Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Restrepo: When Counter-Insurgency Meets Rough Geography

WARNING:  SPOILERS


A section of The Accidental Guerrilla is dedicated to the construction of a road through Kunar Province.  The Coalition was successful in persuading local Afghans to buy in to the road and get involved with its construction.  The invested Afghans then ensured their road was protected by creating a societal gap between themselves and the Taliban who wished to harm both the road and Coalition forces who used the road.  Despite rough terrain and a typically isolated Pashtun population, successful counter-insurgency tactics allowed for a Coalition victory.

However, not far away in Kunar Province is the Korangal Valley.  This valley is full of steep ridges and deep valleys.  It is located near the Pakistan border.  It is also in this valley where United States soldiers step up several firebases and began a road construction project in the mold of the other Kunar project.  Unlike the other project, though, the geography in valley did not favor a similar outcome.  The valley and the soldiers are at the center of the documentary Restrepo which documents one of the most hotly contested parts of Afghanistan.

The first issue was the physical geography.  The first base was in a bowl which the Taliban could easily shoot into.  After a few firefights the Americans take the initiative and seize the commanding heights.  However, there are too few troops to push the advantage and keep forcing the Taliban to fall back.  After a while there is an offensive operation but the ground cannot be held because the lack of troops and the close-range fighting which resulted in both American and civilian causalities.  Much of the remainder of the time is spent fighting between a static line of control.

The second major problem was the human terrain.  Tribal and elder leadership did not value the road like elsewhere in Kunar and villagers would not build the road without elder approval.  Instead the elders wished to discuss damage done by soldiers and detained locals.  The American commander's various responses and blame shifting prevented any bonds from growing.

What was the result?  A Taliban victory.  A postscript describes how the military abandoned the valley in April 2010.  The Taliban quickly released videos of their exploration of the Coalition firebases.



The rough physical terrain dwarfed the limited amount of troops who were stationed in the valley.  The local population could have been a massive force multiplier and could have made the Taliban easy targets.  However, the failure to culturally engaged and the style of warfare made the locals neutral at best and hostile in many cases.

Restrepo is a good documentary on multiple levels.  It shows what has gone wrong in Afghanistan but it also portrays the bravery of soldiers who risk their lives for the Afghans and every other free citizen of the world.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sewage Could Restore Lousiana Wetlands

I have always been interested in the wetlands of Louisiana.  The physical and cultural makeup of the Mississippi Bayou and nearby swamp lands have created a special region which is unique yet pure Americana.

Since Hurricane Katrina five years ago the dangers which threaten the wetlands have been a frequently discussed topic in geography.  Dams along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers have deprived the wetlands of restoring sediments and canals have brought wetland-destroying salt water.

The outlook for the wetlands looked pretty bleak with no light to lessen the pessimism. Now a private-public partnership has a promise of restoration.  There is a plan to pump semi-treated wastewater and biosolids, organic goo left over in sewage treatment, into Bayou Bienvenue.  The sewage mix would add organic matter to replace lost soil and it will be fertile enough to support the growth of stabilizing Cypress trees and swamp grass.

The science behind this effort seems strong.  If successful the recycling of what was once viewed as pure waste will not only give New Orleans a hurricane buffer but also help restore lost wetlands, protect wildlife, and help restore the Cajun landscape.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

InciWeb: Wildfire Information and Maps

Various American federal agencies have created a joint website to provide information and map out wildfires throughout the United States.  The Incident Information System, InciWeb, has a cornucopia of information about the fire including location, acres burned, and planed course of action.  For anyone interested in wildfires this is a must view website.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Background Picture: The Medina Road Going Towards Riyadh, Saudi Arabia



This month's background image is from my spring 2010 trip to the Middle East.  This is the Medina Road, the major highway connecting Muslim holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia to the capital of the country, Riyadh.  About 10 miles outside of Riyadh the Medina Road leaves an old wadi (dry river bed) and goes up an escarpment.  Once cars go up the escarpment the feeling of one is near Riyadh is felt.  In fact, when people go down the escarpment away from Riyadh they feel they are outside the greater capital area and in the more wild, rugged, and free wilderness.  Cars will pull off the road and families will leave the cars in order to have picnics in the desert.  That is one way Riyadhians get away from the city and enjoy nature.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Google Maps Misplaces the Lincoln Memorial Prior to Controversial Rally

Update:  Scroll to the end of the article to Google's response to our press request.
Update 2:  As of sometime Saturday morning the Lincoln Memorial has been geolocated back in its proper place.

Background:  Controversial conservative media man Glenn Beck is hosting a "non-political" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28.  Many popular figures from the Tea Party movement are expected to be there.  Some oppose the rally because they see it mocking Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a Dream" speech which was given forty-seven years prior on the same day at the Lincoln Memorial.

Two nights before the rally the conservative and libertarian blogspheres started to report that the Lincoln Memorial had been misplaced in Google Maps.  The shown location and any directions guide users towards the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial which is half a mile away from the Lincoln Memorial (Side note: Glenn Beck thinks Roosevelt was one of the worst presidents ever and routinely denounces him on Beck's radio show and television program).  Many on the center-right blogosphere are claiming Google has purposefully made the change to confuse and/or spite rally attenders.

Those going to the rally no doubt already know they are going to Lincoln Memorial and where it is.  Anyone who ends up at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial will most probably see other people closer towards the Lincoln Memorial and quickly figure out the right place to go.

Google Maps takes one towards the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial which is half a mile away from the Lincoln Memorial
Now Google Maps has been the victim of false claims of bias before.  It has been accused of taking sides in geopolitical debates when it has used generalized data not meant to be precise.  Other cases of bias have arisen as well.  For example: many pro-Georgian bloggers claimed Google was anti-Georgia by not showing any detailed data of the country during its war with Russia.  However, the data was never there to begin with.

Strangely though Google Maps did know where the memorial was before and the "Report a problem" link has without a doubt been used a vast multitude of times since last night yet the error remains. Hopefully this misplacement is a technical glitch or a rouge cartographer playing petty games.

Typing in Lincoln Memorial in Google Earth also takes one to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  Yet the attractions layer clearly shows the Lincoln Memorial in its proper place.

What is shown and what is not shown in maps reflect the biases of the cartographers.  Google is such a power player in geography today that I hope it can keep itself neutral.  If Google Maps data cannot be respected (or if one can legitimately cry manipulation) the online expansion of geography can suffer a massive blow.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Google Responds:

Thanks for getting in touch about this and apologies for the delay as I awaited a response from the team. Below is more information about listings on Google Maps in general, as well as this specific instance, attributable to a Google spokesperson.

The listings in Google Maps, part of our local search offering, come from a combination of sources including third-party and publicly available Yellow Page directories, business information from our web search results, and business owners and users who make contributions to share their local expertise. Google Maps is a very popular source for local data, but we recognize that with millions of listings, there will be an occasional error. We encourage users to update listings themselves if they know the correct information - more on that process here - or flag something as incorrect using our “Report a Problem” button, found at the bottom right corner of the map. In this case, however, the team is already looking into this issue for you and currently working to resolve it.

Hope this helps,
(XXX)



Our Reply:


Sadly none of this addresses the issue.

Do You Like the New Look? Plus an Open Forum

We are experimenting with a redesign.  The big change is the photographic background which we plan to change now and again.  Every photo will be from one of our travels around the world.  Comment if you hate it and want the old look, love the new look, or have yet to make up your mind.

Also, feel free to take this time to be an open forum. Introduce yourself or start a geographic conversation. Feel free to ask questions, make comments, or complain about Geographic Travels or an aspect about geography in general.

Time Article on American Police GPS Usage

Time Magazine Online has an interesting yet scary story about GPS use by police in the United Stated called The Government Can Use GPS to Track Your Moves. The main crux of the article is that, due to court decisions, nine Western states allow police without a warrant to legally go onto one's property and attach a GPS unit on any car parked on a driveway.  The court's thinking is that there is no expectation of privacy for a car parked outside.  Therefore, the GPS unit data can be gathered and used against anyone all without said individual being charged with a crime.

I am going to keep my political comments out of this blog post.  Instead, what strikes me as a geographer is the realization by society that personal spatial data, the geography of an individual, is so powerful and easily available.  Local businesses seek to obtain location data on smart phones, advertisers desire to know where website visitors come from, regular people use FourSquare to see where their social network is at, and police desire to know the movements of suspects' cars at all times. 

The want to know where other people are and where they come from is as old as humanity itself.  What has changed is that geospatial technology has made such information easily quantitative in spreadsheet form.  This distilled information easily becomes power.  As technology improves expect personal spatial data to become one of the biggest privacy and legal concerns of the twenty-first century.  The battle is already being waged on Facebook..,

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lobate Scarps Reveal that the Moon is Shrinking

One way to open a jar which has a stuck lid is to run hot water over the metal top.  The heat from the water cause the metal to expand ever so slightly and thus lessen its grip on the jar.  Later, as the metal cools, it will shrink back to a smaller size.  The same holds true for all metals including those in the cores and mantels of planets and moons.

Our Moon's size and composition of metals olivine and pyroxene has doomed it to a life of inactivity compared to the Earth's active geology.  The Moon's mantle and core, under less pressure-induced heat than the heavier Earth, has been cooling down at a rate much faster than our planet. This is causing the metallic-comprised Moon to shrink.  Scars known as lobate scarps, caused by the crust compressing in on itself as it slowly sinks towards the Moon's center, are being found all over the Moon.

Fans of the moon need not worry.  While the shrinking is recent on the selenological (Moon geology) timescale, the Moon's shrinkage has yet to have any noticeable affect on the Earth and will not have one for possibly millions of years.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dimensions: BBC's Spatial Overlay Website

Remember overlaying the Gulf of Mexico oil spill or a nuclear attack on any given point on Earth?  These layers help one better understand just how big something is.  We were told the spill was large but we only comprehended it after we centered it over our homes.  To modify a Stalin quote:  1,000 square miles is only a statistic.

Now the British Broadcasting Corporation has created the website Dimensions.  The site overlays a wide arrange of subjects on Google Earth.  Categories include The War on Terror, Space, Depths, Ancient Worlds, Environmental Disasters, Festivals and Spectacles, the Industrial Age, the Battle of Britain, and Cities in History.  My favorites include the Pakistan flood zone and the Moon (which has a very small parameter). (Hat tip: Tisha Oehmen)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Map of UFO Sightings in Canada, Great Britain, and Argentina

The Map of UFO Sightings in the United States was such a popular post I decided to research and see what I could find for other countries.  Somewhat surprisingly geographic data for UFO sightings outside the United States is sparse.  What data does exist implies that UFO's sightings are less common elsewhere and sightings patterns vary by country.

Canada

I had extreme difficulty finding anything for Canada.  The best I could do was the massive database map mash-up on UFO Maps.  The KMZ file is too large to display on a traditional Google Maps but it can be downloaded for Google Earth.  The maps information is based information from the National UFO Reporting Center and UFO Evidence.

Maybe aliens dislike southerners and Canadians equally

UFOs are spread out the upper prairie provinces and into the mountains of British Columbia.  There are on-again, off-again sighting periods occurring in the Golden Horse Shoe area between Niagara Falls and Toronto.  A final spot of frequency is in Nova Scotia.  UFOs are extremely sparse elsewhere.  A general lack of sightings in the other Maritime Provinces in the east, Quebec, and along much of the Great Lakes coast/American border is surprising when one considers that ninety percent of Canada's population lives within one hundred miles of the border.  So there is a partial negative correlation between population and UFO sightings just like in the United States.

Great Britain

This map comes from Virgin Media and claims to be sightings since 1961.  Interestingly there is no citation for where the information comes from.

The English Midlands are the hotspot for UFO sightings on the island of Great Britain.  This area is densely populated with the largest city being Birmingham.  While the densely populated Midlands do break the "less population equals more UFO sightings" formula, the most densely part of Great Britain, Greater London, is not ranked in the top ten regions with UFO sightings.

Yeah West Yorkshire is the hot spot but only 34 sightings since 1961?

The big thing about the map is that it claims West Yorkshire, the UFO hot spot for all of Great Britain, has had 34 sightings since 1961.  Only?  That is less than one a year.  This could be seem to imply that "weird thing in the sky must be something paranormalish and therefore reported" line of thinking is more American than anything else.  Maybe British people are not distrubed by weird things flying or Americans' imaginations have the better of them.

Argentina

The last map I was able to find was Argentina sightings from the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).  The map reports to show findings from 2005 to 2010.


By far most sightings are in and around the capital and largest city of Buenos Aires.  Most of the remaining sightings to the north and west of Buenos Aires.  The less populated south has only reported a few UFO sightings in the last five years.  Either aliens are Peronists or the power of cross-culturalization has had an effect as globalized Argentinians see and report UFOs while the gauchos and Mapuche Indians have yet to be influenced by the UFO-mindset.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Frontline: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan

In some parts of the Muslim world there is a weird double standard with homosexual.  My observations in Iraq and Saudi Arabia as well as what I have read about for my journey to Afghanistan I allowed me to make this rule of thumb: in Muslim countries it is wrong to be homosexual but it is allowable to do homosexual sex as long as one does not enjoy it for the sex.  The sex is done to dominate or to build bonds between men (in a brotherhood way).  Sickeningly, it is allowable for two men to have sex as long as they do it with a boy.  Straight up pedophilia is not only allowable but in some parts even encouraged.   Boys are seen as play things, something less valuable and less important than men to God.


Afghanistan has its own tradition of man-boy pedophilia.  The tradition of dancing boys, featured in the Kite Runner, has little boys being entertainment slaves for parties, orgies, and sex.  Frontline covers this practice in the video below.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Australian 2010 Federal Elections Map

The results are close.  It looks like Australia will follow the United Kingdom and have a hung parliament forcing either an Labor/Green/Independents coalition or a Liberal/National/Independents coalition.  The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a wonderful Google mash-ups map with options to toggle seats currently held, predictions, and seat changes.  There is also the option to click on a region and read detailed information on the election and the politics of the region itself.

Hat tip: the wonderful Google Maps Mania blog

Friday, August 20, 2010

Radical Cartography: An Interesting Mix of Maps

I really do not know how the wonderful website Radical Cartography has escaped my notice for so long.  Bill Rankin of Radical Cartography lit the cartographic and geographic blogspheres alight with the marvelous World Population by Latitude and Longitude maps.  The maps and other geographic information displayed on the website range from U.S. military bases and land holdings to race and urban landscape in Washington D.C. to comparisons of heights and depths of the Earth, Moon, and Mars.  Check out this wonderful hidden web gem today!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Map of UFO Sightings in the United States

See also Map of UFO Sightings in Canada, Great Britain, and Argentina

"The truth is out there" is a popular saying among UFO enthusiasts.  "Out there" is usually implied as either outer space or some undefined otherness on Earth.  According to the Center for UFO studies; however, "out there" is clustered in the West and not the South.

UFO Sightings in the Contiguous United States by County

The above map comes from the Center for UFO studies from Burlington UFO Center.  The Burlington webpage lacks further data on the time range of sightings but there are clear spatial patterns, trends, and possible explanations to where UFOs have been reported.

1)  Population density does not equal sightings.  The Northeast has a much larger population than the West but the intensity of sightings does not match what it is in the Western counties.  One reason could be that people in the East are use to seeing lights in the skies (planes) but out West there is a power of suggestion/mythology that lights in the sky could be a UFO.

2) Military may equal UFO.  Without a doubt there are more military bases and  flights, both normal and "black", out West than in the rest of the country.


3) Clear skies may help with explaining more sightings.  The highest concentration of UFO sightings out West occur in desert counties that usually have clear night skies compared to Midwestern and Eastern counties with more pollution in the air and generally more cloud cover.


4) Big counties equal more UFOs on the map.  Though I doubt it would make a great difference one has to remember some counties in the West are the size of some small states.  The map is skewed to favor the Western counties that way.

5) Aliens hate Southerners.  Think of the stereotype of the trailer trash Hillbilly who goes on an intergalactic journey while aliens probe his anus.  This stereotype is confronted with the fact that southerners do not report UFOs.

So what is one to do if one sees a UFO in the United States?  First, know your astronomy!  Too many sightings have been planets, stars, and satellites just doing their thing in space.  Second, check out the FAA's Special Use Airspace website and See and Avoid to see if the airspace is in "special use."  One possible reason for special use could be the military is testing something out in the area and the military does not want a close encounter with a Cessna or Boeing 767.

The American skies are filled with unidentified flying objects.  Most can be explained away but there are those that remain a mystery.  Regardless of what one thinks about these unknown things in the sky, both physical and human geography play a role in their sightings.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Operation Iraqi Freedom is Over

To all those who served before, during, and after I was in Iraq:  thank you.




The days of al Qaeda in Iraq having standing armies in cities are over.  The days of them crucifying people on the stadium lights of Diyala are over.  However, they will remain like the Ku Klux Klan did after the Civil War: ready to strike and kill at random.

The Mahdi Army and Katab Hezbollah are defeated.  No longer do they enforce Islamic law on major cities.  However, their sponsor Iran will go the Lebanon route and try to give their militant proxies veto power over the political process.

Saddam is gone.  That mission is accomplished.  The future though belongs to Iraq.  Iraqis have the say on whether or not there will be peace... if outside radical Sunnis and revolutionary Shia let them.


Crowdmap: Make Your Own Intensity Maps

An example of Crowdmap: Haiti Earthquake internally displaced persons (IDP) camps

Crowdmap is a neat little yet powerful tool which allows users to make their own intensity maps for free.  The tool is completely online and does not require any downloading.  These sorts of intensity maps became popular during the Haiti earthquake and recent conflicts like the last Israel-Hamas War.

It is easy to categorize data entries. A timeline tool is also available for one to add a temporal dimension to the spatial data.  However, what truly seperates Crowdmap, and its earlier incarnation Ushahidi, from other tools is that it combines elements of Web 2.0 to allow for instant updating via crowd sourcing (imagine neogeography meets the open contributor policy of Wikipedia).  Updates can be submitted by text messaging, Twitter, or filling out a web form.

The learning curve is extremely shallow and setup is down within minutes.  Check out Vote Report India or Swine Flu for examples of what one can do with this powerful neogeography tool.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review and Author Interview: Global Perspectives in the Geography Curriculum: Reviewing the Moral Case for Geography

 Geography has a long history but many consider Immanuel Kant giving the field its modern birth by defining it as the spatial science in the late 1700s.  Others reintroduced regional studies, incorporating spatial science, and thus tied geography with the scientific expansion of the nineteenth century.  The idea of liberal education further aided geography by removing limits put on it by religious and nationalistic pressures.  By the end of the 1800s geography was on a winning streak and many barriers to geographic education were removed.  However, one hundred years later the discipline is a shadow of its former self with many geographers unable to define the field and many schools teaching "global perspectives" and moral-driven world issues in a subject that calls itself geography but lacks any spatial reasoning.

Enter Dr. Alex Standish, who is a geographer who has researched how the field has developed since the days of the Ancient Greeks.  He has dedicated his career to studying how geography has been taught both past and present, and he does not like what he sees.  Standish sees the change in geography education from the objective spatial science/regional studies subject to one of global perspectives and moral-driven education as greatly damaging not only to geography but education and students as well.  Simple things like distance decay are not being taught while biased studies, half-truths, and outright lies about climate change, cultural conflicts, and globalization are being taught with students being exposed to only one side of the story (Note:  The book is not denying climate change or other important issues, just pointing out that both sides are not being fairly presented and the "moral" side is presented as dogma).  Not only is this not geography but it retards students ability to learn to think for themselves.  The outcome is the denial of free thinking, students who lack basic geographic skills like spatial reasoning, and a subject that cannot defend its own existence.  (See Standish's blog post on his AAG panel session for more on the last point)

Standish's work is summed up in his book Global Perspectives in the Geography Curriculum: Reviewing the Moral Case for Geography.  Standish describes the evolution of geography from ancient times through the religious-imperial driven ages and the "golden era" of liberal education up to today's moral-driven "global perspectives" interpretation of the field.  He does a good job showing how a drive to influence students' thinking has hijacked geography and made it an agenda-driven subject that while focusing on global issues ignores general topics like spatialness and regional studies.

Regardless if one thinks prepackaged morals should be a part of education it does seem like the shift in geography, which started to gain strength in the 1970s, has had a large impact on the subject.  American students geographic skills are laughable despite concentrated efforts by forces like National Geographic as Catholicgauzette has shown.

The book is a good read but it is written at an academic level.  The lay reader may want to avoid the book while those use to reading at a college-reading level may enjoy such a weighty book.

I was able to interview Dr. Standish to ask him a few questions about the book and his thoughts. 

Geographic Travels: Your book frequently discusses how geography textbooks and how they have adopted many bias and non-geographic themes.  What would be included if you could make your own Introduction to Geography textbook?

Dr. Standish:  At an introductory level pupils need to learn both regional and thematic geography. Courses can combine the two approaches or they can study both separately. What is included depends upon the age of the children. At a young age, children need to learn to interpret their world spatially, looking at and making basic plans and maps. It works well to start with a local area and expand scales out from there. Later they need to learn about the different types of countries and cultures of the world. Phil Gersmehl has identified four concepts that are foundational to the study of geography: location, place/conditions, links between places, and regions. Using these, teachers should introduce pupils to the themes of geography including landforms, weather and climate, the biosphere, resources, population, settlements/urbanization, cultural geography, political geography, and economic geography. A great introductory text at college level is an Introduction to Geography: People, Places and Environments by Bergman and Renwick.
 
Geographic Travels:  Your book has been reviewed in several academic geography publications and received some negative reviews because your reviewers believe that your main point, that geography's shift away from liberal education to moralism, is not a bad thing.  Do you have any response to these reviewers?  (Note: The book has just received a shining review from the new president of NCGE, soon to appear in the Journal of Geography.)

Dr. Standish: It is understandable some welcome the shift to moralism in the curriculum, as many of these people have lost faith in knowledge as a pathway to understanding. Seeking an alternative rationale for schooling, they have replaced education with political or therapeutic goals. In practice, this means teaching values, attitudes, and behaviors, such as empathy or affirmation, in place of knowledge as an end of education. While a good education will stimulate all sorts of emotions and make one rethink one's values, these are outcomes of education, not its aim. The inclusion of specific values as learning objectives is decidedly illiberal and inhibts freedom of thought. As such, it is anti-educational. A good reference here is Ecclestone and Hayes, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education.

Geographic Travels:  There have been many efforts to improve geographic literacy in the last few decades.  However, as studies have shown and this blog has reported, the impact of these efforts has been minimal at best.   Do you feel, and if so how strongly is, the reason for such low geographic literacy because of the abandonment of geography in exchange for the moralistic geography-called subject currently being taught in schools?

Dr. Standish:  The US has had a particular problem with geography being burred in the social studies for almost a century. With America's increased international roll and discussion of globalization, geography's place in schools has seen some modest improvement. However, geographers need to be careful not to piggyback on trendy educational fads like global citizenship, which in many instances are tied to moralistic agendas. We are far better off building a case for geography through its intellectual qualities, its ability to help us make sense of our world. At the end of the day, clarity of understanding is the reward geography brings to pupils, whereas many see through the patronising approach that informs the moralizing in the curriculum.

Geographic Travels: Do you see any major pushes to bring back liberal education-model geography or will the global perspectives-version continue to dominate the education system?

Dr. Standish:  The key to resuscitating geography, and education more generally, is to focus the debate on the meaning and purpose of education. Everyone knows that schools have a problem, but they only look for technical or managerial fixes. Groups such as the Institute of Ideas Education Forum (http://www.instituteofideas.com/events/educationforum.html) or Common Core (http://www.commoncore.org/index.php) are trying to stimulate discussion about the content of education and what it is for. Only by challenging the demoralization of geography and other subjects in this way can we begin to stimulate young people and offer them the kind of education they deserve.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Map and Data on Stimulus Waste

Related posts:  Stimulus Map of the United States and Fake Stimulus Jobs Map

The federal spending watchdog group Public Notice has created a map entitled "Spending Fail Map" for their Bankrupting America website.  The map displays projects which Public Notice fells is wasteful and not part of the "shovel-ready projects" which were promoted as the main purpose of the stimulus.  Projects listed included refrigerators for public-owned fish sperm and BlackBerry smart phones for smokers.  Public Notice also has a related PDF describing if the stimulus has had any effect in said states.

The map's application is modeled on Web 2.0.  It uses Facebook-like features including an "unlike" feature, buttons to share or contact Congress concerning projects, and the name "Spending Fail Map" borrows internet slang.

The map itself is poorly designed.  Each state has at least one "wasteful" project but the main view only shows one project in a select handful of states.  The main view gives the impression that there are not that many "wasteful" projects, something contrary to the maps intended message.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The GeoMentor Program: Geographers Reaching Out

Are you a teacher, educator, or parent-teacher who wishes there was a geographer patron for you?  Do you ever think that outside aide from a geographer could help you in creating a better lesson plan or project?  Then you need a GeoMentor!

National Geographic and ESRI have teamed up to create the GeoMentor Program.  The program's stated purpose is "to inspire educators and community members to work together to improve student learning. People who use geography in their work can help educators and youth see the world in new ways. The GeoMentor program is designed to inspire volunteers to work with a teacher or youth club leader to help kids see, use, and do more geography in and out of classrooms."

While most GeoMentors are located in the United States a fair amount are located in other countries around the world.  If one is serious about bringing better geographic and/or geospatial studies to students' attention then one may want a GeoMentor.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Songs Lyrics as Google Maps Directions

I was going to do a Hotel Camp Fallujah map but got stuck between happy and bummer memories

If you loved Google Maps demotivational posters then you will love song lyrics as Google Maps directions.  The pop culture humor is intelligently emplaced into neogeography.  (Hat tip: long time reader Torgo Jr)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Map of Summer 2010 Human Rights Abuses

The excellent, in-depth blog GeoCurrents has mapped out summer 2010 reports of humans rights abuses and developments by Human Rights Watch.  The map can be viewed in regular Google Maps or downloaded for Google Earth.  The map displays new events that occurred during the summer of 2010.  Most deal with activists or press being suppressed.  There is one good news story; however, a cluster bomb banning treaty and conference.  The downside of that story is that some of the signers are violating human rights in bigger ways which outweigh the banning of weapons they have never used.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When Does Ramadan Start? It Depends on One's Geographic Perspective

In the Islamic calendar a new month begins at the start of the new lunar cycle (after the new moon).  So Ramadan should have started sundown August 10, 2010 this year, right?  Not quite.  What if the moon is obstructed because of a cloudy night?  The answer of when Ramadan starts depends on one's religious geographic perspective: traditional localists, revolutionary Mecca-only, scientific universalists.

Traditional Localists

Traditional in highly religiously-influenced Muslim cultures months, included Ramadan, began when the local imam for Sunnis or local highest religious authority figure for Shia spotted the waxing moon.  If that night is cloudy then there is a split in thought.  Since astronomy has been well understood in Muslim cultures most traditional localists will automatically declare the next night (night two of the waxing moon) as the start of Ramadan.  The thinking is God has granted the faithful an extra day before the long fasting month.  A small minority of traditional localists will wait until they see the moon again.

Revolutionary Mecca-only Universalists

Mecca has been the focus point of Islam since Muhammad fled Mecca in AD 622 (year 1 of the Islamic calendar).  Recently revolutionary Islamic sects like Salafists and Wahabbis have been pushing for a global Mecca-only as opposed to the traditional Mecca-primary implementation of Islam.  Geographically this has the implication that Ramadan does not begin for anyone until the waxing moon is spotted in Mecca.

Scientific Universalists

Scientific universalists have been recently gaining ground in the Muslim community but have a very long historical presence in Islam.  These people believe Ramadan begins at the start of the waxing moon no matter if the moon is seen or not.  They state that Islam encourages science as a way to explain God and that astronomical knowledge is religiously valid way to determine the start of the holy month.  Traditionalist and revolutionary Muslims disagree though.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

American and British Real Time Passenger Train Maps

In both British and American cultures there is a romanticism associated with passenger trains.  Americans tend not to think about troubled Amtrak but the golden era of transcontinental railroads that united the country and helped close the West.  British meanwhile have a early industrial/Victorian-Edwardian connotation with trains that was portrayed in BBC programing like Great Railway Journeys and Great British Railway Journeys (which ignored much of the tough process of privatization).  The niche nostalgia continues in both countries today with model trains, computer game simulators, and children shows that Thomas the Engine.

Geography tends to overlook trains.  Cars, airplanes, and city-level mass transit are the topics of choice for those who study transportation geography and the geography of human connectivity

Now; however, there are nice treats for those who enjoy trains and geography.  Because of neogeography one can now follow live maps of Amtrak and National Rail trains.  Amtrak Status Maps website looks old but can still do the trick.  On the side bar there is a map of the United States divided into regions.  Just click the region one is interested in and a map will load showing trains and whether they are on time or delayed.  If one clicks the train number a time table will appear showing all the data a train fan could enjoy.  Meanwhile The Vaguely live map of trains in the United Kingdom uses a Google Maps mashup to depict data.  One can select the station of interest and see all the other stations along the line and also watch the trains move slowly on the map.  The time when the train is due at the next station is displayed and many of the trains have the option to view their information board to see how on time the train is running.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Big Update: How to Create a Legend in Google Earth

This is a big update from an old post.  Now it is possible to simply copy and paste the code into Notebook.

For my Russia-Georgia War maps I had a fixed non-movable legend in the bottom left corner of the screen. I preferred the legend because it provided a solid reminder of what date was being shown and it promoted the blog.

First, create a legend in an image editing software and save as an image file like .jpg, .bmp, or .gif. Second, open Notepad. Then type/copy in the code below into Notepad.

Only the name, description, and icon data need to be changed. The icon path should be something like "c:\maps\russiageorgia\legend.jpg

<ScreenOverlay id=”legend”>
<name>Give the file a display name</name>
<description>Write what you want displayed in the properties textbox</description>
<Icon><href>Write the path to the legend image</href></icon>
<overlayXY  x=”0” y=”.055” xunits=”fraction” yunits=”fraction”/>
<screenXY  x=”0” y=”.055” xunits=”fraction” yunits=”fraction”/>
<rotation>0</rotation><size x=”0” y=”0” xunits=”pixels” yunits=”pixels”/>
</ScreenOverlay>
When the text is inserted save the file as something like "legend.kml". Make sure the file is not saved as a text file. Now go into Google Earth and open the saved kml file. Your legend should be displayed. Using Google Earth you can make it change how opaque it is.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Israel, Lebanon, and the Koreas: Deadly Conflicts over Trees in Useless Land

On August 3, 2010 several Lebanese and Israelis were killed and wounded over a tree. Israeli forces began trimming a tree over its security fence because the tree was obstructing a view into Lebanon. Lebanese military forces (not Hezbollah) opened fire and a short conflict erupted.

The United Nations has stated the tree was on the far side of the security fence but still on the Israeli-side of the Blue Line, the United Nations declared border. Using press information that stated the conflict occurred between the Lebanese village of Aadaisseh and the Israeli village of Misgav Am along with photos of the incident I created the map below showing where the tree was. One can also view the area in Google Maps.


The Yellow Line is actually the Blue Line border. The Red Line is the security fence. The blue area is where the tree was. The area is less than 600 feet (about 175 meters) at its widest and less than 1,000 feet (less than 300 meters) long.

The last time a tree along a border was the subject of violence was in 1976 when North Korean soldiers killed American and South Korean soldiers in the Korean demilitarized zone. The Allied forces were removing a tree which was obstructing the view between two observation points along the DMZ. Removing the tree was necessary because the North Koreans had made raids trying to kidnap Allied soldiers using the tree as cover. The North Koreans ambushed the tree cutting patrol with axes. The Allies responded later with a massive show of force and tree cutting campaign.

The green mark is where the Korean DMZ tree was and where the ax murders occurred. The bridge to the west (left) is the infamous Bridge of No Return

The deaths in Israeli-Lebanon and in the Korean DMZ were in theory over one tree in a demilitarized zone. In reality the aggressive side wanted to score some geopolitical points. The trees were in no-man lands. Such is the sad geography where lives are laid down over a tree in useless land.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

NATO's Afghanistan Flood Map

Besides worrying about Islamist insurgencies and reconstruction efforts, NATO forces in Afghanistan have also had to deal with floods.  Last year NATO finished the several years in the making Afghanistan Flood Hazard Map (AFG-FHM) and presented it to the Afghan government.  While the map is sadly not only NATO did release a video press release on the flooding problem, the issues with the map creation, its release to the Afghan government.  There is even a neat preview of the detailedness of the map.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Dog Days of Summer: Astrological Geography of the Ancients

Back in the ancient days geography, astronomy, and astronomy were united in the same field. It was thought that the changes in the season were not only in sync with certain celestial events but also were the actions of divine-like forces that lived in the sky and visible as what we know as stars and planets. This combination of sciences and mythology gave us a common term for the hot days of high summer: the dog days of summer.

The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and other nearby cultures noticed the star Sirius of the constellation Canis Major (Greater Dog) appeared at their height during the hottest time of the year. The corelation between the astronomy and climate that the name Sirius even comes from the Greek meaning "scorcher." (While some may have dreaded the rise of Sirius because of the heat, the Ancient Egyptians eagerly anticipated the rise of the "watch dog" as it gave advanced notice of the yearly flooding of the Nile River).

The Dog Days today though are not the same as they were in the past though. Sarah Jane of National Geographic's My Wonderful has written "These days, Sirius rises with the Sun earlier during the summer months, due to a phenomenon called axial precession, which means that the Earth's axis of rotation shifts slightly over time." Axial precession affects the way the Earth tilts and therefore impacts when the Sirus rises and meets its maximum height. The 1559 Anglican Book of Common Prayer has the Dog Days starting on July 7 and ending on August 18. The Farmer's Almanac (2010) has the Dog Days between July 3 and August 11. Going back in time the Ancients experienced the Dog Days between late July and very late August.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Map of the States' Debt


CNN has a depressing map
which depicts the debt per capita per state. If one in lives in Massachusetts then their share of state debt is $4604 while the average Nebraskan only owes $15 dollars because of state overspending. (Hat tip: The Map Room)

The North Central states of Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, and South Dakota have the lowest levels of per capita debt. Historically these states have been criticized for having less services for their citizens; however, they are in less debt and will not have to take such drastic steps to avoid debt collapse like New Jersey currently is being forced to do.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Geography of the Wedding of Catholicgauze and Catholicgauzette

By now Catholicgauzette and I are settling down and recovering from the massive, epic, and thoroughly enjoyable wedding/honeymoon we had. Instead of giving a run down of the wedding I will describe the elements of our wedding that were highly influence by geography.

Catholicgauzette's Wedding Outfit

A white wedding dress was chosen to be Catholicgauzette's wedding dress. The white today symbolizes purity but in fact the color choice is a product of the first wave of globalization and reestablishment of Anglo-American ties in the Victorian Era. White became the popular color for wedding dresses because of Queen Victoria's choice of white for her wedding which occurred in 1840. Both European countries and the English-speaking New World were allowing room for cultural cross-pollination despite high levels of nationalism. Victoria's style managed to transcend monarchists, republicans, and nationalists. Women did not care one way or the other because Victoria was a British queen, they only cared that she looked good in a white dress. The trend suck and is tradition today around the world.

Meanwhile Catholicgauzette's veil was of the mantilla-style. This design is popular in Spain and Latin America. My wife's experience with working with this area of the world has made her a Hispanophile. The veil is also popular among more traditional Catholics which Catholicgauzette and I both describe ourselves as. Thus the veil was one that instantly appealed to us.

Fancy Church


Fancy, eh?

We were married in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region of western New York. The city of Buffalo is the most ethnic Polish city in the United States with the exception of Chicago. This makes the area very Catholic with many old style, ornate churches. The one we were married in is one of the largest in the region complete with alter, paintings, and stained glass. The sheer amount of wealth that was invested in the church reflects the booming economy that was once in Buffalo, New York. Great Lakes-St. Lawrence-Atlantic Ocean shipping, steel manufacturing, grain storage and more made Buffalo a rapidly growing economic power house in the latter half of the 1800s and into the early 1900s. However, the Rust Belt-effect along with shipping changes, government mismanagement, and various other factors has greatly harmed the economy in the Buffalo-Niagara region. Today the massive churches serve as monuments to a past golden age for the region.

The Service

Catholicgauzette and I are neo-traditionalists. We have no problem with a "modern", English-language service though we do prefer a respectful service with Latin prayers. The combination of old and new reflect our own culture with what we feel emphasizes the respectful awesomeness that is required when worshiping God. We are part of the newer generation of Catholics in the United States (of non-Hispanic background: Hispano youth is generally less "smells and bells" than English-speaking Catholic youth in the United States) who seek stability and faithfulness in the old ways while keeping the reforms that help relate Catholicism to the contemporary world.

Food

People from the Buffalo-Niagara region love to brag about their food. Polish and German influences combine with urban, working class resourcefulness to create a melody of great taste in Buffalonian cuisine. We had kielbasa sausage (Polish), beef on weck sandwiches (German-influenced American), and Buffalo wings (American). The beef on weck and Buffalo wings are pure Americana. A German immigrant who owned a pub added salt on a kaiser roll roast beef sandwich in hope that patrons would buy and drink more beer and thus made the beef on weck sandwich. Buffalo wings were invented in Buffalo, New York by a bar owner who wanted to have a cheap to make yet profitable appetizer. The incredibly cheap chicken wing was discovered to taste delicious when cooked in a spicy sauce mix. Today Buffalo wings can be found all over the world (sadly for food fans the beef on weck sandwich is still limited to the greater Buffalo area).

International Travel

Now this is where the wedding got exciting. Our photographer-friend and his sister are proud citizens of Mexico. They traveled all the way from Mexico City to celebrate with us and take photographs of our special day. In between the wedding and reception we traveled to a nature park for a photo shot. The photographer-friend placed his bag on the ground to help us to the car. Sadly while he was helping us someone stole his bag with the cameras, photographs, and his and his sister's passports (Yeah). After the reception the Mexicans, Catholicgauzette, and I did a vast array of actions including contacting the police and family members. The nearest consulate for Mexicans was less than forty miles away; however, it was in Canada. The nearest consulate in the United States was in New York City. The Mexicans also used family connections to find out they have distant relatives who legally live in New York City for six months and spend the other six months living it up in northern Mexico. So because of consulate locations, globalization of migration, and the tightness of families in Hispano culture both Catholicgauzette and I were able to drop off our Mexican friends safely in New York where they could get new passports.

International travel, food, wedding dress, church, and service were all influenced by geography. In the end of the day I married the love of my life and began our life together.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Once Again: Geography is the Next Step for the Internet

As mentioned before: geography in the form of marketing based on an internet user's location is the next/right now big thing. CBS's Business Network has an online interview with Dr. David Bell who teaches marketing at the University of Pennsylvania in which he discusses geography's role in the next stage of internet commerce.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Map of the Spread of Billionaires Around the World



In the past billionaires were stereotyped as White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Today though things are different. The globalized economy has allowed wealth creation to spread worldwide. While there is a clear spatial clustering in the United States and Western Europe, the new economies of Russia, Latin America, the Middle East, India, and the Far East have been producing a growing number of billionaires.

The above map shows how new money billionaires dominate the billionaire club and that these people are no longer solely from the selective breeding pool of WASP society. Instead, globalization, open markets, and the computers have allowed the kid next door to climb their way up and become super rich.

The new market, international billionaire stereotype has now entered popular culture. Mexican beer company Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma (which is owned by the Dutch beer company Heineken International) runs advertisements featuring a Latin American billionaire dubbed "The Most Interesting Man in the World."



Meanwhile, the American DirecTv has a commercial with an actor playing a Russian billionaire who has it all

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Underwater River Continuation of the Bosphorus


"The underwater giant: The river, shown with a 3D scan using false color, flows along the bed of the Black Sea" - The Daily Mail

Back in middle school (about sixth grade) I was involved in a school activity which looked at a computer model of a underwater river bed in the Gulf of Mexico formed by water that rushed from the Mississippi River. That was the only experience I had with underwater rivers until the latest news story about British scientists discovering an active underground river.

The river is actually the continuation of the Bosphorus Strait as it pours water from the Mediterranean Sea into the Black Sea. The water from the Mediterranean is heavier because of its higher salt content and therefore sinks to the bottom. The force of the water digs into the soft Black Sea floor creating a river channel. The so far unnamed river is huge: up to 115 feet (35 meters) deep and half a mile (.8 kilometers) wide. This combined with the amount of water flowing through the river channel make the underwater river the sixth largest river in the world.

A neat thing to know about the underwater river is that it even has rapids and waterfalls! The ocean and seas are the world's last frontiers. Geographers who focus in oceanography are filling in the last "blank", actually blue, spots in the map. However, there is plenty of more spots to explore so if one wants to do on Earth discovers then oceanography may be up one's alley.

In 2009 I blogged about the below video in which the importance of oceanography and ocean exploration is discussed

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Exploring Russia with RT's Travel Videos

The semi-official Russia television channel RT (formerly Russia Today) has a series of videos about various parts of Russia. The combination of environment, history, and culture give the videos the feeling of Rick Steves or Michael Palin. The travel series are Russia Close-Up, Wayfarer, and Russia's Golden Ring: A Journey in Time.

One can navigate the various episodes using the calendar though it is somewhat user unfriendly. Another option is to go to RT's Youtube page and use the search option for the shows.

An episode of each series is shown in the videos below.

Russia's Golden Ring looks at the UNESCO historical town of Vladimir


Wayfarer visits the western Ural city of Izhevsk.


Russia Close-Up visits the Orthodox monks on Valaam Island