france

All posts tagged france

Let’s see if I can get back on this horse here. I try to do NaNoWriMo every year and November is just around the corner. Hopefully I’ll be able to produce at least one blog post a day through the month (though I’ll probably keep going on the every other day pattern for posting). We’ll see what happens once we get there.

In other news, I’m still having trouble reading the issue in one tab while writing in the other, so it looks like I’ll be balancing the issue on my knee for the foreseeable future.

The New Oil Landscape, by Edwin Dobb, photographs by Eugene Richards

It’s interesting that this issue comes along in my reading just as the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline are making headlines, because fracking in North Dakota is what this article is about. Also, the induced earthquakes in Oklahoma have made news recently, though the government of Oklahoma assures us that fracking is not causing the earthquakes. Oklahoma insists that it’s from wastewater wells. I’m dubious about whether that’s for real or not, but I do think that our continued dependence on fossil fuels is a losing proposition in general.

I’ve been pricing rooftop solar and backyard wind turbines. I’d also like to convert my car to electricity some day, but Alex is trying to sell me on biodiesel.

The New Oil Landscape is a long article. I half-expected that it would take up most of the issue because it just kept going and going, taking up pages 28 through 59. I knew that there would be at least one other article because I’d already read the article on bonobos (more on that in a future blog post).

In The New Oil Landscape, we talk a lot about the people affected by fracking, including the workers and a family who were evicted so that an oil company could move their employees into their apartment complex.

Night Gardens, by Cathy Newman, photographs by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

This is another article that’s pretty much just what it says in the title. Two pages of text on gardens at nighttime are surrounded by photographs of, well, gardens at nighttime. And the White Garden of Sissinghurst in the UK gets a mention. Sissinghurst was the first place we visited when we went on our big UK trip in 2002. The white garden was lovely, but I fell in love with the white wisteria tree hanging over the brick wall. I wish that wisteria weren’t quite so invasive, because I would dearly love to reproduce that.

Instead, I’ve planted two Texas mountain laurels, which are similar in look, although purple, rather than white (the flowers actually smell like grape candy!) but less invasive. Upon doing some research I find that there is such a thing as a white mountain laurel. Maybe something to consider for my next spate of tree-planting.

Europe’s Wild Men, photographs by Charles Fréger, text by Rachel Hartigan Shea

Europe’s Wild Men is a collection of Fréger’s photographs of men dressed in traditional costumes evoking spirits, monsters, and animals. The subjects of these photographs are apparently all men, but occasionally women do wear these costumes. Shea’s text explains some of the costumes and the history behind them.

Mahogany’s Last Stand, by Scott Wallace, photographs by Alex Webb

In this article, we look at the business of tree poaching in Peru. The primary target of these poachers is mahogany, but other trees are targeted as well. The government of Peru stopped mahogany logging in 2001 and has been including most mahogany forests in national parks and in reserves for indigenous people, in hopes of preserving them.

Apparently, the poaching of mahogany continued after 2013, because I found a Sierra Club article about mahogany with falsified documents being imported into the United States in 2015.

I don’t know when I’m going to get the reading done for this post, but I’m going to get started writing it up anyhow.  Hopefully I’ll get the reading done on June 28 or 29 and get this knocked out by the end of the month. I may also get a start on the July 13 post, which will probably be another San Antonio city park, between now and then, as well.

The day after this goes live, by the way, Alex and I are leaving for our Salt Lake City/Yellowstone trip. Assuming that the flight is uneventful, we’ll be landing pretty early in the day, getting our luggage and our rental car, and heading off to Pando, the most massive single organism in the world.

July 6 – I was sort of close.  I got part of the reading done in very early July but then stalled.  I intended to finish up the second article while waiting for a doctor for some jaw pain I’ve been having lately. I got right in to see the doctor and got right back out again.  It’s now July 6 and I’m just now starting on the writing.

Waste Not, Want Not, by Elizabeth Royte, photographs by Brian Finke

First, the meaning of the term “want” had moved from “the lack of” to “a desire for” by such an extent by my own childhood, that it took me a very long time to figure out that “waste not, want not” didn’t mean “if you don’t waste it, you won’t want it.”

Second, this article returns us to the Future of Food series for the first time since I’m-not-sure-when. It’s been so long that the “future of food” tag doesn’t even show up on my widget.

Now, onward.

A shocking amount of food is wasted in the world. Some of it is food that was purchased in grocery stores or restaurants and went uneaten, but a lot of it is actually disposed of at the site where it is grown. Sometimes it comes out malformed and the buyers, either the shoppers themselves or the buyers who work for the retail industry. Sometimes there is actually something wrong with the produce, such as a fungal infection or an infestation by parasites.

We follow Tristram Stuart as he puts together meals from discarded food. We see him buying crookneck squash that took their name just a little too seriously, for example. These squash become part of a squash tempura, turnip dumpling, and zucchini noodle meal.

In this article, we go on to France, Kenya, Peru, and back to the United States (Las Vegas, this time) to see what Stuart, and others, are doing to use unsalable food.

The Cold Rush, by Joel K. Bourne, Jr., photographs by Evgenia Arbugaeva

With the increasing warming of the Arctic region, several countries, including Canada, Norway, and Russia are attempting to harvest the natural resources that are coming closer to (and sometimes actually reaching) the surface. Norway is drilling for oil in the Arctic Circle, and Canada is mining gold and iron. Additionally, some ships (including a cruise ship) are taking advantage of the melting ice to take the proverbial “Northwest Passage”  from Europe to Asia through northern Canada.

It’s not all rosy, though. The Arctic Circle is so remote that workers need to be brought in in groups, the workers then live in those groups for weeks or months, and then they get shipped home. Also, ecological damage is being done. There are no oil pipelines that far north, so the oil has to be dumped into tankers, which leads to the risk of an oil spill. And, of course, mining always leads to damage.

The Azolla Event, which is the proliferation of azolla fern that led our carbon-rich atmosphere to go into an ice age, locked up more carbon than just the carbon in the fern. Some carbon dioxide was dissolved in the water and once the water froze, the carbon that was dissolved in it was trapped. Cold Rush points out that the melting ice is releasing further carbon into the atmosphere.

As I write this, on April 2, 2016, I am almost done with the June April 1889 issue.  I should finish it tomorrow during my greenway hike.  I haven’t decided which greenway I’m going to hike on.  It’s likely that it’ll be the Leon Creek Greenway, since I’m closer to being finished with that one.  I’ve only walked from about halfway between Huebner Road and Hardberger Park to the point where the trail goes under US 281.

Update, April 3, 2016:  I ended up finishing up the northern end of the Salado Creek Greenway.  Now I can say that I’ve walked that entire greenway north from US-281.

The Virgin Mary: The Most Powerful Woman in the World, by Maureen Orth, photographs by Diana Markosian

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not Catholic.  As a Protestant, I don’t believe that Mary stayed a virgin after the birth of Jesus. The “brothers and sisters” mentioned in verses like Matthew 13:55 & 56 and Mark 6:3 are, well, the children of Mary and Joseph. Not Jesus’s cousins.  Not the children of Joseph and an unnamed first wife.  Therefore, throughout this article, I will strive to always call her just “Mary.” I did grow up in a predominantly Catholic area, so an occasional “Virgin Mary” may slip in.

This article focuses largely on apparitions of Mary.  We start in Medugorje, and make mentions of Fatima, Portugal; Kibeho, Rwanda on our way to discuss the “Virgin of Guadalupe,” the 1531 apparition of Mary to Juan Diego (who was canonized in 2002) on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. After Mary appeared to Juan Diego, the bishop wanted some proof, so Mary had Juan Diego fill his cloak with roses. When Juan Diego brought the roses to the bishop, the cloak had the image of Mary on it.  The cloak has been on display in an series of shrines, churches, and finally, a basilica since then.  Orth spends a couple hundred words describing the image, yet there is no picture of it in the article. I took a quick trip down to the Oblate Seminary to visit their Tepeyac Shrine (and also their Lourdes Grotto and the accompanying chapel), then discovered that the Wikimedia photograph I had used as a reference when reading the article was in the public domain, so I’ll be including that (if WordPress will let me upload it.  Grrr.).  I am pretty proud of the picture of the statue that I took, though, so maybe I’ll use that, as well.

Virgin of Guadalupe.

The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the cloak of Saint Juan Diego. A public domain image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons

One turn of phrase had me wondering about Orth’s religious background.  She describes the image on the cloak as perhaps showing Mary “dancing in prayer.”  This is not a common phrase.  In fact, Google has only around 79,000 hits for the phrase, and at least once, there’s a comma in between “dancing” and “in.” Apparently, she is Catholic, so I wish she had elaborated on that phrase.

Orth also discusses the importance of Mary in Islam and we meet Muslim women who go into Christian churches to venerate Mary.  Orth also tells about an apparition of Mary in Cairo, Egypt, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  And then we finally get to Lourdes.  The Song of Bernadette with Jennifer Jones was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up (I seem to recall that they used to show it every Easter on WGN). When we were moving during my childhood, we kept the stuff that we didn’t want the movers to handle in a self-storage place that backed up to I’m-not-even-sure what.  A kind of unkempt marshy area. I used to like to visit it and never quite understood why until my mom pointed out that it looked kind of like the grotto from the movie.  So I quite liked this part, though I was still kind of annoyed at the lack of images of the Virgin of Guadalupe that I didn’t like it as much as I should have.

The Science of Delicious, by David Owen, photographs by Brian Finke

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this article, since I’m a “nontaster.” Stuff like mayonnaise and sour cream tastes nasty to me, as do wine and cilantro.  As a result, I’m far more motivated by texture than by flavor.  I don’t like the texture of fat in my mouth, so when the low-fat diet became a “thing,” it was wonderful.  I could order chicken without the skin or other lean protein choices without seeming like a “picky eater.”  I could order things without the heavy cream sauces or avocado and the waiter would just chalk it up to attempting to be a healthy eater.

Owen assumes that everyone experiences broccoli as bitter, but I don’t. I’m highly motivated by my sense of smell, so while I quite like raw broccoli, I don’t eat cooked broccoli at all. Cooking brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) releases sulfur compounds which makes them smell bad.  Anything that smells like that will never make it past my nose. I have one co-worker whose daily lunch of microwaved broccoli nearly drove me from our break room more than once.

Aside from the anti-broccoli bias, the article is pretty even-handed.  It mostly talks about the relatively recent discovery that the tongue really has the same kinds of taste buds all over it (as opposed to the mapped out areas that people of my age learned about in school) and that we have two senses of smell — the one that comes through our noses and one that comes up the back of the nasal cavity.  The smells that go up the back of the nasal cavity register in the same part of the brain that registers taste.

Owen talks about sweetness a lot, and this is another place where I am an outlier.  Artificial sweeteners (including sucralose) taste bitter to me.  The only non-sugar sweeteners that taste good to me are the sugar alcohols such as mannitol and xylitol.  Fortunately, I don’t seem to be subject to the digestive distress that some experience from sugar alcohols.

My now-ex, Alex, and I all took an actual test to determine our taster gene status.  I bought testing papers from a scientific supply company and everything (this is why I can say for certain that I’m a nontaster).  Alex is a supertaster and his tastes and mine are much closer than either of ours with his dad (who is a regular taster).  Alex actually prefers things a little blander and lower-fat than I do, even.

Wild Obsession, by Lauren Slater, photographs by Vincent J. Musi

Wild Obsession is about people who share their homes with wild animals. The cover image is of a hedgehog, but there are no hedgehogs in this article — most of the animals mentioned are large cats and things of that nature. Slater talks to some of the people who currently own wild animals, and also to those who have given their animals up.

Slater comes across fairly sympathetic to the feelings of these owners, except during one instance which Slater interprets as an attempt of a juvenile kangaroo to mate with a pig (and which the owner of the animals says is a grooming behavior), which Slater sums up with “here, in this wired enclosure, the natural order has been altered.” For some reason, this sat wrong with me. It came off as dismissive of the animals’ owner’s assessment of the situation. We never see what is happening, merely what Slater tells us has happened, for one. It also seemed judgmental. Interspecies attempts at mating do happen in the wild, after all. I’ve found stories of moose trying to mate with horses or cows and of seals trying to mate with penguins and I didn’t have to dig far to find them. The seal/penguin story was on the first page of the Google results when I searched for “interspecies mounting” and the moose/horse(cow) one was in the comments to that article. The Wikipedia article has eight footnotes relating to interspecies mating in the wild. Additionally, if species were the kind of impermeable barrier that Slater seems to imagine, we wouldn’t have the Sherpas, since their ability to withstand high altitude comes, from everything I have read, from Denisovian ancestors.

For what it’s worth, I would never consider owning a large animal. The cost of feeding it would be prohibitive, but mostly I wouldn’t consider it because it would be cruel to force a large cat to live on a quarter-acre of land in a residential neighborhood. Also, however, it could be dangerous to me, personally. About 20 years ago now, one of my cats was walking from Point A to Point C and I was at Point B. As he crossed my lap, his rear foot slipped. I still have the scar. If a 15-pound cat could do that, what could a 300-pound tiger do?

Domesticated cats and dogs are plenty for me, thanks.  I would maybe like to get a large parrot someday.  Alex has said that he’d be willing to inherit it from me.  I would, of course, only get a parrot that was born in captivity from a reputable breeder.  I would do this largely to avoid participating in animal trafficking but also so that I would know the health status of the parrot’s ancestors.

Romans in France, by Robert Kunzig, photographs by Rémi Bénali

For some reason, Romans in France starts out with an overview of waste management solutions in Rome, in which we’re told that Monte Testaccio is actually a pile of empty amphorae that were thrown out of warehouses along the Tiber. Then we move on to the meat of the article, which is about an archaeological, well, “dig” is the wrong word, and I’m not too sure about “excavation.” We’ll go with “project” beneath the waters of the Rhône in Arles, France.

In 1986, archaeologist Luc Long was dared by a friend to dive into the polluted waters of the Rhône. Long found a truck under the water, and in the driver’s side of the truck was a Roman amphora.

In 2004, the archaeologists found a Roman barge 102 feet in length. Almost a decade later, the money came along to build a home for the barge once they excavated it. In order to remove it, however, the archaeologists had to work with the seasons and also replace the cellulose, that had long since dissolved in the water, with a polymer.

While I very much enjoyed this article, there is one curiously written sentence in this article that seems to say that because a nail fell out of one of the timbers it was probably similar to the ones that were used in the crucifixion of Jesus. I was unaware that one of the properties of the Holy Nails was that they came out of the wood easily. Kunzig, the blurb at the bottom of that page says, is a senior editor. He could probably have used the services of an editor for that sentence.

Cosmic Dawn, by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, photographs by Dave Yoder

This article is about the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Atacama Desert of Chile. Scientists often need more specific details than they can get with one telescope. This need led to the development of telescope arrays, which are several (or even numerous) telescopes spread out over a distance. Somehow, the distance between the telescopes can allow more specificity in the images. Some smaller arrays were set up in the middle of the 1900s, but scientists needed a larger array, on a scale of miles. The location needs to be high and have low water vapor and after quite a bit of searching, they decided on the Atacama Desert of Chile.

The telescopes at Atacama are spread out over miles, but are also portable. There are two vehicles that are used to move them around, so that the focus can be adjusted, depending on what they are looking at.

Through ALMA, for example, the scientists have been able to see the dust around a young star, and watch the dust start to clump together in what may well end up being planets.

Legacy in Lace, photographs by Charles Fréger, text by Amada Fiegl

Legacy in Lace is a pictorial of young women of Brittany wearing traditional lace headwear, known as coiffes. Brittany is a small area, but each region of Brittany has a traditional style of women’s headwear, which indicates, and probably leads to, a particular pride of her home. As Malwenn Mariel, a young woman who is reviving this tradition puts it in the article, “I am Breton, and I am French, but I am Bigouden first.”

I have just shown myself that I can, in fact, read and write up an entire issue before I ran out of writeups from my old blog. I am writing this, for what it’s worth, on August 15, 2015, several weeks before it will go live on my blog. Following my old pattern, I should write up April 2014 next, but I cannot find that issue at the moment. Therefore, I will go on to March 2014 next.


It’s Time for a Conversation, by Joshua Foer, photographs by Brian Sherry

It’s Time for a Conversation follows several researchers into dolphin language. Dolphins vocalize and some believe that these vocalizations are a language. For example, when two dolphins at the Roatan Institute for the Marine Sciences are given a signal that means “tandem,” the two dolphins are to do a behavior in unison. The dolphins will go under the water and whistle at each other, then they will do the same behavior together. Are they playing a very sophisticated game of “follow the leader,” or are the sounds they exchange actually communicating a plan?

So far, scientists have not been able to find much in the way of meaning in the chirps and whistles of dolphins. They have been able to determine that dolphins give themselves names while they are calves. For the rest of their lives, if one dolphin uses the call that the dolphin chose as his or her name, that dolphin will respond. Beyond that, there has not been much progress.

It is possible that their intelligence is so different from ours that we will never be able to learn to “speak dolphin.” However, if it is possible for us to learn their language, someone, somewhere is bound to figure it out.

This article has one of my favorite photographs so far in this project. The opening image, on pages 30 and 31 of the issue, there is a photograph of spinner dolphins in Hawaii. The water is perfectly clear and what I assume is the bottom of the ocean is white, and looks more like clouds than sand. This is fairly disorienting, in a pleasant way, and gives me the impression that they are not swimming, but flying. Or, maybe they are flying.

Taking Back Detroit, by Susan Ager, photographs by Wayne Lawrence

In Taking Back Detroit, Ager writes about the attempt of some brave souls to bring the dying city of Detroit back to life. We start out with Anthony Hatinger, who is setting up a tilapia farm in a former liquor store. The Tilapia live in the basement and the water is pumped upstairs, where the fishes’ waste feeds the plants of an indoor garden. The garden consists largely of green leafy vegetables. Once the waste has been removed by the plants, the now-clean water flows back down to the fish in the basement.

And he is just one of many people who are breathing new life into the city. Ager is a journalist who grew up in Detroit and spent the first 25 years of her career there, so this topic is very personal to her.

The fate of Detroit is not nearly as important to me as it is to Ager. In a global sense, Chicago and Detroit are in the same region, but in a practical sense, they are really very far apart and I have only ever been to Detroit twice, once in the 1981 and once in 1987. My mom and I were appalled by the decline in such a short amount of time. So, for me, reading about Hatinger, and about John Hantz, who invested four million dollars in improving the lives of Detroiters by buying up empty lots and planting trees in them, were heartening to me. Green space is an issue dear to my heart anyhow (you will see a lot of posts on parks and other green spaces in my writing. Green space is important to the psychological well-being of people, and the people of Detroit need things that are helpful psychologically.

The work is just starting however. The schools of Detroit are still not performing as well as they should, and Detroit still has a disgraceful level of unemployment. And yet, people are moving into the city and helping to bring jobs and money into the city. And hopefully, with those jobs and money, what was once known as “The Paris of the Midwest” will someday, perhaps even someday soon, have a Renaissance of its own.

Quest for a Superbee, by Charles C. Mann, photographs by Anand Varma

In this era of colony collapse disorder many are worried about the future survival of the honeybee. Colony collapse disorder. is not one problem, but many. Some colonies die off because of the increase in chemical pesticides, but others are killed by disease, and still others by pests. Some colonies don’t die at all, but habitat loss causes them to move elsewhere.

This is not the first time bee colonies have died off in large numbers. Most recently, exactly 100 years ago this year, a virus wiped out hundreds of bee colonies. A young monk known as Brother Adam traveled the world looking for bees and eventually bred was became known as the Buckfast Bee. The problem is more complex now, since there are so many other causes, but if Brother Adam was able to breed a bee that would survive the virus, it may well be possible to breed, or genetically engineer a bee that will survive current threats.

Quest for a Superbee outlines some of the projects being done, in breeding, in genetic engineering, even the possibility of robotic bees — tiny drones that will fly into a field and pollinate the flowers. Some, however, think that nature will find a way and that, despite more significant losses, bees will become naturally resistant to the threats that are killing them off today. I say that so long as the new bees are tested properly in a closed environment before setting them loose in the outdoors, any and all possible solutions are welcome. If genetically engineered bees are what we need to get through until the honeybee evolves enough to survive current threats, then that is what we should do.

Harnessing the Mekong or Killing It? by Michelle Nijhuis, photographs by David Guttenfelder

Over the last 20 or so years, the nations that the Mekong River flows through, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, have been damming the river in hopes of increasing the prosperity of these nations through the generation of electricity. And the “generating electricity” part seems to be working. The “increasing prosperity part” could use some work.

You see, the people who have lived along the Mekong for generations rely on the river for food, including fish and rice, and the number of fish in the river has dropped from levels that existed prior to the dams being built. Added to this is the threat of flooding. When it rains heavily upstream, the water has to go somewhere, and that “somewhere” is the villages alongside the river.

The lack of prosperity doesn’t end there. The governments and companies that have been building the dams are making lots of money by selling the power generated to other countries. Very little of the power generated is used by those in their own countries. Almost no one in Cambodia has electricity because the power generated in a way that will basically be free once the dam is paid for, is too expensive for the populace.

Can anything be done? Water experts and other ecologists would like to see development of the dams slowed down and planned better. Dams are being built haphazardly by each nation without regard for what the nearby nations are doing. There are places that the dams could be put where it would have minimal impact on those who live in the area, but it looks unlikely that the governments will work together for the good of their citizens any time soon.

Walking the Way, story and photographs by Michael George

Walking the Way is words and photographs about George’s trip down the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago, in Spanish), a route that goes from France through Spain to Santiago de Compostela, a cathedral in Spain which is rumored to hold the remains of the Apostle James the son of Zebedee (as distinct from James the son of Alphaeus and also James the brother of Jesus).

The Way of St. James was originally a purely religious pilgrimage, but in modern times, 60 percent of those who walk it walk for nonreligious reasons, such as to get space from their daily lives or to contemplate a change in their lives.

For some reason, George specified that he walked the Way in the summers of 2012 and 2013. I had to dig up more information on this. Did George take the trip in two parts (which seems like cheating) or did he do it twice? Apparently, he did the walk twice. The first time, he was just out of college and facing a change in his life status and so he did the walk as a pilgrim. Then he returned a year later to meet the people and photograph his journey. The results of this second trip are largely what we see in this article.

With this post, I will pretty much run out of National Geographic posts from my old blog.  I am going to attempt to keep posting entire issues, but I may go back to the pattern I originally set up on the old blog, where I generally posted two articles at a time.  If I were to keep posting entire issues, it likely would slow me way down on my reading.  The magazines just seem to go faster when I read two and review two, rather than reading the entire issue.

The “pretty much” is because I do have three National Geographic posts left, but two are from the October 1888 issue, which I am still plugging away at slowly.  National Geographic didn’t start trying to attract a general audience until around 1905, so those first 17 years of issues will be slow going.


A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World, by Jonathan Foley, photographs by George Steinmetz and Jim Richardson

Over the next 35 years, from 2015 to 2050, the food needs of the world will likely double.  This is due not only to population increase, but also to the increase in prosperity of formerly impoverished nations.  These developing nations are now demanding more in terms of meat, milk, and eggs, as well as of produce.  As a result, scientists need to come up with new ways to feed these people while not wrecking the environment in the process.  Foley led what he refers to as “a team of scientists” who have studied this very question and they came up with five steps that may help with this.

These five steps are to freeze agriculture’s footprint, to grow more on farms we’ve got, to use resources more efficiently, to shift diets (to less meat-intensive diets, for example), and to reduce waste.

These goals seem to be pretty obvious to me.  Further, while this article gives a few examples of how these goals might be achieved, it then ends with “we already know what we have to do; we just need to figure out how to do it.”  I felt sort of underwhelmed by this conclusion.  I guess I should count it as a good thing that scientists are thinking about this topic at all.

Digging Utah’s Dinosaurs, by Peter Miller, photographs by Cory Richards

In Digging Utah’s Dinosaurs, we meet the Miller brothers, Ian and Dane, who are paleobotanists.  We join the Miller brothers on an expedition at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, where they are searching for signs of the lost continent of Laramidia.

90 million years ago, the area which is now North America was two separate continents, Appalachia to the east and Laramidia to the west.  The Western Interior Seaway lay between them.  The Miller brothers, along with other scientists, are searching for the species of dinosaur who lived in this area and trying to figure out why the dinosaurs of northern Laramidia were so different from those in southern Laramidia. It is possible that there was a physical barrier of some sort, but they have not yet found any evidence of such a barrier.  Instead, the going theory is that the area, much of which is now desert, was a tropical rainforest.  This means that the herbivorous animals would not have had to have gone very far in search of food.  This also means that any carnivorous animals in the area also would not have had to wander very far.  The result would be a less dramatic version of how isolation caused divergence in Australia and Madagascar.  The species would have had different pressures causing different traits to be selected for, resulting in very different species.

Finally, I noticed that the writer, Peter Miller, shares a surname with the Miller brothers.  Miller is a very common name in the United States (the sixth most common, as of the 2000 census), so it is not impossible that this is a coincidence.  However, it is also not impossible that all three Millers are related in some way.  I have been unable to determine which of these it is.

The Ship Breakers, by Peter Gwin, photographs by Mike Hettwer

Oceangoing ships have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years. After that, it becomes so expensive to insure them that their only value is for scrap. Ships are not just made of steel. There are other substances involved, such as asbestos and lead. In most developed countries, the safety measures necessary for such work would eat into the profits from recycling the recyclable bits, such as the steel. As a result, “the bulk of the world’s shipbreaking” takes place in countries with lower safety standards, such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

In The Ship Breakers, Gwin takes us to one of the shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh.  In Bangladesh, the shipbreaking yards recycle around 90% of each ship and, overall, make a profit of three to four million dollars a year.  The yards used to be open to tourists, but a while ago, they closed the yards to visitors.

Gwin and Hettwer show us some of the process of shipbreaking in Bangladesh, in which these elderly ships are taken apart by hand. We also hear from an activist who wants the process of shipbreaking to be done in a cleaner, safer way.  At the moment, the shipbreakers risk their lives daily and allow toxic chemicals to leach into the environment.  Hopefully, someday the shipbreaking yards will find a cleaner, safer way to do their work without putting people out of their jobs.

The Generous Gulf, by Rob Dunn, photographs by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes

When the European colonists arrived in North America, they were overwhelmed by the variety of life, and number of fish, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  This was for two good reasons.  First, their own waters back home had been overfished and second, the Gulf of St. Lawrence had an unusually high number of lifeforms because of its position.  The waters of several rivers collect organic matter which becomes food for smaller lifeforms, which then become food for larger ones until you have cod, and herring, and sturgeon, and even whales and walruses.  The Europeans seemed to think that the supply of fish and other animals was infinite and immediately set about overfishing the Gulf.

There is a new threat to the Gulf as well.  Oil has been found under the Gulf and the oil company executives are making plans to begin drilling.  This runs the risk of leaking into the Gulf and causing ecological damage.  Hopefully the oil companies that are planning this well will be careful with the ecosystem that they are about to venture into.

Love and Loss on the Seine, by Cathy Newman, photographs by William Albert Allard

Love and Loss on the Seine is a series of vignettes of life on the Seine, the river that flows through the heart of Paris.  We meet people who have chosen to live on barges in the river.  We see workers setting up for Paris Plages, a summer festival in which the expressway along the right bank of the river is blocked off and turned into a beach with sand and portable palm trees.  People discuss the color of the Seine with Newman.  We see the history of Les Berges, a sort of River Walk for Paris, where the expressway along the left bank has been closed in favor of parks and restaurants.  We visit a homeless shelter on a barge on the river.  Newman discusses breaking the law on the Seine (no swimming or wading, no protests, no banners and so forth) with a police officer.  We see people fishing on the Seine (a difficult task considering the embankments that have been there since the 1700s).  We see Paris at 3:00 in the morning.  We visit a mental hospital on a barge on the Seine (there is little to no aggression in the patients in this hospital; no one is sure why).

Overall, Love and Loss on the Seine is very quick, easy reading, and helped me see more of a city that I have only visited for one very pleasant day in 2002.

(originally posted in July and August 2015)

Before Stonehenge, by Roff Smith, photographs by Jim Richardson

Before Stonehenge is the cover story, and, like other cover stories, the blurb on the cover doesn’t even begin to, well, cover it. The blurb says, “The First Stonehenge: Britain’s Master Builders” and, well, this article does discuss the Stones of Stenness, which is likely to be the oldest stone circle in Britain. But the article is so much more than just that one monument.

In Before Stonehenge, we see Skara Brae, for example.  Skara Brae is an entire neolithic village on a headland known as the Ness of Brae.  The homes had furniture and built-in storage units that would likely have been a lovely selling point if there were any such thing as a stone-age real estate market.

When you look at Orkney, an archipelago to the north of Scotland, on a map, it seems like it should be cold and inhospitable.  It is roughly parallel with the Gulf of Alaska, after all.  And yet, the average low temperature for Orkney for February (the average coldest month) is 35.1 degrees Fahrenheit/1.7 degrees Celsius.  That’s 15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average low temperature in February in Chicago.  Credit for this mild climate goes to the Gulf Stream.  Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the islands had a bustling agricultural economy that allowed the residents the freedom to express themselves artistically, as well.  So far, more than 650 works of art have been discovered.

And Orkney was not nearly as remote as its location would have you believe.  It was, in the words of Caroline Wickham-Jones of the University of Aberdeen, “an important maritime hub, a place that was on the way to everywhere.”  And the article contains a map that shows the extent of the settlements of Orkney during the Neolithic.  The current estimates are that there were more than 10,000 people living in the Orkney islands during the Neolithic.

Best of all, only around 10% of the Ness has been excavated, which means that there are certainly more treasures to be discovered on the Ness of Brae and, perhaps, all over the Orkney Islands.

Gombe Family Album, by David Quammen, photographs by Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers

On April 3, 2014, Jane Goodall turned 80 years old.  In recognition of the occasion, David Quammen interviewed  Goodall.

Goodall recalls being told that she had done her work  “wrong” in the minds of the establishment in animal behavior.  When Goodall went to Cambridge to get her Ph.D. in ethology, her professors didn’t want to hear about the personalities of the chimpanzees. They wanted her to be able to find patterns in their behaviors.

From here, the conversation moves on to discussions of the personalities, and personal histories, of some of the chimpanzees she got to know at the Gombe Stream Research Center in Tanzania.

The article is illustrated with a photo of Goodall in the 1960s holding hands with a chimpanzee named Figan.  This photo was  taken by Hugo Van Lawick.  There are also beautiful portraits  of some of the chimpanzees she worked with:  Frodo, Samwise, Gaia, Sparrow, Gremlin, Gizmo, and Nasa.

The New Face of Hunger, by Tracie McMillan, photographs by Kitra Cahana, Stephanie Sinclair, and Amy Toensing

The New Face of Hunger, this issue’s installment of the Future of Food series, is based in the United States.  The article focuses on the millions of Americans, most of whom are working full-time, who are facing food insecurity.  You are likely familiar with the term “food insecurity.”  This is the term which, since 2006, has replaced “hunger” in order to reflect the new reality of hunger in the United States.  In past generations, people either had plenty of food or were pretty consistently short on food.  In the current era, however, many people have plenty of calories but are short on nutrition, which can lead these people to become obese.  Additionally, these people cannot aquire  even the high-calorie low-nutrient-dense foods that they have the time and/or money predictably, which leads them to have this new term, rather than calling them “hungry.”

In The New Face of Hunger, we visit food-insecure families in Iowa, Texas, and New York. We talk about the food insecure and food deserts.  Many people live in what is known as a food desert.  A food desert, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, has to meet two criteria:

  1. They qualify as “low-income communities“, based on having: a) a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, OR b) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area median family income; AND
  2. They qualify as “low-access communities“, based on the determination that at least 500 persons and/or at least 33% of the census tract’s population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (10 miles, in the case of non-metropolitan census tracts).

The article also discusses the role of subsidies in hunger.  The top five most highly subsidized crops between 1995 and 2012, were corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans, and rice.  The four of these that are edible are high-energy (which is the fancy way of saying that they have lots of calories) but are not so full of nutrients.  Fruits and vegetables, to the extent that they are subsidized, are subsidized at a much lower rate, which keeps those crops much more expensive (particularly on a per-calorie basis) than crops such as corn and wheat.  On the other hand, however, the subsidies that do exist help to keep the high-calorie foods that are highly subsidized more affordable to low-income people.  Without those subsidies, perhaps rather than food insecure people, we’d have a much higher rate of the truly undernourished poor in the United States.

While noodling around with the Food Access Research Atlas on the USDA website, I found evidence that apparently the USDA does not consider a Walmart Supercenter to be a supermarket, despite the fact that a Supercenter is about 1/3 groceries.  A new Supercenter opened in San Antonio last year and the area right next to it is shown as being a low-income area more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.  Upon further looking at the map, I think that perhaps that’s just a side effect of the size of the census tract, because I just realized that there is an indisputable “supermarket or large grocery store” just about a mile from that Supercenter, also bordering on that same census tract.  Maybe, since the tract is so large, since the people on the far end are more than a mile from a store, all of them are considered to be in a food desert.

Franz Josef Land: The Meaning of North, by David Quammen, photographs by Cory Richards

In Franz Josef Land: The Meaning of North, Quammen and Richards accompany a scientific expedition to Franz Josef Land, an archipelago in the far north of Russia to determine why the ice is melting, how extensive the melting will be, and what the ecological consequences of the melting will be.  Their group of 40 people include experts and students in a variety of disciplines including but not limited to botany, microbiology, ichthyology, and ornithology.

We meet a number of the people on the expedition including Michael Fay, the botanist, who walked across the forests of Central Africa.  We also meet Enric Sala, whom we will see again in the September, 2014 article on the Southern Line Islands.

One of the things that is emphasized is how heavily armed the guards that accompany the expedition are.  I was wondering if the expedition was facing some kind of danger from humans.  I’m not sure who would be a threat that far north, maybe some kind of insurrectionists would be hanging out there, but it turns out that the guns are to protect them from polar bears.  And the author does have one close call.  Fortunately the situation is resoilved without violence,  There is a  lovely closeup photograph of a polar bear (not taken during that close call but with a remote camera).  The caption states that the remote camera was later chewed up by the polar bear.

And, of course, no conclusions can be made yet about the fate of the ice of Franz Josef Land.  All the scientists can do is collect data, watch trends, and see what conclusions they can draw from those down the line.

The Hidden World of the Great War, by Evan Hadingham, photographs by Jeffrey Gusky

The Hidden World of the Great War is about the reality of the trench warfare of World War I.  The soldiers did not just stand in trenches, they also built extensive tunnels and lived in ancient underground quarries.  These tunnels and quarries were dug into chalk and limestone, both of which are soft enough to carve, and some of the soldiers did just that.  There are, of course, the requisite names carved into the walls, but soldiers also left art behind.  There are portraits and symbols, including a praying soldier and a carving of Marianne, the symbol of the French Revolution.

(originally posted May and June 2015)

National Geographic has occasional theme issues.  This is one of them.  The theme for this issue is “Firsts.”

First Artists by Chip Walter (Photographs by Stephen Alvarez)

This article, just as the name implies, is about the beginnings of artistic expression in humans. We start out at one of the best known early artistic sites, Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, where artists starting at least 36,000 years ago made charcoal drawings on the walls. We then go to South Africa, where an even older form of artistic expression was found — pieces of ocher with geometric patterns carved into them dating back to at least 100,000 years ago.

There is no continuity to the artistic expression, however. It will flower in one place and then die out again only to resurface somewhere else. The development of art seems to track to times when there were more people, so the theory that Walter and, presumably those he’s spoken with, advances is that the art was a way for groups to communicate.

I wonder if it could be the other way around, though. Perhaps the default state of humanity is to be creative, but stresses on the population reduce that urge. Maybe the population increases were because times were relatively good, which allowed the natural creativity of our ancestors to show. We are, from all the research I have read, naturally wired to acquire a language, so it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to think that maybe we are wired to express ourselves artistically as well.

And despite their reputation as brutish, there may be some evidence that there was a creative urge for Neanderthal humans. Archaeologists have found items with holes drilled into them as if for jewelry in a cache with some tools in France.

Along with the articles are the usual stunning National Geographic photos, including pictures of the earliest pieces of art (including one that is described as a flying bird, but which looks awfully phallic to me), of the archaeological dig in South Africa, and of two young women covered in ochre. 

The First Year by Yudhijit Battacharjee (Photos by Lynn Johnson)

Technically this article should have probably been called The First Years because much of it relates to events in the second year of life and there are even some references to events beyond that point. 

The article, for the most part, recounts studies being done on the brain development of children in the first years of life. We begin with Hallam Hurt’s study of children who come from poor backgrounds which showed that the damage our culture associated with prenatal maternal use of crack actually reflected the situation of poor families in the United States. From this, we developed programs to encourage bonding and mental development during infancy and early childhood.

We also see a glimpse into some of the imaging studies being done of the brains of babies, including studies that show how language development works. 

There is also one study referenced that made me uncomfortable. Nicolae Ceausescu made birth control and abortion illegal, in service of increasing the population of Romania. It worked. It worked so well, that many families ended up abandoning their children, who then ended up in orphanages. The orphanages were understaffed and fifteen to twenty babies were generally taken care of by each worker, which meant that there was no time for the babies to be given any kind of personal attention, which harmed their brain development. A group of scientists saw that the children in these orphanages had irregular behavior patterns similar to those of children with severe autism. When the children’s brains were studied, it was shown that they had much lower levels of activity than would be expected from a child of that age. So they devised a study where half of the children would be put in foster home and half left in the orphanage. The brains of the fostered children under the age of two came to resemble those of children who had not been deprived, but the brain development of the children who remained in the orphanage remained abnormal.

Now, my own background is training as a medical librarian, so my frame of reference is clinical trials, but it is my understanding that if a treatment (which in this case is being put in a foster home) is shown to work (which it clearly did), the study is halted and all of the participants are given the treatment. To do otherwise would be unethical. Yet, there is no indication in this article whether the institutionalized children were put in foster homes in hopes of helping their brain development as had been done with the children put in foster care. I finally had to do some research on my own to find that homes were found for most of the children who had been left in the institution. Out of 68 institutionalized children in the original study, ten of the institutionalized children were still in the orphanage by the age of eight. So at least something was done for most of those children, but I’m still not happy about the ten who were still in the orphanage. On the good side, Romania now has a law forbidding placement of children younger than two in orphanages.

While the article itself is fairly dry, with lots of talk of studies and brain imaging, the “human element” comes from Johnson’s black-and-white photographs of families, many of them poor, taking the time to bond with their children, thus enriching their lives and helping their brains grow.

First City, by Robert Draper (Photographs by Robin Hammond)

In the case of this article, the word “first” is more a reference to rank rather than to chronology. The census for the country of Nigeria has trouble tabulating the population of Lagos, which has grown so fast that, at the moment it is somewhere between 13 and 18 million. The economy of Lagos is flourishing, as well. In the 21st century alone, consumer spending in Lagos has grown from 24.4 billion to 320.3 billion. The economy of Nigeria passed up the previous front-runner, South Africa, in 2012.

As with many National Geographic articles, this one features the stories of a number of Nigerians, from Onyekachi Chiagozie, an electrician who has big dreams, to Banke Meshida Lawal, a beautician with offices in Africa but who has representatives in other countries, including the United States, to Kola Karim, a multimillionaire who owns a conglomerate that employs more than 3,000 people.

The article also discusses the political climate of Nigeria, including the gap between the culture of Lagos and the upheaval of the rest of the country. Draper also discusses the corruption of the national government of Nigeria, which is a major exporter of petroleum but which doesn’t have enough gasoline for its citizens and which is unable to supply a steady level of electricity to any of its residents.

The photographs range from sitting portraits of residents to pictures of people going about their daily lives, both in the upscale and downscale areas of the city.

First Glimpse, by Timothy Ferris, Photographs by Robert Clark

This article is on cosmology, and cosmology really isn’t my thing. Somehow, the huge numbers of years and distance and things just serves to remind me that the clock is running and the universe will wind down someday. I mean, I’d be gone by then anyhow, unless an article I read a few years ago that said that time might stop any second turns out to be true, but I still find the thought, particularly that there is nothing we can do to stop it, or even slow it down, sort of distressing. 

That being said, I read this article, which opens with a quote that cosmologists are “Often in error but never in doubt.” That’s comforting. Well, not really, but it does kind of remind me of the Dunning-Krueger effect, which says that people who don’t know what they’re doing (“often in error”) will be more likely to be certain that they are experts (“never in doubt”) than one would expect. It is likely that they do know what they’re talking about, but obviously someone has some doubts. 

The article that follows talks about “dark matter” and “dark energy,” which are two forces that we cannot perceive but that seem to have some kind of effect on the universe. “Dark matter” seems to be pushing things closer together, while “dark energy” seems to be pushing them apart. Ferris also talks about the things that cosmologists are doing to measure what they perceive as being dark matter and dark energy, including a large sphere of lights pointing inward towards a pool of argon. The hope is that dark matter will pass through this device and make flashes of light. 

I did find out that dark matter is not some mysterious thing “out there,” though, which was kind of interesting. Apparently, the Earth is being bombarded by it constantly and since we cannot perceive it, it is likely to be be passing through our bodies and we just are not aware of it. 

First Americans, by Glenn Hodges

Now I’m back on familiar, and far more comfortable, territory. 

In 2007, Mexican divers found a cavern full of bones. The oldest one whose skull was intact enough to do a facial reconstruction on, was a teenaged girl who died somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. She was given the name Naia, after the Naiads of Greek mythology. Naia’s basic genetic structure is the same as that of current Native Americans, indicating that the current Native American population is descended from the people who were here all those centuries ago, but her facial structure is very different, with much coarser features. 

The bodies of Paleo-Americans that have been found so far seem to be very likely to have evidence of injuries from some kind of close-range battle. The standard explanation is that the men were fighting over women, and the women were victims of domestic abuse. While this is a possible explanation, and may even be the most likely explanation, I was a teenager several decades ago and remember a few physical fights among my female peers. As a result, I’m not going to completely discount the idea that perhaps the women fought among themselves just as the men seem to have done. 

The article also discusses the Friedkin site which is described as being in central Texas “about an hour north of Austin.” That’s still a very large area, so I did a little digging and discovered that it is in Salado, Texas, in Bell County. The Friedkin site may be the earliest settled place in North America. A large quantity of stone tools have been found on the site, some dating back 15,500 years. The quantity of tools seems to indicate to the archaeologists that a group of Paleo-Americans actually settled there for an extended period. 

Hodges mentions the Anzick site in Montana, as well, where the 12,600-year-old skeleton of a child. They were able to extract an entire genome from this child, the first time we had been able to do so. Fossilized human waste was also found in a cave in Oregon, which gives archaeologists a chance to see what people of the area ate and which indicates that the Paleo-Americans may have settled there for a while.

The photographs on the article were taken by various photographers including Timothy Archibald, Paul Nicklen, James Chatters, David Coventry, and Erika Larsen.

First Bird, written and photographed by Klaus Nigge

This is a short, six-paragraph, piece on the bald eagle accompanied by five beautiful photographs. In the article, Nigge discusses his time photographing the bald eagles of the Aleutian islands, who were so habituated to humans that they would let him walk right up to them to photograph them.