Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Roma (Gypsies) and Genetic Admixtures

Roma (aka Romai aka Gypsies) are in the news as a wave of fears of child stealing sweeps Europe.  Children with common European features, unlike their parents who have more Central Asian features, are being seized by European governments only to find out that the children are in fact Roma and not Greek, Irish, or whatever the local ethnicity is.

Some are wondering how can this be.  The answer is simple: admixtures.  Roma have not stayed genetically "pure" and have intermixed to varying degrees with local populations.  The mixed off-spring grow up in Roma society and are easily culturally assimilated in though they carry different genetic profiles which will later pop up in later generations.  This is how Jews can still be one overarching grouping while having such a range of features from Germany to Yemen and beyond.

GNXP of Discover Magazine has more on genetic admixtures.  (Hat tip: TDAXP)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Twenty School Lunches Around the World Photo Essay

In the same spirit as the Daily Mail's global food and food price gap photo essay, the San Francisco Gate has a photo essay on school lunches around the world.  At first I was appreciating all the unique cultural dishes until I noticed the African children getting as little as cups of soup.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Atlas of Land Owners in 164 and 1670 Ireland

Trinity College Dublin has a great online atlas which shows the massive shift in landholdings from 1641 to 1670 in Ireland.  The catalyst of this change was the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland.  Cromwell invaded Ireland for two primary reasons 1) to secure the island for the English parliament against King Charles II and 2) to be part of a Protestant expansionist crusade against Catholicism.  It is spatially clear that the Protestants won.

Via @fionamaybuckley
The GIS portion of the atlas is a great genealogical tool as well.  One can see where one's ancestors possibly held property in Ireland.  Sadly it appears that my Irish ancestors were landowners at this time.  My Scot-Irish ancestors did not appear either.  However, while not a direct line, possible English extended ancestors of mine show up in 1670.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Geographical Facts about Cocaine

I recently acquired the latest copy of "Cocaine Smuggling" (2011) by the Office of National Drug Control Policy from my local library.  According to ONDCP, cocaine's scourge is primarily fueled by users in the United States.  The United States has the most users of the drug with Europe and the rest of the Americas splitting the rest.  The top five users are:

United States: 5.33 million users
Mexico: 1.7 million
United Kingdom 1.04 million
Brazil: 954,338
Italy: 884,827
Spain 823,515

The data on how cocaine gets to the United States was surprising.  The old stereotype of airplanes and speedboats going to Florida swamps is dead.  Ninety-five percent of all the cocaine headed towards to the United States goes through Mexico/Central America.  Only five percent goes through Hispaniola and other Caribbean islands.

The Central American route is complex but Honduras is the linchpin of the cartels operations.  132 metric tons reach Honduras overland while an additional 150 metric tons reach the country from the Caribbean.  Only 117 metric tons bypass Honduras by going directly from South America to Mexico, Belize, or El Salvador.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Beautiful Counties of (Historic) California

The vast majority of time I decline offers of advertisements.  In fact, I do not accept any funds for any post with the exception of links to books I reviewed.  I even tend to decline press releases.  So when cartographer David Frank McCarter reached out to me about his Beautiful Counties of California asking me to mention it I was almost ready to send him a "thanks but no thanks" e-mail.  However, the map is just too pretty not to mention. 

Here is part of the press release

The California decorative wall map uses California paintings to represent counties David Frank McCarter has launched a Kickstarter campaign ( to crowd fund his new artistic wall map of California, The Beautiful Counties of…California, which uses California paintings from the mid-1800s to the early-1900s to represent California’s 58 counties. 
“The paintings in the map were chosen to provide the map reader with a sense of place and history of this beautiful and geographically diverse state,” says McCarter. “For example, a painting of Mt. Shasta is used to represent Siskiyou County; California Redwoods for Del Norte and Humboldt Counties; scenes of Pomo Indians in Colusa and Lake Counties; and forty-niners in several of the counties that had large goldfields during the California Gold Rush. The map was made to do more than just show where places are, it was made to tell a story of the places themselves.” 
A table is provided on the right hand side of the map which lists the artists and their paintings that are used. Some of the famous artists that have paintings in the map include Albert Bierstadt, Edwin Deakin, Grace Hudson, Thomas Hill, and Charles Christian Nahl.
The map includes the county boundaries, county seats, and important cities of California. It measures 24” x 36” (standard frame size). 
If the project’s goal of $2000 is reached, the money will cover the cost of printing and shipping. He will also donate 100 of these California wall maps to elementary schools in low-income school districts in California to be used as educational tools in the classroom. For a $20 pledge, the contributor receives a map (shipping included) - other pledge levels are also available.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lee Stranahan Video Blogs on Syria, Lebanon, and Refugees

Because of crowd-funding filmmaker and journalist Lee Stranahan has been in Beirut, Lebanon reporting on Syrian refugees.  He is making small videos to help explain the situation.  Here is a sampling:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Geography: Without Knowledge of It, Your Vacation will be Horrible

Thomas Cook Vacations fields complaints from its customers.  Some of these complaints only exist because of the geo-illteracy of tourists.

“I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

“It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallarta to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time — this should be banned.”

“On my holiday to Goa in India , I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

“The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”

“We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

“It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”

“There were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

“I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.”

(Hat tip: Seth Dixon)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbus Day 2013

Christopher Columbus is a morality play.  He showed how having a goal, devotion, and patience can change the world.  He also showed how greed and ceasing to see the dignity of one's fellow man can lead to great horrors.

He none the less saved Western Civilization.

From a previous year's post on Christopher Columbus

"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.
Most importantly he ensured Western European ideals, specifically and ironically English-ideals, survived. Ideals of a separation between religion and State (the Catholic states had this compared to Islamic Caliphate and Sultanates where secular and religious offices were one in the same), the rights of individuals apart from being property of the state, and check-and-balances in governments were threatened by the Ottoman horde. Fortunately, New World gold supplied the Hapsburg Empire with enough money to build an army and navy which could stop the Ottomans. Trade of New World goods destroyed the Ottoman's economy which was based on controlling the old trade routes. The stopping of the Ottomans and appeal of New World resources encouraged France, the English, and others to colonize. These colonies brought ideas of freedom to the New World.

Columbus' drive led to the opening of the New World. Western ideals of limited government and personal freedoms grew in the New World. While New World governments have not been perfect, sometimes failing miserably, in putting these ideals into practice, there is a constant drive to make a more perfect system. The New World also led the charge for the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Meanwhile, the former Ottoman world suffers somewhere between troubled democracy and dictatorship."

Elsewhere, CBS News has a list of five major myths about Christopher Columbus

  1. Columbus wanted to prove the world was round: The origin of this myth is anti-religious propaganda by Washington Irvin.
  2. Columbus discovered America:  The American Indians and only much later the Vikings get credit for this.
  3. Columbus introduced syphilis to Europe:  The disease already was hitting Europe.
  4. Columbus died unknown in poverty:  He died without what Spain promised him but he was not poor.
  5. Columbus did nothing significant:  Two words- New World.

Monday, October 07, 2013's Interview with Dr. Charles Gritzner interviewed Dr. Charles Gritzner, the geographer who has had the most impact on me.  Here's the set up

Despite geography's popularity through venues like National Geographic Magazine, many individuals still do not understand what geography is, what it studies, and why it is important – especially this day in age. Through a series of interview questions, Dr. Charles Gritzner sheds light on this ancient, but seemingly misunderstood discipline. Dr. Gritzner received his doctorate in geography/anthropology from Louisiana State University and taught at the college level for over 50 years, becoming South Dakota State University’s sixth Distinguished Professor in 1993. As an educator, he taught seventy-three different courses, which, he is told, may be a record in any discipline. 

He has authored or co-authored 35 books, published more than 150 articles and book chapters, and won numerous awards for his service to the discipline. Above all, he’s loved by his former students for the way he made learning about the world interesting and engaging.

The New York Times Redrawn Map of the Middle East

Click to enlarge
The New York Times has a nice map showing how Libya, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen could divide into fourteen independent countries.  However, I have a few geographic comments.

Libya: Fezzan in the southwest has no real ability to survive as an independent state.  It has a population of less than half-a-million and its population.  It really is a province of city-states where each population center is an oasis surrounded by desert.  It does have some oil fields but it would need to be transported elsewhere to get into the market.

Yemen: the North and South Yemen are based off real divides.  North Yemen was an Arab Socialist republic and before that a Fiver Shia Islam Imamate.  South Yemen still has its own nationalism from its Communist days which destroyed its tribal culture.  Before that southern Yemen was controlled by the British and has a more cosmopolitan feel to it than northern Yemen.

Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.  Sunnistan will be geographically pulled into fights for water access and oil fields.  Alawitestan may wish to join with Lebanon to become a large "minority-state" but Lebanon will resist this because it knows this would be another civil war.  A Wahhabistan could never exist.  It must either control the oil fields in Eastern Arabia and the Muslim holy cities in Western Arabia or all the legitimacy the house of Wahab and the house of Saud earned will be meaningless.  War and annihilation for the Wahabbis.  No where in between.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

October 2013 Travel Photo: Doha Fashion Show

I can only imagine what the Russian fashion models thought about the hijab-wearing Arab women and what the Qatari women thought of the swimsuit-wearing Europeans.