Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Very Promising Blog: Z Geography

A friend who I greatly respect in the discipline has started blogging.  The blog, Z Geography, is designed to elevate the discipline from the doldrums which it is currently stuck in.  Anyone who wants to advance geography should seriously pay attention.

I am so excited with his blog that I am republishing two key points from the post to get readers excited.  By all means follow this blog.

 Geography in the United States is dead. And geographers killed it. Obviously, I’m generalizing and being (only somewhat) sensationalist, partially because I’m terrible at introductions and partially because I need to entertain myself. But the crux of the idea is that the discipline of Geography in the U.S. has withered and its practitioners seem to not have noticed and, even worse, if they have they don’t seem to care. Which is a shame, I love Geography, not (just) because it gave me a job, a career, and an awesome perspective, but because my life is Geography. And here’s evidence of geography’s lack of influence – I didn’t realize it was something beyond memorization until university. This is a problem...

  This is why Z-Geography exists: to elevate and popularize the discipline. Its about getting you, the reader, to think about things geographically – as you go along you will eventually realize: Geography is everything.
     In closing I offer this definition of the discipline: Geography is the study of an area with particular emphasis on its people, its landscape, and the myriad ways in which several areas and their phenomena are related.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

Normal blogging will resume January 2, 2013.  Until then I leave you with my video of Christmas Carolers assembled by a Protestant chaplain in a remote spot in eastern Afghanistan.  Video from 2010.

Let your goodness, Lord, appear to us, that we, made in your image, may conform ourselves to it. In our own strength we cannot image your majesty, power and wonder; nor is it fitting for us to try. But your mercy reaches from the heavens, through the clouds, to the earth below. You have come to us as a small child, but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts, the gift of your eternal love. Caress us with your tiny hands, embrace us with your tiny arms, and pierce our hearts with your soft, sweet cries.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Healthiest and Deadliest Gun Cultures Around the World

Latin America has the deadliest gun culture while Western Europe has the healthiest.  Interestingly enough the United States is almost right in the center (which is not that bad when one considers it has the largest amount of guns per capita in the world).

With all the discussion about gun violence in the news I decided to compare number of gun homicides to number of guns.  The results are below

Of note I found it fascinating that number of guns and gun homicides seem to have no positive correlation.  In fact, most of the countries with the healthiest gun cultures have more guns, not less.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Geographies": A Warning Term

A Catholicgauze rant.

In the past, up until the late 1980s, the term "geographies" was little used anywhere.  It was used simply as a plural term for "geography".  One could write about the "geographies" of New Zealand and Australia meaning just the geography of New Zealand and the geography of Australia.  However, many thought there was no need to make "geography" plural so the term "geographies" was rare.

An Ngram searched revealed that "geographies" as a term was reinvented in the late 1980s
However, starting in the late 1980s and surging in the 1990s, the term "geographies" was hijacked.  A coalition of "post-modern", "critical", openly Marxist, and other schools of leftist academia took the word "geographies" as one of their own.

No standard definitions of "geographies" exists, not even in academic geographic dictionaries.  What can be accepted though is that due to the hard left nature of the new "geographies"-users its usage is limited to human and barely used, if at all, in physical geography.  A basic understanding is that "geographies" claims there is no objective, unified truth combined with heavy usage of sociology.  An example would be that for City X, homosexuals, feminists, homeless, migrants, and rich all experience and "feel" the urban area differently.  One group's "geography" is then combined with other's to create a "geographies of City X".

Further, the "geographies"-using leftist geographers tend to advocate for somesort of change, "activist geographies", with their studies.  Further, due to the merging of hardcore leftism in academia many times the very geographic nature of some "geographies" project is in question.  For example, the emotional geographies conference has this blurb on their website about their upcoming conference

this fourth conference provides a forum for a range of people from different disciplinary backgrounds as well as societal partners and artists to creatively explore the role of emotion in thinking about and experiencing space and society.

All this has lead to me treating "geographies" as different from traditional geography and one of the main reasons there is such a disconnect between geographic studies/geography and academic geographers.  The main book on globalization "Commanding Heights" had no input from any geographer.  Try to name recent a mainstream/popular/impactful book by an academic geographer who uses the term "geographies".  I dare you.

For examples of these "geographies" which I dislike so much check out these posts Geographies of Feminist ArtFourth International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional GeographiesCommunifesto for Fuller Geographies: Towards Mutual Security’Urban Uprising/Re-imagining the City, Critical Geography Forum, and David "Most cited geographer ever in academia" Harvey's Reading Marx's Capital.

Note:  There has been a trend by some younger geographers to use the term "geographies" just  because older academics use the term.  These younger geographers sometimes lack political motive in their "geographies" studies.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

BIG Map Blog

There is something fun and fascinating about looking at full sized maps, especially older ones.  BIG Map Blog allows both tastes to be satisfied with a random assortment of neat maps.  I am enjoying the Comparative View Of The Heights of Mountains map from 1816.  Maps can be downloaded on the computer and there is even an option to buy prints.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When Exactly Will the Mayan December 2012 "Doomsday" Begin?

For a previous geographical look at another claimed doomsday, check out When Will the Supposed Rapture of 2011 Start?

According to some, but not most Maya themselves, something like a doomsday is suppose to occur on December 21, 2012.  But the geographer in me realizes time and date are somewhat relative.  So I have to ask, when exactly will the dreaded "Mayan" December 21 apocalypse begin?

Main scenario:  Doomsday at Dawn

Most archaeologists agree that the Mayan day begins with the sunrise so we need to find when the sun would rise over the Mayan primate city to figure out when the "day" begins.  However, there was no one Mayan empire as Maya is actually a cultural grouping.  So to does this I searched for the easternmost (Tulum) and westernmost (Palenque) major Mayan cities.

I then looked up when sunrise will be for these locations by using the NOAA Solar Calendar.  The sun will rise in Tulum on December 21 at 6:21 am local time.  Meanwhile, the sun will rise in Palenque at 6:34 am local time.  This gives us an Armageddon window of 13 minutes.

So breaking this down the Mayan end of the world starts at the following local times according to sunrise over Tulum which starts the 13 minute window.

Place                                   Local Time
New Zealand                       1:21 am / 0121 on Saturday, 22 December
Sydney, Australia               11:21 pm / 2321 on Friday, 21 December
Beijing, China                      8:21 pm / 2021
Jerusalem, Israel                2:21 pm / 1421
Central Europe                   1:21 pm / 1321
London, UK                         12:21 pm/ 1221
U.S. Eastern                         7:21 am/ 0721
U.S. Central                         6:21 am / 0621
U.S. Mountain                     5:21 am / 0521
U.S. Pacific                           4:21 am / 0421
Hawaii                                  2:21 am/ 0221

Alternative 1:  The solstice is the hour of doomsday

Some, but not all, 2012 doomsayers claim the end will start at the solstice.  However, the Solstice actually occurs one hour before the sun rises (and therefore the Mayan day before the alleged end of the word).  However, here is the solstice in local times around the world for those who still try to merge the solstice and December 21 doomsday.

Place                                      Local Time
New Zealand                          12:21 am / 0021 on Saturday, 22 December
Sydney, Australia                  10:21 pm / 2221 on Friday, 21 December
Beijing, China                         7:21 pm / 1921
Jerusalem, Israel                   1:21 pm / 1321
Central Europe                       12:21 pm / 1221
London, UK                           11:21 am/ 1121
U.S. Eastern                           6:21 am/ 0621
U.S. Central                           5:21 am / 0521
U.S. Mountain                       4:21 am / 0421
U.S. Pacific                             3:21 am / 0321
Hawaii                                    1:21 am/ 0121

The Second Great Disappointment beings at...

The math is complex and anyone can argue that there is another way to figure out the exact time of the December 21 end of the world.  No doomsayer will hit the point of the Second Great Disappointment at least until the whole world changes over to December 22

Place                                      Local Time
New Zealand                          01:00 am / 0100 on Sunday, 23 December
Sydney, Australia                  11:00 pm / 2300 on Saturday , 22 December
Beijing, China                         8:00 pm / 2000
Jerusalem, Israel                   2:00 pm / 1400
Central Europe                      1:00 pm / 1300
London, UK                           12:00 pm/ 1200
U.S. Eastern                           7:00 am/ 0700
U.S. Central                           6:00 am / 0600
U.S. Mountain                       5:00 am / 0500
U.S. Pacific                             4:00 am / 0400
Hawaii                                    2:00 am/ 0200

The final nail in the coffin will be when the sun rises on December 22 over Palenque at 6:35 am local time thus ending the Mayan equivalent to 21 December.  Around the world this time is little more than half an hour after the whole world leaves December 21.

Place                                      Local Time
New Zealand                          01:35 am / 0135 on Sunday, 23 December
Sydney, Australia                  11:35 pm / 2335 on Saturday , 22 December
Beijing, China                         8:35 pm / 2035
Jerusalem, Israel                   2:35 pm / 1435
Central Europe                      1:35 pm / 1335
London, UK                           12:35 pm/ 1235
U.S. Eastern                           7:35 am/ 0735
U.S. Central                           6:35 am / 0635
U.S. Mountain                       5:35 am / 0535
U.S. Pacific                             4:00 am / 0435
Hawaii                                    2:35 am/ 0235

No one can agree when exactly the Mayan "doomsday" is set to begin because there is no Mayan doomsday scheduled for December 21.  I will end this post with Jesus Christ's saying to his followers who kept asking about when the world was going to end.

"But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Mark 13:32 RSV-CE

National Geographic Maps Bias During World War II

National Geographic is sometimes dinged for its pre-World War II support for Nazi Germany.  Its head management was progressive pro-Fascist/anti-Communist during the Great Depression, according to the excellent book Explorers House.  In fact, Douglas Chandler, writer of the 1937 article Changing Berlin (photos on Flickr, full article republished on French-language pro-Nazi website) defected to Nazi Germany to be a propagandist during the war.

However, once the United States entered the war the society quickly became solidly pro-Allies.  The legacy of the switch to pro-Allies is apparent when one examines the maps National Geographic produced.

For the October 1939 issues (map made probably right before the start of the war) shows all Nazi controlled lands including Germany and annexed Austria, Czech lands, and a portion of Lithuania as part of Germany.

For the May 1940 map Poland is still marked but its lands are given to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In June the Soviet Union invaded the Baltic states and annexed them.

Once the United States entered the war the map changed.  The June 1933 map show newly German-annexed lands in the Low Countries as belonging to their pre-war owners.  Poland was completely restored and the Baltic countries remained untouched despite the Soviet claim of annexing them.  Even Danzing is reverted back to a free city.  Interestingly though pre-war gains by Nazi Germany stayed on the map.  The war was illegitimate but National Geographic still gave diplomacy its due.

National Geographic reverted back to recognizing on the ground reality with its 1949 Europe map which had the Baltic states as part of the Soviet Union.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Historical and Geographic Illiteracy on Christmas Cards

I recently received a Christmas card showing the Holy Family in the village of Bethlehem at the time of the Nativity.

Fantus Paper Products' 50-7109 Christmas card has some issues
A quick look at the card reveals that the "little town" of Bethlehem has quite a skyline with domes and minarets.  Looking at the card I remarked out loud "That's not right".

The problem with the domes and minarets is that they do not belong to Herodian Judea.  Further, they do not belong to this time.  The video below shows a model of Jerusalem at the time of Herodian Judea/Tetrarchy/Roman Judea.  Notice that there are only a few domes anywhere and they mostly feature as accents on roofs.  Spires are almost unseen.

The modern dome was invented and popularized by the Romans which just reached Judea at the time of Christ's birth.  The widespread use of domes in the Middle East did not come until the Byzantine dome was popularized in the 500s and the dome's adoption by Muslim conquerors in the 600s.  Minarets meanwhile were based on Christian bell towers.  Bell towers were first introduced to churches by Saint Paulinus of Nola around AD 400.

After looking at the Christmas card pile I own I found even more historical geographical errors.

The card on the left, by Paper Magic Group, shows a 1,001 Arabian Nights-style Bethlehem  complete with olive domes and desert scenery.  Meanwhile the card on the right  has minarets and is published by the Catholic priest society the Columban Fathers.
On yet another card a minaret shows.
Even the Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity reach reports directly to the Vatican, has minarets on its Christmas card envelops.
Showing minarets and domes on the Christmas card gives in to some Orientalist fantasy which portrays the Middle East as somesort of permanent Arabia.  It ignores the varied history and geography within the region.

I suspect mere historic and geographic ignorance is to blame for the cards rather than a political statement unlike a priest adding a mosque to a nativity scene to promote inter-faith harmony or Austrians protesting a Swiss law by adding minarets to Christmas cards.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Wales Theory of Middle Earth's Shape

Today the long awaited Hobbit movie is released.  While I personally fear a nine hour, three movie epic made out of a book which the dramatized, unabridged audio book is only two and a half hours long may stray too far from the source material, I am none the less in a J.R.R. Tolkien mood.  As such I began to think about geography and Middle Earth.

Middle Earth is based off Tolkien's view of a romantic, pre-industrial, pre-history Europe.  While he wrote that it was foolish to try to equate places in Middle Earth with present-day Europe, countless geographers and Tolkien fans have tried.

I, however, have been more interested in Middle Earth's shape than locations.  Looking at the map of Middle Earth I independently became a proponent of the little claimed theory that Middle Earth's geographical shape is based on Wales.  

To a certain extent even the mountains match

Flip the map over and Middle Earth looks even more like Wales.

Wales fits Tolkien's worldview and thus could have at least inspired the shape of Middle Earth.  Wales is populated by Welsh who are in fact the original Britons who were pushed out of England by the Saxons.  As such they could represent the Old Europe which migrated west after great changes at the end of an age (much like the Elves and most other magical creatures of Middle Earth).

Tolkien, a fan of language, history, and geography, clearly took ideas from everywhere for creating his Middle Earth.  However, I maintain that Wales was a major driving factor his creation of the shape of Middle Earth.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Christmas Tree in Mexico: Layers of Geopolitical Myths?

Several of my Mexican friends, both personal and academic, from Monterrey, Mexico took great pride in telling me about how German immigrants in the city introduced the Christmas tree to Mexico during the late 1800s.  No one could provide a source but everyone implied that it was common knowledge.

I took their word as truth as my travels through Mexico also revealed many more Christmas trees in the north compared to areas such as Mexico City and southern Mexico.  I even wrote the December 2012 monthly travel photo post about Mexican Christmas trees.

Much to my detriment, however, I did not consult geographer and Mexico expert Tony Burton, co-author of Geo-Mexico, about this.  His research indicates one (possibly two) Christmas Tree introductions to Mexico.

According to Burton, it seems that Emperor Maximillian brought over the Christmas Tree in the 1860s which then caught on with upper class Mexicans (most of whom in one way or another backed his government against the Liberal government of Benito Juarez).  Some other sources Burton describes claim that Mexican General Miguel Negrete, who fought against Maximillian and the French, got the idea for a Christmas Tree from the United States in the 1870s.

I told several friends about the above and encountered reactions which hint at nationalist and local myths at play concerning the Christmas Tree in Mexico.  An American economist friend who lived in Mexico laughed and said "Well, looks like Max did something."  Meanwhile, a Mexico City-based Mexican friend stated that there was no way "any Mexican would dare copy Maximillian."  Finally, a geographer in Monterrey could only reply with "but Christmas Trees came from the Germans [who immigrated to Monterrey]."

The second reaction reminded me of my visit to Chapultepec Castle when I asked a tour guide about the Mexican Conservatives who supported Maximillian.  Apparently, at least at the museum, there is a strong nationalist myth that no Mexicans supported Maximillian, only the French did.  After getting a stern message from the tour guide several Mexican tourists lectured me about how all Mexicans know Maximillian was a foreign puppet who had no true local support.  Later, a Mexican friend told me that I might of well asked a Mount Vernon tour guide about George Washington profiting off stolen Loyalist property.

So is there a tie between the current-day myth that no Mexicans supported Maximillian and possible Hapsburg Christmas tree-denialism?  Are the reports of General Negrete or German immigrants in the north introducing Christmas trees merely nationalist and local cover for adopting something the now hated Maximillian brought over from Europe?  I honestly cannot say.  There could have been easily multiple introduction of the Christmas tree to Mexico.  However, the mystery remains and it is even a little bit fun to imagine a conspiracy behind the beloved Christmas tree.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nakhchivan: Not a Good Model for a Palestine

A reader suggested looking at Nakhchivan, the Azerbaijani exclave between Armenia, Iran, and Turkey, as a model for a divided Palestine split by a hostile Israel.  However, Nakhchivan is not a good model for a dived country as it is a corrupt exclave separate from Azerbaijan in more than one way.  In addition Azerbaijan and Armenia occupations of each other show how division can easily lead to war.

View Larger Map

First, is internally autonomous with little oversight from Baku.  Palestinians strongly desire one state, not two within one confederation.  Second, it is corrupt.  The Nakhchivan leader Vasif Talibov has held power since 1995.  While he has developed the region, Freedom House describes it as being run as if it were his "own personal fiefdom".  Having Gaza remain Hamas' own personal fiefdom with little civil rights is a recipe either for secession, an Arab Spring, or yet even more Hamas-Israel Wars.  Thirdly, most Nakhchivans prefer to travel and work in Turkey rather than Azerbaijan-proper.  This weakens a state and not a positive model for Palestine to follow.

Most importantly, good portions of Azerbaijan and tidbits of Armenia are occupied by each other.

The blue is internationally recognized Azerbaijan but in reality part of the self-proclaimed and Armenian-defended Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.  This de facto republic came into being because of Armenians being divided from the Republic of Armenia by a hostile Azerbaijan.

Notice the one little circle of Armenia in Azerbaijan and the three dots of Azerbaijan in Armenia.  Currently all these are occupied by the opposing hostile power.  The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is frozen in place with Azerbaijan planning/dreaming on how to recapture the land lost to the Nagorno-Karabakh without dragging Armenia's allies of Iran and Russia into war.  A functioning Palestine needs to be at peace with Israel.  Too many warlike variables will only drag the Middle East back into war and cause even more conflict causing geopolitical shifts. 

Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia provide an example of failure.  Once again I assess that, while geography is not destiny, declaring a "united" Palestine based on pre-1967 borders sets up Palestine for both internal and external failure.

The Geography Behind Hanukkah: Hebrews Caught Between Larger Things

Many Christians and seculars commonly mistake Hanukkah as the "Jewish Christmas", i.e. the largest and most important holy day of the year.  However, it is only a minor holiday on the Jewish religious calendar.  Much of the holiday's present fame is the desire to have a Jewish alternative to Christmas in order to protect Jewish identity in majority Christian/post-Christian cultures.

The story of Hanukkah itself meanwhile is similar with Jews desiring their own identity in a hostile world.  Interestingly enough it involves the first long-term exposure of Judaism to a European culture.

Greeks, Other Greeks, Pathways to Invasion, Dreams of Godhood and the Jews Caught in Between

In 332 BC Alexander the Great marched and seized the Levant from the Persian Empire.  The Jews of the region were allowed their de facto internal autonomy as long as they paid taxes since Alexander was more interested in defeating the Persian Empire than Hellenizing the world.  After Alexander's empire split the land of Israel went to the ethnic Greek, Egypt-center Ptolemaic Kingdom.  The Ptolemaics continued Jewish freedom of religion though a slow but steady trend of Hellenization began among some Jews.

In 198 BC another spin-off of Alexander's empire, the Seleucid Empire, conquered present-day Israel from the Ptolemaics as part of a campaign to gain vital trade lanes and make inroads for an invasion of Egypt.  Seleucid Emperor Antiochus III continued Greek tolerance of Judaism.

Antiochus' son, however, had different plans.  Antiochus IV was the first Seleucid king to enforce demands of worship for his claim of divine nature.  He saw this as a way to unite the empire around his divinity and build morale for the upcoming invasion of Egypt.  While Hellenized Jews were willing to follow the orders to deify the emperor most Jews refused.

In 168 BC Antiochus IV and his pro-Greek Jewish allies looted the Temple (the most holiest place in Judaism), massacred Jews who refused to add the Greek Gods to Judaism, and outlawed monotheistic Judaism.  It took the Maccabees Revolt, a revolt of monothestic, anti-Greek Jews described in the Bible books of First and Second Maccabees, for Jews to regain their independence and religious freedom. The Seleucids were too busy fighting off growing threats from the mixed Greek-Iranian Parthians and the growing Roman Republic to ever threaten the Jews directly after the rebellion.

The Festival of Lights itself comes from the Maccabees seizure of Jerusalem from the Seleucids and their allies.  The Maccabees went to the Temple and cleaned it of Pagan and other defilements.  After the cleansing the Temple was rededicated.  1 Maccabees 4:56 (RSV-CE) states

So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise.

The famous Jewish historian Josephus wrote a similiar account around AD 75

Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms.

After the end of the war the Jews were safe in Israel for the time being.  Many challenges were to come but thanks to the Maccabees their freedom of worship was preserved.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Geography Quiz 3: Religious Persecution and Tolerance

View Larger Map

The above is the site of tragedy and triumph.  It, along with other sites like it, were the locations of what I feel was the biggest federal, state, and local religious persecution in the United States in the twentieth century.

The place is populated entirely by a Christian denomination.  They are currently found throughout the upper interior especially in the states of North and South Dakota.  They were once all located in the United States but government and public persecution forced all to flee to Canada.  It was only decades later that a sizable minority moved back to the United States.

Who are these people and why were they persecuted?  Leave your answer in the comments and see if you are right!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Potential Geography Exercise: Exploring Places with Same Names

One of the first senses of place a person develops is home.  Whether it be a home town or the street they grew up on, the place and name of the place develop a special meaning.

Playing off this relationship between sense of place and place name can be a fun and easy geography teaching exercise.  Using Google Maps, look up places which share your hometown's name or search for places with the same address as your's.  Look around using Satellite View and Street View.  What is similar and what is different?  Why does the place have the same name/street address?  Does it reference an important person to the region?  Does it refer to a geographic feature?

I found this a good learning exercise for people and students as it "hits close to home" and is easily modifiable by teachers.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Is the State of Palestine's Geographic Destiny Failure?

The United Nations voted to recognize "Palestine" as a non-member observer state, i.e. a fully independent country.  The resolution recognized an independent Palestine based on the pre-1967 borders of Israel with former Egyptian and Jordanian-occupied lands in the old Palestinian mandate award to the State of Palestine.

Geography is not destiny but it is a good rule of thumb.  With borders like this Palestine would struggle to keep a status quo out of war with Israel or at the very least a return to the Hamas-Fatah Civil War.  The reasons for Palestine's geographic strikes against it are that the population sizes of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and their separation from each other by internationally-recognized Israel.  A quick examination of excalves shows that having a Gaza Strip-exclave shows that the status quo as envisioned by the United Nations is undoable.

Exclaves are usually not causes of instability.  In most cases open border travel, similar ethnic/national makeup, and the limited population size of exclaves help ensure peace by making state geographic unity unnecessary.  For example, let us examine quickly exclaves that existed peacefully and some that failed.

Peaceful Exclaves
  • Alaska-United States:  Open borders and friendly relations with Canada, same ethnic/national groups as in the United States.  17% of the United States' landmass but only 0.2% of the total population.
  • European and former Soviet exclaves such as those in the Low Countries and even Kaliningrad:  Open borders or custom unions which allow for easy travel.  Very minimal in physical and population size (>.01)
Contested Exclaves
  • Calbinda-Angola:  Semi-open borders with varying relationship with Zaire/Congo, different ethnic/national groups.  1.9% of Angola's total population and 0.6% of the total landmass. 
  • East Pakistan-Republic of Pakistan:  In 1971 closed borders due to hostile relations with India.  Very different ethnic/national groups between the exclave (Bangladesh) and present-day Pakistan.  18.5% of the country's landmass but 55% of the total population.
  • East Prussia-Nazi Germany:  In 1939 closed borders due to Polish corridor and Polish fears of Nazi invasion.  Same ethnic majority.  3.1% of Germany's population and 6.1% of Germany's landmass.
Now let us examine Palestine as declared by the United Nations.

Both the Gaza Strip and West Bank are demographically the same.  This will help reduce internal strife.  Another Hamas-Fatah conflict is still possible but both populations will view themselves as one Palestinian nation which should remain in one state.

The trouble for Palestine concerns size and access.  The long running tension between Israel and Palestinians is likely to keep borders closed.  The critical blow to long term viability is in population size.  The Gaza Strip only makes up 6.1% of United Nations-declared Palestine but comprises 44.5% of its total population.  


Something like Palestine as recognized by the United Nations has never been done before.  The only thing similar was East and West Pakistan, the difference being the separate ethnic groups, and that ended in monumental failure.  Under a United Nations-envisioned Palestine, Palestinians would be one people separated nearly evenly with a hostile country in between.  As such a permanent split between the Gaza Strip and West Bank is unlikely, though the lack of access between the two may drive some in Palestine to push for a war for geographic unity against Israel.  Geography is not destiny, as I stated before, but the United Nations defined Palestine has been set upon an unknown and dangerous course.

Monday, December 03, 2012

December 2012 Monthly Travel Photo: Mexican Christmas Tree

Although Santa Claus, as Americans imagine Saint Nicholas, is making large inroads into Mexico due to cross-cultural exchanges via mass media and migration of legal and illegal immigrants, Christmas celebrations in Mexico outside Mexico City can still be considered mostly traditional.  European and New Spain (mixture of European and Mesoamerican Indian) celebrations are found all over the country. 

However, the Christmas tree first made its introduction in Mexico in the northern regions.  It was in and around Monterrey, Mexico where German industrialist and others settled and brought along the tradition of the Christmas tree.  Today, the Christmas tree is found throughout Mexico.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ireland and Czech Republic See Palestine Through Their Own Geopolitical History

The United Nations voted 38 to 9, with 41 abstentions, to recognize "Palestine" as a “non-member observer state.  Two European countries, Ireland and Czech Republic, campaigned and voted differently concerning Palestine due to their unique geopolitical history.


The Republic of Ireland took great pride in being the European spearhead for United Nations' recognition of a Palestinian state.  The Irish nationalist movement and by extension the Irish government has long sympathized with the Palestinian movement.  Irish nationalists see similarities between the centuries-long occupation of Ireland by the English and the Israeli occupation of the ethnic Palestinian territories.  Similarities extend also to 1949, the year the Arab war against Israel failed (destroying the chance for a Palestinian state controlling all of the old mandate) and Ireland left the Commonwealth of Nations and became fully independent.  Ireland therefore viewed advocating for a Palestine as continuing the fight for national sovereignty which freed the Irish and other ethnic groups.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic was the only European country to vote against the United Nations' recognition of Palestine.  The geopolitical explanation is that the Czechs remember the pain and suffering caused by appeasement through cutting up and dividing a country.  Nightmares of the France and the United Kingdom giving into Hitler's demands for first the Sudetenland and then the rest of the country drive the Czech's support for territorial integrity on Israel's terms.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interview: Horreyah on the Arab Springs

Geographic Travels interviewed documentarian Victor S. who is creating a documentary film about his travels in the Arab world during and after Arab Spring-events.  The film, Horreyah, which means "freedom" in Arabic follows Victor during his time in the region.  Victor is currently raising money on Kickstarter to help him finance the film's production.

We find his information on the independent-mindedness of each protest surprising, the Muslim Brotherhood slow motion plan of conquest disturbing, and the personal story about the FSA adventurous.

GT:  What inspired you to do a documentary on the Arab Spring?

I had worked as a contractor in the region during the relatively early stages of OIF and became interested in the middle east for several reasons. The history of the area, the passionate nature of its people, and the politics all seemed fascinating to me. By the time that the "Arab Spring" had started, I had already traveled throughout much of North Africa and the Levant.

During my travels I spoke with literally hundreds of locals and (like many travelers do) I listened to them gripe about their view of the world- but later found it fascinating that they rarely mentioned the issues that would become the impetus for the Spring.

I am also an American, and as such believe that freedom is something that every person should have. When the first wave of popular uprisings were shown by the US media during January/Febuary of 2011, they were often presented (rather simplistically) as David taking on Goliath. As small but brave groups of individuals fighting long standing Dictatorships. This touched me and I couldn't help but draw some comparisons to American history.

I also noticed that major media reporting on the subject usually entailed interviewing some former Ambassador under the Reagan administration or some DC based analyst. These were "grass roots" uprisings after all, and I thought the most important people to speak with were those on the ground level.

That's why I decided to do a documentary on the subject.

GT:  The Arab Spring started in Tunisia and spread throughout the region.  Why do feel people were so interconnected in their urge to rise up?

For this film we traveled from the "birthplace of the Arab Spring" (the small and desolate Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid)- to the battlefields of western Syria. I met with revolutionaries, freedom fighters, and ordinary people. I asked almost every single one this same question- and they all downplayed the importance of this "interconnection".

The Tunisians I spoke with all seemed proud that their country was the new birthplace of freedom for the region, but the extent of this seemed lost on most of them. I met with Bouzazi's family who still seemed to be making sense of their own individual change of circumstances and did not appear overly concerned with the fate of the rest of the world.

Every different revolutionary group I met with in Cairo and Alexandria all seemed eager to downplay many of the events in Tunisia. Most of them told me that THEIR revolution would have started regardless of what was playing out in other countries. I formed the opinion that this may be tied to a very "Egypt centric" school of thought. That is to say that many Egyptians that I met believed that their country was (in most ways) the epicenter of activity for the region at all times. With that frame of mind, its only natural that one would find their personal struggle to be the most defining.

The Syrians were/are still struggling to make sense of the escalating conflict in their own country to put much thought in others. I did speak candidly with some FSA members who acknowledged being inspired by what took place in Libya, but many of them were quick to add that they felt the media was embellishing the "success" there.

GT:  What are some interesting trends you have seen?
The slow indoctrination approach taken by the "Freedom and Justice Party" in Egypt.

Unlike their Salifi counterparts, members of the "Muslim Brotherhood" have been politically astute enough to not demand a full out Islamic state immediately. I did realize after speaking to several different party members that they have taken a slower and more pragmatic approach with the same goal in mind.

According to them, the plan is to through a period of what they see as "purification" of the Egyptian people from western influence. They know that this will probably take 10-20 years and they are willing to approach it systematically. The first place to start is the schools- changing books and course curriculums. From there they will work on changing the culture of social institutions and the Army.

It was amazing to me how much everybody seemed to be on the same page about this. It didn't matter what member I spoke with or where, they all sounded like they were reading from the same play book.

One thing they have gained from over 80 years of political experience- is patience. They are going to great lengths to appear moderate to the Egyptian people, but are apparently sharing different information internally.

GT:  Many in the West are concerned about Christians and other minorities.  What impacts of the Arab Spring have you seen on these communities?

Again, I turn to Egypt. EVERY Christian church that I visited while in Cairo had to be guarded by police or Military. These weren't just large Cathedrals, but even smaller Catholic Churches in residential areas. It was also difficult to get Christians to speak on Camera about how they viewed the Arab Spring.

For this documentary we also went to the DC based "United States commission on International Religious Freedom" and interviewed the Deputy Director of Policy- Dr. Dwight N. Bashir. He just reinforced what we had already seen- that Christians will most likely see a rise in persecution in Egypt over all other countries effected by the spring. This is something that I believe our Government should be very proactive in addressing.

GT:  Do you have a interesting/fun "war story/crazy experience" to share?
Getting in to Syria and to an FSA camp.

There are foreign based organizations that have been (operating as non profits) excepting money from wealthy Syrians abroad which they in turn use to help fund humanitarian activities inside of Syria.

A journalist friend of mine put me in touch with a trusted point of contact inside of one of these organizations. This person informed me that a cigarette smuggler they knew took regular trips across the border to an FSA camp. If I paid a small fee, I could go with him and he would personally introduce me to the "Colonel". I agreed and invited two Italian journalists who I had met a week prior.

A date/time was set to meet at an agreed upon location 10km from the Syrian Border. The day came- and my two Italian friends suddenly backed out and advised me to do the same. Having quite a bit of experience ignoring perfectly good advice- I felt that this time should be no different and decided to proceed anyway.

My new best friend (the cigarette smuggler) simply placed me comfortably in the trunk of a late model Nissan 4 door car. Driving for what felt like hours, my "guide" proceeded to take (what felt like) dirt roads and gravel paths. We finally arrived at a large orchard at the base of a small mountain, where I was released from my comfortable nook. Here we were met by a small man in his early thirties, who was brandishing an AK 47 and was apparently the first FSA member that I would meet.

The adventure continued on foot up the mountain and down a narrow ravine, only to climb small small rock faces on the next mountain. We finally reached the outskirts of"camp" around mid day.

Having been in the US military myself, I was shocked at how poorly defended and designed this camp was. It was simply a ring of foxholes on the top of the mountain covering an area about as large as a football field. There were approx. 40-50 men of varying ages, most busy setting up (Coleman brand) multi colored sleeping tents. They were armed- but poorly. About half had AK-47's while the other half at a mixture of shotguns and hunting rifles.

I was taken to the "Colonel" and proceeded to set up for an interview when- BOOM! A large explosion was heard coming from the base of the mountain along where we had just walked. Myself and the small group of fighters around me all dropped to the ground. BOOM- a second one. Then they jumped up at once, starting to shout wildly and their was a brief moment of confusion. BOOM- a third one. After about thirty seconds of debate, the group apparently agreed it was mortars being dropped on the trail we just took.

It was later deduced that we must have been spotted. The Mortar team who responded just didn't eat their Wheaties that morning and were just a few minutes late putting rounds down range.

This is the moment that it suddenly dawned on me that I could actually get stuck there. My mind began racing beyond that to what would happen if the camp was attacked and the "impervious" defenses did not hold. What would Assads forces do with a white American at an FSA camp?

The tone suddenly changed from what felt like an "Indiana Jones adventure" to "lets get this over with and get out of here".

We completed the interview with no more "problems" and simply took a different trail to a small village where a car was waiting. This time the walk was much longer.

Thanks to God we made it back in one piece!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Africa for Norway: Using Humor to Encourage Looking Beyond the "Feel Good" Solutions to Poverty

The group Africa for Norway is using humor to criticize simple, stereotypical relief campaigns that use "feel good" tactics to aid Africa.

The campaign's website declares
Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?
If we say Africa, what do you think about? Hunger, poverty, crime or AIDS? No wonder, because in fundraising campaigns and media that’s mainly what you hear about.
The pictures we usually see in fundraisers are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better. Africa should not just be something that people either give to, or give up on.
The truth is that there are many positive developments in African countries, and we want these to become known. We need to change the simplistic explanations of problems in Africa. We need to educate ourselves on the complex issues and get more focus on how western countries have a negative impact on Africa’s development. If we want to address the problems the world is facing we need to do it based on knowledge and respect.
A key paragraph elsewhere on the site reads
Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
Aid is just one part of a bigger picture; we must have cooperation and investments, and change other structures that hold back development in poorer countries. Aid is not the only answer.
This is clearly a dig at groups like Invisible Children and there so-so Kony 2012 campaign.  Also targeted are more concrete efforts documented in the documentary Good Fortune.  Good Fortune examined how a private river damming project and United Nations slum redevelopment was being used to advance the interests of well connected people at the cost of other locals.

Aid is more than just a hand out.  It should be a hand to help lift one up.  Groups like the Acton Institute attempt to use free market techniques guided by religious principals to support smart international development.  Microloans encouraging local empowerment also shows promise.  Smart aid will help.  Dumb aid will only create more reserve-Africa for Norways.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

American Foreign Aid Throughout the World

The State Department has created, a website showing where American foreign aid and assistance is spent abroad.  Israel leads the way at $3.1 billion followed by Afghanistan at $2.5 billion, Pakistan at $2.2 billion, and Iraq at $2 billion.  Dictatorship-to-quick democracy-back-to-dictatorship Egypt rounds up the billions with $1.5 billion.  Interestingly, $7.3 million in democracy promotion and health is spent in the People's Republic of China.  Additionally, twelve European Union states receive American foreign aid including one western European country, Portugal, which is given $100,000 for "peace and security".

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Burma or Myanmar: The Battle of Which One is More Multinational

President Obama referred to the Pyidaunzu Thanmăda Myăma Nainngandaw as "Myanmar" rather than "Burma" today while visiting government officials in country.  Some have considered this a grave international misstep as the United States and many human rights advocates still believe the military junta lacked the legitimacy to change the short form name of the country.

The battle between "Myanmar" and "Burma" is a very interesting naming geography battle.  First, the naming battle is only in foreign languages and not in Burmese.  Both the pro-Myanmar and pro-Burma name camps recognize the formal written form of the country as Myanma (Myanmar) while Bama (Burma) can be used as the primary spoken word choice for the country's name.

Both words have their origin in referring to the ethnic Burmese people.  "Burmese" in this case referring to the actual ethnic group and not all people found in Burma/Myanmar such as Shan, Karen, etc.  Burmese, like many Southeast Asian languages, has different words for the same noun in written and spoken use.

After independence in 1948, various governments have tried, sometimes/mostly half-hardheartedly and intermittently, to use the world "Myanma" to refer to all people in the country while keeping "Bama" to refer specifically to the ethnic Burmese people.

In 1989, the military dictatorship conducted a review of English place names in order to rid the map of colonial influenced spellings.  One of the decisions the naming committee made was to change the English name of the country from "Burma" to "Myanmar".  The reasoning was two-fold 1) Burma referenced the spoken and not written form of the country which was viewed as informal and 2) the committee stated "Myanmar" was more inclusive and showed that the country had many ethnic groups comprising one nation while Burma implied a nation-state to the exclusive of a third of the country.

Many opposed the official English-language name change of the country.  Most international opponents claimed the military junta was illegitimate and therefore the name change was void.  In country opponents meanwhile stated that minorities recognized themselves as part of a Burmese nation since they spoke the "Burmese" language.

The truth is a bit more complex.  A survey of minority resources seems to indicate that most but not all tend to actually prefer the term "Myanmar" though the usage of Myanmar to English-language audience is complex because some believing using "Myanmar" implies support for the military/post-military government when it actually does not necessarily imply support. 

While the military/post-military government puts on a good face, it is hardly minority friendly.  The government engages in a sort of militant national (Burmese) Buddhism which views minorities, especially Christians and Muslims as potential threats.  Government-minority issues are further complicated by the fact that the country has undergone 63 years (since 1949) of conflict in which every in-power government has fought with and against every significant minority group in the country.

Meanwhile, the anti-military/post-military, pro-democracy ethnic Burmese forces are not so minority friendly themselves.  The South Asia blog Bangla Nation pointed out that Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese nationalist at the expense of minorities.

So is "Burma" and "Myanmar" more inclusive?  Take your pick.  In reality the naming issue is more of a distraction.  The complete failure of tolerance and ethnic acceptance in the country is the bigger problem.  However, geopolitics right now dictates that the world powers will focus on the post-military government's relationship with the People Republic of China rather than internal issues like a bloody but outside the press' interest civil war.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pareidolias and Geography: From Seeing Something in Nothing to Actually Seeing Something

Pareidolias are "psychological phenomenon" in which a person sees something else or additional things in a object.  A good example is children looking at clouds and seeing what looks like to be a dog, house, or any other random thing.  Some argue that trying to find hidden things in standard environments is a natural survival tool which allowed early humans to be on the look out for predators hiding in the bush and jungle.  Others, like Anglican theologian C.S. Lewis believed humans were still quasi-aware of a larger cosmos full of other things therefore some pareidolia were actually either hidden messages or our everyday lives and the cosmos intersecting (this belief is similar to the Muslim belief in Djinn).

This post is not so much about whether or not some parediolias (everyone is entitled to their opinion) are real but more about the relationship between pareidolias and geography.  There are several intersections with one surprising exception.

Micro-level Geography

Every here of places like "Buffalo Ridge", "Old Man in the Mountain", or "Fist Rock",wonder why places were named that and received the reply of "Well, it looks like a Buffalo."  When a physical feature looks like something else it makes naming, whether official or not, and remembering the place easier.  This level of colloquial geography is encountered almost on a daily level and is very familiar to most people.  While now days most geographic pareidolias are thought of as just coincidences, some parediolias fit into mythologies and stories.  The salt pillars in Israel are tied to the story of God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah while the Sleeping Giant in Canada is part of traditional Ojibway lore.  Today, the Bosnian "pyramids" are the biggest on-going example of a geographic paredolia (excluding all the Google Maps 'Atlantis found" stories which come and go).

Satellite imagery has opined up a new front for pareidolias.  People combing through imagery have found things.  Some are believed to be real by a few people while others are thought of as just funny coincidences. Examples of these are the face on Mars, Jesus as the King of the Jews in Saudi Arabia, and the Indian head with an iPod in Canada.

Macro-level Geography

The previously discussed ley lines haunt those who work in the subfield of folk geography.  Some people claim that places are interconnected and either a god or ancient man made the region's physical geography to be somesort of giant outdoor temple.  English seem to be the biggest fans of ley lines.  English have always had an exceptionalism about themselves and some geographers believe their island separateness is the root cause of this belief.  This exceptionalism is common when discussing the English love for nature and the island of Great Britain (i.e. geography).  Examples include the affection for natural Druidism (ranging from neo-paganism including Wicca to the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury being a member of a "druid" history club), Anglicanism (a 1500s-created church that claimed/claims to be the pre-Roman (c)atholic church of Celtic Christianity allegedly native to England) and ley lines.

Continental-level Geography

There have been very few claims of hidden objects in the shape of the continents.  The exception is Abraham Ortelius (1596), Alfred Wegener (1912), and others independently noting how South America and Africa look like they could fit together.  These scientists proposed that the continents once fit together and then moved apart.  This view was long viewed as pseudo-science until continental drift became the excepted theory of geography and geology in the mid-1900s.

*Bonus Section:  Art*

The artist Olly Moss created a series of retro-style movie posters.  One of the posters was for the film American Werewolf in London which use a pareidolia in a map.  Moss was able to fit a werewolf image into the map of the British Isles by subtly changing the English western coast line between Scotland and Wales, playing with the geography of the Isle of Man, and adding an extra island in the Irish Sea.  (Try to see if you can spot all the changes)

View Larger Map

Friday, November 16, 2012

Operation Pillar of Cloud Israel-Gaza War Map: One - Extended Hamas Rocket Threat Range

Several days ago I found an official Israel Defense Force map showing the range of known Hamas rocket ranges.  The most advanced rocket Hamas had, according to the map, was the upgraded grad rocket with a range of 48 kilometers (30 miles).  However, since the start of the Israel-Hamas War of 2012, Operation Pillar of Cloud, Hamas has been able to strike Tel Aviv at 60 kilometers (37 miles) away and Jerusalem at 70 kilometers (44 miles) away.

The below map was created by me and available for Google Earth download.  I added an extra buffer layer showing the new known 70 kilometer range.  Much more of Israel's population is at risk of being hit.  Fortunately, Israel's nuclear facility is over 10 kilometers (6 miles) still out of range, for now.

Geography of James Bond

The Atlantic's Cities blog has a map of (almost) all the places visited by James Bond in the films.  It does not include space locations and I know for sure that it is missing the Amazon Rainforest from Moonraker and Madagascar from Casino Royale.

View The Geography of Bond in a larger map

London has been in every Bond movie except You Only Live Twice and Moonraker.  The other top most visited cities by James Bond are
  • Istanbul (Near East Oriental exoticism)
  • Hong Kong (Far East Oriental exoticism)
  • Venice (Picturesque Europe)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The United States of Angry People who Protest by Petitioning to Secede

Social media allows radicals to talk amongst themselves and inflate their message and numbers artificially.  If one judged importance by mere number of websites or comments on a web forum then one could easily believe that Old Catholics, Continuing Anglicans, and Ron Paul are very serious forces in the world.  However, they have little impact because people forget that fringes tend to be organized but overall numbers pale in comparison to silent majorities.

Such is the case with the petitions by upset conservatives claiming a desire to leave the United States because of the reelection of President Barack Obama.  In reality these petitioners represent a very small number of actual citizens (Texas' petition has been signed by the equivalent of 0.3% of Texas' overall population).  Overall this is mostly people venting their anger at Obama's win and not a true desire to leave the union.  These petitions' existence are a non-story, much like the supposed desire of some in Vermont to reestablish the Republic of Vermont during the presidency of George W Bush.

A late night browsing of petitions revealed 41 states have petitions pertaining to leaving the union.  The petition for Alaska merely asks for the right to vote on whether or not to leave the union, and Alaska is the only state with a quasi-serious independence party which actually won a statewide election.  The states without a petition are the swing state of Iowa and the majority Democrat Party states of Hawaii, Washington, Iowa, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine.

It is not so much Red State v. Blue State but you can find angry people who will copy a press-driven protest almost anywhere.  Map created from
In semi-serious statehood news Puerto Ricans voted in a non-binding referendum for statehood compared to the traditional winner of status quo commonwealth and the never popular independence option.  However, caveat this with the long stated desire of Puerto Ricans for statehood which is always matched by the their knowing they could never afford to be a state.  The little reported news out of Puerto Rico was that at the same time of the referendum pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño lost reelection to pro-commonwealth/anti-statehood Alejandro García Padilla.  Granted the election was very close and local issues did play a role, but none the less Puerto Rico voted for the status quo in reality while giving them a playful statehood pat-on-the-back.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards 2012 Winners

Congratulations to the first annual Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards Winners

First Place - the Alexander Von Humboldt Prize :  Geo-literacy Project on Meghalaya, India
Second Place - the Isiah Bowman Prize:  Geo-Literacy Teacher Training Plan

Be sure to look forward to updates as they complete their stated goals!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day 2012: Mental Health Help

Many people thank veterans for their service this Veterans Day/Remembrance Day.  The feeling builds up the confidence of those who served and lets them know their time was not all in vain.  Then the sun sets, night sets in, and tomorrow happens.  People think veterans magically then fully integrate into the general population (except for the rare "looney" who begs on the street corner), build a successful careers, have happy families, and maybe even become successful in politics.

So many veterans know that these two stereotypes, the super-success and the beggar, leave out the vast majority of veterans.  So many veterans have issues adjusting and just need someone to talk to, a little advice, or maybe a pat on the back.  The civilian world's different values, cheating wife/husband, lack of a clear-cut mission, and many more issues wear veterans down.  Many civilians do not see or understand this.  For example, a friend told me that his deployment was the best time of his life.  While civilian friend thought that was great to hear I realized the veteran was telling me his life has been all downhill since returning home.

Fortunately, veterans are not alone.  Help in all shapes and varieties, not just suicide prevention, is available online and over the phone.

American veterans can contact the Veterans Crisis Line.  The British Ministry of Defence has Mental Health Support and Contact Details.  Canadian veterans can reach out to VAC Assistance Service.  Australian veterans have access to the At Ease mental health program as well as VVCS - Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service.  A internet search for New Zealand veterans revealed the insulting bare-bones information of "contact case management" for mental health support.