I have a confession to make:
I was older than I am willing to admit before it finally dawned on me that Alaska wasn’t an island. Don’t laugh!
I’m blame this on (1) the fact that I am, at times, incredibly dense, (2) bad schools, and (3) the map! You know the map. It always had it down there with Hawaii in the corner. This example is from www.usgs.gov:
If you google image “U.S. map,” most of them look like this.
I knew that it was cold in Alaska, so I didn’t think it wasn’t actually down there near Hawaii. I just thought it was some northern island with a remarkably straight coastline.
Yeah, no, I’m totally serious.
Anyway, I confess this embarrassing factoid (and, really, I think I was in college when I finally figured this out, sorry Canada) in order to posit an (untimely) theory about why people found Sarah Palin’s comments about being able to “see” Russia from Alaska so totally hilarious.
Here is what Palin said:
This, of course, was translated into the much funnier “I can see Russia from my house!” comment uttered by Tina Fey on SNL.
Not having fully recovered from my geography-deficiency, when I heard Palin’s comment I went to the map, the world map this time, and I discovered that Alaska and Russia are remarkably close after all! Here’s a map, one we don’t usually see, that centers on the proximity of Alaska and Russia:
Of course, this isn’t the that map that I, or most Americans, are accustomed to seeing. Most world maps distributed in the U.S. look something like this one from www.geology.com:
You’ll notice that, in this map, the proximity between Alaska and Russia is entirely invisible because the map is divided between the U.S. and Russia. Again, then, I blame my need to look up this geography on the relationship between (1) the fact that I am, at times, incredibly dense, (2) bad schools, and (3) the map!
So, here comes my crazy theory, based on the map above:
Perhaps some Americans thought Palin was crazy because, like me, the maps they are accustomed to seeing make the geographic relationship between Alaska and Russia difficult to know. Perhaps their own grasp of geography was poor and it never occurred to them that you COULD see Russia from America.
But wait? Can you? The internets say “yes.” It turns out that there are two islands–Big Diomede and Little Diomede–held by Russia and the U.S. respectively. Here’s a google maps image; you can see the two islands between the land masses:
And here’s a side view:
And here is a picture of Big taken from Little:
(I may have got a little excited about google images.)
So, you CAN see Russia from the U.S., but it’s an eye-rolling win; it isn’t exactly what people have in mind when you say “see Russia” and, I think, rightly so. Still, I think Palin wins on a technicality.
So, to conclude:
1. My geography skillz seriously suck.
2. I am raising the possibility that I am not the only person in the U.S. with a poor understanding of the spatial relationship between Russia and the U.S.
3. In which case, Palin’s comment about being able to see Russia isn’t as funny as some of us with a less-then-stellar understanding of geography might have thought it was…
4. …because one CAN see Russia from the U.S.
Caveat: This is in no way meant to suggest that Palin’s argument that being able to see Russia from Alaska gave her foreign policy experience wasn’t completely ludicrous and worth mocking.