When I hear people say that we all need to “read,” it irks me. “Read what?,” I ask myself. There are many books and magazines to choose from, and large numbers of them are not challenging on any level.
Today I picked up this month’s issue of an incredibly challenging magazine, National Geographic. It was an extraordinary issue, which is the norm. I’ve truly never been disappointed with an issue of National Geographic, perhaps because the magazine combines exquisite photography and excellent story-telling, much of it with a scientific angle, faithfully so, even when inconvenient. The cover article this month is “Twins: Alike but not Alike.” Beware, that you will not be able to read the full story online; nor will you be able to read most of each issue’s stories. To do that you’ll need to subscribe. Here’s an excerpt to an article filled with delightful and and often counter-intuitive information:
The story began with the much publicized case of two brothers, both named Jim. Born in Piqua, Ohio, in 1939, Jim Springer and Jim Lewis were put up for adoption as babies and raised by different couples, who happened to give them the same first name. When Jim Springer reconnected with his brother at age 39 in 1979, they uncovered a string of other similarities and coincidences. Both men were six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. Growing up, they’d both had dogs named Toy and taken family vacations in St. Pete Beach in Florida. As young men, they’d both married women named Linda, and then divorced them. Their second wives were both named Betty. They named their sons James Alan and James Allan. They’d both served as part-time sheriffs, enjoyed home carpentry projects, suffered severe headaches, smoked Salem cigarettes, and drank Miller Lite beer. Although they wore their hair differently—Jim Springer had bangs, while Jim Lewis combed his hair straight back—they had the same crooked smile, their voices were indistinguishable, and they both admitted to leaving love notes around the house for their wives.
When you are finished learning about twins, you might want to educate yourself about the horrors caused by landmines through the eyes of Cambodians. The article is titled: “Cambodia’s Healing Fields.”
Although weapons of war, land mines are unlike bullets and bombs in two distinct ways. First, they are designed to maim rather than kill, because an injured soldier requires the help of two or three others, reducing the enemy’s forces. Second, and most sinister, when a war ends, land mines remain in the ground, primed to explode. Only 25 percent of land mine victims around the world are soldiers. The rest are civilians—boys gathering firewood, mothers sowing rice, girls herding goats.
What are people doing about landmines? Trying to dig them up and hoping that loved ones don’t have their lives shattered by stepping on them decades after a war has ended. The United States has funded many efforts to dig up old land mines, but the U.S., which has a stockpile of some 10 million land mines, has a mixed record:
Worldwide, millions of land mines are buried in nearly 80 countries and regions—from Angola to Afghanistan, Vietnam to Zimbabwe. That’s one of every three nations. Many of them are following Cambodia’s example. In 2002 almost 12,000 people worldwide were reported killed or maimed by land mines or other explosives. Since then, annual casualties have fallen to fewer than 4,200. This dramatic improvement is a direct result of the Mine Ban Treaty signed in Ottawa, Canada, in 1997, an international agreement banning the use, production, or transfer of land mines and calling for mandatory destruction of stockpiles. Today 157 countries have become party to the treaty, including Afghanistan, Liberia, Nicaragua, and Rwanda; but 39 countries have refused to join, including China, Russia, North Korea, and the U.S.
If these excerpts have intrigued you, consider supporting the research, writing and photography of National Geographic for an entire year for only $15. For this extremely modest sum, you’ll receive and enjoy a year’s worth of issues. I’m not affiliated in any way with National Geographic. I’m merely urging you to take a look if you don’t already subscribe.
I’ve often extolled the writing and images produced by National Geographic. This recent article stands out, even among the usual excellent work of NG: “Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides.” The gallery of photos included at the website really brings the point of the article home.
This topic leaves a huge pit in my stomach. I’m having a difficult time not thinking about the little girls featured in the article, in that they are being sexually abused, and otherwise treated as property, and that’s what child marriage comes down to. And many of them are being beaten, as well. That’s about what one should expect when the relationship is so incredibly lopsided with regard to money and power.
It’s incredibly shocking and it makes me appreciate that our culture does not tolerate this type of behavior.
I’m in the process of reading an extraordinary issue of National Geographic. It’s a special issue titled “Water: Our Thirsty World.” This is not a happy topic, given the increasing desperation of increasingly thirsty human populations. Many of them haul their water long distances on their backs. But most of the victims of dwindling supplies of fresh water are not human beings.
National Geographic has offered a series of video overviews of this special issue. This is a critically important issue that is well worth your attention.
National Geographic has produced a three-minute video summarizing the extent to which Americans throw things into the trash, much of it consisting of recyclable materials, and all of it in staggering amounts.
National Geographic offers an extensive menu of extraordinary videos.
I do love National Geographic. If you don’t read it each month, you should! The January 2010 edition of National Geographic is loaded with articles that will transport you all over the world. You can learn about a sublime Scottish island, you can learn of the bionic limbs in cochlear implants, and you can learn how the clown fish is imperiled in the wake of the movie “Nemo.”
I’d like to report on two other articles today. The first one is about the island nation of Singapore, which achieved independence from the British in 1963. How did Singapore become modern-day Singapore, where the per capita income for its 3.7 million citizens is better than that of many Western countries? it’s an exceedingly clean city where 90% of households own their own home. Its unemployment rate is only 3%. All of this was the plan long ago. Lee Kuan Yew, who has been officially or unofficially in charge of the country for more than 40 years. He was educated in London, and then came back home to make English the official language of Singapore–he also had a business plan and it paid off well. He is a hardliner in many ways, including cracking down on governmental corruption “until it disappeared.” Now that sounds like a good idea. Consider, also, that anyone dropping even a cigarette butt or a candy wrapper in Singapore can be fined $200. If you are caught a second time, you will be sentenced to walk around picking up other people’s trash. Now there’s another good idea. Why do we tolerate people who dump their trash in public areas in America?
Tthe Government of Singapore works very hard to make sure that its own citizens live outstanding moral lives. There is a new casino going up in Singapore, and the casino will roll out the red rug for foreign visitors (so that Singapore will make money off of them), but the casino charges a $70 fee to people from Singapore to discourage them from gambling.
The National Geographic indicates that Singapore’s population control program is “overly successful.” Despite bonuses being offered by the government for having babies, the Singapore birth rate is at less than replacement value. It seems that they are too busy working. “Singapore’s have less intercourse than almost any other country on earth” An influx of immigrants keep the population from shrinking, allowing the plant to continue: “giddy financial growth fueling never ending construction and consumerism.”
A separate article called “restless spirits” explores the beliefs many Chinese people have with regard to an afterlife. There is a lot of good information here. I found it interesting that among the valuables (such as a bottle of alcohol or a pack of cigarettes) some Chinese people have included “paper grave money for use in the afterlife, the bills bearing a watermark that said,’The Bank of Heaven Co., Ltd..'” I also learned that many Chinese believe that their their ancestors took on bureaucratic duties. They keep the dead busy in Chinese heaven!
Back in the Shang dynasty (more than 1000 years ago), the Chinese sacrificed human victims to placate the ancestors. More than 1,200 sacrificial pits have been found, most of these containing human remains. Some of the inscriptions found in the graves indicate that the Chinese were asking their dead ancestors to make offerings of their own to even higher order powers. This article is full of interesting insights about Chinese police regarding the afterlife.
I placed the NG links for the above articles. Beware, though, that the online versions of the articles are abridged versions of the print versions.
The biggest eruption of Yellowstone (2.1 MYA) ejected enough material to bury the entire state of California under 20 feet of debris. And consider this:
The last three super-eruptions have been in Yellowstone itself. The most recent, 640,000 years ago, was a thousand times the size of the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980, which killed 57 people in Washington. But numbers do not capture the full scope of the mayhem. Scientists calculate that the pillar of ash from the Yellowstone explosion rose some 100,000 feet, leaving a layer of debris across the West all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Pyroclastic flows—dense, lethal fogs of ash, rocks, and gas, superheated to 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit—rolled across the landscape in towering gray clouds. The clouds
filled entire valleys with hundreds of feet of material so hot and heavy that it welded itself like asphalt across the once verdant landscape. And this wasn’t even Yellowstone’s most violent moment. An eruption 2.1 million years ago was more than twice as strong, leaving a hole in the ground the size of Rhode Island.
The big question for most of us is when and when this monster will once again explode. We’re not sure:
The odds of a full, caldera-forming eruption—a cataclysm that could kill untold thousands of people and plunge the Earth into a volcanic winter—are anyone’s guess; it could happen in our lifetimes, or 100,000 years or more from now, or perhaps never.