Caught by Alaska Politics, Part 6 (Final)

The ferry strike which inspired the beginning of this series ended in early August. You can read about the end of the strike here and here.

I recall reading in a newspaper article in Ketchikan (which is paywalled) that a union member mentioned that the union had learned to take any statements made by the state negotiators with a grain of salt. At the time, I nodded my head and thought ‘yep, the state PR people are saying they are doing a lot to help the stranded passengers, but aside from the captain and officers of the M/V Columbia, all the state is doing is refunding tickets’.

I know that I do not understand all of the finer points of demands / contract provisions, so I will not discuss those.

Throughout my trip in Alaska, I kept on hearing about the major budget cuts to the ferry system, and how there will be less of a ferry system in Alaska next year than this year. ‘It’s a good thing you’re taking the ferry to Dutch Harbor this year’ I would hear people say ‘because who knows if that ferry route will exist next year’.

I know that the looming budget cuts had a bad effect on the morale of the ferry workers – I could feel it on the ships (the workers were professional about it, and some of them deliberately tried to avoid expressing too much, but one could feel the elephant in the room). Heck, how could it not have a bad effect on morale?

I’ve read that, though the contract-related grievances were sufficient to prompt the strike, an additional factor which encouraged the workers to vote for a strike was the fear inspired by the threat of budget cuts to the ferry system. It was their way of protesting the deep cuts. Continue reading


Caught by Alaska Politics, Part 5

Continued from Caught by Alaska Politics, Part 4

Unbelievably, I have managed to get this far in the series without mentioning one of the most politically powerful people in Alaska right now: Donna Arduin. She has been featured in multiple articles in Alaskan newspapers, including this one and this one. I highly recommend at least skimming those articles. In short, she has a history of being hired by a state government, slashing the budget – except for private prisons, she tends to increase spending on private prisons, and contracts tend to be awarded to the private prison companies she has a relationship with – and is gone in a year, so that she does not deal with the political fallout of the budget cuts.

I was in California when she was working for Governor Schwarzenegger, and I had never heard of heard, though I heard of some of the drastic budget cuts proposed. By contrast, she is a household name in Alaska. Almost every Alaskan I met had heard of her. A lot of them blamed Governor Dunleavy’s policies on her, and some even said that she is now the real governor and that Dunleavy is just her tool. Likewise, some of the Alaskans I talked to said that Arduin herself is also a puppet, and the puppetmasters are the Koch brothers (I have not independently confirmed this; it’s just something multiple people have told me; whatever Arduin’s relationship with the Koch family is, the fact that so many Alaskans believe that there is a connection is noteworthy).

I think Alaskans are doing all Americans a service by drawing attention to figures such as Arduin. Considering how much power people like her wield, they deserve public attention.

Now let’s get back to the ferries. Continue reading

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 1

When I was ready to leave Alaska, it seems that Alaska was not ready to let me go. I ended up being stuck in Alaska longer than I planned because of Alaska’s political crisis. I’m now back in San Francisco, though I am still working through some of the aftermath.

I boarded a ferry in Sitka, Alaska on July 23. I was supposed to take that ferry all the way to Bellingham, Washington. However, on July 24, at 2pm, when the ferry was docked in Ketchikan, Alaska, one of the three unions which represents the ferry workers went on strike.

The notice says "We are very sorry for any inconvienence but due to an impasse in negotiations between the state of Alaska and the Inland Boatmens Union we are directed by our union to leave the vessel at this time. Chief Purser'. A passenger wrote 'You awful union people!!!' and another passenger wrote 'NO - AWFUL GOVERNOR!'

This notice was left at the purser’s counter on the ship, with comments by passengers.

This blindsided practically all of the passengers on board, including me, since when we first docked in Ketchikan (at around 12:15 pm), all of the announcements indicated that the ferry was going to leave on schedule (at 3 pm). At first, we could hardly believe the strike was real, and then when we could see all of the crew members getting off the boat, we told ourselves that since the officers (including captain) and the engineers were staying on the boat, we would still depart. Maybe there would be no food or cleaning service, but surely we were still going to Bellingham, right? Continue reading

Does Traveling by Trains / Buses / Ferries Have a Lower Environmental Impact than Traveling by Air?

A picture taken from the boat deck of the M/V Kennicott

Right now I am aboard the M/V Kennicott, a boat, en route to Whittier, Alaska (though, due to the lack of internet in the middle of the Inside Passage, this post is going to be published much later). One of my principles for this trip to Alaska is that I will not board any flying vehicle unless it is urgent. When people hear this, almost all of them start talking about how this type of travel is so environmentally friendly. I’ve already discussed the reasons to travel this way which don’t have anything to do with the environment. So now the question: does this form of travel have a lower environmental impact than flying in a plane?

Let’s start with the boat, since I’m on it as I type this.

When people think ‘environmental impact’ they usually mean ‘carbon footprint of fuel burned’. This is just one type of environmental impact among many, but since this is what is on people’s minds, I’ll start here. I know that boats generally require less fuel to carry the same weight over the same distance compared to land or air transportation. Based on that information, one might assume that this ferry has a lower carbon imprint than trains, buses, and airplanes. However, this ferry also offers many services/amenities that those other forms of transportation typically do not offer like: lots and lots of space to move around, a cafeteria, microwave and unlimited hot water for passenger use, showers for ALL classes of passengers of unlimited length. All of these amenities seems luxurious to someone who is accustomed to train/bus travel, but I am sure they require consuming more fuel. Oh, and this vessel also has stabilizers, which reduce fuel efficiency. Continue reading