Thursday, March 31, 2011

April 2011 Travel Photo: The Mountains of Time

The interpreter and I were just coming back from a drive.  As we drove closer to our final destination on base I stopped the SUV.  We then gazed in awe at the sight of the mountains which mark the beginning of the Hazarajat in central Afghanistan.

Immediately surrounding us were American military equipment and many temporary buildings.  Things that may be gone as soon as 2014.  However, in the distance the eternal mountains loomed in a fog which gave them an impression of being out of this time, there but not really there.  The interpreter and I spent ten minutes just gazing into the mountains and talking about the history of the region.  We wondered what the Mujaheddin, the British, the Mongols, and Islamic soldiers who fought the militant Buddhists of the region for 400 years, and the Macedonian Greeks all thought when they saw these same mountains.  We also discussed how the people of the region changed (and stayed the same) throughout the millennia.  Seeing these beautiful works of physical geography kept us in the same place but took us out of time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Libya War Maps: The Fifth Batch - The Geography of Oil

Libyan War Maps:  The First Batch
Libyan War Maps:  The Second Batch 
Libyan War Maps:  The Third Batch 
Libyan War Maps:  The Fourth Batch 

Libyan War Maps:  The Sixth Post - The Coalition's Size
Libya War Maps: The Seventh Post - The Invasion of Tripoli
Libya War Maps: The Eighth Post - More Battle of Tripoli Maps

The vast quaunties of oil underneath Libya creates an extra-dimension to the war geography between the forces of the "Libyan Republic" (rebels) and the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Republic" (Qadaffi).  Whoever controls the oil fields, the lands the pipelines cross, and the ports can sell the black gold for massive profit and perhaps even sway vital European powers to fight more or less in the war.  The United States has already given the Libyan rebels a "green light" to sell oil.

The great geopolitical news source Stratfor has created two maps showing the oil geography of Libya. The first one shows oil fields, population density, pipelines, and refinery capability.  The second map shows energy concessions to various countries and their nationalities.

From Stratfor.  Click to Enlarge.
From Stratfor.  Click to Enlarge.

As shown in the maps, most of the oil fields, pipelines, and refineries/ports are in the eastern coast (rebel territory) or central coast where most of the current fighting is occurring.  The first map shows that the port city Ras Lanuf can process almost double the oil Tripoli, Qaddafi's capital, can.  The coast along gulf of Gulf of Sidra in the center of the country is the main control point in Libya's oil geography.  Whoever can control that has a stranglehold on much of the country's oil production.

Interesting side note:  According to the map, BP's only oil interest is in the Gulf of Sidra, BP has no land concessions.

Afghan Diary: My First Stab at Afghan Humor

Afghan, particularly Pashtun, humor revolves around the misapplication of logic.  Mullah Nasruddin jokes, humorous tales of an authority figure who only gets the concepts logic but not logic itself, are common place even today.  Another form misapplication of logic humor deals with hashish addicts.  For some reason the inability of a hashish addict to think logically plus Afghan culture's looking down upon drug users equals great Afghan-style humor.  Some jokes that I have heard begin with "There was a hashish user..." and these automatically produce a laugh of anticipation in the listener.

During a recent conversation with an Afghan I decided to bring Afghan and Western humor together.  We were previously discussing how the Polish military had done great harm to Afghanistan by letting the Taliban retake control of much of the countryside.  During a lull I asked the Afghan if he had heard about the Polish soldier and hashish addict.  As he heard the translation of my question he smiled and he stated his desire to hear the joke.

The Polish Soldier and the Hashish Addict

A Polish soldier saw a hashish addict looking sad.  "Why are you sad?" asked the Pole.  The hashish addict said, "I only have one hashish packet left.  Soon I will be all out."   The Pole told the addict not to be sad because the Pole had an idea to get more hashish.  The hashish addict was pleased but wondered how the Pole was going to get more hashish.  "It is simple," replied the Pole, "give the packet to me."  The Pole then took the packet and buried it in the sand.  "Soon," said the Pole, "we will have our very own hashish plant!"

The interpreter gave into laughter as he began to retell the story in Pashtun.  As he translated the story the Afghan also smiled and gave out a good laugh.  My first stab at Afghan humor was a success.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libya War Maps: Third Batch

Libyan War Maps:  The First Batch
Libyan War Maps:  The Second Batch 
Libyan War Maps:  The Fourth Batch 
Libyan War Maps: The Fifth Batch - The Geography of Oil
Libyan War Maps:  The Sixth Post - The Coalition's Size
Libya War Maps: The Seventh Post - The Invasion of Tripoli
Libya War Maps: The Eighth Post - More Battle of Tripoli Maps

I created this map using a base map from D-Maps.  It compares actual military commitments by country for the Iraq War and current Libyan War.  Red countries gave military support as part of Multi-National Force - Iraq, blue countries are giving (as of March 22, 2011) support UN SC Resolution 1973 in either phase 1 and/or phase 2, and purple countries have actively supported both wars.

A tragic factor in these wars is how those countries most directly affected do not take part.  The Arab League has called for intervention in Libya but so far only Qatar is providing an active means to stop Gaddafi.  The African Union, the want-to-be African supernational, is helping in Somalia but doing nothing for Libya.  A major reason for this is most Arab and African governments are run by some form of dictator who does not want "people power" to spread.

Libyan War
United Kingdom
United States

Multi-National Force - Iraq
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
New Zealand
South Korea
United Kingdom
United States

Meanwhile CNN has a slowly populating map which seems to want to be the Libyan Crisis Map called Libya's civil war and U.N. intervention.  Several news stories are hyperlinked on the map and there is the option for people on the ground to post their own reports.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Libya War Maps: Second Batch

I will continue to try to collect Libyan War Maps of Operation Odyssey Dawn and the actual war on the ground.  If you know of any good maps please comment!

Libyan War Maps:  The First Batch
Libyan War Maps:   The Third Batch 
Libyan War Maps:  The Fourth Batch
Libyan War Maps: The Fifth Batch - The Geography of Oil
Libyan War Maps:  The Sixth Post - The Coalition's Size
Libya War Maps: The Seventh Post - The Invasion of Tripoli
Libya War Maps: The Eighth Post - More Battle of Tripoli Maps

Le Monde has a map of troop movements, air strikes, and refugee flows.  However, in the little insert map Le Monde shows that it is using a pre-2006 basemap with Montenegro and Kosovo shown as part of Serbia.

Meanwhile Patrick Meier of iRevolution has made the big time with his Libya Crisis Map becoming a partner of the United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  The crisis map features ground-provided information on injuries, engagements, material requests, and much more.  Be sure to check out "the Big Map" for a detailed look.  In the age of instant news the only downside of this site is there is a twenty-four embargo on new posts (however, this is understandable as the information is actually being used by people on the ground).

Libya War Maps: First Batch

Libyan War Maps:  The Second Batch 
Libyan War Maps:   The Third Batch 
Libyan War Maps:  The Fourth Batch 
Libyan War Maps: The Fifth Batch - The Geography of Oil
Libyan War Maps:  The Sixth Post - The Coalition's Size
Libya War Maps: The Seventh Post - The Invasion of Tripoli
Libya War Maps: The Eighth Post - More Battle of Tripoli Maps

While I am working as a geographer in Afghanistan a new war in the Greater Middle East has erupted.  Coalition Forces comprised of American, British, Canadian, Danish, French, Qatari, and Spanish militaries are striking locations loyal to Colonel Gaddafi and his government, the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Republic.  The military actions are in support of the rebel forces which are united under the National Transition Council and it's proclaimed government, the Libyan Republic aka Republic of Libya.  The Libyan Republic is viewed as the legitmate government of Libya by France, Portugal, and the Arab League.

Currently I can find three good war maps but I'll post more and link to them on this post as I get them.

The Daily Mail has this one covering Operation Odyssey Dawn.

The BBC has this one of who controls what cities.  Of note is that the rebels have been pushed out of central Libya and only hold the eastern edge of the country.  Click the map or the hyperlink to toggle various layers and see more information.

The BBC also has a map showing where aircraft are aircraft are launching from.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Afghan Diary: Astronomy - "Looking at the Stars is for Old Women."

Astronomy and Afghanistan have had a relationship in the past.  Abu al-Rayhan Mohammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni was a Persian-Afghan great geographer-astronomer who lived in Ghazni.  Ulugh Beg was a Turkic ruler of Central Asia who built the great observatory in modern-day Uzbekistan using knowledge gained from the previous cultural Persian empires in Afghanistan.  Abdul Ahad Mohmand became the first (and only) Afghan cosmonaut in space with his 1988 trip to the Mir Space Station.

However, repeated external and internal wars have caused a major brain drain and cultural collapse in Afghanistan.  I experienced the brain drain first hand as a friend and I were enjoying the night in Afghanistan.  My friend, a Hazaran Afghan, and I were overlooking an empty stretch of Highway One (the ring road connecting Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, and Mozer-e-Shraif) when I looked up at the sky and saw the constellation Orion.  I have long considered Orion, a Greek-dubbed constellation as a sort of reminder of the niceties of winter. 

Wondering if my Hazaran friend knew any Persian constellations, I asked he knew any Persian or local astronomy.  He turned his head to look at me and even with the night darkness I could tell his eyes had considerably widened.  "No," he said, "looking at the stars is for old women.  Witchcraft."  I tried to explain that I was talking about astronomy and not astrology but it was in vain.  My friend responded with a question asking why people would care about the stars if they were not trying to gain some hidden, forbidden insight.

My friend is not some village hick but a high school educated Afghan who is active in the Sufi order of Shia Islam.  Even with the religious influence of Persian Shiaism, the rich scientific culture of Persia has been eradicated from much of Afghanistan.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Afghan Diary: The Bashi-bazouks of Afghanistan

The Bashi-bazouks were soldiers of the Ottoman Empire who terrorized civilians, received no standard pay, and lived primarily off looting and pillaging.  The Taliban are the Bashi-bazouks of Afghanistan.  Most Taliban do not recieve any salary, instead they are paid for missions or activites they partake in.  This payment, however, is not enough to survive on.  So many Taliban survive by going house to house demanding "donations" and/or a meal to eat.  Below are some stories I have been told by villagers of what the Taliban have done (warning: the second story gets violent).

"The Wife is Not Home"

A Taliban commander was hungry so he went to a house and pounded on the door demanding food.  The man of the house did not open the door.  Instead he said that his wife was gone to the market to buy supplies so there was no food and no one to cook any food.  The commander yelled that he was going to break down the door and that if he found the wife inside he would kill everyone in the house.  The man of the house meekly opened the door and his wife, who was hiding, was forced to cook the last of the family's food for the commander.

"The Husband is Not Home"

Several Taliban were passing through a village around noon.  They walked up to a door and announced their intent to eat lunch with the family who owned the qalat.  A female voice answered them through the closed door.  The woman of the house said her husband was at the mosque praying so she could not allow them in (in Pashtun culture guests cannot be in a house with women if the man of the house is away).  The Taliban replied "Whore, we are the men of this house, this village, this district, and this province!  We will beat you like a dog to show you we are the men of this place!"  The Taliban forced themselves in, beat the woman, and forced her to make lunch for them.  The husband did not return from the mosque until after the Taliban had left.

"Night Surprise"

A man was reading by candle light late at night when a teenager walked up to his window.  The teenager said "I'm hungry."  The man looked up and thinking the boy some beggar told the teenager to go away.  The man looked back down to continue reading.  The boy again said "I'm hungry."  As the man was looking up, preparing to yell at the teenager, he noticed the teenager had an RPG pointed straight at the him.  The teenager said for a third time, "I'm hungry."  The man ordered his son to give several loaves of naan to the teenager.  The teenager put away the RPG, took the naan, and walked off into the darkness.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Places: An Online Journal of Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism

I am a fan of Newgeography, the economical geography online magazine.  It combines a good presentation with hard hitting, interesting, relevant articles on geography.  Sadly it seemed Newgeography was a rare gem out there.

I thought Newgeography was the only online geography magazine of its kind until I was contacted by the staff of Places.  Places is the online continuation of the published academic journal Places which was in print until 2009.  The journal sees itself as a "journal of contemporary architecture, landscape and urbanism, with particular emphasis on the public realm as physical place and social ideal."  This definition fits it well into the field of geography in the tradition of people like Peirce Lewis.

Many of the articles have a sort of National Geographic-quality to them as photos weave themselves well in a symbiotic relationship with the essays.  In between my adventures in rural Afghanistan I have read Ecologies of Gold: The Past and Future Mining Landscapes of Johannesburg, Tahrir Square: Social Media, Public Space, and Writing on the Wall.

I really like the open-source access Places gives to the average reader (unlike some published geography journals which have high subscription/article fees and are unreadable expect for those already well literate in academicese).

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Afghan Snow: A Poem by Catholicgauze

As with much in Afghanistan, snow has both its positive and negatives which are felt equally at the same time.  I thought of this three-verse poem while I was freezing outside in the Afghan air.  It reflects my evolving thoughts on the snow going from "I hate it" to "It is kind of neat" to "Thank God for snow!"  My thoughts also grew, starting from single-minded, self-centered complaints to thinking about the overall picture.

Wetter of socks
Canceller of flights
Bringer of cold
Cursed snow!

Painter of mountains
Supplier of spring melt
Tool for imaginative play

Clogger of Taliban hill passes
Preventer of terrorist patrols
Ruin of militant's outdoor weapons caches
Blessed snow!

March 2011 Travel Photo: Harzaran School Room

The travel photo for March is unique in the sense it is not a landscape photograph.  It was taken in a multiroom school house which is nestled in the mountains of Ghazni Province.  These two Harzaran school kids were goofing off and were the center of attention for the photograph.

However, there is knowledge to be gained of Afghanistan from this photograph.  The chalk board is covered in Dari writting.  Dari (Royal Persian) is the language of the government of Afghanistan and is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan, the other being Pashtun.  Dari is an old form of Persian that was spoken by the Shahs of Iran hundreds of years ago.  But unlike Iranian Persian, also called Farsi, Dari has not evolved like Farsi has.  Harazas speak Dari and most do not bother learning Pashtun.

Also, on the right is a chart about Shia Islam.  Hazaras, unlike the every other ethnic group in Afghanistan, are majority Shia Twelver Muslims (like most Iranians).  The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GOIRA) has no separation of mosque and state.  In fact it embraces a sort of union between the two.  GOIRA does not care if a school teaches Shia or Sunni Islam as long as the school stays inside the orthodoxies of the two.