Posted tagged ‘Alaska’

Not to Defend Sarah Palin, But…

October 1, 2008

There has been a flurry of glee in the blogosphere — see, e.g., Andrew Sullivan — over this report from Anderson Cooper’s shop on CNN “confirming” that Sarah Palin has never actually been to that part of Alaska from whence you can see Russia.

One problem:  the CNN report only confirms that Gov. Palin has never been to Little Diomede, the Alaskan island in the Bering Strait that is a couple of miles or so — and in line-of-sight — to Russian-owned Big Diomede.

But there is another Alaskan Island from which it is possible to catch a glimpse of the Russian mainland (whenever the fog lifts).  As discussed at too great length in my post here, that would be St. Lawrence Island.

Now, I could find no reference on the web to any Palin visit to that island, but it is not quite as remote as Little Diomede. I’m betting she has never been there either.  But you cannot say on the strength of Little Diomede that Palin has never confronted the Siberian menace face to face.  More research please!

And just to be going on with:  one of my students actually visited it last year (in January, of all poorly timed vacations) to do some research on her masters thesis.  Just last weekend she told me that she had in fact stared out at some wind and cold wracked shoreline that counted as seeing Russia.  (Wonderful as that student was, I can’t say I see her as Vice President yet either…._

So I’m A Little Obsessive, But Still, This is Ridiculous — Sarah Palin Qualifications Dept. (Russian Expert SubDept.)

September 22, 2008

Now, as we all know, Sarah Palin is supremely qualified for the post she seeks.  For one of the areas that had the dismissive elites concerned, she has, as recently as yesterday evening, assured every American that her understanding of international affairs is just fine, and that anyone who doubts it would be welcome to play “stump the candidate.” (Or not.)

I’m not so childish as to play such a game, but the invitation did make me think about the list of reasons we have been given to credit Governor Palin with a grasp of international affairs.  One of the most repeated talking points is that Alaska is a border state — and not just with the mild, friendly 51st state, Canada, (Joking, all you folks up north.  Really…just joking), but with the erstwhile evil empire itself, Russia, née USSR.

In fact, the common line has been that the threat of the great Bear is so imminent you can see Russia from Alaskan soil….as in fact you can.

Just as I was digging through the wonders of Google Maps and Wikipedia to nail down just what bits of Russia you can see from what bits of Alaska, I came across this article posted yesterday in Slate.  Its author, Nina Shen Rastogi, confirms the commonly known fact (if you read the right kind of thrillers) that the island of Little Diomede, a little piece of offshore Alaska, is all of 2.5 miles or so from Big Diomede, which is Russian territory.

Taking out my handy horizon calculator, I find that the distance an averagely tall human can see at sea level is just under 4.4. kilometers, or about 2.75 miles.  So yes, by gum, you can see Russia from Alaska.  (Rastogi  reports that if you are willing to do a bit of hill/ice climbing, you can even catch a glimpse of  the Russian mainland from St. Lawrence Island in the middle of the Bering Sea.  This, of course, assumes you happen to have caught the view on one of the miraculous, unexpected, non-foggy days in that bleak ocean.

Now, here is where I go a bit overboard, to ask, has Sarah Palin ever actually seen Russia from her home state?  Wasilla? — Nope; not a chance.  You’ve got most of the state serving as a buffer to protect the Palin little ones from the threat from Siberia.  The Governor’s residence in Juneau? You can’t even see  Hoonah from there, much less the Russian Bear.  Anchorage?  Same as Wasilla, basically; lots of tundra between the northern metropolis and any angry heirs to the glories of the Romanovs.

So has Sarah Palin laid eyes on Russia from US territory?  You can’t actually ask her, of course,  But in my trolling of the web for reports on her governship, I’ve never seen any mention that she has travelled to the incredibly remote Diomedes, nor the almost equally back-of-the-beyond St. Lawrence.  She has been careful to avoid saying that she herself has done any of this eyeballing that is supposed to convey deep understanding of international affairs.  So my bet is no.

Does this matter?  Of course not.  It does not take the near certainty that she’s never actually viewed one wretched rock or another to recognize that Palin knows nothing about Russian affairs by virtue of her family’s experience trying to land salmon before they swim to the wrong side of the strait.  This is just an exercise in meticulous reductio ad absurdam.

Image: Alfred Wierusz-Kowalsk, “Attacked by Wolves,” 1880.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Besides, if she reallly knew what she were talking about, she’d note that we are once again entering the season when it becomes possible — with care — to walk from Russia to these United States.  Eternal vigilance, folks — eternal vigilance.