Monday, November 30, 2015

"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything” - Mark Twain Would be 180 Years Old Today

Mark Twain
Born:  November 30, 1835, Florida, MO
Died: April 21, 1910, Redding, CT

I had the good fortune to go to a Junior High school named after someone I actually admired - Mark Twain.   So here are some quotes attributed to him at GoodReads:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
― Mark Twain 
"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”― Mark Twain

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Mark Twain

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”
― Mark Twain

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
― Mark Twain

“Classic' - a book which people praise and don't read.”
― Mark Twain

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
― Mark Twain

“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.”
― Mark Twain

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
― Mark Twain

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”
― Mark Twain

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
― Mark Twain

“Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
― Mark Twain

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
― Mark Twain

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”
― Mark Twain

“I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
― Mark Twain

“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?”
― Mark Twain

“I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.”
― Mark Twain

“Life is short, Break the Rules.
Forgive quickly, Kiss SLOWLY.
Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably
And never regret ANYTHING
That makes you smile.”
― Mark Twain

“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.”
― Mark Twain

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain

“Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.”
― Mark Twain

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”
― Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World

“Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.”
― Mark Twain

“What would men be without women? Scarce, sir...mighty scarce.”
― Mark Twain

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
― Mark Twain

“Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”
― Mark Twain

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
― Mark Twain

“Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”
― Mark Twain

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Trump's Poll Numbers: 70-80% Of Republicans Support Someone Else

I've been frustrated with the media frenzy over Trump.  So what if he's leading the polls right now?  For example, this graphic from Real Clear Politics, has Trump averaging in recent polls 26.7:

click to enlarge and focus

I tried to find the question that voters were asked, but I suspect different polls were slightly different. The assumption is that they were asked whom they would vote for (today?  at the primary?), but another poll I found asked who they thought would be the Republican candidate.  There the numbers for Trump were much higher.

But really, 26.7 percent means that 73.3 percent are supporting other candidates.  And these are just Republicans.  It would be more than that if all the other voters - Democrats and undeclared - were taken into account.   As other candidates drop from the race, how many will move over to Trump?

We can't predict for sure anything at this point - the numbers are relatively low (spread among a lot of candidates) and lots will happen between now and when someone gets the actual Republican nomination.

The media, rather than looking deeply into the important issues and how the candidates' statements jibe with the truth (yes, they are doing some of that) are highlighting the outrageous, merely spurring the other candidates on to be more extreme.  The link goes to what sounds much more like a blog post than something from the New York Times.

So as I was looking up numbers for this post, I got the the fivethirtyeight blog  (posted November 23, 2015), which was saying pretty much what I was thinking, but with much more statistical rigor:
 Right now, he [Trump] has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.) As the rest of the field consolidates around him, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. That might not be easy, since some Trump actions that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans (and awful among the broader electorate).

All this fuss about what 6 to 8 percent of the overall electorate want?  Puts it in a much different light.

So, forget the polls and the attention seeking antics, and read up on the issues.  For instance here's a giant climate change meeting (COP21) in Paris starting Monday.  Do you know what COP21 stands for?  Here's some help from Radio France Internationale:

"The COP21-UNFCC is a convenient and abridged acronym for an international conference and summit due to take place in Paris, France from 30 November to 11 December 2015. COP21 stands for the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."

Chattng With Guterson, Brunelle, And Hinman At Bainbridge Island Bookstore

We wandered into downtown Winslow and stopped at the bookstore (Eagle Harbor Book Co.) where we ran into three local Bainbridge Island authors on display with their books.  I guess this can be anywhere from author hell to heaven, trying to get people to buy your books.  And for me it was a chance to talk to three writers.

Gutterson with Problems With People and Cedars
I had read David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars long ago - it won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.  It weaves in Bainbridge Island's complicated history of Japanese-Americans' relationship to the white population on the island through a murder trial.   It deals with the essential topic of this blog - how do we know what's true?  Did Kabuo kill Carl over old family feuds?  There's also a pivotal role for a journalist who has his own history with the families involved.  

David's new book is short stories titled, Problems with People.  We talked a bit about the difficulties of writing about people you know.  He offered that when it's fictionalized, no one really knows what is true and what is not.  Except, I suggested, those involved, and they might not agree with the writer's view of events.  Personal experiences are critical fodder for a serious writer.  It's a dilemma.   

Lynn Brunelle, was enjoying the opportunity to talk about her book Mama Gone Geek As I understood her,  it's about figuring out ways to talk to her kids about big questions - like why Grandma was forgetting things, but really was into Santa Claus when her son was starting to question Santa Claus.  Using science.

She used DNA to help explain where babies come from.

My daughter told me when we got home that Lynne was one of the writers for the Bill Nye The Science Guy television show.

The third author was Wendy Hinman.  From the title of her book, Tightwads On The Loose, I thought this was going to be about how to live cheap.  It is, in a way, but it's really about her seven years of sailing adventures with her husband on a 31 foot sailboat.  The route our discussion focused on was from Japan to Seattle - a 49 day trip that was a little south of the northern route that freighters take.  I asked if she seen the Pacific Gyre - the continent of floating plastic in the north Pacific - and she said no.  It tends not to have good winds and they were sailing.  Their radio went out fairly quickly, so all they had in case of trouble was an emergency beacon.

Since I'm from Alaska, she mentioned her friend's book, Treadwell Gold.  We had been to the mine back in 2010 when Dennis, a Juneau local with long family ties to the mine, took us around.

Here, from the Hinman's book, is a map of their travels.  Sorry it's not a little clearer, but you make it bigger and clearer by clicking on the image.

[Update Nov. 30, 2015:  I once told an ADN reporter it would be nice to have an editor to catch my typos.  He told me, no, I was better off without one.  He was talking more bout choice of what I wrote and and how I wrote, not about typos.   That's all a preface to a mea culpa to Wendy and David for misspelling your names.  Wendy's caught while I was posting, but left it wrong in the title.  I put an extra t in David's.  But I think I've got it right now.]

Friday, November 27, 2015

Who Are The Real Crybabies?

Here's the column headline that spawned this post:
Really?  Black students complaining about mistreatment on campus are 'crybabies'? (I've given my thoughts on the Missouri protests already.) What better way to avoid talking about the issues and to dismiss their complaints, than simply calling them names.  It seems to me that name calling and crybabies are both common in primary school.

By high school, some students learn logic and the common logical fallacies, like ad hominem attacks (from Logically Fallacious):

argumentum ad hominem
(also known as:  personal abuse, personal attacks, abusive fallacy, damning the source, name calling, needling [form of], refutation by character)
Description: Attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself, when the attack on the person is completely irrelevant to the argument the person is making.
Logical Form:Person 1 is claiming Y.
Person 1 is a moron.
Therefore, Y is not true.
I googled crybabies.  The first couple of pages yielded two more stories calling black students crybabies.   (And more links to a podcast called Crybabies which, from what I can tell, celebrates people actually showing emotions.) This reminds me of the old stories of conservatives sending out the daily soundbites for media to use and you'd find the same words and stories repeated over and over again.

I did find one from a leftist perspective:

The GOP crybabies for Colbert are the Republican candidates complaining about getting difficult questions at the CNBC debate.  Presidential candidates who can't deal with media questions does seem a lot more petty than black students standing up to continued racial discrimination on campus.

I also found a Salon article about Republican Crybabies that helps us understand where this is coming from:
Why Are Conservatives Such Whiny Crybabies? From Fox News to angry police, the right's stock-in-trade is predictable and lame.
Paul Rosenberg
February 5, 2015
 Over the years, Salon columnist Heather “Digby” Parton has written repeatedly about GOP/conservative hissy fits, most notably in her 2007 classic, ‘The Art of the Hissy Fit,’ where she noted that, “the right’s successful use of phony sanctimony and faux outrage…often succeeded in changing the dialogue and titillating the media into a frenzy of breathless tabloid coverage.”  It first caught her attention in the late ’90s, when top GOP adulterers Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston  ”pretended to be offended at the president’s extramarital affair” as well as being outraged that Democrats raised campaign money just like they did.   .   .
“[I]t’s about more than simple political distraction or savvy public relations. It’s actually a very well developed form of social control called Ritual Defamation (or Ritual Humiliation)” Digby wrote, linking to this explanatory article, and quoting the following passage:
Defamation is the destruction or attempted destruction of the reputation, status, character or standing in the community of a person or group of persons by unfair, wrongful, or malicious speech or publication. For the purposes of this essay, the central element is defamation in retaliation for the real or imagined attitudes, opinions or beliefs of the victim, with the intention of silencing or neutralizing his or her influence, and/or making an example of them so as to discourage similar independence and “insensitivity” or non-observance of taboos. It is different in nature and degree from simple criticism or disagreement in that it is aggressive, organized and skillfully applied, often by an organization or representative of a special interest group, and in that it consists of several characteristic elements.

There's a lot more, that was just an appetizer.  One could argue about the title of this last piece using the word 'crybabies' too, except that here that really is the topic - having typical crybaby hissy fits over stuff that really isn't anything serious, in an attempt to defame the person being attacked.  

*[This was the headline in the Alaska Dispatch News, but I haven't figured out how to get non-subscriber links to their syndicated columns and articles.  This Washington Post version has a different title, but includes crybabies in the first line.]
I'd also note that this article then goes on to blame it on the "Everybody Gets A Trophy culture,"  which, I'm willing to bet, is not something most black college students grew up with.  If anything, that was a white phenomenon.  Black kids have had their self-esteem denigrated every day in school, in the media, and everywhere else.  And black mothers are known for preparing their sons on how to deal with police.  They aren't just making this up.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving Political Correctness

'Real'* political correctness is when the government punishes people who do not follow the prescribed way of behaving or who criticize the government's ideology.  It's not about opinion, or about tolerance, it's about having the power to impose one's ideology on others.

The term 'politically correct' is surfacing a lot once again.  Generally it's used to criticize attempts to purge offensive language.   The current campus protests over the term "black lives matter" is a case in point.  Ben Carson calls this 'political correctness going amok."

And Thanksgiving regularly brings on its own 'political correctness' battles.
  • Thanksgiving and Political Correctness  - this one eventually gets to complaining about a school that decided to drop the Thanksgiving and Christmas and just call their days off  'school holidays.'
  • Social Commentary: A ‘politically correct’ Thanksgiving? - This one weighs the inaccurate story of the original Thanksgiving, the genocide of Native Americans, and says kids need to know the awful facts.  It then concludes that these really have little to do with what Americans celebrate on Thanksgiving, so go eat your turkey. 
Perhaps this last one is most indicative of the media's role in the debates over  'political correctness':
Actually this one only mentions political correctness in the title and complains about liberals talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner.  I'm guessing the editor stuck political correctness in the title simply  because it stirs people up and they'll click on it.  And that media use here, like in other controversies, may be the biggest issue here.  But that's another post.

But those emotions do indicate a conflict.  Mostly about how things have 'always' been and challenges to the stories that paint the US as the greatest nation ever, papering over little aberrations such as slavery, income inequality, and the attempted decimation of Native Americans who were in the way of Manifest Destiny.

That's clearly the case for Thanksgiving:  "Dammit, let's just sit down and eat our turkey and watch football and stop yammering about the poor Indians" versus "Thanksgiving celebrates the Europeans being saved by Native Americans just before the Europeans took all their land and killed most of them off."

My take on 'political correctness' in general is that in the past, the US was dominated by white, male, Protestants of means.   They had the economic power and political power and could dictate not only what was going to happen, but also the stories about what had happened in the past.

There were a number of encroachments starting with Andrew Jackson's election, the abolition of slavery, Irish and Italian immigration, the Seventeenth Amendment (direct election of Senators), and the Nineteenth Amendment (women's right to vote).  In the mid 20th Century,  school desegregation and the Voting Rights Act were big changes.  Immigration reform in 1965 that ended the dominance of European immigrants, the Vietnam War, the election of a black President, and eventually gay rights and same sex marriage all whittled away at the perceived power and privilege of white, male, Protestants.  The wealthy found ways to keep their power and used their affinity to poor, white, male Protestants to rally their political support with appeals to anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-tax, and anti-immigration themes.  All the while attacking any comments about economic inequality as 'class warfare."

Today, it's bad to be called a racist.  The term PC is most often used when people are chastised or even lose their jobs for using terms that are deemed racist or offensive to people based on group, rather than individual, characteristics.  But in the 1950s and beyond, being labeled a communist could cost one one's job.  Same thing for being labeled a homosexual.  During the 1960's, the use of certain four letter words was forbidden in most formal settings and Vietnam war protestors were called traitors.

Political correctness has been with us forever, but the term has been associated particularly with efforts of people on the left to promote their values.  The same actions by people on the right have been seen as 'normal,' as simply protecting traditional values.

The underlying concept of political correctness is to prevent someone from doing or saying something that is not in line with those in power.

When conservatives attack gays or limits on government displays of religion, no one calls that 'political correctness', but it is precisely that.  It's trying to prevent people from doing or saying things which do not agree with their belief system.  It gained the label of PC only when the conservatives no longer had the power to impose their values on everyone else.

I attribute this to a changing balance of power.  In the past, the political, social, and economic systems all supported things like oppression of blacks, of women, of gays.   So much so that people assumed that it was the normal, natural way things were supposed to be.  They didn't recognize that such oppression was simply the imposition of the ideology and/or personal interests of those in power over those without power.

When those traditionally without power began to challenge them, the challengers were seen as the people imposing political correctness and the power holders couldn't even see their own long term imposition of political correctness.  

Wikipedia has a detailed article tracing the evolution of the term 'political correctness.'  In the 20th Century, it was first used to mean following the Communist Party line.  Then, it started being used in arcane leftist academic debates.  Next,
[t]he previously obscure far-left term became common currency in the lexicon of the conservative social and political challenges against progressive teaching methods and curriculum changes in the secondary schools and universities of the U.S. Policies, behavior, and speech codes that the speaker or the writer regarded as being the imposition of a liberal orthodoxy, were described and criticized as "politically correct".  .   .
After 1991, its use as a pejorative phrase became widespread amongst conservatives in the US. It became a key term encapsulating conservative concerns about the left in culture and political debate more broadly, as well as in academia. Two articles on the topic in late 1990 in Newsweek both used the term "thought police" in their headlines, exemplifying the tone of the new usage, but it was Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (1991) which "captured the press's imagination."

To me, political correctness is not a good thing.  People in a democracy should be able to debate and make decisions based on a wide ranging consideration of the pros and cons of any situation.  I've commented on the recent resignations of college presidents over how people of color are treated on their campuses.

I get it that middle-class white folks, who used to have things pretty good, are upset because their economic situation is eroding, or for many, the belief that they could always do better is eroding.  Laws and policies that kept women and people of color from power did give white males privileges and power that others just didn't have.  As the playing field levels, I'm sure it's scary.

But what does it mean for Thanksgiving?

I like the idea of a holiday in which we stop and give thanks for what we have.  And as we notice what all we do have, we might also notice that others are doing without, and that we can share with them.

That this holiday is linked with a particular story about history that makes everything seem warm and fuzzy, when this was not the case, is problematic.  Can Native Americans truly be comfortable with this holiday?  I suspect not.  That's the most serious issue.

Is there a way to delink the holiday from the Pilgrims?  Maybe.  Is there a way to retell the story that would be more accurate and satisfy most Native Americans?  I doubt it.  Is there a way to recognize what the European settlers did to the original North American population and makes satisfactory amends?  Maybe, but the damage was so massive, that I doubt it can be repaired, or that voters would approve it if it could be.  Is there a symbolic way to make amends?  Probably lots, beginning with respect and recognition of the damage done.

And finally, I have to address the question whether I too am guilty of exploiting the term political correctness for Thanksgiving hits.  That may be some small part of my motivation here.  I had been working on a post about political correctness already, and it seemed appropriate to tie these two together.

Happy Thanksgiving.

* Of course, with issues such as this, 'real' doesn't quite exist.  The meaning of things is interpretation and different people interpret things differently.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Fair and Moral Compensation" - A Followup Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

So, How About Wrongful Treatment Insurance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See  follow up post.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Expanding Humpty Dumpty For 2015 And Beyond

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In Good Company

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

Al Jolson is nearby in the opposite direction.  

Hank Greenberg is also there.

 And then there's Dinah Shore. 

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

From Ashes To Ashes And Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIFF 2015: Documentaries In Competition - Intro

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

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

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

Children of the Arctic Director Brandestini

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

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

AIFF 2015: Documentaries In Competition 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost & Found Official Trailer from Frank Films on Vimeo.

Lost & Found Official Trailer from Frank Films on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the trailer:

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

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

Short Docs - colors show which programs they're in

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

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

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

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

Czepiec winning Special Mention at GoShort Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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