Thursday, May 31, 2007

Being a Tourist at Home - Anchorage Saturday Market

After the traveling we did this past year, it was fun on Saturday to play tourist at home in Anchorage. Anchorage Market and Festival started as the Saturday Market, but now it seems to have gotten branded and logo'd. But it is still a good way to spend a weekend afternoon - checking out the Alaskana, the tourists, the food, and the entertainment. Here are some pictures from this last weekend.

Greg Frisbee is a San Francisco performer who is up for two weekends at the market. His juggling,fire-eating, and general comedy show drew a big appreciative crowd that filled his hat after the show.

Mary Ann Koury is from Wichita, Kansas and has been coming to Alaska summers to volunteer in Kodiak raising money for the Russian Orthodox Church.

If you don't want a quart of birch syrup...

you could get a birch bark basket instead.

Or get your picture taken in parkas on a dog sled. I've got a picture from Korat, Thailand Chinese New Years of people getting pictures taken at the festival there as ancient Chinese royalty.

Lincoln Riley had a Whaling Commission hat on and I thought he might be in town for the International Whaling Commission meeting this week. But it's just an old hat. He's from Unalakleet but he lives in Anchorage now and goes to Unalakleet for the summer to go fishing.

Victor and Carolyn are Lincoln's brother and sister-in-law.

Or buy some children's books.

Or something from
The Quilted Raven. The link doesn't work yet as I post this. She said the website is coming soon, so try it again later if it doesn't work yet.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Three Other Views of Chabon at Loussac

In my quest to map Alaskan bloggers, I found three others who blogged about Tuesday night's talk at Loussac by Michael Chabon.

Sears, are you listening? Leak part of washer design?

We got our new stackable Kenmore washer-drier last week. Rick, the salesman told us that if we take a trip, we should wipe dry the rubber seal at the door because water can get caught in the folds and get moldy. So yesterday I went to unload the new washer and there was a small puddle on the floor and I could see drops going down the face of the washer. It took our Maytag 32 years to start leaking.

After negotiating the 800 number computer voices, getting cut off, starting all over again, someone scheduled a service person to come this morning. That's good, no waiting. They also suggested asking for the machine to be replaced if the service guy couldn't make an easy fix of it.

Kyce came this morning and basically said:
K: "They all do this. Just put a cloth on the floor. It's the condensation on the door when you open it."
Me: "You're saying that they are built to leak?"
K: Squirming a little, "Well, all front loaders do this."
Me: "They don't leak at the laundromat"
K: "Well, those are $3000 machines, built for abuse."
Me: "We only did three loads. We haven't abused it."
K: "No, I wasn't suggesting you abused it."

Anyone have a front loader? Does it leak every time you wash?

Also, today Joan put it on normal for the first time. I thought they were doing construction work outside. It turned out it was spinning really fast.

[Update April 21, 2017 - We figured out why it was leaking shortly after this post and it hasn't been a problem since.  In fact it works well and uses much less water than the old Maytag.]


Each year the morels come back in our back yard. Two the first time a couple of years ago, now there are four. Maybe I should look around to see if there are others hidden in the leaves.

Michael Chabon and the Names of Yiddish Sitka

When my book group picked The Yiddish Police Union by Michael Chabon, I was excited. I loved his Pulitzer Prize winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Then I heard that Title Wave was having him up for a talk and book signing. So we got the book and free tickets for the talk (unlike the Sedaris talk.) I won't go into the book much - there's been plenty of press on it: in the New York Times   (I guess it's a lot easier for New Yorker Michiko Kakutani to imagine that "Mr. Chabon has so thoroughly conjured the fictional world of Sitka" than it is for this Alaskan living in the state's largest city of 260,000 people, nearly half the state's population, to imagine an urban center of over 2 million people in Sitka);  in The Jerusalem Post (no, Mr. Freeman, Sitka is not in the tundra), or on Terry Gross' Fresh Air.  I'll just focus on a part that intrigued me that I haven't seen covered elsewhere - the names of people, places, and things in this fictional Sitka. So you need to know that the book's basic premise is that Sitka, Alaska was designated as a temporary homeland for post-Holocaust Jews.

Last night was Chabon's talk - at Loussac Library's Marston Theater because Title Wave wasn't big enough for all the people who wanted to attend. I got to ask Chabon how he came up with all the various names of streets, buildings, places, and characters. A few I could already figure out. Bina Gelbfish (Goldfish), for example, always wore a bright orange parka outside. Others I could work out through google. Max Nordau (the book opens in the Zamenhof Hotel on Max Nordau Street) was an early Zionist who argued for a homeland for the Jews. On page 3, we read,
Landsman puts his hand on Tenenboym's shoulder, and they go down to take stock of the deceased, squeezing into the Zamenhof's lone elevator, or ELEVATORO, as a small brass plate over the door would have it. When the hotel was built fifty years ago, all of its directional signs, labels, notices, and warnings were printed on brass plates in Esperanto. Most of them are long gone, victims of neglect, vandalism, or the fire code.
And the fact that Yiddish became the language of Chabon's Sitka. Google quickly tells us that Zamenhof was the originator of Esperanto, the language that was supposed to become an easy to learn universal language. The Dnyeper Building overlooks the Schvartsn Yam, just like the actual Dnieper River flows into the Black Sea. And when you read the book, the last name of Shemets (shame, scornful whispering, according to the Yiddish dictionary online) makes sense for both Hertz Shemets and his son Berko.

Chabon's answer to my question about how he came up with the various names offered some extra insights one can't track down on Google. He'd read to us in his talk about a 1997 article he wrote on finding a Yiddish traveler's phrase book and imagining where it might be used. He was alerted to the Yiddish Online Discussion Group Mendele that was discussing his article. While the first post referred to the article as
a delightfully humorous essay regarding Uriel and Beatrice Weinreich's little paperback phrase book "Say It in Yiddish"
other discussants were not as amused. (If you go to the link, search for Weinreich to find the various parts of the thread, which starts at June 24, 1997.) He also got an indignant letter from Beatrice Weinreich, by then the widow of Uriel. He wrote back an apology, but, as he told us, she didn't accept his apology.

So when he started to talk about how he named the characters in the book, he began by saying, Bina (Gelbfish, the ex-wife of the main character) was the nickname of Beatrice Weinreich. Many are names of important Jews as I mentioned earlier with some relationship to this fictional Jewish homeland. And some of the less savory characters in the book are named after people in the Mendele forum who were especially vocal in their displeasure with the original article on the phrasebook. I've now read through a number of the entries in the debate on Chabon's book on Mendele. I trust that Chabon, given his manner at the talk, was giving a friendly nod of recognition to his critics at Mendele. Certainly, contributors like Robboy ('the gaunt giant, Roboy') were thoughtful and respectful in their criticism . And I hope that they appreciate being immortalized in this book by a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

Update: I've added three other views of Tuesday night in a later post.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ADN Story: Fed's Eye [Ted] Stevens' Home Remodel

Someone said the other day that there are so many FBI agents in Anchorage working on the investigations of corruption that they keep bumping into each other.

Today the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) published another episode in the unfolding story - this is the first one that directly names the senior Republican US Senator Ted Stevens. Rich Mauer writes among other things:

How the Girdwood home fits in with the broader investigation, or what possible crimes are being investigated, is not clear. There was a brief, unexplained reference to residential remodeling in the government's statement of facts that accompanied Allen's and Smith's guilty pleas. The sentence, preceded by a listing of a dozen Veco-related enterprises around the world, said: "Veco was not in the business of residential construction or remodeling."

Asked whether that line related to the construction at Stevens' Girdwood home, Persons first said, "I'm sure it does." When pressed, he said he wasn't certain.

Bill Allen and Rick Smith are the two VECO, a key oil-field services company that has made significant political contributions, executives who have confessed to bribery, extortion and other misdeeds that were captured on tape in their Juneau hotel suite last year. One sitting and two very recent state legislators have been indicted and two state senators are mentioned in the indictments as Senators A and B. These are generally assumed to be John Cowdery and Ben Stevens, Ted's son.

Person's is a Stevens friend and neighbor who oversaw the construction while Stevens was in DC.

Augie Paone, owner of Christensen Builders Inc. of Anchorage, said in a recent interview that it was Bill Allen who hired him to complete the framing and most of the interior carpentry at Stevens' home. Before he could send a bill to Stevens for work in progress, he was directed to provide it first to Veco, where someone would examine it for accuracy, he said. When Veco approved the invoice, he would fax it to the Stevenses in Washington, he said.

Paone said that as far as he knew, Stevens and his wife, Catherine, paid his bills themselves. He said he sent at least $100,000 in invoices to the Stevenses in Washington. They paid him from what he said appeared to be a checking account opened for the project. The checks, imprinted with the couple's names, had single- and double-digit serial numbers, he said.

The project involved jacking up the existing one story house and building a new foundation and new first floor and then lowering the original house onto the newly built first floor. But there were problems in the construction.

Paone said he was called in late that summer to rescue the project.

"Bill Allen and some of the Veco boys, some of the Veco guys, were the ones that approached me and wanted to know if I could give them a hand," Paone said. "I did it more as a favor, you know. It's one of those things when somebody is the head, and packs that much power and asks you for a favor, it's kind of hard to say no."

Paone said that by the time he finished his work in late October or early November, he had sent Stevens more than $100,000 in invoices for his own work.

As I mentioned above, up to now we knew that the FBI was investigating VECO, the oil field support company, for bribery and extortion of Alaska legislators. The two top VECO executives have confessed and one sitting and two recent legislators have been indicted. Another former legislator was indicted last fall, but on what seems a separate issue. We also know that two more state senators have been investigated, but not indicted. These indictments are expected soon. One of the two is Ben Stevens, Ted's son.

In September 2005, Rich Mauer wrote

State Sen. Ben Stevens held a secret option to buy into an Alaska seafood company at the same time his powerful father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, was creating a special Aleutian Islands fishery that would supply the company with pollock worth millions of dollars a year.

And since Bill Allen, the head of VECO, has confessed to various counts and worked out a deal with the FBI, we can assume that he also may have talked to them about who paid for remodeling Ted's Girdwood house.

And finally, since this is a Republican administration in DC, the skeptics can't say it is a Democratic witch hunt.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

How did Carnival Cruise Lines get US taxpayers to buy them a $28 million train depot?

Our friends Harry and Michelle, former Alaskans, stayed with us a few days before catching a Princess Cruise to Vancouver yesterday. Yesterday morning I took Harry to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to return his rental car. We passed the Bill Sheffield Depot, which in 2004 won an American Institute of Architects Award.[Depot picture not my picture, from AKRailroad site]

Later we took them downtown to catch the bus to Whittier where they get on the cruise ship. Getting the tourists and their luggage from here to there is like an assembly line. I knew this already from taking other visiting friends to catch their buses to the cruise ships and from people who work for the cruise line.
You can get a sense of the enormity of the business from looking at all the luggage lined up at the hotel for just a few of one day's set of passengers.

But what got me thinking, and which you can't see completely on this picture, is the sign on the bus that says "Holland-America Tours" and the sign on the post to the right of Harry's head that says "Princess Tours." People had told me a lot of the cruises were all owned by the same company, so I started googling when I got home. Here's what I found.

The Princess Cruise Line, along with Holland America, is owned by Carnival, the largest cruise line company in the world, with a 2006 net profit of $2.279 billion In addition to Princess and Holland America, Carnival owns, as their website lists, "our brands:"

Holland America
P&O Cruises
Ocean Village
P&O Cruises Australia

Different financial sites lists their competitors as Royal Caribbean Cruises, the second largest, with 2006 net income of $633.9 million. The other two listed are TUI AG (a German firm) and Hong Kong based Star Cruises.

Alaskans heard a lot from the cruise industry prior to last fall's election because Ballot Measure 2 called for strict regulations of the cruise industry - including putting rangers on all the cruise ships to monitor them in Alaskan waters and requiring them to disclose the commission they get from Alaskan vendors they send passengers to. Despite a very expensive industry sponsored campaign against it, Ballot Measure 2 won. In this last legislative session there's been a lot of public concern because of legislative attempts to water down the new regulations. So, we aren't ignorant of the cruise industry and its influence. But I started thinking.

Back to the Bill Sheffield Depot at the airport. Anyone who asks a few questions knows that, despite the arguments when it was first proposed that supporters argued that it would help ease commuter traffic in Anchorage. The Alaska Railroad's 1998 Annual Report says about the Depot:

Anchorage International Airport
What It Is: A $28 million project to develop a state-of-the-art rail
station at the Anchorage International Airport. The station will be
the centerpiece of all passenger services development at the
Railroad, connecting Seward, Whittier and Girdwood, making
commuter services to Wasilla and Palmer a more viable option. (p.10)

In the Chairman's message it even gives a time estimate:

And by 2005, we hope to be
carrying commuters from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Girdwood into
Anchorage with safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly rail transit.(p. 1)

The originally arguments that this train spur would help Anchorage commuters was never too convincing since it only would go from the airport to downtown and that's not where most commuter traffic goes. There's nothing here about cruise lines, yet today, in May 2007 the only people who ever use the airport depot to get on or off a train are cruise ship passengers.

While googling I found out that on May 7 of this year,
Anchorage Daily News published a letter from a David McCargo of Anchorage:

"About a year ago I called Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to inquire about scheduled train service to and from downtown Anchorage. The person who took my call was not even aware that there was a train station at the airport, which started me wondering why we spent almost $30 million to build one. My next call was to the Alaska Railroad, which was worse than trying to get through to an airline representative in Bangladesh. After considerable persistence, someone finally called back to say that the only way that I could get to the airport by train was to book a cruise from Vancouver."

I further found a Railways enthusiasts' website that had a page entitled "
Lines with obscure passenger services" with this interesting tidbit:

"Anchorage, Airport Branch Junction, AK - Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport US28
This spur line - approx. 2 miles long - is used only by chartered trains for various cruise companies (including Holland America, Princess, Carnival, Royal Celebrity and Radisson). On days when a relevant cruise vessel arrives at Seward, a train leaves there for the airport in the morning (journey time 4½ hours) and returns at about 1330 from the airport to Seward to connect into the vessel's evening departure. Tickets are obtainable only from the cruise line concerned. Reported: August 2005"

So how did the cruise lines, Holland America, Princess Lines, and Carnival principally, get this $28 million depot and train spur between downtown Anchorage, and the ports of Whittier and Seward to take their passengers directly to the Anchorage Airport? Rattling some old brain cells and working google leads to this narrative.

Bill Sheffield (for whom the Depot at the airport is named) owned Sheffield Enterprises, which eventually was a chain of 16 hotels in Alaska and the Yukon.
1982 - Sheffield is elected Governor of Alaska and serves until 1986
1987 - Sh
effield sold Sheffield Enterprises to Holland America. His number two man at Sheffield Enterprises, Al Parish, eventually became a vice president of Holland America.
And from the Alaska Railroad website we get the following:
April 1995
Former Governor Bill Sheffield is appointed to the Board of Directors and elected chairman.
Former Governor Bill Sheffield becomes CEO and President of the Alaska Railroad and John Binkley is named Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Alaska Railroad develops a program of projects with plans to build new depots and docks, improve rail infrastructure and modernize through new technology.
Former Governor Bill Sheffield retires from the Railroad. Patrick K. Gamble, former Four Star Air Force general, named new CEO and President of the Alaska Railroad Corporation.

So, Sheffield has close ties with Holland America - which eventually gets bought by Carnival which owns most of the ships cruising in Alaska - because he sold his company to them and his number two man becomes a VP for Holland America. When he retires as governor he becomes head of the Alaska Railroad and pushes for a train depot (which bears his name) at the Anchorage airport. Uncle Ted, as Alaska's senior US Senator is affectionately called, gets $28 million funneled to Alaska from US taxpayers to build the depot at the Anchorage Airport (which bears his name.) Since it was completed in 2002 it has only been used by summer cruise line passengers and is closed most of the year.

Now I think Sheffield and Stevens believe that what they were doing was in the best interests of the State of Alaska. And most Alaskans appreciated the federal largess that Stevens has sent our way, though many have smirked a bit at some of the excesses like the train depot. But the so called "bridges to nowhere" have brought attention to the cumulative effect on the US budget of all the special earmarks Congress has slipped in. And in this case, there is a project whose sole beneficiary in its first five years has been the cruise ship industry.

Did I mention that Carnival and its subsidiaries also own in addition to the Sheffield Hotels, a series of Princess Hotels, where many, if not most, cruise passengers sleep when they are on land. And they own Grayline of Alaska which their cruise passengers travel in when they aren't on the railroad. And they steer their passengers to shore based shops and services for which they get a hefty commission. One of the reasons Ballot Measure 2 passed was to give passengers more information about the business relationships between their cruise ships and the businesses they recommend.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, where the Veco executives were taped by the FBI bribing Alaska politicians, is part of Holland Alaska.

June 7 update: For a more recent post on cruises see New Pirates of the Seven Seas
For more on the Airport RR Depot,
click here.

New Look

I've wanted to put a picture into my heading since I started this blog. Google even got me instructions, but they all said to back up the template before you start and I wasn't totally sure what I was doing and didn't want to risk having to reconstruct everything. So the other day as I was logging in I saw the Blogger Dashboard Blogger Buzz had the following heading:
Learn how to add an image to your blog's header. Now it's just like adding a picture to a post, sort of. I've had this photo ready for the heading since July. But getting it the right size isn't all that easy as you can see. It's a little bigger than I intended, but it will have to do for now. I'd also like to get rid of the ........, but it's the only way I can figure out how to indent the subheading. Anyone suggestions for fixing those things would be appreciated.

And the picture. It's from a set of three pictures by Malaysian artist Zainol.

Friday, May 25, 2007

My Short Block's Contribution to Global Warming

On our side of the street there are six dwellings (two houses, four duplexes). On the other side there is a house and a duplex (their lots are lengthwise along our street.) Here are a few of the vehicles that belong to these eight dwellings.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"How else can you explain the lack of legislative outrage?"

Let's look at a couple (of the many possible) references to political corruption. John Strohmeyer's column in the ADN yesterday calling for the Alaska legislature to move out of Juneau and Marcus Stern's Pulitzer Prize winning book on Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

"This is about as crass as bribery can get. But such is the environment in Juneau. It is a cesspool for political corruption. There are no whistle-blowers in the legislative chambers. Legislators learn soon they are accountable to each other more than to the people they represent. How else can you explain the lack of legislative outrage when Senate president Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, who was paid a total of $243,250 by Veco, prevailed without challenge last year in the thick of the negotiations over oil and gas taxes." Drag political cesspool out of Juneau, ADN, May 22, 2007.

My question echoes Strohmeyers lament about the lack of legislative outrage: why it is so hard to stand up to corrupt politicians? OK, I know the basics, but if we are going to make being corrupt harder, we have to really understand the forces that keep the good politicians from bringing down their corrupt colleagues and keep the public from voting them out. I'll start a few conjectures here and I hope to pursue this further.

OK, let's start on factors that 'allow' corruption to flourish:

1. Strohmeyer's conclusion is that Juneau is the problem. Juneau is too small and too isolated. But the Cunningham case took place in Washington DC, so do we move the US capital out of DC? I suspect that wherever the capital is, these forces will converge there. So we have to understand the forces.

2. Power certainly plays a big role.
A. Minority v. Majority power - Minority leader Ethan Berkowitz chastised now indicted Rep. Weyhrauch on the house floor of being at the beck and call of lobbyists. You can hear that exchange in an earlier post. Berkowitz made the attempt to call attention to the blatant behavior, but to little avail. Or maybe the accumulation of a lot of evidence like this played a role in the eventual investigations and indictments.
B. Bullying and bluster - Ken Silverstein, in a Harper's interview with Stern writes, "When former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder stood up to challenge him [Cunningham] he called her a socialist and told her to sit down." He links to this video:

Standing up to such bullying is tiring. It would be interesting to study politicians who shout down their critics with anger and name calling and questionable behavior.
C. Retaliation - Seats on important committees are taken away. Favored bills are sabotaged. Funding for one's district is cut. Those willing to stand up to corruption often find themselves isolated and powerless. This is closely related to A - Majority v. Minority power.
D. Structural interdependence - how committees are established, assignments made, the power of committee chairs over agendas, the need for campaign funds, all weave a net that makes it difficult for politicians to fight as individuals against corruption. All these entanglements mean that every politician is liable to have some skeleton in the closet - an earmark for an important donor, a paid trip, attendance at a conference that later gets tied to a questionable person or cause. Thus anyone who stands up, invites scrutiny of his or her record, and attack, whether justified or not.

3. Time and resources - In today's Fresh Air, Marcus Stern said Cunningham first came to his attention seven years ago when two women staffers he knew told him about being invited to Cunningham's boat one night. He looked into it, but eventually gave it up.

4. Access to information - Moving suspicion to proof isn't easy. Rep. Berkowitz and others in Juneau couldn't secretly tape the conversations in the Baranof Hotel's Room 604 the way the FBI could. Tracking down who bought Cunningham's house for $1.6 million and later sold it for $700,000 less takes research skills and the knowledge to make the necessary connections.

5. Stories, Models, Narratives - Beliefs people have in their heads play a critical role in limiting or empowering them. The stories about how things work, about what's important, about what they can and should do, all affect how they react to others. Whether they even see the corrupt behavior. And when they do, whether they accept it as normal or outrageous. And if outrageous, whether they have the power to do anything about it. And if they take action, what they might lose. So, some fellow legislators see nothing wrong in what their corrupt colleagues are doing. Others see it and accept it as 'the way things are.' Some stand up to it. What differentiates them?

OK, that's enough for this post. There's lots more to explore here. I haven't even touched why citizens reelect someone with clear signs of problems such as the FBI searching his office and carting off files and other evidence.

Ultimately, it seems to me that if it is true that the vast majority of legislators are honest and well intended, that they must unite and stand up as a block against violation. It isn't easy, if getting tainted is inherent in the fund raising necessary to get elected. The possibility of not winning the next election is clearly the price one has to accept in order to keep one's honor (if only to oneself) and to look after the public's interest.

There are examples of people successfully standing up as I've mentioned earlier. The current Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, stood up to her party bosses and beat them. Ray Metcalf kept after Ben Stevens, in what seemed like a Quixotic effort until the FBI stepped in.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Maytag A207 August 1974 - May 2007

In January, the washing machine had its first serious leak, but with the help of I was able to diagnose the problem, get the parts and repair it. But in April there was a new leak. I first checked to see if my repair was the problem - it wasn't.

It was leaking from down below.

After the repair man said this was the beginning of the end, that he could stop the leak, but it would come back, we bit the bullet and bought a new stackable washer and drier. They arrived today. The Maytag was a great machine. Everyone says they don't make them like that any more. I know the market economists think that the market is incredibly efficient. But appliances that last for 32 years without repairs mean fewer machines are sold. Now they make machines that break down in 5-10 years.

On the upside, our old machine, they tell us, used 45 gallons of water per load and the new one only uses 16 gallons. So if the Anchorage Water and Waste Water Utility billed us by how much water we use rather than a flat fee, we'd save some money. And while Anchorage has no shortage of water, I can feel good that we are using much less.

Another thing, the salesman said the electrical cord was on the left of the drier, but it's on the right. The longest cord is 6 feet, so we can't push the new washer/drier all the way back. We'll have to either have the 220 outlet moved or see if we can get a longer cord.

Oh yeah, anyone want to buy a 7 year old GE drier?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Midnight Soapscum:Porn! #6 at OutNorth

Christian Heppinstall has been writing, directing, and acting in a live soap opera- Midnight Soapscum:Porn! It was supposed to be a playful, but serious exploration of the porn industry and Christian did a lot of reading and websurfing in preparation. The porn studio was going to do all the Shakespeare plays as porn. We were out of town for the first two episodes. We caught the third episode, but have missed the next two and finally Saturday night got to see episode #6. It was held at OutNorth, beginning in the art gallery with music by Tom Begich and friends. The ADN wrote (and I can't say it any more succinctly):

"Queer Space will attempt to capture 2,500 years of gay and lesbian drama, poetry, essays and short stories in a single night of theater this weekend at Out North, culminating with a melodramatic, absurdist soap opera about people trapped in or happily employed by the porn industry.

"It is a straight-friendly celebration of inspiring and funny literature from the Greeks through today that concludes each night with Alaska's most contemporary gay and straight performance work, 'Midnight Soapscum: Porn!'?" said Christian Heppinstall, the director of both shows.

The cast at the opening of the episode.

Thirteen performers will enact works by the likes of Sappho, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Whitman and Maupin, followed by the sixth episode of a live soap opera that includes a riotous hostage crisis, space aliens, a post-operation tryst between a transsexual and hermaphrodite from Transylvania, and far too much smooching."

Queer Space was 13 black clad actors sitting in a circle on a black stage The readers alternately stood and each with passion, wit, humor, and all with considerable talent and great timing read short passages from the writers spanning over 2000 years. The passages variously praised, described, lamented, and condemned love between same sex partners.

Soapscum never quite lived up to its promise to seriously consider the impact of pornography on society, though the relationships, the lies (Narcisso really didn't have a wife and ten children it turned out), the emotions, the money, the titillation, and the press' fixation on celebrity and various other consequences and impacts of porn were there on the surface as the scenes rapidly changed. The quality of the acting was impressive and it was never dull. Considering that Broadway plays spend a lot of time on the road working out the kinks, and that Christian has been writing the episodes as the run proceeds, with little time for the ensemble of actors to rehearse before the performances, it was quite good. And considering how much a Broadway play costs, I'm sure the value here (quality of script and performance/time+money spent) is considerably greater than any Broadway show.

Things went by so fast, I really don't remember where the aliens came from, though I guess the point was that other people were not necessary for sex if you have the right technology (they had a pleasure ball, that produced spectacular orgasm when you held it.)

I'm not sure if this clip from a previous episode that I got from Youtube proves that a) the live show just can't be captured on video tape or b) the show, isolated from the whole environment of the theater, is pretty thin. All I can say is that we enjoyed the two episodes we saw, and I stand by what I said above - this is a a rough draft that needs the kinks worked out and some of the social commentary originally envisioned to be slipped in.

Alaskana isn't Art

Our friend Joe was featured in the Anchorage Daily News yesterday.



That has become Joseph Senungetuk's mantra as he has watched other artists rush to produce souvenirs for the crowds tumbling off cruise ships.

The Anchorage artist said Alaskana is about the exchange of money, not the exchange of culture or ideas. You can read the rest at Anchorage Daily News.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

It's Summer in Anchorage

Back on April 28, I set out the criteria for determining when spring had arrived in Anchorage. It is only roughly related to the calendar.

Three weeks later I'm saying that summer is here because the tulips are out (though sad to say our dozen or so regular tulips of the last five or six years didn't come up at all) and the birch leaves have burst out. It could still cool down again, but we are out of the brown season and into the green. The arrival of mosquitoes is another sign. You can also see the difference between our rock garden today and April 28 by clicking the link above.

Jim Gottstein - Shining Lights Award 2007

Jim Gottstein tonight was honored by Temple Beth Sholom, Anchorage, as this year's Shining Lights Award winner. Jim comes from a prominent Anchorage family, and as he said tonight, his privileged life has enabled him to doggedly fight for social justice for those who can't fight for themselves. As an attorney, he has pursued rights for the mentally ill. [In the picture he has just gotten an Alaska Legislative Proclamation from Rep. Max Gruenberg.] He was critical in the establishment of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, which put aside money and land for the benefit of the mentally ill. He also won an Alaska Supreme Court case severely restricting forced medication of the mentally ill and has helped established a number of organizations to help the mentally ill. Jim's own mental health story, obviously and important part of this story is told, partially, by Jim at the Alaska Mental Health Consumer Web.

The Psych Rights site gives a more about the projects Jim has worked on. Below is a sample from that site:

Law Project for
Psychiatric Rights

James B. (Jim) Gottstein

Jim Gottstein grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. After graduating from West Anchorage High School in 1971, he attended the University of Oregon and graduated with honors (BS, Finance) in 1974. Subsequently enrolling in Harvard Law School, Jim completed his formal legal studies in 1978, graduating with a J.D. degree.

In addition to over 25 years of private practice, emphasizing business matters and public land law, Jim has been an attorney advocate for people diagnosed with serious mental illness:

  • Co-founded the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights) in 2002. Jim is currently president. See,
  • Co-founded Soteria-Alaska, Inc.,, in 2003, to provide a non-coercive and mainly non-drug alternative to psychiatric hospitalization. See, Jim is currently president.
  • Co-founded CHOICES, Inc. (Consumers Having Ownership in Creating Effective Services) in 2003 to provide peer-run, alternative services, especially the right to choose not to take psychiatric drugs. See, Jim is currently president.
  • Co-founded Peer Properties, Inc., in 2002, to provide peer (mental health consumer) run housing for people diagnosed or diagnosable with serious mental illness who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or living in bad situations. See, Jim is currently vice president.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Denali Trip 3 - Bears, Wolf video

Thursday was a great animal viewing day. Lots of caribou, hares, ptarmigan. A Northern Harrier. At the Teklanika River bus stop the tour bus passengers were using the facilities and out on the deck looking out over the river. Way over on the other side was a mother grizzly with three cubs, probably last year's. With the binoculars you could see them enjoying themselves first on the ice and then in the brush. There was also a herd of about 20 caribou grazing its way slowly toward the bears, maybe a mile or two off. But we wanted to walk. The road is blocked off for cars at that point, but you can walk. We quickly got down to the bridge over the river. And then continued on along the road for an hour. Part of the time we walked with a young Spanish couple who were going on to camp for a couple of days. They were equipped with their bear proof food containers (the park supplies those to backpackers) and their bear spray. They weren't happy that there were no rental bikes available this early in the season, but were enjoying the fact that we had the road pretty much to ourselves and the various park service vehicles. At mile 33 we said goodbye and turned around as they continued on.

When we got back to the bus stop the four bears were still there, and a quarter mile up the road cars were parked looking at another two bears playing on the ice shelf. I'm sure the giant telephoto lenses people had are great, but you have to wonder about their phallic symbolism. Anyway, I decided to try a little video since maybe the movement would show up better than I could get with a still. Had to push the telephoto all the way so it's pretty rough, but it gives you an idea. The second part of the video (and don't worry, it's very short) is much better. It's a wolf that came onto the road about 15 minutes later as we were driving along.

It crossed the road and disappeared. Some cars stopped to find out what we were stopped for, but they couldn't find the wolf. After they left, we saw it again, loping through the brush. Fortunately for the others, it was pretty fast, and a mile or two later we saw the cars stopped along the road watching the wolf continue at very good speed. Again, the pictures are great. This documentation rather than photography.

Denali Trip 2

We started with a hike along Savage River, enjoying the sun and blue sky. It was windy.

Soon we were near the Dall sheep that hang around there. On Friday, we looked into the new (our first time inside was last year) visitor center and caught their version of the Dall sheep. Taxidermy is out, the animals in here are sculpted.

We went on beyond the footbridge that loops back to the road and found a nice spot in the tundra to sit and enjoy the sun and scenery. We sat across from this ice patch (don't think it would qualify as a glacier) and relaxed and talked.

Eventually we made it back to the car and drove slowly along, stopping now and again to walk out into the tundra and to look at animals. As always at this time, caribou are plentiful and some are fairly close to the road.

The Alaska state bird, the ptarmigan, is plentiful in the park as they change from winter to summer plumage. This is a willow ptarmigan.

And arctic hare were regularly playing chicken, dashing in front of the car at the last possible moment.

Sanctuary campground was open (but not for overnight yet) so we pulled in, heated up the cashew chicken we had from the Thai Kitchen, read, slept, and generally enjoyed the sun and peace and quiet. Then the slow drive back to the Riley Campgrounds near the entrance. And to bed about 11pm.