Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Fair and Moral Compensation" - A Followup Post

It's Thanksgiving week and we're gathered with both our kids and their families so my blogging time has been limited.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all.  Today would also be my mother-in-law's birthday, so we are thinking of her too.

This is a quick followup to the last post on getting government agencies to compensate people who are innocent victims of security and other kinds of measures - say people falsely arrested, or in situations like the internment of US citizens of Japanese ancestry during WW II.  We recognize both the need for security and the rights of individuals. Sometimes innocent folks will get caught in the security net, but let's treat them decently if they turn out to be innocent victims.  Let's give them fair and moral compensation.  Without them having to sue.

The original post was a quick thought piece with no real research, just based on what I knew in my own head.  There were two laudatory responses (thanks Dr. Kayt and physicsmom) and one that questioned the feasibility of getting insurance companies to cover such things.

So rather than a lengthy response in the comments, I thought I'd put up a few more thoughts - based on some quick googling - about this.

Kathy in KY, thanks for the challenge to flesh out this idea a bit more.  You’ve gotten me to check out examples, which I vaguely know about, but didn’t document.  Lots of government units have different kinds of insurance - like for vandalism or other damage.

But they also can get liability insurance to protect them against claims against the city or other governmental unit.  The Georgia Municipal Association offers various kinds of such insurance to its members.  .

In some cases, high level government employees get professional liability insurance for situations when their employing agency won’t defend them against lawsuits.  

There is a group of folks working on a ballot initiative to require police in Hennapin County (Minneapolis is the county seat) to have personal liability insurance, on the belief that individuals with bad records will not be able to get such insurance and will have to leave the force.  The city would pay the basic rate, but if individuals had their rates increased because of previous incidents, they'd have to pay the amount above the basic rate.  

I also found out that Portland, Oregon had a policy to give ‘fair and moral’ compensation for city caused damages, which has fallen by the wayside.   

Fair and moral.  That's really what this is all about.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

So, How About Wrongful Treatment Insurance?

An idea that came to mind as I read Leonard Pitts' column today, that started out, "Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights.” Bear with me as I spin out this quick thought exercise.

The country's all tied up in debates about people being treated wrongly by the government.

Basically, we have competing, important values.  We want security and safety, yet we also believe in individual liberty.  To what extent can we suspend someone's liberty because we feel it's necessary to promote safety and security?  Pitts gives a long list of times when the US has done just that, and lots of people suffered serious harm.

When we fear a big security threat, we get fuzzy about the liberty part.

We've got police who've been shooting unarmed citizens.  Some because they've got personal issues that lead them to abuse their official power.  Others because they are legitimately fearful of their safety and react in fear and haste, but not necessarily unreasonably.

And fear of terrorists leads some politicians and not a few citizens to brush aside the rights of fellow citizens for what they see as everyone's safety.

Aside from these issues, there are innocent people who get arrested after a crime is committed because they look like the suspect or because they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, or any number of other reasons.

At this point, we mostly say, "Sorry, Charlie, that's the cost of justice" and send them on their way.

But what if we just decided that people who were wrongfully treated by the government were automatically entitled to be made whole?  "Hey, sorry we put you in jail for three weeks, here's money to cover the losses you incurred.  That's the price of a just society.  We make whole those who turn out to be the by-catch of our justice system."   It could be back pay for the work they missed.  And if they were fired during that time, support until they get new work.  And whatever physical or mental health treatment they or their family require due to the incident.

Why should a few people have to pay huge personal costs because the police arrested the wrong person or because we want to detain certain people because we think they might be terrorists?

Some of this already happens, but usually because someone sues.  Why did the Americans interned during WW II because they were of Japanese descent have to wait forty some years to get a token compensation?  Why didn't they all get paid for their losses when they left the camps?  And if the government knew ahead of time that compensation would be required, perhaps they would have done more to protect the internees' property while they were interned.

Besides being fair to the victims, I suspect that there would also be much more accountability for individuals who made bad public decisions.  If a city had to pay, automatically, for false arrests, I suspect that slowly, but surely, there would be fewer of them, and the victims would be detained for shorter periods.  And that people who might lose their houses because they couldn't pay the mortgage while in jail, might have those payments made by the government, to keep the eventual reimbursement lower.

And knowing that, say, today, every Muslim who might be interned if some fearful (or pandering)  politicians had their way, would have to be reimbursed for their inconvenience, would mean that not only would we weigh such proposals against the loss of rights, but we'd also weigh them against the cost of future reimbursements.

Would government bodies have to have a compensation fund from which they could compensate victims?  Would insurance companies offer policies?  If they did, they'd also start rating the efficiency and fairness of organizations like police departments so they could set profitable rates.  And those ratings would probably be a better measure of departments than we get now.

Nobody and no agency is ever going to be perfect, is ever going to make mistake-free.  And if they were,  it would mean they weren't pushing hard enough to do what they were supposed to do.  But, why should mistreated individual citizens have to pay an extraordinary price so that all the rest of us are safer?  If it's true that the number of such victims is small, the price for compensating them shouldn't be all that high.  But if we find out that number isn't that low, then the cost of compensating them will be incentive to make sure it's as low as it can be and still allow police and others to do the work of protecting everyone adequately.

See  follow up post.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Expanding Humpty Dumpty For 2015 And Beyond

We're in Seattle with our daughter and granddaughter.  The other night I read one of her books which included Humpty Dumpty.  So far so good.  When I was done, she said, "I want to watch the Humpty Dumpty video on your computer."  I'd forgotten about that.  We'd found some Humpty Dumpty videos on a previous visit.  You'd be surprised how many there are.  The top ranking one on Youtube is this Indian version:

And then there's this version where doctors come and get him patched up and he decides that no one should sit on the wall.  Oh dear, is this a really good lesson?  For some things maybe, maybe not.  I'm just giving you a link, because this is a long, long video with lots of different nursery rhymes - old and new.  But it starts with Humpty Dumpty.  It's from Chu Chu TV - another Indian production.
This one also has an ad that I couldn't figure out how to skip.  Had to turn off sound till it was over.

If you go to Youtube on the link to the Chu Chu TC version, you'll fjnd lots more  versions of Humpty Dumpty.

I can see how totally addictive this can be for little kids.  I asked my granddaughter if she could watch it all day and she just looked away with a little smile on her face.   I'm limiting it to 15 minutes a day when I'm with her.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

“In the name of the Great Teacher, we will stop at nothing to unleash a firestorm of empathy, compassion, and true selflessness upon the West,”

said Rinpoche, adding that all enemies of a freely flowing, unfettered state of mind will be “besieged with pure, everlasting happiness.” “No city will be spared from spiritual harmony. We will bring about the end to all Western pain and anxiety, to all destructive cravings, to all greed, delusion, and misplaced desire. Indeed, we will bring the entire United States to its knees in deep meditation.”

OK, this is a spoof from the Onion, and no good Buddhists would use imagery like 'unleash a firestorm.'

Thinking about this reminds me of how many Chinese deal with the difference between Western and traditional medicine.  The traditional medicine is important for every day maintenance of health and can be used to treat routine illnesses and injuries.  But for major, immediately life-threatening trauma, they turn to Western medicine, if it's available.

I don't think many Westerners are willing to give up using violence when their lives are directly threatened, though people tell me that Jesus said something about loving one's enemies and turning the other cheek.

As with medicine, when dealing with confrontation - whether it be with nations abroad or with citizens at home - our responses should be broader than sending in drones to bomb or having police draw and shoot their guns - we should consider the wide array of non-violent alternatives that are available.

[Feeburner wouldn't take the original, so I've tried to clean up the html and repost]

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In Good Company

We went to the cemetery again to observe my mom's urn being placed in the crypt next to my brother, step-father, and my in-laws.  As we walked around nearby, we noticed a few more well known inhabitants, including one of the more recent - Leonard Nimoy, not too far away. 

Al Jolson is nearby in the opposite direction.  

Hank Greenberg is also there.

 And then there's Dinah Shore. 

A lesser luminary, very close by, is David Janssen. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Even one inch of rain in Los Angeles can generate more than 10 billion gallons of runoff."

One of the most important ideas I've encountered in recent years, was in E.O. Wilson's The Future of Life He talks about how the earth naturally cleans the water and the air and how when humans cut trees, fill in wetlands, and pave the earth, we interfere with that natural infrastructure.  Then when we try to replicate what nature did for free, it costs us a fortune.  Wilson cites a 1997 study that estimated the annual value at $33 trillion.

Ecosystems services are defined as the flow of materials, energy, and information from the biosphere that support human existence.  They include the regulation of the atmosphere and climate;  the purification and retention of fresh water;  the formation and enrichment of the soil;  nutrient cycling; the detoxification and recirculation of water;  the pollination of crops;  and the production of lumber, fodder, and biomass fuel. [p. 106]
Flying into LA
So when I read this LA Times piece, I thought I should note it as one more example of how humans have unknowingly tampered with the natural regeneration and cleansing system that the earth provides.  In this case replenishing the aquifers. 
"As we have paved our cities, covering the land with impervious concrete and asphalt, less and less rain is recharging urban groundwater; it’s running off all those hard surfaces into storm sewers and out to the ocean. Every year, hundreds of billions of gallons of storm water wash into Santa Monica Bay, Long Beach Harbor and the San Francisco Bay. Even one inch of rain in Los Angeles can generate more than 10 billion gallons of runoff."
Think about the costs of building desalination plants, while LA is pouring hundreds of billions of gallons of fresh water into the ocean.  I don't know if that total is all the water that goes into the ocean or just the amount that would have stayed in the soil and/or drained down into the aquifers.

Up to now, our capitalist system hasn't applied the cost of such externalities of our economic activities. (For a graphic economics explanation of externalities, see this Khan Academy video.)  So when contractors bulldoze trees and replace them with a building and parking, the cost of the lost air cleansing and water retention those trees did is not not reflected in the price of the new building. Instead the cost is born by society as a whole.  This means that businesses have an incentive to destroy the environment, because doing so doesn't affect them. 

Unless there are strict environmental protections in place and/or government imposes some way to charge for the externality.  A revenue neutral fee on carbon is, for example, seen by many as a way to put the cost of global warming into the price of carbon based products.   Here's an example of how a carbon fee would work.

Meanwhile what I'd like lots of people to understand is this concept of the natural recycling the earth does and how messing with those processes really is damaging a very important natural infrastructure that has great impacts on the earth and the humans that live on earth.  The pavement in California is just one example.  By the way, the author calls for replacing it with more porous material that will allow rainwater to percolate down to the aquifers.   

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

From Ashes To Ashes And Flowers

Al Jolson's grave
The day started out taking my mom's ashes to the cemetery.  I did ask if I could have a few spoonfuls of ash to keep and they said, yes, of course.  Her ashes will soon be within 100 yards of Al Jolson's remains, so I'm sure she'll keep well entertained.   And if no one else has done it yet, she'll let him know that blackface doesn't cut it any more.  In December, on my brother's birthday, we'll do a small family ceremony.  I'm sure my mom and brother will be catching up on things. 

The day ended at a film showing sponsored by the LA Times of  Loreak (Flowers), the Spanish entry for an Academy Award for best foreign language film.  In one scene a key character's casket is put into the crematorium, burned up, and then the ashes are collected and put into a plastic bag, and slipped into an urn.  I don't think I've ever taken an urn full of ashes to a cemetery before (though I did go pick them up from the mortuary) and I've never seen such a detailed depiction of a cremation before in a movie.  Or maybe I have and I've forgotten, and this one caught my attention because of this morning's task.

Watching the film  I began to wonder why I couldn't catch a single word of the Spanish.  Nada.  Is Spanish Spanish that different from Mexican Spanish?  No, I've understood bits and pieces of other Spanish movies.  This sounded totally strange.  At the end, I thought it could be Catalan or Basque.  I thought Catalan was more related to Spanish and so picked Basque.

At the end of the film, an LA Times film writer Mark Olsen interviewed the two directors
Jon Garaño and José Mari Goenaga and more gentleman with the film whose name I didn't catch.  And the first question he asked was about having a Basque language film submitted for an Oscar.  (It's still got a long way to go since 81 countries have submitted films in this category.)

I enjoyed the movie.  It had a much slower pace than American films, but that was ok, and the filmmakers said afterward that was deliberate, because the film was about what was in the characters' heads and that takes time to understand.  The story line included a very clever intertwining of events.  It wasn't dense or obscure and if one takes a bit of time to think it through, one can get it, but it was nice to hear from the filmmakers themselves what they tried to do and why.   

This was a good warm up for the Anchorage International Film Festival.  By the way, my last posts never got Feedburned to other blogrolls.  I did a post on the documentaries in competition at AIFF this year.  If you missed that post, it's here.

AIFF 2015: Documentaries In Competition - Intro

I think my original post was just too long for Feedburner to send out to blogrolls.  So I'm going to give you the list of films in competition here, and a link to more details about these films in the original post.

Docs in Competition Director Country Length
Children of the Arctic Nick Brandestini Switzerland 93 min
Lost & Found Nicolina Lanni, John Choi Canada 82 min
Love Between the Covers Laurie Kahn Australia, United States 83 min
Circus Without Borders Susan Gray, Linda Matchan United States 69 min
Madina’s Dream Andrew Berends United States 80 min
Bihttoš Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers Canada 14 min
Man in the Can Noessa Higa United States 38 min
Superjednostka Teresa Czepiec Poland 20 min
The House is Innocent Nicholas Coles United States 12 min

Again, you can find much more information about each film and when and where they are playing here.   Here are a few visual teasers:

Children of the Arctic Director Brandestini

Note:  This list is only the documentaries in competition.  There are a lot more, and this category has been strong at AIFF in the past.  Here's a post with a bit more on some docs not in competition.

AIFF 2015: Documentaries In Competition -Tsunami, Circus, Whales, Murder, Genocide, Poland, Family, And More

AIFF 2015: Documentaries In Competition 

The Documentaries have been one of the strongest parts of the Anchorage International Film Festival and this year looks like no exception. I've been working on this post on and off for two weeks now and I need to move on to other parts of the festival.  

"In competition" means these films were selected by the screeners to be eligible for awards at the festival.  "Features" are 'stories' that are full length. While there are always other features which different folks like better than those in competition, it's a good bet these are among the best features at the festival.  This year's picks are all from outside the US.

The point of this post isn't to tell you what each of the features in competition are about, but rather to just give you a glimpse of something about the film I found interesting.

I've added when the films play with the overview of each film.  (Let me know if you catch any errors.)  If you have to make hard decisions, I'd recommend going to the films where the filmmakers will be present, which I've marked in red.  When you're using the festivals schedule program - you need to put the name of the film into search to be sure you're seeing all the times it's playing (usually two.)

Here's the whole list and below I look at each film. 

Docs in Competition Director Country Length
Children of the Arctic Nick Brandestini Switzerland 93 min
Lost & Found Nicolina Lanni, John Choi Canada 82 min
Love Between the Covers Laurie Kahn Australia, United States 83 min
Circus Without Borders Susan Gray, Linda Matchan United States 69 min
Madina’s Dream Andrew Berends United States 80 min
Bihttoš Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers Canada 14 min
Man in the Can Noessa Higa United States 38 min
Superjednostka Teresa Czepiec Poland 20 min
The House is Innocent Nicholas Coles United States 12 min

Director Brandestini from film's press kit photos
Children of the Arctic
Nick Brandestini 
99 min
1.  Sun Dec. 6:00-7:00 pm
5pm   Filmmakers Attending 
Bear Tooth

2.  Wed Dec. 9
6:00- 8:00pm  Filmmakers Attending

Outsiders coming to a place are often derided by people who live there.  They don't really understand what is happening.  They don't know the history.  But outsiders also see things that insiders take for granted.  Last year's Shield and Spear was a wonderful film by a Swede, Petter Ringbom,  who spent a relatively short time in South Africa looking at the fringe art scene.   Children of the Arctic is a
" is a year-in-the-life portrait of Native Alaskan teenagers coming of age in Barrow"

Below is a Santa Barbara tv interview with director Nick Brandestini that includes the trailer.  Having a Santa Barbara perspective gives it an extra twist.

Lost & Found
Nicolina Lannie, John Choi 
82 min
1.  Wed. Dec 9
5:30am –  7:30pm  Filmmakers Attending
Bear Tooth
2.  Sun Dec. 13
11:30 am - 1:30 pm
AK Experience Small

I'm sure the filmmakers are sick of hearing about Ruth Ozeki's book, A Tale For The Time Being
about a Canadian woman who finds a diary on the beach that has come over from Japan along with other tsunami debris.  But it's what I thought of as I saw the trailer of this film, which tells the story of people finding the debris in the US and Canada and getting some of it back to the people it belonged to.  But the novel and this film appear to treat these events very differently.  Looks like a film worth watching.

Lost & Found Official Trailer from Frank Films on Vimeo.

Lost & Found Official Trailer from Frank Films on Vimeo.

From Circus w/o Borders website
Circus Without Borders
Susan Gray, Linda Matchan 
United States
69 min
1.  Sunday, Dec. 6
 12:00pm - 2:00pm 
 Bear Tooth
2.  Thursday, December 10
7:00pm –  8:45pm
AK Experience Small

"CIRCUS WITHOUT BORDERS is a documentary about Guillaume Saladin and Yamoussa Bangoura, best friends and world-class acrobats from remote corners of the globe who share the same dream: To bring hope and change to their struggling communities through circus. Their dream unfolds in the Canadian Arctic and Guinea, West Africa, where they help Inuit and Guinean youth achieve unimaginable success while confronting suicide, poverty and despair.
Seven years in the making, this tale of two circuses — Artcirq and Kalabante — is a culture-crossing performance piece that offers a portal into two remote communities, and an inspiring story of resilience and joy." [from CWB website]

Love Between the Covers
Laurie Kahn 
Australia, United States
83 min
1.  Sat Dec. 5
2:30pm –  4:30pm  Filmmakers Attending 

Bear Tooth
2.  Sat Dec 12
8:00 - 9:45
AK Experience Small

This is the story of the women who write romance novels.  From  a USA today interview with film maker Laurie Kahn:

"Christyna: What prompted you to make the documentary Love Between the Covers?
Laurie: I want to bring the lives and work of compelling women to the screen, because any industry dominated by women is typically dismissed as trivial and “merely domestic.” My previous films — A Midwife’s Tale and Tupperware! – are very different from one another, but they were both shaped by my desire to look honestly at communities of women who haven’t been taken seriously (but should be), who deserve to be heard without being mocked.
I think there’s a lot to be learned by looking at the communities that women build. As you and your readers know better than I do, the romance community has been dismissed for decades, even though romance fiction is the behemoth of the publishing industry."
I'd note today's (Nov 14)  LA Times story about a romance novel cover model that says,
"The debate over the relative merits of the romance genre is so tired it’s not even worth having anymore. The market is huge, generating an estimated $1.4 billion, making it by far the top-selling literary genre, outperforming mysteries, inspirational books, science fiction and fantasy, and horror.    Romance has spawned an academic discipline with its own forum, 'The Journal of Popular Romance Studies,' which describes itself as 'a double-blind peer reviewed interdisciplinary journal exploring popular romance fiction and the logics, institutions, and social practices of romantic love in global popular culture.'”
I'm guessing these showings will be packed. 

Here's the trailer:

Screenshot from trailer
Madina’s Dream
Andrew Berends 
United States
80 min
1.  Sat. Dec. 5
4:00pm –  6:00pm
AK Experience Small
2.  Wednesday, December 9
AK Experience Large

From Indiewire:
"Berend's film follows the inhabitants of the Nuba Mountains, who are under a constant barrage of attacks from the Sudanese government (the instruments of war are so commonplace, that the children even mold toy models of RPGs and machine gun-mounted tanks out of clay). This unflinching look at a war-torn group of people focuses on Madina and her fervent dream to return home -- if only a pair of ruby slippers could do some magic here.

Short Docs - colors show which programs they're in

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers 
14 min
Short Docs Program Tuesday, Dec. 8
7:00pm –  9:00pm  
AK Experience Small
Warning:  This is the only showing I see for this one.

This film about a father/daughter relationship has been called 'unconventional' and is both live and animated.  It won the GRAND JURY PRIZE | Best Short: Documentary. at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Everywhere I look they have the same description of the film.  So I'm going with a bit of description about the film maker from her website.
"Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is an emerging filmmaker, writer, and actor. She is both Blackfoot from the Kainai First Nation as well as Sámi from Norway. After studying acting at Vancouver Film School in 2006, she went on to work in film and TV with credits in Not Indian EnoughWhite Indians WalkingThe GuardThe ReaperShattered, and Another Cinderella Story. In 2009, she appeared onstage in the Presentation House Theatre’s production of Where the River Meets the Sea."
From what I got out of reading that same description over and over again. I can tell you it's short, about a woman and her father, And there's animation.

"Bihttoš" Trailer from Elle-Maija A. Tailfeathers on Vimeo.

Czepiec winning Special Mention at GoShort Festival

Teresa Czepiec 
20 min
1.  Short Docs Program Tuesday, Dec. 8
7:00pm –  9:00pm  
AK Experience Small
2.  Martini Matinee Friday Dec 11
2:30 - 4:30 pm
Bear Tooth 

If you're like me, as you wander the world, you wonder about things like, "who lives in this town, in this building, in this house?"   Well this film answers that question, apparently, for a large block of apartments in Poland. 

Superjednostka to ogromny blok mieszkalny zaprojektowany zgodnie z ideą Le Corbusiera  jako "maszyna do mieszkania".  Na 15 kondygnacjach budynku może mieszkać nawet 3 tysiące ludzi. Winda zatrzymuje się co 3. piętro więc mieszkańcy, żeby dojść do swoich mieszkań, muszą pokonać prawdziwy labirynt korytarzy i schodów. Głównymi bohaterami filmu dokumentalnego są  ludzie zamieszkujący wnętrze Superjednostki i przeżywający w niej ważne chwile swojego życia. Tu pulsują ich emocje, rodzą się oczekiwania i spełniają się - lub nie spełniają- ich pragnienia.
Here's what google translate does with that:
"Superjednostka a huge block of flats designed in the spirit of Le Corbusier as a "machine for living" . At 15 floors of the building can accommodate up to 3000 people. The elevator stops at the third floor so the inhabitants to come to their homes , they must overcome a maze of corridors and stairs. The main characters of the documentary are people living in the interior Superjednostka and surviving in the important moments of your life . Here are flashing their emotions , raise expectations and meet - or not fulfilling their desires ."

From an interview with the film maker at Polish Docs:
Before shooting the film, I spent a year meeting the inhabitants. The formal assumptions behind the film were already agreed upon. I knew that we were looking for interesting people of various ages, from children to the elderly. What worked was chance and methodical actions. The first person I met was Zbigniew, one of the conservators, who was busy closing the window of his workshop. At first he was reluctant, but in the end he was persuaded to allow us to shoot here for the documentation. We were also looking for the protagonists by going from door to door. Sometimes it happened that we had already arranged to meet someone, and they changed their plans and declined. But going to the corridor or to the lift, we met someone else, an equally interesting person, who wanted to participate in the documentary film. I know that I did not include some of the stories, but it was impossible to do so, taking into account the huge number of them. What is in the film is the result of months of preparations and of chance, of what we managed to observe on location and during editing. Paradoxically, it seems to me that it reflects the substance of the case rather faithfully.

SUPER-UNIT/ (Superjednostka) - trailer for documentary film by Teresa Czepiec, 2014' from Wajda Studio on Vimeo.

The House is Innocent
Nicholas Coles 
United States
12 min
1.  Short Docs Program - Sun.  Dec. 6
5:30pm –  7:30pm 
AK Experience Large 
2.  Martini Matinee Friday Dec 11
2:30 - 4:30 pm Filmmakers Attending
Bear Tooth 

Here's another film that explores who lives in the house you pass walking down the street.  This house was owned by a serial killer and now there are new owners trying to make it their home. They'll be on the same program at the Martini Matinee, Friday at 2:30 at the Bear Tooth. 

The House is Innocent - Trailer from Blackburn Pictures on Vimeo.

Man in the Can
Noessa Higa 
United States
38 min
Short Docs Program - Sun.  Dec. 6
5:30pm –  7:30pm 
AK Experience Large 
Warning:  This is the only showing I see for this one.

This film took the award for the Best Texas Film at the Hill Country Film Festival

From Wrangler Network:
"While the film focuses on the tight-knit rodeo community and small-town America, it tells a more universal story about following your dream, second chances and the sacrifices that can come from following your passion.
“Ronald was really open to the process of being filmed,” Higa said. “He gives people a glimpse into rodeo culture, which is fascinating and wildly entertaining. Everyone can relate to having a dream, and I think audiences will be pulling for him to get into the PRCA.”

According to Ronald Burton's website, he performed at a rodeo in Anchorage SEPTEMBER 5 & 6.  State Fair maybe? Anyone see him there?

[Once again, reposting because of Feedburner problems, sorry. But there's lots in this post so if you saw it already, I bet there's stuff you skipped the first time.]

Sunday, November 15, 2015

". . . she would work to serve those who 'don’t fit our CMC mold.'”

From the LA Times:
Dean Mary Spellman at Claremont McKenna stepped down after she sparked a campus protest and hunger strikes by two students this week over her email to a Latina student saying she would work to serve those who “don’t fit our CMC mold.”
At the University of Missouri there were unambiguous acts of racism that led to students protesting and the president resigning.

But at this Claremont McKenna College (CMC), a very well regarded small private liberal arts college, the racism was less overt.  It was subtle enough to many that they might not understand why it's a problem.

So what is wrong with the email that the president sent to the student?  

Dean Spellman articulated what she was thinking:  We have a mold here, an expectation for the kind of students that belong, and you don't fit the mold, meet the expectations.  You are different.  We don't know what to do with you.  You really don't fit here, but we're indulging you.  Some may even hear, 'because it doesn't look good if we don't have a few people like you, so we take a few for appearance sake.'

Years ago, I was aware of a form of this in Anchorage classes - where a teacher would talk about Alaska Natives.  They would talk in terms of 'they' and 'we.'  Even if the observations were 100% factually true (which they often weren't), the teachers were distinguishing between the outsiders ('them') and the insiders ('us')  Any Native students in the classroom would understand clearly that they were not part of 'us.'  That they were outsiders to the class, outsiders to the University of Alaska Anchorage.

There are lots of people who loudly declare that they are not racists, they don't have a racist bone in their body, but say things like this.  It may be true they don't have a racist bone, but racism does reside in their gray matter.  It's part of how they take in and then project the world they see.

Isn't this natural?

We all do that.  We all categorize.  It's part of how the brains work.  We distinguish between things that are safe and things that are dangerous - whether we should be afraid or welcoming.  We tend to respond differently to a toy poodle than to a snarling rottweiler.  We distinguish between the smell of freshly barbecued salmon and a salmon that's been sitting dead in the sun for three days.  And we distinguish between family members and strangers.  (And as we are learning from child molestation studies, family isn't as safe as we think.)

It's normal to be more comfortable with people with whom we share lots of experiences.  People whose parents had the same way of raising us, who went to the same schools at the same time, who are nostalgic about the same old songs, and have the same political beliefs.   My parents' closest friends in Los Angeles were fellow refugees from Nazi Germany.  They all shared similar stories of fleeing from their homeland and, in many cases, leaving their parents behind.  They didn't have to explain themselves to each other.  They all understood.  They didn't agree on everything, but on the most fundamental issues of their identity, they did.

This is natural.  And treating people who don't have that shared identity as 'others' is also natural.  The less we actually know individuals from other groups, the more we know them as stereotypes, as representatives of the whole class they represent to us.  It's not just race or religion or nationality.  It could be based on disability or on profession or regional accent, or any number of things.

Stereotypes are reinforced by family stories and comments, by media, by school and by church.  Many are economically convenient - thinking of the indigenous peoples of North America as savages, made it easy to justify killing them and taking their land.  Thinking of Africans as a lower form of human being made it was easier to justify enslaving them.

The notion of insider and outsider is part of how humans are hard-wired.  It's possible to expand the insider group as we expand our knowledge of other groups.  That's why I think the chance I had to spend a year as a student in Germany, learning German well enough to take classes in German, was critical to my development.  And the same is true for my time as a Peace Corps volunteer where I lived in a small town in Thailand and had to communicate to most everyone in their language.

So, if, as I claim, this insider-outsider distinction is normal, what was wrong with what the Claremont president emailed?  

Personally, Mary Spellman's mind makes distinctions between her group and other groups.  That's fine.

The problem is that she did that in her role as president of the college.  The students in the college should all be considered insiders in this place they spend four years at college.  They will all eventually be bonded together as Claremont graduates.   Yes, students come in with differences and go to class and live in dorms with people who are, initially, outsiders to themselves.  But the goal of a college, particularly a small, expensive, private liberal arts college, should be to help the students bridge those differences and overcome their stereotypes.  No group of students, in the college should be considered 'our mold' and no group should be looked at as having to be still be molded to fit.  At least not on ethnic or cultural grounds.  If there is a mold a college is trying to fit students into, it would be a 'student' mold - curious about new ideas, with tools for thinking rationally and emotionally and an ability to overcome challenges including understanding people from different backgrounds..

So Spellman's mistake was taking her personal ideas of insider and outsider and making them the school's model of insider and outsider.  As president, she should consider all the students who made it through the admissions process as insiders, as 'our mold.'