Friday, October 31, 2008

Guest Blogger Michele: Maggie's First Year in California Anniversary [UPDATED]

[UPDATE August 5, 2021 - The ADN reports today that Maggie has died at age 41]

Sunday, November 2 will mark the 1st Anniversary of Maggie the elephant's trip from Alaska to her new home in California. Making decisions is not always easy. But the decision to send Maggie out of Alaska so she could have more open space, better weather, and most important, the company of other elephants, seemed pretty easy. But for various reasons, never clearly articulated, the zoo took forever to finally agree. [Picture of Maggie from PAWS] A former Alaskan friend was visiting recently and started telling me about how Maggie was doing and so I asked her if she'd do a guest post. She agreed. So first I'm going to give some background on the decision the zoo made to send Maggie south. Then we can look at the results of the decision in Michele's guest post. A May 2007 ADN article reported:
Thwaites and other board members have said Maggie is a dominating elephant that may not adjust well to living with other elephants or to a change in her lifestyle. "Maggie's not your typical elephant. She hasn't been used to this. You just don't know (what could happen to her)." Thwaites said the board is asking experts, including some of the same ones consulted in 2004, for their advice...
The 2004 report was written by a five-member committee formed to advise the board on what to do with Maggie. In it, elephant experts from around the U.S. and Canada said Maggie would be better off elsewhere. The lone dissenter, Dr. Jim Oosterhuis of the San Diego Wild Animal Park, said the animal could stay in Alaska if she was provided proper exercise, softer flooring in her enclosure and more interaction with her handlers. The zoo has spent $900,000 to improve Maggie's living conditions, Thwaites said. It has not, however, met all of the goals, including the soft flooring, which is estimated to cost another $100,000, he said. The Alaska Zoo's elephant committee, composed of zoo staff, a board member and others closely connected to the zoo, three years ago split on the question of moving Maggie
The committee was made up of the then-president of the board, Mike Barker; then-senior zoo staff members Tex Edwards and Pat Lampi; Maggie's local vet, Dr. Riley Wilson; and a founder of the zoo, John Seawell. Edwards and Seawell thought Maggie should stay in Anchorage. Barker and Lampi voted to send her to the North Carolina Zoological Park, which scored highest among several Outside zoos that had indicated an interest. Wilson, the fifth committee member, was undecided.
***************** How Maggie the elephant is doing in her retirement at the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Galt, California. Maggie arrived at the PAWS ARK 2000 sanctuary on November 2, 2007 via a celebrated airlift commanded by the late Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Tinsley, commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base. After arriving at Travis Air Base, Maggie, in her crate, was trucked to the 75-acre sanctuary. She walked unaided out of her crate into the African elephant barn and into her private sleeping stall, was given a bath, examined by vets, and plied with treats. After exploring the African barn, she was led to the introductory yard where she met the four female African elephant residents, 71 (the leader), Mara, Lulu and Ruby. Maggie is very vocal and trumpets to them. She makes a honking sound when she is begging for treats (our Maggie loves to eat!). Maggie remained separated from the others physically by a fence until the PAWS staff was sure that she was strong enough not to be knocked over by them. They could nuzzle and touch trunks from Day 1 and slept in the same barn in separate stalls. She never appeared frightened of the other elephants and roared to show her spunk. Maggie was kept close but separate from the others until February 13, 2008 [video of Maggie joining other elephants] when the staff was confident she was strong enough to hike up and down the hills, and then she was introduced into the full elephant pasture with the others. She seems to have particularly bonded with Ruby. On August 17, 2008, PAWS celebrated Maggie’s 27th birthday with carrot cake and all her new California friends. She was not willing to share her cake with the other elephants and they had to be distracted with goody bags of their own! There was so much interest in Maggie when she arrived that the PAWS webcam crashed from sheer volume of hits. It is currently down and in the process of being upgraded but check back periodically for new videos. I, for one, am very grateful to the Board of the Alaska Zoo for allowing Maggie to be re-located to PAWS and to the sanctuary and Bob Barker for financial support. I think your readers will be happy to see how well she is doing. PAWS posts regular updates on Maggie on their website under “News and Alerts” Here are some nice videos of Maggie so you can see how she’s doing. Best regards, Michele

Don't Vote

This is from PittsburghWil

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Voting Early

I decided to vote today. It took 30 minutes, the longest I've ever waited. Of course, everyone who wants to vote now until Tuesday goes to one place. The Alaska ballots are pretty easy. All the information is on the page and you just fill in the circle next to the candidate you want. My mother's California ballot was much more difficult. All the names and ballot measures are listed in a booklet. It has numbers for each candidate.
Then you have to go to this computer card and blacken the right number.
This shouldn't be so difficult for the designers to figure out. The California ballot introduces a lot more opportunity for the voter to make a mistake than does the Alaska ballot. And hand counting - should that be necessary - is easier, particularly if the voter didn't do it quite right. Making it computer friendly should NEVER sacrifice voter friendly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Boreal [Northern Hawk] Owl Visits the Hard Way


A loud thump on the window, but I can't see anything.

4:09pm Outside there's a good sized bird lying in the driveway below the window. But it is moving. I went in and called the bird treatment and learning center. They said to wait a bit to see if it gets up on its own. If not, wrap it in a towel, put it in a box, and bring it in.

4:15pm The bird is sitting up and looking around. Our neighbor comes by. Things are improving. Later I look up Alaska owls and decide it's most likely a Boreal owl. [Dianne, whose knowledge of birds I always defer to] says in the comments below, that this is a Northern Hawk owl. The key point that got me to think it was a boreal owl, was its size. This was not a big owl.]
About 10” long, the Boreal Owl has a chocolate brown back with large white spots and white underparts streaked with brown. Its off-white facial disk with a distinct black border, short tail, yellow bill, and white forehead spotting are distinctive field markings.

The whole story is on the video.

[No, I'm not that anal that I was tracking the time. But my Canon Powershot was.]

Good to see so many conservatives supporting a convicted felon

It's normally liberals who try to put a human face on America's prisoners. Republicans have claimed to be strong law and order folks who endorsed stiff sentences for criminals. But today's Anchorage Daily News letters show a softer, more compassionate conservative streak in Alaska.
"I was disappointed by the conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens. I do not believe the prosecution acted with integrity and I believe there is an outside agenda to remove Sen. Stevens. I will not be swayed in my loyalty to the senator."
Fortunately, the Republicans have been in control of the Justice Department for the last eight years (did I really say that?) so LaVon can't blame the Democrats for this. Clearly the outside Republican agenda is to vacate one of their sure seats in the Senate so the Democrats can get a veto proof majority. I think I heard that story about how losing the election will help Republican fund raising.

"He has given his all to the state of Alaska and now Alaska has the opportunity to stand by and show the same support and dedication that he has shown it and its people. Alaskans now have the opportunity to fight for someone that has fought so hard for others."
About this sacrifice for Alaska stuff. Being a US Senator is one of the great power trips available in the US. You meet the most powerful people in the world. You get to subpoena other powerful people and dress them down in front of the world. And once you're elected, you really have to screw up to get voted out of office. Come on now, he's gotten a lot more than he's given. It was so good, at 84 he wasn't ready to walk away. When someone thinks they can't be replaced, they need to be shown the world can live without them.

"He was tried and convicted by what I consider a kangaroo court and not by a jury of his peers as called for in the Constitution. The whole trial was tainted with prosecution lies and misconconduct."
What would be a jury of peers? US Senators? Rich, white folks? Why not Americans? Oh, yeah, these jurors probably weren't 'real' Americans. But even that 'real' American Sarah Palin has said Ted should step down. Or is that so she can step in? Being stuck in Juneau when there's a chance to get back into the center of national political power is going to be tough. It's true the prosecution slipped up. But that's why we have an adversarial system. Stevens had the best lawyers money can buy. They challenged what happened and got one of the witnesses off the list. But if these prosecutors lied throughout the whole trial, you'd think Brendan Sullivan would have let the whole world know about it.

"What a travesty - an unjust verdict resulting from a patently unfair trial, following an indictment based on erroneous information. No doubt the case will be overturned by less partrisan minds on appeal, but in the meantime, Outside interests are doing their best to throw a monkey wrench in the Alaska Senate race."
What else can say? Brendan Sullivan was there for Stevens to point out any erroneous information. It is true that the prosecutors messed up and that could be the basis for overturning the verdict. But I'd like to know if you also wrote in to complain about Outside interests (like oil companies supporting Republican candidates, like the Mormon church fighting for the One-man-one-woman marriage Constitutional Amendment) or is it only when they oppose your position does outside influence become bad influence?

Denial is a natural reaction as one faces the contradictions between one's world view and the way the world really is. Come on now. Senator Stevens is 84. He's testy when someone challenges him on anything. He's been convicted. I'm glad you see him as more than a felon. That you recognize that rather than calling him a criminal, we should call him a human being who has, among a lot of other positive things in his life, committed a criminal act.

I hope you folks who wrote these letters will recognize that most of the people you read about in the newspapers who get convicted of something, are the same. The act that got them into the newspaper is just one small part of their lives. (Ok, I know, for some it is a definite pattern. But even then, it's worth finding out how they got on that path. I bet you'll find for most career criminals, it started early and there was probably a pretty messy family life. So maybe in the future you'll consider something early childhood education funding, parent training, and other, 'evil' social programs.)

Some of you probably aren't in denial, but you owe Uncle Ted something and a nice letter to the editor will do the trick. But you should have the decency to tell the rest of us this is just a gesture.

Kangaroo Court picture from here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Anchorage's Korean Tofu House after Nick and Norah

After watching Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist yesterday, we ate at one of our favorite places - a Korean restaurant. While Thai food might be easy to like the first time you eat it, say, like ice cream, Korean food, for me it at least, was more like asparagus. It took a while to appreciate it. Or maybe I just never had any good Korean food. But that changed when friends took us to the Noodle Shop. When they went out of business ( Yak and Yeti is in their old shop) we went looking for another place like that. Someone suggested the The Tofu House which turned out to be even better.

Despite the name, they also have meat dishes too. But we love the boiling tofu soup (it's cooked in metal bowls and it is literally boiling still when you get it) that is on the menus under the glass on the table tops. And meals come with this large array of side dishes.

It's on Fireweed (515 W). Coming west from C Street - past the Greek Corner on the left, and then past the car wash on the right. It's in the next little mall on the right. Prices are very reasonable. This spread cost us $21 I think.

Nick and Norah? It was playful and fun. I guess I better watch The Thin Man to understand the reference (Nick and Nora are the characters in The Thin Man). If it was deep, I missed that part. And what ever happened to the recording they made in the studio? Is that the premise for the sequel?

Note: While Google throws up quite a few Nick and Nora's - not just on blogs- but it appears that Nora is actually Norah. In The Thin Man, it's without the h.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Schadenfreude and Ted Stevens' Conviction

I know that a lot of you out there are jumping with joy at the news of Ted Stevens' conviction today. There are reasons to feel good if you've believed he's guilty or arrogant or if you're working for Mark Begich.

Taking pleasure in another person's suffering is a universal emotion. The German's have a word for it - Schadenfreude.

But watching a man go down, a man who like all of us has flaws, yet also worked most of his life to help his state using the talents he had, shouldn't bring anyone joy. We're all imperfect. We all will have times of grief. And I imagine most of us would like a little slack from others at that time.

Is it possible to mix the feelings of triumph and sadness? To feel good about the carrying out of justice and bad about the personal fall of Ted Stevens? Ted Stevens' recent statements don't make it easy to feel sympathetic. He seems completely defiant. ABC reports him saying today:
"I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have," Stevens said. "I am innocent. This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial. I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate."
Yet his reaction - his total cluelessness of why he was on trial - is part of the sadness.

Philosopher John Portmann seems to make distinctions similar to mine above, at least as described by Perez Zagorin reviewing Portmann's book, When Bad Things Happen To Other People.
[Zagorin's voice] Persons with a well-developed moral sense who experience schadenfreude are apt to feel a certain amount of shame and unworthiness at being possessed by this emotion even momentarily. Is it not mean-spirited and detestable to be glad when bad luck or adversity strikes someone else, even an enemy or rival, and much more so in the case of a friend? . . . Portmann, however, would relieve us of some of our guilt on this score by means of various distinctions. He believes that schadenfreude is rational and therapeutic in certain circumstances, and makes the important point that it can include a sense of justice when we regard the bad things that happen to people as deserved punishment for their actions. He strives consistently to distinguish between pleasure in the justice of someone's suffering and pleasure in the suffering itself. [emphasis added.]

That's what I was doing above - trying to make distinctions between different aspects of the event. Happiness over the fact that the high and mighty are brought to justice just as the powerless are, seems perfectly normal and justified. Pleasure over the suffering of a fellow human being, in this sort of situation, while also perfectly normal, is probably less justified. Perhaps age softens the edges of righteous indignation, makes me more sensitive to the pain of an octogenarian ending his previously distinguished career this way; allows me to feel comforted that justice has been done, but saddened that a man of such intelligence, drive, belief in his own causes, should have strayed onto this path.

Zagorin is not so charitable to people who take pleasure in others' pain.
This distinction, though, is psychologically so difficult to sustain that I would guess that the two sorts of pleasure continually merge. In an example mentioned by Portmann, the blessed in heaven, according to the great theologian Thomas Aquinas, both see and rejoice in the torments of the damned. This conception, which astounded Nietzsche by its cruelty, is schadenfreude at its highest, and it confirms my opinion that a God who inflicts eternal punishment on his creatures is one of the most wicked and immoral ideas the Christian religion ever introduced into the world. It is also among the reasons that make me question whether, despite Portmann's lucid arguments, schadenfreude can ever be a healthy and justifiable emotion and is not simply a base and nasty feeling which we should do our best to resist and overcome.
It seems to me reviewer Zagorin is incapable of accepting the ambiguities that Portmann suggests. "Base and nasty" seem pretty judgmental terms on his part as well. Should we be condemning those who take pleasure in Stevens' plight as strongly as we would condemn someone who has abused his position of power? My belief is that only when one is completely accepting of one's own self, can one feel truly charitable toward others who are in distress, particularly those who have gotten there through their own actions. Charity towards those less fortunate can easily stem from an unconscious relief that it is them and not me, and helping them can be a self satisfying demonstration of one's superior circumstances. (Before you attack on that one, look carefully at the word 'can' in that sentence. It doesn't have to be that.) Charity toward someone who has brought it onto himself is much harder, but probably a purer form of charity.

If Obama supporters really want change, we are going to have to talk to McCain supporters, find common ground with them, understand their fears and hopes, and fashion policies that allay rather than inflame those fears. It's not about winners and losers. If we don't change that dynamic, then it is business as usual. Dancing gleefully over Stevens' conviction makes more unlikely Obama's chance of bringing Americans together. It only salts the wounds of Stevens' supporters who will wait until they can get their revenge. And Democrats in power will fall victim to the same sorts of ego imbalances that have afflicted Republicans and give those now out-of-power folks their opportunities to enact that revenge.

Taking great joy over Stevens' fall also excuses us from our complicity in
  • electing him over and over again
  • greedily taking all the goodies Stevens has sent our way from DC
  • not taking action to change the system which ensures that lobbyists gain enormous power over legislators because of the need for campaign money

So, my concern about Schadenfreude is not simply a moral one, but much more a practical concern.
  • First, let's not heap scorn on Stevens as a way to excuse ourselves, voters in a democracy, from our own share of the blame in accepting this corrupt system we have. ("What can I do, I'm only one person?" is not an excuse. What did you try to do? How quickly did you give up?) We have to be involved because legislators who fight the system - look at Ralph Nader - do not get elected.
  • Second, if the people of the United States cannot talk to each other with respect and understanding, Obama's possible presidency won't accomplish anything of lasting importance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Free Wifi at PDX (Portland)

I'm at PDX waiting for my flight from Portland to Anchorage. I keep posting about airports with free wifi (Anchorage, Reno, Portland, ChiangmaiJuneau, Taipei) because I think it's important for people to have access to wifi in transit and I want to alert travelers to where there is free wifi for all at an airport.

My Portland weekend is over. I had good times with friends, but also want to respect their privacy so haven't blogged about them. Also, kept busy and not blogging for 24 hours or more is a luxury. It was hard to get a good picture from the car, but there was a lot of yellow and orange and red outside of Portland.

There are a lot of pumpkin stands around outside of Portland. And in Portland tonight I saw a lot of people in costume. I'm still opposed to moving holidays to the closest convenient day. Doing that means that the god of efficiency is overtaking the god of tradition. Washington and Lincoln's birthdays - once separate holidays - have been lumped into President's day and put on a Monday so people of have three day weekends. Memorial Day used to be May 31, but it too got moved to a Monday. Fourth of July on the second of July would be weird, but if we just call it Independence Day, they might be able to get away with that sacrilege.

I didn't know that 'free cracking' existed, but today I got it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Air Art and Snacks

I flew from LA to Portland today, via Reno, on a smaller plane that didn't fly as high. The air was clear so I got to see the art of nature and man from above. Sculpting the landscape. First, suburbs north of LA in their continuous push into the hills. Little (from the air) matchbook housing developments.
The houses moving closer and closer to the hills. Some even jumping up onto the tops of the hills.

Further out still, little isolated houses spreading like weeds.

And here's what I refer to as air ag art. The beautiful shapes made by farmers' fields from above, contrasting with the harsh natural landscape.

The dam.

And then I got my bag of Mama Mellace's Chedder stix mix. Look at the little stix. Then look at all the ingredients. But, according to the cover, no cholesterol or transfats. How can such a tiny piece of 'food' have that many ingredients? (Like usually, you can double click the pictures for a better view.)

This was somewhere in the area of Yosemite. The pilot didn't point things out so I'm not sure exactly where we were. As we flew into Reno I saw how Lake Tahoe sits above Reno, held in check by a small range of mountains.

Visiting Marty in Portland, will be back in Anchorage soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Priscilla Shanks Tried to Teach Palin to Say Nuclear

In the upcoming Sunday Times Magazine, Robert Draper tells the McCain campaign story as series of attempted narratives. I'm partial to the term narrative, because I believe that an important part of how humans think is through stories. They simplify getting all the facts. You get enough to figure out which narrative to pin on a politician or anyone or any situation.. Campaign managers work hard to get the best possible narrative pinned onto their candidates and the worst ones on their opponents. .

The narratives Draper says the McCain campaign struggled through are:
NARRATIVE 1: The Heroic Fighter vs. the Quitters
NARRATIVE 2: Country-First Deal Maker vs. Nonpartisan Pretender
NARRATIVE 3: Leader vs. Celebrity
Team of Mavericks vs. Old-Style Washington
NARRATIVE 5: John McCain vs. John McCain
The Fighter (Again) vs. the Tax-and-Spend Liberal

Narrative 4 - Team of Mavericks is where we get the background on how Sarah Palin got picked. Ultimately, it seems anti-climatic. Given this is a nine page article, there's not a lot of particularly interesting meat. All of it is just filling in details, documenting a story that isn't particularly remarkable. However, the one part confirmed something Alaskans have been wondering about is this part on Palin's voice coach:

While all of this was going on, an elegant middle-aged woman sat alone at the far end of the bar. She wore beige slacks and a red sweater, and she picked at a salad while talking incessantly on her cellphone. But for the McCain/Palin button affixed to her collar and the brief moment that Tucker Eskew, Palin’s new counselor, spoke into her ear, she seemed acutely disconnected from the jubilation swelling around her.

In fact, the woman was here for a reason. Her name was Priscilla Shanks, a New York-based stage and screen actress of middling success who had found a lucrative second career as a voice coach. Shanks’s work with Sarah Palin was as evident as it was unseen. Gone, by the evening of her convention speech, was the squeaky register of Palin’s exclamations. Gone (at least for the moment) was the Bushian pronunciation of “nuclear” as “nook-you-ler.” Present for the first time was a leisurely, even playful cadence that signaled Sarah Palin’s inevitability on this grand stage.
So who is Priscilla Shanks? There are a lot of hits for her on Google, but most of them are empty. Her Linkedin profile says this:

Priscilla Shanks’s Summary

12 years independent public speaking and media consultant in on-air broadcast training to broadcast journalists and those making the transition from print to broadcast journalistm

10 years experience as adjunct professor at New School for Social Research teacihng [sic] Public Speaking for Professionals

Currently in private practice preparing professionals and authors for media appearnaces, training executives, doctors, CEO's and business leaders in profit and non-profit organizations for their range of public speaking engagements.

On retainer to ABC Network News and CBS Network News and in private practice to broadcast journalists.

New Embedded Comment

Blogger Buzz says that we can now embed the comment box right under the post. I know some people have complained that they couldn't figure out how to comment. I've gone in and changed the setting.

Let's test it for a week and see if this is better.

[A few minutes later update: You still have to click on the comment link below the post, then you'll get the window. Try it out.]

I also noticed today when I was putting in the pictures in the last post, that the posted in reverse order - the bottom picture was on the top. That's reverse from what it's been. I'd really like to be able to load multiple pictures AND set size and location of each picture differently.

Still Hot in LA

Near the beach it's generally cooler, but it was in the 90's today. Much, much drier than Thailand, but hot nevertheless. Below are some pictures as I visit with my mom.

The Santa Ana winds have been here the whole time I've been here. Those are desert winds that blow warm and blow the smog out into the ocean. As you can see, from these three pictures looking north on Venice Beach, last Thursday when I did my first run down to the beach, it was pretty clear. Monday it cooled down a bit and the wind was off the ocean and I couldn't even see the Santa Monica mountains. Today was the clearest. I could even see Catalina Island - below. It's the lump on the horizon.

You can listen to part of the 1957 Four Preps hit song "Twenty Six Miles Across the Sea" about Catalina, the island owned for a long time by the Wrigley Gum family. I went to boy scout camp out there once or twice. Here's an interesting piece about the island.

This yoga at the beach picture was taken Monday when it was much hazier.

This picture is from last January. The white bands around the tree had a sign saying the tree was going down. These trees have been here forever. I was taller than the trees when we first moved in. In any case, the roots are making natural speed bumps in the street and wreaking havoc with the sidewalk. The link shows what I posted in January.

Sometime between January and now, the city took out my mom's tree and one other down the street. Yesterday the treemen were back with new trees, but they had trouble because the roots hadn't been taken out and they couldn't dig the hole.

Today they were back and here's the new Italian Stone Pine.

Update Feb. 23, 2012:  Here's the tree now, 3 1/2 years later:


A collection of gulls at the beach this morning. There were two terns in with them - I think elegant terns - but they flew off before I could get my camera out. They were cool, with a little black tuft on their heads.

Heading back out to the Valley yesterday to visit Frank and "I" once more.

And I've been passing this Indian bike rickshaw on Rose when I do my morning run to the beach.
And I stopped to ask Kayumba what the word means. Hunter, he told me. Both together are "Soft Spoken Hunter." I forgot to ask what language. That is his name. He's originally from the Congo. His buddy laughed and said, "Only one of the words is accurate." He's a contractor working on a house I passed on my run. I told him about Radical Catholic Mom's adopted Congolese family.

And here's another root. At least this one doesn't seem to be messing up the street or sidewalk.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Alaskan Bloggers Are Everywhere

I was reading an LA Times Magazine article this morning over breakfast about the Santa Monica based blog Hullabalu. The article says,

But the Left's second most influential blogger prefers anonymity.

They say the Huffington Post is number one. (The author, Jesse Kronbluth is a HP contributor) I have to confess that that while Digby sounds vaguely familiar, I didn't recognize it when I checked it out. I checked it out because of this:

What could Sarah Palin do to win your endorsement?

I went to high school in Alaska and met my husband there, so I do feel a bit of kinship with Palin. But she'd have to disavow every political stand she's ever taken, denounce McCain, quit the Republican party and become a pro-choice advocate for me to endorse her. I do enthusiastically endorse Alaskan king salmon.

So I checked out the blog and she had a very good post on the Republican attack strategy that so crippled the Clinton administration with a video on how the Republicans are already preparing to fight the election with their Acorn voter fraud nonsense.

I have to say that for years, as a public administration professor, I got the annual report of Acorn. They've worked pretty quietly on projects to help develop community in low income neighborhoods and to improve the chances of poor people to take part in the American dream. Registering such people doesn't endear them to Republicans. Here's the video she has on today's post. It offers a version of this story much more consistent with my limited experience with Acorn.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's all in the Tapes

The ADN reports today that both the prosecutors and the defense have finished their closing arguments in the Ted Stevens trial and tomorrow the jurors take control.

In the three political corruption charges in Anchorage last year, jurors reported that the audio and video tapes were very important in their decisions. These are crimes that tend to be invisible and the credibility of witnesses is critical. When the jury hears incriminating things in the defendant's own words, that has to have a big impact on their assessment of whom to believe.

In the ADN's article today Erika Bolstad and Richard Mauer write:

[Prosecutor] Bottini replayed a now-infamous secret recording of the senator, who told Allen on the telephone in 2006 that the worst that could ever happen to him as a result of a federal investigation would be a little jail time or perhaps excessive legal bills.

I haven't heard the tape, but that description doesn't bode well for Senator Stevens.

Race Matters II

From Elstun over at Celtic Diva

Barack Obama is winning over swing voters because of what is called his "temperament". It turns out that his coolness, calmness and steadiness is just what voters are looking for and those qualities stand in great contrast to the "erratic" and fuming McCain-Palin campaign.
Because of the racism in the United States, Barrack Obama, like every African-American male who wanted to succeed, has learned how to control his anger, to swallow his outrage, and to respond with coolness. Angry black men had to transform their anger into some other socially acceptable manifestation - humor, the blues and gospel, slam dunks, knock out punches, or verbal virtuosity. While open anger no longer results in lynching, it can still cause serious damage to the person who expresses it in the wrong situation.

Obama, because of the color of his skin, had to learn to turn his anger into calm, articulate phrases.

Neighborhood Renewal Journal

I know that some of the people who drop by here now and then are interested in preserving livable neighborhoods, so I'm posting this email I got. Academic journals are a little pricy, but it should also be available through the UAA library and Loussac's journal data bases. It would be interesting to look at this subject in terms of renewing Alaska Native villages that have been so impacted by cultural disruption.

Neighbourhood – The International Journal of Neighbourhood Renewal

ISSN (Print) 1756-8676 ISN (Online) 1756-8684

I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on the development of the International Journal of Neighbourhood Renewal which will promote good practice in this field of public policy. The Journal is the only one of its kind to truly support global research in the field of neighbourhood renewal. The first edition of this peer-reviewed Journal is out now and the Contents of Edition One are shown attached. Edition Two is out in December 2008 and the planned contents are also shown attached. If you would like to subscribe now to the Journal, then please note that the costs are as follows:

(a) £149 per annum for a quarterly hard copy and electronic access.

(b) £99 per annum for electronic access.

Subscriptions can be via the Journal website at or by emailing the Journal Office at Subscriptions can also be taken via subscription agents such as SWETS and EBSCO. If you wish to subscribe please let me know and I will send you the copy of Edition One in advance of receiving your order.

I’d also be delighted to publish any of your work in this field and this can be done via the Journal website at or by emailing the Journal Office at

I look forward to welcoming you as a subscriber to ‘Neighbourhood’.

With kindest regards,


Ray Holden

Director of Development

Holden Publishing

UK Office Office
Horton House
Exchange Flags
Floor Five
L2 3PF

Phone:+44 (0)845 6025280

Fax: +44 (0)151 2445401

USA Office
405 Lexington Avenue
The Chrysler Building
Floor 25
New York
10174 NY

Please consider the environment - do you need to print this email?

Man on Wire raises interesting questions

I saw Man on Wire listed as a movie in town and it triggered something in my brain, but I couldn't remember what it was about. Then I noticed someone googled to here with "Each day is like a work of art to him." When I checked to see what that post was about, I got this post on an NPR piece about Man on Wire.

So, my mom and I drove to the Beverly Center to see it last night. It's a quirky little film about a Frenchman who's goal is to walk a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It's all about his preparations for this feat and carrying it off.

Two big issues (of many possibilities) arose for me:

1. The inability of [in this case] police to just do nothing. They are programmed to take action even if the action is likely to cause more harm. In the clip, they threaten to use a helicopter to get the wire walker down. Our need for action gets us into a lot of trouble. There are lots of situations where doing nothing - at least for a while - is the wisest action. Look at the clip, and then think about the 'do nothing' option as you watch people in daily life and on the screen.

2. The general questions that get raised when people do high risk activities and society's response to them. The movie tracks Philippe Petit's preparation to walk between the twin towers. Earlier feats included walking between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. While Philippe's main motivation is simply the challenge of walking across that space and the sheer beauty of that act of human defiance of the impossible, it is also made clear in the movie that the illegality of the act is also a draw. As one person interviewed said, it wasn't wicked or mean, just illegal.

US Americans clearly love daredevils. We have a history of stunts like riding barrels over Niagara Falls and making heroes out of people like Evel Knievil. Yet there is also an element that wants to save people from killing themselves. So, we congratulate the heroes who successfully get to the top of Denali and Everest, but shake our heads at the foolishness of those who die trying. As the film shows, Philippe's act is breathtakingly beautiful - it's a spiritual triumph to do something so seemingly dangerous and outrageous. Yet what if he had fallen to his death? What would we say then? What if he had killed several spectators as he landed?

We continue, as I think we should, to allow people to jump out of airplanes, climb difficult peaks, sail across oceans. But what is society's obligation to rescue such people if they run into trouble? Should public resources be diverted to saving daredevils? Should they be required to buy insurance? Could we NOT rescue them if they didn't? writes about climbing Denali (McKinley):
If you have to be rescued off the mountain, you will likely be billed for the costs which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Rescue insurance or health insurance (if your rescue is a medical emergency) should cover the costs of the rescue. The park service monitors Channel 19 on CB radios. Cell phones also work well above 14,200 feet.
How do we distinguish between the 'experts' and the 'crazies' and should we? Clearly there is something highly inspirational when someone accomplishes a feat that seems impossible.
We've collectively decided it is worth the risk. The government even support this in programs like the space shuttle.

And I couldn't help wonder, given that this act was done at the World Trade Center, how 9/11 has affected adventures such as this. A group of men smuggling the equipment they needed into a building like the WTC today would immediately raise suspicions of terrorism. Would they got shot first and questioned later?

My mother didn't like this movie. But I thought it was fascinating watching the complexity of the preparations. How do you connect the wire between the two buildings? (They used a bow and arrow to shoot mono filament across. This was tied to a bigger rope which was dragged across, and this connected to the wire.) How do they attach it to the building? Besides the technical problems of getting the wire up, they had to solve the socio-political problems of getting past the guards and doing this illegal act. (In the movie, it appears no one considered asking permission, I assume they thought it would be turned down, and that the element of surprise would be lost.)

I can't say that I remember any news stories about this event. But I have an excuse. The walk was done on August 7, 1974. My son was born on August 6 that year and Richard Nixon resigned on August 8.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Frank and Larry's Hungarian Word Game

When Frank and Larry started telling me at dinner last night about the new word game they had created for themselves, I thought about Ropi and I knew I had to get this on video. So after dinner we went into the other room and we got it on tape.

Frank and Larry are brothers who grew up in Kosice, Czechoslovakia (now the Slovak Republic) in a Hungarian speaking Jewish family. Larry got to the US before WW II to go to college. Frank spent WWII in Europe. At that time Kosice was controlled by Hungary. In Fall 1940 he was conscripted into a forced labor camp attached to the Hungarian army. He was, in his words, lucky enough that the army unit to which his labor camp was attached was stationed and worked always in Hungary proper. Other units were sent out to the Russian Front. Their parents were first sent to a local ghetto and eventually to a railroad station where 80 people were squeezed into a cattle car and deported to Auschwitz in April 1944. (The cars were originally designed for 40 people or 6 horses.) His labor camp was about 150 men and sent to do work for the military such as building roads or whatever military projects were needed. (I was just clarifying background information to put the video into context. Yes, I realize I should video tape this too. But Frank has participated in the Steven Spielberg project to video tape Holocaust survivors, so he does have an hour or more of tape already recorded.)

[This is the corrected version.]

After the US got involved in WW II, and Larry was finishing school, he was given the option to be drafted into the US army or be among the first to be returned to Europe after the war. He joined the army and became an American citizen about 90 days later. He was sent to basic training in Camp Roberts, California as an infantryman, and during one of the exercises an American officer appeared who was looking for him. "They were interested in my educational background and high intelligence scores and took me out of infantry and sent me to officer training in Fort Benning, Georgia." After four months he became an officer - 2nd Lieutenant. He was scheduled to go to the Japanese theater of operations. Life expectancy there was very short so he contacted the intelligence officer and explained that the army would get better service from him in Europe because he spoke German, Hungarian, French, and understood Slovak, and had studied Latin. All this in addition to English.

They trained him for the European theater and send him for training in Maryland where he became a POW (prisoner of war) interrogator, mostly Germans. They also sent him to counterintelligence school and he successfully finished that and became a CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) officer. He was sent to Germany. The war ended, and there were a lot of German prisoners of war he had to interrogate. He was helping to chase Nazi bigshots, and the most important Nazi he arrested was Ernst Ittameier.

Larry returned to LA in 1946 and Frank was able to join him in 1952. They have lived in Los Angeles ever since. Frank is now 92 and Larry is 88. They talk on this video about how they keep their minds sharp by tracking down the meanings of old Hungarian words and translating them into English.

For those who want to know why I was having dinner with them, well, it's a little complicated. My parents were divorced when I was five. My father didn't remarry until after I got married. After he died, his widow, my second mom, married Frank. I guess it wasn't that complicated.

Doonesbury Competing with Millions of Narcissists

OK, this is the last post on today's LA Times. But I can't pass up Doonesbury's take on bloggers. If you don't have a Sunday paper with Doonesbury, you can double click the picture to enlarge it enough to read it.

John Adams, Composer Autobiography - This is especially for Phil

While I'm looking (I'm still looking, this is a quick break) through the LA Times today, this story jumped out at me too. I know a composer. I never thought about composer autobiographies before. So, Phil, this one's for you.
John Adams explains how he found his voice in his memoir 'Hallelujah Junction'
The composer's autobiography shows how indirect his path has been.
By Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 19, 2008
BERKELEY -- WHEN John Adams, the celebrated composer who is to his adopted California as Sibelius is to Finland, decided to write a memoir of his life and music, he realized there was virtually no model for his project.

"Most composers," he said over lunch at an upscale Italian cafe near his home here, "are composers because that's the way they want to communicate with the world. Even those who can write well, they don't want to express themselves in words."

The few existing examples didn't inspire him. "Most of them were really awful. I was painfully aware of the fact that the few composers who set out to write something wrote a boring then-I-did-this, then-I-did-that thing. The only one I thought was tasty and interesting was [Hector] Berlioz, but unfortunately the Berlioz is only good for the first 50 pages." [The rest is at the link above.]

Colin Powell Endorses Obama for President

From Voice of America

19 October 2008

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he is backing Democrat Barack Obama for president.

VOA's Paula Wolfson reports Powell made the announcement during a nationally broadcast television interview.

Retired Army General Colin Powell (2008 file photo)
Colin Powell (2008 file photo)
Powell says Barack Obama has the ability to transform America and American politics.

"He has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president. I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage. And for that reason, I will be voting for Senator Barack Obama," he said. [All the above including the photo from Voice of America]


I think this one is important because there was actually any doubt that Powell would do this.

As the most prominent African American in US politics before Obama, as a Republican who was burned by the Bush Administration over his Iran testimony at the UN, as a former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell was probably pulled in different directions, but I just don't see how he could do anything but endorse Obama. If Obama were a Palin type candidate, there's no way Powell would have endorsed him, simply because he was black. But a very credible candidate like this? How could he not?

If Obama is elected (yes, I know, I just don't count my chickens early) just his election will change the landscape of the United States and the world. We'll have a president whose consciousness is open to the future, not the past. Powell has to know this.

Don't hold you breath waiting for Clarence Thomas' Obama endorsement, though.

Why the mistakes at the Ted Stevens' trial?

After conducting the three Anchorage trials with intimidating precision, the Prosecution seems to have been uncharacteristically sloppy when they got to DC. We heard things like this from the Washington Post:
Prosecutors seriously bungled evidence and witnesses but Sen. Ted Stevens' corruption trial will proceed as planned, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
There are a number of significant changes between last year's trials and this trial: a different judge, a different venue, a different chief of the prosecution, and a different defense attorney, this one with a team. I've only taken in the trial through the news reports and blogs, but here are some hypotheses that ought to be explored further by those on the scene.

1. The Judge. Judge Sedwick in Anchorage was always very calm, and even when he admonished attorneys, he showed, at his worst, only annoyance. The Anchorage based prosecutors have worked with him often over the years. My reaction to the judge during the trials was that he was scrupulously fair and reasonable, but that was based on my novice court observer perspective. Looking back, he was an Alaskan judge who voiced clear concern for the people of Alaska given the corruption of their legislators and when discussing the sentencing guidelines, he weighed the violation of the people's trust heavily against the defendants.

Judge Sullivan, from the news reports, has been much more demonstrative in voicing his displeasure with the prosecution. Is he legitimately giving them less slack than did Sedwick? Does he just enjoy wielding his power? Is he making sure that if there is an appeal, that he can't be accused of favoring the prosecution? I have no idea, I'm just trying to spin out the possibilities.

2. Venue. Having the trial in DC means that the jury's knowledge of and relationship with the defendant is much different from an Anchorage jury's would be. The racial make up of the jury - predominantly black - could make a difference. The prosecutors would appear to think so since they added a new chief of the prosecution - a black woman - and the defense has a black attorney too. And the judge is black. While this may or may not impact the trial (I used the assumption that it would by whites as a lead into a discussion of race and the presidential election in a previous post) in general, it doesn't seem to have a direct relationship to the question of the prosecution's reported bungling.

3 Chief of the prosecution. The team in Anchorage seemed to know everything (about the case, about the procedures, etc.) and to be ready for any contingency. Was there something about the new head of the prosecution that affected the way the case was run? She hadn't been visibly involved with the previous trials and now was the lead. Were there disagreements among the team members and this is causing loss of the laser like focus they seemed to have in Anchorage? Again, this is simply speculation, not based on any hard evidence, but just looking at what has changed.

4. Defense attorney, this one with a team. Brendan Sullivan is characterized as one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the country and one of the most expensive. Is it just that the prosecution is up against a better attorney this time? Or that they are up against a much bigger team of attorneys with far more resources than the previous legal defense teams? That there is more of a level playing field this time?

Another, more disturbing thought is the possibility that someone on the defense team has intentionally botched things up. Given the Justice Department's various breaches during this Administration - from using partisan political tests of applicants to firing attorneys for not pursuing politically motivated investigations and everything in-between - one cannot rule this out totally. Again, this is merely speculation, as I try to map out the possible explanations for why what seemed like a well oiled legal machine was found to have sand in its gears for this trial.

Ultimately, we may never know, which of these, or which combination of these, led to the actions that raised the judge's ire. And it may not even matter. The jury will get this case Monday or Tuesday. We should have a verdict by the end of next week if not sooner. If Stevens is found guilty, it won't matter to the public. But I would hope the prosecution, which still has some indictments up its sleeve, will figure it out, if they haven't already.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Happy Go Lucky Day

The sky was still very blue when I ran around the Santa Monica Airport this morning (instead of down to the beach.) Just before I'd left, the doorbell rang and two people were there to get my mom to vote for Proposition 9[8], the proposition that is attempting to overthrow the California Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage in California. I was agitated just thinking these people were at the door. When my mother said she agreed it was terrible to teach gay marriage to 2nd graders (that's what a political ad that keeps playing on the television asserts) I lost it completely. "You believe that bullshit?" They left. Fortunately, when I explained what the proposition wanted to do, my mom said she was opposed to it. But I still really needed to run.
By the time I saw this sign amongst someone's Halloween decorations - yes the people around here get excited about Halloween - I'd forgotten all about it, but was pleased to see the sign.
In the afternoon we went to the movies at Pico and Westwood. I hate parking garages, and this one was bumper-to-bumper both ways when I drove in.

Where's the Happy-Go-Lucky part, you're asking. Well, that was the name of the movie. My mom still likes movies, but she can't keep up with subtitles any more. This one seemed to get good reviews and was supposed to be an upbeat movie.

It is and it isn't. All the reviews focus on Sally Hawkin's performance. It is outstanding, but so are a number of other actors. There isn't much of a story. It's like a dozen scenes edited together. We hang out with Poppy and her friends for a couple of days in and around London. There are teachers - primary school, Flamenco (worth it alone), and driving (another incredible performance.) And there's a perfect performance by a six or seven year old kid. Everyone is outstanding. And the opening credits are shown around Poppy riding her bike.
Then dinner next door at Jaipur Indian restaurant. Just the name of the place was enough to pull me in, but they were so busy and brusque, that I figured they were not interested in knowing that'd I'd been to Jaipur. The food was ok, but not special. But it's nice to have a mom who's willing to eat strange food.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Self Realization Fellowship takes me back many years

I went to the Lake Shrine as a child and young adult. I never thought about the religious significance of it back then. It was just a beautiful walk with these somewhat unlikely decorations. Yesterday, when I called B, he surprised me when he asked me to show him something in LA. He lives in Anchorage, but his daughters - and more important his grandson - live in LA now. So he and J are here for the winter. But I haven't lived in LA for thirty years. But I remembered this place and no, they hadn't been here. So today we went.

The monarch butterflies are arriving. There's more explanation at Best-California-Beach:

Millions of Monarchs travel every year from the colder regions of North America to warmer sites where they can safely overwinter. They fly, en masse, as high as 10,000 feet, returning to the same groves as preceding generations.

Monarch butterflies usually only live for about six weeks, but the migrating generation can live for up to eight months. So Monarch butterflies manage to travel thousands of miles to arrive at a destination they've never been to before.

This windmill was on the site when the meditation group bought the property in the 1950's. There's a meditation chapel inside.

And this Indian arch is across the lake from the windmill.

There are many, many, many flowers in the garden around the lake. Here's a rose.

On the hill above the garden is a Hindu temple. This was not here when we left LA 30 some years ago.

The orchid was in the temple.

From the Self-Realization Fellowship we drove up Sunset past the school I worked at while I was a student at UCLA. It was a great time. I had morning classes. Rode my Honda 50 down Sunset to the school where I worked noon duty on the playground, then rode the rest of the way - past the self-realization center - to the beach to play volley ball and body surf. Then back up to the school for after school playground, then back to UCLA, along a Sunset that had a lot less traffic than it does today.

No one had eaten much today, so we stopped at an upscale supermarket (we were in Pacific Palisades, so everything is upscale) where we got focaccia sandwiches cooked in the oven.

While waiting for the sandwiches to cook I wandered around the market. Here are some olives.

And, of course, I can't fail to notice the salmon. This is for formerly frozen salmon. This was the most expensive. They had some other wild salmon for as low as $15 a pound.

Then on the way home, B said we were relatively close to their daughter's place, so we took a small detour and visited her for a few minutes while the baby was napping.