National Geographic September 2014

I know that I should probably be doing October of 2014, since I’m sort of working my way outward from January of 2015.  This issue has an article on Nero in it, though, and I went to Rome in July of 2014, so I’m skipping ahead a bit.  Also, October of 2014 is probably somewhere in my son’s bedroom.  I’ll get to it once I find it. (note: I found it later, in between two Nature Conservancy magazines.)

The Evolution of Diet, by Ann Gibbons, photographs by Matthieu Paley

The Evolution of Diet talks about the “Paleo diet,” which posits that people should be eating a meat-based diet that limits, or eliminates, beans, grains, and dairy products. The theory is that the human genome hasn’t evolved in the last ten thousand or so years.  It starts out speaking kind of positively about the Paleo diet, arguing that the hunter-gatherers’ inclusion of meat in the diet is part of what allowed us to develop advanced brains.  However, as the article progresses, we get farther from this argument.  Gibbons quotes Amanda Henry, who has found evidence that humans have been eating grains and tubers for at least the last hundred thousand years.  Gibbons also quotes Sarah Tishkoff, who makes the point that humans did not stop evolving ten thousand years ago.  We are still evolving and many populations have evolved to digest lactose and starches that others have not.  Oneof the quotes that is highlighted is “The real hallmark of being human isn’t our taste for meat but our ability to adapt to many habitats and to create many healthy diets.”

One of the last experts that Gibbons quotes is Richard Wrangham, who says that cooking, and not the inclusion of meat in the diet, is what allowed humans to develop human brains.  Cooking begins the digestion process, which frees up more calories for brain development than would be available with an entirely raw diet.  And we are processing our food even more these days, which is actually what is causing the current trends in heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

I have a personal friend who is an evolutionary biologist.  A few years ago, she told me basically what Wrangham says, but she went even farther.  Her theory is that humanity probably went through a phase of similar diseases when we began to cook.  As time went by, those who couldn’t handle the excess calories freed up when food is cooked likely were weeded out of the gene pool by heart disease, diabetes, and the like.  She said that these diseases that we’re facing now is the unfortunate side effect of the human genome evolving farther to be able to handle the excess calories in our current, even more processed, diet.

50 Years of Wilderness, by Elizabeth Kolbert, photographs by Michael Medford

50 Years of Wilderness is a recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964.  By 1964, the National Park system had been going for nearly a century, and was a remarkable success. However, much of the national parks had been paved and buildings had been erected in them, taming them.  So, after decades of work by conservationist Aldo Leopold, among others, the Wilderness Act was passed to keep “area(s) where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The Wilderness Act set aside 54 wilderness areas, and as of the publication of this issue, that number had expanded to 758, with more under consideration.  Very few of these wilderness areas are completely untouched by humanity, some have in the past been the site of logging and sawmills, for example.  The hope is that with time the lands will heal until they look, and the resident species behave, as if they were truly pristine wilderness.
Rethinking Nero, by Robert Draper, photographs by Richard Barnes and Alex Majoli

Rethinking Nero Is about, well, Nero.  That seems pretty obvious.  Mostly, it’s about Nero’s accomplishments, particularly his Domus Aurea, his palace in Rome, which he began construction on after the Great Fire in 64 A.D. Some parts of the palace were reused in later generations, such as when Trajan used some of the walls to build his baths.  Another such reuse was the Colossus of Nero, a giant statue of Nero which used to stand in a courtyard.  The Colossus was moved to outside the Flavian amphitheatre, which was built on the site where Nero had once had an artificial lake, and may be the origin of the popular name for that amphitheatre — the Colosseum.  Much of the Domus Aurea, however, was left to fall into disrepair and eventually buried under what is now known as the Oppian Hill.

In the 15th century, workers who were excavating the mound, thinking they’d found the Baths of Titus, discovered rooms much more grandiose than they had expected.  I cannot find any indication how they made the decision that what they found was the Domus Aurea, however.  The article doesn’t say.

Rethinking Nero mentions the atrocities that Nero committed (or is alleged to have committed) including the deaths of two of his wives and his mother and his possible involvement in the burning of Rome. The article spends more time, however, on the other sides of Nero.  Draper talks about his patronage of the arts.   He entertained poets and musicians, as well as famously being a musician himself (what he lacked in skill, he made up for with enthusiasm, apparently).  When the remains of the Domus Aurea were discovered, the artistic and architectural community of the time traveled to the site to marvel at the beauty of the rooms that were found.

Nero was also very popular with the people — so popular that his first successor, Otho, took the name “Otho Nero.”  He opened the first public baths in the city.  Commoners could not only bathe there, but could also be exposed to art and literature and music.  He may also have been popular because, rather than sending their sons off to wars in order to raise revenue, he instituted a property tax on the wealthy.  This did not, however, make him any friends among the aristocratic class, which led to his downfall in 68 AD.

In the final pages of Rethinking Nero, we visit Anzio, his birthplace, where the mayor, Luciano Bruschini, has elected to celebrate Nero.  He commissioned a statue, which sits in a park on the seashore.

I also found the approach to the photography to be interesting.  Richard Barnes photographed the ancient sites (and also Nero’s statue in Anzio) and Alex Majoli took the photographs of modern life in Rome.

A World Apart:  The Southern Line Islands, by Kennedy Warne, photographs by Brian Skerry

A World Apart is about Caroline, Flint, Vostok, Malden, and Starbuck, five islands which are part of the nation of Kiribati and are collectively known as the Southern Line Islands. As of January 1, 2015, commercial fishing was banned for a 12-mile area around each of these islands.

Marine ecologist Enric Sala has been documenting the condition of the waters in question and they are nearly perfect, with the ideal concentration of top predators on down to low concentrations of bacteria.  This is particularly surprising because it seems as though warming seas have had a considerably lower impact on the islands than would be expected.

In words and in pictures we see a sliver of the biodiversity of this area, from the sharks, to the other fish, to the coral and down to the plankton.

Divided Kingdom, by Seth Mydans, photographs by James Nachtway

Since the 1980s, Thailand has been going through an unprecedented period of economic growth.  As a result, the poorer section of the population have been pushing for more power, both economic and political.  In 2014, the military took back power from the elected officials.

This is a struggle that has gone on for more than a decade now.  Every election since 2001 has been won by the “red shirt” party, more properly known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship.  And after every election, the results were thrown out and the same oligarchy has taken power once again, whether through court rulings or through outright coups.

According to news sources, the military government had promised new elections in 2015, but Internet articles that I found dated several months after this issue came out seem to indicate that elections will not be held until 2016.  Whether elections will ever be free and fair in Thailand remains to be seen, however.

(originally posted May of 2015)

1/22/2019 On or around November 28, 2018, I realized that I need to start monetizing this blog. To that end, I’m starting to put what I call Gratuitous Amazon Links into my posts. As of January 12, 2019, I’m going back to add GALs to my older posts. If I can’t find anything exactly on-topic to the post, I’m choosing from among the highest-rated items on the same topic as the post. For example, for a post on a park, I’ll search Amazon for books on parks and choose one of the ones with the highest reader ratings. It just hit me that since National Geographic is a book publisher I could use books published by National Geographic for their Gratuitous Amazon Links. So here’s National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More!

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