Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Honduras' Coup and the Great South American Game


Map of the various countries' positions on Chavez. A Catholicgauze Map.

This past weekend the military of Honduras responded to requests by the Supreme Court and congress and removed President Manuel Zelaya from power. The military has stepped aside and let the congress vote Roberto Micheletti, member of Zelaya's party, as interm president. This affair has made Honduras the latest pawn in the great game of pro and anti-Hugo Chavez powers in Latin America.

The coup is more of a Turkish-style, military act to preserve democracy
than the historical Latin American banana republic-style coup. Zelaya was the leader of Honduras' Liberal Party, a center-left political party that was more moderate left than social democrat. However, Zelaya was overtly a fan of Chavez's leftism and anti-democratic policies. Zelaya declared that there would be a referendum to allow him to stay on as president despite the constitutionally mandated term limits. Congress, the Supreme Court, and even the Liberal Party stated that this was illegal since only the congress could call for a referendum. When the military refused to set up the voting booths, Zelaya had ballots flown in via Venezuela and foreign "volunteers" began the process of setting up the voting infrastructure. The military leaders then met with the other branches of government and the coup was plotted.

The change of government has been denounced world wide including both American President Obama and Chavez, who threatened violence against the new government. This is Chavez's first real international setback since the earlier 2009 presidential elections in Panama.

Hugo Chavez has been supporting much of the "pink wave" that has flooded across the Latin American political scene. Chavez first attempted to overthrow the Republic of Venezuela in 1992 but had to wait until 1998 to gain control of Venezuela legitimately. It was not until the rise in oil prices in the early 2000s that Chavez could afford to export his ideals. Since then he has funded leftist elections in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Minorly supporting/tolerating/ignoring Chavez are democratic, center-left governments like Brazil and Chile. These countries' governments are dedicated to social-economic planning yet still allow for liberal democracy. The only countries in Latin America actively opposing Chavezism are Mexico, the current president defeated the Chavez-funded candidate; Colombia, the government is fighting FARC rebels who are funded by Chavez; and the center-left government of Peru, the formerly left president is now more reformed and opposes Chavez's "social projects" in Peru.

It was hoped by some center-rightist, classical liberals, and democrats that the fall in oil prices would cripple Chavez's ability to interfere in democracies. However, the recent bounce in prices has replenished Chavez's treasury. Until then Latin America will play a great game rememnecent of the Cold War and the first Great Game.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Kodak Discontinuing Kodachrome


Truly a work of art. Click to enlarge. From PDN Photo of the Day

Kodak Film has announced that it will stop producing and processing Kodachrome film. To those who may wonder why this is geographic news the answer is a painful one. Kodachrome film is the color film that made National Geographic famous. The color images from 1937 up until the digital age were all done with Kodachrome.

The baroque era of National Geographic Magazine began with their color photographs. Before, in the classical era, the magazine has superb articles with black and white images. But Kodachrome gave the magazine color and an extra enriching feeling. The famous images of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s had a slightly off-feeling that made the photographs works of art. I always felt this "offness" was a plus. Editor Melville Grosvenor felt the same way; he order photographs to include red objects like shirts to add a sharp color contrast to images.

National Geographic magazine is marking the end of Kodachrome with a short news story and a new exhibit at the museum in Washington, D.C. in the United States. I plan to visit and remember the feeling the first time I explored the world through old National Geographic photos.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Gapminder: Geography Explored Through Statistics

Gapminder is a website museum lead by Hans Rosling. The site is full of videos and graphs dedicated to exploring and explaining demographics, climate, and health issues from a global perspective.

Gapminder makes excellent use of flash and allows for easy customization of their graphics. One can compare everything from life expectancy in Chinese province against the rest of the world or discover who has the best teeth. Meanwhile, the videos are about ten minutes each and give a good, quick overview of statistical geography debunking myths many people have on various issues.

Try out Gapminder today!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mexico Thinks They Lost an Island

Maps from the early Age of Exploration are fascinating things. Cartographers combined ship charts, captains' logs, and their own imagination to create maps of the New World. Later on more cartographers would use better information to make maps but sometimes still use old maps as "reference" to ensure they included everything. Sometimes mistakes manage to transfer from map to map because of cartographers' methods.

Case in point is Isla Bermeja. The island was marked in a sixteenth century Spanish map and was included in maps at least until the 1800s. Everybody knew of its existence until Mexico had to prove it to ensure they had sole drilling rights to a very rich oil area off the Yucatan in the Gulf of Mexico. Well, it turns out the island does not exist. Mexico is vowing to continue to look for the island but sadly for them anyone with Google Maps can quickly discover it is not there. The lack of an island opens much of the oil field near the doughnut holes to American drilling as well.

Bad cartography is hitting Mexicans hard. Some are in denial while others resort to conspiracies like CIA sinking the island or other American foul play (Spanish-language YouTube video).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ethiopian Orthodox Church to Reveal the Ark of the Covenant

UPDATE: What we have here is a failure to communicate. The patriarch now says the world cannot view his ark.

Patriarch Abune Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church announced in Rome his plans to reveal the Ark of the Covenant to the world.

The holy ark is described in the Bible as holding the Ten Commandants and various other ancient Hebrew holy artifacts. A little after 600 BC the Ark disappeared when Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem and looted much of the city.

However, Ethiopians claim they are the keepers of the ark. Depending on the legend, either the Ethiopian son of King Solomon, Menelik I, took the ark with him around 950 BC or Jewish priests gave the ark to Beta Israel to prevent it from falling into Babylonian hands. Regardless if true or not many Ethiopians believe they are keepers of the ark.

The claimed ark is in the city of Axum, Ethiopia in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion which dates back to the AD 300s.

The city of Axum is also a holy city to Muslims. Muhammad sent Muslims there during the first persecution because of the kindness of the Christian king. These refugees were the first Muslims to live outside the immediate Mecca-Medina core of Saudi Arabia. It is Muhammad was so impressed by Axum that he ordered his followers to forever leave Ethiopia in peace. Muslims in the town are not allowed a mosque because of the old imperial edict stating there can be no mosque in Axum as long as Mecca is churchless.

The patriarchs plan to reveal the ark is a massive break in tradition. Only men are allowed on the grounds where the ark is claimed to be and only the patriarch and one specially trained monk is allowed to actually see the ark. There have been claims that monks lifespans are short due to the divine energy that overpowers mere mortal sinners Old Testament-style. Anyone else who tries to see it allegedly dies. Much like what happened in the fictional Indiana Jones movie to the Nazis when they attempted to obtain it (yes, this last bit was necessary)

Kid Friendly Version


Original Version

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top Five Cultural Colonizers (Part 2)

Part One with Greco-Roman, English, and Arab culture

Chinese

The Chinese have one of the best cultures by almost any definition. Chinese culture has evolved yet retained much of its originality. The cultural system of the Han allowed for massive populations throughout history, generally strong government, and strong economy because of encouraging hard work and entrepreneurship (despite a brief historical oddity known as Maoism). Chinese culture was adopted and modified by Koreans, Japanese, and even the conquering Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty (when a political conqueror adopts the culture of the defeated like barbarians after the fall of Western Rome that says much about the strength of the culture).

The Chinese Empire and culture collapsed due to Ming and Qing dynasties fear of foreigners combined with a superiority complex. Outsiders were viewed like infectious disease to be avoided. Chinese culture finally regained a global outlook just in the past decade or two. In the meantime, Chinese emigrants brought a hard work ethic with them to southeast Asia and the United States. Chinese emigrants and their descendants in these new lands have been successful and members of the elite. Their culture has greatly aided these new homelands.

Uniqueness: The Chinese invited gunpowder and paper. They had a massive scientific edge on Europe. Finally, a navy that included an Atlantic fleet. All before Europeans managed to colonize the Western Hampshire. Chinese culture could have dominated the world. Instead they withdrew and became shadows of what they once were.

German

In many people's minds the stereotypical German is the ultimate antagonist: physically fit, hard working, never gives up, efficient, killing machine/evil. Obviously the last World War war much to do with this stereotype but so does the last two thousand years or so of Germanic culture. Fighting off the Romans, defeating Rome, conquering much of central Europe, successfully winning the Northern Crusades all by themselves, and then trying to take over the world. But the Germans were not always aggressive in their cultural efforts. Many countries like Romania and other Eastern European powers asked for German settlers to defend the frontier lands and run the markets. The Russians too desired German help in settling the Volga River valley. The hardworking, family-oriented Germans were successful in "holding down the fort" for many rulers.

The German legacy from the Asian border and Eastern Europe was a victim though of Germany itself. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II a vast program of ethnic cleansing cleared most Germans not in Germany or the other Germanic states of Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein.

While the German cultural influence is no more in much of the world outside Germany its impact is still strong in the United Kingdom in the United States. The United Kingdom is still ruled by the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The educational, collegiate, and bureaucratic systems of these two English countries is was made and formed by German culture. Today it is estimated that a quarter of all Americans have German heritage in them. The Germans failed to expand Germany but Germaness impacted two global players.

Honorable Mentions

Rus: Rus culture is the founding culture of both Russian and Ukrainian culture. Russian culture has impacted its neighbors and those Russia has conquered in its Eurasian land empire.

Ameroindian in Spanish colonized lands: American Indians lost to the Spanish where ever they fought. Spanish also Christianized most American Indians as well. However, mestizo culture is more Indian than Spanish and the national identity of many Hispano cultures in mainland America is more Indian than Spaniard as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Top Five Cultural Colonizers (Part 1)

"Great" empires come and go but cultures remain. Some cultures have managed to thrive due to cultural exportation despite political change. War, demographic colonization, and peaceful adoption have made some cultures spread like wildfire. These five cultures below have not only managed to spread across the world but also change the course of human events.

This list is in no particular order. Feel free to comment!

Greco-Roman

The Ancient Greeks had sway via colonies and states from the Pillars of Heracles to India. The heart of Greece, though, provided the start of Greek greatness. Philosophers and their adoption of the scientific mindset allowed for rational thought and debate (though killing the philosopher was an all too common solution to science versus angry mob debates). Greek ideas of governance, culture, and religion were adopted and sometimes modified by the Romans who spread the culture throughout Europe, southwest Asia, and northern Africa.

Greek rationality was adopted by early Christians via Saint Paul and spread throughout the Roman Empire in a peaceful revolution based in part by Greco-Roman ideals. Greco-Roman culture was also adopted by barbarians like the Visgoths who continued Roman culture well after the Western Roman Empire's fall (a combination of good governance, religion, and the ability to make hot baths attracted many to Greco-Roman culture). The Eastern Roman Empire and its culture managed to keep its hold in eastern Europe until the fifteenth-century (if not longer because of the its partial adoption by the Russians). Even the conquering Ottoman Empire kept parts of the old culture including the title of Caesar.

Uniqueness: The Greeks gave the world philosophy, the modern understanding of science, and the ideal of democracy. The Romans gave the world the basis of civil law, which is the most popular form of law in the world.

English


The cultural hybrid of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon first took southeast Great Britain then the rest of the British isles. Being geographically isolated from continental Europe, a cultural theory of English uniqueness grew in many English minds. English looked at Troy for inspiration, civilized like the rest of Europe but separate and bordering on the wilderness.

The English and their subjects demographically colonize and dominate what would become the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Not only this but other English colonizes adopted the democratic system (some more than others) and to this day follow many tenants of English cultures including using English as the national unity language and common law.

Unique Trait: The idea a person has rights that the state cannot control. The Magna Carta forced the state to recognize its limits. English later on expressed more rights. The start of the American Revolution, and many other revolutions thereafter, was based on the people being denied their God given rights by the state.

Arab

"There is no god but God and Muhammad is his Messenger" has been used throughout history as a cry for both war and peace. It has also been used as the cry to spread Arabic culture beyond the Arabian Peninsula. Along with Islam the Muslim advocates bring with them calls for Arab ideals and cultural norms. As Jewish culture goes with Judaism so does Arab culture goes with Islam.

Even the ideal of being an "Arab" has spread beyond true ethnic Arabs. There is a wide genetic difference between dark skinned Iranian Gulf Arabs, white Lebanese Arabs, brown Moroccan Arabs, and black Arabs of Saharan Africa yet all consider themselves to be Arab. Yet even those who do not consider themselves Arab are still deeply impacted by Arab culture through Islam, the Arabic language, or languages partially made by Arabs like Swahili.

Uniqueness: Besides the obvious of Islam, Arabic culture has been the only culture to replace either Roman or Roman-based cultures. Every other place once ruled by Rome still has a culture heavily impacted by Roman ways.

Coming Thursday: The last two cultures and special mentions

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How to tell when a map went out-of-date

When ability of Catholicgauze which surprises many is my skill in telling when a map was made by studying boundaries and country names. The trick is merely knowing when geopolitical changes occurred. A quick cheat sheet can help anyone know what time period their map was made.

  • May 1990: North and South Yemen merge
  • October 1990: There is only one Germany
  • December 1991: Soviet Union breaks up
  • During 1992: Yugoslavia breaks up
  • January 1993: Czechoslovakia dissolves
  • April 1994: White rule over and racial homelands are dissolved in South Africa
  • May 1997: Zaire becomes the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • July 2000: Yemen's current border with Saudi Arabia officially agreed upon
  • May 2002: East Timor becomes independent
  • June 2006: Montenegro separates from Serbia
  • February 2008: Kosovo becomes independent (not universally recognized)

By using these dates and finding what changes are shown it should be easy to tell when a "recent" map was made.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pioneer 10 and 11's Map to Earth

In the early 1970s NASA sent out Pioneer 10 and 11 to explore the outer solar system and eventually leave for deeper space. What makes the Pioneers rare amongst space probes is it has a somewhat detailed map on how to find its creators in case any alien species find the probes.


Besides the top right corner, which deals with chemistry and gives measurement units, the plaque either deals with finding Earth or identifying the creators. The nude couple obviously are meant to show what humans look like while the geometric shapes behind them represent the Pioneer satellites and is meant to give scale so aliens know how big humans are.

The star burst on the left compares the solar system's location to that of fourteen pulsars. Pulsars are collapsed stars that give off radiation at steady intervals. The signal given off is so strong and uniform that some scientists thought they were "alien lighthouses" when pulsars were first discovered. Any spacefaring species should know about pulsars and use the map to find our solar system.

The last map on the bottom shows the solar system plus Pluto minus all the plutoids. An arrow indicates that the Pioneers came from the third planet from the Sun.

The Pioneers are long gone yet still far away from the next star. Estimates for the probes to reach their targets are about four million years. They have not been heard from since 2003 and 1995, respectfully. In the meantime they will be flying through space carrying maps offering an open invitation to travel to its home.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Leningrad Then, Saint Petersburg Now

The Battle of Leningrad was the Stalingrad of northeastern Russia. From 1941 to 1944, eight hundred seventy-two days, Soviet forces and civilians held out against a combined German-Finish-Spanish Fascist army. The siege was a nightmare for many and the scars of battle still affect many.

Izsmile has a collection of pictures of the siege superimposed on present-day photos of the same place
. This method really shows how a place can change over time. Geography truly a four-dimension art and science.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mapping Unrest in Iran

Last updated: 1400 UTC 21 June

IranTracker has source data and has been mapping out reports of unrest in the Islamic Republic of Iran.



Meanwhile, a map using information off the Huffington Post displays which embassies were taking wounded Iranians (hat tip: Mashable). Correct me if I am wrong but this may be the first Google Maps mash-up designed to aide protesters during an on-going crisis.

View Embassies Accepting Injured People in Tehran in a larger map

Finally, the French news site 20minutes.fr has made three different Google Maps mashups which display location of twitter posts dealing with the election (hat tip: Google Maps Mania). The last map only has Iranian updates and is the most fascinating.

These map is another prime example of neogeography being used to better communicate information. Other crisis maps include Al Jazeera's Gaza War map and Catholicgauze's collection of Russia-Georgia War maps.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chimpanzees Know Geography

Chimpanzees are the closest related living creatures to humans. Besides shared physical and even social traits, the more chimpanzees are research the more similarities we realize. One of these similarities is that chimpanzees are geographers, too. By that statement I mean chimpanzees use mental maps.

Scientists who studied chimpanzees for years using GPS noted that the animals use euclidean geometry (angles, walking in straight lines) to navigate from point to point. A BBC article on the subject noted chimpanzees know where productive trees are and will purposefully travel to places where better fruit is. A previous 1984 study revealed that chimpanzees will also factor in geography when deciding which stone tools to use.

Instead of just being nomads roaming from place to place chimapanzees are creatures who understand they live in a spatial world. Reports like this makes one wonder about when was the first time a primate realized spatial data.

One thing that currently separates apes and homo sapiens is the ability to communicate spatial data to others whether vocally or visually through maps. This leap in ability seems to be a one of the great achievements of evolution. It would be fascinating to learn whether or not Neanderthals or any other branch or previous stage of humanity also had the ability to communicate geography.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Department of Defense Maps of Probable Soviet World War III Plans


The Warsaw Pact is envisioned to fight massive tank battles in West Germany. If victorious, a quick blitz would have easily overrun NATO powers France, United Kingdom, and Spain. Without European allies, the United States would probably a) sue for peace or b) end the world with nuclear strikes on the USSR.


When thinking about World War III many have thoughts of nuclear weapons and somesort of horrible post-apocalyptic wasteland. What many forget is that both NATO and the Warsaw Pact sought to win the war without the ending the war with mutually assured destruction. The Communists wanted to give a quick crushing blow while the West sought to inflict overwhelming losses while playing defense.



TechConex has American Department of Defense, probably Defense Intelligence Agency, produced maps which show what NATO expected in case of World War III. The Department of Defense (DoD) thought the main battle would be through the Fulda Gap. Here the technologically advanced NATO forces would face wave after wave of Warsaw Pact hardware ranging from modern to World War II antiques.

What is interesting is how the Soviets use geography to keep their opponents separate and too preoccupied to aid one another. The People's Republic of China is flanked on two sides, Alaska is invaded to tie down American forces, and the Middle East faces a direct assault then a swing attack via Asia Minor. It appears the DoD thought the Soviets hoped each front would face a singular, small enemy.

Who knows if these plans would have worked. Thankfully they never have been tested.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What a Geologic Time Spiral Teaches Us About Geological Bias

The United States Geological Survey has a geologic time spiral which depicts the geomorphology of the Earth and evolution of life. The time spiral is a graphic timeline starting with the creation of the planet up to present-day and is done in a retro artistic style.

What is shown and what not is shown reveals alot about the bias in geologic studies. The start of the earth is depicted in a dusty solar system with the next two billion years are skipped over. There is no depictions of the Earth cooling down or formation of terra firma or the oceans. Instead life is shown starting in a pre-existent sea. This "out of choas" resembles the biblical Judeo-Christian understanding of the early cosmos. Land is not shown on the time spiral until the Cambrian Period, the time period when the first basic microbes began living on dry land. A second major bias demonstrates how geology has abandoned the oceans except for paleogeology. The further the time scale goes the smaller the ocean gets. Also, the time scale does not show when the great marine animals like giant whales and large sharks evolved.

While not a bad learning tool, the geologic time spiral does demonstrate biases in geology.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Important Things to Know About Iran's Election

Twitter riots, Hezbollah and possibly Amal shock troops on the streets, and voting results are the latest rage in the Islamic Republic of Iran. With news being dumped left and right there are a few important things to know about the recent disputed election.

1. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cheated but would have won anyway
. Was there fraud in this election? Of course there was (American elections are hardly clean). President Ahmadinejad had the full backing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp who control the flow of movement throughout the country and protect the election ballots. Any Iranian or Arab country under Iranian threat knows the IRGC plays dirty. But this is besides the point. The Western media (the biggest offender being the Washington Post-owned publication Foreign Policy) based their predictions of a "high turnout equals reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi victory" based on reports from the Mousavi camp who based their opinion on reading blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. This flawed sampling method would make a Mousavi victory seem likely. Only a limited segment of Iran uses new media. The poor Persians, industrial Azeris, and tribal everyone else do not use new media and these groups tend to like Ahmadinejad for this tough foreign policy stances. The bad polling is much like the 1936 case of Literary Digest claiming President Roosevelt would lose reelection. They conducted their poll by telephone: a device only used by upper-middle class (Republicans) at the time.

2. Mosavi is not a reformist
. The man was prime minister during the Iran-Iraq War. He is not as hard core on women's issues but when it comes to nuclear policy, Israel, the United States, Iranian minorities, etc he is just like Ahmadinejad. The reason why Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the real leader of Iran, allowed Mosavi to run for president is because Khamenei knew Mosavi would follow the line and not rock the boat.

3. Iran is the Islamic Republic of Iran (It is not a normal country just with a different viewpoint). Foreign Policy and there ilk are confused. In part of their claiming that the election was stolen they state "would a victor act like this?" A better question would be "would an Islamic Republic paranoid of losing power do this?" The answer is yes. Iran's leaders remember how fun it was to drag the Shah's troops through the streets during the Iranian Revolution. Those who dragged and killed the Shah's men know what horrible fate to have it down to oneself and will do anything to avoid it. Heck, these are the people who kill gays and minorities in the street because they seem them as a threat!

Okay, now that I have vented I will be okay. In the meantime I hope you readers have a better understanding of what is going on inside Iran.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rainforest Discovered by Using Google Earth

BBC has two articles on the discovery of a rainforest in Mozambique. To Catholicgauze and many others this is new, but not to the Geography-related blogosphere. I was too busy in Iraq to notice Ogle Earth's mentioning of this all the way back in January.

Many are writing or will write about the unique species that are being discovered near the new Mount Mabu rainforest so I will take a moment to emphasize how this discovery was possibly. When it comes to the great landforms and landcovers we like to say the world is already completely mapped. That statement is not quite true. People tend to rely too much on the produced maps and databases. Obviously others had to look at Mount Mabu and see the green spot near it but the lack of a database saying "rainforest" caused many to just move on. Thankfully, there are those who still read maps and satillite images to look for things not yet labeled.

Below are the BBC videos on the newly discovered rainforest.



Friday, June 12, 2009

Where Europe Ends

The word "Europe" is becoming increasingly more and more tied to the European Union. If one is "Euroskeptic" one is not skeptical of the land mass and people on it but instead wary of the European Union. To have a "European" perspective is to think and view problems as the European Union would. The European Union has become synonymous with the continent to many. However, in the era of Euros and a European presidency, it is easy to forget one of the first places stated to be the geographic center of Europe is to the east of most of the Union in Ukraine and over thirty percent (well over two hundred million) Europeans live outside the European Union.

The documentary "Where Europe Ends" is an hour long survey of regions that are European but outside the Union. The documentary looks at lands like Moldova and Transnitria, the ethnically mixed Transcarpathian region in Western Ukraine, and Black Sea Coast. Those already knowledgeable in these regions will not learn anything new but will appreciate the personal stories of Romanians, Jews, Germans, and others who have fallen through the cracks Russia and the European Union.

When the documentary talks about the history of regions one quickly realizes those lands beyond Europe(an Union) have long been moving towards and away the greater European cultural realm. Ancient Greece colonized the northern Black Sea coast. The Republic of Genoa extended Italian influence there as well. Germans brought Central European culture with them into southeastern Europe (ethnic Germans were fierce opponents of their price, Vlad "Dracula" Tepes, in part because of leadership not paying bills and Vlad's habit of impelling his ethnic German subjects), the Baltic (Teutonic Knights battled Orthodox and Pagans to gain massive cultural sway there until the end of World War II), and even past the Volga River (Volga Germans had their own autonomous Soviet republic). However, these attempts to bring/impose Europe were ended either by barbarian, Turkish, and Communist conquests. Each of these invaders sought to rebuild these lands in their own image. What they left beyond was instead fragmented cultures.

Today many in the outside zones of Europe want to be members of the European Union. They see how European Union membership has not only aided the core countries but has seemingly improved many former Soviet satellite states as well. Opposing them are homeland corruption, a ruler in Moscow wants a buffered Eurasian empire, and European Union elites who see the outsiders as pests not worthy to share in the common market. Hopefully the European Union can spread bringing open-government liberalism and economic improvement to the European overlooked lands while importing positive Eastern European traits. Time will tell though if Europe can finally hold onto these outside lands or if a new horde will keep them geographically separate yet again.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Power of Old Maps

This post has been delayed a while but it is better late than never. Catholicgauzette gave me an excellent Christmas gift I received after I returned from Iraq: the 1938 National Geographic map entitled "Europe and the Mediterranean." The work of art can be viewed here.

The map is wonderful for multiple reasons. First the map is done beautifully both in color and text. But the fact that it is a map makes it even better than a "normal" work of art. The map depicts the last of "classical" Europe before the time the continent was brought into the modern era by the biggest shedding of blood in the history of the world. It has a regal sadness to it like the map at the end of Last Express. The various city names and borders create a story of national epics colliding that is continued by one's knowledge of history. A third reason, and final reason for this post, is the modern-day lessons one can learn from this art work. Lessons from Romania having modern-day Moldova sans Transnistria which belongs to the Soviet Union, the various French-mandated states that make up modern day Syria include Lebanon, and there is a Palestine.

The old map is a powerful tool and a wonderful work of art. While many people throw out old maps because they are inaccurate, one must remember they still have stories to tell.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth a book. -Catholicgauze

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Latest Global Temperature Model Released


Roy Spencer has released his latest chart based on the recent release of global temperatures. The chart appears to show that the warming period that started in 1998/2000 may be ending. This would be on par with other reports on how the earth is either entering a temporary or medium-term cooling period. For reference check out the other charts by Spencer showing the various climate cycles.

Relatedly, parts of the United States may experience a year without summer.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Marine Snow: The top-down chain of life in the oceans


A fish and marine snow. From DeepSeaLife

The ocean is the least well known region of the world. This is shame because over seventy-percent of the world's surface is water, whether it be the ocean, artificially designated seas, lakes, or rivers. Once one gets past the first few feet of water human knowledge of what lies below becomes less and less. Compounding ignorance is the great disconnect of what scientists know that the average person does not.

One of the things many lay people do not know about is marine snow. Marine snow is a combination of dead or dying small animals like plankton or shrimp, plants, sand, fecal matter, sand, and sugars. The combination forms in clumps or string and is known as marine snow. The snow then falls from the upper layers of water all the way down to the bottom. All the way down to the bottom and then on the bottom a variety of lifeforms consume the snow for food. It is believed that animals which live in perpetual darkness receive most their energy from consuming marine snow.

Marine snow is effected by the environment. Whenever there is more life production on the surface (usually spring and summer) there is more snow. Scientists are finally looking into how pollution is affecting marine snow and lifeforms so deep that they were previously thought beyond the reach of human pollutants. Better understanding the marine snow cycle and all its variables will help in the comprehension of this important food chain.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Pro-West March 14 wins Lebanese Election

It was a nail biter and for a while polls made it seem that the pro-Iranian Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance would win.  However, even though a few more seats are being called it is confirmed that the pro-West March 14th group has won the 2009 Lebanese election.  Seventy seats (maybe one or two less) out of one hundred twenty-eight will go to March 14, fifty-seven to March 8, and three to independents who range from opportunists to honestly independent minded people.

This breakdown is close to the 2005 vote but it gives some seats back to March 14 that were lost due to assassinations.

Now the hard part begins.  Before the election there was a "national unity" government which was forced on Lebanon by Hezbollah's 2007 war against the March 14-led government.  The national unity government gave Hezbollah the veto option on all decisions and control of several key ministries.  March 14 may use the election results as a mandate to leave Hezbollah out of the government.  Hezbollah and their allies will threaten violence especially with they are forced to disarm (something they are required to do by the United Nations) or give up their telecommunications network (which started the last Hezbollah war).  The big factor on what happens is what the west does.  If President Obama and other Western leaders turn a blind eye like President Bush did then democracy will suffer another blow.  However, if the West backs the democratically elected government in Lebanon then the day of terrorism as a political tool will end there.  Let us all hope the latter is the case.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Moldovan and Greenland Election Updates

Following my recent Moldovan presidential election standoff: The opposition held again and the presidential vote for moderate Communist Zinaida Greceanii failed by two votes, 59 to 0. New parliamentary elections will be held sometime between July and September. The opposition has momentum going in but the Communist have media control and their leader, President/Speaker Vladimir Voronin has huge sway with the older pensioner crowd. The election will probably result in a Communist plurality but strong opposition. A comprise candidate, probably a due nothing like Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, will be picked to be the next President of Moldova.

Meanwhile in Greenland the Inuit Eskimos, descendants of the successful conquerors the Thule, swept the Greenland parliamentary election. The ex-Communist, pro-Independence and native party Community of the People earned nearly half of all seats and gain the right to name the prime minister. The center-right and center-left ethnic Danish parties lost half their seats. Expect the government of Greenland to increase its drive for resource rights.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Exploring Extrasolar Planet with Star Trek

Many of those who love astronomy also have a strong tie to Star Trek. The voyages of the various USS Enterprises and other ships filled our imagination with a rich universe filled with stars, worlds, and strange beings. The cultural impact of Star Trek is so strong that many astronomers will use Trekkie vocabulary when trying to explain things to normal people.

The USS Voyager Astrometrics Exoplanetary Data Console maps out the extrasolar planets and provides basic data about each one while displaying everything on a console based on Star Trek Voyager. All the bells and whistles are from Star Trek and have the coolness factor associated with it. While one probably will not learn anything new with the tool it certainly is a neat educational toy to play with. (Hat tip: Google Earth Blog)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Overlooked: Minority Nations of the former Soviet Union

In the cliché-ridden propaganda of the Soviet era tsarist Russia was frequently dubbed the “prison of nations”. When the Soviets came into power this “prison”, by virtue of new national policies, transformed into a family of friendly and brotherly nations in whose bosom all the national cultures flourished. To boast of the achievements under the Communist Party leadership, grandiose cultural festivals were arranged in the Soviet republics, folkloristic dance, song and instrumental groups were established and the revival of old peasant culture was encouraged. The slogan “socialist in content, nationalist in form” came to be applied to the new Soviet culture. Behind this deceptive facade of ethnographic originality, the tsarist prison of nations never ceased to exist: russification was carried out on a large scale, nationalist intellectuals were persecuted, a policy of extensive exploitation of land was pursued and nations were continuously resettled and mingled. The desired result was the birth of a new, Russian-speaking “Soviet nation.”
-Excerpt from the introduction of The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire

When the Soviet Union collapsed the various ethnic groups divided up the carcass of the old Tsar/Soviet empire. Or so most think. In reality many minorities were left in another nation's homeland. Their cultures vary between European, Eurasian, Asian, and some even share cultural traits with North American Eskimos.

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire is an excellent encyclopedia made in 1993 Estonia. The book has numerous entries on the wide range of nations that were added to the Russian/Soviet Empire. Each entry has information on population, history, and lifestyle as well as a map.

Some groups are doing well while others are fading away. Each entry gives a taste of a rich history of an overlooked people. Enjoy sections about arctic dwelling Nganasans, Turkic Tats, Moutain Jews, and many more.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Moldovan Standoff Over the Presidency

Back in April the fractured pro-European Union, pro-Romanian Moldovan opposition parties rioted against the pro-European Union, pro-Russia Communist Party's heavy-handed victory in the parliamentary election.

The Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin announced he would follow in Putin's footsteps and become the head of the parliament since term limits ended his presidency. It seemed like a cake walk then. The Communists had sixty out of the one hundred-one seats and only needed one extra vote to elect their candidate as president. In the past it was easy to persuade/bribe an opposition member to vote along with the Communists.

That was in the past. The first ballot for president ended up failing sixty to nothing since all opposition members boycotted the election. A second, repeat election has been delayed officially because of an Orthodox holiday but more probably because of fears the opposition will boycott again. If the second vote fails then another popular election for parliament must be held. That scenario is something the Communists fear because of opposition momentum. Added on top of all this is a fracture forming in the Communist Party as democrats begin to leave.

Moldova is a pawn in the European-flank game that is NATO-realm versus the Eurasian Front. Career geostrategists in Moscow, Brussels, and Washington eagerly await word of the June 3rd election... if it is held.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

First Law of Geography and Distance Decay

Waldo Tobler is a man who knows how the academic game is played. Dr. Tobler summed up the idea of geographic distance decay in such a way it became known as the first law of geography. The law is worded as "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things."

Think of a drop of water impacting a larger body of water. The impact site has the most intense energy. One then can see the energy disperse and get weaker as the energy moves away from the impact site. This thought of a water impact can be transferred into the realm of geographic thought. Viruses, political protests, fires, ideas, etc all can be effected by distance decay on both a macro and micro scale.

Not all space is equal so distance decay is not equal. Roads, mountains, water ways, and many more natural and man made obstacles slow and speed up distance decay. Other things can compete for space against the decaying phenomena and become stuck or even reversed.

Catholicgauze has even noticed some things act stronger in the ends rather than distance decay from some center point. Nationalism in particular becomes stronger when threatened by some foreign/counter force. Look at diaspora groups (Irish-Americans have greater militant republican tendencies than do most Irish) or near aboard groups (ethnic Russians fought and defeated Moldova in a war as the Soviet Union was falling apart).

Monday, June 01, 2009

Bolivia's Name Change

Catholicgauzette has notified me about Bolivia's name change. The new constitution of Bolivia has turned the Republic of Bolivia into the Plurinational State of Bolivia.

The new constitution is the latest battle between Mestizo/Indian La Paz versus Amero-Spanish Sucre. Bolivian President Evo Morales' has succeeded in promoting American Indian culture and issues throughout his presidency. The new constitution makes Bolivia one state made out of many nations where the various Indian nations are on part with the Spanish legacy. Now Spanish and thirty-six(!) Indian languages are recognized as official languages.

The self-declared autonomous zones meanwhile will continue their efforts to preserve the pro-business, pro-West policies that have made eastern Bolivia relatively well off.

Bolivia is continuing to slowly tear itself apart between east and west.