Letter to the Editor: Dunleavy Wants to Sink Alaska for Your Free Money

Back when I was an office assistant at the part of the state I work for now, I got a call from a guy very upset that we were garnishing his PFD because of what he owed.  He said that we can only take a portion of it because it’s income.  I told him that’s wrong.  We can garnish up to 100% of any lump-sum payment, and 40% of wages.  The response I got was classic – the PFD is wages.  To which I rightly replied – what exactly is it that you did to earn this money?  The answer I got was about as incoherent as it could be, and he angrily hung up.

Wanna know the truth?  He did nothing.  This is free money that he got for living in Alaska.  He did NOTHING to earn this money.  But in his overwhelming sense of entitlement (for the old people who think this was a young man, think again.  Dude was in his 40’s) had him actually believing that he was owed this payment from the State of Alaska.  That it wasn’t a gift that could be taken away.  Looking at all the madness surrounding Dunleavy and the crazy nonsense he has done and is still doing, I’m starting to realize that he isn’t the only one.

During the last election for governor, I knew exactly what the issue on the table was going to be – the PFD.  My prediction was that those on both the D and R side of the table were going to use it against the then-Governor Bill Walker and destroy him with it, because people had their dander up about the PFD because Walker had cut it for three years.  Cuts done because he was too conservative to do what now HAS to be done – raise the income of the state.  He couldn’t cut his way out of the problem, so the idea was to use PFD money to plug the massive financial hole that the state dug because the oil is drying up and our state made the unfathomably-stupid decision to tie our entire economy to a finite resource.

All of my predictions were spot-on.  Both Begich and Dunleavy were doing nothing but using the PFD as a bludgeon against Walker.  To the former Governor’s credit, he actually did step up to that.  A pity he dropped out.  Would have liked to see what it would have looked life if he hadn’t.  So we had a pretty much substance-free election, all tied to everyone yelling about their free money.

Now, a year later, and Dunleavy intends to keep to his word.  His one major campaign promise – a full PFD, with an amount for what was cut in previous years to be included.  But since he’s a Republican and has a single-digit IQ, he decided that doing the smart thing like raising taxes (which has to be done.  We’ve long passed the point where we can cut our way out of this) along with cuts (which also does need to happen.  It has to be both, not either), he opted for something that is outright insane.  In a series of line-item vetoes, he cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget, smashing so many programs that actually helped people to bits.

The biggest thing that he slashed to ribbons was the University of Alaska budget.  $130 million cute from the University, effectively disabling it from dozens upon dozens of degree programs.  And this may not even be the end of it.  In one fell swoop, Dunleavy crippled one of the biggest things that Alaska has going for it.  Don’t believe me?  I’ll explain.

A few years ago, there was a big push to keep Alaska students in Alaska.  The reason being that most who leave for college never come back.  There was also the goal of getting those who are out of state to come to Alaska.  Things like UAA’s excellent nursing program, or UAF’s amazing engineering program.  These things are known nationwide.  Not to mention using the UAA teaching degree program to help get new teachers to Alaska, or at least get people to be aspiring educators.  One can never see how the future will pan out.  Especially with the turnover rate for teachers.

The powers that be at that time could see what I do now – Alaska’s population is getting old.  As more and more young people leave, and fewer young people are having children than ever before (guess they got the memo about overpopulation killing our species), the population of Alaska is very old, and getting even older.  Back before the oil market started to crash, this was worrisome.  Now, as industry is leaving Alaska and the recession of 2008 has finally arrived, the aging population of Alaska is a bigger threat than ever before.

One doesn’t have to look far to see what population decline is doing to some of the state where there is no major industry to speak of.  With fewer and fewer people coming into the labor-force, jobs will be unable to fill positions.  Experienced leaders who are retiring can’t be replaced, and as more people are looking for jobs out of state, that leaves an even bigger hole.  The cost of living in Alaska keeps growing, and people are fleeing major cities like Anchorage because the cost of housing never stops going up.  Another thing that Dunleavy is helping facilitate.

What does this mean long term?  For starters, ghost towns.  Places that are economically dead, and people just leave because there are either no good jobs, or no jobs at all.  Businesses that can’t staff their stores will close.  In Anchorage, this is especially important.  Nordstrom just closed.  The 5th Avenue Mall is holding on by a thread.  If JCPenney closes, that’s it.  It will join the Northway Mall in being effectively dead.

You can’t sell the direness of the situation to the entitled people who want their free, unearned money, however.  They won’t listen.  They don’t care.  While the state is dying a very slow and ugly death, while the PFD is on borrowed time because to give people the PFD Dunleavy promised (because he is having to dip into state reserve money to pay for it), while young people will leave Alaska to pursue education opportunities elsewhere, they just want that free money.

In a previous article, I talked about how what’s happening in Alaska is a microcosm to what is happening nationwide, and I’m certain I’m right.  Now more than ever.  Alaska is bleeding to death, but everyone is blissfully unaware, or outright doesn’t care, because they want things their way, and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.  Plenty of people say that the left just wants free stuff, but those people aren’t paying attention.  Medicare For All wouldn’t be free.  The difference is that for people like me, instead of paying premiums to private insurance, it would be paying to that.  It would probably be cheaper than my plan.

The PFD, on the other hand, is free money.  Not one person complaining about it has done one thing to earn it.  It’s money that the government gives you.  And if we don’t do something, now, to increase revenue and cut the oil tax breaks that we should have 20 years ago, that free money will go away.  With as old as the population of Alaska is, maybe they don’t care.  After all, it’s not like they’ll live to see it when it’s all gone.

Until next time, a quote,

“You can’t sell smart to the American people.” – Toby Ziegler, The West Wing

Peace out,

Maverick

Letter to the Editor: The PFD and Alaskans Refusing to Face the Truth

(I submitted this to the Anchorage Daily News, but they wouldn’t publish it.  No surprise why.  This is something that entertains disrespectful notions and actually challenges people to do what’s right in the face of having to do what is difficult in the fact of an ugly situation.  You can’t preach that to stupid-ass America, and especially not stupid-ass Alaska)

Are you tired about hearing about the PFD? Wouldn’t be surprised if you are. It’s the talk of the state, and every state news channel and talking head has their own opinions on it. The current governor won his entire campaign with that as the focal point, and nothing else.

The big debate right now is the amount of the PFD.  It’s what’s holding up the state budget, which threatens to put state workers like myself in lay-off status until a budget gets passed. One side of the debate wants a $3,000 PFD. It’s what Gov. Dunleavy promised during the last election cycle. The other half wants a PFD that is more modest, and doesn’t dip into the state emergency revenue.

You know, the emergency revenue for things like natural disasters. Could have sworn we just had one of those.  Something about a huge earthquake?  Was working at the Atwood Building, so didn’t notice it over all the shaking and people scared and hiding under their desks.

The PFD and the fight over it are a microcosm of the current state of America. Alaska has a problem – the recession finally found us. What the rest of the country had to deal with back in 2009. Alaska weathered it the way we did because the oil industry was booming at the time.  Basing your state’s economy on a finite resource, however, can be a bit of a dilemma when that resource starts drying up.

Alaska’s financial hole is too big to get out of by cuts alone. Unless you want to put all of the state out of employment (there are plenty of people who think we do nothing but spin in our chairs all day) and then shut every service in the state off, it is literally impossible to get the state’s budget under control with cuts. Something the conservative element of this state simply cannot understand.

So, what does that mean?  What has to happen?  It’s pretty simple – revenue has to increase.  Which means talking about a dirty word that no one wants to talk about.  Taxes. Here’s where all the “no more taxes!” people get to have their moment of righteous indignation over the very mention of it.  But the truth is that reality doesn’t conform to the way you want it to be.  You can have your own opinions all day, not your own facts.

What taxes are we talking about here?  For starters, close all the loopholes the oil companies use. That line about how they would leave is a lie that has been going around since my generation was in diapers, and it’s just as wrong now as it was then. Not while they’re money to be made.

Second, we need to bring back the state income tax. Nobody wants to hear this.  Those who think that anyone in this state wants to hear this are foolish. But it needs to happen. So few Alaskans will even qualify for it given how poor this state is, but the richest will, and do we really feel bad about making them pay?  Migrant fishing workers who come from out of state would be the biggest. They make a fortune each fishing season, and don’t collect the PFD.  They would still go home with a fortune.

Third, the city of Anchorage needs a sales tax.  It’s the most populated (and grimiest) city in Alaska. A sales tax would bring massive income spikes to the state. Granted, with all of President Trump’s tariff’s spiking the cost of everything at the grocery store, this will hurt. No one said weathering a recession would be easy.

Finally, we need to increase the gas tax.  Yeah, you might have to pay ten to twenty cents more at the pump, but that’s the situation we’re in.  It isn’t pretty, but we’re all in this together.

The comments of this article will be a litany of vehement denial and yelling about why this shows how ignorant (insert political ideology) is about things in Alaska. That’s why this issue is a microcosm of what’s happening all over America. We have a problem, and the solutions to it aren’t pretty. We’d all be hurting for a while. But you don’t fail to act just because it will make people mad.

When you look back through history, great leaders were defined by how they took charge in a situation that was grim. When they told people what they didn’t want to hear.  That’s what’s needed now. Because the cruel truth is – if we don’t act now, then soon, the argument won’t be if we can fully-fund a PFD.  It will be if the PFD will exist at all.

Until next time, a quote,

“You can’t sell smart to the American people.” – Toby Ziegler, The West Wing

Peace out,

Maverick

The Solution to Homeless Drug Use (and a lot of other problems)

There was an article on KTUU news about homelessness in the city of Anchorage.  It’s where I live.  As the recession has caught up with Alaska, homelessness, poverty, it’s hitting this state like a giant hammer.  Jobs that pay a living wage are more and more scarce every year.  More and more businesses are shutting down as their parent companies are downsizing and Alaska isn’t seen as a place where business can grow.  Downtown Anchorage has become a cesspool.  There isn’t a day that goes by where there aren’t stories of robberies, shootings, rape, or any number of criminal activities in downtown Anchorage.  This while some idiot believes that we can turn part of this area’s crumbling infrastructure into Anchorage’s version of Pike’s Place Market.

We all know what would happen to such a venture.  The homeless would immediately invade and it would become infested with people squatting there.  It’s funny, at work I talked about a story where the JCPenny parking lot was going to be demolished.  The reason was because the structure was no longer safe, and the idea was to turn it into housing or something else.  My coworker immediately chimed in with “where are the homeless gonna pee now?”  He’s got a point.  Anybody who has been unfortunate enough to step foot in the stairwell at that parking lot is greeted with the acrimonious odor of urine reeking out.  It’s foul beyond belief.

Over the years, more and more businesses have fled downtown for South Side, where there are vastly fewer homeless and the natural aesthetic that Alaska is most known for is more prevalent.  This part of the city is dying a very slow, very ugly death.  Were it not for the state agencies that have made their home there, it probably already would be nothing but the 5th Avenue Mall, which is dealing with their own problems as more and more businesses close up shop because of either too little business, or crime becoming too prevalent.

Downtown Anchorage is infested with the homeless for a reason – because that’s where a major homeless shelter is.  The major one.  It’s a place that is both a refuge, and a symbol of all that is broken with this city and with an issue I am tying in to this.  There is an issue here in town where the police want to charge a fee for excessive calling of emergency services by the homeless shelter.  An asinine thing to do.  It’s not their fault that the place is overrun with the same crime that infests all of downtown Anchorage.

What is the problem?  Simple – where the homeless population gathers, drug culture follows.  Drug usage among the homeless in Alaska is astronomical.  With treatment centers being few and far between, not to mention woefully understaffed and unprepared for the sheer number of afflicted, the problem is only going to get worse.  Those out in the bush who find alcoholism or other addiction, they come to Anchorage.  There they find no place to live, very few stable jobs, and very few resources to get clean.  It’s tragic, to say the least.

The public is no help in any regard.  The law is not to give money to panhandlers, so the constant people holding signs at the corner of 15th and Gambell aren’t going to have much luck.  Anytime the homeless set up camps, because the drug culture that fuels crime culture immediately follows, we look to evict them.  Public parks become areas to avoid.  There’s nowhere for these people to go and people clearly don’t care so long as they don’t have to look at the problem.

Which brings us to the issue at hand – what’s the solution?  How can we combat a problem when it’s resounding clear that public couldn’t care less and the powers that be just don’t want an eyesore.  The first solution is – get the homeless out of downtown.  Well, where are they supposed to go?  No other part of town wants them.  Since downtown is so closely connected to Mountain View and Fairview, crime-ridden cesspools in their own right, it’s easy to just push them off to that part of town and look the other way.

I have a solution that could do real good, but that nobody in a position of authority would approve of.  Not one.  It’s radical, and flies in the face of a lot of conventions we are taught to believe, but the trade-off is that it would work.  That’s not my opinion.  It’s a fact.  The solution is – mass decriminalization and regulation of all narcotics.  Every single one.  From heroin to methamphetamine, legalize everything.

Before you go into a fury about how terrible that sounds to say, let me explain.  The drug war isn’t helping anybody.  There isn’t a single piece of evidence to show that it has provided any substantive victory in any regard.  Putting non-violent offender in jail whose only crime has been putting a substance into their body is a waste of taxpayer money.  And since Alaska has state-run prisons, your money is being spent to keep people who have hurt no one but themselves in jail.  Is that something you want?

It goes deeper than that.  Part of why the drug usage is so prevalent is that people are afraid to seek treatment for addiction.  They’re afraid of going to jail.  They’re afraid of social stigma.  But if it was no longer illegal, those looking to get clean could now seek out treatment.  They could even have treatment centers in the same place that sellers would distribute.

What’s more, with legalization and regulation, they could make the drugs less toxic.  Part of what makes narcotics so dangerous is that since there is no regulation to stop tampering with them, or use of dangerous chemicals in the creation process.  Not to mention, it could be regulated for how potent it is, which would make the drugs less addictive than they otherwise would be.  Some would say “if they water it down, people will just seek out the more potent underground market.”  Perhaps some, but it’s been shown that Americans will always seek out the cheaper, easier option instead.  It’s why we eat McDonald’s, even though their food is garbage.

The biggest reason, however, is the fact that legalizing narcotics would crush the illegal market, utterly and completely.  There is no way that they could compete with legal stores that could provide what people are looking for without having to worry about the police.  In a matter of weeks, street dealers would be out of business.  This would have a chain reaction all over the state.  Areas that were previously viewed as unsafe due to drug selling would no longer be.  Communities could repair and rebuild.  Areas that were previously seen as dangerous come start to have business come back.  Imagine what that would do for Mountain View, or Fairview, or Spenard.

Something has to be done.  The public can’t be bothered to care about the plight of their fellow human being.  After all, so many mass shootings per year, and there is still no sensible gun legislation.  Because the moment someone talks about that, they immediately jump to “you can’t take our guns!”  Not trying to.  Just making it so you have to have a license to own one, same as a car.  And that you have to register your guns, just like a car.

The crime problem isn’t staying in the decaying downtown area.  East Anchorage already has it in spades.  Ask anyone who lives in College View.  South Side is seeing itself getting hit.  Heck, even Hillside has had a growing share.

Anchorage is dying.  The state of Alaska is dying.  Since nobody in our government will do ANYTHING to try and build a new revenue source now that the oil is drying up, it’s just gonna keep decaying.  Another aspect in legalization is, and I am well-aware how tragic it is that we’ve come to this, but there is such a massive amount of money in the illegal drug market.  Millions upon millions of dollars in heroin, meth, and opiates that could be going to the state, instead of to criminals.  Since the government isn’t actually trying to help the people, maybe we can help ourselves, and make our streets safer, and our budget not such a desperate issue.

This plan isn’t perfect.  It would need a lot of ironing out.  But the drug war has failed.  By every conceivable metric, it has failed.  It is failing us right now, as I read story after story every single day of a shooting or a robbery.  This isn’t a perfect solution, but it is darn sure a step in the right direction.

Until next time, a quote,

“It’s not a war on drugs.  It’s a war on personal freedom.” – Bill Hicks

Peace out,

Maverick

Anchorage Assembly Subverts Democracy, Part II!

Whenever I tell people that I only vote when there is a ballot measure that I agree with, they get on me about how voting matters, and voting changes things.  Well, I now have very blatant proof that that isn’t true!  It comes in the form of the a recent ban that the Anchorage Assembly did on public use of marijuana, that this state just voted to legalize across the board.  I swear, it’s like these people want prohibition to continue.  It’s like they don’t want the money that legal weed is going to bring in.  It’s like the Anchorage Assembly is so fucking stupid and so fucking greedy that they want the fines that they know this is going to bring in!  Seriously, I want an answer – if your democracy can be easily subverted by anyone in power, then what is the point of participating in this stupid game?!  Here’s a link to the article, now let’s talk about it.

Lots of rage here.  All the lectures that so many people have given me about the importance of voting, and now I have definitive evidence that it’s all a lie, a fraud, a joke.  Because one assembly can come and just fuck it up for everyone.  Because here’s the thing – nobody wins here, aside from the cops, who get to keep Prohibition going by giving out fines to anyone caught smoking what was just legalized in the state of Alaska.

That’s right, a new ban will make it so that public consumption of marijuana in smoked form is illegal.  If you get caught, there is a $100 fine.  Yeah, I bet the people who get caught drinking in public don’t get that kind of fine, do they?!  Bunch of hypocritical douchebags.  I know why this happened.  It’s because of the money that they know they are going to rake in with these fines.  Because think about it – where the fuck are people supposed to smoke?!  Almost every apartment in the city doesn’t allow smoking.  Smokers are now being forces to stand outside and huddle like a bunch of hookers while they light up.  Now, the city of Anchorage has decided to now take that away.

And of course, the pussy-ass progressives are commenting, “we don’t want to inhale your cigarette smoke, so you should respect us in not wanting to inhale your pot smoke.”  Fuck you!  You are already forcing smokers to stand out in the cold.  What more do you want?!  For real, it’s like you all are gently trying to just ban all the things you don’t like.  I fucking hate people who comment that people who are out in the cold in the frigid of winter to support their habit are somehow hurting them.  Oh yes, you will be exposed to smoke for a split-second.  Poor you!  That might…do something, down the road!  You showed them!  I fucking hate this argument, and now the Anchorage Assembly has validated this bullshit.  Nice work.

Here’s why this legislation exists – to punish people who voted to legalize.  The worthless progressives get behind it because they think the only thing wrong with the world is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths (thank you for that joke, Carlin).  Conservatives get to have their fun, raking in money from the people who went through the democratic process, like me.  That’s right, I actually voted this time!  Granted, it was more to raise the minimum wage, which is more important to me, but that was something too.  Now, they get to tax innocent people whose only crime is putting something that is now legal into their bodies.

I am so pissed.  Voting is a sham.  Democracy is a joke.  It can all just be banned and stripped down and at the end of the day, nothing is going to change.  Nice work, Anchorage Assembly.  You are helping to keep the drug war going, all because you got butthurt.  Fuck you, and fuck every single person who supports this.  You have your right to express your support, and I have the right to give you the finger.

I’m done.  I’m not voting anymore.  It’s all a joke.  What a waste of fucking time.

Until next time, a quote,

“I just ask that you don’t make my opinion into the law!”  -Bill Maher

Peace out,

Maverick

So, the Public Votes to Legalize, and You Want to Ban? (A response to the city of Anchorage)

I keep being told by people that democracy is the best thing that America has.  The voice of the people is everything.  The people have all the power.  However, for those who don’t just watch Fox News or MSNBC, it is resoundingly clear that democracy has been hijacked and the average person has no real power anymore.  You look at bills like the Omnibus financial bill that just went through the House and is likely to pass through the Senate too.  You see how it basically breaks open democracy even more to be bought by the rich.  You see how it cuts domestic programs, while giving more income to our massively-bloated military.  The more and closer you look, the easier it is to realize just how broken democracy is in this country.  But for those who think that I am being too broad, let me bring you a story from closer to home.

The state of Alaska recently voted to legalize marijuana.  Not just medicinal, but the whole shebang.  It passed.  The people weighed in and voted to pass it.  Democracy in action – this is what the people want!  However, the Anchorage Assembly has decided – screw democracy!  We don’t like pan (Drunken Peasants fo’ life!), so we’re going to ban it (linked here).

I don’t get it.  I don’t fucking get it.  I don’t fucking get how our government can look at a ballot measure that the people of this state voted on and passed, and decide to basically go – fuck that, we make the rules.  What does that say about our government when this is deemed as acceptable?!  What does this say about the country we are in where this kind of backdoor legislation can be done, which spits in the FACE of the people who took the time to vote.  And this was a midterm fucking election!  Do you know how little the turnout is?!  It is a midterm election and people still voted.  Unreal.

What’s more, this makes absolutely no sense.  For real, what is the argument here?  I can’t think of one.  I’m sure that the conservatards are going to come out with their bullshit.  It’s a gateway drug!  It’ll lead to crime!  It will make things harder for cops, because they’ll have to catch stoners driving!  I’ve heard it all, and there is NO argument, none, that makes sense to prohibit commercial marijuana.  I am DYING to hear a new argument.

Let’s look at the benefits of upholding the Ballot Measure that people voted on.  For one – money.  If you look at what has happened in Colorado, it is resoundingly clear that money is coming in hand over foot!  All the budget estimates for how much the legalized sale of marijuana would bring in have been busted into pieces by what has actually come in.  There is no way that you can argue that this would not be financially beneficial to the state of Alaska, and the city of Anchorage as well.  Show me how this won’t be good for this city.  Show me a way!  Any way!  Any single piece of evidence that this won’t go well.  I’m waiting.

Next up, commercializing the sale of pan will cut down on crime.  Aside from meth, pot is the drug in Anchorage.  Once it’s legalized, the gangs whose sole profit comes from pan will be destroyed.  That means that we will be able to have cops focus on real crime.  I know, novel concept.  Maybe the other states should go this route too.  Then we can have cops stop shooting and strangling unarmed black people.  But maybe that’s a little too crazy.  Still, gotta start somewhere.

Aside from ideological reasons, I am waiting to hear one single good reason for keeping pan illegal in the city of Anchorage.  What’s more, this is something that people voted on!  This is what I constantly am hearing so much about.  This is what the people who tell me that voting is important harp on.  I actually decided to vote in this election.  Though I only voted on two Ballot Measures and left the rest blank.  I didn’t care about any of the candidates, and I wanted to vote to raise the minimum wage.  Another thing that passed.  That means more to me, personally, because that is a bigger issue.

This is the second time now that I have watched democracy get subverted by the fucking cowards in office.  This is the second time that I am watching people who claim that voting is so important back down and not fight for what they believe in!  If you care so much to vote, then care so much to fight when your democracy is swept out from under you!  Go to this event!  Make your voices heard!  And if these cowards on the Anchorage Assembly choose to subvert democracy anyway, then choose to take to the streets and demand that they uphold our democracy.  More and more, voting booths can’t solve our problems.  Coming together as a voice to demand the upholding of democracy can.

Your move.

Until next time, a quote,

“People should not be afraid of their government.  Governments should be afraid of their people.”  -V, V for Vendetta

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: The Nutcracker (Anchorage Concert Association)

Anchorage BalletWhen one of my favorite girly-mates posed the idea of going to this to me, I was very excited.  I haven’t gotten to see this live since I was a little kid.  Having gotten to go again, all my love of this suite came right back.  I first heard and saw this as interpreted by Disney’s Fantasia, which is my second-favorite film of all time.  Ever since then, I have been in love with the music and wanting to re-see the suite live.  Tonight was my chance, and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

I don’t imagine I have to explain the plot of this to all of you.  I will anyway just to follow the formula, but anyone who doesn’t know what this is should be smacked.  Anyway, the story follows a young girl who is given a nutcracker by a mysterious toymaker.  That night, she goes to sleep with it, only to have it come to life and go with her on a journey to see what her subconscious can create.

Before I gush about the things I like, I do have a couple of nit-picky little complaints.  Don’t worry, I’ll be nice.  The first was these little rats with glowing eyes that are built onto remote-controlled cars.  They are cute, but still, it takes you out of the moment when you hear the sound that a remote-controlled car makes when they run.  It was a brief humorous moment that was a little annoying.

The next thing was a segment during the last part of the third act, where there are the dancing snowflakes.  This will just involved the musical portion.  There was this part of that where there were vocals, and they were pretty bad.  It was so obvious that they were recorded, so when you have live music playing and it’s beautiful, to hear a recording of vocals come on, it takes you out of the moment.  I did still enjoy that part, but I couldn’t get past that vocal section.  That’s all the negatives.

Now we get to what I thought of the rest.  First-off, the set designs were gorgeous!  My personal favorite was the Christmas tree.  They had lights running through it and the use of light and color with it always popped.  But the rest of the sets were no slouches.  With the perfect lighting for each set, every single one of them popped.  They were amazing to look at.  The props were also well-done, with the cake that was constantly tipping over being over-the-top and cartoon-y in a really fun way.

The costumes for the characters were a lot of fun.  The ones that people are most likely talking about are the Nutcracker itself and the people outside the dream, but for me, none of those make my list of favorites.  The ones I liked best were the ones for the Spanish and Arabian dancers and the toymaker.  There was also this cute little costume for the girl who played the main character’s dog, Minnie the Poodle. The costume was so adorable and ridiculous that you couldn’t help but like it.  So were the costumes for the poodle dancers later on.  Then there were these completely cute little chicken costumes for the children playing as the chicks of a giant chicken.  That got a lot of “awww’s” from the audience.

Next up there is the music.  I don’t think I have to tell you that it was amazing.  Aside from the out-of-place vocals, the members of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra gave it their all and it was beautiful.  The songs that I loved from one of my favorite films sounded even better in real life.  My personal favorites were the parts with the Chinese Tea Dancers and the Arabian Coffee Dancers.  There were some sections that I thought were done better than others, but I won’t say for a second that a single note was wasted.  It was all awesome to listen to.

But now, we come to the most important category.  The thing that makes or breaks any ballet – the dancing.  The only nit-pick I have with this was the fight choreography with the duel between the Nutcracker and the Rat King.  But it’s ballet.  You take what you get.  I don’t expect every fight in everything to be like Lord of the Rings.  Aside from that, this was awesome!  Act II was by far the best of the bunch.  My favorite sections were the ones with the Arabian dancers and the Russian dancers.  Damn if they didn’t put in one hell of a performance.  Now, a caveat to the Arabian performance is that, as the girly-mate I went to see this with pointed out, if you are in front of them as they perform, it works best.  But that’s not to say that any part of their performance slouches.  And don’t let me sell the rest of the hard work that these dancers put in short by not having their bits be among my favorites.  The part with the dancing poodles was hilarious.  The guy they had as the lead poodle was just awesome.  He clearly was loving every minute of that absurdity.  To each and every person of the Cincinnati Ballet Company (I think I got that right), you did an amazing job.

So, we come to the last portion.  This was am awesome night.  I got to have some good company, which was nice.  I’ve been missing this girly-mate.  I had wanted to see this for a long time and damned if it didn’t deliver.  Well-done, dancers.  You all deserve the accolades.  There are some gripes, and since I’m a nit-picker, I can’t not address them, but don’t worry.  Your score will be good.

Final Verdict:
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Pirates of Penzance

Pirates of PenzanceAlright, this review is kind of stepping out of my depth, in terms of how I am going to follow the formula I have with these reviews.  For a bit of clarity, this is an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, done by Anchorage Opera.  It is part of the 51st season.  I happened to be able to see the final run of this show, along with their final performance of the season.  One of the nights when you actually want to be at something like this.  As a disclaimer, I am not that much of an opera fan.  I have been going recently to see my cousin’s husband who is one of the performers.  And this opera isn’t like anything I have seen before.  Is that bad?  Not in the slightest.  This was a new experience, and as such, leaves me wondering exactly how to judge it.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s start with the basics.

The story of this performance goes that a young man named Frederic has turned 21.  He has been an indentured servant to the titular pirates.  And let’s just say that these pirates are not exactly the scourge that one imagined a pirate to be.  Some of their failings are hilariously silly.  Like a certain word that always brings them to tears.  I won’t say too much about the details, because I don’t want to spoil it for you.  In any case, as he is preparing to leave, Frederic tells his former comrades that he will be coming back later…to kill all of them.  And how they take it is one of the highlights of Act I.  In any case, as he is about to leave, a bunch of young women land on this island.  You see, Frederic is kind of new to females, and how he implores one of them to go out with him is so awful that it’s hilarious.  I won’t say more than that.  The pirates find these girls and plan to take them for their own, until they find out that the girls’ father is a Major General of the British military.  Through manipulation of their failings, the Major General saves his daughters from their clutches, and takes young Frederic and his new girlfriend back home.

Act II starts with the Major General having a bit of an identity crisis.  I can’t say much more than that.  I don’t want to spoil anything, which it would if I told you why.  But as Frederic is preparing to get some of the British police force to go and bring his former compatriots to justice, his past catches up with him in a very funny way.  It all culminates in a climax that I won’t DARE spoil for you.  It’s so ridiculous, so absurd and so funny that it is something you have to see for yourself.

Now that we’ve got the plot looked at, let’s get down to what I like and didn’t like.  I’ll start with the dislikes.  It will be short.  The biggest (and really only) thing that got under my skin was that in certain places, they had some modern-day references that they tried to use for comedic purposes.  And…I had a problem with that.  The references were not only a little dated, but they felt REALLY shoe-horned in there.  And this is a place where me covering an opera in this format may be lacking.  See, if I was some kind of great critic about this stuff, I would probably look up this performance, and see if these references are being substituted for references that were originally written for the time period and wouldn’t make sense to us now.  But as I heard it, it didn’t fit, and that has stuck with me.  Another thing that bugged me, and this is totally nit-picking, but I didn’t like how the guy who came to the stage to open the show shouted “Ahoy!” at the audience, and then treated us like 1st-graders when everyone shouted back and shouted back at us “I didn’t hear you!”  That sort of thing grinds on me.  Yes, it’s nit-picking, but for an opera, it kind of grinds my gears.

So yeah, that’s all the negatives.  Now, we are going to absolutely gush about all the things we liked.  Of which there are a ton.  First, let’s get nit-picky.  I liked the sets they had.  The quirky design for them seemed to fit.  And they used them well.  In the second act, there is a scene where multiple parties are supposed to be hiding, and how they use the sets was just awesome.  Made for some great comedic moments that left me feeling so humored.  There was also a trick of how they used lighting in the sets to bring the environments to life in a big way.  It worked wonders, and was fun to watch.

Next there was the music.  Not the spoken music.  Just the instrumentals.  When I heard the overture to this opera, I won’t lie, I was confuddled.  Maybe it’s because I have heard so many operas that open with “DEATH!” as pretty much the overture.  I have never been to a comedic opera before, and I gotta say, the opening music set the tone pretty damn well.  I got right into the absolutely absurd spirit of things.

I will also note that I liked the costumes.  Call me a fanboy if you will, but the pirate costumes were my favorite.  The designs were fun and full of that pirate flavor, but not too flamboyant.  Similarly, I loved the Major General’s uniform.  It looked the part of that time-period’s uniform, and it made me feel like I was looking at such a character.  I also like the pirate dress that they put the character Ruth in later.  It was a lot of fun.  And the police uniforms were also well-done and felt correct with the time period.

But the thing that I and you who are familiar with opera probably want to talk about is the performances.  And man was this fun!  My favorite characters in this performance were the Pirate King, played by Michael Scarcelle, and Major General Stanley, played by Bill Gerry.  But I can’t think of a single character who fell flat.  They all excelled, and it was a joy to watch and hear.  Something that made this performance better, for me personally, was how it wasn’t all singing.  There were just regular lines of dialogue.  That really helped.  Especially for setting up the comedic bits.  Another role that I want to recognize is the Police Sergeant, played by Kyle Gantz.  What is interesting about this role is that I happen to know that this performer doesn’t have a Cockney accent naturally, but he not only speaks with one, but he also sings with one.  Maybe I’m wrong, but something tells me that singing with an accent that one doesn’t have naturally can’t be easy.  And he does it very well.   But as I said, the entire cast excelled, both for the regular speaking bits but also the ones with song.  They were always used in a mix.

But yeah, the Pirate King and the Major General stole the show on this.  And kudos for how incredibly well they did it.  This was amazing to hear.  I was both amazed and the singing talent and laughing at the same time with both these performances.  The choreography for this production was also spot-on.  With as much was happening in it, they had to have good choreography.  My hat goes off to the entire case for how organically they made even the most absolutely absurd moments of straining reality look.

Something about the performances is that they had this neat habit of these…I don’t honestly know what you’d call them.  Maybe Breaking the 3rd Wall moments?  See, one neat touch they added was that the cast would have moments in song where they would interact with the orchestra.  My personal favorite was when the Pirate King is singing about how great his lot in life is, and there are many pirates holding flags.  He waves his blade at the conductor, who holds up a small pirate flag from the orchestra pit.  Little touches like that were just awesome.

This was a great performance, but now we come to what has been dogging me since I have left the PAC – how do I rate this?  See, most of my reviews are on movies and video games.  At least, the ones that I call “Lucien’s Review.”  I have a 1-10 scale on this for the Final Verdict sections.  I mean to keep to that, because I mean to render a verdict.  After lots of deliberation, I have decided on how I am going to measure this.  And this is for all future operas or orchestra concerts I attend.  Or if I am at a live concert of a favorite musician.  It is still 1-10, with the measure being how much I remember it.  For example – a rating of 1 is a performance that is so bad that I will remember it for how much I hate it.  A rating of 10 would be something that will stick with me until my dying breath.  Not that I’ll forget ones that are in the upper-echelon of this rating system, but these are the ones that are landmark in my life.  For instance, I got to see Chris Botti in concert last year.  That would have been a 10.  That concert was not only amazing, but it happened at a point in my life where my depression and social issues were at their worst.  And the rating of 5 is when something is totally forgettable.  So, that’s the system we will be using.  With that in mind, here we go.

Final Verdict:
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

The Dark and Windy Night, When the Power Goes Out

There are few experiences that I have had that can match last night.  It was one of those sensory experiences that goes beyond description.  It is genuinely that amazing.  But it is also beyond the sensory.  What I was able to experience was something that goes deep inside.  Something primal.  Something that is at the very base of human nature.  I will try my best to describe it to you, but I make no promises of my description being easy to understand.  I wish I had pictures for you, but how can you capture the darkness?  Not with a point-and-click or a cell phone camera, that’s for sure.

Wind storms are nothing new where I live.  Every fall and winter we have them.  Not so much in spring and summer.  For whatever reason, the warmer times of the year never seem to be this way.  But last night was unique.  I live in the city of Anchorage, Alaska.  What happened last night is something incredible rare.  The power has gone out at the dorms before, but this was beyond that.

The power went out all over the city.  It was bathed in total darkness.  The moment that the darkness came, I was intrigued.  I did as I had done with the last power outage – wandered the halls, whistling a creepy little tune.  I’m evil like that (big smile).  I meandered downstairs, and I found something interesting out about the human race – the moment the lights go out, we come together.  All sorts of people headed downstairs, meeting up and talking.  They didn’t want to be alone in the darkness.  I find that behavior very encouraging.

It was then that I met up with a friend of mine, Madison.  I call her Maddie.  Apparently, I’m the only one who does this.  We ventured out into the night.  The wind was blowing so hard.  It had to be at 60 mph.  My eyes, which almost seem to function better in the dark, saw it like it so clearly.  It was beautiful!  The trees were whipping around, beaten down to the will of the Mother Nature.  Some cracked and fell over, others were looking like they were one more stiff breeze to do the same.  Maddie and I ventured out into that darkness.  Walking through its majesty, and feeling the wind on us.  With the city lights all gone, there was a peace of mind from it.  Others ventured out as well, wanting to find that connection to the night that is so lost in a place where light is always there.

The wind was our constant companion, walking around campus.  It did get to points where it was working very much against my very small friend.  But beyond that, it did also have its boons.  As it danced through the night, it also was blowing through her long brown hair.  It was amazing.  Never before has she looked so beautiful as when I saw her after the walk through the night, and it looked so free.  Her hair has a gift of not being all messy, but look just as primal as the night when it is in the wind.  That’s a gift, to be sure.

As for myself, once her and I came back from our stroll into the night, I went back to my room.  At first, I was going to watch a movie on my laptop.  Then, I decided to switch to music.  I put on my favorite trumpet player, Chris Botti.  His music is so soft, so soothing, yet so gripping and so emotional.  On a night such as this, what could be better?  I opened my window, listening to the wind blow as I listened to the subtle sounds of Botti’s music.  I got to see him perform live once.  An experience like none other.  One that I will never forget, and should I get a chance to see it again, I am going to be one of the first in line.

Listening to that music, with the sound of the wind, my imagination was able to explode in a way that I cannot describe.  I saw all the universes of my mind as if they were one!  I kid you not, all of the universes that my creative mind has made over the years, they all grew up around me.  I saw all the characters, all the worlds, all the little intricacies that makes each universe unique.  I have never had a mental experience like that before, and I am hoping it isn’t the last.

But then, after the laptop power went out, I walked out of my room.  The generator was dead, and the security lights were out.  It was totally dark.  Now, it was much quieter.  Normally, it never feels that quiet here at the college.  I walked down the hall, and I saw something I haven’t seen since I was back home – moonlight.  The moon is out, sure, but you never sees its rays of light shining down on the world like this.  It was so beautiful!  Again, I wish I could have captured that with a camera, but my little point and click just wouldn’t suffice.  I sat in that hallway, feeling peace in my heart, for the first time in years.  All of the things that plague my mind, like a couple of failing friendships, and all the classwork, disappeared, for that short time.

Last night was amazing.  Hands-down, one of the best nights that I have had in a LONG time.  For just a brief while, I was able to forget about the problems that afflict me.  I was able to forget about the loneliness of the dorms.  I was able to forget about the schoolwork which is so heavy this fall.  I was able to forget about the desire to get away for a long time.  I was able to forget all of that.  I truly wish it had never ended.  But as the morning has come, I am back to it.

However, as has been before, and shall always be, the night is the time of day when I am most at home.  The night is the greatest time of all.  And last night, the entire city got to dwell in the majesty of it with me.  We were all connected.  It was amazing.

Until next time, a quote,

I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”  -Vincent Van Gogh

Peace out,

Maverick

The Holiday Season Begins, and so does the Guilt Trip. Right, Delilah?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of year.  It is the time when we start examining which turkey we are going to get to feed our families for Thanksgiving, when we are mourning having to put our slutty Halloween costumes back in the closet (for real, why do women see fit to wear costumes that look like one swift jerk would tear them to shreds?!), and there is the beginning of something that is really annoying – Christmas music on the radio.

So, let me say plainly that I love Christmas.  I love the music, I love the time of year.  I love everything to do with it.  I am hoping to get some sweet photos for my Checkmate folder on my Facebook page that mixes my love of Christmas with photography, now that I have a new camera.  But, that said, I am a little annoyed that there is already Christmas music being played on the radio.  It is NOVEMBER, people!  It is a month too early for this.  Now, come December 1st, I damn well expect to be able to hear my favorite Christmas tunes (I really only like the old stuff.  Call me crazy, but new artists almost can’t seem to be able to do it right, save Michael Buble, Chris Botti, and a couple others) on the radio, but right now, I want to hear the music that I hear all the rest of the year!

There is one radio show in-particular that I heard some Christmas music on with some rather interesting/really annoying commentary.  There is a radio station – Magic 98.9.  Late at night, there is a radio show with a woman named Delilah.  She typically, during the rest of the year, plays romantic music, having callers and looking up messages from people talking about their love lives.  It’s corny, and I don’t usually pay attention.  Not my area.  I’m a romantic underneath it all, but I have another side that is a hardcore cynic.

Anyway, now that the holiday season has rolled around, her show has Christmas music, talking to people about their Christmas stories.  Okay, again, that’s fine.  I don’t condemn that.  Non-existent-god knows I have a few funny stories that I could tell.  That’s not the problem here.  The problem was a bit of dialogue that she said.  Now, I don’t have the exact words in front of me, unfortunately, so I won’t quote directly.  I don’t like paraphrasing, because it makes people say that I am pulling this out of my ass and taking it out of context.  In any case, here is the paraphrased version of what she said –

You know, while we all are celebrating the season, there is one thing that gets overlooked.  It is this baby who was born, and who gave his life for all of us.  He did so much, and we sometimes forget how much he did for everybody.”

She is, of course, talking about Jesus Christ, the Christian hero/savior/awesome guy, who wasn’t a Christian, and actually hated organized religion and the champions who used it for worthless reasons.  Apparently, this guy isn’t getting the credit that he rightly deserves for all the things that he did for people.

You know, there is this a Jesus character that I am willing to give credence to existing.  It is very possible that he was a real guy.  Care to take a guess as to which Jesus I am talking about – the one of the Bible.  This guy was so much different than all these Christian types seem to believe.  For one thing, he wasn’t a Christian.  He was absolutely not a Christian.  He was a Jew.  In fact, he wasn’t a white guy, either.  He was a long-haired, brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew.

Here’s another interesting tidbit about Jesus – he hated religion.  He talked repeatedly about what a corrupt and worthless institution it was.  He said, “Don’t be as the hypocrite who stands in the Synagogues or on the street corners, making sure they are heard by many.  Verily I say unto you, they have their reward in full.”  He told people to believe in your God in private.  He often talked about the endless amount of corruption that the faith-based administrations had.  Honestly, if he was real, and he does come back, he should sue!  He should sue all the denominations of Christianity for turning his name into a catch-phrase, like McDonald’s.

Another thing about this Jesus guy – he didn’t ask that anybody pay him homage or say thanks for what he did.  For real, he didn’t care.  He went from town to town, helping anybody he came across.  He didn’t ask a single thing from any of them.  Granted, many did try to help him with charity, but he often turned that aside, saying that they should give it to somebody in need instead.  He lived in perpetual poverty, along with his followers.  The fact is that Jesus gave out free healthcare (oh no, socialism!) to anybody who he came across, and instead of asking something from them, told them to go in peace and be good to others.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s another concept – Jesus went to the towns of the enemies of the Jews.  He went into Gentile towns, healing just as many people he came across as in Jewish-friendly towns.  So he did good things for everybody he possibly could, and when people did try to give him things and thank him, he told them it was nothing, and turned down all gifts.  What a nice guy!

Hey, while we’re talking about Christmas, let’s talk about the birth of Jesus story.  It’s false.  This is absolutely true.  Scripture contradicts itself in this instance.  In the Gospel of Luke, Caesar Augustus has called for all a census, and for all the people to head back to their town of origin.  A massive undertaking that would have been written about by somebody.  Then, the Gospel of Matthew talks about how the evil king heard a new king would be born that would be the “King of kings,” so he had all the baby boys of his territory killed.  Another thing that would have been written about, outside the bible.  Another Gospel, the earliest one, didn’t talk about the birth of Jesus at all!  So yeah, the story of the birth of Jesus is a lie, straight-up.

Look, I don’t believe in God.  It’s all a crazy fairy-tale to me.  But I am SO sick of people exploiting a time of year that I do love and that is supposed to symbolize our love and decency to one-another, and turn it into a reason to make people feel guilty.  Delilah, if you read this, I would LOVE to talk this out with you.  Really, I do, because I don’t think you’re a bad person, you are just driven by ideals that I honestly find to do more harm than good.  Look at the Vatican and the endless amount of crimes that it is involved in on a regular basis.

And to those who are fans of her show, hit me back as well.  I want some nice commentary here.  This is a time of year I love.  I grew up with it, still celebrate it, and it feels fun to me.  But this woman is taking it and doing what a lot of people do, all of whom I have a problem with (she’s just a closer target to hit), and turning it into a reason to make her faith get more support, money from the believers, and so on.

Just treat each other right this season, will ya?  And stop playing Christmas music in early November!  The turkey has to be digesting in our stomachs before we can play Christmas music on the radio, eh?

Until next time, a quote,

“Now let make it clear, I like Christmas!  I like decoration, I like trees, I like presents, I can tolerate Christmas music.  I like the holiday season.  And it has nothing to do with Jesus.  And despite what the atheist billboard that I’ve been defending this whole time says, it’s not about reason either.  It’s about having a good time.”  -TJ Kincaid, Atheist Grinches?

Peace out,

Maverick