Spero T Lappas's HACC World Geography Blog

"Everywhere's been where it is ever since it was first put there. It's called geography." Terry Pratchett

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The World of WikiLeaks

Julian Assange, the creator of WikiLeaks is famously embroiled in a current controversy which aptly demonstrates the inter-connectedness of the world's states. He is an Australian, wanted by Sweden, arrested in Great Britain, and pursued by America for telling the truth about Iraq. The complexities of international extradition law aside, there seems to be no doubt, anymore, that the extraordinary efforts to return him to Sweden to face a dubious prosecution have really been engineered by American officials who want to bring him to ground so that they can indict him for security leaks here. Needless to say, this is an abiuse of international law, but more to our point (geography) this case illustrates the obsolescnce of locality in an internet driven world. Assange's American crimes, if he committed any, never required that he set foot in America. His disclosure of secret documents, and his receipt of them for that matter, happened in another place that has no relevance to his events. He has no real home, and when found in England he was initially denied bail because he couldn't provide the court with an address. His supporters come from all over the globe, part of his bond was posted by American film maker Michael Moore, and some of them are avenging his detention by launching denial of service attacks on foreign and domestic websites that have abandoned WikiLeaks. Now that he is free on bail, the question of whether he goes back to Sweden seems to be the least of his worries. This global story will, I suspect, end with his arrival in America and with a fantastic show trial which pits our much vaunted love for transparent democracy with the government's persistent efforts to keep its own secrets.

My second column

This month's Patriot Newspaper column is about religious displays on public land. I hope you enjoy it.

Why Study Geography?

For my tenth post of the semester, I thought I'd finish with a few personal thoughts about why I decided to study geography. I graduated from college many years ago, went on to law school, have taught in a law school and have lectured at and been the faculty planner at legal education programs in a variety of subjects. I have been published in national journals and local newspapers, and continue to write fiction and non-fiction on many topics. This is to say that I am not studying geography for the 3 credits, or to satisfy a degree requirement, or because it is a requirement for a program which I hope to complete. I have taken 4 courses at HACC in the last few years and all of them have had one defining connection: I knew next to nothing about the subject. There are other subjects taught here that I would enjoy studying -- philosophy, finance, English, to name a few -- but I already know a fair amount about those. So I decided to devote my limited free time to learning new things and expanding my intellectual horizons. Hence, World Geography -- a field in which I was nearly a total novice.

I still am not an expert, far from it, but the exposure to new fields is always broadening and this one has been no exception. I now know where Singapore is. I know about the Japan Model, and I know why deserts are often near mountain ranges. I haven't mastered Google Earth but I know that it exists and that it has functionalities which I never suspected.

So why study geography? Some answers are here, but my personal answer is simply that new thoughts stretch your mind in unexpected directions. Thanks to all who made this class a worthwhile experience.

The Ninth Nuclear Power?

Recently, Stanford University physicist Siegfried Hecker wrote abpout his inspection of North Korea's nuclear facilities and announced that the country's level of advancement was far higher than suspected by the American public. There is no doubt, says Hecker, that NK's abilities to produce highly enriched uranium make it a significant player in the club of nuclear states. This is hardly news. In 2006 North Korea detonated its first known nuclear bomb, and since then it has made no secret of the fact that it intends to be and act like a nuclear power. As described in the wonderful (and terrifying) documentary Countdown to Zero, NK has long expressed a willingness to partner with other rogue states toward the goal of establishing a nuclear weapon delivery system. Particularly daunting is the threat of a NK and Pakistan alliance. Pakistan is a known nuclear state, it has far more weapons that NK, but it has paltry missle technology. NK, on the other hand, has been developing missle delivery systems for years. It is hard to imagine a more de-stabilizing development on the world stage than a combination of the highly aggressive North Korea and the politically disfunctional pakistan, directed to employing nuclear weapons against their perceived Western enemies.

Our Man in the Orient: Japan

At a time when America's economic interests and security vulnerabilities seem to involve the enhanced commercial force of China and North Korea's forays into increased militancy, it is ironic that we turn to our former military and commercial rival Japan. But that is the point of the Japan's new military focus and outlook. Japan will re-focus its miltary attention to China and Korea, and not surprisingly this will involve American cooperation and involvement. japan and China have ancient enmity, of course. And Korea's aggression is a threat to the entire Pacific rim. But without American prodding there is grave doubt that Japan would have selected this moment to reassign its priorities.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Not really about geography but . . . . .

I have been invited to write a regular monthly column for the Harrisburg Patriot. Here's the first one.

PS to Professor Ernst: I know this does not count towards my quota, but I hope you enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The level of Internet freedom “is better than in any other Arab country, but it is not good.”

In an antiquated battle with current communications technologies, Lebanese authorities have arrested a blogger who criticized that country's army. This effort -- to insulate the national government from criticism -- strikes me as a failure to recognize realistic limits, including the geographical limits, to the physical restraint of speech.

In an earlier world where "free press" really needed a printing press, soldiers could effectively police their jurisdiction by breaking down doors and smashing the machinery of duplication. Today anyone with internet access can flood the world with their opinions, as YouTube recently recognized as it was persuaded to remove jihadist content from its site. As I have suggested in previous posts, the meaning of borders diminishes every day even while the power of locality remains strong. Lebanon is "free-er" than nearby Syria, so Syrians can still be shot for criticizing their government. But criticism remains available to Syrians as long as they can get on-line. Freedom to speak has always entailed freedom to listen and until dictators learn how to stop electrons at the borders, they cannot staunch the invasion of cyber insurgency.