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Entries in Tommy Joseph (1)


The Royal Road

Artist Tommy Joseph working in the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center workshop at Sitka National Historic Park

Nothing Worth Doing Is Fast and Easy
When ruler Ptolemy of Alexandria, Egypt, grew bored with military conquest, he decided to learn mathematics. Ptolemy sent for the best mathematician in his kingdom, Euclid, who tried to teach the concepts of geometry and axiomatic law to the ruler.

Exasperated by the difficulty Ptolemy complained, to which Euclid famously replied, "There is no Royal Road to geometry."

The Persian Pony Express
The Royal Road first grew from a trade route into a 1600-mile highway in the fifth century B.C. It connected Greece and the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf in the east across Persia, including modern Turkey, Iraq, Iran and the Mesopotamian river valley.

Couriers took nine days on horseback or 90 days on foot to travel the Royal Road. That speed prompted Greek historian Herodotus to write, "There is nothing in the world that travels faster than these Persian couriers . Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor darkness of night prevents these couriers from completing their designated stages with utmost speed."

Herodotus'  quotation is the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service.

Only Not on Weekends
The U.S. Postal Service is a government agency that lost all taxpayer funding in 1982, meaning it has since operated like a private company.

In 2009, the U.S. Postal Service lost $3.8 billion due to "the combined effects of economic recession, increased use of electronic communications, and obligations to prepay retiree health benefits." In 2010, the loss will grow to around $7 billion.

To cut costs, the Postal Service plans to eliminate all residential Saturday deliveries in 2011 and raise prices. According to the USPS's "Action Plan for The Future," even if the Postal Service achieves the savings outlined in its management plan, it will  "still face an annual loss of $15 billion in 2020 and cumulative losses of $115 Billion between now and then."


Where the Greeks Got Silk
The Royal Road introduced the Greeks to silk, which the Greeks thought grew on trees in the Orient. It became a cultural obsession. With greater and greater demand for silk in the West, the Greeks built bigger networks of roads farther east to China, which became known as the Silk Roads.

The Qin Dynasty (pronounced chin, the root word for the western word "China") first united Chinese lands in the third century B.C. The Qin built the Great Wall of China in part to limit access to their "civilization" by western "barbarians" along these roads.

Where the Chinese Got Gold
The Chinese coveted the superior horses of Central Asia, and trade ultimately flourished during the Han Dynasty in spite of the Great Wall.

Genghis Khan used the Golden Road as a network of posts and relay stations for his empire, which stretched from the Mediterranean to the Pacific by 1227 A.D. His grandson, Kubilai Khan, ruled China when Nicolo Polo of Venice first travelled the whole length of the Golden Road with an entourage that included his son, Marco.

Marco's written account of his 17 years in China landed him in a Venetian jail. It was dubbed "The Million Lies" by detractors.

Then the Road Ended
About 200 years later in the 15th Century, Portuguese sailors discovered a sea route to China around the Cape of Good Hope. Central Asia no longer served as the crossroads of the world. The cities of the Golden Road faded in importance. And Persian nomads turned their attention to the vast lands of interior Russia.


The Ovoid, U-Form and S-Form of formline art.

Meanwhile, in Coastal Alaska
The Tlingit people first came to coastal Alaska about 11,000 years ago. Pronounced "KLINK-it," their origin is unknown, though Tlingits share a vague language similarity with the Athabaskans of inland Canada. They also have a connection to the Haida tribes.

Europeans arrived in Tlingit country for the first time in 1741, when Russian naval explorer Aleksey Chirikov sent a boatload of men to land for drinking water near the site of modern Sitka, Alaska. When the group did not return for several days, Chirikov sent another boat, which also did not return.

By 1800, native Tlingit people had engaged in some trading with the Russians, and the Russians became more aggressive in attempts to colonize and control the trade. In 1802, Chief Katlian of Sitka's Kiksadi Tlingit led his warriors against the Russians, who had set up a fort in Sitka. Eventually the Russians drove the Tlingits inland in 1804 and reclaimed the fort, which they called New Archangel.

Using only New Archangel as a base of claim, the Russians sold 586,412 square miles of Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million in 1867. Tsar Alexander II needed the money. He feared losing Alaska without compensation to the British, whom the Russians had already fought a decade before in the expensive Crimean War.

In 1972, the United States established Sitka National Historical Park to commemorate the Tlingit battles with the Russians and to preserve Tlingit native totemic and mask art forms.


$7.2 Million Didn't Include a $23,000 Tip
In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau commissioned artist Tommy Joseph of Sitka's Kaagwaataan Clan to carve a totem as a participation outreach effort to Native Americans, who are high-risk for being undercounted on the census.

Groups who are undercounted in a census receive a less than proportional amounts of political representation and federal funding for education, affordable housing support, job training, social services, roads, bridges and other community development opportunities.

California Representative Darrell Issa criticized the $23,100 totem pole outreach effort, calling it "the latest example of a mismanaged agency spending taxpayers' money like it grows on trees -- or totem poles.... The American people are right to be furious with a Washington that spends so recklessly, cooks the books to cover its tracks, and thinks it's a good idea to buy a $23,000 totem pole while more than 14.6 million people are unemployed."

The total budget for the census was $14.7 billion.
The totem pole cost 0.00016% of that amount, equivalent to taking one dollar out of $636,363.

Congressman Issa's fury at that dollar, and his attribution of that fury to "the American people," may have served a purpose. The census response rate in Alaska dropped to 64% -- the lowest response rate in the country and 3% lower than the previous census of 2000.

The census was less accurate than it could have been. The higher inaccuracy is due to a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that does not allow statistical sampling under the Census Act, instead requiring "actual enumerative" counting. Thus, in Alaska's case, only 64% of the people living in the state chose to voluntarily "enumerate" themselves.

Due to persistent mathematical deception about statistical sampling, the 2010 census was also more expensive than it needed to be by billions of dollars -- with or without the (relatively tiny) price of the totem pole. The higher expense was due to the enumerative counting requirement, not government overspending in general. The actual Census Bureau spending came in $1.6 billion under-budget for the 2010 Census.

Without the totem pole, the census still would have spent $1.6 billion less than its budget.


Sheldon Jackson College, where a massive chautauqua should break out.

Author Charles Seife says minorities, like Native Americans, bear the financial brunt of low census response rates. On page 191 of his book Proofiness:

"The moment you use sampling to correct for the undercount, you suddenly add several million more minorities -- Democrats -- into your count of the population. It's something that Republicans want to prevent so badly that they are forced to take an idiotic stance: they insist the proper way to conduct a census is the least accurate and most expensive method."

Seife adds that this isn't an ideological divide, but is, in his opinion, "a petty-minded scrabbling to gain a political advantage" that the Democrats would as readily take up were it to benefit them.

The 1999 Supreme Court decision against statistical sampling was a major victory for Republicans

Representative Darrell Issa is a Republican. He earned an ROTC scholarship and graduated with a degree in business from Sienna Heights University. ROTC means "Reserve Officers Training Corps."

Charles Seife is a journalist and professor. He holds a Masters in Science in mathematics from Yale and Masters in Journalism from Columbia. "Proofiness" means to use the language of mathematics to convince people something is true, even when it is not.

Statistical Occupation
To this day, some Native Americans refer to 1867 as the year the "the occupation rights" to Alaska were transferred. Alaska, they say, was never the Russian's to sell.

Perhaps the Russians took a census of their own, in which only residents of New Archangel registered and were counted, giving them 100% ownership of the territory.

There is no Royal Road to statistics.


The view from New Archangel. Who owns this from inside a fort?

The Royal Road to Big Paychecks
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the 15 top-earning college degrees all have one thing in common: math skills.

In 2009, 87% of the highest-earning degrees were in either engineering or computer science and carried an average starting salary of over $65,000 per year.

Only 8% of college graduates earned an engineering or computer science bachelor's degree. Four times as many graduates earned bachelor's degrees in social science or history.

The highest paying bachelor's degree by far is petroleum engineering, at over $83,000 per year to start.


Image from Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin

Forever Stamp
Artist Matthew Buckingham represents complex historic matters with simple objects. Take Buckingham's 2009 piece above, "A Letter from America (to Be Posted 3 August 2027)," for example.

Written by the artist, the letter is postmarked to mail on the 500th anniversary of the earliest known letter dispatched from North America, a letter from explorer John Rut in Newfoundland to King Henry VIII in England in 1527.

Matthew Buckingham's letter includes a Forever Stamp, a postage stamp sold with no face value. The Forever Stamp is guaranteed as payment for delivery and thus to never expire.