Sunday, January 31, 2010

Number of Abortions State by State

Abortions in the United States by raw numbers and per 1,000 live births. Click to enlarge


Good, a "collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward," has a detailed chart depicting abortions in the United States both by raw numbers and per 1,000 live births. A color code is added showing which states voted for Obama, in blue, and for McCain, red.

Some of the numbers are shocking. While California leads the country in raw number of abortions, New York edges out with number abortions per live births. In New York five-hundred conceived babies are aborted for every 1,000 successfully deliveries. Factor in miscarriages then it is revealed that over one-in-three New York babies do not make it out of the womb alive.

Based on statistical odds, the best place for a conceived baby is Wyoming followed up by Indiana and South Dakota.

There does seem to be somewhat of a divide between red Republican states and blue Democrat states. One exception is Texas (and to a certain extent Georgia). More data is needed though because I suspect racial demographics are a key factor here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pictures of Border Crossings

A new reader (an Estonian living in Italy) pointed out his neat blog, Confini amministrativi. The blog is a huge encylopedic collection of border crossings. Navagation thorughout the site is done via the categories. Many of the photos are labelled showing which side is which.

Some crossings are urban, others rural, and a few completely in the frontier.

Somewhat related: Photo collections of interstates in the United States

Friday, January 29, 2010

Shapefiles of Countries' Internal Administrative Units

When doing GIS one desire of many students and technicians is to have internal boundaries of countries (states, provinces, departments, etc). Most GIS programs come with a general countries of the world shapefile (SHP) and maybe an American states layer but that is it.

Fortunately, there is the Global Administrative Areas Database. GAAD offers great, free shapefiles down to the third layer. Check out the countries page for more detail. Files can be download in SHP, Google KMZ, RData, and ESRI geodatabase.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

American and Canadian Charities for Haiti and for Other Needy Places

Note: If you have a charity to recommend comment below and will check it out!

Reader and sometime contributor Canada has made a list of charities in Canada that are doing good work in Haiti and other places hit by disaster around the world. In the spirit of her efforts I have created a list of American charities doing the same.

Canadian Charities:

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) includes updates and videos from Aid Workers already in the region who are filtering water and getting food from other MCC sites. and is seeking cash donations as well as sheets and comforters and relief kits. Canada have previously participated in their Africa AIDS relief kits, seen his/her donations matched, and MCC documenting even the spare change given. MCC’s Haiti program has been in existence since 1958. MCC is highly rated by the American Institute of Philanthropy. It has both Canadian and US Offices.

World Vision was where Canada once was employed. It offers aid and relief kits around the world.

CHF (Formerly the Canadian Hunger Foundation) with many Haitian living with employment that pays under $2 a day (when the said job is not destroyed by an earthquake) it is very hard to pay for food, shelter, and water. CHF does a good job providing more long term relief as well as food aid.

Compassion Canada donors help by sponsoring children. These denotations help not only those in immediate desire straights but also aid the construction of schools, clinics, and more.

The Canadian Red Cross needs no introduction.


American Charities

American Red Cross is all over the world and the United States. Whether it is an international epic disaster or a local flood in Kansas the ARC is there.

Catholic Relief Services is the American-arm of the lay-clerical international Catholic relief group Caritas.

Doctors Without Borders USA: I have had some qualms with the leaders of Doctors Without Borders but no one can deny the brave, selfless doctors who man the far out posts in some dangerous spots do very good work.

Save the Children: I will always have a special place in my heart for Save the Children. Besides giving immediate relief they help whole villages with schools, clinics, and job training so that development can grow in the midst of ruin.

Also, remember efforts like microlending which in time will assist in rebuilding Haiti's (and other places) economy and help Haitians (and others) help themselves


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

BBC's How the Earth Made Us: The Role of Geology in Human Development

One of the themes of geography is human-environment interaction. Most often people think this means the interrelationship between man and climate or man and biomes. The impact of geology on humans is too often overlooked when teaching the human-enviorment theme of geography.

The first episode of the BBC's How the Earth Made Us shows the importance of geology in the role of human development. Whether it is Bronze Age man using smelting to remove metals from rocks or the presence of water along fault lines allowing prehistoric settlements, geology has played a big role. Watch the "deep earth" episode and learn why geology mattered (and still matters, think *oil*).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Italy to Lose Geography?

According to a variety of television press and some online sites including a petition, the new proposed Italian education reform threatens geographic education. The bureaucrats in charge of the reform believe that geography is no more than memorizing places. It appears that the new reform would defund many programs. Sadly, the proper teaching of geography and the world that it unlocks has not reached Italy.

Geographic Travels contacted Karl Donert, President of the European Association of Geographers, for a statement. His analysis (below) reaches the same conclusion GT.

I have very grave concerns about the tidal wave of proposals for curriculum reform in Europe that seems to be threatening the position of Geography in the school curriculum. The situation is not only happening in Italy, during the past 12 months at EUROGEO (www.eurogeography.eu) we have been supporting colleagues in several countries (for such as Finland, Malta, Cyprus and Slovakia) who were seeking to safeguard the future of Geography in their education system.
Why is this happening? Why is it that Ministries of Education fail to realise the relevance of Geography and the essential lifelong (spatial) skills that it provides young people? After all, how can we hope to address the major social and environmental issues in Europe without developing a geographical understanding of the human as well as the physical nature of major issues like living together, global warming, sustainability and climatic change?

The problem appears to lie in the fact that most decision makers do not understand what Geography is and geographers do. This is a very worrying situation.
EUROGEO has also launched the website Geocube to spread the word how important geography is. Let us hope this public outreach is being combined with targeting advocacy towards the ministry of education.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Near East Versus Middle East

When one thinks of the "Middle East" the most common issues and places that come to mind probably are Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian violence, and terrorists running wild. Those who study Middle East affairs are thought of as experts on issues like Hezbollah, Islamic militancy, and inter-religious relations. However, some of these experts, like Bernard Lewis, will make statements saying they study Near East affairs. To make matters more confusing Lewis published a book entitled "The Middle East" and the terms Middle East and Near East are tossed around and mixed like a salad.

So is there a difference between Middle East and Near East? The answer is "nes" or "yo" or "kind of" depending on the year of usage.

The term "Middle East" was officially coined by Alfred Thayer Mahan in 1902 though use of the words has been found from writings from 1900 by British General Thomas Gordon and the term probably existed earlier. The Middle East was used to describe Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) to British India (western limit being where Pakistan is). The Near East was the Ottoman realms in Europe (modern Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus with Asia Minor, Syria, Israel, and Jordan).

The various easts (Near, Middle, Far) were made from a European point-of-view (being The West) to divide the various foreign, culturally odd realms from Europe itself. This type of thinking is what led the Greeks to differentiate Europe from the rest of Eurasia.

The Balkan Wars and World War I changed the dynamic of Orientalism (thinking about the easts). Eastern Europe and Ataturk's Turkey were no longer viewed as "foreign" but instead were thought of becoming European. The rump remnants of the Near East were grouped in with the rest of the Middle East. Today those those two terms have been mixed together with no real difference in the use of the term.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to Determine Birth and Growth Rate

Geographers doing demography are frequently required to determine what the birth rate for a subject area is. Surprisingly, however, I have discovered that many students are not taught how to find out crude birth rate. Fortunately it is real simple and I will explain it below

  1. Take the total number of births divide by the population of the subject area during the mid-year (If you cannot get that number just take the average of the population between the next year and previous year).
  2. Take the new number (births/mid-year population) times 1000. This will give the birth rate in terms of births per 1,000 people.

For example, if there are 3,467 births in a province of 93,987 people then the birth rate would be calculated as "(3467/93987)*1000" which equals 36.89 births per thousand people.

For growth rate the formula is real similar. Just take the new population and subtract the previous year's population. Take that number divided by the old population to determine the rate in a percentage.

For example, if there are 4,572 people in a town in 2008 and 4,687 people in the same town in 2009: take "(4687-4572)/4572" to equal 0.02515. Times the answer by 100 to get a percentage and the growth rate is 2.515% a year.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Search for Your Ideal American Geography Graduate School Program

PhDs.org has a very useful tool for those interested in searching for the right geography program at the university level.  The tool is very customizable as one it gives the option to sort rankings by user-valued importance of variables like education quality, faculty, tuition, financial support, student demographics, program size, and undergraduate selectivity.  Each school has a multi-page, indepth profile that breaks down all data a student would be interested in (Check out Kansas State University's program for an example).

While the tool only ranks schools with a graduate program, its results are useful for undergraduates who are willing to travel for a geographic education.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Syria to Recognize Turkish-control of Hatay?


Hatay borders the northwest of Syria. Note the difference between the official CIA Factbook map (left) and the Syrian-modified version of the same map(right). Not only is Hatay given to Syria but Israel and the West Bank are united as "Palestine"

Turkey and Syria are on the cusp of signing a new treaty on water rights and water sharing. The new treaty will further Turkey's turn away from a wannabe European state to Middle Eastern power broker. Syria meanwhile is in the middle of a devastating drought and needs to import more water if it hopes to continue to support its growing population and agricultural producers.

One thing is hold up the ratification of the mutually beneficial treaty: Hatay. Hatay Province is a part of the Republic of Turkey that once belonged to the French-dominated Syrian mandate. The region was and is an overwhelmingly Turkish area that until the late 1930s had more Turks, Alawites, and Christians than Arab Sunnis. The Turksih government managed to convince the French to give the region autonomous status separate from the rest of Syria. In 1938 the regional government declared itself an independent republic, which depicted in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (sort of), and joined Turkey in the following year. Syria has never recognized this and claims to this day that the territory was illegally stolean from them.

Turkey is now holding up implementation of the new water treaty unless Syria agrees to recognize Hatay as part of Turkey. If it does it will be the second major Syrian concession in two years. First, in 2008, Syria recognized Lebanon as separate and sovereign. Up until then Syria say Lebanon as its backyard will going back-and-forth in an internal debate of whether or not to try to reclaim Lebanon which was once part of the Syrian Mandate as well. Syria has yet to agree to Turkey's demand but water pressures may force their hand.

It took 65 years for Syria to recognize Lebanon (though it still plays its hand with Hezbollah and Amal) and it has been arguing for Hatay for 71 years. These examples point towards many more decades of disagreement against Israel over the Golan Heights. That territorial conflict will only be 43 years old this June.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Odd Maps: The Milky Way Galaxy Subway and Massachusetts Senatorial Election Map

Two odd maps have made their way onto the Internet in the past twenty-four hours. The first one shows the Milky Way Galaxy in subway map form. Each "line" represents a galaxy arm while each stop is a star or nebula. The galaxy is in three-dimensions, the cartogram is not to scale, and it should not be used in any sort of navigation. The second map is the real, not first Boston Globe version, of the 2010 Massachusetts senatorial election results. What makes this map odd? A Republican won a very liberal state.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Nationalisms Continue to Destroy Eastern Archaeological Sites

In Azerbaijan there have been a stream of reports stating Udi Christians have been destroying their own inscriptions on their ancient churches. Meanwhile in Iraq the government is destroying ancient Jewish sites in Al-Kifi, site of Ezekiel's tomb.

The reasons these historical sites have been targeted for demolition is the rise of nationalisms with one being a few decades old and the other slightly less than one hundred years old.

Udis Erasing the Past

The Udi Christians belong to an old stream of Eastern Christianity known as Albanian Christianity. This branch of Orthodoxy had ties to Armenian Christianity though it was autonomous for a period of time until the Islamic conquests. After the rise of Islam few Albanian Christian communities were left in modern-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Those few who did survived hold onto Armenian traditions and the Armenian alphabet.

Today Armenia and Azerbaijan are locked in a cold war over ethnically mismatched territory. The Udi are a proud, patriotic Christian minority in a secular Muslim country. As part of their Azeri nationalism the Udi are destroying Armenian-alphabet writings on churches and grave stones. A modern-myth of only recent, forced Armenianization is spreading amongst the Udi who seek to show loyalty to the Azeri cause. The desire to rally around the modern-day flag is leading the Udi to erase their past.

Iraqi for the (Muslim) Iraqis

The Middle East has long been religiously mixed. Even after the final decline of Christianity in the 13th century, a rich diversity of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Yazdis, Zoroastrians, Druze, etc. left a multitude of cultural landscapes in the Middle East. Jews have been in modern-day Iraq since at least the Babylon Exile and they and other religious groups have kept in place many ancient Jewish sites. Saddam Hussein's regime even protected Jewish sites because it was part of the glory of old Iraq.

However, the rise of an independent Iraq saw the rise of an Iraqi nationalism combined with not Islamism but an Islamic identity complex. The 1930s saw a rise in attacks against Christians and Jews who were seen as supporters of the British. The anti-Semitism continued in Saddam's republican Iraq against living Jews but the ancient pre-Islamic sites were seen as part of Iraq's glory days.

Now though, the Islamic identity-complex is seeping into the past with Christians being targeted in the north and Jewish sites being removed for the creation of mosques. A new Iraq is being built, one that will tolerate the existence of minorities living but not representing themselves on the landscape.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dewey Defeats Truman 2? The Boston Globe's Premature Map of Brown versus Coakley


The Boston Globe has released a map of the election results for the 2010 Massachusetts senatorial special election between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley. There's only one problem: the polls are still open. The embarrassing story on this possible Dewey Defeats Truman in map form can be found at the Boston Globe's rival, the Boston Herald. The globe claims it was a test of their mapping software (Hat tip: Gateway Pundit).

New Geography Blog: Geocurrents

There is a new blog, Geocurrents, done by academic geographers from both Sanford University and University of California - Berkley. The bloggers, Doctors Martin W. Lewis and Lester Rowntree have issued their manifesto which states that map-driven, geographic analysis can help the public better understand world events. Be sure to also check out their video posts as well. It's great to see these two professors reach out to the public using high-quailty geographic analysis in "normal" language. They also promisses humor so Catholicgauze eagerly awaits the next joke. (Hat Tip: The Map Room)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Afghan Star


Warning: Some spoilers in this review

Afghan Star is the Afghan-take on the hit popular television shows like American Idol and Pop Idol. In a country were power is limited and cell phone use is rising but still limited as well, the show is immensely popular. The third season in 2007 had eleven million viewers per episode. That equates to slightly less than forty-percent of the population! The show is primarily a hit because it combines many elements of diverse Afghanistan. Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara men and women sign modern traditional and pop songs in Dari and Pashtun. Afghans both inside Afghanistan and in neighboring countries are eligible to tryout in one of the many recruiting sessions.

It is this initially surprising television sensation that has lead to the creation of the documentary Afghan Star. The documentary is about the third season of the television show. After watching the film I have gained a better understanding of the stunningly optimistic Afghan culture. It, like all cultures, wants to be modern while keeping its traditional ways (polls show the Taliban is very unpopular and most Afghans still think that the current will get better and not worse). This is a problem all cultures expierences, just think about terms like "family values" and alike. What truly is surprising is how this conflict erupts in the film. No one but the Taliban seem to have an issue that a woman competes on the show. She sings and even takes off her head veil. The straw that breaks the camels back is that she "dances" by moving back and forth while singing. When this occurs the show disowners her and she has to go into hiding. Even when she returns home a month later many locals want to kill her and harm her family.
Afghan Star is a fun movie to watch. It will leave you feeling good and slightly optimistic for the Afghan people. It will also remind you to expect the final result of Afghanistan to be something that a liberal, western democrat would reject.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti Earthquake Shaking Intensity by Address

For those who have family or friends in Haiti the Haiti Earthquake Shaking Intensity tool allows one to enter in an address in Haiti (either in French or English) to see USGS-supplied data on how intense the earthquake was at the location. The tool is not pretty, merely a textbox, but it shows how the marriage of geographical data and the internet is aiding researchers, rescuers, and families in times of crises and peace.

Guest Post: The 2010 Haiti Earthquake for the Non-Geography Minded

Catholicgauze note: Long-time reader "Canada" has written a guest post about the Haitian Earthquake. The Catholicgauze team has donated to Catholic Relief Services and Doctors Without Borders but we also recommends the American Red Cross and other helpful groups.

People in lesser developed countries like Haiti (the lowest in North America and ranked 149 lowest of 182 in the world in human development) don't have daily choices that involve comfort or safety. The construction in Haiti is not reinforced concrete (no metal rebar inside) so it just crumbles and collapses in upon itself. It takes powerful equipment to clear the rubble and even get at possible survivors. The news photos may look less devastating that the tangled earthquake messes we are used to seeing on TV, but it actually is much more severe. When the population density is so high, and places so crowded, catastrophe can be an understatement. There was little the poor people of Haiti could do, even when geologists predicated a strong earthquake was eventually coming. The epicentre (major point) of the quake was just 25 km or 15 miles south west of Port au Prince, Haiti's capital city with a population of just over 700,000.

The quake was very severe set at value of 7 currently on the moment magnitude scale. The aftershocks of this recent Haiti earthquake that themselves would be considered severe on their own that we in Canada or the USA would call major earthquakes on the news.

There is still a lot going on ... and many more geographically centered links can be found at Google Maps Mania.

The Wikipedia page on the Haitian earthquake has many definitions and links as well as maps that can be enlarged.

To better understand how earthquakes are measured be sure to read about the Richter Magnitude Scale and Mercalli Intensity Scale.

The conservative estimates are 50,000 dead, which is almost half the population of Waterloo, Ontario. This doesn't take into account the whole population, or project for looked possible tsunamis (seismic tidal waves) or future aftershocks. More may perish as hospitals are not functional and transporting aid in and injured out is problematic due the poor and now damaged infrastructure.

Amongst the confirmed dead are 3 Canadians. It has hit closer to home as I have heard that a friend's mom was on the medical mission team where a local nurse was killed in the quake. Another friend's mom was already scheduled for more nursing help on another mission next week. Still another friend prays for news and safety of her compassion sponsor child.

Here are a couple links compassionate response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Definitely we should be praying and looking to see what ways we can show compassion and support for those affected by the Haiti earthquakes, in a country that was already struggling apart from recent natural disasters.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Ricci Map is a Product of a Lost World

Several blogs, including the always great The Map Room, and news outlets have reported on the famous 400 year-old Chinese map now showing at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The map is huge measuring twelve feet by five feet (about 4 meters by 1.5 meters) and made with rice paper. The map is the first Chinese map to feature the New World and features a place best transliterated as 'Kan-na-ta'.

While the map is very interesting and I invite all see it and enjoy it as the cartographic wonder that it is, I also greatly enjoy learning about the story behind the map. The map is a product of a possible China that died almost 300 years ago: a Christian China with open relations with Europe.

The cartographer, Matteo Ricci, was an Italian Jesuit priest who took part in the first global Catholic missionary wave. With the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox leaderships crushed by Islamic Mongol and Turkic forces, the Catholic Church became the sole missionary church (surprisingly for many modern readers, the early Protestants cared little about missionary efforts). With Latin American Indians being Christianized, the Jesuits turned their attention to China. China had two earlier, Nestorian missionary waves but xenophobia and the downfall of Christian-friendly Mongols had foiled these somewhat successful attempts. It was now the Jesuits turn.

The Jesuits were active in China from the late 1500s to early 1700s. Their first leader was Ricci. He lead a dual effort that focused on converting the Chinese peasantry while serving the pagan emperors as scientists, doctors, and advisers. The goal was to gain converts while showing the leaders that Christianity can be a loyal and productive faith. The missionaries adopted the Chinese language, dress, and even took on Chinese names to better become part of the host culture.

The Jesuits engaged in questionable practices that angered the smaller Dominican missionaries. Ricci and other Jesuits tried to integrate ancestor worship and parts of Confucianism. The Jesuits saw it as no different than the fusing of American Indians beliefs into Christianity. After a long back and forth political battle Pope Clement XI ruled in 1715 in favor the Dominicans and outlawed the Jesuits practices. Emperor Kangxi saw these as outsiders trying to change the very nature of China and went on to outlaw Christianity. This break not only destroyed Christianity in China but also soured relations between Europe and China.

The Ricci Map is undeniably a Chinese map. It shows the combination of European knowledge with a Chinese worldview. It shows a lost world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Comparison of Celestial Bodies

I remember an experiment from high school astronomy class that helped me appreciate the size of our solar system. The teacher took us to the longest hall way in the building and had students stand against the wall. The first edge of the hall way represented the sun. Students then were placed in the relative position of where the planets were. The first four rocky planets were relatively close together. However, Jupiter and the other gas giants had great distances between them. Pluto, poor Pluto, was way over at the opposite end of the hall. Since that day I have never forgotten the depth of the solar system.

Now, the below picture from Wikipedia shows a size comparision of different celestial bodies both in our own solor system and elsewhere. The largest, the mammoth sun VY Canis Majoris is 5,200 times wider diameter-wise than our sun Sol and therefore 566,800 times wider than Earth. I would give American and Metric measurements but they would be so large that it would be mere numbers and not a statistic with any meaning.

Look below at the sizes, both small and large, of these planets and stars. Then stop and think that these celestial bodies are mere specks in a much larger universe. I felt my place in the cosmos just get a lot smaller.


Monday, January 11, 2010

(Kind of, Not Really) The Start of a Slow Relaunch

Geographic Travels with Catholicgauze! has been one of the main geography blogs. Near daily posts, humor, and insight has earned us a large and continually growing readership. However, I particularly have been told by some that the term "Catholicgauze" may turn away potential readers. "Would you read a blog entitled 'GIS Adventures with Protestantgauze?'" they ask.

So in an effort to expand the blog's base the blog will be officially entitled "Geographic Travels." Readers can now access the blog at the URL http://www.geographictravels.com. The old blogspot address is still valid and will continue to be. No need to change any RSS feeds or e-mail drops.

Do not worry though. Besides an eventual, maybe-happening blogger template the blog will stay the same. Expect to read the same high caliber posts you have come to expect from me, Catholicgauze.

Thank you for your continued readership. This coming year expect more detailed interviews, wild and crazy adventures from my upcoming time in Afghanistan, and much more. As always, if you have any geographical questions feel free to comment or e-mail me.

Most Barren, Lifeless Spot in the World

What do you think is the most barren, lifeless spot in the world?  Volcanoes, when not in the process of blowing up or leaking lava, are rich with thermophile bacteria.  Deserts like the Gobi, Arabian, and Antarctic support large mammals.  The most barren, lifeless spot in the world is in fact a spot on the sea floor in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists taking sediment samples from about 3 miles (5 kilometers) below the sea surface found about only 1,000 living cells per centimeter cubed (that's not a lot).The lifeforms laked almost any sort of nutrients due to the lack of marine snow or sunlight.  Instead the basic lifeforms lived off of hydrogen atoms which came from radioactive elements and water molecules breaking down.

This barren, blasted dark world is probably the closest we can get to the very first days of life on Earth.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Head of American Military Intelligence in Afghanistan: We Need Geography!

Major General Michael Flynn is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence in Afghanistan. As such it is his job to insure the various intelligence agencies support the warfighters and that information flows from both field and the Pentagon to each other.

MG Flynn realizes the system is broke. While the various people with security clearances are doing a good job of hunting down bad guys and keeping everyone informed on that front, anti-insurgency, they are doing a horrible job of learning about the battlefield and the deeper problems, counter-insurgency. Check out the quote below from his research paper entitled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan:

Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

If only there was some field that studied local economics, local power structures, and demographics. Oh wait, there is and it is called regional geography. Flynn realizes the same thing the Iraq Surge Generals did as well as the military establishment in World War II: we need experts and information about an area to successfully fight in an area.

Hopefully the experts and information can be found and applied throughout the war effort. Sadly, this will be hard for multiple reasons with some of the blame being on geographers themselves. Geographers' brethren in anthropology have tried to stop anthropologists from helping out. As the American Anthropology Association's leadership is full of openly Marxist and other anti-military elements so does the Association of American Geographers have rabidly anti-patriotic elements.

While the academic establishment may wail and grind their teeth against helping out, there will be some who will apply their geographic talents to help the Afghan fight. Let us wish them the best!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Text on Flags

Flags represent more than just a country. They represent the values, history, and people and can, when accepted by the population, be a truly national symbol. Words can be used to express a values on a flag just like colors, patterns, and symbols. Due to the previous required work needed to make a flag in the past, text generally do not appear on flags though. However, some states have used words to express themselves on their flags. There are four categories of text on flags: national mottos, religion,geolocation, and history.

National Mottos

Andorra: The motto on the coat-of-arms stresses a Catholic corporatist culture with "Virtus Unita Fortior" meaning "United Virtue is Stronger."
Belize: "Sub Umbra Floreo" on the coat of arms translate to "Under the shade I flourish"
Brazil: The flag combines the monarchies color's with a more contemporary republican motto of "Ordem e Progresso" meaning "Order and Progress."
Dominican Republic: Besides its Spanish name, the flag's coat of arms stresses the values of God, Country (fatherland), and Liberty
Equatorial Guinea: This Spanish-speaking African republic's motto "Unidad, Paz y Justicia" means "Unity, Peace, and Justice."
Haiti: "L'Union Fait La Force" means "Unity Makes Strength." Haiti is not a strong country.
Malta: This former Knight-state prizes its past and British World War II medal honor phrase of "For Gallantry" which is on the George Cross
Spain: The Spanish prize their early explorations to the New World and push themselves towards the future with "Plus Ultra" meaning "Further Beyond."

Religious

Afghanistan: The modern flag of Afghanistan is the former monarchy flag with "Afghanistan" spelled at the bottom with the addition of the shahada, the Muslim profession of faith.
Iran: The white text in the green and red spells out Allah-u-Akbar meaning God is great
Iraq: The flag has Allah-u-Akbar on it as well. The text was once in Saddam's hand writing but changed to a general font to de-Baathify the flag.
Saudi Arabia: Also has the shahada
*Somaliland: The unrecognized but in control republic has the shahada

Geolocation

El Salvador: Citizens are never lost as the Spanish-language sentence says the Republic of El Salvador in Central America.
Nicaragua: Nicaragua also states it's existence in Central America

History

Guatemala: No one forgets that liberty was achieved on September 15, 1821 because that's what the Spanish-language document says on the flag.

After looking at about 200 independent countries and de facto countries, it is clear that words on flags are uncommon. Even more so when one throws out coats of arms. National, mostly secular, mottos are the most common. These try to unite the state and people in common values. Muslims have complete dominance on religious text on flags. Christian and post-Christian countries meanwhile have dominance over Muslims in the Cross versus Crescent flag battle. El Salvador and Nicaragua both base their flags closely on the former Federal Republic of Central America and have modified the text to keep the geolocation. Finally, Guatemala is the only country to spell out its independence day but others like Belize and Brazil use symbolism to represent the date.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Physical, Ethnic, and Political Geography You Should Know of Yemen

Yemen is all over the news since the attempted bombing of an airplane by the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In the spirit of ethnic groups you need to know of Afghanistan and Southern Russia, I present the Physical, Ethnic, and Political Geography You Should Know of Yemen.

CIA World Factbook Map of Yemen

Yemen occupies the southwest end of the Arabian Peninsula and is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, Oman to the east, the Red Sea to the west, and Gulf of Aden to the south. Though it is geographical close to East Africa and has historic ties to that region, the last 100 years-plus have seen considerable mental map distance between the two.

Physical Geography

There are several physical geographic regions of Yemen.

Along the Red Sea coast is the Tihmarra which is a sand dune region about 50 miles (80 kilometers) across. There is some irrigation that is feed by wadi wash, water that comes from mountain rains through dry riverbeds.

The central highlands dominate most of the former Yemeni Arab Republic (North Yemen). Here lives the core of the population. The major cities like Sadah, Amran, and Sanaa are located in the highlands and so are remote hill top villages that use terraced agriculture.

The immediate coastal region by Aden in the south is a low flat land with high temperatures. Aden is a natural port and has long been a cosmopolitan trade city.

The Empty Quarter is one of the world’s largest deserts and dominates eastern Yemen as well as parts of Oman and Saudi Arabia. The population is very sparse. Until 2000, the Empty Quarter borders for Yemen, Oman, and Saudi Arabia were undefined.

There are no permanent rivers in Yemen.

Ethnic and Religious Geography

Arab is the overall dominating ethnic group of Yemen but within the country there are many subdivision among tribes, clans, and ethnoreligious groups. Almost all the population is Muslim but there is a near even split between Sunni and Sevener Shia (Zaydi) with the Sunnis having a slightly larger population. The Zaydis differ with Twlever Shias, who mostly are Iranian and Iraqi, over leadership, history, and rituals. Zaydi Islam is very close to Sunni Islam. Most Zaydis live in the north between Sanaa and up into Sadah. There is a rebellion going on by the Zaydi Huthi tribal group but the religious nature of the rebellion can be questioned because many in the current government including the president are Zaydis as well.

There once was a strong Christian and Jewish presence in Yemen. Jews were in Yemen since perhaps during the reign of King Solomon around 950 BC. Up until after AD 500 a series of Jewish kingdoms dominated the region. The kingdoms looked out for Jewish interests in Arabia and even mounted persecution campaigns against Christians because of Christian Roman treatment of Jews. Christian Ethiopia responded and waged wars against the Yemeni Jews and took over part of the country. During the rise of Islam most Christians and Jews eventually moved into mountains and island regions. Up until the 1500s the island of Socotra was majority Nestorian Christian. Most of the Jews left after the establishment of Israel and the following anti-Semitic feelings by Arabs. The last large wave left during Operation Magic Carpet. Today there are perhaps 120 Jews left in Yemen and these live in a protected compound in the capital. At the start of 2009 there were 260 Jews left. There are about 4,000 Catholics, with Aden being the capital of the see, and slightly these Ethiopian Orthodox and Protestants. The Nestorians are completely gone.

Political Geography

Politically there is a north/south divide. The north, really northwest, has long been part of a Zaydi Imamate, Shia religious theocracy. Control went back-and-forth between the Zaydi Imams and later Ottoman Turk rulers. After the Turks finally left at the end of World War I the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen was established and its king was also the Zaydi Imam. A civil war broke out in 1962 between socialist republicans backed by Egypt and the monarchy backed by Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The war so violent and focused on combined regular and guerrilla tactics that many historians equate the Yemeni civil war with the Vietnam War. The conflict lasted until 1970 with the republicans winning but at such a cost that many elements of the monarchy like tribal independence were kept in order that peace could finally be achieved.

The south on the other hand had a much different history. The British took Aden and the rest of south Yemen from Turkish oversight control between the 1830s and 1880s. In 1866 the British established the Aden Protectorate which was considered part of their Indian colony. The tribes had a fair amount of independence and a sort of “Egyptian relationship” existed between the United Kingdom and the people of Yemen. In the 1960s a nationalist uprising occurred with the British fleeing in 1967. A Marxist wing of rebels eventually took control of the former British zone and declared it People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. South Yemen established ties with other Communist powers, centralized the state, and did much to diminish tribal power except in the Empty Quarter.

As the Marxist south gravitated towards the Soviet Union, the nominal socialist north slowly started favoring the United States. North and South Yemen both realized that reunification was the preferred option but neither one wanted to take real steps towards that goal. A love/hate relationship formed between the two. In 1990 reunification happened with the creation of the Republic of Yemen but the North quickly proved the dominate one with leadership, under the current president since 1978 Ali Abdullah Saleh, and bureaucracy staying in place as many Southern leaders were dismissed. The south tried to declare independence in 1994 but a quick civil war crushed the movement.

Flashpoints

In the north is the on-again, off-again, on-again Zaydi Huthi rebellion. Rebels are fighting the government. Saudi Arabia recently intervened with troops and aircraft to support the Yemeni forces. Both Yemen and Saudi Arabia claim Iran is helping the rebels.

In the Empty Quarter tribes still exist. Al Qaeda has significant support here and uses various networks to survive and train in the region. Al Qaeda’s reach now stretches to the capital region. The group’s presence started after the Soviet-Afghan War when Osama Bin Laden started funding groups to overthrow the mostly secular republican government. It is because Yemeni complaints of Bin Laden’s activities that the Saudi government revoked his citizenship and he was forced into exile in Sudan.

The south is experiencing another revival of nationalism. This movement is centered in Aden. Aden is more secular, progressive, and less tribal than the rest of Yemen. The movement is so far political and the vast majority of violence has been on the part

The country on a hole is running out of water. Some estimates say that because of lack of desalinization efforts and rivers, the capital Sanaa may run out of water by 2020. A years-long drought is not helping matters with some provincial capitals already running out of water. On top of it all, many Yemeni farmers grow khat. Khat is an addictive plant that is chewed which relaxes the body while keeping the person alert (think supper coffee). Khat is needs lots of water to grow and Yemeni farmers are choosing khat growing over letting the wells and aquifers replenish.

Finally oil is presenting a problem. The oil region is a fairly quiet part of the country between the highlands and the full openness of the Empty Quarter. Over two-thirds of the economy is based on oil. However, oil reserves are rapidly running out and Yemen will have to be the first Arab petrostate to face the end of its oil run. It is estimated this will occur in only ten to fifteen years.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Did Ancient Britons Use Ley Lines or Are People Seeing Something in Nothing?

The Daily Mail has a piece describing the claim by an “independent historian,” Tom Brooks, which states that ancient Britons used interlocking sets of stones forming triangles to create a giant geomap for navigation. The theory is backed up with the claim that there is no way these nearly perfect triangles could be formed without a giant plan and purpose.

When reading this story I am reminded of Henry Lincoln’s second theory of the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau (the first being Jesus had babies and a store load of treasure in southern France). The second theory stated that various local mountain tops formed geometric patterns and thus had something to do with a store load of treasure in southern France.

Lincoln’s and Brooks’s theories might seem to lead to something at first glance but a quick examination and a moment to think can spell away these dubious ideas.

1. There is more than what the researchers are mapping. Yeah, the several points together make a symbol but when one maps out all the ancient pre-druid mounds or all the French hills/mountains the nice, orderly locations melt away into a natural chaos of locations.
2. Modern-day surveyors make mistakes with modern equipment. Think, just 100 years ago of all the surveying errors that lead to odd American state borders. Now imagine the surveying skills of 5,000 years ago. Long distancing surveying factoring the curvature of the Earth is hard enough when making simple rope is a major time consuming feat for your local tribe.

The ancient British GPS of stone markings is another example of ley lines and rest up there in pseudogeography land with other places like the supposed Bosnian pyramids.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

War in Terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan by the Numbers


Click to Enlarge. From the New York Times

The New York Times has the progress of the War on Terrorism and internal development in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in chart form. While some of the variables are different for each country, it is easy to realize Iraq is improving, Afghanistan is a mixed bag on the decline, and Pakistan has issues that can only get worse until they improve.

Iraq is indeed improving and the war is over. By this I mean al Qaeda cannot hold towns any more, the nationalistic Sunnis are busy establishing political parties with the removal of American troops from the countryside denying targets of opportunity, and the Shia are mostly settled with the exception of Iran's puppet Khatib Hezbollah. A martial police action is needed to target the terroristic, Klu Klux Klan-like al Qaeda that can set off bombs and assassinate Sunnis who wish to participate in the system. Meanwhile, Iraq's economy is recovering from the late 2008 global crisis while the electronic infrastructure expands and continues to improve.

Afghanistan's economy continues to develop as well as its infrastructure. School enrollment is up and drug production is slowly but steadily going down. However, the Taliban and other Islamist forces are using the influx of money, roads, and communication systems to attack the government and the international forces. The big difference between al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban is that the Taliban were always from the country they are fighting in and wish to have a reasonably well kept country to take over while the terrorists in Iraq hoped for an all out war to cleanse the country of "unbelievers." The glass is either half full or half empty in Afghanistan but any tie goes to the Taliban.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is learning that one cannot play with fire for too long without getting burnt. After decades of supporting the most Islamo-Pashtuns of all groups in Afghanistan, these groups have friends and family in Pakistan who do not like Pakistan's double dealing. The Taliban-proper and allied Pakistani Taliban groups have expanded their vision from retaking Afghanistan to forming a Pashtunistan and supporting an Islamist takeover of Pakistan. After the extremists nearly took over Abbottabad and flirted with an attack on Islamabad itself, the Pakistani government started a real campaign to push back the Islamists. However, the hill tops of the Swat Valley and much of the tribal areas are still under the extremists control. Pakistan now seems serious about fighting but whether or not they have enough military power to win is another question. Right now the militants are on a defensive militaristic stance but still sending out sucidie bombers against government and Sevener Shia targets.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Periapsis 2010: The Earth Gets Close to the Sun

At "exactly" 00:00 UTC (Midnight London, England time) the Earth was only 91.3 million miles (147 million kilometers) away from the Sun. This moment, called the periapsis, is the closet the Earth gets to the Sun. During the aphelion, biggest distance between Earth and Sun, the distance is 94.4 million miles (152 million kilometers).

Some in the Northern Hemisphere may wonder why winter is currently going on when the Earth is so close. Others may guess that the Southern Hemisphere is thought of as so warm because the planet is so close during its summer. The answer to these false thoughts is in the Earth's tilt and geography. It is winter in the Northern Hemisphere because that half of Terra is leaning away from Sol. Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere land temperature averages are warmer because of the greater water to land ratio and the general lacking of continental climates compared to the Northern Hemisphere.

Now the Earth begins its months long journey away of the Sun along its elliptical orbit. This year's aphelion will be on July 6. Then the planet marches back towards the Sun continuing the billions of years long cycle.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Four Great Geography Book Reads of 2009

Reading works of history, religion, military, and regional affairs is a great way to learn geographical knowledge. Here are short brief reviews of some of the best books Catholicgauze read last year.

Religious Geography:

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died is a great history of the Eastern Churches. Usually when one thinks of Christian history they either think Catholic Church then the Reformation or Catholic/Orthodox split and then the Reformation. Almost no one either knows of the Eastern Churches such as the Jacobites and Nestorians or thinks they died off during the rise of Islam. This book does a excellent job documenting how Christianity lived under Islam and in pagan Asia. In fact, up until the late 1200s there was still a chance that Asia and the Muslim World would fall to a Nestorian-allied Mongol horde. The book further goes on to discuss how Eastern Christian practices were adopted into Islam.

Military Geography:

Six Days of War is the definitive history of the Six Day War between Israel and the united Arab forces under the nominal command of Egypt. This book does a wonderful job of describing the background history, the maneuvers, and politics of the war. The last bit is of great interest as the victorious Israelis debate what to do with the newly won territory.

Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban pretty much documents every battle ever fought in Afghanistan. As such one needs an atlas with them while reading the book to remember the detailed geography of the region. After reading the book I gained a greater appreciation for Afghan history. The country once was a settled land but constant invaders crushed everything but the wild nomads in the mountains. That legacy lives up until today.

Coffee Table Geography:

Strange Maps is the best way to start a fun geography conversation with any guest.