Sunday, April 22, 2012

Coffee Climate

The default map for NPR's recent article about contributors to climate change highlights countries that are major sources. This is actually a misuse of the choropleth map type (see other examples on this blog), so I was glad to see something a bit more geographically correct -- and informative. It is a map of per capita carbon emissions, which instantly reveals that the fretting about China is not related so much to its energy habits as to its size. The prospect of that many people moving even slightly in the direction of U.S. levels of avarice is of course frightening, but that is more a commentary on the untenable nature of our own consumption than an indictment of Chinese habits or intentions.

View article and enlarge map on NPR

I could not help notice -- and perhaps the hues chosen for this map had something to do with it -- that this map is almost an inverse of the maps of coffee production. In other words, the areas that produce coffee -- and many of the other colonial "breakfast crops" -- are not large sources of climate-changing carbon dioxide. As I have mentioned in several previous posts, however, these are precisely the areas that are bearing many of the most important consequences of climate change.

What to do with this bit of information? I am not certain, but it does suggest that -- in addition to curbing our own carbon appetites, those of us who do drink coffee should choose shade-grown coffees that support forest conservation and restoration.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shuttle Family Reunion

(Please see geographical correction at the end of this post.)

Yesterday I mentioned my own family's experience with eminent domain as part of a post about the Keystone XL pipeline. When discussing the situation with my students, I mentioned that my grandparents' house (in which I had lived as an infant) was in the direct path of one of the main runways at Dulles International Airport. Growing up we learned how to pause a conversation while a 747 flew over, close enough to see the landing gear spinning. The Concorde SST was not as loud, by the way, as it was not permitted to fly at supersonic speeds over land.

As I also mentioned in class, the family property was taken around 1990 to make room for a cloverleaf, necessitated in part by airport traffic, but more generally part of the suburban sprawl that spreads out from the nation's capital. It is that very cloverleaf that is featured in this photograph -- taken on Patriot's Day yesterday -- of the delivery of the Space Shuttle Discovery, which is being housed at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. My grandparents were so upset by the forced sale of their property that they never used this cloverleaf, though they spent their remaining years living just a couple miles from it.

A couple of notes about the photograph: First, seeing a 747 Jumbo Jet in this position is not at all unusual. In fact, we learned that some pilots would do an unofficial, visual check of the family home to confirm their final approaches. It would, however, not be common to see a space shuttle and an F-16 in the same frame. Second, the "South 28" exit ramp is the one responsible for taking the family homestead. Third, that homestead would be located directly below the landing gear as shown in this photo.

One last family connection: my Uncle Charlie -- from the other side of my family -- was the surveyor responsible for those runways!

View Larger Map

UPDATE: My father looked closely at the shuttle photo above and realized that it could not have been taken from the point on Route 50 that my cousin and I had assumed it to be. Route 28 is an overpass at that intersection, though it is an underpass in the photo. The shuttle is actually shown crossing Willard Road, about 2/3 of a mile to the south. This means that it would have been even lower as it crossed Route 50!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cleaning Up the "Clean" Fossil Fuel

Natural gas produces less air pollution than other forms of fossil fuel (oil and coal) while it is being burned. The recovery of natural gas, however, is often associated with substantial releases of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, as well as air and water pollutants associated with threats to public health.

In How a 'Western Problem' Led to New Drilling Rules, NPR's Elizabeth Shogrun reports on a recent EPA decision to regulate emissions from natural gas drilling. The industry, perhaps not surprisingly, considers the public-health threat minimal, but the EPA asserts that the Clean Air Act requires it to promulgate restrictions. It is perhaps even less surprising to learn that this controversy has rapidly been included among the rapidly growing collection of energy and environment issues in the presidential campaign.

Cozy Conflict

As part of its sustainability reporting, the radio program Marketplace recently featured an interview with Abrahm Lustgarten, who has written Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. As the title implies, he argues quite credibly that the proximate cause of the world's worst oil spill may have been a technical failure, but the real cause was more systemic.

Specifically, the relationship between the regulators and the regulated industry was not structured in a way to ensure meaningful scrutiny of the actions of the latter. Despite the huge federal expenditures resulting from the disaster, Congress has so far allowed the regulators themselves to redefine the relationship.

Standing By Her Land

As reported on Marketplace, Texas rancher Julia Trigg Crawford finds herself distracted from her livestock these days as she has become embroiled at a very local scale in a dispute of continental and even global proportions.

The Keystone XL pipeline has many foes and supporters who are primarily focused on continent-scale questions of energy production, jobs, and the protection of ground water, or on global-scale questions of climate change.

Her situation -- literally, her property's position relative to the resources and markets involved -- has drawn her into a legal battle over imminent domain. Although many people think of property rights as all-inclusive, they are in fact quite divisible. A deed to a piece of land conveys a "bundle" of rights, some of which may be sold, leased, forfeited, or otherwise modified. An easement is the specific waiver of certain rights, usually on a part of a piece of property, and quite often for the specific purpose of movement across the property. Sidewalks and powerlines are examples of appurtenant easements that allow for specific activities or structures to be in place on what is otherwise private property. In coastal areas, an easement might be nothing more than a path to the beach.

Certain kinds of public and private infrastructure projects cannot be built without easements, as it would be prohibitively expensive to buy all of the land that they cross. Instead, easements define minimally the property rights that are needed to build and maintain the structure or movement. The imminent domain process requires land owners to provide these easements -- or in some cases the entire property -- if it is deemed necessary to complete a project that is in the public interest.

The courts have made it very difficult to resist the imminent-domain process once it has been started, mainly because without this authority, the objections of a single property owner could derail (sometimes literally) projects benefiting thousands or even millions of other people. The law does require that people be compensated for the partial or complete loss of their property rights, but preventing the loss itself is rarely an option.

Crawford believes the pipeline would make her property much less valuable, and would love to stop it. Understanding that this is quite unlikely, she is seeking compensation for the decline in property value that she anticipates.

My own family happens to have experience with imminent domain. I once lived inside the red box on this map, and my father grew up there. His family built two houses on the property, which they had purchased from a relative in the 1940s. Land and easements along US 50 were taken as the road widened, and a strip along the northern edge was taken as part of a buffer zone when Dulles Airport was built. This was a compromise, as the original declaration would have taken the whole property. The presence of a small cemetery at the church next door helped to forestall outright seizure at that time. Around 1990, however, this cloverleaf was constructed, and my family's property was a classic example of a linchpin in the whole project. So my grandparents were forced to sell their land; they spent their remaining years a few miles away on the same road, in the neighboring city of Fairfax. They refused ever to drive through this intersection again.
Explore on Google Maps
Looking at the map of this area in more detail, I noticed that the word "Illinois" appears (just to the east and west of the screenshot above), even though this segment of U.S. 50 is in Virginia. I had never heard of this designation, but it seems likely that Illinois has sought to dissociate itself from the name by which the highway is known in Virginia, where it serves as a memorial to two Confederate generals. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Know-Nothing Coffee

This would be humorous were there not so many livelihoods at stake. It is meant to be "just an ad" but it reveals a breath-taking lack of coffee knowledge at Maxwell House. Not everyone need be a coffee snob, but this is a company that revels in the bad treatment of bad coffee. I buy Maxwell House once a year to show students what really bad coffee is like, but perhaps I can just show them this video from now on. (Thanks to one of those students, by the way, for finding this for me.)

This video makes the choice even more difficult: which is the worse coffee company, Maxwell House or Dunkin' Donuts?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Expression and Being

The title of this post references a special event taking place at BSU on Wednesday, April 18, entitled "Celebrating Freedoms of Expression and Being: LGBT Voices in the Latin American World." The program will be in One Park Ave (Rondileau Campus Center basement) from 5:00 to 6:30. Refreshments will be served, including Guatemalan coffee from Gay Coffee in Northampton.

I was thinking of this as an update of a program that Pam Hayes-Bohanan and I offered "a few years ago." Then I discovered that it has been nearly a decade ago that we last facilitated a discussion specifically focused on the lives of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender people and communities in Latin America. We are certainly overdue for a discussion of this topic, both because it has been a long time and because a lot has changed -- mostly for the better -- in that time.

This time our discussion will be based on a viewing of the abridged version of Tal Como Somos: The Latino GBT Community. The full-length version is embedded above for on-campus BSU users. Off-campus BSU users are prompted to logon for access, and others can seek the film through other libraries. Unfortunately, it is not on Netflix.

Notice that the "L" is missing from the common nomenclature in the title, as these stories include a variety of gay and bisexual males in the United States as well as a transgender female-to-male individual from Mexico, but no lesbians were included.

Aside from the film, we are going to discuss briefly Omar G. Encarnación's excellent article Latin America's Gay Right's Revolution, 2011, Journal of Democracy 22(2). Encarnación describes the varying levels of success in LGBT social movements in Latin America, and argues that where advances have been made, it has been the result of a combination of cultural, political, and legal factors. No single kind of causation -- such as a "spill over" effect of social movements in the U.S. and Europe -- provides a complete explanation in his view.

In addition to the developments described by Encarnación, we revisit one organization that we described in our 2003 presentation on this topic. We are glad to see that Mujeres Creando (Women Believing) is still going strong in La Paz, Bolivia.

Rejecting both machismo and what it calls the "gender technocrats" of mainstream feminism, this feminist/anarchist community provides a genuinely alternative voice for communities of women who traditionally have been marginalized in Bolivia and elsewhere. They have reclaimed a literal and figurative space in La Paz as both a "convent" and a "Quilombo" as they seek to redefine the subaltern positions previously occupied.

We conclude with a short essay by Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., who writes about the realization of "Being Latino, among other things." Identity is complex and diversity can be as great within communities as it is between communities. Alamo writes from the heart about both the compounding of subaltern identities and the difficulty of overcoming discrimination among those with whom one shares a struggle one moment, and faces a struggle the next. Activist Keith Boykin explored similar themes in his recent visit to BSU as keynote speaker at our Rainbow Luncheon (which I had to miss this year).

Additional resources from recent literature include:

Tate, Julee. 2011. "From Girly Men to Manly Men: The Evolving Representation of Male Homosexuality in Twenty-First Century Telenovelas." Studies In Latin American Popular Culture 29, 102-114. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 18, 2012). (Full text is available for BSU library users.)

Edwards, Cristóbal. 2008. "The Gay Map of Latin America." The Out Traveler. Regent Media. Available as text-only from The Free Library.

Kirby, David. 2001. "Coming to America to be gay." Advocate no. 834: 29-32. (Full text is available for BSU library users.)

Grillo, Ioan. 2009. Mexico City's Revolutionary First: Gay Marriage. Time. (shown above)

Goñi, Uki. 2010. Defying Church, Argentina Legalizes Gay Marriage. Time.

Thanks to librarian extraordinaire Pamela Hayes-Bohanan for these resources. Find much more at the GLBT and LACS MaxGuides, resources she maintains for research on the subjects that overlap in this discussion.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sharing the Hemisphere

When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Washington last month, he was eagerly received, feted even, an encounter that was seen as giddy to the point of annoyance in some quarters. That recent experience was in sharp contrast to the merely cordial meeting between President Obama and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil this past Monday.

Brazilians and astute observers in the United States were miffed at the relative attention paid to the leaders of the world's eighth- and sixth-largest economies, though one observer offered the charitable interpretation that perhaps this was a going-away party for the UK, before the partnership with Brazil begins in earnest.

This PBS story on President Dilma Rousseff's visit provides a good overview of the issues that shape the bilateral relationship that is emerging as the United States comes -- very reluctantly, it seems -- to realize Brazil's growing importance in the world generally and in the Western Hemisphere particularly. One of the key goals of her visit has been to continue to press for an expanded role for Brazil on the United Nations security council.

(As with her predecessor -- Ignacio "Lula" da Silva --  President Rousseff is better known by her first name than her surname. The Rising Star interview with Lula is also very instructive regarding the emergence of Brazil.)

As the PBS segment suggests, the visit does highlight several areas of disagreement between the Brazil and U.S. administrations, including policy toward the embargo on Cuba, the coup in Honduras, and the realities of climate change.

For more than a century following the presidency of James Monroe, United States involvement in the hemisphere has been characterized by paternalism and intervention, leading the Mexican poet Octavio Paz to lament, "Alas, poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States!" As many dictatorships and civil wars came to an end in the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. attention shifted to other parts of the world, leading to a period described in this video as one of "benign neglect."

The video does play a bit with language, describing the region (at 5:00) as "absent of conflict" by defining away much of the violence related to the war on drugs and repression of labor organizers. At 6:00, President  Obama praises Brazil's progress on energy policy, but he could have gone further, by mentioning some aspects of Brazilian energy policy that  better protect the environment than do U.S. approaches.

Further reading:
Because my career as a geographer in many ways began in Brazil, and because I am fortunate enough to have many students and friends who are in, of, from, or about Brazil, I have written quite a lot about the country. My earliest and most comprehensive writing is about Rondônia, in the western Amazon Basin. Recent articles include Where's the Beef, in which I explain how changes in the beef industry provide additional justification for students in the United States to learn a foreign language -- especially Portuguese.

My Cliffwalk article explains lessons about the gap between the rich and the poor. Brazil still has a greater concentration of wealth than does the United States (or most countries), but Brazil is now leading the United States both in overall economic growth and in the equity of that growth.

Brazilian Embassy in Honduras describes an excellent example of the kind of kind of geopolitical leadership that Brazil is beginning to exert. More generally, readers can browse all of the articles that include "Brazil" on this blog and on the current and original EarthView blogs.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Where My Community Used to Be

YOUR Brockton Rox!
I knew I had arrived as a New England transplant when I started giving directions that included "turn where the ______ used to be." I will never be a real Bay Stater, by the way, because somewhere between going AWOL in 1734 and my arrival in 1997, ten generations of Bohanans lived in the Lower 49. We have a few generations of penance before some would really consider us locals, but nonetheless we take every opportunity to embrace our local community.

I was reminded of this because of the brilliant closing paragraph of the latest effort of the Brockton Enterprise editorial board to promote local-mindedness and the cultivation of a sense of place:

But if we want communities with character, if we want shops and restaurants that make the region unique, and if we want to show off when we have visitors rather than explain how things used to be, we’ve got to be active participants, not just passers-by. 
The editorial -- entitled -- South Shore Character is Worth Your Investment -- ran in the same issue in which a cover story describes the latest effort to salvage the Brockton Rox baseball team.

That article is focused on cost-saving and capital-raising details of the team's recent realignment with a strictly amateur league. The underlying story is one of fan apathy, parallel to the retail apathy lamented in the editorial. For each night paying a fortune to be part of an anonymous mob at Fenway, a Brockton-area family can enjoy ten nights of baseball with heart at Campanelli Stadium. It is a chance not only to see a game without binoculars, but also to see and get to know one's neighbors. Without it, we may soon directing people to turn at the giant hole in the ground on the city's west side. We will wonder, a la Chrissie Hynde, "Eh, oh, where'd you go?"

Tucson Stories

As readers of this blog may know, we lived in Tucson for during the first four years of my doctoral studies at the University of Arizona, from 1990 to 1994. Pam completed her library degree during the first two years we were there. Like many of our friends in graduate school, we both worked as substitute teachers. Because I was still in school, I took relatively few assignments, all of them at the Amphitheater School District. Pam did a lot more subbing, throughout the vast Tuscon Unified School District.

My Tucson Teach-in post in February described the censorship activities of TUSD in the wake of changes to state law banning the teaching of Mexican-American Studies. At the time, I was critical of the district's willingness not only to comply with the state-mandated changes to its curriculum, but actually to embrace the limitations ... and of course to deny that it amounted to censorship.

I continue to follow developments, in part with the help of Cuéntame (Tell Me), from which I recently learned about Al Madrigal's report on the use hearsay evidence in the effort to eradicate the program. Because this appeared on The Daily Show, I was initially convinced that it was a spoof. Rather, it is mockery -- school-board officials mock reason and their responsibilities as educators, and the show's producers mock them simply by asking them to reflect on their choices.

The new documentary film Precious Knowledge tells the story in much more detail, and from the point of view of the students and teachers involved. It begins in the classrooms, showing what it really means to look at history and culture from a critical perspective. In times of increasing conformity to very narrow ideas of what education should be, it is actually radical to look at what really happens. It is also necessary.

The reality-based teaching is what seems to bother the officials who went after these programs. They complain, for example, about lessons about Benjamin Franklin's racism, without disputing the racist writings of Franklin himself. What really bothers them, though, is that the teaching fosters a shift in thinking that could erode their power. Arizona officials are using the rhetoric of inclusivity, but its immigration and education laws increasingly resemble an attempt to create an American form of Apartheid.

The BSU screening of Precious Knowledge will be at 3:30 on Monday, April 9 in the Heritage Room at Maxwell Library.

Click to Expand
Cuéntame graphics are based on the traditional
Mexican Lotería 

Monday, April 02, 2012


Click map to enlarge
Thanks as always to geographer Matt Rosenberg for bringing yet another bit of geographic whimsy my way. Programmers at Google have -- for this week only -- created an April Fool's Day version of Google Maps that resembles the old-school, 8-bit graphics used in the 1985 Nintendo. (Yes, I had been using even more primitive TRS-80 computers, so I remember this being an advance!) As Matt explains, the temporary "Quest" link toggled on this low-resolution digital model. Since it was temporary, I captured my hometown above, and I provide this direct link.

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