Frank Jacobs

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When a city is like a country

There is an odd yet effective method of calculating the global impact of Chinese economic power. Comparing the local population numbers and GDP of major Chinese cities to that of entire nations the results are eye opening and surprising.

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A pyramid map of the world’s biomes

In these times of global warming and worries about clean water, biomes are all the rage. And when we look at them in the context of the environment, temperature and humidity make all the difference. 

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An iceberg the size of... (take your pick)

Wait a minute, how big is that iceberg? It all depends not only on what your points of reference are, but also on which areas you want to associate with a negative ecological phenomenon.

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The world's five military empires

It’s one thing to keep troops in your own back yard. But as soon as they pitch a tent, or worse, in someone else’s, then you have the beginnings of imperial glory.

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The balmy Antarctic beach resort

Imagine the world 4°C warmer than it is now. Fine temperate real estate will become uninhabitable, and the currently desolate parts of the globe will suddenly be hosting the most sought-after properties.

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Which commodities make the world go round?

A country’s wealth can be measured in terms of its resources. In most of the world those resources come directly from the earth. In other places products are manufactured.

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The world’s biggest weapons exporters and their customers

It is not surprising that the world’s biggest arms producers are also the world’s biggest arms exporters. What may come as a surprise, however, is who is doing the buying from whom. 

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Measuring Europe's Tower of Babel

Europe has many languages belonging to various language families. How well two Europeans who don’t speak the same language understand each other depends on the lexical difference between their tongues.

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Birth of a nation

Since it doesn’t take much more than a little creativity and enthusiasm to conjure a reality in the virtual world that doesn’t exist by any concrete standards, one must ask: Is San Escobar poised to invade the free world? 

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How to relieve overcrowded countries

Some countries are overpopulated. Others seem to be nothing but empty space. A simple (though completely unrealistic) solution would be to leave populations intact, but move them to where there is more space.

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Mind the gap, ladies

Equal pay for women remains elusive, even in Europe. But the situation continues to improve, and in some places women even out-earn men. 

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A map to make America greater again

When the American colonies were concluding their war of independence against the United Kingdom, there was a map in existence, the mere sight of which could have changed the course of history.

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Solitude, space junk and sea monsters at Point Nemo

Many of us dream of getting as far from civilization as possible. But getting as far from firm earth as possible can be a veritable nightmare. Thanks to technological advances, we now at least know where that place is.

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Novosibirsk, the economic center of the world?

It may be a far-flung point in the middle of the Siberian taiga, but Novosibirsk is expected to be the world’s economic center of gravity within a decade.

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The best and worst of each EU member state

Every country has something to be proud of. By the same token, they each have something to be ashamed of. In these times of national resurgence, a closer light may put things in perspective.

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Why Germany and Sweden have the world's best passports

One measure of a country’s power is how welcome it is abroad. Certain passports are much more useful than others. But does that have anything to do with their color?

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How the Donald sees it

Critics are skeptical about the presumptive Republican candidate’s understanding of foreign policy. Maps that lampoon his unique view of the world have been making the rounds.

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The four worlds of income inequality

Now that speaking of the “Third World” has become passé, we are looking more closely at just how much development is going on 
in the so-called developing and/or developed worlds.

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Tokelau, the world's online superpower

You may not have heard of it, but a little territory in the South Pacific is a cyberworld superpower, with more weight behind its domain name than any other country.

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Africa uncolonized

If ever a continent has gotten short shrift from the arbiters of cultural history, it has been Africa. One thought experiment attempts to bring more attention to the continent’s pre-colonial history. 

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The God vs. Mammon Map

Money and religion are two of humanity’s driving forces. But how do they relate to each other? And how does a nation’s view of morality affect its gross domestic product? 

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Mapping mass shootings

If rhetoric can’t convince American legislators to muster up some political will and change the gun laws – not even after the umpteenth massacre – then a map is unlikely to. But here’s a shot anyway. 

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­­Watercolors of the war between East and West

The “clash of civilizations” debate has become tedious for many people. But one author has managed to put together a colorful exploration surrounding the polemic.

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The joy of sad place names

Usually places are named after triumphs, or just to remember someone triumphant. But from time to time a certain sadness descends on spots and lingers in the name.

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Mapping hospitality

Syria’s civil war has put a strain on the capacity of all European and Middle Eastern countries to accommodate the flow of refugees fleeing the violence. But some countries appear to be much more welcoming than others.

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­Where Europe shrinks, and where it grows

Brain drain, the unfulfilled promise of telejobs, and decades of declining birth rates are all contributing factors in a trend that sees Europe’s population shifting toward big cities.

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Welcome Talibanistan?

If a mapmaker’s task is to describe the reality on the ground, then our maps of Afghanistan and Pakistan could stand to be adjusted.

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The obscure Kingdom of Macaronesia

Sometimes a name is enough to conjure a realm that would otherwise be nothing but disparate dots of land in the sea. And that realm can even take hold in reality.

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Her Majesty’s royal shit list

The British government, in all its practical wisdom, has put together a map that separates legitimate tourist destinations from no-go zones where the demons of all that is treacherously uncivil lurk.

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An Ottoman Atlantis on the Danube

Perhaps it is indicative of a historical trend that Western industrialization and technological supremacy would literally submerge the last vestige of Ottoman rule in the Balkans.

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How the west is owned

In a country that has always championed private property and small government, vast tracts of the western portion are federally owned. This little known fact continues to be controversial.

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The Blue Banana

As cities expand and bleed into neighboring urban areas, megacities are formed. Europe’s megacity, while not the world’s biggest in terms of population, is certainly the biggest economically.

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The phantom Emirate of Ahwaz

What if the Persian Gulf were to become the Arab Gulf? If a small minority living in Iran get their way, with the help of their neighbors, this dream might turn into a reality. 

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An equipopulous Europe
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The geography of genius

Throughout history certain locations have become hotspots for the arts and science. Over time these locations tend to drift and overlap.

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How does Europe’s electricity flow?

Power is one thing. But in order to make the most of electrical power, it must be transported. Mapping such power can be as artistic as it is complex.

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Her Majesty’s frozen slice of pie

Yet another chunk of territory has been named after a British monarch. Now Queen Elizabeth II has a gelid wasteland named after her. But even the nether reaches of Antarctica breed territorial disputes.

Borders
Bordering on Utopia

War is stupid and treaties are boring. Unfortunately, that’s how borders are usually drawn. Throughout history, a handful of visionaries have refused this tyranny of blood and ink, and dreamed of borders
that would make the world a better place.

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Portugal is a jellyfish

Once a nation has grown used to seeing itself as great, reconciling with diminished area may be a hard pill to swallow. But adding water to the situation is one way of compensating for lost territory and importance.

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Karakalpakstan: the toxic obscurity of a straight-A nation

Set in the arid and poisonous black hat-lands of Central Asia, one autonomous Republic stands out as both typical and unique, a Soviet invention superimposed over an ancient trade route.

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Turkey’s piece of Syria

Amid the chaos of the Syrian Civil War, a tiny exclave on the banks of the Euphrates River, where an ancestor of the Ottoman sultans is buried, could draw Turkey into Syria’s war.

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The forgotten inventor of Pakistan

Chaudhari Rahmat Ali has been relegated to obscurity, but the name he coined – Pakistan – lives on. Many, however, rue the fact that his full vision did not live on with the name that changed the Indian subcontinent.

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Make love or war

Geography determines behavior at the most profound level. The story of chimpanzees and bonobos illustrates the role a single river can play in shaping the evolution of a species.

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Europe’s wild frontier

Just south of Maastricht there is a lawless territory police will not set foot on – not so much out of fear as due to historical and bureaucratic happenstance.

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The beauty of duplicity

There are two official maps of Kashmir, the Indian version and the Pakistani version. Perhaps a new map, which would imply a new view of the conflict, could ease tensions in the volatile region.

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Gibraltar, mother of all territorial disputes

Situated at the Pillars of Hercules, which were once considered the end of the world, the Rock of Gibraltar still embodies a sense of finality that keeps people
and governments from relinquishing it.

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The world’s craziest, twistiest border

Borders between countries should be easy to draw in sparsely inhabited lands. But the desert border between Morocco and Algeria is anything but straightforward.

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Is Ulster doomed?

The demographic situation in Northern Ireland is shifting toward a Catholic majority. Some are considering repartition as a viable solution to was looks like new Troubles on the horizon.

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The White Sausage Line and other German equators

Non-Germans have long tended to distinguish only between East and West Germans. And yet it is the north-south divide that cleaves the Teutonic soul most noticeably.

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Beyond the Vatican’s walls

The Catholic Church is considered a spiritual empire, but it is also a very profane state that has to manage a government apparatus and land – not nearly as much land as it used to have, but more than most people think.

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The shapes of nations

 

How a country looks on the map can tell you a lot about the problems it faces. There are five types of territorial morphology, according to cartographers, and each type has its own peculiarities.

 
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It’s still 1990 in Transnistria

Centrally planned economies and statues of Lenin. Take a stroll down the streets of Tiraspol and it would seem the USSR never fell apart.

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Slicing the world’s population

Where in the world do people prefer to live? The answer depends on how you divide the globe. By using our lines of longitude and latitude, we get an interesting – though somewhat reductive – picture. 

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Pheasant Island, and other weird condominiums

While borders, in most cases, may be necessary, sometimes they are more trouble than they are worth. In fact, one alternative, the condominium, almost obliges countries to esteem pragmatism over dogmatism.

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Waiting for a bridge in Guyana

The northern coast of South America is home to a lonely land whose name is as fluid and vague as its borders, and whose languages linger like the ghosts of its colonizers.

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Maps as war by other means

A quick glance at various maps of the Holy Land is enough to get a sense of how contested and volatile the region is.

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Quito, capital of a phantom empire

Lurking in the darkness of the Amazon Rainforest are not only the ghosts of Spanish conquistadores, but the long faded imperial dreams of a country known mostly for being named after an imaginary line.

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The border between today and tomorrow

The International Date Line confirms the relativity of time. Established for pragmatic purposes, it literally allows us to stand with one foot in the present and one in the future.

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The Alawite Stalemate

Can Syria’s Bashar al-Assad manage to salvage any of the state he and his father have ruled so heavy-handedly? His only hope might be to revert to a map from a century ago.

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Will Azawad be black or blue?

Another new state, based on ancient Tuareg land claims, has declared independence in Africa – at the expense of Mali’s unity.

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Divided against itself

City walls are supposed to go around its edges – not through the center. So when a city is split up into antagonistic parts, something akin to schizophrenia occurs, turning the border into a scar.

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The Parsley War that wasn’t

The Rock of Gibraltar, along with the islands nearby, is not only an emblem of the Mediterranean’s history of occupations and colonization, it is also the gateway to Europe’s restless obsession with all that is “beyond.”

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Redrawing Europe

Is it merely the tip of Asia, or a vast nexus of geographic, historical and cultural concepts? The reality of Europe is constantly evolving beyond even its more apparent borders.

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The return of the frontier

Romantics have long dreamed of a world without borders. Yet many borders are not manmade, and the ones that are can reveal our fears as well our limitations.