Sunday, December 27, 2009

Arbitrary Rules

I recently posted to Samizdata my annual photoessay summarising my movements for the year (Previous years' efforts are here, here and here). I have a fairly strict set of rules as to how many photographs I allow myself to include in these posts. Basically, it is one photograph for each country I visit on each trip outside England. However, it is more complex than this. The actual rules are as follows:

  • The question of what is a country is hard to answer around the edges, but I choose a lenient definition. I generally include colonies, special zones with unusual history, and similar as separate countries for this purpose. If a place competes separately from its parent country in international sporting events or even the Miss World pageant, that is usually enough. Similarly, if a region has separate immigration controls from its parent country, that is generally enough. In the UK, I count Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales as separate countries. Having a separate ISO 3166-1 code and internet top level domain is a good sign, too, although not an absolute one. Hong and Macau have enough of these things that they get separate photographs, even though China is sovereign. Norfolk Island would get enough of these things to get a separate photograph, although Australia is sovereign. Puerto Rico has enough of these things that I would count it, although the US is sovereign.

  • Strange forbidden zones in which people may not normally enter and where one is required to give a passport to people in fatigues before entering get separate photographs, even if there is no sense that they are fully sovereign in any way. The two examples of these I have provided photographs for are the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, and the Zone of Alienation around Chernobyl. It happens that in both cases these zones lie on the borders between countries and the zones extend into each country, but in neither case is there any serious doubt as to where the border is. However, the zones have an otherness about them that makes them separate from their countries, so I give them an extra photograph. Any such zones that I enter in future that do not overlap borders will still get extra photographs

  • Disputed territory gets an extra photograph, assuming there is some substance to the dispute. In this latest post, I provided a photograph of Oliven├ža/Olivenza, which has been controlled by Spain since the Napoleonic Wars, but which is claimed by Portugal in accordance with the Treaty of Vienna which ended those wars. In that set, I put in photographs of Spain, Portugal, and Oliven├ža/Olivenza, which is three photographs. Nobody claims that there are three countries there, but I still put in three photographs.

  • In order to get two photographs of the same country, with one exception that I shall get to in the next point, I must return to England in the intervening period. If I am in Poland, and I fly back to England for a day, and then return to Poland (as I did this year) I get two photographs of Poland. However, if I move backwards and forwards six times between Poland and Germany without an intervening trip to England, I get one photograph of Poland, one of Germany, and no more.

  • If I am out of England for the New Year, I may include that trip on the list for both years, but in order to include a country for that year, I must still have visited it in that year. For instance, if I visit Korea in 2006 on the way to Australia, spend the new year in Australia, and then visit Korea again on the way back in 2007, I can include both Australia and Korea for both years. If on the other hand I visit Korea in 2006 on the way to Australia, spend the new year in Australia, and then fly straight back to England with no stop in Korea, I may include photographs of both Australia and Korea for 2006, but only Australia for 2007

  • In order to count myself as having visited a country, I must have left the transport vehicles and transport infrastructure by which I was traveling. Changing planes in a country without leaving the airport does not count. Going through a country by train and not leaving the train does not count. If I change trains the country does not count if I do not leave the railway station. Driving through a country and not getting out of the car does not count. Driving through a country and getting out of the car but only in service stations does not count.

  • While the existence of immigration controls is a strong indicator that a country should count, the absence of such proves nothing, as there are many national borders in which there are no controls. The question of whether I have personally gone through immigration controls is of little relevance, however. It is quite common to arrive in an airport, go through immigration controls, and fly straight out again, and this does not count. On the other hand, if there are controls, but they are not manned when I visit, then the country still counts. Similarly, if I enter a country illegally and avoid the controls, the country still counts if it otherwise qualifies



One or two of these rules have been made up to increase the number of photographs I get in these photoessays, but I have not allowed myself to do this without a vaguely convincing reason. The big weakness of these rules is that they do not do long trips to large countries justice. If I wander around Europe or South East Asia for three weeks, I may get half a dozen photographs or more. If I wander around an equally large area of the USA or India or Australia for the same period, I may only get one. However, extending the rules in such instances seems to be going a little too far.

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