Saturday, March 28, 2009

Alaska: Coal, first and last choice?

This year marks the 150th year anniversary of when Colonel Edwin Drake first extracted crude oil from underground reservoirs in Titusville, Pennsylvania. It also marks the 300th anniversary of when British inventor Abraham Darby invented the process to make choke. Choke is a charcoal- like fuel that is made from coal and can be used in the creating of steal, becoming an important substance during the industrial revolution. Although no one imagined it would still have the impact it does today, it still has a strong influence within many cultures, specifically Alaskan.

The technology of oil and coal influenced Alaska and its energy-based economy up to present day. Many state that they would have thought that by now some sort of nuclear fusion or some sort of advanced technology energy field could fuel flying cars off of its substance and would have surpassed the use and capability that coal and oil still have today.

During these anniversaries it just so happens that societies everywhere are facing an energy dilemma: should the global economy try to substitute natural gas and nuclear power for oil or just “simply” use coal? A quick natural gas solution for Fairbanks is to truck liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the North Slope. This process proves to be expensive and without state funding it might not happen. There are those that are looking for natural gas in the Nenana basin and do not want the state to help because there will be a competition with their own natural gas. This leaves individuals still waiting for an answer or results. Another solution that was suggested is piping natural gas through an in-state gas bullet line. This way the bullet line could supply those that are in the interior with enough natural gas to allow the interior to use compressed natural gas cars instead of gasoline cars. The issue proves to be the delay until the bullet line can be instated, which would be not till 2016 or later, which happens to be just as long as Nenana might take. Because of this time crunch, that leaves interior Alaska with a heating predicament and the final resort: coal.

Considering the issue of going green and global warming, few people like the idea of, or even the concept of discussing, or using coal specifically in the form of backyard coal boilers. Coal, when burned, produces the most carbon dioxide which contributes to the global warming issue and provides few sulfur pollutants. Oil is becoming scarce and as a result the price is beginning to rise to extreme heights.

Alaska, Fairbanks specifically, is right up front in terms of being exposed to the world’s energy turmoil. There are very few solutions, and even fewer that Alaskans are willing to use. Wood stoves might require the clear cutting of the states natural scenery to provide the Interiors 30,000 households with enough heat through he strict winters. Coal-to liquids would be costly and take far to long time implement, 2016 to long. Geothermal heat pump systems on individual houses are subject to freeze ups.

The way politics and the capitalist markets are playing out Interior Alaskan residents are going to have to make a choice. Considering the situation, they might be socially forced to make a choice between paying the very high and non-eco friendly way to heat their house while they wait a very long time until natural gas becomes locally available or switching to burning coal; the3 natural product that emits the highest levels of Carbon Dioxide.

Considering how long you have lived in Interior Alaska what choices do you feel you are being forced to accept? How much stronger of an impact does this situation have on us in Alaska as opposed to those that live in the lower 48? Consider the bullet line, would this help or hinder our social predicament? Spend some time reflecting on coal and how it affects our environment. What sort of impact will it have on society if we do/do not chose to use it?
photo of Seward from

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Vagina Monologues this weekend!!!

Hey guys!!!
Just wanted to remind you, in case you haven't heard me announcing it from a megaphone for the last two weeks, that The Vagina Monologues performances are going on this weekend! They're going to be this Friday and Saturday night at 8pm, and a Sunday matinee at 2pm. It's going to be F-A-B-ulous! And not just because I'm in it. ;) I hope to see you all there! And remember, your ticket proceeds and donations go to a very worthy cause - to the Interior Center for Non-Violent Living, as well as Stevie's place, which is the youth services equivalent to the CNVL. Bring your friends and your family, and tell everyone you know, anyone who might be interested, and anyone who might not be! ;) It's gonna be G-G-R-R-R-R-E-E-E-A-A-A-A-A-A-T-T-T-T! Thanks all!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Created Culture

Rejecting a gay culture they perceive as white and feminine, many black men have settled on a new identity, with its own vocabulary and customs and its own name: Down Low. There have always been men -- black and white -- who have had secret sexual lives with men. But the creation of an organized, underground subculture largely made up of black men who otherwise live straight lives is a phenomenon of the last decade. Most date or marry women and engage sexually with men they meet only in anonymous settings. This practice alarmed public health officials. Of the black women living with HIV/AIDS the primary category was high risk heterosexual contact. Most DL men identify themselves not as gay or bisexual but first and foremost as black. The DL label is a separation from white gay culture. DL will let you in if you look ''black enough,'' which is code for looking masculine, tough and “straight”.
DL culture has grown, in recent years, out of the shadows and developed its own contemporary institutions, for those who know where to look: Web sites, Internet chat rooms, private parties and special nights at clubs. To them, it is the safest identity available -- they don't risk losing their ties to family, friends and their black culture.
Why do you think that it is so important for the DL brother to stay connected to his black culture, while believing that this same culture would see his lifestyle as deviant? Some believe that this new culture is just a way to continue to fill a need for sex. Would you view this behavior as the African American male expressing hyper sexuality? How do you view these black men in relation to their roles with their spouses, children, jobs and community? What else sociologically crossed your mind or captured your attention?

Minors and cellphones

Unruly Ones, I ran across this article on the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. At the very end is brief mention of the proposed law that would prohibit minors from using their cellphones while driving. Someone file this away for our project, okay?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Innocent mistake, or unjust discrimination?

In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was a 22-year-old white female student attending Elon College in North Carolina. One night, an African-American man broke into her house during the night and raped her. As he assaulted her, she memorized everything she could about her attacker, anything she could use to identify him, with the intent to survive and imprison him for his crime. Thompson contacted police and gave a description of her attacker, from which a composite sketch was drawn. Her description seemed to fit Ronald Cotton, the man who was eventually imprisoned 11 years for this crime. Cotton had had several minor scrapes with the law, though all corresponding charges had been dismissed. Cotton’s name and mug shot, however, were still placed on file.
After her attack, investigators showed Thompson a number of photos of possible suspects. In their interview on the Today Show, Thompson admitted that her mind was trying to find the person in the group who most closely resembled the sketch she had helped the police artist draw, rather than her actual attacker. Thompson picked Cotton not only from the suspect photos, but also in a physical lineup, stating she was “100 percent certain” he was her attacker.
Cotton was sentenced and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. During many of those years in prison, Cotton actually knew who the real rapist was; a man by the name of Bobby Poole, and he’d landed in the same prison as Cotton. According to the article, “the two bore a striking physical resemblance to one another, and to the police sketch of Thompson’s attacker.”
With this information Cotton was granted a retrial three years after his initial imprisonment, but Thompson’s memory by now had firmly replaced her rapist’s face with that of Cotton. When she saw both Poole and Cotton in the same courtroom, she again identified Cotton as her rapist with absolute certainty.
Cotton continued to serve his sentence, trying to keep himself together, which he stated “wasn’t easy at all. I was missing my family, my loved ones. I took it day to day and hoped that true justice would prevail and open a door for me.” In 1995, when watching the O.J. Simpson trial, Cotton learned about the use of DNA evidence and contacted his attorneys, who were able to prove, after recovering one tiny sample of sperm from Thompson's rape kit, that Cotton was innocent and Poole was guilty. Cotton was a free man and began the difficult task of creating a new life. Despite receiving money in compensation from the state of North Carolina, he worked two jobs to get himself back on his feet.
Thompson was “torn apart by the revelation that her dead-certain testimony had imprisoned an innocent man” and was terrified that he was going to seek vengeance on her and her family. She lived in fear of retaliation for two years before finally reaching out to Cotton. When they met, he quickly relieved her of her guilt, simply stating that he had forgiven her long ago.
Conflict theorists would have a field day with this. How do you think they would respond? Do you think that this situation occurred because we as a society are taught to expect aggressive criminal behavior from black men, or was it simply a case of mistaken identity? What could be said that caused not only this man’s wrongful conviction, but his continued imprisonment for over a decade? Is it an irreparable problem with our criminal justice system, an unfortunate but unavoidable and, perhaps, necessary consequence - as a structural functionalist would view it -or is it a form of predictable, unjust discrimination? How would you explain how Cotton was so easily prosecuted and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit? Can an argument be made that he would have received the same sentence had he been a white man, or if the victim had not been a white woman? Would this be such a "heart-warming story" if Cotton had been a white man wrongfully imprisoned, or is this a crime of injustice and an example of the failure and racism inherent in our criminal justice system?

“She sent him to jail for rape; now they’re friends.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chugach Programs successful?

It is a well known fact that the high school graduation rate in Alaska is below average compared that of the lower forty-eight. In Anchorage a group of high school students discussed what they are thankful for; many said “Opportunities.” These students are part of the Chugach School District’s Voyage to Excellence Program, formed by the Chugach Alaska Corporation. This is a wonderfully beneficial program that brings Alaska Native, as well as rural, students from all parts of Alaska to Anchorage where they are taught about life, how to plan their future, and prepare for graduation exams. In its 10th year, this program has achieved great success, with a phenomenal 98% high school graduation rate. Compare that number to the 2006 statewide graduation rate for Alaska Natives of 45%, the lowest percentage of any ethnic group in the state, according to the state Department of Education, which is already below Alaska’s overall graduation rate of 60%.
Unfortunately, because the program has limited funding provided by the state and grants, the program can only take 150 participates each year. Why is this? If the program has such a high success rate, why is there not more money going into it? As sociologists, do you think it is because they are a minority, so most of the state money and grants go towards privileged students? Is it that those in charge have expectations of failure for Alaska Native students, or hold negative stereotypes of Alaska Natives – having children at a young age, or the tendency towards consumption of alcohol that forces them to drop out? Or is it something else?
Some might think that this program is taking away Alaska Native culture, because it forces them to leave their villages and travel away from their traditional homes and ways of life. But this program does the opposite. It provides Alaska Native students the opportunity to succeed where they have not been so successful before, in education. Culture norms and values are passed down from generation to generation. However this program is not about taking away their culture but help educate the next generations with skills that can be used both in cities and back home in their villages.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Prisons in the Economic Downturn

The construction of a new prison is about to begin soon in Alaska. An article in New York Times states that 1 in every 31 adults is in prison, which brings the total number to 7.3 million American people. While most budgets are getting cut in the economic downturn, the budgets for prisons continue to rise up to a total of 47 billion dollars in 2008. According to the director of Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project Adam Gelb, the reason to maintain the growing cost for prisons is that “cutting them may appear to save a few dollars…it will fuel the cycle of more crime, more victims, more arrests, more prosecutions, and still more imprisonment.”

One inmate prisoner costs an average of 29,000 dollars a year while average cost for a parolee and or probationer is around 1,250 to 2,750 dollars. But states have shown a preference for prison spending even it’s much more expensive than community correctional programs. The executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Evidence Based Practice Peter Greenwood stated that “prisons and jails, along with powerful prison guard unions, service contracts, and high-profile sheriffs and police chiefs, are in a much better position to protect their interests than are parole and probation officers.”

Are prisons profit-chasing corporations? Or are they still parts of the society that maintain the orders for us? Is it right when we have to cut off budgets for education and health care to increase the budget for prisons? How can parolees and probationers find their places in society? Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid States urged to improve probation, parole programs
The picture is of a Sacramento, CA prison. Prison officials there are asking the state to consider alternatives to prison due to the unmanageable crowding.