The Making of a Mole Hill

The paper of record for the largest urban center in Alaska had as the major front page story (click to link to the first of the three) for three days running a feature about how a purported pregnant Meth head was helped back on to the straight and narrow by an innovative nursing program.

Of course, as the story runs its course one discovers that the young lady is still abusing drugs, is really not caring for the child much of the day, and is not on the street only because she has her hooks in her high school boyfriend (who she dumped apparently for an abusive guy who was also a dog-beater, and a guy some years her senior who managed to knock her up.)

The denizens of the paddock see this as a feel good story (Praise Jesus!) though these are the same folk who bad mouth “libtards” over “welfare”. But I want to talk not about morons who dot the Alaskan landscape, but about the fact that the paper of record is pandering to this crowd by running an atrociously written heart-string plucker above the fold on the front page.

I commented on just the most obvious of the problems with the story, and was immediately savaged by the maroon army, which could not distinguish between criticism of the writer (Boots), her editors, and her publisher, and the young lady who was featured in the story. And this is where the bald tire meet the pot-holed road. It is the pack mentality that we see, whether in the followers of this saccharine tale, or in the sycophants of the local “liberal” harpy. There is no room for analytical thinking among today’s social networks; if you do not subscribe to the party line you are a “troll” and subject to what amounts to virtual stoning.

Yes,  it was very clear that Boots was not engaging in “journalism”; she was playing fast and loose with the facts for the purposes of, well, a cynic would say selling newspapers, wouldn’t he? And, to be fair, there were quite a few people who approved of my comments, even one who had the temerity to post that I was right in raising my concerns, but the overwhelming voice of the ADN readership agreed that I am a nosy troll.

Well, I suppose I might be a nosy troll, but that does not really have much to do at all with the fact that the writing in this story is terrible and certainly there is no place on the front page of a newspaper for this kind of writing (it certainly is not news, and calling it journalism would be a slap in the face to real journalists everywhere.)

And more importantly, while the local paper is running this burlesque show (full half page photo of her actually delivering, while the folk in the Valley are trying to keep Sherman Alexie books out of the hands of teenagers) it’s not like there is no news to report. The local District of 50,000 students has no Superintendent, is in budgetary crisis (as is the State, whose legislature soon convenes), and is graduating students who can’t read and write, while the Mayor is playing fast and loose with public transit and developers, the cops won’t talk about real community policing (no car, no coverage), and if you say marijuana three times someone’s head nearby will explode.  Not to mention we need data on Medicaid expansion, specifics on the viability of various income tax regimes, and the scoop on why BigOil has not jumped up to help Alaska’s bottom line, now that the projections of the glorious returns on putting BigOil in charge of tax policy have rung hollow.

But wait, there’s more!

The humorous bit is that right on the heels of this rolling feature, the ADN actually did a rather comprehensive story on a small CAP plane that flew into a downtown office building. No massaging of information, all possible sources pursued, no outrageous claims or appeals to sentiment.  Of course, the comments from the ADN peanut gallery include attacks on the paper by the well known “liberal” harpy, Shannyn Moore who shrieked,

Sick. Sickest story by people who forgot who Alaskans are. Even if Kate wasn’t the finest attorney in Alaska she wouldn’t deserve this ambush. You have to get up early to make her day harder than her husband already did. But, hey. You actually made her day worse than a suicide by plane into her place of work. My guess is the Alaska Press Club will give an award. That’s about all they are good for.

And, of course, given the fact that Moore apparently considers herself a journalist (so many Alaska are delusional, regardless of purported political perspective) her remarks are at best sophomoric,  but then, that’s what she does best (I have remarked on this in the past, e. g. and ).

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.


Comment thread

Merwyn Ambrose How about a news story, as in what happened to this girl’s father? Is he still alive and if so why does the young lady indicate she was raised by her aunt? If her aunt did raise her, how much money was she paid to raise the child? Did this girl graduate high school, and if not, why not? What has this girl been doing since 2012, and what was the reaction of her family members? The father of the girl’s child has been her boyfriend for years; is he the same person who she says she escaped from? Why should this girl be allowed to keep a baby when she clearly is incapable of caring for herself? How much drugs and alcohol was she doing when the child was conceived and is it likely the child will suffer from that abuse? How is it that the girl became pregnant in the first place?

Jill Neff Ummmm. Sex?

Juanita Hernandez Guerrero Why can’t people like you just be happy for others???

Danielle Marie Because there are questions you’re asking that are absolutely nobody’s business. She became pregnant the same way everyone does, obviously. The rest of your questions have zero bearing on this story, or your life, and don’t need to be asked by or answered to the general public. Mind your business and just be happy someone is helping this girl to become a responsible mother. If she’s not on drugs now there’s no reason to take that baby away or to ask any other questions. Sheesh. Nosey.

Merwyn Ambrose lol, this was front page of my newspaper, and the focus of the story was this young lady whose history is only partially recounted so that the story makes feature reading. What any newspaper reader would want to know (you should find your dime novels at the library) is why this young lady is in the circumstances she is, and what we might learn from the circumstances. Moreover, since we are likely going to have to support this young lady for some time, and she feels that she wants to share her story, questions about whether she has any certainty about paternity, as well as questions as to the financial support she is already receiving from the father (if really known) are certainly germane.

Ian Demello It’s part one of a multiple part story, I’m sure in the near future your nosey ass will get all the details!

Merwyn Ambrose I am gratified you are worried about my ass, Ian. Unfortunately, I am not sanguine regarding your anticipation. In the meantime, I am glad that you are one of very few supporter of Medicaid Expansion on the Kenai smile emoticon

Merwyn Ambrose Jill Neff implant? IUD? Or do the good folk of the KPBSD feel that sex ed is inappropriate for KCH students wink emoticon

Danielle Marie The questions about how much her aunt was paid is irrelevant. So is the question about if or why she might not have graduated high school. And asking about her family members reactions. Irrelevant and unnecessary questions that don’t need to be answere…See More

Merwyn Ambrose ahhhh…. feel good stories are not front page news, and in my paper it appears as front page news, so all the questions are germane. Especially in Alaska where a significant portion of the population is very exercised about Medicaid Expansion, lol. Frankly, the author of the story fails in any way to address how her society so failed her that she abused the fetus she is carrying.

Becky Westbrook Are you kidding me? So what if she did drugs in the past. I know many moms who have had rough lives that managed to turn their lives around despite their circumstances & overcame their obstacles & cleaned up their acts. They became wonderful working strong mothers. I have no doubts this young lady can do what what many choose not too. She’s already making those changes & frankly unless you’ve walked in her shoes get off your high horse & stop judging.

Danielle Marie I don’t see it as abuse of the fetus if she started the addiction prior to conception then quit the drugs after discovering her pregnancy.

Gina Whitlock Because it’s not her life path we are judging it’s how we are helping her as a community fix it for the better!

Ian Demello Mariahs mother died when she was a toddler, her aunt took her and her brother in without thinking twice about it! Her loving aunt, whom Mariah refers to as “mommy” was paid nothing for doing what a good mother should do! Mariah may have had issues during the start of her pregnancy, but thanks for a loving and supportive family and nurse, she was able to turn her life around for her and her perfectly healthy baby girl!

when did Jesus step off his throne and hand it to you to allow you to judge the actions of others?!?! Don’t be an ignorant judgmental ass if you don’t know the person your asking all of these personal questions about…

Shawna Leann Williams You’re such a troll.

Merwyn Ambrose rofl, this was a news story in my local paper, on the front page no less. If indeed the child was an orphan, then the aunt should have received funds from the State which could have made the difference between a child who did no how to avoid getting pregnant and abusing a fetus for 5 months and someone who did not need medicaid to “turn her life around”. I don;t know who the fuck “Jesus” is nor what anyone’s throne has to do with Meth abusers, but if this young lady did not want to be the subject of inquiry, she should not have allowed herself to become a poster child for why we need broader Medicaid services.

p.s. a supportive nurse is going to do little about what this young lady did to her fetus… that is more about the values she learned from her aunt, don’t you think?

Merwyn Ambrose Danielle Marie in fact, the article makes it clear that she did not decide to cease Meth until sometime after she discovered she was pregnant, she felt the baby kick. In fact, it would appear she was abusing Meth and alcohol for the first two trimesters. As a result there is a reasonably possibility that the child will be developmentally delayed, not to mention more dire consequences.

Merwyn Ambrose And the story is a bit confusing in that it seems to suggest that this young lady was raised by her aunt in Kenai, but that she was living out of a suitcase in Kenai, and then came to Anchorage to escape an “abusive boyfriend” but was able to manage an apartment in Anchorage, though she could not manage that in Kenai. But when she discovered she was preggers, then went to live with her aunt in Anchorage. I am missing out on how the family provided supports for this girl from high school graduation on….

Raven T Stewman I think Merwyn is asking right questions for a front page story.

Patti Stands Usually sex is the leading cause of babies and why dose it matter how much the aunt was “paid” obviously she stopped doing meth when she found out she was pregnant and yes I’m some cases drug addicts can clean up and be fabulous parents

Patti Stands And meth is something u can’t just quit cold turkey it could’ve killed them both I think your just a nosey ignorant human and that’s sad

Craig Miller Hewitt Seems odd to shout down somebody for making positive changes. Especially during the time of year when you should possibly give a crap. Bad form.

Charles Lester Sounds like the girl in Vegas that ran everyone over

Rian Fletcher Merwyn, what is your shoe size ? Have you eaten bread today ? What’s your grandfathers middle name? At what point did you decide to be a gigantic cunt? These are all important questions

Nicole Leigh Katelnikoff-Anderson @Merwyn.. Nuff said….

Nicole Leigh Katelnikoff-Anderson’s photo.

Janet Wambolt Winder It

Merwyn Ambrose The reason, as can be seen from a number of the comments above, that modern educational standards attempt to focus on close reading is that many Americans appear incapable of close reading. By way of example, the article (as I noted above) does not indicate that she quit meth when she discovered she was pregnant. The article does indicate that a trimester later, she vowed she would stop using. In fact, the article does not indicate that she in fact stopped using, nor does it provide any information about assistance in quitting, so we are left to ponder whether Mariah is or is not an addict (indeed, for all we know she quit cold turkey, lol.)

So, once again we see the author of the article scattering all manner of bits of history before us intended as part of her rhetorical devices (the purpose of the piece is to move the audience, not to inform the audience), yet providing no coherent history. In sum, Ms. Boots is engaged in emotional chumming. Apparently, from the schooling of her fans present here, quite successfully, lol.

Why the Elephant Appeals to Blind Men

elephantYet another Anchorage Daily News puff piece about Anchorage School District performance produced reader comments prominently featuring the usual suspects on the Distant Right engaged in the obligatory Gnashing of Teeth.  The problem here, as is so often the case, is that folk like David Boyle and Bob Griffin see a piece of the problem, and thereupon assume that they see the whole picture clearly, and therefore can provide a simple and comprehensive solution.  Unfortunately, more often than not, they are just benighted Fellows of the  IBMC (Indostani Blind Men’s Club, see below).

Despite the howling “on the left” the data available appear to make it very clear that Alaska, like most states, was overstating student performance and that new testing regiments are now consistent with the kind of results that were produced by NAEP testing (I have posted before about the Brookings’ discussion of the comparison between typical AYP testing regimes and the NAEP, so will not go into that again save to say that the NAEP is a more comprehensive regime). The result is that we are finally seeing that broadly speaking only a third of our students are really proficient (that is to say, have basic skill mastery) in core subjects.

Yet, as we know, virtually all Alaskan educational institutions identify a letter grade of “C” as representing student mastery (a copy of the Anchorage School District grading system is appended below) and ASD has been increasing graduation (and therefore GPA). There is clearly a gap, and the gap is not a testing artifact nor is it illusory.

Unfortunately, the Fellows of the IBMC want to throw the baby out with the bath water. They are argue that all and sundry have failed, and the only solution is to put education in the hands of parents (who arguably are the real culprits here). Their arguments are the direct result of their (some would claim intentional)  failure to appreciate the complexity of the problems the educational system faces.  They are devotees of the silver bullet, and as I am perhaps overly fond of saying, there is no silver bullet to address out educational woes.

As anyone with a knowledge of high school physics will acknowledge,  just because you can demonstrate that light behaves as a particle,  does not mean that it does not also behave like a wave.  Yes, we have a gap, but if you want to meet the elephant in the room,  you have to become acquainted with something beyond its hind quarters.  Teachers face twice as many students as they could possibly cope with, presenting an educational and socio-economic continuum that we know are critical obstructions to effective instruction. We also face a cadre of parents who dispute the value of education, see education as valuable only through individual ROI (return on investment), and convey their disdain for schools, teachers, and the educated to their children. Of course, we also have inept administrators coupled with a deplorable lack of educational leadership.

I would also argue that we suffer from an appalling number of incompetent teachers, but there are a couple of problems with such a claim: 1) no one can agree on what education is, let alone how it is to be delivered and it is difficult to argue that an educator is not doing their job if you can’t objectively quantify that job, and 2) even if we were to try to seize on some metric, there are so many possibly variable that any rubric would on its face be meaningless (and that of course includes the suggestions that anyone could intelligently employ standardized testing to assess teacher effectiveness).  No, I don’t think that lets teachers off the hook.  Peer review is an excellent start to generating some common language and perception regarding instruction; in other words, teachers need to lead the way, and they clearly are not.

But despite all the problems, it seems that everyone wants to point the finger at someone else! And as noted, since there is ample “fault” to go around, as long as they have their blinders on they feel satisfied that they have the answer. The elephant is the age old foil of the hubris involved.

The villain, once upon a time, was agreed upon to be the student.  Lazy and shiftless, they were sifted and then beaten into an acceptable shape. Hopefully we have a more sophisticate understanding of minors today than hundreds of years ago. But I think it only fair to acknowledge, as I think most teachers will agree, that students today evidence two major educational deficits that are not of their making.  First, they are not developing their ability to memorize.  For decades, educational reformers have argued against “rote” learning,  but in doing so, have also abandoned memorization, a pillar upon which all classical education relied. We have seen the same kind of results in the whole language and Chicago Math debacles, where an interest in increasing the depth and breadth of instruction essentially resulted practically speaking in the abandonment of effective instruction for almost a generation of students

A second culprit is the shadow of intentional forgetting (both in the technical sense and in a broader lay sense). While many students will demonstrate mastery of a skill, within weeks access to that skill will seem to have disappeared. Many curricular programs have sought to address such problems by including cumulative review in instruction, but this becomes a huge uphill battle, and that battle is inevitably lost in May of every year.  Proposed solutions run the gamut from “turn off the gaming station and take away the smart phone” to implementing a parade of tortures for the child on his way to Paradise Island.  Despite all we do, high school Math students spend some 40% of instructional time relearning what they supposedly had mastered the year before, and they do that without ever having an inling of why.

No silver bullets anywhere, but we do have to understand that if we want our children to learn what we have placed before them, they have to be embedded in an environment that supports their learning.  In fact, we are so busy bickering that we have largely lost sight of this.  No, standardized tests and regular probes don’t hurt the student any more than asking them to learn how to use a pencil.  Increasing homework, where the student is doing the work wrong and developing an antipathy for the work, the teacher and education, is not going to be helpful at all. Attacking teachers, haplessly paid to keep their fingers stuck in the dyke, does nothing to address their training, their resources, or the ridiculous demands made of them.

If you want to see  “the trouble with education” quit groping the elephant and take a look in a mirror.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan, To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant, (Though all of them were blind) That each by observation, Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to brawl: “God bless me but the Elephant Is very like a wall.”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,Cried, “Ho! What have we here So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ’tis mighty clear This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands,Thus boldly up and spake: “I see,” quoth he, “The Elephant Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt around the knee, “What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain,” quoth he; ” ‘Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: “E’en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, “I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each of his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!

by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

Grading System
“A’’ This mark indicates the student has done work in quality and quantity far in excess of the standards set forth for a satisfactory grade in the course.
“B’’ This mark indicates that the student is doing work in quality and quantity above the standards set forth for a passing grade in the course.
“C’’ This mark is a satisfactory passing grade. It indicates that the student is acquiring the necessary information to proceed in the subject. He/she is meeting the standards set for a passing grade in the course.
“D” This mark indicates that the student is not effectively mastering the work assigned but has sufficient understanding of the subject to justify the opinion that more growth will result from advancement than from repetition of the course.
“F’’ Insufficient progress in the subject to merit granting of credit in the course.
“WF ’’ Student has been withdrawn from the course “failing.’’
“J’’ Audit— Principal approval is required. Indicates a student is auditing a course for his/her benefit. This does not count towards credit for graduation and must be approved prior to the 10th day of the course. Students are still required to complete course work.

Anchorage School District 2014–15 High School Program of Studies pg ix

Piss it forward


I am told by Modern Educators that we must seek a Return On Investment for educational dollars spent. I am not moved.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am sensitive to the public’s concern that bucks are being burned, funds flushed down the crapper, which is why the public should be ensorcelled into budget review teams that act to bring the community in to the school budgetary process in a real way, while relegating the demagogues to orations in cemeteries.

But I am not impressed with the argument, now actually being repurposed by the likes of Robert Reich and Bill Moyers, that some people only need so much education, the apparent neo-liberal liberal arts education. Where, oh where, you might ask, did the concept of  an education free to the student through post-secondary study flee? All around the country we hear a new chorus; we need to train for employment.

I think it’s great that a student learning Math can count out change (though opponents to so-called New Math, when confronted with the actual instruction that explains how we count change, oppose such instruction…), but I am not sending that student to school so he can work the counter at McDonalds.

Reich and MoTREE-OF-KNOWLEDGEyers will get offended and argue that they just meant that “college isn’t for everyone”, but isn’t that a nice apologist howdy-do.  It amounts to a declaration that college is only for those needing a college degree to get a job. And there we are – education as a tool of capitalism.  We want to educate you so that we can exploit you.

Yes, I would like to see everyone hold a fulfilling job that provides a living, and I am certain that a good education would contribute to that,  but that does not mean that I want to make serfdom priority one. I want our children to have greater compassion and comprehension, to be able to walk in another’s shoes and see with another’s eyes, to know the universe as awe-inspiring but as no object of fear. I want our children to share, in the most fundamental way, in all that we can offer as a species.  I want to share with them the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which is the original blessing…

I am not looking for a return on investment when I educate a kid. I look at it as a foolish waste of money, an act of total caprice, a whimsical misadventure; all these being some gesture of faith in my species, no matter how unwarranted that faith may be. Piss on the bean counters. Piss it forward.

Through the crack, sprightly

It occurs to me that I have yet to meet a parent who didn’t feel that their child, not recognized as exceptional by their school, was very special and not adequately served by their school. Go figure. Indeed, one of the more frightening areas in which the far right and liberal left seem to make common cause is over “educational reform” — code for , “choice”.

When looks at the response to parental demands (read ‘low cost” private and charter schools), we see of course quite a bit of quackery, bigotry, but more importantly we see that these schools are mostly about parents being able to push educational staff around. Not that educational staff in many institutions shouldn’t be pushed around, lol, but I would prefer to see the pushing towards greater educational efficacy, as opposed to greater responsiveness to parental images of self-importance.

I am afraid we do have hordes of lousy teachers, but I don’t think a greater percentage than that of lousy parents, and while some might argue that with adequate educational leadership something can be made of even the worst teacher (presuming the existence of educational leadership, a matter I think in some dispute) the same can’t be said of parents.

Yes, I am outraged by a teacher who flunks his entire honors history class, but I also have to ask myself how such a class was filled with students who could not read or write to the standards necessary to take that class. And in the instances where I have witnessed such behavior, not a single parent though their child unprepared.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 8.42.28 PMI will certainly admit to the fact that countless children escape an education, but qualify that confession with the observation that the wee toads are aided and abetted by their parents, who are of legal age, if not necessarily of sound mind, and whom, if the truth be told, are hustling their precious little devils through those cracks as quickly as their little chubby legs can carry them. And while some of us see down the rabbit hole as delightful interlude from the humdrum of our obligations, for some the illusion becomes all too real

While there are undoubtedly many exceptions, most of “us”  are fearful, bigoted, and superstitious. We tend to think we are well educated while we are often almost functionally illiterate. We know very little history and less of any other social science, are largely innumerate, and have a good deal of trouble with our own language, let alone any other. We are tribal, snooty, and abusive while calling out others for being tribal, snooty and abusive. We are incredibly selfish, greedy and jealous.  And now we want to be able to educate our children so that they don’t have to be near “Them”.

The most critical aspect of Education is learning about Others. The most critical target of Educational Reform can, I believe, be consistently seen in your mirror (as opposed to being found on the other side of it).

Generosity of Spirit

I recently saw a  post about an apocryphal Anchorage police officer who would let drivers off a drunk driving arrest if they could recite the names of Santa’s reindeer.  As the potential source of such a libelous contention, I thought I had better set the record straight.

It was the day of Christmas eve 1978 if I recall correctly, and I was defending a DUI in the old Anchorage State Court House (the one that has recently been plucked from existence that used to stand in front of the red brick ‘tower of justice’.) I was pretty harsh on the arresting officer (I had only been practicing law for a year, was full of piss and vinegar, and had the facts at my back) and got an acquittal for my client. I left the Courthouse and went across the street to celebrate. Several rounds later I picked up my girlfriend and we went out on the town. After partying for hours, we walked to the car and I started to drive home. It was dark and the streets were largely empty. I got confused and I turned the wrong way down Fifth Avenue. Before I could pull a U-turn a police office had sighted me. I pulled over, dug out my license and registration, rolled down the window and waited. It was not going to be the night I had planned.

And then, just as I thought things could not get worse, who should approach the car but the officer I had eviscerated just hours earlier. We exchanged polite greetings, and the officer very generously told me that he understood that we both had a job to do, that I had done mine, and that perhaps, had he done his a bit better things would have turned out differently, but that he had no bad feelings over the situation, and it being Christmas eve and all, if I could name 6 of Santa’s reindeer he would consider that an adequate field sobriety test as he had seen no other evidence of intoxication.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 8.16.00 AMI was overwhelmed with this guys spirit, but being very Jewish and not a little under the weather, I realized that my mastery of Clement Clarke Moore was as shady as his claim of authorship — I could not recite the necessary lines! I stumbled over Comet and Dancer, and catching my lady friend’s dirty looks I chirped Vixen and Cupid. Uhhhh, Blintzes (“I mean Blitzen, Officer”). And I was done. I mean I was done, my goose was cooked. I could see the officer getting irritated (he would have to stay long after his shift doing paperwork on an ingrate) and I would be lucky if my girlfriend had two words for me. Stick me with a fork.

Just then I happened to look in my rear view mirror where I saw the traffic light behind me turn red. It came to me (yes, in a flash), and I blurted out (it felt like I screamed it) RUDOLPH!!. No one was going to take issue with that (however off color the response may have been) and heaving huge sighs of relief all the way around, we all took our leave of each (the office vouchsafing my U-turn, lol.)

I tell people this and other tales of Anchorage in the 70s because they convey a sense of who we were, and who we have become. I never heard of any officer doing this as a regular schtick — the officer with whom I spent a few minutes that evening certainly had not offered that to my client, or I would have been a fee poorer, — but it would not be the first time that I heard one of my stories come back to me.


“Twas the Night Before Christmas – Project Gutenberg eText 17135”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Happy holidays, where ever you find them….

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

The Divided

My review of The Divide on GoodReads appears below.  Yes, I was a bit frustrated that in all the reviews of this book there was not a single mention of this glaring error,  which of course led me to wonder how many other errors there were in this or any of the other books being touted from bestseller and other “lists”. And so I started a journey.  First I attempted to being this to the attention of the publishers, who indicated they weren’t interested and I should write to the author, so I did.  The author failed to respond. I commented on book reviews at major publications (no traction) and eventually added some material to the wikipedia page on the book (limited to the the book text on the issue, and the contents of the report, with a footnote to a link for the letter sent to publisher and author.).  It turns out that wikipedia requires that entries must reference published sources, and published does not include self-publication. In other words, if you have a letter from the President that says that he wants to get something accomplished regarding immigration in 2016, you can’t reference that letter until some bozo on HuffPo mentions it first. Lions and tiger and bears!

Don’t get me wrong!  I think it’s a very strong book and makes powerful arguments. But at least one claim is introduced as based on an argument that is easily demonstrated to be false.  But that is not my underlying concern here.  My real concern is that the book is being lauded for its expert research, while no one will even acknowledge any errors in the book.  And so, to Goodreads (as I mention, my review appears at the foot of this post.  )

But first, the impetus for this post. It turns out that noting that the first chapter of a wildly popular “liberal” book is based on the deliberate misrepresentation that the Obama Whitehouse was involved in Senator Ted Steven’s prosecution is nitpicking about something no one remembers has turned me in to FoxNews style Obamabot who wants to dump the baby with the bathwater! Read it for yourself:

[Geoffrey] “* * *  As usual, this book is expertly researched.  * * *”

[Marc] “Amazes me people can say this work is expertly researched when the first chapter is in fact based on gross inaccuracies.”

[Geoffrey] “Yeah, your review looks a bit to much like a FoxNews tactic turned Obamabot defense: find one nit to pick about a paragraph no one remembers, and say that the baby must go with the bathwater. Not buying it.”

[Marc] “Interesting comment. My concern is that Taibbi’s argument is that the Dems are as guilty of the offenses he presents as the Republicans (which is arguably true) but as a basis for that argument he launches in to a wholly unrelated domain regarding Senator Stevens and then totally botches his argument (no, the Dems had nothing to do with the Stevens prosecution and the documentation of this error, which goes to the basis of his argument, has nothing in common with Fox News, lol.) Yes, the book is expertly argued, but no, the book is not expertly researched, if by that you mean that the research supports the argument. I did not say toss the baby with the bathwater, but I am saying that we need to spend more time with the research that is offered to support such books, because, as you intimate, no one is in fact reading the footnotes. Moreover, if you wish to argue that the argument regarding Stevens is nominal and unimportant, then I suppose that is a criticism of Taibbi, as in, why would he include as a major part of an early chapter in his book a claim (that is demonstrably false) intended to set up the one the premises for the rest of the book. This is not about political partisanship; this is about the publication of widely acclaimed books that have major misrepresentations anchoring their arguments.”

[Geoffrey] “I assume you’re one of those commenters that gets paid by the word. I didn’t know you guys trolled even goodreads. Is this a proving ground you experiment in before graduating to Facebook and Twitter?”

[Marc] “Let’s try to stay focused, shall we?
You claim the book is expertly researched.
I demonstrate that a major argument in the first chapter is based on gross misrepresentation of the facts that can be appreciated by anyone.
You fail and or refuse to acknowledge the errors and claim I am “nitpicking”
I point out that getting one’s shorts in a twist about a typo in a footnote is nitpicking, while demonstrating that the introduction of a major theme in the book, complicity of the Democratic party, based on a false argument, is not, whether or not the the argument is viable (I agree it is) or well made (I also agree it is).
The upshot would appear to be that you don’t know what “expertly researched” means and you are frightened of rational discussion (do the mean little wordies bitesies?)
When you wish to contribute something substantive, let me know. I enjoy Taibbi’s writing and am disappointed that this kind of crap pops up as a cornerstone of a major theme in his book.”

In sum, Solomon’s wisdom (yes, I know I am mixing metaphors, but Solomon’s ancient test to determine what is really important seems related to bath water here…) has been turned on its head.  We are being asked to ignore the bathwater because of the baby. And we are attacking those that read critically.  If that sounds like a far right tactic, well, guess what, it appears to be a a tactic of the left now too.

My question to Taibbi, and Taibbi groupies I suppose, is what The Divide would look like if the error I found (and other errors if they exist) are removed.  If there would be no real impact on the argument, then why not fix the errors, admit the mistakes and move on (as opposed to pretending that the basis for your argument is unimportant.)  If, on the other hand, addressing errors would be problematic, then that is truly a cause for concern.

In other words, such issues challenge an author’s credibility. At least for those who remember what he wrote…




The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth GapI was puzzled by Matt Taibbi’s attack on the Obama Whitehouse over the Steven’s litigation, as much of Alaska was puzzled by the apparent intent of the Bush Whitehouse to not only keep Stevens out of the Senate, but to accomplish same illegally. The suggestion that Obama or his appointees, whatever you may think of the current administration, had anything to do with the Stevens prosecution other than the “clean up” (such as it was) is simply ludicrous. Yet, there it was, introducing and underscoring “Unintended Consequences.”

“The so-called Schuelke report would not come out for three more years, but when it did surface, it contained a startling tale. Obama’s new appointees had inserted a young prosecutor named Brenda Morris as lead prosecutor in the Stevens case days before trial, infuriating the rank-and-file prosecutors in Alaska who had run the case since its  inception.”

But the Report (which can be found here for those without ECF access:…) had no trouble being seen, was circulated almost as soon as it was filed with the Court, and stated,

“Senator Stevens was arraigned on July 31, 2008, and his attorney,
Brendan Sullivan, requested an October trial date so that Senator
Stevens, who was running for re-election, could clear his name before
the November election. Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutor, acceded to
the request and suggested an earlier trial date, Sept. 24, 2008, which
was accepted by the Court and Mr. Sullivan. That date was later advanced
and jury selection began on Sept. 22, 2008. The prosecutors had
anticipated the possibility of a speedy trial request by the defense,
decided in advance to consent if one was made, but they were unprepared
for a speedy trial.”

In other words, Schuelke states in his report that Brenda Morris was lead prosecutor in the case long before a highly contested election. The suggestion that an Obama administration had anything to do with obstructing discovery in the Steven case (which, by the way, played out in September and October of 2008), let alone submarining the litigation through a last minute change in personnel, is simply untenable.

How could the editor’s fact-checkers have made it through the galleys of the first chapter of this book without noticing such a glaring mistake. How many other errors does the book contain, and can I trust Matt Taibbi any more? There are many divides in our society, and one of them is the divide that separates those that argue from fact from those that make things up as they go along. I am now distressed that I no longer am sure sure on which side of that divide Matt resides.


Sean Parnell: Sticking It To Alaskan Employees

Things about Sean Parnell’s Administration that you may not have been aware of….

Some Alaska Workers Comp insurers refuse to preauthorize medical services after a claim has been accepted. This results in medical providers refusing to provide services and is termed controversion-in-fact. In other words, while purporting to have accepted the claim, the insurer/employer is in fact intimidating medical providers into not providing services for fear that the bills will not be paid.


Henson, Jim. Labyrinth. Adventure, Fantasy, 1986.

This practice has been the subject of numerous cases and most recently the Alaska Supreme Court has essentially confirmed the position of the AWCB that this practice is unlawful and amounts to a controversion because payments for medical services are essentially payable under Alaska law at the time the services are prescribed. Nevertheless, the Liberty companies have continued to engage in these practices.

The worst bit is that faced with the fact that Liberty companies are simply thumbing their noses at Alaska, the Division of Insurance has knowingly determined to take no action with respect to this conduct.  Yes, that’s correct.  Insurers are intentionally engaged in conduct that you or I would regard as fraudulent, and Parnell’s administration won’t do anything about it.

A tip o’ the hat to the folk at the AWCB who continue to insist that the provisions of the Act be applied fairly across the Board – it has to be disconcerting to realize that your employment may be at risk because you are in fact doing what your job requires you to do, because an administration is sabotaging the very laws it is obliged to uphold.

If you are an employer, I recommend that you immediately contact your Workers Comp carrier and demand that they amend their  policy to include a provision that requires prompt preauthorization absent controversion, and if you are an employee, know that you or your medical provider should file a Claim Form with Workers Comp demanding preauthorization and payment for services immediately on determination of a course of treatment.

Yes, the provider can use the Claim Form to obtain preauthorization.


 JONATHAN BOCKUS, Employee, Claimant, v. FIRST STUDENT SERVICES, Employer, and SEGDWICK CMS, INC., Adjuster, Defendants. AWCB Decision No. 14-00400 AWCB No. 201302957 Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board  March 24, 2014 FINAL DECISION AND ORDER

RICHARD G. KAMITCHIS, Employee, Claimant, v. SWAN EMPLOYER SERVICES, Employer, and LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Insurer, Defendants. AWCB Decision No. 14-0039 AWCB No. 201203798
Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board March 24, 2014 FINAL DECISION AND ORDER

WILLARD HARRIS, Appellant and Cross-Appellee, v. M-K RIVERS and ACE INDEMNITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellees and Cross-Appellants. Nos. S-14254, S-14262 Supreme Court of Alaska March 14, 2014

Of Ravens and Writing Desks

500px-MadlHatterByTennielTold,  “take two aspirin, ponder why Emerson is like a hotdog and call me in the morning”, my correspondent snapped back, “You may as well have asked why is a raven like a writing desk.” Precisely. Hence my title, borrowed from Deacon Dodgson, and the following comments, to serve as my demurrer.1

A veritable crisis of choice confronts us, leading the decriers to despair of Panglossian paralysis. 2 Not only do we suffer from the apparent number of choices, but from the terrifying prospect that the type of oats we select to consume for breakfast might not provide the greatest contribution to our long term health!  We could be wrong!

It is perhaps easier to laugh with Voltaire than with Swift. Skewered Leibniz (peut etre Pangloss-en-pot, ou Candide en cocotte) is far more palatable than well-Nursed Child “Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust”, at least for most of us. Some seem pleased enough to order from Adams’ Ameglian Major talking cow, who reprised the good news invitation, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

“But what”, you might ask, “does any of this have to do with, ‘Why is Emerson is like a hot dog?'”

Carrol, of course, was just yanking his readers’ chains, uninvited guest not withstanding. But riddling out the function of riddles has been a focal point of human endeavor for some time.3 For my purposes, I want to focus on two kinds of more mundane queries, the leap and the slog. The slog is a favorite of the Socratic pedant; a question posed to facilitate the journey (much as the uninvited guest becomes the journey’s host here.) The leap, known to Sojourners in the East as the ‘koan’, is intended neither as the trail of crumbs nor as the dog at your footsteps, but incites you to hurl your psyche across the void where,  having presumably leapt in the right direction, the light will click on. [I should think that a discussion of How the Leaper Got His Spots is no more apropos of this discussion than the fable of The Fox, The Goat and the Well and I shall leave Mr. Peabody to address same with Rudyard and Aesop as time may allow.]

But the slogger, unlike the quantum acrobat, will have stumbled on to the suggestion that maybe Voltaire was a little too clever for his own good, not to mention, though Barth does, “It’s as if–as if the key to the treasure is the treasure!”

“A mighty hotdog is our Lord!”

The Purveyor of the Great American Antidote was Ralph Waldo Emerson. 4  Ralph was an “‘Engage’, already!” kind of guy. And his anthem, Self Reliance, stirs us today as it did when first presented.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

Fear not, nor a coward be. Engage.

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct.

Every question raised is first a choosing, the path of discovery unfurling, the only choice the choosing.

Have we lost our way and ended up with the Lords a’Leaping after all? Ralph is not suggesting you wear a bag over your head, as I think Anasta is pointing out. Self-Reliance is about not being afraid of your shadow, about trusting in the process that brought you to this, only the most recent of all the forks in the road that have presented themselves. Have faith in the evidence of your own process.

Spinoza is known for his thesis Deus siva natura,  which translates in English to, “The world is your hotdog.”  Ralph’s corollary to Baruch’s argument?  Eat!  Go ahead.  Take a big bite. With ketchup and onions,  or sauerkraut and mustard.  It’s not a big deal, and you have it under control. And when you are asked, “Cake or death?” I am sure you will know what to say then as well.

Bon appétit!



1. My initial “text”, as it were, was Letter to Demetrias, one of the few extant examples we have of Pelagius’s writing, and Alice was pointed to an introduction to same  (Rees, 35), the focus of our discussion revolving around “choice”.  While Bill Clinton’s virginal lungs will, for many, forever pose the lingering question of what the unschooled are expected to swallow, some Americans, like Hawthorne’s Goodman Brown, might still see the posing of the question as engaging in heresy, much as Augustine did.  Augustine and Pelagius came to different conclusions about choice, and about the ramifications of choice, and for those who take the one less traveled, that will make, as Frost agrees, all the difference.

To be fair, Pelagius argues one must keep one’s eyes on the prize,  but he argues that the choice is a continuing challenge, and that it is in the striving that one finds blessing. And Frost does not argue that the path made the difference; he suggests we will see it that way eventually. But the wily Frost, in always being obscure, still leaves us at the fork in the road. Our lives are simply chains of choices (no matter how you define chains.)

2. While some would argue that the “paradox of choice” is much ado about nothing,  it would be only fair to allow Schwartz the opportunity to explain himself: Perhaps what is in issue is not the challenge of making a choice, but the misperception of the nature of choosing. If the result of the choice is a selection of one of 52 varieties of sugared grain breakfast product, none of which is a very healthy alternative, why choose?

3. Kinkaid, in reviewing Huxley’s The Raven and the Writing Desk, writes,

Primarily, however, Huxley’s book deconstructs the meaning of the
riddle and mocks our attempt to find coherent rules for the game of
nonsense. He uses “evidence” in such a way as to parody positivistic
solidity, ranging wildly through biography, linguistics, the mechanics
of punning, game theory, alliterative patterns, philosophy, Carroll’s
own number codes, and Anglo-Saxon grammar. All these give us clues
that lead us to see that both the riddle about the raven and the writing
desk and the riddle about the meaning of nonsense are unanswerable.

4. I would be remiss, in an essay that touches on the paralysis of choice if I did not offer a different take on Emerson.  Anasta certainly gives one pause to consider Emerson’s prescription, but having hoisted himself, arguably, on his own petard, might not the argument be largely cautionary, as opposed to antagonistic?

Other Works Mentioned

Anastas, Benjamin. “The Foul Reign of Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance.’” The New York Times, December 2, 2011, sec. Magazine. Accessed March 26, 2014.
Barth, John. Chimera. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Essay on Self-Reliance. East Aurora, N.Y: The Roycrofters, 1908.
Huxley, Francis. The Raven and the Writing Desk. Harper & Row, 1976.
Matthew, 26:26
Rees, Brinley Roderick. Pelagius: Life and Letters. Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1988.
Swift, Johnathan, and Jack Lynch. “A Modest Proposal.” University instructor resources. Swift, “A Modest Proposal.” Last modified January 17, 2011. Accessed March 26, 2014.
Voltaire. Candide, Or, Optimism. Penguin, 1947.

For Your Further Viewing and Amusement

Travels with Elstun

One of the problems facing anyone trying to discuss much of anything about education is the question of just what education is.  As I have suggested elsewhere,  while I have a very clear idea of what education is, your very clear vision may be different,  and we have yet to even get to those who have little or no vision.   But how, I have been pondering, might someone explain what education might mean to someone who might not have been the beneficiary of an education? And it was at that point that I had a delightful bit of travel (without ever leaving my seat) that seemed, in part, to answer that very question. And I thought I would share that with you.

Exploring Star Hill

Snapshot by Elstun Lauesen

We start in Juneau, exploring Star Hill, and there come across an oddly painted building with an even odder plaque.  It states (in antiquish uncial-like font),

vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit

which translates in Latin to, “Called or not called, God will be there.” What is the source of this curious statement? It turns out that this text is copied from a famous doorway in Kusnacht, Switzerland.  Carl Jung, the 20th Century psychologist, had the Latin carved in to the stone above the door of his house in Kusnacht.

“By the way, you seek the enigmatic oracle Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit in vain in Delphi: it is cut in stone over the door of my house in Kusnacht near Zurich and otherwise found in Erasmus’s collection of Adagia (XVIth cent.). [Jung had acquired a copy of the 1563 edition of Erasmus’s Collectaneas adagiorum, a compilation of analects from classical authors, when he was 19 years old.] It is a Delphic oracle though. It says: yes, the god will be on the spot, but in what form and to what purpose? I have put the inscription there to remind my patients and myself: Timor dei initium sapiente [“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”] Here another not less important road begins, not the approach to “Christianity” but to God himself and this seems to be the ultimate question.” (1975: 611) From, and see also

And we are off to 16th century Rotterdam to look into the Adagio of Erasmus. The “proverb” and anecdote that struck Jung can be seen here (though the edition is not the same. )  As Aniela Jaffe notes, “It is the answer the Delphic Oracle gave the Lacedemonians when they were planning a war against Athens” (1979: 136) confirming that the God will be with the Lacedemonians.  And, it quotes the Odes of Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) so off to Imperial Rome we go. And there we find Horace telling us in Book 2, Ode 18:

Proud Tantalus, and Pelops,
his son, he holds fast, and whether he’s summoned,
or whether he’s not, he lends
an ear, and frees the poor man, his labours done.

But what has this to do with the Oracle? It would seem that Horace was offering a play on the words of the Oracle! Off to Thucydides’ Greece to chat with the Oracle? Well perhaps by way of 21st Century Boston, where we catch up with J. Kates, who clarifies all in a humorous though cautionary tale well worth the reading (and the trip!)


Photo borrowed from (sources unknown).

 The panel on that doorway is just another ironic cast (yes, it is a bad pun, but I am going to continue to use it…)  The plaque of course is not iron, but what is ironic is that anyone,  having read Horace’s Ode condemning vain riches, would be so clueless as to carve the source of Horace’s skewering on their lintel,  let let alone nail it in in brass (now that is ironic) to their door.

“Does any of this have anything to do with education?”, you might well inquire. My point in traipsing through time and space was to demonstrate that as a direct result of my education I undertook that journey.  An “explore” is a lifelong journey, teaming curiosity with discipline, which enriches each life so engaged, and those touching them.

Unique experience?  I think not.  Recently the careful consideration of a Bosch painting produced  this rendered transcription and this Buttiful Music  (details here and here .)


Jung, C.G. (1975) Letters: 1951-1961, ed. G. Adler, A. Jaffe, and R.F.C. Hull, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, vol. 2.
Croix, G. E. M. de ste. The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Kiss My Annotated Bibliography

APA_StyleI recently had a tutee complain bitterly about an teacher marking down papers because the papers did not comply with the instructors perspective on a particular style manual. It is not the first time for pompous declarations on all manner of style issues, and this time,  I though I would follow through and pose the question presented to the style experts at the APA.

Dear Style Experts, There is a small war going on at universities over how students are supposed to format “annotated bibliographies” using APA 6th Ed. Style, and students are getting caught in the cross-fire over assignments that will never see the light of day. Whether or not some Instructors may have missed their connection entirely, there is, nevertheless, a substantial basis for teaching students how to properly format documents for academic purposes, and I suppose the best way to bail the poor students out of their dilemma solution is to ask the experts to make things clear (which is, after all, your stated purpose.)

To which I received the following wonderful response:

The APA Publication Manual doesn’t specify requirements for annotated bibliographies, for the simple reason that they are not used in APA Style. In fact, APA Style does not use bibliographies of any sort (as noted at This is not just a quibble about vocabulary. A reference list has only one purpose: to provide the sources cited by the author. Bibliographies also provide sources, but they may include more, such as suggested reading, background reading not cited in the paper, and commentary on the sources. None of those things are included, or can be included, in an APA Style reference list. Instructors control their own curricula, and they may have valid pedagogical reasons for wanting students to produce an annotated bibliography. However, it is the instructor’s responsibility to fully inform students about the required format for the assignment. It’s an unfortunate fact that not all instructors are diligent in fulfilling this responsibility. Nevertheless, it is not within the scope of APA Style to instruct students on how best to violate APA Style. Hope this helps,

So, dear instructor, perhaps you had best reconsider?