Some Things I Didn’t Know About Alaska

September 18, 2008 at 10:30pm
I know, as the complacent electorate got bitch-slapped into sharp focus by the chaos in the US financial system this week, folks kind of forgot about Sarah Palin. But I’d been meaning to get better acquainted with Alaska, so that I could try to make some sense of Palin’s sudden stardom.I’ve always wanted to see Alaska. An aunt of mine used to live there, as did one college buddy…but for all that, I realized I knew next to nothing about it, other than its being remote, sparsely populated and not long ago the scene of a horrific oil spill.

I’ve been looking at the numbers (online, and in an entertaining book called “Schott’s Miscellany,” which I keep in the bathroom). Here’s what I’ve learned so far about the state where Palin has been Governor for coming up on two years:

  • It doesn’t look even remotely like any other state, demographically, with the possible exception of Idaho. Anchorage is the biggest city, about the same size as Newark, NJ, which makes it the 65th largest in the US. It’s the only Alaskan city in the country’s top 260. The population of the entire state, at 667,000, is roughly that of Charlotte, NC. Some 19 US cities are more populous than Alaska.
  • Despite being by far the largest state in land area, while having only one real urban locality, Alaska is ranked the 8th most dangerous state in the US in terms of a complex composite of crime figures; purely in terms of violent crimes per 100,000 population, at 632, Alaska ranked 6th in 2007.
  • Alaskans consume more energy per capita than the population of any other state. It’s #1. (High-five.) Now, Alaska is a cold place much of the year, so a major chunk of that has got to be heating oil consumption, but still…it sort of helps explain Alaskans’ lust to get that oil up out of the ground as fast as they can, and damn the torpedoes and snail darters or polar bears or whatever’s getting in the way.
  • Alaska’s unemployment rate in 2007 was the third highest in the US (after Michigan and Mississippi).
  • Alaska ranked a respectable 15th in the US in average annual salaries…and 42nd in the US in home ownership as a percentage of households.
  • A publishing house called Morgan Quitno publishes a variety of state by state rankings — it has Alaska as America’s 46th “smartest” state. I presume this is a composite of several education stats, but I haven’t been able to find out what this actually means. I’m not sure I like the sound of it, though. It seems fair to assume 46th smartest = 5th dumbest.
  • A handful of fairly desolate little islands that are, technically, Alaska are pretty close to some also fairly desolate terrain that is, technically, Russia.

A lot of heat and stomach acid has been generated over the question of whether two terms as mayor of a little burg called Wasilla and two years as Alaska’s Governor constitutes preparation to be Vice President of the United States. It’s an unanswered question. What I think I can say, though, is that Alaska does not sound like America in microcosm. It might be just my east coast urban bias, but I’d be more confident in Palin’s experience if she were running for Mayor of Charlotte.

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