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'Western DC': a New U.S. Capital on the Ohio River
Metropolis, Illinois, a tiny town with a grand name, is a distant echo of this area's planned greatness
Does a central government need to be literally, geographically central? Of course not. In fact, when considered against the territory they govern, the location of many (if not most) national capitals is remarkably eccentric. One of the clearest examples is Moscow, 7 time zones and close to 4,000 miles (almost 6,500 km) west of Russia’s Far Eastern hub of Vladivostok, but less than 260 miles (about 420 km) east of the border with Belarus. Or take the UK: London is closer to Paris than to Newcastle, and Shetland, the UK’s northernmost archipelago, is closer to Norway’s capital than to its own (1).
But on the other hand, some capitals are remarkably central. Take Rome, almost exactly halfway down the boot of Italy. Or Mexico City, not that far from the country’s actual geographical centre (2). Why are so many capitals so noticeably non-central, while others so obviously are? Historically, geographically (and very generally) speaking, two opposing forces are at work in determining whether capitals are central.
The most basic principle is that of radiance. Imagine a powerful city gradually and radially extending its power over the surrounding area. The borders of the resulting nation would be fairly equidistant from the governing centre.
But that principle ignores a basic aspect of physical and human geography - its irregularity. Navigable rivers and inhospitable deserts, impassable mountain ranges and fertile plains all influence the expandability of any empire. The fundamental influence of this irregularity constitutes the second principle, which to a large extent can be reduced to what might be called portuarity (3).
Access to the sea is conducive to commerce and communication, giving port cities a head start in empire-building. Hence the seaside location of many capital cities - a location which obviously also limits their territorial expansion to the non-watery half of their surroundings.
But there may be another factor at work. The powers that be may choose to move the seat of government from one place to another, usually to a more central location. The practical and/or symbolic reasons cited for the move actually serve the same purpose: to strengthen the unity of the country. Planned capitals include:
Probably the most famous - and certainly the most successful - example of a planned capital is Washington DC, a federal district built on the left bank of the Potomac to house the capital of the United States of America. That privilege had passed between New York City, Philadelphia and even Trenton before the District of Columbia was agreed upon as a compromise between south and north.
That choice was not just politically expedient, it was also demographically fortuitous. As shown by a map of the mean centre of America’s population (discussed in #389), DC was built quite close to the US’s demographic centre of gravity as it was then.
But already in 1800, that centre had started its long, westward drift. If the location of America’s capital was a compromise, in between the North and the South of the Original Thirteen States, wouldn’t it make sense to move it west when the country expanded in that direction?
Exactly that was proposed in 1850 - a mere half century after the inauguration of DC as the nation’s capital. By that time, America’s centre of demographic gravity had moved to the western reaches of present-day West Virginia.
This map, drawn up by a William McBean, projector, identifies a circular area on both the Kentucky and Illinois banks of the Ohio river, not far from its confluence with the Mississippi at Cairo, as a so-called Western District of Columbia. The legend of the map “of a part of the SOUTHERN & WESTERN STATES” (4) mentions historic Fort Massac, which would probably have been the centre of the mentioned “WESTERN ARMORY” and places it next to the city of Metropolis, across the river from Capitol City. Those names sounded sufficiently grand for what was judged (or gambled) to be “the probable future site for the seat of Government of the UNITED STATES or Western District of Columbia etc.”
Very little information is available on the nature of the aforementioned Western Armory, its relation to the Western District of Columbia , or for that matter the Eastern one. Does the existence of two DCs imply dual capitals, and would these have been alternating or would they each have co-managed a part of the vast territory?
It’s difficult to determine how serious this area’s bid for the location of a Western DC was. Present-day local maps show no settlement where Capitol City is located on this map, on the Kentucky bank of the Ohio river. Today, there are only two Capitol Cities in the US: as generic definition of the actual capital, Washington DC, or of the generic capital city of the unnamed state that’s home to Homer and the other Simpsons from the eponymous tv series (5).
Was this Capitol City an ephemera, a city the existence of which was postulated on paper, thus to will it into being? If the same thing was attempted with Metropolis, on the Illinois side of the river, at least it worked in that latter case. Metropolis, Greek for the Mother City, is a sleepy little All-American town that in no way resembles a busy metropolis. No US Congress has ever convened here. And no US president was ever resident here.
However, the town’s name links it to another strand of American history - comic book history. Metropolis is the name of the fictional city where Clark Kent/Superman forges a career as both a journalist and a superhero. Ironically, Metropolis, Illinois more resembles the Smallville where Clark Kent grew up.
This has not prevented the town to capitalise on its connection to the caped superhero. Metropolis has been declared “Hometown of Superman” by both DC Comics and by the Illinois State Legislature. It houses a Superman Museum, hosts an annual Superman Celebration, and its town centre is the location of a huge Superman statue.
In early January 2009, president-elect Barack Obama visited Metropolis and had his picture taken with Superman.
Many thanks to Arthur Howe for sending in this map.
Strange Maps #492
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) We could go on with examples aplenty, but the question of precision arises: which is the world’s most eccentric capital (geographically speaking, of course)? Does anyone have a list? I’m guessing such a list would involve calculations taking in the size of each country, and the distance from their geographical centres to their capital cities. Complex stuff. If I’d have to put my money on any capital, it'd be Kinshasa
(2) Whichever centre of Mexico you pick. Methods of measurement vary, as do definitions as to what to include, leading to various claims from a handful of localities, none of them very far from Mexico City though: the city of Tequisquiapan in the state of Querétaro; the Cerro del Cubilete, a mountain in Guanajuato state; two points in Zacatecas state, one of which is the village of Cañitas de Felipe Pescador; and the town of Aguascalientes in the eponymous state.
(3) Or the predominance of the maritime capital, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
(4) At the time of publication, only Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and, most recently, California had achieved statehood west of the Mississippi. Hence the designation of the area described as ‘western’ instead of ‘midwestern’.
(5) The Simpsons are keen fans of curious cartography, and maybe even of Strange Maps. Map #459, of Marge Simpson’s European Adventure, shows the diva of Springfield filling out a map of Europe with her remarkable profile. That map was sent in by Micky Hulse (original context here), and the Simpsons reference seems to have come full circle. Many thanks to commenter Jack Hinks for sending in a screengrab from a recent Simpsons episode (cf. inf.)
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.