On the first day of teacher training for the 2010-11 school year, I had lunch with a parent and teacher whose daughter is going to Cameroon for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. I learned from him that Cameroon was colonized by both the French and the British. I learned where Cameroon is located, and I learned that it’s the 53rd largest country in the world (by area), about the size of Spain. Technically, it’s a little smaller than Spain and a little bigger than Iraq.
I also learned that the North Star, used by many navigators north of the equator to figure out where they are in the world, is not visible from south of the equator. I suppose that is not revelatory, but I’d never considered that before. What do the stars look like from south of the equator, and what a big deal it must have been when the first explorers from the north crossed the equator. To my knowledge, the folks in the north beat the folks in the south in the “race to cross the equator,” (not counting the inital migration of people out of Africa) but now that makes me wonder about the voyages of the Chinese Muslim explorer Zheng He in the early 1400s — and indeed, a little reserach indicates that Zheng He did cross the equator when he visited Mombassa in Kenya and Java in Indonesia. He was from North of the equator, of course. But an interesting connection nonetheless.
This teacher also has a background in geography and maps, and will likely be coming to talk with my students in the first few weeks of classes, assuming we can schedule those visits.
Something else I learned today (well, early Tuesday morning to be technical about it) from an article in the Washington Post is that the current oil spill in the Gulf may have exceeded 200 million gallons, which is more than any estimate I’d seen before (the highest I’d seen was 180 million).
The article, titled Oil spill dumped 4.9 million barrels into Gulf of Mexico, noted that this new estimate means that the current spill is
significantly larger than the Ixtoc I blowout of 1979, which polluted the southern Gulf of Mexico with 138 million gallons over the course of 10 months. That had been the largest unintentional oil spill in history, surpassed only by the intentional spills in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.
So that made me wonder how big the intentional spills were in the gulf war. I’d never thought about that 1991 war in the context of “oil spills” (I was thinking more “Exxon Valdez”), but of course if your enemy is coming at you, a good strategy is to get rid of your items of value — be they crops, weapons, or oil — so your enemy can not use those items against you.
I checked the Wikipedia article about the 1991 spill, and learned that:
The oil spill, which began on January 23, 1991, caused considerable damage to wildlife in the Persian Gulf especially in areas surrounding Kuwait and Iraq. Early estimates on the volume spilled ranged around 11 million barrels (462 million gallons or 1.75 billion liters);. These numbers were however significantly adjusted downward by later, more detailed studies, both by government (4-6 million barrels)  and private (2-4 million barrels) researchers.
I find it interesting that propagandists journalists sometimes use barrels and sometimes use gallons. There are 42 gallons in a barrel. Depends how big you want the spill to appear, I guess…
Oh, and just for a broader lens of perspective, the whole oil spill represents the amount of oil that the US burns every five hours. We use a lot of oil.
I could not find a citation for the five-hour statistic, but I did just find out that “The 60,000 BPD [Barrels Per Day] lost in this leak represents less than 0.08 percent of the 73 million BPD produced worldwide” in an article titled Time For A Little Perspective On Oil Spills from a publication called American Thinker. It points out that while the 1991 gulf spill was large,
…by far the worst spills came in the opening months of World War II, when German U-boats off the north Atlantic coast sank 452 oil tankers carrying approximately 29.4 million barrels. Those spills had no serious long-term environmental impacts that we know of. For the Gulf blowout to leak this much oil, it would have to spew 60,000 BPD for 490 days.
So there are different perspectives about how big of a deal this oil spill is. Here’s another perspective from a former chairman and CEO of Unocal.
Anyway, those are a few things I learned today. What did you learn today?
P.S. Something I need to learn is how to control the font size 🙂 I was not intending that last block quote to be that small. Might be related to the use of italics. Can anyone help?