National Geographic January 2016, Part 3

I still can’t get to the text version of the articles on the website despite, again, being logged in.

Riding the Rubber Boom, by Charles C. Mann, photographs by Richard Barnes

So, earlier today, I was reading an Atlas Obscura article on the American Geographical Society library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  One of the maps that they have is of Fordlândia, a town that was set up by Henry Ford to grow rubber for his automobile manufacturing operations. The article describes it as a “lost jungle utopian city,” so I had to check it out.  The Wikipedia article on Fordlândia said that the town failed in part because of the development of synthetic rubber.  So, armed with that little bit of knowledge, I began reading Riding the Rubber Boom, which is about farming natural latex rubber in Southern Asia.  If synthetic rubber caused the failure of Fordlândia in the early 20th century, then wouldn’t there be even more difficulty making a living from farming rubber today?

Well, as the saying goes, it’s more complicated than that.  Latex is as big as it ever was.  We still need it for things like car tires and, even more crucially, for airplane tires.  We also need it for latex gloves and condoms.

As for Fordlândia, the site chosen was too far north and too dry for growing rubber trees, for one.  They also had a nice monoculture going, where all there was was rubber trees.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, monocultures of trees are vulnerable to pests and diseases because they can easily move from tree to tree.  If there are other species of tree in between, though, it becomes more difficult for the pest or disease to travel across the space between the trees.  The pest or disease in question here is a fungus called Microcyclus ulei, which damages the leaves of the tree, killing it.  Fordlândia got infected by M. ulei, so it was just a matter of time.

The rubber farms in this article have a relatively new variety of rubber tree that are more cold-tolerant, so at least they will avoid that failure on the part of the developers of Fordlândia.  However, the farms are also monocultures, but since M. ulei is native to South America, the trees are, so far, safe from it.  However, it will only take one spore being introduced at the wrong time to doom entire farms. The UN has recommended that anyone who has been in the area where M. ulei is present for the previous three weeks and who has arrived in Southeast Asia be inspected, but, at least as of press time, none of the countries in question have followed through on the suggestion.

Kingdom of Girls, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Karolin Klüppel

Kingdom of Girls focuses on Klüppel’s photographs of the girls of Mawlynnong, India.  For some reason (no one is apparently sure what), Mawylnnong has a female-dominated culture.  Property passes from mother to daughter, rather than from father to son.

National Geographic January 2016, Part 2

This is ridiculous.  I’m having the worst time ever getting to the online version of this issue.  I’ve had to log in twice now. My browser used to keep me logged in and I used to be able to just get to it by searching Google for the issue number.  Now all I can get while logged in is a photograph of the pages.  When I try to get to the text version, it keeps telling me “This National Geographic content is only available to subscribing members” and gives me a link to a login screen.  And I can see that I’m still logged in behind it.  I’ve actually sworn at this thing.  Twice.

Well, I guess I’ll have to make the best of this bullshit.  I’m not happy, though.  Having to zoom in to read the text is a pain in my left buttock.

In other news, I did make it to an average of 8,200 steps per day for May, finally.  I couldn’t remember if the number I got on the final day of the month was the final count, or if it would drop at midnight, so I put in a couple thousand extra steps so that I had one day of wiggle room.  I ended up with 8,467 steps on average for the month.

Bloody Good, by Elizabeth Royte, photographs by Charlie Hamilton Jones

I got a kick out of the title that the website gives this article, Vultures are Revolting.  Here’s Why We Need to Save Them. The mental image of vulture revolutionaries amuses me.

Bloody Good focuses on the life and current plight of vultures in Africa and Asia. Some of the vultures in these areas are critically endangered.  Vultures reduce the number of animal carcasses rotting in the sun, which means that they also reduce the chances that people and livestock will be made ill by the kinds of illnesses that develop from rotting meat.  I know that vultures have a bad reputation, but there’s one photograph of cape vultures in South Africa that is truly beautiful.

We have traditionally had a lot of black and turkey vultures here in Texas.  I made sure that Alex grew up appreciating the good they do for the environment. We once actually found the remains of a raccoon at Guadalupe River State Park and we had seen vultures in the park earlier that day. Now I didn’t get cozy enough with the bones and fur that remained to see if there were beak marks on them, but the corpse was just to the side of the walking path, so I suspect that if the poor thing had been left to rot, someone would have removed it, or alerted a park ranger so that it could be removed.

By the way, it looked like the poor thing had become tangled in fishing line, so please be careful when you go fishing to always account for all of your fishing line before you go home.

Into Thin Ice, by Andy Isaacson, photographs by Nick Cobbing

I’m somewhat nonplussed by the title here.  I think that the usual saying is “on thin ice,” and the focus of this article (aside from — what else? — global warming) is on boats that examine the Arctic by attaching themselves to ice floes, so the word “on” would seem to apply there. But it’s the editors’ choice what to name the articles, even if it is somewhat cumbersome.

And, of course, the ice is melting more rapidly than is traditional and scientists are very concerned.  The warming oceans are releasing carbon dioxide into the air, which will hasten global climate change.

Stay tuned for my next National Geographic recap in which the rubber plantations of Asia are about to precipitate an ecological catastrophe.  Unless I can knock out the rest of July 1889 by then, in which case my next National Geographic writeup will be about the rivers and valleys of Pennsylvania in great detail.

National Geographic August 2013, Part 3

Let’s see if I can finally knock this issue out and then get back on track.

Secrets of the Maya Otherworld, by Alma Guillermoprieto, photographs by Paul Nicklen

We go to Mexico in this article to investigate a phenomenon known as a cenote, which is a sinkhole that is filled with water.  The water of some cenotes is exposed to the surface, but the one we’re concerned with here, the Holtún cenote, has formed a cave above the water.  The archaeologist that we are following in this article, Guillermo de Anda, found signs of human sacrifice in the cave on earlier expeditions and had a theory that the cenote was used as a sort of natural clock, marking the two days a year when the sun is directly overhead.

De Anda and his partner, Arturo Montero, found that the sun does reach directly into the cenote when the sun is at its peak on those days and they have a theory that the location of Chichén Itzá may have been determined by the position of the cenote.

Parade of the Painted Elephants, by Rachel Hartigan Shea, photographs by Charles Fréger

In Parade of the Painted Elephants, we visit the Elephant Festival in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.  The festival features elephants, which are working animals for most of the year, being decorated with paint and jewels.  In what must have been 2012, Fréger went to the festival to photograph the elephants and got his pictures just in time.  I say that it must have been 2012 and that he got them just in time because the festival has been cancelled twice, once in 2012 and once in 2014, because the organizers didn’t send the correct documents to the Animal Welfare Board and, out of concern for the elephants (they didn’t reveal, for example, the chemicals used in the paints that year), the Animal Welfare Board shut the festival down.

Next up, January 2016.  Finally.

National Geographic December 2015, Part 3

I’m just having the worst time getting my schedule back together.  Let’s see if I can get this post out now and get my Manitowoc post written today.  That’ll get me back on schedule.

Out of the Shadows, by Richard Conniff, photographs by Steve Winter

Out of the Shadows is about the increasing contact, and conflicts, between humans and leopards in places like India and Africa.  All over the world, humans are encroaching on the territories that previously had been dominated by top-level predators such as leopards.  Sometimes the predators retreat, but sometimes, as is happening with leopards, the predators adapt.

Conniff takes us to some places where leopards and humans are coming into conflict and lets us into some of the research on how these two species can coexist peacefully.

Personally, I am always struck by the camera trap photographs of big cats.  In the December 2013 issue, we had the article Ghost Cats.  I had the same experience there.  For some reason, the automatic cameras they use in their camera traps make the cats seem to look almost like they are taxidermied.  Are the shutters of the cameras that fast?  Or is there some other mechanism at work that makes the cats look, not just like they are not moving, but like they are actually stationary?

Remnants of a Failed Utopia, by Rena Silverman, photographs by Danila Tkachenko

Tkachenko visits places that used to be communist and photographs the buildings and machines that they left behind.  For this project, Tkachenko photographs these structures in snow, which diffuses the light, making for haunting images of a “lost civilization.”  For some reason, the images chosen for this issue have almost no color (for example, there are only traces of color in the photograph of the Bartini Beriev airplane, which made me wonder at first if Tkachenko also used black-and-white film.

National Geographic, November 2015, Part 1

So, no sooner did I start getting my act back together on posting than my hard drive went out.  So here I sit with my brand-new hard drive, which has a one-year warranty, so I should be set for a while. While I was gone, I read one (November 2015) and two halves (April 1889 and September 2013) of National Geographic issues, so now I just have to recap the one that I’m done with and finish the other two issues and recap them and I’m in business.

We set up a new password for our National Geographic account, so I can continue reading the issues online, rather than having to balance a magazine on my lap while I type.  That’ll help me get this done a lot faster. Now on to November 2015, which is the Climate Change issue.

The Will to Change, by Robert Kunzig, photographs by Luca Locatelli

The Will to Change is about what Germans refer to as the energiewende (should that be capitalized or not?  It’s a noun, and German nouns are capitalized, but I’m writing in English.  Kunzig and his editor opted not to capitalize it, but that seems wrong to me).  After the Fukushima power plant disaster, Germany increased its commitment to renewable energy. Angela Merkel promised to close all of Germany’s nuclear reactors by 2022 and she seems on track to do just that.  Germans are picking up the slack left by the nuclear power plants with wind farms and what what is known in the United States, at least, as net energy metering.  “Net energy metering” is when entities other than the power company generate their own power and sell any excess to the power company.  Generally, credits are issued and used to pay back the power company for any power drawn from the grid.  I’ve heard of some ambitious individuals who end up owing nothing to the power company and it is even theoretically possible to make a little profit at it.

There is a downside to the energiewende (still sticking with Kunzig’s choice here), however.  Since Germany is shutting down their power plants, the needed energy that is not generated by energiewende projects have to come from somewhere. And that “somewhere” is coal-fired plants.  The energiewende is driving down the cost of power, so they have priced themselves out of hard coal entirely and are left with lignite coal, the cheapest fossil fuel there is.  Lignite coal is dirtier than hard coal, meaning that it produces more carbon dioxide than hard coal.

Hopefully, over time the energiewende will reach a point where the lignite coal can be phased out, but even if it can never be completely weaned from coal, Germany is definitely on its way to a cleaner future.

A Blueprint for a Carbon-Free America, by Craig Welch, graphics by Jason Treat

I’m not overly fond of the term “carbon-free.”  Recently, Domino launched “carbon free” sugar, which is, um, well, water, since table sugar is C12H22o11.  Take out those 12 carbon atoms and what you have left are twice as many hydrogen atoms as oxygen atoms, which is water.  A carbon-free America would be one with no life left in it, since all Earth-based life forms are more or less made from carbon. A lot of dirt is carbon, as well. We’d have some metal left — iron (but not steel, since steel is iron and carbon), calcium (which is what is left over when you take the carbon out of limestone), a lot of sand and other silicon-based things like quartz (but no diamonds because, well, carbon).

I know that’s not what “carbon-free” really means.  “Carbon-free” is a shorthand way of expressing the idea of ending carbon dioxide emissions from coal, natural gas, and oil.  It’s imprecise, though, and that irks me.

This is just a short little blurb about replacing things that have carbon dioxide emissions with hydroelectric, solar and wind power.  The graphs are nice and show, among other things, how much wind could be generated by both onshore and offshore wind farms.

Power to the People, by Michael Edison Hayden, photographs by Rubén Salgado Escudero

Throughout the developing world (India, Uganda, and Myanmar are the examples given here), people are enjoying new freedom through the use of portable solar lights.  At the moment, one of the biggest players in the field is a company called Simpa, which charges around $0.35 per day to rent the light.  That can be a lot of money for someone who makes only a few dollars a day, but it also, for example, allows shopkeepers to stay open later to get more customers and, thus, more money.  And the solar lights are more convenient for the people using them than the old battery-operated lights some had before.  When the battery ran down they would have to travel to get a new battery. With the solar lights, when the battery runs down, they just put it in the sun for a few hours, which saves time and wear and tear on their shoes and joints.

National Geographic December 2013, Part 2

First Skiers, by Mark Jenkins, photographs by Jonas Bendiksen

The question of which people were was the first to ski is a complicated one. The invention of skiing is largely dated by petroglyphs, which are carvings in rock. There are ancient petroglyphs in both Norway and in China, possibly giving both the claim to having been the first to ski. To make matters more complicated, the oldest ski ever found is a fragment that has been dated using carbon dating, as 8,000 years old. It was found neither in Norway nor in China, but in Russia.

Jenkins takes the tack that the people in China, who are not ethnic Han, but Tuvan, who come from Siberia. Jenkins takes us to China to see these people, the Altay, at work. They do ski to this very day, using one ski, the bottom of which is covered in horse fur, and one pole. The horse fur is oriented so that the nap raises up when the skier is going uphill and prevents the skier from sliding downhill. When oriented in a downhill direction the nap lies flat and allows the skier to slide.

Jenkins also watches the Altay people show him the traditional Altay method of hunting elk. Elk-hunting is forbidden in China, so Jenkins’s hosts merely show him how to track and rope the elk and no elk are actually harmed in the process.

Virtually Immortal, by George Johnson

Virtually Immortal is about the projects of a group called CyArk from Oakland, California, to document as many historic structures as possible. They used computers to make virtual copies of many landmarks and World Heritage Sites, including (but not limited to) Chichen Itza, Carthage, Mount Rushmore, Pompeii, and Rapa Nui.

In Virtually Immortal, we go to India to watch the team digitize a step well called Rani ki Vav, or the Step Well of the Queen. In India, people dug wells to find water. As time passed, the wells became more elaborate, including staircases lined with sculptures that went down to the water. Rani ki Vav is extremely elaborate, with carvings of gods and nature spirits lining the walls. Rani ki Vav was filled in with silt and sand within about 200 years of its construction, and the people at CyArk aim to save a digital copy of it so that it will never be lost again.

National Geographic July 2015, Part 2

How Orcas Work Together to Whip Up a Meal, by Virginia Morrell, photographs by Paul Nicklen

That’s an uncomfortably wordy title, but I guess it’s descriptive. How Orcas Work Together to Whip Up a Meal is the final installment of the three-part Understanding Dolphins series, because orcas are dolphins — the largest of the dolphins, in fact.

The meaning of the title is that orcas do what is called “carousel feeding.” They surround schools of herring and swim in ever-tighter circles around the herring. Then, once they have the herring trapped, they smack them with their tails. This stuns or kills the herring, making them easy to eat. They use other tactics, of course, but carousel feeding is one of the most fascinating.

While researching the story, Morrell saw whales hunting with the orcas. This was surprising because whales are also prey of orcas (the name “killer whale” is actually a mistranslation of the Spanish name, asesina de ballinas, or “whale killer.” Yet the whales were out there with the orcas, unmolested. The orca specialist that Morrell was talking to, Tiu Similä, decided later that the whales were freeloaders. However, there were enough fish for all, so the orcas allowed them to hang around.

In the Footsteps of Gandhi, by Tom O’Neill, photographs by Rena Effendi

In the Footsteps of Gandhi is about Gandhi’s literal footsteps. As part of India’s path to independence from the United Kingdom, Gandhi and thousands of other Indians walked from to the coast of the Arabian Sea. The British forbade the people of India to harvest their own salt from the sea, instead requiring them to buy the mineral from the British. In protest, Gandhi walked to the sea, intending to harvest salt from the salt flats, but the British had ground the salt into the beach. Gandhi was able to find one crystal of salt on the beach and picked it up, breaking the law. Gandhi and tens of thousands of his followers were arrested.

O’Neill decided to walk the same path, from Ahmedabad to the Arabian Sea. Through this article, we see the places he visits and talk to the people he meets, looking for traces of Gandhi.

National Geographic February 2014, Part 2

Yukon: Canada’s Wild West by Tom Clynes, photographs by Paul Nicklen

In the 1800s, prospectors discovered gold in the Yukon, and a gold rush began. The government passed laws allowing people to stake claims pretty much anywhere they wanted, regardless of whether it was private property or tribal lands, or anything else. They also failed to limit the types of equipment that could be used in any way. This made sense at the time because most prospectors just had a pick and a shovel.

However, those laws are still in force, and the mineral wealth of the Yukon goes far beyond gold. Modern-day prospectors are digging for copper, iron, uranium, and zinc, in addition to gold. Modern-day prospectors are also staking thousands of claims and using heavy machinery to excavate. This is leading the areas where the prospectors are working to basically be strip-mined, and chemicals are leaching into the rivers.

It isn’t to the level of an ecological catastrophe — yet. And new legislation has been introduced that hopefully will help prevent one.

The government and people of the Yukon aren’t even getting much financial benefit from the mineral rush, because the cost to mine in the Yukon also hasn’t been raised in decades. This rate was set at 2.5%, assuming $15 per ounce of gold and was set back in 1906. This means that for every $1,501.62 (Canadian) ounce of gold that is removed from the ground today, the mining company only has to pay $0.375 to the Canadian government for use of their land. Setting a flat value on gold in the law made sense back when no one out that far in the wilderness could know what the current value of gold was, but these days, all you need is a satellite phone or, if you are close to civilization, a cell phone, and you can track the value of gold nearly by the minute, the rate should be set to a percentage of the current value of gold, rather than a percentage of the value of gold in 1906.

Brunelleschi’s Dome, by Tom Mueller, photographs by Dave Yoder

My neighbor is something of an Italophile. While Alex and I were planning our 2014 trip to Italy, my neighbor insisted that we had to go to Florence. I wasn’t willing to commit because we only had six nights available (I was still part-time at work and only got four days a year of vacation, so I had to take some paid personal time to make it that far), but I promised him that if we had a free day, we’d take the train up to Florence for the day. As you will discover sometime in 2017 or 2018, once I get around to writing up the Italy trip, we never made it to Florence. We are planning a return trip to Italy once Alex is out of college, in part to see the Blood Miracle, so we’ll pencil in a few days in Florence on that trip, perhaps.

In any aerial photograph of Florence, one feature stands out — the dome of the cathedral. Brunelleschi’s Dome is about the construction of that dome. The cathedral was built in the very, very late 13th and early 14th Centuries, but no one knew how to construct the dome that was planned to finish the building. The dome had to be about two meters farther across than the one at the Pantheon in Rome, and to make things more interesting, the space that the dome had to cover was octagonal. As a result, they couldn’t just crib the design of the Pantheon dome as so many have done in the centuries since the Pantheon was built.

As a result, the cathedral stood roofless for over a century. Then, in the early 15th Century, a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi came to the city fathers and said that he had a solution. Brunelleschi was made superintendent of the dome project, and construction started, a project that would take 16 years.

Karma of the Crowd, by Laura Spinney, photographs by Alex Webb

Karma of the Crowd is about the importance of crowds to human psychology viewed through the Kumbh Mela. My experience with foreign languages — in this case, Italian — rears its ugly head here . My first thought was, “so it has something to do with apples?” because “mela” is “apple” in Italian. It has nothing to do with apples. “Mela” is the Hindi word for “festival.”

The Kumbh Mela, literally “Pitcher Festival” is a Hindu religious festival held every 12 years on several rivers in India. The Kumbh Mela that we visit in Karma of the Crowd is the one held in January and February of every 12 years near the city of Allahabad. The myth is that the nectar of immortality spilled from a pitcher into the river and so tens of millions of Hindus gather at the river to drink the water (despite the coliform bacteria found in the river) and share their common faith together.

Some studies, including one done at the 2011 mela, which is a smaller annual festival held in Allahabad, have shown that being in crowds can have the same kinds of effects on the attendees as personal social connection has on individuals. Some of these positive effects are physical. Socially connected people experience less inflammation and have more efficient immune systems. And these positive effects last for a while after the gathering ends, as well.

This research is particularly timely considering that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Scientists are discovering that people who live in cities tend to be more socially connected than those who live in more isolated situations, and this has positive effects on the residents, both in terms of physical health, but also in psychological terms. People who live in cities tend to create art and knowledge (and also money) better than those who live in other places.

I have to say that as someone who loves cities and who wants to live in a city center someday, this is good news for me.

National Geographic April 2015

Lincoln, by Adam Goodheart, photographs by Eugene Richards

April 15, 2015 was the sesquicentennial (they use “150th anniversary” in the article, but we have such a nice word for “150th anniversary” that I couldn’t resist) of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In recognition (and, of course, anticipation, since the trek had to be done ahead of time so as to make it to print in time for April) of the occasion, Goodheart traced the train that carried Lincoln’s body as it made the journey from Washington, DC to Springfield, Illinois.  There was no continuous rail line between the two, so the body ended up making a two-week journey up through Maryland, then into Pennsylvania, to New York (both the city and the state), then through Ohio and Indiana before arriving in Illinois.  The body the went from Northwest Indiana to Chicago and then down to Springfield.  Lincoln’s body had stayed in Washington, DC from the 15th through the 21st, so by the time the body arrived in Springfield, it was three weeks old and had deteriorated considerably.

We see, through Goodheart’s words, we see the body as it travels through the night along tracks lined with people and at its stops in Philadelphia, Buffalo, New York City, and then on to Springfield, where his remains ended up being moved 14 times during the years after Lincoln’s death.  Then, they proceeded to reconstruct the tomb — the current structure is from the 1930s.

Most of the tracks that carried Lincoln’s funeral train are long gone.  There are markers along the way showing where the train passed, and some of the tracks were removed recently enough that you can still see the gravel.  I grew up in Chicago, and it is very likely that those tracks still exist, as Chicago is still a major rail hub.  Additionally, the freight lines connecting the suburbs to downtown carry commuter trains today.  In fact, doing some digging, it looks like if you wanted to travel some of the Lincoln funeral train trail yourself, you could take the Metra Heritage Corridor line from Chicago to Joliet.  Metra’s website says that the Lemont and Lockport stations were there when the funeral train went through.

Hubble’s Greatest Hits, by Timothy Ferris

Ferris shares some of the history of the Hubble telescope.  Originally, the astronomers wanted the telescope to be farther out, but instead the telescope ended up being put close enough to be reached by space shuttle.  And it turned out to be fortunate that it was put so close in.  Problems plagued the early days of the telescope and if it had been unreachable, it would have been a waste of billions of dollars.  Since it was put in closer orbit, however, astronauts were able to bring replacement parts and fix the telescope, which has been sending amazing pictures of deep space for 25 years as of April 24, 2015.

The photos which accompany the article are actually colorized composites.  The one at #9, for example, of the Crab Nebula, is a composite of four images.  The most complex photograph, and the one that captured my attention best, is the image at #2, which is created from 32 images of the Carina Nebula.  It looks almost like one of the later works of JMW  Turner.

How Coal Fuels India’s Insurgency, by Anthony Loyd, photographs by Lynsey Addario

How Coal Fuels India’s Insurgency is about the Naxalites, a Maoist group that is causing problems for the government of India.  Loyd jumps right into the violent nature of the conflict by introducing us to a leader who goes by various names, including Prashant, Paramjeet, Gopalji.  This man of many names introduces himself to Loyd as “Manas.”  Manas had just been part of a confrontation that killed six policemen and injured eight more.

The Naxalites, who take their name from a village in West Bengal where the movement began.  However, now all Maoist rebels are known as Naxalites, regardless of their place of origin.

Most of the followers of the Naxalites are the poorest of India’s poor.  They are poor farmers, Dalits, and members of an aboriginal group known as the Adivasi.  There are a number of college students who have found common cause with the Naxalites, as well.  The Naxalites flourish in the undeveloped parts of eastern India, mostly in the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.  This region, as it happens, is also the center of India’s mineral wealth.  Beneath the lands where the Naxalites and their followers live, work, and fight are bauxite, dolomite, iron, limestone and, above all, coal.  An area where there used to be farmlands and wildlife is now given over to mines, much of which is done in open “strip” mines.  And effectively none of the wealth generated by these mines are being given to the people of the region.  This feeds the resentment and leads to further recruits for the Naxalites.

And so, until the government of India finds a way to reach out to and communicate with the residents of this poverty-stricken area, it is unlikely that the question of the Naxalites will ever be resolved.

The Bug That’s Eating the Woods, by Hillary Rosner, photographs by Peter Essick

The Bug That’s Eating the Woods is about the mountain pine beetle, a tiny bug that has killed pine trees in an area stretching from northern British Columbia down into California and as far east as South Dakota.  In some areas, such as the area around Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado, nearly all of the trees in the region are killed.

Scientists are trying to figure out why the beetle has had such a devastating effect in recent years and at least part of this devastation is laid at the feet of climate change.  The beetle can travel farther during the warmer months because the farther northern reaches are no longer too cold for them.  Additionally, we have significantly cut down on forest fires, which has made it easier for the beetle to spread.  Some areas are experimenting with controlled burns to isolate the beetle, but it is too soon to see if that will do any good.  There is also some hope that climate change may help.  The beetle’s actual source of food comes from two fungi that it carries with them, one of which needs cold weather.  As cold weather ceases to be quite so cold, perhaps that fungus will become less effective and end the life cycle of the beetle.

I was a small child during the Dutch elm disease outbreak of 1950s through 1970s (specifically the 1970s end), and currently live in an area where oak wilt is always a concern.  As a result, I am aware of the maxim of urban forestry that no more than 10% of an area should be one particular species of tree.  I cannot help but think that something like that might not be a bad rule to follow when planning what to do with the areas that the beetle has hit, even though it is not technically urban.  Perhaps the forestry departments of the various governments could look into broadleaf trees that would fill a similar niche ecologically and economically.  Then they could  plant 50% pine trees and 25% each two chosen broadleaf species, or a 68%/16%/16% mix, perhaps.

Trajan’s Amazing Column, by Andrew Curry, photographs by Kenneth Garrett

Trajan’s Column is a monument in Rome which chronicles the defeat of the Dacians by the Romans during the rule of Trajan.  The column is also where Trajan’s ashes were laid to rest after Trajan’s death in 117 AD.  We are certain that at least that second statement is true. Trajan’s Amazing Column lists some of the arguments that historians are using against the idea that the details given on the column are as accurate as has generally been assumed.  Some of the details match up with what archaeologists are discovering, but much of it may be made up to conform with the idea of how the war should have gone.

When my son and I were in Rome in 2014, we discovered Trajan’s Column by accident.  I’m not sure how we managed to miss it standing there being all columnar and monumental, but we did.  It wasn’t until our last day in Rome that we found it.  We had been to the Trevi Fountain and stopped in a carryout pizza place.  Our purchase of pizza was purely in the interest of science, of course.  We had had pizza in Naples and needed another sample so that we could compare the two.

We now had two slices of pizza and no place to eat it.  So we walked back in the general direction of our hotel, figuring that if we didn’t see any place to sit down before we got to the hotel, we could eat the pizza in our room.  After walking for a while, we found some people sitting on the steps of a church.  This looked as good a spot as any to eat, so we sat, too.

That’s when we noticed the huge monument right there.  Once we finished our pizza we explored the area, taking lots of pictures of the monument and of the ruins of the forums (fora?) of Trajan and Augustus.  I took a panoramic photo of the column.  It wasn’t perfect, since I didn’t have my tripod, but it turned out pretty well.

In the article, Curry mentions tour guides explaining the column.  The signage, at least when we were there, is excellent, though, so one doesn’t need a tour guide.  There is a long sign running alongside the ruins of Trajan’s forum with pictures of the sections and an explanation of what is there (see image).  This sign must be new, since I cannot see it in Google Street View in June 2014, but it was there in July and Google Street View shows it in October, as well.

Sign at Trajan's Column
The interpretive sign at Trajan’s Column in July, 2014.

Argentine Identities, story and photographs by Marco Vernaschi

Vernaschi is an Italian native living in Argentina.  Vernaschi loves his adopted country and feels that the increasing reliance on soybeans as an agricultural industry is counterproductive.  As a result, he and his wife traveled across the country helping small family farmers find new sustainable agricultural projects.  He also took pictures of the residents of the areas that he traveled to.  He stayed away from the “poverty tourism” aspect of photography, where small rural farmers are shown as impoverished.  Instead, he wanted to focus on their culture, including two photographs in which the subjects are wearing ceremonial clothing and one which features a female gaucho. Tags:

National Geographic, February 2015

The Invisible War on the Brain, by Caroline Alexander photographs by Lynn Johnson

This was a kind of difficult article to get through for me.  Partly this was because I had a dear friend at one time who had had multiple head injuries as a child.  When I knew him, he was an adult, but he had impulse control problems, focus and memory issues, and a volatile temper.  Years after I lost touch with him, I read an article on traumatic brain injury and it was kind of eerie how much this sounded like my old friend. Continue reading “National Geographic, February 2015”