Posts Tagged ‘economist’

Ascension Island: Like Easter Island, Ascension Island has lessons for the planet—cheerful ones (Economist)

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

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[Editor's note: Fun geo writeup of that spot of rock in the Atlantic near St. Helena. Thanks Derek!]

AT THE top of Green Mountain, the central peak of Ascension Island, there is a small pond, dotted with lilies, shadowed to one side by the fronds of a pandan tree. It is the only open body of fresh water on the island—and for a thousand kilometres in any direction. Around Dew Pond grows a grove of towering bamboo, beyond which the trade winds blow incessantly from the south-east. Within the grove the air is still and damp.

Along the trailing ridge of the summit are fig trees, Cape yews and a garland of remarkably vigorous ginger. Below, on the mountain’s lee side, trees and shrubs from all parts of the world spread down the hillside to a landscape of casuarina trees—ironwood, or she-oak—and thorny chaparral around its base. Even on the bleaker windward slope, grasses and sedges are dotted with Bermuda cedar and guava bushes. Above, the bamboo scratching at their bellies, are the clouds the trade winds bring; some days they cover the mountain top.

Once seen as too dry to be worth inhabiting, Ascension Island is becoming greener at an increasing rate. People are responsible. In part, their contribution was unwitting: the thorny mesquite that anchors a lot of the island’s scrub was introduced for a landscaping project just 50 years ago. But the forest on the peak of Green Mountain represents a deliberate attempt to change the island’s climate to make it more habitable. It is the centrepiece of a small but startling ecological transformation which is part experiment and part accident, part metaphor and part inspiration.

Ascension was discovered by the Portuguese in 1501. Just to the west of the mid-ocean ridge that separates South America’s tectonic plate from Africa’s, it is the top of a volcano which rises steeply from abyssal plains more than four kilometres below the surface of the ocean. The volcano made it above that surface only a million or so years ago, since when the island has grown to about 100 square kilometres. Before people arrived it was home to just a flightless bird, a land crab and no more than 30 species of plant, none as big as a bush. It was so barren and isolated that during the following three centuries of assiduous empire-building neither the Portuguese nor any other nation bothered to claim it. When Captain Cook passed by in 1775, Georg Forster—later to become renowned for his accounts of exploration—wrote it off as a “ruinous heap of rocks”, drearier even than Tierra del Fuego and Easter Island. But Forster’s naturalist father Johann saw something more promising:

Continue reading at The Economist . . .

German dialects and migration: How linguistic variations affect where Germans choose to live (Economist)

Friday, August 13th, 2010

201012eum978[Editor's note: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? I keep returning to this article from the Economist from earlier this year in March. You might also enjoy: What's the point of counties? (UK) and The English apple season starts – though they're hard to find.]

Republished from the Economist.

FEW Germans now say Appel rather thanApfel (apple) or maken instead of machen(to make). The north German dialects that use such variants are mostly dead or dying. But the cultural differences that they reflect still govern behaviour today, says a paper from the Institute for the Study of Labour, in Bonn*.

Acting on imperial orders in the 1880s, a linguist called Georg Wenker asked pupils from 45,000 schools across the new Reich to translate standard German sentences into local dialect. The results were used to compile an atlas of linguistic diversity. The new paper shows that Wenker’s dialect regions still define the comfort zones in which Germans prefer to live. When people migrate within Germany, they tend to go to places where dialects resemble those spoken in their home region 120 years ago.

German dialects, formed by geography and political and religious fragmentation, express deep-seated cultural differences. These persist even though borders between petty princedoms are invisible (and often no longer audible). Even small differences count. Swabians share Baden-Württemberg with Badeners. Both spoke Alemannic dialects. But Swabians, who say Haus (house), have a bias against living in the neighbouring old grand duchy, where they say Huus.

That trade is livelier among regions that share a language is well known. The paper’s authors think they are the first to find a similar effect within a single language in one country. They measure migration not trade, because the data are better and cultural factors matter more. The best predictors are still Wenker’s maps. “Even when we don’t speak dialect, the cultural territory is still there,” says Alfred Lameli, one of the authors.

Does this confuse cause and effect? Regions may have similar dialects because earlier generations migrated and their descendants follow suit. To rule this out, the authors looked at the way communist East Germany weakened social links that encourage migration. After unification, they found, the old migration patterns came back, suggesting that migrants respond to cultural factors more than to social ties. It seems that neither television, nor the autobahn, nor even the Kaiser, has created a single country in Germany.

*“Dialects, Cultural Identity, and Economic Exchange” by Oliver Falck, Stephan Heblich, Alfred Lameli and Jens Südekum, IZA, February 2010

Socotra, South Sudan, and the Netherlands Antilles (Economist)

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

[Editor's note: Grab bag of Natural Earth admin-2 and admin-0 map units in last week's Economist magazine.]

Republished from the Economist.

Socotra: A still-enchanted island
Will Yemen’s magical island manage to stay aloof?

MAROONED in pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa but tied to unruly Yemen 400km (250 miles) away, the archipelago of Socotra has a forbidding look. Scorching summer winds strand ships. So fierce is the constant gale that it has whipped beachfuls of blinding white sand into dunes hundreds of metres high that ride up the cliffs. Even in winter it is blisteringly hot. Rats, the sole occupants of one rocky islet, are so ravenous that seasonal fishermen sleep in their skiffs, afraid to languish ashore.

Yet Socotra, whose main island is the size of Majorca or Long Island, is one of the world’s last enchanted places. The 50,000 native Socotris, speaking four dialects of a singsong ancient language unintelligible to other Yemenis, subsist on fish, goats and not much else. But they inhabit a wildly varied landscape of surreal beauty. The sea teems with giant lobsters, turtles and leaping dolphins. A unique breed of civet cat roams the limestone plateaus that are seamed with gorges carved by rushing streams, and spiked by finger-like granite towers rising to 1,500 metres. The cats are just one among 700 native species of plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

South Sudan’s biggest ethnic group: On your tractor, if you can
The Dinka will decide whether Africa’s latest state-in-waiting fails or prospers

THE Anglican Bishop of Bor, Nathaniel Garang, sits under the little shade afforded by a thorn tree. His dusty compound has a few mud and straw huts, some plastic chairs, and goats reaching up to bare branches on their hind legs. The bishop is around 70, he guesses, and in reflective mood. He wears a small brass cross given to him by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Entering Canterbury cathedral, he remarks, was a special moment in his life.

Mr Garang is a Dinka, the largest of south Sudan’s tribes. Specifically, he is a Bor Dinka (see map), the first of the Dinka groups to become Christian and be educated. Their historic missionary post, founded just upriver on the Nile in 1905, was burnt down during Sudan’s long civil war between the Arab and Muslim north and the Christian and animist south that ended only five years ago. The cathedral in Bor was also shot up, but still attracts several thousand worshippers.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

The Netherlands Antilles: The joy of six
Curaçao savours the prospect of autonomy

AS independence struggles go, the process of dismantling the federation of the Netherlands Antilles is about as orderly and peaceful as it gets. On 10-10-10 (October 10th 2010) Curaçao, St Maarten, Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius will go their separate ways—but only up to a point. Curaçao and St Maarten will become self-governing territories, following the example of Aruba, a sixth Dutch-speaking island in the Caribbean which broke away in 1986. But all will remain under the Dutch crown. The tiniest three islands—Saba, Bonaire and St Eustatius—will become overseas municipalities, with a similar status to towns in the Netherlands.

The attractions of autonomy are obvious in Curaçao (population: 142,000), the most populous island. It will take over government assets such as a large oil refinery and one of the Caribbean’s biggest dry docks, both in Willemstad, the capital, and the taxes from thriving tourist and offshore-banking industries. Generously, the Dutch will pay off 70% of the federation’s $3.3 billion debt. Local leaders have ambitious plans to develop new port facilities and hotels, and to modernise the dry dock.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

French vehicle number plates: Choose your département (Economist)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

201017eud001[Editor's note: Coming from California where we do not list admin-2 counties on our license plates, it was always odd (from a privacy perspective) yet delightful (from a geo-nerd perspective) to see plates from Georgia and elsewhere that tagged them thus. France tried to scrap and now revamp their plate system, leaving it with a curiosity akin to the OBX & etc place bumper stickers one sees on the US east coast.]

Republished from the Economist.

What new licence plates reveal about car-owners and where they live

WHEN the French government decided to bring in new number plates, it all seemed simple. Under the old system, car-owners had to change their plates every time they moved from one département to another. Under the new rules, which came into effect last year, a licence plate belongs to the car even if the owner changes address. As a logical consequence, new plates would no longer display département numbers.

Yet this was to underestimate the fierce attachment of the French to theirdépartements, first created after the 1789 revolution. Under the first version of the new plan, the département number was to have been an optional add-on. One argument, never quite made explicit, was that this would enable drivers to avoid stigmatisation. Those from certain roughbanlieues, such as Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris (93), have always been treated with extra suspicion by the police. They could now choose to be less identifiable on the road.

The French were dismayed. One poll found that 71% disapproved of the numbers becoming optional. Some feared that it might be the beginning of the end of the administrative département. Families argued that it would ruin car games for children. Over 220 parliamentary deputies and senators joined a campaign, “never without mydépartement”, demanding the numbers’ reinstatement. “It’s a matter of roots, of attachment to a land,” said Richard Mallié, a deputy from Bouches-du-Rhône (13), who led the campaign.

Eventually the government backed down and agreed to make département numbers compulsory again—but in tiny, almost illegible characters. The result is an overloaded ugly mess. Worse, the département number is now pure whimsy: car-owners can choose anywhere they want, not just where they live. And they can change without modifying their official registration.

A year after the new licence plates were introduced, who wants to parade their roots, and who to disguise them? The most popular choices seem to be the 69 of Rhône, around Lyon, and the 59 of the Nord, centred on Lille, a département mythologised in “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”, a warm-hearted 2008 box-office hit. And the least sought-after? Not the 93 of Seine-Saint-Denis, but the 75 of Paris and the 92 of Hauts-de-Seine, which includes the swanky suburb of Neuilly. Parisians, the car dealers say, turn out to be the ones who are keenest to hide their origins—perhaps to protect their cars from casual vandalism when motoring on holiday, prompted by their reputation for haughty arrogance.

China’s territorial claims (Economist)

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

[Editor's note: Animated and narrated map provides good summary the China's boundary disputes with it's neighbors. Check out Natural Earth, free GIS world map data where you will find all the mentioned areas.]

Republished from the Economist.

Suspicions between China and its neighbours bedevil its boundaries to the east, south and west.

Watch video China’s territorial claims »

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Conflict conservation: Biodiversity down the barrel of a gun (Economist)

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

[Editor's note: Featuring the DMZ on the Korean peninsula and Chagos Islands (Diego Garcia) of the Indian Ocean. Both of these features can be found in Natural Earth, the free GIS map of the world.]

Republished from the Economist. Feb 8th 2010

THERE was a time when conservation meant keeping people away from nature. America’s system of national parks, a model for similar set-ups around the world, was based on the idea of limiting human presence to passing visits, rather than permanent habitation.

In recent years this way of doing things has come under suspicion. To fence off large areas of parkland is often impractical and can also be immoral—in that it leads to local people being booted out. These days, the consensus among conservationists is to try to manage nature with humans in situ. But there are still “involuntary parks”, to borrow a phrase from the writer and futurist Bruce Sterling, that serve to illustrate just how spectacularly well nature can do when humans are removed from the equation.

Some such “parks” are accidents of settlement, or its absence. Nature is preserved in those rare places that people just have not got round to overrunning—for example the Foja Mountains in western New Guinea, an area of rainforest that teems with an astonishingly rich variety of plants and animals. Others are accidents of conflict: places from which people have fled and where the fauna and flora have thrived as a result.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

An autonomous Vojvodina: Exit strategy (Economist)

Friday, January 8th, 2010

ceu921[Editor's note: I'm often asked why Natural Earth has units between admin-0 and admin-1 and this week the Economist has the perfect map showing why. Vojvodina is a semi-independent region within the sovereign state and country of Serbia. It has a regional capital and is formed of admin-1 units ("states" in the US) and the "region" of Serbia proper is also formed of admin-1 units. Together they form the "country" of Serbia. You'll find these type of sub-national polygons in Natural Earth's admin-0 "details" units and map-subunits.]

Republished from the Economist.
Dec 30th 2009 | BACKA TOPOLA AND NOVI SAD

A Serbian province wins greater self-governance

SERBIAN nationalists are outraged over a new autonomy statute for Vojvodina, their northern province. Their country has in effect been shrinking for two decades, and this may be the thin end of a wedge leading to Vojvodina’s independence. After all, Kosovo and Vojvodina had equally extensive autonomy until Slobodan Milosevic scrapped it in 1989. And in February 2008 Kosovo, whose population is overwhelmingly Albanian, declared independence.

Such scaremongering is nonsense, says Bojan Pajtic, Vojvodina’s prime minister. So are comparisons with Catalonia and Scotland, where autonomy is based on language or history. Some 65% of Vojvodina’s 2m people are Serbs who have no wish for independence. Moreover, compared with the autonomy the province had between 1974 and 1989, the powers now being devolved look modest. Indeed, sceptics say what is really at stake is a battle for party power, influence and money between Mr Pajtic and Serbia’s president, Boris Tadic.

Mr Pajtic rejects such claims. What Vojvodina has gained, he says, is the ability to develop just like other European regions. But Relja Drazic, a publisher based in Novi Sad, the region’s capital, who otherwise welcomes more autonomy, sees this as grandstanding.

Most locals seem not to care much, partly because they do not know what more autonomy will mean in practice. In the past Vojvodina has seen devastating wars and big migrations that have made it one of the most ethnically mixed places in the Balkans. After the second world war, ethnic Germans were driven out and their empty villages repopulated, mainly by Bosnian Serbs. The Balkan wars of the 1990s led to more migration. Vojvodina has six official languages, including Ruthenian and Slovak.

Hungarians (some 14% of the population) comprise the biggest minority. But over the past two decades younger Hungarians have drifted back to Hungary. In the small town of Backa Topola, whose population is mostly Hungarian, Janos Hadzsy, a journalist, laments that anyone with enough brains runs away. Yet though much of Vojvodina remains poor, some parts have done well. Much of the province is flat and fertile farmland, and there is some thriving small industry as well.

Vojvodina is also home to Serbia’s most successful brand: the Exit music festival, created in 2000, which has done more than anything else to improve Serbia’s post-war image. Its manager, Bojan Boskovic, talks of turning Novi Sad into the Edinburgh of the Balkans. He is speaking of culture, not politics.

Sudan’s Border Dispute Over Abyei. Do They Agree? Yes, No, and Sort Of (Economist)

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

cma980[Editor's note: Update your 1st order admin maps! The long simmering feud between northern and southern Sudan was partially arbitrated by The Hague last month. The south will decide in a 2011 referendum the question of seceding from Sudan. Many observers see secession getting the thumbs up. The freshly shaped Abyei state will vote on joining or staying individually while all others in the south proper will vote en mass.]

Republished from The Economist.
Jul 30th 2009 | JUBA AND KHARTOUM

A ruling from The Hague pleases the north and vexes the south

OFFICIALS in Sudan’s government in Khartoum could hardly believe their luck when, on July 22nd, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled on the fate of the disputed Abyei state, which sits astride the oil-soaked border between Arab northern Sudan and the ethnically African (and largely Christian) south Sudan. Surprisingly, the court reversed an earlier commission’s ruling and redrew Abyei’s borders, snipping out the lucrative Heglig and Bamboo oilfields (see map) and giving them to the north.

The ownership of these oilfields has soured relations between the north and south Sudanese ever since a peace accord was signed between them in 2005, ending a civil war that had raged on and off for nearly half a century at a cost of some 2m lives. So tense had the situation in Abyei become that last year much of its capital was burned to the ground in fighting between militias from the two sides. Now, however, the north seems to have got what it wanted by law rather than by force.

Continue reading at The Economist . . .

Figure-Ground in an Age of Set Color Palettes

Friday, July 24th, 2009

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[Editor's note: This map from the Economist suffers from stiff adherence to a limited color palette. Not only are red and green, the two primary colors used, hard to distinguish (1, 2, 3) for 8% of men (use Color Oracle to test), but it's just hard to focus on what the topic of the map is. Because of it's complexity (there are 3 different legends, with a total of 9 basic map classes), this map tips towards being a reference map rather than an explainer map (which usually just focuses on a max of 3 top-level classes). When I say "figure" here, I mean "what is the focus of the graphic". By "ground" I mean the background, supporting elements (5+ here) that help locate and provide context for the figure.

The graphic treatments on the green-tinted land, blue-tinted water, Arctic circle, solid country lines in brown, dashed province lines in brown, and a white water vignette compete directly with the figure instead of supporting it. While this basic color palette works for simple locators, an explainer graphic like this suffers from strict adherence.

A possible redesign might include using white water fill instead of blue (and thus avoid the water vignette, necessitated by the small 7% difference in HSV value  between the green and blue right next to each other), a creme-beige instead of green for the land, grey lines for the country and provinces, and different hues entirely for the Inuit and Sami areas but that share the same saturation and value (one is dull now, the other bright). The dots and dashes that distinguish the ice extents  is done well, but the lines should offset from each other in the Greenland Sea.

The key objective: if it's important enough to put on the map and feature in the figure (to include it in the legend), make it clearly legible.]

Republished from the Economist.
Jul 16th 2009 | NUUK, GREENLAND

The rights of Arctic peoples: Not a barren country
More political powers for the indigenous people of the Arctic could soon be matched by more economic clout

THE crowds in Nuuk, Greenland’s pretty coastal capital, marked the devolution of more powers from Denmark, on midsummer’s day, with cheers, processions and flags. The town thronged with men in white anoraks and women in kalaallisuut, an outfit of sealskin boots and trousers set off with a beaded top. Even a dusting of summer snow failed to chill the mood.

The newly elected prime minister of Greenland, Kuupik Kleist, who represents an Inuit-dominated party, promised that his country would act as an “equal partner” with Denmark, the old colonial power. The Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, responded with a pledge that Greenland could claim full independence whenever it chooses. A more cordial separation is hard to imagine.

Continue reading at the Economist . . .

Mental Map: View from Washington by Matt Wuerker (Politico)

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

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[Editor's note: This cover illustration from Matt Wuerker for Politico is a take on Steinberg's classic illustrations for the New Yorker that show the mental map for politicians living in the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C. The lead article looks at the top 50 politicos to watch. Thanks Laris!]

Republished from Politico.

Given the name of this publication, we sometimes get asked a good question: What exactly is a politico? There are a lot of definitions that fit, but here’s one that seems to work well: A politico is a participant in and/or an especially avid devotee of the theater of politics.

There is no grander stage than the capital for this particular drama. And what is the main thing you do at the theater? You watch it, of course. And then you laugh or cry or yawn or boo. At the end, you applaud — whether out of admiration for the performance or gratitude that it is over.

This issue (the third special glossy that POLITICO has published this year) is devoted to 50 Politicos to Watch. In some cases, the people are on the watch list because they are on the rise — the kind of list people in Washington relish being on. But be careful what you wish for. Some politicos are interesting to watch because they are in the middle of one sticky mess or another.

But in every case, the names we compiled here — and, let’s be honest, the list is somewhat random — were identified by our reporters and editors as being characters in motion, in the middle of interesting plots.

Continue reading at Politico . . .