing the tax credits the legislature had given them in SB 21.    Despite all the money they spent, the initiative lost by only by a small margin.

And now the ADN has this article about lost jobs.
Oil, gas industry jobless claims up 7th month in a row
Jeannette Lee Falsey Alaska Dispatch News
 Jobless benefits claims are down in Alaska and across the country, but the same cannot be said for the state’s oil and gas sector. The lack of available work has boosted the number of former workers in the extraction and support industries who have filed for unemployment, according to the state labor department. Year-on-year increases in existing unemployment insurance claims by laid-off oil and gas workers began in May 2015, about one year after oil prices began falling. In November, 895 former workers in the sector were receiving jobless benefits, up from 463 for the same month in 2014. . .

Can you imagine how they would be blaming the lost jobs on the repeal of the tax credits if the initiative had passed?   But, I have to acknowledge, the oil companies never promised anything, it was their lackeys in the governor's seat and in the legislature who made claims about increasing jobs.   It's just like Shell blamed government regulation when it was pretty clear that the main reason they  pulled out of the Chukchi this fall was because their drilling produced nothing and the price of oil had tanked.

Now, I understand that government regulation can be quite an obstacle.  I just did another phone round with the IRS today and I feel anyone's pain who has to deal with people like Ms. Rutherford.  And I'm all for simplifying regulations whenever possible.

But it's my observation that the voluminous regulations are due to company lawyers finding loopholes and exploiting them, resulting in more and more regulations.

But we also know that without the government looking out for environmental risks, the oil companies would do in the Arctic what they've done around the world where there aren't good regulations.  Where the oil companies' bottom line is greater than the treasuries of the countries they're working in.  And where it is easy to bribe governmental officials for the permits they need.

And we're always hearing about the great private sector and how entrepreneurs take risks, but they also create LLC's (Limited Liability Corporations) to limit their liability.  They know going in that government regulations have to be met.  It's part of their business plan.  So moaning about it after the fact (well, also during the process) is just so much spin to avoid the responsibility for failing to find oil, or for an environmental catastrophe, or firing employees.

I've got tons of other stuff to do besides this post, but let me give you a few links to show that I'm not making this all up.

Myanmar's Oil and Gas 

McSpotlight on the Oil Industry

Effects of Oil Drilling (on Indigenous People)

And for those who remember the Exxon Valdez spill and the Deepwater issues, you'll note these things happen in the US too, but not quite as egregiously.

"You're telling me what my own experience was?"

Ifemelu is a Nigerian living in the United States.  For a while she'd had an affair with a very attractive  and wealthy blond man.  She now has a black American boyfriend, Blaine.
"Some years later, at a dinner party in Manhattan, a day after Barack Obama became the Democratic Party's candidate for President of the United States, surrounded by guests, all fervent Obama supporters who were dewy-eyed with wine and victory, a balding white man said, "Obama will end racism in this country," and a large-hipped, stylish poet from Haiti agreed, nodding, her Afro bigger than Ifemelu's, and said she had dated a white man for three years in California and race was never an issue for them.
"That's a lie," Ifemelu said to her.
"What?" the woman asked as though she could not have heard properly.
"It's a lie,"  Ifemelu repeated.
The woman's eyes bulged.  "You're telling me what my own experience was?"
Even though Ifemelu by then understood that people like the woman said what they said to keep others comfortable, and to show they appreciated How Far We Have Come, even though she was by then happily ensconced in a circle of Blaine's friends, one of whom was the woman's new boyfriend, and even though she should have left it alone, she did not.  She could not.  The words had, once again, overtaken her, they overpowered her throat, and tumbled out.
"The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not.  We all wish it was not.  But it's a lie.  I came from a country where race was not an issue .  I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.  When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn't matter when you're alone together because it's just you and your love.  But the minute you step outside, race matters.  But we don't talk about it.  We don't even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we're worried they will say we're overreacting or we're being too sensitive.  And we don't want them to say, Look how far we've come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we're thinking when they say that?  We're thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway?  But we don't say any of this stuff.  We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this we say that race doesn't matter because that's what we're supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable.  It's true.  I speak from experience."
. . . The poet shook her head and said to the host, "I'd love to take some of that wonderful dip home if you have any left," and looked at the others as though she could not believe they were actually listening to Ifemelu.  But they were, all of them hushed, their eyes on Ifemelu as though she was about to give up a salacious secret that would both titillate and implicate them. 

Ifemelu then offers the reader examples of incidents where her white boy friend didn't see the racism as well as some where he did.  When she went to get her eyebrows waxed and the Asian hairdresser said they didn't do 'curly.' He got that.
"When they walked into a restaurant with linen-covered tables, and the host looked at them and asked Curt, "Table for one?" Curt hastily told her the host did not meant it "like that."  And she wanted to ask him, "How else could she have meant it?"  When the strawberry haired owner of the bed-and-breakfast in Montreal refused to acknowledge her as they checked in, a steadfast refusal, smiling and looking only at Curt, she wanted to tell Curt how slighted she felt, worse because she was unsure whether the woman disliked black people or liked Curt.  But she did not, because he would tell her she was overreacting or tired or both. . ."
I'm back to reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah again, after putting it down to read 
book club books.  Adichie's depiction of race issues is amazing.  She beautifully articulates the way people deny that race matters, and the frustration victims feel over and over again, and how those feelings are aggravated by white partners who tell them they're being overly sensitive.

I find the line 
The woman's eyes bulged.  "You're telling me what my own experience was?"
particularly provocative here, because that's what people of color ask when whites deny their accounts of racism.  Here the poet uses it when Ifemelu denies the poet's claim that race was never an issue with her white boyfriend.  Lots to think about.

[Sorry for those seeing this reposted - Feedburner problems again.] [Again, the reposting resulted in immediate pick up by other blogrolls, while the original post had not been picked up for over 12 hours.]

Monday, December 21, 2015

“Without exception, totalitarian states invariably reject knowledge in the humanities, and states that reject such knowledge always become totalitarian.”

That's from an editorial in the Japan Times as reported in ICEF Monitor, in reaction to the Japanese government's call for
"universities to close social sciences and humanities faculties." 

According to the article,
"Higher education policy in Japan is now reportedly determined via the President’s Council on Industrial Competitiveness, a special body composed of government ministers, business executives, and (two) academics. And it appears that the Minister’s June letter to universities emerged from deliberations within that group and, more fundamentally, from the President’s conviction that Japan’s higher education institutions should be more directly focused on the country’s labour market needs." 

(Another factor in this debate is the decline of the student age population in Japan which means there are fewer applications to universities.  The article also mentions a threat of loss of funds from the government to universities that don't comply.)

This is happening in the US as well and which we see here in Alaska.  As I reported in a series of posts on the selection of the University of Alaska president this year, our Board of Regents has become populated with mostly corporate executive types.

And the University of Alaska Fairbanks is shutting down the philosophy department and others.  Budget cuts give good cover for making such moves. "We wish it was not necessary to reduce the number of programs we offer, but our state budget scenario leaves us few choices."  Of course, Alaska's legislature, like many others, is under constant anti-government and budget cutting pressure from right wing lobbyist organizations based on so called 'think tank' studies.  But that's another story.  (The Anchorage International Film Festival had a documentary, The Brainwashing of my Dad, which chronicles how the right is pumping out this sort of propaganda, that eventually leads to this sort of regretful, handwringing apology for shutting down such programs.)

I recall when the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program worked with its advisory committee - made up of active executives in state, federal, local, military, and non-profit organizations - the faculty were surprised by the outcome.  While our existing program emphasized thinking and problem solving skills, our then existing objectives focused on practical management skills such as human resources, budgeting, supervisory, and planning, and public involvement skills.  But our advisory board was more interested in students who could think, solve problems, were flexible, and could deal with ethical dilemmas, than it was with a mechanical understanding of the budgeting process or personnel rules.  And so we adjusted our program learning objectives to reflect those processes we taught already, but hadn't explicitly identified in our learning objectives.

And apparently this is the case too among key Japanese business leaders.  Again from the ICEF Monitor article:
"The powerful business lobby group Keidanren was also quick to respond to the government’s assertion that the business community only requires people with practical skills. “Some media reported that the business community is seeking work-ready human resources, not students in the humanities, but that is not the case,” said Keidanren Chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara. He added that Japanese companies desire “exactly the opposite” – that is, students who can solve problems based on “ideas encompassing the different fields” of science and humanities."

 And in the US, while some universities are shutting down humanities programs to focus on vocational preparation, the US military academy, West Point, isn't. Brigadier General Timothy Trainor, West Point’s academic dean:
“It’s important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers,” Trainor said. “What you’re trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. They’re having to deal with people from other cultures. They have to think very intuitively to solve problems on the ground.”
That's more or less what our advisors were saying in the MPA program back in the 1990's.

There's a lot more to say on this.  Is this just the task-oriented types narrowly trying to eliminate what they see as useless philosophizing wasteful programs, or are these more calculated attempts to stop universities from teaching students to think?  Which harkens back to the quote on totalitarianism in the title.  But my job here in LA is to clean out my mom's house and play with my granddaughter for the few more days she's here.  So consider this post, like many posts, just notes on the human condition and how we know what we know.

[Sorry for those seeing this reposted - Feedburner problems again.] [And the reposting got it onto other blog rolls in three minutes this time. The original post had not gotten picked up after several hours.]

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Pet Shop Thoughts

My granddaughter and I took a picture to the shop to have the frame repaired and down the street was a pet store that said 'reptiles and birds.'  As a kid, I learned a lot about animals by going to the zoo with my parents.  It was a big deal for me to watch the animals and learn their names and the differences between different kinds of animals, to watch how they moved, to hear their sounds, to smell their smells. I was totally taken by them.   As an adult, I have problems with zoos, but I also recognize they give people an opportunity to connect with animals, and for many, like me, learn to understand emotionally and biologically their importance in the natural world.  And the zoo I went to was an old style zoo and you can see a picture of me there when I was little at this link.

So I entered the pet shop with mixed feelings, and the powerful smell - which I'm pretty sure was from the mice and rats for sale as snake food - didn't help.

A tangle of boas

All these little birds in little catches was disturbing, but fascinating to my granddaughter.  For ten dollars you can buy a female zebra finch.  And lock it in a cage.

I looked up these Gouldian finches, just because their coloring is so remarkable.

Gouldian finch from Wikipedia:
"The Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae), also known as the Lady Gouldian finch, Gould's finch or the rainbow finch, is a colourful passerine bird endemic to Australia. There is strong evidence of a continuing decline, even at the best-known site near Katherine in the Northern Territory. Large numbers are bred in captivity, particularly in Australia. In the state of South Australia, National Parks & Wildlife Department permit returns in the late 1990s showed that over 13,000 Gouldian finches were being kept by aviculturists. If extrapolated to an Australia-wide figure this would result in a total of over 100,000 birds. In 1992, it was classified as "endangered in the wild" under IUCN's criteria C2ai. This was because the viable population size was estimated to be less than 2,500 mature individuals, no permanent subpopulation was known to contain more than 250 mature individuals, and that a continuing decline was observed in the number of mature individuals. It is currently subject to a conservation program.  .  .  . 
The number of Gouldian finches has decreased quite dramatically during the 20th century. Their habitat has been reduced or altered. Early research indicated a parasite called the air sac mite was responsible for the decline of the species. This is no longer considered to be a major factor. In general, Gouldian finches are susceptible to diseases and viral infections. Their beautiful colours mean that they are easily caught by predators. Fires are listed as the primary threat to the natural populations. The total number of Gouldian finches altogether is not low, however, because they are among the most popular pet birds, and are bred in captivity for the pet trade."
Zoos often justify keeping the animals in captivity because they preserve a species that is endangered in the wild.  I don't know enough to weigh the pros and cons.

There's a post at about Ethics in Aviculture which portrays most breeders and brokers as good, decent folks, but does acknowledge there are problems.
"As time goes on and bird keepers gain experience, many decide to breed birds to help pay for (at least) the bird food. Bird breeding isn't a get-rich-quick scheme; so if you are thinking along those lines right now, stop. Most new to breeding are very excited about selling the babies and making a few bucks. So much so, that they have been known to pull chicks from their parents too early. This can often lead to the death of the chick shortly after being sold. If the breeder is a good one, he/she will admit fault and replace the dead bird(s) with more mature birds. If the breeder isn't so good he/she may accuse the bird buyer of making some grave mistake and killing the birds. This practice really bothers me but I see it happen now and then. Granted, anyone buying a bird for the fist time should do their homework first, and would, therefore, know that they weren't at fault, but alas this is rarely the case. In the end the bird(s) and the unsuspecting bird buyer suffers."

Then there are all the turtles.

Here's a discussion on a turtle forum about how some pet shops treat reptiles

At least this store publicized that it is illegal to sell turtles under 4 inches, though they don't mention that the reason is to prevent the spread of turtle salmonella and other health problems.

All the turtles in this tank were under four inches.  Presumably they are raising them to be above four inches, but what about the health issues of having them in the shop?

And then there were all the lizards.  I looked up Bearded Dragon and the first four or five pages of the search results were from businesses and groups promoting their sale and telling people how to care for them.  For example,  These, too, are from Australia.

I don't have pictures of the mice and rats or the tarantulas and various frogs.  But here are some goldfish from a tank that said 'feeder fish.'  This account of someone who worked for Petco talks about how these fish are sold to feed other animals like turtles.  This account goes much further, but it is on a PETA site, so keep that in mind.
"PETCO also sells live “feeder fish” for turtles and reptiles people keep as captive “pets.” These small goldfish are kept by the hundreds in huge, severely crowded tanks with no enrichment. The death toll was so high at the store I worked at that part of the closing procedure every day was to take out the dead “feeder fish” who had been sucked into a filter, wrap them in a plastic bag, and place them in the “dead” freezer, along with dead rats, mice, hamsters, birds, and other casualties."

There are lots of sites that promote exotic pets and give advice on how to care for them.  But there are also some sites that tell a different story.  For example:

The Dirty Side of the Exotic Animal Pet Trade which says, in part,
"The illegal trade in wildlife is second only to that of drugs in the United States, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). A former FWS chief of law enforcement said, “There is no stigma attached to being an animal smuggler. If you get caught illegally transporting animals on a first offense, it’s possible you won't even do jail time. You can’t say the same for running drugs.”
Animal Planet's Facts About The Exotic Pet Trade

Live Science's Owning Wild Animals:  Stats on Exotic Pets (Infographic)  lists four levels of state regulations and I'm pleased to say that Alaska is in the most restrictive category, though I'm not sure how restrictive that is.  Just better than the other three levels.  Here are the five worst states, according to Cap Times in Madison, Wisconsin,
"Wisconsin is one of just five states that allow residents to keep almost any animal they want as a pet. The others are Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina."

The Human Society asks "Should Wild Animals Be Kept as Pets?"

I don't know that there were any animals in the pet shop that had been captured in the wild.  I'm guessing most, if not all, were from breeders.  But there are other issues, including health, and introducing exotic animals into the local eco-system, which is, apparently, a particularly big problem in southern Florida, where the climate and terrain are hospitable to tropical reptiles..

I did mention some of these issues to my granddaughter, but I also let her absorb the beauty and wonder of the animals.

Friday, December 18, 2015

AIFF 2015: Saturday Best Of The Fest Schedule - It's All Good

Here's the schedule for tonight.  Everything is at the Alaska Experience Theater.

Hard choices.  In this case I've seen them all, and they're all worth watching.

From This Day Forward won the Audience Choice Award.   The filmmaker chronicles her father's transexual journey, beginning when the kids were little.  Making the film gave her the opportunity to ask questions she'd never asked and for the whole family to talk through things and come closer together.  A good film that helps us understand one family's experience of having a transgender family member.  This is a documentary. 7pm Alaska Experience Large

When The Ocean Met The Sky.   The father's will requires the three sons to go on a trek that replicates one their parents did long ago.  The sons don't get along well, but the will requires them all to participate or the inheritance goes to charity.  All three sons are likable and flawed and the film makers pull it off well, in large part due to the fine actors.   A solid film that I enjoyed. A feature.  7pm Alaska Experience Small

Brainwashing of My Father.  Another strong documentary.  This film actually isn't finished and the filmmaker asks for feedback.  This time the filmmaker's father changes radically, beginning when he had a long commute to work and started listening to conservative talk radio in the car.  The filmmaker also has cameos from many other people who lost their fathers to the far right cult of Limbaugh and Fox.  She also goes through the history of how conservative talk radio came to be and documents how wealthy conservatives plotted out the strategy to cultivate support.  I only saw the first hour - I was headed to another overlapping film - but it was well worth it.  If you've lost your dad to Fox News, this is the movie for you.  8:30 pm Alaska Experience  Large

Best of the Fest Shorts and Short Docs  - This is a terrific program.  Really well done films.  Definitely worth seeing.  It also includes my favorite film from this year's festival -Superjednostka.  This 20 minute Polish film worked for me because it was the perfect use of the medium of film.  The camera told the whole story of this huge Soviet era housing block - the building itself and some of the people who live inside it.  But most people will probably find other films more to their liking, like The Bravest/The Boldest  or  The One Minute Time Machine.  Or This House Is Innocent.  This is the reason for film festivals.  This would be my recommendation.  But all the others are good too.

AIFF 2015: Best of The Fest Friday Night Offerings

After the main part of the festival is over, the best films in key categories are shown again to give folks a chance to see them.  Here's the schedule for tonight (Friday, Dec. 18).  All the showings are at the AK Experience Theater - large or small.

This screenshot has no working links.  Original, here, gives details.

If you're interested in documentaries, you have to choose between one or the other.

Circus Without Borders is an uplifting story about acrobats in the Canadian Arctic who connect with acrobats in Guinea.  An enjoyable film about cooperation of people from distant lands who have a common bond.  It was the runner up in the documentary category.

It plays with the best short doc - which because of how things were scheduled I didn't get to see - that deals with the Canadian tar sands from a Native perspective.  It should be good.
7pm at AK Exp Large

Madina's Dream,  which was awarded best documentary, is  harder movie to watch, but with much more important information.  On the broadest level, it's about the consequences of the arms trade.  On a specific level, it shows us two views of the Nuba people of the south of Sudan.  One view is from the women and children in a refugee camp in the new country of South Sudan.  The other view is from their men who are still in Sudan fighting the Sudanese army who are taking over their traditional land.   7pm AK Exp Small

Orphans and Kingdoms  - Best feature winner.  Another I didn't get to see.  8:30 pm AK Experience Large.   Here's the trailer.

Also showing at 8:30pm  AK Experience small is top winner of the Alaska Made films - Heart of Alaska - a cross country trek with kids in Southcentral Alaska.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Anchorage Seattle LA Plane Views

The landscapes always change and always are magnificent in different ways.

We've taken off over the icy inlet and are looking back at Anchorage at close to the shortest day of the year.  It's almost 11 am with a heavy cloud cover.

Our plane was delayed about 45 minutes for some mechanical issue.  We weren't concerned because we had 90 minutes between flights, but the lady behind us had only an hour to catch her flight Reykjavik and now was down to 15 minutes and we hadn't left yet.  And there was a group of people trying to catch a flight to Denver.

Here we're looking down at the pattern of snow and trees in the Pt. McKenzie area.  All these pictures are much sharper if you click on them.

And now, after seeing nothing below us but clouds all the way, we see the Olympic Range as we near Seattle.

We made a long southern loop over Tacoma and came back to land from the south.  Here's part of the Sound at about 3pm.

And no matter how many times you see Mt. Rainer, it's stunning.  Even on a cloudy day.

In the end, we made up time in the air, and I think everyone was ok, though we got to our connection as it was boarding.

And then we watched the sun set for a while as we neared LA.  That's part of the wing in the foreground.

Watching the world from the air makes me understand it much differently than I do when I'm on the ground.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Alaska Legislature Determined To Give Alaska The Record

The headline in this morning's Alaska Dispatch News front page:
"GOP legislators eye health, education for cuts"

 The headline in Section B:
"High school graduation rate among worst in US

With a new round of education budget cuts, maybe Alaska can get ahead of Washington DC, Nevada, and New Mexico and be at the very bottom.  Way to go legislators, always thinking of ways to make Alaska stand out.

I would put some caveats in this though.

First, graduation rate is a tricky measure because it's something the schools can manipulate.  Teachers are told to pass marginal students.  Graduation standards can be reduced.  It's a good thing to increase, but the best measures aren't ones school districts can control.

That said, I'm not too sure what having a high school diploma actually means these days.  Not having one has big consequences.  But does it represent something significant enough to justify the stigma (particularly ability to get a job) not having one imposes?  For the clear cut cases, sure.  But the student who just barely misses it?  Not so sure.  But then GED's are available for those who finally get there stuff together.

Two more points.  Money alone doesn't make a better school.  How the money is used is important.  We have a basic system and it's hard to tinker with.  When I taught 6th grade for a year, I concluded that I could teach a lot more to each kid if I had only five in class.  The results would be significant enough that setting up school so that each kid only had academics for ten weeks would be more effective than having a class of 30 for forty weeks.  I'm not proposing that, but I am saying ways to tinker with education delivery could greatly impact output.  But all things being equal, if more money means smaller classes (rather than more highly paid administrators) more money is better than less.

Finally, there is a national conservative effort to get public education money diverted to private schools.  Vouchers, for example.  One way to achieve their goal is to make public schools so bad, that the public gets totally fed up and supports diverting public money to private schools, including religious schools.  I'm sure that some of the Republicans wanting to cut the education budget consciously or unconsciously have this goal.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Information and Power - A Few Examples

My dissertation was on privacy and I concluded that the consequences of exposure is the critical issue and thus the privacy debates are basically about power.  It's about the power to keep others out of your physical space and the ability to prevent access to information about yourself.  My conclusion was that given changing technology, if someone really wants to know about you badly enough, they will be able to do.  There is no way to protect yourself from someone determined to get into your life.  The only protection, and it's certainly limited, is to have everyone equally vulnerable so that people don't invade others' info because they could have the same thing happen to them.  We are protected thus only by enlightened cooperation or observation of the Golden Rule.

Time has confirmed my predictions made back in the 1970s.

This all is a preface to some articles in the LA Times today that illustrate different aspects of this power to hold one's info and the power to get into someone's info.

  • Malik’s Facebook clues Shooter sent two private notes sharing jihadist longings to Pakistani friends online, officials say.
Let's start with US security officials failing to find private Facebook messages written in 2012 and 2014 in Urdu by Malik.  It's a little scary to think that anyone thinks the FBI should have been able to find those messages.  It's just mind-boggling to think of the level of intrusion into private communications that security agencies would have to do to detect such messages.  

This guy traded in his truck for a new one.  The dealer stopped him from scraping off the lettering with his company's name and phone number.  The dealer didn't want him to scratch the paint and assured him they'd do it.  But then his truck shows up as an ISIS vehicle on ISIS websites with weaponry in the back.  The picture quickly went viral resulting in hateful calls and emails.

Las Vegas' newspaper has been secretly bought.  The owner isn't being disclosed.  What does that mean for readers?  The article says this is unprecedented.   Unfortunately, most people aren't willing to cancel their subscriptions until the owner's identity is revealed.

The Chinese government is trying a key human rights attorney.  He's blogged openly, but his trial is secret.  How many Chinese officials get away with corrupt behavior because criticism of the government is so strictly limited?

  • A BROKEN PLEDGE Officials let China Shipping ignore emissions-cutting requirements
Here, LA Port officials, in response to protests of pollution, promised to require ships reduce emissions while in port, to turn off their engines and to plug in for power,   But the LA Times, through a public records act request, found out the port authorities gave the Chinese shippers permission to ignore the regulations.

Anonymous emails threaten terror at LA schools and the district decides to shut them all down.  Who sent the emails?  How can the officials know if they are real or not?  And how many school districts are going to get similar threats just to shut them down?  And how many times will it take for the districts to ignore the threat?  Think of the sense of power this gives a disgruntled school kid.

The movie Stink! which I saw at the Anchorage International Film Festival chronicled how corporations hide toxic chemicals in products by preventing the FDA and other agencies from even knowing what's in their products, let alone disclosing them to consumers.

Just keep your eyes open for examples of the power to hide or expose information and who wins and who loses.