World Domination!

OK, the title of this post may be a little bit over the top. So sue me. (Just kidding, John Boehner!) Like all? many? some? of you, I keep an eye on my blog’s daily stats. I mean, the folks at WordPress are good enough to put all those analytics at our fingertips… the least we can do is glance at them every now and then. Right?

politial globe 2Sure, I like to see my Visitors and Views and Comments numbers trending generally upward. It’s some basic affirmation that my posts go out into the world and attract some interest, collect a few likes, perhaps elicit a response, sometimes connect me to a new blogger. But I must confess, my favorite stat is the Views by Country. I’m a map fiend. Always have been. My earliest memory of a prized possession – aside from my red-and-white-gingham stuffed spaniel – was a globe. It spun on its axis and had a raised relief surface that I could run my fingers over and feel the bumpiness of the great mountain ranges: the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rockies and the undersea ridges. Every country was a different pastel color; I remember wondering if it was color coded. Were all the yellow countries part of some club? Or all the pinks or greens? I abandoned that notion when it seemed like just a good way to show where one country ended and another began. A star pinpointed each capital city. I could trace the paths of the great rivers, see how vast the oceans were compared to the land masses. Follow the equator as it circled the earth like a belt. The white snowcaps at the poles seemed otherworldly (as they are) and eternal (as we are learning they are not).

I didn’t have the words for it back then, but I was fascinated with the three-dimensionality of the globe, the Earth as a sphere, as a planet, in space. This was the 1960s and at the end of that decade I was a 7-year-old watching Apollo 11 land on the moon. And watching the Starship Enterprise explore the galaxy in its original television voyages. earth from moonThe magic of the globe for me was its realistic representation of what little I understood of the real world, and its place in the real universe. When I saw the famous photograph of the Earth seen from the Moon, it made sense to me. There was my globe. It was a symbol that had power because I knew it was true. (It wasn’t very many years later that religious symbolism fell apart because I knew instinctively that it was a fiction. But that’s another blog post.)

Globes, of course, are notoriously difficult to carry around, so I learned to also love the flatland version of maps and atlases. I’ve studied them so obsessively over the years that I routinely trounced everyone in the Geography category of Trivial Pursuit (a board game from the 1980s)… and I still love shouting the questions to geography answers on Jeopardy! What is the Suez Canal?! Where is Tasmania?! What is the Marianas Trench?! Who was Magellan?! What is the Tropic of Capricorn?! The app that is most likely to drain the battery on my smartphone? Google Maps.

So I love WordPress’ Views by Country statistical graphic. It shows how many visitors each day and from what countries, with little flag icons – and a political map of the world color coded from dark red to pale yellow, indicating the relative numbers of visitors to the blog. Other summaries show how many visitors from which countries for the most recent 7 days, 30 days, the Quarter and All Time.

I noticed something unusual this evening, which is what sparked this post. Here is today’s map-o-the-world. I’m pretty sure it’s the first day that I’ve had visitors from all six* continents! North America (US, Canada); South America (Brazil); Europe (UK, Germany, Hungary); Africa (South Africa); Asia (Japan, Singapore) and Australia. How ’bout that? I’m lovin’ it. (*WP doesn’t track Antarctica. Yet.)


^ Views by Country – 18 July 2014

As a representation of the real world, maps are ever changing. Borders move. New countries emerge. Some countries disappear. And statistical maps tell a story. When I look at my blog’s “all time” map, it shows every country from which at least one person has viewed my blog. And after more than 300 posts in the last nine months, that map is getting pretty well filled in. But the blanks, the remaining countries and regions from which I’ve had zero visitors, that is becoming the more interesting story to me. Here’s the map of visits since the beginning of The End:


^ Views by Country – All Time

The Americas are well represented, except for a few countries in South America. It’s telling to note the lack of traffic from the troubled nations of Central America – from which the current exodus of children across the US southern border is creating a humanitarian crisis and a political flashpoint with the oh-so inhumane and racist Republicans. (Why save that for another post? It’s the plain and hideous truth.) Europe is solid, except for some weakness in the Baltic states, the Balkans and Belarus. What the B is up with that? Africa is strongest up on its Mediterranean coast, with South Africa as the only sub-Saharan country (hello Mon & Merv!). In the Middle East, the Arabian peninsula, Israel and Turkey have checked in. But (as in Central America) political upheaval and war – or censorship – may be the main reasons for the no shows of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. No interest yet from any of “the -stans”, Mongolia or China (which I think blocks access to WP). Crickets. Though Pakistan and India have tuned in, along with much of Southeast Asia, Singapore (hi Halim), Taiwan and Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan (what’s cooking, Steven?). Shout out to M-R and my blog-mates in the ANZAC: Australia and New Zealand. Oz may be down under, but it’s tip top in my book.

[Update: On 19 Jan 2015, I scaled the Great Wall of China!]

Unlike the pastel shadings on my childhood globe, the WP map is color coded to indicate volume of traffic. And it’s unsurprising that the high-traffic red and deep gold colors mostly reflect the English-speaking world – the remnants of the once vast British Empire. Her Majesty’s realm may be down to the Home Island and the Falklands (las Malvinas para mis amigos argentinos)… but I’m happy to say that the sun never sets on this blog! 🙂

It’s a little bit of an ego trip, to be sure. But every trip requires a good map.

The End (so far)


Catastrophic Ignorance

When asked a question we cannot answer, Americans find ourselves utterly incapable of giving the obvious and most accurate response: I don’t know. What is it about those three little words that we find so offensive or embarrassing or threatening? I don’t know. (There – see how easy that is?)

American pop culture has embraced the stupid. Half of what the media beams at us is unwatchable drivel. We call that “the news”. The other half of it somehow got mislabled “reality”. Typical specimen: Kardashians. Reality? Barbie dolls have truer physiques and more stimulating conversations. The third half (only 21% of you will catch 2013-07-23-cosmosthat) is a new show on Fox called ‘Cosmos’ featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson as a high priest of science in a reboot of Carl Sagan’s series from the 1980s. Call Rupert Murdoch all kinds of names, but the man is brilliant. The ‘entertainment’ side of his NewsCorp presents 14 billion years of astrophysical history from the Big Bang to quantum physics and multiverses… while his ‘news’ division serves up ‘journalists’ lamenting how the new movie ‘Noah’ gets it all wrong about how God destroyed the 6,000-year-old Earth with a flood and all of the tens of millions of species we have in the world today, including our own, hopped on a big wooden boat and survived the holy tsunami. (You do realize that I’m not making any of this up, right?) Yessirree, old Rupert gets us coming and going, like a midway carnival barker.

“We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan

“Oh… how depressing…” – the Cosmos

Remember Jay Leno’s meant-to-be-amusing little segments called “Jaywalking”? Jay would take a camera crew and wander through beautiful downtown Burbank, randomly asking questions of people on the street. Questions so cunningly simple and with such glaringly obvious answers that you’d expect EVERYONE to get it right. But you would be wrong. The comic tragic genius of “Jaywalking” was how few people could answer the questions. And the real gold was mined in the guesses – when some dignity could have been salvaged with a sotto voce “I don’t know.”

Jay Leno: Who is the vice president of the United States?
Typical answers: blank stare…. Oh, wait… I know this… don’t tell me… Is it Hillary Clinton? … Michelle Obama? …That old guy. With the thing? …Is this a trick question?

Jay Leno: Who is the Speaker of the House of Reprentatives?
Only answer ever given: blank stare

Jay Leno: How many states make up the United States?
Typical answer: every number that isn’t 50.

Jay Leno: What two countries share a physical border with the United States?
Typical answer: Alaska and Hawaii? …Canada and Mexico – no! wait! Canada isn’t a country, is it? …England.

And so on. I never understood why Jay Leno thought any of this was funny. Why his giant head didn’t explode. Why he didn’t use the mic to bludgeon to death the vapid, gum-snapping ignorami. Or why any of it should ever have been aired. Unless he was trying to expose the glaring failures of this country’s education system. Hmmm. I could be wrong, but I am not aware of any Leno schools or Leno scholarships to help future “Jaywalkers” to be better informed. As I say, I could be wrong about that. I don’t know.

If you’re wondering what ignited this rant, I don’t blame you. But I do know. It was this story in today’s Washington Post. The link is below, and I hope you’ll read it. But here’s the gist of it. More than 2,000 Americans were asked, as part of a wider poll on foreign affairs, to pinpoint the nation of Ukraine on a world map with only the outlines of political borders. Here’s the result. Red dots hit the bull’s eye or got relatively close to Ukraine. Blue dots indicate a rather casual relationship with geography. Alarmingly casual.



This map speaks for itself. One in six respondents put their dot in or near Ukraine. This sort of ignorance may or may not worry you much, if at all. But it’s the next bit that should strike fear in the hearts of “Ukrainians” who live in Canada, China, Argentina, South Africa, Iceland, India, Australia, Brazil, Alaska, Arkansas or Colorado:

Those who were most wrong about the location of Ukraine were also the most likely to advocate U.S. military action there. Said differently: The less Americans know about [any place or country], then the more supportive they are of making war there. That sort of ignorance is extraordinarily dangerous, and potentially catastrophic. I hope that from now on, when pollsters ask Americans whether they support a war in X, Y or Z, they follow up by asking those folks to find X, Y or Z on a map. Maybe teach them how to use the unused maps app in their smartphones? Maybe throw in a geography lesson here and there along with the abstinence and creationism classes? I don’t know.

You can click on the map above to embiggen it. Here’s the link to the WashPo article:


The End (so far)