Monday, August 31, 2009

More Mushrooms, Some Flowers, and the Garden Workers

I didn't count them, but there must be 100 mushrooms at least in the back yard, maybe 15 - 20 varieties. Can you tell we had some rain? But today was almost balmy by late August standards in Anchorage. T shirt weather. So, enjoy the pictures.

And these are my loyal garden workers
transforming our old leaves and kitchen
wastes (no meat, just raw vegies) into rich compost.
They just show up in the summer and start working.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sketching Out My Personal Political Blogger Guidelines

First, a disclaimer. I'm not claiming any moral high ground. I'm not saying anyone besides myself should follow these guidelines. I'm not saying this is complete or that there shouldn't be exceptions now and then.

Second, a WARNING: I am NOT an attorney and this is NOT a list of what is legal or illegal. Rather these are my guidelines for myself. With blogging and the easy availability of digital images and cutting and pasting, the law itself is evolving. It's being reinvented. But just like downloading audio, you may be breaking the law and you may find yourself in trouble. I'm going on the assumption that if I'm not doing this for profit, my intent is educational and informational, I'm reasonably fair and decent about how I treat people, and if I immediately respect requests to take down photos and videos that someone else owns, that my risk is pretty low. That said, it's also true that people have died doing low risk activities.

Third, I want to identify some of the common reasons why people have political blogs.
  1. To change people's ideas by
    a. offering facts about issues, candidates, etc.
    b. discussing logic of various political positions, philosophies, ideologies
    c. raising people's awareness of the underlying stories or narratives (or theories or whatever you want to call them) that shape the interpretation of events, to help people 1) begin to articulate their own stories 2) recognize others' 3) recognize how politicians and pundits attempt to sell stories that help their cause

  2. Inform, encourage, rouse those who share their perspective by
    a. giving them information about what is happening - news they might not get in the mainstream media (msm) about what politicians are doing, about investigations, about protests and other gatherings of interest
    b. showing them that there are others out there who share their views and that they can have an impact if they work together
    c. stirring up their anger and joy at events to get them more politically active
    d. supporting policies and politicians of their persuasion and attacking those they see as threatening the world as they know it or want it

  3. To Vent by
    using their blogs to release their emotions, to express those things that societal norms generally cause them to suppress

Most political bloggers do all three, though some spend more time on some than on others. And we could even get into what a 'political' blogger is. I think most people who talk about political blogs, really mean partisan blogs - blogs that support particular candidates, parties, or points of view, rather than blogs that deal with the distribution of power in society. But that's another post or two.

These guidelines are aimed at those bloggers who want to change people's ideas basically through logic and information; who recognize that democracy works because there is a free and honest attempt at solving differences through discussion. But I also recognize that emotions tend to trump logic when things get close to home, and that logic without emotion can be empty. (Sorry Data.) The public must also be able to distinguish between honest, well intended and dishonest, deceptive bloggers and all the flavors in between.

So here are some guidelines - incomplete for sure - that I try to follow when writing this blog.

1. Labeling/Name calling - Name calling tends to turn off the intellect and turn on the emotional defense team. Sometimes it is useful to name or label someone or some action as a way identifying it. Don Mitchell's calling Palin "a celebrity" rather than a politician is an example of trying to clarify the role she plays. But calling people nasty derogatory names, while causing the partisans to giggle, makes the open exchange of ideas that much harder. Extreme partisans on either side aren't likely to change their views, but there are lots of 'independents' who may shift when they see reasonable people consistently presenting useful information and ideas.

The Labeling - - Insulting continuum

Bloggers should be aware of the verbal tools they use. I'd propose a continuum of types of labeling. At the left end, the tool is useful to public discourse. As you move to the right they become less useful. Individual instances have to be evaluated in context.


A. Using names or labels to try to identify what someone is doing. This is like trying to figure out what class of plant some wild flower you just found belongs to. You look at the characteristics of the species in the field guide and then you see if the plant you found fits those characteristics. The more explanation for why the blogger thinks the label fits, the more useful the discussion.

B. Categorizing someone as this or that - often with mildly positive or negative connotations.

C. Using snarky labels that readers generally understand are tongue-in-cheek jabs at the target. If the target and shooter have a general respect for each other (minimally they acknowledge the other as having the best interests of the state/country at heart), the target is likely to take this as intended and to lob a barb back in the same vein. But if there isn't respect, such barbs are seen as partisan attacks based on irrational hatred. These can range from playful puns to mean spirited nasty terms lacking any wit at all.

A and B could be all over the continuum depending on things like
  • amount of evidence provided if any
  • level of wit and originality
  • tone and groundedness of the rest of the discussion (by groundedness I mean how well it seems to match the world people know. Facts help ground things for example.)

D. Using carefully thought-out Newspeak terms to intentionally poison the debate and demonize the target. While the left has done its share of finding terms with which to spin issues in their favor, the right has mastered the art of toxic framing - terms like 'feminazi' and campaigns like the swiftboat attack on John Kerry. This can amount to political assassination and set the mood for attempts at physical assassination. We're seeing this happen in the health care debate.

2. Corrections

  • It's ok to go back and correct typos that don't change the meaning.
  • If I make a factual error, I should strikeout the part I am replacing and put [brackets around the new part.]
  • Dating updates and corrections is most helpful.

3. Time Stamp

  • It's ok to change the automatic time stamp on posts to
    a. reflect more accurately when you really are posting [blogspot sets it to when you started writing, even if you don't post it for a week.] [Update 2/14/11 - Blogspot changed this a while back to date posts when you hit the publish post button.]
    b. to set the post to go up at a certain time when you think it is most appropriate
  • It's not ok to change the time to make people think you posted something earlier than you did - like a prediction of what is going to happen which you write after it happened, but time stamp so it appears as though you posted it before it happened.

4. Photos

Your own original photos - The main issue for me now is photos of people

1. Photos taken in private should not be posted without the permission of the subject of the photo. Minimally this means that the people know you have a blog and know you post pictures and know that you might post this photo you are taking of them, and they don't object. Preferably - so you don't incorrectly assume one of the above conditions - you would ask, "Is it ok if I post any of these pictures?" This also helps to maintain good relations with friends and family.

2. Photos taken in public.
People taking part in political or other demonstrations - These people are exercising their first amendment rights to free speech. They are trying to influence public policy. There should be no problem taking their pictures. There are some caveats:
  • Outing someone. If someone might face retribution if their action is publicized one has to weight the subject's responsibility and your own. I met someone across the street from an anti- prop. 8 demonstration. He said he was a teacher and it would do him serious harm if he were seen demonstrating. But he had already made the choice not to demonstrate. Not to publicly take part. Putting up his photo would have been a clear violation. However, when I took a picture of someone demonstrating - a close up of one person - his comments caused me to ask this person for her permission before posting it. The crowd shots, well, people decided to demonstrate in public. They should know there's a possibility of their pictures showing up somewhere.
  • Children. Basically, the same rules should apply, but with reason. The parents have allowed (presumably) the children to demonstrate publicly. If it is just one child in the picture, I'd probably not post it without at least verbal permission from the kid's parent. Under ten is touchier. I'm still not sure and I haven't found any guidelines that address this clearly. "Do no harm" should be the motto, and if you aren't sure your published photo will not cause harm, don't use it.
  • People just out in public doing their normal business. Crowd shots not a problem. If you've got someone clearly identifiable alone or with just one other person, it's nice to ask permission if you can. Photos of cars running red lights is fair game in my book.
  • Public officials or newsworthy folks - no problem. But personally, I'd feel uncomfortable shoving my camera into someone's face who doesn't want to be photographed. One day Judge Sedwick walked into the Federal Building lobby. I don't recall seeing any pictures of him anywhere. When I lifted up my camera, he clearly indicated his preference not to be photographed and I put down my camera. It didn't feel right. Nor did I take pictures of defendants in similar situations. I had no problem taking pictures of the photographers. I figure if they take other people's pictures, they have no basis for complaint if the tables are turned.
Some Fledgling Photo Principles:

1. Pictures should help tell the story. If Rev. Prevo buses lots of kids to demonstrate against gay rights, that's part of the story. If the picture is unrelated to telling the story no need to use it.

2. Pictures shouldn't cause people unfair harm. I know what it means, but I don't know how to give normal examples. Extreme examples are the fear that any picture of a child automatically exposes that child to potential kidnapping or other harm. Well, kidnappers can walk down the street and snatch kids without having to use your pictures to track them down. But if the kidnapper is caught with a picture from my blog. . . Someone who is at an event with a person who isn't the spouse, and the spouse sees the picture on your blog, well, sorry Charlie, you were out in public, how was I to know? If someone has just had some terrible thing happen to them, well, let them deal with it privately and don't post it if you think it will make things worse.

Balancing is not always easy. Pictures of auto crash victims or of war casualties may be painful to the next of kin of the individual, but they also tell a bigger story (community traffic fatalities, war) in a way that words almost never can. [Update: September 4: Here's a New York Times article that is precisely this dilemma.] Sometimes an important story [that informs the public] takes precedence. (And I'm sure there are times when the next of kin appreciate the attention.)

Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should. Someone who has to post a picture against someone's will just to prove their power to do it, well, that person has personal issues to resolve.

Other People's Photos

If it says permission required to use the photo, don't post it if you can't get the permission. Period. It's stealing. I can think of some great photos I didn't post because of this. (That sounds more certain than I actually feel. But I'm trying to live by that. And I expect others to respect my photos. See how we get more sensitive when it affects us too? The Golden Rule works.)

If it doesn't say anything about needing permission, or if it gives permission to anyone, use it, but identify the source and link back to the source. Sometimes it isn't so easy. What about a picture that some other blog took without permission. How do you know?

Back to no permission. If the picture itself is the story (was a picture of Palin holding Trig, but with Eddie Burke's face photoshopped over Trig's sacrilegious?) what should you do? I didn't show the picture, but linked to it. In other cases, I've taken my own picture of the picture, but I've used a bigger frame of reference to change the circumstances of the picture - on a poster on a wall or in a newspaper with print around it.

Or if you are going to make a political statement by spoofing the picture, you can doctor it so you are not simply using the picture but you have significantly changed it. But you should be doing this because you are making an important point, not because the picture will jazz up your post.

5. Movies 

Using bits of video to illustrate movie reviews. The posting of the video - short snippets as part of a review - seems to me to be no different from a book reviewer quoting from the book she's reviewing to make her points. Just as the reviewer can choose any citation for the review, a movie reviewer shouldn't be limited to the shots the film producer wants the reviewer to use. How one gets the video is another story. Theaters have the right to ban people from taking video in their theaters. Their biggest concern is not reviewers, but pirates trying to get video of first run movies to sell. I understand that in places like LA, technology that disables video cameras is being used in some theaters.

Another issue is that many film festivals prohibit any the film if even a part of it is online, so your video could disqualify the film maker, though I think this will become increasingly difficult to enforce fairly. [Update Nov. 28, 2009: I've learned that Festivals are lightening up on this because so much is now online.] Too much is up somewhere. This is a long topic that I can't do justice to here, but I did want to raise it.

YouTube and other posted video that has an embed code (code that when placed on a blog or website, essentially posts the video) is fair game. Credit and links should be included.

6. Other Issues - There are plenty of other issues such as not knowingly writing falsehoods, not 'unknowingly' writing falsehoods because you didn't check the truth of reports, etc. I take those things as so obvious, and fairly well debated, that I haven't included them here. There's also probably a good discussion to be had about how long the snippets are that you repost from another blog or website. And again, credit and links are mandatory in my book. And I haven't even gotten to the subject of commenters and how to handle them. Though I have talked about that extensively here and here.

Concluding Comments

All this said, blogging is an experiment that shouldn't be hampered by rules. (OK, Steve, what if someone is copying your photos and selling them? Now that's pretty hypothetical, but yeah, there should be a rule against that. So no, I'm not 100% on any of this. And as new situations surface, I'll probably have to adjust my positions to accommodate them.)

My underlying issue is the impact on the open public discourse necessary for a democracy to work. Blogs are available to everyone with a computer and internet and, because of Google, easy to find by readers. Unlike traditional print media, radio, and television, everyone can play. Thus my no-rules preference. Let's see, for a while whether the openness of blogging means that 'bad' blogs will be exposed by other bloggers better than externally imposed rules. Except for stealing photos. :)

So these are my personal guidelines. They've emerged through my blogging and reflect situations I've come up against and my values and intent. I'm writing them down so readers here can understand how I try to make these decisions. And maybe people can help me think through these things.

Ultimately it is a constant tension for me among
  • striving for a version of the truth that is as grounded as possible
  • doing as much good and as little harm as possible
  • making time for my non-blogging life.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Having a Television - Kennedy Funeral

Our television is a Sony we got so our son could watch Sesame Street when he was a year old. He turned 35 this year. It's tiny and we don't watch it much. We did get a converter box which has improved reception for the stations we can get.

But today it was useful to have to watch the funeral service of Ted Kennedy. I've been a bit surprised by the amount of coverage in the media on his death. Being the last of the Kennedy Dynasty of his generation certainly played a role. But there's more. He was born into privilege to an outsider family in some ways. His family fortune came through less than scrupulous means. And his family was Catholic among a Protestant aristocracy. There was a great family togetherness, and lots of family tragedy. As the youngest son it took him a while to gain his place. What he's done post Chappaquiddick should give us all pause about how we judge and punish people. We all do stupid things, sometimes those stupid things have serious consequences. Did Kennedy get special treatment after that? Probably. Would his family and the nation have been better off he was punished officially? Perhaps all those in similar situations should be given the same opportunity to make amends. Restitution, not retribution, is practiced in some cultures. I don't know. I do know life is complicated and often good comes from bad and vice versa. Anyway, here are some pictures from a 34 year old television.

The Effect of Flowers

Some things you know work, even if you don't understand why. Flowers work.

So after getting Snow Leopard at MacHaus and a book on Anchorage place names at Title Wave, I stopped by Evalyn's Flowers before coming home. It was rainy and I knew a little color in the house would go a long way.

Men, even if you don't know why, just bring home some flowers now and then. It's in your best interest. And try to support locally owned florists like Evalyn's. They'll notice that you were there, but Fred Meyer's won't.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Name the 8th Continent in the World

[Update Feb 17, 2017: A flurry of hits to this post today alerted me to the announcement of a new continent called Zealandia that was announced by scientists.  From
". . . if the reports are to be believed, scientists have discovered a new, eighth continent on earth and they are calling it Zealandia. Located to the east of Australia, a team of 11 geologists found 5 million square kilometre land mass which includes part of New Zealand and New Caledonia. At 4.9 million square kilometres, Zealandia is touted to be Earth’s smallest continent with Asia as the largest continent." 
There's also, apparently, a video game app called Eighth Continent.]

An editorial in the NY Times tells us:
Until recently, the earth had seven continents. To that number, humans have added an eighth — an amorphous, floating mass of waste plastic trapped in a gyre of currents in the north Pacific, between Hawaii and Japan. Researchers have estimated that this garbage patch may contain as much as 100 million tons of plastic debris and is perhaps twice the size of Texas, if not larger.
[Map from via Buffalo Readings]

Well, first try to name the other seven continents (five are on the map if you need help.) Go ahead, write them down. 30 seconds should suffice. This seems pretty basic, but I suspect not everyone can do this. (Well, maybe What Do I Know? readers can :) ) When I double checked at Wikipedia, one had been rechristened since I looked last, but we'll count the old name if that's what you had.

Then, come up with a name for this new continent that the editorial says is
  • trapping as many as a million seabirds every year
  • trapping some 100,000 marine mammals
  • breaking down faster than expected and apparently releasing contaminants, including potentially harmful styrene compounds not normally found in nature.
The trash island isn't a new story, it's the breaking down of the chemicals that brought it up again.

[Trash picture from Cheney's blog at thelaughingplanet. I'm not sure this is really the island.]

Think about this picture every time you're about to buy something packaged in plastic or even made of plastic. Do you need to buy it? If you must and have no non-plastic option, let the store manager and the manufacturer know you'd like an alternative.

Wild Alaska salmon anyone? This is all happening in the north Pacific. But there's enough for the rest of the world too, so don't worry. Bring on Pebble and we can have even more unique flavors in our fish.

So, what should this new continent be called? According to Buffalo Readings, it already had various names two years ago such as:
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
  • North Pacific Gyre
  • Eastern Garbage Patch
  • Pacific Trash Vortex
But none of these seem to have the gravitas needed for a continent.

Record your nomination here so you can document that you thought of it first.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Birds and the House

This afternoon a black capped chickadee flew into our bedroom through this window, flew around a bit, and then out. I didn't actually see it myself, but I heard my wife's "there's a big spider" gasp and when I got there it was already gone.

Last week, while I was sitting here blogging, a nuthatch flew in between the window and screen of our living room window. The window was just barely open and it was fluttering around. I was able to open the window further and it flew off. This window is just below the one that a Northern Hawk Owl smashed into last fall. He dropped onto the driveway and I thought he was dead. But he moved, I got my camera, and video taped him getting up and flying off. You can see it at the link. No time for the camera in these recent encounters.

These are rather special moments, but a little strange. A few weeks ago a guest and I were having lunch on the deck when three nuthatches flew up to us. One landed on the table next to the guest's plate and one hovered over his chest while the third landed on him briefly.

As I was writing this I heard a noise on the deck. A Steller (NOT StellAr) Jay was checking out the flower box, and then came within a couple feet of me.

I don't know what it means. As long as Alfred Hitchcock doesn't show up, I'm ok.

Video from KJEveryday:

Leadership Anchorage

The Alaska Humanities Forum has a program called Leadership Anchorage which takes about 15 or 20 people each year and runs them through a series of workshops designed to improve their leadership skills. The intent is to take people who could play an important role in the future of Anchorage and Alaska (and beyond, of course) and help them develop the skills they need.

Applications are on line.

Most of us tend to play to the skills we have and use them to compensate for areas that aren't so developed. Leadership Anchorage helps people work on those often underdeveloped skills that we'd rather not use as well as the obvious talents.

I've known people in the program since it started. The mix in each year's group is amazing. There's an ethnic mix, a talent mix, and an age and experience mix. There are usually people few people know about and there are a few people in fairly high positions already. Here are some of the people who have gone through the program over the years:

  • Janie Leask, First Alaskans Institute
  • Nils Andreassen, Institute of the North
  • Liz Posey Urban League of Young Professionals
  • Bill Wielechowski, Alaska State Senate
  • Guadalupe Marroquin, (she worked in the Clerk's Office and spared no effort to overcome my fax problems so I could vote in the Muni election from Thailand.)
  • Macon Roberts, Anchorage School Board
  • Angelina Estrada Burney, State of Alaska
  • Erick Cordero Giorgana, Matsu School Board

I'm not giving you a lot of notice here - the deadline for the application is tomorrow. But I bet you could send in a partial application and get the rest in by Monday. (I'm not making the rules, so you better ask first.) And if you can't get your stuff together for this year, you might want to tuck it into your brain as something to prepare for for next year.

This is the 2009-2010 Group

I've posted on this before. It's not free, but it is a great opportunity. And there are some scholarships. There's a fair amount of work you have to do, but it is designed with busy people in mind. Everyone is in the same boat. Here's the schedule for the coming year from the website:

Leadership Anchorage Logo
Fall 2009 - Spring 2010 Training Schedule
Retreat: October 9 and 10, 2009 (Friday and Saturday, overnight)*
Training 2: October 17, 2009 (Saturday) Group Project Selection
Training 3 November 5, 2009 (Thursday) Mentor Training*
Training 4: November 21, 2009 (Saturday)
Training 5: December 10, 2009 (Thursday)*
Training 6: January 23, 2010 (Saturday)
Training 7: February 11, 2010 (Thursday)*
Training 8: March 13, 2010 (Saturday)
Training 9: April 10, 2010 (Saturday)
Training 10: May 1, 2010 (Saturday)*
Graduation: May 18, 2010 (Tuesday, 6:00-8:00 p.m.)

* You are expected to make arrangements to be absent from work on these days.
With the exception of the Retreat, the trainings will begin at 8:30 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m. The retreat will involve an overnight Friday night.

You can see you'll spend some intense time with the group, which means you'll develop some important bonds with Anchorage's future leaders.

The Director, Jim MacKenzie, was a student of mine and is really smart and really well organized, not to mention totally obsessed about making this the best experience the participants have ever had. He lived in Japan for nine years and when he returned to Anchorage he worked as a translator for the Japanese Consul in Anchorage. He's got lots of good stories. He's the guy in the front, right in the picture with the red tie.

Christian Support for Gay Rights

I used to wonder why Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam were attractive to many people in the US and why people in China and Korea were attracted to Christianity. My hypothesis is that when we grow up in a particular religion we see how many of the people profess their faith at the place of worship, but don't live it in their lives. We see people using religious functions to show off their new clothes and use religious rites of passage as a way to compete to see who can throw the most extravagant party. We also learn that some of the religious leaders aren't as perfect as we thought and we learn about cases of financial frauds and sexual abuse among clergy and many people are turned off by that.

But when we get to know an 'exotic' religion, we tend to learn about it more abstractly. We learn about the ideals, the principles, the definitions of good behavior, etc. Long distance, we see other religions in their best light, we don't see the actual practice of it by imperfect human beings.

In any case, yesterday, I read an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News entitled, "Prevo is wasting resources fighting gays". Geneva Walters wrote:

I am a heterosexual, conservative, Christian woman and am not threatened by two men or women who love each other and wish to live together and live an openly gay lifestyle. Furthermore, I am horrified at the thought that they would be denied fundamental civil rights based on their sexuality. . .
Then she lists her Christian bona fides
I believe in a triune God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I believe that God created the earth and man in 6 days and rested on the 7th. (However, I do believe that dinosaurs did, in fact, roam the earth, a very long, long, time ago.) I believe in the deity of Christ Jesus, that He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified on a cross, died, and rose again on the third day. I believe that He ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty.
Then her conservative bona fides:
As far as the term "Conservative" goes, I wait patiently each week for Ann Coulter's column, I am a staunch defender of the rights of the unborn, and the only problem I have with the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is that we didn't go in sooner.
When I first read it, I was quite surprised, but pleased. But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I became. The letter was written in a very reasonable and rational tone. How could someone like that be an Ann Coulter fan? Was this really some liberal posing as a conservative?

I could just post my suspicions, but I really didn't have enough to go on and I could be totally wrong. And I wouldn't want to raise doubts about what, on the surface, was the kind of conservative we need more of.

I would also note that sometimes people write of an opposing political persuasion, "Why do you only concentrate on issues on our side? You never talk about problems that you guys have." On the one hand that's a valid point. But on the other hand, why should conservatives give liberals free fodder and vice versa? Each side should get the dirt on the other side and they have no obligation to serve up juicy stories about their own heroes. But on the other hand, a balanced source of information ought to give praise when it is due and criticism when it is due. If this article in the Daily News is a fake, wouldn't it be better if a progressive blog said so first?

I don't think there are any easy answers to those questions. If my side is wrong, I should acknowledge that. If I find a story about people I support which may tarnish them, but ultimately isn't a big deal, why should I post it? And I might not post something about people I don't support if it's only outcome would be to hurt them personally. It's not easy to figure this all out, and I reserve the right to make mistakes.

In this case, I emailed my questions to the author of the piece. And she responded in a way that put my questions to rest. (I did tell her I was a blogger and that I wouldn't put up anything from her if she didn't want me to, but that if she said OK, she didn't have approval rights. She had no problem with that and said ok.)

Essentially she said, "Hey look, people aren't black or white. Just cause someone has certain characteristics doesn't mean she's a certain 'type' and that you can predict everything else about her."

It's so easy to place someone in a box because they hold a certain viewpoint and not allow them to express their opinion on an issue by issue basis. As long as America is content with a two party political system, we will continue to place people on one side or the other. We don't bother to try and understand them, it's just easier to dismiss them as Liberal or Conservative. It's silly to me, it's like we're all lining up for a game of Red Rover. While I may be pro-life, I'm quite liberal when it comes to environmental issues. Believe it or not, I have a few gay friends that are pro-life and a bit "Hawkish" when it comes to national defense.
I believe it. She goes on:

There were really two issues that were weighing heavy on my conscience. One of course was the issue of gay rights. I have several gay friends and colleagues and have been given an opportunity to interact with them and seek to understand what they are really fighting for. I don't pretend to understand all of the aspects to the gay rights movement, after all, I'm not gay. I just refuse to deny them their basic rights or allow other Christians to speak for me on this issue. The response I have received has been overwhelmingly positive and much of that response has been from Christians who have basically said "thank you for saying what I've been feeling for a long time." It's also worth pointing out that not all Christians are from the "main-stream evangelical" or "fundamentalist" background which is pervasive with legalistic rule following. I am a product of the Christian Reformed faith and differ on many points with fundamentalists (Baptists).
There's lots in that paragraph.

  1. She has gay friends and so she's had a source of information on this topic that is different from the church. Besides some Christian churches are taking stances in favor of gay rights.

  2. She's trying to take back the label Christian, or at least not let one group claim to be the only true Christians and the only people who can speak as Christians. I had to go look up Christian Reformed and I'm still not sure I got it right. I did find this on Religionfacts:
    Presbyterian and Reformed churches share a common origin in the 16th-century Swiss Reformation and the teachings of John Calvin."
    They aren't listed in many comparisons of Protestant groups such as this page at ReligiousTolerance, on Divisions within Protestant Christianity. (Beware, I found one point that seemed to be in serious error. Their chart says that Conservative Christians favor "Special rights for heterosexuals; e.g. marriage" which would seem a rather major error.)

    My point here was to try to figure out whether her religious background would have any credibility at all with Fundamentalists. I have no idea.

I'm also glad to hear about the positive response she got to the piece. But all groups can be nasty when one of their own speaks out like this publicly. So day two might not be as positive. But I guess it depends on where, actually, the Reformed Christians fit in the liberal - conservative continuum. Finally, she wrote:

The second issue was the homeless. It breaks my heart to see these folks on street corners and living in our parks. We could do so much more for them. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I saw the correlation between these two issues.

Steven, I grew up in a Christian home and can honestly never remember discussing the "gay" issue. I never saw my parents attempt to address this issue on behalf of the church. Instead, I remember my parents, and the other members of the church, taking over our kitchen on Sunday afternoons to make sandwiches for the Brother Francis Shelter. This was the image of the Christian faith that I grew up with, not the finger wagging and shallow platitudes that are handed down from the pulpit in many modern churches
So, from what I can tell, she's a genuine Christian and she's conservative on the issue that Christian conservatives made pivotal - abortion. And conservative Christians are getting more concerned about the environment.

So, it appears that this was the real thing. A believing Christian who doesn't want the Jerry Prevos speaking on behalf of all Christians. She sounds a lot more like my vision of what a Christian sounds like.

I've been trying to tell some of my progressive buddies that we shouldn't look at all the 'conservative Christians' as a monolith. Just as we aren't all the same. And if we talk to each other with respect and decency, they are more likely to approach us when the time is right. Geneva, thanks for standing up for your convictions - both the ones I agree with and the ones I question. You still need to explain Ann Coulter to me, but it sounds like we can have that discussion.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ride To Bird Creek

Sometimes it's easy to get stuck in town, especially when you try to use the bike instead of the car. But this evening we decided to take a 'short trip to Alaska,' so we drove out of Anchorage down to Bird Creek. And here is where the rain had been hiding. But soon there was a faint rainbow over the mudflats.

It had been threatening to rain all day, but the sun managed to find the holes in the clouds most of the time. But down here it let loose. There's a hint of a rainbow in this picture of Turnagain Arm.

Here's a picture of the mudflats.

To make more sense out of the previous picture, here it is with the mountains to give it some context.

Mudflats at the mouth of birdcreek, with a run of salmon coming in.

There's a street off the Seward Highway at Bird Creek with this street sign. Problem is, the jay
is named after the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller who discovered them in 1741 (Evans 1986).(wikipedia
(from Wikipedia)
On the one hand you could say just leave it. But it has nothing to do with the stars, it's about Georg Wilhelm Steller. If you leave it, people will see it and think it should be spelled this way.

It smelled pretty bad here as there was a fair amount of rotting salmon waiting for the gulls to clean them up.

Now we're on the boardwalk at Potter Marsh.

We saw the swans as we drove along the Marsh. The belted kingfisher (sorry, but real birders will recognize it from this shot) was there briefly. The bald eagle's been there all summer at a next. I took this through someone's spotting scope.

It really wasn't this dark, but my choice was to make the foreground dark or wipe out the sky.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And the Lucky Winner Is . . .

Bonsai-Jay from San Antonio, Texas. He was the 123,456th visitor. I asked if he could send a picture and he sent this bonzai ficus. I'm totally in awe of his bonsai prowess. It's a good thing all he can see of my yard are close up pictures of flowers and not the rest.

He writes:
My name is Bonsai-Jay. I live in San Antonio, Texas. I stop by you blog at least 3 or 4 times a week. As my screen name suggests, I am a Bonsai Enthusiast [and I work as] an Information Systems Administrator. I used to live in Alaska back in 1980-82. Anchorage most of the time. I worked/lived in Whitter one summer break from college. Gee those were the days.

Here's his sitemeter visitor profile. I'm posting this with his permission, in part to show the 123,456 was from San Antonio and also because I think everyone should be aware of what tracks they leave behind at websites they visit. In the interest of transparency, I've always left my sitemeter open to anyone to poke around. Just click on the number - the one below the word Sitemeter in the lower part of the right column. (Not the 123,456 near the top. A couple people saw that and thought they'd won, until they looked a little closer.)

I'm now working on a prize. I'll let you know what he gets after he's received it. He's given me some ideas.

Norma Jean from Michigan was 123,457 - a first time visitor to the site.

Marge, also from Michigan, checked to see if she was the winner, not sure exactly what number she was. Someone from Topeka, Kansas was 123,454. And someone from Houston was 123,455. Texas, not Alaska.

I'm not exactly sure what Jody from Mississippi's number was. She wrote:
I was born in Alaska in the early sixties. My father was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force base. We lived there for a few years when I was small until my father was sent to his next assignment (Vietnam). I love Anchorage and all things Alaskan. My husband and I flew to Anchorage several years ago and visited Anchorage and Juneau and went salmon fishing. It was a wonderful trip.

I read several Alaskan blogs and the Alaskan Daily News every day. Your state is fascinating. I appreciate the work and effort you put into your posts. They are always interesting.
It's nice to hear from people who have been to the blog. There are a couple of other regulars who stop by who might like to send an email like the person from Volin, South Dakota, or the person from in DC (you were 123,458!), or the person from Liege with Linux. Come out from behind the curtain and say hello. Or not.

Again, thanks to everyone who has visited and moved the counter up, now already closing in on 124,000 as I write this. The numbers really aren't that important, but knowing that people do read the blog does keep me much more careful about what I say and how I say it.

[Update:  Click here for a picture of the prizes. ]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spam Blog?

I got the following email today:


Your blog at: has been
identified as a potential spam blog. To correct this, please request
a review by filling out the form at

Your blog will be deleted in 20 days if it isn't reviewed, and your
readers will see a warning page during this time. After we receive
your request, we'll review your blog and unlock it within two
business days. Once we have reviewed and determined your blog is not
spam, the blog will be unlocked and the message in your Blogger
dashboard will no longer be displayed. If this blog doesn't belong to
you, you don't have to do anything, and any other blogs you may have
won't be affected.

We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam
detection is inherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog like yours is
flagged incorrectly. We sincerely apologize for this error. By using
this kind of system, however, we can dedicate more storage,
bandwidth, and engineering resources to bloggers like you instead of
to spammers. For more information, please see Blogger Help:

Thank you for your understanding and for your help with our
spam-fighting efforts.


The Blogger Team

P.S. Just one more reminder: Unless you request a review, your blog
will be deleted in 20 days. Click this link to request the review:

[The above copied as an html table and on my computer the right side is cut off. But I think you can get the gist without have to read every word so I don't think it is worth the time to fix it.]

Of course I was suspicious that this was just a phishing scam. In fact, a google bot had been by twice today looking up phishing scam on my blog. But I figured I could follow the link and see where it took me. If it was phishing, it was far more sophisticated and grammatically correct than most I get.

That led me to this page:

It looked to be a real blogger site, it didn't ask for any information, it already had my email, so I've sent it in.

So, if I disappear, this is why. Hopefully their systems work and I won't disappear. But I do now have to put in word verification to post on my own blog.

Julie & Julia is a Blogging Movie

I almost didn't go. Listening to Julia Child on television was like listening to fingernails on the blackboard for me. Fortunately, Meryl Streep's version of Julia Child didn't quite capture her voice.

I thought it was going to be a movie about cooking, but it was really (you know I almost never say what things are 'really' because I know we each take our own meaning from things, but in this case it really - tongue firmly in cheek -) is about blogging. This is the first mainstream Hollywood movie that I recall that is about a blogger blogging from the beginning to the end. (OK, I know people will suggest three or four others. Sleepless in Seattle [You've Got Mail, thanks SCWG] was about AOL mail. And email has played a role in a lot of movies. But blogging being a central activity?)

I did know about the blog, and I even visited it a couple of times, but I didn't think the movie would spend as much time on her blogging as it did on her cooking. And it resonated here - especially when her husband told her she was way more wrapped up in the blog and than in him. J and I both laughed. That kind of laugh where hers means 'gotcha' and mine means 'guilty.'

Damn, she worked a full time job, took the subway home, shopped for dinner, cooked one, two, or three of Julia Child's recipes, blogged, and started over again the next day. Ahh, to be young again.

Bloggers out there, go see this movie - with your spouse or significant other. Eat before you go though.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sometime Soon

[UPDATE August 23, 2009: There was a winner who got to the site at 6:04pm tonight. He's identified himself and when I get permissions, I'll announce more. We also have to figure out an appropriate prize. Thanks to all who have moved the numbers up.]

Visitor number 123,456 will visit this site. It could be you. I have a prize for you if you are that visitor. But you have to identify yourself. The sitemeter number is in the right hand column after "About Me" and before "Labels." I can't tell your email address, so you'll have to email me to claim your prize.

If the 123,456th visitor isn't identifiable, the closest (to 123,456) identifiable visitor will win. So even if your close, keep track of your number and
email me

What's the prize? Depends on who you are and where you are. You'll have to tell me a little about yourself so I can figure out something from here you might like.

Oh yes, the last time, some people said they tried to win by coming back to the site over and over. But as I understand it, sitemeter doesn't record you if you come back from the same isp within a short time period. I'm not trying to boost hits, just to note a milestone of sorts.

See more at the top of the right column.

Phoebe Greenough and Breaking Ground at Out North

We went to Out North last night to see dancers. The blurb said
Breaking Ground sprung up during a dinner conversation between Becky, Therese and I. [It hurts to write that on my blog - it should be "between Becky, Therese and me." Maybe I'll explain why in another post one day. In the meantime you can go to the link to find out why.] Our goal was to find a way to bring together artists and dancers in the community and give them the opportunity to produce and try out new ideas...

We knew that things might be a little crowded because of all the cars parked on the street and we were early even. I'd read that there would be about 10 five minute pieces by different people. So, the cars might just be those of all the performers.

There was also an art exhibit in the gallery, so we looked around.

While I wasn't excited about everything, there were some pieces - and parts of pieces - that felt good on my eyes.

When we went into the theater it was packed and we got seats way in back. Good strategy - lots of local performers means lots of friends and family who come to see them. Enough to fill up a small theater.

"Breaking Ground" means doing new stuff, so I was expecting to see something new. Maybe it meant new for the dancers rather than for Anchorage or for dancing. At least that went through my mind for the first couple of dancers. This caused me to think about how one should evaluate dancing, especially ground breaking dancing. (One could debate whether we should evaluate at all, but that too is a different post. I would note that someone this week mentioned a workshop she attended on non-violent communication which has as a main starting point, getting rid of judgmental language. When I read the book, I'll do more on that.)

Picture taking was specifically banned during the performances so you get after-dance pictures here. In any case, as I watched the dancing, I thought about what would be 'good' in this case. Some of the dancers were pretty young and this is Anchorage, not New York City. I came up with two factors - was the dancing 'good' and was it 'new'? What's good dancing? For me, the dancer is dancing, not performing. The dancer is moving naturally, is not thinking ('ok, now step to the left and ready for the next leap"), but just flows naturally. The body has to be able to move right to the music. I forget where I am and just enjoy.

What's 'new'? Not being a dance expert who keeps up with the latest trends, I guess I can only judge what's new for me. And it seems to me that while there are an infinite number of moves human bodies can probably combine into a piece, coming up with something that no dancer has ever done before (and should do) is probably not easy.

So I was ready to settle for 'good' and not worry about 'new'. I liked 'ChitChat' by Michelle "Shimmy Shoes" Steffens because it broke from what I'd call the ice skating routine type dancing to music of the first pieces. She started out seated, tying her shoes, then tapped while sitting, got up and tapped around. The only music was her shoes until she got the audience involved in a routine of foot tapping, finger snapping, more tapping, and two claps. It was different and it involved the audience actively in the dance. I liked it. J wasn't moved by it though. And she knows a lot more about dancing than I do.

But things changed radically when Krista Katalenich and Felix Bambury Webbe took the stage. Forget all the criteria - you know good dancing when you see it. They were there and I just enjoyed how they moved alone and then came together and then alone. It worked. They were somewhere else with the music, not on stage in front of an audience. We got to talk to them a bit afterward. They live in Fairbanks. Felix, who's from Cuba, has been there for two years and teaches Afro-Cuban (I think that's what he said) dancing. Krista is a student at UAF and at Felix's dance school.

The last piece was eleven dancers swinging to Swingset by Jourrasic 5. It was an ambitious piece with couples dancing, splitting, regrouping, moving here and there across the stage, and with choreographer and dancer Rick Ruiz lip-synching.
You really should go to the video. The cool thing is that what they did on stage was way better than what happens in the video. Rick is in the picture with the other 'director' of the piece - Dorthy Fredenberg. The group will be performing at the State Fair and there's something else coming up in Anchorage, but I forgot what. Maybe Rick will tell us in a comment. Below he's telling us how the idea for the choreography came to him.

The group is called Swingset Hooligans.