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).

Lagniappe

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


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Overcoming Condor



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

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

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

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

My Wordle!

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Busy Week for Geography!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Climate Change: The Business Case

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

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

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

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

Lagniappe

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Geography of Murk and Muck



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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Día del Libro

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

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Soccer World



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

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

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


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

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

Victorian Remote Control



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