Saturday, August 29, 2009

Churrascão -- Guest Blog

My favorite librarian has a blog about a year-long reading project. She is reading some of the books to me aloud, and has invited me to guest-blog about a chapter we found particularly interesting. It concerns food in Brazil!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Geography of Ignorance

My last posting was about sin, so ignorance seems to be a logical next step. Those who try to ban books seek to reinforce their own ignorance and to share it with others. Almost anything written that is at all interesting will be offensive to someone. Rather than grapple with the offensive ideas, some prefer to bury them.
This map represents recent challenges in the U.S. To be honest, the pattern is not what I expected. Except for Southern California, it is rather representative of the distribution of population. This should not have suprised me, as efforts to ban books come from both the left and the right, the blue and the red.

Thanks to my favorite librarian for this link and thanks to ALA and ACLU for helping this country to live up to its ideals of liberty, which is often unpopular.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Geography of Sin

Thanks to my colleague Bryan Baldwin for thinking of me when he saw this collection of maps from the geographers at Kansas State University. Bryan saw it originally in Wired magazine, and I found an additional story with somewhat different maps on a newspaper site in – wait for it – Las Vegas. The article is proof that geography can be about anything!

I like Abigail Goldman’s description in the Las Vegas Sun: “precision party trick — rigorous mapping of ridiculous data.” Be that as it may, these maps are excellent illustrations of what geographers (and other social scientists) call “proxy variables.” Lust itself is not mappable, but STDs are, and they probably have at least some correlation.

I would like to see one more map. Hypocrisy could be estimated by dividing the other variables by membership in Mean-for-Jesus fundamentalist churches or subscriptions to the publications of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

Monday, August 24, 2009

For the love of libraries ... and librarians

In the summer of 1985, my friend (and fellow geographer) Mike Norris and I hopped in his 1960 bug at the end of our last day of a lousy summer job, and embarked on an 8,500-mile cross-country trek. Driving an air-cooled little car long distances in August required a lot of night-time driving and daytime sleeping.

This is how I came to know Walsenburg, Colorado -- a high-desert town that served as my introduction to the American West. We had drinks in an actual salloon -- it must have been noon somewhere -- with the long bar, big mirror, and everything. I saw tumbleweeds for the first time -- something I would never tire of watching when Pam and I lived in Tucson, years later. (We were there, by the way, for me to get geography education while Pam got library education.)

Mostly, though, I remember a well-kept elementary school with soft grass, where Mike and I were able to find a bit of shade for our daytime lodging. People drove around and thought us a bit odd, but it was summertime and people were not frightened about schools, so we were left to our rest. The next day, we drove on to Flagstaff, just in time for a big ice-carving event at NAU orientation. I remember Mike buying a couple of notebooks so we could pretend to be students there.

I returned to Flag quite a few times, but have not been back to Walsenburg. I remembered it fondly yesterday, though, when I heard a great story about the little town. As regular readers of this blog may know, I live in a town that whacked its library budget before the current recession. In other places, people have faced tough budget choices during the recession, and libraries have suffered.

In Walsenburg, however, the voters realized what has escaped the voters where I live (in the supposedly progressive Northeast): libraries are among a community's very most important resources. With our without the Internet, libraries are a hub of learning and literacy. Particularly in hard times, it makes sense for each member of the community to contribute a little (even if it is hard to come by) to gain access, really, to the whole world.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


As I mentioned a couple weeks ago on this blog, the movie Food, Inc. describes the frightening world of corporate agriculture, in which fewer and fewer players control more and more of our food. Now, the Obama Administration is doing something about it.

More specifically, the Justice Department has decided to enforce anti-trust laws against Big Agriculture -- something that was not likely under the Bush or Clinton Administrations. (President Bush never met a business regulation he didn't hate, and President Clinton was a wholly-0wned subsidiary of Tyson Foods.)

If successful, enforcement against Monsanto and other monopolies could be a real boon to local and genuinely organic food. In turn, this could have a significant impact on the cultural and environmental landcape of the U.S.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Border Foods

The focus of this radio story is a rather unusual hot dog that has apparently taken the Sonoran Desert region by storm during the 15 years since I moved away. Although the particular food is unfamiliar, the broader theme of this essay is quite familiar to me: the blending of cultures in the swath of land along the border between the United States and Mexico. No other border in the world comes close to the economic divide represented here, but the cultural and ecological ties go back several centuries. The lands, languages, peoples, and foods within 100-150 miles of the border often have more in common across that line than they do with the interior of either country. That is, in many ways Tucson is more like Hermosillo than either is like Washington or Mexico City. Having lived and taught in the borderlands for seven years, I am saddened that it has become so subject to the whims of far-away politicians. I am grateful to NPR for the stories it occasionally airs about this vibrant and misunderstood region.

As some of the online comments point out, the story neglects to mention the fourth border state on the U.S. side: New Mexico. It also refers to neighboring states in Mexico without listing them: Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

An Amazon Culture Withers as Food Dries Up

NY Times environmental writer Elisabeth Rosenthal provides an important example of how climate change is already interacting with other environmental programs to put both ecosystems and people at risk. The article focuses on indigenous people in the Xingu National Park in Brazil whose livelihood is threatened by a combination of global climate change and regional climate change induced by excessive forest clearing. Citing additional examples of indigenous people for whom climate change is already a matter of life and death; the article makes very clear that the consequences of climate change vary a great deal according to geography.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

U.S. Economy Maps

The Perry-Castañeda Library at UT-Austin has one of the world's great map collections, and many of the maps are available online. It is a great site to find reliable maps of any part of the world. The librarians make an ever-changing selection of maps available from the main page, depending upon current events such as hurricanes, wars, or other events that will increase demand for particular kinds of maps. The current featured maps include quite a collection about the U.S. economy, providing insight into the geography of the current crisis.

My favorite of these is the Geography of Jobs from TIP strategies. The animation begins with a 2004 map of job gains and losses by metro area, which shows a clear rustbelt/sunbelt divide:

The map then shows the net gains and losses of jobs over the following five years, as a 12-month rolling average (to smooth out seasonal fluctuations and focus on the spatial variations). The impact of Hurricane Katrina is easy to see, and the subsequent crash of economies coast-to-coast is even more dramatic.
One silver lining is the revelation that Hurricane Katrina occurred during a time of relative propserity in the rest of the country. Had it taken place a couple of years later, the dismal situation would have been made even worse.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

U.S. Drought Monitor

I live in Massachusetts, where cool, rainy weather has been so persistent that the Boston Globe featured plans to build an ark a few weeks back. This has led some commentators to conclude that global warming is over. Far from it, the current pattern merely illustrates why scientists have started using the term "climate change" instead. With overall warming come greater deviations and greater variations spatially.

This site, sponsored by University of Nebraska Lincoln, details the deviations. They are especially severe in my old stomping grounds in South Texas (where people pray not to be missed by hurricanes!

Having lived through cool, wet, gray days and dusty droughts, I won't complain about the rain here in New England any more.