Sunday, April 30, 2006

We are not unique snowflakes

Date: April 29
Mileage: 16
April mileage: 493
Temperature upon departure: 43

Today I read an amusing editorial in the Anchorage Daily News, addressing the grand delusion of many Alaskans - that we are unique, special, not like other Americans. Set apart by latitude and buffered by a rather large foreign country, I guess it would be difficult not to feel separate-but-equal.

But ever since I moved here, I've been more than a little bugged by the sense of entitlement at large. The state pays people just to live here, and still people whine about a 3 percent sales tax, they whine about paying for education, they whine about pesky federal mandates like wildlife refuge designations, but then beg the federal government for more road money. Alaska seems to have a serious case of youngest child syndrome, which of course bugs me because I come from an oldest child background. I'm the one who had to deal with a 10 p.m. curfew and had to begin working at age 11 to support my teenage lifestyle. So I can't stand to see an entire state act like the family princess, crying about the unfairness of a midnight curfew while Daddy doles out another 20 for a trip to the mall. You get my point, don't you?

So it gives me great joy to see someone tell Alaskans that they are, in fact, not unique and special snowflakes. While there is a small percentage of the population, mostly Native, who still live a subsistence lifestyle in remote villages, most of us are middle-aged, white-collar, suburban working stiffs with 2.3 cars and a lifestyle dominated by climate-controlled buildings. The only difference between us and some guy in Cleveland is that we can go skiing on glaciers in our backyards or drive to the closest body of water and catch a king salmon. But how many of us actually do?

Sure, there's a definite distinct culture in Alaska. The scenery is beyond amazing. The history is certainly on the interesting side. Latitude gives us the whole daylight thing and, economically speaking, we still have youth on our side. But does that give us a mandate to demand respect from the lower 48 while we cry to Daddy because Big Brother wouldn't give us bridge money? I may be an older child, an outsider looking in and looking out again, but I don't think so.


  1. Interesting. One would think that Alaskans are a bunch of rugged individualists. But, nope! They have their hands out just like everybody else, maybe more. It should be noted that Alaska has often been the recipient of a hugely disproportionate amount of federal pork-barrel spending. So it seems even more crazy that they feel shortchanged, apparently.

  2. Well, aside from state fishing licenses, Alaskans pay more for almost everything.

    All of the very few Alaskans that I know are transplants- FWIW.

  3. The feds bought it (AK) for a cool 7 million, they eminent-domain > 2/3rds of it, and it's been largely a welfare state ever since. Even the "ancient ways" of native subsistence have been rediscovered atop modern 4-wheelers and snow machines. Yet, in spite of all that, AK remains a place like no other in America.

    Gosh we miss her.

  4. Alaskans do spend more for EVERYTHING, including travel, food, and all that jazz. And even if they are "paid to live here" (which is a gross mischaracterization of why they get that check, but whatevah), I agree that Alaskans aren't always the adventurers that they like to think they are. But most also don't have blogs where they brag about their athletic achievements and beg for money either.

  5. I often wonder how Ted Stevens continues to be re-elected...but obviously it's because he represents the typical Alaskan's thoughts and attitudes. I lived ten years in southeast Alaska. It's probably one of the most beautiful spots in the world and yet money and jobs were always more important to the residents than maintenance of the pristine environment, the true value of the place. I didn't read the ADN editorial yet, so maybe should have held my comments until then.
    By the way, I'm visiting my son in Homer this week. I'll be watching for your bike. I've been lurking for weeks.

  6. there's a whole big state up there, jill, that you've not lived in. homer is very different from southeast, or western alaska, or fairbanks, or a whole lot of places, and you've not been there long enough to really make such assumptions, with all due respect. go spend some time in sitka, off the road system and still rurally designated for subsistence. watch the people there and ask "how many of us actually do?"

  7. You've been bugged by the sense of entitlement? This from a woman who asks people for donations so she can afford to ride her bike? Good God, that's hypocritical.

    You know what Alaskans hate? People who come up from down south and think they've got us all figured out.

  8. Looks to me like all three 'anonymous' posts so far have come from the same person.

    I am also a transplanted Alaskan. I live in Fairbanks where it is easy to get by if you don't insist on living in a big place or driving a fancy car (or an SUV that you never take off the road, but you just have to have it so you feel safe and can take the kids to school and get lots of groceries), and I don't think things are that much more expensive here than compared to the rest of the United States. It's true, we do get gouged on traveling to the Lower 48 and on shipping things up here, but I don't see much difference in the prices of other things.

    Do I refuse, on principle, to take the dividend? No. Do I think some of the politics pushed through by Uncle Ted are ridiculous? Yes. I accept life in Alaska with all its quirks - military personnel who complain endlessly because Fairbanks doesn't have a real mall or an Olive Garden, but then claim to be residents after they leave so they can claim a check; people who tell me they moved to Alaska to get out in the wilderness, then buy a house in a subdivision in Eagle River; friends who save $30K to buy land and build a cabin, but continue to rent because they can't find the 'right' land or the 'right' land costs too much.

    A lot of what I love about Fairbanks is changing. It was a small city with a small-town feel (everybody knows everybody else in some way) but some big-city amenities (3 theater companies, 8 Thai restaurants, a million coffee huts), but it is slowly becoming very mainstream. Perhaps this became more evident when I noticed a subdivision being built next to the Farmers' Market or hear about plans to build a second WalMart. We are no longer very different from the Lower 48, but I can't picture leaving Alaska yet. For better or for worse, it's the home I have made for myself.

  9. to anonymous - i can't speak for jill; but i think when she writes of alaskans, she writes of the majority - and the majority live in and around the anchorage and kenai peninsula area.
    the cost of food, gas, and basic necessities in these areas (and fairbanks as well) are overall pretty comparable with prices in the lower 48. even prices in parts of the interior are comparable. maybe it's been awhile since you've been down there. of course, certain places that you can only reach by boat, plane, snowmachine or dogsled are in many ways going to have a higher cost of living. but in many other ways have a significantly lower cost of living, especially if folks are taking advantage of their subsistence designations - which drastically reduces the need for outside goods. a common misperception about alaskans is that most people up here 'live off the land.' the percentage of folks who derive most of their household resources from the land is far less than the ~20% of the population who live in rural areas with the subsistence designation. another common misperception is that it's mostly natives who do this, when it's actually about 50-50.
    true alaskans aren't so hung up on proving that they are alaskan and always finding a way to bring up how long they've lived here. in my experience, that's reserved for the transplants who so want to be perceived as 'rugged alaskans.'
    to be an alaskan means so many different things to so many different people, and differs widely according to the region where a person lives. being an alaskan is going to mean something very different to someone living in a small town on the inside passage than it will to someone living in barrow, or slana, or mcgrath, or homer, or anchorage, etc., etc. alaska is an immense and incredibly diverse state.
    what makes someone an alaskan? they live in alaska - end of debate.

  10. All valid points.

    And yet, no one has addressed that she's knocking people for being on the dole, hands out, when she's doing the same thing with her blog.

  11. Of course, last I checked the contributions that Jill is soliciting are voluntary. Lots of bloggers do the same thing. Some people are able to put words on paper or on a computer screen, and some other people read them and enjoy doing so. So it seems like a fair trade to contribute a few bucks to something you enjoy (not unlike member-supported public broadcasting), if you want to. Of course, you could just read what Jill writes, enjoy it, and not pay (I haven't), and nobody will complain about you getting enjoyment for nothing.

    That's different than using tax dollars from the federal budget for a "bridge to nowhere" while bitching about a measly 3% sales tax.

  12. Wow ...

    My very own controversy! And here I thought I was just running a benign begger's bike blog.

    A great majority of Alaskans were transplanted here at some point. The reason most of us come here is because it’s a unique and wonderful place (really, what have I been writing about for the past six months?) The only point I was trying to make is that I don’t believe that gives Alaska a birthright to skim off a greater number federal favors than the rest of the country. Ted Stevens has used the argument “The just doesn’t work in Alaska” numerous times. My only question is - why not? What makes Alaska so special?

    As far as consumer goods, I don’t mind paying more for the privilege to live up here. It’s free enterprise, and I don’t expect the produce, soda pop and travel companies to reach into their pockets to accommodate the fact that I live thousands of miles from where those goods are produced. It’s worth it to me to live in such an amazing place. I also wouldn’t mind paying state taxes and sales taxes or give up my future PFD on principal, or reach into my own pocket for road funds if it means protecting and building the things that are important to me. But that’s just my point of view. I respect people who feel differently, or who don’t feel that bike paths, green space and wildlife refuges are important.

    And thanks, Jim, for sticking up for me. It seems obvious to me that free enterprise, voluntary gifts and government spending are completly and utterly seperate entities. But I enjoyed the hyperbole, Anonymous. Nothing really lights up a vaguely political like making it personal.

  13. Jill,

    Could not agree with you more. Mighty Whitey 100% transferred in, and, like that screed generator (nameless dude who wrote Monkey Wrench etc) who misinterpreted his surroundings and its import when he finally extricated self from city... Actually its not different than when someone goes Catholic, or Muslim, or ElRon Hubbard. They are uncertain (and in Alaska's case there exists a surfiet of prompts), and awed, at the same time... for their passport is thin. Think of the same folks, or anyone landing for the first time in Nepal... as we did last November, or Saudi Arabia, the empty quarter as we did in 2000, or any of the 37 countries we've been in over the last 6 months. Ya could go ga ga, and insist by hype that everyone share your awe, deriding those who don't. But in that folks reveal themselves as not the bold; "no beaten paths for me", but rather early quitters, as there is a chunk more to see than Alaska. While letting my lover Rod drone on about Alaska, I IDd within the first visit; Solstice x 2, and that is about all the schedule can afford. Heck, we've been on this mission for 6 years, and are only now starting to get into South America. I came, I saw, I saw, I came, I stored, and I moved on. 'Guero - Here in the Spice Garden, Penang Malaysia.


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