Friday, January 30, 2009

Seven things about Catholicgauze and Upcoming Q&A Session

Catholicgauze has been tagged by several readers to reveal seven things about himself.

1. My first geographical memory is of my mother putting my fingers over our three-dimensional globe. As I felt Colombia I was told, "this is where mommy's coffee grows" and for Australia she said, "this is where the kangaroos hop." The second memory was of our National Geographic picture atlas of the world. The globe and atlas showed me the world was a vast and wonderful place. The geographer in me was born.

2. I have been an academic geographer, geographical educator, intern involved with geographical publications (National Geographic), and a professional geographer. Each have had their ups and downs. I have mostly positive impressions of each, though. The ability to use my geographical knowledge to create real world outcomes, from educating one freshman student to rebuilding Iraq, has been a huge honor.

3. I love geography because it allows me to do so many things. What other field of study can draw on economics, genealogy, geology, environmental science, history, and so many other topics in concert?

4. My favorite places are in the country side that have a view of a river. The most recent peaceful place I discovered is a bluff overlook near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

5. The last four countries I have been to are Iraq (presently), Germany, Canada and Aruba (Kingdom of the Netherlands). The next four I want to travel to are Ukraine, Kosovo, Israel, and Vatican City.

6. Geographical education in America is horrible but I think I found a way to teach it, at least with environmental geography. I threw out all the old tests which were just multiple choice questions such as, "What sort of sand dune is this?" or "What temperature is required to form this rock?" Instead I made free answer tests that required students to fully comprehend the subject. For instance, I gave my students a map of the local area and required students two list and explain two reasons why they would not build a house at grid location X. The answer usually was something along the lines of "Grid location X is in a flood plain and according to the map there are sinkholes in the area which could later form on poor soil and collapse the home." This required among many things, including: map reading, knowledge of the grid location and comprehension of hazards.

7. I greatly enjoy comments and e-mails from readers. It doesn't matter if you are sharing positive or critical thoughts or asking for help to understand something, I'm glad that I have the opportunity to share, and promote (and provoke) a response on a topic that I am so passionate about - geography.

As long as we are on the point of comments and e-mails, I am announcing an upcoming question and answer session with Catholicgauze! If you have questions about my doings in Iraq, the world, geographical education, or anything geographical just e-mail me at catholicgauze[at]gmail[dot]com and it will be featured in upcoming posts. Questions can be anonymous.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Classic Gauze: Traveling the United Kingdom on the Computer

Traveling the world virtually is fun. For those of us who cannot travel around the world due to funding or other duties, the internet and neogeography have opened up areas where we otherwise could not see. The Geograph post allows for a walking tour of England without the sweat or funds that could break many of us. Come travel the British Isles with geolocated, connected photographs!
Originally published April 22, 2006

TDAXP has sent me a link to Geograph. Geograph is an open group effort to have every, and I mean, every piece of Great Britain and Ireland photographed. One can start from the map view and work their way down to ground level to obtain a picture of the area they want. To any British readers out there or tourists: be sure to help out!

My favorites so far are here, here, and here. Be sure to comment about your own favorites or what you contribute!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Catholicgauze writes in from Iraq to note that Pope Benedict has lifted the excommunication of the SSPX Bishops. Background from wikipedia and tdaxp.

Damian Thompsons's Holy Smoke blog has been unbelievably informative on this breaking news. His post on the backlash is illustrative of those eager to tear the Catholic communion apart.

One communion that is falling apart is the Anglican one, which itself was torn from the Catholic communion under King Henvry VIII and his successors. Searching on Google News for "Robert Duncan" provides a host of links about the Anglican Church in North America, a new Anglican province in Canada and the United States, with close ties to provinces in Africa, designed to cicumvent the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Classic Gauze: East to West Winds

My mother loves this post so I republish it for her. The ancient climate for America was much different than it is today.
Originally published February 1, 2007

Today the prevailing winds blow west to east in the continental United States. This has not always been the case however. During the last ice age (36,000 to 14,000 years ago) winds blew from east to west.

Today's Pacific Northwest known for raining every three days was once much drier due to the previous wind direction for example. The glaciers would have created a wind and moisture barrier which would cause the boundary of the glaciers to have weather like Mount Washington.

Scientists speculate that the winds change course with significant climate change. Just goes to show how the idea of a "natural equilibrium" is flawed and how volatile our world is. (Hat tip: Very Spatial)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Arab Democracy

Catholicgauze emails in these thoughts on the upcoming January 2009 elections in Iraq:

I was unfortunate enough to be in the United States during all of the presidential election-cycle. All the partisanship, jerk attitudes, yelling back and forth, and radio ads wore me down. When I arrived in Iraq I thought that was all behind me. I was wrong.

The Iraqi parliamentary and local elections are on January 31st and Iraqis are becoming the political animals Saddam's Baath Party always feared. This is mostly a good thing but old, bad habits are coming into play a little bit.

The Sunni Arabs are divided between the urban, party-in-power Iraqi Islamic Party, the rural tribal-based MSI, and a whole lot of little parties that revolve around small but powerful cliques. There are rumors and allegations going back and forth of corruption, lies, and ties to the old regime. Rightly or wrongly everyone is accused of being too friendly too the Coalition, too friendly government in Baghdad, a former member of Al Qaeda or another insurgency group, or having the backing of Baath Party members in exile in Syria. Some probably are.

The Shia Arabs meanwhile are experiencing healthy fracturing. After being elected in a bloc, alliances have fallen and new ones have been made. The Shia Arabs are being given a wide range of choices.

Elections in the Kurdish zone have been delayed to figure out where exactly the Kurds' power ends and Sunni Arabs begin. The Kurdish elections will be dominated by the alliance of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. These parties will crush the Kurdish Islamic Party and any other small groups. Nationally, the Kurds will work with some of the Sunni parties to seek the most advantageous outcome for the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government.

Iraq is becoming a democracy. If we can get them to the United States (with a Florida or Minnesota thrown in here and there) then the insurrgency will receive another blow. Not only is America leaving on its own terms but the people choose freedom.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Classic Gauze: The Call for Geography

Catholicgauze has long supported the return to geography and Bringing Back Geography is no different. Fighting for academic recognition, putting tools in their proper place, and defeating political radicalism are all steps we need to take.
Originally published June 24, 2007

Without geography you become the next Cameron Diaz or CNN links to the must read essay of the year entitled Bring Back Geography! The essay is long but well worth one's time. I will not summarize the essay but touch on key points and offer thoughts.

Three Main Points Catholicgauze and the Essay Agree

Geography Gets No Respect
When I was earning my degrees I was constantly asked what I was studying in school. I replied, of course, "geography." Almost every time the reply back was "What are you going to do? Teach?" Too many people think geography is just remembering countries and the three main exports. It is because of this that university close down geography departments. With little upper level education, teachers and other college students get no proper geographical education. No good teachers means geographical illiteracy becomes common in a society.

Geographers Are Partly to Blame for the No Respect
I told a friend something important when we were helping out the state Geography Bee. I said something along the lines of "You know how we always claim geography is more than place trivia? What are we doing here?" When studies by National Geographic and others exemplify how kids do not know geography, we make it appear geography is place trivia and for kids. I hate to brag about we need more Catholicgauzes in the world (a horrible thought!). There are dozens of excellent blogs out about geotechnology but how many geography blogs are there? Geographers need to be interacting with people showing what geography is.

Geographic Illiteracy Ranges from Embarrassing to Insulting to Dangerous
The risks involved with being geographic illiteracy are numerous. You can embarrass yourself like CNN did by labeling Syria as Afghanistan, you can insult the inhabitants of the country you are visiting by making the symbol of group that murdered 70,000 of your country men chic like Cameron Diaz did, or you can greatly minimize your effectiveness as an army like General David Petraeus realizes in observation nine [PDF]. Geographers must teach the public how things operate in a globalized world. We need to tell people how an economic downturn in China will change their shopping habits or if tribes in Nigeria become angry then oil price will shoot up. We must also go beyond human geography. Geographers can take the lead in discussions on the environment but so far we remain silent.

Three Extra Fights

Fight for Our Right
Today a popular thing for universities to do is multidisciplinary programs. Geographers work well with other disciplines. However we must protect our turf at all cost. We excel by nature at area studies, environmental sciences, and GIS. Any attempt to spin these off to another department or as an independent branch must be opposed. Also, any attempt to merge geography with another department makes it a grab bag of left overs.

Fight "The Infection"
You know Catholicgauze very well if you know the first time this came up. An anti-establishment disease crossed over from European departments to American ones. Too many geographers refuse to participate with military operations (there was a debate in several geographical journals over this issue after 9/11), in mainstream studies of globalization (the best work on the subject, Commanding Heights, noticeably lacks a geographer's input), or any other study "the corporate machines of the world want us to do." That is a real quote. Geographers waste their gifts and will be replaced by others if they insists in locking themselves in their ivy-tower prisons.

Fight for Proper Use of Tools
When I was teaching Environmental Geography lab I allowed students to use my laptop's version of Google Earth. The students looked up their houses and then stopped. They saw no further use. Then I showed them various layers such as weather and earthquakes around the world. I used the displayed data to convey spatial themes behind climate zones and the Ring of Fire. The students then realized Google Earth was not a mere earth viewer but a tool to help explaining geography.

Too often geographers let tools take a life of their own. I have warned against this. When a president of a major geographical association went to Harvard to celebrate its new GIS lab, he erred. The GIS tool was taken by others at the school and geography lost its right and place at Harvard.

Parting Thought
I could repeat the phrase "geography matters" but that would be preaching to the choir. Geographers need to reach out to the public, to school teachers, to leaders what geography is and how geographical knowledge can aid in many situations.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Al Jazeera's Interactive Map of Gaza and the Hamas/Israel War

Al Jazeera has entered the world of neogeography in a big way with mostly positive results. Their "War on Gaza" mashup contains a Microsoft Live map with various data layers displaying protests, Palestinian casualties, Israeli casualties, etc. What makes this effort unique though is that it is being derived not only from official reporting but also from reports by people themselves. One can even us twitter to report in as well.

The Wikipedia factor of not having verifiable reports is an obvious liability but with this level of neogeography coming into play that is to be expected. The real fault so far is the weird fact that sometimes the geolocations will move if one pans the map. I encountered this on Internet Explorer which makes the occurrence even weirder.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Is the Earth Doomed to Cooling?

Yes. To answer the above that is. Scientific guestimates show that the Earth has been in a steady decline in global temperatures. As shown in great books like Why Geography Matters, ice on the poles is geologically new. New studies also suggest that the cycle of climate slowly pointing for colder and colder.

All studies on climate should be greeted with a bit of skepticism. No one study should be viewed as "the" study. However, the cycle system seems to suggest that climate is beyond the fixes currently proposed. Those in power should focus on making plans to adjust to changes, in both short and very long terms, and create a healthier living environment for people all over the world.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Atlas of True Names and Interview with the Cartographer

Many places in the United States have Indian names.  A common question that the curious will ask is what about the meaning of the name.  Sometimes there is an available answer but most times this is not the case.  The mystery of name origins is found throughout the world as well. Few Londoners will know there city means "Fort on the Hill" or "Hillfort." 

Recently Kalimedia released the Atlas of True Names.  The atlas is actually a series of maps that display the true meaning of places names.  Currently there is one of the whole world and a detailed one of Europe.

The maps reveal the true history and geography of a region.  The Yucatan is labeled "I don't understand you."  That name comes from the Maya word that they allegedly told the Spanish arrivals when the Mayans first heard Spanish.  The term Yucatan stuck in Spanish minds so it was tied to the land.  Similar stories exist for the rest of the world.

The maps are truly fascinating.  While some may argue on particular points or names, the atlas is an excellent addition to any geographer's collection.  Besides the novelty factor the maps allow one to see the world anew and learn the story behind the places.

I was allowed to interview the main cartographer over e-mail about the atlas.  Below is our conversation:

Catholicgauze:  What inspired you to create Atlas of True Names?
Kalimedia:  Three different parts of my general interest came together:
    1. Since I was a kid, maps were fascinating me and consequently I became a cartographer.
    2. When I was 13 I first saw Tolkien's maps of Middle Earth. These maps inspired my fantasy. (Today the maps of Narnia are strikingly similar)
    3. My interest in etymology started when I first translated my own name into comprehensible words.

The translation of personal or geographical names is different to a translation of simple words into another language.  Sometimes the origins remain obscure and you have to go back in time to enter arcane worlds.

Catholicgauze:  Is there anything that surprised you? Any names that made you think?
Kalimedia:  While I changed the entries in the maps name by name, a strange, romantic continent appeared and notwithstanding I was the creator.  I had to use the index several times to know where I was.  Somehow it's like looking at the world with child's eyes again.

I really love the names with a story behind it:

Tax Haven for Pilgrims - Astrakhan
Mountains of Secret Fire - Pyrenees
Cape by the Dark Warrior's Village - Duncansby Head
Mother of the Universe/Ever Resting Mountain - Chomolungma/Mt. Everest
Sentinel of Stone – Aconcagua

Catholicgauze:  What are your plans for the future?
Kalimedia:  The surprising popularity of the "Atlas of True Names" demands translation into several languages.  We continue quite soon with the French, Spanish and Italian version. Single fold up versions for the British Isles and the US are in preparation.  Popular publishers in Germany and the US asked us to produce a real atlas in book form.  Finally we'd like to establish KALIMEDIA as a brand for different outstanding maps at a low price level.

I am very grateful for Kalimedia for allowing the interview.  I also wish them the best of luck broadening the appeal of geography to many.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Christmas Message

Editor's note: Catholicgauze emailed this to some of his closest as a private message. I contacted him, and he granted permission to share his Christmas message with the public. It's well worth the read. --- tdaxp

At Midnight when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas, in a church in downtown Baghdad, Christians partake in Mass celebrating Christ's birth. They are joined by their Shia Muslim fellow Iraqis. The church has Iraqi Police protection but it is questionable if it is needed. Parts of Iraq are awakening out of the nightmare which was the civil war. The mass is beautiful and has been kept by Assyrian Catholics since their beginning (with a few slight changes). Meanwhile I was in a heavily guarded chapel room where the security was not needed. The priest/chaplin had his own version of the missal including his own interpretation of the Lord's Prayer set to the tone of Jingle Bells. Babylon.

Tonight (the period of darkness between 25 and 26 December) I am in the ruins of an old Iraqi base. We have a little shop set up here and officially are doing our jobs but it is all quiet. The old buildings still have Arabic writing left by bored Iraqi soldiers and air men. It is almost like you can here their ghosts speaking. Whisperings of the old days.

I miss you all and cannot wait to be home back in the United States.