Friday, November 27, 2009

Minas Gerais -- Let's go!

Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon are two captivating parts of Brazil. Some say that God created all the rest of the world in one day, so that he could spend the rest of the week on Rio. The Amazon is known as the "lungs of the world" and a sort of modern-day Noah's Ark for endangered wildlife. Both places are beautiful and both have significant problems as well -- Cidade de Deus and all of the literature on burning forests make this clear. But Brazil is a continent-sized country with many other places to know and visit.

One of those places is the state of Minas Gerais (meaning General Mines), which happens to be the home of many Brazilians who currently live near Boston. This New York Times travel essay The Other Brazil makes it clear that Minas has a lot to offer. Because Minas is also home to Brazil's nascent efforts at growing specialty coffee, it will be part of a study tour I am leading in July and August of 2010. Stay tuned or contact me if you are interested in details, which will be available on our Study Abroad web site as they become finalized.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mo Rocca the Geographer

I love listening to Mo Rocca on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and I was disappointed to have missed him when he spoke at BSC a couple of years ago. Only today did I learn -- from Matt Rosenberg's geography blog that Rocca is a capital fiend (and he knows something about the geography of coffee as well).

Of course, geography is much more than capitals (keep reading this blog or my home page for examples) but I still applaud Mo Rocca's enthusiasm for learning about places.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sierra Coffee

Thanks to my friend Rob (who lives full-time in the real world, rather than the Internet, so he'll never see this) for pointing me in the direction of some great little coffee articles in Sierra magazine. I send my students browsing in the online version of the magazine every semester to bring me back the best articles, so I might have found this eventually, but Rob found it for me first in the current print edition.

Searching the magazine -- which is the official publication of North America's original environmental organization -- I actually found three interesting little articles related to coffee and the environment.

Many of us know that coffee grounds are great for garden composting -- come see my hydrangeas some time -- but this Green Tip article provides some details about this, and links to many additional suggestions. The College Buzz article describes nationwide efforts to bring socially and environmentally sustainable coffee to campuses. I'm proud to say that our own Social Justice League students at BSC have been working very effectively in this direction -- with some changes already taking place and more to come.

The article that Rob mentioned originally is called Sustained Buzz, in which five coffee experts are asked to recommend coffees -- other than their own -- that provide good quality and good results for the environment. I was very pleased that Green Mountain Coffee's Lindsey Bolger recommends the coffee of Selva Negra where -- ironically -- I first met Bolger's colleague Rick Peyser and others from Green Mountain. In January 2010, I will be taking students to Selva Negra for the fourth time, and I agree that this is truly one of the world's most enjoyable coffees. During our annual coffee tasting in April 2009, Selva Negra was by far the most popular offering.

Later in the spring of 2009, we had the great privilege of Selva Negra proprietor Mausi Kuhl visiting our campus to describe some of the extraordinary ecological projects that make Selva Negra a place that grows both organic coffee and organic farmers!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Featured Chef?

The connection to geography is tenuous, but I cannot help but share a recent brush with fame. I am currently the "featured chef" on a popular web site known as My killer queso dip recipe was found by the site editor, and apparently was a hit. I must admit that the yumminess-to-effort factor is pretty high. As the name implies, this is an important criterion for inclusion on the site.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A grand gift to the town from the man you can’t see - The Boston Globe

Albert Stone understands the value of libraries. I wish everyone did.

He has given the town of Townsend a great gift -- a new library. At a time when many people -- even educators -- are willing to kill or maim their school and town libraries, Mr. Stone funded a new one. (He is not alone; the wise voters of Walsenburg, Colorado recently did the same, without a major benefactor.)

Mr. Stone also seems to understand what a lot of rich people do not. None of us deserves great wealth, and none of us earns it on our own. Many who are wealthy point to the hard work it took to get wealthy, not realizing that many work even harder and remain poor. Mr. Stone recognizes that his success did not occur in a vacuum, and he is to be commended for giving something back.

In this case, he is giving the town a new heartbeat. I do not know anything about Townsend; maybe it has been weathering the recession just fine. But even in prosperous towns -- like my own -- the benefits of a good library increase during a recession. From the practical benefits of job hunting and skill-building to the solace of a place to spend productive and enjoyable time without spending money, a library is an essential investment in hard times.

And as some towns whack their library budgets, the bottom-line benefit of a library as comparative advantage should not be ignored; I cannot imagine that home values in Bridgewater will recover as quickly as those in towns with fully-funded libraries and schools.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Main Street USA/Mexico

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When I lived in Arizona and Texas for a total of seven years, I managed to cross the border at most points that were then open, but I do not think I ever made it to San Luis. From this story, however, it sounds very much like the places I did know well -- Nogales/Nogales, Hidalgo/Reynosa, and Brownsville/Matamoros.

This story focuses on a binational community just south of Yuma -- one of the hottest and driest places to be found in North America. When I lived in Tucson, people would warn me against going to this area, because it was dry! The green lands shown in the satellite image just west of town are irrigated by the canal that is shown entering from the north.

As with most cities on the border, the city on the Mexico side is close to ten times larger than its U.S. partner.

New Music From Long-Dead People

Mexico City percussionist David Lopez combines musical talent with academic curiosity to perform music that channels both Aztec and Mayan predecessors.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Driving through New York City just weeks after the 2001 attacks, Rick Meyerowitz and Maira Kalman were discussing the glut of new and unfamiliar tribal affiliations that were rapidly becoming commonplace among North Americans with little prior understanding of South-Central Asia. The result of that conversation was a map that would become an icon of that period.

Read about the map on Strange Maps or on Meyerowitz' own site. Find out what "-stan" really means.

The map calls attention to difference and tribalism both in the far-away and in the familiar. In so doing, the map deeply represents the notion that "People are more alike than different."

Monday, November 02, 2009

Birthdays for MOBALS

When he visited Bridgewater recently, geographer extraordinaire Harm de Blij spoke of three kinds of people in the world space-economy. "GLOBALS" are the 15 percent of the world's people who are relatively wealthy because they were born to parents in rich countries. Even the relatively poor GLOBALS are relatively rich by world standards. "LOCALS," de Blij said, are the vast majority of the world's people, born into relative poverty and likely to remain pretty close to where they were born, both in terms of location and in terms of wealth. Finally, the "MOBALS" are those people who move readily between the two. They serve an important function in the operation of the world economy, and they are rewarded richly for it.

Writing in the Boston Sunday Globe, Kate Darnton writes eloquently about one such group of MOBALS and how they exhibit their wealth. Her article on children's birthday parties in Vasant Vihar, New Delhi is both entertaining and distressing. One risk of being a MOBAL, apparently, is the temptation to adopt all of the most garish and least sustainable aspects of the lifestyle of the GLOBALS. Just as we try to reign in our own instincts toward over-consumption, the elite in the rest of the world take our bad ideas to entirely new levels.

And as if over-pampered children in India were not enough, the same edition of the Globe mentions the Prombron Monaco Red Diamond Edition -- an SUV for elites in Russia. Mileage figures are not available, but the excesses of this vehicle put Hummers in the same category as a Prius or a bicycle. See Worst Vehicle Ever for the sordid details.