Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ralph Peters on the Cultural Geography of the Middle East and America's Poor Understanding of It

Ralph Peters, the former Lieutenant Colonel who's redrawn map of the Middle East caused such an outcry, recently gave a talk to a group of geographers concerning his thoughts on the cultural geography of the Middle East and America's foreign policy's misunderstanding of culture.  Here are the key takeaways from a colleague's notes.

Ralph Peters' map came out in 2006.  Note how the proposal for Syria mirrors what is going on now with the Kurds going their own way and the coastal area becoming an Alawite enclave aligned with Hizbollah in Lebanon.
On Borders and the Wrong Side of History

Peters believes that for the first time in modern history the United States has found itself on the wrong side of history by working to sustain legacy borders and regimes that do not reflect the true historical, contemporary cultural, and nationality boundaries.  He believes that we are still in the early phases of the post-imperial era.  Imperial Europe drew many of the international borders in colonial regions with a straight line on the map that doesn't even take rivers and natural boundaries into account, let alone tribal, ethnic, and national boundaries. This has resulted in two problems: 1) it forced people together who do not want to be together and 2) it forced those apart that want to be together.  Peters stated we are prisoners of the Rand McNally paradigm and we need to see beyond the borders drawn on the map.

Women's Rights

Peters floated the theory that the lack of female empowerment in the Middle East was the cause for the region's inability to stabilize   Basically, the denying of rights to women in the Middle East means that 50% of your potential workforce is underutilized an the remaining male workforce is expending a lot of effort illogically to suppress women.

(Catholicgauze note:  Suppressing women had little overall impact on the Middle East when the whole world kept women out of the productivity cycle but as the rest of the world changes the Middle East is the last major area paying for this policy)

Religion, Identity, and Recognizing It

Peters stated Washington pretends religion does not exist.  When asking "who am I?" we default to faith and ethnicity.  Religion answers the fundamental need to believe in something, it provides a refuge.  Peters pointed out empires rise and fall but religion remains constant and continues to exist.  We need to take religion seriously.  We need to fix political problems before they become religious problems.  The Palestinian movement is an example of a movement that started political but has since made the shift to religious zeal which makes it much more challenging to deal with.

Human Nature and Nature of Cultures

Because the Middle East cannot fix their own problems we should not expect ourselves to be able to solve them.  Peters stated the tragic thing we do as humans is to deny human nature.  We cannot accept the fact that some thrive on evil and killing their enemy.  Man has the propensity for violence, but our sheltered lives permit our self-delusion.  Homer, the father of Western literature, illustrated the taste for blood in The Ilidad. Peters reminded us that the end of Troy was due to the Greek barbarians from the other shore and he ended his discussion with "Never underestimate barbarians from other shores".

Monday, April 29, 2013

Geography Quiz 5: Geopolitics' Impact on Irrigation

I remember a television special in which Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang went to a space station.  Towards the end the group of kids are looking down on Earth and one states that borders do not exist on the physical globe and what a wonderful world it would be if the political geography matched the "real" geography.

The below Earth-snapshot disproves the children's version of the world.

For this quiz a) tell how it is possible for such a sharp change in agricultural lands in general terms and b) (feel free to turn on labels and zoom around) describe with details what made this change possible.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Divide Between East and West Berlin Still Visible from Space

In the past I have written about the economic and cultural differences between the western and eastern Germany.  The divide lasted so long that it still manifests itself on the landscape.  Check out the street lighting differences between the former East and West Berlin. (Hat tip: European Space Agency)

Click to Enlarge.

In Memory of Those Who Died During the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides

For the up to 1.8 million Armenians and 750,000 Assyrians killed in the 1910s and 1920s because they were not of a desirable ethnicity.

Armenian Genocide map.  From Wikipedia.  Click to Enlarge.

Assyrian Genocide Map.  Red areas are centers of killings and red lines are refugee routes.  From Wikipedia.  Click to Enlarge.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can Israel Give the Palestinians Part of Jerusalem While Keeping All of the City?

Emily Hauser has an interesting proposal for Middle East peace: give part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians while Israel keeps all of Jerusalem.   This can be accomplished, Hauser says, by understanding what is truly Jerusalem and what is extra.   Hauser points out that modern-day Jerusalem is a combination of the ancient city, natural expansion, and Jewish and Arab villages that were swallowed up by urban sprawl.  The plan would be that the historic/religious Jerusalem that Jews long vowed to return to would remain part of Israel while other parts could become the capital of a new Palestinian state.

Hauser deserves credit for trying to find a new way to square the circle of Middle Eastern political geography.  However, I thought about my hometown and I have to disagree with Hauser.  My hometown's population has more than doubled in size since my birth and as such it takes up a lot more land.  If someone were to take over half of my home town saying something along the lines of "this was not built up when you were born therefore we really are not occupying your town" I would be very upset and denounce that claim.  Thinking like an insurgent I believe I would fight for the newer additions of my hometown.

Cities, like all political bodies manifest on the landscape, can grow and shrink.  However, that does not make the newer land any less meaningful than the older.  California is no less part of the United States than Massachusetts, Brooklyn is no less part of New York City than any other borough, and Constantinople was no less part of the Roman Empire than Rome.  Hauser tried but she does not understand the how people relate and think about political entities on the landscape.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What You Need to Know about the Modern Historical Geography of Chechnya

The Chechen Republic is a ethnic homeland republic within the Russian Federation.  While many Americans have either not heard of the republic or merely second hand and confuse it with the Czech Republic, it is an important area in the War on Terrorism and, as we have seen when the Boston Marathon bombing, of global significance.

Pre-Soviet Union

Ethnic Russians are not native to the region.  The native populations include Armenians, Georgians, Ossetians, Chechens, Abkhaz, and many others.  While the northern Caucasus nominally went back and forth between the Ottoman Empire, Russian Empire, and Persian Empire, on a local level the region stayed independent with local leaders paying small taxes to the far away overlord while life stayed fairly normal.

The Caucasus Region is one of Russian romanticism.  The Russian view the Caucasus as sort of their Wild West.  The Russians used ethnic Slav, culturally Russian Cossacks to make inroads into the region and conquer it step by step.  But even then the Cossack Russians only firmly held main towns and the roads/lines of communication.

Cossack Conquest step by step. From La Salle University
Soviet Union

The Caucasus region was drawn and redrawn during the end of World War I and the rise of the Soviet Union.  Nationalistic forces fought against the Russian monarchists and then the Communist as part of the Mountain Republic and North Caucasian Emirate.  Under the Soviet Union, Stalin formed and reformed various local ethnic homelands.  Eventually in the late 1930s and early 1940s, nationalists rose up against the Soviet Union and allied themselves with Nazi Germany, along with other Caucasus ethnic groups.

Stalin's punishment was severe.  February 23, 1944 saw the start of Operation Lentil.  Lentil was the complete deportation of all Chechens in the region to Central Asia.  All of them.  Tens of thousands if not over hundreds of thousands, out of a population of about half a million, died in this genocide.  Chechens were not allowed to move back until 1957.  In 1959 census showed that Russians and Ukrainians made a majority in Chechnya.  The region was held in check until the collapse of the Soviet Union though the ethnic Chechen population slowly began to regrow.

Chechens round up waiting for deportation by the Soviet Union.  What's the different between Soviet and Nazi ethnic cleansing?  The Soviets completed the job (but since they were part of the Allies we do not teach that in schools).

Post-Soviet Wars

The various republics of the Soviet Union declared their independence and were allowed to leave peacefully with the fall of Communism.  However, Chechnya was not a separate republic in the USSR but a republic within Russia itself.  So when the Chechens established their own Chechen Republic of Ichkeria there was war.  Unready Russian troops were defeated by mostly nationalistic/secularist rebels.  Russia withdrew under an agreement that allowed de facto independence.  The de facto independence of Chechnya saw the mass emigration of ethnic Russians.

From Darussophile
However, in 1999 a Chechen and foreign-Islamist force invaded the neighboring Republic of Dagestan and a series of terrorist attacks targetting Russian apartment buildings (note: this may have been a false flag operation by Moscow).  This launched the Second Chechen War in which the Russians defeated the Chechen rebels.  However, a low-intensity but bloody insurgency first by the remnant forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and then against its successor state, a pan-ethnic Islamist entity known as the Caucasus Emirate continues even today.

The Chechen Republic of Ickeria morphed into the Islamist Caucasus Emirate which wants to control both Christian and Muslim lands in the northern Caucasus
The Chechen Republic itself is governed by the political Islamist, ethnic Chechen, pro-Moscow President Ramzan Kadyrov.  While there are some Russian troops fighting in the Caucasus much of the pro-Moscow fighting is being done by the local troops coming from the various republics who report directly to their own republics, acting much like a national guard.  The situation is more like the Imperial era than the Soviet period as ethnic governments have much more local control than in most of the last century though Moscow takes a very active interest in pushing for action against rebels.

Friday, April 19, 2013

American Geographical Ignorance: The Czech Republic is not Chechnya

As Americans learned more about Boston Marathon terrorists, a small but vocal group began to voice their demand: Prague must pay.

View Larger Map

The horribly geographically ignorant chorus was such a concern that Petr Gandalovič, the Czech ambassador to the United States, issued a statement
As many I was deeply shocked by the tragedy that occurred in Boston earlier this month. It was a stark reminder of the fact that any of us could be a victim of senseless violence anywhere at any moment.  
As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding in this respect. The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities - the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.  
As the President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman noted in his message to President Obama, the Czech Republic is an active and reliable partner of the United States in the fight against terrorism. We are determined to stand side by side with our allies in this respect, there is no doubt about that.  
Petr Gandalovič Ambassador of the Czech Republic
One is a country in central Europe and the other is an ethnic homeland republic in southern Russia.  Geo-illiteracy: not only does it make one look dumb but makes the whole country stupid as another ambassador has to put out a memo like the Czechs did.  

Quasi-Repost: What You Need to Know about the Russian Caucasus Ethnic Geography

In light of the Boston Marathon bombers coming from "near Chechnya" here is a repost from 2009 of a post I did about the complex conflict geography of Southern Russia, also known as the Northern Caucusus.  Basically, some ethnic groups thought they could become independent during the collapse of the Soviet Union but Moscow stated they could not because they were formally apart of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.  A series of wars and killings continue the haunt the region.

For more information I recommend the books The Caucasus: An Introduction and The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus.  Avoid "Chechen Jihad" and its many non-cited lies like the plague.

Click to enlarge.  Ethnic Russian in red, ethnic Muslim in green, ethnic Christian in blue, ethnic Buddhist in yellow

While most people are focusing on the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, things are picking up again on the Southern Russia front.  Russia is quadrupling its forces there after a failed experiment of relying on local, pro-Russian militias (thugs) against local, anti-Russian militias (thugs) who fight along side foreign Islamic radicals. (2013 note:  This has seemed to work as overall violence levels have been held in check.  However, militant Islamists from this region are active fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  Eventually they will "come home".)

Few people fail to realize just how ethnically fractured Southern Russia is and how this has overflowed into international violence.  Not all areas have been trouble spots.  For instance Buddhist Kalmyks have gotten along fine with their Russian neighbors and the same goes Adygeya and Russians.  However, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union this has been a trouble spot.


  • Armenians-Azeris:  Technically outside the focused area but started off modern ethnic conflict in February 1988.

  • Ossetians-Ingush:  Started in 1992, this was probably the most personal of wars due to the low level technology and close fighting.  Ingush returning from Stalinist exile wanted their homes back taken by Russian-backed Ossetians.  Today there are still Ingush refugee camps in Ingushtia filled with Ingush with no place to call home.  

  • Georgians-Abkhaz-Ossetians: Not one, not two, not three, but four wars.

  • Chechens-Russians:  The most famous of the conflicts featuring two wars.  First one was a tie tht went to the Chechens while Putin helped Russia win the second.

  • Dagestan 1999:  Islamists based in Chechnya invaded Dagestan to expand their Islamic influence.  The war helped start the Second Chechen War.

  • Ingush v. Ingush:  Ingush angry at Russia and the world aligned themselves with outside Islamists.  A civil war which is part of the greater Chechen-Ingush-Dagestan Islamist War is currently on-going.

  • Currently Ethno-Islamic War:  Ethnic Muslim groups are currently backed by international Islamists who seek the defeat of Russia and also the local pro-Russian Muslim governments.

  • Trouble Spots to Watch: (2013 note:  Not so much.  Ethnic and Cultural Russians in Ukraine have won back power in the country and lines of control in Georgia seem set).

  • Eastern Ukraine and especially the Crimea:  Much of eastern Ukraine is either majority ethnic Russian or cultural Russian (ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian as their first language).  While violence will probably not break-out, Moscow could insight problems if it wanted to.  A trouble spot within a trouble spot would be with the Crimean Tatars- ethnic Muslims who generally hate Russians.  They make up 12% of Crimea and provide a possible in for Islamic radicals.

  • Mingrelians in Gali, Abkhazia:  In the southeast of the breakaway region of Abkhazia is Gali where Mingrelians, an ethnic subset of Georgian live.  The Mingrelians have strong ties to Georgia but supported Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh when he ran for president without the endorsement of Moscow.  Now Mingrelians have been pushed further in the pro-Georgia camp but Russia may try to create Mingrelian nationalism to cause probelms for Georgia.
  • Thursday, April 18, 2013

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: Closing Appeal

    The Association of American Geographers' annual convention is over and so is this year's virtual geography convention.  I want to thank all the presenters who shared their research with the public.  We have read many fascinating things ranging from Ethiopian Orthodox church forests, long commutes stealing time off one's life, rape law enforcement in Norway, geospatial big data, lawn care and the environment, and so much more.

    If you enjoyed the Virtual Geography Convention (VGC) this year please contact the Association of American Geographers (AAG) and tell them that you enjoyed Geographic Travels' hosting of the VGC and that the AAG should actively encourage presenters to share their slides if not more with the public.  I do not care if the AAG decides to do their own virtual conference and host the slides on their website.  The VGC is not for  Geographic Travels to increase readership but instead to promote geographic literacy and outreach to the public.

    For those who value their time I have a dummy letter below that you can send by clicking this e-mail hyperlink to contact the AAG's president-elect Julie Winkler

    Dear Dr. Winkler, President-elect of the AAG

      Geographic literacy starts with Geographic outreach.  I greatly enjoyed the unofficial Virtual Geography Convention on the geography blog, Geographic Travels.  Please consider encouraging presenters to share their slides or other material online for public viewing.  Having one hosting place, whether on Geographic Travels or the AAG's website, could allow the public to easily gain important Geographic knowledge.  The public would gain immensely even if only a few more presenters post their presentations.

      Thank you for your time,

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: Measuring and Marketing Ecosystem Services, Functions, and Values in Oregon

    Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!

    Eric Nost of the University of Kentucky shared his AAG presentation Measuring and Marketing Ecosystem Services, Functions, and Values in Oregon on his blog.  His slides and notes are below.  Be sure to check out his website for more insight to his work.

    "I've linked to my presentation from the Blue/Green Economies session at the recent Association of American Geographers meeting in LA. The text of the talk is below and each paragraph corresponds to a slide. It's about how regulators, conservationists, and entrepreneurs in an ecosystem services market in Oregon are assessing the landscape ecological aspects of restoration sites. Similar to my talk on "Code/Nature," I argue that state environmental agencies like the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) and conservationists including the Willamette Partnership are pushing for stronger ways of planning for, choosing, and evaluating sites and that this may prove constraining to mitigation bankers."

    "1. Today I want to tell you about the social relations and spatial logics motivating environmental regulators, conservationists, and eco-entrepreneurs in Oregon plan as they choose, and evaluate where in the landscape to do wetland and stream restoration for a cap and trade-type market. I’ll show how the state’s and conservationists’ efforts to map priority locations for restoration and to point out these places to entrepreneurs are market-constraining, but perhaps only in the short-term. The takeaway here is that many of the new or revamped markets in ecosystem services we are seeing may not be about ecosystem commodification and commercialization so much as they are about state formation, power, and legitimacy.

    2. Let’s start here. Welcome to the Half Mile Lane site in exurban Portland, Oregon. It provides a number of ECS.
    3. The wetland you see stores and delays water, which mitigates flood impacts for downstream homes. 

    4. The stream provides habitat for salmon that migrate into the foothills of the Coast Range. 

    5. A couple of years ago, state environmental agencies like the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) and conservationists including the Willamette Partnership undertook ecological restoration on the site, turning old farmland and a straightened ditch into a productive wetland and stream. This work was done for a market where developers purchase offsets for impacts to wetlands and streams. HML also serves a demonstration project for what regulators and conservationists see as stronger metrics for the market, both of what counts as successful restoration, as well as what locations in the watershed are worthwhile to do restoration projects.

    6. As global ECS pundit Pavan Sukhdev explains to us, these markets are supposed to be about valuing nature. 

    7. Well, what does that mean? For him – and we hear this quote a lot - “we cannot manage what we do not measure,” which means measuring the nature’s benefits and doing so as a $ price. 

    8. Price itself, however, is not an ecological measure. Lest you think the focus on “value” is the domain solely of pundits like Sukhdev, consider what the Oregon DSL – one of the environmental agencies – has to say. For DSL, it means the opportunity to provide an ecological function. 

    9. Importantly, this opportunity is location-based; it’s spatial, contextual, embedded. 

    10. HML has the opportunity to mitigate flood impacts, because it is upstream of homes

    11. and downstream of logging and mining operations that increase runoff.

    12. So the question is: how do Oregon’s market actors measure the value of ecosystem services? Put more concretely - where in the landscape do they plan and choose to do restoration for the market and why? Sukhdev makes the challenge of resource protection sounds so easy when he says that all that needs to be done to prevent environmental degradation is to “put a value on” nature. But the task of valuation has not been so effortless in Oregon.

    In the rest of this talk I want to walk you through the assessment of restoration sites in Oregon’s market, and how they become valued as places to do restoration. There are three moments to this, but they are moments that put the interests of regs and cons against the interests of entrepreneurs. I want to demonstrate an at least short-term strength of state agencies against entrepreneurs in constraining a kind of accumulation by restoration. New ventures in market governance may not deepen ecosystem commodification and commercialization as much as they throw up roadblocks. While these may only be short-term constraints, we should pay attention to them as potential moments where the market collapses under its own contradictions.

    13. I first want to take a second to make sure we’re on the same page about how these markets work. In US markets for wetland and stream ecosystems, state and federal environmental regulatory agencies – ACOE, EPA, DSL - allow developers to make up for resource degradation by compensating entrepreneurs (or, “mitigation bankers”) who speculatively restore ecosystems. A good example: Early last year DSL authorized the trade of four salmon habitat credits to the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation Department (THPRD). 

    14. DSL did not sell the Half Mile Lane (HML) property itself, where it had restored salmon habitat. Instead, it dealt THPRD ECS credits. These credits are a measure of both the quality and quantity of habitat functions “uplifted” after DSL replaced a culvert and performed other stream and wetland restoration work at HML. 

    15. THPRD wanted these credits so it could tell environmental regulators that it had adequately compensated for a trail bridge it is building that will degrade habitat elsewhere in the watershed. Note that in this case a state agency, DSL, was the one selling credits, but more often it is a private entrepreneur.

    16. Either way, the idea is to ensure some kind/degree of ecological equivalence, and this is the art and science of assessment. 

    17. There is at once a strictly ecological assessment, which measures ecological functions on a site, but also these kinds of trade demand an assessment of the value of the ecosystem services in question. Value scores are 1-10 rankings of each function’s (e.g. water storage and delay) ability to provide some service (e.g. flood mitigation). 

    18. In the assessment moment, restoration bankers hire ecologically-trained consultants to use several online mapping utilities to gage how ecological processes occur across the landscape and affect the site where bankers have chosen to do restoration. 

    19. Here’s one of the key mapping utilities consultants use, called Oregon Explorer. It’s bringing a lot of data from beyond the boundaries of the site together, and showing it to the user in one frame. Hydric soils are the orange/yellow, but we also see the 100 year floodplain downstream of the site. Consultants have to answer questions about landscape context by using OE to, for instance, draw a 2 mile radius circle around the site to see how many other similar habitats the site is connected to in the area, or what sources of ecological stress are nearby, like the quarry. The key point here is that the value score of a banker’s site is relational to the site’s surroundings – but these are things which the banker has no or little control over.

    20. Bankers and their consultants then have to take their scores to regulators. Agency staff judge the offsite stressors and risks consultants find in their assessment in the regulatory moment when they approve, deny, or modify a banker’s choice of where to do restoration. 

    21. For instance, regulators often focus on reed canary grass, an invasive species that can spread rapidly on a restoration site from without and foil a project. They question whether a site and its landscape surroundings will, in the end, prove valuable if there is too much RCG around. Environmental agencies can in this moment modify a banker’s proposal to work on a certain piece of ground that is particularly susceptible to weeds by asking them to put more money into a long-term management.

    22. Bankers then finally have to sell their credits. This is a market moment to value’s measure. What non-profit conservationists like WP want to see happen in the market is that when a banker brings a site to the market, to get their credits to sell, the amount they get depends in large part on the location of their project. 

    23. These are “priority areas” - habitat sites mapped by state environmental agencies, and collated by TNC. 

    24. The idea is that bankers would get the full amount of credits if they were doing restoration in a priority area and less if they were not. The problem is that if a banker had to do work in a priority area lest they not get as many credits as they expected, they’d be incentivized to work on land they might not normally restore. But being driven to work in priority areas would mean a narrower range of landowners they could work with. And all else equal, bankers want to work on sites where they can get the most credit bang for their restoration buck. This system means having to work on sites with higher costs of restoration and potentially higher land prices, both of which would cut into their profits.

    To be clear: this isn’t how the market currently works, but regulators are using GIS to see/check whether bankers are siting in priority areas, and conservationists are pushing for this trading ratio protocol to be adopted. It is still part of the discussion on the ground in Oregon, about what the market should and will look like.

    25.In general, then, through all three moments, how state agencies in Oregon - with help from the conservationists who have helped map priority areas and author market protocols - how they assess ecosystem service value in site selection proves constraining to entrepreneurs. 

    26. Assessment – the landscape context they have to look at weighs bankers down

    27. Regulatory – bankers have to put more capital into long-term management

    28. Market – they will not get full credit, have to work in different places

    29. Bankers are in fact rather unhappy about this way of valorizing restoration – and question regulators’ authority to do it. It’s come to the point where entrepreneurs may take state agencies to court on the issue and stop doing more restoration for the market. And so what we see here is not the state rolling out the conditions for market success, but genuine market constraints.

    30. I do want to caution that this only holds for the current political moment. We know that every crisis can become an opportunity. In the long-term, what we might see is bankers getting used to regulators’ expectations about where it is valuable to do restoration. Indeed, the way state agencies have mapped out priorities might only serve as sort of visual aids to bankers, making it easier for them to find sites. This would facilitate the commodification and commercialization of ecosystem restoration and provide more opportunities for developers to just buy credits for their resource impacts.

    31. And so, to wrap up, what I think this case does for us is two-fold. First, it reminds us to pay attention to the spatial logics of these markets, asking what sort of notions of spatial efficiency and prioritization constitute these markets, besides the idea that there is a difference in opportunity costs between global north and south. Karen McAfee has called efficiency “the holy grail of environmental economics.” I agree, but I’d add that spatial efficiency, which economists would think about as equimarginality, is a similar crusade.

    32. Also, while the search for value might be what makes attempts at ecosystem markets and payments look similar across the globe (Robertson 2012), this case suggests a need to keep paying attention to change over time, within specific historical-geographical contexts to see the moments where neoliberal conservation confronts its own contradictions, and what happens. 

    33. In the short-term, we might see moves by the state and conservationists to implement new measures of restoration success not as a deepening of commodification and commercialization, but as having the effect of slowing the market.

    In the long-run, it might only enhance capitalist investment in restoration in particular places at the expense of others, in what several scholars have named as the variegation of neoliberal natures or conservation.Either way, demarcating the difference between the two can tell us a lot how about market-oriented conservation projects succeed and fail, and to what effect."

    Free Books: History of Cartography

    The University of Chicago is giving away the two volume, four book set on the history of cartography for free download.  Enjoy the rich PDF text, beautiful maps, and history.

    Poor Geography Still Remains in Afghanistan and Kills Americans

    I remember a day in early January 2011 when I was reviewing maps of Highway 1 as I prepared to join a mission in eastern Afghanistan.  The most detailed map available to our unit had a village marked as "Moscowkhel" ("Moscowvillage" in English).  I remarked how the digital map had a village labelled after the Russian capital.  I was told by the highest ranking enlisted man on the mission that all our "detailed" maps of Afghanistan were from the 1980s.  It also turned out that the detailed maps were not so detailed.  Another mission had us go to Musakhel  (Mosesvillage).  However, the village turned out to be three villages and one of them was a Taliban outpost.  Lucky for us the Taliban were not in a fighting mood and decided to lie low.

    Elsewhere local surveys are poorly done and rarely, if ever, updated or fact checked.  Despite being in the country for ten years there are gaps in information sharing and cartographic knowledge.

    Diplomat Anne Smedinghoff, three army soldiers, and a contractor were planning on donating supplies to a school outside of their base.  They walked 200 yards (182 meters) to the building their map said was a school only to find out it was an agricultural office.  On their walk back to base they were killed by a bomb.

    People die in war.  That is why war is so horrible.  However, sometimes the deaths are avoidable.  Failure to update maps and fact check put peoples' lives are risks and sometimes people die because of these mistakes.  They die because planners do not consider how investing in geographical knowledge beyond imagery can save lives.

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Maps of the Boston Marathon Terrorist Attack

    Please pray for all those in Boston and their families.  Please also prayer for the attacker(s) that he/they may turn away from violence.

    From CBS News
    Map of crime scene area closed to public.  From WVCB.

    From the New York Times

    View Larger Map
    Bomb blasts at A.  JFK Library, possible other terrorist attack site, at B.

    View Boston Marathon Course in a larger map
    Boston Marathon Route Map

    Saturday, April 13, 2013

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: Accommodating Big Data in Visual Analytics: Pairing Computation with Cognition

    Joshua Stevens of Pennsylvania State University gave the GIScience theory-heavy presentation "Accommodating Big Data in Visual Analytics: Pairing Computation with Cognition" at the Association of American Geographers 2013 annual conference.

    Here presentation and abstract are below

    "Researchers in a variety of disciplines face enormous challenges related to the acquisition, analysis, and visualization of big data. This is especially true when the data contain both spatial and temporal attributes and when analytical procedures rely simultaneously on system computation and human cognition. For this reason, GIScientists are perhaps among those best prepared to make significant contributions to the emerging field of big data analytics. Intuitive and interactive visualizations that display rapidly changing, diverse spatiotemporal data will play a vital role in this process by improving the analytical and communicative stages of projects that make use of big data. The advent of big data brought along with it new challenges related to the velocity, complexity, and enormity of information and the pairing of many large, heterogeneous data sources. The challenges of visual analytics with big, spatiotemporal data are complicated further when maps only compose a portion of a visualization system consisting of animated graphs, tables, and other views that are employed alongside the computational processes. Although great strides have been made in developing tools to compute such data, questions related to the perception and cognition of big data faced by users of these tools remain unasked and unanswered. In light of these challenges, we make the case for considering cognition in the era of big data and introduce some of the efforts underway at Penn State related to GIScience and the dawn of big data visual analytics."

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: Free Book about Online GIS Platforms

    Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!  If you have a presentation or blog post you wished published please contact me at catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com! 

    For those who work with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), ESRI's ArcMap is the be all and end all.  As one geographer put it "the beast lives off government and corporate contracts.  It is able to charge a $500 licence for a single user.  It is GIS."  There are other systems out there, mostly freeware, but since most people are trained on ESRI software and professionally work on ESRI, the learning curve is step and many people shy away from other programs.

    Christopher Brown, however, made a book about various other OnlineGIS programs.  He reviews each program and gives his opinion on what each own would be a best fit for.  He wrote a book, Online GIS, which is available for free download. (Hat tip: GISLounge)

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: Adding a Historical Perspective to Virtual Water Flows

    Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!  If you have a presentation or blog post you wished published please contact me at catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com! 

    King's College London geography graduate student Francesca Greco is presenting "Adding An Historical Perspective to Virtual Water Flows: Hydro Metabolism And the History Of Virtual Water" at the 2013 Association of American Geographers conference.

    Greco has posted her presentation online for viewing and listening here.  Her abstract is below

    This presentation will guide through an historical perspective of virtual water and then will come back to current times. The term hydrometabolism will be introduced,drawing back to economic metabolism concept. Proceeding with our analysis, the human-nature of these water flows and the fact that, in history, these virtual water flows(or ,virtual rivers)have always existed, will , at the beginning, downplay the imporance of virtual water in past times. After this first finding, we will see how, with time, some of these flows have been inverting their routes for some reason, and we will explain the motivation of this "inverted virtual water flows" through an historical perspective.Consumers do not know the origin of the water embedded in their food, and consider a tomato coming from the Maghreb exaclty like a tomato coming from the Netherland.Virtual water flows in the past have been of minor impact because of the small numbers of human population, the sustainability of agricultural methods and the small impact of trade in the food market. During the antrhopocene, with the globalization of food and crop trade and overexploitation of water resources,virtual water trade has become "extreme" in certain areas: the hot-spots identified in this paper have shown how virtual water export are detrimental if water is being pumped from non -renewable and overexploited groundwater, and our main aim is just to show, once again using "virtual water"where a change must start from, and where the risks with virtual water export are currently becoming bigger.

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: AAG 2013 Day 4 Twitter Roundup

    Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!  If you have a presentation or blog post you wished published please contact me at catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com! 

    An update on the useful and not so useful information being shared on Twitter at the Association of American Geographers conference in Los Angeles.  

    Crowdsourcing maps really shouldn't just be grass roots info, great to add official layers not acces. or easily found to all #aag2013

    Biggest knock I have on many #AAG2013 presentations: there are many technicians, but few scientists.

    Saldanha: Anthropocene ushers in communism not from a priori universal human but constructed from catastrophe #aag2013

    Anthropocene session: Kevin Surprise renames Anthropocene Age of Capital. #aag2013

    Excellent address by Audrey Kobayashi on geograhy's whiteness and the slow turn to anti-racist geographies

    Friday, April 12, 2013

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: The Texas Longhorn Genome Decoded

    Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!  If you have a presentation or blog post you wished published please contact me at catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com!

    University of Texas at Austin geographers notified me about a study of the Texas Longhorn's genome and geneology.  Apparently, the Texas Longhorn is descended from cattle Christopher Columbus brought over from Spain on his second journey to the New World.  But the ancestry of the cow is more complex as it is a hybrid of European breads and those that the Moors brought into Spain from Africa.

    The University of Texas has a press release about the genetic history of the longhorn:

    Texas Longhorn cattle have a hybrid global ancestry, according to a study by University of Texas at Austin researchers published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The study of the genome of the Longhorn and related breeds tells a fascinating global history of human and cattle migration. It traces back through Christopher Columbus' second voyage to the New World, the Moorish invasion of Spain and the ancient domestication of the aurochs in the Middle East and India.

    "It's a real Texas story, an American story," said Emily Jane McTavish, a doctoral student in the lab of biology professor David Hillis.

    To reconstruct the genetic history of Texas Longhorns, McTavish, Hillis and colleagues from the University of Missouri-Columbia analyzed almost 50,000 genetic markers from 58 cattle breeds. The most comprehensive such analysis to date, it was funded in part by the Cattlemen's Texas Longhorn Conservancy, which helped the scientists get access to samples used by ranchers.

    Among the findings was that Texas Longhorns are direct descendants of the first cattle in the New World, which were brought over by Columbus in 1493. They arrived in the area that would become Texas near the end of the 17th century.

    The study reveals that being a "pure" descendant of cattle from the Iberian peninsula indicates a more complicated ancestry than was understood. Approximately 85 percent of the Longhorn genome is "taurine," descended from the ancient domestication of the wild aurochs that occurred in the Middle East 8,000-10,000 years ago. As a result, Longhorns look similar to purer taurine breeds such as Holstein, Hereford and Angus, which came to Europe from the Middle East.

    The other 15 percent of the genome is "indicine," from the other ancient domestication of the aurochs, in India. These indicine cattle, which often have a characteristic hump at the back of the neck, spread into Africa and from there up to the Iberian peninsula.

    "It's consistent with the Moorish invasions from the 8th to the 13th centuries," said Hillis. "The Moors brought cattle with them and brought these African genes, and of course the European cattle were there as well. All those influences come together in the cattle of the Iberian peninsula."

    Once in the New World, most of the cattle eventually went feral. Under the pressures of natural selection they were able to re-evolve ancient survival traits that had been artificially bred out of their European ancestors. Selection for longer horns allowed them to defend against wild predators. They became leaner and more able to survive heat and drought.

    McTavish said it's possible the indicine heritage in particular helped, because the climate in India and Africa tended to be hotter and drier than in Europe.

    The Longhorns remained wild on the range, or very loosely managed, until after the Civil War, when Texans rounded up the wild herds and began supplying beef to the rest of the country. Since then the fortunes of the Longhorns have waxed and waned depending on how their unique genetic profile intersects with the changing needs of American consumers.

    Hillis, who raises Longhorns of his own out at the Double Helix Ranch, said that the winds of history now seem to be blowing in the Longhorns' direction. They can survive in hotter, drier climates, which will become increasingly important as the world warms. They provide lean and grass-fed beef, which is seen as healthier by many consumers. And their genes may prove valuable to ranchers, who can use the increasingly sophisticated genetic information to selectively breed the Longhorns' toughness into other breeds of cattle.

    "It's another chapter in the story of a breed that is part of the history of Texas," he said.

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: Long Commutes Contribute to an Early Death

    Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!  If you have a presentation or blog post you wished published please contact me at catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com!

    Geographer Erika Sandow of Sweden's Umea University is presenting "Different ways to go - The effects of long-distance commuting on causes of death" at the 2013 annual convention of the Association of American Geographers.

    While her presentation is not online, the Pacific Standard published an article, Commuting to an Early Grave, about her results.  Of note Dr. Sandow discovered that women who live more than 31 miles (50 kilometers) away from their job lose the most life due to their commute.

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: Location Disclosures Lies and Generalizations Pose Major Flaws in Geolocation Research

    Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!  If you have a presentation or blog post you wished published please contact me at catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com!

    Several interesting things have been said about geolocation research in social media at the 2013 convention of the Association of American Geographers.  One of the most surprising is that only slightly more than one percent of Twitter "tweets" are geolocated and 60 percent of that is based off of profile disclosure.

    Computer scientist Brent Hecht published a paper in 2011 which investigates this issue in the context of Justin Bieber's fans on Twitter.  Hecht discovered 34 percent of the 60 percent of geolocated tweets from profile disclosure are lies.  The full paper, Tweets from Justin Bieber’s Heart: The Dynamics of the “Location” Field in User Profiles, is available online.  (This makes me now very skeptical of any Twitter-based GIS research)

    The abstract of Hecht's paper is below

    Little research exists on one of the most common, oldest, and most utilized forms of online social geographic information: the “location” field found in most virtual community user profiles. We performed the first in-depth study of user behavior with regard to the location field in Twitter user profiles. We found that 34% of users did not provide real location information, frequently incorporating fake locations or sarcastic comments that can fool traditional geographic information tools. When users did input their location, they almost never specified it at a scale any more detailed than their city. In order to determine whether or not natural user behaviors have a real effect on the “locatability” of users, we performed a simple machine learning experiment to determine whether we can identify a user’s location by only looking at what that user tweets. We found that a user’s country and state can in fact be determined easily with decent accuracy, indicating that users implicitly reveal location information, with or without realizing it. Implications for location-based services and privacy are discussed.

    Virtual Geography Convention 2013: New Physical Atlas of Africa

    Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!  If you have a presentation or blog post you wished published please contact me at catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com!

    The Association of American Geographers and the United States Geological Survey and others are giving away online copies of their new physical geography atlas of Africa: A New Nap of Standardized Terrestrial Ecosystems of Africa.

    The USGS' press release states

    A team of African and North American scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey and NatureServe, a conservation non-profit organization, has created a series of continent-wide ecosystem maps that offer the most detailed portrayals of Africa's natural setting yet produced. The new maps and related data on landforms, geology, bioclimates, and vegetation can be used across Africa for conservation planning and resource management, as well as for impact assessments of climate change and changes in land use, such as agriculture, deforestation, and urbanization. 

    "This was a multi-organizational, international collaboration to create new earth science datasets for the entire continent at finer resolutions than ever before," said Matt Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. "An added benefit is that this information about ecosystem conditions can be put to many different uses. It will have tremendous utility beyond ecosystem assessments." 

    USGS and NatureServe researchers collaborated with the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), based in Nairobi, Kenya. RCMRD hosted two workshops where invited experts from many African nations developed a new classification of African ecosystems and provided location data for the newly classified ecosystems. 

    Overall, a total of 37 experts from 18 countries worked together to formulate the ecosystem classifications (126 distinct ecosystems were mapped) and produce the maps at a base resolution of 90 meters. 

    "This much improved baseline of Africa's ecosystem conditions has the potential for more accurate carbon assessment studies in Africa," observed USGS scientist Roger Sayre, lead author of the publication. 

    Determination of biological carbon stocks in ecosystems is an emerging science. Currently, carbon stocks are assessed in general biome categories like forests, grasses, shrublands, wetlands, deserts, and agricultural lands. The increased classification resolution supplied by the new African ecosystems maps will facilitate a more robust assignment of carbon inventories to a greater, more precise number of biological sources. 

    The Association of American Geographers (AAG) provided key support for the final publication. The publication is available in digital form from the USGS.