Sunday, February 28, 2010
Earthquakes: The United States Geological Survey's (USGS) earthquake page has a constantly updating webpage on earth tremors felt around the world. Each page has information ranging from how strong a quake was to p-wave data to maps. Check out the Chilean earthquake's page for a good example.
Tsunamis: The National Weather Service has the excellent Pacific Tsunami Warning Center which despite the name covers tsunamis around the world.
Extreme Weather: The National Weather Service wins this one as well for extreme weather in the United States.
Volcanoes: USGS has a Google Maps mashup showing American volcanoes and their status along with any warnings.
Fires: This one is not as developed yet. Local news agencies seem to be the best place to go for specific fires. However, FIRMS by the University of Maryland is the best place to go for worldwide fire mapping. They also have GIS shapefiles on fire data.
Disasters that Cause Population Displacement: Hands down this goes to Relief Web. The Haiti page, for example. has enough maps to answer any internally displaced person/relief organization question you may have concerning the January 2010 earthquake.
Also, be sure to check out and subscribe to Geographic Travels' Twitter feed. When major geographical events are taking place I will be updating here as I get information.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Below is a mashup map showing the location of Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan overlaid deployments of NATO and other ISAF forces.
View Larger Map
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Ruins are places where geography, history, archaeology, and society meet. Scholars, tourists, and the average person can admire ruins at their physical location, through literature, or other media. People reconstruct, and sometimes imagine, the reasons why a place started, who lived there, and why the placed died. These thoughts help integrate a lost place into the contemporary cultural landscape. Tourists to Mexico City will go out of their way to see the massive buildings of New Spain, Aztec Tenochtitlan, and the pre-Aztec Teotihuacan to understand the force that made Mexico what it is today. Holy Land visitors will visit the holy sites of the three major faiths and imagine the their patriarchs' lives to build a sense of oneself in their religious cosmos. Preservationists will use their influence to protect ruins through groups like UNESCO to ensure the human-place relationship can exist for future generations.
Sadly cultures do not appreciate the ruins made by their own culture. Stories these cultural ruins have to offer are lost on present generations. Sure, urban centers have "historical buildings" and "historical districts" but these efforts are sometimes driven by anti-development sentiment as they are preservationist motivated. Urban preservationists, and the public in general, seem to have little concern for the ruins of the rural countryside. Think about the Great Plains, there are countless ghost towns full of ruins that are rarely considered national treasures let alone worthy things to learn from. I accept these ruins as part of a time we have moved away from as a society but the lack of respect most preservationists and historians give to these places shows the discount between urban and rural forces (do not even get me started about the Buffalo Commons!).
Parts of the Great Plains are dying. The era of interior-frontier farm towns has past as farming becomes more centralized and the population shifts more to an urban character. The frontier towns do not merely cease to be but go through a process of becoming ruins before the Great Plains reclaims them.
Ghosts of North Dakota is an excellent photo blog site documenting ghost towns in North Dakota. The photographs are both fascinating and tragic as one reads the stories of towns where people lived and labored. One can browse through the various ghost towns via a map of North Dakota. The website is complemented well by National Geographic's article on ghost towns in North Dakota.
The ruins of the Great Plains is a part of me. I remember visiting my grandparents' farm and having them tell me the history (and fairy tale-style stories) of the ruins, who lived there, and what happened there. As these ruins are lost due to demographic shifts let us take a moment to absorb this unique part of Americana and appreciate them before they are gone forever.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
There is an overriding anti-Olympic feeling to many but not all the posts. Some of the feeling is definitely understandable. During every Olympics there are stories of housing and cultural sites being demolished for sports facilities or funding being shifted away from local interests. Those map locations that are not anti-Olympics do give a feeling of the rich Canadian heritage all the way back to the various Indian, First Peoples, tribes that lived along the bay.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
View The islands in a larger map
The past few weeks have seen a rise in tensions over the control of the Falkland Islands. A combination of oil being drilled off the coast of the islands and Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner falling approval ratings has created a sort of "Wag the Dog" situation where the issue is being used to distract the Argentines. President Kirchner demands any ship involved in the oil drilling must have Argentina's approval to enter the waters near the islands. The British government has responded with a "no." Currently Kirchner is saber rattling and the threat of war is distant but it is something to watch.
Argentina officially claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. These islands create a island-bridge to Argentina's Antarctic claims. However, since 1833 the United Kingdom has governed the islands. Today the Falklands are self-governing overseas territory while South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands governed as one oversea territory.
The islands were valuable in the past as they proved a good shipping port, whaling and seal station, and military outpost. Today the islands are valuable because of having oil off its coasts. Other than that the biggest part of any geopolitical struggle over the islands is national pride.
The history of Falkland and other islands control is complex. Periods of no occupation are intermixed with de facto Spanish, French, British, and Argentine control. The last permanent Argentine population left after settlement of Port Louis was destroyed by the USS Lexington as part of America's protest of the arrest of American sailors. The British finally established their dominance in 1833 despite protests from the the Argentines. The Argentines returned to the area by establishing scientific outposts on Thule Island, part of the South Sandwich Islands, in 1956 and 1976.
In 1982 the military junta which ruled Argentina invaded the Falklands and other islands. Their hope was that a weakened United Kingdom would be unable to mount any opposition. However, Margret Thatcher's Conservative government successfully managed to rally an underfunded army and Royal Navy to victory in a small yet fierce war.
Today the Falkland Islands are a sensitive issue in Argentina, which calls the islands Islas Malvinas. The war's veterans form a powerful lobbying group, memorization of the war has reached sanctification phase where the war memorial is a combination of the American Vietnam War Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Solider, welcome to Argentina signs declare the Falklands as belonging to Argentina, and a textbook error showing the island as part of the United Kingdom lead to massive outcry.
The population of the Falklands is overwhelmingly British or British-descendant Falkland Islander. While those who identify themselves with the nationality of Falkland Islanders see themselves as part of South America, they also view themselves as British. There is no serious movement on the islands to have the islands become independent or join Argentina. The other islands have no permanent population.
Who Owns the Falkland Islands?
De facto and in all reality the United Kingdom owns the Falklands. The British claim is recognized by the European Union, France, and members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Meanwhile most Latin American countries back Argentina's claim. Because of diplomatic reasons most other countries are officially neutral on the issue. With the oil drilling most countries will probably continue to deal with the British rule and all but recognize their control.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
The World Bank has their own list in a report (PDF). In the World Bank's report sixteen of the top twenty polluted cities are in the People's Republic of China. China, which can afford better environmental controls has decided to invest instead in rapid growth at the cost of their environment.
Meanwhile, the Blacksmith Institute released their own report which lists the People's Republic of China and the former Soviet Union have the most polluted sites. Communism's lack of environmental programs and the collapse of industrial controls lead to the former Soviet Union's waste products seeping into the environment.
Reading these reports makes one feel alot better about one's own local environment. Sure, the local and regional environment can and should be improved but we should be very thankful for what we have.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
I have a few complaints against the documentary, though. In an effort to show that Afghanistan is unconquerable by outsiders it falsely claims the British lost three wars to the Afghans. In truth the first Anglo-Afghan war was a massive Afghan victory but the second war was a British victory that made Afghanistan fall under a nominal sphere of British influence and the third war was a British defensive victory against an Afghan invasion of Pakistan. The second complaint is about how Massoud comes across. One must remember Massoud, a person who I feel we should have supported before his death right before 9/11, was an Islamist as well (but not revolutionary-expansionist like the Taliban) and a drug dealer (he needed money from somewhere). Just remember that when tries to think of him as an Afghan democratic liberal.
Friday, February 19, 2010
The Gagauz are ethnic Turks. Their very name means “straight-nosed Turks.” There are two theories on how they reached present-day Moldova. The first theory is that they are descended from the Ottoman conquers of the 15th and 16th centuries. The other theory was more popular in the past. It stated that the Gagauz were descended from the Bulgars, also a Turkic people, who pillaged their way into Europe from the Central Asian steppes. The basis for this hypothesis is that Gagauz use to call themselves “true Bulgars” when they lived among the Bulgarians. They resented Bulgarians calling them "Gagauz" because it implied they were Turks like the Ottomans rather than a small “t” Turkic people like the Bulgarians who became Slavic in culture. Today the Gagauz prefer the Ottoman-origin theory.
No one knows when the conversion happened but the Gagauz are Eastern Orthodox Christians belonging to a See in the Russian Orthodox Church. During the 1800s the first noting of religion amongst the Gagauz was made. The Gagauz were being oppressed by the Ottomans for being Christian. Around this time Russian Orthodox Church was the only Orthodox Church not under Ottoman control and it was therefore a political statement to belong to it while living in the Ottoman Empire. The Gagauz probably converted from Sunni Islam due to missionary activity or, if the Bulgar theory is correct, converted out of a desire to be aligned with a free Orthodox church.
The Gagauz speak Gagauz, a language closely related to Turkish. However, their alphabet is Cyrillic. Previously Gagauz used the Greek alphabet but it switched to Cyrillic in the 1950s. The change was forced by the Soviet Union which sought to Russify the various cultures in the USSR.
The majority of Gagauz live in the former Soviet republic of Moldova. While they have been partially Russified by their adoption of Russian Orthodoxy and Cyrillic, the Gagauz have managed to keep their own language alive while being multilingual in Romanian and Russian. Their national identity nearly lead to war in the early 1990s. As the Soviet Union was falling apart, ethnic Romanians in Moldova changed the official language of Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic from Russian and Romanian to Romanian only. Also, the Moldovan nationalists were making it known an independent Moldova would seek to merge into a greater Romania. The Gagauz threatened to breakaway violently but war was prevented by Transnistria's war of independence. The crushing of the Moldovans by the Transnistrians and 14th Russian Army prevented any anti-Gagauz crackdown by Moldova. A period of undeclared independence existed from 1992 to 1994. In 1994 Moldova agreed to give autonomy to majority Gagauz regions and areas with a sizable Gagauz minority which voted to join the autonomous zone of Gagauzia. Gagauzia is a free, liberal democracy with its own parliment and good civil rights record.
Today the mixed nature of the Gagauz continues. Turkey has granted Moldova money to improve Gagauzia and has spent its resources by conducting cultural exchanges. The Gagauz tend to support the Communist Party of Moldova and are considered still close to Russia as they see the party and Russia as counterweight to the pro-European, pro-Romania parties. The Gagauz have become a focal point where Europe, Russian Eurasia, and a Turkish Near East merge. The mixing bowl Gagauz have become a people of three worlds.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
However, it may have not been the first. According to the New York Times a recent archaeological find could show very early Europeans traveled the seas well before their Australian Aborigine brethren. Tools found on the island of Crete seem to be at least 130,000 years old and maybe up to 700,000 years old. The tools are probably closer to 130,000 years old than the latter but this still pushes seafaring back 70,000 years!
The fascinating thing about this large time period is that it was one where Europe was populated by more than one type of human. Our Homo Sapien forefathers lived alongside and competed against Homo Heidelbergensis and Neanderthals. The fact that the tools look like non-Homo Sapien gives some credence to a proto-human origin (though just because tools like like another tool culture does not automatically mean they are related).
I can only imagine the drive and reason behind the early European seafarers. In the time before trade there would be no material need for sea travel. With very small populations nomadic peoples should have no understandable reason of sailing the Mediterranean. Some spirit of adventure, maybe, inspired a person or small clan to build a raft and travel where the currents and winds took them.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
One problem historians have had with the map is that it shows a massive road going through the middle the Jerusalem. No such road has been found, until now. Archaeologists digging in Jerusalem have found a piece of that major road running through the old city.
This discovery offers the perfect excuse to reexamine the map or explore it for the first time. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Jerusalem Institute, and the Franciscans all have informative and interactive map features. Be sure to check this out!
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Geographic Travels: Now that Geographical is on Twitter, are there any plans to extend your online presence to Facebook or any other social media?
Geographical: Twitter has been a fantastic experience for Geographical. It's connected us to explorers, cartographers, geographers, teachers, designers and scientists all over the world, and it has already turned out to be a good source for new stories. But we don't have any plans, currently, to extend our online presence. We're a really small team of just two and a half people (one member of staff only works part-time on Geographical) so we are currently focusing on the magazine Geographical and the website www.geographical.co.uk. However, I will definitely let you know if this changes...
Geographic Travels: National Geographic has been pushing their My Wonderful World campaign online to support geographic literacy. Does Geographical have or plan something similar?
Geographical: Every year Geographical runs a competition called the Young Geographer of the Year, a hugely popular competition aimed at students up to the age of 18 studying Geography. Last year's theme was 'Arctic Journey' and the task was as follows:
We want you to carry out a project that involves a journey to the Arctic. What would you take with you and why? What would ensure your journey's success? Your project should reflect a thorough investigation into the geography of the Arctic and a realistic portrayal of a journey to the North Pole. We would also like you to include one luxury time for your journey and an explanation of your item of choice.
Prizes included a month-long expedition to East Greenland with BSES Expeditions and a five-day Arctic Ice Adventure to Sweden courtesy of Explore, plus plenty of prizes for the schools involved.
The Young Geographer of the Year 2010 competition is due to be announced in the May issue of the magazine (and information will be put up on the website at the same time) But, sadly, it's only open to schools or colleges in the UK or Europe so not something students in the US would be able to enter.
Geographic Travels: How can geographers use social media to spread the message of geography?
Geographical: I have found that the geographers who are active on social media and blogs are often also innovative within their own fields, whether that's digital mapping or teaching or GIS development. And the people behind web presence's such as www.geographycollective.co.uk and http://digitalurban.blogspot.com/ are really changing how geography is perceived and, even, what geography actually is, so I think by connecting online (via social media or blogs) it reminds people that geography isn't just an irrelevant subject found it text books (a misconception that I know many geographers rally against) but a really relevant discipline that can help play a part in furthering our understanding of the world, and coming up with solutions to the environmental and social problems facing the world today.
Geographic Travels: How does Geographical and the Royal Geographic Society support geography in the United Kingdom?
Geographical: Geographical is the official magazine of the Royal Geographical Society. Although the magazine contains a mix of news and features on travel, the environment, culture and science, we also try and focus on the work of geographers around the world and recent articles have covered subjects ranging from the work International Boundary Unit in Durham to how digital geographers are helping to solve social problems in the UK's cities:
Alongside our news and articles, we include information about the events being held at the society (which range from talks by Michael Palin, the ex-Monty Python star-turned-travel presenter who is now President of the Royal Geographical Society to technical training in GIS and plenty more you can see here: www.rgs.org/WhatsOn/Whats+on.htm) and the achievements of geographers who have been supported by the RGS.
The RGS provides a really large range of grants, that not that many people know about. And you don't have to be a geographer to apply for all of them. There are also grants for independent travellers and explorers, which include The Journey of a Lifetime Award, which gives travellers £4,000 and the chance to make a BBC Radio 4 documentary on subjects/destinations that have previously included the Zabbaleen community in Cairo, Egypt, who recycle a large percentage of the city's rubbish for free (www.geographical.co.uk/Magazine/Zabbaleen_-_May08.html), and The Cartaret Islands where the inhabitants were the first people to be evacuated from their homeland due to climate change. You can see the full list of grants available here: http://www.rgs.org/OurWork/Grants/Grants.htm
Monday, February 15, 2010
The man at the center of the scandal, Dr. Phil Jones has both greatly helped damaged science. His lies and dishonesty have revealed the irrationality of the current wave of global warming alarmism which was based on secular religion and politics. However, his actions have hurt anyone currently trying to honestly figure out the current state of the global environment as Jones' "crying wolf" has hardened the hearts of much of the public.
Dr. Jone is staring to come clean. He has said some surprising things in a recent interview with the BBC. Jones discusses many interesting things but there are some surprises coming from him. He admits that the Medieval Warm Period (the hot period around the year 1000, a time when England made wine and Greenland was green in the south) was a global warm period, that the warming trends such as 1860-1880 and 1910-1940 were similar to the recent warming period, and that there has been no statistically-significant global warming since 1995!
Developed countries can afford the cost of many environmental programs. As a society we should invest in a clean and healthy future but we must allow science to be practiced openly free from the influence of whose those who take their positions as dogma which must be defended at all cost.
Now with "skeptical" sceintists being revealed as victims of an elite, I wonder if Dr. Robert Chrsitopherson feels differently...
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Happy Saint Valentine's Day. While Islamists, anti-Western forces, and some feminist may hate this holy day I embrace it. The world does too. The Daily Mail has a nice collection of images of natural and man-made geographic wonders that look like hearts. Enjoy!
Saturday, February 13, 2010
The table is set to rank gold medals as the main factor.
|Unified Team (CIS) ||9||6||8||23|
The above table needs a little explanation because of geopolitical changes. Some may charge that the table is unfair to Germany and Russia.
- "Germany" reflects medals won by Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, the East-West German unity team of 1956--1964, and modern reunited Germany. Combining "Germany" with West and East Germany ups the total to 300 medals (106 gold, 107 silver, 87 bronze). I thought long and hard about dividing the Germanys from the total. In the end I believe it is unfair to other countries because that allows two German teams for each Olympics.
- "Russia" is the modern Russian Federation. I separated Russia from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Unified Team (Commonwealth of Independent States) because it would be unfair to give medals won by Soviet Ukrainians and other ethnic republics to Russia. If the Soviet Union, Unified Team, Russia, and the former Soviet states were combined their total would be 290 (120 gold, 84 silver, 86 bronze). Regardless how one cuts it, Russia has made up for their late entry and has to be considered one of the best Winter Olympic teams out there.
From the table it is clear that Winter Games are dominated by Europe and the West. Out of the 2,177 medals awarded
- 1,750 (80.4%) were won by European countries
- 320 (14.7%) were won by the United States and Canada
- 102 (4.7%) medals were won by Asian countries: Japan, South Korea, North Korea, People's Republic of China, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
- 5 (0.2%) were won by countries in the Southern Hemisphere: Australia and New Zealand.
- 0 medals won by African or South American countries
The region that is geographically most likely to produce strong Winter Olympic teams is upper Central Europe: Austria/Switzerland up through Germany and into the continental Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. These countries experience long winters that allow for outdoor, natural cultural winter sports training, mountains for skiing, and indoor sports infrastructure. The exception to this is Denmark which has only a silver in women's curling. Denmark lacks mountains and large outdoor areas. This curbs many winter sports activities and retards Denmark's efforts in the Winter Olympics.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Related Post: Geography of where the Summer and Winter Olympic Games have been played
Thursday, February 11, 2010
What You Need to Know About Ukraine's 2010 Presidential Election, the Ethnic/Cultural Geography Behind it, and Where Ukraine Goes from Here
The election map also reflects the ethnic/cultural divide in Ukraine. Blue is the ethnic/culturally Russian zone that voted for Yanukovych while pink is ethnically/culturally Ukrainian that in 2004 voted for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko in 2010.
The Orange Revolution of 2004 excited many in the West. A pro-West coalition comprised of a nearly assassinated man and a woman who played up her family's peasant background with an iconic hairstyle overturned a stolen election and won power together. The Orange Revolution was to permanently server Russia's control over Ukraine and align the country with Europe and the United States.
That, sadly, was not to be. The almost assassinated man, President Viktor Yushchenko, strongly supported the United States and stood up to Russia. Yet his popularity fell immensely as the economy collapsed, various political parties turned against him, Russia repeatedly cut off gas, and Russia ignored his protests of their using Ukraine as a base in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War. The woman, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, began to chart her own course attacking all sides, making deals with all sides, and naming her political party after herself. Meanwhile, the Russian-backed candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, has been most passive of the three yet more successful as he briefly became Prime Minister and managed to rebuild the pro-Russia alliance of parties.
The 2010 Presidential Elections
The breakdown of the Orange Revolution occurred with the recent 2010 presidential elections. The pro-Russian Yanukovych came in first by two percentage points over Tymoshenko who campaigned on a platform promising to balance relations with the West and Russia equally. President Yuschenko only earned five percent of the vote and came in fifth.
Tymoshenko and her supporters are trying to make a second Orange Revolution and overturn the vote by claiming Yanukovych's backers are trying to steal the election again. However, this time she is lacking in a pro-West platform mandate. Also, she can be described as the Sarah Palin of Ukraine as one either loves her or hates her. An Ukrainian pro-Russian television pundit described her as "the incarnation of evil" and a pro-West commentator said she was the "mother of all lies." Meanwhile a supporter of her's in parliament said she was a "regular Ukrainian thrusted onto greatness." Whether or not she is successful in overturning the election she will undoubtedly cripple the country even further if she goes through with her mass protest threats. Her supporters could either become marginalized jokes like those of would-be Mexican president Andres Lopez Obrador or a serious political force like the various opposition groups formerly and currently in Georgia.
The Ethnic and Cultural Background
Corruption and Byzantine-style politics have certainly helped in developing the current state of Ukrainian affairs but the primal rift lies deep in the ethnic and cultural makeup of Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine's pasts are inseparable. Ukraine's capital is Kyiv (Kiev) and it was the medieval capital of the Kievan Rus. The Kievan Rus is the proto-state which both Ukraine and Russia claim mutual cultural and political heritage from. The Kievan Rus' Prince Vladimir the Great's conversion to Christianity was the founding event for what would become the Russian Orthodox Church. After the defeat of Crimean Tatars in the eighteenth century present-day eastern and southern Ukraine became known as Novorossiya (literally "New Russia") as Russian immigrant colonialist took over land from the fleeing Muslims. Ukraine, for the most part, stayed part of Imperial Russia with briefly independent republican governments crushed by the Soviet Union before 1920. The Crimean Peninsula, meanwhile, only became part of Ukraine as a gift in 1954 (then it was merely a transfer from the Soviet Union to the Soviet Union so it only mattered on paper).
The intertwined relationship between Russia and Ukraine has left its mark on the geography of Ukraine. The eastern and southern parts of Ukraine form an economically better-off Russian belt. Seventeen percent of all Ukrainians are ethnic Russians with ninety percent of Crimea being ethnic Russian. Meanwhile, about a third of all ethnic Ukrainians, mostly those who live in the Russian belt, speak Russian as their primary language, watch and read Russian media, and are at least nominal members of the Russian Orthodox Church or its satellite Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Yulia Tymoshenko was one of these culturally Russian Ukrainians. She only learned a commanding knowledge of the Ukrainian language around the year 2000. The major pro-Russia party, Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, caters to ethnic and cultural Russians. In fact the party's website is not in Ukrainian but instead only in Russian and English. Imagine if the Republican Party only campaigned in Spanish or the Conservative Party only operated in Hindi yet still could win national elections. That is how ethnically and culturally split Ukraine is.
President Viktor Yushchenko failed in part because his initial base was limited to ethnic/cultural Ukrainians and he sought to impose Ukrainization in non-cultural Ukrainian parts of the country. Yushchenko tried yet failed to remove Russian-language government signs in eastern Ukraine. He also failed in banning Russian-language television. This not only offended the seventeen percent, ethnic Russians, but also the cultural Russians. Those two groups combine to create between forty and forty-five percent of the total population.
The effort to make Ukraine closer to the West at the expense of Russian-relations also cost Yushchenko. While Ukrainians are open to better relations with the West most actually believe good relations with Russia are a must. Recent polling by several agencies showed Ukrainians strongly reject NATO membership. There is some support for immediate efforts to join the European Union but an equal number are just as supportive for joining the Russia-Belarus Union State.
To the Future
The effort to have Ukraine join NATO was set back in Romania and died with the 2010 presidential election. The current geopolitical situation will have to change before a strong pro-West government takes Ukraine again. At the earliest this will take a decade. The Russian military bases in Crimea will probably be allowed to stay operating past the original 2017 deadline while NATO forces will only be allowed to dock at ports for short visits. Talk about Russian invading Ukraine for control of Crimea and the eastern half of the country were always week and should finally be laid to rest. There is no reason to invade Ukraine because a large minority of the country is solidly pro-Russia. Finally, Ukraine will probably no longer seriously consider joining the European Union.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Both Australia and New Zealand are focusing most of their efforts on their coasts and Oceania. The two exceptions are Australia's anti-Somali piracy operations and New Zealand's activities around the Korean Peninsula. Canada is more like the British Royal Navy in that it has played a more worldly role.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Monday, February 08, 2010
My response was dismissed by the others because de Blij's work was too mundane for them. De Blij foscused more on world geography with the studies of people, countries, and cultures. The others in the class preferred studying small niches of geography like hunting tourism, sexual spaces, ethnic neighborhoods, and exurbs in southern California. These niche geographers saw de Blij's work in world/regional geography as merely high school geography and not worthy of further pursuit. However, many of the students I taught have told me de Blij's books are the best geography texts they ever used and several geography majors and graduate students have shared with me the fact that de Blij was their reason for further studying geography. De Blij appealed to them, made geography interesting, and increased their geographical literacy.
I have had the honor of communicating with Dr. Harm J. de Blij. Below is the interview we conducted where we discuss the state of geography, upcoming geographical hotspots, and why don't geographers reach out more.
Beginning of Interview
Geographic Travels: As a graduate student I would ask other students to define geography. In a group setting it was interesting to see overlap and clashes between the various definitions (I must also admit that it was fun to have these groups discussion melt down into sparring matches between various people). What is your definition of geography?
Dr. de Blij: After my failed effort to give some focus to the question of geography's definition in Why Geography Matters, maybe I should demur on this one. I'm one of the shrinking cadre of geographers who continue to think that the overarching question "where" is our unifying preoccupation, but we're not the only ones using location and its vocabulary (proximity, juxtaposition, distance (decay), accessibility, etc. conceptually. I find myself turning to maps on a daily and continuing basis; find a globe still instructive after my half-century-plus of looking at it; and still feel that a mental map is a valuable part of general perception. Or what is that called these days? Spatial cognition? Well, probably nobody ever asks a historian "what is history" or a geologist "what is geology", although from what I hear about what's happening on campuses, geology as we came to know it seems to be history. In any case, geography is now so balkanized that it is, in a distinguished colleague's view, "everywhere."
Geographic Travels: The million dollar question that every geographer has an opinion on: how do you feel geographic education can be improved?
Dr. de Blij: The improvement of geographic education in the United States obviously depends on its wider inclusion in school curricula and the continuing improvement of teacher-education and training. The former relies on enlightened educational policy and school administration and the latter on money and equipment, all in short supply. It's not actually a million-dollar question; it's a billion-dollar question.
Geographic Travles: According to international studies and personal observations by the bloggers at Geographic Travels, many people do not see the relevance of geography. How can geographers demonstrate the importance of the subject to the general population?
Dr. de Blij: I'm surprised at those international studies you cite, because geography's relevance is pretty well established in places I visit regularly, like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, and other countries and regions; it's true that it's not seen as quite so relevant in Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, or Japan (but in all these last, it still has better standing than in the United States). Demonstrating geography's importance as part of the national capacity isn't difficult. When the Senate International Relations Committee's Carl Levin comes back from Afghanistan and says on national television that "you don't have ethnic divisions (there) that you do in Iraq" (Face the Nation, November 22, 2009) it's clear that he doesn't need a reservation to Kabul, he needs a seat in a cultural geography class. It wouldn't matter, except that the McNamaras, Bushes, Wolfowitzes, Levins and others of their intellectual makeup drive this country into foreign-policy blunders that have their origins in geographic illiteracy acquired at places like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Although knowing locations (places, names) has about as much relevance to geography as a vocabulary table has to literature, you can't speak a language without learned vocabulary. When only one in seven Americans can identify Iraq on a blank map of the Middle East (and fewer still Afghanistan in Southwest Asia), that means the opinions of the other six (at least) are worthless, or at least not likely to have much if any basis in even the most rudimentary knowledge. A nation that does not know its way in this world functionally shrinking upon it will lose its way for sure. We did in Vietnam, were persuaded on Iraq, and now we think that we can handle Afghanistan's merciless geography with a few tens of thousands of troops.
But there's another side to this. Geographers haven't done much of a job even trying to persuade the "general population" of the importance of geography. We complain about geographic illiteracy, but where are the persuaders? I don't see many (any) colleagues in the debates roiling Washington on foreign policy (where you can hear the most incredible geographic blunders going unnoticed -- watch C-Span!). I see a gazillion history books on Afghanistan, Iraq, the British Empire, the rise of China, the fall of Russia ... where are the geographic interpreters?
Geographic Travels: I remember a presentation you gave in 2005 at National Geographic where you said in a few years Somalia will become a country of great interest. The rise, fall, and rise again of Islamic militants plus piracy have proven you right. Where do you see the next big geopolitical event to be?
Dr. de Blij: Somalia was an easy call. I was there only once, in much calmer times; but what I've called the "Islamic Front" was already in place and on the move. By the way, you may recall that in that same 2005 talk I also warned that the layout of the Horn of Africa and its opposite shore made Yemen a likely terrorist haven. Take a look at the globe and note how remarkably close Yemen is to Iran and other parts of Southwest and South Asia, even Pakistan. Now consider the cultural-geographic contrasts: Somalia is likely to be regional trouble, Yemen has the potential to be global trouble. The question "where next" is interesting. If bin Laden is looking at the world map, he must feel that he's got a pretty strong axis from weak Somalia (not Puntland or Somaliland) through Yemen to Afghanistan and Pakistan. What he doesn't have is the proximity to his Western targets he'd like. I've hypothesized for a long time that Africa offers that opportunity (Eritrea may be next, the North African Atlas Mountains perhaps the Waziristan of the more distant future). But it's also possible that al-Qaeda may take the potentially easier path, into Subsaharan Africa, where recruitment rather than destructive attacks may bear longer-range fruit.
Geographic Travels: You have published great books such as Why Geography Matters and The Power of Place. Do you have any upcoming books or projects?
Dr. de Blij: You're kind to refer to my two recent trade books that way, but compared to other, far more penetrating studies they're pretty pedestrian (this is reality, not false modesty). My mistake in WGM is to have concentrated too much on basic geography, in the hope that some readers might like to get up to speed on stuff we do in freshman classes at college level. I did have a nice response, by the way, from some Harvard University students who saw the book in their college bookstore, read it and wrote me to ask -- why aren't we getting this stuff as part of our College curriculum? And not only did they write me, they also wrote the Harvard Crimson. I actually heard from a Dean who was involved in a College curriculum revision then under way. He told me not to get my hopes up. "We're pretty dyed in the wool around here", he said. He was, of course, right. Harvard students still can go from kindergarten to graduate school without ever making contact with geography. And then lead the country into war after graduation. As to Power of Place, I just got mad at Thomas Friedman and his stuff about flat worlds and all that; he says himself in his book that he titled it that way to make people buy it. What Friedman, Krugman, Lieberman, and other men think is their great talent and indomitable perseverance is mostly -- luck. By the roulette of birth we're all parachuted onto this world in places fortunate and less so; and on average you're a hell of a lot better off as a man than as a woman. If you're born into the global core with its high-living-standard cities and high-income economies, and you start believing the world is flat (and geography is history), take a cold shower (it's the norm in the periphery, with a bucket) and take a good geography course to follow. We've made the global core a gated community, try to keep immigrants out through bureaucracy, fences, walls, moats, patrol boats -- and then call the world flat? Actually I am working on something new but not making much progress. It arose from an idea that popped up while I wrote Power of Place, on how we seem to be turning our backs on the fruits of the Enlightenment and what the cost of that might be. Extremism in religions, rejection of science, decline in the arts, coarsening of politics. But I find myself rewriting earlier chapters rather than moving along, so who knows. At least it keeps the adrenalin pumping.
End of Interview
Dr. de Blij makes some very good points. Generals Petraeus in Iraq and McFlynn in Afghanistan both realize the importace of regional and local geographic knowledge in the War on Terrorism. McFlynn goes as far to say that without local knowledge of the people and place that no amount of counter-insurrgency can win the Afghanistan War. Meanwhile I and others have stressed the need to teach geography better and for geographers to create products that will reach the general public.
Saldy, Dr. de Blij's story of Harvard University is repeated throughout America. Many universities do not have geography programs and those who do rarely emphasize the world regional interrelationships and instead focus on niche subfields. A deadly duet of university's not seeing the true importance and usefulness of geography and geographers constantly ruining their own case by an overemphasis of niches and tools has greatly harmed geographic literacy in the United States. I do not think we necessarily need more geography majors but instead need to properly teach world geography to students. One good world regional class can stick forever in an engineering or nursing student's mind allowing them to rethink world events. In a democratic society we cannot afford to have a large unknowledgable educated class.
Dr. de Blij is the author of Why Geography Matters, The Power of Place, Human Geography: People, Place, and Culture, Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts, and other books.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
The Royal Navy's official website has an interactive map of all of its deployments. One can toggle different layers mapping ships, aircraft, Royal Marines, and shore establishments. A temporal element is added with the time bar tool which allows one to select the week, month, and year of the map's information. Finally, one can click on a deployment marker to read more about the base or deployed unit's mission.
Friday, February 05, 2010
The Census of King David (~1000 BC)
According 2 Samuel 24, King David felt the urge to conduct a census in his realms of Israel and Judah. The primary motivation of the census was to count the number of available potential warriors and thus measure David's power. It was not a good time for a census; however, as the Hebrews' sinful actions were already offensive to God and David's thinking about his own power and not God's pushed the Lord over the edge. After repenting and haggling, David agreed to allow three days of pestilence which killed seventy thousand men. Only God's sorrow at the destruction stopped further deaths.
The story of David's census still causes groups of fundamentalists to deeply oppose any government counting.
The Census of Quirinius (~4 BC)
According to Luke 2:1-7, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus wanted better accounting of modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel for tax purposes. The governor Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was placed in charge of the necessary census. Hebrew custom required massive population movements as men traveled to their clan's home city. The movie Jesus of Nazareth did a good job capturing the cultural tension over the census between Roman and native leadership.
The census allowed Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. While David's census gave the Biblical impression of "census = death," Quirinius' census proved to be a Biblically necessary annoyance.
The Domesday Book aka Doomsday Book (AD 1086)
When the census is named after the Day of Judgement then the propaganda battle is already lost. The Domesday Book (modern-English translation being Doomsday Book) was the census conducted by the Norman conqueror William I of his new English realm. Land changes and lack of any census information since the Roman era, which had been lost, denied the king knowledge of what he owned and what he could tax. The book detailed land owning families, their property, and holdings including peasants. The book was declared the final word on property and tax issues with no possible appeal; hence it was given a title which referenced the Judgement Day book mentioned in Revelation 20: 12.
There are some stories of English peasants fearing the census was the beginning of the end of the world. There are even stories of resistance efforts agains the census though these appear later on in history. The Domesday Book actually brought law, order, and taxes back to England. Even in the twenty-first century it has been used to settle legal disputes over land claims. It can be viewed online here.
Soviet Census of 1937 and 1939
Adolf Hitler is commonly regarded as history's greatest monster but he only ranks third for genocidal leaders of the twentieth century. Number two is Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Stalin's combination constant purges, purposefully caused famines in Ukraine, population transfers, and criminal incompetence in collectivizing peasants killed at least fifteen million people.
By 1937 damage was already being done by Stalin and his fellow goons. Still, professional demographers both in and out of the Soviet Union estimated that the USSR's population would be between 170 and 172 million by 1937. However, the 1937 census showed that the population was only 162 million people. Stalin responded by suppressing the results and sending the census workers to gulags in Siberia. A new "census" was conducted in 1939 with the pre-determined result of 170.6 million.
Because of fear of upsetting the regime no Soviet census was conducted until 1959.
So despite debates over White House-control, the issue of counting illegal immigrants, and a suicide disguised as a murder motivated by the 2010 census the 2010 census does not look that bad. No God-made diseases, Soviet purges, Roman/Norman overlords are going to take advantage of this census.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
The United States Board on Geographic Names is the government body that has the power to change place names of locations within the United States. It also has the ability to change government policies of foreign places names. For instance, when working with the State Department the board recognized the "Republic of Macedonia" instead of "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." It also changed American recognition of the spelling of Ukraine's capital from the Russified Kiev to the Ukrainian Kyiv.
The US Board though is not the only geographic naming body around, though. According to the United Nation's list, there are many geographical bodies out there (PDF). There is also a contact list in case one wishes to visit said country's board website or contact them via mail (PDF).
There are a few surprises. Centralized countries who take deep pride in their geographic terrain like Mexico, Ethiopia, and Egypt do not have a geographic name board while Afghanistan does.
Just because a country has a geographic board does not mean it has the final say over place names. Russia's Commission of Geographical Names had no input when Prime Minister Putin named a mountain in the ethnic republic North Ossetia-Alania the Peak of Russian Counterintelligence Agents. Meanwhile, I can only image how many times North and South Korea's geographic boards disagree. Finally, while the Vatican does not a geographic board the UN notes their hope that the Holy See will have one soon. I do not know what they could rename but I want on it! (Hat Tip: Hunter)
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
The wine producers in Champagne, France and the French government have known that piece of trivia for a long period of time. Now they are acting upon it. A new campaign has been launched by Champagne and joined by other wine producing regions like Napa Valley to create laws in the United States that would restrict the use of place names in wine labels. That way no Kansas wine could call be sold as "sherry" and no New York wine could be a champagne.
The wine producers point out that location matters. Temperature, soil, and climate all impact the grapes growth and chemical structure and thus make the wine what it is.
These foreign giants have already succeeded in passing European Union laws in limiting naming rights. However, the bill in the United States has to get past domestic wine producers who freely name wines whatever they want. The big names though have joined the campaign so it is possible for it to succeeded.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Barbados Postal Service
Cayman Island Postal Service
(People's Republic of) China's China Post
(Republic of) China's Chunghwa Post
France's Le Poste
Germany's Deutsche Post
New Zealand Post
The United Kingdom's Royal Mail
The United States' USPS
Monday, February 01, 2010
The somewhat new American passport offers a way to travel throughout the United States. Instead of pages with blank backgrounds or state seals, the latest edition features picturesque drawings of America. Check out some examples.
Looking at the various pages I wondered if there were any spatial patterns to what was depicted. Was there a bias towards one region of the country? Where others ignored? First, I needed to figure out where each place shown was. I determined the following:
Inside Front Cover: Specific place, Fort McHenry being attacked during the War of 1812
1: Secretary of State statement
2-3: Personal Information
4-5: Sonoran Desert, only place where the shown saguaro catci grow
6-7: Cascade Range
8-9: Specific place, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
10-11: New England seascape
12-13: Eastern-side of the Rocky Mountains due to plains buffalo being present
14-15: Specific place, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
16-17: Mississippi River, southern portion
18-19: Upper Interior famland, lack of trees in a more arid land
20-21: Lower Colorado/Upper New Mexico ranch country
22-23: I honestly do not know. A train moving through rolling hills. Could be Appalachia but also could be in the northwest or even in Wisconsin/Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
24-25: Southeast portion of Alaska, only place with Totem poles and brown bears
26-27: Specific Place, Statue of Liberty in New York's enclave
Inside Back Cover: The Moon and Earth in the distance
In the map below I used the 100th Meridian as the boundary between East and West.
There is no significant difference between east and west. However, the industrial "Rust Belt" is completely overlooked and the South only has one clear depiction. The South could have been shown with either a romantic plantation (though the bad history associated with these probably prevented the plantation landscape's inclusion into the passport) or an Everglade/Louisiana Bayou-type swamp. Meanwhile, the Rust Belt-sublocation of the Midwest has long been accused of having no identifying marks or landscapes. The somewhat new American passport seems to agree with that argument.