Out There

Christian community does not = amassing wealth or security

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 27, 2012

Have you heard of these faith-based alternatives to health insurance (note the LONG discussion thread below the article)?  I love the idea and the appeal to Christian community from the book of Acts, but am not thrilled with some of the details, and after doing some more reading I have to agree with the view expressed in the last few paragraphs here (if you only read one of these links, read this one).  Basically you pay a monthly premium and you are covered for your medical needs, including catastrophic illness.  There are deductibles, and different tiers of pricing and coverage.  Sounds a lot like insurance, right?

Except you have to affirm Christ’s Lordship and attend church regularly, as proven by your pastor’s sworn written statement as well as your own.  And you have to live in accordance with a Biblical lifestyle – which they say means you cannot ever use any tobacco or alcohol products (hmm, what about communion?  “Do this in rememberance of me?”), as well as other stuff like no sex other than with your opposite-sex spouse.  Clearly, if you for example get in a bar fight and get hurt, they aren’t going to cover it.  But I wonder if they would cover a member who was injured in a car accident while traveling 63 mph in a 55 mph zone?  What if a guy has a heart attack while fighting with his wife?  This must get a little sticky.  If you are found to be living in a way that is suspect, you can be expelled from the plan.  The person whose job it is to make that determination…yikes.  I have apparently found another job worse than a substitute elementary school bus driver in North Kitsap (which when I was a child I was certain had to be the worst…job…ever).  ; – )

Also, none of these plans cover any pre-existing conditions.  And they all are very careful to say they are NOT insurance, so there is no contract, no guarantee of any coverage whatsoever.  You could get cancer while they are getting lots of claims for some reason, they go belly up and you get zero.  Insurance companies are regulated and required to have large cash reserves to prevent this, but not so with these plans.  As an example, one of these plans (“Christian Brotherhood Newsletter”) was embroiled in a financial scandal and was unable to pay thousands of claims.

“…a jury in Akron ruled that its founder, Rev. Bruce Hawthorn, and other former officials defrauded the ministry and ordered them to repay nearly $15 million they spent on luxury houses, motorcycles, expensive cars and high salaries, including one for a stripper whom Hawthorn said in an interview he was “trying to help.”” (from the 2nd link above)

So I guess my gut reaction to all this is disgust.  I don’t mean just the part about the fraud.  Even the untainted companies like medi-share, I have to question whether this is actually something that is pleasing to God.  It is all about exclusion, right?  And saving MONEY.  The draw of these plans for the consumer is they are typically significantly cheaper than normal insurance.  For obvious reasons.  As stated in the conclusion of the 3rd link above:

“It’s obvious where all of this is headed. Are we going to allow the 80% who are healthy to protect themselves from the costs of the 20% who are not, who utilize 80% of our health care services? If so, how will the 60 million people who are utilizing $1.5 trillion in health care pay for that? That’s roughly $25,000 per person.

Don’t we have enough social solidarity to decide that we should have a single risk pool to which the great majority who are healthy contribute to ensure coverage for the minority who are sick?

Apparently not. Some even seem to believe that it’s not the Christian thing to do.”

Let me stress that I’m all for Christian financial community and pooling our money together to help each other out.  I lived this way with a bunch of wonderful people for several years and it was awesome.  But not covering pre-existing conditions?  So if my son was born with ______ condition and then I wanted to sign up, any treatment for _____ would not be covered.  We’re telling each other, and the world, that that is Christian community?  I’ve seen some glimpses of the real thing, and it is much, much more radical and cooler than that.

No one can ever drink or use tobacco?  OK, so what about envy, anger, lust, or greed?  I’m guessing those things are harbored in most of our hearts at one time or another, but they probably don’t get you kicked out of the plan.  Mark 7:15 – “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”  Jesus was speaking to the church leaders, the ‘pharisees and teachers of the law” (v 5).  All about walls, appearances, accusing, keeping the “unclean” at arms length, and preserving wealth, power and security.

So I guess these plans just seem so legalistic and externally-focused.  My insurance plan protects me from the BAD choices of all the non-believers out there, and it protects me from the BAD pre-existing conditions of my fellow members.  I pay less money!  I’m safe and protected behind these holy walls.  I’m sure you learned this at some point, but it still needs to be said (constantly):  Jesus was not real concerned with preserving wealth, position, and security, or avoiding pain.  Pretty much the opposite.   I don’t have life or my own sin or how to live like Jesus in this crazy world  all figured out.  But this isn’t it.  Maybe they could just call it “medical security blanket for healthy people who have some money and are a lot like me and who want to acquire MORE money by saving on medical insurance and if you have issues don’t join us” or something similar, and then I honestly wouldn’t have much of a problem with it.  The idea is a smart one.  If I lacked insurance I’d probably be interested myself.  If only they didn’t market it as an example of Christian community.  It is believers who have put themselves behind a wall, engaging in a form of community.  But it bears no resemblance to the community described in the book of Acts.  Sorry.  I gave this way more time and space than it deserved.


Posted in politics by Pete on February 22, 2012

I was disheartened to see this story on APRN.  If I wasn’t such a young Pollyanna maybe I wouldn’t have been.  You can read it or scroll down and click the arrow at the bottom to hear the audio news clip.  Requiring our state senators and representatives to file their financial reports online is an overdue no-brainer.  It allows any Joe Citizen to go online and view the reports as soon as they are filed.  When they file the old fashioned way, on paper, it takes a long time for the state to go through it all and post it online for public review, sometimes until after the election.  Filing electronically is of course more efficient, but beyond that it shines the light of public scrutiny on each politician’s donor listing.  And transparency in this case is a very good thing.

The legislature passed the law creating the requirement in the first place, but now they have the nerve to blame the bipartisan commission (which they also created) tasked to enforce it.  The 2007 legislation was born out of the scandals of 4 or 5 years ago that brought down several career politicians, most notably Ted Stevens.  Grainy FBI surveillance tapes showed money changing hands in a suite at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, and notorious audio recordings capture the oilmen saying things like “We own his ass” in reference to specific legislators they supported financially.

Anyway the recent news is that our politicians, in their wisdom self-serving, short-sighted foolishness, recently voted to water down and delay the implementation of the law.  And the senate even had the gall to vote that any sitting politician be grandfathered in and not be required to ever file electronically.  Note that the APOC commission is bipartisan, and they unanimously “blasted” the legislature.  Also note that the legislature passed this almost unanimously, so both parties share the blame.

I can’t believe Republican reps Mike Hawker and Craig Johnson were so brazen as to call in to the APOC meeting and defend the legislature’s actions.  How about this quote?

“I don’t know if you guys are aware of this, but 17 percent of Alaskans have no access to Internet – none – and if you go beyond that into the people that have dial up, that number goes up to almost 20 percent, 25 percent,” Johnson said. “And this is typically the very poor and the people in rural Alaska. And by implementing this policy you have effectively excluded those people from running for office.”

Yes that would be the Alaska Republican politician, the champion of Alaska’s rural poor, coming to their rescue (that sound you hear is the dripping of sarcasm).  The view I heard from a very prominent Republican leader in Anchorage that has always stayed with me is that the natives should be forcibly rounded up, relocated to homes on the road system, and given lump sum cash payments in exchange for the nonnegotiable revocation of all present and future government obligations to them.  So yes I’m a bit cynical about the concern of road system republican politicians for the rural poor.

Addressing the quote specifically, note the word “you” in the final sentence, though the legislature is the one that put this policy together.  And in Kasigluk where we live there IS dial-up internet available.  I’ve traveled around western Alaska to perhaps a dozen different villages and I’m not aware of any that have no dial-up option, though it may well be true for some of the tiniest communities in the state like Platinum, Oscarville, Red Devil, Perryville, Lime Village, Pelican, etc.  An internet provider might not want to pay for a phone line if the community has 9 people in it or whatever.  However,  those sorts of places all put together don’t come anywhere close to 17% of the state.  So I would challenge those figures.  And further as the article points out, communities of less than 15,000 (which is all but 4 or 5 cities in the state) are exempt from this law when it comes to municipal elections.  And in the unlikely hypothetical that a person from a tiny village wanted to run for state office and had no access to internet, I can say from experience that the local school (which all have internet – usually satellite) would let them hop on a computer for a few hours to get it done.  Every school or district would love to have a politician elected from their back yard.  And the schools in the bush serve the whole community, not just the active current student body (or at least they should).  This is why the whole village comes to prom, and why you see adults doing distance-delivered college classes in the school library or computer lab in the evenings, and men playing ball in the gym at night.  You think the local school will tell a guy running for state office that he can’t use a computer for a few hours on a Saturday?  OK, and if the person running for state office lived in a community without a school, that means it is a miniscule community indeed and they could request a waiver from the electronic filing requirement and as mentioned in the article they would certainly get it.

So to sum up, Johnson’s figures are almost certainly wrong, the conclusion (“you have effectively excluded those people from running for office”) is a knowing lie, and the motivation is entirely selfish.  All in a day’s work in Juneau?   It’s bad enough when you see such blatantly self-serving legislation sail through the house and senate.  But it’s even worse when some try and pretend that they’re passing it out of concern for the poor.  Am I wrong about any of this?  Make a thoughtful comment to the contrary.  I know that they may have had some legitimate reasons for trying to delay implementation of the electronic filing, but I haven’t heard any.  And isn’t it a really, really bad idea on the heels of a massive bribery scandal to start rolling back the protections just recently put in place?  Yes I’m overreacting – this is just a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things but for whatever reason as you can see it obviously got me worked up so there you go.  I process by talking or writing, and this is the kind of processing I do with my evenings while away from home.  Hopefully now that it’s all processed I can leave it here and move on.  That’s what this blog was meant for anyway – my mental dump.  ; – )


Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 22, 2012

You think YOU have a long commute?   This guy weighs about 25 grams (less than one ounce) and flies 18,000 miles from northern Alaska to Africa every year!  Check this out.  I seriously just can’t get over this the more I think about it.  Flying the Atlantic non-stop??  How could such a puny thing ever go into a headwind?

I’m not a birder.  At all.  But this bird apparently exists to do three things magnificently:  sing, eat bugs, and fly ridonkulous distances.  Oh tiny ball of fluff, I salute you!

(I usually post this kind of little link on facebook but I’m working in Chevak right now and the school blocks facebook.  But my blog automatically posts to FB, so ha HA!!)

meaningful differences

Posted in teaching by Pete on February 21, 2012

This is my 3rd or 4th attempt to write about this.  Each time I write too much and make it too detailed and complicated (luuuv those details so this is generally a problem for me, esp in writing).

There is this book called Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of American Children, by Hart and Risley.  As an SLP (supposed to be an “expert” in human communication and communication development in children), I enthusiastically recommend it.  It is not new, and it is all about a gigantic longitudinal study done decades ago in a far away part of the country with families who share very little in common with my neighbors.  However, I think the conclusions of the book have profound implications for the people of western Alaska.

I’m going to steal some of the book description from Amazon and paste it here:

“Betty Hart and Todd Risley wanted to know why, despite best efforts in preschool programs to equalize opportunity, children from low-income homes remain well behind their more economically advantaged peers years later in school. Their painstaking study began by recording each month – for 2-1/2 years – one full hour of every word spoken at home between parent and child in 42 families, categorized as professional, working class, or welfare families. Years of coding and analyzing every utterance in 1,318 transcripts followed. Rare is a database of this quality. “Remarkable,” says Assistant Secretary of Education Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, of the findings: By age 3, the recorded spoken vocabularies of the children from the professional families were larger than those of the parents in the welfare families. Between professional and welfare parents, there was a difference of almost 300 words spoken per hour. Extrapolating this verbal interaction to a year, a child in a professional family would hear 11 million words while a child in a welfare family would hear just 3 million. The implications for society are staggering: Hart and Risley’s follow-up studies at age 9 show that the large differences in the amount of children’s language experience were tightly linked to large differences in child outcomes. And yet the implications are encouraging, too. As the authors conclude their preface to the 2002 printing of Meaningful Differences, “the most important aspect to evaluate in child care settings for very young children is the amount of talk actually going on, moment by moment, between children and their caregivers.”

To oversimplify it – future academic outcomes for these children were correlated very highly with their word count exposure as little kids.  Not what they were listening to between 2 other people, or on the radio or TV, but language they were involved in as an active communication partner.  There was a much higher correlation between word count exposure and later success in school than there was for race, socioeconomic status, parents level of education, or any other competing possible causal factor.

So what are the implications for a whole population that is, by dominant culture standards, very nonverbal?  We have all of these schools here that are “failing” under NCLB, and a large part of our students’ academic struggle is their difficulty with language.  Vocabulary, syntax, being able to understand or relate a coherent narrative, picking out or relating key details, making inferences, main idea, understanding verbal directions from the teacher, etc etc.

What if the main issue is a deficit in the amount of talk going on between the child and their peers and caregivers, particularly in the earliest years??  Yikes.  I’ve never heard anyone say this, but isn’t it an inescapable implication if you believe in the study’s conclusions?  Without making a value judgement, Yup’ik is a more nonverbal culture, compared to the majority culture.  The Yup’ik language is far more content-based and “telegraphic” than English, eliminating non-essential words.  After 8+ years here, the sparse, terse nature of the speech reminds me of how people live.  No wasted effort, no extra words, a survival-based commitment to parsimony.  And this carries over to how most of my neighbors speak in English.  If you’re at a feast, you don’t hear “Will you pass the salt please?”  There is no Yup’ik word for “please.”  You hear “Salt.”  The local schools have big community meetings once or twice a year and have door prizes (get a ticket at the START, drawing at the END) to encourage people to come and stay because it is hard for people to endure what is (in their view) the excruciatingly long-winded presentations in English, full of superfluous words that obscure the main point of the meeting.  The words are too numerous, come too quickly, and without sufficient pauses, so processing is difficult and tiring.  And the delivery is not direct enough, using a few words they don’t know, many words that are seemingly unnecessary, and not enough content words that matter.  The listeners have to unpack everything to find the telegraphic speech they are more accustomed to.

So what is to be done?  Many area schools have recently been cutting or altering the bilingual component of the school day, apparently in the belief that it will help kids learn.  I find this regrettable.  We try everything – extra tutoring, CSI, RTI, teachers presenting lessons in multiple modalities, the latest and greatest curriculum materials like storytown, everyday math, etc etc in a desperate effort to find something that will work.  I don’t want to make a generalization that is too broad or explosive, but in my limited experience I see village teachers that work much longer hours than their urban counterparts.  Teacher effort is not the problem (though turnover IS part of the problem, but that’s another post entirely).

Big, uncomfortable question time.  Is our kids’ nonverbal culture “holding them back?”  Well, from one perspective maybe.  But holding them back from what?  The materialistic, non-existent “American Dream?”  Maybe the culture and community of the village is a better alternative to the greed and loneliness of suburbia.  What is the point of school?  To go to college so you can marry another college kid and make big $$?  What if you want to live your life in the village, connected to your extended family and the land, where there are fewer jobs and none that make big $$?  What are we preparing kids for?  For a job? Where?  For life?  For college?  As educators we often have to have high expectations for our students and help/prod them to reach those expectations.  But what if your expectations for the kids are not what the students want, not what the parents want for their kids, and not what really anyone in the community wants?  This is the case in some villages, to varying degrees and it obviously causes major problems.  How much say do we give the local community in what/how their kids learn?  The stock answer is “a lot” but I don’t know that that is true.  The districts select the curriculum to learn the material outlined by the state, and the districts set forth some narrow parameters that the village school boards can move around within.  What if the local community said we don’t think kids need writing or reading class beyond the 8th grade level?  What if the community wanted to instead pay more attention to the emotional health of the students, to stem the tide of abuse/despair/addiction/self-hatred/suicide etc?  Is that a bad thing?  The western model we’re using now isn’t working in a lot of the schools – do we keep tinkering or when do we blow it up and try something new?  Under NCLB they can eventually fire the whole staff – but the staff isn’t the issue here, it’s more like the educational vision/model/framework and the interaction between two radically different cultures.  I have no easy answers.  But I got started writing this post because the conclusions of the Meaningful Differences study are compelling and seem legitimate and very applicable to the “failing” schools of bush Alaska, yet I’ve never heard a word about it.  So there it is and now you know.  ; – )

When I think about all this it only reinforces the critical need for local leadership and “ownership” of our schools.  Without ownership of the school and the programs therein, there is a disconnect that strips the school of relevance and authority and results in kids/parents/communities that don’t care or are openly hostile to what they perceive as an unnecessary, burdensome, alien program.  With ownership you instill commitment and purpose, and an intrinsic motivation to learn.

Jesus vs religion

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 16, 2012

My dad sent me a link to this “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus” vid on youtube .  Tens of millions of people have watched it in the last 35 days, but until now I wasn’t one of them.   Loved it.  He’s probably not right on every little thing but he’s a young dude and the spirit of what he’s saying is right on.

There is a singer/songwriter named Derek Webb who has written a few (imo) *great* songs (and several…not so much).  I have one of his live albums and between some of the songs he talks about what made him write the song, or who it was written for, etc.  During one of these he starts talking (preaching!) about community and being real with each other in the church.  I bring it up in relation to this video because it touches on some of the same themes as far as religion vs Jesus (emphasis on legalism and appearances/pretending, avoidance of sin, etc instead of fully honest and vulnerable relationship that leads to true freedom and joy or if you want more “religious” terms repentance—>forgiveness—>righteousness).  Anyway, I found a transcript of it here.

Small portion:  “But if you know yourself as exposed by the cross, then I believe you will begin to experience true joy. Because you will not constantly be looking over your shoulder all the time – constantly checking the knots in this great suit of fig leaves that you’ve sewn for yourself. But rather, you will be comfortably exposed in your sin and boasting in your great Savior because he is real.”

Here is some more from a different track on the same album.  If you want to check his music I would start with his “She must and shall go free” album or download “lover” and “wedding dress” from that album, 99 cents a song for some great stuff.

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bush groceries

Posted in teaching by Pete on February 8, 2012

I help answer questions over at the ATP Forum, which is a place for prospective teachers in Alaska to ask questions.  A common question people have is about budgeting for food, as they try and get a better idea of what a move to Alaska would mean for them financially.  I’ve put a lot of thought and work into grocery shopping in the past and thought I’d put up some of that on here and tag it as ‘advice’ so it might be helpful to someone doing this kind of research.

If you choose to shop in a major hub like Bethel, Kotzebue, Dillingham, Nome, Barrow, etc you will probably have a couple of stores to choose from, and they may not look very different from a smallish lower-48 grocery store except for the prices.  Here is a youtube video someone made of a recent trip to the AC store in Bethel.  And here is a link to the weekly specials for Swanson’s grocery store that appear in the Delta Discovery newspaper. These give you a small idea of pricing.  Of course if you live in an outlying village as we do then you need to pay another fee to have the boxed groceries delivered to an air carrier and sent to your village (our village is only a 15 minute flight and the fee is about $.50 per pound), or have a friend pick up the box for you.  Both AC and Swansons will shop your list for you and box it for no extra fee if you fax or call them with what you want, and pay by credit card over the phone.  They are both based out of state.  I believe Swanson’s is owned by Omni Enterprises out of WA state, and AC (Alaska Commercial company, which has quite a colorful history in the state dating back to the Russian days when they had a monopoly on the Pribolof seal harvest – try google) is now based in Canada.

Of course you can also shop in your village itself, which helps the local economy.  Village stores vary widely in quality and selection, based on factors like distance and number of flights from Anchorage, and management.  I’ve seen villages with three stores, while others have none.  Most common is one or two stores.  Some village stores have surprisingly good quality of dairy and produce, while others have only a few half-rotten choices.  But usually there is not a lot of variety, and things run out of stock on a regular basis, as in “there are no eggs today.”  It can be difficult or impossible to get a lot of dairy items like milk, cream, whipping cream, cheeses, ice cream, etc.  Some village stores (esp in larger villages) have these things, but most do not.  Same goes for veggies.  Our store in Kasigluk most often has root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, or onions, but also tomatoes and cabbage  and apples are fairly common, though the quality might be understandably below what you’re used to “outside.”

Our local store pricing is actually not very different from the prices in Bethel.  This is because the cost to mail goods from Anchorage to Bethel is the same as mailing from Anchorage to Kasigluk.  The main difference is in the variety and availability of what you might be looking for.  As for cost, it is expensive, no doubt about it, although if you have a line of credit with the store and pay it off in full every month you enjoy a 10% discount on everything.  But the price is still high, particularly for items that cannot be mailed such as bleach.

As an example, I recently brought in a “hazmat” barge order from Anchorage consisting of paint, bleach, motor oil, fire extinguishers, etc and sold off the bleach and motor oil in order to cover the cost of buying and shipping the paint which we were using to spruce up an old school bunkbed our kids started using as well as some other stuff like painting our conex container.  Anyway the bleach at costco in Anchorage was $6.24 for a 2-pack of clorox jugs each weighing 182 oz.  One of those jugs sells for $47.31 at our store in Kasig (yes, about 15x as much).  With barge fees my total cost ended up being about $8 per jug to Bethel, and then I found a way to get everything to Kasigluk and sold them for $20 each and all 20 of them sold in a week or so.

One avenue for fresh produce that has become very popular in the bush lately is Full Circle Farms and other CSAs.  It ain’t cheap.  We pay something like $60 or $70 per box of fresh produce.  But the quality is outstanding, as is the web-based interface where you select exactly what you want for each delivery.  We get mangoes, kale, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, fresh thyme, oranges, kiwis, zucchini, pie crusts…you get the idea.  It is Expensive with a capital E but in my view worth it when you consider how difficult/impossible it is to get otherwise.  We get a box every other week for our family of 4.

Another recent option that has come along is buying groceries on amazon.  When we first came here in 2003 this was an option, but then they changed the rules so groceries could not ship to AK.  But just a year or two ago they made it available again.  Generally speaking this option is a little more expensive than paying a company in Anchorage to buy and mail it to you.  But it is easier, and sometimes the prices are competitive or even better than if you go through Anchorage.  For example I’ve found that the prices for cereal are quite competitive with what you would pay a middle man to buy it at Costco and mail it to your village.  But on the other hand, laundry soap is far cheaper via Anchorage.  Some of this has to do with shipping.   Shipping from Anchorage costs about $.35 per pound for a heavy box going parcel post, say around $20 for a 50# box.  From the lower 48 the same box costs far, far more to send and takes longer, which is why going through Anchorage is generally cheaper than amazon.  But it’s tough to beat the convenience and selection on amazon if you don’t mind paying a bit more.

This is long enough, so let me just link to our old website (that cannot be updated) for information on shopping in Anchorage.  You can do it yourself, or use a middle-man company to shop and mail it to you, and this website explores these options in some detail.  This information is all 5 years old or something, but still useful.  The company I most highly recommend based on price, JB Bush, still exists but has changed their name to Alaska Bush Shoppers, not to be confused with Alaska Bush Service (same initials but different company) who I compare JB Bush to on the website.  Confused yet??  🙂  Hope this is helpful information.


Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 8, 2012

So much of the news out here is a bit bleak.  I don’t want to focus on it, but you also have to acknowledge what is going on and be honest before change will ever happen.  So I might occasionally cast a little light on some of the horrendous things that seem to happen way too often in this area given our tiny population.  Here are a few recent examples (6 diff links).

On a very related soapbox aside – how many of these were alcohol related?  All of them?  Certainly more than half.  I spoke recently with a police officer in Bethel while we were waiting around outside a courtroom (jury duty) and the officer estimated that more than 90% of all the crimes they investigate are alcohol related.  And Bethel voters just voted to go wet, despite the insanely high monthly limits that already applied under “damp” status.  This means bootleggers now get unlimited legal importation of their product, meaning availability went up, price went down, and therefore more booze for more people, and therefore more FAE/FAS babies and heartache for everyone.  Oy.