Monday, October 24, 2016

Diddly Squat?

From the Alaska Dispatch:
“'There are people out there who don’t know diddly squat about our country,' said Peter Goldberg, the former Alaska Republican Party chair who’s now a member of the Republican National Committee. 'And I’m not comfortable with people that are total  ignorant about our system voting. [sic]'"
What first got my attention was the fact that he used the term 'diddly squat.'

But then I got annoyed by what he said. "I'm not comfortable with people that are total[ly?] ignorant about our [of] system voting."

I understand that sentiment.  It's problematic to have people walk into the voting booth and just vote based on what name sounded better, or which name was first, or longest, or shortest.  Nothing to do with what the person would do when elected.

But worse than knowing nothing, is knowing stuff that is wrong.  And being loud and obnoxious about it.  Like people whose only source of news is, say Fox News.

Some would say I should  be fair and balanced and also give NPR as an example.  But as politically bland as they have become, they do try to get their facts right and to counter their middle of the road perspective with a conservative voice as well.  And rather than get our attention by exhortation, they wrap the news into  formulaic story lines that usually have an uplifting ending.

But I still was thinking about 'diddly squat.'  Who says that any more?

Turns out not many people do.  Or ever did.  I used Google's Ngaam Viewer that looks at word frequencies in books.  The number was so low (.0000003586%) that I added some other words to compare with it.     I tried to think of an obscure term so I added 'leviathan'.  You can see that it's a little more frequently found than 'diddly squat.'  Then I added more common words to give more context.  The more common words make the graph meaningless - turning the rare words to flat lines at the bottom - but at least you can get a pop-up window with the frequency of each term.   I kept adding more common words.  In the chart below, the only word that shows more than a flat line is 'you' which was the most common word on the list by far.

But I wanted word more obscure than diddly squat,  so I googled "uncommon English words."  That gave me a long list.  From the list I picked 'blatherskite,' a word I don't recall ever hearing before and certainly not using.

Screen shot from Google Ngaam Viewer

'Blatherskite' also came out higher than 'diddly squat', though not by much.  Here are the two compared.  If you put the pointer on either line, you'll get a pop-up window with the frequencies for that year.

'Diddly squat' doesn't even show up until 1973!  But remember, this is a search of books - probably just the ones that google has the rights too.  If it showed up before that in newspapers or journals or speech, it wouldn't show up in the Ngaam Viewer.  I don't remember when I first encountered 'diddly squat,' but I would have guessed earlier than 1973.

It's a great term.  And it's one of those words that can be used with or without a negative and still mean the same thing.

Google's definition was "anything" but it listed 'nothing' as a synonym.  Think about that.

Merriam-Webster defines it as:
"the least amount : anything at all"
The Urban Dictionary defines it as:

So you could say, "He doesn't know diddly squat" or "He knows diddly squat" and it would mean the same thing.  I like linguistic quirks like that.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Diagram of Connections in Newstown Development Scandal

[Regular Blog readers, see note to you below]

[Coursera readers - below is the chart that graphically shows the key shell corporations that my article explains.  I couldn't put it into the story, so I've posted it here for you.  You can either look at it here or you can download the pdf image to look at while you read the article.]

Regular Blog Readers:  This chart is part of my assignment for the online course I'm taking from the University of Melbourne (Australia) called Journalism Skills for Involved Citizens,  We have been getting more information each week on a land development deal in a fictional town called Newstown.  This week we got to see a set of documents about political donations and corporations.  I decided that the best way to illustrate the links between these corporations was to make a diagram.  But it turns out I can't put an illustration into the template for my assignment.  So I'm linking the graders here.

The Foundation for Good Government (FGG) contributed to the campaign of the mayor of Newstown to the tune of $80,000.  The various documents show us the connections between the Foundation for Good Government and the CEO of Futupia, Robert Blatchford.  As you can see in the chart, Shield PTY company has a share of FGG as does Newstown 38.

Newstown 38, in turn is owned by Robrey PTY, which is owned by Roblatch, which is wholly owned by Robert Blatchford, the CEO.  And Shield PTY is also owned by Roblatch.  So, in fact FGG is wholly owned by the developer.  And all the companies have the same address at Rocket Suite 1101.

There's a lot more, but I decided in this case a picture was worth more than 1000 words.

I'm not sure that the other students who end having to grade this will agree, since I'm not exactly sticking with the assignment.

Whether It's US Election Divisions Or Israelis And Palestinians - We're All Humans And We Need To Work It Out

Here's an LA Times headline on that got this post going. 
"This election is much more than Trump vs. Clinton. It's old America vs. new America"
OK, in some ways I don't disagree with the authors.  But we've been hearing variations of this for quite a while now.  Here's some of the script:
"There’s the old one — a distinction not of age alone, but cultural perspective and outlook — that Trump appeals to as he courts white, rural voters and social conservatives.  .  . 
And there’s the new America, the one Hillary Clinton has homed in on with her appeals to women, gay and lesbian Americans, the young, and minorities."
This has been the story of the US since we were colonies.  Each group already here is threatened by the newcomers.  The newcomers are less human, less civilized, don't speak proper English, will take us over and destroy what we have.  

And then the newcomers become the old guys who say the same thing about on new newcomers.

Here are some quotes from the past:

‘’Help wanted but No Irish need Apply’’

From a long letter by Benjamin Franklin on the problem of German immigrants:
Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation, and as Ignorance is often attended with Credulity when Knavery would mislead it, and with Suspicion when Honesty would set it right; and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain.
How about Italians?  Here's from Wikipedia:
"After the American Civil War, during the labor shortage as the South converted to free labor, planters in southern states recruited Italians to come to the United States to work mainly in agriculture and as laborers. Many soon found themselves the victims of prejudice, economic exploitation, and sometimes violence. Italian stereotypes abounded during this period as a means of justifying this maltreatment of the immigrants. The plight of the Italian immigrant agricultural workers in Mississippi was so serious that the Italian embassy became involved in investigating their mistreatment. Later waves of Italian immigrants inherited these same virulent forms of discrimination and stereotyping which, by then, had become ingrained in the American consciousness.[11]
One of the largest mass lynchings in American history was of eleven Italians in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1891."
 My point?  All the same rhetoric - fear of crime, loss of jobs, loss of culture and language, are nothing new.  This has been the reaction of the people already here to every wave of new immigrants.

 Immigrants with darker skin aren't any different from the immigrants that have been coming to North America since the Pilgrims.  They all eventually assimilate and become Americans.

BUT, it's harder for darker skinned immigrants because white Americans can't seem to get past their skin color and keep treating them badly.  It's not their culture or their language or their religion.  Protestants didn't like Catholics, or even different kinds of Protestants.  

For white immigrants all that evolves into a culturally 'acceptable' American ethnicity with Columbus Day and St. Patrick's Day parades after a generation or two.  Blacks and Mexicans and Filipinos can't as easily anglicize their names and 'fit in' like Germans and Poles and even Italians and Jews.

So let's stop making like this is a cultural shift that is significantly different from what's happened in the past.  Or that Americans from non-European backgrounds have cultures so different from mainstream America that this is different from European immigration.  It's not.

It's the same old rhetoric.  The only difference is the difficulty of some whites to accept people who can't pass as white even after they speak perfect 'American' English.  The new immigrants are not even necessarily less conservative on many social and economic issues, but since they've experienced discrimination themselves, the go to the party that is more tolerant and accepting.

Before the Tea Party and Trump gave them a place to go, the only liberal allowable targets of discrimination were' hillbillies' and 'white trash.'  Now let's see if liberals can start turning our our tolerance to these groups.  Can we start listening to their stories and understanding why they hate others, why they need to dominate women?  It's not as though some liberal men don't also treat women poorly.  It's not that we have to accept their views, but at least we should understand where they come from, listen to their narratives, like we do all the other groups?  

Liberals have tolerated racist and misogynist rap lyrics.  Why not take the same view of Trump's misogynist supporters that Kanye West uses to at least explain, if not excuse, misogyny in rap?
“So let’s take that to the idea of a black male in America, not getting a job, or getting fucked with at his job, or getting fucked with by the cops or being looked down upon by this lady at Starbucks. And he goes home to his girl … and this guy is like … you just scream at the person that’s the closest to you.” West linked the use of misogynistic and violent language in rap to a “lack of opportunities” before switching tack and discussing hatred and racism.
I'm not suggesting any misogyny or racism is acceptable.  But we have to understand how men get to that place and figure out how to shape our society so it doesn't produce so many angry, dispossessed people.  We have to understand their narrative and help them see that there are other narratives.  Perhaps that their economic woes aren't really due to immigrants, but to weakened labor laws, weakened economic regulation of corporations, and tax laws that help the rich get much richer and the poor poorer.  The ruling class has used race to divide and conquer for ever.  For the wealthy right, 'class' is a politically incorrect topic.

Here is an example of that idea in a totally different context.  I just read an interview in the Sun Magazine with a Jewish Israeli and a Muslim Palestinian who both are committed to nonviolence and belong to Combatants for Peace.  The Israeli, Rami Elhanan, tells the interviewer at one point:
Elhanan: There are two possibilities: One, people open their eyes and realize we have to change. (This is the less likely possibility right now.) Or, two, we end up with an all-out war that results in oceans of blood and won’t lead to a resolution, because we won’t be able to push the Palestinians into the desert, and they won’t be able to throw us into the sea. The war will just go on and on. In the long run I fear for the existence of Israel. So many young, educated Israelis go abroad and don’t come back. Almost everyone has family members who live in other countries. And the ones who are leaving are the intellectuals and the artists and the scientists — people we need to ensure the survival of a democratic society. The ones left behind are the ultra-Orthodox and the less educated. Sometimes I see it as a coming apocalypse. It’s terrifying. But I don’t want to succumb to doomsday thinking. I want to believe that once people see that the price of war is greater than the price of peace, there will be a shift in attitude. You can’t live forever by the sword.
Hertog: Though it has often been tried in history.
Elhanan: That’s true. But it’s also true that historically all conflicts end. One year, two years, twenty years — in Ireland it took them eight hundred years to make peace. At some point we will have peace here as well.
Elhanan and his Palestinian counterpart and friend, Bassam Aramin go around talking to school kids.
Elhanan:  ". . . This morning, for example, a student sent me an e-mail saying I had shown him light in the darkness. That was from a boy in a military-preparatory course. These kids are idealistic and committed, but they know nothing. They are the product of indoctrination by the Israeli educational system. You should have seen these students: the tension, the emotions, the anger. They have rarely interacted with Palestinians and have learned to see them all as terrorists and criminals. It’s a shock for them to consider a different narrative. Bassam, who was with me, succeeded in breaking down their defenses and showed them an image of a Palestinian who is not a victim or an enemy, but who also does not surrender his pride. After a meeting like that, those kids did not walk out the same as they came in. They will continue thinking, and they will talk at home about what they have heard. That’s the work we do. There are no shortcuts. We change the narrative, person by person."
It's a powerful interview.  Both men have lost children to the conflict.  Both take huge risks doing the work they do.  It's inspiring for those who think there is no hope.
Elhanan: Nowadays everyone is hopeless. It’s fashionable to have no hope. People wave their despair as if it were some kind of flag. You can’t live like that, especially if, like me, you have already experienced the worst. You can’t just give up because the world is terrible. You have to find hope in small things.
I would say the political divide we have in the US is a minor disagreement compared to the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.  Except for the indigenous people of North America, everyone else has no particular claim to being here that's better than anyone else's.  If "I'm more entitled than you because I've been here three generations and you only two generations" has any validity, then all of us who've been here less than 500 years should be banned and let North America's indigenous people, who have been here for 10,000 years or more,  have their land back.

We need to start, not talking, but listening to everyone.  We need to acknowledge other people's grievances and hopes, and then get them to do the same with ours.  It's not as hard as it seems because, in the end, we're all human beings.  We're born to into a family, have childhoods that turn into adolescence and adulthood, face the task of making our own living in the world, finding a partner, and starting the process over again.  These are the universal themes that unite human beings and make stories from any culture understandable to every other culture.

Here's an excerpt from the interview with the Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, on breaking past each others' narratives.
Aramin:  . . .  That first meeting lasted about three hours. I told a lot of lies, because I didn’t trust them, but it was amazing just to talk. They spoke about how they’d occupied us and harassed us — they admitted it!
They were real soldiers. I wasn’t much of a fighter. I had been arrested because I was part of a group of kids who’d thrown stones. My friends had also thrown two hand grenades at an Israeli patrol, but because they didn’t know how to use the grenades, nobody had been killed or injured. I felt I wasn’t at the same level as these Israelis. To impress them, I boasted that I had shot soldiers and that I had thrown the hand grenades at the Israeli patrol.
Hertog: If you didn’t trust the Israelis, what made you decide to meet with them?
Aramin: I already had one child at that time, and I was thinking of his future. I had decided that I needed to take responsibility, not just fight Israelis. And the Israelis needed to take part in ending the occupation. For them it was security; for me it was my life. We both wanted to find a solution. Palestinians need Israelis, so they can learn to understand us and explain our point of view to others in their society.
Hertog: How did Combatants for Peace come into being from that meeting?
Aramin: At the end of the meeting someone suggested that we meet again. I asked why, because I had assumed it was supposed to be just once. And one of the Israelis suggested that we could work together against the occupation. When he actually called it an “occupation,” I thought, Wow. And I agreed to meet again. In the period before our second meeting, we looked up all the information we could find about these Israelis, so we knew they were for real. Meanwhile they looked up what we had done. And when we met again after two weeks, we talked at a more personal level and discovered we actually had a lot in common.

We either work to make things better, or we let them get worse.  I don't see there being much of a choice here.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mt. Rainier Portraits

We left Anchorage at 7am and made it to the Seattle Art Museum a little after noon where we met our daughter and granddaughter for some play time and then some Indian lunch.  The came with us on the train back to the airport before saying good bye.

These are some pictures of Mt. Rainer as we left Seattle.  They're each from somewhat different angles.  But overall it's like looking at one side of the moon as we flew by on the west, from the north.

This last one show the southern side.

We just walked into my mom's house.  We haven't been here in about six months.  When we last left we worked in a frenzy trying to get it clean and empty of things that had real importance to us.  There's enough furniture that people can stay here and we've had some friends use it during the time.  And the woman who cleaned the house so well for my mom still comes by regularly.

All that is a preface to the pleasant surprise we got when we got the alarm turned off and walked in.  It looks good.  I know that tomorrow when we look in the garage we'll find a lot of stuff still to do, but in the house things look better than I expected.  And when it's light out tomorrow I can see how the garden has fared.  And then I'll make a list of things to do while we're here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

First Snow And First Seminar Presentation By ISER's New Director

It's October 21, 2016.  Anchorage is getting its first snow.

The average first snowfall, according to is October 15, so this isn't particularly late.  But it's warm out (30˚F - -1˚C) and they're calling for sun later today.  So it probably won't last.  But it's beautiful while it's here.

I'm headed over to a talk at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at noon, so I need to boogie.  It should be interesting - it's the new director's first seminar presentation.  Here are the details.  I know most people can't get there on such short notice, but at the bottom it tells you how to listen online.

Here's the announcement.

Knowledge Accumulation in the Social Sciences 

Ralph Townsend, ISER Director and Professor of Economics

This is the first seminar presentation by ISER’s new director, Ralph Townsend. He will be discussing knowledge accumulation in the social sciences, and why thinking about that topic is important for ISER and other research organizations that study social problems. He describes his topic this way:

The epistemology of social sciences affects the ability of the social sciences to contribute to the resolution of “wicked” social problems. However useful epistemology based on falsification may be for the hard sciences, its limitations for the social sciences are clear. The enduring problem of replication of social science results is indicative of the problems.
Understanding the sociology of social science disciplines and the philosophy of knowledge accumulation in social sciences is relevant to the day-to-day work of organizations like ISER and also suggests unique research opportunities that extend into methodology.
When: Friday, October 21, 12 to 1
Where: ISER Conference Room,
Third Floor, 1901 Bragaw Street, Suite 301
1901 Bragaw Street is on Bragaw between Northern Lights and Debarr.
Parking is free.
Call 907-786-7710 if you need directions.
Note: Those who can’t attend in person can stream the talk live at:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"I'm all of those things at once."

“I am an immigrant. I am also a human being, an American, a Vietnamese, an Asian and a refugee.” I’m all those things at once. I think that’s absolutely a crucial decision for me because we live in a society where people are pressured to choose their identities. Especially for Asian-Americans, we’ve grown up in a society that often makes us decide whether we’re all American or whether we’re Asian. That’s a false choice, so we have to rebel and proclaim that we can be many things at the same time.
The writer is Tranh Nguyen, USC Associate Professor of English and American studies and ethnicities.  He also has a recent Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his novel The Sympathizers, which my book club read and discussed while I was away and I have to get and read.

His statement just seems so self-evident.  We aren't one of the many labels we bear.  Think of all the labels people can (and do) use to think and talk about you.  Everything from sister, mother, daughter, skier, reader, dancer, red-head, gardener, idiot, shopper, passenger, American, Alaskan, Republican, Italian, drummer, fisher, cook, teacher, neighbor, etc.  You aren't just any one of those, you are all of those sometimes and some of those all the time.

But I hear people declare that someone can't or shouldn't be a hyphenated American.  They have to choose, just as Professor Nguyen writes.

But this piece in the USC alumni magazine goes on to focus on refugees particularly.
"Refugees bring with them these histories that make potential host countries uncomfortable…. The reason they became refugees is what we ourselves might have had a hand in. Refugees are a living reminder that the things we take for granted—the safety of our homes, the safety of our country—are fragile. We see other countries being afflicted by war or natural disaster from a distance, and we assume that can’t happen to us, but if those refugees start coming to our shores, then they become these living reminders."
That second sentence jumped out at me.  Why did we get Vietnamese refugees?  Because after the French pulled out of Vietnam and gave the Vietnamese their independence, the US insisted in jumping in and assuming that we could do what the French couldn't.  And by 1975 we realized that we couldn't either.  But a lot of people died before that happened.  And a lot of money was diverted from building infrastructure and education to airplanes and guns and bombs and transporting soldiers half-way across the world.  And eventually Vietnamese refugees, mostly people who, because they aligned with the US, were suspect when the US lost and pulled out.

Central American refugees are a major reason why Trump became the Republican candidate for president.  We've used Central America as our private cache where we got bananas, sugar, coffee, and other commodities.  We overthrew governments we didn't like.  Reagan even made a deal to sell arms  to Iran (even though they'd taken over the US embassy and kept Americans hostage there until Reagan was inaugurated)  to get money to Nicaraguan rebels after Congress nixed any funding.

Some American politicians express shock about the possibility that Russia is trying to influence the US election,  yet anyone with a knowledge of US covert operations to overthrow governments that weren't friendly to our interest has to be smirking just a little bit.  See for example from Foreign Policy of seven nations the US overthrew.

The point is that we have often made life difficult in countries around the world to the extent that people needed to leave.  We've even hurt economies by dumping surplus US agricultural projects into countries which destroyed the local agricultural infrastructure.  While this CATO Institute analysis assumes all our aid has been catastrophic 'even if the intentions were good,'

I'd take some issue.  A lot of AID did good things - particularly in health infrastructure and education.

I would also question the good intentions of most US AID.  Another CATO commentary tells us most foreign aid is really aid to US business:
“'fully 80 percent of the foreign assistance budget is spent right here at home, on American goods and services.'” Moreover, claims the exporters’ lobby, aid also helps poor countries develop the institutions necessary to “foster trade, and to attract private investment - the very things that make possible American exports.”

Basically, US aid helped US companies by restricting the aid to US products, often surplus.  Usually such aid helped US businesses more than the receiving country.  And it often actually hurts the local businesses who couldn't compete with the sudden influx of cheap, subsidized US food or goods.

The idea that refugees are coming to the US because of things we did is not even imaginable for many, perhaps most, Americans because they have no idea what we've done around the world.  And our schools and media tend to keep it that way.

But back to Nguyen's discussion of labels.
"Perhaps the biggest misconception is that refugees are only victims. People see these horrible images: The Syrian boy face down on the beach in Turkey has now become iconic. That image made me physically ill in a way I have not felt in a long time. It reminded me of the fact that the Vietnamese were portrayed in the same way. It led to the perception that poor Vietnamese people are victims. Of course, they were. The Syrian people, including that boy, are victims. But that doesn’t define them. The idea that refugees are victims simply becomes a way of not sympathizing with them. We continue to treat them as less than humans. If you see people only as victims and therefore as less than human, they’re still not the same as you are."
Again, he's talking about people dismissing refugees as one dimensional - in this case 'victims'.

The only way I see that we can change people's attitudes about refugees is for them to meet them and other non-refugee immigrants.

And to remember that most immigrants to the US were well educated before they got to the US.  Here are a few prominent immigrants to the US:

Albert Einstein
Henry Kissinger  
Robert Murdock
Nikola Tesla 

Neil Young
Joseph Pulitzer  
Irving Berlin
Ayn Rand

Bruce Willis
Sergey Brin*  
Alex Trebek
Cary Grant
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Jose Conseco
Mikhail Baryshnikov
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross  
*I'm guessing this name is less familiar than the others.  He's one of the co-founders of Google.

And Anchorage has its own fair share of prominent immigrants who make a huge contribution to our city and state.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"No one has more respect for women than I do"

This is going to be the quote of the debate.  Maybe the election.  One tweeter likened it to "I am not a crook"

"The crash occurred when a witness said . ."

What could a witness have said that would have caused a crash?

I'm guessing something was cut out out of this sentence and no one checked what was left,  because I can't imagine someone writing it or an editor missing it.  No author is cited.  If you leave out "a witness said" it's fine.  And attribution is helpful.  "according to a witness" set off in commas would do the trick.

The rest of the sentence is:
". . . the Civic ran a red light while traveling eastbound on Dowling, striking a Jeep Wrangler ;  the complaint said."
A good example of why Strunk and White said to keep related words together.

Quote from the Alaska Dispatch News.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

AIFF 2016: What's In A Name? Anchorage International Film Festival Films Selected - The First Look

Looking at the lists of films selected in the various categories for the first time each year is always exciting.  There's not much to go by - film titles, names of directors, countries.  It's like being in a big room with strangers many of whom you will soon get to know.  Some will become great friends, others nodding acquaintances, others you'll never connect with.

But for now all you've got are appearances and stereotypes.  Does a film title catch your fancy?  Intrigue you enough to want to know more?  Maybe you have a connection to particular country that's represented by a film or two.  And perhaps there are some interesting or even familiar names.

That's where we are now as the 2016 films selected for this year's festival have been posted on the AIFF2016 website.  At this point I'm just going to give a brief overview and comment briefly on some of the names and titles that caught my attention.

From the poster for Attila Szász' Demimonde

The background for the Features list isImage .  Szász is a Hungarian film maker whose The Ambassador To Bern won the Best Feature at AIFF in 2014.  You can see a Skype interview I did with Szász back then.  There's also transcript.  Part 8 talks about the film (Demimonde) he was starting to work on (which was why none of the film crew could make it to Anchorage that year).

Screenshot from the trailer of Karan Ananth's Indian film The Blind Side.

The background is a  

Here's some dialogue I created from three other titles from the documentary list.
A:  Goodbye Darling, I'm Off To Fight 
B:  I'll Wait Here 
A:  Walk With Me
As you can see, at this point, these are just words on a page that have whatever meaning you might invest in them.  But before long, as we learn more about the films and, hopefully, see them, they will show us who they really are.

 Image from the trailer of Richard Harper 's Evil's Evil Cousin.

Some of the shorts titles that seemed to have some superficial connection at this point:

Black Cat
Like a Butterfly
Row 1,
Sing For Your Supper
No Touching
Virgin Territory

Row 1, This Path
Thunder Road
Row 1,

Background is screenshot from A Reasonable Request 
You can't help but assume that a title like A Reasonable Request will be anything but reasonable.

Some other titles:

There were the titles with numbers:

  • 20 Matches
  • How To Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps

But maybe the second one should have been paired with

  • Fresh Chocolate Bar

And there are time related titles:

  • On Time
  • Late Night Drama

ANIMATION, which was a little thin last year, has a robust roster of films this year.

Image from  Elif Boyacioglu's The Teacup

And there's lots of mischief we can do grouping some of the titles

Food Puns Colors Time
Notorious Corn Pug of War Red Just Like It Used to Be
The Old Man and the Pear No Touching Green LightA Space In Time
Under the Apple Tree Virgin Territory
The Land Before Time Machines
Time Chicken

Image screenshot from Daven Hafey's We Eat Fish

Some Intriguing Titles:

  • The Girl Who Spoke Cat
  • You bruise, You lose
  • GlaswAsian Tales
  • Welcome to the Last Bookstore

  • At this point I know next to nothing about these films, though finding pictures for this post gave me a bit more information.  We have titles (and you can see all the titles and names of directors and countries and lengths of most of the films at the AIFF2016 website.  Soon we'll know a little more, and eventually, we'll be able to see many of these films and meet some of the filmmakers.

    Note:  Since the Alaska films didn't have countries listed (last year all but one was a US filmmaker), I've listed the titles.

    Note 2:  HTML Table Generator has revamped its page and I'm having a bit of trouble making the tables work here in blogger.  I can't see the final table when I'm composing or in Preview which means I have to post it to see if I got it right.  So forgive the different kinds of tables.  I'll get this eventually.  

    Monday, October 17, 2016

    "Conflicts of Interest and the Medical Value of Tree Frog Raise New Questions About Newstown Marshes"

    That was the headline on the news article I submitted last night for my online class on Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens from the University of Melbourne through Coursera. The lead paragraph went on:
    "New revelations arose this week about the mayor’s personal financial interests in Futopia’s Newstown Marshes project and about the potential medical value of the endangered auburn tree frog.  More questions linger about the effectiveness of the flood control projects given the impacts of climate change on future flooding."
    Over the several weeks of the course, new information emerges on the "Newstown" website which includes background on key players, press releases, interviews, and other bits of information on the events of the fictional community of Newstown, somewhere northwest of Melbourne, Australia.  Each week a little more is revealed.

    Last week our assignment was to write a lead sentence for the story of the Newstown Marshes development.

    This week we had to do a whole story.  I submitted mine just before the deadline - which is somewhat confusing for a class with people in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

    The key story revolves around a land development deal in environmentally delicate marshlands.

    This week the instructors conducted video interviews;  one example of a poor interview and one of a good interview with each of the key players.  I do interviews now and then for the blog, and I know about preparing for them as an academic, but I haven't previously read stuff about how journalists do it.  One issue that resonated with me is that most journalists don't like confronting people about things they don't want to talk about.  That made it feel a little less daunting.   There was also an interesting lecture on interviewing people undergoing trauma - something that some journalists routinely, but isn't normally part of my blogger beat.

    My blogging experience has helped me to review information quickly and see the whole story and then fill it in with facts and quotes.

    After submitting our stories, we then have to grade four of our classmates' papers as well.  There's a template for grading that makes it fairly easy to mark levels on different aspects - like covering all the key facts in the story.

    When I taught, I had  developed my own template for grading my students' papers which helped considerably to articulate to students what I was actually looking for and what I thought they did well or poorly.  It also forced me to give examples of why I gave a lower or higher grade.  Sometimes, in looking for those examples, I found my score on that factor was wrong, and I'd change it.

    The templates for the course are similarly useful, but we're also limited in comments to:

    The aspect of this article I most enjoyed was…
    The most useful suggestion for improvement to this article I can make is…
    The spelling and grammar errors I identified (if any) in this submission were…

    I think limiting the areas for improvement is a good idea because taking criticism is difficult.
    People can deal with one point, but lots might be overwhelming. And since everyone in this class is getting feedback from at least four classmates, that should suffice.  It also helps to make one's  point by identifying specific concrete examples and how to improve them.  This allows you to get straight to the issue without having to use judgmental terms.  

    I've found that the papers I've had to grade were really quite good.  Generally they got the key ideas and were written in clear English.  Better than some graduate papers I've read here at UAA.  But I also suspect that a lot of people aren't actually turning in assignments because the number of  assignments listed is far short of the number of students who were originally signed up for the class.

    A couple more things of interest in this assignment for me included the inverted pyramid idea and the Hemingway editor.

    The inverted pyramid was offered as a template for writing news stories - with the most important
    Image from Cyber College
    points at the top, and then filling in the less important ones further down.  While that's generally a good way to write, specifically identifying it as an inverted pyramid was helpful.  And I think I've heard that before, but I haven't thought about it that way when I've been blogging stories.  And while I'll think about it now, I'm not sure that's the format I want to always use.  I like to give a lot more context and to speak directly from me to the reader about what I'm doing and why.  (Which is what the ethical principles I wrote about recently say to do.)

    The Hemingway Editor is a tool to check the readability of your article.  You just paste it in and it gives you a score and marks your article up in different colors.

    0 of 9 sentences are hard to read.
    9 of 9 sentences are very hard to read.
    2 phrases have simpler alternatives.
    3 adverbs. Aim for 2 or fewer.
    1 use of passive voice.Aim for 2 or fewer.

    My sense is that this is a simple formula related to things like  number of words in a sentence and doesn't assess how well the words were put together.  One paper I had to grade got a horrendous Hemingway score, but was really quite readable.  With all the attribution we had to use in our stories, the sentences got a little longer and more comma'd up than the Hemingway editor likes.  But if it's done well it's fine.

    But I think dropping work into the Hemingway editor is not a bad idea to remind me to look for easier ways to say something.  

    I think there are a couple more weeks left of the class.  Overall, it's not too taxing.  The online interface is good.  We see the instructors in video, but we have no interaction with them at all.  We do have discussion boards, but there's relatively little extended discussion.  Teaching assistants monitor the discussions.  It's an alternative to getting information from a book, or maybe it's using the internet to augment what you can do with just print and it's not as linear as a book.  And I am able to take this class for free.  Maybe the paying students get more attention, but it doesn't appear so.  What they get is a certificate at the end.