Monday, June 30, 2014

Q: Who Was The Greatest Wrestler Of All Time?

A:  Milo of Croton (according to  listverse)

"Most historians agree that Milo remains to this day the greatest wrestler and fighter (from any combat sport) the world has ever known. Milo of Croton became an Olympic champion several times during his nearly thirty-year career. His size and physique were intimidating, and his strength and technique perfect—and many people accordingly believed that he was  the son of Zeus."

Perseus tells us more:

"According to our ancient sources, Milo enjoyed showing off his unrivaled strength. For instance, he would clasp a pomegranate in his hand and have others try to take it away from him. Even though he was holding it so tightly that no one could remove it, he never damaged the fruit. Sometimes, he would stand on a greased iron disk and challenge others to push him off of it. Another of his favorite exhibitions was tying a cord around his forehead, holding his breath, and breaking the cord with his bulging forehead veins. Other times, the wrestler would stand with his right arm at his side, his elbow against him, and hold out his hand with thumb pointed upwards and fingers spread. No one could successfully bend even his little finger. "

A Princeton webpage tells us he is supposed to have been close to Pythagoras:
"Milo was said to be an associate of Pythagoras. One story tells of the wrestler saving the philosopher's life when a roof was about to collapse upon him, and another that Milo may have married the philosopher's daughter Myia."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Driving Up The Violated Cassiar

Just a quickie from Dease Lake.

We stopped at Kinaskan Lake along the Cassiar Highway yesterday.  The weather was comfortably warm with more blue than clouds.

The sun went down about 10pm.  Here are some pictures of the lake from our campsite.

Late Afternoon

About Sunset

This Morning

It started raining before we got up this morning and this last picture is from the same spot as the previous two.

We first went up the Cassiar in 2000.  It was spectacularly beautiful.  Much of the road was dirt and our car got very muddy.  

Last fall when we drove down, we were startled by huge powerlines going up in the southern part of the road.

This time sickened is more appropriate than startled.  For 400 kilometers they've bulldozed huge areas along the road to put up powerlines.  I need to do more research - I did talk to two locals - but it really looks like this is about mining needs, not local needs.  Very few people live along this highway.  And the ugly, disgusting way they've trashed the landscape is appalling.  I hope to find out more about what this is all about.  This was once an incredibly beautiful landscape.  

This is one picture of the destruction along the once pristine Cassiar Highway.  It's like this for almost 200 miles.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Canada's New Anti-Spam Law and Supreme Court First Nations Land Claims Decision

Driving back to Alaska means seeing the world through Canadian eyes for several days.  A couple of big stories include a Supreme Court decision in favor of First Nations land rights that seems to have major consequences.  From the CBC:
The Supreme Court decision on Thursday granting the land claim of a B.C. First Nation is not only a game-changer for many aboriginal communities across the country, but also for the government and the resource industries.
The unanimous ruling granted the Tsilhqot’in First Nation title to a 1,700-square-kilometre area of traditional land outside its reserve, marking the end of a decades-long battle.
But it also clarified major issues such as how to prove aboriginal title and when consent is required from aboriginal groups, which will affect negotiations on major projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline.

And Tuesday, which also happens to be Canada Day, a Canadian anti-spam law takes effect.  From the government's anti-spam legislation website:

When the new law is in force, it will generally prohibit the:
  • sending of commercial electronic messages without the recipient's consent (permission), including messages to email addresses and social networking accounts, and text messages sent to a cell phone;
  • alteration of transmission data in an electronic message which results in the message being delivered to a different destination without express consent;
  • installation of computer programs without the express consent of the owner of the computer system or its agent, such as an authorized employee;
  • use of false or misleading representations online in the promotion of products or services;
  • collection of personal information through accessing a computer system in violation of federal law (e.g. the Criminal Code of Canada); and
  • collection of electronic addresses by the use of computer programs or the use of such addresses, without permission (address harvesting).

Michael Geist at the Toronto Star looks at three issues people have with the new law, and points out that some of their issues suggest they may not be in compliance with a previous anti-spam law.

We're in the Skeena Bakery in New Hazelton.  We watched loons and swallows and redwing blackbirds at Tyhee Lake this morning early.  [Pictures up now here.] On up the Cassiar Highway when we leave here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We Should Be Somewhere Between the Canadian Border and Prince George

We leave Seattle shortly.  Our little camper is packed and we're driving it home.  Don't know when we'll get our next internet connection so I'm scheduling this for later today.  It's US -0 and Germany - 0 as I write this. 

Looking forward to a relaxing drive home.  We've got The Luminaries on CD - 30 hours worth - to listen to.  Eleanor Catton's novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 which bodes well. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Great Alaskan Walt Parker Departs

Walt Parker June 2011
I met Walt Parker when I first arrived in Anchorage in 1977 because he was active in the local American Society for Public Administration (ASPA).  He has been supportive of whatever I was working on since then and a constant inspiration of how to be a great human being.  

I just learned this evening that he died this afternoon.  I just need to say a few things here off the top of my head about him and what an amazing man he was and life he led.

He served in China and the Burma Road as a pilot in World War II.  He told me once that he got contact lenses so he wouldn't be kept out of the air force.  I didn't even know they existed back then.  They certainly must have been uncomfortable before all the fancy wetting solutions became available.

He came to Alaska from San Francisco as I recall, after WW II, and worked out in very rural Alaska with the FAA.  He was a bush pilot, lived in a log cabin, and mushed dogs.

He acted in the Anchorage Community Theater in the 50s and was on the Anchorage borough assembly.  He was head of the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill Commission and has been on the Arctic Commission regularly flying to places like Siberia and Greenland and Iceland.  He helped the Australians develop distance education.  There was something else he did in Mongolia. 

You could mention any place in the world and not only had he been there, he'd done important projects there and could tell you about the politics and economy and history.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have had him in my life and as a mentor and guide as well as a friend.  He was my google before there was a google.

I'd bump into him out skiing with his dogs on the Campbell Airstrip trail in his late 70s and probably early 80s. 

Walt believed in honest government, justice, fairness, decency, and education.  He was smart and wise and always ready to stand up for the public and for reason.

I've had a fair amount of experience with people in their 80's and 90's in the last ten years and life can be good as long as you're reasonably mobile and still have your faculties.  Walt had all his faculties, but he was getting noticeably frailer in the last year, though he did drive himself over to our house not too long ago.  I'd like to think he checked out while he was still himself and before he became a burden on others.  But there's a big hole in my heart today. 

These are just a few quick random thoughts.  You can see a better organized bio of Walt here.

I decided I needed to double check on this and called another friend who knew Walt well and he told me Walt died at home with all his family around.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

More Playground Gender Thoughts

I'm wandering off into unfamiliar territory here, but humor me.  I'm just exploring thoughts that arose from some playground time this past weekend.  

Saturday I was at a playground in an upscale area of San Francisco with my granddaughter.  She was wearing pants and a t-shirt.  Invariably, other parents, told their kids things like, "Be careful of the little boy."

I started looking around.  My granddaughter is barely 17 months old and already her clothes mark her as a boy or a girl.  Her hair is still mostly fuzzy.  Her face doesn't give her away.  But everyone assumed she was a boy.  Just because she had on pants and a T shirt - nothing frilly, no flowers, a little baseball cap with a frog. 

The next day we were at the same playground, but she was wearing clothes that identified her as a girl - the pants were more like tights and didn't go below the calf.  Her shirt had a pattern and was more like a smock than a t-shirt.  Yet one four year old girl who started talking to her in a big sisterly oh-how-cute way, suddenly pulled back and said, "She's wearing boys' shoes."  Boys' shoes?  I looked around.  The girls had more colorful shoes, with patterns and designs on them.  My granddaughter had sturdy walking shoes. 

I started looking around more carefully.  I'm not sure there's boys' clothes as much as there are girls' clothes.  By that I mean, the clothes the boys wore would be perfectly ok on a girl, but the girls' clothes wouldn't be perfectly ok on a boy.  So, if you aren't wearing 'girl' clothes, you are by default wearing boys' clothes.  It seems boys' clothes are more practical and girls' clothes are more colorful and showy. 

My daughter consciously dresses her daughter in non-gender specific clothes because she's read studies that say girls and boys are treated differently by strangers as soon as they have any identifiable gender marker - say pink or blue clothing.  People, she says, tend to comment on what girls look like  and on what boys are doing. 

Finding those studies is proving hard on google.  The blogger at A Haircut and a Shave
after having similar reactions to her daughter, pondered whether people could tell the difference between girl and boy infants by their faces.  She found studies of adult faces (adults can tell most of the time) and older kids' faces (adults can tell 75% of the time, though little kids were less successful.)  But she couldn't find such a study of infant faces. 

She also found a study
which asked mothers to estimate their 11-month-old son's or daughter's crawling skills and predict how their child would perform in a new crawling task up and down some sloped surfaces.

Interestingly, the mothers of baby girls significantly under-estimated their daughter's skills and future performance, while the mothers of baby boys significantly over-estimated their son's skills and future performance on the crawling task.  When the researchers actually measured the baby's skills and performance on a crawling task, there was absolutely no difference between the boys and girls.  The mothers were wrong; and not just wrong, but systematically wrong on the basis of their baby's gender.
She also supports my comments about clothing:
Meantime, I can say that I think the super-gendered baby clothes that dominate stores are just silly.  It can be so difficult to find clothes that aren't blue or pink, especially for very young babies.  
 Clearly, the big difference between girls and boys has to do with different parts in their pants.  But do those anatomical parts really define everything else in their lives?  Based just on this clothing review, it seems to me that our society (and probably most others)
  • makes a big deal about the differences between boys and girls 
  • expects different things from them
  • treats boys more as doers and girls more as objects of display
The environmental impacts surely play as big a role and the genetic impacts.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Teaching Little Girls To Beat Women

I was pushing Z on the swing at the park when the people hosting a birthday party there hung up a piñata in the image of a woman from the swing set. 

There was a line of four year old girls and one boy.  They were each given the purple stick and told to hit the piñata, but it soon became "hit the woman."

Hit her head.

Hit her arms.

Hit her legs.


The girls seemed a bit timid at first.  They didn't hit very hard and looked around as if they were uncertain about what they were doing.

The little boy had no qualms and really creamed her.

But the piñata was well made and the candy was well protected so they went through the line three or four times.

I kept thinking, aren''t any of the adults questioning the appropriateness of asking little girls to beat up an image of a woman?  There are plenty of piñatas that are shaped as stars or other geometric figures.  I've always liked the idea of piñatas, but this party left me with a very different feeling about them.

I'm not sure if this has any impact on these girls or not, but it has an impact on me.  I'd also mention that the piñata was finally broken open and along with toys and candy, lots and lots of colorful confetti fell out and the confetti blew all over the place.

Z watched the whole event while she was swinging.  I don't know what she was thinking, but she had a very serious look on her face.  

This is San Francisco.  I thought people here were supposed to be more aware.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Blogging Bennies - San Francisco Interior Greenbelt

Ben of San Francisco commented on a post the other day from San Francisco to tell me there was a greenbelt just behind the hospital where my grandson was born.  And after we helped him get ready to come home, we had a little time before heading to the airport to pick up my granddaughter and her parents.

So we went to the Interior Greenbelt.  We drove up Stanyan to 17th as Ben suggested and couldn't see anything but houses.  But I knew he wouldn't have made it up, so I parked and when we walked down, we found these stairs.

We walked up and into the greenbelt.

It's this wonderful wilderness in the middle of the city - basically eucalyptus trees, but others as well.

We heard lots of different kinds of birds, saw them flitting around.  There were two hummingbirds for sure.

There were some big tree stumps.  This is about 1/4 of this stump.

Here's a glimpse out into the city at the end of our short walk.

And at the end I looked around for more signage and found this on the street below the steps.  It's got a map, so if you're in San Francisco - particularly if you're near UCSF Parnassus - you can easily go visit.  We only had time for a tiny part of the trail system.  What a great break.  But now my little Z is with us and we spent a lot of time playing in the park today. 

Thanks Ben!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Is Publishing Public Employee Salaries The Financial Equivalent of Showing Bare Breasts?

Alaska media periodically publish lists of highest paid public employees.  There's a good public accountability reason for doing this, but only if the numbers are put in context, say if salaries and benefits are compared to substantially similar private sector salaries and benefit.

But you aren't going to get that.  Yes, you can get general salary levels for different positions, but not the names of the employee and their gross salary and benefits combined. Private companies don't have to publish that, and without that information, the public salaries don't mean anything.  Highly paid has no meaning if you aren't comparing everyone in similar jobs.  

All too often the real reason is the titillation factor - it's the financial equivalent of publishing pictures of bare breasts. It boosts ratings.  People want to see what is normally hidden - and in a place as small as Anchorage, a lot of people are going to know some people on the list.

And people generally compare their own salaries to the ones published.  "Did you see how much Sam Smith gets paid?"  If you are a high school drop out doing minimum wage work, you can get upset if you just compare it to your own salary, forgetting the extra skill level, responsibility, and education the other job requires.

I also hear talk show hosts using such lists to talk about the bloated salaries and benefits of public employees.  For people who respond to this sort of argument, my reaction is:  You shouldn't be trying to bring public sector wages and benefits down, you should be working on getting your wages and benefits up.  The long, slow war against unions means that many private sector wages are lower than they used to be (adjusted for inflation) and benefits like health insurance and pensions are rapidly disappearing.  Public sector employees often do have unions who work to protect those benefits.  

How did I get on this topic?

KTOO, according to an email sent to all UAA employees this past week, has requested the salaries of all employees and the university was giving the employees a heads up that KTOO wanted to make an easily searchable list online.  The emails said, in part:
The information we will release is limited to:
  • Employee name
  • Position, department and campus
  • Type of service (exempt/non-exempt)
  • Status (full-time, part-time, permanent/temp or student employee)
  • Bargaining unit, if applicable
  • Calendar year gross salary paid to employee
  • Calendar year employer contribution (healthcare, retirement, other benefits) 
  • Total of employee gross/employer contribution

I'm saying you need context here.  What might context look like?

1.  Comparing public salaries to similar private salaries.

Generally, higher level positions, particularly professional positions - accountants, attorneys, engineers, computer experts - that have relatively the same kinds of positions in the private sector - are highly underpaid in the public sector.  I've watched several municipal employees triple their salaries when the went to the private sector.

2.  For the university comparing full time teaching positions to administrative positions.

First, it's important to know if faculty are on nine or 12 month appointments. (Most are on nine.)
Second, it's important to distinguish between technical positions (that have private sector equivalents - such as accountants, human resources specialists, etc.) and those that don't.
Third, a huge percentage of UAA (and other university faculty) are adjunct faculty.  They aren't full time employees in tenure track positions.  They get hired to teach individual classes for a flat fee based on, mainly, how many times they've taught a class at UAA.  If you computed their salary as an hourly wage, it would be hovering around and below the minimum wage.  I suspect these people will not show up on the list.
Fourth, administrative pay, particularly at the top, has risen at a significantly faster rate, then faculty pay.  To highlight this,
Four . . . faculty members have found an unusual way to attract more attention to this critique [that administrative pay has risen faster than faculty pay.] They have applied jointly to share the job (and the $400,000 minimum salary) of the opening to lead the University of Alberta. Their application is, in part, tongue-in-cheek. The letter suggests that one of the applicants -- Renee Ward, an expert on medieval and science fiction literature at Ontario's Wilfrid Laurier University --  "with her research on monstrosity and hybridity, is eminently suited to interact effectively with various levels of government."  [From Inside Higher Ed]
University presidents do get much higher pay than faculty, but much lower pay than CEO's heading companies with similar budgets and numbers of employees.  But then private sector CEOs get pay that often has little to do with what they contribute to the organization.  It's totally based on market comparisons and I believe there are lots of very competent people who would take on those positions for a lot less and do as well if not better than the current CEO's.  And many of these positions really do require skills that one individual doesn't have.  Splitting the positions is a not a bad idea.  In practice, that already happens with various vice presidents.  We just seem to have a need to have one top dog above all the others.  

3.  There are two basic ways to determine salaries - classification systems and the market.  The first is part of the attempt to rationalize organizations that German sociologist, Max Weber, documented in his early work on what he called 'bureaucracies' which he compared to the more arbitrary and power based feudal system of governing.  Bureaucracies were an attempt to apply the scientific thinking that was transforming the world then to human organization and governance.  In many ways, it revolutionized what organizations can do, and scientific management was a large part of the US success in manufacturing in the early 20th century.   (I'd note that Weber also talked about tenure in office as a way to attract people who had spent a lot of time in preparation for their job.)

Classification is an extension of Weber's principle that workers should be paid to match their value to the organization.  It's a method to attempt to measure the value of a position to the overall output of an organization and then to compensate incumbents of those positions proportionally to what they contribute.   Things like training and education got paid more, because people with those extra skills had foregone years of higher earning earlier, to get more later.  If that education weren't rewarded with higher wages, then people wouldn't waste their time on it.  (We see that now as people with college degrees are now questioning the time and money spent if they can't get good jobs.)  Today, other key factors include both characteristics of the person and characteristics of the job.  Points are given and adjustments are made to create a large table of what every position should be paid.  Here's a link to the how the federal classification system works.

But that attempt at a rational system (and of course it has many faults because there are so many things that can't be measured and because the actual person in the position will impact how valuable it will be - those lower paid employees may do work well beyond their job title and highly paid people may do much less) is also supplemented by the market.

Thus, when you look at the university faculty pay, you'll see vast differences between positions in different disciplines.  There are several reasons:
1. for  professional fields - business, law, medicine, computers - where faculty could easily get higher paying jobs outside the university,
    a.   you have to pay more to get applicants because the competing salaries are higher
    b.   there are fewer applicants per position
2.  Newer faculty are sometimes relatively better paid than older faculty -  the rules for salary increases are set and static - you can only get certain levels of raises over a period of time. Over the years faculty reach the top level.  But starting offers for new faculty - in the hardest to recruit fields - rise quickly and their starting salaries can be much higher than the older faculties' starting salaries.  There are supposed to be salary adjustments when a faculty member can show they are significantly underpaid.
3.  Salary surveys.  The salaries for each discipline are supposed to be set by national surveys of salaries in each discipline around the country.  A faculty member could use these surveys to make the case she is underpaid.
4.  Faculty can increase their pay by teaching extra classes, by teaching over the summer, and by getting private contracts.  Private contracts may or may not increase one's salary.  For instance, the research faculty at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) are only paid a portion of their salaries by the University.  The rest they have to make up with grants and contracts for research projects, but that is billed at their university pay level.  In other cases, a government agency or a private company may contract with a school or college for training or consulting work and that would add to someone's annual salary.  In yet other cases, faculty may do private consulting on the side and this would not show up in their salary.  It's more like a second job.
5.  Faculty can bargain for higher pay by showing a job offer elsewhere that would pay them more.  If the school feels strongly and wants to keep the faculty member, they can use that offer to get the salary raised.  Or they can say, take the other job.  

Faculty Job - Teaching, Research, and Service

When you hear someone teaches three classes a week for a total of nine hours, it sounds pretty cushy.

My sense of most faculty at UAA is that they are working 60-90 hour weeks.   I found I spent two to six hours of preparation time per hour of class time, depending on how often I'd taught the class before.  Even old classes need to be made fresh every semester.  Then there is the time grading papers and advising students.  I was lucky.  I had graduate classes which were relatively small.  I could give my students extensive feedback on their papers.  But that could mean 30 to 90 minutes per paper, depending on how long it was and how good it was.
That's just teaching.  Faculty also are expected to do new research and publish at a regular clip - some departments more than others.  This is often what faculty do during their unpaid summers, because it's hard to do on top of teaching and service.  Service is the third part of the contract - participating in university governance, community service, and professional service - often at the national and international level.

It is literally impossible to do an even adequate job as a faculty member in 40 hours a week.  And to do a stellar job, you have to work far more hours.

This is just a glimpse of all the complicated context that you aren't likely to hear or read when even a reasonably responsible news media like KTOO does its story on public sector salaries.  Sorry if I rambled a bit, but I hope it gets people thinking.

Is publishing public employee salaries the financial equivalent of showing bare breasts?  There are probably times when publishing bare breasts as part of a serious news story is legitimate.  The same is true for publishing public employee salaries with names attached.  But I suspect more often than not, it's done as a quick ratings booster because it has a high gossip factor, especially when readers know people on the list.

Will KTOO, a public media organization,  publish their employee salaries and benefits?  I know they will come out much lower than state employees, but I suspect many will be higher than their private sector equivalents.  And how does Steve Lindbeck's salary (he's the CEO and General Manager at Alaska Public Media) compare to the Chancellor of UAA's salary?  What are their comparative budgets and numbers of employees?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

San Francisco - Dog Sitting and Other Odd Jobs

Dog sitter, laundry, pickup service - our jobs today were to take care of things while they are still waiting to come home from the hospital.  J got to have some baby holding work too.  Here are some shots, mostly from walking the dog.

Here's a San Francisco liquor store.

And the fire escape above it.

Utility workers installing fiber optic cable. 

A typical San Francisco Victorian house, atypically reflecting back the sunshine on a warm day.  It was cooler in the afternoon when the breeze picked up.

Lavender patch in the dog park.

I'm not sure what Kona knows about the little brother coming home any day now.

View of the city from B's hospital room. 

We also had to stop at a high end baby store to get an insert for a stroller someone had given them.  This is one of those industries spawned by regulation, that conservatives hate so much.  And lots of lives have been saved.  But I also think that in some cases both the industry and parents have gotten a little carried away.  Like the   stroller in the store for over $1000.


University of Alaska Anchorage Offers Title IX Training To All Employees

Recently I posted that the University of Alaska system was one of 60 colleges and universities around the country on a list for investigation of violations of Title IX.

Recently UAA chancellor Tom Case sent out emails to all faculty and staff asking them to participate in a Title IX training session.  His goal is 100% participation.

Training was scheduled to begin this week in Anchorage while most faculty are off contract and probably off campus if not out of state.  A large percentage of the UAA faculty are adjunct faculty, meaning they are hired to teach one, two, or three classes on a semester by semester contract.  They aren't full time employees of the university. 

Provisions have been made for people to participate through teleconference.  The training is 90 minutes.

Interview with Director Title IX Coordinator

I spoke with Marva Watson who is the UAA Title IX Coordinator.  But that's just one of her hats under the larger umbrella (I guess this metaphor is going to be one about being well protected from rain, not quite what I intended) of Director, Campus Diversity & Compliance.  The Title IX Coordinator is NOT a new position set up in response to this new Department of Education investigation.  Watson's had that title for two years.  She also has two investigators working for her who will be doing the training -  Jerry Trew and Stephanie Whaley -  and they've been doing that for a couple of years now.  
The training will basically cover 
  • Understand nature of the no tolerance policy
  • Responsible parties, how to report.
  • Bystander intervention
  • What constitutes consent
 Some of this information is already online.  There is, for example, a flow chart for someone who has been assaulted, showing the steps and options for making a report or just talking to someone.

There's a similar flow chart for UAA employees to report incidents of student misconduct or harassment.  Though I think the title is a little misleading.  The chart is for helping students who have been harassed, not for reporting incidents or perpetrators.  It also leaves me wondering if the procedure is the same or different for employees who have been assaulted or harassed.  (I hadn't looked at these before I talked to Watson, so I didn't get to ask her and I'm supposed to head to the hospital and see my new gbaby soon, so I'm not going to check now.  My quick peek yesterday was a tonic for all the world's ills.)

I did have a list of questions to ask, but Watson answered a couple of them before I even asked.

1.  She knows that faculty are off contract right now.
2.  There will be more training in August when faculty come back on contract.

She also said that the UAA training is all being done in-house, so there is no extra cost to bring in trainers, though, of course, there is the cost of everyone's time.  All three campuses (UAA, UAF, and UAS) are undergoing training, but each campus is working out its own approach.

This new push is related to the federal Title IX investigation, but Watson stressed that this sort of training has been ongoing.  There will be an attempt to get as many people trained as is possible, but it's not mandatory.  

I also asked if students got this training and Watson said that it's part of new student orientation. 

I was hoping that I could sit in on one of the trainings before posting this, but it's turned out I am traveling this week I'm just not going to be able to connect to the online training today either.   Here's the whole schedule for now. 

I do believe that the Chancellor is taking this seriously (his letter is below.)  But I also know that there is training and training. I suspect that it's important to not have talking heads do the training for this.  It needs to be interactive, with good multi-media, and lots of ways to engage the trainees and help them internalize the urgency of the issues and how to respond.  There's also a problem with all race and gender related training.  If it's voluntary, the people who need it most, won't come.  If it's mandatory, the people who need it most will be very resistant.  But in this case maybe that's not the case.  Here,  "those need it most" probably doesn't mean those who think it's a non-issue.  Instead it's really those employees who will have someone come to them in trouble.   And those folks are the ones a student might feel are most sympathetic.   Ones who do get the problem and want to know what to do.

I'm hoping this is just the first step, and my short talk with Watson suggests that's the case. 

Below is the letter.
Dear UAA Community,

At UAA we take pride in promoting a culture of respect and a safe environment for our faculty, staff and students. There is no better way to stop sexual harassment and misconduct than to be informed and educated. Safety is everyone's business at UAA and to that end I am asking all faculty and staff to attend a Title IX training. Trainings begin Monday, June 16.
The United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights placed the University of Alaska system on a list of colleges and universities nationwide that will be audited for compliance with Title IX. Many people know of Title IX from athletics, especially its important role bringing about gender equity in sports. But Title IX is more than a sports law, and it aims to bring gender equity to all educational programs, especially through the elimination of sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus. UAA shares in that goal and welcomes this review, as it will provide us with an opportunity to showcase our efforts and to learn about deficient areas requiring improvement. My ultimate goal is that our students, faculty, and staff are safe and know what services are available if they are sexually harassed or assaulted or if they receive a report of that nature. This review helps us achieve that.
The UAA campus has appointed Marva Watson, as Title IX Coordinator and Dr. Dewain L. Lee, as Deputy Title IX Coordinator. Through their efforts, we have been working to provide Title IX training to our community. This compliance review and its accompanying guidance provide us with extra incentive to train our entire community now.
A schedule of 36 live training sessions begin June 16, some of which are available via videoconferencing. For all dates and registration information click this link:
Our goal is for 100% of faculty and staff to be trained.
Everyone should feel safe on all of our UAA campuses. Participating in Title IX training is one part of your responsibility to ensure that a culture of safety and equity exists.
Thank you.
Best regards,
Chancellor Tom Case
Chancellor Tom Case

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

" . . . there must be a reason, an organizing principle, to each man's life."

Toward the end of Water Music by T. C. Boyle, Ned Rise, one of the two heroes (if you will) of the book is thinking about his future.  He's been trekking into interior Africa and
now for the last couple of months, drifting down the Niger River with Mungo Park, Scottish explorer who was the first European to set eyes on the Niger. Park was trying to find where the river ended.  Here's the narrator on Ned Rise near the end of their journey:
"Homeless, fatherless, with neither prospects nor hope,Ned hs begun to see this bleak, stinking, oppressive continent in a new light, as a place of beginnings as well as endings.  All he's been through these past two years, all the heat and stink and disease, all the suffering and strangeness - it must have some purpose, some hidden meaning, some link to his life.  He is thinking that maybe he won't return to London when they reach the coast.  He'll stay on as a trader, or maybe he'll rest up and then work his way back into the interior, explore on his own, search for whatever it is he's been spared to find."

Ned had been sent to a British army post just off the coast of Africa, because they were short of soldiers and a politician had gotten the notion to send prisoner's there.  And then Park selected from the soldiers.

Park had been born to a decent family, but there were older brothers, and he'd decided to make his fame and fortune by discovering the Niger River, which he did on his first trip to Africa.  On his return, his book and lectures, made him a well known hero in the first decade of the 1800s.  The book traces both their lives, but they don't meet until Park is recruiting men for his second Africa trip. 

They've [Rise and Park] talked, man to man.  Still nights, mist on the water, forty-one men dead and the equatorial moon sitting on their shoulders like an immovable weight, they've talked.  Mungo bared his heart, told him of his marriage, his children, of the pain of separation, of his ambitions.  He talked as if he were talking to himself, for hours at a time, and then, apropos of nothing, he would turn to Ned and ask him how he'd lost his fingers or acquired the scar at his neck - "you know" he'd say, "it almost looks like a rope burn." [It is, he's survived being hanged.]  Ned, his face frank and open, his gaze steady, would lie.  "Butcher shop,"  he'd say, "cutting out steaks."  Or, fingering the scar at this thoat, "Oh, this.  Nothing really.  Got my head caught in an iron fence when I was a kid.  No more than five or six.  They had to fetch the blacksmith to loosen the bars."
Ned Rise continues his musings:
No, worming his way into the explorer's confidence was barely a challenge.  The man was easy, a self-centered fool.  If Ned hadn't got a grip on the reins long ago they'd all be dead by now.  Still he bears the news no malice.  In fact, he's all right in his own way - at least he's committed himself to something.  That's more than Ned can say for himself.  Mungo Park may be conceited, mad with ambition, blind, incompetent, fatuous - but at least he's got a focus for his life, a reason for living.  That's the kernel of truth Ned has dug out of the motherload of the past three weeks of drifting in the sun:  there must be a reason, an organizing principle, to each man's life.   For M'Keal it's booze, for Martyn weapons and bloodshed, for Park it's risking his fool hide to open up he map and get his name inscribed in history books.  And for himself, Ned Rise?  Mere survival isn't enough.  A dog can survive, a flea.  There must be something more.  [emphasis added]

There's also the story of Mungo Park and his young wife who violently opposed Park's taking this second trip to Africa, to the point where he took the cowardly way out and promised her he wouldn't while he was actively working on this second trip. 

Boyle writes in a lush prose that scrapes words onto the page like thick oil on a canvas.  So many words that I had to look up.  Not to be pretentious, I don't think, but because they were the exact word he needed.  But, alas, I didn't mark particularly good passages as I read and finding them isn't easy.  But here's the first paragraph of the book as an example:
At an age when most young Scotsmen were lifting skirts, plowing furrows and spreading seed, Mungo Park was displaying his bare buttocks to al-haj' Ali Ibn Fatoudi, Emir of Ludamar.  The year was 1795.  George III was dabbing the walls of Windsor Castle with his own spittle, the Notables were botchings things in France, Goya was deaf, DeQuincey a depraved pre-adolescent.  George Bryan "Beau" Brummell was smoothing down his first starched collar, young Ludwig van Beethoven, beetle-browed and twenty-four, was wowing them in Vienna with his Piano Concerto no. 2, and Ned Rise was drinking Strip-Me-Naked with Nan Punt and Sally Sebum at the Pig & Pox Tavern in Maiden Lane. 
You can find more excerpts from Chapter 1 at TC Boyle's website.

By the way, the Encyclopedia's summary on the Niger:
Niger River, principal river of western Africa. With a length of 2,600 miles (4,200 km), it is the third longest river in Africa, after the Nile and the Congo.
To put this into perspective,  competing claims say the Mississippi River is between 2,300 and 2550 miles long.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Yellow Legs Strolling The Boardwalk

Before we left Anchorage late Sunday, we made a stop at Potter Marsh.  Here's a little fun with the (I can't keep calling it 'the new') Canon Rebel and some photoshop.  I'll save the terns for another post. 

I am still learning how to get the automatic focus to work with birds flying against a background and the camera doesn't know what to focus on.  Walking on the boardwalk was relative easy.  Flying is another story.  (Think luck.) There are lots of deleted photos.

Chick with adult. Really I have no idea which adult.  They were doing the things birds do when they want to decoy someone from a nest.  Flying ostentatiously near you and making lots of noise.

Here's the same picture, refocused on the adult.  (I didn't intend to only get one bird in focus.  I still have to learn to better control the depth of field on this camera too.  It wasn't this hard with my old Pentax.  But then I couldn't play with the pictures like this and see them instantly either.)

Or like this in Photoshop.  

Meanwhile the stork finally landed in San Francisco this afternoon and we're going up tomorrow afternoon to check out the bundle. 

Help Set The Future of 36th and New Seward Tonight

There's an open house on Monday, June 16, 2014, 4:30 – 7:30 PM with a presentation at 5:30 PM. Click here for more details!

I tried to get info on Friday at the DOT office near my house, but the project engineer there, Chong Kim, didn't know the details of the 36th/Seward project.  He did tell me about the vandalism on the bike trail under Seward Highway.

The maps are clear enough for me to figure out completely.   For instance, can westbound cars on 36th turn north in these plans?

There down to three options.  The links take you to bigger pdf maps.

 The one above is called the Half SPUI - Single Point Urban Interchange.  It looks like something happens sound of 36, but the north half, not so much.  Can you turn north from 36th?  You have to be able to, but how?  Not clear on these maps.

 This is the hybrid single point urban interchange.  (These are their terms, not mine.)This one has off-ramps in the middle, rather than the sides.  That will be pretty confusing for drivers at first.  I think this is their preferred model.

 And this is the Loop Ramp.  When I first saw this I thought it wiped out the BP Energy Center, which would never happen.  But looking more carefully, it doesn't, but the move the parking lot - taking out, it would seem,  some of the birch forest that makes this building so amazing.  And this looks a lot more expensive.  I don't think it's going to happen.

We just arrived at my mom's place in LA, so we'll miss this meeting.  So others have to go and report on this.  How will bikes and pedestrians fare in each option?  Is there a chance of leaving it as is?  I don't like the current intersection, but I want to be sure these are better before picking one. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some Not So Random Shots At Pride Fest

We didn't get there until after 3pm.  It was a gray day with some light drizzle, but that had ended by the time we got there.

We found ourselves standing next to the No on Prop 1 booth which was right next to the BP Booth.  That got me thinking about who else had booths.  Here are a few.

The Yes on 1 folks had a booth too, but by the time I got around to getting their picture it was almost 5pm and a lot of booths were already being dismantled.

US House candidate Forrest Dunbar was talking with the operations manager for the Alaska Workers Association, Barbara Sarantitis at the AWA booth.

AWA works with low-paid workers and their newsletter says

"AWA members cooperate year-round in organizing a self-help free-of charge Benefit Program that includes emergency food, cloting, preventive medical care, legal advice, non-emergency dental care . . ."

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was there letting people know that LGBT folks were welcome at their church.  I didn't see Jim Minnery and his Love Your Gay Neighbor campaign.

Darrel Hess was staffing the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission and Ombudsman table.

The Anchorage International Film Festival had a booth to promoting the GayLa part of the festival.  Three AIFF heavy weights were at the booth when I got there:  Laura Moscatello, the general manager,  and board members Rich Curtner, and Dean Franklin,  who is also their web manager. 

The National Park Service was there as well. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bike Trail Slasher

Just last fall I wrote about the opening of the Campbell Creek bike trail under the Seward Highway.

Today, when I went to see Chong Kim, the Department of Transportation Project Engineer who was in charge of that project so I could ask questions about the three final options for 36th and Seward Highway, he was very upset because someone, over the winter, slashed the screens that are used to protect bikers and pedestrians from debris falling off the highway.  Other places these are also to keep snow plowed on the road above from hitting people on the trail.  Here, along Campbell Creek, they aren't allowed to plow snow into the creek, but I'm sure it happens once in a while.  Chong had worked hard to get screens that were both functional and decorative.   He's clearly upset about this.

Here are some pictures of what's happened.

It was a little hard taking pictures because the screens are see-through to a certain extent.  But on the near left side you can see a big rectangle cut out. 

This project goes under four different roads - two frontage roads and then the north and south parts of the highway.  So there are a bunch of screens and parts of most of them have been damaged.

Here's Chong Kim, the project manager on video.  I've talked to him about a number of projects over the last few years and he's always been very candid and passionate about the projects.  The kind of public administrator who gives this member of the public confidence.

These aren't cheap screens.  He said the fabric for all these screens cost $10,000.  The material, with the images of a skier, runner, and biker were specially ordered.

Chong was truly upset and trying to figure out how to fix these in a way that will still be attractive, but harder to destroy.


Here they just slashed it.

And here they made a long narrow peek hole.

There's more, but I figure that's enough to get the idea across.

Of course, I wish I could talk with the person(s) who did this.  What was he thinking?  (Research seems to indicate it's almost always a male.)  I looked for interviews with vandals on google, but that got me to a talk with a rock group. 

A brief google search for research sort of confirmed this, but the research was old. It suggested that the need for
  • love and security
  • new experiences
  • praise and recognition
  • responsibility
were the basic causes for vandalism and violence.  From The Roots Of Vandalism and Violence:
Anger, hate and lack of concern for others are common reactions to being unloved and rejected.  Vandalism and violence are an expression of these feelings. 
I tend to believe this is the case, but while it said the findings were based on research, it didn't show the sources.

It's not a simple problem.  It's about getting parents training on how to raise their kids.  It's about schools making sure all kids' strengths can find expression and be rewarded.  It's about funding good pre-school programs and good day care.

It's about governments that put money into the education of young kids.  Our current legislature isn't going to decrease vandalism.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Shredding Alaska Archives

There's something wrong about a company that shreds documents being called "Alaska Archives."

And since we only just learned recently that the Federal Archives' Alaska holding will be shipped from Alaska to Seattle,  it was particularly startling to see this truck next to me at a stop light.  I took a very fast picture before the light changed. 

[UPDATE June 16, 2014:  Pico Alaska links to a 49 Writers story on the impact of the archives moving to Seattle.

In fact, 49 Writers has a whole series on the Archives and how to use them.  I guess now it will start with a ticket to Seattle.]

China White Paper Changes Rules Of Hong Kong Basic Law

Police crackdowns on protesters make good television.  And even without video or photographs, the stories have concrete images that readers and listeners can quickly comprehend.

But technical wording changes in long 'white papers' are much harder for the news media to present.  Especially when the history behind the documents is unknown.

China has recently made  significant changes in the rules that govern Hong Kong - The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR.)  Rules that foreshadow crackdowns on the freedoms that Hong Kong residents enjoy that aren't shared in the rest of China.

In this post I'm going to
  • give a very brief history of the Basic Law and the context of Hong Kong at the time based on my experiences living in Hong Kong when it was promulgated.
  • offer an excerpt from the new white paper that gives a sense of the kind of language that is making the people of Hong Kong fearful.

Hong Kong 1989/90
On April 4, 1990, toward the end of our Fulbright year at the Chinese University of Hong Kong,  the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) was passed by the Third Session of the Seventh National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing.

There were still seven years to go before the UK would hand over Hong Kong to the Chinese.  It was less than year since Tiananmen and people in Hong Kong were worried that all the freedoms they had under the British would be swept away. (I'd note that compared to the US, their freedoms were modest already.)  People were seeking escape routes in case things got bad.  News stands were full of new magazines that highlighted countries where Hong Kong residents could apply for citizenship.  I remember big ads in the newspaper for citizenship in Botswana for people who could invest, if I recall right, US$250,000.  Vancouver was becoming known as Hongcouver because so many people were buying property and establishing residency there.

Although Hong Kong was a British colony and people had British passports, people had discovered that when they renewed their passports, the words 'right to abode' were no longer in them.  Britain was not prepared to have 5 million Hong Kong residents move to London.

The Basic Law offered Hong Kong special rights and freedoms that were not available to mainland Chinese.  At the time, Hong Kong was a wide open capitalist* city full of consumer goods and high rise buildings - all the glitter and free trade of the west.  In mainland China things were still grey from people's clothes to the most rudimentary shops with few goods for sale.  You'd tell the clerk what you wanted.  She'd write out a receipt which you took to the cashier.  When you paid, you were given a receipt to take back to the clerk who would give you your item.  Every hotel floor - and even the 'foreign expert housing' I stayed in on campus in when visiting Beijing - had young giggling girls who monitored guests as they came and went from their rooms.

China had to make some guarantees to the British that Hong Kong wasnt going to revert to the severe Mainland communist control and that the people of Hong Kong weren't going to lose all the freedom they had.  And Beijing, it seemed, didn't want to kill the golden goose that was bringing in so much foreign currency, much of it sending Chinese products to the rest of the world.   This was before Deng Xiaoping made his southern tour and declared there was a place for capitalism within China.  It was before Shanghai's transformation.

The answer was the document known as the Basic Law.   A key phrase in the Basic Law was "One country, two systems."  As Hong Kong reverted back to China after its 99 year lease to Great Britain, it would be allowed to maintain its own system.  The border from Mainland China into Hong Kong was heavily controlled.  That was the deal.  This last week, following the tens of thousands in Hong Kong who publicly commemorated Tiananmen's 25th anniversary, China released a white paper that appears to change the rules originally set out in the Basic Law.

One part of the Basic Law says that eventually the people of Hong Kong should be able to vote for the chief executive.  In 2007 the date for such elections was set as 2017.  It appears that many people in Hong Kong believe if such an election does take place, Beijing will limit candidates those who 'love China."

I haven't had a chance to read it all carefully.  But here's an excerpt that I found that seems to highlight the kinds of changes that are causing severe heartburn for people in Hong Kong right now.

"One country, two systems" is a holistic concept. The "one country" means that within the PRC, HKSAR is an inseparable part and a local administrative region directly under China's Central People's Government. As a unitary state, China's central government has comprehensive jurisdiction over all local administrative regions, including the HKSAR. The high degree of autonomy of HKSAR is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership. The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power. It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership. The high degree of autonomy of HKSAR is subject to the level of the central leadership's authorization. There is no such thing called "residual power." With China's Constitution stipulating in clear-cut terms that the country follows a fundamental system of socialism, the basic system, core leadership and guiding thought of the "one country" have been explicitly provided for. The most important thing to do in upholding the "one country" principle is to maintain China's sovereignty, security and development interests, and respect the country's fundamental system and other systems and principles.
The whole text can be read at the South China Morning Post here.

Given that Hong Kong was a British colony, one might expect Great Britain to be concerned about changes in the agreement they signed when they handed over Hong Kong to China.  But I can't find any official reaction out of London.  That may not happen as China's premiere Li Keqiang is headed to London for significant trade talks next week.

Should anyone be surprised about this?  I think not.  I would guess that the Basic Law gave the British a way to say, as they left, that we've made sure you'll be ok, though they had nothing to do with writing it.  It was the Joint Declaration that they worked out with China as conditions for the handover.   The Basic Law always had enough ambiguity   that China would be able to have as much control as they needed.  I think while people knew this, they still held out hope that they'd keep their freedoms.

*The capitalist label is a little misleading.  Most Hong Kong workers lived in low rent government housing blocks and different business sectors had guaranteed seats in the Hong Kong government.

[I've tried reposting this because Feedburner is having trouble updating links on blogrolls.  There was a lot of extra coding in the HTML that apparently came in with the quotation.  I've eliminated it, but hope I didn't cut out any of the post at the same time. And I'm not sure this will fix the pinging problem. But I posted the bear warning and it had no problem. That's why I think it's something in the coding of this post. ]  [It worked.] 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why l Live Here - Bears On Campus

I got this email that was sent out to the University of Alaska Anchorage community today.

Dear Anchorage Campus Community:

Yesterday afternoon we reported the presence of a black bear with two cubs near the Integrated Science Building. Today, June 12, the bear and her cubs are still on and around the UAA campus. Just a short time ago, they were spotted on the trail that runs beside Mosquito Lake between UAA and APU. Please continue to be aware of your surroundings as you walk around campus. If you see the bear and/or her cubs, please do not approach them.

UAA is opening and operating a normal schedule today, June 12.

Thank you.
  My wife was out for her walk and often walks where the bears were spotted in yesterday's email.  I called her and she had just walked the trail but saw no bears.  She decided to take a different route home.

Moose?  Yes, they're pretty common on campus.  Bears?  That's much rarer.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Twofer: Racist Rant and Consequences of Leaving Kid Alone In Car

Two posts I saw the other day are still stuck in my head.  They also help illuminate the Bergdahl Rohrschach post I did the other day that suggested that many news events are like Rohrschach tests:  what people see in the event - particularly when details are scarce - reflects more about the commenter than about the event.

Here are two more events.

1.    From Salon.

 The day I left my son in the car

I made a split-second decision to run into the store. I had no idea it would consume the next years of my life

Author Kim Brooks recounts in great detail how a series of events  resulted in her running into the store to get one item while her four year old son waited in the car with an iPad.  She cracked the windows, it was 50˚F (10˚C) outside, and she put on the car alarm.  Unbeknownst (that is a strange word, isn't it?) to her, a stranger videotaped her and the kid and her return and called the police to report her.  Kim left before the cops arrived and flew home to another city, but when her husband picked her up at the airport he told her to call her mom, whom she'd been visiting and whose car she was in.

It's a long, long, long piece, but pretty gripping.  It raised a lot of issues, but to me (my Rohrschach) it was about common sense, child danger and independence, and about people judging others.  What I really wanted to know about and what wasn't covered, was the person who reported her.  What was that person's back story?  What caused that person to do what she did?  As one of the commenters at Salon wrote - a true good Samaritan would have stayed by the car and made sure the kid was ok.  Is this a person who is fixated on rules to the extent that she can't discriminate between child neglect and a quick and reasonable dash into the store?  Does she have her own tales of childhood neglect and abuse that justify this in her mind?  We only hear what happened from the view of the writer.  Perhaps there was more incriminating behavior she left out.  The whole Salon piece is here.

A gripping read for anyone, particularly a parent in today's overprotected world. (I write that as someone who walked about a mile to school alone starting in first grade.)  This also reminds me of a story of a close friend who was charged with shoplifting at Whole Foods and spent a year and a big chunk of money to get it dismissed.  This should have never happened; there were some cross-cultural miscues, but common sense did not prevail until the judge finally tossed it.  That's a story I haven't written about here.  Maybe one day I will.  It seems security guards at Whole Foods have done this more than once, for example here

2.  Black guy video tapes racist rant from his car.

I don't even feel like putting up the video, but here's the link.  It already has 9 million hits and 35,000 comments.  I bet someone could do a doctoral thesis just on the comments.  Two people see each other out of context of their whole lives.  I'm more interested in what was going on in her head. 

In a follow up on USA Today, she says she's working with her doctor and was changing medications and she apologized, though it seemed more something she was doing as therapy or on advice of an attorney than from her heart.  The guy who posted the video wrote:
"This happened to me last Friday May 30th 2014.  I'm more upset that it was done in front of her children.  They will have hate and have no idea where it came from."
I think the number of hits and comments speaks to how unusual it is to actually capture something like this on camera.   I think the man handled things pretty calmly, all things considered.  The woman was way out of normal range of behavior and I'd be inclined, at this point, to accept her explanation that she was off her meds.  Is this more about racism or more about mental health?  When someone is in her condition and really out of control, I suspect they use whatever they think will push the other person's buttons.  But I'd like to think that even if my brain's normal constraints stopped working, I wouldn't throw 'nigger' at anyone.  But those of us who are products of US culture have that word stashed away in our brains.  Who's to say it wouldn't slip out of any of our lips in a time of stress and mental unbalance?  We only know when we're tested.

Only the people who know her well know whether this was exceptional behavior. 

Lots to think about. 

Brat Wins In Virginia With 8% of Registered Voters. Will Cantor Pull A Murkowski?

[Nov. 7, 2014 - results of the general election here.]

By now, anyone reading this, unless they're in South Africa, knows that Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election Tuesday June 10 to David Brat. 

I'm writing this from Alaska and I don't know much about Cantor's district.  I did drive once from DC to Richmond which would have had me driving through a good part of the population center.  But I'm just gathering internet available data as I try to figure out what happened and what it might mean for his district in November and what it might mean here in Alaska. 

Here are the official election results from the Virginia State Government page:

As you can see, there were 65,008 votes cast.  (I don't know about absentee, but this is 100% of the votes cast Tuesday, apparently.)

So, what percent of registered voters in this district is that? 

From Virginia State Board of Elections website has a February 1, 2014 report on the number of registered voters in District 7.

Virginia District 7 2/1/2014
#of Precincts in District 234
# of Active Voters: 473,032
# of Inactive Voters 31,863
# of Total Voters   504,895

I'm sure that somewhere they have this information broken down by party, but I didn't find it and it's not important enough to spend too much time on.  And it was an open primary without much happening in the other races.   I'm just trying to get some ballpark idea of what happened.

If we take the active voters (473,032) in the district, then about  14% of the registered voters in the district participated.  And about 8% of the district's registered voters, voted for David Brat. 

For Cantor, the obvious deficiency was not getting his voters out.  Given the tone of the coverage of this race - "In an enormous political upset . . " for example - Cantor's supporters figured they didn't have to go to the polls.

Nathaniel Downes at Addicting Information attributes the loss to gerrymandering:
"The cause for this major upset boils down to the GOP’s overuse of gerrymandering. By carving out safe districts for their candidates in the general elections, the Republicans engineered a situation whereby fringe candidates within their own party now can cause primary challenges which can not only force out incumbents, it can enable for candidates who would do damage to the nation through their anti-government rhetoric to win seats in government."

The district did change in 2013 - since Cantor's last race - and it seems to have acquired a leg, so to speak, but probably overlaps the old district quite a bit.  But Downes' point is that it's more Republican than it was, not that there are different constituents.  Here are what I found as the old and new district borders:

District 7 Before 2013 Redistricting
Virginia District 7 after 2013

What about the Democrat?   They really weren't expecting to be players in November it seems.   The Downes (the guy at Addicting Info) writes:
"The original Democratic candidate for the district, Mike Dickenson failed to file the paperwork necessary to be on the ballot, although there has been some push for a write-in campaign. So, it looks like the field for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District is going to be dominated by the Tea Party and Libertarian candidates this year.
*UPDATE* It turns out that the Democratic Party of Virginia has pushed forward a candidate late yesterday, Jack Trammell. Like Dave Brat, he is a professor at Randolph-Macon College, and has not yet even gotten his campaign website up and running yet. For now it redirects to ActBlue, the Democratic PAC focused on internet fundraising."
Well, there's more than Democrats. Ballotopedia says:
"Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, will face Democrat Jack Trammell, who is also a Randolph-Macon professor, Libertarian James Carr and write-in candidate Mike Dickinson, who failed to earn the Democratic endorsement."

So, if all that is correct,
  • the Republicans have a Tea-Party candidate, David Brat, who upset the House Republican Majority leader, Cantor 
  • there's a Libertarian candidate, James Carr, who presumably would eat into Brat's votes
  • a last minute Democrat, Jack Trammel, a fellow faculty member at Randolph-Macon College with David Brat which gives new meaning to "campus politics'
  • a write-in candidate who failed to file as a Democrat, Mike Dickenson

Will Cantor Pull a Murkowski?

In Alaska, when Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the primary in 2010 to Joe Miller, there was a little known Democrat on the ballot to oppose Miller.  Murkowski was able to rally the economic resources of the Alaska Native corporations, and sufficient Democrats voted for her on the grounds that Scott McAdams, the Democrat, couldn't win, and Murkowski was far better than Miller.  She also got lots of Republican votes though official national Republican money stuck with the primary winner.

I don't know enough about Virginia's district 7 to be able to have a clue what might happen if Cantor decided to fight for his seat back.  Given that Brat won with only 8% of the registered voters, and given the Murkowski precedent, I'm sure it will be tempting.

What Does This Mean For Alaska?

My guess is that Joe Miller is a happy man tonight and that his Tea Party supporters will be energized.  The thought that Brat was outspent by Cantor almost  50 - 1, will motivate supporters of a lot of financially marginal candidates.

But Virginia's 7th Congressional district is only about 100 miles long and not nearly as wide.  You can drive to any house in the district in a day at most.  Campaigning in Alaska is much more expensive.  We have state house districts bigger than the whole state of Virginia.   And many villages aren't on the road system.  Hell, our state capital isn't on the road system (but you can get there by ferry.)  Unless you have a pilot's license or a friend who does, getting around the state is very expensive.  

I suspect that the coalition that elected Murkowski will reelect Begich in the end, especially if Miller is the Republican candidate again.  The big national conservative money is pushing relatively recent Alaska Dan Sullivan in the US Senate race, but Begich is a tenacious and savvy campaigner.