Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lawn Care = Bay Care

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation provides guidance on lawn care for those who live upstream of sensitive waterways. That is just about all of us, actually. For this reason, and to support wildlife habitat, we do our best to think of water and wildlife when managing the landscaping at our house. In fact, our yard is one of the field trips for my course on land management.

Smoke on the Water?

On Marketplace from American Public Media, Tess Vigeland reports on the Hobson's choice faced by environmental officials deciding how to address the April 20 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (News reports on April 29 suggest that the leak from the floor of the Gulf is now about five times greater than was thought at the time of Vigeland's report.)

View a detailed map of the spill and the burn area at the Joint Information Centre operated by BP, the Coast Guard, and other responding agencies.

Not since Capt. Hazelwood's 1989 DUI in Valdez has such a catastrophe threatened U.S. waters, though in 2006 a BP pipeline burst caused the biggest leak to date on Alaska's north slope.

As Vigeland points out, the remedy proposed for the current spill would prevent immediate damage to marine life, but with a significant impact on air quality. (Coincidentally, on the same day as this report aired, I found this collection of air-quality images from the Smithsonian Institution. Accompanying the images is commentary about China as a major source of air pollution.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Arizona -- again?

In "Arizona's Monstrosity of a Law," veteran journalist Dan Thomasson describes the problem with Arizona's new immigration law better than anything else I have seen. Thomasson is no radical, and his comparison of Arizona to the Third Reich is, sadly, not unwarranted. He suggests that "every American with a suntan to stay the heck out of the state" and in fact a movement is afoot to -- once again -- encourage fair-minded people of all hues to boycott Arizona.

I am not a big fan of boycotts (except for Walmart, of course), but I lived in Arizona during the last round, which did in fact work. In 1992, Arizona became one of the last states (aside from New Hampshire) to have a Martin Luther King holiday, following a boycott. As a resident student at the University of Arizona from 1990 to 1994, I was not really able to participate, but I was glad to see that it worked. I hope another way can be found this time, to avoid economic harm some of the very people who would most likely be victimized by this foolish law.

Thomasson is no radical on the question of immigration; like President Obama, his critique of Arizona's tactics is paired with a fairly conservative position on immigration in general, which is that the border should be "secured." To some degree, this is reasonable, but I cannot help but notice that the degree has become quite unreasonable as the economy of the United States deteriorates. No border in the world separates two countries with a wider gap in prosperity than does the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, the prosperity of the U.S. economy actually depends to some degree on poverty in Mexico and Central America. When hard times hit both sides of the border, the pressure to migrate grows.

Immigration "reform" essentially boils down to this: the United States wants cheap labor -- in fact, needs cheap labor -- but does not want more people. Keep the people on the other side of the border, but send their labor across in the form of cheap stuff. Or bring them over here to cut grass, process meat, and wash cars (remember -- Mitt Romney was caught twice having undocumented workers taking care of his lawn), but not with the rights of citizens. In my view, if we want someone's labor, we should welcome that whole person.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coffee Shoppe Geography

I just upgraded my Geography of Coffee Shoppes web page to include a link to student reviews on Yelp. I was tired of having the experience of being far from home and thinking, "A student of mine reviewed a coffee shop somewhere around here, but I have no idea where." Now I can look them up. Students in The Secret Life of Coffee now present something in class and post something on Yelp, under an account created for the purpose. Both the student reviews and my own reviews are now mapped in separate little windows on my coffee shop page. Problem solved.

Climate Change on Science Friday

Talk of the Nation is a weekday call-in radio program hosted by Neal Conan. It covers everything from politics to the arts. On Fridays, the show focuses on science, to such an extent that the Science Friday has taken on a life of its own. Science Friday is hosted by Ira Flatow, who recorded his first radio program about science forty years ago -- a college radio production on the original Earth Day.

Flatow's interests in science are wide-ranging, from documenting the human impact on the environment and innovative remedies, to medical ethics and genetics, to simply pondering the marvels of the universe.

His program archives include many stories about climate change, including the following:

Climate Change and Tropical Habitats

Tracking Climate Change through the National Phenology Project

The Earth Day 2005 Climate Change Update includes several interesting stories as well.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Where is Guahan?

A century ago, we might have had a better idea, but since 1918, this territory has been known as Guam. Yesterday, Governor Camacho signed an order changing the name back to Guahan for territorial-government purposes, but the U.S. Congress must agree for the name change to have full legal effect.

To answer the original question, by the way, Guam (Guahana) is the largest of the Mariana Islands (and as such, neighboring the world's deepest ocean trench). It is in the far western Pacific Ocean, about 6,000 miles from San Francisco.


View Larger Map

Coffee Shop Urban Geography

This Boston Globe article about the trade-offs among parking, traffic, and outdoor seating caught my eye for several reasons. First, it brings together two of my interests as a geographer: urban development and coffee. Second, the focus of the article is Caffe Graffiti in Boston's North End. One of my students recently reviewed the cafe for my Secret Life of Coffee shop; her review is one of the first on my new Yelp channel for the class. We am hoping to use some of this cafe's innovations -- such as the erasable-brick fundraising wall -- in our own Ben Linder Cafe at Bridgewater.

The controversy at the center of this article is whether to allow significant expansion of the outdoor dining area at the cafe, at the expense of overnight residential parking and the movement of traffic. The fact that something as small as a patio could become such an important focal point for competing spatial interests is a sign of just how fine-grained and intricate the urban landscape of the North End has become. I have enjoyed a few visits to the neighborhood -- particularly since I became interested in coffee. I look forward to spending some time there this summer, having recently read Dark Tide with Pam. (See her review as part of the Massachusetts entry in her Celebrating the States blog.) It is a tragic story that also conveys the rich history and social cohesion of the North End.

Another reason that I need to visit this summer is that I think the situation is in flux, and the details are not yet reflected on Google Maps, which appears to show a previous occupant in the location of Caffe Graffiti, with plenty of outdoor seating already in place. So I need to do a little of what we geographers call "ground truthing." Of course, I'll have a cappuccino with that!


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Friday, April 23, 2010

Honduran journalists killed

As the United States, Nicaragua, and other countries consider normalizing relations with Honduras -- where a military coup ousted the government of President Zalaya in 2009 -- journalists are increasingly the targets of violence. Television news anchor Jorge Alberto Orellana is the latest victim, shot as he left his studio Tuesday evening. Six or seven journalists have been killed this year, for reasons that are not clear but with little investigative response from the new government.


Journalists are a critical part of any democratic society. The new government of Honduras begins under a cloud because of the coup that took place prior to its election.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

British Warship Surfaces on Cape Cod

This story about the emergence of a ship that sank over two centuries ago is a vivid illustration of the fluid nature of coastal landforms. This is particularly so on the very outer portion of Cape Cod, which is composed entirely of materials that have been transported by currents from elsewhere on the Cape. The parent material, in turn was brought to the Upper Cape by glaciers, during a time when none of the surrounding land was under water.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Story of Bottled Water


There is no clearer illustration of the capacity of marketers to manufacture demand than the current obsession with bottled water. I've been given bottled water by poor farmers at the top of a mountain in Guatemala, and it has become a requirement for conferences and guest speakers anywhere in the world. People who had not heard of bottled water a generation ago will now pay the equivalent of 5 to 8 dollars a gallon for it.

In the Story of Bottled Water, Annie Leonard explains how this has come about, what is wrong with it, and what to do about it. The human and environmental costs are huge for a few minutes of convenience, so much of the answer revolves around finding ways to make safe water convenient, as it should be. This is one of the goals, incidentally, of the proposed Ben Linder Cafe at Bridgewater State College will be to eliminate the demand for bottled water in the new science building ... as a step toward eliminating it campus-wide.

Bottled soft drinks are no better -- they are essentially bottled water with high-fructose corn syrup, which itself is a menace.

I look forward to explore the rest of the Story of Stuff web site for more of Annie Leonard's straightforward and light-hearted descriptions of critical issues surrounding resource use.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Geographer and some geographers


Jan Vermeer was a Dutch painter of the 17th Century who is a bit of a hero to geographers for this work, known simply as "The Geographer," which depicts a geographer in a moment of insight as he pores over a map, surrounded by maps and a globe.

Of course, I've always been interested in this painting because of the belief -- conceited, perhaps -- that Vermeer's geographer looks a lot like a particular contemporary geographer, shown on the left here:
Yes, that is Dr. Hayes-Boh, before he was a Dr. or a Hayes, shown on Keuka Lake with honorary geographer Pamela, before she was a librarian or a Boh. Most people recognize Pam in this photo much more easily than they do me!

When looking at this with our geography majors yesterday, we noticed another resemblance. Vermeer's geographer, poring over his map, put several of us in mind of Katie Spotz, shown below preparing for her recent voyage across the Atlantic.


Her Row for Water project has been an inspiration to hundreds of our EarthView students this year.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Who Can Dig to China?

Many of us who grew up in the United States learned an expression about digging to China -- the idea being that if we could dig a really deep hole, we would come out on the other side of the Earth, and that would put us in China. I still say this to my geography students quite often, testing whether they are awake and paying attention.

Assuming super-powerful digging equipment and super-human digging crews (not susceptible to huge pressures and high temperatures), we could dig from the United States to China, but we would have to begin our hole at an angle of about 45 degrees in the right direction, not straight down.

If we were to dig straight down, where would we end up? At our antipode, of course! This article explains that since the earth is covered almost 70 percent by water, most people who start on land would end up coming out in the water on the other side of the earth. The article also explains how to figure out exactly where that would be and describes a few of the more interesting pairings -- including the people who really would be able to dig straight through to China.

The article also points to a very interesting site -- Antipodes Map  -- that enables users to view antipodes of any place on earth on paired Google maps.

Population Density Thought Experiment

If the entire United States population lived at the density found in Brooklyn, New York, how much space would we need? What would be the advantages of such a move, if it were somehow to take place? What would be the disadvantages?

See the United States of Brooklyn posting on Strange Maps for the answer to the first question and some preliminary ideas about the consequences. Whatever you think of the idea, this thought experiment points out some of the trade-offs created by sprawl.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Always a Coffee Connection


I went to Anime Boston unprepared to take photos, except with my phone. And though there were plenty of amazing and beautiful costumes, I resisted the urge to click away, until I saw this engaging trio just outside the Hynes entrance. I'm always on the lookout for new coffee connections. The "waitress" on the right was quite amused when I showed her the alias on my conference name badge: "Dr. Java," but I did not understand what this was all about until I showed the photo to a student I happened to see inside a bit later. Apparently, this trio has something to do with a popular detective video game.