Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Can Papa Pilgrim Help Us Understand the Nevada Cattle Ranger?

If we glean out the facts from this LA Times piece we learn:

  • "The Bureau of Land Management say Bundy is illegally running hundreds of head of cattle in the 600,000-acre Gold Butte area, habitat of the federally protected desert tortoise."
  • "Bundy, 68, has refused to pay BLM grazing fees since 1993, arguing in court filings that his Mormon ancestors worked the land long before the BLM was formed, giving him rights that predate federal involvement."
  • "Federal officials moved in to remove the animals, but called off the roundup nine days ago, saying they wanted to avoid violence. . ."
  • " dozens of supporters - many armed with rifles and automatic weapons - gathered at the Bundy ranch 90 miles north of Las Vegas."
Nevada's two US Senators see the event from two different ideological frameworks.  Democrat Harry Reid calls Bundy "a domestic terrorist."

Republican Dean Heller calls him "a patriot."

How do we know which is the accurate portrayal of what's going on?  Or if either of them are accurate?  It's just the sort of question that's perfect for this blog and its underlying question of "how do we know what we know?"

We're at that stage were the facts are slowly emerging and the media are trying to figure out which of their stock story lines this story fits.  

Is Bundy the disgruntled individualist illegally using public land and refusing to pay his fair share?  Or is the government unfairly treating a good American citizen?  Or will the media get more traction on this story if they frame it as the poster event that highlights the conservative-liberal ideological split in the US?

I suggest that people tentatively try out different possible explanations.  Lay them out as possible interpretations of the facts, all the while remembering we don't really know all the facts.  We just know the facts that the media have presented.  Why have they presented these particular facts?  Because they fit their preconceived story?  Are the facts even accurate?  What other facts haven't been mentioned yet?

As part of this exercise, I'd offer the story of Papa Pilgrim as told by Tom Kizzia in his book Pilgrim's Wilderness.
It's a similar story that played out in Alaska a dozen years ago.  A large family (17 kids I think) living on private land within the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  They had bulldozed a road through Park land without permits, crossing a number of streams.  Their buildings seemed to encroach of Park land.

The challenged individual Park employees who came to talk to them about their road and the encroachments.  It was at a time when new legislation had created a number of National Parks on US government owned land in Alaska - land that a number of folks around the state had been living on.  There was a movement of such folks to fight the Federal government's 'takeover' of the land and to enforce their own rights to stay put.  These folks embraced the Pilgrim family as a symbol of true Americans being harassed by the federal government for trying to live the American dream.

This story unfolded on the pages of the local newspapers - covered in depth by one Anchorage Daily News reporter, Tom Kizzia, who had a cabin in McCarthy, a small town inside Wrangell- St. Elias National Park and near to where the Pilgrim family had settled. Here's a post I did on McCarthy in 2008.

Eventually he wrote the book, Pilgrim's Wilderness, which filled in a lot of information that hadn't been available as events were unfolding.  It turned out that Papa Pilgrim (Robert Hale) had been a wealthy teenager in Texas who was dating John Connally's daughter.   The same John Connally who was wounded along with John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  The University of Texas, Texas Politics website mentions, in its bio of Connally:
Their eldest, Kathleen, eloped in 1958 at age sixteen and the same year died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
 Kizzia also writes about this event in Pilgrim's Wilderness  Papa Pilgrim, back in 1958 was in the motel room with her when she died.  He claimed her death was an accident, though others believe he killed her.

Later he takes to studying the Bible and over the years interpreting it more and more bizarre ways.  He later marries another 16 year old, when he is older and they have child after child as they wander to New Mexico and eventually to Alaska.

Kizzia finds in police documents - Papa Pilgrim eventually got a plea deal so none of the story was played out publicly in the courtroom - that Papa Pilgrim had been abusing his eldest daughter sexually and many of the other children and his wife physically.

I offer this story, not to say that the Nevada story is the same.  I don't know that.  But there are a lot of similarities.  A family claiming a right to use federal land with a federal agency questioning that right and saying they were trying to enforce the law.  In both situations the feds acted carefully, fearing a violent confrontation.  In both cases, local anti-government activists used the families as symbols of their cause against the government.

There are some differences too.  Bundy's family has been using the land since 1993 at least and claims an even longer family use of it.  The Pilgrim family was only in their Wrangell-St. Elias home a couple of years and in Alaska a little longer.   The Pilgrim family began to alienate their McCarthy neighbors and there was no armed standoff to support them against the feds. 

When my book club discussed Pilgrim's Wilderness last month, most of us had been reluctant to take up the book thinking we already knew the story, yet we were quickly drawn into Kizzia's telling of the story and all the background information about the Pilgrim's that gave much more depth and explanation for what all happened.

We will learn more about what's happening in Nevada, but whether there will be a writer who will eventually dig deeper and fill in the missing facts as Kizzia has, we don't know.  So, for now, I offer Pilgrim's Wilderness as a gripping account of a (at least superficially) similar event in Alaska.  Only time will tell if Bundy will also turn out to be a tyrannical patriarch who uses religion to justify his unjustifiable actions or something more sympathetic, even a hero.    

Monday, April 21, 2014

To Release a Dove, You First Have To Capture And Imprison It

This was the cover of Parade magazine yesterday.  The caption I cut off says:

"The Pontiff released a dove . . ."

Long ago, in Thailand, I participated in releasing little birds as a New Year's activity where you are supposed to gain merit for letting the birds free.

But I couldn't get past the fact that someone first had to catch and imprison the bird so that you could buy it and let it free.  Somehow that seemed to contradict the whole idea of giving it freedom. 

I thought about that when I saw this picture and the caption. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Anchorage Spring

Ice is melting.

The ravens have been around all winter. 

Some mallards also spent the winter.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How To Shoplift Without Getting Caught - This Only Works For Whites

In 2005, Larry Summers, then President of Harvard, suggested, in a speech, that the gap between men and women in the sciences, might be due to genetic differences between males and females.

Four years later someone asked a panel of scientists "the Larry Summers" question:
"Does anyone want to explain the genetic difference between men and women which explains why there are more men than women in science?"

Panelist Neil Degrasse Tyson offered to address the question.  Here's what he said:
I’ve never been female, but I have been black my whole life, so let me offer some insights from that perspective because there are many similar social issues related to access to equal opportunity that we find in the black community as well as the community of women in a white male dominated society. . . 
I’ve known I wanted to do astro-physics since I was nine years old.  Since the first visit to the Hayden Planetarium.  So I got to see how the world around me reacted to my expression of these ambitions.

All I can say is, the fact that I wanted to be a scientist and astro-physicist was hands down the path of most resistance through the forces of society.  Any time I expressed that interest to a teacher, they’d say, “Don’t you want to be an athlete?”  I wanted to become something that was outside the paradigm of expectation of the people in power.

So fortunately my depth of interest was so deep, and so fuel enriched, that every one of these curve balls I was thrown and fences that were in front of me, and hills,   I just reached for more fuel and kept going.  Now here I am, one, I think, of the most visible scientists in the land and I want to look behind me and say where are the others who might have done this, and they’re not there.

And I wonder, how, where is the blood on the tracks, that I happened to survive and others did not, simply because of the forces of society that prevented, at every turn.  To the point that I have security following me every time I go through department stores, presuming I’m a thief.  I walked out of a store one time and the alarm went off and so they came running to me.  I walked through the gate at the same time a white male walked through the gate.  And that guy just walked off with the stolen goods, knowing they would stop me and not him.  That’s an interesting exploitation.  What a scam that was. People should do that more often.
So, my life experience tells me that when you don’t find blacks in the sciences, you don’t find women in the sciences, I know these forces in the world are real and I had to survive them to get where I am today.  So before we start talking about genetic differences, you’ve got to come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity.  Then we can have that conversation."  
Here's the video, cued to that part of the discussion:

Tyson's anecdotal stories on this are pretty convincing to me (along with the many similar reports of things like this I've read and heard.)  But here's a more academic version focused on women.

Here's an updated version I posted on Daily Kos.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Indigènitude and Revisiting History

We start out learning that 'history'  is what's written in the history text books.  It's generally a chronological account of what happened in the past.   It's got the names of key people - kings. presidents, rich people, and others who were famous for something in their era.  It's got lots of dates.  It has stories that explain what happened and these stories all manage emphasize and support important cultural values. 

Events that seem to contradict the cultural values - like slavery in the US - are either left
out or written about in a way that sugar coats them or, as with slavery's abolition, made to prove that the cultural values win in the end.

I think most people understand, at least vaguely, that history isn't exactly an accurate account.  We say things like, "History is written by the victors."  And we have terms like 'revisionist history.'  But I think the inculcation of the cultural myths really sticks in the subconscious - unless you are in one of the groups that history (what actually happened) didn't favor.

And I've read a fair amount of challenges to even the notion of history as we know it.  And so, as I read the passage below, I basically understand it and agree, but I imagine a lot of people rolling their eyes and make jokes about academic navel gazing and using terms like psychobabble.

"I have suggested that "history" belongs, significantly, to others.  Its discourses and temporal shapes are idiomatic and varied.  A concept of "historical practice" can help expand our range of attention, allowing us to take seriously the claims of oral transmission, genealogy, and ritual processes.  These embodied, practical ways of representing the past have not been considered fully, realistically, historical by modern ideologies that privilege literacy and chronology.  Historical practice can act as a translation tool for rethinking "tradition," a central process of indigenous survival and renewal.  For example, native claims for recognition, land, cultural rights, and sovereignty always assume a continuity rooted in kinship and place.  It is easy to understand this sense of belonging existentially backward looking - tradition as inheritance, as a "residual" element in the contemporary mix.  However, when conceived as historical practice, tradition is freed from a primary association with the past and grasped as a way of actively connecting different times:  a source of transformation (Phillips, 2004).  A vision of unified history thus yields to entangled historical practices.  Tradition and its many near synonyms (heritage, patrimoine, costumbre, coutume, kastom, adat)denote interactive, creative, and adaptive processes."
But I think this author, James Clifford, is writing about very complex subjects and is using the specialized language of his field.  He's using words a little differently than they are used in every day language.  But because he's writing about topics that tend to fall into what we call social science or humanities, people think they should be able to understand it.  When physicists or biologists get off into specialized language on complex issues, especially when the throw in mathematical formulas, people just accept they don't understand it.  But something like history, we think, should be transparent.

It's so easy to dismiss things we totally don't understand.  The advantage that those working in the natural sciences sometimes have, is that they use tangible experiments that demonstrate what they are talking about.  They can give you email or send a rocket out into space and bring back photos to prove their theory works. 

Why does this even matter?  I haven't read enough to be sure where he's taking this, but for me, it's important to untangle the threads of the histories woven by the dominant groups in society and reweave in the legitimate roles of the people who have been thrown off their land and whose legitimacy has been left out of the patterns of history.  (Boy, that was a forced metaphor!)  I'm particularly intrigued by what he's saying about indigenous peoples.

Things like:

Indigenous people have emerged from history's blind spot. .  .

Today the word "indigenous" describes a work in progress. .  . (p. 13)

Like negritude, indigènitude is a vision of liberation and cultural difference that challenges, or at least redirects, the modernizing agends of nation-states and transnational capitalism.  Indigènitude is performed at the United Nations and the International Labor Organization, at arts and cultural festivals, at political events, and in many informal travels and contacts.  Indigènitude is less a coherent ideology than a concatenation of sources and projects.  It operates at multiple scales:  local traditions (kinship, language renewal, subsistence hunting, protection of sacred sites); national agendas and symbols (Hawai'ian sovereignty, Mayan politics in Guatemala, Maori mobilizations in Aotearoa/New Zealand);  and transnational activism ("Red Power" from the global sixties, or today's social movements around cultural values, the environment and identity, movements often allied with NGO's).  (p. 16)
 Just something to chew on.  

Returns is Clifford's third book on this theme. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Back In Anchorage

It was overcast when we left LA this morning, but was clear over parts of California.  This juxtaposition between the human made patterns and the natural always fascinates me.

Flying over an island in Prince William Sound. 

It was low tide as we flew over the mudflats surrounding Anchorage. 

Our pick-up was going to be later than our arrival, so we walked to Lake Hood to meet them.  While the lake is still icy, there was no snow or ice on our way. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


"Any substance arranged in a thin, open structure could be described as a lamella structure, for example the lace-like marrow found in the center of bones. In architecture, the term refers to a specific type of timber construction; originally developed by Fritz Zollinger in 1908, it was patented as the Zollinger-Bauweise in 1910 and was most commonly used between the World Wars when metal beams were cost prohibitive. The technique may be over a hundred years old, but the look has been adopted by contemporary design.
Originally, lamella was used for barrel-vaulted roofs. Today, designers are taking advantage of the open framework, sinuous lines and lightweight feel for all different types of designs."

We met friends at the Culver City Metro Terminal and walked over to check out the Hayden Tract.  I'd posted a picture of the Samitaur Tower three years ago and two readers left omments that it was by architect Eric Owen  and that the New Yorker had just done an article about the area.  At that time they were building the light rail line and the station wasn't there.

Anyway, we walked over from the station, not the most direct route, and stuck our heads into the first building that someone pointed out as one of the Hayden Tract.  Amelia Feichtner came out to talk to us about the building - an old warehouse that the Cuningham Group reworked to make their office.  The structure in the center is a Lamella structure.

A lot of desks are out in the open, and then there are the containers here and there used as offices - though some are not yet occupied.  

The lamella structure has two separate rooms - the conference room you see, and a video room that you can enter from the back.  Despite its 100 year old history, the way Amelia described it, it sounded like it's still a bit experimental. 

This picture shows the side of the lamella structure and one of the containers used as an office.   As you might imagine, this is an architecture firm.  


Here I'm standing near the lamella structure looking back at the reception area and front door. 

This link gets you to another such structure in Nova Scotia. 

Here's "A Study on Lamella Structure System."  It gives you a detailed look at some of the interlocking pieces. 

We did walk around and back to the Samitaur Tower that caught my eye three years ago.  But we fly home tomorrow after some time with my mom, so this is all I have time for today. 

And here's a little more on the Hayden Tract and some of the buildings there.  Perhaps I'll get a chance to post some of the pictures I took today of other parts of the tract.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Do You Know What's Going On In Your Brain? Some Brief Comments With Links

Some items of interest: 

The Hidden Brain: How Ocean Currents Explain Our Unconscious Social Biases  - A ook I'd heard about before and which sounds important for anyone interested in how we know things - a major focus of this blog.  The link takes you to an extensive Brain Pickings review of the book with lots of examples, many of unconscious bias against women.


History of the New York Jazz Museum - this came in the form of a comment on the movie The Wrecking Crew which mentioned it took them a long time to get the film out because of trouble getting rights to use the music.  Howard E. Fischer has the same problem getting out his movie on the history of the Jazz Museum in Manhattan  You can help him out here.  Here are some questions he says, on the website he linked to, that are answered in the movie.

1.    Which musician’s funeral in 1939 attracted 10,000 mourners and an 80-car funeral procession?

2.     How did substance abuse affect these musicians' lives and what Charlie Parker said about it?
3.     What was probably the most significant activity in all their lives that lead to their success?
4.     Which swing musicians influenced beboppers Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis?
5.     How did the jazz environment affect these musicians’ lifestyles and deaths?
6.     How are these musicians celebrated more than 50 years later in the case of one and more 70 years later in the case of the others?

Dispatch/Anchorage Daily News Morph

Aside from just noting that it happened, I've held off on comments.  I had a couple of posts relating to the Daily News that I was working on when the news came out.  I'm still letting the idea settle.  In the meantime, this piece from the Press seems to raise relevant questions:  Good News For People Who Love Bad News.



Monday, April 14, 2014

Lunar Eclipse Part 2

This is where I need a real tripod, not my little table top tripod.   But this first shot - actually it was taken last - is relatively in focus.  But that's because I upped the shutter speed so I could use a faster opening.  And I lost resolution in doing that.  It looks fuzzy.

These are better, but the shutter speed is much slower and I couldn't keep the camera still enough to keep it sharp.

This post began with Shooting the Moon.
Then Lunar Eclipse Part 1.

Lunar Eclipse Part 1