Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards Submission: Using GIS and GPS to Map Noxious Weeds Affecting Our Ecosystems

The fifth entry for the Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards has been officially submitted.  Suzie Flentie and others propose to teach geography via GIS monitoring and field research of weeds.

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

And remember, you still have until 1 October 2012 to apply for the $500 in awards for promoting Geo-Literacy! 

Product Title

Using GIS and GPS to Map Noxious Weeds Affecting Our Ecosystems

What is your definition of geography?

Geography is the study of how everything in the world is related and involves studying the interaction of these parts. Geography lends itself to inquiry learning between disciplines such as science, social studies, math and English because geographic investigations involve a variety of skills. Looking at the world spatially helps students become citizen scientists by collecting data, analyzing that data and then making decisions based on what they find. In order to make use of their geographic analysis, they need to use communication skills in the same way that professionals in the real world do.

Explain what your project is and how it would be accomplished.

We are forming a GIS group of teachers in Montana who are working together to apply GIS technologies to Environmental Education. In the summer of 2012, we chose 12 teachers to come together at Montana State University for instruction in using GIS and GPS technologies to engage in researching noxious weeds in Montana. The teachers and instructors are from 14 different counties in Montana, so the data collection will cover a large portion of the state. We have partnered with community experts from the Bureau of Land Management and The Department of Natural Resources to become more knowledgeable in the collection of weed and water quality data. Students will be collecting data and using ArcGIS Explorer to map their data. We have formed a listserv to share our progress and a group on ArcGIS online where we will upload our maps as students complete their maps.

Explain how your project would be useful in promoting geo-literacy.

This project is promoting geo-literacy by connecting teachers and students in a very large state and using GIS tools to investigate a real world problem that is crucial to our state. Students and teachers will be using GPS technologies in the field, creating maps with GIS technologies and then analyzing data from their own area and other areas around Montana. They can also look beyond Montana by analyzing other states’ data.

Explain what your project’s “afterlife” will be (distribution, legacy, etc.)

Because of our affiliation with Montana State University and the extended University, we will be able to extend this project next summer by including more teachers and moving on to other projects like water quality monitoring. We will also be sharing this “Climate in My Backyard” case study through the extended university website at MSU.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Religion Geo-News Update: September 2012

Two new stories about geo-political developments with religious organizations

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe Does a Henry VIII

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe may have been denounced by the country's Catholic leadership but he remains very proud of his Catholic beliefs.  He has traveled to Rome to meet the Pope, promotes Catholic morals, and still defends his destructive policies with Catholic social teaching.

Another trait of the Catholic Mugabe is a hatred of the Anglican church which most Zimbabweans belong to.  So when Anglican bishop Nolbert Kunnoga, a noted Mugabe supporter, lost his leadership position in the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA), Kunnoga and Mugabe teamed up to take down the local Anglican leadership in 2011.  Kunnoga's goons seized churches and kicked out CPCA priests.  In their place Kunnoga-allied priests formed the Anglican Church of Zimbabwe (CZ).  The cover story was that the conservative CPCA was in fact pro-women's ordination, pro-gay, and a colonial tool controlled by Whites.  Only a minority of churches seized by CZ are able to be served by the few priests allied with Kunnoga.  So Kunnoga and Mugabe are turning priestless parishes into secular, state owned buildings which ironically mirrors England's first Protestant king Henry VIII.

The Anglican Communion is too divided by the downfall of its communion and the civil war in the United States and Canada between the established Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada and the new, conservative church recognized by most the third world churches, the Anglican Church in North America, to care.  CZ is too blatantly pro-Mugabe to survive as is, however, if it can play the conservative African churches against the supposedly local liberal leadership it may just have a fighting chance at survival. Another, more likely to succeed, route for survival is to cut off all ties to Anglicanism and attempt to preach a highly Afro-centric version of Christianity.  The pitfall here is many Zimbabweans take great pride being members of the Anglican worldwide communion.

Bahrain's Monarchy Courts the Rising Tide of Christianity in the Middle East

Bahrain has a Shia majority but a ruling Sunni minority.  The failed Arab Spring there resulted in the suppression of the Shia and the growth of hardline Sunni groups which demand the crushing of Shia rights, in a sense turning Shia from second class citizens to third class.  In late August, radical Sunnis were shocked when the country's king announced plans to create the biggest Catholic Church in the Persian Gulf area.  They wondered why would the king court infidels during Sunni (Saudi)-Shia (Iranian) Cold War.

The reasoning behind the king's move shows he actually has the best interests of the Sunnis in mind.  In 1970 the countries breakdown was roughtly 70% Shia and 30% Sunni.  Now the breakdown is roughly 45% Shia, 25% Sunni, and 30% Christian.  These mostly Catholic Christians are overlooked because they are non-citizen guest workers.  However, the king knows that while traditional Christian groups are being cleansed out of the northern Middle East, the guest worker population is causing a growth of Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula including in Bahrain.  The balance of power in Bahrain becomes 55%-45% in favor of the anti-Shia bloc if the guest workers are swayed to cement an alliance with the Christian-friendly Sunni Monarchy.  Shia would likely become even more vocal of guest workers if this happens.  This in turn would only further solidify Sunni leadership and Christians in Bahrain.

An alliance between the Sunni minority and a Christian population where many guest workers have spent 30+ years of their lives in Bahrain would help suppress any Shia revolt.  However, radical Sunnis may force the king to withdraw the offer and ironically cut the Sunnis from a very big ally.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Smell Maps: Smells' Role in Geography

'We have 100 per cent smell recall after one year but only 30 per cent sight memory after three months' - Kate McLean

Geography and smell are usually not studied together.  I find this oversight (which I myself am guilty of) strange because smell is such a strong emotion when it comes to memory and identity of place.  I remember being young and smelling Sioux City, Iowa for the first time.  My mother informed me that the smell was because of the agricultural industry in the city; which was located there because of the Missouri River and the economic geography of unions and pig farming.  The smell of Sioux City was part of its geography.

Artist Kate McLean takes the tie between smell and geography seriously.  The Daily Mail featured her smell maps of world cities.  While only portions of her work are available online, she does a good job of explaining the artistic merits of her work.

Smell is such a strong sense that imprints strong memories.  To fully a understand a place we need to study its smell.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

United Nations Fixes Their Pakistan Maps

I pointed out earlier how the United Nations was showing all of Kashmir as part of Pakistan on OCHA maps.  Now, after pointing out the problem directly to OCHA, the problem has been fixed.  Kashmir is shown as neither part of Pakistan or India.  This matches the style OCHA was using for India maps.

Geography Quiz 1

I have decided to add a new feature to the blog: Geographic Travels Geography Quizzes.  I will attempt to give greater depth to geography by offering more than just "what is the capital of x" questions.  Answers will be posted sometime the next day in the comments section.  Feel free to post your guess.

First Question:  The facilities below are along North Korea's East China Sea coast.  There are smaller ones of these in South Korea.

View Larger Map

And here is a close-up

View Larger Map

Monday, September 17, 2012

United Nations Maps Show Kashmir as Part of Pakistan

Update:  After contacting the United Nations they have fixed their map production standards

Politics makes cartography hard.  Any disputed land becomes the focal point of angry rants, complaints of biases, threats, and much more.  I have great sympathy for map makers who have to deal with such difficulties.  Most of the time, displaying lines of control appeases people except for the radicals.  Cartographers usually create a note saying something along the lines of "final status undetermined" in these cases.

However, sometimes map designers bring trouble on themselves by being inconsistent.  Disclaimers do not work if the map favors one side more than the other beyond lines of control.  Such is the case with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and their maps showing, in part, the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Normally when it comes to Kashmir third parties show the line of control as the border while making a text or graphical statement showing that the border is not internationally agreed upon like the CIA World Factbook does below:

The UN OCHA, however, map of Pakistan shows all of Kashmir as part of Pakistan though there is a dotted line and disclaimer text.

One would then expect an OCHA map of India to show all of Kashmir as part of India while having a dotted line and disclaimer text.  However, all of Kashmir is shown as undefined.

The graphics imply that Pakistan has legitimate claims to all of Kashmir while India has none.  It equates India's claim to Kashmir to the international stance of ethnic Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh or Syria's claim to Hatay.

I contacted OCHA concerning the mapping inconsistency.  I recognized there was disclaimer text but pointed out how the maps showed two competing narratives.  Below is OHCA's offical response:

Thanks for your message!

Really appreciate you noticing this and passing the message on. I understand the field office is going to re-submit the map with the disclaimer we usually add for cases like this and the correct cartographic representation as per our internal style guide.

As you are probably aware OCHA refers to the UN-wide cartographic standards for mapping, with regard to disputed borders and other political issues. We have clearly established wording that we use for maps that depict the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir:

The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The dotted line represents approximately the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir agreed upon by India and Pakistan. The final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties.
Hope this helps, all the best,

This is all well and good with having a text disclaimer but it does not explain the inconsistency with the mapping.  Whether this is just bad cartography or someone in the mapping shop has a political bias I do not know.  However, the UN, intentionally or unintentionally, is favoring Pakistan more than its official stance through its maps.

The Military Geography which Led to General Lee's First Invasion of the North

View Larger Map

Stephen's Sears Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam does a great job explaining how military geography influenced Confederate General Robert Lee to invade the Union in 1862.  This invasion led to his first setback, the Battle of Antietam (Battle of Sharpsburg to Southerns) on September 17, 1862 and gave Union President Abraham Lincoln the strategic victory he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

In late August 1862, General Lee defeated the Northern commander of the Army of the Potomac, General John Pope, at the Battle of Second Bull Run (Second Manassas) outside the town of Manassass, Virginia. General Pope's defeat forced the Union army back to Washington, DC while the Confederates held northern Virginia.  Three factors weighed heavily in Lee's mind: the fall harvest, Union congressional elections in November, and the need for another major victory to get the United Kingdom and France to recognize the Confederate States of America.

Lee had five choices on what to do

Stay put:  Lee could have held his ground and kept the Union army in check with the threat of attack while digging in and therefore forcing another disaster Union assault.  However, to do this would require the Southern Army of Northern Virginia to feed off the all ready strained farmlands of the region.  This would prevent a successful harvest and deny Southern civilians much needed food.

March east and attack Washington, DC:  Lee could have moved his forces east to capture the Union capital and give the Confederacy a political victory which would guarantee international recognition.  However, Lee knew the ring of forts around Washington had the best heavy weapons of the time and that any assault would have most likely end in failure.  A significant failure would invite an Union drive to capture the southern capital of Richmond, Virginia before the winter.  Instead of winning the war, an attack to the east could have lost it.

March south and defend Richmond:  Lee could have instead marched south to defend the capital of Richmond while resupplying and boosting the army with new volunteers.  However, this would abandon hard fought ground north of Fredricksburg, Virginia and therefore cripple morale.

March west into the Shenandoah Valley.  In between the Appalachian Mountains in western Virginia is the Shenandoah Valley.  The valley was a key breadbasket for much of the South.  Lee could have feed his troops here, captured Union strongholds in future West Virginia, and opened up a new front and then possibly link up with troops fighting to capture pro-Union Kentucky.  However, Lee feared taxing the farms' harvest with his army's presence and realized he would be out of range of Richmond-based supplies.  Finally, this would as well allow Union forces to recapture northern Virginia and harm morale.

March north into Union states and seek to destroy the Northern Army:  This is what Lee did.  Lee sought a victory which would destroy the Union's army fighting ability for the rest of the year, cost the Republican Party the congressional elections, allow Southern farmers to have a successful harvest, and gain international recognition for the Confederacy.  Instead, Lee caused the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with 23,000 casualties on both sides. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards Submission: Sky Eyes: Teaching Geospatial Mapping and Remote Sensing Technology using and Parrot AR:Drone Remote Controlled Quadracopters

The fourth entry for the Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards has been officially submitted.  Susan Ann Bickford of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve and the University of New England has proposed her plan to use drone helicopters and ArcGIS Online as tools to teach geography.

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

And remember, you still have until 1 October 2012 to apply for the $500 in awards for promoting Geo-Literacy!
Product Title
Sky Eyes: Teaching Geospatial Mapping and Remote Sensing Technology using and Parrot AR:Drone Remote Controlled Quadracopters
Explain what your project is and how it would be accomplished.
Originality: I plan to teach the basic concepts of mapping and remote sensing using a combination of online map viewer and AR Drone 2.0 Quadracopters (remote controlled aerial drones with onboard cameras).  My first clients will be six area home school students that were participants in the University of Nebraska’s Lego Mindstorm mapping and robotics program this past spring I  plan to expand the program to add Teacher Professional Development (PD) programs. We will use the online mapping software to teach how to digitize trails for a community service project, then use the drones to video what the trails look like from above. The drones have both a front facing camera and a downward facing camera. The video or photographs are recorded to an attached thumb drive. The online map can link to the videos or photos along with hosting a wide variety of attribute information about the trail site.
Explain how your project would be useful in promoting geo-literacy.
Feasibility of Implementation: Both the online mapping site and the software to run the drones are free and usable on any smartphone or tablet device. The AR:Drone Quadracopters cost $300 each and is an entry level student oriented machine., complete with an auto-landing and emergency landing feature. The drone sends out a wireless signal that the smartphone or tablet use to communicate with it.  The tablet does not need 3G/4G capabilities. These basic tablets cost around $200, so each student set up would cost about $500. Because I already have one student set up I would be providing a 50/50 match. If I was awarded the grant, I could rotate several  students through the online mapping tutorial and the drone tutorial simultaneously. 

Geographic-centricity: Using these two pieces of technology, the student will be able to tell a compelling geospatial story by creating a shareable (also web embeddable) map with hyperlinks  to actual current aerial video and photographic recordings. Any of these projects could easily include a time component (e.g. before and after shots of a project) making them not only 3D but also 4D.
Explain what your project’s “afterlife” will be (distribution, legacy, etc.)
Generalizability: The Sky Eyes Project is easily adaptable to any area of the world that has Internet connections. It will open the door to developing skills in more applications of remote sensed data and mobile applications of geospatial technology.

People-centricity:  Sky Eyes can be adapted to any age/demographic group whether in a rural or urban setting. The geospatial stories are all there to tell. This project brings the power of PLAY into the realm of eduction that will appeal to a wide range of K-12, Higher Education and Life Long Learning venues. The basics of map creation and drone piloting can be learned in less than 15 minutes each. More advanced capabilities are built into both the mapping program and the drone program allowing growth in both aspects before moving on to advanced subjects. Currently the demand for geospatially experienced employees outweighs the availability. Real world applications for both of these programs are limitless. We will be sculpting the workforce of the future.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Map of Muslim Protests About the "Innocence of Islam" Against Embassies and at Other Places

The Atlantic Wire has created a map of Muslim protests concerning the “Innocence of Islam”.  While many of the news worthy protests are against embassies, there are other protests going on in neighborhoods and against third party countries.

View Muslim Protests in a larger map

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Map of Where American Ambassadors Have Been Killed

I made a map of the six (five confirmed and one possible) ambassadors who have been killed while on duty.  There are certain geographical and other themes with the murders.

View Map of Where American Ambassadors Have Been Killed in a larger map

While the first murdered ambassador, John Gordon Mein, was killed in the Western Hemisphere, the other five were all killed in the Eastern Hemisphere.
  • Four of the five in were in the Greater Middle East Pivot Zone.  The one exception, Cyprus, is arguably part of this pivot zone.  The murder of the ambassador occurred two months prior the Turkish invasion of Cyprus which itself was a result of ethnic Turkish versus ethnic Greek violence on the island.
  • The five confirmed killers' ideologies can be broken down as: 3 leftist, 2 ultra-nationalist, 1 Islamist.
  • The death of the American ambassador to Pakistan is a bit of a mystery.  Arnold L. Raphel died in a plane crash that killed Pakistan's President Zia ul Haq, the Pakistani Joint Cheifs of Staff, as well as other senior Pakistani officials.  Many of these officials were involved with Pakistan's nuclear program.  The two leading suspects, if this was indeed an assassination, are the Soviet Union (which sought revenge for Pakistan and America's support of Afghan rebels) or a certain country who has gone to extremes before to prevent its enemies from developing a nuclear program.

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards Submission: Geo-Literacy Teacher Training Plan

The third entry for the Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards has been officially submitted.  Iain Burns, a Geo-Literacy Coach at the Scoil Ide of Limerick, Ireland, has proposed his effort to expand Geo-Literacy at Scoil Ide and make it a leader of geo-literacy at Ireland.
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! 

Definition of Geography:

The ability to understand and interact in an interconnected world.

What our project is and how it will be accomplished:

Our target is the Integration of literacy into other subject areas to improve learning outcomes in reading and ease time pressure on curriculum implementation. Our tasks are to Develop in the teachers the skills necessary to teach Geo-literacy:

2012/2013: Train 1 teacher per standard in the methodology and background research.
2013/2014: Expand the training in year 2 to all staff.
2014/2015: Full implementation of Geo-literacy as a part of the Scoil Ide Literacy Plan in all classes.

The development of additional lessons if required.

1)      Head Teacher: Overall planning, implementation, provision of resources and assessment of success.
2)      Deputy Head Teacher: As above and organisation of timetabling to allow for planning and training of staff.
3)      Iain Burns: Ongoing research, conduct the training programme including co-teaching. Assess the success of the programme.
4)      Pilot Teachers: Work with Iain Burns in developing the methodologies and approaches required. Engage in evaluation meetings with Iain and ajustments to programme if required.
5)      Teachers: Engage in the training programme and the full implementationof  Geo-literacy
6)      B.O.M. Allocation of funding as required.

Explain how your project will be useful in promoting Geo-Literacy:

Every student in the school will get the opportunity to experience Geo-Literacy.  Peer to peer tutoring, group work, investigative work, active learning will be some of the methodologies used in order for children to promote Geo-Literacy themselves.

The Project's Afterlife:

That Geo-literacy will be apart of everyday learning and experience of the children.  That the children will ultimately make Geo-Literacy a part of their everyday life.  That the Geo-Literacy programme is fully implemented into all classes by 2014.  That Scoil Ide become a leader in the promotion of Geo-Literacy, countrywide.

Also enclosed was a term lesson plan viewable here 

New York Times' Graphic on the Benghazi Consulate Assault

The New York Times has a satellite image map of the United States' consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  Not much damage is viewable from space but embedded on the ground photos show the true extent of the damage.  The sheer size combined with the size, obstacles, and numerous blind spots would indeed require the reported planning which was done prior to the assault for the attack to be successful.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Interview with Robert Kaplan on the Revenge of Geography

I felt the mighty wrath of geography when I was in Afghanistan.  For three days the base where I was staying received non-stop snow.  The total amount of snow was over three feet (about one meter).  For those three days plus the next four flights in and out were cancelled due to the poor weather and visibility in the valley bowl we were in.  Meanwhile, the one main road was rendered impassable because of the snow drifts.  I repeatedly had to go on the roof of our building to clear the wind blown snow off the satellite dish in an attempt to keep our little base in contact with the outside world.

On a microscale I was a victim of geography.  The physical terrain and the climate made the base's location prime for being buried in snow.  Meanwhile on the macroscale I was victim yet again because I was in Afghanistan because of Pakistan's grand scheme to ensure geographical depth against India, control trade routes to Central Asia, and its desire to have a safe zone to train Islamist militants for its over war Kashmir.

Author Robert Kaplan wrote the Revenge of Geography as an examination of geography, past trends in geographical analysis, and to tackle today's geopolitical problems in a geographic perspective.  I am still reading the press review copy I received and will review it as soon as I am done.  However, in the meantime Mr. Kaplan was kind of enough to do a short interview with me.

Geographic Travels:  What inspired you to take a specifically geographical look the world's problems?

Robert Kaplan:  The media is obsessed with the power of ideas to the exclusion of all else. I decided to have a look at the power of physical forces that are so obvious that they go unmentioned.
Geographic Travels:  How has geography helped you better understand the world?

Robert Kaplan: 
Nothing is so insightful about world events as a map. It shows you why Iran can dominate Iraq, why Taiwan retains de facto independence from China, why America must be sea power, and so forth.
Geographic Travels:  The title of your book is "The Revenge of Geography".  What is this "revenge" you speak of? 

Robert Kaplan: 
In Bosnia and Kosovo the U. S. military, especially the Air Force, defeated geography. But in the next decade geography got its revenge against the U. S. military in the mountains, deserts, and alleyways of Afghanistan and Iraq. The humbling of the U. S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq is one of the starting points for my exploration.
Geographic Travels:  Did any previous works by geographers inspire you in your research (for your book)?

Robert Kaplan: 
The first half of the book constitutes long profiles of great geopoliticians and historians who were heavily influenced by geography.
Geographic Travels:  Some geographers have hit back at your ideas claiming you are a geographical determinist (example).  How do you respond to these claims?

Robert Kaplan: 
A reasonable person must be a partial determinist. That is because human choice operates against a backdrop of natural forces, especially geography. Without deterministic forces to struggle against, human agency would lose its moral significance. The French philosopher Raymond Aron and the British historian Norman Davies have both indicated that history is made up of both deterministic and non-deterministic forces, as well as of accident. In my book, I explain Aron's "probabilistic" determinism.
Geographic Travels:  If policy makers and the general public were to learn only one thing from your book, what would you want that lesson to be?

Robert Kaplan:  There are limits to what we can accomplish in the world. We can't do whatever we want whenever we want all the time. And those limits are best expressed through geography.

Map of September 11th Terrorist Attacks


In honor of those who died serving themselves, their families, their friends, and their country. Rest in Peace

To add your story or to read others on a Google Street View Map click here (via Google Maps Mania). Another map shows the international loss of life caused by al Qaeda terrorists on September 11th.

Flight paths of the hijacked planes on 9/11 (click to go to interactive timeline)

Map of the Attack on the Pentagon by American Airlines Flight 93 (click to enlarge)

Map of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175's impact into the World Trade Center (click to enlarge)


To all those who have have suffered because of terrorism...
From wikipedia

to all those who have fought against terrorism...
Unknown origin.
 and to all those who have campaigned against terrorism by advocating what is right...
From the Catholic Church
May God bless you and may we never forget you

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Syria Civil War Maps: Batch Nine - September 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 Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News has made a map and article showing the locations of rebel forces throughout Syria.  The map and article make clear that the Free Syrian Army is more of a mish-mash of organizations and is not the only rebel organization.

Click to enlarge

The Indian newspaper Hindustan Times has a map and article depicting the Syrian Civil War in the context of the greater Saudi Arabian versus Iran Cold War.

Click to Enlarge
LiveLeak user "CptSpaulding" claims to have created maps showing the advancement of Syrian Arab Republic forces against Free Syrian Army and Kurdish forces from late August to early September.

Late August.  Click to enlarge

Early September.  Click to Enlarge.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Douentza's Fall is Azawad's Fall

Azawad, the de facto independent republic and de facto newest country in the world, is about to fade into the sands of the Sahara.  The strategic town of Douentza, who's fall in April created a border and allowed for rebels to declare independence, was captured by Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) this past weekend.  The town was previously held by an Azawad-allied militia.  MOJWA's victory is a major defeat for those who desired Azawad's independence. 

MOJWA is an Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and is allied to Ansar Dine.  Both of these militant Islamist groups seek to rule all of Mali, not just the Tureg north, and impose Sharia law.  While Azawad forces have been key in winning battles in northern Mali against government forces, the Islamists move into the towns claiming to be allies but quickly impose their own rule.  The cities of Gao and Timbuktu have been slowly but surely purged of secular elements as the Salafist Islamists destroy Sufi Muslim shrines and impose Sharia law.  Now there is no significant city or town in the self-proclaimed Azawad under complete secular militia control.

Azawad's inability to control its own claimed and conquered territory is a sure sign to the world that the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad's efforts are not worth backing.  Whether it takes a long covert war or an all out Malian offensive, Azawad will become just northern Mali yet again.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Party Platforms and Jerusalem: Part 2

The Democratic Party's change to its platform's call to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel reached the highest realm of comedic political theater.

The Democratic Party amended its platform so that Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital.  It now reads

Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.  The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations.  It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

For such a minor thing (which no president is ever likely to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital before a major peace negotiation breakthrough) in an economy-focused election demonstrates just how passionate the subject is.

Of an interest note is the Republican Party's moderation on the issue.  A long time reader and Democratic Party activist pointed out the differences between the 2008 and 2012 Republican Party platforms concerning Jerusalem.

The 2008 platform called for an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital

We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel. 

While the 2012 platform leaves the divided question open

We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states— Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine— living in peace and security.

All this just goes to show how the geography of the Holy Land can still stir passions in the Twenty-first century.

Democratic Party's 2012 Platform No Longer Calls for Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's Capital

Be sure to read Part 2 which discusses the Democratic Party's reversal and the Republican Party's moderation

The issue of what city is the capital of Israel is a political football (and even controversial on geography blogs).  Despite the fact that the seat of Israel's government is in the city, the vast majority of countries are weary of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital out of fear of alienating Arab states and potentially harming dialogue between Israel and various Palestinian factions.

Domestically, all major Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have called for officially recognizing Israel as the capital of Israel since the 1969 Presidential Election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.  In 2008, for example, Barack Obama countered claims of being anti-Israel by calling for a united Jerusalem being the capital of Israel (meaning that all of the city should be in Israel and none of it should be in a Palestinian state).  In reality though, calls for an undivided Jerusalem or even recognizing part of Jerusalem as Israel's capital remains political theater for candidates seeking votes.

Therefore it may be somewhat surprising to some political junkies for the Democratic Party to remove calls for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, though it more closely mirrors reality since no president is willing to formally approve the move.  The 2012 Democratic Party platform states:

President Obama and the Democratic Party maintain an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, but also because we share common values. For this reason, despite budgetary constraints, the President has worked with Congress to increase security assistance to Israel every single year since taking office, providing nearly $10 billion in the past three years. The administration has also worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region. And we have deepened defense cooperation – including funding the Iron Dome system – to help Israel address its most pressing threats, including the growing danger posed by rockets and missiles emanating from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. The President’s consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.
It is precisely because of this commitment that President Obama and the Democratic Party seek peace between Israelis and Palestinians. A just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples, would contribute to regional stability and help sustain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. At the same time, the President has made clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met. President Obama will continue to press Arab states to reach out to Israel. We will continue to support Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, which have been pillars of peace and stability in the region for many years. And even as the President and the Democratic Party continue to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace, we will insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.

All this is strong pro-Israel language.  However, to some this shocks since there is no mention of Jerusalem as the capital like previous platforms such as 2008's which stated

Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

For comparison, the 2012 Republican Party platform (PDF, page 49) calls for Jerusalem being Israel's capital but leaves ambiguity for final status as undivided/divided and potentially also serving as a Palestinian capital.

We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states— Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine— living in peace and security.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

September 2012 Travel Photo: Bloody Lane at Antietam

The above photo is the back side of Bloody Lane at Antietam battlefield outside Sharpsburg, Maryland.  During the noon hours of September 17, 1862, Confederate (South) forces used a sunken road to act as a natural trench against wave after wave of Union (North) attacks.  It was not until the third assault that Union troops were able to outflank the defenders, and shoot down into the road.  The sunken road, which was the protector of Southern forces, turned into a death trap.  By 1:00 the road was full of bodies.

A video tour of the Sunken Road by VideoHistoryToday

The sunken road provided a great blind spot for Confederate forces.  While Union forces were forced to fight on top of the ridge in the background, exposing their full bodies, Confederates were mostly hidden.  The above photo has a 6 feet 4 inches tall man standing inside the natural trench.  Below is the same man standing outside the sunken road.

Video documentary about the full Battle of Antietam including the Bloody Lane