Thursday, July 31, 2008

What the Board of Geographic Names Hath Wrought

From comments it is clear there is a little confusion the point I was trying to make in my post yesterday.

I am not mocking any country - well, the United States, a little.

Instead, judging from the contents of their server, the Board of Geographical Names-- the advisory body to the U.S. Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency that so offended the government and people of South Korea over a redesignation of the sovereignty of Dokdo/Takeshima that President George W. Bush had to intervene -- seems to be a lot like the editorial board of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: permanently out to lunch.

As with The Guide, it looks as though anyone wishing to do some work can just find a USBGN terminal, open up a file and start ascribing sovereignty according any old scheme he or she likes.

Take the wildy variable terminology used to indicate sovereignty is unclear. If one asks about the Habomai Islands, the server tells you that they are Russian...unless you go to bottom of the page where it tells you they are Japanese. The Senkakus are Japanese, period - no hint of a dispute. Until the President Bush's intervention, Dokdo/Takeshima suffered from "undesignated sovereignty." The Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, however, are "disputed." Perplexingly, the sovereignty of the rather populated city of Jerusalem (al-Ouds) is described as, and this is the capitalization used, as "No Man's Land."

For uninhabited and uninhabitable bits of rock, sovereignty is assigned in equally arbitrary ways. The tetrapod and titanium dome protected rocks of Okinotorishima are listed as Japanese territory. However, Bassas da India, a rather equally moist coral atoll in the middle of the Mozambique Channel under the jurisidiction of France, is the purportedly governed by...Bassas da India.

Maybe the Bassasian government is hiding inside the wrecked ship.

Suffice it to say that no one should have ever become too upset at the sovereignty assignments of the Board of Geographical Names - at least not what the ones they have loaded into their information server.

There is no rhyme or reason to any of them.


As for Socotra Rock, the undersea feature claimed by both the Chinese and South Korean governments -- a claim the South Korean government has reinforced by building a base and declaring the result an island called Ieodo -- the BGN server takes mercy on poor old logic by declaring the sovereignty to be..."an undersea feature."

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