Sunday, October 29, 2017

Better Tequila for a Better Planet

Photo: Merlin Tuttle/Bat Conservation International
(and an exquisite photo it is!)
I spend much of my time using coffee to teach geography, and geography to teach coffee. I am happy to do the same with tea and chocolate, and though I know relatively little, I sometimes take the same approach with wine.

Today, it is tequila's turn. As funny as it might sound at first, there are very serious connections to be made between the health of bat populations and the practices of those who grow agave for tequila and its earthier cousin, mezcal. We first learned of the problem 25 years ago while living in Tucson, near the northern limits of agave. Just in time for Halloween, NPR reporter Neda Ulaby explains the problem that greater demand is placing on a "Once Boo-tiful Relationship."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Luther Geographies

My first academic dinner was on the 10th day of a November. It was in a restaurant near our undergraduate campus that I had previously thought of as a bar that was just a bit nicer than our usual dives. A guest speaker had come to our class on the philosophy of religion (I had taken several classes and even completed an internship in this area), and our professor had taken the speaker and just a couple of students out to dinner afterwards.

Near the end of the meal, a couple of the servers came out with a cake. It might have had five candles, and I am pretty sure they were trying to sing. They faltered a bit as they addressed "Dr. Luther" and looked back and forth at each of the people at the table who seemed old enough to be doctors, none of whom were responding.

It turns out that our Dr. Benson was a bit of a joker, and a bigger devotee of Martin Luther than I had realized. I knew Dr. Benson was a protestant, but I did not know that he was such a protestant. I also did not realize that Martin Luther would have been 500 years old on that day. (Though I must say, I think Dr. Benson might have been off by a year or two.) The cake was to celebrate the founder of the protestant reformation.

Thirty-some years out of college, we now have the quincentennial of that act of rebellion: Martin Luther, a youngish monk, nailing his 95 theses to the door of the cathedral. Or at least mailing a letter that gets remembered that way. All of this came to mind as I listened to Tom Gjelten's report on that half-millenium anniversary, the causes of the rift, and recent efforts toward reconciliation between those long-divided factions.

Portrait by Lucas Cranach
The story connects in three small ways to my work as a geographer. First, in Luther's time the political power of the church was only just beginning to be challenged. During his childhood, for example, that Pope Alexander VI put the line on the map that divided what was to be the Americas (and much of the rest of the world, eventually) between Spain and Portugal. The Treaty of Tordesillas was audacious, to put things mildly, but it shaped Latin America, which was to become my major area of study.

My first undergraduate major had been the German language, and in one of my geography classes I wrote a research paper about the language. Specifically, I had noticed that I could read Martin Luther's translation of the Bible (Die Bibel) more easily than I could a modern German translation, such as The Good News Bible (Der Guter Nachricht).

In writing the term paper for the only course I took on European geography, I learned that Luther himself had helped to shape the language. Of the many dialects that were spoken during his lifetime, his own dialect became dominant in the written form of the language, precisely because he had used it in his Bible. And because keeping the Bible out of the hands of ordinary Christians had been one of his 95 complaints, the movement he launched ensured that the written version of his dialect would become the standard over a much broader area than the spoken version had been. And thus five centuries later it is what gets taught to foreign students of the language.

The final connection between Luther and my work as a geographer is in the form of an organization that bears his name. Lutheran World Relief is a church-affiliated agency that provides both short-term aid and long-term development assistance to communities throughout the world. Some of that work has involved promoting the fair-trade model for coffee growers, and building on that model. When I started looking for a place to take students to learn about coffee, I was introduced to LWR staff members in Nicaragua who were helping coffee growers to establish a home-based agroecotourism enterprise in La Corona, Matagalpa -- a small community that would become my home away from home each winter.


When making the morning coffee, I am often able to catch the 9-minute BBC program Witness, which airs on WBUR in Boston each morning at 4:50. The premise is that unique insight on historical events is provided by conversation with people who were witness to those events. Sometimes this is done with a twist, by consulting historians -- in this case Lyndal Roper -- and original documents. The Martin Luther's 95 Theses installment includes a good description of why people were so upset about indulgences, and how Luther's associates used the printed word to give Luther a far greater impact than otherwise he would have had.

Added November 5: Reformation quincentennial coverage continues; just yesterday I heard an interview on BBC with linguist Ruth Sanders, whose German: Biography of a Language includes the Luther Bible I mention above as a key turning point in the development of the language. It is almost as if she read that paper I wrote as a college student! As someone who used to speak the language fluently, I look forward to reading the rest of the story of its origins.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Siding with Banksters

Today it was reported that Vice President Pence "had to" break a tie in the Senate. Years after financial companies drove a thriving U.S. economy into the proverbial ditch, rules were about to take effect that would allow citizens to file class-action lawsuits against financier malfeasance.

Far from serving the public good, V.P. Pence put his thumb on the scale of justice, in favor of the unjust. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)

The action, of course, brings Professor Woodie Guthrie's famous words to mind. To an ordinary person, a bank is at least as dangerous as a bank robber.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Advancing Science on Retreating Glaciers

This is a critical time for the world's retreating glaciers. In fact, it could be said that the most critical time -- when their retreat could have been arrested -- has already passed. Still, the status of glaciers are among the strongest indicators of climate change, and their loss is among its most dangerous consequences.

First, their role as indicators. Glaciers are long-term accumulations of frozen water (ice and snow), usually at high elevation. During particularly cold periods in the Pleistocene, continental glaciers were found at sea level, but in the Holocene epoch, glaciers have been strictly alpine. Wherever they are found, they represent a balance between a colder zone of accumulation -- in which more snow falls during a year than melts -- and a warmer zone of ablation, in which the opposite occurs.

The exact position of the nose of the glacier will fluctuate seasonally and over time, as this balance shifts. When the position of the nose at a given time of year is consistently moving upslope, the glacier is said to be retreating, indicating a steady warming. We would know that the planet is warming without these indicators, but the retreat of glaciers from Glacier National Monument to Kilimanjaro and Tibet to Cochabamba is evidence that one has to work pretty hard to ignore. (For those unfamiliar with Cochabamba, please see my posts Cochabamba Continued (2012), The Most Important Town in the Americas (2013), and Snowboarders Rescue Our Climate (2016 student guest blog).

It was in this context that I listened to Rob Schmitz' cogent reporting on the work of Chinese climate scientists who are documenting the retreat of the thousands of glaciers in that country. One of the excuses for the U.S. refusal to participate in the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was that it did not require enough of China and other rapidly developing countries. Ironically, just as China has caught up to the United States as a contributor to the problem of climate change, it is stepping up to support the Paris Accord, even as the U.S. retreats.
Climograph of Ürümqi from
This city is mentioned in the radio report above; the climate
on the glaciers themselves would not be so balmy.
In Impossible to Save, Schmitz accompanies scientists who know that the glaciers they study will not stop retreating; they hope, however, that their work will encourage changes that will slow down the pace of change. In this brief and well-organized report, they clearly describe not only the evidence of shrinkage but also its implications. Humans rely on glaciers in ways that few outside of alpine areas understand. They are the reservoirs that supply water and irrigate crops for many millions of people.

I have become very interested in glaciers as I teach about the geographies of coffee and tea, because both crops are threatened in some areas by the loss of glaciers. This was, in fact, to have been the subject of a course that I offered in partnership with a colleague who researches glacial retreat in Peru. Dr. Rob Hellström and I planned Coffee and Climate Change in Peru as a field course that would visit his research stations and communities of coffee farmers who are affected by many aspects of climate change. We did not enroll quite enough students to carry out the course, but we will try again to offer it in the near future.
Periglacial research station in Peru.
Photo: Dr. Rob Hellström

Texas Southmost Reporter

Kayla America Fuentes interviewing Cuban Alfredo "Rusty" Monsees at his home on the eponymous road in Brownsville Photo: Debbie Nathan.
When I was teaching at UTB-Texas Southmost College (now UT-RGV) , some of my students walked to class directly from their homes in Mexico. The fellow in this story grew up -- and continues to live -- in the tiny patch of Texas even farther south than THAT.

Kayla America Fuentes is a local teenager heard a lot of stories about him, and decided to do an interview. The result is an article whose unconventional title mentions the subject, the reporter, and the motivation for the reporting itself. The Old Man Who Calls Border Patrol on Immigrants, and the Teen Girl Who Asked Him Why shows that she is off to a great start as a journalist. She already has the curiosity, tenacity, and writing skills of a seasoned reporter.

Rather than try to summarize her work or comment on its implications, I encourage readers to read the article to the end. It gives us plenty to think about.


The map shows places named for two people mentioned in the story -- Mr. Monsees himself and Pancho Villa.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Professional Regions

"Not all who wander are lost"
~~ J.R.R. Tolkien, linguist, author, and honorary geographer

I have often said that if you enjoy being lost, you should travel with geographers. It works especially well if we are in a van. Last year four of us -- with three GPS units -- got lost going to a school we had been to before. But we learned so much local geography along the way, so we considered it a win.

It should come as no surprise, then, that geographers are not to be trusted with the drawing of regional boundaries. The American Association of Geographers (née Association of American Geographers) boast nine regional divisions, shown here:

Click to enlarge
Keeping in mind that regions are to geography as gravity is to physics: understanding regions is what we do, it is fascinating that this is what we have come up with.

I have been in all of nine of these regions, and have taught or studied geography in five of them. I first noticed something odd the first time I was involved in hosting one of the regional meetings. Professor George Strait had something to say about this --

That's right: I was leading field trips in the Arizona desert for a meeting of the Pacific Coast geographers. The excuse, I heard, was that two of the professors in my Tucson department enjoyed going to meetings in Hawaii as often as they could. I guess their pals in Nevada and Idaho felt the same way.

But that is not nearly all. From Arizona, I moved to Texas (about 100 miles south of George Strait's ranch, btw), where I attended a meeting of the Southwest AAG. The inclusion of Texas made sense, and I had already given up on Arizona, but Arkansas and Louisiana? I don't think so.

Some of the regions do make sense: Great Plains/Rocky Mountains is not a succinct name, but anybody who sees the name would know what states are included. Similarly, the subdivision of the former Great Lakes division makes sense, because there are so very many geography departments there. I am pretty sure there are at least two places to get a Ph.D. in geography in each state within each region. So the split makes sense, and although "Midwest" would have been a more conventional choice for a name, "Lakes" sounds nice, and it would have been quite messy to have "West Midwest" and "East Midwest." So we geographers did well with the middle of the country.

Back to the oddities, proceeding counterclockwise. At first glance, the Southeast makes sense, until we realize that it includes West Virginia, a state formed in 1863 precisely to get some parts of Virginia out of the south. We made the big time with this -- Wikipedia points out that AAG and the Census Bureau classify West Virginia this way, in its discussion of all the regions to which this state is sometimes assigned.

Next comes the Middle Atlantic division, which includes the place where I became a geographer (UMBC in Catonsville) and where I became a person (the erstwhile Columbia Hospital for Women in D.C.) There is nothing really wrong with this region -- it is in the middle of the Atlantic coast of the U.S. But it seems rather small -- just a state plus a city that used to be part of the very same state. It is a maritime state, but not so much on the Atlantic side. It has about 150 miles of Chesapeake Bay coastline, but only 31 miles on the Atlantic Ocean.

Next come the Middle States, crammed almost as far into the northeast corner as states can be, and actually bordering Canada!

Finally, our own NESTVAL -- both a division of the AAG and a separate, older society of its own: The New England and St. Lawrence Valley Geographical Society (whose annual meeting I am missing this weekend, for only the second time in 20 years). "Where is the St. Lawrence Valley?" a student asked me yesterday. "Not on this map," I replied.

I was once the newsletter editor for NESTVAL, a position for which I volunteered because I was pretty good at putting together a decent-looking publication. I am not, however, any good at keeping track of membership lists in ambiguous circumstances, and so I failed spectacularly at the newsletter mailing list. Members of the other 8 divisions are simply the AAG members with mailing addresses in those divisional boundaries. NESTVAL membership also includes those who are AAG or CAC-ACG with addresses in certain parts of Canada, plus anybody who simply decides to show up and pay NESTVAL dues. So although NESTVAL looks like an area on the map of the United States shown above, it is much more like a state of mind.

So anybody needing to have regions drawn, feel free to call on us professionals!


One fellow geographer who read this decided to look for other regional schemes. He was pleased to find that the regions used for reporting purposes in the National Climate Assessment (which as of this posting is still available to the public, despite the current project of silencing government scientists -- but that is a subject for another post) follows a pattern more familiar to the general public.
Click to enlarge
Another geographer recently shared this map of the United States, if it might look if a professional design team had been consulted.
Click to enlarge

Regionalization is an equally fraught term as it applies to municipal government in Massachusetts -- home to 351 cities and towns, with an unknown number of school districts!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Puerto Rico: Open-ended Crisis

I started this blog post just after Hurricane Maria made landfall, as it became clear that an unprecedented onslaught of back-to-back major hurricanes was to be compounded by unprecedented neglect of a natural disaster on U.S. territory.

I heard the phrase "open-ended crisis" in a discussion on National Public Radio, as I began to gather links and to write. As I kept a growing number of tabs open on my Mac, this post grew in length and complexity -- and somehow I eventually lost all of that writing. I did manage to keep most of the links that I had found most instructive, though, so I am going to share them here with minimal commentary. Unfortunately, they are going to be relevant for a very long time to come.

First, one video recommendation:

For U.S. mainlanders who do not know much about Puerto Rico -- which is to say, most U.S. mainlanders -- I highly recommend the 2006 film ¡Yo Soy Boricua, Pa'que Tu Lo Sepas! (I'm Puerto Rican, Just So You Know) by the comedienne Rosie Perez as a starting point. It is a personal journey of discovery for her and some of her family members, who themselves did not know some important elements of the relationship between the United States and its biggest colony. The film is on Netflix DVD only, and on YouTube (above).

And now some print and radio links. Where possible, I lead with the names of the journalists involved, because they are an essential and maligned element of our democracy.

First, about the storm before the storm:

Vann Newkirk, The Atlantic (published in June 2017): Puerto Rico's Plebiscite to Nowhere
The territory’s recent vote in favor of statehood faces long odds in Congress

Michelle Chen, The Nation: The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis

Maria Fabrizio, Council on Hemispheric Affairs (June 2016): Future of Puerto Rico Remains in Limbo as Congress Delays Decision and U.S. Supreme Court Entrenches Colonial Legacy in Puerto Rico

And then the storm itself

Brian Resnick and Eliza Barclay on Vox: What Every American Needs to Know About Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Disaster

Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post: White House is restricting lawmakers from visiting Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, aides say  and also, Sad suspicions about his motivations

Tyler Cohen, Denver Post: Puerto Rico's American Dream Died in the Storm

Jenny Marder, PBS News Hour: After First Tour of Puerto Rico, Top General Calls Damage "The Worst He's Ever Seen"

Rebecca Shapiro, Huffpost U.S. News: Katrina Commander Swears On Live TV Over Puerto Rico Response

Carolina Moreno, Huffpost Latino Voices: Puerto Rico Governor Calls White House After Trump’s Unsettling FEMA Tweets (Ricardo Rosselló wants the islanders to be treated equally to any other U.S. citizens after a disaster.)

Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg View: Trump to Executive Branch: Don't Worry About Puerto Rico

Sheila Norton, Verified Politics: Trump Just Reinstated Restrictions On Hurricane Aid To Puerto Rico

David Ferguson, Raw Story: ‘Stop the genocide’: San Juan mayor begs UN and UNICEF for help Trump won’t give Puerto Rico. The word "genocide" should never be used lightly, but this situation is far from light, and if this were taking place in any other country, it is exactly the word we would be using.

Conlan, Washington Polity: FEMA Just issued a Powerful Statement against Trump on Puerto Rico

Timothy Gardner, Reuters: Senator McCain Introduces Legislation to Kill the Jones Act in Puerto Rico

David Dayen, The Intercept: Puerto Rico Relief Bill Cancels $16 Billion in Debt -- But not for Puerto Rico

Jenna Johnson, Washington Post: Many Trump voters who got hurricane relief in Texas aren’t sure Puerto Ricans should. This article describes a Texas couple who split their vote in November, and who have split opinions now. They both benefited from a $14,000 FEMA check, despite having no flood insurance. But along party lines within their household, one thinks that Puerto Rico deserves more help and the other thinks they should not.

Shannon Collins, U.S. Department of Defense News: Puerto Ricans Represented Throughout U.S. Military History. I sought out this story after reading the president's audacious claim that the DoD would be leaving the island soon. Not only does the DoD have permanent bases on the island, we learned from Rosie Perez that Puerto Ricans are among the Americans most likely to serve in the military. In fact, the Commonwealth status was contrived in part to make sure that Puerto Ricans could serve in World War I. It is dastardly to even mention the possibility of removing troops from the island while its people are still dying.

Michael Tackett, New York TimesAn Exodus From Puerto Rico Could Remake Florida Politics. Denial of statehood to Puerto Rico has been entirely driven by partisan politics, so it is interesting to contemplate how the extreme mistreatment of the island's people could have unintended consequences for the political balance.

Photo: Angel Valentin
Mandalit Del Barco and Lauren Migaki, NPR: Puerto Rico's 'Singing Newspapers' Tell A Story Of Resilience

Corinne Segal, PBS Newshour: Volunteers are helping Puerto Rico from home, with a map anyone can edit

Near the villa we rented Photo: JHB
To end this with something positive, I include my photos from my family's first visit to Puerto Rico, which was in 2016 and Help for Puerto Rico, about a former student of mine who worked with his friend and colleagues to bring help directly to some of the people of Puerto Rico.

Florence Follow-Up

Unfortunately, I can no longer end this post on a positive note. On September 12, 2018 -- as Hurricane Florence is ready to make landfall in the Carolinas -- the President of the United States made the following statement:
This seems implausible, but it was confirmed in
Associated Press reporting.
This contains an impressive amount of error in a minimal number of words, which would be laughable were it not so dangerous. It is to be hoped that nobody in the Carolinas takes the bragging seriously.

Rick Santorum acknowledges the shortcomings of FEMA while simultaneously blaming Puerto Rico and misidentifying it as a country:

These Trucks Don't Float

My grandfather climbed poles for Ma Bell his whole adult life. And after hurricanes, he would travel to restore phones and electricity -- climbing poles by hand. 

Weston Tolls

It's easier now with bucket trucks, but not exactly easy. I remember driving through the town of Weston a few years ago, just before a major storm was to hit the Boston area. As I approached an overpass that connects Interstate 90 (Mass Turnpike and NY State Thruway) to Boston's ring road 128, I saw a caravan like this one pouring into Boston from the west. 
I knew what those men and women would be doing for us, and that they had traveled all night to do it. I almost wept at the sight.

When this happens on an ISLAND, even more effort is needed. Ships, cargo planes, whatever it takes. BEFORE Irma and BEFORE Maria, those trucks should have been in motion, headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We should do the same for other islands in our hemisphere, but we absolutely must do it for those islands that are U.S. territory.

Instead, such efforts were hindered by red tape and a century-old law to protect the profits of shipping countries.

I am astounded at the heroic work of local and federal employees on the ground in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but also disgusted that they are not given full support by Congress or the White House, as such workers would be in any mainland territory, from Boston to Brownsville, in hurricane season.

The government is getting away with this neglect -- which has genocidal overtones -- precisely because geographic literacy is so poor that many constituents either:

a) Don't know these are U.S. territorie
b) Don't care
c) Don't know how islands work, or
d) all of the above
Our feeble response to Puerto Rico is an indictment of our society in many ways, of which our neglect of geographic education is just one.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Emotional Skepticism

I am not a librarian -- not nearly well-organized enough for that -- but I have picked up a lot of librarian values from three decades spent with a librarian who is not only an extraordinary practitioner of the bibliothecary arts, but also a scholar of knowledge itself. Lately, her scholarship on information literacy in general has led her to collaboration on empirical research into the "fake news" phenomenon in particular.

That jarring phrase has also had the attention of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, which decided to devote its Annual Forum to the topic this year. This turned out to be a perfect date for a geographer and librarian, especially since the forum was to be held in the Boston Public Library!

The event was entitled What's New About Fake News?, and was in the form of a panel discussion, with journalist Sasha Pfeiffer (of both the Boston Globe and WBUR) serving as moderator. The panel was very well chosen -- and would no doubt have been even more compelling had Professor Jelani Cobb not needed to cancel.
First lesson: Let's not use this phrase.
L-R: Sasha Pfeiffer, Marnie Shure, Charles Ferguson, Claire Wardle

The discussion was wide-ranging, with insights both alarming and constructive. I was grateful for the many new ways of thinking about our current predicament that the panelists and moderators shared, and even for most of the comments and questions from the audience. It was information scholar Claire Wardle, however, who gave us the most readily applicable ideas for beginning to work our way out of the impasse that has been created by dangerous levels of disregard for facts and distrust of sources.

Being Specific 

First, even though the phrase "fake news" was in the title of the day's program, she admonished listeners and fellow panelists to avoid using the phrase altogether, and after a couple of missteps, they actually managed to do so. Referring to the "weaponizing" of communication strategies, she asserted that the phrase "fake news" is used primarily to attack journalism, so journalists should refuse to participate in their own denigration by using it.

Rather, she said, since the term can be used to refer to several VERY different kinds of messages, we should simply indicate which kind is being discussed. To whit:
  • misinformation is something presented as a fact that is not correct; another word is "mistake"
  • disinformation is misinformation that is presented deliberately, with the intention to mislead those who hear or read it, or perhaps to foster discord
  • satire is mistaken information in the form of a joke, which both its creators and its consumers understand to be carefully constructed to shed light on some deeper truth; we were fortunate to have fellow panelist Marnie Shure of The Onion to provide a much deeper understanding of this important kind of commentary
  • reports that simply make the powerful feel uncomfortable are the most likely to be called "fake news," but they are not, in fact, fake
By framing the concept in this way at the very beginning, Wardle helped the entire panel to speak with greater precision about the new ways in which information really is being manipulated.

The "takeaway" from this part of the discussion is that any time we see the phrase "fake news," we should try to assign it to its proper category; this will help us to understand what is worth sharing and what is worth getting alarmed about.

Slow It Down

Which leads me to Wardle's second, perhaps more important suggestion. As someone who has worked on social-media campaigns at a very high level, she understands both how erroneous information gets propagated and the harm it can do. She suggests two ways of fostering what she describes as "emotional skepticism" and that I think she intends as safeguards within social-media operating systems. They can, for now, simply be seen as guidelines for individual users of social media.
  • Don't share anything before reading it to the end.
  • Don't share anything to which you have an emotional reaction, until you've waited two minutes to calm down.
I try -- but sometimes fail -- to do both of these things. 


In response to a cogent question from the audience, the panelists discussed the opacity of the algorithms that are used to shape each person's newsfeeds and search-engine results. The major technology companies know things about us that we do not know ourselves, and they feed information to us based on those things they know. The ways in which both things are accomplished are opaque to the users, and all of the panelists argued that making these algorithms at least somewhat transparent would give us some defense against being manipulated -- either as individuals or entire electorates.

Until that day of transparency comes, I have a suggestion of my own. We do not know the details of the algorithms at work behind the systems we use, but we know that they all tend to reinforce confirmation bias. We are increasingly unable to understand each other because there is so little overlap among the things we read and listen to. It is up to us, therefore, to seek out information sources -- and people -- with as wide a variety of viewpoints as we can manage.

Pamela -- the librarian by my side at this presentation -- provides even more insight into the program in general and our responsibilities as readers in her post What's New About Fake News on her "Library" Books blog. She has also created an Information Literacy guide for our campus.

The more we know, the harder we are to fool. It was fitting that the MassHumanties director ended the program by encouraging us to draw on the expertise of librarians when trying to ascertain the veracity of something we are asked to believe. 

I am reminded of the words of Congressman John Lewis, as I quoted him on this blog almost a year ago and share regularly with all of my students:

Update 2021

Reading this in March 2021, I noticed the phrase "current predicament" near the beginning of this post and found it quaint. Near the end of the first year of the 45th presidency, I could not guess how much worse many aspects of this problem would become. The profession of journalism was attacked with greater ferocity, and U.S.-based journalists began to experience real danger. 

I am convinced that neither the June 2018 mass murder at the Capital Gazette (in which my brother lost two friends) nor the execution of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 would have happened if not for the misuse of the term "fake news" described above.

Although journalism has long been a dangerous occupation in many parts of the world, serious threats have become widespread only recently in the United States. I now regularly support the Committee to Protect Journalists, which I should have started to do before its work became so urgent in the U.S. context.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Pronounced thea-een

Tea and coffee provide stimulation by way of a compound found in both plants and in the respective beverages produced from their leaves and seeds, respectively. The stimulant effect differs between the two, however, and also differs considerably according to the way tea, in particular, is processed.

Image: Tea Class
The differences between tea and coffee is substantial enough, in fact, that when caffeine was first isolated in tea in 1827, it was thought to be a different compound and was known as theine. The Oxford English dictionary provides two alternate pronunciations of this awkward word, using both proper phonetic symbols and recordings.
I learned of this distinction from the Cisco Brew article Caffeine and Tea, which explains not only why caffeine behaves differently in tea and coffee, but also how caffeine levels vary according to various tea preparations. The article alludes to preparations (white, green, oolong, black), origins, and varietals, notably sinensis and assamica. I mistakenly read this as suggesting that assamica is a separate species; in seeking clarification I found the excellent article Camellia sinensis on Tea Class, from which I lifted the lovely photo of a tea flower to the right.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Through the Wall

Many who call for the building of a border wall do not realize that it already exists. A recent project by JR Artist recently called attention to this division that has already been imposed, through an installation in Tecate/Tecate.

One important image is of a baby overlooking the wall. Babies, of course, do not understand such barriers.
Image: JR Artist
As someone who spent seven years living near the border, I am even more intrigued -- and encouraged -- by the picnic that was held as part of the celebration of this art. A band ("conjunto" in Spanish, or "together") was divided by the wall but played together for those who had assembled for the meal.
Image: JR Artist -- be sure to read his description and the comments
In hurricanes, the term "eye wall" refers to the very turbulent ring of clouds surrounding the calm center of the storm. The picnickers who ring this eye are exhibiting calm within a storm of a different kind.

The artist and an agent were able, near the end of this multi-day exhibit, to share a cup of tea.

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