Friday, June 6, 2008

Sense of proportion

Another delightful rainy night, reading Howard Carter's book, The Discovery of the Tomb of King Tutankhamen. It's a pretty snappy read, and since this book was the first volume, published before they even found the actual mummy, I may have to track down the next and read on. Gee, nobody could see that coming!

Later in the evening, I idly flipped on the TV, just for background noise, and discovered that PBS was running a documentary about Israel. Egypt, Israel, that seemed appropriate: so I left that channel on and pretty much ignored it, until I heard the narrator say in the background how easy it is to forget that Israel is smaller than Vermont.

That caught my ear. Vermont? Is that possible? So I went to the computer, and looked up various places. (All information is taken from the Wikipedia, so take with as many grains of salt as you like. Also, they didn't have detailed geographical or population info for some places I looked up for contrast, so that skewed my selection).

On one hand, the size of Israel:8,019 / 8,522 sq mi (Those two figures are "Excluding / Including the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem")

On the other, the size of North Dakota:70,762 sq mi

My mind was kind of boggled. A country, at least partly made up of inhospitable desert, where people have been fighting for ownership and the right to live for freakin' centures. And size-wise, we could fit almost ten of it into the state where I live, which is trying to attract people to come and to stay.

Let's look at the relative populations.

Population of Israel:7,282,000
Population of North Dakota:642,200


That makes the population density of Israel:839/sq mi
And the population density of North Dakota:9.30/sq mi

Nine people per square mile! Okay, that's taking all those spare square miles into account. How about the proportionately major metropolitan center that I call home (a.k.a., "The Manhattan of North Dakota")? We have a population density of 2,388.2/sq mi, so that's a little better.

Once I got started, though, I had to keep contrasting. My big-city frames of reference are Chicago (12,470/sq mi) and New York City (27,282/sq mi). Mumbai has 56,669 /sq mi! Even if these are approximations, damn. That's almost unimaginable to a gal from the Midwest. And conversely, I've known people from the East Coast of the U.S. who were kind of freaked out by all our empty space.

But back to Israel for a second: if I went out into the prairie and saw a vision, and I could write a compelling enough version of the events, in a thousand years, would people consider North Dakota a holy place and care what happens to it? I mean, beyond the puny thousands of us who aleady live here by birth or random happenstance.

Although if people are just going to fight over their holy sites, then it's better for us to remain obscure. Potential new slogan: "North Dakota. Under the radar. It's safer here."

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