Elise Sereni
Thursday, December 30, 2010

And so we now come to that time of each year when I announce the 2010 nominees for my very own Hall of Infamy. This year has seen an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to potential inductees. Need I say more than “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”?  Or Tony Hayward?

So let’s get right to those who have been so icky, yucky, sleazy and otherwise distasteful as to immediately leap into retirement in the permanent wing of the hall. This is a very prestigious honor. Currently only Dick Cheney, Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes and that thing on Donald Trump’s head have earned the honor. But this year provided a wealth of people who deserve to skip over all preliminaries and go straight into Dick’s waiting arms.
So congratulations to Lindsay Lohan’s parents for going directly to the permanent wing of the Hall of Infamy as possibly the worse parents in the history of the world. Lindsay Lohan is to be congratulated for turning out as good as she did given the genes she carries and the type of “parenting” she endured. If anything, we should all be shocked that she never turned a gun on these pathetic excuses for a mother and father.
And congratulations to our gal, Temporary Sal. I’m putting her in the permanent wing just so I won’t have to write about her again since her name has come up on the list every year since she became the misbegotten vice presidential candidate to a man who sold his morals and ethics to hold on to power in the most pathetic way possible.
Which bring us to the last inductee into the permanent wing – John McCain. This is a most painful induction and one I never wanted to make. There was a time when he stood for the kind of politician that made America great by speaking up to the powers that be and saying he would do what was right and let the chips fall where they may. And then he was suddenly faced with the reality of losing his Senate seat and he became just another scummy politicians willing to sell out everything he once stood for in order to stay in power.
Now on to the nominees for induction into the general section of the Hall.
First and foremost have to be those two mouthpieces for intolerance, ugliness and the dangers of giving public air space to people who shouldn’t be allowed in public without an escort – Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. Pat is on the list for stating that the earthquake in Haiti was God punishing Haitians for the pact they made with the devil to overthrow French rule. And Rush is there… well, there are so many possible reasons but I picked his statement that Obama would use Haiti to polish his credentials in America with light and dark skinned black people. The only phrase that comes to mind when I hear these idiots speak is O!M! G!
Another nominee is Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell, who tried to convince us that going on a date in college which ends by waking up on a sacrificial witch’s altar was just one of those goofy college things that happens to us all. As someone infamous for bad dates, I must say my worse date never came close to that level of awfulness. And I once dated someone who told me I’d have to pay for my own drinks because he only asked me out for dinner.
All reality TV that involves people throwing up on camera, groping each other and using the F word as a noun, adjective, verb and adverb – in fact, often making the entire sentence up out of that one word – also get a nomination nod. I am from the Jersey Shore and I can assure you that my mother would have fled in horror with her family in tow if those people truly represented shore folk.
Finally (drum roll please), the nominees who win this year’s honor of being elevated to the Hall of Infamy – there to reign supreme for the next 12 months – Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson and Brett Favre. And if I have to explain why, you clearly haven’t been reading your People magazine as closely as you should.
Happy 2011!

Elise Patkotak • 03:31 AM •
Thursday, December 23, 2010

My brother, sister and I recently sold the property back East where we grew up. My family had lived there since 1947.

We’d grown up in one neighborhood, all gone to St. Michael’s grade school, remembered the same nuns and priests and knew all the neighbors.  It wasn’t until I grew up and met people who didn’t come from Ducktown in Atlantic City that I realized how lucky I was that I lived in one place my whole childhood.
So on the one hand, selling the property had very emotional overtones. 6 North meant home and family and childhood and every memory from birth until I left for college. On the other hand, selling 6 North also meant a little infusion of cash at a time when that cash would be very useful to me. Thanks to the sale, I’m getting my house painted and new blinds. I view this as my parents’ last Christmas present to me. I’m over 60 years old and they have both been dead a long time and yet they are still giving me presents.
As I was enjoying this Christmas gift, my sister sent me an e-mail with a story in it that she’d heard at a Ducktown reunion party. The neighborhood may have scattered when gambling arrived in Atlantic City, but being Italian means that Ducktown people still know how to find each other and get together whenever there is a chance for good food, good wine and good conversation.
Here is the story my sister was told.
Our father was a very quiet man. He variously owned a grocery story, got his GED when he was in his 40s and eventually became a government meat inspector. When he retired, he went around the corner to another small Italian grocery store to sit at their register and check people out. It kept him out of the house, out of my mother’s hair and, quite frankly, kept him sane since he’d starting working when he was 14 and really didn’t know what to do with his day if he wasn’t.
One day a young man, about 15, came into the grocery store. He was a neighborhood kid. Dad knew him as he knew everyone in the neighborhood. The kid had a gun. He held it on my dad and demanded money. My dad took the gun from him, sent the kid out of the store, put the gun in a paper bag and, after work was over, walked to the home of the young man’s father and returned the gun. He told the father what had happened with the assumption that the father would want to know if the young man was walking down the wrong path and needed to be set straight.
As I read what my sister wrote, my eyes widened with amazement. My father, my quiet, unassuming, “start every day at the 7 AM mass and never raise his voice” father, had confronted a gun wielding teenager and taken the gun from him. And then quietly walked to the boy’s home to give his father a chance to make a difference rather than call the police. And he did all this without, apparently, mentioning it to anyone.
As I read that story, I realized that while getting money from the sale of the property was a nice gift, the real Christmas present I was receiving from my parents these many, many years after their passing, was this story.
I had grown up with this man. I thought I knew him. I knew of his kindness to so many young people he helped with no fuss or bother or need for acknowledgement. I knew of his gentleness having watched him handle my mother who was, some might say, high maintenance on many levels. I watched him work 6 ½ days a week in our store to put food on our table and still find time to do the books for the Knights of Columbus.
Yet knowing all that, what I didn’t realize was what a quiet hero he was and what inner strength he possessed. My dad took a gun away from a young man and gave that young man a chance to try again to make a life without crime.  My dad did that.
What an amazing Christmas gift.

Elise Patkotak • 03:13 AM •
Thursday, December 16, 2010

I am now going to admit something that will cause my family to scream with horror, amusement and disbelief.  But here it is. Our cousin Joe, the Joe who went to Valley Forge Military Academy and has been a conservative his entire life, the cousin Joe with whom I have agreed about pretty much nothing politically since he was marching at the Academy and I was marching in the streets of the sixties, was right about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I should have listened to him.

Against all that is normal and usual in our universe, my cousin Joe likes Hillary Clinton. He told me I would have buyer’s remorse with Barack Obama long before Obama’s term was anywhere near over. He suggested that if we wanted a real man in the office of president, we should elect Hillary. And dagnabit if he wasn’t right.
As Obama “negotiated” with Republicans over tax cuts, DADT and unemployment benefits, he reminded me of nothing more than a horribly abused woman “negotiating” with her abuser to not hit her in the face. The important point to the abuser is that he still gets to hit her.
Obama compromises by giving the Republicans everything they ask for, in return for which they graciously allow unemployed Americans to get benefits extended – benefits, it should be noted, that the unemployed paid for with every paycheck they ever earned, money that was theirs to begin with. Now, in a stunning act of noblesse oblige, the Republicans are willing to give that money back to the people who earned it, so long as their rich friends can have some too.
I can’t see Hillary Clinton being pushed around by Republicans the way Barack Obama is.
She’s already been through so much I can’t imagine they would scare her one bit. After all, she’s married to Bill Clinton, lived through the slings, slams and abuses of his presidency and peculiar idea of marital fidelity, and emerged not only intact, but as a career woman who could stand on her own two feet and meet any man as an equal.
I have to wonder if she doesn’t go home at night and just shake her head in weary bemusement at the façade we bought as reality when we chose Obama over her.
He said we could believe in change and he would lead us in that change. Two years later, a period during which his party held power in all three branches of government, we still have Guantanamo, still have DADT as a misbegotten national policy, still treat the rich as though they have to have their butts kissed constantly or they will turn on us, and still have the same economic policies of the last administration that led us into this disaster in the first place.
The current financial policy has been in place for over ten years and, shocking as this is to most Republicans, it’s not working. Turns out that giving the rich more money does not cause them to invest in America as much as they invest in increasing their own wealth.  I view our current fiscal policy requiring tax breaks for the very rich as the Republican’s financial version of the War on Drugs. No matter how long it continues, no matter how inefficient and costly, no matter how many studies show it is an abject failure, they will cling to it as absolutely necessary for America’s survival.
Obama claims he “negotiated” a tax compromise with the Republicans because it was their top priority. Yet somehow the negotiations did not end up with Democrats – his party in case he’s forgotten – getting any of their top priorities. That is one weird idea of compromise.
At least Nancy Pelosi led the House to stand up to both the Republicans and her president and said not only no, but hell no. Once again, the Democrats seem to not have many men with enough testosterone to go around. So thank god for women and their estrogen. It gets them through childbirth, childrearing and the childish behavior of men who are frightened by Republicans who go bump in the night.
Joe was so right. I am definitely suffering from buyer’s remorse. I completely missed the fact that Obama would become the most effective Republican in office today.

Elise Patkotak • 03:47 AM •
Thursday, December 09, 2010

My sister and I first traveled to China in 1983. We went from an America of light, noise, vibrancy and life to a China of gray, quiet people, streets and buildings.

There were few stores and those that existed belonged to the government. There were no neon lights flashing to attract shoppers. Most people still wore Mao pajamas and caps. Everyone rode bikes except for the few military and government vehicles in lanes in the middle of the street. Buildings were bland, uninviting hulks.
We went back to China a little over ten years later and again landed in Beijing. If I hadn’t seen China in 1983 with my own eyes, I would never have believed that it could have been so transformed in such a short period of time.
There were cars everywhere. Bikes were crammed into a few small lanes on the sides of each street. Neon lights advertised consumer goods from clothing to household appliances. Restaurants vied for our business. Each day we could see our guide negotiating with some local entrepreneur to bring our business to his establishment. People wore bright clothes, horns honked in the street and the whole city seemed to have awakened from a long dream.
New life seemed to be invigorating a country that only ten years before had seemed moribund. People worked hard because their government had seen the value of letting people earn a reward for their hard work. Unlike communism, under which workers were paid whether they did anything or simply sat around and passed gas, in the new China ambition and hard work earned you more money and more prestige.  Most of the profit still went to the government that owned the business, but the person running it could keep all profits above a certain point. People accepted that they had to work hard to reach that point and they did.
America used to be like that but we seemed to have forgotten that we have to work hard to remain great.
There was a time when there was palpable excitement in the air in our country. I grew up in an America that believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was the greatest country on earth and that anything we set our mind to doing we could achieve. Put a man on the moon in a decade? Sure. No problem. And in our spare time we invented silly putty.
What seemed to get lost in translation from my parents’ generation to mine was that achieving America’s dream took hard work. It was not an entitlement. America’s promise was not that it owed us a damn thing. America’s promise was that if you worked hard and did your part for your country, your country would give you the chance to have a great life.
We still like to tout how extraordinary our country is and, by extension, we are. But America can only be as amazing as we make it. Right now, we’re not doing that real well. We fight two wars for which we neither want to be conscripted nor taxed. We want benefits but don’t want to pay for them. We want to be great because of who we are and not what we do or what we produce.
America comes with no guarantee that it will remain the most powerful nation on earth. That will happen only if we can shake our thinking up enough to once again say, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”, and mean it.
You want to know who really understands that concept in America right now? Gay men and women, that’s who. They love their country so much that they are willing to risk life and limb to protect it despite the fact that they must do so under cover of a lie. I don’t know about you, but that just blows me away.
Maybe we should all be trying a little harder to accept the sacrifices we need to make to keep America great. If we try hard enough, we can live up to the high standards set by gay military members who truly know what it means to ask what they can do for their country, no matter what their country does to them.

Elise Patkotak • 03:24 AM •
Thursday, December 02, 2010

George Bush cut tax rates for everyone early in his presidency, cuts due to expire on December 31. The current debate centers around whether they should be allowed to expire for everyone or only those making over $250,000/year.

Conservatives running back to Congress to eviscerate the health care bill as an exemplar of federal spending gone wild, ignore the fact that during the Bush years they cut taxes and dramatically increased spending on two wars without giving an apparent hoot in hell where the money would come from. Deficit spending on a war of choice apparently fits with their fiscal conservatism. Health care doesn’t.
Now deficits matter, but apparently not enough to allow the cuts to expire on Americans making more than $250,00 per year – a move that some estimate would generate over $700 billion in taxes over the next decade.
The argument for not eliminating the tax cuts for those making over $250,000 is that it’s the people with money who have the ability to create jobs and help pull us out of the recession. That argument would carry a lot more weight if someone could explain why this group sat with those tax cuts for ten years while the economy tanked and didn’t use the money to create jobs.
It was the manipulation of the market by these same high-income earners using financial instruments too bizarre to ever be explained in plain English without engendering laughter that created our financial implosion. You’d think they’d feel some obligation to help those they screwed. You’d be wrong. They took their bail out money and ordered another $3000 shower curtain.
So exactly why am I supposed to believe that if we allow their tax cuts to stand, the wealthy will suddenly do the right thing and create jobs with that money?
A family making over $250,000 a year will not have to choose between food and shelter if their taxes are raised. A family making $60,000 a year may find themselves facing exactly that. For one family, it might mean the difference between a two or three week European vacation. For the other, it might mean the difference between living in a car or being able to afford rent for an apartment.
Some people feel that paying taxes at all is against their belief that what you earn is yours and any redistribution is simply wrong. But history is strewn with the gory aftermath of great nations that clung to that belief. From Rome to France to Russia to China, history teaches us that a nation that does not care for its less fortunate while allowing its top layer to wallow in luxury is a nation that will soon be in serious trouble.
America has been very lucky because it has had a very solid middle class that kept society balanced. The great middle kept us from tipping too far in either direction. But that great middle is shrinking with frightening speed. How many of us really think our children will have a better life than we will? How many are just hoping that their children can cling to some rung on the middle class ladder and not fall off into the abyss of unemployment and dramatically lowered expectations?
I don’t see the rich – except perhaps for Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and their close circle – falling over themselves to help those less fortunate. I see the government bailing out financial institutions too big to fail only to have those institutions stash their money without using it to stimulate the economy. I see friends still searching desperately for jobs while the Wall Street billionaires who created this mess are giving themselves huge bonuses… bonuses that do not translate into jobs for the great middle of America as much as they pay for a third home or fourth yacht for the rich.
So I still find myself asking the question. If we can’t tax the rich because they need the money to create jobs that will stimulate our economy, why haven’t they already done so? What are they waiting for?
Meanwhile, the echo of “Let them eat cake” plays over and over in my brain. I know what happened to the woman who purportedly said that. Not a pretty history lesson but one we would be wise to heed.

Elise Patkotak • 03:48 AM •
Thursday, November 25, 2010

It being the season, I thought it most appropriate to enumerate the many things for which I am thankful this year. Unfortunately, Joe Miller is still around, thereby depriving me of the one greatest thing for which I was hoping to give thanks.

But I can at least be grateful that the campaign is over.  I’m grateful I no longer have to be afraid to answer my phone. I have the joy of knowing it will bring nothing more than a telemarketer into my home and not some horrible push poll or even more horrible robo-call from some politician who thinks their support will tilt my vote.
But despite the pain of political campaigns, as a columnist I am very grateful to the almost too easy targets those campaigns present on a weekly basis. Instead of spending my weekend wracking my brain for a relevant topic, during campaign season I just have to look at the front page of the paper and inspiration leaps out at me.
So in an odd way I am grateful for what Joe Miller and Sarah Palin have provided me over the years. Unlike our governor who insists on remaining dignified, thereby taking all the fun out of writing about him, most politicians offer such easy targets nowadays that it almost seems almost sinful to take them on.
Back in the world that really matters, I’m thankful that both my friends who battled breast cancer last year are cruising through this year with hair on their heads and reason to hope in their heart. I am lucky that I not only have these friends, but that they will be with me for a long time to come.
I am very, very grateful that my wonderful friend Greta shares her amazing son Joey with me. No matter how angry and irritable the world makes me, all I have to do is see Joey stamp up and down doing the Happy Feet dance I taught him to have all the cares in the world leave me.  As trite and clichéd as it might be, the smile of a well loved, well behaved and simply charming child can go a long way into putting the rest of life in perspective.
I am immensely grateful that my godchild’s husband came home from his third tour in the Mideast in one piece and is sharing this holiday with his two amazingly handsome young sons. There are too many empty places around too many tables this holiday season because of the ongoing conflict in that region. That my godchild does not have to bear that pain is simply wonderful.
I’m thankful that right now I am holding my own against the myriad moments of ill health that have visited me in my very, very late middle age. While my dogs and I will never be poster children for robust health, we enjoy each day we have together. They get their walks, car rides and multiple treats and I get to hug a warm and loving creature that only occasionally passes gas in response.
This year, I will be celebrating 32 years of wonderful companionship with my Amazon parrot Captain and 28 years with my cockatoo CB. Yes, there is the occasional snarl (me) and bite (Captain) when communications break down, but given the species barrier we must overcome for each interaction, we have a pretty good record… and my vet can stop laughing now. It IS a good relationship given what some of my others have been like.
As always, I’m immensely grateful that I go to Bird TLC each week and get up close and personal with some of the most amazing bird life on this planet. If there is anything that beats watching an eagle that came in prostrate from some illness or injury being released back into the wild thanks in part to the care I was able to provide, I don’t know what it can possibly be.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I hope all your turkeys are free range and full of tryptophan. I hope every plate at Bean’s Café is full for those less fortunate than I am. And I pray to make it through Thanksgiving without having to cut the elastic waistband in my pants.
Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Elise Patkotak • 03:23 AM •
Thursday, November 18, 2010

America’s bedbug invasion has rapidly spread from New York City to Alaska. I can’t help but be suspicious as to how these critters have suddenly staged such a dramatic recurrence in our lives. Perhaps some mad scientist decided than rather than eliminate us all with some super Ebola virus released into a crowded subway station, he’d just ick us to death with bedbugs.

I find myself reluctant to go to a movie or stay in a hotel or take a plane trip for fear there will be bedbugs around who will follow me home. It only makes sense given that every other critter in need seems to eventually set up residence in my living room. But dogs and birds aren’t annoying. Bedbugs are. So they should go away and leave us alone.
And speaking of things that are annoying and should go away and leave us alone, I have only two words – Joe Miller.  His campaign spokesperson is apparently still making statements about being “cautiously optimistic” over their chance of winning. I want to reach out and warn that poor soul not to drink any more orange Kool-Aid. Because clearly someone has accidentally dropped some drug into their drink that makes up seem down and down seem up and a loss look like a cautious win.
If the Miller campaign had any sound basis for most of their objections to the outcome of the recent Senate campaign, aside from the fact that their guy lost, I have yet to hear it. What I do hear is a lot of whining and bemoaning of the fact that the Alaskan electorate saw Joe for what he was and voted accordingly. They voted for a write in candidate in what I can only hope is a good sign for the future of politics in America.
Just to make it perfectly clear to those Constitutional scholars who have never actually read the Constitution, nowhere in the document is America declared a two party country. So there is no constitutional requirement that the only people we elect are running as Democrats or Republicans. And given that I have reached a point where I just throw my hands up in despair at the sniping, hatred and nastiness that those two parties now routinely indulge in while American jobs are devastated, the middle class becomes a threatened species and our economy goes belly up, I would love to see write-in candidates win more and more seats and enter government beholden to no hoary, encrusted party of the past.
I realize that Lisa Murkowski is not the outside, write-in candidate of my dreams. She’s a Republican and when she returns to DC will automatically be enfolded into that party’s body politic. But she is a hopeful sign that write in candidates can mount a credible campaign and win. In fact, I would have a lot more respect for the Tea Party had they taken that tact in the recent elections and entered DC un-beholden to the established power of any party. As much as we might dream they will go there as outside independents who will change the system, the fact that they ran as Republicans instantly makes them a part of the very system against which they railed.
It now appears as though Miller is trying to disenfranchise voters through lawsuits since he will not be in a position to repeal the 17th Amendment. I suspect Joe is about to get the same result his buddy Dan Fagan got when he tried to subvert the process he so loudly proclaims is sacred. The only difference is that Joe’s suspension from public life will last a lot longer.
So, just to be sure Miller and his campaign personnel have this straight, aliens did not come down and magically change all the votes that had really been cast for him. And black op helicopters from the UN didn’t secretly drop ineligible voters in voting booths to vote for Lisa. And no one hired villagers across the state to forge handwritten votes for his opponent. Joe Miller lost because when voters had a chance to really get to know him, they decided to elect someone else. It’s that simple.
So get over it. And for goodness sake, get a clean batch of Kool-Aid.

Elise Patkotak • 03:23 AM •
Thursday, November 11, 2010

When I moved to Barrow in 1972, the only dental care available over the entire 88,000 square miles of the North Slope was one Indian Health Service dentist who, quite frankly, was paying back a scholarship obligation and had less than great dedication to improving oral health there. So routine dental care consisted of filling and pulling. And often it was the patient doing the pulling because no dentist showed up in some villages for months or years on end.

I took advantage of the lack of dental services to avoid ever seeing a dentist. I thought I was in heaven.  Then the borough took over the dental contract from Indian Health Service and I hired a dentist to come to Barrow to set up a real practice. The next thing I knew, he had me in a dental chair and from somewhere above the bright light shining in my face as he did an exam I heard him say, “You have the oral hygiene of Genghis Khan.” After that I went to the dentist a lot more often and eventually managed to not end up with dentures before I was 30.
But a lot of North Slope residents weren’t so lucky. They didn’t have teeth and they didn’t have dentures. Their teeth had fallen out or been pulled and not replaced. People younger than me looked decades older because they were toothless. So one of the first things we did when the dental program got organized was to hold denture clinics in Barrow. I can’t begin to describe what it was like to see these young Inupiat enter the dental clinic as toothless old people and emerge with a set of gleaming teeth and a wide smile, finally looking as young as they really were.
Yet dental care is still, in many respects, the unwanted stepchild of health care in the Bush.
Decades ago the Community Health Aide program was instituted to bring basic health care and health screenings to populations that would otherwise not see medical care from one year to the next. Questions raised about the competency of minimally trained people to handle medical care in isolated settings were resolved with each passing year as these amazing men and women proved their ability to make informed decisions on care and to seek help the minute they sensed they were entering difficult waters.
Given that success, I am unable to fathom why the Alaska Dental Society and American Dental Associations are taking any position on the Dental Health Aide program other than one of support and encouragement, coupled with offers to oversee and help develop a safe and effective curriculum. It’s not as though these dental aides are taking money or patients from dentists because, quite frankly, I haven’t seen any stampede of dentists wanting to set up practices in remote Alaskan villages.
What I find even more disturbing is the lack of information about what, if anything, the Alaska Dental Society or the American Dental Association has done to improve dental care and increase the presence of dentists in villages during the years this program has been operational. It seems as though the only time they say anything, it’s because they are objecting to the program.  They come across as the dental version of the Party of No.
We have heard loud and clear what they’re against. The question is what are they for? What are they doing to advance care and alleviate the suffering in villages where there is no dentist? Because anyone who has ever had a toothache knows that even 24 hours of pain can greatly diminish the quality of your life and cause you to want to take a pliers to the offending tooth.
The Dental Health Aide program is still new. Like the Community Health Aide program before it, it will need constant tweaking to keep current and safe. But also like the Community Health Aide program before it, it has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life in Alaska’s most remote villages.
Until the dentists in this state come up with a better way to get this care to remote locations on a regular and timely basis, they should stop complaining and start helping make this program even better and safer. It’s the right thing to do.

Elise Patkotak • 03:17 AM •
Thursday, November 04, 2010

Listen quickly. That sound you don’t hear is silence, the absence of political ads, the lull before Christmas music becomes a 24 hour a day drone in your subconscious. But listen quickly because… oops! It’s already gone. The first strains of White Christmas are worming their way into my brain, replacing the cacophony of ads telling me how each and every candidate for office in our recent election was the spawn of a misbegotten mating between Satan and Hitler.

Even when I was young I appreciated the sounds of silence. Although music was supposedly my generation’s anthem to rebellion, given a choice I curled up with a book and enjoyed living quietly in my imagination.
Recently though, possibly in direct reaction to the horrible din of campaign commercials that seemed to be avalanching down Denali into my home with unceasing monotony, I decided it was time to listen to today’s music to see if the sounds were any worse than that coming from politicians.
What a rude and abrupt introduction to a world I think I was actually better off not knowing.
I unfortunately tuned into the music awards show to which Lady Gaga wore steak. Had I known she was going to wear sirloin there is every chance I would not have tuned in at all. But since I did, let me pointedly say to many, many member of my family… and I do mean you, little sis… that I do not want to ever hear any of you questioning my taste in dress again for so long as Lady Gaga gets to wear hamburger as a fashion statement.
And for goodness sake, why would anyone, even a lady wearing a meatloaf on her head, want to walk in shoes from which someone had apparently ripped the heels. I can’t have been the only one watching who wanted to rush up and catch her every time she tried to walk. I know I have complained for decades about the height and pointy-ness of women’s heels but the answer is not to simply take the heel off and then try to walk on your toes. If that’s what you want, take up ballet.
I pushed on past unfortunate beginning to the entertainment thinking there must be something I could appreciate there. But I have to say it’s hard to appreciate the words and the music when, in the middle of a song, a man pulls his pants off and is wearing what doesn’t look to be much more than a sock over a critical body part. Call me silly, but it makes it hard for me to focus on the words. On the other hand, it did go a long way towards explaining why music videos seem to cut and jump around so much. I assume they are simply afraid to focus on any one person for too long for fear of what we might see.
And then Justin Bieber came on and my blood sugar shot up to 1000 and I had to turn the show off. That little boy oozes sweetness and sugar to an extent not seen since Annette Funicello’s heyday. He seemed oddly out of place amidst songsters who celebrated a variety of words for the world’s oldest profession while explaining how they would use their time with said profession. And that, of course, led me to wonder which of those lovely songs about ho’s our younger generation will use for their first dance at their wedding.
So off went the TV as I hummed some Frank Sinatra tunes to cleanse my brain. I grabbed my latest Dickens novel and sank into bed exhausted. 
The music from that show was apparently the best now available. I’m sure some of it was quite good and not all of it would make me blush if I actually understood the words. And honestly, all things being equal, it still beat heck out of political campaign commercials or Bob Dylan’s album of holiday favorites or the Chipmunks singing that Christmas time is here.
Given a choice though, I prefer to tumble down the rabbit hole created by writers whose own imaginations go beyond the boundaries of everyday life to places where I can wander free from the noise of gangsta rap or, worse yet, political rhetoric.
Thank god for books.

Elise Patkotak • 03:06 AM •
Thursday, October 28, 2010

I was one of those on-air personalities pitching for public radio over the past two weeks. Next to my animals, public broadcasting is probably my biggest passion. Now that most of the airways seem to have been taken over by people who don’t know what an indoor voice sounds like and who do not so much want to report the news as shout their version of reality, public broadcasting has come to seem like a Mecca of sanity in a world gone mad.

As I sat at the board waiting for my turn to pitch, I ruffled through some of the cheat sheets provided to help volunteers know what to say when the red light comes on. Believe it or not, no matter how smooth and Tom Brokaw-ish you sound while standing in front of your mirror holding your brush as a microphone, when confronted by an actual live mike, a lot of us go dumb. The cards help us find the words that fled our minds.
One of the cards stated that journalism is the only profession specifically protected in the Constitution. It’s right there in the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee. Apparently our Founding Fathers thought that a free exchange of questions, ideas and information between those who would represent us and those who would be represented was critical to the functioning of a democracy.
Unfortunately, some of us mistake the screamers and shouters on TV and radio cable news as journalists. They aren’t. Much of cable news doesn’t so much report the day’s events as they report what they think you should think of those events. They skew the news to fit their beliefs.  This is clearly evident if you listen to just about any news show on Fox and compare it to a program like All Things Considered.
The reason Walter Cronkite’s declaration that America could not win the war in Vietnam made such headlines was because it was such an extreme and radical break from what a newscaster was supposed to do. He was not supposed to do commentary. He was supposed to report the news.  Back in antediluvian times, there was an actual separation between commentators, analysts and reporters.
Once that line got blurred by the need of cable news channels to fill 24 hours of time with something that would not cause us all to fall off the couch in boredom, it became harder and harder to find a place where a journalist understood his or her role was limited to reporting facts and not offering opinions. News broadcasts melded into something not quite news and not quite commentary. Any pretense at objectivity was lost in the shuffle.
The recent flap over the firing of Juan Williams is a provocative example of this blurring. For many, Williams’ statement that seeing people in Muslim garb on airplanes made him nervous was merely an iteration confirming what many feel but are afraid to say aloud. Clearly many believed that because he was not saying it in his role as a news analyst on NPR but as a panelist on a Fox show, it was his right to state his opinion.
The problem, as NPR saw it, was that most people associate Williams with news analysis on NPR broadcasts. They apparently cringed at the thought that this statement would in some way be associated with NPR.
Unfortunately, this leaves us in a position where NPR comes off as the thought police and Williams comes off as a journalist shut down for expressing something many of us have probably thought, even if we feel shame for having that thought.
In my mind, that is exactly why, instead of terminating Williams, NPR should have raised the topic with him on a show that would have allowed a reasonable and open exploration of the issue. Because, quite frankly, more Americans than would care to admit it have probably at some point looked around at fellow air passengers and exhaled, if only just a little, when they saw none clearly identifiable as Muslim.
It’s a topic that deserves a sane, reasonable and balanced discussion if we are ever to understand why those moments occur and why they feel so wrong. And if that is not the definition of what public broadcasting should be doing, I don’t know what is.

Elise Patkotak • 03:47 AM •
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Listen. That sound you hear is silence. It’s the sound roaring out of Sean Parnell, Don Young, Harry Crawford, Mead Treadwell and Diane Benson’s campaigns.

“What?” you query in a startled tone. “You mean there are candidates out there NOT running for our US Senate seat?” Yes, Virginia, there are. The problem is that only one of them, Ethan Berkowitz, seems to actually be taking the whole concept of running for office seriously. That’s why his ads are the only ones you see on TV that don’t pertain to the Senate race.
Now one could almost forgive Don Young for his rather lackadaisical attitude towards his campaign this year. For one, he’s is still probably mourning the loss of his wife. That’s one of those life events that knocks the wind out of your sails. And who can blame him? Anyone who had even passing contact with Lu knew she was probably the best choice he ever made in his life.
Of course, the fact that he had to spend a lot of his war chest on lawyer’s fees over the past few years is also probably a factor. But I’d guess that mostly it is the utter void that is his “opponent” in this year’s race that has left him without the adrenalin surge needed to mount a vigorous campaign. 
Which brings us to Harry Crawford – who is, believe it or not, the Democratic nominee for the seat. He is a state house representative from an Anchorage district, an iron worker by trade, and, along with Diane, Mead and Sean Parnell, apparently vying for the title of stealth candidate of the campaign season.
Given that most Alaskans assume Don Young will be our representative in Congress even after shuffling off this mortal coil, it is probably not surprising that no one is rushing to fill Crawford’s campaign coffers or break a sweat on his campaign. He is the party’s sacrificial lamb, running for the unattainable out of loyalty to the party or hope of future benefit based on favors owed.
Of course, there are those who thought that was Scott McAdams’ role in our senatorial race. McAdams has gone from unknown sacrificial lamb to almost known sacrificial lamb. The way this political season is playing out, who knows what he might actually accomplish.
Given how Parnell became governor, you’d think Alaskans would be paying more attention to the Lite Gov race. Given the duties of the Lite Gov, it’s not hard to understand why they aren’t.
Which brings me to Sean Parnell, our accidental governor, elevated to glory when Our Gal, Temporary Sal correctly assumed two years was all we could take of her leadership.
Had Parnell not become our accidental governor, most Alaskans would still not be able to pick him out of a line up, even if the only other person in the line up was female. Parnell doesn’t exactly set the world on fire with his personality. But after the exciting days of Our Gal, he was welcomed relief – seemingly the perfect antidote to Sal’s hysteria.
Parnell apparently decided to lean on his strongest qualities, like the ability to melt into any crowd and not be noticed, as the best way to run his campaign.
So poor Ethan is out there speaking his heart out, trying to get a healthy debate going, trying to get an actual campaign going, all to no avail. His punches make no lasting impression because, as far as I can tell, he has no opponent to punch against. There is just air where an opponent should be.
Parnell’s people say he’s doing his job being governor and that’s why he’s not really campaigning. But I have to tell you that since he was not elected to be governor in the first place, I think he owes it to the electorate to get engaged in this campaign and tell us why we should vote to let him keep the job he accidentally backed into.
Ethan Berkowitz is making an effort to air the issues important to Alaskans. Sean Parnell should get on the campaign trail and offer us his alternatives to what Berkowitz is proposing.
Hiding your head in the sand and hoping your lead lasts until Election Day is not what a real Alaskan man would do.

Elise Patkotak • 03:23 AM •
Thursday, October 14, 2010

I’m starting to think that Joe Miller’s campaign slogan should be, “I got mine and now I’ll do my best to see you don’t get yours.”

Mr. Miller has seemingly not found a publicly funded program he doesn’t love to dip into for himself and his family, from Medicaid to Denali Kid Care to student loans. But once he’s elected and secures the high paid position of U. S. Senator with all its perks and healthcare benefits, he’ll do his best to see that those programs are eliminated so that you never have a chance to receive those same benefits (About two-thirds of Denali KidCare money comes from the Feds).
Unemployment checks? Not constitutional for the federal government to use tax dollars for that purpose, especially now that his wife doesn’t get unemployment benefits anymore.  Denali KidCare? His kids don’t use it anymore so suddenly it’s objectionable because women receiving it have choices.
Subsidized government benefits are apparently OK only while he and his family get them. 
He also seems to see no need to follow the rules when he doesn’t feel like it. Miller applied for low income hunting and fishing licenses despite the fact that he didn’t seem to meet the residency requirement and was building a house addition with a loan no low income person I know could have ever gotten.
Deadlines for filing financial disclosure forms seem to simply amuse him. He filed his disclosures months late. As for us little people out here… well, I guess we just aren’t wonderful enough to ignore the law like Joe does. 
But it was when Miller finally filed those forms that I really started to look over my shoulder for Ashton Kutcher. Not only did Miller pay for law school with a student loan, but according to his disclosure, he still owes money on it.
So if I have this correct – and honestly, it’s so mind boggling it’s hard not to picture his whole campaign as a huge Punked episode – this man who claims that the constitution does not allow federal spending on education had his college education paid for by our tax dollars and his law school paid for by a student loan taken from out tax dollars which he still hasn’t paid back.
Mr. Miller apparently felt that loaning his own campaign over $100,000 was more important than paying back a student loan so that another young person could benefit from an education before he axes the entire Department.
Because now that his education is paid for, Miller declares the Department of Education is unconstitutional (or maybe not depending on whether he is talking as the pre or post primary candidate) and that federal dollars should not fund education. Except maybe if the state gets those federal dollars to administer in which case the unconstitutionality of federal taxes being used for education is suddenly, magically, resolved. Where is Ashton when I need him?
Mr. Miller’s arrogance towards the electorate reached its apogee with his declaration that he would support repealing the 17th amendment, which allows citizens to directly vote for their senators, based on what he perceives as our history of making poor choices. Apparently if we’d simply elect people he felt were acceptable, he’d allow us to continue the privilege of voting. But if we insist on voting for people he does not deem worthy, well then, what choice does he have but to take that privilege away from us. Paternalism anyone?
We apparently are offered the extreme honor of voting him into office. Then he’ll pull the welcome mat in behind him, rescind the 17th amendment, and he and his privileged peers will decide what’s good for us from then on out. Wow. And I thought the Tea Party was all about giving power back to the people.
If, as Joe Miller claims, the U.S. Constitution is not a living, breathing document, then why did our Founding Fathers put in a means to amend it? Or, in stating that only the Constitution and Bill of Rights are legitimate, is Joe implying that recent amendments like woman’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery were silly mistakes made by an ignorant electorate?
I guess his campaign slogan is actually, “Vote for Joe just this once and he’ll see that you don’t ever have to bother voting again.”

Elise Patkotak • 03:51 AM •
Thursday, October 07, 2010

I stare at the keyboard and wonder what else can possibly be said about the epidemic of domestic violence in our state. If this latest survey from the UAA Justice Center follows the pattern others have, it will cause a stir for a week or so and then, like a dog spotting a squirrel, our attention will be diverted by something shiny flitting by.

When I first arrived in Alaska and saw domestic violence up close and personal, I was told there were lots of reasons for it. It was the darkness, the cold, the lack of activities, the poor economy, the dearth of jobs, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, lack of sanitation, despair, depression, denial – the list was seemingly endless.
While there was little we could do about the darkness and cold, the pipeline’s economic boom should have produced some sort of relief by bringing jobs and money to families. But instead of getting better, statistics on domestic violence seemed to get worse.
So then the explanation became that we had enough money to get better statistics and, having brought the problem out into the open, more women were reporting the abuse thus making the statistics rise. If that explanation is true, you’d think that after more than thirty years of battling this epidemic, the statistics would have either stabilized or gone down.
Instead, the Justice Center survey shows that previous surveys were still under-reporting the rate of domestic violence in our state.  The survey’s results show one out of every two women in this state report being abused at some point in their life.
I’m one of those women. I know domestic violence intimately. I was lucky enough to get out of the relationship after just a few years. But that it took me even that long says something about the pathology that goes with being abused by the very person you look to for love, support and kindness.
I had never seen domestic violence while growing up. Yet I accepted it for almost three years before finding the courage to walk away. So I can only imagine how hard it is for women who grew up with domestic violence as a normal part of childhood to realize that this is not something they should have to endure. And way too many Alaskan women still grow up in homes where domestic violence is rampant.
Sadly, after thirty yeas of trying, we are faced with the fact that all the solutions we’ve employed to date do not seem to be making a dent in the problem. Don’t get me wrong. If just one woman and her children go to a shelter to escape the abuse, that shelter has justified its funding. But we need something more, something that will keep those shelters from being so depressingly filled year round.
So I’m thinking that maybe we’ve been focusing too much on the woman’s responsibility to get out of the relationship and get to safety. Maybe we need to focus more on the abusers. And by focus, I mean shine a big, bright sun-sized light on them so that they are totally shunned and embarrassed in their communities.
I propose that any man convicted of domestic violence should have his picture hung in the post office in his home community and his name read on the local radio station. This forces those communities to confront the abusers among them. On the assumption that the community does not define being a man by how hard they can beat a woman or child, this should hopefully cause the abuser shame.
Other men in the community will no longer be able to ignore what their compatriot has done, will no longer be able to shrug their shoulders and still have him as their hunting buddy or bowling partner. We need to make it so embarrassing to be seen with an abuser that good men in the community will no longer be willing to be their friend.
So let’s run pictures of abusers in the papers and hang them in community stores. Let’s read their names publicly at Sunday services and on radio and TV newscasts. Shine that light so brightly that there are no holes left in which the scum can hide.
Out them and shun them. That’s what real Alaskans would do.

Elise Patkotak • 03:19 AM •
Thursday, September 30, 2010

That whooshing sound you hear is Joe Miller furiously backpedaling from his extreme right positions in order to get somewhere near the middle before the election.

While I realize Mr. Miller would prefer we believe that the media has merely screwed up his message for their own nefarious purposes, the bottom line is that his primary campaign left a wealth of written and spoken material that would indicate otherwise. For those of us who thought the most fun of the senate campaign would be watching Mr. McAdams attempt to suck enough oxygen up to at least get a weekly mention in the media, it now seems as though the fun will be watching Mr. Miller twist his previous statements into unrecognizable form in order to appeal to the great middle of the electorate.
My favorite tortured explanation so far is how, when he stated that federal funding for certain programs such as education and unemployment benefits were unconstitutional and should be eliminated, what he REALLY meant was that the federal government should give the money to the state to administer those programs. Wow.
I thought I was pretty much immune to the vagaries of political logic and the twisted meaning given to what seem like perfectly clear statements when it occurs to a candidate that the electorate is not buying their positions. I was wrong.
Congratulations, Mr. Miller. In a world of 24-hour news cycles that includes the often insane rants of Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck, you have actually managed to climb higher and reach a whole new level of revisionist rhetoric. And you and your campaign are doing it with a straight fact.  May I once again say, “Wow”.
It’s not that I don’t understand why you are backpedaling. After all, as someone whose education was paid for by my tax dollars and whose jobs were mostly government funded and who once accepted a federal subsidy, you almost are almost required to back away from some of your more extreme positions. They were useful to you during the primary because without them you would never have attracted the Tea Party to your side with all their money.
But now that you face the general electorate, you have to appeal to not only angry Tea Partiers but also to a lot of Alaskans whose salary depends on the continuance of federal dollars in Alaska, to say nothing of unemployment benefits and grandmom’s social security checks. To claim you want to eliminate the very programs that bring those dollars here would be political suicide. To have your position go from eliminating federal dollars for education to reducing federal dollars for education makes it a lot easier for people to swallow.
Here’s my problem, though. Which of these candidates – the primary Mr. Miller or the general election Mr. Miller – is the real Mr. Miller?  Did you stake out an extreme position in the primary in order to attract the outside notice you needed to fill your campaign coffers and so the more moderate candidate we are now hearing from is the real Mr. Miller? Or are you now modifying your positions in order to get votes and, upon election, will revert to the primary persona?
It just seems as though we should know for whom we are voting since, in your case, there seems to be two distinct candidates.  So who are you? The candidate who claimed that the federal government should not be funding student loans or the candidate who “clarified” this by saying that you meant federal money could be used for education but the state should administer the program? 
And really, I need you to decide if you actually think the Department of Education is unconstitutional, in which case federal tax dollars cannot be spent on education even if given to the state, or whether you think it’s constitutional because it paid for a large part of your education.
We have all seen campaigns that twist and turn with each passing day as they try to become what they think the electorate wants. But for sheer, unmitigated sophistry in re-positioning previously stated beliefs, I think we should revive that old Fickle Finger of Fate award and give it to the real Joe Miller.
And so the question must be asked, “Which Joe Miller is the real one?”

Elise Patkotak • 03:17 AM •
Thursday, September 23, 2010

The argument over the Islamic Center proposed near Ground Zero seems to center on the theory that Muslims should be sensitive to how sacred Americans consider the area.

Aside from the fact that many Muslims are Americans, following this logic would dictate all buildings in which a Catholic priest works or lives should be no closer than… what, three blocks from a school? Five blocks? A mile?
Yes, I know all priests aren’t pedophiles but then, all Muslims aren’t terrorists either. It’s about being sensitive.
It goes without saying that Germans can’t build anything near a Jewish school or synagogue because, after all, there was that whole Holocaust thing a few decades ago. I understand some Jewish people are still pretty sensitive about Germany’s attempt to wipe them off the face of the earth.
Continuing this logic, all Japanese should be forced to relocate if their Shinto Temples in Hawaii are anywhere near Pearl Harbor. Conversely, any American citizens worshipping in a building at or near Hiroshima and Nagasaki should probably start packing too.
I’m guessing no Christian church should be built near a woman’s health center since it was Christian extremists who thought gunning down doctors was an honorable thing to do. Yes, I know. Not all Christians are extremists or terrorists. It’s about the sensitivity.
Native Americans might have an argument here that no non-Native American should be allowed to build any place of worship near any former Native American lands seeing as how we basically tried to wipe them out to justify taking their real estate. If we just limited this to areas along the Trail of Tears, we’d cut quite a swath through a lot of prime real estate that I’m sure Native-Americans would be happy to reclaim. But we should endure this land return without complaint because it’s about being sensitive to people you’ve harmed.
You think showing respect for the horrors we perpetrated on the grandparents and great-grandparents of Native Americans carries things too far because it happened so long ago? Are you saying that the lives lost at Ground Zero are more valuable than those lost on the Trail of Tears because more years have passed? Just how long is too long ago? And how soon is too soon?
We’re offended at the thought of an Islamic Center being built near Ground Zero and yet weren’t offended when George Bush walked his Texas ranch holding hands with a Saudi prince. Did we forget that 11 of the terrorists flying planes into buildings on 9/11 were Saudis? I guess it’s convenient to forget when remembering would be inconvenient to our need for their oil.
Muslims are no more responsible for what extremists do in the name of Islam than Christians are for that nut job in Florida who wanted to burn Korans.  And they have no more control over the actions of the extremists in their midst than Christians do over the minister who shows up with his congregation at the funerals of fallen soldiers holding signs that say their god is glad the soldier is dead.
The only thing most people have control over is their own life. And the only way most people have to influence the world around them so that the extremists don’t win is to live a good life. That does not include threatening to burn down an Islamic Center or in any way harming the people who would worship there.
I know this is a political season and the temptation will be for pandering politicians to jump on the hate bandwagon in the hope of pulling in a few more votes. We need to resist them and the urge to follow the banner of hate.
There are over a billion people who believe in Islam in this world. Many live in America. The majority are kind and reasonable people who want only what we all want, a chance to live a decent life and raise our family in peace and security.  The few thousand who are extremists need to be dealt with for what they are, murderers and terrorists.
But we don’t win the war by letting them divide us against ourselves. And that’s what we’re doing right now in New York City.
By being intolerant, we become like the terrorists. In doing so, we hand them victory.

Elise Patkotak • 03:35 AM •

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