mexico

All posts tagged mexico

New Old Libya, by Robert Draper, photographs by George Steinmetz

As we go farther and farther back, the “ripped from the headlines” nature of some of these articles is blunted a bit. Can’t wait until we take a “look forward” at what will happen to Cuba under Castro and things of that nature. Today we look back at the developments in Libya after the 2011 death of Muammar Gaddafi.

Prior to Libya’s independence in 1950, Libya had previously been run by the United Nations, then prior to that, by Italy, and then prior to *that* by the Ottoman Empire and then prior to that by Rome. In fact, emperor Septimius Severus had been born in Libya, in a city known as Leptus Magna. When Gaddafi took power in 2011, he disdained all of this history, particularly the parts where the country had been ruled by Rome and Italy.

In this article, we see a picture of Libya in very late 2012 as a country that is moving both toward its future while trying to recapture the past that Gaddafi tried to suppress. We see the unrest that still existed in late 2012, but we also see people going on with their lives, hopeful that they will have a future.

And, of course, as we know now, the first war in 2011 that led to the fall and death of Gaddafi, was followed by a second war that continues, well, at least until I’m writing this in 2016. Now Libya his hemorrhaging people, with thousands of people fleeing every year.

I’m hoping to start studying Vietnamese in 2017, because it’s one of the languages that I have to use the translation service for most in my job. It looks like I may also need to learn Arabic because immigrants from Arabic-speaking nations are on the rise here, as well. My side of town is where groups like Catholic Charities like to resettle the refugees because services are easy to access in this area.

The Bite that Heals, by Jennifer S. Holland, photographs by Mattias Klum

In The Bite that Heals, Holland takes us to speak with scientists who are making medication from venom. We start in Mexico, where a man named Michael was healed of his ankylosing spondylitis apparently by a scorpion sting. At the time this article went to press, about a dozen medications had been developed from venom, including the blood pressure medication captopril. The web page of Zoltan Takacs, one of the scientists that Holland speaks with, has a list of (at this time) around 15 medications that are currently being sold that are derived from venom. This list has an additional five that are in clinical trials.

This finishes off this issue. In other news, now that the summer heat is over (or is it?), I’m back to walking the greenways, which means that I’m back to listening to the issues from the 1800s. And they are just as gripping as always. I’m counting down the issues until 1915, when National Geographic starts to appeal to a more general audience.

Also, as of the day I’m writing this (November 26), I’m finally caught up on my steps (nothing like waiting until the last minute!). I’m actually a bit ahead. I’m done with today’s steps already. And, finally, I’m sticking to the Duolingo thing. I’m averaging 4.7 lessons per day, and I plan to invest this money in the stock market as I save up enough to buy shares of stock (probably a share every nine months or so). This certainly won’t make me rich, but it won’t hurt, either.

Swimming with Tigers, by Glenn Hodges, photographs by Brian Sherry

Swimming with Tigers is the first story in a three-part Summer of Sharks series. Hodges admits that he was afraid of sharks, but that when he was given the assignment to write this article, he decided not just to research tiger sharks, but to actually get in the water and swim with them.

Additionally, Hodges was not an experienced diver. In fact, the tiger shark experience was his first dive ever. We accompany him and watch the tour operators feed the sharks to make sure that they aren’t hungry when the divers get in with them. We also see a frightening moment when an angelfish swam into their group followed by smaller sharks. Then, after the swim, Hodges goes to Hawaii to visit with a scientist who studies tiger sharks.

Juárez Returns to Life, by Sam Quinones, Photographs by Dominic Bracco II

Despite having lived in San Antonio for nearly a quarter of a century, I have only been to Mexico once. When my former in-laws were visiting, they had one day that they hadn’t made plans for. We offered them a choice of a water park or of visiting Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. They opted for Mexico. We went down and ignored the panhandlers (of which there were many) and did a little shopping. What’s funny is that I was the least not-impressed of the four of us and yet my former mother-in-law goes down there regularly now (she is decorating her house with things she’s bought in Mexico).

And I admit that Mexico would definitely be a good place for me to explore for my blog. However, there’s the War on Drugs going on in Mexico right now, and while our War on Drugs has been largely metaphorical, the war in Mexico . . . isn’t. Travel Blogger Wounded in Drug Shootout isn’t really the kind of attention I’d like to garner. And until the State Department’s Travel Warning for northern Mexico becomes a Travel Alert (or even better goes away completely), I think I’m going to stay out of that area. This does not rule out travel farther into the country, by the way, Alex and I visit a volcano in even-numbered years and a trip to Mexico City and Popocatépetl sounds like it might be in the cards for the 2020s.

All is not lost for Norther Mexico, however. In this article, we watch the rebirth of Juárez Mexico, once considered the most dangerous city in Mexico and possibly in the world. There’s a nifty chart showing the spike in killings  in Juárez in 2010, how it increased, and how killings have declined in the years since.

The Art of Solar Energy, by Jamey Stillings

This is another in the ongoing Photographer’s Journal series, in which Stillings shares with us some of the photographs he has taken of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant in Nevada.

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.

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.

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.

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.

You know that 52-week money challenge thing that goes around once in a while, particularly towards Christmas?  Well I use a similar approach to save up for bigger trips.  The 330 weeks I mention in the subject line is how long it will take me from my start just about a year ago to save up the money for a planned trip to China in 2021.  I started studying Mandarin in 2007 in hopes of one day taking a trip to China, but it never worked out, so I have tentatively scheduled this long-awaited trip for 2021. At the moment, I have two other trips planned that I am using a similar approach, one to Germany and one to New Zealand, between now and 2021.

And before you ask, I’m not ever going to put $330 aside in one week. The plan goes something like this.  For a trip to China, I figured that $10,000 should do it (and checking Expedia, it looks like I can do it much more cheaply than that, but you never know what will happen to prices over the next five years).  So I counted the weeks between the date I started and the end of December 2020 (since I want to book the trip around six months in advance, plus I made this calculation using San Antonio and Shanghai as my endpoints and I hope to do a bit more traveling around the country than that, which will raise the cost) and got 330 weeks.  Dividing $10,000 into 330 weeks gives me an average amount of just a little more than $30 per week, so my first week will be $1 and my final week should be $60 (though it won’t, as we will see).  Since 330 divided by 60 is 5.5, I will round down and start at $1 the first five weeks and go up $1 every five weeks after that.  This will mean that my final five weeks will be $66, rather than $60.  At the end of those 330 weeks, I will have a little more than $11,000.

And you know what?  If my trip to China doesn’t end up costing me $11,000, then I can use that money on another trip.  I want to return to Naples (I loved Naples — more on that later) to see the blood miracle of San Gennaro in the early 2020s as well, so that seems like it might be a good use of any extra money.

Additionally, in practice, it doesn’t always work out so perfectly, since sometimes money is a little tighter than others and I end up having to carry that week’s amount forward another week or two to tide me over.  But, in theory, I should have plenty of money to do whatever travel I want to do in China saved up in plenty of time for the trip I hope to make.

I am also doing a reverse version of this to save up for smaller trips.  I chose a dollar amount as a maximum and I am counting down in reverse from that amount, decreasing every two or three weeks, depending on my financial state that week.  This money added up quickly and if I suffer some kind of financial setback, the money is already there for me to use on a smaller weekend trip sometime in the future. The thought occurs that I should go to Mexico at some point, speaking of travel to countries where I speak the language. Mexico is, after all, right there. I went to Nuevo Laredo once in the 1990s, but have never been farther into the country than that.

As I write this, it is around 6:45 (I say “around” because my cat is sleeping in front of the clock on my computer) on July 9, 2015.  When this posts, it will be midnight, Central Daylight Time, on July 16, 2015.  If all goes as planned, my son and I will be asleep in New York City, recovering from our first full day of vacation.  We will definitely have just visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the day before and hopefully will have been to the United Nations as well. We probably will have taken the bus to Battery Park so that we could make it in time for our tour, but I may have convinced my son to walk at least some of the way back.  Let’s see how it all plays out in the end.


The theme for this issue is food. There are other articles, on the Middle East, 3-D printers, and the like, but the first three articles (well, technically, article and two pictorials) are about food, so I am going to group them together.

The Joy of Food Text and photos by various writers.

The Joy of Food is the first pictorial in the article. There are both historical and current pictures of people eating (mostly of them sharing food) from as far back as 1894 and from locations all over the world.

We open with two children in England sharing an apple in a photograph first published in National Geographic in 1916 accompanied by text by Victoria Pope. Following this are images from Afghanistan, Germany, England, and the United States (one from California and one from Washington, DC). The 1894 photograph takes up two pages. It is of picnicgoers in Maine eating watermelon. The next pages feature images from Croatia, Ghana, China, and one of a family saying grace where the location is unknown (but likely is the United States once again). We get another two-page photograph, this one likely to be a modern photo of nuns in Beirut making marzipan. The final five photographs are of 1934 birthday party, an Armenian wedding, food laid out for the dead in Belarus, a fisherman in Alaska, and a boy eating porridge in Denmark.

In addition to the Victoria Pope quote, the text is from Erma Bombeck, M.F.K. Fisher, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The Communal Table Text by Victoria Pope, Photographs by Carolyn Drake

I think that this is the first article I’ve reviewed that has both text and photographs by women.

The Communal Table is about a meal in Milpa Alta, the poorest borough of Mexico City. Milpa Alta, which is Spanish for “high cornfield,” is the site of around 700 religious festivals a year, culminating in an annual pilgrimage, which begins on January 3, to a holy site in Chalma, 59 miles from Milpa Alta.

This meal, which is held just before Christmas, is called </i>La Rejunta</i> (Spanish for the roundup), is a meal of tamales and atole, which is traditional Mexican chocolate drink. The tamales and atole of La Rejunta given to thank those who made donations to the pilgrimage, and the amounts of each are proportional to the value of the donation.

The Communal Table focuses on the people who make La Rejunta work, particularly on the 2013 majordomos of the event, Virginia Meza Torres and Fermín Lara Jiménez. Pope takes us through the steps of preparation for La Rejunta until the day of the event.

My only issue with this article is that the focus on the people leaves the places shrouded in mystery. The reference to “the ancient place of the holy cave,” and to “a life-size darkened statue of Jesus” led me to the conclusion that the pilgrims still visited the original cave. Instead, the “statue” is a crucifix and the current pilgrimage is to a baroque church that stands in front of the cave. There are references in the text to Milpa Alta being “rural,” but the images are all very crowded looking. In reality, the area is spread out enough that three major hot-air balloon festivals are held in the area every year.

By Their Fridges Ye Shall Know Them, photography by Mark Menjivar

This is a two-page spread featuring several photographs from Menjivar’s “Refrigerators” project. Menjivar takes pictures of the insides of people’s refrigerators and displays them full-sized, so that the viewer gets the feeling that he or she is really looking into someone’s refrigerators. Four images are featured in this spread, including the refrigerators of a football coach and social worker, of a midwife and science teacher, of a street advertiser, and of a bartender.

The bartender, by the way, has a container of mayonnaise from the Central Market Organics line which is local to South Texas (where I live currently). I looked up Menjivar’s CV, and he is in South Texas, as well.

Cross Currents, by Kennedy Warne, photographs by Thomas P. Peschak

Even though this isn’t an official part of the food theme of this issue, this is also an article on food — fishing in particular.

After apartheid ended in South Africa, the government set up a new policy regarding fishing, allowing a certain number of licenses to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishermen.  The subsistence fishermen group were largely indigenous Africans who fish to provide food for their families.  Subsistence fishermen had previously been shut out of getting licenses, so it was a huge step forward to allow them to have a certain percentage of the available licenses.

The are two problems  with this scheme.  The first problem was that the commercial licenses all went to large operations, leaving the smaller commercial operations (who are described in the article as “artisanal”) without licenses.  The second was that they overestimated the ability of humans to overfish.  As a result, the government ended up rescinding a bunch of licenses and set aside “marine protected areas” where the fish could, theoretically, reproduce undisturbed.

The end result of this, however, was that poaching is now skyrocketing.  Warne spends much of this article talking to the poachers and trying to balance their viewpoints with those of the people who are in favor of keeping, or even expanding, the marine protected areas.

Blessed, Cursed, Claimed:  On Foot Through the Holy Lands: (Out of Eden Walk – Part 3) by Paul Salopek, Photographs by John Stanmeyer

Blessed, Cursed, Claimed is the third installment of Salopek’s series, Out of Eden Walk, where Salopek is walking from Africa’s Rift Valley and across the Middle East, then through Asia, into North America and then down into South America.  Apparently Salopek is taking a fairly liberal interpretation of the term “walk,” since he is doing some of the trip by boat.  Salopek began the walk in 2013, and hopes to complete it in 2020.

In this installment, Salopek walks from Jordan to Jerusalem.  We see archaeological sites, refugees, Bedouins, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, in this part of the walk.

Much of this article focuses on barriers.  not only does Salopek cross a national border, he also crosses through the West Bank, where the two-state solution would have the nation of Palestine be.  We also cross the barrier between the main city of Jerusalem and the community of the Haredi, ultraorthodox Jews who have a strict separation between men and women in their society.  We also visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The actual site where Helena (mother of Constantine the Great) believed that Jesus was born is now a Greek Orthodox church.  At the height of the tensions between the Greek church and the Catholic Church of St. Catherine next door, the only way that Catholic visitors could see the church was through a peephole in the common door between the two churches.  And, finally, we see the gulf of darkness that separates a Bedouin family that was  Salopek’s host on the shores of the Dead Sea from the nearby luxury resort.

Just Press Print, by Roff Smith, photographs by Robert Clark

I think that this may be the first non-travel-centric article that I’ve written about here, aside from the prefatory material from 1888.  Though there is some geography-related content in the article, the article is mostly about the advances in technology that comes from 3-D printing.  Most of the results of 3-D printing that I have heard of has been plastic and since the results of the 2-D printing industry, in the form of junk mail, has been a big stressor for me, my reaction has usually been “Oh, goody.  Plastic three-dimensional stuff to take up even more space.”

So, this article was good for me to read, since we see some of the useful things that can be made, including a new face for a man who lost much of his face to cancer (warning: if you are squeamish about these types of things, don’t read this article, because there is a beautiful photograph of the man and his prosthetic face) and living tissue, with a view towards perhaps being able to print replacement  organs for people.

The travel hook in the article is a bit about a printed house that the firm DUS is building in Amsterdam.  They expect the house to be finished in around three years.

Wasteland, by Paul Voosen, photographs by Fritz Hoffmann

Wasteland is an article about Superfund sites in the United States.  In 1980, Congress created a program, called Superfund, that was designed to remediate lands that were damaged by toxic waste.  The Superfund program arose after toxic waste was discovered in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York.  The original plan was for the companies that caused the waste to be left there to pay some of the cost of remediation and for the government to pick up the rest of the cost, but a number of the companies were unwilling or unable to pay for their share, leaving the government to pay the entire cost.

There are more than 1,700 Superfund sites in the United States, and one statistic given says that one in six people in the United States lives within three miles of a Superfund site.  I have lived, if not within three miles, pretty close to that, of two in my life, one in the Chicago area when I was a child and one in the San Antonio area as an adult.

The article talks about the different types of remediation being done on some of the sites in the United States and also the increasing difficulty the government is having coming up with the money now that the tax that had previously paid for the government’s share, a tax on chemicals and oil, has expired.

Images of other sites profiled in this, article, aside from Love Canal, are Tar Creek in Pitcher, Oklahoma; a landfill in Monterey Park, California;  the Gowanus Canal in New York City; and the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.  There is information on even more sites in the text of the article.

Cowboys on the Edge, by Alexandra Fuller, photographs by Tomás Munita

Cowboys on the Edge is the tale of baguales of Estancia Ana María, in Patagonia in Chile.  In the early 20th century, Estancia Ana María was owned by Arturo Iglesias.  Some of his herd of cattle went feral and natural selection caused them to become wilder and stronger than regular cattle.  Now, rather than vacas, the name for this type of literally savage cattle is baguales, and the men who herd them are bagualeros.

Fuller traveled with the bagualeros as they went to round up as many baguales as they could in the period before the Iglesias family sells the land to a rancher.  The bagualeros hoped to collect as many as 50 baguales, but it was a tougher job than they expected.

I am used to running with a fairly sensitive group online, so I want to put a small content warning on this article. Several of the baguales die on the trip and there is one reference to invading Poland that is kind of tone-deaf to those who are sensitive to Nazism.

Otherwise, this is a quick read written in a pretty informal style.  I did have to wonder about Fuller’s assertion that boat or a 10-day horse ride through fairly deep water are the only ways to get to Estancia Ana María.  I wondered if there are some extreme updrafts preventing one from reaching it by helicopter or if that was an oversight.

(originally posted March 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.