Sunday, September 30, 2012

State's map a crazy quilt

From Fresno Bee:  State's map a crazy quilt 

Welcome to the political geography of California. The accompanying surreal political map of California looks like a state on drugs, a wild refiguring of regions based on voting patterns.

Based on a study entitled: "California's Political Geography" by Eric McGhee and Daniel Krimm from the Public Policy Institute of California (for full disclosure, I'm on the PPIC board), this map graphically illustrates the political power of larger urban areas of the state. More people and more voters live in those regions and they eclipse -- some will contend distort -- the rest of the state's geography.

In contrast, the traditional map of California by land size misconstrues the political reality: San Bernardino, the largest county, carries little clout in statewide politics because it has so few voters.

The major population centers of our state are concentrated in the Bay Area and the Los Angeles region. They dominate this geography and, based on the presidential vote in 2008, they lean Democratic.

As you journey away from these political centers, the surrounding regions like the "Far East Bay, Santa Mateo/Santa Clara/Santa Cruz" and in the south "Coastal L.A., Long Beach, L.A. Suburbs and the San Fernando Valley" -- all are part of the S.F./L.A. political sphere of influence. And they, too, are part of Democratic country.

Overall, you can see why Democrats control the state's legislative offices. We appear to be a Democratic state. The only conservative strongholds are Orange County and parts of the Central Valley, along with small slivers of the far north and mountain parts of the state.

Mapping California's political geography corrects and blurs some assumptions.

According to the "Political Geography" report, in the 1960s and early 1970s, we were a state divided north and south. Bay Area liberals vs. SoCal conservatives.

By the 1980s, a shift began, Bay Area and Los Angeles County were pitted against everywhere else.

Gradually, a west vs. east struggle unfolded, the coastal areas against inland California. With the heavily urban centers based along the coast, we here in the Valley were often called "the Other California."

But, like most things political, it's not quite so simple. For example, our Valley is not so homogeneous and more changes since the 1990s have occurred, reflected in the 2008 election. Sacramento and surrounding counties are now Democratic and became a shadow of the Bay Area with liberal voting patterns. Researchers surmise that the politics of the very liberal Bay Area have spilled over the Carquinez Straits, changing that region. Others claim that Sacramento has now seceded from the Valley.

Fresno is one of the few neutral regions of California, a solid-in- the-middle shade, a buffer between the two divisions. From the perspective of the southern San Joaquin Valley counties of Kings, Tulare and Kern, Fresno has changed, lost to the "other" side and filled with too many liberals.

Yet Fresno has it's conservative base, consider that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan came here to fundraise and took home millions of dollars.

When specific issues are considered, the lines are distorted even more. Not seen in our surreal map is a north/south division concerning abortion. The Bay Area tends to support laws that do not restrict abortion, while the Valley and Southern California trends in favor of restrictive legislation.

Yet the shades are even more ambivalent with other statewide issues such as reducing the state budget deficit with cuts or favoring more public services with higher taxes.

For those of us who live in the Central Valley, politically we may no longer be thinking like a separate region. According to the political geography of the state, many in the southern San Joaquin Valley have more in common with Orange County than with Sacramento.

However, a major difference remains: I do not believe Orange County feels they have an affinity with any place in the Valley. We might as well be from another state.

Indeed, you might conclude that for many in the outlying areas of the Central Valley, which include the northern areas of Shasta and Placer to the extreme southern counties of Kings, Tulare and Kern, the label "the other California" may no longer be fit.

Given the disparity of political geography, these regions think of themselves as "another" California or "not" California and may be proud of that distinction.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

America’s Last Politically Contested Territory: The Suburbs

From NewsGeography:  America’s Last Politically Contested Territory: The Suburbs 

Within the handful of swing states, the presidential election will come down to a handful of swing counties: namely the suburban voters who reside in about the last contested places in American politics.
Even in solid-red states, big cities tilt overwhelmingly toward President Obama and the Democrats, and even in solid-blue ones, the countryside tends to be solidly Republican.
What remains contested are the suburbs, which—despite the breathless talk in recent years of an urban revival—have accounted for 90 percent of metropolitan growth over the past decade.
But as the suburbs have grown—in large part by collecting families priced out of cities or seeking more space or better schools—they’ve shifted from reliably Republican territory to contested turf. Barack Obama won 50 percent of the suburban vote in 2008, a better performance than either Bill Clinton or John Kerry.
Obama’s success resulted from demographic changes sweeping the periphery of most major cities. Long derided by blue-state intellectuals as stultifying breeders of homogeneous white bread, the suburbs increasingly reflect and shape the country’s ethnic diversification. The majority of foreign-born Americans now live in suburbs, and many suburban towns—like Plano, Texas, outside Dallas; Cerritos, south of Los Angeles; and Bellevue, near Seattle—have become more ethnically diverse than their corresponding core cities. Among the metropolitan areas with the highest percentage of suburban minority growth are swing state regions Des Moines, Iowa; Milwaukee; and Allentown and Scranton, Pa.
Minorities, according to a recent Brookings study now represent 35 percent of suburban residents, similar to their share of overall U.S. population.
The suburbs of Las Vegas in hotly contested Nevada are now minority-majority, as the number of Latinos living there has shot up. Nationwide, well over 5 million Latinos moved to the suburbs during the past decade—and many more Latinos now live in suburbs than core cities. In the past, Hispanic suburbanites tended to vote somewhat more Republican than their urban counterparts. But this year, they appear to be solidly Democratic—as Latinos have been repelled by the GOP’s ugly embrace of nativism ,and drawn to Obama’s clever election-year move to offer effective amnesty to young illegal immigrants.
Asians—another group that’s strongly favored Obama—have moved even more quickly into the suburbs. While many immigrants hail from some of the world’s densest cities, few immigrants come to America dreaming of a small apartment near a transit stop.
“Many Asian immigrants today are bypassing the city entirely and going straight to suburban neighborhoods first to fulfill their version of the American dream,” says Thomas Tseng, a founding principal at New American Dimensions, a Los Angeles–based ethnic marketing and research firm.
Over the past decade the Asian population in suburbs has grown at nearly four times the rate of that in cities, with 2.7 million more Asians in suburbia compared to 770,000 in the core cities. In the northern Virginia suburbs around Richmond, the number of Asian suburbanites has doubled, as it has in the suburbs around Columbus and Cincinnati. The Asian suburban population nearly tripled in the Raleigh area and doubled around Charlotte. Even in Florida, there are now well more than 100,000 more Asians in the suburbs of the Sunshine State’s four major cities—Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa—than there were a decade ago.
Obama also will likely receive significant backing from white professionals, who tend to cluster in the suburbs of cities such as Columbus or around Washington, D.C. Virtually all the 10-best educated counties in America are suburban; seven are in the greater Washington area. The fact that many of these professionals work directly or indirectly for the federal government that Obama has expanded dramatically will only help him in his bid to remain in the White House.
So what about Romney? He’s clearly a product of the suburbs, growing up in the tony periphery of Detroit and now living in leafy Belmont, Mass., a comfy close-in commuter suburb that has seen little population growth since 1950.
In the primaries, Romney did well in suburbs, particularly upper-class ones, and those voters played a critical role in putting him over the top against Rick Santorum.
Romney continues to score roughly 50 percent support in polls with voters making at least $100,000, a group that tends to live in affluent commuter towns ringing cities. But to win, the Republican needs to reproduce his party’s wave of 2010, when they captured roughly 55 percent of the suburban vote on their way to retaking the House. But can Romney reach beyond his classic country-club GOP base to the middle- and working-class swing state suburban voters?
On paper, he should do well in lower density suburban areas, in large part because they tend to have far larger concentrations of married families with children, a group that tilts Republican. But despite his own family, he’s been overshadowed by Obama’s better-marketed, albeit far smaller, domestic unit.
Romney also may be missing a chance to appeal to suburbanites on the contentious issue of “smart growth.” Opposition to suburban housing has become a favorite cause among Democratic politicians, and widely praised by the Manhattan-centric national media.
But Romney, in his term as governor of Massachusetts, was a classic patrician corporate modernizer, showing a penchant for the kind of planning that uses strict growth controls to constrain suburban expansion.
In this sense Romney resembles other politicians from the gentry class—such as Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and John Kerry—who, in the name of “rational” societal objectives, make it harder for middling-class people to achieve the suburban dream they’ve taken for themselves.
So while they represent the majority of the nation, suburban voters have no real champion in this election. Taken for granted by conservatives and betrayed by Wall Street, they have few friends in high places—except at election time. They are also increasingly detested by progressives, a long way from the days when Bill Clinton keyed in on “soccer moms.” Instead the suburbs have evolved into a shapeless political lump, divided by income and race, cultural conflict, and regional rivalries.
On balance, this all works to the president’s favor. If Obama can manage anything close to a split in suburbia, as he did in 2008, he will surely win a second term. Such a loss, at a time of economic hardship, may be enough to force even the dullards of the GOP back to the drawing board to confront their inability to win over enough of the suburban voters (homeowners, small businesspeople, parents of any races)—who should provide the GOP an electoral majority, but so far are not.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and contributing editor to the City Journal in New York. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in February, 2010.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Highlands School to host 'Celebration of Asia' event featuring giant National Geographic map

From Highlands School to host 'Celebration of Asia' event featuring giant National Geographic map<P>
map.JPGMOUNTAIN BROOK, Alabama -- Highlands School will host a "Celebration of Asia" event on Thursday, Sept. 27, beginning at 3:15 p.m.
The celebration's main attraction--a basketball court-sized map of the Asian continent--will be provided by The National Geographic Society's Giant Traveling Map series. Both students and parents are encouraged to attend the worldly event inside the school's gym and participate in a variety of activities and learning games.
According to National Geographic's website, the oversized vinyl maps "tour the country's schools, bringing hands- and feet-on geography education to hundreds of thousands students each year."
Each year, different maps make their way across the county, promoting literacy and geography-based skills for students in grades K-8. Currently, there are maps of Africa, Asia, North America, the Pacific Ocean and South America available for rentals. A map of Europe will be available beginning Nov. 12.
Last year, Highlands School acquired the Giant Traveling Map of Africa and held a similar event. Families and students of African descent shared cultural arts and crafts, instruments and stories, all while wearing traditional African clothing.
Interested families with ideas on how to celebrate this year's Asia-inspired event are asked to contact the school. Those with ideas on how to celebrate the event will need to have a reserved space in the gym.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Posts Resume Sep 24 2012

My mom, who is 75, wants to go up to teeny tiny town near Rapid City, to see her sister, who is 80. They live in a house in the boonies and have no internet.

I'll be back online on Monday the 24th and promise not to miss another day.

Please bear with me, your patience is appreciated!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Laramie writer aims to ‘reveal some truths’

From the Laramie Boomerang:  Laramie writer aims to ‘reveal some truths’

As Laramie resident and National Geographic field staff writer Mark Jenkins made his summit push during a recent trip to Mt. Everest, he climbed over several dead bodies, frozen in the snow along the well-trodden path to the top.

But the dead bodies didn’t slow Jenkins down as much as the live ones did — hundreds of people strung out along fixed lines in a seemingly endless stretch to the summit.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Everest, Jenkins encountered a mountain that’s more crowded than ever, with most climbers paying tens of thousands of dollars to a guide to take them to the highest point in the world.

“I think that I have some reservations, certainly some questions, about the style in which Everest is being climbed today,” Jenkins said.

He’ll give a slideshow and presentation about his expedition at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the University of Wyoming Education Auditorium.

“My hope is … to give a realistic portrait of what Everest is in 2012, and to dispel some of the myths and to reveal some of the truths of what it’s like to climb the highest mountain in the world,” he said.

Jenkins was part of the Everest Education Expedition, a recreation of a 1963 climbing season in which Jim Whittaker, together with Sherpa Nawang Gombu, became the first American to reach the summit. It was the fourth successful attempt of Everest. A few weeks later, four more Americans reached the top, with two of them forging a new route up the West Ridge.

While the 2012 West Ridge attempt was called off because of dangerous conditions, the group was successful in ascending the now-standard South Col route.

Jenkins, a writer-in-residence for UW’s creative writing program, first attempted Everest in 1986, when he was a UW graduate student studying geography. He didn’t make the top then, turned around by avalanches.

These days, despite the existence of a dozen or so established routes, almost everyone climbs up either the North Col or the South Col using supplemental oxygen and hiring a guide who in turn hires Sherpas to carry the gear, pitch the tents, cook the meals and escort climbers along the route.

The use of guides on any big peak isn’t unusual these days, but it doesn’t mitigate the inherent risk of climbing a 29,000-foot mountain.

 “When you’re at eight-thousand meters, can a guide actually save your life? The answer is no. If you make critical mistakes, no one can save you,” Jenkins said.

Those mistakes usually involve miscalculations on the part of the climber related to their own chances of making the top and getting back down safely.

“One of the myths is that the mountain is killing all these people, where in fact it’s mostly hubris. They’re killing themselves,” he said.

For Jenkins, mountaineering isn’t just about reaching the summit. It’s about challenging oneself, developing the necessary skills through years of training, working with a team and making decisions under life-or-death pressure.

“Style matters. Style is substance, and how you climb is as important as what you climb, or if you reach the summit,” Jenkins said. “If it’s just about the summit, eventually we’ll have a chopper that can go right to the top and drop you off, if that’s all you need,” he said.

Jenkins’ magazine article will be published next May or June in National Geographic magazine. He’s also writing a chapter for a book about Everest, and the blog posts he wrote during the expedition will be compiled into an e-book.

Next year, he’ll present his slideshow at each of Wyoming’s community colleges.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Common Ground fair mapped out online

From the Kennebec Journal:  Common Ground fair mapped out online

WATERVILLE -- Working as a cartographer for National Geographic has given Ross Donihue, 23, an appreciation for maps as a storytelling tool.

The Waterville native's travels have brought him from the coffee plantations and canopies of Costa Rica back to his hometown to design an interactive online map for this year's Common Ground Country Fair, which opens Friday in Unity.
"I think the whole sustainable-agriculture movement is sometimes looked down on because they don't always have these tools," he said over coffee recently. "But if you want to get young people engaged, you need these tools of communication."
The Common Ground Country Fair emphasizes agriculture and Maine-made products. There are no amusement park rides, and the food in the Common Kitchen comes from organic farmers and natural food stores.
Donihue, along with a colleague from his job at National Geographic, Marty Schnure, 24, approached the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association last spring about making maps for farmers. The idea sprang from a mutual interest in using maps to help the community, which is also a goal of their small business, Maps For Good. The organization produces maps for clients who in Donihue's words "are doing good work -- good for the Earth and good for communities."
The Common Ground Country Fair map can be seen on their business website,
Donihue, who has rust-colored hair and was carrying a copy of National Geographic and a few maps tucked under his arm, graduated from Waterville High School in 2007. He is the son of Susan MacKenzie and Michael Donihue and went to Macalester College in Minnesota, where he studied geography and environmental studies.
"Growing up, I think camping and hiking in Maine instilled in me a love of nature and being outside," he said.
His definition of geography has expanded to more than the place-name recognition he said most children are taught in school.
"Geography is really about the relationship between humans and the environment," he said.
He studied abroad in Costa Rica and completed an internship mapping a coffee plantation where free-range chickens and goats also were raised. Last spring, he returned to Costa Rica with Schnure to teach students about mapping through the same program.
After graduation, Donihue interned and then got a job working as a contractor at National Geographic in Washington, D.C., before leaving to apply for the organization's Young Explorers Award with Schnure.
The award is a grant that funds the work of young people in conservation and research. Because National Geographic employees cannot apply for the grant, Donihue decided to leave his job, which had been temporary with a possibility of extension. In January, he and Schnure plan to travel to Chile's Patagonia region to create a conservation map.
The Young Explorers Grant provides a "seed" grant of $2,000 to $5,000. Donihue and Schnure are supplementing their award with a campaign on Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform.
"I think people have this perception that every place in the world has been mapped," he said, "but in reality, once a map has been printed, it is out of date."
"Ross is really good at working with students," Schnure said. "He was also friends with somebody he met two years ago who ran a hotel (in Costa Rica), so we stayed for free in exchange for a map of the property."
Back in the U.S., they spent six weeks living in an apartment at the edge of the fairgrounds this summer.
Organizers expect about 700 exhibitors, 750 scheduled events and 60,000 people during the fair's three-day run.
"It can be a little overwhelming," said Jim Ahearn, fair director. "We had to ask ourselves, how can we do a better job of presenting this information?"
"When you look at how Ross gathered the information for the Common Ground Fair map, you realize how rich the detail is," said Stephen Engle, Director of the Center for Community GIS in Farmington, where Donihue has also worked and interned. He described the process of walking the fields, collecting data with global positioning tools and aerial photography.
The interactive map, which includes an aerial view layout of the fairgrounds, also links to the agricultural organization's Twitter feed, a pullout tab featuring a list of events and vendors and a slideshow of pictures that will be updated with photos made during the fair.
It won't replace paper maps, which will be available at the entrance, but instead works in conjunction with them.
"I don't see books going away and I don't see print maps going away," Engle said. "I see them continuing to coexist but with a definite expansion on the digital side."

Common Ground Country Fair
When and where: Sept. 21–23. Gates open at 9 a.m. each day.
Admission: Adults (13–64) $10, children (12 and under) free, elders (65 and older) $8
Keynote speakers:
• “Unraveling Consumerism,” by Shannon Hayes, author of “Radical Homemakers” and “The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook” 11 a.m. Friday at the Common.
• “Fifty years since ‘Silent Spring,’” by Jay Feldmen, executive director of Beyond Pesticides; 1 p.m. Saturday at the Common.
• “Family, Farming and Community,” by Sarah Smith, Grassland Farm in Skowhegan, 11 a.m. Sunday at the Common.
For a complete listing of the events, see


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Grounds for war: the argument for geography shaping conflicts

From the National :  Grounds for war: the argument for geography shaping conflicts

It's 1986, at "the pinnacle of Saddam Hussein's suffocating regime", and freelance journalist Robert D Kaplan is being driven towards the hills of northern Iraq. His Kurdish driver glowers at the hated "Arabistan" receding in his rearview mirror and his mood brightens perceptibly as they begin to climb from the plain up towards the mountainous region where the Kurdish people reside.

"As soon as we penetrated further into prison-like valleys and forbidding chasms, the ubiquitous billboard pictures of Saddam suddenly vanished. So did Iraqi soldiers," recalls Kaplan in the preface to his latest book. According to the political map, "we had never left Iraq. But the mountains had declared a limit to Saddam's rule".

Fast-forward to March 2004. Kaplan is in Camp Udairi in Kuwait, embedded as a journalist with a battalion of the 1st Marine Division, preparing to travel overland to Baghdad, when again he fancies he tastes the power of geography.

"Vast lines of seven-tonne trucks and Humvees stretched across the horizon, all headed north. The epic scale of America's involvement in Iraq quickly became apparent." But then, "a sandstorm ... erupted. There was an icy wind. Rain threatened. Vehicles broke down. And we hadn't even begun the 700-kilometre journey to Baghdad that, a few years before, those who thought of toppling Saddam Hussein ... had dismissed as easily done."

There is a problem with the prolific Kaplan's romantic attempts to set up the premise for this, his 14th book, which suggests that geography has much to tell us "about coming conflicts and the battle against fate" - and that is that great chunks of his "evidence" fails to survive even casual examination.

So, for example, however unpleasant Kaplan's experience as an embed might have been, the might of America was not seriously troubled by the geography of the advance on Baghdad. And the mountains most certainly did not keep the wrath of Saddam at bay: during the six-month Al Anfal campaign, launched just two years after Kaplan's road trip, about 100,000 Kurds died, the victims of gas attacks and mass executions.

Illustrative tactical considerations aside, Kaplan makes great claims for the strategic relevance of the map - or, at least, for the geography that underlies the boundaries drawn upon it by man. One of his heroes is Fernand Braudel, who in 1946 published The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, a work that "broke new ground in historical writing by its emphasis on geography, demography, materialism and the environment ... helping to restore geography to its proper place in academia".

In Braudel's "vast tapestry" of a narrative, writes Kaplan, "permanent and unchanging environmental forces lead to enduring historical trends that go on for many decades and centuries, so that the kinds of political events and regional wars with which we concern ourselves seem almost preordained".

Thus democracy is, quite literally, rooted in the "rich forest soils of northern Europe, which required little to make an individual peasant productive, [and] led ultimately to freer and more dynamic societies compared to those along the Mediterranean, where poorer, more precarious soils meant there was a requirement for irrigation that led, in turn, to oligarchies".

The trouble with taking geography as your template, however, is that it can be shaped to fit any circumstance. Thus tiny Britain's emergence as an aggressive world power and a democratic pathfinder was a product of its protected, island status.

Germany, on the other hand, stuck in the middle of Europe and facing competitors east and west, with no mountains to protect it, developed into a land-hungry bully.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss what Kaplan has to say about anything. Not because he is necessarily right - by his own admission he was very wrong about Iraq - but because he is a writer of considerable influence, whose work is consumed eagerly in high places.

Kaplan is not your typical academic policy wonk. In fact, though he is prodigiously well read, he isn't even a historian, having graduated in 1973 with an English degree from the University of Connecticut before opting for a career in journalism.

At first, it was more like a career in travelling. He took what today would be called a gap year, exploring eastern Europe and the Middle East before returning briefly to take up a post as a reporter with the Rutland Daily Herald in Vermont. In 1975 he gave that up, embarking instead on what would become a 16-year exile from the US, eking out a living by reporting from various countries.

According to a 2005 interview on C-Span, the US public-affairs network, it took Kaplan a decade of pitching before he placed his first article - a short background piece about bread riots in Tunisia he sold to The New Republic in January 1984.

Kaplan's first book, Surrender or Starve, about the wars and famine in Ethiopia, was published in 1988, to little fanfare. It was followed in 1990 by Soldiers of God, his account of the time he spent with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the guerrilla campaign against Soviet occupation. His third book, Balkan Ghosts, published in 1993, was blessed by good timing and the engagement of American diplomacy with the Bosnian War. Legend has it that Bill Clinton was spotted with a copy under his arm - and that Kaplan's arguments were credited with persuading the president not to put US boots on the ground in the Balkans. After that, Kaplan was on Washington's must-read list.

In short order, the reporter and travel writer had metamorphosed into a strategic thinker. Soon he found himself elevated to visiting professor in National Security at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, a consultant for the US Army, Air Force and Marines and lecturer to organisations such as the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and CIA.

Kaplan says he has come to recognise the significance of geography in world affairs as a result of his years of reporting, which "convinced me that we all need to recover a sensibility about time and space that has been lost in an age when elite moulders of public opinion dash across oceans and continents in hours, something which allows them to talk glibly about what the distinguished New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman has labelled a flat world". There is, of course, nothing flat about the landscape over which journalists such as Kaplan must trudge to find their stories but it is precisely this proximity to the immediate landscape that inevitably prevents the writer on the ground from seeing the bigger picture - a phenomenon evidenced by his reaction to his experiences in Iraq.

For some, the metamorphosis of Kaplan from journalist to strategist is an issue of concern.
Thomas Barnett, in The Pentagon's New Map, wrote that "the problem is, too many in the military see [Kaplan] as a serious strategic thinker, when he's a good reporter and nothing more". Kaplan, concluded Barnett, "offers no vision, no strategy, nothing beyond accurate descriptions of the current state of warfare".
In The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan says his aim is to introduce his readers to a group of "decidedly unfashionable thinkers, who push up hard against the notion that geography no longer matters". In its first half he sets out to "lay out their thinking in some depth ... in order to apply their wisdom in the second, as to what has happened and is likely to happen across Eurasia - from Europe to China, including the Greater Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent".

Yet these "visionaries", as Kaplan describes them, are thinkers from another age. They include Edwardian British historian Sir Halford J Mackinder, whose theory of a European "Heartland" appeared with hindsight to have explained the dynamics of two world wars and the Cold War, and who believed that a map conveyed "at a glance a whole series of generalisations". And, of course, the 5th-century BC Greek Herodotus, who in his Histories "maintains in his narrative about the origins and execution of the war between the Greeks and the Persians the perfect balance between geography and the decisions of men". It may, suggests Kaplan, "be no accident that this is precisely the world that occupies current news headlines; that region between the eastern Mediterranean and the Iranian-Afghan plateau".

It is, of course, tempting to rediscover lost lessons from the past but what are patent truths in one era are easily outflanked by technological progress in another.

In this regard, Kaplan - tripped up by the events of the Arab Spring, which were unfolding as he wrote - stumbles at the start. The passage in the preface where he attempts to segue from his militant defence of a geographic perspective to these events, and finds it necessary to undermine his own argument, is rather uncomfortable.

The "first phase" of the great Arab upheaval, he concedes, had "featured the defeat of geography through the power of new communications technologies". Satellite-borne television coverage and, of course, social networking had "created a single community of protesters throughout the Arab world".

Kaplan is wholly unconvincing, however, when he goes on to claim a share of the glory for geography - or, rather, for geography aided by history (and throughout the book, even in Kaplan's world view, it is clear that geography never stands alone as a factor of influence).

"But as the revolt has gone on," he writes, "it has become clear that each country has developed its own narrative, which, in turn, is influenced by its own deep history and geography. The more one knows about the history and geography of any Middle Eastern country, therefore, the less surprised one will be about events there."
This smacks of smug hindsight. The reality is that almost no one saw the Arab Spring coming.
"It may," he suggests, "be only partly accidental that the upheaval started in Tunisia." For one thing, because urbanisation in Tunisia started two millennia ago "tribal identity based on nomadism, which the medieval historian Ibn Khaldun said disrupted political stability, is correspondingly weak".
And yet, with a reminder that the Roman emperor Scipio dug a ditch outside Tunis to mark the edge of civilised society after he defeated Hannibal in 202 BC, Kaplan's argument for geography's role in the Arab Spring grows even more tenuous. The towns beyond Scipio's ditch today "tend to be poorer and less developed", while "The town of Sidi Bouzid, where the Arab revolt started in December 2010, when a vendor of fruit and vegetables set himself on fire as an act of protest, lies just beyond Scipio's line".
It is hardly necessary for Kaplan to remark, as he does, that "this is not fatalism. I am merely providing geographical and historical context to current events".
With the awkwardly non-geographic Arab Spring bundled off stage, Kaplan sets out his stall.
"As political upheavals accumulate and the world becomes seemingly more unmanageable, with incessant questions as to how the United States and its allies should respond, geography offers a way to make at least some sense of it all.
"By engaging with old maps, with geographers and geopolitical thinkers from earlier eras, I want to ground-truth the globe in the 21st century ... for even if we can send satellites into the outer solar system - and even as financial markets and cyberspace know no boundaries - the Hindu Kush still constitutes a formidable barrier."
The problem with that argument, attractive as it sounds, is that it simply isn't true. It might have been true when the British Army struggled with the geographical realities of the North West Frontier in the 19th century but it certainly isn't true today, when Americans sitting in air-conditioned comfort on bases in the heart of the US can fly pilotless drones over the most inhospitable terrains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Simply, technology bridges the oceans and levels the land.
It wasn't even true in the second century BC, when Hannibal paid no heed to geography and marched an army, complete with elephants, clean over the Pyrenees and the Alps to spend a decade ravaging northern Italy.
Many of Kaplan's "geopolitical thinkers from earlier eras" appear merely anachronistic.

For example, he expresses his admiration for Nicholas J Spykman, a Dutch-American strategist of the Second World War, who in 1942 wrote that "geography does not argue. It simply is".

Geography, wrote Spykman in the book America's Strategy in World Politics, was the most fundamental factor in a state's foreign policy "because it is the most permanent". Ministers came and went, dictators died, "but mountain ranges stand unperturbed ... the Atlantic continues to separate Europe from the United States ... Alexander I, Czar of all the Russias, bequeathed to Joseph Stalin ... his endless struggle for access to the sea, and Maginot and Clemenceau have inherited from Caesar and Louis XIV anxiety over the open German frontier."

But does the Atlantic matter still, except perhaps as a purely imaginary bulwark against aggression - and exposed as such on 9/11.

Spykman, of course, was writing at a time when the nearest that mainland America was likely to come to foreign aggression was from a drifting incendiary balloon bomb launched by the Japanese in the jet stream over the Pacific. But by August 1945, when America dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, the US demonstrated conclusively that geography was no match for technology.
Pinning down exactly where Kaplan stands politically is a shade trickier. In an interview given seven years ago, he described himself as a "moderate, middle-of-the-road conservative" who was not "a proponent of democratic revolution. As a reporter on the ground I don't subscribe to this notion that all we've had are bad Arab dictators who've done terrible things to their people - that's nonsense". Although, on the other hand, he added, "an injection of Wilsonian intervention every now and then is a good thing".

To his own credit, Kaplan admits that, when it came to Iraq, at least, he was "a journalist who had gotten too close to my story". Reporting from the country in the 1980s, "observing how much more oppressive Saddam's Iraq was than Hafez Al Assad's Syria, I became intent on Saddam's removal".

In print "and as part of a group that had urged the Bush administration to invade", Kaplan had supported the Iraq War - and, not without irony, it is clear that his passion for having young men go to war in support of his personal moral framework was fuelled by what he had seen in the Balkans. There, "I had been impressed by the power of the American military" and, "given that Saddam had murdered directly or indirectly more people than Milosevic had and was a strategic menace believed to possess weapons of mass destruction, it seemed to me that ... intervention was warranted".

And still is, for Kaplan, in some circumstances that appear to be almost naively moral. It was, he said in that 2005 interview, "a truism that ... in a world of power, if good people don't engage with the struggle for power, even worse things ... happen. I think nothing would be so irresponsible for the US than to withdraw from ... the struggle for power".

It was not, he said, "the struggle for power that is ipso facto bad or evil, it's the values one brings to it, and the comparative values of your side versus the comparative values of the other side".

This world vision was formed by the Cold War, during which "I was a freelance journalist bumming around, literally, the Middle East, eastern Europe, and the suffering of the people in eastern Europe was not an abstraction to me, it was very real."
The Revenge of Geography emerges as an impressive yet ultimately bewildering complex web of original and borrowed ideas and theories - and much of the confusion stems from Kaplan hedging his bets on almost every page, undermining the thesis stated so boldly on the title page.
What matters though is where we can expect America to focus its energies if it is read as a blueprint in the corridors of power. And the answer is a surprising one.
Kaplan turns to the example of Rome for his grand plan for America.
The Roman Empire, he says, was at its height when "the client states that surrounded its Italianate core were sufficiently impressed with the 'totality' of Roman power to carry out the empire's wishes, without the need of occupation armies".

Rome's impressive legions were free to be deployed as and where needed. This, says Kaplan, was "power at its zenith, prudently exercised, run on an economy-of-force principle. A surge capacity was readily available for any military contingency and all in the Mediterranean world knew it ... everyone feared Rome."
Rome's mistake was to "territorialise" the empire, to deploy its troops everywhere to secure loyalty from tribes which, though superficially "Romanised", remained allied more to each other than to the alien culture of the empire. "Think," warns Kaplan, "of how globalisation, which in a sense constitutes an Americanisation of the world, nevertheless serves as a vehicle to defy American hegemony."

For Rome, the result was a fatal overstretch, and, says Kaplan, America today is "in frighteningly familiar territory. Just as Rome stabilised the Mediterranean littoral, the American navy and air force patrol the global commons to the benefit of all, even as this very service - as with Rome's - is taken for granted".

America must, therefore, "contemplate a grand strategy that seeks to restore its position" to "impress" its "allies and like-minded others ... to make them more effective on its behalf", and it can do that best "through an active diplomacy and the build-up of a reserve of troops, used sparingly, so as to restore its surge capacity".

And, like Rome, America should look closer to home for the real threat, which Kaplan sees as emanating not from across the oceans but from Mexico in the south-west, "the one area where America's national and imperial boundaries are in some tension: where the coherence of America as a geographically cohesive unit can be questioned".

At first, this seems highly fanciful, but Kaplan makes a compelling case that "the destiny of the United States will be north-south, rather than the east-west, sea-to-shining-sea of continental and patriotic myth".

It is, he says, a simple case of demographics and economics, with Mexico's poorer, younger and faster-growing population surging corrosively against America's southern border.

For Kaplan, crossing the border from the beggar-strewn streets of an impoverished and slipshod Nogales to the shiny but undermanned US border post was "as much of a shock for me as crossing the Jordan-Israel border and the Berlin Wall".

Mexico and its daily frictions with the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas is "geographically distant from the concerns of East Coast elites which, instead, focus on the wider world and on America's place in it". Mexico "registers far less in the elite imagination than does Israel or China, or India even. Yet Mexico could affect America's destiny more than any of those countries". America, says Kaplan, has "spent hundreds of billions of dollars to affect historical outcomes in Eurasia", yet is "curiously passive about what is happening in a country with which we share a long land border, that verges on disorder, and whose population is close to double that of Iraq and Afghanistan combined".

So what to do if Barack Obama is spotted with a copy of this book under his arm? Well, maybe rethink that winter break in Cancun, for a start.

But the more serious answer, perhaps, can be divined in the headlines arising out of America's increasingly bloody hands-on engagement with its southern neighbour's internal problems. Last month two CIA operatives who were part of America's multi-agency support of Mexico's war against its drug cartels were wounded when their US Embassy vehicle was ambushed by gunmen.

Geography, argues Kaplan, is at the heart of America's southern problem - in the shape of the artificial border it shares with Mexico, a country teetering on the verge of becoming a narcostate, with all that implies for the stability of the north. Troublingly, Kaplan may have anticipated the political zeitgeist once again.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Geography Strikes Back

From the Wall Street Journmal:  Geography Strikes Back

If you want to know what Russia, China or Iran will do next, don't read their newspapers or ask what our spies have dug up—consult a map. Geography can reveal as much about a government's aims as its secret councils. More than ideology or domestic politics, what fundamentally defines a state is its place on the globe. Maps capture the key facts of history, culture and natural resources. With upheaval in the Middle East and a tumultuous political transition in China, look to geography to make sense of it all.

As a way of explaining world politics, geography has supposedly been eclipsed by economics, globalization and electronic communications. It has a decidedly musty aura, like a one-room schoolhouse. Indeed, those who think of foreign policy as an opportunity to transform the world for the better tend to equate any consideration of geography with fatalism, a failure of imagination.

But this is nonsense. Elite molders of public opinion may be able to dash across oceans and continents in hours, allowing them to talk glibly of the "flat" world below. But while cyberspace and financial markets know no boundaries, the Carpathian Mountains still separate Central Europe from the Balkans, helping to create two vastly different patterns of development, and the Himalayas still stand between India and China, a towering reminder of two vastly different civilizations.

Technology has collapsed distance, but it has hardly negated geography. Rather, it has increased the preciousness of disputed territory. As the Yale scholar Paul Bracken observes, the "finite size of the earth" is now itself a force for instability: The Eurasian land mass has become a string of overlapping missile ranges, with crowds in megacities inflamed by mass media about patches of ground in Palestine and Kashmir.
Counterintuitive though it may seem, the way to grasp what is happening in this world of instantaneous news is to rediscover something basic: the spatial representation of humanity's divisions, possibilities and—most important—constraints. The map leads us to the right sorts of questions.

Why, for example, are headlines screaming about the islands of the South China Sea? As the Pacific antechamber to the Indian Ocean, this sea connects the energy-rich Middle East and the emerging middle-class fleshpots of East Asia. It is also thought to contain significant stores of hydrocarbons. China thinks of the South China Sea much as the U.S. thinks of the Caribbean: as a blue-water extension of its mainland. Vietnam and the Philippines also abut this crucial body of water, which is why we are seeing maritime brinkmanship on all sides. It is a battle not of ideas but of physical space. The same can be said of the continuing dispute between Japan and Russia over the South Kuril Islands.

Why does President Vladimir Putin covet buffer zones in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, just as the czars and commissars did before him? Because Russia still constitutes a vast, continental space that is unprotected by mountains and rivers. Putin's neo-imperialism is the expression of a deep geographical insecurity.

Or consider the decade since 9/11, which can't be understood apart from the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq. The mountains of the Hindu Kush separate northern Afghanistan, populated by Tajiks and Uzbeks, from southern and eastern Afghanistan, populated by Pushtuns. The Taliban are Sunni extremists like al Qaeda, to whom they gave refuge in the days before 9/11, but more than that, they are a Pushtun national movement, a product of Afghanistan's harsh geographic divide.

Moving eastward, we descend from Afghanistan's high tableland to Pakistan's steamy Indus River Valley. But the change of terrain is so gradual that, rather than being effectively separated by an international border, Afghanistan and Pakistan comprise the same Indo-Islamic world. From a geographical view, it seems naive to think that American diplomacy or military activity alone could divide these long-interconnected lands into two well-functioning states.

As for Iraq, ever since antiquity, the mountainous north and the riverine south and center have usually been in pitched battle. It started in the ancient world with conflict among Sumerians, Akkadians and Assyrians. Today the antagonists are Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The names of the groups have changed but not the cartography of war.

The U.S. itself is no exception to this sort of analysis. Why are we the world's pre-eminent power? Americans tend to think that it is because of who we are. I would suggest that it is also because of where we live: in the last resource-rich part of the temperate zone settled by Europeans at the time of the Enlightenment, with more miles of navigable, inland waterways than the rest of the world combined, and protected by oceans and the Canadian Arctic.

Even so seemingly modern a crisis as Europe's financial woes is an expression of timeless geography. It is no accident that the capital cities of today's European Union (Brussels, Maastricht, Strasbourg, The Hague) helped to form the heart of Charlemagne's ninth-century empire. With the end of the classical world of Greece and Rome, history moved north. There, in the rich soils of protected forest clearings and along a shattered coastline open to the Atlantic, medieval Europe developed the informal power relations of feudalism and learned to take advantage of technologies like movable type.

Indeed, there are several Europes, each with different patterns of economic development that have been influenced by geography. In addition to Charlemagne's realm, there is also Mitteleuropa, now dominated by a united Germany, which boasts few physical barriers to the former communist east. The economic legacies of the Prussian, Habsburg and Ottoman empires still influence this Europe, and they, too, were shaped by a distinctive terrain.

Nor is it an accident that Greece, in Europe's southeastern corner, is the most troubled member of the EU. Greece is where the Balkans and the Mediterranean world overlap. It was an underprivileged stepchild of Byzantine and then Turkish despotism, and the consequences of this unhappy geographic fate echo to this day in the form of rampant tax evasion, a fundamental lack of competitiveness, and paternalistic coffeehouse politics.

As for the strategic challenge posed to the West by China, we would do well not to focus too single-mindedly on economics and politics. Geography provides a wider lens. China is big in one sense: its population, its commercial and energy enterprises and its economy as a whole are creating zones of influence in contiguous parts of the Russian Far East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. But Chinese leaders themselves often see their country as relatively small and fragile: within its borders are sizable minority populations of Tibetans in the southwest, Uighur Turks in the west and ethnic-Mongolians in the north.

It is these minority areas—high plateaus virtually encircling the ethnic core of Han Chinese—where much of China's fresh water, hydrocarbons and other natural resources come from. The West blithely tells the Chinese leadership to liberalize their political system. But the Chinese leaders know their own geography. They know that democratization in even the mildest form threatens to unleash ethnic fury.

Because ethnic minorities in China live in specific regions, the prospect of China breaking apart is not out of the question. That is why Beijing pours Han immigrants into the big cities of Tibet and western Xinjiang province, even as it hands out small doses of autonomy to the periphery and continues to artificially stimulate the economies there. These policies may be unsustainable, but they emanate ultimately from a vast and varied continental geography, which extends into the Western Pacific, where China finds itself boxed in by a chain of U. S. naval allies from Japan to Australia. It is for reasons of geographic realpolitik that China is determined to incorporate Taiwan into its dominion.
In no part of the world is it more urgent for geography to inform American policy than in the Middle East, where our various ideological reflexes have gotten the better of us in recent years.
As advocates continue to urge intervention in Syria, it is useful to recall that the modern state of that name is a geographic ghost of its post-Ottoman self, which included what are now Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. Even that larger entity was less a well-defined place than a vague geographical expression. Still, the truncated modern state of Syria contains all the communal divides of the old Ottoman region. Its ethno-religious makeup since independence in 1944—Alawites in the northwest, Sunnis in the central corridor, Druze in the south—make it an Arab Yugoslavia in the making. These divisions are what long made Syria the throbbing heart of pan-Arabism and the ultimate rejectionist state vis-à-vis Israel. Only by appealing to a radical Arab identity beyond the call of sect could Syria assuage the forces that have always threatened to tear the country apart.

But this does not mean that Syria must now descend into anarchy, for geography has many stories to tell. Syria and Iraq both have deep roots in specific agricultural terrains that hark back millennia, making them less artificial than is supposed. Syria could yet survive as a 21st-century equivalent of early 20th-century Beirut, Alexandria and Smyrna: a Levantine world of multiple identities united by commerce and anchored to the Mediterranean. Ethnic divisions based on geography can be overcome, but only if we first recognize how formidable they are.

Finally, there is the problem of Iran, which has vexed American policy makers since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The U.S. tends to see Iranian power in ideological terms, but a good deal can be learned from the country's formidable geographic advantages.

The state of Iran conforms with the Iranian plateau, an impregnable natural fortress that straddles both oil-producing regions of the Middle East: the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Moreover, from the western side of the Iranian plateau, all roads are open to Iraq down below. And from the Iranian plateau's eastern and northeastern sides, all roads are open to Central Asia, where Iran is building roads and pipelines to several former Soviet republics.

Geography puts Iran in a favored position to dominate both Iraq and western Afghanistan, which it does nicely at the moment. Iran's coastline in the Persian Gulf's Strait of Hormuz is a vast 1,356 nautical miles long, with inlets perfect for hiding swarms of small suicide-attack boats. But for the presence of the U.S. Navy, this would allow Iran to rule the Persian Gulf. Iran also has 300 miles of Arabian Sea frontage, making it vital for Central Asia's future access to international waters. India has been helping Iran develop the port of Chah Bahar in Iranian Baluchistan, which will one day be linked to the gas and oil fields of the Caspian basin.
Iran is the geographic pivot state of the Greater Middle East, and it is essential for the United States to reach an accommodation with it. The regime of the ayatollahs descends from the Medes, Parthians, Achaemenids and Sassanids of yore—Iranian peoples all—whose sphere of influence from the Syrian desert to the Indian subcontinent was built on a clearly defined geography.

There is one crucial difference, however: Iran's current quasi-empire is built on fear and suffocating clerical rule, both of which greatly limit its appeal and point to its eventual downfall. Under this regime, the Technicolor has disappeared from the Iranian landscape, replaced by a grainy black-and-white. The West should be less concerned with stopping Iran's nuclear program than with developing a grand strategy for transforming the regime.

In this very brief survey of the world as seen from the standpoint of geography, I don't wish to be misunderstood: Geography is common sense, but it is not fate. Individual choice operates within a certain geographical and historical context, which affects decisions but leaves many possibilities open. The French philosopher Raymond Aron captured this spirit with his notion of "probabilistic determinism," which leaves ample room for human agency.

But before geography can be overcome, it must be respected. Our own foreign-policy elites are too enamored of beautiful ideas and too dismissive of physical facts-on-the-ground and the cultural differences that emanate from them. Successfully navigating today's world demands that we focus first on constraints, and that means paying attention to maps. Only then can noble solutions follow. The art of statesmanship is about working just at the edge of what is possible, without ever stepping over the brink.

—Mr. Kaplan is chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm. This article is adapted from his book, "The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate," which will be published Tuesday by Random House.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ready to rock

From C21 Medisa:  Ready to rock

Former Channel 4 documentary chief Hamish Mykura talks to Clive Whittingham about his new role with National Geographic and how the network is revolutionising its output.

Rarely has there been such an about-turn in the programming ethos of a network as the one National Geographic is currently attempting to pull off at its US and international channels.
From a position where the output skewed 80/20 in favour of one-off docs, Nat Geo is attempting to completely reverse that in favour of character-led, returnable series in double-quick time under CEO David Lyle, who was appointed in August 2011.
To that end National Geographic Channels International hired Hamish Mykura, former head of documentaries at the UK’s Channel 4, at the turn of the year to lead a London-based commissioning hub.
Although Mykura praises the UK production community for swiftly adapting to Nat Geo’s demands he does admit that initially it was a challenge. “When I came here I had to say to people ‘Whatever ideas you’ve brought in to pitch me, let’s not even discuss them, let’s discuss some other ideas, because they won’t be right for what I’m looking for,’” he says.
Hamish Mykura
Hamish Mykura
Mykura, officially Nat Geo’s executive VP and head of international content, now finds himself up against Julian Bellamy, with whom he used to work at C4 where Bellamy was chief creative officer. Bellamy is now creative director and head of production and development at Discovery Networks International, heading a commissioning team in London. Mykura admits they are now chasing similar programmes.
“Julian and I worked closely together at C4,” he says. “There certainly will be some of our programmes that could work on different channels, but there are certain values to Nat Geo that make it distinct. There are some areas where we would try to dominate, and even though other channels may try to have a crack at them, we’ll always be the place where people expect that kind of programming – the big exploration adventures, for example.”
Like Discovery, and others besides, the key isn’t so much the subject matter as the formats, which now have to be entertainment-based and returnable. “There are values that people identify with clearly for Nat Geo,” Mykura says. “That yellow rectangular border that we all know from the magazine carries a lot of meaning and you know that programmes are going to have a certain set of values and be a certain kind of programme about a certain kind of subject: the outdoors, anthropology, exploration, engineering, history, man and the environment.
“What we can do is still be true to these values but make a different kind of programme about these subject areas, so the programmes themselves don’t have to be stuffy, formal or old fashioned in any way.
“The challenge is finding new ways of making programmes about anthropology or engineering that are entertaining and character-led but at the same time stay true to what Nat Geo is.”
Nat Geo may be a later convert than some of its rivals but it’s certainly now singing from the same hymn sheet as most other factual channels and producers around the world. However, the trend towards more character-driven, returnable series has led to accusations of dumbing down. When History is airing Pawn Stars and Swamp People and Nat Geo is commissioning competition series, is it valid to wonder if the ‘fact’ has gone from factual? Where is the history on History? Where is the geography on Nat Geo?
Delegates at History Makers International in New York in January and Sheffield Doc/Fest in June asked as much, but Mykura brushes aside concerns about reduced factual content in modern series.
“I’ve been in the world of documentary making in TV for 15 or 20 years now,” he says. “Every year you find people standing up at forums like History Makers or Doc/Fest saying documentary is in terminal decline, it’s dumbing down, it’s disastrous. Yet every year there seems to be more of it around, more variety in the way it’s being made, more creativity in it, better and better people getting drawn into making factual.
“I don’t think it’s true to say that documentary is being dumbed down or new formats are less intelligent. There isn’t any evidence of that at all. Finding new ways of making programmes and refreshing them is always a good thing. People will always tell you the old way was better, but the old way often wasn’t better. There are a lot of good-old-days merchants in this business.”
Mykura was with C4′s factual department for a decade, most recently combining the role of head of documentaries with being head of its diginet More 4.
BBC Storyville editor Nick Fraser told delegates at Sheffield he felt it was a “minor scandal” that C4 had bumped a lot of its serious factual content on to More 4 and that nobody had complained.
Mykura talks a lot about the balance of schedules, and insists there is still a role for serious one-offs, on both the domestic terrestrial channel he left behind and the international network he has joined. “What we’re doing here corresponds very much with what I’ve been doing at More 4 and the documentary department at C4, where the moves were towards series that you could really return.
“There’s always going to be room for one-offs and singles but they have to be special and really stand out. You don’t just want these programmes to be talked about on the TV pages of the newspaper, you want them to be in the news pages.”
Mykura points to filmmaker James Cameron’s dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific, which made for an excellent one-off film, as an example of a strong character and concept that attracted media coverage. “A lot of it is about getting the mix right. If you’re having more formatted long-running series then there needs to be space within that for single films and for events that have one-off impact and distinction,” he says. “It’s about making sure there is a channel ecology that has a mix of programmes going on. It’s always one of the things I’ve been focused on at the channels I’ve worked for, and it’s the same at Nat Geo.”
The first commission to come from Mykura’s programming hub is Strippers: Cars for Cash, a 10x60′ competition series in which UK classic car enthusiasts take apart old bangers to see who can make the most profit by selling the parts. Attaboy TV is producing for an autumn premiere.
Two US factual shows, Doomsday Preppers and Family Guns, are also rolling out internationally, and Nat Geo is hoping to enjoy some of the success History had with Hatfields & McCoys when it airs its own dramatised historical production Killing Lincoln early next year.
Family Guns, made by UK indie Firecracker Films, focuses on a father and son who run the biggest military memorabilia dealership in New Jersey, According to Mykura, the series shows the strength of the UK production industry and explains why Discovery and Nat Geo have chosen to set up international commissioning hubs in London. “The key is having close relationships with the production community,” he says. “The UK really is at the forefront of factual production. We’re talking about what we’re after, they’re bringing us ideas and we get on the same wavelength.
“The objective is to be working with the best people in town and to be the first port of call for people with new ideas so people get into the habit of bringing their best ideas to us.”
The keys to achieving that, according to Mykura, are responding quickly, being clear in what the company wants and paying well. Without going into specifics, he says his team is paying fees on a par with terrestrial channels, if it likes the content enough.
Also key is Nat Geo’s approach to rights retention and this issue reared its head last month, after John McVay, CEO of indie trade body Pact, voiced concerns about UK indies handing over all rights to commissions from international pay-TV networks in the UK.
Responding to McVay’s concerns at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Mykura said: “There is a pre-conception on the part of some of the UK producers that there are absolutely no deal on rights available from the international broadcasters, so we might as well not bother… But actually, when people come and have those conversations, they are often surprised by the number and range of different rates and deals that can be done,” said Mykura.
“I’ve been dazzled by the extraordinary number and complexity of ways in which these rights packages can sometimes be carved up, and also by the number of coproduction partners that we can deal with… These deals can be very lucrative and good business for production companies.”
Mykura’s team has recently been completed at senior level with the appointment of Edward Sayer, formerly with ITV Studios, as commissioning editor alongside Hannah Demidowicz. Mykura previously promoted Matt Taylor to oversee programming and content for the international market, after he previously looked after Europe, and brought in Jules Oldroyd, with whom he worked at C4, as VP of programming and strategic development. “That’s basically my team in place. I have all the major roles appointed and we’re ready to rock,” says Mykura.
Rocking to a new tune certainly, but he’s also keen to maintain the traditional Nat Geo values.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Students use feet, hands to study geography

From the Decatur Daily: Students use feet, hands to study geography

Matt McKean/TimesDaily
Chelsey Crum, an elementary education major, gives a tour of a giant map of Asia to a group of kindergarten students at Cherokee Elementary School.
CHEROKEE — First-grader Brody Thompson admits that before Thursday, he didn’t know the world was so big.
But after a geography lesson at his school with the “biggest map I’ve ever seen,” the Cherokee Elementary student and his classmates are seeing the world a little differently.
Thanks to the Alabama Geographic Alliance, a subsidiary of the National Geographic Alliance, a traveling map of Asia, measuring 26-by-36 feet, has occupied much of the school gymnasium since Thursday morning.
National Geographic’s giant traveling maps program began in 2006 with a map of Africa and has since expanded to include maps of North America, South America, the Pacific Ocean and now Asia.
With the maps, students have interactive geography lessons where they walk on the map, plot countries, islands and famous landmarks among other activities and learn about each place.
Student interns from the University of North Alabama conducted the geography lessons. The map comes with a trunk of supplies and lesson plans for each continent.
Chelsey Crum, a senior education major at UNA, walked around Asia with the class and plotted famous landmarks such as the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. Marking it with a yellow cone, Crum put her foot on the name on the map.
“I have my foot on Mount Everest,” she told the students. “Now, how many people can say they’ve done that?”
Retired educators Micki McWilliams and Peggy Clay, both members of the Alabama Geographic Alliance, said the program is not only worthwhile, it’s especially needed because Alabama’s mandated curriculum requires little geography.
“Geography provides the perfect framework for all the curriculum,” said Clay, who served as the country’s first teacher-in-residence for the National Geographic Society.
She added that the benefit of the large map is that everything is magnified as opposed to just dots, giving the students a sense of reality.
McWilliams called the program “meaningful geography.”
“This is one of the greatest programs National Geographic has done,” she said.
Brody Thompson said he only knew America when he saw it on a map. Now, he said he would be able to locate Asia and Mount Everest.
“Really the only country I’ve ever really known about was America, but it sure wasn’t on that map,” he said. “I wish I had a map that big, but it would take up my whole house. Asia is a lot bigger than I thought.”
The traveling map moves next to Wilson School.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 Offers Great Geography Lessons

From Free Technology for Teachers Blog: Offers Great Geography Lessons offers a series of progressively more difficult geography lessons and quizzes. In the beginning you're limited to one region and or continent at a time. As you master each region or continent you earn badges and unlock new challenges.

I really like the manner in which presents the lessons. In each lesson you're shown a country, the country's name is read to you, then you practice identifying it in two ways. You identify countries by choosing the name of the country that is highlighted for you. You also identify countries by selecting the one of the three highlighted that match the name you're given.

Applications for Education
Unfortunately, the only way that you can register to use is with a Facebook account. If that changes in the future, could be a great resource for students to practice identifying the countries of the world.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brazil Economists Reduce 2012 GDP Growth Forecasts to 1.64% - Survey

From NASDAQ:  Brazil Economists Reduce 2012 GDP Growth Forecasts to 1.64% - Survey

SAO PAULO--Financial market analysts and economists have reduced their forecast for Brazil's economic expansion this year for the fifth consecutive week, after weak economic performance so far this year, according to the weekly central bank survey released Monday. <P>
Analysts reduced their view for economic exp ansion for 2012 to 1.64% growth in gross domestic product, from growth of 1.73% the previous week. <P>
On Friday, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, or IBGE, showed that the country's economy grew at its slowest pace in nearly three years in the second quarter. <P>
Brazil's gross domestic product expanded 0.5% in the second quarter compared with the second quarter of 2011. That was less than economists' forecast for 0.7%, and the economy's worst performance since contracting 1.5% in the third quarter of 2009. Brazil's GDP also advanced 0.4% in the second quarter compared with the first quarter, for an annualized growth rate of 1.6%. <P>
In the meantime, analysts keep their forecast for Brazil's GDP growth for next year at 4%. <P>
The central bank's weekly survey tracks the opinions of 100 analysts and economists and reports the average of their expectations. <P>
Market analysts and economists increased their forecast for Brazil's 2012 year-end inflation for the eighth consecutive week, to 5.20% from 5.19%. <P>
The inflation view for the end of 2013 was raised to 5.51% from 5.5%. Brazil's inflation rate was 6.5% last year, the highest since 7.6% in 2004. <P>
The average forecast for the benchmark Selic interest rate for the end of 2012 was maintained at 7.25%, while analysts' outlook for the next year increased to 8.50% from 8.25%. The rate is currently at 7.5%. <P>
The average expectation for Brazil's debt-to-GDP ratio at the end of this year was maintained at 35.25%. <P>
The forecast for this year's trade surplus was increased slightly to $18.04 billion from $18 billion. Economists expect Brazil to post a current-account deficit of $58.80 billion at the end of this year. <P>
Brazil's currency, the real, is expected to end this year at BRL2.00 to the dollar, according to the survey.