Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Burning Man

Those who went before us were wise...especially about things outside the realm of the every day.

They knew the power of fire, and they never hesitated to use it. Its force is something I believe we tend not to think about too much in these days of other powers - like those that drive cell phones and computers, TVs and radios.

But when it comes down to dealing with evil, fire trumps all.

Many in life are lucky and pass their days without exposure to resident evil. Those who haven't encountered it may not truly understand its slyness. Evil's stalking grounds are more commonly the banal of everyday life: the chance encounter in a coffee shop, or a new colleague at work who seems really quite charming, until the mask is lifted. It excels at catching the unsuspecting off-guard, because while it is the expected companion of heinous crimes against individuals and against humanity, it is not expected to sit down at the dinner table in a quaint little restaurant. Sometimes resident evil is initially confused with abnormality, or a social or emotional dysfunction, possibly because it is pretty hard to get one's head around the fact that there truly does exist pure evil, even in neon-lit, box store-rich Squarebanks. And it's not always wielding an axe or a gun or some other very obvious and tangible instrument of evil.

For too long I left things in my house, stashed under my bed of all places, that carried the stink and contamination of the resident evil that had found purchase at one point in my life. Although these items had lain dormant all of that time, recently they came to life.

It was time to purify; throwing them out was insufficient, they were covered with the slimy slug trail evil leaves in its wake. Fire was the only route to protection.

Sure, burning at solstice is a cliche. But those ancients dealt a lot more with unseen forces than we think we do in this oh so modern and brightly lit time. Although often I think I would have preferred to give the whole experience a miss, most times I am grateful for what happened. Not only did I come out of it much stronger, but I gained awareness of the spirits and forces that are very much alive and cruising in our world. When science became a religion in the 20th century, its gospel of rational thought brought to us a dangerous myopia. It diminishes our abilities to discern that there is so much more walking these lands than what can be tidily explained by science.

It was a darn good fire, one of the best and the brightest I have ever tended.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Grassroots? More Like Astroturf.

Normally, in a more sophisticated part of the world, politicians attempting to pull a fast one would know better than to admit they were trying to use state money to do so.  But this being the state that once thought Sarah Palin was an improvement over Murkowski v.1, the fine folks in Juneau are not savvy enough to up and lie about what they are doing.  I suppose we have yet another thing to be thankful for heading into Christmas.

For about $1.5 million, the Alaska Legislature is looking for a good p.r. agency to gin up a 'grassroots movement' to oppose endangered species listings.  As reported over the AP wire, via the News-Minus this morn:
"'The (PR firm's) main role will be taking information from the conference and other information gathering efforts and trying to initiate a grass-roots movement, for lack of a better term, for going to Congress and asking for some reform changes,' said Eddie Grasser, a legislative employee who is organizing the PR effort."
How on earth is a government-funded public relations campaign even remotely grassroots? This is the sort of chicanery normally engaged in by megacorporations like the Artists Formerly Known as Monsanto or King Coal.  Grassroots does not, generally speaking, begin with a bunch of politicians appropriating state money for a p.r. firm to create a movement.   

In the Realm of the Unintentionally Humorous

Once again, work has consumed at least half my brain; the remainder being assaulted by the liberal application of beer (and hopefully some of Flic's eggnog in the coming days.)

But when I've had the wherewithal, I've been shopping for gifts which is something of a challenge here in Greater Redneckia.  The selection is spotty, particularly if you are looking for clothes other than outdoor gear or the offerings over at Little Wasilla.  We really don't have a downtown like a major city, and no, Virginia, even Anchorage really isn't a major city.   But I digress.

We do have a lot places to purchase guns.  Two of the grocery chains (WallyWorld and Fred Meyers) stock them along with plantains and womens' underthings.  (Safeway, however, does not.  Funny that.)  The outdoors gear shops stock them.  And then there are the local gunsmiths.  Face it, one area in which a consumer has robust options in Squarebanks is in the selection and purchase of firearms.  

Which worked out great, because I'd settled on a .22 for the S.O. this year.  Unfortunately, the big chains use the model I chose as a loss leaders, so it is not stocked by the local businesses (gunsmiths) which frustrated my plan to shop local.  But Frontier Outfitters had a few in stock and that settled it. 

I was not prepared, however, for the humor that is the form one fills out to purchase a gun.  (I've been given guns, but never purchased one.) Is the form meant to prevent the sale of a gun to a criminal, or is it just to aid in tracking them down after they've done something wrong?  Questions I had to answer:
  •  Are you a fugitive from justice? 
  • Have you ever used or possessed illegal drugs such as marijuana, etc? 
  • Are you an illegal alien?
  • Have you ever renounced your U.S. citizenship?
High silliness.  

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Tis the Season

For decorating the tree. For me, Christmas starts just about a week before Thanksgiving. I don't subscribe to the Walmart way of looking at the world, which is to say that Christmas stuff should go on display after the goblins of Halloween have been put away. Well, I do confess to lighting my Xmas lights around my front door and along the driveway right about the end of October, but that is mostly due to practicality...a way to see the moose waiting in ambush when I schlep home in the dark at 4:00 PM.

But, even without the Big Box store way of things, I have always felt that living in Fairbanks is pretty much like being in Narnia under the White Witch- where it was always winter - except that we do have Christmas. And we have a lot of Christmas.

Although for quite a number of years I put up a classic Alaska tree (all the better to showcase one's ornaments) - of late I have been buying the excellent (and relatively cheap) trees at Alaska Feed. Except that this source of cheap trees is no longer known to just a few, and if one wants to get a half-way decent tree, one has to rush off and select it sometime in the first week of December. This year, I did wait til three days ago, but the trees were getting picked over.

So, perforce, my tree is up and in the process of being decorated. It's an exhausting task - necessitating many pauses and rests in the easy chair by the fire - with a cup of real* eggnog at my elbow and three snoring dogs at my feet.

Come to think of it, maybe its all the eggnog refreshment stops that are exhausting, not so much the stringing of the lights and the placement of the Christmas pickle (no explanation of this needed for readers of German heritage), the sparkly Christmas stars, the cat-in-the-jack box, or, my most treasured ornament: the squid ball (a clear glass ball filled with squid beaks sold in Point Aransas as a fund raiser for the local sea life lab).

Every year, I sort of drag my feet initially about getting a tree, but each time after I haul out the Christmas totes and unpack the many boxes of ornaments collected over the years (each with its own story) its worth it. And taking the time to load the tree so full of these memories that it practically tips over (it doesn't help that I never seem to be able to get the darn thing straight in the tree strand), is wholly enjoyable. It never fails but that I come across a little chotka that jiggles loose some long-forgotten episode of a Christmas past.

Some seasoned readers of this blog may remember the Tannenbomb of last year - where my tree croaked brown dead less than a week after purchase. Ah, this year I babied this conifer. Whisked it out of the store and into the pre-heated, toasty cab of my truck. Practically constructed a hermetically sealed corridor from truck to front door so there never was opportunity for freezing shock. Sawed off a hefty chunk of its stump, and plumped it into molasses-laden water. This time, I did it up right, and I am pleased to report the tree is drinking thirstily - having sucked up a gallon of water since last night.

Now, its back to work. Time to hang the stuffed cow-in-a-parka ornament....

*not the sugar-ladened stuff sold in the dairy section of Freddie's. Nope, this one is one dozen raw eggs, a pound of powdered sugar, two quarts of heavy cream and at least a fifth of whiskey or rum to "cook" those eggs, or more like, the imbiber.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Life's Little Mysteries: #1

Why do they do it?


What compels dogs to eat large quantities of grass - or as in the case to the right - straw - and then hork it up all over the house?

I knew something was afoot when the dog kept licking his chops in that frenzied way peculiar to dogs about to hurl. That he was going around and eating soil out of the house plants within reach also was a tip-off.

The technical term that vets use is "bolus". But they dont have any better explanation for this irritating and downright nauseating aspect of dog ownership than I do.

Since I was awake and active, I was able to drag the bolus-afflicted mutt off the rugs and onto the lino.

But this is highly unusual. Much more typical is the nocturnal bolus-ejection event, which I am convinced is canine contrived to maximize the gross-out factor. First off, most bolus production seems to coincide with the periods of the deepest human REM sleep - how else can one explain the fact that most dog owners manage to sleep through the ungodly amount of noise a hurling dog makes??? Secondly, it cant be coincidence that, at least in my house, deposition occurs precisely along the flight line between my bed and the coffee maker.

Thereby guaranteeing a morning barefoot encounter with a slimy, congealed, cold mess of yak.

I am not one of those dog owners who view their dogs as little furry humans, but.... this case, I am not a little suspicious of some kind of canine conspiracy, which I would be only too happy to further expound on, EXCEPT, I gotta run ----

The dog is about to hurl again.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Forswearing originality and a bit belatedly, here is the list of things that I am thankful for:


...this Thanksgiving, I have a friend who is going to professional cooking school, and wanted, nay, begged, to do all the cooking for our communal dinner (dessert pictured at right).

...I didn't lose my dog on Thanksgiving Day. Oh, he went missing for a couple of hours - spooked by a dog team on the Goldstream trails - but he found his way home.

... of the 22 dogs I have had over the last 22 years, I have lost none of them, thus being spared the horror of repeatedly calling the pound, putting up signs, combing the trails, roads and woods, and facing many months of wondering what really happened to my dog.

... despite all my crazy athletic antics over the past 20 years, my knees, hips and ankles are still intact and functioning, and I can ski jor with my dogs.

...I have yet to burn down my house, despite a few close calls with creosote and,

....I have a huge stack of dry spruce to keep the chill at bay.

...they invented LED Christmas lights.

...I live in the Goldstream Valley and can ski whenever I want among trees covered in snow or hoar frost, on afternoons that are every shade of the palest yellow, orange and rose.

...I have not-so-new extended family that has not only taken me in, but has given me incentive to learn their language. Ma'shii cho, shalak naii.

...Apple makes a "shuffle".

...I have the opportunity to experience aspects of Interior Alaska that many often do not, even if at times it has been chaotic, unsettling and, a few times, downright scary.

...'Dweller passed on the wireless headphones - those might just have saved a budding relationship.

...I have a job, home and lifestyle that has turned out to be exactly what fits me.

...I live in Fairbanks, because even though it gets a lot of shit for being the stripmall arm pit of Alaska, it has everything I need, and it is only one small airplane hop or trail ride away from hundreds of miles of remote country.

...I have a core of solid friends who are particularly adept (especially Dweller) at pulling my fat out of the fire. Thereby enabling me to do some crazy-ass things.

....twenty years ago, I accepted an old Singer sewing machine from a very elderly lady; this sewing machine is still working for me, so that I can quilt, sew beaver hats, and otherwise keep myself occupied through long, dark winters, and finally,

that health insurance pays for happy lights, thereby enabling me to really enjoy this time of year without fatal leg chewing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From Squarebanks With Love

Forgive us, Alaska, we knew not what we did.

In choosing Luke Hopkins as borough mayor over Tammie Wilson in the last local exercise in the democratic process, we inadvertently paved the way for move to Juneau.  How could we know Gov. Parnell would appoint her to John Coghill's empty seat?  And in what strange world does a person lose an election and get a bump up?

I'll say this, Wilson is, by all appearances, a very Coghill kind of Fairbanks Republican, and will absolutely delight the folks out at North Pole.  

One need only refer to the campaign materials sent out by the kind people at "Tammie Wilson for Borough Mayor" shortly before the runoff election.  Now, we don't have a lot of the major statewide issues here in the borough, it's usually about school bonds, our inherent right to suck down polluted air in the winter, or the fact that people want services but don't want to pay for them.  So, what platform was Wilson running on?  Based on her the flyer that arrived in my P.O. Box, Tammie was running to save Greater Redneckia from the green hordes.

"Protect the Right to access borough land for Hunting, Fishing and recreation," it read.  "The opponents environmentalists will show up at the polls in force.  Will you?" On the flip side was an endorsement by Craig Compeau, National Rifle Association/Alaska Outdoors Council member and Director of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.  A trifecta!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rumors of Our Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated

Really, neither of us has sold our belongings and hied off to Mexico, nor decided to camp out in a wilderness setting in a wall tent. 

We've just been busy.  In my case, work has eaten my brain.  

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It's Coming Up Orwell All Over

'Tis election day and I was going to type a wee rant about the political spectrum here in Greater Redneckia, but I went and paid attention to things in the larger world again.  Yep, read the news this morning, and I have news for all you folks who think Obama is going to fix things:  this country has gone so far off track it will take decades to find the freaking train, let alone drag it toward the tracks. 

Really, and what is more important?  Our collective loss of decency or whether or not Squarebanks elects a lefty or a righty?

I'm speaking vaguely, of course, of the disposition of the case Arar v. Ashcroft.  (And all this info is a summation of a Glenn Greenwald story at Salon.Com. Go read that one.) In 2002, an innocent man (Canadian citizen of Canadian and Syrian descent) was sent to Syria through rendition by our government - where he was brutally tortured - all in the name of 'the war on terror.'  His crime? Uh, well, there wasn't one.  He did switch planes at JFK Airport, though. 

Arar sued.  Our court system, the Second Circuit specifically, ruled 7-4 in favor of the our government's position and tossed his case.  What's that smell?  That's the smell of the Constitution being burned.  And, well, yeah, torture is illegal, but the court majority seems to think that no matter what the government does, nor how illegal it might be, people should not be able to sue for damages.  The court should defer if the government tosses around the terms 'national security' and state secrets.' 

Excellent quote in Greenwald's article:
"Reflecting the type of people who fill our judiciary, the judges in the majority also invented the most morally depraved bureaucratic requirements for Arar to proceed with his case and then claimed he had failed to meet them.  Arar did not, for instance, have the names of the individuals who detained and abused him at JFK, which the majority said he must have.  As Judge Sack in dissent said of that requirement:  it "means government miscreants may avoid [] liability altogether through the simple expedient of wearing hoods while inflicting injury" (p. 27; emphasis added)."
Repeat after me, "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Excellent Read Can Be Found

@ Alaska Dispatch (linked to on the right in the sidebar) regarding the Point Hope caribou story that blew up last year.  I'd say it's 'fair and balanced' but that would probably skeeve you out in a Faux News kind of way.  It was linked to from the ADN's Newsreader, but probably warranted more prominent display.

Only two parts have been posted so far, but it is a thoughtful, well-written article, neither a lynch job nor a romanticization of village life.  Shades of grey, imagine that.

Most interesting perhaps, is the observation on the issue of 'waste' as regards caribou.  Caribou get a lot of nasty diseases.  Agency types repeat the following often when rural folks bring up the fact that they were taught to leave sick/diseased animals in the field:  the meat will be safe to eat if thoroughly cooked.  They overlook the fact that a good portion of caribou meat consumed out in the villages is eaten raw and frozen (quaq) or dried (not cooked.)  Perhaps after the dust from this settles, it might provide an opportunity for rural residents out there in the range of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd to talk with agency types about disease identification and the relative safety of uncooked caribou meat.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Behold - the Germstar

On a recent (forced) trip to the lower 48, I had my first encounter with the Germstar, pictured at right.

It appeared one day in the lobby of my hotel. Apparently, the Purell hand sanitizers that were on every counter and table in the lobby were simply not enough. After all, we are in the middle of a pan(ic)demic.

There it was: jellyfish-esque, menacing. Also incontinent. A steady drip of sanitizer emitted from its bottom. Hotel staff addressed this problem by placing a soft towel, frequently changed, beneath the 'star.

As I waited for the elevator, I mused on its name. Clearly a Star Wars reference... to entice the mind ful less consumer to view hand sanitizer as the Force in this battle against evil germs. But wait.

The Death Star dispensed death. So, uh, wouldn't a Germstar dispense germs??

Oops. Someone in marketing was asleep behind the wheel on that one.

I did not then, nor do I ever during the duration of my stay, use the Germstar. This nets me disapproving frowns (Typhoid Mary!) from my fellow elevator users, who do most liberally use the Germstar, especially after I have punched the button with my germ-encrusted finger.

Really, can there be anything else that will ever demonstrate more thoroughly just what a nation of sheeple this country has become than the H1N1 pan(ic)demic?

On the same trip, I caught a news clip of a CDC spokesperson breathlessly holding a news conference about the 86 children who have so far died of H1N1.

Not to diminish the individual loss of these children, but 86? Out of - what- 250 million people? Don't tell me that the spokesperson doctor didn't know that she was spouting hyper BS. Any high school student with a smattering of math and a basic understanding of percentages can stand up and say that 86 out of 250 million isn't just meaningless, it ain't even in the universe of statistically significant.

We sure don't hear about the 1000s of kids that die annually (flu season or not) of suicide, abuse and neglect. It's easier to fear a microbe than it is to face our collective, civic responsibility for the good of the vunerable in our society.

Just put up a Germstar.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just in Case Winter Decides to Make an Appearance

Happiness is, or is at least increased, by a new pair of bunny boots.

At right: the old pair.

The old set was beginning to get a bit worn.  The tastefully applied duct tape dates back to a dog (then a puppy) with the usual chewing issues.  As the material of the boot aged, the tops were cracking in random spots.  And, in testament to the wonder that is duct tape, I think that that is the original piece I slapped on there. 

I'd had my the old, first pair of bunnies since 1994 when I still thought I would spend a few more months in Alaska and then move back to the Lower 48.  I bought them off a friend's husband (who had very small feet for a dude.)  They were one of the best outdoor gear purchases I've ever made, landing squarely in the sweet spot of price range and foot happiness.  (Unlike, say, those stupid Sorel Caribous which supposedly are great down to minus 20.  To that I say, "Ha!") Yes, they are ugly.  Funny-looking, check.  Heavy.  Unwieldy.  And yes, they are not suited for all temps, for sure, it needs to be cold to break these out, otherwise, ugh, sweaty feet.

At right:  the old pair, so beaten up that the little valve thing to close the bladder in the boot just finally broke off.  On both boots!

Yes, it is a bit silly to get sentimental about a pair of boots, fergodssakes, but these were the boots of my twenties.  My really, really, fun twenties and very nearly all my thirties.  I got good enough to drive stick shift wearing them (no small feat, a ha ha) and could even run in them, if need be -- for short distances of course, I'm not talking training runs.

I'll not ditch the old pair.  They'll be relegated to the ever-accumulating 'spare gear' stash for visitors and folks who don't have proper equipment.  Despite their increasing decrepitude, they'll still keep somebody's feet warm.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Juneau and Alaska Just Lost a Good Man

Richard "Machine Gun" Foster's  house was pink.

Which is absolutely fitting if you have spent any time in Nome specifically or any place else in Bush Alaska for that matter.  Color schemes are not muted, housing associations and covenants don't hold sway other than folks might get a bit pissed if you drop a Conex and a pile of junked cars on the property line, and one's state representative might just walk around in camouflage pants all the time.

He was most famous for the whole big deal made (federal charges, actually) out of his having unregistered machine guns.  And a 50 mm mortar.  As I reckon it, no Nome jury would have a real problem with that.  They are not your garden-variety Fairbanks gun nutters out there, but probably could relate to having a gun collection.  Who wouldn't want someone like that representing you in Juneau?

Oh, and I highly recommend following the link above to read about his trial on the weapons charges in Nome.  The ADN did us a favor by reposting it. Really, go read it right now.

Did I mention he was a Democrat?  That's the kind of Democrat we have here in Alaska, all you Outside people: gun-toting ones.

I most remember the story of one election night when a reporter went to his house to get his reaction to being reeleected (again.)  It took a bit of knocking on the door, as it was late and Foster probably asleep, but he finally answered the door, all disheveled in an undershirt and his tidy whiteys.  They had a brief interview and it was very business as usual.  Really, who needs clothes for an interview on your doorstep?  Ah, Nome. 

Foster died Tuesday in Seattle while undergoing dialysis.  He was waiting on a kidney transplant.  He'd served as a representative for Western Alaska (a district drawn so huge that it would have been a state in the Lower 48) for as long as I can remember.  But his departure leaves The Lege with one less guy (or gal) who 'gets it' -- who understood Bush Alaska and had been around long enough to remember all the various evolutions of the 'rural-urban divide'.

His approach was the pragmatic one.  One of only a few Democrats in The Lege, he voted with the Republican Caucus - and in return, guaranteed a steady flow of capital projects to the communities he represented.  Not all of us liked it, but I think he still reckoned back to a less partisan time in Juneau and wanted to try to work across party lines.  The dude, was just, well, nice.  So much so that one year he quit the caucus largely over what amounted to hurt feelings about a sandwich.  Eventually, they apologized to him and he rejoined.

He was a pilot and a Vietnam veteran.  He was known for telling stories and jokes, many of the 'pull my finger' variety.  He will be missed -- and Juneau will be a lot less colorful (and authentically Alaskan).  Folks in the wilderburbs and suburbs like to talk about being a "Real Alaskan", but Richard truly was. 

Safe travels, Richard.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Fairbanks Area Election Results: A Poor Showing, Indeed

Another election has come and gone here in the heart of Greater Redneckia, and I must say, we really did not impress.

Oh, I'm not commenting on the outcomes of any particular item (yet) but the fact that our voter turnout just, well, sucked.  For the amount of whingeing and ranting prior to the big day about the great threat to wood boilers posed by clean air, not to mention the creeping socialism of trying to eliminate the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag*, one might expect a vigorous display of participation in the process.  From a town with a significant military presence and a truly impressive number of flag decals on vehicles, one might expect a little more enthusiasm for the most basic act of living in a democracy representative form of gummint.  Ya know, exercise that right that we've supposedly been sending our troops all over to protect?

But no.  As to outcomes, the city sales tax didn't pass which should come as no surprise to anyone with a faint acquaintance with Fairbanks.  I suppose I should be happy, as a not-city resident, but I do have to rely on its services while I am present in the city, which is at minimum five days a week. But fortunately for myself and all those who don't live within its bounds and therefore (do not) pay property tax in the city, Fairbanksans hate taxes so much more than your average tax hating American that they will scuttle any attempt to do something about paying for necessary services like roads and cops and the nice people who run into burning buildings for a living.  So, uh, thanks for the free ride guys.

We have a run-off election for borough mayor to look forward to, and a clearer distillation of the political spectrum around here could not be found in the two candidates left standing:  Luke Hopkins and Tammie Wilson.  Hopkins is, to a certain segment of the local population, the face of creeping socialism, unionism, and flaming liberalism despite his having rolled over on the plastic bag tax issue, being a wood burner himself, and possessing a skilled trade (carpentry.)  In other parts of the world, he might be considered moderate - but well, it's all about location.  Wilson, and this is the funniest description of the other end of the spectrum I've heard recently, is described by the News Minus as a 'private property rights advocate.'  Need I go further? 

*Known in other parts of state as the "scourge of Western Alaska."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Finally, Chilling Out

 Yep, it's here.

When I went out last night to check on the dog, the rain had frozen to the top of the dog box.  (The dog was nowhere to be seen, having tunnelled out of the pen to go after one of the many neighborhood rabbits whose mere existence offends her.)

(At right: the scene this morning on the deck.)

Hello again, blog reading peoples!  I've been on a seasonally induced hiatus (read: sulk) since, oh, shortly after the likelihood that the Goldstream was going to go up in flames was still pretty high.  Oh, I was thrilled for that rain that slowed all the fire down, but it was the turning point this year.  Suddenly, it was FALL.

Fall has always been a terrible season for me.  Winter?  Cold, dark, but strangely comforting and a nice breather from running around trying to get stuff done.  Spring?  Just a leafy prelude to summer.  Summer?  Hello, months-long manic episode!  But fall? 

Usually, early in the fall, my temper gets shorter and I run about saying things like, "If this relationship doesn't work out, I'm never living with anyone ever again!"  At which point, my friends remind me that I say that EVERY year.  So far, I've veered between unhealthy doses of pop music, homemade peartinis, a return to working out, and replaying Half Life 2 on the hardest setting.

The political situation has not helped.  Part of my silence has been due to near toxic levels of annoyance with the vast amounts of stupidity one can witness by simply watching the news.  The Anchorage ordinance thingey, 'death panels', idiots carrying guns to town hall meetings ... I have been stunned into annoyed silence. 

The arrival of cold, fresh air seems to be helping.  Thanks to Flic for carrying this thing while I've been off sullking like a two year old.  

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Mask of Ignorance (Part 2)

Had the new city police chief – Laren Zager – hailed from parts Outside perhaps he could be forgiven some of the ignorance he apparently possesses regarding Interior Alaska Natives and villages. In fact, if he had lived and worked only in Anchorage, it might even make a tad bit of sense. But police chief Zager has spent 20 years in Fairbanks.

Of course, there are lots of people born and raised in Fairbanks that haven’t a clue about that portion of our Interior’s population who come from a totally different culture and race. True, Interior Alaska Natives (like all Alaska Native and Native American groups) may be demographically small in number relative to the majority population, but their rates of incarceration, suicide and violence perpetrated against them by members of the non-Native population (especially by non-Native men against Native women) are disproportionately high. Much of this is tied to their perpetually lower socio-economic status. Disenfranchised as they are*, Natives lack the political and economic power to substantively impact the racism and prejudices that make them more likely to be victimized, rather than championed, by our western legal system.

Thus, I would argue, if you are heading up a law enforcement department that has a long (and in many minds deplorable) history of dealing with arresting Natives, some extra effort at personal education about village realities might be on order. It might also help the police chief overcome some of the banal (but dangerous) assumptions about Natives that he appears to hold.

Case in point: I return to my personal bug-a-boo of the moment, police chief Zager’s assertion that, since spring, the number of chronic inebriates downtown has doubled, if not tripled (from about 100 to as many as 300). Towards the end of the August 19 article, Zager is asked to give his opinion on why this sudden rise in chronic inebriates.

"As for what’s behind the increase in the chronic inebriate population, Zager said one theory is spring flooding along the Yukon River might have displaced many village residents who have turned to the streets of Fairbanks because of the city’s reputation as being accommodating to the homeless. "

Wow – that is jaw-dropping.

First off, no one in a village is homeless if they lose their home. Most people have several homes. These are the homes of their relatives and extended families. Even without loss of a physical structure, people tend to move around within households. Village home life is more like having different components of a “home” distributed throughout the community, than it is about one single residence that is dedicated for the specific use of an individual and their immediate family (as it is in our culture). So unlike our culture, where a misfortune can result in one being out on the streets, this is not the norm in Native culture. People are much more generous and communal about their living spaces than we tend to be on our side of the street – where the notion that one’s home is their castle is still very much alive and well, even in these times of underwater mortgages.

Natives don’t end up sleeping in cars – they end up sleeping on a relative’s couch.

So the notion that spring flooding would have resulted in droves of homeless villagers moving to Fairbanks to live on the streets is just – well – ridiculous.

Secondly, this so-called theory completely ignores the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Natives live in a contextual sphere that is totally different than ours. Westerners’ sense of place is tied to physical possession, chiefly embodied by our house/property. Thus, for us, the loss of a house does open up the possibility of relocation, especially for young single men.

However, the flaw in application here is the assumption that what works for western sensibilities works for Native ones. It ignores the absoluteness of connection to the country experienced by Natives. And it overlooks the fact that this connection is organically different than any bond, tie or other attachment a non-Native may have for a particular patch of land. There really are no English words that convey the essence of the Native sense of place and connection within the larger sphere of country – because in our world view this simply does not exist. And while people from the vil like to come into town to shop, go to the fair, visit and to do all of those town things that we all do, in very short order most become very homesick: for their families, for the village, for their way of life and for Native food, and most of all, for the country.

The metaphysical aside, Zager is talking collectively about a people that are supremely used to dealing with and rolling with the punches that nature can deliver. A spring flood, even one as severe as the one that just occurred this past spring, is not about to turn any villager’s life upside down, nor drive them out of the country.

Finally, Zager shouldn’t misconstrue the fact that most of these people can live very comfortably outdoors, whether in the woods or in the city, as evidence that villagers find Fairbanks “accommodating” (to homeless or others). Few Natives view Fairbanks as hospitable. Most see it as an unfriendly place filled with unfriendly people (who are always willing to take their money), as well as a place that is just outright dangerous for them.

Maybe instead of trying to shoehorn Native motives into the misfit of western thinking, Zager should think harder about what might be more likely the cause of increasing numbers of younger, angrier men drinking on the streets. Interior Natives have been experiencing and surviving spring floods for eons, but they have been dealing with the white man for a little more than 100 years.

A more plausible line of reasoning is that we are beginning to experience the full results produced by two generations of Natives who have struggled with the social, emotional and psychic impacts from contact and colonialism: the loss of language and generational disruption from boarding schools and disease, the sexual abuse by missionaries and priests, and all the other systematic attempts by the majority culture to eradiate Native language, culture and tribal structure. Post-traumatic stress syndrome, self-medication and violence born of unresolved anger over the historical trauma suffered by these men and their families are more likely drivers behind an increase in downtown alcoholics than are the spring floods.

But better for the police chief to turn to deus ex machina, in this case the mighty Yukon, than to lift the blinders of ignorance and confront the problem head on. Because to do so would require Zager, the Mayor, the council, and all of us to grapple with the fact that the alcoholism, violence and homelessness hopelessness experienced by these men are rooted in human-caused catastrophes, not acts of God. And that might mean we have a moral, ethical and spiritual obligation to acknowledge, address and attempt to make right the wrongs done.

Far better to put the solution on FEMA’s doorstep, than to look at what really is going on in the city of Fairbanks – in its police department, its treatment of Native people, and its ridiculously inadequate treatment facilities and social services resources.

* a status that is shared by other minority populations as well – such as inner city African Americans and rural poor Caucasians in Appalachia.

Friday, September 11, 2009

15 Minutes of Fame

When a copy of A Chronic Problem finally hit the vil – it generated a whole lot of interest on the vil street.

Not so much for its content – people are so totally, completely and utterly used to the News Miner publishing articles that cast Natives in a bad light – that yet another isn’t even worth the effort it takes to roll one’s eyes and say – here we go again.

Nope, what captured interest was the photo spread that accompanied the first article.

“Yo – look man – it’s your shoes!”

“And those there, those are my knees, man!”

“Ohhh, look, look there, that’s M----, see right there on the end of the bench!”

Inquiring minds might want to know how anybody could peg pants and shoes as their own – don’t many boots look alike, and how can you tell one pair of carhartts from another, for instance?

Well, because despite what the article implied, quite a few of these so-called chronic inebriates were not so blotto as to a) not be able to tell the photographer not to take their picture, at least not from the knees up, and b) not remember when the reporter/photographer came through downtown last spring.

So there they were, jocularly identifying quite a number of people in the photos that certainly are not homeless – including themselves – from the comfort of, well, their homes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Mask of Racism (Part 1)

Chronic inebriates. This is what the City of Fairbanks, its police department and all the rest of the public policy makers here like to call the people with drinking problems who drink downtown (and who happen to be, 99 out of 100 times, Native). Lately there have been at least two articles in the Daily News Miner about the "chronic inebriate" problem. This is a re-occurring theme. And each time it reoccurs, I get more and more disturbed.

The last time this term cropped up was on August 19, in an article that blatted the headline: Fairbanks police step up patrols as downtown chronic inebriates increase. The nut of this story was that, under new police chief Zager, the city police are increasing their patrol unit by four in response to business owners' complaints that "a larger, younger chronic inebriate population is becoming increasingly violent."

There is so much that is so wrong with this article as well as the persistent and shrill attacks on the so-called chronic inebriates that it is hard to know where to begin. But for starters - let's look at why the City, the cops and everyone else in power in these parts uses the term "chronic inebriate" as opposed to the medically-accepted term "alcoholic"*.

These two terms are not interchangeable. If there is any organization that is up on the lingo associated with alcohol abuse, it's the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the NIH. The term "chronic inebriate" appears nowhere on its website or in its publications. It's not used in its research papers, press releases, FAQs, publications or fact sheets.

So, what is up with the persistent use of this phrase by Fairbanks' mayor, city council, and police force? The term itself is not formally defined in medical, sociological or psychological reference books, but is understood to mean a chronic alcoholic who is homeless and drinks in public. Thus if challenged, I suspect the city and its police chief would defend their usage of the term by saying that these are homeless drunks, and thus their use of the phrase is perfectly justified, racially neutral, and transparent. No man behind the curtain here.

Except for one troubling little issue ---- very few of the people that they are labeling as chronic inebriates are homeless. They have homes; most of them in villages, some of them in Fairbanks. They may be alcoholics, even very advanced-stage alcoholics, but they are not homeless.

A majority of this pool of downtown alcoholics (to call them what they are) are cyclical. Throughout the year, they come into town and for varying lengths of time end up on Two Street or along the river. They come in for a variety of reasons: to drink legally (if from a dry village), for medical, to shop, or to visit. The fact is --- people who suffer from alcoholism, no matter how good their intentions are when they get on the Fairbanks-bound plane, are going to have a hard time resisting booze that is $11 a bottle (the current going rate for R&R) and a virtually unlimited supply when bootlegging in the vil puts alcohol at anywhere from $50 to $300 a bottle.

Furthermore, even if these drinkers are from villages, they aren't homeless when in town either. The majority of village drinkers (even those with relatives in town) stay in hotels - and not flop hotels. There are quite a few hotels downtown that are all too happy to cater to the village alcoholic (and even tolerate the impacts that go along with that) who comes over and gets stuck in town on a bender. Thus, the chronic inebriates and their relatives contribute quite a handsome sum to the hotel industry, especially during the winter off-season --- something that is never mentioned by the troubled downtown business owners.

So, this is not really a chronic inebriate problem but an alcoholism problem --- the same heartbreaking disease that strikes so very many in the non-Native population. Yet if the city officials used the term "alcoholic", they would have to acknowledge that Natives are vulnerable to the same disease as non-Natives. And in doing so, they then would have to look at the ugly fact that Natives are denied, through widespread indifference, often willful ignorance (of the problem) and an abominable lack of resources, many of the options for help and support that the majority population can secure for its members that suffer this dreadful disease.

Better to use a different term. One that does not imply disease as much as the fault of the individual. The words chronic inebriate literally translate to always-drunk: a hopeless drunk. In other words, one that chooses to exist in a persistent state of drunkenness, with a not so subtle top note of insufficient moral and character fiber to snap out of their derelict and debauched state. Its baggage is the implication that this state of being arises out of the individual's agency (blame the victim), not through the conjunction of biological predisposition, personal choice and the roll of the cosmic dice as with disease.

On the surface, city officials talking about chronic inebriates appear to be engaged in a neutral and rational discussion of a problem that is vaguely medical in nature. Look deeper and what you see is a term that is being used to mask the same racial biases and prejudices that the majority population has nurtured against Native Americans since contact. Not so ironically, it is these same prejudices and stereotypes that are responsible for the chronic low socioeconomic status that contributes to the high alcoholism rates among Natives and restricts their options for treatment and prevention.

This type of code talking serves no one well. It is time for city officials and other policy makers to address the severe alcoholism problem that plagues this region as well as the rest of the state. Contrary to what police chief Zager said in the paper --- it is about social services (and medical and behavioral health services). Alcoholics of all backgrounds and races face significant challenges if they want to go into recovery here, particularly those living in small villages. It is not about adding more police or establishing alcohol impact zones or a do-not sell list. It is about taking a hard look at the reasons why the people in power (local, regional, state and federal) do not want to allocate funds for the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, but instead prefer to fund those institutions which punish and incarcerate rather than heal.

*Doubt this? A simple google search on both the web and the FDNM site comparing the two phrases will amply demonstrate the veracity of this statement.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

But Does It Come with a Shovel?

Appetizer and entree (r.)
Little wonder Americans are fat. Pictured above is what constitutes an appetizer at a notorious eatery somewhere down the highway between here and the Canadian border. Buried under that brick of cheese food are enough nachos, beans and chicken to feed the 1950's nuclear family of four plus the family dog. Now it's considered to be a single-serving prelude to more food to come.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

That Sound You Hear

... is the sound of the shit hitting the fan.

Seriously? The ADF&G sonar was off? AGAIN? And so some of the restrictions in place for king fishing on the Yukon might have been unnecessary? How can fisheries managers ever hope to have local people buy into the regulatory/management process if you shut them down unnecessarily? AGAIN?

Due to a lack of coffee, I can't remember the year this happened before. Was it 2000? Anyone have a better memory?

[The sound you can't hear right now is the one made when I hit my head against my desk.]

At least the ADN put this into context. The lower river villages didn't make any money, which means a tough time buying fuel oil for the winter, keeping the electric on, paying off the bills from the previous year. (Of course the middle and upper river villages don't have commercial fisheries, so commercial closures only mean more kings coming up river to them for subsistence.)

We're looking at a disaster here folks. Folks who played by the rules and did not fish for kings have to be angry. Summer chum don't make it that far up the river and aren't available to many villages. And the folks who counted on fall chum for their subsistence instead are now faced with the possibility that that run is going to be a disaster, too. Yukon villages are looking at very tough times this winter.

Hopefully, Parnell's administration will get on this immediately. When a chum crash hit hit the A-Y-K in the mid-90s, the Knowles administration declared a disaster. One of the saddest things I've witnessed in Alaska was that year, when donated frozen salmon fillets in plastic bags arrived and local people, subsistence fishers, walked away with their share of the donation.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

1000 Words

Early morning, dipnet trip at Chitina.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Finally! Rain Arrives Just in Time for Fire and Fair

That sound you hear? Quite a few of us exhaling in relief. It began raining some time in the wee hours and continues as I slurp coffee and read the news this morning. And it's not an indecisive, few-drops-here-and-there rain. This is steady stuff.

I don't know that I've ever been so pleased to hear the sound of rainfall.

The timely return of precipitation ought to give all the yellow shirts out there a chance to contain and subdue the numerous wild fires out there. It definitely helps to not have the entire area tinder dry. Even if the fires north, east, west and south of us hadn't gotten any closer to Squarebanks and its surrounding neighborhoods, conditions were such that any kind of fire starting up within them could have chewed up the wilderburbs pretty quick. Forestry and the local VFDs have been jumping on anything that started around here - but the question was how long would they bat 1.000?

As noted yesterday, it ALWAYS rains during the local fair.

Heck, I don't even like the Tanana Valley Fair that much. (I don't want to go on rides, or walk around eating booth food that I consume throughout the summer, and I don't have kids. Why go?) But I just might go and walk around in the rain.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sitting Here in Goldstream, Watching the Smoke

Yesterday evening, a bunch of us stood outdoors watching the sky turn a peculiar orangeish gray. There was so much smoke that it seemed like it might be 11 or 12 at night, not 9:30 in the evening. Everyone on the road had switched on their headlights. (For you Lower 48ers - we still don't get dark until pretty late - Land O' Midnight Sun, etc.)

The smoke wasn't from the Railbelt Complex down by Nenana, or the Wood River fire, but from the Hardluck Creek fire that is getting closer enough to our northern wilderburbs to make some of my friends pretty worried about their homes. More fire crews (likely from Outside, resources here are stretched thin) arrived last night.

All the fires here in Squarebanks region made significant runs yesterday. A new fire, out Chena Hot Springs Road, was ripping, from what I've heard. It's like 2004, which was my first summer in Squarebanks, except that we just witnessed the driest July ever recorded. It is scary dry out here. Relative humidities have been very low. Temperatures have been high. This is the kind of stuff that makes for what the professionals call 'extreme fire behavior.' Firefighters are not catching a break from this weather.

The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center's report this morning on Hardluck Creek was not encouraging:
"Extreme fire behavior was observed with torching, crowning and runs in Black Spruce with spotting 1/2 mile. Night fire was also extreme. 30 structures are threatened and 3 structures were destroyed: 1 vacation home, and 2 cabins. Personnel have been unable to accurately map the fire at this time.Tomorrow crews will continue structure protection and try and hold the fire on the North and the East at Bennett Road."
For days, everyone has been repeating the same hopeful adage - the Tanana Fair is starting this weekend, so you know we'll get rain then. Seriously, the Fair is famous for shitty weather. Me, I've been worried that one of my neighbors* (in the loose sense, meaning someone within a few miles of my property) will do something stupid: try to burn a brush pile, decide to dispose of trash via a burn barrel, opt to light off some fireworks, etc... And then we'd have fire busting out here in the Valley. Stupidity knows no season.

So, we're watching, waiting, and finishing up making our property 'fire wise', clearing all the combustibles from within a 30 foot perimeter around the house, aka creating 'defensible space.' A friend helped me chuck the wood pile away further from the house a few weeks ago, thankfully. I've spent days cutting down vegetation around the house and raking out all the dead stuff. Luckily, we don't have black spruce on the lot, and only one tree (a birch) is within 30 feet, and that sucker will come down in a heartbeat if we think things are getting close.

I can't necessarily say that for all my neighbors*. The Valley is, in places, a rabbit warren of dry cabins and houses tucked into the woods. Some places are thick with black spruce and downed dead trees. (And, friends in the Lower 48, we don't have hydrants up here.)


Saturday, August 01, 2009


Sometimes vows are made to be broken. Like my vow of some months ago not to ever again blog about she-who-shall-not-be-named. And quite possibly, the marriage vows of the Palins - those paradigms of family values.

"Affairs on both sides" trumpets the Alaska Report, as this thing burns through the internet faster than the Wood River fire that is torching black spruce south of Fairbanks. More alluring is the tidbit that Sarah may have purchased land in Montana and is considering moving there.

Of course Meg Stapleton is denying, denying, denying - as of three hours ago. The Sarah Palin camp has always been shy on transparency, so why should they be playing level now? The scuttlebutt around some walks of Wasilla is that this is not new news. There were many other things out of Wasilla that were hotly denied by the Palin propaganda machine, only to later be proven true.

As is the case here. Maybe they are divorcing, maybe they are not - only time will tell if its just those troublesome "lefty bloggers" (guilty as charged Ms. Stapleton) spreading more filth and lies about the pure Palins.

However, if this particular grapevine bears fruit, all I can say is "Hallelujah, hallelujah!" And not about the impending divorce. Nope. I am a' praying right now that the rumor that she is moving to Montana is true. Could it be possible that in one week we will not only get rid of her as governor, but get rid of her all together? Please, Montana, take her. She's yours.

One thing to note, if this is one more nail that she is busily pounding into her political coffin, she is definitely proving her mettle as a Christian fundamentalist leader: monogamy, modesty, and moral behavior is for everyone else but her (and Ted Haggard and Jim Baker, and Mark Sanford and Larry Craig, and....)

And if a little color does show up in the bottom of the old gold pan after all, with this vein playing out to be something other than fool's gold, then maybe Alaska finally has a chance to fade back into the obscurity it once enjoyed. A place most people, if they thought about us at all, thought contained only Eskimos, igloos, gold and the occasional grizzled prospector.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

2009 is a Berry Good Year

10 gallons and counting.

Plus one gallon of raspberries. Its been blueberry crisp, followed by raspberry muffins, then blueberry cobbler, and blueberry pancakes, raspberry buckle, blueberry muffins - you get the picture.

Eight hours of picking (spread over about four days) has resulted in a freezer full of gallon bags of berries. This is a bumper crop of blueberries the likes of which have not been seen in the Fairbanks area for several years now.

The berries are so thick - 4 to 6 plump berries per cluster - that I turn my nose up at bushes which in past years I would have raved about as being sure signs I had died and gone to berry-pickers heaven. Yup, its fat city.

A few days ago I sent out a gallon to the SO's mom in the vil. You'd think that would be like bringing coals to Newcastle, but no. Because while the berries are fat, juicy and plentiful here, they are not so luxe elsewhere in the Interior - or at least not around that particular village.

I got kudos from mom for that bag of berries, so today another two gallons went over with someone traveling back to the vil. Mom has been around for many, many years and she knows good berries when she gets them. As an elder with specific tastes and high standards - getting props from her was well worth the air freight.

I am all about earning brownie points and looking out for mom. She is the glue that holds the family together - the force that keeps the men in the family in line, on track and from doing crazy men things. That makes my life easier and more pleasant with my SO. Additionally, without her all of us in that extended family are much reduced, and to no small degree without direction. When mom is around, family members' roles are clear, structure settles in, and there is harmony, purpose and peace - like a hive that is queen-right.

A queen-right hive produces lots of honey and is populated by calm bees unlikely to attack and sting; bees that are all working to the purposes to which they were born. A hive that is not queen-right is chaotic, agitated and full of angry bees that will attack at the slightest provocation. A queenless hive has no future for without a queen, the worker bees begin reproducing. Worker bees can only produce drones, and thus the hive starves and dies.

Like a worker bee making honey and taking care of the queen, I got a few more gallons stashed away for mom. A small price to pay for a queen-right family.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

There's a New Rooster on the Block

And no, I don't mean Parnell.

Lil Roo- a reasonably handsome red and white aracuna rooster - arrived this morning. He replaces Mr. Roo, who died from too much of the good life back in early June.

After living rooster-less for nearly two months, I discovered that a) hens are boring and b) I really missed the sound of a rooster - especially greeting me when I staggered home from a pub crawl somewhere south of midnight. No idea if my neighbors missed the 3 AM rooster calls, but since at least two of them have chickens, including several roosters, I didn't bother to poll the neighborhood on whether or not I should get a replacement.

So today Lil Roo arrived in a pet carrier - donated by an acquaintance who discovered that 50% of her sexed layers are roosters, not hens. For those new to chix tech-speak, "sexed" birds means those that supposedly had their gender determined prior to sale as layers, not, as one might suppose, birds with high sex drives.

Despite the prospect of being the only rooster in a yard of seven hens, Lil Roo had to be shaken out of his pet carrier. He is a young rooster and sized up next to the more robust older hens, quite small. He quickly realized this. Trotting around on the very tips of his toes, he began stretching his neck up and out as far as he could in a vain attempt to enlarge and enhance his size (a trait that male chickens share with their human counterparts).

Ah, but to no avail. Lil Roo failed to impress. The red hens moved in to make sure it was their pecking order that got established. After the dust from the chicken scrum settled, Lil Roo's feathers were decidedly ruffled, and quite a few of them pulled.

Attila the Hen moves in for the kill

Now, several hours later, the chicken cacophony has died down. A few minutes ago I went out to make sure it wasn't because Lil Roo was battered, bleeding and about to be dispatched by his harem. I found him quietly pecking in the small corner of the coop allowed him by the ladies, who were contentedly back to scratching for bugs and dust bathing. But Lil Roo is still on the short leash - every time he gets an amorous glint in his eye and makes overtures to one of the hens, he is severely trounced and forced back into his corner. What's a horny roo to do?

Bird Kvetch

As for more important things than you know what, I give you my latest obsession. Or rather Quixotian enterprise: my personal war on Bird Vetch, aka Vicia cracca L, aka that invasive crap you see everywhere by the roads.

It is also known by its street name, "Alaska Kudzu."

I have a one acre plot on which my crazy old Fairbanks house sits, and a goodly portion of that lot has been overrun by the stuff. I dwelt in happy ignorance until the S.O. pointed the stuff out. And then I realized, it IS everywhere.

At right: One lone strand of fireweed, stranded in a sea of bird vetch.

Surely, the liberal application of a weed whacker could remedy this, no? Uh, no. Because the stuff has not remained unto itself, but as its alias implies, it spreads over everything, choking other plants out. And it has taken my gorgeous stands of fireweed hostage. Which means I have to clear the stuff manually, otherwise known as 'by hand.'

Over a week later, I have eight large piles of vegetation in the yard already. It's no exaggeration to state that it will be a pickup truck load by the time I'm done. (And I'm about halfway there, area-wise.)

Luckily, it appears to not be indestructible, just very good at growing. Hopefully, a few seasons of this type of removal and we can be vetch-free. Fingers-crossed.
From the site Weedwar.Org: "Bird vetch is a perennial that reproduces from copious amounts of seed. This species does not have the ability to resprout after cutting. Seeds are viable for number of years and large seed banks are common."

Sunday, July 26, 2009


And I'm not witty enough to have come up with that myself, so, props to you, oh witty person somewhere out there. You know who you are.

Thoughts had been entertained about attending the soon-to-be-ex Gov's picnic today, but really, I have more important things to do -- continuing my own personal war on bird vetch, for one thing. The bad date is finally over. Perhaps we will choose more wisely next time?

But will the statewide and national fixation on an empty power suit finally wane? Can I again read some of my fave Outside sites, i.e. Salon, the Times, etc. and NOT encounter a Palin headline? Open a random entertainment magazine at the doctors office and not find a story there? Will the media finally stop feeding this idiocy by turning away unless it is a story worth covering? Will progressive bloggers finally stop patting themselves on the back and writing about progressive blogs?

These are questions I can not answer. But today's Squarebanks' event marks the end of her brief tenure as Gov. Which brings to mind my alternative header, which was "Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Ass..."

Many things about the Palinista Era chap my ass:
  • The first woman elected governor of the state of Alaska not only quit, she did a pretty crappy job. Why couldn't Fran Ulmer have made it there first?
  • The much publicized hiring freeze that wasn't. Talk to any of your state employee friends about this one.
  • Her profound disinterest in doing the job she was elected to do once elected. Legislators in Juneau wearing "Where's Sarah" buttons being the most obvious sign.
  • At times, I found myself wanting to defend her, because once again, the ways in which female politicians are criticized are different than the way male politicians are. Can we finally retire the S&M, dominatrix cartoons?
  • As much as I think she did a crap job, I am annoyed by the ways in which class-based stereotypes were used by others who were critical of her administration. And I am ashamed to have used them myself.
  • The whole freaking world now pays attention to Alaskan politics and our podunkery is laid out for all the world to see. Ignored, of course, is the fact that we are not all Wasillans and our podunkery is in many cases only skin deep. There are a lot of liberal, libertarianish, tree-hugging (and even bunny-hugging) peeps out here. Many of us are edumacated.
  • I can't go anywhere Outside without someone asking me about Her. Such questions have replaced igloo and polar bear questions for sheer annoyance.
  • She has paid more attention to Rural Alaska since announcing her resignation than she did when she was still governor. I'm sure all her photo ops in the Bush will be recycled one day for campaign (and possibly evangelical missionary propaganda) materials. It doesn't mean she has gained a freaking clue.
  • This year-plus freak show has obscured all the real issues in the state: the costs of generating electricity in rural areas, the cost of fuel oil to heat homes, the truly dismal king salmon season in places, progress on the freaking gas line -- which contrary to a Camille Paglia bizarro piece in Salon -- is not an accomplishment yet so much as a work in progress, the continuing failure to diversify our economy, the rejection of federal stimulus funds, our leadership (in a bad way) in the areas of alcoholism and sexual assault, etc.
Can we please talk about something else now?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Yet Another Use for 100 Feet of Internet Cable

Alternative role for the moose-cutting, goose singeing spot:
a place to hang the laundry out of dog reach.

Yesterday, I volunteered to do the family washing. Armed with a book and enough change in a sock to do an inner-city mugging, old school style, I perched on the back of the four-wheeler surrounded by several trash bags stuffed full of laundry. Not even the loss of water pressure three-quarters of the way through the cycles slowed me down*. But, because the day was hot and sunny and the washeteria driers, like Laundromat driers the world over, have barely enough heat to dry tulle, I opted for the numerous clotheslines I had noticed strung among the trees at home.

Directly after hanging the second pair of jeans, I experienced a laundry malfunction. First one line broke, then the next, followed by a third and a fourth, dumping all the clothes on the ground. An inspection of the clothesline revealed it to be some kind of friable white plastic cord that had totally deteriorated in the sunlight and winter weather.

A forage of this house and the SO’s house-under-construction next door turned up no rope or rope substitute whatsoever. No wire, no phone cord, no extension cords, nothing.

I thought briefly of the brand-spanking new 100 feet of computer cable I just got in – but more than the fact that I needed the cable to hook up computers, I was just too lazy to walk back down to the office to get that or anything else that might work as clothesline.

So, I festooned the yard with duds. Since the family dog has a penchant for snitching (and chewing) shoes, towels and anything else that catches its fancy, I made sure that the sock racks (a.k.a. the saw horses) were up high off the ground. It worked. The dog only succeeded in making off with one towel that it was able to snag from one of the poles.

And while I managed just fine and made do with what I had and made lemonade out of lemons and did all those things that those annoying inspirational posters urge one to do, I made darn sure that clothesline is down on the list for the next box from town.

*Although the subsequent 24+ hour village-wide power outage a few hours later on one of the hottest days yet definitely would have. Suffice to say that tangled nests of wires festooning the village power poles are, like the Internet hook up, ghetto.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Not Quite the Information Super Highway

It's more like a trail

Dateline: In the vil

Pictured at right is the internet connection that I am currently working on. One might call it a little bit ghetto – but the .22 rifle tucked in the corner makes it indisputably vil.

As noted a number of blogs ago, quite a bit of my absence from FBH these past months has been because of writer’s block, but a lot of it is due to having found a second home somewhere north of the ‘Banks in the vil.

There is always plenty to do – swimming in the river, cutting meat, baking up treats with kids, keeping enough food on the table for an extended family – especially those who are working on building a home nearby – and generally just keeping on top of all the tasks that are part of daily life. Not much different than life as a cabin dweller – houses are small, most heat with wood, and there is no indoor plumbing in any private home. For a shower and the luxury of a flush toilet, a hike to the washeteria is required (except when the hot water boiler fails – which has been a reoccurring event of late).

One significant difference, though, is that when you realize (as I did last night) that you forgot to include a power strip, internet and printer cables with the new computer just ordered, well, there is no jumping in the truck and driving over to Computer Cache to pick up the missing parts. Nope, what one does instead is to call a buddy in town – in this case my blog mate – and ask for these things to be put on the plane. Of course, this requires friends willing to run around town doing errands and taking purchases out to East Ramp. ‘Dweller not only was willing to do the errands, she went to no less than three places to complete the shopping list – an effort that earns her at least two peartinis.

Alas – although she made freight before the mid-afternoon cut off for the afternoon flight – an excess of bypass, freight and passengers meant my little box of computer necessaries got bumped. They might make the morning flight, or they might not*. That too is the way of things out here. In the meantime, instead of spending the evening setting up a new computer at Tribal, I guess I’ll go swimming or take the kids for a bike ride. Bummer.

*After nearly a year of shipping groceries and freight out to friends in the vil, I have discovered that marking all boxes “CHILL” gets them out on the very next flight, because the bush taxi companies have limited refrigerated storage. I neglected to pass on this tip to ‘Dweller.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How Hot Is It In the Interior Right Now?

It's XtraTuf beer cozy hot.

Current weather here at 6:54 p.m., according to the Weather Underground: 88 degrees with smoke. The dog does not rejoice to go outside anymore, she just climbs into the dog box and sulks. (Having fur must suck right now.)

Thanks to a week of temps in the 80s with no rain, there is wildfire all over the place. Here's a shout out to all my friends out working wildfires: Be safe! Mojitos will be ready upon your return.

And here is hoping for some rain, soon.

Edited at 8:02 a.m., July 9:
Woke up to the sweet sounds of a strong downpour last night! Yay! Here's hoping the areas where the folks in yellow are working away got some of the stuff, too.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Must. Not. React. Must. Not. Touch. Keyboard.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaagh. I couldn't hold out. But really?
"You would be amazed at how much time and resource my staff and I, the Department of Law especially, spend on this every day," she said. "It is a waste. We are spending these millions of dollars not on teachers and troopers and roads or fish research and other things that are needed in Alaska." -- soon to be ex-Gov. Sarah Palin, speaking in Kotzebue.
Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit!

I call bullshit.

Yeah, the reason why we inadequately fund education and troopers and roads in Alaska is because of a bunch of ethics investigations of your administration that began, what?, a little more than a year ago? Can anyone, even the most fervent Palin admirer actually buy that argument?

By that line of reasoning, if no ethics investigations had occurred, suddenly, a torrent of money (appropriated by our oh so rural-friendly Legislature) would have poured forth, attempting to actually meet the infrastructure and programmatic needs of our state. The same state where any number of geniuses think that the EMS needs of a large city like Fairbanks could be met by an all volunteer department? Where everyone wants services and no one wants to pay taxes?

Does anyone find it ironic that she has now made her second (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) trip as governor to rural Alaska?

And guess what, Cathy? According to the AP's Dan Joling, you live in a "remote Arctic village. "

Friday, July 03, 2009

Quitting? There's No Quitting In Baseball!

Transcript of the conversation I had a few moments ago when the nice, older lady at the green house dropped the bomb on me:

NLAG: So, what do you think of Palin?
ME: What? What now? Is it the health lady thing?
NLAG: She quit.
ME: What? What? You can't quit being governor. There's no quitting...
NLAG: I know. I've never heard of such a thing.

I mean, wow. I never would have called this one. I'm sure more details will come to light as it is fed through the Media Bass-o-Matic. And there will probably be a lot of whooping it up on the part of some of her most strident critics. Me, I'll hoist a celebratory mojito (it's damned hot in Squarebanks right now) tonight and save the deep analysis for later. But thinking back over her term so far, I'm equal parts glad to see her go and pretty disappointed about how poor a governor she turned out to be.

Remember back in the beginning, in the days of 80 percent approval, when even folks like me liked her a little? Somehow, along the way, it's turned into a bad date. Bear with me here.

And this is an analogy. (The Gov likes analogies.) Sometimes, you land a date with a really hot person. And that first date rocks. And on the third of fourth date, you are still all twitterpated -- until the really hot person starts talking and you get a much clearer (and perhaps not beer goggle enhanced) idea of who that person is. And it ain't pretty. And they aren't that smart. But you hang in there a bit longer. As time goes by, you begin to wince every time that person gets ready to say something. Eventually, the hot person doesn't even seem hot anymore.

A good friend from Shish and I just watched the footage of her resignation. It's hard to to understand why she resigned, based on her the text of her announcement. She says she has reasons, but it is all pretty vague. But a couple of quick thoughts before I go hoist a glass or three:
  • on her basketball analogy and the 'full court press', as my basketball playing friend noted, "You don't put your head down and drive through -- you pass it."
  • on the lame duck thing: What? You're not going to run again so you turn the reins over to your lieutenant governor now?
  • as my basketball playing friend noted: "Parnell is not a three-point shooter."
  • is there something pretty scandalous out there? is she quitting ahead of it?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Faith-Based Governance or Hasty Covering of Butt?

First, show me the data.

Seriously, if someone is foolish enough to Twitter that 50 percent of Emmonak residents are meeting their subsistence needs (presumably for salmon, though technically, I think it is reckoned normally by species, not by general category, so they ought to state whether needs are being met for kings or chum), then I would like that someone to post the data set. And the methods used to come up with that assertion. At minimum:
  • How many households (the typical way of counting things) did you talk to? Or did you just randomly talk to people on the street?
  • What questions did you ask them? How you word something matters a great deal, as it will skew your results if you are not careful.
  • Based on the the number of households asked the questions, or the number of individuals on the street, or from how deep you plucked your data from your butt, how (numerically, demonstrable by the equations used) did you calculate that 50 percent of Emmonak is meeting its subsistence needs?
Oh wait, perhaps this is faith-based science?

I've not been under a rock, but away from the System of Tubes for over a week. But when I returned and started reading accounts of the latest stupidity emanating from The Gov's administration, I went to her website and watched the following video titled "Subsistence in Emmonak."

Does anyone else find it ironic to call an an elder getting fish donated (presumably) from the ADF&G test nets 'subsistence'? Perhaps a more accurate title might be "The Future of Subsistence"?

Apparently, a member of her administration provided video of an Emmonak elder getting fish from ADF&G (who he terms the 'game wardens') from what I presume is the ADF&G test net. (ADF&G test nets that monitor salmon returns typically will make fish caught in test nets available to locals.)

Second, is it just me or is this '50 percent needs met' a covering of ass should this ever get to a lawsuit? Lawsuits seem to be the final avenue of these sorts of issues.

Third, I fear that this could turn into a divide and conquer scenario. The issues facing Emmonak, a Lower Yukon village that used to have a commercial king fishery, are different than those facing the middle and upper Yukon, at least on the surface. If the Yukon villages start feuding amongst themselves over who is getting more kings and when, it is a distraction from the larger, long-term issues.

The real problem is the absolutely disastrous return of king salmon on the Yukon River this year. And whether it ought to merit a disaster declaration. And what the hell exactly is going on out there in the ocean, which really is a great big black box that we don't know that much about. And the truly fucked up nature of industrial fishing, whether it be in Alaska, or Canada, or the Mediterranean Freaking Ocean, because it is probably not sustainable in the long term. And the fact that fish management is driven by the big guys, not the little guys fishing engaging in a small, local commercial fishery or just fishing for food for the winter.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gone Clamming, Back Next Week

Am desperately trying to finish loading the Soob up for the annual trip down to the Kenai beaches for clamming. (Obviously not so desperately as to completely avoid the System of Tubes.)

So, no time to do much other than to send a shout out to Flic, hoping she will be sufficiently enraged by the Supreme Court's decision regarding large international mining concerns' newly won ability to dump waste (conveniently called 'fill') into bodies of water supposedly protected by the Clean Water Act. Take it Flic! Run with it!

I'm sure those involved with Pebble and Donlin are immensely pleased. Clean Water Act? We don't need no stinking Clean Water Act!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Channeling Gunga-din

This is a picture of:

  1. a suppurating cancer photo op exploited by an obsessed pathologist,

  2. a cross section of this blogger's brain,

  3. a beached man o' war, or

  4. a really weird fungus.

Those who marked "4" are correct; this hideously oozy thing is currently growing, weeping and fruiting (or whatever it is that fungi do) on a birch stump in my back yard.

But #2 is also a possible answer.

Stalwart readers who have kept up with us over the last few years probably have noticed that for a number of months now there has been just one water carrier on this blog....

...and, it ain't me.

At some point last winter my brain moseyed out of fertile fields of imagination into the Empty Quarter - a vast expanse of mundane thought and dreary story lines. For awhile I sat back figuring it would pass.

But it hasn't. Nothing jogs the noggin. Nothing. I figured the news that Kott & Kohring are going to go free would twang a little pang of need to write, but nope. Still wandering the Quarter.

It's a long dry spell and it looks to get even longer and drier before it breaks. Even around the old suburban homestead, nothing has jumped out and screamed - "write about me!" Oh sure, there is the immensely creepy and oozy 'what-the-hell-is-that?" fungus, the drop dead in his tracks rooster, and a few other quirky goings-on, but even those fail to jell a story line.

Guess 'Dweller is going to be water wallah a bit longer.

Not Worth a Month, a Week, a Mention

Or a Response, Apparently

Quick! Mark your calendars!

Text from Governor Palin's latest proclamation, urging all Alaskans to recognize the observance of Alaska Pollinator Week:
WHEREAS, pollinator species such as birds and insects are essential partners of farmers and ranchers in producing much of our food supply; and

WHEREAS, pollination plays a vital role in the health of our national forests and grasslands, which provide forage, fish, wildlife, timber, water, mineral resources, and recreational opportunities as well as enhanced economic development opportunities for communities; and

WHEREAS, pollinator species provide significant environmental benefits that are necessary for maintaining healthy, biodiverse ecosystems; and

WHEREAS, the state of Alaska has managed wildlife habitats and public lands such as state forests and grasslands for decades; and

WHEREAS, the state of Alaska provides producers with conservation assistance to promote wise conservation stewardship, including the protection and maintenance of pollinators and their habitats on working lands and wildlands;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sarah Palin, Governor of the state of Alaska, do hereby proclaim June 22-28, 2009 as:

Alaska Pollinator Week

in Alaska, and urge all citizens to recognize this observance.

Prior to recognizing the bees, The Gov has issued proclamations for the following observances in June:

  • Alaska Invasive Weeds Awareness Week
  • Alaska Pacific University's 50 Anniversary Week
  • Juneteenth Day
  • Men's Health Awareness Week
  • Flag Day
  • Global Food Alaska Days
  • Automotive Service Professionals Week
  • National Trails Day
  • Fishing Week
  • Auburn Founders Day
  • Dutch Harbor Remembrance Day
  • Safety Month
  • Great Outdoors Month

These proclamations are pretty standard fare - knock out a few whereas' about a historical moment, a health issue, or a career choice, and proclaim a month, week or day the period in which to recognize that thing.

Me, I feel pretty guilty about having somehow missed Automotive Service Professionals Week. And it's a good thing that I am now aware of the invasive plants in my front yard, which, in a funny irony, are currently being pollinated by the very group we will be celebrating next week. Thanks to The Gov's proclamation, I plan on recognizing June 22-28 with the liberal application of a weed whacker. But I digress. Clearly, these things must be important -- after all, they each got a whole week.

Not worthy of notice or observance, however, is Alaska Gay Pride Month or the weeklong PrideFest held in Anchorage June 13-21. Organizers of the annual Pridefest activities there sent The Gov a request for such recognition (in addition to inviting her to attend the June 20 parade and festivities in Anchorage) but have not heard back.

With a nod to Bent Alaska, which made this point within a larger article.