Perfect symbol

Sometimes in the context of human inspiration the little things matter.


So let’s hear it for state Rep. Scott Kawaski, D-Fairbanks, who has introduced a bill to change the state bird from the willow ptarmigan to the common raven.

There could be some important symbolism at play here. The ptarmigan is a pretty, white, smallish, dumbass bird that clucks around in willow thickets waiting to be eaten.

Raven, on the other hand, is the “trickster” of Pacific Coast Native mythology. It is the inspiration for a raven mythology that stretches from the edges of the Bering Sea east and south to beyond the banks of the Columbia River and for good reason.

Raven is smart. Ptarmigan is stupid.

Next to the porcupine, which a five-year-old can kill with a stick, the ptarmigan vies with the spruce grouse for the title of the north’s dumbest prey. But for its camouflage, this white-in-the-winter, brown-in-the-summer fool’s hen would probably be extinct by now.

The ptarmigan is the definition of “bird brain,” a term which is an insult to much of the rest of the species Aves. Many birds are now known to be a lot smarter than their tiny brain cages might indicate.

After a large-scale study in 2014, scientists concluded one of their species appeared to be as clever as the chimpanzee. That bird would be the raven, not the ptarmigan which is only a little smarter than a stone.

“In the tundra of Alaska and Canada, hunting ptarmigan is legendarily easy; they’re frequently killed with a well-placed rock,” writes Hank Shaw, a one-time political reporter who gave up the reportage in favor of writing about food, fishing, foraging and hunting.

He’s written several cookbooks. Cookbooks are among the books still selling well in a world gone digital.

Shaw is a raven, not a ptarmigan like his old journalism colleagues. Alaska could use some like him. In recent years, the state seems to have become less raven-like and more ptarmigan-like, which is not a good thing.

Among the predators that consume ptarmigan, the Animal Diverseity Web lists “hooded crows, ravens, magpies, red foxes, pine martens, mink, short-tailed weasels, least weasels, gulls, northern harriersgolden eagles, bald eagles, rough-legged hawks, gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons, northern goshawks, snowy owls, wolverine, wolves, Arctic foxes, lynx and polar bears.”

Somehow humans got left off the list. Add them and you can simply describe the ptarmigan as the universal dinner for predators in the north, the bottom of the food chain, the ultimate victim.

What the hell kind of state symbol is that?

Alaska would be better of making the mosquito the state bird. That little bloodsucker is tough and adaptable, which is what Alaskans once were.

They’ve gone a little soft in the permanent-fund-dividend (PFD) days. Now a lot of them can’t seem to get past the idea the permanent fund is going to save them either in the form of a direct handout to individual Alaskans or an indirect handout to state employees to help maintain an economy built on government jobs.

The time has come to start thinking about a post-PFD state where a healthy and growing Alaska economy, an economy that produces things, is what keeps Alaska alive.

Raven is a perfect symbol for that.

‘…Ravens can be as clever as chimpanzees despite having much smaller brains, indicating that rather than the size of the brain, the neuronal density and the structure of the birds’ brains play an important role in terms of their intelligence,” Science Daily reported in 2016.

Raven’s brain appears to be dense-packed with neurons. Think of raven as a role model. We could use more dense-pack brains in this state.  We’ve got more than enough of the opposite.

Ravens are so smart that Mathias Osvath, a Lund University researcher working with the birds told National Geographic that they can solve problems monkeys can’t. That right there makes them smarter than some members of the Alaska Legislature.

When the researchers let four-year-olds try to figure out problems solved by ravens, the ravens proved technically more successful.

“In the final experiments, the ravens could choose between an inferior immediate food reward (a smaller, less-tasty piece of kibble) and a token for their favorite kibble they could trade later—a concept called delayed gratification,” Geographic reporter Shaena Montanari added in a story all about ravens.

“‘Humans devalue things that take place in the future,'” Osvath told her, “emphasizing people typically go for instant rewards.

“Ravens seem to be a little more patient, selecting the tool or token that would get them the better food in the near future over 70 percent of the time.

“However, (behaviorist Alex) Taylor notes that the results are open to interpretation. Perhaps, he says, they’re outsmarting the experiment: ‘The ravens may not be thinking about the future at all, they may instead just be choosing the object the has been associated the most with food.'”

Either of choice would be new-found, forward-thinking for Alaska, and way more than you could expect from the alternative state symbol, a bird that wanders around aimlessly waiting to be eaten.

So here are the choices to represent Alaska:

The pretty, white, brainless, victim bird or the smart, adaptable, trouble-making black bird. Which should it be?



40 replies »

  1. Craig, do you have any video of a 5 year old beating a porcupine with a stick? It would be fascinating to see such a matchup!

  2. I thought upon initially hearing the idea that the raven would be a more suitable state bird. Upon reading this I think we already have the most suitable bird to symbolize who we are as a state. But I do think we should switch the song. The most appropriate one I can think of is “the world owes me a living”

  3. Nice read – thanks, Craig. Plenty to think about as it pertains to our newly elected government. Let’s hope that they can get their raven on and figure out a way to clean up our messy yard that we’ve created over the past 50 (100?) years. One thing that I’m fairly confident in is that it would be difficult to be worse than the past 2 (4?) years. The only thing in our elected officials way are all of those ptarmigans out there holding their hands out. And economic reality. And their own selfish nature…. I’m going back to cleaning…

    • My opinion here Jack, is that it’s too early to predict what will happen prior to Feb. 13 and the budget gets produced. There is a reason this gal has been hired to give Alaska a Kansas look and I’m not looking forward to what will be suggested as cuts to programs and services.
      It’s been suggested that we could be clawing our way out of this latest recession this year but I’m of the opinion that there’s not a chance in a carload of that happening.
      We’ll see.

    • Art is eating the same flavored Karma Sandwich that Nancy served to Don Trump.
      They’ve both been effectively neutered in the short term-time will tell whether either one of them recovers from their self-inflicted problems IMO.

  4. Fine, adopt the Raven as the state’s bird, if that will help. The real question is: “where is AK going to get new revenues”? The free oil money doled out yearly to AK residents is actually a form of socialist welfare.
    Instead if spending their oil money, Norway saved the majority of it. They do not have fiscal issues.
    Our state government can only cut so much of the infrastructure. A statewide sales tax, along with a prorated state income tax, is probably our only way out of our financial predicament. Even if we develop the ANWR oil leases, the Feds, get the bigger %.
    There are no new revenues in the foreseeable future. Time to get real.
    Thank goodness the partial shutdown is over!
    All it did was costs us money! What a waste!

      • “Indeed, corporate-owned, mainstream media advises Americans to look at the inflation and food lines in Venezuela, and then repeat to themselves clichés they heard in elementary school about how “Communism just doesn’t work.”
        In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution.
        Starting in 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil. This is not a mere business decision, but a calculated move coordinated with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy goals.”

      • “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” – Margaret Thatcher

      • Wow Steve!!! Fly on down to Venezuela and tell them how good they really have it and what great, misunderstood people both Chavez and Maduro are. Tell them Trump is really the bad guy. SHEESH!!!!

      • Isn’t it funny those, (unlike candyass Americans who tout it), who have actually lived under the oppression of Socialism NEVER SUPPORT IT!!

      • Folks,
        This is not a pure capitalist market in America by any stretch of the Imagination.
        “The United States is said to have a mixed economy because privately owned businesses and government both play important roles.”
        The truth is Socialist Politics (and GOV subsidies) have been in play for nearly 100 years.
        “Rewind to the Great Depression. How were the suburbs built — and how was white flight to them accomplished? It was an effect of the New Deal, which built highways and roads. But to where? To new towns, with romantic names, little promised lands. There, developers built row after row of gleaming new houses, all the same, front lawns, driveways, garages. It was the government which sponsored the home loans which financed all this, though.”
        “The FHA — an agency set up under the new deal — guaranteed the mortgages, taking all the risk away from developers.”
        “Flint. Scranton. The Rust Belt — all these were once places where socialism was used to prop up capitalism, but when capitalism went broke, or went offshore, people were abandoned by both socialism and capitalism.”
        Today many new industry such as aviation and technology are highly subsidized through government funds.
        Why are these facts so hard to accept for common Americans?

      • “In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process.”

        It’s not even February yet and we have a candidate for “Dumbest Statement of the Year”. Here is your Hat Dumbass!

      • Well Burt,
        U can contact the writer Caleb Maupin and tell him your expert opinion on world affairs…
        As for the Venezuela under the Chavez Revolution for nearly a decade and a half,
        All data shows things were improving until the oil price dropped severely in 2014.
        Here are some facts published by the Guardian.
        “Unemployment has dropped from 14.5% of the total labour force in 1999 to 7.6% in 2009
        • Population has increased from 23,867,000 in 1999 to 29,278,000 in 2011. The annual population growth was 1.5% in 2011 compared with 1.9% in 1999 
        • GDP per capita has risen from $4,105 to $10,801 in 2011
        Poverty has decreased – in 1999, 23.4% of the population were recorded as being in extreme poverty, this fell to 8.5% in 2011 according to official government figures
        • Infant mortality is now lower than in 1999 – from a rate of 20 per 1,000 live births then to a rate of 13 per 1,000 live births in 2011
        • Oil exports have boomed – Venezuela has one of the top proven oil reserves in the world and in 2011 Opec put the country’s net oil export revenues at $60bn. In 1999 it stood at $14.4bn.”

      • Steve, I don’t care which stupid liberal you quote, your statement was the dumbest chit I have ever heard. Love me some “successful” Socialism. So f’ing stupid.
        “Venezuela’s Inflation Rate Projected to Hit 10,000,000% in 2019”

      • Well Bryan,
        You can learn a lot from Venezuela, but you just cannot blame it on socialism alone, when many countries in western Europe are also completely “socialist” and doing just fine economically.
        (Venezuela was a type of mixed economy under Chavez…there was also some private business)
        Look at what happened to the Soviet union when Saudi flooded the tap with oil and the state economy collapsed in the 90’s.
        Any large economy that is based largely on oil exports is vulnerable to hyperinflation and loss of state funding…
        Just look at Alaska.

      • Steve, always quoting 10+yr stats. “Looking forward, we estimate Unemployment Rate in Venezuela to stand at 40.00 in 12 months time. In the long-term, the Venezuela Unemployment Rate is projected to trend around 44.00 percent in 2020, according to our econometric models.”

      • Steve, those European countries you quote are actually Capitalistic with generous social programs and NOT Socialist countries.. Google any Venezuelan hospital or supermarket and look at the pics or read up on that chithole. I mean, I take you for someone that is smarter than you are sounding right now.

      • Bryan,
        I understand that Venezuela is currently in a crisis, I am trying to show things were improving there before the OPEC flood of Oil and decrease in world prices in 2014.
        Maybe you should look to Finland for a better current example of a socialist economy with a high quality of life?
        Venezuela is victim to corruption and global manipulation of their economy.

      • Bryan,
        You realize that Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark (some of the most highly Socialized Countries in Europe also claim a “mixed economy” just like the U.S.?
        What does that tell you where this country is headed?
        Let’s also remember many factors affecting Venezuela are very “Capitalist” in nature.
        Here is a story on just that subject…
        “Though ’21st-century socialism’ is implicated in Venezuela’s collapse, so too are many characteristics of capitalism.”

      • Bryan: Momma always said don’t argue with a retard. And this guy is beyond retard and in the brain dead category, probably wears a Che shirt on.

      • Burt, you of all people should not be referring to people as retards. All you do on here is show how retarded you are by attacking the messenger regularly, rather than the message.
        Try debating the subject sometime-you might find it refreshing but I suspect that debate is not one of your strong suits. Just my opinion!

      • Bryan,
        U can call it what U wish, but just like the articles I referenced earlier, most sources say Venezuela was also a “mixed economy” under Chavez.
        “First, it is important to realise that Chavez chose to call his transformative project “21st-century socialism”, but Venezuela’s economy remained market-based and private-sector dominated throughout his time in office.”
        Just like many EU countries with generous social programs.
        Let’s not forget how Government programs have developed Alaska as well.
        The homestead act.
        Building the railroad.
        Ports and airports constructed.
        The Alcan Highway.
        Then we have the largest revenue from state owned land operated by a British company (BP)?
        We live in a highly state subsidized system of economics these days.
        “In short, our domestic political debate is grossly impoverished by our dichotomy between the competing utopianisms of a country without government and one dominated by it. We in fact are headed toward a world with a lot less government – and a lot more “socialism.”

      • Steve,

        You think that OPEC set a grand oil price fixing conspiracy in place to destroy one of its members that has one of the top proven oil reserves in the world? To what end, so they too could make less money and harm their own economies?

        Cavez and Maduro are nothing more than socialist dictators. Why does the extreme left in this country love all of these socialist dictators that kill their own people and destroy their own countries…never mind, I just answered my question.

      • “Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus said support for socialism “comes right out of the universities” on Friday’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto” on the Fox News Channel.

        Marcus said, “We have a group of people in Washington today, new representatives especially, that look at socialism as the way to go…it comes right out of the universities. You see students graduating today, and…almost 50% of students coming out of universities today believe that socialism is the answer. That’s frightening to me.”

      • Bonehead Yankee: What’s the matter, don’t you have some 15 year old Catholic Boys to harass and call for their deaths on Twitter?

      • Steve-O,
        This is not a conspiracy,
        The Saudis blocked an OPEC limit and flooded the world markets with oil in 2014.
        This crippled Venezuela’s economy and caused Alaskan budget deficits.
        “Saudi Arabia blocked calls on Thursday from poorer members of the OPEC oil exporter group for production cuts to arrest a slide in global prices, sending benchmark crude plunging to a fresh four-year low.”

      • What’s the matter Burt, can’t you get a grip-you don’t produce a single thing on these posts other than name calling.
        You must be really bored but if you want to debate a subject go ahead and give it a try. My guess is that all you got is name calling and doesn’t play well with others.
        Fuck off!

      • Fracking was the reason OPEC “flooded the market”, no grand scheme to destroy one of their member states. Had Venezuela not taken over virtually all parts of their economy, the way socialist countries do, then perhaps they would have survived the downturn in the oil market.

        Why Venezuela Now Has 526 State-Owned Companies

        Venezuela has 10 times more state-owned companies than Argentina, one of the largest economies in the planet, which has only 50-something, and almost five times more than Brazil, the giant across the border, which has only 130 state companies.

      • Why is it American Communist don’t like being called Communists? But they want to debate Communism even though there is not one example of communism ever not leading to misery and disaster. But its never the Communists fault; there is always some excuse. It’s the definition of insanity and stupidity……………..but don’t call ’em Retarded Pinko Commies because well their little old feelings are hurt. But I guess if it wasn’t for these morons there would be no market for Che shirts and Mao bags.

    • Where to get new revenues?

      More mining
      Fish farming
      More logging
      Building bridges and roads (infrastructure)
      Drilling in ANWR / offshre / NPR-A
      GTLs down TAPS

      The problem is not just more revenue but more jobs. The more people working, the fewer people need the SOA to take care of them. You gots to do both.

      I would also look at cutting education spending in half at all levels and taking the whole mess online. Yes this involves vouchers, as the closer you can put control of spending to the children in school, the better it is spent, just ask the homeschoolers and private schoolers.

      Finally, I would roll back Walker’s Medicaid expansion and implement a Medical Savings Account solution for medical spending. Allow current users to opt in with suitable tax breaks. Cheers –

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