Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fun With Sarah Palin

I realized this weekend that if you swap the first letters of Sarah Palin's first and last names, you get "Parasailin'," which I find funny ... her name is so close to being the same as the name of an unserious sport, and she is the most unserious candidate for national office in modern history. Please, no offense to any parasailors out there.

Speaking of names, here's a cute little distraction:

Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator

If I was her kid, I would be Timber Challenger Palin. How about you?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stuff White People Don't Like: Sarah Palin

The brouhaha about Sarah Palin has brought out ugly words from people on both sides. I personally think Palin is a joke as a VP candidate, but not because of her campy frontier image or the Jerry Springeresque family drama which accompanies her. For me, the joke is her utter lack of not only experience, but even interest, in national politics or foreign policy - not to mention her fringe views on social issues and questionable ethical lapses. But disparaging her as a redneck? As trailer trash? That is no way to conduct our politics. While Barack Obama appears to agree with me, the comment pages frequented by liberals and progressives all over the web are overflowing with remarks on Palin that look down their noses at her as "white trash." Just because Alaskans like to jokingly call her hometown "Wa-Syphillus," the most important election of my lifetime is not the time to abandon the real issues and engage ourselves in a ridiculous culture war that the Rove-inspired McCain campaign is itching to fight.

That said, why are so many liberals responding to Sarah Palin with such snotty hysteria? I'd like to think that they are just so freaked out that McCain would put such an unserious person a heartbeat away from the presidency. If they are, good; every American should feel that way. The anxiety about McCain's irresponsible choice, however, is being misplaced as elitist cultural critique. As evidence of how out of touch some insulated blue-state dwellers are, I offer my experience as a small-town kid from the interface of the Rust Belt and Appalachia who went to an ivy-covered Great University populated by lots of Manhattanites, Bostonians, and Californians. When one of my classmates struggled to comprehend that New York State extends far (both geographically and culturally) from Westchester County, she blurted in disbelief: "You have trailer parks in your hometown? Wow, I've like, never seen a trailer park in real life!"

There are dozens of trailer parks in my hometown. I spent a chunk of my youth firmly on the redneck side of the county line, where the cornerstone of our social life for an entire winter was reassembling decrepit snowmobiles just so they could be crashed and rebuilt again. I went to my senior prom on a motorcycle and watched my share of Nascar races. One of my friends couldn't read, but he was one hell of a mechanic. Guess what? Those people are good people, too. They may not frequent film festivals and farmer's markets, or wear ironic t-shirts while listening to indie music and eating expensive sandwiches, but they are real and just as smart and compassionate as people who live on the coasts and in hip college towns. [Unfortunately, lots of them rely on Fox News for their information.]

I owe those references to film festivals and ironic t-shirts to the folks at Stuff White People Like. If you haven't seen the full list of 107 things white people like, check it out. One thing you won't find on the list? Sarah Palin. She is surely the complete antithesis of everything "white people" like (by "white people," I think you can tell what type they have in mind: urban hipsters who will vote overwhelmingly for Obama in November). That, in my opinion, is informing the knee-jerk responses to her that smack so strongly of elitism. Faced with such a cynical, pandering, and selfish move by McCain, reasonable people feel sick to their stomachs. They are absolutely terrified that his Hail Mary pass - which in and of itself revealed that McCain is a far more atrocious choice than we feared in our worst nightmares - will succeed. And what do they do? They lash out against things they don't understand. That is precisely what McCain's people want.

Andrew Sullivan articulated far better than I ever could just how much John McCain has compromised himself in the years leading up to this pivotal election. For his full post on "McCain's Integrity," click here. I've pasted below his closing arguments on the alarming meaning of the Palin pick:

"And then, because [McCain] could see he was going to lose, ten days ago, he threw caution to the wind and with no vetting whatsoever, picked a woman who, by her decision to endure her own eight-month pregnancy of a Down Syndrome child in public, that he was going to reignite the culture war as a last stand against Obama. That's all that is happening right now: a massive bump in the enthusiasm of the Christianist base. This is pure Rove.

Yes, McCain made a decision that revealed many appalling things about him. In the end, his final concern is not national security. No one who cares about national security would pick as vice-president someone who knows nothing about it as his replacement. No one who cares about this country's safety would gamble the security of the world on a total unknown because she polled well with the Christianist base. No person who truly believed that the surge was integral to this country's national security would pick as his veep candidate a woman who, so far as we can tell anything, opposed it at the time.

McCain has demonstrated in the last two months that he does not have the character to be president of the United States. And that is why it is more important than ever to ensure that Barack Obama is the next president. The alternative is now unthinkable. And McCain - no one else - has proved it."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sarah Palin and Predator Control: An Insider's Take

I recently read an article in Salon about Sarah Palin's role in Alaska's controversial practice of aerial wolf shooting:

Her Deadly Wolf Program

The author's representation of the predator control program, while more accurate and sophisticated that any I have read elsewhere, seemed to leave out much of the story. I asked a friend of mine who works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (the state management agency responsible for carrying out predator control, among other things) to clarify; here is his response:
"I do think the Salon article is accurate in what it says. The author is of course mostly interested in Ms. Palin, who is and has been quite vocal about her support of predator control - as both a concept and a practice. But the article's overview of our predator control history was a bit truncated and slightly misleading. It gives the impression that current predator control issues stem from the Murkowski and Palin administrations. Actually, it’s a long and complicated story.

Our current situation stems from the Intensive Management Act (IMA) of 1994, which came into being at the end of Hickel's last term and the beginning of Knowles' first term. The unofficial version of the story goes like this: the governor specifically disallowed the Fish & Game from giving any input on the IMA because he did not support it and fully expected it to die in the state legislature. It didn't. Instead it became law without any input from state biologists. Now the Board of Game - a politically-appointed group of non-biologists - is responsible for setting "population and harvest goals and seasons for intensive management of identified big game prey populations to achieve a high level of human harvest" (AS 16.05.255 (g)). So the unofficial story you hear within ADF&G circles is that state biologists' hands are tied by what many of them to be an overly-simplistic policy. If the governor had only let us shape the IMA in 1994, it is strongly implied, this would all be more scientific and less controversial. I've heard this version of the story from several different ADF&G biologists, quite literally from the highest levels down to seasonal technicians.

Just this summer I had a chance to chat with an Area Management Biologist from one of the highly controversial hunt areas (who for obvious reasons shall remain anonymous here). I asked him what specific biological input he thought would have made the IMA better - assuming it had to exist in the first place. He had some very interesting answers.

For one, he explained, the population thresholds for many of the ungulate herds exceed their habitats’ carrying capacity. One caribou herd has a goal of one-hundred thousand caribou, which is most probably impossible to maintain year after year. That many caribou, given the habitat they have, would quickly eat all the lichen in the area. The lichen would take thirty years to regenerate and in the meantime the caribou would be trying to survive without one of their primary food sources. Willow (another major food source for the caribou) regenerate quicker, but not if the caribou are all eating only willow because there is no more lichen to eat.

Second, he said, population size is a crude way to gauge population health. He suggested other population indicators such as sex-ratios, age-ratios, reproductive rates, diseases and habitat quality are more important management indicators. Focusing on these other indicators would help a biologist understand when predator control might be useful (again, assuming that one thinks it is ever useful or warranted) versus when it would be a moot point. A caribou herd, for instance, might drop below its threshold size due to a new parasite, a problem unrelated to how many wolves there are in the area. However, in this case he would still be called upon to kill wolves (in addition, I’m sure, to doing whatever he could about the disease itself). In a complex, dynamic ecosystem, predator control is a crude tool at best, and an irrelevant one at worst.

So while Sarah Palin is certainly a proponent of predator control, she is not its source - even in very recent history - nor was Frank Murkowski. There are lots of other misconceptions out there as well, which I won’t go into here or now. I just wanted to touch on some elements of the history of this controversial issue that might not have come to light elsewhere.

The ADF&G website has an "official" version of the predator control story of course, if you'd like to check that (one is wolf-specific, the other a general pamphlet; they do contradict each other a bit, though, which is embarrassing). The links are below, as well as a link to the relevant Alaska Statutes.

ADF&G's general history of predator control

ADF&G's predator control pamphlet

Alaska Statute 16.05.255

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Republicans make "History" ... 24 years AFTER the Democrats already did

The Florida Federation of Republican Women seems to be unaware that Sarah Palin is NOT the first woman to run for Vice President on a major party ticket. Hello, anyone heard of Geraldine Ferraro? Can you say nineteen freakin' eighty-four? Here's what they say in response to Oprah's decision to not invite Palin onto her show:

“We are deeply disappointed in Ms. Winfrey’s decision to sit out the greatest political moment in the history of women since suffrage.”

The New York Times piece on the Oprah controversy, as terrible as it already is, fails to point out how ridiculous the above statement is.

Oprah Says No to Palin, and Gets an Earful

Is Alaska a Lost Cause for Obama?

The Anchorage Daily News reports that McCain's poll numbers in Alaska experienced a 34-point shift during the RNC, as Sarah Palin was rolled out onto the national stage without imploding:

Poll finds GOP got bump up

Just as Obama's earlier numbers in Alaska go to show, we like to feel included up here. Like someone notices us, and cares (or "projects empathy" as the modern media might say). Obama opened offices here; his campaign seemed to really believe he had a chance to win. We were finally part of a national campaign strategy (and not even a true 50-state one). It was working, and largely because no one likes to be taken for granted. Of course, the GOP corruption backlash didn't hurt. The Sarah Palin VP choice has trumped all the offices opened and lip service paid, though. As much as people are complaining that the national media is crawling around Wasilla and writing articles packed with errors and stereotypes, Alaskans are loving the attention. My bet is the high polling numbers will hold, and Obama oughtn't bother to visit us anymore.


A friend of mine put this up on the Anchorage craigslist:

Maverick Seeks Running Mate - 72 (Arizona)

I'm not sure McCain succeeded on the "weirdo" caveat. I guess it depends on your definition of "weirdo," and on how much of an "elitist" you happen to be.


Someone flagged the post, and it was subsequently removed. Here it is as it originally looked:

Date: 2008-08-31 12:26:42
PostID: 821140098
Title: (men seeking women) Maverick seeks running mate
Older politician seeks youthful partner for campaign or potential LTR. Previous
political experience desirable, but not necessary.

I'm looking for someone I can treat to a whirlwind tour of the United States over
the next two months, ideally ending up in Washington DC for, say, four to eight years.

Me: Older (but still spunky!) right-wing moderate looking to get one or more
women into a small confined space for voting only. No kinky stuff.

You: youthful, charismatic, non-Washington type with iron-clad pro-life credentials
willing to pander to both the religious right and the working woman. Married? Me
too. Kids? Even better. Newborn infant at 44? Jimbo Dobson will eat that up!

Must love guns.

Interested? Come to St. Paul this week to meet my 50,000 closest friends.

No weirdos/perverts please.

  • Location: Arizona
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Good News for Ethan Berkowitz

Looks like Berkowitz will get to run against Don Young after all:

Berkowitz's poll numbers are much more favorable against Young than they are against Young's primary challenger, Sean Parnell (Lt. Gov. to her royal Sarah-ness). A recount isn't unlikely, though, given that the Division of Elections is overseen by ... Parnell.

Seven Sitka Women React to Sarah Palin

I just met with seven women for dinner and drinks. We share a common employer, but not all of us had even met before this evening. The topic turned to politics and good old Sarah Palin. I deliberately kept my mouth shut (not an easy task for me, and in the case of one comment (noted below) I just couldn't stay silent) so I could gauge their opinions of our celebrity governor. The women's responses were all over the spectrum. Here is a sampling:

"Don't get me started on Sarah Palin! My husband has banned me from talking about her because once I start, I won't be able to stop [talking about how much I can't stand her]."

"Confidence sure isn't something she lacks!"

"Well, Barack Obama is a Muslim. YES, he is. His middle name is Hussein, and he is named after that man."

"Obama is NOT a Muslim." [This was me]

"We don't know that; he might be. I won't vote for him."

"Well, I will. Palin would put women back by a whole generation. I had to fight to be allowed to take wood shop in high school, because I was a girl. She is against abortion even in the case of rape or incest."

The views being voiced around the table showed a cross-section of this Alaska town: several women were strongly pro-choice, while one sincerely believed that Obama is secretly a Muslim. This response was an interesting counterpoint to last night's gathering of teachers (obviously liberal elitists, right Romney?), who universally expressed alarm at McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate. I think it's true that Alaskan opinion of Sarah Palin - whether favorable or not - has been further entrenched by the national media scrutiny of our governor. Those who already liked her like her even more, and those who didn't .... are terrified.

Introducing Exotic Terrane

A terrane is a piece of the earth's crust that has been transported by plate tectonics far from its place of origin and accreted - glommed on, essentially - to another plate. Alaska is composed of several exotic terranes that traveled across the Pacific over millions of years and accumulated on the northwest corner of the North American craton. In some ways, the state's geologic history is an apt metaphor for its culture and politics.

This blog will attempt to define and explain the strangeness of politics in the Great Land. Alaska has been my home for over five years, but as an East Coast-transplant, my perspective is often one of bewilderment and awe. In this interesting post-Palin phase of the 2008 election cycle, much attention has been focused on the 49th state and our various and sundry quirks and particularities. While this attention can be both exciting and embarrassing, my reaction is most often one of frustration with the misinformation and misrepresentation of Alaska and Alaskans. Through this blog, I hope to correct some of those misconceptions and serve as a guide to this exotic terrain. More than water vapor is transpiring in the temperate rain forest here on the ragged edge of the continent.