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After 100 miles, thin margin decides fat-tire bike race

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 20:34

The 100-mile Susitna 100 fat-tire bike race was decided by .01 of a second Saturday.

Josh Chelf defeated Tim Berntson by the narrowest margins to win the annual trail race in the Susitna Valley. The race started and ended at the Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake.

Chelf won in 9 hours, 7 minutes, 01 second. Berntson was an eyelash behind in 9:07:02. Pacing the women was Laura Fox, whose time of 10:35:01 put her in fourth place overall.

In the Little Su 50K,  Will Ross and Tazlina Mannix picked up narrow victories in the bike division.

In the men's competition, Ross finished the 31 miles in 2:15:49 to edge David Arteaga (2:16:07) and Jason Lamoreaux (2:16:15). In the women's competition, Mannix and Kinsey Loan finished eighth and ninth overall, with Mannix finishing in 2:23:21 for a nine-second win over Loan.

The 50K ski titles went to Ashley Van Hemert (4:31:33) and Keith Blanchette (6:38:15). In the 50K run, John Hellen set the pace in 4:42:46, with Kat Roch topping the women by placing third overall in 5:33:43.

The 100-mile run and ski were still in progress Saturday evening.

Sage, Eid ski to state championships in Alyeska Cup giant slalom

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 19:49

Racing under a sunny sky, Tanner Sticka and Piper Sage claimed age-group victories in both giant slalom races Saturday at the Alyeska Cup in Girdwood.

Sticka and Sage swept the Under-16 age-group races, while the U-19 victories went to four different skiers.

Sage, the overall winner of the second race, earned the girls' giant slalom state championship. Hunter Eid, who won one of the U-19 races and was second in the other, claimed the boys' state championship.

Overall victories in the first race went to UAA racers Li Djurestal and Erik Cruz. Kevin Leach joined Sage as an overall winner in the second race.

The Alyeska Cup race series, sponsored by Anchorage Fracture and Orthopedic Clinic, continues Sunday with U12 and U14 giant slalom races.

Giant slalom No. 1

Girls

U16 — 1) Sage, Piper, Alyeska Ski Club (ASC), 1:50.17; 2) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:51.39; 3) Von Wichman, Randi, ASC, 1:51.43; 4) Liles, Ava, ASC, 1:53.54; 5) Griggs, Johanna, Juneau Ski Club (JSC), 1:53.87.

U19 — 1) Kane, Kennedy, ASC, 1:54.36; 2) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:57.80; 3) Maroney, Miki, ASC, 1:59.44; 4) Maroney, Madi, ASC, 1:59.61; 5) Ingrim, April, 2:00.79.

Overall — 1) Djurestaal, Li, UAA, 1:44.95; 2) Field, Charley, UAA, 1:46.29; 3) Burgess, Georgia, UAA, 1:46.54; 4) Sage, Piper, ASC, 1:50.17; 5) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:51.

Boys

U16 — 1) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:48.62; 2) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:50.30; 3) Hildreth, Sage, ASC, 1:50.35; 4) Rand, Evan, ASC, 1:53.87; 5) Quigley, Nolan, ASC, 1:54.17.

U19 — 1) Eid, Hunter, ASC; 1:45.53; 2) Seaver, Eli, ASC, 1:48.82; 3) Ostberg, Adam, ASC, 1:56.77; 4) Mandich, Joshua, ASC, 2:06.17.

Overall — 1) Cruz, Erik, UAA, 1:43.77; 2) McDonald, Conor, UAA, 1:44.43; 3) Soetaert, Michael, UAA,1:45.35; 4) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:45.53; 5) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:48.62.

Giant slalom No. 2

Girls

U16 — 1) Sage, Piper , ASC, 1:51.09; 2) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:54.41; 3) Griggs, Johanna, JSC, 1:56.76; 4) Kragt, Hannah, ASC, 1:59.40; 5) Abts, Sarah, ASC, 2:01.51.

U19 — 1) Buck, Sydney, ASC, 1:59.02; 2) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:59.74; 3) Ingrim, April, 2:00.43; 4) Maroney, Miki, ASC, 2:02.05; 5) Maroney, Madi, ASC, 2:02.12.

Overall — 1) Sage, Piper, ASC, 1:51.09; 2) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:54.41; 3) Griggs, Johanna, JSC, 1:56.76; 4) Buck, Sydney, ASC, 1:59.02; 5) Kragt, Hannah, ASC, 1:59.40.

Boys

U16 — 1) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:50.48; 2) Hildreth, Sage, ASC, 1:53.25; 3) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:53.50; 4) Rygh, Noah, ASC, 1:54.04; 5) Rand, Evan, ASC, 1:55.02.

U19 –1) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:47.52; 2) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:48.01; 3) Lane, Conner, ASC, 1:50.65; 4) Eriksson, Austen, ASC, 1:50.88; 5) Seaver, Eli, ASC, 1:52.19.

Overall — 1) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:47.52; 2) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:48.01; 3) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:50.48; 4) Lane, Conner, ASC, 1:50.65; 5) Eriksson, Austen, ASC, 1:50.88.

Robots go head to head at UAA

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 19:40

Teams from across Alaska in grades 7-12 designed and built robots to compete head to head in the Alaska State Championship FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition at the UAA Sports Center on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. The robots compete on a 12-foot by 12-foot field accomplishing various tasks. Teams can move on to regional and world championships.

Only six sports have been at every Winter Olympics. Can you name them?

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 19:09

The modern Olympics began with the 1896 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. The winter version emerged a couple decades later in Chamonix, France, making this year's Pyeongchang Games the 23rd version.

Some of the sports in this nearly 100-year history have been fleeting. Others have been absurd. Some have been both – like ski ballet, an exhibition sport in 1988 and 1992.

But only six sports have been on every Winter Games program.

Figure Skating

American Jackson Haines is considered the father of modern figure skating. A ballet dancer in the mid-1800s, he adapted his techniques to the ice, and figure skating was born. The sport actually debuted at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, and appeared again at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics before migrating to the winter program in 1924.

Ice Hockey

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Canadians invented hockey (in the 19th century). The sport made its Olympic debut in the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, before moving to the Winter Games in 1924. The Canadians dominated men's hockey until the Soviets came onto the scene in 1956. Women's hockey was added to the Olympic program at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Speed Skating

The Dutch began speedskating in the 13th century, as a way for villages to communicate with one another. By 1894, there were speedskating world championships. And, in 1924, the sport joined the Winter Olympics. The Netherlands has absolutely dominated the sport since, a trend that's continued in Pyeongchang.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing dates back thousands of years as a mode of transportation. Racing started to become more organized in the 1800s, and the sport came to the Olympics in 1924. Norway is traditionally the sport's strongest country, with more Olympic medals, and more golds, than any other nation. Bill Koch is America's only cross-country medalist, winning silver at the Innsbruck Games in 1976.

Ski Jumping

In 1860, Norwegian Sondre Norheim ski jumped, without poles, over a rock. With that, modern ski jumping was born, and his 30 meter flight stood as a record for three decades. The sport joined the Olympics in 1924, with only one event. It's since expanded, and there are four ski jumping events in Pyeongchang.

Nordic Combined

This sport is a combination of cross-country skiing and ski jumping (done separately, not on top of one another). The event joined the Games in 1924 and, for the first twelve years, Norway collected every possible medal. It wasn't until after World War II that the podium started to diversify, if only slightly.

She’s type A. He is … definitely not. Here’s how to make it work.

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 18:54

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I'm a very organized, schedule-driven person. When I know what to expect and know what I'm walking into, I'm happy and relaxed. For a long time, this was easy; I was single, and so, I suppose, the master of my own universe. I've been seeing "Mike" for a few months now and I will admit one of the first things that drew me to him was his free-spirited, easy-going nature.

Here's the issue: Mike is constantly making plans on our behalf, including last-minute plans, or changing the plans at the last minute, or committing us to things without telling me, and it makes me crazy. Here's an example. His sister was coming through town from the Valley, and he forgot to tell me until that afternoon, when he said we were having dinner with her and her husband. Well I had planned to hit the gym right after work, so I had to bag that to get to dinner on time. And then on the way, Mike mentioned he'd texted a handful of mutual friends who all wanted to meet us afterward for drinks and maybe a show at another bar that didn't even start until 10 p.m.

I waited until the next day to try and explain to Mike why this upset me. He really doesn't get it. All he heard was he screwed up, and he got really defensive. His point was, we knew we would be hanging out, and that had always been the plan, so what did it matter that the plan shifted to include dinner, and other people? That really wasn't my point. My point was I like to be prepared and I like to know the plan and it makes me anxious when life is happening to me and I have little input or time to get ready for things.

Can I make him understand this is an issue? Right now he just sees me as an uptight control freak. I don't want this to be the thing that takes down this relationship. I am really falling for this guy. Help?

Wanda says:

As one Type A to another, I feel your pain. A lot of folks think us A-listers get stressed when we don't know the plan simply because we can't stand to not be in control, and while there may be occasional truth there, it's more than that. We like to be efficient. We like to make the absolute best use of the minute, the hour. We completely hate to waste time. When a person we love lays out a well-thought-out plan, our hearts swell with gratitude and joy.

[Here's a refresher course on Dating 101]

Right now, your heart is feeling bruised, confused, and even discounted. Try to explain to your dude that there's so much more here than simply making sure you have the right outfit for the occasion. A recent Huffington News post offered advice to those daring to date an A; I'd suggest giving that a read to ground you in the things you want Mike to understand about your differences. Perhaps the most essential one comes at the article's conclusion, when the author reminds us that not only do Type As not expect everyone to be like them, they're in fact glad for the differences. This sentiment rings true in your letter, too. You are grateful for the balance and energy your boyfriend brings to the table. You just wish he was more sensitive about those differences.

Speaking of which: you've spent a lot of time stewing about how Mr. Boyfriend isn't thinking about your needs. But what about his? The same Huffington Post writer penned a second article offering advice to those lovelorn Type As romancing Type Bs — for instance, what you perceive as chaos may be his own approach to organization. I would suggest giving this piece a read as well, as you remember that relationships are based on compromise and meeting in the middle, and the solution to your communications struggles will likely lie some where between A and B.

Wayne says:

After A and B comes C – which in this case can stand for communication and compromise.

Sounds like you've got a good handle on communication. You rode the night out, tried your best to let everyone have their fun and maybe even enjoyed yourself a little, and then made sure to talk with him about your feelings the next day. Well done. He, obviously, can work on his communication about the little things and what's going on in his world better with you, though. This is not a big lift and he's definitely not a lost cause.

Because there's compromise. You guys are such polar opposites in regards to planning and personality that you'll both have to make some individual changes to get this relationship to work without constant stress and frustration.

Yes, he'll have to be much better about appreciating the way you tick and be better about keeping you in the loop on all the places his brain is racing around to. And he'll have to work at not springing surprise plans and curveballs on you on a regular basis. He's clearly is a people pleaser, and since you clearly rank among his favorite people he'll take this to heart and try harder to communicate and compromise.

But you have to try harder, too. Do you really want to take the spontaneity out of your relationship and life? Or surgically remove the fun factor from Mike? Of course not. So sometimes you're just going to have to take a deep breath, shrug your shoulders, let Mike be Mike, appreciate that Mike is Mike and that's kinda enjoyable, and roll with it. A deviation from your regularly scheduled life or one missed night at the gym shouldn't derail you, disappoint you or send your blood pressure through the roof. Even Type As can grow from, and maybe even enjoy, a little randomness every once in a while.

[When wedding proposals prove problematic]

Carolyn Hax: Tips for a tired and frustrated stay-at-home mom

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 18:53

Dear Carolyn:

I'm a newish stay-at-home mom finding it hard to connect with my spouse, my friends and my "old" life. I have no family support system and none of my friends have offered or shown any interest in helping with my little one. My whole life has turned upside down (not unexpected) but I guess it's my other relationships that have me surprised.

I'm no longer invited to anything friend-wise and the few things I have been invited to were mere hours beforehand with no time to secure a sitter. My husband complains that he hates his job, he doesn't help much with our child — she's very attached to me, which is a sore point — and is irritated that I'm "always tired and angry." I am always tired and usually frustrated that I have no time for myself. He tells me to ask for help and then when I ask, the response is, "OK but [little one] is going to cry the whole time." I don't resent my child, but it's hard to stay positive and upbeat when I feel like only my life has changed.

My husband's answer is for me to hire a nanny or get involved with a mom's group but that doesn't solve anything with my current circle.

— K.

Actually, it probably would.

Your "current circle" problem is a specific one likely rooted in your more general problem of being out of balance at home. That's also true of the other specific problems you name: no time for yourself, lonely, always tired and angry, marriage faltering, father not bonding with child — even the husbandly chore-dodging and work-griping.

Your husband's suggestion to hire help is a deceptively significant start to solving it all. Just a few weekly shifts for a part-time caregiver can give you some time to yourself, which can give you some rest, which can give you some energy, which can remind you who you still are with all the roles and requirements stripped away. Hiring help can also get this core self out the door on a date with her husband or dinner with friends or just on a long walk where your soul goes aaaaaaaaaaaa.

A better rested, less angry, more you version of you can say calmly to your husband, when he complains the baby "is going to cry the whole time": "You're right, she will. That means we need to swap roles more, though, not less. We let things get out of whack. It'll take some time and work for both of us to fix this, but soon she'll figure out how brilliant her dad is." Commit to building his confidence with the baby and yours without.

The best way not to slide back into your current imbalance is to make these standing appointments, and keep them. Pick a weekend morning where he's solo parent; a date night; an out-with-friends (or solo) weeknight.

Happier people make more cooperative partners make better parents.

And, employees. Few people think clearly when they're stressed, so easing home tension can ease his work tension.

And just by getting out with your friends more regularly, you can develop a better understanding of their place in life — and develop expectations of them accordingly. If I gather correctly that you're the first with a baby, then I hope you'll see: A baby is so far from their reality that it's no wonder they haven't "offered or shown any interest in helping"! People new to babies (and a few veterans even) tend to see one as a fine reason to run the other way. It's not personal, it's just … alien.

And it's OK to talk about that. Sympathetically, for best results: "I realize you're not in a baby-friendly place." And, if true: "I doubt I'd be myself if I didn't have one." Think of your friends individually, versus as a group, and identify the most flexible. That friend might be open to coming over, holding the baby, enjoying your company while rolling with small-kid disruptions.

A mom group is a fine idea, too, in place of this or (ideally) in addition to. Nothing beats shared experience, laughs and child care.

Please note that all elements of the solution I'm proposing involve more time with others. Somewhere in our societal evolution, a "stay-at-home" parent stopped being communal and became an island of two, parent and child — and that's so counter to what keeps most of us healthy. Parents — whether working for pay or not — are most effective when serving as the leader of a team of people who care for and about their children, and that includes people who care for and about the parents themselves.

So even if you reject this or that suggestion I've made, or if hiring a caregiver is not workable financially, then make sure whatever steps you do take hinge on easing your isolation. "Island" living is wearing all of you down, and it's not how things need to be.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor at The Washington Post and none as a therapist. The column appears in over 200 newspapers. Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.

Despite the Olympic glow, half of Korea remains in darkness

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 18:18

WASHINGTON — Watching the media fawning over the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Olympics, I recalled a picture that my old boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, kept under the glass of a table in his office — a satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night. At the bottom, awash in light, is the free and democratic South. Meanwhile, the North is in complete darkness, save for a tiny pinprick of light in Pyongyang. The two countries, Rumsfeld would often point out, have the same people and the same natural resources. Yet one is glowing with the light of freedom, innovation and enterprise, while the other is enveloped in the total darkness of human misery.

Keep that darkness in mind while watching the North's Olympic charm offensive over these two weeks. Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un, is not the "North Korean Ivanka." She is the vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, a senior leader of the most brutal repressive totalitarian regime on the face of the Earth. As one defector told The Washington Post last year, "It's like a religion. From birth, you learn about the Kim family, learn that they are gods, that you must be absolutely obedient to the Kim family."

Any perceived disloyalty to the Kim family can result in a visit in the middle of the night from the Bowibu — the North Korean secret police — that could send not just the offender, but three generations of his or her relatives, to a forced labor camp for life. North Korea's system of "re-education" camps, which was recently mapped by satellite by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, is the most extensive in the world. Under three generations of Kims, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have been imprisoned and killed in these camps. Inmates undergo the most brutal forms of torture imaginable, including being hung on hooks over open fires, while pregnant women are tied to trees while their babies are cut out of their bellies.

Yet the camps are simply prisons within a larger prison. The entire country is one giant gulag. Thanks to widespread malnutrition, North Koreans are between 1.2 and 3.1 inches shorter than South Koreans. And thanks to economic mismanagement, 97 percent of the roads are unpaved. According to my American Enterprise Institute colleague, Nicholas Eberstadt, up to a million North Koreans died of starvation in the famine that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. "It was the only time in history that people have starved en masse in an urbanized, literate society during peacetime," he notes. North Korea's people starve while the regime pours its resources into its messianic quest to deploy nuclear missiles capable of reaching and destroying American cities.

Even among the elites there is no safety. Last year, North Korea's vice premier for education was executed for not keeping his posture upright at a public event. Defense Minister Hyong Yong Chol was pounded to death with artillery fire for the crime of falling asleep at a parade. And if you wonder why those North Korean cheerleaders stay in such perfect sync, maybe it's because they saw 11 North Korean musicians lashed to the barrels of anti-aircraft guns which were fired one by one before a crowd of 10,000 spectators. "The musicians just disappeared each time the guns were fired into them," one witness declared, "Their bodies were blown to bits, totally destroyed, blood and bits flying everywhere. And then, after that, military tanks moved in and they ran over the bits on the ground where the remains lay."

This is the brutality that Kim Yo Jong represents. Yet despite this cruel reality, the media could not help fawning over the North Korean delegation. Reuters declared Kim Yo Jong the "winner of diplomatic gold at Olympics." CNN gushed how, "With a smile, a handshake and a warm message in South Korea's presidential guest book, Kim Yo Jong has struck a chord with the public." NBC even tweeted a photo of the North Korean cheerleaders with the heading "This is so satisfying to watch." Seriously? NBC failed to mention that in 2005, 21 cheerleaders were sent to a prison camp for speaking about what they saw in South Korea.

Instead of normalizing the regime, this should be an opportunity to educate the massive Olympic audience about the realities of life in North Korea under the murderous Kim crime family that is pursuing the ability to threaten American cities with nuclear destruction.

Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy and contributes to the PostPartisan blog. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Trump had affair with Playboy model: New Yorker report

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 18:04

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump had an affair with a Playboy model at the same time he was in a relationship with a porn star and the National Enquirer tabloid paid the model $150,000 to prevent her story being made public, the New Yorker reported on Friday.

The magazine’s account of the relationship was based on notes handwritten by the model, Karen McDougal, who was Playboy’s 1998 Playmate of the Year. The New Yorker reported that McDougal confirmed that she had written the notes.

The account had similarities with descriptions that adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, and other women have given of sexual encounters with Trump, including private dinners and offers to buy them real estate.

The magazine reported that American Media Inc, publisher of the National Enquirer, paid McDougal $150,000 in 2016, soon after Trump became the Republican presidential nominee, for exclusive rights to her story, which it never published.

The article noted that American Media head David Pecker has described Trump as a “personal friend.”

It reported that McDougal declined to discuss details of her relationship with Trump for fear of violating her agreement with American Media.

American Media told Reuters in a statement that the suggestion it “engages in any practice that would allow it to hold influence over the President of the United States, while flattering, is laughable.”

The New Yorker reported that American Media said it did not publish McDougal’s story because it did not find it credible.

The payment to McDougal by American Media was originally reported by the Wall Street Journal on November 4, 2016.

Trump allegedly began his affairs with McDougal and Clifford roughly three months after his wife Melania Trump gave birth to his youngest son Barron.

The White House did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The New Yorker reported that a White House spokesperson said in a statement that Trump denies having had an affair with McDougal and called it, “more fake news.”

Trump has denied having an affair with Clifford.

Earlier this week, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he paid Clifford $130,000 from his personal funds during the 2016 presidential election campaign but said he was working alone and it was not a campaign expense.

Other women have accused Trump of making unwanted sexual advances toward them over the years. Trump has denied the accusations.

Reuters has not independently confirmed any of the accusations.

Inquiry found Florida suspect was no danger

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 17:54

PARKLAND, Fla. — A Florida social services agency conducted an in-home investigation of Nikolas Cruz after he exhibited troubling behavior nearly a year and a half before he shot and killed 17 people at his former high school in Florida, a state report shows.

The agency, the Florida Department of Children and Families, had been alerted to posts on Snapchat of Cruz cutting his arms and expressing interest in buying a gun, according to the report. But after visiting and questioning Cruz at his home, the department determined he was at low risk of harming himself or others.

The report is the latest indication that Cruz was repeatedly identified by local and federal agencies as a troubled young man with violent tendencies. The FBI conceded Friday that it had failed to investigate a tip called into a hotline last month by a person close to Cruz identifying him as a gun owner intent on killing people, possibly at a school. The local police were called to Cruz's house many times for disturbances over several years.

Cruz also worried officials at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, who on at least one occasion alerted a mobile crisis unit to get him emergency counseling, according to the state report.

Broward County Public Schools disciplinary records obtained Saturday by The New York Times show Cruz had a long history of fights with teachers, and was frequently accused of using profane language with school staff. He was referred for a "threat assessment" in January 2017, the last entry in his record, two months after the Department of Children and Families closed its separate investigation into Cruz's worrisome behavior.

Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender, whose office is representing Cruz, said the report was further evidence that Cruz needed serious help long before the shooting, but did not get enough of it.

"This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter," Finkelstein said. "If this isn't a person who should have gotten someone's attention, I don't know who is. This was a multisystem failure."

The state agency investigated whether Cruz intended to harm himself in September 2016, when he made the alarming social media posts after an argument with his mother. Cruz, who had depression, was upset over a breakup with a girlfriend, his mother, Lynda Cruz, told investigators. The report does not say who called in the complaint, which was given "immediate" priority.

The report shows that investigators closed the case about two months later. The agency determined that the "final level of risk is low" — an analysis that one of Cruz's counselors at his school felt was premature — because his mother was caring for him, he was enrolled in school and he was receiving counseling. By the time of the shooting, however, Cruz had lost at least two of those elements: His mother was dead, and he had left Stoneman Douglas High School. It is unclear if he was still seeing a counselor.

On Wednesday, Cruz, 19, showed up at Stoneman Douglas and unleashed more than 100 rounds from a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle he purchased last February, five months after the state investigation closed. As of Saturday morning, two Broward hospitals were still treating one patient in critical condition and four in fair condition, according to Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman.

The office of Finkelstein, the public defender, suggested that it had offered prosecutors a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"Everybody knows he is guilty. What we are saying is, let's put him away for life," Finkelstein said. "We are not saying the death penalty is not justified; we are saying, let's not put this community through the trauma and pain of a trial knowing that, three years down the road, one juror could keep him from being put to death."

In Florida, the death penalty requires a decision by a unanimous jury.

Michael J. Satz, the state attorney, said prosecutors would announce their position on the death penalty "at the appropriate time."

"This certainly is the type of case the death penalty was designed for," Satz said in a statement. "This was a highly calculated and premeditated murder of 17 people and the attempted murder of everyone in that school."

Cruz's school disciplinary records show he attended at least six schools, including Cross Creek School, a school for students with emotional problems; Dave Thomas Education Center, an alternative high school for at-risk youths; and an adult education center. He was first identified as developmentally delayed in 2002, when he was 4 years old.

In incidents that began in 2012, when Cruz was 13, he was disciplined for being disobedient and unruly. In 2013, the records suggest, he was counseled for making a false 911 call.

He was suspended several times in the 2016-17 school year, his last year at Stoneman Douglas, and was frequently reported for prolonged and unexplained absences. In September 2016, he was suspended for two days for fighting, only to return and get suspended again nine days after the fight, this time for hurling profane insults.

That same month, the Department of Children and Families began its investigation into Cruz. The investigation, first reported by The Sun-Sentinel of South Florida on Friday, was obtained by The Times on Saturday. The state agency had petitioned a court Friday to make the confidential records public, but the court has yet to do so.

"Based on the information at this time, this individual had no involvement with Florida's child welfare system, including foster care," Jessica Sims, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, said in a statement. Cruz was investigated as an adult, and the investigation appeared aimed at determining whether he was being neglected.

Agency investigators identified Cruz, who had turned 18 a few days earlier, as a "vulnerable adult due to mental illness." In addition to depression, Cruz had autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the report said. He was regularly taking medication for the ADHD. It was unclear whether he was taking anything for the depression, according to the report.

After the argument with his mother, an investigator visited the family's home in Parkland, which was clean, clutter-free and did not present any foul odors. The investigator did not see the cuts on Cruz's arms: He was wearing long sleeves.

"Mr. Cruz stated that he plans to go out and buy a gun," the report states. "It is unknown what he is buying the gun for."

His mother denied that she and her son had argued. She told the investigator that Cruz did not have a gun, though he did have an air gun she would take away from him when he did not follow rules about shooting only at backyard targets.

His mother, who died in November, told investigators she attributed Cruz's behavior to "a breakup with a girl." Lynda Cruz "stated that she and the girl's mother told the kids they had to end the relationship because it was unhealthy for everyone," the report said. Neither the girl nor her mother are named in the report.

A year before, it was discovered that Cruz had a Nazi symbol and a racial slur on his book bag. His mother said that when she confronted her son about it, Cruz purported to not know what the sign meant, and she said the family had never expressed negative sentiments toward people of other races. She made him clean it off his bag.

The report noted that a mental health center had been contacted in the past to detain Cruz under Florida's Baker Act, which allows the state to hospitalize people for several days if they are a threat to themselves or others. The center determined that he was not such a threat. Had Cruz been involuntarily committed, state law could have prohibited him from buying a firearm.

The mental health counselor, from Henderson Behavioral Health, had also visited Cruz at home and had him sign a safety contract.

Despite the assessment, a school counselor remained concerned.

"She said Henderson found him stable enough not to be hospitalized," the Department of Children and Families investigator wrote of the school counselor. "She stated that the concern she and the other staff had was to ensure that the assessment of Henderson was not premature."

Henderson Behavioral Health would not comment Saturday. Neither the mental health counselor nor the school counselor could be reached.

According to the report, investigators also tried to speak to a school police officer, who declined to cooperate.

The Department of Children and Families would have had no way to know if Cruz's behavior became more erratic after losing his mother because the agency is not automatically notified of a caretaker's death, said George Sheldon, a former department secretary.

"It's hard to second-guess because we don't know everything that the department knew at the time, but clearly this young man was showing serious signs of a mental health disorder, something that does not pop up overnight," said Sheldon, who left the department in 2011 and now oversees a nonprofit foster-care agency in Miami. "He was troubled and about to explode. And the results were devastating."


Alaska’s hot-shooting Ruthy Hebard makes mark on NCAA record book

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 17:23

The latest 30 for 30 isn't a sports documentary. It's the shooting streak that put Ruthy Hebard in the NCAA record book Friday night.

Hebard, the can't-miss kid from Fairbanks, set a new standard for perfection by extending her three-game shooting streak to 30 consecutive field goals without a miss for the No. 9 Oregon Ducks.

Hebard, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, connected on all 12 of her shots from the field Friday in ninth-ranked Oregon's 80-74 double-overtime win over USC in Eugene, Oregon.

That performance came five days after she went 12 for 12 to boost Oregon past Washington State 90-79. Two days before that, she went 13 for 15 and hit her final six attempts in a 76-63 win over Washington.

In those three games, the West Valley graduate totaled 86 points on 37 of 39 shooting.

By sinking 30 shots in a row, Hebard broke the previous NCAA record of 28 straight set in 1998 by Southern Utah's Myndee Kay Larsen. The men's record is also 30 straight, set in 2016 by Yale's Brandon Sherrod.

Hebard has made so many baskets in a row that she lost track of her streak Friday against the Trojans. "I actually thought I missed two, but hey, I'll take it," Hebard said in a pac12.com interview.

Hebard does her damage in the paint, whether she's being double-teamed or wide open. She's been perfect in five games this season – she was 10 for 10 against Texas A&M;, 7 for 7 against Eastern Washington, 9 for 9 against Arizona State and 12 for 12 against both Washington State and USC. The 12-for-12 efforts established a single-game record for the Ducks.

A three-time Alaska Player of the Year for the Wolfpack, Hebard averages 18.1 points and 8.6 rebounds and has 40 blocks and 36 steals in 27 games for the Ducks. She has hit 201 of 300 shots from the field for a 67.0 shooting percentage, and she reached the 1,000-point threshhold for career points in the win over Washington State.

The NCAA record for single-season shooting percentage is 72.4, set by Larsen in 1998. The career record is 70.3 percent, set by UConn''s Tamika Williams (1999-2002.

As a freshman, Hebard shot 58.8 percent to rank 15th nationally in shooting accuracy.

She'll try to extend her streak Monday when the Ducks, who are 24-4, travel to Los Angeles for a Pac 12 showdown with seventh-ranked UCLA. That game is scheduled to be aired locally on ESPN2, cable channel 35, at 6 p.m.

ISER: recession hitting downstream industries

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 16:46

A pair of new reports from the University of Alaska Anchorage indicate job losses are slowing but Alaska's recession might not be over and current state spending levels might not be out of line when other factors are considered.

Alaska's recession didn't officially start until sometime in the latter half of 2015, but economic contraction in the state seemed almost inevitable when oil prices began falling about a year earlier in August 2014.

The lag was simply the time it took for oil companies and the State of Alaska to change spending habits and start budgeting for the new circumstances.

Alaska's workforce peaked at about 353,100 workers in June 2015 and in the two subsequent years lost 9,250 jobs, or 2.6 percent of total employment, according to the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research, or ISER.

More specifically, statewide employment declined by more than 6,800 jobs between June 2015 and June 2016 and again fell by more than 2,400 jobs in the following year to June 2017.

The June-to-June tracking helps reflect the impact of state budgets on the economy, as the state fiscal year and its corresponding budget appropriations start July 1.

The state Labor Department estimates Alaska lost about 3,600 jobs overall in 2017.

Unsurprisingly, the initial job losses were predominantly in the closely tied oil and gas, construction and professional and business service sectors. Alaska's construction and professional service industries rely heavily on spending by North Slope oil companies to generate their work.

According to ISER, the natural resource and mining sector — oil and gas — lost 3,260 jobs from June 2015 to June 2016. The following year the industry lost 1,280 jobs.

Overall oil and gas employment was down 26 percent from 2014 to 2017.
Similarly, Alaska contractors shed about 1,650 jobs in the 12 months following June 2015 and another nearly 1,200 jobs the following year.

Professional and business service companies — largely engineering, architecture, law and other consulting firms — shrunk by 1,660 jobs in 2015-16 and 600 in 2016-17, ISER estimates.

The construction and professional service have been hit doubly hard during the recession as state capital spending mirrored the oil price decline. Alaska's oil revenue-driven capital spending boom peaked in fiscal year 2013 at nearly $2.1 billion in unrestricted General Fund revenue.

The litany of projects that money supported also led to ample work for small construction and design firms. By 2016 state-funded capital projects had dried up with an unrestricted General Fund capital budget of just $127 million that year. And though it takes several years for capital appropriations to flow to the projects and through the economy, construction industry analysts say the state spending downturn is now being felt.

The job losses have been sharp, but are moderating, as ISER notes in the pragmatically titled study published Feb. 5, "What Do We Know to Date About the Alaska Recession and the Fiscal Crunch?"

However, study author, ISER Economist and Assistant UAA Professor Mouhcine Guettabi wrote that the relative health of other industries provides evidence the recession is maturing rather than outright ending.

"(The) accommodation and food services, leisure and hospitality and information (sectors) were still positive in 2016 but lost jobs in 2017, while retail trade lost twice as many jobs in 2017 as it did in 2016," Guettabi wrote. "The fact that these few last sectors have lost jobs in 2017 means that as expected, the recession has spread to the sectors most sensitive to a household's finances which have been affected due to the initial round of losses and the uncertainty of what is to come."

The only sectors to add jobs both years were health care and local government. Health care jobs grew by 2,350 over the two-year period tracked by ISER.

Local government employment could represent "considerable future downside" if state community assistance and pass-through funding programs are targeted in additional state budget cuts, according to Guettabi.

The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. is projecting the consumer spending contraction will result in 2018 job losses in the leisure and hospitality and retail sectors worse than they were in 2017 for Anchorage. At the same time, AEDC is forecasting oil and gas employment in the city to be flat this year, with construction and professional and business services losing about 200 jobs each — far fewer than recent years.

AEDC expects the recession at least in Anchorage, which is a bellwether for the state, will peter out late this year or early in 2019 provided a solution to the state's budget deficits is reached this year.

[Anchorage job losses expected to continue this year, but get smaller]

AEDC and numerous other Alaska economists have attributed the recession in large part to the state's ongoing multibillion-dollar budget deficits. Budget cuts have led to a loss of about 1,700 state government jobs in the period measured by ISER, in addition to the private industry impacts of the capital budget reductions.

Lawmakers' inability to reach agreement on how to close the last roughly $2.5 billion of the deficit has curtailed private investment as well because business leaders don't want to take risks until they know what state taxes and other aspects of Alaska's financial lands will look like for years to come, AEDC CEO Bill Popp and others insist.

To that end, Guettabi concludes that based on other studies and previous recessions the uncertainty surrounding the state government's long-term budget situation is costing Alaska somewhere between $200 million and $600 million per year in private investment.

"The decline in spending due to policy uncertainty would indicate that waiting is not a costless option. In fact, the losses due to uncertainty are important and similar in magnitude to the ones the economy would experience due to a tax or further government cuts," Guettabi wrote.

Government spending comparison

Critics of Alaska's government spending routinely argue the state's budget is way higher on a per-capita basis than the rest of the country. Budget defenders rebut that the critics are ignoring Alaska's uniquely high cost of living, to which government is not immune, and providing services to more than 200 communities not accessible by road justifies most of the state's expenses.

Which is it?

ISER's brief report titled, "How Does Alaska's Spending Compare?" published Feb. 9, concludes the answer is somewhere in between.

According to ISER, the state and local governments spent $19,946 per person in 2015. The national average at the time was $8,811. Without the unusual expenses of Permanent Fund dividends and oil tax credits — each unique to Alaska — the spending dropped to $16,363 per Alaskan.

However, when adjusted for cost of living differences, Alaska was down to $12,733 per person. That $12,733 is still well above the national average but seems to fall in line with other oil producing states with small, rural populations; Wyoming spent $14,564 and North Dakota was at $10,845 per resident on an adjusted basis.

The report notes that the state and local spending figures include federal grant money, which Alaska gets at twice the rate of the rest of the country, and is very difficult to parse out.

In 2016, Alaska received federal grants totaling $4,374 per person, compared to the national average of $2,067 per person.

Federal money accounted for $3.4 billion of the state's total $10.3 billion 2018 fiscal year budget.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

Handyman knew how to craft friendships

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 16:38

Originally published Aug. 12, 2012.

Bill “Guillermo” Martinez arrived at my door for the first time looking like a person who’d recently disembarked a cruise ship. He had on a denim shirt, sweater vest and sandals. It wasn’t until I looked closely that I noticed his clothes were covered with a fine spattering of paint.

Handymen from Craigslist had been coming for days. They all had baggage. There was the registered sex offender. And the twitchy guy who wanted to be paid upfront. Guillermo, whom I found through a friend, was of another breed. For starters, he was at least 75 years old, though he didn’t look it. He had a shock of thick white hair, black eyebrows and a crooked smile. His skin was smooth as leather.

I took him to my crawl space. The two of us peered up at the rotting floor beneath my bathroom. I watched him calculate in his head. Could he fix it? Yes he could. He gave me a very good price.

“You don’t have to hire me,” he said as he was leaving. He had a thick Argentinian accent. “But I should tell you that when I read your last column, I had a feeling we would meet.”

Coming from any other handyman, that would have sounded strange. From Guillermo, it seemed perfectly natural, as if we’d both stepped into a magical realist novel. Of course the 75-year-old Argentinian handyman had premonitions. Why wouldn’t he?

Guillermo showed up early the next day, unrolling more drop cloths than necessary. He carried a fastidiously organized array of tools so covered in patina it was as if they’d arrived by time machine. He listened to two types of music while he worked: opera and Argentinian folk.

I’d just bought a 50-year-old duplex. His first job slid into another. And another. He rehabbed ancient windows. He tiled the kitchen. He carefully erased a long crack in my dining room wall.

Details preoccupied him. The distance between screws. Disturbances in paint texture. Jobs took longer than expected. Once I hired him to patch a piece of bathroom ceiling ruined by a leak. I arrived home and found the entire ceiling gone. He stood atop a ladder wearing a flimsy mask, an aria soaring out of his boombox. Flecks of insulation floated down around him, making the air iridescent. I asked what happened to the ceiling.

“It had to be done,” he said like a surgeon discussing an emergency amputation. He didn’t charge me for the work.

He always had a joke to tell. Usually something salty involving a priest and a nun with a long wind up and a punch line that was probably funnier in Spanish. He’d crack himself up so much that, by the end, he could barely get the words out. He also favored a handful of Argentinian idioms that were awkward in English. At least once on every job I would ask him how things were going and he would reply, “I am working like a midget.”

If I was home, he’d tell me stories from the old days. How he became an American citizen decades earlier. Or the time he discovered he was doing masonry for a mobster. Or the man he knew in Argentina who turned out to be a fugitive Nazi. He lectured me frequently. It is important to suffer, because suffering makes you appreciate how good you have it, he’d say. A lucky person loves his work and does it well. Working keeps you young. His own father lived for a century.

Last spring, when he showed up to give me a bid, I was pregnant.

“You look like a rope with a knot tied in it,” he said.

He had another premonition, he told me. It would be his last summer in Alaska. He was closing in on 80.

My dad hired him to build a shed. It soon became all he talked about. He analyzed Dad’s expressions endlessly, trying to gauge whether he was pleased. He obsessed on every phase. The footing. The framing. The placement of the windows. One Sunday, I visited him in Dad’s backyard. His hair was full of sawdust. He kept dreaming about falling from the shed roof, he said. The plywood went soft, he said. He couldn’t find the beams.

He toiled on the project for most of the summer. When it was done, it was truly spectacular, like a house for elegant, miniature people. It had two doors and a dormer with a small window in it. Cedar shingles covered the outside. Sometimes he’d take a slow detour down my dad’s street, he told me, just to admire it through the side yard.

August ticked away. One night, I started to have contractions around dinner time. They let up around 10 p.m. I heard a knock at the door. It was Guillermo. He asked to come in.

He’d been at the gas station the week before, he said, when the gas smell overcame him. Next thing he knew, he was in an ambulance, then an emergency room. Doctors suspected a brain tumor. He was agitated. I tried to calm him down but he kept talking in circles.

“Your son is coming to the world,” Guillermo told me. “I am leaving.”

He was going back to Argentina as soon as possible. This was goodbye.

“Maybe some day you will write about me,” he said. “Maybe you will say I was a man who came to this country, who tried his best to make good.”

I wrote that phrase down on the back of my electric bill. As he left, he slid a business card into my hand. It was another client of his, he said. I should meet her.

The next night, my son was born. Months later, I came across the business card and dialed the number. The woman on the other end of the line was a doctor in town. We decided to put together a care package to send to Argentina. She came by my house with her young son and a handful of children’s drawings.

Guillermo worked for her for years, she said. After the gas station incident, he came to her house, where he had several projects going. He mentioned what happened. She suggested he get an MRI. He didn’t see a doctor, so she ordered it for him. When she looked at the film, she saw a spot on his brain.

After work, she came home and he was painting a wall in her kitchen. She asked if he’d like to sit down. She tried to be gentle as she explained the MRI result. Be frank, he said to her. Was he going to die? It didn’t look good, she told him.

“He just paused and said, ‘Okay.’ He seemed very accepting of it. More so than I had seen with anybody.”

He finished every project he’d started in her house before he left for Argentina, she said.

I took our care package by Taco King, where I found Chava taking orders during the lunch rush. He wiped his hands and wrote a long note. I tucked in some pictures of my son and sent it on its way. Months went by.

Last week I heard from his daughter, Ana, that Guillermo had died. He told her about me, she said. He used the expression “Hacemos buenas migas” or “We make good crumbs.” The idiom is a little awkward when translated into English, she said, but it meant we’d been good friends.

Denali National Park welcomes its first, and last, luxury hotel

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 16:11

One of the most luxurious lodges in Alaska, and one of the most remote anywhere, has just opened on a rocky glacier outcropping, or nunatak, smack in the middle of Denali National Park. From its wraparound windows, the resort's guests-a maximum of 10 at any given time-can watch the aurora borealis dance around the sky or survey an endless horizon of jagged peaks blanketed in untouched snow. The only thing between them and the nearest summit is a sheer vertical rock wall that's twice the height of Dubai's Burj Khalifa skyscraper.

It took more than a decade to secure the final permits to build Sheldon Chalet. Construction took three additional years. In the time it takes to get there from Los Angeles, you could almost fly to Tokyo: Arrival includes a six-hour flight to Anchorage, a two-hour drive to the tiny but charming town of Talkeetna, and an hour-long helicopter ride to Don Sheldon Amphitheater, a 35-square-mile valley carved by glacial ice in the shadow of North America's tallest mountain.

All that is a drop in the bucket compared to the 50 years of family history that make Sheldon Chalet so special for Alaska.

Robert Sheldon, who built Sheldon Chalet with the help of his wife, Marne, and sister Kate, lost his father, Don-a trailblazing Alaskan pilot-when he was just 4: "I only have a couple of memories with my father, and the earliest one was taking off from the village strip in Talkeetna on a very small airplane, zooming through the puffy white clouds."

Bob Reeve, Robert's maternal grandfather, was also a pilot; like Don Sheldon, he made his name as an Alaskan pioneer.

[A pilot's love for the mountains built a house on Denali. Now it's at the center of a family dispute.]

Reeve landed in Valdez in 1932, 27 years before Alaska was declared the 49th U.S. state. He used his experience charting routes for Pan Am throughout South America to create Reeve Aleutian Airlines, a leading-edge Alaska carrier that connected tiny towns across the territory with their counterparts across the Bering Sea. He also built a series of remote mountain huts-some of the state's first tourism infrastructure.

Don Sheldon, meanwhile, came from a farming family in Ohio, but his son says he "wanted to go for the easier life of hunting and trapping in Alaska." As the story goes, "He very quickly learned that, in Alaska, you could fly an hour or walk a week." He'd eventually survey the region with photographer and cartographer Brad Washburn, a contemporary of Ansel Adams. This meant identifying places where planes could land amid the jagged peaks, building landing strips, and even developing specialized aircraft for the job.

"All the flying that happens around Denali National Park today can be traced back to his efforts," Marne Sheldon said. "It's what has allowed for present-day tourism in Alaska."

When Don Sheldon died in 1975, the governments of Alaska and the United States considered naming a mountain in the Alaska Range for him. It wasn't enough, they decided, opting instead to designate a 35-square-mile amphitheater filled with dozens of peaks.

The primary landing strip in Denali National Park-built by the elder Sheldon to facilitate explorations with Washburn-is a half-mile from Sheldon Chalet. "That's the provenance of the interest in this area," explained Marne Sheldon, who ran point on logistics as the hotel took shape. Everything from the drawer pulls to the heating system had to be flown to that landing strip by helicopter or fixed-wing plane, and the family is among the lucky few who have special dispensation to fly there, thanks to their long history in the area.

That history also explains how Sheldons earned commercial rights in such a protected place. Back in the 1950s, well before Denali was a national park, the family scooped up five acres of land under the Homestead Act; it included the glacial outcropping that would be called Sheldon Nunatak. Their final land permit, though, got caught in the cross hairs of the state's ratification-it took until 1971, the year Robert was born, to come through.

Don Sheldon and his wife, Roberta, started small, with a basic operation for passionate mountaineers and explorers. Don had bigger plans but died before he could execute them. Everything the younger Sheldons knew of their parents' onetime aspirations came from a National Geographic television clip from the '70s in which he referenced a broader vision for tourism on the nunatak, as well as a prototype travel brochure for "Mountain House #1."

Roberta Sheldon never spoke again of the dreams she had shared with her husband; instead, she poured her affection into preserving the small-town charm of her adopted home, Talkeetna, roughly one hour outside Denali.

"We were sorting through a warehouse full of stuff in Talkeetna after Roberta died in 2014," Marne Sheldon recalled, "when I came across an odd roll of paper." Inside were decades-old blueprints for a hexagonal structure on Sheldon Nunatak: Mountain House #1.

Sheldon Glacier is an upgraded vision of that decades-old vision. Guests arrive via helicopter-a ride that takes them zooming through narrow slots in the surrounding canyons-and are greeted with Champagne and Alaska seafood hors d'oeuvres. "It's extravaganza upon arrival," Marne Sheldon said. "One of my favorite things is seeing people's faces when they land-their brains can't quite comprehend what their eyes are seeing. They need a few breaths to take it all in."

Inside is a living room called the Commons, anchored by a special Finnish fireplace that doubles as a high-efficiency, clean-combustion heating system. A family-style dining space is built around a beautiful birchwood table handcrafted in Talkeetna. The rooms are sparsely designed, with faux fur throws and panoramic views, to keep guests' focus squarely on the beauty outdoors. The Sheldons want the property to be carbon-neutral and believe they're close to accomplishing this, thanks to generous solar panels and a runoff-powered water supply.

"It's simple but elegant," Marne Sheldon said. "Pretty much everything was challenging" when it came to building the state's first luxury highland lodge. Guests are encouraged (but not required) to travel to Sheldon Chalet in groups or via buyouts, as three bathrooms must serve five bedrooms-a concession that several high-end hotels in Alaska have made because of the difficulty of building larger structures in such extreme environs. "The simple things in life, like running water, are actually quite luxurious when you're 6,000 feet up on a glacier," she said.

During aurora season, mid-September through early March, days are spent "flightseeing" around the national park, snowshoeing, ski touring, and visiting remote hot springs. (You can also build an igloo.) During "Adventure Season," from early March through mid-July, additional thrills include rappelling, glacier trekking, visiting a mastodon boneyard and fishing.

Evenings can include warm-ups in the rooftop sauna, stargazing sessions and elegant meals by Alaskan chef Dave Thorne, who used to cook for Justin Timberlake, Keith Urban, and Kings of Leon when they were on tour. Dishes such as barbecued Alaskan oysters with roasted poblano and pepita chutney are more often paired with Anchorage Brewing Co. beers than with big California reds.

"My mom and dad were people worth remembering, but their desire for this property had nothing to do with their own legacy. They just wanted other people to experience this place that's majestic beyond anything else on the planet," Robert Sheldon said.

He's also in it for the big picture. "Alaska has been in a recession for four years, but tourism is a bright spot," he said. "Hopefully, this shows that we can still do great things for the state of Alaska."

– Nightly rates from $2,300 per person include accommodations, food and beverages, and helicopter transfers.

Olympic gold medalist Ester Ledecka is the fastest snowboarder on two skis. Wait, what?

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 15:41

BUKPEONG, South Korea – We are trained to watch for the reaction, and when an Olympic champion stops herself at the bottom of a ski hill, we have seen them all. Both hands to the helmet. Doubled over at the waist. Ski poles raised, and sometimes twirled. Jot them down and report it out, because we will equate whatever action transpires with pure, unadulterated joy.

What, then, to make of an athlete named Ester Ledecka, a 22-year-old Czech woman who stopped herself Saturday at the base of the hill at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre? The clock showed that she had taken the lead in the Olympic super-G, besting Austrian star Anna Veith by one one-hundredth of a second. The crowd, disbelieving, yelled and stared at Ledecka, encouraging her to emote.

Here's the thing: She is a snowboarder by trade. She is here to compete in the parallel giant slalom on one plank, not two. This result, beating Lindsey Vonn and Tina Weirather and Lara Gut and the best skiers in the world was not possible. So Ledecka did . . . nothing.

"I was looking at the board and I thought, 'Are they going to put a couple more seconds up there?'" Ledecka said afterward. "And I was just waiting and watching and waiting until they would change the time. And nothing was happening, and everybody were screaming. I was looking. Now, it's weird."

Welcome to the Olympics, where on a beautiful winter day, the autotrons of the Alpine skiing world can be upstaged – flat-out beaten, really – by a remarkable athlete who splits her time between two worlds that rarely overlap. If she sticks to the original plan to compete in the parallel giant slalom, which begins Thursday, she will become the first person to compete in both skiing and snowboarding at the Olympics.

Not just the same Olympics. Any Olympics.

"It takes a lot of effort to become a professional skier," said Justin Reiter, an American who represented the United States in snowboarding four years ago in Sochi and now serves as Ledecka's snowboard coach. "It takes a lot of effort to become a professional snowboarder. And she does both with ease."

Let's put this plainly: This is absurd. It can't happen. That Ledecka is even here trying to compete in these two sports – and to be sure, they are vastly different – is beyond unlikely. People put their lives into pursuing the Olympics in one or the other. There's just not time – not in the day, not in a month, not in a calendar year – to do both.

"All I can say is I wish I had as much athleticism as she does to be able to win at two sports in the same Olympics, because I'm only good at one sport, and that's ski racing," said Vonn, the Olympic gold medalist who tied for sixth Saturday. "So the fact that she's able to beat all of us and be a snowboarder is pretty darn impressive. At the Olympics, a lot of weird stuff happens."

But this isn't weird for one day in one event. This is weird, period. Weird, and beautiful.

[Thirty-six minutes after the gold medal was won, the Olympics happened]

"I love this surprise that sport can provide," said Italian Sofia Goggia, another contender.

So let's unpack how this can happen, both for a career and for the day, because there may not be a more unlikely outcome at these Pyeongchang Games. If there is, I hope I'm there, because it'll make North Carolina State over Houston and Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson and the 1980 U.S. hockey team over the Russians seem quaint.

For starters, it's exceedingly difficult to overstate the difference between snowboarding and skiing – in function, for sure, but in style and mind-set and upbringing as well. Ledecka was asked about the overlap between those worlds, and she mustered: "It's down a hill, both of them." People laughed. But really, that's the extent of it.

And Ledecka started her career as a snowboarder, plain and simple. She is accomplished in that area – twice a gold medalist at the world championships – and is considered a medal contender in snowboarding here. Reiter, her snowboard coach, trains with her in Europe when she's working on snowboarding, then hands her off to a pair of ski coaches when she floats into that world.

Managing one foot in each of two worlds involves managing a schedule and managing energy. But Reiter also believes Ledecka's mind is suited for both.

"If you give her the most mundane task, she won't step away from it until she's mastered it," Reiter said. "The way she's processing things is very slow, and then it builds to race speed. And once it's locked, it's completely automatized. She's smarter and more creative than a robot, but she can replicate moves over and over again far better than I've ever seen anyone."

And yet, skiing at the highest level is a relatively new development. She has, in her career, 19 World Cup starts. Her one top-10 finish came in December, seventh in a downhill at Lake Louise, Canada. In super-G – which has more turns than downhill, but still generates high speeds – she had never finished higher than 19th.

And then, this? Yeah, sure, Ledecka has occasionally skied fast in training runs, her competitors said. That's fine. It doesn't change the fact that this has to be one of the greatest upsets in the history of Olympic skiing. Or the Olympics, period.

The way the Alpine fields are set, the top 20 skiers in the world slot into the first 20 spots. Veith, who won gold in super-G four years ago in Sochi, had already celebrated an apparent victory by the time Ledecka took the hill, the 26th starter.

When Ledecka came to each split – where the skiers are measured in how they relate to the leader's run – the numbers were displayed on the giant scoreboard at the foot of the hill. If they're behind, the scoreboard shows red. If they're ahead, it shows green.

Wait. Ledecka was outpacing Veith?

"When you see green lights," Reiter said, "your heart starts to race."

At the finish, there was Ledecka's time: 1:21.11 seconds. Veith had skied in 1:21.12.

Seriously?

"For me, the first reaction was like, 'Is this possible?'" Veith said. "And then, 'Yes, it is.'"

As Ledecka stared, officials never added seconds to her time. She stared some more. Still 1:21.11. It meant one thing, and that was gold.

When Ledecka arrived at her post-race news conference, mandatory for medal winners, she declined to take off her ski goggles.

"I was not as prepared as the other girls that I would be at the ceremony," she said, "and I don't have no makeup."

That's how, on a perfect Saturday on a mountain in South Korea, a snowboarder won a gold medal in skiing at the Olympics. Given that bit of ridiculousness, we have little choice but to tune in to the parallel giant slalom finals in a week. Because over there, they'll certainly be asking, "Does this skier really think she's going to beat all of us?"

In an Anchorage professor’s letters to his family, the reality of racism is revealed

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 14:39

We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet: Letters to my Filipino-Athabascan Family

E.J.R. David; State University of New York Press; 200 pages; 2018; $24.95

Years ago when my children were young, my wife was out of town for spring break. Rather than stay home, I packed them off to Seattle to see my family. I remember the trip well, but not so much the flight. We walked through check-in and security without a hitch. I gave it no further thought.

Anchorage author E.J.R. David has a different memory. On a return trip from Bozeman, Montana, to Anchorage with his son, he was required at check-in to go back and get his wife, who was remaining behind for a few days, and have her confirm the child was his.

"On the one hand, I'm glad they made sure that my child — any child — is protected from being abducted," he writes in his new book "We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet." "On the other hand, however, I wonder if they ask every adult traveling with a child that same question, and if they make every adult traveling with a child go back and get consent and confirmation from the other parent."

The answer is no, and it matters because it addresses the heart of his book's subject matter. I walked right through one of the nation's busiest airports with two kids aged six and eight and headed to the middle of Alaska without question. The difference is, I'm white and born in America, while David came to this country from the Philippines as a teenager. We're both citizens with no criminal records, but he has darker skin and an accent. Undoubtedly there are white men who have been treated the way David was, but with a scruffy beard and two kids in tow, I was given a free pass.

David attended high school in Utqiagvik and is now married to a woman of Athabascan heritage. "Trembling" is a collection of letters he wrote to his wife and three children addressing his experiences as a person of color and his concerns for them living in a country where racism remains pervasive and they will continue to be singled out in subtle ways like that mentioned above.

This is an intensely personal book and one that will provoke intensely personal responses from its readers. David, a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage, has specialized in studying the intergenerational impacts on indigenous peoples who have been colonized. Born in a country that was once held by the United States and married to an Alaska Native woman, he sits at the intersection of his own research, and here turns his attention to how the issues he studies have made him who he is.

In an approach akin to the African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates' 2015 book "Between the World and Me," written as a letter to his son about the struggles of growing up black and never fully part of the dominant culture, David is baring his soul to his family and the public.

He explores the history of America's occupation of the Philippines, which was not the benevolent act our history books paint it as, and discusses how it left his people with an ingrained sense of inferiority that he still carries long after the island nation was granted its freedom. He likens the Filipino experience to Native Americans, many of whom feel that they are still living under occupation.

David writes about the many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that minorities are shown their second-class status in this country, indignities in daily life that white people don't face. It is because we don't directly experience these things that many white people simply fail to recognize the differences in how we are treated, the story of the airplane flights above being a perfect example.

In the letters to his children he explores the pitfalls that lie ahead for them, dangers he knows on an academic level from having access to the research data. As both Filipino-Americans and Alaska Natives, his children fall into two groups that experience lower-than-average wages, higher likelihood of incarceration, higher likelihood of being shot by the police, lower life expectancy, higher likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors with drugs, alcohol and gangs, higher possibility of being sexual abuse victims … the list goes on.

David expresses considerable hopelessness in this book. It's difficult reading for those of us who are white, and easy to dismiss with the canard that we live in a post-racial society. But most of these letters were written under the cloud of the 2016 presidential race. Early in the book David states what isn't generally admitted in polite company: "The Republican front runner to become the next president of our country is winning because of — again, because of and not in spite of — his explicitly racist and bigoted views against immigrants, against people who are like me."

Given an abundance of candidates — some of them quite qualified — the Republican Party and then the country itself chose to replace its first African-American president with the only candidate who took openly racist positions. In a postscript, penned after the election, David writes, "What scares me is that bigotry seems to be the norm instead of an exception."

Still, in the closing pages of this emotionally wrenching work by a husband and father who knows his family will always face hurdles in America owing solely to their mixed ethnicity, he somehow still finds reason for hope, and finds it in his children, telling them:

"I wanted you to live in this world because I still see that our Peoples have plenty to contribute to heal this world, and the contributions and healing can come through you. I wanted so badly for you to be here in this world despite its ugliness, because deep down, I still believe that this world has a chance."

Yeah, the U.S. women’s XC ski relay finish was a disappointment. But don’t hold it against them.

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 14:33

Like a bunch of my friends around Anchorage, I struggled to stay conscious until 12:30 a.m. Saturday, waiting for the American women to compete in the cross-country skiing relay race at the Olympics.

It's been 42 years since the U.S. won its last, and only, Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. A lot of us thought that could change early Saturday, and some even expected it.

Instead — spoiler alert — the Americans fell out of contention 10 minutes into the hour-long race. I fell asleep, waking up half an hour later as Norway and Sweden duked it out on the homestretch for gold. The U.S. women finished fifth.

The result was a disappointment, not just for the American fans who watched but for the four athletes themselves. Sophie Caldwell, whose shaky first leg left the U.S. far behind the leaders, stood with tears in her eyes during an interview with her teammates afterward, Minnesota's Star Tribune newspaper reported.

The Olympics aren't over and the Americans' cross-country skiing hopes aren't completely extinguished: the women still have what might be their best shot at a medal in Wednesday's team sprint.

But if you watch that race on television, or read about afterwards, it's worth keeping in mind the increasingly blurry line between hopes and expectations.

Americans are conditioned to winning at the Olympics.

[Girdwood's Keegan Messing wraps up his Olympics with a 12th-place finish — and a smile]

We won the most medals at the 2016 and 2012 summer games, and trailed only hosts Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The relentless Olympic hype also creates a sense of inevitability. Days before the relay, the U.S. women sat down with Katie Couric — Katie Couric! — who, between highlights of podium finishes, promised to put glitter on her cheeks in solidarity with the team.

"Cross-country skier Jessie Diggins is 'sparkly.' She also is poised to break a long Olympic drought," read one headline in the Washington Post.

Okay, we get it: the Americans actually have a chance at their first cross-country skiing medal in decades. But consider their competition in Saturday morning's relay.

Norway, the winners, had won 107 cross-country skiing medals before the start of this year's games. Sweden had 74. Russia, which got third Saturday, had 110, including the medals from the Soviet Union era.

They know how to do this — how to deliver when the pressure is on.

Diggins, in her three individual races, has placed fifth, fifth and sixth. The women who beat her, collectively, had already won 17 medals before the start of this year's games.

Yes, the U.S. has racked up impressive results and podium finishes over the past few years, and its women's cross-country ski team is arguably the best it's ever been.

But it's a big step to go from occasionally cracking the top three on the international circuit to winning the races that everyone else — like the Norwegians, Russians and Swedes — has circled on their calendars for the past four years.

Full disclosure: I used to report on cross-country skiing and I've known these women for a long time. They work hard. I like them.

But after nearly a decade of writing about the sport, I've come to appreciate how cross-country skiing ultimately doesn't bend to winning personalities or neat storylines.

In 2010, I was in Vancouver covering the Olympics there. I was 22 years old. My editor and I were both convinced that Kris Freeman, a longtime American racer, was going to medal in the men's individual race.

Freeman had overcome diabetes and trained as hard as anyone that we knew. He was deserving. How could he not come home from that race with a medal?

The answer was straightforward: Because 58 other men that day skied faster than he did.

We should be excited that the American women, including a big crop of Alaskans, have risen to the top echelon of their sport. And it's okay to hope for some medals — otherwise, what's the point of watching?

But until those medals start coming, it's probably still early to start expecting them.

In the meantime, you can do what the athletes do themselves: appreciate the effort, excitement and fun that comes with shooting for the podium.

"Chasing the dream, believing wholeheartedly, and giving all your best is something I'll cherish forever," one of the relay team members, Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen, wrote after the race Saturday. "This team is so much larger than a result, a medal, or a number."

Nathaniel Herz is an Anchorage Daily News reporter. He covered cross-country skiing at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. before joining the ADN, he reported for fasterskier.com

Optimism for 90-day Alaska legislative session begins to fade

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 14:11

The optimism that this year would be different than the previous three is starting to wear off just four weeks into the legislative session.

Most legislators are still saying, at least publicly, that they are confident this year's work can be done in 90 days and not drag into June or July as has become the norm during the continuous political battle over how to fix the state's multibillion-dollar deficits.

However, Democrat House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon said he is predicting more of the same ahead given unwavering opposition from Senate Republicans to his caucus' proposed budget fixes.

"I see more gridlock and I see more stalemate coming up," Edgmon said during a Feb. 13 press briefing.

While he said he also started the session with optimism that the Legislature would reach a long-term fiscal plan in its allotted time, his pessimistic comment was in response to what came out of a Senate Majority press conference a day earlier.

Republican Senate President Pete Kelly said Feb. 12 that he would like to see the House Majority's tax proposals "in the garbage can." During a January talk in Anchorage with Edgmon about their respective priorities before the start of the session Kelly said the talk of a broad-based tax would be met with "mocking laughter" from Senate leaders.

For his part, Edgmon said the House Majority is willing to compromise and discuss the appropriate amount of future Permanent Fund dividends, government service levels and a draw from the Permanent Fund earnings to pay for government.

He said well before the session that the House coalition would not again push for an income tax this year after the Senate wasted little time voting down the tax the House passed last session.

"I think to draw those sharp lines sand this early in the session does not lend to compromise," Edgmon added.

Other prominent officials in the capitol have said they do not see a quick resolution to the session as each side's stance on how to resolve the deficit has not materially changed.

Republicans have continued stressing that further budget cuts and maximizing a sustainable draw from the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund could balance the state's finances without the need for a personal income tax.

According to Kelly, lawmakers need to start changing their rhetoric away from emphasizing a fiscal crisis because the state now has enough revenue to close the budget gap in a few years.

"Now with oil prices and production we're in the grasp of a balanced budget," he said.

Republican Majority Leader Sen. Peter Micciche said based on Gov. Bill Walker's budget proposal for a roughly $4.6 billion unrestricted General Fund budget, the Legislature could get within $300 million of balancing the budget this year based on higher than projected oil prices and production that is inching upwards as well.

"With just a buck or two (of higher oil prices) in the next couple years we'll be balanced," Micciche said.

His assertions also presume the Senate-passed version of Senate Bill 26, which would set a 5.25 percent of market value, or POMV, draw from the Earnings Reserve for three years and drop the draw to 5 percent thereafter.

However, the governor's budget does not include funding for the state's annual oil and gas tax credit obligation because his administration is proposing to sell bonds to fully pay off the credits in an $800 million lump sum now that the program has ended.

Without passing the credit-bonding legislation or finding some other resolution, the Legislature will likely be forced to add at least $206 million — the statutory minimum formula payment — to the budget.

Micciche has also said the Department of Health and Social Services needs to focus on Medicaid utilization as a means to substantively curb the state's ever-growing health care bill.

Homer Rep. Paul Seaton, Finance co-chair and one of three Republicans caucusing with the Democrat-led House Majority, acknowledged Feb. 13 that there is going to be a draw from the Earnings Reserve this year, as the $2.4 billion in the state's savings accounts are not likely to cover the deficit alone.

Additionally, administration and nonpartisan Legislative Finance officials insist the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which will have approximately $2.1 billion at the start of next fiscal year, should always hold at least $1 billion, ideally more, to cover expenses in an emergency and for cash flow management.

Democrats have noted future budgets would have to increase by more than $100 million per year to keep up with inflation at current service levels while Senate leaders insist the Legislature can beat inflation with further cuts.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, introduced legislation to increase the key base student allocation formula by $100 per student Feb. 9. He contends K-12 education has lost $90 million of funding since 2015 through cuts and the impacts of inflation.

A Carnival cruise in the South Pacific descended into a violent mess

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 13:05

A Carnival cruise devolved into near-anarchy during its 10 days in the South Pacific, with some passengers locking themselves inside their cabins, others kicked off the ship and security guards brawling with vacationers in a bare-knuckles melee.

Carnival said it would investigate what happened after a video surfaced, showing the guards punching, kicking and threatening passengers during the worst of the fighting Friday. But the cruise line is already blaming "a large family group" for instigating the violence, which some passengers said escalated for days before security could contain it.

The trouble started after the Carnival Legend, which can carry more than 2,000 people, set sail from Melbourne to New Caledonia last week – though there are disputes of exactly when and why it all began.

"This is all over a thong [flip-flop sandal] – not a foot, a thong being stepped on," a passenger told the radio station 3AW, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The thong's trampler apologized, the man said, but its owner threatened retaliation, and the groups began to feud.

Others, however, said a single family of about two dozen people seemed intent on provoking conflicts – spitting in the pool, screaming in the smoking area and fighting with passengers and staff over any provocation.

"They were looking for trouble from the minute they got on the ship," Kellie Peterson told 3AW. "Anyone and everything. They even picked on a 16-year-old boy because they thought he looked at them."

After several days at sea, chaos broke out on the pool deck. It's not clear what caused the dispute, though one passenger told News.com.au that it went on for 45 minutes, some of which was recorded. Children watched from behind a row of sun chairs as dozens of adults shouted on the far end of the deck. A man got into a brief shoving match with a uniformed staff member – a prelude of the melee to come.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Carnival confirmed "several instances [of] extremely unruly behavior" on the ship.

Some passengers described it more as a state of constant fear.

Peterson told 3AW that security warned her, her husband and their three young children not to travel the decks alone. Lisa Bolitho said she and her son simply locked themselves inside their cabin, according to the Australian Associated Press.

"We've all made several complaints, saying kids were scared," Bolitho said. "The captain said, 'What do you want me to do about it – throw them overboard?' "

The skirmishes escalated for several days at sea, passengers said, until a massive brawl broke out in the ship's nightclub early Friday morning.

As on the pool deck, it's unclear what provoked it. Carnival said the aggressive family group "physically attacked other guests."

As seen in one passenger's video, a man in a blue T-shirt pins a man in tangerine shorts to the bar floor while people around them scream and jostle. A woman throws herself on top of the pair, at which point several black-shirted security guards begin to punch and kick the people on the floor.

While some passengers defended the guards' actions, others said they behaved like thugs. Guards waved broken bottles at passengers to intimidate them, Michael Haddara told the Herald, and "put handcuffs around their hands, as knuckle dusters."

"No camera!" a staff member screamed at a man taking video of the nightclub brawl, after another worker tried to swat the camera from his hand.

Before the video ends, a security guard balls his fist and draws his arm back as if to punch a woman in the face, but he lowers his fist at the last moment.

"The actions seen on the video by our security team are not in line with our Carnival values and policies," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "We are conducting a full investigation and will take appropriate corrective action as necessary."

News.com.au published photos it said came from the fight's aftermath, showing a man bruised and bloodied across his face and back. David Barkho, who was not on the ship, said his son called him from the nightclub at 1 a.m., as people lay bleeding around him.

"He said, 'Please Dad, please, call the federal police,' " Barkho told 3AW. "I could hear a lot of screaming, crying in the background."

The police were, in fact, called to meet the ship off the coast of Eden, a couple hundred miles east of Melbourne.

Until the ship docked, 9News reported, several aggressive passengers were locked in their cabins in a form of house arrest. Other passengers complained of a crackdown and said guards confiscated phones and deleted videos of the violence.

At Eden on Friday, police boarded to remove 23 people, the Australian Associated Press reported – all apparently members of the same family group. Some had been ordered removed; others left voluntarily. No one was immediately charged, though Carnival said it's cooperating with authorities in their investigation.

Other passengers gathered on the Legend's deck, booing and clapping as the family was loaded into a police boat. One of them appeared to be wearing a head bandage, and all looked defiant.

"Losers!" a woman cried out from the ship. A man on the police boat raised a middle finger in response.

On Saturday, Carnival said, the Legend docked back in Melbourne, 10 days after leaving port.

"We sincerely regret that the unruly conduct and actions of the passengers removed from the ship may have prevented other guests from fully enjoying their cruise," read the company's statement, which did not go into details about the incident.

As a goodwill gesture, Carnival said, passengers who made it through the cruise have been offered a 25-percent-off coupon for their next one.

Trump’s top security adviser says Russian meddling is ‘incontrovertible’

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 12:41

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Saturday that evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election was "now really incontrovertible" after indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three companies.

Speaking at an international security conference in Munich, Germany, McMaster lent credence to a widening scandal that President Donald Trump has routinely dismissed as a hoax.

"The evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain," McMaster said. The U.S. was becoming "more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion," he said.

The indictment announced Friday describes a vast, secret, social-media campaign financed by a Russian entrepreneur with ties to President Vladimir Putin that worked to harm Hillary Clinton's candidacy and promote Trump.

These are the first criminal charges related to election meddling brought in the Mueller investigation. Deputy Attorney General Gen. Rod Rosenstein said there was no allegation in the indictment of an American citizen participating willingly in the scheme.

In a Twitter post, Trump claimed that the charges prove his campaign "did nothing wrong."

At the same Munich meeting with McMaster on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the accusations against his countrymen as "just blabber."

Marie Drake Planetarium

Juneau Events - Sat, 2018-02-17 12:12

‘From Sojourner to Curiosity -- 20 Years on Mars’ .. Juneau’s Planetarium will illuminate
what the rovers - Spirit, Curiosity and Opportunity – have to tell us about Mars.
The exploration of Mars is the study of Mars by spacecraft. Probes from Earth, beginning
in the late twentieth century, have yielded great increases in knowledge about Martian geology,
dynamics and the possibility of Martian life. Followed by ‘The Sky Tonight’ on the Spitz projector.
Volunteer meeting and training at 6pm...

Cost: Free Date: Tuesday, February 27, 2018 - 19:00Website: http://mariedrakeplanetarium.org Type:  Tags:  Age Suitability : 

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