Archive for the ‘unintended consequences’ Tag

Christianity Wanes   2 comments

Everywhere you turn these days, Christianity is on the wane. Islam is experiencing aggressive resurgence and people just aren’t going to church so much anymore. Islam is the second-fastest growing religion worldwide and will become the biggest religion during this century. We hear it from boosters of the Muslim community, from alarmists seeing the formation of the next caliphate, from anti-religionists who want to ban (or at least silence) all monotheistic, exclusivist religions (there are three, by the way). God is dying and His followers are not so much deserting the sinking ship, but sleeping in.


The reports of the death of Christianity are somewhat exaggerated! It is true that Islam (and atheism and universalism) is growing in the West. Most of the growth in Islam in America and Europe is do to the high birth rates among Muslims and immigration.

But …

Someone should inform the media that the United States and Europe are not the entire world. I think they call that ethnocentrism. Contrary to popular belief (driven by media misreporting), evangelical Christianity is exploding around the world.

There are about four dozen Chinese Christians attending my church. These are China’s best and brightest, professors, researchers  and graduate students from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, practioners of the hard sciences like geophysics. All but two of them (who are children) accepted Christ in China.

Yes, in China!

Offically, China remains an atheist country and official numbers of Christian conversions are suppressed by government authorities. China’s Protestant community had only 1 million members in 1949 when the communists took over, but some estimates put the current Christian population in China around 111 million. The underground evangelical movement is thought to be larger than the 75-million-member Chinese Community Party.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule. “It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.” Prof. Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. By 2030, at current trends, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, making it the largest Christian nation in the world by mid-21st century.

The members at my church estimate 10,000 Chinese converts to Christianity every day. Most of the growth, they say, is in illegal house churches.

“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”

In What’s So Great About Christianity Dinesh d’Souza wrote that 80% of Christians in 1900 lived in Europe and the United States. Today, two out of three evangelicals live in Asia, Africa, and South America. South Korea now holds the title as the second-place country for sending out missionaries. The number one country is the United States, but we have six times the population and Korea is closing on us fast. In fact, Korea sends missionaries to the United States.

The religious makeup of the world is changing, but the media focus on the West distorts the reality of that change. Christianity, particularly evangelical Christianity, is spreading more evenly throughout the world and those non-Western-based churches have begun to recognize the need to evangelize the post-Christian West. Someday, soon, expect someone with broken English and a Bible to knock on your door and announce he’s from the Seoul International Baptist Church and he’d like to talk to you about the most important question you can ever ask.

College Road changes will improve safety – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Community Perspectives   Leave a comment

College Road changes will improve safety – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Community Perspectives.

Sounds so reasonable, but College Road now sees both lanes of the two-lane configuration being used. The turn lane is not meant to be used for passing or for faster traffic, so now you’ve forced everyone on the road to be stuck behind the slowest moving vehicle.

It is likely to cause MORE accidents, especially head-ons. That’s just common sense, that if you slow traffic down on a road that is built to go faster, the faster moving traffic will use that turn lane to get around slower moving vehicles and that will risk a head-on. Yes, the drivers will be held responsible, but in reality, it will be FMATS who caused the conflict.

We Are Family   Leave a comment

The extended Markham clan is loosely based in Seattle. They’re a prolific lot. A bunch of us cousins were standing around on my aunt’s deck during a family reunion about 25 years ago. Two were brothers – David and Bailey, there was Rick, myself and a couple others who do not play roles in the rest of the story.

David was an atheist working toward becoming a paleontologist. Bai was a biochemist getting a second masters in theology. Rick was a research doctor whose team had recently made a huge discovery in neurobiology.

Bai and David had each had a couple of beers and were starting to get on each other’s nerves. Young men, brothers and beer – not surprising.

When the insults got deep enough, I appealed to Bai’s Christian ethics to cool him down. David appealed to Rick, as the “real” scientist didn’t he agree that faith hopelessly tainted science? The agnostic Rick did not want to take sides, so he proposed a research project. He told me later that he thought they’d be uninterested, but somehow we all threw questions into a bowl. I am not even sure how I ended up included in the group. I’m not a scientist. Rick said that if I could understand their arguments, then they would be making sense. I was their control.

The 25-year journey of this group has strengthened my faith immensely because what I’ve learned is that God uses the arguments against Him to reveal Himself.

I will explore this in future posts.

Ranch Might Have Been US “Tahrir” Square   Leave a comment

Cliven Bundy speaks

I wasn’t available for comment this weekend, but the Bundy Ranch “stand-off” got my attention. I hope it got a whole lot of people’s attention.

Remember, I’m from Alaska. I’ve lived through some of the arbitrary federal rule-making that Mr. Bundy has had to deal with, so my perspective is from experience, not just vague knowledge like some people.

Thirty years ago, Alaska faced a similar show-down and we lost. Miners and homesteaders were told to follow rules that couldn’t be reconciled with good sense. They jumped through hoops. They did the best they could and still it wasn’t enough. It still isn’t enough. Small family mines closed, trappers gave up, farms went fallow. The Yukon River villages went lonesome. Thirty years ago, the only people who cared were other Alaskans and we couldn’t grab a microphone big enough to be heard on the national stage. Mr. Bundy and his neighbors were going through a similar set of circumstances and they got enough attention to get a name — the Sagebrush Rebellion — but not enough to change anything. Here in Alaska Joe Vogler managed to get on the docket to speak before the United Nations … and then was murdered a week before he was to go there.

Liberal presidents, conservative presidents — the wheels of destruction continued rolling forward at varying paces until the Obama Administration ramped up administrative fights into police and military battles. The miners of Eagle faced a similar government brown-shirt raid last year.

This time, though, something happened. The Obama Administration didn’t want to be seen as the American equivalent of Mubarek in Egypt so it backed down. That doesn’t mean the fight is over. It does mean we may finally have reached a tipping point. Instead of Ruby Ridge and Waco, we now have the Bundy Ranch, where for a brief shining moment, the American people made the federal government back down.

What’s next?

Governance by Idiots   1 comment

What is wrong with the American system of government?

Nothing and everything!

On the surface, the idea of self-governance is a wonderful one. I own myself, I should be allowed to make decisions for my community and my state and my nation. I believe that … in theory.

The problem with self-governance in the United States is that we rely too much on democracy, which is exercised by idiots, who think they want government services or laws that reduce the liberty of others (never themselves!) and then put despots into collective power which they then use to take away the very self-governance we were exercising.

There is nothing wrong with self-governance. There is nothing wrong with a certain degree of democracy. There is emphatically nothing wrong with liberty.

There is everything wrong with the misuse of self-governance, the tyranny of democracy and the redefining of liberty. In seeking to come together as communities within states within a nation, we have somehow lost our way.

Democracy puts everyone in control over everyone else’s liberty. When exercised by intelligent people in a strictly limited way, democracy might work, but the United States of America of the 21st century does not embody strictly limited representation by thoughtful people who recognize the rights of others. Democracy in the 21st century USA is rule by idiots and when idiots are in control, you can’t really be surprised when everything goes haywire.

Posted April 7, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Government

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Do We Still Feel Safe in Gun-Free Zones?   Leave a comment

We’re all reeling from the latest Ft. Hood shooting. It’s a tragedy. Four people are dead, including the shooter, and it seems so senseless, given that this was a military base where the employees presumably have small-arms training and are allowed to carry guns … in war zones.

Pause and think before you scream that we need to outlaw guns across the United States.

What does Ft. Hood April 2, 2014 have in common with the following:

  • Columbia, Maryland – The Mall – January 25, 2014
  • Nairobi, Kenya – Westgate Mall – September 21, 2013
  • Newtown, Connecticut  – Sandy Hook Elementary School – December 14, 2012
  • Washington DC Navy Yard – September 16, 2013
  • Aurora Colorado – Century Movie Theater – July 20, 2012
  • Cumbria, Great Britian – June 2, 2010
  • Killeen Texas – Ft. Hood Army Base – November 5, 2009
  • Winneden Germany – Albertville School – March 11, 2009
  • Virginia Technical College – April 16, 2007


Yes, they were all gun-free zones … until they weren’t. In Kenya, you have an entire country were both open-carry and concealed-carry firearms are banned.  Germany and Great Britain have much tighter handgun laws than the United States. Did it do them any good?

Now consider these other places —

  • San Antonio, Texas – San Antonia Movie Theater – December 16, 2013
  • Clackamas, Oregon – Clackamas Town Center – December 11, 2012
  • New York Mills, New York – AT&T – May 27, 2010
  • Richmond, Virginia – Golden Market – July 11, 2009
  • Salt Lake City, Utah – Trolley Square Mall – February 12, 2007
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado – New Life Church – December 9, 2007
  • Grundy, Virginia – Appalachian School of Law – January 16, 2002
  • Edinbor, Pennsylvania – Parker Middle School – April 24, 1998
  • Jackson Mississippi – Pearl High School – October 1, 1997


In some of these cases, the responder using a personally-owned firearm were off-duty or retired police officers, but in several of these cases they were just American citizens carrying concealed as they went about their lives.

Why don’t you know about these incidents? Because the carnage was stopped by a citizen before the body count got high enough to interest the media and … well, frankly, it might make you not feel so safe in a gun free zone.

Repeal 17th Amendment   Leave a comment

The Founding Fathers knew that in order to ratify a Constitution and preserve the struggling fledgling that was the confederation of the United States of America, it was essential that both the people and the states have representation in the new federal government.

To assure both democracy and federation, they split the legislative branch. The people would be represented by the directly-elected members of the House of Representatives. The separate states would each be represented by two officials appointed by the state legislatures. Therefore, the House would represent the people and the Senate would represent the states. Without a federalist system of divided, enumerated, and checked powers between the federal and state governments, no union would be possible – the states, wary of potentially losing their sovereignty to an all-powerful national government, would back out of the Constitution, and the world’s most free and prosperous nation would never have become a reality.

According to the Founders’ vision the U.S. senators served at the pleasure of the state legislatures. Because they did not have to stand for popular election at the end of each six-year term, senators could focus on the business of the Senate as it related to the state legislatures, while their lower house counterparts could channel the will of the people. Legislatures would “instruct” senators in what federal legislation they thought would be best for the state and when a senator “went rogue” (like Mark Begich did over the Affordable Care Act), the legislature could recall the offending senator and replace him with someone who understood his job.

In the early 20th century, the progressives argued that the federalist arrangement in place fostered corruption and excessive special interests in the Senate, and was undemocratic to boot. That claim is questionable, although it is true that many state legislatures had difficulty actually appointing senators. There were other remedies that would have preserved republican-federalist ideals, but the progressives used the new media to whip up public concerns about the “lack of democracy” and the “rampant corruption” of the state legislatures. The original intent of the Constitution was that we should be a constitutional republic with some democratic features, but under the cover of “democracy”, the federal Congress quickly passed the 17th Amendment, and sent it to the states for ratification, establishing direct election of U.S. senators. States no longer had any representation in Washington, and the amendment paved the way for even more corruption and special interest influence.

Today, we have a Senate that regularly passes legislation contrary to the interests of the states, because senators have no reason to consider their state’s interest when they pass legislation. This is why the House wasn’t allowed an official vote on the Affordable Care Act. The people didn’t want it and it could never pass there, but senators are beholding to the special corporate interests that got them elected, so they will vote according to the whims of their handlers. How would that vote have fallen out if the senators had been answerable to their state legislatures?

Perhaps most residents in your state opposed nationalized healthcare coverage, but both of your senators voted in favor. Why not? They can’t be recalled at moment’s notice by the state legislative branch, like they could 100 years ago. All they have to do is get enough votes from their citizens – or perhaps enough voter fraud – and they are safe for six years. Missouri may not want Obamacare and Wyoming may not want tough new gun control laws, but thanks to the 17th Amendment, it doesn’t matter what those states or the people who live in them want. Their senators will decide for those states what is actually good for them and pass it on a national level as if Alaska has something in common with New Jersey.

What if the 17th Amendment was repealed?

I don’t know about  your state, but here in Alaska about 60% of voters don’t belong to either of the major political parties. Our state legislature is majority Republican, but many of its members are conservative/libertarian in philosophy. So why is a liberal Democrat representing us in Washington? Because of corruption. Ted Stevens’ corruption and Mark Begich’s corruption and corporate corruption aimed at both of those men. Mark “won” his senatorial seat in 2008 by less than 2% of the vote against a man who had been (wrongfully) convicted of a federal felony two weeks before. That makes thinking people wonder what’s up. Why is Lisa Murkowski still our senator? Because of the nepotism that put her in office in the first place (daddy Frank was the governor and he appointed her) and the corruption that has kept her in office. She resoundingly lost the 2010 Republican primary, came back as a write-in candidate, got the support of the Democrats and was reelected even though nobody I’ve ever talked to (except her dad) thinks she’s a good representative for the people of Alaska.

Does your state have similar stories?

Corruption must be checked and the Senate should do the bidding of the state they represent- not special interests in London or Hong Kong. A constitutional republic operates under the rule of laws, not a rule of men, as does a democracy. The Founding Fathers – who had a far greater sensitivity to tyranny than today’s politician – dedicated one half of the legislative branch to the states for good reason.

By repealing the 17th Amendment, we would restore the federalist system that kept Americans free and prosperous.

I’m not guaranteeing that its repeal would restore liberty and prosperity, but it might be a step in the right direction.

Complete Streets: A Good Idea with a Bad Unintended Consequence   3 comments

I found this article on line.

There’s a bittersweetness to this. I walk and ride my bike a lot. I would like to accomplish those activities without giving my life into the hands of idiot drivers. On the other hand ….

As a driver, I want to get where I need to go. I don’t want to be slowed by any consideration other than safety and my fellow drivers. Once I get in the vicinity of where I am going, I will often walk between stores, but I don’t want to be slowed in getting to the vicinity. 

“This spring, Fairbanks will start reconfiguring downtown streets to improve conditions for people traveling on foot and bicycle. Wider sidewalks, new bike lanes and narrowed arterials will calm traffic and make travel safer for everyone using the road.”

Living in Fairbanks and being aware of the plans that are being touted in this magazine gives me a unique perspective on the “reconfiguring of downtown streets”. Fairbanks has struggled for decades to revitalize its downtown, which was devastated by commercial growth on the outskirts that drew away shoppers. I’m sad about that too. It’s a unique area of town, with funky frontier architecture and I wish we could save it from the bulldozer of modern development … but this is not the way to do it.

Narrow Cushman Street and “calming traffic” means it will take me longer to get where I am going, so guess what happens? Being a busy modern lady with a hundred things on my plate, I will opt for those easy to access stores in the Box Belt rather than have my time wasted in an unnecessary traffic jam. Sorry Downtown, but my time is precious and I don’t want to waste it being frustrated. Most Fairbanksans agree with me so Downtown dries up and blows away. 

“The state ranks highest in the U.S. in the percentage of walking and biking commutes and in per capita funding for non-motorized transportation, and third-lowest in fatality rate among walkers and bicyclists.”

The above is a false statement dressed up in true statistics. Alaska ranks first in non-car motorized transportation because 80% of our communities are not accessible by road. Out in our bush communities, primary forms of transportation of 4-wheeler and snow machine. So, yes, we rank highest in walking commutes, but only became cars and the roads to drive them on are not available.

So, here’s the sad thing. Complete Streets makes a lot of sense. Walking is good for us and we should all do more of it and it makes a whole lot more sense for me to visit five shops in the Downtown area via my feet than to drive my car, thus saving gasoline and reducing emissions. But … BUT … because Complete Streets will slow traffic flow to the Downtown area, most people will opt to go elsewhere, thus facilitating the exact opposite behavior from what Donna Gardino wants.

So, when it fails, the Planners will come back and say we need to do more to revitalize Downtown and they’ll start introducing ways to force us to comply with these ideas.

The sad thing is that the solution is pretty obvious to me. Make it easier to drive into the Downtown area by providing wider streets to avoid traffic jams and business-supported parking so that it doesn’t cost me so much get out of my car. Those of us who like to walk will make use of it if you make it attractive, but by making it highly unattractive, the Planners force us to vote with our tires and shop in the Box Belt.


Land Gone Lonesome   2 comments

I grew up in Alaska where the Yukon River is our Mississippi, 2000 miles of mythic river, thick as chocolate milk, sweeping through Alaska’s interior on its relentless journey to the Bering Sea. The longest river in Alaska is the third-longest in the United States and the 21st longest in the world.

ILand Gone Lonesome: An Inland Voyage along the Yukon River’ve never canoed it or taken a boat even along all of the length that’s in the United States, though I’ve seen both ends of it – on in Canada’s Dawson (close enough) and at St. Mary’s where part of the Yukon Delta meets the Bering Sea and parts of the middle. I had a friend – Charlie Wolfe – who used to canoe it every year for 30 years (Whitehorse to St. Marys) but Charlie didn’t write down his experiences and draw conclusions from it. Dan O’Neill did, in the “Land Gone Lonesome”, a colorful and meandering portrait of the region with an intriguing agenda.

O’Neill is a noted Alaska historian with no illusions about the Yukon. It’s not an easy place to live. I suspect you have to be a little crazy to want to live there. In fact, I’ve never met a “normal” person who has chosen to spend more than a year or two along its banks. That would include me. A Yukon River village is a cool place to visit, but I’d never choose to make my home there.
When John McPhee wrote Coming into the Country in the 1970s, he found lots of people still willing to make their home along the river. Dan O’Neill found a much different situation 30 years later.

O’Neill put his 19-foot canoe into the Yukon’s navigatible stream in Dawson, in Canada, and headed downstream to nose around what remains of the fish camps, cabins and roadhouses of the Yukon’s boom and bust past. His recollections are actually from several trips over a number of summers, but things don’t change very rapidly on the Yukon.
“A hundred years ago, thousands of people bustled along this river,” he notes. “Today, it is a ghost river connecting ghost towns.”
There’s a quiet, misty-eyed quality to O’Neill’s journey that reads like a description of Thomas Kinkade’s paintings, but he also captures the bawdy sensibilities of the territory’s heyday with purple prose.

O’Neill turned to the land’s frolicking history to keep his narrative afloat because the river has run dry of human adventure. Earlier writers (John McPhee, Ernie Pyle, John Muir and Robert Service to name a few) discovered the Yukon was rich in characters. Interior Alaska’s long bleak winters, short muggy summers, floods and blizzards keep all but a hardy group from dawdling for long, but the Yukon’s isolation has protected it from all but the die-hards and crackpots. It is outcast territory.

O’Neill was interested in the fate of the “river people” McPhee was fascinated by, the early 1970s hippies who packed up their VW buses and headed to the wildest of America’s wild places, the Yukon River basin, where they could forage and fish, removed from the pressures of contemporary life. Contrary to television popularization today, the prize for most Yukon Alaskans is solitude, self-reliance and relief from property taxes. Back then, the rules were simple enough:

  • Bring in only what you can carry.
  • The land will provide.
  • What nature can’t fix, duct tape and a blue tarp will.

McPhee brought these “neo-pioneers” (as O’Neill calls them) to the attention of The New Yorker, and readers worldwide in his 1977 best seller, Coming Into the Country. McPhee is O’Neill’s phantom companion on this trip, but their relationship is a complicated one. McPhee was an interloper whose rose-glassed account annoyed the snot of me when I was forced to read it for a college class 35 years ago. O’Neill lives in a log cabin in Fairbanks and shows the same, albeit tempered, irritation. I’ve met Dan maybe twice. We don’t know each other, but I’m sure we hold the same opinion of McPhee — a starry eyed dreamer who tried to get it but really didn’t quite.
Whereas McPhee anointed the eccentric Dick Cook as the “acknowledged high swami of the river people”, O’Neill discovered that Cook was more of a crank than a revered guru of the Alaska subsistence movement. McPhee drooled in worship. O’Neill stripped away the lore of the former Marine who escaped to Alaska in 1964.

“I wanted to get away from paying taxes to support something I didn’t believe in, to get away from big business, to get away from a place where you can’t be sure of anything you hear or anything you read,” Cook told McPhee.

Cook died in 2001, drowned in the river he had lived along for 30 years after all of his possessions had been destroyed in a fire, on his way to a meeting in Eagle to protest the newest round of NPS restrictions. Bitter from battling the government over policies that have essentially outlawed subsistence living on the Yukon, Cook exemplified what happened to these squatters and their lifestyle as government and environmental interests took notice of the area’s natural resources. At his memorial service, locals wondered if he had simply been so weary of fighting the government that when his canoe tipped, as they are wont to do on the mighty Yukon, he simply let the river take him.

“The worst thing would be having it industrialized or commercialized,” O’Neill wrote of the land, now protected. “But being loved to death by the Park Service is the next worst.”

Beginning in the mid-1970’s, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service divvied up the territory for various projects and protections. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) created the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. While the “river people” were protected in theory — they could maintain their homesteads for a number of years and live off the land with certain permits — in practice, their cabins and fishing and trapping grounds were regulated out of existence. Environmentalists did their best to keep the preserve free of human residents, too.

“As people are eliminated from Alaska’s parks, new stories cease to be created and the tradition dies,” O’Neill wrote, trying to capture the Yukon landscape before nature takes back the last human footprint. He reintroduces us to our more resourceful selves, reminding folks who live 21st century lives in communities that have much greater population density that some people may seem crazy to you, but they actually want to live those bumper sticker slogans on beat-up Subarus.
O’Neill suggests that people belong in the Yukon-Charley as much as the protected flora and fauna, that it is only fair to leave the scrappy individualists to their hidey-huts and fish wheels, their trapping lines and unregistered riverboats, not only for their sake but for ours: to leave a little something for the American imagination, an elemental way of life that is lonely, lovely and very nearly gone.

O’Neill set out of float the Yukon River in celebration of the toughness of those who make this foreboding place their home, but the celebration turned to mourning as you realize – if you’ve read McPhee’s Coming Into the Country – that the bureaucrats and the environmentalists he so admired and believed would be the saviors of the “river people” won and regulated his Yukon River characters right out of existence.

River and Road   2 comments

Alaskans face a world that is hostile to our existence. Far too many people have an opinion about Alaska and her people that is based upon their own presuppositions and prejudices rather than on-the-ground facts about those of us who actually live here.

Like most Alaskans, I agree with Joe Vogler on the environment. We should “leave some”, meaning that we live here for the wilderness, but we recognize that we can’t survive in the wilderness if we don’t have access to communities and to resources.

Gretel Ehrlich wrote in OnEarth Magazine recently about a float down the Kobuk River and presented her opinion that “Alaska’s governor wants to turn this unspoiled wilderness into open-pit mines.”

Let’s get this out of the way at the outset. I admire Ehrlich as a writer. She spins the English language in gossamer threads. Her technique notwithstanding, she either doesn’t know the full story or she deliberately leaves it out. It might help if she spoke to some real Alaskans, but I suspect she spent her Alaska time with some eco-tourism outfit that winters in Guatamala.

The Kobuk River, by the way, flows past Ambler which is a Native village I’m familiar with because I have spent time there and have friends who own Native allotments there. The Kobuk is located above the Arctic Circle on the 67th parallel. It’s right on the edge of the boreal forest known as taiga – the black spruce swamp, the drunken trees.

The vastness of the region is not lost on Ehrlich, but she spins the English language to form lies. She describes flying to Bettles from Fairbanks as taking “hours”. I’ve flown to Bettles. The trip from Fairbanks to Bettles in a light plane is comparable to the trip from Fairbanks to Anchorage in a jet.

She invoked the “Inuit” hunter a few paragraphs in and immediately alienated every Alaskan reader — including Alaska Natives. Inuits are Canadian. Alaska’s Eskimos are grouped into Yupik and Inupiat. It might have been an Inupiaq hunter viewing the scene she imagines from 14,000 years before. The Nunamiut people (sometimes called “riverine Eskimos”) live in the region. They speak Inupiaq (well, a dialect of it), but they consider themselves somewhat different than the coastal dwellers.

Ehrlich also describes the Alaskan “jet set” lifestyle that few Alaskans can afford. Nice that she can afford it, I suppose. I’ve been to Bettles for my job. It’s been nearly a decade since I went to Ambler because the plane fare is prohibitive.

Her description of Bettles as being chaotic and busy made me laugh because the last time I was in Bettles I fell asleep next to the airfield while waiting for our plane. Maybe she was there on mail day. It can get a little chaotic for about an hour on mail day. She said that locals told her that Bettles was gearing up for the proposed 200-mile “road to resources” that would carry “300 to 400 ore trucks a day traveling at speeds of 70 miles an hour.” I’ll deal with that a little later.

She claims the Kobuk area was settled thousands of years ago, but in truth the village of Ambler was settled in 1958. The nearby village of Kobuk was founded in 1899 as a supply point for miners. Together, these two villages hold 400 people and that’s a dwindling population. It’s expensive to live a “subsistence” lifestyle where there are no roads and you have to depend on air travel for your lifeline. Milk is $7 a gallon (as opposed to $3.40 in Fairbanks) and heating oil about the same (as opposed to $3.70 in Fairbanks).

That road Ehrlich is all het up about is barely in the design stage and if it is ever built, it will be a single or 1 ½ lane improved dirt road and it is currently being proposed to run from the west coast of Alaska to the Ambler district, nowhere near Bettles. Trucks will be traveling very slowly and there might be 10 a day at the height of the summer season. Winter travel will likely be by snow machine, since DOT won’t plow.

Ehrlich waxes poetic about the Onion Portage where caribou swim the river every fall to arrive at their wintering grounds, but she apparently doesn’t know that the Inupiat of the Ambler region shoot the caribou in the head as they swim across the Kobuk at the Onion because they’re guaranteed a kill that is less likely when the caribou are able to run at full speed. She also enthuses about how the Inupiat and the Nuamiut have always traded freely with the one another, neglecting their extensive history of warfare with each other and the more southern and interior Athabaskans. She does, however, get it right that there is not a single road anywhere in the Northwest Arctic Borough. Her Arctic Eden is fast emptying of people because of lack of jobs and high costs of everything, primarily because there are no roads.

She waxed poetic about the “Inuit” religion and culture, again apparently unaware that the prophet Mani’ilaq spoke out against that same culture, especially the rampant sexual abuse that was important to Eskimo shamanism, and looked forward to the coming of men with white skin and flying machines. His prophesy had such an impact upon the people of the Kobuk region that when evangelical missionaries (primarily Friends and Baptists) appeared, the entire region converted to Christianity quickly and with almost no instances of force. Whenever I’ve asked people in Ambler if they want to return to the old ways, the women especially say they are still fighting to free their daughters from the legacy of sexual abuse that arises whenever people in the village drink alcohol, so no, they feel that Christianity taught them a better way to live and it is to Christianity, not the Inupiat religion, they return when they stop drinking.

“At camp, the conversation returns to the proposed 200-mile industrial mega-road that will cost half a billion dollars to build over thawing tundra and wild rivers: more than 100 crossings of wetlands and rivers in all, some with culverts, others with bridges, in a part of the world where there have never been any roads at all. Acidic water runoff from the mines will pollute the waterways. The road may be built with asbestos-laden soil taken from the colorfully named Helpmejack Hills. In that case, plumes of asbestos dust would rise over the national park and would fly hundreds of miles, affecting the health of all who work on, live near, or travel the road. The governor has already signed a law that forbids anyone from suing the state or the mining companies for health problems—mainly mesothelioma—arising from the road constructed out of a hazardous material.” (Ehrlich)

I love the assumptions – not – that water runoff from the mines (that don’t exist yet) WILL pollute the waterways. Alaska has some of the most stringent mining regulations of any state in the union, adopted in part to preempt federal over-regulation. The assumption is based upon ignorance of those laws and regulations.

Or how about the assumption that roads “may be built with asbestos-laden soil”. Here’s the problem. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that the people of the Kobuk region have been in contact with for however many years they’ve lived in the region – be it thousands or mere decades. The villages of Ambler breath it now, although given that 90% of them voluntarily smoke tobacco at an astonishing rate, I think mesothelioma is the least of their worries. According to the DOT engineers that I have spoken with, the naturally-occurring asbestos will be less likely to become “freable” if bound up in road material.

Her assumption that the mines will only be around for about 12 years is also incorrect. One mine might last 12 or 20 years, but the area is heavily mineralized. The road will service mines in the area for decades and the villages along that road will have access to the greater world and the lower prices that come with that access for however long the road is maintained.

“Opinions about the road in the three villages of Ambler, Shungnak, and Kobuk are split. Many younger people endorse the road and the mines because they want and need jobs and money. Twelve thousand years of subsistence living no longer holds them. Their language is nearly gone, and the threads that bind traditional culture together are broken. “We had everything we needed here,” a native friend told me, “before alien people came telling us we didn’t have enough.”” (Ehrlich)

I argue the term “friend”, especially since Ehrlich knows so little about the region that she doesn’t know to capitalize Native. I don’t argue that she might have encountered someone who said that. I would note that the people of the Kobuk region get free health care, Native corporation dividends, the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, and public assistance payments that make their “subsistence” lifestyles possible. Snow machines, heating oil, cigarettes and alcohol cost money.

“The slaughter of wolves has been weighing heavily on national park visitors and employees. There’s an all-out culling effort by the state’s Department of Fish and Game to keep the declining caribou population up so that sport hunters can kill their quota, though officials can’t say with certainty why the caribou are in decline. As in all western states, money from hunting licenses keeps the department afloat—a conflict of interest, it would seem, with its mission to protect the wildlife. Last winter the agency killed 44 percent of the wolf pack that dens in the Yukon-Charlie Preserve from helicopters. Are they “park wolves” or “state wolves”? Who “owns” the wildlife?” (Ehrlich)

Like so many who do not live near to nature, Ehrlich has no concept of “stewardship” of wildlife or resources. Her belief is that you must lock it up and leave it only assessible by “indigenous” people. She fails to recognize that the Kobuk valley residents harvest far more caribou than sport hunters do. Most actual wildlife biologists with long-term experience in Alaska believe the caribou are in decline because of overgrazing of their habitat. In other words, there are too many caribou. The National Park Service “manages” wildlife by not managing it, which drives the cycle of boom and bust population cycles. But it should also be noted that non-Native Alaskans also need to eat and we are subject to the same high costs and limited employment opportunities as Natives. Intensive management of game resources allows Germany a per-capita harvest of animals through hunting that is greater than Alaska’s per capita harvest. Ehrlich and the National Park Service both disdain the best available science and risk actually destroying the biological diversity of Alaska because of their refusal to allow sensible predator control.

“People have always used this river and continue to do so. The Kuuvanmiut (the people who live on the Kobuk) still have fish camps in the summer months that are overseen by women. The younger men walk to the first tributary north through mountain passes to the Noatak drainage to hunt caribou and Dall sheep. As soon as snow falls, they return and help the women at the camps, where fish are being dried and smoked and berry picking is ongoing. The men hunt nearby until winter comes on strong; then the whole population of a village returns to its winter camp.” (Ehrlich)

First, I asked a friend who was born in Kobuk and raised in Ambler if Kuuvanmiut is the correct word for her people. She speaks the language and could not explain Ehrlich’s use of the term. The younger men do not walk anywhere. They take power boats to get to the Onion and four wheelers for land travel in summer and snow machines in the winter. These days, many are abandoning the Kobuk for Kotz (short of Kotzebue) or Fairbanks or Anchorage because they can no longer afford to live in a remote village where everything must be flown in. In the old days, missionaries flew in supplies in the winter, landing off-airport with little more than lanterns to guide them in, but men like Harley Shields are mostly retired or dead now and Federal Aviation Administration rules increase every year so that there will be no one able to replace them. The subsistence lifestyle Ehrlich admires so much has really been a myth for a number of decades, but it is slowly being strangled by overregulation and the cost of transport, which is mostly driven by the regulations people like Ehrlich advocate for.

There are some real roads being built, which I will post on later, but Ehrlich doesn’t want to see them either, nor does she want to meet the people who advocate for these roads because then she might have to admit that she got it wrong because you can’t really know Alaska until you’ve lived here. Passing through is just not enough.
How could she possibly know what the people of the Kobuk region need based on a few days floating the river?

Valentine But

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