Semi-travel-related post: ugly flags

As has been established, a good flag is an important thing for a state to have. Sadly, not everyone is a great flag designer, and sometimes the people in charge of putting together a flag have no idea what the fuck they are doing. Let’s look at some of the results of these lame ass efforts.

Disclaimer: If you are from one of the places listed below, please don’t take offense.  I’m not saying where you’re from is shitty, I’m saying the flag your government chose is shitty.  Maybe send an email to them about changing it.  You know, civic action at work.

Antwerp, Belgium

Flag_of_Antwerp.svg

Props to Antwerp for not doing a tricolor with coat of arms thing like most other European cities and regions. Those props are immediately revoked, however, because what Antwerp has done here is far worse. This flag looks like a section of a checkers board that someone with too much free time modified to play a more complicated game. And then the Antwerp city council saw that game and decided it would make a good flag. They were wrong.

Central African Republic, Seychelles

colorflags

The Central African Republic (in the center of Africa) and the Seychelles (Indian Ocean archipelago) both decided that two or three colors wasn’t enough. Not even four – even Antwerp stopped at four colors. No, these republics have used five colors for their flags. They also decided to be unorthodox with their designs. They both ended up with eyesores.

There’s a pretty good reason most flags stick with just a few colors, I think – it’s probably easier to manufacture such flags. Also, they don’t fuck with your eyes like the CAR and Seychelles’ banners do. “Don’t use five colors on your flag” is a pretty good flag design rule, but it is one that these countries have decided to disregard. The fact that the designs make no damn sense only add to their fuckedness. To be fair to the CAR, though, it currently has far more pressing matters to attend to, like its serious political instability and bouts of ethnic violence.

Cyprus; Kosovo; Sakhalin Oblast, Russia

mapflags

There’s something inherently lame about putting a picture of your country on your flag – as though you weren’t creative enough to think of anything else. If these lazyass flag designers had had access to Google Earth when they were designing these, their flags would probably have just been screenshots, complete with the Google watermark in the background. The only flag that has some kind of excuse for itself is Sakhalin’s, because Russia and Japan have bickered over the southern Kuril Islands (depicted on the flag) and this is maybe Russia’s way of saying “they’re ours.” Still, it’s quite pathetic.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the islands represented here (Cyprus, left; Sakhalin, right) aren’t on blue ocean-looking backgrounds, while the landlocked country (Kosovo, center) is on a deep blue background. Why? That makes no fucking sense.

Nicaragua

Flag_of_Nicaragua

Central and South American flags tend to avoid the above mistakes. However, they do have their own special problem: a love of tiny coats of arms and symbols that are way too busy, so you can’t tell what the hell they’re trying to say. Nicaragua’s flag is a good example of such a design. You have to have this flag really close to your face to make out the rainbow-over-some-hills image inside the triangle in its center. And it’s still hard to tell what the red thing is supposed to be. I think it’s a phrygian cap, but it could just as easily be a cardinal’s head or a spot of ketchup.

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic

Flag_of_Nagorno-Karabakh

There’s only one thing wrong with Nagorno-Karabakh’s flag: the fact that it looks like a 20×10 thumbnail of the flag they actually intended to make. Maybe the guy who designed the flag was doing so on a computer and he badly screwed up somehow when he saved the jpg file and the Nagarno-Karabakh leaders were too busy fighting Azerbaijan to notice. I guess the blocky triangle thing on the right must have been an intentional design scheme, but I just can’t get that image out of my head.

Taipei; Reno, Nevada

640px-Flag_of_Taipei_City

While there are some inspired city flags flying, they tend to be especially crap, probably because nobody really cares about city flags. Some municipal flags just look like things that the city council commissioned from a marketing company. That would definitely explain Taipei’s flag, which weirdly looks like a corporate logo, with its blocky TAIPEI and fake paint strokes.

It doesn’t explain the piece of crap that Reno, Nevada turned out, however. That wasn’t made by a marketing company; it was made by a 15 year old on the living room computer in MS Paint, all with its Impact font and default shade of blue. Notice that Reno has also broken the no-maps rule by including a map of Nevada with its location therein on their flag. Reno clearly doesn’t give a shit.

Ohio

Flag_of_Ohio

For whatever reason, Ohio just had to be different from every other state in the Union. The US states have a few good flags, lots of meh ones and some outright lousy ones, but no other state has a non-rectangular flag. The designer was apparently going for the look of a cavalry flag, which would sometimes have a triangle cut out of the side. Whatever he intended to convey with this thing, though, it just ended up looking like someone cut a US flag into a bunch of pieces and strips and randomly glued them all back together.

The most unsettling thing about Ohio’s flag is that sort of looks like a bird’s face, a bird with huge eyes that constantly has its beak open. I hate looking at this thing, seriously. It almost scares me.

Tampa, Florida

1024px-Flag_of_Tampa,_Florida

Of all the flags I’ve seen, Tampa’s is the absolute worst. It breaks every rule and ignores every warning listed above, some of them several times over. Let’s try to measure its shittiness:

1) Like Antwerp, CAR and Seychelles, it has too many colors.
2) Like those countries’ flags, the too many colors are arranged in a fucked-up nonsensical way.
3) Like Nicaragua, it includes a tiny seal with details that are hard to distinguish.
4) Like Ohio, it’s cut into a weird, unwieldy shape.

All that Tampa has to do now is include a low-res map of Florida and they’ll have the worst flag ever award in the bag.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Flag_of_Milwaukee,_Wisconsin

Actually, never mind. Tampa’s flag looks fine when it’s compared to this shit. The Milwaukee city council apparently wanted to represent everything about Milwaukee on its flag in picture form, much like the ancient Egyptians and their tomb paintings. Thus they’ve put on the city skyline on Lake Michigan, a ship, a gear representing the city’s industrial base, the head of an Indian who was probably kicked out of Milwaukee in the 19th century and forced to go west, a stalk of wheat, a year, a smaller flag inside the gear, and finally MILWAUKEE in the ugliest font they could find. Somehow they couldn’t find any space for a tall can of cheap beer, which is what Milwaukee is really known for.

The most disturbing thing about this flag is what happened when, in 2001, the city government held a flag design contest to replace this ridiculous mess. The result? “None met with the approval” of the Milwaukee Arts Board, meaning either that they were all worse than the current flag or that the Milwaukee Arts Board is composed entirely of lemurs.

Semi-travel-related post: cool-looking flags

Because I can’t think of anything else at the moment. But hey, this really is relevant. How will you know where you are ever if you don’t know your world flags?

Yes, flags are important things. The flag of a sovereign state is its most prominent symbol – its face to the rest of the world. The flags of provinces and other subnational units have a little more leeway to be derivative or boring, but they’re important too, at least if you live in the regional capital and have to see it flying above government buildings every day. A good flag is something to be proud of – think of the sheer recognizability of the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, or the Red Banner of the former USSR. A lame flag is something to be ashamed of and to be rectified immediately through legislative action.

Most flags are just kind of okayish, but some are amazing, and others are horrific. These latter two categories are the really interesting ones. So if you’re deciding where to travel next based on how cool the place’s flag is (I wouldn’t recommend this method, but all power to you) consider these destinations:

Qatar

qatar

I’ve always liked Qatar’s spiky white-on-maroon banner. It’s different from the traditional Arab black-white-green-red color scheme. It’s also the longest national flag in existence (longest in length, not in time. That would be the Dannebrog.) Bahrain has a similar flag, but with a more typical red instead of maroon, and it’s not as pointy as Qatar’s (so it’s less cool.)

Somalia

somalia

Somalia is undoubtedly a place you should not visit (assuming you even can.) It’s a wartorn failed state plagued by fanatical terrorist groups. It is so failed that a part of it has declared independence from Mogadishu, perhaps in the hope that it could do better on its own.

Despite their terrible political problems, Somali citizens can at least be proud of their flag. I really like flags with simple patterns and good color schemes and Somalia’s white star on a light blue background is nice and simple enough, without getting into all the stripes and triangles and other crap that most other countries mess around with. Japan and Turkey are also good examples of this sort of flag.

Angola

angola

If you’re going to run a country as an oppressive single-party state, you should at least try to have a cool flag, and Angola does. I like the black-red-gold scheme, and the design isn’t too busy.

Bonus points go to the Angolan flag for its honesty. The country was involved in a disastrous civil war for over 25 years and is currently considered very unfree. Its flag depicts what looks like black scorched earth against a bloody sky, and on top of all that is a machete. So if you go to Angola, don’t complain if you get your arm cut off by a machete-wielding dude, because the flag gave you fair warning.

Damietta, Egypt

damietta

Most of the governorates of Egypt have pretty lame flags. Damietta’s, however, is simple, modern (in a good way) and historically significant. Damietta stands at one of the mouths of the Nile into the Mediterranean and has been an important port for ages. Its flag appropriately depicts a sailboat of the type the ancient Egyptians used to carry stuff up and down their great river. At least I think that’s what it is.

Damietta’s flag also reminds me of tangrams, which brings back childhood memories of trying to make obscene shapes with triangular puzzle pieces. Thanks, Damietta.

Nagasaki, Japan

nagasaki

Japanese flags seem to take after their national flag: most of them consist of a single symbol against a single-color background. Sometimes these can look good; other times they look like shitty corporate logos that were designed in the 90s.

Nagasaki is the one I’m mentioning here because not only is it one of the good flags – it has a pentagram on it! I’m sure this has some kind of significant meaning in Japan, or maybe in Nagasaki specifically. But I also know that if the background were black instead of white, Nagasaki’s flag would make for a great death metal band logo.

Brandenburg, Germany

brandenburg

Brandenburg is the state surrounding the city-state of Berlin in the former East Germany, and it has a pretty cool flag, a classic shield on striped field thing. I should say, though, that the use of the old eagle coat of arms in the center is what makes this flag good.  Otherwise it would look just like Poland’s flag only upside-down, and there’s no excuse for that sort of laziness.

Wales

wales

No good flag list is complete without the banner of Wales. The Welsh dragon is an ancient symbol and just looks really cool; it’s definitely one of the best non-sovereign-state flags around. In fact, it’s the flag I would most seriously consider stealing if I were starting my own country.

Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia

yaroslavl

The final flag on this list might be a little obscure, but it is also amazing. The banner of Yaroslavl Oblast, a province in Russia, depicts a bear carrying an axe. This is the flag you use when you want to get across the message “don’t fuck with us.” Nobody with any sense is going to attack a place that flies a flag featuring a bear with an axe. Very smart move on the part of the people of Yaroslavl. On the other hand, this flag might also cut down on their tourism dollars. Would you visit a region with axe-carrying-bears roaming around? Maybe not.

Retrospective: Grand Theft Auto

No, probably not the Grand Theft Auto you’re thinking of. Today’s GTA games feature massive, realistic 3D urban environments and all kinds of missions and tasks. Today’s GTA is amazing, even despite the mostly well-deserved complaints about more recent titles in the series.

Forget all that. Right now we’re talking about the GTA of yesterday – specifically, of the late 90s, when Rockstar put out the original Grand Theft Auto and its sequel (which are, for the most part, essentially the same game.)

GTA2 has a great cover, but the publisher's logo (lower right) kind of kills the atmosphere, doesn't it?

GTA2 has a great cover, but the publisher’s logo (lower right) kind of kills the atmosphere, doesn’t it?

GTA and GTA2, released in 1997 and 1999 respectively, were not 3D – although 3D games were being developed at the time, the technology didn’t yet exist to depict large, decent-looking 3D environments in an action context. Thus, they were 2D top-down games. The idea behind both is pretty much the same as it has been ever since – drive around, shoot people, cause mayhem. You can also take missions, much as you do in GTA III and beyond, although there aren’t really any storylines connected to the missions as there are in the 3D games. So most of your time will probably consist of driving around town and smashing into things.

One of the unsatisfying things about GTA and GTA2 is that some of the missions are pretty fucking stupid.  Some of the missions in later GTA games are stupid too, though.

One of the unsatisfying things about GTA and GTA2 is that some of the missions are pretty fucking stupid. Some of the missions in later GTA games are stupid too, though.

Speaking of smashing into things, there was a pretty serious problem with GTA and GTA2 that, in my mind, more or less wrecked them gameplay-wise. Much like GTA III and on, these first two titles encourage the player to steal the fastest cars and jet around the city without regard for traffic laws or human life (in fact, some of the games’ timed missions demand that you do this.) However, this style of play only works if you can see what’s coming towards you. In a 3D game, this isn’t a problem. In a 2D top-down game, it most definitely is. Unless you have the city map memorized, chances are you will spend a lot of your driving time crashing into buildings and getting stuck in frustratingly tight spots.

PHFLHPHLPHLPHLPFLHLHPLHP is the best way to describe the gameplay in GTA and GTA2

PHFLHPHLPHLPHLPFLHLHPLHP is the best way to describe the gameplay in GTA and GTA2

Add to this the fact that efficient routes are nearly impossible to map out unless, again, you’ve got the city layout memorized, and your 2D GTA experience becomes aggravating to the point that you may just want to quit playing. GTA and GTA2 are cases where the quality of the games really are affected by their technological capabilities, sad to say. It’s clear that Rockstar only truly realized their vision with GTA III.

Wow, that was a pretentious fucking paragraph! I have to watch myself.

Still, that doesn’t mean these games are worthless or anything. They were a lot of fun in the late 90s, perhaps because they more or less invented the all-around crime simulator genre. Sending the police on a wild chase across the city was one of the best parts of the game, even despite the good chance that you’d smash into buildings and run into dead ends because of the top-down view.

The city at night

The city at night

So it’s kind of hard to say whether these games are still worth playing. You can certainly have fun with them, but if you’ve played any other GTA game from GTA III to V, you’ll probably just be pining to play those instead. Still, it’s worth checking out the origins of the series. Unfortunately, Steam seems to have stopped selling them, and although Rockstar had a page where you could download them for free, they’ve deactivated that service. I can’t imagine why – it’s not like they’re wanting for money. If that page ever is active again, though, you may as well download GTA and GTA2 – they’re well worth playing for free.

Places (not) to travel: Bir Tawil

Bir Tawil

Imagine a land unclaimed by any country in the world. I know what you’re thinking: here’s the place to start my new empire.

Unfortunately, there’s some bad news. Several people/groups have already claimed this land, and one man has gone so far as to create a flag, travel to the land and stick that flag in the ground in the name of his new state. The worse news, however, is that Bir Tawil, the land in question, has nothing that anyone could possibly want.

bir tawil satellite

Pictured above, courtesy of Google Earth: the land in question. Bir Tawil (Arabic for “deep well”) is the trapezoid dotted out in the center of the photograph. It looks desolate from space, and indeed, it is; Bir Tawil is a patch of rocky desert about 2,000 square kilometers in area (about the area of a mid-sized US county) on the border between Egypt and Sudan. And it is unclaimed by both countries. In fact, each country claims that the other is Bir Tawil’s rightful administrator. What’s going on here?

To understand just why Bir Tawil is so unwanted, we have to look at early 20th century colonial African history. At the turn of the last century, Egypt and Sudan both were unofficially ruled by Britain. After a briefly successful Sudanese revolt against British rule in 1896, the British colonial administration recaptured Sudan alongside Egyptian forces and established a “condominium”, or joint rule, between Britain and Egypt over the reconquered country. This new arrangement required the drawing of a border between Egypt and Sudan, and the 1899 line cut straight through the 22nd parallel. A later map, however, shifted this line to better reflect the realities of the border between the two colonies, and Sudan gained the 20,000 square kilometer Hala’ib Triangle, a prime piece of Red Sea real estate, while the comparatively shitty and useless Bir Tawil south of the 1899 border went to Egypt.

The Hala'ib Triangle and Bir Tawil.  The 1899 border is the straight line, and the 1902 border is the one that creates the disputed territories.

The Hala’ib Triangle and Bir Tawil. The 1899 border is the straight line, and the 1902 border is the one that creates the disputed territories.

After independence, both Egypt and Sudan claimed Hala’ib, with Egypt upholding the 1899 border and Sudan pushing the 1902 border in opposition. As a strange quirk of this argument, neither country had any basis to claim Bir Tawil – so neither claimed it. Bir Tawil, as a result, is officially terra nullius. Nobody wants it. Which means you can go there and hang out and do whatever you want!

Well, that’s just the problem – there probably isn’t anything to do in Bir Tawil. There are good reasons Egypt and Sudan both prefer Hala’ib, which has actual settlements and a coastline, to Bir Tawil, which has no settlements, no natural resources, and no access to water. It’s a rocky desert with probably some patches of shrubs and stuff like that. Herders have used the land in the past, but nobody lives there and, again, there are good reasons for that.

Minus the dunes, this is probably a pretty good approximation of what Bir Tawil is like.  Have fun!

Minus the dunes, this is probably a pretty good approximation of what Bir Tawil is like. Have fun!

Naturally, the fact of Bir Tawil’s inaccessibility and hostility has not stopped idiots in other countries from claiming the land for themselves. Most recently, an American traveled to Bir Tawil and planted a flag there, declaring it the Kingdom of North Sudan and his seven year-old daughter the princess of it. It’s admirable that a parent would go so far to make his kid happy, but declaring your kids royalty of new made-up countries borders on spoiling them, doesn’t it?

In any case, neither Egypt nor Sudan have commented on Mr. Heaton’s claim on Bir Tawil, and it’s unlikely that they will ever countenance a third-party claim on the land, considering that a final agreement between the countries will require one of them to end up holding Bir Tawil anyway. And it’s just as well, because there is no reason to go to this patch of rock and sand. If you want to declare your own country, declare it in your own backyard or in your apartment. Nobody will stop you unless you do something dumb like declaring war on your neighbors and lobbing projectiles into their yards. Bir Tawil is interesting as a question of international law, but that’s all it has going for it.

Caffeine mints have become my #2 energy source

For the curious, #1 is coffee. There is no #3. The natural joy of being alive and waking up in the morning gives me 0 units of energy. In fact, I think it might give me negative energy.

As a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I don’t like making personal blog posts. This is not a personal blog for the reason that I don’t find my life that interesting and don’t think that anyone else cares to hear about it. I also think this is true of 99%+ of people, and thus that personal blogs are generally pretty worthless outside of a small circle of family and friends around the author. Hence I try to make my writing have broad appeal with the game and travel posts and the lack of “here’s what I did today” type stuff.

However, this post has broad appeal too despite being a somewhat personal one, because who doesn’t like caffeine? As the most widely used drug in the world, caffeine is a staple of societies throughout the world and has proven benefits in productivity and creativity when used moderately. And if you like caffeine, you will probably also like caffeine mints.

Penguin_Peppermint_04

A few weeks ago, I ordered two types of caffeinated mints online. My plan was to buy energy cheaply and in a convenient form (meaning one I can take to the library and not worry about spilling all over the place.) The first I bought were several tins of Penguin mints. Each of these have 7 mg of caffeine. For reference, a typical cup of brewed coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine. These Penguin mints have apparently been around for a long time (20/30 years?) and are sweetened with aspartame, which maybe isn’t so great. That’s not going to stop me from eating them. They taste pretty much like regular mints, come in nice tins like Altoids and give you a kick if you eat enough of them (10+).

I also bought a can of mints on the cheap from a certain website that sells a lot of weird nerd stuff. These have 20 mg of caffeine each, are chalky and taste like ass. Strange, because the label says they have sugar in them. In any case, they’re good enough as an inexpensive boost. I’m a 2L on a law journal now, so I really need them.

This is the face of evil.

This is the face of evil.

If you are a law student like me, or are in any other kind of program or job that requires long nights, I highly recommend caffeine mints. But be careful. Some guy in England died after eating a lot of them last year and now his daughter is afraid of coffee.

Retrospective: Grandia II

The Dreamcast had a sadly short life, doomed as it was to be SEGA’s last shot effort at staying in the console-making game. Unlike its disastrous predecessor Saturn, however, the Dreamcast is still more or less beloved among a lot of gamers now in their 20s. Maybe it’s because everyone knew it was SEGA’s last shot, or because some of its games were actually pretty good.

Grandia II was one of these. Released in 2000, Grandia II was in many ways a typical JRPG – lots of battles, boss fights, traveling, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, and all in the context of an epic quest to save the world. Your hero is Ryudo, a young mercenary who runs around the countryside looking for work with his pet (?) talking falcon (???) Skye (no, the game never explains this. Especially confusing because Skye is the only talking/intelligent animal in the game; the rest don’t say a word. Also, in the English dub Skye sounds like George Takei.) Ryudo is kind of a dick, and although Skye tries to keep him in line it doesn’t always work.

One of Ryudo's many quips

One of Ryudo’s many quips

The gist of Grandia II is that you, as Ryudo, have to take a job from the church that controls your country to seal an ancient evil together with a nun who is the key to sealing that evil, because of a reason I can’t remember. You travel to see the pope while meeting people who have serious problems you have to fix, after which a few of them will join your party as permanent members. ……..

Right, so in terms of setting, plot and basic character layout, it’s a generic JRPG. Painfully generic, and as stale as a week-old baguette. The hero is a jaded sarcastic guy, the main female lead is a nice girl who wants to help everybody. There’s also a kid, a warrior furry lion sort-of guy and a robot girl. And if you’ve played even a few JRPGs of this kind, you’ll see the plot twists coming several hours before they hit. Hell, you might be able to figure out everything that’s going on, all the way to the very end of the game, after finishing just about a third of it. Really, that’s not right at all.

FINE Elena we'll fucking save the townspeople already

FINE Elena we’ll fucking save the townspeople already

Despite that, Grandia II is a good game if only for its gameplay, and namely for its battle system. It’s a mix of turn-based and real-time battle. Each of your members has his or her turn along with each of the enemies. However, the order of everyone’s turns is determined by their speed stats and whether your party was able to catch the enemy off guard or was ambushed by the enemy. Each turn, represented by the character’s face, moves along the initiative bar to the blue COM threshold, where you can input a command for that character. Once they hit the ACT line, that character will carry out their inputted action. Both you and your enemies’ actions can be cancelled, however, if they’re attacked before carrying said action out. Getting canceled flings the affected actor’s icon way to the left (i.e. the beginning) of the initiative bar again.

Your characters also get a whole crapload of moves and spells to learn, some of which do various amounts of area damage. A few moves are great for canceling imminent enemy attacks.

Grandia II's battle system is its best asset.

Grandia II’s battle system is its best asset.

This system might sound complicated, but it’s really easy to pick up and a lot of fun once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Battles in Grandia II are a lot more than simple point-and-click or run-around-the-field-swinging-your-sword deals as they are in many other JRPGs, and that adds a lot of value to the game.

Another nice addition to Grandia II is this bit that comes up maybe six or eight times throughout the game where you get to sit in on a dinner conservation with your party. It’s not especially substantive or anything, but it adds some flavor to the game, and the characters’ interactions can be amusing sometimes. In fact, most of Grandia II‘s dialogue is pretty well-written, even in the context of its stale plot.

Is he being sarcastic?  Who can tell.

Is he being sarcastic? Who can tell.

Grandia II is a nice JRPG that’s well worth playing if you live in 2000 and own a Dreamcast. And though it hasn’t aged all that well, really, even today it’s fun. I played it a couple of times as a kid, and returning to the game, I can still enjoy it.

Sadly, it’s kind of hard to track down today in its original form – copies of the Dreamcast version are on sale for $150 on Amazon (it’s the same with Skies of Arcadia, actually – what is it with Dreamcast RPGs being expensive as hell now?) The PS2 version might be cheaper, though I’ve never played it – it could also be a horribly broken port for all I know. And the PC (!) version is probably damn near impossible to play on a Windows 7/8 machine. Still, if you can track this game down for a decent price, it’s well worth a play. I don’t know if it’s necessarily $150 worth of it, but it’s certainly worth something.

Places (not) to travel: Clipperton Island

Since I’ve run out of actual travel post ideas, I though I would start writing some theoretical travel posts. Traveling to a place in your mind is entirely possible, especially now that we have Google Earth and other such tools. It’s also a lot cheaper and not as time-consuming as actual travel. Perfect for the busy worker or student, such as myself and probably you as well. So since we 99 percenters get screwed by The Man and have to take mind-vacations to save money so that we can pay rent and eat, let’s relax at a nice, inviting destination!

Clipperton Island (Ile de la Passion)

Carteactuelle

Located far off the Pacific coast of Mexico, Clipperton Island is truly the destination for someone looking to “get away from it all.” Clipperton was found in various parts of the last millennium by Spanish and French explorers and has been in French colonial overseas possession for about two centuries, minus a period of dispute with Mexico over its claim, and was a center of mining and fishing operations at times.

So what might you expect to find on this island? Beautiful beaches? Rum? Friendly natives? Pissed off natives? Naked brown boobies?

A brown booby.  No, I wasn't being crass or obscene.

A brown booby. No, I wasn’t being crass or obscene.

Sadly, none of the above, except for the last one (Clipperton is indeed home to the brown booby.) Clipperton Island consists of a thin strip of land encircling a lagoon full of brackish water. There are no human inhabitants. There seems to be no workable soil to speak of, and the only point of interest aside from some clumps of palm trees is a 100 foot-tall rock.

Clippertonisland

Why, then, would anyone bother with this place? Aside from the probably very complicated legal issues regarding Mexico and France’s territorial waters and resultant fishing and mining rights in the Pacific surrounding, it doesn’t have anything to offer, does it?

Well, it used to have plenty of something – guano. Guano is “the excrement of seabirds, cave-dwelling bats, pinnipeds, or (in English usage) birds in general” (source: wikipedia.) Lots of islands in the Pacific happened to contain a lot of guano, probably as a result of birds living on said islands for thousands of years. As it happened, bird shit was highly sought after as a fertilizer by many countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the United States Congress even passed an act declaring that any US citizen could claim any island containing guano that was uninhabited and not held by any other country for the US. The US did claim a lot of Pacific islands on this basis and still holds some of them to this day, but Clipperton, being a French holding from the 18th century, was not among them. So those lucky French farmers were able to get their hands on the lucrative crap that must have resulted in nice crop yields. Good for them.

clipperton-camp1

Clipperton was visited on a fairly regular basis by miners looking for guano, and also by fishing and whaling vessels. Because of its both literal and figurative shittiness, the island was never permanently inhabited, but for once, when a Mexican settlement was established there and supplied by ship until 1915, when shipments were halted. The inhabitants were required to live off fish and rainwater collected in boats. The small settlement then broke out into scurvy and mostly died, and the remaining man on the island went mad and lorded over the several remaining women and children and committed several serious crimes before being killed in self-defense or retribution by one of the women. The remaining residents were recused, and perhaps understandably, no one has ever tried to live on Clipperton Island since.

Clipperton Island isn’t an entirely bad place, though, if you’re a marine or avian biologist with an interest in the eastern Pacific. A lot of birds still make their homes on the island. A large amount of coral grows around the island, along with a diverse group of Pacific sea-life. A species of bright orange crabs also lives on Clipperton, but put your shellfish fork away: their meat is poisonous.

Getting to Clipperton Island is difficult, as it has no harbor or even a dock or anything and nobody goes there save a few scientific expeditions and maybe the occasional French patrol ship. But you probably shouldn’t visit anyway. In fact, you should just be happy that you live in a place with constant fresh water supplies and no poisonous pinchy crabs. That’s pretty much the only positive thing I have in my life going right now, and I’m grateful for it.

Sunset on Clipperton Island, looking towards the lagoon.  Despite the peaceful and beautiful qualities of this photo, Clipperton is a harsh and essentially unlivable environment for humans.  (Source: va7dx, Creative Commons)

Sunset on Clipperton Island, looking towards the lagoon. Despite the peaceful and beautiful qualities of this photo, Clipperton is a harsh and essentially unlivable environment for humans. (Source: va7dx, Creative Commons)