Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chiang Mai Morning Bird Sounds - Mostly Koel

I'm taking the day off today and we're headed to see elephants with JP, who's doing his doctoral research on elephant behavior. But in the meantime, here are some morning bird sounds recorded this morning and yesterday. The scratchy noise in the background are the cicadas. There are other miscellaneous sounds like dogs barking and a couple of motorcycles. Enjoy. Just click on the yellow button with the black arrow.

Remix Default-tiny Chiang Mai Morning Birds - Koel April 1, 2009 by AKRaven

Monday, March 30, 2009

One Week Left

It's Tuesday here in Chiang Mai. We're scheduled to fly out next week on Monday non-stop to Taipei. It was a quick 14.5 hours of airtime getting here from Anchorage in January, including a close connection - they'd already closed the doors on the flight we were catching - in Taipei.

The Anchorage flight (well, it's really the New York flight which stops in Anchorage) leaves before we make it to Taipei, so we get to overnight in Taipei and if all goes well, we'll be back in Anchorage to vote on Tuesday. But there is this Redoubt thing going on. An ADN story talks about Alaska Airlines resuming flights today and mentioned 'other airlines,' but not China Air's plans. Our travel agent says China Air's contingency is Vancouver. So maybe we'll even get to Seattle and have a chance to see our daughter. Or not.

It will all work out and we'll make sure we have a good time whatever happens.

Playing With Mud for a Good Cause

One of my neighbors found my blog and sent me this invitation to help build a meditation space for single mothers. [The picture is from Canvas Art Program Volunteer Blog. ] For people in Chiang Mai - it looks like a good day's fun today, tomorrow, and Thursday.



Build a mud bottle wall! play with mud, recycle, and give to
Wildflower; a single mothers' community. Cultural Canvas Thailand, a
local arts NGO, will be creating a meditation space with single
mothers to provide them with a place of refuge and quiet. So come join

Tuesday 31st of March, Wednesday 1st of April and Thursday 2nd of April
09.00 am- 04.00 pm
Lunch and Transportation Provided

Contact- Amp (Thai) 089-110-8860
Melissa (English) 083 -683 -2065

To learn more about Cultural Canvas Thailand visit

For more information about "The Unwinding Wall" see our blog:

What's the Difference between a Lashkar and a Wazir?

Time to get a little perspective on our internal Alaska problems. This Foreign Affairs article by Nicholas Schmidle was emailed to me by a Pakistani friend, so I assume he's saying to me, "this guy gets it reasonably well." Here's the opening:

After eight years of a White House that often seemed blinkered by the threats posed by Pakistan, the Obama administration seems to grasp the severity of the myriad crises affecting the South Asian state. The media has followed suit and increased its presence and reporting, a trend confirmed by CNN’s decision to set up a bureau in Islamabad last year.

And yet, the uptick in coverage hasn’t necessarily clarified the who’s-doing-what-to-whom confusion in Pakistan. Some commentators continue to confuse the tribal areas with the North-West Frontier Province. And the word lashkars is used to describe all kinds of otherwise cross-purposed groups, some fighting the Taliban, some fighting India, and some fighting Shiites.

I admit, it’s not easy. I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days. So to save you the trouble of having to live in Pakistan for two years to differentiate between the Wazirs and the Mehsuds, the Frontier Corps and the Rangers, I’ve written an “idiot’s guide” that will hopefully clear some things up.

1. The Troubled Tribals
Bring up the Pakistan-Afghanistan border at a Washington cocktail party and you’re sure to impress. Tick off the name of a Taliban leader or two and make a reference to North Waziristan, and you might be on your way to a lucrative lecture tour. The problem, of course, is that no one knows if you’ll be speaking the truth or not. A map of the border region is crammed with the names of agencies, provinces, frontier regions, and districts, which are sometimes flip-flopped and misused. With only an unselfish interest in making you more-impressive cocktail party material (and thus, getting you booked with a lecture agent during these economic hard times), I want to straighten some things out.
To answer the title question you'll have to read the rest at the Foreign Policy link.

He does have more confidence in his ability to understand than I have in mine.
"I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days."

I always find that the more I learn about something, the more I find out how much there is that I still have no clue about. But he certainly knows a lot of details that most of us don't. And the Afghan-Pakistani border is only going to become more and more important in the next couple of years.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stan Jones on Billy Muldoon

It's 8am on Monday here in Chiang Mai and 5pm yesterday in Anchorage, so I have no idea what people have been writing while I was asleep. But yesterday, the following comment appeared on my post about privacy and bloggers, part of which touched on people's comments about the author of the defunct blog Billy Muldoon.
Anonymous said...

I know to an absolute certainty that Billy Muldoon is Stan Jones, another former Daily News reporter. Billy Muldoon is not Mike Doogan.

Well, I quickly found Stan Jones' website and email address and asked him if he was Billy Muldoon. He replied. But I don't quote private emails without permission, so I went to bed last night without posting. This morning I got an ok. Here's Stan Jones' response to whether he is Billy Muldoon:


When Billy Muldoon was still around, I steadfastly refused to discuss in any way anything I might know about his identity, and I suppose I should continue to do so, even though he's gone. So, my lips are still sealed, unfortunately.


Stan Jones

I'd say he could be running for vice president with a non-denial like that. And for those of you who have had the pleasure of reading Billy Muldoon, well, it brings back fond memories.

Billy's covered his tracks well and I couldn't find any cached copies of his blog to compare with, but I do have this quote from a post I wrote June 2007 when Billy was debunking a bogus George Washington quote that conservatives were citing all over.

If, like Billy [Muldoon, the blogger], you ripped open this morning's ADN to read the latest from Dandy Dan Fagan, you may have thrilled to the righteous thunder of this passage in his opening paragraph:

In 1797, George Washington said it this way; "Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master.

?Hay problema? !Si!

As mentioned previously on the Fires, any time Dan gets within spittin' distance of a testable proposition, he's apt to get it wrong, and this is another such case. It turns out that the Father of Our Country never said no such of a thang! You can read the debunker here at an excellent reality-check site called Bartleby.com
You be the judge, but I think Doogan's off the hook on this part.

Blogging the Big Stuff

Alaskan bloggers spent much of the weekend [It's closing in on Monday morning, March 30, here in Chiang Mai as I write] lamenting that one of their own is no longer anonymous. While I recognize that this was a difficult weekend for that specific blogger, other families in Alaska had family members seriously ill and others even died. But we spent no time on them. I don't mean to belittle the issue which is about, among other things, the right to practice one's free speech rights anonymously. But I think that counterbalancing concerns about secrecy as well and concerns about people anonymously wielding power are legitimate. I also tend to feel (I haven't thought is all through yet) there is a real difference between the anonymity of a blogger whose actions are in the open and the anonymity of political operatives whose actions are both anonymous and secret. While these are important issues, I think we have a yet bigger project.

What concerns me as a human being, is the need for all of us to understand the bigger issues - by that I mean the issues that will have the greatest consequences on our lives and on the world itself. And then to act on that knowledge to make the world a safer, healthier, more just and more free place to live. As newspapers die and as television news turns into partisan propaganda, we have this new technology that allows us to talk to the world. Do we have something worthwhile to say?

A number of my fellow bloggers have been experimenting with how to use this tool positively and I know that many of them are fiercely committed to making the world a better place. And their posts - unpaid and written, mostly, while working full time jobs - have made important contributions to what Alaskans know. But I think we need to envision - and there's been some email chatter about this among bloggers - a less hit and miss way to do this.

There are lots of issues that are extremely complex and difficult to tease out. What really is happening and likely to happen to our economy? How do we make sense of this and translate it into stories that most people can understand? How do we gain trust, not only of the people who think like us, but those who are skeptical of what we believe in?

Wesley Loy at the ADN writes today about a story that Phil at Progressive Alaska has raised several times:

Pollock is the nation's biggest commercial catch by weight, worth well in excess of $1 billion after the white-meated bottom fish are processed.

Depending on how stringent the chinook cap is, the pollock fleet could be forced to pull its huge nets from the water and stop fishing before the normal quota is reached.

According to one major fishing company, that could mean the loss of more than 2 million cheap seafood meals for every thousand tons of foregone pollock catch.

People on the other side of the debate, however, say a tough chinook cap is vital to prevent the fleet from netting salmon on the high seas before they can return to the Yukon and other rivers to spawn and to provide commercial, subsistence and cultural opportunity for villagers.

I've talked about externalities before. It's a concept everyone needs to understand. Externalities are the costs that are not born by the producer of the good. In this case, one of those costs is the loss of Chinook salmon to the Yukon and other rivers and the people who live off those fish. So, these cheap meals are being subsidized by the people of the Yukon and other rivers where those fish would have returned. Not to mention the impact on the ocean food chain of having "billions of pounds of pollock" (not to mention the by-catch) scooped out of the sea. How long can we do that without making the Bering see the waste-land that has occurred in the North Atlantic?

The New York Times reports today that
A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.

Baltasar Garzón, front, in Madrid. He has built an international reputation by bringing cases against human rights violators.

The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.
How do we deal with those who say we should just move on? How is it that we've filled our prisons with casual marijuana users, yet we have people who think politicians and their minions, who, in the eyes of many, have devalued the US Constitution, should just be allowed to get on with their lives? Should the US continue to hold itself up above international justice but insist that others are subject to its judgments?

The Trustees for Alaska has sent a plan to the Governor's office calling for immediate action to protect oil stored in what could be the path of mud slides on Mt. Redoubt. It begins:

[Update: Progressive Alaska has the whole letter up.]

There are lots more issues out there that have great consequence. We need to figure out ways to use the power of these blogs not simply to call people to task, but to help our readers understand the really complex issues we face, and to point to options that could make a positive difference. That means tapping into those who understand the issues and finding ways to empower normal folks to elect ethical, competent, and committed representatives who can work with others to resolve problems.

We have to establish forums that people of different perspectives trust.

I'm not sure how we do this. Logic tells me that we have to divide up the issues and gain individual expertise in various issues and/or tap into people whose lives are spent in these areas and making sense of what they tell us.

And Alaskan bloggers are doing some of this. The oil spill letter above, I got from fellow blogger Phil Munger at Progressive Alaska. Erick at Think Alaska, has been getting out information about candidates. Celtic Diva, Mudflats, Andrew Halcro, Shannyn Moore, the Immoral Minority, and many others regularly get important information out.

If we want to speak to more than those who already agree with us, we have to pull back on the snark, and praise what's praiseworthy and protest what's not regardless of political affiliation. (OK, I know you can now all point to a Democrat on the firing line.)

But we also need broad generalists who can tie together the linkages across the issues.

This is not to say that everyone needs to get on this path. We each have to do what we do best. But we do need a way to take on the big issues in a more organized way and establish respected forums that people trust and turn to when they want to understand those issues.

I'm not sure how we get there, I just know that enough of us need to go in that direction so that more and more people are conversant with the issues we face at more than a superficial level. The random serendipity of many different bloggers has a certain appeal too and google lets us find it. But I think in addition, some more organized approach would be useful. Not to replace, but to supplement what is already there.

OK, I know I have to lighten up a bit.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Right to Privacy - Bloggers and Privacy

The US Constitution does not explicitly protect people's right to privacy by name. The Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments to the US Constitution) include some specific cases where privacy (without using that word) is to be protected:

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

And some people point to the Ninth Amendment as a place where privacy is protected:

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

It wasn't until the Privacy Act was passed in 1974 that Americans had a specific law that addressed privacy, though it was limited to information the federal government collected and kept about individual citizens. (There were previous laws that gave some privacy protection in certain areas like the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1966 mentioned personal privacy as one of the reasons that might prevent release of information. But that was not spelled out until the Privacy Act eight years later.)

However, the Alaska Constitution begins with a list of rights and number 22 explicitly addresses privacy.
§ 22. Right of Privacy

The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed. The legislature shall implement this section. [Amended 1972]

The Constitution isn't too specific about what this means, though the Alaska Supreme Court has interpreted it to protect, among other thnings, people who smoke marijuana, who choose to have abortions, and to protect people from forced psychiatric medication.

I note here that the language says, "The legislature shall implement this section." I'm guessing that means the legislature is to spell out what specifically the right of privacy means. I'm guessing that it doesn't mean that members of the legislature should be revealing the names of individual citizens who choose to express their opinions anonymously for whatever reason.

However, on further googling, I discovered this ruling by then Commissioner of Revenue Darryl Rexwinkel.*
The privacy provision of the Alaska Constitution3 has consistently been interpreted as a "state law" exception to the public records law. See AS 09.25.120(4). These privacy protections have been construed by the Alaska Supreme Court to include protecting information that is sensitive and confidential and "which a person desires to keep private and which, if disseminated, would tend to cause substantial concern, anxiety, or embarrassment to a reasonable person." Falcon v. Alaska Pub. Offices Comm'n, 570 P.2d 469, 479 (Alaska 1977) (quoting 3 Hasting Const. L. Q. 249 (1976)).

In 1990, the legislature passed laws directing the state to provide special notice when requiring a person to supply personal information so that the person may, among other things, challenge the accuracy or completeness of the information. Chapter 200, SLA 1990. As a part of this Act, the legislature adopted a definition of "personal information." Sec. 15, ch. 200, SLA 1990. This definition specifically excludes a person's name and address. AS 44.99.350(2).4

Although we don't know whether the legislature was explicitly interpreting, or implementing, the constitutional right to privacy when it adopted AS 44.99.350,5 this definition3 Alaska Constitution, article I, section 22, provides that "[t]he right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed. The legislature shall implement this section."4 AS 44.99.350(2) (enacted as AS 44.99.040 and renumbered in 1990) reads:
personal information means information that can be used to identify a person and from which judgments can be made about a person's character, habits, avocations, finances, occupation, general reputation, credit, health, or other personal characteristics but does not include a person's name, address, or telephone number, if the number is published in a current telephone directory, or information describing a public job held by a person. (Emphasis added.) 5

Although it is clear that a legislative enactment cannot abrogate constitutional guarantees, the privacy section of the

Hon. Darrel Rexwinkel, Commissioner April 1, 1992
Department of Revenue Page 3

of "personal information" is an implicit statement by the legislature that it does not consider a person's name or address to be protected by the right to privacy. On this basis, we conclude that a person's name and address are subject to disclosure under AS 09.25.110 and 09.25.120. We thus overrule the advice contained in our memorandum of advice dated July 15, 1987, and now advise you that the department must provide the names and addresses of PFD applicants to any member of the public who requests the information and pays the required fees.
[* For those of you wondering what happened to Rexwinkel, I found this from the Nevada Department of Corrections dated Jan. 22, 2002:
Darrel Rexwinkel, appointed as Assistant Director of Support Services, has more than 36 years’ experience in fiscal management. Mr. Rexwinkel is a Certified Public Accountant who has served as the Director of the Department of Revenue for the State of Alaska, as well as the Chief Fiscal Officer for the Municipality of Anchorage, and has been employed by the State of Nevada since 1996. His fiscal experience includes governmental entities as well as corporate enterprises.]

So, some of you are probably scratching your heads and saying, "What is this all about?"

Well, probably the most well-known and read anonymous Alaskan blogger's identity was sent out by State Rep. Mike Doogan in an email to his constituents yesterday (not exactly sure what day it was with the time difference and all). You can read about it at any of a number of Alaska blogs - at Mudflats itself or Immoral Minority (which has links to more sites.)

Judging from the comments at Mudflats, many of her readers are still in the second stage of grief - anger - and it's too early to have a rational discussion of the pros and cons of anonymous blogging. (See the many negative reactions to Bob Poe's post on Mudflats.) One has to wonder about the toll living in Juneau is taking on Mike Doogan's mental health for him to out her, through a legislative email to constituents no less. I wonder what the woman who lets him live with her thinks.

But on the other hand, a blogger who has gets hundreds of thousands of hits a day is no longer "just me" although I understand that our own personal conceptions of ourselves change slowly. After all, my self conception got stuck at age 22 while my body kept getting older. But when you have as many readers as Mudflats and you write about politics you become a political force whether you acknowledge it or not. In some ways, Mudflats embodies for many, a more intelligent and capable version of the persona that Sarah Palin wanted to portray - "I'm just an ordinary Alaska woman." And just as Sarah got sucked into a vortex far more powerful than she might have expected, Mudflats followed her into that vortex.

Along with power comes pressure for transparency. At least in democracies. Mudflat appears to be the real thing - exactly as projected on her blog. But what if she were, hypothetically, being paid by, say, Outside 'interests'? Wouldn't we want to know that? Wouldn't we have a right to know? (Fortunately, my readership is modest and I run little danger of people writing that I said she was controlled by outside interests.)

I know that liberals have spent a lot of time and money trying require that people making political contributions over $100 are identified so that we can see where the money is coming from. We do this knowing that public exposure increases the likelihood that people will think about what they are doing and that voters will have a sense of who is supporting which candidates. And those who listened in on the three political corruption trials in Alaska know that Bill Allen was well aware of the contribution laws and the need for disclosure and it affected his behavior. (He sometimes used it as an excuse not to contribute, more often to find roundabout ways to contribute without being exposed.)

As Mudflats points out in her very clearheaded post,
I choose to remain anonymous. I didn’t tell anyone why. I might be a state employee. I might not want my children to get grief at school. I might be fleeing from an ex-partner who was abusive and would rather he not know where I am. My family might not want to talk to me anymore. I might alienate my best friend. Maybe I don’t feel like having a brick thrown through my window. My spouse might work for the Palin administration. Maybe I’d just rather people not know where I live or where I work. Or none of those things may be true. None of my readers, nor Mike Doogan had any idea what my personal circumstances might be.

Just as gay people should be allowed to come out on their own terms, so should anonymous bloggers. But when gay legislators cover their sexual orientation behind an anti-gay facade, many gay activists feel justified in exposing them. But Mudflats was totally open about her generic identity, there was no hypocrisy.

And we have plenty of models of anonymous heroes. Some of Mudflats' commenters have pointed to the writers of the Federalist Papers and to Ben Franklin writing under the cover of pseudonyms, and to Superman's secret identity. Let's not forget the Lone Ranger and Zorro. There's no shame in being an anonymous hero.

But heroes are in the eye of the beholder. Mudflats was no hero to the Palin Administration. She had considerable power to attract attention to things the Palin team would rather not be spotlighted. And Doogan seems to have a lot of problems with how the 'rules' of journalism he got at school are morphing in the internet age.

When I started this blog I chose to be cagey about identifying myself. I wasn't trying to hide, but I wanted readers to read the posts without judging my words through the filters of the labels I would have to use to describe myself. Readers who read enough of my blog would figure out a lot about who I was. And I didn't hide my identity from others outside the blog. I did feel a bit violated the first time someone mentioned my name with a link to the blog, so I get a sense of Mudflat's reaction. But part of me also acknowledged I had to take responsibility for what I wrote. But I also think that a male's sense of vulnerability is different from a female's. (We males only think we're less vulnerable, females know that everyone is vulnerable.)

I would also dispute Doogan's claim that being anonymous isn't being accountable. I guess in part that depends on what "accountable" means to him. Technically legislators are accountable at election time, but in many ways they are hidden from public view so they really aren't all that accountable. But bloggers are accountable to their readers - if they have any (and if they don't none of this matters) - who will immediately post comments to challenge what they disagree with. And other bloggers will call them out as well.

Mudflats didn't choose to become a blogger celebrity overnight, but it happened. She isn't 'just me' to the politicians whom she covers. But they are free to post their responses on her blog. That's what freedom of speech is all about.

There's lots to mull over here. As with most issues it isn't just either/or. There are conditions in which being anonymous might be appropriate and where being transparent might be appropriate. And even if we make a general checklist, it will always be a judgment call in the gray areas.

What's clear in my mind is that Doogan's lost touch. I can find no justification for his action. As a State Legislator he has duty to uphold the Constitution, and that includes Article I, Section 22. The State Constitution protects individual privacy. I can't find anything in the Federal Constitution that makes free speech contingent on identifying the speaker.

One last thought. A commenter on Progressive Alaska said that Mike Doogan was the anonymous blogger at Billy Muldoon, a blog I linked to early on before it closed shop. If that's true (and there is no confirmation on this,) how would that square with his strong stand against anonymous blogging? And wouldn't he at least understand that someone might want to blog anonymously? If you go to Billy Muldoon now, you get this:

This blog is open to invited readers only


[Update: Sunday, March 29, 2009, 11am Thai Time: Dawn Teo writes at Huffington Post that:

Many locals believe that Doogan is secretly the identity behind former local blogger Billy Muldoon, but Doogan has categorically denied any connection to Muldoon.
There were no links to the denials and I couldn't find them through google.]

Friday, March 27, 2009

Saturday Morning - Catching Up

[Saturday morning, March 27, 11am Thai time] My impending departure seems to be sinking in at the office. "But you just got here." Our housesitter emailed "You are welcome to stay where you are for a few years if you like. We'll keep an eye on things.." Yesterday we had our most serious meeting about the website. I had made some mock up pages and so with the printouts in hand, plus my mockups projected on the whiteboard, we got through a lot of stuff. It won't be done before I leave, but it's getting closer.

The air has been much cleaner this week. You can see the mountains. We've had attempted thunderstorms several times - gusts of wind jump up like sleeping cats briefly batting at flies then die down, clouds appear in the sky, there's a flash or two of lightening and distant rumbling of thunder. A couple of times it actually rained hard, but mostly just some scattered drops or nothing at all.

The picture on the left was yesterday. You can actually see that the sky has a suggestion of blue in it compared to the picture on the right from a couple of months ago. And you could actually see things on the mountainside, not simply the faded silhouette in the picture on the right. You can also see this teak tree had a lot more leaves then.

Firefox 3.07 as soon as I had loaded it about two weeks ago had seriously slowed down my internet access, so this morning when 3.08 asked to be downloaded, I immediately said yes and things are moving much faster.

But I'm moving much slower. Somehow I've done something to my right ankle and walking is a less than easy, but I'm determined that we're not going to spend our Saturday inside. We only have one more Saturday after today before we head home. Tonight is Ann-Marie's good bye party. She was a volunteer at my office for two years and had been away a while when we came last year. She's been working at Chiang Mai University and is headed for a job in Paris.

Several days ago I noticed a stack of king-sized mattresses in the laundry room. I immediately asked if we could have one. Even when you put two twins together, there's inevitably a crack that interferes with marital harmony. And the next day our two twins were bridged by our new superhard (I always liked the mattresses in Asia because they are so hard, but had never seen it so clearly stated. I bet there'd be a market for harder mattresses like these in the US. The line above LADY is clear in my photo and if you double click on it.)

I'm looking around at miscellaneous photos that never got up. Here's Matt standing next to a tiny little red Rover about two weeks ago.

Here's a building they've been working on while we've been here. It's just before I get to work on my bike in the morning. The first picture was March 3 (thanks to digital cameras that keep track of the date) and the second one was March 25.

And here's the mural across the street that I pass as I pull out of our building's little parking lot every morning.

And here's an artist who was sitting at the table outside my office one evening as I was leaving for home. This wasn't any parricular village, but a mix of features from a number of villages.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Celebrity Product Placement and Palin's Arctic Cat Coat

I'm a little behind on what's going on in Alaska, but I see that Linda Kellen Biegel at Blue Oasis has riled up a bunch of folks for filing an ethics complaint against Gov. Palin.

The complaint alleges a conflict of interest when Governor Palin wore specially designed snow-machine gear advertising her husband Todd's biggest Iron Dog sponsor, Arctic Cat Inc. She did so while acting in her official capacity as Governor of the State of Alaska and official starter of the Iron Dog Snow Machine Race.
[The picture is from the Blue Oasis post too so you can see what the complaint is about.]

According to later posts, she's gotten a lot of nasty comments, emails, and phone calls. Some of the comments on her blog carry a theme of "So what's the big deal, I wear logo stuff all the time on all my clothes."

So I googled around to find out about product placement and celebrity endorsements.

In an article published last October in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Sarah Jane Gilbert wrote about Harvard Business Professor Anita Elberse whose favorite research topic is described as "the value created and captured by superstars."
Anita Elberse: The sports marketing industry, covering everything from television rights to endorsements, sponsorships, and merchandising, is an important sector and growing rapidly. In its Global Entertainment and Media Outlook, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that the sports industry accounted for around $50 billion in revenues in the United States in 2007, up from just under $35 billion in 2001. On a global scale, total revenues are expected to be nearly $100 billion this year, compared with $70 billion in 2001.

As far as endorsements are concerned, marketers increasingly turn to athletes to promote their products. The marketing executives I spoke with told me they value these endorsements especially because it is getting more and more difficult to reach a wide group of consumers using traditional ways of advertising such as television commercials, and harder to gain credibility with commercial messages.
You can read the whole Elberse interview at the Harvard link above. Here's one more excerpt:
[B]ecause star athletes and other celebrities are "brands" that have certain meanings for consumers, companies can spend millions of dollars to align themselves with those celebrities. They hope those celebrities' brands "rub off" on the products they are trying to sell, be it apparel, cars, or beauty products. . .

Considering the limited free time an athlete like Sharapova has in a year filled with training sessions and tournaments across the globe—less than 20 days remain for sponsorship commitments—I found it remarkable to learn how much value is generated.

There are also articles that suggest that the return on investment isn't really there. InnovationsReport writes, for example, that
Advertisements featuring endorsements by celebrities such as David Beckham are less effective than those featuring ordinary people, new research suggests.
Perhaps the marketing people just like being around celebrities so pushing endorsements gives them that opportunity. Whether on the whole these product placements are worth the money (we all now know about the fallibility of banking experts who pushed the various home loan packages, so why should marketing experts who push celebrity endorsements be any more reliable?) the fact is that businesses believe in them enough to spend tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars every year on them.

In an article about strategies for getting celebrities to publicly use their products, Jonathan Holiff, describe as the president and CEO of The Hollywood-Madison Group, offers three strategies for getting products out to celebrities.

1. Gifting the talent (this usually involves supplying products for gift bags at live events)

2. Product seeding (products are distributed more widely in hopes of securing a promotional benefit and kicking off a trend)

3. Barter relationships (individual celebrities agree to participate in custom programs in exchange for valuable products).

He says the most effective is the third, barter relationships. He goes on to give an example of promoting the Sony CD Mavica digital camera.
Sony wanted to involve celebrities with its products and wanted that involvement to influence the public in a meaningful way. They sought a high-profile event—preferably benefiting charity—upon which to launch a yearlong press campaign in time for the Christmas shopping season. The focus: to promote the simplicity of CD-based photography.
So, with a limited budget, Holiff's company suggested getting celebrities to take pictures of what "freedom" means to them, that would be auctioned off for charity. The point was to use several ploys here to entice the celebrities into participating:
Such an artistic challenge, coupled with the prospect of receiving free Sony products, not only served to induce celebrities to participate but also offered us an extraordinary opportunity: to frame these pictures and mount an exhibition that raised money for charity. Indeed, the charity component attracted higher-caliber celebrities and provided the "hook" to draw media attention. . .

Fifteen top celebrities demonstrated the practical use of Sony's product and authorized the use of their names, likenesses and opinions about the product for press and marketing purposes (for one year). Sony received free advertising for its product in print and online for three months (worth an estimated $100,000), as well as 3.6 million Web page impressions (auction as a whole) and national press coverage, including Entertainment Tonight.
Clearly, some celebrity marketing campaigns work better than others. Martin Roll, who is described on VentureRepublic as a
world-renowned thought-leader on value creation through brand equity
describes some essentials of celebrity endorsements.

* Attractiveness of the celebrity: This principle states that an attractive endorser will have a positive impact on the endorsement. The endorser should be attractive to the target audience in certain aspects like physical appearance, intellectual capabilities, athletic competence, and lifestyle. It has been proved that an endorser that appears attractive as defined above has a grater chance of enhancing the memory of the brand that he/she endorses.

* Credibility of the celebrity: This principle states that for any brand-celebrity collaboration to be successful, the personal credibility of the celebrity is crucial. Credibility is defined here as the celebrities’ perceived expertise and trustworthiness. As celebrity endorsements act as an external cue that enable consumers to sift through the tremendous brand clutter in the market, the credibility factor of the celebrity greatly influences the acceptance with consumers.

* Meaning transfer between the celebrity and the brand: This principle states that the success of the brand-celebrity collaboration heavily depends on the compatibility between the brand and the celebrity in terms of identity, personality, positioning in the market vis-à-vis competitors, and lifestyle. When a brand signs on a celebrity, these are some of the compatibility factors that have to exist for the brand to leverage the maximum from that collaboration.
Palin scores high on the physical attractiveness. I would say the audiences are split on her, but she has some extremely enthusiastic followers along with those fairly strongly opposed. So it's mixed on the second criterion. But surely there aren't too many - maybe none - celebrities of Palin's level who is so compatible to snow machine racing. So, this is probably a pretty good celebrity catch for Arctic Cat.

But Ronnie05 on his blog points out another celebrity endorsement:
Research In Motion and Blackberry do not require any celebrity endorsement. Why would they when the biggest celebrity in the world, the single “hero” in the world and in America, is doing it for them and is not charging a single cent. Barrack Obama’s penchant for the “Blackberry” has steadily found its way into the press.

The question is whether Palin's use of the Arctic Cat coats is the same thing as Obama's use of his Blackberry. The Blackberry is a tool that many people use and presumably Obama picked his up on his own and the press happened to catch him using it. I guess we should dispatch someone to find out if the Blackberry company gave it to him in hopes he would be photographed using it.

Given the amount of money spent on celebrity placements, and the careful planning placement specialists seem to go through to get the right people to publicly use their products, I think it would be of interest to us all to hear exactly how it came to be that Gov. Palin wore that coat at the opening of the Iron Dog race.

Two basic questions we need answered are:

1. How did Palin get the coats? Did she go out an buy it? Was it something that she had in the closet and that she wears all the time? Was it a gift from Arctic Cat?

2. Did Arctic Cat in any way influence Palin to wear the coat at the start of the Iron Dog race?

If it was a gift from Arctic Cat, given what I've been reading on product placement, it probably wasn't just an accident that the Governor of Alaska opened the Iron Dog Snow Machine Race wearing the coat. There were probably product placement pros carefully plotting the whole thing.

Just as Jonathan Holiff outlines how they plotted to get celebrities to use the Sony cameras by setting up a contest that benefited charity, Arctic Cat's marketing specialists probably said, "This will look so natural. We already sponsor her husband, so why wouldn't we give him and his family jackets? And then all she has to do is wear it when she opens the race. Bingo, we'll have pictures of Sarah Palin, one of the most well known celebrities in the US, who also happens to be linked in the public's mind to snow machines, all over the place."

There doesn't even have to be any sort of additional payment to Palin (though Biegel's complaint says Arctic Cat is Todd Palin's biggest Iron Dog sponsor, so the Palin family is getting something from the company.) And Palin likely did not give them any rights to use the pictures (though we should ask about that too just to be sure).

And Palin might have been lulled into all this just as all those celebrities who get gifts are. You get a free camera, we challenge your ego by getting you to take pictures we're going to sell for charity, and we'll throw in "Freedom" as the theme for the pictures. Who can resist?

But Palin isn't just a celebrity. She's a government official. She's a representative of the People of Alaska, the head of our government. Our governor must separate private product endorsements from her official duties as governor. And yes, making appearances at the openings of events, cutting ribbons for new roads, etc. in her capacity as governor are official duties. [Would she have been invited if she were not the governor?] And furthermore, this is a politician who became governor in part on her strong stance against public officials whose personal interests and public interests overlapped.

So for those who say they wear clothing with brand names attached all the time, I would say I suspect this isn't some trivial incident comparable to her happening to put on Levis and someone complains that the little red tag in back is an endorsement. These are big conspicuous coats with giant endorsements all over them. This is big business and potentially worth lots of money for Arctic Cat.

So, did Sarah buy these coats or were they given to her?
How did she decide to wear them to the opening of the race?
Did Arctic Cat and/or their marketing company have a plan for getting Palin to wear the coat at the opening of the race?

If this were an isolated event, I might be more likely to lean with those who say to give her a pass on this. But sometimes the problem is a series of small events, no single event being that big a deal. And if we are serious about having politicians who aren't tainted by special interests, then we have to call every single case so that politicians finally learn that their jobs are to serve the public without getting extra benefits for themselves along the way. If all these sorts of special perks are too much of a hassle, then maybe the people who run for office to get them will find more hassle-free endeavors.

And it means holding Democrats accountable as well as Republicans.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

J Went to a Thai Cooking Class

Food was big yesterday. Got Vegie Thai lunch, then J came home with the results of her cooking class today. It was most of the day. They got to do six items each. I think it was 900 Baht (about $25). So for dinner we had som tam, tom kha kai, and green curry. All quite good. She thinks she can get what she needs back in Anchorage. We'll see.

The som tam picture was just not good enough to post. But it was definitely good enough to eat.

Vegie Thai Part 2 - West Chiang Mai Vegie Option

So yesterday we went to Vegie Thai for lunch. Today they delivered. I have to say, the food was really good. And I like that it's not delivered in styrofoam, but in a reusable plastic (I know, but a little at a time) container. Here it's on my desk after being delivered. 30 Baht (US$0.84 on my computer conversion table) delivered. It's vegie healthy and tastes great.

Why didn't I figure this out before my second to last week here? But some of the others in the office are happy to know about this option. He still is working on the English part of the website. The tabs have English, but then there is almost none on the pages. I'll try to help, but I'm not here for long. But he does speak English so if you call or email, you can probably order a lunch or dinner to be delivered. Don't worry about what to order, you'll get what they are making that day.

And he's using produce from small scale farmers.

For Chiang Mai vegetarians, I translated some of the instructions for how to order:

Note: Please circle the days when you want to receive a meal. Then underline to show you want noon or evening. The food is all vegetarian to promote health. There is no MSG.

Delivery Area: Chiang Mai University; Nimanhamen Road, Sirimangklajan Road (?); Suthep Road; Soi Wat Umong and Bong Noi.
Outside the delivery service area, the cost of delivery will be calculated based on distance.

You can choose which day you want to receive a meal.
Lunch will be delivered by noon. (30 Baht per person)
Dinner will be delivered by 6pm (You will receive three items for 120 Baht for 2-3 people OR two items for two people for 80 Baht. Or two items for one person for 40 Baht. Brown rice is 10 Baht extra per person.

Contact Vegie Thai (Bento without meat): 0 eight seven-324 97two eight

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Vegie Thai and My Own Cicada Shots

Tok had shown me the VegieThai website. It's run by a friend of his who is an accomplished chef and who has started a business that includes delivering vegie meals, as well as special meals based on health needs. You can also pick up food or eat at the place. Which was near my office, but I couldn't figure out the map on the website. It is in the foothills, west of Wat Ramphoeng on the southwest side of Chiang Mai. It's good for people around Nimanhamen and around Chiang Mai University.

So, today Ew called early (last week we called too late) and booked us for lunch at the place. I say 'place' because it isn't exactly a restaurant. It's a private house with some tables in the yard. But even though it's close, it isn't easy to find. There were two Thais and me in the car. They called him and still went the wrong way. It took three phone calls to actually get there.

But it was rather special. It was just us. The food was beautiful and delicious. And the price was more than reasonable. We spent a good part of lunch talking about English translations of the Thai menu. I didn't think 'condiments' conveyed what he meant. His condiments included lots of fresh greens. We talked about the possibility of memberships, paid in advance, like a gym membership. As long as people have to call in beforehand - even at the house - he needs some sort of system to let people know how and when to order. At this point you don't have a choice of food, just a choice of days, and you take what is cooked on that day. But there is a full monthly menu in Thai. The English one doesn't quite capture the sense of things. And I too was at a loss for how to say it better.

I'm not sure this is a business plan that can work - especially given his location. You need to make several turns this way and that after you get off what is a through road, but certainly not even close to a main road.

But I wish him luck. It's a great project if he can pull it off. And his working with some of our farmers and pushing for more organic vegetables. We had a great papaya ice for dessert.

And as we left I spotted these two cicadas - after having posted a borrowed picture yesterday. This first one, I think, has a live animal inside.

The second one is an empty skin. And not even the first one was tymbalizing.

They're about the size of a walnut.


Ann Marie sent me some materials from a workshop put together by the Collective Leadership Institute whose mission is to build competence for sustainability.

I was struck by this quote and I'm still thinking about it. What does he mean by 'silence?'

I don’t know if you have ever examined how you listen, it doesn’t matter to what, whether to a bird, to the wind in the leaves, to the rushing waters, or how you listen in a dialogue with yourself, to your conversation in various relationships with your intimate friends, your wife or husband…If we try to listen we find it extraordinarily difficult, because we are always projecting our opinions and ideas, our prejudices, our background, our inclinations, our impulses: when they dominate we hardly listen at all to what is being said…In that state there is no value at all. One listens and therefore learns, only in a state of attention, a state of silence, in which this whole background is in abeyance, is quiet; then, it seems to me, it is possible to
communicate…..real communication can only take place where there is silence.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cicadas in the Background

The last week or two has been highlighted by the sound of cicadas in the background more often than not. A particularly loud spot is the hill along the south side of Wat Umong where I recorded this clip as I rode to work.

Click on the yellow button with the black arrow to hear the cicadas. Remix Default-tiny Cicadas by AKRaven

I'm not sure how this will come out on your computer, but use speakers or ear phones and put the volume up to get a good sense of this. J estimates that they are at least 70 decibels when they are loud. At the moment, they are silent.

Here's a picture from ChangThai.com (Chang means elephant in Thai)

Cicada Central adds this information (plus a lot more on their site)
Cicadas are probably best known for their conspicuous acoustic signals or "songs", which the males make using specialized structures called tymbals, found on the abdomen. Female cicadas do not have tymbals, but in some species the females produce clicking or snapping sounds with their wings. Some males augment their tymbal sounds by making winc clicks as well. After mating, females lay eggs in grass, bark or twigs; the eggs hatch later in the season and the new nymphs burrow underground. As juveniles and adults, cicadas use piercing and sucking mouthparts to feed on the xylem fluid of plants. All but a few cicada species have multiple-year life cycles, most commonly 2-8 years. In many species, adults can be found every year because the population is not developmentally synchronized; these are often called "annual" cicada species. By contrast, the cicadas in a periodical cicada population are synchronized, so that almost all of them mature into adults in the same year.

Lee Chang-kook, in an informative, but also very human, article in the Korea Times, writes:

We know what cicadas look like. They are large bugs with two transparent wings. The male cicadas make a loud, shrill and droning noise by vibrating two membranes on their abdomens.

It is generally believed that they spend many years as larvae underground (some say 15 years, some 12, and some seven) and live a sadly short life (some say only 15 days, some a month, and some three months) and die, but most of the important knowledge we have about cicadas is no more than just inaccurate and commonplace hearsay. Nothing is fixed, verified or proven.

And, do you know that they eat nothing during their entire life? Indeed, through my long experience in watching them I have not found any of them trying to catch anything to eat or eating something.

I wonder if they have a mouth at all. I wonder how can they sing so energetically all the time without eating anything at all. No doubt they are the greatest singers in the world. They sing to death. It is said that dew is the only food for them.
You can get the whole fascinating article at the Korea Times link above.

If you want to learn and hear more about Thai Cicadas you can buy a copy of

Cicadas of Thailand Vol. 1 by Michel Boulard

With Audio CD

The first of two volumes on Thai cicadas, the most fascinating and also least known representatives of a family of sonorous insects. Cicadas neither sing, nor stridulate, but tymbalize. The volume reveals the existence and the double life, larval and imaginal, of cicadas encountered during six years of research in Thailand's sub-mountainous forests. The body of the text includes two chapters discussing general characteristics, acoustic and procreative ethology, and exceptional or enigmatic aspects and behaviour. The text is enriched by drawings and photographs, mostly of living insects. It is accompanied by a CD comprising forty cicada sound productions (or tymbalizations), the acoustics made visual in ID and ethological cards, which form an original feature of this pioneering study.

And finally, Club ALC offers some cicada haiku. I liked this one by Robert Leechford:

a cicada emerges
from years of silence
singing and singing

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sustainable Farming the Old Fashioned Way - Karen Village

All this is in the context of the modern debates on global warming, sustainable farming, and land rights for the various hill tribes living in official forest land in Thailand. What we saw yesterday was a bit of paradise in some ways. Westerners looking at the pictures of the housing might cringe, but all things considered this is much more comfortable than a lot of the housing in rural Alaska villages. And, what I learned 40 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Thailand, what Westerners have over less wealthy cultures is a physical standard of living advantage (one that has shrunk considerably in the intervening years, at least for Thailand) and what the Thais have is a social, cultural advantage - things like connectedness to the land and to each other, traditions and ceremonies that tie them together, friendships and family connections that are close and supportive. This advantage is also shrinking.

Of course these are generalizations for both sides. But that discussion seems a pertinent preface to the pictures and comments below.

J's been helping S get his oral English ready for his nine month's training program at the Asian Rural Institute in Japan. He leaves next week. Yesterday he picked us up at 7:30am and drove us the not quite two hours up into the mountains. The following will be a bunch of pictures with some description. At 1200 meters above sea level, it was delightfully cooler than Chiang Mai at about 600 meters up. After we passed the tourist elephant camp, the road up got steeper and windier. J's stomach usually isn't too good, but S drove slowly. Then he stopped at a little shop and came out with a plaster (I'd say band-aid, but it wasn't really) that he said to stick on her belly, which she did. She had no problem up or back.

We got to the village and then his house where we met his mother, brother, sister, and niece. All but the sister were in this picture. They were looking at the Alaska calendar we brought them. We were given Karen style shoulder bags she made - a beautiful burnt orange color.

Here's the house. This has been added on to over the years to get to this stage. The original house is what is just the kitchen now.

And just like in any family anywhere, his niece's artwork is up for everyone to admire.

I had to go to the bathroom and I was led to a little building out back with a row of blooming orchids in front. The bathroom had running water and a regular toilet. He said they have a natural draining system with different materials besides a large hole. Unlike tanks, this one drains well and never fills up. My understanding was they used various natural materials as a drain/filter.

In their English lessons, S had told Joan that they had what he called a "lazy garden" around the house. It's where they threw things and let them grow on their own - unlike the more cultivated fields away from the house. We had passed rows and rows of beautiful lettuce, but I didn't get a picture. The lettuce and some other crops are part of the Kings Project and they get picked up and sold at organic vegetable markets, but he's not sure where.
And not everything in the lazy garden is quite so casual either. Here are some seedling avocados. Avocados were also introduced through the King's project.

And a macadamia nut tree.

This is a fishtank where they can get dinner when they need fish. Though we had fish that didn't come from the tank for lunch later.

This earthen house was built by a friend - there's a big hole still next to it where the earth was dug up. It's in there on the edge of the lazy garden.

And this bamboo, look at S standing at the bottom of it clump. It's huge! You may have to double click to enlarge the picture to see S.

Here's a pig pen right next to the house. Ordinarily this could cause some serious odor problems.

S's holding a bottle of a mixture he's concocted to make the pig pen's smell better, well, not so bad. It's got honey, salt, garlic, oyster sauce, ginger, and I forgot the other ingredients. It's mixed with water and put into the pig sty. And it really did not smell bad there at all. Not like the factory pig farms we passed that were pretty disgusting to smell.

Here's another one of the pigs.

Now we are in the kitchen. It was pretty dark in there and they didn't turn on any lights. There is electricity, but I didn't notice it on - except when his sister was ironing. I took some video tape of him explaining how the kitchen works. It's pretty dark, but I'll try to get it up eventually.

There's a lot of stuff sitting around. But it didn't look like a junkyard. Rather things all seemed to have a place. This is a 'modern' electric rice huller.

Next to it is the more traditional type of rice huller.

And there was a cow too. I think elsewhere there are some water buffalo but we didn't see them. And, of course, there were chickens and chicks running around. They eat the eggs, if they can find them. The eggs we had for lunch later were from the market.

And there's a coffee plant too.

Then we got back in the car and drove up what became a more and more marginal road for a couple of kilometers and then got out to go for a hike. One of the joys of this location is that the vegetation change is most notably visible by the existence of pine trees.

Another ethnic Karen, R, who works at this village through an NGO in Chiang Mai, joined us for the hike. He actually comes from a different province neighboring Chiang Mai.

It was nice to see greener scenery than we generally have in Chiang Mai, now well into the dry and hot season.

It was a bit late in the day to see birds. We could hear some, but it was also very hard trying to find them hidden in the trees. But S showed us some bird calls. I have a video of this too and will try to get it up in a post later. None of the other three of us could make a sound this way, but then they couldn't copy my whistling with two fingers in my mouth. I was able to get some sound out later in the car and I'll keep practicing.

We stopped here in this spot dedicated by Buddhists, animists, and Catholics who are all represented in the village. There was a sign that S translated as "This Forest Forever."

I posted the insect pictures from there in the previous post. Here are some fungus we saw. They do look fairly similar to things we have in Alaska. Also saw some ferns that - at least superficially - looked like ferns we have too. I suspect they're different.

It was a lovely hike back.

When we got back S began gathering greens for lunch - a late, 4pm lunch. The food would be better, he said, because we were so hungry. These are from a tree which reminded me of greens that our friends in Beijing collected on a trip out to the country side in 2004. But I'm sure there are lots of things that look alike. These ended up inside omelets.

Here's what he collected.

S started the fire in the kitchen. A lighter and a piece of soft pine got things started quickly.

J and S were working on the greens.

There was also some Pak Bung, another key vegetable in Thai diets. But he cooked this up with a bean sauce and some honey and it tasted different and delicious.

Here the greens go into the egg mix. That's S's niece under the blue plastic basket.

And the Pak Bung gets cooked.

And in less than 45 minutes, lunch was ready.

And we all helped clean up. Really, I did more than take pictures.

The dishwater sink drains out to a small culvert and the grey water gets recycled into the garden and the chickens are the garbage disposal getting all the bits of rice and green that were still on the plates when they were washed.

Things are not perfect here, and there are issues of land ownership, and the government is still trying to get people out of the forest areas. But you can also see that this is a pretty sweet place to live. All sorts of tropical and semi-tropical plants grow, with little effort. S's family - and village - lifestyle is pretty in synch with nature and all the stuff we are trying to relearn in the West. Imagine what he will learn after nine-months of training on an organic, sustainable farm program in Japan.

S also pulled out an album and showed me this document which was a work contract for his great, great grandfather to work for a British timber company. He was hired because he had an elephant that was important for getting the logs out from the deep forest and out onto the roadways. I still think we should consider this in the roadless areas of Southeast Alaska. There are still elephants in Thailand who know how to do this, but they are pretty much unemployed as much of the forest is protected. (The elephants in the earlier pictures are now for tourists to ride.) The document is dated 1908 and shows that S's family has been here for at least 100 years. This is of significance because many argue that the Karen all really came from Burma, but this shows a long provenance in Thailand. The Consulate is in Chiang Mai and the other language is Thai, not Burmese. It is interesting to me, because unlike most Thai writing where the words all run together, in this document, each word is separate like in English.

And here are S's sister with her youngest child as we were leaving.