I made a comment in last week’s column that when we read about a crime as horrible as the one allegedly committed by Jerry Active on May 25th, we almost hope to find horrible abuse in his childhood to explain the monster he seems to have become.
I know nothing of his family so I have no idea whether he had an idyllic childhood or not. Some commenters who seemed familiar with the family felt that he had not had a good start in life. They questioned, as so often seems to be questioned, how the state can leave children and young people in homes that are clearly dangerous to their physical and mental health.
It’s a question I’ve certainly asked over and over again during my years as a social worker and guardian ad litem. I watched children bounced like basketballs between foster homes, group homes and their family home.
The question of why we return these children time and time again is not easily answered. Even though our legislature passed a law restricting the amount of time children could spend in out of home custody before permanent plans were made for them, kids are still bouncing.
I think part of the answer rests in the fact that as a society we are somewhat loathe to enter another’s home and make value judgments that could potentially severe all family ties between parents and children. We seem to have no problem with the invasions of government listening to our phone calls, companies mining our purchasing habits or strip searches in order to get home for the holidays. Heck, some don’t even have trouble mandating what tests a doctor performs on a woman even when it means invading the most personal part of her body. But messing with a family still give us pause.
The isolation of Bush villages in Alaska means that services are either sporadic or non-existent. Before a family problem rises to the level of being reported in a small village, it has to get pretty bad. Even after the report, the services provided are extremely limited by the amount of funds available to get them to an isolated location.
In this particular case another legitimate question being asked is why he didn’t get the treatment he needed for alcohol and sexual abuse while he was incarcerated for the crimes he’d already committed. The answer to that is much simpler than trying to untangle the dynamics of a troubled family. When state revenues started declining a few years back, some of the first things on the chopping block were substance and sexual abuse treatment programs. Once they were widely available in many of our penal institutions. Not anymore.
In fact, despite the amount of alcohol and sexual abuse in this state, funding for programs to treat those problems has steadily declined over the years. The theory seems to be we should just lock up everyone who commits a crime and throw away the key. Mr. Active, unfortunately, is a poster boy for that theory.
Keeping someone locked up for life costs society both in the expense of the incarceration and the loss of productivity that individual may be capable of offering if treated. Treatment might prevent a tragedy like that allegedly perpetrated by Mr. Active upon his release. Removing kids from terrible home situations and giving them a chance in a sober atmosphere is perhaps an even better solution. If we don’t stop the problem at the source, we’re merely ensuring a steady flow of damaged individuals filling every jail cell we can build.
So whatever the reality of Mr. Active’s childhood, the reality for many prisoners is that they never stood a chance because they were raised in a dysfunctional family that received sporadic treatment at best while the child was like a yo-yo on a string being jerked up and down between foster care and family. That system guarantees there will always be people like Mr. Active in our midst.
We can either bite the bullet and fund successful programs for troubled families that do not allow the child to be the bouncing ball in the middle of the mess or we can continue to fund more jail cells to hold more offenders who will do horrible things before they are jailed. Either way, we pay.
I grew up in a neighborhood of extended families. Everyone had dozens of first and second cousins, aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles as well as grandparents living within a short distance of each other. It was not at all unusual for your best friends to also be your relatives because that’s who you spent your holidays and summers with; that’s who blew out the candles on your birthday cakes from the day of single digit candles until… well, in my case, until today when I refuse to put that many candles on any cake. The faces that surround me when I go East are the faces that surround every memory of my childhood.
When I read about the horror that visited a family here in Anchorage last week, when I read of the deaths of Touch Chea and Sorn Sreap and the assault on their great-granddaughter, my heart twisted in my chest. Their names may be hard for me to pronounce and their culture might be something I’ve never experienced, but the concept of family is something people share universally. I felt that tug of familiarity because I too grew up with a close, extended family.
My grandmother lived with us for most of my childhood. Without her, I would have had few links to the “Old World” - our euphemism for Italy. I would never have known of my family’s journeys. I would never have known that she once picked coffee beans in South America or that one of her most precious memories was of the day when her father was caring for a beautiful white horse that she got to ride. I certainly would never have heard about how she met my grandfather while she was hanging her hair out the window to dry.
My grandmother’s English was spotty. But these were stories I understood and held close because they connected me to my past, a past that children of immigrants can all too quickly lose.
Touch Chea and Sorn Sreap endured a world that was not always kind to them, from the killing fields of Cambodia to refugee camps to that long journey they had to take to a strange land. But they did it. They endured. They made a life for themselves and their children here in America, just as my grandparents did so many years ago. How terribly sad it is that their collective memories of a way of life no longer lived by their offspring will now inevitably fade.
Their private memories of what they did and what they sacrificed and the courageous fight they fought to not let the world defeat them was ended in one horrible night of unspeakable depravity. It is almost unbearably ironic that they survived what they did only to be brought down by one perverted human being seemingly bent on satisfying a twisted need that normal people can never comprehend.
I would almost hope to find that the alleged perpetrator was horribly abused in his childhood. That might at least give some reason to his actions. But, as monsters like Ted Bundy and Ted Kaczynski have shown, some people are just born twisted and there is not much society can do to untwist them. The best we can do is to separate them forever from the rest of us.
One of my dearest cousins had open-heart surgery last week. In about a month or so, my brother will have essentially the same procedure. It’s scary for me to think of a world in which they are not a phone call away. I held my breath the entire day of my cousin’s surgery until I heard he was in the recovery room. Then I started holding my breath all over again knowing that my brother was next. I am profoundly grateful to still have them both in my life.
I can’t find the words to express how sad I am for the family of Touch Chea and Sorn Sreap. The little girl will heal and, with love and support, be able to live her life normally. But she’ll never know her great-grandparents. She’ll never know their love and gentle touch. She’ll never hear them tell their stories to her. More than anything else that monster took from her, this was perhaps the saddest – he took them from her.
Despite their occasional protestations, most kids want the same things in life as they grow up. They want some stability. They want food when they’re hungry. They want to go to the same school dressed basically the same way as their friends. They want their homes to be safe, a place where no one harms them.
Unfortunately, not all kids get to have what they want. Some are brought up in families so dysfunctional as to barely be worthy of the sobriquet “family”. Some are beaten by those who should be protecting them. Some are used as sex objects by the same people they call mom and dad or aunt and uncle. Some live in families so wasted on drugs and alcohol they barely remember the kids exist. And for some kids, it’s even worse in ways I wouldn’t want to describe to anyone who hasn’t had to deal with the horror.
Through no fault of their own, these kids were born into a world that abused and/or discarded them. They are the ones who never get a visit from Santa, who never get an Easter Basket, who never know what it’s like to sit down to a family meal with sober adults encouraging them to do well in school, get into a sport, or try out for a club.
When the situation in these families finally reaches the tipping point, the state steps in. All too often, the families are so broken that removing the child or children is the only immediate way to make them safe until their parents get their act together. The people who take these bruised children into their homes are called foster parents. In some cases, they are the only real parent the child will ever know. In almost all cases, they are the unsung heroes of our society because they take on a burden that most of us would feel unbearable.
It’s not the children that are the burden. The burden is the massive mental, physical and psychological wounds that most bring to their foster home. They will often exhibit behaviors beyond the comprehension of anyone brought up in even a minimally stable home. Yet most foster parents embrace these children emotionally, spiritually and, if the child is not too traumatized to handle it, physically with the warm hugs we all routinely got from out parents.
May, in case you missed the headlines, is Foster Parent Month. It’s a month to celebrate those families who have enough love, patience, tolerance and commitment to children to offer a safe haven in a world that often has offered none to the child in the past. While I am well aware that a small percentage of foster parents might do it for the money, after thirty years of working in the field I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the money we pay them does not even come close to the expectations we place on them or the love most freely offer to these wounded innocents.
Foster parents range from people taking in teenagers with criminal records to those who take in extremely damaged babies whose life span will be short because their mother could not stay sober while pregnant. What love those tiny little bodies know comes from foster parents who see the child beyond the wounds and know that every baby deserves to be hugged. What love those teenagers get, despite behavior that might cause your hair to go gray, comes from foster parents who believe every child deserves a second, third and fourth chance when it is so obvious their first chance was taken from them before they could do anything with it.
Foster parents are the ground troops in our ongoing efforts to make sure that every child, no matter how bad a start they’ve had in life, gets a chance at some normalcy, some affection, some stability. They do an extraordinary job. They should be saluted a lot more loudly than they have been in a month supposedly dedicated to them.
So here’s to all the foster parents across our state. You know that ultimately your reward is not in money but in the look of a child going to school for the first time in clean clothes, well fed, homework done and smile on their face. Huzzah to you all!
I went to Hawaii for me godchild’s college graduation. It was wonderful yet I couldn’t wait to get back to Alaska where we know the air should not contain humidity and the sun does not necessarily mean warmth. My happiness was quickly tempered by the worse cold anyone has ever had in the history of mankind, coupled with the news emanating from Washington DC.
You’d think by now we’d all be immune to what spews forth from that cesspool. We’ve endured stains on blue dresses, vice presidents shooting friends in the face, senators with inexplicably wide stances in public restrooms, and representatives sending pictures of their private parts to women expected to swoon at such manly manhood. And those are just what immediately come to mind. Given time for a little thought, it just gets worse. Newt telling his wife he’s leaving her as she emerges from cancer surgery. Mark Foley sending suggestive e-mails to male congressional pages while sitting on the committee supposedly protecting them from such sleaziness.
Our national cesspool is definitely centered in our capital where congressmen seem to feel they live by rules that put them above and beyond common decency. And yes, I deliberately use the word congressmen since congresswomen do not seem to be caught up with the sleaze factor… yet.
When Barack Obama was first elected, some of us felt there just might be a chance to sweep away some of that sleaze factor. Maybe it was wrong of us to expect him to be above the fray just because he was our first African-American president. Maybe it was wrong of us to want him to be some sort of superman who would get things done without getting dirty.
I’m not sure at this point what bothers me more – the current scandals or the president’s seeming detachment from them. It’s like the first debate in the last presidential election when he basically phoned it in and seemed to have trouble rousing himself to even do that. I watch him now and wonder just how disengaged you can be and still function.
I can believe that he perhaps didn’t know what the IRS was doing. I can almost believe he didn’t know about the phone records. I don’t at all believe he was unaware of the truth about Benghazi. A real man would have stood up and said that, as Harry Truman put it so well, the buck stops here. Whatever happens on my watch, even if done by subordinates without my knowledge, is my responsibility because I picked those subordinates. They are my people. This is my administration. Seriously, does he never watch NCIS? The basic tenet of the whole Gibb’s persona is that he is ultimately responsible for his team and their actions because that’s what a real man does.
So this man that so many of us placed such perhaps unrealistic hope in has proven to be not just human, but as flawed a human as so many who came before him. Our disappointment is perhaps the greater because our hopes had been raised so high.
Is he still a good president? Sure, just as good as Bush or Clinton or any number of others scandal ridden presidents before him. Even Nixon had his good moments before being enveloped in the bad moment that destroyed his presidency. And Obama has done things that will reverberate well into the future such as ending sex discrimination in the military or finally passing some version of universal health care for everyone. He broke barriers in being elected that many thought would not be broken for generations yet to come. He had the guts to give the order to take out America’s number one most wanted man despite knowing the risk that, in fact, the intel might be wrong and Osama might not be there. He did all this and yet he still disappoints.
Maybe Americans just need to accept that being a politician means being dirty because in today’s America, you can’t get elected nationally without support from shadowy and questionable organizations. Or maybe the old axiom that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is simply a reality that will never change.
No matter. It seems that in today’s world, no politician can remain a hero for long. We are the poorer for it.
Ah Hawaii. The place where white on the ground means sand, not snow. The place where you can walk outside without fourteen layers of clothes even in the winter. Hawaii… Alaska’s other paradise.
I’m going to Hawaii for my godchild’s college graduation. I’ll be there four days. This information usually causes people to look at me as though I’m slightly deranged, and ask why only four days when I could stay ever so much longer. The truth is that as much as I try otherwise, I simply don’t want to spend any length of time in a warm paradise. Give me my cold paradise every time.
This might have something to do with the fact that I grew up in Atlantic City about two blocks from the beach and ocean. So for me, these elements of nature are simply not as foreign and exotic as they might be to someone who grew up in the mid west or the Alaskan Arctic.
I spent my summers on the beach until I got old enough for my mother to get me a job at Bell Telephone. For all you kids reading this on your iPhones, there was a time when you needed a long distance operator to place anything other than a local call. And you actually spoke to a live person when you dialed information, a person who sat with telephone books in front of her and looked up your number by hand.
This was one of the more popular places to get a summer job to help pay for your winter’s education. Ma Bell offered a variety of shifts to cover their busy periods. One of these was called a split shift. You came in early in the morning and left by noon. Then you returned in the evening for another four hours. This was obviously not a shift that most permanent employees wanted. But for college students in the summer, it was perfect. You worked the morning, went to the beach in the afternoon, and then returned to work in the evening. Being young and energetic, you were able to keep this pace up long after your older colleagues would have collapsed. Sleep was for winter. The beach was for summer.
I never opted for that shift. I did the total opposite. I volunteered for a night shift so that I had an excuse to sleep all day while that pesky hot yellow ball was high in the sky. I got up as it went down. I slept as it went up. For me, it was perfect timing.
To this day I am puzzled by just when the change occurred, when I went from looking forward to the beach to avoiding it at all costs. It might have been when I got too old to haul a bucket and shovel down the beach to build sand castles. It might have been when I grew old enough to be self-conscious about my body. It might stem from the time a boy I was just starting to notice as a boy told me I looked like a boat in my bathing suit. Whatever, the cumulative effect was that I woke up one day and realized that having sand in my shoes and hair was not fun; that salt water made me feel dry and icky; that eating a popsicle on a windy beach made for a very grainy texture and taste; and finally, that I simply was no longer amused by a hot sun burning down on the pages of the book I was trying to read.
So I gave up on sand and ocean unless it was in the Arctic and cold, windy and challenging. But I love my godchild very much. I’m so very, very proud that despite being a military wife and mother of two she has been able to complete her college education that I’m willing to overlook my negative feelings about the joys of sun and surf and head to Hawaii. But only for four days. Any more than that and I start to feel weird in ways I can’t explain but that definitely has something to do with being able to go out with very few clothes on and not risk freezing to death.
Call me crazy. Call me Alaskan. But that’s just not right.
I grew up watching westerns on TV. Maverick. Bonanza. Have Gun Will Travel. Rawhide. Gunsmoke. The Rifleman. They presented Americans with a fantastical view of our past in which the silent stranger with a gun solved all the town’s problems. Shootouts at high noon always ended with the bad guy dead and the good guy walking away – tall, proud, a loner who brought justice to town and then moved on to the next one that needed it.
Then westerns disappeared. You can’t find one on TV now that Deadwood is gone. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to swallow that myth anymore.
The Wild West was not tamed by a lone gunman who rode into town, shot the bad guys and left. And, quite frankly, more than one Native American group would probably be happy to argue that the west was not so wild and untamed given that they’d been living there and surviving off the land for thousands of years before that lone gunman arrived. The Old West storyline simply no longer holds water.
Whether you believe those days ever existed exactly as Hollywood portrayed them, the reality is that they are gone. People no longer stroll through towns on wooden walkways with six guns strapped to their waist or rifles held at the ready. They don’t do this because they no longer need to. Law and order has been established by a civilized society that created rules of conduct and agencies responsible for enforcing those rules. This means that we can unstrap the old six-shooter and enter a bar or grocery store with nothing more than our smiles and credit cards.
I was apparently mistaken in believing that society would continue to move forward in time and not backwards, because suddenly I am again in the land of Bret Maverick and Marshall Dillon. People – ok, mostly men – demand the right to strut through commercial establishments, churches, city halls, schools and every other venue you can imagine with six guns strapped to their sides.
I imagine on some level this makes these men feel like real men, their virility visible to all. Perhaps they are under the impression that women will look at the size of their gun and swoon in anticipation of what it might portend. Maybe without those guns they don’t feel as safe and secure as they do with them. Maybe these men simply don’t trust their ability to care for themselves and their families without an instant means of visiting death on anyone who seems to threaten them.
I feel as though we are backtracking through time with the latest trend of pushing for guns laws that allow everyone to carry a gun everywhere, concealed or not. This tends to make me very nervous, especially now that background checks have been shot down by our frightened little congress. Because the argument that passing laws will not stop people intent on breaking them is so transparently inane as to be almost beyond laughable. Based on that theory, why pass laws that make murder or theft a crime. Murderers are going to murder whether or not there is a law. Thieves intent on stealing will steal no matter how many laws we pass saying its illegal to do so. If we only passed laws that we thought everyone would follow, we’d have precious few laws and general chaos in society.
Background checks will weed out some who should not have guns. It will not weed them all out. Neither will a law against rape stop rapists. But we still find value in that law.
I loved watching those old westerns. I loved the idea of the loner in the white hate who rode into town, cleaned it up and rode out again leaving peace and justice behind him. But that concept has always been a myth. What one person may see as justice, another sees as vigilante action.
I don’t want random individuals with guns strapped to their waist shopping next to me in the grocery store. That does no make me feel safer. It mostly makes me feel as though Pa and Hoss should be one aisle over buying flour for winter.
Surely America can find a way to move forward towards an even more civilized society and not backwards to a world that never was.
Sometimes our world is filled with so much ugliness and pain that it’s hard to remember that the overwhelming majority of people are good. Most go about their daily lives, whether in America, Gabon, Iraq or China, trying to do their best to get through the day and get back to their families at night. We want a secure roof over our heads, safe streets outside our doors and good food and water on our tables. Most of us just want to make it from morning to night in peace.
Unfortunately, there are people who live to create chaos, horror and tragedy. Most of us find it hard to even imagine the dark soul that must exist inside someone who wantonly kills, especially when they do so in the name of their god. Anyone who can twist their beliefs into such a knot and then believe that knot is the truth is beyond my comprehension.
There is little we can really do to stop people for whom causing pain is the ultimate goal. All the police and security in the world can’t stop someone who wants to drop a bag of explosives in the middle of a crowd or open fire with a semi-automatic in a crowded theater. Even living in a police state is no guarantee of safety. Ask the people killed in that movie theater in Russia if a police state saved them. All we can do is get up each morning and go about our business in the belief that no horror will visit us on that particular day.
I work with volunteers at Bird TLC every week. They are the people I need to remember when the news makes me just want to burrow deeper under the covers of my bed. Every week they come in on their day off and wallow in bird poop and debris. They do it with smiles and joy… ok, maybe not always joy on the day that one of the eagles chooses to evacuate all that was ugly inside him in one major moment, but most of the time.
People like this are found all over our community, good people with a passion to help that makes our world a little gentler, a little nicer, a little easier to bear. Some can be found at the Red Cross, some at the blood bank, some at domestic violence shelters, some at animal shelters, some showing us down the aisles at the Pac. They are dotted throughout our town, serving so quietly that often we don’t even realize they’re there. They are the people who restore your faith in humanity each time a backpack explodes.
This past Saturday a golden eagle was set free out on the Palmer Flats. He’d been a guest of Bird TLC all winter because golden eagles migrate out of the state in the fall and, even though he’d healed from his initial injuries, he couldn’t go free until his compatriots had started migrating back. Volunteers spent the winter braving freezing temperatures to clear snow out of his enclosure and feed him regularly while making all kinds of horrible sounds and noises so that he would not view them favorably. His survival in the wild depends on his continued fear of people.
So when I hear about the bombing in Boston and I read about the twisted hatred of the shooter in Colorado or the bizarre logic of the alleged ricin mailer in Mississippi, I can only be thankful that my world is filled with people who will give equal love, care and compassion to a nuthatch and an eagle; people who will get up early on their day off to run screaming through an eagle cage and feel as though they are privileged to be able to do so. They fill my world with joy and laughter.
In Anchorage in the spring we seem to have two things in abundance… mud and charity auctions. This Saturday, Bird TLC will celebrate its 25th anniversary at the Egan Center with its auction. All your favorite birds will be there – eagles, owls, ravens and, of course, Kodi the Cache Crow. Come celebrate twenty-five years of volunteer power. Come meet the people who make our community a better place for their presence. It’s the best way to keep the haters from winning.
One of the reasons given for the switch in popular opinion from negative to positive on the legalization of pot comes from the fact that more and more senior citizens are using it. Now that the kids are grown and (mostly) out of the house, many are reverting to an amusement from our youth that we felt compelled to abandon when the kids were at home.
This change finally answers a question that has longed troubled me. If all the people in my generation who condemned pot and swore they never used it were telling the truth, then who were all those people sitting in smoke filled rooms with me?
Americans can be very hypocritical on issues such as condemning fast foods while voluntarily consuming vast amounts. But the ultimate in hypocrisy has to be our War on Drugs that has cost an untold number of lives and billions of wasted dollars. Quite frankly, I’ve never understood why the Mexican government didn’t just legalize drugs decades ago, tax the product to make up for lost American aid, and enjoy the peace that came when drug lords no longer ruled their land.
I sometimes wonder how long the war on drugs would have lasted had the carnage visited on Mexico happened in America? I’m betting we would have long since decided that a war with so many casualties and so few positive results was hardly worth the billions thrown at it.
I know a lot of people who have used pot their entire adult life while living fully productive and good lives. I know people who have a drink every night but are not considered alcoholics and who, in fact, also live full and productive lives. I’ve know people who have used cocaine and walked away from it totally voluntarily, simply because they no longer wanted to use it.
Conversely, I’ve known people with such pot addictions that they can’t get up in the morning without a puff to get them going. I’ve know people who put a shot of alcohol into their morning coffee and keep it going all day so they never have to be totally sober. And I’ve known people for whom cocaine was the first step on the road to hell.
The common thread here is addiction. And addiction, as sad and destructive as it is, should not be a crime. It is a medical problem. Granted it is a very intractable medical problem that frequently takes multiple attempts to finally put in abeyance, but failing at treatment should not be a crime.
What should be, and is, a crime is driving under the influence of anything that impairs your ability to safely handle a large machine going at a fast rate on a public street. What should be, and is, a crime is giving any intoxicant to a minor. What should be, and is, a crime is trying to use any level of intoxication as an excuse for behavior that should be criminal under all circumstances.
What shouldn’t be a crime, and isn’t, is having a drink with dinner. Or, for that matter, having a drink with breakfast or getting flat out drunk if that’s what you want to do. That behavior is no one’s business but your own unless you negatively affect those around you because of it. If you want to sit in your living room and smoke pot until your lungs burst, you should not have to worry about morality police breaking down your door and making you a criminal. If you want to drink until your liver hoists a white flag of surrender that is no one’s business but yours unless you inflict your behavior on society.
If you’re diabetic and eat sugar every night, you will die sooner rather than later. While friends and family might have the right to tell you that you should stop, whether you do or not is a personal choice. And when you make yourself so sick that you need to go to the hospital to have your legs amputated, a truly compassionate society provides the care you need, not a jail cell and a morality lecture.
A drug, be it alcohol (legal), tobacco (legal), sugar (legal) or pot (illegal) is just a thing. Criminalizing its use is not good public policy.
In the course of the past two weeks a woman was beaten to death in front of her two young children and a homeless teenager was allegedly repeatedly raped in Eagle River. A study was released in that same period showing (surprise! surprise!) that Alaska women still earn learn than men for doing the same job but, I guess to balance the scales, are beaten and raped more than the national average. And if you use statistics only for Alaska Native women, you simply want to bury your head in your arms and sob because they are just that awful.
In response to all this, Senator Lesil McGuire has suggested that the Alaska Women’s Commission be refunded and reconstituted to come up with suggestions for ways to deal with the horrific problems women face daily in this state. Meanwhile, during this same two-week period, Governor Parnell again sponsored marches to bring attention to this problem while also promoting legislation that would impose stiffer penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence.
While I applaud both the governor and senator for wrestling with a problem that seems almost intractable in our state, I find it more interesting that Congressman Don Young can suggest that perhaps one of the solutions is to drink alone if you know that you like to be violent when drunk and that remark generated nothing more than a tiny blip on the media screen. But when Don later called Hispanic workers a name so repulsive I will not repeat it here, that remark went viral and caused so many problems for him that he actually had to apologize. Those of us who have had the privilege of knowing Dandy Don for what seems like forever, know that apologizing is not exactly his strong suit, not something that he does easily or willingly.
It is clear that in this state at least, women are still struggling against a second-class citizenship status and far too many Native women are treated as even less than second-class. They are treated as nothing more than a punching bag to keep around because they are an easy target.
How much therapy do you think it will take for that 9 year old girl to grow up with a strong sense of self-worth and dignity after watching her dad stomp her mom to death and then tell her to leave her alone and let her die? Does anyone really think there is any therapy that will actually work? Or will this little girl grow up knowing her place in life is to be the rag on the floor to be walked over and kicked? And why – for the love of god, why – is there not an outrage growing across the state as each of these stories hits the headlines?
Maybe part of the problem is that this has become so commonplace it is almost background noise in our lives, something always there but something we’re only ever partially aware of. Maybe it’s because this problem has such deep roots and is, in so many ways, a generational problem that it seems almost unfixable. Most of tomorrow’s abusers are in a home today watching a daily real life “how to” class on abuse. Or worse, they are young men being abused who figure when they get big enough, they’ll get their revenge.
Equally, most of tomorrow’s victims are growing up in a home watching the men in their family treat the women like they are less than dirt. Is it any wonder those girls will grow up thinking they deserves nothing more than regular weekend beatings?
A woman’s commission will provide the state with nothing that the state and everyone involved in this epidemic doesn’t already know. We need more police protection in villages. We need more lawyers, judges and courts. We need more social workers intervening in families before the children have learned the horrible lessons troubled families teach them. All these suggestions will be in the forefront of any recommendations because they will work. Unfortunately, we have never seen the legislative follow through that funds the suggestions so that an impact can actually be made.
Wouldn’t it be something if our predominantly male legislature actually gave as much time and attention to this epidemic of horror as they do to passing probably unconstitutional legislation on gun control laws? Imagine.
He stood out. There he was at the Sportsman Show wearing a suit, coifed hair, some strange looking beads and a lovely aftershave that almost, but not quite, overcame the normal smell of most Alaskans – a smell that is a mixture of items probably best left unlisted but that surely includes various motor oils, gunpowder, and smoke.
I was there with Bird TLC. We’d brought some of our feathered education ambassadors to meet and greet people who might normally only see them as faint outlines high in the sky.
What I love about Alaskans is that they can be thoroughly devoted hunters who also appreciate the grandeur of our wildlife. So as they wandered through the Sportsman Show, checking out boats and guns and hunting knives, they stopped by our area and listened respectfully to the story of our birds. Then most reached in their pockets and put some money in the box, money that keeps the owls in frozen rats and mice, buys medicine for sick eagles and mealworms for one loud and charming Northwestern Crow named Kodi.
Explaining a hunting culture to people outside of Alaska is increasingly difficult. As a population, Americans have become so far removed from their food sources that they are unable to make the connection between their steak and a steer with melting brown eyes. They oh and ah over the baby pigs at the State Fair and don’t really get that those cute little babies will one day be their breakfast bacon. People who live in cities and suburbs often think people who hunt for a living are barely one step removed from the Beverly Hillbillies – and not necessarily a step in the right direction.
I used to think that way too. One of my earliest childhood memories involved a little lamb that would appear right before Easter in my friend Grace’s backyard. We lived in the city so by backyard I mean a little cement area with a fence around it and, because we were Italian, a fig tree growing in the middle of it in the one piece of accessible dirt. Each Easter, we would feast on a lamb roast as our traditional Easter dinner, based on the belief that Jesus was the lamb of God. It all sounds a bit cannibalistic when put that way, but honestly, it wasn’t. And each Monday after Easter, Grace and I would go to her yard to say hi to the lamb and it would be gone. And our dads would assure us that the lamb had gone to a nice farm so it could have grass on which to play.
Eventually even Grace and I, the original personification of Catholic School dorks, innocent and gullible, willing to believe anything we were told because our parents, the priests and the nuns would never lie to us, what with them being the ones who told us lies would lead directly to hell – yes, eventually even Grace and I figured out the connection between the lamb in the yard and the lamb in our mouths. After that, our moms would not let our dads bring the lamb home to butcher no matter how fresh and tasty that made it.
So Grace and I retreated to our happy world where meat was the stuff hanging in out dads’ freezers behind their butcher blocks. It was red and white and looked nothing like any animal we’d ever seen. The disconnect between the food on our plate and the animals that provided it remained solid.
I’ve lived in Alaska long enough to know the connection now. If I want a whale steak for dinner, I can’t pretend to not know where it came from. And all those hunters and fishers at the Sportsman Show can both hunt wild game for dinner and appreciate wild animals for what they are. That’s why they all got that childlike look of awe and broke into big grins every they handed Kodi, our Cache Crow, a dollar bill and Kodi politely deposited it in his cache jar.
As for the guy in the suit, who knows why he thought coming to the Alaska Sportsman Show dressed better than most Alaskans dress for their wedding was appropriate. If he hangs around here long enough, he’ll quickly figure out what he’s doing wrong.
Ah compromise. When did you become such a dirty word? Without you, there would be no America. Our Founding Fathers all had to give a little to get a little as they created the world’s first experiment in democracy.
Clearly not all compromises are good. The Missouri Compromise didn’t solve the slavery issue. Cutting Vietnam into a north and south after the fall of Dien Bien Phu may have ended the first Indochina War but it led directly to the disaster we call the Vietnam War. And drawing an artificial line in Korea has led one of the more bizarre ruling families the world has ever known in North Korea.
The real question is why compromise has fallen into such disfavor that Americans seem unwilling to ever tolerate it as a means of governance again. Why have people become so blind and narrow that they cannot see any path forward except their own?
I signed up years ago to a variety of survey companies that operate online. I get surveys a few times a week. I’m always happy to blow a few minutes answering questions about topics I frequently have little to no interest in because I get entered in a sweepstakes or some such prize winning event for every survey I complete. The fact that in over ten years I have never won anything in no way discourages me. Optimism is an unforgiving mistress.
One of the questions routinely asked in these surveys is about the targeting of our interests and whether I think this is a good thing. The survey is referring to the ever expanding practice of collecting all the information possible about you based on your Internet activity and then using that information to target you with specific websites, online stores and news outlets. I always answer that I do not think it’s a good thing. In fact, I think it’s a horrible thing. I think it is contributing to the breakdown of our society as a functional entity.
I don’t agree with every columnist that appears on these pages anymore than everyone agrees with me. But I make a point of trying to read all the opinions from all ends of the political spectrum so that I am not merely re-enforcing what I already believe, but also growing and learning. I am a devoted listener to public broadcasting. Given a choice, I will always listen to NPR first. But I also tune in to Fox occasionally, and CNN and CNBC and any number of other alphabetized groups in order to get all takes on any given issue.
This is called educating yourself. And occasionally, if you are smart enough to know that you don’t know everything, you even get to understand, if not agree with, the other point of view. Being able to understand a different view does two things. One, it enables you to strengthen your arguments. Two, it gives you a basis for give and take when the time for compromise arises. And that time will always arise in a democracy. It’s only in autocracies and theocracies that dissent is neither heard nor tolerated.
In America today we all seem to be retreating to our own corners and refusing to meet anyone in the middle. We listen only to those whose opinions mirror our own and we read only those who write what we already know to be true. There are people who will flatly state that they never listen to anything other than Fox News and others who swear they will never turn that channel on. But if you don’t do these things, then you’ll never really understand what the other person is saying or feeling. And if you don’t understand even that much, what chance do you have of ever coming to an agreement on how to proceed.
In our civic life, this has led to the travesty that is our Congress today. Extremists from both parties have retreated to their corners and refuse to have - and please pardon the pun – congress with the other side. So we see gridlock and deadlock and simple idiocy consuming what had once been viewed as a deliberative body that actually managed to pass budgets and laws that moved our country forward.
I have to wonder if that time is not now gone forever.
Neither Lisa Murkowski nor public safety at any level can impact domestic violence and sexual assault in Bush Alaska as much as the good men of those villages can. The men in those villages need to stand up for their mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces and grandmothers. They must make it clear that anyone who hurts them is no longer a welcomed member of the community.
Currently, men who abuse at night can go out with their hunting partner in the morning and feel no consequences. Nothing is said or done that would make the abuser the slightest bit uncomfortable. Abusers get elected or selected to positions of power on village and tribal councils. So the entire burden of this problem falls on the courts, the police and the women themselves. The men pay only if they are caught and successfully prosecuted. And even then, when their sentence is served, they often return to their village and take up life as though nothing had happened.
Abuse is not only a Native problem. But when you are in an isolated village and dependent on others to survive, the issue of abuse and sexual assault takes on another whole layer of horror. The man beating you tonight is the same one you will depend on tomorrow to bring meat to the table.
I know a lot of Alaska Native men and most are honorable, kind and brave. Look at the story in the paper last week. A young man from Barrow, John Ahkivgak, disarmed a man holding a knife to a boy’s throat. He saw something that had to be done and he did it. That’s the type of Native man I grew to know and admire over my years on the North Slope.
What I simply can’t understand is how those same men cannot find a way to intervene when they see one of their own harming a woman in their village. What I simply can’t understand is how these same men, most of whom treat the women in their lives with loving respect, can go out with a hunting buddy who uses his wife or girlfriend as a punching bag. What I don’t understand is how the Native corporations that are so powerful in so many ways can seem so powerless to stop this epidemic of violence, or even raise a voice against it.
This is not something that can be ignored. It affects not just this generation but future generations. If left unchecked, this violence will destroy Native cultures in this state as much, if not more, than the intrusion of the Western world so many years ago. A young boy who sees his father abuse his mother with no consequences is going to grow up thinking that is the way men of his culture treat their woman. A girl who experiences sexual assault in her home with no consequences to the man abusing her will grow up accepting that her culture condones this since neither her family nor her village protected her.
Do Native men really want their daughters and sisters to grow up thinking they are not worthy of respect because they see men in their village who abuse women continue to be allowed to sit in positions of power? What message do they think this sends to Native women? In a small village, even Native women who have a safe home see the abuse around them. They have to wonder at some point why the men in their village don’t make the abuser an outcast, someone who is no longer welcomed as part of their village unless he completely changes his ways.
All the police presence in the world cannot change the culture of violence towards women that seems to be almost replacing the traditional Native cultures in our villages. And all the women in the world working with all the shelters they can create will not stop the violence until the other 50 % of the community, the men, stand up and make it absolutely clear that they will not accept violence against women as the norm in their village.
This is not just a woman’s problem. It’s a culture’s problem. The biggest void that exists right now in the villages is not the absence of police; it is the silence of good men.
Our legislators clearly feel that the Civil War really didn’t solve the issue of federal versus state law. So they’ve made the bold, albeit somewhat insane, move towards passing a bill that would allow state law enforcement officers to arrest federal law enforcement officers if they attempt to enforce a law that they think is illegal under the Alaska Constitution. When they took that oath of office to uphold the federal constitution – well, they had their fingers crossed so it didn’t count. Because, as all real Alaskans know, we don’t care how they do it in the lower 48. This is Alaska. We’ll do it our way.
Here’s one thing that really has me wondering, though. According to the Alaska Supreme Court, the Alaska Constitution’s privacy guarantees are so strong that they protect individuals possessing two ounces or less of marijuana. Yet the feds can still prosecute Alaskans for that possession. So I’m wondering when the Legislature will be introducing a bill that allows Alaska law officers to arrest any Federal agents who attempt to bust an Alaskan for pot possession?
It looks to me as though our Legislature is again picking and choosing which of our constitutionally protected rights they will stand up for and which they will simply turn their faces from as the Feds run roughshod over us.
Given the recent trial and conviction of Schaeffer Cox and his militia cronies for attempting to extract retribution against judges and law enforcement based on their perception of the wrongs being done to them, and their right to respond to those wrongs with violence, you’d think our legislators might have hesitated a moment before all but declaring war on federal enforcement officials. After all, if the legislature can thumb its nose at the feds, doesn’t that give individuals ample cover to do the same?
I am very confused about how our Legislature has time to pass bills they admit are probably illegal and unenforceable, but don’t have time to really do something about the all too real problems facing Alaska. Maybe I missed it, but where is the urgency of the debate over how to keep the heat on for people in this state as Southcentral runs out of gas and the Interior and Bush villages pay more monthly for heating fuel than most people pay for their mortgage? Where are the debates over how to really deal with the problems caused by alcohol abuse and domestic violence. I know the governor claims he’s made violence against women his priority. But precious little leadership seems to be coming out of Juneau to deal with the problem. And quite honestly, if people don’t feel safe in their own homes, nothing else tends to matter very match. When you are getting beaten up on a regular basis, whether your house is toasty warm, cold or too hot is not a priority.
I understand that gun rights advocates are feeling threatened, are feeling that the government is trying to abridge what they consider a right that cannot in any way at all be limited or controlled. They accept that free speech can be limited so that crying “Fire!” in a full theater not actually on fire is against the law. They accept that a woman and her doctor have no privacy rights when it comes to her reproductive health. They accept that separation of church and state shouldn’t really matter when it comes to providing funds for religious schools. But suggest background checks for all gun purchases and watch their panties twist into a big wad.
It’s interesting to watch how some people can view certain parts of the US Constitution as sacred and other parts as merely strong suggestions. It’s not unlike the way we follow the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill becomes merely a suggestion that can be tabled with a stand your ground law.
So while we face some daunting problems out here in the real world, our legislators pass bills that do nothing and mean nothing except for giving them an empty gesture to bring back to their constituents. And maybe give some extremists the final reason needed to take violent action against law enforcement officers.
Once again we have proof positive that you can’t underestimate the intelligence of the people we elect to serve us.
Lindsay Lohan’s publicists say she is going to set up a youth foundation and give inspirational talks to kids.
Gag me with a spoon and keep her the hell away from children of any age.
If government bureaucrats functioned at the same level of the US Congress, even their unions would not be able to save their jobs. So why are we still paying Congressional salaries?
Unless something intelligent comes out of Congress in the very near future (and seriously, what are the chances of that happening?), a lot of people are going to be out of work or on shortened workweeks. They will suddenly find themselves with a paycheck that doesn’t cover the bills. Welcome to sequestration. Congressmen and women, however, will continue to receive their salaries and platinum plan health benefits. And that’s just wrong.
The idea of less air traffic controllers to keep planes from crashing, less intelligence sources to keep us apprised of future terrorist attacks, and reduced health care for the men and women we sent to those endless and fruitless wars in the Middle East, is not only disheartening but scary. Frankly, if I had to choose, I’d rather give a vet the money needed to replace his blown off leg than use it as salary for some politician who hasn’t done his job.
Washington DC is currently a town of finger pointing. It’s the Republicans’ fault. No, it’s the Democrats. No, it’s the Tea Party. No, it’s the Tories! The Whigs! The nearest we can come to the truth is attributing it to the Know Nothing Party which seemingly covers every party in power in America today.
Middle class Americans have been clinging by their fingertips to the rungs of the upwardly mobile ladder. They lived through a financial crisis caused by Wall Street and bankers’ greed and spent years waiting for even one of the people responsible for the economic collapse to be brought to justice. It hasn’t happened. The rich are even richer and the middle class is immensely poorer. Want to know how rich? According to New York Magazine, in 2012, Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave over $54 million to conservative candidates and super-PACS. On December 18, 2012, he was paid a special dividend by his company of over $1 billion.
But for a brief second there was a glimmer of hope for the middle class. The last financial quarter showed an economy inching back slowly. Maybe you missed that announcement because you were too busy trying to find a second or third job to pay the bills. Not to worry. Wall Street got the message. The Dow Jones is up in heady territory. Stockbrokers, investors and bankers are enjoying work again.
But Congress has snatched even that small economic bump from the Americans they purport to represent by failing in their most fundamental responsibility. If government workers lose their job, the effect will be felt by all of us because there will be less money in the economy, less purchasing, less sales. All of that will equal less need for products to be made, less need for salespeople to sell – well, you get the idea. We are an interconnected economy and if one falters, we all feel the results. Except for Wall Street and its banks and investment groups that are too big to fail because they have all the money the rest of us keep digging in our couch cushions to find.
I would like to think that if we told Congress they would get no pay and no benefits until they actually did their job and passed a budget, it would cause them to rethink their whole position on the matter. But the sad truth is that most of Congress, and almost the entirety of the Senate, are very wealthy people for whom their government paycheck is loose pocket change. If we hold their salaries from them, they can just resign, become lobbyists and never miss a mortgage payment. Or they can dig into their substantial assets, both in American and overseas accounts.
The people who were rich before are still rich now. Their personal finances are well sheltered and well hidden on some beautiful tropical island that Mr. Used To Be Middle Class will never be able to afford to visit. The middle class will see its savings quietly slip away to pay for today’s necessities.
Congress isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit nowadays. They should be paid accordingly.