News in Brief for July 18, 2016

The Republicans and the U.S. Presidential Election

Mike Pence in 2001

Today, July 18, 2016, the Republican National Convention starts in Cleveland, Ohio. At the convention, the Republicans will formally present their nomination for president in November’s general election. Republican front runner Donald Trump announced his running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, shortly before the start of the convention. Follow the events that lead to the GOP’s nomination as they unfold this week.

Image Source: U.S. Congress
Image License:Public Domain


Political Turmoil in Turkey

Turkey coup
The streets in Turkey during the coup attempt on Saturday night, July 16, 2016

Over the weekend, Turkey’s military attempted a coup to overthrow President Erdogan.
In one night, about 265 people died. Erdogan regained control, and 6,000 people were arrested. Meanwhile, thousands more soldiers and judges are expected to be held.

Turkey is a member of NATO. The U.S. initiates important strikes against terrorism from an air base in Turkey, which has been a strategically important democratic country to the United States in the Middle East region. Airspace was shut down as a result of the attempted coup. It is too soon to determine the full fallout, but you can learn more from the British press, here.

Image Source: Ian Zub
Image License: Public Domain


Terrorist Attack in Nice, France, Kills 84

Beach in Nice, France

On the evening of Thursday, July 14, 2016, a large refrigeration truck plowed into a crowd in Nice, France, killing 84 people and wounding over 300. Crowds were gathered along the seaside to celebrate Bastille Day, a major French holiday to celebrate the start of the French Revolution. This latest tragedy was claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) as a terrorist act. Learn more from the New York Times here.

Image Source: Narje
Image License: Public Domain


Racial Tensions Sparked Anew in the United States

Presidential attendence at the memorial service for the slain Dallas police officers

During the first week of July, the shooting deaths of two African American men by the police —Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota—resulted in national outrage. Many took to the streets in protest. These incidents brought new focus to the state of race in America and revealed difficult social questions, such as why these men were stopped and why they ended up killed. The deaths also prompted further debate about gun control and the Second Amendment.

Then on July 7th, in Dallas, Texas, a lone black sniper took the lives of five random white police officers, presumed to be in retaliation to the earlier deaths. The sniper was killed by a bomb set off by a robotic drone vehicle—a police first. The shootings took place at a protest organized by the Black Lives Matter movement. Former president George W. Bush and President Obama attended the officers’ funeral in Dallas.

A new act of violence left three police officers dead yesterday, July 17th. Three more were wounded, and the suspected attacker was killed on the scene. This latest shootout took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Alton Sterling had been killed by police two weeks prior. It is unclear what the motive was or if this act was related to the recent killings. This story is still developing. Follow the latest news as reporters uncover more about this incident.

Image Source: The White House
Image License: Public Domain

News in Brief for July 18, 2016

The Newest Summer Roller Coasters

Track of the new roller coaster Valravn, at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

Summer is when many people travel to amusement parks to ride the latest, greatest roller coasters. This year, there is no shortage of new thrills to keep riders entertained.

Valravn at Cedar Point

Perhaps the most anticipated new coaster is Valravn at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Cedar Point is home to many of the country’s most thrilling roller coasters, but Valravn is special. Cedar Point’s website explains the ride best:

“Prepare for a roller coaster experience unlike any other at Cedar Point. Valravn takes you up 223 feet and holds you over the edge of the drop for 4 seconds! After what feels like an eternity hanging over the edge, you’ll dive 214 feet at a 90 degree angle traveling at speeds up to 75 mph. Get flipped upside-down in a massive Immelmann maneuver, then dive a second time into a dive loop and a 270-degree roll. End your flight on Valravn with a pop of airtime before it’s all over and you’re catching your breath once again.”

Take a virtual ride on Valravn here.

Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal Orlando

Meanwhile, King Kong is making a comeback at Universal Islands of Adventure at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida. The great ape is the theme of the new coaster Skull Island: Reign of Kong, opening this summer. The ride is billed as a “A multi-sensory, multi-dimensional new ride for your life!” The coaster promises to take people on a mission through a prehistoric jungle, fighting for survival. Riders will travel to an ancient temple and underworld caves to eventually face off against King Kong himself!

Justice League: Battle for Metropolis at Six Flags Great America

Perhaps you are more a fan of superheros? If so, Six Flags Great America, located outside of Chicago in Illinois, has the roller coaster for you—the Justice League: Battle for Metropolis coaster opened on Memorial Day Weekend. This coaster adventure is a 4-D experience with fire and fog, video graphics, and state-of-the-art technology that mirrors a high-tech gaming experience. Riders travel in the 22,000-square foot Hall of Justice and interact with animatronic characters armed with a laser stun gun. Riders will even be able to compete with each other during their adventure.

Clearly amusement park designers have been busy creating amazing new experiences to bring in summer crowds. For more on this summer season’s newest roller coasters, check out this article from CNN.

Image Source: Gregory Varnam
Image License: Creative Commons 4.0

The Newest Summer Roller Coasters

Happy Fourth of July, America!

Fireworks across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

A National Holiday

Independence Day in the United States is celebrated on July 4th. It is is a national holiday. Banks are closed for business. The U.S. Post Office does not deliver the  mail. Many people are off from work so they can honor American independence. This year, July 4th is on a Monday, making  for a long weekend for many. It is an especially busy travel day on America’s highways, as people travel to meet up with  their families to celebrate. Most communities set  off fireworks in the  evening  on the Fourth of July. There is an especially large fireworks display over Washington, D.C., America’s capital.

Image Source: Joe Ravi
Image License: Creative Commons 3.0

John Trumball’s painting shows a draft of the Declaration being submitted to Congress for approval. The original hands in the Capitol’s rotunda.

The Reason for Celebrations

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, officially announcing the American colonists’ intention to form a separate country, leaving Great Britain. As a result, this day is celebrated as Independence Day for the United States. Read the full text of the Declaration here, from the national archives. Great Britain did not let the colonies leave without a fight. The Revolutionary War was the result, and the colonists won. But it was through the Declaration of Independence that America  was first founded.

Will you be able to attend a fireworks show in honor of this important day in America’s history? Or what will you and your family do this Independence Day?

Image Source: U.S. Capitol
Image License: public domain

Happy Fourth of July, America!

Brexit: Great Britain Votes to Leave the EU

View of the Palace of Westminster where the Houses of Parliament meet. The view includes the Tower of London (left) and Big Ben (right).

On Thursday, June 23rd, Great Britain held a historic vote to determine whether or not to stay in the European Union (EU). The count was close, but those who wanted to leave the EU won out. The process to actually leave may take quite a long time to iron out. Meanwhile, what effect this will have on Britain’s economy, including the value of pound sterling, remains to be seen.

As a result of the voting outcome, British prime minister David Cameron turned in his resignation, saying  the country needs “fresh leadership” to move ahead.

These links are a great place to start to learn more. Keep a look out for news and analysis of the situation as the story develops.

The New York Times explains Brexit

From the BBC and PM Cameron’s announcement

The magazine The Economist’s full coverage on Brexit

Image Source: Alvesgaspar
Image License: GNU Free Documentation License

Brexit: Great Britain Votes to Leave the EU

GeoJoint: Naming Streets

Broadway street sign in New York City

Image Source: Damzow

Image License: Creative Commons 3.0
A while back we looked into cities where street names were sort of disregarded or never even assigned. Putting a name to a street can give it a useful reference, but names can cause problems of their own.

Grid Structure

Many towns across the country took the easy way when they named their streets, and given a grid structure, had numbered streets in one direction and either letters or names in alphabetical order going in the other. Even if this naming style was not done for the first streets laid down, many, many cities have a section of alphabetical or numbered streets somewhere on their map. But it rarely ever is a simple, uninterrupted, A to Z or 1st, 2nd, 3rd to 150th Street run. The reasons for the lack of continuity are as varied as the cities in which they occur, but changes over time, a need to honor new heroes, and superstition can all play a role.

Kansas City Hiccup

Kansas City, Missouri Skyline

Image Source: Lasse Fuss

Image License: Creative Commons 3.0
If roads get closed, or added, a well-planned sequence can develop a hiccup. The bi-state metropolis of Kansas City, for instance, has a load of numbered streets. Between many of the streets are numbered “Terraces” which each take on the number of the street next to them. The system is fairly intuitive, but the “grid” is by no means continuous, with odd angles and short street segments all over the place. You’ll need a really good description of the area of town you’re going to before knowing the street number will be of much help.

Manhattan Peculiarities

Avenue of the Americas in New York City
Image Source: Jeremy Keith
Image License: Creative Commons 2.0
New York City has its own numbering peculiarities in Manhattan, where the numbered avenues progress westward as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, but then Lexington Ave. precedes 4th Avenue, which is called Park Ave., followed by Madison before you get to 5th. The street following 5th is not called 6th, but Avenue of the Americas. The “Streets” that cross the “Avenues” march north quite regularly from 1st to 193rd, after which some of the 190s are missing, and things get discontinuous on their way to 220th St at the top of Manhattan. The famous street named Broadway cuts diagonally across the middle of it all to mix it up. Some of the big numbered avenues change to the names of the famous (Columbus, Frederick Douglass, Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X, etc.),  and there are of course innumerable short streets tucked in here and there. In general, it’s a pretty orderly layout, but as with most cities, it takes some time to learn the streets that don’t fit the pattern.

Washington, D.C. Alphabet Streets

P Street facing east in Washington, D.C.
Image Source: Tim Evanson
Image License: Creative Commons 2.0
In Washington, D.C., residents and visitors have long puzzled over the anomalies in the city’s alphabetic street names. There are two sets of them as you go either north or south of East Capitol Street, the dividing line. Missing on both sets are “B” Streets, replaced by Constitution Ave. on the north side, and Independence Ave. on the south.  There are other letters missing among the alphabetical run, including X, Y, and Z at both northerly and southerly extremities.
What about J Street?
However, the absent letter that has caused the most speculation is “J.” Neither set of streets has a “J”, and lacking an obvious explanation, conspiracy theorists and political analysts (there are a few of those in D.C.) got busy on the mystery. It seems that Pierre L’ Enfant, the French-born urban designer who laid out the street plan for our nation’s capital was deemed to be no fan of the first Chief Justice of  the Supreme Court, John Jay. Jay arranged a treaty with the British in 1794 which contained terms that were seen by some to slight the French. L’Enfant was presumed to be annoyed at this and so left J Street off his plans in order to take a swipe at Jay. After all, Jay’s initials were J.J. and his last name was the name of that very letter! But this neat story falls apart when the timeline of events reveals that L’Enfant was relieved of his planning duties in 1792, and that treaty didn’t get signed until 1794. Others suggested maybe another prominent “J”, like Jefferson, could have piqued L’Enfant’s ire. But there was, as you might expect, a board which oversaw L’Enfant’s proposals and would probably not have gone along with such manipulations on the street plan based on petty grievances.
More Likely Story on J Street . . .
If we can’t have our historical snit, why is there still no J Street? It’s likely a result of one of those weird sidelights of the past, in this case, the common usage of letters. At that time, the letters “J” and “I” were used somewhat interchangeably. As handwritten, there was little difference in their appearance, and typography was yet to be completely standardized. Some dictionaries had only one section for both I and J. Yes, I know, I and J make completely different sounds, so how this came to be is confusing to me too, but stranger things have occurred in the English language. In any case, the ambiguity led to using only one of the two in the street name sequence, and as we know, that letter is “I.” To further obscure the matter, D.C. residents often refer to I Street as Eye Street . . . so as not to confuse the “I” with “1.” Washington isn’t alone in forsaking “J” Street—Anchorage, Alaska skips it too. As for X, Y, and Z, it is thought that they were unneeded, given the designed size of the new city. In addition, since “X” was commonly used to signify Christ at the time, it probably wouldn’t have been considered appropriate as a street name.

Superstition (in San Francisco)

San Francisco street scene with a cable car
Image Source: Runner1968
Image License: Creative Commons 1.0
Lastly, how has superstition influenced street naming? San Francisco provides an example by not having a 13th Street in their numbered sequence. Instead, they named it after U.S. Army hero Major General Frederick Funston who, among other brave deeds, kept order and provided aid to the earthquake-stricken city in 1906. A friend of mine from Baghdad by the Bay jokes that kids living there learn to count like this, “. . . 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Funston, 14, 15, 16. . . .”
This is just a grab-bag of street name stories—every map is filled with history, favors, prejudice, inspiration, quirks, and skulduggery. It just takes a bit of research to uncover the motivations for those puzzling names and arrangements.
GeoJoint: Naming Streets

In Memorial: Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali in 2011

Image Source: pablo.raw
Image License: Creative Commons 2.0

At first, the man proclaimed himself “the Greatest!” but time would prove the rest of the world agreed, Muhammad Ali was indeed the greatest. Born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, and named Cassius Clay after his father, the young man began boxing at the age of 12. By the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy, he was a gold medalist in the sport. Ali was super quick and had light feet. At 6 foot 3 inches, he was also imposing.

Liston – Ali Fight

He turned professional and in 1964 he fought Sonny Liston for the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World. The match was held in Miami Beach, Florida, and was highly anticipated. Liston dominated his opponents and was considered one of the best heavyweight boxers of his day. However, he lost the match in the seventh round and Clay became champion.

Name Change

At this time, Clay had discovered Islam. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali to both show his new religious understanding and to disavow his “slave name.” This caused a lot of controversy and most media outlets refused to use his new name at the time.


Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam was ongoing. Ali refused to be drafted in April 1967 on religious grounds. The U.S. Department of Justice denied his claim as a conscientious objector and he was convicted  of violating the draft law, although he remained free on appeal. He was stripped of his title and unable to box in the U.S. In addition, his passport was revoked, making it impossible for him to box outside the country. In his boxing prime, Ali had no outlet to box. He did not relent and remained a vocal objector to the war.

Return to Boxing

Ali returned to the ring in 1970 and the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971. His first famous match was with Joe Frasier. Dubbed, “the Fight of the Century” the two men fought on March 8, 1971 in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Frazier won in 15 rounds on the judges’ decision. It was his first loss in 31 professional fights. Ali regained the heavyweight title against George Foreman in 1974 in the match known as the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali used his “rope-a-dope” technique by hanging on the ropes and taking punches to tire his opponent. In the 8th round he won by knockout. Ali and Frazier had a rematch in 1974 that Ali won.


Ali retired from boxing in 1981. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984. He used his fame and status to speak around the world and help those in need. He supported numerous organizations, including the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics. He famously lit the Olympic cauldron for the games in 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2005 Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. He lived to see the first African-American elected U.S. president and was on hand for Obama’s inauguration.


Sadly, on June 6, 2016, the beloved sports hero and international icon died after a long battle with Parkinson’s. His skill and rank as one of the greatest boxers is in no doubt, but his convictions in his beliefs and his courage against the status quo are what perhaps leave the largest impression in his remarkable legacy and earn him the title “the Greatest.”


Inferring Why did the U.S. Department of Justice think it necessary to convict Ali when he refused the draft?
Identifying Word Meanings Using context clues, what does “disavow” mean? What does “revoked” mean?
Synthesizing In what ways was did Ali show conviction in his beliefs, and how did he show courage?
Providing an Opinion Was Muhammad Ali “the Greatest”?


In Memorial: Muhammad Ali

The Happiest Countries of 2016

Morning at Nyhavn, Copenhagen in Denmark

In March of this year, the  World Happiness Report Update 2016 by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations named Denmark as the happiest country on Earth. This is the third win by Denmark since the report began in 2012.What criteria did researchers use to determine the winner?

The study looked at seven key aspects of happiness. They are:

  1. A longer life expectancy
  2. More social support
  3. Freedom to make choices
  4. The perception of less corruption
  5. More generosity
  6. Higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita
  7. Less inequality

Denmark has been the winner for 3 of the 4 reports that have been released since its beginning. Switzerland was the winner last year, so Denmark retook the title. Switzerland is now in second place this year.

Which other countries were in the  top 10 for 2016?

  1. Denmark
  2. Switzerland
  3. Iceland
  4. Norway
  5. Finland
  6. Canada
  7. The  Netherlands
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden

The United States ranked 13th, behind Israel (11th) and Austria (12th). From this list, perhaps living in the ice cold of the Northern Hemisphere isn’t all that bad!

Image of Denmark by: Roman Boed
Image License: Creative Commons 2.0

The Happiest Countries of 2016