Land of unlimited possibilities: a description that actually matches any country, since possibilities — unlike reality — are always unlimited, if not actually infinite. But here, the object of reference is the USA.

The United States of America received this nickname due to its liberal immigration policies in the early 20th century and the economic liberalism predominant there. Today, however, there are more bureaucratic obstacles to the founding and running of a business in the USA than there are in other contries, for instance in Germany. Nonetheless, due to its resources and diversity, the United States is still a prosperous environment for new ideas.

A foreigner who comes to the US nowadays will be less astonished by the unlimited possibilities than by the strange contradictions he or she encounters there. The US is the wealthiest industrial nation on Earth, yet according to the statistics on crime, executions, abortions, teen pregnancy, poverty, and superstition it is closer to the level of a third-world country.* Numerous religious TV channels — to say nothing of the ubiquitous radio stations — preach fundamentalism and condemn science to an audience of millions. As recently as 2004, 61% of all adults in the US believed that the world was created in six days — by comparison, only 13% of Germans had such a belief** — even though at the very same time the US space probe WMAP was measuring the cosmic background radiation and delivering the most precise data yet available about the Big Bang. Though the US generously made these data available to the world, they were sometimes not made accessible to its own youth. In Kentucky, for example, pages on the topic of the Big Bang had to be pasted over in school textbooks as recently as 1996.

Nonetheless: A Tribute to America

Though global esteem for the US has been at a low point for quite some time, there have been signs of recovery after the presidential elections of 2008. It is, of course, unfair to judge Americans only on the basis of their political right wing or the fundamentalists in their country. The US still has the best-equipped universities, produces most of the Nobel Prize winners, and — contrary to widespread prejudices — enjoys a rich cultural life. The latter is sustained not by government subsidies, but by a tradition of private sponsorship hardly matched in any other country. Also, American bigotry, kow-towing to the powers that be, and jingoism are nowhere met with as much sarcasm as in the US itself. And we can't help but love the Americans for creating and sponsoring private initiatives such as the Long Now Foundation or the SETI Institute. Last but not least, most (and the best) popular scientific books about infinity to date have been published in the US.

* Comparative study by Gregory S. Paul, Journal of Religion and Society, 7/2005

** USA: ABC poll of February 2004,
Germany: Stern/Forsa poll of November 2005

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