Alaska's real men just don't cut it
ALASKA is abundant in many things - space, trees, mountains, snow, moose, rare birds and military installations.
There is, however, one important natural resource in which America's 49th state is severely lacking: single women.
It is the nation's largest state, but with only 550,000 people, has its second-lowest population. Things can get desolate enough as it is, but when only 47 per cent of that figure is accounted for by women (in contrast to 51 per cent across the US), Alaskan men have trouble finding someone to keep their cabin warm.
Part of the gender imbalance stems from the fact that young women are eager to flee from the state and settle somewhere with a little more warmth and a lot more life.
But all is not lost for the men. Firstly, the other 49 states contain an awful lot of lonely women; secondly, the Alaskan male, with his rugged, man-of-nature image, has become something of a sexual commodity. Monty Python notwithstanding, it seems that women just go woozy over a man who can cut down trees.
In something of a reversal of the Filipino mail-order bride concept, a cottage industry has developed in the bringing together of Alaskan men who need a mate and faraway women who think they fit the bill.
The leader of the pack has been Alaska Men, a 10-year-old magazine which advertises around 100 eligible men a month, and which is read by 25,000 women around the world.
From the cover portrait of the brawny bachelor of the month, through to the inside profiles and success stories of men who have been hitched to the magazine's readers, Alaska Men is almost like Playgirl with clothes - thick, winter clothes.
'I get mail from women in communist China,' says its founder, Susie Carter. 'Women all over the world want to find men.' Unfortunately, the big manhunt has hit something of a red light. Publication of Alaska Man has been stopped due to a bitter dispute between Ms Carter and her new business partners from California.
In a Hollywood glitz-meets-Alaskan-bear kind of culture clash, the Los Angeles firm which was employed by Ms Carter to manage the business side of the enterprise has gone to court in a bid to take control of the entire operation.
It seems the two entities clashed when the Hollywood company, Media Mix Marketing, began interfering with editorial content - insisting for example on putting classic model-type hunks on the cover instead of the diet of regular Joes. That, according to the publisher, goes against the point of the magazine - real guys (even the ones with beer bellies) trying to find real gals.
Ms Carter has counter-sued her rivals to try to wrest back control of the magazine, but is up against it. So she has begun using the Alaska Men web site to solicit contributions from supporters, and is selling off vintage editions of the 1987 premiere issue of Alaska Men for thousands of dollars - rather strange, given that the men in it probably got hitched years ago, or ended up married to the bottle.
Massachusetts enjoys one of the nation's highest average per capita incomes and is not a state usually equated with some of the country's worst social problems.
The state's relative affluence is the primary reason why politicians and officials across the nation were shocked by recent news from its classrooms: its teachers are becoming dumb and dumber.
The outrage resonated from Boston to Washington DC when it was revealed that a full 59 per cent of would-be teachers failed the state's basic test for getting a state school job.
Among the questions being flunked by a majority of the 2,500 education college graduates were 'Define the word abolish' and 'What is a preposition?' - basic junior high school knowledge.
The news prompted the speaker of the state's assembly to call the exam takers 'idiots', adding that education colleges were turning out degrees 'as meaningless as a piece of used Kleenex that's been lying in the gutter after last week's rainstorm'.
Massachusetts officials threw fat on the fire when they tried to massage the figures by retroactively lowering the pass mark, allowing more teachers to slip under the net. The resulting criticism caused them to reverse the decision, leading to a senior education chief's resignation.
Any faint hope that the exam results were just a one-off were dashed last week, when results came in from a more recent teachers' test - with 47 per cent failing.
Of the 145 of the candidates retaking the entire test, only nine passed.
'This is further documentation of the fact that the system of institutions preparing persons to become public school teachers is an utter failure and badly in need of radical reform or of being shut down,' said John Silber, chairman of the state's Board of Education.
'If you don't laugh, you will cry.' The state is now considering trying to lure a generation of better teachers by dangling a US$20,000 (HK$154,000) signing bonus in front of the best candidates. But that is unlikely to solve the problem of the below-par performance of the state's colleges of education.
The fiasco has provided ammunition to Washington politicians who complain that America's education system is on life-support, and has prompted other state education authorities to review their own systems for vetting potential teachers.
If it is bad in Massachusetts, it is hard to imagine what it is like in Mississippi.