Friday, October 30, 2009

Coffee or Tea?

As I embark on a new writing project on the geography of coffee and tea, I am finding a lot of interesting parallels and connections. I am interested in the geographies of production and consumption. This article by geographer Norman Berdichevsky is just the sort of thing I am looking for -- examining the spatial patterns of coffee and tea preferences outside of producing areas.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beverage Snob

Jason, the blogger at 2BASNOB, is a man after my own heart. He started to learn a little bit about coffee, became increasingly interested in the finer points, and then unable to enjoy bad coffee. He has since become a snob (could we agree to say "enthusiast" instead?) of tea, beer, and wine as well.

What does this have to do with geography? Everything.

For all of these beverages -- and most foods -- the quality of the end product is improved if the people involved and the land and water they use are treated well. Moreover, at least for these beverages, geographic differences in soil, climate, and processing traditions contribute to great variety in the cup or bottle.

The 2BASNOB blog is a very nicely organized site that provides a very rich introduction to the four beverages mentioned above. I will be consulting it as I work on my new book about tea!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Taught to the Test

See the full comic at ComicStrips.
Signe Wilson's Family Tree comic strip of October 25, 2009 describes the problem of education "reform" eloquently. See it on and then consider the cost of politically-motivated testing. Ironically, the most burdensome government mandates come from those who tend to distrust government. In their zeal to make educators "prove" their effectiveness, they have seriously undermined that effectiveness. The Heisenberg  Uncertainty Principle surely applies to K-12 education: the measurement surely effects what is being measured, and I would argue that the effect is mainly negative, as I encounter generations of students who have been undergone "teaching to the test" and who arrive at college in need of un-teaching.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Environment 360

Yale University sponsors the amazing e360 site, bringing together the latest and most important news about the environment. It can be a bit frightening, but many critical issues are brought together in a single, well-written source. Of course, I have to thank my favorite librarian for finding this site!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Fair Trade: What Price for Good Coffee?

Thanks to my friend Henry Lucas at the Spellman Museum for pointing out this important article from Time. The article describes efforts to raise the fair-trade minimum price from $1.35 to $2 per pound of coffee. It is a risky but perhaps necessary proposition. Some of my industry contacts quoted in the article express dismay that farm families are not adequately compensated, even at fair-trade prices. But a dramatic increase could greatly limit the number of families benefiting from the programs, and even well-meaning consumers might balk at paying the real price of production.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Lessons from the world of girl gangs

Librarian Pamela Hayes-Bohanan has been reviewing 8 Ball Chicks by journalist Gini Sikes. Her final blog entry on the book explains why it is important to pay attention to the problems of these young people.

Jobless Recovery

Job seekers fill out applications for positions at a new bar and restaurant while standing in line in Detroit, Sept. 25, 2009. (AP - Posted on

Through geography -- particularly environmental geography -- we find that everything is connected. The human impact on the environment, for example, is inextricably linked to the economy. Economic geography analyzes spatial patterns of economic activity -- what humans produce where, and why they do so.

To understand economic geography, it is important to know something about financial systems, business cycles, and the connections between each of these and employment. Reliable and cogent discussions of these are difficult to find. That is why I was pleased to hear this hour-long discussion. On Point Radio host Tom Ashbrook leads a very informative discussion with Robert Reich and Elizabeth Warren. It is worth investing an hour to hear what they have to say about the U.S. economy at a critical crossroads.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Family Tree Lesson

This is the first panel of a cute comic strip that makes an important point about what we are doing to waterways.

Because plastic is lightweight and durable, it eventually finds its way to rivers, and then to oceans. Re-use and recycling only delay the journey.

The time frame are mind-boggling. Hundreds of millions of years to produce, perhaps thirty minutes of convenience, and centuries of pollution.

Pacific Rim Action

See what bloggers at My Wonderful World have to say about the variety of tragic events in the western Pacific last week. The typhoon, earthquakes, and tsunamis did a lot of damage and raise a lot of geographic questions.

The photo of surfers riding the wave, by the way, is just symbolic of big waves -- tsunamis do not really work this way. If you were on a tsunami in the middle of the ocean, by the way, you would never know it.

My Wonderful World is a project of National Geographic. I am very fortunate to work closely with the MWW outreach person for Massachusetts as part of my department's Project EarthView.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Geographer Matt Rosenberg explains the coming fate of web addresses connected to a country that no longer exists. Years after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the .yu suffix is slated to go the way of the Yugo automobile. The transition may be slow, as several thousand web sites still use the defunct suffix.

The George-Jetson solution to sprawl

In this October 4 Boston Globe article, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow traces the fifty-year history of the Pod Car – a George-Jetsonesque approach to the problems of suburban sprawl.

The ambitious idea has idealistic advocates and vigorous doubters. It could provide an alternative to current visions of public and private transportation -- both of which are seriously problematic today and bound to get worse. Near the end of the article, Tuhus-Dubrow mentions what would be the greatest advantage in the Boston area: avoidance of its "notorious drivers." As someone who was nearly run over at a petting zoo yesterday, I consider anything that gets my neighbors out of the driver's seat is a good thing.

San Jose, California is currently farther along than any other U.S. city in planning a pod-car system. See the sidebar article for details.