Archive for June 2010
Jones’ Tough Guide (mocking the British “Rough Guides”) is a brilliant send-up of cliched fantasy literature, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1996. It is at once both brilliant criticism and a semi-serious exploration of the tropes and theses of fantasy literature, written by someone inside the genre.
WC wishes Ms. Jones a speedy and complete recovery. And thanks her sincerely for explaining why no one in fantasy literature ever wears socks.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008. According to IDEAS/REPEC (a ranking of Economists by article citations), his work has made him one of the most influential economists in the world, and he is among the 12 most widely cited economists. He’s a smart guy.
So why isn’t anyone listening to him?
For the last nine month, Krugman has been warning that the recession is NOT over, that there is still a terrible danger that reducing or ending economic stimulus packages will trigger a deeper recession or even another depression. He points out that unemployment is still very high, that we face a terrible risk of a deflationary spiral and that there is no evidence that the sudden fashion for fiscal austerity will accomplish anything except to aggravate an already bad situation.
Krugman seems to be the only economist pointing out that huge budget deficits are a function of both increased spending and decreased revenue. When the economy shrinks, so does governmental tax revenue generated from the economy. Recovery must involve increasing governmental revenue. Austerity programs simply do not accomplish that goal. They may reduce the spending, but they cannot increase the revenue. That’s one of the important lessons of the Great Depression.
So WC figures Paul Krugman will get his second Nobel Prize in Economics for having called it out before it happened: the first Great Depression of the 21st Century.
It’s almost as if the financial markets understand what policy makers seemingly don’t: that while long-term fiscal responsibility is important, slashing spending in the midst of a depression, which deepens that depression and paves the way for deflation, is actually self-defeating.
We don’t have to make this mistake again. WC doesn’t even think the budget hawks are driven by genuine concern for the deficit: let’s see if they want to slash federal spending in their districts. All Congresspersons who want military bases in their districts closed please raise your hands? No, it’s driven by Tea Bag politics, by Republicans putting recovery of political power ahead of sensible policy. Ultimately, it’s self-defeating, but the price to the United States may end up rivaling the cost of the Great Depression.
Perhaps it’s part of the “bone-headed, defiant and willfully ignorant” wave of anti-intellectualism sweeping the country. Whatever the cause, if people who are in charge don’t start to act intelligently we’re on a path to disaster. It’s not enough to cry, “Big deficits are bad,” if the alternative is even worse.
(And before you write of Krugman as “just another liberal,” read the New Yorker piece on him from March 1, 2010.)
Aaron Johnson nails it again…
WC particularly likes that Johnson is cleverly channeling Randall Munroe over at XKCD.
Warning: Serious Bird Geekiness Below
Most bird guides shown the range of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (“YBFL”) extending only as far west as the Yukon Territory. But beginning in about 1998, Alaska Bird Observatory started getting the occasional bird in its mist nets, including hatch year birds, indicating breeding in or west of Fairbanks. Then in about 2002, a small colony of nesting birds was found near Eureka, in the headwaters of Minook Creek. So no one laughed out loud when there was a report of a bird at 27 Mile, Steese Highway.
WC headed up there on Friday night, and between thundershowers found two males, having a territorial dispute, about 3/4ths of a mile from the reported location. The light was crummy, and the limited photos WC was able to get left open whether it was a YBFL or one of its Empidonax cousins. Emps are (in)famously difficult to tell apart, and Interior Alaska has two other Emps, Alder Flycatcher and Hammond’s Flycatcher.
So on Sunday WC, Mrs. WC, Ronn Murray and his girlfriend headed out again. And after, an unreasonable effort, found what is probably a third male:
Note the strong eye ring, the bicolored bill with the lower half yellow, and the yellow wash on the belly. All are good indications of YBFL. But the best way to tell the Emps apart is by voice, and this fellow was kind enough to call for us. Which confirmed the ID. This bird is in very different habitat from the area around Minook Creek. Birds of North America (subscription) says “Flycatcher nests in cool, moist conifer or mixed forests, bogs, swamps, and muskegs, landscapes that are often flat or poorly drained.” This bird was on a dry hillside above partially re-vegetated mine tailings. BNA admits, “Yellow-bellied Flycatchers have been little studied on their breeding grounds, wintering areas, or in between. Life-history information is poorly documented.”
It’s hard to say if this is range expansion or simply folks noticing an elusive bird that has been around the whole time. Either way, it’s fun to find a new bird near Fairbanks.
WC’s readers know WC is no fan of Lisa Murkowski, and that he has railed against her rudeness, inability to comprehend the health care crisis and her dubious arithmetic skills. But candidate Joe Miller seems to be even looser with the truth, more ignorant of Alaska’s economic realities and even less aware of the law.
Loose with the Truth
Joe Miller has never been a judge; he has been a magistrate. A state judge is appointed by the Governor from candidates proposed by the Alaska Judicial Council. Joe Miller has been a candidate for a judgeship: the superior court in 2005, the seat Judge Robert Downes now holds. He withdrew his name just before the bar poll results came out: that’s usually an indication he was panned by his peers. A magistrate is appointed by the court to do ministerial tasks. A federal magistrate is much the same.
In his bio, Miller says, “In 2004, Miller stepped down from the bench to run for State Representative.” He was never on the bench; he was never a judge. He ran for the superior court, although he quit before he got fairly started.
He says in his campaign website he has lived in Alaska for 16 years. He told the Judicial Council in March 2005 he had “been an Alaska resident for 10 years, and has practiced law for 9 years. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1995.” So if he graduated from Yale in May or June of 1995, in March of 2005 he had lived in Alaska for something less than ten years. And in 2010 he’s lived in Alaska 15 years, not 16 years. Yale is in New Haven, Connecticut, not Alaska.
Miller also says in his bio, “He has represented clients in a wide variety of cases, a number of which have gone all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court.” As it turns out, “a number” is two reported Alaska Supreme Court decisions, one when he was part-timing at the Borough Attorneys’ Office and one domestic relations case.
In his blog, Miller objects to the moratorium on offshore drilling. He says,
The drilling projects that were slated to begin this summer off the North Slope were to take place on the Outer Continental Shelf at depths of approximately 200 to 400 feet. Drilling at these depths is much safer [and] time-tested.
Actually, no. They are not. WC doesn’t know of any other oil wells drilled from platforms in the Arctic sea ice. And the artificial-island based technology has never been used anywhere, ever. It is unproven and untested. And what in the world does your serving on the Alaska Board of Marine Pilots have to do with the safety of off-shore drilling?
WC looks for scrupulous truth in a politician. We’ve had more than enough liars. It’s a very bad sign if a candidate is padding his or her resumè from the start. And Joe, that’s a lot of different jobs in a relatively short period of time. Alaska also doesn’t need another quitter.
Ignorant of Alaska’s Economic Realities
Miller touts a master’s degree in economics. So when he studied at UAF, he likely learned that 42% of the jobs in the Fairbanks North Star Borough trace directly to federal dollars. That may be unhealthy, but it is the fact. When a candidate talks about dramatically reducing the federal budget and slashing programs, the candidate is talking about Alaska jobs in a very real way. There’s no way to “dramatically reduce the federal budget” without kicking the Alaska economy in the groin. WC wonders if Miller’s position is based upon ignorance, cynicism or tea bag politics.
When he studied economics, presumably he also studied the options for the federal government when an economic depression threatens. Presumably, he also studied the effects of Congress’s decision in 1933 to balance the federal budget in the middle of the Great Depression, and the consensus that it extended the depression by 3-5 more years. So when Miller says,
When the Democrats took over, they proceeded to spend even more. The federal budget deficit was $1.4 trillion last year and is on track to be that, or more, this year. The Obama Administration’s own projections call for a doubling of the National Debt to over $20 trillion by the end of the decade.
Miller is either pretending we’re not still in the worst recession since 1929 or he slept through macroeconomics. If Miller is serious about dramatically reducing the federal deficit, he’s talking about prolonging the recession or worsening the recession.
And talk of ”return[ing] our federal government to the limits prescribed by our Constitution” is pure tea bag posturing. When the Founding Fathers – a dubious phrase if there ever was one – wrote the U.S. Constitution it took much longer to get a bale of cotton from Richmond to Boston than it takes today to get a computer shipped from Shanghai to Fairbanks. It took two weeks with good winds to get from London to New York; a 4.5 hour jet flight today. By any measure you use, the world is an inconceivably different place today than when the Constitution was written. Arguing that James Madison’s thoughts on the application of the Commerce Clause are more than historically interesting is to pretend the world hasn’t changed. If our government can’t change as well, the country is toast.
WC assumes Joe Miller is smarter than his claimed positions suggest. That implies he is cynical and manipulative in his positions. Not what WC looks for in a candidate. Oh, and Joe, you’ve given a grossly oversimplified version of why the national debt has increased.
Ignorant of the Law
Miller’s website says, “Federal powers not specified in the Constitution are reserved to the States by the 10th Amendment.” To which WC says, “So what?” This is tea bag blather at several levels. Almost all federal programs have been tested (or are in the process of being tested) by the U.S. Supreme Court. You remember the SCOTUS, Joe? They’re the ones who decide when the 10th Amendment has been violated. Not a junior senator from Alaska. So as a matter of law, your statement is meaningless.
The one possible argument against an expansion of national health care – saying “Obamacare” is more posturing – is that at present it is largely regulated by individual state laws. It’s an historic artifact relating to the insurance industry as a whole. Ironically, each of the three “solutions” to the health care crisis would significantly increase the evidence the health care industry engages in interstate commerce and is therefore more clearly subject to federal regulation under even the most neanderthal reading of the Constitution. Nor are the tired “solutions” Miller proposes any different from the ones that – wait for it – Lisa Murkowski has proposed. And WC has already shown they won’t work, back when Lisa was touting them. So Miller’s health care solutions would not only expand federal power; they aren’t going to work.
What to Do?
Miller is apparently a global warming denier, even though he lives in Alaska and can see it happening around him. Based on his website and public statements, he’s willing to say, if not believe, whatever it takes to attract the tea bag vote.
Miller claims he “He quickly mastered the law.” Shucks, WC has been a lawyer for more than thirty-four years and can’t claim to have “mastered the law.” Miller’s show of arrogant ignorance may appeal to the willful, bone-headed ignorance of the far right, but it should scare any thinking citizen spitless.
If a guy lies on his resumè, accepts the endorsement of [Name Redacted], is willing to slash Alaska jobs and is a lawyer who doesn’t understand the 10th Amendment, he’s not qualified by WC’s standards to be elected dog catcher, let alone U.S. Senator.
Other Wickersham’s Conscience blog entries on Joe Miller:
Dennis Gage came to Fairbanks last week. It’s okay, WC didn’t know who Dennis Gage was either. But among antique car enthusiasts, he’s the bee’s knees. He hosts a cable television show on antique cars and was in Fairbanks for the annual local antique car event and to visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. Gage was also the inventor or co-inventor of the Pringles Potato Chip. Apparently the stylized guy on the can is not modeled after Gage; he insists the remarkable resemblance is a coincidence..
There was a private dinner after all of the public stuff. Through some error in the invitation list, WC was invited to the wing-ding, at which both Gage and Keys were present. So WC supposes it was inevitable that the aperitif at the private dinner was a slice of Spam served on a Pringles Potato Chip, broiled lightly and then served with a delicate touch of cheese-like product. In that sense, this photo was inevitable:
Spamgles, Served by Mr. Whitekeys and Dennis Gage
Photos like this must make companies like Pfizer smile. This nearly-food product practically cries out for a Lipitor™ chaser. Still, WC didn’t actually eat any of these concoctions so can likely put off a visit to his cardiologist.
Thanks to the host and hostess for letting WC attend. Interesting guys, both of them.
Warning: Follow the OOTS link at your own risk. Reading OOTS cartoons online can be seriously addictive and can absorb many hours of time. Employers may not be amused. You have been cautioned.
Rich Burlew, the artist and author is very good. His flagrant disregard of the Fourth Wall can be particularly good. His plotting is superb. But he updates his otherwise excellent cartoon at highly irregular intervals. In the best tradition of geekiness, consider the following graph:
OOTS Update Intervals
The “Y” axis is the days between updates; the “X” axis is the episode number. The sample interval runs from February 1, 2010 to June 23, 2010.Readers will note that the interval between new cartoons can range from as a little as a day to an unconscionable 12 days, and an average of 5.2 days.
WC understands. There is no part of “free” that WC does not grasp. But still. Have little empathy for your readers, Giant, who may be seriously Jonesing for the next comic.
Among the many novels of Terry Pratchett, the stories in which the Patrician, Lord Vetinari appears, are some of WC’s favorites. The tyrant of the world’s largest city, the Patrician is every bit as remarkable as Terry Pratchett’s writing. Consider this excerpt:
One day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter and her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while it was of course still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of the roes as they spilled out, much to the delight to the baby otters, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.
Terry Practhett, Unseen Academicals, p. 229, Harper Collins 2009.
WC heard a radio commentator talking about the Second Amendment this morning. NRA flack Wayne LaPierre said, ”We believe the Second Amendment is America’s first freedom, it’s the one right that protects all the rest.”
Hello? This is reality talking. Modern warfare is so far beyond even the bootleg automatic rifles gun nuts flaunt that the idea of a citizen protecting his home with a firearm is laughable. Consider,
© Randall Munroe, XKCD, used under Creative Commons License
The number of Hellfire missiles a single Predator or Reaper drone can carry is apparently classified. But 1,500 pounds of Hellfire missiles delivered at supersonic speeds from 50,000 feet are going to obliterate anything the most diehard NRA member can assemble. The idea of building an entire political movement around this absurdity passes WC’s understanding.
Is it the need for a comforting illusion that having a firearm in your hand somehow makes you safe? Is it the patent Freudian association? Are that many Americans incapable of logical thinking? The NRA might as well lobby, in their over-the-top, macho style, for the right to keep and bear pikes. They’d be just about as effective against modern armed forces.
Oh, wait. The NRA isn’t focused on defending our right to bear arms against foreign invaders? Or against our own armed forces? Then whom? Criminals on the streets? No luck there. There is absolutely no statistical proof that crime rates go down when citizens carry weapons.
WC will leave Comments open on this post. If an NRA member wants to try and explain his or her organization’s reason for existing, have at it. WC would say “fire away,” but WC is uncertain NRA members, as a class, really grasp the whole metaphor thing.
For some twenty years, Mr. Whitekeys ran the Fly By Night Club in Anchorage, and annually produced the amazing Whale Fat Follies, which was to musical revues approximately what heavy metal is to Chopin. The Fly By Night Club, alas, is closed, but Mr. Whitekeys still carries his brand of inspired blues madness to the masses, and this weekend brought it to Fairbanks.
But it may surprise WC’s readers to learn that Whitekeys is also a serious, accomplished birder, a member of the Alaska 200 Club and the President of the Anchorage Audubon Society. So WC went birding with Whitekeys this morning. It’s true that it was pouring rain the whole time, that the clouds of mosquitoes could have sucked all the blood out of an elephant in 15 minutes, and that the birding was mediocre, at best. But it was birding. Binoculars were waved about, bird calls were faintly heard over the whining of the mosquitoes and an excellent, if somewhat damp, time was had by all.
Whitekeys, WC and the group were rewarded with a pair of nesting Red-necked Grebes and the Yellow-billed Loon reported earlier. As well as an assortment of songbirds, Mew Gulls and a soggy Bald Eagle being mobbed by those Mew Gulls.
WC thinks only in Alaska could the former proprietor of the self-styled “Sleaziest Bar in Spenard” also be a skilled birder. So hats off – or at least rain hoods lowered – to Mr. Whitekeys. Thanks for letting WC tag along. WC hopes to bird with you again.
Coming Into the Country, John McPhee (1991)
Lots of writers have tried to convey Alaska to non-Alaskans. Few have succeeded. Those who have are the ones who have chosen to illustrate small parts of the larger whole, and selected the right parts. Margaret Murie comes to mind. But 19 years on, Coming Into the Country is still the best.
WC owns and has read everything McPhee has written. WC subscribes to The New Yorker mostly for the annual or biennial piece by McPhee. WC likes the geology series very much, and parts of Birch Bark Canoe still make him laugh out loud, but Country remains McPhee’s best book.
McPhee’s many gifts including finding and understanding interesting, compelling people, and writing about them eloquently and non-judgmentally. He uses those people and what they say to convey his larger themes. Stan Gelvin and his dad, Willie Hensley and, of course, the folks in and around Eagle. He somehow wrangled a seat on the state capital relocation committee’s helicopter. He somehow charmed the irascible Joe Vogler into candor. WC talked with Vogler – who has since been murdered in a gun deal gone bad – about McPhee’s interview, and was told – grudgingly – that McPhee took no notes during interviews over a week, and yet “pretty much got it right.”
WC has lived in Alaska most of his life. WC’s read the gushy stuff (Michener, for example), the political diatribes (Joe McGinnis, for example), and the gee-whiz tourist fodder. McPhee, instead of trying to paint the whole state, paints a series of miniatures which give you a much accurate glimpse than the writers and hacks who try to “describe” Alaska.
Maybe it’s that America’s best non-fiction writer brought his special tools and skills to the right opportunities; maybe it’s just luck. It all came together in this book. The last bit, his walk down to the Yukon River and the growing worry, verging on panic, that this is wilderness, that a bear could be around the next corner, that he is not in control and can never be in control; the eloquence and the message are what makes Alaska. No one has described it better.
If you want to try to understand Alaska, its people, its politics and why WC lives here, this book is the best place to start. This book is a great writer’s greatest book.
The Yellow-billed Loon in an endangered species. More precisely, it would be an endangered species, except there is a queue and this poor bird isn’t close enough to the front; other species have “higher priority.” Whatever that means.
So it’s not a good thing to have an adult bird turn up, seriously out of range, in Fairbanks in mid-June.
Yellow-billed Loon Range Map
© Birds of North America
But one has. Found on a road outside of town, it was sent to a veterinary clinic, then to a bird rehab specialist, and then placed temporarily on a local pond that would provide safety, food and an opportunity to recover from anything that might be wrong.
WC photographed the bird Tuesday night. It didn’t look so hot, as is evident from the photo. Lethargic, might be the best description. But it seems to be hanging on to this point. Nothing is obviously wrong with it – no wounds, for example – but it’s not clear the genes are going to stay in the gene pool, however badly they may be needed.
WC drove up to Eagle Summit in dubious weather yesterday. Eagle Summit is 105 miles northeast of Fairbanks along the Steese Highway, at the crest of the White Mountains. It’s only 3,550 feet, but at these latitudes, that’s alpine tundra country, well above tree line, with quite different birds then the commoner Interior species. The road was in excellent condition. WC was looking for Northern Wheatears, a migrant from Africa. Either they weren’t there, or WC’s dubious birding skills couldn’t find them.
WC did find weather. In his four hours at the summit, WC had bright sunshine, zero-visibility fog, hail, serious rain, light mist and everything in between. And constant 25-45 mph winds. WC’s cherished Malheur National Wildlife Refuge baseball cap blew off, flew up into the fog and disappeared. WC shall miss it.
The trip wasn’t a complete bust. WC got a decent shot of a female Lapland Longspur presenting for a male.
Lapland Longspur Female
The male, however, was downwind, and his efforts to fly into the teeth of the wind to get to this eligible babe were unsuccessful. Street theater on the Pinnell Mountain Trail. American Golden Plover did their best to lead WC away from the areas of their nests, providing nice views and photos.
American Golden Plover
But for an area normally lousy with birds, it was pretty quiet. The weather, WC supposes.
At the base of Eagle Summit, a gravel pit hosted a Red-necked Grebe:
The best moment was a Peregrine Falcon, hovering, over the downwind edge of a ridge, effortlessly holding position in a wind that challenged WC to just stay upright. Chunks of clouds streamed past, obscuring and revealing the bird, but the bird held motionless. And then it just vanished, there one instant, gone the next. No photos, unhappily. But a memorable sight.
It appears a tanned wolf skin is worth about $325. A raw wolf skin, before drying and tanning, is presumably worth something less, but WC will use $325 as the value of a dead wolf for the purposes of this essay. What’s a live wolf worth, then?
After all, we know what a moose is worth. The net value of all moose is estimated at $28,000,000 total, or about $160 per moose, assuming 175,000 moose. So even a wolf skin is worth more than a moose, although a wolf can eat a lot of moose over the course of its life. Moose are important to the economy.
Tourists – all 1.6 million or so of them – are kind of important part to the economy, too. And the tourism sector has been in decline. Depending on who you talk to, it’s the cruise tax, the economy or Alaska’s bone-headed game management policies. WC assumes it is some combination of all three. In any case, the State can’t afford to do anything to make the decline worse. Even in its present depressed state, tourists spend about $1.5 billion in Alaska; if you add in the travel and cruise tickets, it’s $2.1 billion. And about 27,000 jobs. The 2008 to 2009 decline cost Alaska bout 1,200 jobs. The forecast for 2010 is even more dismal. In the situation, you don’t want to do anything to make a bad situation worse.
But that’s exactly what our friends at the Board of Game, encouraged by our trigger-happy governor and ex-governor, have done. By increasing the killing of wolves they hurt the tourism industry in two ways: they encourage a boycott, at a time when the industry is already hurting, and they decrease the chances of visitors seeing wolves, one of the primary draws for coming to Alaska.
It’s true that boycotts have been threatened before. It’s difficult to measure their effectiveness. But to the extent the threat has less than zero impact, it’s a risk that Alaska can ill-afford to take right now. And there’s a certain high-profile ex-governor who has served as a lightning rod for this controversy.
WC can’t find published studies on how many visitors come to Alaska to see wolves, but there are studies of how many visitors come to see wildlife. The 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation – Alaska, published by the Departments of Interior and Commerce, reports 354,000 came to Alaska primarily to see wildlife. If you count locals who watch wildlife, it’s 496,000. The same study reports that the total residents and non-resident who hunt in Alaska as 71,000. So there are seven times as many people who want to watch wildlife, including wolves, as there are people who hunt in Alaska.
If those numbers are right, why is the State of Alaska shooting wolves? Especially, why is the State shooting wolves around important tourist destinations like Denali National Park?
The Board of Game, of course, argues that by killing wolves and bears, predation on moose is reduced, making more moose available for hunting. But that answer begs the seven to one use ratio. And any first year biology student will tell you that in a stable ecology, predation doesn’t reduce or limit populations; food limits populations. After all, moose and the critters that prey on them were stable for ten thousand years before Great White Hunters came along. Way back in 1997, the National Academy of Sciences criticized Board of Game efforts to manage moose populations by managing predator populations. The major basis for the criticism was the absence of evidence that there was anything but short-term benefits to reducing predator populations.
The Board also argues that more moose would feed low income citizens, but, again, the Board’s own data show that’s less than four percent of the population, and has very little to do with moose around major tourist destinations.
What it seems to come down to is the unproven assumption that killing predators near the road system will create more hunting opportunities for urban hunters. That’s nice, but it is obviously economically short-sighted, and potentially catastrophic for the tourism industry. And biologically dubious.
WC is no wolf lover, but aren’t the Board of Game’s decisions dumb? Even for the Board of Game?
For 50 years, the Alaska Goldpanners have played summer baseball in Fairbanks, Alaska. Local kids, college players, kids in transition from Junior College; hundreds of fine young players have played in the Alaska Baseball League and for the Panners in particular.
On the 60th Anniversary of the creation of the Alaska Goldpanners, Eye Candy Cinema has released a retrospective looks at the Alaska Baseball League in general and the Panners in particular. The hour an forty minute video opens with scenes from the 100th Midnight Sun Game – a game that starts at 10:30 PM and plays under natural light o the Summer Solstice – and works through the history of the Panners, the Anchorage Pilots, the Kenai Oilers, the Mat-Su Miners and all the rest.
There are interviews with Hall of Famers who have played in Alaska, including Tom Seaver and Dave Winfield (one of WC’s best memories is a Panner game in 1971 where Winfield pitched a three-hitter and homered twice). There are interviews with MLB players who played with the Panners and other ABL teams, ranging from Bill “Spaceman” Lee to Mark Teahen.
And there’s nice pieces on current and recent players who are trying to break into the majors, not just laying baseball, but also enjoying Alaska.
For Alaska Baseball League fans, it’s great fun. And has surprisingly high production values. For those who are curious about the ABL, it’s a great place to start.
The DVD is available from Amazon as well as in outlets across Alaska.
For the seventh year in a row, Interior Alaska’s Quaking Aspens are afflicted with Leaf Miners, Phyllocnistis populiella. The caterpillar stage lives and feeds between the upper and lower layers of the leaves, creating the silvery scarring shown here. The weakened leaves are then susceptible to a variety of fungi – two species are on this leaf. Every leaf on every tree has one or two caterpillars. Some 750,000 acres are infested.
The Leaf Miners don’t kill the aspens, but they do stunt their growth. Recent drought, combined with the Leaf Miners, does kill the trees. Leaf Miners were an uncommon endemic to the boreal forest. The still-growing highly infested areas are a development over the last seven years. Global warming – specifically, milder winters encouraging survival of overwintering adult moths – is believed to be a primary cause of the problem.
Dan Duncan died in late March. Duncan had a net worth of more than $9 billion – that’s “billion” with a “B” – and according to Forbes Magazine was the 74th richest man in the world. But here’s the reason WC brings up the late Mr. Duncan: every dime of his estate will pass to his wife and four kids. For the first time since 1916, no federal estate tax will be assessed against Duncan’s estate or, for that matter, against anyone else’s. If you’re filthy rich, it’s a great year to die.
The reason for this aberration is instructive and appalling. Back in 2001, the Bush administration and the then-Republican Congress “repealed” the federal estate tax. More correctly, they phased the estate tax out over a period of nine years. Under Congressional rules in effect back in 2001, a revenue bill could not have legal effect for more than ten years without a 60% vote in both branches of Congress. The Republicans didn’t have the votes, so they passed the phase-out, with the estate tax repealed for one year, in 2010. Various commentators heaped scorn on the bill at the time. WC is sure that those fine folks who represent us had every intention of getting back to it sometime in the next decade. But they didn’t.
Sure, they tried. In fact. WC has taken Senator Kyl to task for obstructing Senate efforts to prevent this very problem. Senator Kyl, WC’s readers will recall, supported a block on an extension of unemployment benefits to protect the richest of the rich from paying estate tax. He helped kill a compromise bill that would have levied the estate tax only on estates over $7 million – about one quarter of one percent of Americans. Kyl’s tactics make no sense and may ultimately be counterproductive: if Congress does nothing on January 1, 2011, the estate tax rates revert to at least 41% on estate’s in excess of $1 million. Hello?
None of the reasons advanced for repealing the estate tax make any sense, especially in the context of a ballooning federal deficit. The first excuse WC has heard is that it is unfair to pay estate tax on monies that have already been subjected to the income tax. Piffle. Zillionaires in Duncan’s tax bracket don’t pay income tax. They can afford the very best tax planning advice. Only working stiffs like WC and his readers pay any income tax. Nor is there anything shocking about paying a tax with previously-taxed money. We do it all the time. If you buy a gallon of gasoline, for example, you are using previously taxed money to pay federal fuel tax, state fuel tax and sales tax.
A second excuse for repealing the estate tax is that it hurts family farmers. Their farms, the argument goes, have greatly appreciated in value, and sometimes the family farm has to be sold to pay the taxes. Of course, any first year law student with a pencil could solve that one: write an exemption for family farmers. Oh, wait, there already is one. If it’s not generous enough, increase it. It’s no reason to repeal the entire tax.
John D. Rockefeller, the original oil czar, paid estate tax at a seventy percent rate, far higher than the tax has been in recent times. Why should today’s zillionaires get a break? The answer, of course, is that they have more friends in Congress. Until someone sensible takes charge – if there is someone sensible around – elderly billionaires should probably be careful crossing streets.
Sometimes WC gets ahead of his audience. In an earlier post, I suggested that if a former Alaska Governor wanted to research religion, she should look into Dante’s Divine Comedy, and in particular Inferno, Canto 26. Several of WC’s readers have been bewildered by this reference.
Dante Alighieri’s great epic describes his tour through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise; the former two under the guidance of the classic Italian poet Virgil. Hell – Inferno – is by far the most interesting chapter, where the punishment of unrepentant sinners is described in gruesome detail. In Dante’s universe, sinners are all sorted out by sin and punished on a scale of gruesomeness.
Evil Counsellors merit the 8th Circle, 8th Bolgia, and burn as individual, white-hot flames. Evil counsel is serious stuff. Dante focused on sins and sinners from his own time. He reports encountering Guido da Montefeltro, who recounts how he advised Pope Boniface VIII to capture the fortress of Palestrina, by offering the Colonna family inside it a false amnesty, and then razing it to the ground after they surrendered. It would be like, say advising voters to vote for a crook, knowing the person was a crook, because it might help you later. Or telling the voters the U.S. Constitution says something is patently does not.
Gustav Durè’s (1833-1883) dramatic portrayals of the horrors of Inferno are unsurpassed. Here’s his woodcut of Dante and Virgil confronting the flames of the evil counsellors:
Dante and Virgil and the Flaming Spirits of the Evil Counsellors
Now WC isn’t saying any politician is headed for Circle 8, Bolgia 8. Shucks, some might join the corrupt politicians (barrators) who are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch in Bolgia 6. And others might join the the hypocrites listlessly walking along wearing red-hot, gilded lead cloaks, which represent the falsity behind the surface appearance of their actions, in Bolgia 7. WC is certainly not saying, in this Sarah Palin-free month, that any woman Alaska ex-governor is going to any of those places. WC just thinks that Caribou Barbie ought to know about this stuff.
And that WC’s small cadre of readers ought to be better informed.
The eastern half of the Denali Highway is an under-explored, world-class birding destination. WC and Mrs. WC headed down that way last weekend, based out of the nicest lodgings in the area, Denali Highway Cabins. The goal was just to see what was around and what might be photographed. We were rewarded with excellent weather and even more excellent birds.
Smith’s Longspur is one of the tougher North American birds to find. They don’t ever seem to be abundant. But a little work and might turn one up:
Smith’s Longspur (male)
and the equally handsome female:
Smith’s Longspur (female)
The much more common cousin of the Smith’s Longspur is the Lapland Longspur, with its plaintive whistle call and skylarking courtship flight:
Likely in the same area you can find the improbable-looking Whimbrel, one of Alaska’s longer-billed species:
Nesting the same area you will likely find the handsomest bird on the alpine tundra, the American Golden-Plover,
which will almost certainly give you a broken wing display and lead you away from its nest.
At Maclaren River Lodge,you can ask the lodge owners to show you their Say’s Phoebe nest, perhaps the most westerly breeding of its species:
And in one of the clearwater streams like the Gulkana River or Rock Creek, you may get lucky and find an American Dipper:
It’s about the best birding you can find on the Alaska road system. And each species is within a quarter mile of the road. A longer walk might get you Snow Buntings, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, or Long-tailed Jaeger. It’s an amazing area. If you’re a birder, you need to give it a visit.