Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad - Goodbye Sylvia

Today's my dad's birthday. He'd be 98 if he were still alive. He was born into a totally different world. Before electricity, cars, airplanes had taken over the world. His father was a wine merchant who would travel around Europe filling up people's wine cellars. He lived through WW I in Germany, often hungry. Then, without going anywhere, he landed in pre-Nazi Germany. He was lucky. He had an aunt in Chicago, a sister of my grandmother, who sponsored him to come to the United States. After several years of working on this, he arrived in 1934. By the time the US got into WW II, my father was a citizen and in the army. He got a good break, not sure why, and was stationed in Key West, Florida. So my mom, whom he'd just married, could go along.

After the war they moved back to Chicago and then to LA where my mother's brother had ended up. But the marriage between two German Jewish refugees didn't work out. But they maintained very amiable relations for the rest of his life and I stayed with my dad many weekends as I was growing up. When we were together, his time was totally spent on me and we had a lot of great adventures, especially when we went off for two weeks in the summer. He introduced me to so many things that are still important parts of my life - the outdoors, foreign films, art, theater, critical thinking, to name a few.

He's been gone 21 years now. And tonight, as we are getting ready to go visit my mom in LA, we learned that another close family friend (relative through marriage on my wife's side) died in her 90s. You can't be surprised when someone dies in their 90's and logically you can't be too upset. But it still tears a hole in your soul when anyone important in your life dies. Sylvia had a good and rich life til the end. She was bright and caring and alert and someone I always looked forward to seeing. I did stop by and visit her and Mose on my last trip to LA. I'd been hoping to see her again this trip.

I've got a little more to do before going to bed and taking off tomorrow. If all goes well, we'll get to visit with our daughter for a couple of hours at Seatac.

A Fast Day

[This is one of those posts that took on a life of its own as a quick check on the Gates of Repentance prayerbook, turned out to be not so quick.]

Yom Kippur, starting at sun down until sun down, is a fast day. No food, no water, if you are really observant, no bathing even. For ten days, since Rosh Hashanah, when God is supposed to write people's names in the book of life for next year (or not), until today, when it is sealed, there is still time to appeal to be written in the book of life.

On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
on Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be,
who shall live and who shall die;
who shall see ripe age and who shall not;
who shall perish by fire and who by water;
who by sword and who by beast;
who by hunger and who by thirst;
who by earthquake and who by plague;
who by strangling and who by stoning;
who shall be secure and who shall be driven;
who shall be tranquil and who shall be troubled;
who shall be poor and who shall be rich;
who shall be humbled and who exalted. (p. 313)
If I take the idea of God as a metaphor and such passages as the one above as an allegory, then I can handle this all as a reminder to look into my soul and check on how well I'm doing.

And there is a lot that connects directly with the world today:
Today let us remember the earth's oppressed;
let us restore their human heritage
to the victims of torture,
the weak and the weary,
all who are imprisoned without caue.
Let us remember them,
bring peace to every home,
and comfort to eery heart. (p445)
I think about the kind of teaching people are getting at the religious services where the leader lashes out hate at people who act and think differently than the congregants. In contrast, at our service we are constantly reminded to look into ourselves to root out our own transgressions and to be more loving toward others.

Here's Lynn reading the Hebrew in Braille.

Quotations are from Gates of Repentance, 1978. These are really old prayer books and our rabbis, for years, have been substituting non-sexist language and less royal terminology ('king' and 'lord' being replaced with 'adonai' or 'God') for years. When I googled Gates of Repentance the book publishers/sellers didn't list publication dates but there is a 'gender inclusive' edition mentioned. But finding any sites that talked about the history (or future) of the prayerbook is hard.

Here, Rabbi Barry H. Block, in a 2005 sermon, discussed the need for new regular Sabbath prayerbooks as well as new High Holiday prayer books. After saying that a new regular prayer book was expected in 2006, he wrote:
For those who are wondering, to my knowledge, nobody is contemplating a replacement of Gates of Repentance, our High Holy Day prayerbook.
You can read a brief biography of Chaim Stern, who edited Gates of Repentance. And as I keep looking, here's his NY Times obituary in 2001.

As I was searching, I noticed a number of synagogues require you to bring your own copy of the prayer book. Here's from the Cleveland area's Temple Israel Ner Tamid's website:
High Holy Days 5770 - 2009 High Holy Days Services

Our temple uses the Gates of Repentance prayer book. Please remember to bring your own. Copies are available for sale before the High Holy Days in the Temple Israel Ner Tamid office.

Fortunately, in Anchorage we don't don't have to bring our own prayer books, nor do we have to buy tickets for the High Holy Days like most congregations.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Brown Bug

This critter was downstairs yesterday caught in a plastic cover. I thought it was quite handsome in its black and tan outfit.

I took this picture of the squash seed so you could see how small the beetle was.

Update March 31, 2010:  Thanks to Anon's comment today, I now know this is a larder beetle.  That allowed me to find this description (well there's more on the Iowa State University Department of Entomology site):

Larder Beetle

The larder beetle is a very common and widespread household insect pest.  The insect's name comes from it's presence in dried, cured meats stored at room temperature prior to refrigeration.  Today, larder beetles may be a pest in stored foods and other items of high protein content.  Larder beetles outdoors are valuable “recyclers” that play an important role in the breakdown and recycling of animal protein.
The larder beetle adult is slightly longer than 1/4th inch.  It is roundly oval and dark brown to black with a characteristic light colored band running across the body.   This light band contains 6 more or less prominent dark spots.  Larder beetle larvae are up to 1/2 inch long.  They are tapered in shape and covered with sparse, stiff hair.   There are 2 upward curved spines on the posterior end.
 They have a larvae picture as well there.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Max Blumenthal at University of Alaska Anchorage

Blumenthal adds pyschology into the analysis of the far right Christians in his book Republican Gomorrah. Last night he spoke about the book to a receptive audience in the art building at UAA.

He began talking about President Eisenhower's letter to a soldier who'd written to him. I'll just quote directly from his book, Republican Gomorrah:

[Eisenhower's] experience in Europe had taught him that the rise of extreme movements could be explained only by the psychological yearnings and social needs of their supporters. He understood that these movements were not unique to any place or time. Authoritarianism could take root anywhere even in America. Eisenhower did not believe that an American exceptionalism immunized the country against the spores of extremism.

...throughout his presidency, Eisenhower clung to a short book that informed his view of the danger of extremist movements. He referred to this book in the first televised presidential press conference ever, distributed it to his friends and top aides, and cited its wisdom to a terminally ill World War II veteran, Robert Biggs, who had written him a letter saying he "felt from your recent speeches the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty. We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth."

Eisenhower could have tossed Biggs's missive in a heap of unread letters his secretary discarded each day, or he could have allowed a perfunctory and canned response, but he was eager for an opportunity to expound on his vision of the open society. "I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed," Eisenhower wrote Briggs on February 10, 1959. "Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life."(pp. 5-6)

The president then opined that free societies do not necessarily perpetuate freedom; many citizens would be far more comfortable under a structure that provides rigid order and certainty about all aspects of life. "The mental stress and burden which this form of government imposes has been particularly well recognized in a little book about which I have spoken on several occasions," Eisenhower wrote. "It is 'The True Believer,' by Eric Hoffer; you might find it of interest. In it, he points out that dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems - freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions."(p. 6)[emphasis added.]

For me, this is one of the more plausible narratives, one I've toyed with, though not in the depth Blumenthal has, to explain the angry shut minds that we've been seeing at anti-health care debates, on Fox News, etc.

From pop philosopher Eric Hoffer, Blumenthal goes to Erich Fromm, a German Jewish psychoanalyst and scholar, who fled Germany when the Nazis came to power and
. . .published Escape from Freedom, a book illuminating the danger of rising authoritarian movements with penetrating psychoanalytical insight.

Writing after the Nazis had overrun Europe but before the entrance of the United States into World War II, Fromm warned, "there is no greater mistake and no graver danger than not to see that in our own society we are faced with the same phenomenon that is fertile soil for the rise of Fascism anywhere: the insignificance and powerlessness of the individual." (p. 8) [emphasis added]

I've written on this blog and elsewhere that I felt that much of the anger we see these days stems with the frustrations of a rapidly changing and difficult-to-understand new world that leaves many people feeling powerless - particularly those who in the past had relatively stable and privileged positions in society.

Those who could not endure the vertiginous new social, political, and personal freedoms of the modern age, those who craved "security and a feeling of belonging and of being rooted somewhere" might be susceptible to the siren song of fascism. For the fascist, the struggle for a utopian future was more than politics and even war - it was an effort to attain salvation through self-medication. When radical extremists sought to cleanse society of sin and evil, what they really desired was the cleansing of their souls. (p. 8)

Blumenthal takes this premise as the jumping off point to examine the religious right, their leaders, and followers. He offers facts about the lives of the leaders and followers to show how they fit Fromm's model. A lot of people, scared by the choices of the modern world, reaching for father figures who explain the world in black and white, good and evil terms, and outline a path to a better worold.

Blumenthal is young, yet the talk - and I assume the book itself, which he outlined, and I've only skimmed - reveals a macro level understanding of American politics and society which he buttresses with lots of supporting details. We will hear a lot more from Blumenthal.

It's the kind of book that should be assigned reading for all people planning to attend a Teabagger event and all people who are thinking about attending a right wing Evangelical church service. Some are too far into denial to see themselves, but some are not so far gone that some flashes of light won't make it through to them. And there is also the danger of taken this as 'the truth' rather than as an explanation.

When a Town Hall is Not a Town Hall

I went to a so-called town hall meeting last night on health care reform. The first guy to speak from the audience began by saying something like, "You're a politician and there are three things I know about all politicians. First, you're a liar. . ." I think the second one was that Begich was a lapdog of the administration. And I don't think he ever got to the third thing. Then he said the first thing that needs to happen is tort reform.

Hello? Tort reform? How did tort reform become a populist issue? How is this guy affected by the lack of tort reform? He didn't say. I just know that tort reform is one of the rightwing's key issues and so I'm guessing this guy came pumped up by talk radio and Fox News. (He's the first guy on the video by the way if you want to see him.)

As the evening went by, an idea began to clarify in my brain. This isn't a town meeting. Town meetings happened in small towns where everyone knew each other. You knew all about everyone who spoke. You knew if they paid their bills, kept their house in good shape, if their kids were polite or wild, if they spent their spare time drinking or reading, if they were bullies or people who helped their neighbors, and probably if they beat their wives or not. But at these meetings, we have no context for judging the comments of others. We don't know if this is the guy who shoots up highway signs, dumps his trash on the side of the road, regularly drinks and drives, or whether this is someone who has grown up and takes responsibility for his actions.

Some people judge based on whether the person said something that is logical, reasonably thought out, and based on what we know to be facts or not. So, those people who yelled at Begich about being for single payer or for having his own special Senate health care plan - after Begich had already said two or three times that he was against single payer and that he was looking into opening the Federal Government health plan [he repeatedly said there was no special Senate plan] - didn't seem very together to logical thinkers.

Some people judge based on whether the person is for what they are for.

Some people just seemed angry and Begich would make a good target if they couldn't go after the person they were angry at, or if they couldn't figure out exactly what they were angry at.

Some people wanted to be counted as being for particular positions.

This was basically a meeting of strangers - though it turned out that three people right next to us were people we knew.

But just to be sure I wasn't acting off some long ago picked up myth about town halls, I did google around. I couldn't find much that actually answered my key question - how big were the towns that had town meetings and did everyone really know everyone? But here are a couple of indicators that I am headed in the right direction.

The Secretary of State for Massachusetts website has a whole page on town halls - they are still used in smaller towns.
How is it determined whether a town has an open Town Meeting or a representative Town Meeting?

Towns with fewer than 6,000 inhabitants must have an open Town Meeting. Towns with more than 6,000 inhabitants may adopt either form of Town Meeting at their discretion.

The Boston Globe had an article by Howard Frank Mosher about what a real town hall is like:

Come early to see folks drifting into the hall to greet old friends, eyeball enemies across the room, stash covered dishes in the kitchen for the big noon meal. About 9 a.m. the donnybrook begins. For the next three hours, neighbors who would never dream of not pulling one another's car out of ditches or cheering on one another's kids at Friday night basketball games will argue fiercely over paving roads, paying schoolteachers, zoning main streets, donating a few hundred bucks to the local senior center. Tempers flare. Fistfights are not unheard of. Many of the debaters -- and on this special day everyone is an orator -- detest each other. Yet no one is excluded, even the clan from Hatfield Hill or their blood enemies for five generations from McCoy Hollow.

At lunch, a temporary cease-fire is declared. Everyone seems ready for it. After all, it's hard to be too angry at someone who's enjoying your wife's baked beans laced with this year's maple syrup. Then the battle is rejoined until late afternoon when everyone goes home mad and grimly satisfied.

How would these town hall meetings go if when someone stood up to speak, we'd all get an instant background report on the person? Arrest record, conviction record, what his neighbors say about him, what his superiors, co-workers, subordinates at work say. How many times has he been married? How are his kids doing? What contributions does he make to his community, what volunteer work does he do?

Life's not easy for everyone, and I'm not judging them as people based on these criteria, but I do want to know how much weight we should put on their comments. Are these perennial complainers who never create anything of value? Or do they have a good record, but they have just now gotten fed up?

Absent a real town hall's familiarity with the people speaking, we can only judge by what they say and how they say it. I heard a few pretty belligerent folks making comments last night, people I wouldn't want to have to deal with on a regular basis. I don't think the meeting solved any of their problems. They got to vent a bit.

It would be really nice to have enough time to let them talk themselves out. For Begich to have been able to question them specifically about the claims they made and the bases for their anger about this program or that.

As it turned out, I would say the Fox news folks made up a sizable minority. When they cheered it was loud, but not that widespread. When the pro-health care reform people applauded, it seemed to come from a lot more people. That's just my sense of it and certainly not a scientific measure.

In some cases, I thought there was amazing balance. One high school student read a prepared piece on socialism about an econ teacher doing an experiment in 'socialism' by averaging everyone's grades and how the class eventually slid down to everyone getting F's. And why this showed how socialized health care was bad. It really stretched my patience listening to her. But the very next person explained that she was in a wheel chair because her family's private insurance refused her treatment until it was too late. She might only be telling us part of the story. But she did cite a law case. She said to look it up - I still have to do that. [It appears the Alaska Supreme Court turned her down in one case. and in the second. These cases are about a car accident, not sure how it relates to her wheel chair story. It goes to demonstrate that we really don't know the background of people and their reliability.]

Someone else claimed his health care hasn't gone up in price in ten years and that he hasn't been denied coverage though he's changed jobs, but his property taxes have doubled in that time period. (Maybe it's true because he doesn't have health insurance or because he's a veteran, Begich didn't ask what health plan he was on.)

But the next person was a woman who was happy for him, but she'd had cancer and was dropped for a preexisting condition by her private health insurer when she was unemployed for a week between jobs, even though it was the same insurance company.

Another person answered Begich's question about why so many veterans (1.3 million or so) did not claim their health insurance. He said he was a vet but he was self-sufficient and didn't want anything from the government. He didn't have health insurance and didn't need it. He was self sufficient.

But we know he's one of the people who we will all pay for if he does have a serious health problem. My son's overnight stay at the Stanford University Hospital after he was hit by a car in May was billed at $40,000! Fortunately, not only does my son have health insurance, but the driver was also insured. (We also learned through this that the hospital bill is just the beginning of a negotiation and that the insurance company will pay a lot less. But if you don't have attorneys on your side, you might not get the bill lowered.)

While I do believe that no massive change in policy can be done without loopholes, without someone slipping in a great benefit for their clients, and without immunity from human error or greed, that the health care system we currently have has to be changed and what Obama is trying to do will result in a better system than what we have.

So, yes, there are some legitimate issues for people to raise with the bill - both people from the left and the right. Small businesses have real concerns. Large business has real concerns. A part of General Motors' problems had to do with health care for retirees and current employees. Those are expenses GM's foreign competitors don't have to worry about because their employees are covered by national health care plans.

But I also heard people last night who were talking nonsense. Their issues were non-issues. Their research would appear to be Fox News.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mickey Belden Memorial Recital

There's lots happening. First we went to Bartlett High School for the health town hall with Sen. Mark Begich. I figure that will be well covered by others so I'll move on to the Mickey Belden Scholarship Fund Recital. It was a hard decision between the concert and the true diversity dinner. But since there were no tickets left for the dinner, the choice was a little easier.

Excerpted from Davebelden.com:
Mickey was a wonderful singer, inspired teacher to countless students, a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, and true friend. She took passionate interest in music, the arts and education. She was a voracious reader and water aerobics fanatic. We’ll miss her wry humor and her open approach to the people she met and to the challenges and opportunities she encountered.

Last night some of Anchorage's finest musicians paid tribute in a fund raising concert. You can see snippets of what you missed in the video. A variety of music from classical to musicals.

You should be able to figure out the music and musicians in the video from The Program:

Suite for three trombones ....................George Belden
Christopher Sweeney, Phil Munger, George Belden

Black Swan ................Giancarlo Menotti
No one is alone .........Stephen Sondheim
Lauren Green, soprano; Mari Hahn, piano

Send in the Clowns .....Stephen Sondheim
Julia Crossman, soprano; Janet Carr-Campbell, piano

Hébé ..............Ernest Chausson
Stasia Jamieson, soprano; Janet Carr-Campbell, piano

Violin Sonata, Op. 18............Richard Strauss
Walter Olivares, violin; timothy Smith, piano

Coming Home.................Arthur Sullivan
Kate Egan, soprano; Marlene Bateman, mezzo soprano,; Janet Carr-Campbell, piano

Smanie Implacabile ............W. A. Mozart
Katie Stevens, mezzo soprano;
Zawei Duette für Violine und Klarinette ...........Paul Hindemith
Mark Wolbers, clarinet; David Belden, violin

Gesang Weylas ..................Hugo Wolf
Marlene Bateman, mezzo soprano; Janet Carr-Campbell, piano

Take Me to the World ................Stephen Sondheim
Linda Porter, soprano;

Embraceable You ...................George Gershwin
I Get a Kick Out of You...........Cole Porter
Julia Crossman, soprano; Janet Carr-Campbell, piano

La Rosa y el Sauce .............Carlos Guastavina
Meditation (Thais) ............Jules Massenet
Walter Olivares, violin; Timothy Smith, piano

Do you love me? .........Jerry Bock
Mickey Belden, mezzo soprano; Michael More, tenor; Janet Carr-Campbell, piano (recording played with black stage)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Anchorage Crime Map

I got an email from my state representative Berta Gardner with a link to the community crime map of Anchorage. Actually, it turns out to be a US wide crime map, but you can focus in on Anchorage and even within 500 feet, .2 miles, .5 miles, 1 mile, and 2 miles around any selected address. And the map is pretty good - it even shows the road all the way up to Glen Alps.

Here's a screen shot I took of an area south of Tudor and Lake Otis.

The crime types tab (upper left) above shows you what all the icons represent. It would be nice if you could see that just by doing a mouse over.

You can check out each icon to get a pop up with the location (down to the block, not address).

It took me a while to figure out how to get rid of the pop up description of the crime - just hit the blue "Zoom in!"

The email said, in part,

Today APD announced that we can sign up for email updates. With this new tool, we will be able to see the types of crimes committed and in the exact locations.
The service is updated on a daily basis and is free.

Do I really want to know where all the crimes were reported every day? I'm not sure. I guess it's there if I want it and more information is generally better than less. Will this make us feel more safe? Or less safe? Not sure.

The Rogue Wave on Alaska Fishery Woes

I'm more and more impressed with the quality and variety of Alaska bloggers. The Rogue Wave, which has great waterscapes in its header, has a primer on Alaska Fisheries. Get it all at The Rogue Wave. It begins like this.

Catch Shares:
Look Back at Wake Before Plowing Ahead

Catch Share Programs in Alaska

American Fisheries Act

Most Americans are unaware that the biggest fishery on earth, Alaska pollock, is entirely privately owned. It is split between onshore (mostly Japanese owned) and offshore (mostly Norwegian owned) sectors. Japanese owners of onshore facilities petitioned Senator Ted Stevens to assign them the majority of the Total Allowable Catch on the argument it would save American jobs (Although the onshore workforce was, and continues to be, 90% foreign nationals). Offshore interests came to the table and Senator Stevens and his staff acted as facilitators in a negotiation to split the resource between on- and offshore sectors. Senator Stevens was well respected and considered an authority on fish issues. He was able to work around the public process in framing AFA to a large degree, due to a perceived need to save American jobs. [The rest here.]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sullivan's Unity Speaker Swann Paid Enough for One Muni Job

[Note: My condolences to the Mayor and his family on the death of his father, former Mayor George Sullivan. Sullivan senior embraced all people, loved life, and always had a twinkle in his eye.] [Note 2, Friday morning: Anon at 6:22 this morning commented that the ADN has a story on this which, in its final sentence says
Erkmann, the city spokeswoman, says Swann waived his speaking fee and that the state Republican party is paying for his visit.
That resolves one question raised here, and fortunately in a very positive way. As I said in my comment responding to Anon, I think it is one of our roles to raise these sorts of questions so that others can respond and explain things they might not have thought necessary to explain. It clears up misunderstandings. We all win. Of course it helps if the questions are asked reasonably and while I try to sound reasonable, I'm probably not always as successful there as I could be. So keep the statement in mind as you read this post.] Sullivan's unity dinner will have a speaker who gets paid more for eating dinner and giving an hour speech than some Municipal employees make in a year. Nixon said, "Don't listen to what we say, watch what we do." Deep Throat, the FBI insider who fed Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein tips on Watergate, told them to "Follow the money." Always good tips when watching politicians and Dan Sullivan watchers - at least those who want to know what is really happening - are advised to follow them. Mayor Sullivan's been telling us how broke the Municipality is and how he has to cut the budget bad. He asked the unions to cut back to 37.5 hours a week. But they say he didn't answer the questions about how the changes would be handled or about future cutbacks, according to Don Hunter's Wednesday's ADN story. OK, if the mayor has some serious cuts to make, the idea of everyone getting a small cut in order to save other people from losing their jobs altogether isn't unreasonable. But it also isn't unreasonable for the unions to want to know the details - that's where the devil is supposed to be hiding, right? We do know that Hunter wrote:
[Human Resources Director] Usera said some layoffs would likely be necessary even if the employees accepted shorter hours.
Shannyn Moore demonstrates why she's the Alaskan news person who is regularly a guest on national television news with a post Wednesday where she ties a lot of issues together. Here's one point that came out of her post:
. . . Lynn Swann, hired for the “Mayor’s Unity Dinner” is also the headliner for a Republican fundraiser on the same day. Hmmm…unity? What is unifying about a former Pittsburgh Steeler and Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate, with a $40,000 speaker fee?
Actually, if you follow the link, it says that his speaking fee starts at $40,001 plus expenses. So let's get this straight. The Municipality is millions short, and the Mayor is paying $40,000 for a speaker at the unity dinner? That's more than a low-end Muni employee including benefits would get for working a year. (According to this ad for Municipal lifeguards , a range 7 position, has an annual salary range of $25,313.60 - $32,260.80. Even with 40% more in benefits, someone at the low end of the range would get less than $40,000. I've put a copy of the ad at the bottom since it probably won't be up forever.) Note that KTUU reported August 19 that budget concerns threatened Parks and Recreation including swimming pools. It would appear that the September ads for lifeguards means the pools are staying open. "Don't listen to what we say, watch what we do." We'll say we have to close swimming pools, but we advertise for life guards. We need the unions to cut, but we can spend $40,000 on dinner speakers. Now we've made some assumptions here. We don't know what the fee actually is. It could be more, and with expenses, surely is. But perhaps the Republican fundraiser is paying the fee and/or the expenses or the Republicans along with the Muni are splitting the bill somehow. But it is probably something we should know. The Municipality elections are officially non-partisan, so the Mayor's office paling around with known Republicans to get a speaker for his unity dinner . . . no, let's drop that line of reasoning. But the Mayor's office, minimally, should tell us how the bill for Swann is being paid - how much is the Republican Fundraiser paying and how much is the Municipality paying, and can we see copies of the checks please? [In the spirit of full disclosure, I was in grad school at USC at the same time Swann was winning the National Championship there.] If the Republican Party has offered Swann to the Mayor free, on the face of it, things would appear a little better. But we know that politicians don't give things away for free, particularly Republicans some of whom embrace greed as an important value. Shannyn's piece muses that there are foundations being laid for Sullivan's 2014 Senate race against Begich and links Bill Starr's accusations of Begich to all this. She also adds information that refutes Starr's accusations. It's all in the same post. But, why is anyone paying a $40,000 speaker fee when our Municipality is hurting as badly as the mayor claims? If the Republicans have that much money to throw around (surely the Municipality isn't paying, is it?), why not use it to help victims of domestic violence, or part of a police officer's salary? Why pay a Pennsylvania politician to come up here to talk? There are plenty of people of color who charge far less than that who specialize in cross cultural harmony. There are even a number of Black Alaskans who could and would give inspirational speeches for less than $1000. Maybe even free. But maybe not Republicans. Is money really the point in all the sky is falling rhetoric? Or is this to scare Anchorage residents into going along with Sullivan's sales tax plans? Are Republicans just keeping the money in Republican hands? Wouldn't it be better for our economy to keep it in Alaskan hands? Are they paying for future favors on the national level? Don't get me wrong. I know Democrats do this too. But up until now the dinners formerly known as 'diversity' were about celebrating the ethnic richness of our community and not about spending lots of dollars to import partisan politicians. People have questioned how the mayor who just vetoed an ordinance giving gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender members of our community protection against discrimination could then hold a diversity dinner. Well he couldn't. He had to change the name to unity. Folks raised questions about his support of diversity. Shannyn's story raises another question about his support of diversity:
This Friday, Mayor Dan Sullivan will cross the picket line at the ONLY boycotted hotel in Alaska for his “unity” dinner. In May, the Hilton workers overwhelmingly voted to place their hotel under boycott because their employer degrades their quality of life. Make no mistake, the media war being waged against the unions is partisan politics as usual.
These employees are among the lowest paid workers. And they represent some of the non-white members of the Anchorage community. [By the way, some folks are putting on what they are calling A True Diversity Dinner that same night. It will only be $10 a piece reflecting the economic hard times our city faces. Go to the link for more information.] The union members are challenging the management of the Hilton Hotel which is owned by the Blackstone Group. Who's Blackstone? Wikipedia reports:
Over the course of two decades, Blackstone has evolved into one of the largest private equity investment firms globally. In 2007, Blackstone completed a $4 billion initial public offering to become one of the first major private equity firms to list shares in its management company on a public exchange.[3][4] Blackstone is headquartered at 345 Park Avenue in New York City, with more than a dozen additional offices in the United States, Europe and Asia. [Columbia Sussex.
One of the union organizers commented below and said the Anchorage Hilton is owned by Columbia Sussex, not Blackstone. Wikipedia says Blackstone owns Hilton and China Daily says Blackstone was buying Hilton in 2007. But I'm sure the union involved knows better.] Private equity investment firms. Aren't these the guys that get the $50 million bonuses? And they're quibbling over fifty cents an hour and working conditions for hotel staff? I bet they've spent more on a weekend vacation than the employees make in a year. [This is probably moot since Columbia Sussex owns the hotel, not Blackstone. But Wikipedia's entry for Columbia Sussex doesn't paint a pretty picture. Here's an excerpt:
On November 20, 2007 the New Jersey Casino Control Commission started its investigation into the renewal of the license of the Tropicana Casino & Resort, as well as whether its parent companies, Adamar of New Jersey and Columbia Sussex, are suitable to hold a casino license. Critics including Fred Burro, the Tropicana's former General Manager, testified before the Casino Control Commission on November 28, 2007 that Columbia Sussex CEO William Yung III had ordered him to make $40 million in payroll cuts, and when he opposed the layoffs, Yung became irate and fired him.[2]. In another incident, the National Environmental Health Association has refused to pay the Tropicana a portion of its $97,000.00 bill for a convention held at the resort because of reported bedbugs, roaches, rude employees, poor quality food and other unsanitary conditions.[3]
But remember, I got the original information on Blackstone from Wikipedia too, so don't bet the farm on this information.] Now, this dispute started in May, before Sullivan became mayor. So he can't say, "Well, we were already booked and couldn't move it." He picks the one hotel that has a labor dispute A hotel owned by a huge New York based corporation that sucks money out of the local Anchorage community by treating its Anchorage based employees poorly. He's going into the dinner formerly known as diversity past a picket line of Hispanics, Asians, etc. Maybe that's why it's called unity and not diversity any more.. Didn't the convention center have space? If Shannyn is right about the Senate race, I bet Sullivan can pick up a lot more money from Blackstone when he runs than he can from the hotel workers. "Hey guys, I booked a unity dinner in your hotel when it was being picketed, think what I can do for you in the US Senate." OK, this is all speculation based on the facts that are out there. But if we learned anything from the FBI surveillance of Alaska politicians, it's that we don't know squat about what they are doing behind closed doors. And we don't have the resources or the authority to track them like the FBI can. So if we take stray facts from here and there and hypothesize them together, we're still probably missing most of it. But maybe we'll see a bit of it. Let's remember history.
"Don't listen to what we say, watch what we do." "Follow the money."

Palin in Hong Kong

I tried to find some Hong Kong bloggers reporting on Palin there. Mostly it's foreign press blogs. Maybe that's because Hong Kong doesn't care about Palin. Or because the press was shut out of the speech. But here's one local blogger, Hong Kong Life, describing the CSLA - the forum where she spoke:

WSJ noted that Palin has never been to East Asia and isn't exactly famous for her mastery of public speaking or her expertise in finance and international affairs. But CLSA spokeswoman Simone Wheeler said it isn't necessary to have financial background to be speaking in the prestigious event.

There are basically two groups that compose these noted speakers. First are the conventional, ultra-savvy financial / political leaders like Alan Greenspan, Michael Robert Milken. The other group are composed of celebrities either for entertainment or taking diverse views. This includes Bob Geldof, Boomtown Rats lead singer turned anti-poverty activist, and singers Sir Elton John, Macy Gray, and Tom Jones.

We don't know if Sarah Palin would be grouped with entertainers (she is entertaining enough during the election campaigns by the way) because her topic isn't disclosed and the event was off-limits to media. Not until she opens her mouth and starts talking.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post's story began this way:

Palin's handlers take the conservative approach

A triumph of low expectations? Quite possibly, but as always with Sarah Palin, that depends on who you talk to....
The main event instead was a tightly choreographed speech and question-and-answer session behind closed doors. Talking to attendees, it was clear Palin was determined to brush aside criticism of her ignorance of world affairs and burnish her international credentials while painting herself as a "small c" conservative. The "drill, baby, drill" rhetoric of her stump speeches, geared to firing up American conservatives, was replaced with an international edge and a touch more humour and nuance. She spoke for more than 90 minutes, part of a paid engagement that her aides have admitted will help pay legal bills. . .

"She seemed to relish the chance to show us really who she is and what she thinks ... I thought she gave a good account of herself," one Republican banker said. "She mentioned Reagan and Thatcher and small government and fiscal discipline ... that was all good stuff for this crowd. She didn't mention either of the Bushes or Obama [by name] once."

Not everyone was as generous. Some described people nodding off, walking out or even reading a newspaper at one point. Others dismissed her foreign policy ideas as the stuff of a high school project. She skated over global finance, and many noted that it did not appear as if she had written the speech herself.

A Frenchwoman who attended said she felt Palin was campaigning. "It was a goodwill speech without referring to what is happening. Maybe as governor of Alaska she did well, but she's not for the presidency. You get the impression she doesn't know the world is changing and that the US is not the power it used to be."

The Hong Kong Standard used a piece from and AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS:
Palin's Asia debut speech divides investors

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Former US vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin divided an international Hong Kong audience of financial big-hitters at her first speech outside North America yesterday with some leaving in disgust.

The wide-ranging speech by the former governor of Alaska at the CLSA Investors' Forum covered international terrorism, US economic policy and trade with China, but was closed to the media.

Some listeners praised her forthright views on government social and economic intervention but others walked out early.

"She was brilliant," said one European delegate. "She said America was spending a lot of money and it was a temporary solution. Normal people are having to pay more and more but things don't get better."

In a speech lasting about 75 minutes, Palin slammed the current US government on spending and health care and praised the economic policies of former US president Ronald Reagan, delegates said. "We got into this mess because of government interference in the first place," Palin said.

A US delegate leaving early said: "It was awful, we couldn't stand it any longer."

And this is from the (London) Timesonline:
Sarah Palin’s first ever visit to East Asia began with a monologue that invoked the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, sounded “unmistakably” like a pitch for the 2012 presidency and was described by several members of the audience as “long, humorless and George W Bush-like”. . .

“I’m going to call it like I see it and I will share with you candidly a view right from Main Street, Main Street USA,” the former vice-Presidential candidate declared, before launching into prepared remarks on the Alaskan fishing industry.

Several audience members reportedly walked out of Ms Palin’s speech 30 minutes before the end, citing “more important things to do” or describing the talk as “too partisan and too much like a speech at the Republican convention”.

One senior fund manager told The Times that the 80-minute lecture, and the lack of an opportunity to fire any questions at Ms Palin, was a disappointment. “You would think that with her team of speechwriters and a supposedly media-free environment Palin could have afforded to be either funny or thought-provoking, but she was neither,” she said.

Interesting, the Times piece says "lack of an opportunity to fire any questions" but the South China Morning Post piece mentions "a tightly choreographed speech and question-and-answer session". The Times piece is quoting an attendee, the SCMP mentions it as part of their own reporting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Snow Leopard Black Screen Disease Update

[Update Oct. 3 - see this later post for the solution to my problem. Doesn't mean it will work for you, but it seems to have solved my problem.]

This video will show you the ongoing problem I've had with my MacBook since installing Snow Leopard. You can see all the posts tracking this for the last couple of weeks.

In short, Stephen at the Apple Help and I have been talking back and forth trying to work this out. We reset the SMC and the parameter ram (no, I don't know exactly what that meas either, just that he walked me through doing that), I took it to the local MacHaus for a hardware diagnostic and nothing was wrong there. We reinstalled Snow Leopard. Still got a black screen. I finally noticed the problem only happened when I left the computer or stopped using the keyboard AND the adapter cord was plugged in. When it was only on battery (or when it was at the shop and they used a different power cord) the problem didn't happen. Over the weekend I tested this hypothesis and on battery no problem. The three times I used the cord, it went black when I stopped typing a few minutes. I left Stephen a confirmation message.

So yesterday Stephen called to say he'd gotten my phone message and he was FedExing the new adapter.

This is what I found this morning. We thought he wouldn't be able to ship it out until today since it was 5pm in Dallas when we talked and that it would get here Friday. But I saw it was already on a truck in Anchorage at 8:30 this morning!

Here's the old adapter cord. Can this really be the problem? It only began when I installed Snow Leopard. How do the adapter and the software interact to equal black screen?

And here's the Fed Ex truck pulling up in front of the house. It's 11:30am Anchorage Time. (All this is happening as I'm doing this post.)

And here's the new adapter.

It's plugged in. I'll go eat something now and leave it to turn black. Or, hopefully, not. Then I'll finish this post.

20 minutes later: Sorry to report: I still have black screen disease.

Equinox, Termination Dust, and Temple Bells

Rain Monday. Wind gusts all night. On the mountains the rain was white. The equinox was Tuesday morning according to National Geographic. If you go to the link, you'll see that they have someone who disputes the idea that on the equinox everyone on earth has the same amount of day and dark.

But don't be fooled by the notion that on the autumnal equinox the length of day is exactly equal to the length of night. The true days of day-night equality always fall after the autumnal equinox and before the vernal, or spring, equinox, according to Geoff Chester, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.
In any case, as of Tuesday every place south of Anchorage gets more light than we do until next spring.

Their video doesn't mention this though. They too found the magic music source that showed up on Dennis Zaki's moose film. But it also has the omniscient voiced narrator who tells us "The Truth." (This sort of music and this sort of narrator are so ubiquitous in nature movies and documentaries that we take them for granted. But once you start to hear them for what they is - a totally human artifice added to movies to give them the ring of 'truth' and authority - you can't help but smile. Ah, you think, another cliche movie soundtrack trying to sneak its message into my consciousness.)

Our backyard is changing colors. The chaise lounge, barbecue, and sweet peas are still out, but fall is on the way in.

Birch (and a few red mountain ash) leaves cluster on the edge of the driveway.

While the pansies act as if nothing has changed.

After my Thai lesson I listened as the wind rang the bells at the Wat.

(I used YouTube today because Viddler took so long, YouTube was up first even though I uploaded at Viddler much earlier.)

In the afternoon the termination dust was easier to see. It's a bit late for the first powder on the mountains, but no one is complaining.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Holy Hullabaloos - Picking Books for a Book Club

This was only my third time with this book club. I volunteered to host because I just don't know what my schedule is going to be like and I figured this one would work. The host is supposed to have some food that is connected to the book. This book is a law professor's road trip to the locations of the dispute in key Supreme Court cases on the separation of church and state. There wasn't a lot of food in it - there were some animal sacrifices in a Santeria religious group in Florida (Church of Lukumi Babalu Ave., Inc. v. Hialeah) which included killing and then eating a goat among other animals. There was a lot of beer. There was Limburger cheese in Wisconsin (Wisconsin v Yoder.)

I was able to find some goat meat at Sagaya and J got it really tasty and stringy by today. We also had some Wisconsin cheese, but couldn't find any Limburger in Anchorage, which is probably just as well.

I'm spending a lot of time on the food, because the book was disappointing.

Jay Wexler says he was inspired by a couple of road trip books to write this book the way he did. Despite (or perhaps on account of) being a Boston University Law professor and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, his attempts at making this a 'fun' book for dim law students didn't work. He came across as socially perceptive as the Forty Year Old Virgin.

The book's concept was to give the reader the key separation of church and state issues by highlighting the important Supreme Court cases on this topic AND by describing his road trips to towns where the cases took place. Ideally this would give us insight both into the law and into the actual impacts on the communities where the events took place. I found the law coverage is pretty sketchy - there's not even a list of the cases, they aren't in the table of contents, there's no index, and some times I couldn't even find the case name - and the visits are pretty superficial. And he regularly paints himself as "the creepy liberal academic from Boston" who is something of a doofus:
"Luckily for me Meg had asked me before to write up a list of questions . . . it saved me from having to think too much during our conversation." (140)
Surely, Ginsberg's law clerk wasn't trying to convey himself as walking into a meeting with the Chaplain of the US Senate without any preparation. Was this supposed to be a joke? I didn't read it that way at the time and only now see this the only possible explanation. After all, fourteen pages before he told us that he'd printed out and read the previous six months of sermons. This attempt to dumb himself down, to not look like a wonk. just doesn't ring true. He's trying too hard to be one of the guys. He isn't. The frat jocks this seems to be aimed at are more likely to remember the part when he got drunk in an Austin bar than they are to remember any of the court cases.

While his road trip stories fill in some background for the cases, his interviews, at least as portrayed in the book, are pretty superficial. They add some sepia tones to the cases. There were some better parts - like the discussion of the emergency room doctor who sued to get 'under God' taken out of the pledge of allegiance - but I can't find them now to cite them because the book is so badly labeled. The chapter titles were chosen, apparently, for alliteration rather than illumination. (Hasidic Hallabaloo, Santeria Skirmish, Amish Agitation, etc.) Since he makes references to cases and people in each chapter that aren't the main topic of the chapter, and there's no index, and no list of cases (I know I'm repeating myself, but these are serious omissions, especially if he wants these used in law school classes) it's hard to use this as a reference book to the cases. I got the sense that he rushed to finish this and that his editor didn't spend a lot of time on it either.

The parts that illuminate the main court cases in this 238 page book could have been covered in 40 or 50 pages at most. You can get a lot of the basic ideas of these important cases online in a few minutes.

This link gives you a list of the key Supreme court decisions on separation of church and state with a brief synopsis of the precedents set.

And here's one with a synopsis of the principles the court considers in deciding separation of church and state cases.

We do get a little bit more discussion of the cases than these lists. But even his interviews with people involved in the cases are too shallow to add much value. Maybe the jokes work better in a classroom where you get feedback from the students and can adjust.

One member of the book group defended the book on the grounds that he learned about separation of church and state Supreme Court decisions and that the author, though a strong advocate for separation and a self-declared atheist, urged people to be respectful of those advocating the other point of view. And I agree that I learned something from the book. But we can say good things about a lot of books, but with so little time and so many books, I want to read books that are brilliant, or at least very good.

The disappointment of a number of us in the group led to a discussion of how to pick better books. One person said it was all about the subject for him. Another likes good writing and how the story is told. I feel that there are so many books out there, really good ones that we will never have time to read, that I'd prefer to have great books - that teach me new things and change how I think about the world and that have interesting, if not exciting, writing and structure.

So how do we pick such books? Do we just go with prize winners? Nominated books? I can pick them for myself by hanging out at the bookstore or library and reading enough to get sucked in or turned off. But even then, if I'm wrong, I can stop reading. But if a whole group is reading, you have to plow through.

So, from the American Booksellers Website, here's a list of different book awards as a start for coming up with a list of seriously good books. (The first two categories are children's books.)

The Randolph Caldecott Medal

The John Newbery Medal

Booker Prize for Fiction

National Book Awards

National Book Critics Circle Awards

Nobel Prize for Literature: 1950 to Present

PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

The Pulitzer Prize: 1950 to Present

The Quill Awards

The American Book Awards / Before Columbus Foundation

Awards from the American Booksellers Association

Indies Choice Book Award (2009 - current)

Book Sense Book of the Year Award (2000 - 2008)

American Booksellers Book of the Year (ABBY) Award (1991 - 1999)

Checking out the Indies Choice Book Awards above there I found The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski which won the best author discovery award for 2009. You can start reading it at the link. It didn't take long for me to decide to suggest it for our book club.

[Update: Here's what Jay Wexler posted on "Holy Hullabaloos: The Blog" today:

September 22, 2009
"as socially perceptive as the Forty Year Old Virgin"

Here is a guy who really did not like Holy Hullabaloos!

I have to give him credit for being a good sport for linking to this post. In an Aug. 27 post he praises Ketchikan, Alaska whose library stocks Holy Hullabaloo (Loussac doesn't) and whose newspaper reviewed the book.
I came across a review of the book in the Ketchikan Daily News! That's right, the two newspapers that have reviewed my book are the Boston Globe and the Ketchikan Daily News.
You can also see him in a bit of video at a book store trashing his own work.]

Monday, September 21, 2009

Frank Schaeffer on Evangelicals - Max Blumenthal in Anchorage Next Weekend to Tell us Personally

Frank Schaeffer:
"In the early 1970s the evangelicals like my late father and James Dobson decided that the our society had fallen so far "away from God" and so far from "America's Christian history" that it was time to metaphorically decamp to not just another country but to another planet:. In other words virtually unnoticed by the media and mainstream political operatives, a big chunk of American society seceded from the union in all but name.

What they did is turn the white race-based in "Christian school" movement of the 1950s into a countercultural phenomena. As tens of thousands of new Christian schools opened, it was no longer just about "protecting" white kids from minorities and African-Americans. It was about protecting your children from Satan in other words the United States government's long reach through the public school system. The generation raised on the belief that the US government is illegitimate because it is trying to "impose" non-biblical laws on people has hit the streets. . .

Ah, helps make sense of all the people who didn't want the president talking to their school kids. GW Bush was ok because they believe he is one of them.

These are the people who grew up indoctrinated into an alternative reality. Today they are out there waving signs of Obama dressed as Hitler. They are buying weapons and ammunition. Some are in the growing and revived militia movement. They are Dick Armey's foot soldiers. People like Armey and Beck can count on the ignorance of their dupes. It's against their religion to read a real newspaper, watch anything but Fox or go to a real school."

Linda at Celtic Diva has been running some pieces on the religious right that help explain some of the craziness that is going on in the US today. The quote above and those below are from a long piece Linda posted by Frank Schaeffer, the son of a well-known evangelist. Schaeffer has left the movement, but not before being among the architects of various evangelical campaigns including anti-abortion. He apologized publicly for his role in Dr. Tiller's murder.

Basically Schaeffer's saying that the Evangelical right has pulled its kids out of public schools for home schools or private evangelical school and has indoctrinated them into a theocratic mindset where people who do not believe in their God are evil. Their interpretation of the bible, not the Constitution, are their law.

Evangelical Red Guards

Over the last 30 years Evangelical fundamentalists have managed to do what Chairman Mao failed to do with his Red Guards: indoctrinate a whole generation of evangelical people to see their own society as the enemy and act like subversives from within the culture. These people are more anti-American than Al-Qaeda. The "Christian Reconstruction" movement is working for theocracy. Reconstructionism (of which Gary North is one leader) says that the law given for the political and legal ordering of ancient Israel is intended for all people at all times.

He warns that kindly liberals - Obama included - who want to rely on reason simply do not recognize what they are dealing with. These folks, according to Schaeffer, play by totally different rules. He gives the example of being ahead in a chess game and thinking you are winning when your opponent pulls out a lead pipe and beats the crap out of you. Different rules about winning.

I was born in the United States because a man named Adolf Hitler mobilized a demoralized German youth and many of their parents after the humiliations of post World War I Germany. The most scientifically and culturally advanced nation in the world succumbed to pure emotional hate and pride in fatherland. The rational, educated Germans didn't believe that Hitler had a chance. My mother barely got out of Germany before World War II broke out. This was a real event in my family. So I've grown up understanding that the US was not immune from this sort of thing. There are structural differences between the German government then and the US government now that make the US less vulnerable. But 'less' doesn't mean invulnerable.

Schaeffer's narrative makes the people we've been seeing on television and here in Anchorage understandable. They're denial of facts, their black and white approach to good and evil, their hatred of the government. They see the world as differently from us as do Islamic fundamentalists. But they look and sound just like us (on many topics) so we're apt to overlook the warning signs. They are the product of years of schooling in this. (Note: I know that school, all schools, turn off a certain number of the students, so not all graduates of such schools turned out that way. But enough to make good footage for Fox News and other television news programs who need some action footage to keep viewers. And they are devoted. Wait til we see the first Evangelical suicide bombers in this country.) Schaeffer calls this the enemy within. We can't make the same mistake the reasonable Germans made in the 1930s. The Bible is much more powerful than Mein Kampf.

I understand people's doubts. This is the United States, we're different. Yes, so was Germany, so was every once-great nation. We aren't outside of history. I heard Schaeffer a while back on Fresh Air. You can listen to the Schaeffer interview and judge for yourself whether this guy is credible.

More immediate for us in Anchorage though is Schaefer's list of people who have got it right:
The real story of the Religious Right and their power to destroy is told by Max Blumenthal in Republican Gomorrah, and Jeff Sharlet in The Family and by me in Crazy For God. What our books have in common is the understanding that you can lose in the political system but still "win" -- according to your destructive agenda -- if your agenda is non-political but rather religious and apocalyptic in nature.
Max Blumenthal will be in Anchorage next weekend to talk at a couple of venues.

This poster [double click to enlarge and read it better] comes from Phil Munger [Update 9:30am: see Phil's clarification of the poster source in comments] who is helping to arrange for Max's trip to Anchorage. I learned as a college student that going to hear people tell their stories live is one of the most powerful ways to learn. I urge everyone to attend these events so you can judge for yourself whether you need to rethink what is going on. You can even listen to him on the radio

Saturday afternoon

The Shannyn Moore Show 5-7pm AM radio 700.

You can also make contributions to help pay for Blumenthal's visit at Progressive Alaska.(Upper right corner PayPal button.) A later post there gives a lot more information about Blumenthal.

Blumenthal's book Republican Gomorrah is currently #15 on the New York Times non-fiction best seller list.

UAA - Saturday September 26
8pm UAA Arts Building 150

Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship -
Sunday 12:30pm-2:30pm