The World America Learns

How many capitals of countries of the world can you name?

(Let me pause a moment so you could count that up. (Silly me. You’re reading this. Of course you can pause.))

Okay, here’s my next question: how many of these countries are in Europe or the Americas? (And as additional questions, how many of the ones in the Americas are in North America, and how many of the ones in Europe are in Western Europe?)

How many of these countries are in Africa? Africa has more countries than Europe, so if your geographical knowledge of the world is balanced, you should know more African capitals than European capitals (this is before considering the case of multiple capitals in African countries).

Okay, and how about Asia?

If you’re like most Americans, the capitals of the world that you know are vastly disproportionate: you know many in the Americas and Europe, much fewer in Asia, and barely any in Africa.

Just to take a step further, how well do you do on this for Pacific Island nations? If you know one, I think you’re qualified to give yourself a pat on the back already in comparison to the general public. (It really isn’t that hard to just remember one. Fiji and Samoa have four-letter capitals.)

Here’s what the results of the corresponding Sporcle quiz look like. As of now, the first African capital down the list (Cairo) is 13th most frequently gotten, with 10 American and European capitals preceding it. To get to the second most remembered capital, you’d need to move down to position 55, with Tunis, ranking behind Reykjavik, a city with one-eighth the population and one-umpteenth the spellability of Tunis. You need to go ever further, to position 66, to reach Nairobi, the most frequently answered Sub-Saharan African capital. Among Pacific Island countries, not a single capital makes the upper half (or even the upper two-thirds). In fact, only one of them (Port Moresby) is answered more frequently than the least frequently answered European capital (Podgorica). If you performed a rank-sum test on the answering frequencies of European versus Pacific Island nations, your p value for the one-tail test would be 0.00000005.

But maybe Africans and Pacific Islanders just pick strange cities for their capitals. Maybe they’re like the United States, where the country’s capital is by far not the largest city and the majority of states have a capital that is not their largest city (as well as arguably not the most historically significant).

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The Embassy of Sadness

Please come help me
For I see malice
In see-through clouds
Of noisy silence

To go translate
I cannot do
I speak and yet
It passes through

For sadness to
Be worse it could
Be that which is
Not understood

Please grant to me
Perhaps a token
For flavors sad
To be more spoken

A token one
Could hope someone
Can touch to know
Why, where, and when

Red States and Blue States

Seeing a collection of election maps may affirm the phrases “Red State” and “Blue State” that one often hears. So here’s a question: how many states that are Red States, Blue States, and Purple States (where there’s actually quite a considerable percentage of both Democrats and Republicans) are there? Clearly a state that just votes 0.1% more for the Democratic candidate than for the Republican candidate isn’t really a Blue State, even if consistently.

So where shall we draw the boundary?

How about at one side getting 33.3% more votes than the other side? This way, given the assumption that votes to third parties are very small, the difference is cut at “there are at least 2 people on this side for each 1 on the other side”, which sounds quite lenient given the impression often given to us that Red States have such a dominance of Republicans and Blue States have such a dominance of Democrats, right?

Well, let’s go through the past 14 elections and count up how many Blue States and Red States there were in each election by this metric. (Why the past 14? Because the start of this period is about where the Democratic/Republican flip on political ideals happened.) (Also as an aside, note that the association of Democrats with blue and Republicans with red is substantially more recent than 14 elections ago.)

ObamaRomney election:
Blue States: Hawaii, Vermont
Red States: Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma
Purple States: 45 states

ObamaMcCain election:
Blue States: Hawaii, Vermont
Red States: none
Purple States: 48 states

BushKerry election:
Red States: Utah, Wyoming, Idaho
Blue States: none
Purple States: 47 states

BushGore election:
Red States: Utah, Wyoming, Idaho
Blue States: none
Purple States: 47 states

ClintonDole election:
Blue States: Massachusetts
Red States: none
Purple States: 49 states

ClintonBush election:
Blue States: none
Red States: none
Purple States: 50 states

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Every human who is an advocate of friction, every rouser of anger, every spewer of hate, every taker of another’s life, every taker of many others’ lives, every caller for mass death, every brutal dictator, every generally unpleasant person is still a human. And all of their actions are those chosen by a human mind, built upon by human experiences and guided by human emotions. When we say that an action is not human when a human clearly executed it, at best we are weakly denying to ourselves the reality that in fact a human has just executed the said act, and at worst we are choosing to be blind to the question of how this thing we call civilization and admire and cherish so deeply happens to harbor, breed, and produce such people, not once, not several times, but time and time again.