Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wet and Dry Ear Wax Map

Black means the presence of wet ear wax while white represents dry ear wax

I just found out that there is a stereotype that states Chinese have dry ear wax. Shockingly the stereotype has turned out to be true. Japanese scientists have mapped out wet versus dry ear wax and found out that in prehistoric China a genetic mutation occurred which makes ear wax dry. Dry ear wax is found in areas where prehistoric East Asians' descendants are found: namely East Asia, Southeast Asia, and North America. Despite some theories on sweat and smell there is no known reason why prehistoric East Asians evolved in order to have dry ear wax.

Catholicgauze, despite having R1a genetics, has very, very wet ear wax.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Electoral Geography Gerrymandering's Role in Apartheid South Africa

TDAXP links to an excellent article at the political blog FiveThirtyEight about how electoral geography was used to bring about apartheid in South Africa. The heart of the article explains how in 1948, the then smaller, pro-Apartheid National Party used an electoral system that 1) only allowed whites and a proportion of Coloureds the right to vote and more importantly 2) was biased in giving rural voters a greater representation than normal demographic allotment would allow to win power. The gerrymandered system allowed the party to stay in power until 1994 when all South Africans were given the right to vote.

By 1948, South African politics had been for four decades dominated by veterans of the Anglo-Boer wars, with three defeated Boer generals serving as Prime Minister, namely Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, and JBM Hertzog. Botha and Smuts formed the South Africa party which was an alliance between moderate Afrikaners and English voters. Opposed to it was the National party headed by Hertzog which appealed more to poorer Afrikaners and some poorer English voters.

During the depression, the two parties formed a coalition, which survived until the outbreak of war in 1939, which South Africa entered by a cabinet vote decided by a margin of one. The hard Afrikaner core of the National Party broke off from the ruling "United Party". Highly sectarian (it did not field a single English candidate in 1948) it was considered to have little chance of winning in 1948 against the government which had just won the war.

The United Party however, like other Western governing parties that had ruled during the second world war, had many things going against it, including a serious recession, and concerns that it was out of ideas for the country's future.

Compared to this, the National Party offered the promise of ending English dominance of the civil service and the economy as well ending the competition that African laborers moving to the urban areas posed to poor Afrikaner workers. When the votes were counted the United Party had won a large popular vote victory, 547,437 (50.9%) for the United Party to 443,278 (41.2%) for the National Party. But when the seats were declared, the National party and its allies had won 79, compared to 71 for the United Party and its allies.

The National Party had taken advantages of one of the quirks of the South African system. The first was that seats were allowed to deviate from the population quota by a margin of 15% in either direction in order to accommodate local boundaries and to limit their geographical size. While an average of around 7200 votes were cast per constituency, the National Party only won 2 seats where more than 7200 votes were cast. The United Party by contrast won more than half its seats in districts where over 8000 votes were cast.

Similar results occurred in 1953 and 1958 with the United Party beating the National Party in the popular vote but losing out in the seat allotment because of the overrepresented rural regions. The rural Afrikaner boer became the power wielder despite the facts that South Africa was a multiethnic state where Whites were a minority divided between Afrikaners and English-speakers and the country was beginning to experience an urbanization boom. After 1958 the National Party became a power party which anyone who wanted to be in politics, regardless of political ideology, had to join if they wanted to be in power. From then on the National Party remained the dominant political party in South Africa with only weak opposition from the urban, liberal Progressive Federal Party and the rural and neo-urban (urban dwellers who still hold rural values) radical national conservative Conservative Party. White English-speaking South Africans and moderate Afrikaners began a slow but steady exodus from South Africa in part because of the feeling that the electoral system was gerrymandered against their interests.

South-West Africa, now known as Namibia, also played a role in the continued political domination by the National Party. Despite being never annexed by South Africa, Afrikaners and other European-ancestry Africans in South-West Africa were given the right to vote in South African elections. Identity pressure from the "White versus Black" Border War and the lack of an liberal White population meant that voters from South-West Africa overwhelmingly favored the Nationalist Party thus giving the party yet another boost to its hold on power.

In the 1980s the National Party created the House of Representatives for Coloureds and the House of Delegates for Indians as a way of giving some limited political power to these ethnic groups. The two houses managed to split non-Black minority opposition and gave the National Party some strong contacts with non-Black ethnic minority groups. Even in the 1990s there were leading Coloured politicians who opposed the abolition of apartheid because they felt it would loosen their grip on power and hurt the "better Coloured than Black" social hierarchy.

However, the inability and unwillingness of the National Party to give limited political power to Blacks (the homelands were seen as collaborationist regimes by most Blacks and most Blacks favored integration into the political system of South Africa-proper) only renforced Black and international opposition to the Apartheid regime. Pressure from the majority Black population combined with international sanctions finally led to the downfall of the racist system and the election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa in 1994.

See also: Dreams of a White Africa: South Africa versus Rhodesia and Native Lands - Reservations, Home Lands, and Republics (Part 1) for more information on the racial geography of Apartheid South Africa

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Maps of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak Disaster

Update: Be sure to check out a Google Maps overlay which superimpose the oil slick on any part of the Earth for size comparison (Blogged about on June 1, 2010)

The Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil leak is easily one of the greatest ecological disasters in the United States' history. I have been avoiding writing about the disaster itself because I fear I am unable to give such an event the detailed reporting it deserves. The havoc that has been and will be wrecked upon the various ecosystems and human affairs along the Gulf of Mexico is so far incalculable.The disaster has spawned a legion of maps which can help one gain a better understanding of its magnitude. The Map Room links to the New York Times' day-by-day map of the oil slick and the threatened coastline. Meanwhile, the official website of the BP-American government unified response command, Deep Horizon Response, has a map page with daily updated maps from NOAA showing where the oil is and where it is forecasted to go.

The disaster is bad. I fear the next series of maps that I will write on will show the oil's damage on Louisiana and other gulf states' wetlands. Sadly, Louisianan governor Bobby Jindal states the state of affairs with Louisiana awaiting for aid from the federal government to protect the state's coastline.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Economist Redraws Europe to Reflect Current Geopolitical Trends

For the longest time Europe has been drawn in two along relatively unmoving lines. The Western/Eastern Roman Empire, the Catholic/Orthodox, Christian/Ottoman, and then the Western/Warsaw Pact divides have shared much of the same territory.

However, as I wrote about before, the geopolitical trends in Europe have shifted the boundary line east in a Brussels (European Union/NATO) versus Moscow (Russian-influenced) divide. There are also other shifts in geopolitical thought as Belgium's ethnic struggle, though peaceful, is like the problems in the Balkans, Central European countries like the Czech Republic are now virtually indistinguishable from Western European countries, and old established states like the United Kingdom and France are feeling stronger pulls for regional autonomy/independence.

The Economist earlier created a map redrawing the map of Europe as if the continent's geography reflected the current geopolitical trends of the regional countries. The video above does a good job explaining the reasoning of The Economist.

Other changes I would have made is to separate Cyprus making the Greek, lower half closer to Europe while the having the Turkish, northern half of the country hover near Turkey. The location of Turkish Cyprus should reflect the strong ties between the two but accurately show the present-day worry that the secular, militaristic Turkish Cyprus has for the religious, anti-military establishment government currently ruling in Turkey. Bosnia should be spiralling down a sinkhole as ethnic tension threatens to tear the country apart again. Finally, Israel should move closer to Europe as it has long been thought of as an extension of Europe though the Gaza Strip and West Bank should be shown as weighing down the state keeping it attached to the Middle East.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Outgoing AAG President Likes Geography Blogs

The President of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), Dr. Carol Harden, who was interviewd by Geographic Travels in April, has written an article in the May 2010 AAG newsletter about geographers reaching out to the press and general public. Dr. Harden writes about geography blogs saying

"The Internet is a primary source of geographic information for broad audiences. Are academic and professional geographers contributing enough to this resource and adequately supporting those who do? As I explore the blogosphere, I am impressed by the volume and variety of material with geographic content and find myself using information from blogs as points of entry into new topics. Quality control is variable compared to that of peer-reviewed journals and major newspapers, but the more prominent blogs have good intentions and cite their sources. You may remember that Matt Rosenberg, who has covered geography at for over a decade, received an NCGE Geography Excellence in Media Award. Other well-established, geography-oriented sites include Very Spatial, My Wonderful World Blog, Geographic Travels, and Geo Lounge."

Elsewhere in the article Dr. Harden writes that some of the most public geographers reach out through intermediateries and established links with reports. She also points out that opinion editorials in newspapers get the word out about the importance of geography. Finally, she stress the importance of promoting the cited work of others because that allows the public to look up references and read more about the aspects of geography that interest them.

Dr. Harden is right on the mark with her thoughts. Writing to the general public is critical because it allows for important geographic insight to be shared, understood, and factored into decisions from daily life to national security issues. Also, blogs are read more and more everyday with serious discussions and insights being shared. Geographers and readers of geography blogs should feel encouraged to e-mail each other, comment, write guest posts, and even create their online resources. This way an untapped/undertapped population can have impact not only in the field of geography but also the world.

Friday, May 21, 2010

United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad: Eastern Europe Only Need Apply

In 1985 the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad was established "[b]ecause the fabric of a society is strengthened by visible reminders of the historical roots of the society," and that "it is in the national interest of the United States to encourage the preservation and protection of the cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings associated with the foreign heritage of United States citizens."  The essence of the program therefore was to preserve cultural landmarks which capture the spirit, identity, and meaning of the heritages of current Americans.  Unlike other "Greater [Insert Country Name]" movements, the commission did not seek to expand the sphere of Americanism but instead preserve the background of various groups that joined the melting pot of American society.

However, the commission does not seek to preserve the heritage of most Americans or even a noticeable minority of Americans.  Both its establishment act and actions have limited the commission to caring about the heritage of a small minority of Americans.  First, the mission statement limits the commission's interest to sites "located abroad which are associated with the foreign heritage of United States citizens from eastern and central Europe."  Using the not quite solid numbers of heritage from the United States Census, this limits the commission's interest to only the heritage of twenty-two percent of Americans.  Second, the commission has been actively focusing on Jewish sites compared to other sites or activities.  Out of twenty-two programs, listed on the commission's website, which reflect major efforts by the commission, twenty of them are Jewish compared to two percent of the United States' population.  One program deals Greek Catholic wooden churches (Greek Catholics probably number less than one-tenth of one percent in the United States) while the other program is a scholarship program for Bulgarians to write about American heritage in Eastern and Central Europe. 

Granted, the commission is limited in what it can do besides create lists of sites it wants preserved and lobby both the American State Department and foreign governments to protect said sites; however, it would be much better if the commission could expand its focus.  I realize that other places of major American heritage like Ireland or the United Kingdom already have the resources to preserve heritage sites but what about Vietnamese, Indian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or African heritage sites that are threatened either from neglect due to lack of resources?  Or what about American heritage sites belonging to minorities in oppressive ethno-majority countries like China, India, or almost all Middle Eastern countries?

The commission has almost no budget and an incredibly small bureaucratic footprint.  An expansion of the program's scope would only increase notice and the effect of the program on other areas where Americans claim overseas heritage at little cost.  One great thing Americans pride ourselves on is an acceptance of people from all over the world and integration of them and their heritage into America's heritage ("everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick's Day" and Oktoberfest is celebrated in areas that are not ethnic German).  As such, efforts to preserve America's heritage should not be limited to only a part of one continent.  The current effort to preserve overseas heritage simply does not reflect America and Americans' identity and values.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ten Most-Likely Economies to Default

The CME Group, the London-based world's largest future exchange, has published a list of the top ten economics most likely to default.

The list is a combination of debt-ridden welfare states, corruptocracies, and post-Soviet economies which have too much corruption and too little oil to leave the painful economic trap which Russia was in during the 1990s.

Leading the list is Hugo Chavez's corrupt-socialist state which even the high price of oil cannot cover his massive spending programs and harmful controls against market forces. Argentina, once one of the world's top ten, comes in second because the harmful legacy of national socialist syndicalism from Peron, the military juntas, and the Krichners. Greece, the current whipping boy of welfare excess, comes in at third.

Interestingly, out of control California is rated more likely to default than war ravaged Iraq where oil wealth is stolen via massive corruption.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

AP Human Geography Test Practice Resources

Last Friday, May 14, was the day some American high schoolers took the AP Human Geography test. Already though, I have received a request for information to prepare for next year's test. There are some resources out there that I was able to quickly dig up.

  • College Board has released previous tests' free answer questions along with sample multiple choice questions (PDF).
  • An AP Human Geography teacher was a wealth of information and games available on her website. Be sure to download Mrs. Bell's "Motherload" of notes that weighs in at forty-four pages!
  • Although I have never taken AP Human Geography I have heard good things about all the major study books sold at bookstores including Amazon. I also recommend books like Harm de Blij's Why Geography Matters and The Power of Place.
  • Read geography blogs like Geographic Travels and has great resources on many topics which the AP test and class cover.
  • Many geographers, both blogging and academic, would also be willing to answer questions you may have concerning human geography. Finally, do not forget asking an AP Human Geography teacher for help.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Qatar is Not Quite a Shopping Mall

Earlier I wrote how an early impression one gets in Doha, Qatar is that the whole country is like a giant shopping mall. Western goods, rampant commercialism, and the wide spread use of the English language can remind many Westerners of their local shopping mall.

The Shopping Mall Qatar does exists and it is centered around New Doha, the northern part of the capital. However, there are overlooked parts of Qatar that many ignore.

South Asian Qatar: When one is in Qatar one realizes rather quickly that there are alot of Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshi nationals in the country. This is because South Asia is the favorite recruiting ground of Qatar for foreign labor to do many of the jobs Qataris do not want to do. These South Asians live in the southern parts of Doha. Their neighborhoods have more signs in English than Arabic, Hindi, or Urdu. However, South Asian Qatar is not allowed to imprint itself on the landscape too much. No South Asian architecture is present in Qatar, Hindus are not allowed meeting places for religious services, and no flags but Qatar can be seen waving from buildings.

Traditional Arab Qatar: New Doha's spirit is expanding into much of Qatar. The small suburbs of Doha are currently undergoing massive revisions due to the influx of oil money. Restaurants like Pizza Hut, McDonald's, and Applebee's have spread beyond the capital. Somewhere out there though is a more traditional Arab Qatar. With the east coast being modernized and the western coast all natural gas and oil exploitation, only the central and north are "traditional." The central part of Qatar has a few small villages around oases but these are quickly being abandoned. Only the northern coast's fishing villages are surviving. These villages are much like Doha was at the middle of the last century, small communities that survived on fishing and pearl diving. While even these have modern, little convenience stores, those stores are the exception with most people still buying supplies from the local markets called suqs. Unlike the other Qatars, the traditional Arab Qatar does not handle the English language well.

These two Qatars break the mold of the shopping mall. These two are just as valid as the shopping mall Qatar, it is just that one has to travel outside the touristy and modern parts (similar but not the same) of Doha.

Monday, May 17, 2010

No Simple Victory: A History of the World War II One Only Thinks They Know

Back in March I wrote about the very interesting program about the Battle of Kursk which was broadcasted on RT (Russia Today). The program offered good background into the largest battle of World War II which is little known in the West. An anonymous commenter recommended the book No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945 as a great eye opener to other aspects of the overlooked elements of World War II. I bought the book and read it during my recent time in the Middle East. I enthusiastically recommend the book to all those interested in a fuller picture of the Second Great War.

No Simple Victory is not a history of the Eastern Front (Nazis and other Axis forces against Soviets) but it properly gives the Eastern Front its rightful place in World War II. That means a majority of the book actually focuses on the Eastern Front. The opening part of the book compares the massive efforts spent by both the Axis and Soviets in battling each other from 1941-45 to the surprisingly much smaller efforts of the Western Allies (the British Empire, Free French, Free Pole, and the United States). The book also does a good job discussing the political setting of 1939-41 when the Soviet Union and the German Reich worked together to divide Eastern Europe between themselves.

A central thesis of the book is that the Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War was almost a separate conflict than the smaller Western Front. The Western Allies originally went to war free Poland and stop German aggression. There were no policies to topple the Nazis or any other Axis government at that time. The Soviets fought to (1939-41) conquer eastern Poland, conquer the Baltic states, expand into Finland, and gain a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The 1941-45 Soviet agenda was to regain lands lost to the Axis and expand into Central Europe. At the end of the war the Western Allies did help achieve the goal of stopping German aggression but Poland was still under tyranny and all the other Soviet war goals were accomplished. The Cold War became an extension of World War II when the Western Allies sought to curb the expansionist goals of the much more mighty Soviet Union.

Unlike other World War II books No Simple Victory does a great job discussing political and civilian matters. Everything from daily lives, the war's effect on various professions, sex, religion, and economics are discussed.

While not complete, I would have preferred more information on the Forrest Brothers and the anti-Soviet resistance in Ukraine et al that lasted into the 1960s, No Simple Victory is by far the most complete history of the European theater of World War II I have ever read.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Catholicgauze Back in the United States

I am back and safe and sound. However, I am very tired. On Monday I will have a post about an excellent book I read then I hope to finish what I started earlier.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Qatar is a Giant Shopping Mall (Not Quite)

After a day or two in Doha, Qatar it is easy to think that the country is one big shopping mall. In fact, one quickly begins to feel that the shopping mall is in some urban American center like Northern Virginia, as I remarked to a fellow geographer.

First, the shopping malls in Doha are huge. The Doha City Center and the Landmark Mall in particular are simply massive with hundreds of stores each. These are modern, Western stores like Carrefour, the Hallmark Store, and Foot Locker. The food courts are populated by McDonald's, Subway, Pizza Hut, and more.

Beyond the malls themselves there are plenty of markets, called suqs, that sell goods from the Middle East and other nearby regions. Chinese made goods ranging from cheap trinkets to clothing to electronics are everywhere (much like in the United States). Those expecting a traditional Arab market in Doha will be disappointed by how mundane and Western the markets are.

What really gives the mall feel is the culture and people. All but two, yes two, signs I have seen so far in the entire country have been in English and Arabic. While Qataris do stand out in their white and black clothing, a large amount of them wear the Western-style of clothing I am use to. There are plenty of Southern and Southeast Asians laborers and their families as well as many European and American expats and military. With English being a universal language sharing the landscape with another language and a very diverse population, Doha Qatar feels like any multiethnic American urban center.

The "newer", northern parts of Doha certainly is like a giant shopping mall. Diverse people, wealth and consumerism, and the dominance of English make Doha feel like a super mall in America. However, a trip into southern and northern Doha reveals different shades of Qatar.

To be continued....

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Qatar Airways: Neo-Arabia in the Air

I am now safely in Qatar fresh from my flight on Qatar Airways. The airline is a prime example of the diverse, technology-driven land the Middle East in general and Arabia in particular have become. Religion, wealth, and flashy Western culture also made appearances on the flight.

First off, I was one of several nationalities on the plane. Americans, Indians, Southeast Asians, and Arabs were all represented on the flight.

  • Americans were clearly military or employed by some company that in some-way-shape-or-form dealt with oil. Their haircuts and clothing with various logos gave away one's profession rather easily. While I am in neither group I have a strong feeling that I was in the very small minority of Americans not associated with the military or an oil company.
  • Indians were possibly the largest minority or even the plurality on the plane. Talking to a few in line and on the plane I discovered they formed the upper caste of Indian workers in Doha. Many had computer or engineering degrees. They told me Doha was a good place for them and their families to earn more money before moving back to India. The women told me they had more simple retail jobs. They missed India but told me there is a large enough Indian community to give a sense of home.
  • Arabs were probably the plurality of people on the plane. Men and women were not only dressed in traditional dishdashas and burqas but some others were in jeans and polo shirts. I sat next to an Arab man in Western clothing who told me he was on his way to Mecca. No matter if one was traditionally clothed or wearing Western style many of them were watching Avatar. The appeal of flashy Western culture seemed to be universal on the flight.
  • Southeast Asians were the final group on the plane. My overview of the plane found no Southeast Asians as passengers but the plane's stewardess staff was comprised completely by them. I found out that most of them were from Singapore and Malaysia. The trend of using Southern and Southeast Asians for menial jobs like airline stewardship is a strong and growing one in Arabia. In fact, 60% of Qatar's population is not Arab. Most of the 60% is from Southern and Southeast Asia.

Qatar Airways is probably the most technological of the airlines out there. Every seat had a console where one could watch movies on demand, television channels both live and on demand, news, e-mail, music, phone other seats or even landlines, and even a map of one's progress (my map sadly did not work).

Other Arabia trends, both traditional and modern, were noticed on the flight. Religion was present with all the food being prepared in accordance to "Islamic Standards." Money, Qatar being an economically well off country, was demonstrated by prices. I asked how much an upgrade from economy to business class would be expecting it to be something like $150. An upgrade was $1,500. I turned it down but managed to get the sympathy backup choice of an exit row seat. That gave me six feet of leg room and very easy access to the bathroom. Comfort, like that of a person who lived in an oil rich state that bought off its citizenry with oil profits, was expierenced in style by me.