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Seward’s Lydia Jacoby breaks national age-group record while swimming into finals at US Olympic Trials

Sun, 2021-08-01 08:10

Lydia Jacoby reacts after setting a national age-group record in the women's 100-meter breaststroke Monday at the U.S. Olympic swim trials in Omaha, Nebraska. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press) (Jeff Roberson/)

Seventeen-year-old Lydia Jacoby of Seward of set a national age-group record Monday and will try to win a spot on the Olympic team Tuesday at the U.S. Olympic Trials for swimming in Omaha, Nebraska.

Jacoby won her semifinal heat with a scorching time Monday to advance to the eight-woman finals of the 100-meter breaststroke.

She finished in 1 minute, 5.71 seconds, the fourth-fastest time in the world this season.

She broke the national age-group record for 17-18 girls by an eyelash — the previous record was 1:05.75, set in 2009 — while shaving nearly seventh-tenths of a second off her previous best (1:06.38, posted in an April meet).

The real test comes Tuesday when she swims in the eight-woman finals at the CHI Health Center in Omaha.

The top two swimmers will earn spots on the American team that will compete in the Summer Olympics, which begin July 23 in Tokyo.

And while Jacoby’s semifinal time ranks fourth in the world, the women who own the No. 1 and No. 2 times will be in the finals too.

[With a new PR that puts her among the world leaders, Lydia Jacoby inserts herself into the Olympic conversation]

World-record holder Lilly King won Monday’s other semifinal in a course-record time of 1:04.72, the world’s fastest time this season. Annie Lazor placed second the same heat in 1:05.37, the world’s second-fastest time.

Jacoby, a member of Seward’s Tsunami Swim Club, advanced to the 16-swimmer semifinals by turning in the fourth-fastest qualifying time in Monday’s preliminary (1:06.40, just shy of a personal-best).

She went on to win a close semifinal race.

Lydia Jacoby, left, takes the lead from Bethany Galat in the semifinals of the women's 100-meter breaststroke Monday at the U.S. Olympic swim trials. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) (Jeff Roberson/)

She trailed Bethany Galat, who ranked third after the preliminaries, by more than a half-second at the turn. She blazed through the second half to win by .25 of a second.

Jacoby swam the first 50 meters in 31.50 seconds and the second 50 meters in 34.21. Her split in the final 50 meters was the best of the day, surpassing King’s 34.53.

The final is the fifth race in Tuesday’s evening session, which begins at 4 p.m. Alaska time.

With state system still offline, Alaskans seeking death certificates find there’s a long wait

Sun, 2021-08-01 07:41

Marta Tuck stands inside a home in Anchorage that once belonged to her friend, on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Tuck was named executor of the estate after her friend died in April. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

A State of Alaska vital statistics database remains offline months after a cyber-attack, leading to monthslong waits for death certificates, delays complicating the lives of Alaskans trying to settle estates and take care of other business.

When state officials discovered a cyberattack on Alaska Department of Health and Social Services online systems, the state’s Electronic Vital Records System was taken offline as a precaution, the state said. Since May 17, records for deaths, births and marriages are being “manually processed” from Juneau, by hand, according to a statement from the department.

“Be assured we are doing everything we can to fully resume services,” the statement said. “We hope to serve the public at normal capacity very soon.”

On average, getting a death certificate issued by the state has been taking eight weeks or more, said Brian Lervold, an Anchorage funeral director. The usual timeline would be closer to 7-10 days -- with most of that time spent waiting for a doctor to sign off, Lervold said.

Meanwhile, Alaskans like 77-year-old Marta Tuck are learning how much depends on having a death certificate in hand.

When a close friend died in April, Tuck was named the executor of the estate, charged with handling the sale and disbursement of her friend’s home and other property, like vehicles. She was also in charge of arranging a funeral.

But Tuck couldn’t get an official death certificate from the State of Alaska for nearly three months, she said. Without a death certificate, she couldn’t access her friend’s bank accounts as executor to pay the deceased friend’s home utilities, or insurance. In the meantime, she dug into her own savings to pay for those expenses. She estimates she has spent thousands of dollars, including late fees, taking care of the practical things the estate would have paid for had she been able to access accounts.

Tuck, who works as a reflexologist to supplement her retirement, also spent about 20 hours on the phone dealing with the missing death certificate.

When someone dies, the usual procedure is for the funeral home to work with the family to fill out the biographical information necessary for a death certificate, and then for a doctor to input the cause of death, said Brian Lervold, an Anchorage funeral director. An autopsy can delay the process until toxicology results return. Then the information is sent to the state.

“We file it, the state certifies it and gives us the amount of certified copies we’ve requested,” he said.

Lervold alone is waiting on 37 death certificates right now, and that’s just a fraction of what the funeral home he works at is facing, he said. He said he’d received just eight death certificates since the system was taken offline.

A death certificate is necessary to do “just about everything” that needs to be taken care of after a death, he said. Without one, bereaved families “can’t close out accounts. They can’t change property, vehicles.” Accessing pensions, life insurance and other financial accounts requires a death certificate in most cases, according to Lervold.

Not having a death certificate can delay burials, too: For people whose bodies are being transported to their hometowns in the Lower 48 or abroad, a death certificate is often required for travel. One family is waiting on a death certificate to send a loved one back to American Samoa for burial, he said.

Lervold said the state took weeks to even provide PDFs for funeral homes to manually fill out after the system was taken offline, at one point advising the funeral home where he works to purchase a typewriter to print and fill out unfillable PDFs. That problem has been rectified, but the death certificate delay situation has become dire, in his view. He’s advised families to contact their elected officials.

“At some point there’s got to be some pressure applied.”

Officials haven’t offered a timeline for when the services will be restored but are “working to bring the system back online,” said department spokesman Clint Bennett in an email. An update could be announced later this week, he said.

“We understand the inconvenience these unforeseen circumstances have brought to all our customers,” DHSS said in a statement. “We ask for everyone’s continued understanding as we recover from the cyberattack.”

Tuck got her death certificate from the state on July 22, and is slowly trying to settle the accounts she’s responsible for as executor. She doesn’t like to dwell on what her late friend would think of the situation.

“I think she would be appalled,” Tuck said.

Have you encountered problems because you aren’t able to get a death, birth or marriage certificate from the State of Alaska? Contact reporter Michelle Theriault Boots at

Lydia Jacoby: 5 (more) things to know about Alaska’s two-time Olympic medalist

Sun, 2021-08-01 07:39

Gold medalist Lydia Jacoby of the United States celebrates on the podium after the final of the women's 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.(AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) (Matthias Schrader/)

Lydia Jacoby of Seward if the first Alaskan to swim in the Olympics. After she won a gold medal last week in the 100-meter breaststroke, we wrote 10 things to know about her. After she contributed to the U.S. team’s silver medal performance Saturday in the women’s 400-meter medley relay, we decided to pass along five more:

1. She’s $40,312.50 richer than she was before the Olympics.

Jacoby earned $37,500 for her gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke and $2,812.50 for her share of the silver medal in the women’s 400-meter medley relay.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee pays athletes $37,500 for gold, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze. The prize money for Jacoby’s relay silver will be split among eight swimmers -- the four who swam in the prelims and the four who swam in the finals.

The USOPC gave athletes a big raise in December 2016 after the Rio Olympics, although it initially offered the increase only to Olympians, not Paralympians. It reconsidered nearly two years later and put everyone on the same pay scale, retroactive to the 2016 Winter Paralympics.

For Anchorage sit-skier Andrew Kurka, who won gold and silver in Pyeongchang, the pay raise was worth $47,250.

Lydia Jacoby reacts after winning gold in the 100-meter breaststroke. (Washington Post/Toni L. Sandys)

2. She joins Tommy Moe as the only Alaskan to win two medals at one Olympics. Moe, an alpine skier from Girdwood, won gold in the downhill and silver in the super-G at the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Jacoby, Moe and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall are the only Alaska-raised athletes to win individual Olympic gold, and each won dramatically.

Their combined winning margin in three races? One half of a second.

[Lydia Jacoby: 10 things to know about Alaska’s gold-medal swimmer]

Moe won by the slimmest margin, taking the downhill championship by a margin of .04 of a second. Randall and Minnesota’s Jessie Diggins won the women’s team sprint at the 2018 Winter Olympics by .19 of a second. Jacoby won the 100-meter breaststroke by .27 of a second.

Moe and Jacoby also lost gold medals by excruciatingly small margins. Moe was .08 of a second slower than the gold medalist in the super-G, and Jacoby and her women’s medley relay team were .13 behind the winning team from Australia.

The U.S. team huddles after finishing a close second in the women's medley relay race Saturday in Japan. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman/)

3. She’s using her new-found fame to promote a fundraising campaign for new starting blocks for the Bartlett High pool. The pool became famous by association because it’s the only Olympic-sized pool in Alaska -- a fact that fascinated fans and media.

Lydia Jacoby of the United States swims in the final of the women's 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) (Martin Meissner/)

4. She has a home-made squat cage in the family garage, said her dad, Rich Jacoby. It helped her increase her strength training during the pandemic.

"Too fast to freeze," reads a sign displayed by Seward resident Sarah Spanos. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen) (Mark Thiesssen/)

5. She’s a mere mortal when swimming something other than the breaststroke. Just ask Madison Story of Homer and Dreamer Kowatch of Dimond High. Both finished ahead of Jacoby in the 200-yard individual medley at the Alaska high school state championships in 2019.

“She’s super-human in breaststroke,” said Jodi McLaughlin, a swim official from Anchorage. “A lot of kids are able to compete with her in other strokes.”

Jacoby, 17, has been a phenom in the breaststroke for years. She broke the state high school record for the 100-yard breaststroke as a freshman and again as a sophomore.

In 2019, as a 15-year-old Seward High sophomore, she set the existing record with a time of 1:00.61. That translates to a time of 1:09.28 for 100 meters.

Her gold-medal time of 1:04.95 converts to a 100-yard time of 56.71. The state high school record for boys is 56.40.

Lydia Jacoby does the butterfly during the 200-yard IM race at the 2019 Alaska state high school championships at Bartlett High. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Alaska again joins other Republican states in seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade

Sun, 2021-08-01 07:26

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

The state of Alaska has joined 23 other Republican-led states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider overturning Roe v. Wade, the ruling that permits legal abortion in the United States.

On Thursday, the state of Texas submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, saying that Texas and 22 other states agree with an appeal from the state of Mississippi, which is seeking to ban abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The brief was co-signed by Alaska attorney general Treg Taylor.

Mississippi’s law was struck down by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the state has appealed and is arguing in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the U.S. Supreme Court should reconsider its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade and decide “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Even if the court overturns Roe v. Wade, rulings by the Alaska Supreme Court would preserve abortion rights in the state, said Anchorage attorney Donald Craig Mitchell, though the new legal framework could change future rulings.

“If Mississippi wins, women in Alaska — for the moment — are not in jeopardy with respect to the status quo, but they certainly could be,” he said.

Thursday’s amicus brief doesn’t require Alaska or the other states to back Mississippi in court, but it does show that those governments agree with Mississippi.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments this fall and render a decision sometime next year.

Former Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson signed a brief last summer that is similar to Thursday’s. That act was not reported at the time, and Clarkson resigned a month later amid scandal. Asked earlier this month whether the brief still represented the state’s position, the Alaska Department of Law did not respond. Until Thursday, it wasn’t clear whether the state supported Mississippi’s appeal.

On Friday, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Dunleavy would not say whether Alaska is supporting the lawsuit at the request of the governor. The spokesman referred questions to the Department of Law, which did not respond. A message to the attorney general, Taylor, was not returned.

Dunleavy has repeatedly said he opposes abortion and in 2019 vetoed funding for Alaska’s appellate courts in an attempt to punish the Alaska Supreme Court for decisions protecting abortion rights. The governor’s action was ruled unconstitutional and overturned.

Since 1997, the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that privacy protections in the state constitution include the right to obtain an abortion. The court has repeatedly overturned legislative attempts to limit abortion rights.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would redefine the constitution’s privacy clause to exempt abortion, thus allowing the state to restrict it.

“I’m kind of tired with the judiciary branch making policy decisions, and so my constitutional amendment would allow Alaskans where they want to come down on that issue. Right now, we cannot,” she said.

The amendment faces a “tough” route to passage through the Legislature, she said.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, voted against the amendment in committee and believes that it will not pass, “I think because enough senators see it as a reduction in Alaska women’s right to be free of the government telling them what they can and can’t do.”

Hughes said there is another possibility. Next year, Alaskans will be asked in November whether they want to call a constitutional convention. That question appears on the statewide ballot every 10 years. If Alaskans vote yes, Hughes said the topic of abortion could come up in a convention.

Pilots sweep Chinooks and Bucs force 3rd game with Miners in Alaska Baseball League playoffs

Sat, 2021-07-31 23:25

The Anchorage Glacier Pilots are headed to the Top of the World Series after a walkoff single carried them to a series sweep of the Chugiak Chinooks on Saturday.

They’ll face the winner of a 4 p.m. Sunday game between the Anchorage Bucs and Mat-Su Miners at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer. The Bucs threw a two-hitter Saturday to beat the Miners 4-1 and force a third game in their best-of-3 Alaska Baseball League playoff series.

The Pilots won dramatically when Nick Hagedorn’s nine-pitch at-bat ended with a game-winning single at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak. Scoring from second base was Michael McNamara, who reached on a fielders choice and advanced on a stolen base.

Pilots reliever William St. Marseille earned the victory by retiring all four of the batters he faced, the last two by strikeout.

The Pilots won the first game of the series 4-1 Friday.

In Palmer, four Bucs pitchers limited Mat-Su to two hits to bounce back from a 5-4 loss on Friday.

Darwin Matos gave up one hit and worked his way around seven walks in six innings, and relievers David Christie, Alex Reelfs and Zach Heaton each pitched one inning of shutout ball for the Bucs.

Jack Machtolf’s two-run double and Diego Baqueiro’s RBI single keyed a three-run third inning for the Bucs. The Miners scored their only run on a fifth-inning sacrifice fly.

The winners of Sunday’s rubber match will take on the Pilots in the three-game Top of the World Series beginning Monday. If the Miners win, the series will be at Hermon Brothers. If the Bucs win, it will be at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.

Seward swimmer Lydia Jacoby claims Olympic silver in medley relay

Sat, 2021-07-31 18:49

Lydia Jacoby of the United States leans on a lane rope after winning the final of the women's 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) (Matthias Schrader/)

Lydia Jacoby swam to a second Olympic medal Saturday night at the Tokyo Olympics, propelling the U.S. women’s 400-meter medley relay team to a silver-medal finish.

Jacoby, a 17-year-old from Seward, becomes the second Alaskan to win two medals at the same Olympics. Alpine skier Tommy Moe was the first, taking gold in the downhill and silver in the super-G at the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Jacoby, who won gold in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke on Monday, swam the second leg for the American team. The United States was in third place when she started and in the lead when she finished.

Australia took the gold by .13 of a second with a time of 3 minutes, 51.60 seconds. The Americans clocked 3:51.73.

This is a developing story.

Frustration as Biden, Congress allow eviction ban to expire

Sat, 2021-07-31 17:25

People from a coalition of housing justice groups hold signs protesting evictions during a news conference outside the Statehouse, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) (Michael Dwyer/)

WASHINGTON — Anger and frustration mounted as President Joe Biden showed no signs of reversing plans to allow a nationwide eviction moratorium to expire at midnight Saturday — one Democratic lawmaker even camping outside the Capitol in protest as millions of Americans were about to be forced from their homes.

Biden’s decision announced days before the eviction deadline stunned many in Congress and exposed a rare divide between the president and his party, with potential lasting political ramifications. Lawmakers said they were blindsided by Biden’s inaction, some furious that he called on Congress to provide a last-minute solution to protect renters that they were unable to deliver.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the chair of the Financial Services Committee, said Saturday on CNN: “We thought that the White House was in charge.”

One lawmaker, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., camped overnight at the Capitol in protest. “I don’t plan to leave before some type of change happens,” Bush said.

“We are only hours away from a fully preventable housing crisis,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a floor speech in a rare Saturday session as senators labored over an infrastructure package.

“We have the tools and we have the funding,” Warren said. “What we need is the time.”

More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, some in a matter of days, as a moratorium comes to an end. It was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the COVID-19 crisis when jobs shifted and many workers lost income.

The eviction ban was intended to prevent further virus spread by people put out on the streets and into shelters. Congress approved nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic, but it been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments.

The day before the ban was set to expire, Biden called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to immediately disburse the funds.

“There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” he said in a statement late Friday.

Biden set off the scramble by announcing Thursday he would allow the eviction ban to expire instead of challenging a recent Supreme Court ruling signaling this would be the last deadline.

The White House has been clear that Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium because of the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. But there were also concerns that challenging the court could lead to a ruling restricting the administration’s ability to respond to future public health crises.

On a 5-4 vote in late June, the Supreme Court allowed the broad eviction ban to continue through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization.”

Biden, heeding the court’s warning, called on Congress on Thursday to swiftly pass legislation to extend the date.

Racing to respond, Democrats strained to draft a bill and rally the votes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implored colleagues to pass legislation extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative,” to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation.

Waters quickly produced a draft of a bill that would require the CDC to continue the ban through Dec. 31. At a hastily arranged hearing Friday morning to consider the bill she urged her colleagues to act.

But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on another panel handling the issue, said the Democrats’ bill was rushed.

“This is not the way to legislate,” she said.

Landlords, who have opposed the moratorium and challenged it repeatedly in court, are against any extension. They, too, are arguing for speeding up the distribution of rental assistance.

The National Apartment Association and several others this week filed a federal lawsuit asking for $26 billion in damages because of the impact of the moratorium.

Despite behind-the-scenes wrangling throughout the day, Democratic lawmakers had questions and concerns and could not muster support to extend the ban.

Revising the emergency legislation to shorten the eviction deadline to Oct. 18, in line with federal COVID-19 guidelines, drew a few more lawmakers in support — but still not enough for passage.

House Democrats, leaders tried to simply approve an extension by consent, without a formal vote, but House Republicans objected.

Democratic lawmakers were livid at the prospect of evictions in the middle of a surging pandemic.

Bush, who experienced homelessness as a young mother of two in her 20s, said that, at the time, she was working in a low-wage job.

“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I went through, ever,” said Bush, now 45, wiping away tears during an interview at the Capitol, where dozens had joined her protest. “I don’t care what the circumstances are and so I’m going to fight now that I’m in a position to be able to do something about it.”

Waters said House leaders should have forced a vote and Biden should not have let the warnings form one justice on the Supreme Court prevent him from taking executive action to prevent evictions.

“The president should have moved on it,” Waters said. She vowed to try to pass the bill again when lawmakers return from a recess.

By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Some places are likely to see spikes in evictions starting Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.

The administration is trying to keep renters in place through other means. It released more than $1.5 billion in rental assistance in June, which helped nearly 300,000 households. The departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs extended their foreclosure-related eviction moratoriums through the end of September on households living in federally insured, single-family homes late Friday, after Biden had asked them to do so.

Aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the chair of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said the two were working on legislation to extend the moratorium and were asking Republicans not to block it.

Glacier Pilots infielder Ethan Mann slugs his way to player-of-the-year honors in the Alaska Baseball League

Sat, 2021-07-31 15:46

Anchorage Glacier Pilots slugger Ethan Mann is the player of the year in the Alaska Baseball League.

Mann, an infielder from New Mexico State, is batting .333 with 40 hits in 120 at-bats. He has 18 RBIs, four home runs and 13 stolen bases.

Mann was a first-team pick at first base and won the league’s Silver Slugger award to go with his player-of-the-year honor.

Other top awards went to Chugiak Chinooks infielder John Mac Mullins, an Alabama-Birmingham infielder; and pitchers Will Johnston of the Mat-Su Miners and Will Kempner of the Anchorage Bucs, who shared the Top Prospect award.

Johnston is a left-hander from Texas A&M who led the league with 72 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings. He walked 21 and is 5-0 with a 1.65 earned-run average. Kempner, a right-hander from Gonzaga, struck out 44 and walked 11 in 40 2/3 innings. He’s 2-0 with seven saves and a 2.67 ERA.

[Miners, Pilots score late to win opening games in the Top of the World playoffs]

The lowest ERA in the league belongs to Pilots right-hander Ricky Tibbett of San Diego State, who has allowed four earned runs in 36 2/3 innings for .098 ERA. He’s one of nine first-team picks among pitchers.

Other top selections include third baseman Diego Baquerio of the Bucs, who has driven in a league-high 25 RBIs, and outfielder Garrett Pennington of the Peninsula Oilers, who has a league-best batting average of .336 and a league-high six home runs.

The ABL’s Top of the World playoffs began Friday. The best-of-3 series pit the top-seeded Miners against the fourth-seeded Bucs at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer and the No. 2 Chinooks against the No. 3 Pilots at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak.

In Friday’s openers, the Miners eked out a 5-4 win and the Pilots triumphed 4-1. The second games are Saturday at 6 p.m., with Sunday games set for 4 p.m. if necessary.

The winners will square off in the Top of the World Series, which begins Monday at the highest seed’s ball park.

First team

First base -- Ethan Mann, Pilots

Second base -- John Olmstead, Oilers

Shortstop -- John Marc Mullins, Chinooks

Third base -- Diego Baqueiro, Bucs

Catcher -- Tyler Rando, Miners

Utility -- Casey Rother, Miners

Outfield -- Will Batz, Chinooks; Tom Tabak, Pilots; Garrett Pennington, Oilers

Starting pitchers -- Zach Sundine, Chinooks; Will Johnston, Miners; Ricky Tibbett, Pilots; Will Kempner, Bucs; Luc Yacinich, Oilers

Relief pitchers -- Honus Kinederich, Chinooks; Hayden Walker, Pilots; Spencer Benguard, Bucs

Closer -- Alex Magers, Miners

Designated hitter -- Cole Moore, Bucs

Player of the Year -- Ethan Mann, Pilots

Top Prospects -- Will Johnston, Miners; Will Kempner, Bucs

Gold Glove -- John Marc Mullins, Chinooks

Silver Slugger -- Ethan Mann, Pilots

Coach of the Year -- Jon Groth, Chinooks

Second team

First base -- Nick Cirelli, Miners

Second base -- Fausto Lopez, Pilots; Woody Hadeen, Bucs

Shortstop -- Blake Wink, Pilots; Ernie Yake, Bucs

Third base -- Conner McGuire, Pilots

Catcher -- Joe Kiel, Chinooks; Alec Jones, Pilots; Matt Erickson, Bucs

Utility -- Michael McNamara, Pilots; Cole Carrigg, Bucs

Outfield -- Tyler Wilson, Miners; Jack Machtolf, Bucs; Andrew Sojha, Oilers

Starting pitchers -- Easton Sikorski, Pilots; JoJo Ingrassia, Bucs; Liam Rocha, Oilers

Relief pitchers -- Evan Floyd, Miners; Aaron Winkler, Miners; Andre Orselli, Oilers

Closers -- Leo Harris, Chinooks; Joey Rodriguez, Pilots

Designated hitter -- Bryce Marsh, Oilers

2 dead after Eagle River apartment fire, police say

Sat, 2021-07-31 14:53

Anchorage police and firefighters respond to an apartment fire on Saturday, July 31, 2021 in Eagle River. (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News)

Two people are dead following a fire in an apartment complex early Saturday morning in Eagle River, Anchorage Police Department said in an online alert.

Police consider the deaths suspicious in nature, but fire investigators and homicide detectives are still investigating the circumstances at the scene.

APD officers and Anchorage Fire Department firefighters were notified of a structure fire at 2:11 a.m. on Saturday, police said. A unit inside of the apartment complex was on fire — in the 16000 block of Meadow Creek Drive.

Firefighters extinguished the fire and found the first deceased person in the unit, police said. A second victim was found later as investigators searched the apartment. Police said the victims are an adult man and woman.

The identities of both individuals will be released following notification of next of kin.

Anyone with information regarding the incident are encouraged to call 311, or to leave an anonymous tip.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Jan. 6 committee faces unprecedented choice of whether to call Republican lawmakers to testify

Sat, 2021-07-31 13:20

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., walks out with other Republican members to speak about the leadership of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Biden from the House steps on Capitol Hill on July 29, 2021 in Washington. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.

WASHINGTON — The leaders of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol are promising a vigorous inquiry into a day they have called a threat to American Democracy, which could lead to an unprecedented legal and political showdown over how to force members of Congress to take the witness stand.

Several congressional Republicans have admitted to having some contact with former president Donald Trump during the insurrection or in the days leading up to it, making their testimony potentially key to the panel’s stated goal of being “guided solely by the facts.”

The Jan. 6 panel’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in an interview that there is “no reluctance to subpoena” any member of Congress “whose testimony is germane to the mission of the select committee” if they resist cooperating voluntarily.

Thompson said the panel will be seeking the White House telephone and visitor logs to further scrutinize which members were in touch with the White House on Jan. 6.

“I would say between noon and 6 p.m., any call that went to the White House, you assume had to be something that had to do with it,” he said.

But legal experts said there is little precedent for forcing lawmakers to testify as part of a congressional inquiry if they resist a subpoena, an issue members of the Jan. 6 panel said they have yet to fully investigate or plan for as they plot out the next steps for their probe.

“I don’t know what the precedent is, to be honest,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the committee who oversaw the first impeachment trial of Trump and has one of the heftiest investigative resumes in the House. “Obviously we will have to look into all those questions.”

Members of the executive branch have often avoided or delayed for years appearing before Congress by asserting executive privilege. Lawmakers on the Jan. 6 panel are hoping that tactic will be less useful to former Trump administration officials after the Justice Department recently said it would break from tradition and not invoke that privilege with regard to inquires regarding the attack on the Capitol.

But while the steps are clear — if arduous — for compelling administration officials to testify, that’s not the case when it comes to lawmakers.

“I don’t recall a case where members of Congress were subpoenaed to an oversight hearing,” said Stanley Brand, an expert on congressional ethics investigations and the former House counsel from 1976 to 1983.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, have been the recent subject of questions about what members could be called to appear before the select committee.

Earlier this year, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., described what McCarthy told her about a phone call he had with Trump on Jan. 6 where he asked the president to help calm his supporters who had broken into the Capitol.

“When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement in February, referring a to a loosely knit group of far-left activists. “McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’ "

Jordan for months has seemed to indicate that he spoke to Trump that day, but would obfuscate when asked specifically if he talked to him on Jan. 6, saying he spoke to the former president all the time. But this week he confirmed to a local television reporter that he did talk to Trump while not revealing the contents of their discussion or what time the phone call occurred.

“I spoke with him that day, after?” Jordan said during an interview with Spectrum News, in which he was asked to clarify previous comments. “I think after. I don’t know if I spoke with him in the morning or not. I just don’t know. . . . I don’t know when those conversations happened.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recently rejected Jordan and one other of the five members McCarthy proposed to represent the minority side on the select committee, prompting GOP leaders to boycott the panel. Jordan’s contacts with Trump were among the reasons Democrats cited for keeping him off the select committee, where the only Republican representation is Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both appointed by Pelosi.

Cheney has said both McCarthy and Jordan could be called as witnesses.

On Thursday, McCarthy said that if the panel had included the five members he recommended, Republicans would have “gladly” appeared before it as witnesses. When asked later if he personally would comply with a potential subpoena, he laughed. Jordan has declined to say whether he would testify.

Other lawmakers who could be of interest to the panel include Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., former vice president Mike Pence’s older brother who was with him that day, and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who participated in the same rally as Trump on Jan. 6. Across the Capitol, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., also spoke to Trump. The former president accidentally called Lee looking for Tuberville, who spoke with Trump for several minutes after being passed the phone by Lee and before the senators were evacuated from the chamber.

Lawmakers who spoke with the vice president or White House officials could also be potential targets.

Members of the Democratic caucus have been careful to say how the investigation is run will be up to the committee, while making clear they want any Republicans with potentially pertinent information to testify.

“It’s not just progressives, it’s the country wants to know what happened and in order to know what happened and to make sure it never happens again,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “We have to bring in a number of those individuals. People who are in Congress who may have been involved.”

The issue could be politically tricky for Democrats. While panel members have brushed aside any concerns about setting a precedent for forcing a member to appear as a witness, it’s an almost certainty Republicans would look to retaliate if they were to take back control of the House after the 2022 midterms. The committee could also potentially have to rely on a vote of the full House to compel any testimony, which could be difficult if any Democratic members balk at the idea given the party’s slim majority.

Some Hill aides have speculated that whether a member has to testify could wind up being an issue for the Ethics Committee, while acknowledging that too would be unchartered territory.

“The House rules say that members shall reflect credibly on the House,” said Brand. “I’m sure that somebody could formulate a theory that says you’re duty bound to respond to a subpoena.”

A member who exhausted their legal options and was forced to testify could invoke their right against self-incrimination, according to legal experts, but that could be a politically damaging stance to take, particularly during a public hearing.

When members have testified in the past it has been to advocate their policy views or as part of an ethics investigation involving their behavior. There are also instances in which members have voluntarily agreed to testify in complex investigations. In 2017, for instance, both Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., agreed to be deposed in a GOP-led House Intelligence Committee investigation of Trump’s alleged Russia ties.

Jessica Levinson, director of Loyola Law School’s public service institute, said the fact that there is even a discussion about whether a member’s role or relevance to an assault on Congress can be used to force them to testify reflects the breakdown in political norms since Trump was elected and the divisiveness that now accompanies even something as seemingly unifying as investigating a violent attack on the Capitol.

“We’ve never been here before — but if we had been here before, really, we’re in deep trouble,” she said.

So far, most rank-and-file House Republicans have taken a wait-and-see approach regarding the issue of their colleagues appearing before the Jan. 6 panel.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said that while it’s “appropriate” for members to question whether a subpoena is justified, “if the court orders you to testify, I think you’ve got to follow a court order.”

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., meanwhile, whom McCarthy had pitched as one of his five picks to serve on the panel, said only that he hoped “any subpoena process is not just a partisan attack.”

The Jan. 6 committee is looking beyond former Trump officials and Republican lawmakers for its witness list.

Thompson said he intends to press the Justice Department for access to many of the people who are presently facing federal charges for their participation in the attack — particularly those who have pleaded guilty. More than 550 people who took part in the riot or its planning have been charged with federal crimes so far, including 165 who are accused of assaulting or impeding law enforcement.

“If somebody’s pled guilty, and if in return they’re offering some information, that could be helpful — either to further prosecutions or to the benefit of our investigation,” Thompson said in an interview. “We don’t want to impede the prosecutions, but we think there’s a body of information that would be germane to what we’re doing . . . we need a process of expediting requests.”

Thompson later added that discussions with Justice Department officials to put such things in motion will begin next week. He also expressed optimism that the department will abide by its recent promise to the House Oversight and Senate Judiciary committees not to prevent Justice officials from testifying in Jan. 6 probes. He added that he hoped that the Pentagon and other agencies would follow suit.

Thompson expressed confidence turf battles with other committees over witnesses would not be an issue.

“The chairs of the committees have said, if we’re going down a path that you all see yourselves going, we’ll get out of the way,” he said.

Thompson has promised to issue “quite a few” subpoenas in the coming weeks and months, but will not say where he plans to start — or whether Trump will be on the list.

“If we get an inkling that there’s any resistance with providing the committee some of this information, boom, here comes the subpoena,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”

“Nobody has said no,” he added coyly, “but we’ve not made any requests yet.”

Pentagon grappling with new vaccine orders; timing uncertain

Sat, 2021-07-31 13:15

United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin holds a press conference with Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (not in photo) after a bilateral meeting at Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines Friday, July 30, 2021. Austin is visiting Manila to hold talks with Philippine officials to boost defense ties and possibly discuss the The Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and Philippines. (Rolex dela Pena/Pool Photo via AP) (ROLEX DELA PENA/POOL/)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is vowing he “won’t let grass grow under our feet” as the department begins to implement the new vaccine and testing directives. But Pentagon officials were scrambling at week’s end to figure out how to enact and enforce the changes across the vast military population and determine which National Guard and Reserve troops would be affected by the orders.

The Pentagon now has two separate missions involving President Joe Biden’s announcement Thursday aimed at increasing COVID-19 vaccines in the federal workforce. The Defense Department must develop plans to make the vaccine mandatory for the military and set up new requirements for federal workers who will have to either attest to a COVID-19 vaccination or face frequent testing and travel restrictions.

Austin said Friday that the department will move expeditiously, but added that he can’t predict how long it will take. He said he plans to consult with medical professionals as well as the military service leaders.

Any plan to make the vaccine mandatory will require a waiver signed by Biden because the Food and Drug Administration has not yet given the vaccine final, formal approval. According to federal law, the requirement to offer individuals a choice of accepting or rejecting use of an emergency use vaccine may only be waived by the president and “only if the president determines in writing that complying with such requirement is not in the interests of national security.”

Mandating the vaccine before FDA approval will likely trigger opposition from vaccine opponents and drag the military into political debates over what has become a highly divisive issue in America.

Military commanders, however, have also struggled to separate vaccinated recruits from unvaccinated recruits during early portions of basic training across the services in order to prevent infections. So, for some, a mandate could make training and housing less complicated.

Military service members are already required to get as many as 17 different vaccines, depending on where they are based around the world. Some of the vaccines are specific to certain regions. Military officials have said the pace of vaccines has been growing across the force, with some units seeing nearly 100% of their members get shots.

According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million service members are fully vaccinated, and 233,000 have gotten at least one shot. There are roughly 2 million active-duty, Guard and Reserve troops.

A vaccine mandate will also raise questions about whether the military services will discharge troops who refuse the vaccine.

National Guard officials said initial guidance suggests that Guard troops who initially refuse the vaccine once its mandatory will receive counseling from medical personnel. If they still refuse, they would be ordered to take it, and failure to follow that order could result in administrative or punitive action.

On Friday, Guard officials said leaders were still nailing down legal recommendations on which citizen soldiers would be affected by the new requirements. Officials said it appears the bulk of the Guard would eventually have to get the vaccine, when it is mandated.

Guard troops on federal active duty would be given the vaccine in their units wherever they are deployed, and others would get it when they report to their monthly drill weekend or annual training. The system, according to Guard officials, would resemble any other vaccine requirement.

Guard members who are on state active duty would not be subject to the requirement initially because they are subject to state laws. But once they return to a monthly drill, the order would apply to them. Guard officials spoke about the new vaccine process on condition of anonymity because procedures are still being finalized.

While the number of COVID-19 deaths across the military has remained small — largely attributed to the age and health of the force — cases of the virus have been increasing.

As of this week, there have been more than 208,600 cases of COVID-19 among members of the U.S. military. Of those, more than 1,800 members have been hospitalized and 28 have died.

Earlier this year, the number of cases and hospitalizations had been growing by relatively small, consistent amounts, and the number of deaths had stalled at 26 for more than 2 1/2 months. In recent weeks, the totals spiked. The number of cases increased by more than 3,000 in the last week alone, and those hospitalized grew by 36. Two Navy sailors also died in the last week.

Anchorage Wolverines look to follow junior hockey recipe for success in Alaska

Sat, 2021-07-31 13:08

Skaters warm up the goalie at an Anchorage Wolverines pre-draft camp in Anchorage in June. (Photo courtesy Anchorage Wolverines) (Traejen Scott/)

Where the Aces folded, the UAA Seawolves have struggled and the original Anchorage Wolverines went extinct, Alaska’s newest hockey team has the optimism of youth.

The recently formed Anchorage Wolverines joined the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Kenai River Brown Bears in the North American Hockey League in March, and the Tier II team is hoping junior hockey will be the right fit for Alaska’s biggest city.

Season tickets are on sale, a coach has been hired -- Mike Aikens of Minnesota -- and a roster is being built. All the Wolverines need now is a place to play.

Plans to play at Sullivan Arena are on hold as the city of Anchorage debates what’s next for Alaska’s biggest sports facility, which was converted to a homeless shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Team president Kai Binkley Sims has said both Ben Boeke Ice Arena next door to Sullivan and the McDonald Center in Eagle River are possible alternatives.

“We would definitely prefer that our first games are played in Anchorage,” she said on July 15. “We’ll look at Eagle River as an option if we have to.”

Billing itself as “the league of opportunity,” the NAHL is primarily for players ages 16-20 who are intent on making college hockey part of their future. That opportunity also provides teams with a key to success — fewer bills.

“The junior hockey financial model is.a lot different than the professional model,” Sims said last month. “We don’t have to pay our players, we don’t have to pay their insurance, we don’t have to house them, their parents pay billet families to house them. There’s a lot fewer expenses in this model of a team. It’s one that’s worked all across the country.”

For more than 25 years, the Aces’ professional approach also worked. The minor-league team had its fair share of victories and fans, but the costs eventually proved too steep when the fanbase dwindled. The owners sold the team in 2017, and the franchise moved to Portland, Maine.

While the Wolverines won’t have to take care of their players’ living expenses, the cost of doing business in Alaska remains high. The traditional downfall for Alaska teams that regularly play Lower 48 teams are travel costs. They add up fast when you are booking plane tickets for an entire hockey team and its gear.

Compounding the problem since the 1970s, when the Anchorage Northern Knights played in the Continental Basketball Association, is Alaska teams typically must subsidize traveling expenses for opponents coming here in order to gain membership in Lower 48 leagues.

This remains true for Alaska’s NAHL teams, which have a partnership with Alaska Airlines that provides a limited amount of credit for airfare but doesn’t defray the cost of ground transportation, hotels or food, which Alaska teams also cover.

If the stars are aligned -- as they were in the 1990s for the Seawolves when they were winning a lot and consistently drawing more than 4,500 fans a game at Sullivan Arena -- the costs are manageable.

In those days UAA created enough revenue to keep the books balanced, but there wasn’t much margin for error. Picking up much of the tab for visiting teams was a fiscal hardship.

“Any game in Anchorage was an away game for us. Because we were paying for the plane fare, we were paying for hotels,” said Brush Christiansen, the founder and former longtime coach of UAA hockey.

When the Seawolves joined the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, an NCAA Division I powerhouse hockey conference, the losses mounted, and empty seats at Sullivan Arena started outnumbering fans. The difficulties were compounded by a fixed-rate rental agreement the municipality had in place.

For the Wolverines, fluctuating attendance will be taken into account by the city, Binkley Sims said. She didn’t provide specifics, but she said the amount the city will charge the Wolverines “depends on how many people you have in there.”

While Fairbanks has had a junior team for 25 years and offers a template for success, the Kenai River Brown Bears nearly went out of business four years ago but was spared by a massive fundraising campaign. The idea of an Anchorage franchise was hatched in 2018 at one of the fundraisers.

The ownership group for the Wolverines includes Aaron Schutt, Ryan Binkley, Kai Binkley Sims, John Ellsworth Jr. and Jay Frawner. Binkley and Binkley Sims are part of the Binkley Co., which also owns the Anchorage Daily News.

Binkley Sims is from Fairbanks, as is her brother, Ryan Binkley, and they know how that city has embraced the Ice Dogs. The team averages about 2,200 spectators a night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, said Fairbanks general manager Rob Proffitt.

The team is a nonprofit organization, and the community is an integral part of the franchise. Two youth hockey associations -- Hockey Club Fairbanks and the Arctic Lions/Northern Alaska Hockey Association -- each run a food concession booth, and the Ice Dogs get a percentage of the profit.

The Ice Dogs are in charge of selling beer, another money-maker. Proffitt said he thinks the municipality’s cut of beer sales is 15%.

Ice Dogs ticket prices vary from $10-20. The city rents the Big Dipper for the price of the ice time, around $900 per night, plus an event fee. The team pays for everything else: concession workers, ushers, cashiers, bartenders, security and janitorial service. “All in for a game night is about $4,000,” Proffitt said.

The cost of renting Sullivan Arena could vary from $5,000 to $7,500 per game for a crowd of 2,500 to nearly $15,000 for a crowd of 6,000, according to an estimate from arena general manager Jon Dyson.

Exact rental costs have yet to be nailed down, and the revenue-sharing percentages between the team, the arena and third-party concession vendors remain in flux. “We’re still working out everything right now,” Dyson said.

Additionally, the Wolverines plan to practice at Sullivan Arena, which Dyson said costs about $450 an hour to rent.

Proffitt said practice costs are roughly $20,000 a season at the Big Dipper, where the Ice Dogs usually practices four times a week for 90 minutes when not on the road.

The Wolverines have a contract with Sullivan Arena -- Alaska’s largest sports venue -- but they are considering other options because of the uncertainty surrounding Sullivan’s availability.

In June, Binkley Sims said Ben Boeke Ice Arena was a potential alternative. Earlier this month, she said the McDonald Center in Eagle River is another option. Sullivan can hold more than 6,000 fans, Ben Boeke has room for about 1,000 and the McDonald Center has a capacity of about 1,100.

The Wolverines open the season in Richfield, Minn., against the Minnesota Magicians on Sept. 24. Their first home game is scheduled for Oct. 15 against the Springfield (Illinois) Junior Blues.

US memorials to victims of COVID-19 pandemic taking shape

Sat, 2021-07-31 11:54

Widow Marcy Jacobs, left, stands with her daughter, Jaclyn Winer, under flags bearing names of people, including her husband, Keith Jacobs, who have died from COVID-19, outside the First Congressional Church, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Holliston, Mass. The flags are part of the COVID Art and Remembrance project spearheaded by Jaclyn. “Don’t expect us to move on without giving us a place to grieve,” Marcy Jacobs said, recalling her husband as kind, uncomplaining and simple. “Is it a stone for everyone? I don’t know." (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) (Elise Amendola/)

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Ohio has planted a memorial grove of native trees to remember people who died of COVID-19, and governors and state lawmakers nationwide are considering their own ways to mark the toll of the virus.

Temporary memorials have sprung up across the U.S. — 250,000 white flags at RFK stadium in the nation’s capital, a garden of hand-sculpted flowers in Florida, strings of origami cranes in Los Angeles.

The process of creating more lasting remembrances that honor the over 600,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus, though, is fraught compared to past memorial drives because of the politics.

Last year, a bill kickstarting a national COVID-19 memorial process died in Congress as the Trump administration sought to deemphasize the ravages of the pandemic.

States are a good place to start with monuments given the complexities involved in remembering the federal government’s early handling of the disease, said James Young, founding director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies.

“We remember not just the victims, but we end up remembering kind of the U.S. administration’s indifference or even neglect, malignant neglect, of the disease itself, much less the victims,” he said.

Non-pandemic monuments — such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the National Sept. 11 Memorial in New York — resulted from negotiations among diverse stakeholders willing to push through controversy to hash out common narratives, said Nancy Bristow, a history professor at the University of Puget Sound.

A national COVID-19 memorial won’t be so clear-cut, she said.

“The problem and the strength of memorials is they tell the story we want to tell, and they may not have anything to do with learning from the past or even with remembering the complexities of what we’ve been through,” Bristow said. “Commemoration and memorializing is not about nuance.”

Widow Marcy Jacobs holds family photos as she stands under flags with names of people, including her husband, Keith Jacobs, who have died from COVID-19, outside the First Congressional Church, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Holliston, Mass. The flags are part of the COVID Art and Remembrance project spearheaded by Marcy's daughter, Jaclyn Winer. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) (Elise Amendola/)

For governors who may be staking their political fortunes on the success of their virus response, however, the power to tell their own stories could be critical.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, were among the first to seize the virus narrative with their memorial proposals earlier this year.

Earlier this month, Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced a panel of experts from state government and the local art community had selected 11 artists to submit design proposals for that state’s permanent memorial after a money-raising campaign this spring. A state lawmaker in Maine proposed legislation there to do the same.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Memorial Grove that DeWine dedicated in April at a state park near Chillicothe, in southern Ohio, included among its native trees the white oak, which can live for 400 years.

“Maybe someone will come here and will talk about their grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother who went through the pandemic,” DeWine said at the event. “Maybe someone in their family died, maybe someone in their family was a nurse or doctor, someone who was there to make a difference for others. We should not forget the sacrifices that have been made.”

Various groups affected by the global coronavirus pandemic gather to plant trees on April 30, 2021, at Ohio's dedication of a new COVID-19 Pandemic Memorial Grove at Great Seal State Park near Chillicothe, Ohio. The country has begun finding ways to remember the more than 600,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus, but the process is fraught compared to past memorial drives because of the politics. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth) (Julie Carr Smyth/)

Cuomo is regrouping after plans for a concrete state memorial to essential workers at Battery Park faced outcry from neighbors upset at the related loss of green space. He has said workers need to be remembered for their valor.

“They saved the lives of New Yorkers,” he said in announcing the panel to spearhead the project in April. “COVID was a war and they were war heroes. They gave their lives in the midst of that war to save others.”

DeWine and Cuomo are patterning their memorial language around their contrasting leadership styles, Young said.

“I think DeWine did see himself as a kind of a pater familias trying to take care of everybody, and Cuomo did see himself or portray himself as a general going to war against the virus,” Young said.

Bristow said the war metaphor was also used with the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic, which arose during a real war — World War I — and that conflation ultimately overwhelmed all memory of the deadly disease, which never got a national memorial.

“The war was a heroic narrative, the war was a success, the war was an expression of American exceptionalism and how great we were, which is how Americans wanted and want to see themselves,” she said. “And the pandemic just didn’t offer that kind of story line.”

COVID-19 memorials also bring practical questions.

For instance, listing victims by name on a national memorial, as monuments sometimes do, could be a tricky business.

Responding to concerns about deaths being misattributed to the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report in March that found only about 5% of the death certificates that listed COVID-19 as a cause listed it exclusively. Instead, it was often paired with other contributing problems, including exacerbating diseases such as diabetes and simultaneous conditions such as pneumonia.

As such details are worked out, some smaller permanent memorials — a statue to sanitation workers in New York, wall murals in Detroit and a churchyard sculpture in Dover, Delaware, for instance — are already in place.

Heartfelt yet ephemeral tributes are also abundant, including bell-ringings, vigils and websites.

Kristin Urquiza, co-founder and co-executive director of the Marked by COVID organization, said she is laying the groundwork for a push later this year for a permanent national memorial.

Urquiza drew attention last year for a speech she delivered during the Democratic National Convention blaming Trump’s lack of leadership for her father’s death from COVID-19, but she said the project is nonpartisan and unifying officials of both parties.

“A physical memorial would be a place to acknowledge our grief,” she said. “A place we can unite from, to see each other as human beings, as Americans, as people, who went through this together.”

U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a New York Democrat, also has reintroduced the bill that would begin a national COVID-19 memorial process.

Espaillat said the legislation envisions seating the memorial in the Bronx, an early COVID-19 hotspot. He refrained from addressing whether the virus politics of the Trump administration played a role in his earlier bill’s demise. But he said any memorial have to address some uncomfortable truths revealed by the pandemic.

“As we continue our push to establish this national memorial, we must consider and reflect on the serious racial disparities that COVID-19 ravaged throughout the health systems that make Black and brown communities more susceptible,” he said in a statement.

Massachusetts photographer Keith Jacobs died of COVID-19 in April 2020, only weeks into the pandemic, just has he’d made it to the top of a list to receive a kidney transplant.

His widow, Marcy Jacobs, 64, of Stoughton, Massachusetts, said she fears her late husband and other pandemic victims will be forgotten as the disease wanes and people who didn’t lose a loved one move on.

“Don’t expect us to move on without giving us a place to grieve,” she said, recalling her husband as kind, uncomplaining and simple. “Is it a stone for everyone? I don’t know.”

President Joe Biden’s inauguration-eve remembrance for COVID-19 victims was nice, she said, but more is needed.

“What is the country going to do?” she said.

Neal Brown leaves behind a legacy of learning and laughing

Sat, 2021-07-31 11:49

Neal Brown has died. The former leader of Poker Flat Research Range and the smiling, suspender-wearing man remembered by many Alaska kids was 82 years old.

Neal Brown in 2021, on an outing in New Hampshire with his dog Molly. (Photo courtesy Becky Lees)

Born in Idaho, Brown grew up on a farm in Pullman, Washington. He made his way to Alaska in 1963. Here, in 1971, he became the first director of the brand-new Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks, helping space physicists like himself launch more than 200 rockets.

After 21 years at UAF’s Geophysical Institute without a break, he then took a professional sabbatical at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There, he discovered a passion — sharing science with non-scientists, especially kids.

“I realized I really enjoy teaching,” Brown said in a 2018 interview with Fairbanks journalist Robert Hannon.

In his very active retirement, Brown invented the Alaska Space Camp — which brought hundreds of kids to Alaska for a week of adventure — and helped many other young people build and launch model rockets as part of programs at the Geophysical Institute.

Neal Brown accepts the Roger Smith Lifetime Achievement award in 2016 from Geophysical Institute director Bob McCoy. )Geophysical Institute photo)

Brown never lost his child-like wonder about the world. His laugh was from the belly, infectious, and frequent.

Unlike most of his peers, Brown never earned a Ph.D. But his hands-on approach with kids in camps and adults in Elderhostel-like programs had more punch than any stack of papers he might have written.

“My basic skill is an incredible curiosity and an enthusiasm,” he told Hannon in 2018.

Following are some words from Brown’s friends, family and co-workers who were close to him during his 55-year adventure in Alaska. He and his wife Fran Tannian moved to New Hampshire in 2019.

Becky Lees, who worked with Brown at the Alaska Space Grant program:

“If you considered yourself an arts-and-literature type person, then spent an hour building and launching model rockets with Neal, you might question whether you’re actually a science person instead.

“Neal’s gentle demeanor, soft-spoken voice, and bear hugs made you feel special, loved, and cherished. His presence was so large, I don’t know how to explain it, except maybe God made Neal’s heart just a little bit bigger than the rest of us.”

Dan Osborne, who worked for Brown at Poker Flat and the Geophysical Institute:

“Neal would not ask ‘Do you know about X, Y, or Z?’ He would ask you, ‘Would you like to build, make or do X, Y, or Z?’ ”

Erin Parcher Wartes, who worked with Brown at the Geophysical Institute, Poker Flat, and the Alaska Space Academy:

“He was just as comfortable working with elementary-school students as he was with scientists from NASA. Nothing made me happier than telling him a story that brought out one of his glorious bursts of laughter.”

Kathy Bertram, former outreach officer at the Geophysical Institute:

“His model-rocket launches were the highlight of most of our events, but not only because kids got to launch and triangulate their rockets. No, it was Neal, tirelessly helping children assemble their model rockets, sharing stories from Poker Flat, and then enthusiastically yelling, ‘three, two, one, BLAST OFF!’ ”

Mary Farrell, who learned she was pregnant soon after she had taken a job with Poker Flat, where Brown was her boss:

“I worried for weeks about how to tell Neal this news (I was due smack in the middle of the next rocket launch season) and how he’d react. I very nervously told him the situation. He threw up his hands and exclaimed ‘Congratulations! That’s wonderful news!’ ”

Bob McCoy, director of the Geophysical Institute:

“He was known as a great scientist, an effective speaker and had an infectious enthusiasm for the use of sounding rockets for space science — it was a gift.”

Syun-Ichi Akasofu, former director of both the Geophysical Institute and International Arctic Research Center:

“Without Neal’s dedication, Poker Flat Research Range would not exist today.”

Neal Brown in 1967, holding his newborn son Kris. (Photo courtesy Kris Brown)

Kris Brown, his son:

“Beyond being an incredibly loving man who I adored and who I know adored me, he was a great guy to just talk about a book, an article or just about anything.”

Carla Helfferich, who worked with him many years at the Geophysical Institute:

“His sheer likeability shone through, sometimes literally. There are many photos of GI teams in the field, muffled in big parkas, with a flash of white showing from the shadows of one hood: that was the gleam of Neal’s teeth in a huge smile.”

Kathe Rich, range manager at Poker Flat:

“He never lost his enthusiasm for doing/learning something new or doing something totally ridiculous. I’ll miss the kindness he showed to people and the love you could hear in his voice and his writing when he talked about his wife, his dog, his kids, and his friends.

“The world will be a dimmer, dumber, and less-fun place without him.”

Mask guidance divides parents heading into new school year

Sat, 2021-07-31 11:42

Joann Marcus of Fort Lauderdale, left, cheers as she listens to the Broward School Board's emergency meeting, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A small but vocal group spoke vehemently against masks, saying their personal rights were being eroded and their children were suffering socially. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier) (Marta Lavandier/)

HARTFORD, Conn. — With U.S. health officials recommending that children mask up in school this fall, parents and policy makers across the nation have been plunged anew into a debate over whether face coverings should be optional or a mandate.

The delta variant of the coronavirus now threatens to upend normal instruction for a third consecutive school year. Some states have indicated they will probably heed the federal government’s guidance and require masks. Others will leave the decision up to parents.

The controversy is unfolding at a time when many Americans are at their wits’ end with pandemic restrictions and others fear their children will be put at risk by those who don’t take the virus seriously enough. In a handful of Republican-led states, lawmakers made it illegal for schools to require masks.

In Connecticut, anti-mask rallies have happened outside Gov. Ned Lamont’s official residence in Hartford, and lawn signs and bumper stickers call on him to “unmask our kids.” The Democrat has said that he’s likely to follow the latest advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC on Tuesday recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status. The agency cited the risk of spread of the highly contagious delta variant, even among vaccinated people.

Alima Bryant, 33, a mother of four who organizes anti-mask parents in Branford, Connecticut, said she’s not a conspiracy theorist, but she believes scientists have overstated the dangers of COVID-19, especially for children. She said she will take her children out of school rather than subject them to wearing masks, which she believes are more likely to make them ill than the virus.

“Especially with little kids, I can imagine how often they’re touching dirty things, then touching the mask,” she said. “Also, in kindergarten, you have to learn social cues, and even with speech and everything, it’s so important to not be wearing a mask.”

But parents such as Ryan Zuimmerman, of Lenexa, Kansas, fear that approach will prolong the pandemic.

In Johnson County, Kansas, the state’s most populous county, five districts recommend but do not require masks. A sixth district has not yet decided.

Zimmerman, speaking at a recent meeting of country commissioners, said that if masks are only recommended and not required, “95% of kids won’t be wearing them.”

“This isn’t about comfort or control or obedience or your rights. It is not conspiracy or child abuse. It is about doing unto others as you want them to do unto you,” he said.

“I ask you this: If it was your kid who was high risk, what if you had to send that kid you had spent your whole life protecting to school in this environment?”

Another public meeting, this one in Broward County, Florida, had to be postponed for a day this week after roughly two dozen mask opponents waged screaming matches with school board members and burned masks outside the building.

When the discussion resumed Wednesday, it was limited to 10 public speakers, and all but one spoke vehemently against masks, saying their personal rights were being eroded.

Vivian Hug, a Navy veteran, brought her twins with her as she addressed board members, saying she was tired of the “fear mongering” and giving up “freedoms in the name of safety.”

“Please stop the insanity. You have already done damage to these kids having to wear masks,” she said before putting her daughter up to the microphone, where the little girl complained that masks make it hard for her to breathe and give her headaches.

But Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, said there is no credible evidence masks are unsafe for children. She said the science is clear that face coverings have prevented the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

“If we want to have kids in school this fall, and as many kids as we possibly can get into school, masks are a key component,” she said.

Amid the debate, there is also a push to get more older kids vaccinated. President Joe Biden has asked schools to host vaccine clinics for the those 12 and older, and states are also beginning to discuss whether to mandate that school employees either be vaccinated or undergo frequent testing for the coronavirus.

“To me that seems very reasonable,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer of the Louisiana Department of Health. “You achieve the goal of providing a safe environment. You maintain some choice in there. And clearly most people are going to look at that and say it make sense for them to get vaccinated, given that context.”

The push to vaccinate children varies by country. Half of 12- to 17-year-olds in Estonia’s second-largest city of Tartu have received their first vaccine shot, and local health officials are working to push the number to 70% before the school year begins. Countries such as Denmark and France also are actively encouraging vaccination of children, while others such Sweden and the United Kingdom have yet to begin mass vaccinations for those under 18.

The Pfizer shot is currently the only U.S. vaccine authorized for children 12 years and up. Moderna expects the Food and Drug Administration to rule soon on its application for children in the same age group.

Moderna said Monday that it expects to have enough data to apply for FDA authorization for younger children by late this year or early 2022. Pfizer has said it expects to apply in September for children ages 5 through 11.

But some parents, such as Bryant, say they will not get their children vaccinated, even after the kids are eligible, until they know more about potential side effects. Bryant said she knows people who have had severe reactions and others who believe it has affected their menstrual cycles.

Kanter urges families to vaccinate all eligible children. He said the argument that they rarely get severely ill from COVID-19 is becoming outdated.

“As an absolute number, we are seeing younger individuals and kids get sicker in higher numbers and get more severe numbers with delta than they have before,” he said.

Young people themselves have been wrestling with misinformation and vaccine hesitancy among parents and peers.

Angelica Granados, 16, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, finally got permission from her mother to take a COVID-19 vaccine last month. She worried about a potential allergic reaction.

“I’ve always wanted to take it,” Granados said, describing the shot as a choice between going “back to normal living” or risking infection.

Her mother, Erica Gonzales, stood by as she got the injection and waited with her during an extended 30-minute observation period.

“I didn’t want her to take it, but I mean, that’s her choice. It’s her body. She knows it best,” Gonzales said.


Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Cedar Attanasio in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, contributed to this report.

French police clash with anti-virus pass protesters in Paris

Sat, 2021-07-31 11:40

A protestor holds a sign which reads in French, "freedom" and "no to the Covid passport" as she attends a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in several cities in France on Saturday to protest against the COVID-19 pass, which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (Michel Euler/)

PARIS — Thousands of people protested France’s special virus pass with marches through Paris and other French cities on Saturday. Most demonstrations were peaceful, but sporadic clashes with riot police marked protests in the French capital.

Some 3,000 security forces deployed around Paris for a third weekend of protests against the pass that will be needed soon to enter restaurants and other places. Police took up posts along the Champs-Elysees to guard against an invasion of the famed avenue.

With virus infections spiking and hospitalizations rising, French lawmakers have passed a bill requiring the pass in most places as of Aug. 9. Polls show a majority of French support the pass, but some are adamantly opposed. The pass requires a vaccination or a quick negative test or proof of a recent recovery from COVID-19 and mandates vaccine shots for all health care workers by mid-September.

Across the Alps, thousands of anti-vaccine pass demonstrators marched in Italian cities including Rome, Milan and Naples for the second consecutive week. Milan demonstrators stopped outside the city’s courthouse chanting “Truth! “Shame!” and “Liberty!” while in Rome they marched behind a banner reading “Resistance.” Those demonstrations were noisy but peaceful.

For anti-vaccine pass demonstrators in France, “Iiberty” was the slogan of the day. The marches drew some 204,000 people around the country. Some 14,250 people hostile to the pass protested in Paris, several thousand more than a week ago.

Hager Ameur, a 37-year-old nurse, said she resigned from her job, accusing the government of using a form of “blackmail.”

“I think that we mustn’t be told what to do,” she told The Associated Press, adding that French medical workers during the first wave of COVID-19 were quite mistreated. “And now, suddenly we are told that if we don’t get vaccinated it is our fault that people are contaminated. I think it is sickening.”

Protestors march waving French flags during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in several cities in France on Saturday to protest against the COVID-19 pass, which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant) (Adrienne Surprenant/)
Protestors hold signs which read "freedom" during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in several cities in France on Saturday to protest against the COVID-19 pass, which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (Michel Euler/)
Protestors move away from gas canisters during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in several cities in France on Saturday to protest against the COVID-19 pass, which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant) (Adrienne Surprenant/)
A protestor pushes on the shield of a police officer during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in several cities in France on Saturday to protest against the COVID-19 pass, which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant) (Adrienne Surprenant/)
A protestor covers their face against gas canisters as police move their line during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in several cities in France on Saturday to protest against the COVID-19 pass, which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant) (Adrienne Surprenant/)
Police detain a protestor during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in several cities in France on Saturday to protest against the COVID-19 pass, which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant) (Adrienne Surprenant/)

Tensions flared in front of the famed Moulin Rouge nightclub in northern Paris during what appeared to be the largest demonstration. Lines of police faced down protesters in up-close confrontations during the march. Police used their fists on several occasions.

As marchers headed eastward and some pelted police with objects, police fired tear gas into the crowds, plumes of smoke filling the sky. A male protester was seen with a bleeding head and a police officer was carried away by colleagues. Three officers were injured, the French press quoted police as saying. Police, again responding to rowdy crowds, also turned a water cannon on protesters as the march ended at the Bastille.

A calmer march was led by the former top lieutenant of far-right leader Marine Le Pen who left to form his own small anti-EU party. But Florian Philippot’s new cause, against the virus pass, seems far more popular. His contingent of hundreds marched Saturday to the Health Ministry.

Among those not present this week was Francois Asselineau, leader of another tiny anti-EU party, the Popular Republican Union, and an ardent campaigner against the health pass, who came down with COVID-19. In a video on his party’s website, Asselineau, who was not hospitalized, called on people to denounce the “absurd, unjust and totally liberty-killing” health pass.

French authorities are implementing the health pass because the highly contagious delta variant is making strong inroads. More than 24,000 new daily cases were confirmed Friday night — compared to just a few thousand cases a day at the start of the month.

The government announcement that the health pass would take effect on Aug. 9 has driven many unvaccinated French to sign up for inoculations so their social lives won’t get shut down during the summer holiday season. Vaccinations are now available at a wide variety of places, including some beaches. More than 52% of the French population has been vaccinated.

About 112,000 people have died of the virus in France since the start of the pandemic.

Alaska needs to think about the transition away from oil

Sat, 2021-07-31 11:14

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline crosses the Tanana River with cable stays near Delta Junction. Photographed May 14, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Fossil fuels will be a primary source of energy for some years to come. This means that Alaska’s oil will be part of that primary source of energy over those years. However, renewable energy sources, such as onshore wind and onshore solar, have captured and will continue to capture a greater share of the energy markets.

Energy markets look for a supply of energy which is reliable and affordable. It also means energy markets, as part of the world’s money system, will seek out companies and projects to supply energy to consumers. That leads to a question: Can shareholders make money owning shares in oil companies during the period of transition from fossil fuels to renewables?

Look at ExxonMobil, one of the biggest oil companies in the world and a major operator in Alaska. Its market capitalization — the total value of the company — in mid-July 2021 was about $250 billion. But at the beginning of 2007, the company’s market capitalization was about $490 billion. Its market capitalization was about $330 billion on in 2010. A recent low of about $140 billion occurred when the pandemic began in March 2020. Currently, a shareholder who invested in ExxonMobil in early 2007 has lost about 50% of the company value, which fell from $490 billion to $250 billion.

On a slightly different point, consider Norway’s sovereign wealth fund. It was started after Alaska’s sovereign wealth fund, the Permanent Fund. In late 2017, Norway’s fund was advised, to protect its fund, to divest (sell) all its shares in oil and gas companies, sometimes called black stocks, and to invest in renewable energy companies, sometimes called green stocks. Norway’s fund rejected a complete divestment of oil and gas companies selling only shares of oil and gas companies which had not begun an actual transition to producing energy by way of renewable energy sources. In early 2021, it became apparent that Norway’s continued ownership of shares in oil and gas companies during 2018-2020 resulted in an 11% loss. By not fully investing in renewable energy companies, green companies, Norway’s loss equated to an opportunity cost of more than $125 billion.

So, what are some of the reasons for this type of disruption to the oil and gas business? One of the reasons started over a decade ago: The combination of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing made possible the recovery of oil and gas from shale/source rock. This increased, for example, the United States’ production of oil from about 5,000,000 barrels of oil per day to over 12,000,000 barrels per day. Oil and gas became more plentiful (and the U.S. could start exporting oil). But increased supply could create downward pressure on oil price. In economic terms, supply exceeds the quantity demanded and prices drop.

Another reason impacting the oil and gas business is increasing commercial investment in renewable energy projects rather than investment in oil projects. Since 2018-2019, the cost of producing electricity from solar energy has been lower than that of fossil fuels. This is a “permanent change,” according to David Bailin, chief investment officer of Citi Private Bank. The transition from oil, gas and coal sources to solar for generating electricity becomes “the ultimate cap” on fossil fuel prices. That means Citi’s clients are advised to invest in renewable energy based upon an “unstoppable trend because you can identify that cost point, it’s a great opportunity.” As a result, 2021 has become, because of this transition, the year renewable energy projects become the area of largest energy investment — and will surpass oil and gas project investment.

The energy conversation decades ago was around the risk of peak oil, when oil would run out. The conversation in the investing world has now changed to that of peak demand, when demand for oil will start to decline. Oil will be a primary source of energy for years but maybe not forever. This brings us back to the initial question as to whether shareholders can make money owning oil company stock, looking at short- and long-term investment horizons.

Oil pricing is volatile. But now that means higher oil prices in the short term will result in sooner and larger investment in long-term renewable energy projects, increasing the speed of transition away from oil. That’s the way capitalism works.

The world is changing. Alaskans need to think about our place in a world which is transitioning away from oil. Words such as “permanent change,” “ultimate cap,” “unstoppable trend” and “identify that cost point” are meaningful to the long-term financial stability of Alaska. Alaska’s oil customers on the U.S. West Coast are part of the transition to renewable energy sources. Just because Alaska’s North Slope ground contains a lot of oil does not mean there will be infinite demand for it; supply for future energy needs will more and more come from renewable energy sources. Alaskans must think about the world, not too far in the future, less and less reliant upon oil, the unstoppable trend.

Joe Paskvan is a lifelong Alaskan and retired attorney. He served in the Alaska State Senate from 2008 to 2012, including a year as co-chair of the Senate Resources committee. He lives in Fairbanks.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Rough seas and sleepless nights won’t keep this Bristol Bay fisherman from doing what he loves

Sat, 2021-07-31 11:11

It is the end of the Bristol Bay fishing season for the majority of the fleet. There are a few locals still scratching out some pounds, but the out-of-towners and the cannery workers are mostly gone. The airport in King Salmon, the only way out of Naknek, is backed up with homesick souls singing, “Oh, how I wanna go home!”

Alaska Airlines is pretty much the only show in town. They don’t send as many planes as they did in the “before COVID” days. Tickets are tough to come by. Ravn Alaska is flying out here again, but with smaller aircraft, and they are quickly full as well.

I am sitting high on the deck of my boat — parked in the boat yard now — surrounded by brailers, lines and tools. It is late evening. The boat yard is silent. I watch a couple of dumpster bears stroll by. They stop and share an old plastic bag that might have a calorie hidden away.

I eat my midnight snack of Stove Top stuffing and wonder what the rich folks are doing tonight.

Somebody asked me yesterday when I was going to retire. Heck, I retired when I was 17. As Confucius says, “if you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life.”

The majority of Bristol Bay fishermen are not Alaskans. They are not here because they love the outdoors and the fishing game. It is all about money.

The guys who stick it out for decades are almost always Alaskans. Bristol Bay is home for many of them. Some have moved away, but still have strong ties to the region.

Alaska salmon fisheries are limited-entry fisheries. The way the limited entry program was originally set up, in the early 1970s, allowed for the migration of permits to outside interests. Permits were granted on a point system to fishermen who had a history of fishing the Bay. One’s financial investment in the fishery also played a big role.

Permits could be bought and sold, albeit with restrictions, but could not be leased or borrowed against. The idea was good and it worked for the most part. However, when fishermen get older and don’t have family interested or able to continue the tradition, their permit is more likely than not going to leave Alaska.

Originally there were also permits granted to folks who fished Bristol Bay for a relatively short time but had a strong financial interest, or who fished in an operation as a deckhand with a long history, though little financial investment. There were a couple hundred permits granted to folks in those categories. All but a very few were Alaskans, mostly local.

The downside was the permits could not be sold. When the permit holder died, the permit died with them. Almost all of those permit holders have passed, thus taking a huge percentage of Alaska residents out of the fishery.

Bristol Bay drift permits are expensive — flirting with the $200,000 range. Setnet permits have seen a steady climb and now sell for more than $60,000.

A good used drift boat will cost as much as the permit. And a few of the newer, competitive vessels will run $600,000 to $800,000, or more. Setnet operations, complete with gear and a good location, will sell for $150,000.

Bristol Bay is not cheap for the newcomer.

Several institutions have made breaking into the fishery easier for Alaska residents. The state has a loan program for residents who don’t have independent backing. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation has a similar program for watershed residents. Additionally, there are several unofficial groups, mostly with ethnic ties, that finance younger guys who wish to get in the fishery.

It isn’t easy to begin fishing in Bristol Bay, and the costs are only part of it. Rough seas, sleepless days and the stress of a fast-paced fishery are why some come to fish and disappear after a few seasons. The fact fishermen are usually far from home weighs in as well. Yet some of us keep coming back, year after year.

The Genghis Khans who come to rape and pillage are never good for the Bristol Bay fishery. Limited entry has meant folks have skin in the game. It was obviously in everyone’s best interest to focus on quality, which has benefited all, including the consumer, over the long haul.

A lot of the new guys say, “I’m never doing this again!” I said that once or twice too.

Now I am resigned to the fact that the challenge and reward — not the money, but the elements and Mother Nature — are going to keep me participating as long as I am able. Now I realize I know what the rich folks are up to. I am one.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

Backpacking in the Arctic would be so much more delightful if it didn’t involve packing

Sat, 2021-07-31 11:10

A few years ago I went on a guided trip to the Arctic. The morning of our flight, I showed up at the airport to join five others making the trip and what immediately struck me was the size of my bag.

My fear was confirmed when we each hefted our backpack onto a scale, one at a time, so the crew could figure out how best to load the small plane.

Mine weighed 10 pounds more than anyone else’s, excluding the guides. Of course, I had a little audience for the weigh-in and I saw them take in the information about my heavy backpack and subtly size me up at the same time. Was I up to hefting this behemoth around in the Arctic? Would I hold everyone back?

What was in there, anyway? Was I a novice at this?

I made some kind of a weak joke about my snack stash and pulled my bag off the scale.

The truth is, what was in my bag was generally pretty normal. It was a heavier, older backpack. I didn’t have a fancy lightweight tent. But the clincher was, I’d printed out a long article I’d always wanted to read about the Arctic. I figured I’d pass it around and then maybe burn the pages as I finished them. But when I hit “print” I forgot to select the double-sided setting. What should have been a 50-page printout was 100 pages.

I remember gazing down at the thick stack of paper and thinking seriously about recycling it. But I couldn’t square the idea of taking this wilderness trip and this piece of writing espousing the virtues of the place I was going while also needlessly slaughtering yet another tree due to my careless existence.

I found a large binder clip and stuffed the document into my backpack. It’ll be good for me, I thought grimly. And, I should remember to auto-select double sided on my printer.

Now, I’m getting ready for another Arctic trip. This one isn’t guided.

I’ve been thinking about my packing strategy, and slowly implementing it. This time, there’s no long document I’ve been meaning to read, so that part is easy.

Instead, there’s just the usual gaping, endless hole of what-ifs as I think about packing all I need for 10 days onto my shoulders.

I am usually surrounded by a house that more or less supplies my needs, supplemented with weekly re-ups at the grocery, hardware or automotive store. In the Arctic there are no such stores. If I’m out of my weekly medication, or if it falls into the river, that’s that.

As someone who seems to generally have her act together (even if it’s basically held together by a web of dental floss and my Google Calendar), I think I come off as a born planner.

My weeks are booked out; I carefully think about logistics. I have a list going at any given time with check boxes next to my to-do’s so I can have the satisfaction of checking them off.

The truth is, I have all of this going because let me tell you, it is a junkshow in my head. That’s a less polite way of saying chaotic. My brain doesn’t think in bullet points, clauses or in any other logical fashion.

I get really, really scared about preparing for something like an Arctic trip. It’s not the kind of thing I can just wing. I wouldn’t want to, because I’d find myself pretty much literally up a creek without a paddle. That’s a pretty straightforward way to die, especially in Alaska.

So my packing strategy is as onerous and meticulous as the rest of my carefully constructed house-of-cards life. And, it starts really early.

One of the mistakes I always make early in the packing process is conveniently forgetting about the state of my gear. I superimpose positive experiences I’ve had outdoors and imagine that surely I have exactly the right assemblage of things to make that happen again.

The truth is, that backpack is still old and heavy. My old sleeping bag is losing loft and warmth, and I still don’t own a sleeping bag liner for some reason. I can choose between a lightweight plastic spoon for all of my meals with or the heavy metal spork, but I don’t have a middle option.

And, my tent. Oh, my tent. It’s old (are you sensing a theme here?), heavy, 2-person, 3-season and unspectacular. It’s really not the best option for schlepping around the backcountry when it comes to warmth, weight and, after 15 years, waterproofing.

I find myself in the daunting position of staring down the mountain of my aging, heavy gear and thinking about where to start. Typically, it starts with prioritizing and treating myself to one replacement (for this trip, it was the sleeping bag). And from there, I figure out what I can beg off friends for loans. Enter: my borrowed backpack, sleeping bag liner, several dry bags and so much more.

Then starts the real list. On the same yellow note pad where I keep the groceries and work to-do’s, I start my pack list. This is the Master List. This is the final thing I’ll double check before I am out the door.

About a week before the trip, I start assembling things in the corner in a pile. Again, maybe you assume this is because I have my act together, but I assure you it starts this early because I am exactly the opposite.

The neuroses quickly start piling up.

Maybe I’m running and considering the weather, and my mind punches me with a “you could try consolidating those two containers into one to save space! Remember to do that!”

Or maybe I’m falling asleep and I think about how it would be really nice to pack Stroopwaffles for a fun, interesting snack versus the Fig Newtons that are already crumbling apart in the bottom of my bear barrel.

Somehow, at the very end, I trust that it will all come together. Along the way, I remind myself that thing I brought to the Arctic the last time was actually a pretty great read. The others enjoyed it too. I kept up the pace with everyone just fine despite carrying some extra weight, because my body is in good shape.

This trip will be worth all of the effort and stress, because it means 10 full days in the Arctic with only that backpack and everything in it. I trust I’ll survive the adventure and forget all about the onerous packing process when I plan the next one.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

For this polar explorer, some of the biggest lessons come from the lives of school children, New York City’s homeless

Sat, 2021-07-31 11:10

Philosophy for Polar Explorers

By Erling Kagge, Pantheon Books, 192 pages, 2020. $20

"Philosophy for Polar Explorers," by Erling Kagge

We’ve all heard stories of modern day explorers and adventurers who push the limits of both their bodies and technology, still proving that one can be the first to achieve something in this world, completing some journey involving deserts or jungles, water or ice. And most of us, I suspect, have wondered, what these people are thinking? It must be worth learning.

Erling Kagge put himself in the history books by being the first person to complete the fabled Three Poles Challenge on foot (the three poles being the North, the South, and the summit of Mount Everest). And in “Philosophy for Polar Explorers” he ruminates on what goes through his mind as he does these things, and applies these thoughts to everyday life.

The Kagge that we meet in these pages is extremely well read, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Expeditionists these days don’t bring much excess weight in their packs, but they do bring books. Far from the global electronic networks we’re all wired into, they have to feed their minds with something. And judging by the names that get dropped on these pages, Kagge looks to the classics. Socrates and Seneca appear here, as do Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, John Stuart Mill, Viktor Frankl and others.

One gets the impression that Kagge is attempting to tie his own life into the ideas and directions suggested by the philosophical tradition, and at times the connections are to be found. But the book seems more of a self-help manual than philosophy, more psychological. These are lessons sprung from the battle between Kagge’s body and the elements. He tells us about the drives he surrenders to that have made him embark on such extreme adventures, and the forces that guide his thinking, and act as a check on his impulses. And from this he offers observations and advice.

What comes out isn’t always what one might expect. His focus on courage and proper preparation and perseverance are fairly much as anticipated. It’s where he sees these virtues acted out that is sometimes surprising.

Kagge defines courage in the usual fashion: the ability to stand up to the things that would harm you and keep you from attaining your goals. This is straightforward enough, but it isn’t his own experience he touts for long here. Instead he looks to children who are bullied in school, and yet who get up each morning and go again, endure the abuse, and make it through another day. The admiration he expresses for these kids is heartfelt, and he points to them as examples we should admire.

Kagge also devotes a fair amount of time to failure, and to the wisdom of knowing when to accept it and retreat. He credits his survival in his many adventures to this instinct. But the primary example he offers comes from Arctic exploration history.

In 1897, the Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée and his crew launched a hot air balloon from Spitsbergen in an attempt to be the first to reach the North Pole. Flying into unfavorable winds, they never returned, and their bodies weren’t discovered until three decades later.

It’s not Andrée and his men who boldly sailed off despite the ominous signs that Kagge respects. Rather, he says, his regard is for the one man who withdrew from the expedition after concluding it was ill prepared. While Andrée so feared being seen a failure that he hurled forward into the sky despite the dangers, this man, Nils Ekholm, decided he would not risk leaving his wife a widow. He chose life over glory.

This is how Kagge makes his decisions when out on the ice, he tells us. Assess the circumstances, and trust gut instincts. Failure is a better fate than death.

Curiously, when Kagge discusses his own failures and setbacks, he doesn’t talk about the ones he encountered on the ice so much as the the ones he’s been blindsided by in the world most people live in. A major stock market loss seems to have stung him more than the times he turned back on expeditions, short of his goal. But he coldly examines his decision-making process, locates some flaws, and vows not to do it again.

It’s a detachment that many would struggle to achieve. And it is no doubt the product of taking himself all alone to the South Pole, where any mistakes have to be compensated for, learned from, and then emotionally let go of because the next challenge could be in the next step.

It’s this perseverance Kagge sees in the homeless. One of his journeys was a trek not across some forbidden continent, but through the underground tunnels and sewers of New York City. There he met a homeless women who had lived beneath the streets for 28 years and claimed to be quite content. She had a routine, and because he follows routines on his journeys, he saw in this a lesson for survival.

This is a “live life to the fullest while you can” kind of book, but one that also advises thinking things through. Kagge says for him, the inspiration comes first. He commits to doing something, and only then does he lay plans. But pan he does. “Alone, then, to the South Pole!” Kagge writes. “For me the decision was made the moment the idea came to mind. Thereafter all I had to do was think through how it might be achieved in rational detail.”

Simple. Why didn’t I think of it? Probably because I’m not Erling Kagge. Few of us are. But he’s come down to our level now, raising three daughters and running a publishing company. He’s finding his challenges in the workaday world, but applying the lessons of adventures on the ice to the daily grind. Everywhere, Kagge writes, opportunities abound.

“Chess is a sophisticated game: after three opening moves, there are nine million possible positions. But each and every life holds far more possibilities than a chessboard.”