Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Timely Tableau

Tuesday, while preparing for our daughter's move to her new school, we found a nifty café in the vicinity. Technically, I suppose, it is not a café, but it includes many of the key elements, especially decent coffee.
First, the New Breadsong Corner Bakery has decent coffee. Given that this was a summer visit, I appreciated the bakery's use of coffee ice cubes in the iced coffee. This reduces the need to brew extra-strong coffee and ensures that melting ice will not dilute the coffee. Given the good flavor and the care that went into this preparation, I was disappointed that the staff -- at least the staff present -- did not know anything about the coffee itself, other than a vague notion that it is "strong." So, decent but not excellent, and with no clear connection back to the farmers.

Second, though, the presence of highly decent coffee is a bonus when the main business is the bakery, and the bakery is so wonderful. We exercised restraint -- since we were on our way to get yogurt -- but the entire case looked scrumptious, as online reviews verify. We decided to share a delicious pumpkin muffin, complete with pumpkin seeds on top. Perfect for a light snack for two. It is not all about decadence, though: plenty of healthy, hearty loafs are offered as well -- the background on the bakery web page hints at the bounty of goodness.

Third, this location is quite an amazing combination of a good site and a good situation.

The situation has a number of advantages: the shop is on a corner, easily visible from several directions, with plenty of on-street parking, both free and metered. It is surrounded by walkable residential streets, so that hundreds of potential customers are within a convenient distance. And as the map above (available through the review already mentioned) makes clear, this charming neighborhood is accessible to city, state, and federal roadways -- and best of all -- a commuter-rail station.
The site leads to my use of the word tableau, in the sense of "a picturesque grouping of persons or objects; a striking scene." That is to say, not only is the bakery situated in a way that conveys several advantages, the place of which it is an integral part has a number of advantages. The building that houses the bakery is a nicely maintained example of mid-century mixed use, with apartments above and retail or offices below. Such developments -- long made impossible by zoning -- are making a comeback as an antidote to sprawl. The center of our tableau, as we enjoyed the aforementioned muffin and coffee, was a park in the center of a rotary. Such public spaces are what make civilization so appealing! On our other side, completing the tableau, is the Auburndale Community Library, whose interesting tale Pam will be sharing on her own "liberry" blog. As if on queue to tie the moment together, a woman walked by hand-in-hand with a young girl of six or so, gleeful about going to the library and sending us down Memory Lane to many similar outings closer to home.

A well-treed library!
And the library connection brings me to my use of the word timely. We made these discoveries just hours after my favorite librarian was sworn in as a trustee of the Bridgewater Public Library. It would have been even more timely had power outages caused by Tropical Storm Irene not led to the postponement of her inaugural meeting.

The BPL has been through some very rough times, often blamed on the recession but more accurately blamed on voters who did not understand the importance of community resources of this kind. The recession, in fact, has made some "rugged individualists" a bit more aware of the value of cooperation; as often happens in a recession, library budgets are cut just as people need to make more use of libraries.

Pam joins a remarkable triad that has kept our library going -- the friends organization that raises funds and provides a lot of voluntary effort, the trustees who do the detailed planning and make the tough decisions that have brought the library back from the brink, and -- most of all -- the library employees who have shouldered the burdens of repeated cuts with amazing grace and dedication to their public mission.

Incidentally, I encourage those in and near Bridgewater to support the library -- and coffee and cacao farmers -- by ordering coffee and cocoa through its ongoing Cuppa Joe fundraiser. I first learned about my friend Dean Cycon and Deans Beans Coffee from a similar fundraiser at the M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury. This is a classic win-win-win program: good coffee and cocoa, good treatment of the land and farmers, and good money for the libraries! I am delighted that the Friends of the BPL volunteers keep this program going.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

FEV Fever

In a interdisciplinary meeting with other professors this afternoon, I mentioned ecotourism as part of my discussion of an article I was writing on coffee in Belize. (The article will be short, and I am thankful to the colleague who suggested the term "the province of hobbyists.") One colleague asked if ecotourism is really a word, and then asked for a brief definition. It is a term I've been hearing for a couple of decades now, and I have even participated, but it is not yet in wide circulation, as evidenced by his question and by the red, squiggly lines that Blogger is putting under the word as I write this!

Anyway, I suggested a working definition of the concept, which was familiar to some in the group but not others -- encouraging sustainable development by using ecosystems as tourist attractions. The challenge is to attract enough visitors to provide livelihoods that are at least as remunerative as resource extraction would be, but few enough to keep the ecosystems intact.

Imagine my surprise when I got home and found an article on ecotourism in the daily mail, the cover article in our denominational magazine. Imagine my further surprise that the focus of the article is Finca Esperanza Verde, a mountain-top coffee farm that I have actually visited with Pam and with two groups of students during my Nicaragua coffee tours.

Both times I have arrived there, it has been with students who were apprehensive about a two-day stay with extremely limited electronics and only healthy food. Both times, the beauty and tranquility of the place has made them reluctant to leave! The ecological value of the reserve (whose name means Green Hope Farm) is continuously documented by my blogger friend on Coffee Habitat, who also frequents another ecotourism favorite of mine, Selva Negra. The latter is a very different model pursuing similar goals.

Photo credit: The amazing
Matt Kadey
I knew that FEV (as we like to call it) was connected to a church in North Carolina -- home to many great cafes and the indispensable Counter Culture Coffee. Only last week did I learn from a nearby UU minister that a Unitarian Church was involved, so I am delighted to have the full story now, and to know that my fellow UUs will know about this amazing place.

Incidentally, because these places -- along with my home-away-from-home, Finca Mil Flores in nearby La Corona -- also include productive farming in the balance with tourism and ecology, they are examples of agroecotourism. I am glad that a search on that term brings up the Fresh Cup article about my second journey to the region.

Beyond Fair Trade

I spend a lot of my time promoting Fair Trade in coffee and other products, because so-called free trade is so destructive, as I have explained in many ways throughout this blog. Increasingly, though, I see fair trade as transitional, something I hope will not be needed 20 years from now. I am beginning to work with some of my coffee students on this question, and will explore it with farmer friends during my 2012 sabbatical.

My friend Dean Cycon -- a leader in fair trade -- says it best in the first paragraph of the Epilogue to his masterpiece, Javatrekker:

"Our understanding of justice, in trade and society in general, cannot be confined to a formula. Fair Trade, or any movement that is intended to improve the quality of life for people, is more accurately seen as a process. The more we work with the peoples in this book and beyond, the deeper we plunge into the dynamics of their societies, their ecologies, and their economies. Each layer reveals a more profound set of relationships that we must consider as we evolve toward more humane and just relationships. Being open to the experiences of each culture not only makes us more aware but also makes our lives richer. Thus the tales in this book are only footsteps on a long and continuing trail."
... and from the last pararaph:
"For me, Javatrekking is ultimately about personal and societal exploration. I have never been fully comfortable with what it is, when I know in my heart that things can be better, more respectful, more loving, and, frankly, more exciting. It pains me deeply to see cultures crumble and blow away under global pressures (or simply for lack of water), or kids' lives go unfulfilled for want of a pencil or notebook. Javatrekking allows me the vehicle to explore my own relationship to these things and to take responsibility where I can. These may be small contributions in the greater scheme of things, but as an old Indonesian farmer advised me, quoting Arjuna's words to Krishna on the eve of battle, 'Add your light to the sum of lights.'"

Most of us in the West will continue to live a life that is enriched by the impoverishment of others. Most of us will never journey to see that impoverishment with our own eyes. Those connections are real, and certifications -- Fair-Trade, Sweatshop-Free, Bird-Friendly, and so on -- do matter and do help. They are a meaningful step above doing nothing. But somewhere between certifications and Javatrekking is a whole world of possibility for doing more.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Good Night, Irene!

At the end of a long evening of dancing, an audience favorite for my band is the folk standard Good Night, Irene. We might have occasion to sing it a lot in coming days, as my friend and hurricane guru Dr. Phil just advised us that Irene might be the "real deal" for our region.

The images below show two things, as of this posting at noon on Wednesday, August 24, 2011. The first is the predicted path of the hurricane. The path gets wider in successive days as the uncertainty is greater. The range of error is much narrower in the immediate future.

The second map indicates the likelihood of tropical-storm winds being sustained at the surface for at least one minute. Again, this is a near certainty in a narrow band ahead of the storm, with decreasing likelihood to either side of the path and in higher latitudes.

NOTE: These maps are static, go to the Irene page at the National Hurricane Center for the latest information, updated maps, and advisories.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Politicians who claim to know and care about the original intentions of the Founding Fathers (aka the white guys who wrote the US Constitution) seem to care little about the purpose of Article 1. At the very heart of their framework for the new nation is the creation of the Bureau of the Census, whose purpose would be to ensure that Congressional representation would remain proportional to population. (Of course, the same article counted slaves as 3/5 of a person each, so I am not among those who view their work as anything but a pragmatic series of compromises.)

As I wrote in my Article One post last December, it took only two electoral cycles for politicians -- beginning with Elbridge Gerry in Massachusetts -- to subvert the Article's intent. The term "gerrymandering" commemorates the salamander shape of the district he created on the North Shore.
Elkana Tisdale's cartoon did not shame the pols of his day, and in fact politicians continue to defy logic and court scorn and ridicule in their efforts to choose voters, rather than be chosen by them. Although this is a bipartisan activity, as I mention in the above-cited article, the neologism "Perrymander" captures the audacious efforts of Texas Republicans, led by their latest presidential hopeful, Gov. Rick Perry.

Even some of the governor's allies are now concerned, however, that the Legislature's current proposal might stretch even the most hallucinogenic interpretation of "compact and contiguous." Allies such as George Will extol Perry's personal commitment to racial fairness, and this might even be the case. His partisanship seems to be an even higher value, though, and a congressional map that would deliver 26 of 36 seats to his party raises serious concerns about disenfranchising voters along lines of race and ethnicity. Writing in National Journal, David Wasserman examines this overreach in some detail, and describes a more balanced map that might be imposed by the courts.

Perry, Perry Quite Contrary

We might need to rename the family dog. Perry was named, at our daughter's suggestion, for Perry the Platypus, who is some sort of egg-laying mammalian secret agent on something called Phineas and Ferb. (She is not, by the way, named for Commodore Perry, about whom I wrote an encyclopedia article a number of years ago.)

We got the dog last year, and were excited to see bumper stickers with her name shortly thereafter. We even picked one up, thinking it would be cute on her dog box. Then we learned more about Cape Cod politician Jeff Perry, whose stickers they were. In a right-leaning year, he lost his bid for the U.S. House, largely because of his role -- as a police supervisor -- in allowing strip-searches of teenage girls. He then went on to fill a vastly overpaid patronage job, in open mockery of the fiscal conservatism he had espoused in the campaign.

Just as our local Perry was fading from the headlines, an even scarier Perry is popping up all over. Texas Governor Rick Perry is not scary in the creepy way that Jeff Perry is, but he is all the scarier because of his widespread popularity among vote-before-you-think Tea Partiers and the slim but real possibility that he could become president of the world's most powerful (for now) nation.

The first -- well, only -- time I met Rick Perry, I liked him. It was about 15 years ago, when I worked in specialty food in South Texas and he was the Texas Secretary of Agriculture. As Dale McFeatters has recently written, nobody can work a room like Perry. He remains unfairly handsome, and I am sure he is as likable in person now as he was when I met him in the 1990s. In fact, I still sometimes use a conversational gambit I learned from him. In getting to know people from all walks of life and varied interests, the agriculture secretary had a habit of asking, "Where did you go to school?" This was a good opening for conversation with someone with any level of education, and could lead the conversation toward childhood memories, Texas football, or really anywhere.

Anywhere but the subject of science, apparently. The governor recently underwent a stem-cell procedure that cannot even be described as "experimental," apparently because ideology is more important to him than science. It seems an almost inevitable error for someone who considers the theory underlying genetics to be a matter of opinion. A governor who will consign his own body to medical quackery is frightening as a president in a time when scientists need to be consulted, not scorned.

More specifically, Perry asserts that scientists fabricated climate change in order to collect grant money. Ignoring the billions and trillions made by the deniers of climate change, he castigates those who earn thousands or millions studying the problem. Here he parts company with other Republican governors who recognize the threat climate change poses to their state economies. He is even at odds with his own past as Texas director of the 1988 presidential campaign for Al Gore, whose position on anthropogenic climate change was already well known.

The problem with the ad hominen approach Perry is taking is that it distracts him from seriously exploring the evidence. Washington already is moving too slowly on climate change, though both active-duty and retired military officials are now see climate change as a threat multiplier and a threat to military infrastructure. Perry is not fit to be Commander-in-Chief in such circumstances.

Because of economic fears, some might wish to set all this aside, because Gov. Perry fixed the Texas economy, or so he claims. In his recent adulatory essay, George Will repeats the cherry-picked statistics about job creation in Texas. Renée Loth sets the record straight. The jobs are almost entirely low-wage, giving Texas the largest population of working poor. The eviscerated social safety net leaves "pro-family" Texas providing the lowest standard of care for expectant mothers. And most of the economic growth that has occurred comes from two sources, one of which Perry actually worked against: oil revenues and Bush-Obama stimulus money.

Despite of -- or perhaps because of -- his earlier life as a Democrat, Perry has become such a shameless partisan that the abuse of his redistricting authority has resulted in the coining of a new word, which is explored in my Perrymander article (with thanks to

Back to that rascally min-pin of ours: her name will be Perry, though we won't be getting any bumper stickers for her box any time soon.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Even WalMart is Hurting

In the midst of story about WalMart's latest stock price, revenue, and sales figures, was the revelation that the company is slipping just a bit. Not that the billionaires at the center have anything to worry about, but U.S. sales are actually shrinking, quarter after quarter.

WalMart is continuing to grow, but only through its overseas expansion, taking its job-killing model to sub-Saharan Africa, where it is needed the least. Sales are slipping in the United States, because of high gas prices (WalMart leveled local shops, so people have to drive pretty far to their stores) and poverty (see: leveled local shops).

Henry Ford and GM (pre-Roger Smith), for all we might disdain about them, understood that they would only prosper if their employees earned a reasonable living. The disparities were great, but it was understood that ever-growing disparities could not be sustained. As income gaps grow in the United States, and even middle-class people (in the Tea Party) push for policies to make them grow even more, ripple effects will continue.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Redeeming Rachael Ray

As a foodie without cable TV, I was only vaguely aware of Rachael Ray before she became embroiled in a brief scandal related to Dunkin' Donuts. I describe her inaction on my Coffee Hell page, and I remain convinced that she should have taken a stand against xenophobia in that incident.

Recently, however, I learned of a project she undertook that reflects her involvement not only with food, but also with education and to social justice. When researching the work of food educator Wilma Stephenson for our Nueva Receta blog, I found that she appeared on Rachael Ray's show, and that the appearance went far beyond a simple interview: Stephenson's beloved Room 325 was made over for the show, and a bistro was added so that students could practice serving in an elegant environment. I am not the only one to have had a change of heart -- I first learned of the RR-DD scandal from the Huffington Post, a site that now carries a glowing description of Rachael Ray's projects with Wilma Stephenson (although some user comments reflect a reasonable dose of skepticism).

Sunday, August 07, 2011


São Paulo has legendary traffic, which can be avoided in three ways: subway, helicopter, and motorcycle. (A 2009 article describes a contest in which a bicycle proved to be the fastest route across town, though the prospect is daunting.) I was probably in the city six times before I knew it even had a subway, and when I rode it, crowding was minimal. Helicopters are pricey. For quick delivery of packages, then, "motoboys" are the answer. Sitting in traffic with a friend Ayr in October 2008, I was amazed by their frequency. On an earlier visit, I had actually witnessed a rider reaching out to grab the bumper of a truck, so that he could use it to pivot his bike for a lane change.

How is the traffic now? Have a look.

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