October 31, 2008

The best friend Sarah Palin ever had

 Tony Hopfinger, former Anchorage Press editor and a brilliant Alaskan journalist who now writes for Newsweek and operates the Alaska Dispatch site with Amanda Coyne, has a couple of interesting new Palin tidbits.

First, Hopfinger recounts a source telling him about a visit by Palin to the home of former Veco CEO and convicted felon Bill Allen. The source, a former Veco employee, says the meeting took place in 2001, the summer before Palin’s unsuccessful run for Lt. Governor (she lost to The Undertaker - Loren Leman). Palin received at least $5,000 in campaign contributions from Allen and his employees during that race.

According to Hopfinger’s source, Palin and Allen shared a bottle of wine during the visit. I wonder if she drove home?

Second, Hopfinger poses a question that came up in the newsroom here in Homer as soon as Palin officially called on Ted Stevens to resign.

Is Palin setting herself up to take Ted’s seat?

Such an act, the legalities of which are being pondered by the Department of Law, would be even more arrogant than Frank Murkowski appointing his daughter to fill his own seat in 2002.

Which brings me to a point of my own.

I have stayed out of the Palin fray for the most part since she was chosen as McCain’s running mate - partly because my role at the Homer News has only enough room for me to do stories like this on the subject, but mostly because I didn’t really have anything to add that wasn’t being said by someone else.

I’ve met Palin a few times and interviewed her on my radio program, going back to the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary. She’s a charming person - affable, friendly and a good interview. She did, in 2006, strike me as someone who didn’t know enough about oil and gas issues (particularly the state of gasline negotiations at that time) to be a truly qualified governor, but she also struck me as someone with more than enough charisma to overcome her lack of substance and win – which she did, handily.

And, to be fair, she has come a long way on oil and gas issues in her brief time as governor, proving that she can be a quick study.

There is one thing, however, that I felt – and still feel – the national media is missing when it comes to discussing the enigmatic Sarah Palin:

Frank Murkowski.

Alaskans, regardless of political stripe, know that if there were no Frank Murkowski, there would likely be no Sarah Palin. Murkowski was the most unpopular governor Alaska, or maybe even the country, has ever had – so unpopular, in fact, that he came in a distant third in his own party’s primary in 2006. From the longevity bonus to secret gasline negotiations with the oil companies to the “Bald Ego” state jet, Frank Murkowski’s one term as governor was an unmitigated disaster.

By the end of it, he had approval ratings in the low teens and was almost universally despised. He has since disappeared from public view – save a couple of bizarre appearances – and will likely not return unless he is indicted by the Feds for his associations with Bill Allen and the CBC (his former chief of staff, Jim Clark, has already pled guilty).

It’s crucial to remember, I think, that Sarah Palin rode in on the shattered mess that was the Murkowski administration and was, simply, in the right place at the right time. It’s not that she had nothing to do with her own meteoric rise – she is truly focused and ambitious – but it took very special circumstances for her to get to where she is.

You could say the same thing for Sean Parnell who, if Palin does indeed find a way to take over Stevens’ Senate seat, is my best bet to become our next governor.

October 30, 2008

Homer News roundup, 10/30

In this week’s Homer News …

Friends pay loving tribute to Homer's Julie Cessarini

It seemed like at least 100 people there, and it was a great mix of Homeroids. I haven't seen so many tie-dyed outfits together in one sitting since the 1960s … (read more)

Council looks at options: Instead of rate hike, officials to consider proposal to subsidize water, sewer system

After receiving a mostly negative reaction from members of the public and the Homer City Council about proposed 2009 increases in the city's water and sewer rates, city manager Walt Wrede decided it was time to go back to the drawing board … (read more)

Cirque du Ritz brings magic and mayhem to Pratt

With last week's Wearable Arts show inspiring Homer to dress up, what better time to put on those fancy duds than the Pratt Museum's annual Ritz fund-raiser? Over the decades, the Pratt has had "license to Ritz," "Chez Ritz," "from rags to Ritz" and been "simply black and white," some of the themes to inspire people to go all out for a gala night, Kachemak Bay style … (read more)

Museum fights city proposal to cut funding by 25 percent

If the Homer City Council follows through with a proposed plan to cut 25 percent of city funding -- or about $22,500 -- from the Pratt Museum, the city may have to take over operation of the museum itself, said Heather Beggs, the Pratt's director, to the council at their Monday regular meeting … (read more)

Editorial: Sen. Stevens has served Alaska well, but he needs to step down

Not surprisingly, Alaskans are divided on what should happen. Many continue to stand by him. Others say they can no longer support him. A growing list is calling on him to step down.

And that's exactly what should happen … (read more)

More than volleyball served: Nikolaevsk tourney spotlights sports, community's culture

The Nikolaevsk gym was just like any other for a home volleyball match -- filled with excited, pumped-up fans, homemade signs rooting on the home team and mothers with Camcorders capturing all the action. There was only one noticeable difference between the bleachers there and those of any other small Alaska school -- these fans cheered on their team, the Nikolaevsk Lady Warriors, in Russian ... (read more)

And, of course, there's much more at homernews.com.

October 29, 2008

Don't panic ... it's organic (hair design).

 Nova and I saw this sign next to the rolfing place in the strip mall where the Kachemak Gear Shed is located. I think it's new (the sign, at least), as I don't remember seeing it there before.

So ... um ... I hate to get all Andy Rooney on ya, but what in the heck is this "organic hair design?" Do they put bananas and/or yogurt in your hair? Bee pollen? Goat milk? Is it the hair that's supposed to be organic? (cuz I thought all hair was organic). And what does the "design" in "hair design" mean, anyway? Is there a team of architects in there drawing up blueprints for a new bob cut?

And ... does the macho Gear Shed feel a little weird living in the same strip mall as the froo-froo rolfing center and organic hair design emporium? 

I do love me some K-Bay coffee, though.

October 24, 2008

Volleyball in Nikolaevsk

One of my sports assignments this week was to cover a volleyball tournament in Nikolaevsk, one of the Russian Old Believer villages in the Homer area (it's actually about halfway between Homer and Anchor Point on North Fork Road).

The Old Believers have been in this area for decades and Nikolaevsk is the oldest of their settlements on the Kenai Peninsula. They are a relatively small group of Russian Orthodox adherents who practice a version of their religion that existed before Russian Orthodoxy merged with Greek Orthodoxy in 1652. They have been persecuted ever since, finding only temporary homes in Siberia and South America before settling in the U.S., in Oregon and here on the Kenai. 

Around here, the Old Believers are noticeable primarily because of their appearance - the men wear long beards and the women dress in bonnets and long, homemade dresses. Other than that, they live life pretty much in the 21st Century - they drive cars, shop at the Safeway, go to the movies and have jobs in town (many of the men are commercial fishermen).

They also love volleyball.

The Nikolaevsk School, in fact, fields a volleyball team - the Nikolaevsk Lady Warriors - in their beautiful gym at the school. Below are some photos of their Friday evening match against Tok, which they lost in four games. Every year, they hold a four-day volleyball tournament where teams from all over Alaska come to play. The people of the village put the players up in the school and in their homes, show them around the village and share with them their unique culture.

I have found in my few meetings with Old Believers, that they are a warm and hospitable group of people. They are friendly and gracious and willing to share their stories. I talked with many of the village women Friday and found out they are huge volleyball fans. It was a lot of fun.

There will be a full story on the tournament, including interviews with some of the players and parents, in next week's Homer News. I'll post a link here when it's available.

In the meantime, you can view the full set of photos at my Flickr page.

Kristoff: Rebranding the U.S. With Obama

The NY Times endorsed Obama today ... I know ... surprise, surprise. But Nicholas Kristoff's column today is definitely worth a read. In it, he recalls a conversation with a Chinese friend of his who is incredulous that American whites might elect a black president.

"What do white people think about that, about getting a black president? Are they upset? Are they angry?" his friend says, adding that she thought all American blacks were either janitors or laborers.

Kristof concludes that, with an Obama presdency, "we may find a path to restore America's global influence."

Michael was telling me about a Newsweek article he read that showed evidence that Iran was balking at an expected Obama presidency, believing that it will strengthen US/European relations and therefore present a more united front against Iran. Interesting.

If Obama is elected, it will truly be an historic moment, and one worth savoring. However, we can't bask in it too long as a people for two reasons: 1. Electing a black president does NOT mean an end to racism, especially institutional racism, in America, unfortunately, and there is still much work to be done on that front. 2. We also have a lot of work to do restoring our good standing in the world, and it's not going to be as easy as just electing Obama president.

Homer gas prices coming down slowly (UPDATED)

The Daily News' Wes Loy has an article today about high gas prices statewide. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing in Anchorage yesterday with Alaska's two gasoline refiners, Flint HIlls and Tesoro. Jay Ramras (R-Fairbanks) heads the committee and says the two companies have a duopoly and that's what's leading to AK's highest in the nation gas prices.

Meanwhile, Homer seems to be the only place on the road system that still pays more than $4 a gallon ($4.06 the other day at Petro Express). Smokey Norton from Petro Express says it's because the local retailers wait until they fill up their large tanks before they change their prices. I have a complete story on the subject, with comment from Norton and Ramras, but the link on the website doesn't seem to be working right now. Check back here soon and I'll have it up. (UPDATE: Here's the link to yesterday's Homer News gas story.)

Also, I'm working on a story about Armstrong's successful natural gas well at North Fork and how that gas might get to Homer. McKibben did a preliminary story on the well here. Stay tuned for more on the subject.

October 23, 2008

With kids, take time to enjoy adventure of every moment

From the Oct. 23 issue of the Homer News:

I have two sons – Gabe and Otto.

Gabe will turn 13 next week and in many ways, he’s already a typical teenager. He talks on the telephone a lot, mostly to girls. He’s pretty conscious of his cool-ness level, spending a lot of time tweaking his wardrobe and engaging in an annoying habit he’s recently developed – flipping his hair out of his eyes every ten seconds like an uncontrollable sufferer of Tourette syndrome.

Gabe is also an intelligent, strong, courteous and compassionate young man who works hard at his studies and isn’t too cool – yet – to help his folks out around the house. I’m very proud of him.

Otto is 15 months old. He has a vocabulary consisting of five words – mama, dada, ball, dog and book – and likes to spend his time eating bananas and putting Legos in the toilet.

I love my sons, as every father loves his children, and I love being their dad. I didn’t set out to have two boys 12 years apart – it just kind of worked out that way.  I wouldn’t change anything about my experiences as a dad, however, as I’ve learned a lot from it and continue to learn all the time.

There’s an old parenting cliché that you’ve probably heard whether you’re a parent or not: something to the effect of  “don’t miss the moments” of childhood or, in other words, be sure to fully appreciate every stage of development your child is going through.

I’ve always thought “don’t miss the moments” was a sappy, Hallmark card-worthy sentiment. Don’t all parents appreciate their kids?

If you are a parent, however, you know it’s almost impossible to not look forward to “missing the moment” of changing another full diaper and it’s hard to resist looking forward to the day your toddler can use the toilet for something other than a Lego depository.

As with many clichés, there’s a ring of truth to “don’t miss the moments,” and it took having another child for me to truly understand it.

It’s true that, when Gabe was younger, I probably missed some childhood moments looking forward to his next step. When he was a small and helpless newborn, I couldn’t wait for him to walk and talk. When he was finally walking and talking, I longed for the day he could throw and catch a football so we could go play out in the yard. And when he could do that, I dreamt of life stages on down the road – his first day of school, his first girlfriend, teaching him to drive, attending his graduation and seeing him off to college.

Having Otto around has made me appreciate Gabe more, and vice versa. Although I try not to compare the two boys, and they are very different, Otto reminds me of how cute and fun Gabe was when he was little – I miss him calling me “daddy” and sitting in my lap for story time – and how far he has come in his development toward adulthood.

It’s not that I completely missed his childhood. It’s just that maybe I rushed it along a little bit. He’s about to turn 13 and, even though he may resist it, I think I can help. I remember what it was like to suffer through the seventh grade, to be suddenly confronted with girls and growth and changes all around – to be aware of the natural longing to step forward into adulthood while knowing you have much to learn.

Watching Gabe grow into a man makes me appreciate where Otto is in his life, as well.

With little Otto, it’s mostly about the ceaseless entertainment of watching him toddle around the house like a drunken sailor, exploring his world with reckless abandon. I absolutely love his zest for life and for learning, not to mention his boundless energy. Otto is my little adventurer.

I plan to enjoy very minute.

@ Mariner Park, 10/22

Nova, Otto and Alice the Wunderhund playing at Mariner Park Tuesday evening at sunset. It's been pretty warm here (high 30s to low 40s) until the last couple of days.