Steve Haycox

To aging lefties, especially, but to many others as well, the deaths of J.D. Salinger and Howard Zinn on the same day last week seem a stark silencing of needed critiques of American culture. Both writers schooled their readers on a pessimistic view of society and power, distorted and corrupt in its assumptions of the right to rule. Salinger was more widely known. His 1951 "The Catcher in the Rye" has been a staple of high school English classes for half a century. His protagonist, 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, angry and alienated, having just been kicked out of an exclusive prep school at the book's beginning, conveys the loneliness and confusion of adolescence more directly than most coming-of-age literary heroes. Probing the adult world he loathes, Caulfield sees "phonies" everywhere,...Steve Haycox
As we have seen this week, politics in a democracy can change at a moment's notice, though the meaning of Tuesday's election in Massachusetts is yet far from clear. The country remains politically deeply divided, not an unusual phenomenon in our history but only recently re-manifest. The conservative revolution of 1980, which built on the Jarvis tax cap initiative in California and catapulted Ronald Reagan into the presidency, lasted well into the 1990s and, many would say, until 2008. Before the Obama and Clinton candidacies, progressives despaired of ever again exercising political power. Periods of party dominance in our politics are historically not uncommon. When William F. Buckley started the National Review in 1955, liberals had been in the ascendency since 1932, and despite the...Steve Haycox
These days, it's easy to forget that modern Alaska began in the midst of the Progressive Era, a massive reform movement characterized by intense anti-monopoly sentiment and a demand for government regulation and intervention in the nation's economic life. The Federal Reserve System was created in this period, and the Constitution amended to allow personal and corporate income taxes. That anti-monopoly attitude had everything to do with how and why the Alaska Railroad was created. The railroad was a major federal contribution to non-Native settlement and economic development in the territory. There are interesting questions about how different Alaska is from the rest of the American West, but the Alaska Railroad is a profound example of at least one difference. It was the only railroad in...Steve Haycox
Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Anchorage's pioneers may well have thought so. It's not inappropriate to label "pioneer" all the non-Natives who lived in Anchorage before the modern era, before World War II. This was a small town then, fewer than 2,500 people. The roads out of town weren't built yet, and travel in and out of the territory was almost exclusively by steamship. The railroad ran south to Seward and north to Fairbanks. Communication with the Outside was by U.S. mail and by telegraph, except in emergencies, when the military's radio-telephone could be used, at very high cost. There were no military bases; a small contingent of the U.S. Army Signal Corps ran the telegraph and radio. By today's standards, Anchorage was remote, and isolated. E-mail, cell phones and...Steve Haycox
On the face of it, democracy is a preposterous notion on which to found a government. The idea that we ordinary folks know enough, are sufficiently patient and thoughtful, and are willing to take the time to learn how to govern well, is an unpromising prospect. Most of us would wither in the face of the first crisis involving human life, or even the first major storm of criticism. That, at least, is how America's founding fathers thought. They had some experience with democracy, under the several state governments established in 1776 and under the frail Articles of Confederation government, the first constitution for the United States. The results were singularly unhappy. In those states where the legislature was elected annually, one year's solons would undo what the previous ones had...Steve Haycox
A dangerous divide has been developing for some years in America, between those who are comfortable negotiating the wide array of knowledge and information sources now available, and those who are not. It is in many aspects a class divide, one side characterized by wealth, professional degrees, security and complacency, the other by shrinking incomes and high credit card debt, anxiety about the future, and anger at those in power. One U.S. Senator, Jim Webb of Virginia, recently called this America's greatest present danger, more potent than our international entanglements, the financial crisis, health care, energy or environment. The "tea party" protests over health care and immigration policy are one manifestation of that divide. Another, related, is the current response to Sarah Palin...Steve Haycox
It's been a great tradition in the economic development of the American West, including Alaska, to depend on the federal government for substantial financial support, but to reject any constraints or advice that come with the money. A cartoon reflecting that tradition might have a figure representing the West, or Alaska, with one hand holding out a tin cup while the other displays a raised palm, the universal sign for "stop!" In the West, the federal government mapped the land and laid out the trails, built forts to protect travelers and settlers and implemented the policy to defeat and contain the Indians, then paid for the transcontinental railroads that moved goods to market, subsidized the telegraph which kept agents in touch with investors, and built the high dams that facilitated...Steve Haycox
History is tricky business. We'd like it to give us the true story of the past. But along with the other liberal arts -- literature and philosophy -- whose domain it shares, history doesn't produce certitude about much of anything. Even when one has the salient facts right, there's the challenge offered by the theory that there are an infinite number of explanations for any one event. There's also "hindsight bias," the tendency to regard actual historical outcomes as more probable than alternatives that seemed real at the time. Historians complicate understanding the true complexity of past human events, which were just as complicated and uncertain as current human events, by inventing labels for various historical periods. Like all labels, they oversimplify, and in that way do violence...Steve Haycox
Sunday is Alaska Day, commemorating the transfer of Russian America to the United States in 1867. One of the more fun accounts of that early time in Alaska was discovered some years ago in the Newberry Library in Chicago by the late Alaska historian Morgan Sherwood. It was written by Mariette Davis, the wife of the U.S. Army general who commanded a contingent of troops sent to oversee the ceremony, and afterward take control of the territory. He was Jefferson C. Davis, not the Davis of Confederate fame, but one of Lincoln's generals. Mrs. Davis wrote letters from Sitka to her sister back in Indianapolis. Contrary to common opinion, the purchase of Alaska was not unpopular. When the Senate voted on the treaty presented to it by Secretary of State William Seward, the tally was 37-2 in favor...Steve Haycox
Next Thursday, October 8, is the anniversary of the birth of William A. Egan, Alaska's first state governor, president of the constitutional convention in 1955-56, and Tennessee Plan Senator (1956). The only governor so far to serve three terms (1959-62, 1962-66, 1970-74), Egan has been well-recognized during the 50th anniversary of statehood. Most attention has been directed to his role in the convention, appropriately, for many delegates testified to his fairness and insistence on inclusion, an account of which has been written by historian Betsy Tower. The three Tennessee delegates, named so because Tennessee was the first territory to use the tactic, were elected as two U.S. "Senators" and one "Congressman" to travel to Washington, D.C., before Congress actually voted for Alaska...Steve Haycox