Feed aggregator

Space weather: Havoc caused by the sun

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 12:07

Space weather affects snowplow drivers carving through Thompson Pass in a whiteout, Iowa farmers dropping seeds of corn and wedding planners who release white doves during the ceremony.

These and other customers subscribe to daily forecasts from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Rodney Viereck works there. He and his teammates monitor eruptions on the sun, especially those spat in our direction and covering those 93 million miles in as fast as eight minutes. Viereck is sort of a weatherman of deep space, trying to predict what happens in the airless infinity beyond the 30-mile shell of our atmosphere.

Viereck spoke about his job recently in his hometown of Fairbanks. His colleagues in Boulder use computer models, readings of Earth's magnetism and spacecraft one million miles away to monitor blasts of solar radiation. They send out warnings to airline pilots, hopeful aurora viewers and managers of electrical grids.

Part of the National Weather Service, the Space Weather Prediction Center is also staffed 24 hours a day. Researchers get busy when the sun erupts a fountain of particles and the explosion happens to be aimed at Earth. They pay special attention to solar flares, blasts of protons and other forms of geomagnetic storms.

The aurora is a good tracker of solar unrest. When frenetic particles shot from the sun tickle the gases in the ionosphere from 60 to 100 miles over our heads, they glow aquamarine. Those same energetic specks flood the ionosphere, sometimes disabling the stable layer off which high-frequency radio signals bounce.

When a big solar storm happens, HF radios don't work. Airline pilots use HF radio when flying over the North Pole, where there are no ground stations for line-of-sight operation. All the major airlines subscribe to forecasts from the Space Weather Prediction Center. When pilots know a big solar storm is predicted, they sometimes alter their routes.

Solar storms can knock Global Positioning System satellites offline. Some farmers use precision GPS in their tractors; it enables them to track a straight line through plowed fields and drop a seed within an inch of where they want it, then deliver water and fertilize to that exact spot.

Snowplow drivers in places like Thompson Pass use GPS to keep them on the road when the world is white on white. And that wedding planner subscribes to solar storm warnings to make sure his doves, which navigate in part using the Earth's magnetism, will return after they flap away.

The "most critical" users of the center's free forecasts are power grid managers, Viereck said. Bursts from the sun soak power lines with induced current. Since most power grids operate at their capacity, managers dial down their output when they know a large solar storm is coming.

"Every single power grid across the country is a customer," Viereck said.

Giant solar storms have not happened often, but one in March 1989 shut down Hydro-Quebec's electricity transmission system, leaving six million people in the dark for nine hours. People in Texas and Florida saw red aurora during that event.

Viereck mentioned the "Carrington Event" of 1859, when people in Cuba saw the aurora and those in Queensland, Australia, saw its mirror image. Telegraph systems around the world failed. Some equipment administered a mild shock to operators with their fingers on the controls.

If a similar storm were to strike Earth today, "everything across the U.S. could be affected," Viereck said. A solar storm of similar size to the Carrington Event just missed our planet in 2012.

Viereck, who is 59, experienced many aurora nights as a boy growing up in Fairbanks, but he chose his career because he was good at math and physics and it seemed a natural path. In February 2018, he returned to Fairbanks to sell his mother's house, cabin and car. She died in October 2017.

Viereck's mother, Teri, had a variety of interests represented by two books she authored and co-authored: "Edible Plants of Alaska" and "Meditation: The Complete Guide." Rodney's late father Les was a respected ecologist who studied and protested the proposed creation of a northern Alaska harbor using nuclear bombs as excavators. He was the author of "Alaska Trees and Shrubs."

When it was time to think about a career, Rodney looked above the trees. Admiring the people and camaraderie at UAF's Geophysical Institute, he took a summer job there as a teenager, cataloging video from aurora-watching all-sky cameras.

He liked that job. He soon became a graduate student and earned a degree in space physics. He remembers the seven years at the Geophysical Institute — from his first scientific job until the printing of his Ph.D. — as some of the best of his life.

The Geophysical Institute exists in large part because of the aurora. In 1946, members of Congress voted to establish a "geophysical station" at a high-latitude site, because something associated with the aurora was interfering with high-frequency radio signals.

Space weather forecasting is about 50 years behind terrestrial weather forecasting, Viereck said. Right now, space-weather models do slightly better than human forecasters, just like it was when models were introduced a few decades ago as a tool for predicting snowstorms and heat waves.

Mass shootings have started to look, sound and feel the same – and that’s a problem

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 11:56

Remove the captions from the photos and put the images in front of anyone in the United States, and they will know instantly what they are looking at.

The police cruisers and yellow tape tell you that it is a crime scene; other details are the tip-off that it is a uniquely American kind. Often, there will be photographs or footage captured from above, a cue that some terrible event has spurred producers to scramble their live news helicopters. We will see a building in the frame, at first eerily still. Then pours forth a line of shaken workers, or moviegoers, or shoppers, or small children, marched single-file, hands held high or on the shoulders of the person in front of them, scared to death but at this moment focused on showing that they are not the gunman who has just opened fire inside.

Such a scene is particularly familiar to us: We work for a nonprofit news organization that should not need to exist, one whose sole job is to report on guns and gun violence in the United States. Early on — around the seventh of the 25 major active shooter incidents that our site, the Trace, has covered during its 2 1/2 years in operation — it struck us that the events have an almost formal visual language. "Mass shootings are a public health epidemic whose ubiquity has begun to produce its own aesthetic" is how the writer Alice Gregory put it in an essay we published after a husband and wife, armed like paramilitaries, murdered 14 people at an office holiday party in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015.

You can go back 30 years and find examples of the genre that, but for the clothes and the hairstyles, could have been taken this week. There is a photo from the aftermath of the January 1989 massacre in Stockton, California, in which a man wielding an AK-47 sprayed at least 107 rounds on the children and teachers assembled on an elementary school playground. The image could be from Jonesboro, Arkansas, in March 1998 or Marysville, Washington, in October 2014, or Marshall County, Kentucky, last month. Or from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. The scene is the same: Mothers and fathers hug — clutch — children who'd been feared hurt or dead.

The lockdown lifts. Dusk falls. Photographers snap candids of sobbing pairs and contemplative witnesses standing alone.

There are flickering candles at nighttime vigils.

There are hands locked in resolute prayer circles.

The genre expands to fit the times; the newest entry is the shot of the cellphone screen showing text messages that could have been (or were) final words. And it is the familiarity of it all, the creeping normalcy, the expectedness, that has led the FBI's former resident expert on the subject to conclude that America "has absolutely become numb to these shootings," the tiny sliver of our country's much larger gun violence problem that once seemed to break through but no longer does. As the cycle takes hold again, we hear or read the harrowing experience of yet another survivor, yet another bystander. We watch as nothing seems to change, again. Both lose the power to shock.

[I survived a mass shooting. My life has never been the same.]

But numb is not quite right. People on both sides of the gun issue are deeply saddened by this latest mass shooting. Some gun owners are also angry to feel blamed, and more fiercely protective than ever of the guns they have been convinced could be taken away. Advocates of stricter gun laws are mad that the narrow agenda of the National Rifle Association may again overwhelm the common ground that they have found on the issue with their co-workers, fellow congregants, and friends.

Instead of inured, maybe people are just exhausted. They are worn out and worn down by mass shootings that have by some measures have become more frequent and have indisputably become more deadly, with five of the 10 worst in modern U.S. history occurring during the past 26 months.

If the school shooting in Parkland produces a different outcome, it will be because of the way the teenagers who lived through it enabled the rest of us to get closer to what they endured. The spree that left 17 people dead and another 14 injured brought with it the usual progression of images and news accounts. But on their social media accounts, the Florida students also created a separate record, unmediated and unsanitized by journalism's conventions.

"THERE ARE GUNSHOTS" 2:24 p.m. February 14, 2018

"I am in a school shooting right now …" 2:59 p.m.

"oh my god we're in a closet i can't believe this is happening" 3:11 p.m. February 14, 2018

"Never been more scared ever in my life. I hope everyone that's in my school and around my school is okay." 3:17 February 14, 2018



After the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, a grainy, soundless security camera recording emerged showing the killers stalking the cafeteria. It is chilling viewing. But from Stoneman Douglas, we got high-resolution videos with vivid audio that will steal your breath, and then your sleep.

The videos are graphic and disturbing. Blood and victims are briefly visible in some. They may be most terrifying for what you hear.

On Snapchat, a student cowering with classmates under their desks records as the gunman, unseen, lets off more than a dozen deafening shots from the hallway or the next classroom over. The sound of those blasts stays with you. The screams of the children, even more so. They are in terrible danger. It is way too close.

A separate, minute-long video pans a classroom as police officers wearing purple medical gloves carry away a student who appears to have been injured. Motionless legs splay out from behind a podium. The camera rocks as wailing students, some shoeless, are led into the hallway. They pass broken glass and backpacks flung in panic and at least one body. Their bawling grows louder as they reach the door and exit into the impossible blue sky of a South Florida afternoon.

Another student captured the moment SWAT team members came to his classroom to take them to safety. Officers in riot gear enter, flashlights shining, gun barrels pointing, and ask the teenagers to show their hands. Arms shoot up. Someone whimpers. You watch as one pair of hands shakes uncontrollably, like they may never stop.

In the hours afterward, the rote choreography will resume. Politicians will tweet thoughts and prayers. The president of the United States will talk about mental illness and avoid mention of firearms or gun laws. He will hint at warning signs missed, tweeting that students who attended Stoneman Douglas with the alleged gunman "knew he was a big problem" in a way that seems to imply they should have done more to prevent the slaughter.

Some of those students will not be having any of it.

One boy, a senior who recorded his own footage of his rattled classmates, was interviewed on cable news the day after the shooting. "We're children," he says. "You're, like, adults. Take action, work together, come over your politics, and get something done."

Burnett is editorial director of the Trace, a nonprofit news site that covers gun violence. Van Brocklin is a reporter for the Trace, where she covers shooting survivors. Originally published by The Washington Post. 

Man arrested in Anchorage in homicide and robbery investigations

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

A man who police were looking for in connection to a January homicide in East Anchorage has been arrested, police said.

Aarron Settje, 32, was arrested on outstanding homicide and robbery warrants after tipsters told police they spotted Settje in the Target on West 100th Avenue, according to police.

Settje was a "person of interest" in the Jan. 13 homicide of 33-year-old Kortez Brown in East Anchorage. Brown had been found with a gunshot wound on the 8000 block of 36th Avenue.

[Anchorage man sought in connection to January homicide now wanted for robbery]

In early February, police said Settje shoplifted from the Sportsman's Warehouse on Old Seward Highway. Police are still searching for Stephen Settje, another person wanted in that robbery investigation.

Another person police had been looking for in connection with Brown's killing was arrested in January.

Should veterans be allowed to use medical marijuana for PTSD? Trump administration says no.

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 11:03

WASHINGTON — Frustrated with traditional therapies for chronic pain and post-combat stress disorders, a growing number of military veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are turning to medical marijuana for their treatment, a move that has put them at sharp odds with the Trump administration.

The White House has resisted calls from Democrats in Congress, pro-reform activists and even the American Legion, the nation's largest wartime veterans service organization, to support research into whether marijuana can help veterans, apparently fearing that any move by the Department of Veterans Affairs to study its effectiveness will be another step toward nationwide legalization.

The VA thus become the latest flashpoint in the national debate over marijuana legalization, pitting proponents of greater study or medical use against an administration that has tried to halt or roll back a steady movement toward greater tolerance of marijuana.

"We all understand that if the VA is able to prescribe medical cannabis and they determine this is the right way to go, then all of a sudden it is available in all 50 states and territories and the calculus changes dramatically," said Rep, Tim Walz, D-Minn., a 24-year Army veteran who is the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

In December, VA Secretary David J. Shulkin refused a request by Democrats on the House committee to launch a study of marijuana's effects on chronic pain and post-combat stress, asserting that federal law "restricts VA's ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana or to refer veterans to such projects."
In a letter to the Democrats, Shulkin claimed a review of previous research found links between marijuana use and suicide, mania and psychotic symptoms.

"The VA is saying, 'We don't even want to investigate whether medical marijuana is valid," said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., another member of the House committee. "But veterans continue to suffer in large numbers and we should be exploring all the possible alternatives out there."

Post-traumatic stress disorder, a sometimes severe psychological condition that stems from exposure to combat and other disturbing events, afflicts an estimated 9 percent of VA patients and at least 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, according to the VA.

VA doctors treat PTSD, as the disorder is known, with therapy and prescription drugs, as well as yoga, acupuncture, and other nontraditional therapies.
But some soldiers say those treatments are inadequate or produce undesirable side effects. Some former service members move on to abuse alcohol or illegal drugs, and even attempt suicide.

Twenty-six states, including California, offer access to medical marijuana for patients who obtain a physician's recommendation. Neither the VA nor the Defense Department, however, uses marijuana therapy or allows their healthcare providers to recommend it for medical purposes.

Under federal law, marijuana is still classified in the same category as heroin, and repeated efforts since the 1970s to reclassify it have failed.
The American Legion, with about 2 million members, traditionally has been a conservative voice on social and political issues. But it stepped up its push for the VA to undertake research into the medical benefits of marijuana after commissioning a poll last year that found 92 percent of veteran families favor more study.

At the group's national convention last August, it adopted a resolution calling on the VA to allow its physicians and other health providers to discuss the use of medical marijuana with veterans, and to recommend it in states where it is legal — steps that are prohibited at the VA.

Dan Schmink, a 31-year-old former Army infantryman, said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a herniated disc in his back after a combat tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, one of the most violent periods of the war.
After leaving the Army and returning home to Arizona in 2009, Schmink received opioid painkillers from the VA for his back pain. He resisted taking prescription medication for his depression, insomnia and bouts of hyper-alertness, which are frequent symptoms of traumatic stress.

Attending nursing school, he found himself unable to cope with routine daily situations. "I'd sit in the back in class and keep my eyes down to avoid talking with anybody," he said in a telephone interview. "I drank a lot. Sometimes that was the only way to turn it off."

After a friend offered him marijuana — which he says he had never tried before _ his back pain eased and he felt less anxious. In 2012, Schmink got a prescription for medical marijuana and began smoking it regularly.

"I didn't have the hyper-awareness. I wasn't having hundreds of thoughts at once," he said. "You got to a really good meditative state."

When he told his VA psychologist he was using marijuana, the reaction was "completely negative," Schmink said. A notation was put in his medical record and he was placed on a watch for possible substance abuse.

Another VA doctor was more receptive, allowing Schmink to ask questions about cannabis use. But when he sought another prescription for medical marijuana, the doctor refused, saying it was against the law.

Now living in San Diego, Schmink says he smokes marijuana every morning, and has figured out the right dose to avoid lethargy and anxiety. "It's allowed me to become more of the person I was before I went into the service and started playing war," he said.

Demonstrating the benefits of marijuana with scientific data has proven more difficult, in part because of the VA's reluctance to participate, researchers say.
The challenge has been clear in Phoenix, where researchers have been unable to complete a $2.1-million clinical trial that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011. It is the first study to try to determine whether marijuana can effectively treat PTSD.

For the findings to be statistically valid, the researchers needed to enroll 76 combat veterans who had suffered post-traumatic stress symptoms, were resistant to other treatment protocols and were not abusing marijuana. But only 38 — half the total — have agreed to participate so far.

Marcel Bonn-Miller, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who is overseeing the study, said the research has been slowed, in part, because the Phoenix VA hospital refused to allow its doctors and therapists to mention the study to patients or let researchers put up fliers seeking participants, citing federal restrictions on marijuana research.

That forced researchers to comb through social media and make telephone cold calls to search for potential participants. The study required the patients to visit a private Phoenix clinic 10 times over 18 weeks, followed by six months of follow-up visits.

Asked about the study, Curt Cashour, a spokesman for the VA in Washington, said that federal law restricts the agency's "ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such research projects." But researchers, he added, are "free to work with veterans service organizations and state veterans officials who may not face such restrictions."

Bonn-Miller said the VA is confused about federal restrictions on marijuana research. But the Phoenix study is politically explosive because it could establish for the first time whether marijuana has beneficial effects for veterans, he said.
"If (the VA) were to cooperate it would make things easier," said Bonn-Miller. "The VA can't recommend, give or prescribe cannabis for veterans, regardless of whether it's legal in the state or not, but research is a separate thing."

Thunder Mountain defense stifles Edgecumbe

Juneau Hot Topics - Sat, 2018-02-17 10:52
Ketchikan's one-two punch of Marcus and Chris Lee scored 25 of their team's 28 fourth-quarter points in a 69-64 win over JDHS Friday in Ketchikan. Seniors Kolby Hoover and Erik Kelly scored 20 points and 17 points, respectively, for Juneau-Douglas (8-11, 1-4 SEC), who led 49-41 at the beginning of ...

Here’s when seasonal airlines like JetBlue and Condor will be back in Alaska for summer

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 10:51

If you're looking for a good deal on an airline ticket, it helps if there's more than one airline flying the route. Travelers in Anchorage and Fairbanks are lucky, since Alaska is very popular with travelers in the Lower 48. That means that the biggest airlines are adding flights for the summer.

The next time you stroll through the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, you might think it's dominated by Alaska Airlines. After all, the entire "C" Concourse has nothing but Alaska flights: nonstops to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Honolulu and points around Alaska.

But if you take a walk down the "B" Concourse, there are all sorts of different logos on the wall. Delta Air Lines flies twice each day between Anchorage and Seattle and once a day to Minneapolis. Right now, the Atlanta-based airline is ramping up for a big summer.

"We're committed to our partnership with the state of Alaska," said Tony Gonchar, Delta's vice president for Seattle. "Overall, we're seeing a 4 percent increase in available seats this summer. That's primarily because we're adding a sixth daily nonstop flight between Anchorage and Seattle for the summer."

Delta will also operate two flights from Fairbanks to Seattle, three daily flights from Anchorage to Minneapolis, one from Fairbanks to Minneapolis, a daily flight from Anchorage to Atlanta and four weekly flights from Anchorage nonstop to Salt Lake City. The airline will fly a 737 once a day from Juneau to Seattle, while offering regional jet service (on Embraer 175 aircraft) from Ketchikan to Seattle and from Sitka to Seattle.

Compare that to Alaska's 19 daily summertime flights between Anchorage and Seattle. On the drive out to the airport, you can see a giant airplane hangar being constructed: Alaska Air is spending about $50 million to accommodate two Boeing 737 "MAX 9" aircraft side-by side. The hangar is 105,000 square feet and will be completed by the end of the year, according to Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines vice president for Alaska.

Alaska's 737s are doing more flying within the state, since Horizon Air is pulling its Q400 prop-planes. Since the 737s have more seats, there will be about 28 percent more available seats between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

While both Alaska and Delta are ramping up service in Anchorage, they are also adding capacity and infrastructure in Seattle. Alaska Air is building out the "N Gates" at Sea-Tac — you can't miss the big construction project when you fly through. In addition to that, Alaska is super-sizing its lounge in the N terminal — making it 15,000 square feet, with a rooftop view. When completed, the North Terminal will host 20 gates.

Delta's big push in Seattle is to bring more domestic traffic in to feed the international flights operated by Delta and its partners: Aeromexico, KLM, Air France and Virgin Atlantic. "Sea-Tac still is the nation's fastest-growing airport," said Delta's Gonchar. "The new international arrivals terminal will double the throughput. There won't be any waiting for customs. And a new skybridge between the "S" gates and the "A" Concourse means travelers will not have to go through security again," he said.

Right now, United Airlines offers one flight per day: a nonstop from Anchorage to Denver. That changes on March 8, when United resumes its daily nonstop flight from Anchorage to Chicago. Jonathan Guerin, Sr., United's senior manager of public relations, shared the additional flights the airline will add on June 7:

– Daily Anchorage-San Francisco nonstop

– A second daily Anchorage-Chicago nonstop

– Daily Fairbanks-Chicago nonstop

– Daily Anchorage-Houston nonstop

– Saturday-only Anchorage-Newark nonstop beginning June 9

American Airlines is returning to Anchorage on June 6, offering a nonstop flight from Anchorage to Los Angeles/LAX. The next day, June 7, American resumes its seasonal daily nonstop between Anchorage and Dallas on a 757. "All of our 757s will be retired within a couple of years," said Vasu Raja, American's vice president of network and schedule planning. Newer, single-aisle aircraft like the 737MAX will take over some of the old 757 routes. On June 8, American will resume its daily 737 service from Anchorage to Phoenix.

JetBlue Airways is returning to serve Anchorage from both Portland and Seattle, starting May 25. Count on JetBlue to offer great prices. Right now, there's a $94 one-way fare from Anchorage to Seattle. Delta has matched the rate.

Sun Country Airlines is resuming its nonstop flights from Minneapolis on May 18. Starting May 26, Sun Country will be offering two nonstop flights to Anchorage. Sun Country moves from weekend-only to daily flights on Friday, June 1. The second daily flight only will operate on Saturdays throughout the summer, according to Jim Szczesniak, airport manager at TSAIA.

Air Canada has some nice prices on its daily nonstop from Anchorage to Vancouver, B.C., starting May 11. The one-way fare is $183. Air Canada is a member of the Star Alliance with United Airlines. It's the closest thing United frequent flyers have to a nonstop to Seattle!

Icelandair, a mileage partner with Alaska Airlines, starts twice-weekly nonstop service from Anchorage to Reykjavik on May 14. Condor, the German airline that flies from Anchorage nonstop to Frankfurt, starts flying twice a week on May 19. On June 9, Condor increases its flights to three times a week. Condor also is an Alaska Airlines mileage partner.

Yakutia Airlines flies once each week from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in Russia between July 16 and Sept. 3. The plane continues on to Yakutsk. The airline operates a 737-800 on the route and is popular with anglers who love to float the rivers on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Particularly in the summer, Anchorage and Fairbanks enjoy air service that is more typical for a destination three or more times its size. That means more options and better prices for travelers.

Pain turns political in Parkland after school shootings

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 10:43

PARKLAND, Fla. – On a day when Parkland began burying its young dead, a dozen people stood on a street corner holding up "More Gun Control" signs as passing drivers honked and shouted in support.

"Look what we started," said Carlos Rodriguez, 50, who was on his way to work when he stopped to join the protest. "Look at all these people. One match started a whole forest fire."

This most peaceful and orderly of places has been devastated by the most violent and chaotic of acts. And amid the horse trails, bike paths and gated communities of a city that prides itself on "country elegance," the response to a shooting Wednesday that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been a raw, growing and furious burst of activism and demand for change.

"We're not a politically charged community – this is new, because we've had enough," said Grace Solomon, a city commissioner who is organizing a large group of parents and students to travel to Tallahassee, the state capital, and then to Washington to demand "common-sense gun legislation."

"Parkland families have really involved parents; they are not going to take this sitting down," Solomon said. "We have an army of moms who are tired of having their kids assaulted. Democrats and Republicans are coming together to find common ground we can bring to Tallahassee."

Parkland, founded in 1963 on the swampy fringe of the Everglades, has long been a place of gentle ease with great schools, a well-educated and affluent population of about 32,000 people. It had no stores until the 1990s and still has only four stoplights – including one that just got left-turn arrows in the past couple months.

Its violent crime rate is a tiny fraction of the rate statewide, and city spokesman Todd DeAngelis said police are more likely to be called for a trespassing alligator than for a murder.

Even its politics have a scrupulously fair balance: Although officials said the city tends to lean Democratic, like all of Broward County, President Donald Trump won one local precinct by 16 points in the 2016 election and narrowly lost four others.

But one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history has hit this city with a ferocity that has changed the calculation.

Every community responds differently to the mass shootings that have become so frequent in the United States. Dancing showgirls and chapel-wedding newlyweds were back in the streets of Las Vegas soon after a gunman sprayed bullets across a music festival in October, signaling a quick return to normalcy. In small-town Texas, a somber religiosity defined the aftermath of a church massacre that killed 26 in November.

But Parkland has responded with a call to activism – angry teachers, parents and teenagers demanding stricter guns laws, more government money for school security and better treatment for mental illness.

"This going to energize a lot of people to vote this year," said Carl Hiaasen, the best-selling novelist and journalist, who grew up in Plantation, just south of Parkland. "People are angry."

At a vigil Thursday night in the palm-lined heart of Parkland, people broke into a spontaneous and enraged chant of "No more guns! No more guns!" Many were students, who are organizing on social media and calling for young people to lead the political charge.

Annabel Claprood, 17, was in Spanish class Wednesday when she looked down at her phone. It was 2:32 p.m. – the moment, she says, she became a lifelong advocate of gun control and new campus safety laws. At that moment, the shooting started. She took shelter in her room and heard every shot.

Now, the 17-year-old has decided to travel to Tallahassee to begin pushing for new campus safety laws.

"They said every time something like this happens it's not going to happen again, but it's happening again and again, so we obviously are doing something wrong," Claprood said.

"You should not have a gun at the age of 18," said Claprood, who said it makes no sense that at 18 you can buy a gun but not drink alcohol.

Florida has relatively few restrictions on gun ownership. Unlike California, for example, Florida does not require background checks for private gun sales. It does not regulate sales of assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines (although federal law requires assault-weapon buyers from a licensed dealer to be at least 18). State laws also prohibit cities from passing gun restrictions.

Ashley Kurth, a culinary arts teacher at the high school, said her cooking class had just finished deep-frying shrimp when the gunfire began. She quickly locked the doors to her classroom and huddled with 65 students on the floor for 2 1/2 hours until a SWAT team broke a window to rescue them.

Less than 24 hours later, Kurth was consoling grieving teachers and students before a vigil at Pine Trails Park, a public recreational facility with turf playing fields, an amphitheater and high-end playground equipment. Many people arrived on bicycles or golf carts, using the community's winding network of paved paths.

Kurth, 34, said she woke up the morning after the shooting wanting to sever her lifelong ties to the Republican Party.

"Yesterday's incident opened my eyes and changed my views in a lot of ways," she said Thursday. "Before, I used to think, 'OK, let's be moderate.' But living through that, and experiencing that, and seeing the aftermath of what that was, something has to be done."

Asked about Trump's response to the shooting, Kurth sighed.

"You know, I know he does his best with what he can, but at the same time, I am disheartened a little bit to hear, once again, we are going to focus on the mental illness and getting these people help," she said.

"What are you going to do about the people who are sane and out there with their right to bear arms that decide one day they just had enough?" she added.

Sarah Lerner, 37, an English teacher, said she believed young people were going to force change on the gun issue.

"Whether you are a right-wing Republican or a super-left liberal, we all want the same thing," she said. "No one should be afraid to go to school, and we all want to live in a safe community, and I believe this community is going to unite to make that happen."

Beam Furr, the mayor of Broward County, which includes Parkland, said he was eager to give young people a chance to push for new gun legislation.

"Those students who were at Douglass, they're good kids, smart students. They don't want this shooting to be their most enduring memory of high school," he said. "Several of them have told me they want the memory to be something that they helped change. To let that be their legacy."

Since the shooting, many people in Parkland who never expected to be involved in politics are suddenly finding themselves jumping right in.

"I am not a politician. [But] this made me angry. This happened in my back yard. I didn't know how easy it is to get a gun in Florida," said Caesar Figueroa, 43, who had two children at the school during the shooting. They lost a teacher and two friends.

"I really want to make a difference," he said, calling for more stringent background checks for gun buyers. "I want to get involved and speak out."

Jim Weiss, who has written a book about Parkland's history, said Parkland's activism comes from anger and confusion about how something so horrible could happen in a place so proud of its gentle nature.

"People are outraged that something like this could happen in the safest city in Florida," said Weiss, 72. "This puzzle is missing some pieces. You know the way it should look, but you can't find those last pieces. And those pieces are about weapons and dollars for treating mental health."

The Washington Post's Renae Merle contributed to this report.

What are we losing when we stare in the mirror and stop listening to each other?

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 10:31

There's a solitary little brown bird that has spent his winter in and around the boat shop. I'm guessing it is a he, but I have respected his privacy. He has an ongoing love affair with himself. He spends a lot of time on our freezer, where there's an old mirror tucked away with just enough room for him to stand on the chest door and look at himself. He pecks at it a bit. He sings a little song. He fluffs himself up and tries to impress the bird in the mirror. My mailman says he's a winter wren. (The bird, not my mailman. I'd be worried otherwise.)

I watch this little guy a lot. He reminds me of social media. Staring into a flat surface, a little bit shiny, while he's prancing and puffing in front of his own image — thinking it's something entirely different.

The government's investigation has resulted in thirteen indictments against Russian individuals and three corporations for attempting to tamper in our elections. "They are charged by a grand jury with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Five of them are charged with aggravated identity theft. According to the indictment, they posed as Americans and created online personas to 'sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. election.'"

The reports are telling us more than $1.2 million a month was being spent by a foreign nation to manipulate Americans on social media sites.

How in the world did they spend that kind of money? I mean, there's the whole "What were they thinking?!" and "How dare they!" But how did it take that much money to trick Americans who stare into the digital image of themselves to hit a thumbs up button?

It's like that little bird.

Peck. Peck. Peck.

Tweet. Tweet. Tweet.

The mission to "sow discord" was waged on all fronts. How to pit the Bernie Sanders supporters against the Hillary Clinton folks. Trust me, I didn't think that argument needed any help, but it was seeded and tended to by Russians. "According to the indictment, the Russians were paying Americans to participate in rallies or perform tasks at them. One American was paid to build a cage on a flatbed truck; another was paid to portray Clinton in a prison uniform."

The contentious primary for the Republicans was also a target. See? It wasn't just your imagination that this last campaign was more angry than others.

This week, after the school shooting in Florida that took 17 more souls from our world, the computer bots were at it again. Thousands of comments — "pro-gun" posts — flooded the cyber waves. What do they get from that? Why would an enemy want us fighting with each other? So far we've just fought with each other about the mass shootings that keep happening, and haven't found any agreement other than we're sick of "thoughts and prayers" from the people who could make a difference.

Oh. Well, I guess when we're fighting with each other, we're doing the injury to  ourselves. There's a time-saver for those who would do us harm.

I'm trying to get out of the comfort bubble when taking in news. It's not easy. You know what I'm talking about. Who wants to spend time with that one guy who stands a little too close, talks loud and smells like freedom? No one wants to hear that one lady talk about her personal rights and how every conversation gets back to the details of her natural childbirth. I get it! I don't either. But how much are we losing if we just peer into our ideological mirror and not stretch our capacity to listen? They can't all be Russian cyberbots. I promise to try if you will.

One Russian businessman who was on the list of indicted, Evgeny Prigozhin, wasn't worried about the case against him. "Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see," he told a Russian news agency.

He has a point. So does that little brown bird in the boat shop. I'll be glad when spring shows up so he can find a lady bird and build a nest.

Anchorage teachers union agrees to one-year contract

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 10:21

Members of the Anchorage teachers union approved a one-year contract Friday that gives them two more personal days and increases the district's contribution to their health insurance premiums.

The contract does not include the 3 percent raise the union asked for.

The Anchorage School Board still must ratify the contract. If it does, the contract will take effect retroactively to July 1, 2017 and will expire June 30.

The contract agreement follows more than two years of negotiations between the Anchorage School District and the Anchorage Education Association, the union that represents more than 3,300 district employees, including teachers, counselors and librarians.

In November, the union rejected a contract proposal, sending the two parties back to the bargaining table. The revised version includes new clarifications — giving teachers more control over their planning time and reducing the number of administrative meetings.

Tom Klaameyer, union president, said more union members participated in this week's vote than the one in November. Per union policy, he said, he could not release how many members voted, how many agreed to the contract and how many rejected it.

Klaameyer said the union hopes to start negotiating the next contract this spring.

"It's time to take a breath, to pause," he said, "but also to regroup because we're going to be at bat again in April."

Rough start puts US women in 5th place in Olympic relay

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 04:27

At the end of the relay race they had so looked forward to, there was a group hug and smiles all around but no Olympic medal for the U.S. women Saturday night in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Americans finished fifth in the 4×5-kilometer relay, 37.2 seconds out of the bronze-medal position, in what might have been the last Olympic race for Anchorage's Kikkan Randall, who is competing in her fifth and final Winter Games.

Randall, 35, and Minnesota's Jessie Diggins, 26, both posted the third-fastest times in their respective legs, but it wasn't enough.

A rough start put the Americans more than a minute out of the lead and 57 seconds out of third place after the opening leg, dimming if not dooming their bid to become the first U.S. women to reach an Olympic podium.

Norway's Marit Bjoergen pulled away from Sweden's Stina Nilsson near the end of the race to secure victory for her country in 51 minutes, 24.3 seconds. Sweden clocked 51:26.3, and the team of Russians claimed the bronze in 52:07.6. Finland was fourth in 52:26.9, followed by the Americans in 52:44.8.

It's the 13th gold medal in five Olympics for Bjoergen, who tied the record for the most golds in the history of the Winter Olympics. She shares the mark with Norway's Ole Einar Bjorndalen, a six-time Olympic biathlete.

It was the best relay result in Olympic history for the U.S. women, who finished seventh in 1980 and 1984.

Although Diggins came close in two previous races in Pyeongchang, the American women have never won an Olympic medal. Coming into the relay, medal hopes were high for a team that placed fourth in the relay at the last three World Championships and has four World Cup podium finishes in the relay.

But the U.S. struggled early when Vermont's Sophie Caldwell, 27, fell way off the pace in the classic-technique scramble leg. She was 8.1 seconds out of the lead halfway through her leg, but by the time she was done she had faded from sixth place to 11th and was 61.5 seconds out of the lead and about 57 seconds out of the bronze-medal position.

Chasing the dream, believing wholeheartedly, and giving all your best is something I’ll cherish forever. This team is so much larger than a result, a medal, or a number. I’m so proud to be part of something so powerful and amazing. I love you all! #bettertogether #letthedreamcontinue

A post shared by Sadie Bjornsen (@sbjornsen) on Feb 17, 2018 at 5:23am PST

Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen, 28, lifted the U.S. into eighth place by skiing the sixth-fastest time of the second classic leg.

Skiing the first of the relay's two freestyle legs, Randall moved the U.S. into sixth place with a time of 12:12.9 — third-fastest behind Ragnhild Haga, whose sizzling 11:46.7 put Norway back in the race after a poor second leg, and Ebbe Anderson, who finished in 12:11.4 for Sweden.

Bjoergen anchored Norway's win in 11:52.8 to hold off Nilsson, who completed the 5K in 11:58.2. Diggins had the leg's next best time, 12:11.7, to cross the finish line in fifth place.

Olympic disappointment on slopes continues as Vonn misses podium at super-G

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-02-17 04:13

BUKPYEONG, South Korea – Way back in 2010, Lindsey Vonn felt she'd figured out the Olympics. It was her third Winter Games and she was certain she'd finally solved the puzzle. Not only did Vonn win gold and bronze medals in Vancouver, but she'd learned how to juggle the pressures, the logistics and the intangibles inherent to her sport. Injuries kept her from competing in 2014, and she had to wait a full eight years to apply those lessons.

But the alpine courses are all different and in her first race of these Pyeongchang Olympics, the 33-year-old Vonn – one of the most decorated female alpine skiers the sport has known – was bested by a late turn and a surprising, versatile young racer in Saturday's super-G event. Despite an otherwise medal-worthy race, her mistake proved costly and Vonn opened her Olympics with disappointment, tied for sixth place in a race that was unpredictable in just about every way possible.

"I gave it everything I had," Vonn said. "I left it all on the hill, which I knew I would. Just made one mistake. And that cost me a medal."

In one of the biggest upsets of these Olympics, Czech skier Ester Ledecka, who's competing in Pyeongchang both on a snowboard and on skis, stunned the super-G field to claim gold. The podium looked set before Ledecka, the day's 26th skier and the world's 43rd-ranked super-G racer, blazed her path through the course, finishing in a time of 1:21.11, appearing to surprise even herself in the process.

That mark put her 0.38 seconds ahead of Vonn and just 0.01 ahead of silver medalist Anna Veith, of Austria. Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather took bronze, finishing 0.11 seconds off the lead.

By then, Vonn's super-G fate had already been sealed. She tore through the top half of the course, but with the finish line almost in sight, she struggled on one of her final turns, skiing off her line and very nearly losing her balance altogether.

"The thing with this hill is it's not very steep," she said later. "If you make one mistake, it not only affects the immediate split time, but it compounds down the entire slope. So there is really no room for error."

She recovered quickly and still posted one of the day's top times – 1:21.49 – but a full 0.27 seconds separated Vonn from the podium. She appeared slightly stunned and surely disappointed after the race, shaking her head at the bottom of the course.

Because she was the first of 45 racers, she had to wait and watch, hoping her mistake wouldn't prove as costly as she feared. It took only six racers before Vonn was bumped out of the running for a possible medal.

"I was prepared. I was aggressive. I had a great inspection. I felt awesome. I skied well," Vonn said. "Everything lined up except for one turn, and that's all it takes, and that's ski racing. That's why it's so difficult to win at the Olympics because literally anything can happen."

While all eyes were on Vonn at the start of the race, it was Ledecka, 22, who stole the show. She had only one career top-10 on the World Cup circuit, finishing in seventh in the downhill two months ago in Lake Louise, Alberta. And her best super-G race before Saturday? She'd posted a pair of 19th-place finishes last season.

She'd only started skiing World Cups in February 2016, in fact. She was an elite snowboarder before that and won world championships in back-to-back years, the parallel slalom in 2015 and the parallel giant slalom in 2017. She juggling a complicated competition schedule this season, shuffling between snowboard and ski events, to become the first athlete to compete in both sports at an Olympics. In Sochi four years ago, she posted sixth- and seventh-place finishes in the slalom events as an 18-year old.

"Her focus today was just to have a good run," said Justin Reiter, a former U.S. snowboarder who coaches Ledecka. "She's not a medal favorite. She just wanted to come here and be the first person ever to ski and snowboard race, and she stayed in her heart, and she stayed in her own head, and she skied like she can ski. It was beautiful to watch."

Ledecka is skipping the downhill here to prepare for Thursday's snowboarding parallel giant slalom.

While the ski world tries to process Saturday's upset, Vonn will turn her attention forward. She has two more chances to nab an Olympic medal here. The women's downhill – her best event – is scheduled for Wednesday and the combined is set for Friday, and Vonn is considered a podium threat in both.

"I don't see this as a negative," she said of Saturday's loss. "Obviously, I didn't get a medal. Man, I've been waiting eight years for this. I'm super happy. I left it all on the hill. Hindsight's obviously 20/20, but I wouldn't change anything. I attacked and that's what happens."

But she had high hopes for the Super G and was eager to kick off these Olympics with a cleaner race. She entered Saturday's event ranked No. 10 in the World Cup's Super G standings and had competed in five Super G events this season, winning on Dec. 16 in Val d'Isere, France. But her best race in the other four was a sixth-place finish on Jan. 21 in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

Vonn was trying to become the first female racer to win Olympic gold in both downhill and the Super G. She was the downhill champion at the Vancouver Games, where she scored her bronze medal in the Super G. The Super G was added to the Olympic program in 1988 and is a speed event that requires bigger turns – and thus less speed – than downhill. No American woman has won gold in the Super G since Picaboo Street at the 1998 Games.

"All you can do is prepare your best, give your best, and at the end of the day I'm going to go home and be happy with myself because there's nothing more I could have done," Vonn said.

Alaska Civil Rights Pioneer Elizabeth Peratrovich Celebrated - SitNews

Legislative News - Sat, 2018-02-17 03:02


Alaska Civil Rights Pioneer Elizabeth Peratrovich Celebrated
With Gruening's help and that of the territorial delegate to the US government, Anthony Dimond, an anti-discrimination bill was introduced in the Alaska Legislature in 1943 (the Legislature met every other year in those days) but it was not passed. The ...

Poor choice - Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Legislative News - Sat, 2018-02-17 01:07

Poor choice
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
To the editor: In fall of 1980, the Alaska Legislature made a poor choice when it chose to eliminate the personal income tax that had served the state well for years. Imagine what our present fiscal situation would be if it had not been eliminated. The ...

Seawolves lose another close one in season’s final home game

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 22:35

The Seawolves played their final home game of the hockey season Friday night at Sullivan Arena and got a familiar result – a one-goal loss.

Tyler Spezia scored the game-winning goal for 14th-ranked Bowling Green midway through the third period to claim a 2-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory over UAA.

It was the 10th time this season UAA (2-25-4 overal, 2-20-3 WCHA) has lost by a one-goal margin.

The game marked the final appearance in front of a home crowd for seven UAA seniors — Alec Butcher, Tanner Johnson, Jarrett Brown, Austin Azurdia, Tad Kozun, Matt Anholt and Olivier Mantha.

The teams skated through a scoreless first period. The second period started and ended with goals that bookended more than 18 minutes of scoreless hockey.

Bowling Green (18-9-6, 15-5-5) took a 1-0 lead nine seconds into the period on a goal by Connor Ford. UAA didn't answer until the final minute, when Butcher tied the game with 54 seconds left. Johnson and David Trinkberger got assists on the play.

Mantha made 20 saves for the Seawolves. Bowling Green's Eric Dop had 16.

All of the goals were even strength. UAA was 0 for 5 and Bowling Green was 0 of 4 on the power play.

UAA wraps up the season next weekend in Fairbanks with a Friday-Saturday series against the Nanooks.

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

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 22:18

Keegan Messing will leave the Winter Olympics with a top-12 finish, a smile on his face and quite possibly a host of new fans.

Messing, a 26-year-old Girdwood man competing for Canada, wrapped up his excellent Olympic adventure Saturday in South Korea with a strong freeskate that earned him 12th place in men's figure skating.

"I put down a solid performance and I can leave the Olympics happy," he told reporters after he skated. "… I was so excited to be able to go out there and do what I've been training to do, other than the two obvious mistakes."

[Girdwood's Keegan Messing 10th after Olympic short program]

The first Alaskan to compete in Olympic figure skating, Messing landed both of his quadruple jumps and nailed a triple axel, the jump he missed in his short program Friday.

Between the jumps, he executed some of the best footwork and fastest spins of the competition. For the second straight day, he put on an engaging performance that is likely to raise his profile in the sport.

Just as he did in his "Singin' in the Rain" short program, Messing charmed the Gangneung Ice Arena audience in the freeskate by assuming a character and appropriating movements associated with it.

This time it was Charlie Chaplin in a program set to a medley of songs from Chaplin movies. Between all the quads and sit spins and Russian splits, he mimicked Chaplin's herky-jerky walk, the cane twirl and other signature moves.

Messing's first mistake came on a combination jump when he turned the opening triple axel of a combination jump into a single axel. He successful executed the rest of the combination to salvage some points.

On his final jump, he popped a triple loop into a double loop, but he was all smiles when the performance was over. He finished with 255.43 points.

[Girdwood's Keegan Messing is ready to rock Pyeongchang]

The gold medal went to Japan's Hanyu Yuzuru was one of four skaters who broke the 300-point barrier, winning with a score of 317.85 to become the first man since Dick Button (1948, 1952) to repeat as Olympic champion.

Silver went to Japan's Shoma Uno (306.9 points) and bronze went to Spain's Javier Fernandez (305.24).

Nathen Chen of the United States, a disappointing 17th in the short program, skated the highest-scoring long program, landing six quads to vault into fifth place with 297.35 points.

Messing's Olympic appearance marks the pinnacle of a career that began when he learned to skate at age 3. Through the years, he has been a regular performer at Alaska ice shows like Rondy on Ice.

He's a life-long Alaskan, but his mother and both of his maternal grandparents were born in Canada, giving him dual citizenship. He was a member of the U.S. skating federation early in his career and started skating for Canada in the 2014-15 season.

By placing second at last month's Canadian national championships, Messing fulfilled his dream of earning a spot in the Olympics.

In Pyeonchang, he learned that the reality is every bit as good as the dream.

"The Olympics is everything and more I have been told about," Messing said Saturday. "It has touched me in ways that I've never thought it would. Just the camaraderie between the nations, the fact that the whole world has come together to form the greatest competition in the world.

"It's a magical feeling."

Age-group slalom champs crowned at Alyeska

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 22:08

State age-group titles were awarded in the slalom Friday when the Alyeska Cup race series kicked off in Girdwood.

Claiming state championships in the Under-19 age group were Kennedy Kane and Kevin Leach. In the U-16 competition, Mary Grace Stahla and Colin Horrigan took home the titles.

Results were based on two slalom races. Overall race winners in the first slalom were UAA's Charley Field and Conor McDonald. In the second slalom, Stahla and Hunter Eid were the overall winners.

The Alyeska Cup and the U16/U19 State Championships, sponsored by Anchorage Fracture & Orthopedic Clinic, continue Saturday at Alyeska with two giant slalom races.

Slalom No. 1


U16 — 1) Stahla, Mary Grace, Alyeska Ski Club (ASC), 1:51.08; 2) Griggs, Johanna, Juneau Ski Club (JSC), 1:54.03; 3) Kragt, Hannah, ASC, 1:57.27; 4) Bergstedt, Francesca, ASC, 1:57.34; 5) Von Wichman, Randi, ASC, 1:57.98

U19 — 1) Kane, Kennedy, ASC, 1:50.76; 2) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:57.14; 3) Maroney, Madi, ASC, 2:07.54; 4) Maroney, Miki, ASC, 1:07.36; 5) Wessels, Lubava, ASC, 2:15.87

Overall — 1) Field, Charley, UAA, 1:43.11; 2) KANE, Kennedy, ASC, 1:50.76; 3) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:51.08; 4) Griggs, Johanna, JSC, 1:54.03; 5) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:57.14


U16 — 1) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:44.57; 2) Wrigley, William, ASC, 1:49.64; 3) Rand, Evan, ASC, 1:50.12; 4) Rygh, Noah, ASC, 1:52.44; 5) Quigley, Nolan, ASC, 1:56.11

U19 — 1) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:39.04; 2) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:42.64; 3) Eriksson, Austen, ASC, 1:47.04; 4) Penn, Kai, ASC, 1:57.88; 5) Ostberg, Adam, ASC, 2:04.21

Overall — 1) McDonald, Conor, UAA, 1:36.88; 2) Cruz, Erik, UAA, 1:37.37; 3) LEACH, Kevin, ASC, 1:39.04; 4) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:42.64; 5) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:44.57

Slalom No. 2

U16 — 1) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:33.53; 2) Sage, Piper, ASC, 1:33.54; 3) Von Wichman, Randi, ASC, 1:36.69; 4) Griggs, Johanna, JSC, 1:37.72; 5) Liles, Ava ASC, 1:40.74

U19 — 1) Buck, Sydney, ASC, 1:36.26; 2) Kane, Kennedy, ASC, 1:36.28; 3) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:42.84; 4) Maroney, Madi, ASC, 1:43.26; 5) Ingrim, April, 1:44.04

Overall — 1) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:33.53; 2) Sage, Piper, ASC, 1:33.54; 3) BUCK, Sydney, ASC, 1:36.26; 4) Kane, Kennedy, ASC, 1:36.28; 5) Von Wichman, Randi, ASC, 1:36.69


U16 — 1) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:31.44; Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:34.01; 3) Hildreth, Sage, ASC, 1:35.76; 4) Quigley, Nolan, ASC, 1:39.13; Rygh, Noah, ASC, 1:44.11

U19 — 1) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:29.17; 2) Lane, Conner, ASC, 1:31.45; 3) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:34.27; 4) Eriksson, Austen, ASC, 1:38.27; 5) Penn, Kai, ASC,1:41.38

Overall — 1) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:29.17; 2) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:31.44; 3) LANE, Conner, ASC, 1:31.45; 4) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:34.01; 5) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:34.27

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

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 21:33

Pioneering glacier pilot Don Sheldon and his wife Roberta left a hand-built legacy a mile up North America's tallest peak.

A six-sided cabin perched at 6,000 feet on a rock nunatak at the top of Ruth Glacier, the Don Sheldon Mountain House became a landmark for Denali flightseers in the yawning ice-scoured bowl known as the Don Sheldon Amphitheater.

Now the hut in the granite heart of Denali National Park and Preserve is part of a bitter legal battle that's exposed a deep schism between Sheldon's adult children.

Daughter Holly Sheldon Lee, a pilot who owns an air service with her husband and lives in Talkeetna, sued her brother Robert in 2015 over his administration of the $1.7 million family trust and her access to the house. She appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court after lower-court judges sided with Robert.

Son Robert, an international businessman with a home in Anchorage, says he is carrying out his mother's wishes as required and his sister is refusing to comply with a settlement she signed more than two years ago that gave her a third of the trust, including the mountain house.

A third sibling, Kate, lives in the Lower 48 and is aligned with her brother in the dispute but not named in the suit.

Robert, Kate and Holly Sheldon spent Valentine's Day in front of the state's highest court.


Hours before the Supreme Court hearing started Wednesday, Holly Sheldon posted a Valentine's Day greeting on Facebook to her brother and sister that ended, "…just need to get a couple things straightened out."

The day after, her tone changed: "The intense battle from money and power at any cost will knock your socks off if you aren't cognizant & careful."

The family dispute centers on the trust left by Roberta Sheldon when she died in 2014. Don Sheldon died in 1975.

Don Sheldon, who built the mountain house on Denali's south face with friends in 1966, is known as perhaps the most famous pilot to fly on the mountain. He operated Talkeetna Air Service.

Roberta, born into aviation as the daughter of glacier pilot Bob Reeve, became a fixture in Talkeetna community matters and activism and wrote books on local history.

Roberta designated her son to oversee the trust.

Holly sued her brother in 2015 over claims she didn't get complete information about trust assets from her brother, according to a brief filed in the Supreme Court case.

She also contended a December 2015 mediated settlement wasn't valid because she was feeling sick during the 9-hour negotiations and didn't realize the paperwork she signed was the actual settlement.

The settlement included a $25,000 payment for legal costs to Robert and gave Holly a one-third share of the Mountain House LLC and the right to visit the cabin provided it didn't interfere with the business.

A Superior Court judge found in Robert's favor in 2016. Holly was ordered to pay Robert legal costs.

"While the court rulings have clearly upheld my actions each step of the way, Holly has sadly chosen to use social media and others to advance inaccurate statements that are degrading to the tremendous legacy of Don and Roberta Sheldon," Robert Sheldon wrote in an email. "As Trustee I chose to provide Holly with an interest in the Mountain House LLC."

His sister got a share in the Mountain House LLC but not a voting interest, Robert's attorney said in an interview.

"Because Holly had created so many problems already," attorney Kevin Clarkson said.

Hut to chalet

The nearly 5-acre Sheldon property sits on an inholding within the Denali National Park, according to Tucker Carlson, a National Park Service ranger who works at the Talkeetna visitor center.

A new 1,000-square-foot hotel — the 5-room Sheldon Chalet — just opened for guests on the same property as the mountain house. The 212-square-foot hut is still open for day trips or overnight stays.

The court case has nothing to do with the chalet, Robert Sheldon said. Holly said she didn't want to say too much about the chalet because of the ongoing proceedings.

"But I do want to say, maybe my brother advertises it as a Sheldon family business and it's not true," she said.

The chalet is a rarity in Alaska: luxurious accommodations in such a remote locale.

The chalet was part of his parents' plans all along, Robert said.

"Three generations of the Sheldon family have worked to make the vision of Don and Roberta Sheldon a reality," the chalet website says. "The Sheldon Chalet welcomes visitors to experience the wildness of Alaska in comfortable luxury, just as the elder Sheldons intended."

Flying rights

The lucrative air taxi business to the Sheldon property is also part of the dispute.

Back in 2014, after their mother died, Robert promised Sheldon Air Service the exclusive right to ferry visitors to the mountain house, Holly said in an interview Thursday. But by early 2015, she contends, he awarded the contract to a competitor.

"It was between a quarter and a third of our business," she said, of the mountain house taxi trips. "This is a story about power and money. It's a story about the remainder of our Sheldon family relations and how my mom's wishes have been carried out after her death."

Sheldon's original lawsuit referenced the claim that her brother deprived her of the contract.

Robert, asked about the contract, replied by email: "Holly never had an exclusive right for anything to do with the Mountain House LLC, yet demanded one. Immediately after Roberta Sheldon's passing Holly obtained aggressive legal counsel and began pressuring me as Trustee with various demands inconsistent with the Trust that I am beholden to uphold."

The future of that trust is in the hands of the state's highest court now.

Valentine's argument

Arguing before all five Supreme Court justices Wednesday afternoon, Holly Sheldon's attorney asked that the settlement be set aside.

His client got physically ill during the 9-hour mediation session in 2015 and thought she was signing only a proposal, Fairbanks attorney Robert John said. He also argued the settlement did not rise to the level of binding arbitration.

John urged the justices to develop a new "bright line" ruling requiring a trustee like Robert who is also a beneficiary to "disclose all information prior to settlement" and assigning all risk and responsibility to them.

John said Holly never got $30,000 worth of jewelry and $27,000 in paintings and family heirlooms.

"Has Robert sold those to finance some kind of venture? We don't know the answers to that," he said.

Robert Sheldon's attorney told the panel that the case centered on Holly Sheldon's refusal to follow a settlement agreement she entered voluntarily.

The agreement she signed included statements like "agreement to a settlement of all claims of all parties" and "as a result of the full and complete settlement reached today," attorney Matthew Clarkson said. "No reasonable person could think that's not a settlement."

He also said Holly Sheldon had enough information about the financial status of the trust to decide whether to sign the settlement.

Several justices asked questions centering on the settlement and whether it rose to the level of arbitration.

A decision could take at least six months.

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

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 18:28

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Now the Olympics distilled again to maybe its most gasping, writhing finish line, and so a Swede crossed, careened rightward and sprawled onto his gut for a good 10 seconds. A Czech crossed, stopped abruptly and toppled. A Norwegian contender churned in under undulating Norwegian flags in Norwegian hands in the stands, spilled and began squirming gently on his belly.

A Swiss arrived in a time torrid for 15 kilometers of cross-country skiing — 33 minutes, 43.9 seconds — then realized it would mean a gold medal and began soon to sob. A South Korean made it to the ending of this admirable torture, plopped down face-down and rear up, rolled over and kicked his skis a bit with his poles sticking straight up. A Canadian crossed and seemed almost to croak, staying prone while an Australian veered by to the right, while a Greek skier came by, an Iranian, a Bosnian, before finally, haltingly, managing to sit, legs splayed.

The clock showed 4:21 p.m. Friday. The public-address announcers continued their near-screaming. The sun had started to go. The cold had started to get mean. The medals had been clinched.

Yet somehow, after this graphic theater of steep human effort, after the stands had gone from full to half-full to one-third full, and the national flags on the flagpoles started to look lonely, this match of 116 contestants still had resilient men out there in the pretty woods and the wretched upslopes. It still had something else lurking just before its curtain. It still had announcers, blaring through the venue, trying to manufacture noise and achieve encouragement.

It still had another show.

Fast-forward past 4:30 p.m., then past 4:40, and here came the second emotional prong of the Olympics, the one that juts out differently from the fourth gold medal and the fresh tears of Dario Cologna, or the silver medal and the spill and the crawl of the Norwegian Simen Hegstad Krueger.

Here came a 40-year-old Moroccan at 4:44, a 38-year-old Ecuadorian at 4:47, a 38-year-old Portuguese at 4:50, a world-famous 33-year-old Tongan at 4:51.

Four minutes along behind that, just after the Tongan got out his Tongan flag, and the Portuguese and the Moroccan and the Tongan posed for photos arm in arm, here came a 42-year-old Colombian. These are the men who represent "the exotic countries," as the Tongan's German coach Thomas Jacob phrases it, and they're from countries without ample snow, and they're here to struggle and to finish and maybe even to inform and to inspire.

They're also friends, and some of them also have trained together on their uphill mission, and so soon after the Colombian crossed, four of them did something outstanding: They stood shoulder to shoulder at the finish line, the Colombian Sebastian Uprimny, the Tongan Pita Taufatofua, the Moroccan Samir Azzimani, and the Portuguese Kequyen Lam, as one last man made his way toward 116th place.

The Mexican named German Madrazo, 43, looked halting through his last stretch. He looked like his body might fold in on itself. For a second, it seemed he might not make it, that he and his Mexican flag might tumble into the snow. The remaining crowd cheered him on, with a few Swiss flags here, Norwegian flags there, Korean flags there, all waving in support, for this moment, of Mexico.

Slowly, painstakingly, Madrazo edged toward the great and vivid line, and made his way across, and his four friends put up their hands, right there as 4:56 turned into 4:57 and the day finally died. They all formed a beautiful blob of a group hug, and then they all, all stragglers and all Olympians, put Madrazo on their shoulders as he waved his flag.

Uprimny called it "very moving." Madrazo said his "mind was blurry" and the remaining crowd was "unreal" and, "The most emotional part was when I saw Pita." Uprimny said the group hug included no words, because, "We didn't need to talk." Madrazo said his body had hurt worse than usual.

Taufatofua did a barrage of interviews and said of the course, "You see that hill over there? It doesn't end. It looks like it ends but it keeps on going." He said he felt pain, "in my stomach, my breathing." He said, "This has been the toughest year of my life." Jacob, his coach, said, "It's a great part of the Olympics: just to see these guys and the exotics."

They had had their finishes and their hug, but as they had unfastened themselves from that hug, they still had another Olympic moment to go.

Here came Cologna, the Swiss gold medalist, going all Federer and all sportsman and congratulating them all, shaking their hands, a competitor from the one prong of the Olympics finding his way to the competitors from the other.

"It was kind of like an out-of-body experience when I finished the race," Madrazo said, "and then Dario's coming toward me, and I'm like, 'He won!' " — even as they all did.

As Anchorage city elections approach, Berkowitz has a big fundraising lead

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-02-16 17:43

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, in his bid to win a second term as mayor, has raised twice as much as his main rival in recent months, new financial disclosure statements show.

Berkowitz raised more than $102,000 from several hundred donors as of Feb. 1, including a large number of city employees and members of his executive team. A number of political action committees affiliated with unions also gave Berkowitz money.

His top challenger, Rebecca Logan, raised about $51,000, according to her campaign disclosure reports. Her donors included several Republican state legislators, former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, retirees and executives in the real estate, home building and resource development industries.

Logan is the general manager of an oil, gas and mining industry association, but she said only about 20 percent of her donors came from the oil and gas industry.

She also said she felt she was on track with fundraising as a first-time candidate.

No other mayoral candidate raised a significant sum of money. While fundraising doesn't predict the outcome of a political race, it does suggest who has an advantage in communicating their message to voters.

[The Anchorage mayor and School Board elections are coming up. Here are the candidates]

Candidates have to report donations to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the regulatory agency that tracks campaign finance. Disclosures by individual candidates don't reflect spending by outside groups that aren't affiliated with the campaigns. Those "independent expenditure groups" are not subject to limits on fundraising.

Logan had spent about $35,000 so far — about $5,000 more than the Berkowitz campaign. The money has largely gone to campaign signs, fundraisers and advertising.

"I'm doing a lot of radio and digital right now to get my name out there," Logan said.

Berkowitz pointed out that his campaign had more than $70,000 in cash on hand. He hinted that a bigger push was coming.

Timing will be different this year. For the first time, Anchorage is running its election by mail. On March 13, the city will send out ballots to registered voters.

[Anchorage will soon hold its first mail-ballot election. Here's what will change]

Political strategists have said that heavy campaigning will come around that time, instead of the usual pre-Election Day blitz.

The new vote-by-mail system largely replaces the old system of precinct voting. April 3, "Election Day," is actually the last day to cast a ballot.

More than half of Berkowitz's expenses went toward a poll conducted by Alaska Survey Research, a firm run by political strategist Ivan Moore. Berkowitz said Friday that the poll was an effort to test political messaging.

He said it confirmed what he planned to focus on in the coming weeks: crime and the state's fiscal situation.

Logan has made crime the focus of her campaign. Business owners, she said, feel the city is trying to downplay the city's crime problems.

Berkowitz said Anchorage residents are "rightfully concerned" about public safety.

He said he plans to discuss crime in the context of the dramatic influx of addictive opioid drugs in Alaska, and state cutbacks. He also said he plans to talk about how he's added 100 officers to the police department.

Hefty fundraising for opponents of Proposition 1

The opponents of an initiative to regulate Anchorage restroom use by sex at birth reported raising more than $124,000 since July, dwarfing the amount raised by the initiative's supporters.

Proposition 1 would undo the part of Anchorage's nondiscrimination law that allows people to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds with their gender identity.

The opposition campaign, Fair Anchorage, said Friday it had also received nearly $300,000 in non-cash donations. That includes a website and staff time donated by the Washington, D.C.-based group Freedom For All Americans; staff time and meetings coordinated by the D.C.-based group the National Center for Transgender Equality, and staff time from the ACLU of Alaska.

The "Yes on 1" campaign reported raising about $31,000 overall. The money came from two sources: Alaska Family Action, a socially conservative advocacy group, and the Family Policy Alliance, a Christian organization based in Colorado Springs.

Kim Minnery, one of the sponsors of Proposition 1, said she expected her group's campaign to be outspent, calling it "grass-roots."

Campaign mounted to support ML&P sale

Finance reports also show the hopeful buyer of Anchorage's city-owned electric utility is gearing up for an advertising campaign.

In early February, Chugach Electric Association spent about $60,000 on communications consulting and campaign strategy, records show.

The member-owned cooperative has offered about $1 billion to buy Municipal Light & Power, the utility that serves downtown, Midtown and parts of East Anchorage.

[ML&P's $1 billion price tag: Confidential report sheds light on deal]

The sale is going before voters on the ballot in March. The city needs voter approval to move forward with negotiations on a detailed sales document, which would be submitted first to the Anchorage Assembly and then to regulators.

Juneau students get new science lessons in 2019 - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Fri, 2018-02-16 17:29

Juneau Empire

Juneau students get new science lessons in 2019
Juneau Empire
A 2016 law passed by the Alaska Legislature requires school board approval of anyone who isn't a district employee but helps to teach sexual education. Previous to the passing of a 2016 law by the Alaska Legislature, the board had never directly ...