Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Afghanistan 2010

Note:  While I had a great Christmas many in Afghanistan did not.  I salute all who have and are serving.  Remember groups like the USO which keep soldiers in touch with their families and spiritual groups like the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA who serve deep needs (a priest just visited forces in Wardak who went over half a year without any chaplain of any faith).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Afghanistan!

In a time where Palestinian Christians' celebrations are curbed, Indonesian services banned, and a Filipino mass bombed, I do not have much to complain about even though I am in Afghanistan.  In fact, this Christmas was a bit of an adventure and much better than the one in Iraq (which involved a military chaplain inventing his own words for the Lord's prayer).  So let me tell you about my Afghan/Polish/American Christmas.

Starting off Christmas Eve:  Challenging Afghans with Guns

As noted earlier, one of the best ways to make friends in Afghanistan is with a rifle.  I started off Christmas Eve by visiting the local Afghan National Police (ANP) shooting range.  After a short introduction I challenged them to a rifle/pistol contest.  The local Hazara and Tajik ANP take their weapon skills very seriously and eagerly arose to the occasion.  They picked "Bashir" to be their champion against me.  I held my own with the pistol.  However, Bashir scored direct hit after direct hit with the rifle.  In the end he easily pulled ahead and won the challenge.  After congratulating Bashir and Afghan playful teasing against me, I was invited to their evening meal of goat and rice.  Their meal served as sort of a Christmas party as they all wished me a "happy Christmas and good New Year."

Polish Mass:  That Was a Party

Don't let the photo of the chapel fool you.  It got so packed that any fire marshal would have shut down the mass if they knew.
I was able to attend midnight mass on a military base.  However, the only mass within a 100 or so miles was in Polish so I knew I was in for a unique experience.  I arrived early and sat next to another American, an Air Force medic.  She and I quickly realized that we were among the only Americans in a room packed full of Poles.  Another woman joined us, a "Polish Ann Chaplin" (PAC), who will become important soon.

So mass started and I could figure out what is being said because of Roman Catholic masses have the same order around the world.  Or at least that is what I thought.  After the gospel reading the tradition of love bread or oplatek occurred.  PAC instructed me to take a large square wafer that was on a plate being passed around and break the wafer into two.  I gave her one half and I kept the other.  She then told me to break off a little bit of her's and eat it.  I did.  She wished me a Merry Christmas and broke off and ate a bit of my wafer.  I explained to the American next to me what was going on to the best of my abilities.  We then wished each other a Merry Christmas and ate a little bit of each other's wafer.  What occurred next was fifteen minutes of the choir/band doing Polish Christmas songs with enough energy to power a small city while everyone shared their oplatek and wished each other a Merry Christmas.

Communion took over twenty minutes as everyone massed in line for the one priest to hand it out.  Interestingly, all the Poles received it in the mouth (most Americans relieve it in hand and place it in the mouth themselves).  The American medic was the only one to accept it in the hands.  Meanwhile the Polish music group played even more energetic Polish Christmas songs.  The mass marking the birth of Christ was truly a celebratory event.

The Christmas Meal:  Lamb and Goat and Naan, Oh My!

As you can tell I did not suffer this Christmas
I managed to integrate myself and those working with me with some other Americans to make one big Christmas meal.  A military officer managed to acquire a goat, a lamb, and several pounds of naan.  After the goat and lamb were dispatched a barbecue began.  Local Afghan charcoal was used to feed the barbecue fire.  Needless to say the cooking took hours yet proved to be a good boding experience between various military and non-military personnel.  Once the cooking was done I had the best lamb and naan I have ever had in my life.  There was nothing like having hot food, good company, and a fire barrel.

Bringing Americana to Afghanistan:  Carolers!

The eastern part of Afghanistan right now does put one in the Christmas spirit.  The lack of snow, the sound of artillery firing, watching a vehicle burn after it was hit by an IED, and constant threats by the Taliban can put anyone in a funk.  However, when driven into extreme situations people will join together to make life bearable.  Case in point were these carolers who helped bring Christmas cheer to a small corner of Afghanistan.  What a great way to end Christmas in Afghanistan.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Rifle: A Great Way to Make Friends in Afghanistan

As I get ready to actually do my job in Afghanistan I noticed that military personnel have doubts about whether geographers have the necessary skills to survive in Afghanistan (which is understandable).  To put fears of incompetence to rest I decided to "battle zero" the rifle I was issued and show them how capable a shot I am.  The BZ test adjusts a rifle's sights to each user so a shooter can actually hit the target.  I went outside to a local range where I was all alone.  In the process of battle zeroing the rifle fired off a magazine of thirty rounds.  By the time I was finished another American showed up.  Apparently it was a slow day for him and the sound of rifle fire at the range attracted him.  We chatted about weapons when two Afghan National Police (ANP) officers appeared.  They also heard the sound of the rifle and wanted to join me in shooting off rounds.  I politely decline because I only brought one magazine with me.  They presented another clip to me and told me to "put the rifle on fun."  Taking that to mean fully automatic I reloaded and fired off thirty rounds in a series of burst at the target.  The ANP then took turns pointing out targets on the range and trying their best to one up with each other.  Another ANP officer appeared and joined in on the fun.  After a few more rounds of this I had to head back.  However, I made several new friends in the process and have been invited to shoot off more rounds whenever I want.  I in turn promised to bring snacks as gifts to whoever wants to join me in a shooting competition.  The rifle has proven to be a great way to make friends in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Afghanistan from Above

I recently completed a tour of a section of Afghanistan while aboard a helicopter.  The experience certainly was one of the most memorable of my life.  It was also one of the coldest times of my life, too.

The cultural landscape itself demonstrates a sort of siege-mindset that has not been expressed in Europe since the Medieval-era and in the Americas since the early days of European colonization.  The cultural landscape also reflect the strong bonds of family that exist in Afghanistan.

Every farm house I saw from the air was in its own walled compound.  The mud buildings were along the inside of the wall leaving the center of the compound as an open air courtyard.  In numerous courtyards I saw families mingling about going about their lives.  Every village I saw was a collection of the these compounds placed close together.  The locations of villages were mixed, some where on flat plains, otherwise near water, and still others were placed on hills overlooking the plains.  Regardless of location, each compound/compound village felt like it was an island of safety in a sea of threats.

Only in cities did everyone not have a compound.  The cities were packed with everything from mansions to shanties.

The trip was probably the coldest trip of my life.  An Afghan winter is cold, especially when one factors in looking out an open window with the blades forcing a strong draft into the face.

My time in the air was tense, cold, but most of all fascinating.  Sometimes one has to see the geography from above to know what is on the land.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Quick Afghanistan Note: The Sand is Everywhere

The dust and sand is everywhere, including the air.  I have yet to start work but already am coughing up a storm.  There are mountains nearby but I can barely make them out through the haze.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

United States of (Google) Autocomplete

Very Small Array has created a map of Google autocomplete searches for each state.  For example: typing in "South Dakota" will have Google recommend "South Dakota State University."

Click to enlarge.

Sports and universities dominate the Google autocomplete search landscape.   Twelve states have universities as the first result and fourteen are sports related (counting Nevada).  It is clear that gridiron football truly is America's modern-day pastime.  Even the media-dominating New York Yankees baseball team lose out to the New York Times newspaper.

Interestingly the states of Washington and Montana are losers.  "Washington Post," a national newspaper published in the city of Washington in the District of Columbia is the first recommended search result.  "Montana Fisburne," a pornographic "actress" is the top recommended result for the state of Montana.  Of the losers, I rather be Washington. (Hat tip: Torgo Jr.)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Does Not Like America's Geography Standards (But His Own Are Not as Good as Believed)

The long-running, stereotype of Americans not being geographically literate has been discussed on this blog before.  Many Americans do lack critical knowledge of not only the world but also spatial reasoning.  This has been the point of many jokes both within America and around the world.  Now it has become a (albeit minor) part of global diplomacy.  While on a trip to Central Asia, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is quoted to have told foreign businessmen that Americans do not know geography while Britain had the best geography teachers in the world.

While I too have been impressed by geography in education it may not be as good as Andrew believes.  For example, a 2008 ESRI (UK) geographic literacy survey of British found
A study to raise awareness of geography found that two thirds of people (65%) mistakenly believe Britain is made up of four countries, rather than the correct three: England, Scotland and Wales.

Half of the 2,000 people surveyed (51%) wrongly believe English is the most spoken language in the world, as opposed to Mandarin Chinese. And one in 10 think Everest is Britain's highest mountain.
Struggling with the "how many countries" question, 6% said Britain was made up of five countries, 3% thought one and 2% chose two.
Yet asked what profession they would most like to be out of list of six, 23% of respondents said explorer, compared with doctor (22%), painter (16%), teacher (15%), journalist (14%) and banker (11%).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

December 2010 Travel Photo: Ruins of Immaculata Chapel

The Virgin Mary looks down and away from the ruins of her Immaculata Chapel.  The photos are from my travels to St Marys in 2006 and 2007.
St Marys, Kansas is a very unique place.  It was originally settled by Potawatomi Indians in 1848 forced out of Michigan by the United States.  The Potawatomis were a deeply Catholic tribe and were accompanied by Jesuit missionaries who had been with them for over one hundred years.  While a minority of Potawatomis adopted Great Plains Indian culture the one's at St Marys set out to learn from the oncoming white culture.  During the Oregon Trail, many wagon train diary remark how "civilized" the Indians of St Marys were: they had brick homes, farms, a nice church, doctors, blacksmiths, and even their own toll bridge.  Another removal in the 1860s split the tribe but a large number chose to stay and accept American citizenship.  The Potawatomi became a rare example of Indian assimilation.  Even today the St Marys region is full of people with Potawatomi blood and French last names (acquired from French fur trappers intermarrying into the nation).

The Catholic presence was and is still strong in St Marys.  It had the first non-Spanish/Mexican bishop west of the Missouri River.  The Jesuits had a school and seminary there since 1848.  In 1909 the Immaculata Chapel was completed and was called the "Mother of Priests" because of its many seminarians. 

The Jesuits left in 1967.  The population of St Marys began to dwindle with the loss of the school and slow but steady economic turn against small-scale agriculture.  However, in late 1978 the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) acquired the old Jesuit campus and established their own school.  The town quickly regrew with up to 1,500 SSPX supporters moving from across the country to be located in the new SSPX prairie capital.

(SSPX is known as the Latin Mass-only, radical, anti-Semetic Catholic breakaway group who celebrated the lifting of their bishops' excommunication by saying things like "we were never excommunicated" and "the Holocaust never happened."  But the painful breakaway did not occur until 1988, well after the initial St Marys land transfer.)

Depending on who ask something strange, divine, or demonic happened as the SSPX was moving into St Marys.  Immaculata Chapel was going to be the prize American icon of the SSPX.  SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre visited St Marys in May 1978 and Immaculata's beauty persuaded him to acquire St Marys.  In November, though, a massive fire erupted in the church and gutted the inside before the SSPX could celebrate mass in it.  In August 1979 Lefebvre visited the ruins to bless upcoming reconstruction work.  Then on May 31, 1980, random luck/God/dark forces responded with a massive wind storm which further damaged the chapel.

Today the chapel stands in ruins.  Walking up to chapel one can look through the places where stained glass windows were and look into the grass field that was once the interior of the church.  Look further back it is hard for one not to get a sense of loss.

A ghost of a church.  I thought about the ruins of monasteries in England destroyed during the Reformation.
SSPX has plans for rebuilding the chapel but these come and go.  Right now there is a website for the reconstruction but no news has been published since 2009 (the last news said check back "this afternoon" for another update).


View Larger Map

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Dwarf Star Tyche Might Be Out There

Imagine yourself flying away from the surface of the Sun.  The first four rocky planets pass by quickly enough.  However, the gaps between gas giants are bigger than the Sun to Mars and only progressively grow larger.  When one passes by Neptune one will eventually go through the monsterly thick Kuiper belt full of asteroids.  Once one is past that they will eventually encounter the Oort cloud, home of comets.  It is as "close" as 11 lights day from the Sun (Pluto is about 5.5 light hours away from the Sun) and ends about 1 light year away from the Sun.

The Oort cloud is much, much more larger than the solar system.  Image from Wikipedia.
Traditional understanding of nearby space has all but a rare few comets staying in the Oort cloud.  However, since the 1980s some astronomers noticed a casual cycle between comets entering the solar system and mass extinctions.  Some theorized that a dwarf star, a dying star that produces little light but has a powerful gravitational sway, in the Oort cloud was throwing life-destroying comets towards Earth.  The theoritical dwarf was named after the life killing goddess, Nemesis.

Scientific models were created to see if a dwarf star was throwing comets towards Earth.  It now seems unlikely that a dwarf planet would be responsible for mass extinctions due to the timing of comets entering the solar system.  However, further research and models suggest up to twenty percent visible from Earth were sent by a dwarf star.  The possible dwarf is now being called by Tyche, named after a sister of Nemesis and not a vengeful goddess, by some astronmers.

It could be out there.  Nemesis/Tyche in the midst of the Oort cloud.  The Sun is the small light in the middle of the image.  Image from Wikipedia


If there is a Tyche out there then it would be the closest star to the Earth (it would be one-fourth the distance between Earth and the current closest star: Proxima Centauri).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Post-1953 Incidents Between North and South Korea

The terms "North Korea" and "South Korea" are a bit misleading.  No country claims to be a "north" or "south."  Both Koreas claim to be the sole legal government of the whole peninsula.  As such it is not really surprising to know that both the Personality Cult in the north and the liberal democracy in the south are still in a state of war since the cease fire ended the First Korean War in 1953.

The Guardian has a Google Maps mashup of incidents between the two Koreas since the end of the first war.  Not surprisingly, the North has been up to much of the incidents that have nearly brought the pennisula back to the shooting war.  While the military dictatorship South did have its own major problems, being curtailed by the United States and the transition to democracy helped to keep it as a peacemaker when the North engaged in violence. (Hat Tip: Google Maps Mania)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Geography of Common Thanksgiving Foods

Happy Thanksgiving!  Today Americans will be gathered with family or friends or will be marking the day alone.  However, no matter what the social scene, there are certain foods common throughout the United States that will be eaten today.  The geography of the primary Thanksgiving foods shows that the meal is primarily American but influences from the rest of the Western Hemisphere and Europe cannot be ignored.

Turkey:  Wild Turkeys are native throughout much of the eastern United States and were hunted by Indians long before the first Puritan-American Indian Thanksgiving.  Turkeys were first domesticated by Inidans in Central America.  Turkeys are now a staple animal of American agriculture though the wild turkey is still hunted during hunting season.

Corn:  Corn is the longest lasting accomplishment of American Indians.  The crop was engineered by Indians in present-day Mexico off the natural grass Teosinte.  Between A.D. 500 and 1500 the crop spread across the Western Hemisphere as agricultural Indians realized how nutritious the plant was.  Today corn is grown all over the world and is responsible for being the life supporting crop for millions.


Mashed Potatoes:  The potato was not used at the first Thanksgiving.  The crop actually comes from the Andes Mountains of Peru and Chile.  It was brought over by the Spanish.  The crop spread throughout Europe since it was able to grow in poor soil conditions and its ability to properly feed large populations.  The potato was not planted in significant number in the United States until the early 1800s.  Today China, Russia, and India grow more potatoes than the United States.

Butter/Creme for the Potatoes:  The milk-based product to make mashed potatoes creamy comes from the Europeans who had domesticated cows.

Pumpkin Pie/Pumpkin Bread:  Pumpkins were grown by many Indian tribes as a staple crop.  The vitamin and mineral rich squash helped many survive the harsh northeastern winters.  Puritan records state that pumpkins were given to the Puritans by Indians during the hard few years.

Cranberries:  Various spieces of cranberries are found throughout the cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  It was a popular food of Indians and is believed to be one of the foods given to the Puritans by the Indians.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I am Thankful for

The blessings that I have:  my wife, the rest of my family, my friends, my job, the ability to put geography to good use, and my fellow countrymen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Blogging Break

On Thursday I will have the Thanksgiving post up.  But for the rest of the long holiday I am going to enjoy some free time before Afghanistan.

Know Your Female Islamic Headdress

Burqa has to be one of the most misused terms for the last decade.  The word has been used to describe any female Islamic headdress.  However, this graphic sent to me for Afghanistan training shows the different types of head coverings in the Islamic world.






The (really) rough rule of thumb for where these headdresses are popular is

Hijab:  Roughly used everywhere in some form.  Many times a generic word for head covering.
Al-Amira:  A hijab found in Arabic countries and those places where Muslims wish to immitate Arab outside influence.

Chador: Required by law in Iran.  Traditional in Persian areas.

Niqab: Popular in the Arabian Pennisula.  Some use in Pakistan since the 1970s.

Burqa:  Eastern Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  Becoming the Islamic fundamentalist dress of choice in Europe.

When I was in Iraq the women wore regular Hijabs in the "hair scarf"-style.  The only place I knew where the burqa was worn was in a city of 100,000 called Karmah (roughtly between Fallujah and Baghdad).  Karmah turned out to be a primary place for al Qaeda to breed as the city was already Wahabbi (the only city to have a native Wahabbi population).  The city still is a launching pad for al Qaeda attacks against Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad.

Monday, November 22, 2010

People's Liberation Army Navy's Offensive Defensive Map

Military expos are conventions in which the host country shows off their newest military weapon systems.  The conventions are also a way a country can say "I'm a freaking (insert expletive here)" and send other threatening messages to enemies both real and imagined.

The People's Republic of China recently held the Air Show China 2010 military expo.  Most commentators discussed the new Chinese drone weapon system but overlooked by many was the message the Communist leadership was sending to the United States via a map.

Unlike the Israelis, the Communist Chinese do not feel vulnerable with their geographyFrom the Wall Street Journal.
The above map shows the People's Liberation Army Navy taking on an attacking foreign navy.  The attacking fleet is heading straight to Taiwan, which is home to the government of the Republic of China but the island is claimed by the People's Republic of China.  The attacking fleet is headed by a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.  Only the United States has Nimitz class carriers.

Tensions between the governments of both Chinas wax and wane in long cycles.  Right now relations are good between the two.  However, one of the main missions of the People's Liberation Army is to take over Taiwan in case relations reach a point of no return.  Taiwan can not defend itself against the hordes of Red forces.  The only military hope the island of Taiwan has is the United States.  The threat of American intervention stopped at least two planned invasions of the island and continues to pose problems for any Communist invasion planner.

The map at the Air Show China 2010 clearly is meant to give the message to the United States that any attempt to interfere in a Taiwan operation will end in failure.  This map of a defense is really an offensive weapon.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Geography Awareness Week: Fresh Water and Religion

Water truly is the building block of life.  Our bodies are made from it and we need water to think, act, and live.  It is somewhat natural therefore that fresh water plays a role in many world religions.  Whether because of some divine tradition or some holy act, water has become holy for many faiths.

Christianity

Globally

The Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee are the closest things Christianity has to holy bodies of water.  The Jordan River was the sight of several Old Testament miracles including Elisha ordering Naaman to bath in the Jordan so that Naaman would be cured of leprosy (2 Kings 5:14).  The Jordan River plays a large role in the New Testament as the place where John the Baptist preaches and Jesus is baptized (Matthew 3).  The Sea of Galilee, the lowest freshwater lake in the world with its surface 686 feet (209 meters) below sea level, is the sight of several miracles including Jesus' walking on water (John 6:19) and Jesus feeding the masses (Mathew 14: 16-20).

These bodies of water, while held highly in regard, are not considered to have holy properties (unlike the Spring at Lourdes, for example).  However, both the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee are popular pilgrimage sites and there is a trend among Evangelicals to be rebaptized in the Jordan River to imitate Christ.
Locally

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ties water well into the Rite of Baptism.  Water in this ritual represents the word of God, Christ’s death and rebirth, a purifier of sins, and the source of life.  Catholic, Orthodox, and most Protestants require water baptisms, of "living water" i.e. fresh, because of the importance assigned to water.

Hinduism

Globally

The Ganges River is the major holy river in Hinduism.  While holy tradition or divine acts make mundane bodies of water holy in other traditions, Hindus believe the Ganges River itself is divine.  Most Hindu traditions hold that the river is the goddess Ganges.  Hindus believe that water from the Ganges can wash away sins and free one from the cycle of reincarnation.  Having one's ashes released into the river is seen as being completely absorbed into the goddess and heaven.  There are also six other major rivers viewed as holy in Hinduism: the Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu, and Kaveri Rivers.

Locally

Fresh water plays a major role in Hindus' daily lives.  From a morning cleansing ritual to having funeral grounds next to rivers, fresh water is a must for Hindus.

Islam

Globally

Depending on the branch of Islam there might be a holy source of water or an oasis which was visited by a prophet and therefore held in estimate.  However, one thing Muslims of all domination can agree on is that the Zamzam is a very holy spring.
The main Islamic tradition holds that when Hajar and baby Ishmael reached present-day Mecca they found an extremely hot valley and had at the same time run out of water.  Ishmael began to cry which put Hajar into a panic.  As Hajar frantically searched for water Ishmael began to dig his feet into the ground.  The feet dug into the earth and a spring of water emerged saving Hajar and baby Ishmael from dying of thirst.  Another tradition holds that the Angel Gabriel dug the well for Hajar and baby Ishamel.
Today the building housing the well that pumps water from Zamzam is located next to the Kaaba (the big black cube) in Mecca.  The building was constructed in the early 1900s because the old building housing the spring was getting in the way of the millions of pilgrims who were making their way to the Kaaba.  So now a well pumps water into the building from the spring.
Water from Zamzam is considered holy and there are many Muslims who believe it can purify the soul or help cure sicknesses.  A black market has emerged in countries, including the United Kingdom, of people selling fake Zamzam water.  Saudi Arabia, which king's title includes being the caretaker of religious sites, prohibits the sale of Zamzam wonder considering it the right of every Muslim to have access to it.
Locally
Fresh water in general is considered a purifier.  Many Islamic purification rituals require one to wash themselves with water.  Mosques will either have purifying water inside or outside a mosque, usually in a courtyard, for one to prepare themselves for prayer.

Judaism

On fresh water traditions within modern Judaism, whether global or local, I must admit my ignorance.  However, a well trusted a graduate student in Jewish studies (and reader of this geography blog!) gave me some insight.  While there is no globally-viewed holy body of water, water is used as a purifier in the mikveh bath.  The rabbi states, "the mikveh is used for purposes of ritual purity, including for the use by women following menstruation.  It is used for important lifecycle events in the life of men and women and is an important component in the conversion process.  There must be a natural water source (living water) for the mikveh - from rainwater, a flowing stream, or from snow for a mikveh to be valid.  The rituals can also take place in a living body of water like a river or the ocean."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Videos about GIS Careers

Right now one of the major markets for those interested in doing geography is in a GIS-related field.  These videos below offer some insight into various positions that GIS skills are employed.





Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Geography Awareness Week: Water-Related Lesson Plans

Thinkfinity, an outreach of Verizon, has teaching lesson plans on water for kindergarten all the way to twelfth grade.  These resources are good not only for geography but can also be used in some science classes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New South Wales Fights for Physical Geography

Frequently human geographers, myself included, will overlook the place of physical geography in the overall field.  Sadly, many physical geographers have gotten the clue that they are not fully valued in Geography and therefore they have gone over to fields like geology or environmental studies.  Just look for a self-declared "geographer" doing terrain analysis for any space agency.  They all claim to be geologists.  Geography is losing out, badly, because of the sidelining of physical geography.

Fortunately, there are those who fight for physical geography.  The New South Wales Board of Studies is fighting against the newly purposed Australian national geography curriculum for schools because of its overemphasis of various forms of human geography at the expense of physical geography.  Right now it appears that New South Wales is the only state that cares about geography in Australia; all other states merely place geography into social studies classes.

The change of geography from its modern "five themes" definition (including its emphasis on physical geography) to a human-based global perspectives class has been discussed in Alex Standish's book Global Perspectives in Geography Curriculum.  The downfall of geography from the liberal education science to global perspectives has already hit England and the United States hard and now only New South Wales is fighting for traditional geography in Australia.  Good luck to them!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Geography Awareness Week 2010: Very Rare Fresh, Usable Water


Geography Awareness Week is upon us and the theme for 2010 is freshwater.  Freshwater is the absolute must for human life.  While we are commonly taught that seven-tenths of the world's surface is water we ignore the fact that most of it is unusable salt water.  The United States Geological Survey has some great charts showing just how rare fresh, usable water is



Sunday, November 14, 2010

Notes from Afghanistan Training: War is Not for Catholics and Catholic Thought

This post is not a geography post but part of my diary of preparing for my time in Afghanistan


Try to Save a Life?  That's a War Crime. 

Situation:  Taliban forces are attempting to storm a firebase.  American and Afghan forces are succesfully elminating the attacking waves.  An American solider spots a Taliban solider cowering near a rock.  The Taliban solider appears to have been providing support fire but now seems to be in a panic unable to decide if he should reload, try to storm the firebase, or runaway.  The American solider has three choices of what to do in this combat situation.

1) Shoot the target in the head.  Outcome:  The solider decides to take out the threat.  He takes aim at the Taliban's head and fires off a round.  The bullet hits the Taliban in the face, killing him instantly.  At the end of the battle the solider gets to brag about his "head shot" while leadership congradulates everyone on neturalizing the enemy.

2) Shoot the target in the chest.  Outcome:  The solider decides to take out the threat.  He takes aim at the Taliban's chest and fires off a round.  The bullet punches through the chest and into the right lung causing a sunken chest wound.  The Taliban sets his back against the rock in a desperate attempt to breath.  The Taliban suffers an agonizing thirty minutes until he finally dies.  The solider gets to brag about how he got a "Hajji to suffer" while leadership congradulates everyone on neturalizing the enemey.

3)  Shoot the target in the arm.  Outcome:  The solider decides the Taliban is not an immediate threat therefore should be forcably neutralized but not killed.  He takes aim at the Taliban's dominant arm and fires off a round.  The bullet enters and exits the arm, causing some bone and marrow fly out, forcing the Taliban to drop his weapon and scream in pain.  The solider knows the threat is disarmed and the wounded Taliban solider can recieve medical attention at the end of the battle.  However, leadership detains the American solider and charges with him maiming which is against the rules of engagment.  The American solider can now be tried in a military court of justice.

Under military rules of engagement, a solider can only maim an enemy during a prisoner escape.  To do it at any other time is consider cruel and could possible be considered a war crime (yet killing him and bragging about it is just fine).  That is what I recently learned in training.

The rule was introduced to prevent overt cruelty but sometimes it is the right thing to do; especially when one remembers many of the foot soldiers are "accidental guerrillas" and not global Islamists.

Need a Chaplin?  Good Luck.

There are an estimated one million Catholics in the whole DoD/Military-related complex (which includes Veteran's Hospitals, DoD civilians, etc).  Of that approximately a quarter million Catholics are in the armed service.  There a total of 285 Catholic chaplains in the Military Archdiocese.  I was blown away when I learned this.  For those who wish to help with funding chaplins and much needed resources it is possible to donate to the Military Archdiocese.  Thank you for any support.

Always Hope

So what is a Catholic suppose to do?  Pray for peace and follow the examples of Fatima and Emperor Karl of Austria.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Map of the Likelihood of Car-Deer Collisions in the United States

Click to Enlarge.  From Statefarm Insurance
Statefarm Insurance has a map showing the likelihood of an automobile driver having a car collision with a deer. (Hat tip: Dr. Fred Shelly)

The three states where a driver is most likely to crash itno a deer are
  1. West Virginia (1 in 46)
  2. Iowa
  3. South Dakota
The three states where a driver is least likely to crash into a deer are
  1. Hawaii (1 in 13,011)
  2. Arizona
  3. Nevada
There is a belt of states from the mid-Atlantic seaboard to the upper interior where deer collisions are most likely.  These states have woodlands and large agricultural areas where deers can still thrive.  However, roads through the woods and separating farm fields makes the car-deer disaster very possible for any driver.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nicaragua Invaded Costa Rica to Make a Canal?

First Nicaragua invaded Costa Rica, then they acted like a jerk, and to wrap things up they blamed Google Maps.  Nothing seemed quite right though as Oogle Earth has shown Nicaragua has long recognized the small newly contested area as part of Costa Rica yet Nicaragua still objects to Google fixing the border.

Now Haaretz, a major and center-left newspaper from Israel, is reporting that they have sources stating that Nicaragua crossed the Rio San Juan into Costa Rica as part of an effort to cow Costa Rica to give up its share of the river... in order to build a new Caribbean-Pacific canal!  The report states Nicaragua is a player in a conspiracy by Iran and Venezuela to create an alternative to the Panama Canal which would bypass American-influence and covert oversight.  This either is an epic plan or Haaretz is going down the rabbit hole.

Regardless, Nicaragua's action has driven a stake between the Latin American Left led by Chavez and reasonable, center-left led countries like Costa Rica.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Israel's Withdrawl from Ghajar Part of the Creation of the Jewish State?


View Larger Map

Ghajar is a village in the Golan Heights, an area conquered and annexed by Israel from Syria after the Six Day War.  The village was so close to the Lebanese border that the construction of a few houses caused the village to spread into Lebanese territory.


View Larger Map

The village is populated by ethnic Arabs of the Alawi faith, an offshoot of Shia Islam that believes Muhammad's cousin Ali was an incarnation of God.  However, these villagers willing accepted Israeli citizenship.  They hoped that joining a stable, pluralistic democratic state would be better than staying in a no-functioning, pluralistic thugocracy (Lebanon) or joining a stable police state (Syria).

Sadly, because of geopolitics they will pay for their belief.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that Israel will withdraw from Ghajar.  While this has been a possibility for a while, Israel gave up on any negotiating with Lebanon about the protection of the villagers.  Who will take over the village?  The closest military power: Hezbollah.  Twelever Shia Hezbollah sees these Alawites as political traitors and heretics.  Most likely many Ghajaris will flee to Israel out of fear of Hezbollah.

Some are wondering why is Israel doing this.  I propose that it is part of an overall trend in Israel to reestablish the idea of the Jewish state.  Recently Israel announced plans to immigrants take an oath which states Israel is a Jewish state.  Previously, Israel abandoned settlements and occupation of the Gaza Strip because holding would eventually force Israel to absorb over a million Muslim Arabs.  While Ghajar might give territory to Israel it would not advance the cause of a Jewish state.

The Lebanese will view a withdrawal as a victory and Israel will view it as one as well.  The only ones to lose are the ones who care the most: the two-thousand villagers of Ghajar.

Veterans Day - Remembrance Day 2010

For the 2009 Post on Why Poppies Are Used and for Tributes to Various Armed Forces click here



Thank you.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

U.S. Coast Survey Civil War Era Maps

The United States Coast Survey, now part of NOAA, has been in charge of mapping the coastline of the country since 1807.  These geographers, oceanographers, and cartographers proved the importance of geography during the Civil War (1861-1865) by providing the Union military detailed maps of the Confederate coastline and naval defenses. 

Now NOAA has made these hundreds, if not into the thousands, of maps available online.  This site is a dream come true for map and Civil War buffs.  Be sure to check it out!  (Hat Tip:  Matt Rosenberg's Mrgeog Twitter Account)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Geography in Song: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) is not a serious song.  It was not serious when first performed by The Four Lads nor was it serious when the modern group They Might Be Giants covered it.  The music video from the television show Tiny Toons is not serious as well.  However, there are still cultural geography insights to be gained from listening to the song and watching the cartoon.



The song and video does represent geographic confusion in Western culture.  
  • The fez was popular in the last one-hundred years of the Ottoman Empire but prior to the modernizing reforms 1820s it was only worn in certain parts of the empire.
  • Sand dune deserts and tents are steretopyical visions of Arabia.  Istanbul/Constantinople is in Europe.  
  • The two-humped, Bactrian, camels are found in Central Asia and Mongolia, not in the lands of the Ottoman Empire.  The most common camel in the empire was the Dromedary, also known as the Arabian, camel.
So where does the whole mix up of the European-Ottoman, Arabian, and Central Asian regions come from?  A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  That book is a combination of stories from across the Islamic world.  Its popularity in nineteenth century Europe and early America served to create the template for the stereotype of the Islamic world for Westerners: camels, sultans, deserts, palaces, and buried treasures.  All these were envisioned in the music video.

By the way, why did Constantinople change to Istanbul? Well, that is no one's business but the Turks and Greeks.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

ISCM Guide to All Things Map Related

The Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping, a combined Australia-New Zealand governmental body, has excellent map education resources online.  Everything from map history, types of maps, datums, GPS, marginalia information, and much more is available for studying.  While cartographic literate will not learn much if anything new, this is a great resource for teachers or those who want to know more about the various aspects of cartography.  (Hat tip: Shireen Richardson on Twitter)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Nicaragua invades Costa Rica, Acts Like a Jerk, then Blames Google Maps

Going around the geography blogosphere including sites like Geography@About.com, the Map Room, and Basement Geographer is the story of a brief invasion of Costa Rica by Nicaragua.  This was not a harmless "Switzerland invades Liechtenstein" story as Nicaraguan forces took down a Costa Rican flag and took sediment from a river and dumped it onto Costa Rican soil.  The troops then returned to Nicaragua.  However, a diplomatic row has begun with Costa Rica's president urging calm and vowing "justice" will be done.

What makes this story of interest to the geography blogosphere is that the commander of the Nicaraguan troops blamed his actions on Google Maps and it misplacing the border.

Border comparison in the location where Nicaragua invaded Costa Rica.  Google has it wrong while Bing has it right.  Image from: Search Engine Land.

Google in turn is blaming the error on receiving bad map data from the United States State Department.  The State Department has not released any statement as of the early morning of November 6, 2010.  Meanwhile Google says it is working with the State Department to fix the border.

Such a shame I warned about bad maps being more than simple mistakes but things that could negatively impact diplomatic and military operations.

However, the Nicaraguans are not in the clear.  Their own geographic organization recognizes the disputed area as part of Costa Rica.

Costaricangauzette sent me this map with the red circle showing Nicaragua knows the area of action is Costa Rican.
So what happened?  The fact that the Nicaraguans quickly blamed Google Maps implies they probably did plan the mission with Google Maps and not their own.  I suspect that the Nicaraguans wanted to flex some muscle and thought Google's error showed that they area was disputed and gave them an excuse to be jerks (seriously, do Central Americans militaries need to concern themselves with anything but counter-narcotic and counter-insurgency operations?).

Is it also possible that they thought Google Maps was correct and innocently failed to do any further research?  Yes.  In Iraq I was shown a presentation by an Iraqi geographer who used Google Maps and Microsoft Paint to make his maps.  Sometimes it is amateur hour for those who have the guns.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Note from Afghanistan Training: GPS versus Paper Map

Instructor(Holds up a GPS)  What's this?
Class:  A GPS unit.
Instructor(Slams GPS unit on the ground causing it to break) What is it now?
Student(After a moments pause) A piece of junk.
Instructor:  A piece of junk.  (Holds up a map) What's this?
Class:  A map.
Instructor(Polks a hole with his finger through the map) What is it now?
Class(Silence)
Instructor:  A map with a hole through it.  Can you still use it?
Class:  Yes.
Instructor:  Can you still use the GPS?
Class:  No.
Instructor:  Any questions?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Catholic Geographers and the Global War on Terrorism

As I prepare for Afghanistan I will sometimes be asked how can I justify helping out the military (even indirectly through development work) with my Catholic faith.  I usually answer with stating it would be uncharitable for me not to use my geography skills to help my neighbor. 

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver recently gave a speech but how Catholicism and a moral military knighthood co-exist.  From his speech:


I want to offer you just four quick points tonight. Here's the first. Military service is a vocation, not simply a profession.  
 
The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare, which means to call. In Christian belief, God created each of us for a purpose. He calls each of us by name to some form of service. No higher purpose exists than protecting other people, especially the weak and defenseless. This is why the Church, despite her historic resistance to war and armed violence, has held for many centuries that military service is not just “acceptable.” It can also be much more than that. When lived with a spirit of integrity, restraint and justice, military service is virtuous. It's ennobling because – at its best – military service expresses the greatest of all virtues: charity; a sacrificial love for people and things outside and more important than oneself. It flows from something unique in the human heart: a willingness to place one's own life in harm's way for the sake of others. 
 
The great Russian Christian writer Vladimir Solovyov once said that to defend peaceful men, “the guardian angels of humanity mixed the clay [of the earth] with copper and iron and created the soldier.”    And until the spirit of malice brought into the world by Cain disappears from human hearts, the soldier “will be a good and not an evil.” (i) He expressed in a poetic way what the Church teaches and believes. And you should strive to embody this vision in your own service.
The archbishop further discusses how the solider needs to be moral.  As I did in Iraq, I will make sure that every action I do and cause will be morally good.


Finally, I feel the war itself is currently morally justifiable when one considers the actions of the whole al Qaeda-network and similar groups including the Pakistani-funded terrorist armies.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following on the only possible justification of war:


2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.  The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
 So I will go to Afghanistan to do geography in order to build a better Afghanistan and hopefully entice most of the enemy to lay down their arms in order to build a better world for everyone.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Map of Anglican Churches in the United States Joining the Catholic Ordinariate

It has been a year since Pope Benedict XVI offered the chance for Anglicans to join the Catholic Church.  This offer has enticed some Anglo-Catholics, both inside and outside of the Anglican Communion, to request membership in the Anglican Ordinariates.

Shane Schaetzel of the St Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Use Society in Springfield, Missouri has created and is updating a map of Anglican churches in the United States that are joining the ordinariate. (Hat Tip: The Anglo-Catholic


View Emerging U.S. Anglican Catholic Ordinariate in a larger map

The map shows how the various Anglican parishes are entering the ordinariate.  Most are joining the already established, but previously limited, Anglican Use and will therefore be grandfathered into the ordinariate.  The second group is part of the Anglican Church in America, which is a branch of the Traditional Anglican Communion.  The ACC and TAC have long been trying to be incorporated into the Catholic Church.

The final category is currently limited to Mount Calvary Church of Baltimore, Maryland.  This parish is leaving the Episcopal Church USA  (TEC is official branch of the Anglican Communion in the United States).  Currently TEC is fighting tooth-and-nail against evangelical parishes that have left it for other branches of Anglicanism in lawsuits over church buildings.  In these cases the wealth of TEC has only had to contend with parishes that manage to merely stay afloat financially.  It will be interesting to see if TEC will sue Mount Calvary Church and the Catholic Church over the church building.  That could turn into a lawyer war with both sides being well funded.

Monday, November 01, 2010

November 2010 Travel Photo: Saudi Bedouin Chairs


In what can only be described as a Pink Floyd album cover, this was the sight I encountered out in the desert of Saudi Arabia this past spring.  Two Bedouin shepherds had Lazy-E-Boys to watch their flock.

These Bedouin own their own goats.  The goats provide diary products and meat.  The camels; however, do not belong to the Bedouin who care for them.  In the area outside of Riyadh, most Bedouin take care of camel herds that belong to the urban rich.

Coming next month: A non-Middle East photograph!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010: Past Posts and Chupacabras: All Hispanic Cultures Are the Same?

Previous geographic-ish Halloween Posts:

Chupacabra means "goat sucker."  In the mid-1990s stories of a weird bipedal creature in Puerto Rico draining the blood of livestock started making news.  The strange creature could best be described as a "grey alien" with a mohawk.  Incidents of this creature's alleged attacks peaked near 2000 and have slowly lowered in amount since then.

In the mid-2000s there was another peak of "chupacabras" attacks occurred in Texas and other parts of the American Southwest.  These attacks were done by dog-like creatures.  In fact, CNN acquired video of the southwestern chupacabra.  The animal really does look like a dog.



Now it turns out that the southwestern chupacabra is in fact a Canis animal.  According to scientific studies done on the bodies of shot Southwestern chupacabras (if you want to prove a cryptid exists there is no better way then shooting it), these creatures are really coyotes with the mite called sarcoptes scabiei.  These mites traditionally attack humans and domesticated dogs and only recently (biological time scale) jumped to coyotes.  The mites' infection causes these coyotes to lose their hair and become so weak that they are forced to hunt domesticated animals.

There is an oddity though.  These coyotes look nothing like the Puerto Rican chupacabras.  They also are known to leave full mouth bite marks unlike the vampire-like marks known in Puerto Rico.  So why is the term used for both creatures?  After doing side research the only conclusion I can reach is that Southwestern ranchers and media were unable to describe the creature and therefore looked for something equivalent.  The American Southwest has a strong Mexican-based Hispanic cultural heritage so the media picked up on the Puerto Rican monster because Puerto Rico has a Hispanic-based culture.  Basically, it was thought that Mexican and Puerto Rican cultures were close enough.  So these two different types of creatures, one a coyote and one possibly made up, are combined into one legend.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How to Lie with Maps and Imagery: Glenn Beck versus Jon Stewart

Political rallies tend to create controversy.  Sizing up rallies and other geographic equations can become just as controversial as a rally's message.  The size estimates for the Million Man March (PDF) and Google's shadiness with the Lincoln Memorial's location before Glenn Beck's 2010 rally are prime examples of that.

The first image below is making its away around the conservative blogosphere and e-mail lists.  It claims to be a size comparison of Glenn Beck's rally to that of the "Rally to Restore Sanity" hosted by Jon Stewart.





Seems like Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally was bigger than Jon Stewart's.  But let us examine the geography and image interpretation used for the image.  For Beck's rally look how the oval starts to the left of the Lincoln Memorial, where the speaker's were and roads prevented people from being behind, and goes away past the World War II Memorial at the end of the reflecting pool, where the image ends.  Now for Stewart's rally look how the at the right side of the photo, there is an oval building.  The bulk of the rally ends at the street coming right after the circular building..  The building is the Hirshhorn Museum yet the oval in the image for Stewart's rally ends well before the museum.

Take a look at the mini-map below now with my modifications (a red block for Beck and yellow for Stewart).  Size-wise Beck's rally is slightly bigger but Beck's rally had a reflecting pool in the middle of it.




This is not meant to be a political post.  I do not even like getting involved in the beast known as population/crowd estimates.  This post merely is to show how a map is being used to distort a current event.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cultural Geography Notes for Halloween Movies

Forget the mainstream Hollywood Halloween movies (not that there is anything wrong with mainstream Hollywood films compared to other schools of industry).  There are plenty of high quality movies that are perfect for Halloween that come from across the globe.  These films are fun to watch while gaining bits of cultural geographic insight.

Dracula (1931-Spanish edition)

During the same time that the famous version with Bela Lugosi was being filmed Universal was also creating a Spanish-edition.  The actors for this film came from all over the Hispanic world ranging from Mexico, to Spain, to Argentina.  In an effort to show Spanish language films were good as English language efforts the actors and staff worked hard to "one up" the English-language film crew.  They were successful in creating a better technical film that was longer and more faithful to the book than Lugosi's movie.

An unrelated thing to take note is that the Hispanic film was unencumbered by English cultural morals of not revealing too much with the women's nightgowns.

Tim Estiloz has more on the Spanish-language version of Dracula



Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In is the Swedish vampire hit that was recently redone with the American movie Let Me In.  The movie is truly a product of modern Western Europe: willing to accept other worlds except those that deal with Christianity.  While permission and sunlight make prominent parts of the film there is not one mention of a church, cross, or holy water to deal with the most manipulative vampire in a movie ever.



Bubba Ho-Tep

Bubba Ho-Tep is a proper homage to B-monster movies by the primary B-actor: Bruce Cambell.  The films staring an aged "Elvis" and "John Kennedy" as they battle an Egyptian mummy which feasts upon residents of a nursing home.  A forgotten part of east Texas, which is an overlooked part of the country to many, provides the background to a film about how American cultural does not value its old.  But it is mostly a dark comedy about Elvis and JFK versus a mummy.



Do you have your own favorite Halloween movie and any cultural geographic insight to share about it?  If so please comment!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Degree Confluence Project: Mapping the Intersection of Latitudes and Longitudes

Reader Smeeko has sent me the link to the Degree Confluence Project.  The project seeks to contain photos and stories from people who have visited the intersections of whole number latitudes and longitudes.  As of right now six thousand records (out of 32,400 that is not bad) in 183 countries with 90,288 photographs.  If one wants to virtually travel the world this is sure a good place to start.

Strangely this includes Egypt and Syria which ban GPS units.  Piece of advice if you want to participate: keep in mind many countries police do not take kindly to someone walking around with a GPS unit.  Play it safe out there.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

GDP Indicates a United Ireland is Economically Unwise

In some parts of the Republic of Ireland and the Irish Diaspora, there is still the strong dream of a United Ireland.  The island's, currently split between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom), problems have long been thought of in terms of religion and politics.  Economic analysis can add a new dimension to the debate on whether the island should be united or if the border should be kept.

For example, consider the role of economics in the case of Germany's reunification.  Despite initial popular approval based on politics, the reunification of East and West Germany has been proven to have been rushed without economic considerations.  The gap between East and West's economies forced the West to spend much of its resources on getting the East somewhat to par.  Even after twenty years parody has not been achieved.

The difference between the two Germany's right before reunification was stark.  The East German GDP was only 10% of Germany's total in 1989 despite having 20% of the total population.  Per Capita wise, East German GDP was 42% compared to West Germany's.

Now examine Northern Ireland's economy in relation to that of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom's.
  • Northern Ireland's GDP is 30% of all of Ireland though it has 39% of all the island's population.  Per Capita wise Northern Ireland's GDP is 60% compared to the Republic of Ireland's.
  • In comparison to the United Kingdom: Northern Ireland's GDP is 1.5% of all the UK's GDP while being 2.9% of the total population.  Per Capita wise Northern Ireland's GDP is 79% compared to the UK's.
Northern Ireland's economy is underdeveloped compared to both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.  However, it would be economically wiser for Northern Ireland to stay in the United Kingdom for two reasons.
  1. GDP per capita is closer to the United Kingdom's rather than Ireland's.  Cost of living fluctuations would cause more harm than good for the Northern Irish citizenry.
  2. The sheer size of the United Kingdom's economy allows it to better support (i.e. prop up) Northern Ireland.  Ireland would be forced to spend a much larger share of its resources on Northern Ireland much like West Germany had to do for East Germany.  This is unreasonable with the republic currently suffering a massive downturn.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Geo Blog: EarthCurrent

Currently Catholicgauze is being racked by a wide range of vaccines which prevent me from putting the final touches to a long worked on post.  However, I have continued to search out the geography blogosphere.  Reader The Lazy Geographer has been blogging like mad over at EarthCurrent since September.  The blog revolves around revolves around current geography news and geographic analysis of events around the world.

So while I am finishing up blog posts for this geography blog be sure to check out EarthCurrent and other "Catholicgauze Reads" on the sidebar.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Afghan Diary: Preparing Without My Wife

A priest recently told me that despair is a way the Devil tries to destroy us.  Despair is like sin as described in Genesis 4:7 "a demon lurking at the door," alive and waiting to devour us.  I currently suffer the temptation to despair.  My wife is Kenya.  I will not hold her until I return from Afghanistan (which I have still yet to leave for).  I am also racked by a near feverish state as my body painfully reacts to various vaccines injected into me.  Worst of all, the apartment I come home to everynight is cold, dark, and empty.

However, all I need to do is to reflect on the current situation and the despair melts away.  Catholicgauzette is working with a development group in Kenya.  The NGO she is working for has a positive track record and she can only amplify their good works.  I will one day be reunited with her.  My physical and mental pain no where matches those of the saints, soldiers, and innocents caught up in war.  My time alone is a time for reflection, a time to give thanks for everything that I have.

Once I publish this post I will go back to preparing for Afghanistan.  This time not in despair but with thoughts of thanks and the promise of the future.

No Trick Treats: Map of Dietary Friendly Trick or Treat Spots

Ghosts, monsters, vampires, werewolves, and zombies will walk the streets this Halloween (fortunately only hunting for candy).  There is a real fear for many families, though.  Children suffering from medically-necessitated dietary restrictions are at risk of severe reactions to foods with items like nuts, gluten, and high levels of sugar.  There are also many more children who have voluntary restrictions like kosher, vegan, and organic diets.

This is a potential Google Maps mashup that can help save Halloween for these children.  No Trick Treats allows users to search for and place locations that will be handing out vegan, organic, raw, fruits/vegetables, nut-free, kosher, sugar-free, gluten-free, and non-food goods.  There are a limited amount of locations so far but hopefully press coverage of the site will encourage more people to use it.

A vegan Halloween... what a scary thought.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 23: The 6,014 Anniversary of the "Creation of the Young Earth"

Modern creationism is firmly rooted in culturally English Protestantism.  The British emphasis in the Old Testament, which other Germanic-protestantism lacked, proved to be the genesis of interest in trying to date the world.  Many English scholars like Newton created their creation scholarly works but most's labors have been abandoned in history.  The Calvinistic Anglican head of the Church of Ireland, Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656), is the only first generation creation scholar who still matters in today's world.  It was he who declared the world was slightly less than 6,000 years old and that the creation epic began October 23rd, 4004 B.C.

The pro-Creationist website World Net Daily has this description of Ussher's "discovery" in an article in which they also try to sale a copy of the book.

How old is the world?

Most people would say: "Nobody knows."

But the author of the book frequently described as the greatest history book ever written, said the world was created Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. – making it exactly 6,014 next month.

In the 1650s, an Anglican bishop named James Ussher published his "Annals of the World," subtitled, "The Origin of Time, and Continued to the Beginning of the Emperor Vespasian's Reign and the Total Destruction and Abolition of the Temple and Commonwealth of the Jews." First published in Latin, it consisted of more than 1,600 pages.

The book, now published in English for the first time, is a favorite of homeschoolers and those who take ancient history seriously. It's the history of the world from the Garden of Eden to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Of course, there will be those who disagree with Ussher's calculations of time – especially evolutionists who need billions of years to explain their theory of how life sprang from non-life and mutated from one-celled animals into human beings.

Ussher's arrival at the date of Oct. 23 was determined based on the fact that most peoples of antiquity, especially the Jews, started their calendar at harvest time. Ussher concluded there must be good reason for this, so he chose the first Sunday following autumnal equinox.

Although the autumnal equinox is Sept. 21 today, that is only because of historical calendar-juggling to make the years come out right.
Ussher's work has been experiencing a revival as evangelical fundamentalist seek a Young Earth answer to the world's earth.  Meanwhile Old Earth creationists and Theistic evolutionists have long moved passed Ussher in search of more scientific justifications to their beliefs.

Magnasanti: The Pefect City According to Sim City

I am a fan of Sim City and think it can be a good introduction to city planning.  However, as good as a game it is, it is still a simulation made by people subject to mathematical code.  Case in point: someone has made the "perfect" Sim City, Magnasanti, where no one leaves, there is no pollution, no abandoned buildings, no roads as there are subways everywhere and everyone's work is in walking distance.


"The Perfect City"

Sounds perfect right?  It is perfect if one likes the styles of North Korean urban planning!  Police are everywhere, there is no one moving in or out of the city, and all this has held for a simulated 50,000 years!

The Consumerist has a good short article on the perfect Sim City while Viceland Games an interview with the city's creator.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Map World: China's Response to Google Maps

First France made their own version of Google Maps and then India followed up with their own.  Now, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has made Map World as their rebuttal to Google.  This Google-rival is probably more neogeography-friendly than the others were at their launch with built in support for tools like feature creators, rulers, map pins, etc.

The resolution for the PRC is very good in most cases.  Foreign lands including the those held by the Republic of China (Taiwan) are not as detailed, however.  Oogle Earth has encountered some problems with the 3D support.  User beware: the website is in simplified Chinese characters and it is hosted by the PRC government.

I went map hopping to see if I could find any interesting nationalism built in the program.  At first it was standard: Taiwan shown as a province, Indian-claimed lands shown as Chinese, etc.  But then I looked at Israel (which is a major military partner of the PRC).  The map shows the 1947 UN partition proposal as the borders!  Yes, the PRC does recognize the "State of Palestine" as declared in the late 1980s but no one in decades has argued for the 1947 proposed borders rejected by the Arab states to be the borders for Israel and Palestine.  The last time I saw the 1947 proposed borders for the State of Israel was in a 1970s Soviet atlas.  This is a weirdness I cannot explain.

Is this official PRC policy?  I do not think so...