Monday, June 29, 2015

UA Presidential Search Update - The Only Candidate, Jim Johnsen, Might Visit UAA July 8 [UPDATED]

I've been working on a post comparing the UA presidential searches of 1990, 1998, 2010, and 2015.  My goal, following UA Presidential Search 1: The Cultural Conflict, is to show how the searches have gone from traditional, open academic style searches to ever more closed, Board controlled searches.

Gathering data for this has taken a while and now I realize I have way more than most of my readers want to know.  So now I'm editing it.  I also have material for four or five more posts on the search and the candidate.  We'll see how many I get done. 

In the meantime, I wanted to let people know that in an email communication from Jim Johnsen, I did learn that the campus visits are supposed to be the week of July 6, with the Anchorage visit scheduled for July 8.  I'm posting that here because I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else and a few people have asked me.  The Board of Regents' Search Committee page's last announcement was June 4 - when they announced that there would only be one candidate visiting the campuses.

I put might in the title, because I'm wondering if the original schedule is still good.  

I'm not sure why they are waiting to announce the dates, but I think people should get as much advance warning as possible so they can arrange to see the candidate.

[UPDATE June 30, 2015:  As KS comments below, the schedule of visits is now up.  Here's a link to the whole schedule, and below is the Anchorage schedule.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - University of Alaska Anchorage
Meetings in UAA Consortium Library Room 307
8a-8:45a                      Meet with Governance Groups
9a-9:45a                      Meet with Faculty and Staff
10a-10:45a                  Meet with Students
11a-11:45a                  Meet with Alumni
12n-1:45p                    Lunch Break
2p-2:45p                      Meet with Deans and Directors
3p-3:45p                      Meet with Chancellor and Chancellor’s Cabinet
4:30p-6:30p                 Anchorage Community Forum at the Varsity Sports Grill in the Alaska Airlines Center]

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Anchro-Pop Closes Out Diversity Celebration In Anchorage Today

Henna painting at the Somali table.

The Hmong table had embroidered history lessons, as well as a book on the role of Laos and the Hmong in the Vietnam War. 

The Norwegian table.

The politicians who worked with the community to set the festival up.  Elvi Gray-Jackson (black dress), Assembly member Anchorage, Geran Tarr, state representative from this district, and Ethan Berkowitz, mayor elect.  The pastor was presiding over a vigil in memory of the Charleston church shooting victims.  The recent Supreme Court decisions had also been lauded.

Yu'pik (I think) dancers. 

And this young man got his face painted with what looks like an old Yu'pik mask design

And the title of this post?  Well, it's what I thought of as I listened to Gambian born Anchorage singer, Ousman Jarju (OJ), and the Rebel Clef.   It's Afro-pop with an Anchorage flavor. He transformed a mall parking lot on a gray day into the place to be.

The Rebel Clef  FB page lists the band members.

"Johnnie wright III-Keyboardist /Music director Elivis Crenshaw- Base player Kiah Ward- Drums Ousman Jarju- lead singer Benjamin Blunt- Percussionist Freddie Stokes- saxophone player Angel Wright- Manager ."
 I've posted before about Anchorage having the most diverse census tracts and high school in the nation.  Chad Farrel, the sociologist who's written about this, explains this part of Anchorage, unlike more racially segregated cities, Anchorage has districts with whites as well as a full flavor of ethnic origins.  A follow-up post covers Professor Farrel's presentation at the Alaska Press Club 2014.  I've only highlighted a few that were out this afternoon.  

So, it seems to me, this music is something we can start calling Anchro-pop.  Enjoy the video - I decided to leave the footage as I got it, giving you a sense of being there, and getting it up today. 

No Limits On Human Imagination

Look at how these amazing Filipino artists - El Gamma Penumbra - use their bodies to convey beauty and an important message.  They've taken a traditional form or artistry in SE Asian cultures from Indonesia to Thailand - shadow puppets - and turned it into something entirely new.  Plus they had to work incredibly hard to make their artistry so precise. 

Here's part of Wikipedia's entry on El Gamma Penumbra:

Early career

El Gamma Penumbra was first founded in 2003 as a hip-hop boy group, competing in dance contests in their hometown. Before joining Pilipinas Got Talent, however, they changed their act thinking that there will be lesser chance of winning due to too many hip-hop dancers in the Philippines. Upon deciding to do shadow play, believing it is new and unique, they started practicing in a basketball court near their hometown using a tarpaulin and a halogen light as an improvisation.[3]
They decided to produce an all-male group members, meaning females are not included, due to the "extreme body movements and contact required of their routines."[4]

Thanks for the tip B.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


I forgot about this picture I took while biking in LA ten days ago.  I just feel like people who build like this near cliffs like these are real optimists.  I'm sure the engineers are sure everything's fine, and the building will probably be there a long time. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Million Candidate March On Washington DC

You think there are 14 Republican candidates running for US President in 2016?  Think again.  The Federal Elections Commission as of today (June 25, 2015) lists 112 Republican candidates.  The largest group of candidates - 123 - are listed as Independent.  Here's the list by number of candidates for each party as of June 25, 2015 from the Federal Election Website.

  Number of Candidates  Party
123 Independent
112 Republican Party
86 Democratic Party
39 Other
26 (each) None;   Unknown
13 No Party Affiliation
12 Unaffiliated Party
11 (each) Libertarian; Write-In
4 (each) Green Party; Constitutional
3 (each) United Party;  American Party
2 (each) NBC;  Independent American Party;  Federalist Party
1 (each) Reform Party;  HEL;  Democratic Farm Party;  Communist;  American Independent Party;  AME;  A99
421 total Numbers as of June 25, 2015 at FEC Website.  (Plus I admit to possible errors)

I propose we aim for a one million candidate march on Washington DC.  The date I've chosen is Friday the 13th (there's just one in 2016 - in May), because 999,999 of these candidates will be unlucky and not win.  (Some actually may think those who don't win are the lucky ones.)

So that leaves less than a year to round up 999,579 more candidates.

So, how can you become a candidate so you can march next May 13?  From the FEC website:
"Under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended (the Act), an individual becomes a candidate for federal office when:
  • The individual has received contributions aggregating in excess of $5,000 or made expenditures aggregating in excess of $5,000; or
  • The individual has given consent to another person to receive contributions or make expenditures on behalf of him or herself and that person has received contributions aggregating in excess of $5,000 or made expenditures aggregating in excess of $5,000 (11 CFR 100.3(a))."
That's the easy part.  

Slate explained the process and paperwork for running for President in 2008.

All the details - it's pretty complicated - are on another FEC webpage - Quick Answers To Candidate Questions. 

There were a few party names that caught my eye.

HEL - Votesmart writes:
"William Knox Richardson 
Announced, Helluva Party for President

Contact Information

5805 West Harmon Avenue #308
Las Vegas, NV 89103"
A99 - Jeremy Lee Milligan.

I haven't found anything that directly explains what the name of the A99 party (Party is not part of the name) is about.  But I did find a reference to A99:15 of the Nixon Tapes where Nixon is talking to Governor Shafer about a commission that was looking at the legalization of marijuana:
Shafer: The congressional members didn’t participate as much until the very end, and then Javits and Hughes tried to take over. [Chuckling] We would have had legalization if we hadn’t really, you know, they wanted to have the alcohol model, which is wrong. We were against legalization, because we feel that in the first place the returns are not in about the pharmacological effects of the drug.
President Nixon: I would say this with regard to that, you know how Ray is an old politician. You know very well that no matter how precisely you state it, how your report reads, that they will try to oversimplify it and say, ‘The commission recommends legalization,’ or, ‘It does not recommend legalization.’ [Unclear] And I think it is important that you say, ‘Let us understand whatthis report does do and what it does not do. We do not believe marijuana should be legalized.’ I think you
should say that.’
Shafer: We’ve already said it [unclear].
President Nixon:And then you go on to say, ‘However, we believe that in terms of penalties that there should be some, uh, that in order to get at the problem there should be’ this and that and the other thing
You can read more aboutf Nixon and marijuana at CSDP.

LA - Anchorage 3: Coming Home Around Midnight

About 15 minutes out of Anchorage, we're flying over the water, mountains, and glaciers of Prince William Sound.  It's almost midnight, the sun's been down about 20 minutes. 

Now we're over Cook Inlet.  Two different waters side by side.

The summer green on the mudflats at the edge of the runway.

This series of pictures is of the waters flowing at the end of Turnagain Arm.  You can see the much smaller line of  the Seward Highway as it makes its long slow turn around the end of the Arm.  It starts on the right just below the middle and goes across to the left and then curves back to the right.  It's clearer in some of the images than others.

Each Photoshop tool allows you to see something different in the image.  The letters didn't come out so well, but for those with an interest, these are the tools I used:
A.   Posterize filter
B.   Image adjustments - invert
C.   Image adjustments - equalize  - very close to the original
D.   Fresco filter
E.   Image - curves

I am working on other posts, just haven't gotten all the information quite right yet.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

LA - Anchorage 2: Clouds From Above

We left LA at 8pm.  The sun had set.  We were headed north and I was sitting on the west facing side of the plane.  It was cloudy much of the way.  Here are some clouds.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

LA - Anchorage 1: Leaving LA

We left the gate at 7:50pm..  Just past the beaches, patterns in water.  Tip of Palos Verdes on the left.


Cloud island in the sky.

Channel Islands

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sitemeter Out Of Control - UPDATED Again: July 9

[UDATE July 27, 2015:  I've switched to StatCounter,  Hello StatCounter, Goodbye Sitemeter explains why, and has links that show how to do it.]

[UPDATE July 9, 2015:  Sitemeter has been working again for the last two days for me.  It is still going to Vindicosuite and I will be looking at Statcounter as people have recommended when I have a little more time.]

[UPDATE June 30, 2015 10:45pm Alaska Daylight Time:  An hour ago I checked Sitemeter and it was still saying to try back in a few minutes.  But now there is something back up, but it's still whacked.  There are days with way more hits than I ever get and there are days with zero hits.  But it's a sign someone is working on it.

OK, back to the original post.]

I signed up for Sitemeter probably back in 2007.  At that time it was a one man operation and if I had a question I could email him and get a quick personal response signed by David Smith.  It gave me formats for seeing who was visiting my blog that were different from others - more precise and meaningful.  It also revealed to me how much data websites get from visitors - ip address, location, kind of computer in detail, search terms, browser, and much more.  Not everything from every visitor, but more than most realize.

I've voiced praise and frustration with Sitemeter in the past.

Then at some point Sitemeter apparently was bought by MySpace.  Since then things have gone downhill.  Reports about MySpace selling information about  Sitemeter users would come up.  Sitemeter stopped answering any of my help requests or comments.

Recently, something called vindicosuite started showing up and gumming things up.  From a google forum:

Mark Liberman said:

I posted about this on Language Log ( seems to be "passive DNS replicator", which may be performing a genuine function; but apparently buggy software at sitemeter results in pages with sitemeter counting code on them getting redirected there.

I've been seeing intermittent flashes of this sort of thing from sitemeter for over a year, and during that same period of time, the company has failed to respond to repeated questions directed at their "support" team.

As of yesterday evening, the problem was categorical rather than intermittent, so I removed the sitemeter code from the WordPress theme, and the problem went away.

As far as I can tell, this is a symptom of incompetence rather than malice, but in any case, sitemeter is clearly more trouble than it's worth.

Then Sitemeter was down for nearly day and when it returned, it was totally whacked.  It would show the same hit 30 or 40 times in my stats.   My stats are totally crazy.  I'd note that the number of hits Sitemeter tells me I get (generally in the 200 range each day) is wildly different from Google's count of over 1000.  But the Sitemeter info on individual hits tells me more about who visits what pages.  (No, there are no specific names connected to the visitors, but for some repeat visitors I can tell.)

I'd totally get rid of it, but that just adds one more thing to my todo list - finding another good stat counter.  And my todo list is already way too long.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Is Terrorism A Hate Crime?

The shooting in Charleston, South Carolina is one of many instances in the news this year already where people's stereotypes about race has led to black Americans dying.  Rather than write yet another post on this topic, here are a selected few that look at the topic of racism from different perspectives.  The first one has gotten a lot of hits from google the last couple of days. 

Is Terrorism A Hate Crime?  -  This post examines the contradiction of those politicians and citizens who oppose the idea of 'hate crime'  when it adds to the severity of the penalty, yet strongly support the idea of 'terrorism' charges increasing the penalty.  This is a detailed look at the meaning of both terms and I quote the tortured logic of some of the folks who support or oppose them

Why Is It Hard To Talk About Racism? - This post outlines an approach I've used in workshops on racism to approach the topic in a way that is a little easier to get people talking.  Even so, some people will say it's not hard to talk about it and they have nothing more to say.

Michele Norris Talks About Race At UAA  - This post reports on NPR's Michele Norris' talk at UAA about her Race Card Project, getting people to write and post short cards online about what race means to them.  There's also a bit of video of Norris that evening in January 2014. 

"Like termites, they undermine the structure of any neighborhood in which they creep."  - This post reviews the book Some of My Best Friends Are Black by Tanner Colby, who went to Central High in Birmingham, after 'integration.'   His experience there causes him to first review how desegregation resulted in widespread loss of teaching jobs for black teachers and a resegregation in the schools.

He then goes on to look at how neighborhoods were segregated using federal home loan laws and restrictive covenants.  Here's a short quote from the post (and the book) about a real estate developer who destroyed neighborhoods by scaring white folks out of their city neighborhoods and into buying his suburban white by covenant housing developments. 
"But Nichols's most important contribution to the way we live wasn't something he invented himself.  He just perfected it.  And the thing he perfected was the all-white neighborhood, hardwired with restrictive covenants that dictated not only the size and shape of the house but the color of the people who could live inside.  This idea, the racialization of space, would take root deep in the nation's consciousness, for both whites and blacks alike, becoming so entrenched that all the moral might of the civil right crusade was powerless to dislodge it.  In the South, Jim Crow was just the law.  In Kansas City, J.C. Nichols turned it into a product.  Then he packaged it, commodified it, and sold it.  Whiteness was no longer just an inflated social status.  Now it was worth cash money." [p.82]
And to connect back to the title of this post, here's another quote from the post.
Colby then discusses Nichols' friends, a group of prominent developers from around the country who were the 'brain trust' of National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB). 

"Not by coincidence in 1924 NAREB made racial discrimination official policy, updating its code of ethics to say, 'A Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood members of any race or nationality . . . whose presence will clearly be detrimental to the property values of that neighborhood.  Like termites, they undermine the structure of any neighborhood in which they creep."

[Reposted because of Feedburner problems.]

Thursday, June 18, 2015

For A Church To Get Kicked Out Of The Southern Baptist Convention They Have To Stop Sending Money Or Approve Of Homosexuality

The original title for this post was:  " Southern Baptists Declaration Of Defiance Perhaps Reflects Fear For Survival."   But as I kept researching this topic, I came to the startling discovery that there are only two conditions for which the Southern Baptist Convention explicitly says they'll cut off a church.  The post leads you to how I got there.  While the original title is, I think, probably accurate, the second title is, to me, more amazing.

For those media who mention the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) in Ohio, the attention seems focused on the statements of defiance of the law if the Supreme Court recognizes same-sex marriage this month (not a sure thing, by the way.) 

I saw a brief note in the Alaska Dispatch (here's a similar article from Herald Online because I can't find a link to the ADN article):
"Southern Baptists: We won’t obey gay marriage decision    COLUMBUS Officials with the Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday issued a statement saying they will reject any ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that affirms same-sex marriage.    “We will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court,” said the joint statement by SBC President the Rev. Ronnie Floyd as well as past presidents."
My first reaction was puzzlement.  What exactly does this mean?

They will not accept or adhere to . . .   I don't see a Supreme Court decision for same sex marriage requiring them to do anything.   The ruling wouldn't require any Southern Baptist pastor to marry same sex couples.  It would not require Southern Baptists to marry same sex partners.  They could go on believing same-sex marriage and homosexuality are against God's word and they wouldn't have to participate. 

I looked for the whole statement to see if it would enlighten me.  I found it on other websites, but not the SBC's.  I even checked the SBC resolutions webpage.  I did find a website by Denny Burk who says that Mr. Burk was a co-author of the resolution and posts the whole resolution there.  I've also included it at the bottom of this post.

As I looked for the resolution, I found another page about a panel at the convention that discussed how  SBC  churches should minister to gay parishioners
"Christians should not undervalue the effect of love or the Gospel in relating to gays and lesbians, recognizing, however, that faithfulness to the biblical definition of marriage will prove costly, members of a special panel told messengers at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention. [that's an exact quote]
During the Wednesday afternoon session (June 17), five panelists answered questions from SBC President Ronnie Floyd about how churches and pastors can minister in an American culture that increasingly approves of homosexuality and same-sex marriage." [emphasis added]
A year ago, I attended Jim Minnery's  "Love Your Gay Neighbor." night at Anchorage's East High.

What I heard at the Anchorage meeting last year, and see signs of in this discussion, are concerns about how the SBC can stay relevant in a society that, as they say in the quote above, "increasingly approves of homosexuality and same-sex marriage."  In Anchorage, visiting speakers argued that while the church embraces and attempts to help all other sinners, gays are simply rejected as irredeemable.  [Is this a tacit acknowledgment that they believe gays can't change?]  Instead, they argued, the church should embrace gays the way they do other sinners and help them fight their temptations  This panel at the SBC convention echoed that:
"Matt Carter, lead pastor of Austin Stone Community Church, said the Texas church is attempting "to train the believers who go to our church to pursue [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender -- LGBT] people with the Gospel in the same way they would pursue anybody with the Gospel."
"We try to help our folks understand: 'These people are not your enemy.' Satan is our enemy. These are people that desperately need the blood and the love of Jesus Christ," Carter told messengers."

What I heard at the panel last year was that there was a need for change, not in the SBC's basic beliefs, but in how they talked about and approached lgbt folks.  I'm taking a leap here, but I'm guessing this statement the media are focused on has something to do with a division in the Convention itself. 

What exactly is a resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention?  From their website:
Resolutions differ from motions in that resolutions are non-binding statements that express the collective opinion of the messengers at a specific SBC annual meeting on a given subject. Covering a wide range of theological, social, and practical topics, resolutions educate our own people about important moral, ethical, and public policy issues; speak to the broader culture about our beliefs; and provide helpful tools for our churches and entities to speak with authority in the public square about the biblical application of timely and timeless matters. All past resolutions can be researched and read in their entirety at
 In fact, the SBC website says that the SBC really isn't a church.  In their 'About Us' section I found:
"The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is not a church. It is a set of ministries supported by a network of cooperating Baptist churches.
These ministries include international and domestic missions, theological education, advocacy for religious liberty, literature production, insurance and retirement services for pastors and other church workers, and the infrastructure necessary to keep these cooperative efforts operational. Specifically, the Convention was created "to provide a general organization of Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the futherance of the Kingdom of God" (SBC Constitution, Article II)."
The page goes on to discuss the level of autonomy of local churches. 
"Baptists have long held the principles of congregational self-governance, self-support, and selfpropagation. Local churches select their own staff, ordain their own ministers, adopt their own budgets, organize their own ministries, hold legal title to their own properties, and establish their own membership requirements. The Southern Baptist Convention does none of these, for it is not a “church” and it has no authority over the churches. In fact, the SBC “does not claim and will never attempt to exercise authority over any other Baptist body” (SBC Constitution, Article IV, emphasis supplied). The Convention does not ordain ministers, assign staff to churches, levy contributions, choose literature, adopt the church calendar, monitor or maintain church membership lists, or assign persons to churches according to place of residence. These are all local church prerogatives.
So, does the resolution have any power over individual churches?   The statement on Freedom and Flexibility continues:
Within the Body of Christ, there is a great diversity of gifts, temperament, taste and experience. Churches benefit from this range of qualities within their own fellowship and across the Convention. Churches learn from and complement each other. This is not a matter of moral or doctrinal compromise. You cannot believe and do just anything and remain a part of the Southern Baptist fellowship. All Baptist bodies have limits. But within those limits, there is room for significant cooperative diversity.  [Emphasis added.]
What are the limits?  In the FAQ section, they seem to tell us in their answer to the question:
Actually, the Southern Baptist Convention is not in a position to take any disciplinary action regarding pastors or churches. Again, because of the autonomy of the local church, each SBC church is responsible before God to set its own policies regarding pastors or problems in the church. Such policies are entirely up to the individual congregation.
According to our constitution, if a church no longer makes a bona fide contribution to the Convention's work, or if it acts to "affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior," it no longer complies with the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention and is not permitted to send messengers to the annual meeting. These, however, are the only explicitly stated instances in which the SBC has the prerogative to take action. Failure to remain in "friendly cooperation" would also disqualify a church from sending messengers, and is obviously more of a subjective test.
Most SBC churches would look to their own constitutions and bylaws for the answer to this question, often these documents address this very issue."  [emphasis added.]
Wow, only homosexuality is mentioned here, not even abortion, although it too is mentioned on their position statements page.   (That comes from Article III section 1 of their constitution. )

My guess is that this current statement is aimed more at member churches than the world-at-large.  If the local churches have so much autonomy, and if American attitudes toward homosexuality are changing rapidly, what will happen when local churches decide to accept homosexuality as other churches have done?  Will the SBC lose members and power?

This notion is supported by an article in Ecumenical News, from which I've taken these excerpts:
  • With just under 15.5 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention remains the largest Protestant group in the United States. But it has lost about 800,000 members since 2003, when membership peaked at about 16.3 million, Christianity Today reported.
  • The number of SBC baptisms has declined in eight of the past 10 years, according to the denomination, The Associated Press reported. In 2014, baptisms declined by more than 5,000 to just over 305,000.
  • . . .  a new major survey from the Pew Research Center shows a similar decline for the SBC. In 2007, Pew found that about 6.7 percent of Americans claimed to be Southern Baptists. In 2014, 5.3 percent of Americans were Southern Baptists.
  • Pew also found Southern Baptists are aging, with the median age rising from 49 in 2007 to 54 in 2014.

It seems there's some division within the ranks about the cause of the decline (still from the Ecumenical News):
  •  "The truth is, we have less people in our churches who are giving less money because we are winning less people to Christ, and we are not training them in the spiritual disciplines of our Lord," [Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Nashville-based executive committee] told Baptist Press.
  • Mark Woods wrote in the UK publication Christian Today, "With all due respect to Thom Rainer and Frank Page, it doesn't seem likely that the decline is down to a lack of prayer or effort.  "It may be something rather more fundamental: that the SBC label is associated with a kind of Christianity which is not attractive in the kind of country America is becoming, which is far more socially liberal than many evangelicals are comfortable with."
Thus it seems to me that with this declaration the hardliners on homosexuality are saying that they are still in charge of the SBC.  Others are advocating a softer approach to the lgbt community.  All recognize that their position on homosexuality is less popular with the general population than it was in the past and that this can cost them members, money, and political influence.   But I'm just speculating from the bits and pieces that I'm seeing here and there.  

There is a lot of information on their website.  Here's just one interesting, though not particularly related, tidbit.

The Southern Baptist website lists the number of 'messengers' at the convention in Columbus, Ohio from every state.  Alaska has eight, several states have one (Oregon, Maine, Vermont), and several states (Montana, North Dakota, and Rhode Island) aren't listed at all.  The top three states were host state, Ohio (714 messengers), Tennessee (459), and Kentucky (446).  Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washington DC also sent messengers. 

Here's the resolution posted at  Denny Burk's website.
WHEREAS, God in His divine wisdom created marriage as the covenanted, conjugal union of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18– 24; Matthew 19:4–6; Hebrews 13:4); and
WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith & Message (2000) recognizes the biblical definition of marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime,” stating further, “It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race”; and
WHEREAS, God ordains government to promote and honor the public good and recognize what is praiseworthy (Romans 13:3–4); and
WHEREAS, The public good requires defining and defending marriage as the covenanted, conjugal union of one man and one woman; and
WHEREAS, Marriage is by nature a public institution that unites man and woman in the common task of bringing forth children; and
WHEREAS, The Supreme Court of the United States will rule in 2015 on whether states shall be required to grant legal recognition as “marriages” to same-sex partnerships; and
WHEREAS, The redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples will continue to weaken the institution of the natural family unit and erode the religious liberty and rights of conscience of all who remain faithful to the idea of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and
WHEREAS, The Bible calls us to love our neighbors, including those who disagree with us about the definition of marriage and the public good; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio, June 16–17, 2015, prayerfully call on the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the right of the citizens to define marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman; and be it further
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists recognize that no governing institution has the authority to negate or usurp God’s definition of marriage; and be it further
RESOLVED, No matter how the Supreme Court rules, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms its unwavering commitment to its doctrinal and public beliefs concerning marriage; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the religious liberty of individual citizens or institutions should not be infringed as a result of believing or living according to the biblical definition of marriage; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptist Convention calls on Southern Baptists and all Christians to stand firm on the Bible’s witness on the purposes of marriage, among which are to unite man and woman as one flesh and to secure the basis for the flourishing of human civilization; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists love our neighbors and extend respect in Christ’s name to all people, including those who may disagree with us about the definition of marriage and the public good.

UAA Proposes Shut Down of 24 Certificate, One BA, One MS, 17 Minors

The UAA Provost's office sent out an email today summarizing program cuts and changes pending Board of Regents approval.  This excerpt identifies the cuts.
"Following discussions with the deans and other academic leaders, I concur with the recommended actions brought forward. As a result of the prioritization process, 24 certificate programs, one associate degree program (AAS in Computer Information Systems), one baccalaureate program (BA in Dual Languages) and one master's level degree program (MS in Career and Technical Education) will be eliminated pending approval from the Board of Regents (BOR). In addition, three master's level programs in engineering will be deleted: two of these, MS in Applied Science and Technology and the master's of Applied Environmental Science and Technology to be collapsed into the MS in Civil Engineering, and the other, MS in Science Management, will be collapsed into the MS in Science and Engineering Management. UAA also will eliminate 17 minors.
In addition to these actions, a few programs have plans to transform a major or minor in order to better meet the demands of our students and state. Each program that's been identified for transformation has specific benchmarks that will be used for evaluation during the next few years. Finally, there are a small number of programs that will require additional analysis before a decision is made; we expect that work to be done soon. Each college has a detailed list of programs undergoing transformation; memos describing those changes by college can be found here.
Admission to programs slated for deletion will be suspended soon. Students currently enrolled in these programs will be allowed to finish their course of study before the program is phased out completely. Minors slated for elimination will be dealt with similarly. Typically, it takes two to five years to teach out a program before deletion. Academic policy requires BOR approval for degree program eliminations; UAA will present the BOR with a list of proposed deletions this fall."

Click here for the full letter and details of the programs to be transformed.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Reasons Why Alaska Legislature Republican Majority Leaders Hate Governor Walker

Alaska's Republican majority leaders have done their best to show their disdain for Governor Walker.  They refused to meet in Juneau despite his calling for the special session to be there.  They've said no to most of what he wants to do.  Why all this antipathy?  

I'm sure readers will think of a lot more reasons, but here are a few I can think of:

  1.   He left the Republicans and became an Independent
  2.   This let him by-pass the Republican primary
  3.   He joined with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate as his Lt. Gov partner
  4.   He won the election beating their oil company loyalist sitting governor Parnell
  5.   He's acts like an adult
  6.   He knows how to think for himself
  7.   He understands the economics of Medicaid expansion and thus supports it rather than stick to Republican ideological anti-Obamaism
But I think the most important issue for the Republicans is the fact that

8.  the next governor will be able to appoint two members to the 2020 Alaska Redistricting Board. 

They're doing everything they can to make him look bad, hoping he won't get reelected.  If the letters to the editor are any indication, they're making themselves look bad instead.  And Walker, as I mentioned above, is the one who looks like an adult in all this. 

Speaking of redistricting, it's not too early to start thinking about the next Board and how it will work.  By leaving all the decisions about technology to the Board, things get rather late to do the best job of surveying the technology available.  Mapping technology is getting much more sophisticated and much easier to use.  By the 2020 round there should be better technology to create the initial maps and the public should have access to play with the maps and come up with better alternatives.  Just something to think about. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Helping Mom

It's grey outside, but warm and muggy here in LA.  Lots to do.  The car battery was dead.  The kitchen sink faucet is leaking all over.  There are two letters from the IRS, one saying she owes money in one, and the other saying she didn't file, but there's a credit.  Well, they can't know she owes money if she didn't file.  I talked to the accountant who said yes, it was filed and it's just a question of the IRS locating the account where the payroll company put the withheld taxes for the caregiver.  I called the IRS and after going through their voice mail, the electronic voice said they are very busy now and to call back later. 

Then there's the picture that fell off the wall.  The screw that held the wire came out of the frame.  I'd rescrewed it in at a different spot, but apparently the wood is no good on that side and it can't hold the weight of the picture.  The picture is big and heavy and was frame about 40 years ago. 

There's always lots to do when I come to visit my mom.  It's ok though.  I'm glad she's still around to visit.  And she so enjoyed skyping with her great-grandkids last night.  But I need to take care of these things before jumping back into my other posts. 

I've been thinking lately about how life is about keeping up with things, not falling too far behind, and sometimes actually moving ahead. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Leaving Anchorage On A June Night

The last post had the sun peekabooing through the fog bank from the airport last night.

Denali about 11:20pm

Here are some photos after the plane took off about 11:15pm.

The Alaska Range over Cook Inlet as we took off to the north, then looped to the west to fly down Turnagain Arm.

Then we flew over the mountain ridges and over Prince William Sounds.  This was about 11:30pm. 

Anchorage Sun Cools Off In Coastal Fog

Almost 11pm, at the airport, waiting for our flight. The sun dipped into the fog bank. It's almost solstice so despite our 11:10pm departure, the sun was still up.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

When Is A Bear Not A Bear? Face Saving Medicaid Review?

From yesterday's Alaska Dispatch:

The Alaska Legislature plans to hire a consultant to help lawmakers separate “fact from fiction” in the debate over expansion and reform of the public Medicaid health care program.
The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, on Friday issued a request for proposals for what it called an “independent professional policy resource.”

While I try to step back here and look at things from all sides and present the facts.  But sometimes doing that seems disingenuous.   It's like saying, "There's a large four legged furry animal, bigger than most dogs with sharp teeth that stood up on its hind legs and sniffed the air.  Some say it is a bear and some said they couldn't see it well enough to tell."  The people who can't be sure are generally those who have a vested interest in their not being a bear.  Maybe it's because
  • they've always believed there are no bears in the area, so it must really be a big dog.   Or  
  • they told you flat out that there are no bears around, and it's hard to admit being wrong.  Or
  • they have a vested interest in their being no bears - like they're being paid to keep bears away.

Medicaid expansion is the bear wandering around Alaska.  Republicans have believed it's bad since they first started calling it Obamacare.
  • Some believed this through genuine belief that the market is the best way to do everything, despite the fact that the market was leaving millions of Americans uncovered, particularly people who really needed coverage. 
  • Some were with Sen. McConnell who declared "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."  Anything the president wants, they oppose it and Obamacare, along with Medicaid expansion, has always been a key target.
  • Some, with an eye toward national conservative PAC's that promise money for candidates who vote against Medicaid expansion and to defeat those who vote for it, Republicans (and Democrats) have a vested interest in preventing Medicaid expansion.
The irony is that states who refused to set up their own insurance exchanges are now facing the possibility of losing all federal Medicaid funding.  And they brought it own themselves.  They sued the federal government on a technicality.  The bill says there can be subsidies for people in states with a state exchange and they've argued those without a state exchange, using the federal exchange instead.  Their intent was to end the subsidies and thus kill Obamacare.  But now it's turning out that those states will be cutting off millions of citizens from affordable health care and huge costs will be shifted to those states.

They're charging Obama with not preparing for the possibility that the Supreme Court rules in their favor, which now they see as a catastrophe.  Obama, a constitutional lawyer, is just saying that he can't imagine the court ruling against Obamacare.   I'm sure behind that objective mask, he's got a big smirk as he thinks, "These guys brought this on themselves, let them squirm."

That's all some of the background behind yesterday's headline about the Alaska majority caucuses spending more money that they have repeatedly said we don't have, for a "report."

I'd just remind them that former Republican governor Parnell commissioned a study on Medicaid expansion from a conservative think tank.  He kept that study secret - even though it was paid for with public money - until the very last minute.

He kept is secret with good reason:  The facts contradicted his anti-expansion decision.
"Under our baseline participation assumptions, expanding Medicaid would cost the state $200.6 million more over the 2014 to 2020 period, compared to not expanding Medicaid, for a total increased cost of $240.5 million.  However, the state would receive $2.9 billion in additional federal funds and fewer individuals would remain uninsured.  Additionally, this new cost would comprise only 1.4 percent of total Medicaid costs from 2014 to 2020 (Figure E-4).
 To minimize state costs under expansion, the state could also elect to implement expansion under a number of alternative design scenarios."
 I posted about this study and Parnell's decision on it in detail here.

The legislature doesn't need to spend more time on yet another study.  All they have to do is do their jobs.  Sit down and read the original study.  There are a number of legislators who, I'm sure, would have trouble understanding the study.  But Hawker, who's cited in the article, is a retired CPA.  He should be able to understand that study and know we don't need yet another study.  But he's also the legislator most responsible for the opulent redo of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office that everyone agrees is way above market value. 

The conclusion that makes the most sense to me (which doesn't mean its the right conclusion) is that another study could cite new evidence that would allow the Republicans to let the governor, on his own, expand Medicaid without any serious opposition from the legislators.   And if that is the case, then the already stressed Alaska budget will take another hit so the Republican majority's ego can be massaged.

This is really a bear.  But if that's what it takes to get Medicaid expanded in Alaska and adding health care coverage, many say, to 40,000 people, so be it.  But I hope the people of Alaska - particularly those who have given up on the process and stopped voting - realize how the Republican majority's talk of fiscal carefulness is belied by most of what they do.  The list of the legislators - particularly those from Anchorage and Mat-Su - who took excessive per diem during the special session is just yet one more piece of evidence of their lack of concern for the people of Alaska.

[Feedburner failure repost]

Saturday, June 13, 2015

How Plastics Saved The Elephant

I ran across a Scientific American article on the history of plastic.  It reminded me how much history has to teach us and how much of it we don't know. 
Thai work elephants 1967-8
"elephants, the paper warned in 1867, were in grave danger of being "numbered with extinct species" because of humans' insatiable demand for the ivory in their tusks. Ivory, at the time, was used for all manner of things, from buttonhooks to boxes, piano keys to combs. But one of the biggest uses was for billiard balls. Billiards had come to captivate upper-crust society in the United States as well as in Europe. Every estate, every mansion had a billiards table, and by the mid-1800s, there was growing concern that there would soon be no more elephants left to keep the game tables stocked with balls. The situation was most dire in Ceylon, source of the ivory that made the best billiard balls. There, in the northern part of the island, the Times reported, "upon the reward of a few shillings per head being offered by the authorities, 3,500 pachyderms were dispatched in less than three years by the natives." All told, at least one million pounds of ivory were consumed each year, sparking fears of an ivory shortage. "Long before the elephants are no more and the mammoths used up," the Times hoped, 'an adequate substitute may [be] found.'"
 Plastics.  It's mind boggling to know that humans nearly wiped out elephants 150 years ago, just so they could play billiards!

The savior of the elephants?
Plastics freed us from the confines of the natural world, from the material constraints and limited supplies that had long bounded human activity. That new elasticity unfixed social boundaries as well. The arrival of these malleable and versatile materials gave producers the ability to create a treasure trove of new products while expanding opportunities for people of modest means to become consumers. Plastics held out the promise of a new material and cultural democracy. The comb, that most ancient of personal accessories, enabled anyone to keep that promise close.
There was even a contest to find a substitute for ivory so they could keep making billiard balls when the supply of ivory was gone.

The need for natural material to make combs almost wiped out the hawkbill turtle.  In fact plastics - first made from plant material and then from oil - saved a lot of creaturers.
Celluloid could be rendered with the rich creamy hues and striations of the finest tusks from Ceylon, a faux material marketed as French Ivory. It could be mottled in browns and ambers to emulate tortoiseshell; traced with veining to look like marble; infused with the bright colors of coral, lapis lazuli, or carnelian to resemble those and other semiprecious stones; or blackened to look like ebony or jet. Celluloid made it possible to produce counterfeits so exact that they deceived "even the eye of the expert," as Hyatt's company boasted in one pamphlet. "As petroleum came to the relief of the whale," the pamphlet stated, so "has celluloid given the elephant, the tortoise, and the coral insect a respite in their native haunts; and it will no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer."
 As the human population increases, we make heavier use of critical materials, up to the point that we may use them all up - and in the case of animal based materials, cause extinction.  If we are lucky, we find a substitute to give relief to those natural sources. 

But then we get dependent on the new material to the point of endangering the natural world again.   And the local humans who live in that now destroyed natural environment.

Our petroleum use, which saved the whale a hundred years ago, is now causing climate change.  Today petroleum based sports enthusiasts, like the billiard players, continue their dangerous games.  But the rest of us are guilty too.  We can't get free of our addiction to fossil fuel powered cars and airplanes and electricity.   Some, though, are rushing to create alternative sources of energy and finding ways to wean humans from oil. Meanwhile those companies that have gotten rich off of fossil fuels, are fighting any curtailment of the source of their wealth and we continue to buy their products to fuel our lifestyles which we can't imagine without fossil fuels.

And our search for other natural resources as well as our growing human population's encroachment into forests continues to make the survival of non-human species like the elephant and the tiger and millions of smaller, non-iconic species iffy. 

The whole article is fascinating and has lots more details.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Alien forms of historical consciousness and discourse" - For Example: Arapaho Narrative Past

Each language has its own words that don't exist in other languages, its own grammatical quirks, its own intonation and rhythms that allow them to convey ideas or feelings that can't be expressed as precisely or even at all in other languages.

All this came as a slow realization over the years.  Learning German and having to use it as a student in Germany brought the first glimmers of this understanding.  Learning Thai and living in Thailand expanded my sense of how language shapes how we know things.

This awareness has made me realize that each language (and the culture it represents) is like a volume in the encyclopedia of human knowledge.  Losing a language and culture is like losing a part of the encyclopedia.  We lose what that particular culture has learned from its experience in its time and place in the world, its unique knowledge gained from solving the problems of survival it faced.  The culture overall may not seem like an 'important' culture, but how do we know that?  Much, if not most, of its cultural richness is invisible to people who don't know its language.  And there are so many cultures that most of us don't even know exist. 

But back to how languages shape how we see the world and how we negotiate it.  A simple example.

In English, gender is conveyed, incidentally, by the simple words  'he' and 'she'.  We automatically reveal the gender of the person we speak about.  We don't really have to reveal the gender of the person acting when we speak.   In Thai and Chinese, the equivalent words (third person singular) do not distinguish between males and females.  The terms are gender neutral  But in Thai, there is no exact translation for the English word "I."  Instead, there are two different words - one that males use and another that females use.  When a speaker uses the closest Thai word to the English "I" the speaker reveals his or her gender.  Well, not always.  There are other words that can be used in place of 'I" that instead of gender, reflect the speakers' relationship to the listener.  They could use another word that indicates they are younger or older than the listener and other kinds of status relationships between themselves and the listener.

You simply cannot translate these words from one language to the other without some sort of explanation in the translation.  The words just aren't in the other language.

This morning I heard about the Arapaho narrative past, which was explained as a tense which reflects that the speaker didn't not personally experience the events he's relating.  (I can't find where I heard this - something on the radio.)

What I could find on line focuses mostly on how to understand attempts to translate from Arapaho (and other languages):

Click image to see clearer            Screenshot from Algonguian Spirit

Or, from a paper on these issues for ethnographers from Academia:
 "An understanding of non-Western histories requires not only the generation of documents and an expanded conception of what constituted documentation but also a determined effort to try to comprehend alien forms of historical consciousness and discourse." [Fogelson 1989: 134][emphasis added]
Another misplaced strategy is to impose wholesale the structures of myth to history without establishing the connection in real practices and interaction. Myth contains materials for history but does not structure it totally. The results of a reified myth approach are structures existing "nowhere" in real sociocultural space and time, much as in Levi-Strauss's analysis of myth. In the Arapaho context, "right ways of doing things" (as expressed in forms of the verb nee'eestoo-) precede instruction in myth. The shapes, rhythms, and forms of practice retain primary generative force over cognitive structures, mythologic, or even thought world. Myth is neither a charter for social action nor a model of Arapaho thought. The most sacred myths were told only to a very few people of requisite age and ritual preparedness. To generalize from certain myths to history, then, is misplaced concreteness. Rather, it is necessary to look at social practices the select or reflect mythical and historical material. Of course, myth and history often converge, though not in a direct way. They show up as bits and pieces among so much other material people exchange communicate.

Arapaho Project offers a very technical description of the tense

Sound Changes in Words:

      Often in Arapaho, when prefixes and words combine, the sounds change at the combination points. This makes it hard sometimes to recognize what the original form was. The most common changes involve the letter -h-, and are as follows:

      nih (past tense)  + h- > nih’-

                                he’ih (narrative past tense)  + h- > he’ih’- 

For people dealing with Arapaho myths, all this technical detail is important.  But for others (like me) it's a springboard to other ideas about how different language forms could change how we know things.

Why Does This Matter?

So, when I heard this concept of Arapaho narrative past, my ears perked up.  I started thinking about the idea of a tense that is used when telling a story that is not your own story.  Using that tense alerts listeners to the speaker's relationship to the story.

Think about how this might affect things.  Politicians and business folks, when relating stories, would, simply by their use of grammar, have to indicate whether the story they were relating was their own story or someone else's. Think about other ways a language could embed truth telling into its syntax, making harder to lie, or at least easier to figure out that someone was lying. 

I'm not saying that's what Arapaho narrative past exactly distinguishes, I'm just extrapolating other possibilities.  When I looked this Arapaho language phenomenon, I see I'm not likely to understand it exactly, but it does seem to distinguish between talking about myth and some more than real world story from the everyday kinds of stories.  That listeners know that what is being related is not of this world, that the words are supposed to be understood as describing another state of being.

Even in reading English that was written two hundred years ago, we lose a lot because we don't know, really, the way people then thought about the world, what things we assume that they wouldn't have.  We know they had different ideas about slavery, about the roles of men and women, about food, about health, about religion.  And, we think that we, in hindsight, can understand what they meant when they wrote something.  But truly we can't really put ourselves in their world.  After all, twenty year olds today talking about the 1960s are talking about a very different reality than the one I lived in the 60s. They take the outline of events, void of all the color and nuance of the times, and replace it with the color and nuance of their own times.

It's not simply historical consciousness and discourse that's hard to understand.  We have alien forms of consciousness around us in our own communities speaking in what appears to be our own language.   You could say this about  some of the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, or our own Alaskan legislators, who take the same 'facts' and decorate them with their own cultural meaning.  

That's a lot of what the citations above from the ethnographers are talking about.  I'm not judging here, simply pointing it out as an inevitable cross-cultural barrier to understanding.  The first step to dealing with the gap is to at least be aware of it. 

[UPDATE June 15, 2015:  I forgot to add a link to a related previous post on evidential language, in which the speakers give evidence for the claims they make.
"Tuyuca requires verb-endings on statements to show how the speaker knows something."]

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why Zoning Laws Matter - Landscaping: The Case Of Northrim Bank

This is the site of the now closed Northrim Bank branch office at 36th and Old Seward.  Notice the beautiful carpet of asphalt. Nothing is marred with soil or green in this picture.  (Though to be fair, there were a few bushes up along the building on the other side.)  This building was at this location long enough that the old Municipal code Title 21 for landscaping commercial property applied.  You can see how strict the code was.

This is where the "hybrid single point urban interchange" is planned for 36th and New Seward.  Given the state of the budget, maybe we can be spared the engineers' overbuilt creativity with exit lanes on the left, not the right. 

Now here is the new Northrim branch that just opened this week about a mile away.

And here it is from the other side. This landscaping is only a few weeks old and it already looks a million times better than their old location.

And a lot better than this location used to be. I don't have handy a good picture of the old lot, but you can get the idea from this picture of the rebuilt Sugar Shack coffee stand after it was vandalized and burned.   It's almost the same view as the one above, just a little closer.  Basically the whole space where the bank and parking lot sit now was just dirt with maybe a little bit of asphalt on one side and some weeds along Lake Otis. When we moved in here in the late 70s this lot was all birch trees. Then they all got cut down one day and it sat empty for years and years until the Sugar Shack was put on it.

I'm not sure whether the bank did this just to meet code or if they went beyond what the code required.  But I do appreciate it.

They even put trees and bushes in the ally, on the other side of the fence from the parking lot, giving the neighbors a bit of green screen. Some might say that the old Sugar Shack and old Northrim landscaping is the 'real' Alaska.  But I'd say the real Alaska was when this lot was all birch trees.  But I'll take this new landscaping over the open dirt space that's been here. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Finance Committee Amendments - More Session Starting At 8AM Tomorrow

They're offering a series of amendments that I can't find online.  They've passed them out, but can't really figure them out as we go.

They just said something about holding until tomorrow morning, which means the bill won't pass tonight. 

Amendment 1:  Suicide awareness and prevention training
Amendment 2:
Amendment 3:  Deletes Sec. 14, insert new - "does not require an athletic coach who is an unpaid volunteer to report child abuse or neglect
amendment 4:
Amendment 5 - conjectural from Miccichi - delay until June 30, 2017 to understand impacts  (on hold until tomorrow at 8am)

I couldn't keep up with this all, but basically Reps. Tarr and Millett were asked if they were ok with the changes and that there are still finishing touches that will happen tomorrow morning.

An interesting part was Sen. Dunleavy asking Millett and Tarr what was it, besides the opt in and opt out parts, that caused people in the House to say they wouldn't vote for the bill?  He didn't get the answers he wanted and eventually called for more dialogue rather than battling in the press.  I'm not sure why he was asking.

It sounded like he was trying to figure out what, if anything, would be safe to put back into the bill, but that's speculation.  

Sort of Restored HB 44 (Erin's Law) Testimony Done at Sen Finance

Erin's Law public testimony is done. 

Finance committee's changes returned the key parts of Erin's and Bree's Law - it's mandatory for schools, it's opt out for parents, no longer opt in.  And it now covers K-12 again. 

There are 27 sections of the bill that add in many of Sen. Dunleavy's wish list.  But the worst of his amendments are gone - the prohibition on contracting with abortion providers, and some of the parental rights sections that undermined kids rights to access to this training.

The committee is going to recess and do some amending and are hoping to be back  at 4:45 to look at amending this based on the testimony.

Testimony was overwhelmingly for adopting the original bill that was passed in the house.  I didn't hear anyone deviate from that.  There were personal stories from victims of abuse and from parents of abuse victims.  There was testimony from people in the field of fighting abuse. 

Things are in a much better state now. 

Finance Committee Rewrite of Erin's Law Has Big Improvements

I'm at the public testimony for HB 44 Erin's Law.

I wrote up a synopsis of an earlier post that argued that at least 2000 kids would be molested because of the changes from the original Erin's Law to the Senate Education Committee Substitute.

When I got here, I was quickly shown by a friend that there is a new committee substitute bill from the Finance committee.

There are lots of small changes have improved the bill significantly.
  • Schools have changed from 'may' back to 'shall' have this program.  That's the biggest benefit.
  • Parents now have to 'opt out' as in the original, instead of 'opt in' as in the rewrite.
  • And the kids covered are once again K-12, not just 7-12.  
  • The prohibition on contracting with abortion providers is gone.
Things are much improved.  I'm hopeful.  I need to compare the two bills carefully to see what is gone and what is still there.

Here's a link to the working draft of the new bill.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A Meditation On Lying and Liars

This is sort of an addendum to an earlier post that looked at different roles that legislators can play in committee meetings.  Trying to figure out the specific roles any legislator plays is made difficult because they may be, are you ready? - lying.  I know.  Our responses to reports that politicians are lying ranges from "Oh how terrible!" to "What did you expect?" 

I don't want to accuse all politicians of regularly lying though.  The word "to lie" is sort of like the word 'blue.'  There are lots of different blues and there are lots of different lies.  But while artists and paint companies have come up with words to identify different shades of blue, our vocabulary of lies is impoverished.

We make the word the one word 'lie' cover a variety of different behaviors - some inexcusable and some so common that all of us engage in them.  In fact, if we didn't tell our sweethearts they look good, when they ask, we'd be considered rude.  

In her book Lying, Sisela Bok, asks readers to consider a world where no one told the truth.  One couldn't believe anything and would have to verify everything oneself.  But that would be impossible because you couldn't trust what people said or wrote.  Thus a system where people tell the truth benefits us all.  It makes our lives much easier.  But suppose you wanted to enjoy those benefits plus a little more.
"The fact that a system of truth-telling benefits you enormously doesn’t by itself justify your adhering to the Principle of Veracity. After all, if personal benefit is all that counts for you, then why not reap all the benefits that a system of truth-telling brings, and then reap a little bit more by lying for personal gain?
Of course, you couldn’t announce your policy to the public; it would have to remain your secret. You don’t want to undermine the practice of telling the truth. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to gain anything from your lies. And you don’t want people to distrust you. A lie is advantageous only in circumstances where people will believe it – only where a practice of truth-telling generally prevails. Such a practice prevails only when most people are doing their part to support it – that is, when most people are telling the truth. The liar, then, wants to be a free rider. She wants others to do their part to maintain a system, while she skips doing her part. She reaps the benefits of the system without investing the reciprocal sacrifice of supporting it." [From Infed]

Let's say there's a continuum of liars:  from whoppers are normal to only tell little white lies. 

Whoppers Are  Normal   - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  Only Little White Lies

Whoppers are things like, "I didn't have sexual intercourse with that woman."  Or “We found the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq]. We found biological laboratories.”

Little white lies are more like, "Thanks for the tie, it's just what I wanted."  And there's a wide range in between.  

We all tend to think that others behave roughly like we do.  I'd argue that people on the whopper side of the continuum lie so often they think it's normal and that everyone lies.  And maybe they grew up in families where that was true.  Thus they don't trust anyone.  That's a little different from what Bok argues.  She's talking about a theoretical model where everyone benefits from truth-telling.  But I don't think people think this out so logically.  I suspect some liars know that most people are more truthful and take advantage of that. 

On the white lie end are people who wouldn't think of telling a lie any more egregious than answering a questions more positively than they actually feel. "It's delicious."  "I'll call you."   They believe in honesty, but also believe you can soften it a little to avoid upsetting people.  They are slow at recognizing big liars because it's hard to believe that people lie so blatantly. 

I tend to be on the white lie end.  For me, leaving out something important is akin to lying.  I'm not good at spotting liars, unless it's a situation I know well.  I don't notice the little body language tips.  I have to listen carefully to what they say and weigh the logic.  Only when people's stories are full of inconsistencies or at odds with what I know, do I start to consider the possibility that they are lying.

I've been reminded of the importance and the destructiveness of liars in the last week because we've been watching the old FX series Damages.  Glenn Close plays Patty Hewes, a high stakes lawyer, who in one episode actually asks a witness she's questioning, "When did you start lying?"  The witness protests she's not lying.  Patty Hewes goes on, "I was seven when I started lying regularly."  She's lies so shamelessly and to the people closest to her, people whose loyalty she demands.  We like to think that liars get found out and lose their positions of power.  But when enough of the other players are also liars, they don't out each other.  It's part of the game, even makes it more interesting for them, I guess - figuring out when someone is telling the truth and when they're lying.  Certainly in Damages, the lies pile up on each other.  Even when Patty Hughes starts to level with someone, she tends to add new lies.  (Oh, and yeah, it turns out that witness she was questioning was leaving out the cocaine addiction.)

It drives white lie folks crazy.  It's against our rules.  And while the liars may continue in their positions of power, there are costs.  In Patty Hewes' case, her 17 year old son despises her and causes her no end of frustration.

We've all seen these people lie and lie and lie, until they are caught.  Lance Armstrong insisted he hadn't doped.  Richard Nixon said he wasn't a crook.  Bill Clinton swore he didn't have sex with that woman.  Bernie Madoff lied $50 billion dollars from his friends and family even. If we look at a Tim Shipman's Atlantic Monthly article on Madoff, we can find some of the reasons people trusted him:
1.  susceptibility to his charm
2.  greed 
"charmer whose hedge fund ensnared wealthy Americans with the promise of record dividends."
3. he was seen by many investors as a tribe member
"what cuts deepest is Madoff’s betrayal of his fellow Jews"
Writer Tim Shipman goes on to ask how Madoff got away with it for so long.  Various people had raised questions starting as far back as the 1970s, but it wasn't until 2008 that he was finally busted.
"In 1995, [independent investigator, Harry Markopolos] sent the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the financial watchdog, a 17-page statement: “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund Is a Fraud”.
Two years later, the commission found no evidence of fraud after an investigation that seems to have involved little more than asking Madoff whether he was a crook, and accepting his answers.
SEC boss Christopher Cox last week denounced multiple failures at his agency and launched an internal investigation of the relationships between his officials and Madoff, including Eric Swanson, who had at one point been involved in monitoring Madoff’s firm and later married his niece, Shana Madoff"
So, we see a lot of deference to a well known, wealthy and connected man.  In Damages there are corrupt police officers and government officials who quash investigations or even set them up to intimidate enemies.

I'd also mention the movie Merchants of Doubt which we saw last night.  They delve into a group of 'scientists' who started by attacking tobacco industry critics.  They developed a tool chest for raising doubt when, in fact, no scientific doubt actually existed.  They'd attack the messenger, which is much easier than attacking the science.  Many of the tobacco companies'  'merchants of doubt' adapted these tools to protect other industries as they fought off regulation - like the fire retardant companies who had persuaded law makers to require putting tons of toxic chemicals in all sorts of products.  Then they moved on to fight climate change which, around 2008, the movie says, was accepted by key Republican politicians including George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and others.  But they quickly back tracked when these merchants of doubt 'educated' on them.  Rep. Inglis, Republican from South Carolina, was educated at the polls when he started saying that climate change was real. 

Truth is not an important commodity for these merchants of doubt, whose sole goal is to postpone government action as long as possible while their client corporations made as much money as they can, usually at the expense of the environment and the health of Americans.  

I raise this issue of lying as one more issue to consider when you watch our legislature.  Who are today's merchants of doubt and which of our legislators are responding to their influence?  We know, for instance, that Americans for Prosperity have opened offices in many states, including Alaska, to fight various issues, including Medicaid expansion.  And we know that the Republican majorities in the Alaska House and Senate refuse to compromise on Medicaid expansion even though a majority of Alaskans want it passed, even though it will add health care for 40,000 Alaskans, and bring lots of federal dollars to Alaska.   Without the merchants of doubt deliberately poisoning the public discourse, this legislation would have passed long ago. 

Thinking about lying, about specific liars who famously lied, about how long we let liars get away with lying, about what evidence we need to finally realize they're lying, are all good exercises so that we can spot today's merchants of doubt and the politicians who help them block legislation everyone wants.

I'd add two more points to consider:

1.  Not all politicians lie.  There are honest politicians.  They may not always volunteer everything, but they are clearly much closer to the white lies end of the scale.  This is important.  I would wager that the current ice jam in the legislature is due to no more than 10-20% of the legislators.  But the merchants of doubt make sure they're in key positions.

2.  Some liars have lied so often, they believe their own lies.  Unless you know the facts, they would convince you too.  And they clearly have convinced enough of their constituents to get elected. 

That's the case of another character in Damages, Arthur Frobisher (played by Ted Danson).  He's a billionaire businessman who told all his employees to buy the company stock as he was selling his own, just before his company went bust.  Now they are Patty Hewes' clients as they try get their lives back.  Frobisher believes he's a good guy and he did nothing wrong.  His wiping out of his employees' retirement savings is just a blip on his screen.  Unfortunate.  He even tries to hire a ghost writer to tell his story to the world, because he's sure that if people just knew him, they would like him.  Possibly Madoff was a model for this character.  [I just checked and Wikipedia says that in season 3 Frobisher is based on the Madoff scandal.  We've only seen seasons one and two, but it was clear enough for me to make that connection already.][UPDATE 8:15pm:  Decided to start season 3 and it's not Frobisher, but a new character who's based on Madoff]

I suspect a lot of our worst lying legislators have convinced themselves they're good guys.  And they are so not.