Friday, December 31, 2010

Awaken on Wake?

Morning Edition's  Travis Larchuk closes the year with a geographic puzzle that started with a Nantucket Nectars bottle cap. The trivium inside the cap indicated that Sconset Beach in Nantucket witnesses the first sunrise of each year in the United States, and Larchuk decided to investigate the validity of the claim.

He first turned to James Hilton of the U.S. Naval Observatory, which is the official time-keeping authority for the United States. Hilton said that it is a question that mixes "science with sociology," by which he means, of course, that it is a GEOGRAPHY question, though the word is never used in the report.

The answer involves physical geography questions related to elevation and atmospheric conditions as well as human geography questions related to the status of states, territories, and outposts.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

States Wrap-up

Throughout 2010, followers of this blog will have noticed occasional links to Celebrating the States, a year-long blog project that was the brain-child of my favorite librarian, Pam Hayes-Bohanan.

I contributed to the celebration of each state, usually by sharing food and watching the movies. I also read (or had read to me) some of the 50-plus books Pam read as part of the project. Where I had something specific to contribute as a geographer, I did "guest blog" entries. We concluded the project yesterday, with the state that happens to come last in the year, our once-home state of Texas. Each of us wrote a lengthy entry, both with their share of geographic insights, and I recommend both of them to followers of this blog.

Visit the blog at least one more time after tomorrow, to see Pam's wrap-up reflections and to find a link to her next blog project!

Globalization of Mental Health

WBUR journalist Robin Young's recent conversation with fellow journalist Ethan Watters examines some subtle but important aspects of globalization. In his book Crazy Like Us, he describes a number of interesting and unexpected ways in which U.S.  mental-health frameworks interact with other ways of thinking about the mind.

Near the end of the interview, Watters says, "We should be sharing our notions of knowledge of the mind with the rest of the world, but we should be careful in doing that we do not trample local notions of the mind that may be helpful.... We cannot stop globalization; we cannot redraw those boundaries."

Like me, in other words, he does not aspire to put the genie of globalization back in the proverbial bottle. Rather, he is pursuing a nuanced understanding of some of its implications.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Percolator Anniversary

Yesterday was the 145th anniversary of the electric coffee percolator, making poorly-prepared coffee widely available. Percolator-fueled Coffee Hour being the closest thing we have to a sacrament in my religion, I posted a remembrance on my church blog.

For smaller crowds, I recommend a French press or a carefully-selected drip brewer, with preparation tips detailed on my Coffee Care page.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Flood Guide

In the cold of winter in 1919, the North End of Boston experienced a deadly flood of molasses. I first heard about it when we moved to the area a decade ago, and I thought it was some kind of joke, then at best an oddity. It was, in fact, a horrific event that had much in common with such disasters as the Bhopal gas leak and the Gulf of Mexico BP/Halliburton spill.

Historian Stephen Puleo's Dark Tide is a compelling account that includes several topics that are all-too relevant today, including reckless pursuit of corporate profits, government regulators who are too close to the industries they regulate, and cruel bias against immigrant workers.

Because the book is also instructive about many aspects of the urban geography of Boston, I am adopting it for my teacher-preparation course in the spring 2011 semester, as part of Bridgewater's One Book One Community program. To support community members, faculty, and students who are interested in learning more about the Molasses Flood and related topics, librarian Pamela Hayes-Bohanan has created the Great Molasses Flood Maxguide.

Article One: Enumeration

Last week was the 390th anniversary of the pilgrims arrival in Plymouth, Massachusetts. On the same day, a long-awaited announcement from Washington highlighted some interesting connections between the city of my birth and my adopted home state. The announcement from the Bureau of the Census is likely to keep political geographers -- and geographers in several other specialties -- busy for the coming year or two. The Bureau of the Census operates continuously, employing quite a few geographers in pursuit of its mission of serving "as the leading source of quality data about the nation's people and economy."


Its original purpose, however, is the one for which it is best known: Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that an enumeration be conducted within the first three years after the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and once per decade after that. The Constitution specifies the original apportionment as follows:


New Hampshire: three
Massachusetts: eight
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: one
Connecticut: five
New York: six
New Jersey: four
Pennsylvania: eight
Delaware: one
Maryland: six
Virginia: ten
North Carolina: five
South Carolina: five
Georgia: three

The main purpose of the 1790 census was to reapportion these seats according to population, with each state to have at least one representative (in addition to its two senators), and no more than one representative per 30,000 residents. (The Constitution even stipulates how people were to be counted, with free or indentured citizens counting  as 1.0 each, Native Americans as 0.0 each, and slaves as 0.6 each.) If the 1:30,000 ratio were still in place, we would have ten thousand representatives in Congress, instead of 435.

Following each census from 1790 to 1910, Congress not only reapportioned its seats, but also expanded the total number, so that by 1910 about 210,000 people populated an average district. Today that number is 710,000, though districts in smaller states may range from just over a half million to just under a million. Boston Globe commentator Jeff Jacoby has made an interesting argument in favor of expanding Congress, if not to the original ratio, then perhaps to the ratio that was in place in 1910. This is an unusual position for Jacoby to have taken, as he usually argues against any expansion of government, but his case does have some merit.

Incidentally, the secondary purpose of the censuses from the Founding until the passage of the 16th Amendment was to apportion the tax burden for the federal government. It was originally supposed to be levied on each state, in proportion to its population. This provision was removed when the individual income tax was adopted.

The big news last week was that the Bureau released not only the population count, but also its determination of what impact this would have on Congress. As the map below shows, several of the places I have lived are affected by yesterday's report: Massachusetts, Ohio, and Missouri will be losing representatives in Congress, while Texas and Arizona will be gaining. (My old homes in Maryland and Virginia will not be affected, and of course my birthplace of Washington, DC has taxation but no representation.)

Map: Washington Post

The map comes from an article about the count by Chris Cillizza on his Washington Post political blog known as The Fix, where he promises to follow this story over the coming months. The article leads with the observation that the shift of seats is, generally speaking, from so-called blue states to red states, meaning states that tend to vote for Democrats and Republicans, respectively. Cillizza goes on to explain that it is not quite so simple, mainly, he writes, because Republicans already have such large advantages in these states. In fact, those advantages are generally tactical, rather than demographic; the red state/blue state dichotomy is somewhat exaggerated, as Robert Vanderbei's Purple America maps illustrate.



Clearly, there are some regional differences, but most states are much closer to 50/50 than is generally realized. The redistricting process -- described in more detail below -- simply makes it possible to turn small demographic advantages into decisive political majorities.

Each state legislature sets the geographic boundaries of districts, and beginning in 1812, many legislators have attempted to draw them in ways that favor the leading party at the level of each state. The connection to my adopted state of Massachusetts is that this was first documented on February 11, 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced "Gary") protected his political allies by creating a district that was immediately lampooned for its salamander-like shape, thus coining "Gerrymander" as a synonym for politically-motivated mapping. The district's sinister appearance in political cartoons did not, however, shame the governor or the legislature into abandoning the transparent maneuver.

Elkana Tisdale's 1812 Gerry-Mander,
originally published in the Boston Centinel

The original amphibian that evoked such ridicule in 1812 would hardly be seen noticed two centuries later, as the process has become ever-more sophisticated. The U-shaped Chicago-area district below is featured in the 2010 documentary film Gerrymandering. I have not yet seen the film, but Witney Seibold's review is a nice description of the movie and of the threat the process still poses to our democracy. The two arms of the U shown below are joined by a tortuous, winding strip of vacant and near-vacant lands that could not in any meaningful way be considered a "district" or "neighborhood."


Although Texas -- a "red" state -- will gain four members of Congress and its majority-Republican legislature will do its best to capture all of them, it will probably not succeed in gaining all four. The Fix blog provides  a detailed update on the prospects for shifting seats in Texas, which has already undergone incredible efforts at political districting. In Decision Day for American Democracy, blogger Dave Pollard described what was at stake as litigation from the 2000 Texas redistricting made its way to the Supreme Court. The redistricting that took place between 2002 and 2004 illustrates the shamelessness with which legislators will isolate political and ethnic minorities. Precincts in the southern part of the Austin metropolitan area were joined with my former neighbors in west McAllen, 250 miles to the south, while the district in eastern Austin was extended about 100 miles toward Houston to offset the loss. The fact that such extreme measures have already been taken, however, makes it unlikely that even the most shameless and ambitious redistricting plan could gain much more for the Republicans.

CLICK TO ENLARGE
Because politics is both a passion and a pastime in Massachusetts, the airwaves are currently full of reviews of this political year. The wrap-up discussion on Radio Boston concludes with an interesting suggestion. For more than a decade, Massachusetts has had two Democratic senators and ten Democratic representatives at the federal level (aided, no doubt, by supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature). With the election of Republican Scott Brown to fill Senator Kennedy's seat, "only" eleven of the state's twelve federal legislators are Democrats. The Bay State is losing one representative, creating the prospect of pitting two incumbent Democrats against each other. During the program, it was suggested that redistricting could be done in such a way that nine incumbents remain in place, with the tenth pursuing Sen. Brown's statewide seat, for which he needs to run again in 2012. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe ran an editorial last Thursday in which it calls for a clean redistricting process that would involve an independent commission. The editorial reminds readers not only of the original skullduggery of Elbridge Gerry, but also the more recent federal conviction of  Massachusetts Speaker Finneran, who lied about the process the last time districts were redrawn. Open discussion of how to protect incumbents suggests that the Globe's suggestion is not at all likely to carry the day.

SEXCoffee

What else is there to say? SEXCoffee is a Providence-based band that recorded a promotional video at Supreme Coffee & Donuts in Seekonk, MA. Oddly, the video has a low-volume Chuck Berry audio track, but the band itself seems to have an edgier sound.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Health Care Rationing


During the debate over health care -- in which corporations that benefit from the status quo dominated the debate -- scary scenarios of rationing and "death panels" were associated with any and all public-sector approaches. Reality has already overtaken those dystopic visions, but not in the way Fox News predicted.

Tom Ashbrook examines how rationing and death panels are already at work in small government Arizona.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Do Tell: From Sea to Shining Sea

Two of eight principled Republicans in the Senate
Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were among the eight Republican senators who voted on Saturday to repeal the failed, 17-year experiment with closeted military service, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The previous policy acknowledged that people could serve their country regardless of sexual orientation while condoning bias against those very same patriots. I have not yet seen the specific reasoning that led these senators to break with the majority of Republicans on this important vote, but for me it shows that they are actual conservatives, as opposed to the bigots and religious reactionaries who have captured much of the Grand Old Party. 

Brown and Murkowski were joined by Sens. Collins and Snow of Maine, Kirk of Illinois, Voinovich of Ohio, Ensign of Nevada, and Burr of North Carolina. Talk-radio pundits have written off Brown as a "captive" of Massachusetts, which they think is a liberal state (it really is not), but the rest of this list shows that civil rights is not just for coasts.

It is now time for another Republican Senator to apply the courage for which he is famous. I refer, of course, to Sen. John McCain, who fought bitterly in favor of continuing the failed DADT experiment. Fortunately, his wife Cindy is better informed and tried (unsuccessfully) to change his mind before the vote. Now it is my hope that she can help him understand that he still has a chance to be on the right side of history. Sen. McCain seems sincerely to have believed that uncloseting gay service members would lead to such conflict within units that it would literally cost lives. 

The senator's active duty was during a more homophobic period of our history, and this causes him to overestimate the danger posed by opening the closet. He is partly correct, however, in that significant bigotry remains, and some service members are likely to react badly as the closets open. The appropriate response, however, is not to wait until all bigotry has somehow evaporated. It is time to build on the progress that has been made so far, and for military and political leaders to exhibit the kind of leadership that was needed when President Truman integrated the military services with respect to race. If the Senator's assertion is at all correct, the McCains are in a position to enhance social justice and national security at the same time.

Putting the Economy Second

George Perkins Marsh was such an avid reader that he damaged his eyes at a young age, and for a time he was forbidden to read. With hundreds of acres of forest and fields surrounding his home, he learned to "read" nature instead, and went on to write the 1864 work Man and Nature; Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. He is credited with being the first modern geographer, and certainly the first environmental geographer. His Vermont home is a national park that I sometimes visit with students, and about which I have written a brief article.

I was reminded of all this by the opening of Steve Curwood's interview with David Suzuki, an environmentalist who was separated from Marsh by a century and most of a continent. For very different reasons, Suzuki was isolated from language and immersed in nature at a pivotal age, and his lessons in "reading" nature were the foundation for a lifetime of learning. In his case, he was exiled to the Canadian Rockies as part of the Japanese internment during World War II, but did not speak Japanese.

Some of the lessons that began in that period have emerged in Suzuki's new book, The Legacy: An Elder's Vision for Our Sustainable Future, which is the basis for his conversation with Curwood. Although I listen to Living on Earth as often as I can, I had missed this segment, and I'm grateful to my friend Marilee for pointing it out to me.

What most interested her is Suzuki's understanding that we suffer from a lack of integration in our approach to economic, environmental, and social problems. Certainly as a geographer I find this to be the case; as Sierra Club founder John Muir observed, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." I found Suzuki's analogy for the growth of human consumption to be quite compelling as well; even as the rate of growth of the human population slows a bit, the rate of growth in consumption is, if anything, increasing. His test-tube analogy does not offer a lot of hope, but it may very well define where we are headed at this stage in history. The "environment" will, as he points out, eventually recover from our abuse; the problem is that we very well may not.


My favorite part of the interview is his explanation of how, as he puts it, we came to "elevate economy above ecology and we think that everything's gotta be done to service the economy." He ties this faulty but all-too-common attitude to the post-War thinking of Victor Lebow. Economic growth has become the engine of prosperity, but it has been based on economic theory that assumes infinite resources. More integrated thinking would be grounded in the assertion of the late Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, who helped to establish Earth Day: "The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment."

Have Nots and Do Nots

One thing (maybe the only thing) I have in common with Winston Churchill is that when I open a newspaper, the first thing I read is the editorial page. I am actually more interested in the letters to the editor than in the editorials from the staff of the paper. It is a strange habit, since I am often astounded at what I read, and usually not in a good way.

The letters in yesterday's Boston Globe included one such astonishing piece. Fred Bement of Boxborough wrote to defend the wealthy against covetous tax policies. In so doing, he repeats a common fallacy, which is that the rich are rich because they deserve it. He rightly points out that many rich people got rich through hard work; he wrongly attributes economic inequality to a differential work ethic. I recommend the online comments, even though most are anonymous, because several are eloquent in their rebuttal of Mr. Bement's letter.

Of the many fallacies he packs into his short letter, the most offensive is the assumption that anybody can get rich through hard work. If this were the case, then all of the coffee farmers I know would be wealthier than anybody in Mr. Bement's gilded ZIP code. Closer to home, as many readers have pointed out, jobs are scarce and the jobs that are available -- at any level of education -- often do not pay as well as the same jobs did a generation ago.

Some people become wealthy, it is true, through a combination of hard work and clever thinking. Most of them, however, would admit that a certain amount of luck is involved, and part of that luck is being born in a location where the infrastructure exists to pursue wealth. Much of the supporting infrastructure that is required to pursue and attain wealth is provided publicly. Even if one pursues a "private" education, one is likely to hire workers who receive a public education. Workers and capitalists alike get to work on public roads and sidewalks, and depend on publicly-funded police and fire protection, as well as publicly-funded courts to protect property rights. As the disparity between rich and poor grows, quite frankly, the entire country depends on publicly-funded national defense to maintain the disparity. (This is not a comfortable thought, but a small nation that consumes a third of the world's resources relies on more than cleverness and hard work to maintain those material flows.)

If even the hard-working among the wealthy are not self-made, how much truer is it of those who inherit wealth? Messrs. Buffett and Gates have recognized the problems of unearned wealth, as I have recently written. It is interesting that the aspiring wealthy do not understand this as well as the accomplished wealthy.

A final problem with the concept of the "deserving rich" is that so much wealth is gained by those who are more willing than others to impoverish others. The billionaires behind WalMart and Dunkin Donuts are the most obvious examples, but throughout our economy, the ruthless are rewarded. It is bad enough that they earn their money on the backs of the poor; smugness should not be added to their ill-gotten gains!

Happy 55th, Tappan Zee Bridge


Thanks to my friend and fellow geographer Jeff for sharing this homage to the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, whose familiar, sweeping approach is a favorite part of our drives from Bridgewater to Baltimore.

Jeff points out just one error in the article:"Piermont Creek" is actually called "Sparkill Creek." More importantly, though, Jeff and I enjoy this writing, which weaves together four centuries of cultural and economic change with the physical geography and human engineering surrounding this iconic bridge.

One reason the article is so meaningful to me is that we have come to know many of the more interesting and beautiful landscapes that surround the Hudson River -- and the river itself -- through our visits with Jeff over the past decade or so. As the Director of Land Use Advocacy for Scenic Hudson, his work exemplifies the contributions that geographers can make. His work on the new publication Revitalizing Hudson Riverfronts is a terrific example of integrated thinking about landscapes, health, and prosperity.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

University of Tish, Passim Campus

Toward the end of the time we lived in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in the mid-90s, we learned of a South Texas musician named Tish Hinojosa. (Actually, she was from San Antonio, about 250 miles to the north of us, where the core of Texas meets South Texas.) We learned that she had just played at a local festival in Harlingen, and that we really should have been there.

Over the years since then, we bought several of her CDs, and nearly wore out Cada Niño/Every Child when our daughter Paloma was young. We love Taos to Tennessee, which really exemplifies Hinojosa's position at the exact midpoint between the country music I grew up with and the Latino music I most enjoy as an adult.

I knew that we would love to see Tish some day. I did not know that my wonderful wife -- and fellow Latin Americanist -- Pam was checking online periodically for the chance to make it happen. A couple of months ago, she announced that she had found a listing for Tish at the Club Passim in Cambridge. This is a coffee house that has brought great performers to small audiences for a half-century, like our own Off the Common but a bit more famous! I was delighted that we would have a chance finally to see Tish and learn more about her work and life.

When we arrived at the club this past Tuesday, we saw just how small the tables at Club Passim are, meaning that our second-row seats were practically on stage with Tish and the amazing Marvin Dykhuis. What Tish is to poetry and voice, Marvin is to guitar and mandolin. He is a big Texan who can make a tiny mandolin sing, and he was the perfect accompaniment to the fluid vocals of Tish Hinojosa.

I remember that at the David Byrne show in Boston a couple of years ago, there was some tension between the audience and the artist, as he wanted to play his newest material and we were all there for our old favorites. A friend tells me Van Morrison goes even further, almost never playing crowd-pleasing oldies. I was wondering how this dynamic would play out with Tish, as she -- like Byrne -- plays in a lot of different genres to begin with, and has a (relatively) new CD that was unfamiliar to me.

I should not have worried. Tish played old favorites from across the spectrum of Spanish ballads, Tex-Mex conjunto, and country-western. She did play quite a bit from her newest album, which immediately became a favorite. The song "Mi Pueblo" (My Town) from the 2008 Our Little Planet hit a strong emotional chord and made me think, "I could teach a whole course with this music." As I told Tish during intermission, I use a lot of Latin American music in my teaching, including hers. "Mi Pueblo" will be perfect for my geography courses, as it beautifully describes the longing for familiar landscapes that is experienced by people who migrate far from home in order to work. It is a theme that recurs several times on this magnificent collection, which reminds us both of the distinctiveness of places and the fact that the whole world turns under the same sun and moon.

On the ride home, listening to our new favorite CD, Pam said that this concert would end up costing us a lot of money, because now we have to buy all the rest of Tish's work. It will be money well spent, though; we are happy to support an artist with such grace and insight!

Indiana Time

Followers of this blog may be aware that I have spent 2010 helping my wife Pam with her Celebrating the States blog. I have "helped" by cooking some of the food items involved (and eating most of them), watching most of the movies, and reading some of the books with her. I've also helped with a few blog entries throughout the year, most recently about Indiana.

Pam's entire project has been geographic, connecting blog readers with a deeply textured sense of place. A few of my entries pushed the geography connections a bit further. I'm particularly proud of my Indiana contribution focused on time zones, a supplement to Pam's main Indiana entry, which begins with her family connections to the Hoosier state. My understanding is that time zones in Indiana have been greatly simplified since we lived in neighboring Oxford, Ohio two decades ago; the story of its time zones is a great example of the complex interplay among federal, state, and local governance.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cafes of Tel Aviv and Ramallah

If the conflict comes into our lives it's just around coffee tables.
Mr. Yoval Nuriel


Seaside Cafe Image from
CultureVulture
Yoval Nuriel is a real-life occupant of "the bubble" that Eytan Fox so artfully described in the 2006 film of the same name. As I mentioned in a July 2010 post, Tel Aviv is a place where the geography of coffee shops represents the local geography as a whole. 


NPR reporter Lourdes Garcia-Navarro finds that young Israelis in Tel Aviv continue to be focused on their careers and the enjoyment of their coffee. For her story she travels to several locations in Israel, including coffee shops in Tel Aviv itself and in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank. In the former, she encounters Mr. Nuriel, for who is not interested in conflict, but for whom his Palestinian counterparts are a mild curiosity at best. 


The reporter finds Nuriel's peer in the person of 22-year-old Haitham Sebeah. Like Nuriel, he is found in a coffee shop and is far more interested in his career and leisure than in conflict and politics. The key difference seems to be that Nuriel chooses not to leave Tel Aviv, whereas Sebeah is not allowed to leave the neighboring West Bank.


Outside of the coffee-shop bubbles, Garcia-Navarro speaks to a self-described right-wing settler who argues that peace advocates are content to live apart from Arab settlers with whom he works on a daily basis. His implication -- and those of many of the online commentators -- is that peace requires much more than absence of conflict. It requires engagement that seems to be years away, even in the blissful confines of seaside cafes in Tel Aviv.


Official US Government Map of Israel from
Perry-Castañeda Library

Monday, December 13, 2010

Free ≠ Fair

See full strip
Yesterday's Family Tree comic pokes gentle fun at those of us (and I'm guessing the artist is among us) who are sometimes a bit paralyzed by the desire to be conscientious consumers. It is similar to an obscure folk song with which I start some of my classes, "It Ain't Easy Being Green" by a group known as The Pheromones. As with Wilkinson's comic, it finds humor in the effort to be socially and environmentally responsible while living a comfortable life in a rich country. I play the song as an inoculation against both smugness and sentimentality. As I have written recently, consumerism is inadequate as a sole method of working for social change, but I still favor efforts to make our consumerism more responsible if we can.

I posted this comic because many who know of my support for fair-trade coffee accidentally refer to it as free-trade; the terms sound alike, and both sound vaguely positive, but they could not be more different. "Free" trade refers to trade without barriers, and has been promoted by a broad cross-section of mainstream political leaders in the U.S. and other wealthy countries, as well as elites in developing countries. The movement toward free trade began with the reduction and eventual elimination of tariffs (taxes on imports), so that one country could not "protect" its industries against those of other countries by imposing punitive taxes. Once those taxes had been largely eliminated, however, attention turned to other government policies that could be considered "barriers," which has included many labor, health, safety, and environmental laws. Although equal levels of protection at any level would serve the ideal of free trade, in reality "free trade" has been associated with a race to the bottom, as almost any regulation can be viewed as a barrier to trade.

Beginning in the coffee industry more than 20 years ago, "fair trade" has been a reaction to this tendency. The race to the bottom has been deeply unfair to producers of coffee (and many other goods), in part because the conventional model of free trade violates two key but often-ignored assumption of neoliberal economics: equal access to information and an ability to seek favorable prices, on the part of both buyers and sellers. Nothing could be further from reality for coffee farmers.

Fair trade benefits both buyers and sellers by making the connection between the two more favorable, and by ensuring that good suppliers have incentives to maintain their production standards and volume. Fortunately, as the comic implies, fair trade is no longer limited to coffee!

Mitt Dunkin

As a lover of coffee and coffee farmers as well as good food and supporting local businesses, I have found a lot not to like about Dunkin' Donuts. The Rachael Ray fiasco in 2008 was the last straw, pushing me to create the Coffee Hell page in honor of the company's religious intolerance.

 The purpose of this post, however, is to document some of the negative business practices of the company, to which I've referred only in passing in other posts. In 2005 Dunkin' Brands was purchased from the French company Pernot Ricard SA by a consortium of three venture-capital firms. The "our owners" page on DunkinBrands.com focuses exclusively on the size and financial power of these firms (except for a sidebar with a trivium about pralines and cream). 

Of the three owners, the largest by far is Bain Capital, which also owns substantial shares of Burger King, Domino's, Staples, and the presidential ambitions of its senior partner, Mitt Romney. I first became acquainted with Mitt when he decided to add the governorship of Massachusetts as a key purchase on the way to his bid for the U.S. presidency. Among his several home states, he chose to declare political residency here, where he could most effectively combat public servants and the poor.

Every cup lines these pockets!
In his presidential bid, Romney had a difficult task. Although clearly only interested in putting government in the service of the super-rich, he had to make some sort of a case that his experience in business would somehow benefit other people, because voters at his income level comprise a fairly small percentage of the electorate. He emphasized the creation of private-sector wealth, counting on voters to equate this with jobs. In some cases -- as with Staples -- his investments actually have created employment. This has never been a priority for Romney, however, as Robert Gavin explains in a 2008 Boston Globe article on Bain's job cuts.

Romney also famously campaigned against undocumented workers while repeatedly relying on them to keep landscaping costs low at his Belmont estate. They were employed through a contractor, of course, giving him both the financial benefit and plausible deniability. The vulnerability of undocumented workers at Dunkin' franchises was great prior to the Bain/Carlyle/Lee purchase, but can only be greater as Dunkin' Brands increases pressure on the franchise owners through nuisances lawsuits that have turned brand enforcement into a profit center. Dilution of the franchise value has also been a concern, as the corporation has pushed sales into the interstitial spaces among an already dense network of franchises.

In early 2010, DD franchisees in Massachusetts formed a political action committee to support "free enterprise" against "big labor," having identified government regulation as the main enemy of small business. Similarly, the Dunkin' Donuts Independent Franchise Owners Association appears to be more concerned about taxes and competitors than about any abuses by Dunkin' Brands. The (DDIFO) provides insight into the priorities of the operators; coffee quality does not seem to be a major concern.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Philanthropy is a Family Value

In recent days, I have read two articles about the behavior of the rich and the super-rich. Previously, I would have thought of a person "earning" $14 million a year as super-rich, but I am not so sure now. (I put the word "earn" in quotes because to me the word connotes an amount that is deserved in return for work done, and with many athletes, entertainers, and executives I think is actually more accurate to say "received" instead.)

The first of these articles was Joan Vennochi's column in the December 9 Boston Globe, entitled "The rich rewards of cutting jobs." She laments the loss of 1,400 jobs at State Street Corp., even as that company reports profits that have grown to $427 million. These are not typos -- the profit at State Street could pay the salaries of everyone at my university for a decade,  but it is slashing its workforce because of anticipated "headwinds" -- meaning the possibility that profits might shrink in the future. Those "headwinds," of course, are competition from other banks that are similarly greedy and, yes, deeply unpatriotic. Vennochi's critique centers on the fact that the bank was happy to take money directly from taxpayers in the form of a bailout and indirectly in the form of the social safety net that will provide some relief to its victims, er, employees.

I whole-heartedly agree with Vennochi, of course, and made a similar case about Jeff Immelt a couple of weeks ago. Welfare cheats who receive thousands are pilloried by the talk-radio crowd, while welfare cheats who receive millions are the heroes of "free enterprise." In this case, though, I'd like to focus on the difference between public-sector and private-sector spending. An amazing number of people have allowed themselves to be convinced that only the private sector can be economically productive, with the public sector merely "eating" the taxes paid by the private sector. (See my recent article on Jeff Jacoby's twisted logic on taxes.)

The $14-million earner to whom I refer in the opening is State Street CEO Jay Hooley. Like most top executives in the United States, he is radically overpaid, and he thinks it is because he has rare and special skills and abilities. The reality is that in any organization, pay increases with proximity to the people who make decisions about pay. A corporate compensation committee is not going to stiff someone they have to play golf with the next morning. (Check this out; it is an axiom of corporate geography. Sometimes the higher pay is deserved, but rarely is it more deserved than it would be farther down the hall.)

I now consider Hooley rich instead of super-rich, because those with truly stupendous fortunes have had it long enough -- and deep and wide enough -- that they have become less anxious about grabbing more of it. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have already earned as much as State Street would earn in the next century at the current pace. Each. And the interest on the interest of their fortunes would pay for someone like Mr. Hooley (who in turn could use the loose change in his couch to employ a geography professor full-time.)

I do not write this to suggest that the wealth makes these men any better than Hooley or than the rest of us. But I have noticed that it makes them a bit more reasonable and patriotic. They recognize that they have more money than they could ever use, and that it would be a mistake to pass it along to their kids. Writing for the MetroWest Daily News, Rick Holmes describes the billions earned by these two men, their understanding that it is not really "earned" in the sense of being deserved, and their commitment to give most of it away. Now they are bringing their peers on board, with great success. Forty billionaires have already made the commitment, according to Holmes. Enough wealth is in their hands to make a serious difference in the world.

While billionaires are giving as much as 99 percent of their wealth away, the highest priority of the U.S. Congress seems to be preventing millionaires from having to contribute their fair share.

This 2006 photo of Warren Buffett with Melinda and Bill Gates
was distributed worldwide by AP, but I found it in China Daily.
This is an interesting coincidence, as the nouveau-riche of China 
are the next target of the Buffett-Gates campaign
 to encourage generosity among billionaires.



Wednesday, December 08, 2010

30 Years Ago Today


Fittingly, it was the BBC that reminded me of the news we learned thirty years ago today. Reporter Tom Brook revisited the night that he learned of the death of John Lennon. See the BBC search page for many more tribute. Of course, I am also looking forward to Tom Ashbrook's discussion of Politics, Pop, and Power today On Point.

This photo of me with John's statue in Havana is a reminder of the worldwide impact of his music and his message. Even if it seems that the Cuban state is coopting his legacy, the statue is a reminder that divisions of nationality can be needlessly destructive. Geographers are known for knowing our countries and capitals, but this geographer cannot help but "imagine there's no countries."

I have heard several British commentators express their ongoing dismay of the ready availability of handguns in the United States. Of course Mark David Chapman is responsible for his crime, as are those who have killed close to one million Americans since Lennon's murder, but our society's guns-at-any-cost mentality has a cost that may be too high.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Tijuana Rebirth



My only visit to Tijuana -- so far -- was 25 years ago. It was brief, but not as brief as we had hoped. My buddy Mike had visited the coastal town of Ensenada a couple years earlier, and we decided to take a side trip there as part of our 2-week, 8,500-mile tour of the U.S. in his old VW. We drove south on the toll road and found a campground on the beach. He was starting to notice a bad clutch cable, so we bought one while we were there, planning to replace it on our return. We had only a couple of stops to make, so it would be easy. The bad news at the time -- but good news in the long run -- is that a construction detour forced us into the hillsides around Tijuana, where we saw the informal, self-built homes made of car parts and then took us through the city center. The clutch cable eventually broke, causing Mike to roll through a stop sign or two. It was this way that we had the chance to learn about the "mordida" or "bite" system, by which traffic police are paid in small bribes. An extra hour or two, and we were wiser, no worse for wear, and only 7,000 pesos ($20 at the time) lighter.

Since then, all I know of Tijuana has come from reading (especially Jack Kerouac's essential On the Road), music (especially Manu Chao's Welcome to Tijuana), and by inference from the other border towns I've come to know much better, such as Reynosa, Matamoros, Ciudad Juarez, and Nogales. This morning, NPR's Jason Beaubien (what a great name!) reported on Calle Sexta, a Tijuana neighborhood trying to remake itself as a trendy destination. In the process, I learned about an entire genre of Latin music that had escaped my notice: Nortec, which is a Tijuana-specific fusion of Tejano/banda/cumbia/norteño music (itself a fusion) and European techno. I downloaded The Tijuana Sessions: Vol. 1 by the Nortec Collective, and found it quite an enjoyable anthology, and more accessible (for a fan of Tejano) than some of the later collections.

I am especially fond of Fussible's "I Like Tijuana" and the video version by 25th Frame. As with Manu Chao's classic (one version of which has had over six million YouTube views), this work is both a send-up of Tijuana stereotypes (which go all the way back to Kerouac and before), an embrace of its seamy side, and a celebration of daily life in this vibrant, if lately troubled, city.

Guru, Inc.

Non Sequitur by Wiley
December 5, 2010

Yesterdays' Non Sequitur hit very close to home, as I witness the growing adulation of the private sector, to the detriment of the public good. It did not start with Ronald Reagan, but as I have argued in an article on the lack of civic thinking in my own town, he and his merry band of nihilists made a sport of bashing of public servants. The problem started long before Reagan, of course, with the granting of personhood to corporations. The movie The Corporation vividly explains this judicial kernel that is at the center of almost everything that is wrong in the world economy.


Blue Gold: World Water Wars describes how corporate ownership of water -- even as it falls from the sky -- is a growing source of social injustice and obscene profits. These wars are not in the future: people have already died trying to defend the right to water, and corporation-backed states have done some of the killing. To the question of whether anything should be considered a more fundamental public good than water, one possible answer arises: education. Water is essential to life, of course, and Bechtel should not have the ability to deny it to anyone. In a complex, modern society, however, access to education is equally essential, and it is in great danger to some of the very same forces of privatization that threaten public water supplies worldwide.
Private schools predate public schools in the United States, and many of them continue to offer a fantastic education (full disclosure: my own daughter attends a private school). Early in the nation's history, however, it was recognized that education is a public good and that public access to education is essential in a democracy. Lewis Lapham has argued that although education is good for democracy, it is not always good for business, going so far as to describe "the country's reserves of ignorance" as a precious natural resource to proponents of certain kinds of consumerism.

As described in Affluenza, Channel One, vending machines, and other direct marketing to children has increased in tandem with the shrinking of school budgets. Corporations are seen as rescuing schools from budget cuts that have come to be seen as inevitable, though the transfer of money from the public to the private sectors is entirely responsible for the straights that the schools are found in. Students are seen increasingly as eyeballs to be rented, and this compromises the educational mission of schools at all levels.

In higher education, the traditional mix of public schools and non-profit private or religious schools has been disrupted by "private" for-profit schools. I put "private" in quotes because of the gross hypocrisy that has allowed quasi-criminal enterprises such as the University of Phoenix to create the illusion of private-sector efficiency in education by capturing public funds in the form of unsustainable student loans. As public funds for state colleges and universities is shrinking, U-Phoenix, Kaplan, and Capella are increasingly reliant on federal loans. Students are outraged, and so, too, should taxpayers be. (Ironically a Consumer Affairs web page hosting hundreds of U-Phoenix complaints also carries Google Ads for largely fraudulent financial-aid schemes.) 

In state-assisted schools (which are lucky to get a quarter of their support from the states any more, students who are investing in the future of our society work more to pay their own way (unless they come from an ever-shrinking percentage of families that can foot the bill). They spend more years in school, fewer hours studying, and graduate with more debt than ever before, because of a misplaced "conservatism" that denies the public value of public higher education. Moreover, the operations of the schools themselves are increasingly dictated by outside donors and vendors with exclusive contracts.

Even in the arena of social justice, consumerism is becoming more important than citizenship. For instance, faced with a business model that virtually enslaves coffee growers worldwide, activists have been powerless in the political process and have resorted to creating a parallel trading system known as fair trade. I am currently working with one of my coffee students on some analysis of the limitations of conscious consumerism. Almost by definition, well-meaning consumers are not going to be able to spend their way out of the social injustices inherent in the current trading system. 

In addition to fair-trade models in the short term, a long-term commitment to activism and responsible citizenship is needed, and that in turn relies on an Academy that is independent of corporate sponsors. Sadly, some in public higher education are dazzled by the short-term results achieved by some of the for-profit companies, and are all too eager to jump into direct competition with them. Instead, we should stand our ground: the tenure-based system of higher education has been the envy of the world for good reason, and we should not change it on the basis of some slick marketing and clever accounting.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Dean Visits Living on Earth

In 2007, Steve Curwood of the amazing program Living on Earth interviewed my friend Dean Cycon. This 12 minutes of audio is a terrific introduction to the connections between coffee and social justice. It is also a great introduction to the humanity and humor of this giant in the coffee industry.

For a bit more information, I recommend his book Javatrekker: Dispatches from the World of Fair Trade Coffee, which is required reading for all my coffee students and which can be ordered -- along with excellent coffee -- from Deans Beans.

Friday, December 03, 2010

John Snow and Medical Geography


The discipline of geography overlaps with many others -- even medicine and public health. The field known as medical geography includes such questions as how to deploy ambulance services and locate hospitals, but it is most commonly associated with the use of maps to understand diseases. Credit for originating this type of research generally goes to Dr. John Snow, a London physician who suggested in 1849 that cholera was transmitted by water, but had no technique for proving it. When cholera struck London in 1854, he found the right tool to validate his suggestion: a map of cholera deaths and water pumps. Scott Crosier describes John Snow's innovation (and provides a bibliography) for the Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science.

Maps have been used in similar ways in the second half of the twentieth century, as researchers use them to understand connections that were as elusive in recent history as cholera had been a century earlier. The effects of acute exposure to hazardous chemicals are often quite obvious -- a large dose in a short period of time leading to injuries, illness, or death that is tragic but not mysterious. For chronic exposure -- often very low doses over extended periods of years or decades -- the link between exposure and medical consequences is often quite obscure. (See my PPM page to get an idea of what a lethal dose of DDT looks like, for example.)

Geographic researchers have used maps of cancer deaths, birth defects, and other pathologies to find patterns  that might reveal sources of chronic chemical exposures. The most famous such case is Love Canal, New York, where Hooker Chemical Company had buried 80,000 drums of toxic waste on land that was eventually sold for the construction of houses and a school. Some children were killed by acute exposure to chemicals shortly after construction; many more were made ill by long-term exposures that were not understood until mapping that was done almost two decades later. Similar investigations were involved in the cases that were featured in the films A Civil Action and Erin Brockovich.

I teach about these cases in my introductory environmental geography class as well as an upper-level class I teach on environmental regulations. The case of Woburn, Massachusetts, which is the basis of A Civil Action, has been on my mind all week, since today's EarthView visit is to a school nearly within sight of the contaminated wells that led to so many leukemia cases in the neighborhood. A kind of mapping was involved in that case, when a mother on her back porch realized that many of the leukemia cases she knew about were clustered within her range of vision. Her doctor thought this was an illusion (or even a delusion), but her impression of the spatial pattern eventually proved to be correct.

A sad irony is that the history of Woburn as told on the city's web site extols the inventiveness of local industry -- including the development of chrome tanning -- but does not mention the dire consequences that are now so well known. Fortunately, the town library includes a "toxic waste" section near the bottom of its Local Links page.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Water of Fiji

Nothing seems to worry people in the United States more than gasoline prices. Three dollars a gallon? Shocking! Four dollars? National emergency! Raise the gasoline tax? Prepare for a hanging.

Thanks to the convenience of supermarket unit-pricing labels, however, I learned that at least somebody in my town is willing to pay ten dollars a gallon! That is more expensive than gasoline in the Netherlands, and nobody pays more for gas than the Dutch. Of course, I'm not talking about gasoline -- that would be crazy. This is water -- from the other side of the planet.

Most of the world's water is not drinkable because it is salt water. And most fresh water is frozen. And most liquid fresh water is not accessible. And some of that is polluted. Still, between my local grocery store and Fiji is nearly the entire planet, and surely some way could be found to get water from a bit closer by.

Bottled water is occasionally about convenience, but it is mainly a triumph of marketing over common sense that a lot of bottled water is served in homes and offices (and university campuses worldwide, even mine). Oil is brought up out of the ground, transported to a refinery, manufactured into plastic, and then sent thousands of miles to Fiji, where it is wrapped around water. From Fiji, it is shipped just about as far as anything can be shipped, in order to be served in locations where safe tap water is readily available.

http://www.worldatlas.com/
In A Bottled-Water Drama, NRP reporter Guy Raz is not focused on the environmental ethics (or lack thereof) of shipping bottled water in plastic. Rather, this is an intriguing story of the differences between the waters of Fiji (controlled by the government of Fiji) and Fiji Water (controlled Lynda and Stewart Resnick). 

When Fiji tried to increase the tax from about penny a gallon to about 32 cents per gallon, the Resnicks fired all their workers and closed the bottling plant. Since Fiji Water is now the leading export of the country, they thought this drastic move would spare them the inconvenience of taxation. The government threatened to give access to their wells to another company, so the Resnicks relented and will pay the tax they owe to the country that has contributed so much to their wealth. (It did not make them wealthy; they also control Teleflora and POM, so Fiji Water just makes them even more wealthy.)

The company blog does describe the events, but paints itself -- as many of the wealthy do -- as a victim, in this case of a "discriminatory tax." The giving back section of the web site describes the many environmental and social good deeds of the company.

The environmental and social projects of Fiji Water are intended to "offset" a seriously flawed business model, but in reality they do not seem to go beyond the usual greenwash. One sign of the shallowness of the commitment the Resnick family (of Aspen and Beverly Hills) has made to the people of Fiji, is the ludicrous claim that the water tax forced not only the firing of all employees but also the curtailment of school construction and other projects. Congratulations to the government of Fiji for standing up to the bullying, and exerting its sovereignty.

Just as an egg cannot be unscrambled, bottled water cannot be redeemed, even through recycling.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dos Pageants

Since the 1930s, the country of Colombia has had two major beauty contests. Each attracts significant attention, but also operates in a different social space, with beautiful women from the same country but very different worlds. New York Times reporter Simon Romero examines what the pageants reveal about race and class divides in Colombia, which has the largest black population and nearly the largest income gap in South America.

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