Icelandic and English Language Use in Iceland

Icelandic is a beautiful language, and it's amazing to learn it hasn't changed too much from the Old Norse spoken by Vikings. Icelandic is also, however, an incredibly difficult language to learn.

While other languages descended from Old Norse like Swedish and Norwegian have evolved and simplified greatly, Icelandic retains a complex grammar that's very tough for most English speakers to wrap their minds around. Icelandic verbs are conjugated for tense, mood, person, number, and voice, and then nouns are inflected for gender, number, and case. In other words, we English speakers generally expect verbs to change very little (we change, it changes) and we expect nouns to always stay the same (save for a simple -s for most plurals and -'s for possessives). In Icelandic, those words are constantly shifting, and they do so in a multitude of often-irregular ways.

Given these daunting difficulties, it's understandable if any prospective visitor to Iceland gets a little wo…

Rename Schoenbar Middle School

John Shoenbar never deserved to have a school named after him.

Back in January I went to the Ketchikan City Council and proposed that Ketchikan's flag should be revised or replaced. Now I'd like to offer up another suggestion for the community that no one will probably pay any attention: Schoenbar Middle School should change its name.

There are only two schools in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District named after people—Houghtaling Elementary School and Schoenbar Middle School. Houghtaling was opened in 1961 and named after longtime school board member and local education supporter Bert Houghtaling. The middle school’s name was selected a few years later in 1964. According June Allen, the name Schoenbar was chosen because, ironically, the decision makers at the time did not want to name another school after a person—so they named it after its location on Schoenbar Road.

Naming the middle school after Schoenbar Road, however, effectively named it after John Shoenbar.


Fighting Southeast Alaska's Youth Drain

A few months ago, I read this article about a presentation by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough's new manager, Ruben Duran. Near the end, the article states the following:

I have to admit, this statement annoyed me a little. As a 26-year-old raised in Ketchikan who returned to living and working here as an adult, I believe there's a shortage of people my own age on the island, not people my parents' age. It seems to me that Ketchikan should prioritize attracting Millennials—young working people who will counterbalance the increasing number of residents who are retirement age or older.

Over the last few years, media outlets have highlighted how Southeast has become the oldest region in Alaska, even calling the phenomenon a "silver tsunami." (See here and here.) Apparently, the biggest factor behind this trend is that older people are now better able to keep living in Southeast, rather than being forced to move elsewhere out of necessity, as often happened in the past.…

J.K. Rowling is Ruining Harry Potter's Legacy

Like so many Millennials, reading the Harry Potter series was a memorable and even vital aspect of my childhood. My parents read me the first three books out loud at bedtimes after they first appeared in the U.S. (Prisoner of Azkaban was and remains my favorite book in the series.) My family bought Goblet of Fire immediately when it was released, and I remember working extra hard to read it on my own, even though I was only nine and the thick book dwarfed my hands. I awaited the release of the fifth, sixth, and seventh books in turn, and the darker, more complicated plots of each subsequent book perfectly mirrored my own adolescent development, culminating in the release of Deathly Hallows (taking place when Harry is seventeen) when I was sixteen myself. It is no mistake to say that my peers and I grew up with Harry Potter, and Harry Potter grew up with us.

Part of the beauty of Rowling's Harry Potter series is that it is not a legendarium. It does not create a massive, intricate…

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.

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, (exce…

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.

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 vot…

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, 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 Clint…

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.

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 e…

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…

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 matt…