Thursday, September 30, 2010

MapCrunch: Randomized Google Maps Street Views

MapCrunch is a fun diversion for those who need an instant getaway.  By pressing the "Go" button one is instantly transported to a randomized Google Maps Street View.  Twenty-two countries and autonomous regions are available.

This fun randomizer could become a teaching tool.  Instructors could have students guess where a location is and explain why.  The teacher could then explain tell-tell sings like physical landforms, architecture styles, and land use like what crops or trees are growing. (Hat tip: Google Maps Mania)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

South America Geography Round-Up: September 2010

Venezuelan Elections

The leftward swing of Latin America and the Caribbean can, in part, be explained by overt and covert support of oil-rich Venezuela.  Since gaining power in 1999, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has reached out and supported Left movements throughout the region.  Domestically, he has provided a template for Left-ward changing by turning the constitutional democracy in Venezuela into a "New Socialist" state.

Chavez's ideal of a "New Socialist" state was put to voter's say once again with the 2010 Venezuelan parliamentary elections.  The opposition group Coalition for Democratic Unity (which is comprised of parties ranging from the Christian Democrat COPEI all the way to the ex-insurgent communist Red Flag Party) has somewhat credibly claimed that they received slightly more than half the vote.   However, because of heavy gerrymandering and the "New Socialist" vote weighing scheme the pro-Chavez United Socialist Party of Venezuela received 96 seats compared to the Coalition's 63.  This is still viewed as a minor victory to the opposition because the pro-Chavez party now has less than two-thirds of parliament seats.  Time will tell what Chavez will do to continue his "New Socialist" revolution despite current legal restraints.

While the anti-Chavez opposition has a long way to go hopefully they can unite like the Moldovan anti-Communist parities have.

"Geography Kills FARC Terrorists Dead"

Mono Jojoy, a leader of the terrorist group FARC, was the main military commander for the Colombian nacorterrorist group.  He is will known to Colombian forces because of his mobile command warfare school of thought which has been mimicked by other groups like Islamists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.

Jojoy was killed on September 22 during Operation Sodoma which involved 56 aircraft and 400 Colombian military attacking his mountain camp and bunker.  The Colombians found Jojoy's location by placing a GPS unit in his boot.  Geographical analysis was then used to track his movements and figure out the physical and structural terrain of his roaming area.  Once the Colombians figured out the geography of Jojoy's world Operation Sodoma was launched and Jojoy and dozens of other FARC terrorists were killed.

Network analysis, examining the personal connections of terrorists, is the primary means of conducting counter-terrorism.  However, people commonly over look the importance of analyzing the geography of a target can reap great rewards.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Election Political Ad Geography: Afghanistanization of Florida

Once again, as we approach the 2010 United States midterm elections I plan to post maps by various political groups.  The purpose of these posts is not to support the map's message but to analyze the map's geography. If you have an election map or know of one please e-mail or comment.

Background:  Republican Dan Webster is challenging Democrat incumbent Alan Grayson for the Florida District 8 seat of the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Ad: An anti-Webster ad done by Representative Grayson.

The above television political advertisement uses the "social conservative Republicans are just like the social conservative Taliban" argument.  Two connected maps are shown on top of the screen.  The top map has Qandahar (also spelled by some as "Kandahar") clearly shown.  The label "Qandahar" is the only part of the map that is clearly readable, even beating out "Afghanistan."  The ad's creators aparently assesses that the general public is aware that Qandahar was/is the Taliban's cultural home. The bottom map shows "Orlando," the major city within Florida District 8.  The implication is that electing Dan Webster as representative will bring parallels of Afghanistan to Florida.

The bottom part of the ad has the Shahada, the Islamic profession of faith.  The end of the ad then has "Taliban Dan Webster" in Arabic-style font.  These two additions are interesting on a cultural level.  Their use seems to be in the negative which is an odd use of Islamophobia for a Democrat incumbent.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Good of Saudi Arabia

All the news and rumors about Saudi Arabia plus some of my own encounters have created internal negative feelings towards Saudi Arabia.  However, to be fair I must stress the kindness of the Saudis I met.  In fact, I must say that people were friendlier in Saudi Arabia than in Qatar.  The stereotype of all Saudis being authoritarians was also proven false during my time in country. Below are two of my many experiences that reflect the goodness of Saudi Arabia.

The Camel Hunt:  Everyone Was Real Nice

During my first full day in Saudi Arabia I went looking for wild camels.  I bought some apples to feed to the camels and made sure to bring the camera in case I was able to get a good Kodak-moment.  I was unable to locate any roaming camels but I did find the Riyadh camel suq (market) while managing to drive for hours in the desert.  During the hours in the desert I encountered several people, some who did and some who did not speak English.  Everyone who I met was extremely kind to me.  Everyone greeted me with the standard Islamic greeting "Assalamu Alikum."  This was somewhat of a surprise as most orthodox schools of thought forbid the Asslamu Alikum greeting to Christians and other non-Muslims.  No one in Iraq or Qatar has ever greeted me with Asslamu Alikum yet everyone in Saudi Arabia did.

Jeddah: Pro-Liberty, Pro-Woman

After the Al Baik adventure I was ready for bed.  Peter, the "eight piece" friend, and me caught a taxi back to hotel.  The taxi cab driver was in a fantastic mood, talking a mile a minute, and using his broken English skills to tell us about how "all Jeddah loves freedom."

The People versus the Religious Police (as told to me by the taxi cab driver and remembered by me):  A female guest worker was doing gardening work.  Apparently, too much of her hair was showing and a religious policeman took notice.  According to the taxi cab driver, the religious police man went up to the woman and wacked her on the leg (I can vouch that this is standard practice by religious police to dress code violations).  Other female guest workers saw this and jumped on the religious policeman.  Other people, both men and women, walking nearby then got involved by joining in the anti-religious policeman beatdown.

Anti-religious policeman violence does happen in Jeddah.  Some Hijazis still feel like they are occupied by Riyadh-based backwards, fundamentalist tribesmen.

Final Note

My time in Saudi Arabia ended after a week.  I did not come down with a case of Orientalism but instead had my eyes open by the materially wealthy Qatar and the personally friendly but organizationally hostile Saudi Arabia.  All I can hope is that all my future travels be as much of a learning experience as was my Middle East 2010 trip.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Caricature Map of Republican House of Representatives Hopefuls

Note:  As we approach the 2010 United States midterm elections I plan to post maps by various political groups.  The purpose of these posts is not to support the map's message but to analyze the maps geography. If you have an election map or know of one please e-mail or comment.

From  Click to enlarge.

The independent, pro-Republican Party group 40 Seats has published a map of caricatures of Republican-challengers to incumbent Democratic Party representatives (Hat Tip: the conservative National Review).  Eighty-five "promising" Republican challengers are shown.

The map is interesting for multiple reasons.  First, it is clear that the Republican Party has suffered east of the Mississippi River.  Swing moderates in the suburbs have voted for the Democrats in the last two elections.  Now the economy is down and Democrats are in trouble for supporting an unpopular health care reform bill.  The political environment has changed so much that the swing suburban moderates are now leaning Republican.  This has made the eastern United States a promising area for Republican gains.

Second, the map shows how the southwest, once a de facto given in the most part for Republicans, has seen a rise in Democrats.  However, the change in political climate has given Republicans hope for regaining lost territory.

Finally, the racial make-up of the Republican Party's leadership is slowly changing.  Since the 1930s the Republican Party has been thought of as the party of Whites (and Cuban Hispanics)  Now that is beginning to shift as several Americans of Black African and Southeast Asian descent are depicted on the map.  If one considers Republican candidates for governor then Americans of Hispanic and Asian Indian descendant are now becoming members of the once almost all white Republican Party leadership class.  Minority outreach and leadership is key to long term Republican several as American becomes increasingly ethnically diverse.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

World Politics Review's Lesson on How Physical Geography Impacts the Afghanistan War

Losing Afghanistan 101: Lesson 1: Terrain from World Politics Review on Vimeo.

World Politics Review has a video, above, which is the first in a series about the difficulties in fighting a war in Afghanistan.  The first one is about the physical geography's impact on the war.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Geography Matters: Australia Edition

Right now Australia is in the process of making national curricula for various subjects.  Math, science, English, and history already have drafted proposal.  Geography's proposed curriculum is currently be debated.  Controversy exists as it looks like geography will only be required up to Year 8 with Years 9-10 being elective (For comparison, history is scheduled to be required up to Year 10).

The Australian Geography Teachers Association (AGTA) combined with various states' Royal Geographical Societies are protesting the unfinished draft curriculum by spreading around various educational resources on the importance of geography.  The AGTA's resources page has been passed along to me for its to primary "why geography matters" resources: Australia Needs Geography and Geography: It's Essential.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Online Maps May Be the Next Best Password Technology

MSNBC has an interesting article on how interactive, online maps may be the next step in encryption/decryption technology.  The key take away paragraphs are

Speaking at the New York Institute of Technology Cyber Security Conference this past Wednesday, Cheswick described how users could memorize the exact spot on a satellite photo, with the longitude and latitude serving as the access code. By zooming down through the map to the high level of resolution, users can graphically produce a nearly unbreakable password that neither people nor viruses could track.


By using a map with zoom, this new method renders those mouse-tracking programs useless. Sure, the virus  will know where the mouse clicks, but unless it knows what map the user is looking at, and how deeply zoomed in they are, the hacking program can’t record the longitude and latitude that serve as the password. 

So your password protocols could be to click on the church on the map or largest parking lot.  While not geography exactly, this could be a neat tie in between maps and non-geography based computer science.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Joke Map: Fall Burning Car Colors of France

During Fall some Americans enjoy the changing colors of leaves.  We even featured several maps of fall leaf colors.  In France, fall, along with every other season, seems to be the season of protests.  Right now protests over pension reform and the banning of the burqa are in the news.  A BBC report I saw stated that the number of cars being burned, a stable of French protests in the ghetto neighborhoods, are on the rise.

A reader e-mailed me a map which depicts the changing colors of burning cars in France.  Other hazards are also shown including arsons.  I cannot trace the origin of the map so if anyone can tell me I will put up the link.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Protected Areas of the World

According to the World Database on Protected Areas, 11.6% of the Earth's surface is under somesort of conservation protection like national parks.  A total of 10.9% of all the Earth (water and land) is protected.  The last twenty years has seen a large rise in protected areas (8.7 to 11.6 for land and 7.9 to 10.9 for all the planet).  That is an impressive number when one remembers that there are 6.7 billion people in the world and the first national park was established in 1872.

The World Database on Protected Areas has a very handy interactive map which displays national and international sites as well as links for more information.

For trivia sake, Comoros and Djibouti are have the least protected amount of land (as a percentage) with no land reservation programs what so ever.  Venezuela is the most protected country with 53.75% of its land protected.  In 1990 only 39.26% was protected.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Geospatial Revolution: Episode I

Geospatial Revolution is the creation of Pennsylvania State University.  The show will be released in several episodes with the first one now online.  It follows the "geospatial revolution" which is the integration of geographic quantitative data with computers.  The revolution has led to the creation of GIS, GPS, Google Maps, and so much more.  The revolution is so advanced that it is hard for any geographer, whether they be human or physical, to do any geographic study without some geospatial computing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mexico at 200

200 years ago a priest declared Mexico independent with El Grito de Dolores.  Since then Mexico has been a liberal democracy, a pro-Catholic Hasburg Empire, an atheist revolutionary state which fought a war against the Catholic Church, a military dictatorship, an one-party state, and several variations in between.  But it has always been Mexico: a combination of Spanish and American Indian cultures.

I cannot even pretend to give a moment like this justice.  Check out Geo-Mexico for worthy blog posts.

European Terrorism Breakdown by Ideology

EUROPOL, the European Union's criminal intelligence agency, has released an in-depth report on the various types of terrorism in Europe by ideology (PDF).

The simple numbers show that separatist terrorism is by far the biggest driver of terrorism in Europe.  Spain is at war compared to the rest of the European Union with 58.2% of all terrorism in the union being in Spain.  It will be interesting to see if the Basque terrorist group ETA's self-declared cease fire will have any real impact in numbers.

Leftist terrorism is on the rise.  According to the report, "Spain, Greece and Italy reported a total of 40 attacks by left-wing and anarchist groups for 2009. This constitutes an increase of 43 % compared to 2008; the number of attacks more than doubled since 2007."  The economic downturn's stirring of Leftism combined with the never finished offed remnants of Cold War advanced fronts like in Greece have been the main drivers of Left terrorism.

Rightist terrorism continues at minimal levels being limited to Hungary.

Somewhat surprisingly there has been only one registered Islamic terrorist attack in 2009.

There is a big caveat to give with these numbers though.  Hate crimes and other types of lesser terrorism are not counted.  I am not sure how the numbers would change but Irish Republican Army drug kingpins, English Defence League street thugs, Greek Reds targeting businessmen, and Islamist urban micronations harassing homosexuals and Jews are all likely to increase the number of violent attacks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vacation Time Around the World has another excellent infographic.  This one compares the average work week in hours and number of holidays and mandatory vacation.

Click to Enlarge.  From

I made the table which shows the average amount of the 250 Monday-Fridays which are either holidays or mandatory vacation days.  The United States is at the bottom where the ten federal holidays (Americans are lucky if they get Veterans Day or Columbus Day off) make only four percent of the total work year.  Meanwhile, the presumed champion of paid-time off, France, shares the title with Finland and Russia.

% of Work Time Off
United States
Czech Republic
New Zealand
United Kingdom

Monday, September 13, 2010

Geography Blog Updates

There are exciting changes going on in the geography blogosphere, including this geography blog!  The About Me section has been updated though it is not complete.  I also have acquired additional addresses for the blog.  Now and now redirect to here!  The .com for "geographyblog"; however, goes to a spam site.

Elsewhere in the geography blogosphere several sites have been on fire as of late with high quality posts.
  • Geocurrents has been offering high-quality posts on Spain and other regions of the world.  Posts come in series so be sure to check out the archives.
  • World Geography Blog has also been offering high quality posts covering a wide diversity of topics.
  • Newgeography has been covering the geopolitics and economics of Australia (among other topics but their Australian posts are fascinating) better than any newspaper or blog out there.
  • "Geography Department" Twitter's feed has proven itself to be the best one stop source of academic geography jobs, geography papers, and academic geography news out there.
As always this blog is heavily influenced by readers.  Comments, e-mails, questions, and open forum discussion is always encouraged!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Gastronomical Delights of Saudi Arabia and Its Enemies

"Do you like chicken?"  That was the first thing I was asked once I got past Riyadh's airport security.  My friend Peter, who lived in the country at the time, was happy to see me but was thrilled at my "yes" answer.  "Great, in two days I'll make sure you get some good chicken," he exclaimed.  What seemed at the time like a trip to the local KFC turned into a 500 mile journey involving a glutinous amount of fried food, falsely assumed corporate espionage, terrifying religious police, and a tribal battle for the control of one of the most successful restaurant chains in Saudi Arabia.

Catholicgauze Goes to Al Baik

The logo of Al Baik from its Facebook page. Why an Arab chicken is wearing a top hat, cape, and bow tie is beyond me.

For those two days I relaxed, swam, played tennis under the desert sun, and went driving in the desert.  However, chicken became a frequently brought up subject.  I constantly heard things like "The eight piece fried chicken is the best deal for your money,"  "Oh man, get it spicy,"  and "The thick garlic sauce is to die for!"  Apparently this was no ordinary chicken but Al Baik chicken which is served only in four cities in the western fringe of the country.  When I asked why this seemingly delicious fast food fried chicken was not sold in the capital or anywhere else I found out about the "Great Saudi Chicken War" as Peter called it.

The Great Saudi Chicken War (As told to me by Peter)

Al Baik is a family run business owned by a tribal clan which has lived along the Red Sea coast (the Hijaz) for centuries.  Being like most Hijazis, the family has traditionally been independent-minded (The Saudi-Wahabbi alliance conquered the Hijaz in the 1920s and there is still a feeling that Saudis are outside occupiers).  In the early 1990s a Saudi price "offered" a business deal which would allow Al Baik to go international if the Saudi prince became a main partner in the company.  The family said "No, we wish to keep this in the family," to which the Saudi prince declared Al Baik would never be able to open a restaurant location outside the Hijaz.  To this day Al Baik are still restricted to the Hijaz.  (Note:  Readers from Saudi Arabia tell me the ownership is from other parts of the Middle East and the prince story is a rumor)
Saudi politics limited Al Baik to the west coast of the country but fortunately I was travelling there.  Peter and myself met one of his friends in Jeddah on chicken-day around noon.  The following conversation made me wonder what the power of this chicken place really was.

Catholicgauze:  So there are several Al Baik's in Jeddah, which one do you recommend?
Friend:  The eight piece.
Catholicgauze:  Yes, I've heard about the eight piece.  But which location do you recommend?
Friend:  You got to get the eight piece.
Catholicgauze:  So...
Friend:  The eight piece.  Spicy.

The night finally came and their was excitement in the air.   Al Baik is done fast food-style with third country nationals, mostly Pakistanis, cooking up chicken and french fries like mad.  For about three dollars I ordered the eight piece meal which gave me the ungodly amount of chicken, an aluminum box load of fries, drink, bun, and garlic sauce.

Don't ask me how many calories are shown here.  Photograph by me.
Apparently Al Baik is under constant fear that the Saudi prince who has kept them captives in the Hijaz was and still is trying to steal their secret recipes.  The moment the above photograph was taken three workers came up to us and told us sternly that photography of the food was not allowed (I wondered if they ever thought a spy could order the meal to go and then take photographs of it outside).  This was the only time I was not allowed to take a photograph while in Saudi Arabia.

The food was delicious.  I managed to get three pieces down until my body reminded me I cannot handle greasy food well.

About twenty or so minutes into the meal something happened.  People started hurrying out the door.  Then all the sudden the three restaurant workers who told us about not to take photographs walked back up to us and started packing up our food into to-go containers.  Before we could ask something along the lines of "what are you doing?" we were rushed out of the door.  The door was then locked, lights turned off, and metal gates were lowered to prevent anyone from looking inside.  What made the moment even surrealer was that several men stood around a parked car counting the number people who came out.  As I stood in confusion at what was going on the call to prayer began.

The men were religious police, mutaween.  The mutaween are volunteers, more like free lance mercenaries, who receive money from the religious establishment to enforce sharia law.  They are separate from the government which reports to the Saudi family.  The have the authority to enforce laws like the closing of businesses for the call to prayer.  If we were to eat in the restaurant or been served while the call to prayer was going on the mutaween could have arrested the workers and closed the business down.  Only "family" restaurants (one's where women can get with their family) are allowed to remain open during the prayer call.

The mutaween ensured the panic shutdown of other restaurants I ate at as well.  A a Turkish-run sit down restaurant manager came up to us apologizing by saying "Please go, I cannot allow you to stay.  I am so sorry.  We Turks do not like to do this."  In a discussion with the Turkish-manager and Peter I found at that most Saudis will delay going out until the last call to prayer in order to avoid the mandatory half an hour shut down of businesses during the call to prayer.

There was one place where the mutaween could not prevent my consumption of delicious food during prayer call.  In a strip-mall in the middle of Riyadh there is the best Thai restaurant which caters to the Thais who live and work doing the odd-jobs Saudis do not do.  The pad thai was the best I ever had.  The fact that it cost less than two dollars for food and drink made it better.  And being able to enjoy it because we were in the "family" section prevented any panic rushing out the door.

Coming next week:  Saudi Arabia: The Bad and Overlooked Good of Saudi Arabians

Friday, September 10, 2010

Map of Twitter Followers of World Leaders

Earlier this week I blogged about world leaders who have Twitter accounts.  The post has a life as it own as the excellent World Geography Blog (whose blogger, Ryan, is a frequent commenter therefore an all around cool guy) has a post which maps the popularity of world leader's Twitter feeds.

The amount of followers various world leaders have on Twitter.  Map made by World Geography Blog
Not surprisingly the English-language Twitter feeds are the most popular.  America's President Barack Obama and the United Kingdom's Prime Minister David Cameron have the most popular feeds.  The media savy Jordanian Queen Rania comes in at third.  These three top feeds are well above the rest with over a million followers.  Fourth place, with only 195,000, is the Spanish-language feed of Chile's President Sebastián Piñera.  I assume that the reason this feed is so popular is a combination of the wide spreed use of the internet in Spanish-speaking countries and Piñera's background in the media business.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Travel Advisories from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States

The end of the Cold War and start of globalization has led to a rapid expansion in international tourism.  A parallel increase in risk has lead to governments taking a more proactive role in monitoring and advising their citizens of various dangers.  These dangers range from human-caused like crime and terrorism to ecological like diseases.  The internet has allowed governments to easily reach its citizens with travel advisories.  The United States and the main Commonwealth countries have led to the charge in advising their citizens via the web.

Countries Travel Advisories Websites:
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
United Kingdom's Foreign & Commonwealth Office
United States' Department of State

The Commonwealth countries do a good job of providing warnings.  The first information displayed, usually in a color-coded system, gives the general advisory and any related important information.  New Zealand even provides links from the other countries' travel warnings pages.

The United States' State Department page is horrible, though.  One has to scroll through a CIA World Factbook-style introduction and then sort through other general information to get to the advisories.  Looking up Iran one will have to read past "Iran is an Islamic Republic" to get to any useful information.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

September 2010 Travel Photo: Guanajuato Sun Roof

I took this photo in November 2009 during my trip to Mexico.

The city of Guanajuato is the capital of the Mexican state with the same name.  It is located in a bowl with historical, New Spain-style colonial dominating in the center.

View Larger Map

The mornings were cool, to the point my fingers ached.  However, once the sun's rays conquered the hill and filled the bowl it warmed up into 70 degrees (lower to mid 20s degrees Celsius).  The home I rented had a roof which had tables and a wooden shade roof on top.  From here I could eat breakfast and enjoy the outdoor sounds lie a man selling propane while he yelled "/ghaas/", cars in distance, bells from the many churches in town, and the market a few blocks away.

An added extra was the glass floor on the roof which acted as a skylight for both the library on the second floor and the kitchen on the main level.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Saudi Arabia: A Neat and Orderly Police State

The Government of Saudi Arabia kindly wishes to inform you that they do not like your geography blog.
These are hard post to write.  My feelings of Saudi Arabia are incredibly mixed.  The physical geography is beautiful and I can only heap praise on the many Arabs I met in the country.  However, Saudi Arabia is the first time I truly felt in a different world.  Being raised in the United States I have been able to share cultural traits which I encountered while in Latin America, the Caribbean islands, and Europe.  Even Iraq and Qatar had a wannabe, Westernish-modernish feeling to them.  Saudi Arabia though, is different.  My time in Saudi Arabia has given me the impress that Saudi Arabia wants to be modern but on its terms with as little Westerness as possible. 

A Neat and Orderly Police State
The Government of Saudi Arabia kindly wishes to inform you that they will kill you if you bring in drugs.
Doha, Qatar's airport is one of the most disorganized cosmopolitan places in the world.  I saw Americans, Brits, French, Germans, Saudis, Egyptians, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Filipinos cutting in front of each other, pushing, and desperately seeking anything that could guide them to their gates.  At the ticket counter a dolled-up, fake blonde young Arab woman became my smiling savior as she guided me to my Riyadh-bound flight.

When the plane took off I was thinking that Saudi Arabia would be similarly chaotic.  I was quickly diverted though when a East Asian flight attendant handed me a customs form which in bright red lettering threatened me with death if I was trafficking in drugs (If only "Death for Terrorism" or "Death for Human Trafficking" were on the form).  For the rest of the flight I, a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-drug using Catholic, just dwelled on this stern warning while remembering movies like Brokedown Palace.

When I landed the stereotype of an Arabian chaos was shattered.  Everyone quickly yet quietly formed a line and stayed in it.  We all went through security silently.  Heavily armed police overlooked the whole process.  Women in face showing burqas, more skin reveling than in Qatar but much less fashionable as they were cotton and not silk, checked in women while men in uniform (much like Homeland Security in the United States) checked men in.

Qatar relies on cameras for enforcement.  Police cameras are everywhere and used in malls, sidwalks, roads, neighborhoods, and even in restaurants.  In Saudi Arabia police are everywhere while the camera was virtually unseen.  Going to the hotel and around town there were many road checkpoints manned mostly by police but at several places by military-equipped National Guard.  Even the hotel I stayed at had a heavy police presence.

What truly made me feel in another world was the openness of punishment.  Public punishment has gone out of sytle in the West.  The biggest controversy is if the names and addresses of ex-convicts should be placed on the internet.  In Saudi Arabia there is no real controversy over any form of punishment public or private.

The seemingly innocent public square in front of the Ministry of Justice building.

In front of the Ministry of Justice building is the "Ministry of Justice Square."  I visited it on a Thursday evening.  Little kids were playing in the main fountains that came out of a complex gutter system while older kids played a soccer game.  Some adults walked in and out of the square while others were merely enjoying the cooling evening shade. 

While I was enjoying the view someone came up to me and asked if I was going to be in the square tomorrow, Friday.  When I asked why I was told that I should.  "You should come.  We will put you up front so you get to see everything."  I quickly found out that the Ministry of Justice Square was used for executions and amputations for people caught stealing three times.  Crowds and the police will move foreigners up front with the preference for those who they consider likely Christians.  That way foreigners get to see "true, Saudi justice" while the last thing the condemned see are kafir Christians.

The man probably saw the shock on my face.  He responded with "Don't worry.  The criminals are drained of blood so they cannot struggle and no blood will get on.  The rest of the blood and washed away by the fountains."

Later this week: The Gastronomical Delights of Saudi Arabia and Its Enemies

Monday, September 06, 2010

World Leaders on Twitter

Twitter has provided yet another form of electronic communication to the masses.  What first seemed to be a gimmick has turned into a social media phenomenon.  Twitter is so wide spread that world leaders have their own accounts which they use to announce news, views, and general comments.  Below is a list of world leaders and/or world leaders' offices official accounts.  The accounts publish in English unless otherwise noted.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Sebastian Piñera (Spanish)

Costa Rica
Casa Presidenical: President Laura Chinchilla (Spanish)

Primer Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Danish)

President Rafael Correa (Spanish)

The Office of the President: President Nicholas Sarkozy (French)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Queen Rania Al Abdullah

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvian)

Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak

President Felipe Calderon (Spanish)

New Zealand
Prime Minister John Key

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Norwegian)

The Kremlin, President Dmitry Medvedev

South Korea
The Blue House: Lee Myung-bak (Korean)

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (Thai)

President Abdullah Gul (Turkish)
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkish)

United Arab Emirates
Prince Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

United Kingdom
Number 10 Office: Prime Minister David Cameron

United States
The White House: President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

Friday, September 03, 2010

Online Live Meteorological Maps of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea

News stories about hurricanes and tropical storms fill the media as summer turns into fall.  This is also the season where I get requests for geographic information about these powerful sea storms.  Fortunately I have found something of use for those who desire meteorological data.  My Fox Hurricane pools the resources of radar, satellites, models, and sea gathered information to offer a wide variety of maps.  There are also KML (Google Earth) and SHP (GIS) files available about the current storms in the news.  So if you are looking for something like wave heights in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, water temperature in the Atlantic Ocean, or an air pressure map then this is worth a look!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Central Place Theory and Its Dark Origin

The development of Central Place Theory is one of the great realizations in modern geography.  The theory's acceptance allowed for better integration of quantitative data and mathematics into geography and allowed the field to regain scientific respect which was lost after World War II.  What few realizes or acknowledge though is that this important theory has its origins in one of mankind's darkest hours.

Central Place Theory deals with cities, their satellites, and other populated places.  Central Place Theory is defined, by James Rubenstein in "The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography," as "a theory that explains the distribution of services, based on the fact that settlements serve as centers of market areas for services; larger settlements are fewer and farther apart than smaller settlements and provide services for a large number of people who are willing to travel farther."

Translating that into everyday speak, the theory can be explained as "rural people go to a town for certain goods that can be sold profitably in a lightly populated area.  For specialized goods that need a high population density to be sold profitably (a car sales man can sell more cars in New York City than Scotland, South Dakota) rural people and town people go to a city.  Thus the city is the central place for the city, towns, and satellite areas like suburbs, exurbs, and farms. 

Central Place Theory states that it would be economically unlikely that two major cities would be located close to each other because they would split profits from the outlying area (think of two trees competing for limited soil neutrants, they could not grow as big as they could if the other tree was not there).  However, it is possible for two cities to be spatial close if travel between two cities is difficult due to high density traffic or poor roads (think how Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland are so close together but a considered world's apart by nearby residents).

A simplified explanation of Central Place Theory

To figure out the fine points and apply Central Place Theory one needs to use mathematics and economics.  The use of these statistical sciences helped open geography up to the quantitative revolution.  Today, while the revolution has ebbed, many geographers like urban planners and GIS user still ground their studies in spatial statistics.

A Dark Origin

Central Place Theory was started by the German geographer Walter Christaller in the 1920s.  Christaller observed the spatial patterning of settlements in southern Germany and published his results in Central Places in Southern Germany.

However, Christaller was not able to apply his theory until a few years later.  He was unique, compared to other planning geographers, in the sense that he was given a blank slate and an uptopian goal: remake occupied Poland for his Nazi masters using Central Place Theory.  You see, Christaller was a member of the Nazi Party who worked for Heinrich Himmler in the SS Planning and Soil Office.  He even made a map showing how a German-settled Poland should look with central places and adjacent places (below).

The Central Place in the Eastern Regions and their Culture and Market Sector map for the SS Reorganization of Poland.  Click to enlarge.  From Visualizing a Map of Walter Christaller, Poland 1941.

Christaller did not see his dream completed due to the Nazi loss of World War II.  However, like many believers in National Socialism he made the small hop from German National Socialism to International Socialism (the Communist Party).  Today, Christaller is well respected in geography with his many admirers not only praising his theory (a valid thing to do) but also honoring him with with award and scholarship titles.  His theory is accepted with a few modification yet his dark past is rarely discussed in any geography class.