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.

Today I am deeply and profoundly ashamed to be an American

I said that I would try to make only four blog posts in June.

Then, I pretty much decided what four things I would talk about.

Then, I realized I felt I just needed to write this post after, let’s say, a certain piece of news.

(This really seems like the sort of thing I thought about all the time that led to my excessive posting the past few months, but maybe I’ll allow this to take up the slots of one of my four June posts. This one counts instead of slipping aside!)

The title of this post holds without the word ‘Today’, of course. I haven’t really been extensively not ashamed of being American for probably since I, let’s say…first read a history book. I have been especially ashamed of America recently for reasons I’m sure you have at least a hint for if you’re bothering to read this post. But I am now ashamed to an acute and staggering degree that I am a citizen of this country that decided to leave the Paris climate accord, an event that truly makes the selfish narcissism and pretense of exceptionalism of the land of the free and the home of the brave sparkle like a gem. Specifically a diamond, I’d even say, as there’s no better gemstone that symbolizes an insatiable pursuit of money at the cost of the world or even the advertised efficiencies of capitalism than the diamond.

This event rings a bell. What bell is it? Ah, yes, the Kyoto Protocol, volume 1 of America farting in the global elevator and then leaving to let everyone else smell it. We haven’t improved, have we?

Not actually. We improved. We did originally sign the Paris agreement after all. We, America, are historically a country of claiming a lot of grandiose and awesome-sounding principles, then hypocritically defeating them in entirety in implementation, and then eventually realizing that we kinda failed very badly at our principles, but yes, improving. We went through this phase with slavery, we went through this phase with discrimination against pretty much every new wave of immigration that happened, and we went through this phase with “gee, how okay is it to just kill all these people that originally lived on this land?” Then we slowly improved, realizing the egregiousness of the previous actions this country has taken and slowly building acknowledgment of our faults in the past, though there are always some stragglers to this.

Anyway, yeah, we improved and signed the Paris agreement under the Obama administration. Then, we started walking backwards again and backed out, because supposedly it’s better for America and it’s making America great again. Because, of course, America is a country of thermophilic entomophilic pollen-hypertolerant fish.

Of course, perhaps America hungers for the oceans to expand because the oceans gave us power. In World War II, we, America, were the country lucky enough to be separated from the bulk of action by the mighty waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific, and thus came out of the war fabulously undevastated and a world superpower. We interpreted our luck as a sign that we were the supremely righteous as the Good Guys that Won, and thus took it upon ourselves to apply our unquestionable justice all around the world, where everyone surely loves us, from Grenada to Iraq to Afghanistan to Vietnam. It was an amazing process of supporting anyone that vowed against communism regardless of what else they did; we helped all sorts of people from Yahya Khan to Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden to Muammar Gadhafi come to power, because they hated communists and that made them good guys. Fascinating, if they’re good guys, what does that make us?

Continue reading “Today I am deeply and profoundly ashamed to be an American”

A Season with LearnedLeague

I recently finished playing in my first (and probably only, the reason for which I’ll explain shortly later) season of LearnedLeague, an online trivia league. I’d say it was a fun experience, and that the ideas behind how competition in LearnedLeague works are generally good ideas.

Each round (of which there are 25 in a season, at least in the one I participated in) consists of a head-to-head match between two league players, that involves answering trivia questions (called “offense”), and assigning numbers of points each question is worth for your opponent (called “defense”), for which one is allowed to consult their history to know what one’s opponent tends to be good at.

And this gets to why I don’t think I’ll be back for another season. LearnedLeague has failed to deviate from a problem I find in most trivia competitions: an excessive favoring of generalists. Frankly, there are four categories of LearnedLeague trivia (Film, Lifestyle, Pop Music, and Television) than not only am I terrible at but also I honestly have less than zero interest in getting better at (really, four and half, given the Games/Sport category; it’s a really easy exercise for the reader to figure out which half of that I don’t care about). But there are categories of trivia I am definitely extremely interested in. Overall, my trivia knowledge is terribly category-polar, and this makes me ridiculously easy to defend against. As much as I like the assigning-points-for-opponent mechanic, the resulting effects of the such for highly non-generalist people like me make it something I’m not willing to give money for. A second factor lies in excessive references to alcoholic drinks, which many may know I find elevated discomfort in. There’s quite a few questions for which it looks like the writer specifically wanted to force an association with alcohol. Yes, it turns out unfortunately trivia is often associated with bars. *Sigh*.

Anyway, my category stats:


Below I’ll make some notes on specific items in some categories.

Some of these questions have images that are part of the item when you click ‘Click here’. I’m too lazy to copy those over, so I’ll leave it to your imagination what those items were.



MD15Q3 was the least-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with only 5% answering correctly.

MD06Q2 was a guess. They all looked like portraits. Might as well guess that they were of the self variety.



I only got MD13Q1 because of knowing where Qaanaaq is and knowing there’s a military base named Thule nearby, and thus just guessing “Thule” off of only this information, possibly the most distant answer derivation I’ve underwent this entire season. Does this count as love towards Sweden via proxy?

I entered “Hand of God” instead of “Invisible Hand” for MH08Q5. Oops.

Current Events


I’m fairly ashamed of having not been able to name the new UN Secretary-General. Apparently, neither could most of LearnedLeague, so shame on everyone else too.



MD12Q5: Booo Othello. I can’t believe the world accepted the game of Reversi getting a second name.

What is sportsball.



Apparently the most frequently incorrectly guessed answer to MD20Q2 was “Washington”. I guess that’s what “Bellevue” tipped people off to?

I was not actually sure of the answer to MD12Q6; I based my guess off of understanding the Central American isthmus as gradually less inhabitable as one moves south and east.

American History


I don’t really have many comments to make here.

World History


I really should’ve gotten MD24Q5, but didn’t answer “Peloponnesian League” because of the inclusion of Corinth, which I recalled as not-all-that-Peloponnesian, although maybe I should’ve still considered the isthmus Pelopennesian. I guessed “Dorian League”.

For MD15Q4, I knew where relatively chronologically the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was; I just couldn’t exactly remember where it was delimited and wasn’t exactly sure which monarchs came between Victoria and Edward $LARGE_NUM. I ended up deciding I had the best chances with guessing Victoria, which it turns out was too early.

For MD12Q3, I made the rather hilarious-in-retrospect mistake of calling the Ostrogoths the “Orthogoths”. Herpity derp.

MD07Q5 was the most-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with 88% answering correctly. Fortunately, I was in the 88% for this case.

I was wondering whether MD01Q2 wanted the real (legal) name of Kim Il-Sung, since that is not it, but ended up deciding they probably just want “Kim Il-Sung” for the purposes of the question. It turns out that was a good assumption.



I consider the FANBOYS question a bad question.

MD02Q4 was an item I really should’ve gotten, but I mind-blanked a bit much and put “al-“.



Maybe if I thought a little harder on MD18Q4 I would’ve gotten it.




MD08Q1 was the second-most-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with 87% answering correctly.

Classical Music


MD19Q4 was the second-least-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with only 14% answering correctly.

The Classical Music section consists of an excess of…I guess I’ll call it “applied” music and way not enough “pure” music, grump, grump. I’m saying “applied”, I guess because terms like “incidental” and “operatic” don’t actually capture the set I’m trying to describe.



I was actually quite surprised with how long it took me to recall what Newton’s Second Law was. It turned out my physical knowledge had progressed to a state where I only know if I’m supposed to know things. Fortunately, I did eventually remember the Law. I wonder if I would’ve forgotten it if I hadn’t taken an olympiad qualification test whose name is the equation of the Law.

Anyway, that’s all; ’twas a fun season. I’m going to stay around for some MiniLeagues, but then vanish from LearnedLeague. I did refer a friend to LearnedLeague, though, so maybe he will stay.

The Phrase “Crimes Against Humanity” has the Vibe of the Term “Un-American”

This was originally going to be a post arguing that people who legislate climate change denial are committing crimes against humanity. While purposeful ignorance of the effects of climate change is rather genocidal to island nations, and I do think this is itself worthy of a post, I’m now instead discussing the term “crime against humanity” itself, as a consequence of flushing out thoughts on what I’d write in this blog post while in the shower.

The term “crime against humanity” is intended to label an act, typically a war crime, or systematic murder and ethnic cleansing, as atrocious and far beyond the reaches of what can be considered humane. Crimes against humanity are so appallingly disgusting that it they are a disrespect and disgrace to all of humanity for being able to happen.

But the term “crime against humanity” sounds an awful lot like the word “un-American” in notion. That is, it labels an act as centrally against what makes us us, for some level of “us”. The accusation against an alleged un-American act is that the act fails to meet the standards of American morality and values, and the threat conveyed to the accused is that they will land themselves outside the circle of identity of most of the community.

So how high is the bar of American values, this esteemed highland of morality? At that of a country that has…systematically persecuted and killed the native population of the land, relentlessly oscillated among ethnicities of immigrants to vilify, funded genocidal regimes in foreign countries in the name of anti-communism, exhibited a level of gun violence unimaginable in many other developed countries, and ironically tarnished its foundation of liberty by outlawing slavery later than nearly all other developed countries. This is the proud country whose moral standards the accused have failed to meet. It turns out not only is the label “un-American” a bringer of artificial enmity, it also is vividly hypocritical.

And on this note, I’d like to ask: where is the moral bar for the human species? The human is distinguished by actually having concepts of murder and war: a thirst for blood beyond that which just seeks nutrition. The human is a species that kills 10 million times as many sharks as are killed by them, yet consistently produces media claiming the sharks are the monsters. No species has demonstrated as blazing a contempt for nature as has the human. What is the “humanity” that “crimes against humanity” have failed to respect? What is humane, what moral quality is it the human supposedly naturally exhibits, if the history of the human is that of a species that could not wait to exhibit inhumanity again?

There is no humanity crimes against humanity are against. Crimes against humanity are really crimes of humanity, a systemic plague within the human species, a species too weak to avoid casting off each instance of inhumanity as not its problem, unable to accept its record far too tainted for “humane” to be a properly reflecting word.

Why These Seven Countries

Very soon after inauguration, Donald Trump signed an executive order blocking people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entry to the US. Why exactly these countries? The reasons often provided and often alleged for this selection tend to match up rather badly with facts about these countries, and are dotted with holes in reasoning. Making a possibly unjustified assumption that some sort of thinking went into figuring out exactly which countries were included in the ban, let’s investigate some theories and see what comes closest.

Theory 1: Keeping out Terrorists

The administration’s officially provided reason for the ban is incredibly blatantly false. Zero of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists hailed from any of the seven countries covered by the ban (so Trump would’ve likely been closer to blocking these by randomly choosing seven countries), nor did the San Bernardino shooter who pledged alliance with the IS. Saudi Arabia, a long-recognized breeding ground for radicalization and the production of terrorists, is not blocked by the ban.

Theory 2: Keeping out Muslims

This very common accusation among liberals for the motivation behind Trump’s ban still matches up with specifics very poorly. The ban neither blocks several countries with the greatest percentage of Muslims in the population (like Morocco) nor the countries that politically exhibit the most fundamentalist implementations of Islam (like Saudi Arabia and Qatar). In fact, many of these countries are countries with relatively larger diversity among those in the Muslim world, both in terms of non-Muslim sects and different sects of Islam itself (which unfortunately contributed to the elevated magnitude of sectarian clashing in several of these countries).

Theory 3: Blocking Countries the Islamic State is in

This is quite inconsistent with the countries selected as well. The IS has failed to have significant headway in Iran (which, in fact, has been one of the most crucial players in the fight against the IS), one of the countries included, but controls a macroscopic amount of land in Lebanon, not one of the countries included in the ban. With errors in both directions, this is by quite a stretch not what these seven countries have  in common, but is still much closer than the above two approximations.

The ban does not respond to support for the IS, either: Qatar is the country against which the most substantive claims of secret funding of the IS has been made, and is not on the ban list. Most of these countries the IS has managed to control parts of have governments that have repeatedly denounced the IS. At least the ones on this list for which it’s clear what the government of the country is, which brings us to…

Theory 4: Blocking Countries with Political Instability or Refugees

Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo produce lots of refugees, but they aren’t included in the ban. Maybe Trump is only blocking Muslim refugees? This isn’t the case either: Afghanistan has a gigantic outflux of Muslim refugees, but Afghanistan didn’t make the block list.

Nevertheless, there is one striking trait that many countries on Trump’s list posses: countries in political strife. Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia are all countries with several major threats to the current de jure government, the last three to an extent that it is hard to say exactly what the government of the country even is, especially if one puts a requirement of minimum effectiveness in their definition of a government.

But what about Iran? Iran is doing substantially solidly as a country, particularly in its region. Yes, they may have had a Twitter revolt and other clashes, but these have amounted to nowhere near what nearby countries have seen.

Regardless, it seems that this theory would be the closest to the reasoning behind the selection of countries: blocking politically unstable countries, but tacking on a slice of hating on Iran while at it. With Iran taken out, the political situation is the stark connecting link among Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. Now if only this made sense as a justification for the ban.

For the Force of Fascination, the News Fails at Science

There are now several news articles going around generally spouting “Zealandia? Eighth continent! Betcha didn’t know!”.

Most of these articles bother to go into what a geologic definition of a continent looks like, and shows that Zealandia would be categorized as such, but two of the ones linked above never manage to take a step back and realize that it’s completely preposterous for Europe and Asia to be considered geologically the same continent, despite many of them actually including a map that says ‘Eurasia’ (and the others mostly mention this as just a convention, and not something that is as geologically decidable as the topic they are bringing forward).

(I’m particularly saddened that my favorite bastion of journalism, The Guardian, one of very few media sources I actually respect, joined in on this train. At least it mentioned Eurasia.)

If they actually bothered to consider Eurasia beyond mention, they would realize that Zealandia really wouldn’t be the 8th continent, but the 7th. (Rather ironically, the first article is the only one that manages to get to this, despite being written in the most flippant tone.)

But beyond this, not a single one of these articles managed to point out that Zealandia is not the first proposed submerged continent. I’ve ran Ctrl+F through all of them for Kerguela. None of the articles return finds. Some of the maps on the articles point out Kerguela, but evidently none of the authors of these articles decided that was something they might want to take note on when they chose to include that map. This news, that Zealandia is a new continent, really isn’t that earth-shattering when one considers that this idea isn’t new. And since among these articles the demotion of Pluto has been mentioned, this is like how Pluto’s demotion from planetary status isn’t really that unprecedented given this happened to (to give one example) Ceres prior.

And really, this is what most news on science is like. Much of it just exists to catch people’s attention at the cost of any semblance of scientific legitimacy. It turns out most the public is too ignorant on science to realize lacks of background that really change what articles on science are putting forward. This is why ‘Science’ is usually one of my least favorite categories of news.