Catholic Provinces: Redux

See the full-res map here.

Originally I didn’t think much of this project, though it was nice to see how the provinces looked. It turned out, however, that my map was the only one out there, in terms of mapping out the church provinces. Molly Burhans, the GoodLand Project director, reached out to me asking for my shapefiles.

I replied that I had no shapefiles—I made the first map entirely by hand. But having recently gotten into GIS, I offered to make them. This turned out to be a more grueling ordeal than I had anticipated, but I was able to completely remake the map from scratch, this time with real shapefiles. Feel free to get in touch if you would like the files, by the way.

Anyway, I made a bunch of fixes to stuff that I had messed up in the last map. Here’s the original post, with a bunch of FAQ based on the reddit thread from last year.


Map of Washington State stereotypes (previously unpublished)

This map is the result of a humorous request by a friend from the suburbs of Seattle. As someone from the other Washington (DC), I knew little about the internal stereotypes of Washington State, so this project was a great learning experience.

Obviously this map is entirely subjective and Seattle-centric. It was created based on testimony from numerous Seattleites, as well as using ample help from Urban Dictionary.

I made this a couple months ago, but figured I’d publish it now since a lot of people thought it was funny.

Essay – Russian has no word for ‘privacy’

I typically don’t (and won’t) post essays, but too many people enjoyed reading this one to let it pass. So here it goes:

I like to point out the sheer number of words in English, compared to a language like Russian; every word in Russian, including dialectal, archaic and nonstandard forms, amounts to around 300,000 words at most. That’s barely half of the Oxford English Dictionary, which itself is missing countless slang terms, neologisms and adopted foreign words. Yet we anglophones are never content. I’ve seen countless tabloid articles and blog posts about supposed “words that English desperately needs,” griping about how we don’t have a word for “a face badly in need of a fist” like German does. But how often do you read about English words that other languages don’t have?

Let’s take a moment to appreciate a very profound and significant word in English. This word occurred to me in a Russian village, during a dinner conversation with my aunt, with whom I frequently discuss linguistics. I struck a particular English word that didn’t exist in Russian: privacy.

It seems like such a simple concept to anyone who speaks English—freedom from being observed or disturbed by other people. But in Russian, and many other languages, there is no word to adequately describe this. Translators are burdened with the unique challenge of having to invent a word to describe Facebook’s “Privacy Policy” or Google Chrome’s “privacy settings”. This is where the cringeworthy calques come in, like privatnost’ or konfidentsialnost’. But to an ordinary Russian speaker, these linguistic abominations are nothing but legalese. There is uedineniye, a word that is better translated as “solitude” and is seen as a negative isolation from society. Uedineniye contrasts sharply with the intimate, regenerative aura of emotional self-sufficiency that characterizes the privacy of English. Thus, despite all these possible translations, there is no way to say that “Joe simply wanted some privacy,” without implying that Joe is antisocial, a hermit, or in need of performing a bodily function. Or worse still, that Joe wants to sift through Google’s monolithic confidentiality agreement.

Maybe the Russian language doesn’t need such a word. In fact, there is a distinct but closely-linked concept in Russian that reflects the natural environment of the Russian people. Whereas “privacy” means finding oneself away from the public eye, typically by means of an enclosed or hidden space, there is a Russian word that describes just the opposite—seeking that self-realization by entering the vast, unpeopled expanses that define the Russian land. This word, prostor, simultaneously translates as “open space”, “liberty” and “opportunity”. Prostor is a sacred concept that encapsulates the Russian desire to break free of human boundaries and to reclaim oneself in nature. This parallels the Anglo desire to break free of society’s boundaries and to reclaim oneself in the man-made environment.

Curiously, Russian is not the only language without a word for privacy. Central Asian languages, as well as Mongolian and Latvian, also lack the word. The most common Mongolian translation, gantsaardal, actually means “loneliness”. That’s something for Apple’s lawyers to consider if they ever open a store in Ulan Bator.

Still, I wonder how different the history of the Soviet Union would have been if Soviet citizens had a word to describe what they were being robbed of. My guess is that it would have been shorter.


It took China’s engineers only 10 years to completely leapfrog the US Interstate system

This map is a simple schematic comparison of different countries’ expressway systems. All the countries and networks on the map are to scale. Routes shown in red were constructed within the last 10 years.

A few key notes:

China is by far the biggest builder. The National Trunk Highway System was intentionally modelled on America’s Interstate Highway System, down to the color of the road signs. However, the lanes are wider, the gradients are lower, the road bed is deeper and the speed limit is higher. The Chinese system is clearly built to carry the nation’s rapid economic growth into the heart of the country, inward from the coastal cities that so far monopolize the benefits of China’s newfound wealth. With 70,000 kilometers (45,000 miles) of new freeways in the last 10 years, the system has nearly tripled in length. If we were to consider highways built in the last 20 years, rather than just 10, virtually all of China’s network would be in red.

The United States has been resting on its laurels lately. The last great burst of Interstate construction was in the 1980s. Since then, only a few lines have been built, mostly in the southern and central areas of the country. The largest ongoing expansion is happening in southern Texas, with a proposed road going from Brownsville to Houston to Memphis. Many sections of the Interstate System are badly in need of repair, particularly in the Northeast—several sections of road in Pennsylvania and New York were hurriedly incorporated into the system without even meeting minimum standards, and those that did meet standards 40 years ago or more are rapidly deteriorating. While China and the United States have a similar length of expressways (as of 2015), a lot more of the US length is coiled in the cities (having been built earlier than China’s network), and not very distinguishable on the map.

Canada lacks the great, expansive freeways of its southern neighbor for practical reasons. The shortest driving route from Vancouver to Toronto actually goes almost entirely through the northern US, and Canadians are no newbies when it comes to using America’s interstates to get around. Thus, most of the expressways marked on the map only barely fit the definition; they consist largely of four-lane controlled-access roads separated by a grass median. Southern Ontario has the majority of Canada’s expressways that are 6 lanes or wider.

Russia’s situation is similar to China’s, with a rapidly changing infrastructure. Unlike China, the Russian government has not put as much initiative into creating an American-style national highway backbone. This is mostly because the transportation infrastructure was already adequately developed during the Soviet Era, relying on rail and air for long-distance travel. That said, many of Russia’s major highways have been reconstructed beyond the point of recognition, particularly the Don Highway from Moscow to Rostov. Russia’s current big expressway project is the Moscow-St. Petersburg route, to open in 2018.

Spain is noted for its recent highway expansion, just as Germany is noted for the stagnation of it’s world-famous Autobahn. Surpassing Germany and France, Spain now has the EU’s largest freeway network. This can be attributed to the fact that Spain has enough room to comfortably construct these highways, while denser EU nations simply cannot do the same. Italy was arguably the first country to construct expressways (even before Germany), but now lags behind due to the practicality of other modes of transportation.

In Asia, Japan and South Korea both have relatively dense networks, but both countries are hampered in achieving higher rankings due to geography. In Korea, the country’s small area means that the network of routes as it is today is just about fully saturated. Korea’s system, built mostly around the 1980s, unabashedly borrows all its design, technology and aesthetics from the American Interstate. Japan, a country dominated by mountainous terrain, is limited to dense clusters of routes in the major city lowlands.