The new year begins with a look at sovereign geography as applied to movement through the atmosphere: a Ugandan baby girl was born aboard an airplane en route from Amsterdam to the United States – and so was given Canadian citizenship, because the plane was flying over eastern Canada at the time.
Of course, one wonders what citizenship this baby would have been given if the parents had been flying over the middle of the ocean, for instance, or across the tangled borders of an enclave or exclave. A complicated mathematics of trajectory, speed, and height is unleashed by terrestrial scholars below in order to find the exact location of the plane at the moment of childbirth.
Like something out of Borges, imperial trigonometricians are called in for consultation. Their calculations take days and arguments break out.
Perhaps the child goes on to be famous – a political leader, a poet, a revolutionary, the next pope – and his or her exact aerial origin becomes increasingly important to determine. Weather data and wind speed, the weight of fellow passengers, tiny aerodynamic imperfections in the wings, and even gravitational anomalies in the earth’s crust are brought to bear: how fast was the airplane traveling?
Like the origins of the Sunni/Shia split in Islam, rival factions form: their battle lines are drawn, like wisps of cloud in a springtime sky.
Perhaps, in a virtuoso application of air rights laws delivered to a stunned General Assembly of the UN, a property entrepreneur actually purchases the exact section of sky where he believes the baby was born. Rethinking the deal later, he buys the entire historic flight path. Soon, he owns vast corridors of air.
I’m reminded of Allen Ginsberg, who once wrote of a “Subliminal Billionaire” who “owns vast Spheres of Air” – only, here, those carefully surveyed envelopes of atmospheric real estate are more like UNESCO Heritage Sites, international sky parks hovering somewhere over a border near you.
(Note: The obituary of the man who invented air rights – please, oh please, someone commission me to write a longer article about this man! – was originally spotted last summer via Marcus Trimble’s Super Colossal).