Romanians in Chicago Help Elect Their New President: Klaus Werner Iohannis

by Derek Kaden

Unlike Americans, Romanian citizens abroad can’t send in an absentee voting ballot through the mail. They need to vote in-person at a facility approved by Romania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the division of government that organizes diaspora voting. During the first and second rounds of the Romanian Presidential Election, which took place this past November 2nd and 16th respectively, Romanians in the U.S. voted at Consulates in major cities, the Embassy in D.C., and various schools and halls in all corners of the country.

Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova have similar requirements for its citizens who want to vote outside of the country. The rules are pretty straightforward. Voting can only happen on Election Day, and it must take place at an approved polling station. If you’re busy that day, or can’t commute to a polling station, you don’t get to vote. Under the mail-in system, people have a more generous timeframe to send in their ballots. In addition to the U.S., Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Thailand, and Britain allow mail-in voting. Mexico allows it as well, since 2005. In Britain, voting can even be done through proxy: one countryman can designate another to vote for him!

Roughly 3 million Romanian citizens live outside of Romania. That’s enough people to swing the election, which was decided by only 1 million votes. The diaspora leaned heavily toward Iohannis, who was viewed as progressive, anti-corruption, and someone who would nurture Romania’s relationship with Western Europe. Ponta, on the other hand, was seen by the diaspora as traditional, old-guard, and unable to inspire the sense of progress and transparency that Romanians crave.

Klaus Iohannis                                                                       Victor Ponta

Ponta actually had the most votes during the election’s first round on November 2. He got 40%, but needed at least 50% to win. Iohannis was the runner-up at 30%, and the remaining 30% was divided between twelve other candidates from a variety of political parties, including the Romanian Ecologist Party (.45%) and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (3.47%). Since no candidate won the majority, the election went into a final round between the top two on November 16.

The map below shows results by locality during the first round. Iohannis, blue, was clearly favored by the diaspora, and also in his home region Transylvania in the northwest of the country. Sibiu, the city where he was born and served as mayor since 2000, is located more-or-less at the crosshairs on the frame of the map. Ponta was favored in the three other major regions of the country: Muntenia, south, which includes Bucharest; Moldavia, northeast; and Dobruja, southeast.

First Round Results
Below is another map showing the election’s second round results. Ponta maintained a sizeable support in Muntenia, Moldavia, and Dobruja, but more localities within those regions voted Iohannis. Bucharest went from supporting Iohannis in only one municipality to all six in the second round. In addition, almost every locale that supported a third party candidate in the first round voted Iohannis in the second.

Second Round Results

In Chicagoland, Romanians either voted at a school in Niles, IL or at the Romanian Consulate downtown. Chicagoland was the only metropolitan region in the U.S. where two polling stations were located. Madrid and Brussels had four polling stations, more than any other city. Italy had a total of fifty-one for the more than 800,000 Romanian citizens living there. Khartoum, Sudan; Abuja, Nigeria; and Colombo, Sri Lanka all had a Romanian Embassy where voting was possible. Surprisingly, there were even two polling stations in Kabul, Afghanistan where there’s a sizeable Romanian military presence. Yes, the diaspora is widespread.

In major Western European cities, as well as in Chicagoland, the government’s organization of polling stations was seen mostly as a disappointment. That being said, it must have been a logistics-headache to staff and manage every polling station: there were more than 200 outside of Romania. Many were quick to blame Prime Minister Ponta, aware of the diaspora’s dismal support for him, for purposefully making polling stations inefficient. In cities like London and Paris, thousands lost the chance to vote because time ran out while they were still waiting in line. Since voting could only take place on Election Day, there was nothing they could do. Others were discouraged from waiting in the first place.

RomaniansI witnessed voting at the station in Niles, IL. The parking lot, similar in size to a suburban grocery store’s, was jam-packed. Volunteers were directing traffic, telling drivers to go to a neighboring parking lot, because there was no room left. Some people, in all the madness, invented their own parking spots by going on the grass, for example. I saw tens of would-be voters turn back to their cars, deciding it wasn’t worth standing gridlocked in line. Those who waited looked understandably tired and impatient, yet they stood dedicatedly. Upon reaching the voting area, people presented their passports, a form, and then stamped the name of their desired candidate in front of a government official. Despite the crowd of hundreds, only four stamps were in use.

Iohannis was sworn into office on December 22, 2014. His job lasts five years, and in 2019 he will have the chance to serve a second and final term.

The Problem of Geography in Gravity

gravity-movie-trailer-hd-stills-clip-detached-sandra-bullock-39Several weeks ago I read an article claiming Gravity as the first Best Picture lock of the Academy Awards season. The article lauded the film’s realistic handling of an historically campy genre (sci-fi), the two stars (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney), and the film’s “bar-raising visuals.” This praise, especially that for the visuals, was echoed elsewhere. NPR proclaimed, “doctoral thesis will be penned on the breath-catchingly realistic, gorgeous [cinematography]” and The New York Times said, flat out, “you have to see it to believe it.” As someone who went to Space Camp as a kid and spent hours recreating Apollo 13 in a pillow-fort-lunar-module (and as someone who’s been let down by Hollywood’s endeavors into outer space over the past decade), I was thrilled at the possibility of a new addition to the space film canon.

And I can say, without question, that the cinematography is jaw-dropping. The opening scene — in which a tiny speck of a space shuttle glides slowly (almost harmlessly) into the foreground, allowing the camera to maneuver and zoom, more first-person than third, towards the two protagonists out on a routine spacewalk — lasts an incredible 13 minutes without a cut. The director, Alfonso Cuarón, and his team spent years inventing new camera and lighting techniques to achieve such immersive, extended takes and the result is a depiction of zero gravity that is among the most thorough and intimate ever committed to film. Unfortunately, groundbreaking cinematography is about all Gravity has going for it. Once you get past the slick camera work, the film is, at heart, little more than a thriller with clunky dialogue, cliche-ridden characters, and trite symbolism. Leaving the theater, I was wholly disappointed that such a promising movie could be brought down by such a redeemable screenplay.

However, one of the movie’s flaws seemed to bother me more than the others — its inattention to geography. Though the movie is relatively brief and fast-paced, the characters take frequent breaks from dodging space debris to marvel at the beauty of Earth as seen from space. George Clooney’s character, in particular, repeatedly offers cocksure assessments of the Earth’s grandeur, though anytime the camera pans Earthward to show us what he’s talking about, we’re left gazing at an ambiguous medley of generic landforms and vague bodies of water. Few and far between are the shots of easily recognizable geomorphology. We clearly see the Nile River Valley at one point (“the cradle of civilization” — again, trite symbolism) and there’s a shot of Italy’s famous boot shape in there, but I had trouble identifying anything else. It got so distracting that I quit following the action at times in hopes of spotting a familiar coastline in the background. I even saw the movie a second time, thinking maybe I’d missed something, but the second viewing left me even more perplexed — I mean, it looked like Earth (blue, green, occasionally cloudy) but where were all the familiar shapes?

Here are three clips that hopefully illustrate some of the film’s fudgy, if not fabricated, geography…

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This isthmus appears to resemble the Isthmus of Panama though, compared to a map, the similarity is rough at best.

[vimeo w=650&h=309]

This island?

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This island? (If anyone can identify these landforms, please let me know in the comments!)

I recommend comparing these clips to actual footage of the Earth taken by orbiting space craft (for example, this post). In the real footage, there’s no shortage of recognizable geography. It’s like running your finger across a globe — there’s the excitement of spotting Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta (etc.) and the existential awe of how small we all are. This same wonder is largely absent from Gravity because, despite the mind-blowing cinematography, the Earth they choose to show us, lurking in the background of every shot, providing both the literal and narrative gravity, just isn’t ours.

“I am snow and I landed in America” — Kids Explain the Water Cycle


One of the the main focuses of the Geographic Society of Chicago is the promotion of geography education among elementary and middle school children, since such education is so woefully lacking in their public school curricula.  This education manifests in a variety of forms from after-school programs to summer camps and special GeoSphere events.  One of the central concepts we try to teach younger students is an understanding of the water cycle and its itinerant parts: condensation, precipitation, runoff, and evaporation.  Often we do this by asking the kids to personify themselves as a water molecule and describe their journey in images and words.  This summer we had an especially creative group of students and the responses they generated were among the most fun and imaginative we’ve seen.  We thought we’d share them with you below…


I am a water molecule.  I was floating in the air when I fell in the Pacific Ocean.  I fell in a whale’s hole and the whale burst and I came back out the whale’s hole and I fell in America.  To be continued.

by Shamarea

"the whale burst"

“the well (whale) burst”


Oh my gosh!!  I’m in the Mississippi River!!!  I’m being sucked up by the clouds.  Oh this must sound silly because I haven’t told you I’m a water molecule.  Why do I feel like I’m falling?  Oh my gosh I am falling! and I’m back in the Mississippi River.  Here we go again.

by Xani

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The Skagit River Bridge Collapse: What Happened and What Does It Mean

Last Thursday, a bridge collapsed over the Skagit River in Washington state, about an hour north of Seattle. I first heard the story on NPR, wedged between several other top-of-the-hour news bulletins. “A bridge collapsed in Washington state,” the radio said, no more details were offered.

I immediately wanted to know more: a bridge collapsed? How? Why? What kind of bridge? Was anyone hurt? Is this common? As a commuter who crosses multiple bridges daily, this story out of Washington seemed to play on some of my worst fears — now all the infrastructure I had taken for granted was a possible death trap.

But as I went about my day, waiting to hear emerging details of the collapse – the rescue efforts, the investigation, the government’s response – I was left in the dark. When I checked the New York Times website Friday evening, the story was buried in a small bullet point at the bottom of the page.

Miraculously, I learned, no one was killed. 3 people were rescued, none injured seriously. Apparently the bridge was clipped by a truck carrying an oversized load, damaging crucial components of its steel truss design. This was somewhat reassuring news – at least the bridge had been faulted in some way and hadn’t just collapsed on its own.

But still… is that all it takes? One slight error in a truck driver’s judgment?

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