Aspects of Berlin’s Dysfunctionality

Geography Berlin is a bureaucratic nightmare and, as The Economist magazine reported, a city that is dysfunctional on many different levels.  In debt for nearly 60 billion Euros, Berlin drains more from the national account than it contributes, which is unusual in Europe where national capitals are usually the main economic drivers.  In this mess, a major contributor to the dysfunctional reality of Berlin’s existence—its cultural geography—deserves attention. Geographic factors have played an instrumental role in Berlin’s fate during the

Revisiting Afghanistan-Related Ignorance

Mustafa and I first met when we engaged in a conversation atop an elevated area overlooking Kabul City and surrounding area. The views extended even farther from the metropolitan area and we could see toward other provinces.  In distance, mountains separating Kapisa and Panjsher looked astonishing that day.  Mustafa commented that one should go to Panjsher if for no other reason than to just relax in nature and eat fish caught in local streams.  I agreed. Lives of Others From

Space, Cultural Region, Migrants

Some European Union members’ decision to minimize acceptance of asylum seekers, migrants, and fellow travelers has generated many heated discussions.  The political leaders and populace of countries in question, from Poland to Hungary, face labels of bigotry and xenophobia for their unwillingness to allow “progress and change.”  If this is correct, then we first need to define bigotry, xenophobia, articulate what is change, and evaluate how it is beneficial for this geographic region. According to the Cambridge Dictionary a bigot

I Refuse to Meet Your Demands, Attack Me!

Slavs exhibit an interesting cultural trait, which varies to a degree depending upon region, but is present across eastern Europe.  Individually and collectively, they operate better in hardship then during times of peaceful prosperity.  A tradition of pessimism and a collective memory of having nothing left to lose in a fight for survival—a reflection of long historical experience of difficult periods—has equipped them to confront crises and conflicts with considerable self-confidence. As a crisis grows in magnitude so does their

Over-classified Geographic Intelligence Reports

When news about the assassination of Afghan Brigadier General, Abdul Raziq Achakzai, arrived in my news feed, my first thought, unsurprisingly, was “There will be some interesting geographic implications as an outcome of this.”  Raziq was a prominent strongman in southern Afghanistan and Kandahar Province.  I remember well his rise in reputation during my work in Afghanistan. In New York Times’ article covering the assassination one paragraph, in particular, stood out: “The United States military now stands to lose a

Geography from the Ringside of Conflict

Global affairs are shaped by two opposite stances in attempts to control space, i.e., regions and countries.  The first one employs offensive actions in order to dominate.  The second counters with defense. Where and when two opponents meet, a defining moment occurs that leads to a triumph of the side better prepared to exploit its opponent’s weaknesses.  Such conflict is philosophical as much as physical, because a single side cannot be aggressive and defensive at the same time.  It must

Geographers as International Assassins

The saga about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, United Kingdom, continues six months later.  Last week, the British government announced the identities of two Russian citizens, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as prime suspects in this case and members of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.  The Russian government replied that the two gentlemen were civilians and tourists visiting London and Salisbury for a brief

September 9, 2001

Two days prior to the September 11th, 2001, attacks in the United States, an assassination happened in northern Afghanistan.  This event meant little to the Americans then and it means little to the Americans today.  Afghans of all ethnicities, on the other hand, care about September 9th much more than September 11th, although not all of them for the same reason. As unresolved ethnic issues continue to be ignored like they do not exist (please consult my Afghanistan archive for

Germans’ Dilemma

As latest news reports from Chemnitz, in the federal state of Saxony, about anti-immigrant protests began to arrive, I was sipping coffee in Eisenhüttenstadt, federal state of Brandenburg. Developed in 1950s, and initially named Stalinstadt, Eisenhüttenstadt (“Ironworks city”), it was the first planned socialist industrial community in East Germany.  Its role was to boost industrial development, provide employment to thousands of workers, and in an indirect manner a home and work for refugees.  The refugees at that time were not

John Quincy Adams, Isolationist and Putin Troll

Contemporary critics of the American foreign entanglements are quickly labeled isolationists who troll for Russian President, Vladimir Putin, subverting freedom, democracy, and the world order.  If former United States Secretary of State (1817-1825) and the country’s President (1825-1829), John Quincy Adams, returned to Earth today he would be among them (and, highly likely, on top of the TSA’s no-fly list, too). An attitude of non-interventionism equaling success has been distorted into a belief that being in everyone’s business is somehow

Geographic Analysis and Military Intelligence’s Peter Principle

Anecdotal Evidence A friend of mine from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) shared an experience from a Department of Defense (DoD) pre-deployment training into a warzone.  The topic of the hour was reading maps and understanding basic elements of geography.  An instructor arrived, started the class, pulled out a map, and began instruction with “This blue color you see on this map indicates water.” The rest of the hour continued in an equally pedestrian manner with a good number

The House of Afghan-Identity Cards

Majority of references to conditions in contemporary Afghanistan are mentioned in a context of its fragile security, institutionalized corruption, and public officials’ widespread incompetence.  One topic that encompasses all three categories is population enumeration.  Afghanistan has never conducted a full census (1979 census was only partially completed); its current demographic numbers are estimates and projections.  This is extremely important in terms of political power struggle and ethnic geography. In multi-ethnic countries each group tends to inflate its own numbers, hoping

Empire, Oracle, and an Attack on Russia, China, and America

In the sixth century BC, the Lydian emperor Croesus faced a dilemma of entering a war with Persia, a formidable opponent rising in power.  Prior to making a decision about war, Croesus decided to consult the Oracle of Delphi.  The answer he received was simple. If he attacks the Persians a great empire will be destroyed.  Armed with this information, Croesus attacked the Persians and lost, thereby destroying his own empire and changing the fate of his own people. Fast

Generals and Majors in Kabul City

A few mornings ago, I slowly sipped my coffee and browsed the news when a headline caught my eye: US focusing Anti-Taliban effort inside Kabul.  My first reaction was “Oh, this is going to be good,” which an opening paragraph confirmed: “The Afghan capital is now the main focus of the anti-Taliban fight, with U.S. special forces conducting raids in the sprawling city and additional American military advisers arriving to help beleaguered local police, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan

Anthropologists’ Contempt for Geographers in a Combat Zone and Beyond

Considering the scope of cultural anthropologists’ influence within the Department of Defense (DoD)—compared to that of other social scientists—it is worth discussing whether the U.S. Military and the Intelligence Community (IC) have received an adequate return on their investment.  I believe that DoD’s high expectations from cultural anthropologists, followed by large financial investments into different programs and frameworks, have fallen far short of their intended contribution. Among the myriad reasons for underperformance, those related to the professional relationship between anthropologists

Geography of Conflict at a Micro Scale – Mike Pence’s Korean Odyssey

Interaction displayed at the Winter Olympics’ luncheon for peace—organized by the President of the Republic of Korea—and the American Vice-President’s actions have made me recall my recent comments in Scale, Magnitude and Power in Geography of Conflict.  Of particular importance are the following passages: ———- When we observe how contemporary humans utilize space, and what kind of conflicts stem from their behavior, it helps us to understand why countries behave in their particular ways.  Beware, however, that countries are concepts

Training Day 16 Years Later

Individuals, tribes, and nations operate within cultural systems.  They influence changes in systems and, in response, the systems influence them.  Comprehending how to work well with and within the system is not an easily obtainable skill. Alonzo Harris 2001 In the fall of 2001, the year that changed the United States forever, the critically-acclaimed movie “Training Day” premiered in theaters worldwide.  Denzel Washington’s leading role ultimately landed him an Academy Award for the best actor. His character, Alonzo Harris is

Access and Isolation in Appalachian “Hollers”

When Social Justice Warriors from the urban conurbation of northern Virginia and Maryland decide to visit West Virginia and Kentucky, they leave their work behind and travel to vacation homes or visit whiskey distilleries.  In Hodgenville, Kentucky, sometimes they stop by the birthplace of the “Great Emancipator,” Abraham Lincoln, for a cone of ice cream (“dry” county!) and a quick refresher on how great is our indivisible nation. In West Virginia, they listen to, and perhaps even sing John Denver

Spatial Masterpiece of a Political Prison’s Cell

Prison cells share almost-universal physical characteristics: four walls, a door, a bed to sleep, a place to relieve oneself, and seldom a source of natural light.  Their specific use, however, depends on a cultural context; the four walls of a prison cell—and by extension the prison’s perimeter walls, too—can transform a purely physical imprisonment into something much different. This is particularly evident in prisons that house political prisoners. Two types of prisoners, common criminals and those incarcerated for political reasons,

Scale, Magnitude, and Power in Geography of Conflict

Every human action creates a certain degree of spatial impact.  Although their essential causes can be similar, outcomes of some actions are barely noticeable, whereas others can transform the course of humanity.  Conflict between rowdy Walmart shoppers on Black Friday has no different cause than wars between two or more countries—the actors fight for control over space, power, and resources.  What makes a difference between these two types of conflicts is their scale and magnitude of outcome. A midnight brawl

The Secret Team’s Methodology and Cultural Geographic Legacy

All conflicts in the world—whether local, regional, or global in scale—cannot be devoid of three fundamental components.  The first two are space (geography) and time (history).  The third aspect is culture; all human actions and reactions that occur within a defined space and time.  When identical methodology is applied to identical problems even in different space and time, outcomes can be similar if not identical.  In the context of origins and evolution of conflicts, their relation to each other, we

An Update on Prophets and Villains

Since I wrote The Time Has Arrived to Listen to the Prophets (full text below) some major changes influencing future geography of conflict have occurred.  In China, the “red tsar” has been inaugurated. Mr. Xi Jinping is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Meanwhile, China’s attempt to dethrone the global hegemon is entering another stage: “The new strategy is to enlist the energy markets’ help: Beijing may introduce a new way to price oil in coming months — but

Cultural Geographic Simplicity and Complexity of Europe

One of the more prominent intellectual fallacies is outsiders’ skewed perception of Europe as a region of cultural geographic simplicity.  Such a view stems from a superficial understanding of its complexity.  It is based primarily upon comparisons between Europe and seemingly more complex regions in Africa and Asia.  After all, explorers and colonizers did not venture towards distant and unexplored shores, deserts, and rainforests of Europe; their exploration of the world originated here and spread outward. For the modern day

From Creativity to Invention to Implementation

“Men collectively, for instance, never have a joint creative impulse, and rarely, any kind of joint positive impulse, except when it is instilled into them by one man. A crowd of people never painted a picture, wrote a book, composed a song, or spontaneously hit upon the idea of doing much of anything else that was constructive. Even in primitive societies, doing or building is the result of conference in which individuals speak their minds. The acts of crowds, when

Adverse Effects of the Adjective “Cold,” the Mental Valium for Geopolitical Anxiety

“The new Cold War is coming,” increasingly echoes in the American media’s editorials, talk show discussions, and comment sections on the Internet.  Closer attention reveals that the emphasis is on “Cold,” rather than “War,” as if the word war has lost its traditional true meaning. Perhaps it has, because the residents of the United States are in a perpetual state of war with something.  Terrorism, drugs, cancer, childhood obesity, illiteracy, poverty, diabetes, racism, social media, and insurance scams are just

Repercussions from Sidelining Geography in the American Cultural System

“Americans have to learn geography, because they are living now in a world in which they’re no longer isolated…and they simply will not make—will not be able to make—sense out of what they read in their newspapers and about the decisions their government makes unless they understand some historical and above all, geographical, relationships.”    Henry Kissinger American educational, corporate, and governmental spheres suffer from a well-documented spatial paradox.  Our interaction with the world has never been more complex, while our

Kabul, Afghanistan’s Gordian Knot

The most difficult issue to discuss about Afghanistan’s future is that of ethnic groups, particularly their distribution relevance to political power.  Blindly ignoring it has been widespread among the foreign providers of funds for the country’s security and reconstruction.  Their actions resemble that of land developers near the San Andreas Fault, who hope that an anticipated cataclysmic earthquake will occur after they develop and sell the properties. People of various ethnicities do exist in Afghanistan and occupy territory they specifically

Deconstructing Seattle’s Construction

The growth rate of Seattle’s commercial and residential construction, much of which I can observe from my home, has reached unprecedented levels.  Satellite imagery on Google Maps cannot keep a pace with the ever-expanding Amazon campus in South Lake Union.  Facebook and Google are also “sneaking in” their operational facilities closer to Amazon. Figure 1. Landscape of downtown Seattle, a tourist destination and a builders’ playground. (All photographs were taken by the author.) Recently erected residential towers designed for luxury

The War Between the States of Mind in Virginia and Elsewhere

A significant portion of contemporary Americans hold an interesting perspective on the War Between the States (aka: the Civil War).  They liken it to a Super Bowl game, an annual single championship skirmish in football in which the winner takes all. The losers cannot challenge the score and have to go home suffering the humility of defeat?  In 1865, two years after fumbling cannonballs at Gettysburg, the Confederate States lost and had to go home. War is a Spectator Sport

American Military and Intel, Planning and Operations; Knowledge of Post-Soviet and Russian Cultural Geography—Priceless

Paper Value Russian affairs specialists were among the first people in the Intelligence Community’s (IC) to experience an impact of post-9/11 environmental change. It began immediately in the fall of 2001. Almost overnight their expertise became obsolete.  They became dinosaurs with resumes whose value was equal to that of the paper they were printed on.  Hardly anyone in Washington D.C. area was hiring people with regional expertise in the post-Soviet geographic realm.  Many, however, were opening an inordinate amount of