Moscow, ID and Berlin, WI...

Many American cities are named after after famous places in the old world, but they're often pronounced very differently. I've been to Berlin, Wisconsin—but no cheesehead calls their city "burr-LINN" like the capital of Germany. Instead Wisconsinites pronounce their town "BURR-linn" with the emphasis on the first syllable. So it's altogether normal for a Wisconsinite traveling from Berlin, Wisconsin to Berlin, Germany to say he's going from BURR-linn to bur-LINN.

It gets weirder. People in Moscow, Idaho become irritated if you pronounce their city like the one in Russia "mahs-cow." That's because Idahoans pronounce their city "mahs-go." Moscow, Idaho ends in "go" not "cow."

I long thought that maybe this was a result of Americans trying to distance themselves from unpopular regimes in the old world. But now I'm not so sure. After all, Cairo, Illinois is pronounced "KAY-row." And Egypt's never had a dictator bent on world domination... well, as far as we know. So chime in readers on your famous-city-names-pronounced-differently. Is Tripoli, Iowa really pronounced "Trip-OH-luh"? Is Palestine, Texas really "Pal-ess-TEEN." Chime in!

Annex Mexico? We're one step closer

Did you notice how easy it was to begin American military action in Libya? Sure, the president made a sober explanation—best summarized as: the current leadership is corrupt and the people of that nation need our help. It makes sense—in theory. But couldn't you say the exact same thing about Mexico? And isn't Mexican drug violence a much bigger threat to American citizens than anything going on in Libya? Hey, it's not like we haven't invaded Mexico before. It was something of a national pastime for decades. Unlike Libya, Afghanistan, or even Vietnam, Mexico is right on our border... so once we get rid of the bad guys, we could just annex it. On the plus side, that would end our border problems, since, well... there wouldn't be a border anymore. Of course, this is an outrageous notion in 2011, but the idea has been considered very seriously many times in American history—and it is being discussed again in some quarters. In fact, the only reason Mexico and Cuba aren't a part of the US right now is because the U.S. Congress of the 19th century didn't want more people of color added to the electorate. So maybe President Obama should right this wrong! Does military action in Mexico fit the Obama Doctrine? I'm not sure—even John Stewart can't figure out the Obama Doctrine. The map above shows what an expanded USA would look like.

Remembering the world's 1st reactor meltdown... in Idaho

With all the attention on Japan's reactor troubles, let's remember the very first nuclear power plant meltdown. It happened in Idaho. Never heard of that one? The world's first electricity-generating power plant was built in the middle of the Idaho outback. Why there? Back in the 1940s, scientists were smart enough to realize that if something went wrong with a nuclear plant, the result would be really bad. No kidding! 60 years later, we're still learning that one. The Idaho plant, called EBR-I, was constructed in the middle of nowhere. I've been there, and it really is incredibly remote. It's a good thing they built a rest stop nearby, because otherwise it's 50 miles to the nearest bathroom. If the reactor ever exploded, it wouldn't kill anyone other than a couple hermits living in a nearby "town" called Atomic City. (I know, Atomic City sounds like something out of The Simpsons, but it's real—and kinda scary.)

The point here is that they built the first reactor far from civilization—so that if anything went wrong, the loss of life would be minimized. And sure enough, something went wrong. On November 29, 1955, the reactor melted down. But, thanks to its location, the effect on non-hermit human life was minimal. Actually, the local story is that there remains a weird ant species out there—which was genetically altered by the meltdown. It's the joke they tell on the visitor tour... at least I hope it's a joke.
Story continues... read on to see the nuclear-powered plane experiment...

When Libya was Italian

In 1940, half the people living in the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi were Italian. Half. That's because Libya had been "incorporated" (read "colonized") by the Italians in 1934. Almost immediately, Italians began streaming into their new land, setting up numerous farms and gelato stands. Italian leader Mussolini was on a quest to rebuild the Roman Empire—but his defeat in WWII put an end to that project. After the war, there was something of a leadership vacuum in Libya... just 16 people in the nation were college graduates. Yeah, sixteen in the whole country. The UN's response was to quickly declare Libya independent—but without well-prepared leaders, life didn't improve much for the typical Libyan. Hopefully the current chapter will have a happier ending. (Above is a map of the "Italian Empire" of 1940)

Guess the State

Here is a portion of perhaps the most-famous statehood-day photo of all time. Which state is it? The paperboy holding the newspaper in this iconic shot passed away just a couple days ago—which narrows down the choices considerably. Figured it out yet? There are only five U.S. states that have any residents living who can remember the first day of statehood. If the paperboy in the photo is from Oklahoma (1907), Arizona (1912) or New Mexico (1912), he would have to be at least 110 years old today. In theory, he could be from Alaska, but Alaskan statehood came on January 3rd of 1959—and no one wears short sleeves in Alaska in January! For the full photo and the answer, read on.  Story continues...

Nearest foreign country to Fukushima?

What foreign country is nearest to Japan's nuclear reactors at Fukushima? Most people might guess China or South Korea, but neither is correct. It's Russia. Specifically, the Russian island of Sakhalin. Right now, the citizens of Sakhalin are panicking—because Russia hasn't got a very good track record on keeping its citizens in the know. There might be a lot of radiation in Sakhalin... or very little. Who knows?! What we do know is that in countries without a vigorous free press, all kinds of crazy rumors can take hold--and that's what's happening right now in Sakhalin. Like the rumor that the Russian government is shooting at the throngs of people trying to flee. It's just a rumor... we hope!  Read more here.

A potential president... who can't legally vote for himself

SUPER PUZZLER--see if you can figure it out. The man in the picture is being seriously considered for the Republican ticket as a vice-presidental candidate. But if he voted for himself, he'd go to jail. No, he's never been convicted of any crime. Yes, he is a "natural born" US citizen. Yes, he'd old enough to be president. And he has voted before, and even won public office. But, if nominated for vice-president, he would be the first major-party candidate in US history who could not legally vote for himself. Can't figure this one out? Hint: He lives on an island. For the full answer to this strange mystery, read on...
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America's botched invasion of Libya—in 1802

Yesterday, we looked at Thomas Jefferson's invasion of Libya (then called Tripoli). Sick and tired of pirate attacks on U.S. merchants, Jefferson (unlike Washington or Adams) decided to use force against the north Africans. Unfortunately, Jefferson put the wrong guy in charge of the fight. The U.S. warships that sailed in 1802 were lead by the woefully incompetent Capt. Richard Morris. Morris treated the war like a vacation, taking along his wife and young son for the ride. Before reaching the nations of North Africa (then called "The Barbary States"), Morris dropped anchor for leisurely visits at nearly every vacation port in the Mediterranean. Once he arrived in Tunis, he was instantly kidnapped by the enemy. When he was finally ransomed, Morris thought the US should continue to pay the extortion money, rather than fight the north Africans. Jefferson was furious.

The president summarily fired Morris and sent another group of ships. This time, one of the US ships ran aground in the Tripoli harbor, and 300 more Americans surrendered and were enslaved. Jefferson sighed—and sent still another squadron of ships. By now—1804—half the U.S. fleet had been deployed to punish North Africa, and slowly the tide began to turn.
Story continues....

When the Libyans held Americans for ransom

Today, the United States has the upper hand with Gaddafi in Libya—but there was a time when the U.S. president felt powerless to fight in the region. Back in the day, north Africans kidnapped a few hundred Americans, and then demanded a ransom of 16 percent of U.S. tax revenues for their safe return. Would the U.S. president agree to those terms? He did.

The president was George Washington. With Congress’ consent, he paid an enormous bribe to secure the release of Americans held in captivity. What’s more, this wasn’t an isolated incident. In America’s first decades, Washington and John Adams consistently paid out as much 25 percent of U.S. government revenues to extortionist countries in north Africa. Collectively, these nations were called the Barbary States: Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli—probably the most successful organized crime operation in history. Their scheme was actually very simple: If a nation didn’t pay the required extortion money, the Barbaries would pirate the nation’s merchant ships—and sell the crew into slavery. Countries that paid were left alone, but states that refused faced constant piracy and the enslavement of its citizens. And slavery in the Barbary states was unimaginably horrific....
Story continues...

51st State - Texmexona

Disaffected Democrats in the Tucson area launched a web site today for their group "Start Our State"—to rally support for the creation of the 51st state from portions of southern Arizona. The idea springs from the reality that Southern Arizona leans Democrat... while the more-populous Phoenix area leans Republican. So if you can't get your way in the state legislature, you create a new state! The U.S. Constitution offers a roadmap to make this happen. But I think the protesters in Arizona are thinking too small. Why not hook up with the Democratic-leaning counties in New Mexico and Texas? The map above does just that, creating a Democratic stronghold that would make any professional gerrymanderer proud. Since it covers three states, the oft-proposed name of Baja Arizona won't do. Why not mashup the three state names to create "Texmexona"?  A more detailed map here.

Idaho teachers rip page from Wisconsin playbook

There's a lot going on in the world, so you may have missed an interesting national story coming out of Idaho. Teachers there—emboldened by their brethren in Wisconsin—have begin to explore a ballot initiative that would return the collective bargaining rights recently eliminated by state legislators. As the only teacher who's lived in both Idaho and Wisconsin for 20+ years each, I feel obliged to offer the simplest route to a solution. Forget about ballot initiatives, and recall elections, and endless protests. Instead, use the process clearly laid out in the U.S. Constitution: redraw the borders. You can read the details of the legal framework for this in my Wall Street Journal article. But the bottom line is this: if you can't change a state's rules, then redraw the state borders—to put your town in a different state. My proposed solution to ALL of Idaho's problems is the map above. Larger image here

Radiation map smackdown: NY Times vs MIT

MIT is mad. After the New York Times published an amazingly irresponsible map, MIT called them on it. The map makes it seem like America is getting slammed with radiation from the Fukushima reactors, when, in truth, the radiation reaching the U.S. is "barely detectible" and no threat to anyone's health. But you wouldn't know that from the map. The first time I saw it, I wanted to run to my fallout shelter and batten down the hatches. Then I realized, I don't know what "batten down the hatches" even means. Anyway, the text in the New York Times article does clear things up, but that doesn't excuse a really deceptive map. Just ask MIT—their full assessment here. 

Atlantis coordinates revealed... for the first time anywhere

This article will reveal the latitude and longitude of the long lost civilization of Atlantis. Here' the backstory: Spanish anthropologist Juan Villarías-Robles and a team of scientists have spent years studying the curious features in Donaña National Park near Cadiz, Spain. Then American professor Richard Freund swooped in and began studying the same features. Freund quickly declared the place Atlantis and persuaded National Geographic to do a special about "his" work. Villarías-Robles (the guy without a TV special) lamented that Freund's ideas were "fanciful" and "sensational." Alas, no one listened much to Villarías-Robles—because he didn't have the National Geographic PR machine behind him, like Freund did.

That's a long way of saying that I don't know if Freund is right or wrong—but I can say one thing: his special never actually revealed the street-level location of his purported Atlantis... the program carefully avoided that. But the crack team here at Lost States has used the latest techniques of TV forensics to piece together the precise location. We took the snippets of maps revealed in the National Geographic special and painstakingly fit them to satellite images to come up with the latitude and longitude of Freund's Atlantis. Story continues....

Nuclear fallout—in Chicago. And the atom bomb gun.

What's happening in Japan is a reminder of the challenge of keeping the nuclear genie in the bottle. And America's early nuclear history is surprisingly ugly. That is, we exploded a lot of atomic bombs on ourselves... and likely killed a lot of people. Yes, the government called them perfectly safe "tests," but once you realize what actually went on, you might think otherwise.

The map above tracks the deadly fallout from the most devastating of these detonations, code-named "Harry" (or, more accurately, "Dirty Harry"), a bomb that many believe killed movie star John Wayne.... and sent radiation over major population centers, including Chicago. So here's what happened...

Mapping a "China Syndrome" meltdown... in theory

Our hearts go out to the brave Japanese people dealing with the nuclear crisis in Fukushima. Occasionally pundits will mention the possibility of a "China Syndrome"... a theory put forward in the late 1960s by nuclear physicist Ralph Lapp that a nuclear power plant meltdown could melt right through to the other side of the earth. While that may be theoretically possible, no one is seriously suggesting it will happen to the Fukushima reactors. Nonetheless—always on the lookout for geographic curiosities—we wondered what was actually on the opposite side of the earth from the Fukushima reactors. Luckily, the spot is perhaps the most remote place on earth, a location in the south Atlantic that's devoid of islands, and 1,000+ miles from South America. If you wonder what's on the opposite side of the earth from where you are, there's a web site to help you find that spot (called the "Antipodal Point") here.  And I can't help but mention that a person standing on your antipodal point would be exactly upside-down, relative to you.

US worries about Japanese tsunami... in 1947!

This story borders on the creepy... like something out of a time-travel movie. It seems the U.S. government had concerns about an earthquake-induced tsunami from Japan— more than 60 years ago! According to above 1947 map (which you can see full-size after the break) the U.S. had plotted likely earthquake sites in Japan—and calculated the time it would take for those tsunamis to reach Honolulu. I guess it's logical that the U.S. would be on top of this type of thing, I just had no idea the efforts dated back so far. But it makes sense. The 1933 Sanriku quake—pictured above—looks eerily similar to the devastation from last week. The full map shows all the major Pacific earthquakes prior to 1947...

Atlantis is in Spain?

The map above is the long lost land of Atlantis, according to a National Geographic special on tonight (Sunday). Actually, the advance coverage didn't offer a map, but this is the location in Spain outlined by head researcher Richard Freund. He claims Atlantis was wiped out by a tsunami—but he has discovered the remains. He must be right, since the Atlantis Insurance company has offices just a few miles away. You can search the area in close-up after the break.

Soda vs. pop vs. coke

So what term do you use for fizzy soft drinks? It depends on where you fall on the map. People in the northeast tend to call it "soda." People in mid-America typically call it "pop." And southerners use the term "coke" generically for any type of fizzy soft drink. But the geographic dividing lines between these terms are not always clear--and Wisconsin is one of the states that has a split personality on this topic.  Last night I did a talk for the fine folks of Kiel, Wisconsin (big turnout! There are a lot of sharp folks in Kiel). The Wisconsin State Historical Society notes that Kiel was once home to a "soda pop" factory. I thought that was interesting—they didn't call it a "soda factory" or a "pop factory," it was described as a "soda pop" factory. That may be because eastern Wisconsin is a "soda" outpost surrounded by a "pop" region. Admittedly, the map above is simplified... but it does show the larger trends. Let us know what you call the fizzy stuff.... leave a comment below. (And thanks again, Kiel!)

Indiana = mc2

With the time change coming up this weekend, I thought I'd write a piece about Indiana's split personality regarding Daylight Savings Time. So I read up on the topic. Oh my gosh! Don't try this at home! Indiana's time zone history is so incredibly convoluted and complex it makes quantum physics look easy in comparison. They should give a Nobel Prize to "those who make significant contributions to mankind's understanding of Indiana's time zones." If you dare, you can read about Indiana's time zones on Wikipedia, but I'd advise against it unless you have a triple Phd in accounting, geographic information systems, and dairy farming.

Simpsons mall map

We're big fans of the Simpsons here at Lost States, having previously spent way too much time trying to crack the Simpson's 5-state mystery. Today we offer thanks to the fine folks at "Pleated Jeans" who created the Simpson's mall map. Now we know exactly where to go to get our pants (Vast Waistband) or lunch (Kentucky Fried Panda). See the full map here.

Border meeting location found!

View Democrat-Republican meeting spot in a larger map Those rogue Wisconsin Democrats want to meet Republican Scott Walker "on the border." But hey, it's cold outside! So somebody needed to find a building that straddles the border. That's the kind of service we provide here at The above building (with the green roof) is an H&R Block office in the Beloit area that (according to Google, at least) straddles the Wisconsin-Illinois border. A tax preparers office--how perfect. Maybe lawmakers on both sides of all the shenanigans will meet an actual taxpayer.... you know, the people who pay their salaries.

Where NOT to go boating

So you're out on the family sailboat, and—darn it—you're boarded by Somali pirates again... ruining your whole weekend. You want to avoid this scenario, and we can help—with our nifty 2010 pirate attack map. The map (above) shows the pirating hotspots you should avoid. Each symbol represents about 10 actual pirate attacks in 2010. If you want more detail, you can always consult the official map from the International Commercial Crime Services organization. Happy Boating!

Wisconsin Senator hideout map

View Wisconsin Senators Hideout Map in a larger map Much ado has been made about those wacky Wisconsin senators hiding out in Illinois. I am surprised that no one seems to have made a good map of their purported lairs. So I culled press reports and came up with the starter map above. (Click on each marker for details.) There's no particular political agenda here at "Lost States" ...we have fun with both sides. And you have to admit that enjoying the stale-bagel breakfast bar at every Comfort Inn in northern Illinois, is, well, funny. (If you have additional locations to plot, let me know and I will add them to the map.)

Baja Arizona's prequel

Southern Arizona's bid for statehood is getting more attention than any other 51st-state effort has in recent years. The "Save our State" group founded by Paul Eckerstrom and Peter Hormel has received a lot of national press lately. So it's worth noting the history of this region... because Tucson almost didn't make it into the United States at all. Long a part of Mexico, the region south of the Gila River was the last major piece of the lower 48 to get added to the USA. Franklin Pierce sent James Gadsden down to buy up a big chunk of Mexico in 1853. The Mexicans weren't selling, but finally agreed to give up a small sliver—which is now southern Arizona (and New Mexico). Had Gadsden been more persuasive, all of Mexican Sonora, Chihuahua, and lower California would have been part of the US. That would have meant carving up the western states differently, and the Gila River would have been an excellent dividing line. Tucson likely would have been the capital of the new state of Sonora. Bottom line: Had Gadsden succeeded, Arizona's continuing north-south battle would have been solved long ago. (There's much more on this  in the book Lost States. )

Texas governor wants to annex part of Mexico

I can't make this stuff up. Governor Rick Perry just said that Juarez is "...the most dangerous city in America." Of course, the problem is that Juarez is not in America—it's in Mexico. I can understand how someone like Peggy West might not know what country Juarez is in... but Rick Perry is the governor of Texas! And this isn't the first time he has made this mistake. So I figured we'd make a map of the addition to Texas that Governor Rick Perry seems to want. More on the gaffe here.

Colbert's new country

Last night, Stephen Colbert suggested that the growing divide between rich and poor in America had a simple solution: the rich should just create their own nation. He suggested the names "America-plus" or "Golfistan," but Mr. Colbert failed to offer a map of this potential new country. So we thought we'd take a crack at it. Those teeny red blotches on the map above... those are America's richest counties. Link them together, and you have a good approximation of Golfistan. For those of you who don't live in Golfistan, it's time to start digging tunnels, so you can sneak into the new nation and get jobs as undocumented workers—manicuring the vast border-to-border putting greens of Golfistan. Watch Colbert's tirade here.