Friday, June 27, 2014

100 Years Ago Today: The Assassination that Changed the World

USA for democracy by allying with unstable radical anti-minority republic-at-home-empire-abroad France, stable constitutional monarchy-at-home but empire-abroad United Kingdom, and absolutist Russia against most social democratic-friendly but turned military dictatorship Germany, unstable but trying to find peace Austria-Hungary, and the genocidal nationalist Ottoman Empire. 
One hundred years ago today Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Serbian terrorists backed by rogue elements of the itself-rogue state of the Kingdom of Serbia.  The war which resulted from the assassination ended in a poorly thought peace treaty by the Allies which in turned directly led to World War II and the Cold War.  Spin-offs of these wars include the murder wars of Latin America, the cable wars of Africa, and conflicts in the Middle East.

That one assassination deeply impacted borders around the world but especially in still changing Europe.

Pray for peace.

Blessed Emperor Karl I of Austria-Hungary.  The only man open to peace and because of that he was bypassed by his allies and exiled by his opponents. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

World Cup Tie-Ins Show Geographic Illiteracy

Americans' interest in soccer (association-rules football) comes in go with the tide peaking at the time of the World Cup.  Every four years there is a surge of caring which recedes soon after Team USA's loss and elimination. This year the World Cup has caused an all time high in soccer-interest.  Team USA's victory over Ghana led to an outpouring of sports patriotism... and geo-illeteracy.

First Delta decided to celebrate victory by tweeting an image which represents the United States with the Statue of Liberty and Ghana with a giraffe. A major problem with the image is that giraffes do not live in Ghana.  All Africa is treated the same much like all Indians are thought of as the same in Siouxification.  Oddly, the sin Delta committed is the same that Kwanzaa is by nature treating all Africa as the same.

Next is a photo making the rounds claiming to show how most are immigrants.  The purpose of to the photo is to support immigration reform.  The problem with this image is that it is a racist and probably full of lies (not just untruths) because none of the players are actually immigrants.  It claims those with Hispanic-names are immigrants even though they were born in the United States and those born outside the United States are immigrants even though all of them were born citizens because of their parents.

Finally, Google cannot tell the difference between Ghana's flag and Cameroon's.

Geo-illiteracy is common and the World Cup is only making it more noticeable

Monday, June 16, 2014

Islamic State of Iraq and What?

The Sunni Islamist terrorist army swarming over western and northern Iraq refers to itself as الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام, which translates to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.  The term "al-Sham" is the reason the group is sometimes referred to the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" and other times as the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria".

The term al-Sham (Sham, for short) in Arabic means the land of the left hand because it was to the north of Arabia.  This refers to the person facing the rising sun in Arabia, thus leaving north on the left hand side.  Sham has long been used in classical Arab and Islamic geography to mean Syria, however, not the land of the modern Syrian Arab Republic (سورية , Syria) but the historic region of greater Syria.  For example, the Roman Syria included modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and parts of Turkey while Ottoman Syria also included Israel, Jordan, and parts of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  Basically, the historic region of Syria is a near perfect match for the western concept of the Levant.

So, a close to literal translation has the group being "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria", however, most readers are likely to confuse greater Syria (al-Sham) with the modern state of Syria.  Because al-Sham is a near perfect fit for the concept of "Levant" and they have made clear their goals are more Leavant-oriented I recommend using the term the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The ISIL is not a fan of the small boundaries of the Syrian Arab Republic and prefer al-Sham instead. Photo via Twitter.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Middle East War (Iraq Front) Maps Batch 1: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's Advance

Note: Both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Leavant as well as the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hizbollah axis view the Syrian Civil War and the new Iraq War as one-in-the-same.  It is time we do too.

There are a lot of maps out there showing what is going on in Iraq.  Some are better than others and most tell only a part of the story. However, by combining the maps together one can gain a good understanding of the situation on the ground.

The Washington Post has a good map showing the ethnic breakdown of Iraq as well as the latest updates.  Note how the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, aka Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), aka al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)) has been temporally stopped at Samarra, the northern outpost of Shia Iraq.  The remaining 100 miles to Baghdad will be much harder if not impossible for ISIL as they will be fighting on Shia Arab land against Iranian-trained local militias and not on Sunni Arab land against poorly motivated troops.  Also note how the Kurds have advanced outside their Regional Government and into disputed Kirkuk.  This will pose problems in the future as Baghdad will be unlikely to reassert control in Kurdish-annexed Kirkuk.

Long War Journal has a great map showing cities and towns in Iraq and Syria occupied by ISIL.

View Iraqi and Syrian Towns and Cities seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham in a larger map

This Washington Post map shows ISIL controlled areas as islands of population surrounded by desert connected by the only major roads in the hinterlands of Iraq and Syria.  Although I do not think ISIL control is that solid, established in eastern and central Iraq as shown.  (The West Bank is shown separate from Jordan but the text buffer covers most of the border)

While I do not like this map on Twitter showing ISIL control as a solid block, it does a good job showing how the group is focusing on controlling the oil wells and fields.  ISIL likely is selling this oil on the black market thus making it a self-sufficient terrorist army.

This map by a Twitter user, Ghazi, is quite good.  It explains areas of control versus areas of freedom of movement, and it shows how the post-World War I division between Syria and Iraq is basically over (for now at least).

Finally, though no longer novel it is always important to note geographic knowledge is power.  Here is a photo via FlashPointIntel of an ISIL officer planning the offensive using Google Earth.

The Return of the Islamic State of Iraq (and the Levant)

For 2014 Iraq War maps go here

When I left Iraq in 2009 I was feeling good about its future. However, in my final thoughts post I gave a bit of a warning

Is the War Against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) Won?Some bloggers who never were in Iraq and some who were have declared victory. I meanwhile see AQI as lying on the ground, bleeding from all orifices.While near AQI is near death anyone who says they are defeated is wrong. The greater command network of AQI is destroyed so now AQI is more or less a grouping of quasi-independent regions that relay on themselves for logistical support. Right now most of the fighting against AQI is done by the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. These organizations still need the help Coalition Forces can supply including advanced targeting and large, overwhelming force.

Sadly we did not follow through.  The Syrian Civil War allowed al Qaeda in Iraq (renamed the Islamic State of Iraq and later Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) to regroup.  Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki used the courts to steal the promising results of the 2010 elections.  The Sunni militias that helped us defeat AQI/ISI were not properly paid and heroes like Colonel Faruq in Haditha were ignored.

Now in a series of blitzkerg attacks ISIL now has combined their war against the Syrian Arab Republic (Assad-regime), their war against the Syrian anti-Assad rebels, and their war against Syrian Kurds with their renewed war against the Iraqi government.  ISIL is moving units back-and-forth across the Syrian-Iraq border because it considers all these wars the same and so should we.

We should consider them the same war not only because ISIL does but so does the other side: the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria-Iraq axis.  In fact, the main reason ISIL has been stopped 100 miles north of Baghdad is because they are now fighting Iranian-trained, Shia militias full of veterans of the American and Syrian wars.  Iran and the Iraqi Shia militas will pull units from Syria to fight ISIL in Iraq.

Meanwhile, I am stuck here thinking about the Iraqis I served with trying to figure out if they are alive or, maybe even, fighting in Sunni militias against the Government of Iraq.  Elsewhere, Mosul has most likely lost its entire Christian population due to death and the exodus in the past 72 hours.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Database of Grand Army of the Republic Monuments

The Grand Army of the Republic was the first major veterans group in the United States.  This collection of Union troops did much to perverse Civil War history and became a power player in politics (the Republican Party is known as "the Grand Old Party" because of its relationship with the "Grand Army of the Republic").

One key legacy of the GAR is the many monuments and memorials it funded.  However, as time passed by some impoverished local governments sold the monuments for scrap.  Fortunately, now the successor to GAR, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, is working on ensuring GAR monuments are protected.  Part of their effort involves creating databases of GAR monuments throughout the country.  While their list is incomplete and a work in progress, the state departments of SUVCW are creating pages documenting monuments with locations and pictures.

As a member of SUVCW and the Civil War Trust, I am a huge supporter of protecting and promoting Civil War heritage.  The story of Joe Hooker Camp statue and cannon of Sioux Falls, South Dakota is a tragic example of what happens when people no longer understand the sacrifice of others and their physical memory is mistreated.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Most Efficient Way to Drive Through All the Contiguous United States

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Stephen Von Worley of Data Pointed has found the most efficient way to drive through all the forty-eight connected United States.  Needless to say it is quite creative and relies in part by quick drive through certain states.  I do not know if this would meet TDAXP's requirement of visiting states (getting out of the car and buying something) but bravo to such a neat, fascinating effort.  Interestingly thinking outside the box, the trip ends in Montana while I would probably of had the trip in California or Washington.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Map of Apostasy Laws

Only Israel and Lebanon allow for religious change in the Middle East core.
The Pew Research Center and Washington Post created the above map showing where apostasy is against the law on any governmental level.  All countries with apostasy laws are in the Muslim gap with the excpetion of Nigeria.  Nigeria does not break the Islamic rule, however, because the apostasy laws are in the northern state run by Nigeria.  The presence of these laws show the difficulty in separating religion and state on even the most basic levels in the Islamic mindset.  However, this is not so surprising since Islam and the state were meant to be one from the beginning while Christianity and Judaism (and even Dharma religions) had their beginnings separate from the state.

Interestingly enough, the Assad-run Syrian Arab Republic only forbids apostasy when public order is 'disturbed' by it.  There are no legal cases which cite apostasy disturbing the public order.  Anti-apostasy laws are only enforced in Islamist rebel controlled parts of Syria.

The People's Republics of Ukraine

A variety of unofficial, pro-Russia statelets have appeared in eastern Ukraine.  The movements are primarily limited to Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Right now no country, not even Russia, recognizes these people's republics as independent. 

The term people's republic does not reflect Marxist socialism.  Instead it is representative, as the New Republic as pointed out, of a very old school of Russian conservatism which connects Eastern Orthodoxy and societal collectivism of a Christian socialist variety.
Here is a quick guide:

Donetsk People's Republic

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Located in Donetsk Oblast, this was the first "people's republic" to declare independence from Kyiv.  Most of the fighting has been done in Donetsk. 

Luhansk People's Republic

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Located in Luhansk, this people's republic has been slower in forming but picked up speed as Kyiv focused most of its "anti-terrorist" operations in Donetsk.

Federal State of New Russia aka Novorossiya 

 It is unclear whether or not The Federal State of New Russia, also known as Novorossiya, exists.  The leadership of the Donetsk People's Republic all states it does but the leadership of the Luhansk People's Republic is divided on whether or not they belong to it.  This implies Novorossiya may be an effort by the more successful Donetsk People's Republic to control Luhansk People's Republic.

While some have noted the flag of Novorossiya mirrors the Confederate battle flag, this is a concidence.  Red, white, and blue are the colors of Russia and the Novorossiya flag is almost a dead copy of the Russian naval jack.

Odessa People's Republic

Declared on the internet to the shock of anti-Kyiv protesters in Odessa, this people's republic seems to exist online only.

Kharkiv People's Republic

Crushed within one day of its founding.


The only "real" people's republics are in Donetsk and Luhansk.  While these claim their respective oblasts, their real control is demonstrated in the map below showing where Ukrainian elections were unable to be held.

Grey shows areas of no voting, i.e. people's republic hold on territory.