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Guest Column: From the non-Christian’s point of view

In Alaskana, Culture, Curious Notions, Guest Columns, The Cool on December 24, 2010 at 1:01 am

From the non-Christian’s point of view

By Elika Roohi

You know how there are those people at Christmas time that insist on saying “Happy Holidays,” and they make you put up unspecific decorations?  I am one of those people.

I’m not going to tear down the holly wreaths on campus, I’m not going to bemoan the fact that there are poinsettias everywhere, and I won’t complain when Christmas Carols are played nonstop.  In fact, I’m not even going to make a fuss.*

Even though we live in a country that is predominantly Christian, it’s exactly that: predominantly.  Which means that there are a whole lot of people around that are Hindu or Buddhist or Jewish or Zoroastrian or Baha’i or Muslim.  And those people don’t celebrate Christmas.**  A lot of those people don’t even celebrate a holiday in the month of December, so when you try to be politically correct and wish them a “happy holidays,” you’re still not getting it.

The thing is, before I got to college, it seemed like everyone was making a genuine effort to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.”  But then I showed up at UAF, and there are holly wreaths and poinsettias and Christmas trees all over the place.  I played in a concert this afternoon that had a completely Christmas carol repertoire; there wasn’t even a token Jewish tune.  Not to mention, I haven’t seen a single menorah on campus.

I’m a Baha’i.  I celebrate Naw-Ruz, which is in March.  And I don’t have a problem with Christmas in the least.  But I do have a problem with the fact that people seem to forget there are others out there that don’t celebrate Christmas.  We just had World Week at UAF.  Wasn’t that all about diversity?  Well, where is the diversity now?

———-

*I’m just going to write this blog post.  And okay, I might ask you to turn off the Christmas music.

**Except sometimes they do because of societal norms.

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A UA Christmas Reflection w/ Pres. Gamble

In Alaskana, Curious Notions, Guest Columns, Humor, UAF on December 21, 2010 at 9:56 pm

In case you missed it, on Dec. 20, UA President Patrick Gamble emailed the UAF Staff list-serve with an letter that can only be described as cute. In case you are not on the Staff list-serve, here is the email in it’s entirety. I have bolded the lines that I felt were particularly fun/interesting.

Patrick Gamble during a summer 2010 luncheon hosted by the Fairbanks Economic Development Coorporation. Photo by Jeremia Schrock/Bagheera Face

A UA Christmas Reflection

As we round out the semester and commence the holiday season I find myself thinking back to student days (the proverbial “days of yore?”) and the anticipation I felt then about the approaching time off. Family and travel quickly replaced any academic focus I might have had, and the burden of classes was mercifully lifted for a couple of weeks. I’m sure that over the many years since then nothing much about that has changed in the student department. Now, being on the other side of the fence for the first time, I’m fascinated to observe the same phenomenon occurring on the faculty and staff side. Amazingly, it never occurred to me way back then that the university was likewise quite happyto be rid of me so they could take a well deserved breather too!!

So enjoy yourselves in all the ways the season provides. Take comfort that despite how sometimes this crazy planet rocks, rolls, and rhumbas to the discordant events of our time, we in America still have many blessings to be thankful for…like our ability to tolerate and appreciate others, our freedom, the diversity we enjoy among our family and friends, and for the special opportunity we have here at UA to educate generations of Alaskans. As professionals we need our students, because making them successful makes us whole in our life’s work. In turn they need us…to support, instruct, and educate them so they can fulfill their awesome potential. They all know they cannot fly solo yet. Even so, at times, this relationship takes on the characteristics of a sumo struggle more than a learning partnership. Not a problem, it mostly works out just fine. It’s just that every now and then, like at Christmas, we need to go back to our respective corners, take a breather, unwind and then smile at the prospect of the exciting opportunities ahead for all of us in the next round. Every job description within our UA system is crafted as a link to all other job descriptions in a latticework that creates a powerful university team. Every individual team member is essential to the task of getting our students through. Thank you all for doing that so well. I look forward to the New Year, and working with you.

Have a great break.

Sincerely,

Patrick Gamble

It makes me think that underneath that four star general exterior lies a fun-loving Joe Hayes middle. Thoughts?

Surviving Alaska: Freezing (rain) photos

In Alaskana, Photography, UAF on December 1, 2010 at 12:04 pm

 

Footsteps in the slush.

On November 22, a freezing rain storm forced the closure of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks campus. The rain continued to fall over the next several days which not only resulted in three days worth of canceled classes (the first time the campus had been closed in over 35 years), but also a rare photo opportunity for Alaskans. The photos below are courtesy of Kelsey Gobroski and were taken on the UAF campus between November 22-24, 2010.

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Why I didn’t see Harry Potter on opening night

In Alaskana, Cinema on November 18, 2010 at 11:33 pm

I didn’t see Harry Potter on opening night for two reasons:

  1. I know how it ends.
  2. I don’t really care about it anymore.

But, I should qualify that last one.

I used to love it with a fiery passion of a million burning suns. I helped man Gulliver’s Books opening night party for Book 6 and attended a book opening party in Vancouver, B.C. for Book 7. I’ve seen 4, 5 and 6 on opening night in costume. I’ve gone to Potter-themed events dressed as Remus Lupin, Rodolphus Lestrange and Regulus Black. I also went to see one of the films as Dorian Grey-ala-The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but that’s beside the point.

In my opinion, it’s tired. Nothing new in the Potterverse has come out since Book 7 (no, the Tales of Beedle the Bard don’t count). The films are not “new”. Nothing new occurs; the books are simply rehashed via film according to David Heyman’s vision. Which is okay.

I guess really it comes down to boredom. I’ve read the books, written fanfiction, laughed at the parodies, listened to the music (both OST and fan-made), obsessed over finding display pictures for my MSN Messenger, played the video games (PlayStation 1, Gamecube and Wii) and seen the films. Potter is no longer my bottle of butterbeer, I suppose. I guess for me Potter has simply jumped the Quidditch Pitch. Oh well, it was a fantastic Portkey-of-a-ride it was while it happened.

We’ll always have Hogwarts, Harry.

UPDATE: Election Day Coverage at UAF

In Alaskana, Political, UAF on November 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm

UAF Wood Center polling station at 1:40PM.

A group of students stand in line to vote at the Wood Center's polling station (1:40PM).

Au Revoir, Mrs. Palin

In Alaskana on October 27, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I mean this literally when I say “When will Sarah Palin cease to matter?”

I answer with a “When we stop paying attention to her.”

Maybe it seems melodramatic to ask such a question but, I’m tired of listening to her. I’m tired of reading about her. I’m tired of giving her undeserved attention. If she’s awarded the Noble Peace Prize, then we can talk. Until then, au revoir I say, no more blogging for you.

Archaeologist Erlandson talks Vikings: A Slideshow

In Alaskana, UAF on October 20, 2010 at 12:34 am

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On Oct. 14 University of Oregon archaeologist Jon Erlandson discussed his finds while on a series of digs in Iceland during the early 2000’s. He based much of his research on the Sagas of the Icelanders (a collection of stories set in Iceland during the Viking Age) as well as on local farmers testimony which provided clues as to where to dig and why. Erlandson was candid on his role in the dig, stating that he felt he was chosen primarily because of his knowledge in maritime cultures in North America as well as his Scandinavian-sounding name (Erlandson’s father is Norwegian). While in Iceland, Erlandson worked with noted Viking researcher Jesse Byock.

What Japanese history can tell us about Alaskan politics

In Alaskana, Political on October 19, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Alaskan politics has always been a little special. A little out of the ordinary.

Alaskan Republicans like their dinner with a side of socialism, and Democrats enjoy their Second Amendment rights almost as much as they love the thought of drilling in ANWR. Of course, there are plenty of those who fall on the outside of this dichotomous assumption. The individuals who display “Joe was right” stickers, or others, like my friends in the Good Daze band, who hold rallies in support of renewable energy. There is a place in Alaska for everyone. From the most liberal of bloggers to the most conservative of militia members.

A cursory survey of Japanese history shows it to be equally unique in its own right, yet painfully similar in the aggregate:

  1. Citizen soldiers. Japan has been a nation of warrior-farmers; individuals as likely to pick up the plowshares as the rifle. The same is true of Alaska where the homestead and the hunter have often gone hand-in-hand. The earliest migration to Alaska after the Gold Rush was of displaced Midwestern farmers during the Great Depression. For Japan (up until the Sword Collection Edict of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th Century), any farmer could be a warrior. All it took to make a warrior was a sword.
  2. Homegrown spirituality. Local religious practices often win out over foreign dogmatism. While Japan battled with and/or assimilated various aspects of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity into its own spirituality (a sort of Buddhist-Shinto hybrid), the same is true of Alaska. A 2009 Gallup Poll showed Alaska to be the 5th most irreligious state in the country. You will always find enclaves of the extremely religious (for example: North Pole and Mt. Hiei), but the majority of the population is incredibly anti-religious, or at best believes in a sort of “religion of the masses” (see: Pure Land Buddhism).
  3. Isolated, yet hungry. Japan, like Alaska, is isolated. While both have thrived economically, each has had to rely on the importation of goods (at one point or another) in order to expand and survive. For Japan it has been guns, lead, sugar and gold. For Alaska, it has been fruits, textiles, and the majority of our manufactured goods. Japan, I will confess, has long been the more sustainable of the two. Where is Alaska’s own Nikon, Subaru, or Kawasaki? We have what little oil remains under the North Slope. But what will become of Alaska when the pipeline runs dry?
  4. Divine personalities. Each state, both Japan and Alaska, has its own “divine” political body. For Japan, it has long been the Imperial family. For Alaska, the names Begich, Murkowski, Young and until recently, Stevens, had their own divine nature to them. Alaskans have viewed many of these individuals with great respect, enough to enable one (Don Young) to remain in his Congressional seat for 37 years, and another (Ted Stevens) to retain his for 41 years.
  5. Politically fragmented. Despite the long-reign of the Imperial family, Japan has had a fragmented political system. Japan had the Warring States period while Alaska has begun experiencing its “Warring Senate” period. Japan had no centralized authority (the emperor being merely a figure-head) for several centuries. It took the force of several well-resolved individuals to end the unrest and insure stability.Now, Alaska is facing its own period of unrest with the question of “Who will speak for us in the Senate?” being the most prominent. Alaskans are torn between three different candidates. Candidates who have almost split Alaska into political thirds. An anachronistic rephrasing of that question would be “Who will be Alaska’s Tokugawa?” Unlike Japan, Alaska is (hopefully) in the midst of a bloodless transition that will not (I assume) take hundreds of years to accomplish. However, for those who are aware of the recent Drop Zone incident, who knows?
  6. Emigration-by-proxy. Japan has had millions of its citizens emigrate to other shores. 15,000 moved to Siam alone during the feudal era, to say nothing of those that later went to Cambodia, the Philippines, Brazil and even the United States. Alaska currently suffers from its own emigration-by-way of a “brain-drain”, with many of its graduates seeking jobs and a better education in other states. Alaska is perfect for northern studies and the sciences, but not much else at the present.

What does this mean for Alaska and it’s political structure?

In my opinion, Alaska is in need of fresh political blood, term-limits and more then two dominant parties. Some of you, who’ve read my earlier blog on Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign know how I feel: it’s a terrible idea. But, what isn’t so bad about her running is that it proves a third-party candidate is viable. It’s been a long time since someone other then a party Democrat or Republican has done so well in an election. Or at least in the run up to an election. Alaska needs an Alaskan candidate who actually gets the state. At the risk of sounding like an Alaskan Exceptionalist, this state is unique and needs an equally unique individual to help ensure it’s survival and hopeful prosperity.

Those Sweet Old Blogging Blues

In Alaskana, Art, Cinema, Culture, Drink, Health, Music Reviews, Political, UAF on October 4, 2010 at 3:22 am

I plan on writing an actual update sometime early this week. However, before then, I wanted to throw out a few topics I plan on writing about which include health, journalism, music, and politics.

Why? Because I want to do something with the blog tonight/this morning but have no energy for anything investigative (i.e. that isn’t already in my head and doesn’t involve anything more then spellchecker and Google). You know the mood…where you want to feel productive, so you get away with “thinking” about being productive?

Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

Topics for future posts:

Health: Asthma; the Life Insurance process
Journalism: How to Write a Decent News Article; the Ethics of Journalism
Local Music Review: For both Feeding Frenzy and Good Dazes’ (Germ of Creation) new albums; Blurb about a buyers experience at the recent Record Expo.
Non-Local Music Review: Serj Tankian’s new album Imperfect Harmonies and Maroon5’s Hands All Over.
UAF: ASUAF Summer Senate Score Card; Photo slide-show of two university professors research.
State Politics: Scott McAdams and Lisa Murkowski position overviews (to match the one I did for Joe Miller).
History: What Norwegian Vikings Can Tell Us About Masculinity; something with Teddy Roosevelt since it’s his birthday this month.
Film: Maybe something on the Scandinavian Cinema Society I have recently formed with a fellow film enthusiast.
Drink: Brew Reviews-ala-the Northern Light

There are many other things I can and will write about. Some of them I haven’t even thought of yet!  I understand this post could be considered “lame”, but I try to view it as a “teaser” of future posts to come. Feedback is always appreciated.

UAF: Tuition hike or GTFO

In Alaskana, UAF on September 21, 2010 at 4:40 am

Most students, like myself, take tuition hikes as an inflationary fact of life. The university raises our student pay by $0.50, they raise our tuition by 10%-22%. Sounds fair, right?

No. No, that isn’t fair, and I have a serious problem with it.

Why?

“Because, Jeremia,” the imaginary Board of Regents-in-my-head say, “We have a $5.5 budget shortfall.

“But, why do we have a budget shortfall,” I ask? “What got us to this point?”

“That’s for us to know, and for you to pay for.” They say to me.

While this conversation is fictional, it isn’t far from something that could very easily take place. The university has been keen to hike student tuition rates without disclosing the reasons why beyond vague generalities. Here is the primary reason that  the university system has given: State lawmakers are making us do it.

Not a very satisying answer, is it?

Why does the state want the UA to be more self sufficient?

My answer: The state wants us to be more self-sufficient because we, an educational institution, are a drain on the states coffers, even though only 45% of the UA operating budget comes from the state. We are such a drain, in fact, that Governor Parnell signed legislation that “increases tax credits for contributions to Alaska’s higher education and job training institutions.”

But, wait, isn’t the UA a public institution?: Yes. Yes it is. (Scroll to the top of page 3.)

But, what is a public institution? A public institution is an entity or organization that is controlled by the state.

So, let me get this straight: The university is a state institution that the state doesn’t want to support (as much) anymore? That’s what it’s starting to sound like to me. Add all of this to the fact that the Board of Regents (BoR) is meeing in Juneau. While I have nothing against the University of Alaska – Southeast (UAS) at Juneau, I see the BoR decision to meet there suspicious as UAS only accounts for 2,208 students (2010 data) as compared to 10,446 at UAF (2009 data) and an estimated 20,000 at UAA (2010 data). While all I can do is infer, I am infering that the BoR is meeting in Juneau for less then noble reason (i.e. to give the UAS population a chance to protest).

In an April article by Jeff Richardson of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (FDNM), Kate Ripley, UA’s own public relations woman, said that (to quote the article) “increased day-to-day costs, reductions in private donations, increased student demand for costly new academic programs, and a leveling off of new research grants are among the factors that have dropped revenue or increased expenses at UA.”

Why are the day-t0-day costs going up? Why is there a reduction in private donations? What “costle new academic programs” are students asking for? Why are research grants leveling off? Specifics people, please.

Like I said before, tuition hikes are a necessity. Like death and taxes. However, adding a 10% hike with an additional 12% the next year is unreasonable. Will there be some sort of moratorium placed on tuition hikes afterward?

In the same FDNM article, Ripley continued by saying that UA hopes to cut costs by “capping pensions, cutting travel costs and shopping for less expensive health-care benefits.” While it’s nice to see that it isn’t only the students being hit, students still appear (to me) to be the ones shouldering most of the burden.

But, what do we do about it? We research and respond appropriately. Here are a few things I recommend the university implement instead of the proposed tuition hikes:

  • Students, staff, and faculty take a temporary 3 year halt in pay increases.
  • Offer staff and faculty a leave of absence with 50% pay.
  • Hire student workers for staff positions. This is already being considered.
  • Raise tuition by 10% with a guarantee that said tuition will not be increased for at least 5 years.
  • Continue implementing the Tier 1 downgrade. This is already being considered.
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of contracting outside the university for basic services. This is already being considered.
  • Offer “non-represented” staff incentives to refrain from unionizing.
  • Organize and invest in university-lead and based businesses (like a recycling plant).
  • Discover what programs and departments are “money-sinks” and merge them with other existing programs.
  • Continue encouraging private donations.

Well, UAF, what do you think?

Increase public and private support
for UAF through sustained
advancement activities
• Strengthen UAF marketing and
communication efforts
• Increase alumni support and
involvement
• Seek private and corporate support of
student scholarships and fellowships
• Increase awareness of the university’s
contributions to the state
• Educate key stakeholders about our
critical need for new,
expanded and
well-maintained
facilities for
research
and teaching