Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Monday, April 09, 2007

I took our family’s Easter ricotta pie recipe and tried to make it diabetic friendly by taking out the rice, not using a crust and substituting fake sugar.  And I’m here to tell you, it’s just not the same.  Not even if I close my eyes and wish really, really hard. Pie without crust, it turns out, is not really a pie and not really a cake and not really something that holds together outside of the pan. But it makes great ricotta pudding.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:53 AM •
Sunday, April 08, 2007

The more I read about the dire predictions for earth’s immediate future, the more I am amazed at the fact that Kevin Costner might have been way ahead of his time with Waterworld. That statement alone probably indicates the end of the world as we know it.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:55 AM •
Saturday, April 07, 2007

I had to take a cab to an eye doc’s appointment this week because I can’t see to drive back after they’ve dilated my eyes. When the cab picked me up, the driver commented that it was raining all over town but when he turned down the road to my house, he noticed the rain turned to snow. He thought that was odd. I think it’s just cruel and that god will have a lot to answer for when I get to wherever it is I go after I die.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:23 AM •
Friday, April 06, 2007

For some reason, last night I went to a website that let me play Dean Martin singing That’s Amore. The next thing I know, I was singing as loud as I could while my bird Abdul looked at me like he suddenly realized he was in a locked room with a mad woman.  Which he kind of was.  But I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I couldn’t carry a tune with a wheelbarrow’s assistance or that I stumbled over half the words.  Because suddenly I was back in my Italian childhood in Ducktown in Atlantic City and it was the 1950s and I had no greater care than getting to school with my friend Grace every day and making sure I made the nuns happy. And right across the street was the Venice Restaurant. Dean Martin used to go eat there after he and Jerry Lewis performed at the 500 Club around the corner. The parking valet was a friend of my dad’s and he’d always let us know when they came. They’d stand in the doorway and sign autographs before they went in to eat. I would see him and think he was cute and Jerry Lewis was the funniest person on earth and I was thrilled to be so close. The sun was always shinning and I’ve never felt so safe because it was my neighborhood and I knew everyone and everyone knew me.  And suddenly, as these memories washed over me, I was crying and singing all at the same time because I was in my childhood living room and mom and dad were still alive and we were all watching the Dean Martin Show together.
I have to stop listening to his music or my bird is going to start dialing 911.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:00 AM •
Thursday, April 05, 2007

I looked into the mirror this morning and saw the shadow of a mustache on my upper lip. It was then that I realized I’d totally skipped my mother and morphed into my grandmother.  Now all I need are black orthopedic shoes, a black dress and an apron for the transformation to be complete. I am a nona.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:22 AM •
Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I was listening to a show on NPR about the chaos caused in Iraq by the wholesale firing of all Baathists after the invasion.  While the reasons for the purge will probably be debated for a long time to come, and no one who has an ounce of sense in their heads doubts that some Baathists were very bad people, the result of the wholesale purge was total collapse of the civil service system in the country.

Yes, I can hear the laughter now from those who are thinking that maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea here. Get rid of all the bureaucrats. Cleanse the government.  Cut our taxes by saving money now spent on their over-inflated, undeserved salaries.
As a former bureaucrat, I’ve heard it all before.  And I just want to say, really?  You really want that to happen here?  First get rid of all the lawyers, then cleanse the government of all the career bureaucrats? Then...what?  Do you think the system will be better? More efficient? Less costly?
I will be the first to admit that there are people all over state, federal and local government bureaucracies who are marking time till they can retire to that nifty little condo they’re paying on in Florida or Hawaii or Mexico.  But in all my years in government service, I’ve never seen them as the majority. In fact, most of the real workers who kept the system going resented the “wait it out till retirement without rocking the boat” attitude these people personified because it just meant extra work for everyone else.
So listening to this show describe what happened in Iraq when the bureaucracy was summarily disbanded was quite fascinating.  Suddenly people realized all the things that were done by bureaucrats that were taken for granted because suddenly those things weren’t being done.  From obvious things like trash collection, animal control or pension checks mailed on time to the more hidden but still needed tasks of government, Iraqis suddenly realized that absence of functioning municipal agencies made the chaos worse. And while some people still lumped all Baathists together as a uniformly evil group of people, others were now wondering if perhaps they’d been just a bit precipitous in cleansing them from government.
Because it turns out that you pretty much couldn’t get a civil service job in Iraq under Hussein unless you joined the Baathist party. You couldn’t, for instance, teach in Iraq unless you were a Baathist.  So every schoolteacher was a Baathist even though many were no more active in the party than most of us are in the party of our choice. I wonder how many of the regular folks in Iraq, the ones who had the skills to fill a position if only they would register with the Baathist party, in fact registered as Baathist to be able to have a job, work at their chosen career, feed their family and pay their bills.
When I was growing up, my parents worked a small grocery store and on any given week had no idea if they would come out ahead, owe money or break even.  They wanted their children to get government jobs so that we would have some security.  My brother became a public school teacher and I became many things, all of which led me to employment with the feds, the state or the North Slope Borough. We both worked hard and deserved the pay we got and I resented the periodic eruptions from people who thought all bureaucrats were fat cats feeding at the public trough.
I think the people in Iraq started to understand this when the lights went out, the trash piled up, the checks stopped coming, nurses and doctors couldn’t be found at government hospitals and teachers sat home unable to teach. 
We spend a lot of time griping about the bloated bureaucracy in this country. But generally speaking, we all want those government services there when we need them.  Because this is America, we have some assurance that the people in those positions can do their jobs no matter which party is in power because they didn’t get them based on their political affiliation. Just another reason we don’t often recognize for why we should be so happy to live in America.
I’m not going to officially proclaim this “Hug a Bureaucrat Day” because I think that could just get messy in ways I don’t want to imagine. But you could do worse than say thanks to people who hear the word so very rarely from the public they serve.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:38 AM •
Tuesday, April 03, 2007

John McCain has gone completely insane and Hillary Clinton now has enough money to buy the White House.  It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:23 AM •
Monday, April 02, 2007

If there is any doubt that Karl Rove deserves to go to hell for eternity, it was wiped away by the sight of him rapping and doing what I can only assume he thought was rap dancing in a tuxedo.  They may have to legalize a lot more drugs to help me move past this moment.  I wake up screaming in the night. My eyes...my eyes… NOTE TO ALL MIDDLE AGED AND OLDER WHITE MEN IN DC - YOU CANNOT RAP. YOU CAN BARELY DANCE.  YOU ABSOLUTELY CAN’T RAP AND DANCE AT THE SAME TIME.
And, may I add, BRING BACK STEVEN COLBERT.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, BRING BACK STEVEN.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:57 AM •
Sunday, April 01, 2007

Does anyone actually listen to all those recorded messages from politicians running for office, special interests wanting you to vote one way or another on a proposition, etc. etc. ad nauseam? I just came back from all of 90 minutes away from my desk and almost the entire recording time on my answer machine was filled up with them because Anchorage has an election coming up on Tuesday. I couldn’t hit delete fast enough.  It’s enough to make me want to vote AGAINST the people who are annoying me so much with these damn recordings.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:53 AM •
Saturday, March 31, 2007

I lost my favorite gardener and all around wonderful person to cancer this month.  I know her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are all missing her very much. As for me, I have to believe she is in heaven advising God on how to plant Her spring garden and gently telling Her which are weeds and which aren’t.  And if God has any sense at all, She will listen to Pat’s advice.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 07:29 AM •
Friday, March 30, 2007

Well, I guess I have my answer now. If your dogs are loose and threatening me when I walk, it’s my problem.  Animal Control not only is of little use, but if you complain, you get a call from someone who makes it sound as though you are the annoyance and those poor people with the loose dogs are being harrassed. At least I know where I stand now.
By the way, Anchorage Animal Control, you should screen your officers better and only let certain ones actually have contact with the public. The others should stick to animals who won’t catch the tone of annoyance and condescension in their voice when they talk to you.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 07:24 AM •
Thursday, March 29, 2007

I know that when someone invokes their Fifth Amendment rights I should not automatically assume they are guilty of something and covering up. But I do. And I bet you do too. What’s scary is when the person doing it is from the highest levels of the Department of Justice.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 07:06 AM •
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Due to local elections, my column has been bumped to next week in the paper so it won’t show up here till then either. So this is my week off. I don’t have to sit here staring at the blank computer screen trying to come up with a topic that will hold my interest long enough to write about it.  Wow.  You’d think I’d feel more relieved than I do.
Meanwhile, for all Alaskans reading this, please vote no on the advisory vote to deny same sex couples health care benefits. First of all, let’s not codify discrimination into our constitution. That’s just wrong. Secondly, it isn’t trying to redefine marriage.  Since we’ve already put into law that marriage is between a man and a woman, I think that’s pretty safe.  Of course, I still find myself wondering how someone’s marriage is threatened by someone else getting health care benefits. I’m even more confused that most of the people who want to deny this basic benefit to same sex couples are claiming to do so in the name of Jesus.  If they are referring to the same Jesus I read about in the New Testament, I have to say I think he’d be pretty pissed to think people would use his name to be mean and hurtful to someone. I think he’d say judge not, let ye be judged.  Or love thy neighbor as thyself. Or he who is without sin, cast the first stone. Considering the number of Christians who admit to cheating on their spouses, their taxes, their business partners, their shareholders...well, you get the picture. There are few without sin.
So let’s be fair and honest and decent and allow people the health care benefits we should all have available to us.  It’s the Christian thing to do.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 07:34 AM •

OOPS! Guess the column did run in the paper today, so here it is.

As a GAL in this state, I am thrilled that the issue of full staffing for OCS and the need for more foster parents is actually catching some attention, if not more money, down in Juneau.  Usually, issues like this take a back seat to gas line talks, revenue projections and whether Mr. Whitekeys should be named the new state fossil.

So I hate to be the one to point out any flaws in this plan to hire more social workers, but I will. The simple fact is that if you increase the number of social workers, you increase the intake valve of the system so it can handle more cases earlier with more attention to detail.  That intake of families with problems gets fed down a pipeline that narrows dramatically as you reach the middle. Simply put, there aren’t enough services to meet the needs of families already in the pipeline, let alone adding to the number.
Families with domestic violence and/or substance abuse problems have enormous needs.  To reunite a family, those needs must be met in as short a time as possible. Study after study has shown that damage to children starts pretty early when they are in a drunken, abusive atmosphere. Pull them out and plop them into a stranger’s home and, no matter how loving and kind that foster family might be, you compound the damage even though it has to be done for the child’s safety. So you have a very narrow window to do the work needed to keep a family together in a healthy fashion that promotes the welfare of the child.
Healing families with these problems takes a lot of human resources.  You need family counselors, addiction counselors, domestic violence counselors, parenting counselors...well, you get the picture.  It not only take a lot of human resources to reunite the family, but it then takes a lot of continuing resources to support the family so there is no relapse. Because even worse than taking a child from a family the first time is repeated removals from the home which leaves a child’s sense of security and safety blown to bits.
Unfortunately, what we have the least of in this state is what we need the most of, especially if we plan to increase the number of social workers so that we can reach more troubled families earlier. We already have long waiting lists for the few programs available in the state. 
So the question that must be asked is how long we think even the most accomplished of social workers can keep a family from imploding when they are on a waiting list of six to eight months for the services the family needs to start healing. 
There was a push a few decades ago when we were flush with oil money to make services locally available throughout the state and to make them culturally relevant.  That dream was one of the first victims of our falling revenues. While some programs still exist in the Bush, most are now in urban centers since that makes the most financial sense.
So the situation we have today is an overwhelming amount of need and a very finite amount of resources to fill that need.  What that means for the future is that for every cent we don’t allocate today to help families in need, we will spend five time that amount when these children grow up. Because study after study shows that these are the people who fill our prisons, psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse treatment facilities. These are the people who all too often grow up to be non-productive members of our society who drain our coffers without offering any return on our dollars.  If we help when they are little, at least we have some hope that they will enter society as healthy, contributing members.
When you are a troubled family with multiple substance abuse problems and domestic violence issues waiting for an opening in a crowded facility, each day that you wait is another day when you can slide back into total chaos. And each slide backwards is a devastating blow to any child in that home trying to make sense of life and how it should be lived.
Social workers are not miracle workers.  No matter how many you have, if you don’t have the support services they need to offer to these families, it’s like sending a soldier into battle with a thousand comrades and no weapons. You’ve lost before the enemy has even been engaged.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 07:33 AM •
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I was interviewed by a high school student about the March on Washington in the fall of ‘67. Not only is my youth now officially history, but her mother informed me that the dear child had no idea what a draft board was so my telling her about joining sit-ins there was like speaking a foreign language.  Ditto for the words Quakers, Society of Friends, Abbie Hoffman and levitating the Pentagon. Sigh.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 07:44 AM •

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