6 days. It's so close. Not to be overly dramatic, but what happens on November 4, 2008 will shape the world we will live in for the rest of our lives. The possibility that the United States of America will elect a man named Barack Obama, a man whose ethnic background and life story evoke the very dreams and possibilities that this country was founded on--not to mention the ideals we strive for--will have staggering implications; staggeringly good implications: We have the chance to course-correct and put things back on the track they were on years ago, when the world viewed us in a much different light, when we were a leader, a beacon of hope and freedom and all of those other things inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We can be that again. Or we can go in the complete opposite direction and show the rest of the world our ignorance, arrogance, and that we just don't care by electing John McCain and Bible Spice (h/t to Alec Baldwin for coining that one) to the highest offices in the land. Situational Ethics Dot Blogspot Dot Com thinks we should do the former and hereby formally endorses Barack Obama for President of these United States.

The stakes are high in Alaska too. Alaska is about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of statehood. For the past 40 years Ted Stevens has been one of Alaska's two senators. Think about that: Ted Stevens has been a US Senator for the State of Alaska for 80% of the time the State has been a state--Ted Stevens in the Senate is as familiar to Alaskans as the sun rising and setting (or not so much depending on the time of year), as the winter being bone-chillingly cold, as...well, you get the point. And that streak needs to end. In addition to the other problems with his candidacy, for those of you who haven't heard (and have been living under a rock, or just stuck under something heavy), Stevens was recently elevated to the ranks of convicted felon. So Alaskans face an important choice too: become the first state to reelect a convicted felon to the Senate, or send a breath of fresh air to Washington.

photo from tonight's rally

There are lots of reasons to vote for Mark Begich, and in accord with providing the official Situational Ethics Dot Blogspot Dot Com endorsement of his candidacy, I will provide one more: he remembered a brief interaction we had years ago. This is how I described it in May:
I met Mayor Begich for the first time about four years ago. I was coming out of the post office and he was in his truck in the parking lot looking through his mail. I walked over, knocked on the window and introduced myself. Then I complained about the long lines in the post office and half-jokingly asked him if there was anything he could do about it. "I'm sorry," he replied, "That's federal. It's out of my jurisdiction."
I talked to him briefly at a campaign rally tonight. I told him that he probably wouldn't remember, but that the first time we met it was at the post office. He interrupted me and said, "Sure, I remember. I was reading my mail and you complained about the long lines inside." I told him what he said about not being able to get involved with federal issues as mayor, but that as a senator I expect him to do something about it. He laughed and then told me about his plans to fix postal issues in general and the specific problems faced by rural Alaskan villages.

Begich is the real deal; he'll do a great job. And so will Ethan Berkowitz, who seeks to unseat Don Young (currently under criminal investigation) who has been Alaska's lone voice in the House of Representatives for god-only-knows how long.

I've been watching a lot of the West Wing recently. I used to watch it and wish that, in stark contrast to President Bush, a man like Jed Bartlett was the President. But now I watch it and realize that it is possible. Barack Obama is not perfect, and as we put him on a higher and higher pedestal I am certain he will inevitably disappoint us in some way. But he will also inspire us and guide us through dangerous and uncertain times. And that is exactly what we need right now. To quote President Bartlett, "This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars." So, game on. Go get 'em, boys. You've got my vote.


Blogging Bethel

Three Weeks Ago (on the phone)
Me: I'd like to make a reservation for October 15-16.
Hotel Staff Person: Do you need a room with a refrigerator?
Me: No.
HSP: We only have a room with a refrigerator available on those dates. Will that be a problem?
Me: Will the refrigerator be a problem?
HSP: Yes.
Me: Um, is there an extra charge for the refrigerator?
HSP: No.
Me: Is it unusually large or loud?
HSP: No.
Me: I think that will be fine (But thinking: Am I missing something here? Is there some problem that could be caused by a refrigerator in the room that I can't foresee? I stress about this for 10 minutes; I can't think of anything.)

Wednesday, 10/15
1:18 pm: Land in Bethel.
1:48: My room will not be ready for at least 15 minutes. Decide to grab lunch in the attached restaurant (they are adamant that it is just attached, it is not owned by the hotel).
1:57: I order the "gyro sandwich." [1]

[1] I know, I know, what was I thinking ordering a gyro in Bethel, Alaska? At the time it made sense: (1) I was tired; (2) I was a little delirious from not having eaten all day; (3) the gyro posed the best protein+vegetable option on the menu; and perhaps most importantly, (4) the restaurant is named Afrim's and the guys working there were all speaking something that sounded vaguely middle eastern. I found this reassuring--I then (perhaps stereotypically) thought the kitchen staff would know a thing or two about how to make a gyro and the (what turned out to be Albanian) dialect made a gyro seem not-so-outlandish all the way out here. In general, the food options in Bethel are pretty bleak. The restaurant choices are Italian, Chinese, or Subway. Inquiring as to why no establishments serve local fare like salmon, berries, goose, moose, caribou, etc., we learn that "Everyone has that stuff at home. When they go out they want to eat something exotic."

2:18: What arrives is not a gyro at all. It is what the menu calls the "Gyro Pizza." This is troubling for several reasons, least of which is the obvious one that it wasn't what I ordered. [2] But even if I had wanted pizza, I wouldn't have ordered such a bastardization; I'm a (NY thin crust) pizza purist and/or snob. This is a huge problem in Alaska, where the pizza sucks (except for Nino's, which along with Arinell's in the Mission in San Francisco, offers the best NY-style slice west of the Delaware River.) and the "specialty" pizza tries too hard. [3] Not surprisingly, the Gyro Pizza at Afrim's wasn't very good either. The pizza part was lousy (it's pizza in Bethel, after all) but so was the gyro component: melted feta (not a good idea), a few thin strips of shaved lamb, and 3 cold tomato slices.

To recap, I didn't get what I ordered and what I got was the last thing I would have ordered because it was a dish that I am philosophically opposed to. So, lunch sucked both taste-wise and existentially.

[2] I should have known something was up when after I said "gyro sandwich" the waiter asked if I wanted the S, M, L, or XL. "What's the difference?" I confusedly asked. "Small is 12 inches, medium is 16, large is 18, and xl is 20." Thinking, "those are enormous sandwiches," and "I didn't see any sandwich sizes on the menu," I ordered the small. Retrospectively, after the pizza arrived, I realized the server's question was re: pizza diameter and then it made perfect sense. I blame my confusion on being tired and delirious from hunger, as explained in n.1, supra.

[3] To wit: the Moose's Tooth, a favorite among my friends. Let's look at a few things on the
Moose's Tooth menu: Blackened Halibut Pizza, Chicken Cordon Bleu Pizza, Shrimp Fiesta Pizza, Chicken Rockefeller Pizza, Chipotle Steak Pizza, Barbecue Chicken Pizza, Taco Pizza (these all sound like they came out of Kramer's Make-Your-Own-Pie Pizzaria). This isn't to say these creations don't taste good, Butch and Hank swear by the Avalanche (pepperoni, bbq chicken, bacon, red onion, parsley, cheddar, mozz., provolone) and the blackened halibut is actually quite tasty, but they are not pizzas. They are another food item, some sort of open-faced slice of sandwich with melted cheese and should be defined as such.

3:21: 15 degrees outside (0 w/wind chill).
3:39: Meeting (inside, thank g-d).
4:04: Go to supermarket [4] to buy water ($4/liter).

[4] Bethel's lone supermarket, the AC Value Center, provides the rare opportunity to buy a jug of mayonnaise and a snowmachine without having to go to two stores:

Also interesting about the AC: for a reason that no one can explain, the credit card swipe machines at each check out line are in English and French.

4:11: Walk out of the AC; step over passed-out guy sitting slumped over directly outside of exit door.
4:14: Gust of wind blows me off of the ice-covered sidewalk side of the road and into a ditch.
4:28: Back at hotel (approx. 60 degrees in my room)
4:37: Front desk clerk's (hereinafter "FDC") response to my query re: wireless internet problems: "Yeah, sometimes it doesn't work." FDC's interest in fixing said wireless network: none.
4:42 : Some guy walks by the front desk and FDC as FDC is busy checking people in and shouts (in a chuckling manner) "first name vagina, last name hole" towards FDC as if he were checking in under that name and as if he and FDC shared an inside joke that involved making up (un)funny names and pretending to check in as such. This inside joke may have been one-sided, as FDC does not respond as one who shared and enjoyed an inside joke would. In fact, FDC pretends not to hear him at all (and actually looks a little worried). The guy who did the shouting just looks embarrassed.
4:57: I can actually hear the cable box grinding as I press the channel-up button, one channel at a time, from channel 3 to channel 65 (MSNBC; I heart Keith Olberman) to watch the debate because the 6 and 5 buttons on the remote control do not work.
5:04: Joe the Plumber? Really?
[Note: The author is aware that the Joe the Plumber (who, it turns out, may not be a plumber) thing has been beaten to death by now, but is including these comments, written contemporaneously with the debate, regardless.]
5:06: Why does Joe the Plumber need a tax break to buy his own business? If it's his business, doesn't he already own it?
5:07: 50% of the small business taxes are paid by small business owners. Uh, John?
5:08: McCain is just stumbling through this. Rahm Emanuel nailed it: "John McCain continues to come off with a negative edge. He looks like the guy in your neighborhood, in the slippers, in the bathrobe, picking up the newspaper, yelling at the kids on the front lawn. And he can't get away from that." So did Chris Rock: "John McCain is so old he used to own Sidney Poitier." Now that I think about it, maybe McCain is the right guy to steer the ship through this economic meltdown: HE WAS ALIVE DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION.
5:10: John, please stop saying "countries that don't like us very much." It's starting to grate on me.
5:13: McCain's rant against big gov't rings hollow: he's been in the senate for-eva, and has been a part of the administration that has overseen this "largest expansion of government in history." Seems like since he would have had a hand in this expansion since he was in the Senate for the past 8 years, no?
5:14: "I know how to cut defense spending." Why haven't you then? How are you going to do it?
5:15: Apparently, ACORN is destroying the fabric of democracy.
5:18: Talking about Palin: Wait wait wait wait wait. Alaska's gas line (always described as the $40 Billion Gas Line) is going to relieve all of our nation's energy problems? Really? The deal to build it hasn't even been finalized. Also re: the GILF, just being against corruption doesn't qualify you to be Vice President (especially when a state gov't investigation just revealed that you abused your power and tried to get your ex-brother-in-law fired). She understands special needs families? Right, because all special needs families have the resources that the Palins do. Her husband is tough? Is that a qualification for the OEOB or the White House? Am I missing something?
5:22: I think I'm going to vote for Barack Obama.
7:17-11:32: I teach FDC how to use Outlook; I attempt to fix the hotel's Internet problems (can't); My TV turns off on its own twice; The door to my room doesn't lock; Loud banging/crashing and screaming coming from the room next door; FDC promises to investigate.

Thursday, 10/16
7:48 am: Back at Afrim's for breakfast. I order very clearly and specifically. My table is 10 feet from the guy sitting at the check-out counter (the same guy who screwed up my order yesterday). He is staring intently at the computer screen in front of him which is resting on a stereo speaker that is BLASTING (BLASTING!) "Have you ever really loved a woman" by Bryan Adams, which sucks on its own, sounds terrible this loud, and this version playing so loudly on this early Bethel morning may in fact, incredibly, be some sort of a remix. First the gyro pizza incident, now this. I'm really staring to hate this guy. At the table next to me, two teenagers are hunched over a laptop watching a video of sometihing. Directly overhead is a flat screen TV with the volume also too high for what is on the screen: an infomercial for a chin-up bar. I just want some coffee.
7:54: Another Bryan Adams tune. Is this his greatest hits album?
8:05: Are you F-ing kidding me? Now Michael Bolton is playing. Please kill me.
8:20: Mariah Carey can't live if living is w/o you. What is this? The worst mix ever? More people have entered the restauarant. I can't believe how loud the music still is.
9:30 - 4:45: Depositions
4:52: C.C. and I are standing next to each other, facing opposite directions. I'm looking around the conference room for my glasses. She is taking her glasses on and off, looking at and through them and saying "My prescription seems really strange all of a sudden..." She was wearing my glasses, having picked them up by mistake. But what is really funny is that she hadn't been wearing glasses all day--she left them in her car back in Anchorage.
6:30: Dinner w/C.C.
6:44: I caution her against ordering the "chicken paramesian" [sic] based on my rule that one should never order an entree that is misspelled.
7:18: In a cab to the airport. Cab pulls over to the side of the road. Another cab pulls up behind us. That cab's passenger gets out and gets into ours. Weird.
7:38: Flight delayed. Anecdote re: AK Airlines terminal in Bethel. There isn't a singular airport in Bethel. Rather, each airline has their own freestanding terminal along the same road. AK Air is by far the largest carrier in the region making its terminal seem, to the casual observer at least, as if it were the local airport, as it were. Notwithstanding the fact that it is a matter of good hygenine, there is an inordinate amount of social pressure to wash your hands after using the restroom at the AK Airlines terminal in Bethel. As you can see in the picture below, the sinks for the mens' and womens' restrooms are publicly visible in a small vestibule outside the restrooms and right off the large room that serves as the waiting area/baggage claim/check-in counter.

9:40: We're thirty minutes outside of Anchorage and the dude sitting next to me just ordered 2 Miller Lites. Wow.
9:40 - 10:12: He drinks them. Me = impressed, and a little scared.
10:16: Land in Anchorage.
10:18: Text msg. from Viv: at bar. come meet us.
10:42: Scrape ice off of the inside of my car windows.
11:40: Talking with Viv and Pete in the parking lot behind the Pioneer Bar. A girl wanders over and asks if anyone has a cigarette. She seems a little freaked out. Viv asks is she is okay. "Yeah, but I was worried that I was going to almost get kidnapped again."
11:58: Walking to my car. There is a guy on the street way overdressed, and not doing it well at all [5], yelling into his cell phone: "Dude! Where are you?. . . .Where are you?. . . .Did you get trapped in the vortex?. . . .Vortex. . . .Vortex. . . .V-O-R-T-E-X. . . .Vortex! You know, like a hole."

[5] Why do some people look so much worse when they get dressed up? The gentleman tonight looked oddly out of place standing on the street outside of a dive bar wearing black slacks and a white dinner jacket. That the suit was somewhat ill-fitting didn't help, and his accoutrements also worked to quickly lower his look from classy to cheesy: there was no need for the exposed necklace(s), red scarf, and long cape-like jacket.


Checking In From The Banks Of The Kuskokwim II

Writing from a hotel in: Bethel, AK (again)
Been here since: yesterday afternoon
Getting ready for: a day of depositions
The weather is: colder than I'm ready for (maybe 20 degrees)
The wind was so strong that it: blew me off the sidewalk and into a ditch (serious)
Last night I stepped over: a guy slumped over and passed out just outside the exit door of the local supermarket
Listening to: Irma Thomas, The Airborne Toxic Event, Bryan Adams and Michael Bolton (the last two by force, not choice. more on that later)
Had to help the hotel: fix their wireless network (granted, I was more concerned about it than they were)
Concerned about: the "health" of the mother.*
Not concerned about: the rest of Sen. McCain's political "career"
Reading: Consider the Lobster (still); depo prep notes
Looking forward to: Alaska Day!

*Update: This was a McCain debate reference. But thanks for the concern; my mom is fine.


Whiz, Wit*

Philadelphia is not exactly my favorite city right now. But Flyers fans scored some points with me last night by booing Sarah Palin** as she ceremoniously dropped the puck before the Rangers-Flyers game in Philly. Check out the video. It's pretty funny. I like how she keeps waving and smiling even though they are booing the shit out of her. It was also nice to see Anchorage's own (and still Al's favorite even though he left the Devils) Scotty Gomez get a little smooch from the (still) GILF.

*How to order in South Philly. You can watch Sarah order one, get quizzed on foreign policy, talk on a cell phone, and take some pictures here.
**They also booed (by association) Bristol and Piper. That's just not nice. But what do you expect from the city that once booed Santa Claus?


It Takes A Village

After hearing about the fuel shortage problems affecting many small, rural, Native communities here in resource-rich Alaska, Dan Barry, a columnist with the New York Times, decided to go check it out for himself by traveling to the Yup'ik village Akiachak (which is pretty far out there).

I recently returned from a trip to two villages even smaller than Akiachak, and his description of life there and the challenges faced are very similar to what I saw. I've been meaning to write about it and to post some pictures, but now the pressure is off because Mr. Barry does a much better job of capturing village life than I can. But there is another reason why I am bringing this up today: His column also mentions of one of Akiachak's amazing residents, an elder and community leader named Anna Nick who is "part of a federal lawsuit demanding that election ballots and referendum questions also be provided in the language of Yup'ik." (Disclosure and Semi-Pompous and Arrogant Comment: She happens to be my client in that very lawsuit, making this the third time one of my cases has been discussed in the NYT, though I have only been quoted once.) So read the article (linked again here for your convenience), check out the pictures, and get a glimpse into Anna's world, a place that is far too often forgotten.


Mother F#cker Nature

Today's weather, chronologically:
Sun (approx. 37 mins.)
Light Snow
Heavy Snow
Sun (brief)
34 degrees F


There Was A Debate Last Night Also

I'm disappointed, feeling let down. I'm not sure exactly what I expected--Palin babbling incoherently for so long that she started frothing at the mouth? Another "mystery bulge" situation? A malfunction where she would give the exact same rambling response to two different questions? (Kind of like in Bring It On when the two cheerleader teams purchased and then performed the same routine from Sparky Pulastri.) [1] A disaster of Admiral Stockdale proportions? [2] But we didn't get anything even close to that; no off-the-charts unintentional comedy. Instead, we saw Sarah handle herself pretty well, though the bar was set very low. And she did all she had to do to rehabilitate her image from the disastrous Couric interview. She didn't freak out and run off the stage in tears, she didn't try to have any of Gwen Ifill's family members fired because Gwen asked her questions she didn't like, [3] she didn't shoot and dress a moose right then and there, and she didn't set anything on fire. So, from that perspective she was a complete success.

[1] Actually--that doesn't really make sense. Kind of like most of Sarah Palin's answers tonight: As CNN's Bill Schneider put it, "Palin's answers do not lack confidence, they lack coherence."

[2] Recently, I was in a position where I had to use my body as a unit of measurement. The question was whether a certain very large SUV could be driven through a particular narrow space to avoid being towed. I determined that it could because the car was about 1 B-Dice wide and the passage was slightly wider. Some scoffed, but it worked--the car made it through with less than an inch to spare on either side. That led to other measurement discussions: Mauling Distance (to determine when you are too close to a bear); Rabies Distance (self explanatory); and yesterday's Stockdale Distance (to determine when a VP is close to blowing it all at a debate. As in, "Palin is totally within Stockdale Distance of ruining McCain's campaign.).

[3] In fact, early on she flat-out told Gwen she wasn't necessarily going to answer the questions that were put to her. What balls! What bravado! What a maverick! Let's give her the nuclear (pronounced noo-klee-er) launch codes! And give the VP more power over the Senate! Seriously, what was that expansion of the VP powers thing all about?

Maybe Sarah "fersure" won. Maybe as McGeez posited, she simply covered the spread (I really like that analogy), maybe, as Steve Silver thinks, she was reading cue cards. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Lots to discuss. But I want to talk about facts. What I know fersure is this: (1) she lied about her support for socially-conscious investing vis-a-vis Sudan; (2) she said "also" a whole lot; (3) she looked totally hot in that black outfit she was wearing also; (4) she's really good at reciting talking points on issues that have absolutely nothing to do with the question she was asked; and (5) I would have won at Palin Bingo if she said "terrorist" just once. Also.

UPDATE #1: In the comments T-Dawg says Palin did say "terrorist" at least once, so BINGO!
UPDATE #2: I think this is pretty cool: The question about domestic partner benefits was about a case I worked on.
UPDATE #3: She definitely had notes (and maybe one of these). I'm not sure if that is standard practice for a debate of this nature (I would definitely want notes with me if I was up there), but she sure seemed to be looking at them a lot. A lot more than I have ever noticed a candidate using notes at a debate anyway also.


Que Sarah, Sarah

Seriously, is this a joke?
Couric Why, in your view, is Roe v. Wade a bad decision?

Sarah Palin: I think it should be a states' issue not a federal government-mandated, mandating yes or no on such an important issue. I'm, in that sense, a federalist, where I believe that states should have more say in the laws of their lands and individual areas. Now, foundationally, also, though, it's no secret that I'm pro-life that I believe in a culture of life is very important for this country. Personally that's what I would like to see, um, further embraced by America.

Couric: Do you think there's an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution?

Palin: I do. Yeah, I do.

Couric: The cornerstone of Roe v. Wade.

Palin: I do. And I believe that individual states can best handle what the people within the different constituencies in the 50 states would like to see their will ushered in an issue like that.

Couric: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

Palin: Well, let's see. There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …

Couric: Can you think of any?

Palin: Well, I could think of … any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, wouldn't be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.
Aside from the fact that her constitutional analysis contradicts itself and she can't name any Supreme Court cases, her answers don't make any sense. SNL was even able to use HER EXACT WORDS to skewer her. Unbelievable. Also unbelievable: she "reads all the newspapers." I doubt she has read any of this.