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Too True North


With the golden beech leaves falling fast, snow in the forecast and the equinox hard upon us, it was a toss-up whether autumn or summer would finish first in Fairbanks this year. One thing was certain: winter seemed ready to run them both out of town. Young bull moose wandered the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Literales were everywhere.

As though to counter the Northern Lights, the Bible Baptists offered an electronic marquee with nothing subliminal about it. The Gospel message of peace on the night of our arrival was SADDAM SOLUTION NUKE HIM TILL HE GLOWS THEN SHOOT HIM IN THE DARK.

It wasn’t just tyrants who had to worry about being shot in the dark. The Daily News-Miner, a pretty good paper for a town this size, ran a story about the inhibitants of a Bed & Breakfast who, awakened one night by strange noises in the parlor and hushed cries of “There’s a bear in the house,” split up into parties and walked the dark halls with flashlights and rifles calling “Here bear, here bear.”

For the less fearful the News-Miner also described local classes in moose-slaughtering and butchering, a refreshing alternative to Tai Chi and decoupage.

GUN CONTROL IT’S NOT ABOUT GUNS IT’S ABOUT CONTROL alternately declared the Bible Baptist marquee.

ALASKA — WHERE MEN ARE MEN, AND WOMEN WIN THE IDITAROD proclaimed the t-shirt shops. If you do win the Iditarod, as Susan Butcher has done four times, you earn (according to the Riverboat Discovery Gazette) “personal meetings with Presidents Reagan and Bush, Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell and General Norman Schwarzkopf.”

Since she was eating a hot dog when I saw her and appeared unable to defend herself, I had my picture taken with Ms. Butcher. I meant to ask her whether she had ever met any Democrats, but my own mouth was occupied by a doughnut.

Fortunately, the News-Miner reported a sighting. A Democratic candidate for the Borough Assembly attended a weekly Republican luncheon and assured the audience that “she’s not the horrible liberal people think she is.”

This is apparently still the local as well as the national strategy of the Democratic Party: to deny vigorously that they stand for anything whatever. At least the people in the B&B had flashlights.

In Interior Alaska, Democrats typically support drilling in ANWR “because Alaska needs jobs” and refrain from criticizing execrable but popular Sen. Ted Stevens “because he’s been good for Alaska.”

The state’s other senator, Republican gubernatorial candidate Frank Murkowski, has proposed hundred of millions (if not billions) of dollars in new roads and railroads across Alaska but bristles when asked how he would pay for them, with the state facing a fiscal gap of perhaps $1 billion. “If you can’t figure it out, why, you’re in trouble,” says Murkowski.

The person in most immediate trouble is his principal opponent, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who seems to be employing the Mondale strategy. She promises to raise taxes. Murkowski is betting that Alaskans would rather bury the North Slope in sludge than pay more for state services.

Murkowski has spent 22 years representing Alaska in the U. S. Senate. He will stay there and run for re-election in 2004 if he loses, as seems unlikely.

Ulmer is certainly no “horrible environmentalist.” She supports oil drilling in ANWR and is decidedly pro-firearm. She is liberal only to the extent that she is pro-choice and supports diversifying the state economy beyond plundering its natural resources as rapidly as possible. With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?

Meanwhile, David Stannard, a Green Party candidate for the State Senate, campaigning almost below the radar, was quietly warning that the “narrowing of democratic involvement is a very dangerous thing for this society.”

I walked the banks of the Chena River and comforted myself in the thought that Susan Butcher has now been photographed with Reagan, Bush, Powell, Schwarzkopf and Vest. Good luck to her in the Yukon Quest.

Other quick impressions:

A long drive up a dirt road that ended at an Air Force Long Range Radar Station, from where I could look out toward the Arctic Circle and the Brooks Range. A porcupine the size of a large grizzly cub lumbering across the highway. A double rainbow over Fairbanks, and a public library that would put some universities to shame. A jail with records on microfilm but nothing to read them with. Teenagers doing a drug deal right in front of the entrance to my hotel. A man overheard saying he had never been one to hit women — unless he felt it was “warranted.” An older woman who pointed our way to a beaver dam in Denali National Park. A still-bloody freshly-skinned moose head, bungee-strapped by the rack to a trailer towed by what appeared to be Buffalo Bill’s van.

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.

He can be reached at:

Visit his website at


DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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