Friday, October 31, 2008

Three Halloween Posts for 2008!

Happy Halloween! To mark this fun holiday I post links to three Halloween-related posts:

The Very Short Geography of Halloween: Irish Catholics not only gave America Saint Patrick's Day but also Halloween combining old paganism with Catholic praying for the souls in Purgatory. Today, with the backing of international corporations Halloween as Americans know it is spreading all throughout the world. But opposition to the Americanized holiday ranges from angry Islamists to Russians to Orthodox.

A Short Historical Geography of Vampires: Old Testament to Twilight. How the mighty stories have fallen.

New England Vampires: It is the 1890s, the telephones ware in some homes, cars are being made, typewriters come into being, and New Englanders are still digging up vampires to burn. All because of really bad soil.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Geography Humor: Trojan Horse Strikes Again

Ok, it may be more history than geography humor but location does play a role. Just a fun post for those into Halloween!

Oxford's Guide to Buying an Atlas

The very first atlas I remember was a National Geographic photo atlas of the world. Each country had a short blurb about it along with a data box with the basic information about the place. But what I remember most were the pictures. Seeing each wonderful location helped draw me into the field of geography.

The photo atlas was a great introduction but as I became more serious about geography I needed a more complex atlas. With many atlases out there sorting through all them was a bit of a hassle. I was notified by Oxford University Press that they have their own guide on what to look for in an atlas. The guide should come in handy for those who want to buy their special geographer spouse/friend/child an atlas for the upcoming holidays.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ghosts of Two Germanies Continue to Haunt

A recent dialectic I took part in centered on the subject of how strong the divide exist between the former German Democratic Republic (East) and the previous incarnation of the Federal Republic of Germany (West). Sadly, the answer is that there is a noticeable difference in economics, culture, and politics.

Western Germany had the beginnings of a globalized economy and membership in such organizations like the European Community and NATO. The former East Germany is still being propped up by massive subsidies as capitalism is still waiting to be accepted by many Easterners. Not all is bad but there is still a difference economically.

Education is another problem. Propaganda on was used to explain why there were differences between West and East and not liberal education hallmarks like debate and reason. History was simplified to Nazis bad, West bad, Communist good. Teachers worked with the Stasi to make sure questioning students and teachers were kept in their place. Meanwhile teachers from the left and right ensured lively debate in West Germany. Today educational differences exist with startling results.

Politically the landscape is a mess. In the west two major parties, the center-left Social Democratic Party and center-right Christian Democratic Party engage in European politics with smaller parties like the Greens and Federal Democratic Party playing roles of king maker. Eastern Germany now has the everything-but-in-name East German communist party called the Left Party making serious gains and the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party is starting to win local elections.

The ghosts of the Berlin Wall, East Germany, and other divides exists because of the lack of cultural preparedness. The eagerness, rightly so, to reunite the country did not take into account the economic costs for the west and cultural realization of wrong doing for the east. These factors are being weighed along with Germany's example by those who seek reunification of Cyprus, Moldova, and Georgia. It is, in part, the above reasons why reunification is slow coming in those areas.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Aral Sea Survives in the North While Dying in the South

From Wikipedia

Environmental problems may not frequently come to mind when one thinks of Communism but the track record is proven. Communist governments frequently emerge from feudalistic or plutocracies. These new governments seek a rapid industrialization so the rewards of the commanding heights may be spread amongst "the people." The mad drive for industry has come at a great cost to the environment. No Communist government has come around to "green" philosophy while both social and liberal capitalistic societies can afford the costs of environmental programs.

The environment's first victim of Communism was the Aral Sea. In 1918, the new Soviet government in Moscow decided Uzbekistan's quasi-desert would be the perfect place to grow cotton. The Communist sought to have the plant as a major income earner as an export. They achieved their goal by diverting river water that formerly fed the Aral Sea.

The sea slowly started its fall in the 1960s. The waters then fell faster and faster. First the fishing boats became stuck in deserts, then the water became so salty the fish died, finally the lack of a moderating body of water introduced extreme temperature swings with salty sand storms. In short: the Aral Sea area become one of the worst places in the world.

The situation today is not good. The blog Coming Anarchy reports on the status of the sea. The northern surviving portion, the North Aral Sea, is slowly growing because of efforts by the government of Kazakhstan to redivert water from the Syr Darya river. Meanwhile the southern surviving portion, the South Aral Sea (really two lakes since 2003), is dying. The eastern lobe is especially dwindling rapidly. The government of Uzbekistan is unwilling and unable to stop the trend.

Many modern maps like Google Maps use old data to show the Aral Sea at its previous size. One of the main reasons for this bad cartography is laziness because of the over reliance of pre-made data. But, according to a conversation I once had with a cartographer of atlas from Europe, there is little interest in updating the Aral Sea boundaries because of the politics behind the matter. I was told something along the lines of "if the loss is shown, then there would be a greater push to fix it and find blame. Think about Lake Chad, desertification, glacier melting."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Top Three Geography Themes of late 2008 into 2009

Every once in a while it is wise to stop and examine the world with fresh eyes. A new look at old events can give one an insight on where global events could go next.

Global Cooling Already Here?

It is too soon to be a solid trend but a clear downtrend is seen in temperature charts. After a few years of doomsday warming trends it is now becoming more and more common to see reports saying the world is in for a twenty to thirty year cooling phase. The lesson to pull from this is that climate is neigh on possible to predict while make plans for both global warming and cooling cannot hurt. The last bit needs to be tempered with the statement there is a difference between making plans and trying to rush international climate treaties before scientists truly know what is occurring.

War on Terroism takes Good and Bad Turns

The global hierarchy of al Qaeda proper has been destroyed or made irrelevant (good), Iraq's violence is down to about a quarter it was during the dark days of 2006 (good), and Afghanistan's violence level is slightly above Iraq's (bad, it has been rising). Elsewhere the Philippines is talking to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and giving them terroritry (not good but stops killing) while Abu Sayef is run down (good). There is no longer a difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan as military operations cross borders almost daily. Meanwhile al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is reminding Algerians of the bad days of the 1990s. The truly dark spot is in Somalia. After a series of victories by the government and their Ethiopian backers the former youth wing of the Islamic Court Union, Al-Shabaab, has received al Qaeda backing. Al-Shabaab has taken the south and is directly engaging the government, Ethiopian, and African Union soldiers.

The plotters of 9/11 are in the background while their smaller children seek to fill the vacuum.

The Economy and the Fall of Oil Prices

The days of credit given to those who cannot handle it sure shook the world. Economies in recession led to markets slowing down. The big under reported story of this downturn is the falls effect on oil prices. As of late October oil prices were trading below $65 a barrel. For the last several years dictatorial countries like Russia, Venezuela, and Iran managed to expand their operations with gas profits. Will these powers slim down their operations or will they fall like the Soviet Union under pressure from their growing monetary demands.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Give and Take of Voting Machines in America

The SciFi Channel's website dedicated to technology, DVICE, has a made that demonstrates the give and take of voting machines in the United States. The interactive maps show potential for hacking and potential for error. The maps show the scale between paper ballots to complete digital voting. Digital voting has almost zero error but the lack of a paper trail opens it up to easy hacking with little evidence. On the other hand paper ballots cannot be hacked but as Florida in 2000 demonstrated, chads happen.

When your done looking at your state's information be sure to check out DVICE's breakdown of the different types of voting machines.

Do not worry if the maps create doubt in your mind about the state of the democratic system. To worry at this stage implies all those votes are legitimate.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Return of Microstates?

This blog has previously examined the fall of governments in cities whether due to crime or hostile culture. In the first case it looks like cities will degrees into oblivion while the latter appears to be a case of cultural replacement.

Could these be the first cases of something greater to come? Could these incidents be in fact evidence pointing towards the return of microstates a la the Middle Ages? John Rapley examines this theory in The New Middle Ages (PDF). Rapley reports how globalization has shaped countries and created a "rough" landscape of cores and gaps both globally and internally. Rapid population movements into cities and the inability of governments to provide services has created a vacuum where other powers, whether it be regional governments or non-governmental actors like gangs, fill the gap. While there may be violence at first reflecting the new political order, these new actors tend to provide stability and services to ensure the new actors survival. Sometimes the state works with the new actors to keep the peace. A symbiotic relationship is then formed.

If this hypothesis is true then the best case in the future is somesort of working Holy Roman Empire while the worst are repeats of Somalia. Factors such as cultural respect of order, cultural respect of the dominant culture, age, and economics will play a big role deciding where microstates would fall on the above scale.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Geography of Time Lines

Greenwich Mean Time, the equator, and international date lines oh my! The Telegraph has A Short Geography of Time which takes a quick and interesting look at the various time lines on Earth. More trivia than useful information but still a good read nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Roadside America: Online Guide to Weird American Tourist Sites

There seems to be several categories of tourist sites. The primary category are the major sites in every guide book. The White House, Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, etc. Everyone knows these and it is pretty much required to visit these sites at least once when one visits an area. The secondary sites are known to locals and a few "deep" guide books. These locations do not get very many visitors and tend to have a very specialized audience but if one is interested in these sites they offer a rich experience. The final category is odd or weird sites. Whether they are a tourist trap or not, these offer an "interesting" experience and have a coolness factor just by being what they are.

Roadside America is an online guide to the third category with some secondary sites thrown in for good measure. Sites like a 1880s robotic cowboy town right outside Sioux Falls, South Dakota; a schismatic Virgin Mary site in Wisconsin, and dinosaurs versus the Union army in Virginia are just some of the oddities on the website.

Navigation is primarily done on a map allowing one to view sites by state. Other great features can be viewed in video clips or a list on how Americans view various countries.

So next time you are going on a trip check this site out and plan a detour to the weird!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Prime Minister Harper (Mostly) Wins Canadian Elections 2008

On October 14, 2008 Prime Minister Steven Harper gained more seats for his Conservative Party in the Canadian Federal Election. While the fourteen extra seats give him more padding at one-hundred forty-three seats he is twelve seats shy from fifty-percent plus one and therefore remains a minority government. The elections are a victory, a minor one, but still a victory for Harper and his Conservative Party.

The big news is in the other parties.
  • The center-left Liberal Party lost big losing twenty-seven seats. It now only has seventy-six seats. The Liberals have been in the political wilderness unable to find a strong leader or winning political platform.
  • The sovereignty-seeking, left-center Bloc Quebecois only lost a net of one seat as it continued to win votes from French-speaking socialists to French-speaking rural conservatives.
  • The social democratic left New Democratic Party jumped eight seats to thirty-seven. Popular vote-wise it earned eighteen percent compared to twenty-six for the Liberals. The constantly in opposition New Democratic Party has attracted left-leaning votes by staying true to principles while the Liberals are forced to compromise when both in and out of power. The New Democrats are rebuilding since their collapse in the early 1990s and may pose a threat to Liberal dominance of the left once again.

The election is a moderate win for Harper. His conservative yet distinctly Canadian outlook remains popular with voters. His skepticism with the ongoing war in Afghanistan should neutralize any anti-American backlash on him. The main reason he did not win a majority is the sudden downturn of the world's economies which he is in part blamed for because of being in office.

Map Room blog has featured several good maps of results from the election including a Google Earth layer. Be sure to check them out.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

World Bank Map of Development

The World Bank has a Google-maps mashup of projects and status of the world's various economies. The map breaks down countries incomes, has economic and political data, and lists various World Bank projects. Through the use of hyperlinks more information is available on projects.

It is interesting to see how the World Bank has shifted from poverty reduction in second and third world countries to development. It seems the leadership is following the parable "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." (Hat tip: Catholicgauzette)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

National Geographic Offers Geography Action!

Catholicgauze has been notified by the good people at National Geographic about Geography Action! It has an assortment of free resources, maps and hands-on activities are available for teachers.

Geography Awareness Week is around the corner (November 16 through 22) and educators can start planning their own lessons lessons on this year's theme, North America, or previous year's themes by using the resources on the website.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I have received my first passport ten days after applying. The small blue booklet has my picture, personal information, and pretty pictures of the United States decorating the pages. This is my first passport. It reflects the changing world we live in. Previously my international travel was limited to the Western Hemisphere where many countries did not require passports. But a post-9/11 world where fears of terrorism and countries' reactions to stronger travel laws has lead to passports being a neigh-mandatory requirement for international travel.

The first "passports" were letters from rulers announcing the presence of ambassadors, mess angers, or well off people. Since linguistic and ethnic boundaries were high very few people left their little chieftains so the letters were rare. The Bible mentions such a case in the Old Testament where a letter was used by an emissary.

Passports in a book form came into being during the rise from the Dark Age in Europe. Travellers, mostly merchants, had to have papers allowing them access to various city-states. The system held until the European industrial revolution and the more importantly the advent of trains. Railroads made paperwork unduly and the fact only the rich travelled lessened the need.

World War I though destroyed the globalized world and passports returned. After World War II the middle class began to travel and more passports were used as a result. Today, the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization governs passport standards. Their oversight reflects the importance of airways in international travel.

Passports can be a sensitive subject. Having one is considered proof of citizenship. The majority of South Ossetians and Abkhazians have Russian passports and Russian leadership has stated it will protect those who have their passports both inside and outside the Russian Federation. Similar situations exist in both Moldova's Transnistria and Ukraine's Crimea.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Learning the Old Ways Before the New

When I was in cartography class all I did was read the book and apply what I learned on Adobe Paintshop. My fellow students and myself were given base maps to work on. My cartography class was basically making maps pretty and not making maps. I feel cheated in a way. The true art of cartography has been lost to all but a few in this computerized world. The pen and ink, or even mouse drawn, techniques are no longer taught.

So it is in a way uplifting to find out there are still those who teach the art and science in geography. Popular Mechanics has an article about an MIT professor who is making students in his modern navigation course learn the sextant. The idea behind this is to force students to comprehend what GIS does for them and give the students a greater appreciation of the science of navigation.

I wish more schools would find ways to do the same.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Magnetic Anomaly Map of the World

The above map comes from the Commission de la Carte Geologique du Monde. It shows where the magnetics of the Earth fluctuate. Blue represent a weak magnetic tug while red is stronger.
The reason, according to the map makers, for the differences across the world is "igneous and metamorphic rocks" in the crust and mantle. The rocks affect the magnetic pull different than would say, limestone. Less than 1% of the world suffers from extreme magnetic anomalies.
While this may not satisfy those who see a correlation between UFOs, Bermuda Triangle, whatever with magnetic anomalies; it is important to remember that these oddities can be perfectly natural and strong in some areas.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Columbus Day 2008

(See the 2007 post for Columbus and the New World Revolutions)

Columbus is an paradox. Great sailor, horrible administrator. The most celebrated and most hatted explorer of the New World. He was not the first European to come to the Americas. Finally, Columbus claimed a small Earth existed and thought he discovered Asian islands for the longest time. The continents are not even named after him.

However, Columbus' journey showed to the Europe that there was a New World. That the Europeans with their technology and Crusader-mindset could conquer it if they applied themselves. Saints and damned sinners came to the Americas and left their mark on the land and on the people, including the European colonists, American Indians, and Africans.

No one can deny Columbus changed the world. In evaluating whether or not this was a "good thing" one must remember history is still on going. All Americans, Northern and Southern, are children of Columbus and the rest of the world effects us and is affected by us. Continental Americans must play a direct and indirect role in bettering the world if Columbus' legacy is to be good.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Enjoying the Outdoors

Catholicgauze will be enjoying the outdoors and unable to blog this weekend. Take care and have fun!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Martti Ahtisaari wins the Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace prize goes to former Finish president and diplomat Martti Ahtisaari. Ahtisaari has had a long and successful career dealing with achieving peace in Namibia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Aceh region of Indonesia.

While active he tended to stay out of the spotlight internationally. Few ever heard of his name. However, while the scares of the past hurt and some areas still simmer with rage, no one can deny Ahtisaari had a playing hand in bring peace to the world. Congradulations Martti Ahtisaari!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

BBC Documents Non-Recognized States

Way back in 2005, the BBC went to the Republic of China, Somaliland, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Transnistria. and Nagorno-Karabakh and produced Places That Don't Exist. The documentary describes the politics and daily life in regions which are de facto independent but usually show up differently on maps. Though the offical website only has interviews and articles, the magic that is YouTube allows for the episodes, except for the Republic of China show, to be viewed. Enjoy!



Abkhazia and South Ossetia


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Catholicgauze Still on Track for Iraq

Hey that rhymes. Still on target for going to Iraq. I will post more information as I can. During my time there I will have weekly "Classicgauze" posts reposting the best and overlooked entries from January 2006 up until present! I will try to give periodic updates but cannot promise anything.

Economist's Unscientific World Presidential Election

I know I promised no U.S. politics posts until after the election but I think this might, maybe not, be kosher still.

The Economist has an online world electoral college, poll going on their website. So far Senator Obama is crushing Senator McCain. McCain leads massively in Georgia and slightly in Macedonia. In Slovakia he is closely behind. Meanwhile Obama is sliding to victory everywhere else. This pretty mirrors the trend of the world supporting the center-left Democrat Party over the center-right Republican Party.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Worlds of the World and Various Theories

How many times have you heard phrases like "first world," "third world," "developing country," and alike? Most people think they understand these terms but know little in the way of background or true comprehension.

The traditional first, second, and third world comes from French de facto geographer Alfred Sauvy. The model was not economic but political at first. The third world was defined at first as not politically aliened to either the Soviet Union or the United States. Later on those allied to America were defined as "first world" while "second world" were those Communist-states in the USSR's pocket.

Later on as the Cold War ended the world system adopted an economical framework. The capitalistic victors' economies continued to do well. The fall of the Iron Curtain; however, unveiled how the communist system barely tread water. Meanwhile those countries who remained non-aligned varied from second world-level to God awful hell hole.

The worlds model was therefore changed to reflect primarily the economic status and now matches the developed/developing countries model. Economic numbers like GDP, gini coefficent (income disparity), and scale of living are now the main variables.

There is also a relatively new category: the fourth world. The fourth world has been defined in two ways. First a countries who would feel minimal impact if oil supplies were cut off. Somalia may be in this category if it were not for the pirates and Islamic militants who need fuel for their operations. The second definition is that of a nation (people) who are cut off from globalization's benefits. The natives of far eastern Siberia or Hutus in The Congo are the best examples.

There is even a Maoist interpretation of the world's theory. Mao, being ever the Chinese nationalist even in his communism, saw the first world as the Soviet Union and United States keeping the second world, like the United Kingdom or Poland, in the first world's sphere. Mao believed the People's Republic of China and a few others like Albania were the third world who fought for their own way in the world.

Finally there are the microgeographers who do not like to use first, second, third world definitions at a country level. Subnational/district level is the best way to define an area's status. Microgeographers point out that even though the United States is "first world", areas of it are second world like the rust belt and third world like western Indian reservations. Another example is India with its wide range of super-rich and super-poor.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Frederick Jackson Turner and the Frontier Thesis

Frederick Jackson Turner was an American historian who is best known for his Frontier Thesis. The thesis, as defined in his seminal work The Significance of the Frontier in American History, stated that western expansion made American culture and civilization what it is. That moving west forced the culture to be more democratic, individualistic, and anti-establishment. (Read the work here).

It clearly defines how place and demographic movements impacted the greater country. It is a must read for those interested in American West history and historical geographers.

The thesis is a great, if controversial, work of American historical geography. Some revisionists point-out that the thesis ignores American Indian movement from the Alaska down and Spanish expansion into the American Southwest. However, while these cases are part of American history they do not have as great an impact on the establishment of the American system which is still heavily based on English American colonial experience with other European groups having smaller impacts locally. American Indians either live in "regular" towns and cities or they live on reservations established on the American system during Western expansion. Spanish Americans meanwhile are integrated into the American popular culture while the recent wave of Hispano immigrants have no ties to the original Spanish/Mexican establishment in the United States.

A thing to ponder is what will happen to American culture now that there is no frontier? Westerners who still idolize expansion complain "city-folk" and "suburban-folk" have lost their Independence and rely too much on vertical systems. What ever is to come, one must acknowledge how the frontier help make America what it is today.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

AFRICOM Comes Alive

AFRICOM plus Egypt

United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) assumed full autonomy and operational work on October 1, 2008. The new command's purpose is to better coordinate military and civilian operations on the African continent. While this may seem as a bit of a formality, AFRICOM is a huge step forward.

Combatant Commands, military commands setup on geographical lines around the world, were formalized in 1986. Africa at that time was treated as an extra and divided between the European, Middle East, and Pacific commands. Little in the way of military operations were planned in Africa as the continent was left to the diplomatic State Department and covert operations of other groups.

The world has changed though since the end of the Cold War. The spread of Islamic militantism from the Middle East to the Islamic frontier, the collapse of formerly Soviet and American client states, and the return of tribal warfare up to the level of mass genocide have brought Africa back to the world's focus. Military and policy planners realized this and decided the best way to help is create a hybrid combatant command with both military and State Department components solely focused on Africa.

The primary goal of AFRICOM is to coordinate better with African military officials and government heads, improve African-centric plans like relief operations, and aid in the War on Terrorism.

There are some nay-sayers, though. Some African leaders are afraid AFRICOM because they see it as a plan to have American political colonization is Africa. Many in this category see Africa as still fighting against the colonial legacy of Europe and do not want to step back. Others oppose the command because of their opposition to the United States. Eritrea, Zimbabwe, and the Islamic Somali rebels fall into this category. Hopefully the good that comes out of AFRICOM will prove the first group wrong and defeat the latter.

Side Note: As noted before, Egypt is the only African country not under AFRICOM. The reason for this is that Egypt is culturally more like Asia than Africa, and so are its problems like the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Geography of American Personalities

Place still matters in what sort of person you are. Sure, everyone is different and in a big way the "nature" of your body chemistry/soul is a given. However, "nurture" and cultural upbringing molds a person, attracts like minded people, and kicks out the black sheep.

The Wall Street Journal has an article and interactive map on the geography of personality types. Catholicgauze's upbringing matches that of his home region in being dutiful, self-disciplined, and extroverted.

The spatial patterning is clear. History and present play a big role on the map. Stereotypes of the business-world dominated northeast and the pioneer-past, hardy Midwesterners still ring true. As mentioned above, it is important to remember that people will move to be in liked minded regions thus reinforcing the cultural personality through cultural selection (Hat tip: Geography at About).

Friday, October 03, 2008

In Search of "Stupid Culture"

Argee? Disagree? Let Catholicgauze Know!

A certain resurgent culture came up during an impromptu meeting of cultural geographers including myself. I stated that the culture's success was unfortunate because it was a "stupid culture" compared to the one it was competing against. The conversation then broke into three pieces. 1) those who agreed, 2) those who favored the previous culture but were uneasy with putting down the resurgents, and 3) those who felt it was wrong to compare cultures because all were equal.

To justify my views I attempted to explain what I meant. The three parties eventually agreed to disagree but I and a few others were still interested in trying to define what makes a culture stupid. To determine criteria I thought of culture as a living being needing to live and be successful to survive. Eventually I was able to lay down two greater categories with subfields that define a "stupid culture:" a culture that destroys its own population and prevents advancement. A breakdown follows.

Destroying Own Population

A culture that kills its own young: Abortion and infanticide are brutal and ugly. It also destroys generations depriving a culture of human capital in labor and ideas. The West kills out of convenience, India aborts because it does not like girls, and poor Chinese wait until after birth to leave baby girls by the roadside because girls cannot help the family prosper. American Blacks have been relatively lucky because their high abortion rate has only lead to loss of largest minority to Hispanos while India and China risk a crime-infested future because of lack of women.

A culture that does not replace its dying: Europe needs babies. The welfare state has replaced the need of children as a support system but the system needs a constantly growing working base to support the constantly growing retirement class. This has led to Europe importing Muslim population which was culturally mistreated by some European states and in turn rejects European progressive ideals. Old Europe culture may not have many decades left before it dies with a culture that does replace its dying.

Prevents Advancement

Preventing empowerment: Humans are an excellent resource. They provide human labor and some are smart and can improve the fields of science, medicine, and politics. However, discrimination is an all too common human trait. South Africa and in the United States, for example, once had horrible laws that prevented Blacks of using their abilities to benefit the whole nation. Today, some Muslim countries prevent women from even leaving their homes by themselves let alone work or study. The cultures which promote such ideas may be "pure" in their own minds but they handicap themselves immensely.

Punishing the successful: At best this is like those cultures who view getting an education as "selling out" to the mainstream. At worst this is like the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward and the around fifty or so million dead people because of it. Too often "empowerment" movements which seek to bring equality quickly turn into efforts to punish the successful. This keeps education and industriousness down and the culture soon lags behind others.

Clearly most if not all cultures have some degree of stupidity in them. However, some sins are greater than others. Hopefully the vertical (powers that be) and horizontal (peers) pressure can help adjust these faults and improve cultures all over the world.

Self-made counterpoint: If the last paragraph too are not cultures just "less stupid" than others? Possible true. I on the other hand be in a less stupid culture than a truly stupid one.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Deadly Physcial Geography of the Civil War

Discovery News has an interesting slide show about how physical geography in part led to deadlier battles. Beneath the Battlefield is based on “No Place to Run, No Place to Hide: Geology, Terrain, and Casualties at Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and Antietam.” Though the details are skimpy the basic thesis is that the battles fought on limestone, including the bloody ones like Antietam, were deprived on cover due to the geology below the surface.

The geology was not the only deadly geographical factor. The United States experienced a brief return of the Little Ice Age during the first five years of the 1860s. The weather reversal lead to cold, wet conditions which slowed army movements and aided the spread of diseases.

Human geography-wise the rapid advancement of military technology while military thought re maned stuck in a Napoleonic mindset only lead to pointless close range slaughter of mass formations.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Geopolitics in Cartography

Recently Catholicgauze encountered a defiled poster on display showing worldwide of use of nuclear power. The Republic of China (Taiwan) had marker over it and an angry note telling all that the Republic of China was in fact part of the People's Republic of China.

This event got me thinking. The cartographer was using standard mapping shape files (which have there own faults) that dealt with a very touchy issue: country borders. I thought if only a few countries recognize the Republic of China yet it is shown as independent on the default data set and on many other maps. I wondered what other disputed zones cartographic treatments are.

Usually Independent:

Republic of China: Unless its National Geographic's China issue map, Taiwan is usually shown as a separate political body and not part of the People's Republic of China. The United States does not recognize the Republic of China but has unofficial relations with the government.

Western Sahara: The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is usually shown as apart from Morocco though it has never been in control of more than 80% of its claimed territory. The United States does not recognize the SADR but neither does it recognize Morocco's claim.

Depends Who You Ask

Israel/Palestine: Most maps from countries who recognize Israel have the pre-1967 borders with the West Bank and Gaza as special zones (though before the 1990s Gaza was still shown as Egyptian and the West Bank was Jordanian) and the Golan Heights as Syrian. Israeli maps tend to have the Golan as Israeli with the West Bank and Gaza either part of Israel or special zones. Maps from Muslim countries have Palestine comprising Israel-proper, the West Bank, and Gaza.

India/Pakistan/China: Bad mojo behind this one. If you want to see a fight show a map with Kashmir and Aksai Chin to Chinese, Pakistani, and Indian grad students and watch the sparks fly. Most maps have the lines of control as the borders.

Never, Ever on the Map

Northern Cyprus: Norther Cyprus never is one any maps though it is recognized by Turkey and has been more or less a functioning democracy since 1983. I have even seen a Turkish map with it being part of Cyprus. With the strangely friend Nationalist Turkish/Communist Greek governments on the island reunification is close so maybe it will not matter.

Transnistria: Transnistria is a breakaway region of Moldova. Moldova was rated the saddest place on earth in the Geography of Happiness yet Transnistria is worse. How could it be worse? Well, trying having a corrupt government that openly employs Soviet symbology with a crazy psycho East German girl, Alena Arshinova, being the head of the youth group that was too crazy for the Kremlin-backed youth groups.

Too Soon

Kosovo: Previously blogged about this in the past. Still is the weird yellow/red double standard on Google Earth.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia: Anyone have Russian maps showing these regions as independent yet? I have not seen any. Maybe Nicaragua, the only other country to recognize them, will having something soon.