The State of My Union

My fellow Americans,

Donald Trump is going to become president of the United States of America in about 50 days. The Republicans have won the House and the Senate, and sexism, racism, bigotry, and rape have been approved as acceptable behavior by half of the Americans that actually voted; approximately half of eligible voters in the country. My domestic partner was crying this morning. She is a non-white woman; two traits that this country has strongly stated are not priorities in regards to common dignity, let alone human rights. Fear is rampant. A mixture of sadness, quickly turning to anger for some; a joyous exhalation of a democratically justified bigotry and fear-mongering for others; and by the time inauguration day comes, a likely return to the normalcy of political apathy that lives like a cancer in the bowels of this country.

I will not continue on a tirade about how the Democratic Party can blame itself for losing this election as much as the near 60 million people who voted for Mr. Trump. But it must be mentioned, due to the continued blame set forth upon Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and even Evan McMullin, for “stealing” votes from Mrs. Clinton, which in itself is a direct attack upon true democracy. Perhaps the only thing Mr. Trump has ever said that could ring true with my personal convictions is that the system is “rigged.” But not in the way Mr. Trump claims, and not in the way he claims he will bring about “change.” Any person can see that he has surrounded himself with millionaire enablers, supporters, and spineless tools like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie; the very definition of what Trump supporters claim to detest is who will surround President Trump. They will empower his ability make “change” in his own envisioned form by controlling all three branches of government, which President Obama was never presented with. They will stand by and refuse to truthfully denounce Mr. Trump for anything he does or says, as they have already proven to be worthy minions who will let Mr. Trump “grab” America “by the pussy.” This alone can rightfully give any woman or minority legitimate reasons to feel afraid. But Mr. Trump’s “rigged” claims ignore the fact that he was elected based on a two-party system deeply embedded into the establishment. Anyone who wants to debate that a vote for a third-party was a vote for Mr. Trump, or simply a thrown-away chance to stop Mr. Trump from winning, please consider the Public Election Commission’s eligibility requirements for Presidential election public funding, and the Commission on Presidential Debates. But I digress.

In terms of the climate, carbon emissions have been given a new life, as the new establishment has pledged to disregard whether Earth lives or dies. The legality of state passed measures are in danger of repeal or disregard. Violence and lashing out against those different from you is now acceptable, if you are white. The Bundys have already been dubbed not guilty; where that snowball stops rolling, I do not know. President Obama will leave office with a legacy of broken policies, including a health care system that was beaten to death by Republicans before it could begin, and a world still burning with drone attacks, police brutality, super-incarceration, and unemployment. But what the country had BEGUN to strive towards under President Obama; a mental steadiness with the ability to grasp and accept the racial strife, deep-seeded fear, and economic anguish the United States faces at this moment in time, whether on the left or the right, is vulnerable to being tossed aside. The fact that the conversation has even begun can be considered a win for both sides, a rare situation in politics. Yet that conversation itself is now in danger by the open willingness to allow Mr. Trump to offend, insult, grope, disregard or destroy social progress.

I fear for further media blackouts. Third-party candidates have already been blacklisted by the major media outlets that control approximately 90 percent of the media in the United States; GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS. Smear campaigns, including the Clinton-backed Daily Beast’s assault on Dr. Stein, have become normal to silence non-bipartisan empowerment. Mr. Trump banned critical media outlets from his rallies, playing directly into the hands of what he vowed to be against – establishment. He has played into the minds of those who rail against the left, only to pray upon their blind faith in disparaging the “liberal media,” which is only a veil for the same cover-ups, lies, and established control over the information available to the middle and lower classes, reflecting back in exactly the same way.

In terms of business, followers of Mr. Trump have fallen into a belief that privatized finances, giving the rich the power to distribute wealth through corporations as opposed to by the government, will prove positive for residents in rural Iowa. Few realize that as factories have closed, so has the profit associated with their existence, and hence have little economic value for return by the major stockholders. Allowing Monsanto to take over cornfields in Kansas will not redistribute wealth to America’s Heartland; it will redistribute further wealth to the rich already endowed with the fruits of working-class labor. Even Mr. Trump does not have the power to erase the Industrial Revolution and the machines that have replaced blue-collar jobs in Michigan. Opposed to targeting energy efforts that can sustain jobs beyond the next 50 years, including solar and wind power, allowing oil companies to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will not sustain Alaska into a new century. But once again, attacking the left can bafflingly legitimize the right.

This will be a new era where the left will either wake up or die. But one thing must be certain. It must begin with a way to do what the left has always had trouble doing, and that is understanding how and why the United States has proudly become an openly racist and misogynistic land for nearly 60 million people, and how even some women and people of color have backed and democratically voted for these twisted ideals. The left MUST realize there is no utopia available. We are living in a country that must first accept the very real truth that racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia not only exist, but are sources of pride for millions of Americans, and must be changed directly from the source. And that is why I cry, for I do not know how, yet.

Mentally we have been stood blindfolded against the wall, but the trigger has not been pulled. We are still Americans, and the United States Constitution is just as much mine as it is Ammon Bundy’s. To flee is to give up on the belief of what the United States was founded for. Now is the very moment when to give up would be the greatest defeat of all.

Charlie Musser, 11/9/2016

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Before they were Padres, they were Glacier Pilots

I’ve been living in Anchorage, Alaska since the dreary end of last year’s baseball season and just recently got to take in my first Alaska Baseball League game. The league is an “amateur collegiate summer baseball league” that a surprising number of Major League players have participated in, and to my surprise, you can find a tribute to Padres players who have made the jump from playing under the midnight sun to the lights of San Diego.

The Padres first true star sported that fro from Anchorage to San Diego.

The Padres’ first true star.

Randy Jones spent two summers in Anchorage playing for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots and in 2011 was inducted into the team Hall of Fame. His two years with the team were extremely successful, going 16-4 over the two year span and to this day still holding the Glacier Pilots record for most wins in a season with 9. In 1971, Jones would lead the Pilots to a National Championship win in Wichita. The 1971 championship team can be seen here, with “Junkman” on the bottom left.

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Photo credit Anchorage Glacier Pilots.

While Jones was the most prominent Padres player to star for the Pilots, relief pitcher Danny Boone, who went 2-0 in 79.1 innings in 1981 and 1982 for the Padres, holds the Glacier Pilots records for career games, games started, complete games, saves, wins, and strikeouts. Apparently Boone loved playing in Alaska so much that he even went back to Anchorage in 1985 after leaving the big show and joined the rival Anchorage Bucs.

As I walked the circumference of Mulcahy Stadium, I came upon another fashionable face pasted on the plastic banners surrounding the chainlink fences:

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Juan Eichelberger pitched for the Padres from 1978 until 1982, tossing eight complete games in his final season before being traded to Cleveland for Ed Whitson. The only other player in a Padres uniform I could find on the vast expanse of players from Alaska’s past was Ed Vosburg who logged a whopping 22 innings for the Padres in total, but 13 years apart, making his Major League debut in 1986, then again for the lackluster 1999 team, in whose uniform he is pictured here displaying the 30 year anniversary patch. I couldn’t find any stats on how either player did while playing for the Pilots.

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Other prominent players with ties to the Padres and Alaska include Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, who played for the Alaska Goldpanners in Fairbanks for two years before being drafted by the Padres, and current bench coach Mark McGwire, who actually made his Glacier Pilots debut as a pitcher (and moved to first base permanently the very next day). While it’s definitely difficult to find many Padres fans up here in the Last Frontier, it gives me a great feeling to see that “SD” symbol over 3,000 miles from where I grew up.

The Ark of Fire

The Pavlof Volcano was acting a little gnarly yesterday. Here is a map of the Aleutian Islands, the Alaskan Ark of Fire, where that volcano is located.

Pete Rose and the Hypocrisy of Major League Baseball

Today the Commissioner of Major League Baseball Rob Manfred denied Pete Rose reinstatement into professional baseball. Rose has been “banned from baseball” since 1989 when it came out that he had been betting on his team as a manager, with further details arising more recently that he had bet as a player, as well. Rose has a gambling addiction and has lied countless times about the extent of his gambling and clearly broke Major League Baseball’s “sacred” Rule 21 (d), plastered on the walls of all locker rooms since the infamous Black Sox scandal, stating:

 

“Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

 

The rule has been on the books since 1927, directly influenced by the “Black Sox Scandal” in which members of the Chicago White Sox agreed to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series in return for payments from gamblers. An ensuing trial in 1921 resulted in the appointment of the first Commissioner of Baseball, a federal judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was given “unlimited authority” over the sport, and as one of his first acts as commissioner placed the accused players on the “ineligible list,” essentially banning them from professional baseball. To this day the list still exists and still includes the eight White Sox players. Baseball personalities that have been added to the list, but since reinstated by other commissioners, include Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle for being hired as greeters and autograph signers at Atlantic City casinos in 1983 (I’m not sure there is a ballpark in baseball today that doesn’t regularly feature casino advertisements today), former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner who paid a private investigator $40,000 in an attempt to discredit Dave Winfield, and former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for voicing support for Hitler. Pete Rose was put on the list by then commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti in 1989, and since Judge Landis’ death in 1944, remains the only person banned by one of the succeeding commissioners who has not been reinstated.

Rose had stated that after commissioner Bud Selig stepped down he would petition Manfred for reinstatement. Selig was, of course, commissioner of baseball during the “Steroid Years,” and many conspiracy theorists believe Selig to have wittingly known about the rampant use of steroids in baseball, while others go even farther and accuse Selig of having orchestrated the whole endeavor in order to win fans back to the game after the 1994 players strike. While Selig never admitted to having any blame associated with steroids and baseball, he made very clear his position on gambling. In 2012, the major professional sports leagues filed a collective federal lawsuit against the state of New Jersey as it attempted to pass a law allowing sports betting licenses to be issued to casinos and horseracing tracks. Under oath, Selig stated, “Gambling on a sport…I think is the deadliest of all things that could happen,” further adding, “It creates doubt, and it destroys your sport.”

Major League Baseball Advanced Media (also known as BAM), officially known as the “the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball” is a “limited partnership of the club owners of Major League Baseball” that runs the MLB.com website, all thirty official team sites, and MLB.tv. President and CEO of the company Robert Bowman, who answers directly to the thirty club owners, in 2012 stated the company made around $620 million annually. Bud Selig even claimed that the company was “one of the great stories in American business,” and Forbes Magazine called the company “the biggest media company you’ve never heard of.” Yet, fast forward to 2013 when BAM became a direct investor in DraftKings, a website where “anyone” can play “daily fantasy sports for cash.” While this seems to unmistakably signify that the owners of every Major League Baseball team openly invested in, with full approval of Selig, what visibly appears to be a sportsbook website, in a legal sense, this was not the case.

In 2006, the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act” was signed into law by then President George W. Bush in order to “to prevent the use of certain payment instruments, credit cards, and fund transfers for unlawful Internet gambling, and for other purposes.” One key fact was that the law specifically excluded fantasy sports and “games of skill” as forms of gambling. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA), “Managers must take into account a myriad of statistics, facts, and game theory in order to be competitive…the highly skilled fantasy player wins more frequently.” Using this argument, even if the outcome is for money, fantasy sports are considered a “game of skill” and not legally considered gambling. Therefore, looking back at Major League Baseball’s investment in DraftKings, Selig and company could legally say they were supporting fantasy sports, and not gambling.

With that said, in 2014 DraftKings was made the “official mini fantasy game of MLB.com,” and just this year DraftKings and Major League Baseball announced a “multi-year expansion of the current exclusive partnership” that includes “fantasy contests” co-branded by Major League Baseball itself, and the promise that Major League Baseball will “promote DraftKings daily fantasy baseball games and contests across its multiple media properties,” including making Draft Kings an official sponsor of the All-Star game and postseason events. With this direct investment in DraftKings, at the same time Major League Baseball is currently being targeted by a class action lawsuit in Florida, citing Major League Baseball as partial owner of DraftKings, for “negligence, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, deceptive practices plus civil racketeering and conspiracy.” The lawsuit goes hand-in-hand with New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman’s declaration that fantasy sports websites, including DraftKings, are illegal gambling businesses in the state of New York. In an interview with the New York Times, Schneiderman went so far as to say that DraftKings and fellow kingpin FanDuel were “the leaders of a massive, multibillion dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country.” When questioned about the difference between DraftKings and gambling, Commissioner Manfred simply stated, “We see the issue as the difference between fantasy, which is legal, and sports betting, which is not.” At least according to New York’s attorney general, that statement holds no ground anymore.

While Pete Rose remains “banned” from baseball for betting (although his appearance as an “analyst” for Fox during the World Series was rather baffling), Major League Baseball has clearly stated that it is more than happy to invest in, advertise, and profit off of a company that while currently legal, runs an obvious online sportsbook, or “bookie” service. While Bud Selig went so far as to claim that gambling on a sport was “deadly,” he seemed to have no problem buying shares in DraftKings and profiting from the revenue generated by numerous fans “gambling” on fantasy baseball. While Rob Manfred can claim “Mr. Rose’s public and private comments … provide me with little confidence that he has a mature understanding of his wrongful conduct, that he has accepted full responsibility for it, or that he understands the damage he has caused,” Manfred remains committed to a lasting relationship with a company currently being sued for numerous offenses including deceptive practices and civil racketeering, while claiming that rules against gambling are more important than rules against steroids. I simply find it astounding that any employee of Major League Baseball can be banished from the sport for life for betting on a game in which they have a “duty to perform,” yet players, coaches, owners, and the commissioner himself all will be paid from revenue received by investing in a sports betting company. Does that make it acceptable for a player to invest in DraftKings as a shareholder and, rather than placing the bet himself, instead invest in someone else (the fans) to place the bet for him? Instead of placing the bets, Major League Baseball has put itself in the position to take the bets, insuring profit without needing to “gamble,” and thus placing itself outside the realm of breaking Rule 21 (d). By that logic, it seems Pete Rose simply missed the bus on where to invest his money, and instead of gambling on himself, he should have gambled on the fans interest in gambling, just as Major League Baseball so blatantly has.

 

 

 

Cryptozoology and the Mutant Cats

 

Last summer, while on a short journey to visit Carcross, the small Tagish town in the southern lake country of Canada’s Yukon Territory, I was returning to Skagway via the South Klondike Highway and noticed a van had stopped, half-way in the middle of the road, and the driver was taking pictures of something.

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International Falls, Border of British Columbia and Alaska. Mutant cat territory.

Now this is quite a common occurrence on this stretch of road, one known for it’s vast amount of black and grizzly bear sighting, especially during the summer. Without thinking too much about this (I had already gandered at a teenage black bear earlier in the day), I started to attempt to pass the unsafely parked van to continue on my way, when about 50 feet in front of me, a gangly, malnourished, and bony-looking cat of some sort ambled across the road. Now I was not close, my eyes may have been playing tricks on me, but it appeared to be some sort of prehistoric cat, even a descendent of a saber-toothed cat. Perhaps it was purple (with spots?) and it definitely looked like a panther that had dragged itself out from a few millennia in the netherworld before melting into the wilderness. Upon returning to Skagway, I told my story of the mutant cat to many, almost all brushing it off as a lynx, or maybe a bobcat. I can tell you for sure this was nearly three times the size of a bobcat (I know the tall-tale is already starting to sound like “the one that got away”) and this was no lynx. The fur, the ears, the body structure; none of it was lynx, and to this day I am convinced I saw something not “normal.”

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It May Have Been This….

Interestingly enough, there is a field of study that involves my mutant cat known as “cryptozoology.” Led by Bernard Heuvelmans, a Belgian-French scientist who is now known better as the “father of cryptozoology,” the field involves considering folk-tales, myths, and other here-say as having a basis in truth and, in turn, attempting to locate and identify these mysterious “hidden animals” of nature. Heuvelmans’ book On the Track of Unknown Animals was dismissed across the board by most “mainstream scientists and experts” but did develop a following, leading to the creation of the now defunct International Society of Cryptozoology, using the okapi, originally ridiculed as being a mythological creature, as its symbol.

Around the time the okapi was “discovered,” the world was still open to exploration, and fabled creatures were not necessarily that uncommon to find chewing on a banana tree in your backyard. It was a time when (white) men were still swashbucklers, trudging through the jungles with machete in hand, “taming the savages,” and battling man-eating anacondas, all the while finding ample time to destroy civilizations that already occupied the areas. The okapi, for example, had been noted to exist first by the famous Belgian Henry Morton Stanley, but he was too busy claiming the Congo for the Belgian throne and, concurrently, raping the Congolese of ivory, rubber, and life to corral proof of the creature’s existence. An article from the farcically named American Review of Reviews in 1918 seems to imprudently describe why the okapi’s existence had not been proven until the turn of the 20th century:

“This region is described as one of the most dismal spots on the globe…White men avoid this part of Africa, and that explains why the okapi was not really made known to science until the beginning of the present century.”

As we all know, if “white men” avoid anywhere, science and creativity halt at all costs, and stagnation, with a dose of diabolism and savagery, occurs. Right. But my real point being, even today, there are areas of the globe less traversed than most, examples including the Arctic Circle, Antarctica, and the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Desert. Not to say that giant okapis and Yetis are roaming around the Saudi Arabian sand dunes, but a sense of mystery and the fact that humans cannot claim to know half as much as they even really know about the Earth is a stable truth, with the additional truth that living creatures stranger than any comic book alien have roamed, and some even continue to roam, portions of the globe.

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The Songhua River Cactus Porcupine. Please inform me if you ever spot one. 

The Pleistocene was an era of ice ages and an era of giant mammals. Mutant creatures more familiarly found in 1950’s science fiction were tromping around ice fields. The giant beaver, a 200-pound beast that to this day is the butt of many jokes, did not become extinct until 14,500 years ago and most likely was hunted by, or at least coexisted with, developing modern Homo sapiens sapiens. Oncorhynchus rastrosus, also known as the saber-toothed salmon, could grow up to 10 feet long and would surely haunt the nightmares of many seafaring children. Giant sloths, giant lemurs, and hairy rhinos were all at the Pleistocene party, and some anthropologists even consider that the hunting of these large mammals created a need for a collaborative effort amongst humans, contributing to the birth of modern “civilization.”

While not many cryptozoologists believe that giant beavers are still lurking in the swamps of northeastern North America, although some claim they do exist, another mammal from the Ice Age, more familiar to the average person, has a much larger log of sightings and hoaxes.

In October of 1899, McClure’s magazine (credited with commencing the muckraking journalism of the Gilded Age and featuring articles from numerous major writers of the era including Willa Cather, Jack London, and Mark Twain) published a small piece titled “The Killing of the Mammoth.” The piece was written by a “Henry Tukeman,” who while travelling through Alaska came into contact with a native man named “Joe,” and after showing Joe a picture of an elephant, together the two found and, eventually, killed the last living mammoth. Proving the unheralded stupidity of the American public, the magazine had labeled the story “fiction” in the table of the contents yet admitted later that the story was written by a short story writer named H.T. Hahn, after receiving numerous angry letters from the public condemning the killing of the mammoth.

While what became known as the “Tukeman Hoax” was pure fiction, other mysterious accounts surrounding wooly mammoths still remain. In 1920, Siberian tribesman claimed to have seen “large shaggy beasts” when questioned by a Russian exploratory team. The bones of pygmy mammoths have been found on the Channel Islands off of California’s coast. Along the Songhua River in Northeastern China, bones of an enormous steppe mammoth have been unearthed, leading scientists to believe this type of mammoth weighed 15 tons, nearly double the size of your average “wooly.” Lastly, on Wrangel Island, a remote Russian island in the Arctic Ocean, what were presumed to be the last living mammoths on earth did not die out until approximately 1700 B.C., an occurrence that may have been related to Inuit travelers following reindeer herds and crossing the frozen ice from Siberia to the historical settlement of Point Hope, Alaska. Mammoths even have the distinction of being the state fossil of Alaska, creating a massive folk hero out of the extinct giant.

In all of this, I am not claiming that mammoths are still traversing the tundra of Alaska but only reminding that the fact remains the world is a still a wide open area of mystery in many facets. Whether or not a child-snatching sea witch named Qalupalik is lurking off the coast of the Arctic Ocean or whether a giant beaver is leveling forests deep in the blueberry bogs of Maine, improbabilities, myths, and fables do deserve some place in the consciousness of history or, at least, in the jumbled mess that makes up truth.

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In Inuit lore, Qalupalik may try to steal your children.