Sunday, November 18, 2012

The There, There

Yogi Berra was prescient when he said, you can’t get there from here. Take away our GPS and we, as a nation, are lost. There really is a there, there though 90% of American students couldn’t locate Afghanistan on a map and a majority couldn’t even find New York.

Somehow, the No Child Left Behind Law, left behind certain basic subjects such as History, Geography and Civics. The three have become compressed into a single elective.

As a result we have college students who can’t name the three branches of our government, think that Aristotle was contemporaneous with Lincoln and barely knew that North Dakota is north of South Dakota.

Some of our prominent inspirational leaders illustrate the point. It was said that George W. Bush had trouble finding Europe on the map. When Ronald Reagan landed in Bolivia on a state visit he got off the plane and stated it was good to be in Bulgaria. Sarah Plain famously saw Russia from her porch. 

It may be a function of empire but British schoolchildren know, or at least knew, their world map and where the sun never set. Americans seem not to have received this collateral benefit even with military bases dotting the planet.

There is nothing like a war to cultivate a sense of  place names. Suddenly I learned about Sarajevo, Mogadishu and Waziristan. For children in the 40’s, islands in the South Pacific such as, Okinawa, Corregidor, Tarawa and Iwo Jima entered our vocabulary overnight.

Insularity ill-suits us in a global community. Maybe it is part of the push-back against change. It certainly behooves us to take a look at a map every now and then. Florida is still the phallic sticking out of our un-zipped fly but Puerto Rico might, one day, become our 51st state and what about the District of Columbia?

Cartography was a growth industry a few hundred years ago. Now it is once again a dynamic one with climate change causing map-makers to work through the night. The world map is in a slow tango with the rise of oceans and dips of land mass. Borders are being erased. Deserts are eating away at arable land. Forests are yielding to chain saws. Ice-melts are gulping islands, reclaiming ocean-view properties and opening up a northern shipping passage.

Cartography has also become an art form. There is great fun to be had at a website called or better yet enter in Google “weird maps to rival apple” and enjoy.

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