Friday, July 23, 2010

Mato Grosso: The Future of Food

Last week I heard a very well-produced story about the expansion of soybean production in Mato Grosso, which is a huge savanna area just south of my old rain forest haunts in Rondonia, Brazil. Bruce Gellerman is one of my favorite environmental reporters, and he did a masterful job of explaining the many ways in which landscape change in this part of Brazil is connected to both causes and consequences throughout the world.

It is for this reason that I decided to make his story of modern frontier expansion the focus of my first article for the new blog, Wiley GeoDiscoveries. I will be writing for the blog regularly over the next year or so, and Mato Grosso: The Future of Food is my first contribution.

Geography and Science

I claim that geography is both a natural science and a social science, with a bit of the arts thrown in. A recent article about one of my department's outreach projects makes the case for the natural science side.

The Real USDA Racism Story

If there is any good to have come from the sordid affair of Shirley Sherrod's firing from the US Department of Agriculture, it is the possibility -- however slim -- that this fake story about reverse racism will lead to some justice in an incredibly well-documented story of actual racism.
Meanwhile, the fringe blogosphere rages on about the oppression of the majority. When economic times are tough, the majority begins to suffer in ways that are normally common for the minority, and eventually some  get resentful and start to think that the minority is somehow victimizing the majority. In such times, demagogues will always emerge to take advantage of the fear, and to help divert attention toward scapegoats. I've written a lot in this space about how this translates to discussions of immigration; it is even more deeply rooted in discussions of race.

In the present case, one white family was supposed to have been the victim of a racist African-American government official, and she got fired. The incident was 24 years ago, and she in fact did help them. The story was about the feelings she overcame in the process of doing so. The supposed "victims" of Sherrod's racism, Eloise and Roger Spooner, rushed to her defense and are at this point planning a reunion.

So the white victim of racism in this case was not real. "Reverse" racism might exist somewhere, but not in this case. Meanwhile, very real cases of racism have been documented, proven in court, and awarded compensation. The United States Senate has, however, so far refused to fund to the compensation due hun

The National Black Farmers Association is hoping that the attention to the one fake case might just lead to justice in the thousands of real cases, and is calling on all friends of farmers to do something about it. NPR's Brian Naylor describes the deep history of racism at USDA and the claims of many thousands of African American, Latino, and female farmers who have proven their cases but received nothing so far. Some have, in fact died of old age while waiting.

Back to the Sherrod story: as reporter Mara Liasson mentioned in a story about the president's apology to Ms. Sherrod, most people involved in this case have apologized, from Secretary Vilsack and President Obama to the NAACP (partly) and Bill O'Reilly (partly). The only person not to have apologized is the real culprit, faux journalist Andrew Breitbart, who is most responsible for starting this mess.

Of course, what energized this whole incident was the recent controversy over the NAACP characterizing some elements of the Tea Party movement as racist. This video, posted on the NAACP site, provides more than a few bits of anecdotal evidence.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Direct Trade Coffee

Most of the coffee I buy is Fair Trade, which means it comes from cooperatives of small-scale farmers and meets the certification requirements of Transfair or TransfairUSA. I plan to continue buying most of my coffee this way, because of all I have heard, read, and seen about this model.

A number of people I have met in the industry -- including quite reputable buyers and some of the farmers themselves -- have criticized some of the certification requirements and the cost of the process. These criticisms are more common when -- as now -- arabica prices are relatively high.

I continue to support Fair Trade, but I have been very intrigued by the direct-trade model. One thing I have noticed is that every direct-trade program I have seen is internal to a single company. The purpose of this posting is to introduce readers to the direct-trade programs of two companies for which I have a great deal of respect: Counter Culture Coffee and sweet maria's. Each makes the case for direct trade in its own way. Interestingly, sweet maria's is the more critical of the two when it comes to the FT model, even though this company does still use it.

Some Fair Trade purists call of direct trade the "trust me" model, and there is some truth to it: it is fair to scrutinize companies that run their own direct trade programs and ask them tough questions. By the same token, a Transfair label alone does not put a company above reproach; some cooperatives are operated more democratically than others, and some buyers go further than others in ensuring the integrity of the transactions.

Eventually I hope to move beyond certifications, to a scenario in which we know farmers are being treated fairly, whether on large farms or small, whether labeled fair or not. But I'm afraid that is a distant future indeed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

U-Boat Attacks Cape Cod

Well, a U-Boat did attack Cape Cod, but 92 years ago today. Read the description of the event on Mass Moments to learn how concerns about the security of  North Atlantic shipping had helped lead the United States into World War I. One shell landed in Orleans -- the only direct hit on U.S. soil during the war. We will try to find the site as part of our Geography Department's 2010 HumPhy trip, October 8-10 (see posts from 2009 HumPhy to get a flavor for that field camp).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Political Geography of a Giant Cheese Ball

It was 209 years ago today that Cheshire, Massachusetts made a bold political statement about the presidential election of the previous fall. Farmers there showed their support for the new President Jefferson -- and their disdain for the candidate from their own state -- by sending the Virginian and fellow farmer an enormous block of cheese. Mass Moments uses the anniversary as a point of departure for an engaging lesson about the differential political legacy of the Revolutionary War in Massachusetts.

Concept Caching

I am very pleased that I was recently asked to join the Concept Caching site at Wiley Higher Education. The site allows users to see the world through the eyes of geographers who connect images to locations and concepts to the images. I promise mine will not all be about coffee, but the first two are. I posted snapshots of a fascinating coffee shop in West Branch, New York and an important coffee processing mill in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

For the Matagalpa post, I almost included this photo of Silvy and Jesse, two of my excellent Bridgewater State University students, because education is the most important part of the work I do with coffee -- and because it is a great photo. In the end, I chose a different photo, to emphasize that control of the cupping lab by the farmers is what makes the SOLCAFE important.
Check Concept Caching in the future -- I'm committed to posting many more photos over the coming months.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fair Trade Tea

As I begin to study the tea industry, I have found it difficult to learn much about Fair Trade tea. I see it for sale quite often, alongside Fair Trade coffee, but details are scarce. From my friends at Equal Exchange, I have learned the reason: because nearly all of the world's tea is grown on large estates, it has been nearly impossible to apply the small-holder model common to Fair Trade coffee. As a result, there is not yet much agreement on what constitutes Fair Trade tea. (Some tea companies, feeling the pinch of consumer conscience, have taken token measures, such as Teavana's commitment of one percent of its profits to development projects. That is not a typo.)

Following a 2009 visit to India, Equal Exchange describes how it is working with farmers to find its way in this new market.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dear Abby

At our house, reading advice columns to each other is a daily ritual. For many years, we were able to read the two most famous rivals in the genre -- Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) and her sister Ann Landers. When Abby retired, her daughter took over; something similar was attempted on the Ann Landers side of the family, but I think it has fizzled, at least in our newspaper market area. So we read Pauline Philips (Abby) on a regular basis, along with the other Agony Aunts (as the genre is known in Britain) whenever we find them.

Often we are sympathetic to the poor souls who write in or intrigued by the problems they describe. Sometimes we are compelled to snicker or make snide remarks, and the third letter of May 13 was just such an occasion. A well-meaning reader sought advice on the disposal of plastic jewelry cases. Sometimes Abby goes to the real root of a reader's problem, but in this case she did not. Within minutes, I had grabbed my trusty laptop and fired off my own analysis.

Weeks passed, and gradually I forgot both the letter and my reply, which had been submitted through an online form.  Then a member of Abby's staff called to ask for my permission to publish my letter. Figuring I must have had something useful to say, I consented and the phone call was over before I realized that I had no recollection of what I had written about. So I waited anxiously for the July 6 column, the entirety of which was dedicated to reader follow-up on those jewelry boxes.

I reprint my contribution here:

DEAR ABBY: I have another suggestion for Diana in Lakewood. Quit buying so much stuff!

Recycling is only a partial solution to a wasteful lifestyle. Millions of tons of plastic, no matter how many times it is recycled, end up in our oceans, where Texas-sized flotillas of plastic goo will outlast us all. The key is to generate less in the first place.

When considering a purchase, consider all four "R's": Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair. In this case, the option to "Reduce" should be observed by either buying less jewelry, or asking the vendors to quit over-packaging the stuff. -- DR. JAMES HAYES-BOHANAN, PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL GEOGRAPHY
In the end I was pleased -- as I was able to get people thinking, if only for a few seconds, about consumerism AND geography!

Those who are interested in this topic can find it more fully explained at The Story of Stuff. A lot has been written about the plastic flotillas, most recently an article in the Boston Globe about local researchers skimming plastic in the Atlantic, a couple thousand miles from the nearest human settlements. Both the article and the user comments are instructive.

NOTE: Careful readers will observe that I already wrote something about this, under the title The Four Rs -- I guess my enthusiasm got the better of me. But the two reports do emphasize somewhat different aspects of the story, so I am leaving both.

Political Geography of Coffee Shoppes: Tel Aviv

We recently watched the 2006 Israeli film The Bubble, in which one of the main characters is a coffee shop. From the essential "making of" feature on the DVD, I learned that Orna and Ella on Sheinkin Street was not created for the film -- it actually was a gathering spot for the modern young adults of this seaside city. (2021 update: sadly, the restaurant closed in 2018.) The title of the film refers to the relative isolation that Tel Aviv -- in particular that street and even more in particular its cafes and clubs -- has enjoyed from the strife that grips much of Israel.

In the "making of" piece, the role of coffee in defining this space is described clearly:
"Politics in Tel Aviv are a little confused. There is poitical awareness, usually left-winged, but not much action is taken between one espresso to the next."
As the film unfolds, of course, we find that reality does have ways of intruding on the most hip and detached communities. The intersecting geographies of homophobia and Israel-Palestine strife dominate this film. The "bubble" is a space between xenophobia and homophobia that Director Eytan Fox masterfully compresses throughout the film. The film's conclusion is the ultimate collapse of that space.

The trailer above and the NY Times review by Jeannette Catsoulis are good introductions to the film. After the film, I highly recommend seeing the "making-of" extra on the DVD, which provides valuable insights  on the variety of contested social and political spaces in which the filming itself took place. After that, I recommend reading a few of the critical reviews, in particular John Esther's interview with Eytan Fox, Brandon Judell's Blowing Up Middle-Eastern Rancor with Copulation, and especially Michael Bronski's analysis for Z magazine.

Finally, if any readers of this blog end up at Orna and Ella in Tel Aviv, please let me know how the coffee is!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fire that Transformed Nantucket

When we first moved to Massachusetts, we were very focused on our new baby and jobs. Then we started thinking about filling in our county map, and pretty soon we had visited 12 of the 14 counties. After a while we managed to get to Dukes County, otherwise known as Martha's Vineyard, by taking a day trip on the ferry from Fall River. The passage through the complex currents in the strait known as Wood's Hole was quite memorable.

But Nantucket, also known as Nantucket, was a bit more of a challenge. (That is not a typo -- it is the only place in the United States where an island, a county, and a town are coterminous and share the same name.)

The ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket takes a few hours each way, so a day trip seemed out of the question. And as a woefully paid professor and librarian, we did not see any way of affording an overnight stay. Then we discovered that a good friend grew up on the island, where her family still operates a guest house that is reasonably priced. So over the past several years, we've become somewhat addicted to the place, especially if we can go mid-week or in the shoulder seasons when it is not too crowed. We have also enjoyed doing some coffee education on the island.

Why do we love it so much? Aside from the quaint shops and tranquil beaches, my favorite thing is that it a place one can go without a car. In fact, the pedestrian-friendly nature of Nantucket is, according to James Howard Kunstler, one of the reasons it is so expensive. Suburban sprawl has been both the cause and the consequence of automobile dependency, as the cars and the need to provide space for them has resulted in a spiral of positive feedback that has pushed us ever-farther from our neighbors. In Nantucket, lot sizes are small - tiny, in fact - and mixed uses are allowed. As Kunstler argues, these are common-sense arrangements that are all to rare, and as fuel prices escalate, the sprawling suburbs are going to become slums (we've already started to see this) while the elites converge again on walkable downtowns. Smart communities are paying attention and trying to find ways to re-concentrate their land uses. (We do sometimes do cheat and borrow a car if we want an evening dinner elsewhere on the island or to go shopping at Bartlett's Farm.)

Prior to moving to Massachusetts, everything we knew about Nantucket -- which is to say not very much -- we had gathered from the old television show (back when we watched television) Wings, which of course takes place almost entirely on a sound stage, teaching very little real geography. During  every visit we have considered going to the Club Car, which really is a restaurant on the island, a short walk from our friend's guest house. Every time we have been deterred either by the prices posted outside (beware the Nantucket restaurants that do not post prices -- lunch for two can run $700 at one of these places).

What does all this have to do with the headline? Just this: in 1846, Nantucket was beginning to decline as a whaling center. On July 13, a great fire swept through the town, erasing most of the infrastructure associated with that industry, and laying the groundwork for the place it is today. The serious money did not return for almost another century, but the fire did play a pivotal role in creating the townscape we see today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Downscale Work and the Unemployed

Today Bob Oakes was the guest host (sounds like an oxymoron -- I mean that he was filling in for host Tom Ashbrook) on the excellent radio program On Point. The result is a one-hour program that I recommend everyone listen to in its entirety -- podcast it or whatever needs to be done to hear this thorough examination of the current debate about the extension of unemployment benefits.

James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation makes the strongest possible case for curtailing these benefits and the fallback position of funding them by cutting some other part of the stimulus spending. For this he relies on the assertion that private-sector spending is the only way to create wealth and on a very twisted view of the history of the Great Depression and government spending. He even cites the Marshall Plan as an example of private-sector investment -- a real head scratcher.

Fortunately, sociologist Katherine Newman (at that time on the faculty at Princeton, now a dean at Johns Hopkins) was one of the other guests. (She can also be heard on Bill Moyers Journal.) Throughout the discussion, she makes the case that at critical times in the business cycle -- such as the Great Depression and such as right now -- it is wise for government investment in a social safety net and in job creation. She deftly diffuses many of the myths surrounding both government spending and the nature of unemployment and the unemployed. She makes a very strong case for the need to prevent the deterioration of human capital that can result from long-term recession.

I only found the program lacking in one detail: Sherk asserted many times that the new health-care reform bill contributes to unemployment by making employers nervous about the addition to the tax burden of hiring new workers. Newman points out several flaws with his reasoning, but I would go further. The health-care reform bill contributes to unemployment because it does not go far enough. If we had a single-payer system like all other wealthy countries, employers would be able to calculate the cost of workers easily (salary + taxes). Even after "reform," employers calculate a bit differently (salary + taxes + unknowable cost of health insurance).

Please don't just be satisfied with my summary, though. This program is an economic education that is worth one hour of anybody's time.

Celebrating Wyoming

Yesterday was the 120th anniversary of Wyoming statehood. Pam and I wrote his-and-hers reflections about Wyoming travels, books, food, and film on the Celebrating the States blog. Next stop: New York on July 26.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shifting Military Spending -- toward vets and soldiers

"Support Our Troops" is a common refrain, but not a common-enough reality. In fact, the ribbons are a constant reminder of what we as a nation have NOT been doing.

Military spending continues to increase -- indeed, the Obama administration is on track to spend more than any other administration since World War II, with spending per soldier per year now approaching $800,000.

But the Pentagon and Veteran's Administration are not spending enough of that money on the soldiers themselves (private contractors get most of the money). In fact, when the Congress tried to direct money to soldier pay and benefits, the Pentagon responded that pay was already too high. And as I heard this morning on NPR, homelessness among veterans -- particularly female veterans -- is growing rapidly. Some measures are being undertaken to expand services and reduce red tape (about which I've heard plenty from my veteran friends), but the support of soldiers and treatment of veterans remain a national embarrassment.

Thanks to one of those veteran friends for sharing this video, which tells the story all too well:

To this sad situation comes a little bit of hope. It would be difficult to name to members of Congress who are more opposite in most ways than Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Barnie Frank (D-MA). This "Odd Couple" has come together, however, to call for massive cuts in military spending, not just by trimming a few projects but by refocusing the mission of the Department of Defense on, well, defense. As Frank points out, we spend huge money on military bases in allied countries, mainly to serve objectives that were relevant 60 years ago. Frank adds:
During the Cold War, we had three ways of destroying the Soviet Union with thermonuclear weapons. We had nuclear submarines; we had the intercontinental ballistic missile and the strategic air command.
You know these three ways you have of destroying what's now Russia? Why don't you keep two and give up one? And save us tens of billions a year.
Altogether, the two Congressman hope to cut spending by $1,000,000,000 over the next ten years just by changing the mission. (Listen to them discuss this on On Point Radio.) We could probably save even more by reversing the privatization measures that shifted so much money to Halliburton.

If the savings could be applied -- even pennies on the dollar -- we could support our troops and veterans in proportion to the sacrifices they and their families have made.

Just after I posted this, I saw that a local friend was taking some action on behalf of soldiers, by running on behalf of Fischer House.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Dreaded Beetle

Not all invasive species look this nasty. The Asian longhorned beetle was responsible for the preventive destruction of 25,000 trees in Worcester, and now it has been found in Boston, near the historic Arnold Arboretum. Officials destroyed six trees and are hoping that the infestation has been fully contained.

Why do so many invasive species seem to come from Asia? The answer is quite simple: invasive species succeed because they have few if any natural competitors or predators. The farther they have traveled (in the holds of ships, mostly), the less likely they are to encounter enemies from home. Most introduced species die out or somehow fit in, but when one breaks out and becomes invasive, it can wreak a lot of havoc!

Geography of Coffee Staleness

I was happy to find this graphic, which quantifies what I've been telling people for some time (based on the training provided by my friend Sal at Lavazza). I will be adding this to my coffee care page as soon as I can.

What is geographic about this? The answer: the roasting and the grinding should take place as close to the brewing and drinking as possible, and no form of storage will make very much difference. Locally roasted coffee, purchased in small quantities (or roasted at home) and ground as needed will be much fresher than coffee stored long-term, even if that coffee started out as one of the best.

The Four Rs

One of many rituals in our household is the daily reading aloud of Dear Abby, along with other columns in the "agony aunts" genre, otherwise known as advice columns. On May 13, the lead article was along fairly typical lines, relating to marital infidelity, as was the second, about a strained maternal relationship. It was the third letter -- about trash -- that really piqued our interest.

Pam is a bit of a simple-living guru and I am an environmental geographer, so the question about what to do with the debris from online shopping was clearly the most interesting of the three letters that day. I immediately fired off a response. (True confession: I write a lot of letters, so when the Dear Abby staffer called a couple weeks ago to say my letter would be published, I could not honestly remember what I had written about; I was haunting the site after midnight this morning to find out!)

Abby had rightly suggested some ways to reuse the boxes and joked that the landfill would be the alternative. I took the opportunity to mention all four Rs -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Repair -- and suggested that the first of these would be most appropriate. I am very pleased that Dear Abby chose to publish my suggestion today, along with several other letters about reuse options.

Starbucks offers free WiFinally

Starbucks has finally decided to offer free wi-fi in all of its stores. Competition with McDonald's is cited as one of the major reasons, but so too is competition from independent coffee shops.

When WiFi first started appearing in cafes, shop owners had some difficult decisions to make. The service was somewhat expensive and more importantly, it could change the vibe of a shop, perhaps even cutting into revenues as some customers would tie up tables for hours while nursing a single drink. In extreme cases, some "customers" brought their coffee from chain shops to the independents, taking advantage of the signal while doing nothing to support the shop. Shops that offered WiFi risked being taken over by freeloaders, but shops that did not risked losing customers who really wanted to connect or get work done in the cafes. In the early days, many implemented minimum-purchase, maximum-time, or off-peak hour policies. Fees were charged not only to offset the costs (they used to be high), but also to manage the use of tables.

As I have visited a lot of coffee shops -- and sent my students out to even more -- it has become apparent that WiFi etiquette has improved, so that posted rules are now the exception and fees are not charged. For Starbucks, however, the WiFi signal became a profit center. Fees were extraordinarily high for occasional users, though monthly plans made them somewhat more reasonable for very regular customers. The big announcement from Starbucks simply brings the coffee giant into line with what has become standard practice at most independent shops.

Now I am hoping that hotels will follow suit. I find free WiFi at independent hotels (even in developing countries) and in lower-cost chains. The more expensive the hotel, the more likely the WiFi will be an added cost and a huge hassle.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Geography of Coffee Shoppes: A Terrific Example

My favorite librarian has become a passionate blogger with a penchant for defining ambitious blog projects. The first was her 2009 Year of Reading "Year of" Books, which she followed with the even more ambitious 2010 Celebrating the States. Providing geographic, matrimonial, and culinary support to these projects has been a great experience so far. (Hint: her 2011 blog will be even more culinary, and I'll continue to play a part.)

Spanning all the remaining years of our lives is an even more ambitious blog project, which will end only when we cease to read and travel (that is, when we leave this mortal coil). Because we have settled in a town with an intriguing name, we have decided to visit all of the like-named places we can. The result is The Bridgewaters Project. (One of the other Bridgewaters secured the domain name ahead of our own bigger, more wired school, leaving us forever -- bridge-wuh. This unintentional slight is probably part of what motivated us to embark on this.)

So far, our Bridgewaters Project has been a classic example of harvesting low-hanging fruit. In a geographic project, that means visiting the closest places first. Some of the more distant Bridgewaters (such as Bridgewater, England and Bridgewater, Nova Scotia) will take some planning, but we have been learning about our own town and making some casual visits to the more convenient Bridgewaters during our travels. In these cases, we are visiting with little or no planning, but learning enough to plan more in-depth return visits in the future. (We have the rest of our lives, after all!)

Yesterday, for example, we had a spontaneous visit to the Village of Bridgewater, New York as part of our annual tradition of driving our daughter to camp. After we were well under way, we checked the atlas and found that a Bridgewater was near our route, and made a worthwhile detour on our return trip. As a bonus, I found a great example to add to my coffee-shop geography repertoire.

A local couple is putting their creativity and hard work into a project that is addressing several important needs in the community. An out-of-use school building sits in the middle of the village, too valuable to tear down but offering too much floor space for most commercial uses in such a small settlement. Enter Ron and Linda Inger, who have converted much of the building into a sort of antique and crafts min-mall, with space available for local vendors. The most creative use of space in the building is the indoor skate park that provides low-cost recreation to local kids year-round (a wonderful thing in a place that gets 99 inches of snow a year).

They have also opened a coffee shop with light fare in several back rooms. It provides coffee, snacks, and a place for conversation for the skaters, the shoppers, and others who are -- as we were -- drawn in by the cafe banners and signs on the main road. (Like many old schools, but not so many new ones, this one is conveniently located at a major intersection.) One nice feature of the location of the Cafe'Teria (as it is cleverly called) is that it is located in several rooms, so that space is both cozy and ample at the same time. Finally, from my visit to this cafe, I confirmed something I have been learning about the selection of roasters. The decision is made on the basis of several factors, including price, freshness, quality (as appropriate to the anticipated customer base) and the service and  support materials that a roaster provides.

Sen. Byrd and Big Coal -- Deathbed Conversion

Sen. Robert Byrd, who died last week, was best known for his shameless devotion to pork-barrel spending. (Growing up watching the Grand Ole' Opry, I also knew him for his fiddle-playing.) For more than a half-century, he manipulated the rules to the benefit of his home state of West Virginia. He was not modest about the adoration he enjoyed there, where people were said -- by him and others -- to believe in four things: God almighty, Sears Roebuck, Carvers little liver pills, and Robert C. Byrd - and not necessarily in that order. 

When we were driving routinely from graduate school in Ohio to visit family and friends in Maryland, we knew that the best highways along the route would Sen. Byrd's signature pavements through the Mountain State. The resentment of his manipulations of the budget process were in some respects well-earned, even with his largess the state remains among the poorest of the United States, and was in even worse condition we he began his political career. From my father and grandfather, I learned that in the generations following the Great Depression, schools in West Virginia taught the three Rs: "reading, 'riting, and the road to Washington," where plenty of unionized jobs in the building trades could be found, as a way out of the grinding poverty.

All of this is background to a story I heard while on a long drive with my family this Independence Day. The Evolution of Byrd is an important story that provides a glimmer of hope on environmental protection. For years, he saw environmentalists as the enemies of his people and their way of life (in no other state is the economy more dependent on coal mining). In his final years, he was not exactly a convert to the environmental cause, but he did begin to understand that removing mountain tops and accelerating the burning of coal might not bring unalloyed benefits to his beloved states. He did not exactly embrace environmentalism, but he was beginning to play the role of mediator between environmentalists and industry. Had he lived a few more than 92 years, perhaps his conversion would have been complete, as it seems to have been -- eventually -- on matters of race.

The same Living on Earth show includes the story Climate Bill Backup Plan which describes Duke Energy's leadership on climate. This is another glimmer of hope, as wishful thinking on climate change continues to gain traction.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Paloma Helps on Zazzle

It looks like my store, but the designer is really my talented daughter, Paloma. She is running a store on Zazzle to sell her artwork. All proceeds will support her planned human-rights journey to India in 2011. See the Paloma Helps blog for details. Let us know about any products you would like to see her offer!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Coffee Good

Thanks to my friend Ed for pointing me to this coffee article on Live Science. I had read some of this before, but the article introduces some research I had not seen, regarding coffee's seeming benefits with respect to cancer and heart disease.

As a couple of readers have suggested in the comments section, most of these benefits would accrue only to the consumption of organic, black coffee. The fat and sugar bombs that are the vehicle for much of the coffee consumed these days would certainly have offsetting risks. And of course, conventional coffee grown with pesticides is not at all healthy for the planet or the farmers, and not much good for consumers, either.

Bottom line: Coffee still good; Dunkin' Donuts still bad.

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