Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kiribati Wins the Rush to 2010, Mostly

The tit-for-tat rivalry game between Australia and New Zealand continues as Sydney started its New Year's Day celebration a few hours early in order that the party began at the same time it did in Auckland.

The article is also of interest because it notes Christmas (Kiritmati) Island is the first inhabited place to celebrate 2010. This is true because even though the island is east of the 180th meridian. Kiribati moved the dateline unilaterally in 1995 so that it could celebrate 2000 before anyone else could. While not everyone recognizes this move (including National Geographic and Yahoo), the people on the islands affected by the decree live their lives with the date changed so that is that.

However, Kiribati's claim is not totally rock solid. The government likes to claim Caroline Island is the first land mass to see the New Year's first sunrise. That honor goes to Antarctica.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Next Up: Afghanistan

I have discovered where my next major international adventure will be as a geographer. While a few things need to be worked out, I have received an offer to spend December 2010 through May 2011 in the south of Afghanistan around the ancient Greek-founded city of Kandahar. The best news is that unlike Iraq, I should be able to bring my own camera and laptop!

America's Guano Empire

View Guano Islands: An American Empire in a larger map

America's Guano Empire: A Catholicgauze Map. Red marks represent current American control while a blue marker means the United States has withdrew its claim to the island. A black dot means the island has a population while a plain marker means the island in uninhabited.

When one hears the term "American Empire" usually the first impressions in one's mind are so-called neoconservative policies, military adventures, and academic-style bashing of American history and policy. Historians meanwhile may think back to the post-Spanish-American War era and the time of Savage (Small) Wars for Peace. There also was a peaceful effort to expand the United States past its continental restrictions: this effort of the mid to late 1800s was centered on guano.

Guano, excrement primarily from birds, was the early nineteenth century's wonder resource. This oil of its day was great for fertilizer and the manufacturing of gunpowder. Guano was so highly valued that Chile took the "horrible" Atacama Desert from Bolivia in the War of the Pacific because of the rich quantities of guano. The United States also highly valued the guano so much that it passed 1856 Guano Islands Act that allowed private citizens to officially claim territory for America; this was a risky bill because it created international disputes that could have easily led to war with any number of foreign powers.

Most of the claimed islands were in the South Pacific but several were also in the Caribbean Sea. Some islands were inhabited by natives and others were claimed by various states like the United Kingdom and France but most were desolate rocks and reefs that only were valuable because of the large historic bird guano mounds they featured. Today most claims have been formally abandoned by the United States in various treaties. The Republic of Kiribati is a primary beneficiary of American withdrawal. However, some key places like Midway remain in American control and have featured prominently in the country's history.

The dream of an American Guano Empire existed more on map then in reality. However, the United States managed to hold onto the various claims it would have established a sphere of influence in the Pacific and Caribbean that would have dominated both major bodies of water. Japan would be pressed against the Asian Coast, the United Kingdom would only have Greater Australia and New Zealand, and France would be stuck in the southern most rim of the Pacific Ocean.

The late nineteenth century saw the rise of chemical science and the downfall of the value of guano. Claims remained on paper but the United States was unwilling to enforce many of them. The dream of a Guano Empire quickly switched to the American Expansion of the Spanish-American War.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bad Geography in Movies and Television

Very Spatial links to a collection of bad geography by TV and movies from TV Tropes.  Hollywood Atlas, "You Fail Geography Forever" and "The Patchwork Map" can provide chuckles to all who want to see just how bad political, physical, and environmental geography has been screwed up by the media.  The websites remind me when the time when the television show 24 was set in Washington, D.C.  Every week the local news would be filled with stories about how 24 made up suburbs, made commuting seem ridiculously easy, or bended space-time.  In the end though, I remember the saying from Mystery Science 3000 when it comes to bad media geography: If you're wondering how he eats and breathes/ and other science facts (la-la-la),/ Just repeat to yourself, "It's just a show,/ I should really just relax..."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Track Santa Live with NORAD!

As always, NORAD, the United State military command that watches for incoming nuclear missiles from Russia, the People's Republic of China, and other potential hostile regimes has been monitoring Santa's progress as he travels all around the world.  The Official NORAD Santa tracker went live at 6 am Eastern Time (US) in several languages.  Right now the jolly old fat man is in New Zealand but he is making his way west.   In this era of Web 2.0 Santa and NORAD have also set up a Twitter feed.

For brief background and neat tidbits of information like why NORAD has been following the man since 1955, read Wired's article on just how NORAD tracks the red man.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The World's Largest Flag

Now with a working map!

Countries like to have the biggest of something. Whether it be the largest mountain, tallest building, or biggest stadium these little bits of natural and man-made curiosities can make countries and their citizens happy with pride. One of the most nationalistic things a country can lay claim to is a giant flag. Nothing says "I/We Rule!" better than waving a giant flag. All this got me thinking, what is the world's largest flag? After a bit of research I discovered there are two (really three) legitimate claims to the world's largest flag and it all comes down to definition.

The Feel Good Claims

If one defines a flag as a cloth with a symbol representing a political or national entity, then Israel and the Philippines have the world's largest flags. In October 2007 a pro-Israel Filipino group made two giant flags representing the friendship between the two states. The flags were 202,823 square feet (18,843 meters squared). Instead of being nationalistic separators, these flags brought people together and gave hope for international cooperation.

The Angry, We Hate You Claim

There is; however, a larger national flag painted on a hillside. At approximately 805,400 square feet (74,824 meters squared) the flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus overlooks the (southern, Greek) Cypriot capitol of Nicosia. It is viewable for miles around and the air. Also, just to rub in the hate a little bit more, the Turkish Cypriots light it up at night. While most of the world ignores Northern Cyprus, the Northern Cypriots ensure the southerners cannot.

The flag at night from (southern) Cyprus. Photo by _N_ at Panoramio

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Metric Systems' Meter/Metre: Once Based on Geography

The modern form of the Metric System, the International System of Units (SI), is the default measuring system for almost all communication, scientific, and military operations. In the past there were different forms of the Metric System which came and went. Few people know that the original Metric System's measurement of distance, the meter (aka metre) was based on the geographical distance between the equator and North Pole.

During the French Revolution the Enlightenment, with its rational drive and desire for universal standards, was driving science. Members of the French Academy of Sciences decided that a new measurement system was needed and one based on ten would make logical sense. The contemporary French measurement system was based on old, arbitrary customs and varied region by region.

The academy commissioned an effort measure the distance from the pole to the equator to form the new distance measurement unit. Two astronomers measured the distance from Barcelona to Orleans because they calculated this as being a certain fraction of the pole-equator distance. Once the measurements and calculations were done the scientists divided the calculated distance by ten million and created the standard meter bar. However, due to an error in calculating the curvature of the earth (the scientists assumed the planet was a perfect sphere) the meter was off by about twice the thickness of a piece of paper. This led to another two thousand some meters being necessary to travel from the pole to the equator.

Through a series of later reforms the metric system moved away from geography and more to physics. Now a meter is defined as the distance traveled by light in vacuum during 1299,792,458 of a second (yeah).


Part 2: Catholicgauze and the Metric System

Being a proud American I am a combination of weary and unfamiliar with the metric system. However, as a large portion of my readership does use the metric system. Therefore, all measurements given in the blog will be in the American system with metric given in parentheses.


Part 3: Meter or Metre

The official SI guidelines state the distance unit is spelled metre. However, the American National Institute of Standards and Technology states the spelling is meter. Look for me to bounce back and forth on spelling because I have no dog in the fight.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pictures from Mexico: Alexander Von Humboldt Was Here

Celebrating the 200th Annivesary of the visit by the geographer Alexander Von Humboldt

The first city I stayed in during my recent November trip to Mexico was Guanajuato. The city has a distinct New Spain-feel due to its history of being home to major silver mines. The town is home to a rich, wonderful history and has been one of the few major centers of learning outside Mexico City for most of Mexico's history.

A combination of its scientific reputation, wealth, and geography led Alexander Von Humboldt to visit the city in 1803. Von Humboldt explored the mines on the ridge overlooking the city in the bowl valley below. He was surprised to see such wealth in an arid land that only had "miserable" Indian villages scattered throughout the area (This is not to say Von Humboldt was a racist. As he wrote later on that the wealth earned from the mines needed to benefit not only the Whites but also the Indians and Mestizos). A month of exploring the desert and mines around Guanajuato led Von Humboldt to declare his stay there one of the most exhausting of his life. That would be quite a feat for the city especially since one realizes the size of his Latin American trip.

The trip throughout the New World was a success. Von Humboldt wrote works on the interrelationship between geography, the environment, and biology. His works made the modern field biogeography. Besides his biogeography gift to academia, his works were used by Spanish and other New World farmers to greatly improve productivity.

Von Humboldt's time in Guanajuato was short but the city, realizing the greatness of the man, gave the geographer his own street and properly remembered his visit two hundred years later.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Comparing American and Chinese Imports and Exports

Click to Enlarge

Reader Jayson has forwarded me a very interesting map graphic from MintLife's Blog. The graphic compares American and Chinese importing and exporting statistics. It also does a good job demonstrating the interrelationship between the two major trade powers.

When it comes to exports the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United States are relatively equal. The U.S. exports $1.38 trillion (£856.1 billion, €963.5 billion) while PRC exports $1.47 trillion (£912 billion, €1.03 billion). America's top export partners are its neighbors Canada and Mexico along with Japan. PRC breaks the "geographic neighbors equal main trading partner" rule with the top export destination being the United States followed by the European Union and then Hong Kong. That one city eats up almost $200 billion dollars of Chinese goods a year. This is the case mostly because Hong Kong is a trade and banking city with very little to no agriculture or industrial capability.

Imports is where the countries truly differ. The United States imports $2.19 trillion (£1.35 trillion, €1.53 trillion) worth of goods while PRC only imports $1.16 trillion (£719.7 billion, €809.9 billion). America buys primarily Chinese, Canadian, Mexican and then Japanese goods while the Chinese consume Japanese, European Union, Southeast Asian, South Korean, and Republican Chinese (Taiwanese) goods before the American. That is right, the United States is only the sixth main exporter to PRC. That explains why the trade gap between the United States and PRC is $267.4 billion (£165.9 billion, €186.7 billion).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Video of a Deep-Sea Volcano

Right now I am moving apartments and suffering through a blizzard. Sorry for the delays

Above and through the Times Online there are videos which show the eruption of the West Mata volcano. The volcano is 120 miles (200 kilometres) southwest of the Samoas and 4,000 feet (1,200 metres) below water.

The video is historic in the sense it is the first filmed start of a eruption of a submarine volcano and also because it shows a eruption on the seafloor and not on some peak.

Besides its overall "cool" factor the eruption shows how crust is reformed. The very process shown has been repeated for millions/billions of years and been a driving force in the shaping of the earth and the movement of continents.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sudden, Dramatic Climate Changes Over Time

The above video shows temperature changes over time based on Greenlandic ice cores. As one goes back in time further and further towards 40,000 years ago and beyond, it becomes clear that there were sudden, dramatic climate changes in the shape of hockey sticks. While one can argue over the benefits of global and regional climate changes it is clear that we live on a planet full of changes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Statoid: Census Data and More for Administrative Divisions

Periodically my research requires me to look up various demographic and geographic information of various countries. For national level data the CIA World Factbook and the United State Census Bureau's International Data Base answer most questions. However, many times I need data relating to primary or secondary administrative districts. It is especially difficult with third world countries to find province and district level demographic and geographic data.

The website Statoids fortunately fills this gap. Statoids combines various censuses with other geographic data to create webpages filled with information on primary and secondary administrative districts. Check out Yemen's primary administrative divisions or Rwanda's secondary for prime examples. The addition of historical background on the administrative district helps one get a better understanding of the federal (or lack there of) nature of each country. Statoids is a great research tool for those who need subnational demographic and geographic data.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wild World: Atlas of Ecoregions

While researching desert fogs I found an old-but-good National Geographic, World Wildlife Foundation co-production on ecoregions around the world.

The website is from 2001 and looks like yet; however, it still has alot of information that is somewhat easy to access and (more easily to) understand. The main page of Wild World is a zoomable map of the Earth. One can browse the area of interest and find the code of various ecoregions. Then, the next step is to go to the Ecoregion Index and look up the code. Then, when found one can read the National Geographic brief article or scroll down and read click to read the full World Wildlife Foundation report. An example of both reports can be viewed here with NatGeo's and WWF's Central Tall Grasslands articles.

The age does show but if one needs to look up ecoregion information this is a good source to try which most teachers would accept a citation from.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Israel Maps Its Future

Israel's government has approved a new "National Priorities Map" (sadly, I do not believe there is an actual map to this plan) which lists Israel's funding and development priorities.  The map shows what Israel believes is need of critical improvement for the successful continuation of the state.  Two of the three main priorities are uncontroversial while the third one is dominating debate both in Israel and the rest of the world.

First, Israel will expand development efforts in Galilee in the northeast and the Negev Desert in the south.  These areas are furthest away from the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem core and overhead costs are highest.  The government seeks to shift from a core-periphery state of economic affairs to having multiple cores of economic strength.

The second priority effort is development in Israel's Arab community.  Twenty percent of Israel is Arab and 800,000 of these (seventy percent of all Israeli Arabs) are given "preferential treatment" for development aid in the map.  The idea is that by granting Arabs economic development aid their increased condition will allow them to better integrate into Israel.  Observers have been long since been worrying about the increase in the size of Israeli Arabs by natural population growth.  While demographic growth rates prevent Israeli Arabs from matching the size of Israeli Jews, a non-integrated, angry population could prove to be a fifth column against a majority Jewish state.  Therefore, the betterment, appeasement, and friendly relations between the Jewish and Arab communities inside Israel proper are critical for Israel's survival. 
The last major priority is the most controversial one.  The government has including 110,000 settlers and ninety "isolated" settlements in the West Bank on the map.  While the Netanyahu-government angered many on the Israeli-right by halting construction of new settlements, this move is to show that the development and protection of current settlements remains a goal for Israel.  This moves also demonstrates the desire for Israel to hold onto parts of the West Bank in any future settlement establishing a Palestinian state.  The center-Left Israeli Labor Party has condemned the addition of some settlements because it believes the move will damage the peace process and protect some radicals who use settlements as launching pads to terrorize Palestinian neighbors.  The Palestinian National Authority (West Bank government) and the Hamas-occupational government in Gaza have both condemned the map as proof that Israel has greater designs on the West Bank.

The map has proven to be a tightrope for Prime Minister Netanyahu has he tries to show his willing for a peace process while keeping settlers and their supporters happy.  While the third point will be contested for years to come both domestically and on the international stage, the success of the first two priorities could greatly help Israel's development.  A productive, integrated Israeli Arab workforce/population would show demonstrate Israel's ability to achieve peace while multiple economic cores could fund the state's increasing betterment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Portraits of the 56 Ethnic Groups of China

The People's Republic of China officially recognizes fifty-six ethnic groups in it's territory. This number ignores completely overlooked groups and claimed groups counted as something else. Also, the Republic of China claims that there are over a dozen ethnic minorities on Taiwan but the Communist government in Beijing counts them all as Gaosahn.

The website ChinaGate (for an non-Chinese website one can view ChinaHush) has "family portraits" of all the fifty-six recognized ethnic groups. The photos show extended families wearing traditional clothing.

The traditional clothing gives the feel of a propaganda piece. What would be really interesting to see is a picture of a real community of each ethnic group. Until then these family portraits are still neat to look at.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kahlil Gibran's Lebanon: A Love of Place

Periodically geographers will talk about how music, art, literature or something else gives off a sense of place. There is something how words or pictures can make one not only feel the immediate depicted surroundings but also an understanding of the human-environment relationships of that place as well. Very few geographers go deeper into humanist geography and topophilia, the love of place and how people respond to their environments.

Maronite Kahlil Gibran was a nineteenth/twentieth century poet from Lebanon who immigrated to the United States. In his journeys between Arabic and Western cultures he repeatedly demonstrated his love of his homeland and values. He saw people as more of a corporatist part of the greater geography rather than individuals who happen to walk upon and conquer the lands they encounter. No where is his beliefs clearer than in his short poem You Have Your Lebanon and I Have My Lebanon.

The poem can be viewed as an affront to Western views and values but all can draw a simple, yet beautiful lesson from it. Violence may come and ruin our perceptions but eventually it will go away and beauty will return. May this happen to Lebanon soon...

You have your Lebanon and its dilemma. I have my Lebanon and its beauty. Your Lebanon is an arena for men from the West and men from the East.

My Lebanon is a flock of birds fluttering in the early morning as shepherds lead their sheep into the meadow and rising in the evening as farmers return from their fields and vineyards.

You have your Lebanon and its people. I have my Lebanon and its people.

Yours are those whose souls were born in the hospitals of the West; they are as ship without rudder or sail upon a raging sea.... They are strong and eloquent among themselves but weak and dumb among Europeans.

They are brave, the liberators and the reformers, but only in their own area. But they are cowards, always led backwards by the Europeans. They are those who croak like frogs boasting that they have rid themselves of their ancient, tyrannical enemy, but the truth of the matter is that this tyrannical enemy still hides within their own souls. They are the slaves for whom time had exchanged rusty chains for shiny ones so that they thought themselves free. These are the children of your Lebanon. Is there anyone among them who represents the strength of the towering rocks of Lebanon, the purity of its water or the fragrance of its air? Who among them vouchsafes to say, "When I die I leave my country little better than when I was born"?

Who among them dare to say, "My life was a drop of blood in the veins of Lebanon, a tear in her eyes or a smile upon her lips"?

Those are the children of your Lebanon. They are, in your estimation, great; but insignificant in my estimation.

Let me tell you who are the children of my Lebanon.

They are farmers who would turn the fallow field into garden and grove.

They are the shepherds who lead their flocks through the valleys to be fattened for your table meat and your woolens.

They are the vine-pressers who press the grape to wine and boil it to syrup.

They are the parents who tend the nurseries, the mothers who spin the silken yarn.

They are the husbands who harvest the wheat and the wives who gather the sheaves.

They are the builders, the potters, the weavers and the bell-casters.

They are the poets who pour their souls in new cups.

They are those who migrate with nothing but courage in their hearts and strength in their arms but who return with wealth in their hands and a wreath of glory upon their heads.

They are the victorious wherever they go and loved and respected wherever they settle.

They are the ones born in huts but who died in palaces of learning.

These are the children of Lebanon; they are the lamps that cannot be snuffed by the wind and the salt which remains unspoiled through the ages.

They are the ones who are steadily moving toward perfection, beauty, and truth.

What will remain of your Lebanon after a century? Tell me! Except bragging, lying and stupidity? Do you expect the ages to keep in its memory the traces of deceit and cheating and hypocrisy? Do you think the atmosphere will preserve in its pockets the shadows of death and the stench of graves?

Do you believe life will accept a patched garment for a dress? Verily, I say to you that an olive plant in the hills of Lebanon will outlast all of your deeds and your works; that the wooden plow pulled by the oxen in the crannies of Lebanon is nobler than your dreams and aspirations.

I say to you, while the conscience of time listened to me, that the songs of a maiden collecting herbs in the valleys of Lebanon will outlast all the uttering of the most exalted prattler among you. I say to you that you are achieving nothing. If you knew that you are accomplishing nothing, I would feel sorry for you, but you know it not.

You have your Lebanon and I have my Lebanon.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mediterranean Sea Filled Within Two Years

According to a new study in Nature, the Mediterranean Sea was filled by the Zanclean Flood in no more than two years time. This event made the present-world possible.

Not quite six million years ago the Mediterranean sea began drying up. Water exited through present-day Spain or was evaporated and fell elsewhere. While global sea levels rose overall, the Mediterranean Basin became a series of unconnected, probably lifeless salty lakes. Rivers had to become canyons to reach the dying seas and some of these can still be found underground near Cairo. Elsewhere animals managed to enter in the basin and reach previously geographically isolated spots like Malta. Finally, the deepest parts of the dry basin were estimated to reach temperatures around 150F (66C). The rising sea levels and dying Mediterranean Basin gave this time period the name Messinian Salinity Crisis.

However, all this time the Atlantic Ocean was working on the present-day Straights of Gibraltar. After years of flood water erosion the Ocean made a channel that could handle a flow three times that of the Amazon River according to the study. At that rate it would be a matter of months to two years to restore the Mediterranean to what we know now.

This event, the Zanclean Flood, occurred before proto-humans reached the basin and did not effect the path of advancement but it happened just in time to readjust the climate for favorable human settlement later on. The Mediterranean provided a perfect pool for humans to learn sea travel, trade, and exchange ideas. One can only imagine what it would have been like if the basin was a hell hole and not a gentle cradle for civilization.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rocket Causes Atmospheric Event in Norway

Not seen since a really scary part of the Bible.

In the darkened land of Norway at about 8:00 am, a really weird thing happened. In the sky a spiral started to form and move. Soon another spiral emerged from the first and began reaching for the ground. For the next fifteen or so minutes the people of Norway were really, really freaked out.

According to the blog Bad Astronomy, the event was caused by a spinning Russian rocket booster spewing particulars (probably not planned).

At first nobody knew what the event was. It lasted way too long and was too rare to be related to the Northern Lights. The Russian rocket theory was also doubted because international treaties require Russia to notify neighbors about such launches to ensure nobody freaks out like everyone did.

But this was not the first time Russia has been behind strange atmospheric events in Norway and the rest of Scandinavia. In the late 1940s Ghost Rockets were seen throughout the skies. These bright-lights were tracked on radar and seemed to fly in circular paths coming from and going to Soviet airspace.

So for now it seems this strange event has human origins. Its nice to now be able to sit back and enjoy the show.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Book Review: Strange Maps

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities by Frank Jacobs is based on Frank's phenomenal blog dedicated to the discussion of... well.. strange maps. I remember when his blog, Strange Maps, started and thinking it was cute. Now Frank has massed a gathering larger than most American third parties and ready to rival the other two for dominance. While the last bit was a joke he definitely has found a niche for a very large, active internet community.

The book primary is based off maps featured on his blog. The easy to read page discussions of each map make it this book a perfect coffee table book able to entertain guests and create discussion. This is a good gift for any map lovers this Christmas season.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Did the Protestant Work Ethic Really Help in the Holy Roman Empire?

Economist Max Weber is perhaps most famous for his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which proposed the theory that the Protestant work ethic, based on the individuals need to be a good productive person to obtain salvation, was the basis for the success of England, Germany, and the Netherlands compared to the failures of Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and their related colonies.

It is pretty much undeniable that the hard working, self-driven culture of Protestantism helped in the settlement and further colonization in North America and South Africa. Meanwhile, Catholic colonization was dominated by the top-down order of the Church and various Kingdoms. Individuality was rarely valued.

However, it seems that colonization and Protestantism may have needed to go together in order to succeed. Germany, then the Holy Roman Empire, which was stuck in Europe as the rest of the Western European powers expanded elsewhere, did not receive economic benefits from the Protestant Reformation according to a study by Harvard's Davide Cantoni (PDF).

The paper claims there were no significant difference in economic development between Catholic and Protestant areas. The paper is geared for an economist audience so it may be somewhat challenging to read but it does state its case fairly well. Iit seems the Protestant Reformation unlocked the door for individual drive which could help society's economical development but success needed expansion as well.

Finally, the Protestant ideal of individual liberty was needed as well to guarantee a healthy society and not just economic success. The English and their descendants were eventually able to guarantee universal rights including freedom of religion while many Catholic states dragged their feet on these. Catholic people, use to top-down control, also more open to pro-Church and even anti-Church fascist governments because the ideals of corporatism were not foreign to them. (A rare mixed case is how Protestant-rule Netherlands fell in upon itself because of the police-state controls the government needed to keep the Catholic majority/plurality down).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Worldwide Catholic Mass Map

In the past Catholics only had the text-based MassTimes website to locate churches "worldwide." Now there is Find a Catholic Mass, a Google Maps based mashup which is currently in the Alpha-stage of testing. The United States seems pretty well populated but a quick test of Mexico shows it is style wanting in most cases. The website promises "Wikipedia-like update[s]" is coming soon but until then I will wait and see.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Political Geographic Borders Affect Animal Life in the Middle East

It has long been claimed borders are merely lines on a map. The argument is based on the assumption humans can only do so much because the Earth and its life system is so vast. However, unlike the humorous spoof Middle East border article where borders are portrayed as mere illusions, Middle East borders have an affect on how the same animal species evolve and act.

According to a report by the University of Haifa-Oranim (Hat tip: Geo Lounge) different agricultural practices by Jordan and Israel have affected ants, gerbils, and lizards. For instance, Israeli wild gerbils tend to be more cautious than Jordanian ones. This is probably due to the fact Israeli agriculture has better rodent controls.

While the report does not say, I am pretty sure that Syrian gerbils tend to be paranoid while Lebanese gerbils quickly fall into small cliques that attack each other.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Lienzo de Quauhquechollan: Indian Map of the Conquest of Guatemala

Lienzos are Central American Indian-made cloths that double as maps and story telling devices. Lienzos reached either zenith during the age of Spanish arrival.

The Guatemalan Universidad Francisco Marroquin has an online interactive version of the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan. This lienzo was made by the Quauhquecholtecan Indians of Central America and depicts them allying with the Spanish for the Conquest of Guatemala. The web feature includes the Lienzo, annotated notes describing what is on the Lienzo, and a map showing where the locations depicted are. This is a very neat way to see Age of Discovery history from another perspective (Hat Tip: Map of the Week)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Really Old Europe: Eastern Europe Home to One of the First Civilizations

Map of the Ancient Eastern European Cultures: Click to Enlarge

Almost 2,000 years before the start of Ancient Egypt and around the time ancient Mesopotamia was becoming the cradle of civilization, present-day Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova were hosting the first European civilizations.

The New York Times has an interesting article about the subject of the new New York University exhibit on the Danube Valley civilizations of 5000 to 3500 BC. The Hamangia, Varna, and Cucuteni peoples created civilization complexes that included art and trade throughout much of the rest of Europe. The various cultures were based on settlers from present-day Greece who brought farming with them.

Like all ancient civilizations these ones either faded out or fell violently. Unfortunately, the prime suspect seems to be the proto-Catholicgauzes of the Steeps who brought with them mobile horses and fast attacks.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The hard lesson of Climategate

While I was in Mexico a huge and sad scientific scandal broke out.  "Climategate" revealed that East Anglia University's famous Climatic Research Unit was involved in an active conspiracy to suppress data and persecute those who held believes other than CRU's orthodoxy.  Further, other scientists like Michael Mann, famous for the hockey stick graph and his writings on RealClimate, have been shown to be either selecting evidence or outright lying. 

This is a huge blow to science.  Regardless of what one thinks about the whole global warming debate making stuff up, like these scientists did, is wrong.  Now, people have every right to question any data climate scientists put forward.  Instead of reasonable, rational scientists the environmental field is overrun with people like Robert Christopherson.

I take this opportunity to once again call for rational discussions on the environment without the crazies on either side.  Those who deny carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and the Al Gores must go.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Mexico versus Mexico versus Mexico

A Venn Diagram
How it looks geographically

Mexico the country, Mexico the state, and Mexico City. When you hear "Mexico" elsewhere in the world most of the time people mean the country. When you hear "Mexico" within the country of Mexico then people probably are referring to the city.
The city is surronded by the state but is in its own federal district

When I checked into the hotel in Mexico City I was asked, "Is this your first time in Mexico?" I responded with a "yes" because of my time spent in the Yucatan Peninsula exploring the abandoned Mayan city of Tulum. But this was my first time in Mexico City. However, the hotel desk clerk did not mean Mexico the country but rather Mexico City, also referred to as DF (pronounced 'day f-A') meaning federal district. Her response of "Oh, then you really don't need a map of downtown" confirmed what she meant.

One must know that there are really three things that can be called México. There is the country which official name is the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos), there is the state of Mexico (Estado de México, often refered to as Endomex), and then there is Mexico City (Ciudad de México) which is the land mass of the Federal District (Districto Federal).

Within the United Mexican States, if a person is not talking about international events such as soccer, then they are probably referring to the city. Historically this is because the country obtained the name from the city because before independence the region was called New Spain. Now the the city is without a doubt Mexico's primate city which dominates the commanding heights of the country (there can be an agreement that the north with its economic ties to the United States and the south being undeveloped are culturally free of Mexico City but there can be no doubt Mexico cannot function without Mexico City). Having officially about 18% of Mexico's population (but more likely over 20% because of the amount of Mexicans living legally and illegally in the United States) makes the city the demographic mammoth of the country.

When people inside Mexico want to refer to the country they use the terms La República (the republic) or La Patria (the fatherland).

It can be said that having Mexico City be such a primate city is unhealthy for the country. Mexico City eats up many of the resources that leaves much of the rest of the country impoverished. A friend stated that the relationship between the city and the country is New York City's to New York state only to a much greater and obscene extreme. This trend was heightened by Presidents Benito Juarez and Porfirio Díaz and the Institutional Revolutionary Party by their centralizing the politics and culture of the country on and in Mexico City.

For previous versus posts read England versus Great Britain versus the United Kingdom, Netherlands versus the Netherlands, nation versus state versus nation-state, and Hawaii versus Hawai'i

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Catholicgauze Going to Mexico

By the time you read this I will be in the United Mexican States. In the next ten days I plan to visit the central part of Mexico. Blogging will be sporadic but except posts afterwords documenting my times in the mountains, at the Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Halls of Montezuma, and Teotihuacan.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Geography Awareness Week 2009: Maps are Worth a Million Words

Originally published as part of National Geographic's My Wonderful World's Geography Awareness Week Blogathon

As the classic Chinese proverb goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Some people can sit for hours just looking at photo collections, piecing together the stories that brought every element of the picture into being. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a map must be worth a million. A good map combines artistic cartographic beauty with plentiful spatial data to form an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge on just a sheet of paper. However, just as some people are illiterate with words; many people are unable to read the million words on a map because they do not know what they should look for. This is because most people use a map to get from point A to point B. The fastest growing map market, car GPS, is made for just that purpose. Map users tend to ignore any other feature on the GPS. Likewise, those who use road maps or any other map ignore other markings.

Looking at a map and actually reading it can open up the wide world of geography to anyone. One must look at all the features on the map and wonder why the things are the way they are. Geography is “What is where?”, “why there?”, and “why care?” Remembering these definitions opens up one's mind to the story the map is telling. Examining and thinking about why roads take odd turns to reach certain towns and ignore older roads can reveal a history of towns and their champions’ struggling to ensure easy access and growth. Seeing a winding river with oxbow lakes along the sides tells of thousands of rivers, river valleys, and mineral rich soils. Towns with different sounding names tie the place with immigrant communities, Indian nations, or founders who left their mark on the place long after they died. Finally, what a map makers labels and what they leave out offers insight into the cartographer’s values and biases in what they think is important.

A good map is like a good book with illustrations: pretty to look at and full of knowledge, adventure, and history. This Geography Awareness Week, take some time to grab a map, atlas, or globe, and read the story that it tells you. The new world it contains awaits you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Geography Awareness Week: Quick Notes

This Friday Catholicgauze will post on My Wonderful World's blog campaign for Geography Awareness Week. The post will be cross-posted here after it is at My Wonderful World. Be sure to also check out the Top 10 Ways to Celebrate Geography Awareness Week!

We here also encourage our readers to engage in some form of charity. We all share the Earth and GTWC! recognizes the importance, need, and call to help whether it involves volunteering, giving to a charity, or merely helping someone in anysort of way.

A woman who benefited and is now self-employed because of a supported charity

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Your Young Geographer Could be a Reality Show Star

Geography@About features this blurb in which your child could be geography reality television show.  Mark Burnett Productions, the creative force behind Survivor, The Apprentice and Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? is searching for young people (ages 6-12) who are geography experts for a new television network series set to air in early 2010. If you think your child fits that description, contact Joshua Robinson at or (310) 903-5438. The casting deadline is Friday, November 20.

I suspect that this will be very much like my experiences as a young contestant in the National Geographic GeoBee:  hours of feeling incredibly smart and popular until the moment someone asks a question about mountains in Antarctica that I had no clue what the answer was.  It can be a fun experience as long as one remembers to enjoy oneself and keep fun instead of winning at all costs in mind. 

Geography Awareness Week: GIS Day

Today is GIS Day. GIS Day celebrates the achievements that have been possible for geographers to do with the computer programs that allow for the creation of overlayable spatial databases. ESRI, the company with a practical monopoly on GIS, has made available thirty Best Practices books free online that document a wide variety of ways GIS has aided research, education, business, wildlife management and more.

For all those people who do not have access to either ArcGIS or another GIS platform, fear not. One can enjoy the first few levels of GIS via Google Earth. Use the program as more than something to see one's house with. Explore the world, turn various layers on and off and see what spatial patterns form, then go explore the Google Earth Community board and search for downloadable layers to add to one's exploration of the world.

GIS is a great tool for geography and geographers. Those in the geographic field should have at least working knowledge of it. They must also stress in importance of knowing spatial science (a branch of geography) to those non-geographers who utilize GIS. Without geography GIS is just another computer software program but with geography it becomes a powerful aide in research. Happy GIS Day!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fake Stimulus Jobs Map

Earlier we linked to the official government map displaying jobs created or saved by the various American economic stimulus bills. Since then there have been a series of news stories alleging the official numbers include bogus jobs that were neither created nor saved. The White House has even retracted about 60,000 claims from their statistics. Now the Examiner newspaper has made their own map claiming to mark and describe some of the "75,343 bogus jobs." There is even a way one can report fake stimulus job claims.

Meanwhile the official map has not been updated to remove the fake created or saved job claims.

Geography Awareness Week: Celebrating Geography - Geography in Everyday Life

Catholicgauzette has recommended that we feature the classic Celebrating Geography: Geography in Everyday Life by William Fitzhugh. Fitzhugh stresses that geography is such an everyday part of life that people take it for granted but teachers cannot connect the subject to student's lives. Fitzhugh stresses that the five themes of geography, location, place, human-enviornment interaction, movement, and region, because these are the perfect launching pad for starting any geographical lesson. He then gives examples of learning lessons like "geography of me and my family," "geography of song," and "edible geography" which are sure to strike a chord with younger students.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Geography Awareness Week 2009: Catholicgauzette's Call for Something Different

Last year as I was spending my first few hours in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, Catholicgauzette managed to write an excellent post which caused a bit of a firestorm. I endorse Catholicgauzette's point, that more is needed. We geographers have done much to complain about geographic illiteracy but have done little to solve it. This is more than an American problem as Spanish kids and other European children (I have seen surveys before) lack geographic and historic knowledge as well. While my op-ed yesterday says teachers must teach geography better, all geographers must make geography interesting and relevant enough to students and the public. When they care and see its importance they will learn it.

Now, for a repost of Catholicgauzette's article

Geography Awareness Week was designated by Congress in 1988 to combat ignorance.

I stumbled on a 1992 New York Times article in honor of Geography Awareness Week titled “Redoubling the Efforts at Teaching Geography.” It cited a 1988 Survey of Geographic Literacy stating that 25% of young Americans, 18 to 24 years old, could not find the Pacific Ocean on a map. This got me thinking: what has happened since? Thankfully, NG has continued the study in both 2002 and 2006. Catholicgauze happened to comment on the 2006 survey results, too.

It's interesting to see the trends and compare results over time of young Americans. I'm trying not to bombard you with statistics, so I picked out what I believe are interesting and balanced indicators.

Overall there has been little to no change since the 1988 study. Moreover, young Americans lag behind their counterparts in Europe. Simply stated, Americans need more geographical knowledge. How can this be accomplished? Well, I'm sure that could be up for debate. National Geographic has wonderful online tools and resources; however, if they have been implementing programs to combat geographic ignorance since 1988, perhaps the programs they have need to be revisited (or I suggest doing a case study on effectiveness at those schools/classrooms that use the NG material vs. the classrooms that do not).

Geography is not all about locations – only 29% in 2006 stated correctly that the U.S. is the largest export of goods and services measured by dollar value (48% incorrectly stated China) – and – only 18% knew that Mandarin was the most widely spoken language in the world (74% said English).

So, who did well on the 2002 and 2006 surveys?

  • Those who had taken a geography course or completed more education.

  • Those who travel internationally, speak more than one language and/or have contact with cultures outside of the U.S.

  • Those that keep up with world events through the Internet and other media sources.

  • Those whose families (as well as themselves) were not recent immigrants.

And finally, if you can't get enough: Test your knowledge with National Geographic's quiz!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Geography Awareness Week 2009: Welcome and Geography is More than Places

Happy Geography Awareness Week 2009! This week will feature some posts on what can be done to help geographic awareness and literacy plus a very special Catholicgauze post over at My Wonderful World.

First, I need to preach the choir and hopefully reach someone out there who can learn that geography needs to be taught as more than just place knowledge.

Geography More than Places

Year after year surveys reveal facts like only 37% of young Americans do not know where Iraq is or that a large minority cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map. Like clock work commentators then write things like how horrible it is that the future of America is so geographic illiterate. This year's Geography Awareness Week, November 15 through 21, promises similar news stories. While it is true that geographic ignorance is horrible for a person, society, and the country; these commentators do no geography no favors.

Geography has long been thought of as merely the memorization of places. This is how it is taught by many schools. This message is reinforced even by various "geography" games that are based mostly on place memorization questions. The thinking that geography is just a memory game and not a science led to some of the nation’s finest educational institutions like Harvard to stop teaching geography in the 1940s and 1950s. Geography has been in an exile ever since and has yet to recover from it.

In order to increase geographic literacy we must recognize geography is more than place memorization. Geography is a spatial science that can be defined as studying what is where, why there, and why care. This expands geography to include places, cultures, environmental patterns, and behavior by persons and cultures to name a few of geography’s study fields.

A geographic background helps understand economic patterns such as why the Rust Belt is where it is and how the Asian Economic Tigers managed to feed each others growth by capitalizing on their shared access to the Pacific Ocean. Knowledge of the geography of sunlight and wind can help one find out where the best spots for renewable energy production are. Having information on the layout of various Afghan ethnic groups and how they relate with one another would greatly help Coalition Forces in predicting how the Taliban will try to spread its insurgency even further. Private companies can refine marketing strategies by having knowledge of where their customers come from and how they get from place to place. Finally, home buyers could save themselves misfortune in the future if they learn how to read Geological Survey maps which would tell them if their home is in a flood plan or in an area full of sinkholes.

While place knowledge is a great starting point for the study of world regions, geography teachers need to expand educational plans to include the spatialness of geography. When people see how geography can actually be useful in everything from global planning to money making to predicting future weather then greater interest and geographic literacy will develop. Excellent free tools such as Google Earth allow one to import and create data that can be overlaid maps to study spatial. GPS and sports like orienteering can further be added to make geography fun for youths and adults. But most of all teachers must convey geography properly. Bring all these elements together will make geographic literacy better.

The best thing about emphasizing geography is that it does not have to take away from other subjects. Unlike engineering or medicine where most of the knowledge requires extensive full time study to learn, geographic literacy can be learned from and applied to other sciences like environmental science, anthropology, economics, meteorology, archaeology, history, statistics, and many more. Even those who are not students can learn geography by traveling, reading newspapers, or looking at a map. Geography is a science everyone can learn from and enjoy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Canadian and Worldwide H1N1 Flu Maps

I have written before about H1N1 Flu but loyal reader Laura has made me aware of a Canadian Swine Flu map. The map displays hospitalizations, admittance to intensive care units, and deaths but country and by province or territory. While the data may seem dire, clicking the per capita button actually helps see how well Canadians are doing with not getting sick to the point where medical care is needed.

Meanwhile, the New England Journal of Medicine has a worldwide map of H1N1 Flu cases.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Libertarians Win in Battle for Geographic Data

The libertarian California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) has finally defeated Santa Clara County in a long running battle over access to geospatial/geographic data!

In the United States, traditional and laws generally make government-created information free or available at a nominal cost. The vast majority of GIS data made by federal, state, and local governments can usually be downloaded off central database or ordered on a CD/DVD. Santa Clara County instead optioned for claiming their GIS data was copyrighted and under various Homeland Security laws. These excuses were the basis of the county changing up to $250,000 (about £150,900, €168,200). Fortunately, CFAC sued and won in the court case and several appeals. Santa Clara County has settled by paying a punitive fee and ensuring all data will now will only cost a nominal fee. According to the AAG (PDF) the county now only charges $3.10 per disk plus shipping).

This is a great victory for geographers and the public. Free spatial data allows for better economic planning, marketing, activism, and research: all requirements for a healthy open society. Sadly, most countries do not offer easy access to geographic data. Even countries like the United Kingdom, with the government-monopoly Ordnance Survey, create huge obstacles to access data. Groups like Free Our Data fight the good fight their to help ensure easy and free access to geospatial information.

Geographers, especially those doing research, need to rally around these movements to not only help themselves but also the citizens and businesses who are handicapped by artificial barriers to knowledge.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jefferson, the French, and a Moose: America’s First Battle for Geographic Respect

There is a unique story in United States’ past that deals directly with geography on several levels. Thoughts about European supremacy, environmental determinism, and real thoughts about evolution combined to create a geography-battle who’s importance has not been reviled by today’s academic geography fights. The cast of characters in this true story were none other than future American president Thomas Jefferson and famed French geographer Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon.

Buffon was already a famous scientist by the end of the eighteenth century for his many works on natural history and studies of various environments. His works into why similar environments sustain different flora and fauna helped found the modern field of biogeography. His studies led him so far as to endorse micro, but not macro, evolution.

The first geography battle of the United States of America was started when Buffon wrote in his Histoire Naturelle that the physical geography of the Western Hemisphere in general and America in particular creates degeneracy. The cold, wet climate with swamps and poor forest soils has made both humans and animals weaker and smaller than they would be in the Eurasia. He went so far as to say that certain important male organs were “small and feeble” because of long-term inhabitation in the Americas. Buffon’s ideas quickly caught on and became part of the first-wave of anti-Americanism in Europe.

Thomas Jefferson, serving as ambassador as France, knew this was more than a simple “Where is the Midwest”-style academic geography debate that had no real importance. Jefferson believed that if the environmental determinist theory of degeneracy in America caught on then no one would want to trade with inferior people with inferior goods and that immigration would collapse (who wants their great-great grandson to have a small and feeble organ).

Jefferson first responded with his famous geography text Notes on the State of Virginia. He then quickly followed up by having bones of ancient Ice Age mammals shipped to France. Buffon and others scuffed at these stating that these merely proved North America is where large animals went to go extinct.

A man of lesser will may have given up at this point but not revolutionary Jefferson. Jefferson commissioned General John Sullivan to go into the wilds of New Hampshire on an American safari. Sullivan spent two weeks hunting a giant moose in the deep of winter. After a period of time involving enlarging the animals by putting on bigger antlers and an international shipping disaster the moose was presented to Buffon and other French naturalist/geographers. It had the desired effect. Buffon apologized for his claim of degeneracy in the Americas and the United States won some geographical respect.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day 2009: Poppies as the Symbol of Remembrance Day

This and every Veterans Day I wish to thank all those who have served in pro-liberty armed forces around the world. Thank you and God bless.

Today those in Commonwealth of Nations countries will display red poppies as a symbolic tribute for those who fought and died in World War I and other wars. A lack of historical knowledge combined with being outside the Commonwealth has made the symbolism of the poppies a mystery for some.

The use of the poppy comes from the 1915 poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. The poem mentions the poppies which were the only plant able to grow in the hellish landscape formed by trench warfare. A movement was started in part by an American, Moina Michael, with her reply poem We Shall Keep the Faith to wear red poppies in remembrance of the dead. This quickly caught on in Canada, France, and then the United Kingdom.

Today the red poppy is worn by all those who remember those brave soldiers who fought on Flanders and elsewhere, some never to return.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

We Shall Keep the Faith

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Today is also St. Martin of Tours Day. He left the way of war for the way of God. May we all follow him one day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Geography of the East and West Berlin and Remember the Berlin Wall's Fall

Map from Wikipedia

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wall's destruction did not unite East and West Germany it spelled the start of the end of the division and the Cold War.

Berlin was a divided city between the end of World War II in 1945 and reunion in 1990. At first the city was divided between all four Allies: the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. The same Allies also divided the rest of Germany. In May 1949, the Western Allies allowed their sections of Germany, but not western Berlin, to unite and form the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The Soviets replied by making their zone the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in October 1949.

East Berlin became the capital of East Germany though the Western Allies (now including West Germany) claimed this violated agreements and refused to formally recognize the new capital. Meanwhile, West Berlin remained under French, British, and American zones though residents were granted most (West) German rights.

The Soviets and (East) Germans long wanted Berlin all to themselves. Even before the German independence the Soviets tried to blockade all aid to western Berlin. Only an airlift saved the city. In June 1961 the leader of the communist Socialist Unity Party stated "Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!" (No one has the intention of erecting a wall!). It took the Communists two months to brake their promise. A wall was created not to keep the Allies and West Berliners out but the East Germans in. A significant brain drain was crushing East Germany. Soviet and East German guards controlled the wall until November 9, 1989.

The wall was a symbolism of the evil of the Communist regimes that sought to restrict human freedom. Let us always remember those who fought, those who died, and those who beat Communism along the wall.

Below are several videos about the wall

Monday, November 09, 2009

Babies Cry in Accents?

According to scientists, babies cry with accents. The claim is that French babies cries end higher while German babies cries end at a lower tone. If factual, a global study is needed, then it proves that learning language is a process that begins before birth.

Catholicgauze would like to know if other cultural traits develop sooner than thought. For example, do French babies cry more and do German babies bide their time while thinking about more lebensraum?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Iranian Capital to Move?

For a while there has been an on-going discussion on whether or not the Iranian capital out of Tehran for safety. The city lies on over one hundred fault lines according to the BBC article. There is also politics behind this possible move. Tehran is a liberal city, by Iranian standards, and the plan is to move the capital near Qom, the conservative religious capital. It is understandable that the religious-military complex which runs Iran would want to move the capital with all the anti-government protests by the younger demographic in Tehran. However, wherever the government goes so will jobs and eventually liberal-minded students seeking work as well.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

H1N1 Flu Vaccine Map and Flu Map

Fox News has an interactive Google Maps mash-up showing how many H1N1 flu vaccines have been shipped to each state and the percentage of each state's population below the age of fourteen. Meanwhile FluTracker has up-to-date coverage on confirmed H1N1 flu cases worldwide on their detailed map.

For previous medical geography of H1N1 check-out the April Geographic Travels post on the topic.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Largest Debtor Countries in the World

CNBC has a good slideshow that has the top twenty biggest debtor countries based percent of GDP. I thought the United States was bad with the debt being 94.1% of the GDP (that is $13.454 trillion or $43,793 per capita!) but it gets much worse. The list goes

  1. Ireland
  2. Switzerland
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Netherlands
  5. Belgium
  6. Denmark
  7. Austria
  8. France
  9. Portugal
  10. Hong Kong
  11. Norway
  12. Sweden
  13. Finland
  14. Germany
  15. Spain
  16. Greece
  17. Italy
  18. Australia
  19. Hungary
  20. United States

Ireland's debt is over 1,000% of its GDP and is $567,805 per capita. These debts kill economies slowly (look at the once great Celtic Tiger). Countries need to learn thrift even in times of plenty or risk a real collapse.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Map of Ethnic Groups in Southern Russia and Ethnic Rumblings There

Click to enlarge. Ethnic Russian in red, ethnic Muslim in green, ethnic Christian in blue, ethnic Buddhist in yellow

While most people are focusing on the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, things are picking up again on the Southern Russia front. Russia is quadrupling its forces there after a failed experiment of relying on local, pro-Russian militias (thugs) against local, anti-Russian militias (thugs) who fight along side foreign Islamic radicals.

Few people fail to realize just how ethnically fractured Southern Russia is and how this has overflowed into international violence. Not all areas have been trouble spots. For instance Buddhist Kalmyks have gotten along fine with their Russian neighbors and the same goes Adygeya and Russians. However, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union this has been a trouble spot.

  • Armenians-Azeris: Technically outside the focused area but started off modern ethnic conflict in February 1988.
  • Ossetians-Ingush: Started in 1992, this was probably the most personal of wars due to the low level technology and close fighting. Ingush returning from Stalinist exile wanted their homes back taken by Russian-backed Ossetians. Today there are still Ingush refugee camps in Ingushtia filled with Ingush with no place to call home.
  • Georgians-Abkhaz-Ossetians: Not one, not two, not three, but four wars.
  • Chechens-Russians: The most famous of the conflicts featuring two wars. First one was a tie tht went to the Chechens while Putin helped Russia win the second.
  • Dagestan 1999: Islamists based in Chechnya invaded Dagestan to expand their Islamic influence. The war helped start the Second Chechen War.
  • Ingush v. Ingush: Ingush angry at Russia and the world aligned themselves with outside Islamists. A civil war which is part of the greater Chechen-Ingush-Dagestan Islamist War is currently on-going.
  • Currently Ethno-Islamic War: Ethnic Muslim groups are currently backed by international Islamists who seek the defeat of Russia and also the local pro-Russian Muslim governments.

Trouble Spots to Watch:
  • Eastern Ukraine and especially the Crimea: Much of eastern Ukraine is either majority ethnic Russian or cultural Russian (ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian as their first language). While violence will probably not break-out, Moscow could insight problems if it wanted to. A trouble spot within a trouble spot would be with the Crimean Tatars- ethnic Muslims who generally hate Russians. They make up 12% of Crimea and provide a possible in for Islamic radicals.
  • Mingrelians in Gali, Abkhazia: In the southeast of the breakaway region of Abkhazia is GaliMingrelian, an ethnic subset of Georgian. The Mingrelians have strong ties to Georgia but supported Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh when he ran for president without the endorsement of Moscow. Now Mingrelians have been pushed further in the pro-Georgia camp but Russia may try to create Mingrelian nationalism to cause probelms for Georgia.