vrijdag 1 augustus 2008

Alaska:the abonded state

Een staat en geen land, hoewel het ongelooflijk groot is. Mijn correspondent aan de andere kant, Robert Tripp(Palmer), gaf mij een duidelijk beeld hoe het is om daar te leven. De 2 grootste steden in Alaska zijn Anchorage en Fairbanks. Ik stelde hem enkele concrete vragen, waarvoor dank. Uiteraard everything in English, because he is a real American citizen.

1. Did the Russians make a big mistake by selling Alaska for 7.2 million dollars (at 2 cents per acre) in 1867?

From the view point of the Russians, I would say yes. The Russians have missed out on a great deal of natural resources that are available in Alaska. It also would have been of great strategic importance.

If you look at the viewpoint from the world, I would say no. If Russia still owned Alaska during the cold war, they would have had a legitimate presence in the US sphere of influence. Consider the events that occurred during the Cuban Missile crisis (aka Caribbean Crisis). Then consider if Russia had had a legitimate presence in North America. I feel the world would be vastly different today, had this occurred. In fact, we may have already faced a 3rd world war.

2. The American continent is divided as follow: South-America and North-America. In North America, you have Mexico, the USA, Canada and the state Alaska (Part of the USA). Do the Alaskan people feel connected to mainland USA?

I suppose it depends on what you mean by connected. Alaskans travel a lot to the “lower 48 (States on the continent of North America below Canada)” and Hawaii pretty regularly. We see ourselves as Americans, and I do not think there is a feeling of separation in this respect. The only disconnects I have felt are as follows:

* Many companies will not ship to Alaska, or if they do, they charge a lot.
* Many US citizens do not know where Alaska is, or that it is part of the USA.
* Alaskans sometimes feel politically isolated, and that our votes do not matter. Elections are typically decided before results from Alaska come in.
* Feeling of physical isolation due to the distance to other States. Driving to the lower 48 is not too practical, which leaves air travel. Going by boat is also possible, but mostly done by tourists or shipping freight.

3. Besides it’s natural beauty, what more does Alaska have to offer?

From an economic point of view, Alaska has many natural resources such as Fish, Oil, Minerals, lumber, tourism…
Another perspective would be what attracts people to move here. Usually, it falls within the following reasons:

*They want to live in the wild and get away from civilization
*They love to fish and/or hunt
*They hate the heat, and want to live somewhere colder
*Alaska has an almost romantic appeal to it.
*They have a criminal history, and are trying to move somewhere they would not as likely be caught.

4. Your state has had a lot of environmental problems in the past. Various volcano eruptions, earthquakes, the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Nature heals itself. Is that true?

Yes, I think so with the help of people. For example, the earthquake that hit in 1964 that destroyed much of Alaska’s infrastructure is but a memory. New structures and buildings have been built.

Volcanoes can cause a great deal of devastation, but over time, new things grow. They do cause a good deal of problems while they are active. This usually affects air traffic, mail delivery etc. When volcanic ash is in the air, it is bad to use engines, as the ash gets into the engines and damages them. I have directly experienced/been affected by 3 different volcanoes while I have lived here. There are currently volcano eruptions happening on the Aleutian Chain, but I have not been affected by those.

The Exxon Valdez Oil spill is still being talked about today, but a lot of cleanup efforts happened and nature is healing itself. Sure, there are still long term effects of this spill, but with time it will continue to improve.

5. In the summer, days are incredibly long, and in the winter very short. Do you having problems adjusting to it?

I think people get used to it after a while, but there are many who suffer from Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). We also call this “Cabin Fever”. Imagine a place where winter lasts from October till April. On top of that, imagine having limited light. The higher north you get, the more extreme it is. For example, Barrow in Northernmost Alaska, the sun goes down on November 18 or 19 and does not come up for 65 days.

There are full spectrum lights that are available, which supposedly help with SAD. Still, by February or March people are more depressed and are quite anxious for spring/summer to come. In short, some people have problems, others get used to it. Some do not know any different.

6. Alaska is an unbelievable utopia! Some people in Belgium wouldlike Flanders to be independent from the rest of the country. Would it not be great if Alaska became independent of the mainland?

I do not hear too much talk of this other than a few extremists. There is a political party in Alaska whose platform is based on this very concept, however has never gained majority support. I am not sure there is much general interest, as Alaska receives a large amount of federal money. Alaskans realize this, and do not want to bite the hand that feeds them.

This leads into a political discussion, and that Alaska has the senior senator in the US Senate, Ted Stevens. This status affords him much more power than a new senator. Corruption now clouds his reputation, and he is losing Alaskan’s favor. However, he is the reason so much money has been diverted to Alaska and probably the main reason he retains his office. Who knows, this may change in the November election.

Getting back to the issue, with rising oil prices, I think Alaska could survive being independent. Many changes would need to happen and I am not sure Alaskans are really ready or would want to accept those changes.

7. Do true natives to Alaska still exist such as Eskimos? And how do they integrate with the majority of the population?

Oh, they certainly exist. In fact, the last census has them comprising about 15 percent of the Alaskan population.

Native Alaskans find the term “Eskimo” offensive, as it means “Raw Meat Eater” and prefer being called Inuit. Native Alaskans or the Inuit are broken down into different groups including the Tlingits, the Inupiat, and the Aleuts. The majority of them live in remote villages, but many also live in Alaska’s main cities. I believe they have the same sorts of challenges that are experienced by other native Americans. Those that live in the cities begin to lose some of their traditions, as their native language is not necessarily taught in schools. There is also some racial tension, and negative attitudes towards natives. Some of these feelings are derived from issues with alcohol and homelessness.

The native Alaskans have been in Alaska for thousands of years, and their history somewhat extensive to explain here.

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