05 January 2017

Revising or Replacing Ketchikan’s Flag

I made the following proposal to the Ketchikan City Council this evening, and KRBD Radio mentioned it in this article.

Revising or Replacing Ketchikan’s Flag

Any city can benefit from having a distinctive, well-designed, and widely recognized flag. A city as special as Ketchikan deserves to have a great flag—a distinctive symbol that will succinctly express some aspect of our identity and elicit pride in our community. Updating and promoting the current municipal flag or adopting a new design is a unique chance for the City of Ketchikan to boost community spirit as well as generate economic opportunities.

Ketchikan's current flag
The current flag of the City of Ketchikan was designed by Daniel Sheets in 1999. It is not a bad flag; it sports distinct Ketchikan colors and a single, easily identified symbol of our community—a salmon. However, this flag is not widely recognized or used, either by the City or by members of the community. It is not featured on the City website, nor flown anywhere around town, (except, apparently, at the Visitors Bureau), nor is it featured on any of the countless pieces of merchandise sold here that bear the name “Ketchikan, Alaska.”

There are two options that could remedy this situation. One is to revise the current flag—which could benefit from a few changes—and then promote it:

13 November 2016

Trump's "Surprise" Victory and the Bernie Factor

I rushed to publish a bunch of election-themed posts on this blog the night before Election Day, (actually Election Day morning), and one of them was this one: My Electoral College Prediction: 329 to Clinton, 209 to Trump.

I didn't spend much time thinking about my prediction, but simply used the assumptions from polling websites like FiveThirtyEight about which states were "safe" and then guessed that Trump would win Ohio while losing North Carolina—only two changes from the results of the 2012 Romney-Obama election.

2016 election results, with Michigan and New Hampshire
still not confirmed and Trump flipped states darkened (source)
That's pretty hilarious (or bittersweet) to look at now, considering the election result—almost the inverse of my predicted Electoral College score, with Clinton expected to take 232 and Trump 306. Trump won with a wide margin by taking states that pollsters considered "safe" or "leaning" for Hillary—Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan—primarily through low turnout among Democrats and greatly increased support from lower-income voters and white voters without college degrees.

In retrospect, however, there were some people who predicted that this was exactly how Trump would win, and in many ways we should not be surprised at the result, even if the pollsters were.

08 November 2016

My Electoral College Prediction: 329 to Clinton, 209 to Trump

It is a little after 1:00am on Election Day morning in Alaska, so it's time I published my prediction for the results of the presidential election before any real results arrive this evening. Using the great tool at http://www.270towin.com/, here is my prediction:

I don't pretend to have any special skill in making this prediction; I made my guess rather quickly, just based on what I've been seeing in the news lately and my gut feelings.

Clearly, I believe Hillary Clinton will win in an Electoral College landslide. The popular vote may be much closer, but she should almost certainly become our next president. You may note that this guess is almost exactly the same as the result of the 2012 election, with the only exception being that President Obama took Ohio in 2012 and Mitt Romney took North Carolina, while I believe Hillary will take North Carolina and Trump will take Ohio. This difference gave Obama three more electoral votes (332) in 2012 than I'm predicting Clinton will win.

I won't elaborate much on my choices, but my gut tells me there won't be any stunning upsets of Clinton winning red states only recently suggested to be in play—states like Arizona, Georgia, and even Alaska. However, I do think Clinton will win every swing or battleground state besides Ohio.

In less than twenty hours, our nation will likely know the presidential election results. I'm excited to see what happens, and I promise I won't take down this post, even if I end up embarrassingly wrong. Post-election analysis will definitely follow on this blog!

Crook vs. Fascist: France 2002, USA 2016

In their 2002 presidential election, French voters were forced to choose between Jacques Chirac, a man at the center of numerous corruption scandals later convicted on several counts, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, a rightwing demagogue decried for spouting racist views. Protestors across France were noted as saying they had to "vote for the crook not the fascist."

Now that we've come to the end of the 2016 US election season—the unbearable, over 18-month-long election season—I'm really just surprised I didn't see more comparisons between America today and France fourteen years ago. There are a few pieces out there on the similarity, (one of the best is this one), but none seem to have gained attention in the US media.

how Le Pen beat socialist Jospin in the first round to qualify
for the second (French presidential election, 2002)
Le Pen's victory in making it through the first round of the French election and Trump's victory in the Republican primary both came as huge surprises many people. Both victories were fueled by white citizens who felt threatened by immigrants and economically marginalized. Neither man espoused extreme free-market policy positions, instead promoting a paternalistic and nationalistic vision of taking care of their country. Both men spewed hatred toward minorities, repulsing many voters.

At the same time, every single American has to admit that Hillary Clinton is a crook: She is clearly, indisputably a dishonest woman, if not a lawbreaker as well. It doesn't matter how many unjustified attacks she has weathered (and will continue to weather, after she becomes President): Clinton has lied throughout her political career, breaking promises and betraying the people's trust wherever she saw fit. The facts are in the record, and even Hillary's aides complained about her problem with honesty in emails published by WikiLeaks.

It remains to be seen whether Clinton's lies and potential lawbreaking will ever catch up with her, as Chirac's did in 2011 when he was convicted (though the prison sentence was suspended). Nevertheless, it seems clear that Clinton will win the election with many voters supporting her as the "lesser of two evils"—the crook, not the fascist.

There are, of course, many differences between these two elections in two quite distinct electoral systems. France has a diverse multiparty system, and Jean-Marie Le Pen was only ever leader of his own party, le Front National—a party that has yet to control French government. Donald Trump, meanwhile, was able to seize the nomination of the nation's most powerful political party (considering Republican dominance of governorships, state legislatures, and Congress). In addition, over 80% of French voters chose the crook over the fascist in 2002, while the race between Trump and Clinton promises to be far, far closer.

Thankfully, the US electoral system—flawed though it is—does not actually force voters to choose between the lesser of two evils, as does France's two-round voting system. Instead, Americans have the option of voting for third party candidates. It turns out we don't have to choose between the crook and the fascist after all, even if we know one of them will win the presidency.

Media Abdicate Responsibility On Ballot Selfie Laws Violating the First Amendment

Laws banning ballot selfies—or any photos people might take of their completed election ballots—are absolutely, undeniably unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, most media outlets don't seem to care about that clear legal reality; they've decided to simply sell the story "Uh oh, look! You're not allowed to take ballot selfies in these states!"

Just look at the results for googling "ballot selfie":

Most of these articles—or at the very least, their headlines—follow the premise that states banning ballot selfies have legitimate laws that readers (and Justin Timberlake) need to fear and obey. The writers therefore abdicate any journalistic responsibility of informing readers how the laws are obviously unconstitutional and should be actively opposed. Some mention later in their articles how courts have ruled some states' laws unconstitutional recently, but if that information is buried well into the article, where many readers never arrive.

The only article I've seen that bucks this trend was written by Mark Joseph Stern, a Georgetown classmate of mine. Mark firmly proclaims that bans on ballot selfies are unconstitutional, detailing the recent court cases with that finding and tearing apart the faulty arguments supporting the bans.

2012, my first presidential election
(one of many ballot photos I've taken
over my seven years as a voter)
Most essentially, taking a photo of one's ballot and sharing it with others is no different from simply sharing how you voted with your words. Everyone has the right to a secret ballot, but we also have the freedom to say whatever we want about how we vote. Freedom of speech, if we truly believe in it as an expansive American ideal, must as a matter of course contain the freedom to take photos of one's votes.

As for me, I unknowingly violated Alaska statute 15.15.280 "Prohibiting the Exhibition of Marked Ballots" multiple times since I started voting. It says "a voter may not exhibit the voter's ballot to an election official or any other person so as to enable any person to ascertain how the voter marked the ballot." Somehow, though, I doubt that anyone in Alaska has ever been prosecuted for breaking that law.

On Election Day tomorrow, I now plan knowingly violate AS 15.15.280: I'll take a photo of my ballot, then exhibit it to other people enabling them to ascertain how I marked it. I daresay the state is not going to come after me, and if they do they'll lose in court. I hope every state with a ballot selfie ban gets sued or changes their statutes. Maybe after that the media will finally admit how unconstitutional these laws are.

Speak Truth to Power; Don't Cover for the Powerful

I meant to make this my "election season resolution," but now that it's already Election Day, I'd better make it a resolution for at least the next four years: I don't want to say anything that covers for the powerful. I want to speak truth to power in whatever little ways I can.

"Speak truth to power" is a phrase often used by activists on the left, but it's a meaningful act no matter what your politics are. All it means is that we should confront the lies of those in power by speaking out and speaking the truth. All of us should feel compelled to speak truth to power, and we should feel good about doing so.

The problem is, we're surrounded by people who do the exact opposite. So many people—family and friends, writers and pundits in the media—actually spend their time covering for the powerful. They create and spread talking points that justify wrong actions. They promote apologia for how those in power have to do what they have to do, no matter how bad it is.

Most if not all of these people probably don't intend to cover for the powerful.

We all know how this works, too: Republicans defend Republicans at any cost. Democrats defend Democrats no matter what. It often takes an indisputably horrible, indisputably true scandal for people to stop covering for someone on their "team," and sometimes even that doesn't work. If you feel like a leader is being persecuted by partisans on the other side, that can lead you to defend them all the more virulently, regardless of what seeds of truth might lie in what the other side is saying.

To take one example, I've definitely felt more sympathetic to President Obama over the past eight years because of unfounded attacks he's been subject to. However, many of his actions as President merit serious critique. Now I have to ask myself—how worthwhile was it for me to spend time defending him on such counts, instead of focusing my efforts on the real wrongs he perpetuated and perpetrated? Would it made any difference whatsoever if I hadn't rushed to his defense in political discussions? Could it have been much more impactful to keep zeroing in on his genuine problems?

During this election, I saw many friends rush to defend Hillary Clinton because of how she's often attacked, but at this point I wonder—does Hillary really need anyone to defend her?

I know I'm certainly not innocent of covering for the powerful. I think it's almost impossible to write about this subject without being hypocritical. That's why I'm making a resolution, not claiming I'm guiltless. I'll strive my best to I hope you'll join me:

I don't want to say anything that covers for the powerful. I want to speak truth to power in whatever little ways I can.

19 September 2016

My Lifetime Language Learning Plan

origins of the languages in my plan
Some time ago, a friend posted on Facebook about choosing a new language to learn. He said he was aiming to learn seven to nine languages in his life, so he needed to be careful about what he chose to spend time on. I was struck by his words because I'd never really considered that I should consciously limit the number of languages I'd try to learn. Now I think about it all the time.

It makes sense, of course: Growing up, we all realize in one way or another that everyone has limits to their knowledge of different languages. If you intend to learn several languages over the course of your life, then, it should help to plan deliberately and conscientiously how to meet those goals. I love languages, and I do intend to keep learning many throughout my life—so it's about time I made a plan.

04 August 2016

The War on "Political Correctness" Is a War on Common Decency

"Political correctness" is a buzz-term that draws millions of haters. It's not a new phenomenon, either. The concept has been lambasted for decades, in the United States and elsewhere, accused of attempting to quash free expression and truthful discourse in favor of sugar-coated, politically convenient language. If you search around online, you'll undoubtedly find far more sites devoted to attacking political correctness than defending it.

Donald Trump: tackling the real threats to America
Spoiler: Political correctness doesn't deserve all the hate it gets.

When politicians criticize "political correctness," they're just using it as what one author calls "the mother of all straw men."

In the end, being politically correct is mostly about just being a polite, decent person. It's about being conscious of the words you use and open to changing your language to be more widely acceptable and respectful. Some people hate that, apparently, and Donald Trump's been waging a constant war on it.