Exploring the Homes of Early 21st Century Middle Class Los Angeles Households (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1


The researchers noticed a correlation between what was on the outside of the refrigerators with what was in the home in general. Generally, homes which had more stuff on the outside of the refrigerator had a higher density of items throughout the house, and homes which had more organized refrigerator displays were generally more organized.

When I was a child, on the refrigerator door we had various colorful magnets each representing some letter of the alphabet, some magnets we had picked up from businesses listing their phone numbers or something, and a few other random magnets, but not much else. Now, we have nothing on the refrigerator door, and I think it’s been years since there has been anything on the refrigerator door. Maybe there was a calendar at some point on the refrigerator door, but if there was, it was a calendar we all ignored and never updated. I do not recall ever seeing pictures posted to the refrigerator door.

Visiting other people’s homes, I have definitely seen pictures and photographs posted on the refrigerator door, so it’s not a specifically Los Angeles thing.

Though the disorganization of what we put on the refrigerator door may have correlated with general disorganization throughout our home, the relative lack of thing on the refrigerator door did NOT correlate with a low density of items throughout the home (or, maybe it did, I think we did have less stuff when I was a kid, at least until I went full KonMari). And the fact that we don’t have anything on the refrigerator door now most certainly does not correlate with an absence of items throughout the house (even my room, which probably has the lowest density of items of any room in the lived-in part of the house, has much more than a hundred clearly visible items – and that’s not including anything in the closet or inside my covered bookcase).

I think the lack of stuff on our refrigerator door when I was a child, and the total absence of anything on the refrigerator door today, is mainly a reflection of the fact that the kitchen has never been the center of home life for us. Continue reading

Exploring the Homes of Early 21st Century Middle Class Los Angeles Households (Part 1)

I recently read Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, based on a detailed anthropological/archaeological study of 32 households in Los Angeles done during the years 2001-2005. All of the households in the study are 1) in the Los Angeles metropolitan area 2) have two parents who work at least 30 hours per week for pay outside of the home (30 of the households have one mother and one father; 2 households have two fathers and zero mothers) 3) have two or three children 4) at least one child is between the age of 7 and 12 and 5) self-identify as ‘middle-class’. Though I don’t think they listed it as a criteria, it seems that every single one of these households owns a detached house which is also where they live. The writers of this book have also put together a short documentary which is available on YouTube.

I thought this was a very interesting book, which offered some excellent anthropological insights into this type of household.

I do take issue with the beginning “This book centers on the material worlds of American families just like yours (and ours).” Ummm, no, this is not a book about American families like mine. Heck, how do the writers even know that I am American (I am American, but I’m sure some non-Americans have also read this book). I have never lived in a household which matches their criteria – I have never lived in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, my mother was a stay-at-home parent for the entire duration of my childhood, and I have no siblings. That said, I did grow up in a self-identified middle class household in California, and though I am too old to have been included in the cohort of children they studied, I’m not that much older than this child cohort. However, I think the fact that this book studies households which are different than mine makes it more interesting (to me, at least).

As regular readers of this blog know, this year I have taking an interest in skimming/reading books about household management, as well dabbling in some podcasts/YouTube channels. When going through these materials, I occasionally encounter things which seem a bit odd, which don’t quite add up for me. Reading this book has helped clarify some of these things for me. I suppose many of the Americans who make books/podcasts/etc. about household management are thinking of an audience more like these Los Angeles middle-class households in detached housing than San Francisco middle class households in attached housing (I don’t think it is a coincidence that the book I read which seemed most tailored for a household like mine, New Minimalism, is also the only household management book I’ve read which was written by people who have lived in San Francisco). Now that I have read Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, I think other things I read/listen to about household management will make more sense. Continue reading

Caught by Alaska Politics, Part 4

Continued from Part 3

Content Note: This post contains generalized discussion of sexual violence and rape culture

I’ve heard various Alaskans explain how Dunleavy got elected governor. One explanation was ‘the Democrats ran a candidate’. What they mean is that the 2018 governor election, for a while, was a three-way election between Walker (the incumbent governor, no party affiliation), Dunleavy (Republican), and Begich (Democrat). The logic is that, by running their own candidate instead of endorsing Walker, the Democrat Party split the anti-Dunleavy votes.

This is a contrast with the 2014 gubernatorial election in Alaska, in which Walker and the Democrat Party formed an alliance. Walker agreed to accept the Democrats’ candidate, Byron Mallott, as his lieutenant governor, and in exchange the Democrat Party endorsed Walker even though he is not a Democrat (in fact, as recently as 2013, Walker had been a Republican). Because there was no Democrat running for governor, most Democrats voted for Walker, and because Walker had recently been Republican and still supported some Republican positions (such as being opposed to gun control, an issue Alaskans care about a lot), he also got votes from some Republicans, as well as votes from ‘f*** both parties’ voters.

However, in the 2018 election, Walker eventually decided to withdraw, and endorse Begich, the Democrat candidate. Who lost to Dunleavy.

What I’ve read suggests that the main reason Walker withdrew was that his cut of the PFD was very unpopular and he did not believe he could win re-election. However, some of the Alaskans who spoke to me blamed his lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott.

A few weeks before the election, Byron Mallott resigned because of ‘inappropriate comments’. You can read more about it here and here. The details of the incident which prompted the resignation have been kept private, supposedly out of respect for the victim. If the details have been withheld from the public at the victim’s request, then I am glad that the victim’s wishes are being respected. What I have heard is that this happened at a conference of Native Alaskans, and that the victim was almost certainly a Native Alaskan (Byron Mallott is also a Native Alaskan). At the time that Byron Mallott resigned, it was too late to remove his name from the ballot, and some of the Alaskans who spoke to me believe that this was the push which caused Walker to withdraw and, ultimately, allow Dunleavy to become governor of Alaska.

This is in the context of a state which is grappling with a culture of rape and violence, particularly with regards to Native Alaskans. Continue reading

Caught by Alaska Politics, Part 3

A picture I took during my brief stop in Hoonah, Alaska

Continued from Part 2

I was in Hoonah, a town in Southeast Alaska, for less than a hour, but that was enough time to see a notice on a bulletin board about creating a ‘Hoonah Borough’. The notice said that the state government has cut a lot of funding to Hoonah, and in order to keep government services operating in Hoonah, they needed new revenues. They were trying to create a Hoonah Borough so they could tax activities which occur in the region around Hoonah. Apparently a lot of people oppose creating a Hoonah Borough because they fear the borough government would impose a property tax, but the notice explains that the town of Hoonah already has the power to impose a property tax, and that the articles of incorporation for Hoonah Borough would have a clause saying that a property tax could only be imposed if a majority of voters vote ‘yes’ to a property tax in an election.

I think this is an illustrative example of how Alaska politics work.

Alaska, unlike other states, does not have county governments (or parish governments, like Louisiana). Instead, a region can create a ‘borough’ which acts like a county government. For example, Fairbanks is in Fairbanks North Star Borough. However, being in a borough is optional. Many parts of Alaska are not in any borough. Sometimes, the sum of all parts of Alaska which are not governed by any borough government is referred to as the ‘Unorganized Borough’. A settlement which is not in a borough can still incorporate as a city, for example, Unalaska is an incorporated city which can impose city taxes and city ordinances, yet is outside the jurisdiction of any borough government. For now, Hoonah is also a city government outside of a borough.

According to the Alaskans I talked to, the main reason some towns choose to be outside of any borough is to avoid paying the taxes necessary to support a borough government. Continue reading

Caught by Alaska Politics, Part 2

In Part 1 I narrated the story of how I got stranded in Ketchikan, Alaska, due to a labor union strike. In this post, I’m going to try to start tracing the events which led up to the labor union strike.

I’m hesitant to write this part because I have barely looked at the financial information of the State of Alaska. I have not even skimmed the CAFR or the financial statements! However, even though I am sure that looking at the CAFR would give me a much more in-depth understanding of the financial position of the Alaska state government, I think it’s sufficient to understand it at the same level as the average Alaska resident, who also has not looked at the CAFR.

This website gives a good overview of where the Alaska state government gets its funding. Basically, the state government gets funding from three sources: oil, federal funds, and earnings from investment of oil money. How much money the government gets from oil is a function of how much oil is extracted and how much that oil is worth. Oil production is in decline. And in recent years, the price of oil has also gone down. And no, the federal government has not come forth and showered Alaska with new federal funding, nor has investments performed spectacularly better than in previous years. That means the State of Alaska has been bringing in much less revenue in recent years.

To make things a little more complicated, since 1982, the state government has given all Alaska residents a dividend on the earnings of the Permanent Fund (the investment fund), known as the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). There is a specific formula which determines how much dividend is distributed to the residents of Alaska. This is an extremely popular program in Alaska.

But with oil revenues in decline, and without any increase in federal funding or investment earnings, one of the following has to happen:

1) cut in government services (which also often leads to a decrease in federal funding, since much federal funding requires matching funds from the state)
2) reduced dividend payout
3) raising taxes Continue reading