Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Exit Glacier Was Here

Kilroy may have been here, but there are no signs that he ever was.   But I remember when Exit Glacier was here - the sign says it was in 1998.

It was extremely disappointing when our guests got to this point and Exit Glacier was gone.  Well, it's still back there, but according to the sign it was right here in 1998.  

Here's a picture with a very similar view in 2003.  Still, the glacier had retreated significantly, but there was still much more of it.
2008 picture from this post

 I don't remember exactly where it was when, but I know when I first went to Exit Glacier - I believe the summer of 1983, maybe 84 - there was no bridge over the Resurrection River.  There was a ranger and a lot of hip waders.  You walked through the water, then all the rest of the way to the glacier.  And the glacier was all the way out to the flat rocky plain.  You could go up to it and touch it, and even venture into  a little ice nook.  That all ended a few years later when a chunk of ice broke off and killed a tourist.  Ropes went up to keep people a safe distance away - say 20 or 30 feet.

But you were right there up close to this massive glacier that went several miles up the mountain.  Soon after a path was begun up alongside the glacier and you could get magnificent views from above.  You can still do that, though there's less glacier up there too.  But it's still magnificent from up there.

The trail has gotten a little tamer.  The summers of volunteers hauling rocks around to make steps and drainages means the trail isn't all muddy.  (Or is it simply because there has been much less rain this year?)  But my old knees talked to me as I went down the rock steps.  Flatter hikes I say, though this is my favorite.

But the trail is still spectacular.  I remember when you had to cross this creek from rock to rock, not over a sturdy wooden bridge.

And while I've been in beautiful gardens created by humans, none of them can compare to this whole mountain of lush green, of water, of ice, of rock, and of flowers.

We even saw a bear, not too terribly far off.  Unfortunately, my son-in-law and grandchildren were on the other side of the bear from us and I wasn't sure how close I had to go to the bear to get to them.  It turned out fine and a ranger later said he sees the bear every day and it's learned to keep away from the people.  

One more flower.

Yellow monkey flower -
"Mimulus guttatus has been a model organism for studies of evolution and ecology. There may be as many as 1000 scientific papers focused on this species. The genome is (as of 2012) being studied in depth"  (From Wikipedia)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Supreme Court Chooses Facts Over Malarky In Texas Abortion Case

Most people seemed to understand that the 2013 changes in requirements for abortion clinics in Texas  were just smokescreens.When the case finally made it to the US Supreme Court, Justice Breyer called them on it (from Mother Jones):
"Justice Breyer explains several times in his opinion that the court did not buy Texas' argument that the admitting privileges and ASC requirements benefit women's health. "Nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death," he wrote, "but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient's own home. Colonoscopy, a procedure that typically takes place outside a hospital (or surgical center) setting, has a mortality rate 10 times higher than an abortion." Breyer adds in a parenthetical that he repeated from the bench, and that Justice Kagan mentioned during oral arguments in March: "The mortality rate for liposuction, another outpatient procedure, is 28 times higher than the mortality rate for abortion." Of the admitting privileges requirement, Breyer writes bluntly: "We add that, when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case."

Since Texas lost at the lower court level, a four-four tie would have meant Texas lost their case (and the women of Texas had won.)  But with Kennedy joining the majority, it means that even without a new Obama or Clinton appointee, abortion rights for women who need them, are safe at the Supreme Court for a while.

Texas lawmakers' intention to circumvent the law of the land by pretending to make rules to protect the safety of women getting abortions didn't pass the red face test.  Breyer cited those examples of more dangerous procedures that don't have the same kinds of restrictions to show it wasn't safety they were concerned with.  There really ought to be a way to make such lawmakers accountable for all the heartaches and extra expenses it caused women, not to mention the disruptions to many clinics, and the time wasted taking this to the US Supreme Court.  But I suspect some of those lawmakers are smirking and happy for all those issues I just listed.

For the whole Supreme Court decision, click here.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Christopher Constant Is Running For Assembly

At PrideFest I came across Chris Constant's campaign table.  I'd heard of Chris and had just read his piece in Anchorage Press on the aftermath of Orlando.

Since I think that there should be as much information about all candidates for office up and available for all to consider, I asked Chris if we could do an interview.

It's pretty much unedited, except the freeze frame at the beginning and ending.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Anchorage PrideFest Photos

I'll let the photos do most of the talking.  I'd note that there were a lot more exhibitors than I recall from last year.

Cormac and Anton were so striking that I asked if I could take a picture and post it here.  They obviously said ok.

I'm afraid most of the other pictures are here more to document some of the organizations that hosted booths, than for the photography.

I first connected with the Alaska Workers Association at a previous PrideFest.  This is a group of volunteers that works to help workers who have no other organized support.

The local branch of Moms Demand Action.

Petroleum Club of Anchorage made its first appearance at a PrideFest.

National Park Service.

Hilton Hotels

Dogs of all sizes and shapes were there.

The Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.

And there was plenty of food - here's Bear Mace Bites.

AARP Alaska.

There was HIV and Hep C testing.

The Writer's Block Bookstore and Café is coming soon on Spenard where the old adult books store used to be.  They had architects plans for the new building where writers and readers will be able to hang out, buy books, read, and maybe even write.

They predicted an October opening date.  We'll see.

The Alaska Club.

More food from Mimi's Kitchen.

Wells Fargo was there.  

The Family, from the University of Alaska Anchorage.  

And the National Organization for Women.  

There were lots more booths, and I have a video of a candidate for the Assembly that I'll post separately.  At first PrideFest had booths around the perimeter.  But over the years there have been more in the middle as well.  This seems to be the biggest yet.  

Lots of people, lots of rainbows, lots of kids and dogs.  Lots of smiles and lots of people talking.  

Gunnar Knapp and Steve Colt 'Retire'

Gunnar Knapp has been an important participant in Alaska public policy as an economist at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  He's
studied any number of issues, but his focus was on fisheries.  He became one of the world's experts on the economics of fisheries.  This last year he's played an important role in presenting the facts of the Alaska budget in clear and understandable ways.   I'm afraid that effort has been lost on the key players in the legislature.   But a lot more Alaskans understand the seriousness of our problem and the most reasonable options for dealing with it, thanks to Gunnar's work.

While I never worked for ISER, there was a period of years when my office was in with the ISER faculty and staff.  Not only were all the ISER faculty very sharp and very hard workers, but they got along with each other productively.  Few of the ISER folks are naturally outgoing, but all had very high professional standards, they understood that they worked for the public, and they found ways to make each other do their best.   Music was a common denominator.  Many of the ISER faculty and staff are excellent musicians.  Gunnar has a strong and beautiful singing voice (he's sung for the Anchorage opera) that sometimes floated through the office suites.  I'm not sure he always was aware he was singing.  You can see more about him at this link.

The ISER faculty have always had the challenge of only being partially funded by the state.  They
had to make up the rest of their salaries through contracting studies.  This offered additional challenges - they had to be out soliciting work, yet they had to resist clients' desires for favorable outcomes.  As university faculty, they had to publish work in academic journals while getting enough contracted work to get their salaries paid.

But their reputation for impartiality and technical excellence has made ISER one of the most respected and influential parts of the University of Alaska.  The data they've collected over the years has played a vital role in understanding the state budget and economy, in understanding the welfare of Alaska's children, and understanding Alaska's fisheries, to name just a few areas.

And they are all thoroughly decent, caring people.  Well, a few may not seem like they are, but once you get past their shyness, they are.

Steve Colt came to Alaska from MIT and has had an interest in energy across the state.  You can get a sense of the many projects he's worked on at the link on his name.  Steve said he'll be teaching full time at APU in the fall.  

Today there was a retirement gathering at the UAA library for these two important Alaskans, and a number of notables were there.  Vic Fisher, who created ISER some fifty years ago in Fairbanks.  Lee Gorsuch, who took over from Vic and eventually became Chancellor at UAA.  Scott Goldsmith, a professor emeritus from ISER.  Lots of other important people were there - the staff that makes it possible for the researchers to get their work done and distributed, other faculty from ISER, former Regent Chancy Croft and former Borough manager Jack Roderick.  I was able to get a few pictures, but I had a 5:30 commitment and since this event was scheduled until 5pm, I didn't pay attention to the time.  It was close to 5:30 when the last speaker spoke.  But I did try to catch a few faces.

Former ISER IT guy Jim Kerr juggles his tribute to Knapp and Colt

ISER has a whole set of younger faculty who have come along over the years and have had the benefit of working with these faculty, so the tradition will carry on.  ISER is one of the better known units at the university because so many of their reports are cited in public policy debates, yet the humanity and professionalism of this group is probably not well understood by the general public.  But I can attest to the good work they do.

Here's a link to the list of ISER publications, most of which are available online.  They've monitored so many important issues over the years.

Friday, June 24, 2016

"Roy Cohn was one of the most loathsome characters in American history, so why did he have so many influential friends?"

Or,  how and why do 'good' people allow 'evil' to flourish?

I posted about the relationship between Donald Trump and Roy Cohn the other day.  But then I saw lots of other articles on line about Cohn.  From all accounts, Cohn was cold.  Heartless and ruthless.  Yet the rich and famous surrounded him.  Barbara Walters was a lifelong friend.  Nancy and Ronald Reagan had him (and his young boyfriend) over at the White House.

So, after noting his close relationship with Trump, and what that might mean about Trump, I started thinking about how a man like that was so well protected by supposedly respectable people.  (Of course, one possibility is that they weren't as respectable as people think.)

I  had this post part way done.  Then Wednesday I got an email from Netflix saying that Spotlight, the Academy Award winning film about the Boston Globe  reporters who exposed the breadth of the Catholic Church molestation  and its coverup, was now available.  It was a movie we'd missed and wanted to see.  (It's a very good film.  A modern day All the President's Men.)  It too raises the same questions - why did so many people - in the church and out - look the other way?

So back to the main question from Robert Sherrill at The Nation::
"Roy Cohn was one of the most loathsome characters in American history, so why did he have so many influential friends?"
Here are some excerpts from the Sherrill article that make my (and his) point:
"Von Hoffman reminds us that Cohn "lived in a matrix of crime and unethical conduct," "derived a significant part of his income from illegal or unethical schemes and conspiracies," and thrived "cheek by jowl with so many men of sharp practice and dim luster in business and politics" that Cohn's pal Joey Adams, the comedian, would say of Cohn's dinner parties, "If you're indicted you're invited."
Yet,  the 'respectable' showed up too:
But important unindicted people were invited, too. And they went. Large slices of the upper crust of New York and Washington snuggled up to him, laughed and entertained one another with stories about his crimes as though they were choice insiders' jokes, and wrestled for the privilege of partying with Cohn and his crooked and perverse friends. Why choose his company? The sleaze of Roy Cohn was no secret. Why ignore it? Why excuse it? The only important questions forced on us by these books have nothing to do with Roy Cohn, but everything to do with judges and lawyers and publishers and writers and TV stars and politicians and developers–the wealthy and the powerful people who for many years ate Roy Cohn's shit with a grin.
Unfortunately, despite reciting all the things that made Cohn loathsome,  Sherrill  doesn't actually answer the question of why.  Though he repeats the question:
"And what were people like Geraldine Ferraro and Alan Dershowitz ("who was a somewhat well-disposed acquaintance of Roy's") doing at other Cohn parties and showing up as character witnesses when he was about to be disbarred?"

Here are some hints from a long Life magazine memorial by Nicholas Von Hoffman:

Peter Fraser, Cohn's twenty-something New Zealand born lover in Cohn's final years:
"People would ask me how could I be associated with somebody who did all these awful things in the 1950s," he says. "I don't know about any of that."
In the early 50s, a high school friend has Cohn over for dinner and overhears Cohn talking to Walter Winchell on the phone,  about destroying another newsman:
"And here was Roy Cohn saying, "Now, Walter, we could play this up, and we could do that, "and listening to this thing, I should have said, if I had had any guts, "Roy, that's outrageous", please leave. "But I didn't." - Anthony Lewis, columnist for The New York Times"
Probably the most common reason - it was symbiotic, they helped each other:
"For 40 years Roy had been taking care of the Newhouses, billionaire owners of newspapers and magazines, and for 40 years the Newhouses had been taking care of Roy."
"Zion, a former New York Times reporter, admits that Cohn did many favors for him, including helping him expedite a liquor license for a saloon Zion was buying, and he admits that Cohn was 'the best source I had" for news tips. In return, says Zion, he gave Cohn "advice" on how to handle the people at The Times. As for other things Zion did for Cohn, he says vaguely, "He never asked me to do anything I wouldn't have done for him anyway.'"
From SFGate:
"Many of [Barbara] Walters' other friends were horrified that she would even talk to Cohn, but what Walters reveals for the first time in 'Audition" is that Cohn somehow got a warrant for her father's arrest dismissed. .  .
Cohn liked to hint that they were more than friends "because I was his claim to heterosexuality," Walters says. 'He never said that he was gay, he never admitted to me that he had AIDS. He was a very complicated man. He died, alone, up to his ears in debt. He had been disbarred and he was hated. And I might have thought the same way, but he did something when my father was in trouble, [and] I never forgot that.'" 
Some, suggests Elizabeth Mehren in an LA Times book review of von Hoffman's biography of Cohn, just didn't understand exactly who he was:
". . . many people knew vaguely who he was without knowing fully what he had done. Those who were of age in 1950 would remember strongly the workings of the McCarthy committee, in which Cohn, as chief counsel, was the man who routinely asked witnesses, 'Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party.' Younger people would recognize Cohn from the pages of People magazine: a regular at Studio 54, the frequent dinner companion of Barbara Walters, a guest at the White House, the lawyer of rich and famous divorcees."
Another quote from Mehren offers another explanation why so many hovered around Cohn's light:
". . . as Steven Brill, editor in chief of the American Lawyer and a longtime critic of Cohn has said, Roy Cohn was like an automobile accident, the kind that makes rubberneckers stop and stare. "People are drawn to Roy Cohn that way," Brill told Von Hoffman."
Ultimately, it would appear that there was a giant web of connections and favors and threats.  Cohn could help you if you helped him, and he could harm you if you crossed him.  Sort of like a mafia boss - at least one of whom was part of Cohn's circle.

And in the movie Spotlight, we see how the Catholic church dominated Boston.   So many people in so many important positions - in the police department, the courts, the newspapers, the government, the businesses -  were part of the Catholic club, had gone to Catholic schools, been altar boys, still were members of the church, gave to Catholic charities.  As some of the victims said, when a priest talked to you, it was like talking to God.  The web was more than human.

And the key people at the Boston Globe were also part of the club and had ignored evidence that several different people had left them years before the movie begins.  It takes an outsider - a new editor, a Jew new to Boston -  to assign the story to Spotlight, the investigative team at the Globe. And it's an Armenian-American attorney who's been doggedly filing lawsuits in the court system for victims.  Other attorneys had been settling cases directly with the church, yielding small monetary settlements that required confidentiality agreements guaranteeing the secrets would be kept.

Ultimately, I think that if we can get deep into another person's psyche, we can understand why they do the terrible things they do.  That doesn't mean we excuse them.  But unless we understand why people go bad - whether it's some inherent biological cause or environmental factors, or both - we can never design ways to minimize the number of people that go bad, so to speak.  Talking about 'God's will" or  "agents of Satan" doesn't cut it for me.  That suggests there is nothing that could have been done to set the individual onto a more positive life path.

And with Cohn, some argue it was feelings of insecurity in a society that looked down on Jews and did worse to homosexuals.  Michael Kruse writes in Politico:
"He was a tangle of contradictions, a Jewish anti-Semite and a homosexual homophobe" 
His self-loathing, in this narrative, made Cohn fearful of exposure and humiliation, and thus he covered his own vulnerability as a Jew with his own anti-semitism and as a homosexual with his own homophobia.

The Takeaway

Cohn - and to a lesser extent the Catholic church portrayed in Spotlight - is the example of this post, but not the main point.

That's the issue of how 'good' folks protect 'bad' folks.  That's the question we should all be asking about the people in the news today.  It's the issue also we should ask ourselves about the people in our own lives that we should be calling out, or at least not giving the cover of our approval.

[UPDATE May 14, 2018:  Here's a New York Magazine article from April 29,2018 that covers similar ground in more detail and explores why none of the prominent Democrats at that time called out Cohn and, in the years since, Trump.]

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Nature Break - Just Relax And Enjoy

We did a short hike along the trail up toward Wolverine Peak Sunday evening.

My favorite part is crossing the creek and watching the water rush by.  So here's a moment out in the woods on the hillside above Anchorage.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Warnings To Republicans And Democrats - No Hope And Listen Liberal

Several weeks ago, checking out the new books at Loussac library, I found these two which seemed to offer political symmetry.

No Hope is subtitled "Why I left the GOP and you should too."  Listen Liberal is subtitled "What Happened To The Party of the People?"

I've read No Hope, but only the first and last chapters of Listen Liberal, so I'll talk about Jimmy Lasalvia's book in this post, and Thomas Frank's in a later post.  Spoiler:  Frank's book seems the much weightier of the two.

Lasalrvia's book is basically his justification, as a gay Republican, for being the gay spokesperson for the Republican Party for as along as did.  Basically, he says he's an economic conservative who's gay and was trying to get the Republicans to be more tolerant of people who weren't straight, white males.  He also felt that by supporting Republicans in a conspicuous way - as a founder and head of GOProud - he would also show Republicans that there were conservative gays and that they should change their gay intolerance and court gay voters.  There are some successes along the way, but in the end he realizes the Republican party was getting worse not better.

I went along with his story for a while, but soon concluded that he was like the skinny kid who who never gets picked.  He wants so bad to be on the Republican team, but, geez, he's gay, no way.  He tries so hard to prove he's a Republican team player - he's for smaller government, less taxes, and he bemoans Obama's failed _(fill in the blank)  policies.  He wants so hard to prove that just because he's gay doesn't mean he's not a good Republican.  He can't understand why they don't get his belief that they need him more than he needs them.

I like Jimmy. He's a decent guy.  He's loyal. He's sincere.  But it takes him forever to get it.  Even when all the other gay organizations are dissing him for defending Republicans, he gamely says, "hey, you have to be a team player."  Team player is his mantra.  You want me to debase myself, ok, I'll do it to prove I'm a team player.  For example:
"Again, I compromised my integrity to uphold the Republican code." (p 133)  
There are successes.  GOProud gets to be a CPAC sponsor, but no senior Republican officials show up for their big dance party, that's supposed to show the world that Republicans can be cool.  And when CPAC gets a new executive director, they cut GOProud out.   GOProud seems to have survived as long as it did mainly because they get a few big donations, like from gay billionaire Peter Thiel.  And Ann Coulter comes to one of their fundraising events.

Throughout the book Lasalvia is swimming up the Republican stream that just has too many barriers.  When the Romney team won't even talk to Lasalvia, he slowly starts to get it.  Despite his belief that the Republicans need him to diversify, they see him as poison and want nothing to do with him.

I wanted to be able to sit down with Laslavia and talk to him.  He tells us he grew up as a military brat and that most people on the bases were pretty conservative.   And in the book, his conservative beliefs tend to boil down to slogans.  I'm guessing, that if he hadn't had to face up to the fact that he was gay, he would have been perfectly happy on the Republican team, even bashing gays.

But he did turn out gay and so he saw this one flaw in the conservative narrative.  Not because he was thinking more deeply, but because it kicked him in the groin.  But when he writes about other Republican positions, it's always superficial talking points.  Things like:
"I focused on Obama's failed record, the poor economy, and the need for Romney's management skills in the White House."
I wanted to say to him, "Jimmy, exactly what was the economy like when Obama took office?  How is it worse now?  Jimmy, you've seen the flaw in the Republican stance against gays, women, and people of color.  Maybe you should examine more deeply their economic positions as well.  You're just spouting slogans.  You need to reexamine everything you believe."

The book offered some behind the scenes snippets of the Republican party - mainly in the arena of gay policies.  It reads fast.  But partly that's because you don't have to think too hard about any of it.

What I've read so far of Listen Liberal is a much deeper analysis of mainstream Democratic thought.  I'll try to do a post on it when I've finished it.  The basic thrust I've picked up so far is this:

Democrats have always been fighting against inequality, for the lower and middle classes getting a fair share of the economy.  That fight has always been about the distribution of money.  That worked when blue jobs that didn't require a high school education could keep people in the middle class.  If money is the first hierarchy that separates the economic classes, today, there's a second hierarchy - the professions - that also separates the classes.  And the Democrats have sided with the educated  against the rest.

OK, that's my take at the moment and it makes a lot of sense.  The Republicans have voiced the concerns of the uneducated - abortion, immigration, guns, the terrorist menace.  But, let me read some more so I can spell out his argument more accurately.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Putin's Syrian Strategy Seems To Be Working As Brits Poised To Vote On Their EU Membership

I've been assuming for a while now that one of Putin's strategies in Syria is to increase the number of refugees flooding into Europe.  This helps to raise tension and conflict in the EU countries and ultimately to break down cooperation across Europe, not only in economics, but in military strength and commitment along Russia's borders.  Less unity means it's harder for Europeans to stand united against Russia.

The influx of refugees has done all of this and more.  On World Refugee Day (today), we're only a few days away from the British vote on whether to stay in the EU or not.  [UPDATE June 25, 2016:  they voted to leave the EU.]

Forbes seems to think that the refugees themselves will eventually make Europe more anti-Russian than it is today. That may be, but in the meantime, European unity is being severely tested. And the lives of millions of refugees are being being uprooted.

As the son of refugees who survived Nazi Germany because they were able to get out, my heart is with all refugees.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

". . . attack, counterattack and never apologize."

The title comes from a Washington Post article describing Roy Cohn as Trump's lawyer and mentor.  For those who don't recognize the name, Cohn was the model for the Angels in America character who personifies evil.  The son of an influential judge, Cohn began young as Sen. Joe McCarthy's aide in the Congressional Red and homosexual witch hunt in the 1950s.  His career goes morally downhill from there, according to the article.

The point of the authors, though, is that he took in Trump and introduced him to the power brokers of New York and Washington DC and taught Trump his basic strategy: attack, counterattack and never apologize.

What we've seen from his tweet torrent, this does seem to be how Trump work.  He certainly hates to apologize.

It's worth reading the whole thing as we try to understand the phenomenon of Trump.

And it seems Cohn's story shares the Orlando shooter's closeted homosexuality.  Well, we don't know if the shooter had any actual gay encounters, but he seems to have been drawn to gay venues.  Cohn apparently was much more active sexually, but he witnessed (even participated in) the career and sometimes life destroying outing of homosexuals with Sen. McCarthy.

One wonders whether the shooter's rampage and Cohn's ruthless pursuit of power were both related to some sort of homophobic self-loathing. And fear of being outed. The article mentions Cohn's portrayal in Angels in America, and when I googled the two together, I got to a series of compelling Youtube excerpts.

Like this one where Cohn's long time doctor tells him he has AIDS and Cohn insists he's not a homosexual and he has liver cancer.  He's more concerned about being exposed as gay (and thus as a member of a group without 'clout') than he is about the terminal diagnosis.  I can't embed the video, but here's the link.

And the Washington Post article is also worth reading.  The authors' book on Trump comes out in August.  Good timing on their part.

[UPDATE July 21, 2016:  here's a follow up post on Cohn I did on June 24 -  "Roy Cohn was one of the most loathsome characters in American history, so why did he have so many influential friends?"]

Saturday, June 18, 2016

If The Media Called Them "Alienated Losers" Instead of "Lone Wolves" Would There Be As Many Shootings?

Reporters keep referring to the Orlando killer as a 'lone wolf.'  I get it.  But I also get that one of the reasons youngish men carry out acts like this is to get some form of glory and notoriety, to prove that they have power, that they aren't nobodies.

I'd like to suggest that the media  substitute "alienated loser" for "lone wolf" in their reports of such attacks.   We know that such shooters, in part, hope for some sort of glory from their actions.  A Guardian story tells us:
"The Orlando gunman used Facebook during his deadly rampage, apparently seeking to gauge reaction in real time while also vowing more attacks. . . "
"Lone Wolf" has a romantic appeal.  Other potential shooters might find the image of a 'loser' less appealing than that of the 'lone wolf."   Knowing that one's loser status will be the headline, rather than the more appealing 'lone wolf' image might help discourage such attacks.

 A PoliceOne article by Scott Stewart acknowledges the unwarranted mystique in the term not just for the shooters, but for the media consuming public:
"It is only when we set aside the mystique of the lone wolf and look at the reality of the phenomenon that we can see the threat is often far less daunting in reality than it is in theory."

A 2015 Mother Jones article by Mathew Harwood raises another problem with the term 'lone wolf'.  First he offers a definition:
"Lone wolves are, by definition, solitary individuals, almost always men, often with mental health problems, who lash out violently against civilian targets. At least in some fashion, they are spurred on by belief. Researcher Michael Becker defines it this way: "Ideologically driven violence, or attempted violence, perpetrated by an individual who plans and executes an attack in the absence of collaboration with other individuals or groups." Although you wouldn't know it at the moment in America, the motivation for such attacks can run the gamut from religiously inspired anti-abortion beliefs to white supremacism, from animal rights to an al-Qaeda-inspired worldview."
Then he focuses on the use of the idea of the lone wolf to foment fear, particularly of Muslims,  and justify greater surveillance by law enforcement.  Harwood points out:
"Inside the United States, 136 people died due to individual terrorist attacks between 1940 and 2012—each death undoubtedly a tragedy, but still a microscopic total compared to the 14,000 murders the FBI has reported in each of the last five years. In other words, you shouldn't be losing sleep over lone-wolf attacks. As an American, the chance that you'll die in any kind of terrorist violence is infinitesimal to begin with. In fact, you're four more times likely to die from being struck by lightning. If anything, the present elevation of the lone-wolf terrorist to existential threat status in Washington creates the kind of fear and government overreach that the perpetrators of such attacks want to provoke."
He also says that about 25% of lone wolf terrorists are
". . .  involved with, and often directed or encouraged by, a government informant or undercover agent. This adds up to about 25% of post-9/11 cases of lone wolfism in the US, though the label is hardly accurate under the circumstances. These are essentially government stings, which not only inflate the number of individual terrorism incidents in the US, but disproportionately focus law enforcement attention on American Muslim communities."

I noticed that the British press have used the term 'crazed loner' to describe the killer of MP Jo Cox.  I had considered 'alienated loner' as well as 'loser.'  But this is, in part, a propaganda war, and I think 'loner' still has some cachet, whereas, at this point, no one really wants to be called a loser*.

Words matter as symbols.  The media cannot deprive shooters of publicity by simply ignoring terrorist attacks.  We do need to know what is happening.  But they can stop the sensational coverage and they can stop glorifying shooters with terms like 'lone wolf' and reframe the image with terms like 'alienated loser.'

*I'd note that there are no 'solutions.'  Everything keeps evolving .  It's always possible  to take a pejorative term and give it a new, positive meaning.  And the meaning of 'loser' could morph as well. And so tactics that work now need to be reassessed and adjusted as things change.  And, as I've said before, our larger focus should be on building a society that doesn't create alienated losers in the first place.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Plane Spotting - Why They're Rumbling Over Anchorage This Week

China Air
If you drive out to the very end of Northern Lights Blvd and then past Point Woronzof, you'll see guys standing by their cars with telephoto lenses taking pictures of planes at the Anchorage airport.

But this last week I've been able to do that from my back yard deck.  Instead of flying off over Cook Inlet, planes are flying over the Anchorage bowl.  LOUDLY!  And with the great weather we've been having, I've been spending a lot of time on the deck, which has become our de facto dining room and my office.


They rumble over sometimes minutes apart, sometimes more.  It's pretty loud.


So I called the airport to see what's up.

I talked to John Stocker who told me that there is construction work on the north-south runway - things that have to be done every year and in the summer - like painting markings.  The noise will continue until June 25, except for Sundays.

I asked what happens during the night (since the noise stops during that time.)  Work on the runway is from 7:30am until 7:30 pm.

Korean Air
Mr. Stocker said the project was well publicized.  That may be, but I missed their publicity.  I did try the airport website before calling, but my search didn't yield any answers.  They may be there, but even looking at a section called 'noise abasement'  I couldn't find anything specific about this week, just long term planning reports. I even looked at the pdf on construction projects which doesn't seem to include this.  Each project talks about benefits, but they don't talk about negative impacts like noise.  It's hard to even figure out that the north-south runway is involved.

In any case, until June 25 - another week - we have a steady flow of jets flying over the bowl.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

There Was A Reason I Stopped Climbing Flattop

I stopped climbing Flattop years and years ago.  Trudging up a steep gravelly slippy slidey trail with lots and lots of people got old.

But something got into me today and I decided I wanted to go up the Flattop trail.  J said she wanted to come along, despite the fact that she hates climbing up and she broke her wrist a couple years ago negotiating the sidewalk in Santa Monica.

But with our State Park parking sticker in the window, we drove up to the Glen Alps parking lot and started up.  It wasn't quite as bad as I remembered at first.

The steps from the parking lot are gone and a new winding trail starts things.  But it goes up pretty quickly.  We first climbed Flattop when we arrived to Alaska not quite 40 years ago.  Our bodies are a lot slower than they were.

J was telling me to just go on ahead, so I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures of butterflies and flowers while she moseyed along.  I'm not sure what kind of butterfly that is.  I couldn't find it in my Insects of South-central Alaska book, nor looking fairly quickly online.  But I did find this tribute to Kenelm Philip - apparently the premier collector and student of Alaskan butterflies.

Wild geraniums.

At this point it looked like the trail was leveling off for a while and it had this fancy post and chain fence.   But it was a short-lived break.

When we first got to the 'steps' we thought, wow, they've improved this a lot since our last visit.  But these railroad ties were at various angles, and the dirt packed against them had been washed out in may places, so these were tricky walking.   

I'd say except for one woman, we were probably the oldest folks on the trail that we saw.  Most were half our age or less.  And it was warm to hot still at 9 and 10 pm when we were out.  

We did run into a six year old who was not happy at all.  The man I assumed was her dad said she'd been fine to the top, but coming down she had begun to cry.  My grandpa mode is just below the surface, so I talked to her about the trail, the chocolate bar I'd left in the car, but would have given her if I hadn't, and how our kids had spent a number of years ready to turn back on our hikes, then one day, said, "We'll wait for you at the top."  I didn't get a smile, but she did stop crying and maybe her dad got a little more sympathy for her limits as a hiker.  

Somewhere along these steps J decided it was getting too treacherous for her and decided to sit on the side and wait for me.  

I went on a little further.  Below is a picture of the people climbing the ridge toward the top.

I got to the second 'saddle' and started up the last part.  We'd been going up almost an hour already and I was thinking when our son would run up and back in 30 minutes.  

I was also thinking about my heel which after several years of issues hadn't bothered me at all in several months.  (I should probably write an update on that saga.)  And  mostly I thought about J sitting on the side of the trail.  

I looked back with my telephoto lens to see if she was still in view.  

No, those two guys were probably on the 'steps' but she was well below them and that ridge.  So I turned around and found her quickly enough.  We got down, as usual, much faster than we got up. 

It was a big energy booster though.  It felt good to be out and about.    The last couple of years with us flying down to visit my mom every month made it too easy to not get out into the hills above and around Anchorage.  But I'm going to get my money's worth from our parking stickers this year.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Using ISIS as Cover

Watch the media patterns after mass shootings and other disasters.  They start by broadcasting whatever tidbits they can find and filling in with lots of 'woe is us,'  'pray for the families,' and trying to figure which current narratives explain what happened.  Was he homophobic?  Was he Muslim?  Was he a terrorist?  An Immigrant?  Oh, he pledged his allegiance to ISIS and he's Afghan (did I forget that he was born in the US?), presto, this is a radical Muslim terrorist attack.

And, did you notice that the only facts they were sure of at the beginning weren't always right.  "50 killed"  "That number will surely grow." Now we're being told it's 49 killed and so far the rest are still alive - six in critical condition.

We all have narratives in our heads - stories that help us organize 'facts' into a coherent explanation of the world.  And it looks like politicians, and maybe eve the shooters themselves, these days might be manipulating our narratives to hide their personal conflicts and demons.  Or to divert our attention from the weapons used.

We don't know anything for certain, but one thought I had from early on, is being supported by some evidence.  NOTE:  This is a thought experiment - exploration of possible explanations.  It's NOT truth, it's thinking outlaid 

ISIS as cover. Number 1.

A few LGBT folks in the area are saying that they've seen the shooter at the Pulse, frequently.  That he's got a profile on a gay hookup app. Suggesting that perhaps this young man was a somewhat-closeted gay man.  This narrative suggests he couldn't come out to his family and was terribly conflicted and frustrated.  His internalized homophobia turned against himself and other gays who lived a life he couldn't.

What better proof of his straight masculinity than massacring gays and then using the banner of self-proclaimed Muslim saviors to cover your own personal problems?

[UPDATE June 17, 2016:  Here's some support of this idea from a Slate article:
"Orlando may be another variant, then, of what the French scholar of Islam Olivier Roy has called the “Islamicization of radicalism.” Islam is used by an individual already on the edge of violence to justify his actions and give him status to at least one audience, as indeed has already happened to Mateen. Details on Mateen’s background are still trickling in, but his ex-wife claimed he was abusive in their marriage and not particularly zealous in his faith."]

ISIS as cover. Number 2:

From The Hill:
"Instead of focusing on the weapon that was used, there should be a focus on radical Islam. The focus should not be on the weapon, it should be on the individual’s heart and the cowardly acts that he performed."
This narrative says it's all about the shooter; the guns he had are irrelevant.

Really?!  For the survivors, in the long run, it really doesn't matter if he was a self hating gay, if he was treated badly because he looks suspicious in the dominant American world view.  It doesn't matter what any of the shooter's issues were in terms of getting past the carnage.  Yes, it would help if Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian pulpits spoke to their congregations about love instead of attacking women and the lgbt community.

But if disturbed people - whatever the cause of the issues, whether it's biological or sociological - didn't have such easy access to automatic weapons, there'd be people still alive in Sandy Hook, Columbine, Roseburg, and San Bernadino, and Orlando.

Instead we hear each time about mental health and terrorists, and strong denials by politicians supported by the gun industry controlled NRA.  First it was Al Qaeda, now it's ISIS.    ISIS is the distraction that keeps us from talking about the first steps that we can do to cut down on the slaughter taking place across the United States.  And that's because of the Congress members who hear NRA money pouring into their campaigns.

This is not about logic, it's about power.  It's about courage. Or rather lack of courage.  It's about electing politicians who care more about the people they represent than about their own egos and power.  Politicians who are willing to risk their jobs for what's right.   And we're moving to a situation where anyone who opposes the gun lobby runs the risk, not only of losing their office, but even losing their lives.  Ask Gaby Giffords what she's doing about this.

ISIS as cover.  Number 3:

But bigger than the guns, is that we're living in a society that produces way too many alienated and angry men.  Again, there are lots of narratives explaining this.  Some argue we've turned our backs on God or there are too many immigrants.

The bigger, overarching context for the alienation, in my view, is our competitive society that is structured to enrich a relative few and impoverish many.  Until the system is recalibrated that alienation will continue.  We need recover some of the economic security that has been destroyed.  People need to feel economically ready to have a family.  Then they need the time to love their children and teach them to love themselves.

We also have to learn how to focus on what's important instead of the increasing number of distractions the internet offers us all.  Including this blog.  We need to take care of our selves, our families.   The people around the world both envy our material wealth and personal freedom and they fear what it will do to their own societies as the world begins to look more and more the same. As we lose the rich diversity of cultures that offers us many possible ways of living.   And that's why organizations - if we can even call it that - like ISIS become symbols of defiance.  Why guns become symbols of manhood.  Why Trumps become symbols of rebellion.  People are desperate for meaning in their lives, for something to believe in, for hope.

I remember years ago when someone in China first gave me a copy of China's Report on Human Rights Violations in the United States.  Of course, it's a response to American reports on human rights violations in China, but still it is sobering to review it.  To see what we look like in others' eyes.  We need to think carefully of the two gods that Americans rely on - the one in the bible and the invisible hand of the market.  Because those are the solutions we're given when confronted by the ISIS cover - pray to God and let the market take care of things.

It ain't working in my eyes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Being Smart Beats Beating

How necessary is torture to get information from terrorists?  As a teenager I read about the Gulag and Nazi Germany and other settings where people got tortured.  I wasn't particularly looking for torture stories, but they came up in many books I read.  I soon realized that these stories of torture were always written by the people who were tortured, not by the torturer.  But I wanted to know what was going on in the head of the torturer.  How could one human being inflict such horrible pain on another?

It's still one of the questions I keep gathering data on (not in any rigorous manner, but I note things as they come up.)   The debates over torture in the television show "24" (skip down to "This wouldn’t have been a problem. . . in the link) were of great interest to me.  The show was one of the media that popularized the idea that torture was acceptable if the person being tortured knew about a plot that would, say, kill two hundred civilians.  Of course, that begs the question how the interrogators know the suspect knows this.  The issue came up in real life over torturing Guantanamo prisoners and John Yoo's lawyerly defenses of torture.

Stuck somewhere in my brain was the idea embedded in the Fifth Amendment - that one cannot be compelled to testify against oneself.  Our founding fathers knew that torture victimized the innocent and that subjects of torture would tell their interrogators whatever they thought they wanted to hear.

So when I read this article in the LA Times yesterday, I found evidence that supports my view of all this.  (And, of course, I recognize that we all tend to believe what we want to hear, so I'm offering this, as evidence, not proof.)  Here are some excerpts, but it's worth reading the whole thing:
"Hanns Scharff was a master manipulator, but not in the stereotypical Gestapo-like ways that usually come to mind. His tools were kindness, respect, empathy and guile. He told meandering stories, took detainees on long strolls in the countryside and left them alone in his office to read the U.S. military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. He provided hard-to-find cigarettes and even let one captured U.S. pilot take a short flight in a German fighter plane. But all the while, without them even knowing, he was swiping their secrets. .
"He died in 1992, well before the U.S. war on terror commenced. But his methods began getting a second look amid the fierce national debate over the harsh interrogation tactics used by the George W. Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks. President Obama and others have condemned some of those methods as torture. 
Former CIA officials have defended the rough techniques as useful, but a 2014 Senate report found that the agency’s use of torture failed to stop any imminent plots. 
Sometimes, it even backfired, the report concluded. At least one suspect “sang like a tweetie bird,” according to a CIA official quoted in the report, before he was tortured. But after being subjected to harsh interrogation, he provided no other useful information, according to the report. Amid the debate, the FBI-led interrogation unit began funding research to scientifically analyze various interrogation practices. It plans to soon release a report detailing best practices. 
Though Scharff’s techniques had been long known to U.S. officials, the research confirmed for the first time that it actually works better."  [Emphasis added]

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Brief Visit to Potter Marsh To Check Out The Birds

Northern Shoveler

We took a break yesterday and went to Alaska.  Well, it's just about ten minutes down the road from Anchorage and sometimes we forget to take advantage of living here.  There was lots of traffic on the Seward Highway coming back, so we decided to just hit Potter's Marsh and check out the birds.

There were dramatic clouds to the west when we turned back.  

At the end of the boardwalk (going inland) there's an eagle's nest and usually eagles nearby.  Can you see the eagle in the trees?  Hint:  look for the white head.  (You probably have to click on the picture to enlarge and focus it.)

Here's a closer shot.  In the one above there's a white tree trunk in the middle.  The eagle's in the cottonwood tree to the left of it, a little above the the midline.

And below is the nest.  There's a white head poking up.

I liked the ducks all lined up on the log, though it didn't come out that well in the picture.

And here are some green winged teals.  The green of the wing is under and doesn't show in this picture