Friday, October 24, 2014

"They can afford 'em, but they can't drive 'em"

That was the announcement on the ferry loudspeaker system.  There had been a series of loud blasts of the deeeep horn and we'd come to a stop.  Then I looked up to see the cause of the noise and the crew's derision.

The sailboat was no longer in danger of being run over by the ferry.   Is public shaming over the ferry loudspeakers a suitable activity for a public entity like the Bainbridge Ferry?  I suspect not, but I suspect it made the announcer feel a little better.  Will it make the little boat's driver change?  I suspect forcing the ferry to stop was embarrassing enough. 

But we enjoyed the warm sunny crossing into Seattle last Sunday after a family visit on a long layover on the way to LA.  Here's a shot of us approaching the dock in Seattle.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Incumbency Is Not Forever: The Difference Between A 'Nobody' And A Congressman Young Is Just Votes

The way labels affect how people treat each other has always fascinated me.  When I was a doctoral student and teaching my first graduate classes, I tried an experiment that was very revealing, though not completely successful at first.

The Experiment 

I was young and I looked younger.  I came to the first class and sat down just like all the other students.  I had arranged for someone to come in and say the instructor asked that the students divide into groups of four and talk about what they expected from a graduate class.  I went off with one of the groups as though I were an MPA student like everyone else.  Which I had been until just a year earlier.

When we got back into the class, there was a discussion led by the students.  My voice was not given any more deference than anyone else's and a few people vigorously disagreed with what I said.  When I tried to transition from the exercise to getting the class to move on, students resisted.  Finally, I went to the front of the class and declared I was the instructor.  Some people laughed.  Others told me to sit down. Slowly, my identification and status in people's heads changed.  I apologized for the deception, but said I couldn't think of a better way to make an important point.   How we treat people is based on all sorts of labels and social instructions we get.  I pointed out I had been a masters degree student not long ago and that I wasn't much different from any of them and that's how they treated me at the beginning of class.  But now that they learned I was the class instructor, they treated me differently and thought about me differently.  In reality, I was the same person.  But in their heads I was a different person. 

Most of the students got the point and took it in the spirit I intended: it was a learning experience about how we know things and treat people.  But one student, who refused to even give her name when I asked everyone to introduce themselves, went to the dean to complain.  She was sure that I would retaliate against her for things she said when she thought I was a student.  Fortunately, the dean knew me and he convinced her my intent was good and to stick with it.  At the end of the semester she invited the whole class to a party at her house.

I tell you this story because we think of people in special positions - teachers, police officers, doctors, elected officials - as somehow specially anointed.   And in their roles, they do have some special authority in certain areas and we are expected to give them deference consistent with those roles.  And they are expected to fill those roles with an appropriate level of dignity and respect. But the special stuff applies only when they are acting in those roles.  The rest of the time, they are just human beings like the rest of us.

Alaska's Congressional Race Between Don Young and Forrest Dunbar

I say all this because Alaska has a Congress Member who has been in that role since 1974.  He's been the Congressman from Alaska for the lifetime of both my kids.  But, he's just a human being, though it appears that he no longer sees a difference between his official role and his private self.  And he doesn't particularly stick to the level of decorum expected of a Congress Member.  In fact, he's a pretty fallible human being as he most recently demonstrated at Wasilla High School.

Yet despite his bizarre behavior over the years, Alaskans have continued to reelect him.

Partly, because he is a pretty smart guy, who has been able to pull himself together when it counted.  When he debated Ethan Berkowitz in the US House race in 2008, for example, he had facts at his finger tips, he was charming and funny, and he handily took the debate, much to many people's surprise.  He wasn't the bumbling clown some expected.

But I also think that voters are dazzled by the pixie dust that transforms incumbents into a special, superior species.  But they are just normal humans, with more power.

This year Young's opponent, Forrest Dunbar, is an extraordinary, ordinary human being.  But a lot of people looking at him might think, well, ok, but he's nobody. How can he transform into "Congressman?"  That just means they haven't done their homework and found out who he is.  After all, there was a time when Don Young was just as 'nobody.'

In fact, all of the next ten presidents of the United States are now alive and many, if not most, are living their lives as relative 'nobodies.'  You could probably set up lunch dates with most of them.  They are just people.  But at some point they will morph from just people into "The President."

 The 'nobody' who is challenging Don Young this year is just like you and me - some guy from Alaska.  And if he were elected, he'd stay a genuine guy, I'm sure.  He's like me in class as a student, before I became, in their eyes, the instructor.

Here's what the Alaska Public Media said about Dunbar:

He spent his pre-school years in the Yukon River town of Eagle, cutting his teeth on caribou while his father worked as a Fish and Game biologist.  After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the family moved to Cordova, where Dunbar says they had running water for the first time. . . 

Dunbar spent summers working on a commercial fishing boat and was an exchange student in Japan. A high school teacher, Tim Walters, remembers him as determined.
“Forrest was intense. And he was serious,” Walters says.
He says it was obvious, even then, that Dunbar was going places.

“In a teacher’s career, there’s usually a handful of students that really kind of stand out, that ‘Some day,’ you say to yourself, ‘they’re going to be on the cover of Time magazine.’ And Forrest was one of those kids,” Walters says.

Dunbar went on to an East Coast education:  Undergrad at American University in Washington. Harvard for a Master’s in public policy, Yale for law school. He fought wildfires out of Fairbanks for a summer and served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. He was an intern for then-Sen. Frank Murkowski in Washington. He worked for Guam’s delegate to Congress. He worked in the Alaska Office of Public Advocacy. Last year, he joined the Alaska National Guard, as an officer and an attorney — a JAG.
He's a pretty special 'nobody.'

People vote for Young for all their own special reasons.  But if anyone is thinking, "yeah but the other guy's nobody" well I'm writing this to say
  1. Everyone is nobody until they suddenly become somebody - as I was just another student in my class until I became 'the instructor'
  2. Don Young was nobody until he got elected
  3. One day, a nobody will replace Don Young
  4. Forrest Dunbar is one perfect candidate for Alaska's sole US House seat - he was raised in rural and small town Alaska, he was educated in some of the best universities in the US, he's got experience in Washington DC, and he's got international experience.
  5. Dunbar is far, far better prepared to be a Congress member than Young was in 1973
Young has criticized Dunbar as immature.  I think he was referring to his being only being 29.  But I'd point out that Alexander the Great was 32 when he died and Jesus was 33.

Don Young's recent arrogance at Wasilla High School should convince people that he really needs to retire.  'But what's the alternative?" 

I'm here to assure folks that we have a very viable replacement who would change our lone Congress Member's office from an embarrassment to the state to one that will bring honor to Alaska.

It's all a matter of people getting their head around the idea of what makes a nobody a somebody.

Incumbency Is Not Forever

And that change can happen.  Here's an example from the LA Weekly Voter Guide:
A year ago, Lee Baca was considered a favorite to win re-election to a fifth term as sheriff. Historically, incumbent sheriffs have needed only to be able to fog up a mirror in order to win. And though Baca was beset by scandals in the county jails, it was an open question whether voters would care. How times change. After 18 sheriff’s officials were indicted last December, Baca was forced to resign.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Parnell Still Doesn't Get It - Response To Sandy Parnell's Commentary

9/5/14 Governor Finally Sack Katkus After National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations (OCI) Report On Sexual And Other Abuse

10/4/14 "Governor Says He Responded To Every allegation but was misled by leaders."

10/9/14 What Did He Know And When Did He Know It? Still The Relevant Questions

I've already written too many posts on Sean Parnell's reaction to the National Guard scandal. 

But when I read Sandy Parnell's commentary in today's ADN, I couldn't help but do one more.

Here are some things she says that beg a response.

"I was with my husband, Sean, when he got the call in February with concrete information that called the Alaska guard command into question."
"concrete information"  -  Anyone with concrete information knows you have to act.  But sexual abuse victims and their advocates rarely walk in with concrete information.  It's the nature of the crime that it's done in secret and without witnesses and without much evidence.

The governor is supposed to be a savvy person who can judge people and situations and then can act appropriately.  The governor, in this case for sure, misjudged people and didn't know what to do.

It's like going to the doctor. A good doctor will diagnose the symptoms, do the necessary tests, and get you cured before you go to stage three.  But when the patient came in to see Sean Parnell, he said, "there's no concrete evidence."  He let the cancer in the Guard fester and grow causing far more pain and anguish than had he treated it right away.  He simply didn't know what tests to perform to get the evidence needed, so he said there was none.

Doctors go through hellishly intense schooling.  Politicians just need enough money and backing to get elected.  Fortunately for politicians, there's usually not much concrete evidence of their bad judgments either.  Nor can they be sued for malpractice.  Unfortunately for Parnell, the evidence of his incompetence has been spelled out pretty clearly.  And an upcoming election is the next best thing to incompetence. 

The point here is that when the Guard came to see Dr. Parnell, the Guard was sent home, and presumably didn't even get an aspirin.

"I am thankful that the bureau’s OCI responded so quickly and so professionally when my husband called for this independent, outside investigation."
Yes, too bad Sean Parnell didn't act that quickly and professionally back in 2010.
"The insinuation by some that Sean would not take action is wrong. That is not who my husband is, and that’s not what I have seen him do. He took action, immediately, every time. When he got the facts, he acted. With every specific allegation of assault, he followed up personally.
I believe that Sean and Sandy Parnell believe this.  Unfortunately, the action he took was inadequate and ineffective.  That's why people are upset.  The governor wasn't up to the task and people at the Guard suffered another four years, before real action was taken.  
My husband is committed to protecting the integrity of their mission, and ensuring they can carry out their work for all Alaskans in an atmosphere that is safe, with accountable leadership.
 Again, I believe Sandy believes this.  Again, that's nice, but we need a governor who is as competent as he is committed.  We don't have that.

I realize that it's hard for anyone to admit incompetence.  It's particularly hard for a politician several weeks before an election.  Good intentions aren't enough.  You also need the ability to take timely, decisive, and effective action.

The governor can't blame this on a divided legislature, because it's not divided.  It's full of his fellow Republicans.  And because this was something the governor could have and should have handled all on his own. 

One more comment on that first quote:
"I was with my husband, Sean, when he got the call in February with concrete information that called the Alaska guard command into question."
Allegations of sexual abuse require a high degree of confidentiality.  These aren't things you should share with people not directly responsible for acting, including the First Lady.  Governor Palin was criticized for including Todd in policy issues.   I say this, recognizing that the relationship between a husband and wife is special.  Spouses need counsel from each other.  But if that happens, the spouse's role is to never disclose what he or she knows.  Like in a commentary in the newspaper where she acts as a witness to what her husband learned and when.   

Fresh Keta Salmon

We saw this in the market yesterday here in LA.  I asked the man what Keta Salmon was and where it was from.  All he could say was "USA."   "Is it Alaskan?"  He didn't know.  And it didn't say.

I know a bunch of names for different kinds of salmon, but Keta isn't one of them.

It turns out it's chum or dog salmon.

From Wild Pacific Salmon: (a seafood marketing site)

Wild Alaskan Keta Salmon

Keta (Chum) Salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus Keta

Market Names: Chum, Keta, Silverbrite

Vernacular Names: Dog Salmon, Calico Salmon, Chub, Keta Salmon

Description: Keta Salmon have greenish-blue backs with silver splashes in the tail. It looks very similar to a Sockeye salmon when ocean fresh. Keta salmon range from 6-17 pounds and are mature at 3-6 years old. The Keta salmon has very light colored flesh and is very mild in flavor.
It's no wonder they don't sell it as dog or chum salmon.  Chum is, as I recall, the least desirable salmon, and that's confirmed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:
General Description
Chum salmon, also known as dog salmon, are the most widely distributed of all the Pacific salmon and generally occur throughout Alaska. Like most other Pacific salmon species, chum salmon spend most of their life feeding in saltwater, then return to freshwater when mature to spawn once in the fall then die. Most chum salmon populations do not travel far upstream to spawn; however, some travel up to 2,000 miles upstream to the headwaters of the Yukon River. Although generally regarded as one of the less desirable species of salmon, in Arctic, Northwestern, and Interior Alaska, chum salmon are highly prized as a traditional source of dried winter food. Since the 1980s, commercial chum salmon harvests in Alaska have more than doubled as a result of the Alaska hatchery program and increased foreign sales.

Is this an Alaskan product?  They aren't advertising it as such. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Exploring The World With Fresh Eyes

We're back in unexpectedly in LA because my mom was having a downspell and we decided we should come back.  Ninety two offers challenges.  Things aren't going to get dramatically better and there is a steady stream of health adventures.  She's doing better though she's weaker than she was a month ago. 

I was able to schedule our trip down to include a long layover in Seattle to see our daughter and granddaughter.  And we got a beautiful warmish fall day.  I got to go to the park with the little one.  She's pushing two now. There are lots of words.  Quizical looks.  Big smiles.  We walked over to the playground,  looked at lots of stuff, rode on the swings, went down the slide, and just explored the world.  Here are some things we saw. 

Here's the mystery fruit.  It was about the size of a ping pong ball, with little spines all over it.  There's a smaller one in the background.  My google search, even a reverse photo search, didn't come up with a name.  Or whether it was edible.  I'm hoping someone out there will know it. 

She can say pine cone now and so she chose this one to examine.  My pocket camera is, it turns out, also a sort of microscope so we could look a little closer. 

(I have to admit, this is not my childhood image of pine cones.  My pine cone is rounder, harder, with sharp tips.)

Then we had to lay all our treasures out on the picnic table in the park.

But it wasn't just biology that interested her.  As we went back home she pointed out some features she wanted me to take pictures of. 

The pipe coming out of the wall.

And then the sewer cover. 

And the drain.

And then we looked a little closer to see the reflection in the water down below.

Getting to spend time with this magical child (I'm not claiming any special magic in my granddaughter, they're all magical, in fact we are all magical, but it's so much easier to see when they're little like this and not hiding it) is a great energy boost on my way to seeing my mom.  And my mom enjoys the pictures I bring her of her great granddaughter. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monetizing Ebola

Some people see everything in terms of whether they can turn it into money.  An empty lot, a disaster, older folks who aren't as sharp as they once were, and now Ebola. 

I got this in my emailbox this morning:

  From sort Date sort   Subject sort Size sort
Ebola Bulletin Oct 19, 2014   Shocking Revelations from Ebola Expert 27 k

I'd seen an article or post on people exploiting Ebola, but the email above was the first direct contact I'd had.

My first reaction was - how low can you go?   How despicable must you be to use Ebola to victimize others for personal gain?

But I don't think it's quite that simple.  I can think of at least two factors at play here. 

First, there are people who, for whatever reason - no conscience, no empathy for other people, or personal desperation, or whatever else - think nothing of scamming people for their own personal gain.

Second, a society that values money above most everything else.  It doesn't matter how unscrupulously people make money in our society (and much of the world), if it's not illegal or if you don't get caught, the money gives you a veneer of respectability.  Certainly money can buy you all the facades of respectability and it can even buy you a 'get out of jail free card.' But I can envision a society where such bad behavior would so taint the money one gained that far fewer people would be tempted.

Until we find a cure for conscience numbing conditions like  psychopathy  we're going to have people among us without a conscience, thus unconstrained from the kinds of social and moral constraints that keep most people from exploiting others. 

But we can make people accountable for how they made their money.  We can give other factors - decency, less monetizable skills and talents, helpfulness, etc. - more respect and power in our society than we currently do. 

Every time we do something that gives respect to people simply for having money, regardless of how they get it, we support the culture of wealth worship.  Every time we click the teaser links on every monetized website that take us to trivial information, we reward this kind of mentality. 

Unless, of course,  people start using that method to exploit the exploiters.  How about teasers like "The Ten Slimiest Ways the Koch Brothers Make Money" or "Frank Murkowski's Wealth Analyzed, Dollar By Dollar"?  Teasers that lead us to solidly researched information that helps us better understand why some people have more power than it seems they should. 

I'm still thinking about possible legitimate ways to profit from Ebola - drug companies that make legitimate cures, comedians who profit from Ebola jokes (if their joke make people think, it's probably ok), media coverage of Ebola.  But that's tricky, as can be see from this MediaMatters piece entitled  Right-Wing Media Exploit Ebola Outbreak In West Africa To Spread Immigration Fears.

Basically, I think the kinds of people who send out emails like I got - I didn't even open it by the way - are despicable.  I'm just trying to point out though that people aren't despicable in a vacuum.  The more we understand the factors that make them do despicable things, the greater our likelihood of figuring out ways to reduce the number of people doing them.   

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Lost Causes Are The Only Ones Worth Fight For" - Should Parnell Keep Fighting Same-Sex Marriage?

A lot of people are criticizing Governor Parnell's decision to continue to appeal the rulings allowing same-sex partners to get married in Alaska.  Mainly, they argue, given the Ninth Circuit and US Supreme Courts' recent actions, appealing is a lost cause.  But are no lost causes  worth fighting for?  Which ones would you fight for?  Which wouldn't you?  And what factors make the difference?   I'm going to start that discussion in this post.

"Lost Causes Are The Only Ones Worth Fight For"

After the death of a US senator in the movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington Mr. Smith (Jimmy Stewart)  is  appointed to take his place. His hero is the senior Senator from his state, Mr. Paine.  But Smith learns that Mr. Paine is supporting corrupt legislation and Smith filibusters to stop the legislation.  Near the end of the filibuster, tired and near collapse, Mr. Smith says:
"I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for,  and he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them."
Here's the clip of that scene:

What Exactly Does It Mean?

"Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for."  If might be good rhetoric, but it really doesn't make any sense.  It implies that good causes that  have a chance of winning aren't worth fighting for.  That's clearly not the case.  It's a phrase, spoken passionately though, that might sway an unthinking audience

And it wasn't the last word on lost causes in the movie either  If you watched the video clip to the end, you heard that Jimmy Stewart didn't stop there.  He gives a rule for why you fight lost causes.
". . .   for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain,  simple rule, "Love thy neighbor,"     

That makes a lot more sense, but again, this is rhetoric.  It sounds good.  "Love thy neighbor" is a sentiment many will agree with (until they think about the neighbor who leaves his barking dog outside in the cold all day) but is it really the only reason to fight lost causes?

I'm going to end this post here and in a near (I hope) future post, try to come up with a model of lost cause situations.  I've already come up with a list of different situations that onlookers might label a lost cause.  I'll try to tease out of these examples, a way to evaluate how noble any specific lost cause situation is. 

Here are a couple I've thought of so far:
  1. Searching for a missing child, all leads are cold, and the odds of finding her now are low to nil.
  2. Fighting an armed battle, grossly outnumbered and outgunned, against an enemy who tortures and kills their captives.
  3. Refusing to divulge information about your fellow rebels to your torturer. 
  4. Refusing to accept a plea bargain because you know you are innocent, even though there are witnesses who swear they saw you and you’ll get life, when you could bargain for a lighter sentence. 
Then when the model is complete, we can apply it to the Governor's insistence that he must spend state resources to fight the overturning of the same sex marriage ban in court.

One friend I chatted with about this said I was making this too complicated.  It's just about power and the election.  That may well be the case.  But I hate to jump to conclusions about other people's intentions.  And such a model surely will have usefulness in other situations. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

AIFF 2014: Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, Poland - Some Countries Getting Features Into Anchorage International Film Festival 2014

The Anchorage International Film Festival is just around the corner - Dec. 5 - 14.  The films selected for the festival recently were announced, and if I weren't ping-ponging between Anchorage and LA to look in on my mom, I would have had this up earlier.  But here's a quick look at the features selected.  Those checked as being "In Competition" were selected by the judges to be in the running for a Golden Oosik Award.

You can check out the AAIF website to get more details of these films and information about the films in the other categories.

Feature, at AIFF, means 'fiction films over 55 minutes.'


Title Director(s) Country Runtime In Competition

6 Bullets To Hell Tanner Beard Spain, USA 80m
The Ambassador to Bern Attila Szász Hungary 77m
Appropriate Behavior Desiree Akhavan USA 90m
Come to My Voice [Were Denge Min] Huseyin Karabey France, Germany, Turkey 90m
I Believe In Unicorns Leah Meyerhoff USA 80m
Kurmanjan Datka [Queen of the Mountains] Sadyk Sher-Niyaz Kyrgyzstan 136m
Listening Khalil Sullins USA 98m
The Lookalike Richard Gray USA 100m
Mr. Intangibles Ben Bolea USA 82m
Porch Stories Sarah Goodman Canada 73m
Rocks In My Pockets Signe Baumane USA, Latvia 88m
Sacrifice Michael Cohn USA 105m
The Secret Sharer Peter Fudakowski United Kingdom, Poland 103m
Teacher of the Year Jason Strouse USA 82m
These Hopeless Savages Sean Lewis USA 87m

It's That Time

Birch and Amur Maple Leaves


Amur Maple

Dantzing With Pollsters - Follow Up

Yesterday I did a  post about ways to respond to political pollsters that raises questions like what do you owe telephone survey folks?  The only things I said you owe them are some respect and friendliness, because it's not an easy job.  I just got a call from a local Anchorage number - 268 2121.  It's a bit late for calls, but I answered it.

Caller:  May I speak to Steve?
Me:  Whose calling?
Caller:  Tanya.  I'm from MRS.
Me:  [She sounded tired, and remembering my advice, I answered in a very friendly]     Hi Tanya, how are you doing tonight?  What is MRS and where are you?
Tanya:  McQuire Research Service, in Nevada.

Well she was clearly pleased to get a friendly response and, in her words, "not to be yelled at."  But I did tell her about yesterday's blog post and she asked if I wanted to do the survey.  Since she'd identified her company, which I'd said yesterday legit pollsters should do,  I said, 'Sure."

Tanya:  How likely are you to vote next month?
Steve:   Barring getting hit by a bus . . . you know Tanya, actually, I plan to vote next Monday when early voting starts.  So I'm definitely voting in October, not next month.
Tanya:   . . . .
Steve:  If I say I'm not voting next month, that ends the survey, doesn't it?
Tanya:  Yes . . .
Steve:  I guess they didn't write the question very well, because I'm sure they don't care when I vote, do they?  But since I'm not going to vote next month, and I answered honestly 'no,' you have to end this right?
Tanya:  Yes,

I thought I heard an unspoken, "but . ."

I hope she still gets paid, even though we only did the first question.  But she shouldn't be penalized if people don't plan to vote.  That's information too.  I should have asked her. 

[OK, this post is sort of a stall.  I'm working on several longer posts that aren't quite right yet, and this seemed like an easy filler.  But if you didn't see the original post Dantzing With Pollsters, that has a little more meat.

I don't generally watch television or listen to much AM radio, so I'm relatively spared a lot of the political advertising.  The mailed advertising doesn't make noises and is easy to put into the recycle bin.

But I noticed tonight, getting a Youtube clip for a post I'm working on, that I got a Dan Sullivan ad linking Mark Begich to Obama before the video.  But I had to play the video several times and then I got Begich ads with a women talking about how Sullivan would interfere between her and her doctor at her clinic.