Posts Tagged ‘foreign policy’

Limbo World: Countries that don’t actually exist (Foreign Policy)

Friday, January 8th, 2010

KURDISTAN: A shepherd tends to his flock in Iraqi Kurdistan. Few would-be countries have reached a happier state of limbo than this relatively stable Iraqi region.

[Editor's note: I discovered a dozen or so "countries" working on Natural Earth that exist on the ground but hardly any other nation recognizes. This article from Foreign Policy give you an arm-chair geographer's guide to several.]

Republished from Foreign Policy (which is a The Washington Post media holding)
BY GRAEME WOOD
| JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2010

They start by acting like real countries, then hope to become them.

On my most recent visit to the Republic of Abkhazia, a country that does not exist, I interviewed the deputy foreign minister, Maxim Gundjia, about the foreign trade his country doesn’t have with the real countries that surround it on the Black Sea. Near the end of our chat, he paused, looked down at my leg, and asked why I was bleeding on his floor. I told him I had slipped a few hours before and ripped a hole in my shin, down to the bone, about the size of a one-ruble coin. Blood had soaked through the gauze, and I needed stitches. “You can go to our hospital, but you will be shocked by the conditions,” Gundjia said. So he pointed me to the building next door, where in about 20 minutes I had my leg propped up on a dark wooden desk and was wincing at the sting of a vigorous alcohol-swabbing by the health minister himself. I was not accustomed to such personalized government service. Fake countries have to try harder, I thought, and wondered whether it would be pressing my luck to ask for the finance minister to personally refund my vat and for the transportation minister to confirm my bus ticket back to Georgia, which is to say, back to reality.

Abkhazia, along with a dozen or so other quasi-countries teetering on the brink of statehood, is in the international community’s prenatal ward. If present and past suggest the future, most such embryonic countries will end stillborn, but not for lack of trying. The totems of statehood are everywhere in these wannabe states: offices filled with functionaries in neckties, miniature desk flags, stationery with national logos, and, of course, piles of real bureaucratic paperwork — all designed to convince foreign visitors like me that international recognition is deserved and inevitable. Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian separatist enclave within Azerbaijan, issues visas with fancy holograms and difficult-to-forge printing. Somaliland, the comparatively serene republic split from war-wasted Somalia, prints its own official-looking currency, the Somaliland shilling, whose smallest denomination is so worthless that to bring cash to restock their safes, money-changers need to use draft animals.

These quasi-states — which range from decades-old international flashpoints like Palestine, Northern Cyprus, and Taiwan to more obscure enclaves like Transnistria, Western Sahara, Puntland, Iraqi Kurdistan, and South Ossetia — control their own territory and operate at least semifunctional governments, yet lack meaningful recognition. Call them Limbo World.

Continue reading at Foreign Policy . . .

POTUS Tracker: Analyzing Obama’s Schedule (Kelso via Wash Post)

Monday, August 24th, 2009

[Editor's note: I'm proud to present POTUS Tracker: Analyzing Obama's schedule, a new tool from The Washington Post that keeps tabs on President Obama, whom he's meeting with (over 3,000 people so far), and what they're discussing (with 17 issue categories and 13 event type codes). It is the second in our Obama Accountability series. The first, Head Count: Tracking Obama's Appointments, has enjoyed a million visits since launch in April 2009. Data for this project available in RSS and JSON data dump.

I did the Flash interactive (using the Flare visualization package for the opening treemap isue view) and coordinated the project with Karen Yourish. Madonna Lebling and Ryan O'Neil are the genius behind the schedule information and online data presentation. POTUS Tracker was featured on CNN's State of the Nation (YouTube video) on Sunday, 23 August. With the project out of the way, I can turn my attention back to Natural Earth Vector.]

(Screenshot below) Interact with POTUS Tracker at The Washington Post . . .

potus_tracker_screenshot

CREDIT: Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso, Madonna Lebling, Karen Yourish, Ryan O’Neil, Wilson Andrews, Jacqueline Kazil, Todd Lindeman, Lucy Shackelford, Paul Volpe

How Google Earth Explains the Financial Crisis (Foreign Policy)

Monday, May 18th, 2009

090507_singapore

[Editor's note: Fascinating image / KML visually demonstrating how global shipping has dropped off, matching the economic doldrums.]

Republished from Foreign Policy.

Want to get a sense of just how bad things are? Take a spin on Google Earth.

The latest issue of International Economy, edited by FP contributor David Smick, has a clever graphic showing the depth of the economic crisis, so I thought I’d share.

The above image, pulled today from Vesseltracker.com’s Google Earth file, shows container ships languishing off the Singapore coast. Welcome to the  largest parking lot on Earth. International Economy explains:

The world’s busiest port for container traffic, Singapore saw its year-over-year volume drop by 19.6 percent in January 2009, followed by a 19.8 percent drop in February. As of mid-March 2009, 11.3 percent of the world’s shipping capacity, sat idle, a record.

It’s a rough time to be an Asian tiger, or to be in the shipping business. The IMF projects that Singapore’s economy will shrink significantly in 2009. Globally, bulk shipping rates have dropped more than 80 percent in the past year on weak demand, and orders for new shipping vessels are cratering. In Busan, South Korea, the fifth-largest port in the world, empty shipping containers are piling up faster than officials can manage.

“Things have really started to get bad — laborers spend their entire day waiting for a call from the docks that they have a job,” Kim Sang Cheul, a dockworker at Busan, told Bloomberg. “People spend all day staring at their phone as if staring at it can make it ring. You’re lucky if you get a call.”

Green shoots? Not so much.

(For another view of Singapore’s port, you can check out Vesseltracker’s Microsoft Virtual Earth mashup map.)