August Already?

Out on a walk today with Black Dog near our Nest in Seward. Spotted this where the trail forks

Okay, GOT IT.

Not exactly Thoreau at Walden I’m guessing. Note there’s more space on the board for additional signs. Think I’ll make one and staple it up there next time I pass by – Sunday Service begins at 9 am, come one come all!

Happy Wife and girlfriends packed in to a remote cabin last night, same one she and I packed in to a couple years ago. She called this morning to say she slept outside on the deck (see photo at the link). Too hot inside she said, plus every time she turned or rolled over her sleeping mat made noise. Weird. It’s one of those high-quality mats you wouldn’t think would make noise. They’re packing up this morning and hiking out, all down hill except a few uphill parts. Her ring is back on! We got it back from the jeweler a couple weeks ago, in a brand new platinum setting, sparkling brighter than a star in the night sky

Spotted the Celebrity Millennium leaving the harbor last night after dinner (click to embiggen)

Port of registry is Malta. That’s a big ship, carries up to 2100 passengers and 800-900 crew. You could fit the entire population of Seward (~ 2800) on that ship with a lean crew. Beautiful night it was. The weather has returned to being crazy warm and dry, especially for this time of year. Nearly eighty degrees here yesterday, copy/paste today, and the forecast calls for at least another seven days of this. I’m enjoying the unseasonable warmth; Happy Wife not so much. I bet the window washers in downtown Anchorage enjoy it. You wouldn’t get me up there, and not because I’m especially afraid of heights. With my luck I’d probably see something untoward going on inside one of those offices and wouldn’t be able to keep it to myself

Peace.

Upheaval

If you haven’t noticed, the state of Alaska is experiencing an upheaval. Upheaval’s probably not the right word, since it denotes change or disruption that is “sudden.” There’s nothing sudden about what we’re experiencing, I blogged about the warning signs nearly three years ago. Since then the state legislature and former governor effectively twiddled their thumbs while the State’s coffers were drained. What’s the cause of the upheaval? Very simply the state has run out of money to pay for its obligations.

Well, sort of.

You see, we don’t have a state income tax in Alaska. We also don’t have a state sales tax. The State’s primary source of revenue is taxes, fees, royalties etc. on the oil and gas companies who produce the oil and send it to market. That accounts for about 85% of the state’s revenue. The rest of its revenue comes from federal funding, taxes and fees on other smaller industries (tourism, fishing, retail, etc), and the interest on a Big Pot of Money (keep reading). When times were good – when a barrel of oil went for $100 or more – there were no worries. That’s because the amount of money flowing into state coffers is (roughly) proportional to the price of a barrel of oil. Unfortunately, for the state of Alaska, the party came to a sudden end around 2014. The price for a barrel of Alaska crude dropped faster than a dress on prom night. Since then the hangover in Juneau has grown increasingly unpleasant

But wait. Doesn’t Alaska have this thing called the Permanent Fund (PF) now valued at over 60 Billion dollars? Why doesn’t the government just make a withdrawal from that fund to make up for the budgetary shortfall? Sounds good except 1) the fund’s principal is constitutionally protected, and 2) the fund’s annual earnings, while legally available to pay for government obligations, have been used (since 1980) to pay each and every eligible Alaskan an annual dividend. Last year our dividend was $1200.00. Multiplied by the number of eligible Alaskans, that equals one Billion dollars. That’s one Billion dollars not available to the government to use to pay for its obligations.

Wait a minute, can’t the governor and/or legislature just pass a law that suspends or reduces the amount of the dividend so there’s more to use to pay for government obligations? In fact, that happened last year. That $1200 we all got, it was supposed to be much larger but the former governor, by executive veto, reduced it so more of the earnings reserve could be used to pay for government obligations. Of course that pissed off a lot of Alaskans who have grown fond of free money* over the past forty years, but the state supreme court concluded he could legally do it.

Fast forward to our current governor, a republican duly elected by ThePeople® of the great state of Alaska. He was one of the Alaskans pissed off by the former governor’s veto. Resolved to right a wrong, he promised to return the calculation of the dividend to the old formula based in law. He won by a wide margin. Had the old formula been used in 2018, instead of $1200, each of us would have gotten over $2000 (or something like that). Not only did the new governor want to restore the old formula going forward, he also proposed more money be added to our 2019 dividend to make up for the difference between the $1200 we got, and what we would have got under the old formula. Ok, so how much is that you ask?

Wait for it…. $3000 $6700! Update: $3000 is the estimate of the 2019 dividend under the old formula. Adding in the 2018 makeup would raise it to an eye-popping $6700.

So, you’re thinking, let me get this straight – no state income tax, no state sales tax, oil revenue has tanked. The only source of revenue left for the government to use to pay for its obligations is the earnings reserve of this thing called the Permanent Fund. And yet the governor wants to use that to pay a 2019 dividend of $3000 (maybe even $6700!!) to each and every eligible Alaskan (~$3 Billion), and thus reduce how much is available to pay for government obligations?!

That’s correct.

Call me callous for ignoring marginal utility, for taking a devil-may-care attitude, but Happy Wife and I see no reason to overact to the current upheaval and institute an austerity program of our own. If the governor insists on sending us $6000 in October, what else is there to say except, Cheers.

* One could quibble that the annual dividend is not really “free money,” since by law Alaska is an owner state, which, among other things, has been interpreted to mean the citizens of Alaska have an ownership right in the natural resources (e.g. oil), and as such should be expected to demand a dividend on the value of their asset.

Baked Alaska, Etc.

It’s been Hot in Alaska. So Hot in Anchorage Happy Wife hasn’t slept with me in our bed in must be a couple weeks now, preferring the couch downstairs next to a small fan she placed in front of an open window to pull in the cooler evening air. The Dog seems to prefer sleeping down there as well. In Anchorage we broke an all time high temperature record last week – 90°! Remarkable, yes, but the really remarkable thing is how long this super high pressure block has hung around, easily two weeks, maybe a little longer. And not a drop of rain. Not even a slight chance of rain, just lots of smoke from all the wildfires burning to the north and south of us. As I write the high pressure front has moved north, blessedly, leaving us with more average summertime temperatures.

A few weeks ago while kayaking with her friends (aka The Merry Mermaids) I get a frantic call from Happy Wife, the diamond on her wedding ring was gone. The metal prongs holding the solitaire in place had sheared off right where it was attached to the ring. She first noticed it was gone while chilling with the Mermaids in the cabin,  after they’d schlepped kayaks and gear from the water taxi onto the beach. Unfortunately, by now the tide was high and the beach was under water. Desperate nonetheless, she and the Mermaids searched everywhere; they scoured the beach, thoroughly checked their gear and clothing, even searched inside the kayak hulls, nadda. I recalled what the diamond had cost. I did my best to console her over the phone, surely our homeowners policy would cover the loss, no? Another day passes. HW paddles her kayak somewhere out in the bay where there’s cell phone service. She calls me back. She’s still despondent. Again I try to reassure her, we’ll get you a new diamond dear. Important as it is it’s just a material thing, it’s what it means that matters. Nothing can take that away from us. We kiss over the phone and I hang up. Minutes later my phone rings again, it’s HW. Already I’m thinking, can it be? I pick up: “I FOUND IT!” She and the Mermaids had taken a break from paddling, on a beach or a shoal or something, waiting for the tide to swing. As she sponge-bailed water from the hull of her kayak she felt something hard and wondered how the heck a “stone” had gotten inside. And there it was, the whole time, rolling around back there even though it had escaped her notice the day before. Happy ending. Happy wife.

Disbelief Captured

in·cre·du·li·ty
/ˌinkrəˈd(y)o͞olədē/

noun
    1. the state of being unwilling or unable to believe something.

We were at the bar (Thorns) yesterday when I was moved to opine to HW that I thought she was positively glowing today. Neither one of us had showered, and to boot we’d just come from the dump.

Being White

My hard-won island tan has faded like a frightful childhood memory. Like the time when, on a dare, your friends goaded you into kissing your sister. Since we got back home I once went to the fake and bake intending to maintain my copper tone. Except for the UV radiation it’s not the same as the Maui sun. It’s more like being a hot dog under a heat lamp at the 7-11. I’m not going back any time soon, to the fake and bake I mean.

So it won’t be long before I return to looking like an old, white American male. A class of folks lately viewed with various levels of contempt by certain social scholars (ahem) because of our supposed over-privileged status. In my entire life I have never felt like an over-privileged white male, yet certain of these scholars insinuate that being oblivious of your class status confirms your membership (link)

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.

Worse yet, even apparently selfless acts taken by members of this class will be regarded with suspicion by many such scholars

My schooling followed the pattern which Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow “them” to be more like “us.” I think many of us know how obnoxious this attitude can be in men.

Cynical much?

Take these two for instance, white as driven snow, dripping with unearned assets. 

What would Ms Minnich make of their true motivations, that their activism is really intended to raise Nigerian boys (and especially girls) out of rank 3rd world poverty? No, of course not. Their real motivation is to make Nigerians more like them, white Americans. Are Gates Foundation grant awards really directed at efforts to reduce the incidence of death and rate of infection from malaria in high burden populations? Don’t be deceived, said grants are nothing more than the cynical ambitions of an obnoxious white man.

I tell you, the things that pass for scholarship these days.

We spent a delightful Easter weekend at our friends’ cabin in the woods, a couple hours drive north of Anchorage. All seven of us were white. You could cut the unearned privilege in that cabin with a knife. I had promised to bring Twister for us to play, which I still say would have worked great rolled out on that large lower-level floor. Most everyone was glad I didn’t. Instead, we played a card game for horrible people, drank wine and nibbled artisan Macarons. The game begins with one player drawing a black card and reading aloud the question printed on it. The other players each have ten white cards in their hand, each one with an “answer” printed on it. After the black card holder reads the question, each of the other players selects one answer card from their hand he/she thinks the black card reader will select as the best answer. For example, suppose the black card phrase is – “In his famous farewell address, George Washington famously warned Americans to avoid excessive __________.” If one of your answer cards is “Masturbation,” or “Spontaneous human combustion” or “Gassy antelopes” – whatever, you pick one and slide it over to the black card reader. He/she collects them all, reads each one out loud – some of which cause wine to burst from nostrils – and then picks a winner. The first player to amass ten wins (or whatever) wins the game.

Afterwards, we all trundled outside into the Spring snow for an Easter egg hunt. Except instead of eggs, Bev, originally from Scotland, had hidden bottles of Killians Red and Irish Whiskey miniatures around the property. I’m not sure who won that competition, I think I was seated in the outhouse when it was announced, waiting for movement to begin, savoring my invisible knapsack of special, unearned provisions.

Good Day ol’ Sol, See You Tomorrow

I did not see the proverbial green flash. Then again, I did have two Mai Tais under my belt by this time, and was working on my first glass of Pinot Grigio while I tended to our corn and pita bread on the grill. That I was mindful enough to snap a photo at all felt like a win

Aloha

Breakfast lovingly prepared by HW. A three minute egg shelled and halved oozing orange yolk over bacon fried rice with a side of fresh papaya. Served right outside our digs on west Maui. Beyond, the sea turtle cleaning station. No tours or guides required. We just wade in and snorkel among the turtles. Fascinating creatures.

 

Another Year On

So, France.

Geographically, southern France. We stayed in the town of Limoux at a nice three story hotel that first served as a monastery maybe six or seven hundred years ago. It bears an interesting chain of custody since then, once serving as a stop-over for Napoleon’s soldiers during the French revolution. Now owned by Chris and his wife, our hosts for the bike tour, it’s been lightly remodeled over time into a modern hotel with six (?) guest rooms and a quiet community room on the third floor with comfortable chairs, a couch, a built-in bar area and two breezy doors that give way to an outdoor balcony

The place isn’t devoid of old world charms, though. The tall doors at the entrance were huge, thick wood monstrosities that swung open and closed like castle doors. You always knew when someone was coming or going with the way the thud echoed down the cavernous front hallway.

For breakfast in the morning we (the 12 of us) all assembled in the room off the kitchen around a long, well-used wooden table that felt like it had its own stories to tell. The kitchen appeared small but I can’t say for sure as the one rule ground into our heads more than once during the week was: Never, ever go into the kitchen! This became known among the group as the Isabelle’s Rule, one of Chris’ able assistants on the tour. Isabelle it seemed did everything, preparing breakfast, cleaning up, driving the sag van, answering all manner of questions we newbies to France had, and now and then delighting in mocking my feeble attempts to speak the french language. Prior to departure each day we would gather in an open air courtyard, the same place dinner was served if the weather was nice. A metal staircase led up to a roof terrace over the garage where you could enjoy a cup of coffee and a bird’s-eye view of the goings on outside the hotel. One morning I invited HW up to have a gander at the colorful peppers

Around 8 am each day, after breakfast and having gathered what you need for a day of cycling, all of us were swiftly out the door piling into one of two vans, bikes ‘n all, to shuttle to the start of the day’s ride, which was anywhere from forty-five to sixty miles with variable climbing involved, usually more than less. The routes Chris chose were truly world class. If you enjoy road cycling and going on tours is your thing, I can highly recommend southern France. Most of the roads we cycled had very light traffic, so much so they reminded me of wide bike trails rather than the kind of county roads designed for cars and trucks like we have in the states. Most days we rode in or near the Pyrenees mountains, which made it even more spectacular. Here we are cycling on a ribbon of a road pinched between a sheer rock wall and a steep gorge which had to be a thousand feet deep or more, with nothing between it and us save a short brick wall. Chris said there are just a few times a year he takes cyclists here because usually the wind is so fierce it poses a danger to them. Supposedly, one year someone on his tour nearly had her bike blown out from underneath her. Caveat cyclist

Here’s Chris reminding me to stop and enjoy, yes, at the same time not to get too close to the wall, more the height of a sidewalk curb here

In some places the road was so narrow there was only room for one car, or the rock wall overhung the road so much a driver had to be careful not to scrape the roof of the car (or a cyclist his helmet!). We did see some cars on this section. One driver, clearly impatient with the driver ahead of him, tried to pass. Crazy. After the gorge we stopped and walked down a steep path along the side of the mountain to visit a cave used by Hermitage monks over two hundred years ago. Difficulty of access was intentional, they prayed and chanted all day and generally wanted to be left alone, except when in need of supplies which certain people brought to them by slogging up a trail from the canyon below

I’ll post more france pics later, so many to choose from, it’ll take me a while to sort through them all. And time, who has the time?! Though HW did make sure we made time to celebrate the completion of my 59th orbit about our star. She insisted on taking me out to dinner. How I love this woman