Tuesday, June 22, 2021

AK Redistricting Board Chooses U of Pittsburg Law Professor Bruce Adelson To Be Voting Rights Act Consultant To The Board

The Voting Rights Act required Alaska and 15 other states to get pre-clearance from the  Department of Justice before their maps are adopted.  These are all states that had a record of racial bias in their elections.  The pre-clearance requirement was struck down by the US Supreme Court in the middle of redistricting last time, but the Board had already taken that into consideration in their maps.  

Adelson image from U of Pittsburgh


Here's the announcement the Redistricting Board sent out today:

We are pleased to announce that the Alaska Redistricting Board executed a contract yesterday for Voting Rights Act Consultancy with Federal Compliance Consulting led by seasoned VRA expert Bruce Adelson who will be assisted by Dr. Jonathon Katz and Dr. Douglas Johnson.

Mr. Adelson has extensive experience consulting with state and local governments on Federal VRA issues.  In the 2011 cycle Bruce provided Voting Rights Act expertise to the Alaska Division of Elections.

On initial look at the proposal and a quick look online, Mr. Adelson seems very well qualified.  

The other two applicants were Lisa Handley, who was chosen by the previous two Alaska Redistricting Boards for this task, and Christian Grose.  Handley's proposal includes an expert who would also look at the potential impact of Alaska's Ranked Choice Voting on the fairness of the new maps.  

I'm posting Adelson's proposal and the other two applicants below.





Monday, June 21, 2021

I Made It To Uttaradit Today On Anchorage's Campbell Creek Trail

 I mentioned in an earlier post that last summer I biked from Santiago, Chile to Conception - all while staying comfortably isolated on Anchorage bike trails.  About 700 kilometers.  This year I wanted to go a little further so I'm biking from Chiangmai to Bangkok.  

The first destination point was Lampang (120 km) which I got to a while ago.  Today I hit km 269 which gets me to the next stop, Uttaradit.  As I rode today, I was wondering if I have ever been to Uttaradit.  Probably the train went through it when I first arrived in Thailand in 1967 and the Peace Corps volunteers headed for the North all took the train to Chiangmai.  

But I knew that I must have been at least near Uttaradit in 2009 when I was a volunteer with the Northern Thai Farmers Association in Chiangmai and we went to a meeting in Petchabun for Thai farmers from all over Thailand.  

I found a couple of pictures of the trip on a post from then.  It was January and there were record low temperatures.  It even snowed on Doi Suthep.  

On the road somewhere between Lamphun and Uttaradit.


In Thailand, there are always great places to eat along the way.  


It was putsa season.  And a few days later, on the way back to Chiangmai we stopped at a tamarind farm.  Petchabun is said to have the world's best tamarind and I bought enough fresh tamarind to last our whole trip.  Until you've had fresh tamarind in Thailand, you haven't really tasted tamarind.


So these are the landscapes I've been imagining myself biking through for the last couple of weeks.  But actually, I've been on the beautiful bike trails of Anchorage enjoying the greening of the trees and grasses and shrubs and the various colors and gurglings of Campbell Creek and Taku Lake and Goose Lake.  

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal tweeted an article about making friends with a tree.  That it's good for your health.  I've known that a long time, but hearing the WSJ dip their toe into such touchy/feely water is a surprise.  [Of course, I say touchy/feely ironically.]  My bike rides last summer and this summer have been regular forest bathing experiences.  

And Anchorage temperatures are so much more conducive to biking that it would be now arriving in Uttaradit.  



Taku Lake this morning.  Everything's soooo green right now.
Red necked grebe amongst the water lilies at Goose Lake the other day.



Riding under the Seward Highway bridge today.  This really is better than drugs to energize me.

I've got 90 km to get to Sukhothai - an ancient capital of Thailand and directly north of where I lived in Kamphaengphet for two years in the late 60s.  Back then, there was no direct road and I remember riding on the back of a motorcycle through rice paddies.  

And then from Sukhothai to Kamphaengphet.  The bike tour I found online does this trip in ten days.  There's no way I could do that now.  My knees can't take that much biking in such a short time.  But I can spread the 750 or so kilometers more slowly over the summer in Anchorage. Another several weeks to Sukhothai.  I'll let you know when I get there.  

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Eight Pillars Of Caste And The Fight To Hide Truth

  The critics of "Critical Race Theory" are out in full force.  Today (I started this Friday) I heard Ted Cruz attacked CRT with lots of venom and no facts.  I read a piece by gay conservative Andrew Sullivan give a more nuanced description of 'liberal' defenses of CRT.  And I read about how the Southern Baptist Convention, while managing to elect a new president who promises a thorough investigation of sexual abuse complaints among Southern Baptists, also 

"approved a consensus measure regarding critical race theory that did not mention it by name but rejected any view that sees racism as rooted in 'anything other than sin.'"

[I read the AP article in the Anchorage Daily News, but getting a link now directly from AP, I see the handling of CRT by the Baptists was more complex than just this quote suggests.] 

I wrote a letter to the editor almost two weeks ago, because I think it's important for people to understand that this is a cynical ploy by conservatives to do two things:

  • make people associate any talk of race with anti-white, anti-American, anti-capitalism
  • supercharge an issue to rile up whites to vote in 2022 

In any case I've been wanting to add more information from a book that documents systemic racism and thus would be caught up in the very big net being cast by the anti-CRT campaign) to show how much this CRT and discussions of race are NOT what the conservatives claim.  CRT is based on well researched, factual evidence that the attacks make no effort to disprove.  Rather they have created a bogey man they call CRT without actually defining what it is.  They just list their supposed  dangers.   

I'm almost finished with  Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, she argues in this book that caste is a bigger factor than race in the subjugation of Blacks in the United States.  Though, of course, skin color is the critical marker of caste.  

She compares the caste system of India - the most clearly articulated caste system - to the systems in the United States and Nazi Germany.  In the US she says the two castes are White and Black with a gray zone in between.  In Nazi Germany she looks at how Jews were systematically dehumanized and treated as a subordinate caste to Aryans.  She compares the lowest class,  Untouchable class - the Dalits - to African-Americans.  

To make the comparison she identifies The eight pillars of Caste.  I'll describe the a little further here (Wilkerson takes 60 pages so my quick summary will be just that, a quick summary.  But first I'll just offer the list and let you speculate what each might entail.

  • Pillar Number One:  Divine Will and the Laws of Nature
  • Pillar Number Two:  Heritability
  • Pillar Number Three:  Endogeny and the Control of Marriage and Mating
  • Pillar Number Four:  Purity vs. Pollution
  • Pillar Number Five:  Occupational Hierarchy
  • Pillar Number Six:  Dehumanization and Stigma
  • Pillar Number Seven:  Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a means of Control
  • Pillar Number Eight:  Inherent Superiority versus Inherent Inferiority
That all makes sense, right?  I'm assuming mostly US readers here, though folks from India drop by as well regularly.  This list probably is easier for the lowest classes - Dalits and Blacks - to relate to than members of other castes, particularly the highest classes.  

1.  Divine Will and the Laws of Nature - The key point here, if I understood this right, is that opposing the caste system is to oppose the will of God, to attack the laws of Nature, because, according to caste upholders,  Caste system are not created by humans, but by God(s) or nature.  
She tells us about Manu, "the all-knowing" explaining the origins of the world 
"and then, to fill the land, he created the Brahmin, the highest caste, from his mouth, the Kshatriya from his arms, the Vaishya from his thighs, and from his feet, the Shudra, the lowest of the four varnas...

"Unmentioned among the original four varnas were those deemed so low that they were beneath even the feet of the Shudra.  They were living out the afflicted karma of the past, they were not to be touched and some not even to be seen.  Their very shadow was a pollutant.  They were outside of the caste system and thus outcastes.  [How many of you had ever considered 'outcastes' so literally before?]  These were the Untouchables who would later come to be known as Dalits, the subordinate caste of India."
Christians, Wilkerson tells us, also justified their treatment of Blacks with their holy book.  Going to the story of Noah.  Noah got drunk of the wine from his vineyard.
"The wine overtook him, and he lay uncovered inside his tent.  Ham, who would become the father of a son Canaan, happened into the tent and saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside."

Shem and Japheth went into the tent backwards and covered Noah without seeing his nakedness.

"When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what Ham had done, he cursed Ham's son, Canaan, and the generations to follow, saying, "Cursed be Canaan!  The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers."

"As the riches from the slave trade from Africa to the New World poured forth to the Spaniards, to the Portuguese, to the Dutch, and lastly to the English, the biblical passage would be summoned to condemn the children of Ham and to justify the kidnap and enslavement of millions of human beings, and the violence against them.  From the time of the Middle Ages, some interpreters of the Old Testament described Ham as bearing black skin and translated Noah's curse against him as a curse against the descendants of Ham, against all humans with dark skin, the people who the Europeans told themselves had been condemned to enslavement by God's emissary, Noah himself." 

How does she know this?  She's quoting Thomas R.R. Cobb who wrote a history of slavery in the mid-1800s.  In the endnote she writes:

"This interpretation of Genesis was debated, oddly enough by some who were even more hateful of blacks than most enslavers.  They argued that this interpretation could not be true, because Africans were not human, they were beasts and therefore could not have descended from a son of Noah, cursed or not"

Okay.  Clearly I can't go into so much detail for each of the eight pillars.  But knowing about the Indian caste origins is probably not something most US readers know.  I also wanted here, at least, to show that these points are documented.  The other seven pillars are treated the same way.

I'd note that I haven't heard any CRT critics dispute facts like these.  They merely dismiss CRT as un-American and as attacks on whites, while I see it as offering us a factual counter-narrative to the history written by the victors - the people who enslaved Blacks and forcibly removed the Indigenous people from their land.  

Each of the pillars has the same kind of examples and documentation.  I won't go into as much detail because I think they're relatively easy for people to understand.  And those who can't, can borrow a copy of the book from the library or even buy one.  


2.  Heretibility-

"You were born o a certain caste and remained in that caste, subject the high status or low stigma it conferred, for the rest of your days and into the lives of your descendants."

Which requires the next pillar.


3.  Endogamy and the Control of Marriage and Mating - Engodogamy is the restricting of marriage to people within the same caste.  Wilkerson documents the many laws in many states that prohibited marriage between Blacks and whites.  

Which is also required because of the next pillar.

4.  Purity versus Pollution - This one is particularly obnoxious.  She talks about the extremes required to keep Dalits from (in some cases, even being seen by) the higher castes.  

"A person in the lowest subcastes in the Maratha region had to 'drag a thorny branch with him to wipe out his footprints' and prostrate himself on the ground if a Brahmin passed, so that his 'foul shadow might not defile the holy Brahmin.'"

The notion here is that the lowest castes can pollute the higher ones by their mere presence.  And if the Hindu example above seems extreme, Wilkerson talks about the sanctity of water and the near universality of US Blacks not being allowed to pollute the water that whites drink or swim in.  Separate drinking fountains and bathrooms in the South.  But bans of Blacks using white swimming pools and even beaches throughout the US. 

"In the early 1950s, when Cincinnati agreed under pressure to allow black swimmers into some of its public pools, whites threw nails and broken glass into the water to keep them out.  In the 1960s, a black civil rights activist tried to integrate a public pool by swimming a lap and the emerging to towel off.  'The response was to drain the pool entirely,' wrote the legal historian Mark S. Weiner, 'and refill it with fresh water.'"

Then she talks about blood quantum. 

"Arkansas first defined Negro as 'one in whom there is a visible and distinct admixture of African blood.'  Then in 1911, the state changed it to anyone 'who has. . .any negro blood whatever,' as it made interracial sex a felony.  The state of Alabama defined a black person as anyone with 'a drop of negro blood,' in its intermarriage ban. Oregon defined as nonwhite any person with 'with 1/4 Negro, Chinese or any person having 1/4 Negro, Chinese or Kanaka blood or more than 1/2 Indian blood.'"

5.  Occupational Hierarchy: The Jatis and Mudsill - Wilkerson explains 

"When a house is being built, the single most important piece of the framework is the first wood beam hammered into place to anchor the foundation.  That piece is called the mudsill. . . In a caste system, the mudsill is the bottom caste that everything else rests upon."

That explanation is needed by most of us today to understand the point of this US Senate speech from 1858: 

"'In all social systems, there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life,' Sen. James Henry Hammond of South Carolina told his fellow senators.  'That is a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill.  Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity.  Such a class you must have. . .  It constitutes the very mud-sill of society."

In India the castes themselves define the kinds of work caste members are allowed to do, but in the US it's less explicit.  Nevertheless,

"In 1890, '85 percent of black men and 96 percent of black women were employed in just two occupational categories,' wrote the sociologist Stephen Steinberg, 'agricultural and domestic or personal service.'  Forty years later as the Deression set in and as African-Americans moved to northern cities, the percentages of black people at the bottom of the labor hierarchy remained the same, though, by then, nearly half of black men were doing manual labor that called merely for a strong back." 

I hope you are getting the idea.  She's offering us the characteristics of caste and then example after example of how each characteristic plays out.  It's not some fictional narrative as critics of CRT argue.  It's not a screed against white people.  It's simply a factual recitation of the many ways that our law, regulations, and customs separated (and in many cases still do) whites from blacks.  

I haven't seen critics of CRT dispute facts like these.  Rather they make broad accusations of CRT being an anti-white attack on US democracy.   

Michael Harriot, mocking the claims of CRT detractors, started a Twitter trend today posting:

"CRT took my guns away and gave them to the transgenders.  How did CRT ruin your life?"

We only have three more pillars of caste.

6.  Dehumanization and Stigma - I think this is obvious enough.  Wilkerson gives examples of how the Nazis treated Jews as they arrived at concentration camps and the conditions they were forced to live in.  She writes about African slaves in the US South.  After a list of dehumanizing actions, she writes:

"Beyond all of this, the point of a dehumanization campaign was the forced surrender of the target's own humanity, a karmic theft beyond accounting.  Whatever was considered a natural human reaction was disallowed for the subordinate caste.  During the era of enslavement, they were forbidden to cry as their children were carried off, forced to sing as a wife or husband was sold away, never again to look into their eyes or hear their voice for as long as the two might live. . . Whatever humanity shone through them was an affront to what the dominant cast rep telling itself.  They were punished for being the humans that the could not help but be."

You might pause and say, well this is interpretation, not facts.  Yes, in this case I left out the facts - you can find a copy of the book and read them yourself.  This is, indeed, interpretation of the intent of those facts.  One can dispute the interpretation, though I find the context and the facts make this interpretation seem quite reasonable.  Especially given the many similar interpretations by contemporaneous observers.  What are some other interpretations?

I think about meeting a nicely dressed, very gracious, middle aged white man in Vicksburg, Mississippi who told me that they hadn't needed the  'Northern, communist, hippy agitators' who came to Mississippi in the 1960s to march for civil rights.  "Our Negroes were happy with how things were down here." That was in the year 2000.  

7.   Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a means of Control

"The crimes of homicide, of rape, and of assault and battery were felonies in the slavery era as they are today in any civil society.  They were seen then as wrong, immoral, reprehensible, and worthy of the severest punishment.  But the country allowed most any atrocity to be inflicted on the black body.  This twelve generations of African-Americans faced the ever-present danger of assault and battery or worse, every day of their lives during the quarter millennium of enslavement."

The book gets much more graphic. 

8.   Inherent Superiority Versus Inherent Inferiority - Wilkerson writes about Hollywood's portrayal of whites in superior positions and Blacks as servants (not simply in portrayals of the South), and then about how rigidly that was actually enforced in the South.

"Years after the Nazis were defeated across the Atlantic, African-Americanswere still being brutalized for the least appearance of stepping out of their place. Planters routinely whipped their sharecroppers for 'trivial offenses,' wrote Allison Davis and Burleigh and Mary Gardner in 1941.  A planter in Mississippi said that, if his tenant 'didn't stop acting so big, the next time it would be the bullet or a rope.  That is the way to manage them when they get too big.'  In 1948, a black tenant farmer in Louise, Mississippi was severely beaten by two whites, wrote the historian James C. Cobb, 'because he asked for a receipt after paying his water bill.'"

This is not "an interesting side topic."  

This issue is already a major thrust of the Republican effort to retain the House and the Senate, as well as winning local elections.  It's part of the current effort to disenfranchise lower caste voters and to pass laws that give Republicans the power to decide whether elections are fair and who the winners are. 

Trump is teaching them that refusal to abide by the law and facts is a winning strategy.  It didn't quite work this time, but it was a good trial run.  Next time, they'll fix the parts that didn't work for them.    

This is about the ability of democracy to survive in the United States.  Republicans are hoping that fear of losing their superior place in the US caste system will mobilize enough votes for Republicans to hang on.  For those of us who can see that strategy clearly, it's time to educate ourselves and everyone we know. And then to find those folks who, for various reasons, don't vote and help them understand what their not voting can lead to.  

Thursday, June 17, 2021

"Let's call an ace an ace." Why Rep. Matt Rosendale Voted No On The Juneteenth National Holiday

From USA Today:

Republican Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale released a statement on his vote against S.B. 475.

“Let’s call an ace an ace," Rosendale said. "This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country.  Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no."

“Let’s call an ace an ace,"  -  There's a meme going around on Twitter where people are asked to say something to the world without actually saying it.  "Tell me your religion without actually saying it."  Well we all know what he's not saying here.  Maybe it's progress that he knows he shouldn't say it explicitly.  But this isn't much better.

"This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth"  - From The Free Dictionary Idioms 

"cut from whole cloth

Entirely fictional or utterly false; completely fabricated and not based on reality at all. A reference to tailors who would falsely advertise garments being made "out of whole cloth," when, in reality, they were pieced together from different cuts." 

What's the lie here Representative Rosendale?  That slaves were emancipated in the US?  He's right if he's implying that there is still rampant racism, but I don't think that's what he means.  It's just a broad statement about some unnamed big lie, which doesn't exist.

I'd also note that Rosendale is only one of 14 Republicans in the House to oppose this bill and no Republicans in the Senate opposed the bill.  So it seems like there is more than the Left supporting this by a huge majority.  Oh, and Texas - that bastion of the Left - already has a Juneteenth holiday.

"to celebrate identity politics" - identity politics has a 50 year history and has been used in many ways, including as an epithet used by Conservatives to delegitimize marginalized people's causes.  Of course White Power groups, in Rosendale's mind are resorting to identity politics, I'm sure.

 "as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country." - Attacking CRT is the latest attempt to delegitimize anyone who calls for  equality for marginalized people.  To make it harder to discuss how Blacks have been screwed over by racist laws throughout American history.  It's in the same vein  as the claims that Blacks were an inferior sub-group of human beings who needed to be civilized by working for white owners for no wages.  

And CRT is not an ideology - it's a fact base field of study that identifies the many laws that treat people of color - particularly Blacks - worse than whites.  

"Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race" - He probably also says things like "I don't see race" and "some of my best friends are . . ."  Since everyone isn't being treated equally, and race plays a huge role in that, this part of the quote is just platitude that tries to cover up a lie.

"we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences"  Yes, the Republicans have managed to use this line to get Democrats to pause before using their majority in Congress.  But McConnell has made it clear the Republicans don't believe this.  They believe in using their power to get what they want regardless of what the Democrats want.  Again, all but 14 members of Congress supported this bill.  I'd say that is about as united as Congress gets these days.  

"I will vote no."  - the only straightforward, honest four words in his statement.


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Not Getting Vaccinated And Not Wearing A Mask Is Like Letting A Terrorist Hide In Your House

 I know that's a pretty wild claim, but hear me out.  

Terrorists randomly kill and maim people when they have the opportunity, just like the COVID virus.  And they also need safe places to rest in-between terrorist attacks.  They don't kill everyone they come in contact with.  But no one would willingly open their home for a terrorist to rest between attacks.  People don't allow terrorists into their homes because 

  •  they fear the terrorists might harm them and
  •  they don't want to give assistance to terrorists to go on and harm others. 

(Of course, the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist is in the eye of the beholder.  MAGA folks see BLM people as terrorists and vice versa. Some some US citizens would help MAGA folks and others would help BLM folks, because they don't consider them terrorists.)

So, let's think about the COVID virus as a terrorist.  

The virus needs a human body to survive in until it gets to the next human body.  The body it takes refuge in may not be seriously affected by the virus.  For various reasons - genetics, health, diet, and who knows what else - different bodies react differently.  And when a terrorist hides, he might not harm his hosts either.  They may not even know he's a terrorist, just like someone doesn't even know they have the virus.

The virus gets into a body and tries to infect.  Even if the infection causes no symptoms, just being in that body allows the virus to survive and then, if the virus is lucky, get transportation to another body through the breath.  

If it keeps getting transport from body to body, it will eventually find bodies susceptible to the virus.  A body that will get mildly sick, severely sick, or even die.  

Vaccines are highly effective in keeping the vaccine out.  Staying away from other people prevents the virus from jumping to other human sanctuaries.  Masks make it harder for the virus to get from one human to another,  

These are simple measures, just like keeping your house locked, setting up security cameras, and getting a guard dog are ways to keep  out terrorists.  

Analogies only work so far. Not everything about the virus and terrorists match perfectly.  Terrorists have the intention of killing people.  Viruses, presumably, are just trying to survive, and killing their hosts is not their intent.  Also, viruses are invisible for most people.  Though many terrorists walk among people invisible in the sense that people don't see them as terrorists.  

We are in the late stages of this pandemic in the US, but not in other countries. But people are still getting infected daily and getting sick enough to be hospitalized.  And to die.  It's not over yet. 

And the longer the virus can keep finding new human hosts, the more chances for the virus to mutate into deadlier forms and sicken and kill more people.   Like terrorists getting deadlier weapons.  


 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

For Subscribers: Use Follow It Widget to Continue Getting Email Notices Of Blog Posts [UPDATE]

[UPDATE:  Karolina at Follow It offered to transfer the Feedburner email list to Follow It.  I've received my first forwarded post via Follow It, so I suspect she's done the list.  It would be nice to hear from a few of you that it has been done without you having to do anything.]


 As mentioned in an earlier post,  after July Feedburner will no longer send messages to subscribers when there's a new post.  Reader Steve Johnson left a comment suggesting that Follow.it was a good alternative to Feedburner.  

I have finally followed up on that advice and added a link in the column to the right - at the top - where you can add your email to be sure you continue to get update emails when there's a new post.  

When I started blogging, back in 2006, I spent a lot of time figuring out the mechanics of the blog.  That continued for a number of years as technology changed and there were different options.  

Back in the beginning I was just experimenting with what a blog could do.  Lots of posts talk about the technological issues - how to get people to see your blog, how to find out if anyone is reading it, how to get Google to know your blog exists,  how to use html to do things like upload pictures (before blogger had a button for that), how to upload video and audio.  It turned out I was on the forefront on some of these things - certainly here in Alaska.  

But the rest of the world has caught up technologically(with cameras, videos, and the internet on phones and sites like Facebook and Twitter took off.  

So now mostly I'm focused on content and the technical stuff has receded into the background.  But this change in Feedburner has forced me to deal with technical stuff once more.  I've put off setting up Follow.it since Feedburner is supposed to be here through July.  (It turned out to be pretty easy.)

But I also realize that parts of my blog are starting to look like an old garage where people just stuff things they don't use any more.  Links to other blogs are outdated.  Mike in Iowa commented the other day 

"Sorry, I missed connections when Immoral Minority left the air and just now found you again. Happy to be back."

Yes, there were a lot of folks who used the Immoral Minority link to What Do I Know? to get here.  And Mike's comment reminded me that I'm one of the last of the early Alaska bloggers covering newsy topics to still be posting pretty much daily.  (I've slowed down on regular posts a bit as I've been posting to my COVID page daily as well.  That doesn't leave a 'new post' but it adds info if you click the COVID tab (blogspot calls it a page) under the header.  

I guess I need to start cleaning out the garage.  The banner shrank when Blogger changed the format and I've never gone in to figure out how to stretch it back out to cover the whole top of the page.  

The Follow It gadget looks clunky and it would be nice to figure out how to make aesthetically cleaner.  But I think most of the regular readers come here for the posts and are forgiving of the clutter.  

So to all the old followers, thanks for checking in regularly.  Other readers, there's a new button on the top of the right column where you can subscribe.  Feedburner has a list of over 1000 emails of subscribers.  I don't know if Follow It gives me that too.  I may have to send out emails to subscribers so they know about the change.  And I should take down the Feedburner widget.  

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Southern Baptist Convention In Nashville Next Week - Tension Over Exec Committee Handling Sexual Abuse Issues

[NOTE: This started with a Tweet I read.  As I wrote this post I kept looking for more background.  And things got out of hand.  But for those readers like me who don't pay close attention to the workings of the Southern Baptist Convention, this should be of interest, because it reminds us that like all labels, the Baptists are not all the same and do disagree on things.  I thought was something that would get little attention, but I suspect by tomorrow or Monday it will be more widely covered.]

Twitter calls my attention to events and issues I'd otherwise miss.  There's tension on the Southern Baptist Executive Board over how to handle sexual abuse issues within the church. 

The issue of sexual abuse was addressed at the 2019 Convention with SBC President J.D. Greear proclaiming:

“Victims have told us, words without follow-up actions are worse than no words at all,” Greear said in what is his latest update on the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study he and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission initiated in 2018. Victims “want to see … that we care enough about this issue to do whatever it takes to make our churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse.”

Apparently the follow-up actions have fallen short.   

This Tweet from Philip Behancourt, the former Executive Vice President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, contradicts the current president's statements.  The link offers a summary of the contradictions with links to audio.  

This is not especially surprising. Other religious organizations have grappled over the dilemma of airing dirty laundry or hiding it in fear of a financial hit. So have universities, especially in sports. Just the other day the son of a prominent coach said his father dismissed his own complaint about sexual abuse from the team doctor.  And even if it's not about sex, the urge to cover things up and protect the name and income of the organizations almost always makes it hard to acknowledge big problems.  

This is coming to light right before the SBC's annual meeting.

  The Tennessean offers this preview of next week's meeting in Nashville::

"...The largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., which is headquartered in Nashville, is grappling with how to handle sexual abuse, critical race theory and the role of women in ministry. 

All, along with the election of a new president, could come up as thousands of Southern Baptists gather in Music City.

Calls for a third-party investigation into the executive committee emerged after the two letters signed by Moore, the former head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, were recently leaked to news organizations and a Baptist blog. 

In them, Moore leveled allegations related to sexual abuse against the executive committee, which acts on behalf of the convention when it is not in session. The letters detail the mistreatment of sexual abuse victims, the mishandling of abuse claims, intimidation and more. Moore's letters also mention racism expressed behind closed doors. . ."

Here's another view from Maina Mwaura and David Phillips published in the Southern Baptist Global yesterday (June 11, 2021)

"Russell Moore, former head of the SBC Ethics and Religion Liberty Commission, wrote in a recently publicized letter that SBC Executive Committee staff and others referred in his presence to victims of sexual abuse as “crazy” and as “worse than the sexual predators themselves.”

Stone issued a 15-minute video response to Moore’s leaked letter and declared, “I find the latest attack from Russell Moore to be absolutely slanderous, and it is as inflammatory as it is inaccurate.

Yet on June 10, Pastor Phillip Bethancourt released audio clips of meetings he attended with Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, and Stone. Those recordings verify what Moore stated in a second leaked letter that had more recently been written to SBC President J.D. Greear.

Someone is not telling the truth. But the audio makes it clear who was attempting to block effective denominational responses to the convention’s sexual abuse problems. In fact, in one clip, Stone even puts forward the idea that the SBC Executive Committee felt they were the victims. "

The two writers are described this way at the end of the article:

"Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer and communications consultant who lives in the metro Atlanta area. A native of Orlando, Fla., he earned a bachelor of science degree in communications from Liberty University and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. David Phillips lives in Georgia and previously was a pastor in Delaware. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Athens State College in Athens, Ala, a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a doctor of ministry degree from George Fox Seminary and now works with an educational software company." 

I did find this podcast in which Russell Moore (who wrote the original letter) and Bethancourt (who posted the Tweet and the links to audio) talk about college ministry which touchier issues such as online pornography. They talk about issues that have come up through their ethics work - same sex marriage, race, sexual abuse crises and our denomination's failure to address it. Death of a loved one, when college student learns his parents are getting a divorce. This sexual abuse discussion comes after about ten minutes of chit chat that shows the close relationship between these two.

https://signposts-with-russell-moore.simplecast.com/episodes/a-conversation-with-phillip-bethancourt 

Toward the end Bethancourt mentions his father who was an executive at Chevron, which suggests he comes from a financially very comfortable background, which may give him some self-confidence in taking on the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Bethancourt's Tweets also includes a link to this article below which he says helped him when responding to questions from his kids about Pride month.  (Approval of homosexuality doesn't seem to be a topic open for discussion with SBC.  I learned doing a previous post that there were only two reasons for a church to be summarily dropped from the Convention - accepting homosexuality and not paying dues.)  

"Third, we need to remember the priority and uniqueness of Christian love. Christian love is not one of pure reciprocity, where I affirm you if you affirm me. The mushy “you do you” and “live your truth” ethic is the product of expressive individualism, a weaponized form of relativism that rejects all forms of moral duty outside the person’s own felt needs. Christian love, in contrast, is ordered to the truth, rejoices in the truth, and is the very essence of truth itself (1 Corinthians 13:6). When Christians proclaim the truth and beauty of God’s design, we do it out of love for our neighbor and this world, knowing that sexual sin never leads to flourishing, and abandoning God’s design for the family only further compromises society’s foundation. It is for redeeming love of sexual sinners, both you and me, that Christ came to die for us (John 3:16)."

The bolded part of the quote above seems relevant to how the Convention deals with sexual abuse - truth.  But the truth about sex seems difficult for religions that make such a big deal about chastity except in marriage.  

You can look at the Southern Baptists Convention meeting website yourself.  The program is heavy on meetings of groups - Koreans, Hispanics, Native Americans, students, women, pastor's wives, Liberty University alumni, etc.  Don't see anything in the program about sexual abuse. There are no substantive policy papers that I can find.  

 


Wednesday, June 09, 2021

". . .forced labor camps that were politely called plantations," From Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

As I'm reading Caste I'm struck by so many things I never saw before.  The title quote is probably the most profound.  Of course, plantations with slaves were forced labor camps.  The workers had no choice of anything - when to work, what work to do, how hard to work.  They had no control over their own bodies or their spouses or children.  All those decisions were made by their owners.  And, of course, they didn't get paid.  How come I never thought of that before?  But our history books never use that description.  Plantations are such genteel places with pretty green lawns, magnolia trees,  white columns and mint juleps.  But that was all cover up.  But Wilkerson rubs off the cosmetics our historians have applied to what happened in the United States.  

This is an important book.  I'm not yet finished, but I've already been changed.  This is one of several posts I expect I'll do on the book.  For those who haven't read the book, consider this an appetizer.  

I'll start with some quotes from the early part of the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  After researching and writing a previous book, she decided that focusing on race doesn't capture the extent of the conflict that's usually depicted as a racial conflict in the United States.  Race is relevant, but the real issue, she tells us convincingly,  is CASTE.    

"Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone based on their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy." (p. 70)

The rest of the book defines caste, looks at caste systems in India, the US, and Nazi Germany.  Outlines the 'eight pillars of caste' and more.  It's a very thorough explanation of how the hierarchy - with white on top and black on the bottom and shades of gray in between - permeates how we think even if our caste system is not explicit like the Hindu one.  

In this post I want to look at a few quotes from the beginning and relate them to police treatment of African-Americans.

"The slave is entirely subject to the will of his master," wrote William Goodell, a minister who chronicled the institution of slavery in the 1830s.  "What he chooses to inflict upon him, he must suffer.  He must never lift a hand in self-defense.  He must utter no word of remonstrance.  He has no protection and no redress," fewer than the animals of the filed.  They were seen as "not capable of being injured, "Goodell wrote.  "They may be punished at the discretion of their lord, or even put to death by his authority."

"This fact is of great significance for the understanding of racial conflict," wrote the sociologist Guy B. Johnson, "for it means that white people during the long period of slavery became accustomed to the idea of 'regulating' Negro insolence and insubordination by force with the consent and approval of the law."

The vast majority of African-Americans who lived in this land in the first 246 years of what is now the United States lived under the terror of people who had absolute power over their bodies and their very breath, subject to people who faced no sanction for any atrocity they could conjure.  

I think these quotes should help us understand some of the videos we've seen in the last couple of years of police beating and killing Blacks who have done little more than ask questions about why they were being stopped, who have hesitated when told to do something by the police.  If you watch many of those videos again, you'll see cops who totally lose it the moment there is any resistance whatsoever by the person they've pulled over.  There is little or no tolerance for the slightest disobedience.  
"He must never lift a hand in self-defense.  He must utter no word of remonstrance.  He has no protection and no redress."
That was the rule throughout slavery and very much the rule in the post civil war South.  Whites expected blacks to be polite, to get out of the way if they met on the sidewalk, to accept what the whites told them without question.  To not even question the change they got from a white cashier.

Studies of why people become police officers show that " social-capital motives (i.e., power and authority, prestige, influence by media & friends)" (from Motivations for Becoming a Police Officer)  regularly play an important role. 

I would argue that for a number of police the authority of the badge and a gun plays a big role.  And for them, respect from suspects - obedience and subservience - is important.  And if these people come from families that have historically expected such obedience from Blacks, then their behavior can be better understood.  

Just watch this video of how these officers speak and act compared to the black man they have stopped.  It's consistent with the expectation that Wikerson says whites had for Blacks during slavery and Jim Crow.  


This is a black military officer who has not actually stopped until he's pulled into a gas station nearby so that there would be light and other people around.  While the cops seem to be reacting to his not instantly getting out of the car, the suspect is clearly worried he's about to be killed by out of control white cops.  

As long as the judge or jury only had the word of the cop versus the word of the suspect (just the word suspect raises questions about the person's truthfulness), officers could pretty much do what they wanted with impunity.  The rapid growth of small videos recorders and then phone cams, changed all that.  And that's where we are today.  

These behaviors and reactions are probably unconscious for most cops.  They haven't been aware that they were treating white and black traffic stops differently.  Or if they were, they believed that the blacks they were stopping were more of a threat and thus justified being tough or pulling out their guns.  


So I urge people to look at the videos - old ones, and ones that will be shown next week and beyond on social media - to see what triggered the cop to become violent.  And compare that, if you can, to how cops treat whites.  

That's the key connection I wanted to make in this post, but I offer some other quotes from this same section - pages 44 or so to 49, where Wilkerson is trying to demonstrate the extent to which Blacks were considered a subservient class, lesser human beings, than whites.  

"What the colonists created was "an extreme form of slavery that had existed nowhere in the world," wrote the legal historian Ariela J. Gross.  "For the first time in history, one category of humanity was ruled out of the 'human race' and into a separate sub-group that was to remain enslaved for generations in perpetuity."

"The institution of slavery was, for a quarter millennium , the conversion of human beings into currency, into machines who existed solely for the profit of their owners, to be worked as long as the owners desired, who had no rights over their bodies or loved ones, who could be mortgaged, bred, soon in a bet, given as wedding presents, bequeathed to heirs, sold away from spouses or children to cover an owner's debt or to spite a rival or to settle an estate.  They were regularly whipped, raped, and branded, subjected to any whim or distemper of the people who owned them.  Some were castrated or endured other tortures too grisly for these pages, tortures that the Geneva Conventions would have banned as war crimes had the conventions applied to people of African descent on this soil."

"Before there was a United States of America, there was enslavement.  Theirs was a living death passed down for twelve generations."

"The slave is doomed to toil, that others may reap the fruits" is how a letter writer identifying himself as Judge Ruffin testified to what he saw in the Deep South.  

"As a window into their exploitation, consider that in 1740, South Carolina, like other slaveholding states, finally decided to limit the workday of enslaved African-Americans to fifteen hours from March to September and to fourteen hours from September to March, double the normal workday for humans who actually get paid for their labor.  In that same era, prisoners found guilty of actual crimes were kept t a maximum of ten hours per workday.  Let no one say that African-Americans as a group have not worked for our country."

"For the ceaseless exertions of their waking hours, many subsisted on a peck of corn a week, which they had to mill by hand at night after their labors in the field.  Some owners denied them even that as punishment and allowed meat for protein only once a year.  "They were scarcely permitted to pick up crumbs that fell from their masters' tables," George Whitefield wrote.  Stealing food was 'a crime, punished by flogging.'"

"Your slaves, I believe, work as hard, if not harder, than the horses whereon you ride,"  Whitefield wrote in an open letter to the colonies of the Chesapeake in 1739.  "These after their work is done, are fed and taken proper care of."

"Enslavers bore down on their hostages to extract the most profit , whipping those who fell short of impossible targets, and whipping all the harder those who needed them to wring more from their exhausted bodies."

"Whipping was a gateway for of violence that led to bizarrely creative levels of sadism," wrote the historian Edward Baptist.  Enslavers used "every modern method of torture," he observed, from mutilation to waterboarding.  

"Slavery made the enslavers among the richest people in the world, granting them "the ability to turn a person into cash at the shortest possible notice."  But from the time of enslavement southerners minimized the horrors they inflicted and to which they had grown accustomed.  "No one was willing," Baptist wrote, "to admit that they lived in an economy whose bottom gear was torture."

Slavery so perverted the balance of power that it made the degradation of the subordinate case seem normal and righteous.  "In the gentlest houses drifted now and then the sound of dragging chains and shackles, the bay of hounds, the report of pistols in the trail of the runaway," wrote the southern writer Wilbur J. Cash.  "And as the advertisements of the time incontestably prove, mutilation and the mark of the branding iron."

"The most respected and beneficent of society people oversaw forced labor camps that were politely called plantations, concentrated with hundreds of unprotected prisoners who's crime was that they were born with dark skin.  Good and loving mothers and fathers, pillars of their communities, personally inflicted gruesome tortures upon their fellow human beings." 

"This is what the United States was for longer than it was not.  It is a measure of how long enslavement lasted in the United states that the year 2022 marks the first year that the United States will have been an independent nation for as long as slavery lasted on its soil.  No current-day adult will be alive in the year in which African-Americans as a group will have been free for as long as they had been enslaed.  That will not come until the year 2111."

Another example of this still today, Blacks are considered inferior, less mentally capable, we have this recent story From the AP:  Retired Black players say NFL brain-injury payouts show bias

"PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Thousands of retired Black professional football players, their families and supporters are demanding an end to the controversial use of “race-norming” to determine which players are eligible for payouts in the NFL’s $1 billion settlement of brain injury claims, a system experts say is discriminatory.

Former Washington running back Ken Jenkins, 60, and his wife Amy Lewis on Friday delivered 50,000 petitions demanding equal treatment for Black players to Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody in Philadelphia, who is overseeing the massive settlement. Former players who suffer dementia or other diagnoses can be eligible for a payout.

Under the settlement, however, the NFL has insisted on using a scoring algorithm on the dementia testing that assumes Black men start with lower cognitive skills. They must therefore score much lower than whites to show enough mental decline to win an award. The practice, which went unnoticed until 2018, has made it harder for Black former players to get awards."

Friday, June 04, 2021

A June 4 Repost: What's An Iconic Photograph? Thinking About Tank Man

 I posted this five years ago.  Since then, the most iconic 'photo' was actually the video of George Floyd,  And probably some photos of the January 6 insurrection.  (Yes, that's the term that I think best describes what happened even if the majority of Republicans think (or say, even if they don't believe it) it was just a boisterous demonstration.)




 A lone student protestor blocks Chinese army tanks near Tiananmen Square. 

In 1989, when this photo was taken, most people still believed in the power of a photograph to tell the truth.  With digital photography and Photoshop people are still taken in by the apparent 'truth' of a photograph, but many people are also much more skeptical.

PetaPixel writes about this photo:

"AP photographer Jeff Widener’s “Tank Man” photo, shown above, is widely considered to be one of the most iconic photos of the 20th century."

 Though Business Insider says that Stuart Franklin's image is the iconic image,

". . . Franklin's image is arguably the most iconic, having appeared in Time and Life magazines, and winning him a World Press Award."

There were actually four photographers who managed to smuggle their film out of Beijing that day, all shooting from balconies or rooms at the Beijing Hotel about half a mile away:  Widener, Charlie Cole, Franklin, and Arthur Tsang Hin Wah. A fifth photographer, Terril Jones, got shots from ground level, but did not publish them until the 20th anniversary in 2009.  He wasn't aware of what he had until the film was developed several weeks after the events.  There were also two videos made of the event that got out.


My questions today, 27 years later, are about what makes a picture 'iconic,' what story does it tell, and  how close is the story to what really happened (assuming anyone can even know that)?   I'm afraid I'm only going to make some quick stabs at answers, and perhaps raise more questions about how we interpret what we see.   

1.  What makes a picture iconic? 

Wikipedia's definition is similar to many others I found:

An icon (from Greek εἰκών eikōn "image") is typically a painting depicting Christ, Mary, saints and/or angels, which is venerated among Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and in certain Catholic Churches. Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, painted on wood, done in mosaic or fresco work, printed on paper or metal, etc. Icons are often illuminated with a candle or jar of oil with a wick.

The term has evolved to have a more generic meaning which is appropriate to the idea of an 'iconic photo'  (from Oxford online):

"A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something: 'this iron-jawed icon of American manhood.'"

So, what exactly is the tank man photo a symbol of? 

2.  What does the picture tell us? 

Here's how the New York Times interpreted the photo in 2009:

"The moment instantly became a symbol of the protests as well as a symbol against oppression worldwide — an anonymous act of defiance seared into our collective consciousnesses."

Charlie Cole, one of the photographers on a balcony at the Beijing Hotel, says it this way (from the same NY Times article, in which  he also gives a detailed account of what happened and how he got his film past the Chinese Public Security Bureau):

"I think his action captured peoples’ hearts everywhere, and when the moment came, his character defined the moment, rather than the moment defining him. He made the image. I was just one of the photographers." 


For people outside of China, this is probably the story we give to and take from this photo. [Yes, 'give to' because all interpretation is based on how our brains relate the meaning based on what we already know and expect.] 

For Chinese officials, I suspect it represents the restraint of the Chinese government which patiently bore months of demonstrations.  It also showed the compassion of the tank drivers who didn't run over this man.  We get a hint of this in a 1990 interview Barbara Walters conducted with then Chinese Communist Party Secretary Jiang Zemin.

"Walters : Yes. Do you have any idea what happened to him ?
Jiang : I think the picture you mentioned just now shows exactly that the
person stood in front of a tank and the tank stopped. Why did the
tank stopped ? Did the child stop the tank ? It's because the tanks--
the people in the tanks -- didn't want to run over the people
standing in the way.
 But I think this picture just proved that."  (Emphasis added)
(Transcript of the interview are from a Google Group forum.)

I'd add one more interpretation.  I arrived in Hong Kong for my Fulbright at Chinese University of Hong Kong in July 1989, barely a month after Tiananmen.  I met a number of people who had been in Beijing during those times, and ended up taking a group of students to Beijing the following May.  It was a trip we had to schedule well before the first anniversary of Tiananmen, because the parents of my students didn't want them in Beijing during the anniversary.  One student wasn't allowed to come at all because his father thought it was potentially too dangerous.

But I'd like to highlight here just one story.  I had a student who was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  He'd spent time in a mental hospital and had either thought about or actually tried to commit suicide (I don't recall exactly.)  He told me his interpretation of this picture, which went something like this:

"I wanted to be Tank Man.  I could end my life as a hero."

I'd say this was a version of what in the US is called suicide by cop.  When he told me this, he had a wistful smile on his face.  He considered this the perfect way to go.  This was his reaction to this photo.  [As I write this, 27 years later, I realize that I don't know if he had a wistful smile.  I've seen him with a wistful smile, but did he really have it when he told me that?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I'm just writing this to remind folks not to trust people's old memories.]

We could spend days studying what this image means to different people and whether it has any meaning to people in China at all?  The photo was suppressed in China.  Given the scope of the internet today, I'm not sure how many people have since had access to this picture.  But as I was working on this post, I came across a  Japan Times story on a photoshopped version of this picture from 2013 with Tank Man standing in front of a line of giant, yellow rubber duckies.  The article said

"Internet searches for 'big yellow duck' were blocked by Chinese censors, but the image went viral on social media overseas."

But let's move on to the more concrete aspects of the picture.  What does it factually tell us?

3.   How close is our understanding of the content of the picture to what actually happened?

Here's how Wikipedia describes the photo:

"Tank Man (also Unknown Protester or Unknown Rebel) is the nickname of an unidentified man who stood in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 by force. As the lead tank maneuvered to pass by the man, he repeatedly shifted his position in order to obstruct the tank's attempted path around him. The incident was filmed and seen worldwide."

Did you catch that?  June 5.  June 4 is the date of the so called Tiananmen Massacre.  The photo was taken the day after.  I didn't realize that until I was working on this post.  If you google Tank Man Tiananmen, you'll see a number of pictures.  This one is very closely cropped.  Others show a long line of tanks.  And here's one from the shots taken by Stuart Franklin (you can see it and more of the original slides and about Franklin's story here.)


Image from Business Insider


This is an image of one of the original slides that Stuart Franklin took that day from a balcony of the Beijing Hotel. 
The green arrow was on the image I copied.  It points to Tank Man walking into the road.  I've added the yellow circle.  It shows Tiananmen Square, which continues to the left of the circle beyond the photo.  The tanks are headed away from Tiananmen Square.  In the bigger scheme of things, I don't think that means all that much, except for the way we in the West, most of whom have never been to Tiananmen Square, associate this with atrocities in Tiananmen Square itself.  Knowledge gained since June 3, 4, and 5, 1989, seems to show that most of the people who died did not die at Tiananmen Square, but at other locations in Beijing.  And most of the deaths were workers, not students.  Again, I think those are details that don't change the meaning of all this, but I am simply trying to discuss the difference between people's perception of the facts and the facts of the photo.  And how cropping
a photo can take away the context of the image. 

Again, the images (since multiple images of this event  shot from the same location were published and now we can see many more that weren't originally published) have a meaning that goes beyond what happened that day. 



And now that we've discussed the photo and questions about what it means, here's some video footage of the event that also gives more context (though it doesn't show the people walking Tank Man away.)



 


And, here's another take on the image.  Stuart Franklin talks about another image he took during the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in spring 1989, that he would prefer symbolized Tiananmen demonstrations. 


From Business Insider
"This is an image that changed everything because, for me, it crystallized the spirit of revolt. The uprising in Tiananmen Square was one of the most moving events I’ve witnessed. It was a tragedy to see unarmed young people shot down in cold blood. It was a movement for freedom of expression, for basic rights, and against the outrage of official corruption. It ended badly, a stain on the reputation of a great country. The facts should not be denied, but discussed, so that people can move on. A lot of things were misreported on both sides. A lot of outside actors were involved that may have worsened the situation for the students and their protest. I want this photograph to be available to people for whom this is an important memory. It symbolizes the courage of the time. What it doesn’t show is the bloodshed. I am best known for the image of the tank man. That is called an ‘iconic’ image, but what such images sometimes obscure, with the passing of time, is all the other pictures that lend explanatory power to the story. I’m interested in history, and this landmark event changed my life.” — Stuart Franklin


An ironic twist I can't help but mention, TechDirt reports that a Chinese firm now owns the rights to the Tank Man photo.

And finally, I'd note that Tiananmen 天 (tian) , 安 (an) , 门 (men)  means, literally, Heaven+Peaceful+Gate (Door)


Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Bookwriting Finally Comes To A Close

 I put together a picture/story book for my granddaughter when she turned two.  I intended to have one for my grandson when he turned two.  But life got more complicated and my original story ideas seemed lame and then the muse move out.  He's turning seven in June and I've just about finished his adventure book now.  I tried to put up the last picture on the back cover, but it wouldn't go.  I used the same online publisher (Zno) used for my granddaughter and I'm doing the same product.  But it's change a bit - square instead of rectangular, and 20 pages instead of 16.  The file goes up on the regular pages and I'm concerned that they no longer do back covers.  The email is in.  

The point of all this is:  I've spent a lot of time on the computer in the last couple of weeks as the finish line came into sight.  And various blog posts have not gotten up.  

I'd offer you a page or two from the book, but he should get it and see it before that happens.  I'm guessing it will take several weeks to get printed and out to him.  Also he's on most of the pages and there's an edict from my kids that grandkids' pics don't go on the blog.  Even with the face blurred.  

So you'll have to trust me that there are cool pics of M being caught in a spider web with a nasty looking spider, carried in the mouth of a T-Rex, riding on the back of a butterfly, and in other scary adventures.  There all based on pictures I took or in one case another family member took and a lot of Photoshop magic.  I have learned some new Photoshop tricks.  I was reminded how pretty much anything you want to know is available online.  I googled something like "How to show a candle lighting a cave" and that took me to a video tape of how to make a cave and show the glow of a candle.  

I've also learned that you can save a layer directly to another photoshop file.  And several new keyboard shortcuts.  

My granddaughter has been a consultant on this project.  She originally lent me one of her shirts when I needed an alligator (there was one on the shirt.)  And she reviewed the pages (FaceTime) and  giggled at the right places and assured me it wasn't too scary.   The other day she said the maze (for getting out of the cave) was too simple.  So I asked her to make me a harder one.  And, now that I think of it, I can show you that one.  Hers was pencil on off white paper.  



There was a lot of new learning as I had to figure out thinks like how to place the pages so that 1) the two pages side by side were compatible and one page didn't ruin the next, and 2) so that the "The End" page would end up on the right side.  

So there's one grandchild left who needs a book in the next few years.  

Friday, May 28, 2021

Netflix Recs: Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz And Two Short Films

 Tip 1:  Prosecuting Evil:  The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz   

I'm doing this one first because it leaves Netflix on May 31 - so you need to watch it now if you want to see it there.  As portrayed in the film, Ben Ferencz is a truly remarkable person. (The link goes to his website which has a wealth of information.)   Born in Romania in 1920, he immigrated to the US before he was one.  A teacher alerted his mother that he was gifted - "We didn't know what gifted meant.  No one had ever given us gifts." - she encouraged him to go to college.  From City College of New York to Harvard law school where he was a research assistant for a professor who had written one of the only books on war crimes.  He was with the US army when they liberated some concentration camps and when he returned the US was called to DC - he assumes the professor had recommended him - to work on prosecuting Nazi war criminals.  

He ended up as the lead prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials (at 27!) and went on from there to be a pioneer in human rights law including a long battle to establish the International Criminal Court to prosecute leaders who commit human rights violations.  


While there is, necessarily, some disturbing Holocaust footage, I got inspiration from a man who took on impossible tasks and saw them through.  Who never gave up on his quest to make the world a better, more peaceful place.  A true role model.  

He was still alive in 2018 when the film was made and apparently - looking at his website - is still alive today.  In the film he was still working hard on peace issues at 98.  

It leaves Netflix May 31 - That's Monday.  But it's also available through Prime (though I don't like to encourage people to support Amazon.)

A key relevant issue for me in this film was his arguments that Nazi war criminals should NOT be just forgotten and that they should be prosecuted, not as retribution, but as a warning to future leaders, to let them know these things will not go unpunished.  
That is a key reason why the January 6 investigation needs to be undertaken.  To not investigate and prosecute at the highest levels, is to encourage another insurrection.  Republican legislators in a number of states are already setting up ways to overrule election officials and make themselves in charge of deciding who has won the election.  Germans did not take the Nazi threat seriously until it was too late.  We are in early 1930s Germany territory right now in the United States.  

I'd like my junior senator - Dan Sullivan - to see this movie.  He doesn't seem to understand the values I hold.  The cultural background and values that Ferencz represents - highly valuing peace and justice and fighting injustice (no I don't think that that is redundant) - mirror the cultural background and values I grew up with.  Valuing peace and fighting AGAINST war, is not un-American and it's very much part of being a human being.  I just wish I was one percent as effective as he is.  I'll work on it.  

That's why this is such an important film.



Tip 2:  If you search "short films" Netflix will give you a page of short films, maybe 5 minutes to an hour.  (Some are longer because they are collections of short films.)  This is a great option if you don't have time for a long movie or don't want to get hooked into a series at the moment.

The first one we picked was Two Distant Strangers.  It said "Academy Award Winner" so we figured it was worth watching.  It's part of their "Black Lives Matter Collection."  Basically it's a Ground Hog day type movie where the black protagonist keeps running into the same cop who mistreats him in different ways and his attempts to avoid and/or improve the interaction.  




The second one was The Trader, because it was short and was a Georgian movie.  Not Georgia - the state of Staci Abrams, but Georgia in Central Asia.  How many films have you seen from Georgia?  Probably none.  

The film follows a man with a truck who goes from village to village selling trinkets and cheap household goods and used clothing.  He'll take money, but mostly he's trading for potatoes which he takes to Tblisi and sells to traders in the market.



What always strikes me about films from places that are foreign to me (though by now it shouldn't anymore) is how much people are alike.  The architecture, the landscape, the dress, the language may be different, but humans are really all the same.  Particularly poignant here were a couple of scenes with little kids.  The Trader uses bubbles to attract kids and then tells them to bring their parents to buy them things.  
The actions and smiles of  little kids chasing the soap bubbles was no different all all from little kids in well off households in the US.  Another, older kids was asked what he wanted to do when he grew up and his facial expressions and body language was no different from an embarrassed 12 year old anywhere in the world.  

Overall, I recommend escaping from the Netflix recommendations and searching by countries to find a lot of interesting films that help us see how much the human condition is the same everywhere.  Get over your aversion to subtitles.  Just do it.  There are excellent films and series  from India, Korea, Turkey, Scandinavia, the Spanish speaking world.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Redistricting Board Meeting May 26, 2021 - Board Picks VRA Consultant, But All Discussion Of Candidates Was In Executive Session

It was clear from the agenda that most of the meeting would be in Executive Session  to interview candidates for Voting Rights Act consultant.  They carefully explained the legal bases for going into Executive Session.  They estimated they would take 45 minutes per interview which would have been 135 minutes.  The phone was muted for just about two hours.  

They also announced beforehand that after the contract with the VRA consultant was signed, they would let us know who the three applicants were and give their proposals to anyone who requests them.  

My understanding of Executive Session in Alaska is that their discussion about who they were going to choose should have been in public.  But I"m sure they would argue they couldn't have had that discussion without revealing confidential information.  They did vote in public, but it was clear that all the discussion was held in Executive Session.  They'd already agreed before they came out of Executive Session.  

Here are my rough notes of the meeting:


2:35 - Meeting connected but LIO connection can't hear them.  So just hear the LIO person asking if they can hear her.  

2:42pm - starting to hear things - discussing training for computer redistricting program.

2:43pm - opening meeting.  Apologizing for technical problem delay

Establish quorum - taking roll - all there

John:  would like one change, item 5.  Haven't read minutes from past meetings and I'd like to hold off til next meeting so I can read them all carefully.  Modify to eliminate item 5.  

Budd:  Not really amending. Have another suggestion for form - add footer to each page that says ARB p1/x.  That would make it much easier to find a certain page.  

John:  Don't need to make it a motion.  They've got the message and all concur.  Discussion on motion to amend the agenda?  Hearing none, lets move to adopt amended agenda.  Adopted.

First Item:  Public Testimony - anyone want to testify.  One member- Sen Giessel:  Thanks Mr. Chairman.  Good afternoon.  Calling on behalf of myself.  Thank the board about hiring a Voting Rights consultant.  Worried about Census Bureau manipulating the data.  People knowledgable about the state and you should see the distortions.  Thank you.  

John:  

???:  Quick comment:  Thank Sen Giessel.  Concerned that Alaska Native/Aemerican issues with census.  

Giessel:  Glad to hear you're engaged.  Concern that data will be unfairly distorted.  

2:50pm Sound went dead.  

2:54pm  back on - Peter three responses that seem substantially qualified. We will keep the documents confidential until after someone is chosen.  That is to protect the competitive information from the other respondents.  Also to protect confidential information.  So for those reasons go into executive session, to interview voting rights consultants.  Again explaining details of legal reasons for going into ES

???:  Got text message that audio dropped.

Peter:  We paused for that and got it corrected.  Nothing was missed. 

2:50pm John:  Going into ES.  We set aside 45 minutes for each interview.  There are three.  It may not take that long.  Then we'll come out and discuss and possibly take action then.  

So back by 5:15pm maybe earlier.  

First respondent 


4:53 - out of ES

Discussion:  

Rasie hand or go right to motion regarding VRA itself.

Bethany:  I move the Board move into contract with selected responded and set up contract. 

Melanie: 2nd

John:  Discussion?  No discussion?  Adopted.  

Staff and myself will negotiate the contract and get back to public.

Last item on agenda.  If not motion to adjourn?

Melanie:  So moved

John:  Seconded by Budd.  No objection.  Adjourned.