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Funny Names, Polar Bears And Snow Sports: A Primer On Palin's Alaska

From CBS News' Scott Conroy:

Wayne Mergler is a former Anchorage Daily News columnist who has lived in Alaska for 40 years. In a Q&A with CBS News, Wayne dispels some myths about the 49th state (no, it's not really dark all day in the winter, and most Alaskans don't worry about chance encounters with polar bears). Though he's not a fan of Sarah Palin's politics, Wayne agrees with the Republican VP nominee on at least one thing: moose stew is a tasty treat.

Q. What is the Alaska Independence Party all about? And if they try to secede, how can we defeat them in Civil War II?

A. Although they take themselves very seriously, the Alaska Independence Party is something of a joke in Alaska (and probably more so Outside). I know that there was some resistance to Alaska becoming a state in '59, though I think these new folks are an offshoot from that -- mainly folks who are disappointed and disgruntled by what they perceive as U.S. interference in Alaskan issues. They don't want them damn Feds telling them what to do or how to do it. As for defeating them, I don't think you have to worry much about that (though they DO have a lot of guns); you clearly should be able to outsmart them, so long as you are adept at dodging bullets.

Q. Track? Bristol? Willow? Piper? Trig? Are unconventional names more common in Alaska?

A. Even in Alaska, Palin's children are weirdly named. I think they are supposed to represent Alaskan places and things…for Bristol and Willow, those are pretty easy: Bristol Bay and Willow, Alaska are on the Alaskan map. Piper could have something to do with Sarah's love for the Alaskan pipeline and her ardent desire for a gas pipeline.

Q. Have you ever encountered a polar bear?

A. No. I have encountered black bears and grizzly bears and thought once that I even saw a glacier bear (very rare) but it may have just been a pale black bear. But I live in southcentral Alaska, in Anchorage. Polar bears are much farther north in the Arctic. Few Alaskans have ever seen a polar bear -- unless they are Native Inupiaq Eskimos or people who have flown up to Barrow for the sightseeing. Oh, we do have a polar bear or two in the Anchorage Zoo, but I assume you meant have I encountered one in the wild. That would be a no.

Q. What do Alaskans do in the winter when it's dark all day?

A. That is a myth. It is not dark all day in the winter. In fact, nothing is more dazzlingly beautiful than a bright, sunny winter day in Alaska. The days are, admittedly, short. In late December, around Christmastime, when the days are the shortest, the sun comes up about 10 a.m. and goes down about 2 pm., so it is short. But usually those few hours are filled with dazzling sunshine which reflects on snow and ice and makes the world gleam and glisten. It's like a fairyland. And in January and February the days get longer and longer, until by mid March we have the same normal hours of light and dark as anyone else has. What do people do? Winter sports are huge here. People ski, both downhill and cross-country; they mush dogs, they race snowmobiles, they ice skate, play hockey, snowboard, have snowball fights, build snow forts, dig tunnels. And some stay inside by the fire and read or have sex. Families tend to be large here.

Q. What does moose stew taste like?

A. I would love to say it tastes like chicken -- but that would be a lie. It is very much like venison --have you tasted venison? Moose is really quite good. Of course, it depends on who is cooking it, how old the moose is (was), and how hungry you are from having hauled its carcass over the mountains. And with moose you are not limited just to stew. There are moose steaks, moose sausages, moose burgers, anything you can do with beef you can do with moose.

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