Monday, November 23, 2015

Language Learning

As I wrote recently in Land of the Free and Home of the Cafe, fear seems to leading many to abandon core values. Fear of the "other" is compounded by ignorance, as employees of Southwest Airlines recently demonstrated.

The airline has cited safety and security, rather than apologize to these customers after initially barring them from a flight. Fortunately, Mahar Khalil had the presence of mind to call 911 when his rights were being violated, and local police responded appropriately. Some passengers continued to give the travelers a hard time, but Khalil and his friend Anas Ayyad prefered to remember those who treated them kindly.

The incident began when passengers overheard them speaking Arabic. It is likely that these passengers did not even know what language they were hearing, but presumed that it was Arabic. This was the sole basis of alerting the gate agents, who then barred these men -- who had already cleared security -- from the flight.

Lack of language learning reinforces xenophobia, while learning languages makes people a bit less paranoid when they hear other languages being spoken. These are among the reasons I am encouraging my own university to reinstate and expand its language requirement a decade after its inexplicable removal. Two quotes on Small World -- the web page I created about the controversy -- suggest additional reasons:
Man's [sic] mind, stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimension.Oliver Wendell Holmes
You can buy whatever you want in English. To sell, however, you need to speak other languages.Overheard

In other words, language learning is great exercise for the mind, and it is good for business. The latter point is echoed in post on the Forbes business blog: Leadership Skills Multiply with Language Skills. Unfortunately, the post could use a bit of editing, but writer Rawn Shah does share a lot of evidence of the value of language learning, while pointing out that much of Europe is way ahead of the United States in this area.
Map: Language expert JakubMarian via Forbes.
The Forbes article includes this map showing that throughout Europe it is common to know more than one language. In an increasingly globalized world (which we always talk about preparing our students for), U.S. college graduates are in competition with people elsewhere. And those people know languages.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Scrambled States

As reported by Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post blog and others, the presidential campaign of Dr. Ben Carson briefly aired a map that seriously scrambled the New England states.
Mashable blogger Max Knoblauch zooms in to show the trade-offs implied by the creative cartography of the Carson team, and he has some fun with the imaginary lands that would result.
It took me a while to figure out exactly what had gone awry here. The designer actually kept five of the New England states together, but keeps only Vermont in its correct position relative to New York. The rest is moved northeast, so that Connecticut borders northern Vermont. On both maps above, eastern Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts get a bit of a haircut.
As Ingraham's article indicates, it is just in time for Geography Awareness Week, and it is also the case that Dr. Carson's team is far from alone: geographic illiteracy is rampant. 
Our late, great friend Harm de Blij used to write 1,000 letters each year to media outlets that had published geographically erroneous maps or text.
In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Geographic Alliances and allies in the state legislature -- from both major parties -- are trying to improve on the situation. A geography bill currently under consideration would create a commission to examine ways to restore geography in the curriculum and in teacher preparation. Both were cut about 15 years ago, so that it is rare to find a high-school geography teacher in Massachusetts, and it is essentially illegal to become one.

Incidentally, the purpose of Dr. Carson's map is to promote the idea of closing the U.S. to refugees, a common reaction that I address in another post: Land of the Free and Home of the Cafe.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nicaragua: Tenth Anniversary Tour

Since January 2006, I have had the privilege of taking students to Nicaragua almost every year to learn about coffee directly from some of the world's most remarkable coffee growers. Over 100 of us have made the journey from Bridgewater to Matagalpa, some more than once. I consider it a home, as I have been warmly welcomed nine times so far, and never pass a day without thinking of these Coffeelands.

This winter, many of the students who hoped to take the course were unable to do so, and we canceled the program for the first time. Not going to Nicaragua in our tenth anniversary year, though, is hard to accept. Our BSU Office of Study Abroad and our wonderful friends at Matagalpa Tours have worked together to offer a pilot program -- BSU's first non-credit educational program.

During Spring Break 2016 -- March 5 to 12 -- Pamela Hayes-Bohanan and I will take a group to Nicaragua for an abbreviated visit that focuses on the coffee-growing areas, though it will be outside of the coffee harvest season. The two-week, credit-bearing version of Geography of Coffee Travel Course will return in January 2017.

March 5-12, 2016. Details and application HERE.

Rio Doce Disaster

Ironically, Rio Doce means "Sweet River," but this river in Southeastern Brazil is the site of an environmental disaster that is bitter indeed. The disaster occurred at Mariana in the state of Minas Gerais, a state whose very name means "General Mines" and which has been the location of just above kind of metal mining one can think of. The breeches on November 5th destroyed the small community of Bento Rodrigues, and toxic muds continue to flow toward the Atlantic Ocean.

The scale of the damage caused by the collapse of two mining dams is difficult to exaggerate.

More of the story is told by Greenpeace and by Reuters.

I learned of this story from a Brazilian student who is from Espirito Santo, a small state that is downstream from the disaster, and toward which the toxic waters and sediments are moving. From her I also learned that many in Brazil are comparing this to the Fukushima disaster in Japan, in which lack of disaster preparedness led to a massive release of toxic material, affecting thousands of people. So far, neither the mine owners nor government officials have been willing to respond adequately to the scope of the disaster.

This dramatic images and haunting music of this video capture the anguish and frustration many in Brazil are experiencing two weeks after the breeches, as they demand a more thorough response from both industry and government.

In some ways, the Rio Doce collapse is similar to the 1889 Johnstown Flood near Pittsburgh, in which a privately-owned dam was neglected and collapsed (see also NPR interview). In that case, no long-term effect from toxic waste was involved, but the immediate death toll was much higher, as a wall of water killed 2,200 people in very short order.

Like the Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima itself, both crimes remind us that although climate change is our single biggest environmental hazard, it is far from the only one.

UPDATE November 23, 2015

According to ABC News and other sources, the toxic tailings have now reached the Atlantic coast, after polluting approximately 200 miles of river along the way.
Photo: O Globo
Additional resources

This is both a rapidly developing story and a situation that has many facets and that will be with the people of Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, and possibly other coastal locations for decades. Below are a few resources for those interested in learning more and in helping in some way.

RioDoce.Help is a clearinghouse for real-time information about assistance. It is a bit tricky to navigate at first, but it does include both English- and Portuguese-language tools for connecting donors to specific people in need.

Greenpeace provides information about the disaster on its main site and information on how to help (como ajudar) on its Brazil site.

The Globo news site also provides news about aid in Portuguese, along with maps of the affected area.

¡Sí Problemo!

In geography, the real world is a big part of what we do. If we think backward from what we want to solve to what we need to understand in order to work on solutions, the study of geography is often a key part of preparation.

Of course, geographers will also need to learn from related disciplines (fortunately, all disciplines are related to geography) and from their own independent explorations, from travel, and from the study of languages.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Land of the Free and Home of the Cafe

I share this as a reminder -- in the wake of terrible attacks in Paris -- of what our country can be. If we want the bragging rights of a free and brave nation, we have to work at it. Terrorists half a world away know this, and they are challenging us either to live our values or to abandon them.

I am an optimist -- otherwise I could not be a teacher -- so I think we will get through this crisis and be the stronger for it. But not if we give in to our fears.

Herewith, then, are brief links to several voices making the case that as we work against the terrorists, we should not also work against their victims, which is exactly what many are calling for at the moment.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright argues that ISIS Wants Us to Think Refugees are the Enemy. Even if we do not think of them as the enemy, treating them as the enemy will have the same exact effect, Giving ISIS Exactly What it Wants, according to Daniel Marans.

To resist this, we can examine why Fear Drives Out Compassion, and work to overcome this natural reaction. Both the fear and resistance to that fear can be bipartisan, as statements by Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice make clear.

Some more detailed analysis of the prospect of refusing refugees is provided by Max Fisherwho includes constitutional issues and the vetting process in this discussion. Elise Foley provides more information on the screening process.

It is at this point that many will point to the inevitable costs and risks. And of course there are both. But the costs and risks we are being asked to bear are a tiny fraction of those already being borne in Europe and by several of Syria's neighbors, such as Turkey. And, believe it or not, Syria itself actually HOSTS more refugees from other countries than the number of Syrians who would be hosted in the U.S. under President Obama's plans.

(Those who urge Syria's neighbors to do even more can consider doing more for the refugees in our own corner of the world, including women from Central America, or other refugees world-wide.)

Of course, the refugee discussion is part of a broader debate this year about migration in general, whose long history Spencer Dukoff examined back in August. As he pointed out, we love to brag about our melting pot, but we've tended to dislike each new ingredient.

I will digress into the world of mathematics with brief mentions of non-Muslim terror threats and the non-terror threat of climate change, before returning to coffee to wrap up this post.

Yes, coffee. More specifically, coffee shops. After a hiatus for caution and for mourning, Parisians are taking to their cafes again, determined not to live in fear.

A gift from France. Our ally that tried to dissuade us from the deadly folly of the Iraq War, and got mainly derision (remember "Freedom Fries?") for their efforts. May we remember their example.

Minutes after I posted this, French President Hollande -- in the midst of discussing decisive action by French police -- exhorted his country not to engage in reprisals against Muslim neighbors, whom he reminded them are also victims of terrorism. He also renewed his commitment to welcome 30,000 refugees.


Steve Sack of the Star-Tribune captures this moment, in which many are choosing exactly the path ISIS desires.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pole-Vaulting Troubadore

During Arlo Guthrie's recent concert at the fabulous Zeiterion in New Bedford, he played a song with an infectious melody and lyrics that were only vaguely familiar. So I found the song on YouTube, and thought he said something about Baltimore. Checking the lyrics, I found that the line I was mis-hearing is actually:

Coming in from London from over the pole

Which of course is geographic! He is referring to the great-circle route from London to Los Angeles. Counter-intuitively, one leaves London headed northwest to get to Los Angeles, which is to the southeast. You can try this kind of routing on a globe by stretching string from one point to another. You can also do it more precisely at Great Circle Mapper.
The lesson, alas, is not entirely accurate. A London-Los Angeles flight does go poleward, but it only gets to about 62 degrees north latitude, not breaking the Arctic Circle.
As for the rest of the geography of the song, we'll save that for another day -- the traveler has a "couple of ki's" he would rather not reveal to Customs.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cafe Crawl for Credit

"For me, coffee is a way to connect our students to the wider world." -James Hayes-Bohanan, geography professor #HumansofBSU
Posted by Bridgewater State University on Friday, November 13, 2015

I am very pleased to have been included in my university's #HumansofBSU series of vignettes about members of the campus community. I am even more pleased that it was one of my students who suggested I be invited to participate. It was a great opportunity for me to talk about the relationship between two of my favorite subjects -- geography and coffee -- and how both relate to my work with students. More on those relationships can be found in Coffee Bellwethers -- a somewhat longer video recorded in April of this year as part of the first annual TEDxBSU event. My Geography of Coffee web site points to many more facets of the work, and I enjoy giving occasional public lectures on coffee to a wide variety of audiences in our region. (Note the lectures link seriously needs updating, but the frequency and types of such lectures continue in a similar vein.)
Coffeelands World Gifts Espresso Cafe connects customers to their local community and the world community of coffee growers like no other. It will be part of the Coffee Week (NOT Weak) course in July 2016.
Travel Courses
The real opportunities for learning, of course, come in my credit-bearing courses on the subject, in which I am able to serve as a sort of bridge between my students and the many extraordinary coffee experts I am privileged to know. The courses, mentioned in the video above, include a travel course (a.k.a. study tour) in Nicaragua each January. The course last two weeks and usually costs just under $3,000. Well over 100 people have participated since the first tour in 2006. Everyone who has gone agrees that it is money well spent, but of course not everybody has that kind of money to spend.

Because I also know that a number of area teachers are interested but cannot travel in January, I'm hoping to offer a Peru version of the trip some day. Meanwhile, because our travel course did not get enough students to run in January 2016, we are going to pilot a new kind of academic travel -- a non-credit tour of the coffeelands of Nicaragua in January 2016. The cost will be about $1600, and details will be posted here by November 20.

Classroom Courses
With over a dozen sections offered since 2007, the other coffee class mentioned in the video is a Second-Year Seminar entitled the Secret Life of Coffee. Well over 200 students have taken this course, including about a dozen who participated in the travel course as well. In addition to general discussions of the coffee industry and the book Javatrekker, students report on coffee shops as individuals and work in small groups to organize a major coffee tasting and fair for the campus community.

As popular as the seminar is, many interested students are not able to take it because only second-year students are eligible. For years, I have been looking for a third way, and just this week -- between the recording of the "Humans" video and its posting online, the university announced a new course format that is perfect for a new course.

The Third Way
In order to promote new approaches to summer teaching, the university is supporting one- and two-week programs that would meet every day for a full or half day, respectively. The idea is to allow longer time frames for different kinds of experiences, including regional travel and guest speakers, and an overall more intensive learning experience that might be easier for some students to schedule.

Given this format, it did not take long to develop a week-long program, and my brilliant wife Pamela (who named the Secret Life of Coffee course) suggested a play on the word "week." Hence:

GEOG 400: Coffee Week (NOT Weak)
That really is the proposed title, with tentative dates of Monday to Friday, July 18-22, 2016 (if not the week before). This will be a three-credit course, available to all. I will soon know details of the cost, if any, of proposed cafe visits. Below are the course description and a tentative schedule.

The purpose of this course is to learn about coffee as a global commodity, an agricultural product, and a cultural vehicle. Drawing on more than a decade of experience and contacts in all segments of the industry, this course is an intensive exploration of the physical, human, and environmental geography of coffee. Through readings, lectures, film, music, and site visits, students will emerge from the week with a much greater appreciation for coffee and the 10 million people who make a living from this globally popular beverage. The course culminates with a service project in which the students share their newfound coffee knowledge with the campus and surrounding community.

Meets Daily, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Order of activities subject to change

Café Jumpstart – local cafe
Coffee Workshop – field to cup
Roasting lecture by BSU alum / master roaster
Café Jumpstart – local cafe 
Roasting field trip – 2 specialty roasters in our region
Café Jumpstart – local cafe
Coffee on currency, stamps, and film
Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History
Café Crawl – visiting innovative cafés throughout the region, including Coffeelands World Gifts Espresso Cafe in Clinton (shown above)
Café Service – creating a temporary, teaching café for the campus community

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Climate in the Rearview Mirror

At the risk of adding to the already rich mix of metaphors in Professor Callan Bentley's excellent post on his Mountain Beltway blog, his work reminds me that the climate I grew up with is receding in the rearview mirror. It never pays to be too nostalgic, and that is certainly the case when it comes to climate. In so many ways, my daughter will never know the world I grew up in, and a lost climate is just part of that. Something about passing the 400 ppm mark for the final time, though, should give us all pause.

On his blog -- hosted by the American Geophysical Union -- he explains that although the global concentration of carbon dioxide passed the  400 ppm mark for the first time about 18 months ago, it passed it for the last time this past Sunday.
As Al Gore explained in An Inconvenient Truth, the observatory at Mauna Loa provides a long-term estimate of temporal changes in global carbon dioxide concentrations, because CO2 mixes very evenly in the troposphere. For reasons that professor Bentley explains (i.e., geography), the concentration varies oscillates quite steadily over a range of about 8-10 ppm each year. But it has been ratcheting up steadily for decades, going up 9-10 but coming down only 7-8. I would love to play a game of chance with anyone who believes these are "random fluctuations."

The number was 280 when carbon-based industrialization began, and was 350 when I was in college. The climate talks in Paris at the end of this month will be considered successful if they limit future increases. But we -- and our children and their children -- will almost certainly not see the number this "low" again.

I provide a bit more context for this graphic on my general climate change page, and although I think trying to convince people of the "reality" of climate change should not take too much of our time, I have done exactly that on my posts Climate Foxholes, the Business Case, and Frosty Denial.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Sertão: Dry Lives and Cold War

From the University of Cincinnati film archives comes a 1964 film that provides as much insight into Cold War thinking about Latin America as it does its ostensible subject, the prolonged drought in the sertão -- the "Barren Lives" region of Brazil.

The sertão is also the region of forró music, The widely-known Asa Branca and the more modern (if obscure) Chover are among many forró songs specifically about drought. See my Musica: Brazil page for these examples.

The film is entitled Brazil the Troubled Land, and was produced by McGraw-Hill, apparently for classroom use. I will actually be using it in my own classes, both because of the lessons it intends to convey and because of the unintended lessons about U.S. attitudes toward Brazilian peasants in particular and economic disparity in Latin America in general.

The intended lessons are about the bleak landscape of the Brazilian Northeast and the difficulties of life in perpetual drought. Visually, the 25-minute piece made for U.S. classrooms strongly resembles the 100-minute epic by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, which I studied as a film adaptation of Vidas Sêcas and as an exemplar of Brazilian Cinema Novo (New Cinema). That film can be found on Amazon and on YouTube, and preceded the classroom piece by just one year. Both films show the Northeast as a place of hard work, dry lands, and bleak prospects for those who make their living most directly from the land.

Of course, the drought is both a physical and a social phenomenon. Everyone experriences the same climate, but not everyone experiences it the same way. The Troubled Land film hints at land tenure as the real problem in the sertao, but couches this mainly about the threat that creates for the United States. The minifundio/latifundio (small farm/big farm) problem is illustrated in rather grotesque fashion, as a peasant family explains that they need more land on which to work and a fazendero jokes about killing those who try to organize.

The narrator also explains that life expectancy for peasants is in the 30s, implying that it has to do with the climate itself, rather than social inequality. From the work of La Isla Foundation among sugarcane workers in Nicaragua and elsewhere, it is evident that long hours in the hot sun with minimal hydration may make sugar harvesting one of the most dangerous occupations in the world.

But all of this is couched in terms of the threat that peasant organization might pose for the United States. Both films emerged shortly after the Cuban Revolution, and in the United States the greatest concern was not for the livelihood of workers but for the possible "domino effect" of the revolution.

The film was produced in the same year as the coup that began two decades of military dictatorship in Brazil. This was a dictatorship that had the support of the United States government, as did many in Latin America and beyond.

BRAZIL THE TROUBLED LAND (1964) from HMH Archive on Vimeo.