Saturday, January 30, 2010


I have been moved and gratified -- but not surprised -- by the outpouring of support for the people of Haiti that I have witnessed among students and colleagues at Bridgewater State College. We created this blog to keep up with the many helpful resources and events that are taking place. Most important at the moment is the day-long remembrance on Wednesday, February 3. All are invited to learn, mourn, contribute, and - yes - celebrate.

Michigan and Kansas

Pam the geo-librarian is at it again, bringing geography to life at our house. On Tuesday, it was warm pot pies in the tradition of the Upper Peninsula, known as pasties. (See her blog to learn how to pronounce that.) On Friday, we shared cool tomato and cheese sandwiches, Kansas style. Food is a big part of spatial identity; so are films and books. See the Celebrating the States blog for Pam's reviews of a book and movie for each state, reflections on her own travels and friendships, and occasional chime-ins from me!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Land Grabs in the Amazon

My interest in Brazil originated in the problem of deforestation, and I chose to go to Rondonia, because in the mid-1980s it was experiencing the highest rates of clearing, and this was combined with a poorly understood process of urbanization. That part of the Amazon has a majority urban population now, and a growing economic base that will place pressure on natural resources for generations to come.

Now the most rapid clearing seems to be far to the east, in São Félix do Xingu. This New York Times article describes federal efforts to control the fraud, corruption, and violence in this area of Para state, as well as the deforestation itself.

View Larger Map

Ironically, the article alludes to the importance of geography -- by explaining how poor mapping contributes to the confusion, conflict, and destruction -- but then fails to give any indication of where the story takes place. Para, after all, is almost twice as large as Texas!

The problems of mapping and land tenure are, by the way, relevant to my Brazil program. Even though urban development is our focus, the geotechnology and planning tools we study are relevant in rural areas as well, and do relevant research.

As much as the violence described in this article does concern me, it is an example of a kind of one-diminensional media attention that also deserves some critical thought. Almost a decade ago, we published a small book about perceptions of the region, and if anything the coverage has become less nuanced since then. We are hoping to have a second edition of our book -- Olhares Sobre a Amazonia - Looking at the Amazon -- available soon.

Thanks to my friend Vernon for bringing this article to my attention!

Georgia on Our Mind

My wife Pam, the professional librarian and avocational geographer, has yet another ambitious blogging project, which will involve the whole family. Over the course of this year, Pam is celebrating each of the 50 U.S. states on the anniversary of its admission to the Union.

First up was Georgia, which was admitted on January 2, 1788. Read all about our meal, the movie we watched, and the book Pam read. That's right -- Munchies, Movies and Manuscripts for each. (See my own Georgia Counties page for a bit more information about our travels there.)

Tonight I'm looking forward to an Alaskan meal before my departure for Nicaragua. I look forward to reading what Pam has to say of the Alaska movie we watched -- which at least tripled our lifetime hockey viewing.

Sadly, although I was born in the continental United States, my birth place is not going to be included, as it is not yet a state.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Another Geographic Life List

My wife Pam is a librarian and a fan of lists. As a geographer, I have a life list of the U.S. counties I have visited and a list of the states I have visited in other countries. (Pam and our daughter also have analog versions of the county map.) So, a pattern of keeping track is well-established.

The two of us have embarked on another life-long list, to appear sporadically on a blog that Pam started recently. Our first adventure as part of the Bridgewaters Project was to the lovely hamlet of Bridgewater, New Hampshire, on the penultimate day of 2009.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Guy Lombardo: Managua, Nicaragua ... a wonderful town

For four of the past five years, I have enjoyed a nice New Year's Day tradition -- attending an open house with many friends here in snowy Bridgewater in the midst of final preparations to lead a study tour to Nicaragua. As of January 1, I have usually gotten most of the gifts I will take to my host family and the other coffee farmers we will meet, and I have gotten all of the information I can to my students. So I spend the day savoring the good company of my friends and my family, while also thinking about the upcoming adventure far to the south ... and the last-minute preparations of packing and travel documents.

January 1 (or more likely, late the night before) is the only day most people think of Guy Lombardo. And for years, Auld Lang Syne was his one-hit wonder, to my knowledge. That is, until a friend shared this gem from 1946. The song is kitchy, to say the least, and the lyrics both celebrate and stereotype Managua as a tropical place. The video below puts the song in sharp relief, as it shows imagery from the days of the elder Somoza, a dictator installed by the United States Marines. Managua never developed the cachet of Havana, but it was a bit of a playground.

The video is brilliant in its juxtaposition of the song's flippant remark about siestas and laziness with the languid lounging of the lily-white elites of a bygone era.

The elaborate statuary shown in the middle of the video are in contrast to the ironic statuary currently found at the site where Samoza's treachery resulted in the death of Sandino.