Voices

Strange travel for dog days

An odd set of maps suggests new directions, fresh perspective

Issue: "Minority report," Aug. 11, 2007

When I was still quite young, traveling with barely a care in the world through the peanut country of south Georgia, I was struck with how much closer the residents of that area were to the capital of Florida (Tallahassee) than they were to their own capital in Atlanta. What an inconvenience, I thought, for lawyers, business people, and common citizens. They had to drive three hours to their own state offices, when an easy 30-minute jaunt would get them to someone else's capital.

It wasn't an oddity, I discovered. Perhaps 20 percent of all U.S. citizens live with a similar handicap. People who live in Pittsburgh, Pa., are actually closer to Columbus, Ohio, than they are to their own capital in Harrisburg. Residents of San Diego, Calif., are closer to Arizona's capital in Phoenix than their own way up north in Sacramento.

Not that I heard people complaining. For most, it wasn't a big deal. But it struck me as an issue worth a little thought-and I spent hours drawing a map that reconfigured all state boundaries so that no one in the whole United States was closer to someone else's capital than to his own.

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All that came back to me last week when I learned of a fascinating site available right now on the web: It's called strangemaps.wordpress.com. And it deserves mention here because as odd as it is, it's totally consistent with the mission of WORLD magazine. Strangemaps.com encourages you to look at the world in unconventional ways.

For example, Map 131 on strangemaps.com gives you the outline map of the United States reproduced here, substituting for each state's name the name of some other country in the world with a gross national product roughly equivalent to that of the state whose name has disappeared. So you see that Texas produces the same economic activity as the entire nation of Canada, while Arkansas (with 2.7 million people) matches the output of Pakistan (with 170 million).

Map 1 lays out the lunatic asylum districts for Pennsylvania in the 19th century. Map 9 suggests how Europe might have looked if Germany had won World War I. Map 16 shows how all the nations of Europe fit comfortably within the boundaries of Brazil. Map 28 proposes the "Ten Regions of American Politics." (Navigating through the 150 different maps isn't always easy. Start with http://strangemaps.wordpress.com /2007/06/10/131, and then keep substituting other numbers for that final "131.")

There's nothing predictable about what you'll find. Map 92 reveals "Secret Soviet Plans for the Complete Removal of the North American Continent."

Map 97 shows "Where (and How) Evolution Is Taught in the United States."

Map 148 imagines what our planet would look like if all the oceans were continents and the continents were oceans.

And Map 124 purports to show "Jesus in India: A Road Map of His Lost Years."

The collection comes from a pretty liberal mindset. But I hope that's not the sense in which you're most likely to find your thinking jarred. What's more fascinating about strangemaps.com is its call to try a new perspective and a different frame of reference.

Jesus did that in His teaching. "You have heard . . . ," he often said-"but I say to you . . ." Strangemaps.com, to be sure, doesn't come with biblical warrant. It may prompt you to remember, though, that a "God's eye view of things" is usually not the traditional one. In that sense, a fresh perspective can be a very good thing.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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