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FBI Director 'Confused' By Reports Calling Snowden A Hero

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 14:00

"I see the government operating the way the founders intended," says FBI Director Jim Comey, who notes that branches of the U.S. government approved the bulk collection of U.S. phone records.

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Nuclear Missile Officers Reportedly Implicated In Drug Probe

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 13:50

The Associated Press reports that U.S. Air Force officers with nuclear launch authority are caught up in an illegal-narcotics investigation.

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Canada’s PM hails start of Arctic highway

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-01-09 13:49
Canada’s PM hails start of Arctic highway A new 85-mile, two-lane gravel route will extend the Dempster Highway to Tuktoyaktuk, making it Canada's first highway to the Arctic Ocean. January 9, 2014

Tech Ventures in Georgia Prosper As Health Care Law Kicks In

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 13:33

In a state where politicians have adamantly rejected the Affordable Care Act, the area around Atlanta has a growing number of health tech companies. Many are seeing business benefits from the law. Companies that once would have been a hard sell are seeing more sales and customers.

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Aspiring Arctic actors, policymakers should learn from traditional conflict avoidance

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-01-09 13:24
Aspiring Arctic actors, policymakers should learn from traditional conflict avoidance OPINION: Alaska's Iñupiat people have a fundamental cultural element that all Arctic policymakers and prospective regional actors should start taking into account: Paaqlaktautaiññiq.January 9, 2014

Indian Diplomat At Center Of Row With U.S. Indicted, Leaves Country

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 13:07

Devyani Khobragade was accused of lying on a visa application about how much she paid her maid in New York. But her arrest sparked outrage in India and caused tensions with the U.S.

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It's Not Magic On The Mountain, It's A Rain-Making Machine

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 13:00

The snowpack in the Mountain West is at just a small fraction of its normal level, and it was the driest year ever recorded in many parts of California. Cloud seeders are trying to squeeze raindrops out of Mother Nature by spraying tiny silver iodide particles into incoming clouds.

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Gates Unleashed: Ex-Defense Chief Goes Scorched Earth On Congress

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 13:00

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates doesn't spare Congress in his new memoir, comparing Capitol Hill hearings to "kangaroo courts," and even suggesting some members need mental health assistance.

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High PSP Levels Close Southeast Alaska Geoduck Clam Fishery

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-01-09 12:59

Southeast Alaska’s geoduck clam dive fishery did not open this week because high levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning were found.

Geoduck Clam siphon showing on the sea floor. Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Clams from eight fishing areas were sampled, and Fish and Game assistant Management Biologist Justin Brease says they all turned up positive.

“Looks like they tested eight areas for a potential opening, and all of those areas failed the PSP test, so therefore we didn’t have any areas left that we could open, so we didn’t have any openings for geoducks this week,” Brease said.

Brease says PSP testing frequently finds positive test results in the Southeast clams.  Often several areas will test positive. This time, all of them did.

“It isn’t necessarily all that unusual that they have positive results at all. In fact it’s not uncommon for there to be high results everywhere,” Brease said. “We’re kind of at the northern end of the range for geoduck clams and we typically have higher PSP levels than, say, down in Washington.”

The Southeast Alaska Region Dive Fisheries Association will go out and take more samples this weekend for a potential opening on Jan. 16.

The geoduck clam market is depressed right now because its biggest customer is China, which barred imports of West Coast geoducks last month claiming bad PSP and arsenic results that both Alaska and Washington State authorities said they had found no sign of.

Still, Washington closed a fishery area just in case and this week Alaska is unable to open any areas.

Taking Responsibility But Dodging Blame, Christie Takes His Time

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 12:52

With his career put at risk by scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie held an epic-length news conference on Thursday. Taking questions for two hours was part of his overall message, which is that he has nothing to hide.

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Space Music: How To Hear Solar Flares From The Moon

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 12:50

Space weather can be heard, in a sense, by tuning in to CRaTER Radio, a "sonification" project that uses data from a NASA lunar orbiter to generate musical sounds. The results are then streamed onto the Internet.

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Hot Air Ballooning: Transcendent, Until You Break A Leg

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 12:46

Hot air balloon tours are popular with tourists and people looking for the thrill of a lifetime. But accidents can cause injuries and death, a study finds. Leg and ankle fractures were among the most common serious injuries. Most of the problems happen when balloons land badly.

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Dena’Ina Way of Living, at the Anchorage Museum

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-01-09 12:20

Hurry, you can still make it to Dena’Ina Way of Living with its preserved artifacts and dioramic recreations. Not to worry, the exhibition catalog will be available after the show closes; it’s a good read in cold dark January. Fact: more art aficionados read the book than see live work. Catalogs usually contain more information than what is chosen for museum walls.

Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi, the Dena’Ina Way of Living illustrates how a population lived thousands of years ago without electricity, running water and modern medicine; be humbled by those who came before. Ethnically Athabascan, the Dena’Ina, have been in the Cook Inlet region and its tributaries for millennia. The cultural focus of this show and catalog begins when Euro-American explorers arrived in the mid-to late eighteenth century and continues to the present.

While I was writing this essay, my daughter Jenn texted me from the Brooklyn Museum. She and her family went back East visiting siblings for New Year’s. Granddaughter Averyl is a fifth generation visitor. My mother was a Brooklyn artist; her father Irving practiced medicine from their Carlton Avenue home. Looking at the same paintings that relatives from a bygone era also contemplated is one way to experience a family’s culture. Today it is very common not to live where your ancestors did. Relocating means appreciating new cultures as my husband Dave and I did when moving to Alaska over forty years ago.

Going to my K Street office, I drive past Nordstrom, absorbed in whether I need more ink for the copier. I am oblivious to the Dena’Ina who once walked right under my tire treads as I think about dinner– is last night’s rice and chicken enough leftovers for two?

In the museum’s exhibition a Native male/mannequin harpoons a Beluga whale from an inverted tree trunk ingeniously stuck into mud flats. The message is clear, creativity is not a modern concept. Sure, the name Dena’Ina is on the new convention center and conferences often have Native dancers beating drums while waving fans—show over, everyone goes home.

What does it mean to look at glass-enclosed artifacts that were once someone’s utility item, most likely for survival? How does an artifact become an art piece? New York’s MoMA devotes an entire wing to twentieth century chairs and toasters. I am always amused when I see a piece of Pyrex or an early computer becoming the focal point for a lecturing docent.

Dena’Inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi begins with a diorama of a present day fish camp. Two adult women are wading in shallow water as they cut salmon on a makeshift table. One of the ladies wears a Helly Hansen parka. The other is wearing wraparound sunglasses. Nearby a small boy watches a catch basin of recently caught fish. He is wearing an ‘Alaska Grown’ sweatshirt. Even if museum goers have never experienced life in a fish camp, they can relate to these mannequins who are wearing clothing that can be purchased locally. Identifying with an art piece is one way to empathize with the message about preserving subsistence.

Europeans brought smallpox which reduced the Dena’Ina population, thus fewer Natives to sew clothing. When America bought Alaska in 1867, traders arrived with fabric bolts and readymade clothing. Missionaries encouraged western dress. Native lifestyles were affected by intruders, as was clothing. Tunics now sported collars or were abandoned for Western shirts and vests.

In the exhibition, a looping video of traditional Native dishes projects onto a dining table. Visitors pause to look down onto contemporary place settings as if becoming part of this virtual meal. Aboriginal fare of beaver, moose and berries are passed around by virtual contemporary Natives (only their hands are visible). This DVD and the fish camp diorama demonstrate how ancient customs are kept alive.

How do you relate to nineteenth century mittens or arrows in glass cases, no longer used as once intended? Boring, you say, as you give objects a cursory glance, thinking about that nice cup of tea you intend to sip after you breeze by the whittled wooden spoons and caribou hide tunics with the matching knee-high footwear. You are not alone; many visitors typically don’t feel connected. That’s because they don’t possess a narrative about the viewed artifacts. Hey, if museum goers can find a story in Lautrec’s café scenes or in Monet’s water lilies, they can construct one from Dena’Ina artifacts.

Summer Gloves with Strap, Tyonek (1883.)

Fire Bag for Powder and Lead (1883).

For example: here’s a pair of summer gloves, 1883, made from caribou. They are decorated with glass beads and dentalium shells, often a mark of wealth and indication of a trading culture. The gloves are attached to an embroidered string, similar to mittens sold today for infants. Unless our museum goers bought gloves to wear to a gala, chances are they bought winter gloves at, say, LL Bean. They can also afford to lose them too, they aren’t precious.

And visitors probably don’t care if the gloves are decorated. In fact, modern day machine washing would destroy beads and shells. Now look carefully at the care that went into making and maintaining the Dena’Ina gloves, their detail and design quality. Ancient cultures couldn’t run to a store or shop online for replacements. Without handmade outerwear, the Dena’Ina would have perished, which is why they highly valued and coveted their gear.

Here is a matching beaded fire bag with a velvet strap, 1883. Imagine the ego this hunter displayed wearing such flash, perhaps along with the gloves. Velvet for making the bag’s shoulder strap was acquired through trade. Recreational and subsistence hunters today might snicker at what would now be considered a feminine satchel, back then it was status—culture evolves.

Stone Lamp found at Fish Creek near Knik.

Here’s a stone lamp found around Fish Creek near Knik. The carving is delicate; there appears to be a figure, maybe a god, in the center. Did everyone have lamps? Probably not. As Heidegger commented, the meaning goes when the artwork leaves the temple, relocating to a museum. The spirituality of this piece may be lost to present day viewers but that doesn’t mean the onlooker can’t imagine, appreciating the lamp as both an artifact and a present day art form.

When approaching Anchorage International by air at night, lights from Girdwood to Wasilla appear on the horizon. Imagine the darkness these Dena’Ina endured thousands of years ago and how much appreciation came from a stone lamp.

Arrows for Sea Otter. Fort Kenai (1883).

Arrows, 1883, reside in an exhibition case like pencils in a desk drawer. While some tools are made from stone or bone, these have metal points. Were these projectiles made locally or was the metal traded? Someone had foresight to see that adding serrations to the blade anchored the material into the wooden shaft. Feathers had been attached to the other end of the arrows with sinew. Did these Dena’Ina know that feathers were needed for aerodynamics? How many animals suffered at the expense of misfires? Did hunters succumb to friendly fire? Was the shaman the only medical aid or psychological comfort?

Shaman Doll (1850-1900)

Here is a shaman doll, 1850-1900, many were destroyed by Russian Orthodox clergy who sensed a competitive spirituality. Can viewers differentiate between a religious icon and a child’s toy?

Ground Squirrel Parka Susitna River (1898-1899).

It took many ground squirrels to make this parka, 1898-1899. This garment is not unlike Western clothing styles made after the 1920s. Except for the tailored sleeves, the piece hangs without any cinching to the waistline. Was it itchy to the skin? Was it washable? What if the person gained weight? Was there a thrift shop, of sorts, for unwanted clothing? In the late eighteen hundreds, Dena’Ina seamstresses began selling their work to tourists and seamen as art works, thus bypassing original functionality.

When does an art piece become an artifact or vice-versa? Is it the monetary value that settles the score or is it established institutions that make the call after they’ve scarfed up the loot? For centuries art philosophers have tried to separate form from content. In the late twentieth century content, not necessarily the intent of the original work, got superimposed on unsuspecting forms by self-declared critics. In the end artifacts need a narrative to enliven form which loses sensuality when stuffed in a box away from its origin and intent. One has only to observe animal abstractions found on utility items from past civilizations to realize narration has been a human necessity.

If a story isn’t offered, make one up and share it over afternoon tea and a crumpet with a friend. If you miss Dena’Ina, Way of Living, the catalog is filled with Chris Arend’s photography along with a cultural narration about efforts to preserve the past in the present. Oh, note: readers will learn that a major collection arranged for this show was abruptly pulled and remains in St. Petersburg because of a 2012 Russian government ruling that prevents loans to American institutions.

Dena’Inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi, available on Amazon.

NSA Says It Would Welcome Public Advocate At FISA Court

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 11:45

In the wake of revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, there have been calls for changes in oversight of the agency. The outgoing deputy director tells NPR that the NSA believes some of those suggestions can be implemented.

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Grant advances Kasaan longhouse repairs

Southeast Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-09 11:31

The roof of Kasaan’s Chief Son-i-Hat House, also known as the Whale House, is covered by a tarp during repair work. (Organized Village of Kasaan.)

A nearly-half-million-dollar grant will speed restoration of Alaska’s oldest Haida longhouse. The structure was first built 130 years ago.

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Haida Chief Son-i-Hat built the original longhouse in the 1880s at the village of Kasaan. It’s on the eastern side of Southeast’s Prince of Wales Island, about 30 miles northwest of Ketchikan.

It was called Naay I’waans, The Great House. Many know it as The Whale House, for some of the carvings inside.

It deteriorated, as wooden buildings in the rain forest do. The Civilian Conservation Corps, a depression-era employment program, rebuilt it in the late 1930s.

Now, the house badly needs repair again.

An insect-infested house post is prepared for heat treatment to kill carpenter ants. (Organized Village of Kasaan)

“It’s a matter of our cultural revitalization, showing that we’re still here and part of these lands,” says Richard Peterson, president of the Tribal Council for the Organized Village of Kasaan.

The tribal government is partnering with the Native village corporation Kavilco, and its cultural arm, the Kasaan Haida Heritage Foundation.

“A lot of the building is still in really good condition. Some of the supports are what’s failing. I think we’re fortunate enough that we don’t need a total reconstruction, so we want to maintain as much as we can,” Peterson says.

Read more about the effort.

An analysis by Juneau-based MRV Architects estimated full repairs would cost more than $2 million. A scaled-back plan totaled about $1.4 million. It listed several phases to be completed as funds came in.

And they have. In late November, the Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation awarded the project $450,000. Peterson says that, plus funds from the tribal government and its partners, is about enough to complete the work.

“So right now, we’re milling up the logs and they’re going to hand-adz all of the timbers. And we’re just going in and starting to secure up some of the corners that are dropping down. It’s been a really exciting project,” Peterson says.

The effort to stabilize the longhouse has been underway for around two years. But it picked up speed last summer.

The lead carver is Stormy Hamar, who is working with apprentices Eric Hamar, his son, and Harley Bell-Holter. Others volunteer.

Eric Hammer (front) and Harley Bell-Holter work in Kasaan’s carving shed. (Courtesy Organized Village of Kasaan)

Peterson says it’s an all-ages effort.

“The great part is these young kids that are getting involved. And it’s across the lines. Native, non-Native, it doesn’t matter. There’s been a real interest by the youth there,” Peterson says.

Work continues through the winter. Peterson says the focus now is repairing or replacing structural elements so the longhouse doesn’t collapse.

The Whale House is already attracting attention. Independent travelers drive the 17-mile dirt road that starts near Thorne Bay. And Sitka-based Alaska Dream Cruises also stops in Kasaan, where the house is on the list of sights to see.

“Because it’s off-site, you’re not going to see any modern technology. There’s no cars driving by. You can really see how our people lived 200 years ago and experience that and look at those totems in a natural setting,” Peterson says. “It wasn’t put there for a park. This is how it was. And I think people really appreciate that.”

Without too many surprises, Peterson hopes work can be completed in around two years.

Then, he says, the tribe will host a celebration like the one Wrangell leaders put on last year when they finished the Chief Shakes Tribal House.

Scaffolding allows repairs to the Kasaan Whale House smokehole, which was damaged by rot. (Organized Village of Kasaan.)


Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock Series III – The Empty Hearse

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-01-09 11:20

Two years after Sherlock’s “death”, Dr. John Watson has got on with his life. But, with London under threat of a devastating terrorist attack, Sherlock is about to stage his outrageous resurrection. But if he thinks everything will be just as he left it, he’s in for a very big surprise…

  • TV: Sunday, 1/19 at 9:00 PM

Government Tech Problems: Blame The People Or The Process?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 10:58

Contractors say blame bad project management inside government for multimillion-dollar tech failures like HealthCare.gov. Procurement reformists say it's not fair to "blame the client."

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Community Foundation talks funds and future plans

Southeast Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-09 10:49

Tessa Axelson and Tom Shulz of the Ketchikan Community Foundation talk about how much money the foundation has raised and how they plan to support community organizations this year. CommunityFoundation

Watson, IBM's 'Jeopardy!' Champ, Gets Its Own Business Division

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-09 10:49

Big Blue hopes the computer that beat out two human rivals in 2011 can use its "cognitive computing" abilities to turn a tidy profit.

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Docent program to use local science knowledge

Southeast Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-09 10:30

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Ashley Bolwerk, with the Sitka Sound Science Center, discusses training opportunities for docents (and junior docents) at the center. Bolwerk says Sitkans may know more about the natural world than they realize, and can offer a valuable service to visitors. Learn more about the Sitka Sound Science Center docent program online.