Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's the little things that show American arrogance

Maybe I was just looking in the wrong places, but I couldn't find a number that showed the distance from the westernmost point of the lower forty eight states to the easternmost point. Seriously. So I had to go and find the longitude of the easternmost point of Maine and compare it to the longitude of the westernmost part of Washington. The result: about 2,115 miles, although this is probably off because of small differences in latitude between the two points, with latitude affecting how big a degree of longitude is.

Why was I looking at this? To compare how big the U.S.A. is from east to west to how big the continent of Africa is from east to west. The info on Africa was easy, it's 4,600 miles from east to west.

Why exactly wouldn't this sort of geographical information be easily available? It isn't available on the Wiki page about the geography of the United States. It isn't even available in the CIA world fact book, which undoubtedly has put a cookie on my browser since I viewed their site.

My intuition is that the lack of basic information on the United States, coupled with all the information you can find about the different regions of the United States, the general geography of things like mountain ranges and lakes, prairies etc... is that the idea that people would be interested in the width of the United States never crossed the minds of the people who put the information on the web. Why would that be? Because if you live in the United States you really don't need to know how wide it is unless you're going on a trip, and if you're doing that then you can't go as the crow flies. The only people, besides people in the U.S. who are curious about these things, which appears to be very few, who would be interested in statistics like this would be foreigners for whom the U.S. appears as something other than a natural thing. And what do they know!

It's the sort of imperial arrogance that characterizes big empires: the assumption that the people within the empire can classify and measure every place else but that the empire itself doesn't need measuring, because such a thing wouldn't be useful to people who live there, who of course are at the center of the world.

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