Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dammit, We Lost Molly Ivins, Too

"The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet.
It requires a certain relish for confusion."

Molly Ivins, Texas liberal columnist extraordinaire, died today at age 62.

We here in the second most redneck state in the U.S. ought to lower the flags, too. I always looked forward to reading her columns online. And I plain out thieved her term "The Lege" to describe that bunch in Juneau.

It's always seemed like we needed an Alaskan writer like her to truly tackle politics up here. Or at least make them seem funnier.

I've had some ill will1 towards Texas for saddling us with Dubyah, but those feelings have been mitigated over the years by my discovery of the good things about the second largest state in the nation, like Austin, Ann Richards, Bob Wills music, The Meat Purveyors, some cool blogs, their particular way of doing barbecue, and the wit of Molly Ivins.

Molly Ivins had a fine gift for turning a phrase and the kind of old-school liberal politics that I admire, not the nebbish, p.c., focus group, sissified Democratic milquetoast kind, but of the tough-as-nails, United Mine Workers Association, populist school. And she was snort-whatever-you're-drinking-out-your nose funny. I first got acquainted with her writing in her essay on how Ann Richards became governor of Texas and have remained a faithful reader ever since.

Perhaps her greatest talent was her ability, her demand that we keep on laughing even in the face of some abysmal, corrupt governing.

And let's not forget that she called it on Dubyah before he got into office.

A few select quotes from About.Com and other places. But better yet, go read a few of her collections of essays:
  • Any nation that can survive what we have lately in the way of government, is on the high road to permanent glory.
  • Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair's-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other. But it does raise the question: Why bother? Oh, it's just that your life is at stake.
  • I still believe in Hope - mostly because there's no such place as Fingers Crossed, Arkansas.
  • One function of the income gap is that the people at the top of the heap have a hard time even seeing those at the bottom. They practically need a telescope. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt probably didn't waste a lot of time thinking about the people who built their pyramids, either. OK, so it's not that bad yet -- but it's getting that bad.
  • In the real world, there are only two ways to deal with corporate misbehavior: One is through government regulation and the other is by taking them to court. What has happened over 20 years of free-market proselytizing is that we have dangerously weakened both forms of restraint, first through the craze for "deregulation" and second through endless rounds of "tort reform," all of which have the effect of cutting off citizens' access to the courts. By legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, the corporations have bought themselves immunity from lawsuits on many levels.
  • I believe in practicing prudence at least once every two or three years.
I'm totally bummed that she didn't live to see the end of Dubyah's presidency, but at least she got to witness the last election.

Rest in Peace and keep em' laughing, Molly.

1The ill will springs not just from Dubyah. I overheard a couple of Texans up here with the military a few years ago talking about how what a great place Alaska is. "Yeah," said one of them. "We ought to take it over and call it Texas II." You'll have to pry my frozen poopsicle stick from my cold, dead fingers first, pal.

Photo at:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

But at Least He Voted to Commend the Wildcats for Winning the Orange Bowl

Oh, Don Young, Representative for All Alaskans, orator, man of letters.

I've often thought that the reason we keep electing him is just that the Dems rarely put up a decent candidate. (Diane Benson being the exception.) But perhaps it is because he is so rarely here that we don't usually get to hear what jackassery he is speaking back there in D.C., supposedly on our behalf.

By which I offer the following example from debate on the Clean Energy Bill1:
This bill, and I am wearing this red shirt today, is the color of the bill that we are debating, communist red. It is a taking. And regardless of what one says, it will go to court, and it should be decided in court. It should be decided there.

My biggest concern, it is often said the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this is a great example. The good intentions of this bill are a pursuit of new forms of energy to replace our dependency. We all support that.

But even The Washington Post, which is not my favorite newspaper, says this is a low-wattage bill and it fits the realm of Russia and Putin, and it fits Bolivia and Venezuela. And if there is anything this bill will do, in fact it will increase the competitive edge of foreign oil imported to this country. That is what this bill does.
Oh, the gall of the Democrats in wanting to close some royalty loopholes. Not surprisingly, Young and every other one of Big Oil's congressional lackeys called it an imposition of the dreaded t-word, ignoring the fact that the lack of royalties came about not by design but by a big screw up in the first place2:
The bill targets the flawed deepwater oil and gas leases that were awarded in 1998 and 1999. Contrary to longstanding practice, these leases did not provide for royalty payments - no matter how high oil prices rise. H.R. 6 requires that these leases be renegotiated to ensure the American taxpayer receives a fair royalty for public-owned resources; failing that, the companies would be barred from seeking new offshore drilling leases. The legislation also closes a tax loophole that allows oil and gas companies to take advantage of a tax provision intended to encourage domestic manufacturing. Further, the bill would create a Strategic Renewable Energy Reserve to invest in clean, renewable energy resources and alternative fuels, promote new energy technologies, develop greater efficiency and improve energy conservation.
How awful we consider doing such a thing after the record profits Big Oil has been posting? How communist! How anti-American!

Photo source:

Monday, January 29, 2007

But was the eagle flying under VFR, or IFR?

Heh. Perhaps that is too obscure a ref, but since you can't swing a cat without hitting a pilot at just about any gathering in this state, maybe someone will appreciate that...

It seems Juneau lost power after an overly ambitious eagle carrying a deer head failed to clear a power line. Dead eagle and deer head were found by repair men.

I remember we lost power once in that other place I used to live when one of the guys at the power plant flipped over in the chair in which he was reclining and hit some inappropriate controls.
But anyhow, what about this 20 degree weather in January? I'm dying to get a good ski in, but alas, the weather dudes are predicting freezing rain that might just muck that all up.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Musings on the CabinDwelling Life, Part V:
Basking in the Warmth of a Wood Stove

Or, Fat, Happy, and Warm, Finally.

Happy and warm comes to us courtesy of the new Blaze King Princess Ultra* woodstove, which heats the leaky cabin so well that we no longer have to rely solely on fuel oil. The old stove, a Blaze King King, now sits there decorates the yard in all its defunct glory. But I have to ask, does the Blaze King company not make an intermediate step between the two? Is there no Blaze King Queen? Or would that sound too gay for the wood-burning demographic?

Well, the fat part speaks for itself. At the age of 36, there are times I begin to wonder about winter weight gain, meaning, damn, it's a lot harder to get rid of it. Maybe I ought to lay off on the Vitamin B.**

A special shout out to John Wilder, unparalleled firewood enthusiast and Alaskan-expat, now living down in that Other State. With no need to haul firewood, poor fellow.

I haven't had time for blogging at work lately, what with the actual work I've been doing. And free time (which means the weekend) has been consumed with that particularly rewarding pursuit: getting firewood.

Fortunately, some friends of mine offered FREE firewood that was sitting out on their property. It was seasoned and all, having sat around for a couple of years. However, like many things that are free, there was a catch, the catch being that it was a few hundred yards from the road, downhill, not on a trail, under snowdrifts. Over the course of a couple weekends, myself, the Original Savage and the Just Plain Savage took turns dragging it up to the truck with a sled.

And there were wolves. Packs of em'.

But despite our Doestoyevskian experience, there is now a nice pile of split wood in the yard. The Blaze King Princess Ultra is an efficient, clean-burning stove - and we now can claim another 2 CabinDwelling points for chopping wood and heating with it.

*Doesn't the name sound like it ought to be purple or something?
** Bacon! Or, maybe, beer. Same first initial, same effect.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The State of the State: The Day After

Alright, I'll admit it, I didn't watch Governor Sarah Palin speak last night. I was up to my elbows in quiche filling and dough and such, and cooking good food with some fine tunes jamming usually outranks a political event.

But I read the transcript this morning and must confess that I was not appalled. Oh, I read some comments about it online at the Snooze's political blog that carped about the language and all, but I'm not particularly bothered by that. Perhaps that is just due to having witnessed Dubyah butcher the language for years now; I'm permanently inured to the pain.

However, a couple thoughts about the speech itself: Palin, like many, think the gasline is the magic bullet for all our woes. True, when the thing gets built and starts producing it'll probably be like those heady days when the state first got rich on oil money.

But what I'd like to see at some point is a realization from Alaskans is that we cannot remain dependent on resource extraction forever. You sell off one thing, then the other, and you end up looking for the next thing in the house that'll bring you some temporary bucks. The extraction of nonrenewables ought to be tied to meaningful steps to diversify our economy in the long run. Why?

Because if you keep on developing your nonrenewables and never get out of that boom-bust cycle, you end up with a situation like that of the coal country: Western Virginia, West Virginia, etc. First they clearcut the timber, then they got the coal, and now West Virginia is having a fine old time burying its valleys under tons of other state's garbage to make some money. Visit the western counties of Virginia and there is little work - moreover, most of the money from coal went out of those communities and made some corporations very rich. That region is one of the most economically depressed in the country despite having fueled the extraordinary industrial complex of this country for decades.

As for our renewable resources, we need to take extra care that not to screw them up like everywhere else. Canada's vast cod fishery was overfished, the Mediterranean has been overfished, the East Coast is overfished... perhaps there is a trend? I bring this up for two reasons: 1) I've been reading more fishery stuff at Alaska Cafe after sort of not paying attention after my move away from the ocean (to Squarebanks) and 2) I read a NY Times article this morning that seems a warning to us:
He and his group plan to ask federal regulators to allow them to manage the local fisheries and to limit technology. Without a change in the rules, he said, the small, owner-operated day boats will continue their steady demise and the large fishing crews will be the only ones left.

“We are in the final stage of a natural, national resource being converted into a private, corporately-owned resource."
More Palin speech dissection later, as I need to actually work here at work, but one last thing.

The reinstatement of municipal revenue sharing must be a priority for the Palin Administration if Rural Alaska is to believe that it is sincere in caring about the state beyond Wasilla and the Mat-Su Valley Sprawl.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

How Not to Fix Your Soob

The Steps Involved in the Recent Replacement of a Battery Cable and Battery at 40 below:
  1. Push car with another vehicle down to the edge of the driveway, hoping that it won't become stuck as well as dead.
  2. Go to town in borrowed car, buy battery. Note at the store that it is slightly taller than the previous battery but decide that "it'll be fine, it'll fit."
  3. Attempt to install new battery but discover that the J screw on one side is too short to hold down the new battery.
  4. Return to town, buy J screw.
  5. In the process of installing new battery with new J screw, move brittle, old battery cables around a great deal in the cold. Bang on one terminal a bit to get the negative cable to sit right.
  6. Attempt to start car, noticing that you get a slight shock.
  7. Attempt to start car in the presence of S.O., who reports seeing sparks by the battery.
  8. Upon examining cables, reflect on the fact that they have looked pretty shabby for a while and, oh, look, there is bare wire visible.
  9. Return to town, buy new battery cables.
  10. Remove the negative battery cable, or rather, try to remove it in the dark and cold, as disconnecting is nigh on impossible what with all the coolant hose and other hardware sitting on all sides of the damned bolt.1
  11. Quit upon reflection that yanking in a fury on hose and plastic when it is pretty cold is a good way to create even more items needing repair/replacement.
  12. Forget about dead lump of car for the rest of the evening.
  13. In daylight, with a 20 degree temperature jump, with a great deal of profanity, remove and replace battery cable.

  14. 1Is this why so many guys want to drive big frickin' cars? Seriously, while my love of all things Soob is unquestionable, there are times where I can't believe how tiny and cramped everything is under the hood. I can't imagine being a big, burly dude trying to reach into those spaces and work on a car.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Crap Cord, Real Weather = Cold Lump of Soob

Ah, don't you just love all this real winter weather?

At the moment, Weather Underground
summaries include -44 at Wainwright, -44 in town, and -45 at Eielson and Nenana.

Sadly, I must report that Francesca, the Soob, is doornail-level dead this morning. We had to push her down the driveway so the s.o. could get to work. It looks like the old battery finally gave out - that and the plug-in cord is questionably functional. She was so frozen it was hard to turn the steering wheel.

Why the Pollyanna act? Three reasons:
  1. The new woodstove, the Blaze King Princess Ultra, arrives tomorrow. Finally. Which means that the cabin will get above 59 degrees on days like this and won't be consuming .3 gallons of fuel per hour.
  2. Reason # 1 is a perfectly fine example of an excuse for the party we intend to have.
  3. Weather like this is a very important to the future of Interior Alaska.
Some of you might be a little hazy on the details of #3. It's not about any of that environmental stuff, actually, but more about maintaining Fairbank's status as one of the worst places to live in the United States.

Oh, I could give a crap about the book, this is more in line with my theory, one which I've been slowly tinkering with in my 14+ years in Alaska, about how any place that is cool must also be sufficiently crappy in order for it not to be overrun by well-heeled Yuppies/suburbanites/tourists. I call it, and bear with me, The Sufficiently Crappy Theory.

If Squarebanks, or the other, more rural place I lived, had more of the following: less extreme weather, less expensive cost of living, were on the road system, more sunlight, less rain, more of the cosmopolitan extras that make a visit to Seattle so nice... well, damn, all those Californians wouldn't be satisfied with buying up Oregon. No, they'd set their sights further north. And the property values would be driven up even farther than they are now and we'd slide further than we are into the typical American suburban lifestyle.

More to the point, if a place doesn't kind of suck, it is doomed.

Think about it. Ketchikan? Absofreakinglutely gorgeous, not too cold. And tourists in droves in the summer. The Kenai Peninsula? Phenomenal fish runs, pretty far south and on the road system. Wall to wall people in the summer, full campgrounds and combat fishing.

Plus, if it is too easy to live in a place, it will be loved to death. Meaning people will move to "Alaska" and immediately begin to try to turn it into the place they came from.

Like, say, Anchorage.

Above: Gratuitous frosted dog picture.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

FlictheBic's 2006 Awards

"Let Them Eat Cake" award to former (thank god!) Governor Frank Murkowski for the blatant manner in which he used state funds to further his own personal interests and pleasure. Chief among these is his $114,000 junket to Asia in his final days as governor, and his use of the state jet* after he left office, to travel, with his family, first to Utah and then to NYC - where he and Nancy embarked on their around-the-world cruise (wonder how all the Alaskan seniors struggling to manage without their Longevity Bonuses feel about that???).

The "Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater" award goes hands down to Rep. Jack Coghill, of North Pole (nothing merry about that feller!) who in a fit of self-righteous, religious rage declared that he would fight to take away health benefits for all state employees, rather than let same-sex partners receive health benefits as recently ordered by the Alaska Supreme Court. Now there is a re-election strategy if ever I saw one.

To Rep. Mike Kelly, another slavering Fundy with his shorts in a twist over public employees with same sex partners getting health insurance, goes the "John Ashcroft" award in recognition of the utter narrowness of his mind and of his overblown arrogance in attempting to force his morals on everyone else regardless of what the law or the Constitution says. Next thing you know, Rep. Kelly will be singing silly songs and covering up Lady Liberty’s boobs!

The "Ralph A. Seekins" award, memorializing his failed Senate bill to open the five-mile Dalton corridor to ORVs goes to the two yahoos who attempted to drive across five miles of North Slope tundra and ended up with trucks (one of which I believe was a Ford) mired to their axels. As of this date, attempts to remove the trucks have been unsuccessful, opening up the possibility that this award may become a permanent monument to now ex-Senator Seekins.

To all the residents of the City of Fairbanks who voted down the property tax, thus leaving the city without sufficient revenue to operate - goes the "Alfred E. Numan - What Me Worry?" award.

The "Spineless Jellyfish" award goes to Gov. Palin for her weenie dénouement when enforcing the state constitution that she would put the question of same-sex health benefits to the people of Alaska through a constitutional referendum.

To Jim Clarke goes the "Give it Up" award for his overblown and ridiculous statement that Murkowski will “go down in history as the best governor [Alaska] ever had.” (

And finally, again to former Governor Murkowski goes the "Don’t Let the Door Hit You On Your Ass" award for his resounding defeat, one of the worse for an incumbent, in his relection bid.

*the purchase of which, although not in this year, deservedly gets the "Smoke and Mirrors" award for Murk’s pathetic attempt to justify its purchase as 1) needed to transport prisoners out of Alaska and 2) for rural visits – even though there are virtually no Alaska villages with a gravel strip – let alone runway – long enough to land a jet on.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Proof That the Dog IS, as Suspected, an Alien

Okay, scoffers, I have actual proof this time. In addition to being what Uncle Ted's son (you know, the one under investigation ) might term 'Valley1 Trash, Rosario the dog is definitely a visitor.

From outer space.

Heading an advance team of aliens gathering information before the invasion.

Either that, or her strange eating habits are just a weird genetic thing.

Thanks to The Savage for providing the photo.
1The Mat-Su Valley, not to be confused with the Goldstream Valley, home to many a fine, upstanding citizen living without running water.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Musings on the CabinDwelling Life, Part IV: Running Out of Fuel Oil at 4 a.m.

And Why Does That Only Happen After Business Hours?

Authentic CabinDwelling Experience #291: Perching on a rickety, homemade ladder at 4:30 a.m., dumping 12 gallons of diesel from the Goldstream Store into your empty fuel oil tank, vowing never to let the fuel run out again.

It's been about a year since my casual approach to detail bit me in the ass on that one. I had an inkling something was up two nights ago when my Significant Other mentioned that the monitor heater was sounding funny. Lo, and it was, and I made a note of it and planned on calling a monitor heater fixer person yesterday.

Oh, and the idea that maybe we ought to dip the fuel tank to see if we had much left did sort of amble through my brain. "But," I thought, working my way up to a nice full on bout of denial, "there's no way we could be out. We had a full tank at the beginning of November."

Of course I did neither. My brain wandered off to do whatever it does when I'm supposed to be remembering important tasks.

At 4 a.m. this morning I woke up to the sound of nothing. No sickly heater noises. Dipping the tank seemed a good idea. Yep, nada.

When I got back to the fantabulous, huge, architecturally interesting cabin1 last night, the monitor was laboring mightily, running on high, straining to get the temperature above 59 degrees. Old Rusty, if we might name it, is old. And also rather huge, because Rusty has to heat 1400 square feet of Typically Leaky Goldstream Valley Cabin Space all by hisself.

"What's that," you say, "aren't you using that magnificent Blaze King wood stove, (the wood stove that is the envy of all visitors to the Compound) to help Ol' Russ out some?" Tragically, Blaze King is doornail level d-e-a-d.2 As is the stove pipe and double wall chimney, thanks to the previous tenant being very smart but kind of useless on practical stuff.

At right: the rusted out innards of a formerly awesome wood stove.

According to Ol' Russ' specs, he consumes .301 gallons/hour on the 'high' setting; .201 on 'medium', and .1 something on 'low.' Which means I'm singlehandedly financing Exxon's lawyer's efforts to not pay a single freaking penny in damages for the 1989 oil spill.

Ol' Rusty quit making the funny noises after we gave him a quick dose of fuel oil -- so at least we don't need to get a monitor heater fixin' person. If there is a silver lining lurking about somewhere, it's that my landlord is pretty cool and says we'll get a replacement for the poor, dead Blaze King.

'Architecturally interesting', as in, not to built to any known building code, not particularly level, and what might call a 'heat sieve' ... all traits common to every place I've lived in so far in the GSV. At least we don't have a squirrel problem.
2How dead is that? Let's just say that the inspector guy, upon getting a good look at the whole system, remarked that it was a really great thing that we hadn't tried to use Blaze King as we would have probably burned the cabin down. I'm sure it would have been quite the spectacular blaze -- the cabin lacking sheetrock and having some of what CGFR people would call 'heavy fuel loading' - they'd probably be able to find the place no problem what with the flames being visible all the way from Sheep Creek Road.

Pictured above: the giganto newish rental cabin, leaking heat like a mofo.