Friday, May 18, 2018

Animal Talk

This week, the president of the United States justified his calls for even tougher action on immigration by referring to those who cross illegally into the United States as "animals" and worse. With the recent appointment of an acknowledged torturer to one government agency (CIA) and the announcement of familial torture as a deterrent by another (ICE), the words could not be taken lightly.

Within a day, his administration was partially walking back the comment, insisting that it applied only to the Salvadoran-American gang MS-13. This is part of a broader strategy, of course, of using a small number of admittedly odious migrants as rhetorical cover for deporting dishwashers, shopkeepers, and thousands of other ordinary undocumented Americans.

In this case, though, the rhetoric is different not only in degree, but in kind. It is not acceptable talk for a person occupying an office that was once called "leader of the free world" in a country whose national anthem still claims to celebrate "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Journalist Tanzina Vega discussed the precedents and dangers of this rhetorical shift with philosopher and author David Livingstone Smith on today's edition of The Takeaway. Smith is author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others.


The MS-13 gang originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Its history is intertwined with U.S. policies in the northern triangle region of Central America during that period.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


NOTE: This post has grown over nearly a month of turmoil in my beloved Nicaragua.
The opinions expressed here are my own, and based on my best reading of the ever-changing situation. I welcome comments, especially from my friends throughout the country.

I was on my way to dinner with colleagues a month ago (the time since has passed very quickly for me) when I started to notice concerning posts from some of my friends in Nicaragua. At first I assumed there had been a volcanic eruption or an earthquake. I soon learned that the problem was much worse.

I usually manage to get through a meal without checking my phone, but as events in Nicaragua were unfolding, the outside media did not seem to be noticing, so I was checking frequently with my friends and sites inside the country. Throughout that evening and for several days thereafter, social media was the only way to track what was happening in a country that for several years has been the exception to the patterns of violence that become all-too familiar in several neighboring countries.

Worried about evidence that the government was beginning to isolate its citizens from the outside world, I checked my contacts constantly, and also checked frequently for Miami-Managua air traffic on Flight Aware, where both freight and commercial flights have continued throughout the crisis. Several television channels were shut down, though, and rumors that the internet might be shut down were frequent. Stories of police visiting people who had posted updates on social-media were even more ominous.

I was reminded of the turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s, when attention -- witness -- from outside was the only hope of curbing abuses by many governments in the region. Unable to do much else in the short term, I did my best to share what news I could garner from Nicaragua, and to assure Nicaraguans that they have not been forgotten.
Courtesy of MapsOpenSource
What I was learning in the first hours and days of the turmoil was that students and others in the city of León had organized protests against draconian cost-cutting measures in the Nicaraguan equivalent of our Social Security system. Effective immediately -- and without an open political process -- workers and employers would be paying much higher taxes into the system and retirees would be receiving much lower pension payments.

This created a precipitating moment for a broad coalition that had begun to coalesce against a government that had become steadily more autocratic over the past decade. Speaking anonymously with Catholic News Service reporters, at least one priest was more direct: dictatorship is the underlying problem, he said.

The first demonstrations occurred in León, home of Nicaragua's first university and still an important intellectual hub. (It is, coincidentally, the location of the original Ben Linder Café, which inspired the on-going effort to create a social-justice-oriented café on my own campus.) Demonstrations soon spread to Masaya, Managua, and other cities.

On April 28, journalist Todd Zwilig dedicated 9 minutes of the PRI program The Takeaway to a cogent explanation of what had transpired over the previous ten days. He spoke with New York Times reporter Frances Robles and Brown University scholar Stephen Kinzer about the increasing gap between Ortega's rhetoric and the reality of his regime. The title of the piece is not quite right, in my opinion: the protests are a symptom of the regime's eroded authority, not its cause.
The web page to accompany the Mass Protests audio includes a vivid image of the cathedral where some of the protests have gathered, and which I visited with students just a few months ago. I later learned that the cathedral was used for shelter -- sanctuary in the traditional sense -- for 2,000 of the protestors.

Before delving into more of the details, I want to remind readers of why this is so important. Despite its harsh history and suffering at the hands of internal and external bad actors -- from the Samosas to Oliver North -- Nicaragua is a gem. Its people not only are beautiful, they appreciate beauty. This is conveyed in "Nicaragua Nicaraguita" by Carlos Mejía Godoy, a bit of poetry that is thought of as the quiet anthem of the country.

It is not just a celebration of Nicaragua, though. It was written in 1983, when the country was under attack by remnants of Samosa's regime and the United States. It calls both for peace and democracy.

The following additional stories provide further information on the crisis:

May 11, Miami Herald. Lawmakers call on Trump to investigate Nicaraguan government in deaths of protesters. It is good to see bipartisan interest in addressing this crisis, though it is not appropriate for the United States to take the lead in any investigation, for myriad reasons. One small but telling detail is the Congresswoman who refers to Ortega as a socialist in the article. It is neither relevant nor accurate, and suggests that a U.S.-led inquiry would be distracted quickly. Still, there may be a U.S. role as part of a regional coalition. On May 16, the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua called for both a cessation of violence and an opening to the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I am pleased to see that Ambassador Laura Dugo is a career diplomat with experience in the region -- a rarity in the State Department these days.

May 13, Al-Jazeera: Ortega to allow inquiry into protest deaths. Many have been unconvinced by these and other conciliatory words, especially as protesters continue to be assaulted and killed in some locations.

On May 16, Nicaraguan bishops convened open dialogs among government, youth, and other sectors. (See more on the dialogs at BBC Mundo. (Google "Nicaragua diálogo or Nicaragua dialogue for much more about recent developments.)

This should have provided some encouragement that a peaceful resolution might be forthcoming, but government forces continue to attack demonstrators, at least in the areas of the north where I have the closest contacts. Wednesday through Friday, May 16-18, were particularly violent, but a parade was nonetheless planned in the city of Jinotega today (Sunday, May 20), with appropriate permits.

This morning, one of these friends sent a video that was posted on Friday and shared thousands of times since. I do not know anybody in the video, but it captures the beauty, determination, poetry, and decency of the people I do know in Nicaragua. I was asked to share it widely, to let everyone know that Nicaraguans are dedicated to their liberty.
This reminds me of the Vietnam-era protestors who put flowers in the barrels of guns. They believed -- as does the person behind this painted hand -- in the deep patriotism and basic humanity of most of the troops who find themselves on the front lines against their own people. This is a still from the video mentioned above. Please watch and share it.
Also from a church source, on May 11 the Latin American Jesuit organization CPAL Social posted La insurrección de la conciencia, a step-by-step explanation of how the country got to its current political impasse.

The evolution Ortega's dictatorship is very difficult for many in the United States to understand, in my opinion. Those on the far right and the far left still believe that Ortega is a socialist, both because he says so and because of nostalgia for the ideological battles of the original FSLN era. (For the former, see Belen Fernandez' analysis "Nicaraguan Spring or imperial spring cleaning?" I see a lot of the latter (that is, left-wing nostalgia for the old FSLN) on the social networks of the U.S. ex-pat community (sandalistas, by which I mean no disrespect).

My travels to Nicaragua began shortly before his return to power. During my 2009 visit, I met U.S. investors who were concerned about a possible shift to the left (after an interregnum of relatively centrist presidencies) and who were in the country to make that clear to him. In the decade since, I have seen that they had little to fear: Daniel's rhetoric has remained to the left, but his real alliances have been with elites who have concentrated economic power to a degree that rivals Samosa's empire. One silver lining -- again, just in my opinion -- is that these capitalists rely on stability, and they might be able to offer Ortega a way out of this crisis. By this I mean, of course, a plane ride to a nice villa elsewhere.

BRIDGEWATER NOTES: The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua continues to advise against travel by U.S. citizens to Nicaragua, and is operating its own missions on a reduced basis. For this reason, plans for the January 2019 travel course are on hold. For reasons cited above, it is important for U.S., European, and other outside visitors to keep attention focused on Nicaragua. But a travel course might not be an appropriate way to do so just yet. Those interested in the course, please keep reading advisories from the embassy and stay in contact with me through the summer.

Also, I know that those who have traveled from Bridgewater to Nicaragua want to help. I am working with friends on the ground in Nicaragua and with one of our wonderful alumni to organize a small project that will enable us to raise both awareness and funds -- this will be launched very soon.

Before I close this rather rambling post, I have to share something that was sent by a close friend about a week into these events. It is a coffee connection that captures the political moment perfectly. Some of the public's ire at the regime focused on the illuminated steel trees that line many of the boulevards of Managua.

On the one hand, these are perhaps a laudable example of public art. On the other, the circumstances of their proliferation came to symbolize the nepotism and increasing detachment of the regime. The contrast between ample funding for electrified fake trees and inadequate protection of actual trees had become deeply problematic, and some have been destroyed in response to recent repression.

That all of this is captured in the foam of a single cup of coffee is a reminder that  coffee shops -- since their invention over 1,000 years ago --are key locations for political foment.

On May 21, the day after I posted most of what is in this article, I noticed this fascinating photo, posted by a friend in Nicaragua. It is a flag of Nicaragua, taken for the first time to the summit of Mt. Everest by a Californian who has made Nicaragua his home. His video message is one of great pride and support for the people of his adopted home. PLEASE WATCH. In the first 10 hours after he posted it, this video was shared on Facebook more than 10,000 times. This signifies that people worldwide are following the events in Nicaragua with care.

I am closing this post with a positive note. In the midst of this crisis, friends in Matagalpa -- the place where my Nicaragua experiences began and that I now consider a home -- shared yet another video. This one promotes a project of which they -- and I -- are very proud. It integrates cultural and environmental education in a beautiful setting they have created just on the edge of the city.

I will be going to Casa Coibríes on my next visit.


Cabo Verde Basics

I first became aware of the country of Cape Verde some time during my college-level study of geography. Throughout my studies -- including two graduate programs -- I would occasionally notice it on a map or in an article, and I always had difficulty figuring out its exact location.

Part of my confusion arises from the name -- whether pronounced Cabo Verde, Cabo Verd, Cape Verd, or Cape Verde, the implication is some kind of peninsula or point of land, a cape. It is neither a cape nor is most of it green.
Its existence as a country was also somewhat unclear, as cartographers were slow to note its 1975 independence from Portugal. Others showed it as including both the Cape Verde Islands and a point of land several hundred miles to the east, in what is now Senegal. That is the cape, apparently, from which the name originally derived. One explanation I heard was the they were the islands west of that cape. Cartographic confusion has continued at least as late as 2013, when I tried in vain to alert Google Maps to labeling errors within the country.

My education about the geography of Cabo Verde (now its official name in any language) began shortly after moving to southeastern Massachusetts in 1997. Many of the students and employees of my college (now university) are Cape Verdeans, whether they be first, second, or up to fifth generation.

The connection between Cape Verde and this area is a great example of chain migration: people tend to move to places where they already have some connection. Connections that began with whale hunting continued as workers were needed in shoe manufacturing, cranberry harvesting, or other industries. They continue today, not for any single industry, but because of a whole series of connections, many related to education. I remember asking a first-generation student when she had moved to the United States, and she replied that she came at age 13 specifically to attend Brockton High School.

I was fortunate enough to see the commitment to education first-hand when I made my first visit to Cabo Verde in 2006 with a group of students, alumni and employees. From high school students through the president of the country, we found many people with a great reverence for teachers and the value of learning -- sentiments we could use a bit more of in my country.

All of this is by way of prelude to a nice introduction I found recently by Barby, an online educator who narrates Geography Now. (Note: the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira is mispronounced and misspelled in the video. Barby makes up for this by correctly identifying Macaronesia, which I have mistakenly been calling Macronesia.)

With this video as an introduction, the Wikipedia History of Cape Verde provides a bit more depth.


Historian Richard Lobban describes Cape Verde as the westernmost part of Africa and the southernmost part of Europe, as Barby does in the video, and he also calls it the easternmost part of the Americas. Cape Verde played an indirect role in the definition of Latin America itself, as the Treaty of Tordesillas defined the Spanish/Portuguese line of demarcation as a distance west of the islands.

The connections that led him to this conclusion certainly include music.

I first started learning about the music of Cabo Verde the first time I taught the geography of Latin America, in which I play a lot of music from that region. A student in the class suggested I would enjoy the music of Cesária Évora because of some similarities he noticed, and he was correct. Revered by any Cape Verdean I have met, she was still performing in Boston in those days, until her death in 2011.

I describe my 2006 visit as my "first" rather than my only because I hope to return to Cabo Verde in the future. I have recently become more involved with the BSU Pedro Pires Institute for Cape Verdean Studies, and my lovely wife Pamela and I have been taking classes in Cape Verdean Creole (Kriuliu) with its director.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Aw, Professor

1,000th POST

I began this blog -- which I sometimes call my "main blog" -- in 2008. At the time, I had just started using the center of my faculty home page to highlight examples of environmental geography as I see it. Those examples are still there, but the new platform of blogging seemed a more effective way to add many kinds of examples, and emerging social media platforms made it easy to share those examples with a wide readership.

I recently realized that I was approaching my 1,000th published post (quite a few more remain as yet-to-be-published drafts), and I decided to celebrate with something fun. Coincidentally, I recently started making my own "Aw, Professor" memes, which friends and followers on Facebook really seem to appreciate. These are tongue-in-cheek words of unsolicited advice that echo themes found on the Not-the-13th Grade section of my faculty site. It seems fitting to gather all of them on this post, to which I will add any more that I end up creating.

In honor of the hundreds of students who have tolerated the group assignment
 in my Secret Life of Coffee course.
In honor of professors who try to apply what we teach in our classes
 to what we experience in our bureaucracies.
In honor of teachers who manage to teach despite the over-management of teachers.
In honor of Georgia Senator John Lewis
In honor of poet Tom Wayman.
Thanks to all of the students, colleagues, and randomly-encountered readers who have encouraged my blogging. If you want even more, see for links to my other blog projects, several of which I share with my lovely wife and favorite librarian, Pamela.

278,872 page views, and counting!
Below are memes in this series created after the initial May 9, 2018 post.
In honor of spellcheck and autocorrect, without which this blog itself -- and
even this meme -- would be impossible.

Organizing Africa

Africa is not a country!
When, as I often do, I have students gathered in front of the Africa side of our EarthView globe, I ask them to repeat the phrase, "Africa is not a country!" For a brief time during the month when I was born, however, it was a possibility under serious discussion.

I learned this from BBC Witness, a nine-minute radio program that followers of this blog will recognize as one that has become a favorite of mine. It was through the author John McPhee that I developed an appreciation for biography as a great way to learn geography and history, and Witness gives me such lessons in a small doses. The whole series is available online, but I often plan my morning coffee routine around its local airing on 90.9 WBUR. I have to get the hand grinding done before 4:50 so that I can hear the whole program.

The most recent episode to capture my attention was a rebroadcast that I actually heard in my car, as I drove to early-morning rowing. (My dog, my wife, coffee, and rowing have made me a morning person, though blogging keeps me an evening person as well.)

Africa United is an interview with the Eritrean scholar Bereket Habte Selassie, who now teaches at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, but who was present at the first continent-wide gathering of African leaders. Following successful independence movements throughout the continent, leaders of 32 countries gathered to discuss options for a common way forward. Although some advocated strongly for a federation similar to the United States, the final outcome was to create the Organisation of African Unity.

The organization grew over the next several decades until it was replaced by the African Union in 2002.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Whaleboat History

June 2014: Delivering a boat to the Open Water Challenge so that the racing crew would be fresh for the 3.75-mile race.
I have since had the chance to be in the race a couple of times, and lucky enough to be on a winning crew in 2017.
As I wrote in my November 2012 post Harbor Learning, I first learned of whaleboat clubs from a Boston Globe article about the activity (hurray, journalists!), and within a few weeks found myself on the water. I continue to enjoy the physical exercise, the company of new friends, and the learning that always happens in these boats.

On the learning front, I was pleased to be able to give back in a small way on the learning front. One of my whaleboat clubs (I'm a member of two now) sponsors an annual skills contest called the Wicked Whaleboat Challenge. Circling Crow's Island, crews compete not on speed or endurance, but rather on fairly complicated maneuvers.

I helped to design the original challenge (on a cocktail napkin, truth be told) and have competed a couple of times. This year, I provided the coffee and an essay on whaleboat history for the event's program booklet. (Caveat: I am a geographer, so this is not really a history.)

Now that the event has passed, I am posting that essay here for any who might be interested. Fortunately, the event coordinator (more like mastermind) is also an excellent graphic designer, so he gave me a word limit; otherwise I would have followed tangents for days in writing the essay. I kept it brief and focused on New Bedford; I included a couple of key links for those wishing to learn more.


The Wicked Whaleboat Challenge is a time for fun on the water and tests of skills and athleticism, but it is much more.  For nearly two centuries, the skills on display today have been practiced and honed on these very waters. In this remarkable harbor between New Bedford and Fairhaven, the Yankee whaleboat was perfected and thousands of crewmembers were trained to row them on all of the world’s oceans. 

The boats used in today’s event are fiberglass replicas of the wooden whaleboats that were designed by Charles Beetle, the best known of many builders who supplied the New Bedford fleet during the peak of its prominence in the world-wide hunt for whales and their oil. His design was successful on the water and also in the workshop, where its simplicity allowed for quick production, averaging one hand-built boat per week for two decades during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Each ship carried aboard up to a half dozen of the boats, all high in the stern and bow. Everything about them – from the high double-bow to the carefully-chosen set of tools on board – was calculated to make them effective tools for the pursuit of whales. Though equipped with both oars and sails, the rowing was the more important during the hunt. 

Once a whaleship got close to a whale, a crew would be lowered quickly to the water and the chase would immediately be on. An officer would steer the boat from the stern with a long oar, commanding the rowers to adjust their port or starboard speed to complement his actions. The crew would advance steadily on a speeding whale, and once within reach, that same officer would move to leading bow to harpoon the whale. The panicked leviathan would often pull the boat in what came to be known as a Nantucket Sleigh Ride, and eventually the exhausted animal would be dispatched by lances carried in the boat.

The names of the boats in today’s race are significant. The Skylark is named in honor of the first boat ever to win a whaleboat race in this harbor, an 1857 jaunt of just under three miles in just over 25 minutes. The Flying Fish honors the winner of an 1859 Independence Day race, and the Herman Melville honors the author whose work introduced the reading public to the workings of whaleships.

In the early 20th century, demand for the boats declined as petroleum began to replace whale oil. Members of the Beetle family continued to apply their expertise in the mass production of wooden boats by turning their attention to recreational boats, most notably the Beetle Cat, which the company continues to produce in nearby Wareham.

The continuity of the Beetle workshop proved to be a boon to maritime heritage when, in 2014, the company was called upon to produce a new whaleboat for the 38th voyage of the Charles W. Morgan. The restoration of America’s oldest commercial ship required that it be outfitted with new whaleboats of the original Beetle design. The fact that one of these boats could be produced in a Beetle workshop added poignancy to the first whaleship voyage under sail in 90 years.

Since the Morgan’s New England tour, that “genuine replica” has been part of the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Whaling City Rowing is proud to collaborate with the Museum by operating that boat on a seasonal basis in the very harbor where the design of the Yankee whaleboat was perfected nearly two centuries ago.

Sources:,, and


The learning will also continue in my geography classes. This spring I created an assignment for our senior seminar, in which students used maps and forecasts to make hypothetical plans for outings in the harbor. I also plan to use much of what I have learned about whaleboats in a two-week summer class I call New Bedford Fortnight.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Climate Insecurity

Because of ideology, resilience innovations such as this double-decker pier can only be installed as replacements, not as part of long-term planning.
"Ignorance of geography is a threat to our national security."

The great geographer Harm de Blij made this assertion during one of his visits to our campus, and it is one I have often repeated. Dr. de Blij (duh-BLAY) made this statement mainly in reference to human geography, because of the tendency of superpowers to involve themselves in conflicts that could have been avoided with a bit better understanding of the geographies of politics, economies, religion, and language.

The statement is equally applicable to environmental geography, however, and specifically to the geographies of vulnerability to climate change. Excellent reporting by Nicholas Kusnetz reveals that with regard to climate change, ignorance is sometimes a conscious choice. Rising Seas Are Flooding Virginia’s Naval Base, and There’s No Plan to Fix It was jointly published last October by Inside Climate News and The Weather Channel. It is a succinct explanation of the problems posed by sea-level rise for military installations in general and those of southeastern Virginia in particular. It is also a well-documented account of the steps that have been taken to address the problem, and the ideologically-driven abandonment of sensible planning for rising seas.

In many bureaucracies, when those at the top make mistakes, those with day-to-day responsibilities find work-arounds. The double-decker pier shown above is a good example. Prudent officers know that they can be part of a mitigation plan, but they are not allowed to plan for mitigation. They have built a few with short-term repair money, but they cannot access long-term capital funding to develop this kind of resilience.


As I have written in several posts -- including Climate Foxholes and Covering the Climate Bet -- professionals with long-term responsibilities in such areas as infrastructure, agriculture, and insurance cannot afford climate denial. As we have known since the very first academic paper on climate change, the fluidity of the atmosphere and oceans means that the consequences of climate change are quite variable across time and by location. And as Dr. Mary Robinson continues to teach us, the consequences vary considerably along socioeconomic lines.

Fortunately, many municipal governments in the United States are responding to the complex interactions among climate change and human systems by creating resilience offices. Even more fortunate, geographers already have the skills of integrative systems thinking that is necessary to do resilience-related work. My own department -- BSU Geography -- has recently submitted for approval a new degree program, Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sustainability and Climate Resilience. Once approved, several of my courses will be part of it. Many of our alumni already have similar qualifications.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Coffees of Tea Island

As I mention quite often in this space and elsewhere, the greatest advantage of teaching is that I get to keep learning from my students. (Sadly, some of my colleagues are not very open to this, but those who enjoy teaching are.)

In this case, I asked my honors coffee students (yes, that is a thing!) to read an important BBC article entitled The Disease That Could Change How We Drink Coffee. It is about roya, also known as coffee leaf rust, also known as one thing that might motivate some people to pay attention to climate change. We had discussed the disease in the context of my Coffee Bellwethers TED Talk, and I decided this article would be a good way to delve further into the topic.

Being a habitual user of open-ended questions, I did not ask them specific questions about the article; rather, I asked the students to write questions that the article led them to ask. Several of the questions had to do with the differences between Arabica and robusta coffees, which BBC reporter Jose Luis Penarredonda dubs "Beauty and the Beast." (From Jeff Koehler's remarkable book on Ethiopian coffee, I have since learned that Coffea arabica is so named because it was so abundant in Arabia in the 18th century that Linneas thought it had originated there. Its name should have been Coffea ethiopica.)

As the BBC nickname suggests, most people -- expert and otherwise -- prefer the flavor of Arabica, which comprises about 70 percent of world production. Robusta, though, is the hardier plant, resistant to higher temperatures and to many diseases and pests. Robusta can be grown at lower elevations -- which is how Vietnam became the world's second-largest producer of coffee with no real coffee terrain. Robusta also has about double the caffeine of Arabica. As climate changes in coffeelands, we can expect the 70/30 advantage of Beauty over Beast to decline, along with the average quality of coffee as a whole.

A Second Question

Back to the original assignment: One student asked a question that was based on her careful reading of this passage, in which she noticed one word that I had glossed over:
If left unattended, the disease can have dramatic consequences. In the late 19th Century, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and other countries in Southeast Asia were the major exporters of coffee in the world. In a matter of decades, the disease meant they practically stopped growing it.
The word is "practically," which should have signalled to me that the story I usually tell about Sri Lanka is not quite right. I took a strong interest in the teas of Sri Lanka -- whose former name "Ceylon" is now almost synonymous with the beverage -- when I was working on a book about tea a few years back. Alas, I never completed the book, but in the process I learned a bit about the relationship between tea and climate change, and I even managed to attend a tea hosted by the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States.
While pursuing that research, I learned about the roya infestation of a century ago that Penarredonda describes in the BBC article. Arabica plantations all around the Indian Ocean and into the southwestern Pacific region experienced the blight, which could only be abated by the large-scale clearing of coffee trees.

Throughout much of the region, Arabica coffee plantations were cleared completely, often replaced with Robusta. In Sumatra, for example, most production today is of Robusta, even though Arabica is produced in limited zones and is well known for flavor notes that are best exhibited in very dark roasts.

It was my understanding that in In Sri Lanka, the removal of all that coffee led to the realization that the island was better suited to tea. And certainly, tea is grown in abundance, with greater volume and variety than one might imagine in such a small geographic area. It employs 1,000,000 Sri Lankans!

And yet, it turns out, there is room for coffee. Although the online magazine Perfect Daily Grind cites a growing cafe culture and the economic importance of production in some parts of the island, Sri Lanka is still so dominated by tea that it is not among the top 70 coffee-producing countries, producing less as a country than my favorite mid-sized coffee estate in Nicaragua.

Still, the growing popularity of up-scale cafés is a trend worth watching.
Coffee is trending on the west side of Tea Island
Image: Perfect Daily Grind

Putting the CAR in Cartography

CARtography on the open road
As a geographer, I know the damage that automobiles and automobile-dependent landscapes run counter in many ways to social and environmental sustainability. A search of the word "sprawl" on on this blog points to many of the specifics, and the car-sprawl-car feedback loop is a subject on which I can give a one-hour lecture at a moment's notice.

Still, I love cars and open roads. I have visited well over a thousand counties in 47 U.S. states, and I have to admit that public transportation was limited to airplanes in most cases. I have been through a few dozen counties in the Northeast by train, but only places I had already visited countless times by car. In other words, I am hopelessly part of the automobile problem.

And I would have enjoyed being one of the many cartographic fact-checkers that verified the layout of open roads for map-making companies on the eve of World War II. These CARtographers were lauded by the automobile industry at the time, in a short, industry-sponsored video brought to our attention by Greg Miller of National Geographic.

Connecting Deep Dots

Because I have long been a fan of both biography and public radio, the BBC series Witness has become something that I look forward to most weekday mornings. This 9-minute program comes on at 4:50 each morning, which encourages me to get the coffee grinding done in time to enjoy an interview with someone connected to major historical events. 

Careful readers will note that I have blogged about a few of these before; the most recent to get my  attention was an interview with a coworker of geologist Marie Tharp. Her work is central to a lot of my teaching, yet I had never heard of her. In short, it was her careful mapping of seafloor soundings that identified the world's largest physical feature -- the mid-Atlantic ridge -- and confirmed the theory of plate tectonics that had been disputed by geologists for about a century.

The leader of her team -- who was still an undergraduate while she had earned two master's degrees -- had initially dismissed her interpretation of the data as "girl talk" without explaining what he meant by the term. This did not prevent him from eventually putting his name on the publications that announced her findings.

I recommend listening to the interview and then reading Erin Blakemore's Smithsonian article Seeing is Believing, which provides a bit more of the context of Tharp's work. Finally, I recommend Tharp's own account of her education and research. It is posted on the web site of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute with the title Marie Tharp, and is based on her own book chapter, "Connecting the Dots."


From her own account of her career, we learn that before earning graduate degrees in geology and mathematics, Marie Tharp double-majored in English and music. A foundation in the humanities is a good basis for continued learning in any field.

Blog Ideas

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