Sunday, January 27, 2008

40 pounds of string*

One of the reasons I like reading odd-topic non-fiction (mummies, the cadaver trade, aliens, and civil war re-enacters) is because it highlights how madcap and diverse humans are, especially in how they make their living and generally live their lives.

Right now I am midway through Stacked: A 32DDD Reports from the Front. I should note that the author is herself an un-augmented 32DDD, but her book visits, among other things, the world of outsized breast augmentation.

An undisputed queen of this demographic is Maxi Mounds, currently the record holder for largest augmented breasts in the Guiness Book of World Records. After reading general facts about her life (she lives with her partner Mini Mounds, wears specialized bras, and can neither sleep on her stomach or give full frontal hugs) I was compelled to look for MM on the web. As one might expect with an exotic dancer and a world record holder, there is much to be found on the WWW about Maxi Mounds, including a video clip of her weighing her breasts (20 pounds apiece) on a Miami talk show.

One can only imagine the look on the technican's face when Maxi shows up for her annual mammogram.

*surgical polypropelene string - 40 pounds total - is what's used to make Maxi's mounds, well, maxi.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It's 40 Below ---

Do you know where your dogs are???

When I came to Alaska nearly a quarter century ago, I was often told by people who had huskies about how uncomfortable their dogs would become inside a warm house. I have by now had upwards of 20 plus huskies, and have not yet observed that phenomenon. True, my current crew only includes two that could be considered bona fide huskies/sled dogs, but as evidenced by the photo to the right, clearly they are more than happy to curl up right smack in front of the roaring woodstove.

And, as it is 40 below or thereabouts today, and it's not a workday, the dogs and I are settled in for the day - baking bread, working on a quilt, and catching up on some good reading - on the current book list:

  • Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to Be Young (Anya Kamenetz)
  • Stacked: A 32DDD Reports from the Front (Susan Seligson)
  • American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Chris Hedges)
  • Girls of Riyadh (Rajaa Alsanea)
  • House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties (Craig Unger)

By request, there will be a later post on how to set up - on the cheap - an effective (sometimes too much so) worm composter in the tote - which, after the blue tarp - is one of the more ubiquitous fixtures in an Alaskan's household, whether rural or urban.

Musings on the CabinDwelling Life Part X: How Cold Is It?

No, I don't mean that as a rhetorical question posed to elicit cute responses like "It's so cold, the icicles have icicles" or anything like that.

But hey, feel free, you can always post one in the comment section.

What I'm talking about, my frozen Squarebanks companions and those of you fortunate-to-live-elsewhere, is the fact that I have three thermometers here at the cabin and they are giving me three different temperatures.

And we're not talking a two degree difference here. There is a 20 degree gap between the highest and the lowest reading one.

The new, eight dollar Ivory Jack's thermometer that goes to -100? As you can see, -40.

Which, alapaa, but the high reading one is reading a relatively balmy minus 26.

So, I really want to know, how cold is it? And I can't really say, although, according to the Nostril Hair Freezing Index, it is definitely colder than -26. The NHI, for those of you living elsewhere, merely describes how cold it is by taking into account how quickly one's nostril hairs freeze when one inhales. The NHI begins around zero degrees fahrenheit, the temperature where one begins to notice this occurance, and goes to, well, there is no low end of the Nostril Hair Index. After 15 years in state, my nostril hairs are telling me it is colder than -26.

For various reasons, the strongest one being my mild case of cabin fever, the discrepancy is really annoying me. What's the deal? The thermometers in question are all within a few feet of each other. They are all the same distance from the cabin. They are at virtually the same height.

It's not like I'm unfamiliar with the microclimate phenomenon here in the Valley. Elevation is the main factor, which is why all those folks living up in the hills in what we call the Banana Belt built their houses up there. They live above the ice fog. Smug bastards.

But it's not just that, because I have observed significant differences in temperature between places at the same elevation. At one location you might have -40. At another, -45. Less than a mile away, it might be -30. But you can't have a microclimate eight feet from your door.

I'd buy a fourth thermometer, but it'd probably give me a different reading.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Day in the Life...

Of a Worm Composter
I came home today after a long day sitting in a small alternately stuffy, alternately cold box, with very little freedom to move about of my own volition, to find a puzzlement on the floor of my front side room. Precisely, it looked like the dogs had shredded some plant material and there were "twigs" scattered hither and yon - or perhaps, some type of dried noodle. Odd I thought. Closer inspection revealed that the trail of twigs led to my large worm tote in the corner - up on the bottom utility shelf. Uh-oh.

Yes, indeed. The twigs were piled high and deep under the shelf. In fact, they were not twigs at all, but dessicated worms.

I had had a worm explosion.
This is when conditions in the worm compost container reach optimum for maximum worm fecundity. I popped the top with trepidation.

The worms were everywhere. Big wriggling blobs of red goo. They festooned every edge of the tote - hundreds of thousands of them. The smell of worm reproduction at its most powerful was enough to wrinkle the noses of even the least discerning amongst my copraphagic dogs. It wafted throughout the house - necessitating incense. I washed the worms back down into their tote, threw in some more food, covered the whole mess with shredded newspaper, and smushed the lid back on.

I took the philosophical approach. After all, if they didnt have enough food when all was said and done, they could compost each other.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Back in the USSR

Something happened a couple of days ago that seemed to receive little coverage from local media…though of course, since my only media sources are the Snooze Minus, and a few minutes here and there of KUAC when I am on the road, I could easily have missed coverage. But for a fact, it wasn’t picked up by the FDNM.

Apparently two or three days ago, the army used the City of Fairbanks in a military game of hide and seek, putting up a dozen Kiowa helicopters to find and track military personnel in vans and other vehicles driving around town. A number of city residents complained to Ft. Wainwright about the noise – and to ask just what was going on – since the base did not find it necessary to inform the public of the planned training exercises.

And just why was the Army using the streets of Fairbanks as its very own training ground, when it has millions of acres around here for specifically that purpose? Well, because, as the Army spokeswoman stated, soldiers need to practice urban warfare in preparation for their deployment to Iraq.

Wow. Not that I am a conspiracy theory nut or anything, but that is one lame-ass excuse. It seems to me that just a scant few years back, soldiers were practicing urban warfare elsewhere on sprawling military complexes (which is exactly why they have so much real estate) and NOT using American cities as their training fields. And in the good ol’ days – i.e. before the premillennial, bible-inerrancy, rapture-happy fascists neocons took over our government – I wouldn’t have thought twice about this little news nugget, and would have taken it at face value. To wit, a really obnoxious noise nuisance caused by a bunch of copters engaged in a maneuver hatched by some bone-headed base commander.

But nowadays, with the Bill of Rights in shreds, Real ID about to launch, and a government that is barely bothering to hide its fascist bent, this stuff is unsettling. What better way to instigate a military police state with checkpoints and overhead and on-the-ground surveillance of citizenry than to slowly begin with seemingly innocuous training exercises under the patriotic guise of preparing to go to war against the unholy Infidel in Iraq and Afghanistan (and soon, other points Middle East)?

Kudos to the Fairbanksan, who, when interviewed by a local KUAC reporter, did voice concerns about what was to come next – first the Kiowas, he said, but what’s next, Strykers patrolling the downtown streets?

But that question wasn’t answered by the Ft. Wainwright spokeswoman, nor did she give any indication that this was a one-time deal. Her only proffer was that next time, the base might notify the public of the training.

Come on, people, where’s the outrage? Where’s the concern?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Actual flier posted on UAF library bulletin board

Not to reopen the whole Christopher McCandless debate, Ish, but I had to call attention to this one. UAF Police have posted a 'Community Alert' both on fliers around campus and online:
The University of Alaska Fairbanks has become aware of a disturbing
person who is apparently targeting young females. The most recent
incident occurred on the morning of Saturday January 5, 2008, when an
unknown male approached a 9 year old female at a symphony rehearsal in
the Great Hall of the Fine Arts Complex. The male asked the female to
play her violin for him in exchange for money. The female refused and
walked away, however this is apparently not the first time this
particular male has approached young females in a suspicious manner.
The male is described as white, he appears to be in his late 20's to
early 30's, approximately 5'10-6' tall, shaggy brown hair and beard, and
with a medium build. He is usually in black or dark colored clothing,
and when asked his name, has stated "Chris McCandless" or sometimes
One: Bizarre choice of aliases, eh? One a sort of neo-hippie and the other an actual hippie-era musician. Two: That physical description applies to 96% of all the men in that age group in Fairbanks. Three: A nine year old?

The Icefishing Trip With No Actual Icefishing

There are the great outdoor trips that a person looks back to fondly, the sort that you tells stories about that always start out with "You remember that time we..."

Any stories about the much heralded first icefishing trip in the Squarebanks area, when spoken of, will begin that way. But it wasn't one of those trips.

At right is a picture of the state of The Soob prior to our departure for the Birch Lake area on Saturday. Quite a bit of crap stuff, eh? Well, yeah, it was.

As the forecast had called for some serious cold and there was no electricity out there, I'd worried about how we were going to start The Soob after a night spent without a plug in. After consultation with Flic, who I consult frequently on stuff like this, we settled on a solution using a portable propane heater that could be directed underneath the car to heat it up enough to start after a couple of hours, but not enough to start it on fire.

The quick and dirty:
  • Arrived at turn off to friends' cabin ~ 8:30 p.m. Dark, snowy, but definitely not colder than the minus 20s. Had headlamp and a vagueish remembrance of how far the cabin was from the road.
  • Nice event: someone pulled over to see if we were okay. Yay, proper Alaskan behavior.
  • Dog thinks this is the best trip ever.
  • Loaded up sleds, used skijoring belt reversed and started pulling wood and other gear up hill through about a foot of snow. A bit of a slog, definitely a work out, but not beyond doing.
  • One member of the party complains about very cold feet. Not willing to chance it because of the vagueness of how far we had to walk, I insist we turn around, warm up feet, change socks, sort it out.
  • Companion changes socks from COTTON to wool; discussion ensues as to the likelihood of making two trips hauling gear. After some tactful assessment of amount of stuff packed and relative fitness levels (and to be fair, one of us had been sick all week) plans to walk in are scrapped.
  • Drive back to Fairbanks.
So, no icefishing. It turns out that we were only a short distance from the turn off to the cabin, and we have yet another learning experience to keep us humble.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Looking for a Tuuk

As part of my attempt to keep up with the various New Year's resolutions (including some from last year), I'm off this weekend for a bit of icefishing at one of our nearby-ish lakes.

My resolution? More fishing and less bitching about how the fishing in the Interior (at least in the environs of Squarebanks) does not compare to the fishing on the coast. I used to fish all the time, was known for my devotion to fishing, in fact, back in the day before I moved to the land where there are all these trees all over the place.

The S.O. even went so far as to reserve a ice fishing hut on the lake in question, so I will have my first ever icefishing experience in a hut. All previous icefishing experiences have involved sitting on a bucket or cushion out on the ice on a river dressed to deal with whatever the temperature might be. No hut, no stove, no radio, no nothing other than fishing gear. So it would seem rather plush, except for the fact that we managed to schedule time off and the hut for the coldest weekend yet this winter. (Not that this winter has been all that cold.)

I confess, I feel a little bit wimpy using the hut. I know, I know, it's irrational, but there it is. Of course, back in the days on the coast where we took a more bare bones approach to icefishing, we had to constantly skim the hole free of ice - at temperatures around minus 20 or minus 25, it tended to freeze over very quickly. So despite my stubborn devotion to doing things difficultly simply, perhaps I should just shut up and enjoy the hut.

Am finishing with packing for the trip today, but I still haven't managed to find a tuuk, known in other parts of the world as an ice chisel or ice spud. I've checked a number of stores locally, but they are either sold out or have a flat end. I like the blade with an angled end, and even went so far as to look at WalMart. (The shame, the shame.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Alaska Flag. Alaska Song. And Now, Alaska, the Drag Queen.

North to the Future, East to a Eurogay Icon

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue,
Alaska's flag, may it mean to you,
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes and the flowers nearby,
The gold of the early sourdough's dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams,
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The "Bear," the "Dipper," and shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
O'er land and sea a beacon bright,
Alaska's flag to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.

While perusing this morning, where I was reading the latest Camille Paglia column, I came across a reference and link to "the latest No. 1 smash in Spain by glam-pop duo Fangoria, featuring Eurogay icon Alaska."

Two things:
  1. Could anyone not have followed that link?
  2. What, exactly, is a Eurogay icon?
Contrary to the image of Alaska1 held by many Outside and quite a number of right wing Republicans in our own backyard, drag exists in Alaska. As do many gay people.2

As does an apparently quite popular drag queen named for our very own state.

Maybe we ought to invite Alaska to perform at an official event celebrating statehood? Perhaps sing a glam-pop version of the state song?

I'd finally make my first ever trip to Juneau to see that.

1The 49th state, not the Eurogay icon. That image being some blend of the film "North to Alaska", "Nanook of the North" and all those conservative fantasties of a 1950s-ish "Leave it to Beaver" America that never really existed except on television.
2According to the 2000 Census, Alaska was one of the states where gay and lesbian couples were most likely to be raising children. "Same-sex couples with children tend to live in states and large metropolitan areas with relatively low concentrations of gay and lesbian couples. Mississippi, South Dakota, Alaska, South Carolina, and Louisiana are where same-sex couples are most likely raising children." Source:

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Alaskan Media Catches Up on Steese Fire Story

As well you know, way back on Jan. 4, the way the Fairbanks Daily News Miner had covered the home that burned down at Fox really hacked me off. The ADN picked up the story, and the story grew legs and went national on some fire service related sites if recent traffic here is any indication.

Well, today, finally, the FDNM published an editorial with some context. Don't look now but this is a rare moment where I am agreeing with its editors. Dermot Cole, the FDNM columnist, had published a piece on the story in the Jan. 6 edition. And the ADN picked up their more recent content in their Alaska Newsreader today.

Not that I'm expecting anyone will apologize to Steese or anything. But at least some people are thinking larger picture now.

But beyond expanding boundaries and bringing the folks at Fox into the fire service district, we need more VOLUNTEERS. Yes, local people, I'm talking to you.

Moreover, looking beyond Fox, you can't just solve the problem by endlessly expanding existing fire service areas. Otherwise you would end up drawing unrealistically huge fire service districts that are so big that by the time an engine, tankers (remember we are in the land where hydrants are rare) and enough personnel are on scene ... the house is a complete loss anyway.

So yes, redrawing some boundaries will bring in more revenue, which will help with the need for additional equipment, apparatuses and paid staff. (And I must point out how dependent local departments are on grants money, it is not all coming from the folks in fire service areas.)

But longterm, we will still come back to the need for more locals to get off their butts and help their communities out by volunteering.

Monday, January 07, 2008

How Did the Alaska Press Overlook This One?

Noted Alaskan Historian, Dorothy Jean Ray, 1919-2007

Preeminent Alaska historian Dorothy Jean Ray passed away on Dec. 12, 2007 and didn't even get a story in one of Alaska's newspapers. I wouldn't have known had I not read the Dec. 12 print version of the ADN and the boxed obit purchased by the Ray family. An obituary ran in the Dec. 16 edition of the paper.

Who, you ask?

Think of the cliche 'standing on the shoulders of giants' because that is what every historian/ethnohistorian/ethnographer/anthropologist working in Northwest Alaska (with the exception of Ernest Burch) is doing when they work in that area. You can't talk about the history of the Nome region as a whole or its villages without referencing Ray. When working on my master's thesis, I had to read just about everything she ever wrote and there are citations sprinkled liberally throughout.

So, yes, I've just outed myself as a history geek, but perhaps those of you of a similar bent will understand when I say that even her footnotes were worth reading - and taking a look at her citations gives you a good idea of how widely read and what a meticulous researcher she was.

Her writing shows shows a sharp intelligence, a definite sense of humor, and her dedication to and affection for a part of Alaska that so few of our state's residents will ever see, let alone understand. Other than the Iditarod and the Gold Rush, that is. Note: I'll be editing this later.

Her type of history wasn't just based on the written word, one of the chief flaws of what I like to call 'old dead white guy history.' She actually talked to the Alaska Native folks of the region she was writing about, interviewing elders and capturing information that would have been lost with each elder who has since passed. Oh, this approach is unremarkable now, but back when she started, it was not the way history was written.

I never actually met her, but owe so much of my understanding of that part of Alaska to her work that I made a point of thanking her in the introduction to my thesis. A colleague passed on the paper and later told told me she had been glad for the acknowledgment.

What a shame that no one acknowledged her life and contributions in print.

Quyana, Ms. Ray.

Above: Photo nicked from the Anchorage Daily News obit,

Friday, January 04, 2008

Getting the Blame Game Wrong, As Usual

And What Constitutes Getting It Right, Anyway?

Whoo. If you read the News Minus yesterday, a house just outside the Steese Fire Department 's fire service area burned yesterday.

"Fire consumes cabin yards outside district" reads the headline. And one would think, based on the following story, that the department is just a bunch of callous, rule-bound, uncaring, un-Alaskan jerks.

The paper chose to run the story with the following quote in the third paragraph from the angry homeowner:
“I always loved the fact that there are a lot of good people in Fairbanks, but this was wrong,” homeowner Ace Callaway told the newspaper. “We’re all supposed to be neighbors. It’s just very disheartening.”
Of course, the ADN's Newsreader picked up the story and ran a link on the front page of the online edition that stated "Firefighters turn back; home burns." I read the 'Comments' section that followed and it was filled with a shitstorm of uninformed comments blasting the fire department and wishing that bad things would befall its members. A large portion of the entire thread is filled with the same angry, potshot discourse that is common on the ADN comment section (and to be fair) most others like it.

The problem is, most of these people were operating without a few crucial facts that ought to have made the original story:

1) The Steese Fire Department only turned around after finding out that there was an 'all clear' on the structure, meaning that they had been informed that no one was inside. 'Life safety' is a priority with all departments and even if a building is outside the service area, they would have continued on if they were informed that there was a person inside or there was uncertainty as to the all clear.
2) The staff of the fire department can not choose respond to a fire outside the service area. It isn't a judgement call. Period. See #1. If a life is at risk, they go. A few posters have said that they would have continued on had the fire been at a department member's house. No, actually, they wouldn't. According to one of the comments on the story, a Steese area firefighter's home burned down last year in a similar situation.

And with no context provided in the original story in the FDNM, people continue to pile on the good folks at Steese, the overwhelming majority of whom are volunteers giving thousands of hours in service, training and responding every year. Not to mention risking their lives regularly.

The additional context? People continue to build farther and farther out from the city of Fairbanks itself. They continue to buy lots and build homes outside of fire service areas. This is not a great big secret. The positive for them? They don't pay for fire service. The negative? They don't get it except, well, see #1 and #2 above. This is not a problem that is going away, it is a problem that will grow as we sprawl further and further out. Crapping on the fire departments will not change this.

With limited resources (human and equipment) can a fire department commit what it has to fighting a fire outside the service area and thereby not have anything available should a fire call come from those within its area? Existing policy says 'no.' So take it up with the borough.

What would have happened had the Steese folks ignored borough policy and committed its people to that fire and a bad motor vehicle accident had happened in their service area? Emergencies don't stop occurring, nor do they go on hold until the previous call is over. Guess what? Firefighters respond to car wrecks - what if extrication was needed? Sure, mutual aid exists, but other fire departments can only send what they don't have committed in their own district. And since they are located elsewhere, it takes them longer to get there.

The real story is that resources are tight already here in the Squarebanks area and across the United States (where the majority of communities are protected by volunteer departments.) Most areas have a hard time keeping volunteers and I'm not just talking about here in Alaska. Departments are stretched thin. We're asking more and more of them every year. The role of a firefighter has changed dramatically in the last few decades - no more just 'put the wet stuff on the red stuff.'

Volunteering is not just the 100 plus hours of training to get certified as a Firefighter I - it's pulling a certain number of shifts per month, raising money for charities, volunteering at community events, trying to keep up with physical conditioning and attending training regularly. It's rolling out of bed at 4 a.m. when the pager goes off and it is 40 below outside. It is being witness to some tragic stuff. It's finding time for all that on top of your full time day job and family responsibilities and the rest of your life.

People have a right to buy and build homes outside service areas. (And I should point out that EMS service extends farther than fire service areas. ) They have a right to opt out. But they shouldn't take cheap shots at the men and women who work so hard for their neighbors without expecting pay.