Friday, June 29, 2012

The View of Geography in Boko Haram Explained by the Difference Between Traditional Sub-Saharan Islam and Egyptian Salafism

The main Islamist terrorist group in Nigeria has the Arabic name of "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad".  The Hausa, the local Nigerian language, name for the group is Boko Haram, which translate to "western education is sinful".

Back in 2009 the leader of Boko Haram gave the group's perspective on geography.  According to the BBC, Boko Haram's thoughts are

"Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.  Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism."

So besides Darwinism, Boko Haram rejects the hydrologic cycle and a spherical Earth.  This may confuse some who associate Islam with being accepting of science.  The truth is that Boko Haram's geography is actually a good example between more traditional forms of Islam and Egyptian-style Salafism.

The cosmos of traditional Islam is full of things like djinn, angels, and divine intervention on a daily basis.  Egyptian-style Salafism (EsS), however, started as a reaction to an Enlightenment-era Europe that militarily dominated the Islamic World, which at the time rejected the more advanced sciences ("if it is in the Qu'ran it is redundant and if it is not in the Qu'ran it is anti-God"). EsS sought to accept the  scientific mindset and reject the more "folk culture" aspects of the faith in order to bring about a scientifically advanced and yet still devout Islam.  EsS coincides in large part, but not exactly, with Saudi-style Wahabbism.  This helps explain why there are so many highly educated Arab engineers and doctors (black-and-white science) who tend also to be the most radically devout, such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Meanwhile, areas outside the zone of the EsS Islamic reformation like Afghanistan and Nigeria are no less devout in their Islam yet practice a faith which keeps much of the old ways and remain skeptical of science.

In order to understand why certain militant Islamist related groups (al Qaeda/Boko Haram/Taliban) hold such radically different beliefs it is important to understand where the originate from.  Are they from a zone which is EsS, Wahabbi, and in a more traditional Islamic place.  Knowing their exact origins also helps with confronting them when the fight outside the religious zone.  The United States military has done a decent job turning local Afghans against foreign fighters by reminding the Afghans that Wahabbis will destroy Deobandi graves.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Freeware and Open Source GIS Software and Guides

Right now I am brushing up on my GIS skills via training books.  The books come with 180 day-trial versions of ESRI's famous ArcGIS software.  However, to obtain a permanent copy of ArcGIS I would need to pay $1,500 American dollars.

There is hope though for people who do not want to invest so much money for GIS knowledge.  The GIS Lounge has the article How to Go from GIS Novice to Pro without Spending a Dime and a list of free GIS software.  There is also a nice introduction to qGIS with links for more information.

GIS is still a growing industry and many, if not all, geographers will use it at least occasionally to make maps or conduct spatial research.  I highly recommend geographers learn a GIS program to gain research abilities and to build one's resume.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Divided States Which Became Syria - A Look at the Past

Special thanks to FSSP for the post

With news reports that Alawites and Melkite Christians may retreat to the western coast of Syria to establish a rump state, various commentators are wondering if Syria could actually split.  Most of these commentators emphasis how hard it would be for an "Arab Syria" to split.  What many of these commentators overlook is that Syria is already a rump state which previously was several states that lost some of its minority heavy areas because of demographic geopolitics.

After World War I and the French-Syrian War which saw the French defeat the newly independent, pro-British, Arab monarchy, the French divided their mandate of former Ottoman lands into six mandate states.  Most of the states were ethnically based with the Sunni Muslim majority divided into two to create rivalries.
The not united states of Syria.  Map from Wikipedia
The French divided its mandate into six parts.

Sanjak of Alexandretta - Majority Turkish with noticeable Eastern Orthodox and Jewish minorities.  In 1938 this state declared independence as a secular republic and later joined Turkey (and was featured in the third Indiana Jones movie as some sort of Arab monarchy).  Syria still claims this area.

Alawite State - The core of the proposed future rump state of Melkites and Alawites is in fact the old homeland for Alawites.  Since the 1960s the rural Alawite majority has been moving into the cities in this region and has now replaced Sunni Arabs as the majority in both cities and the countryside.

Greater Lebanon - Meant to be a homeland for Christians as well as a reserve for Shia Muslims.  Christian leaders broke from both France and Syria because they thought it would be the only way to protect their people from a majority Muslim Syria.

State of Aleppo and State of Damascus - The French divided the Sunni Arab majority into two states to play off the cities of Aleppo and Damascus against each other.  Interestingly, while the Syrian Civil War is widespread it is not really an Aleppo versus Damascus conflict as much of the most intense fighting has been around Homs and Hama, both in the old State of Damascus.

Jabal Druze - The Druze may be the Mormons of the Muslim world (secret rituals, non-orthodox beliefs such as reincarnation in the case of the Druze) or they may be pagans who hide themselves in a quasi-Muslim veneer.  Either way these fierce defenders of their own local autonomy were given their own mandate by the French.  Ever since then the Druze have been more or less sitting out national politics while they pay taxes to the central government and are left alone in return.

In the 1930s a series of agreements started the long road to independence for Syria.  Arab nationalists desired all the mandates to be formed into one state but the French's long standing ties with Maronite Catholics led them to separate what would become Lebanon from the rest of Syria.  Also, as stated above the Turks of Hatay wanted to be part of the Turkish nation-state and pressured the French to keep them out of any agreements with what would become the Syrian government.

Today the ruling Baath Party still pays lip service to reuniting all of Syria's old lands (Syria only recently recognized Lebanon as independent) and the in-government Syrian Social Nationalist Party works both in Syria and Lebanon to reunite the countries.  However, the downfall of the secular, minority-friendly Baath regime may cause minorities to press again for the reestablishment of separate states.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Economic History of the World from AD 1 to 2008

The Atlantic features the above chart showing the distribution of the world's GDP from AD 1 to 2008.  The chart seems overly generous to the West by reducing the space for AD 1 to 1000 (which ignores the collapse of Western Europe and the slow decay of the Eastern Roman Empire).  I also feel that the brown representing the Ottoman Empire should be larger but the small graphic space between 1000 and 1500 reduce the true size of their worth.  It is difficult for some to remember but without finding the resources of the New World, Europe would probably have fallen to the Sultan's economic juggernaut which stretched from the Gates of Gibraltar to the Indian Ocean.

Of interesting note is how India and China's position have changed.  China collapsed in part to its cutting itself off from the world but India grew slowly overtime.  It was not so much that India collapsed but the West's economies just grew so much.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Impechment of Paraguay's President Lugo Shows Need for Reasonable Land Reform, Leftist Leaders Fears

One percent of citizens in Paraguay controls seventy-seven percent of all the land in the country.  Two percent of the country owns ninety percent of all the land.  The reason for this great, unequal distribution of land is that for almost the last sixty years, until 2008, Paraguay was controlled by the elitist, now conservative, Colorado Party.  The Colorado Party prevented land reforms which swept across Latin America.  Further, the country lacked a solid, non-Communist leftist, liberal, or Christian Democratic party to propose alternatives to the status quo.

In 2008 a leftist-liberal-Christian Democratic coalition led by the Authentic Radical Liberal Party under the leadership of former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won the presidency and promised land reforms.  However, Lugo's inability to create coalitions, lack of political skill in pressing the fractured conservative parties which dominated Paraguay's congress, and radical land reform advocates produced a formula for failure, broken promises, and uncontrolled rage.  Last week, seventeen landless farmers who violently seized property were killed in clashes against the police. 

The clash was the last straw for many.  The lower house voted seventy-three to one to impeach Lugo.  His liberal party as well as more leftist allies in congress abandoned him.  The upper house convicted Lugo and replaced him with Vice-President, now President, Federico Franco.  Franco is now promising reforms with input from all sides.  This was not a coup but a legal constitutional move.

Like Honduras' power change, however, various leftists governments such as Ecuador and Venezuela as well as center-left powers like Argentina and Brazil are opposing the impeachment and state they will not recognize the new government.  These governments, really their leaders, fear constitutions which allow for leaders to be replaced.  The events in Honduras and Paraguay show leaders are not absolute.  Chavez et al fear this message and will do anything to prevent models for their own domestic opposition.  This is why Latin American states will press hard to restore Lugo.  Expect input from the United States to play a major role in what happens.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Seven - June 2012

Many thanks to FSSP for making this post.

Libyan War Maps 
Syrian Arab Spring Protest Maps - Batch One
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Two - Syrian Air Defenses 
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Three - Twitter and News Update Maps 
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Four - The Soccer Map  
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Five - Ceasefire Violations
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Six - Houla   
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Seven - June 2012    
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Eight - Battle of Damascus 
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Nine - September 2012 
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Ten - October 2012 
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Eleven - Propaganda Maps
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Twelve - First Quarter 2013

Syria Civil War Maps Batch Thirteen - Chemical Weapons Attack?
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Fourteen - Israel Strikes Again
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Fifteen - Second Quarter 2013
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Sixteen - The Coming Western Intervention
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Seventeen - Al Qaedastan in Iraq and Syria

The blog Political Geography has produced their own map of the Syrian Civil War showing areas of Free Syrian Army activity.  Note how there is little Free Syrian Army activity along the western coast.  This is the homeland of the Alawites (which President Assad is a member of) and Melkite Catholic Christians.  There are rumors that the Alawites and Melkites will establish a rump state if Sunni Islamists takeover the rest of Syria.

The anti-Syrian Arab Republic (Assad Regime) group Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Center has been producing daily violence and new media reports maps for months.  The map for June 21 is below.  Blue markers represent protests, red fighting, yellow striking, and green is miscellaneous.

View Syria - Thursday 21/06/2012 in a larger map

A Google Maps mapmaker is creating a map showing the general locations of new media video reporters in Syria.  It is a work in progress and comments are apparently encouraged.

View Syria Streams in a larger map

The organization Women Under Siege is hosting a crowd sourced map documenting claims of sexual violence against women in Syria.  Catholicgauze once told me that rape is a "powerful" weapon in war because if an opponent's wife is mentally and spiritually in disarray then the opponent soldier cannot fully commit himself on the battlefield.  He said mobbish army commanders prefer soldiers engage in rape because it desensitizes soldiers and makes total war easier to conduct.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards Submission: Geo-literacy Project on Meghalaya, India

The very first entry for the Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards has been officially submitted.  Sangeeta Deogawanka and Vasundhara Deogawanka propose to do a local regional geography study and presenting the results to locals to inform them about how geography can show risks to their community.

Feel free to comment on the proposal and let the board know what you think!

And remember, you still have time to apply for the $500 in awards for promoting Geo-Literacy!

Geo-literacy Project on Meghalaya, India

Meghalaya is a small state in north-eastern India, nestled amongst the hills of the Patkai mountain range. Its people are one of the earliest settlers of the Indian subcontinent, largely belonging to three tribes; the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia. They are of Paleo-Mongoloid, Proto-Australoid and Tibeto-Burma descent, who have remained inaccessible to the outside world for centuries. Cradled within a region that boasts of a unique geography and climatic conditions, they have been dependent on the forest wealth for their livelihood. Although their first encounters with civilization were the missionaries from the Western world, it is only in recent times that the inimitable potentials of the region have brought them in sudden limelight, bringing in its fore instant cash and recognition.

These indigenous people may not have ventured beyond the hills, yet have had access to good education, thanks to the ongoing efforts of missionary institutions.

The ‘living roots bridge’ that has suddenly become hyped amongst curious travelers, is a centuries-old adaptation by the hilly tribes for communication across streams and gullies. For development in the north-east has been sporadic at best till the late 20th century. The oldest double-decker root bridge is barely accessible, and tests the most rigorous of trekkers. Tourists come to visit but feel cheated when they leave without savoring this remarkable man-made feature, merely because of lack of infrastructure or local guides.

True to its namesake, the State of Meghalaya (the 'abode of clouds') is a place where clouds and rains are a part of life. Cloud cover frolics and plays peek-a-boo with the rains. The capital, Shillong, has long been tagged as the 'Scotland of the East'. Forested hills interspersed with bare rocky outcrops, pine forests veiled in cloudy mists, gushing streams and cascading waterfalls, give way to the plains of Bangladesh in the east, this is a paradise to behold and sustain. Meghalaya has yet another claim to fame. It hosts the wettest place in the world, the Mawsynram-Cherrrapunjee belt, a current tourist lure.
We have many celebrities who have their roots in Shillong. Yet decades hence, the fortune of the people of Meghalaya does not seem to have changed significantly.

The hills are rich in limestone and coal deposits. Mining is proliferate and unscientific, primarily rat hole method, posing risk and challenge to resources. The fact that Meghalaya, essentially a tribal State, is governed by regulations that allow for the individual or community to be the land owners, has led to indiscriminate mining rights.  Small firms have spawned, leading to various problems atypical of an unregulated sector that taps natural resources of a region.

Agriculture is a learning curve for these tribal communities, as Government initiatives introduce strawberry, pineapple and plum farming to the region. Historically, betel nuts, bamboo and broom-grass have been the backbone of this agrarian economy, while medicinal plants native to this region are used only by local community.

It is recently that Meghalaya has discovered the enormous potential of tourism and mining, a boon in some ways with instant cash inflows, but perhaps a bane in disguise. To the outsider, it seems a terrific tourist hub with amazing eco tourist destinations scattered across the hills offering amazing adventure tourism opportunities. Hotels and cabbies are the most visible feature in and around Shillong town. At a rough estimate tourist cabs and vehicles constitute about 60 % of vehicular traffic, in the peak months, while characteristically outmoded trucks, belching heavy fumes form another 30 %. Ironically these heavy duty vehicles that have long outlived their purpose, belong to the mining firms dotting this region, that are already playing havoc with the ecological balance. Roads are also being broadened, as the Meghalaya Government realizes that communication is the first step to development and revenues. Mining and development work in tandem to envelop the hills in random haze of strong fumes.  The 16 year old taxi driver keeps asking me what it is like in my city, "if you do not have hills, then what is there?" The teenage workers at the tourist resort could not be faulted for placing the forks and spoons wrong. All they have known is their humble abode on the hillside and the local English school.

As I drove through the roads shrouded in thick cloud cover, I wondered. What if the local communities are more informed? What if the local communities were trained at conserving their own resources and regulate tourist development? Shouldn't they be aware of the hazards of rampant mining and forest degradation and take suitable precautionary measures, or be ready for situations brought about by unplanned development?

It occurs to me this would make for an ideal implementation of a community-driven geo-literacy project.

Project Roadmap
Stakeholders are the local tribal community, who are ill informed about their rights and are now being lured away from the responsibilities to their land. Unless they fathom what serves their interests best, both in the short-term and in the long course, they shall be the ones to bear the cost of geo-illiteracy.

Work breakdown structure

The approach to most issues has a geographical perspective. In an eco-sensitive region, where community is the prime stakeholder, information is the first step.

This can be achieved through:
    Mapping of resources, potential sources of livelihoods, current threats to land and potential threats from over-exploitation at macro and micro levels, with a view to educating
a) about the issues surrounding the region
b) about the fallacies of speedy development

Targeted audience would be north-east India governance, tourists, legal systems, NGOs, media and business sector, as well as the local community, the prime stakeholders.

Phase (A)
(i) Map the soil and mineral deposit areas, with eco-sensitive zoning
(ii) Map current mining areas, including operations like limestone mining by Lafarge in forested areas that goes against the legal norms
(iii) Map tourist attraction areas, with data about sensitive zones
(iv) List current threats to the environment - from both mining and tourist overkill
(v) List potential threats to both the environment and local community

Phase (B)
(vi) Arrange this into an audio-visual presentation, PowerPoint Presentation, flier and media handout
(vii) Deliver such information through local church activities, schools, the tourist spots and media.

Ongoing Potential of the Project

This project has a 'continuity' or expansion component. For the mapping of the attractions, natural resources, and potentials would form the baseline for potential investors or philanthropist ventures. Although I would personally hate to see McDonalds and Café Coffee Day outlets dot the hillscape, it would make sense to have various community led ventures that provide income, perhaps with support from such large enterprises.

Small villages that are little more than a collection of shanties dot the tourist routes. Mapping is the first step to geo-literacy for development too. Such a project has potential of calling to attention the development of a co-operative movement across the region, that would enable local produce to be sold at these shanty settlements, regulated by local community. Tourists have a place where they get local stuff at fair rates without the need for bargaining or doubts about being cheated, for the lure of quick money is also leading to a compromise on the quality of good on sale.

In Meghalaya it rains almost incessantly. Yet tourists brave the rains to savor the thrills that are best enjoyed during the rainy months. Shelters that offer umbrellas or raingear for hire, clean places to rest and warm-up after a downpour with hygienically prepared tea and soup, is another aspect that could be looked into in the future. This would provide ongoing income to the families who dot these routes, without compromising on their other sources of livelihood.

Large firms could fulfill their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligation and enhance their Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) portfolio through initiatives like launderette outlets, an unknown yet much-needed necessity for this rain-ridden region.

Non-profit organization could engage community participation for local tourist guidance and translation needs.

On a wider perspective, the youth who have never ventured outside the region, can be funded to gain relevant skills and education for a community driven development.

All in all, I see tremendous potential for community development in this tribal region of Meghalaya, geared for a geo-literacy momentum.


Work Schedule and costs involved:
(i), (ii), (iii), (iv) and (v) would take about 60 days time. Costs involved would be approximately $200.

Tasks (vi) and (vii) would involve about 40 to 90 days time, with clips and literature of various lengths, dubbed in English and the local tribal dialect.

Cost would be another $200 plus $100.  Format used would be simple DVDs, CDs, and brochures.

World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day, marking the roughly 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs, people who are forced to move elsewhere in their own country) and 15 million refugees (people forced to move outside their own country).  The 41-or-so million displaced around the world for 2011 is actually lower than the 43-or-so million displaced in 2010.  Fortunately, there has been some moves back home into Iraq and Afghanistan by refugees who's area is now safe or at very least out of the immediate conflict zone.  However, The Arab Spring Wars and other other conflicts both new and old have resulted in 4.3 million new refugees and IDPs in the past year.

The leading countries for refugee origins are
  1. Afghanistan 
  2. Iraq 
  3. Somalia 
  4. Sudan/South Sudan 
  5. Democratic Republic of the Congo 
  6. Burma 
  7. Colombia 
  8. Vietnam 
  9. Eritrea 
  10. People's Republic of China
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has an online "choose your own adventure"-style quiz on the choices a refugee has to deal with.  It even created the great online report below which surveys the geography and demographics of refugees around the world.

UNHCR 2011 Global Trends

Monday, June 18, 2012

Settlements, Destroyed Cities, and Imagery: The Unmapped Nagorno-Karabakh Republic

Long running ethnic rivalries, past genocides and pogroms, declarations of independence, foreign interference, refugees, settlers, and lost homes.  Sounds like the well mapped Israel-Palestinian struggle.  It also refers to the practically unmapped Armenian-Azeri conflict over the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic which claims the former autonomous oblast and surrounding areas of Azerbaijan. The war ended in the early 1990s but a tense cease fire keeps the conflict cold.

We have written about this conflict before but now Google Maps imagery allows for some close-ups.  Geographic Travels preliminary work sadly is the leading edge in reporting the geography of this contentious issue. It seems Nagorno-Karabakh lacks the interest certain places in the Middle East get even though Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied regions of Azerbaijan proper have been completely ethnically cleansed of Azeris.

Google Maps imagery does a great job showing some of the post-war ethnic changes in the region.

Ethnic Armenians from Armenia and around the world have established settlements in places like Lachin.

View Larger Map

Mincivan has been demolished and rebuilt as Mijnavan

View Larger Map

The Azeri city of Agdam has been completely destroyed and remains in ruins.

View Larger Map

Meanwhile there is still no cartographic consistency of whether "Nagorno-Karabakh" refers to the old autonomous oblast or the de facto republic (oblast plus occupied Azerbaijan).  There is no public database of ethnic Armenian settlements or destroyed Azeri locations.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic goes largely unnoticed and unmapped in much of the world.  This conflict is not only frozen geopolitically but geographically as well.  Almost all maps show this region nicely inside Azerbaijan.  This is a classic example of the true geography being publicly unknown because geographers do not report back the truth via maps and other modes of information.

How to Take Photos of the Sun, Sunspots, and Planets Moving Across the Sun

The black spot is Venus and the quarter-sphere is the sun.
 The above photo is by a long time friend of mine.  He took a photo of the planet Venus traveling in front of the Sun.  The neat thing is anybody can take a similar photo of the Sun, sunspots, or planet moving across the Sun.  All one needs are a camera, a box, white and black construction paper, and a telescope.

NOTE:  Never look into the eyepiece when a telescope is pointed at the Sun.  You will damage your eyes to the point of blindness.

  • First, cover the bottom inside of the box.with white construction paper
  • Second, align the rest of the inside of the box with black construction paper
  • The box is good to go!
  • Then, point the telescope towards the sun (do not use the eye piece!)
  • Hold the box up so the image showing be projected via the eye piece is displayed on the white construction paper. 
  • With some adjustments you should be able to see the Sun and any visible sunspots.  When a planet is traversing the Sun it will show up as a dark sphere.
  • Once you have a good image then feel free and take a photograph of it!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Panama: It's East and West of the Canal, Not North or South

There was once a commercial that mocked all the different types of coffee a coffeehouse forces customers to choose from.  Two of the choices listed are "Panama: north of the canal, south of the canal."

For some reason I thought of this commercial as I was going through an old atlas when I saw a map of Panama.  I wondered why and then it hit me: bad geography!

Many Americans have a poor mental map when it comes to the Americas.  Many think South America is right under North America when it fact South America is much further east (Pittsburgh in the eastern United States is almost exactly north of Quito, South America's most western capital city.

Because of this alignment Middle America is forced to stretch eastward as it extends south.

View Larger Map

This extent is to such an extreme that Panama does not run north to south but east to west.  Math proves this point and debunks the north/south myth.  Of the portion of Panama west of the canal, 15,000 square miles (39,000 square km) are south of the southern most point of the canal.  Only 7,000 square miles (18,000 square km) are south of the canal on the western half.  So if one is "south of the canal" they are more likely to be west of the canal, not east!

Note:  The Isthmus of Panama, where the canal runs through, is the thinnest point connecting the Americas and is therefore the physical geography border of North and South America.  Everything west of the canal is North America while everything east of the canal is South America.  Physical, Panama is in both continents.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Map of the American War against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Frontline has an excellent Google Maps mashup of the American war against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  The map does a good job showing how the war in Yemen had been a sideshow of the greater Global War on Terrorism until President Barack Obama significantly increased drone strikes against the terrorist group in 2010.

Red markers represent American attacks against AQAP while blue markers show AQAP activities against Western targets.  The map ignores the other pressing issues in Yemen:  AQAP war against the government of Yemen, the Huthi rebellion in the northwest, and the Arab Spring micro-civil war.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jerusalem versus Jerosolym in the Bible

The Catholic blog Canterbury Tales has an interesting post about the geographic implications of the spelling of "Jerusalem" and "Jerosolym" in the Greek New Testament and the Latin Vulgate translations of the Bible.

The cases of Jerusalem and Jerosolym can be confusing to some.  For instance, Saint Paul mentioned meeting Saint Peter in "Jerosolym" (Gal 1:17) but refers to "that Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother" (Gal 4:26).

After reading more cases of these spellings it becomes clear that "Jerosolym" solely refers to the capital of Israel while "Jerusalem" denotes heaven such as with St. John's books.

Saint John uses only Jerosolym in his Gospel (13 times), and he uses only Jerusalem in the Apocalypse (3 times). In his Apocalypse, Jerusalem always refers to the Holy City, which is Heaven.

The reasoning for this spelling difference is based off a play on words.

The y spelling (Jerosolym) derives from the Greek Hierosolym, which includes the Greek root for sacred cultic words. Hiereus is priest. Hieron is temple. The Greek writers made a Greek play-on-words to denote Jerusalem as a Hierosolym (a “temple” city). 

Monday, June 11, 2012

"The" in Geography: Why it is "Ukraine" and not "the Ukraine"

Right now the UEFA Euro 2012, or Euro 2012, is being held.  The soccer playoffs feature the best of Europe fighting for their country's claim to best the greatest on the continent.  The games are being played in Poland and Ukraine.

However, news reports will sometime say "the Ukraine" as opposed to "Ukraine".  The use of the word "the" in geography confuses the country with the region.  "The Ukraine" refers to the region of the world where Ukrainians are live, and arguably excludes the Crimea and far eastern Ukraine with its large ethnic Russian population, while "Ukraine" refers to the country.  There are strong arguments that by using the term "the Ukraine" demotes the country to a non-independent area that forms a part of a larger country (i.e. the Soviet Union).

"The" also greatly separates "Sudan" from "the Sudan".  The word "Sudan" comes from the Arabic meaning "land of the Blacks".  Sudan and South Sudan are two countries in eastern Africa.  However, "the Sudan" refers more specifically to the region of the Sahel, forming the northern most limits of black Africans expansion.  This explains why French Sudan is today's Mali in western Africa.

According to the United States Board of Geographic Names only The Gambia and The Bahamas should be referred to with "the" in their name.  However, other countries do use "the" in their official name such as the Republic of the Philippines, Republic of the Sudan, and both Congos with Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  To use "the" with these countries is debatable.  However, as Ukraine desire to be known as "Ukraine" and not "the Ukraine", that debate is closed.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

YouTube Walking Tours of Jerusalem and Paris

My YouTube recommendations included excellent walking tours of Jerusalem and Paris.  The Paris video is long while Jerusalem's video is about 15 minutes.  Enjoy the fascinating, complex urban geography of these two capitals.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Top Geography Programs in the United Kingdom

Justin Homan's study of top Geography programs in the United States has been one of this year's most popular posts.  However, a few people have been searching for the top geography programs in the United Kingdom.  Fortunately, The Guardian has created released a list of the top 67 geography and environmental studies programs in the United Kingdom.

The top ten with links to their programs' websites are
  1. Cambridge 
  2. Oxford 
  3. University of East Anglia 
  4. Bristol 
  5. Keele 
  6. London School of Economics 
  7. St Andrews 
  8. Edinburgh 
  9. Queen Mary 
  10. Durham
Note how the true, big name, "Major League" universities have geography programs unlike many Ivy League schools in the United States.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards

Geographic Travels is offering $500 in awards to promote Geographic Literacy!

Geographic Travels, one of the world’s most read geography blogs, exists for the promotion of geographic knowledge and education and entertainment of the public. The Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Award is intended to find new ways to successfully advance Geo-Literacy in the public.  Its aim is to assist in the establishment of unique programs to educate the public on the importance of geography and spatial thinking. Through these programs, Geographic Travels wants to promote an atmosphere of learning, collaboration, and independent thinking to increase geo-literacy.

Projects can come in a multitude of forms; whether it is a new classroom exercise connecting geography with unique ideas thought separate from geography, a project with the chamber of commerce or another business, demonstrating how a hospital can implement geography, or an activity with a civic organization. We encourage submitters to think “outside the box” and to go beyond the standard line of “Geography will save the world.” Most of the world is geographically illiterate because people do not see the day-to-day use and importance of geography.

The award will grant $300, the Alexander Von Humboldt Prize, and $200, the Isaiah Bowman Prize, to the winners to implement the submitted idea. Geographic Travels does not discriminate nor favor any submitter.


Anyone can enter the contest for the awards. One does not need a host institution. Submissions are due 1 October 2012 and winners will be announced by 1 November 2012. Please submit the application form and the required documentation separately.

Application Process

To enter in the Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Award competition one needs to fill out the application form HERE.  A sample lesson plan/speech draft/handout literature, etc. will be required as a turn-in. Also, a blog post for Geographic Travels detailing your plan, proposed implementation, and anticipated outcome is required.

Please send the documentation and any information requests to

Judging Criteria

A board will select the winners based on the idea and potential impact. The board will notify all submitters of their final status.

The board will judge submissions based on several criteria – 1.) Originality of Project, 2.) Feasibility of Implementation, 3.) Geographic-centricity, 4.) “Generalizability”, 5.) People-centricity. The first two criteria should be considered together, Geographic Travels is not looking for a pie-in-the-sky idea. The third criteria is to measure the project potential influence on the field of Geography. The fourth criteria addresses the potential to expand the project outside its initial funding. Is your project solely devoted to local neighborhood geographies, or does it have applicability elsewhere? The fifth criteria balances the fourth, as this is for an educational grant, and is based off of how effective is your project in reaching out to the public.

Implementation Process

Winners will be paid via PayPal. They will be required to report on the implementation of their project to the board and write a blog post detailing the implementation of their idea. Video and pictures are highly encouraged. The project’s implementation and blog post must be completed by 1 February 2013.

Monday, June 04, 2012

June 2012 Travel Photo: Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill at Dusk

This months travel photo is on Cemetery Hill at dusk with Culp's Hill in the background.  Cemetery Hill was the fallback point for the Union troops at the end of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Both Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill were the seen of intense fighting the second day into the night as Confederate troops learned the hard lessons of attacking an entrenched force on the high ground.

Union General George Meade ordered his troops to hold a series of hills and ridges outside the town of Gettysburg.  He was a topographic engineer (geographer) who knew the value of terrain in a battle.  His victory turned the tide of the Civil War and was the first significant defeat for Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Six - Houla

Special thanks to FSSP for the post 

Libyan War Maps 
Syrian Arab Spring Protest Maps - Batch One
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Two - Syrian Air Defenses 
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Three - Twitter and News Update Maps 
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Four - The Soccer Map  
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Five - Ceasefire Violations
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Six - Houla   
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Seven - June 2012    
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Eight - Battle of Damascus 
Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Nine - September 2012 
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Ten - October 2012 
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Eleven - Propaganda Maps
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Twelve - First Quarter 2013

Syria Civil War Maps Batch Thirteen - Chemical Weapons Attack?
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Fourteen - Israel Strikes Again
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Fifteen - Second Quarter 2013
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Sixteen - The Coming Western Intervention
Syria Civil War Maps Batch Seventeen - Al Qaedastan in Iraq and Syria

Many thanks to the readers who submitted these maps.

Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) and pro-SAR forces killed over 100 people in Houla, according to the United Nations.  Houla is actually a collection of villages to the northwest of Homs.

View Larger Map

An unidentified Arab mapper created a Google Maps mashup showing the greater Houla area (the blue lines) last fall.  Green denotes anti-SAR villages, red represents pro-SAR villages, and yellow shows neutral villages.  Tanks represent army locations and walls are checkpoints.  I have no idea what blue markers mean, though they may be additional checkpoints. (Hat tip: @HaraldDoornbos)

View حمص - سهل الحولة: حواجز الجيش والشبيحة in a larger map

Another mapper made a map showing the fourteen countries have expelled the SAR ambassador because of the Houla Massacre.  This is truly a case of "the West versus the rest". (Hat tip: @tweets4peace)