Friday, January 24, 2014

Winter, interrupted

It's 35 degrees here in the Goldstream Valley this morning.

But it's January.

Rising temperatures yesterday brought fog to the College Road area.
Yesterday, morning, freezing rain started to coat the world in a fine patina of ice. In the afternoon, Fairbanks Police were advising that certain roads were closed; the rumors had Ballaine Hill impassable and Ballaine itself marginally driveable.

I took the long way around to get home, via the University, Sheep Creek Road and Goldstream.  It was slow going in a line of vehicles (not led by a Subaru, usually the cliche) about 25-30 mph.

This a.m., state offices are delaying opening, a sled dog race is cancelled, and the kiddies have another "ice day" off from school. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fairbanks Icecapades: Part Deux

Well, we here at the FBH Compound are pretty thrilled to still have power after the night of freezing rain/drizzle/whatever-the-hell-that-was and heavy winds.

All night I regretted not dealing with that tree which hugs the power line. Every summer doing so is a solemn vow, and every time we get high winds and a bunch of ice, it is suddenly a recrimination.

This latest strange turn of an already odd, odd winter had, according to the News Minus, put 14,000 GVEA customers without power in the wee morning hours. Out here in our neck of the Goldstream we lost power a couple of times, but it was on after a brief time.

While sitting up and drinking coffee -- before heading out to the main road to see if it is worth trying to drive in to work as opposed to working from home through the magic of the Interweb -- we received word that some parts of Fairbanks proper still do not have power. Driving in to work to find that the building doesn't have power would be a fairly crap beginning to the day, I think.

The temperature here is hovering just above freezing, which means that where the roads aren't melting, they are likely getting coated in nice layer of frictionless surface just in time for a truly gnarly morning "rush hour."  (Such as it is here in Greater Redneckia). 

Never thought I'd say it, but I think I miss the normal cold. I'd be satisfied with a simple -20.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Build it and they shall come....

As anyone who has happened to wander onto UAF campus this summer can attest, the campus is a construction war zone. It is as if the powers-that-be are channeling the Big Dig.  First, there is the hole (which used to be a parking lot) that is slated to be the new engineering building – though the word on the street is that the U has only secured about ½ of the funds to build the thing.  But hey, if there is a  better way to get the Lege to unknot their purse strings than to start a building without all of the money in place to finish and furnish it, I sure can’t think of it.    

Snaking away from the hole-to-be-building is the Tanana Loop utilidor project; at least that is what this blogger thinks it is.  All that is really known is that it involves a lot of men standing around wearing blue hardhats watching men wearing white hardhats move dirt using very large machines.  This project effectively cuts off one of the scarce student parking lots  from the rest of campus, but this really doesn’t matter, since it appears the parking lot is going to be used indefinitely as a place to dump dirt from the Big Dig.  

On upper campus, there is the construction of an addition to Wood Center – which is also just a hole in the ground, even though school is scheduled to start in about a month, with our two weeks of fall and the long arctic winter not far behind.  West Ridge has some random construction fencing thrown up and men moving dirt around – and, inexplicably, all of the parking around Butrovitch shut down.

If it seems that I keep highlighting parking lots and the loss thereof – it is because UAF campus is notorious for really, really, really shitty parking, unless you happen to be an administrator who a) earns enough to pay the $800+ yearly fee for a Gold Sticker and b) is lucky enough to get on the list for a Gold lot reasonably close to where one works.  Already students and most faculty are parking in lots that might as well be on the dark side of the moon. This is especially true when it is 45 below, and one has to dress in full moon gear just to avoid freezing to death walking to class.

So, having just taken a walking tour of the campus construction hot spots, it was with bemusement that I read today the Chancellor’s memo about the challenging budget year ahead for the University in AY14. It appears there is an $8.5 million shortfall. Which, you guessed it right, gentle reader, will have to be made up by faculty and staff tightening their belts (and praying like hell that the non-retention notices and pink slips aren’t going to start flying). 

Specifically the memo reads: “This year, we decided to forgo an across-the-board pullback in favor of asking units to identify specific budget management actions to address the shortfall. In all cases, departments and programs are being asked to… look for ways to save money.”  Among the usual administrative ploys of not filling empty positions, and putting a 90-day hiring freeze in effect, the University has axed the Office of Career Services.


Maybe I don’t get the whole budget thing when it comes to an institution like the University, but it seems to me that if there is a shortfall, one doesn’t start poking holes everywhere preparatory to building big, expensive buildings (the need-more-space argument sort of loses its punch when there is a hiring freeze,  empty positions aren't being filled and programs are vanishing). Also, it is not clear to this blogger how new buildings are really going to address the U's ongoing decline in enrollment and other student-related problems, such as graduation rates.  

According to published sources, UAF's graduation rate hovers around 25%. In contrast, the institution I attended (and graduated) has a graduation rate of 96%. It is also an institution that has in addition to high-quality academic programs deep support services for students – including but not limited to sufficient course offerings to enable a student to graduate in four years (a perennial problem at UAF), and, wait for it, a plethora of college and career counseling services. 

Now it could be that I am totally missing the boat on this one, but it seems to me that on a  campus with a graduation rate that is frankly in the toilet, and where there are a   lot of non-traditional students, including many students from  remote rural Alaska,  career counseling might be a tad bit important. 

But not, apparently, as important as legacy items such as nice, shiny, glassy, sparkly new buildings - even if these buildings will gradually empty as the budgets shrink even further, faculty and programs are reduced, and the UA Administration continues its questionable lemming march towards the e-learning/MOOC cliff.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Redistricted Back Into the 'Banks

Funny how a committee gets to move the boundaries on a map, just draw some lines really, and it can alter the political landscape.

Yesterday, I woke up to the news that my little neck of the woods, Goldstream Valley, has been returned to the Fairbanks area.  We had a brief little interlude of being gerrymandered the hell out here, along with Ester.  Goldstream isn't an incorporated place, just a general location, and is just a shade less kooky, lefty, and out there than Ester.

This is a pretty much "live and let live provided you don't do anything too shady like running a meth lab or start the neighborhood on fire" kind of place with all welcome:  lefties, anarchists, homeschoolers, alpaca owners, Democrats, dog mushers, university kids, tradesmen, vegans, bluegrass fans, punk fans, Bible thumpers, atheists, yoga practicioners, chicken raisers, composters .... all doing their own thing, largely, and appreciating that their neighbors are doing their own thing, too. 

And that is just fine.

Let's just say there is a "Goldstream State of Mind" and pause for a moment to imagine the truly awesome country song that we might write if we had the time and didn't have to get to work this morning.

But removing Ester and Goldstream from the equation really meant it was going to be easier to elect the sorts of conservatives Interior Alaska is (in)famous for -- the Mike Kelly, Tammie Wilson sorts --- and that is really what the previous version of the map was all about with regard to the Interior.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Independence Day in the Peoples Independent Republic of Ester

Not only did we get to take in Ester's 4th of July Parade yesterday, we finally got some rain around here! 

For those of  you unfortunate enough to live elsewhere, the 4th in Ester is a quirky, humorous lefty affair.  Some participants go for weird, others for a political message, and there has usually been a flying pig involved.

This year's parade was smaller than when I last attended several years ago, but still had the same oddball spirit.  My particular favorites were the folks running an "anti-bird vetch" campaign locally, the discount drone man, and the Ester VFD's dance interpretation of "Staying Alive" for the crowd gathered at the Golden Eagle.  I don't think any of the other VFD's would even try to pull that one off.

Anti-bird vetch advocates spreading the message.

Discount drones, coming soon to a Fred Meyer guncase near you.

Kudos to the Ester VFD for the best choreographed entry.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supremely good news re: DOMA

Congratulations and thank you to the SCOTUS for its rulings on gay marriage that have just swallowed this news cycle whole. And a belated shout out to Senator Lisa Murkowski, who came out in support of gay marriage recently, I might add.

This apparently leaves untouched the various state constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and woman -- it passed in one of those charming referendums here in Alaska in 1998 -- but it will have implications here in Alaska nonetheless.
Those who think that Alaska is populated solely by ultra-right wing, evangelical rednecks might be surprised to learn that the State of Alaska already provides same-sex partner benefits for its employees.  This came after a 2005 ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court that it was unconstitutional for the state to continue to deny state employees (and retirees) benefits for their domestic partners. Of course, The Lege tried to end run the Alaska Supreme Court on that with HB 4001, but Sarah Palin vetoed the bill on the advice of the Department of Law (not because she was supportive of gay rights or anything.) The whole "unconstitutional" thing pretty much trumped legislation by bigots.

Since then, state employees with same sex partners have been going about their lives, doing their jobs, and the earth has continued to orbit the sun, all with little impact on the marriages of heterosexual couples statewide. With health insurance for the same same sex partners of state employees. Taxable health insurance, mind you.

The SCOTUS ruling that the federal government can not deny federal benefits to same-sex couple will hopefully mean that health insurance benefits will no longer be considered "imputed income" and reported as untaxed income to the IRS.  As noted on the State of Alaska webpage "Tax Implications for Enrolling Same-Sex Partners"
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has determined that the cost of providing benefits for same-sex partners and their children who do not meet the IRC Section 152 (as modified by IRC Code Section 105(b)) definition of qualified “dependents” is considered ordinary or “imputed income” and is, therefore, subject to taxes.
The fair-market value for health insurance for a same-sex couple is $808 per month.

After the supreme disappointment (a ha ha) that was the ruling on the Voting Rights Act, it is great to see a positive outcome on this one.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

At Extreme Everything

Happy belated Solstice!  Here we are at the height of summer, and whoo boy, we are overachieving on all points this year here in Greater Redneckia.

First it was a ridiculously cool, late spring.

Next came the truly prodigious number of mosquitos.

At the moment, we are sitting here baking in a prolonged heat wave that has everyone wondering when someone will accidentally start a fire. Conditions are perfect for extreme fire behavior here, with high temperatures, no recent precipitation or forecast, and wind -- and let's not forget the fact that where there are human beings, someone is going to make a bad decision eventually.

As a result:
  • You can't find any mosquito dope for purchase 
  • Oregon crews have been brought in, along with additional retardant tankers, just in case 
  • Both Fred Meyer's are sold out of kiddie poolsEditors note on 6/26: The Steese Fred Meyer's did in fact have them. But apparently, fans and air conditioners are pretty tough to find.
Fortunately, we always have several cans of bug dope stashed around the house, in the cars, etc.  But we went through a can and a half in a 24 hour period over the weekend.  It's tolerable during the day, but once the sun drops low and things cool off a bit late in the day, it gets pretty epic -- nearly "tundra level" mosquito density.  I've stopped putting the dog out on her zip line in the evening because to do so right now comes pretty near close to mistreatment.  

We spent yesterday "fire-wising" The Compound in the morning. Not to be a middle-aged lecturer (Gods, when did this happen?), but I'd highly recommend that folks make their property defensible.

As for the kiddie pool, we looked around for one yesterday, dignity be damned. If I can find one in town today, I will feel no shame sitting in the yard sharing the pool with the dog. But I'm not sharing the cold beer.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Woke from hibernation, briefly

Seriously, now, whoever broke the weather just raise your hand and admit it. We won't hold it against you if you just FIX it already.

Normally, complaining about the cold is so gauche. Terrible Alaskan etiquette. But the whole record-breakingly crap spring thing frees us from that, don'tcha think? (Please read that "don'tcha" in your best Palin voice.) Of course, it is also providing a lot of climate change deny-ers (I just can't bring myself to call them "skeptics") material to offer up as proof that, in fact, that all that science is just a bunch of pointy-headed, un-American, feeding at the trough of research funding and conference attendance.

Having woken briefly after a few months, I'm crawling back into the cave until Spring gets its act together.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Say it Ain't So, Deirdre

Sad news for our recently gerrymandered, kooky, subversive, opinionated, libertarianish, liberal community here in the environs of Squarebanks:  the Ester Republic will cease publication after its Vol. 14, No. 5, Issue 150.  (Has it been published? Can't find out this a.m.)

Long before there was an established Alaska blogosphere (still detest that word), when the online opinionating boom was as yet an unconnected variety of rants at any number of local watering holes with no Set O' Tubes to link them all together in cacophony... there was the print version of the Republic.  Featuring local op-eds, how-to's, satire, news, some truly awesome cover photography for a small, Alaskan publication, and the marvelous cartoons of Jamie Smith.  It typified the do-it-yourself, oddball, lefty sense of Ester, Goldstream, and those of similar tastes unfortunate enough to live elsewhere. It began publication in 1999, a time at which none of us yet knew that Sarah Palin existed.

Named as a nod to an epithet from a thwarted local politician, who referred to the community of Ester as the "People's Independent Republic of Ester", the paper won awards, featured news the Minus missed or wouldn't touch, and just raised hell as a paper should.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fairbanks, City of Whiners

Interesting.  Yesterday, the News Minus ran a headline on its online site about Fairbanks having the highest utility costs in the nation, and yet, today, I couldn't find it. Turns out the headline morphed overnight into "Survey: Fairbanks utility costs keep rising."

"Fairbanks paid 143 percent more than the typical U.S. household for its utility costs in the third quarter of 2012, according to a national survey of 304 urban areas in the country. Alaska's second-largest city had the distinction of paying the highest utility costs last year, with prices about 112 percent above average."

And there was much wailing about how hard we have it here.

Unfortunately, the News Minus didn't include a link to the the source of the data for the story, the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Has anyone noticed that the News Minus has been harping on this issue repeatedly this year? And yet, reality is a bit more complicated than that.

Yep, we don't have the cheap electricity they do in Anchorage.  Neither does most of the rest of the state.  And guess what?  Most rural areas pay far far more than we do for fuel oil and electricity in places where they use fuel oil to heat homes and diesel to generate electricity.  Of those communities, we have it really really good.  Want to feel the pinch of energy prices? Live in a place where they have to fly in the stuff that heats people's homes and feeds the electric plant where there aren't any damned trees to burn as firewood.

But the Council for Community and Economic Research doesn't survey those places... however, the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension does, getting a village or two occasionally, and most regional centers pretty often.  The most recent couple of data sets don't have all costs broken out, but one thing stands out: this is usually the cheapest place to feed a family of four of ANYWHERE in Alaska.

As I sat in front of the woodstove this morning coaxing a new fire from last night's embers, I remembered how lucky we are to have an adjunct heating source around here that just requires a chainsaw, some gas, and a bit of hard work to take the edge off the cold for those who have the ability to do so.