Thursday, December 31, 2020

Alaska Redistricting Board Chooses The Easy Contracting Process For Hiring Its Attorney

 The Redistricting Board met Tuesday, December 29, 2020, to take two actions:

  1. Determine whether to use the Legislative or Administrative procurement process.  
  2. Start the process for hiring an independent counsel for the Board

It appeared that the Board members were connected via zoom (someone talked about not being able to turn off the hand raised icon), but people like me using the phone line provided were only listening by phone.

But there was an agenda posted and links to the documents in the Board Members' packets.  Those present were: 

  • Peter Torkelson as Executive Director 
  • TJ Presley as Deputy Director. 
  • John Binkley, Fairbanks, Chair of the Alaska Redistricting Board. 
  • Melanie Bahnke of Nome, 
  • Nicole Borromeo of Anchorage, 
  • Bethany Marcum of Anchorage  
  • Budd Simpson of Juneau.   

I'd note that the documents include the 2010 RFP for an attorney and the winning bid by attorney Michael White.

Which Process?  Below is a chart prepared by staff comparing procurement constraints of using the Administrative Code versus the Legislative Code.  

The brief discussion focused on:

  • Minimum and Maximum bids
  • Who could protest the decision
  • How long each process would take

Procurement Code Features

State Procurement Statute is found at AS 36.60

Feature                              Administrative Code              Legislative    Code

No Bid Maximum



No Bid Max with documented justification


No fixed ceiling

No Bid Direct Procurement Exception for State Agencies (UAA/Dept. Labor)



No Bid Direct Hire of Legal Counsel Allowed



RFP Time on the Street

20 days

20 days

RFP total time to complete once published

60 days

45-60 days

Protest Allowed

Yes, bidders only within 10 days

Yes, “interested parties” within 10 days

– Protest freezes contract execution



– Protest Step 1

Procurement Officer

documents findings may implement remedy

Procurement Officer

documents findings may implement remedy

– Protest Step 2

Commissioner of Administration who may refer case to an Administrative Law Judge

Appeal to Legislative Council

– Right of Appeal

Superior Court

Superior Court

Inter-branch payment coding required



They had several people available for questions:

  • Emily Nauman, Attorney with Legislative Legal Services
  • Rachel Witty, Attorney with Department of Law
  • JC Kestel, Procurement Officer, Legislative Affairs Agency

The memo to the board discussing the options in more detail (and available as one of the links) was written by Legislative Legal staff member Emily Nauman and is dated December 23, 2019.   It concluded: 
"It is advisable that the Committee abide by competitive procurement rules.  However, the statutes establishing the Committee are silent as to what procurement rules apply.  Therefore, the committee can likely choose which procurement rules to abide by.  There are three options, the state procurement code (AS 36.30), the Legislative Procurement Procedures, or the Court System Procurement Guidelines.  Whatever set of procurement rules the Committee choses, it should abide by them consistently for all of its procurements.:

 In the discussion they also talked about the difference between using an RFP or an RFI.  Here, a key differences was that the RFP had to be "on the street" for 30 days and the RFI only 10 days, plus the RFI was much less 'formal.'  That is it has fewer checks in the process.  Some may see those checks as red-tape, but they were originally put there to make bodies more accountable.  But as long as the Board puts all their documents online, that should compensate for a faster process.  
Board member Budd Simpson of Juneau said that in any case he wanted the bid out on the street the full 30 days to make sure anyone interested had time to find out about and respond to it.  
He and Nicole Borromeo of Anchorage volunteered to work on the draft Request with Executive Director Peter Torkelson.  
Melanie Bahnke larified that the Board would be the evaluation and selection committee.  

Below are my rough notes as the meeting moved to the end:

Melanie Bahnke:  Move Board begins RFI process for Legal Counsel, board needs to approve.
John Binkley:  Discussion?  If no objection, the motion is adopted.  
I think that’s the only two items on the agenda
Let’s get this done as fast as possible.  
John Binkley:  Maybe we can get a time next week when we can all get together.
Budd:  I’ll send out an email notice.
?? - Going to have to be a weekend If next week.  We have other meetings.  
John:  Anything else?
Budd Simpson:  Peter and PJ could you run thru the Request for last time (ten years ago) and make necessary edits for dates and names to give us a first cut at what Nicole and I would take a look at.  When you make changes, do it with red lines so we can see changes easily.  Continue to use that so everyone can see changes.
Peter Torkelson:  OK, you guys should have in your head, how the RFI is going to deal with the Voting Rights Act changes.  Old one has clear language about pre-clearance and Voting Rights Act, not as important as last time since requirements no longer apply.
Melanie Bahnke - that was the main thing I saw about Voting Rights Act and pre-clearance.  Something else, these meetings are being recorded and made available.  Requirements of minutes, are these required?  Court reporter.
Peter:  On our agenda.  Chasing them down.  They are being recorded and posted on website within a week and stay there.  
John Binkley?:  I have name of court reporter and haven’t followed up with them.
JP:  Open meetings and public notice, we’ll have to adopt how we’re going to do that, voted on and all agreed on.  

John:  Anything else?
??:  Thank Peter and PJ for getting documents out well in advance.  
John Binkley:  Motion for adjournment?  Made and seconded.  Adjourned.  
??:  Someone is going to have to figure out who made the motions etc.  plus time adjourned etc.  3:10pm Adjourned.

Here are a few thoughts I have after following most of this process starting in March or so 2011:

Voting Rights Act (VRA) - 1964 law pushed through by President Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy was shot.  It recognized that a number of states had traditionally discriminated against minorities in voting and it identified 16 (I think) that needed to get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice before their redistricting plans could be approved.  Alaska was one of those states because of treatment of Native Alaskan voters. Many of the others were Southern states.  
Last time round the Board had to make sure that they didn't diminish, through redistricting, the voting power of Alaska Natives.  There could not be fewer districts than before in which Alaska Natives were a key block of voters.  Thus, the first plan was carefully worked on to be sure Alaska Native districts would not be diminished in order to get pre-clearance.  This involved a lot of terms like "Minority/Majority district":  Here's a post I wrote on the issue in April 2011.

After the Board got its pre-clearance (which included testimony by a VRA expert who helped the Board,  the first plan was successfully challenged and a second plan had to be undertaken.  Somewhere in this process the US Supreme Court, in Shelby v Holder in 2013  ruled that the section of the VRA that required the pre-clearance was out of date and no longer applied.  But the Board here pretty much kept the Native districts in compliance anyway.  However, since then many of the states that were required to get their plans pre-cleared have done everything they could to suppress black and other minority voters.  

We'll see to what extent Alaska Native districts are preserved this time round.  It isn't easy because in rural Alaska where Natives have a majority, the population is very sparse, resulting in some huge districts geographically.  And while there are enough Alaska Natives to have their own district in Anchorage, they aren' living just on one or two areas.  

Timing -  You may have noticed that the memo I quoted above was dated Dec. 23, 2019.  At the meeting they mentioned that the previous board had gotten their RFP for the independent counsel in October 2010 and so they were a bit behind and thus can't wait the long time period needed for an RFP.   I realize that we're in the middle of a pandemic, but we've all gotten better at distanced meetings and I'm not sure why the Board didn't start this process earlier.  On the other hand, the Bureau of the Census isn't going to be handing over the census data on time and it may arrive later than it did in 2011.  

Virtual Board Meetings -  There were a few times during the last board's tenure that I had to listen in online or by phone.  But by then I'd been to many, many meetings and I could recognize the voices of all the Board members and staff.  Listening in this time was trickier.  If someone didn't call on someone by name, I had to guess at who was speaking.  It appeared that the Board was connected by Zoom.  There's no technical reason why people who want to 'attend' the Board meetings can't do that via Zoom as well.  I've been on a couple of national zoom meetings where the key speakers had their video and sound on and everyone else just listened in, no video, no sound.  
I'd also note that the transcripts of the prior board were many months behind.  I later learned that one of the problems was the stenographers, who were getting audio tapes of the meetings, couldn't figure out who was talking and they needed to have that info on their transcripts.  
The Board has posted  video of three of the six meetings listed at the AKLeg website, including the December 29 meeting I'm reporting here.  And transcripts are so much easier to scroll through and search.  The the video that the Municipality puts up of the Assembly meetings does allow for searches.  

Transparency and Openness - I got to listen in to the last meeting because someone sent me a link to the site.  I'm still looking for the Board's website.  There are a couple of 'redistricting' sites for Alaska, but they look like someone has just bought the names.  They don't have anything to do with the actual Board that I can tell.  
And when the Board does get its website up, I'd like to request that they plan where it is going to be preserved.  There are lots of important Alaska documents there and they shouldn't disappear after the Board closes.  The various links to documents and maps shouldn't just go missing.  Perhaps the legislature needs to require the preservation of the website and all the linked documents.  One of the Alaska history related libraries in the state could be given the funds to maintain the site after the Board concludes its business.  

For those looking for transcripts of what happened ten years ago, the best resource I know are my own posts which are indexed here in chronological order starting March 15, 2011.  I'm hoping that the increase in local and state reporters at the ADN and at Alaska Public Media means that paid journalists will be covering this decade's redistricting board.  And I can just drop in now and then.   

Potential Conflict of Interest

When the Binkley family bought the Alaska Dispatch (formerly and presently the Anchorage Daily News) the ADN noted:"
"The buyer is the Binkley Co. LLC made up of siblings Ryan Binkley, Wade Binkley, James Binkley and Kai Binkley Sims. The group is working with Jason Evans, owner of Alaska Media LLC, though the proposed sale agreement lists only the Binkley Co. as buyer."

From what I can figure out - sorry, I haven't kept close tabs on Fairbanks personalities - these are John Binkley's children.  So there is at least the appearance of a potential conflict-of-interest in how the ADN might cover the Board.  Though it's also possible they allow the editor to run the newspaper independently.  

KTOO reported  that John Binkley took over the opposition to the recall of Governor Dunleavy last March.  Since then that campaign has gotten a huge assist from the Corona Virus.  But it means that Binkley is the third Board member with ties to Dunleavy, who appointed Bethany Marcum of Anchorage and E. Budd Simpson of Juneau to the Board.   I'm merely pointing these things out.  The Board has been pretty partisan in the past and as long as the members are appointed by politicians it will continue that way.  

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Alaska Redistricting Board Meets Tomorrow (Tuesday) Afternoon [Updated]

 Some of you may recall that my life got hijacked for almost three years after I innocently went to the Alaska Redistricting Board meeting in 2011.  Sine then technology (for mapping and for meeting) have changed a lot.  And so has the depth of local/state news coverage in Alaska.  And I have out-of-state grandkids who hadn't been born yet last time.  

I've been wondering if I really want to get so deeply involved this time.  And considering that the meetings won't be in person (for a while at least), it will be easier to attend, but more difficult to chat with the board members and other members of the public during breaks and after meetings.  

But my stalling got a bit of a jolt today when I got an email from someone who is interested in doing an academic project on the board.  She's already done a bit of homework and reminded me I'm getting out of date on this topic.  And part of her homework got her to my tab above that indexes all the redistricting posts I did in the past.  

Here are three links she just sent me:

Tomorrow's meeting* - starts at 2:30pm:

Free map-making - my quick look suggests this is based on the 2010 census numbers and the districts the board created last time.  I'm not sure how quickly this will be updated when the new census data come in.  But last time, this sort of free citizen available software was definitely not available.  
(I just noticed there is more than one open-source map-making website!)

Paper on nesting districts:

(This is an article that was published in April of this year looking at how you can gerrymander districts in states that allow nesting.  That is states where Senate districts are made up of two paired House districts.  The study is about Alaska.)

*[Updated 11pm]:Here's the agenda

Discussion: Procurement Code Options, TELECONFERENCED

Legislative vs. Administrative

Available for Questions:

- Emily Nauman, Attorney, Legislative Legal Svcs.

- Rachel Witty, Attorney, Dept. of Law

- JC Kestel, Procurement Officer, LAA

Adoption of Procurement Code

Discussion: RFPs for Proposals for Independent

Legal Services

- Review of 2011 RFP

- Timeline for publishing RFP & selection of firm

- Review options to proceed

- Provide direction to Executive Director

Friday, December 25, 2020

"We humans are willing to believe anything rather than the truth." More Shadow of the Wind Quotes

Here are some more quotes from Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind, which I wrote about yesterday.

But since it's December 25, I should wish readers who celebrate Christmas a good holiday.  Rather than argue about politics with your errant relatives, you can debate these quotes.  I think they can be seen as truths across political divides.  

Or maybe not.  This is a description of a sociopathic (he even tortured small animals as a kid) police officer in Barcelona about 1965.  

"Francisco Javier Fumero had joined the Crime Squad. There was always work there for qualified personnel capable of confronting the most awkward situations, the sorts of situations that needed to be solved discreetly so that respectable citizens could continue living in blissful ignorance. Words to that effect had been said to him by Lieutenant Durán, a man given to solemn pronouncements, under whose command Fumero had joined the police force. “Being a policeman isn’t a job, it’s a mission,” Durán would proclaim."

You know anyone like this?

"It was a smile full of disdain, typical of self-important jerks who hang like stuffed sausages from the top of all corporate ladders."

This seems timely.  But I guess it always is.  

"There are no coincidences, Daniel. We are puppets of our subconscious desires. For years I had wanted to believe that Julián was still the man I had fallen in love with, or what was left of him. I had wanted to believe that we would manage to keep going with sporadic bursts of misery and hope. I had wanted to believe that Laín Coubert had died and returned to the pages of a book. We humans are willing to believe anything rather than the truth. "(emphasis added)

I'll offer this one with no comment.  

“'This city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.' 'You sound like Rociíto, Fermín.' 'Don’t laugh, it’s people like her who make this lousy world a place worth visiting.'  'Whores?'  'No. We’re all whores, sooner or later. I mean good-hearted people.'"



Thursday, December 24, 2020

". . . one of the many places in Barcelona where the nineteenth century has not yet been served its eviction notice."

After I post the daily Alaska COVID-19 update, I'm not really ready to do a post.  Partly because I don't want to just post something everyone else is talking about and partly because the things that are important take longer to think about.  Partly because I've been trying to read my next book club book

before the library Kindle version evaporates tomorrow.  100 pages a day.  Made it to page 302 last night. Should get to 400 today, the just 88 more pages tomorrow.  I really love the book - Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books).  But I'd much rather have a paper copy than spend more time looking at a computer screen.  

The book is a maze of stories inside stories.  The narrator is ten when the book starts and grows older as the story progresses.  He's searching for more about the life of the author of a book that he, apparently, has the last existing copy of.  His life and the mysterious author's life become intertwined.  Minor characters eventually take center stage for a while.   The main stage is post-War Barcelona.  And the writing is lyrically infused with wisdom.  Tragic love stories abound.  Here are some quotes that Kindle makes easy to copy, find, and share:

“How old is the lad?” inquired Barceló, inspecting me out of the corner of his eye. “Almost eleven,” I announced. Barceló flashed a sly smile. “In other words, ten. Don’t add on any years, you rascal. Life will see to that without your help.”

It's a book lover's book, which is one reason it feels particularly wrong to read this one electronically.

“This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend. Now they have only us, Daniel. Do you think you’ll be able to keep such a secret?”

Julian Carax is the mysterious author of the book Daniel has bonded with in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  

"Bring your precious find with you so that I can examine it properly, and I’ll tell you what I know about Julián Carax. Quid pro quo.” “Quid pro what?”

“Latin, young man. There’s no such thing as dead languages, only dormant minds. Paraphrasing, it means that you can’t get something for nothing, but since I like you, I’m going to do you a favor.”

Barcelona is one of the main characters of the book.  I've opened a Barcelona map on my computer so I can follow the action from place to place. 
"The Ateneo was—and remains—one of the many places in Barcelona where the nineteenth century has not yet been served its eviction notice."
The author and the main characters are clearly a religious skeptics:
"He begged the Lord to send him a signal, a whisper, a crumb of His presence. God, in His infinite wisdom, and perhaps overwhelmed by the avalanche of requests from so many tormented souls, did not answer."
Life, in this book, does not favor the timid (though the risk takers don't do much better):
“Look, Daniel. Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.”

The police are not seen as people's friends and protectors.  After Fermín is beaten to a bloody pulp:

"'Tell me, Daniel, now that nobody can hear us. Why isn’t it a good idea to report what has happened to the police?' 'Because they already know.' 'You mean…?' I nodded. 'What kind of trouble are you two in, if you don’t mind my asking?'” I sighed.

I'm not sure that's totally clear to readers out of context, you just have to consider why the police would already know.  

This is a book about books, about writing, about solving mysteries, about love, about life, about freedom and the obstacles to being oneself.  

Thanks, Brock, for recommending The Shadow of the Wind.   



Saturday, December 19, 2020

AIFF2020: Awards - Watch The Ceremony

 I don't spend a lot of time on Facebook.  So I only just found out last night that the Anchorage International Film Festival Awards was at noon today.  But you can watch the Awards now.

I'd note that there were so many films - many of them shorts - that it's hard to keep them all straight. And a number of winners are films I just didn't get too.  But the website is still up and you can browse through the titles with one screenshot each and a short description to jar your memory.  The Trailers are also still up.  

Jury Awards - Jurors are selected by the festival to review and choose the best films in the festival.  While trying to pick 'the best' is often fraught with personal biases (what one judge likes or relates to compared to what another likes) and often means great films aren't chosen, they also help film makers get attention of funders and distributors.  

Made in Alaska Short Films

2nd Runner Up  Pebble Redux Yáa at Wooné

Runner Up - Who We are

Winner:  To Keep As One

Made in Alaska Features

Winner:  Classic

Animated Shorts

2nd Runner Up:  Just for the Record

Runner Up:  Diminuendo

Winner:  Gon, the Little Fox

Horror Shorts - Late Night Chills

2nd Runner Up  - Antique

Runner Up - History of Monsters

Winner - The Burden 

Feature  Documentaries

2nd Runner Up  - Everything That Could Have Been/ On Our Own Island

Runner Up - Race To Alaska

Winner - Never Too Late:  The Doc Severinsen Story 

Narrative Short

2nd Runner Up  - Undercut

Runner Up - Masel Tov Cocktail

Winner - Jane 

Short Documentaries

2nd Runner Up  - Let's Go To Antarctica

Runner Up - Sky Aelans

Winner - Reclamation:  Rise at Standing Rock

Narrative Features

2nd Runner Up  - Last Days of Capitalism

Runner Up - The Woman In the Photographs

Winner - Dinner in America

Screenplay Competition

2nd Runner Up -  Bloodletters

Runner Up -Brook Farm

Winner - The Orchestra’

Audience Awards - Film makers often say these the the most important awards.  These are the films the audience enjoyed most.  In a number of cases, I think the audience chose better than the jurors.  

After School Special

2nd Runner Up - Son of Salvation

Runner Up - Fragments

Winner - Where Did She Go?

Made in Alaska

2nd Runner Up -To Keep As One

Runner Up - Pebble Redux

Winner -  Bad River

Made in Alaska Feature

Winner - Classic

Animated Shorts

Narrative Feature - 

2nd Runner Up - Sad Little Fact

Runner Up - Just For The Record

Winner - Grab My Hand:  A letter To My Dad

Documentary Shorts

2nd Runner Up - Sky Aelans

Runner Up-  Keep Saray Home

Winner - Hysterical Girl 

Narrative Shorts

2nd Runner Up - Rebel

Runner Up - Kama’aina (Child of the Land)

Winner - Masel Tov Cocktail

Documentary Feature -

2nd Runner Up -  Never Too Late:  Doc Severinsen Story

Runner Up -Pushout:  The Criminalization of Black Girls in High School

Winner - Race To Alaska

Narrative Feature - 

2nd Runner Up -  Paper Spiders

Runner Up -Foster Boy

Winner - Dinner in America

I'll try to do another post looking at the winners and comparing them to my favorites.  But I would mention a couple of narrative features that got left out that should have been recognized, but this was probably the strongest category and the films recognized were strong.

The Subject 

My Son

My two top picks for the festival - Masel Tov Cocktail and Grab My Hand - both got top honors from the Audience.  Both were 'perfect' films - that is they told their stories using film techniques to make their points beautifully.  Everything worked - the content and the filmmaking.  They wouldn't have the same impact in another medium.  

I'll focus more on them in a follow up post.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Regular Snowfalls Outside, Things Growing Inside

 My personal trainer is working on my upper body this winter.  It keeps giving a little more snow to shovel four or five times a week.  Today there was about three or four new inches.  

We've also had foggy days.  Which in December, when we get down to five and a half hours or so between sunrise and sunset, makes it seem even darker.  But the snow and ice do such beautiful tricks.  

Here's ice patterns after shoveling the deck.  We'd had a couple days where it got above freezing and then froze again.  I hadn't gotten the snow off the deck, so there was this thin glaze of ice after shoveling.  It should get more focused if you click on it.

And my van was used by the snow as a canvas too.  

And here are some spruce needles holding up a blanket of snow that's turning icy.

Inside, the green stuff continues to give the illusion of a different season.  This is a bromeliad I brought up from my mom's yard where they grow like weeds.  We've had it here maybe 20 years.  It bloomed the first two years, but hasn't since.  I guess I need to check the local bromeliad society to get some tips.  It has offered up new sprouts so now I have three of these.  

But I can't put them where people move back and forth.  The thorns - look closely - are nasty.  

And it's nice that I still have geraniums blooming.

And someone sent us a box of pears.  We've been eating away.  I made a pear omelette and J made a couple of pear tarts.  

Monday, December 14, 2020

Alaska Airlines' Virgin Influences Show Up In COVID Safety Dance Video

 Virgin Airlines was bought by Alaska Airlines.  Virgin had created a safety instruction video that played before all their flights with an elaborate routine of dancing flight attendants (see video at end of post).  And apparently there are vestiges of Virgin still left in the combined airlines. 

I still can wait to get on an airplane until after I've been vaccinated.  

For those who never had the chance to fly on Virgin, below is one of their safety videos.  Well worth watching to see how to take a boring routine and make it entertainment. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

AIFF2020: Paper Spiders And Delusion

 I guess this is a film festival post because I'm starting with a film I saw the other night - Paper Spiders.

In the film a widow lives with her about-to-go-to-college daughter.  Her husband, a doctor, has been dead two or three years.  New neighbors move in and the mother gets upset because she sees him,

Screen shot from Paper Spiders
through the window, back into a tree on her lawn.  

She runs out and comes back to tell her daughter that he told her to fuck off.

The mom later says the neighbor is throwing rocks at their house.  One night she's sure he's on the roof.  The daughter goes next door to just talk to the guy and the wife yells at her.  "Talk to her?  He can't come within ten feet of her. Your mother put out a restraining order against him.  Your mother is deeply disturbed."

Mom knows he's an electrical engineer and she's sure he's sending some kind of waves at her that are giving her headaches.  Whatever explanation the daughter gives, the mom twists it around saying "that proves what I'm saying."

"He's trying to torture me, it's a power struggle, can't you see?"

The daughter, Melanie, tells her mom her grades are dropping and the school counselor wants to do family therapy.  The mom quickly starts talking about the "stalker" and the counselor pulls out the DSM and reads her about delusional disorder (my definition comes from The Cleveland Clinic)

"What is delusional disorder?

Delusional disorder, previously called paranoid disorder, is a type of serious mental illness — called a “psychosis”— in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, which are unshakable beliefs in something untrue. People with delusional disorder experience non-bizarre delusions, which involve situations that could occur in real life, such as being followed, poisoned, deceived, conspired against, or loved from a distance. These delusions usually involve the misinterpretation of perceptions or experiences. In reality, however, the situations are either not true at all or highly exaggerated."

The counselor asks if the mother recognizes any of the symptoms.  The mom's response:  "I think you nailed it.  He has delusional disorder."

Mom hires a private detective to track the man's movements.

They meet the detective for the final report.  The detective chronicles the neighbor's movements.  On Saturday he went to St Percy's hospital.  

  • Mom: "You see, he's getting psychiatric treatment."  
  • Detective: "I've been in the business for 25 years, so if there was any suspecious activity, I assure you, I would catch it."
  • Mom:  "You understand what this means.  We're dealing with a seasoned criminal who can out maneuver a seasoned investigator with 25 years experience."

Things get worse and worse and eventually the mom moves out so the neighbor can't persecute her and sleeps in the car to stay safe from the neighbor.  

As we all watch Donald Trump claim that Biden stole the election, this delusional woman comes to mind.  She's certain about the neighbor.  Every shred of evidence offered to disprove the neighbor's evil mission is turned around as further proof of his devious cleverness.  And Trump ignores the fact that many of the judges turning down his appeals are judges he appointed!  And he doesn't have quite the agility the mom in the movie had to turn around such facts to her advantage. He just changes the subject or blames the messenger.  

Part of me believes that Trump knows exactly what he's doing, but his behavior is so, so similar to this character's, perhaps he doesn't.  

If Trump weren't president of the United States, a normal family would get him treatment.  Or at least try to prevent him from destroying their lives. Given the power/money dynamics of the Trump family I suspect he might not be challenged, even if the kids saw their inheritance being frittered away.  (I don't know whether his assets are greater than his debts.)  

And even in the movie, the daughter had a really difficult time getting her mom treatment.  She was homeless first and then involuntarily admitted only after a very public incident where she turned on her daughter for not supporting her.   

How many of Trump's supporters also have delusional disorder?  Probably not that many.  After all, their news sources all support this mass delusion.   The mom had no one supporting her delusions.  

Here's what the Cleveland Clinic says about treatment:

"How is delusional disorder treated?

Treatment for delusional disorder most often includes medication and psychotherapy (a type of counseling); however, delusional disorder is highly resistant to treatment with medication alone. People with severe symptoms or who are at risk of hurting themselves or others might need to be in the hospital until the condition is stabilized."

The mom was given medication and was in the hospital two weeks.  Even then, at the end she marches off to confront the neighbor again only to be told he's been dead for a month.  But the mom says that's bullshit and points at some equipment in the hallway to prove it's the machine he's been using to torture her.  The neighbor looks and says, "That's his chemo machine."

I don't think any of Trump's destructivenes will end on January 20th.  There are too many people who share Trump's delusions, not just about the election, but about every thing else.  Trump supporters are talking about overturning the election still.  

The Texas lawsuit asked the Supreme Court to throw out hundreds of thousands of ballots.  Over 100 House Republicans joined the lawsuit.  And even after the Supreme Court (including three of Trump's appointees) voted 9-2 against Trump of procedural grounds and 9-0 on substance,  Law&Crime notes:

"In response [to the Supreme Court decision], Texas GOP Chairman Allen West on Friday erroneously claimed that the high court’s ruling—which was widely expected among legal experts and court watchers—created a precedent that allows states to act unlawfully in the administration of elections, leading him to float the idea that the Lone Star State should look into forming a separate nation. In other words, he is preaching secession."

And Trump is inciting his followers by insisting that he actually won the election and that Biden stole it with fraudulent votes.  

At some point, the Democrats are going to have to play hardball.   

"18 U.S. Code § 2384. Seditious conspiracy

If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both."

You can see that this discussion could go on and on.  Gore and Kerry conceded their elections even though there was much more evidence than Trump has that they won.  Even Lincoln wanted to welcome the South back into the union to make that return more cordial.  But that resulted in another 100 years of de facto slavery and inequality for blacks.  (See for example White Rage by Carol Anderson.)  It seems to me the extreme behavior of Trump requires serious consequences lest these new excesses become the norm.  

Friday, December 11, 2020

AIFF2020: The Subject Took Me By Surprise

I finally figured out the Q&A scheduling [it's tricky just seeing the times, so I've put up a schedule on the AIFF2020 page above] and Hometown Pride was going to have the Q&A Thursday at 6pm.

I watched Hometown Pride this afternoon.  This is a fun and easy to watch film about a very out and outgoing gay man who comes back to his tiny Ohio hometown to dance at their annual beauty pageant. Good, not remarkable.  We've seen other versions of this story at AIFF in past years.  

Then I went for Paper Spiders.  I'd been avoiding this one because I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with a mother's mental illness, but its Q&A was also coming up.  

We paused Paper Spiders in the middle so we could watch the Q&A for The Last Days of Capitalism.  This was my favorite feature film and I was looking forward to the session.  It's not quite the same on Zoom as it is live at the festival.  But it was a good discussion.  

The back to Paper Spiders which was surprisingly good, but the mom is definitely delusional and paranoid.  But the story was well told and well acted.  There are lots of very good narrative features at this festival.  The title is referred to visually only briefly in one shot.  It leaves a lot to the viewers imagination.  

Then on to another one I was avoiding, because it looked like it was going to be heavy - The Subject.

This film follows a documentary film maker doing a project on Black young men mostly in Harlem.  The difficulties filming his volatile subjects seems to be the focus.  There's also some tension at home which escalates when he hires an assistant.  But then at the end everything kicks up a bunch of notches and we have an amazing confrontation between the film maker and the mother of one of his subjects who has been killed by gang members.  

I feel a little like a fickle boyfriend, but I've abandoned The Last Days of Capitalism and now my favorite feature is The Subject.  I don't want to say too much about it - I think I've told you more than you need to know already.  Just see it.  The issues - the relationship between the filmmaker and his subjects, particularly if the filmmaker is a privileged white male and the subjects are black kids living in poverty and violence - themselves are powerful.  But the final scene is amazing and where the issues are served up like fireworks.  

There's an interview with the director of The Subject Laney Zipoy here.  The AIFF interview was last Saturday and I haven't figured out how, or if we even can, watch the ones we missed.  

Thursday, December 10, 2020

AiFF2020: Toprak and The Woman of the Photographs

 I can't believe there are still five narrative features I haven't seen yet.  Or that I'm writing about two obscure films instead of addressing more significant issues.  But there are plenty of people commenting on US politics and not very many commenting on these two films - one  Turkish and and Japanese.  


I just looked up Toprak on google.translate.  It means Soil.  You don't have to know that watching the movie (I didn't), but it makes a lot of sense.  

Often times, watching a film based in a culture other than one's own, people need to change their sense of time, their pace.  I suspect, given the success of US films around the world, that speeding things up is easier to adapt to than slowing things down.  

This film slows things down a lot.  It takes place in rural Turkey, where this slower pace is the norm.  It focuses on the remnants of one family - a grandmother, her son, and his nephew - who eke out a living growing and selling pomegranates.  It's a theme we've seen repeatedly in AIFF films - young people leaving rural areas and small towns to pursue a more interesting, if not better, life.  And we know this saga in the US and here in Alaska all too well.  

This movie takes us into how these tensions between carrying on the family traditions and breaking the ties plays out in this (and to a much lesser extent one other) Turkish family.  

Originally, a copy of this film without subtitles was up on the AIFF site.  That was corrected yesterday (Wednesday).  Slow down and take a trip to rural Turkey. Pomegranates would make an appropriate snack for this film.

The Woman of the Photographs

We watched this one after Toprak. The topics of this film are very contemporary and the pace much faster.  It's an odd film - the main character doesn't speak a single word until the last few minutes of the film; a praying mantis has a significant supporting role - that explores the boundaries between the reality of who people are - what their actual faces and bodies look like, the manipulated photographic images on social media, or how other people perceive them.  This is a perfect film festival selection.  

I found The Woman of the Photographs a more watchable film than Toprak, I think because the issues raised in Toprak are well-known.  Toprak merely adds a case study to the stories of people leaving their small town/rural lives to larger cities.  Woman of the Photographs offers interesting material for the current concerns about how social media are changing the nature of reality, how we communicate,  and personal identity.  

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

AIFF2020: Dinner In America: A Movie I Shouldn't Have Liked, But I Did

 I'm falling way behind here.  I'm pretty much picking pictures based on the photo, title, and description.  Here are some I think are worth watching.

Narrative Features

I really didn't expect to like Dinner in America   It starts off in an institutional dining room.  Someone throws up on his tray of food.  I almost stopped it right there.  But I didn't and we get to follow an out of control drug dealer (no, that's just one of his personas) have family dinner in three different homes, do a lot of crazy shit (sorry, that's the best description), and win over both of us.  This is a good movie.  Filmed in Michigan.  

Small Town Wisconsin was filmed in Wisconsin.  We even get a tour of Milwaukee.  Another main character who does lots of things that don't endear him to the others characters or the audience.  A little past midpoint we discussed abandoning the film.  We didn't.  It would have been a mistake.  

Foster Boy - This is more Hollywood than film festival.  It has two well known (there may have been others) actors - Matthew Modine and Louis Gossett Jr. - and  Shaquille O’Neal is the executive producer.  This is a court room drama.  A rich, conservative corporate attorney is assigned, against his will, a pro bono case of a 19 prisoner who is suing the foster care corporation that placed him in about a dozen homes.  A compelling film with appealing heroes and appropriately nasty villains.  

Of the three, I'd say Foster Boy had a number of loose ends - where I couldn't quite believe a) the lead attorney didn't get suspicious faster about his son's cancelled trip or b) all the dirty tricks that happened over Thanksgiving weekend.  I attribute b) to squeezing events that happened over a longer period of time into a couple days to fit the condensed time line of the movie.  The film said it was a fictionalized account of a true story.

Shorts  I think are worth watching:

Masel Tov Cocktail - I've already written about this, but I'm including it again just in case you missed my earlier mention.  At this point, this is my favorite film of the festival.  This was a tricky project and it all fit together wonderfully.  It couldn't have been told as well in any other format than film.  

 Cake Day - A good story told economically and movingly.  

Woman Under the Tree  - Maybe a bit longer than necessary, but it's a well told tale of a homeless woman.  

The Marker - Like Cake Day, a good story told well.  

Happy (Short) Films -  I've added this category because this festival is heavy with issue films.  Here are two shorts, particularly Pathfinder, that present the beauty and wonder of the natural world.  

 Pathfinder - A small group of adventurers put up a slack line high up among snow peaks in Norway with Northern Lights in the background.  Pure joy.

Sky Aelans - Also up in the mountains, the people of the Solomon Islands are protecting the mountain environment.  The camera shares some of the wonders up there worth their care.  

I still have lots of movies to see.  There appears to be a lot worth watching.  More later.  

Sunday, December 06, 2020

AIFF2020: Sapelo And A Strong Recommendation For The Last Days Of Capitalism And For Grab My Hand: A Letter To My Dad

Usually Saturday is really busy during the festival with films starting as early as 9 am some years.  But we've somehow gotten into a routine with Netflix that we never watch before it's dark.  (Well, in the summer, before 8 or 9 pm anyway.)  So it didn't seem right to start til late afternoon.  We saw one documentary feature - Sapelo - one shorts program - The Best Ships Are Friendships - and one narrative feature - The Last Days of Capitalism.  

Sapelo is a documentary about. . . well, that's a bit of a problem.  It starts out, it seemed, to be about the Black people who have been living on the island, a ferry ride from mainland Georgia,  for 200 years.  There are lots of pauses to just look at beautiful vistas of the island.  But it meanders into a story about two brothers, their grandmother.  How old are the boys?  Don't remember being told.  I do remember that an older brother was 14, so I'm guessing these two were maybe between 9 and 11.  The grandmother adopted the mother too.  Some of it feels like a reality show.  Some of it feels like an invasion of the kids' privacy, particularly as we watch one of the boys having anger management problems and there's talk of his medication.  He's wearing an ankle bracelet for a while and in the end he's been sent to a detention center.  By the end I felt like these boys were being exploited.  They weren't capable of giving consent.  Was it the grandmother who gave consent?  What was she told they would be filming?  

On the other hand, a unique way of life was being captured.  Well, the end of a unique way of life.  The boys may well treasure this intimate portrait of them when they are older.  But making it public doesn't feel right to me.  

What was the relationship between the Swiss filmmakers and the people on the island.  We never see from or hear about the film makers except near the beginning when one of the boys looks up at the camera and apologizes for his language

The Last Days of Capitalism -  Wow.  Just picked this from the website knowing nothing about it and we were totally absorbed by two actors - Sarah Rose Harper and Mike Faiola.  We had no idea where it was headed.  This was not your ordinary movie fare.  This is what I love about film festivals.  Will I wake up in the morning and wonder what I was thinking?  Not sure.  I just know that we were hooked til the very end.  Recommended.  (Not saying much about the content.  Just know that it is two people probing each other.  Drugs and alcohol and a fair amount of money are involved.)  My hat is off to writer/director Adam Mervis.  

All of the shorts were worth watching.  Grab My Hand: A Letter to My Dad was the one that stands out as visually striking and clever and beautiful and it was the right length for the story.  Nothing unnecessary.  I just don't know why they didn't call it Gatecheck.  Be sure to watch this one.  Camrus Johnson, thanks for this film.  Latchkeys was sweet - I mean that in the best way.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

AIFF2020: Opening, Crescendo, Mazel Tov Cocktail, and Green Screens Of The Future

This is the second day of the Anchorage International Film Festival.  Last night we saw the opening ceremony, the opening shorts program, and then we watched Crescendo - a German feature about putting together a peace concert with young Jewish and Palestinian musicians.  I definitely recommend it.  It's a well made movie and the story line is both optimistic and realistic.  This movie was sponsored by the Anchorage Jewish Museum.  

Another German film - Mazel Tov Cocktail - is in the narrative shorts category.  I thought it was great!  As white folks in the US are learning, seems like we've been working on this forever, that each person of color is a unique individual and shouldn't be assumed to behave in some characteristic way, Mazel Too Cocktail looks at the world through the eyes of a Russian Jewish immigrant high school student in Germany as he confronts the many different stereotypes the people around him have of him.  This includes, positive ones, negative ones, from classmates, teachers, people on the street, and even his own parents and grandfather.  But what makes this short stand out is, well, everything.  It's a snappy, irreverent, well acted, well filmed, funny movie with a kick.  I highly recommend it.  

For as much as I've gotten used to Zoom and Jitsi and Skype and Netflix, watching the film festival movies with my wife at home in the living room, just felt wrong.  None of the familiar AIFF faces walking the aisles and lobbies to greet and compare notes with.  None of the audience reactions to the movies. None of the passing exchanges of tips about good movies.  I even miss getting into the cold car and driving from one venue to the other.  (Well, not that much.)

And if people do see great movies, please leave recommendations in the comments.

On the other hand - all the movies are available all the time.  You can watch what you want when you want to.  As many times as you want.  I hope that means I don't miss those hidden gems I went to because there was nothing else in that time slot.  

And we're supposed to get lots of film maker interviews and Q&A's though I'm not quite sure how we're going to figure out when these will happen.  But figuring out new habits keeps us young (or drives us crazy.)

And I thought I'd add the YouTube video I accidentally found the other day on the future (demise) of green screens.  A little behind the scenes of movie making.  

Now that people are using Zoom, more people know about green screens - the green background that allows you to supply the people and objects in front, with a totally different background.  It's called "The Volume" and consists of a wrap around background.  Just watch the video.  It's cool.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Goodbye Rafer Johnson

One more hero in my life moves on.  The picture below was taken two and a half years before I'd enter UCLA as a freshman.  The legacy of Johnson and C.K. Yang and their great sportsmanship (Is there a non-sexist term?) was one of many attractions UCLA held.  At that time, California students who graduated in the top 12.5% of their high school class, were automatically admitted.  Tuition my first semester was something like $68.  And we lived a 30 minute bike ride from campus so my parents were pleased they wouldn't have to pay room and board.  

From LA Times

The Photo Description:  "Rafer Johnson puts on a weightlifting demonstration for Boy Scouts at UCLA in July 1960 as his track teammate C.K. Yang kneels and smiles.  A little more than a month later, Johnson would edge Yang for the decathlon gold medal at the Rome Olympics."

From LA Times:

"He was something special at UCLA

‘Greatest of all Bruins,’ Johnson remained a regular at many events.

By Ben Bolch

Sixty years after he edged a UCLA training partner on weary legs in one of the most dramatic finishes in Olympic history, Rafer Johnson ’s presence continued to blaze on campus like an inextinguishable flame.

He was a regular at track meets and basketball games and gymnastics meets even as his health declined, always graciously accepting requests to pose for photos with anyone who asked. He was also a confidant to longtime athletic director Dan Guerrero, serving as a special advisor who offered wisdom and guidance that no pricey consultant could match.

Johnson’s legacy as a decathlon champion and humanitarian, not to mention his trusted friendship, made it especially meaningful for Guerrero to be part of dedicating the Betsy and Rafer Johnson Track last year at UCLA’s Drake Stadium.

“It’s not a stretch for me to say that Rafer was the greatest of all Bruins,” Guerrero said Wednesday upon learning of Johnson’s death at his home in Sherman Oaks at age 86.

“When you think about it, apart from his athletic prowess, which placed him in history among the most heralded of all athletes, he passionately and selflessly and humbly dedicated his life to better people and our society whether it was through his work with Special Olympics, mentoring young students or his commitment to civil rights. He was a giant, there was no question about that, and while this description is probably thrown around rather capriciously, in this case it’s true. . ."

 Here's a second article they have titled:  Appreciation: Rafer Johnson was more than a great athlete; he was a great man

And if you can't get into the LA Times, here's the Wikipedia entry on Rafer Johnson.

*I'd note that Wikipedia says that C.K. Yang died January 20, 2007 at age 73 in Los Angeles.  

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Six Images Winter, Visitors, Nourishment


We have several Steller Jays that visit regularly.  Part of me wants you to see how blue it is.  But the snowy background made the exposure of the bird dark.  But when the bird is dark you focus more on it's silhouette.  

It's been snowing close to every day.  I figure my personal trainer is adding an inch or two regularly to get me outside with the snow shovel, since my biking is pretty much curtailed.  

Today it snowed a bit harder.  I think we have about three inches to be shoveled.  

Besides the Steller jay, we had some moose visitors who left messages in the snow to let us know they'd been by.  

Meanwhile, inside our cooking gives other interesting visuals.  

Cooking bananas and kiwis for my morning oatmeal.  

And a whole wheat bread using Mrs. Nash's old bread machine recipe.  Except the bread machine is long gone and the recipe didn't have temperature and time instructions.