Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mugged By LA Parking Authority

[UPDATE Jan 28:  There are two followup posts:
January 2, 2015 and January 28, 2015]

I felt like I'd been mugged.  I was happily minding my own business, when the LA Parking Authority snatched $58 from me.

"The best way to make money is not to spend it."  That's a basic tenet I picked up along the way.  It doesn't mean you have to be a miser, but just don't spend money you don't need to spend.  And parking tickets are a good example of money you shouldn't have to spend.

So, I'm reasonably careful about parking.  Biking helps a lot, but I do use a car too.

People who knowingly park without putting money in the meter or who take up two parking places or park in a handicapped zone when their ego handicap hasn't been diagnosed, all should pay for parking tickets.

But this one feels more like entrapment.

We went to see the movie Wild.  After I got past the silliness of the early scene where she struggles to pick up her heavy pack, but then manages to walk with it for 5 miles, it got good.

We checked out some sale items in the mall, then got the car from the mall parking lot (there are three free hours) and decided to find street parking while we ate dinner.

Here's the scene of the crime:

1 (the numbers match the numbers in the satellite view above) - far right of the picture, is where we came out of the mall parking lot.

The view from the parking lot exit of the block we're going to park on.

You can (almost) see that there are 6 parking spaces.  It's a really short block.  We turned left out of the parking lot and stopped in the red space on the right of the Starbucks (2 on the map) so we could read the parking sign.  Basically, we wanted to know if we had to put money in the meter or not.

2.  Here's where we stopped when we got out of the parking lot to check the parking sign (2a) to see if you still had to feed the meters or not.

The sign (2a) says:  No Parking from 4-7pm on top.  It was just after 7pm
Below it says 2 hour parking from 8am - 4pm.

(I took this picture that night after we found the ticket and drove back to the scene.  The others I took the next afternoon when I biked back to see if there was a white curb where I parked or any other warning.)

So, it said that we didn't have to pay for the meter because it was after 4pm and we could park there because it was after 7pm.  We pulled out of this space and looked for an empty space.  There was one.  It was the sixth and last parking space on the block.  All the others were full.

3.   We were parked where that gray car is - the last spot.  As you can see, the curb is just cement and it has a parking meter like all the other spots.

Just to emphasize that the two spaces on the end look exactly like the other four on the block, this picture is from the middle of the block.  There are the three cars you can see in front and three behind.  There's also a truck parked on the corner beyond the metered spaces.

This picture is from where we were parked.  You can see that in front of us it is painted red.  And there's enough room for about two cars and that truck.

We got out of the restaurant and as we walked back to the car, I noticed the car behind us had a note or something under the windshield wiper.  We got in the car and drove off.  But then I noticed there was something under our windshield wiper.  Some ad I assumed and we stopped the car to get rid of it.  It was an envelope with the ticket inside.

What the hell did we do wrong?  J read it - "Passenger loading only 7pm-2am"  Huh?

So we went back and looked.   The car behind us still had the ticket on the windshield.  There was also a car parked in the space we'd been in.   So they didn't see the sign either.   (By the way, did you notice the sign in the picture above by the truck?  This picture is during the day and we were there at night.)

This sign was behind the car behind us.  When we walked from the car we saw the back of this sign.  You can see this also two pictures above that says "Kitche" on it.  You probably didn't notice.

There's also a sign at the corner, next to the tree in the picture with the truck.  Its arrow points in the other direction.

So two spaces with meters and no white paint on the curbs are reserved in the evening for passenger loading.  We didn't see this sign.  We'd checked the sign at the other end of the block which had a convenient place to pull over and look at the sign without blocking traffic.  And there are only six parking spaces with meters on the whole block.

But even if we did see the sign at the corner - about the distance of three or four parking spaces away as you can see in the picture with the truck - I don't know that I would have realized that it meant my space.  First, the sign is very far from where I was parked.  Second, the arrow points to a long area of red pained curb.  There's room for three or four cars to stop and let off passengers.  Why would they  take two more metered parking spaces in addition?

Could I have figured this out before getting a parking ticket?  Well, if I had walked to the end of the block and checked the sign and then checked the sign behind where I parked, I might have figured it out.  Or at least been concerned and considered moving to another spot.  I like to walk so it wouldn't have mattered.  But I've never seen a no parking sign like this that took metered parking spaces away at night.  Passenger loading spaces I know about are painted red or white or yellow.  I'd looked at the sign to see when you had to use the meter.  It told me I didn't need to use it after 4pm and the sign also told me I could park there after 7pm.

This feels like entrapment.  The signs are so complicated and unexpected that an ordinary person wouldn't know he couldn't park there.  Even a reasonably careful person trying to obey the law and avoid a ticket.   The car behind us didn't know either.  Nor did the car that pulled into our space as soon as we left.

Am I whining or is this legitimate?  I checked on line and found  an October 2014 article that says parking signage is such an issue in LA that the  city council is trying to make the signs more consistent and less confusing.
Los Angeles officials pushed forward Wednesday with two programs that target one of the city's most ubiquitous problems: finding a place to park.
During a downtown committee meeting, City Council members asked transportation officials to test a simplified street parking sign that could replace the classic red, white and green placards, saying that the current, sometimes towering stacks of notices can confuse drivers and unintentionally result in parking tickets.
And there are a number of online stories about confusing parking signs in LA.  Here are a few:

Does this mean I won't have to pay the ticket?  I doubt it.  After all, they're still ticketing people at this tricky no parking spot.  And my ticket was at 7:32pm which means they are checking it right after it stops becoming a "no parking from 4-7pm" zone.

My son turned me onto a book long ago called  "Turn Signals Are The Facial Expressions of Automobiles" by 
"It's coping with the technology of quotidian life that wears us down, of course. Norman (Cognitive Psychology/UC San Diego) reassures us that it's not our fault: It's design flaws. If it's broke, Norman knows how to fix it."
The book gives lots of examples of bad design, where the message and the use conflict.  I remember particularly the example of a door with a handle to pull, but the sign says push.

I doubt the sign designers and the people who place them on the street are trying to entrap us. They are simply making signs that reflect laws or regulations that someone has passed and now the sign folks are required to implement the rules with signs.  And because they are so immersed in the making of the signs, they think it's all obvious and people should understand.  We all, generally know what we intend and it's clear to us, even though it may not be clear to others.  But part of me wonders whether this is the parking equivalent to a speed trap.  A way for LA to get needed revenue.  At $58 a pop (and that seems to be the minimum level ticket) they can ring up a lot of money.  100 tickets would be $5800.  And they got two tickets right there in a couple of minutes.  And I saw two parking enforcement vehicles when I biked over there to take the pictures.

The "Turn Signals" book points out numerous situations where this sort of rote filling out of orders results in bad design and poor instructions.

[UPDATE Jan 28:  There are two followup posts:  January 2, 2015 and January 28, 2015]

Monday, December 29, 2014

ADN Edits Out Crucial Part Of Article

Reading the Alaska Dispatch News online, I noticed an article about the British trying to get the Americans to return the original Winnie The Pooh who's been in the US since the author gave the stuffed animal to his publisher.  Who, according to the article, gave it to the New York Power Authority, who gave it to the New York public library.  The article cites a Times of London editorial:
“Winnie-the-Pooh is not just a reference to a fictional bear, but to a national concept of a childhood Eden – an identifiable woodland in which stuffed animals, belonging to an archetypal nursery, roam in gentle complacency.”
And, the editorial went on to note, “It is obvious then that Winnie-the-Pooh, whatever else he is, is not an American.” 
 My immediate reaction, reading the headline, was "You've Gotta Be Kidding!"  The Brits have long refused the Greek government's requests (or maybe even demands) that the Brits return the Elgin marbles to Greece, which were stolen from Greece long ago.  The insult was increased recently when the British Museum agreed to loan the marbles to, of all countries, Russia.

How could they have an article on this without mentioning the Elgin marbles?

I can't put up links to the online version I read (that is a facsimile of the newspaper) because you need a password to get in.  So I googled for a copy of the article and found it at McClatchy DC.

But this article had a whole paragraph on the irony of this request:
Still, there is irony in the Times’ position, as the arguments are a mirror image of a case made recently for why the British Museum, and not Athens, was the rightful resting place for the so-called Elgin Marbles, statues that used to adorn the Parthenon but were transferred to Britain in the early years of the 19th century. Greece has wanted the statues back for 200 years, almost as long as they’ve been gone, and the arguments are the same: They weren’t sold by the Greeks but plundered by occupiers, who gave them to the British ambassador, Lord Elgin; a special museum has been built for their return, and the statues are much more than simply works of art but symbols of the greatness that was Greece.
So does someone in the ADN editing room think that Alaskans are only interested in a stuffed teddy bear, but not the theft of cultural treasures?  That the hypocrisy of wanting Winnie the Pooh while rejecting Greek claims would be lost on Alaskans?

This is Alaska where Alaska Native tribes are still working to repatriate artifacts taken from them.  

Or perhaps there's even more to the story that wasn't reported in the original McClatchy article.  Was the Times editorial a satire of the Brits' refusal to return the Elgin Marbles?  Or of the Greeks demands to get back the Marbles?

I did try to read the original London Times editorial.  What I found looked more like an article than an editorial, and when I finally found a way to get around The Times block on seeing the whole article, the quote was not from that article.  I finally found my way to  the original editorial.  I do think it is a satire - hopefully on the British refusal to return the Elgin Marbles.  It ends:
So today enlightened Americans who can imagine what it would be like if the original Moby Dick were to be displayed in, say, a Chinese museum, will surely want to join us in calling for the return of Pooh. They understand that for English people it would be almost as good as a balloon.

Maybe one of our British readers can fill us in on this story.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pope Francis Taking On Climate Change

An article in the Guardian  yesterday discusses Pope Francis' interest in the movement to deal with climate change.  
". . . But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?
It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.
“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

I learned of the Pope's interest in this topic earlier this year or last year at a Citizens Climate Lobby meeting when it was reported that one of the members had written the Pope on the topic and had been invited to a climate change meeting the Pope was hosting.

The Guardian article covers a number of activities the Pope has undertaken, but mainly focuses on climate change.

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

His language is pretty strong:

In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it. 
“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands. 
“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said. 
But I think even the Guardian is misled in its choice of the term 'radical'  to describe  Pope's stand on climate change.
However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate. [emphasis added]
The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and humans are causing it.  The majority of the people in the US believe that climate change is real and needs to be addressed.  And the Citizens Climate Lobby's proposal for a revenue neutral carbon fee is supported by an array of prominent people including prominent conservatives.   His position is only radical if the opinions of Koch brothers and their ilk are given far more weight than the rest of us.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Television, One Big Corporate Commercial - The Need For New Business Curriculum In Public Schools

Screenshot Disney Park Frozen Christmas Celebrationl
My mom watches channel 7 here in LA. Sitting with her, I get to see my fair share too.   Rosie O'Donnell, at the end of The View, which she co-hosts, was telling us how she has a Frozen family - all the members of her family love the movie.  Then there was a 'show' full of more syrupy testimonials about  to how Disney has been the glue for so many families for 77 years.  It took a while but I found Disney Parks Frozen Christmas Celebration.  There's a short trailer for it here which gives you the flavor of the film.  How I imagine people in North Korea publicly talk about their leader.

I've been noticing this sort of self-promotion show since I've been visiting my mom so regularly and seeing television with her.  The networks do 'shows' that essentially are touting their other shows.  The stars of one show come on another show to talk about their shows.

I had this bit of memory nagging at me.  And so I had to look up the ties between ABC (channel 7 in LA) and Disney.   Here's what I got from Wikipedia:
ABC, Inc.[1] DBA Disney–ABC Television Group[2] manages all of The Walt Disney Company's Disney and ABC-branded television properties. The group includes the ABC Television Network (including ABC Daytime, ABC Entertainment and ABC News divisions), as well as Disney's 50% stake in A&E Television Networks and its 80% controlling stake in ESPN, Inc.[3] While holding the controlling stake in ESPN, Disney-ABC TV Group and ESPN operate as separate units of Disney Media Networks.[4]
Essentially, this is a program length commercial for the Disney parks, the Disney movie Frozen, and all associated spinoff products on the television network that Disney owns.

With conglomerates melding many different businesses together, particularly media corporations, any pretense of fair and objective news reporting is totally out the window.

Need For More Sophisticated Schooling On Businesses

This raises an issue I've been thinking about for a while.  In a democracy, people need to understand how government operates and who the big power players are.  In today's United States, that means we all need to understand, not just the structure of states and local governments and the federal government.  We also need to understand the structure of American businesses - how they are interconnected and how they relate to government.

So,  school curricula should include, beyond teaching maps of the states and countries (they do still do that don't they?),  teaching the ins and outs of corporate structure and relationships.  Which companies own which companies?  Who sits on the boards of these different companies and how much do they get paid to do their board work?  And how do their duties on different boards affect corporate competition and government actions?

Without knowing well the structure of corporate America (and the corporate World as a whole) we cannot make reasonable election decisions.  How many people even know the ten largest publicly held companies?  (that question assumes people know what a publicly held company is.)  Well, trying to find the answer on Google demonstrates the problems.  I got all sorts of options, but not the top ten publicly traded companies in the US.  I got the top 20, but it was for 2007.  Changing the search to top ten US companies in 2014, I had to keep going to page three before I got a list of the top ten in North America.

But I'm not just interested in the top ten or top 100.  I'm interested in how those companies are interrelated - who owns whom and how does that affect how they do business?  The most dramatic impacts are likely on media companies that present us the news.  The impact of being owned by Disney on ABC, means that, at one level, viewers see shows that tout the products of the mother corporation.  What happens to their news reports?  How much about Disney products find there way into 'news' stories?

Here's an out-of-date 2006 map of media companies from Advertising Age.

It's a start.  It's level of complexity should help people realize why this needs to be a school topic where kids spend time studying all the interrelationships.  Maybe they'll start understanding the financial impact of McDonald's television ads or how their favorite movies are pitched over and over again on the stations owned by the movie company that made it (or they're both owned by the same company).  And how the boards of directors sit on each other's boards.  Maybe if they spend time looking at how much money corporations spend on elections and lobbyists, they'll start to wake up.

The Columbia Journalism Review has page where you can look up media corporations and see who they own.  I looked up CBS which has this note on the top of the list:
National Amusements has controlling interests in CBS and Viacom.
51 West 52 Street
New York, New York 10019-6188
Voice (212) 975-4321"
So I looked up National Amusements.  Wikipedia tells us:
National Amusements, Inc. is an American privately owned theater company based in Dedham, Massachusetts, United States. The company was founded in 1936 as the Northeast Theatre Corporation by Michael Redstone. National Amusements is now owned by Michael Redstone's son, Sumner Redstone, who holds 80% of the company, and Sumner's daughter, Shari Redstone, who owns the remaining 20%. Through National Amusements, the Redstones control both the CBS Corporation (owner of CBS) and Viacom (owner of Paramount Pictures) through supervoting shares.[1] The company operates more than 1,500 movie screens across the United States, the United Kingdom, Latin America, and Russia under its Showcase Cinemas, Multiplex Cinemas, Cinema de Lux, and KinoStar brands. National Amusements is equal partners in
So, do you think that the huge media emphasis these days on what movies are coming out and how much they're grossing has anything to do with the fact that television companies are owned by companies with an interest in movie theaters and film studios?  National Amusements owns CBS and Paramount.  Disney owns ABC.  And 20th  Century Fox is connected Murdoch's Fox News  (though I'm not completely sure how given recent changes.)   Comcast owns Universal (movies) and NBC (among many other things.)  Comcast is waiting for FCC approval of its $45 billion purchase of Time Warner.  However, an article on Re/code  that is interesting because it has this note at the bottom,
* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’sparent company.
says there's a new group that's teamed up hoping to block the merger of Comcast and Time Warner.

Just to give a sense of how long the tentacles are, National Amusements, through CBS, also owns radio stations in about 28 cities - big ones mostly, including New York, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, and in most of them they own three or four or five different stations.

My point here is not to expose  the connections among corporations and how those connections bias how those corporations operate - that's way too big a project.  I'm just trying to illustrate through one tiny example - O'Donnell's testimonial for Disney and the ABC tribute show to Disneyland, how these relationships breed massive conflicts of interest that most people have no clue about.

That example is there to make the bigger point:  School curriculum should teach kids about corporate structure and ownership.  I'm not talking about the Junior Achievement goal - "dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs."  I'm talking about getting a base for understanding the power of corporations in a democracy, understanding who has that power, and how that power affects what we know, how our laws get made, and what we can and cannot do.

I tried to find a clip of Rosie O'Donnell touting Disney on the View.  I didn't find the clip, but I did find the link to the show I saw mentioned at the beginning of this post and an announcement for another such show: "ABC to Air 'Backstage With Disney on Broadway: Celebrating 20 Years' on Sunday, December 14th"

I also found some O'Donnell/Disney connections (besides Disney owning ABC where O'Donnell is one of the hosts of The View.) From the Disney Wiki
Roseann "Rosie" O'Donnell (born March 21, 1962) is an American comedienne, actress, author, and television personality who voiced Terk in the 1999 Disney animated film Tarzan and appeared as one of the hosts in The Boudin Bakery Tour, an attraction at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California. She currently voices The Bouncing Bumble Queen on the Disney Junior original series Jake and the Never Land Pirates.
 Someone posted a video of the bakery tour here.

ETonline, snarkily headlines a feud between O'Donnell and another actress who said she didn't like the movie Frozen.  O'Donnell apparently called her out for that on The View:
"I just want to say, that I feel that Frozen is the best Disney movie ever made," O'Donnell told the crowd with the same level of intensity that is usually reserved for witch trials. "I've seen it 250 times, I can say it, every word of it, memorized. I love it like the rest of America."
Can we attribute the dissing of O'Donnell's love for Frozen to the fact that ETonline is a part of the
CBS corporate world, and  an ABC rival?  According to Wikipedia
As of the 2014 awards season, the staff and hosts of ET handle all red carpet event coverage for CBS's sister cable network TVGN (which CBS acquired a half-interest of in mid-2013), and air said programming on that network leading into award and movie premiere events as an extension of ET, usually under the title of ET at the (event name).
As you can see, this can go on and on.  And with all that corporate money and power behind what's on the networks and cable shows, the rest of us will have to work pretty hard to first understand all the connections and how they bias things, and second, to explain it to others.  

I know there will be people who will see the Disney show this post started with and wonder what I'm talking about.  It was a great show they'll say.  How can you say bad things about Disneyland?  All I can say to those people is that temptation, if it were ugly and repulsive, wouldn't tempt people, wouldn't seduce them.  From a Christian blogger:
"I always see Satan depicted as this red, horned, hideous-looking creature, when in all actuality he is one of the most beautiful of all of God’s creation. . . God says of him, “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.” 
Disney is a huge business that sells fairy tales for lots of money.  I went to their site and checked on tickets.  Two adults and two kids for two days costs $686.  Parking costs $17 more (per day I'm guessing.)  According to Allears (I couldn't find the answer where you buy the tickets) the tickets cover most rides, but not arcade games and shooting galleries.  And, of course, not food or other purchases in the stores.

If you make minimum wage in California, you would earn $9 an hour or $360 for forty hours.  If you consider the taxes that would be withheld,  a minimum wage worker in California would have to work about two weeks to pay for two days at Disneyland for a family of four.  More if they were going to eat in the park.   And shows like Disney Parks Frozen Christmas Celebration - essentially a long commercial for the movie Frozen (and all the products from it) and Disney Parks shown as a 'program' on the network the Disney corporation owns - puts a lot of pressure on parents to spend that money at the park.  Money they're hard pressed to spend.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Lianna Lisiulinka Will You Marry Me? And Other Santa Monica Pier Folk

I had four generations of women around this week from my mom to my granddaughter.

Got to take my little shark for a bike ride along the beach Wednesday.  I was able to rent a kid trailer to attach to my bike - and we rode to Santa Monica pier.

Here are just a couple of people we saw.

Desmond Bellow played sweet sweet music on his steel guitar.  The little shark watched and listened intently.  Here's a little bit from his website.  It sounds much, much better live.

I didn't get this artist's name.  He certainly was the most colorful person on a pier full of colorful folks.

As we went by he sang the ABC song, then itsy bitty spider which had the shark entranced.

And as we were listening to the music, we saw this sign being pulled by a small plane over the ocean.

This could be romantic, weird, and even creepy depending on the story surrounding it.

I did google the name, but nothing came up.  Did she see it?

[Photo honesty:  The sign wasn't clear in the picture I got with the plane and the sign.  So I took the plane from that picture and put it into the picture with the sign clear.  Seeing is no longer believing.  But then it never really was.  But in this case, this is pretty much what it looked like.]

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

". . . being like Jesus was the only point"

Scott Korb  reviewed  James Carroll's Christ Actually: The Son Of Good For The Secular Age in the LA Times Sunday edition.

It's not too long,  but I did have trouble following it.  Kolb, from what I can tell here, has seriously explored the ideas of religious belief in the modern and ancient worlds and is much closer to Carroll intellectually than most.   But it was also compelling and I read it. The basic message I got was that in the modern world belief itself is less and less believable.   Ultimately, imitating Christ is the way to make belief believable again.   I found myself having to go back and reread parts
as I started writing here.

Here's an example:
"I'm convinced, for instance, by recent arguments, notably one by writer Paul Elie, that most contemporary novels fail to "grant belief any explanatory power" and thus refuse one sense of "the fullness of life." Arguably the most popular Christian factual writing in recent years, "Heaven Is for Real," recounts a child's round trip to heaven, where Jesus keeps a rainbow horse. Another popular and perhaps more believable factual approach involves academics — like Reza Aslan in "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" — uncovering and reconstructing the Jesus of history and not the Christ of Christianity.
For all its merits, this approach typically abandons the question of religious belief, and in doing so, says Catholic writer James Carroll, ignores the historical reality of Christ's impact over the centuries. Because despite the successful storytelling approach of Aslan and others committed to seeing Jesus the man as "someone worth believing in," Carroll argues in his new book, "Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age," that it's hard to imagine anyone would still think much about him were it not for the "two-thousand-year-old divinity claim" that puts Jesus in our lives today. And nothing but our own religionlessness would make necessary or believable Carroll's new book."
Still, I don't understand this enough to know for sure if Korb is citing "Heaven Is for Real" seriously or is dismissively.  I assume the latter.   I looked it up.  Here's what the Heaven website says:
"Heaven Is for Real is the true story of a four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who experienced heaven during emergency surgery. He talks about looking down to see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear … "
I've heard about Aslan's book on Jesus.  I read an earlier book of his on the life of Mohammad   No god but God. It's a serious attempt to write a factual account of Mohammad's life and the Jesus book, as I understand it is a similar volume.  It's an attempt at history and biography, not at promoting a religion.  

I'd like to read Carroll's book to figure out what actually he's saying.  And because I have an ambiguous attitude toward belief in a divinity.  To the extent that often people can understand complex ideas best metaphorically, I think the stories of different religions that hold the ideals of the faith are a reasonable way to convey the moral lessons.  To the extent that Christians imitate Christ, on a daily, continuous basis, this would be a much better world.  I don't know that one has to believe in Christ's divinity to imitate him.  One just has to believe in his goodness.  At least that's what I understand.  And I'm interested whether Carroll agrees or disagrees.  

Korb ends his review:
"Imitation," Carroll contends, "can make us more than human." And while the Christian devotional practice may have its roots in Thomas à Kempis' 15th century handbook "Imitation of Christ," Carroll reminds us that "from the start, those who fell under his spell understood that being like Jesus was the only point." Through imitation we transcend ourselves. Offering the further examples of humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer and pacifist Dorothy Day, Carroll argues that the imitation of Christ is one truly viable way that remains to make belief believable. 
In their moments, believers like Bonhoeffer and, later, Day, whose very lives opposed the infernality of war, groped for words that might give Christ some meaning amid the ruins of Christendom. Carroll gropes too and well. But there are no words as powerful as our human lives. Carroll knows this. It is his final word. And for Christians, he concludes, the fullness of their lives remains Christ's only hope."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Mysteries Of Gas Pricing And Our Reactions - Stock Market To Drop When Prices Go Up And When They Go Down

I just filled my mom's car in the nearby Costco here in LA.


We all know that gas prices have been dropping and that Alaska is lagging behind in that fall.  Anchorage Gas Prices reports the lowest prices in Anchorage right now are $.45 higher than the lowest price in LA.  (And Alaska has an $.08 tax per gallon while California has $.41 tax per gallon.  Without the tax, the price difference is $.33 more.

Screenshot from Anchorage Gas Prices 12/23/14 11am Alaska time

I find it interesting that the Dimond Costco is $.04 cheaper than the the DeBarr Costco.  Is that because one was checked one hour ago and the other two hours ago?  I decided to call DeBarr Costco and the person who answered the phone checked with the manager and said that the two stores do price differently and they try to match the prices in the neighborhood.  She couldn't tell me whether the two Costco's order gas separately, or not, but her answer does imply that the price of gas reflects, not what they pay, but what gas costs close by their location.  But this is all really an aside.

I did start a post on gas prices back in October and this seems like a good place to add those thoughts in too.

Large Drop [In Oil Prices] A Boon To Consumers But Could Pose Long-Term Economic Problems 

That was the subtitle of an AP story published in the ADN in October this year.  I couldn't find a linkable ADN copy of the article, but here's the headline for the same article at The Great Falls Tribune:  "Why drop in oil prices has downside for US economy.

If you're scratching your head about this, that's good.  It means you're thinking, and possibly somewhere in your subconscious you've stored old headlines from another time.  Like this one from CBS-DFW in February 2013:  "Fast Rising Gas Prices Could Hurt Recovering Economy."   

Dropping prices are bad and rising prices are bad.  So, would slowly rising prices be ok?  What about stable prices?  Are the people writing these headlines just using the knowledge that bad news gets more readers?  Are they reading the articles?  

Notice that both headlines include qualifiers - "could" and "may."

The October article says the lower prices are good for consumers, for big energy consumers like airlines and manufacturers.
"But a sharp fall in energy prices often results from weakening economic growth, and the benefit of lower fuel costs ins't enough to offset it."
That sounds like the falling energy are CAUSED by a weakening economy, NOT the CAUSE of it.   It seems to me, except for oil companies and oil producing states like Alaska, a drop in oil prices has to be good for most businesses and thus for consumers, which should help the economy down the line, though stockbrokers who don't like uncertainty sell when anything changes.  Or maybe these kinds of headlines means they can churn the stocks in their portfolios.

Conclusions I can draw from this:

1.  Despite the assurances from the oil companies and our former governor and other oil company supporters, the oil companies squeeze as much out of us as they can and Alaska is simply a place to get oil and they'll tell us whatever they think people will believe.

2.  Costco also isn't your friend either.  Their prices don't reflect their costs, but what they think they can get away with.  So don't assume it's cheaper because you're at Costco.

3.  The media generally either do not have a clue about economics and/or they don't care what's true, they care about headlines that sell copy.

Of course, none of these conclusions should be a surprise to anyone paying attention - but unfortunately, in Alaska anyway, not enough people who vote are paying attention.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

AIFF 2014: Their Bests And My Bests - Features

I've had posts like this - where I compare my picks to the festival picks - because I've had real disagreements with the festival picks.  This year, I'm not too much in disagreement with the festival picks, but there are some films I'd like to focus on a bit more.

In this one I'll go on past the table of picks to talk about the features and the made in Alaska categories.

Category Festival PicksSteve's Picks
Feature* Best: The Ambassador to Bern
Runner-Up: Come To My Voice
Honorable Mention: I Believe In Unicorns 
Ambassador to Bern
Come to My Voice
Rocks in My Pocket
Documentary Best:  White Earth
Runner-Up:  Coney Island: Dreams For Sale
Honorable Mention: Seeds of Time
White Earth
Shield and Spear
Mala Mala
Barefoot Artist
Made in Alaska*
Best: Detective Detective Detective 
Runner-Up: Tracing Roots 
Honorable Mention: The Empty Chair 
The Empty Chair
Best: Till Then [Bis Gleich] 
Runner-Up: What Cheer 
Honorable Mention: How Hipólito Vázquez 
Found Magic Where He Didn’t Expect It 
Universal Language*
One Armed Man
Bis Gleich
Reaching Home
Into the Silent Sea
Super Short
Best: Four Brothers. Or Three. Wait…Three 
Runner-Up: Full-Windsor 
Honorable Mention: Enfilade 
** didn't see Four Brothers
Best: 365 
Runner-Up: Wire Cutters 
Honorable Mention: Ronald Gottlieb 
Speed Dating
Ronald Gottlieb and Moving Out


Not too much difference in our picks here.  There were not as many really good features this year as in the past.


Ambassador to Bern - Most everything worked in this intelligent drama about two Hungarian immigrants who break into the Hungarian embassy in Bern not long after the Russian invasion of Hungary and the execution of the former prime minister Nagy in 1958.  The characters are all real, three dimensional (except maybe Vermes), the light and pace and decency of everyone all reflect a different time and place.   Overall, a very satisfactory film.  All the people I talked to after the film (there's a video of audience reaction here) enjoyed it, called it intense, though they weren't all sure of the historical context.

Come To My Voice-  This Turkish film focuses on the personal burdens on Kurdish villagers in Turkey.  We see the grandmother and granddaughter as they struggle to get their son/father released from the Turkish soldiers.  The situations are very mundane yet tell a very big story with the dramatic mountain scenery almost a character in the movie.

Rocks In My Pocket - Was the wild, sardonic, extravagant, and brilliant tour of the mind of a  Latvian-American woman, exploring the history of her mental illness (depression) in her family in gorgeous animation.  Each frame is a piece of art.  The reactions I heard were all strong - people loved it or hated it. I'm in the former category.  It was a long involved story which interwove the history of Latvia in the 20th Century, the condition of women, and the migration of depression from generation to generation via the women in her family.  Was it too long as many complained?  I'm sure it could have been edited, but I couldn't tell you where.  Tying all the various threads together was one of the important parts of the film and that took time.  It just wasn't packaged like a typical Hollywood movie.  It requires people to go into a different mental and temporal space, the break loose from our cultural expectations of how a film is supposed to be paced.  Even if someone thought the story got too entangled or long (I didn't) you could just sit back and enjoy the rich imagery of the animation.

The other films I saw (all those in competition, but not all the features at the festival) were at a different level of overall quality.  To my surprise, I liked I Believe in Unicorns.  There was a certain amount of playing with the film images that could have been tacky, but worked.  The film told the story of a young girl and her first love.  The short affair was an escape from taking care of her disabled mom and her choice of boys was not the best.  It felt real and believable.
I also liked Appropriate Behavior and Listening.

One other feature I'd mention is the Mexican Consulate's offering - The Zebra.  It offered us a view of the Mexican revolution through the eyes of two young men who were headed north and looking to join one of the revolutionary groups, though their reason for joining one over the other had little to do with political ideology.   I suspect there is a lot of symbolism I missed.  Certainly the zebra of the title - not a painted horse, not a donkey with stripes, not a Yankee horse, or an African horse (as it was variously described in the film) - symbolized something about knowing what different revolutionary groups.  The theme of every man for himself also must have had more meaning than I understood.  Unfortunately I didn't think of any of these questions when the director was in Anchorage and I could ask him.

Made In Alaska

I only saw two films in this category - The Empty Chair and Kaltag, Alaska - which played together.  (I just checked and I did wee one more - WildLike which I discussed briefly elsewhere.)

So I can't judge how good the other films were.  But I can say that The Empty Chair was a very important film.  Greg Chaney, the film maker, was able to use his own interviews of still living members of the Juneau community who were around in the late 1930s and early 1940's - including some who were sent to internment camps in WWII for being Japanese-Americans - as well as archival footage and home movies from the time to capture an important historical event - the internment of Japanese-American citizens of Juneau in WW II and how the community reacted.  I've written more about what I liked about this film in an earlier post.   Without having seen more than a clip of Detective, Detective, Detective  , but having talked to people who did see it, I would wager a significant amount that in 10 years The Empty Chair will still be an important film - maybe even more so because the some of the people in it might no longer be alive - but the others will have been long forgotten.  I would rank The Empty Chair in among the best documentaries in the festival.

OK, I've gotten that off my chest.

I'll do one or two more posts like this that cover documentaries, shorts, super shorts, and animation.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

On Finding A New President After University President Gamble Retires In June: "you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them they are not worth the search.'

 The Alaska Dispatch reported this week:
FAIRBANKS—University of Alaska President Pat Gamble plans to step down next summer after five years on the job, triggering a move by the UA Board of Regents to begin looking for a new leader at a retreat in January.
"President Gamble's commitment to the university and its students is a deep and genuine one. It capstones a lifetime of serving our country and our state. He deserves the time that retirement will allow to enjoy family and explore personal interests," said UA Regents Chairwoman Jo Heckman of Fairbanks.
Gamble told the regents Friday he plans to retire June 1. He began the job June 1, 2010.

I don't have any further information on this, but think it is important to note, given the drama of the Board of Regents offering him a a longevity bonus earlier this year and then rescinding it after considerable protest around the state.  The bonus might have kept him one more year.  Looks like we saved more than $360K. 

Rather than dwell on the past, it's time to think seriously about finding a new president who will serve the university and the state well.

Replacing university presidents, is a long affair and is almost always a nationwide or even international search.  The American Council on Education (ACE) writes in a 2012 report:

The Presidential Search Process  The presidential search and hiring processes for presidents appointed since 2007 are very different than those used for presidents hired between 1969 and 1983. For example, only 12 percent of presidential searches between the late 1960s and early 1980s employed a search consultant. The share of searches between 2007 and 2011 that used a search consultant was 80 percent. Likewise, only 31 percent of presidents hired between 1969 and 1983 received a written contract, compared with 61 percent of presidents hired between 2007 and 2011.
Presidents do not take lightly the acceptance of a presidential position. As such, most presidents sought advice from a trusted source before making a decision about their current position. The overwhelming choice of counsel for a majority of presidents was colleagues in the field, or family members. Nearly 30 percent of presidents sought no advice prior to accepting their current position.
While a majority of presidents reported having a clear understanding of the job when they accepted it, a sizeable minority expressed confusion or a lack of knowledge over some aspect of the job. For example, at least one out of five presidents stated they were not made fully aware of all institutional challenges, the institution's financial condition, or the expectation of the president during the search process.
Given the academic calendar, searches are usually begun nine months to a year before the position is to be filled.  Starting later than that means many good candidates have already accepted positions for the following academic year.

The timing of this announcement puts the University of Alaska at a distinct disadvantage.  For instance, the University of Nebraska announced four finalists for their presidential search in November.  Their president resigned in January 2014 and they have an interim president for this year.  I'd note they also identified these criteria for their president:
  • A deep understanding of higher education and proven success leading a major organization.
  • Passion for the key role the University of Nebraska plays in ensuring the state’s overall success through teaching, research and service.
  • Willingness to serve as president for at least five years, perhaps up to 10.
  • Credentials sufficient for appointment as a tenured university professor, including an earned Ph.D. or other relevant terminal degree, teaching experience and a personal record of research and scholarship.
This wouldn't be a bad model for Alaska's search.  The second point has to be adapted to Alaska, of course, and experience with Alaska is crucial.  We need someone who knows the state and isn't going to pack up when the temperature drops below 0˚ and the sun goes into semi-hibernation. 

The ACE report cited above also describes the characteristics of university presidents:

In 1986, the first year of ACE’s college president study, the demographic profile of the typical campus leader was a white male in his 50s. He was married with children, Protestant, held a doctorate in education, and had served in his current position for six years.
Twenty-five years later, with few exceptions, the profile has not changed.
Two decades ago, the average age of college and university presidents was 52. Today, it is 61. In fact, in 1986 just 13 percent of presidents were over the age of 60. In 2011, 58 percent of presidents are over 60. One possible reason for this aging of the presidency is the increasing complexity of leading a postsecondary institution. As colleges and universities face a growing number of internal and external challenges, governing boards and search committees are likely looking for more experienced leaders. This tenet is supported by the fact that 54 percent of current presidents in 2011 were presidents in their last position. In 1986, only 40 percent of sitting presidents held a presidency in their previous role.
While college campuses have diversified the racial and ethnic makeup of their student bodies, the racial and ethnic composition of college and university presidents has changed very little. Between 1990 and 2009, the share of college students that were racial and ethnic minorities increased from 20 percent to 34 percent. Between 1986 and 2011, the racial makeup of college presidents only increased from 8 percent to 13 percent. Moreover, when comparing data from the two most recent president studies, racial diversity declined from 14 percent in 2006 to 13 percent in 2011.
A 2008 ACE study1 suggested a possible reason for the continued lack of diversity in the presidency: a lack of racial diversity among the positions that are typically recruiting grounds for college presidencies, senior campus officials. In 2008 only 16 percent of senior administrators were people of color including just 10 percent of chief academic officers (CAO).
Although racial and ethnic diversification of the college presidency has lagged, there has been some headway in gender diversity. In 1986 just 10 percent of college presidents were women. Today, 26 percent of institutional leaders are female. Twenty-five years ago bachelor’s institutions had the greatest share of female presidents. This is not surprising given that most all-female postsecondary institutions were bachelor’s institutions. However in 2011, associate colleges had the largest share of women leaders. One reason for this shift is likely the closing of a large number of all female institutions over the past two decades.  [emphasis added]
The job of university president has evolved and fundraising is now often the major focus.  It's not an easy job.  The Nation had an article last year on the lack leadership and boldness from university presidents these days.  Here's are some quotes they gathered about presidents over the years:
The university president, Upton Sinclair wrote in The Goose-Step [1923], was “the most universal faker and the most variegated prevaricator that has yet appeared in the civilized world.” William Honan, writing in The New York Times in 1994, wondered why college presidents no longer “cut striking figures on the public stage.” “Small Men on Campus: The Shrinking College President” was the headline of a New Republic cover story in 1998. In their 2010 book Higher Education?, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus declared, “Once upon a time, university leaders were seen as sculptors of society.” Now they “are chiefly technocrats, agile climbers who reach the top without making too many enemies or mistakes.”
The whole article would be useful for the search committee to read and ponder as they begin their task.  

So would Milton Greenberg's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education - the one from which I got the Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice quote  ("You shall seek. . ." that's in the title.   He finds  no evidence that search firms  perform any better than the older, cheaper ways universities have found presidents.  He writes, in part,
Now, many years into retirement, I continue to smile at the increasingly convoluted drama of hiring for presidents—and now just about every leadership position. The entire process, managed by a horde of costly "search consultants," has developed partly out of legal and policy requirements regarding inclusiveness, but mainly out of the all-too-human perception that out there somewhere, someone superior to anyone already on campus awaits the call of greatness. These mysterious people are thought to be known to search firms that have rooms full of Rolodexes and computers full of databases chockablock with the names of reluctant candidates whose ambitions just need a nudge.

Yet there is no evidence that the use of a search firm improves the quality or longevity of administrative leaders compared with those chosen the old-fashioned way, by an internal committee, the board of trustees, or the appointing officer based on crony politics. The same lack of evidence applies to the promotion of inside candidates. David Riesman suggested that people tend to undervalue insiders that they know, and to longingly await the brilliant, good-looking stranger who captures the room by storm.

Since 1921, according to the University of Alaska website, we have had 14 presidents.  Two were interim, short term appointments, and one seems to have fled the state when he discovered all the dirty laundry he'd inherited.

The table below is adapted from a similar table at the University of Alaska website.  It, however, left out a picture of Wendy Redman.  I thought it was because she only served as interim president, but another, male, interim president did have his picture up.  So I decided to add her to my chart.  Each name links to short bio of the president.

Our last two presidents have been generals - one army and one air force.  Mark Hamilton championed hard and strong and increased the University's budget.  Patrick Gamble acted as the MBA he is and managed cut back strategies rather than advocating for the university.  I  feel it is important to get back to a president who comes from an academic background.  The next years will be full of turmoil given that the financial doomsday forecasts appear finally to be coming true.   The new president will have to be an articulate and passionate advocate for the university as well as a person with understanding of the underlying purpose of a university, its role in society, and how to fulfill that purpose in the modern era of changing economic and technological times. 

Do we have good candidates who are already in Alaska?  One who comes to mind is Fran Ulmer who served as Chancellor of UAA.  I'm sure there are others, including some with prior Alaska experience who have since moved out of state. 

Pondering these past presidents should be part of the search process.  Where have we been and where are we going?  Which of these presidents moved us forward, backward, or just held us in place?  How can that knowledge help in finding a new president?

1921-1949 Charles Bunnell

1973-1977 Robert W. Hiatt
 1984-1998Donald D. O'Dowd            
1949-1953 Terris Moore

1977-1977 Charles O. Ferguson
1990-1998 Jerome Komisar
1953-1960 Ernest Patty

1977-1977 Neil D. Humphrey
1998-1998 Wendy Redman
1960-1973 William Wood
1977-1979 Foster F. Diebold
1998-2010 Mark R. Hamilton

1979 - 1984 Jay Barton
2010-2015 Patrick K Gamble

It's easy to sit at home and write about this task.  I have no illusions about the difficulties the new search committee will face.  Most likely, the Regents will follow the national trend cited in the ACE report and hire an academic search firm.  Academic 360 lists about 70 firms that would be happy to do the search for UA.  That could easily cost the $360,000 bonus the president didn't get.  (Ohio State paid $610,000 for their President search)
Over the course of a six month presidential search, OSU used “unrestricted funds” to pay a private search firm, a private business jet rental company and other various restaurants and businesses in the Columbus area, expenses that one OSU professor said don’t seem extreme.
Personally, I would like a president who would be appalled that the Board of Regents were spending that kind of money on the search.  I want a president who wants to lead a great university, not one who needs to be pampered.  

The search committee will have to work hard not to be intimidated by the search firm.  I wish them, and us - the people of Alaska - good luck along with the diligence they'll need to find a great president for the University of Alaska.  in searching for a new president. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

AIFF 2014: Reflections On This Year's Festival From Jim Parker and From Me

The festival activities are now over (well, as I write this there are still people in the Alaska Experience Theater watching the last movie in Best of the Fest).  Let me take a first stab at some of my reactions to this festival.  But first, here's Jim Parker, Director of Film Programming, talking on Dec. 13, about how the festival was going for him.

Jim has been really great to work with as a blogger trying to get information about the festival this year and in previous years.  So I'm not at all happy with the news that he's moving to North Carolina, but he did say he hopes to be up for the festival next year.

Now, my thoughts:

1.  Technical Issues

I experienced fewer technical glitches and I didn't hear about them from others.  There were a couple of times when the wrong film began to play, but it  was quickly fixed.  I don't know about any showings that had to be canceled because the the film was in a format that particular theater couldn't play or other technical problems.

I'm still hoping they'll have a way to play movies without the audience seeing the computer screen as the projectionist (can we still use that term?) goes through the list of films and then clicks the right one.  (And while part of me likes the transparency of that, another part would like the film to just come on without us seeing under the hood.)

2.  The Festival Trailer

We've had good ones in the past, but no matter how good they were, after seeing them about four or five times (they're played before each film), they tended to get tiresome.  This year's trailer incorporated clips from about 20 different films in the festival and had music that I enjoyed hearing each time it played. I never got bored watching this one and I watched it a lot of times. And I enjoyed the care with which the clips were edited and how the music worked with the video - especially as it went to the clip from Taking My Parents To Burning Man.  Each time, I could identify a clip from one more movie I'd seen.

2014 Anchorage International Film Festival Teaser from Anchorage Int'l Film Festival on Vimeo.

3.  The Venues

The Museum and the Alaska Experience Theater are a five minute walk from each other.  That was good.  The Bear Tooth had no films the second weekend this year.  I never made it to the library or the Alaska Community Works.  Perhaps ride share boards could be put up in the venues for people looking for a ride to get to another showing.  For the most part, the volunteers seemed to be good at getting rides for visiting film makers, but others could have used some help too.  The Bear Tooth had good lighting for film makers doing Q&A after the films.  In the past, I've had to settle for sound only because the stage was too dark for video.  The sound had an echo up front, but when I moved back and to the middle it was better.  Mike at the Bear Tooth was great, and the Alaska Experience Theater staff was doing a lot more too - like food and drinks.  They also had a scanner for pass holders which made getting tickets much faster.  And they had 'real' tickets.

4.  The Films

Overall, I thought we've had stronger fields in the past.  There were plenty of good films.  Animation and Narrative Shorts were strong, but there was only one program of animated films.  There were a lot more Alaska films and they got audiences.  I only got to see two - but one, The Empty Chair, was really, really good.  The films offered a very diverse set of experiences and points of view.  And as much as I complain about not being able to see everything, that's not really a bad thing.  I'll talk more about the films I liked in a later post. [UPDATE:  Dec. 29:  Here's my list of favorites compared to the festival awards - and comments on the features.  I'm working on the documentaries.]  One word that came to me throughout, and I heard from others, was "editing."  A lot of films seemed to go on too long.  It's hard to cut up your baby, but it often makes a better film.

5.  Scheduling

With so many films shown in different locations, it's impossible to make a perfect schedule. But I'd like it to be not only possible, but relatively easy, to see all the films in competition in any one category.  Animation:  no problem.  They were all in one program.  Narrative Shorts?  Much harder.  Thursday had all three programs playing.  You could watch the Love and Pain program and then the Mixed Bag program.  But the Global Village overlapped the other two.  And the Mixed Bag program only played once.  You had to carefully read the program in advance to see that the only way to see all the Narrative Shorts was to go to the first Global Village program the first weekend.

I wasn't able to see all the documentaries in competition, but I think I could have, if I sacrificed seeing those of another category.

A little more attention to timing would have helped a couple of times.  One night there was an hour gap between films at the Bear Tooth.  The next night the gap was 75 minutes.  They could have put in most of a shorts program in the gap.  Or had some film discussions for the audience members who were staying for the next film.

6.  Visiting Film Makers

There were lots of them and it was great hearing them after their films and talking to them in between films.  It would be nice if they had badges that labeled them as film makers so that audience members could know more easily.

Those are just some off the top of my head thoughts that I wanted to get down before I forget them.

And Bye Jim, we're going to miss you.