Monday, October 31, 2016

Eagle and Condor

Image: Lakota Country Times

NPR begins a story with the phrase "a pipeline about to be built," in effect conceding defeat for the Sioux people and the water they are standing to protect.  The story continues quite usefully, though, in describing Sioux leader Dave Archambault's call for peace and prayers as they seek to stop a pipeline. The conversation includes an instructive examination of how notions of private property inform the current conflict at Standing Rock.

Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa reports on her the Standing Rock encampment in North Dakota, where indigenous people from throughout the world have united to demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline. This report is a bit longer than a typical NPR piece, but well worth listening to in its entirety, as she puts this particular conflict in a hemispheric context. She cites the eagle and condor prophecy, about the coming together of indigenous people of North and South America.

Maps of the project available online have been of remarkably poor quality. Thankfully, a cartographer-blogger named Northland Iguana has recognized the problem and created their own map. The accompanying blog post describes the problems with existing maps and geographic considerations regarding the conflict itself.

Latest News

As of November 2, the latest development in this story is that President Obama has expressed willingness to intervene in the routing decision. For over two centuries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for issuing permits for any activity or construction that modifies or impacts navigable waterways in the United States. This makes it the oldest environmental agency in the United States, and of course it reports to the President through the Secretary of the Army. President Obama has not suggested that he would heed the broader call from indigenous people and climate activists to prohibit this project, nor has he pledged quick action on routing.

He has, however, expressed willingness to intervene regarding some of the most immediate concerns of the protesters.

And A Bit Later News ...

On November 3, the Los Angeles Times published a persuasive and informative editorial urging a complete stop to the pipeline project, citing not only the specific problems with the route -- which was moved closer to indigenous people in order to protect non-indigenous people -- but also the relationship of this project to climate change.

Coalitions and Resistance

Members of the clergy from across the United States participated in a prayer circle during a pipeline protest on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Image and article: Boston Globe.


#StandingRockSyllabus is a definitive collection of maps, timelines, blog posts, letters, and other resources related to the protectors at Standing Rock.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bryson's Belt

My favorite librarian and I have a habit of reading books aloud together (mostly she to me), and one of our favorite (or favourite) authors to read together is Bill Bryson, perhaps best known for A Walk in the Woods, a featured in our community-wide reading program a couple of years ago and later turned into a film in which Robert Redford played Our Hero.

He is a writer from Iowa who spent two decades living in England. His trans-Atlantic writing life (abetted by his trans-Atlantic family life) help to make him a wry observer of culture on both sides of "the Pond," better able than most anybody to entertain the citizens of each country with the foibles of the other.
Box Hill in Surrey, from the London Telegrahp excerpt of Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain.
This evening, I was taking a turn at reading in The Road to Little Dribbling when I found myself reading this remarkable exposition on environmental geography (at the beginning of Chapter 9: Day Trips). It is very instructive about both the UK and the USA.
Stand on the eastern slopes of Noar Hill in Hampshire and you have a view that is prett well unimprovable. Orchards, fields and dark woods sit handomely upon the landscape. Here and there village rooftops and church spires poke through the trees. It is lovely and timeless and tranquilly spacious, as English views so often are. It seems miles from anywhere, yet not far off over the Surrey Hills is London. Get in a car and in about an hour you can be in Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square. To me, that is a miracle, that a city as vast and demanding as London can have prospects like this on its very doorstep, in every direction.
What accounts for the great bulk of this sumptuousness is the Metropolitan Green Belt, a ring of preserved landscape, mostly woods and farmland, encircling London and several other English towns and cities with the single-minded intention of alleviating sprawl. The notion of green belts was enshrined in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act and is to my mind the most intelligent, farsighted, thrillingly and self-evidently successful land management policy any nation has ever devised.
And now many people want to discard it.
The Economist magazine, for one, has for years argued that the green belts should be cast aside as a hindrance to growth. As an Economist writer editorializes from a dementia facility somewhere in the Home Counties: "The green belts that stop development around big cities should go, or at least be greatly weakened. They increase journey times without adding to human happiness."
Well, they add a great deal to my happiness, you pompous, over-educated twit. Perhaps I see this differently from others because I come from the Land of Shocking Sprawl. From time to time these days I drive with my wife from Denver International Airport to Vail,high in the Colorado Rockies, to visit our son Sam. It is a two-hour drive and the first hour is taken up with just getting out of Denver. It is a permanent astonishment to me how much support an American lifestyle needs -- shopping malls, distribution centers, storage depots, gas stations, zillion-screen multiplex cinemas, gyms, teeth-whitening clinics, business parks, motels, propane storage facilities, compounds holding flocks of U-Haul trailers or FedEx trucks, car dealerships, food outlets of a million types, and endless miles of suburban houses all straining to get a view of distant mountains.
Travel twenty-five or thirty miles out from London and you get Windsor Great Park or Epping Forest or Box Hill. Travel twenty-five or thirty miles out from Denver and you just get more Denver. I suppose Britain must have all this infrastructure, too, though I honestly don't know where most of it is. What I do know is that it isn't in the fields and farmland that ring every city. If that is not a glory, I don't know what is.
Being "over-educated" is of course not the problem with the errant writer at against whom Bryson is railing here, for there is no such thing as too much education. There is, however, such a thing as too much faith in free markets -- a fetish of mainstream economists. Bryson goes one for a few more pages to give a remarkably cogent explanation of why the efforts to dismantle Britain's green belts should be resisted. It is a primer in land-use dynamics that I will be using as a text in future sections of my Land Protection course. I also need to add this post to my page on sprawl.

Enough of the economics, though. This blog -- and Bryson's book -- are about the real world. This is the place that inspired Bryson to write the words above.

From Bryson's description in this and the previous chapter -- and by exploring the area online -- it is evident that this is simply a lovely site. As geographers, we zoom in to learn about sites -- the characteristics of places -- and we zoom out to learn about situation -- the context of places.

Noar Hill is situated between London and the sea, in a zone that surely could support the kind of sprawl that surrounds places like Denver, Atlanta, New York, and Dallas. But it need not!

Bryson's polemic in favor of green belts is just one of countless reasons to read this and his other works -- he is genuinely funny, a modern Mark Twain with a keen sense of geography..

Monday, October 10, 2016

Los Muertos Explorations

A half-painted face is meant to represent the quick transition between life and death.
Image: Fact #11 of 12 Facts about El Día de Muertos from Abuelita
This year I am going to have an actual costume for Halloween (not my usual "aging hippy professor" routine), but I'm still more focused on the next day: El Día de los Muertos! The image above is from a nice listicle on BuzzFeed from the folks at Abuelita cocoa.

As I do a quick search on this blog, I see that I have already posted quite a lot about this holiday, so this post will just serve as a bit of a directional sign to some that I have already posted:

On El Día de los Muertos in 2011, I recognized Benjamin Linder with Los Muertos: PRESENTES!  This posts describes the annual visits (in January, rather than November) of Bridgewater State students to the grave of Benjamin Linder in Matagalpa, and our ongoing efforts to open a cafe in his honor.

I wrote Día del Libro (2014) a couple weeks ahead of the premiere of The Book of Life, an earnest attempt to bring the spirit of this holiday to a feature-length film.

In 2015, Semana de Los Muertos post describes a full week of celebrating the holiday, and points to quite a few earlier stories and videos about this important cross-quarter day -- ranging from the somber to the silly.

Finally, although she is more associated with places than with dates, this is always a good time of year to remember La Llorona. I highly recommend the three videos that I posted in 2010 to tell three versions of the La Llorona story: traditional, comical, and political.

Sunday, October 09, 2016


I begin this post with some Kompa music, featuring sound and some landscapes of Haiti. Map Marye is a story that could happen anywhere -- about a family reluctant to accept a marriage. It is a reminder that place should be defined not solely by their problems, but also by their strengths.

It is also an important time to remember that the effects of injustices can be deep and long-lasting. In the case of Haiti, the injustices of two centuries ago continue to cost lives.

As the Guardian UK and others have reported, Haiti suffered the vast majority of casualties from Hurricane Matthew 2016, with 877 dead having been counted as of the weekend following the storm. The Guardian also laments the disparity in media coverage relative to the actual damage caused by the storm in Haiti and the U.S.

Post-storm research will undoubtedly show that one of the proximate reasons for the extremely high death toll is the lack of forest cover on the eastern side of Hispaniola -- a condition that began with clear-cutting during French colonization and one made impossible to remedy because of ongoing underdevelopment.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's most dramatic illustration of the development of underdevelopment, a framework that contradicts the prevailing wisdom that a "rising tide raises all boats" by focusing on the ways in which wealth accumulating in the core of the world economy is facilitated by impoverishment in the periphery.

A more striking example than Haiti and France would be difficult to imagine. In 1804, the people of Haiti used Enlightenment ideas they had gleaned from France and the United States to become the first people in the Western Hemisphere to free themselves from slavery and the only the second country in the same hemisphere to be free of European colonizers.

But the French managed to impose a penalty on the self-liberated colony -- a penalty that it continues to pay. Two decades after its defeat in Haiti, France sent a flotilla of naval vessels to extort 150,000,000 gold francs -- the equivalent of US$17,000,000,000 today. The excuse was that the freed slaves needed to pay for the land on which they had been enslaved.

Haiti never recovered from the robbery of an entire decade of income from the entire country. In 2015, the government of France considered repayment, and has at least forgiven modern-era debts as a gesture. But the prosperity that France enjoys today was built in part on both the enslavement of the people of Haiti and that 1825 extortion. The country can afford reparations that would go a long way toward the reduction of vulnerability to storms in Haiti today.

And now to us...

Knowing that the people of Haiti are just that -- people -- and that they are in need, it does little good to critique the underlying causes of that need if we are not also willing to step up and help. Over 800 people are now known to have died, and more than 350,000 are left in urgent need of help because of the loss of crops, homes, and bridges.

Large organizations such as the Red Cross are notoriously ineffective in Haiti, and downright larcenous in their corporate structure. During our fundraising and education efforts in Bridgewater following the 2010 earthquake, we directed all of it to Partners in Health, which puts 94 percent of donations directly into service in Haiti. (Our gift back in 2010 was processed at over 100 percent because of matching funds and a donor who covered administrative costs.)

Working long-term in Haiti and with Haitians -- Partners in Health remains an excellent choice for contributing to Matthew 2016 relief.

Man Mansplaining

Cliff Clavin, Poster Boy of Male Answer Syndrome since 1992
I understand the irony -- even the audacity -- of a man writing about mansplaining. In my defense, my purpose here is to share some resources written by others about the phenomenon, in hopes of helping both men and women to navigate communication better -- in the workplace, in classrooms, and in everyday life. I recently shared all of these resources with students in my senior seminar, which includes a lot of work on career readiness.

What Is It?

For many, the September 2016 debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was an introduction to the term "mansplaining." In her article Donald Trump’s Interruptions of Hillary Clinton are Familiar to Women, Boston Globe correspondent Carly Sitrin explains that it is a problematic communication pattern that goes far beyond these individuals.

Mansplaining is a relatively new term for a specific kind of behavior whose general type was identified in the 1990s. In his Male Answer Syndrome post on Dear Artist, Robert Glenn provides a good introduction to the broader phenomenon known as Male Answer Syndrome.

The term was originated by Jane Campbell in 1992, appearing first in Details magazine and then more broadly in Utne Reader (to which my favorite librarian and I had a subscription at the time, thankfully). Neither of those sources is readily available, but computer scientist Anand Natrajan has posted an unformatted version on their site.

How Does It Grow?

After introducing all of these articles to my students, I thought a bit about two factors that tend to foster too much conversational confidence in men while diminishing it in women.

For example, it has been shown that boys and girls are about equal in their math aptitude -- both as tested and as self-reported -- until middle school After that, a divergence begins that is largely explained by communication patterns in classrooms. It has been shown that the amount of time an instructor will wait for a student to solve a problem varies greatly between male and female students, regardless of the teacher's gender. In other words, teachers generally offer more encouragement to male students by waiting optimistically for them to arrive at answers, while more quickly passing over female students as soon as they hesitate to answer a question.

Actress and mathematician Danica McKellar spoke about girls and math on NPR a number of years ago and has written several books on the subject.

Male-centric conversation is reinforced in film. An amazing number of films -- including some I very much enjoy otherwise -- fail to rise above the very low bar of the Bechdel Test. A film passes the test if the following conditions are met just once:

  1. The movie has to have at least two named women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man
A surprising number of films -- even films made in 2016, after the test has been well-known for years -- fail the test. See a complete list at This is not to suggest that every movie should have female characters inserted into the story in such a way to pass the test. But it does show how accustomed we have begun to hearing only male voices.

What To Do?

What to do with all of this insight? Venture capitalist Chris Lyman suggests learning one powerful phrase, and using it whenever one is caught by the urge to supply empty answers: I Don't Know.

Blog Ideas

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