Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Best Selling Cars in 160 Countries and Territories

Sometimes random browsing of the internet can discover the neatest things.  Case in point: the well written and researched Best Selling Cars blog which documents the best selling cars in 160 countries and territories.

Some countries pages are fairly mundane.  The best selling vehicle in the United States is the Ford F-Series while the Ford F-Series and Dodge RAM share the monarchy in Canada.  However, some other countries' pages are windows into the bizzaro world:
  • The Land Cruiser is the best selling car in Somalia.  I guess the vehicle is great for driving off road and for being an excellent war wagon. 
  • North Korea makes their own van known as the Pyeonghwa Samchunri.
  • And Cubans buy Chinese cars, basically the only car they can afford now that Cubans can buy cars.
Meanwhile other countries make geographic sense and are predictable.  SUVs are big in the cheap oil, money rich Arabian Peninsula petroleum states, Europe loves German cars, and the Hilux leads in a plurality of countries.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Oman: A Vast Geography of Former Exclaves

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The Sultanate of Oman's geography is unique.  Many geography blogs have already blogged before about its exclaves on the Musandam Peninsula.  This exclave branches off the United Arab Emirance and serves as the Arab side to the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz.  This exclave allowed Oman to monitor, and to a certain extent control, trade between Persian Gulf ports and the Indian Ocean port cities from the 1600s until European domination of Middle East trade in the 1800s.

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Many people, however, do not know about the former exclaves of Oman which made the geography of the sultanate even more extended.  The major one was Zanzibar, off the coast of present day Tanzania.  In 1698 the Portuguese were forced off of Zanzibar by Oman.  Oman used Zanzibar to act as its major spice, goods, and slave trade port for Africa.  Sultan Said bin Sultan loved Zanzibar so much that in 1837 he made Zanzibar the capital of Oman!  After his death his sons divided the empire with one brother getting Oman and a few other possessions while the other became the sultan of an independent Zanzibar.  Though the British made the sultanate a protector after the shortest war in the history of the world, the Arab descendants of Zanzibar ran the country until a revolution and ethnic cleansing led by Marxist Black Africans against the Arab rulers and Indian business class in 1964.

The Zanzibar Protectorate, then ruled by the Arab-African descandants from Oman, sits off British Tanganyika in the 1922 National Geographic Map.

The other major exclave of Oman was Gwadar in present-day Pakistan.  In the 1500s to 1800s Oman kept very close ties to the various Muslim states in the Indian subcontinent due to trade.  This links survives with Oman's food being spicy like Indian food (unlike Arab food) and with many Indian/Pakistani Muslims and even some Hindus living in Oman today.

Small Omani Gwadar is near the western edge of Baluchistan's coast in this 1946 National Geographic map.
In 1783 the exiled former Sultan of Oman, Saiad Sultan, used his personal connections to become ruler of the small port city of Gwadar.  He later retook control of Oman.  Once Saiad moved back to Oman but he continued to rule Gwadar through a governor.  Gwadar stayed under Oman's control until Pakistan bought the small port in 1958 for three million dollars.

Oman's African and subcontinent exclaves are no longer on the political map but their legacies still survives.  As mentioned above there is a strong Indian presence in Oman and many shipping lanes and airplane routes continue to connect the subcontinent to Oman.  The ties are even stronger between Oman and Zanzibar.  Most Omani and Zanzibaris (and even some Pakistanis around Gwadar) are Ibadi Muslims, neither Sunni or Shia but a unique denomination which recognizes philosophy, use of a smaller and separate hadiths, and other beliefs.  Oman is responsible for the survival of the Ibadi Muslim faith as the only Ibadi Muslims who cannot claim Omani descent or influence are a few remote Berber tribes in the Saharan Desert.  These exclaves cannot be found on a map but their legacy lives on in the realm of human geography.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Arab Spring: One Year On

Today, Friday the 27th of February is the first Friday after the one year anniversary of the start of Egypt's Revolution.  The Middle East is still on fire on Egyptians protest against the military junta while liberals slowly realize they lost the country to Islamists, Bahraini Shia begin to violently resist the minority Sunni's monarchy, and Syria continues to be in civil war as Syrians fight against the Arab national socialist Baath Party.

All videos are from the past three days.




Thursday, January 26, 2012

Aloha Oe: The Geography of Oahu in Song

The song "Aloha Oe" is a classic Hawaiian song frequently sung to express loneliness, homesickness, love, and even Hawaiianess.  The song was composed by then Princess, and future Queen, Liliuokalani in 1877 during a tour of the island of Oahu.  The most accepted story is the princess based the song off the love one of her officers had for a Hawaiian female farmgirl.,-95.677068&sspn=32.939885,79.013672&vpsrc=6&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Oahu&t=m&ll=20.262197,-157.697754&spn=7.210414,9.338379&z=6&iwloc=A" style="color:#0000FF;text-align:left">View Larger Map

While the tune is deeply associated with the Hawaiian islands in many minds, the lyrics themselves also express the geography of eastern Oahu, where Liliuokalani was when she thought up the song.

English Lyrics

Proudly swept the rain by the cliffs
As it glided through the trees
Still following ever the bud
The `ahihi lehua of the vale
Farewell to you, farewell to you
The charming one who dwells in the shaded bowers
One fond embrace,
'Ere I depart
Until we meet again

Sweet memories come back to me
Bringing fresh remembrances
Of the past
Dearest one, yes, you are mine own
From you, true love shall never depart

I have seen and watched your loveliness
The sweet rose of Maunawili
And 'tis there the birds of love dwell
And sip the honey from your lips
The first line mentions rainswept cliffs.  The princess was leaving Maunawili in eastern Oahu when she first started thinking of the song.  Eastern Oahu is the windward side and is frequently hit by rain showers.  The cliffs, formed due to Oahu's volcanic history, act as a barrier which causes the eastern side to receive even more rain than it would if the island were flat.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Military Geography of the Strait of Hormuz and the Allied Coalition

The British Daily Mail has a great infographic showing the Strait of Hormuz, the regional geography, the oil output of the various countries which use the strait (about 30% of the world's output though not all their oil goes through the strait), and the America-British-French naval coalition which is currently there to ensure Iran does not close the strait.

Click to enlarge.  From Daily Mail.
Of interesting note, the United States led an international alliance into the 1990-91 Gulf War to prevent Saddam Hussein from controlling less than seven percent of the world's oil when he annexed Kuwait.  If Iraq would have been able to take Saudi Arabia's oil fields in the "doomsday scenario" he would have controlled twenty percent of the world's oil output.  Iran currently has five percent of the world's oil output and could control twenty-five to thirty percent of the world's output by closing the strait.

The Strait of Hormuz is now a flashpoint with Iran trying to demonstrate its control of the Persian Gulf with the Allied Coalition trying to keep trade with the Arab Oil states open.

From The Daily Star of Lebanon

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Upcoming Aurora Borealis at 1400 UT


INCOMING CME: Big sunspot 1402 erupted on Jan. 23rd, producing a strong M9-class solar flare and a fast-moving coronal mass ejection (CME). Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab say the CME should reach Earth on Jan. 24th at 14:18 UT (+/- 7 hr) and Mars a little more than a day later. Strong geomagnetic storms are possible when the cloud reaches Earth. Our magnetic field is still reverberating from a CME impact on Jan. 22nd, so another blow could spark impressive auroras at high latitudes. Sky watchers in northern Europe, Canada, Alaska, and northern-tier US states such as the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin should be alert for Northern Lights.

UT is Universal Time.  14:18 UT is 9:18 am in America's Eastern Standard Time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Joshua Project: Christian Missionary GeoInfo for the World

The Joshua Project is an Evangelical Protestant effort to preach the Gospels to communities that have very small (or no) Christian population.  The project details the many various ethnic and national groups of countries around the world.  The website is generally map driven.

The bias in the project is that Catholic and various Orthodox faiths are considered good but not good enough.  For a population to be "fully reached" the website rates the group by number of Evangelicals.

A related project is Unreached People of the Day.  This website sums up the information of the Joshua Project into daily updates.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Help the World Health Organization by Mapping Libya

The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently trying to assist the recovery in post-civil war Libya.  However, their knowledge of medical facilities in the country is greatly limited.  They are creating a user edited map hoping that those who can fill in the gaps will help.  Here is a memo I received

We have so far collected more than 400 correct points using the great help of HOT, CrisisMappers and GISCorps but we need more! We know there where more than 1400 Centres in Libya in 2006. How many are there now?

We would need to try to fill the gaps you can see on this map, use it to add you data with just one click! Please ad all the locations you might know!

We need to locate people in Libya than can add new points on the map, using the on line web application (English and Arabic) or by using a paper map (we can provide help if needed), by sending an e.mail a twit or any other mean!

Please we need to develop a network of volunteers living in Libya or that have colleagues in the country that can provide information on where Health canters are located.

Contacts of great help would be people working on
1. Doctors (they might have some contact outside their hospitals)
2. Nurses and medical staff (same as doctors)
3. police officers (they know the territory)
4. Post offices (they are a source of information for locations! they deliver letters all over cities sand towns))
5. Teachers /school directors (they might know how to use a computer or know someone that can and know a lot of people)
6. Telephone outlets and Telephone companies (they normally use computers and know where their customers are)
7. Cybercafés (computers and knowledge on a single place)
8. Community radios (they can help us spread our message and questions)
9. electrical companies (they know a lot about the territory and they normally have cars to move)
10. Telecom companies (they might have some data regarding use of telephone networks,…
11. bus drivers (for remote locations. They criss-cross the territory)
12. NGO and associations working on the field 8they are on the terrain)
13. Any other person you might think!

Getting this data will help the community, the nation and the people of Libya go back to normality faster. We need all the help we can find!

There are areas where we know there are health facilities but we do not have them located on the map

Can you help?
Please, resend this message to anyone you think it can be interested, translate it to Arabic if you can and think your cooperation is crucial and greatly accepted in times of crisis

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Maps of the Sex Industry Worldwide

The sex industry worldwide is huge.  About forty million people (0.5% of the world's population) are prostitute and three-forths of all prostitutes are between the age 13 and 25.  The United States has one million prostitutes, the same as Nigeria, while East Asian countries rank first with the amount of prostitutes.

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The international sex tourism industry meanwhile is a pure Western phenomenon.  Americans tend to travel aboard to Latin America and South East Asia.  Europeans meanwhile travel to Africa, Kenya is an extreme hotspot, and Eastern Europe.

Blue countries have the sex tourists and red countries are the destination.  Click to enlarge.
(Hat tip: Washington Post)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Keystone Pipeline, Perceptions and Attitudes, and Why It All Matters

The Keystone Pipeline debate is the latest in a series between environmentalists and those who argue the need for energy sources.  Previous battles include ANWAR and the Alaskan Oil Pipeline.  Groups such as Tar Sands Action oppose the Keystone project because they claim that obtaining the oil will ruin the environment around the tar sands.  The debate is currently involving the Obama administration as American environmentalists are pressuring him to end American cooperation with Canada.

There is a party who is quite upset with the American environmentalists: the Canadian government.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the angry point that Canadian environmental matters should be decided by Canadians and not Americans.  Harper went on to say that Canada was not a national park for America.

The statement signifies Canadian anger towards American attitudes towards Canada.  Canadians often feel that Americans take Canada for granted, assume that there is no national difference between the two peoples, and care little for the Canadian perspective.  This feeling is summed up well in Margaret Atwood's Through the One Way Mirror.  Americans deciding what is best based off Canada's environment and not Canada's economy has just inflamed this already existing resentment.

This anti-Americanism could have major consequence for the United States.  The pipeline helps Canada export oil from the Athabasca oil sands.  The current production from those oil sands is 1.3 million barrels a day.  That's slightly under the daily output of Qatar and the United Kingdom.  Harper has threatened that if the United States does not work with Canada to expand the Keystone Pipeline then Canada would have no problem selling the cheap, non-terrorist funding oil to the People's Republic of China.

American attitudes towards Canada and how Canada perceives American attitudes could have a huge impact on jobs, the economy, and who gets the fuel to power their superpower country.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NASA Imagery Shows Beijing Smog Cover

NASA has released imagery from January 10th and 11th showing the massive extent of smog coverage over Beijing and much of the nearby area.  Visibility on the ground was reduced to about two hundred yards (about 180 metres) as tens of thousands of square miles were covered in smog.

On January 10th smog covered much of the North China Plain

On January 11th winds changed and the smog was blown away

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy Birthday Nicolas Steno, Founder of Geology

Nicolas Steno: Sort of a geological Catholicgauze.  As Bishop he sold his bishop's cross and ring and donated the money to the poor.

Nicolas Steno was a Danish Renaissance man who believed in proving to himself long held beliefs and disgrading things shown to be false.  This strong drive for the truth led him to become the founder of geology and laid the ground work for the development of archaeology and paleontology.  His first major test was analyzing his Lutheran beliefs.  When Steno reasoned that Catholicism was more grounded in traditional Christianity than Lutheranism Steno converted.  He would study and follow his new faith all the way to becoming a bishop.

But geographers and other earth scientists better know Steno for his geological work.  Early on Nicolas Steno realized that glossopetrae – literally 'tongue stones' were not fallen moon rocks or weird natural growths but instead fossils of shark teeth.  Later on Steno discovered rock strata were actually layers of rock which formed on top of each other over time.  He stated the deeper one digs into the earth the older the material.  Before Steno this was too much a leap for scientists to realize due to the general scientific disinterest in anything below the Earth's surface unless it was for alchemy.  His discovery also ended the belief in an unchanging creationist Earth.  Since then all science has agreed the Earth is dynamic.

Steno's birthday is January 11th and his popularity has spiked today due to Google celebrating his life with a "Google Doodle" showing strata.

Israel Preparing to Resettle Syrian Alawites in the Golan Heights

Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said that Israel is preparing to resettle potential Alawite refugees in the Golan Heights, the valuable highlands which oversee much of northern Israel and the Syrian capital of Damascus.  If this plan is true and it is implemented then it will be one of the most odd, complex geopolitical schemes in Middle East history.

For background, Alawites are a religious-tribal minority in Syria comprising ten percent or so of the country's population.  They believe Ali, cousin of Muhammad, was God incarnate.  They also believe Jesus was God in the Trinity and Alawites practice Communion as the body and blood of Christ.  Orthodox Islamic scholars have traditional classified Alawites as a Christian sect, a Shia heresy, or a pagan religion that disguises itself in the majority religion.  Some modern scholars have declared it a strange sect of Islam, but there have been charges that these scholars are merely making propaganda for governments which desire closer relations with Syria.  However, a recent New Republic article claims that in the past decades Alawite religion has been Sunnized by the Alawite-controlled Syrian government

The Alawites have run Syria under the Assad family since the 1970s.  The regime has been secular, Arab (national) Socialist which regards religion as more of a private matter if not a threat when mixed with politics.  The battle between the Arab Sunni majority and the minority alliance of the Alawites and various Catholic/Orthodox Christians has been bloody before.  The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the Muslim Brotherhood rebellion which was brutally crushed by the brutal assault on Hama, the "Islamic capital" of Syria, which killed somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 people.  Now, the Arab Spring wave has reached Syria and the old battle between Sunnis (the anti-government forces) and the minority alliance (pro-government) has reached the point of civil war.

The fear of ethnic displacement is very high in Syria, much higher even in post-Arab Spring Egypt.  The fear of ethnic displacement comes from the probability of the victimized Sunni Islamists seeking revenge on the Alawites if the Assad government falls.  The crackdowns against the Sunni Islamists in the past were so harsh that Syrian Muslim Brotherhood propaganda commonly features statements along the lines of "kill all Alawites" and attacks against Alawite civilians has become a new disturbing trend in Syria.

So as a bit of a propaganda coup, and perhaps geopolitical smartness, Israel is making it known that it is willing to resettle Alawites in the Golan Heights.  The propaganda coup portion comes from the fact Syria's Alawite-controlled government has been demanding the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, for decades.  It would be deeply ironic for the Israel-annexed Golan Heights to be the Alawites' safe haven from Sunni Syria.

The intelligence of this geopolitical move is straight-forward: entrenching the Golan Heights with an anti-Syrian population.  Currently the Golan Heights' population is about 40,000 Druze (who in the past have been pro-Assad Syria and part of the minority alliance; however, they have been silent during the current Arab Spring uprising), 16,500 Israeli Jews, and about 2,000 Sunni Muslims (who would have good reason to support a Sunni Syria).  There are about three-and-a-half million Alawites in Syria.  Even if just one percent were to move to the Golan Heights that would be 35,000 new settlers who would be willing to make a pragmatic agreement with Israel to prevent Syria from retaking the Golan Heights.

It is a little bit of a leap though to assume that Alawites would first flee to Israel but that does not mean an eventual move is unlikely.  A potiential alternative would for the Alawites to flee to Lebanon, which has a small Alawite population.  However, any disruption in the delicate religious-ethnic balance in Lebanon would likely end in bloodshed.  Hezbollah, Syria's Shia friends in Lebanon, are unlikely to be accommodating to such a large influx of needy, non-Shia.  Neighboring Turkey has long had its own problem with respecting non-Turkish people.  So if ethnic displacement does occur it would likely be an internationally scattering with perhaps some realizing the Golan is their only chance of sticking together.

If that is the case then Israel's offer may pay dividends in its efforts to keep the Golan Heights.

See also:  Israel's Point-of-View of Vulnerable Geography

Monday, January 09, 2012

Digital Ballparks: The Online Museum of Baseball Parks

During my travels across the United States one particular joy I have is being able to visit various baseball parks and enjoy America's pastime. Digital Ballparks is like traveling all across United States, Canada, and even some parks in Mexico.  There are over five hundred ballparks documented on the website; each park has tons of photos with the history of the park well described.  The website features Major League, minor league, independent, and college stadiums.

While we wait for the dead of winter to end this is the perfect website to get in the mood for spring training!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Saturday Humor: Oregon Trail Movie Trailer

Long time readers will remember that I love studying the Oregon Trail.  Part of my love for the trail is based off my time playing the Oregon Trail computer game during my youth.  Half Day Today has taken the game of my youth and made a fake movie trailer based off the game.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Virtually Traveling the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are an archipelago about 60 miles (100 kilometers) off the coast of Morocco.

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The islands are a popular tourist destination due to its subtropical climate.  Another reason for the islands allure is the volcanic landscape which provides for mountains, deep cut valleys, and laurisilva vegetation.

The population is mostly comprised of the descendants Spanish colonists from the mid-1400s and the few original Guanches, a Berber race who settled on the islands sometime between 1000 BC and 100 BC.

According to Expedia the average ticket for a one way flight in the United States to the Canary Islands costs over $1,000 dollars.  Since that is above most people's price range here are several beautiful Google Street Views on Gran Canary, the main island, which one can virtually travel the island.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Demographic Map of 1919 New York City During the First Red Scare

In 1919 the New York City Police Department mapped out the various ethnic neighborhoods of the city.  The effort was part of a push to monitor anti-American/criminal/undesirable elements of society.  During the days of the First Red Scare much of the justified fear of revolution and anarchy was inflamed into plain old bigotry, sometimes with deadly results.  In non-deadly cases various groups pushed with tighter monitoring of "hyphenated Americans" as opposed "regular Americans" aka White, Anglo-(or)-Saxon, Protestants.

The New York Times blog has a zoomable digital copy of the NYPD's map.  Popular stereotypes of the various ethnic groups labelled on the map help explain why they were charted out.  Germans (Kraut spies), Russian Jews (Commies), and Italians (mobsters) are the first three groups on the map.  Other groups leave me wondering why they were even bothered with: Scandinavians (blondes a big threat in the 1910s?) and French (I seriously do not know why the French were feared).

The Times' blogger points out that ethnic mapping continues to be very controversial.  The FBI recently received harsh negative press for its geographical monitoring of American Muslim communities.  What many people ignore; however, is that normal census data can be and is used to do detailed racial, social, and economic mapping for police departments, academics, and even private companies to name just a few.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

East and West Florida: The Two Colonies Which Rejected Independence

Early on in school American students learn about how the Thirteen Colonies united against cruel English rule to become the independent United States of America.  Later on in schooling students learn about Loyalists, those Americans who stayed loyal to the British crown and even fought against independence.  Some students are even lucky enough to learn about how Canada was different from the Thirteen Colonies and how Georgia did not send delegates to the First Continental Congress because of Georgia's status with ex-convicts populating the colony (this soon changed and Georgia was allowed in for more famous the Second Continental Congress).  But through all this the thirteen, unified colonies are shown as an example in schools of all real Americans (not pro-British elites) and all of America uniting together to make the United States of America.

This idea of American Revolutionary history is captured with maps showing the Thirteen Colonies.

The way Americans like to think of colonial America: thirteen colonies destined to be thirteen states.
The myth of the thirteen American colonies ignores a historical geographic reality: there were Fifteen Colonies.  The Spanish colony of Florida was ceded over to the United Kingdom at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 in exchange for Spain receiving all French North America lands west of the Mississippi River and New Orleans.  The British in turn broke the Florida up into two colonies: East Florida, capital St. Augustine, and West Florida, capital Pensacola.  The native Spanish population willingly left the Floridas and settled primarily in Cuba. They were replaced by a small population of British merchants and settlers.  Both colonies had active, productive, and life sustaining ties with British colony companies based in London. 

Because of these factors the Floridas were very Loyalist.  West Florida even rejected an offer to participate in the First Continental Congress (remember, Georgia was not even invited).  Effigies of John Adams and John Hancock were burned in St. Augustine when news of the Declaration of Independence reached the colony.

One of the reason Americans know little about the two extra colonies is that these colonies were not added to the United States after the Revolutionary War.  Spain reconquered both Floridas with the Gulf Coast Campaign from 1779 to 1781.  After Spain reestablished control most Loyalist Americans left for Canada or the Bahamas and they in turn were replaced with Spaniards (who do not fit the mold of an "American colonist").  Spanish control of Florida was not done away with until America claimed West Florida as part of the Lousiana Purchase in 1810 and East Florida with Andrew Jackson's 1818 and the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819.

Today Loyalist Florida is ignored in most history books and maps of the Revolutionary War.  Florida is either ignored or even shown as belonging to Spain during the war.  However, its existence was real and it is a reminder that not all of America choose to side for independence during the Revolutionary War.  It also sadly reflects American thoughts on who was an American back then.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Geography Related Books Read in 2011

A long year for me has given me time to read geography books and other related genres as well (even more than last year).


Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History by Thomas Barfield: Yes! A great book on the history and culture of Afghanistan that is not afraid to point out that the great myths about Afghanistan, such as it being a graveyard and a self-sufficient country, are wrong.

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakauer:  I never trusted the story of Three Cups of Tea and this book seems to prove me right.  Be sure to read by Three Cups of Tea and a Coffee Cake of Lies post.

Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward:  A look at Obama and Afghanistan, late 2008 to mid-2010.  I can't wait to read the next one in order to find out just what the administration is thinking when it comes to America's plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

War by Sebastian Juger:  A look at one unit's fight in Afghanistan. Goes into the mind of the solider look no other recent book


Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World's Most Precious Stones by Greg Campbell:  A decent rundown of the civil war in Sierra Leone and how the diamond trade funded the war.

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason Stearns:  Wow. The shocking history of the two wars you never heard about.


How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein:  The fun guide to how the states got their shapes. Equality of size, battles over slavery, and politics are the three primary reasons.

How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines by Mark Stein:  Brief biographies on those who impacted state boundaries.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt:  A fun murder mystery and an examination of what makes Savannah Savannah.


The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B.R. Myers:  With their weird racist-nationalistic desire for a strong mother I can say with certainty that the Koreas are very, very different.

God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China by Liao Yiwu:  A look at the lives of those in the various Christian movements, Protestant-Catholic / Independent-State run, in China.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick:  A decent collection of biographies of North Koreans in the 1990s and early 2000s.


Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War by Thomas de Waal:  Ten years old but still good. A history of why Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Imagine the Israel-Arab conflict if no one cared.


The Balkans: A Short History by Mark Mazower:  A good but way too brief history of Balkans with a focus of the pre-Cold War Balkans.

Discovering the Camino de Santiago by Rev. Greg J. Markley:  An easy read done in one sitting. A rare book in the sense that it is a religious travelogue of the Camino de Santiago... and done by a priest too!

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley:  A history into the war that saved Europe, a history we know little about.

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen:  The best book I read on 1989. It does a great job looking into events pre-1989 which made the European revolutions possible. Much more in-depth than "The Year that Changed the World."

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer:  One of the best history books I ever read (and by far the longest). It is the book on Nazi Germany. The 1990 afterward offering words of caution about the reunion of German is somewhat humorous now, though.

The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall by Michael Meyer:  A quick tour of the events of 1989... with a weird, unrelated introduction.

Latin America

The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream by Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez:  The good, bad, and ugly about Cuban baseball, those who made it to the majors, those who failed, the heroes, and the villains for free baseball

Middle East and North Africa

Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East by Jared Cohen:  A very readable book but Cohen fails to realize that the younger generations he talks to are those predisposed to talk to Americans. Meanwhile, a huge bulk of the youth population is overlooked. One would get the impression that Iran is full of Europeans if they don't read this book with a grain of salt.

Egypt and the Revolution of 2011: A really poor stitching together of Wikipedia articles. I cannot recommend this book less.

The Instigators by David Wolman:  A good, short look at one of the Egyptian protest leaders.

The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years by Bernard Lewis:  Truly a good "brief history of the last 2,000 years." I enjoyed the parts on culture more than the geopolitical history.

The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next by the Council of Foreign Relations:  A great collection of essays on the Arab Revolts and Protests much a local, regional, and international perspective.

On the State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable by Alaa Al Aswany:  While I don't agree with all parts of his world view, this is a good book to see what issues were bothering Egyptians before the revolution.

The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution by Amir Taheri:  This could have been an informative book but Taheri makes claims that I even know are wrong (such as using Ghurabiyya Shia, a dead sect, to make claims about current Twelver Shia beliefs).

Revolution in the Arab World: Tunisia, Egypt, And the Unmaking of an Era by the Contributors of Foreign Policy Magazine:  A good collection of essays and reports on the development of the Arab Protests of 2011. Some essays are great while in others you can tell the authors have drunk the Kool-Aid.

Tweets from Tahrir: Egypt's Revolution as it Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made it:  A good collection of English-language tweets from the Egyptian Revolution... though I wonder how these compare to the Arabic tweets in message and ideology.


Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" by Philip Plait:  A fun yet smart book showing that one holds a lot of false beliefs about the Earth and astronomy.

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark:  A military, political, religious, and social history of the Crusades.

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner:  Sometimes I question the objectivity of the book (the case of British Guyana being a primed example) but a good book none-the-less on failures in the CIA and how it affected America.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel:  The discovery of the means to determine longitude at sea was the last battle which ended the marriage between astronomy and geography.

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken JenningsBesides acting like the smartest kid in the room and one or two factual errors this is a wild, fun romp through the world of non-academic geographers

McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Misha Glenny: An interesting look at organized crime that seems to speed through and jump around a little too much for its own good.

Valkyrie: The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by Its Last Member by Philip Freiherr Von Boeselager"It's a good personal biography of an aristocratic Catholic German officer on the Eastern Front. However, do not read it to learn about Valkyrie. Boeselager was only a very minor player on the side.


The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin: The Hebrew, Desert, Greek, and Latin Church Founders and their quotes on religious matters of both the past and present.

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection by Pope Benedict XVI: Who Jesus was and what He said and meant.

Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years by John Philip Jenkins:  Great read on the battle between One-Nature and Two-Nature Christians from Nicaea to the Rise of Islam.

War on Terrorism

Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground  by Robert Kaplan:  A look at those in the Navy and Air Force and the geopolitics that affects them and vice versa.

Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror by Robert Young Pelton:  An inside look into armed contractors, mercenaries, and adventurers in the post-9/11 world.

The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda by Peter Bergen:  A biased mix of contradictions (Al Qaeda didn't have ties to Iraq except when it did) and focus on intelligence instead of the actual battles caused me to lose interest.

Militant Islamist Ideology by Youssef H. Aboul-Enein:  An excellent look at the difference between Islam, Islamists, and Militant Islamists; as well as the denominational battles within each group.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

January 2012 Travel Photo: Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia

Picture by Catholicgauze
Savannah was the first English settlement in what is now the state of Georgia.  The colony was founded as a buffer between the English colony of South Carolina and the Spanish colony of Florida.  It also served as a convenient way to put debtors to work (rather than have them sit in debtors jail the British had them found Georgia).  The colony originally forbid four things: no rum, no slaves, no lawyers, and no Catholics.

The city was well planned out with a series of squares being spaced out by a few blocks.

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As the city expanded people wanted something more grandiose than the standard square.  By the mid-1800s Parisian city planning became popular throughout the world.  The Parisian model had residential neighborhoods radiating from giant parks with fountains, open green spaces, gardens, and children's areas.  So in the 1840s the city of Savannah constructed Forsyth Park to serve as the radiant for the new neighborhoods growing south of the Historic Downtown.

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The fountain is a widely recognized site featured in movies Cape Fear and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.