I have a gradually strengthening opinion that the best indicator that someone has absorbed the most important lessons of history is a great reduction of the frequency of asking “How could these people have been so stupid?” History is most learned when one grasps the conditions, forces, and influences that cause people and groups of people to take actions and support causes and leaders they have come to evaluate as reasonable that to one’s local context appears ridiculous. The recognition of these patterns during one’s life is history’s most valuable takeaway.


Still Alive?

For the following people, answer whether they are currently still alive or have died.

Saul Alinsky
Boutros Boutros-Ghali
Edsger Dijkstra
Mikhail Gorbachev
Jiang Zemin
Henry Kissinger
Benoit Mandelbrot
Wilma Mankiller
Slobodan Milošević
Maryam Mirzakhani
Hosni Mubarak
I. M. Pei
J. D. Salinger
Boris Spassky
Desmond Tutu

Answers (highlight):
(Note, of course, that as the future comes, this list will probably get less and less accurate.)

Saul Alinsky is dead.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali is dead.
Edsger Dijkstra is dead.
Mikhail Gorbachev is still alive, and is currently 86.
Jiang Zemin is still alive, and is currently 91.
Henry Kissinger is still alive, and is currently 94.
Benoit Mandelbrot is dead.
Wilma Mankiller is dead.
Slobodan Milošević is dead.
Maryam Mirzakhani is dead.
Hosni Mubarak is still alive, and is currently 89.
I. M. Pei is still alive, and is currently 100.
J. D. Salinger is dead.
Boris Spassky is still alive, and is currently 86.
Suharto is dead.
Desmond Tutu is still alive, and is currently 86.

In particular, the last one is a rather chilling memory lapse for me. I clearly, clearly remember learning that Desmond Tutu died in a plane crash. I still haven’t resolved what caused me to think that.

Totals over Time

once a month for an average year: 12 times
once an hour for an average day: 24 times
once a day for an average month: 30 times
once a second for an average minute: 60 times
once a minute for an average hour: 60 times
once a year for an average American lifespan: 79 times
once a day for an average year: 365 times
once an hour for an average month: 730 times
once a month for an average American lifespan: 945 times
once a minute for an average day: 1440 times
once a second for an average hour: 3600 times
once an hour for an average year: 8766 times
once a day for an average American lifespan: 28760 times
once a minute for an average month: 43830 times
once a second for an average day: 86400 times
once a minute for an average year: 525960 times
once an hour for an average American lifespan: 690235 times
once a second for an average month: 2 629 800 times
once a second for an average year: 31 557 600 times
once a minute for an average American lifespan: 41 414 090 times
once a second for an average American lifespan: 2 484 845 424 times


This day, October 12, is a day on which multiple countries feel the need to celebrate a genocidal sociopath from Europe for the discovery of a land he didn’t discover, and in the US, for being a pioneering figure for a land he never reached. Celebrating Christopher Columbus is wrong on so many different levels, it is about as wrong as it gets. It is a speck of particularly repugnant tradition that only some places, like Berkeley, California, the first city to do so, have decided to do away with.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day. May America someday be a place truly supportive of the land’s original people.

Today is September 11th

Today is September 11. If you have followed this blog for a long time, you may know my typical fare for this day of the year is to write a post about how lucky the American society is to be able to consider September 11 a disaster of historical proportions, and how the American discourse and the American media help to shape a society that fails to acknowledge the magnitude of loss of life elsewhere on earth in American hands, particularly Iraq. I follow with asking the audience to remember what America has done to other peoples and how small the blow to America has been in comparison, and to consider what the attitude of overemphasizing foreign attacks on America could cause.

These are still important to realize. The American citizenry should remember what its country has effected on numerous foreign lives in the name of freedom and the alleged spread of democracy, and what this really reflects on the legitimacy of its claims to being the world’s beacon of freedom.

This year, though, I will also add in a phrase for the more typical September 11 acknowledgment. September 11 was a heinous attack on the USA, and on many innocent lives hailing from many different countries, and it was fueled by a radical Islamist ideology. The people who perished, including the people who perished trying to reduce the number of people who perish, should be remembered.

Though 3000 lives is substantially smaller than 100000 lives, it is still 3000 lives too many to end prematurely. Just because America is incredibly lucky in the world doesn’t mean those here that were unfortunate should stay unmentioned; they must still be acknowledged and remembered.

In the world of today, sides of a disagreement are decreasingly willing to acknowledge parts of truth that the other side wishes to highlight. Truth is truth. The combination of a lack of acknowledgment along with assailing the opposition for not acknowledging what one wishes acknowledged makes for the rapid collapse of discourse and the increase of the feasibility of less peaceful means of conflict resolution. And hence, I believe it is important to here as well explicitly acknowledge and commemorate the American victims of 9/11 as well as the efforts to recover from the attack, and assure to possible unsure audiences a recognition of the gravity of the occurrence.

My hopes include that this recognition helps more potential audiences to be willing to consider the extent and severity of American military violence and other forms of oppression towards other peoples.

The Unavoidability of Red

In a recent referendum, Mauritania voted to add red stripes to their yellow-and-green flag. This means Mauritania has joined the vast majority of countries that have decided that red should be one of the colors on their flag. How vast is this majority? This vast.


No other general category of color (green, yellow, white, etc.) comes close to red’s dominance in prevalence among countries’ flags. A lot of nations find important symbolism in the color red, often representing the blood of those that have died for their country, revolution, courage, or valor, among other meanings.

In fact, if you look at the map above, you’d find that among countries with at least one land border, you cannot avoid either the country you’re in or a country you border having red in their flag if you include maroon as a red. If you exclude maroon, you can achieve this in Uruguay or Qatar.

Note that I have colored non-sovereign countries or territories in the map above according to the flag of the sovereign country that owns the land. If one considers the flags of these regions instead, there will be a few additional instances of flags without red, like Curaçao, Tokelau, and Macau.

Exciting Things May Soon Happen in the Indian Ocean

At the end of last month, I said that I would limit myself to four posts a month.

Yeah, that didn’t work. What ended up actually happening is that I just started writing drafts and not publishing them. And you know what? Something really, really exciting has just happened in the world (geography-wise) and I now need to write about it. So uh, screw it. I’m not going to be able to contain myself to four posts a month. That attempt lasted zero months. Yeah, I deserve to be laughed at a bit for that.

The exciting news is that the UN has voted to seek an opinion from the International Court of Justice regarding the Chagos Archipelago. Long ago, the British took the islands away from its natives and on top of this expelled all of the natives from the islands in order to build a military base to mutually benefit the UK and the US. Mauritius has asked for the islands back for a long time, but the UK has just felt that they didn’t want to take any sort of apologizing action for what they’ve done there yet. Now, though, we see this vote come through, and hopefully the International Court of Justice will demand that these islands return to the natives that have long deserved them back. Shame on the countries that voted in favor of the UK, in this day and age yet still promoting imperialism based on past injustice (though it is interesting to note that the Maldives voted against the resolution; it would be interesting to look into the reasoning behind that, because the Chagos archipelago definitely has historical ties to the Maldives and could have otherwise political significance now).

But that aside (and boy do I feel a tinge bad about feeding the geography geek in me when there’s this important sentimental significance to the event), here’s what’s very special about this from a geographical standpoint. Two things—both of these are due to the fact that the Chagos Archipelago is the only remaining portion of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT): the BIOT previously included three islands further southwest, but those islands were earlier ceded to the Seychelles.

1) The TLD .io is the ccTLD of the BIOT. If the UK loses the BIOT to Mauritius, we may see the IANA require .io to change hands. Given the development of sites using the .io TLD, this could get interesting. Might the BIOT be allowed to continue existing as a physically null entity, one that carries on as a concept but corresponds to no land on Earth, to legitimize .io’s link to a political entity?

2) The sun may finally set on the British Empire. There are more than 180 degrees of longitude between Dhekelia and Pitcairn Island. If the BIOT is no more, then sunrise in Dhekelia will come after sunset in Pitcairn, and for the first time in centuries, there will be a moment when it is nighttime over all the UK’s land on earth. The sun will continue to fail to set on the French Empire, though.