Thursday, December 29, 2011

Iran and the Strait of Hormuz

Iran knows the value of its geography... too bad its map has the old borders of Yemen and one Sudan
Iranian Admiral Habibollah Sayyari has told Iranian press that Iran would close the choke point Strait of Hormuz in case Iran was attacked or felt truly threatened.  He further added that closing the strait would be as easy as "drinking a glass of water." Closing the strait, Sayyari claims, would be done by both conventional naval forces as well as asymmetrical tactics, implying suicide boat bombs and forms of terrorism.

The strait at the narrowest are thirty-five miles wide at the point where Iran faces Oman's exclave off the United Arab Emirates.  This narrow geography would allow a small fleet to wreck havoc on oil shipping convoys.

This threat, if acted upon, would cause a serious disruption in the world's oil supply and gasoline prices as well as being a cause of war/theater of war.  Oil from Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates go through the strait to markets in China, Europe, and North America.  Ships transport around 20% of the world's oil supply through the strait.

There are reasons to believe Iran will not do this.  The primary one is Iran needs its oil money to survive.  To close down the strait or to make them a war zone will cost them much of their budget and throw their own economy into a depression.  Also, it would turn a war against American and/or Israel into a war against many of Iran's Arab neighbors.  The United States said that it would reopen the strait by force if need be.  It would not be the first time the United States fought the Islamic Republic of Iran over its actions in hurting the oil trade: Operation Praying Mantis saw the United States sink several Iranian naval ships over Iran's mining Persian Gulf convoy routes.

Saudi Arabia has also vowed to increase oil production if the strait are closed to reduce the economic damage.  However, the shear shock of the closing of the strait would not be fully covered by more oil pumping.  If the strait were to be closed then the world's economy would suffer for some moderate period of time.

The Strait of Hormuz are a chock point and Iran's ultimate trump card in terms of geography.  While the potential of its damaging effect are well known, only time will tell if the strait are actually closed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Transnistria Votes Against Russia's Candidate, Experience Democracy

Transnistria has joined Abkhazia and South Ossetia in expressing their independence of choice against Russia.  Since the end of the independence war against Moldova which ended with Transnistria de facto independent with no country officially recognizing it, 1992 Transnistria has been ruled by the Moscow-backed Igor Smirnov, who has been described by some as an evil Sean Connery.  The country has a KGB, the official Che Guevara School of International Studies, and the hammer and sickle in its flag.  Smirnov was Moscow's tool to keep Moldova tied down in negotiations and out of NATO and the European Union.

However, 19 years of keeping a country in frozen animation has made Smirnov a bit of a corrupt politician.  An opposition party, Renewal, began to oppose Smirnov.  Renewal sought Transnistrian independence (like Smirnov), a pro-Russia stance (like Smirnov), and an open economy (unlike the "post"-Communist Smirnov).  Last year Russia, tried of a incompentant money hole which Transnistria became, switched support from Smirnov to Renewal and endorsed Renewal's canidadate in last week's election (like it did in South Ossetia).

Like in South Ossetia; however, the people of Transnistria voted against Russia's candidate and Smirnov.  Yevgeny Shevchuk, an independent who promises a true negotiation with Moldova and even talks with the European Union, won with over 70% of the vote.  For a president and Moscow's candidate to lose in Transnistria is truly something.  I am personally shocked that Shevchuk was allowed to win.

While these vows are promising, one has to remember Russia has oil money while the European Union is strapped for cash with its currency's very future in question.  Shevchuk will have to reach out to Moldova's weak pro-European Union government right away otherwise the frozen conflict between them will likely remain frozen due to Russia's control of Transnistria's budget and a Communist threat opposed to European integration in Moldova.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Earth Has Multiple Moons

Throughout history man has studied and told stories of the Moon.  The Moon is rather hard to ignore due to its size and its futures are noticeable enough for people to realize there is only one moon.  People throughout history have been wrong, though.  According to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at any given time there are multiple Earth moons at any given time.  Various small asteroids, mostly a few yards (meters) wide, are captured by Earth's gravity and will rotate the Earth for a while and then spin off again into space.  This small moons are invisible for the naked eye.  But complex math and spacial observation can confirm their existence.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Track Santa with NORAD

The yearly tradition continues as NORAD, originally meant to track incoming Soviet nuclear missles, turns its eyes towards tracking Santa Claus.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


For eight nights starting on Kislev 25 the celebration of Hanukkah begins.  The holiday is commonly thought of as somesort of Jewish Christmas or even the Jewish winter solstice festival.  However, a look at the history, culture, and geography of everything related to Hanukkah reveals a rich story of humanity.

Hanukkah's Pre-History:  From Aristotle's Student to a Line in the Sand

By his death in 323 BC Alexander the Great had created, at that time, the world's largest empire.  The Macedonia Empire stretched from present-day Albania to India, from Romania down into Egypt.  With his passing the empire collapsed not back into native regimes but into feuding Greek-in-culture, Hellenistic, empires.  The two Hellenistic empires that matter to the story of Hanukkah are the Seleucid Empire, which ruled modern Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and the Ptolemaic Kingdom, which ruled modern-day Egypt.

The region of Judea, the Jewish homeland, was a piece of property which both the Seleucids and Ptolemaic Egyptians repeatedly fought over.  In 168 BC Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes launched his second invasion of Egypt over rumors the Ptolemaics were plotting to win back Judea and lower Syria.  However, this time the Ptolemaics had aligned themselves with the expanding regional power: the Roman Republic.  A Roman ambassador intercepted Antiochus on his way to war, drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus, and said if Antiochus stepped out of the circle before giving Rome an answer on its demand Antiochus end the war that Rome would declare war against the Seleucids.  Antiochus got the message and withdrew.  This was the origin of the saying "line in the sand."

The War Which Made Hanukkah

Meanwhile a rumor that Antiochus was killed in Egypt spread in Judea.  A coup was launched against the pro-Seleucid Temple High Priest Menelaus (who was pro-Greek culture) by Jason (who was also pro-Greek culture).  Antiochus was advised of the situation and crushed the rebellion and instituted a policy of Hellenization which outlawed Jewish religious rites and required worship of Zeus.  His thinking was that if the Jewish religion were destroyed then Jews would be easier to control and Temple politics would stop being a source of conflict.

A rebellion originally led by a priest named Mattathias broke out.  Mattahias and his family/follwers, the Maccabees, launched a war against the Seleucids and the pro-Greek Jews.  At the end of the seven year war, which the Maccabees won, the Temple was cleansed from paganism and a day's worth of oil burned for eight days.  Since then the celebration of the miracle has been a minor holiday in Judaism.

The Maccabees founded a new dynasty which ruled Judea until the Roman conquest and founded the Pharisee school of thought which later provided the basis of non-Temple, Rabbinical Judaism.

The Catholic History Which "Saved" Hanukkah

The rebellion is recorded in the Biblical books First and Second Maccabees.  These books were originally written in Hebrew and fairly quickly, and ironically, translated into Greek.  The Hebrew copies were lost so that when scholars were actually putting the Bible together it was only found in the Greek-language Bible known as the Septuagint.  The early Church recognized the books in both the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament and therefore First and Second Maccabees were declared cannon along with the other books of the Bible.

To this day the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and Oriential Orthodox consider both Maccabees books as biblical (Protestants first had the Maccabees books in a separate section of their Bibles but then these and several other books were dropped during the rise of Bible societies in the 1800s to save printing costs).  However, as Christendom gained power in both the Latin and Greek world the Jewish world began to reject all Greek influence again.  Since original Hebrew versions of both the Maccabees books could not be found they were rejected.  Jews still celebrated Hanukkah but the meaning was being lost over time.  It took Christendom to restore its meaning.  Professor Jon Levenson, professor of Jewish studies at Harvard Divinity School explains: (Hat Tip: Shameless Popery)

The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates Aug. 1 as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the Rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the Rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the Church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).

And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

Hanukkah Today: American Jewish Christmas

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky writes that Hanukkah, traditionally a minor holiday, is big for two reasons 1) It is close to Christmas and allows Jews to celebrate along with everyone else while doing something different to preserve Jewish identity and 2) it is a celebration with few rules unlike other Jewish holy days.

However, there is concern that Hanukkah and its meaning is being abandoned by American Jews and those in interfaith marriages.  Israel even created an ad warning that children in the United States will forget Hanukkah and celebrate Christmas instead.

Hanukkah:  Every Judeo-Christian's Holiday?

Besides its obvious Jewish base Hanukkah's appeal various, primarily American, Protestant and Catholics are starting to pay attention to the celebration.  Some Protestants are attracted to Hanukkah due to the old Anglo-Protestant tradition of Judaizing (adopting Jewish customs).  Meanwhile some Catholic intellectuals since Vatican II see the holiday as part of the universal tradition of Abrahamic faith in God.  Even Neo-Protestant (i.e. Catholic Rejectionist) Mel Gibson is planning on making a movie about the rebellion.

Meanwhile Hanukkah continues to integrate itself into mainstream culture.  Adam Sandler has sung multiple versions of his Hanukkah song while in 1996 the first animated cartoon series in the United States marked the holiday with a special: Rugrats Hanukkah.  Now the holiday, if not its meaning, has been well known to most Americans.

Happy Hanukkah!  Remember its meaning of fighting for what is right!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

America's Most Wanted 50 Fugitives in 50 States

Catholicgauze is a huge fan of America's Most Wanted, the long running television show which serves as a giant public service announcement alerting people to fugitives.  A new feature on the show's website combines crime fighting and geography (a fun combination) which only makes the America's Most Wanted experience even more enjoyable.  50 States/50 Fugitives has a map of all American states and the District of Columbia with each state assigned a fugitive.  Each state's fugitive has a link where one can learn more about them.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Michele Bachmann Does Not Understand Sunni Islamism versus Shia Islamism

During last night's Republican Presidential Primary Debate in Iowa Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann sparred over the threat posed by Iran.  During the debate Congresswoman Bachmann stated Iran's constitution calls for Jihad and the establishment of a worldwide Caliphate.

Mrs. Bachmann is correct in that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees itself as an exporter of Islamic revolution and the constitution does indeed call for Jihad.  From the constitution discussing the purpose of the military:

Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are to be organized in conformity with this goal, and they will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God's way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God's law throughout the world (this is in accordance with the Koranic verse "Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and strings of horses, striking fear into the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them" [8:60]).

However, the Caliphate is a Sunni tradition long abandoned by the supporters of Ali (those who would become Shia).  Shia, which comprise the majority of Iran's population, believe in Imams descended from Ali.  Iran's official denomination of Shia, Twelver, believe the twelfth Imam is currently hiding and will come again.  Iran's Islamic government sees itself as a placeholder until the Imam's return.  The Caliphate, an institution which any Sunni can become leader but in practice has been restricted to feuding Arab and Turkish families, has been denounced throughout history by Shia theologians.

If Bachmann wanted to warn about Shia Islamism she has solid ground in the Jihad passage of Iran's constitution.  Her argument though is greatly weakened by her warnings of Shia supporting the Caliphate.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Advent Geography: The Geography of the Historical Figures Before Christmas

The Season of Advent is about preparing oneself for the Christmas, for the coming of Jesus.  As many people prepare themselves for this season, one can remember that the various players who made Christmas were getting ready with their own goals.


Mary was a girl who lived in the village of Nazereth in Galilee.  Being a Galilean could have been a handicap, Galilee was considered a backwater of the Jewish world, but a woman in a village would most likely expect never to travel too far from home.

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Mary's response to the Angel Gabriel in the Book of Luke pondering how she could ever be pregnant implies she could have taken a vow of perpetual virginity.


Joseph was a carpenter who was a descendant of King David.  David's lineage was vast however so having royal blood did not translate into a comfortable life.  Being of the House of David his family home was the town of Bethlehem near Jerusalem.  While not rich his geographic heritage gave him a full Jewish identity.

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Joseph was betrothed to Mary.

Caesar Augustus

Caesar Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar, was the first Roman Emperor.  Augustus had a special tie to the Jews: King Herod had backed Augustus against Marc Anthony during the Roman Civil War.  In return Augustus granted the Jews a religious exemption excluding them from required worship of the Imperial Cult (the Jews were the only religion to not be required worship of the Imperial Cult).

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Towards the birth of Jesus Caesar was planning a decree to require a census throughout the Empire.  At the time this would be the largest census attempted in the world.

King Herod

King Herod "the Great" was reigning in Jerusalem with the backing of the Roman Empire.  Most of his time was divided between restoring the Jewish Temple and other massive building projects, managing his fratricidal family, and balancing the Pharisees, Sadducee, and Zealots against each other.

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Herod's constant obsession was being paranoid about any potential threats to his rule.

The Magi

The word "Magi" comes from Avestan Iranian word magauno, meaning a priest in the Zoroastrian religion.  Zoroastrianism is a Persian religion which teaches that there is one God who is good and the good God is opposed by an equally powerful creature who seeks the ruin of mankind (when Muslims conquered Iran they judged that Zoroastrians worshiped the same God as Muslims, Jews, and Christians).  Zoroastrianism was the religion of Persian speaking people including the Parthians, Greeco-Iranians who ruled lands from modern-day throughout western Asia from about 200 BC to AD 200.  The Parthians' lands match the description in the Book of Mathew which states that the Magi came from "the East."

Zoroastrian priests were known for their studies of the stars looking for signs from God.  The three that would later travel west spent their time looking for a star they thought would guide them to a great king.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

New Blog: Spatial Law and Policy

Spatial Law and Policy is a blog dedicated to providing news links and analysis concerning the wide open frontier of legal matters and geospatial technology such as GPS geotracking, social networks that monitor the locations of your usage, businesses interested in your pattern of life data from smartphones, and of course government.  While not geography in and of itself, the grey world of geospatial technology law will impact the geography tools most businesses, governments, and people use everyday.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Crowd Sourced Map Becomes the Symbol of Russia's Democratic Decline

The run up to the Russian parliamentary election was full of news stories saying Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party would lose ground to Kremlin-approved alternative parties.  Another widespread story was how the election was more or less rigged due to United Russia's control of the voting booth and Nashi and other ilk's vote fraud techniques.

United Russia denied the claims of voter fraud and laughed off anyone who challenged them.  The GOLOS Association tried a new technique to show/prevent fraud.  On their website they created a map which allows users to place and document voting irregularities.  The Kremlin responded with arresting the leader GOLOS and shutting down their vote monitor teams.

I would like to show you the map on GOLOS' website but that website is currently under cyber attack and is inaccessible and for all practical purposes destroyed due to the data loss.  The map itself was merely a documentation of voting problems, but its destruction has made it a symbol of Russia's democratic decline.

The Growing Canary Islands

The eruption's disruption of the Atlantic Ocean is visible from space.  The new land could become a new island or an extension of El Hierro (From the BBC)
Off the cost of El Hierro Island, part of Spain's Canary Islands, a submarine volcano is erupting.  Currently the eruption is approximately 200 feet (60 meters) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.  The closeness of the eruption is causing scientists to wonder if a new Canary Island could surface soon.  No one knows for sure though because the volcano could stop erupting anytime.  One should not bet on visiting the new island too as the creation of new islands can take time: for over thirty years some people have been predicting the Loihi Seamount will become a new Hawaiian island yet the world is still waiting.

Friday, December 02, 2011

South Ossetia's Struggle For Independence... From Russia

In 2008 Georgian forces were pushed out of South Ossetia by Ossetian militia and the Russian army.  Since then only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and a few small Pacific islands have recognized the independence of South Ossetia and the other breakaway republic, Abkhazia.  One of the primary reasons for the lack of international recognition is the thought that these two states are merely Russian satellite-puppet states.  In reality, Abkhazia has been struggling to maintain its own identity while South Ossetia has been viewed as merely awaiting formal annexation into Russia.

However, earlier this week the people of South Ossetia demonstrated their desire for their own course not necessarily matching that of Russia's.  A presidential runoff election was held in which the  former Education Secretary Alla Dzhioyeva dominated with fifty-nine percent of the vote compared to the "Emergencies Minister" Anatoliy Bibilov's vote of slightly less than forty percent. This is despite the fact Bibilov was publicly endorsed by Russian Primer Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev, and the ruling United Russia party.  Dzhioyeva, who still supports closer ties to Russia, won primarily because she campaigned against the corruption of the current Russian-backed regime in South Ossetia.  The people of South Ossetia demonstrated that while they value Russia as an ally they will not be dictated to by Moscow if Moscow's interests collide with that of the people.

Sadly though for those who want democratic rule in South Ossetia, the whole government-bureaucratic complex in the country was established and still is controlled by Russia.  The supreme court annulled the results due to "election tampering" and the parliament has stated there will be a new election in which Dzhioyeva will be banned from running.  The South Ossetians are not happy with these pro-Moscow moves however.  Dzhioyeva has declared herself the winner and her supporters are calling on parliament's complete resignation.

This is not the first time a power struggle has erupted over South Ossetia and control from Moscow.  The Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia, a pro-Georgia government in exile, is led by a former prime minister of the breakaway republic, Dmitry Sanakoyev, who left due to conflicts with the current government of South Ossetia.

The next few months could be critical for South Ossetia.  If Moscow has its way then many people will become disgruntled with the way their republic is heading and may start to look for alternatives with their opposite, Georgia.  If Dzhioyeva's victory is recognized then a cleaning house of the pro-Russian corrupt government apprartus will begin while Dzhioyeva purses a friendly yet cautiously aware relationship with Moscow.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

December 2011 Travel Photo: The Basilica of The National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

Outside of Buffalo, New York, close to the small town of Lewiston is the Basilica of The National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.  The shrine and campus occupy sixteen acres and is a very popular pilgrimage site.

The shrine is notable on a purely secular geography-lover note as the dome where the Virgin Mary stands upon is a globe with the Earth's landmasses.  One can climb to the top of the dome and stand next to Mary of in order to feel the cool lake breeze come off Lake Erie.

Every year the shrine and its campus is lighted up at night from November until the end of the Christmas season in early January.

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