Scottish English

John.Cowan jcowan at
Thu Oct 20 22:25:30 CEST 2005

Mark Crispin scripsit:

> I wish that I understood what a "country" was in the minds of 
> BSI/UNSD/ISO.  My layman's interpretation of a "country" (an independent 
> nation) is clearly not what they use, as recent examples demonstrate.

Note that ISO doesn't have an independent opinion: it tracks UNSD exactly.
UNSD does make final determinations, but it is very strongly influenced
by the recommendations of the various governments around the world.

In any case, your criterion is not so clear either.  Australia and Canada
share a head of state (Queen Elizabeth II), but by most other criteria
are independent.  Jersey and Guernsey share the same head of state,
but the U.K. is responsible for their defense and foreign affairs, while
their local governments are sovereign in all other respects (they do
not come under the U.K. parliament).  Taiwan is part of China (both the
Taiwanese "authorities" and the Chinese government agree on this), and
the U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as a country, while guaranteeing its
de facto independence by its military force.  There are many federations
around the world with varying degrees of unity, from Malaysia at one
end through the U.S. to Switzerland and beyond into the E.U.

> Given these examples, I don't understand why "continental US" isn't a 
> country; nor do I understand why each of the original thirteen colonies, 
> Texas, and Hawaii aren't countries; nor why Tibet, Kurdistan, Basque, 
> Chechnya, Okinawa, Normandy, etc. aren't countries; etc. ad nauseum.

They could be if the various national governments wanted it to be so.
For the most part they don't.  (Normandy isn't even a recognized division
of France any more, and hasn't been for two centuries, unless it has been
revived recently.)

> The best answer that I can determine is "it doesn't have to make sense, 
> it's political."

Partly historical, partly political, and partly economic.  (Politically,
French Guiana is just a "departement d'outre mer", just as much a part of France
as, say, Marseilles; economically, though, it is a very different place.)

> Mind you; this isn't a serious proposal for the short term.  I'm just 
> thinking out loud.  The obvious flaw in the idea is the presumption that, 
> somehow, we could do a better job.  The UN recently suffered severe 
> credibility problems due to corruption and the corrupting nature of 
> politics; it's hubris to believe that any of us are somehow immune.

I don't think this is about corruption (the working U.N. is one thing,
the political U.N. is another altogether), it's just about the fact that
the problem is inherently vague, and eventually "the line must be drawn here".
We might as well draw it where (almost) everyone else does.

As you read this, I don't want you to feel      John Cowan 
sorry for me, because, I believe everyone       jcowan at
will die someday.                     
        --From a Nigerian-type scam spam

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