Tuesday, February 24, 2009

They're asking entirely the wrong question

Forget about whether the state of Alaska should continue to support the existence of villages. The villages ought to be asking themselves why they should continue to support urban, suburban and wilderburban Alaska.

Truth is, urban Alaska is dependent on the continued existence of Alaska’s villages. Tell me, what exactly does Anchorage produce? Fish? Uh, no. Timber? Nope. Coal? Negatory. Oh, the urban areas could say that it is not the villages, just the land out there (and everything on or under it) that they need, but they'd be wrong.

What Anchorage, Wasilla and Fairbanks do produce is infrastructure and employees of that infrastructure through which money flows to various programs serving village Alaska. A lot of that money is federal money. And a whole lot of money that should be going to services is spent on employing people in Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks and Juneau. A lot of it is spent transporting them to village Alaska.

Our urban areas produce nothing. They are where the paper is shuffled and the point through which money flows. (After a lot of it stays behind.)

Those folks, in turn, can maintain a lifestyle that allows for the growth of communities that support all sorts of ancillary services – restaurants, tanning salons, doggie day care, Nordstroms, strip malls, Range Rover dealerships – all the crap that the folks who move to Alaska but want to turn it into the place they left want and have. They all in turn can buy houses and cars and lots of toys.

And it’s not just bureaucrats and TWPs (pronounced ‘twips’) … those transient white professionals that spend a year or two our in the Bush making bank and then move out. It is high paying work, whether you’re an itinerant health care worker, or one of the army of consultants, a lawyer, or an ‘expert’ on rural issues hired to do research every time there is an EIS or project proposal. There are scores of grants funding jobs at universities, all of which poke and prod and make vague promises about how they will help lower suicide rates or foster culture or promote local agriculture or something out in the villages.

And lest the conservatives sneer at these jobs related to ‘programs’ – a large number of the skilled trades would be screwed if village Alaska disappeared. Think of every construction and maintenance project – be it building homes, improving airports, water and sewer, weatherization, school construction, boiler work, hell even the AVEC guys (that’s Alaska Village Electric Cooperative for you Outsiders or urban residents) who work on the electrical generation plants … all these people fly in and out of village Alaska and collect a big fat paycheck. We’re talking carpenters, electricians, operators, and the like. And if it is a federally funded project, they make Davis-Bacon wages (a name I’ve always found ironic.) These folks, too, spend their money in urban Alaska.

Young teachers go out to village Alaska to get experience and make much better money. Typically they stay a year or two and then leave.

The regional hubs need the villages, too. There are a lot of high paying jobs in the hubs predicated on the existence of village Alaska. That’s true of every regional corporation, be it the non-profit or for profit. What supports all the small regional airlines? It’s not flying people out to the villages. It’s flying bypass mail and freight and all those white collar and blue collar people and their excess baggage out to village Alaska to work. (Although admittedly, the price of fuel is making bypass mail much less of a profitable enterprise. Whatever did happen to the proposed changes to bypass mail last year. Seriously. I lost track of that one.)

What would the snowmachine and ATV dealers do if rural Alaska emptied out? What about the barge lines that deliver goods to communities?

All this talk of whether the State of Alaska should support Alaskan villages misses the point. The fates of urban Alaska and village Alaska are inextricably entwined.

And frankly, this is merely the economic end of the discussion. Issues of history, values, and culture trump all this. But that is for another time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

It Was Just A Matter of Time

...until this. Pictured at right is a security bin at SEATAC, with a little advertising logo stuck to its bottom. No longer just drab grey, the lowly security bin - that catch-all for coats, shoes, and the object d' threat du jour - IS advertising's new space, the final frontier.

Now we, the beltless, bootless masses, can ingest corporate sponsorship ads as we conga our way through airport security.

Brilliant. Thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of bin bottoms just waiting to be sold to the highest bidder. A masterful stroke of revenue-raising genius in these trying times, when apparently even the Gestapo Homeland Security is having trouble making the mortgage.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An Alaska Political Primer

Part Two

Vo-gler blue tarp as-pen Pa-lin A-I-P secede ass-ume
beard gun Spam Subaru

There is Alaska. Alaska is very big. It is very far away. It is the largest state in the United States. See Texas? It doesn't like to be reminded of that. Until recently, no one has paid much attention to Alaska. Can you see Russia? Sarah Palin can. O, what shiny long hair she has!

Some Alaskans want to be left alone by the federal government. "Send us money," they say. "Now leave us alone." They don't want their tax dollars supporting things called "programs." Watch Alaskans pay one dollar in gasoline taxes. See them get six dollars back.

See the aspen. Aspens are un-Alaskan! See Joe Vogler? See Joe Vogler cutting down an aspen with his teeth? O, how he hated them! He hated them almost as much as the federal government. Joe wanted Alaska to secede from the United States.

Joe wanted to build a road from Fairbanks to Nome. Sarah Palin and Mike Kelly want to build a road to Nome. They like the coal and gold and uranium in Rural Alaska. A road would let them get it. Remember Frank Murkowski? Frank Murkowski was famous for his "Roads to Resources" plan. Roads! More roads! Roads to Nowhere! No one knows if the Rural Alaskan communities in between want a road. No one asked them.

See the blue tarp? Blue tarps are very Alaskan. See the blue tarp roof? See the blue tarp boat cover? See the blue tarp woodpile cover? Alaskans are fond of blue tarps. They found Joe Vogler wrapped in a blue tarp. How Alaskan!

See Joe's friends? Joe had friends called the the A-I-P. Not many Alaskans are members of the AIP. See Sarah? She wasn't. See Todd? He was. Sarah isn't really friends with the A-I-P anymore, but they talk sometimes.

See the AIP? They want to leave the United States. They want to stay where they are. How they all want to secede! Bad U.S. government! Bad environmental protections! Bad aspens! They assume the North Slope Borough and Northwest Alaska will come with them. What a poor country A-I-P Land would be! Would A-I-P Land like importing its oil and gas from the United States? How ironic that would be!

See the Alaskan Democrats? See them? One must look hard to see them. See their beards! See their guns! See their really warm beaver hat! They look just like conservatives. Watch them eat Spam. Watch them make thai coconut moose curry. How they love both their pickup and their Subaru. How hard one must work hard to maintain one's sense of humor if one is an Alaskan Democrat!

See the Alaskan Republicans? There are lots, too, even more than Democrats. O, how many of them there are in Suburban Alaska. They run everything. Yet, they hate government. O, how they want to drill the Arctic Refuge. O, how they don't like things like education and health care and benefits. How hard one must work to find an Alaskan Republican's sense of humor!

Most Alaskans aren't party members. See them? They aren't Democrats. They aren't Republicans. They aren't AIP members. We call them 'undeclared or 'non-partisan.' Look how many of them there are! O, there are more of them than Democrats, or Republicans, or AIP! "Leave us alone," they say. "We'll vote for who we damn well please."

End Lesson Two.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An Alaskan Political Primer

The Alaskan Political Primer (rev. 2009)
(With apologies to W.H. McGuffey)

Lesson One

Pa-lin Hair Mur-kow-ski Un-in-dict-ed Jet Su-burb Cro-nies A-bun-dance
Hus-band Snow-machine Was-illa Spam Me-dia E-lite Lib-e-ral I-ron-ic Dip-net
Sub-sis-tence PAC

See Sarah run. Run, run, run. O, how much more we like her than the least popular unindicted governor in history! Do you think Frank Murkowski regrets the jet?

Watch suburban Alaska elect her governor. What shiny, long hair she has! How many people they have in suburban Alaska! Few of them know anything about Rural Alaska. Does Sarah know anything about it? Will the people she appoints to government positions know anything?

Alaska is a BIG state that is far away from rest of the United States. No one really pays attention to Alaska.

Watch Sarah appoint friends and cronies to state positions. No experience or qualifications are necessary! She has a husband. His name is Todd. See Todd race his snowmachine? What a fast snowmachine racer he is! Todd, husband and snowmachine racer. He should be looking through State correspondence. See him go through personnel files.

O! A national election has come! See John McCain pick Sarah Palin! How old, yet smart, he is! Run, Sarah, run! Run, run, run! Does Sarah know anything about the world outside Wasilla? Does the Republican Party care? Has she not long, shiny hair? Country first!

See the rest of the country start paying a lot of attention to Alaska. See Sarah on national television. O, What a mean bunch those media elites are. What a liberal, unfair, country hating bunch they are. O, how the spotlight shines on Alaska! What a Big Fight there is there.

O, Obama! See Sarah fly back to Alaska. She has not been elected President Vice President of the United States. Run, run, run. Has Sarah not realized the national election is over? Stop running Sarah. How fast she runs! How far!

Watch her put suburban Alaskans into place in key wildlife management positions. One! Two! How many Alaskan Outdoors Council board members can you get into the system? How interesting that the AOC is backing a lawsuit against Fish and Game.! How ironic.

See the lawsuit. See the dipnetters. They aren't happy. O, how unhappy they are that they are to be called personal use. They catch fish, lots of fish every year. How bright and shiny are the salmon! How they glitter and gleam! But they are not called subsistence fish. When they are eaten, they do not taste as good.

Has the Big Fight not ended? How many people were involved in the Big Fight!

Run, run, run. Sarah has a PAC. See the PAC. See Sarah campaign for a Republican in Georgia. See her campaign in Texas. Yet, Sarah does not want to be President of the United States.

(End Lesson One.)