Revisiting the experience question, with regards to population values

A recent commenter to my Comparing Alaska and New York City; Does size matter? post has taken issue with my extended comparison of infrastructure requirements between Illinois and Alaska, and how such requirements relate to experience in one who governs Alaska vs. in one who is a US senator for the state of Illinois.

Ansley stated,

…There’s not even 700,000 people in Alaska. The mayor of New York City has big fish to fry, my friend….each city has its own unique challenges, but the fact is, the more people you have in an area, the trickier things become.

My first reaction would be to wonder whether or not the critic has been to Alaska and seen, firsthand, how they deal with the logistics of managing such massive sea and air travel, in such extreme locations and weather conditions? Winter conditions that shut down most US airports are simply business as usual in Alaska. While working in Valdez, I was sent home only once, due to weather (and that was because the snowstorm had been dropping snow at the rate of 1 foot per hour for more about 4 hours). It’s not unusual for a typical Valdez snowstorm to drop 4 feet of snow. Once, when landing in Anchorage, the pilot informed us that the current temp was 0 degrees F. He also noted that the current ambient temp in Fairbanks, where the plane was headed, was -43 F. Did you catch that? It’s -43 F, yet they’re going to land and disembark because… it’s business as usual.

Simply put, you don’t manage that type of infrastructure, in that kind of weather, over that expanse of territory, unless you know exactly what you are doing.

But, to address the nonsensical population argument, let’s take a nonsensical look at it in terms of how it supposedly applies to the running of various countries, states, or cities. First, let’s use the following population values, from Wikipedia:

  • US = 305,312,000
  • China (PRC) = 1,321,851,888
  • India = 1,132,446,000
  • Russia = 142,008,838
  • Canada = 33,390,000
  • California = 36,553,215
  • Illinois = 12,852,548
  • NYC = 8,274,527
  • Alaska = 677,000
  • Illinois(2) = 642,627

Using the Deepak Chopra / Ansley argument, it appears that running the US is roughly 1/4 the job of running China or India (I’ll give you 4 US presidents for your 1 Chinese premier – and I’ll throw in an extra president for half a dozen Chinese gymnasts). Yet, we see that running the US is about 2 times the job of running Russia (that must explain why Putin has the time to go tiger hunting!), 9 times greater than running Canada (yet another reason for our friends up north to hate us), 8 times greater than California (so former / current actors shouldn’t have a problem running Cal-ee-for-nee-uh?), 24 times greater than Illinois, 37 times that of NYC, and a whopping 451 times more complex than running Alaska!

Case closed? End of story?

Not so fast, census breath.

Isn’t the point here to compare experience levels with regards to being in charge of – as in – managing and running something (i.e., executive experience)? While Palin is actually running Alaska, Senator (did you catch that? – “Senator”) Obama is not running Illinois. In fact, he is only one of two senators, along with around 18 congressmen. Surely we can’t take Illinois’ total population of 12.8 million when comparing Obama’s responsibilities with that of Palin’s, can we? So, let’s do an Obamadjustment to the population of Illinois. First off, since he’s one of two senators, we need to cut the 12.8 million in half, to 6.4 million. And, since he shares responsibility with all those congressmen, let’s half the 6.4 to 3.2 million. Finally, since Obama isn’t really running the state (that’s left for the… ahem, governor), let’s take only, say, 20% of the 3.2 million. Now we’re left with an adjusted population (Illinois(2)) of 642,627 that we could reasonably attribute to Obama’s non-executive responsibilities.

Well, using our adjusted number, we see that running the US is 475 times greater than Obama’s current non-executive role. That puts him behind the governor of Alaska, in terms of population comparisons.

The thing is, Obama isn’t running for VP.

Sarah Palin, Supreme Court decisions, and Pay Grades

So, Sarah Palin is taking some heat for not answering Katie Couric’s question regarding which Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with.

Well, I suppose she could have stated that answering that question, with any degree of specificity, is above her pay grade.

But, then again, she’s not running for president.

Comparing Alaska and New York City; Does size matter?

In Obama and the Palin Effect, Deepak Chopra states,

…On the surface, she outdoes former Vice President Dan Quayle as an unlikely choice, given her negligent parochial expertise in the complex affairs of governing. Her state of Alaska has less than 700,000 residents, which reduces the job of governor to the scale of running one-tenth of New York City…

Now, that was an interesting comparison, wasn’t it? Chopra is arguing that because the number of Alaska’s 683,478 residents is about one-tenth the number of New York City’s 8,274,527 residents, the task of governing Alaska must also be about one-tenth the job of governing NYC.

But let’s take a look at this graphically. Below is a bar-chart histogram which compares both New York City (NYC) and Alaska (AK) with regards to their population levels.


Clearly, the population of NYC dwarfs that of AK.

However, what if we were to look at the size of NYC as compared to that of AK? The chart below illustrates this for us.


So, in terms of area (square miles), Alaska’s size (656,424 sq. mi.) so overwhelms that of New York City’s (469 sq. mi.), that NYC doesn’t even register on the chart. Simply put, Alaska is 1,400 times the size of New York City.

Using Chopra’s reasoning, this must mean that, in terms of area to govern, the job of running Alaska is expanded to the scale of running 1,400 New York Cities!

I wondered how these resource-based comparisons played out when comparing Obama’s state of Illinois to that of Palin’s Alaska. So I did a little bit of research. I found the results interesting.

Read the rest of this entry

Ed Brayton, normally quite accurate in his reporting, titles a post of his, Another Palin Lie. Ed states,

Remember that airplane she sold on E-Bay to make a tidy profit for the state of Alaska because she was just such a regular Jane she didn’t want to travel the state in luxury the way her predecessor had? Let me refresh your memory:
“You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor, and sold it on eBay — and made a profit!” McCain declared in Wisconsin at a campaign stop Friday.

And Stephen Foley, at The Independent, has an article titled, Sale of Alaska’s state jet on eBay revealed as a lie. From Foley’s article,

Sarah Palin bolstered her reputation as a reformer – and got one of her biggest cheers in her Republican convention speech last week – when she said she had sold the governor’s official jet on eBay as her first act on taking office in Alaska.

What she didn’t say was that the aircraft had failed to sell over the internet and was eventually sold off at a loss


…Inquiries by the journalists and Democratic party operatives who have descended on Alaska have turned up quite different facts: namely, that the jet was hauled off eBay after failing to attract decent bids.

Yet, here are the lines from Sarah Palin’s speech, at the RNC, in which she references said plane:

I came to office promising major ethics reform to end the culture of self-dealing, and today that ethics reform is the law. While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the Governor’s Office that I didn’t believe our citizens should have to pay for.That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay.

That’s it. No other references to the sale of the jet was made in her speech. Astute observers will note that she does not state that the plane was sold on eBay, nor does she state that it was sold for a profit.

It ain’t there, fellas.

Do you think, just a thought here, that her intentions (at that point in the speech) were to emphasize her attitude towards wasteful spending, and not to give a detailed accounting report of how Alaska unloaded it’s luxury jet?

Did she imply, in her RNC speech, that she had actually sold the plane on eBay? Could be. Yet, did any intrepid journalists or Democratic party operatives, armed with the not-so-secret data of the plane’s actual sale, trap Palin by asking her for specific data on how the plane was sold? Are you kidding? That would mean actually trying to get to the truth of the matter.

Truth be told, we must rewrite Foley’s paragraph, from above, as follows:

Sarah Palin bolstered her reputation as a reformer – and got one of her biggest cheers in her Republican convention speech last week – when she said she had sold put the governor’s official jet on eBay as her first act on taking office in Alaska.

Words… just words.

Note: However, John McCain’s statement, referenced above, seems to be a different matter entirely. Maybe he should just let Sarah speak for herself.