Will the Sheep Ever Look Up..?

Across the past few months I’ve been quite intrigued, not to mention disturbed, by the ongoing miasma of miscommunications from our federal government; you know, the same one that is charged with protecting the country from all threats foreign and domestic.  Of course this administration has never been able to put forth a coherent, unified message unless it is lying but then this can be said of many of the recent administrations.  Still and all I believe the Obama administration has done the best job of torturing the truth in recent memory and there may well be a fairly straightforward reason for this observation.  Could it be this administration has sensed that the American public has finally been dumbed down to the point they are incapable of thinking for themselves when dealing with complex issues like foreign or fiscal policies?

I’m sure most of us have seen the videos of folks visiting college campuses, large cities or recreational areas and asking randomly selected people very simple and straightforward questions regarding the American government, American history and/or American leaders only to see truly epic idiocy when those questioned could even conjure up an answer.  Initially such videos were funny but very soon many people found them to be alarming; how could college students fail to know who fought in the Civil War or who lost World War II?  Given the crush of the 24 x 7 news cycle how could someone fail to identify Joe Biden as the VP or Bill Clinton as a former president?  The really sad versions of these programs then demonstrate that these same folks can name any current Hollywood member by their picture, recite the string of boyfriends and girlfriends for the same as well as their current and past acting efforts.  Somewhere something went horribly wrong with this country’s educational standards and we are now seeing the fruit of this sowing.

It is no secret the ‘higher education system’ is staffed largely by academics with strongly liberal views and these are the folks we pay exorbitant monies to educate our college enrolled children.  What has happened across the past 50 years that we now regularly churn out college graduates who are clueless regarding the basic workings of the government that controls the country of their births?  I’m sure there are a myriad of factors which play into this scenario but regardless of what the motivation the fault has to fall directly upon these institutions of ‘higher learning’ and, by default, their staffs.  Sure, it is still possible to get a quality college education but it seems as though this is now the exception rather than the rule.  Just what could be driving this inexorable flow to the mundane and ill-educated..?

Without question tenure is a major player; once attained it is virtually impossible to remove a tenured professor regardless of performance, histrionics or lack of commitment.  But I find it hard to believe a majority of the instructors in our collegiate system are sub-par in terms of teaching abilities.  So just what is happening – and has been happening for at least the past decade – that’s given us college graduates total devoid of a basic background in civics, economics and politics?  I feel that for whatever reason – and I suspect PC is at the root of this belief – maybe 40 years ago colleges began to move away from teaching critical thinking in favor of indoctrinating the students into the necessity of having a ‘world view’ and empathy towards all races and cultures.  After all, if one does think critically about ISIS any sane person will have an extremely difficult time dredging up much empathy for brutal beheadings and the raping of children all based upon the sick perversion of a theocracy.

But back to my original question:  could the current administration have decided the American public is so incapable of rational, critical thought that they can now be led about by their collective noses?  I think this is a definite possibility and I need only look at this week’s swirling direct disagreement by administration members regarding the ISIS threat to support my belief.  Earlier in the week we’ve heard Obama and Kerry (that’s the president of the US and the Secretary of State for you the clueless) both come out and tell us we are safer now than at any time in the past.  Yet following on the heels of these statements the former counterterrorism adviser at the Department of Homeland Security John Cohen said; “The West is facing the most complex and severe terrorist threat we have certainly seen since 9/11”.  Then, a few days later, the FBI’s top counterterrorism official – Assistant Director Michael Steinbach – gave this chilling assessment of America’s attempts to stop ISIS from spreading its ability to recruit new members online; “We are losing the battle”.  All this has been covered, however briefly, in the so called ‘mainstream media’ yet as of this writing there’s been little to no reaction.

How can ‘We the People’ accept such diametrically opposed evaluations of our nation’s safety?  Where is the reaction from the public demanding an honest, credible analysis of our situation?  Without question the failure by the ‘lame-stream media’ to really cover these discrepancies has contributed but this also highlights another supporting observation regarding my concerns about the American public’s inability to think for themselves; if the lame-stream media doesn’t cover it it’s not worth knowing..??  Apparently a majority of Americans cannot read this information and develop their own thoughts, evaluations and perceptions; they must have the so called ‘journalists’ – and I use this term very loosely and with the deepest disrespect – tell them what to think and believe?  If the federal government is looking to push more and more people unto its dole then seeing how clueless the public has become must really put a smile on its face.  This, coupled with the data showing 47% of ALL American households now receive some form of government assistance – and, no, this does not include social security or Medicaid – certainly backs up the suggestion that the American people are losing their ability to think and function independently of governmental support.  Is this what we want to foster in upcoming generations..?

I try to be optimistic but seeing what this administration has done across the last six years – and previous administrations since World War II – I find little to inspire hope.  In a way much of our population has come to mirror the narcissist in the White House; we have time only for our cell phones, ‘selfies’, reading ‘People’ magazine and giving no thought as to where our country is heading.  I would like to think that maybe, just maybe, the horror of ISIS might give us a rallying point but when we have a President and Secretary of State telling us we are safe and the ISIS threat is mainly something manufactured by the likes of Fox News I guess we prefer to accept that view.  And why shouldn’t we..??  After all, this is the administration that gave us ‘Fast & Furious’, Benghazi’, the ‘lead from the rear’ philosophy which worked so well in the recent Middle Eastern conflicts, the Obama Care roll out and similar; what could go wrong..?!?!  Not that I needed another reason to be pleased with my retirement to semi-rural south central Alaska but at least up here people are aware, prize individual strength and the ability to fend for one’s self.  In a way it shouldn’t be a surprise that ‘The Last Frontier’ should be one of the last states to still mirror so much of what made America great…

Walking In a ‘Water’ Wonderland

Although it is February 24th in south central Alaska one could be forgiven for being confused when seeing the high temperature break freezing the last eleven consecutive days and huge spans of ice shimmering with liquid water atop their expanses.  Indeed, as I contemplate my second Alaskan winter – and I use the term ‘winter’ loosely – I’m once again forced to realize this has been an even milder and drier ‘winter’ than the record-setting warmth that helped the 2013 – 2014 Alaskan winter enter the books as the warmest on record.  As of this writing Anchorage, 112 miles to the south, is 30” short of ‘normal’ snow fall and with temps forecast to be in the middle to upper 30’s right into the first week in March there’s not much hope for any near term relief.  My own observations show Talkeetna is just 12% of ‘normal’ snow-pack and our ten-day forecast shows no real snow and a lot of temps at or slightly above freezing.

Meanwhile the eastern half of the lower 48 is once again racking up the snow fall totals and seeing some cold weather although nothing like the previous winter’s cold.  It doesn’t escape my notice that the past two winters would have been much more to my liking in terms of snow and cold had I remained in SE Michigan as versed with moving to south central Alaska.  I understand that one or even two ‘winters that weren’t’ does not validate global warming although after having experienced the past 19 months up here I do not doubt that the climate in this portion of the sub-Arctic is warming.  And it is not just this immediate area that’s seeing extreme warmth; witness moving the start of the historic Iditarod race to Fairbanks in search of reasonable snow and cold.  Last week Fairbanks was warmer than places in Georgia!  A few weeks back I saw reports of freezing rain in Deadhorse; my God, that’s on the North Slope up against the Beaufort Sea!!

Most folks in the Lower 48 don’t really understand our situation; we really are hurting when we cannot get snow and this is exacerbated by above freezing temps.  We have a comparatively deep frost line and when we do not get snow in November and most of December but do see seasonable temps this can push that line even deeper.  Then, when we see this absurd warmth coupled with a lack of snow fall, the terrain experiences a lot of melting of what snow and ice exist.  However, because the ground is still frozen solid and is so quite a ways down the accumulated snow and ice doesn’t just melt off and disappear.  Rather, it remains in place and slowly converts to just ice.  When we get drizzle and showers or even the dreaded freezing rain the precipitation that falls doesn’t freeze atop this ice; instead it forms a thin layer of liquid water.  I, for one, know of little else that is more slippery than a thin layer of water atop smooth ice.  Salt is not used on roads in Alaska with the exception of around the Anchorage bowl; gravel is the main treatment but it just turns to mud and eventually runs off the ice in these circumstances.  The paved roads can be repeatedly scraped by the plows and they are usually in good shape.  But the back roads are sheets of ice, as are most parking lots, which become impossible to walk upon because they are so slick.  Just five or six inches of snow atop these conditions would remedy the slippery nature but we just cannot seem to even buy such a minimal snow fall.

So when we Alaskans complain of a lack of snow and cold it is not just out of aesthetic concerns; it can be a matter of our very health.  I heard last May that the Sunshine Clinic in Talkeetna had treated a record number of broken ankles, legs and feet due to these kinds of conditions.  Assuming this was true we could well see another record this ‘winter’.  Without question I will be purchasing a pair of the sandals that have studs driven into the soles before next winter; at least they will give some purchase on the skating rinks we call back roads and parking lots.  But mostly I, and a whole state full of people, would just like to see our ‘normal’ winters return!!

A view of Riven Street looking south towards East Barge Drive; notice the myriad patches of water atop the ice.  Even my Mal Anana had trouble remaining upright!

A view of Riven Street looking south towards East Barge Drive; notice the myriad patches of water atop the ice. Even my Mal Anana had trouble remaining upright!

Solo and Sick

Although normally a very healthy person suffering only from the usual age related infirmities (i.e. weakening eyes, forgetfulness, morning aches, weight gain, etc.) at the start of February I contracted some illness which apparently is burning through this region as well as many places in the lower 48.  It is rather unusual in that it begins with a sore throat, low grade fever, a sense of overall weakness/lack of energy and slowly mounting cough; by day two the cough is a deep, hacking repetitive monster settled well into one’s lungs.  By day four the fever and sore throat are gone but the cough remains in full force although one can begin to feel it lifting its locus from the lungs into the throat.  By day seven all symptoms are gone except for a general weakness and the cough.  I am now into day twelve of this illness and it continues to tease me with feelings it is disappearing followed by kicking my butt if I so much as try to start acting normally.  But across this entire situation I’ve experienced no congestion in either my lungs of my head, something that’s very surprising given the cough.  From what I’ve been told the cough requires around three weeks to completely disappear.  I was quite impressed with the fact this organism was capable of knocking me flat on my back for the first five days; all I did was sleep, drink gallons of water, sleep, try to hold down some soup and sleep.  In the first 96 hours of this battle I believe I sent 78 hours in bed.  As the fever and sore throat departed and the cough moved up into my throat my need for sleep has diminished although I’m still making sure I get at least ten hours a night.

All told this has been a most unpleasant time and it has caused me to reflect upon myself as a patient and my lifestyle as a single human being.  I’ve known since childhood I am a lousy patient and my demeanor is directly proportional to how bad I feel; in this case imagine an old grizzly bear awakened abruptly from hibernation only to find snow and cold outside his den suffering from severe hunger and possessing a fuse maybe a sixteenth of an inch in length.  I feel so bad for my dogs as although I honestly try they still get the brunt of my negativity and Heaven knows they do not deserve it!  In fact given my largely comatose condition across the first five days and their almost non-existent exercise they have behaved wonderfully.  Yes, I did get up to let them outside three times a day and made sure they had food and water but that was about as much as I could muster yet they responded by being perfect family members.  Really makes me proud of how I raised them but much more so proud of their intelligence, patience and loyalty.  It always put a smile on my face when I’d finally awaken in the morning and find Qanuk’s favorite tennis ball by my head; he ‘gave’ it to me just in case I might want to awaken and play a bit.  Anana is the classic Mal; endless patience broken only by random periods of her need to ‘talk’ up a storm.  I love the Mal vocabulary of howls, grunts, wheezes and similar and thus I’ve always encouraged her to be vocal.  As I’ve improved I’ve been able to get them outside; I’ll often load them in my Escape and drive around handling important chores.  Upon finishing I drop them on a back road a few miles from the house and allow them to chase me back home.  A real advantage to living rural is the complete lack of traffic on the back roads!

This is as ill as I’ve been in many decades and it really did cause me to reflect upon my choice to be living solo with just my dogs in a rural setting.  Because I am still relatively new to south central Alaska I have yet to build up a robust network although I must admit I was surprised and pleased by so many genuine offers to walk the dogs, make store runs and similar!  I knew Alaskans are known for being caring, sharing people but even so I did not expect this level of support.  Yet this remains quite different from what so many folks have in terms of support be it a significant other or close by family.  In working through my desire to relocate to this area I was painfully aware I would be putting thousands of miles between myself and my family and friends.  I was very concerned about this concept but saw no resolution if I went ahead and made the move.  To be honest once my folks passed my closest sibling was in Chicago (240 miles to the west) but he soon moved to Albuquerque (NM).  My sister has almost always lived in Colorado and hence she was well over a thousand miles to the west.  I have some loosely held connections with cousins and Aunts but they are mostly 500+ miles to the ESE.  So as far as family the move didn’t really involving making a separation but rather exacerbated that which already existed.  This was not the case with my network of friends in Michigan and this caused me the most angst in deciding whether to move so far afield.  In the end I was chasing a 16 year old dream and I couldn’t not say ‘Yes’ to the opportunity.  I sometimes have second thoughts but then it was a huge lifestyle shift and it only occurred 19 months back.

But this current bout with whatever illness I’m still locked in battle against did give me some long, sleepless periods during the coughing spells in which I could review my choice and my situation.  No surprise many of these times were rather negative as I struggled with trying to quell the cough and the up-welling of illness induced concerns about caring for myself as I age and illnesses become more impactful.  Sometimes it was downright desperate in nature although I also realized the sickness was skewing all my thought processes in such a negative direction.  I did realize it was much better for me to be alone with this illness given just how close to ‘Hell on Wheels’ I was in terms of my overall personality.  No one should have to be subjected to me when I felt that bad!  So this was a good thing.  In addition I was aware that despite how devastated I felt during those first four days I was also still capable of rational thought as I set it in my mind that if the cough remained in my lungs by Monday I was going to break down and visit the Sunshine Clinic just three miles from here.  In addition I had the phone numbers of two neighbors who would gladly have come by to check on the dogs and me.  So all in all I was ‘okay’ for the short term while I monitored my own progress and reacted accordingly.

Of course as one really ages – such as crossing the 60 year old mark – I believe it becomes paramount to begin to recognize one’s infirmities and to plan ‘round them such that one’s abilities are not too diminished while living safer.  My stairwell is narrow and steep in this place; from the time I moved in I started training Qanuk to never, ever be on the stairs with me.  He is far too excitable and energetic; I could easily see him knocking me down by accident and me ending up at the base of the stairs with a broken ankle or leg…or worse.  If there’s outside work that requires getting up to the second floor or higher I’m paying to have it done; I’ve recognized my balance isn’t as good as it used to be!  There are a plethora of other ‘concessions’ I’ve made with plans on how to minimize their impact on my lifestyle.  I do not want to ‘wall myself in’ with so many restrictions I cannot enjoy life; this would be a travesty.  But I do want to live a little smarter and safer; in pursuing this goal I recognize I should shy away from things I may have done without a second thought at age 50.  Part of my leanings in this direction stem from watching my folks refuse to accept age related infirmities and pay for their denials.  Seeing Dad on a ladder at his place cleaning out the second floor gutters when he was 90 years of age scared the daylights out of me.  And I saw the results of Mom climbing up a short ladder to fill a bird feeder and losing her balance.  These were extremely healthy octogenarians plus yet the infirmities of age negatively affected their abilities.  I am in nowhere near as good shape as them but I do recognize that I just cannot do some of the things I did when I was 45 years of age nor should I try.  That’s life…

Learning to accept that age often means a lessening of one’s abilities particularly in the extremes is a part of aging and something I feel is necessary.  In one sense I suppose one could make a case for me holding myself back based on these beliefs.  But in another I accept the fact that I can ill afford a major injury like a broken leg when living my lifestyle.  Because of this I’ve adopted a simple approach which has served me to this point:  I accept I do have some age related infirmities which will restrict some areas of my life but I do not dwell upon them or bemoan them; they simply are a part of my aging process!