Out There

school reform

Posted in teaching by Pete on September 30, 2018

What is the point of the educational system in place in America today?  There are some very fundamental differences of opinion about this.

Do schools exist to teach our kids?  Yes.  Teach them what?  (Values?  Lists of facts?  How to think?  How to get along?  How to submit to authority?  Which values to have?) For what purpose?  (Job?  College?  Happiness?  Efficiency?)

Do schools exist to prepare kids for life as adults?  How?

Based on your answer to the above, what is the best way for schools to actually accomplish this purpose?

———————————————–

Spending

Our district uses apple products like crazy, for pretty much everything.  Every teacher just got a new macbook air last month.  Every elementary teacher also got a new full-size ipad.  Every student in our school in grades 8-12 has their own macbook pro or macbook air (about 30 kids).  In addition, our school has about 25 more macbook pros and macbook airs that kids use on a rotating basis from the office.  So between teachers and kids, that is roughly 65 macbooks.  I bought my last 2 chromebooks for around $150 each.  I don’t understand why we don’t use chromebooks, and save a ton of money, like most districts are doing around the country.   65 chromebooks at $150 each = less than $10,000.  65 macbooks at $1,200 (this is a guess.  I would imagine we probably paid more than this for the pros, and maybe a bit less than this for the airs?) each = $78,000, for a difference of about $68,000.  This is almost enough to pay for another certified teacher at our site – a big deal considering we currently have 6.75 certified teachers. (I should also mention here that our school does have about 20+ chromebooks that a teacher won in a contest, and those are used on a daily basis as well.) . The other day, one of the top guys in the district called my little samsung chromebook “garbage” when he saw me working on it.  He asked why I wasn’t using the macbook air that I had just received, and I told him I preferred the chromebook, which is the honest truth.  Anyway, the district’s decision to go with apple products just seems wasteful.  I inquired as to whether the 300-400 new macbook airs that the teachers just received (and the new ipads) was grant-funded or something and was told that no, it was just how the district decided to spend it’s money.**

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I recently saw this in the minutes from a recent LKSD board meeting:

Approved the purchase of the recommended Language Arts materials and resources in an amount not to exceed $982,242 with authorization for additional funding from unreserved fund balance in an amount not to exceed $582,242.

Now, up front I want to say that I have dear friends who have been very involved in the rollout of this curriculum.  This post is not about them.  It’s not even about THIS rollout.  It’s about using this specific example as a springboard for discussion about how/why funding decisions get made in education.  The $1.5ish million mentioned above paid for our new language arts curriculum, the vaunted “Reach for Reading” (RfR) from National Geographic.  Our school just started using this curriculum in August of 2018, in grades k-5 (or 6?).  I know that the fifth grade curriculum alone was like 8-12 heavyish boxes of materials.  4 or 5 boxes of leveled readers, 1 box of “explorer” books, 1 box of teacher editions (4 different volumes), another box with various other materials like the “academic talk” flip book and many others, 2 boxes with the reach into phonics booklets, and more.  Many districts are switching to Reach for Reading, and by all accounts, it is an outstanding curriculum that delivers challenging material with high expectations for achievement, along with differentiated material for ELLs (English Language Learners) and underperforming students.  In LKSD, RfR is replacing a curriculum called “Storytown” that was in wide use across the country, and is probably increasingly on the outs these days.

The thing is, LKSD turns over it’s curriculum on a schedule.  I can’t remember if it’s 6 or 7 years, but the district is constantly rotating through a list, so that 6 or 7 years from right now, we’ll be rolling out another new language arts curriculum at a similar cost, adjusted for inflation and student count.  And keep in mind that the learning curve for the transition to RfR has been steep.  Training in the new curriculum was the main emphasis of the district-wide inservice, which the district spent huge money on, to fly every teacher (300?  400?) to Bethel for 3 days of training – also paying to house and feed them during that time.  I’d guess it cost at least $200,000.**  And most of the teachers are still figuring out how to best use the curriculum.  This period of breaking in a new thing means less effective instruction for our students.

I think this whole process is duuuuummmmmmmmb.

How can Storytown go from being the best possible option for our kids, to being a major problem, in just 7 years?  We face many formidable problems, but Storytown is not one of them.  An above-average teacher could use storytown for the next 10 years and dwarf the progress made by their average peers who are using RfR.  That is my belief.  I’d love to see a study on the actual effects of the 2 side by side, kind of like they discuss here with other factors.  Several times during my 15+ years here, I’ve seen boatloads (literally) of textbooks and other materials taken out of the school to be thrown away.  Some of these were literally never used.  Most were used, but only a few years and they were still in great condition.  But getting anything to/from rural Alaska is very expensive, and our school has one small storage room, so…to the dump it goes.

What if we spent some of that $1.5M to $2M on

  • bonuses for teachers whose students’ test scores went up by a surprising amount?
  • Or on funding effective and inexpensive early childhood education, like parents as teachers programs in every village.
  • Or on bonuses for teachers who stay 5 years, 10 years, 20 years.  Turnover is killing our schools, I believe, way more than outdated curriculum.  Because the learning curve is so steep, in terms of cross-cultural adjustment.  In most rural Alaskan school districts, teachers stay about an average of 2 years, and keep in mind that the replacements are very often 22 years old and just out of college (not super effective teachers).  It’s a bad cycle.
  • Or better teacher housing!  Our building is so old that people literally cannot agree how old it is.  I’ve heard everything from the 30s to the 70s.  It has lead pipes, lead paint in places, and asbestos.  When I drilled into the wall to push a cable through, I found that all of the insulation had fallen down to the bottom couple of feet in the walls.  And there is no room for anyone who wants to have children.  How does that help anyone stay long term, which is what everyone agrees we need?  That $1.5-$2m would be more than enough for a new teacher housing 4-plex at our site.
  • Or how about direct cash compensation to students for good grades, or better yet, higher test scores (go up by X points = Y dollars).  Some districts have already done this, and the results were very promising, and it wasn’t actually expensive relative to the other stuff they had tried.

I’m just brainstorming here, but in 5-10 minutes I’ve come up with a list of things that I’m pretty confident would be at least as good and potentially way better, in terms of ROI, and that “return” based on accomplishing whatever it was you came up with to my question at the top.

And remember, LKSD (and probably most districts) does this every year!  In 2020, Everyday Math is out and we get a new math curriculum.  Our students get very low scores.  Those scores aren’t low because of Storytown or Everyday Math.  We have many challenges, but terrible, unusable curriculum is not one of them.  So why are we spending so much of our limited funding to fix something that isn’t even a problem?  Cynical answer – our test scores are bad, and the administration needs to look like it is taking things seriously and making changes, and it’s easier to change materials than it is to fire people.  Hopeful answer – ????  Incompetence?  People sincerely believe the curriculum is the problem, and is more urgent than our other problems?

**I can understand this maybe if we had more money than we knew what to do with.  But we don’t.  The state of Alaska has been in a budget crisis for a few years now due to falling oil prices, resulting in flat-funding or miniscule annual increases for education.  Our classified staff are in the middle of a 5 year period where their wages have been frozen, because “the money just isn’t there.”  Our certified staff approved a new contract a few years ago that saw our actual pay go backwards, in real dollars, over a 3 year period (village teacher rent increases of 10% per year – these increases were greater than the raises to the salary schedule).

Postal Purgatory

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on March 18, 2018

My sweet wife’s birthday was a few days ago.  The “big” present I was most excited to give her did not arrive on time.  In fact, it still hasn’t arrived.  When I track said PRIORITY MAIL parcel, I find that it is endlessly traveling between Anchorage and Hope, AK.  I have no idea why it is going to Hope.  The only connection I can make between Hope and Kasigluk is the zip codes are one digit off.  Hope is 99605 and Kasigluk is 99609.  Hope is a tiny ex-mining town on the Kenai Peninsula and the road system, not too far from Anchorage, and Kasigluk is larger and 400 miles from the nearest road.  I checked with the seller and he confirmed my address in Kasigluk, AK  99609.  It has gone to Hope on March 10, 12, 13, 14, and 17…and counting.  Check out this tracking data:

March 8, 2018, 4:38 am
Departed USPS Regional Facility

March 9, 2018
In Transit to Next Facility

March 9, 2018, 3:13 pm
Arrived at USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER  

March 10, 2018, 12:00 pm
Departed USPS Regional Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER  

March 10, 2018
In Transit to Next Facility

March 10, 2018, 12:17 pm
Arrived at Post Office
HOPE, AK 99605  

March 10, 2018, 12:22 pm
Arrived at USPS Facility
HOPE, AK 99605  

March 10, 2018, 12:23 pm
Departed USPS Destination Facility
HOPE, AK 99605

March 10, 2018, 9:20 pm
Arrived at USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER

March 11, 2018
In Transit to Next Facility

March 11, 2018, 10:14 pm
Departed USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER

March 12, 2018
In Transit to Next Facility

March 12, 2018, 12:16 pm
Arrived at USPS Facility
HOPE, AK 99605

March 12, 2018, 12:16 pm
Forwarded
HOPE, AK  

March 12, 2018, 12:17 pm
Unable to deliver item, problem with address
KASIGLUK, AK 99609  

March 12, 2018, 12:17 pm
Departed USPS Destination Facility
HOPE, AK 99605

March 12, 2018, 9:43 pm
Arrived at USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER  

March 12, 2018, 10:35 pm
Departed USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER  

March 13, 2018, 12:01 pm
Arrived at USPS Facility
HOPE, AK 99605  

March 13, 2018, 12:02 pm
Unable to deliver item, problem with address
KASIGLUK, AK 99609

March 13, 2018, 12:02 pm
Departed USPS Destination Facility
HOPE, AK 99605  

In Transit to Next Facility
March 13, 2018
In Transit to Next Facility

Arrived at USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER  
March 14, 2018

Departed USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER  
March 14, 2018, 9:46 pm

Arrived at USPS Facility
HOPE, AK 99605  
March 14, 2018, 11:38 pm

Departed USPS Destination Facility
HOPE, AK 99605  
March 15, 2018, 11:47 am

March 15, 2018
In Transit to Next Facility
March 15, 2018, 11:49 am

March 15, 2018, 10:14 pm
Arrived at USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER  

March 16, 2018, 1:38 am
Departed USPS Regional Destination Facility
ANCHORAGE AK DISTRIBUTION CENTER

March 17, 2018, 11:36 am
Arrived at Post Office
HOPE, AK 99605

March 17, 2018, 12:11 pm
Arrived at USPS Facility
HOPE, AK 99605

March 17, 2018
In Transit to Next Facility
The item is currently in transit to the next facility as of March 17, 2018.

Which will leave Hope first – Tammy’s birthday gift or the sanity of the local postmaster??  It’s looking…well, you know.

Do I have to say it?

 

Hopeless.

But not to worry.  USPS tracking assures me it will arrive by Monday, March 19, hahaha.

 

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pitch discrimination

Posted in music by Pete on October 25, 2017

This is not a baseball post.  I have been doing a little research into the ability to easily identify, match, and discriminate between 2 musical notes.  I learned that only about 2.5-5% of the population is “medically tone deaf” or amusic (amusia = tone deafness).  Many people are thought to be tone deaf when they are actually not.  I found some helpful links and wanted to compile them in one place for future reference.

Here is a good basic test to see if you are tone deaf.

Here is a very simple tool for improving your “ear” (pitch recognition).

Here is a lengthy and slightly technical article that explores tone deafness and how it is different from poor tone perception and poor singing ability.  Most poor singers fall into one of these latter camps even though they or others may describe them as “tone deaf.”

11 tips for singing in tune.  Nothing very surprising here but a good primer on the basics.

 

Religion, Irreligion, and Gospel through Derek Webb

Posted in music by Pete on October 10, 2017

I wanted to link to something I read – a commentary in 3 parts on 3 Derek Webb songs.  If you haven’t heard of him he is a talented songwriter, the founder of noisetrade (a legal music download site), and former member of Caedmon’s Call, a 90s/2000s Christian band from Texas.  He is known for some controversial songs and liberal positions.  And also known more recently (in the “Christian music industry”) for a scandal – being unfaithful to his wife who also happens to be another talented songwriter. Sadly that relationship is apparently severed.  I haven’t let his issues keep me from enjoying a lot of his music and several of his songs have helped me out over the years.  If you want to check any of it out, start with any of these albums:  “She Must and Shall Go Free,” (tracks like Wedding Dress, Lover) or “Mockingbird.”  Or “The House Show.”

Yesterday I was enjoying listening to a playlist I made of all Derek Webb stuff and it came to the song “Heavy,” which I’ve been getting into but hadn’t figured out all the lyrics yet but as I listened yesterday I was realizing it’s a complicated song that I couldn’t really sing and just tap on the table and agree with.  Not easy listening.  So I did a google search for the lyrics and meaning and stumbled on this link.  I thought it was a good take and wanted to read the rest of the series, which cover 2 other really good songs and can be found here and here.

“100% of the communities in the state of Alaska have state highways”

Posted in politics by Pete on August 11, 2017

This brilliant quote is from Peter Micciche, the republican senator from Soldotna and I believe the current senate chair.  I try not to dwell on politics too much, but this one was so classic I had to put it down for posterity.  It was lifted from this podcast, at the 23:16 mark.  The context was as follows.  The show was about what further cuts could be made to the budget, and how we will fill the deficit going forward (the Senate favors taking from the permanent fund, and the house favors a smaller hit to the PFD coupled with an income tax).

On the topic of further savings/cuts to be made, fellow Republican Senator Cathy Giessel spoke about how over 50% of the costs of the state ferry system was subsidized by the state, and how that needed to change – implying that ferry riders would have to pay more and/or ferry services would need to be cut.  This is a common view from legislators from all parts of the state other than southeast AK, where most of the ferry service happens.  A teacher from Juneau called in shortly after and criticized this view, and made the point that people driving the Glenn Hwy from Palmer/Wasilla (Giessel’s stomping grounds) to Anchorage every day aren’t paying a toll.  Their transportation is subsidized entirely by the state, so isn’t it fair that the Alaska Marine Highway System, the de facto road system of southeast Alaska, be subsidized at it’s current levels?  So then Micciche responded with:

The fact is, the reason why we’re not charging a toll right now, is that a hundred percent of the communities in Alaska have state highways.

Uhhh…no.  Kasigluk where I live has no state highway.  Mekoryuk has no state highway.  Nelson Island has no state highway.  There are approximately 200 villages in Alaska.  The vast majority have no state highway.  I’m pretty confident that actually less than half of the communities in Alaska have a state highway.  Not 100%.  Later he repeated “State roads are in every community.” That is either a huge brain fart or deliberate obfuscation from the Senate chair.  Insert joke here about why I should be surprised about this, but actually I was liking much of what they were saying and how he thought most of the cuts to be made had already happened and they were agreeing that we need to increase revenue (FINALLY!)…but he lost me with that ridiculous statement.  I will post a link to this post on his facebook page and give him a chance to respond.  He knows more about state highway funding than I will ever know, but I can’t see how it could be construed that we have a state highway.

The Alaska Disconnect

Posted in politics by Pete on April 9, 2017

What a great name for a band!  I completely agree with this editorial from Mike Navarre, mayor of Seward.  I remember learning about this very thing in our Alaska History course with Joan Antonson way back in 2001 or 2002.  In case that link gets broken eventually, here is a copy of the editorial.

In debating the state’s fiscal future amid a $3 billion annual budget gap, many Alaskans talk about how more state-supported public services should “pay their own way,” or at least get closer to covering the costs. The users should pick up more of the tab, they say, not the state treasury.

While user fees make sense, such as state park cabin rentals, fishing licenses, driver’s licenses and motor fuel taxes, we need to accept — and apply — that same “pay their own way” reasoning to economic development.

The cold-hard-cash fact is that unless economic development produces more barrels of oil, any new economic activity and its accompanying jobs and students and subdivisions can be a loser for the state treasury. But we can fix that as part of an overall state fiscal plan. Probably not all in one year, but it is fixable.

New jobs are great for people who get hired, for retail and service shops that get additional businesses, and for communities with property taxes and sales taxes to collect the revenues needed to pay the costs of more students, street maintenance, police and fire protection.

But lacking any broad-based state tax, such as income or sales or property tax, the state gets the bills for its share of more students, more roads, more demand on public services, but little to no additional revenues to pay the bills. That’s particularly true as more businesses are establishing themselves outside the jurisdiction of the state corporate income tax code.

With oil, the state collects production tax and a royalty share and property tax and corporate income tax. But what about a new widget factory? An ore smelter? A server farm for cloud computing? A new big box store? Likely sizable property and sales taxes for cities but likely squat for the state. 

It’s our own fault. We didn’t need the money, so we let the problem grow for 40 years.

Our problem has a name: The Alaska Disconnect. A 2003 report from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage explained the problem: “In most states economic development that brings new jobs and payroll generally pays its own way from the perspective of the public treasury. Because of the Alaska Disconnect, economic development in Alaska does not pay its own way — economic development makes the fiscal gap bigger rather than smaller. The notion that economic development alone can close the fiscal gap is unfounded.”

Also in 2003, in a report for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., a group of the fund’s investment advisers made the same point: “Moreover, the state’s revenue structure is such that each additional basic sector job added to the economy … costs more to state finances than what it generates. … The state must also eradicate the growth-inhibiting incentives of the ‘Alaska Disconnect,’ where new non-oil-producing employment is a net drag on state finances.”

As Alaskans discuss and debate, argue and agitate for their favorites pieces — and least favorite pieces — of a long-term, balanced state fiscal plan, don’t dismiss a broad-based state tax, such as income or sales, just because the thought of taxes causes you more stress than coming up short on overhead space for your carry-on bag.

Rather than dismissing tax talk, think about what it means not to have a broad-based tax, especially as Alaska looks to expand its economy beyond oil, looks to reduce our near-total dependence on oil dollars, and looks to attract new investment and jobs for younger Alaskans.

The Alaska Disconnect is a self-inflicted illness. We can solve this one on our own. The cure isn’t painless, but it is long lasting and creates a healthier economy.

We Alaskans have become addicted to a painless system of representation without taxation, and it is destroying our state as we would rather blow up the government, education, and medicaid, than pay an eminently sensible income tax.  The current income tax proposed by the Alaska State House would be the 4th lowest income tax in the 50 states.

Moving from post-election grumbling to prayer

Posted in politics by Pete on March 16, 2017

President Trump has released his proposed budget.  He lost me with the title (pic copied from npr.org just now:

Trump Unveils 'Hard Power' Budget That Boosts Military Spending

My mind right away goes to these passages from Mark 9 and 10:

When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And to this song that I’ve quoted before – A King and a Kingdom by Derek Webb:

(vs. 1)
Who’s your brother, who’s your sister
You just walked passed him
I think you missed her
As we’re all migrating to the place where our father lives
’cause we married in to a family of immigrants

(chorus)
My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It’s to a king & a kingdom

(vs. 2)
There are two great lies that i’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
And if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

(chorus)

(bridge)
But nothing unifies like a common enemy
And we’ve got one, sure as hell
But he may be living in your house
He may be raising up your kids
He may be sleeping with your wife
Oh no, he may not look like you think

Did you know that the word “America” is not actually in the Bible?  Haha.  Nor does it say “seek first to build your empire, and all of these other things will be added to you as well.” As believers we are called to seek the Kingdom of God, to love our neighbors as ourselves and pour our lives (even our money – gasp!) out in love for others (not just the people we prefer) as Jesus did, and not instead do all we can to preserve our own wealth and security.  This is an idol in our culture and a difficult fight and temptation for me as well.  Most of us want comfort and security above all, and therefore we seek an easier way than laying our lives down for others, so we continually reject the suffer-die-rise model of Jesus and the cross.  Just as Peter apparently did in Mark 8, from the New Living Translation:

Jesus Predicts His Death

31Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Manc must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.d

33Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.

34Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?e 37Is anything worth more than your soul?

BOOM!  Jesus is the man.  No no, not THAT man (from “School of Rock”)…

Dewey Finn: Give up, just quit, because in this life, you can’t win. Yeah, you can try, but in the end you’re just gonna lose, big time, because the world is run by the Man.

Frankie: Who?

Dewey Finn: The Man. Oh, you don’t know the Man. He’s everywhere. In the White House, down the hall… Ms. Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, and he’s burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! Okay? And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man, it was called rock ‘n roll. But guess what? Oh no. The Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool, or pure, or awesome, ’cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul. So do yourselves a favor and just GIVE UP!

The challenge for me now is to pray for the man in the white house, for wisdom and true strength (which isn’t about how rich we are or how many nukes we have), humility, and the internal sense of self worth and security to be able to deal in a healthy way with insults and disagreement that are inherent to the political process.  So I guess what I’m trying to say is that for me personally, I’m trying to move from the “freak out about everything that our &$#@$#&$%^! new President is doing and holy cow how/why did people actually vote for and elect this horrible person” stage to the “truly trying to sincerely pray for our leaders” stage.  And I don’t mean praying only that bad things will happen to him, haha.  If we are really living in faith and the reality of God’s greatness and goodness, then we remember that we’re ALL screwups and losers, noone is beyond hope or redemption, and anyone can have a true Damascus Road turnaround experience because of who God is.  So I’m resolving to quit grumbling and start praying.  Now.

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on January 21, 2017

Have you heard of H.L. Mencken?  I hadn’t.  Until I saw this today on my wife’s phone:

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

Which led me to google, where I found these and many, many more with no effort:

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And this one which cracks me up, even though I vote Republican pretty often:

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

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Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

OK, who in the world was this guy?  Obviously a journalist or writer to have so many quotes out there.  I used one google image search for ALL of those results.  I don’t agree with all of these but they’re fun.  He was probably viewed as a tremendous elitist, understandably so.  Probably highly educated and if I had to guess I’d say a newspaper columnist from the northeast – most likely Boston.  I confess that I share his perspective to some degree, I think because I’ve been so surprised and disillusioned that so many would vote for Donald Trump.  I’m no fan of his opponent in the election, but of the many candidates on the ballot, he seemed clearly the worst choice.  So that “mob of men” quote (fifth from the top) resonates with me these days.

Sexual Assault in Western Alaska

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on November 21, 2016

The rate of sexual assault in Alaska is the highest in all 50 states.  This has been known for quite a while.  The national average is about 27 sexual assaults per 100,000 people.  Alaska comes in at 80.  South Dakota is second-worst, at 70, so Alaska is dominating the nation in this horrible category.  And within the state of Alaska, the rate of sexual assault is highest in western Alaska, at around 370 cases per 100,000 people.  Yes, something like 14 times higher than the national average.  And within Western Alaska, I think it is highest in the Bethel area, where we have made our home since 2003.  Sean Parnell tried to fight this with his “Choose Respect” campaign, as covered by CNN here.

Sexual assault is never ok.  Unwanted sexual advances are not ok.  Not with a family member, a stranger, anyone.  We have to break the cycle by talking about it, openly.  We have to report it.  We have to deal harshly with those who do it, even when it is people we are close to, so we can begin to make headway in breaking the continuous cycle of abuse.  Here are some summary stats from the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey that found that half of all adult women in Alaska have experienced either intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both.  This is wrong and we have to fight it.  And anyone who says you shouldn’t make waves or press charges is unfortunately part of the problem.  I know that is a strong stance, but it’s true and it’s right.  Of course I’ve always believed this, but it’s come up again and I wanted to get all these links in the same place and come out publicly against it.

Eve of the election thoughts

Posted in politics by Pete on November 7, 2016

The election is finally, mercifully, almost here.  This has been another brutal, bruising campaign season.  There is a tendency with age to say that things are getting worse and worse, but even if I compensate for that tendency…this one has indeed been the worst of my lifetime, haha.  One of the most interesting things for me has been to see Christians grappling with their vote.  Mister Trump is not the typical Republican nominee and has a well-known history of missteps including infidelity, a scandalous 2005 video, a fortune made partly from casinos, all kinds of crazy quotes, and is not exactly humble or meek in how he carries himself in public.  In short, he seems like someone that Christians would not support.  Not Christ-like.  And they didn’t.  In the primaries, Trump polled poorly with self-described Christians like evangelicals.  However, once he secured the nomination, the most loyal Republican voting bloc came around to his side.  The argument for this 180 seems to be largely about his opponent Hillary Clinton, abortion, and the supreme court.

This has me wondering if the end justifies the means, after all.  On Facebook I put up a post asking what Trump would have to do to make Republican believers not vote for him.  Or what Clinton would have to do to make Democrat voters not vote for her, in this election.  Because no matter what Donald Trump has been caught doing or saying, apparently he is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton in the eyes of many Christian conservatives.  My personal view is that is a travesty, and that we shouldn’t compromise our beliefs and that the end NEVER justifies the means.  But there is just a tremendous split among people of faith this election season, a huge diversity of opinion that we haven’t seen in a long time if ever.

Here are a bunch of editorials that I wanted to remember for posterity that address these various issues from many angles.

Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today, “Whoever you decide to vote for in this election, be sure you have made the decision with a heart set towards pleasing God, not man. And if you find that you have overlooked or dismissed many of the morals and values that you have held dear in the past, then it just may be that your character has been Trumped.”

Ed Stetzer again, this time on why so many evangelicals despise Hillary Clinton as a candidate.

FiveThirtyEight on the enduring support of evangelicals for whoever the republicans nominate.  Christianity Today on the same topic.

Here is one of my personal favorites, from Christianity Today opposing Trump, and not endorsing any of his opponents.  I posted about it in Oct on facebook, saying “The author is trying to be measured but also speak truth on an obviously explosive topic, and I’m sure he will get a lot of heat for it from different camps. I think this relates to ANY election season.”  Quoting the article:  “The true Lord of the world reigns even now, far above any earthly ruler. His kingdom is not of this world, but glimpses of its power and grace can be found all over the world. One day his kingdom, and his only, will be the standard by which all earthly kingdoms are judged, and following that judgment day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, as his reign is fully realized in the renewal of all things. The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.”

Here is James Dobson explaining the apparently majority evangelical preference for Donald Trump.

Christianity Today with an editorial urging to vote for neither of them.

Christianity Today with an editorial supporting Hillary Clinton for President.

The prominent leader of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, showing he strongly opposes Donald Trump.

The NY Times on the rifts within the “evangelical voting bloc.”

Third party candidate Evan McMullin did a long interview on Christianity Today.  “We have to understand that if we continually cast our votes for people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we are going to continually get leaders like them.”

Bill Maher on the hypocrisy of religious conservatives.  Course and ridiculous, but painfully true.  This after I had an ad on my facebook “home” feed today from “Christian Women for America” that states:  “How sad:  Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners and other liberal “faith” orgs are funded by atheist billionaire, George Soros — to elect Obama & Hillary.  Soros is a felon in France but his money picks politicians and is destroying America.  Watch this (2) minute video.  Soros’s “Rented” Evangelical “mascots.””  I’ve been a supporter of Sojourners in the past, and I don’t know about the accusation that they have taken money from Soros and then lied about it.  This may be true, I don’t know.  I don’t even know anything about George Soros.  However, I do know that over the last 3+ decades, the religious right has proselytized itself for the GOP over and over and over and it is pretty rich for this ad to claim that the same thing is happening this time for the democrats.  I once worked for the self-described richest man in my state, and he was the worst kind of republican in the mold of Trump.  He was very politically active with large donations to the “right” candidates, and I saw in him how believers were propping up a system that benefited him and others like him by preserving the status quo and giving him little to no tax burden while his lifestyle was one antithetical to Christ.

This is a little different from the above editorials, but I stumbled on a link to it in one of those Stetzer editorials.  This is Hillary Clinton speaking about her own faith way back in 1994, and according to Stetzer she took a beating in the press for it.  “But it is my very firm conviction that there is a growing awareness of the need for a spiritual renewal in our country and a willingness on the part of many to act and work in good faith together to fill that sense of emptiness with the Word and with an outreach that is grounded in real Christian values.”  Obviously this was a long time ago, but I hadn’t ever even heard of this side of Hillary Clinton.  I admit I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I’m intrigued.

So who am I voting for?  Still undecided, believe it or not.  Tomorrow I will vote though, if the half-frozen river permits travel to the new side of the village which is where we all have to go to vote.