Monday, July 19, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

It is egotistical to think that the future of the newspaper business rests upon anything I do.

But still.

Starting a month ago, the entire Hey Skipper nucular family unit decamped for parts various.

At the same time, our subscription to the Anchorage Daily News expired.

Regardless of my opinion of the ADN's (a McClatchy mouthpiece) commitment to factual reporting, I think local newspapers do help to prevent the atomization of cities. Learning about big events is a doddle; but who else is going to cover the local news?

However, over the last several years, the paper has progressively shrunk to the point where it won't get me through a bowl of low cholestrol high fiber low environmental impact but not local because this is Alaska for Pete's sake cereal and a muffin that says it is English but bears no resemblance to anything I have ever seen on the Mud Peanut.

It is hard to avoid noticing, though, that the price has seen no shrinkage, commensurate or otherwise.

So. What to do. Continue shoveling money in their direction, despite the falling value for money?

Or, to heck with the ADN, and get a subscription to the NYT or WSJ on the Kindle?

And then there is the idle wondering. Perhaps the iPad represents eventual salvation: the ADN could be a local portal, with the subscription price offering a selection of articles from the major US newspapers, with reduced price access to wider editorial content.

Probably not, because if I can think of it, it has already been considered and discarded as monumentally foolish.

Still, it would be nice to save local dailies.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Religion is as Religion Does

Some Gaza women smolder over Hamas' water-pipe ban

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — There are few pleasures left for Gaza's 1.5 million people, squeezed by both a blockade and Hamas efforts to impose its strict Muslim lifestyle. And women here just lost another one.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have banned women from smoking water pipes in cafes, sending plainclothes agents through popular beachside spots Sunday to enforce the edict.


The water pipe restrictions are just the latest in a yearlong Hamas campaign to gradually enforce a strict Muslim life code on the people of Gaza — many of whom are conservative Muslims themselves and not entirely opposed. But the secular minority feels the crunch.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that overran Gaza three years ago, has banned women from riding motorbikes — mostly impoverished women riding behind their husbands on cheaply bought Vespas. Teenage girls are pressured by their Hamas-loyal school teachers to cover up in loose robes and headscarves.

Which raises two not awfully difficult questions:

1. How long until Western feminists rise as one against this imposition?

2. Are there any religions that don't attempt to stringently control women?

Thursday, July 15, 2010


In North Korea, people undergo surgical procedures without anesthesia, and an equal amount of regard for the germ theory of disease.

However, as Sean Penn will quickly remind us, healthcare in North Korea is free.

Which puts me in mind of an absolutely perfect test to distinguish the left from the right: no conservative has ever used "free" in an economic sense.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mismeasuring America

The latest round of the statistician full employment stimulus package — aka The Census — wrapped up a couple months ago.

On the form, besides the questions asking where chez Hey Skipper is, and how many Hey Skippers huddle within said chez, was this puzzler:
What is your race?
As far as the Hey Skipperian contribution to Gaia’s saddening burden goes, this doesn’t seem like a toughie: the wage-slave half of the marital bond is a second-ish generation American, of an English mom (born in Leigh, brought to the US at age five; in her mind, the subsequent 72 years have scarcely diluted the original privilege), and second generation American dad, whose grandparents hailed from Germany.

In not particularly stark contrast, the Perfect-In-All-Ways by far the greater half is third generation American, most immediately hailing from Germany. Oddly, though, a recent genealogical exercise assures us that among her ancestors we must include, with an amount of pride difficult to ascertain, Æthelred the Unready, a sometime English King.

So, clearly, the answer is “European-American”.

This clear answer is not on offer, though. I could choose “Native-American”, which I am, but am not. Head-scratchingly, “African-American” and “Asian-American” appear, which clearly entail hitching race to geographic region, yet somehow “European-American” does not, despite featuring rather prominently in both history, colonial abuses beyond counting, and atlases.

Instead, there is “Caucasian”, which appears to be a stand-in for anyone who is melanin challenged — the technical term not being, mystifyingly, People of Not Colour (according, still, to my mom). Except that many Caucasians are from, and, really, who could have anticipated this, Asia through the Caucasus. Which means Caucasians include Indian-Americans (of the country, rather than first targets, then victims, of the US Cavalry), who are typically melanin gifted, but not Caucasian, unless they are all that and Indian-American, which is on the list of races that are regions except when they aren’t, according to their degree of melanism, whatever it might be, but aren’t Asian-American, who both the Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans are, no matter their reactions to being thus conjoined.

Occupying the tail-end of the Baby Boom Generation, although much further from the tip and closer to the nether regions than I would prefer, this head scratching was leading to bleeding, since a goodly portion of my hair has long since gone down the drain.

Probably should have scratched my ears, instead.

Thank goodness — I was having to trim my fingernails to the nub to keep from succumbing to anemia — Kenneth Prewitt, a professor of public affairs* at Columbia University, has boldly offered a fix for this Zeno worthy imponderosity inflicted upon we don’t yet know how many Americans because this is a census after all.

Reassuringly, Prof. Prewitt homes right in on the essential question, which he asks on behalf of a bemused public: “Why does the government insist on sorting and counting us by race?” [emphasis shifted by one word]
There is no simple answer because assorted purposes [which] trace to our history and to contemporary conditions. The tragedies of black slavery and Indian genocide left inequalities that racial justice policies are still trying to erase. Policy responses to disparities in employment, education, health and incarceration call for statistics on groups being left behind.
I’m betting there is no simple answer to why black slavery doesn’t warrant a capital letter, but Indian genocide does. Perhaps that has something to do with Indians not being Indians, while blacks are blacks.

Time to switch to the other ear.

Which is to be bloodied in turn. Left assumed as fact is that the words “racial justice” can appear next to either without a qualifying prefix in between, and that policy responses to any manner of statistician gratifying machinations need not bother themselves with groups that are, heaven forfend, getting ahead.

But wait, there’s more.
Beyond specific policy uses of Census data, citizens see in the Census an opportunity to express pride in their heritage. President Obama emphasized his African heritage by checking only one Census box, rather than recognizing his dual black and white parentage.
No doubt. My chest swelled when I was able to check … ummm …

In response to the same exercise that launched my right eyebrow to Spockian heights, President Obama threw his mother under a bus. Since I am not a Freudian, I won’t venture in that direction. No matter how much that fork in the road needs taking.

Yet, despite the compelling diversity needs and injustice and getting behind, some Mr. Some demands “… the questions be dropped altogether, expecting this to magically produce a color-blind society.”

Perhaps Mr. Some has an alternate identity, and a second census form, as Mr. Strawman.

However, there is, and I am not making this up, A Simpler Way to ask the race question:
What national origin, ethnicity, tribe, language group or ancestry do you consider yourself to be? (List all those important to you.)

From the open-ended responses, answers can be categorized in the various ways that make sense depending on public purposes at hand, even re-constructing the five 18th century races if that is desired.

Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the Obama White House will initiate a serious national conversation** about today's patched together racial classification.
After all, what could possibly go wrong with re-introducing tribalism?

The enemy here is group identity. The best way to pitch that sanguinary nonsense into the nearest ditch is to keep asking those race questions, whether in their preposterous current form, or tarting up that pig as Prof. Hewitt suggests.

Uh oh. Did I just commit an offence against Porcine-Americans?

* No matter what crimes I have committed, or have yet to commit, at least I don’t have to beg forgiveness for this.

** The phrase “initiate a serious national conversation”, hackneyed to the point of deserving an acronym, should make even Brit reach for a gun. Who, after moving Gaia one closer to the actual number of public affairs professors Her Sufferingness actually needs, could then go and find out how bloody hard it is to hit a squirrel.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Question Begging

From a USA Today article touting the Empire State Building's energy efficiency:
The building, for four decades the world's tallest and once again the tallest in New York ...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Keep those seat belts fastened ...

... just in case we encounter any unexpected in life turbulence.

To recap the last decade:

  • March 2000. Hired at Northwest Airlines, move from Florida to Michigan. W2 skinny due to first-year burger-flipping wages.

  • March 2001. Start living in high clover.

  • September 11, 2001: Religion of Peace puts my job on the chopping block. Certain amount of shame attends thinking of that while watching, live, the second plane hit the WTC.

  • March 2002. Layoffs stop just short of me. Huge sigh of relief. Five days before my second anniversary at NWA, start training as Flight Engineer on B727, with four guys below me.

  • October 2002. Layoffs unstop. Huge unsigh. Inconsiderate children insist upon eating. Take job throwing satellite dishes at the sides of houses in Michigan winter. How bad was it? Go on wagon and return to dial-up bad. TOSWIPIAW* stars part time work at grocery store while also returning to school to get a nursing degree.

  • February 2003. Boy-child's outstanding choice in best friends leads to job at Ford, first as IT analyst (fancy name for spreadsheet geek), then software engineer. Resume drinking and broadband; TOSWIPIAW decides to forgo a career in the food chain industry.

  • March 2005. Get recalled to NWA. Keep working at Ford. TOSWIPIAW becomes miffed at relentless work schedule.

  • October 2005. Look like genius as I get re-furloughed and drive from my last flight to my cubicle.

  • February 2006. Get short notice FedEx interview. Outcome is on very long notice.

  • June 5, 2006. TOSWIPIAW learns she passed her board exam. Five hours later, I get hired at FedEx. I could swear I heard an ethereal door shutting.

  • June 2007. Having gone through yet another dose of first year pay, but even less this time, move to Anchorage and start living in high clover. And deep snow.

  • November 2007. Congress changes airline pilot retirement age from 60 to 65. Given the number of three-seat airplanes at FedEx (over 60 guys moved to the Flight Engineer position; they are referred to as ROPEs -- Retired Old Pilot Engineers), and the number of ROPES buying three houses for three angry women, this is bound to leave a mark.

  • June 2008. Mark left. Find out I am to be excessed to the B727 as a Flight Engineer. That's OK. It may be a 3000 mile commute, but at least there is a 30% pay cut.

  • Spring 2010. Word that excess moves will stop. Hold sigh of relief, since they are so hard to recall.

  • June 14, 2010. Five days before my fourth anniversary at FedEx, start training as on B727, with four guys (excluding, for the sake of coincidence noting, all the flight engineers) below me. Ongoing training and obsessive study follows, on account of going from this:

  • to this:

  • July 8. FedEx announces vacancies. Appears nearly certain I will return to Anchorage and the MD11. Big question is whether they will cancel the remainder of my training and send me back to Anchorage, or finish the 727 checkout and then send me back to Anchorage. Sigh on hold.

It is an excellent thing we can't see the future; I don't think we would get out of bed, otherwise.

And I'm still ashamed.

*The Other She Who Is Perfect In All Ways