Enclaves, Exclaves and Trans-Continental Exclaves of the world

The world is full of odd little bits of land that are, in political terms, separated geographically from the rest of the country they are a part of. Some of these divisions cross continents, and where they do they become trans-continental exclaves. A quick diversion here to cover the other oddity of political geology, the ‘enclaved counrty.’ Enclaves, not to be confused with exclaves, are countries whose boundaries lie entirely within the boundaries of another country.  Italy, for example, has two enclaved states within its borders;  The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world and is enclaved in the Italian capital Rome.  Italy’s second enclave San Marino, the home of the Ferrari, lies 314 kilometres to the north of Rome. Other enclaved countries are: Lesotho (which sits within South Africa) and, depending on your view of indigenous peoples, there are the tribal nation lands, or Indian reservations in the United States and Canada.
The country of San Marino an enclave with Italy
The country of San Marino, an enclave with Italy
The country of Vatican City an enclave with in Italy
The Vatican City: the smallest country in the world, and an enclave within Italy and the city of Rome
A map showing the Country of Lesotho, the largest country with in a country in the world and an enclave of South Africa
The country of Lesotho, an enclave of South Africa
So then, to exclaves. These pieces of land offer some interesting quirks of international dispacement, and ways of leaving whole continents with a single journey between two places of the same country!
map of Melilla an exclave of Spain on the North African coastline of Morocco
Map of Melilla, an exclave belonging to Spain (Europe) but located in North Africa
Take, for instance, the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Penon de Velez de la Gomera.  Take a pleasant boat trip across the Mediterranean sea from the mainland of Spain on the Iiberan peninsula and you will find yourself in Africa!  Spain has 3 nice little bits of Africa that it maintains sovereignty over, plus the islands of Isla del Perejil, Isla de Tierra, Isla de Mar, Penon de Alhucemas, Isla de las Nubes, Isla de Alboran, Isla Isabel ll, Isla del Ray, Isla Congreso, all if which are situated just of the coast of North Africa.
Photograph of Penon de Velez de la Gomera
Penon de Velez de la Gomera, an exclave of Spain in North Africa
One of Spain’s exclaves has the distinction of having the world’s shortest land border – some 85 metres no less!  The exclave of Penon de Velez de la Gomera is really just a rock fortress on the cost of north Africa, that formed when a storm in 1934 caused a small island to be connected to the mainland by a permanent bridge of sand, or isthmus. It is this sand isthmus that form the international border! Video of the Spanish exclaves in North Africa

Mega Tsunami could wipe out East Coast of the United States

As winter sun holiday destinations go, the Canary Islands are one of the more well known places in the world for sun worshippers and grey sky dwelling northern europeans to head south to for the winter.  What is less well known is the impact that the islands’ volcanic past have in store for the East Coast of the US, if volcanologists’ and oceanographers’ predictions of a mega tsunami are realised.

Tsunami hits the statue of liberty
Tsunami hits the statue of liberty – image credit unknown

Over the last few weeks, a rumbling volcanic eruption and earthquakes in the seas around the island of El Hierro in the Canaries have re-ignited the debate on the the Mega Tsunami predicted to hit the Eastern Seaboard of the US. The debate centres on a theory that focuses on a tsunami being caused caused after a large chunk of volcanic rock falls into the sea from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma.

Part of this volcano is highly unstable and could collapse into the ocean at any time.  If this were to happen 20,000 cubic meters of rock could fall into open sea water and, channelled by the seabed geology, create a mega wave (Tsunami) travelling at 500mph in all directions.

tsunami path triggered by land slide on the island of La Palma
tsunami triggered by land slide on the island of La Palma. image credit – telegraph.co.uk

The path of destruction caused by the wave would be as follows.  African nations of the western Sahara would be hit first by waves of 330ft, followed by southern Europe, then northern France, Ireland, and the UK. The eastern seaboard of the United States would be hit within 7 to 8 hours of the event, causing widespread devastation.  A wave making landfall at a height of up to 200ft would hit the metropolises of Boston and New York, then the Tsunami would travel south along the coast, taking out beachside communities all the way to Miami and the Florida Keys. According to Dr Simon Day, of the Benfield Greig Hazards Research Centre (University Collage London, UK), its not a question of if this happens, but when!

Cumbre Vieja Volcano

However, if you live in the suggested path of this mega tsunami, don’t start moving just yet!  Many other scientists believe that these events are highly unlikely, as the rock that could cause such an event is far more likely to break up into smaller chunks, and be dispersed over a considerably longer timeframe than it would take to cause this Tsunami.

Sources of further reading and viewing:

Mega Tsunami – The Discovery Channel



Triskaidekaphobia and The Lottery

Some of you may know that triskaidekaphobia (pronounced triss – kai – deck – a – foh – bee – uh) is not only the fear of the number 13,  but also a great word to trot out when trying to impress, or perhaps just appear to be a random geek.  Gamblers may avoid betting on the number, while some other worriers will avoid all sorts of travel on the 13th day of the month, especially if it falls on a Friday.
Lucky for Some?
As is often the way, worldwide cultural differences mean that the fear of the number 13 is particular to the west, whereas in Asia a fear of the number 4 is more the norm. Strangely enough, I got to thinking about triskaidekaphobia when studying the results of last Friday’s UK Euromillions lottery draw, which created decent chunk of extra millionaires, an indeed worthy thing to do which will be repeated on Friday 23rd December. UK lottery operator Camelot is unusual in that it operates a UK only raffle as an ‘add on’ to each twice-weekly Euromillions draw, perhaps in part to mop up the surplus cash created by the exchange rate differential between the UK price of £2 sterling for a ticket as opposed to the lesser value of €2 charged in Europe.  It turns out that you don’t choose the raffle number, the lottery chooses it for you, and automatically allocates it to your ticket. All this may help formulating strategies to maximise a win on the main draw itself, where you have the power to choose your own numbers or to leave it to the chance known as a ‘lucky dip.’  Since you can’t accurately predict the numbers to ensure a win, perhaps the next best thing is to avoid the numbers that most other people pick, in order to ensure that you share any win with as few people as possible.   Thus, in the UK, “lucky 7” might be worth avoiding, and “unlucky 13” to be worth considering, to compensate for the fact that fewer than most may have chosen it.  Of course, the number 13 has as much or as little chance of any other number as coming up, but if it does, along with your other selected numbers, you may be lucky and win a bigger prize as a result. Then your only problem to overcome is the fear of losing your money in the first place, and with odds of 1 in almost 117 million of hitting the Euromillions jackpot, that’s a very understandable fear. It’s called Antichrometophobia.

Civil Service Unrest and the British Sense of Fair Play


Keen Brit-watchers must be wondering what the hell’s happening over here right now.  We’ve just had our own peaceful version of a one day civil service strike, or was it merely a day of protest?  Compare and contrast with Greece for example, and we seem to have been terribly British about the whole thing, yet in our unique island way the Brits are certainly revolting.

Take on the one hand the civil servants.  Many are portrayed sympathetically by the (often accused of politically correct, left-wing bias) BBC as only striking for the first time ever, betrayed by an untrustworthy government seeking to renege on their employment terms and conditions, especially their long-standing and pension agreements (which pay massively generous returns compared to the private sector.)  Many of them genuinely feel they have worse compensation packages than those in the private sector.

Meanwhile, firmly in the ‘blue’ corner, you’ll find the Rupert Murdoch owned press.  Desperate, some might say, to curry favour with the UK’s centre-right coalition as the current Leveson Inquiry into the UK’s press standards, somewhat hijacked by miffed celebrities, rolls on.  The Times and The Sun are telling us that the civil servants are wrong, and citing data compiled by the well-respected Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) to back them up.

Arguments roll on about the success or otherwise of the strike*/protest* (*delete as appropriate.)  Was a turn-out two thirds of the size expected by the unions a ‘damp squib?’  I’ll leave that for you to decide.  What interested me was some of the detail coming out of the IFS.

For example, government plans to cap public sector pay rises at 1% a year until 2015 will wipe out the pay premium that the civil servants have over the rest of us.  While this may make uncomfortable reading for the averagely paid civil servant that baulks just as much at the mega-earnings of a small number of city bankers as the rest of us, that’s just tough – civil servants are, officially, it seems, 7.5% better paid than those of us in the private sector.  That 7.5% difference between us has to be even greater if you strip out the skew arising from the mega millions being earned in the square mile.

Most of us private sector employees would probably live with this if it were the only difference.  However the pensions issue has become a deeply divisive one over the last couple of decades.  As one civil service union official helpfully pointed out yesterday, their pension contributions go to the government (ours go to pensions providers) and the government (i.e. all of us) has to pay out civil service pensions, which the unions claim are affordable.

And there’s the rub. Despite the financial crisis and record government borrowing, affordability isn’t actually the main issue – fairness is.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I sympathise with the civil servants. It hurts to be told that you have to pay in more to get less out.  All of us in the private sector already know this to be the case, because we’ve had to deal with it ourselves for long enough since the private pensions market went sour.

It’s simply against the British spirit of fair play to let the civil service keep their cast-iron pensions while many low paid private sector workers already earn less and can also expect to retire into pension poverty.  If the market return on pension contributions is X%, then that should apply across the board, public or private sector.  Anything less just won’t wash, and I’m predicting that civil servants will see sense, and stop complaining about how bad their lot is, and quietly go back to counting the size of their pension pots compared to ours.

Although I could be wrong.

Where is John Steinbeck when you need him?

The battle of Salinas, California is about to be repeated in our epoch of unrest, and this time there is no Steinbeck to highlight the plight of the dispossessed working classes. Already in the UK we have seen discontentment and lack of work spill out into the streets, only needing an ignoramus spark like the shooting of Mark Duggan this August in Tottenham to tip anger into mass unrest. While in most individuals involved in the riots their misplaced anger was ill defined, it is clear that with this wednesdays public sector union backed strikes, the country will see the biggest organised revolt of our times.

Who then is to stand up for the working classes this time. Will Billy Bragg come out of retirement to re-unite a cause? Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, captured the anguish of the dust bowl generation in Americas midwest transients journeys to the land of California in the 30s. In the book, the Okie’s reached the state boarder with California at Needles, where on crossing the bridge across the Colorado river from Arizona after a long trek down the mother road of amerrica, route 66, they found the first signs that they were heeded into a new hell from which they had traveled so earnestly in search of food, waterer and shelter.

The State of California, had for the first time in US history started to vet US citizens as they crossed over. Internal migration had become the biggest issue of the day in California. Surprising then as now, as California’s agriculture relies on seasonal imergrational workers to harvest its bounty. So here are parallels with the UK in modern times, the mass wave of Eastern European migrant workers that arrived in the UK and found work on our farms and building sites has prompted a new call for restrictions and vetting of immigrants as we hit hard times.

a photograph of the author John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck - Image AP Photo

Since the decline of manufacturing in the UK, there has been internal migration, with a population shifting from areas of low unemployment to find work and a new life. Now however as we face what could be a defining European lead UK felt double dip recession, those internal European economic migrants are having to start justifying their way within the UK, as comunites start to question where there jobs are going to come from it is again the migrants facing the wrath.

So where then do we go from here, Steinbeck opened the eyes of the world to the plight of the disposed in the US, and the eyes of the world are again open to the issues we face today, but unlike in Steinbeck, we have no champion to speak for the jobless, hungry and angry youth. Perhaps the answer lies in communities accepting the need to heal thyself through charities and communal labour. Why not a national series of Infrastructure projects to create jobs and give the restless an outlet for the frustration though work. We could use the communists mantra “Workers of the world unite”. We have a potential paymaster with China, as they look to invest trillions of Yuan in the UK and Europe to prop up the world economy.

Before you start to judge this post, as a manifestation of communist leanings, much like Steinbeck was wrongly berated for his thoughts on humanities struggles, ask yourself where we can inject the growth that our capitalist economies relay on for their stability. We have no capital of our own for such projects, and as the worlds economies are becoming tightly integrated the problems of contagion need a global sticking plaster.

“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” — John Steinbeck

Hope is a powerful thing

Hope Cash Till
Cash Till adapted for hope – Original Image – Flickr user MrVJTod

Hope is a powerful tool, and you can consume it for a pound a week. Figures announced this week show national lottery sales have gone up 20% in a year. Considering we are in economic hard times, with return to recession in a so called “double dip”, why are people spending what little money they have on a quick gamble?

I believe it is because the thing that many of us turn to in our darkest hours, Hope. Hope is now not only cheep to buy, but it lasts. If you time your lottery ticket purchase just right, you can spend all week holding out with a little expectation that you will be the next big winner. It’s cheeper than a pint of beer, and most people except a £1 a week on the national lottery is not a gateway drug to a more serious addiction to gambling. It is certainly more socially acceptable than other vices that people turn to in hard times, drugs, alcohol, cheesy pop music.

What would a marketer, make of this potent product called hope, could we see banners up and down the highways and byways stating “Buy Hope, it will get you though!” or “Hope, it’s cheep at half the price”. Perhaps the ultimate lost leader “Hope, it’s free and its good for you”, small print, “can cause delusions that could negatively affect the outcome of your existence”.

Cynical, perhaps, but all said and done, i’m all for hope dear readers and I hope you are too! Go on, go mad with audacity and buy a bit of hope today!

The darkest place in the UK

Ok so any room with no windows and the lights turned off will probably count as the darkest place in Britain. So we might need a little more definition here, the darkest place in Britain that is outdoors and you can visit to gaze at the stars is what we are really searching for here.

So where to we begin a list, a top ten count down, shimmering with excitement, or not as this is a dark list. No lets just get straight to the good stuff, the darkest place in the UK is Loch Trool in Galloway Forest Park, Scotland!

Photo showing the dark skies over Galloway Forest Park full of stars
Dark skies over Galloway Forest Park - Image from Google Images

Travel beyond the universe could be possible

Journeying beyond the known universe could now be possible. With the revelations earlier this year that it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light, verification tests ruling out errors in messument of the Gran Sasso National Laboratory experiment allowing.

James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell

For the first time in 146 years the science community could now contemplate a trip to travel beyond the universe. Its 96 years if you take Einstein as the bench mark for capping the max speed of everything in motion at the speed of light and not James Clerk Maxwell, but the latter has more magnetism! It’s a simple affare, all man need do is build a machine to accelerate past light speed, catch up with the leading edge of the ever expanding universe and wave his or her passport at what ever omnipresent inter universal boarder guard we flash past (ops, as we are moving faster than light they won’t see us, coming or going. Doppler effects of light waves withstanding).

So the plan is afoot then. Well I propose the “U prize” for the first person to do it. Notes to perspective “U prize” contestants:

1) You will need to go meny times light speed to get passed the boarder in your own lifetime. Its about 46.6 billion light years away, so you if you are now around 30 years old and want to get back to retire, say at 60 you have to travel at 578,717.313 billion Miles per second – Heres the calculation (46.billion / 186282.397) *15*365.25*24*60*60 where 186282.397 is the number of miles light travels in a vacuum per second.

2) You had better invent a new fuel source. The current sources of propulsion would require require a rocket bigger than all the stella bodies in the solar system put together to generate enough acceleration and deceleration needed for such a journey one way, let alone round trip, as there are no gravitational objects at the destination to give you any sling shot effect.

I wonder what they sell at the inevitable outside the universe gift shop?

The Electric Brae – Scotland’s natural optical wonder

Not all is as it appears in Scotland as objects move uphill on their own accord. In an area known as the Electric Brae, visitors have been baffled for centuries as they watch the seemingly impossible happen.

Electric Brae - stone marker describing Scotland's natural wonder of illuion
Electric Brae stone maker - google images

In what is an entirely natural phenomenon the landscape conspires to trick the eye of the bemused bystander observing movement along an apparent uphill section of road.  If one places a ball on the ground and then steps away the ball will start to run uphill.  In reality nothing unearthly has occurred.  The ball is actually rolling downhill, all be it a very slight angle to the horizontal, and it is the viewer of this apperation that is the actual cause of this oddity of nature.


Arecales – The palm tree order

Arecales (Arecaceae aka Palmae) in an order of the flowering plants containing the Palm Tree family. There are around 2500 species of palms and many of them are some of the most important plants on the planet because of their economic value.

Coconut Palm
Coconut Palm - Picture credit The Royal Botanical Gardens Kew

Perhaps the most well known palm is the Coconut Palm, doyenne of the picture post card and guardian of many deserted sailors seeking shade, this tree is farmed world wide for its fruit the coconut. It is believed to have originated in the west Pacific, spreading by sending its fruits, coconuts, via the ocean waves. It is now ubiquitous in the tropics and glass houses of the world. Coconut Palm facts: height 30m, latin name Cocos nucifera.

The Betel Nut Palm is cultivated for tis seeds, that release a psychoactive substance when chewed. Originating from south east Asia, this palm has spread the world ,especially in sub saharan Africa because of its drug use. Betel Nut Palm facts: height 25m, latin name Areca catechu.

betel nut palm
betel nut palm - image credit - unknown

The Desert Fan Palm’s dead foliage hanging beneath its crown provides shelter for the birds and insects in the deserts of southern California, Arizona and Nevada. Desert Fan Palm facts: height 18m, latin name Washingtonia filifera.

The Sugar Palm is one of the economic main stays of the Arecales order, cultivated in the Indian sub-continent and south east Asia.  Sugar Palm facts: height 20m, latin name Arenga pinnate.

The Petticoat Palm, a native of the island of Cuba in the Caribbea,n is so called because of the skirt of dead leaves around it crown. Petticoat Palm facts: height 7m, latin name Copernicia macroglossa.

Date Palm
Date Palm - Picture credit Royal Botanical Gardens Kew

Feeling hungry? well the Date Palm is the tree of choice for you then. The fruits are often a staple source of complex carbs for the local community, not to mention the gift of choice to give for old age hospital dwellers. Date Palm facts height 30m, latin name Phoenix dactylifera.

Cultivated for the oils contained in its fruit, the African Oil Palm is a native of the tropical lowlands. African Oil Palm facts: height 20m, latin name Elaeis guineensis.

Perhaps more widely known for its ornamental uses rather than any of its by products, the Bottle Palm comes from a tiny island in the Indian ocean near Mauritius.  Bottle Palm facts: height 6m, latin name Hyophorbe lagenicaulis.

With large seeds that take six years to mature, the Coco de Mar Palm takes its time to propagate. Found in the Seychelles.  Coco de Mar Palm facts: height 30m, latin name Lodoicea maldivica.

Royal Palm
Royal Palm - Picture Credit - The Royal Botanical Gardens Kew

Used for over a century to line wide boulevards and upmarket streets, the Royal Palm is as grand as its name. Its smooth trunk is a common feature in the tropics. Originally native to the Caribbean islands. Royal Palm facts: height 25m, latin name Roystonea regia

One of the few Palms that can thrive in the cold is the Chusan Palm. Found in central China. Chusan Palm facts: Height 20m, latin name Trachycarpus fortunei

Other notable Palms in the Arecales order of flowing plants include:

Brazilian Wax Palm, Sago Palm, Raffia Palm, Palmyra Palm, European Fan Palm, Chilean Wine Palm