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.

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