World Urban Extremes – WIF Geography

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Most Extreme Cities

in the World

As of 2008, for the first time in human history about as many people live in urban areas as suburban or rural ones. That means there are a lot of people who think that they deal with greater levels of traffic, more crime, more overcrowding, and higher costs of living than residents of places they consider barely populated backwaters.

 Well, those urbanites have something to consider: They live with country bumpkin-levels of those problems compared to the denizens of the following cities. Depending on the city in question, that makes them much more fortunate, or unfortunate, than the occupants probably realize.
Now, it’s important to remember, when we say “extreme” we don’t mean these are places where you should grab a Mountain Dew and a snowboard, bruh. These 10 cities, instead, exist at the extreme edge of various spectrums. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

10. Largest Population

This is one of the more contentious records as far as cities of the world go, since during rush hour or big events they can all feel like they’ve got the most people in them. Some of the most populous cities in developing nations have very outdated, underfunded bureaucracies which can make an accurate census report difficult to acquire. This is especially true for two of the leading contenders, Jakarta, Indonesia and Delhi, India. But even the highest estimates put them at the city the World Atlasclaims is the world champion: Tokyo, Japan.

As of November 2016, Tokyo’s population was reported to be roughly 37,830,000 residents. To put that very large number in perspective, the population of Japan is reported by the CIA to be roughly 127,000,000 people. More than a quarter of the island nation’s population is located in one urban area. And yet, it’s by no means the largest city or the most crowded.

9. Largest Land Area

In July 2016, Guardian magazine said that urban areas were expected to triple in size over the next forty years. That’s also probably how long it will take any of the fastest growing cities to overtake the current largest urban area in the world. The champion city in that regard is unquestionably New York City, New York, with a metro area of 8,683 square kilometers (or 5,395 square miles if you’re going to use the imperial system like a true American).

It’s over 1,700 square kilometers more than Tokyo, the next largest urban area. It’s also nearly as large as the entire state of Connecticut (5,543 square miles). As it happens, growth in New York City has been slowing as recently as 2016. So it’s not out of the question for the little joke from the start of this entry that some other city will overtake it in the coming decades will have some truth to it.

8. Most Densely Populated City

As heavily populated and vast as New York and Tokyo are, they’re not even close to the most crowded, even if stories of people having to pay hundreds of dollars to live in closets might give that impression. After all, they are cities with large numbers of wealthy inhabitants who can afford decently-sized apartments and houses  No, you have to go to the developing world to find places where people truly have no elbow room. Not even to a notoriously crowded city like Hong Kong. It’s one which many people in the Western Hemisphere haven’t even heard of, let alone a famous city.It’s Dhaka, the largest metropolis in Bangladesh.

At 16,235,000, its population is roughly a million less than that of the New York Metro area, but it’s less than 125 square miles in size. There are more than 110,000 people per square mile, and considering that the Telegraph reported that it was rated the second least livable city in the world, the housing is overwhelmingly slums. Unfortunately for many of the people who already live there, it’s only going to get worse in the immediate future because it’s also one of the fastest growing cities in the world.

7. Most Expensive City

The average person on the street would probably guess that the answer is New York City again, considering it’s a city where a single riverside house can go for as much as $130 million. But we live in a rapidly changing world, so we have to look across the Pacific once again to find the real ‘winner’. As of 2014, that honor swung over to Singapore, particularly due to the rising cost of utilities, food (11% higher than New York City), clothing (50% higher than New York City), and vehicular ownership. Not owning a car won’t save you that much: Singapore’s other transportation methods are three times more expensive than NYC’s.

This dubiously desirable record was still held as of 2016, though it’s been so volatile that it dropped and rose 10% during the time in between. With that in mind, such a volatile economic status means that a bust that leaves it one of the cheaper cities to live in might be around the corner.

6. Healthiest City

It’s time for us to look at an unambiguously positive record for a city to have, for a change. From clear air initiatives to encouraging cycling, many cities are going out of their way to increase the longevity of their citizens. The front runner is, once again, a city that’s not particularly famous. It’s the city-state of Monaco, which is totally surrounded by France except for a coast along Mediterranean Sea. You’ve probably only heard of it either if you’re into Formula One racing, or because you’re a fan ofGrace Kelly. It’s only about two square kilometers (1.24 miles) with a population of only roughly 38,000. Odds are you’ve only heard of it for how ridiculously small it is compared to most nations.

 However, Monaco exists in no small part as a tax shelter, and thus it has drawn a highly disproportionate number of wealthy people. So not only does it have enough people who can afford top-of-the-line medical treatment and lifestyles, it has taken on green initiatives and has many electric cars for government employees, driving down illnesses caused by emissions. The result is the residents have an average life expectancy of a staggering 89.6 years. Perhaps the city-state doesn’t seem so silly now?

5. City with Worst Traffic

Even people who’ve been stuck in traffic for hours doesn’t really understand how bad it can get. Imagine that the worst traffic you’ve experienced was not only significantly worse, but that such an amount of traffic is effectively routine. If you can imagine that, then you’ve just pictured life for the average driver in Mexico City, the city which has held the title for “Worst Traffic” for multiple years. It’s also the only country in the Western Hemisphere in the top five.

During regular hours, a driver in Mexico can expect a trip to take at least 66% longer to reach the destination than if there was no traffic congestion. When rush hour comes around, however, this will balloon to around 101%. Every driver can look forward to spending an average of just under an hour a work day stuck in congested traffic. Even factoring in days off and other times that might help them avoid the worst congestion, the average person in Mexico City will still spend 227 hours a year stuck in traffic, or just over nine days total. It’s frankly kind of amazing enough people are willing to put up with that, to the point where the traffic can remain so bad.

4. Most Impoverished City in the World

It’s no surprise that the poorest city in the world is located in an area that was torn apart by civil war for decades. Even 14 years after the end of a 23-year civil war, Monrovia, Liberia can hardly be described as having recovered. It’s the largest city in Liberia and the capital, with a population of roughly one million. Despite that, amenities most people take completely for granted are generally out of the question for them.

Public transportation is limited to sparse private taxis. Electricity is utterly unreliable, leaving such devices as ATMs and credit card readers out of the question. Those with access to electricity aren’t supposed to use it between 2 and 6 a.m. Monrovia’s plumbing infrastructure is so insufficient that only one third of the population even has access to a flush toilet. They have to rely on makeshift latrines or even public spaces. Even for those whose toilet functions, the sewage system for the city is failing, leaving the sanitation bad enough that it’s no surprise the city was hit by an ebola outbreak.

3. Happiest City

Okay, since that was pretty grim, let’s lighten the mood by focusing on something positive. It might seem difficult or unscientific to quantify something as abstract as the happiness of a city. However, the design and consultation firm Arcadis’s method for determining it still seems pretty credible. It was to take the balance of the population’s health, the amount of prejudices the citizens faced and expressed, the levels of education, employment levels vs. cost of living, and the crime rate. After crunching the available data of all that, the city in question turned out to be none other than Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. You might think that a city that is constantly threatened with nuclear destruction by a notoriously unstable neighbor would make the city more paranoid, but this does not seem to be the case (it undoubtedly helps that North Korean missiles are infamously unreliable).

Unfortunately for fans of small government, this success is attributed in no small part to extensive urban planning. Seoul’s government also heavily favors globalist policies. Maybe you feel living in a happier city might not be worth accepting all that, but it feels like something worth considering.

2. The Most Homicidal City

Let’s get the most negative one out of the way. Many people believe that cities are inherently more violent than rural areas (although a study published in 2013 showed that cities actually aren’t any more dangerous than less populated areas), so they’ll assume that the most violent one must be practically a free-fire zone. That city would be Caracas, Venezuela, which is also that nation’s capital.

As the World Atlas reported in February 2017, the capital’s murder rate reached 119.87 per 100,000 people, meaning that with a population of 2.1 million, 2,517 homicides will occur there in a year. It’s one of only four cities in the world where the murder rate is more than 100 per 100,000. To give an idea just how much homicide there is in Venezuela, there are two other Venezuelan cities in the worldwide top ten for homicides a year. It’s more than double the homicide rate of St. Louis, Missouri, which now has the highest murder rate in America per capita. It’s also not a brand new development. Even back in 2011, Caracas’s murder rate became notorious when it rose above Baghdad’s. Hopefully there’s still time for anyone reading to cancel their plans to take a vacation there.

1. Oldest City in the World

We’ll conclude this list with a neutral fact. In this case, we don’t mean which was the first city ever built (evidence indicates this would be long-abandoned Jericho of Old Testament fame). What we’re looking for is which city has been continuously occupied since it was founded for the longest time. You might think it’s somewhere in Africa, where humans first evolved. Maybe you assume it’s somewhere in Eastern Asia? How about in the Middle East, where Mesopotamia is known as the Cradle of Civilization? Turns out it’s the last one, and it’s a city that likely will be quite familiar to anyone following current world events. As reported by The Guardian magazine, it’s poor, war-ravaged Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, that has the strongest claim.

Aleppo was first founded as a city circa 6,000 BC, because it occupied easily defended, hilly terrain. Its easy access to the Queiq River connected it to what’s now the nation of Turkey, and made it a valuable trading center for millennia. Being located in the notoriously volatile Middle East has meant it was conquered and reconquered many times by many empires including the Assyrians, Egyptians, and so on. So while it’s currently experiencing extreme turmoil, we can be assured that it will be able to recover eventually. It certainly has plenty of times in the past.


World Urban Extremes

– WIF Geography

 

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 155

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 155

…you have the ingredients for the second biggest international incident, “a quarter of a million miles this side of the moon”…

Pink Floyd

As things wind down is the Gulf region of North/Central America, just the
opposite is happening on the other side of the world, specifically the United Korean Peninsula and Talibanistan. For far too long the so-called Dove of the Americas, President Pete Sanchez has allowed free reign to certain, uncommon pockets of American/West hatred.

North Korea swallowed up the South when during his first term, he unilaterally withdrew United States forces, which had guarded the 38th Parallel for 3/4 of a century and the North pounced. The United Korean Peninsula was formed.

He was re-elected anyway.

At the beginning of his second term, he urged the United Nations to ease restrictions on what had only been a tribal movement in the areas north and west of India. During the vacuum of power, the Taliban seized control of all the “-stans” and formed the nation called Talibanistan. Never a friend to the
west, it was allowed to fester like a regional infection, never to be challenged about its belligerent policies.

And still Sanchez sat on his hands, with the support of the festering Hispanic majority that dare not allow him to lose power.

Picasso

But the Presidency of the United States of America has not descended into dictatorship and when a Congressional majority decides to act in spite of the “Commander-in Chief”, the sleeping dove that has been the USA, can magically take-wing and soar like the proud hawk of days gone by.

Among the Joint Chiefs’ of Staff, who have been bound by loyalty and not apt to spout their verbal opposition to national policy, are privately ramping up efforts to build a case for surgical strikes against both Korea and Talibanistan. A downsized military, just like the budget-challenged space program, has to skillfully choose their skirmishes and missions.

So when CIA briefings included information about that bodacious bash in the Korean capital, with all the prominent players involved in Space Colony’s destruction in one city block, the temptation to strike is obvious, even to the most casual observer.

Add in the fact that permission from Congress is nothing but a presidential rubberstamp and you have the ingredients for the second biggest international incident, “a quarter of a million miles this side of the moon”. As the Army Chief put it, “What happens in Korea stays in Korea.” —


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 155


page 190

Contents TRT

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 148

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 148

…“What do I tell the world? And will they believe me?” asks the President of the United States…

Francine could not possibly guess what Roy is about to tell the leader of the free world, of all people.

“Please don’t beat around the bush. What the hell happened to the United Korean Peninsula’s sovereign property? I have to tell them something…… and I have a stump speech to deliver in 10 minutes.”

“I’m sure that will be a Democratic knee-slapper!” Roy is sure that the President has heard the rumblings about Roy’s possible political plans. “We have thrown a wet blanket over the whole Sang-Ashi thing and I guess you can spin it any way you want.”

“Well then just spin-it-out man!”

“We have indisputable proof that Sang-Ashi was built by the Koreans for the sole purpose of sabotaging the Space Colony program, doing whatever it takes to stop it in its tracks. To that end, they have used a deep-space probe to disguise their destructive ways.

“In response to that aggression, we needed to disable Sang-Ashi as it was about to take out the New Mayflower as well. However, the crew did not pull the trigger, the onboard mainframe did.”

This information produces differing reactions; Francine cannot believe Roy was so blunt. President Sanchez sits down, aghast at the notion.

“We can’t do that!,” he proclaims.

“We had to take defensive measures,” Roy indirectly crediting Aldona Afridi. “We are not going to sit on our hands while two rogue global powers have their way with us!”

“Two? Who is the other one?”

“Talibanistan.”

“That’s impossible. My Secretary of State tells me that he has a working relationship with Kamran Khan-Nutkani.”

“Sure it works for them! And who do you think is behind the freeing of Samiq Gaad and the kidnapping of the McKinney boys?” He warns, “Do not be hoodwinked by a Talibanistani Trojan Horse.”

“What do I tell the world? And will they believe me?”

“Think about Sampson and Celeste McKinney, stranded on Mars, running out of food, water, and oxygen.”

“The country would not stand for news of their deaths, they adore that couple,” he makes a politically generic statement.

“Exactly.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Talibanistan

Episode 148


page 182

Contents TRT

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 141

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 141

…My God, any morals this country has left will be flushed down the toilet if she gets in office…

As his role of back-seat-driver, Roy Crippen can only sit back and be a worrisome observer of situations he has minimal control over.

Take the United States’ inaction as it applies to the mounting evidence that the United Korean Peninsula is engaged in active sabotage against the World Coalition. That they can enlist the help of the ever-dangerous, sprawling Talibanistan, is even more infuriating to him and he discusses these and other issues with his new Press Secretary Francine Bouchette, “If I were president, I would have put an end to that nonsense a long time ago. We have allowed them to swallow South Korea whole and why, because we were afraid that they would use their nuclear weapons on some defenseless nation.”

“On the subject of president,” Francine ignores his long held worldviews and moves on to the now of things, “it seems there is a growing faction of Republicans who are touting you as the party’s nominee for 2032.”

“You are sounding like my Political Advisor, instead of Press Secretary.”

“Advisor, mouthpiece….what’s the difference? One of the reasons you hired me is because you did not have the time or interest in keeping track of the extraneous details.”

“And dealing with the media hoard… which you have lifted off my plate. I owe you my debt of gratitude for that, among other things, if you know what I mean?”

“Let us keep the “other things” out of this. Once this nation gets past this Space Colony malaise and things return to normal, it is going to need a Republican leader with a clear vision, not (current President) Sanchez’ V P Sylvia Freelove!”

“Are you telling me that Freelove is the Democratic frontrunner for ’32? My God, Image result for toilet flushing gifany morals this country has left will be flushed down the toilet if she gets in office.

“So if you do not want traditional marriage banned or the damned ACLU to become Attorneys General, you better start thinking about listening to the conversation.”

“I don’t have the money to make a run at the presidency? It takes big bucks to get to the White House.

“If the world wants to restore the America of our great-grandfathers, the dollar$ will take care of itself.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 141


page 174

Contents TRT

Amazing Nature Almanac – WIF Science

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Strange and Beautiful

Natural Phenomena

wif-almanac-001

Nature is amazing. There is no doubt about that. People have marveled at nature’s beauty since they came into existence. Not knowing what was happening, these people of old came up with some truly magnificent stories, trying to give a sense to the world around them. Today we are blessed with more knowledge about the world, but nevertheless this doesn’t diminish the magic taking place before our very eyes. If anything, it only makes nature more interesting.

 And while we no longer believe the “sky to be falling” every time it’s raining, or that Thor is smiting his hammer with every lightning strike, there are some natural phenomena out there we common folk still don’t understand. Here are 10 such natural occurrences, explained by our most prized of storytellers: scientists.

10. Snow Rollers

snow roller

No, these weren’t made by gnomes during the night, but rather by a series of meteorological events, in a particular order. Snow rollers aren’t a common sight, but when they do happen, and you stumble upon some of them, be sure that a fairly unlikely series of events took place the night before. First and foremost there needs to be two separate layers of snow already present: a first, icy or crusty layer of snow underneath, and a wetter one above. This way, the wet layer has something on which to roll over. Then you need some wind, strong enough to scoop out balls of snow and push them forward, similar to a tumbleweed, but not so strong as to blow it apart.

They will also form in relatively sloped areas, but this is not absolutely necessary. Just imagine yourself making a snowman, and the process is more or less the same. The biggest differences are that one is made by a person, the other by the elements. Also, snow rollers are more often cylindrical in shape, rather than a sphere, and they can vary in size from that of an average snowball, to that of a car. Nevertheless, the many meteorological conditions which need to take place in that exact order, at the exact time, make these snow rollers a very rare phenomenon to behold, and they usually make headlines in the newspapers the following day.

9. Mammatus Clouds

mammatus

Looking very ominous, mammatus clouds are sometimes the harbingers of an imminent and powerful thunderstorm. But more often than not, they form just after the storm has passed. Also known as mammatocumulus, they translate to “mammary cloud” due to their appearance as pouches, usually hanging beneath a larger, anvil cloud. As updraft pushes precipitation enriched air to the top of one such anvil cloud, the air begins to spread out, and the heavier precipitation, usually water particles and ice fall back to the bottom, forming these mammatus clouds. As the air falls back down to the ground, it heats up, evaporating the precipitation within it. The more precipitation there is the further down they will sink.

These clouds usually span over an area of several hundred miles in all directions and last for about 10-15 minutes at a time. While they usually form underneath an anvil cloud, they also appear on occasion under altocumulus, altostratus, stratocumulus, cirrus clouds, as well as volcanic ash clouds. Whatever the case, they look amazing and ominous at the same time, especially when sunlight is reflected off of them.

8. Ice Flowers

ice-flower

This natural phenomenon in particular is as beautiful as it is rare, and only takes places in late autumn or early winter, before the ground freezes over. As the air goes below freezing point, the sap within some plant stems, plants like theFrostweed (Verbesina virginica), begins to freeze and expand, pushing through the plant itself and forming an amazing thin sheet of ice, similar to a flower petal. Certain conditions need to take place for this beautiful phenomenon to appear. As the ground is still unfrozen, water keeps on going up the stem and through the microscopic cracks, the sap escapes and transforms into ice, adding to the ever longer sheet.

In some instances, this phenomenon can happen to wood as well. Wood which hasn’t yet dried completely and is kept in freezing conditions can sometimes present these Ice Flowers. More often than not however, the wood cracks from the pressure within, generating these wonderful patterns which curl and fold into gorgeous frozen petioles, giving this phenomenon both its name and appearance.

7. Columnar Basalt

columnar-basalt

This type of rock formation occurs, as it name suggests, in basalt, which is a lava flow rock. These formations can be found all over eastern Washington state, Devils Tower in Wyoming, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or the Los Organos on the northern part of La Gomera Island in the Canaries, and many other places around the world. Based on their name, you can clearly see what kind of stories people used to give these, back in the day. Nevertheless, there are columnar basalt formations found even on Mars. The way these form, is similar to how the ground cracks during a severe drought. As the water evaporates, or goes into the water bed below, the ground above contracts and cracks. The same thing applies here, as the lava flow progressively cools over a period of maybe longer than 100 years. The cracks form perpendicular to the original flow direction.

The difference in thickness of these columns depends on the speed at which they cool. While there are cases of a lava beds contracting as a whole, it is more likely for them to crack. The faster they cool, the thinner the columns will be. And while hexagons are most common, polygons with three to twelve or more sides can be observed. Their length, which can be greater than 50 feet, is based on how thick the original lava flow was.

6. Fallstreak Hole

fallstreak-hole

This particular cloud formation looks as if someone took an enormous cookie cutter and made a hole in what, otherwise, looks like an enormous flat cloud covering the sky. In fact, some people call them Holepunch clouds. Another particular aspect here is that a streak of cloud usually hangs underneath that hole. What’s happening up there is quite interesting, to say the least. For starters, we need to know that air at higher altitudes is much cooler that the temperature at the ground level. In fact, temperatures can go well below freezing point.

But despite this, water vapor and tiny water droplets “refuse” to freeze and remain in a “supercool” state. Water usually begins to freeze due to the impurities inside it: salt, dust particles, all sorts of other minerals, and so on. Cold, distilled water can also begin to freeze instantaneously if a piece of ice is added to it, in a process known as “ice nucleation.” Since water vapor is quite pure, water stays in liquid form even under freezing temperatures. Here, a piece of ice falls from higher altitudes and comes in contact with the water inside this cloud. This in turn sets out a chain reaction, freezing the droplets around, and making them fall to the ground – thus, the cloud streak below the hole. If a plane happens to pass through a cloud at a shallow angle, it can also cause it to freeze and form a cigar-shaped Fallstreak hole.

5. Brinicles

Brinicles are a fairly rare sight to see, not because they rarely happen, but because they take place underwater. In fact, they were only discovered in the 1960s. When seawater freezes, it releases its salt, creating super-salty brine. This percolates through cracks in the ice, into the water below. This brine then sinks because it’s much denser than the surrounding water. That is also the reason you can float in salty water, far better than in a fresh water lake. Nevertheless, this brine is also much colder, and the seawater around freezes on contact. Over time, this creates somewhat of an inverted cone, or funnel if you will, which goes ever deeper towards the bottom. This stalactite is what’s known as a brinicle.

Since brinicles appear in shallower waters, closer to the coast, in a course of some 12 hours it’s able to reach the bottom, trapping everything in ice. Creatures usually living on the ocean floor, like starfish and sea urchins, move far too slow and they get trapped in this newly formed ice, which then spreads along the bottom. Not surprisingly, brinicles are more commonly known as “The Ice Fingers of Death.”

4. Volcanic Lightning

Also known as a dirty thunderstorm, volcanic lightning is a weather phenomenon related to the production of lightning in a volcanic plume. What causes them was somewhat hard to figure out, and is still not yet fully understood. While during a thunderstorm, lightning is caused by colliding ice crystals, which generate enough electricity to cause a lightning bolt, ash clouds are far more difficult and a lot moredangerous to study. At first glance, it would seem counter intuitive to attribute ice as the main culprit behind a “dirty thunderstorm”. Some new scientific studies and better equipment, however, have begun to show us what’s really happening during one such volcanic inferno.

Once an eruption begins, large quantities of positively charged particles are blown into the air, which in contact with the negatively charged air particles around make for an electric discharge. These lightning bolts occur in and around the plume, which is ejected by the volcano itself. At first this theory was mostly based on speculation, but thanks to the very high frequency (VHF) radio emissions technology, scientists were able to get a better look inside one such dense volcanic plume and figure out what’s actually happening. But this is not all when it comes to lightning and volcanoes together.

Another study has tracked the location of lightning strikes some 60 miles from the eruption, and at near-stratospheric heights of about 12 miles above the ground. This seems to be caused somewhat in the same way as in a usual thunderstorm. As the ash cloud is blown by the wind, it thins out, and ice begins to form at its extremities, resulting in further lightning strikes. These studies, while not that surprising, can help a great deal in aviation as they can inform on the way to properly respond to a volcano eruption and the usual flight paths of commercial airliners passing above.

3. Sailing Stones

sailing-stones

Death Valley in California is notorious for its scorching heat during the day and extreme cold during the night. Among the many mysteries and legends linked to this place, none is more fascinating than the “sailing stones” phenomenon taking place within the Racetrack Playa, an exceptionally flat and level scenic dry lake. Some weighing around 700 pounds, the stones which dot the lake bed seem to be moving across the desert floor when nobody’s watching, leaving long trails behind them. This has puzzled scientists for decades now, but now geologists Richard and Jim Norris, believe they have found the answer. Though the phenomenon itself was under scrutiny since the 1940s, only recently did the two geologists actually capture these sailing stones on film. They set up a weather station in the area and fitted stones with GPS trackers. Two years into the project, the stones began to move.

What actually happened was that it rained the day before, and during the night a thin layer of ice had formed over a few inches of liquid water. As day came, the ice began to break apart and, pushed by the breeze, these ice sheets simply dragged the stones with them, scraping a trail on the bottom. By the end of the day, when all the ice had melted, some of the stones moved more than 200 feet. However, the conditions for this phenomenon to take place are hard to come by, and Norris compared the chances of actually stumbling upon it with winning the lottery. This also explains why this seemingly simple occurrence has intrigued people for so long.

2. Penitentes

penitentes

Penitentes are narrow ice formations, commonly found at high altitudes of over 13,000 feet, with low humidity, especially in the Andes Mountains of South America. What’s curious about them is that they usually point towards the sun, ranging from a few inches to six or even 16 feet in height. Their name comes from their resemblance to people kneeling, as when doing penance. More precisely, they resemble the brothers of the Procession of Penance in Spain, who wear hats with very tall, narrow, and white sharp tips (just like the KKK).

Anyway, the existence of these Penitentes was known about as early as the 1800s and were originally believed to have been formed by the wind. But in fact these jagged snow structures are the result of dimples in the original snow sheet. These in turn result in ever larger ablations, through a process known as “sublimation” – where ice and snow melts and vaporizes without turning into liquid water first. This happens more easily at high altitudes due to the reduced pressure of the atmosphere, together with the lower temperatures of the air and the more powerful rays of the sun above. The Penitentes are what remains behind, thanks to their angle towards the sun.

1. Light Pillars

light-pillar

This stunningly beautiful light show usually makes an appearance in cold, arctic regions and can be described as optical phenomenon in which columns of light seem to emanate below or above a light source, in a vertical orientation. This light source can be of natural origins, like the sun or moon, in which case these light columns are called Sun or Lunar Pillars, respectively. Or, they can occur due to the presence of artificial lights as well. These light pillars form when the two astral bodies are close to the horizon and tend to take on the color of the body emanating that light in the first place.

The effect itself is created by the reflection of that light onto the many ice particles suspended in the air or clouds. Because of this, light pillars fall in the category of halos – optical phenomenon produced by light interacting with ice crystals. The reason for why they appear vertical and not as a circle, is because the ice crystals which reflect them consist mostly of flat, hexagonal plates, which tend to orient themselves more or less horizontally as they fall through the air. Together they act as a giant mirror, reflecting the light either up or down. Thanks to the slight turbulences in the air, these ice crystals somewhat change their horizontal orientation, elongating the light column even further. The larger the crystals, the more pronounced this effect becomes. In some rare cases, column-shaped crystalscan cause light pillars as well.


Amazing Nature Almanac

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WIF Science

Easy to Learn Languages – WIF Grammar

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wif-grammar-001

Incredibly Easy

Languages to Learn

Everyone but the biggest knuckle-dragging Neanderthal agrees that learning another language is a good thing. Aside from unlocking a whole new way of thinking, it also allows you to appear worldly, sophisticated and (probably) great in the sack. But with only a small percentage of Americans and an even-smaller percentage of British speaking a second language, it seems most of us can never dream of achieving this common goal.

Or so you’d think. Despite what your Spanish-fluent coworker may want you to believe, not every language is difficult to master. For every tongue like Czech, Japanese or Mandarin that’ll leave your head spinning, there are a dozen that you can comfortably pick up over the course of a single, intensive summer. Not too long ago we told you about the hardest languages to master. Well, there’s a flip-side to that coin. Want to start unlocking the secrets of those exotic foreigners? Here are ten languages so easy even amiable doofuses like us could pick them up.

10. Spanish

Spanish is a major, major world language. If world languages were a high school, then Spanish would be the laid-back popular kid all the other kids want to hang with (English would be the frat dude who insists on chanting USA! USA! while everyone’s trying to talk). Most of Central and South America speaks Spanish, as does Equatorial Guinea in Africa and, err, Spain. Simply put, you learn Spanish and you’re unlocking a heck of a lot of the world for yourself.

So why is Spanish so easy for us English-speakers? Well, both Spanish and English incorporate a whole lot of Latin into their vocabulary. The structure is fairly simple, too. While there are some differences (you’d say “the car red” instead of “the red car”, for example), they’re pretty easy to wrap your head around. Then there’s the ease with which you can practice. Just about everybody living in the USA has access to Spanish-language cable TV, so soaking up that sweet vocabulary is super-easy.

9. Portuguese

Compared to other colonial powers, Portugal didn’t leave a particularly important legacy (sorry, Macau and Angola). But it’s greatest impact just happened to be in one of the largest countries in the Americas. Brazil is massive, a regional economic titan that sprawls across nearly 50 percent of South America. It has over 200 million residents, one of the greatest soccer teams on Earth, and more jaw-dropping natural beauty than even yo momma.

All this is supremely easy to access. Portuguese is closely-related to Spanish, with all the advantages that entails. In our high school analogy, Portuguese is basically Spanish’s shy but friendly cousin everyone secretly has the hots for. The flip-side of this is that if you already know Spanish then Portuguese is harder to initially get to grips with. This is because the two languages are stuffed with ‘false friends’, words that sound identical but carry very different meanings. So you might construct a perfect restaurant order in Spanish, only to find you’ve accidentally asked to spend a filthy evening with your waiter’s wife (or whatever).

8. French

We’re gonna let you in on a secret. If a language falls into the ‘romance’ category, then it’s gonna be easy for you to master. And ‘romance’ is a category French doesn’t just belong to; it’s a way of summing up France’s entire cultural ethos.

French is the prettiest, most-sophisticated girl at school. The good-looking dude who knows he’s the coolest in class. It’s a language that once was perhaps the most-important on Earth. Although those days are gone, it’s still Kind of a Big Deal. Want to travel to Morocco, Algeria, the Congo, Belgium, Switzerland or Haiti? Learn French. Want to impress the pants off your next boyfriend/girlfriend? Learn French. We’re not sure how much clearer we can make this. French is freakin’ cool.

Once again, French incorporates a lot of Latin words. It also has a strong history with English. In 1066, William the Conqueror stomped on England and made medieval French the lingua franca of the ruling classes. That influence can still be felt today, in words like encore, serviette and coup d’etat. In total, English incorporated over 10,000 words from French.

7. Italian

Italy never quite acquired the global clout its cousins did. Today, learning Italian pretty much restricts your travels to Italy. Lucky for you, Italy just happens to be one of the most-cultured, historically-important, and beautiful countries on Earth.

Italy is the reason you can learn Spanish, Portuguese and French with such ease. It was the Romans who spread out and brought Latin to these countries, stamping their mark on everywhere from modern-day Britain, to Libya, to Syria, to Germany. Spanish is essentially just a bastardized descendant of ‘Vulgar Latin’, the language used by the grunts and soldiers of the Empire. This means there’s a whole lot in common between the two modern tongues, one especially pronounced if you happened to learn Argentinian Spanish, which has a rhythm more suited to the backstreets of Naples than the sidewalks of Madrid.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to learning Italian is just how much awesome culture you get to unlock. From Dante’s Divine Comedy, to the films of Federico Fellini, Italian is the language of some of the world’s most kickass masterpieces.

6. Swedish

Let’s step away from the sunny climes of southern Europe. Sweden is a completely different kettle of (fermented) fish. A cold, snow-bound country in the darkest reaches of Northern Europe, it’s about as removed from our previous languages as rotten herring is from pasta. Yet, crucially, it isn’t all that removed from English. See, English doesn’t just have Latin roots; it also has Germanic. And Swedish is aprime example of a Germanic language.

For learners, this translates to a language that’s comparatively simple. Aside from shared words (like midnatt for midnight), the two languages have a similar grammar, meaning mastering Swedish is essentially an exercise in remembering lots of vocabulary. As a special extra treat, the verbs don’t change much. So while English speakers would say “Ispeak English, he speaks English,” a Swede would just say “I speak Swedish, he speak Swedish.”

So what are the advantages of learning Swedish? Not many, if you hope to travel the globe; Swedish is spoken by only 10m or so people, nearly all of them in Sweden. If you want to live in one of Europe’s most pristine countries, though, it’s a no-brainer.

5. Norwegian

Norwegian is the closest we have in the modern day to being able to speak Viking. That alone should be reason enough to study it. But if you’re not swayed by manly beards, manly helmets with manly horns, or man-punching your way across the seven seas, then there’s at least one other good man-justification. Norwegian is easy for English-speakers to learn.

Another Germanic language, Norwegian shares all the positives of Swedish, while beingeven simpler. The grammar is close to English, while verbs are easy to master (there’s little change depending on the context). Again, there are a lot of closely-related words. Again, the rhythm and emphasis are not too dissimilar. In a broad study conducted at the turn of the 21st century, the Federal government declared Norwegian one of the easiest languages for Americans to learn.

There is a downside to all this. Not only is Norway’s population under 6 million, about 95% of them speak perfect English. The language is taught at all school levels. Meeting a Norwegian who doesn’t speak English is almost as rare as meeting an American who is fluent in Norwegian.

4. Esperanto

Esperanto is the most widely-spoken made-up language in the world. Yup, even Klingon and Elvish have fewer devotees (perhaps related to Klingon and Elvish being stupidlyhard). Invented in 1887 by L.L. Zamenhof, it was designed from inception to be crazy easyto pick up. One of Zamenhof’s stated goals was to make a language so simple that learning it would be “mere play.”

To that end, he incorporated different bits from lots of European languages, mashed them all together, simplified them, and called it a language. The result is a tongue that sounds strangely familiar, whether you’ve ever encountered it before or not. Go watch a video of someone talking in Esperanto. Chances are you’ll find yourself vaguely understanding bits and pieces of it.

In lists like this, we wouldn’t usually include a made-up language, because that way madness lies. But Esperanto is in a different league. Around 2 million people have some knowledge of it, and it’s estimated that up to 1,000 families may be ‘native’ speakers. For comparison, that’s more native speakers than even an actual language like Cornish has.

3. Afrikaans

The language spoken by the descendants of Dutch famers in South Africa and Namibia, Afrikaans has a long and turbulent history. For some Boers, it is an integral part of their identity, a way of planting their flag in a culture that has changed seismically over the last 20 years. It’s also the African language English speakers stand the greatest chance of learning. For example, the sentence “what is that?” translates, unbelievably, to wat is dit?

Afrikaans exists somewhere between Dutch and English, while being simpler than both. The grammar is logical and consistent, with none of the weird exceptions English insists on throwing in. The verbs are also super-easy. While in English we use dream, dreamed and dreamt to all mean the same thing in different contexts, Afrikaans would simply use ‘dream’.

Again, Afrikaans isn’t a great traveling language. You’re pretty much restricted to just two countries in southern Africa. On the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted to understand Boer culture or to spend extended time in South Africa, it would almost be crazy not to learn it.

2. Frisian

Quick, hands up who has ever heard of Frisian? By our estimate, roughly 90 percent of you just sat on your hands, shook your heads and muttered something like “Fri-wha?”That’s OK, don’t sweat it. It’s a pretty obscure tongue. So, to quickly bring us all up to speed: Frisian is the native language of Friesland, a part of the Netherlands that Americans basically never go to, due to its lack of pot and hookers. It’s spoken by half a million people, and it’s probably the closest language to English in the world.

Seriously, Frisian and English were basically the same darn thing until comparatively recently. The two languages only started evolving independently 1,200 years ago, a long time in terms of getting over your last breakup, but next to nothing on the linguistic timescale. Even today, Frisians like to drop the old saying “good butter and good cheese, is good English and good Fries” into conversation. In both English and Fries, the sentence sounds identical.

If you’re a native English speaker, learning Fries is a walk in the park. While the written form looks more like Dutch, the spoken form has a near-identical vocabulary, sentence-structure and pronunciation to English. You’re probably reasonably fluent already, without taking a single lesson.

1. Dutch

Dutch is considered by linguists to be the easiest major language for English speakers to understand (Frisian’s easier, but by no stretch of the imagination is it ‘major’). It is spoken in the Netherlands (duh), Belgium, Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles, with about 23 million speakers worldwide. It has so much in common with English that you can learn it in almost no time at all.

This is the result of a happy historical accident. While most languages easy for English speakers incorporate Latin or Germanic root words, Dutch incorporates both. This means a staggering amount of Dutch vocabulary sounds extremely familiar to English speakers, with the added bonus that the structure is similar too. Pronunciation is also pretty intuitive, aside from the odd, weird vowel sound. Lastly, the grammar is consistent, logical and doesn’t feature any odd (for English speakers) stuff like genders or cases. For English-speakers, that’s like hitting the Konami Code of language learning.

The only downside with Dutch is similar to Norwegian. Nearly everyone in the Netherlands and Belgium speaks fluent English, meaning chances to practice your stuttering Dutch are basically non-existent.


Easy to Learn Languages

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– WIF Grammar

Get to Know Mexico – WIF Fun Facts

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Facts About Mexico

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Mexico’s international reputation isn’t exactly the greatest. Plagued by drug violence, hampered by poverty, and constantly getting bashed by US politicians, it can seem like a scary, far-away place where bad things happen. Even in the carefree days before the drug war, lots of Americans just saw it as the land of tequila, siestas and rowdy spring breakers.

 Well, we’re here to tell you that there’s a lot more to Mexico than its popular reputation suggests. A lot more. Stretching over nearly 2m km2, and with a history that goes back to the Aztecs and ancient Mayans, Mexico is a place of endless fascination. It has dozens of indigenous peoples. Its capital has more museums than any other city on Earth. It’s a place of culture, history, and great, historic achievements. Here are ten fascinating facts about North America’s only Spanish-speaking nation that you rarely hear north of the border:

10. It Used to be the 5th Biggest Nation on Earth

Modern Mexico is a big place. While it might pale beside Canada and the USA, it dwarfs the nations of Europe, and is bigger than all but one of Africa’s countries. Ranked, it would be the 13th biggest nation on Earth. But that’s just modern Mexico. The Mexico of the 19th century used to be much, much bigger. Go back to 1821, and you’d find yourself standing in one of the biggest countries in the world.

That map there is independent Mexico at its fullest extent. As you probably remember from history class, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and California were all once part of the US’s southern neighbor. But Mexican territory extended further south, too. Modern Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Costa Rica and Nicaragua were all part of Mexico. Taken altogether, the Mexico that existed at independence was larger than the entire European Union. If it existed today, it would be the 5th largest nation on Earth.

This super-Mexico didn’t last long. Before the 1820s were out, it had lost most of the nations that now make up Central America. About 25 years after that, the Mexican-American War eliminated its territory in the modern US.

9. It Has the Oldest University in North America

Quick, what’s the oldest university in North America? A good number of you just yelled ‘Harvard!’ at your tablet screens. Sure, Harvard is pretty old; it was founded in 1636. But even that august institution is a baby compared to its Mexican equivalent. The National Autonomous University of Mexico, based in Mexico City, was opened in 1553.

To demonstrate just how mind-blowingly old that is, consider this: NAUM was opened when Mexico was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. It was given its charter by Emperor Charles V, who headed both the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Empire (dynasty was a complicated thing back then). At that time, Shakespeare was still over a decade away from being born. Isaac Newton was over a century away. Right now, you are closer in time to George Washington’s last breath than NAUM was at its founding.

Not that it was called NAUM back then. It was the Royal and Pontifical University of New Spain. Unlike Harvard, it also hasn’t been in continuous operation. The dictatorship closed it down in 1867, and it wasn’t reopened until the Revolution.

8. There are Over 60 Official Languages

Ask most people to name the official language of Mexico, and they’ll say ‘Spanish’. And they’d be right… to a degree. See, while Spanish is the most widely-spoken official language in Mexico, it’s not the only one. Ever since the government enacted the Law of Linguistic Rights, over 60 indigenous tongues have been recognized as co-official languages.

The largest of these is Nahuatal. About 1.3 million people speak the language, roughly equivalent to the entire population of New Hampshire. This is the language of the Aztec Empire, the language that once dominated the whole of Mexico. But it’s far from being the only one. Over 700,000 people speak the Yucatec Maya language, and another half a million or so speak Mixtec. Over all, nearly 7 million Mexicans speak a language other than Spanish (although most are bilingual).

Interestingly, not all co-official languages are so widely-spoken. While the next 30 most popular are all spoken by between 10,000 – 400,000 people, some like Aguacatec are spoken by less than 30.

7. They Had the Shortest Presidency in World History

William Henry Harrison is famous in the US for his horrendously short presidency. The 9thPresident contracted pneumonia on Inauguration Day and died a single month later. But even WHH’s reign lasted longer than that of Mexico’s 34th president. By one count, it lasted nearly three thousand times longer. Pedro José Domingo de la Calzada Manuel María Lascuráin Paredes was President of Mexico for anywhere from an hour to just 15 minutes. So basically he was president just long enough for someone to get through his name.

The reason for this was the crazy politics of Revolution-era Mexico. General Victoriano Huerta had just overthrown President Madero in a coup. Under Mexico’s constitution, power of a deposed president automatically passed to either his vice-president, attorney general, foreign minister or interior minister. At the time, Lascuráin was foreign minister. To make his coup look less like a coup, Huerta convinced the government to appoint Lascuráin president. The two men then cut a deal, and he moment he was sworn in Lascuráin appointed Huerta his interior minister and then resigned. Power automatically, and legally, passed onto Huerta.

To date, no other world leader has ruled for such a short time. The closest is Diosdado Cabello, who ruled Venezuela for around six hours in 2002. His reign was still over twenty times longer than Lascuráin’s.

6. In Some States, There are Three Genders

Mexico’s relationships with LGBT rights is… complicated, to say the least. While drugs gangs have been known to shoot up gay bars in some states, places like Mexico City have legalized same-sex marriage. Then there’s Oaxaca. The southern state has an approach to trans-people that is possibly unique in North America. Among the indigenous Zapotec people, they’re legally recognized as a third gender.

 Known as Muxes (Moo-Shays), the third gender are people born as men, who choose to live instead as women. Concentrated around the town of Juchitan, they’re treated as a fact of life, in the same way men and women are. They own businesses, are admired for their cookery skills, and even have a yearly ball which the mayor of Juchitan attends. For American readers, this might seem like PC gone mad. But the Muxes are far from a modern invention. They’ve been around as long as the Zapotec themselves.

Pre-Columbian societies in Mexico tended to have a third gender of men who lived as women. While most traditions died off with the coming of the Spanish, among the Zapotec it thrived. In short, the Muxes have been around since long before anyone could say what the acronym LGBT stood for.

5. It’s Home to the World’s Smallest Volcano

So, apparently Mexico has an aptitude for leading the world in the ‘unlikely smallest things’ stakes. After the record beating barely-a-presidency of Lascuráin, the country has since thrown up yet another tiny marvel. Welcome to Cuexcomate, the smallest volcano in recorded history.

Now, pay attention, kids, because just looking at images of Cuexcomate is about as exciting as watching your toenails grow. It’s the facts behind it that make it fascinating. Cuexcomate formed way, way back in 1664, an offshoot of the bigger Popocatépetl volcano. Somehow, it began to grow… and then just stopped. Like a kid who doesn’t get any bigger after their first birthday, Cuexcomate topped out at a mere 43 feet. That’s tiny. You could stack 7 averagely-tall dudes on one another’s shoulders, and the top guy would be able to peer into the crater.

So small is the long-dormant volcano that no-one thought twice about building around it. If you want to visit Cuexcomate, you have to drive out into a suburb of Puebla, work your way around the Volkswagen factory, and locate it among people’s yards.

4. Net Mexican Migration to the US is Actually Negative

Mexican immigration has become a political flashpoint in the US. While we don’t want to get into the politics of it here, it’s worth noting that things may not be quite so explosive as they seem. While plenty of Mexican still travel to the US looking for a better life, plenty more come to the US, look around, then decide to go back to Mexico. We know this because, according to PEW Research, net Mexican immigration to the US over the last decade has fallen to negative levels.

This means there are actually more Mexicans permanently leaving the US than there are arriving. Prior to the recession, it was the other way. The period 1995-2000 saw a net migration of 2.27 million Mexicans to the US. The period 2009-2014, on the other hand, saw a net migration of minus 140,000.

The factors for this are manifold. Better border policing, the Great Recession, and increasing job opportunities in Mexico have all played a part, as has the desire to reunite with family members still in Mexico.

3. Mexico Once Went to War With France Over Pastries

In the annals of warfare, there can’t be many dumber reasons for attacking another state than the fate of a pastry shop. Yet that’s exactly what transpired between France and Mexico in 1838. After a rioting mob ransacked a Mexico City bakery owned by a Frenchman named Remontel, he sued the nation of Mexico for compensation. When Mexico laughed him out, he returned to France and demanded an audience with King Louis-Philippe. Amazingly, he got it. Even more amazingly, Louis-Philippe agreed to help him.

Paris wrote to Mexico and demanded payment of 600,000 pesos, some 600 times the value of Remontel’s shop (to be fair, some of it was for unpaid Mexican debts incurred a decade earlier). When Mexico balked, the French navy invaded. They bombarded  San Juan de Ulua, captured Veracruz, and blockaded the entire country. It was only thanks to a British-brokered agreement that the war ended in early 1839. Remontel got his money. All in all, the Pastry War dragged on for four months, killed over 100 people, and injured nearly 200 more.

2. They Briefly Had the Most-Deluded Emperor in History

Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph has the distinct honor of being just Mexico’s second and final Emperor. A member of Europe’s royal Habsburg line (the guys who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Maximilian was just drifting along when, in 1863, he received a letter telling him the people of Mexico had voted to make him their king. Rather than treat it as we would an email from a Nigerian prince, Maximilian hightailed it to Mexico and declared himself Emperor. Bad move.

The letter had been issued by Napoleon III of France, who was conspiring with conservative Mexicans to place a loyal French puppet on the throne. Unknown to Maximilian, they’d chosen him as their useful idiot. When Maximilian crowned himself emperor, it triggered a civil war in Mexico that lasted three years. Apparently, Maximilian didn’t realize this, and thought he was a beloved, paternal figure who’d finally found his true calling. When the US intervened to push France’s pro-Maximilian troops out, the Emperor even refused to leave, saying the Mexican peasants needed him.

Those same peasants executed him on a hillside outside Querétaro in 1867. The deluded reign of Mexico’s last Emperor was over.

1. Their Capital City is Sinking

At 2,240 meters above sea level, Mexico City is one of the highest capital cities on Earth. Only seven other capitals (out of nearly 200) sit at a higher altitude. Pretty neat, huh? Well, wait till you get a load of this next part. If things keep going the way they are, Mexico City may not hold its coveted 8th position much longer. This is for the simple reason that the capital is sinking at an incredible rate.

Yeah, sinking. Every year, this vast megacity, home to over 21 million people, loses roughly one meter (3 feet) in altitude. In the last 60 years, the entire city has dropped 10 meters closer to sea level. That might not sound like much, so let’s put it this way. The 7thhighest capital city in the world is Sana’a in Yemen. It stands at 2,250 meters above sea level, ten meters higher than Mexico City. Over the course of six decades, the entire Mexican capital sank so low that it passed Sana’a, dropping from 7th to 8th place in the ranking of capitals by altitude.

 The reason for this is simple: water. Mexico City’s residents draw their water from beneath the capital, draining the water table and causing it to subside. As the city’s population keeps growing, it will sink faster and faster, until eventually dropping out of the top 10 highest capitals altogether. While that’s still a way off yet, (Nairobi, the current #10, is nearly 450 meters lower than Mexico City), the simple fact it could happen is mind-blowing.

Get to Know Mexico

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– WIF Fun Facts