Sun Ra - Column for 2/9

Size Isn't Everything

Some time ago I was reading the Economist, and one of the articles therein included a table of the populations of various European countries. Now, I'm a fairly educated guy, and unlike the bulk of Americans I am a whiz at geography and general geographic knowledge. So I was surprised, as I read the table, to find that the population of some European countries was very different from what I had assumed it to be.

For instance, the population of Ireland is just a tad over four million people. Four million! This is the country from which a vast swath of Americans derive ethnic identity, and it's only got four million people. (More interestingly, I discovered from elsewhere, is that Ireland had double that amount over a hundred and fifty years ago. And yes, the reason its population is now less than that of many American metropolitan areas is that a big chunk of those Irish came over here.)

It was really startling. I mean, I knew that the United Kingdom had about sixty million, and in fact it has fifty-nine point two. But I would have figured that Ireland would have had at least a fifth of the population of their neighbor next door, even discounting Northern Ireland and its one point seven million. But no, it's less than a fourteenth the size of the UK. Ireland is, in modern population terms, tiny.

It is, for instance, well under half the size of Belgium, which has over ten million people. It is a quarter of the size of the Netherlands, which has over sixteen million. That was another surprise - the Low Countries, which one thinks of as very small, actually have a sizable population. Taken together, they are almost half the size of France (fifty nine point five million).

And then there are the Nordic countries. How many people do you think Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have? Sweden is pretty big, right? Well, no, actually, it's go a little under ten million people. Sweden is smaller than Belgium. Norway has four and a half million, making them only a shade larger than Ireland. And Finland is actually larger than Norway, though not by much, with five point two million people. Denmark is similar, five point four million. So I guess, compared to its neighbors, Sweden is huge. But it's still smaller than Belgium.

Iceland of course you know is tiny. How tiny? Three hundred thousand people, or rather, just under. Yeah, it's smaller than Oakland, California, or any of a number of other cities we'd consider medium-sized. Think about that. How many television stations can they support? Newspapers? What about movie theaters? Yeah, it's zany, isn't it? But get this. The island of Malta has three hundred and eighty thousand people. That's right. Malta has more people than Iceland. Odds are, you have no idea where it is, and if you do, you are probably rather astounded that it has that many people on it. But neither country can have much Broadway theater.

Now, to jump across the world, how many people do you think Australia has? Remember, it's a continent. Yes, twenty point two million. The whole continent. The state of California alone has thirty-six million. (Which makes California nine times as large as Ireland.) And New Zealand? Three point eight million. Both of which together (Australia and New Zealand) are smaller than Afghanistan, which has twenty five point eight million.

Some other surprises. Nepal. That little country up in the Himalayas. Take a guess. Well, there are actually twenty six point four million Nepalese. Yes, almost the same number of people as all of Scandinavia put together. I'm going to skip over most of the African countries, because frankly I doubt you have much of a guess as to how many people live in Togo (five million) or the Sudan (thirty nine million). I thought it was interesting that Saudi Arabia, which I had always heard was a big empty desert, has in excess of twenty three million people. I wonder how many of them are part of the royal family.

Here's another one: Russia. Our old nemesis. How many folks do you think live there? About a hundred and fifty million. (One hundred forty seven million). Of course, they have been stripped of the Ukraine (forty seven million), Kazakhstan (thirteen million), and Estonia (one point two million), among others. But it's interesting that Russia is now almost exactly half the size of the United States.

Oh, right. Us. I figured you'd know that. Well, why don't you take a look at the figures I was using, and find out for yourself. They break their numbers down into states, cities, and even smaller regions, so have a look.

Although, for some reason, they've counted Puerto Rico, and its almost four million people, as a separate country.

- Sun Ra

Columns by Sun Ra