Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween 2012

Happy Halloween.  All Hallows Day and Eve (Hallow being older English for "Saint") are ceremonies started by Pope Gregory III, a Syrian, in the 700s and spread by Pope Gregory IV, a native Roman, throughout the western Church  in the 800s.  All Hallows Day marks the Church's remembrance of all those in Heaven who pray for us.  (The belief that Halloween is a Celtic holiday is a more modern-day Protestant myth)

Old Christian folk belief stated that the veil between the living and the dead becomes thinner on All Hallows Day and allows for easier viewing of souls and demons.  Meanwhile, the established Church tried to turn this folk belief more into a mockery of evil by encouraging scary stories, plays, and games which taught the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Halloween became popular in the late 1800s as the United States lost its more learned anti-Catholicism and decided the day was a great opportunity to have fun.  Secular Europe and other countries have adopted American-style Halloween due to its fun nature.  Meanwhile, Orthodox Churches and some fundamentalist Protestant groups continue to oppose Halloween because of the occult nature of neo-celebrations and, to a point, the Catholic origins of the holiday

So let us have fun this Halloween....

Recommended Entertainment

Robert Hugh Benson was an Anglican priest who converted and became a Catholic priest, his father was the head of the Church of England in the late 1800s, who also wrote old-style ghost stories.  His works are a collection of Gothic horror stories from a Catholic perspective.  Some of his stories had a demon as the cause of evil but many of the stories have issues of an explained origin.  Benson wrote that Catholics are agnostic about the greater cosmos because, he believed, God has chosen to reveal only so much to us.  His A Mirror of Shalott contains some duds but also some page-turners.  Monsignor Maxwell's Tale is specifically engaging as the reader wonders what price the stories subject will have to pay in order to save his brother's soul.

H. P. Lovecraft took American horror out of Gothic fiction and into a world of monster and early Sci-Fi.  While many will remember his works about ancient sea anti-gods like Cthulu and fish-frog/human creatures like those in the Shadow Over Innsmouth, Lovecraft also wrote a story loosely based on New England vampires legends.  In The Shunned House, Lovecraft's hero does what any man should do in the case of possible vampire infestation:  the hero and his uncle supply themselves with flamethrowers, gas masks, and lots of containers of acid.

Grim Fandango is a great adventure game.  Purgatory isn't floating in space or a burning of sins off on back in the game.  Instead, life after death for those with a chance is working as a Grim Reaper salesman in a 9 to 5 job.  Corruption, Aztec and Mayan art, film noir, and jazz all combine for the most magical world one can imagine.

Bubba Ho-Tep is a Bruce Campell about two men, one who believes he is Elvis and one who believes he is President John Kennedy, who battle a mummy who is feasting on people living in an old folks home.

Two Hurricane Sandy Maps: The Beautiful Horror and the Humor

Two Hurricane Sandy maps have especially appealed to me (note:  currently I am riding out the storm battling a head cold).

The first one, which I can trace back to Conde Nast but probably is from NASA, shows the size of this 1,000 mile (1,620 kilometer) wide storm.  This storm and the geographic forces behind it are awe inspiring and terrible in the Biblical senses.

The second map is a humorous one representing the strange desire for Americans stuck indoors to drink alcohol, especially wine.  I live next to a high class liquor store and I can ensure you that business is indeed good.  The map shows how simple cartography can be a quick and easy advertisement for businesses.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Geography: How the Sun and a Volcano Help Give Western Europe Monsters

Geography, in-part, is the study of human-environment interactions.  Such an interaction dealing with the Pacific Ring of Fire and a giant ball of burning plasma 1 Astronomical Unit away from the Earth combined to create the necessary conditions in 1815 and 1816 to give Western Europe for the first time horror stories of undead and science trying to usurp the role of God.

Dalton Minimum

The sun quiets down.  From Wikipedia.

The world was just managing to exit the Little Ice Age when the Dalton Minimum hit with full force in the late 1700s.  Solar Activity collapsed for yet unexplained reasons.  The weaker solar activity lead, to what many scientists to believe, continued lower than normal temperatures throughout the world.

Mount Tamobra

Ring of Fire.  From Wikipedia.
The Pacific Ring of Fire extends into Indonesia along the collision zone between the Pacific and Australian plates.  One of the main volcanoes at this seismic, geologic zone is Mount Tambora

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

This volcano was 14,100 feet (4,300 meters) high until April 10, 1815 when it became site of the largest recorded volcano eruption of all time.

Mount Tamobra was reduced to 8,930 feet (2,722 meters) as ash and debris spread across the world with violent force.  The major long term effect of this eruption was the steady cooling in 1815 and 1816; making 1816 the coldest year since 1400.  1816 became known as the "Year without Summer"

Year without Summer Ruins a Trip

The Dalton Minimum and the Volcanic Winter caused a noticeable, sudden drop in worldwide temperatures.  The Year without Summer also experienced less sunny days and more rain as the atmospheric cycle attempted to rid the air of the pollutants.

Really cold in Geneva.  From Wikipedia
At this time several well known British authors were summering along Lake Geneva in Switzerland.  Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, John William Poldori, and Lord Byron were forced to spend their free time indoors exchanging stories rather than enjoying the beach.  At this retreat in 1815 Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein after discussing the conflict between the Enlightenment and Romanticism.  Meanwhile Poldori and Bryon exchanged ideas concerning Poldori's recent visit to Eastern Europe and wrote drafts which eventually became the novel The Vampyre, the first Western vampire story which provided some basis for the world-famous Dracula novel decades later.

The great brains of these authors created the stories, but geography helped "lock them in a room" together and allowed seeds of modern horror to be planted.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

BBC Poll of Obama versus Romney

A BBC poll of whether people in 21 countries favor President Barack Obama or former Governor Mitt Romney found that, to no surprise, the vast majority of the world supports Obama's reelection efforts.

When looking at the above chart I cannot but help to think about why some of the countries are the way they are

Kenya:  Romney gets his most support in Kenya, where Obama's father was a native Luo.  I assume that Romney's support is based on a combination of some anti-Luo feeling among other tribes but probably more due to the fact Obama partially hurt his popularity in Kenya by massively cutting anti-AIDS programs started by President George W Bush.

Poland:  The legacy of Republican-Polish relations from the Cold War still continues but Obama's policy still resonate well in a country that, while rejecting hard socialism, still is skeptical towards capitalism.

Pakistan:  The only country Romney actually wins.  Pakistanis really, truly, utterly hate the CIA drone program to the point Romney's 15-some points floats him to the top.  Obama's 12 percent is probably the size of what is left of Pakistan's liberal population.

France and Spain:  These two countries' population are truly upset at anything relating to fiscal restraint and it shows.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Catholic and Orthodox Saints Born in the Present-Day United States

Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri Tekakwitha making her the first female American Indian saint and the first American Indian saint not from present-day Mexico.  Her canonization and other previous conversations dealing with "American saints" who were actually foreigners who worked in the present-day United States made me wonder just how many American-born saints there are.  The answer surprised me and other geographic and demographic facts were even more startling.

View Catholic and Orthodox Saints Born in the Present-Day United States in a larger map

Total Number of American-Born Saints

6 (3 Catholic, 3 Orthodox)

The Catholic saints are Saints Katharine Drexel, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Kateri Tekakwitha.  The Orthodox saints are Saints Jacob Netsvetov, Peter the Aleut, and Varnava Nastić.

American-Born Saints by Sex

3 women (3 Catholic, 0 Orthodox)
3 men (0 Catholic, 3 Orthodox)

There are no American-born male Catholic saints and no American-born female Orthodox saints.  Both the Western and Eastern Churches have roles for the feminine via the Virgin Mary but Catholicism has been more open in expressing, in part, a feminine nature with Mary, many more female saints, and nuns in public.  Orthodoxy meanwhile has been criticized by some for loving Mary while regarding other women as sinful Eves and closing off their nuns from the public. Also, Orthodoxy's nationalist bent along with centuries of persecution from Muslims and then Communist states has given Orthodox a more masculine, fighting nature about it at times at the cost of a softer, more feminine side.

American-Born Saint Martyrs

2 (0 Catholic, 2 Orthodox)

None of the Catholic American-born saints died violent deaths.  Meanwhile, two of the three Orthodox saints were killed.  Saint Peter the Aleut was an Alaskan Native who traveled with Russian seal hunters to California and was captured by the Spanish.  According to later written down accounts, Catholic priests and Catholic Indians tortured Peter to death because he would not change from Orthodoxy to Catholicism.  Saint Varnava Nastić meanwhile moved back to his parents' native Yugoslavia and was mostly likely killed by the Communist regime.

Geography of American-Born Saints

Catholic saints packed together in the Northeast; Orthodox saints on the fringes

The three Catholic saints were born in Auriesville, New York, New York City, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The distance between Auriesville and Philadelphia is 200 miles.  The packed-in nature of the saints shows a closed-in, historical Catholic realm.  Meanwhile, two of the Orthodox saints are Alaskans.  The third was born in the Midwest city of Gary, Indiana but had immigrant parents and lived in the Slavic part of town.  While he was not on the American fringe geographically he certainly was on the cultural fringe.

Ethnic Demographics of American-born Saints

3 of European heritage (2 Catholic, 1 Orthodox), 2 of American Native heritage (1 Catholic, 1 Orthodox), 1 of Mixed European and American Native heritage (1 Orthodox)

Saint Katharine Drexel was of Austrian heritage but born in an established American family.  Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was of English and French heritage.  Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was a Mohawk.  Saint Jacob Nestvetov was mixed Russian and Aluet. Saint Peter was Aluet.  Finally, Saint Varnava Nastić was ethnically Serbian.

Dates of Canonization

1975 - Elizabeth Ann Seton
1980 - Peter the Aleut (Orthodox Church in America)
1994 - Jacob Netsvetov (Orthodox Church in America)
2000 - Katharine Drexel
2005 - Varnava Nastić (Serbian Orthodox Church)
2012 - Kateri Tekakwitha

An American-born saint has been canonized on average every 7.4 years since 1975.  Up until 2000 there were more Orthodox-born American saints than Catholic but the Universal Call to Holiness' recognition of sainthood in many people rather than just a notable few has helped fuel the Catholic rise to tie the Orthodox.  Many faithful pray for the declaration of sainthood for  dozens of beatified and venerable American-born Catholics.  The Universal Call to Holiness' push will likely cause Catholics to take the lead in American-born saints within a decade.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Comparison of Economic Freedoms around the World

What do these countries all have in common

The Communist-hypercapitalist autonomous city of Hong Kong
The national conservative capitalist state of Singapore
Torn between Laborism and Neoliberalism New Zealand
Federalist Switzerland
Mixed with various economic ideologies on all sides Australia
The captalistic klepocracy of Bahrain (though I doubt this should truly be on the list)

Give up?  They all are economically freer than the United States according to Fraser Institute's Free the World. From the 1980s to early 2000s the United States usually ranked third but it has fallen to 18th due to the increases in eminent domain (ab)use, increases in the role of government in the economy, and other factors.

While the United States has fallen a bit, it has not suffered the most in the last ten years.  Populist socialist Venezuela, soft national socialist Argentina, and neoliberal turned old school social democratic Iceland have initiated the worst falls from economic freedom in the last decade.

The writers at Online Business Degree (usually a site I ignore due to spam reasons) created an actual enjoyable/interesting infographic on the economic freedom around the world

I personally doubt that Hong Kong's success will last as the Chinese Communist Party slowly starts to implement its socialistic reforms in the region with help of its growing political base inside the city.

Economic freedoms are important.  While economic freedoms do not automatically equal personal freedoms, there is a strong relationship between restricting economic freedoms and losing personal freedoms.  There are also positive realtionships between quality of life, income equality, and economic freedom.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Syria Civil War Maps Batch Ten- October 2012

Another guest post by FSSP

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

Cartographer Bjoern created a Google Maps Maps which shows downed Syrian Arab Republic (SAR; pro-Assad government) air force jets and helicopters.  Bjoern recognizes not all the reports are verifiable.  It clear from the map that most of heavy fighting is in the north of the country.  Interestingly, this mirrors the heavy rivalry the French encouraged between Damascus and Aleppo during the Mandate.

View Syria: downed aerial vehicles. in a larger map

A BBC map making the e-mail rounds shows the border towns of Akcakale, Turkey and Tel Abyad, Syria.  It was from Tel Abyad that SAR forces first fired into Turkey earlier this month.  It is something to see how close the fighting must have been.

A growing side theater of the Syrian Civil War is the reigniting of conflict between the Turkey and the Marxist-nationalist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).  A McClatchy News Service graphic sourced with Turkish Army data states Turkey has declared part of Syria a no-go area.  It will be interesting to see if Turkey enforces this ban.

Analysis Intelligence created an interactive map showing Jihadist group activities in Syria by region and time.  Sadly, the al Qaeda in Iraq front group al Nusra Front, which has openly stated its desire to spread jihad in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, is growing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Video on Old Testament Geography

Knowledge of the geography of the Holy Land is sometimes referred to as the fifth gospel.  Wars, geopolitics, trade routes, migration, and human-environment interaction all played roles in the events of both the Old and New Testament.  To fully understand the story one needs to understand the geography.

Dr. James McGrath of Butler University has uploaded a thirty minute lecture on Old Testament geography.  This board overview does not going into overwhelming detail but instead focuses on the broad themes.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lara Logan: We are Being Lied to About the War in Afghanistan and al Qaeda

A long Catholicgauze rant.  Normal geography blogging will resume tomorrow

I heard ghosts of whispers while I was in Afghanistan.  I could not confirm these details but they were very troubling to me.

At an Indian restaurant (the restaurant was meant to attract Afghans who developed a taste for Indian food while in exile as refugees as well as Westerners who enjoined Indian food) several truck drivers were sitting near us were talking.  The interpreter I worked with said they were talking about Arabs claiming to be al Qaeda who were running road blocks in the open along the main highway which connected all four major Afghan cities.

An Afghan newspaper published in Kabul for the business-class reported al Qaeda, not the Taliban nor the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was reestablishing bases in Nuristan province.  The article stated that al Qaeda viewed Nuristan safer than Pakistan because there were less drone strikes and the American presence was weak in the mountainous province.

View Larger Map

Finally, many soldiers told me either first or second hand stories of seeing women in Arab dresses vice standard Afghan clothing walking around markets without men.  If these stories were true, then it implies foreign fighters, possibly al Qaeda, felt Afghanistan was so safe that they were bringing their wives along.  In Afghanistan, only women who knew they were untouchable and feared would dare walk out to a public place without a male relative.

I never knew what to make of such stories.  However, they all added together to paint a picture of slow moving defeat.  If al Qaeda were able to establish itself, then the war would be a waste.

Today the reaction to news about Afghanistan is shocking.  Americans are being killed by infiltrators and traitors in the Afghan army and police.  We passed the "grim milestone" of 2,000 military killed.  Yet unlike Iraq, where the press was eager to point out the bad news and it became political capital, neither party is discussing Afghanistan.  It is a war America wants to forget.  President George W Bush's promise of "We will not tire, we will not falter, we will not fail" is being turned into a joke by the American people.

The press seems to go along with this.  In Sunday's Washington Post described how the war was "winding down".  Elsewhere the press portrays the message that with bin Laden death al Qaeda died as well.

Thankfully, journalist Lara Logan has pointed out that most of what Americans are being told is wrong (in my less than humble opinion).  If she is right, and I fear she is, a new storm is coming which poses dangers even larger than a 9/11. 

Here powerful point can be summed up by this portion of her speech
“Our way of life is under attack and if you think that’s government propaganda, if you think that’s nonsense, if you think that’s warmongering, you’re not listening to what the people who are fighting you say about this fight.”
“In your arrogance, you think you write the script, but you don’t. There’s two sides and we don’t dictate the terms. In fact after eleven years of war in Afghanistan, we’re rushing for the exits as fast as we can, not only do we not dictate the terms, but we have less power to dictate anything on the world stage.”
“Ambassador Ryan Crocker said, ‘We’ve killed all the slow and stupid ones. The ones that are left are more committed and they didn’t become any kinder or gentler in the last eleven years.’
“‘Another thing he said. We think we’ve won the campaign and they haven’t even begun to fight.’”
“If you fail to identify the ideological component to this fight, if you fail to identify what your enemy is really fighting for, if you lie about who they really are, I don’t see how you can possibly have the right strategy.”
“There’s a narrative coming out of Washington, much of it driven by Pakistani lobbying money and by Taliban apologists. One of my favorite things to read about is how the Taliban today is so unlike the Taliban of 2001, they’re a more moderate, gentler kinder Taliban who just can’t wait to see women in the workplace occupying an equal role in society and great economic prosperity for all of Afghanistan and they don’t really want to take us back 3,000 years into that terrible place I witnessed.”
“And when I look at what’s happening in Libya, this big song and dance, whether this was a terrorist attack or a protest, and you just want to scream for god’s sake, are you kidding me, the last time we were attacked like this was the USS Cole which was a prelude to the 1998 embassy bombings which was a prelude to 9/11. And you’re sending FBI to investigate. I hope you’re sending in your best clandestine warriors who will go in to exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil, that its ambassadors will not be murdered and that the United States will not do nothing about it.”

The Arab Civil Wars are likely to get even hotter and al Qaeda is viewed by many as a fighter against oppressive regimes.  While the US will push for leaders to step down and bomb Libya, Arabs who are not militant Islamists see how al Qaeda has been on the ground in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.  Americans want to disengage from the Greater Middle East and rebuild the economy at home.  However, we have involved ourselves deeply and now the storm will not let us go.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Weather Tools on Google Earth

Google Earth Blog pointed out that Google Earth has a neat weather layer built-in for easy viewing.  "Simply by turning on the [Clouds] and [Radar] layers inside of the main [Weather] layer, you can get a great look at clouds and precipitation around the world."  Be sure to check out Google Earth Blog's Weather Toolbox for more in-depth tools to try out.

From Google Earth Blog

Meteorology is a weak point of mine so it will be interesting to see if I can successfully use these tools to gain a better understanding of weather systems.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cuban Missile Crisis Military Geography Briefing

On October 14, 1962 an American U2 spy plane flew over the island of Cuba and took photos of Soviet military-built missile facilities.  The United States saw the facilities as part of a Soviet first strike operation.   The Soviets meanwhile saw no difference between their desires for nuclear weapons in Cuba and American nuclear weapons already in Turkey, which border the Soviet Union.  The tension quickly built up between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the point each side nearly started World War III.

Thankfully war was averted though few Americans fully understood what occurred.  American President John Kennedy sought to explain the situation and dispel beliefs that the Soviets had kept weapons hidden on the island.  To do so the Defense Intelligence Agency's John Hughes went on television on February 6, 1963 and used geographic tools such as maps and photo interpretation to explain the Soviet buildup, threat, and withdrawal.

Below are eight clips from the briefing. 

Today the use of photo interpretation and maps to investigate non-geography oriented subjects is common place. For example public agencies in charge of wildlife management, fire control, military planning use these techniques.  Even private groups like those interested in real estate development or legal issues with property ownership will study maps and recent imagery to obtain on the ground facts photos give as well as other, less visible factors maps describe.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Geography of Breat Sizes Different From Men's Geography

As a follow-up to the geography of penis sizes, a geographer wondered if the geography of women's breast sizes would co-relate to that of the male reproductive organ.  The answer seems to be: mostly not.

The German website (English language link) made a map claiming to show women's breast sizes on a cup scale by country.

The one strong co-relation between the two is that East Asia has the smallest of both.  Africa, while leading in the men's category, is universally in the small category for women.  Russians, Finns, and Viking Germanics lead overall with other Germanics coming in second throughout the world.  Most Slavs, however, though do not have as nearly as large of breast as those of their Russian kin.  Interestingly, countries which once were part of the original Muslim expansion ranging from Portugal to India are almost all B-cup.  It would be eat to see if this is a genetic import from Peninsula Arabs or something else.

All this depends on the accuracy of the data and my theories ignore the extent of plastic surgery.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Map of Foreign Owned African Farmland

In Kenya one can see an endless rows of tea plants growing.  The tea belongs to Lipton Tea Company, through its Kenya division.  Locals do not drink Lipton, they strongly dislike the taste, but Lipton Tea realizes how much money it can save by growing its crop on rented African farmlands and then exporting it to customer countries.

Lipton is not alone.  Many private, government owned, and public-private partnerships from developed and developing world realize the economic feasibility of renting African farmland.  Seth Dixon's Geography Education featured a pre-2011 map showing various countries' (representing both state and private enterprises) land holdings in Africa.

Click to Enlarge
According to the map the Saudi Arabia is the behemoth in terms of African farmlands.  Saudi Arabia, mostly desert and unable to feed its population by itself, seeks to end its dependency of buying food by renting 2.27 billion (with a "b") acres (~918.6 million hectares) of farmland in Sudan for food production.  It would be interesting to see if this farmland is located in present-day South Sudan.  If so it would explain the friendly relations Saudi Arabia quickly made with South Sudan.

The People's Republic of China comes in second for landholdings with over 11.9 million acres (~4.8 million hectares) of farmland in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.  These lands grow crops for biofuel production.  China sees Africa as the place to produce a renewable Arabia of biofuels to feed its growing economy.  China's many investments in making friends in Africa will be rewarded with renewable biofuels.

South Africa, South Korea, and then the United States round up the foreign owners with each one holding over a million acres acquired.

Interestingly, African countries are getting into the land renting business.  South Africa's farmers' union AgriSA rents 24.7 million acres (~10 million hectares) in the Republic of Congo while Djibouti is renting in Malawi.  Meanwhile Egypt rents land in Sudan as did Libya in Mali (no idea if they still do).  None of the African countries, sans Egypt in Sudan which have long ties together, rent from neighbors.  Perhaps the intense geopolitics of neighbors due to European-designed artificial borders in Africa makes this impossible.  However, Arab-influenced Djibouti has no quarrels with states in southern Africa and majority-ruled South Africa and the Republic of Congo have never had animosity against each other.  In Africa, distance makes good farmland business partners.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Using Radar on Satellites to Map and Prepare for Landslides

GIM International has an interesting article about how radar on satellites are being used to map landslides in Switzerland.  Knowing the exact extent of landslides overlayed on top of geographic data allows for planning of evacuation routes and improvement of infrastructure.  The article is short but it gives the reader how geography and technology pair up nicely together to solve critical, real world problems.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards Submissions

The deadline is passed and the First Annual Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards has six completed submission.  They are
The board is about to make its decision on winners but we still want to hear your feedback.  Is there some potential you see in one that makes you want to advocate for it?  Is there a submission you feel is wrong for geo-literacy?  Let us know!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Columbus Day 2012

Map of Columbus' First Voyage to the New World

He was a self-made man with a dream.  He was great at the geography needed to sail a ship but horrible in understanding the size of the world.  Attempts by Royal Portuguese geographers to prove him wrong were met with his anti-Semitism.  His journey linked two worlds together, something that only an encounter with an alien race can match.  He was a horrible political administrator.  He was a man who cared for his family.  His human rights abuses horrified the King and Queen of Spain.  His success destroyed the worldview proclaimed by Saint Augustine and allowed for Copernicus to rethink the universe.  The riches of the New World funded the defense of Europe against the Ottomon hordes.  Despite his grave failings, Columbus saved Western Civilization. 

The great book Admiral of the Ocean Sea : A Life of Christopher Columbus by Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison describes the situation pre and post-Columbus in Europe as so

At the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. . . .
Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nuremberg were correcting their proofs from Koberger’s press, a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon with news of a discovery that was to give old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. Strong monarchs are stamping out privy conspiracy and rebellion; the Church, purged and chastened by the Protestant Reformation, puts her house in order; new ideas flare up throughout Italy, France, Germany and the northern nations; faith in God revives and the human spirit is renewed. The change is complete and startling: “A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future.”
Christopher Columbus belonged to an age that was past, yet he became the sign and symbol of this new age of hope, glory and accomplishment. His medieval faith impelled him to a modern solution: Expansion.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Halloween Geography: Where Horror Lives

Horror stories (in the traditional sense vice the modern slasher film) and ghost stories have an appeal to me.  Originally I was once a strong denier of anything beyond the natural in day to day life but I have seen and heard of enough things to make me "agnostic to the rest of the lower cosmos" as the Victorian author and theologian Robert Hugh Benson would say.

In my many conversations with Americans, Europeans, and Central Asians I have noticed certain geographic themes in horror stories by region.

The United States and Canada:  Horror stories in the United States and Canada mirror traditional horror from Europe.  Most of the stories take place in the wilderness (cabins in the woods, farms) or in meeting zones between wilderness and urban cities (abandon urban places where nature is reasserting itself, Indian burial grounds now covered by suburbia).  There has been a shift towards urban horror with vampires, ghosts, and some zombie movies but this is still a minority of horror stories.

The strength of rural horror seems to rely on the fact that the United States and Canada are both heavily urban societies but have low overall population densities.  This allows for black spots on mental horror maps which grant murderers, spirits, monsters, and aliens to run and fly without being seen.

Europe:  Traditional horror stories from Europe were rural affairs.  Werewolves and witches gathered in nature.  The city and village, meanwhile, formed a Christian civilization buffer zone against evil.  The Industrial Revolution changed everything.  The popularity of wild werewolves and their ilk fell while the ghosts who were wronged and did wrong became popular with the English and various monsters from continental fairy tales merely moved into the city.  Many English and continental horror stories also adopted xenophobic undertones with reverse colonization being a major fear (Dracula).

The cities are the overwhelmingly dominant place for horror in Western Europe while Eastern Europe and Scandinavia still have a place for some rural horror.  Norway and Sweden, with their high urbanization rates yet low population densities, are equally divided between their rural Troll Hunters and urban Let the Right One Ins.  Meanwhile, Russia only recently transferred from retelling fairy tales to modern horror in urban settings like Night Watch.

Central AsiaMy time in Afghanistan taught me that traditional Muslims can hold the belief that some places are meant for Djinns, smokeless fire beings, and not humans.  But instead of being terrified that these creatures are neighbors, traditional Muslims accept this fact and attempt to be good neighbors.  It would be like having a vampire as a neighbor and instead of worrying about the proximity of a bloodsucker to your family you would be more concerned about keeping the kids off its lawn and hoping the vampire does not vote for the opposite political party.

Central Asians did not seem to fear the wilderness.  I assessed this to be a combination of nomadic roots and the fact that while there are dangerous things like bandits in the wilderness many normal Central Asians can be as equally tough and barbaric against rogues.  Village and urban living is fairly new to many parts of Central Asia and the practice of building qalats, walled compounds for families, remains the norm.  It is not surprising that all the "ghost" stories I heard told by Afghans and Pakistanis involved Djinn invading the qalat.  The qalat's walls, acting as a guardian against the wild, being breached terrified many Central Asians I talked to.  I wondered if this contributed to the strong disgust Afghans, even anti-Taliban Afghans, had against special forces night raids on Taliban members' qalats.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Geography Quiz 2: The Tallest Mountain

This geography quiz is dedicated to the largest mountain.

1) What is the largest mountain?
2) Where is it?
3) How did it form?

Feel free to answer via commenting

The answer is now in the comments section

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards Submission: US Geography Challenge

The sixth and final entry for the inaugural Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards has been officially submitted.  David Madden and Enrico Contolini propose to advance the United States affiliate for the International Geography Olympiad.

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

Project Name

US Geography Challenge

What is your definition of geography?

The word geography derives from Greek and it means ‘to write about the earth.’ Expanding on that, we also understand the term geography to include a full accounting of the physical spaces of our planet, and humanity’s interactions with them. Ultimately, geography impacts poverty, rivalries between peoples and nations, public health, environmental concerns and nearly all of the other major issues facing our world today. We hope and expect the US Geography Challenge to encourage American students to learn more about the world and its people, embrace a spirit of thankfulness for the advantages they have in life, and work toward a more just world.

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

The US Geography Challenge ( is meant to be the official qualifying competition for US high school students for the International Geography Olympiad (also known as “iGEO” - see held every summer in a different country around the world.  Founded in 1996, iGEO has never had a participating USA team, as no one has ever established a nationwide qualifying competition for it until now. The organizers of the USGC have been coordinating with both the National Council for Geographic Education in the USA, and with the organizers of iGEO to make it possible to field a US team beginning in 2013, consisting of the top students from the USGC National Championships. Additionally, the USGC is meant to fill a gap in academic competitions for high school students, as there is currently no widespread national geography knowledge competition for US high school students (the National Geographic Bee is only for 4th-8th graders).

The US Geography Challenge consists of about 80 regional competitions held during the school year throughout the United States. For the first year, these will consist of a geography knowledge exam, though once the USGC reaches a critical mass of participating students, the regional competitions will be extended to mirror the National Championships in format. The National Championships, which will be held in the Washington, DC area in the spring, will consist of three different exercises.  Two of these will be a written-response exam and a multi-media exam, both of which will be modeled after the two such exams that are part of iGEO. The third part of the National Championships will be an exciting, buzzer- based geography quiz tournament, with in-depth questions designed to reward a broad knowledge of geography. As the top half of students at each regional competition will qualify for the National Championships, this inclusive approach will also help to encourage students from around the country to learn more about geography.

The US Geography Challenge will also initially utilize the resources and infrastructure of The National History Bee and Bowl, a successful academic competition that has been held across the USA since 2010 and has seen the participation of thousands of students ( The regional competitions and the National Championships of the USGC will be held in conjunction with the regional and national competitions of The National History Bee and Bowl, which will provide a natural base of students who will be interested in participating in both competitions. David Madden, a co-founder of the USGC, is also the founder and President of The National History Bee and Bowl, and thus has considerable experience with establishing nationwide academic competitions.

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

Many US states do not include much geography education in their required high school standards and curricula. This has resulted in a lack of geography literacy among young Americans. The US Geography Challenge will not only offer an exciting opportunity to participate in a competition, but will also offer a Facebook page ( where students interested in geography can interact with each other and discuss geographic topics and issues. Combined with an incentive to learn more about geography by competing in the USGC, this will help stimulate geo-literacy and an interest in geography among students across the USA.

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

Some 15,000 elementary and middle schools participate each year in the National Geographic Bee.  The US Geography Challenge thus provides a way for hundreds of thousands of students to continue competing and keep learning more about geography in the process. Over time, the USGC will continue to grow and expand in the USA, while at iGEO, the American students who participate will have a unique opportunity to meet other highly talented geography students from around the world. Finally, we also anticipate that we will enter into sponsorship relationships with other geography and educational organizations (e.g. exchange student programs, programs for American students to volunteer overseas, and geography departments at colleges) which will provide further opportunities for students participating in the USGC to take full advantage of their geographic knowledge and interests.

Additional File:  Flyer for the US Geography Challenge

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Penis Sizes by Country Does Not Match Average Height

Geography and lifestyle influence the size and shape of humanity.  Certain races have different sized features like native peoples around the Arctic being smaller or high elevation peoples having larger lungs.  Other groups change traits based on lifestyles such as taller East Asians because of the increase of meat in their diets.  Geography and lifestyle seem to also influence the size of the male reproduction organ, the penis.

The Daily Mail features an article based off one professors internet-based survey on penis sizes.  Selected countries and sizes in inches are

Republic of Congo - 7.1
Ecuador - 7
Ghana - 6.8
Columbia - 6.7
Iceland - 6.5
Italy - 6.2
South Africa - 6
Sweden - 5.9
Greece - 5.8
Germany - 5.7
New Zealand - 5.5
UK - 5.5
Canada - 5.5
Spain - 5.5
France - 5.3
Australia - 5.2
Russia - 5.2
USA - 5.1
Ireland - 5
Romania - 5
China - 4.3
India - 4
China - 4
Thailand - 4
South Korea - 3.8
North Korea - 3.8

The geographic trend is rough but is basically: East Asians have the smallest, the central core of Europe is the next smallest, next up is Mediterranean Europe, then the northern fringe of Europe, then South America, and finally Africa.  Interestingly, Central Europe is smaller than Mediterranean Europe and northern Europe.

I wondered how the trend in penis size compares to average height.  I was curious if the old saying of "the bigger the shoe, the bigger the tool" was true.  I used open source data from Disabled World to see if the data matched.

What I found was that average height does not match average penis size.  If it did, northern Europe would have the largest while most of Africa would be with East Asia with the smallest.  Also, the original study of penis sizes said North Koreans and South Koreans are equally sized.  However, a quick look at North and South Koreans shows that the diets are so different to the point South Koreans are noticeably larger.

Monday, October 01, 2012

October 2012 Travel Photo: Shrine to the Last Hapsburg in Washington DC

In downtown Washington DC is the church of St. Mary, Mother of God.  The parish was founded in the early 1800s to serve the German-speaking Catholic community of the District. Germans were at the time largest source of Catholic immigration to the United States before the Irish boom.  However, as time changed the German nature of the parish changed though the church never forgot its heritage.  Meanwhile, in the 1990s the Latin Mass-using Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) was given control of the parish.  The FSSP implemented the old, pre-Vatican II Latin Mass while still offering English-language massess.

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The combination of German roots, Latin mass, and being in the United States' capital has made the parish a sort capital for traditional German Catholicism which lost its strongholds in liberal Europe.  Somewhat naturally because of this yet still surprisingly the parish has attracted the attention of the House of Hapsburg.

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Washington DC served as a de facto rallying point for the family after their exile and bans from most of Europe (some only lifted at the end of the Cold War) following the fall of the empire after World War I.  Every October 21st, the FSSP holds a mass attended by the major heads of the imperial house honoring the Blessed Emperor Karl, the last emperor of Austria-Hungary.  Emperor Karl restored the overt, devout Catholicism of the house which slid from the head of Christendom to any other decadent royal family.  The house continued the traditional nature of the family's Catholic faith after his death in 1922 and even Vatican II's reforms.

St Mary, Mother of God has acted as the church of the Hapsburgs in other ways.  In early September Archduke Emry gave a relic of Karl to the Church to be placed in the pictured shrine.  Also in September Archduke Emry was married in the parish.