Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010: Past Posts and Chupacabras: All Hispanic Cultures Are the Same?

Previous geographic-ish Halloween Posts:

Chupacabra means "goat sucker."  In the mid-1990s stories of a weird bipedal creature in Puerto Rico draining the blood of livestock started making news.  The strange creature could best be described as a "grey alien" with a mohawk.  Incidents of this creature's alleged attacks peaked near 2000 and have slowly lowered in amount since then.

In the mid-2000s there was another peak of "chupacabras" attacks occurred in Texas and other parts of the American Southwest.  These attacks were done by dog-like creatures.  In fact, CNN acquired video of the southwestern chupacabra.  The animal really does look like a dog.

Now it turns out that the southwestern chupacabra is in fact a Canis animal.  According to scientific studies done on the bodies of shot Southwestern chupacabras (if you want to prove a cryptid exists there is no better way then shooting it), these creatures are really coyotes with the mite called sarcoptes scabiei.  These mites traditionally attack humans and domesticated dogs and only recently (biological time scale) jumped to coyotes.  The mites' infection causes these coyotes to lose their hair and become so weak that they are forced to hunt domesticated animals.

There is an oddity though.  These coyotes look nothing like the Puerto Rican chupacabras.  They also are known to leave full mouth bite marks unlike the vampire-like marks known in Puerto Rico.  So why is the term used for both creatures?  After doing side research the only conclusion I can reach is that Southwestern ranchers and media were unable to describe the creature and therefore looked for something equivalent.  The American Southwest has a strong Mexican-based Hispanic cultural heritage so the media picked up on the Puerto Rican monster because Puerto Rico has a Hispanic-based culture.  Basically, it was thought that Mexican and Puerto Rican cultures were close enough.  So these two different types of creatures, one a coyote and one possibly made up, are combined into one legend.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How to Lie with Maps and Imagery: Glenn Beck versus Jon Stewart

Political rallies tend to create controversy.  Sizing up rallies and other geographic equations can become just as controversial as a rally's message.  The size estimates for the Million Man March (PDF) and Google's shadiness with the Lincoln Memorial's location before Glenn Beck's 2010 rally are prime examples of that.

The first image below is making its away around the conservative blogosphere and e-mail lists.  It claims to be a size comparison of Glenn Beck's rally to that of the "Rally to Restore Sanity" hosted by Jon Stewart.

Seems like Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally was bigger than Jon Stewart's.  But let us examine the geography and image interpretation used for the image.  For Beck's rally look how the oval starts to the left of the Lincoln Memorial, where the speaker's were and roads prevented people from being behind, and goes away past the World War II Memorial at the end of the reflecting pool, where the image ends.  Now for Stewart's rally look how the at the right side of the photo, there is an oval building.  The bulk of the rally ends at the street coming right after the circular building..  The building is the Hirshhorn Museum yet the oval in the image for Stewart's rally ends well before the museum.

Take a look at the mini-map below now with my modifications (a red block for Beck and yellow for Stewart).  Size-wise Beck's rally is slightly bigger but Beck's rally had a reflecting pool in the middle of it.

This is not meant to be a political post.  I do not even like getting involved in the beast known as population/crowd estimates.  This post merely is to show how a map is being used to distort a current event.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cultural Geography Notes for Halloween Movies

Forget the mainstream Hollywood Halloween movies (not that there is anything wrong with mainstream Hollywood films compared to other schools of industry).  There are plenty of high quality movies that are perfect for Halloween that come from across the globe.  These films are fun to watch while gaining bits of cultural geographic insight.

Dracula (1931-Spanish edition)

During the same time that the famous version with Bela Lugosi was being filmed Universal was also creating a Spanish-edition.  The actors for this film came from all over the Hispanic world ranging from Mexico, to Spain, to Argentina.  In an effort to show Spanish language films were good as English language efforts the actors and staff worked hard to "one up" the English-language film crew.  They were successful in creating a better technical film that was longer and more faithful to the book than Lugosi's movie.

An unrelated thing to take note is that the Hispanic film was unencumbered by English cultural morals of not revealing too much with the women's nightgowns.

Tim Estiloz has more on the Spanish-language version of Dracula

Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In is the Swedish vampire hit that was recently redone with the American movie Let Me In.  The movie is truly a product of modern Western Europe: willing to accept other worlds except those that deal with Christianity.  While permission and sunlight make prominent parts of the film there is not one mention of a church, cross, or holy water to deal with the most manipulative vampire in a movie ever.

Bubba Ho-Tep

Bubba Ho-Tep is a proper homage to B-monster movies by the primary B-actor: Bruce Cambell.  The films staring an aged "Elvis" and "John Kennedy" as they battle an Egyptian mummy which feasts upon residents of a nursing home.  A forgotten part of east Texas, which is an overlooked part of the country to many, provides the background to a film about how American cultural does not value its old.  But it is mostly a dark comedy about Elvis and JFK versus a mummy.

Do you have your own favorite Halloween movie and any cultural geographic insight to share about it?  If so please comment!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Degree Confluence Project: Mapping the Intersection of Latitudes and Longitudes

Reader Smeeko has sent me the link to the Degree Confluence Project.  The project seeks to contain photos and stories from people who have visited the intersections of whole number latitudes and longitudes.  As of right now six thousand records (out of 32,400 that is not bad) in 183 countries with 90,288 photographs.  If one wants to virtually travel the world this is sure a good place to start.

Strangely this includes Egypt and Syria which ban GPS units.  Piece of advice if you want to participate: keep in mind many countries police do not take kindly to someone walking around with a GPS unit.  Play it safe out there.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

GDP Indicates a United Ireland is Economically Unwise

In some parts of the Republic of Ireland and the Irish Diaspora, there is still the strong dream of a United Ireland.  The island's, currently split between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom), problems have long been thought of in terms of religion and politics.  Economic analysis can add a new dimension to the debate on whether the island should be united or if the border should be kept.

For example, consider the role of economics in the case of Germany's reunification.  Despite initial popular approval based on politics, the reunification of East and West Germany has been proven to have been rushed without economic considerations.  The gap between East and West's economies forced the West to spend much of its resources on getting the East somewhat to par.  Even after twenty years parody has not been achieved.

The difference between the two Germany's right before reunification was stark.  The East German GDP was only 10% of Germany's total in 1989 despite having 20% of the total population.  Per Capita wise, East German GDP was 42% compared to West Germany's.

Now examine Northern Ireland's economy in relation to that of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom's.
  • Northern Ireland's GDP is 30% of all of Ireland though it has 39% of all the island's population.  Per Capita wise Northern Ireland's GDP is 60% compared to the Republic of Ireland's.
  • In comparison to the United Kingdom: Northern Ireland's GDP is 1.5% of all the UK's GDP while being 2.9% of the total population.  Per Capita wise Northern Ireland's GDP is 79% compared to the UK's.
Northern Ireland's economy is underdeveloped compared to both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.  However, it would be economically wiser for Northern Ireland to stay in the United Kingdom for two reasons.
  1. GDP per capita is closer to the United Kingdom's rather than Ireland's.  Cost of living fluctuations would cause more harm than good for the Northern Irish citizenry.
  2. The sheer size of the United Kingdom's economy allows it to better support (i.e. prop up) Northern Ireland.  Ireland would be forced to spend a much larger share of its resources on Northern Ireland much like West Germany had to do for East Germany.  This is unreasonable with the republic currently suffering a massive downturn.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Geo Blog: EarthCurrent

Currently Catholicgauze is being racked by a wide range of vaccines which prevent me from putting the final touches to a long worked on post.  However, I have continued to search out the geography blogosphere.  Reader The Lazy Geographer has been blogging like mad over at EarthCurrent since September.  The blog revolves around revolves around current geography news and geographic analysis of events around the world.

So while I am finishing up blog posts for this geography blog be sure to check out EarthCurrent and other "Catholicgauze Reads" on the sidebar.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Afghan Diary: Preparing Without My Wife

A priest recently told me that despair is a way the Devil tries to destroy us.  Despair is like sin as described in Genesis 4:7 "a demon lurking at the door," alive and waiting to devour us.  I currently suffer the temptation to despair.  My wife is Kenya.  I will not hold her until I return from Afghanistan (which I have still yet to leave for).  I am also racked by a near feverish state as my body painfully reacts to various vaccines injected into me.  Worst of all, the apartment I come home to everynight is cold, dark, and empty.

However, all I need to do is to reflect on the current situation and the despair melts away.  Catholicgauzette is working with a development group in Kenya.  The NGO she is working for has a positive track record and she can only amplify their good works.  I will one day be reunited with her.  My physical and mental pain no where matches those of the saints, soldiers, and innocents caught up in war.  My time alone is a time for reflection, a time to give thanks for everything that I have.

Once I publish this post I will go back to preparing for Afghanistan.  This time not in despair but with thoughts of thanks and the promise of the future.

No Trick Treats: Map of Dietary Friendly Trick or Treat Spots

Ghosts, monsters, vampires, werewolves, and zombies will walk the streets this Halloween (fortunately only hunting for candy).  There is a real fear for many families, though.  Children suffering from medically-necessitated dietary restrictions are at risk of severe reactions to foods with items like nuts, gluten, and high levels of sugar.  There are also many more children who have voluntary restrictions like kosher, vegan, and organic diets.

This is a potential Google Maps mashup that can help save Halloween for these children.  No Trick Treats allows users to search for and place locations that will be handing out vegan, organic, raw, fruits/vegetables, nut-free, kosher, sugar-free, gluten-free, and non-food goods.  There are a limited amount of locations so far but hopefully press coverage of the site will encourage more people to use it.

A vegan Halloween... what a scary thought.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 23: The 6,014 Anniversary of the "Creation of the Young Earth"

Modern creationism is firmly rooted in culturally English Protestantism.  The British emphasis in the Old Testament, which other Germanic-protestantism lacked, proved to be the genesis of interest in trying to date the world.  Many English scholars like Newton created their creation scholarly works but most's labors have been abandoned in history.  The Calvinistic Anglican head of the Church of Ireland, Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656), is the only first generation creation scholar who still matters in today's world.  It was he who declared the world was slightly less than 6,000 years old and that the creation epic began October 23rd, 4004 B.C.

The pro-Creationist website World Net Daily has this description of Ussher's "discovery" in an article in which they also try to sale a copy of the book.

How old is the world?

Most people would say: "Nobody knows."

But the author of the book frequently described as the greatest history book ever written, said the world was created Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. – making it exactly 6,014 next month.

In the 1650s, an Anglican bishop named James Ussher published his "Annals of the World," subtitled, "The Origin of Time, and Continued to the Beginning of the Emperor Vespasian's Reign and the Total Destruction and Abolition of the Temple and Commonwealth of the Jews." First published in Latin, it consisted of more than 1,600 pages.

The book, now published in English for the first time, is a favorite of homeschoolers and those who take ancient history seriously. It's the history of the world from the Garden of Eden to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Of course, there will be those who disagree with Ussher's calculations of time – especially evolutionists who need billions of years to explain their theory of how life sprang from non-life and mutated from one-celled animals into human beings.

Ussher's arrival at the date of Oct. 23 was determined based on the fact that most peoples of antiquity, especially the Jews, started their calendar at harvest time. Ussher concluded there must be good reason for this, so he chose the first Sunday following autumnal equinox.

Although the autumnal equinox is Sept. 21 today, that is only because of historical calendar-juggling to make the years come out right.
Ussher's work has been experiencing a revival as evangelical fundamentalist seek a Young Earth answer to the world's earth.  Meanwhile Old Earth creationists and Theistic evolutionists have long moved passed Ussher in search of more scientific justifications to their beliefs.

Magnasanti: The Pefect City According to Sim City

I am a fan of Sim City and think it can be a good introduction to city planning.  However, as good as a game it is, it is still a simulation made by people subject to mathematical code.  Case in point: someone has made the "perfect" Sim City, Magnasanti, where no one leaves, there is no pollution, no abandoned buildings, no roads as there are subways everywhere and everyone's work is in walking distance.

"The Perfect City"

Sounds perfect right?  It is perfect if one likes the styles of North Korean urban planning!  Police are everywhere, there is no one moving in or out of the city, and all this has held for a simulated 50,000 years!

The Consumerist has a good short article on the perfect Sim City while Viceland Games an interview with the city's creator.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Map World: China's Response to Google Maps

First France made their own version of Google Maps and then India followed up with their own.  Now, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has made Map World as their rebuttal to Google.  This Google-rival is probably more neogeography-friendly than the others were at their launch with built in support for tools like feature creators, rulers, map pins, etc.

The resolution for the PRC is very good in most cases.  Foreign lands including the those held by the Republic of China (Taiwan) are not as detailed, however.  Oogle Earth has encountered some problems with the 3D support.  User beware: the website is in simplified Chinese characters and it is hosted by the PRC government.

I went map hopping to see if I could find any interesting nationalism built in the program.  At first it was standard: Taiwan shown as a province, Indian-claimed lands shown as Chinese, etc.  But then I looked at Israel (which is a major military partner of the PRC).  The map shows the 1947 UN partition proposal as the borders!  Yes, the PRC does recognize the "State of Palestine" as declared in the late 1980s but no one in decades has argued for the 1947 proposed borders rejected by the Arab states to be the borders for Israel and Palestine.  The last time I saw the 1947 proposed borders for the State of Israel was in a 1970s Soviet atlas.  This is a weirdness I cannot explain.

Is this official PRC policy?  I do not think so...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Ugly American in The Onion

Note:  I will not embed the video on the blog because it has sophomore-level humor of crude jokes.  Viewer be warned.

 The Onion, the joke newspaper, has an online video discussing the Ugly American.  In "Has Obama Failed To Reduce Hostility Toward Obnoxious Americans Abroad?" pundits debate why American tourists are still viewed negatively around the world.

Behind the joke is the true phenomenon of the Ugly American.  Besides brief experimentation by Nazi Germany, the United States was the first country where the "less cultured and mannered" middle and working classes could afford to travel aboard.  It was therefore Americans who broke the "learned, polite traveler" stereotype.

Nowadays the Ugly Tourist is international.  In Guanajuato, Mexico, for instance, I met an army of "Ugly Germans."  Meanwhile, "Ugly Saudis" are well known in Bahrain and Monaco.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

School Raitings for 4th and 8th Grade Math and Reading Scores

This weekend I saw Waiting for Superman and was depressed by it.  The effect cultural decline and failing schools have had on the United States is sad.  What it especially sad for many families is their inability to compare their schools with others and hopefully find a way out, either public or private, for their children.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have teamed up with others to create the Education Nation Scorecard for Schools website.  The website allows one to search for schools across the United States and compare the searched school with other schools, both public and private.  Data is given for the school, other schools in the state, and the United States versus other developed countries.  Reading and math scores for fourth and eighth grade are given as well as graduation rates.

Only 14% of DC eighth graders read at an eighth grade level.  But then again "high preforming" states like Massachusetts are under 50% reading at their grade level.

The results are saddening. The nation's capital, Washington D.C., is a blight on the country.  Only 14% of all eighth graders read at an eighth grade level and only 56% of Washingtonian kids will graduate high school (Nevada is worse with 51% graduating).  Then again, even "high scoring" states are under 50%.

This tool is useful for those looking to move to a new town.  Use this website to scope out the neighborhoods you are interested in moving to and see if your child(ren) will be going to a truly high preforming school.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sacred Spaces and God In America's Self-Guided Tours

Traditional Christianity's outlook on the cosmos' physical form is quite bleak.  Man's direct relationship with God died with the rest of the world bound to die.  Everything in the world was filled with sin and corruption.  The much difficult to reach Heaven meanwhile remained perfect.  Heaven and Earth would be reunited with both being perfected only at the end of the end of the world.

Traditional understanding held sacred spaces were the only thing that can temporally/partially reunite Heaven and Earth.  These man-made sites were holy of holies where God could be present and sin could be taken away.  Non-Christian sites were similar despite the lack of the Fall and uniquess of redemption geography theology.  For example, mosques brought Muslim communities to God's messages, Celtic forests were the places where the spirits lived, and the Aztec believed the ruins in Mesoamerica were the cities of forgotten God's who needed to be appeased.

Today people go to sacred places for many reasons.  Some go for the traditional reason why others seek another spiritual experience, research the cultural meaning these sites have, or just wish to look at the pretty architecture.

The God In America website has self-guided sacred spaces tours for eight American citiesAtlana, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Portland, Santa Fe, and San Francisco all of tour pages.  The tours have good information on interesting sites in these cities.  I only wish other cities that have a plethora of sacred sites like Washington D.C. had guides.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bedbug National Registry and City Maps

The Bed Bug Registry is setting itself up as the one stop shop for bedbug spatial information.  Not only is there a national level map which allows one to zoom to any area of the United States and Canada for information but there is also a city page for easy reference.  Current city pages are New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, and Vancouver.  Finally, there is a hotel page which allows one to see how hotel chains rank with number of bed bug reports.

Friday, October 15, 2010

God In America

American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the television program Frontline have released an six-episode mini-series about religion in America's social and political history.  All six episodes can be watched online from God In America's website.

The show does a good job showing how English Puritan Protestantism greatly impacted America.  The Puritans focused on the Old Testament, unique among Christians at the time, and saw themselves as the remnant of the true faith leaving Egypt (England) for the promised land (America).  Seeing America as a blank slate and a "city upon the hill" infused the United States with the belief that religion is critical for the country and America is God's country.

That belief has greatly impacted the country:  Dissenter religions like Methodism which could claim direct contact with God flourished, Americanist religions like Mormonism were born, Manifest Destiny gave the country a conquering spirit over the American Indian nations, and politics and religion have been closely intertwined in issues ranging from education to civil rights to geopolitics.

God In America is long but it is an intimate, person-driven account of how religion has impacted the United States.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Map of Alcohol Laws along the Persian Gulf

Map by Curzon from Coming Anarchy
Coming Anarchy's Curzon, who currently lives in the United Arab Emirates, has made a blog post and map about the laws concerning alcohol along the Persian Gulf.  The map shows that two emirates and Bahrain have the most liberal laws concerning alcohol in the area.  There is a saying among Saudis who wish to drink which goes something along the lines of "God cannot see past the bridge [to Bahrain].  The one country missing from the map is Iran which bans all alcohol for Muslims but allows non-Muslims to produce their own for private consumption and Christian Eucharist services.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Partially Recognized Rise of Christianity in the Modern Middle East

News stories about Christianity in the Middle East are usually negative.  The typical news story usually is a) the demographically stable Coptic Church is involved in street fights against the Muslim Brotherhood, b) Eastern Catholics and Orthodox from the Levant emigrating out of the region, or c) about the Assyrian and Chaledon Catholic churches being reduced in half in their native Iraq because of violence.  For many it appears that the sun is about to set on the 2,000 years of Christianity in the Middle East.

However, according to the National Catholic Reporter there is a hidden growth of Christianity in the Middle East.  The large presence of guest workers from Christian communities in India, Vietnam, Malaysia, and especially the Philippines are causing Christianity to reappear in places where it has been extinct.  Because the sheer mass of guest workers from other countries (Arabs in Qatar are the minority, for example) it is plausible that Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have either large Christian minorities or are even majority Christian.  Even Saudi Arabia has somewhere between one and a half to two million Christians.

There are two reasons why many demographers (and therefore people) have failed two register the Middle Eastern rise of Christianity: oppression/heavy control and the temporary/permanent debate.

Most Arabian countries heavily control Christianity and are like Qatar which allows one active Latin and Eastern Catholic church (I visited the Latin-rite church) however the main church is outside of Doha in the desert and it is not allowed to advertise its presence.  The United Arab Emirates allows the presence of the bishop for the Catholic apostolic vicariate of Arabia.  Saudi Arabia's on the other hand bans group practice of Christianity outright and its religious police seek out hidden masses.  This control of Christianity keeps it out of sight and therefore out of mind.  The control of the practicing of Christianity also extends to keeping these people out of censuses and official denials about the amount of Christians in country.  The regimes on the Arabian peninsula, including secular Yemen, gain legitimacy from keeping their countries Arab (which is sometimes used as a code word for "Muslim").  To recognize the rise of Christian non-Arabs would greatly harm the regime in the eyes of its Arab "native" subjects.

The term "guestworker" is loaded.  One taxi driver I had in Saudi Arabia was a "guestworker" who had lived in Saudi Arabia for over thirty years and had no plans to go back to his native country.  Meanwhile the Bengali pool lifeguard told me he had been in Doha for seven years and told me about his kids who go to school in Qatar.  These "guestworkers" are in country so long and are such a large portion of the population that they should be considered in any understanding of a country.  However, considering these people as temporary invalidates them on one's mental cultural landscape and demographic understanding of a country.

The rise of Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula does not equal the decline in the rest of the Middle East.  Ignoring the loss of historical tradition, many of the incoming Christians lack both personal and religious rights.  They also can be evicted at any time.  Until these Christians are given permanent status the rise of Christianity will be ignored and potentially reversible.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hungary's Ajka Alumina Disaster

Before and after.  From the Google Lat-Long Blog
On October 4th Hungary experienced its worse environmental disaster since the collapse of Communism.  The Ajka waste sludge reservor broke with thirty-five million cubic feet (one million cubic meters) of rust, aluminum oxide, and pH high sodium oxide rushed through the river systems of northwest Hungary.  At least eight are dead, the local economy is in shambles, and much of the local enviornment is in critical condition.

Near the break the waste sludge was a pH level of 13.  At that level the waste is a million times more basic than water at its natural state.  Many of the agricultural fields will need intensive care or they will never be able to produce again. Homes and other human goods will need to be abandoned and destroyed because they are no longer usable.

The sludge has reached the Danube River, the second largest river system in Europe.  Fortunately its pH level has dropped to high but manageable levels.  So far there are no reports of dead fish or dying vegetation by the river.

Google has released updated imagery showing the before and after of this horrible disaster.  It is downloadable for Google Earth.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day 2010

Columbus' First Journey.  Image from Wikipedia

Christopher Columbus did what other explorers failed to do.  He added the Old World to an ancient world to create the New World.  His discovery of the ancient world helped Nicolaus Copernicus to divorce astronomy from geography and destroyed early Christian-cosmos influenced ideas of world geography.  Finally, his discovery led to the start of the Age of Discovery which ensured the importance of geography to world powers, merchants, and colonists.  (His misadventure later on around Central America may even have given "America" its name).

Today his holiday is celebrated and despised in many ways.  Even though Columbus was a proud man and poor administrator, and there were many ills committed by the European conquers of the Western Hemisphere, it is undeniable that Columbus' travels remade the world, remade geography, and allowed for great deeds to be accomplished in the truly New World.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Liu Xiaobo Wins 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

Liu Xiaobo, and many others, have a dream for China.  They wish to remove the Chinese Communist Party's dictatorship over mainland China and replace it with unified, federal, constitutional, representative democracy that respects human rights.  He co-wrote Charter 08 which seeks liberalization and implementation of the United Nations' Human Rights Charter in China.  Best of all, Liu supports his goal with non-violent tactics.  For his efforts Liu has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Communists have punished Liu for his ideas by imprisoning him in 2009.  The unjust rulers have protested his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize by forcing his wife to leave her home.

Congratulations to Liu Xiaobo.  May your efforts one day lead to an economically powerful, world power united China that respects the individual.

The English translation of Charter 08 is available from Human Rights in China.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Geo Blog: The Basement Geographer

I recently discovered another established, well written geography blog:  The Basement Geographer.  The blog is written by the geographer "kuschk" who has done a good job so far of publishing two large article every week since mid-2010.  Two articles I really like are the map-making related Cartographic Copyright Traps and Vatican City and the Holy City: Not the Same.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Every Geographer is a Rifleman

I have qualified on the M4 rifle with a 94% accuracy.  The more I use firearms the more I desire never to use them in combat.  Do not misunderstand me, I will shoot to disable/kill if in the rare case I do get into the mess in Afghanistan, but I wish the rifle will stay in a locker like it did in Iraq.

I began to think about the geography associated with the M4 training while I was lying in the mud waiting for the all clear to be given.  The two main thoughts bouncing in my head were how the M4 and AK-47 respectively represent the United States and insurgencies; and how the military cosmos is still in Iraq-mode.

M4 and the AK-47

The M4 is the 1997-born edition of the carbine rifle made most famous by the 1960s M-16 rifle.  It is a weapon that requires each individual part to be clean and tight fighting.  When it does work it is a high-tech, long-range, customizable killing machine.  When a piece is loose, not in its proper place, or dirty it will jam.

The AK-47 is the ugly yet surprisingly versatile 1947-made Soviet assault rifle.  Its pieces are loose and knowledge on how to clean it is not required.  In fact knowledge besides how to load and shoot are not really needed.  It is the perfect weapon to give to leftist college kids and angry peasants.  It can get dirty and still fire.  The downside is that its looseness makes it less accurate at long range.

To me the M4 represents the United States' military effort in the War on Terrorism: high-tech, long reaching war effort that can pick off enemies from afar with ease.  However, the moment it gets involved in the muck of large operations it jams up and needs multiple fixings and cleanings.  The AK-47 meanwhile is the local, accidental guerrilla.  Inaccurate but easy to make and use while also able to cause damage.  Pieces can be remade by hand, like how the tribal weaponsmiths in Pakistan do, if a part breaks.  The AK-47 and insurgencies can get dirty and still work.  Everything is replaceable.  The AK-47 and a successful insurgency are truly products of the land.

Shooting at Iraqis, I think

After a day of weapons training and stories about fighting in Afghanistan it was time to qualify.  Instead of shooting at a silhouette or some Taliban or al Qaeda-like figure our targets looked like an effeminate Turkish coffee house owner.

Preppy from Baghdad U or the local Istanbul manager of a Starbucks.  From

Later I asked about where the contracting agency acquired the targets.  I was told that the targets were bought in bulk by many contracting companies in the mid-2000s during the massive military-related business buildup due to the Iraq War.  The Iraq War had such a buildup that there is still a massive surplus of Iraq and Arab-themed supplies.  Very few businesses have produced Afghanistan-related supplies so those training for Afghanistan are still stuck in Iraq-mode.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Map of Population and GDP Comparisons of East and West Germany in 1991 and 2010

From the Economist
On October 3, 2010 German celebrated the political reunification of their fatherland.  The Federal Republic of Germany (West) finalized the reunion by absorbing the Democratic Republic of Germany (East).  With this reunification many look forward to a second German economic miracle.  However, as noted elsewhere on the blog, East Germany has lagged behind.

Now The Economist has a great map about the difference between the former West and East Germanys.  While eastern Germany's gross domestic product (GDP) has jumped, doubling in fact, GDP still pales in comparison to GDP in the west.  Also, except for Berlin State which does include the former West Berlin, all states of the former East Germany have all lost population.  While birth rate has had a minor impact on population levels, the true case of the population drop is migration from east to west.

The combination of comparative poverty and out migration have made those who remain in eastern Germany those who were left behind.  This provides an explanation why radical groups like The Left Party (basically the communist Socialist Unity Party of Germany alumni club) and the National Democratic Party (wannabe Nazis) have such popular appeal in the east.

Of interesting note: western states like Saarland and Lower Saxony have recently seen a rise in support for radical parties.  These states have unemployment levels that resemble the east.

Monday, October 04, 2010

October 2010 Travel Photo: New Doha Construction

This month's travel photo is in the downtown section Doha, Qatar.  "New Doha" is very new, so new it is not even finished yet.  Construction of tall towers is occurring everywhere in the compact city's core. 

One hundred years ago Doha was a small fishing village.  Today, fast paced construction has made it a major world city.  The hotel where I stayed at had businessmen and engineers from Europe, the Middle East, east Asia, and Australia (strangely after a week of being the easy-going, talkative me I was the only American in New Doha.  The only Americans I saw where soldiers on leave from the military base in Qatar's desert).

Doha has been viewed by some as the "wannabe Dubai."  While this has been intended as an insult, playing catch-up to Dubai has played in Doha's favor.  Qatar has invested wiser than Dubai with construction focusing on profitable commercial property rather than constellations of islands and skyscrapers which practically bankrupt the country.  While there are some large construction like the Museum of Islamic Art and The Pearl island system, these are relatively small compared to Dubai's excesses.

The new buildings make Doha's population even more unbalanced.  Twenty percent (at most) of all Qatar is Qatari Arab.  Muslims and Christian guest workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and the Philippines are literally building the country and make the vast majority of the population.

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Even this June 2009 imagery is out of date as there are new buildings going up in New Doha which are not shown above.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Maps of Natural and Man Managed Water Stress Worldwide

The BBC has a fascinating article about water stress (i.e. water insecurity) around the world.  The article talks about possible solutions and risks for the next century.  Of note is that the standard "dam it" answer may not be a good solution.  Instead it appears better for both humans and the environment that a mix system of man-made reserves and naturally formed watersheds are used to secure water.

Of special interest me are the two maps below.  The first map shows what water stress would be if man-made infrastructure like dams, irrigation, pipes, and conservation methods are excluded.  The second map factors in these developments. 

From the BBC

The betterment of the United States, Australia, and most of Europe show just how wonderful modern water-related infrastructure is.  What is truly tragic; however, is how poor land and water use combined with shortsighted dam projects plus poor infrastructure have made Africa worse off.  South America, China, and India are mixed bags though things seem leaning slightly to betterment.  With increased investment in better infrastructure combined with aid and superior water management techniques there is a good chance for a brighter, healthier water future for Africa and the rest of the world.