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By Nathan Bierma


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The Books & Culture Weblog

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This Week:

THE NEW WORLD ATLAS (PART 1)

One of the core principles of this weblog is that there are plenty of important and interesting things happening in the world that you won't find on television or the front pages of newspapers. The June issue of Wired and the July/August issue of the Atlantic Monthly bear this out. Both are devoted to emerging trends and important dynamics of our complex world that deserve more attention. Together they form a sort of new atlas—a revision of the way we look at the world and measure its boundaries and dimensions.

This week, items from Wired's geography of changing space that fit traditional atlas categories or describe physical characteristics of the globe. Next week, Wired on artificial and virtual aspects of the world.

• URBAN SPACE
We tend to think of cities as the embodiment of modernization and primitive rural life as typical of the Two Thirds World. Wired, with the AMO (presumably the Association of Municipalities of Ontario) points out some startling facts about urbanization worldwide. "At the start of the 20th century, 10 percent of the earth's population lived in cities. By the end of this decade, 50 percent will be urban dwellers."

Not only that, but the fastest urban growth is happening in the Two Thirds World.

"By 2015, there will be 58 metro areas with more than 5 million inhabitants each—48 outside the developed world." The brilliant graphics from this issue don't translate well online, but here is a version of Wired's map of urban growth. (Note also the map of youth in the world, which shows much of Africa and the Middle East to have a median age of less than 20.)

• MAP SPACE

Two ways in which the globe could be redrawn to reflect the power of multinational corporations: First, we could use a map that enlarges those tiny, quiet seats of economic power—the island tax havens where corporations stow their assets to protect them from taxation. (See second item here.) Second, we could use a map of globalization that ditches the old-fashioned method of country names, colors and boundaries in favor of corporate ones, showing where corporations have their offices around the world. (See fourth item here.)

• EURO SPACE

You hear a lot of talk about the bullying "American Empire," but much less about the European Union's unique political experiment in subtle sovereignty. As the EU swells in size to 25 nations, swallowing up member nations motivated by economic reform, its below-the-radar bureaucracy gains little notice but a lot of power. "Although the EU legislates up to half of its member states' laws, most of their trade, and many policy decisions—from agriculture to economics—it's practically invisible," writes Foreign Policy Centre director Mark Leonard in Wired. "There are no European courts, legislative chambers, or business regulations on display in London. Instead, just as a virus takes over a healthy cell, the EU operates through the shell of traditional political structures." Unlike the U.S., which uses its military to enact surface changes in other countries, "Europe's invisibility allows it to spread its influence without provocation. … This new type of power means that Europe effects change from the inside out." Full story

-Unanswered Question: It can be said that the U.S. is weak politically but strong culturally; the world may not be fond of the U.S. agenda for "regime change" and other policies, but it loves our movies, fast food, and brand-name clothes. By contrast, what Leonard doesn't address is that while the EU has a firm political grip on its member nations, it has no unifying culture. It is, to paraphrase a Brussels bureaucrat quoted in Building Europe, "Europe without Europeans." What would Leonard say is the significance of this difference, and will the EU successfully create a mass popular culture in the twenty-first century?

• BORDER SPACE


Borders, like bridges, may bear more metaphorical than physical power—they loom in the minds of citizens as symbols of limits and control. "The border between two lands is more than a line; it reinforces the hopes and fears of the nations that share it," writes Wired's Jeff Howe. He highlights six of the world's contested borders, with an eye toward technology's role in smoothing or stopping flow among them. They include:

-The Strait of Gibraltar, the rather ambiguous line between Spain and Morocco. The EU helped fund Spain's construction of fences and surveillance systems around its two cities that lie in recently independent Morocco: Ceuta and Melilla. (See also this map of the region from Africa-Map.net and these pictures of Melilla by Internet journalist Tore Kjeilen.)

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