Friday, July 31, 2009

British Quakers conclude a long and profound process of discernment about the way forward for Quaker marriage and approach to same sex partnerships

Jay sent me a link to the Quakers in Britain website which has a news bulletin discussing their decision to proceed to acceptance of same sex partnerships. Here are a couple of excerpts. Note how respectful the language is of all who might read it.
Further to minute 17, (attached) a session was held on Tuesday afternoon at which speakers shared personal experiences of the celebration and recognition of their committed relationships. These Friends had felt upheld by their meetings in these relationships but regretted that whereas there was a clear, visible path to celebration and recognition for opposite sex couples, the options available for couples of the same sex were not clear and could vary widely between meetings. Friends who feel theirs to be an ordinary and private rather than an exotic and public relationship have had to be visible pioneers to get their relationship acknowledged and recorded.
This open sharing of personal experience has moved us and added to our clear sense that, 22 years after the prospect was first raised at Meeting for Sufferings we are being led to treat same sex committed relationships in the same way as opposite sex marriages, reaffirming our central insight that marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses. The question of legal recognition by the state is secondary.
We therefore ask Meeting for Sufferings to take steps to put this leading into practice and to arrange for a draft revision of the relevant sections of Quaker faith and practice, so that same sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded and reported to the state, as opposite sex marriages are. We also ask Meeting for Sufferings to engage with our governments to seek a change in the relevant laws so that same sex marriages notified in this way can be recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite sex marriages celebrated in our meetings. We will not at this time require our registering officers to act contrary to the law, but understand that the law does not preclude them from playing a central role in the celebration and recording of same sex marriages.
We have heard dissenting voices during the threshing process which has led to us this decision, and we have been reminded of the need for tenderness to those who are not with us who will find this change difficult. We also need to remember, including in our revision of Quaker faith and practice, those Friends who live singly, whether or not by choice.

What Does This Sign Mean?

DZ's been here a week now and hadn't yet had a pizza. So after a meeting and a look around downtown we stopped at Moose's Tooth to end the pizza drought. We ordered take-out and I sat down to wait while DZ went looking for the men's room. That's when I saw the sign. Down in the lower right of this bulletin board. [I saved the picture as a large file so if you double click it you can see what all the other warning signs say too.]

What exactly does this mean?
I know that kids go into the Moose's Tooth all the time. I'd just sent a 16 year old off by himself to find the bathroom. How does a minor become "in violation of the law"? I had no idea. I asked the cashier who came out to look at the sign. She didn't know either. We guessed at what it might mean, but we had no way of being sure.

It seems to me that if the State wants to prevent something from happening, they should tell us what exactly what we shouldn't do in clear language. I called the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board yesterday, but they haven't called back. There website does have an FAQ page, but on my computer at least, I could only find the questions, but not the answers.

[Update: Someone from the ABC called shortly after I posted this. Here's the story:
1. They use the same sign at lots of different places, including bars where people under 21 are not allowed on the premises. But Moose's Tooth is a restaurant and bar where kids are allowed. So here it would mean that people under 21 aren't allowed to order beer or use false id's.
2. The FAQ page actually does work. On my browser the cursor doesn't turn into a little hand and so I didn't click on the questions. But when you click, they show the answers.]

Legal Age and Identification

What is the legal drinking age in Alaska?

21 years of age.

What is the minimum age for sellers/servers of alcoholic beverages?

21 years of age.

Under what circumstances can an underage person be present on licensed premises?

Persons under the age of 21 may not enter or remain on licensed premises unless accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or spouse over the age of 21 years. Not withstanding this rule licensees may exclude underage persons from licensed premises at any time.

Are there any exceptions to this rule?

Yes, there are four exceptions:

  • Persons 18, 19 and 20 years of age may work on the licensed premises of hotels and restaurants but may not sell serve or deliver alcoholic beverages.
  • Persons 16 and 17 years of age may be employed on the licensed premises of businesses the board has designated as "bona fide" restaurants with the written consent of their parent or legal guardian and an exemption certificate from the department of labor, but may not sell serve or deliver alcoholic beverages.
  • Persons 16 years of age and above may enter licensed premises of businesses the board has designated as bona fide restaurants for the purpose of dining only.
  • Persons under the age of 16 may enter licensed premises of businesses the board has designated as "bona fide" restaurants for the purpose of dining only accompanied by a person over the age of 21 years with the consent of the underage persons parent.
May underage persons employed on licensed premises clean tables that have containers with unconsumed portions of alcoholic beverages?

Yes, but the unconsumed alcoholic beverages must be disposed of in waste water or a waste container immediately.

Are there any situations when an underage persons can legally possess and consume alcoholic beverages?

Yes, if the underage persons are not on licensed premises and the alcoholic beverages are provided by their parents, legal guardians or spouse over the age of 21 years.

Can an underage person possess and consume non-alcoholic beer or wine?

Yes, non-alcoholic beer and wine are not alcoholic beverages. Legally non-alcoholic beer and wine are no different than coffee, tea or soft drinks.

When should a licensee or licensee's employee or agent ask to see identification?

Although there are several situations when it may be appropriate to ask to see identification (such as when a customer is paying a bill by check), the only time that the alcoholic beverage laws require that ID be checked is when the licensee or the licensee's agent or employee is not sure that the customer is 21 years of age or older. In that situation the licensee may not serve that person or allow the person to remain on the licensed premises unless valid identification is produced.

What is "valid" identification?

A passport issued by the United States or Foreign Government, an ID card issued by a United States Government agency , a drivers license issued by any of the 50 states or an identification card issued by the same state agency that issues drivers licenses. All "valid" identification must be contain a photograph of the bearer and a statement of the bearer's age or date of birth.

What are the penalties if an under age person attempts to use false id to enter licensed premises and purchase alcoholic beverages?

In the meantime, if anyone knows or a guess, leave a comment.

I'll post an update when they get back to me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

is maggie the elephant's anchorage zoo stall still empty?

Someone got to a guest post here on Maggie's first anniversary at her new California home by googling the question above.

So I called the zoo to find out. I was told that it is empty right now, but over the winter they had two brown bear cubs that had been brought in (separately) and were not in condition to hibernate and they were kept for the winter in the elephant house.

And this is why I'm not a particularly good journalist: I forgot to ask where the bears are now. But you can see pictures of the cubs at the website of the zoo photographer, John Gomes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Midtown Anchorage @ 9:30pm - The Sun's Back

I don't imagine this field will last too many years
more like this, but in the mean time I enjoy
the peace and quiet near busy streets.

Discussing Ethics Part II - Keeping Politicians Clean

Yesterday I wrote about Talk of Alaska's discussion on ethics and the difficulty of talking about ethics in the middle of a public ethics dispute. It's natural to be biased by who, in the current controversy, you think is 'right.' So, I reasoned, we needed to step back and look at the underlying conditions that contribute to ethical communities.

In that post I argued that because conflict of interest is inherent in all jobs, the real focus needs to be on how to prevent conflicts of interest from leading to the two most common negative consequences of a conflict of interest: undue gain and improper influence.

Most of my views on this have evolved from teaching graduate public administration students and also doing ethics workshops with municipal employees for many years. Living and working in Asia have also contributed to my understanding of this topic. The ideas here have been written up in more detail as "Balancing Tensions between Personal and Public Obligations: A Context for Public Ethics and Corruption" in a chapter of a public administration book. The focus of that chapter and these ideas is NOT specifically Alaska, but the dynamics that affect the level of ethics and corruption anywhere in the world.

So let's move on.

In most countries or well defined communities there are official rules - government laws - but also other social norms that people follow. Modern states tend to be based on what we know as "the rule of law." Decisions are supposed to be based on rationalized rules and laws, and aren't made arbitrarily by some despot. But we also have the pull of loyalty to our family and friends that all of us recognize as legitimate as well. It's why we have laws against nepotism.

Ideally the rule of law and other norms support each other, but often they do not. Some common competing norms for government officials include religion, family loyalties, and alternatives to government. These alternatives include private options that come into being to fill gaps that aren't otherwise met by the government - from perfectly legal ones such as the legal market to highly illegal ones such as organized crime.

So with this very brief context, here are some basic cultural questions for testing the likelihood that public officials and administrators will be drawn into unethical behavior in any particular setting:
  1. Can administrators meet their basic needs (live a life-style consistent to the societal expectations for a person in that position) from the compensation of their jobs?
    • In the US, public salaries for jobs that require the least amount of education tend to be highly competitive, and when you include benefits and pensions, are probably better than what many of the employees could get in the private sector. However, those in professional jobs - lawyers, engineers, accountants - often could make much higher salaries in the private sector than in government.

  2. Are there conflicts between the social norms and the rule of law?
    • Do many public officials have personal obligations that are so strong that they may lead them to violate their professional obligations? Can religious or family responsibilities, or other personal ties interfere with their public job performance? In a number of countries family or school ties lead to severe conflicts for public officials. In the US business interests are often a challenge to politicians' duties to the public as a whole.

  3. Are there options to meet one's needs through breaking the law?
    • In places where the rule of law is lax and corruption widespread, even basically honest officials are tempted. Where organized crime has strong power, politicians may be threatened if they don't cooperate with crime bosses. A terrible example of this in the news are the Mexican drug cartels that make it dangerous to be an honest public official in many places in Mexico. But the tales I hear from Juneau suggest that temptation lurks in much less overt ways - free dinners and drinks from lobbyists, poker parties where politicians hardly ever lose, and a bunch of people who are suddenly new legislators' best friends.

  4. What is the likelihood of getting caught breaking the laws?
    • If corruption is commonplace and few are ever punished, falling to temptation is more likely. The Alaskan legislators who were convicted in the last few years were not doing things that hadn't been fairly common in Juneau. On the other hand, better education in ethics wouldn't hurt - education that is more than learning abstractly about laws. And also includes federal laws. The three convicted legislators didn't even know about the federal laws they were breaking at the time. But such training shouldn't simply be how to avoid getting caught.

  5. Is the price of breaking the rules worth the risk?
    • If the potential gains are great and the potential punishment if caught low, some will take the chance, especially in places where legitimate means of improving one's position in life are limited.

While some Alaskans may think this is extreme, I would remind them the model here was not focused on Alaska, but nations around the world. But I would also point out that legislative salaries in Alaska are set with the expectation that legislators have other jobs when the legislature is not meeting. This does set up the opportunity for businesses affected by the legislature to hire legislators during the off season. While there may be situations where the legislator is completely free of obligations to his or her employer, there has to be a real tension for most. And the appearance of a wrong doing is ever present in the public's mind.

So, based on this scenario, what are the likeliest strategies for preventing unethical behaviors?
  1. Employing organizations must provide enough compensation and free time for employees to meet their basic personal obligations.
  2. Public officials should not be able to meet their needs through illegal channels.
  3. Public officials pursuing illegal channels should have a high probability of being caught and punished.
  4. Specific factors that make corruption less likely include:
  • Transparency
    • As much as possible is out in the open to be seen and reviewed
  • Independent watchdogs
    • Independent media, ombudsman offices, auditors, citizen activists, real protections for whistle blowers, are all important in this.
  • Political structure with dispersed power
    • The more power is concentrated the less opportunity to challenge that power. But if it is too dispersed, it may be difficult to get anything done. (No one said any of this is easy.)
  • Economic and political systems in which wealth and power are equitably distributed.
    • The bigger the gap between the rich and poor, and the more difficult it is to bridge that gap legally, the more likely people will go to illegal options. If this assumption is accurate, then the more equitable a country's economy is, the less likely there will be corruption.
  • Sufficiently educated population that understands the dynamics of economic, political, and social systems and thus is less susceptible to propaganda that supports corruption
    • To the extent people are susceptible to propaganda - economic or political or social - demagogues can take advantage of real or perceived problems to increase their own power and legitimize the illegitimate.

These are basic rules of thumb. Their application necessarily must vary from situation to situation. Some are relatively easy short term changes. Some are very difficult long-term changes. Some may react, "this is impossible in my country." While I have seen 'the impossible' happen several times in my lifetime, I don't dismiss that some things are real long shots. But it is also healthy to understand that sometimes we are facing extremely difficult tasks and that perhaps we should shift our efforts to areas that will yield more benefits for the costs. We tend to be better at understanding what is impossible physically ("Would you please jump over this house?") than we are at understanding things that might be impossible socially ("We will eliminate homelessness in two years.")

There's a lot of stuff there. Here's a simpler recap of the strategies:

Shorter term measures:
  1. Reasonable compensation for officials so that they aren't tempted to make more money in ways that put them into compromising positions.

  2. Tough, but enforceable laws that make it clear that undue gain and improper influence are not acceptable.

  3. Incentive structures that protect independent watch dogs - media, auditing agencies, citizen activists, etc.

  4. Transparency - there should be few areas where the public does not have access to what public officials are doing. Freedom of Information laws have already identified those areas that are legitimately confidential and when that confidentiality is no longer needed. Perhaps statute of limitations should be related to when the information becomes publicly available.

Longer term measures:
  1. Work to have reasonably equitable distribution of education, wealth, and power. At the very least, legitimate ways to improve one's position in society should be more accessible and attractive than illegitimate ways.

  2. Education, from primary school on, should focus on developing students' critical thinking abilities.
Improving the ethical climate of our state - or any political entity - is not something we can do quickly. It's based on a mix of factors that include personal values of officials, but also the social, economic, and legal structures that increase or decrease incentives to be good.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Discussing Ethics in the Middle of a Storm - Part I

Citizens have filed an unprecedented number of ethics complaints against our recently departed governor who, coincidentally, came to statewide attention because she filed ethics complaints against her party chair. The governor, who has left the state more polarized than any other politician in memory, claims the complaints were frivolous and a malicious attempt to destroy her. She even cited them in her resignation speech. There are few people in the State who don't have a strong opinion one way or the other, whether they know anything about the details or not.

It was in this context that the Alaska Public Radio Network's (APRN) Steve Heimel invited me to be on Talk of Alaska today to discuss ethics. This is an Alaska talk radio program modeled after NPR's Talk of the Nation. So listeners can call in and ask questions or make comments. [You can listen to the program at the link. Go to this icon on that page and click the arrow. You can also get to the page by clicking the icon, but it won't play here.]

Obstacles to a meaningful ethics discussion.

It's hard to talk about changing the rules in the middle of a fight. I've written academic articles about ethics and accountability and I knew that there were a couple of different ways the discussion could go. We could get mired in a shouting match between Palin supporters and opponents which wouldn't lead anywhere, or we could try to pull back and talk about the inherent conflicts in public service and how to minimize (not prevent) ethical abuses in public service.

The second approach is far less interesting because it requires thinking abstractly. Talking about nasty people trying to get the governor or about an unethical governor being held accountable by citizens is much sexier. Steve himself faced the problem of how to balance between talking about the subject in depth and not putting his audience to sleep. He tried to stir up interest using the current ethics clashes, and also tried to keep me from getting too academic on him.

My sense is that a debate about whether Palin was harassed or was the harasser would add nothing new to the public debate. At best it would give some people a chance to vent. At worst, it would aggravate the split between the factions. It would be a debate over who we like or don't like under the guise of discussing ethics. I also felt that if I offered a judgment one way or the other, I wouldn't change anyone's mind, but I would lose a bunch of people who might otherwise listen to the underlying concepts of ethics.

For me the real issue is what can we do to reduce the incentives and increase the deterrents for ethical abuse in the future. Thus I was hoping we'd have a discussion of the underlying causes of ethical violations and ways to discourage them.

Most people who write about ethics equate having a 'conflict of interest' with being unethical. But listening to public administrators and politicians talking about ethics over the years, it's become clear to me that they all had conflicts of interest, or at least potential conflicts of interest. Thus, they were already, by the current definition, unethical. The result was to throw up their hands and say, "We are already damned."

It's true that all public employees and elected officials have an inherent conflict between their personal obligations and their professional obligations. But it doesn't mean that they are unethical.

Personal obligations include:
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Religious beliefs
  • Personal values
Professional obligations (for public employees) include:
The good of the public
The good of the organization
The rule of law
The good of the profession
When there is a good fit between employees and their jobs, the job will pay enough for the employees to reasonably meet their personal obligations. Also, the mission of the organization, when there's a good fit, will be consistent with the values of the employee. A pro-life nurse, for example, working for a hospital that provides abortion would probably have serious values conflicts, but an environmentalist who likes being out in the wilderness would likely do well as a park ranger.

In the best circumstances, there is a natural fit between person and organization so that personal obligations are met legally and ethically because there is a significant overlap between the employee's needs and values and what the organization wants the employee to do and how they reward the employee.

Since conflict of interest is always a built-in potential problem, it is the consequences of the conflict we need to be more concerned about. For public employees, the two (overlapping) problems are undue gain and improper influence.

When a person works for a public organization there is usually a written agreement that includes a job description and a compensation package. "Due Gain" is the compensation - pay and benefits - that are outlined in the contract in exchange for the work outlined in the job description. (Okay, okay, this is approximate, not exact, when it comes to the work. But the pay and benefits are pretty well set.)

Undue Gain is compensation above what is called for in the contract - gifts or favors from citizens, from regulated businesses, or from other employees; personal use of the organization's equipment that is not expressly allowed in the contract; benefits based on confidential information, and other such things.

In some cases some might say, "Well, if the employee provides extraordinary service, why shouldn't a citizen who received that service, give a small thank you gift?" Well, a token gift with very little monetary value (say under $20) may seem like a reasonable and very human action. And in many cases it might well be. And in many jurisdictions it is allowed. But it can easily lead to the other related problem: improper influence.

Improper Influence is when someone uses personal criteria to make official decisions. Again, it is helpful to talk about proper influence to understand improper influence. When making official decisions, government employees should be using the law, written rules and regulations, standard operating procedures, and even professional standards, say of engineers, nurses, etc. They have to decide objectively and equitably. This increases the likelihood that the best decision for the community will be made and that all people will be fairly treated.

Once, at a workshop on ethics for public finance officers, I gave an example of how holiday fruit baskets were a low level example of undue gain. There happened to be representatives of banks at the workshop. They said, "We give those kinds of gifts. Why is that bad?" My reply, "But you are in business to make a profit, why are you spending that extra money that should go to your shareholders? The public finance officers are paid reasonably well. They don't need your holiday gifts." Now, I'm not a total Scrooge here, I can see this as a friendly gesture, but what came next, shows the problem. They responded, "But if we don't give a holiday gift and our competitors do, then we might not get treated as well by that office." This is where improper influence begins. The decisions a city makes about which bank to use should be based on objective criteria about which bank offers the best return for the city. Not on which bank sends the best holiday gift. This is the sort of thing, expanded, that led to the convictions of three state legislators last year - undue gain with the expectation of improper influence.

So can we write laws to minimize ethics violations? I'll write about what factors one should strive for in such legislation in another post in the next day or two.  [Here's PART 2.]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Alaska's Crumbling History - Independence Mine

We were headed to visit with friends in Wasilla, so we took the opportunity to show DZ, our Chinese houseguest, a little of Hatcher Pass. With the weather questionable, we delayed a lot and ended up with two of us going to see Harry Potter and three of us going to Hatcher Pass.

The fireweed was out in force and while it was cloudy where we were, there was no rain.

We decided to go to Independence Mine. Usually when we go up that way, we end up hiking the Reed Lakes trail, but we didn't have that much time. I hadn't been to the mine in at least 20 years. It wasn't a State Park at the time I don't believe, but it is now, and the state parks sticker on my car saved me $5. (I still haven't made up the cost of the sticker, but I will.)

We missed the last tour, which gets you inside more of the buildings with a guide, but we got our fix just walking around and reading the signs. These buildings have really deteriorated. Kennecott, which we visited last summer, is in significantly better shape. That's part of a national park and this is just a state park. But this is part of our history, a way for us to understand the a significant aspect of our past.

There was one building (not this squashed one) we got to go in and look around. From the Independence Mine page on the Alaska State website:

What is now called Independence Mine was once two mines: The Alaska Free Gold (Martin) Mine on Skyscraper Mountain, and Independence Mine on Granite Mountain. In 1938 the two were bought together under one company, the Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company (APC). With a block of 83 mining claims, APC became the largest producer in the Willow Creek Mining District. The claims covered more than 1,350 acres and included 27 structures. In its peak year, 1941, APC employed 204 men, blasted nearly a dozen miles of tunnels, and produced 34,416 ounces of gold worth $1,204,560; today $17,208,000. Twenty-two families lived in nearby Boomtown, with eight children attending the Territorial School in the new bunkhouse.

By 1942, the United States had entered World War II, and the War Production Board designated gold mining as nonessential to the war effort. Gold mining throughout the United States came to a halt, but Independence Mine continued to operate because of the presence of sheelite. Sheelite occurs in some of the quartz veins along with gold, and was a source of tungsten, a strategic metal. But because Independence Mine's scheelite production was low, the exemption was short-lived. In 1943, Independence Mine was ordered to close.

The museum is in the old assay office.

After touring the buildings, we went for a hike. Turtle Puddle has a great collection of Alaska Wildflowers by Mary Hopson with names and pictures, categorized by color of the flower. She does have a disclaimer that she's not a botanist, but she has great, clear pictures. So this one seems to be Sitka Burnet - Sanguisorba stipulata.

Here's the creek at just after the trailhead.

We stopped for a some water near this old remaining cabin on the way up to Gold Cord Lake. It's a very short hike - 3/4 of a mile each way and it's a pretty new trail that makes the ascent pretty painless.

And the vegetation is lush with lots of little wildflowers, like this dwarf fireweed, and lots of rocks.

Here's a view of the mine parking lot and the hike to the lake. I spent too much time today relearning how to make curves in Photoshop. It should be simple, but it isn't. The Agave group has a good tutorial and I also found this helpful video. But there were still some issues - like changing the color of the line after it's done - that I'm sure are simple if someone knowledgeable were standing behind me and saying "Do this..."

And here's a view of the mine from the lake.
On the way back to Wasilla there was a fat marmot sitting at the side of the road. I wondered if he was used to getting food from passersby since he just stayed right there.

And DZ got to see his first moose of this visit.

Here's a map I adapted from Google maps:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Guest Post on Palin's Last Day

Nagging Questions....

I’ve decided I need to write, to see if it can help resolve some of the bad taste in my mouth that won’t seem to go away. Actually it feels more like an achy headache, if we’re going to use body parts analogies. So to write, to see if this can help provide catharsis for this person in my head. 

Sarah Palin is quitting today.  Resigning is too nice a word. It’s quitting. As for “reasons”?  If she’d been doing her job, there wouldn’t be any reasons. And if you believe she “has no plans”... Pa...Leeze.... 

This actually brings me to the crux of my problem. How many times can a person lie without it coming back to haunt them? In particular, how many times can a person of faith do that?

It galls me that she calls herself a Christian, a follower of Christ, and tells so many untruths so blatantly. I don’t want to put words in anyone else’s mouth, but isn’t this something integral to being a decent human being, much less a person of faith, that one doesn’t lie?

Didn’t she take an oath when she became Governor? Didn’t she put her hand on a Bible and swear? Is this her best? What was underpinning the faith that the people of Alaska had in her when they elected her? 

A friend of ours suggested having compassion for her. 

I thought, “ok, that sounds reasonable, I’ll give it a try...”  And I did squeak some up, for a small part of a day, sometime after she quit. I thought, “Gee, she must feel a little disappointed with herself” ... but then the compassion fizzled when I read, not much more than a day after she threw in the towel, an article she wrote which was published in the Washington Post, criticizing the President. Yeow, this woman has gall. 

How is it that the country is still talking about this woman, this person of lies and gall? And how is it even legal that she is collecting money from all over the country to pay her bills? Bills that wouldn’t be an issue, again, if she were doing her job. So people are paying her because she wasn’t doing her job? Ha, YEP, ye ssiree, that’s sure what it looks like. 

Last night on Shannyn Moore’s talk radio Shannyn expressed a feeling welling up, a feeling that soon we (the collective we) would be able to talk about the things that really mattered, like the environment, like moose hunting or berry-picking, like health care. And this morning I think, “This is it” - this is how to be healed from SP, from the media surrounding her - to start letting her go. I need to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear, to her, to the media, to the lies, to her spokespeople. How can anyone take what she says seriously? We can’t. She’s in it for herself, not for anyone else. Certainly not for this great State, where leaders typically knuckle down when the times get rough. Certainly not at this crucial time. She’s quitting, pure and simple. There is just no other way to slice this cake. 

Instead I will focus on what I usually focus on this time of year... putting up food for the winter, gathering my berry buckets and heading out to pick, thinking of catching a few more fish, watching the birds migrating to their winter homes, and hoping the first killing frost is still many weeks away. 

Catherine Senungetuk

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Health Care Reform Rally

Then we wandered down the parkstrip to the Health Care Reform Rally. By old time standards, the 100 or so souls out in the rain - it started after the official end of the Governor's picnic, though there were still lots of people in line for food still - would have been a respectable crowd demonstrating about anything. But the standards have changed since last year's nomination of Palin for VP, and so this seemed like a pretty modest turnout. And it was impossible, in my too, too human brain, not to compare it to the crowds of people at the Governor's picnic. Sure, that was a long planned event, with different government agencies, different community entertainment groups, and free food. And an appearance by the best known governor in the US on her second-to-the-last-day of being governor. And the rally was hastily called. But when two things are right next to each other, most of us just can't help but compare.

There was food here too, but decidedly more up-scale, new agey food - salmon wraps and organic salads - and it definitely was not free!

While I was getting this picture, a women came up.

Woman: "Who's being killed?"
The sign holder: (some large number)are dying because they don't have insurance or other access to health care.
Woman: How do you know?
SH: Reading and informing myself.
Woman: Do you believe everything you read? The Media wants you to believe this.
Steve: [I couldn't help myself at this point] I beg your pardon. Why would 'the media' want national health care?
Woman: Because they want socialism.
Steve: Rupert Murdoch is a socialist?
Woman: Of course. [I had the impression she didn't know who Murdoch was]

If I'd been thinking I'd have turned on the video, but it was too depressing.

I couldn't help but think how 'both sides' [I know, I know, there aren't just two sides, there are lots of different positions and we're conditioned by the socialist media - do I really need an irony sign here? - which puts everything into an either/or structure] are skeptical of the media (when it presents something they disagree with) and challenge the US government (for programs they oppose.) But they believe the most fantastical things if it seems to support their belief system and they are completely supportive of government programs that support their ideology. The conservatives seem to have managed to get the upper hand in this propaganda war. While liberals tend to support and oppose the government at different times, conservatives seem to have positioned themselves so they support the USA but oppose government in general. They pulled off a neat marketing and semantic trick there.

This was a pediatrician explaining her problems with the current health care systems.

Alaska Governor's Picnic Anchorage

The Governor's picnic in Anchorage today was well attended. These annual events have generally been non-partisan events in the past and I didn't quiz people about their affiliations or reasons for being there. And we didn't get there until the governor had already left. Not intentionally. We had friends of the kids over for brunch, so we got started late.

There were several government agencies prominently present, including the FBI, which had equipment available to test and a crime lab demonstration.

Some people clearly supported our governor.

Including the owner of the 55 Chevy in the old car display.

A LOT of people were there to eat. There were looong lines of people waiting for food/ You had to be a real Palin fan or very hungry or very patient to wait this long for a free hot dog or hamburger. But I didn't hear anyone grumbling about the lines.

And there was plenty for the kids to do. With the blogging discussions we've had about pictures of kids, I decided to try just blurring any faces that might be clearly identifiable.

Birthday Hike at Winner Creek

We met up and drove down to Girdwood where we first had lunch at the Bake Shop. There were eight of us so we had to take two cars.

The upside of two cars is we could leave one near Crow Creek Mine where the trail ends up. Here's the map of the trail which begins just behind the tram at the Alyeska Hotel. The sign is at the bottom of the red trail (if you double click any picture you can see it larger, and see where it says "You are here" on the map - also where the N sign is.)

They've put in a fair bit of board walk on the trail. Part of me doesn't like the idea, but I remember the first time I started out on this trail, probably in the mid 80s, it was all mud, so we really had to turn back, even with boots on.

Something like this, but it got worse.

Eventually you cross a bridge over the gorge.

Then a half- [.2] mile[s] later you get to the tram to cross over the next gorge.

While you could pull yourself across, having someone on either side pulling the rope for you really helps.

It's nice to still have non motorized machinery that functions as well as this pulley tram system.

Here's the trail sign just past the tram.

Here we're close to the Crow Creek Road where we parked the second car. Then we ferried a few people back to the other car and then back to get the rest who hiked down the Crow Creek Road.

After we got home, we then went off to our friends' house for home made long-life noodles.

And then the cake.

All in all it was a very nice triple birthday party.