Sunday, December 28, 2014

Carrion Coffee

Every once in a while, I am asked whether fair-trade, organic coffee is as good as regular coffee. "No," I reply, "It is better. If you treat the soil and the farmers better, the coffee is better."

My interest in coffee began about 15 years ago, with a focus first on the farmers and then on the environment of coffeelands. It was about 10 years ago that I began to care about the beverage itself, and soon figured out that terrible coffee in the cup is a form of karma. Bad coffee comes from bad coffee systems.

It was around this time that we realized the sinister role that cream and sugar had played in making bad coffee palatable for generations of drinkers who were focused strictly on getting caffeine into their systems. We then also realized that a study in which we participated in 1989 had been specifically aimed at making the world safe for bad coffee. It is easier to mask bad coffee with flavors than to work on improving the conditions of coffee production.

All of this was brought to mind when I saw the latest Rhymes with Orange comic by Hilary Price. Coffee shops or roasters that emphasize flavors are probably trafficking in something close to Carion Coffee.

Rhymes with Orange, Dec. 27, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

From Urban to Urbane

The red marker above shows the approximate location of a crumbling mansion whose restoration is part of a remarkable effort to restore the vitality of Beirut, Lebanon. Be sure to pan and zoom in order to see this neighborhood and its city in a broader context.

Beirut is known to most Americans either as the site of the loss of 220 Marines in 1983 or -- more likely -- simply as one of many unfamiliar cities somewhere "over there" in the Middle East. But it has a rich past, a complicated present, and a future that could illuminate the entire region.

Boston Globe journalist Thanassis Cambanis conveys a great deal about the geography of this city in his article In a Beirut Mansion, A City's Culture is Reborn.

He begins by explaining what Beirut represented prior to the civil war in Lebanon. Early in the article, he evokes the charm and ferment of a vital global city. He then explains how architect Ghassan Maasri is using the city's derelict mansions -- particularly the one on Abdul Kader Street -- to involve artists and intellectuals in making the city great once again.

The discussion at first reminds me of similar projects close to home, where Waterfire and gallery nights have reversed the decay of Providence. But Cambanis tells an even more important tale, as he puts Beirut in the context of urbanization and halting democratization in the broader Middle East.

We should all be wishing Maasri and his neighbors success in the remaking of an urbane Beirut.


Shortly after I heard Maasri's story, I heard another about a terrific house in a great city in tough times. War profiteers are making it difficult for British author Diana Darke to keep a house she purchased in Damascus. On one level, her effort to hold on to a second home is trivial in a city decimated by atrocities, but on another level it is a poignant reminder of what has been lost and what might yet be restored.

Damascus has been a city longer than any other place in the world has been a city. This house represents hope for its future.
Damascus is the world's oldest continuously occupied city. It is just 35 miles to the southeast of Beirut. It is a sign of these troubled times in Syria that despite a major highway connecting one to the other, Google cannot calculate a route.

Explore these cities and the lands between.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Open Roads

My relationship to cars.
Cars are the worst. Not only do they contribute to climate change, but the care and feeding of cars has led to sprawling landscapes that we can only get around by car. This has set up a positive-feedback loop that only makes the climate problem worse, and actually causes many to pretend to believe it does not exist, because the alternatives are so unthinkable.

But cars, alas, are also the best. I have to confess that I love few things better than the open road, explored by car, and just about every county visit I have made has been in a car. I plan to use some form of automobile -- if they still exist -- when Pam and I celebrate our 66th birthdays on Route 66.

Until then, shorter road trips will have to do, and the vicarious enjoyment of such photography projects as Scenes from the American Road from The Atlantic (which is a great font of good writing, especially for geographers). This splendid collection of photographs and accompanying thoughts was gathered from creative thinkers in a variety of fields, from comedy to philanthropy.

I am fortunate to have been on some of these very roads, and look forward to exploring more of them.

Near Chillicothe, Ohio. Jeni Britton Bauer, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Friday, December 19, 2014

Coffee-Flavored Coffee

Pluggers 12/19/2014, Gary Brookins

Thanks to humorist Gary Brookins for a nice chuckle this morning, which I enjoyed over a cup of coffee-flavored coffee, prepared with attention to every detail.

My initial relationship to coffee was far different than it is now, and closer the the relationship most people have to it: as a caffeine vehicle. During my first year of college, I worked in the alumni fund-raising call center late into the night. The styrofoam cups of percolated Chock Full O'Nuts were not there for the flavor.

Even in graduate school, we knew nothing of coffee, and we owe completion of our degrees to endless bricks of Folger's. My favorite librarian Pamela explains, in fact, how we played a small role -- as human subjects in the experiment that led to the introduction of flavored coffees.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Boston's Katrina

The day before pleading with the U.S. Olympic Committeeto bring the 2024 games to his city, Boston's Mayor Walsh announced that an alternative shelter had been found for the homeless people displaced by the sudden closing of this bridge in October. I recently wrote about this because it seemed to show a reckless disregard for the homeless people and other clients of social services on Boston's Long Island. Only this week did I learn just how severe that disregard had been. In its timeline accompanying the story, the Boston Globe describes the bridge's October 8 evacuation:
City engineer meets with MassDOT bridge inspection officials to seek guidance. The state experts are presented with documents showing that certain gusset plates have a "zero load rating" which means they cannot safely bear any weight. The city's consultant tells city employees that the bridge "needs to be closed immediately. This closure should happen by the end of the day." The city immediately begins evacuating the island -- using the bridge.
From the timeline I also learned contingency plans had included the ferry option that I suggested in my Short Shrift piece. Even before reading that contingency plans had been made but ignored, I was beginning to think of the Long Island story as Boston's Katrina. The evacuation in this case had no casualties, but the evacuees need not have been displaced at all. The city has spent two months trying to find the weakest NIMBY zones, and is pleased with itself for prolonging this ordeal only through mid-January.

When opponents of the Olympic bid argue that the money for the games would be better spent on schools, roads, and bridges, the apologists for the bid reply that the Olympics would "force" investment on infrastructure that might otherwise not be funded.

Given the failures -- so far -- at Long Island, this seems wishful thinking indeed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Read This Poem. I Dare You.

"[English does not] just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." ~~ James Nicoll

I was reminded of this observation today, when a friend shared the poem below. It is an unusual poem, in that it was contrived to shed light on the difficulty of its own words. I usually do not read poems out loud, even though I am aware that all poems make more sense that way. But I made a point of doing so in this case, and I am glad I did.

I am a pretty good reader and I speak -- mostly in English -- for a living. But reading at a normal pace, I was tongue-tied on many lines.

I was also reminded of those who believe that learning a language is easy, though they have never tried to do so themselves. (Read it below or try the original post for some context and a larger font.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Milk of Sorrow

Neither of us is sure how Milk of Sorrow landed on our Netflix streaming list, but we are glad it did. It is a film, not a movie. It rewards patience, and tells a difficult story beautifully.

Even with our years of experience watching Latin American film, we did not readily understand some important facets of the story. We found reviews by Sheri Linden and Sarah Manvel very helpful. I would consider reading them before watching the film.

People tend to love this film or hate it. Reasons for the latter include its slow pace -- a lot is revealed without dialog or action -- and a general lack of interest in non-Hollywood film. Some Peruvians have complained that it does not represent all of Peru, but of course the film maker makes no such claim. Telling a story of Peru -- even an important one -- is not the same as telling the story of Peru. And although this is a story quite apart from our own brief experience in Peru earlier this year, some facets of it were immediately familiar.

For other examples of film from or about Latin America, see my posts The Most Important Town in the AmericasCups and Summits,  Latin American Films, and Latin American Film Trailers.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Spot the Africa

Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursel’s as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.
Robert Burns (1759–1796)

A modern rendering of the words of poet Burns might be -- 
Oh, what a powerful gift it would be for us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would free us from many a blunder
and foolish notion.

I think of these lines whenever I notice a bit of wisdom about my own country, offered from the fresh perspective of someone from another. In Spot the Africa, Trevor Noah does just that, on many levels.

Find Africa in these images.
Noah ends with a song that is a send-up of Bob Geldof's recent reprise of "Do they Know It's Christmas?" When I watched the original Band Aid 1984 version with students recently, we found it be incredibly dated. Sadly, the Band Aid 2014 version is even worse. Not only is all the original condescension included, but the reprise (which I do not recommend watching) opens with a jarring, voyeuristic contrast: from the removal of a nearly nude ebola victim from her bed, the scene cuts to the media spectacle of Geldof and his costars arriving at the studio for a red-carpet moment.

My students and I are not the only ones who have objected to the video's objectification of ebola victims in particular and Africans in general. Rather than building much-needed empathy, it actually increases social distance; rather than reducing geographic ignorance, it perpetuates errant stereotypes. Geldof and crew are no better than the chocolate industry, whose first concern was its supply chain, and which responded with highly publicized token donations.

Geldof has not taken the criticism well, cutting one interview short with colorful language and later insisting that his song was not intended to be a dissertation. Also with colorful language. Since Geldof wants acclaim but not serious engagement, mockery seems an appropriate response. Trever Noah delivers it artfully above, and calls to mind an even more elaborate parody by Radi-Aid.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Short Shrift for Long Island

Drumlins are relatively uncommon landforms found in periglacial areas; sea drumlins are much rarer features that can be found where glacial processes interact over time with processes affecting sea level to create a drumlin field surrounded by ocean water. One such place is the Boston Harbor Islands, a National Recreation Area within view of Boston and surrounding communities.

We became gradually aware of these islands during our early years in the region, and about a decade ago made our only visit (so far), when we took an MBTA ferry from Hull to Georges Island for a summer afternoon visiting the old fort there. Last year, I became vaguely aware of Long Island when we took an informative working harbor cruise with Boston Harbor Cruises (this particular route is not in its web site, as it is offered only once a year or so). As we passed under the bridge that connects it -- via Moon Island -- to the mainland, our guide told us that access to the island is restricted.

I did not learn of the modern uses of the island until they had been abandoned in October of this year. The island that was used for military, vacation, medical, and human-services purposes for several hundred years suddenly became inaccessible. The bridge that had replaced regular ferry service in the early 1950s had become so unsafe that Boston's mayor ordered it closed, and the island abandoned so quickly that many homeless people sheltered there were not able to collect their belongings.

This week, a brief radio report confirms that the out-of-sight-out-of-mind solution provided by the island is not easy to replicate elsewhere in the Hub. As winter sets in, no place has been found for the hundreds of people who have relied on the shelter it provides, and no other Boston communities seem willing to fill the void.

The predicament of those stranded by the closing of this bridge raises some difficult questions. Bridges throughout the United States have begun to collapse, and many more are in danger of doing so, as ideologies opposed to public investment preclude the funding of appropriate maintenance. But this seems an extreme case: how could a bridge serving the homeless be considered useable one day and not the next? Note that Google has already eliminated the map (shown above in satellite imagery) entirely:
Officials estimate that it will take three years to replace the bridge. That would be a reasonable estimate for a new bridge, or for a bridge that does not provide unique access. But given the importance of the bridge for the people who have relied on Long Island, that delay is an indictment, as is the failure to reinstate the ferry service that once connected Long Island to the city it serves.

UPDATE -- March 30, 2015

Globe reporter David Abel takes the administration to task for continue to fail those displaced by neglect described above. As city leaders crow about the suitability of Boston for the 2024 Olympics, it comes to light that the replacement shelter will not be ready by April.


As I was writing this piece, I noticed an image from the Paravani River in Georgia (former S.S.R.) that shows the kind of creativity that has not yet been mustered for the people of Long Island. I am reminded of the adage "If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they ..."
Image: ©Yuriy Buriak on PizzaTravel

Bridging the Hudson

During our time in Bridgewater, we have had the good fortune of spending quite a bit of time in the lower portion of the Hudson River Valley, between Albany and New York. This is both because it is on the way to so many other places we routinely visit and because we have good friends there, one of whom is a consummate geographer.
From Geographer Jeff we learned of a recent article celebrating one of the many fascinating structures of the region -- the Bear Mountain Bridge. The Secret History of the bridge was recently posted on the lohud blog by a former executive director of the New York Bridge Authority, who shares insights into its financing, geography, and engineering.

Much more about the region can be learned from Scenic Hudson, where Jeff puts his geographic expertise to work as Director of Land Use Advocacy.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


Just as Only a Game is the only sports show I listen to regularly, Marketplace is my sole business program, since most business-oriented journalism embraces too many of the simplifying assumptions of neoliberal economics. Even Marketplace was testing my patience in recent days, ending a recent segment with "Buy Early, Buy Often" uttered without irony.

 But my Marketplace is back this week, redeeming itself with thoughtful and creative journalism about economic geography at a very local scale. And as if to welcome me back into the fold personally, its series on gentrification begins in ... wait for it .. a Latin-themed coffee shop.

For the series York & Fig, Marketplace has actually set up an office in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles, where the intersection of York Boulevard and Figueroa Street ten miles north of its main office and right in the middle of a rapidly changing neighborhood. The purpose is to investigate the process of gentrification, with a focus on exactly what indicates that a neighborhood is beginning a process of rapid economic and social change.

The first indicator: coffee. In this case, Café de Leche is a local establishment that has been gaining a lot of positive attention, and whose very presence is seen as a bellwether of changes that are underway. For those who care more about coffee than economic geography, this story is a great hook -- come for the coffee, and learn just how interesting urban geography can be!

The café that drew me into this series is actually about a mile ENE of the intersection that is the hub of this changing neighborhood. The next time I am in LA (it has been close to thirty years, so I'm overdue), I'll visit so that I can review it for GeoCafes.


While I was thinking about these stories, my favorite librarian shared another story about a very different kind of change in the economic geography of Los Angeles. The article LA's Mom & Pop Donut Shops Have Harsh Words for Dunkin' Donuts gives hope that the City of the Angels might be able to resist the sweet temptations of Coffee Hell.

DK Donuts owner Mayly Tao says, "Dunkin' is the McDonald's of donuts. I haven't tried their donuts, but I hear they're stale."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Getting "A" Coffee

It is with some hesitation that I refer readers to yet another hagiography of Howard Schultz, but a recent conversation between journalist Kara Miller and business professor Mikaela Lefrak sheds some light on the role Starbucks played in changing the geography of coffee shops in the United States. As Miller says, Schultz did help to change us from the culture of "get coffee" to "get a coffee" though I would much rather do so at one of his thousands of independent competitors. The interview is well worth a listen.

According to Professor Lefrak -- and I tend to agree -- the evolution of the world's biggest coffee chain actually helped to encourage great independent cafes, such as Mirasol's in South Dartmouth. See my GeoCafes blog for dozens of examples, mostly from my students, of other independent cafes.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


I still consider the ability to travel frequently such a privilege and blessing that I am reluctant to complain about the discomfort of airports. Reluctant, but not entirely immune: just ask me about a cold night spent at JFK in January 2013 or the frustrations of Miami International in January 2014. A great deal has been written, in fact, about the growing privations of air travel and of the growing class divide inside airports, between elite travelers and the prolls.

While many of us have been fixated on the insides of airports, UNC professor John Kasarda has been paying attention to what is going on outside, and it has been pretty remarkable. In an extensive and fascinating discussion on Innovation Hub, he explains the many ways in which airports have been transformed into geographic amenities, generating employment at all levels and actually driving up property values.

He explains why a neighborhood very close to the many runways of Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport that has the highest incomes in the United States, and confirms my suspicions that the region around our "family airport" in Virginia is the fast-growing in the United States -- a sea of culs-de-sac and shopping malls.

Kasarda goes on to explain that not only is proximity to airports increasingly important, but that airports themselves are also becoming destinations. On my own campus, a committee recently needed to interview candidates for the presidency of our university. Between the phone interviews and the in-depth campus visits, they performed an intermediate stage of interviews with semi-finalists. The entire committee spent several days at a nearby airport, while each candidate flew in, met with them, and flew back out. The geography of airports is indeed changing.


When I mentioned this post to my friend and fellow geographer Vernon Domingo, he reminded me that George Clooney's character in Up in the Air had an airport-based worklife.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why Walls Won't Work

Because Congress rarely acts on immigration, presidents always do, couching "amnesty" in whatever terms they find most suitable, whether focusing on the work ethic of immigrants as Ronald Reagan did, or on the cohesion of families, as Barack Obama has done. Nothing belies putative commitments to "free markets" and "family values" more than the nasty treatment of millions of migrants who lack documentation.

Economies undergo cycles, and so does xenophobia. When the economy is strong, immigration is not considered a problem. When the economy is weak, current migrants become scapegoats, while previous generations become icons of long-lost virtues. When the economy is savaged -- as it has been in recent years by an unregulated cadre of financiers and other gamblers -- the scapegoating becomes savage as well. The labor of the undocumented is always welcome, of course, but their humanity is not, as I have written extensively with respect to the "human sieve" effect in general and the Mitt Romney phenomenon in particular.
Berlin Wall in 1989. As Stephen Green has explained (as quoted by James Joyner), "The Berlin Wall did not just fall down. It was torn down. It was torn down by the very people it was meant to cage."
All of which is to say that although Barack Obama has deported more people than any previous president and has continued to invest billions of dollars into walls both steel and electronic, "border security" remains a clarion call, and it means: "Ain't no wall high enough."

This mantra assumes many facts not in evidence, no matter how often it is repeated. My Sieve Details post refers readers to the work of Roque Planas, who explains the many problems with over-reliance on the giant walls, including their likelihood of increasing the amount of time individual migrants spend on this side of the border.
Most migrants are not coming over or under walls.
Reporting for WGHB's The World, Monica Campbell provides an additional reason that the southern wall "works" only for the contractors who scare Congress into over-funding it. With migration from Mexico in decline, Asian-Americans are now the fastest-growing group of undocumented Americans. And as anybody paying attention in the Boston area know, Obama's executive order will affect plenty of western Europeans as well.

This is not to suggest that one population should be substituted for another as scapegoats until the bankers give us our economy back. Rather, it is a reminder that debates that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of our neighbors are often based on a willful ignorance of basic facts about them. I recently had the privilege of hearing a presentation by Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, director of the film Documented. He was brought here from the Philippines as a child and is now making the case that immigration should be treated as a long-term civil-rights cause, rather than a short-term legal problem. Nothing is going to change about our economy's proclivity for drawing in migrants, so something needs to change about the treatment of the humans in our midst.
In closing, a word from our sponsor.

Tahrir, Missouri

One good reason to travel abroad and to learn about other countries in general is that it can help us to understand our own society a bit better. After spending a summer in Mexico, for example, I returned to a job in consulting, and the contrast gave me deeper insights into how my own culture relates to time.

I was reminded of this yesterday when listening to Daniel Estrin who lives near Ferguson, Missouri but works in Palestine, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East. He sees familiar clashes unfolding near his home town, and his experiences abroad help him to understand the protests as part of a broader social movement that arise from geographies of unequal standing as citizens.

Most of the protests are peaceful, of course, even if that does not make for the best television. And the protests are aimed at rethinking the conditions from which violence against innocents so often arises.
Die-in, Chapel Hill, NC. Image: Jeremy McKellar via HuffPost.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bay State Aloha

In honor of the passing of a beloved colleague from our history department Pam finished reading aloud a history book we have been enjoying together for some while. From her freshman year at Bridgewater until today, Professor Jean Stonehouse devoted her entire adult life to learning and teaching in our community. She was away only long enough for her graduate studies, returning to devote four decades to teaching history at her alma mater. For the past two decades, that service included leading our the local chapter of our faculty union, advocating for faculty and librarians, and by extension for the students we serve.

Faneuil Hall in a 1903 public-domain image. Wikimedia
Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes is a story about our adopted home state, a state we would love to visit some day, and the somewhat twisted connections between the two. The eventual colonization of Hawaii by the United States was set in motion by the audacity of Massachusetts missionaries. It culminated in 1899, as the implications of a closing frontier were becoming apparent. With the "sea to shining sea" conquest winding down, some political leaders began to rethink of Manifest Destiny as a global, rather than continental, mandate.

When U.S. House voted overwhelming to annex the nation of Hawaii on June 15 of 1899, a group that would come to be known as the Anti-Imperialist League gathered in Faneuil Hall in Boston, the city from which those missionaries had set sail eighty years prior. As Vowell writes, Boston attorney Moorfield Storey warned:
"When Rome began her career of conquest, the Roman Republic began to decay.... Let us once govern any considerable body of men [sic] without their consent, and it is a question of time how soon this republic shares the fate of Rome."
Clearly, the fall of the American empire has not been as rapid as Storey imagined, but neither is his warning without merit, as the aftermath of the American Century continues to unfold.

Vowell closed her story with reference to the song "Hawaii 78" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, better known on the mainland for his beautiful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, about which I wrote in Hawaiian Beauty.

Aloha, Jean. May you rest in peace.


My favorite librarian -- who actually read almost all of Unfamiliar Fishes aloud to me -- posted her own review, emphasizing the book's library connections.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hourly Wages versus Hourly Houses

Professor Reich explains that WalMart workers are more generous than WalMart owners. Of course, the Waltons make donors of taxpayers who provide an average of $900,000 a year in subsidies to each store. The workers themselves try to close the rest of the earnings gap.

When I viewed this video, the top-rated comment was the following:

Not sure how long people are going to keep pretending that shopping at Walmart isn't hurting everyone. It's a ripple effect. If you shop there, you should be embarrassed. Might as well slap the cashier on the way out.

I agreed, but I also agreed with the comments on the comment that pointed out that many people really have little choice but to shop at WalMart. The cynical geography of the company's locational strategy has been to clear the land of competitors in a complicated but inexorable pattern of pricing strategies and cannibalizing its own stores. I discuss that process in general terms on my "Bad for Business" page and in terms of specific Texas cases on this blog in "Redemption at Alice."

As strongly as I avoid buying at WalMart, I know that for the reasons mentioned above, millions of people do not have that luxury. So we can never change WalMart through boycotts. In "voting with our dollars" these three siblings will "outvote" the rest of us. That is why we need to think of ourselves not as consumers, but as citizens. We need to vote with our votes.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Days of the Deads

I write this on one of my favorite days of the year -- Dia de los Muertos. This year, it is a cool, dark, and stormy day as we site by a fire in a house by the sea, bringing many appropriate elements together. Although she is not directly associated with the day, the water and the howling wind remind me of La Llorona, and I will be sharing both haunting and humorous versions of her story with my students during the coming week.
Hungry Ghost Festival. Image: Smithsonian
As I started looking for information to share about the holiday itself, I found a terrific Smithsonian travel article that puts Día de los Muertos in the context not only of the Celtic festival Sahmain but also of a variety of ways that people celebrate their dearly not-so-departed all over the world.

As you read Festivals of the Dead, be sure to follow the links to more detailed geographic information that author Natasha Geiling has included throughout, and visit the sites on the map I created to accompany the article. Note that I include only one prominent location for each holiday; Geiling emphasizes that all of these holidays and festivals are celebrated across broad cultural regions. She also emphasizes that the participation is very genuine, and that visitors show approach them with respect, rather than as spectacle.

Of course, as a Latin Americanist, Día de los Muertos is still my main entrance, especially at this cross-quarter date, and I am pleased to share a few serious and not-so-serious references I have found recently. Those seeking an overview of the holiday can begin with an article from National Geographic Education. Writing for Huffington Post, Daniel Cubias explains the differences between this weekend's two holidays -- and the problems of appropriating one in the celebration (and marketing) of the other. Writing for Indian Country, Steve Russell goes further, arguing that the two holidays have little in common.

Those caveats notwithstanding, any illumination of the Mexican tradition is inevitably going to take place during the hoopla surrounding its Celtic cousin. A week or so ago, Pam and I were on hand for the Taunton-area premiere of Book of Life, an animated feature that adds levels of needless plot twists to an otherwise useful exploration of the the spirit of the holiday. Pam then learned of an entire new animated series Muertoons -- which we can only hope is as delightful as the title and the opening credits (sadly, the series itself is not yet available, but is due out this year).


Courtesy of The Selvedge Yard, it was on the Day of the Dead that I saw this fascinating image, Morning Tea by Serge N. Kozintsev -- a visual trick much more interesting than the sugar skull I decorated a couple of nights ago, and one that captures the fullness of life in an image of death.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Overcoming Condor

Careful followers of this blog might recognize that I first posted this video almost a year ago. In Creative Resistance, I explained this work by Chico Buarque, and the importance of his song Calice (Chalice) in resisting the dictators who dominated Brazil from 1964 to 1985.

I have shared this song and its story with many students, and can sometimes be heard singing its refrain to myself. I was quite surprised early on a recent morning, when I heard the familiar and haunting phrases in the middle of a report from the BBC as I was preparing my morning coffee. That report, it turns out, was an unfamiliar chapter in the story of the civil resistance that eventually ended Brazil's darkest period.

The story is that of Vladimir Herzog, a reporter who was killed and tortured in 1975, and whose funerals (both Jewish and Catholic) served as focal points of resistance, as religious leaders refused to validate the official version of the events surrounding his death. The BBC retelling features his son Ivo, who established the Vladimir Herzog Institute to promote human rights in honor of his father.

The title of this blog post recalls the culpability of the United States in events of this kind in Brazil and neighboring countries. As in more recent times, counterterrorism was considered a goal that could justify overlooking the abuse of human rights. Through Operation Condor, regimes in the Southern Cone collaborated in the persecution, torture, and execution of dissidents, especially those who may have been able to flee their countries of origin.
This condor I met in Peru earlier this year has no culpability for the atrocities carried out in its name.
Long-awaited Update(May 28, 2016)

The BBC and others are reporting that Argentina has just sent 15 of the masterminds of these crimes to jail for terms that will amount to life imprisonment. Of course nothing can ever balance the scales of justice for these crimes -- and none of the collaborators in the U.S. government were on trial -- but this does bring some solace to families of those who disappeared.

My Wordle!

What's it all about?
When I was in graduate school, I learned that "content analysis" was a fancy phrase for a very simple way of describing texts. Although it conveys nothing about the many contexts in which words may be used, simple counts of word frequency can provide a quick way to compare large bodies of text. For example, a research partner and I used the frequency of words used in newspaper stories in Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona as one part of our study of these twin cities.

Word clouds -- and specifically Wordles -- are a visual form of content analysis that I have seen in a variety of contexts in recent years. In fact, I created some as Visualization Tools for this blog in 2012. Yesterday, I admired the work of a fellow geographer who used Wordles in her own work on the geography of migration patterns in Vermont. Her team had hoped to receive 75 responses to a survey, but received thousands, each rich in descriptive text. They are now taking the time to code and analyze the results, but used a Wordle in order to begin their exploration of a data set far richer than they had anticipated.

This inspired me to create a new Wordle for this very blog, with the hope that it might entice viewers to explore some of the 800 or so entries from which the image above was generated in a matter of seconds.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Busy Week for Geography!

Last week was a busy one for geography education in Massachusetts -- especially on local CBS affiliates!

On Tuesday the 7th, news anchor Paula Ebben dedicated her Eye on Education feature to Family Geography Night that had taken place the previous week at North Andover Middle School.

This award-winning night has been organized by MGA member Robert  Poirier each of the past six years, and in 2011 is was recognized by the Massachusetts Senate for educational excellence. As shown in the video above, many teachers and other volunteers commit their time to an evening of truly engaged learning involving both students and their families.
Then on Thursday evening, MGA members Vernon Domingo and James Hayes-Bohanan visited the studios. They were able to thank Paula Ebbens in person for her support of geography while waiting to go on air with Dan Rea. The two had been on Nightside with Dan Rea once before, and were glad to be back on this program, which is heard throughout eastern North America because of the night-time range of strong AM radio signals.

Be sure to listen to the entire hour (the play button is in a black box just below the program description. The many interesting calls from listeners included one from a graduate of our department now teaching in Florida. Brenda reminded us and the rest of the audience that geography is both a physical science and a social science.

Geography is, in fact, at the intersection of STEM Education and Global Education. This is one reason that geography is a vital discipline for 21st-century learning. It is a subject that informs and enriches understanding of many related fields. Geographers are, in fact, especially well prepared for making interdisciplinary connections.

As Dan Rea made very clear during the discussion, however, we cannot rely on a sprinkling of geography in the courses to substitute for a sound education in geography itself.

The discussion included current efforts toward that end in the Massachusetts Legislature. Thanks to broad, bipartisan, and bicameral effort that includes the Legislature's only geographer, the body is considering An Act Relative to Geography Education. The Joint Committee on Education and Senate Committee on Ways and Means have approved the measure, but it is currently awaiting approval by technical committees. The bill provides an opportunity for Massachusetts to declare its support of geographic literacy through an annual Geography Education Week. More importantly, it would create a fixed-term Geography Commission to examine the ways to improve geography education throughout Massachusetts.
Many legislators have become aware of the gaps in geography education through MGA State House visits with EarthView.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Climate Change: The Business Case

At the time of this writing, many in the United States are clamoring for more dramatic action against Ebola, a disease that killed 4,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea before garnering any significant attention in the United States. Ebola is getting virtually no attention as a humanitarian disaster, even though Liberia is a country created by the United States. But as a frightening possibility, the most far-fetched scenarios are driving the public discussion.

Meanwhile, many continue to deny threats for which there is much more compelling evidence. The biggest of these is climate change, which in many ways is a far bigger threat than Ebola.

The snapshot below is from an animation of surface-temperature changes that summarizes in a basic form the extensive evidence compiled by NASA, regarding observed trends.
NASA: 1963 frame, part of a 1880-2013 time series of annual average temperatures
These results are not surprising, given the rapid release of carbon from the surface, the relative scarcity of carbon in the atmosphere, and the small size of the atmospheric layer in which carbon is stored. As I have written elsewhere, it is not plausible for anything but warming to result from this combination of factors.
These images are just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of the evidence that NASA provides, for those who need convincing. As I wrote a year ago in Climate Foxholes, however, most people are ready to move on to figuring out what kinds of impacts will continue, and to consider what to do about them. Among these is Business Insider, which has published articles related to many aspects of climate change. These include a recent survey of 25 Devastating Effects of Climate Change, some of which are already underway.

Threats to our favorite foods and drinks can sometimes garner attention most readily, as with recent reports on the impact of Ebola on chocolate prices. It is perhaps for that reason that the authors included wine as a potential victim of climate change. I admit to being concerned as wine consumer (and small-scale vintner), but I also know that this is an impact far more importance to wine-producing communities than it is to me. The resolution of this map is a bit fuzzy, but it is showing that some areas currently suitable for wine will become unsuitable, while other areas -- shown in blue -- will actually become more suitable. This is far from a break-even scenario, though, because the soils, human resources, and infrastructure needed for wine are in the areas of existing production. The same is true for coffee, tea. and other specialized crops.
Image: Dickinson et al, Climate Change, Wine, and Conservation
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2013
Because I am currently working on a proposal for an entire course on climate justice, I reading the survey of 25 impacts with particular attention to the challenge Dr. Mary Robinson has issued to geographers. Speaking to the AAG in 2012, the former president of Ireland explained the geographic and social variability of climate-change causes, consequences, and vulnerabilities. With that in mind, it can be seen that no particular person will suffer from all 25 of the consequences listed (nor all of those unlisted). But each of the consequences of climate change has its own particular geography, and some people are going to be much more vulnerable overall than others.


As often happens, I found something interesting just after posting the discussion above. One of the reasons that geographers need to be involved in climate change is that geographic trends that are not directly related to climate change interact in ways that add significant complexity. A very important example is the geography of water usage in the United States. The population is increasing most rapidly in areas that are dry and getting drier, but where people use more water than in wetter regions. Current pricing structures -- which result in part from significant Federal subsidies for water in the arid West -- seem likely to compound current and future droughts.

Image: Brad Plumer on Vox -- Maps of Water Use

At the time of the COP21 climate talks in Paris, NPR's Peter Overby reported on corporate lobbyists who were advocating in favor of carbon limits. He cites some continued disagreement among conservative think tanks as to the reasons for taking action, but growing unanimity that carbon emissions should be reduced.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Geography of Murk and Muck

Just about everything has a geography, including the illicit disposal of automobiles. A group of friends who were organizing clean-ups along the Merrimack River north of Boston discovered this about a decade ago when the water level was lowered for maintenance of a dam, revealing a river full of cars. There is even a coffee connection here, in that the water so resembles black coffee that this was essentially unknown. Even now, divers locate the cars by feel, not sight.

Those friends created a non-profit organization focused solely on the removal of cars from the bottom of the river. In a fascinating report published today as the group passes the 50-car milestone, Boston Globe journalist Billy Baker describes how these volunteers address the physical, ecological, financial, and legal implications of this complicated work.

This is becoming a routine, as the Clean River Project specializes in the removal of cars from difficult circumstances. Image: Mark Lorenz. See image gallery with story for more.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Día del Libro

In coming days, the Hayes-Bohs are likely to make an exception to our usual rule of avoiding the opening day of anything. Some people thrive on the excitement, but we would rather check out a new store, sports season, or film after the crowds have subsided. Depending on the weather (that's a long story), however, we might make it to the opening day of a new film called The Book of Life.
The reason for the unusual title of this post ("Day of the Book") is that director Jorge Gutierrez -- in his interview with Mandalit del Barco -- describes some difficulty in using the holiday name "Día De Los Muertos" ("Day of the Dead") for his work because of efforts by Disney to copyright the name of the holiday! Hear more about the making of this film from his interview on Latino USA.
Fortunately, despite such annoyances -- and the tendency of the holiday to be associated with low-rent horror films -- Gutierrez was able to find a producer willing to support a film that celebrates the true meaning of the holiday, which has to do with honoring departed family and friends, who remain more connected in many Latin American contexts than they do elsewhere.

Whether we make it to opening day or not, we look forward to seeing this independent film soon, though the trailer suggests the production does not entirely succeed in avoiding the Disneyfication effect.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Soccer World

From the delightful program Only a Game comes a great story about the geography of soccer and fishing. Yes, the geography of both -- centered on the small city of Unalaska.

In English, is sounds like a place not much like Alaska, and I'm tempted to call it "Very Alaska" in response. The name, however, has nothing to do with "not" and everything to do with "near." The Unangan people who first inhabited it called it Ounalashka, meaning "near the peninsula."

It is also connected to the entire world. On the map above, zoom out to see how very remote this community is. Its situation is isolated: in almost any direction, one could travel for thousands of miles before finding neighbors. Zooming in, however, reveals why the town is connected to so many places around the world. Its site is fortuitous, though, for making global connections. The city's harbor is doubly sheltered, as Iliuliuk Bay is tucked away within Unalaska Bay, on the Bering Sea side of the island. (From the National Park Service I just learned of the great strategic importance of this and neighboring islands during World War II, the only U.S. territory to be occupied by Japan.)

The city is in the United States, which means could be expected to have little or no tradition of soccer. But it is visited by fishing fleets from all the rest of the world, and it has embraced the soccer traditions that all of those sailors bring to the city, celebrated with its International Friendship Cup over the past several decades.

The story is about a community celebrating the connections it has with the rest of the world, and learning some of the ways in which people are more alike than different.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Victorian Remote Control

On this date 101 years ago, President Wilson completed the Panama Canal while sitting in his office. He neither flew nor took a car, which are the two alternatives shown above. Rather, he used what author Tom Standage has called the Victorian Internet, also known as the telegraph, to detonate the last remaining dike at Gamboa. Removing those last few feet of dirt shortened a New York-to-San Francisco journey by 7,872 miles -- nearly the diameter of the entire planet.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Crux of the Battle

The battle with the so-called Islamic State has reached a new level of complexity, having to do with the location of the latest fighting. Yesterday evening, PRI producer Joyce Hackel provided a very helpful explanation of what is at stake for the United States in Kobanê, Syria.

(I use the term "so-called" because ISIS is not a state, nor is it truly Islamic.)

This excellent piece of journalism begins with a vivid picture -- in words -- of what is going on in this town, and then a careful explanation of the different ways in which this matters to the United States, Europe, Turkey, and various groups within the region.

In their conversation with Rep. Stephen Lynch today, WGBH journalists Jim Braude and Margery Eagan spoke in more detail about the issues at stake here. I listened attentively because -- believe it or not -- Rep. Lynch was in the region today, and at one point it had been planned for me to be with him! I do not always agree with Rep. Lynch, but he has taken the time to learn this region first-hand and seems to have learned from the mistakes that led him to vote for the Iraq war on faulty information.

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