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.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Maps as Art in the Home

A very good friend had a 1960-or-so Russian-made map of the Soviet Union on his wall once. It use of soft colors to show the different federal regions was beautiful. When Catholicgauze came over I did not use it so much as to learn about the Soviet Union but instead just unwind and lose myself in the art of it. I also have a map on my wall that I use for artistic purposes rather than georeference; however, it is still cool to read a pre-World War II map and just see how much has changed! The Dutch during their golden age began collecting and hanging maps for artistic reasons. The reason behind this all is that a truly good map will have an artistic cartographic style in it that will make it pleasant to look at.

The blog Apartment Theory has a plethora of posts on using maps as art for your home here, here, here, here, here, and here. These posts go beyond the "hang pretty map on wall and enjoy" but instead utlize maps in a variety of creative ways. (I already have the map shower curtain!)

What ways do use utilize maps? Are there any map no-nos with you (I can't stand putting pins into maps to show where one has been)?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

UMapper: Make a Flat Map Image Into an Interactive Map

UMapper is a very cool tool that Google Maps Mania posted about a while ago. The YouTube speaks for itself but I will give a short rundown. UMapper allows one to take a static map image, in a format like jpeg, and make it interactive like in a viewer like Google Maps. I plan to use it in the feature because it seems so easy to use. Check it out today!

Monday, November 02, 2009

David Keeling on Why Geography Matters

Dr. David Keeling of Western Kentucky University has published an editorial on why geography matters. I agree with him on most points. His history is a bit lacking with lines like

"Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin D. Roosevelt benefited from sage advice provided by the president's geographer, but no chief executive since FDR has really understood the value of geographical analysis.

It's not surprising, then, that World War II was the last major military success for the United States (Grenada and Panama don't really count), with misadventures in Vietnam, the Middle East, Central America and, recently, Afghanistan and Iraq damaging to America's standing around the world and to its role as a global leader."

In World War II military geographers did a great job but the presidential geographers have some inexcusable blemishes in which they aided Roosevelt's planning of throwing Americans of Japanese descent into concentration camps and persuading the president that Eastern Europe belonged to the Soviet Union.

Also, the bit of World War II being the last great military victory is wrong. Bosnia, Kosovo, Gulf War, and even the Iraq War, which has turned into martial police work, proved to be great successes.

But besides these historical points the article is good in the sense that it conveys how geography does help understand geopolitics, the environment, and more. I also enjoyed his point that technology is a great geographical aid but not the answer to geographical illiteracy. Something I have stated before in my infamous "GIS is monkey work" post.

Below is the complete article

Geographic Awareness Needed

Examples of the lack of geographic awareness displayed by politicians, business leaders, and even beauty queens, are legion.

Who can forget presidential candidate John McCain's 2008 gaffe on "Good Morning America" when he referred to the Iraq-Pakistan border (he meant the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, of course). Yet it's likely most Americans following the campaigns would not have known his statement was geographically inaccurate.

In recent months, growing concern over a potential apocalypse in 2012, along with recent tsunamis and earthquakes in the Pacific region, melting Arctic ice and the war in Afghanistan set tongues wagging around the world about the future of our planet. Our ability to address this future is very much linked to geographic awareness, or the lack thereof.

If we put uninformed hysteria, conspiracy theories and, yes, political missteps, aside, there are legitimate challenges facing societies as they struggle to understand and manage a dynamic and changing planet.

Wars, natural disasters, climate change, environmental pollution and species extinction all grab headlines from time to time and stir debate about appropriate responses, policy needs or infrastructural challenges.

Yet there seems to be a palpable sense of policy paralysis on critical issues such as global climate change, and dysfunctional responses to disasters like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans appear more the norm than the exception.

What U.S. policymakers desperately need is a better understanding of the why of where. Deeper geographic awareness can help officials anticipate problems and respond proactively rather than be caught unprepared and unsure of how to react.

Never before in the history of the United States have the political consequences of a lack of geographic awareness been so critical to the future of the entire planet yet so ignored by the media and the general public. This is not a partisan issue, either, as both political parties have demonstrated a palpable ignorance about the world's geography ever since World War II, when the United States assumed its position as global hegemon. Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin D. Roosevelt benefited from sage advice provided by the president's geographer, but no chief executive since FDR has really understood the value of geographical analysis.

It's not surprising, then, that World War II was the last major military success for the United States (Grenada and Panama don't really count), with misadventures in Vietnam, the Middle East, Central America and, recently, Afghanistan and Iraq damaging to America's standing around the world and to its role as a global leader.

The United States remains one of the few advanced societies where it is possible for most citizens to move from kindergarten to postgraduate life without any exposure to geography as an analytical science.

A very substantial number of the country's policymaking elite graduate from top-flight universities where geography is not taught. This embarrassing list of elite institutions includes Harvard, Tufts, Columbia, Wellesley, Princeton and Yale.

Would the recent course of history have been different if George W. Bush had taken classes in regional or human geography at Yale or the Harvard Business School, or if Donald H. Rumsfeld had studied political geography at Princeton? Would President Obama be better prepared to handle the Afghanistan and Iran challenges if he had studied geography at Occidental, Columbia or Harvard? How can the United States take a leading role in a global society when so many public policymakers head to Washington with such a geographically challenged background?

For decades, geographers have noted that the key to better planning for wars, disasters, climate shifts or any other major force of change is a broader understanding of their spatial dimensions. They also have demonstrated time after time that a lack of geographic awareness about the peoples and places affected by war, natural and other disasters often exacerbates the misery and compounds the challenges to effective recovery. New technologies such as geographic information and global positioning systems can help build awareness about changing environments, and they can provide the foundation upon which meaningful spatial analysis, and thus appropriate policy, is created.

Technology alone, however, is not the answer. Developing greater geographic awareness among policymakers and the general public is crucial if our society is to manage serious challenges like natural disasters, climate change and conflict more successfully. Failure in this endeavor is not an option, as we stand to lose our leadership credibility, quality of life and, ultimately, our security if geographic ignorance continues unabated.

David Keeling is a member of the American Geographical Society Writers' Circle and professor of geography at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green. The views expressed are his own.