Sunday, March 31, 2013

Young's Wetback Comment In Contexts

As most of you must know by now, the other day my Congressman, Don Young,  got a lot of press coverage over these words he uttered in Ketchikan:

"I used to own -- my father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. You know it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."[Anchorage Daily News]
There's a lot of coverage and I thought I'd try to put it into context.  Like everyone, Don Young plays a lot of roles.  Whether his remark matters depends on what role he's playing.  He said it in the role of Alaskan Congressman, in Ketchikan.  We can try to understand what it meant to him looking at his roles as the son of a California farmer who used migrant labor to pick tomatoes and his role as an old man.  ('Old' is at least five years older than I am.)  He got crap over this in his role as one of the senior Republican members of Congress at a time when Republicans are trying to court Latinos.  So, will this be enough for Alaskans to elect a new member of Congress in 2014?  Let's play this out.

First, for those who have never actually heard someone use this term, a little history from the Urban Dictionary:

"Wetback is a derogatory term used to describe Mexicans who have immigrated illegally to the United States by swimming or wading across the Rio Grande--the river that separates the U.S. from Mexico. U.S. Border Patrol began using the word in 1944 to refer to illegal Mexican immigrants who were easily identifiable by their wet clothing. In 1954, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service made the word "wetback" official by naming the mission to remove illegal immigrants from the United States, Operation Wetback . In response to the increase of immigrants during the early 1950s, the agency developed the program to force immigrants (particularly Mexicans) back to their home countries. Approximately one million Mexican Americans were deported in one year. Today the term "wetback" is often used to express animosity towards Central American or Latin American immigrants--legal and illegal--who do not speak English. Meanwhile, in an attempt to reclaim the word, some Mexican-Americans call themselves Los Mojados, meaning "the wet ones."


We learn from Young's wetback comment a bit about his upbringing and his station in life.  He came from a family, however humble it might have been, that was at least privileged enough that it could hire migrant workers.  And it could call them an insulting name with impunity.  However well his family might have treated individual workers, his basic attitude, based on his use of the term 'wetbacks' was one of superiority and power.

Just as dehumanizing racial slurs make it easier for soldiers to kill the enemy ('gooks' weren't really human), they also allow farmers to rationalize the terrible working and living conditions that migrant workers experience.  "It's ok, they don't know any better, they're just 'wetbacks.'  This is an improvement from what they have back at home."

Most kids accept these things they learn from their parents.  Others grow to recognize the injustice.  Don Young apparently never did.  Does this make Don Young a racist?  Using the term racist is also not a good idea because it transforms a racist act into an identity of a person.  For this reason it tends to make people defensive.  He clearly used an offensive and racist term.  It's racist because it judges people based on their skin color AND it's a term that the society officially (it was the name of a federal program) used to help keep migrant workers "in their place."

I don't think that Don Young would treat someone badly simply because he has darker skin than Young has.  He was, after all, married to an Alaskan Native woman for many years.  But Don Young's superiority complex comes out in bullying people who disagree with him.   While he can be charming when he has to be, he can also be nasty.  You can see an example of his bullying when Dr. Doug Brinkley testified in Congress.  Brinkley was one person who was able to stand up to Young. 


To understand why this particular remark has generated so much attention, we have to understand that in their post-election self-examination, Republicans discovered that the fastest growing group in the US doesn't much like Republicans.  Don Young isn't an exception.  From Bloomberg:

"With 71 percent of Hispanic voters casting their ballots for President Barack Obama in November, the Republican Party is hungry for inroads with an electorate who, according to surveys, find little identification with the party — just 22 percent of Hispanics identify themselves as Republican."
 The Republicans lost two US Senate seats, in part if not wholly, because the Republican candidates made outrageous comments about women.  Now, here comes Don Young doing the same about Hispanics.    As Julia O'Malley pointed out in the Anchorage Daily News this morning, Alaskan politicians used to be able to say things like this in small Alaskan communities, but with technological advances,  politicians are now potentially ALWAYS on a national stage.


Don Young's 'wetback' statement is no surprise to Alaskans.  He's been saying outrageous things forever.  Reporters have made their careers off his malapropisms.  I've voted against Don Young every two years since 1978, but in this Red State, he keeps getting reelected.

People expect him to say such things here.  A certain percent of the population don't understand what the fuss is about.  Others don't care as long as he brings the pork back from DC, a skill he touts when he campaigns.

Will this remark matter in Alaska?  He's probably better for Alaska - and the country - than some of the ideologues in the Alaska Republican party who might challenge him in the primaries.  But the Republican faithful won't be all that upset with his comment itself, except that it might alienate Hispanic voters.  At this point, I've stopped holding my breath that a Democrat will beat him. 


As people get older, we all know that body parts slow down, their brains aren't as sharp.  They use terms that are no longer acceptable.  We should forgive them.  At least that's opinion of  Hector Luis Alamo Jr at Being Latino
"An old man saying “we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes” is like old white person saying “I was raised by a colored woman.” Sure, it makes you wince. But such uses usually get a pass — as they should — because we understand that older people come from a different place and time.

Young was born in California in 1933, six years before Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath. (In a later book, Steinbeck quaintly described field work as “the wet-back business.”)

And “wetback” has several different connotations. If used toward someone like me, who’s a second-generation American living in the third largest city, then it’s clearly offensive.
But the way in which Young used the word was perhaps its most accurate. When and where Young was raised, “wetback” was used to describe how many immigrants came to work in the fields (by wading across the Rio Grande) and the nature of their work and work ethic (the pools of sweat on their backs).

And it’s better than 'illegal.'”
The contrarian  nature of this argument appeals to me.  He's old.  It's a term from his childhood.  Give him some slack.  But as I wrote above, there was never anything innocuous about this phrase.  It clearly designated both a racial and economic barrier that separated the hiring class from the hired class.  The young Don Young could expect his youthful transgressions to be forgiven in ways the children working on his father's farm couldn't.

The rest of Alamo's piece raises another irony in all this.  Young is probably a lot more sympathetic and practical when it comes to immigration reform than most other Republicans. 

But perhaps most important, Don Young the old man lives in the same body as Don Young the Alaskan Republican US Congressman.  They are the same person.  If Don Young were simply a 79 year old Alaskan, none of us would have heard about this.  But he's one of the most senior Republican Congressmen, and that Don Young should not be forgiven this most recent trespass.  

Listen to his first apology: 
"During a sit down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California," Young said in the statement. "I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."
It's all about him.  First he says the term was ok to use when he was growing up. "I know this term is not used the same way nowadays."  That tells me he doesn't understand what the term meant then or why it's still offensive today.  It may have been common among his crowd, but it was always offensive.   "I meant no disrespect."  It doesn't matter what he meant.  What matters is that he understands that it is a racial slur that is highly offensive to many of his constituents.  If he understood that, such words wouldn't slip out of his mouth.

And others, including the Republican House Majority leader,  didn't accept that as an apology.  So he issued a second one.
"I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska," the statement said. "There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words. That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I'm sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform."
A basic point about racism is that unlike simple prejudice, it is backed up by the society's institutional structures.  It doesn't matter whether there was malice in his heart or whether he intended to offend.  It matters that he uttered the slur without thinking, that it was embedded in his brain, and fell easily off his tongue.  And that it represents the power, backed by law and law enforcement officers, of white farmers who could gave orders to brown migrant workers.  Power that continues today as the employers of undocumented workers get no punishment while their employees have their lives totally disrupted.  Our laws and how they are enforced continue to make that power imbalance real.  It's not simply one person's prejudice, it's prejudice supported by the law, by financial institutions, by the media, and by politicians who, until recently, could say things like this with impunity.

Racism is complex.  Lots of people believe they have no malice in their hearts so their actions aren't racist.   Healing Racism in Anchorage (HRA) is a group that offers workshops that walk people through the history of racism in the US in a non-accusatory way.  HRA recognizes that we all are affected by the underlying racial imbalance in the US and we all carry harmful stereotypes because they are embedded in our culture. HRA helps people recognize this and let go of it.  [HRA is a group I've been part of for a number of years now.]

Saturday, March 30, 2013

North Korean Doctors in Africa And Russian Terrorism - Media Images That Need More Reflection

There was a news item back in February with this headline (from CNN):

"Attackers kill 3 North Korean physicians in Nigeria, official says"

My first reaction:  "What?  What are North Korean doctors doing in Nigeria?"

A Guardian article tells us a little more:
The doctors were living in a quiet neighbourhood of the town because there was not room to house them at the hospital, where they would have had some security protection, [Dr. Mohammed] Mamman  [chairman of the hospital managing board of Yobe state] said.

He told journalists that the three men were from North Korea and had lived in the state since 2005 as part of a medical programme between Yobe and the Pyongyang government.

There are more than a dozen other North Korean doctors posted to the state under the scheme, which also includes engineers, Mamman said. He said all will receive immediate protection from security forces. "It is very unfortunate," he said of the killings.
The media paints an almost universal image of North Korea as the bleak pariah nation where people lead grey, depressing, often hungry, lives.  Yet they have doctors helping Nigerians - they'd been there since 2005!

One person I mentioned this to responded,  "They have doctors?"

All this raises questions in my mind about what else we don't know about North Korea.

Stories like this help remind me to question 'common knowledge' on a regular basis.  I'm not arguing that North Korea is really an earthly paradise,  but I am raising the possibility that it's a lot more complex than the evil portrait we usually get.  Sure, the ruling family seems pretty bizarre, but given some of the people in Congress these days, probably not all that bizarre.  Imagine what the United States might look like if any of these Congress members came to North Korean-like power (list from People For The American Way):

Imagine what anyone, an Obama for example, might do with unlimited power!

At least Kim Jong Un, has the excuse of having been raised in relatively isolated conditions and taught that he was some sort of God-King.  The legislators, whether in DC or Juneau, don't have that excuse.

Except that his life apparently wasn't that isolated.  The Atlantic Wire reports that he spent several years at an English language school in Switzerland and a couple more at a German language school.  They quote school mates as saying he was infatuated with Michael Jordan, is a good basketball player, an has pairs and pairs of high end Nikes. 

Another chink in the media image of North Korea is the rocket program.  The press and politicians focus on the provocation of their rockets and their nuclear threat.  But if they have such capable weapons, they need to have some pretty competent scientists and engineers too.

And if they buzzed the US mainland from a stealth jet as, apparently, the US did to them the other day, you know we'd have shot it down and/or gone on a bombing raid that would make our drone strikes in Pakistan look like a holiday fireworks display.

And if all the countries our rockets could reach reacted to us the way we react to North Korea . . .  But, of course, it's because we're sane and rational and the North Koreans are crazy, right?  (Go back and look at that list of Congress members.) 

Again, I'm not supporting the North Korean regime in any way, just raising questions about the accuracy of the bleaker than bleak media images we get of the country.  An image which serves our government's belligerence toward North Korea well.  There'd be few protests if Washington found an excuse to take out Pyongyang.

All this was brought to mind again yesterday because I've started reading The Man Without A Face:  The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.   Early into the book there's a discussion of the bomb attacks in 1999 and 2000 in Russia in the run-up to the election that would elect Putin for the first time.  Author Masha Gessen argues that, based on the last bombing (attempt) in which the bombers were seen setting the bomb and that police were able to defuse, that the whole set of attacks was carried out by the successors to the KGB, the FSB (Federal Security Service) and not the Muslims who were blamed widely in the press. 

Gessen portrays everyone, including herself,  convinced that Muslim terrorists, most likely rebels from Chechnya, were the culprits due to the war against them.  It wasn't until later that she realizes that her assumptions were wrong.

So, in this light, I'd ask readers to prepare themselves for other options - just as many  Americans have reassessed their understanding of homosexuality and gay marriage.  After all, North Korea can somehow send doctors off to Africa and has people capable of designing and launching missiles toward the US.  That alone tells us that some North Koreans are getting at least a technical education.  And some have been living abroad for years - and, one would expect, have access to what's happening in the rest of world.

As another book I'm reading, Subliminal:  How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow says,
 "The world we perceive is an artificially constructed environment whose character and properties are as much a result of unconscious mental processing as they are a product of real data.  Nature helps us overcome gaps in information by supplying a brain that smooths over the imperfections, at an unconscious level, before we are even aware of any perception."
And for things we don't know personally - like North Korea or the Russian apartment bombings - what we know comes second- or third- or fourth-hand from the artificially constructed images of the reporters, their sources, and their editors.  

So it's always good to step back and check the crap detector and perhaps get an image that might be a little more in alignment with so called reality. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Shell Could Learn From This Kulik - Four Russians Make It Around the World In Inflatable Catamaran

While Shell Oil has had a lot of trouble with its oil rig the Kulluk, four Russians on the Kulik expedition have managed to navigate around the world an inflatable craft of their own design.

The Phuket News reports they arrived back in Phuket after five years.
The team, under skipper Anatoly Kulik,59, left Phuket in February 2008. They sailed some 60,000 kilometres, made landfall in 38 countries and spent a total of 13 months at sea.
Kulik himself, a master of boat-borne water sports, a “Distinguished Traveler of Russia” (an award from the Russian Sports Federation), and a member of the Russian Geographical Society (RGS). Responsibilities on the expedition: team leader, ship’s captain and cook;
Evgeny Kovalevsky, 56, twice Russian champion and silver prize-winner in boat-borne water sports, also a Distinguished Travelerand member of the RGS, the crew’s “chief diplomat” (responsible for establishing rapport with local authorities and the community), interpreter, videographer and photographer;
Evgeny Tashkin, another champion in boat-borne water sports, acting as video and camera operator, chronicler of the voyage and in charge of Internet connectivity; and
Stanislav Beryozkin, Russian champion in long-distance sailing, the expedition’s navigator and communications chief. . .
Stanislav Beryozkin, Russian champion in long-distance sailing, the expedition’s navigator and communications chief.
- See more at:
Comfort was never at a premium. Accommodation was in a 12-square-metre tent-like structure erected above the hulls, which also served as a miniature kitchen, and a warehouse for boxes of supplies, drinking water tanks, communication equipment and everything necessary for a long voyage.
Read the whole article here.

The video is short and in Russian, but some things transcend language. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Northern Lights As We Fly Into Anchorage

I slept the first part of the flight up from Seattle. Then I looked out the window and wondered at the slight glow of a cloud. Could it be lights? As I stared the glow got brighter and greener.

These are not great photos of northern lights. Consider these experiments with my little Canon PowerShot. They look better than this in the camera screen. They're 1600 ISO through the window. I didn't use any telephoto because everything got really grainy that way. But if you look closely, you can see that there were some interesting shapes, basically green. This is about 1:15 am.

Play around with the angle of your screen to get the best view. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Counter Spy Shop

We're scrambling to get last minute stuff done before we leave tonight and return to Anchorage. (Finally!)  It's been a long, but good trip, helping my mom out and making arrangements so she can continue to live at home as independently as possible.  And the seven weeks with our grand daughter.  But I'm ready to be home.

So I don't have much time.  So I'm offering this photo a shop we passed in Beverly Hills last week.  I just thought it was a little unusual.

I couldn't find much online, but there's a video of one of the employees on a tv show.  Looks a lot tackier than the store front. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ground Breaking Prop 8 Case Before The Supreme Court - Hear Oral Arguments on C-Span

[This is not intended to be an in-depth overview of the arguments of the case.  I have not read all the briefs filed, but I have read or heard some of the arguments and decisions at lower levels.  Here I'm echoing (and quoting) an overview from this morning's Morning Edition.]
 Meanwhile - C-Span will play the oral arguments about 1pm Eastern Time - about now.  I think this is the link but look around if it doesn't come on right away.]

You can hear the attorneys discussing the case outside the Supreme Court here . It begins with the attorneys for Perry at at 18 minutes the petitioners in favor of Prop 8 come on. 

Tradition versus the Constitutional Principles of the US 

Religion versus the State

The debate, to me, seems to be whether

  • those who argue "this is how it has always been done" (even if that isn't altogether the case) should prevail over those who say "but that violates our Constitutional rights."
  • those who argue "this is how [our religion] defines marriage"  versus those who argue "the State definition of marriage should be based on Constitutional principles, not any particular religion."    [I would note, there is nothing here that requires religious organizations to marry people of the same gender, but it  allows same sex couples the right to get married legally under the rules of the state/country.]

A brief look at some of the quotes from the Morning Edition piece - organized as I see this debate.  The argument against: 

"the name of marriage is effectively the institution, and the issue here is whether it will be redefined, essentially to be genderless in that it bears little or no ... relationship to the traditional historic purpose of marriage."
Rebuttal:  "it is no justification to say the country has been doing something for hundreds of years, if it flies in the face of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law."   I would add that traditional marriages included essentially economic and physical servitude of women to men, and children to parents.  It has included slavery and a variety of other practices we no longer accept.  

"Marriage owes its existence to the undeniable biological reality that opposite-sex unions — and only such unions — can produce children."
Rebuttal:   "the ability or willingness to procreate or the interest in having children sexually has never, ever been a condition for entry into marriage anywhere in this country." 
"people too old to have children, or who don't want to have children, have a constitutional right to marry. Even people in prison have a right to marry."

Best for the children

"It's in society's best interest to provide a vehicle to attach those children to the mother and father that are responsible for their creation."
"Same-sex relationships historically, as compared to opposite-sex relationships, are not as stable," he adds. "It's one thing for a kid to not have a dad or not have a mom through the circumstances of life," but it's quite another "to intentionally deprive a child of a mom and a dad, and that's the debate that's going on, whether that's a good and healthy thing that we as a society should embrace."
Rebuttal:  [Olson]  points to the testimony of the principal expert witness for Proposition 8, who "conceded at trial" that children in gay and lesbian families "would be better off if their parents were allowed to get married."
"There are 37,000 children living in same-sex households in California, and Olson contends that at trial, 'the evidence was that there is no significant distinction in the well-being of children in same-sex households as in opposite-sex households.' What matters, he adds, 'is not the gender of the parents. It is what is in the heart of the parent.'"

And yet, as he puts it,

The basic arguments for allowing same sex marriage are Constitutional. 
"The state of California is saying you can marry whoever you want, provided it must be a person of the opposite sex."
 And the 14th Amendment bans discrimination based on gender.
Rebuttal:  Nimocks sees no denial of equal protection because same-sex couples have all the same legal rights as married couples under California's domestic partnership law.

 But much of this is background to the legal issues:

  • Does the State of California have any rational basis for denying same-sex marriage? and
  • (what might prove the Court's way to avoid the issue altogether) whether the Pro-Prop 8 forces have standing to bring the case in the first place. 

"The threshold question for the justices, however, is whether there should be any case at all, whether there is any dispute between the state and those challenging the law. California not only refuses to defend Proposition 8 in court but has filed a brief contending that the sponsors of the law have no legal standing to appeal the lower court decisions that invalidated the law. And if the Supreme Court were to agree, the lower court decision would stand, and Proposition 8 would exist no longer.
The court has many other options to choose from in deciding this case. Among the choices: It could uphold Proposition 8 as a valid exercise of the democratic process. It could strike down Proposition 8 in a way that could invalidate similar bans in 31 other states. Or it could rule in a manner that invalidates only California's law."

You can learn way more about this case and the one tomorrow challenging the Defense of Marriage Act at scotusblog.  

You Thrilled To The Kulluk's Saga, Now See Those Responsible Live, In Concert Person

[The Message in brief:  Go to this hearing just to see the key folks involved in drilling oil in the Alaskan Arctic.  Go see that these are just human beings and look them in the eye.  The more people who actually go and see them, the more people who will listen when they are back in the news saying, "No problem, just a minor mishap that isn't unexpected in situations like this."  Besides, other meetings I've been to on oil issues have usually had a high percentage of oil related employees.  There needs to be some balance.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013, Library Room 307, 10-12

UAA faculty?  Get your students to go see this.  Go yourself.  There are lots of classes that have a connection to Arctic oil drilling.   And your students know how to park on campus.]

I try to keep the an open, if skeptical, mind in this blog, but Shell Oil's attempts to look transparent while saying as little as they could get away with concerning the Kulluk and Noble Explorer oil rigs makes it hard.

I got an email last week from Senator Begich's office that started with:

"Alaska Field Hearing on Increased Arctic Maritime Activity Representatives from Shell Oil, Department of Interior, and Coast Guard to Attend"
It then went on:
"U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, announced that he will hold a hearing in Alaska on Arctic shipping safety and reviewing the lessons learned from the 2012 offshore drilling season. The hearing will be on March 27, 2013 from 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Consortium Library in Room 307."
You ever try to find a parking place - even if you have the top of the line UAA parking sticker - near the library at 10 am?   Who's off work from 10am-noon on a weekday?  I bet there will be some oil company employees in the audience. 
“Reviewing Shell’s maritime activities and the government’s oversight of these operations is the next logical step in responsible development and preparation for increased Arctic activities,” said Sen. Begich.  “There are always lessons to be learned and as Chairman of the Oceans subcommittee, I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that the U.S. is ready to fully take advantage of opportunities – from increased shipping to development and revenue sharing -  in an evolving Arctic.”
How much are they going to say?  Who's going to be asking the questions?  Sounds like this is aimed at saying, "Kulluk and Noble Explorer?  No problem.  You learn through your mistakes.  Oil drilling, full speed ahead."  And that idea is corroborated further in the press release: 
Sen. Begich has been a vocal supporter of Arctic development, including OCS drilling, the need for infrastructure development to support increased Arctic drilling, and a strengthened Coast Guard presence in the Arctic. He has repeatedly pressed the Obama administration to expedite the permitting process and as a result, Shell Oil became the first producer in 20 years to initiate drilling operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska’s northern coast.
So, why am I posting this then?  Because it's a chance to see the crew who has been responsible for the never-ending mishaps that seem to have gotten Shell North American VP fired recently:
"The executive in charge of Shell’s troubled Arctic drilling program is stepping down.
David Lawrence was Shell’s vice president for North American exploration. He’s been with the company for almost 30 years. Now, a spokesman says he’s leaving “by mutual consent.”
Shell won’t say whether Lawrence’s departure has anything to do with the 2012 drilling season. But it’s only been a week since the Department of the Interior released its review of Shell’s Arctic program. Interior’s investigators said Shell wasn’t fully prepared for the logistical challenges it faced in the Arctic.
Lawrence made headlines a year ago when he told a Dow Jones reporter that drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas would be “relatively easy.” He said the oil Shell is pursuing in the Alaskan Arctic is located in shallow, low-pressure areas that were simpler to access than other deposits." (from KTOO)
So who will be there?  The list is below.  Most will be there in the flesh, though a few will visit via video-conferencing.  Nothing wrong with that, but you can't mingle and talk to them during the breaks.  
Department of Interior (DOI) representatives will participate in the meeting and will provide an overview of DOI’s high-level review of Shell’s 2012 offshore drilling program in the Arctic Ocean.  Shell executives and representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard will testify as well.

Witness List:

The Honorable Tommy P. Beaudreau, Acting Assistant Secretary - Land and Minerals Management, US Department of the Interior (via video teleconference)

Rear Admiral Thomas P. Ostebo, Commander, Seventeenth District, U.S. Coast Guard

Mr. Pete E. Slaiby, Vice President, Exploration and Production, Shell Alaska

Ms. Helen Brohl, Executive Director, US Committee on the Marine Transportation System* (via video teleconference)

Mr. Ed Page, Executive Director, Marine Exchange of Alaska**

Ms. Eleanor Huffines, Manager, U.S. Arctic Campaign***, Pew Charitable Trusts

Mr. Matt Ganley, Vice President, Bering Straits Native Corp.

* What's the Committee on the Marine Trasporportation Systems you ask.  From the CMTS website:

The CMTS is a Federal Cabinet-level, inter-departmental committee chaired by the Secretary of Transportation.
The purpose of the CMTS is to create a partnership of Federal departments and agencies with responsibility for the Marine Transportation System (MTS). The job of the CMTS is to ensure the development and implementation of national MTS policies that are consistent with national needs and to report to the President its views and recommendations for improving the MTS.
The MTS is essential to the American economy; it supports millions of American jobs, facilitates trade, moves people and goods, and provides a safe, secure, cost-effective, and energy-efficient transportation alternative. But because much of the system’s infrastructure is aging and constrained by capacity limitations, the CMTS is working to ensure that the MTS continues to meet the present and future needs of our nation... keep reading »
** Or the Marine Exchange of Alaska?
The Marine Exchange of Alaska (MXAK) provides services that aid safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible maritime operations.
Marine Exchange of Alaska
1000 Harbor Way
Suite 204
Juneau, AK 99801
907-463-2607 tel
***I can find a Pew Trust Arctic Program, but not campaign.

So folks, GO!  Check out this meeting.  Get a sense of the people involved.  Don't worry about parking - take a bus - 2, 3, 11, 45, and a bunch of others go by there. Here's a link to the People Mover's tools for finding the right bus.  There's a bus stop right near the library.  [The meeting is free too.]

Just Go, get a sense of the players.  I'll be listening online from LA.  When I get the online link, I'll post it here. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jesus Is Deep Inside Me, And He Ain't Pulling Out"

That was probably the most over-the-top lyric of any of the songs in Paradise, which we saw last night, at the Ruskin Theatre in the Santa Monica Airport.   But it's the sort of humor this play relied on. 

The fact that we can walk over in ten minutes, and its intimate 90 or so seats, makes this our go to theater when we're visiting my mom.

J felt all the female characters were awful.
  • A sparkly prostitute turned Jesus freak, named Chastity Jones. 
  • A full figured lusty disgusty dynamo with a muddy face who tells everyone that just like Jesus, she was born in a barn named Cinderella Tiara Applebaum (Cyndi).
  • A ratings obsessed reality show producer named Rebecca Washington.
I wasn't quite sure how to react to her comment.  I hadn't seen it that way.  Was I blind?  The other female character, Louanne Knight, preserving her dead mom's legacy by keeping the small dead coal mine town general store running and taking care of the the sundry inhabitants, was pretty close to normal and even noble. 

And the men were all very broad caricatures as well. 
  • Mayor and Tater Gayheart - the easy to sway mayor who wants to bring money and attention to his town, plus his black son who wants to be an IT billionaire, not the broadway musical star his dad wants him to be.  And no, the name isn't accidental. 
  • Old Man Johnson - the bluesgrass banjo and fiddle player is right out of Deliverance
  • Rev. John Cyrus Mountain - the fast talking preacher who's sold his reality show idea to Hollywood so he could build his mega church above the coal mine.
  • Peter Silverman, Rebecca's cameraman who just keeps the camera running. 
I think in farce broad character stereotypes are probably ok.  The audience knows each type is being made fun of.  Though J's comments are making me think about this.

All the cast were good.  Jonathan Root acting and singing as the Reverend (and a few other brief roles) stood out for me. And while they could all sing, Michael Rubenstone (the cameraman) had a really beautiful voice I wanted to hear more of.

Essentially this was The Music Man, with Harold Hill being the Rev. bringing in both a megachurch and reality tv to River City instead of a band.  And I don't foresee too many high schools putting on this musical.   Louanne is Marian the Librarian, who sees through the Rev who brings his own sweety with him (Chastity).  It's the cameraman who loses his heart to Louanne.

This is billed as a world premiere and it was, they said, the sixth or seventh sold out performance.  The music keeps your foot tapping and covers a lot of little flaws, but it's no Music Man.  In the end though, I have to admit, I was really getting upset as Louanne's resolve to keep reality tv out of Paradise is broken down - clearly the play had hooked me.

Set and Audience for Paradise just before the play began

Daily Oil Catastrophe

I recently wrote:
"The concerns I have with Arctic oil drilling are not simply concern about the possibility of an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.  My longer term concern is that we continue to go after energy sources that exacerbate climate change and make the long term damage worse."
In response, my daughter sent me this 2010 Onion post:

Millions Of Barrels Of Oil Safely Reach Port In Major Environmental Catastrophe

PORT FOURCHON, LA—In what may be the greatest environmental disaster in the nation's history, the supertanker TI Oceania docked without incident at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port Monday and successfully unloaded 3.1 million barrels of dangerous crude oil into the United States.
According to witnesses, the catastrophe began shortly after the tanker, which sailed unimpeded across the Gulf of Mexico, stopped safely at the harbor and made contact with oil company workers on the shore. Soon after, vast amounts of the black, toxic petroleum in the ship's hold were unloaded at an alarming rate into special storage containers on the mainland.
From there, experts confirmed, the oil will likely spread across the entire country's infrastructure and commit unforetold damage to its lakes, streams, and air.
"We're looking at a crisis of cataclysmic proportions," said Charles Hartsell, an environmental scientist at Tufts University. "In a matter of days, this oil may be refined into a lighter substance that, when burned as fuel in vehicles, homes, and businesses, will poison the earth's atmosphere on a terrifying scale." [Read the rest here.]

Why is it obvious to me that we have to get off oil as fast as possible, yet our Governor and our legislature are hell-bent on pumping as much oil as possible?  And they think giving oil companies a $600 million a year tax break (at least that's what they estimate it at) in the hopes of getting more oil drilled is a good thing.

I realize that for many people (like all the industry employees who show up to testify in favor of this sort of legislation every public hearing) self interest is a giant motivator.  And even if they truly believe that we can't live without oil and they are doing a public service, I can't help but believe that subconsciously, their oil job supported good life, influences their ability to dismiss the link between oil and global climate change.  Or to believe that we'll find some fix in the future.  

 Slavery lasted generations because people were able to create stories that hid or erased the conflict between slavery and the American ideal of equality.  We went into Vietnam and Iraq on false premises that some people still believe.  And we rush to pump oil because some of the richest companies in the world were created to do just that and they'll continue until they can't find any more oil or a more powerful force says "Stop."

And who knows?  I could be wrong and there will be a fix in the future.  But at this point the evidence* I've read points to human misery due to changing climate getting pretty bad before things get better.  Worse than living with less oil. 

*It's hard to gather together all the evidence on climate change, but for the skeptics and deniers, including those in the Alaska legislature, here are a few recent pieces on the topic:
The Economist
Union of Concerned Scientists
Skeptical Science
Media Matters - talks about the "climate denial machine"

Saturday, March 23, 2013

One Of The World's Most Important Writers Dies

The LA Times has a front page story on Chinua Achebe's death at 82.  It begins:
"When Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe was in college, a European professor assigned "Mister Johnson," which portrayed Africa as a land of grinning, shrieking savages. Time magazine called it "the best novel ever written about Africa."
Achebe was outraged. He vowed that if someone as ignorant as Joyce Cary, the novel's Anglo-Irish author, could write such a book, "perhaps I ought to try my hand at it."
The result was a masterpiece: "Things Fall Apart," his 1958 debut novel, changed the face of world literature by presenting the colonization of Africa from an African point of view. With more than 10 million copies sold in 50 languages, it established Achebe as the patriarch of modern African literature.
Achebe, who has been praised by Nelson Mandela as the writer who "brought Africa to the world," died Friday in Boston after a brief illness. He was 82."

People who think racism is simply the idea of consciously hating people because they are a different race are missing the bigger picture.  It's about how our unconscious minds are shaped to believe lots of stereotypes about the other race.  From parents, media, religion, advertisements, text books, all parts of our culture that shape our understanding of things.  This is illustrated later in the LA Times piece:
"Growing up, he had absorbed Western prejudices so thoroughly that, he later wrote, "I did not see myself as an African to begin with." But in college, it dawned on him that he had given up too much of his identity and could not accept white authors' portrayals of Africans as culturally inferior and subhuman. "
 If you've never heard of Chinua Achebe, now's a good time to read one of his books.   Loussac's library's online catalog lists 7 titles:

  • UAA - one print copy
  • Muldoon - one audio
  • Matsu - one audio and one print
  • Loussac - three print
  • Kodiak - one print
  • Valdez - one print

And if you aren't near Anchorage, I'm sure you can find a library copy or a used copy somewhere nearby.  Meanwhile, you can read the whole LA Times article here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bikerowave - I Learned More About Bike Repair In An Hour Than My Whole Life

I have a cheapo bike I bought very used a couple of years ago and leave in my mom's garage for when we visit.  The derailer was having trouble, shifting gears was getting tricky, and the bike couldn't be rolled backwards.  I knew about Bikecrowave - they have a bike parking lot at the Mar Vista Farmer's  Market - but I waited until things bent and locked completely. 

So last night I stuck the bike in the trunk and drove over to see how this worked. 
"Bikerowave is a bicycle repair collective, much like the Bicycle KitchenBike Oven, or Valley Bikery here in LA County.  We provide space, tools, and equipment in order to effectively teach people how to build, repair, and maintain their bicycles. We are a not-for-profit all volunteer member run organization. Our goal is to empower cyclists with the basic knowledge to maintain their steed, as well as enable them to more easily connect with the cycling community."

I felt like I was in Kindergarten again.  Dan helped me get the bike on the bike rack and walked me through every step of the process.  What tool to get, where to get it, what to tighten, what to loosen.  

He found a suitable new derailer in the back, but then decided I needed to true the wheel.  Really?  How . . .  Wait, I'm at Bikrowave, they'll walk me through it.  I got handed off to Joe who showed me how to adjust the spokes and a few other things to make the wheel work better. 

It was so easy!  When I hesitated, he pointed at what I had to do next.  

Why don't we have a place like this in Anchorage?  The bike shops wouldn't be happy with people giving this away free.  Sharing versus selling.  Would a lot more sharing and bartering of talent ruin our economy or mean that a lot more people would become more self-sufficient and less dependent on a paycheck?  Today's bottom line capitalism with smaller businesses being bought out by bigger ones that demand maximum profit, means helping and sharing with others is bad. 

And at the end I asked what I owed.  $3 for the used derailer and $7 for the hour of bike stand time. (Just look and they have various deals - but really, had I taken this to REI, it would have been at least $45 and more likely over $100.  And taken several days.   I was one of the last 'customers' there and the volunteers all got sandwiches and sat around talking about a variety of things and I heard a few philosophers mentioned. 

I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant to actually go do this, but I really love having a bike here.  They are only open in the evenings on weekdays, closed Fridays, and open days on the weekends.  So I made myself go try something new and different.  Wow, I can't believe that I changed a derailer and trued the wheel. 

And their blog suggests they do a lot more things - sort of like the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage.  I'll get them to check this post and see if we can find a way to set up something like this in Anchorage. 

Oh yeah.  Can't ride my bike right now.  The gears are great, but when I put the tire back on the wheel, I must have poked a hole in the tire.  I'll go back tomorrow and fix that. 

For west side LA folks - they're on Venice between Centinela and Grand.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Should Hirohito Have Been Hanged? The Movie Emperor Addresses That Question

The US occupation lands in the ruins of Tokyo in August 1945.  McArthur wants to make this occupation the model for all occupations.  There's pressure from DC for the Emperor's head, but McArthur believes that would cause the Japanese to revolt and cost countless American lives.  But as the symbol of Japan, stateside politicians want his head.

General Bonner Fellers was given the task of finding evidence that would exonerate the Emperor of supporting the war.  He's given ten days to accomplish this.

There are lots of flashbacks to Bonner and his Japanese girlfriend in college and later in Japan as he pursues his task.

This film didn't feel like a typical Hollywood movie.  It was thoughtful, yet moved right along, weaving the past and present well. (The NY Times reviewer Stephen Holden was less generous about the flashbacks, and while they worked ok for me, his comments about east-west romance do ring true.)  It's tricky when you're discussing an historical movie.  Do you evaluate it as a movie, regardless of its historical accuracy?  Do you focus on its accuracy?  Or do you do one review for each?  Of course, this assumes the reviewer knows the history. My basic qualification is having read William Manchester's biography of McArthur, American Caesar.   In other words, not enough to judge the history,  but things didn't fly out at me as obviously phony as they did in Argo.  And as a film, I liked it a lot. 

The Bonners Fellers website that says it is maintained by his family endorses it this way:

The compelling and meditative film Emperor depicts with fidelity
Bonner Fellers' character and
the complexities of finding the path toward justice and peace.

The Bonner Fellers website also tells us more about General Fellers.


Bonner Fellers entered Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, in 1914. He became friends with a Japanese exchange student who introduced him to Japanese culture and history, including the writings of Lafcadio Hearn.  He visited Japan 4 times prior to WWII.  In 1934 he wrote an insightful and prescient thesis entitled "The Psychology of the Japanese Soldier."  It foresaw Japanese behavior, including Kamikaze attacks, and suggested strategies to address Japanese militaristic tendencies.
From 1942-1946, Brigadier General Fellers was in the Pacific Theater under General MacArthur.  Along with many other assignments, he led the psychological warfare effort against Japanese forces and the homeland. For this he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Medal.  The citation reads in part, "Through his outstanding professional ability and resourcefulness, General Fellers contributed in a marked degree to Japan's surrender and the initial success of the military occupation."
During the first year of the occupation he was MacArthur's military secretary and Secretary General of the Allied Council for Japan.  Due to his 30 year military experience and interaction with Japan, MacArthur relied on him for advice.
In 1971, Emperor Hirohito conferred on him the Second Order of the Sacred Treasure.

A good film.  

Kid Music For Adults - Z and I Bond With Dan Bern's '2 feet tall'

Dan Bern was already my favorite contemporary song writer/singer before I took his songwriting class last fall.  

At that time I bought his CD "2 feet tall" knowing I'd have someone to listen to it with.

It's his first children's album, inspired by his own daughter.

Z and I listened to it as much as I could get away with while we were in Seattle with her.  The music sounds simple, but the melodies proved tricky when I tried to sing along, or worse, sing them on my own.  And the lyrics are fine for a baby or three year old, but the parents will hear their own stories.  For instance  'Milk' - has a chorus for the baby and then there's more for the parents which the baby will eventually grow to understand.  Here's a bit:

milk milk milk milk
milk milk milk milk
just milk (slurp slurp)
just milk (slurp slurp)

there’s kung pao chicken and garlic naan
green beans, walnuts, custard, flan
fish that’s filleted and beef that’s ground
but for now you’re a milk hound
And I had great appreciation for this song on Z's 6th week birthday:
you never give me sass or walk out of the room
you never chase the kittens around with a broom
you never say, I’m not coming in from the cold 
perfect little angel
6 weeks old
you never talk back to me
or monopolize the phone
you never say go away leave me alone
you never demand slippers made of gold
perfect little angel
6 weeks old

The 12 year old was too old for this - "why are you listening to this stupid stuff about the monkey and the kangaroo going to tea?"  And Dan's Dylanish voice didn't appeal to him either.  But as I said, the music is surprisingly complex - just try to sing it.  Dan's a very talented, imaginative, and sly singer. 
You grew, you grew, 
You grew you grew you grew
You grew, you grew, 
You grew you grew you grew

No authorities were notified,
No papers were filed
We’ll keep it between us
We’ll keep it on the sly
 But you have to hear these words with the music, and you can listen to short clips here.

Every parent, when alone with their baby, makes up silly songs.  But when a talented singer, songwriter with a wicked imagination does that, it makes a great album.  These are his silly songs.

And there are a lot of songs on this album.  They're each my favorite when they're playing, but here are a couple that have particularly grabbed me:
  • 5 Things  - have you ever heard 1-5 sung so sweetly?
  • Perfect Little Angel - right through my heart
  • You Grew  - great for dancing with your baby to get the milk digested
  • Screamin Dreamin - another sweet song to sooth a baby/toddler and any parent or grandparent can appreciate

So, while other people are giving clothes and blankets and Good Night Moon, here's a great gift for new baby. 

And poking around to find the audio I also found out that Dan will be at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium in Anchorage on April 6.   For the rest of you, his schedule (at the link) includes Salt Lake City,  three Colorado concerts, two in Iowa, and Winnipeg

BTW, it seems I cut out some of the songs in the image.  Here are the rest:

Watchin Over You

Labor Day

Favorite Cat

Monkey and the Kangaroo

Naked Outside

8 Weeks Old

Tomorrow is Another Day

Lulu's Lullaby 2

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jews And Chocolate - Deborah Prinz Talk

It turns out that Jews played an important role in spreading chocolate from Spain to the rest of Europe.  It first came from the so-called New World to Spain after Columbus and about the same time as the Spanish Inquisition when Jews were being persecuted in Spain.  As Jews fled Spain for Holland and other European countries more friendly to Jews, some of them brought chocolate and the process for making it from the beans.

So I learned at this lecture last week that friends invited us to.

It felt a bit like a Trekkie conference as the speaker talked about her Choco-dar (like gay-dar, but here it refers to knowing there is chocolate somewhere nearby) and other confessions of chocoholic obsessions which many in the audience appeared to understand well.  Don't get me wrong, I like a good dark chocolate, and I've been known to chip away at a chocolate bar piece by piece, or eat way to many brownies.  But I wouldn't go to the store just to get some chocolate, let alone go to Europe to visit special chocolate shops.

But Rabbi Prinz did. 

At the end, everyone got a piece of Barton's chocolate.  It was very chewy and satisfying.  Here's the link to the Barton's chocolate.  And they're kosher for Passover.

And then Rabbi Prinz then signed books.

Rabbi Deborah Prinz, Jews On the Chocolate Trail. 

Sorry, the book cover's a little blurred.  The person holding it moved - she was waiting in line to get it signed. 

This is much better than writing about the redistricting board. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How Could Redistricting Board NOT Hire Laurel Hummel? Political Neutrality Appears Ripped To Shreds - Part 2

In Part 1, I went through a chronology leading up to the Board's decision to not hire anyone including a brief explanation of why I thought Laurel Hummel was a perfect candidate for the job.  In Part 1.5 I looked at the 1982 Supreme Court decision on public meetings the Anchorage Daily News used to get the candidate interviews public.  It appears they didn't follow the law completely in this process.

In this post I'm going to explore some reasons why she wasn't selected.

So, why did the Board not choose Hummel (or anyone)?

Explanation 1.   The Board wanted to hire someone they knew would do their partisan bidding and keep it all confidential. 

The Board had lined up a Republican party loyalist they would hire for this $95.000 - $113,000 position who would do their bidding and keep the partisan tampering with the district borders confidential.  They did go through a public search and had six applicants.  They were set to keep the names of the applicants confidential as well as their resumes.  They would then interview them in executive session and announce the new executive director, who would be a Republican loyalist.

But then at the last minute, the Anchorage Daily News challenged the process of keeping the names and resumes secret as well as the secrecy of the interviews.  This has all been hashed out in a 1982 Supreme Court case and the Board didn’t have much choice.

If they cancelled the interviews because they were required to do things publicly, it would look like they were trying to hide something.  In the end they interviewed three candidates. 

  • The first was ok, but didn't have particular expertise in this area.  
  • The second candidate turned out to be a superstar perfectly matched for the position in terms of technical GIS experience,  Alaska Native experience, and management experience.  And a vet!  What could be better?  
  • The third candidate, a former Republican legislative staffer,  who chaired his unsuccessful primary candidacy in 2012, totally bombed the interview - his answers showed no preparation or ability to think well on his feet. 

Clearly Dr. Laural Hummel was by far the best applicant and fully qualified for the job.

And then the bombshell.  Suddenly they decided, out of public view, that they wouldn’t hire anyone.  The only reason an organization doesn't hire after they've interviewed candidates is that none of the candidates was good enough.  But in this case, they had a super candidate based on their job description. 

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that they had assumed that they would simply be able to pick their preordained candidate.   As an anonymous commenter on the previous post noted - they didn’t want someone truly competent who they couldn’t control inside the sausage factory when they made the districts.  Not only was the super-applicant very skilled in all aspects of the job which meant she might be able to figure out totally fair districts, the Anchorage Daily News found out she was a Democrat.  There was no way they wanted a competent Democrat in the middle of the process. (They seemed to have worked out something with the lone Democrat on the Board - if they work with her on the Native districts, she'll ignore other issues.  I'm not blaming her; she had a very difficult job here.  And her cultural norms likely are to avoid public conflict.)

So, they just decided to not hire anyone.  Without an open interview, we wouldn’t have been any wiser and they could have hired their political crony. 

Of course, this is all conjecture, but it seems to make the most sense. All the facts are consistent with this narrative and the other explanations (see below) don't make sense.

The Board hasn’t publicly offered any more plausible alternative explanation.  Actually, as I pointed out in the previous post, the decision to not hire anyone should have - by law - been made in a public session and the reasons and the vote should have been public.  But they weren’t. 

I emailed the Board Chair and several other Board members to get some explanation but no one has replied, even though this blog has covered the Board meetings since they first got the 2010 census data in March 2011.  It's been more than three days now with no reply.   
Rich Mauer at the Anchorage Daily News got a couple of short responses from two Board members.

Explanation 2:  "there wasn't much need for an executive director now because of a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that could influence Alaska's redistricting."  from Board member Bob Brodie.

Let's see now.  They've known about the Supreme Court case since at least October or November.  The Board met February 12.   Their attorney discussed the Supreme Court case at length with the Board and they went on with planning to hire an Executive Director.  The March dates were right on schedule based on their plan.

It's true that they did make their decision before the case was heard on February 27 and before the press speculated that there was a good chance that the conservative majority on the Court would take action to somehow modify Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

But then why didn't they just cancel the search earlier?  Why wait until after the interviews?  Because in the interviews it became clear that, because the interviews were, at the last minute, forced into public view, they wouldn't be able to hire their pre-ordained candidate.  He just came off so poorly - both his experience and how he related it - that even they knew they couldn't be that blatant.  Dr. Hummel was just way too good to pick anyone else over her.  But deciding not to hire anyone is almost as blatant.

They actually do need an Executive Director but they didn't want to hire someone who could make their partisan machinations harder to pull off.  Deciding they didn't want a director was just an excuse for not having to hire Hummel.

Whatever the US Supreme Court decides on Shelby County v. Holder, the Board does have to first make a map of the districts based only on the criteria in the Alaska Constitution.  Only then, do they adjust those districts to also meet the Voting Rights Act.  So, a director who knows about mapping and has great management, supervisory, and coalition building skills would be a great asset. If the Court changes the Sec. 5 requirements, then they could still use a competent director to wrap up all the work they have left. 

Explanation 3.   "the most important job now is mapping, and that requires an expert in geographic information systems software." - from Board member PeggyAnn McConochie

Again, the obvious flaw in this argument is that they waited to make this decision until after they'd interviewed the candidates.  If all they needed was a GIS expert, they should have cancelled the Executive Director search earlier.  It is true they need someone who can do the GIS mapping.  And they told each applicant that they plan to hire one.  But last time around they relied on their Executive Director to do a lot of this work.  And Dr. Laurel Hummel can do this.  She's got a PhD in geography and knows the software.  They need an Executive Director - to mange all the day-to-day things like keep the website working and deal with all the administrative stuff the Board needs taken care of.

This sounds way too much like an after-the-fact cover up explanation as does Brodie's.  

I've pounded my head to figure out other possible explanations.  Maybe they'd offered her the job, but couldn't offer her enough pay and she turned them down.  But that makes no sense for several reasons:
  1. The pay was on the job announcement so she would have known what was available before applying, and it's a very good salary for this position.
  2. It's a temporary job.  And for Dr. Hummel a perfect job for her skill set.  The money is more than sufficient.  She wouldn't have turned it down. 
  3. If she had turned down the job, they would have told us that and avoided this bizarre turn of events.

So, Steve, (you ask) how can you be so confident this is about partisan gerrymandering?

It's no secret that redistricting is highly political.  The stakes are no less than who wins the elections and thus gets to make policy.  The New York Times wrote as the census data was coming out  in spring 2011:
"Beyond hiring lobbyists, major players in Washington — including high-priced lawyers, union officials, House leaders and national party operatives — are spending time and money to influence how officials in state capitals design the political maps that will affect the balance of power in Congress for the next decade.
The stakes are enormous, with Republicans looking to use their control of a majority of statehouses to cement their hold on the House in 2012 and beyond."
Alaska's redistricting doesn't affect Congress since we only have one member of the House of Representatives, but it does affect how the oil companies are taxed and that's a giant issue here.

The Charleston Tea Party website stated it more bluntly:
"Activists should lobby their governor and their state legislatures.  Demand that they exact the full price of reapportionment.  Demand that they exact the full price of their newly gained redistricting powers.  Nothing less is acceptable." 

Yet, the Board's guidelines, set out by their attorney Michael White early in the process, and approved by the Board, included four federal Constitutional principles, including no political gerrymandering.

The Alaska Redistricting Board shall use the following criteria in order of priority listed  in adopting a redistricting plan for the State of Alaska. 
1.   Federal Constitutional Redistricting Principles

A.  One Person, One Vote”. Standard established by US Supreme Court in Baker v. Carr & Reynolds v. Sims. According to “one person, one vote”, legislative seats must be apportioned exclusively on the basis of population and the populations of the respective legislative districts must be substantially equal.

B.   Districts of as nearly as equal size as practicable. Maximum overall deviation of no more than 10%, (i.e., plus or minus 5%).  Deviation is the measure of how much a district or plan varies from the ideal. Good faith efforts to make deviations as small as practicable must be made.

C.  No purposeful discrimination against a group that has been consistently excluded from the political process.

D.   No political or racial gerrymandering.

So, if gerrymandering is part of the equation, the Board can't talk about it, because it's illegal.  But it's also hard to prove.  Unless you have a professional on the staff, who is also a registered Democrat who might be willing to blow the whistle if they illegally give Republicans an edge in the mapping. 

I wasn't watching previous redistricting boards ten or twenty years ago, so I don't know how this board operated compared to previous boards.

There were some actions that suggested this board was tinkering with district lines to give Republicans an advantage.  Most notably in Fairbanks.  The first stab at Fairbanks was presented by Board member Holm and approved by the Board with almost no discussion.   Holm, a former Fairbanks legislator who'd lost the previous election to Democrat Scott Kawaski, claimed that he had no idea how the map affected incumbents.   Yet the map had carefully cut out from Kawaski's district, an address listed in the phone book as S. Kawaski.  (It turned out to be Scott's sister's place.  Her name is Sonia.)  Later Fairbanks maps split the City of Fairbanks into different Senate seats (for the first time ever) and had protrusions that included or excluded people in a way that clearly was intended to favor Republicans.

Anchorage's Democratic Senator Davis, Alaska's lone African-American legislator, had a  much more conservative Eagle River district added to her district and lost her reelection bid.  There were a number of other such little adjustments where intention is hard to prove, but the results - such as the toppling of the Senate bi-partisan coalition - would seem to demonstrate.

Plus, long time Republican party chair Randy Ruedrich was a regular presence at Board meetings and often hung around afterward discussing the political implications of district lines with the staff.  I know because I watched him do it on occasion.  The Democratic party chair was also at many meetings, but didn't seem to have the same rapport with the staff, including Executive Director Taylor Bickford who had worked as the 2010 Republican Victory Director for  Ruedrich, just before becoming the deputy director of the board. (He later became director after the unexpected death of director Ron Miller.)

So, given the close ties the previous Executive Director had to the Republican Party chair, it is not stretching it too far to think that the majority of the Board was looking for a similar type of person for the position now.  Not only would this mean that the new director would be amenable to tampering with district lines to favor Republicans, but it's also a good state job for a year or so for a party loyalist.  And the remuneration is nothing to sneeze at.  The job announcement lists the annual salary at "$95,316 to $113,364 depending on experience."

The Alaska Human Rights Commission  does not list political affiliation as an illegal reason to discriminate.   However, it is customary in labor relations that you cannot reject an applicant for a factor that is not listed in the job announcement or job description.  The Board's job announcement did not mention party affiliation as a required or even desired factor for the job.

And the  Alaska Constitution says:
"Appointments [to the Board] shall be made without regard to political affiliation."
This refers to appointing Board members, not staff, but if that standard is there for the board members, it would be reasonable for it to apply to the staff as well. 

Absent any more plausible explanation from the Board, I'm left to conclude that they expected to do this in private and the Daily News' demand that it be public caught them with their pants down.  With everything in view, everyone could see that Dr. Hummel was not only the best qualified, but a perfect fit for the job.  They could also see the political choice they most likely were expecting to hire after a secret process without names made public, was clearly the least qualified of the three.

That meant they couldn't pick their favored candidate and they were afraid to have such a competent Democrat in their inner workings so they wouldn't be able to diddle with the lines enough to keep a healthy Republican majority in the legislature.

I hope the Supreme Court keeps this in mind when they have to evaluate whether this Board can do their job without political gerrymandering. 

Someone I talked to suggested that perhaps the Board would do another search later, waiting for Dr. Hummel to take another job first. We should all be watching.