Sunday, May 19, 2013

Being First Does Matter

As Nike would like to remind us, almost nobody remembers the second person to walk on the moon (Buzz Aldrin). Clearly, being the first to achieve something does have its privileges. Here is short list of those winners and what they received:

The English came up with the first stamp, allowing the UK to be only country whose postal stamps do not state the country of issue.  They also invented the first way and technology to calculate latitude (pre-GPS), i.e. comparing noon in London with the local noon. This required an accurate clock, not a simple endeavor at the time, to keep London time.  Consequently, all time zones are related to GMT, which is located in England.   By the way, there was no daylight saving time to confuse the issue then.

The United States created the first operational telephone system, meaning that the international prefix (1) refers to the United States.  Even more brashly, it also created the Internet, giving American sites the privilege of adding only .com, not,, etc.  I suppose the British would say having the time zone is more practical.

In more intellectual matters, other European powers, former and current, have created the standards.  Cooking terms are in French because nobody else invested so much effort in codifying the culinary processes.  Philosophy would be much poorer and require fewer letters if Germans had not invented the right word for each complex concept.   Has anybody ever head of an opera translated into Italian?  I would agree that Italian is a wonderful language for song, certainly sweeter than German or English. 

Other cultures also have their achievements. Japan also has its claim to fame:  The sun rises there.  Although you can’t eat or send the sun, it is an illuminating asset from the Japanese point of view.  The Chinese invented thousands of items centuries before the Europeans ever even though of them, such as gun powder and noodles.  However, alas, as is typical of the last few centuries, the West brazenly stole their ideas, improved them, and used them against the Chinese.  As the expression goes, might makes right apparently.

So, the first country to invent time travel or telepathy will have its privileges too, maybe, since sometimes, as Nike says, just win.

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