"...look into all things with a searching eye” - Baha'u'llah (Prophet Founder of the Baha'i Faith)


Dec 12, 2018

1946 Palestine: Singing, Shouting Fugitives from Concentration Camps March Through Barbed Wire with Delight

These men smuggled themselves into the hands of Palestine authorities. At 'Atlit tamp, near Haifa, they had to remain until the quota system -- 1500 immigrants, a month -- certified them. They carry the Star of David, their national flag. A few bundles represent their only possessions. Senior prisoners and Palestine police (caps) watch the parade. Men’s quarters (right) and women’s are separated; the sexes are allowed to mix during the day. 
(National Geographic, October 1946)

Nov 10, 2018

Father of scientific racism

(Skulls from the collection of Samuel Morton, the father of scientific racism, illustrate his classification of people into five races—which arose, he claimed, from separate acts of creation. From left to right: a black woman and a white man, both American; an indigenous man from Mexico; a Chinese woman; and a Malaysian man.)

In the first half of the 19th century, one of America’s most prominent scientists was a doctor named Samuel Morton. Morton lived in Philadelphia, and he collected skulls. He wasn’t choosy about his suppliers, He accepted skulls scavenged from battlefields and snatched from catacombs. One of his most famous craniums belonged to an Irishman who’d been sent as a convict to Tasmania (and ultimately hanged for killing and eating other convicts). With each skull Morton performed the same procedure: I le stuffed it with pepper seeds—later he switched to lead shot—which he then decanted to ascertain the volume of the braincase.

Morton believed that people could be divided into five races and that these represented separate acts of creation. The races had distinct characters, which corresponded to their place in a divinely determined hierarchy. Morton’s “craniometry" showed, he claimed, that whites, or "Caucasians." were the most intelligent of the races, East Asians—Morton used the term “Mongolian"— though "ingenious” and "susceptible of cultivation," were one step down. Next came Southeast Asians, followed by Native Americans. Blacks, or "Ethiopians," were at the bottom. In the decades before the Civil War. Morton’s ideas were quickly taken up by the defenders of slavery.

Oct 19, 2018

circa 1920s: Tehran, Persia - a description by a foreign diplomat

Tehran 1930s
Tehran is the town best known by Europeans, for it is the-capital of the country, a position it attained when the present royal family came to the throne, the first Shah of the line transferring the seat of the government there from Isfahan. It lies on the southern slope of the Elburz Mountains, and from the town the great white cone of Damavand can be clearly seen towering high above the rest of the range. There is little of real interest in the town. One of the Shahs surrounded it with a dry moat and a wide earthen rampart twelve miles in circumference. This is pierced by nine gateways — flimsy buildings of brick veneered with glazed tiles and ornamented by little turrets. From the outside the town shows a crowded mass of mud-walls and tree-tops with an occasional red-painted iron roof. The older part of the city is like other Oriental towns — a maze of narrow lanes hemmed in by high mud-walls. Every now and then the road is arched over, for a short distance to form a bazaar. The shops are merely recesses, in the side-walls, and the goods are stored on shelves and in pigeon-holes or heaped on the ground.

Jul 18, 2018

The "astronomical" theory: Next Ice Age?

Yes, the Big Chill is coming, but you won't need your industrial-strength thermal underwear for another 3,000 to 20,000 years. Over the past billion years, the earth has experienced three long periods during which ice built up at its poles, each period made up of several 100,000-year "ice ages," when glaciers advanced to cover much of the world. These ice ages were punctuated by 10,000-year "interglacials," warm spells marked by the melting of the vast ice sheets. We live at the end of such a temperate time-out; the last great ice age wound down about 7,000 years ago. At its peak, 20,000 years ago, glaciers encased much of North America, Europe, and Asia. Days were about eleven degrees colder than they are now, forcing humans and animals southward.

It's not hard to see how an ice age is caused by a temperature drop, creating summers cool enough that the previous winter's snow never melts. Several seasons' snows accumulate and compact to form glaciers. But what turns down the thermostat? The cold facts have been hotly debated, but the theory most widely accepted - the "astronomical" theory - states that three periodic changes in the earth's position relative to the sun seem to have launched ice ages by influencing the amount of solar radiation the earth receives.

Because of the gravitational pull of the sun and moon on the equator, the earth wobbles on its axis like a toy top slowing down. Every 22,000 years or so, it describes a circle in space. The axis also tilts, causing the seasons. When the North Pole tips away from the sun, it's winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Today, the angle of tilt is 23 ½ degrees but every 41,000 years it moves from 22 to 24 degrees and back again. Perhaps the most important cycle is a change in the shape of the earth's orbit - from nearly circular to highly elliptical and back to circular - every 100,000 years due to the gravitational tug of fellow planets. The combined effect of these three cycles is to place the earth farther away from the sun at certain times, cooling the planet into an ice age.

Jun 9, 2018

A Helping Hand

Staphylococus epidermidis is a common form of bacteria found on human skin. Invisible to the eye, bacteria are revealed when a handprint made in agar gel (above) is cultured in a laboratory. 

The surface of human skin is crowded with bacteria that would, if your immune system allowed it, cause serious infection. But researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have discovered that one bacterium in that mix, Staphylococcus epidermidis (a close cousin of methicillin-resistant S. aureus, or MRSA) may actually help fine-tune the immune system. To do its good work, S. epidermidis deploys a molecule that blocks aggressive inflammatory agents. If unchecked, those agents would ignite a rashy reaction around even a minor scrape. Good staph stays good only if locked outside by the skin's multiple defenses, though. Give that germ a way into a weakened body - like a ride on a surgical implant - and it can ignite a potentially fatal infection. 
(National Geographic, June 2011)

May 16, 2018

The Andes: Earth's longest mountain range - 5500 miles

The 5500-mile-long Andes of South America would stretch from San Francisco to London. Only the Himalaya reach higher than these snowy peaks. 
(National Geographic, Feb. 2001)

Mar 16, 2018

2007: Space Trash and Treasure

Even a tiny paint flake left floating in orbit can pit the window of a space shuttle traveling 17,500 miles an hour. To avoid catastrophic collisions, the Department of Defense tracks pieces of orbiting space junk larger than two inches. Debris orbiting relatively close to Earth, such as a glove that drifted away in 1965 from Edward White or an eyebolt shaken loose from a solar panel on a Russian spacecraft in 2004, quickly burn up in the atmosphere. Items in higher orbit remain aloft for generations: The Vanguard 1 satellite will fly for centuries. Space agencies are pondering ways to sweep such junk out of the path of collision. Meanwhile, Australian archaeologist Alice Gorman is lobbying for the creation of an international treaty that would designate certain satellites, such as the Vanguard 1, as treasures of cultural heritage. One day, she says, they may even beckon space tourists. 
(National Geographic, Jan. 2007)

Feb 10, 2018

A Tale of Three Humans

A third kind of human, called Denisovans, seems to have coexisted in Asia with Neanderthals and early modern humans. The latter two are known from abundant fossils and artifacts. Denisovans are defined so far only by the DNA from one bone chip and two teeth – but it reveals a new twist to the human story. 
(National Geographic, July 2013)

Jan 17, 2018

Zoroastrian Tower of Silence

Iran – Visitors inspect a ruined dakhma, or tower of silence, near Yazd. In the Zoroastrian tradition, dead bodies – believed to be in danger of contamination – were left on those raised, circular structures, to be purified by vultures and the elements. 
(National Geographic, July 2013)