Monday, August 31, 2009

Why Japan's Election Matters

The center-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan has long the Japanese political scene since the reestablishment of Japanese sovereignty after the American military occupation. The party managed to establish Japan's economic empire while keeping close ties to the United States. Now though, the center-left Democratic Party (DPJ) of Japan with its socialist ally and the bizzaro-conservative People's New Party have won yesterday's election in a landslide of biblical proportions.

Americans should take note of the DPJ victory and its leader, Yukio Hatoyama. Hatoyama's own New York Times op-ed piece begins with bashing globalization and the United States while calling for a greater "integration" towards East Asia. What this translates to is Japan, for the time being, will seek to foster relations with the People's Republic of China that are less wary of the Communists and ignore American interests. A few years ago, the DPJ greatly harmed Operation Enduring Freedom by limiting the role of Japan's ships in refueling American transports heading to Pakistan. Expect more difficulties coming from Tokyo in the future.

More in-depth coverage of the domestic-side of Japan's election can be found at the always great Coming Anarchy blog. That blog will also be covering developments between the new DPJ Japan and the rest of the world.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gas Tax Increases Around the World

Remember the late 1990s when gasoline for one's car was "cheap?" I remember complaining with my father that gas had reached $1.75 a gallon (46¢ a liter). Now the price at the same gas station is $2.49 a gallon (66¢ a liter) and it was a lot more a year ago.

There are many reasons why gas prices have gone up including greater demand, changes in currency rates, pipeline politics, environmental polices, etc. However, depending on where one lives another reason could be the change in the amount the government taxes on gas consumption. The Economist has a chart (below) which shows the fluctuations in gas taxes in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the international free-market body. Some countries like Turkey and Hungary have added woes to drivers by massively increasing taxes while Canada has actually lowered its tax.


One thing is certain when examining spatial patterns. The European core, with its social capitalist model, charges the highest taxes on average while the more capitalistic rim of the OECD has much lower gas taxes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Comparing Death Worldwide

Figuring out death is an odd habit of humans. The popular website Death Clock even estimates one's date of death (Catholicgauze has been told by Death Clock that his death will be on Christmas Eve; making that the worst Christmas season ever).

However, few of the death estimates out there factor in geography. The website Death Risk Rankings by the Carnegie Mellon University allows one to compare death and cause of death via various geographic variables in the United States and Europe.

Now even geographers can get their death kicks.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Catholicgauze Rated Among Top Geography Blogs!



Catholicgauze has been rated among the top geography blogs by The Daily Reviewer. While it is technically in the top 100 blogs section, there are only twenty-one blogs listed. This is in part the wide range of blogs that fall under the field of geography. Most are either geospatial (GIS-like), about Google Earth, or maps. Catholicgauze is honored to be one of the few that tries to cover most aspects of geography.

In that note I offer an open forum. Are there any subjects you wish Catholicgauze to cover? Any series of posts you do not like? Thank you again for your readership, everyone!

Be sure to check out Catholicgauze's survey of the various geography blogs out there.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Future Worldwide Water Stress


The BBC has several maps predicting water stress for the world's future. Not surprisingly those countries hardest hit my lack of water of their populations is in the economical-political gap area around 30 degrees North.

From Senegal to the People's Republic of China people will be thirsty. The great fear is that not only climate fluctuations negatively impact water availability but the infrastructure will not be built in time to factor in growing population and possible climate changes.

The Middle East may be especially hit hard if the oil is replaced by another energy source. Without a massive money source the Middle East have nothing to soften the blow of a dwindling water supply. Already Yemen is having serious problems.

The American West is also currently having problems and the situation will likely only get worse. The artificial "Cadillac Desert" is unsustainable and unnatural cities like Las Vegas only speed up the upcoming disaster. The question of how long the Ogallala Aquifer can last will have a big impact on agriculture in the southern Great Plains.

The best way to reduce water stress is to invest in desalinization, improve internal water infrastructure, and encourage practices that reduce water waste. Without this three pronged approach many of the world's most desperate people will be at risk of lacking the most plentiful resource on Earth.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Maritime Geography: Brown, Green, and Blue Water

Those who have interests in navies are familiar with the terms brown water, green water, and blue water navy. Each of these colored navies are capable of different levels of operations. However, many people do not know what the ability of each navy is or even what the different colors mean. Here is a simple guide

Brown water: Brown water refers to the highest point of high tide to the end of the littoral zone. Think coastal area. Many times the term brown water navy refers to military/police ships that patrol harbors and rivers.

Green water: Green water refers to the region between the coastal zone (brown water) into the ocean past continental shelf. Green water navies are regional powers who can extend their fleet a limited range. Think South Korea, India, and the United States Coast Guard.

Blue water: Blue water means the open ocean. Blue water navies are those who can travel the world while displaying overwhelming force. Prime examples are the United States Navy, the France, and the People's Republic of China (which will soon be a blue water fleet).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: Between Past and Present - Archaeology, Ideology, and Nationalism in the Modern Middle East

Archaeology is a very political science. Not only are egos running all academic institutions (these egos fight each other to defend the honor of various theories) but politics gets in the game. Questions like who were the first Americans, were white people in New Zealand before Cook, and almost anything to do with Biblical archeology rile passion and politics. Ancient dead people can give living people either legitimacy to the land or prove them as impostors who conquered the territory from actual natives.

Neil Asher Silberman's out of print Between Past and Present: Archaeology, Ideology, and Nationalism in the Modern Middle East is a quick-and-easy introduction various geopolitical archaeological battles ranging from Macedonia to Yemen. Silberman made the various chapters independent of one another so it is easy to pick the book up at your country of interest and just read. The author uses first-person as he recreates his travels to the various archaeological sites and discusses the messages the various interest parties try to convey. Readers deeply familiar with the various controversies covered will learn nothing new; however, those relatively new to the subjects or those who want a light read will surely enjoy Between Past and Present.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Seventy Years since the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Seventy years ago an alliance of evil was signed by National Socialists and Communists. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a geopolitical division of eastern Europe between the Nazi's German Reich and the Communist's Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The pact was a geopolitical agreement that was meant to avoid a war between the two powers that began regardless. While most people know of the deal to split Poland in two there were other geopolitical land grabs as well. The USSR was allowed to do a massive land grab against Finland, Romania, and the all of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The latter came as a surprised to the Germans who expect the USSR to allow Lithuania to rejoin a realm of German influence.

The treaty lasted less than two years. Both Hitler and Stalin had plans to break it since the start. The Eastern Front aka the Great Patriotic War was by far the bloodiest section of World War II. Even before the Soviets took Berlin, an ailing Roosevelt, mostly blind to the evils of Stalin, gave all of Eastern Europe to the Soviets for a sphere of influence. The evils of Molotov-Ribbentrop were magnified by Yalta and later Potsdam.

While the Pact is viewed as an alliance between evils in the West, Russia has defended the pact. Moscow states the pact was necessary to keep the peace and it was not a deal between two imperial powers hungry for land. Disagreeing with Russia's point of view may be an international crime, according to Russia.

When it comes to crimes of the past there seems to be three categories
  • Some countries admit shame like Germany
  • Some countries still try to draw positive lessons like Japan
  • Other countries merely spin and embrace their actions like Russia.

Molotov-Ribbentrop deeply impacted the landscape of Central and Eastern Europe. Sadly, it was not the first nor last pact to harm so many.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Prehistoric Humans Caused Global Warming? Not Likely

A study by environmental scientists claims that prehistoric humans around around six thousand years ago started a wave of global warming due to their land clearing programs. (For background the study states this wave began before the bronze age, writing, and the start of Ancient Egypt). This era is the dawn of agriculture and featured a population boom of 5 million people seven thousand years ago to 27 million people five thousand years ago.

While it is true prehistoric man could do geoengineering, this claim is ludicrous. Look at the table of world population growth. At a ratio of 1:1290 and 1:238, there is no way bronze age man (with a good chunk of the population still in the stone age) could cause any real noticeable climate impact when today's (post-)industrial man's impact is still debated. If prehistoric man was the cause of the warming period at the dawn of the bronze age then today's man would have destroyed the world many times over without a doubt.

The problem with the study was that it was conducted by environmental scientists alone who see everything through a human-environment cause and effect. They are taught that nature is in an equilibrium. The radical and violent climate shifts of Earth's past tell us a completely different story.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Robert Ballard on the Importance of Ocean Exploration



Oceanographer Robert Ballard is best known for the discovery of the RMS Titanic. But his real love is telling people about his love for the geography of the seventy-two percent of planet which is underwater. Not only does he give interesting geographic information (56% of the United States is beneath the sea and we have better maps of Mars than the 56%) but also gives serious economic justifications for finally getting serious about oceanic exploration. Ballard does a better job advocating his views than many astronauts give with the romantic dream of exploring space. (Hat tip: Watchful eyes, thoughtful minds)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Facial Expressions Are Not Universal

Laughter is universal. Many people also think facial expressions are universal because they are so basic. A recent study though states that facial expressions are made and read differently based on geography.

Apparently East Asians tend to focus on eyes while those of Western European cultural heritage focus on the whole face. This is backed up by evidence in computers. Cultural Western European emoitcons tend to emphasize the mouth [ :), :(, :O] while Eastern Asian emoitcons emphasize the eyes [^_^, T_T, o.o]

There are already studies that discuss how Asians and Americans (culturally an offshoot of Western Europeans) visually scan differently. Whether it be culturally or some genetic difference it is clear geography impacts how one sees and interacts with the world. The only questions now are how great is this gap, what are the pros and cons of this, and how can any negatives be neutralized.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alive in Afghanistan: Mapping the News from Afghanistan

Alive in Afghanistan is a great community news website about the war and life in Afghanistan. Not only does it gather and map news stories on Afghanistan, it has a community aspect where users on the ground can upload stories. Right now it is proving useful in figuring out where the latest attacks have been and what polling places are open, closed, or under fire. Check it out now!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

United States of Conservative America

Gallup has an interesting poll about conservatives, liberals, and moderates in the United States. According to the poll, conservatives outnumber liberals in every single state. District of Columbia is the only place where liberals outnumber conservatives.

The top five conservatives states are Alabama, Mississippi, Utah, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
The states where liberals come the closest to conservatives are Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, Oregon and New York.

Conservative states are concentrated in the South and Interior West while the states with the largest liberal minority are in the Northeast and West Coast. In fourteen states there are more moderates than Democrats.

Some may say, if this is the case, why is the usually Republican Party behind the usually liberal Democratic Party in membership. The reason is Franklin Roosevelt's coalition is still alive and identity politics. Take the District of Columbia where conservatives are 24% of the population and liberals are 37% However, the gap between Republicans and Democrats is 65%! This is because many if not most of the big three minorities (Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians) have social conservative values but traditional vote Democratic since the 1930s. The minority vote then complements the rich, White liberal vote and the swing moderate vote for a Democratic victory.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

With news of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic making their way to North America, it is a great time to write about the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

The scale is based on the wind speed of the hurricane at the given time. The scale is broken down below. A general rule of thumb is that each additional level on the scale will do four times more damage.

Level

Wind Speed (Miles Per Hour)

Storm Surge (Feet)

Tropical Depression

Up to 38

0

Tropical Storm

39-73

Up to 3 feet

1

74-95

4-5

2

96-110

6-8

3

111-130

9-12

4

131-155

13-18

5

Anything past 156

Anything past 19



Fox News provides a great graphical depiction of the damage each level can do.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dreams of a White Africa: South Africa versus Rhodesia

For the most part the European colonization of Africa was not a demographic colonization but merely the occupation of land. The primary goal of most European countries was to seize mineral resources while having a permanent yet very small European immigrant population to run things locally. European colonization of Africa for the most part therefore deviated quite differently from that of America, Canada, and Australia which all saw massive waves of immigrants.

When decolonization much of the White, European-descended populations left Africa and the former colonies became Black African-ruled "republics." Two exceptions existed though: South Africa and Rhodesia. These two states had very different cultural pasts yet shared a dream of an independent, White state. They also had a key difference concerning their outlook which affected their outcomes, not only on a state level but also demographic. South African Whites were Africans while Rhodesians stayed European.

Origins

The origins of both White African states plays a big role in their eventual paths. South Africa was first colonized by Dutch and other Calvinistic groups. The various groups merged into the Dutch-offshoot group known as Boers which translates as "farmers" who in turn became known as Afrikaners meaning "African". Many South Africans of Dutch and related descent used the term Afrikaner to identify themselves as being natives of their land and not belonging to their ancestor's homeland. When the British took over the Cape of Good Hope many Afrikaners left in the Great Trek to the interior of present-day South Africa. It was here where the Afrikaners truly became Africans. They formed their own republics and interacted with the various native kingdoms and tribes. Afrikaners became their own native tribe, albeit one with guns and advanced technology.

Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) has a very different origin. Originally it was a dream of the Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company. Various political bodies were formed and dissolved but the basis of Rhodes' idea lived on in Rhodesia: Black Africans did their thing leaving the British alone while the British developed and mined Rhodesia. There was never any big immigration of Whites but those who did move in ran the national politics like in all other European colonies in Africa.

Formation of White Statehood

For a while the Afrikaners managed to hold off the British even defeating them in the First Boer War. However, the Second Boer War was a huge setback. The British and European-minded English colonists once again moved into Afrikaner territory but this time there was no where else to move to. It was with the end of the Second Boer War that something happened to eastern Afrikaners (the ones who lost their independence). Their Calvinistic beliefs were radicalized and they began to form a serious inferiority/superiority complex. British were viewed as weak settlers who stayed in the city while Afrikaners conquered the wasteland and Black Africans were viewed as savages. When the Union of South Africa, the government establish by the United Kingdom, implemented White Democracy the Afrikaners became the ruling group. Afrikaners slowly broke with the British Empire more and more until a republic was declared in 1961.

Meanwhile Rhodesia was watching the United Kingdom grant independence to Black Africans with horror. Many White Rhodesians wanted to remain well within the European sphere. Majority-rule (giving Blacks democratic control) was horrifying because it meant an end to the European lifestyle of European music, European-affiliated churches, and most importantly governance. When Rhodesia's colonial government and the United Kingdom reached the impasse over majority-rule, Rhodesia declared independence in 1965 (the only other United Kingdom colony to declare independence without having it peacefully given was the United States).

Ruling Leads to Downfall

Both countries White rulers lead to their own downfalls. South Africa's ruling Afrikaners did not rule like their Boer ancestors, as a tribe that dealt with native Black African nations on a relatively equal level. Instead, while playing equality with homelands, Afrikaners instituted apartheid. The policy became ever more radical with the eventual effort to have Coloureds (mixed White, Black, and sometimes Asian) stop speaking Afrikaans out of the belief that the language should only be spoken by "pure" Afrikaners. The radical policies of apartheid lead to a civil war which was only solved with the peaceful change over to democracy: today's Republic of South Africa.

While a little less than ten percent of South Africans were Afrikaner, only four percent of Rhodesia was White. The Bush War broke out in the heavily anti-colonial environment of southern Africa right after independence was declared. The Rhodesian government began population removal programs which only alienated any Blacks not against the government while the entire White population was militarized. Even apartheid South Africa eventually opposed Rhodesia and its goal of a White, European African state. A peace treaty was signed allowing for majority rule in 1980. Many people were relieved when the seemingly moderate Robert Mugabe became prime minister promising peacefully relations between White and Black Zimbabweans.

Today

There was a mass migration of Afrikaners out of South Africa after majority-rule was established. Those who stayed see themselves as an important, integral part of South Africa. President Jacob Zuma has praised Afrikaners for being African and his chief opponent in the 2009 election was an Afrikaner who was popular with Afrikaners, English South Africans, and some Coloureds. The radicalism has been defeated, for the most part, as church attendance has collapsed by half (down to 45%) and Afrikaners live next to all races. There are some groups that still seek a small Afrikaner state but these have only succeeded in making two small towns of radicals who receive media coverage.

White Rhodesians/Zimbabweans received a much worse blow. Mugabe turned out to be a racist dictator who authorized the seizure of White-owned farms. Most Whites fled back to the United Kingdom while some became farmers in Zambia at the request of the government. Today less than one percent of Zimbabwe's population is white.

Finale

While Afrikaners became Africans and Rhodesians tried to stay European their states ended in the same way: military defeated blunted by a political agreement. However, the Afrikaner spirit of becoming one with Africa has allowed most to stay in South Africa while most Rhodesians have been spread about by the geographical wind.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Online Asian Culture Guide

Cultural misunderstandings can not only embarrassing but also costly. Ask any tourist who has had a run in with the police for "indecency" or "insulting the leader" or any businessman who's business trip ended in a failed deal and made potential clients into enemies.

Dat Nguyen has set out to help travelers understand Asian cultures so that they may avoid unfortunate cultural misunderstandings. His website, Understanding Asian & Chinese Culture and Customs for Travel, and related Twitter feed have useful explanations like Vietnamese chopstick and dinning etiquitte.

The website is still new so it is not complete but instead a living work in progress. Be sure to check this out if China, Vietnam, India, or another Asian country is on your travel list.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Indians are Asian because there are no one "Asian" ethnic group

Going around on Twitter (hat tip: geographile) is the question "Are Indians Asian?" A website, Indians are Asian, has been established to prove Indians are indeed Asian by cultural traits, geography, food, and humor.

Indians are of course Asians because they are from the part of Eurasia called "Asia" by those who claim to live in "Europe" (Greeks used the term to mean anything not Greek that lied to the east). I documented before how Asia is an artificial understanding of Eurasia.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

If Secessionist Groups Win

Click to enlarge

Graphic designer and cartographer Theo Deutinger has made a neat map (above) which shows what the world map would look like if various secessionist groups won. The map is a bit grainy and in a foreign language but it is neat none the less. For information on many groups mapped check out the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation. (Hat tip: Coming Anarchy)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This mountain by any other name would be just as tall

This mountain goes by many names, more than I know. Those in Tibet call it Chomolungma. In Nepal it’s known as Sagarmatha. Some that are intimate with it call it the “Big E.” In the West it’s referred to as Mt. Everest. It is known as the highest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet (some say it's now 29,035 ft).

photo: Wikipedia

Catholicgauze and I have found the Discovery Channel’s “Everest: Beyond the Limit” television programs fascinating. Not just for the shear willpower (and probably more importantly: mind-power) of those that attempt an Everest Climb, but it’s also interesting just to understand the mountain itself. When looking at a photo of Everest, I see two slopes that form a peak, the summit. It seems simple to trek, albeit the lack of oxygen, the inability to digest food, and the possibility of medical problems (which include hypothermia, high altitude pulmonary edema, and cerebral edema) at that altitude may set one back.

My understanding of the face of Everest has changed drastically having watched the program, and seeing the terrain up-close. I invite you to visit the Discovery Channel’s “North Side of Everest” interactive map, to see for yourself, and watch related video corresponding to that particular location.


To highlight some notable high-altitude locations:
  • The First Step: Short rock buttress about 100 feet high

An effort to bury the body of Fran Arsentiev who died here (located next to the climber) in 1996 was carried out in 2007. The majority of accidents on Everest happen on the way down. photo: mountainguides.com

  • The Second Step: Boulders and a rock wall that requires the use of a ladder (yes, there is a man-made ladder on Everest; the first one was placed by the Chinese, and has since been updated)

You can make out the ladders towards the top. photo: project-himalaya.com

  • The Third Step: Easiest of the steps which you can climb or go around, followed by a snowfield

Just over the Third Step: it's not over yet! That may look like the summit, but it's not. You have to continue up over the snow-slope and to the right before making a break to the top. citation: siteoneverest.com

  • Summit: You're the king of the world, for about 30 minutes, and then you need to come back down or you risk having your oxygen deplete before making it back.
Now that you're at the top, it's a long way down. photo: everestnews.com

To think that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay (the first to summit and return alive) did not use fixed ropes, ladders, etc., is amazing. Everest is amazing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Democrats win in Honduras?

The situation in Honduras is surprising. Despite worldwide resistance, South American pressure, and the Obama administration, the government has resisted calls to reinstate Manuel Zelaya.

President Roberto Micheletti has had the complete support of the congress, judiciary, and army in upholding the constitution of Honduras. The latest development is that the United States will not impose sanctions against the country. So now November elections can take place without running the risk of economic ruin. While Chavez and other anti-democratic elements in Latin America will try to disrupt the elections, any election result with the majority of citizens voting will validate the actions of Honduras' government.

In a mixed up world where Cuba is allowed to renter the Organization of American States but where Honduras is kicked out, it is refreshing that republican government can still win south of the border.

For videos on the situation in Honduras click here

Monday, August 10, 2009

Afghanistan: The ethnic groups you need to know

Catholicgauze has received several requests for a quick breakdown of Afghanistan's ethnic geography. As knowing "Sunni-Shia-Kurd" was to Iraq I hope this quick and simple guide will help those who want to know about Afghanistan.


Wikipedia map of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Note: Pashai are a form of Pashtun and Nuristanis can be thought of as Muslim Kalash (probably Greek Afghans)

Pashtun
: The Pashtun are where the Taliban draw their support from because the Taliban leadership is from the Kandahar-area in southern Afghanistan. Pashtun form around 40% of the population (last census was in 1979 so who really knows) and have traditionally run Afghanistan. Found in the south and east. Pashtun are also found in Pakistan and the border drawn in the nineteenth century does not mean much to the tribes along it.

Tajiks: Tajiks are primarily centered in the upper east but spread throughout to the west and make up about a forth of the population. Tajiks have gained credit in Afghanistan for their fierce resistance to the Soviet invasion and Taliban rule. Ahmad Shah Massoud embodied this movement and was also opposed to Osama bin Laden (Massoud was killed two days before 9/11 because al Qaeda knew how important Massoud was). Tajiks consider themselves the most educated of all Afghans. In the west there is a rivalry between Pashtuns and Tajiks for political control.

Hazara
: Hazara are the only majority Shia (Shiites) in Afghanistan. They are found mostly in the center of Afghanistan and form about twenty percent of the population. They have long ties to Iran because of the shared faith. Almost a million Hazara are in Iran. Taliban have an intense hate of Hazara because during the late 1990s the Hazara managed to massacre the Taliban in several battles.

Uzbeks
: Uzebeks are found in the north and make up ten percent of Afghanistan. Many Uzbeks supported the Soviet-backed government. Abdul Rashid Dostum, backed by most Afghan Uzbeks, have fought with pretty much every side in Afghanistan since 1979. Uzbeks are the only ethnic group that "looks north" and has copied many traits from their brethren in Uzbekistan (more Central Asian than Southern Asian).

Baluchis
: Baluchis live in the deserts of the southwest. Hard to pin down their numbers because of semi-nodamic lifestyle. Some Baluchis serve as smugglers for the Taliban. Have ties with Baluchis in Pakistan and Iran. Baluchis are currently fighting low level wars against Pakistan and Iran for greater independence. They are heavily involved in the drug trade.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Map of the World Recession


The Economist has a neat map that shows which countries are in recession, at risk, and where the economy is still growing. Not surprisingly most of the world is in recession. Meanwhile, places like oil rich Venezuela and Saudi Arabia are only "at risk" though many government programs have already been limited in order to keep a collapse in check. The real winners so far are the People's Republic of China, India, and few others. While their economies have slowed, they are still growing. The everlasting need for better infrastructure and being an exporter for many of the first world's goods and services has made for a firm economy for these countries. Only a depression in the first world will seemingly harm these new markets.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Robert Kaplin's "Revenge of Geography" Revisited

9/11/2012:  Be sure to read the blog's short interview with Kaplan.

The Geopolitical analyst over at Coming Anarchy have a great post revisiting Robert Kaplan's Revenge of Geography.

I liked Kaplin's piece because it emphasized that geography is indeed important and it got many readers to reevaluate world events through a geographic lenses. However, there was a huge problem with it. Kaplin mistakes spatial patterns for geographic determinism (meaning a place is doomed to be like its neighbors). But in reality, Kaplin even recognizes this, there are places that buck the destiny of their neighbors. Islands of political stability like Costa Rica, cultural uniqueness like Israel, and backwardness like Transnistria exist in geographic seas going in other directions. Geography impacts a place deeply but the culture of the place can adapt and steer a unique course.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Map of Taliban Control in Afghanistan in 2009


Maps showing at risk areas in Afghanistan. 2005 upper left, 2007 upper right, 2009 bottom

A new leaked Afghan government map reveals Taliban control and at risk areas. The map, when compared to a 2007 map show that the Taliban have continued to make gains in Pashtun and Baluchi areas. Disturbingly, the Taliban have not only managed to hang on in the Turkmen northwest but also open a new front in the Tajik/Hazara north. Any news of the Taliban expanding outside the Pashtun south and east is very bad.

The only good news is that Pakistan is turning the tide against the Taliban there. The denial of support bases in Pakistan's west could greatly harm the Taliban's ability to keep up the fight in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Panama Canal: 95 Years of Impacting the World

On August 15, 1914 the Panama Canal opened up for use. The canal has changed and been the subject of geographical forces that impact us all.

The canal is fifty miles (about eighty kilometers) with three locks linking the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. It is situated on the isthmus of Panama which is generally agreed upon as the physical dividing line between North and South America (due to it being the thinnest point on the American supercontinent).



The canal was a massive achievement of engineering. Before a ship travelling from New York to San Francisco would have to travel 14,000 miles (22,500 kilometers). After the canal's completion the trip was reduced to only 6,000 miles (9,500 kilometers). While it was possible to travel down to Panama, unload people and goods and then travel overland to the Pacific to catch a ship, it was generally considered too costly, time consuming, and dangerous due to tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever.

Originally the isthmus of Panama was the site of a French effort in 1880 to create easy sea access. However, tropical disease killed over twenty-thousand workers and the effort failed. Later, as the United States began influence-expanding operations around the world, the desire for a canal grew. Originally a canal through Nicaragua was sought. A story though tales that the canal-idea was defeated because of a stamp which showed active volcanoes in Nicaragua. The fear was that volcanoes and the related earthquake activity would be a constant threat of destruction to a Nicaragua canal. Because of this, Nicaragua's economic and global development has been handicapped while Panama received the benefits of foriegn investments in its economy and political structure.

So the United States turned its attention to the isthmus of Panama which was ruled by Colombia. After the Colombians refused to deal with President Theodore Roosevelt, pro-independence forces in Panama partook in a revolt which ended with Panama's freedom. A treaty was signed allowing not only for the canal but also giving the canal and adjacent territory to the United States. From 1903 to 1979 the Canal Zone was part of the United States and not Panama.

The construction took ten years to complete start to finish. During this time doctors like Walter Reed, who the military hospital is named after, made great improvements in combating tropical diseases. Today, many people's lives are still saved because of efforts first implemented during the canal's construction.

From 1903 to 1977 relations between Panama and the United States slowly got worse over the canal. The 1960s saw violence as Panamanians began demanding the canal back. In 1977 President James Carter signed a treaty with Panamanian military dictator that would establish a joint-control of the canal and give the canal to Panama in 1999.

Today the Panama Canal is owned and operated by the Panamanians. The globalized market has come to Panama with Chinese companies, businessmen, and even restaurants found all throughout Panama City. The canal's enlargement will continue to allow it to service the mega tankers that feed the world's economies.

A top-10 app is a map!

Currently, and very oddly, one of the top-10 iPhone applications (aka 'apps') at this moment is a Sex Offender Locator. From where people are at, they can look up the whereabouts of the past-offenders, as well as see their picture and information on the crime committed. This app does cost money, even though this information is available for free through local jurisdictions.

This app was popular well-before the news story from Tech Crunch, and then picked up by other media outlets. This, as well as the other map/geography-related apps, proves that geography is not dead in this technological and interconnected age.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Apostrophes disappearing from the map



According to this news story, the apostrophe is disappearing from the map. The process of apostrophes being dropped dates back one hundred years. The reporter brings up the good point that the loss of the punctuation mark changes the meaning of the place from a humanizing place that belongs to someone to merely being a plural name. (Hat tip: GIS Lounge)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Battle over History in Russia's Near Aboard


This is the way Russia sees the war and wants you as well

World War II is typically viewed as the ultimate "good versus evil" story. This narrative is muddled in the front where the German Reich fought the Soviet Union. Here two of histories mass killers, Hitler and Stalin, faced off. The ethnic groups caught in between have their own narratives concerning these events.

Ukrainians feel the pain from both sides. Before the war Joseph Stalin allowed famine conditions to spread which resulted in the deaths of up to ten million in an event known as Holodomor. The Nazis were viewed as liberators in Ukraine at first. However, the Germans viewed the Slavs as sub-human and began to cleanse Ukraine of Ukrainians. In other places like the Baltic States the Germans are still held in a higher regard. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were independent countries until the Soviet invasion in 1940. When the Germans invaded many of the Balts joined them due to long standing historic ties. Baltic SS groups formed and they aided the Nazis in fighting the Soviets and killings Jews. When the Soviets pushed the Germans out it was viewed by many to be something less than liberation.

As the European former Soviet states continue their realignment away from Moscow the topic of World War II and related events has become a controversial one. Ukraine demands Russia recognize the Holodomor as an ethnic genocide while Moscow retorts everyone died and to suggest politics was behind the famine is wrong as Russians and Ukrainians are the same people. Meanwhile, the Balts are beginning to view those who helped the Germans as patriots, much to the anger of Russia. Russia is so angry that it wants to make the denial of the Soviet Union's role as "liberator" in World War II an international crime.

The battle over history will only heat up as Ukraine slowly decides whether it wants to be closer to Moscow or Brussels, Moldova becomes more European, and Russia tries to organize pro-Russia populist movements in the Baltic states.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Map of TV shows being broadcasted into space

In the movie Contact the first signs of alien life are a broadcast from the Vega star system. The first broadcast is then revealed to everyone's horror to be Hitler opening the 1936 Summer Olympic Games. The main characters quickly decide something on Vega is bouncing back the Hitler broadcast to show they can see the broadcasts and are not endorsing Hitler. That scene was probably the first time many realized television signals travel into deep space.

Strange Maps features a map (below) which maps out what signals are where in deep space. Even though the universe is incredibly vast, the map gives the sense that are little sector is empty of any other species that is in an epoch of equivalent technology.


Click to enlarge

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Podcast Worth Listening To: 12 Byzantine Rulers

The eastern branch of the Roman Empire gets no respect. While many think the storied Roman Empire collapsed on September 4, 476; the Romans continued to have a thriving civilization centered in Constantinople until May 29, 1453.

Since then, a sort of unorganized campaign against the east has occurred in Western Europe. The causes of this campaign are varied from ignorance, to opposition to Greek Christianity from Catholics, to opposition to Greeks from the German Holy Roman Empire, or just flat out opposition to Christianity in general from people like Edward Gibbon in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This campaign ignores many positive things about the eastern Roman Empire such as its role in defending Europe from Islamic invasion for over eight-hundred years, that it never went through the Dark Age, aided the development of Western Europe by building up Italy after the fall of the western branch of the Empire, and it saved many Greek documents for later western use like Plato.

12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth are eighteen podcasts based on his book, Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization, about the Eastern Roman (Byzantine Empire: that term was invented to divorce Constantinople from Rome). The podcasts fit generally in history but geography plays a key role. Whether it be heretics in the far East threatening unity, Belisarius bringing Italy to back into the realm, or the general shift to Western powers; geography mattered to the empire. One gets this sense when listening to this excellent series.

Each podcast is about thirty minutes and well worth your time. Be sure to listen if you love history and want some geography thrown in as well.

iTunes link | Podcast Alley link