November 6, 2012

Over the past months we have been able to get our other blog running fairly smoothly and, since we now are in Winter Mode, even published on regular occasions and as such, we are consolidating them so that there no longer will be updates to this blog.

I know that will be a slight disappointment to the myriads three, or is it two?, devoted readers, but y’all cupcakes will just have to cowboy up, and point yer browser to:

http://thetundratwostep.wordpress.com , which for the moment bears the monicker “Diary of a Haphazard Homesteader”. Just perhaps, however, down the road it might bear the Alaska Ranger mantle – tune in to find out!

See you all there, we hope.

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Scenic Sunday

October 28, 2012

Different on the Denali Highway this year is that, because of altered hunting regulations, a LOT of vehicles remain on the road even now at the end of October.  This has meant that the snows we have had are nicely tamped down, which has kept the road surface quite smoother than when there was no snow. So here is an early-winter shot from Maclaren Summit, looking north up the Maclaren Valley to the Maclaren Glaciers and Mts. Deborah and Hess, taken on 27 October 2012

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The View From the Top

December 1, 2009

The Alaska Range contains, as all of you know, the highest mountains in North America…. well, except that MOST of the continent’s peaks over 15,000 feet or, say, 5,000 meters are in the Wrangell-St. Elias Range.
No matter – where we live we have spectacular views of both. Here, for this blog’s first attempt at posting a photo, is a favorite view of the Alaska Range a few miles from home. Taken 38 minutes before midnight on 9 June, 2009.

(ex-)CNN’s Lou Dobbs as president?

November 28, 2009

Staying in the holiday mood and only having fun, here is a little fillip based on recent news.

The name Louis Carl Dobbs makes for better anagrams than any presidential candidate I ever have investigated. Here are the best ones I have come up with –

If you LIKE Lou Dobbs:

1. Could boil brass

2. I could bar slobs

3. Lucid labor boss

If you DON’T like Lou Dobbs:

1. A slob boils crud

2. Sub-cordial slob

3. Basic bull odors

and, my favorite:

4. Scabrous old lib

The New York Times Pulls a Funny

November 27, 2009

While Alaska Ranger recuperates from Thanksgiving overload, here is a line from Friday, Nov. 27th’s on-line edition of the New York Times, regarding this week’s security lapse at a White House dinner. Not even from the editorial pages.

Sulzbergers and Ochses must be spinning in their graves…  still, it’s moderately funny:

“One thing seemed clear: the incident will not help the careers of some Secret Service people, several of whom probably had their Thanksgivings ruined.”

Hugo Chávez and the inability to control the internet

November 21, 2009

Today, 21 Nov, the BBC reports that Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez has gone on what so many of us think of a typical zany outburst, commending the (Venezuelan-born) Carlos the Jackal as a freedom fighter, at the same time as lauding Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and the late, otherwise unlamented Ugandan leader, Idi Amin.   According to the report, at the Caracas-held Encuentro Internacional de Partidos de Izquierda, Chávez said of Carlos “I defend him. It doesn’t matter to me what they say tomorrow in Europe.”
He said he believed Carlos had been unfairly convicted, and called him “one of the great fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation”.
The Venezuelan leader has previously called Carlos a friend, and is reported to have exchanged letters with him in the past.
In his speech, Mr Chavez also described Presidents Mugabe and Ahmadinejad – who like Mr Chavez are strong critics of the US – as brothers.
About former Ugandan President Idi Amin, Mr Chavez said: “We thought he was a cannibal… I don’t know, maybe he was a great nationalist, a patriot.”

That article prompted me to turn to Venezuela’s most respected newspapers to see whether I could flesh out more of Chávez’s opinions of one of history’s more notorious flesh-eaters. As with other newspapers, radio and television, El Universal is subject to censorship, although for the most part in Venezuela it remains more de facto than de jure. That is, “censor yourselves or we will do it for you”.

I quickly lost that track as I became enmeshed in the newspaper’s website, and was amused if not surprised to learn that, regardless of any putative control Mr. Chávez may have over news outlets, he seems to have none over Vox Populi.  In Alaska and the rest of the United States, internet voices learned and shrill, from across the political spectrum, uphold their favorite politicians and decry their bugaboos and those who support them. In Venezuela, it appears, internet commentary is close to unanimous in its condemnation of Mr. Chávez.  I read four articles featuring the Venezuelan president and found vanishingly close to none supportive of him.  Here is my translation of one regarding Chávez’s August trip to Libya, which occurred days before the Sept 4 Venezuelan elections:
Up to now I see 34 commentaries on this article, of which 31 are against Chávez, 2 demonstrate no inclination and one ditz* (*”mareado”, lit. the sea-sick one) who was breathing paint fumes in favor of el comandante. Could it be that the ditzes like this last one don’t write commentary until the last minute prior to the polls, or could it be that we’re all against this communistic trash (comunistoide de pacotilla) but too afraid or lazy to show ourselves and get rid of him for good? I don’t know what it is but one way or another Chávez has managed to keep himself afloat while all of Venezuela eats this manure courtesy of the worst government in history.

Now, I can internet-pick to support my arguments or political leanings as well as the next commentator, but if you make the assumption I am correct in stating the overwhelming preponderance of internet writings is anti-Chávez, where does that leave us?  Two possibilities arise: first, that the internet remains a potent force in authoritarian regimes for voicing opinions, and second, that the populism which created and sustained a Hugo Chávez was and is a populism of the illiterate. Can the former overcome the latter?

Links to the articles and commentary I have used above:

El Universal:  Chávez llega a Libia como parte de su gira que lo llevará a cinco países – Nacional y Política – EL UNIVERSAL
BBC:  BBC News – Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez defends ‘Carlos the Jackal’

Jim Rogers on Alaska

November 20, 2009

Just re-read Jim Rogers’s excellent, capitalist version of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaires.  From 1990 through 1992, Jim and his then-girlfriend, Tabitha, took two BMWs and rode 65,000 miles around the world on them, eventually chronicling the journey in the best-selling Investment Biker. The final chapter, an afterword, provides some of Jim’s insights of the final destination of their odyssey, Alaska.

Now, Jim Rogers is an extremely astute observer of the world.  He made his mark on Wall Street in the form of one of the two founding principals of what would become the most storied global investment vehicle of the last century, the Quantum Fund. It did not take very long before the rest of the investment world learned to take at their peril the opposite side of a trade made by this soft-spoken good old boy from Demopolis, Alabama.

Of all the investment decisions Jim made, however, the one which make the most mark on me was his decision, at age 48, that he had made enough millions… and he walked away.  Away to his motorcycles and his traveling and his writing and his enjoying life.

When we got there, Investment Biker concludes, we realized how different people in the Yukon and Alaska are from those in Ottawa and Washington, D.C.  As in so many places we passed through around the world, these people aren’t the joiners and backslappers of the capitals, they are the loners and mavericks, a hardier breed produced by the rugged breed of their habitat… How can Alaskans allow Washington to run their lives? What do the moles of the Beltway know of their lovely, stark country? … In fact, Alaskans have more in common with their neighbors in the Yukon and in Siberia than they have with bureaucrats in Washington, Ottawa or Moscow.  If the three of them, fabulously rich in mineral resources, aligned themselves into an independent frontier nation, they could attract enormous development capital.

From the vantage point of seventeen years on, it is obvious Jim got it partly right, partly wrong.  He failed to reckon with the power of Alaska’s three congressmen, a power which increased substantially over the subsequent dozen years, to bind the state ever more tightly to funding from the nation’s capital. His supposition that Alaska need tie itself to Yukon and Siberia in order to attract development capital, even if not wholly serious, also missed the mark.

But he was correct in observing that Alaska does need development capital.  Even in 2009, the state, and so many of its inhabitants, cling to the wonderfully naive thought that natural resource extraction, by itself, can create wealth and prosperity for its people.  This has been the chimera of so many resource-rich lands throughout the world, throughout the centuries.  The value-added of resource extraction never has, and never will, flow to the primary producer, and the multiplier effect of such production in the lands affected is small – perhaps three or four times (the normal multiplier effect for an industrial activity is around seven times).

Alaska can overcome the challenges its geography places on it only when development capital does permit it to extract benefit from its natural resources, rather than sending them afar so that the benefits accrue to others.  This is a lesson China has learned, Brazil has learned and, increasingly, the smaller Gulf States have learned.  The newest large-scale natural resource story in Alaska involves the natural gas deposits associated with North Slope oil production.  A modest-scale petrochemical industry based in Alaska using this as feedstock would have far more beneficial impact to Alaska’s socioeconomic well-being than a pipeline Out ever could. Why? The value-added of polyethylene, of polystyrene, and of other simple gas-based polymers not only is far vaster than that of natural gas, but the associated jobs would exist in Alaska, not elsewhere. The challenges of transporting gas – by transcontinental pipe or by sea-borne LNG tankers – would be substituted by the ease of transport solid polymers provide. The vagaries of the world marketplace for a raw material would cease to exist.

If Alaska is to prosper in the coming decades, it will not be through the continued largesse of Washington, but because it has taken the path of responsible development – OF its resources, BY its people. The development capital can come from without – Jim Rogers, are you listening – but the state must show itself to be receptive of same.