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National Geographic August 2014, Part 1

I found October 2014. It was stuck in between two issues of the magazine from The Nature Conservancy. I donate a bit of money to The Nature Conservancy's Plant a Billion Trees project and so I get periodic copies of their magazine. The Nature Conservancy's magazine is about an inch wider than National Geographic, so if a National Geographic gets stuck there, I can't see it. I have to remember to move my Nature Conservancy magazines somewhere else so that I don't lose any other National Geographics.

But, since while October 2014 was lost, I got started on August 2014, that's where we will begin.

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 sellling 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 artisically, 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.
Note:  I'm trying an experiment here.  I am writing this at 11:30 a.m. on May 24, 2015 and attempting to get this to post at midnight on May 25, 2015. I am hoping that the site uses military time and so 00:00 is midnight.  Let's see how this works.

While trying to remember all of the places we stopped en route to Florida, there are places that I returned to as a teenager or adult and places I haven't been in over 30 years.  Mammoth Cave National Park is one of those places I haven't been in over 30 years.  In fact, it might even be closer to 40 since I have been there (if we ever find all of our photo albums I should be able to place dates on our visits).  As a result, I have only the vaguest recollections.

It was a cave.  That part is pretty obvious.  We went at least twice, because on our second trip, we did the same walk as on our first, and then my dad went off and did an adults-only tour without me and my mom (he told me later that he had seen some bats, which made me kind of jealous because at that point in my life, bats were something that happened to other people).

All I really can concretely remember of the cave are two parts that are now politically incorrect.  One is an area called "Fat Man's Misery."  I'm pretty sure that only really stuck with me because I remember asking my parents what it had to do with Batman.  You see, I thought it said, "Batman's Misery."  The other was "Lost John," a mummified body in a glass case.  Lost John died in the cave over 2,000 years earlier, and the combination of minerals in the cave mummified him.

You can still go on the tour that we took.  It is now called the "Historic Tour," though Lost John is no longer on display.  He has been interred in an area of the cave where they do not allow tourists.  

National Geographic, March 2015, Part 2

Luminous Life, by Olivia Judson, photographs by David Liittschwager

Luminous Life is about bioluminescence, the life-forms that make it, and the reasons they do so.  Many underwater lifeforms are bioluminescent, and since most come from areas that scientists have not been researching as exhaustively as they have been researching places like coral reefs and underwater vents, these lifeforms have likewise gone relatively unexamined.

And scientists are discovering some fascinating things about bioluminescent animals.  There are three basic reasons why an animal or plant might have evolved to glow.  One, and perhaps the most common, of these is for defense.  An animal might glow to startle a predator, or as a decoy.  Some even glow only from underneath, so that predators underneath them cannot see them against the glow of light from above.  Other lifeforms glow for offensive purposes.  Some use light to blind or lure prey, or to find it (either by shining light on the prey or by looking for the glow of bioluminescent lifeforms in the dark).  And then there are the ones that we see most often, which is bioluminescence for reproductive purposes.  Many of us have seen fireflies, example, which glow to attract genetically compatible mates.

The article also goes into the mechanics of how bioluminescence works.  It involves two chemicals, a luciferin and a luciferase.  The luciferin is the molecule that lights up and the luciferase is the molecule that activates the luciferin.  Judson does make a comment in this paragraph that is the sort of thing that bothers me.  She says that "Lucifer" is a name for Satan "before his fall" in English.  Apparently, Judson is not a theologian.  Neither am I, honestly, but I have friends who are, and here is what I know about the origin of "Lucifer."

The whole thing starts with Isaiah
14:12, "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning, how art thou cut down from the ground, which didst weaken the nations!"  However, most theologians today pretty much agree that "Lucifer" is a reference to a king of Babylon, perhaps Nebuchadnezzar II.  The equivalence between the figure of the fallen "morning star" and Satan comes thousands of years later in Dante's "Inferno," and, more than two hundred years after that, in Milton's "Paradise Lost." Most of the "Satan is an angel who rebelled against God" stuff comes from Milton and has been assumed into popular theology since then.

Two Cities, Two Europes, by Adam Nicolson, Berlin photographs by Gerd Ludwig, Athens photographs by Alex Majoli

I wasn't sure what to expect of Two Cities, Two
Europes.  The blurb says that this is an article about Berlin lending money to Greece in 2010 and 2012.  Economics is really not my thing.  I can balance a household budget and know that, on a microeconomic level, that loans are best to be avoided.  Even so-called "good debt," such as mortgages, should be kept to a minimum, because over the life of the loan, you may well end up paying more than the value of the property.  Macroeconomics, the way that nations govern their finances and interact economically, is a totally different field and I only have just the barest understanding of how countries loaning money to each other even works,

So I wasn't sure if I would even understand this article.  On the other hand, the only way to understand things you don't understand is to learn about them, so I figured it was worth the effort to try.

As it turned out, most of my fretting was for nothing.  Aside from some background on the reasons for the loan and some pretty direct criticism of the austerity measures imposed by the lenders on Greece, much of this article is a sort of "character study" comparing these two cities, Berlin,  which is trying to redefine itself after the turbulence of the 20th century, and Athens, which is trying to find its way in the 21st.

End of the Earth, story and photographs by Murray Fredericks

End of the Earth is a short essay and accompanying photographs regarding a three-year project that Fredericks undertook of taking photographs in Greenland. Fredericks took six trips to Greenland in those three years.  During that period, Fredericks lived in tent on the ice and he nearly gave up.  Fortunately, he didn't, and the photographs he took during these trips, featureless white below, and dynamic white and gray above, are truly breathtaking.

National Geographic, March 2015, Part 1

The Age of Disbelief, by Joel Achenbach, photographs by Richard Barnes

The cover of this issue of National Geographic calls The Age of Disbelief,  "The War on Science."  That's really oversimplifying this article.  In fact, there are so many ideas here that I'm having a difficult time figuring out where to start here.  Oversimplification is certainly tempting.

We start out with a quote from Dr. Strangelove, in which comedy comes from what was then seen to be self-evidently obvious -- that fluoridation was safe -- and in which the comedy comes from the then-laughable idea that it could be seen as dangerous.  Then we go to the anti-fluoridation movement, which keeps the water of Portland, Oregon, unfluoridated to this very day.

We then go on to how polarized our society has become in recent decades, with people drawing all sorts of conclusions at odds with other opinions while looking at the same research.  Part of the problem, according to Achenbach, is that some of the conclusions that form the consensus of scientists is counterintuitive.  Additionally, our brains crave predictability and patterns.  As a result,  the counterintuitive consensus  of science cause conflict with this desire for patterns and predicability.

Tribalism comes into this as well.  The argument is that we tend to side with those we feel close to and thus adopt the beliefs and attitudes of this group.  This is true of both science believers and science skeptics.  And despite some of the damage caused by the conspiracy theorist types of skeptic, such as the recent measles and whooping cough epidemics, some skepticism is good. Asking if this answer is the correct one is what keeps scientists asking new questions and refining our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Fleeing Terror, Finding Refuge (Out of Eden Walk -- Part Four), by Paul Salopek, photographs by John Stanmeyer

In Fleeing Terror, Finding Refuge, Salopek follows Syrian refugees into Turkey.  At the time of publication, there were over a million Syrian refugees fleeing civil war in their homeland, in Turkey.  We see the lives of these refugees, most of whom are women and children, in their crowded camps, scrabbling to make an existence for themselves.

This disorganized, itinerant existence is contrasted throughout the article with discussions with archaeologists of the ancient history of Turkey as they discover layers of civilizations dating back around 9,000 years.  This comparison between the transient lives of the refugees with the nearby cities that came and went, often one on top of another, makes this article fascinating reading.  
A World Apart:  The Southern Line Islands, by Kennedy Warne, photographs by Brian Skerry

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

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

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

Divided Kingdom, by Seth Mydans, photographs by James Nachtway

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

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

According to news sources, the military government had promised new elections in 2015, but articles from several months later seem to indicate that elections will not be held until 2016.  Whether elections will ever be free and fair in Thailand remains to be seen, however.
There are an odd number of articles in the issue,so I will do one today and then another two in Part 3.  I thought about doing two today and then ending with one, but it seems fitting to me that an article on Nero would stand alone.  My son and I also visited Rome in 2014, so I enjoyed this article on two levels.  One was the "history -- how interesting level."  The other was the "I've been there and had a fantastic time.  I want to go back" level.

Rethinking Nero, by Robert Draper, photographs by Richard Barnes and Alex Majoli

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

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

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

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

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

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


I'm in no way a National-Geographic-quality photographer (though I would love to learn some secrets to taking better photos), but I do enjoy taking photographs.

I've been thinking about the history of photography in my own life recently.  When I was little, my folks had a black-and-white Polaroid Swinger.  Cameras were pretty expensive back then, so the camera was my parents' property and I wasn't allowed to use it at all.

When I was maybe 11 or so (I'm sure I'll pick out the exact date as I find more of my family's old photographs), my dad got a Polaroid SX-70 camera.  For those who are unfamiliar with Polaroids of the 1970s, this was the first camera where the film auto-ejected and the picture would develop as you watched it.  When my dad got this camera, I finally got one of my own -- the old Swinger.  So I think that every black-and-white photo in the albums after this point is likely to be mine.

My mom sent me to Girl Scouts for years, despite the fact that I didn't get along with most of the girls in my troop.  In fact, the less I got along with them, the more my mom insisted that I had to go.  She seemed to think that I was getting some valuable skills on getting along with other girls from it.  I didn't agree.  We had a unit on photography once and the theory was that we were going to get a chance to develop our photographs in a real darkroom, so I had to buy black-and-white 35mm film and borrow someone's Kodak camera.  I ended up needing to take my photos in to be professionally developed.  I cannot remember if we ran out of time or if I was sick the day that we developed them.

At some point between 1980 and 1987, my mom got a Kodak (I keep wanting to type "Kodiak" for some reason) disk camera, which she allowed me to use.  On our 1988 vacation, I think I took as many pictures with it as she did.

I got married in 1991.  My (now-ex) husband and I each got a cheap 35mm camera.  We used those things for years.  I think I have three of them around here because one time one of us left ours at home and we had to buy another one.

In the late 1990s, my ex-husband started buying digital cameras.  I was allowed to use them, but they were primarily his.  At this point, I mostly used those cheap disposable cameras.  We went through three digital cameras before we split up in 2008.

Once I was on my own, I went out and bought my own digital camera (then a year later I ended up getting a job at that same Walmart).  I needed to keep it inexpensive, and ended up with a Nikon Coolpix.  I still have it and use it a few times a year.  I use my phone as a camera more often, simply because I have it with me.  During our 2014 trip to Italy, I took probably close to 2,000 pictures, around 700 of which were with my Nikon.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I want to start scanning the images from the old photo albums in, but might not be putting them in my posts, because most of them (particularly those from places I went during my marriage) aren't my pictures, and thus are not mine to post online.  My dad lives with me, and I'm pretty sure that he would be okay with me posting his pictures (i'll try to remember to ask him in the morning).  But the ones that were taken during my marriage (particularly if they were taken with my ex-husband's digital cameras) could have been taken by either one of us and so I might not have any rights to them.

National Geographic, September, 2014, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Geographic, February 2015, Part 3

Treading Water, by Laura Parker, photographs by George Steinmetz, maps and graphics by Ryan Morris, Alexander Stegmaier, and John Tomanio

That might be the longest list of contributors I've credited in a National Geographic article so far.  And this might be the longest article I've ever written on.  There is no way that I will be able to include even half of the points in this article, so here are the ones that stick out for me.

Overall, this article is about the effect of global warming on Florida.  We see, for example, a map showing which areas will be below the high tide line if the ocean were to rise five feet.  I mentioned my cousins' house in Florida in an earlier post.  If their house does not end up below the high tide line, it will be a very near thing.  It's nearly certain that the former home of one of my grandmother's friends will be beneath the high tide line.

The article opens with Parker visiting Dutch Docklands, a company based in the Netherlands that is building a village consisting of floating islands.  The theory is that this may be the solution to climate change for Florida -- simply build your home on a floating island and you and your property will be safe no matter how high the water gets. Less clear is how people will get to the homes, or travel to places other than this village, since there is no mention of floating streets in this village.  In a car-centric culture like ours, having a personal boat to take you to other places in the village will not get you a whole lot farther than that.

Dutch Docklands is contrasted with the building boom that has overtaken much of South Florida and which relies upon things remaining pretty much as they are.

But things will not remain as they are, so long as the arctic and antarctic ice fields continue to melt.  In fact, until recently, scientists didn't realize just how far the oceans will rise as a result of ice melt.  And the effects won't end with rising sea levels.  The planet will continue to experience wild variations in weather, with increasingly hot summers, increasingly violent winters, and longer periods of both drought and flooding.

Other Dutch companies have entered the region, offering other solutions to Florida's problems, including building new seawalls, but South Florida is built on a base of limestone which is filled with water.  Flooding does not just come from overflow from bodies of water on the surface; it also comes from the very ground beneath you.  One of the possible solutions to this, for places like Miami, is to raise the street level, and Miami is experimenting with this right now.

We also visit Key West, which is considered to be the very tip of the continental United States and which has a population limited by how many people can be evacuated within 24 hours in case of a hurricane.  It is likely that, while places like Miami may be able to adapt, Key West may be lost completely as a result of rising sea levels.

This is all having an effect on homeowners, as well.  In some places in Florida, people spend more on homeowner's insurance than they spend on their mortgages.  And homeowners are required by mortgage lenders to carry insurance.  Eventually homeowners will be unable to afford both, which means that the mortgage lending business will collapse.  If no one can afford to live there, no one will be spending money, and that will likely spell the end of the economy of South Florida.

I love the maps that come with this article, to the extent that one can love anything spelling out the future doom of an inhabited area. Visual learning is one of my major learning styles, and these maps go a long way to bring the plight of South Florida into sharper relief.

Drowning World, by Gideon Mendel

Drowning World is labeled "A Photographer's Journal."  Mendel is a photographer for National Geographic, and in this article he shares some of the photographs he has taken of people living in flooded conditions.  We see a woman returning home with groceries in Thailand, floods in the United Kingdom,  a Nigerian family standing outside the gate of their flooded home, a man standing in his flooded home in Thailand, and a flooded village in India.

We've Found Some of Our Old Photo Albums

I can remember a lot of the places we went when I was growing up, but cannot remember which years we went where.  So I've been digging in our garage for our old photograph albums.  I have found two boxes of them so far, and the first that I had my dad drag out has 1978 and 1979, which means that my memories did serve me correctly regarding where we went in 1980, even though I haven't found the album yet.  I also can remember 1988 and 1989, so I just have to fill in the years from 1981 to 1987 and see if I have anything on any smaller trips we might have taken in 1990 and 1991.

A lot of the photos are weird and faded-looking and I'm not sure if that's because they haven't aged well, or if my standards for a "good" photograph have changed that much in the last 35 years.  I suspect it's the latter.

That reminds me.  I also need to contact my ex-husband to see if he has any of our photos from after we switched to digital photographs in the mid-1990s.  I think I have all of the analog ones in my garage, as well. 


Olivia Ogden

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