Sunday, February 22, 2015

Where East Meets West—Twice

A project Brigitte is toiling on—on which more when the research is done—caused me to make a graphic of the world. Sometimes a picture teaches more than those famous thousand words. So let me start here with that picture.

It’s hard to believe that one can actually compress the map of the world into a single image—which is done here. In fact I’m showing a slight bit more of our globe just so that the Prime Meridian, thus 0° Longitude, is shown twice with a slight overlap. The center of this image is the Antimeridian, thus 180° Longitude. The line marked by that red A runs through Greenwich, England and meets the tip of the line in the middle at the North Pole. Thus the left side shows the eastern and the right the western Hemisphere.

We’re not accustomed to this view. Deep habit has us imagine West to the left and East to the right, but when we travel on the globe, in whatever direction we are going—so long as we are crossing longitudes—eventually West becomes East and vice versa. In Greenwich there are houses where it is quite possible to stand in some kitchen chopping onions and one foot is in the Occident, the other in the Orient. We’re accustomed to think of Europe as part of the Western World, but only a little slice of it—most of England, a chunk of France, and a goodly part of Spain—are geographically West. London, with Longitude of -0.1278, is as much in the West as San Francisco at Longitude -122.4194.

Now this being a flattened version of the globe, the bottom portion is a single landmass—and would show a solid white mass all across the image if Google had let me go further south. That is because Antarctica is a landmass that squarely covers the pole.

Note that at some points the Longitude 180 marked in black covers over (because coinciding with it) a dashed line in light red. That dashed line is a date line. It jigs and jags to ensure that tiny islands or that bit of Russia are in the same time zone. Luckily for us, who must by all means keep Putin in his place, the dateline (even if only a broken line) keeps Putin firmly in the East. Go West, young man. But not too far—or you’ll end up in the Orient.

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