Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Large Amount of Water Estimated Within the Moon: Good for Conquering, Bad for Origin Theory

The hard science behind the news is a little hard to explain but the news is groundbreaking none the less, the upper mantle of the Moon is now believed to have the same amount of water as the upper mantle of the Earth.  The water is not in the form of giant underground oceans but vast scatterings of ice beads in the dry magma rock.

The news is the latest piece in a series of announcements in the past few years which have indicated there is indeed a supply of water on the Moon.  While not enough to support and sustain human colonization, the ever increasing amount of water that we know of can be a good start of power production (something that if we had to import water to the Moon would just be impracticable).  If the water on the Moon can support industry like mining then the incentives for Moon exploration will be worth the costs, much like gold and silver made the conquest of North America worth the effort for various European power.

The presence of water in Earth-like quantities does raise an interesting question.  The most commonly accepted theory on the Moon's origin states that the Moon is the reformed remains of a slightly larger Earth which suffered a direct impact from the planet called Theia.  Previously known amounts of water on the Moon's surface presence were explained by claiming the water came from after the Theia-impact, after the Moon was formed by Earth-formed comets formed by other impacts.  That theory works.  The theory does not explain how water could be in the mantle which formed below a hot crust which would have melted any water.  While no theory can explain the ice presence and no theory can instantly replace the Theia-hypothesis, water in the Moon's crust presents a very large question mark to how the Moon was created.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Libya War Maps: The Sixth Post - The Coalition's Size

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 Fifth Batch - The Geography of Oil
Libya War Maps: The Seventh Post - The Invasion of Tripoli
Libya War Maps: The Eighth Post - More Battle of Tripoli Maps

The Libyan War has pretty much fallen off the news cycle and President Obama has even claimed the United States' role is limited, but the war continues to escalate.  British attack helicopters, which have limited range and use probably implies upcoming military forward operating bases in Libya, are joining the fight and the international Coalition continues its unofficial targeting of the leader of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Republic, Mummar Qaddafi.

The Guardian has created the following map which depicts the size, activities, and attack points of the international Coalition.  The data is current as of early May.

Map by The Guardian (UK) Newspaper.  Click to enlarge.

Comparatively the war is primarily an American effort which makes the lack of media attention somewhat surprising.

  • With over 8,000 personnel in the war the United States is contributing sixty-five percent of the Coalition's manpower.
  • The United States Navy's twelve ships in the fight is the largest contingent and forms about a third of the total fleet.
  • 228 of the 246 cruse missiles, which cost $830,000 (£500,000, €580,000) a piece, fired have been American.
  • However, even though the United States has flown the most combat flights the other nations have been doing approximately two-thirds of all combat flight missions including bombing runs.

As for location of bombings it is clear that the international Coalition is both supporting the rebels/protecting rebelling civilians and targeting Qaddafi's command and control network.  Pure Qadaffi locations of Tripoli, Sirte, Zintan, and Hun have been attacked the most.  However, the second most attacked location, Misrata, was the scene of intense fighting which the rebels have only just recently won.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Iran's Lake Urmia is Drying Up

The northwest corner of Iran is a beautiful land rich in human and physical history.  Formerly a population of Armenians and now a mixture of Azeri Turks and Persians live in the shadow of mountains and the shores of Lake Urmia.  Now however, the largest lake in the Middle East and third largest salt water lake in the world is at risk of suffering the same fate as the Aral Sea.

How Lake Urmia should appear.  Click "Sat" to see current condition of Lake Urmia.  Notice how there are islands in the south and the exposed white salt beds along the eastern and southern shoreline.

Lake Urmia has been shrinking for the last fifteen years and sixty percent of it is now gone.  The reason for the loss is mostly human caused with natural drought only making matters worse.  Thirty-five dams have been constructed on feeder rivers since the decline and even more are planned.  Most of the water is being diverted to  irrigate farms in Iran's Azerbaijan provinces.

The decline of the lake will hurt Iran's tourist industry and destroy the fishing industry.  Sadly, the most ironic impact of the lake's downfall will destroy the farming industry which the irrigation dams were meant to save.  Like the Aral Sea's decline, the retreating lake will allow the exposed salt on the salt beds to be picked up by winds and land on the farm fields.  The farm fields will then be salted and destroyed for hundreds if not thousands of years like the fields of Carthage.  Lastly, the lake's environmental role as a weather moderator will end and the region will experience severe seasonal shifts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tax Rates Around the World

World Tax Rates 2010/2011 is a neat website which lists and explains income, corporate, and sales/VAT tax rates in various countries and dependencies.

Interesting facts I have learned from the website:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wendy's Where is the Beef from Commerical

Wendy's, the world's third largest hamburger fast food chain in the world, is running commercials which mock the place of origin of competitor's beef while taking pride in the place of origin of their own beef.

The ad is interesting because of the stereotypes used and very interesting wording choices.  The commercial states competitor's beef for hamburgers come from "Nooneknöwswhere."  Nooneknöwswhere is shown as a tundra=land in winter with people who speaks with Eastern European accents.  The cold, wintery land plays on Wendy's mocking of other fast food chains for using frozen beef.

The Eastern European-Scandinavian mixed stereotype-land allows for a non-controversial place of origin myth.  If Wendy's were to play on the "McDonald's uses Latin America"-myth then the commercial could backfire and be cast as racist.

In reality much of American McDonald's (and Burger King's) beef comes from the United States.  A very small minority of it is being imported from Australia and New Zealand.  It would be hard, but not impossible, to make a funny ad mocking the use of Australian and Kiwi beef.  However, people are unlikely to have any fear of Kiwi and Australian cow in their hamburgers unlike some mysterious Eastern European beef.

The advertisement takes an unintentional humorous turn with a statement that Wendy's uses only "North American beef."  This means Wendy's beef can come from anywhere between Canada and Panama.  This accidentally puts Wendy's at risk to the Latin American-beef myth.  In the past Wendy's has refused to discuss its supplies due to "competitive reasons."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ultimate Travel Visa Requirement Finder

Coming Anarchy links to one of the most useful tools for people planning international trips: Emirates' Visa Requirements Finder.  The tool allows one to enter their nationality, alien residency if applicable, destination, and countries travelling through.  The tool then pumps out visa requirements and any other necessities.  The information is provided by International Air Transport Association so it is not guaranteeing but it is good for reference and to star planning a trip.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My First Book: Portraying the Overland Other: Representations of Plains Indians along the Oregon Trail

I am going to make a brief, self-serving commercial announcement.  I have edited my thesis, put it into book form, and published it for the Amazon Kindle (and free Kindle applications).

It is titled Portraying the Overland Other: Representations of Plains Indians along the Oregon Trail.  From the description:

The Oregon Trail is an important part of American history. Since the closing of the West many people and organizations have been involved in memorializing the Oregon Trail along its route. While primarily a story of pioneers, the Oregon Trail is deeply interconnected with Plains Indians who were active in the trail's success and history from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon. Sadly the memorialization of the Indian element of the Oregon Trail is poorly done. Many monuments ignore Indians completely or depict them as a stereotypical Sioux-like creature. Only a few memorials get the history right.
This book studies memorials along the Oregon Trail in the Great Plains section of the trail. It examines these monuments in a historical and geographical perspective.

The book covers the entire Great Plains section of the Oregon Trail: Independence, Missouri to Fort Laramie, Wyoming.

The e-book costs $2.99 but for one week I am making a special offer.  I will donate three dollars to any one of my supported charities of your choice on my About Me page (preferably, however, if you want me to donate to another charity contact me and we will see if it can be arranged) if you write a review on before June 1, 2011.  Please be honest on the review.  Money will still be donated to the charity even if you write "editing and subject matter were horrible!"

By the way, Peter Humboldt is a pen name.

When Will the Supposed Rapture of 2011 Start?

America is right now being blitzed by Family Radio's much publicized announcement that the world is going to end  on May 21, 2011.  When pressed for a time Family Radio's head stated 6:00 pm (1800), all times being local.  He stated that the rapture ("good" Christians being taken up by Jesus in a sort of 1.5 coming of Christ) would be rolling across the globe because Family God's God apparently obeys international norms of time zones and the Babylonian-based concept of 24 hours in a day.

Now, this rapture thing is extremely biased to those further west of the international date line.  The first populated place to reach 6:00 pm will be the Line Islands which include the appropriately named Christmas Island aka Kiritimati.  Because of Y2K tourist geopolitics in which various places moved their time zones to be the first place to reach the year 2000 the Line Islands of the Republic of Kiribati are 16 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).  Kiritimati has a mix of Protestants and Catholics so if Pre-tribulational (dispensational) Premillennialism is correct then the rapture is going to take some Kiritimatis.

The news of a rapture or not should travel fast as there has to be someone who on the island who is just waiting to prove Family Radio wrong.  As such I made the below chart showing the time in places (yes, I factored in Daylight Savings) of major blog readership so you can know when the coast is clear (or get your behind to the nearest independent evangelical Protestant Church)

Place                     UTC          Local Time When Kiritmati Reaches 6:00 pm
New Zealand         +12            4:00 pm / 1600 on May 21
Sydney, Australia   +10            2:00 pm / 1400
Beijing, China         +8              12:00 pm /1200
Jerusalem, Israel     +3              7:00 am / 0700
Central Europe       +2              6:00 am / 0600
London, UK           +1              5:00 am/ 0500
U.S. Eastern           -4               12:00 am/ 0000
U.S. Central           -5               11:00 pm / 2300 on May 20
U.S. Mountain        -6               10:00 pm / 2200
U.S. Pacific            -7                9:00 pm / 2100
Hawaii                   -10              6:00 pm/ 1800

Yes, Hawaii has a full day to hear the news and the doomsayers of family radio headquartered in San Diego, California should know about the rapture (or lack thereof) a little after 9:00 pm local today, May 20... unless they wait for news from New Zealand which would reach them a little after 11:00 pm.

Have fun doom watchers and those ready to mock.  I have little faith in a self-appointed doomsayers with no knowledge of the cultural origins of all their craziness. Family Radio's head uses his own random dates, a combination of the pagan-made Julian and Papal-made Gregorian calendars (vice the ancient Hebrew calendar which the Bible writers used; this error is something a Fundamentalist Protestant would be horrified by if he had any research knowledge), and randomly tied together Bible quotes to claim he knows something Jesus himself said He did not know:

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. - Mathew 24:36

Of all the Bible verses he used, one would think he would take that one literally.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Age and Weight on Other Planets

The online museum Exploratorium has two unique astronomical features which allows one to weigh and age themselves on other planets.  All I will say is that I will never live to see my first Pluto birthday yet on Mercury it is well past time for me to retire.  I also wonder how close I could get to a neutron star without being crushed because on the surface of one I would weigh 25,900,000,000,000 pounds (12.95 million tons)!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thoughts on Afghanistan: The End of the War

The second most frequently asked question I am confronted with concerns my thoughts on the chance of victory in Afghanistan (the most frequent question being was I shot at).  Sadly this question is much more complex than the the Iraq victory question was and it is hard for me to say just how positive the final outcome will be.  So I will keep my answer fairly short.

The British knew how to turn their two offensive wars against the Afghans into geopolitical victories and so did the Soviets after being militarily stalemated against the Afghans in the 1980s: pick a side, withdraw, fund the side from a distance, and watch our side decimate all its opponents.  This strategy worked well for the British and it was working well for the Communists in Afghanistan... until the funds ran out with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In a perfect world the United States and the other Coalition Partners could just withdraw from Afghanistan while funding the Kabul-based government known as GIROA.  GIROA would bribe many of the Taliban and other insurgents and use the remainder of the funds to crush the rejectionists.  Most Afghans would see this more as a upper level Afghan civil war and much of the anger of the average insurgent would be soothed over by the lack of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

I say "in a perfect world" because this world unfortunately as what Afghans have described to me as the root of all evil: Pakistan.  Pakistan desire to have a puppet state linking it to Central Asia, a proving ground for its proxies for war against India, and its absolute paranoid belief that anything less than an Islamist Afghanistan will automatically make Afghanistan an ally of India will cause Pakistan to fund the insurgency.  Unless Pakistan collapses or the United States cuts off foreign aid to Pakistan (which forms much of Pakistan's budget) I do not see Pakistan stopping its funding of the Taliban and related groups.

If the problem of Pakistan can magically disappear then groups and/or factions like the Taliban, Haqqani network, and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin will enter in complex agreements of becoming loyal to GIROA while being able to have significant sway in territory they control.  Afghans will then probably be less of the highly centralized state it has been under the monarchy/Communists/republicans and more of the regionalist state tied by a central government which is was like before the British wars.

If the Pakistan problem cannot be solved then expect a long war ending in the favor of Pakistan and the Taliban.  Maybe not a complete victory like it was becoming before 9/11 but certainly one that ends in their favor.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Two Biggest Denials in Political Geography

Denial is a hard thing to understand.  Some issues are controversial and therefore up to heated debate; however, some topics in geography cause a impassioned denial of facts on the ground.  Here are two major denials in political geography that can cause one to pause looking for consistent logic which politics denies.

The Republic of China Not on Some Maps

It is interesting to see if maps show Taiwan, in reality the Republic of China, as an independent country or not.  Microsoft's Bing does notYahoo Maps doesGoogle Maps does, and National Geographic has a weird hybrid answer of giving Taiwan the labels of an independent country while having it be the same color as the People's Republic of China.  The United Nations does not recognize the Republic of China as a legitimate government while the United States and many other countries officially deny Taiwan being policatlly separate from Beijing's People's Republic of China while allowing open business and government ties between themselves and the Republic of China.

The problem lies with both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China laying claim to each other's territory.  The Republic of China does not claim Taiwan is independent but instead claims control of all of China with Taiwan being its temporary base.  Before the 1970s international opinion was in favor of the Republic of China but since then the balance has been in the Communist's People's Republic favor ever since.  Now only a handful of Pacific island states, Latin American countries, and the Vatican recognize the Republic of China as the legal ruler of all of China.

Strangely there is an Asian counter part to two government laying claim to each other.  Both the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) claim to be the sole government of a Korean state streaching from the Yalu River in the north to the Korean Strait in the south.  These two states have long been treated as two separate countries by most other countries in maps and diplomacy.  However, I have seen maps from the height of the Cold War showing Germany as one country with a dotted line between East and West (both the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany claimed each one was the sole valid state for all of Germany) and I also saw the dotted line dividing Vietnam in many maps during the Vietnam War.  What separates the Koreas from the cartographic rules which favored the Germanys and Vietnams is beyond me.

Tel Aviv:  Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel

I once watched a news report on the revolution in Egypt.  The reporter ended her report by saying Egypt was waiting for a response from Tel Aviv. She meant Egypt was waiting for a response from the Israeli government but the government of Israel has not be seated in Tel Aviv since 1949.  The reason for this weird statement is because no country, including the United States, recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The reason for this is complex.  An old English-language Soviet atlas I have states Jerusalem is not Israel's capital because Jerusalem was not given to the Jewish state by the United Nations in it's proposal for a Jewish and a Palestinian state.  The argument currently has shifted to most states not recognize Israel's control of the eastern half of Jersualem (itself occupied by Jordan during the late 1940s) or the 1980 law which formally united both halves of Jerusalem and formally declared a (re-)united Jerusalem as Israel's capital.  The latter argument ignores Israel moving the capital to Jerusalem in 1949 and west Jerusalem being in the pre-1967 borders of Israel.  

While the CIA World Factbook is accurate in saying Jerusalem is the capital while giving a caveat, Canada's "Factsheet" leaves the capital line blank.  Strangely though all major western maps show Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite not one country (zero!) officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Explaining the Spillways Designed to Lessen Mississippi River Flooding

Popular Mechanics has a great article on the various spillways, bays, and dams created by the United States government along the Mississippi River.  The projects were designed to prevent a repeat of the disastrous 1927 flood that killed hundreds.  The spillways have now been opened.

While New Orleans, the great city that should not exist as is due to its poor physical geographical position, perhaps has been saved from the worst effects of flooding, much of the lower South along the Mississippi River could experience worse flooding due to the spillways being opened.  Such is the give and take of human interaction in physical geography.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Map of Where the Twelve Apostles Died

Updated: Now with Saint Matthis (Judas' replacement). Also, many apostles died far away from their home country and all but one died a violent death. Something to reflect upon.

As a Saturday night project I made this map of locations where the Twelve Apostles of Jesus died.  Blue markers represent commonly accepted death locations while yellow markers represent disputed locations.  The map can be viewed below, in Google Maps, or can be download from the Google Earth Community Forms.

View Where the 12 Apostles Died in a larger map

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Washington Post's Interactive Civil War Map

I am a huge Civil War buff.  I remember standing in an extremely long to to see Gettysburg on January 1, 1993, I own a copy of Ken Burns' Civil War, and I have toured several battlefields.  So I am thrilled whenever I have the ability to combine both the American Civil War and geography.

The Washington Post has a neat interactive map of Civil War battles.  One can set the date of battles displayed. The results show what battles were fought there and casualties are given in a range of circle sizes.  Sadly, but reasonably understandable, most battles do not have any additional information.  However, the major battles are labeled and clicking the battle circle will give the user more information on the background of the engagement.  Finally, since the map is powered by Google Maps, one can zoom in and see things like the battles of 1862 around Richmond.

It was interesting to see how the early months the war was really only active in Virginia and overlooked Missouri.  I am sure this map will provide others with unrealized knowledge of the Civil War.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thoughts on Afghanistan: The International Coalition

Forty-seven countries comprise the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which is the international coalition created to secure Afghanistan from the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other insurgent groups.  The difference between various ISAF militaries is night and day.  Some countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada are fierce fighters; other countries like the Czech Republic and Romania do not have the might to defeat the Taliban on their own but certainly do their best; and other countries like Poland and Germany's unwillingness to do combat duties have made these countries' mere presence more harm than good.

"Why Would Anyone Do That?"

Every Polish soldier who dies in Afghanistan dies in vain.  Yes, I know that sounds incredibly callous but it is the truth.  Certain countries like Poland have implemented complicated rules of engagement which prevent their militiaries from taking any significant actions to combat the Taliban and other insurgent groups.  Also, commanders of various military forces have decided to avoid combat by limiting operations to the main roads.  This, while avoiding direct combat, surrenders the most of the country to Afghanistan.  The ever growing in power Taliban thus not win without a fight in most of the country but then go on to attack and kill international partners on the road patrols.  Thus soldiers are sent out on pointless patrols and periodically killed off.

Meanwhile potential Afghan allies lose hope as they realize these countries have not come to fight the Taliban but merely deploy to Afghanistan and then redeploy to their home country.  I have talked to various Afghans who do not understand why these ISAF militaries came "half the way around the world" only to not only be passive but to surrender most of the country to the Taliban.

Thank You

I wish to thank the various foreign partners who have personally helped me and those I was in Afghanistan with during my recent time there.  I am grateful for the Polish priest who gave me spiritual comfort, I am grateful to the Czech pilots who were willing to fly during the fog, and I am grateful to the British officer who went above and beyond to ensure the safety of American marines who he never met.  Thank you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Beautiful Pictures of the Divide Between North America and Eurasia

Photo taken from the Daily Mail.  Photo is property of Dr. Alexander Mustard.
Dr. Alexander Mustard is marine biologist who also loves underwater photography.  He recently traveled to Iceland where he took photographs of fault line where the Eurasian and North American plates are slowly moving apart.  More of the photographs are available at the Daily Mail.

Sometimes it is refreshing to think about all the beautiful, fascinating places on Earth which are the results of our constantly changing, active planet.

Thoughts on Afghanistan: Taliban

As I get use to life in America again and adapt to new circumstances in my life I will be intermixing geography blogging with my thoughts on Afghanistan.

When I returned from Iraq in 2009 I stated al Qaeda in Iraq was pretty much done as an insurgent group and would stick around only as a terrorist group.  I was right.


Returning from Afghanistan I say the opposite: the Taliban is a full scale insurgency in charge of its own functioning country, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.  There have been many articles talking about the Taliban's shadow (alternative) government but in some large regions of Afghanistan it is the only government.  In certain regions there is no Kabul-backed government (GIROA) representation at all.  Nawa Disrtict, Ghazni Province has been completely abandoned.  Currently, as told to me by soldiers who last ventured into Nawa over a year ago, the capitol building is waving Taliban flags and the American-built GIROA military outpost there is now an American-built Taliban military outpost.  The same goes for the Korangal Valley from the documentary Restrpo which is also now Taliban controlled.

What makes the Taliban different from al Qaeda in Iraq?  The primary difference is that the Taliban are native to the region and many of the commanders are locals.  Unlike al Qaeda in Iraq who's main commanders were foreigners.  Also, Iraq has more federalism where locals can elect their own government representatives and have some form of outlet.  Everything in Afghanistan in modeled after the failed monarchies which sought to centralize everything to include having Kabul hand pick leaders on all levels.

There is no Taliban.  There are Talibans

The amount of Taliban who travel from place to place to wage their jihad is actually quite small.  The vast majority of Taliban are in the Afghan equivalent of their own village's national guard.  They will fight in their area when needed but when not they go about their daily lives as farmers, merchants, or unemployed people. These groups have weak ties to the central core of the Taliban and often have commanders who would not care if the Taliban in the neighboring village were being killed off in a fever pitched battle.  In fact, the only emotion they might feel in that situation is relief as the various Taliban village national guards have a tendency to hate each other more than GIROA or Coalition Forces.  Membership in the Taliban is merely a label which fails to end tribal/regional/personal disputes.  An Afghan elder to me that he supports "his" Taliban because they kept "the other" Taliban away.

Motivation also differs.  A small core are die hard jihadist.  A fair amount are nationalists while most are in the fight to protect their homes from GIROA/Coalition Forces/other Taliban.  Unlike other winning insurgencies which everyone tries to join when they look like they are winning, a large amount of Taliban have and continue to reconcile with GIROA (even while a scary percentage of GIROA jump ship to the Taliban).  As an Afghan soldier told me "everyone is just trying to survive so they do what's best to do at that moment, they do not think ahead."  Motivation for these jumps show not ideological loyalty but instead short term defense of self and tribe/region.

What are the Taliban fighting for?

While Mullah Mohammad Omar and his leadership fight to return the Islamic Emirate to full power, most Taliban (I believe) are fighting for position.  Everyone sees this war going on for a few more years until Pakistan and the United States decide to settle.  The "pawns," i.e. GIROA and the Taliban, will then officially merge while in reality being allowed to govern what they control at the end of the fighting.  Those Taliban thinking beyond the mere tactical realm realize they are fighting for position in a war they cannot win yet cannot lose.

Are there moderate Taliban?

The upper leadership of Taliban are out and out monsters.  While the lower level guys may not be active monsters, they certainly are not "moderates."  They are moderate in the sense that they would not throw acid in women's faces but they probably would not condemn the action either.  Then again, some GIROA officials like Abdul Rashid Dostum made their name by using solar power to cook Taliban POWs alive in locked trailers..

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Samoa Continues its Drive to Australasia by Jumping the International Date Line

The Independent State of Samoa (ISS) (formerly Western Samoa) and American Samoa (AS) are an interesting example of how outside forces can split and affect a culture.  The 1899 Tripartite Convention divided the islands between Imperial Germany and the United States.  Western cultural insituitions and norms were rapidly planted and grew on the Samoan islands.  The major German cultural contribution to western Samoa was right-side traffic movement (driving on the right side of the road).

The cultural split was further advanced by New Zealand taking over the western islands from Germany during World War I.  Even though western Samoa used non-violent means of protest to gain independence from New Zealand in the 1960s, it still adopted many cultural traits that have continued the slow but steady split from American Samoa.  Rugby, cricket, and netball (a form of women's basketball popular in former British colonies) are the main sports as opposed to American Football, basketball, and wrestling in American Samoa.  ISS Samoans who live the country for employment or tourism go to New Zealand and Australia while the United States is the popular places for AS Samoans.

Since the 1990s the government of ISS has taken an activist approach to bring ISS closer to Australiasia, and by default split from American Samoa.  In 1997 the country renamed itself from Western Samoa to the Independent State of Samoa, Samoa for short, despite protests from American Samoa over the ISS monopolizing "Samoa."  In 2009 the government changed from right-side traffic to left-side traffic.  This aligned traffic patterns as in Australia and New Zealand.  Now, ISS is changing it's location on the international date line from one of the last places on earth to experience the new day to one of the first.  Currently ISS is twenty-one hours behind Sydney, Australia but it will be four hours ahead starting next year.

These moves do make practical sense.  Australia and New Zealand are the ISS' biggest trading partners and approximately half of all western Samoans live in Australia and New Zealand.  While ISS will no longer be the self-advertised last place on Earth to see each day’s sunset, the ISS will expierence as new dawn as part of the Australiasia/Greater Asia sphere.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Coming Back: Thank You USO

I am back in the United States and normal blogging is resuming.  The next series of posts will be my thoughts on Afghanistan.  However, I need to say "thank you" to the USO.

My very last "non-airport waiting room" experience in the Middle East was relaxing in an USO lounge pounding down Girl Scout cookies like a man exiled to Afghanistan for the last four and a half months.  I sat captivated by Sky News which was on the television.  It was the first time I was able to watch television not provided by Armed Forces Network (AFN) which does not show commercial but instead has public service announcements (don't drink and drive, don't abuse your wife/significant others/be sure to reenlist or join the reserves!).  As a thank you I picked up the messy lounge before I left.

The truly touching thing the USO did was welcome me back.  I was on a flight full of soldiers who were heading back from Iraq, Afghanistan, and service in Europe.  As I exited customs I was swarmed by a legion of USO volunteers who passed me free stuff and thanked me for helping my country.  It is a truly humbling thing to be saluted by a veteran in a wheel chair.  That was something I was not emotionally ready for and I feel that I did not deserve.  However, it is great to know there are people out there who remember service members.

So I want to say "thank you" USO.  I am also adding the USO to my list of favored charities.  I personally saw countless soldiers use USO phone cards, internet terminals, airport lounges, care packages of tooth brushes and tooth paste, and coffee while I was deployed.

Thank you, USO.

Monday, May 02, 2011

May 2011 Travel Photo: Chimney Rock, Nebraska

Picture taken by Catholicgauze with my father in summer 2006

Chimney Rock is a 300 feet tall (about 90 meters) natural monolith in Nebraska along the Oregon Trail.  It is a clay, sandstone, and volcanic ash relic that has survived erosion which has cleared most of Nebraska of major rock formations (those the famous Oregon Trail-hugging bluffs also exist nearby).  It was taller during the height of the overland trails but erosion, lightning strikes, and military target practice have taken it's noticeable toll in the last 150 years.

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