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Germany's "Stonehenge" Reveals Evidence of Human Sacrifice

Smithsonian Magazine

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, aerial photographers identified a so-called “German Stonehenge” southwest of Berlin. Now, reports Michael Price at Science, a new study of the site at the Pömmelte enclosure suggests it shares similarities to its famed cousin in Britain, and its builders performed many of the same rituals, though they added a new twist: human sacrifice.

The henge-like enclosures at Pömmelte consist of seven concentric rings made of ditches and banks, the largest stretching about 380 feet in diameter. Between 2005 and 2008, excavations took place, revealing post holes where wooden poles would have been placed, earning the site the nickname “Woodhenge.”

In the new study published in the journal Antiquity, researchers looked at items collected from 29 shafts also found at Woodhenge during the estimated 300 years it was in consecutive use. What they found was that the site went through several periods of use by different cultures. In the oldest layers, from around 2321 to 2211 BCE, they discovered broken pots, stone axes and animal bones, all smashed to pieces, suggesting they were placed there as part of a ritual by the Bell-Beaker Culture, who lived throughout much of Europe at the time.

They also found something unexpected during: the dismembered bodies of 1o children, juveniles and women found in positions that suggested they were tossed into the shafts. Four of the women exhibited skull and rib fractures suffered before death. Study leader André Spatzier tells Laura Geggel at LiveScience that one of the skeletons, a teenager, had their hands bound before being tossed in the pit. “It remains unclear whether these individuals were ritually killed or if their death resulted from intergroup conflict, such as raiding,” the team writes in the study.

That find stands in contrast to the discovery of the graves of 13 men found in the east side of the rings, which were buried in a dignified manner with no signs of trauma. The orientation of these bodies suggest an association with death and sunrise, the team writes in the study, which could signify the culture that buried them had ideas of reincarnation or an afterlife.

The reason behind the disconnect between the burials can’t be known for certain, but the press release writes that “the gender-specific nature of the adult victims and the ritual nature of the other deposits make [ritual sacrifice] a likely scenario.”

Geggel reports that researchers had a hard time even finding the site because it was more or less decommissioned by the people who used it. “It looks like at the end of the main occupation, around [2050 BCE], they extracted the posts, put offerings into the postholes and probably burned all the wood and back-shoveled it into the ditch," Spatzier explains. “So, they closed all the features. It was still visible above ground, but only as a shovel depression.”

The ritual use of the site and its dates connect it to Stonehenge and other Neolithic circles in Britain, like the country’s own Woodhenge. It raises the possibility that building of circular henges was not limited to the British Isles, but may have spread across Europe before crossing the English Channel. “I would say it is certainly appropriate to reconsider the idea that Britain at this time was entirely a special case,” archaeologist Daniela Hofmann of the University of Hamburg tells Price.

But there are differences. Unlike the Pömmelte enclosure, there is currently no evidence that human sacrifice took place at Stonehenge, at least by its original builders, though there is one male skeleton that may show signs of ritual death. And Stonehenge was significant enough to draw people from far away to its rituals. Researchers have found that people — and food — from all over Britain and the farthest reaches of Scotland came to the site, and the remains of a man that came from the Alps, as well as trade goods from France, central Europe and even Turkey have been found at the Henge.

Government-Issued Guidelines Warn Chinese Tourists Not to Spit, Shout Or Overeat at Buffets

Smithsonian Magazine

Tourist behavior no-no’s issued by the Chinese National Tourism Administration. Photo: CNTA

As more people than leave China to visit far away places, Chinese tourists have developed a bad rap among the international community, The New York Times reports. Among the grievances, voiced from Thailand to Paris to New York, are Chinese tourists’ tendency to spit, to speak loudly indoors, and to have no concept of how to form or respect a line. Specific recent transgressions that sparked outrage both domestically and abroad include Chinese tourists inadvertently killing a dolphin and a Chinese youth carving his name into an ancient Egyptian relic.

Lately, the Washington Post writes, China has become more self-reflective about this problem:

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang has criticized the “uncivilized behavior” of his countrymen when they travel abroad, which he says has harmed the nation’s image. He blamed the “poor quality and breeding” of the Chinese tourists.

In an attempt to find concrete means to alleviate some of the common complaints about Chinese tourists abroad, the country approved its first tourism-related law in April, which came into effect on October 1, CNN reports. The law includes 112 articles, some of which address shady tour operators within China, but including others that speak to Chinese tourists abroad.

Tourist behavior is even singled out in a couple articles of the new law.

Article 14 states: “Tourists shall observe public order and respect social morality in tourism activities, respect local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, care for tourism resources, protect the ecological environment, and abide by the norms of civilized tourist behaviors.”

To make the new law more digestible, China’s National Tourism Administration issued a 64-page pamphlet on how to behave abroad, complete with cartoon-illustrated dos and don’ts. Kotaku reports a few of the suggested points of etiquette, including:

  • Don’t aggressively ask locals for pictures with you.
  • Don’t assault any animals.
  • Don’t shout in public.
  • Don’t show your bare chest in public.
  • Don’t hoard the public facilities.
  • Flush the toilet after use.
  • At a buffet, please don’t take everything in one go – they will be refilled.
  • Don’t relieve yourself in public.

NBC News elaborates on a few country-specific subtleties the pamphlet covers:

Other snippets of advice were country-specific. The guide warned Chinese visitors to Germany to only snap their fingers to beckon dogs, not humans, and that women in Spain should always wear earrings in public, or be considered effectively naked. Visitors to Japan were advised to avoid fidgeting with hair or clothes in restaurants.

For better or worse, mainland Chinese tourists are likely here to stay. Last year they became the top tourism spenders, dropping $102 billion in destinations around the world, the Times reports. The Washington Post adds that, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Chinese tourism in the States is expected to grow by 232 percent between 2010 and 2016.

More from

Chinese Beach-Goers Accidentally Kill a Dolphin with Misplaced Enthusiasm  
How Third Century China Saw Rome, a Land Ruled by “Minor Kings” 

Great Books—and the Best Places to Read Them

Smithsonian Magazine

About 10 years ago, while passing a hot afternoon on the deck of a tourist lodge in Belize, a friend on his way out to go bird-watching asked why on earth I had my nose buried in a book. “Here we are in the jungle of Belize,” he said. “There are jaguars in the woods, and crocodiles in the swamp, and grackles in the trees—and you’re reading a book?” I explained that reading while traveling—if done right—can serve as a sensory supplement to one’s surrounding environment, not necessarily a distraction, as he believed. I explained that many years from now, any mention of Dovea sailing memoir by Robin Graham—would sweep me right back to these Belizean tropical forests where I read the book, and the coral reefs off the coast, and the croc-filled lagoons, and the villages, sulking in the boggy Caribbean heat and odors of fermenting cashew apples and mangoes. And I was right. When I think of Dove, I go right back to Belize. Because reading a book charges up the mind with information and memories. These become entangled with the scents and flavors of reality, and rather than detract from an experience, a good book can enrich it. Never in the past 15 years have I left home for a week or more without a piece or two of literature, and below I list some of my favorite reads—and where best to read them.

Top Picks:

Night of the Grizzlies

Montana, Night of the Grizzlies. On August 13, 1967, two different grizzly bears in two different parts of Glacier National Park attacked and killed two unrelated young women in one of the most bizarre stories of modern wilderness tragedy. Night of the Grizzlies, by Jack Olsen, recounts the events that led to the attacks. He describes the tourist lodges and the bear-viewing balconies above the garbage dumps, where grizzlies regularly gather—growing accustomed all the while to humans. When the victims—both 19, for another coincidence—go on their respective overnight trips into the backcountry, butterflies begin fluttering in the reader’s stomach. Night falls, the campers go to sleep and their fates are sealed; the worst nightmare of the human psyche is about to become reality. The deadly maulings were the first bear attacks in Glacier National Park, and Olsen’s book acknowledges the inexplicable nature of the coincidences of that night, then delves into the uncertain future of bears, people and wilderness. NOTE: You might lose sleep in the backcountry after reading this one—but that snapping tree branch outside was probably just the wind. Probably.

Paris, Down and Out in Paris and London. Ernest Hemingway may have spent his days in Paris thoughtfully fingering his beard at sidewalk cafes and drinking the house wine, but George Orwell voluntarily dived into a life of grim poverty as he made a journalistic effort to understand the plight of Europe’s working classes. In Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell describes short-term jobs in the Parisian restaurant circuit, weeks of unemployment, living in a pay-by-the-week hotel and selling his clothes to scrape up the rent. He lives franc to franc, describing the logistics of saving coins and managing free meals and dodging the landlady. In one especially dismal spell, Orwell and a friend named Boris, living together at the time, go three days without food. Following false rumors of job openings, they drag their feet throughout the city, growing weaker every hour. Orwell even goes fishing in the Seine in the hopes of landing something to fry in a pan. When the pair finally acquires a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, they devour what must be among the most satisfying dinners ever eaten in Paris. Orwell eventually lands steady work, but not before learning how strangely liberating it is to hit rock-bottom, to own nothing in the world but the clothes you’re wearing and have no worries but finding a bite to eat. T. S. Eliot, an editor at Faber & Faber at the time, would later decline the manuscript offered by the young writer: “We did find of very great interest,” Eliot wrote, “but I regret to say that it does not appear to me possible as a publishing venture.”

Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell.

Texas, Lonesome Dove. Author Larry McMurtry creates a lovable cast of characters in the cowboy era of Texas in this Pulitzer Prize winner of 1985. The year is 1876, and Gus and Call, a pair of retired Texas Rangers, now operate a cattle ranch by the Rio Grande and spend their days tracking rustlers and warring with bands of Comanche Indians. Just as the reader grows cozy with life on the farm, the prospect of joining a cross-continental cattle drive pulls Gus and Call from their idyllic home and on an adventure to Montana. Through dangerous encounters one after another, the men convince readers they’re invincible, but a tragedy ends the party, only one of the pair returns alive to Texas, and we remember that the American frontier is as brutal as it may be alluring.

Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East, The Innocents Abroad. In 1867, Mark Twain joined a group of wealthy Americans on a cruise ship bound for the Mediterranean—-and in one of his best-selling books he boldly makes a mockery of the most cherished sites and attractions of the Old World. No museum, ruin, impoverished village or biblical site is off-limits to Twain’s criticism. He ridicules, especially, the patriotic Italian guides who lead the group to famed statues and artifacts—such as a particularly dazzling sculpture of Christopher Columbus. “Well, what did he do?” they ask the tour guide (I’m paraphrasing), who had thought the Americans would be flabbergasted. “The great Christopher Colombo!” the guide stammers, incredulous. “He discover America!” “What? We’ve just come from there and we haven’t heard anything about him.” The Italian almost faints. And another hired guide shows them an Egyptian mummy, 3,000 years old. Twain and the boys stare in silence, stifling giggles for ten minutes, before one of them finally asks, “Is he, uh, dead?” Onward, in Greece, Twain sneaks into the Acropolis at night; in Turkey, he describes the “illustrious” stray dogs of Constantinople; in the Bible country, Twain mocks almost every artifact and scrap of cloth advertised as once belonging to Jesus—and only in the presence of the Egyptian sphinx is his teasing manner at last humbled. As he stares at one of the oldest creations of humankind, he likens the sight to how it must feel to finally encounter “the awful presence of God.” 

Somewhere on the tropical ocean, Men Against the Sea. The sequel to Mutiny on the Bounty, this novella describes the voyage of the 19 men set adrift by the Bounty’s mutineers. The sailors locate themselves via celestial tracking, set themselves on a course for East Timor, and row more than 3,000 miles across the open ocean with only one man lost—killed by the hostile natives of Tofua. Hunger weakens the men nearly to starvation, but a few mahi mahi, flying fish and fruits harvested from island trees barely keep the men alive. The reader feels their hunger pains and likewise grows queasy each time they must make a landing to find water, surfing their boat over tremendous breakers onto unfriendly shores, often astir with threatening people. The men observe strange hopping animals as big as a man in the vicinity of Australia, and beneath their boat the shapes of monsters appear as fleeting shadows—probably the fearsome estuarine crocodiles so infamous in Australian swamps today. NOTE: If you’re reading aboard a boat at sea or under a palm on a tropical atoll, the aforementioned Dove can stand in ably.

Dove, by Robin Lee Graham with Derek L.T. Gill

Other Recommendations:

Central America, The Mosquito Coast. In Paul Theroux’s novel about a brilliant but wayward man who transplants his family to the upstream wilderness of Nicaragua, protagonist Allie Fox builds a self-sufficient paradise—but in the metaphor of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the protagonist loses his mind, and the dream goes up in flames.

California, My Name Is Aram. From William Saroyan, this 1940 novel hashes out the comedy and drama of life in the farm country of the San Joaquin Valley, where the Saroyan family, from Armenia and still embracing customs of the home country, have set new roots.

Baja California, Log from the Sea of Cortez. John Steinbeck’s travelogue from the scientific collecting voyage he joined in 1940, aboard the Western Flyer, describes the rich Sea of Cortez and the shoreline of the Baja Peninsula. In 2004, several Stanford marine biologists re-enacted the voyage on a vessel almost identical to the original. En route, the scientists compared Steinbeck’s descriptions of a bountiful sea with the dwindling fish and invertebrate populations of the present.

Southeast Asia, Catfish and Mandala. In this travel memoir, Andrew Pham tells of his pilgrimage by bicycle from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area to the land of his roots, Vietnam. Here, Pham seeks out old friends and familiar places, but haven’t we all been warned never to go home again? Indeed, much of the world that Pham hopes to see again has vanished or transformed.

Finally, the brand-new guidebook Oregon Cycling Sojourner, by Ellee Thalheimer, provides local insight and tips helpful for anyone considering riding a bicycle through Oregon—and camping, dining out, drinking beer and even doing yoga along the way. The glossy paperback details eight routes through all regions of the state, covering 1,826 miles of highway, 12 breweries and 14 mountain passes. Those not wishing to have a tour route described down to the turns in the very road might read the book for pointers, take a few notes, then leave it behind and wend their own way.

Have any more book suggestions? Add any ideas to the comment box below, as this list continues next week.

Green Your Kitchen

Smithsonian Magazine

You may not know it, but your kitchen is one of the biggest resource hogs in your house. You use electricity and natural gas for your appliances. You use water in your sink and dish washer. Your fridge is stocked with foods grown and transported from all over the world that require chemicals, water and fuel to be produced and transported. And then there's the non-recyclable packaging that goes straight to a landfill.

Here is a list of things you can do in your kitchen to lower your environmental impact, and also to live in a healthier home. We have recommendations for appliances, products and new behaviors.

Any chance you are planning a kitchen remodel? We also have great recommendations for you– wonderful new materials for countertops,cabinets and floors, leads on top-rated green architects and interior designers, and more. Just scroll down if you're focused on a remodel.

Get Green in the Kitchen

1. Use energy-saving appliances. You can greatly reduce your power and water usage and your greenhouse gas production by using Energy Star appliances. Energy Star appliances can save as much as 50% of your energy and water use, and can cut your carbon footprint by 1000+ pounds, compared to standard appliances.

2. Use compact fluorescent lighting. Compact fluorescent lights use 1/4 the energy and last up to 10 times as long as standard bulbs. And they come in versions that are dimmable, recessed-ready, and daylight spectrum–any version of light type you can think of. Each high-use bulb you replace will save up to $10 and 100 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and they last for many years.

3. Recycle and Re-use. Can you rinse that ziplock and use it again? Can you reuse the containers you got from take-out? And don't get plastic bags every time you go to the store for groceries– take durable reusable sacks with you.

4. Eat Organic, Eat Local. Not only is eating organic healthy for you and your family, but it keeps chemicals from running off into our oceans and rivers from non-organic farms. Eating food sourced locally–like from farmers' markets– means tons of carbon dioxide are not released into the atmosphere in the process of transporting food to you. To learn more about eating organic,see our selection of great books on organic food and cooking. Also, you can find a farmer's market near you to get delicious, organic, locally-grown foods.

5. Get green cleaners. Each time you spray a standard cleaner on your counter you breathe in a fine mist of harmful chemicals. Use non-toxic, organic dish soap, detergent and cleaners to protect yourself and your family.

6. Compost. Don't throw out those coffee grounds and banana peels– save landfill space and make your own rich potting soil using a composter. It's easy! And there's even a model that works right in your kitchen.

7. Only run your dishwasher when you have a full load. It takes the same amount of energy to run a full or a half load– so wait another day and fill up that machine. Also, remember that washing dishes or pots by hand takes more water than doing them in the washer– so go ahead and put them in the machine.

Remodel Your Kitchen the Great Green Way– it's healthy, sustainable and gorgeous!

If you remodel a kitchen the "normal way" you'd likely use some combination of new woods for cabinets, marble or tile for countertops, and perhaps some new tile or wood flooring. These standard materials consume resources and contain many toxic chemicals. Fortunately there is a very different way to design and build your new dream kitchen– a way that is sustainable, healthy and jaw-dropping gorgeous. We'll show you how.

First you should find an architect or an interior designer who is skilled in working with sustainable materials and knows how to build in an eco-friendly manner. Use our nationwide listing of green architects and interior designers to find a great one near you.

Now let's focus on materials you should consider. Let's talk about countertops.

Terrazzo is so beautiful you will not believe it is sustainable. Terrazzo consists of recycled glass and crushed stone held together by cement or epoxy. It is buffed to give it a smooth finish. Terrazzo is low maintenance, long-lasting, and has high recycled content. Recycled materials can make up as much as 95 percent of the materials in terrazzo. Terrazzo from EnviroGlas and Icestone are particularly good for their high recycled content.

"Paper Stone" is another great countertop option. Comprised of paper and other fiber suspended in resin, these materials look surprisingly like stone and come in a variety of exciting colors. The material is heat resistant and very durable. It is also easy to maintain with a nonabrasive cleaner and a cloth. PaperStone and Richlite are two of the more well-known brands. Richlite uses pulp from sustainably managed forests, and PaperStone incorporates up to 100 percent recycled paper pulp.

On to kitchen cabinets.

Everyone automatically thinks "new cabinets" when they start to plan a kitchen remodel. But cabinets are often made from wood harvested unsustainably and saturated with chemicals used in sealing, gluing, and painting. Many of the chemicals used can be cancer-causing and can offgas into your home for years. Fortunately there are some great, safe alternatives.

First, save whatever parts of your existing cabinets that are still servicable. Are the shelves okay but the fronts have to go? Already, you've saved a lot of wood and money. For the new cabinet elements, you can use reclaimed wood, or formaldehyde-free pressed fiberboard. Or you can even get cabinets made from compressed plant material (such as wheatboard).

For the best in wood cabinets, you want to find ones that use either reclaimed wood or FSC-certified wood (FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council–– and they assure that wood is grown and harvested in a sustainable manner). For reclaimed wood, you can turn to several companies that make cabinets using salvaged wood. CitiLogs uses reclaimed wood and custom milling to produce beautiful products. A company that will sell you reclaimed cabinet-grade wood is Elmwood Reclaimed Lumber.

You can also go the "new but sustainable route" with cabinets. AlterECO manufactures cabinets out of bamboo (a fast-growing grass) and wheat board. Check out AlterECO's cabinet selection here. Another great supplier is Breathe Easy. Breathe Easy cabinets are made using bamboo, FSC Certified plywood and/or wheatboard (all formaldehyde free). Both companies offer low- or no-VOC finishes. Also check out Kirei board, which makes panels out of the pressed stalks of harvested Chinese sorghum. Visit

You also have some great flooring options.

Marmoleum is not your grandma's linoleum. It is made of linseed oil, rosins, and wood flour, affixed to a natural jute backing. It is durable, comfortable to walk on and comes in a mind-blowing array of colors and patterns. To learn more about Marmoleum and find a dealer near you, please click here.

Another great sustainable flooring option is bamboo. Bamboo is a fast-growing grass and is very renewable, durable and attractive. We recommend Teragren bamboo flooring, a company whose mission is to help reduce our dependence on dwindling timber resources by manufacturing flooring, stairs, and panels from bamboo sustainably harvested in the Zhejiang Province of China. Click here to find a Teragren supplier near you.

Also have a look at these amazing tiles made out of recycled rubber– they come in blue, gray, shades of orange, and many other colors. They are both durable and springy, which means they're easy on your knees. Visit to see samples.

Lighting is also critical

Why not use some skylights or solar tubes? Natural light is best for your health and for the environment. If you do need electric lights, there are many great recessed, track and decorative light fixtures that work great with compact fluorescent bulbs. You'll save a lot of power and money going this route.

Last but not least, don't forget about appliances. We've already mentioned them in the section above, but don't forget that appliances will consumer energy for as long as they are in your kitchen, so make the right choices from the start and buy Energy Star appliances.

Thanks for learning how to green your kitchen. Please make sure to check out our new Green Products Ratings & Reviews on main site at where we're adding new and exciting features every day!

Hans Asperger ‘Actively Assisted’ Nazi Eugenics Policies, Study Claims

Smithsonian Magazine

It has been said that Johann "Hans" Asperger, the pioneering Austrian physician who first described the profile of distinct psychological characteristics that later became known as Asperger syndrome in a workship in 1938, resisted the Nazi’s brutal “euthanasia” program by refusing to hand his patients over to officials. But as Kate Connolly reports for the Guardian, an expansive study published in the journal Molecular Autism has found that Asperger played an active—if complex—role in the regime, even sending his patients to near-certain death at a notorious euthanasia clinic.

The new study joins previous research into Asperger's connection with the Nazis, including work led by Fred Volkmar of the Yale Child Study Center and John Donvan and Caren Zucker, authors of In a Different Key. This latest effort is the product of eight years of research by historian Herwig Czech of the Medical University of Vienna, who pored through Asperger’s personnel files, assessments by Nazi authorities and medical case records, among other documentary evidence.

Nazi Germany’s “euthanasia program,” which began approximately two years before the genocide of European Jews, targeted people with psychiatric, neurological or physical disabilities who were said to be a genetic and financial drain on the German state, and therefore “unworthy of life,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It has been estimated that 200,000 adults and children were murdered in the name of this policy.

The goal of Czech’s research was to re-evaluate a narrative that emerged in the years after WWII, which trumpeted Asperger as an opponent of the euthanasia program. The strongest claim supporting this view, the paper states, alleges that the Gestapo twice tried to arrest Asperger because he did not report patients with certain “deficiencies.” But, Czech notes, the “only known source for this claim is Asperger himself, who mentioned the incident in 1962 at his inauguration as the Vienna chair of pediatrics” and during a 1974 interview.

In fact, Czech found evidence that Asperger referred children to the notorious Am Spiegelgrund clinic, a euthanasia facility where 772 children are said to have been killed. One of these patients was a toddler named Herta Schreiber, who began to exhibit signs of disturbed mental and physical development after contracting encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain commonly caused by a viral infection.

“At home the child must be an unbearable burden to the mother, who has to care for five healthy children,” Asperger wrote in his diagnostic report, according to the study. “Permanent placement at Spiegelgrund seems absolutely necessary.”

Schreiber was sent to Spiegelgrund, where she died three months later of pneumonia, the most common cause of death at the clinic, which routinely induced the illness in its patients by administering barbiturates over a long period of time.

Did Asperger know what was going on at this clandestine killing facility? “While the euthanasia killings at Spiegelgrund (as elsewhere) were officially a secret, and parents were routinely deceived about the true nature of the institution and the fate awaiting their children, rumors nevertheless abounded, and Asperger was in an exceptional position to know the truth,” Czech writes.

The historian also puts forth damning evidence to suggest that Asperger expressed measured support for Nazi plans to forcibly sterilize people considered “abnormal.”

“In the new Germany, we physicians have assumed an abundance of new responsibilities in addition to our old ones,” the physician wrote in a 1939 publication, according to Czech. “I do not need to elaborate on the enormous dedicated work being performed in terms of positive, supporting measures. But we all know that we also have to carry out restrictive measures … We must ensure that the diseased who would transmit their diseases to remote generations, to the detriment of the individual and of the Volk, are stopped from transmitting their diseased hereditary material.”

While Czech writes there is "scant direct evidence" whether Asperger shared the Nazis’ anti-Semitic views, the historian argues that Asperger willingly benefited from the anti-Semitic atmosphere permeating Austria. He joined the Vienna University Children’s Clinic in 1931, under the leadership of Franz Hamburger, one of the country's most prominent Nazis. Much of the Jewish staff was dismissed, and Asperger took charge at the ward, though at the time he had not obtained his specialist doctor qualification in pediatrics.

Czech also points to what he deems Asperger’s “lack of empathy” for the plight of Jewish patients under Nazi rule, along with his tendency to express racial stereotypes. In one report, the physician characterized 9-year-old Marie Klein’s manner being “in contrast to her quite Jewish character." In the 1940 report of an 11-year-old boy, he wrote that the child’s “only problem is that [he] is a Mischling of the first degree”—using a term to refer to people with one Jewish parent. At the time, Czech maintains, including this information in a medical file would have been “extremely dangerous” for the boy.

The new study is accompanied by an editorial by the journal’s editors-in-chief and two reviewers. “We are aware that the article and its publication will be controversial,” Simon Baron-Cohen, co-editor-in-chief of Molecular Autism and a leading autism researcher at the University of Cambridge. “We believe that it deserves to be published in order to expose the truth about how a medical doctor who, for a long time, was seen as only having made valuable contributions to the field of pediatrics and child psychiatry, was guilty of actively assisting the Nazis in their abhorrent eugenics and euthanasia policies. This historical evidence must now be made available."

Hawaii’s Last Outlaw Hippies

Smithsonian Magazine

The Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose.
—J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

The first person I meet in the Kalalau Valley is a shoeless veteran from the Iraq War with a sun-faded REI backpack slung over his tattooed shoulders like a trophy. Barca, as he calls himself, heard that a kayaker had abandoned the pack in a beach cave and made a beeline out to the bluffs to claim it.

Visitors are always just throwing stuff away in this place. Over here, a folding chair with a broken arm rest. Over there, a half-empty fuel canister. Now, the backpack—that’s a rare find. “Do you know how much these are worth?” Barca asks me.

In, like, dollars? Ten, tops.

“A lot!” he says without waiting for my answer.

Barca, who is 34, subsists as a scavenger deep inside the Nāpali Coast State Park on Kaua‘i’s west coast. The centerpiece of this 2,500-hectare park—the Kalalau Valley—forms a natural amphitheater that opens to the ocean and the ocean alone. The valley’s steep, green walls rise up on three sides like curtains, sealing it off from the island’s interior. Glassy threads of water are tucked into every crease of these walls, cascading down from a height greater than Yosemite Falls. First farmed by Polynesian settlers centuries ago, this remote paradise is nothing short of a feral garden, a breadbasket bursting with nearly everything a crafty human specimen needs to survive. “This is the closest that mankind has come to making Eden,” Barca says. “When the avos are in season, we eat avos. When the mangoes are in season, we eat mangoes.”

Barca is one of the squatters who lives in the Kalalau Valley, in the Nāpali Coast State Park on Kaua‘i’s west coast. (Brendan Borrell)

If you’re wondering whether he’s allowed to be living off the land here, the answer is no. Barca is a squatter in the eyes of the Hawaiian state government; he’s an eco-villain, a rule-breaker who needs to be eradicated. Barca, naturally, calls this slander. “If you don’t love this place with all of your heart, you couldn’t live here,” he says. Though he has only been a resident for eight months, which by valley standards makes him a relative newcomer, he’s already well on his way to becoming an expert in what he calls “Kalalau-ology.” He’s not only a trash recycler, he’s also a defender of the land, a gardener, a botanist, a cultural interpreter, and an anarchist-theorist. His tendency to grin and stroke his goatee when he’s talking gives him a puckish air, which underscores his antiestablishment streak. Spotting a group of tourists clambering across a stream in their pristine Gore-Tex boots, he is contemptuous. “Most of the people who come out here don’t know how to live in the woods,” he says. “They don’t even bury their shit!”

His rapid-fire diatribe is a lot to take in during my first five minutes in the valley, particularly since I’d woken up before dawn to hike the 18-kilometer trail to get here. At the moment, what I want more than a feast of mangoes or a discourse on backcountry sanitation is a place to drop my own pack, which I paid US $200 for and filled with a week’s worth of freeze-dried provisions (the horror). But where to sleep? Camping permits are hard to come by in Eden, and I hadn’t been able to get one before my last-minute trip, so, like it or not, I, too, would have to be an outlaw. I ask Barca if he knows any low-key spots to pitch my tent.

“Follow me,” he says, wrapping a kaffiyeh around his head to shield it from the sun. He needs to pick up an old cooking grate from another campsite and knows of the perfect hideaway for me. The next thing I know, he is off, bounding from rock to rock in his bare feet. To my right, I look down and dizzily watch the waves crashing over rounded stones more than 30 meters below. Next, we hug a boulder and Barca points toward a tunnel in the vegetation that leads to a campsite invisible to the rangers hunting squatters from helicopters.

After dropping off my things, Barca and I head down to the white sand beach and he unspools his life story. After a tour of duty in Iraq a decade ago, he struggled to make sense of the fact that he had killed people and had been nearly killed himself. “I had my issues when I got out,” he says.

Kalalau Valley (iStock / MartinM303)

He worked as an archaeologist in Northern California but realized that he was ill-suited to modern society. He felt as if his brain, rattled from his war years, needed a respite. He was repelled by the idea of walling himself off from his neighbors in a house in the suburbs or paying taxes in support of a system he no longer believed in. Even the idea of ordering a coffee each morning—from that multinational corporation with a mermaid logo—was too much. “It was hard to come back to the real world and take the minutiae of the day seriously,” he says. He’d get angry. He’d get drunk and fight. A friend told him about this dreamlike valley in Hawaii where you could live in the eternal present. Kalalau. He came. He stayed. “I don’t know if any place has felt this much like home to me,” he says, shortly before dropping his camouflage cargo shorts and diving into the surf.

Barca is not the only one who has felt such a bond with this place. Since at least the 1960s, the Kalalau Valley has been a magnet for long-haired hippies, crystal-stroking New Agers, deodorant-free backpackers, and others seeking a spiritual awakening—or at least a good place to skinny dip. During the Vietnam War, a group of draft dodgers and disillusioned veterans living in tree houses at the end of the paved road on the north coast realized that it would be the perfect place to grow marijuana in the summers.

It was the peak of counterculture activity, but as the years wore on idealism smacked into the messiness of society. This haven transformed from an idyllic retreat to a millennial party zone and an occasional pirate’s lair, and right now tolerance is wearing thin. After a local woman was killed when her car was hit by a fugitive named Cody Safadago who had spent some time in Kalalau last spring, the state launched a crackdown to clean out the squatters. They ticketed a total of 34 people last year and took at least one man out in handcuffs. Barca escaped unscathed. “I fucking live here and I know which way to run,” he says. “It’s my house and you’re not going to get somewhere in my house faster than I am.”

Sympathy for the squatters’ plight was scarce around Kaua‘i, however. Photos from the raids showed town folk just how elaborate the valley camps had become. One camp was outfitted with an earthen pizza oven and a queen-sized bed on a bamboo frame and contained what the state referred to, somewhat hyperbolically, as a “marijuana growing operation” complete with solar- and battery-powered lights. The valley also featured a secret movie theater and a library—a musty old tent filled with vintage treasures like The Joy of Partner Yoga and a book of Cat Stevens songs. All told, the state hauled out 2.5 tonnes of trash. “There’s a sense of entitlement,” Curt Cottrell, head of Hawaii’s state parks, told me. “People were crapping on archaeological sites and digging in the beach sand like cats.”

The squatters have made themselves comfortable in the valley, building beds, furniture, and a pizza oven. (Brendan Borrell)

The uproar brought to the fore deep questions about race, sovereignty, and the future of the natural world in commodified, modern Hawaii. How can society benefit the most from a place like Kalalau with its complicated history? Do we give it over to the well-heeled tourists who book hiking permits six months in advance or pay $200 a person for 60-minute helicopter tours? Or does it still belong to the native Hawaiians who rarely visit, but whose ancestors were the first to shape the landscape? And what do you do about the haole (white) outlaws like Barca who, in their ragamuffin way, carry on the countercultural project of the 1960s and maintain some kind of order in a place with only an occasional government presence.

The one thing that is undeniable is that the valley is one of the most desirable places in the world for people who have practically nothing to take a break from the rules and rituals of modern life and eke out a simpler existence. Barca calls it a “Disney forest,” a tropical refuge devoid of venomous snakes or man-eating tigers, where almost everyone speaks English and looks pretty much like everyone else. Living here is like popping a Prozac each morning but without all the bad juju. A fruit smoothie for your soul—or something like that. All I know is I want to experience it before it’s gone.

There’s no easy way into Kalalau. The ring road that wraps around Kaua‘i has a 30-kilometer gap that is the Nāpali coast. For most of the year, the ocean is too rough to bring in a kayak. Motorized boats are forbidden, and the state has cracked down on locals offering an illegal water taxi service. Your best bet is to lug in supplies on the Kalalau Trail, which crosses five steep valleys and has been called “the most incredible hike in America.”

The cliff-side path also happens to be one of the world’s most dangerous. One wrong step at Crawler’s Ledge could send you careening into the sea. The many stream crossings are prone to flash flooding. At the three-kilometer mark on Hanakāpīʻai Beach, a white cross stands in honor of Janet Ballesteros, a 53-year-old woman who drowned there in 2016—the 83rd victim of its treacherous waters, according to a somewhat dubious tally on a sign there. Along with nature, you also have to contend with the people. In 2013, for instance, an Oregon man on a bad acid trip shoved his Japanese lover off a cliff.

Before my trip in July, it was hard to find information on how effective the raids really were and how risky it would be for me to head there. Mango, a former resident who had fled for greener pastures in Oregon, told me he was still getting text messages from a satellite communicator that the valley residents had at their disposal. I was surprised to learn that some of the most die-hard Kalalau outlaws were actually supportive of the rangers. “They are the predators culling the herd,” another regular visitor told me. “They are keeping the people in there strong and vigilant.”

My best bet for sneaking in undetected is to leave before sunrise one Saturday morning. As the first light breaks through the forest canopy, I pad my way down the trail and try to envision what this place was like before the squatters or anyone else set foot here. For one, I would have found little relief from the sun’s rays. The six-meter-high guava trees that now make up most of the forest were only introduced in 1825, and they quickly outgrew the native Hawaiian flora that featured a more open canopy.

In the late 1700s, when George Dixon, a British fur trader who once served under Captain James Cook, sailed along this coast, he concluded that it was barren of civilization. “The shore down to the water’s edge is, in general, mountainous, and difficult to access,” he wrote. “I could not see any level ground, or the least sign of this part of the island being inhabited.”

Dixon was, of course, mistaken. Thatched huts blend in well with the vegetation. In Kalalau, which offers about 80 hectares of agricultural terrain, the population likely numbered in the hundreds, according to subsequent missionary censuses. The oldest known human settlement on Kaua‘i, which dates to the 10th century, was situated at Kēʻē Beach—the starting point of the Kalalau Trail.

While the Nāpali coast is often described as a “wilderness,” the truth is it’s more like an abandoned supermarket surrounded by some epic scenery. The place is crisscrossed by stone walls, remnants of the terraced gardens, or lo‘i, Hawaiians constructed hundreds of years ago to cultivate taro, the principal “canoe plant” that Polynesians moved across the Pacific. These settlers gradually replaced the native forest shrub lands with kukui nuts and ginger, along with pili for their thatch roofs.

Kalalau Valley (iStock / MartinM303)

Later residents and white ranchers brought in livestock, including goats, pigs, and cattle, and planted the guava and Java plum trees that form most of the forest. “As in many lowland areas in Hawaii, introduced plants now form entire communities, dominating major portions of the park,” reads a 1990 report from Hawaii’s Division of State Parks. The Kalalau Valley, the largest valley in the park, is one of the few places on Kaua‘i where you won’t hear roosters crowing each morning. Instead, the forests are filled with another immigrant, Erckel’s francolin—a ground bird from Africa.

As the valley’s hodgepodge ecosystem took shape, it also began to develop its outlaw reputation. In 1893, after a group of American businessmen overthrew the queen of what was then the Kingdom of Hawaii, they decided to round up native Hawaiians under the auspices of a leprosy quarantine.

Sheriff Louis Stolz and two policemen headed out to Kalalau to remove one rogue band of lepers. There, a cowboy named Kaluaikoolau, or Ko’olau, shot the sheriff twice with a rifle, killing him, and became a hero of the native resistance. A bungled manhunt ended with more casualties and Ko’olau remained in the valley, unpunished, until his natural death two years later. “Free he had lived, and free he was dying,” the author Jack London eulogized in a short story about Ko’olau’s life.

Kameaoloha Hanohano-Smith, whose great-grandfather was part of the last generation to grow up in Kalalau, says it took a while for the Hawaiian people to understand what was happening to their culture. “One day we were a kingdom, and the next thing we knew we were part of the US,” he says.

In December 1959, Ebony magazine profiled the only permanent resident in Kalalau: a black physician named Bernard Wheatley (“a crank, a holy man, a schizophrenic and a genius”) who spent a decade living in a cave there until hippies started crowding him out. “Longhairs seek a place in the sun on Kaua‘i,” reads one headline from the time. The Hawaiian state government bought the property in 1974, and tried to evict the squatters before establishing the park in 1979, but they came back. They always come back.

“We were free-minded people looking for a better place to live without the restrictions of society,” says Billy Guy, who first visited Kalalau after serving as an army medic during the Vietnam War and has returned for long stretches over the decades. “I’m fulfilling a dream.” By the mid-1990s, there were as many as 50 or 60 haole frolicking in a paradise that the kanakanative Hawaiianshad created.

Freedom means different things to different people. While the hippies and latter-day outlaws may chafe under the norms of mainstream society, they still have to create their own rules for living together peacefully. The most that even the most hopeful can hope for is not a society without rules, but a tolerant one. And a tolerant place is bound to attract its share of misfits.

From the beginning, something seemed a little off about Cody Safadago. He had washed up in Kalalau last April with almost no possessions and had taken over a communal camp down by the beach. He was a rough-looking fellow in his early 40s with a buzz cut and two fleshy lips that hung on his face in a permanent scowl. Safadago had spent time in prison for beating his wife back in Washington State and, in 2014, was arrested in Belize after absconding from his parole officer and fleeing the country. He had been bumming around Kaua‘i since January at least, and had been arrested for disorderly conduct and assaulting an officer.

Billy Guy first visited the valley after his service in the Vietnam War. (Photo by Brendan Borrell)

The people of Kalalau were wary of Safadago. He insisted, incessantly in almost every conversation he had, that he was God and everyone should bow down before him. “I talked to him for literally two hours,” says 30-year-old Carlton Forrest from Phoenix. “He was crazy, iced out beyond belief.” In the valley, it’s not easy to get help in the event of an emergency. The ranger station is usually empty, and cellphones don’t work here. The “family,” as the squatters sometimes call themselves, knew they needed to boot Safadago before something terrible happened.

A rangy outlaw in his 30s, who asked me to call him Sticky Jesus, began dismantling Safadago’s camp one morning. Befitting at least one part of his name, Sticky has long brown hair and a prophet’s beard. “You need to leave,” he ordered Safadago, who was sprawled out in a lawn chair.

Safadago opened his mouth to protest, making wild accusations about other residents. Sticky spun around and kicked him in the chest, knocking him out of the chair, according to an account described by Sticky and confirmed by other valley residents. “Can I just get my things?” Sticky remembers Safadago begging.

Sticky tossed a few of Safadago’s possessions his way and then pulled a flaming stick from the cooking fire and hit him with it as he retreated from camp. Safadago kept a low profile for a few days until he was ordered onto the back of a jet ski making an illegal drop-off and banished from the valley.

He wasn’t their problem anymore. At least that’s what they thought.

Safadago landed in the town of Kapa‘a, on the developed east side of Kaua‘i, where he got drunk and stole a Nissan pickup. He was driving over 140 kilometers per hour—three times the speed limit—when he crossed the centerline of the highway and struck a Mazda sedan head on. The young woman in the car, Kayla Huddy-Lemn, was pronounced dead at the hospital. Safadago stumbled out of the pickup—face covered in blood—and wandered up to a shopping mall, where he was arrested.

When a person dies like that, the whole island hears about it. About 50 kilometers in diameter, Kaua‘i is about the size of London and has a population of just over 72,000. As the news came out that Safadago had spent time in Kalalau, locals discovered a Facebook group called “Kalalau!” that appeared to show squatters moving stones from an ancient Hawaiian temple, known as a heiau, to divert water for farming projects. A hillbilly hippie named Ryan North (alias: Krazy Red), who spends a few weeks there every year, posted trippy videos of himself saluting the camera while bare-chested white women danced in hula skirts.

Squatters have built furniture and created homes for themselves in the valley. (Brendan Borrell)

“Bitches, this has nothing to do with race. It just so happens all of you fucked up, selfish Kalalau hippies are white,” one angry Hawaiian vented in a social media post.

Some observers complained that the squatters were collecting food stamps, known as electronic benefit transfers, to support their hedonistic lifestyle (true). Others argued that the place had become a breeding ground for sketchballs (sorta true). “You just don’t know who could be hiding out in Kalalau,” a woman named Kristi Sasachika told a local reporter. The vitriol was so worrisome that the Garden Island newspaper published an editorial warning locals against a “vigilante mindset.”

Long-term residents say that it’s not fair to lump them in with the careless partiers who often get dropped off by boat with a case of beer and a pile of Walmart camping gear they’ll probably leave behind. As in any society, there are good actors and bad ones. Kamealoha Hanohano-Smith, one of the locals with a genuine tie to the land, also takes a more measured tack. “I have a lot of aloha for people whether they are haole or whatever,” he told me over the phone. “I understand why they want to be there. They would love to believe they are appropriate stewards of the area, but the better thing would be for them to work with Hawaiian families.”


On my second morning in Kalalau, I decide to go looking for the community garden. Starting at the beach, there’s an official trail that heads about three kilometers up the valley before hitting the steep back wall. It’s possible to walk up and down that trail a few times before you notice an unmarked spur off to one side.

Follow it for a hundred meters and the forest canopy opens up and you can hear a trickling at your feet. A dozen rectangular ponds glisten in the sun, meter-high taro plants sprouting from their waters. Paths leading around the ponds are lined with papaya, banana, jackfruit, soursop, and chestnut trees—all free for the taking. Squatters were once expected to do some work if they wanted to gather some fruit. But things are different now. “There aren’t any rules anymore,” says a resident named Mowgli, who offers to give me the tour.

Slender and muscular with his long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, Mowgli helped restore these flooded terraces, and is one of the hardest workers in Kalalau. His former camp, which sits on a plateau nearby, gives off a Lord of the Flies vibedecorated with dozens of skulls from the goats and pigs he has slaughtered. The raids broke him. “It’s hard to focus on something when they want to take it apart,” he says. “This is one of the big tourist attractions in the valley,” he says of the garden.

Women rarely stay long in the valley, and their absence leads to a society heavy on testosterone. At the time of his visit, the author met 10 long-term residents, eight of them men. (Brendan Borrell)

“People want to come and see us and have Kalalau pizza,” says Mowgli’s female companion, whose only article of clothing is a baseball cap. She calls herself Joules. “Like the energy unit,” she explains.

I had given myself five days to explore the valley and immerse myself in the hippie-sphere. With a few notable exceptions, I learn that women like Joules rarely stay more than a few weeks in the valley, and, for whatever reason, they had become particularly scarce in the aftermath of the raids. At least during the time I was there, the testosterone surplus made the place feel less like a utopian kibbutz and more like a secret tree fort in your buddy’s backyard where girls are little understood or respected. Except these guys are adults. One offensive song I heard performed one evening referred to the “drainbow bitches” who “don’t do the dishes” after stopping in for a free meal. The men, nevertheless, longed for female company. “A woman who does stay has 10 guys trying to find her every day,” a 68-year-old bachelor named Stevie told me, drawing from his 35 years’ experience in the valley.

One evening, I sit with six other guys under the enormous mango trees at a camp maintained by a guy named Quentin. A bearded, genial host with a self-effacing manner, Quentin landed in Kalalau after his dream of making marijuana chocolates fizzled. “It was overwhelming,” he says of his failed attempt at capitalism. He tried to live out here with his girlfriend, but she couldn’t deal with the mosquitoes. “I started building things to make it more comfortable for her, like the cabinet by my bed,” he says, gesturing toward a bamboo console. “But really, she just didn’t like me.” She ended up hooking up with another guy in the valley—Sticky Jesus—when they were both back in town. “I really wanted to punch him in the face, and I even flicked him off once,” he says.

A handmade cabinet is a little luxury for squatters in the valley. (Brendan Borrell)

There was one tense evening when I thought a physical fight really might break out between two of the guys. I watched the only woman present slip away and head back to her tent. When I asked her about it later, she said it wasn’t the kind of experience she was looking for in Kalalau. The boys, she said, were lost in “never-never land.”

It’s remarkable that even in a place like Kalalau, people still get wrapped up in the same petty dramas they face living within four walls and with roofs over their heads. Paradise is never lost because it can never be found. People are jealous. They’re selfish. Thoughtless. Humans create societies for a reason. They create rules for a reason. A limited kind of social contract may exist in a place like Kalalau when few people are visiting and living there, but it easily frays in times of stress.

And as much as Kalalau—or the idea of Kalalau—means to the squatters, they are far from the only people who have a stake in its future.

Sabra Kauka, an educator in Hawaiian culture and past president of the Nā Pali Coast ‘Ohana, a nonprofit that works with the state to protect the valley’s natural and cultural heritage, says people like Quentin and Barca and Mowgli should not be living in Kalalau. It’s against the law and it’s an insult to the Hawaiian people. In the late 1980s, Kauka took part in early efforts to clean up the valley. She and a group of volunteers would haul rubbish down to the beach and load it into slings that helicopters would carry away. “It stunned me that people who wanted a wilderness experience would be so insensitive,” she says. At a certain point, she simply gave up. “You do not want to do volunteer work that makes you angry.”

A state parks archaeologist, Alan Carpenter, told her about a 14th-century village site along the shoreline, Nualolo Kai, accessible only by boat and fringed by the largest reef on the Nāpali coast. For the past 25 years, Nā Pali Coast ‘Ohana has focused almost all of its work at that site. They built fences to keep out goats and established a small native garden to preserve some of the region’s biodiversity. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, they have even brought back the remains of ancestors who were housed at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and other repositories.

Image by Brendan Borrell. A library tent features all sorts of books to borrow. (original image)

Image by Brendan Borrell. (original image)

Image by Brendan Borrell. (original image)

Image by Brendan Borrell. (original image)

Now, under the auspices of Randy Wichman, a historian and the organization’s current president, they are finally making plans to bring their work back to Kalalau. Whether they can succeed in a place where they failed in the past remains to be seen. Wichman expresses some grudging admiration for the squatters’ ingenuity in terms of the work they’ve done on the lo‘i’s, but he says that some of them have done more harm than good. “Their intentions are good, but you obliterate history by not knowing exactly what you have,” he told me. “The valley would be stunning if it were in working order.”


In 100 years, when their tarps have rotted away and their footpaths have been lost to the forest, I wonder what place the outlaws will occupy in the grand story of Kalalau. Though reviled in some quarters, their ethics questionable at times, the outlaws’ reign demonstrated to the modern world the power of place to the collective psyche. The vulnerable, confused, damaged often end up here, to heal and to grow before they rejoin the world. It’s kind of wonderful. “We’re tool-using monkeys,” Barca told me when I first met him. Being part of an interdependent community like Kalalau feeds a deep primate urge. “Biologically necessary,” is how he put it. More necessary for some than others.

The head of state parks, Curt Cottrell, told me that when he first moved to Hawaii in 1983 as a “bearded hippie guy,” hiking the Kalalau Trail was one of two goals. (The other was hiking to the summit of Mauna Loa.) When his permit expired, he evaded the rangers by swimming a few hundred meters south to Honopū, the next cove over, for a day. When I ask him if one day the park will find a way to commemorate the hippie occupation, he offers a careful response. “We have no desire to erase that history,” he says, “but at this point in time, we don’t feel like celebrating it until we get the place cleaned up.”

Few women choose to live in the valley. (Brendan Borrell)

That may not be so easy. The agency has 117 staff members spread out over Hawaii’s 50 state parks. Kalalau is a priority, but there are so many places for squatters to hide that it’s impossible to kick them all out. The agency had asked the legislature for enough money to have two full-time staff members inside the park. Their request was denied.

Kalalau is already a very different place than it was just a few years ago. It’s undoubtedly the cleanest it has ever been. And apart from the intimate gatherings I’d witnessed up valley, the place had the feel of a ghost town. I spend my days exploring overgrown footpaths from one clearing to another, looking for abandoned campfire rings and other traces of recent human habitation. Even the official campsites were largely empty, hosting no more than 20 or 30 tourists each night while the state allows 60. Though native Hawaiians do visit and hunt inside the park, I met only outlaws during my visit.

Hanohano-Smith, who can trace his family back to the valley, says that he’d like to see regular Hawaiians—not just the state—playing a larger role in the future of Kalalau. He believes that his family should have free access to visit the land without vying for scarce permits and that Hawaiians should be able to benefit from it through jobs, possibly as teachers or guides. “It’s not just an issue of sustainability,” he says. “It’s the pride associated with being connected to the resources that provided for my family 1,000 years ago.”

On one of my last mornings in Kalalau, I see Sticky Jesus and Stevie loading their things onto a kayak on the beach. Stevie, the oldest resident out here, hasn’t been staying in the valley as often as he used to. Five years ago, he qualified for low-income housing and has a small home down in Kekaha. He loves Kalalau but at some point he knows he’ll be too weak to hike in or to take care of himself.

For Sticky, the story is a little more complicated. He is going to live in a van with Quentin’s ex-girlfriend and try to make a little money. I’m not sure if he’s going to come back, and I say as much. “I’ve got a house here still,” Sticky replies. “Most of it got taken a couple weeks ago, but I’ve got a good feeling about it.” He likes being free of his possessions.

A squatter named Stevie prepares to take off, leaving the valley where the outlaw hippies are increasingly unwelcome. (Brendan Borrell)

“You didn’t take it as hard as Mowgli?” I ask.

“I don’t take anything as hard as Mowgli,” he says.

The two squatters hop into the kayak and Carlton gives them one last shove into the knee-deep water. We stand there for a few minutes, watching them disappear around the red bluffs to the south, and then I head back up the trail into the valley. I’m not ready to hike out just yet. I’m not looking forward to pulling out my wallet and paying for a piece of produce with a sticker on it when the fruit out here will drop to the forest floor and rot away without someone here to harvest it. I just need one more day living as an outlaw in the Kalalau Valley. Maybe two.

Related Stories from Hakai Magazine:

How AltSchool Is Personalizing Education By Collecting Loads of Data on Its Students

Smithsonian Magazine

Max Ventilla is a great believer in using technology and data to zero in on what attracts and motivates people, and in identifying their comfort zones.

That, after all, was the essence of his previous job as a Google executive in charge of personalization. His group developed user profiles based on a person’s behavior on different Google properties, from Gmail to YouTube, and used that to customize search results.

So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that when he and his wife were looking at pre-schools for their daughter, he started to think in a similar way about how kids learn.

“The world in which my daughter is growing up is really different from the world I grew up in. And it seems like schools should be different, since their purpose is to prepare kids for the future, not the past,” he says.

Why, he wondered, do schools continue to treat students as if they all liked the same thing and learned the same way?

Little learning labs

It was a simple, yet confounding question, one that ultimately led to the launch of AltSchool, a business that has, since 2013, opened eight private schools in California and New York. All are small operations—the largest, which opened in San Francisco last month, has about 75 students. There are no formal grade levels; instead students are divided into three broadly-defined groups—foundational elementary, upper elementary and middle school. So far, none of the 450 kids attending the schools has been older than 14.

But in response to Ventilla’s concern about what he saw as a cookie cutter approach to education, AltSchool classrooms are designed as little learning labs. Each student works with a highly individualized “playlist,” a personalized lesson plan based not just on his or her interests, but also how and under what conditions he or she is most motivated to learn. Does working in a group bring out their best, for example? Or, maybe they’re more productive when they engage with just one partner, or work alone?

And, true to Ventilla’s Silicon Valley roots, the AltSchool experience is built on a heavy base of technology. Not technology as defined by kids looking at screens, but rather as a way to gather meaningful data about how kids learn, and to help teachers track students’ progress more quantitatively, and on a daily basis. Everything that happens in an AltSchool classroom, for instance, is recorded by custom-built cameras and microphones, with the purpose of allowing teachers to go back and try to identify when and why a student made strides in a particular subject. This innovative take on education is featured in a NOVA special, “School of the Future,” about some of the science and solutions that could redesign American education, airing on PBS at 9 p.m. ET tonight. Viewers can stream the full, two-hour special starting tomorrow.

Ventilla talks about educators becoming “data-driven detectives,” and the collaboration of AltSchool teachers with the company’s engineers epitomizes that shifting role—the company has almost as many of the latter as the former. The goal is to develop a feedback loop that fosters constant tweaking. On one hand, the developers are charged with coming up with tech methods that simplify or reduce teacher tasks that don’t have much to do with teaching. On the other, they’re tapping into the teachers’ experience in evaluating student performance and identifying progress, and using that knowledge to create the kind of metrics that can be passed on. That, says Ventilla, is how knowledge gained from an AltSchool classroom could be used to help a similar type of student in a similar situation, but in a different school.

Building a network

The goal of sharing what it learns about learning with outside schools is very much a focus of AltSchool right now. While it plans to open two more of its own schools next fall—another one in Manhattan and the first in Chicago—more of the emphasis will shift to developing a network of partner schools.

Last spring, at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, AltSchool kicked off what it calls Phase 2 of its business plan when Ventilla announced the launch of AltSchool Open. The first step was to solicit potential partners—other private schools that were interested in adopting the AltSchool model and licensing its software.

Almost 200 schools responded, according to AltSchool Chief Operating Officer Coddy Johnson, and over the past six months, that list has been winnowed down to a handful. A final selection of its first partners is expected in the next few weeks.

Most likely, they will be other small private schools that place high priority on empowering students through more personalized learning. To start with, says Johnson, it might be just one partner school.

“We’re taking a long view,” Johnson explains. “We believe this is a decade-long process to get right. And the thing we worry about early on is that if we prioritize scale over quality and learning, we will have to go back and fix a bunch of things.”

Each student works with a highly individualized “playlist,” a personalized lesson plan based not just on his or her interests, but also how and under what conditions he or she is most motivated to learn. (AltSchool)

AltSchool partners, he says, will gain access to the company’s proprietary software enabling them to develop a “portrait” of each student as a learner, both academically and emotionally, and also create “playlists” for every kid, based on his or her portrait. This would include curriculum, activities and projects that, based on data analysis, would likely help that particular student learn better and grow. 

AltSchool would also provide training to teachers at partner schools, ensuring that they use the software tools effectively and working with them to personalize the learning process. Plus, it would share reports on its own best practices on everything from truly effective study projects to the logistics of student pickups and drop-offs. 

 “We don’t want them to feel like they’re standing alone in tackling problems,” says Johnson. “We know they’re dealing with the same challenges we’ve faced in personalizing education, but they haven’t had the benefit of a bunch of venture capital to build the program right.”

Planning for the future

Johnson is referring to the hefty dose of funding—an estimated $133 million in venture capital and venture debt—that AltSchool has received from some of Silicon Valley’s big name investors, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. 

That’s based on the company’s long-term strategy of one day being able to license its software and data analysis of individualized learning to public school systems. That’s still a ways off, at least five to seven years, estimates Johnson. The idea is to first build out a network slowly.  “We’ll start with schools that look like ours,” he says, “but want to expand the frontier each year, from more progressive charter schools to more progressive public schools to more traditional schools.”

Initially, the focus will be on refining the AltSchool model so that it zeroes in how to make personalized education most effective for all kinds of students. But eventually, as the partner network grows, the data gathered from outside schools—anonymized to protect the identities of students—will be added to the mix. And that, suggests Johnson, would continue to increase the quality and breadth of what’s known about learning. 

“We hope that approach can be increasingly embraced by school systems and by doing that, you advance education to a place where every student you add makes the system better,” he says.

For his part, Ventilla, the company’s founder and CEO, believes AltSchool’s emphasis on “social and emotional learning” is better suited for the workplace of the future, one in which both collaboration and being entrepreneurial will likely be much valued. And, he says, it’s important for children to be educated in a dynamic environment, where change is a constant.

“We’re creating an environment that accustoms kids to what it’s like to operate with a lifelong growth mindset. And what it’s like to be around people working in a 21st century manner,” Ventilla says. “When you're talking about kids under the age of 10, they learn primarily through osmosis. They don’t learn by being told. They learn by seeing what’s around them.”

How Central Park’s Complex History Played Into the Case Against the 'Central Park Five'

Smithsonian Magazine

For more than a century, New York City’s Central Park was the soothing natural counter to the steel and concrete chaos. Designed to be an amalgam of the best parts of nature, the park, though it had its ups and downs, played a special role as the leafy-green heart of the city.

So, when news of a brutal attack in the park swept the city on April 19, 1989, the public outcry was enormous. The assault and rape of an unnamed victim, a woman since identified as Trisha Meili but then only known as “the jogger,” was plastered across headlines for months. Even the media shorthand for the case revealed the significance of the crime’s setting—the five boys accused of the crime became forever known as the “Central Park Five.”

“Central Park was holy,” said Ed Koch, mayor of New York at the time of the attack, in Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary on the case. “If it had happened anyplace else other than Central Park, it would have been terrible, but it would not have been as terrible.”

All five of the teenage defendants—Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Antron McCray—were found guilty and served between 6 and 13 years in prison. Most of the evidence against them came from a series of written and videotaped confessions, which, during the two trials, the boys said were coerced; DNA evidence from the crime scene produced no matches. Still, both juries, as well as most of the New York tabloids, were convinced of the teenagers’ guilt. The story of the case is retold in the new Netflix miniseries "When They See Us," which premieres today.

But in 2002, the case re-opened when Matias Reyes, a serial rapist serving a prison sentence for other crimes, confessed as the sole attacker in the Central Park case. His DNA and his account of the attack matched the original evidence. A judge vacated the Central Park Five’s convictions later that year, after the defendants had all served out their sentences, and New York was left to once more reckon with a case that had been closed for years.

Within that reckoning lay the question: Why had this case become so closely tied with the identity of Central Park? Maybe it was because a brutal attack on park grounds was such a perversion of the park’s original mission to serve as a calming and even civilizing space for all the city’s residents. Or maybe it was because such an occurrence exposed how that mission, and the city’s egalitarian project, had never been fully realized.


In the mid-19th century, New York’s population boomed as immigrants flooded in, particularly from Ireland, and as American-born migrants fled country farms for city life in an ever-industrializing nation. Even as buildings sprouted rapidly across the city, conditions grew ever more cramped and hazardous. Amid this increasing city-wide claustrophobia, some New Yorkers began to call for a park where green spaces could provide a healing respite for city dwellers.

“Commerce is devouring inch by inch the coast of the island, and if we would rescue any part of it for health and recreation it must be done now,” wrote William C. Bryant, editor of the New York Evening Post and a leading advocate for Central Park’s creation, in an 1844 editorial.

Of course, some motives for creating the park were more paternalistic, as city elites thought a cultivated, natural area could help “civilize” the New York underclass. Others were more business-minded, as realtors knew beautifying undeveloped land would raise property values for surrounding properties. In any case, state legislators were convinced, and set out to build the first major landscaped public park in the United States.

The city landed upon the 700-acre Manhattan expanse where the park still rambles to this day, sprawling out between Fifth and Eighth Avenue and from 59th Street to 106th Street (later expanded a few blocks to 110th). Because of its rough terrain, in which swampy muck alternated with harsh rock, the area didn’t hold much appeal for real estate developers, and in 1853, the city used its power of eminent domain to claim the land as public property and begin its transformation.

The Mall, Central Park, New York', circa 1897. A pedestrian esplanade in Central Park, Manhattan designed to plans by plan of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. (The Print Collector/Getty Images)

From the beginning, though, the park had an element of controversy: When the city tapped the area for its own use, more than 1,600 people already lived on the future park’s land. Hundreds were occupants of Seneca Village, a community established by free African-American property owners in 1825, two years before slavery was abolished in New York. Once the city claimed the land, police forcibly evicted Seneca Village residents, who probably scattered throughout the New York area. The community’s houses, churches and school were razed to make way for the rolling landscape designs of Olmsted and his design partner, Calvert Vaux.

In Olmsted’s eyes, the park would be a great equalizer among New York’s stratified classes. He’d been inspired by gardens in Europe, and especially by a visit to Birkenhead Park, the first publicly funded park in England. He noted that the site was enjoyed “about equally by all classes,” unlike most of the other cultivated natural grounds at the time, which were privately held by the wealthy elite.

A similar park would be, for Olmsted, an important part of the “great American democratic experiment,” says Stephen Mexal, an English professor at California State University Fullerton who has researched Central Park and its role in the Central Park Five case.

“There was a link that he thought was meaningful between genteel manners, people of genteel birth and genteel landscapes,” Mexal says. “And he said, ‘Well, what if we just kind of took those landscapes and made them more available to everybody?’ So, he said that the park would have this, quote, ‘refining influence’ among everybody in the city.”

Olmsted and Vaux’s “Greensward Plan” beat out more than 30 other entries in a public contest, promising sweeping pastoral expanses and lush greenery. Their vision came to life quickly, and by 1858 the first section of the park opened to the public. Millions of visitors poured into the park in its first years. Families flocked to skate on the lake in winter, and the fashionable New York set paraded into the park in carriages to socialize. Strict rules tried to set a tone of tranquil decorum in the park, prohibiting rowdy sports, public concerts and even walking on the wide grass lawns.

For a time, it seemed like Olmsted’s dream was fulfilled: He’d created a beautiful green respite in the middle of the city’s chaos, an idealized image of nature for all to enjoy.

“There is no other place in the world that is as much home to me,” Olmsted wrote of Central Park. “I love it all through and all the more for the trials it has cost me.”

Image by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images. Horse-drawn carriages and coaches on the driveway, Central Park. (original image)

Image by Rae Russel/Getty Images. View of a well-dressed couple as they enjoy boating on one of the ponds in Central Park, New York, New York, 1948 (original image)

Image by Robert Walker/New York Times Co./Getty Images. Anti-Vietnam War peace rally at Sheep Meadow in Central Park, New York City, in April 1968. (original image)

Image by Ernst Haas/Getty Images. People walking in Central Park in 1980 (original image)

Olmsted, however, may not have been prepared for the reality of a true “park for the people.” As the 19th century wore on, more working-class citizens and immigrants began frequenting the park, disrupting the “genteel” air its creator had so carefully cultivated on their supposed behalf. Sunday afternoon concerts, tennis matches, carousel rides and lawn picnics became important pieces of the park’s new character.

Though Olmsted bemoaned the “careless stupidity” with which many misused his perfectly groomed landscape, his democratic experiment, once set in action, could not be reeled in. Ultimately, even Olmsted’s best efforts couldn’t bring about harmony in the city. As New York continued its growth into the next century, Central Park, intended to be an outlet to relieve the pressures of city living, instead became a microcosm for the urban condition—its use reflecting the changing tides of its country.

In the 1940s, newspapers latched onto the idea of a “crime wave” in the park after a young boy was murdered, a fear that persisted even though Central Park remained one of the safest precincts in the city. Protesters filled the park’s lawns in the 1960s, staging counterculture “be-ins” to speak out against racism and the Vietnam War.

The park gradually fell into disrepair, and though the city government made some efforts at undoing the century’s worth of damage upon Olmsted’s carefully designed structures and landscapes, in the 1970s the city’s financial crisis sapped city funds and park conservation fell by the wayside.

In 1975, a New York Times reporter lamented the park’s “state of galloping decay,” noting the “boarded windows, broken stonework and weed-gouged mortar” of the park’s famous Belvedere Castle.

“It can stand as a symbol of the decline of the park—the slow death of the Olmsted landscape in spite of spotty first aid and the private generosity that rebuilds an occasional bit of token architectural design,” the reporter wrote.

The decaying park, in turn, could stand as a symbol of the struggling city surrounding it. During the decade or so leading up to the Central Park Five case, New York City was a powder keg of competing fears and tensions. The crack-cocaine epidemic emerged as a major threat in the early 1980s. Homelessness swelled at the same time as a growing financial sector brought immense wealth to a select few. Violent crimes climbed ever higher, with a record 1,896 homicides reported in 1988.

When the Central Park jogger attack was reported, it ignited that powder keg, setting off widespread public outrage and a media firestorm.

One word in particular became a centerpiece for coverage of the case: “wilding.” Police reported that the boys had used the term to describe the attack’s motive, or rather, its lack thereof. The concept of “wilding”—roaming around and wreaking havoc, just for the fun of it—sparked fascination and terror. “Park marauders call it ‘wilding’ … and it’s street slang for going berserk,” the New York Daily News proclaimed.

The obsession over this concept, of totally random and gleeful criminality, helped fuel the continuing fervor over the case, Mexal says.

“That crime captured the public's attention for a number of reasons. Partially because it was the assault of a white woman by, they thought, non-white males,” he says. “But also because of the beliefs about nature, savagery and wilderness that the word ‘wilding’ seem to conjure, especially when it was put against this backdrop of Central Park, which is a built environment that is a stylized recreation of a natural space.”

The park was supposed to be a sanitized version of nature, Mexal explains—one that substituted calm civility for genuine wilderness and the danger that came with it. A pattern of “wilding” through the park’s cultivated landscapes would show a failure of this attempt to conquer the natural world.

Media coverage took this idea of “wildness” and ran with it. Newspapers repeatedly referred to the five defendants in sub-human terms: They were a “wolf pack,” “savages,” “monsters,” with the unsuspecting woman as their “prey.” In addition to following a long tradition of dehumanizing language about African-Americans, such headlines fed into the outrage that seemed to spring up any time something went wrong in Central Park.

An abandoned boathouse in Central Park in 1986. (Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Even through varying states of disarray, the park remained close to New Yorkers’ hearts. In the 1980s, commentators still referred to Central Park as “the most popular and democratic space in America” or as “the one truly democratic space in the city,” as Elizabeth Blackmar and Roy Rosenzweig write in their historical account of Central Park. Meili, the victim of the attack, recalled her love for running in the park, a routine she followed most days of the week.

"It was a release to be out there in nature, to see the beauty of the park ... as well as the skyscrapers and the lights of New York City, and the sense that, 'Wow, this is my city. I'm here in my park,’" Meili told ABC News in a recent interview. "I loved the freedom of the park. ... It just gave me a sense of vitality."

It follows that any crime in the park became all the more personal for New Yorkers because of its setting. Crime in Central Park “shock[ed] people like crime in heaven,” as one captain of the park police precinct said.

The Central Park Five case has been, at various points, a terrifying example of pointless crime, and a chilling story of false convictions; it has sparked cries to bring back the death penalty, and to reform the criminal justice system.

The case and its coverage have also been deeply shaped by the setting of the crime in question—a manmade piece of nature that represents its city not despite its many conflicts and paradoxes, but because of them.

How Eating Poop Makes These Mole-Rats More Motherly

Smithsonian Magazine

In the animal kingdom, "it takes a village to raise a child" is often the norm. Rather than putting the burden on one pair of parents, often an entire social group of animals will care for newborns. Marmoset moms hand off their young to other males, who spend so much energy carrying around the babies that they lose weight. Subordinate wolves and wild hogs that have lost their own litters nurse other pups. Even ducks aren’t shy about letting someone else watch their ducklings for a bit while they grab a quick mouthful of algae.

This behavior, called alloparenting, likely has evolutionary advantages that we don't fully understand (it occurs in 9 percent of the known species of birds and around 3 percent of mammals). But we do know that those urges to lick and feed someone else’s baby are nurtured along by caregiving lessons learned early in life and a few squirts of affection-inducing hormones like prolactin, oxytocin and estrogens, though researchers haven’t figured out exactly how the system works. Add to the list of questions about alloparenting the behavior of the naked mole-rat. Members of naked mole-rat colonies take care of babies that aren't their own, despite not being able to produce their own estrogen. Now, new research published in PNAS suggests that they receive estrogen—and their motherly instincts—from a very unusual source: mole-rat feces.

The naked mole-rat, Heterocephalus glaber, is a rodent found in the Horn of Africa that lives in colonies like ants do. In the colony, only one mole-rat, the queen, is sexually mature, while subordinate handmaidens take care of her offspring, licking them, building nests, and keeping them warm. But that system baffled researchers at the veterinary school at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan.

Azabu researcher Kazutaka Mogi writes in an email that his team had studied alloparenting in mice, where non-moms babysit other pups. The babysitters' maternal instincts seem to be strengthened by estrogen, which the mice produce in their ovaries (just like human women). It's a virtuous cycle in which the more alloparenting a mouse does, the better she gets at it—and the more her hormones push her to do it. But naked mole rats engage in alloparenting despite having no mature sex organs. "We were surprised to hear this phenomenon and decided to investigate this subject,” he writes.

That's how the researchers stumbled onto the revolting discovery. Coprophagy—eating feces—is common among naked mole-rats. The team wondered if the subordinates could be receiving not just nutrients but hormones from eating the queen mole-rat's poop.

Researchers fed the naked mole-rats poop pellets from a pregnant queen. They then tested their estrogen levels and their response to the yipping sounds of naked mole-rat pups. The study showed that the estrogen levels in the would-be alloparents gradually rose throughout the queen’s pregnancy, peaking after the queen gave birth to her litter and was done feeding them, the time when the subordinate females more or less take over care of the young. The study showed that after eating the hormone-laced feces, the subordinates became super-responsive to the mewling pups. This poopy hormone transfer represents a previously unknown system of communication between the mole-rats.

Coprophagy is not uncommon in mammals, as many people with a dung-eating dog can attest. In many cases, especially among rabbits and rodents, it’s a normal part of digestion. There are certain nutrients that their guts can’t process in the first pass, so they ingest their own fecal pellets for a second go. Some baby animals, including elephants and hippos, also eat their parent’s caca soon after weaning to help seed their guts with the right intestinal bacteria.

It’s likely that naked mole-rats do both. In their extensive underground colonies, the animals maintain a toilet chamber where feces pellets are deposited. It also serves as a snack room, where they get a second chance to nom on the poo and digest the fibrous roots and tubers that they munch on. Mature mole rats have also been observed pooping directly into the mouths of young pups, which is probably to transfer gut bacteria and to help impart a “colony” smell to the younglings. Each naked mole-rat colony has its own specific odor, and if an intruder doesn’t have the right smell, it will be ripped to shreds.

Mogi says he and his team are unaware of any other mammal—or any creature for that matter—that transfers hormones in this manner. However, in a 2016 paper in eLife, researchers found that carpenter ants exchange food, pheromones and hormones via trophallaxis, which is essentially throwing up in one another’s mouths. It’s possible that other social insect species engage in similarly revolting forms of communication.

It’s possible that other mammals transfer hormones via feces, though it wouldn’t be surprising if naked mole-rats are the only ones: The strange animal that National Geographic describes as “bratwurst with teeth” is unique in almost every way. Besides having a society set up more like bees than mice (one of only two mammals to live in such a way), they live in underground colonies and are functionally blind. And they are indeed naked, with just a few hundred hard-to-see guide hairs and giant, sensitive buckteeth to help them navigate their dark labyrinths. While most rodents of a similar size live two to three years, naked mole-rats can live up to 30, and are thought to be almost completely immune to cancer, which has made them popular research animals. They can also survive up to 18 minutes without oxygen and are essentially cold-blooded, unusual for a mammal, and must cuddle together to regulate their body temperature in cold weather.

“I think it’s funny, on the surface they look different but you don’t think about all the cool things we know about them,” say Kenton Kerns, assistant curator of small mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, who deals with the mole-rats on a daily basis and is preparing to unveil a new colony. “And it seems like once a year if not more there’s cool new research about them. You know how grade school teachers tell children we shouldn’t cut down the rainforest because it might have the next new medicine or scientific breakthrough? Mole rats are like that, but people just slide by their exhibit saying ‘I don’t like rats or mice.’”

Diana Sarko has been studying naked mole-rats for years and currently maintains two colonies at Southern Illinois University ruled over by "Queen Cersei" and "Queen Daenerys." Her main research involves their giant teeth, which are essentially a sense organ—though her recent work has found they have the same bite strength as a lion. Sarko regularly sees alloparenting behavior taking place with subordinates moving pups around and snuggling them in the warm sleeping chambers. She isn’t surprised by the idea that hormones could be transferred via feces, though she hasn’t witnessed much poo-munching in her colonies since the food the lab animals get, like sweet potatoes, fruits and other vegetables, might be easier to digest than wild tubers.

In fact, hormones may regulate other activities within mole-rat colonies. Just last year one of Sarko’s queens was killed by a usurper.

Typically, a mole-rat queen can expect to sit on her throne into her twenties without an uprising, so the revolution in the lab colony was unexpected. “Once established, a queen usually stays put,” Sarko says. “She was overthrown after having a litter so she was somewhat weakened but otherwise she seemed healthy. I was shocked.”

Now, Sarko and her team are examining hormone levels, including the stress hormone cortisol, collected in their weekly poo samplings in the months leading up to the coup to see if hormonal changes were happening throughout the colony before the overthrow of their queen.

It doesn't end there when it comes to mole-rats and hormones. Mogi says the Azabu team has preliminary evidence that the queen has a way to influence the reproductive success of the tiny handful of sexually mature males allowed to breed with her. It’s not clear yet if it involves feces, urine, vomit, saliva or is just the naked mole-rat version of the come-hither look.

A new 24-hour webcam trained on the National Zoo's colony of naked mole rats goes live on August 31, 2018. Visitors can see the Zoo's new habit for its colony of 17 naked mole rats beginning September 1.

How One Woman Helped End Lunch Counter Segregation in the Nation’s Capital

Smithsonian Magazine

Thompson’s restaurant once served up fast, cheap meals—everything from smoked boiled tongue to cold salmon sandwiches. Today, there’s nothing in downtown D.C. to show that the then-popular restaurant chain even had a location at 725 14th Street Northwest in the 1950s. The space is now filled by a CVS drug store. Across the street, there’s an upscale barbershop, and on the corner at the intersection of 14th and New York Avenue, a Starbucks is currently under construction.

Just as the establishment quietly faded into history, so did the little-remembered Supreme Court case that began there. The case, 63 years ago this week, forced an end to lunch counter segregation in Washington, one year before Plessy v. Ferguson was repealed.

On February 28, 1950, 86-year-old Mary Church Terrell invited her friends Reverend Arthur F. Elmes, Essie Thompson and David Scull to lunch with her at Thompson’s. Only Scull was white, and when the four entered the establishment, took their trays and proceeded down the counter line, the manager told the group that Thompson’s policy forbid him from serving African Americans. The group asked again and again why they could not have lunch in the cafeteria, and the manager responded that it was not his personal policy, but Thompson Co.’s, and refused to serve them.

Terrell and her friends knew what they were doing. As chairwoman of the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the District of Columbia Anti-Discrimination Laws, she was setting up a test case to force the courts to rule on two “lost laws” that demanded all restaurants and public eating places in Washington serve any well-mannered citizen regardless of their skin color. A legal battle followed, and over three drawn out years, it would take Terrell’s case all the way to America’s highest court.

(Mary Church Terrell oil on vanvas painting by J. Richard Thompson; National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mrs. Phyllis Langston)

Known as the female Booker T. Washington, Terrell had made her mark on history long before she turned her attention toward discriminatory dining practices. She was born in 1863, the year President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The towering figure in social and educational reform was one of the first African-American women to graduate from college, and the Oberlin College alumna not only gave a speech titled “The Progress and Problems of Colored Women” at the 1898 Annual Convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association, but also served as a delegate at the International Council of Women in Berlin in 1904. Her fight to end race and gender discrimination led her to become the founding president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), as well as a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), decades before she took a tray and stood in line to pay at Thompson’s.

Terrell first moved to Washington, D.C. in 1889 to become a high school teacher. By 1895, she had become the first African-American woman to be appointed to the D.C. Board of Education. She married a lawyer named Robert Heberton Terrell in 1891, and as was the custom of the time, she stopped working soon after they wed. But she didn’t close her eyes to the injustices happening around her. Instead, she threw herself into the activist world, particularly after a close friend from her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, was lynched in 1892.

The district’s discriminative practices never were far from her mind. She delivered a speech in 1906 at the United Women’s Club of Washington, D.C., where she addressed the way African Americans were treated in the capital, citing the example of being denied the ability to buy lunch:  

“As a colored woman I may walk from the Capitol to the White House, ravenously hungry and abundantly supplied with money with which to purchase a meal, without finding a single restaurant in which I would be permitted to take a morsel of food, if it was patronized by white people, unless I were willing to sit behind a screen.”

But that hadn’t always been the case in the district. During Reconstruction, the D.C. Legislative Assembly—a mix of popularly elected officials and President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration appointees who governed the city—passed two nearly identical laws, in 1872 and 1873, that prohibited restaurants, hotels, barbershops, bathing houses and soda fountains from refusing to sell or serve any “well-behaved” customer, regardless of race or color. The short-lived assembly was abolished in 1874, and with the start of Jim Crow segregation laws three years later, the rules were disregarded, and then left out of D.C. Code laws. However, they were never repealed.

These so-called “lost laws,” as the 1872 and 1873 laws would become known as, remained mostly forgotten about until after World War II, when President Harry Truman’s committee issued a 1948 report titled Segregation in Washington, highlighting the extent of injustices that African Americans faced in the nation’s capital. According to Marvin Harold Caplan’s first-hand account of the time, Farther Along: A Civil Rights Memoir, the report made a reference to the lost laws:

“Some people say that the time is not ripe for colored people to have equal rights as citizens in the Nation’s Capital and that white people are ‘not ready’ to give them such rights. But in 1872...the popularly elected Assembly of the District passed a law giving Negroes equal rights in restaurants, hotels, barber shops and other places of public accommodation. Stiff penalties were provided for violation. As late as 1904 this civil rights law was familiar to a correspondent of the New York Times.”

Annie Stein, the chairwoman of the Anti-Discrimination Committee of her local chapter of the Progressive Party, noticed that passage and devoted herself to learn more about this 1872 law. She enlisted the help of her friend, Joseph Forer, a lawyer and chairman of the District Affairs Committee of the D.C. Lawyers Guild, who began researching the law and its validity. Realizing she also needed public support to rally around the cause, she created the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the District of Columbia Anti-Discrimination Laws in 1949. Stein reached out to Terrell to see if she would become the chairwoman of the committee, and Terrell accepted.

The timing was auspicious. Terrell had recently completed one of her life goals, publishing her book, A Colored Woman In A White World. Stein’s offer came just after Terrell had been denied water at a pharmacy that had served her in the past, explained Joan Quigley, the author of a new book on Terrell, Just Another Southern Town, in a conversation about the life of the civil rights activist on C-SPAN in March. As Quigley put it, Terrell “noticed a hardening of racial attitudes in department stores.”

Even more significantly, the year before, in 1948, a District of Columbia judge upheld the right for the local branch of the American Association of University Women, a club of college-educated women, to reject her application for reinstatement based on her skin color. The judge’s decision, which gave the local branch the authority to deny membership to African American women, when the national organization’s only requirement for membership was a college degree, lit a fire under Terrell, Quigley said in her talk. “She basically embraced the tradition of agitation going back to Frederick Douglass,” the author said. “She said, it’s my duty to send a message to the country, to the world that we are no longer patient with being pushed around.” In 1949, the national convention of the AAUW used Terrell’s case as a rallying point to vote 2,168 to 65 to reaffirm that all university graduates, regardless of “race, color or creed,” had the right to join the club.

Terrell turned her attention toward the coordinating committee, which soon attracted over 1,000 supporters who “rallied behind the spirited leadership of Mrs. Terrell,” as Al Sweeney, a journalist for the Washington Afro-American wrote in a tribute for her 88th birthday, found in Oberlin College’s archives.

The committee led a multiracial effort picketing and boycotting dime store establishments throughout D.C. One of the leaflets they distributed, which asked citizens to “stay out of Hecht’s”, a department store with a basement lunch counter, featured a photograph of Terrell and a quote from the then 88-year-old committee chairwoman: “I have visited the capitals of many countries, but only in the capital of my own country have I been subjected to this indignity.”

Some stores desegregated on their own when faced with pressure from the petitioners, (including Hecht's, which changed its policy in January 1952, after a nine-month boycott and six-month picket line), but legal action was necessary to force the rest to come around. Thompson’s would be the key to the Supreme Court case.

Of all the restaurants that refused to serve African Americans, the committee targeted Thompson’s cafeteria, because it was right next to the offices of the lawyers who would be taking the case to court, as a 1985 Washington Post article notes. They took the case to court only to have the municipal court judge dismiss it, reasoning that the lost laws were “repealed by implication.” Due to technical reasons, the group could not repeal the decision, and instead needed to create a new case. So once again, Terrell picked up a tray in Thompson’s in late July, joined by Elmes and, this time, a woman named Jean Joan Williams. The group was again denied service based on Terrell and Elmes’ skin color, but as the municipal judge on this case didn’t hold another full trial, this allowed the corporation council of the District of Columbia representing Terrell and company to appeal the decision. The case moved to the Municipal Court of Appeals, which declared the lost laws valid, then to the Federal District Court, where the judges ruled the lost laws invalid again in a 5-4 decision, before the case found its way to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had yet to overturn the “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy, and Terrell’s case, formally titled District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc., relied only on jurisdiction in the district, which meant it did not touch Plessy. The narrow scope of the ruling allowed the court to issue an unanimous 8-0 decision in 1953 to end segregation in all Washington, D.C. establishments.

In an interview with Ethel Payne for the New York Age, Terrell said that after the verdict she called up the other defendants and invited them to lunch once more at Thompson’s. “We went and we had a glorious time. I took a tray and got in line and received my food. When I got to the end of the line, a gentleman walked up to me, took my tray and escorted me to a table and asked me, ‘Mrs. Terrell, is there anything else I can do for you?' And who do you think that man was? Why, it was the manager of the Thompson restaurants!”

Never one to stop her advocacy work, Terrell spent her 90th birthday that year testing Washington, D.C.’s segregated theater policy. She and her three guests were all admitted to see  The Actress at the Capitol Theater without any trouble. Washington’s movie theater managers, unwilling to have their own Supreme Court case, had gotten the message. As Dennis and Judith Fradin wrote in Fight On!: Mary Church Terrell’s Battle for Integration, within the next few weeks “virtually all of Washington’s movie houses had opened their doors for everyone.”

Terrell would live to see the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision on May 17, 1954, that ended racial segregation in public schools. She died just a couple months later on July 24, 1954.

Today, though 725 14th Street NW bears no physical trace of Thompson’s history or the work of the coordinating committee, the site is found on D.C.’s African American Heritage Trail, which gives a deserving nod to its importance in breaking down discrimination by breaking bread.

How Transgender Women Are Training Their Voices to Sound More Feminine

Smithsonian Magazine

For transgender women, the quest for the “right” voice used to begin with a trip to the music store.

“You would go to music stores to get a guitar tuner so you could do your homework and figure out and adjust the pitch you were speaking at,” says Lauren, a transgender woman in Washington, D.C. who requests we not use her full name.

After mobile apps became commonplace, people switched to using electronic tuners, she says, but these only provide an absolute indicator of pitch with no voice-specific feedback.

For transgender women, seeking therapy to modulate to a higher, more feminine voice is about more than identity. “There are tangible safety benefits to being able to pass as cis when you need to,” says Natalie Weizenbaum, a transgender woman and software engineer in Seattle. “Beyond that, I want to be the one in control of how people understand me, and, well, I was just getting really fed up with the sound of my own voice.”

Weizenbaum has taken private voice lessons from a speech pathologist, but at $1,000 for 11 sessions, those can be prohibitively expensive. Now, researchers are developing voice-training apps specifically for the transgender population in hopes of making these lessons more accessible.

Speech-language pathologist Kathe Perez launched the first such voice-training app in 2013. Perez was running her private practice in 2000 when she received a call from a transgender woman who wanted help training her voice to sound more feminine. She started receiving so many similar requests that she put together an audio program that sold in 55 countries. The app—called EVA, or the “Exceptional Voice App”—is based on the audio program and charges $4.99 a lesson.

In two years, some 10,000 users—a respectable but not staggering number—have downloaded the app. Though she created versions for both transgender men and women, far more of her customers are women, Perez says, because feminizing a voice tends to be more difficult than training it to sound more masculine. When cisgender males hit puberty, the extra testosterone thickens the vocal chords to produce a lower pitch. For transgender men, taking testosterone creates much of the same effect, so they require fewer lessons to get to their targets.

For transgender women, though, estrogen treatment doesn’t “thin out” the vocal chords and raise a voice’s pitch, making it more necessary to take lessons or, in extreme cases, have vocal surgery. And some of the issue is cultural, adds Perez: “As a society, we are more apt to overlook a soft-sounding man than we are apt to overlook a very large, masculine-sounding woman.”

These cultural expectations around women and gender have featured prominently in debates over transgender issues. Last year, feminist writer bell hooks criticized transgender actress and "Orange is the New Black" star Laverne Cox for conforming to “stereotypical” ideals of female beauty. Femme coaches who work with transgender clients readily admit that their expertise involves conforming to gender stereotypes. Two years after EVA’s launch, these questions are no less salient when it comes to whether voice training teaches transgender women to speak in a specific, stereotypical manner.

Tools like EVA have specific voice targets with which women can practice. On EVA’s pitch lessons, for example, the app plays a note and the user tries to match the note when singing it into the phone. She then receives a score based on her accuracy.

EVA’s strength is the specific, quantifiable feedback it gives, but this doesn’t mean it’s training everyone to achieve the same female voice, according to Perez. “The human voice has been very well-studied, so we do have parameters and general guidelines of what the characteristics of a female voice are,” she says.

We know, for instance, that the pitch of most female voices hovers about 200 hertz, a measurement of sound wave frequency, though there is natural variation given women’s height and age. Perez built the app to be pitched around 220 hertz, with some wiggle room on each end. If someone’s pitch hits anywhere between 196 hertz and 246 hertz—two semitones above and below 220—she will receive a perfect score. A 22-year-old woman who is 5’6”and a 50-year-old woman who is 5’10” are limited in which notes they can hit by both age and physicality, but as long as they are both within the range, they will both receive 100 percent accuracy. The app averages the results from three different tries, with any score above 80 percent as passing.

EVA provides guidelines, Perez says, but it simply cannot give everyone identical voices even if everyone breathes the same and hits the target range. “A person’s voice is so individual and not just about these numbers—do we uptalk, do we have a darker sound because we’re larger, a bit of a downswing because we’re older?” she says. “All of that ends up coming through.”

The app currently provides lessons in fundamentals, such as breathing style, and pitch, all based on existing language research. The next set of courses, which Perez is still developing, will be about resonance, or the vocal quality that makes a voice sound brighter or darker. This is one of the more difficult aspects for clients to master, says Perez.

Christie Block, a speech-language pathologist who runs the New York Speech and Voice Lab and has coached transgender clients, says the primary tools in her own sessions are unavailable in app form. She uses computer software to monitor her clients’ progress, because it gives visual feedback for continuous speech, whereas most mobile apps can only give feedback for one sustained note. Block praised EVA for making voice training accessible to far more people, but notes that much of voice training involves teaching speech patterns, which an app cannot cover.

“It’s a myth to think that voice training for trans people is just perpetuating stereotypes, but we are definitely dealing with cultural norms like word choice and intonation,” says Block, who refers to “masculine” and “feminine” voices instead of “male” and “female,” because she also works with genderqueer clients. “It’s about helping people understand what the norms are and how to work around them and find the right combination of patterns that make it congruent with their identity and within the biological constraints that they have.”

Soon, EVA won’t be the only one in this field. Alex Ahmed, a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University recently won a National Science Foundation grant to create a voice-training app that “doesn’t conform to a gender binary.”

Ahmed is currently awaiting institutional approval from Northeastern to conduct interviews with trans women to develop her own app as part of her doctoral research. “Personally, as a trans person I know that having a very gendered and very binary interface turns me off, because it presents this idea that there is just masculine and feminine,” she says. “My idea is that people should be able to use my app to further their own goals, which may push them toward different locations on the masculine-feminine spectrum.”

It’s still early in the process—Ahmed says her app wouldn’t be out for another year at least—but she has some ideas for how a more genderqueer voice-training app could work. For instance, there could be customizable voices built in that demonstrate how changing any one factor, such as pitch or inflection, while keeping the other ones constant would affect the sound. This could help people play around with voice training without telling them how close they are to a “female” or “male” voice, Ahmed adds.

She’s also thinking about whether to include more controversial “cultural” features in the app, such as uptalk—the much-criticized (for women, at least) tendency to pitch a voice higher at the end of a sentence. “It’s a very gendered criticism, but I do think that there is value in having as many options as possible, and that’s something that has been observed in the literature,” she says. “I’m not ruling anything out at this point.”

Weizenbaum, the software developer who took private lessons, used tuning apps like DaTuner Pro and Voice Analyst, but describes her learning process as “20 percent biological,” or about pitch and the way her mouth moved, and “80 percent cultural,” meaning it was learning about different speech patterns and how quickly to speak or how to move her voice around. She says, “There was a while when I was paying super-close attention to how people spoke to learn how to sound more emotive, and I became hyper-sensitized to voices in this particular aspect so that every time I heard men talk, I was just stunned at how little pitch variation there was.”

Though she has friends who have had great results with EVA and online training videos, she decided to pay for live feedback during private lessons. “I learn better that way in things I am not confident in, and I was very much not confident about my voice,” she says. She now reports that when talking on the phone strangers identify her as female and use female pronouns 100 percent of the time.

Lauren, the D.C. woman, once took private lessons and now uses EVA about four times a week to keep up with exercises and maintain her voice.

“This is a very long process, but I’m looking forward to all the rest of the modules on EVA, and I’m excited,” she says. “There’s more to learn, and so many more people will be able to learn too.”

How Would You Rank the Greatest Presidents?

Smithsonian Magazine

In an interview in January 2010, President Obama told Diane Sawyer of ABC News, “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.”

The comment didn’t really jibe well with Robert W. Merry, an acclaimed biographer of James Polk, who served as president from 1845 to 1849. Polk is ranked as a “near great” president in polls by scholars, but he is an exception. “History has not smiled upon one-term presidents,” wrote Merry in an editorial in the New York Times. “The typical one-term president generally falls into the ‘average’ category, occasionally the ‘above average.’ ”

In his new book, Where They Stand, Merry opens up the rating game beyond historians, to include what voters and contemporaries said in their own times. The editor of the National Interest, a foreign policy publication, argues that while historians’ views are important, presidential greatness is best seen through the eyes of voters of the president’s time. The greatest of the “greats,” in other words, have the election records to show it. They earned the trust of Americans in their first terms, won second terms and, in some cases, paved the way for their party to maintain control of the White House for the next four years.

Historians and others take joy in ranking the presidents, and debating these ranks. To you, what’s the fun in this?
It is the same fun that we have in trying to determine who is the greatest first baseman of all time. Most people would say Lou Gehrig, but there is plenty of room for debate. Who is the greatest American singer of the postwar period? But the presidents really have the national destiny in their hands. It is a much more significant pursuit than these others, which are more in the realm of trivia. Who was great? Who wasn’t so great? And, why were they great? Ranking presidents is a way we bring order to our thinking about our history.

What factors, do you think, need to be considered when assessing presidential greatness?
Greatness is as greatness does. It is really a question of what a president has accomplished with the country. Reagan’s question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is very apt. Put another way, is the country better off? How is the country different? Are those differences good or are they not so good?

The great presidents all did something that changed the political landscape of America and set the country on a new course. That’s not easy to do. That is really the key to presidential greatness.

In your book, your big claim is that we should listen to the electorate at the time of the president’s term, and not just historians. Why do you put such emphasis on the voters?
Presidential politics is like retailing. The customer is always right. In our system, we put faith in the voters, because that is at the bedrock of how we think we should order our affairs politically. If you don’t believe that, then it is kind of hard to believe very strongly in American democracy.

The whole idea is that the voters emerge with a collective judgment, maybe even occasionally a collective wisdom. I happen to buy that. Therefore, I felt that the polls of historians were significant. I didn’t debunk them or toss them aside. But I thought they were incomplete, because they didn’t always take into account what the voters were saying, thinking or doing with regard to their presidents contemporaneously. I wanted to sort of crank that into the discussion.

There are six presidents that you refer to as “Leaders of Destiny.” What makes a president deserving of this title?
The six, in order, are Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. I happen to believe that Reagan will get into that circle, but right now, the polls of historians don’t quite have him there, although his standing is rising rather dramatically.

The six leaders of destiny pass a three-part test. They are consistently hailed among the greats or near greats by the historians. They are two-term presidents succeeded by their own party, meaning that the voters liked them both times that they served. And then, as I described earlier, they transformed the political landscape of the country and set it on a new course.

What were the major traits that these presidents shared? They all understood the nature of their time, what was really going on in the country, what the country needed, what the voters collectively were hungry for. There are a lot of presidents who don’t understand their time; they think they do, but they don’t. You have to have a vision. All of these leaders of destiny were elected at a time when the country needed tremendous leadership, and these presidents are the ones who stepped up and gave it. Then, they have political adroitness, the ability to get their hands on the levers of power in America and manipulate those levers in a way that gets the country moving affectively in the direction of that vision.

In your opinion, FDR and Ronald Reagan are the two greatest presidents of the 20th century.
The voters hailed them both at the time. What is interesting, in my view, is that Roosevelt was probably the most liberal president of the 20th century, and Reagan was probably the most conservative president of the 20th century. It indicates that the country is not particularly ideological. It is looking for the right solutions to the problems of the moment. The country is willing to turn left or to turn right.

What is the difference between good and great?
We have had a lot of good presidents. I’ll give you a good example of a good president, Bill Clinton. Clinton was elected because the country wasn’t quite satisfied with George H.W. Bush. They didn’t think he was a terrible president, but he didn’t quite lead the country in a way that made him eligible for rehire. The country gets Bill Clinton, and he tries to govern in his first two years as if his aim is to repeal Reaganism. The result was that the American people basically slapped him down very, very decisively in the midterm elections of 1994, at which point Bill Clinton did an about-face and said, “The era of big government is over.” He crafted a center left mode of governing that was very effective. He had significant economic growth. He wiped out the deficit. We didn’t have major problems overseas. There was no agitation in the streets that led to violence or anything of that nature. He gets credit for being a good president.

Once he righted his mode of government and moved the country solidly forward, he was beginning to build up some significant political capital, and he never really felt the need or desire to invest that capital into anything very bold. So, he governed effectively as a status quo president and ended eight years as a very good steward of American polity, but not a great president. To be a great president, you have to take risks and make changes.

Just as we can learn from the successes, there are lessons to be learned from the failures. What can you say about character traits that do not bode well for a successful presidency?
Scandal harms you tremendously. But I would say that the real failures are people like James Buchanan who faced a huge crisis—the debate over slavery that was descending upon America—and just simply didn’t want to deal with. He wasn’t willing to put himself out in any kind of politically risky way in order to address it. The result was it just got worse. It festered and got worse.

Occasionally, a president will make a comeback in historians’ minds. What would you say is the most reputation-altering presidential biography?
Grover Cleveland is the only president we have who actually is a two-time, one-term president. He is the only president who served two nonconsecutive terms. Each time he served four years, the voters said, “I’ve had enough. I’m going to turn away to either another person in the party or another candidate.”

Meanwhile, however, the first poll by Arthur Schlesinger Sr. in 1948 had Grover Cleveland at Number 8. That ranking came a few years after the great historian Allan Evans wrote a two volume biography of Grover Cleveland, in which he hailed him as a man of destiny and a man of character. I am sure that biography had a significant impact.

So, you describe a manner of assessing the greatest of past presidents. But, it is an election year. How do you suggest we evaluate current presidential candidates?
I don’t think the American people need a lot of instruction from me or anyone else in terms of how to make an assessment on the presidents when they come up for reelection. Presidential elections are largely referendums on the incumbent. The American people don’t pay a lot of attention to the challenger. They basically make their judgment collectively, based on the performance of the incumbent or the incumbent party. They pretty much screen out the trivia and the nonsense—a lot of the stuff that we in the political journalistic fraternity (and I’ve been a part of it for a long, long time) tend to take very seriously—and make their assessment based on sound judgments on how the president has fared, how well he has led the country and whether the country is in better shape than it was before. I am pretty confident that the American people know what they are doing.

Do you have any comment, then, on what qualities we might look for in a candidate, so that we maximize our chances of electing a leader of destiny?
One thing that we know from history is that the great presidents are never predicted as being great. They are elected in a political crucible. While supporters are convinced he is going to be great—or she; someday we will have a woman—his detractors and opponents will be absolutely convinced that he is going to be a total and utter disaster. Even after he is succeeding, they are going to say he is a disaster.

You can never really predict what a president is going to do or how effective he is going to be. Lincoln was considered a total country bumpkin from out there in rural Illinois. Oliver Wendell Holmes famously judged Franklin Roosevelt as having a first-rate temperament and a second-rate intellect. Ronald Reagan was viewed as a failed movie actor who just read his lines from 3-by-5 cards. And all three were great presidents.

What idea are you turning to next?
I wrote a history of the James Polk presidency [A Country of Vast Designs] and how the country moved west and gained all of that western and southwestern territory, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and then California to Texas. I am fascinated now by the subsequent time in our history when we busted out of our continental confines and went out into the world in the Spanish-American War. I am looking at the presidency of William McKinley and the frothy optimism of the country at that time when we decided to become something of an imperial power.

This interview series focuses on big thinkers. Without knowing whom I will interview next, only that he or she will be a big thinker in their field, what question do you have for my next interview subject?
I guess a big question I would have in terms of the state of the country is, why is the country in such a deadlock? And how in the world are we going to get out of the crisis that is a result of that deadlock?

From my last interviewee, Frank Partnoy, a University of San Diego professor and author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay: How do you know what you know? What is it about your research and experience and background that leads you to a degree of certainty about your views? With what degree of confidence do you hold that idea?
I am not a young man. I have been around a long time. I had certainty when I was young, but I have had a lot of my certitudes shaken over the years. But, if you have enough of that, you tend to accumulate at least a few observations about the world that seem pretty solid and grounded. So, you go with them.

You have to take it on faith that you have seen enough and you know enough and you have certain principal perceptions of how things work and how events unfold and how the thesis-antithesis leads to synthesis in politics or government or history. And, so you pull it together as best you can. Ultimately, the critics will determine how successful you were.

How the Ancestors of Birds Survived the Dino-Killing Asteroid

Smithsonian Magazine

Sixty-six million years ago, nothing seemed more unlikely than the dominance of bipedal apes and flying dinosaurs. Yet here we are.

The Cretaceous was a world of enormous terrestrial dinosaurs, some small mammals, and what we now recognize as the predecessors to modern birds. Some, like Hesperornis, were flightless creatures with a beak full of teeth that lived in the ocean. Others, like Icthyornis, were flying fish-eaters. Most diverse of all were the group of birdlike animals called Enantiornithines, or “opposite birds” (named because some of their bones are organized in the opposite manner as modern birds). They lived all across the globe, in over 80 different taxa, many of them adapted for life in the trees.

Not a single one of those species made it past the Chicxulub asteroid that landed on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The asteroid’s impact created a blast one billion times stronger than the bomb at Hiroshima—but that was only the start of the devastation. What followed were global wildfires, years of nuclear winter and acid rain. Amazingly, around 30 percent of organisms did manage to survive, and those survivors included the ancestors to all modern life we see today.

A new study speculates that the trick might have required being able to live on the ground. The study, published today in Current Biology, looks at evidence for widespread forest disappearance and the emergence of what we know now as modern birds. The researchers postulate that because forests were wiped out globally, birdlike creatures that required those perches for survival were forced into extinction, while the ground-dwellers survived.

“What I like about this paper is that it puts down a chip, a marker,” says David Jablonski, a professor of evolution and paleontology at the University of Chicago who wasn’t involved in the study. “Here’s a hypothesis and now it can be more fully explored.”

For the authors of the new paper, coming up with the hypothesis in the first place involved assembling a team of specialists from across the world of paleontology, including those who study ancient pollen and birds. First, the paleobotanists, who studied rock samples from North Dakota. Nestled inside the dusty fragments are millions of microfossils—preserved remains of pollen spores, leaf litter, wood and other debris.

“Because of their very small size and extreme abundance in sediments (around 100,000 per gram of rock), it is possible to study the composition of the flora and its change through time with very high precision, as you can sample the rock record centimeter by centimeter,” said Antoine Bercovici, a paleobotanist at the Smithsonian Institution and an author on the new paper, by email.

Ferns sprouting up in a fire-damaged forest. (Regan Dunn / The Field Museum)

Those microfossils from the boundary between the Cretaceous (the last geologic period of the dinosaurs) and the Paleogene (the period immediately following the asteroid) show a very particular pattern known as the “fern spike.” After millennia of spores from a wide variety of plants, suddenly 70 to 90 percent of the microfossil flora record comes from ferns. That’s because ferns reproduce with spores rather than seeds, which are much smaller and more easily spread through the wind, says Regan Dunn, another author on the paper and a paleobotanist at the Field Museum.

“When there’s a big forest fire or a volcanic eruption today, oftentimes the first things that come back are the ferns,” Dunn says. That spike in fern growth is apparent across the world, and it suggests that the ferns were monopolizing a landscape devoid of trees and other plant life. As far as the scientists can tell, it would’ve been a fairly gloomy world, between the ash-darkened skies and the unseasonal cold. But there was enough plant life left for vertebrates to eek out a living.

“When you destroy the environment, that affects every other living organism. You also see a decline in the insect faunas, and we know that because you can look at fossil leaves and see insect damage on them,” Dunn says. “The plants feed the bugs, and the bugs feed the birds, and the birds feed the mammals, so when you take the base out of that, you have massive repercussions.”

Daniel Field, a paleontologist at the UK’s University of Bath, has long been interested in the question of how a devastating mass extinction that occurred millions of years ago could ultimately produce the breathtaking diversity of bird species we see today. With this study, he and his team begin to piece together the answer. Using statistical analysis of the fossil record, combined with data on the forests, the researchers concluded that non-arboreal birds—those who didn’t live in trees—were much more likely to survive.

That’s not to say a ground-dwelling lifestyle was the only thing required for making it out of the mass extinction. Body size and diet likely had something to do with it, as well as other factors.

After all, there were dinosaurs the size of small birds who didn’t make it out—and researchers aren't yet sure why. “You’ve got to explain an extinction where the big dinosaurs went out, but the crocodiles didn’t. Where the mosasaurus went out, but sea turtles didn’t,” Jablonski says. “The fascinating thing to contemplate is, how do you have [a mass extinction] that removes 60 percent of organisms, but not 100 percent? It’s got to be really severe, but on the other hand, some of them are still standing.”

The next steps to filling in the picture will be figuring out what exactly happened to forests—the researchers currently think it took at least 1,000 years before they began to recover—and how everything else survived in the meantime. Birds diversified rapidly shortly after the extinction event, but scientists still aren’t sure exactly when it happened and how it varied among species.

The importance of piecing together this period of the past is also critical for predicting the future. The researchers say what happened to birds at the end of the Cretaceous could help us understand how human-made climate change might affect today’s birds. “What these kinds of studies show is that ecosystems, although remarkably resilient, really do have breaking points,” Jablonski says. “And that history should be considered extremely sobering.”

How the Death of 6,000 Sheep Spurred the American Debate on Chemical Weapons

Smithsonian Magazine

The morning of March 14, 1968, began just like any other day in the rural, snow-covered hills of Skull Valley, Utah. But for Tooele County Sheriff Fay Gillette, the carnage of the day would be forever seared in his mind, and for the rest of the country, it would come to be a flashpoint for a national debate about the use of chemical weapons.

“I’ve never seen such a sight in my life,” Gillette later told investigative reporter Seymour Hersh about the thousands of dead livestock splayed across the landscape. “It was like a movie version of ‘death and destruction’—you know, like after the bomb goes off. Sheep laying all over. All of them down—patches of white as far as you could see.”

Had all those sheep eaten a poisonous plant? Had they come into contact with foliage sprayed with pesticides? Or maybe there was an even more alarming culprit: the Dugway Proving Ground, the Army’s largest base for chemical and biological weapons testing, located only 80 miles from Salt Lake City and a mere 27 miles from the stricken animals.

As more sheep sickened and died, spokespeople for the Dugway facility denied testing any weapons in the days before the die-off. But on March 21, U.S. Senator Frank Moss, a Democrat representing Utah, released a Pentagon document that proved otherwise: On March 13, the day before Sherriff Gilette came across the macabre scene, a high-speed jet had sprayed 320 gallons of nerve gas VX across the Dugway grounds in a weapons test. The odorless, tasteless chemical is so deadly that less than 10 milligrams is enough to kill a human by asphyxiation, via paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

In the weeks and months tha followed, local veterinarians and health officials investigated the matter. Their findings: the jet that sprayed VX gas had experienced a malfunction in its delivery tanks and had accidentally released the gas at a much higher altitude than intended, allowing it to be blown far from the testing grounds. The ill-fated sheep had been grazing on grass covered in the chemical. Some died within 24 hours while others remained ill for weeks before succumbing, “generally act[ing] dazed, [with] their heads tilted down and off to the side, walk[ing] in a stilted, uncoordinated manner,” reported Philip Boffey for the journal Science. It was exactly the suite of symptoms scientists would expect to accompany poisoning by VX nerve gas.

But the most damning report came from the National Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta, which tested the water and forage food from the area, as well as the blood and livers of dead sheep. Their tests “prove beyond doubt that these responses are in fact identical and can only be attributed to the same chemical” as the Army provided for comparison, stated the report.

Despite the widespread coverage of the incident, locally and nationally, few people in the region expressed real alarm in the immediate aftermath. This was in part due to the fact that the military was the largest employer in the state. “Concern, from the highest level of state officialdom on down, was that too much investigating or talking about the incident might make the Army move its base from Dugway,” reported Seymour Hersh.

Although the Army never released a full, detailed report, they paid $376,685 to rancher Alvin Hatch, whose sheep accounted for 90 percent of those afflicted. The military also lent bulldozers for the mass burial of the dead sheep, and initiated a review of the safety protocol at Dugway.

But even with the sheep buried and settlements paid, the Army couldn’t make the incident disappear: the deaths of the sheep was only the starting point of what became a years-long battle over chemical weapons in the context of the Cold War and American military action in Vietnam. It’s all because Richard McCarthy, a Democratic congressman from New York, happened to see an NBC documentary about the incident in February 1969.

“Chemical and biological weapons were another side of the nuclear arms race, but they were a much more secret and hidden aspect of it,” says science historian Roger Eardley-Pryor. “They were much less known until Richard McCarthy made this a national issue.”

Before that point, chemical weapons were largely believed to be banned from use by international agreement. After World War I, in which every major power deployed chemical weapons—resulting in 1 million casualties and more than 90,000 deaths—Western nations signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol. The agreement prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons, and for a time it seemed as if it would be obeyed.

But the United States never signed the agreement. Between 1961 and 1969 alone, the U.S. military spent $2 billion on its chemical weapons stockpile, writes science historian Simone Müller in Historical Social Research. Over that same period, the military dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of old chemical weapons directly into the ocean, without bothering to keep records of precisely where or how many weapons were disposed of. The military also discovered multiple instances of chemicals leaking out of their containers, including 21,000 leaky bomb clusters discovered in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Denver.

Yet the American public was almost entirely unaware of any of the stockpiles, or the danger of testing, storing and transporting them. The only synthetic chemicals being discussed in the public sphere, Eardley-Pryor says, were pesticides harmful to the environment like DDT (Rachel Carson’s landmark research on the topic, Silent Spring, was published in 1962) and so-called “nonlethal” chemicals used in Vietnam, like the defoliating herbicide Agent Orange, and tear gas. (The defoliant would later be discovered to be carcinogenic, resulting in a multitude of health problems for Vietnam veterans and residents of the country.)

After McCarthy saw the NBC piece on the Dugway sheep kill, he was determined to learn more—and expose the chemical weapons complex to the rest of America. Beginning in May 1969, McCarthy instigated congressional hearings that revealed the extent of the U.S. chemical weapons program and uncovered a disposal program with a distasteful acronym: CHASE. It stood for the method by which toxic waste, moved onto ships and sent to sea, were disposed of: Cut Holes And Sink ’Em.

A little more than a year after the Dugway incident, in July of 1969, a small leak developed in a nerve gas weapon on the U.S. military base on Okinawa; 24 people were injured, though none fatally. The press and the public quickly drew a line between Okinawa and the Utah sheep. More incidents came to light. “The Pentagon admitted that, besides Dugway Proving Ground in Utah… Edgewood Arsenal, Md. and Fort McClellan, Ala., have also been the sites of open-air testing of Tabun, Sarin, Soman, VX and mustard gas,” reported Science.

Military officials argued that tear gas, at least, had an important place in the Vietnam War: it could protect U.S. soldiers by flushing Viet Cong soldiers out of hiding without killing innocent Vietnamese citizens. But after years of growing steadily more unpopular, even the argument for the humane use of tear gas in Vietnam lost its power. In 1975, Congress approved the protocol and President Gerald Ford ratified it. The U.S. would no longer use chemical weapons—lethal or nonlethal—in warfare. Ironically, tear gas has continued to be used as a weapon of pacification domestically; law enforcement from local police officers to the National Guard have continued to use tear gas to quell riots and prevent property damage.

But chemical weapons, which scientists of the 1960s and 70s described as emerging from Pandora’s box, continue to haunt us. From their deadly use by dictator Bashar al-Assad on his own people in Syria, to Russia’s apparent use of a nerve agent on former intelligence officials in the U.K., it’s clear that the use and legacy of synthetic chemicals is far from over.

While there is no definitive solution to preventing the use and spread of such weapons, Eardley-Pryor does add that it’s rare for countries to actually use them. “I’m very thankful, if surprised, that other nations have agreed to say this is a terrible thing, we’re not going to use it,” he says.

And in the U.S., at least, we may have the sheep to thank for it.

How the Formerly Ubiquitous Pumpkin Became a Thanksgiving Treat

Smithsonian Magazine

With its spice-infused creamy, orange filling and crisp crust, there’s nothing quite like pumpkin pie to herald the arrival of the Thanksgiving holiday (though some might argue in favor of its other forms, from pumpkin bread to pumpkin ale). The pumpkin features uniquely in this fall holiday and the autumn weeks generally, remaining absent from other celebrations like the Fourth of July or Christmas. But at one point, the squash was as ubiquitous as bread—and sometimes even more so, as American colonists would rely on it to make bread when their harvest of wheat fell short. How did the pumpkin go from everyday produce to seasonal treat? It’s a story more than 10,000 years in the making.

To understand the surprising trajectory of the orange pumpkin, it’s important to know something of its life history. The cheerful pumpkin is known by the species name Cucurbita pepo—a species that also includes acorn squash, ornamental gourds and even zucchini. All these different forms of Cucurbita pepo are cultivars, varieties of the same species that are selected in certain forms by human farmers. And yes, they are technically fruits, though many refer to them colloquially as vegetables.

Before humans arrived in the Americas, wild forms of these squashes grew in natural abundance around floodplains and other disrupted habitats, with the help of enormous mammalian herbivores. Creatures like giant ground sloths, mastodons and gomphotheres (elephant-like animals) created the perfect environment for wild squashes, and when humans arrived and hunted the massive herbivores to extinction, many of the wild squashes and gourds went extinct as well. Those that survived managed to do so because humans continued growing them, making squashes (including in the pumpkin form) the first domesticated plant in the Americas. Archaeologists unearthed the oldest example of orange field pumpkin seeds in Oaxaca, Mexico and dated them to an astonishing 10,000 years—millennia before the appearance of domesticated corn or beans.

Initially, indigenous people used the squashes for their seeds and as containers, but by 2500 B.C. Native Americans in the Southwest were cultivating corn, beans and squash on farms. The crop spread across the Americas, with communities from the Haudenosaunee in the northeast (also known as the Iroquois Confederacy) to the Cherokee of the southeast planting and sometimes venerating the squash.

When Europeans arrived, they encountered the endemic crop everywhere. “Columbus mentioned them on his first voyage, Jacques Cartier records their growing in Canada in the 1530s, Cabeza de Vaca saw them in Florida in the 1540s, as did Hernando de Soto in the 1550s,” writes historian Mary Miley Theobald. Native Americans cooked the squashes in all manner of ways: roasting them in the fire, cutting them into stews, pounding the dried flesh into a powder, or drying strips of it into something like vegetable jerky. (At one point George Washington had his farm manager attempt the same preparation with Mount Vernon pumpkins, only for the man to report, “I tried the mode you directed of slicing and drying them, but it did not appear to lengthen their preservation.”)

For these colonists, the squashes provided an abundant source of nutrition, and they rarely distinguished one form of Cucurbita pepo from another. “Through the colonial era they used the words interchangeable for pumpkin or squash,” says Cindy Ott, the author of Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon. As to whether the Pilgrims ate pumpkin at their iconic meal with Native Americans, Ott says there’s no mention of it in the written records, but people “probably ate it that day, the day before, and the day after.”

It wasn’t until the early-19th century that Americans began to distinguish between the different forms of Cucurbita pepo, when masses of people moved from the rural countryside to urban areas during the Industrial Revolution. Zucchini and other summer squashes were sold as cultivars in city markets; the pumpkin, however, remained on farms, used as livestock feed. City-dwellers, meanwhile, ached with nostalgia for their connection to the land, Ott says. By the middle of the century, popular songs pined for happy childhoods spent on the farm. The pumpkin served as a symbol of that farming tradition, even for people who no longer actually worked on farms. “The pumpkin has no economic value in this new industrial economy,” Ott says. “The other squashes are associated with daily life, but the pumpkin represents abundance and pure agrarian ideals.”

Pumpkin pie first appeared as a recipe in the 1796 cookbook American Cookery, published by New England writer Amelia Simmons, and was sold mainly in that region. When the dessert gained popularity, it was billed as a New England specialty. That connection to the North translated to the pumpkin being appropriated by abolitionists leading up to and during the Civil War, Ott says. Women who championed the anti-slavery cause also wrote poetry and short stories about pumpkins, praising them as a symbol of the resilient, northern family farmer. The status of the squash rose to national prominence in 1863, when President Lincoln, at the behest of numerous women abolitionists, named the fourth Thursday in November as a national holiday.

“The women who [helped create] Thanksgiving as a holiday were strong abolitionists, so they associated pumpkin farms with northern virtue and very consciously compared it to Southern immoral plantation life,” Ott says. “That feeds into how Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the midst of the Civil War, when the pumpkin was a pivotal player in the northern harvest.”

The link between Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie has continued to this day, with American farmers growing more than a billion pounds of pumpkin annually, the vast majority for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Urbanites travel out to family farms to buy their jack-o-lantern pumpkins, and visit the grocery store for canned pumpkin before the big holiday. For Ott, learning the history of the pumpkin was a lesson in how every-day objects can tell deeper stories.

“These very romantic ideas are about farm life and how Americans like to imagine themselves, because farming is hard work and most people wanted to leave the farm as soon as they could,” Ott says. “But [the pumpkin shows] how we think about nature, ourselves and our past. A humble vegetable can tell all these stories.”

In Bolivia's High-Altitude Capital, Indigenous Traditions Thrive Once Again

Smithsonian Magazine

For most of the seven years I lived in La Paz, my home was a small stucco cottage pressed into a hillside. The cement floors were cold, and the second-story roof was corrugated metal, which made rain and hail such a racket that storms often sent me downstairs. But the views more than compensated for the hassles. When I moved in, I painted the bedroom walls heron-egg blue and put the mattress so close to the window I could press my nose against the glass. At night I fell asleep watching the city lights knit up into the stars, and in the morning I woke to a panoramic view of Illimani, the 21,000-foot peak that sits on its haunches keeping watch over Bolivia’s capital. It was like living in the sky.

Once you get used to all that altitude, La Paz is best explored on foot. Walking allows you to revel in the staggering vistas while dialing into an intimate world of ritual and ceremony, whether inhaling the sweet green aroma of burning herbs along a well-worn path or coming upon a procession celebrating the saints who safeguard each neighborhood. One of my closest friends, Oscar Vega, lived a ten-minute walk from my house. Oscar is a sociologist and writer with dense gray hair, freckled cheeks, and thick eyeglasses. Every few days we had a long, late lunch or coffee, and I liked nothing better than going to meet him, hustling along steep cobblestone streets that cascade down into the main avenue known as the Prado, hoping to imitate the elegant shuffle-jog used by many paceños as they negotiate the pitched terrain. Men in leather jackets and pleated trousers, women in full skirts or 1980s-style pantsuits, or teenagers in Converse sneakers; they all seemed to understand this common way of moving. In La Paz, life happens on a vertical plane. Negotiating the city is always spoken of in terms of up and down because it’s not just surrounded by mountains: It is mountains.

The most important things to consider in La Paz are the geography and the fact that its identity is closely tied to indigenous Aymara culture. “The mountains are everywhere,” said Oscar. “But it’s not just that they’re there; it’s also the way we’re influenced by the indigenous notion that these mountains have spirits—apus—and that those spirits watch over everything that lives nearby.”

Oscar is also passionate about seeing the city on foot. Ten years ago, when we became friends, he told me about Jaime Sáenz, the poet-flaneur of La Paz, and Sáenz’s book, Imágenes Paceñas. It’s a strange, unapologetic love letter to the city, a catalog of streets and landmarks and working-class people, punctuated by blurred photos with captions that resemble Zen koans. The very first
entry is a silhouette of Illimani—the mountain—and after it, a page with a few sentences:

Illimani is simply there—it is not something that is seen… / The mountain is a presence.

Those lines ring especially true during the winter solstice, when Illimani virtually presides over the many celebrations. In the Southern Hemisphere, the day usually falls on June 21, which also marks the New Year in the tradition of the Aymara people, for whom the New Year is a deeply felt holiday. The celebration hinges on welcoming the first rays of the sun—and while you can do so anywhere the sun shines, the belief is that the bigger the view of the mountains and sky, the more meaningful the welcome.

Most years I joined friends to celebrate in Tupac Katari Plaza, a tiny square up in El Alto that looks down into La Paz, with an unobstructed view of all the biggest peaks: sentry-like Illimani and many others. Every year, about a dozen people showed up early, staying warm by sipping coffee and tea and Singani, Bolivia’s potent national spirit, while whispering and pacing in the dark. And every year, I would be sure that the turnout would be equally understated, only to watch as, just before sunrise, sudden and overwhelming crowds gathered in the plaza. Each person’s elbows seemed to be quietly pressing into someone else’s ribs, everyone charged with anticipation that something sacred was about to happen. As the sun lifted over the Andes, we all raised our hands to receive its first rays, heads ever so slightly bowed. As if the sun—and the mountains—were something to be felt rather than seen.


When I told Oscar I wanted to learn more about the rituals I’d seen around La Paz, he sent me to talk to Milton Eyzaguirre, the head of the education department of Bolivia’s ethnographic museum—known as MUSEF. The first thing Milton did was to remind me that it wasn’t always so easy to practice indigenous traditions in public.

“When I was growing up, all of our rituals were prohibited. People treated you terribly if you did anything that could be perceived as indigenous,” Milton said. Milton has sharp, bright eyes and a neatly trimmed goatee. His office is tucked away inside the museum, just a few blocks away from the Plaza Murillo, where the congress building and presidential palace are located.

“We were losing our roots. We lived in the city, and we had very little relationship to rural life or the rituals that had come out of it. We were all being taught not to look to the Andes but to the West. If you still identified with the mountains, or with Andean culture in general, you faced serious discrimination.”

Image by © David Mercado/Reuters/Corbis. Aymara people greet sunrise during a winter solstice ceremony in Tiwanaku, 43.5 miles from La Paz. (original image)

Image by Jenny Matthews/Corbis. Two groups perform winter solstice ceremonies atop La Cumbre Pass, near La Paz, at 15,260 feet. (original image)

Image by © Jenny Matthews/In Pictures/Corbis. The Aymara celebrate winter solstice. At first sign of the sun, people hold up their hands to greet the light. (original image)

Image by © Jenny Matthews/In Pictures/Corbis. The winter solstice signifies the time for planting and new growth. (original image)

Image by © DAVID MERCADO/Reuters/Corbis. An Aymara witchdoctor makes an offering at sunrise during a winter solstice ceremony in Tiwanaku. (original image)

Image by © JOSE LUIS QUINTANA/X01640/Reuters/Corbis. (original image)

Image by © DAVID MERCADO/Reuters/Corbis. An Aymara woman holds an offering consisting of a llama fetus during new year celebrations in La Paz. (original image)

Image by © John Coletti/JAI/Corbis. An Aymaran woman visits Tiahuanaco, the site of a pre-Incan settlement near modern La Paz. (original image)

Image by © Alessandro Della Bella/Keystone/Corbis. In the shadow of Mururata and three-peaked Illimani, La Paz and its neighboring city of El Alto reach up the hillsides to creat unusually vertiginous streetscapes. (original image)

Image by © Pablo Corral Vega/CORBIS. Nevado Illimani and La Paz by night (original image)

Image by © Florian Kopp/imageBROKER/Corbis. Two llamas navigate the highlands of La Paz. (original image)

Milton told me that even though his parents are Aymara and Quechua, by the time he was born, they’d already stopped celebrating most of their traditions. When he explored Andean culture as a teenager—and eventually decided to become an anthropologist—it all stemmed from a desire to question the latent repression he saw happening to his own family, and to indigenous Bolivians in general.

I immediately thought of Bolivia’s current president, Evo Morales, an Aymara coca farmer first elected in 2005. Over the years, I’ve interviewed Morales a handful of times—but I most remember the first interview, a few weeks after he’d been sworn in. At a question about what it was like to be from an indigenous family, he thought long and hard, then told a story about being ridiculed as a kid when he moved to the city from the countryside. Since Morales spent most of his early childhood speaking Aymara, his Spanish was thickly accented, and he said both his classmates and his teachers made fun of that accent; that they berated him for being indigenous—even though many of them were indigenous themselves. The experience left such an impression that he mostly stopped speaking Aymara. Now, he said, he had trouble holding a conversation in his first language. Morales paused again, then gestured outside the window to the Plaza Murillo, his face briefly tight and fragile. Fifty years earlier, he said, his mother hadn’t been allowed to walk across that plaza because she was indigenous. The simple act of walking across a public space was prohibited for the country’s majority.

The last time I spoke with Morales was at an event several years later, and it was just a standard hello and handshake. The event, however, was quite remarkable. It was a llama sacrifice at a smelter owned by the Bolivian state. Several indigenous priests known as yatiris had just overseen an elaborate ceremony meant to offer thanks to the Earth—in the Andes, a spirit known as Pachamama—and to bring good fortune to the workers, most of whom were also indigenous. In Bolivia, there are many different types of yatiris; depending on the specialty, a yatiri might preside over blessings, read the future in coca leaves, help cure illnesses according to Andean remedies, or even cast powerful spells. Whatever you thought of Morales’s politics, it was clear that a huge cultural shift was taking place.

“Everything Andean has a new value,” said Eyzaguirre, referring to the years since Morales has been in office. “Now we’re all proud to look to the Andes again. Even a lot of people that aren’t indigenous.”


Geraldine O’Brien Sáenz is an artist and a distant relative of Jaime Sáenz. Though she spent a brief stint in Colorado as a teenager and has an American father, she’s spent most of her life in La Paz and is a keen observer of the place—and of the small rituals that have gradually been folded into popular culture.

“Like when you pachamamear,” she said, referring to the way that most residents of La Paz spill out the first sip of alcohol onto the ground when drinking with friends, as a show of gratitude to the Earth. “It’s not mandatory, of course, but it’s common. Especially if you’re out drinking in the street, which is a ritual of its own.”

She also participates in Alasitas, the festival in January when people collect dollhouse-size miniatures of everything they hope to have in the coming year, from cars and houses to diplomas, plane tickets, sewing machines and construction equipment. All items must be properly blessed by noon on the holiday, which causes midday traffic jams every year as people rush to make the deadline.  

Geraldine admitted that she observes Alasitas mostly because of her younger sister, Michelle, who has a penchant for it. For the blessing to really work, said Geraldine, you can’t buy anything for yourself; instead, you must receive the miniatures as gifts. So Michelle and Geraldine go out, buy each other objects representing their wishes and pay to have an on-site yatiri bless everything while dousing it in smoke, flower petals and alcohol. The blessing is known as a ch’alla.

“So now I have like 25 years’ worth of Alasitas stuff sitting in my house,” said Geraldine. “They’re actually rotting because of the ch’alla, all that wine and flower petals sitting in a plastic bag. But there’s no way I’d throw it out. That’s bad luck.”

This fear of repercussions underpins many rituals. Miners make offerings to a character known as El Tío, who is the god of the mine, because they want to strike it rich—and because they want to keep El Tío from getting angry and causing a tunnel to cave in on them or a misplaced stick of dynamite to take off someone’s hand. Anyone doing construction makes an offering to Pachamama, first when breaking ground and again when pouring the foundation, to ensure that the building turns out well—and also to keep people from getting hurt or killed in the process of putting it up.

All those I spoke to, whether they follow indigenous traditions or not, had a cautionary tale about something bad happening after someone failed to respect rituals. Oscar talked about having to call in a yatiri for a blessing at his office, to protect some colleagues frightened by a co-worker who’d started studying black magic. Geraldine told me about an apartment building that collapsed—perhaps because a llama fetus hadn’t been buried as it should have been in the foundation. She recalled the Bolivian film Elephant Cemetery, which references an urban legend that some buildings actually require a human sacrifice. And Milton Eyzaguirre related how during one phase of construction of the museum where he works, four workers died on the job. He directly attributes it to the lack of a proper offering made before the start of construction.

“In instances where there’s not a proper ch’alla, people get hurt. I mean, you’re opening up the Earth. I think it’s prudent to ask permission. Because if you don’t, the spirits in the house or in the spot where you’re building—they may get jealous. Which will make things go very, very badly.”

Image by © Peter Langer/Design Pics/Corbis. An Aymara woman and her dog await customers at the Witches' Market on Calle Linares in La Paz. (original image)

Image by © Anders Ryman/Corbis. Items for sale at the Witches' Market include statuettes and amulets. (original image)

Image by © Anders Ryman/Corbis. The Mercado de las Brujas, or Witches' Market, in La Paz sells every manner of potion, dried animal and medicinal plant for rituals and health. This tray's contents, which include incense and a dried llama fetus, will be burned as an offering for good luck. (original image)

Image by © DAVID MERCADO/Reuters/Corbis. Miniature dollar notes are displayed during the traditional Alasitas fair in La Paz. During Alasitas, Bolivians buy objects in miniature with the hopes of acquiring them in real life during the year. (original image)

Image by © Natalie Fernandez/Demotix/Corbis. A small boy, dressed as the god of abundance, attends the Alasitas fair in La Paz. (original image)

Image by © RICKEY ROGERS/Reuters/Corbis. Bolivian President Evo Morales wears wreaths of bread, coca leaves and miniature dollar bills during the Alasitas fair in 2006. (original image)

“They couldn’t kill off the mountains, so building on them was the next best thing,” said Milton as he described the arrival of the Spanish. He told me that once the Spanish realized they couldn’t eliminate the Andean gods—they were the Earth and mountains, after all—they decided to erect churches on top of the spots that were most important to Andean religion.

He added that urban life itself also changed the way people practice rituals of rural origin. For instance, in the countryside people traditionally danced in circles and up into the mountains as an offering to their community and to the Earth. But in La Paz, he said, most people now dance downward in typical parade formation, orienting themselves along the main avenues that lead down
toward the city center.

Still, compared with most other capital cities in the Americas, La Paz retains a distinctly rural identity, and the way people interact with the city on foot is part of that. “Sure, people are starting to take taxis or buses more and more, but we all still go out on foot, even if it’s just strolling down the Prado or going to the corner for bread,” said Oscar. Like many paceños, he goes out early each morning to buy fresh marraquetas. The rustic, dense rolls are usually sold on the street in enormous baskets. They’re best nibbled plain, warm—ideally, while walking around on a damp morning.

One afternoon in late winter, when Oscar said he was feeling restless, we decided we’d walk up into the mountains the following day. In the morning we met at sunrise, picked up coffee and marraquetas, and scaled Calle Mexico to the Club Andino, a local mountaineering organization. The Club Andino sometimes offers a cheap shuttle from downtown La Paz to Chacaltaya, a mountain peak atop a former glacier deep in the Andes, about an hour and a half from the city center.

We folded ourselves into a back corner of a large van with three or four rows of seats, the same kind of van that runs up and down the Prado with someone hanging from the window calling out routes. Oscar and I looked out the windows at the high-altitude plains. He mentioned how his former partner—a Colombian woman named Olga with whom he has two daughters and whom he still considers a close friend—couldn’t stand the geography of La Paz.

“I think this landscape is just too much for some people.” He said it pleasantly, as if the idea were puzzling to him; as if the landscape in question were not immense scrubby plains flanked by barren, even more immense mountains, all of it under a flat and penetratingly bright sky. I fully empathize with Olga’s feelings about the intensity of the high Andes, yet I’ve come to love this geography. After almost a decade spent living there, I still get weepy each time I fly in and out of La Paz. The environment is stark, and harsh—but also stunning, the sort of landscape that puts you in your place, in the very best way possible.

Once at Chacaltaya, we struck out into the mountains on our own. While I could pick out the well-known peaks I saw from my bedroom window or while wandering in the city, now there was a sea of dramatic topography I did not recognize. Luckily, all I had to do was follow Oscar, who has walked up these mountains since he was a teenager. No trail, no map, no compass. Only the orientation of the mountains.

Within a few hours, we were approaching a high pass near an abandoned mine, the sort that a few men might haphazardly dig and dynamite in a bid to earn a little money. A smell like paint fumes came out of the mouth of the mine, and we speculated about what kind of god might live inside. After pulling ourselves up a three-sided shaft for moving tools and materials along the almost vertical incline, we reached the summit of that particular mountain and stood on a ledge looking out over other mountains stretching to the horizon. I realized I might faint, and said so. Oscar just laughed and said he wasn’t surprised. We’d reached about 15,000 feet. He motioned to sit, our feet dangling over the ledge into nothing, then handed me pieces of chocolate meant to help  with lightheadedness, while he smoked a cigarette. We continued, descending several hundred feet in altitude, enough for me to spend breath on conversation again. For Oscar, however, oxygen never seemed to be an issue. He had been blithely smoking since we got out of the van at the dying glacier.

At the end of the day, we returned to a lagoon where earlier that morning we’d noticed two Aymara families preparing chuño: freeze-dried potatoes made by exposing the tubers to the cold night air, then soaking them in a pool of frigid water, stomping the water out, and letting them dry in the sun. Now the family was packing up. We said hello and talked for a moment about the chuño, then hiked to the road, where we waited till a truck pulled over. There were already two families of farmers in the open-roofed cargo space. We exchanged greetings, then all sat on our heels in silence, listening to the roar of the wind and watching lichen-covered cliffs zoom overhead as we descended back into La Paz.

Eventually the cliffs were replaced by cement-and-glass buildings, and soon after, the truck stopped. We could make out the sound of brass bands. Chuquiaguillo, one of the neighborhoods on the northern slopes of the city, was celebrating its patron saint, with a distinctly La Paz mix of Roman Catholic iconography and indigenous ceremony. Oscar and I climbed out of the truck and jogged through the crowd. We made our way through packs of dancers in sequins and ribbons, musicians in slick tailored suits, women peddling skewers of beef heart and men hawking beer and fireworks. When we reached a stage blocking the street, we crawled under it, careful not to disconnect any cables. Night was falling, and the sky darkened to a brooding shade of gray. A storm lit up the vast earthen bowl that the city sits in, clouds rolling toward us.

When the raindrops started to pelt our shoulders, we hailed a collective van headed down into the center, and piled in with some of the revelers. One couple looked so inebriated that when we reached their stop, the driver’s assistant went out in the rain to help them to their door. None of the other passengers said a word. No jokes or criticisms, no complaints about the seven or eight minutes spent waiting. Everyone seemed to understand that tolerance was just one piece of the larger ritual of community, and that being part of such rituals, large and small, was the only way to ever really inhabit La Paz.

Indian Supreme Court Orders Government to Restore the Taj Mahal — or Demolish It

Smithsonian Magazine

For almost 400 years, the Taj Mahal, just south of the Indian city of Agra, has stood as a gleaming white monument to love; the iconic mausoleum was built at the command of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to commemorate his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died during childbirth. But lately the tomb has lost some of its shine—bug poop and industrial pollution have begun to turn its white marble green, black, brown and yellow, and state caretakers have struggled to keep the building clean. Now, reports Gareth Harris at The Art Newspaper, the Supreme Court of India has handed down an ultimatum—“Either you demolish [the Taj Mahal] or you restore it.”

The BBC reports this is not the first time the court has weighed in on the state of the Taj. In May, the court instructed the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the Unesco World Heritage Site is located, to seek out foreign experts to help stop the “worrying change in color” of the monument since it appeared state experts were unable or unwilling to save the monument. Since that order, however, the federal and state governments had not filed any sort of action plan or follow-up, prompting the court to accuse them of “lethargy” and to issue the hyperbolic mandate that they might as well demolish the site if they weren’t going to take care of it.

The once-gleaming Taj Mahal faces several threats, most of them manmade. In another article, the BBC reports that an insect called Chironomus calligraphus has invaded the monument, leaving patches of green-black frass in many parts of the structure. While the bug is native to the Yamuna River, which flows past the Taj, its population has exploded in recent years due to pollution of the waterway. “Fifty-two drains are pouring waste directly into the river and just behind the monument, Yamuna has become so stagnant that fish that earlier kept insect populations in check are dying. This allows pests to proliferate in the river,” environmental activist DK Joshi tells the BBC.

The bug poo can be scrubbed away, but frequent scrubbing of the marble is labor intensive and dulls its shine.

Industrial pollution is also taking its toll. Nearby oil refineries, a 200-year-old wood-burning crematorium, and other factories have caused the marble to start turning yellow. Though the government has closed dozens of nearby factories, it has not stopped the yellowing of the Taj. While conservators use a special type of mud plastered to the walls to pull out the pollutants every few years, the pollution stains keep returning.

The threat to demolish the iconic landmark is certainly a bluff, but one the federal government is not planning to call. Today, Dipak K. Dasha and Vishwa Mohan of The Times of India report that the government is preparing to file an affidavit with the court including a 100-year plan for the Taj in response to the Supreme Court’s admonishment. The plan includes closing down more industries near the Taj, cleaning up and preventing pollution discharge into the Yamuna, establishing a green mass transit system in Agra, improving the area’s sewage treatment plants and establishing a rubber dam to maintain the flow of water in the river, which can help in conservation efforts.

“We’ll take all possible measures on a war footing in a time bound manner to conserve the Taj Mahal and protect it from all kinds of pollution, be it air or water,” water resources minister Nitin Gadkari tells The Times. “We are sad over the Supreme Court’s observations. We, perhaps, couldn’t tell the court as to what all we have already done and what all we have been doing. We’ll inform the court all this in our affidavit.”

Any investment to preserve the Taj Mahal is probably worth it. The nation’s top tourist attraction draws up to 70,000 visitors per day, and all the dollars that go along with that. Of course, tourism is a double-edged sword, too: All that foot traffic is impacting the foundations of the aging structure and the touch of oily human hands and moist breath is discoloring the interior. That’s why earlier this year the Archaeological Survey of India proposed capping the number of Indian visitors to the site at 40,000 per day. And in March the Survey implemented a 3-hour limit to visits, also an attempt to keep crowd sizes down.

Is Paris Still a Haven for Black Americans?

Smithsonian Magazine

My father, a bookish black man old enough to be my grandfather, grew up in Texas while it was still a segregated state. As soon as he could, he got himself far enough away from there to cover the walls of his study with photographs of his travels to destinations as exotic as Poland and Mali. As far back as I can remember, he was insistent that the one place in the world truly worth going was Paris. Being a child, I accepted the assertion at face value—mostly because of the way his eyes lit up when he spoke of this city that was nothing but two syllables for me—I assumed he must have lived there once or been very close to someone who had. But it turned out this wasn’t the case. Later, when I was older, and when he was finished teaching for the day, he would often throw on a loose gray Université de Paris Sorbonne sweatshirt with dark blue lettering, a gift from his dearest student, who had studied abroad there. From my father, then, I grew up with the sense that the capital of France was less a physical place than an invigorating idea that stood for many things, not least of which were wonder, sophistication, and even freedom. “Son, you have to go to Paris,” he used to tell me, out of nowhere, a smile rising at the thought of it, and I would roll my eyes because I had aspirations of my own then, which seldom ventured beyond our small New Jersey town. “You’ll see,” he’d say, and chuckle.

And he was right. My wife, a second generation Parisian from Montparnasse, and I moved from Brooklyn to a gently sloping neighborhood in the 9th arrondissement, just below the neon glare of Pigalle, in 2011. It was my second time living in France, and by then I was fully aware of the pull this city had exercised throughout the years, not just on my father but also on the hearts and minds of so many black Americans. One of the first things I noticed in our apartment was that, from the eastfacing living room, if I threw open the windows and stared out over the Place Gustave Toudouze, I could see 3 Rue Clauzel, where Chez Haynes, a soul food institution and until recently the oldest American restaurant in Paris, served New Orleans shrimp gumbo, fatback, and collard greens to six decades of luminous visitors, black expats, and curious locals. It fills me with pangs of nostalgia to imagine that not so long ago, if I’d squinted hard enough, I would have spotted Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, or even a young James Baldwin—perhaps with the manuscript for Another Country under his arm—slipping through Haynes’s odd log cabin exterior to fortify themselves with familiar chatter and the larded taste of home.

In many ways, the trajectory of Chez Haynes, which finally shuttered in 2009, mirrors the bestknown narrative of the black expat tradition in Paris. It begins in World War II, when Leroy “Roughhouse” Haynes, a strapping Morehouse man and ex-football player, like so many African Americans initially stationed in Germany, made his way to the City of Lights once fighting had concluded. Here he found the freedom to love whomever he wanted, and married a Frenchwoman named Gabrielle Lecarbonnier. In 1949, the two opened Gabby and Haynes on the Rue Manuel. Though later he would tell journalists that “chitterlings and soul food” were a tough sell for the French, the restaurant immediately thrived on the business of fellow black GIs banging around the bars and clubs of Montmartre and Pigalle—early adopters whose presence lured the writers, jazzmen, and hangers-on. After splitting with Gabrielle, the thrice-wed Haynes spent another stint in Germany before returning to Paris and opening his eponymous solo venture, just across the Rue des Martyrs, at the site of a former brothel. The centrality of this new establishment to the era’s black demimonde can be summed up in a single, vivid image: an original Beauford Delaney portrait of James Baldwin that Haynes hung casually above the kitchen doorway.

By the time Leroy Haynes died in 1986, the legendary postwar black culture his restaurant had for decades come to epitomize and concentrate— like the relevance of jazz music itself in black life—had largely dissipated. Most of the GIs had long since gone home, where civil rights legislation had been in place for nearly a generation. And it was no longer clear to what extent even artists still looked to Europe in the manner of the author of Native Son, Richard Wright, who famously told interviewers in 1946 that he’d “felt more freedom in one square block of Paris than there is in the entire United States of America.” Though Haynes’s Portuguese widow, Maria dos Santos, kept the restaurant running—for some 23 more years by infusing the menu with Brazilian spice—it functioned more like a mausoleum than like any vital part of the contemporary city. What I remind myself now as I push my daughter’s stroller past the hollowed-out shell at 3 Rue Clauzel, offering up a silent salut to the ghosts of a previous generation, is that even if I’d arrived here sooner, the magic had long since disappeared.

Or had it? A few years ago, at the home of a young French trader I’d known in New York who’d moved back to Paris and developed the habit of throwing large, polyglot dinners with guests from all over, I met the esteemed black Renaissance man Saul Williams, a poet, singer, and actor of considerable talents. As we got to talking over red wine and Billie Holiday’s voice warbling in the background, it occurred to me that Williams—who was at the time living with his daughter in a spacious apartment near the Gare du Nord, recording new music and acting in French cinema—was in fact the genuine article, a modern-day Josephine Baker or Langston Hughes. The thought struck me too that, at least on that evening, I was his witness and therefore a part of some still-extant tradition. It was the first time I had seen my own life in Paris in such terms.

A while after that, Saul moved back to New York, and I continued to toil away on a novel I’d brought with me from Brooklyn—solitary work that doesn’t provide much occasion to mingle—but the thought stuck. Was Paris in any meaningful way still a capital of the black American imagination? It’s a question I recently set out to try to answer. After all, though there was a singular explosion of blacks here during and after the two World Wars, the African-American romance with Paris dates back even further. It begins in antebellum Louisiana, where members of the mulatto elite—often wealthy land and even slave owners who were discriminated against by Southern custom—began sending their free, French-speaking sons to France to finish their schooling and live on a socially equal footing. Bizarre as it seems, that pattern continues right up to this day with the semi-expatriation of the superstar rapper Kanye West, who has planted something more than mere international-rich-person roots here, flourished creatively, and made serious headway in the local music and fashion industries. (It is to West’s not unrequited love of all things Gallic that we may credit the surreal vision of presidential candidate François Hollande’s youth-inspired campaign commercial set to “Niggas in Paris,” West and Jay Z’s exuberantly ribald anthem.)

Certainly, such a durable, centuries-old tradition must still manifest itself in any number of quotidian ways that I simply hadn’t been noticing. In fact, I knew this to be true when several months earlier I had become friendly with Mike Ladd, a 44-year-old hip-hop artist from Boston by way of the Bronx, who turned out also to be my neighbor. Like me, Ladd is of mixed-race heritage but selfdefines as black; he’s also married to a Parisian, and is often incorrectly perceived in France, his striking blue eyes leading people to mistake him for a Berber. Talking with Mike and then with my friend Joel Dreyfuss, the Haitian-American former editor of The Root who splits time between New York and an apartment in the 17th arrondissement, I explained that I was searching for today’s black scene, whatever that might be. Both men immediately pointed me in the direction of the novelist and playwright Jake Lamar, a Harvard graduate who has been living here since 1992.

Over pints of Leffe at the Hotel Amour, a hive of fashionable social activity just one block uphill from the old Chez Haynes (and also reputedly in the space of a former brothel), Jake, who is bespectacled and disarmingly friendly, explains that he first came to Paris as a young writer on a Lyndhurst Fellowship (a precursor to the MacArthur “Genius” grant) and stayed, like almost everyone you encounter from abroad in this town, for love. He and his wife, Dorli, a Swiss stage actor, have made their adopted home together on the far side of Montmartre. Though his coming to Paris was not explicitly a choice against the United States, as Wright’s and Baldwin’s had been, “I was happy to get out of America,” he concedes. “I was angry about Rodney King and also about the little things: It’s a relief to get in an elevator and no one’s clutching her purse!”

Is there still a bona fide black community in Paris? I ask him. “The ’90s were a moment of community,” he explains, “but a lot of the old generation has passed away.” There is no longer, for example, anyone quite like Tannie Stovall, the prosperous physicist whose “first Friday” dinners for “brothers”—inspired by the spirit of the Million Man March—became a rite of passage for scores of African Americans passing through or moving to Paris. But Jake’s generation of black expats—men now mostly in their 50s and 60s, many of whom first made each other’s acquaintance at Stovall’s apartment years ago—continue the tradition as best they can.

A week after meeting him, I tag along with Jake to the group’s next improvised gathering, a dinner held in a large-by-Paris-standards rezde- chaussée loft on the Rue du Faubourg Saint- Denis. The host, a native Chicagoan named Norman Powell with an authentic twang, sent out an email invitation that seems to affirm Jake’s assessment: “Hey my brothers … Our Friday meetings have become a thing of the past. Certainly it’s not possible for anyone to host them like Tannie did, but I’m for trying to get together a couple of times a year.” When I arrive, I’m welcomed cordially and told I’ve just missed the author and Cal Berkeley professor Tyler Stovall (no relation to Tannie), as well as Randy Garrett, a man whose name seems to bring a smile to everyone’s face when it’s mentioned. Garrett, I quickly gather, is the jokesterraconteur of the group. Originally from Seattle, he once, I’m told, owned and operated a sensational rib joint on the Left Bank, just off the Rue Mouffetard, and now gets by as a bricoleur (handyman) and on his wits. Still drinking wine in the living room are a young singer recently arrived in Europe whose name I do not catch, a longtime expat named Zach Miller from Akron, Ohio, who is married to a Frenchwoman and runs his own media production company, and Richard Allen, an elegant Harlemite of nearly 70 with immaculately brushed silver hair. Allen, who confesses that his love affair with French began as a personal rebellion against the Spanish he’d heard all his life Uptown, has a small point-and-shoot camera with him and occasionally snaps pictures of the group. He has been in Paris since 1972, having, among many other things, worked as a fashion photographer for Kenzo, Givenchy, and Dior.

Superstar rapper Kanye West, seen here at a Givenchy fashion show, has planted something more than mere international-rich-person roots in Paris. (KCS Presse/Splash News/Corbis)

Before long, we all have relocated into the kitchen, where, even though it is well past dinnertime, Norm graciously serves us latecomers generous portions of chili and rice, doused in hot sauce and sprinkled with Comté instead of cheddar. The conversation shifts from introductions to the protests that are raging across America in the wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, and in no time, we are boisterously debating the interminable deluge of allegations ravaging Bill Cosby’s legacy. Then, on a tangent, Norm brings up the fact that he recently discovered and describes the preposterous website to this room full of expats. “Now the thing is to make a viral video of yourself just acting a fool,” he explains. “You just have to shout ‘WorldStar!’ into the camera.” Most of the guys have been out of the States so long, they don’t know what he’s talking about. I describe an infamous video I recently encountered of Houston teens queuing at a mall for the latest Air Jordan reissue, and suddenly realize that I am crying tears of laughter—laughing in such a way, it occurs to me then, I have not quite experienced in Paris before.

Tannie Stovall is gone, but if there is a centripetal black Parisian today, that distinction must go to Lamar, a modern-day, well-adjusted Chester Himes. Like Himes, Jake is adept in multiple literary forms, from memoir to literary fiction to, most recently, a crime novel entitled Postérité, which like Himes’s own policiers, was published first in French. But unlike Himes—whose stint in France alongside Baldwin and Wright Lamar has recently dramatized for the stage in a trenchant play called Brothers in Exile—Lamar speaks the language fluently. “In that regard, I’m more integrated into French life than he was,” he clarifies over email. And it’s true: Jake is a part of this city’s fabric. He knows everyone, it seems. It is at his suggestion that I find myself one Métro stop into the suburb of Bagnolet. I’m here to meet Camille Rich, a former Next agency model and Brown alumna who lives in a handsome, black-painted house with her three children by the African-American fashion designer Earl Pickens. I have the feeling that I’ve been transported inside an adaptation of The Royal Tenenbaums. Camille’s kids, Cassius, 12, Cain, 17, and Calyn, 21, immediately reveal themselves to be unusually gifted, eccentric, and self-directed. While Calyn lays out a brunch of tarte aux courgettes, soup and scrambled eggs, I learn that Cassius, a self-taught ventriloquist, in addition to being his school’s class president and bilingual in French and English, is picking up German and Arabic for fun. Meanwhile, Cain, whose ambition is to be an animator at Pixar, is in his bedroom painting an intricate canvas. He smiles warmly at me, apologizing for being so distracted, and then continues working. Calyn, for her part, along with being a solid cook and a hobbyist computer programmer, is a highly skilled and already published illustrator with a wry and nuanced sense of humor.

After lunch, I join Camille by the fireplace and watch Rocksand, the family’s 14-year-old West African tortoise, inch his prehistoric carapace across the floor. She lights a cigarette and puts on Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Bottle,” explaining that Paris has always held a significant place in the family’s mythology. Her father—a Temple University mathematician— and uncle came as GIs and stayed on playing jazz and carousing in Pigalle. Camille, tall and beautiful with glasses and an Afro, grew up in Philadelphia, where alongside her more standard black roots, she traces her ancestry to the Melungeon Creoles of Appalachia. “I’ve always been so busy with the kids,” she explains when I ask about the community here, “that I never really had time for anything else.” But to her knowledge, there are no other fully African-American families like hers with native-born children still living in Paris. It’s been an experience of freedom that she feels her kids could not have had in the United States. “There’s no way a child in today’s America can grow without the idea of race as core to their identity,” she says, whereas in Paris it often seems as if they have been spared that straitjacket.

The subtext of this conversation, of course, of which we must both be aware, is also one of the great ironies of living in France as a black American: This traditional extension of human dignity to black expatriates is not the function of some magical fairness and lack of racism inherent in the French people. Rather, it stems in large part from the interrelated facts of general French anti-Americanism, which often plays out as a contrarian reflex to thumb the nose at crude white-American norms, along with the tendency to encounter American blacks—as opposed to their African and Caribbean counterparts—first and foremost as Americans and not as blacks. This of course can present its own problems for the psyche (as the shattering essays of James Baldwin attest), putting the African American in Paris in the odd new position of witnessing— and escaping—the systemic mistreatment of other lower castes in the city.

Beyond that, it also never hurts that the black Americans found in Paris over the years have tended to be creative types, natural allies of the sophisticated, art-loving French. Jake Lamar put it to me best: “”There are lots of reasons why,” he said, “but a big one is the respect the French have for artists in general and writers in particular. In America, people only really care about rich and famous writers, whereas in France, it doesn’t matter if you’re a best-selling author or not. The vocation of writing in and of itself is respected.” And so it is this default reverence—in turn extended to the GIs and others who hung around, dabbling in jazz or cooking soul food—that has done a lot to insulate American blacks from the harsher sociopolitical realities most immigrant groups must face. But none of this is what I say to Camille and her wonderful kids that evening. What I say to them, before leaving, is the truth: They inspire me to want to have more children and to raise them here in France.

Right before Christmas, I meet up with Mike Ladd, the hip-hop artist who lives down the street from me. We’re going to see the acclaimed American rap outfit Run The Jewels perform at La REcyclerie, a disused train station cum performance space in the predominantly working- class African and Arab outskirts of the 18th arrondissement. Mike is old friends with El-P, the white half of Run The Jewels, and we go backstage to find the duo eating paprika-flavored Pringles and drinking Grey Goose and sodas before the show. I immediately fall into conversation with El-P’s partner, Killer Mike, a physically gargantuan man and militantly conscious lyricist from Atlanta who once attended a book reading of mine at the Decatur Public Library (and vigorously debated me from the audience) but who may or may not remember having done this. In any event, we can’t avoid talking about Eric Garner, the Staten Island man choked to death on camera by an NYPD officer who has just been cleared of all wrongdoing. “Our lives aren’t worth very much in America,” Killer Mike remarks at one point, with a sadness in his voice that surprises me.

The performance that night is suffused with a mood of righteous protest. The Parisian crowd swells and seems ready to march and swim all the way to Ferguson, Missouri, by the end of it. Mike Ladd and I linger and are joined at the bar by some other black expats, including Maurice “Sayyid” Greene, a buoyantly good-natured rapper formerly of the group Antipop Consortium. I ask Ladd if he finds Paris to be a black man’s haven. “I feel France, and the rest of continental Europe even more so, is behind the curve in understanding diversity,” he answers sincerely. “They were very good at celebrating difference in small quantities—a handful of black American expats, a smattering of colonials— but as is widely seen now, France is having a difficult time understanding how to integrate other cultures within their own.”

For Sayyid, a six-foot-four-inch, dark-skinned man of 44 who spends 17 and a half hours a week taking intensive French lessons provided by the government, the supposed preferential treatment reserved for American blacks has sometimes proved elusive. “I had just had my little boy,” he tells me about the time a group of French cops swarmed and accused him of trying to break into his own car. “He was three days old, and I was in the hospital with my wife. I parked my car and ended up locking the keys inside. I was with my mother-inlaw, who’s actually white French, and was trying to get them out. Time went by, a white guy from the neighborhood came and helped me, and it started to get dark. The guy left, and I was still out there. A cop rolled up, and suddenly there were six more cops all around on motorcycles. They didn’t believe that my mother-in-law was who I said she was. She tried to talk to them. Finally, they accepted my ID and passed on, but my mother-in-law was like, ‘Whoa!’ Her first reaction had been to just comply, but then her second reaction was like, ‘Wait a minute, why is this happening?’”

Is Paris a haven for African Americans, or is it not? Has it truly ever been? “The Paris of our generation is not Paris; it’s Mumbai, it’s Lagos, it’s São Paulo,” says Ladd. Which is part of the reason he keeps a recording studio in Saint-Denis, the banlieue to the north whose popular diversity, in contrast to central Paris, reminds him why in his New York days he preferred the Bronx to Manhattan. What made Paris so compelling to artists of all types in the early and mid-20th century, he maintains, was the collision of old traditions with what was truly avant-garde thinking. “That electrifying discord happens in other cities now,” he stresses. This is something I have also suspected during my travels, though I am no longer so certain it’s true. I am not sure that the electrifying discord we have grown up hearing about is gone from Paris or if it only feels this way now because everywhere is increasingly the same. The Internet, cheap flights, the very globalization of American black culture through television, sports, and hip-hop that has Paris-born Africans and Arabs dressing like mall rats from New Jersey—wherever one happens to be, the truth is there are very few secrets left for any of us. When I put the same question to Sayyid, he turns philosophical: “You can only really be in one place at a time,” he says. “If I do 20 push-ups in New York or 20 push-ups here, it’s the same 20 push-ups.”

A week after the Charlie Hebdo massacre that decimated this city’s false sense of serenity and ethnic coexistence, Jake Lamar has organized a brothers’ outing. The acclaimed African-American writer and Francophile Ta-Nehisi Coates is giving a talk about “The Case for Reparations,” his highly influential Atlantic magazine cover story, at the American Library. Richard Allen, the sharp expat with the camera, and I arrive late after a drink at a nearby café. We pull up chairs in the back and find Coates in mid-lecture to a full, predominantly white house. In the Q&A, an elderly white man asks if in Paris Coates has encountered any racism. Coates hesitates before conceding that, yes, in fact a white woman once approached him shouting, “Quelle horreur, un nègre!” before throwing a dirty napkin at him. No one in the audience, least of all the man who posed the question, seems to know what to say to that, and Coates helpfully chalks up the encounter to this particular lady’s evident madness and not to the workings of the entire French society.

(Later over email, I ask him whether he sees himself as part of the black tradition here. He tells me that although he has consciously sought to avoid being lumped with other black writers in Paris, “I’m not really sure why I even feel that way. I love Baldwin. ADORE Baldwin … [but] it feels claustrophobic, like there’s no room for you to be yourself … All of that said, it does strike me as too much to write off the black expatriate experience here as a mere coincidence.”)

As Richard and I gather with the other brothers and their wives who are now preparing to leave, Jake invites Coates to have a drink with us, but he politely rain checks. We make our way out of the library and into the damp Rue du Général Camou, eventually crossing back to the Right Bank via the Pont de l’Alma, the Eiffel Tower glowing orange over our heads, the Seine flowing fast beneath our feet. The city feels strangely back to normal, except for the occasional presence of submachine gun-wielding cops and military personnel, and black-and-white “Je Suis Charlie” placards affixed to the windows of all the cafés. Our group is made up of Jake and Dorli; Joel Dreyfuss and his wife, Veronica, a striking cocoacomplexioned woman with blue eyes, from St. Louis; Randy Garrett, the raconteur-bricoleur; the filmmaker Zach Miller; Richard Allen; and a dapper English professor from Columbia named Bob O’Meally. We slide into a large table at a café on the Avenue George V and order a round of drinks. I immediately grasp what makes Randy so much fun when in no time he’s bought Dorli and Veronica loose roses from the Bangladeshi man peddling flowers table to table.

Everyone seems in very good spirits, and I feel for a moment as if I am actually in another era. Our drinks arrive. We toast, and I ask Richard if in fact there is still really such a thing as black Paris. “It’s off and on,” he shrugs, taking a sip of wine. “It all depends on who is here and when.” Right now, Bob O’Meally is here, and the table feels fuller for it. He has organized an exhibition of Romare Bearden’s paintings and collages at Reid Hall, Columbia University’s outpost near Montparnasse. I tell him I’m excited to see it, and maybe because these older men remind me so much of him, my thoughts turn back around to my father.

One of the great enigmas of my childhood was that when he did finally get his chance to come here in the early ’90s, after a fortnight of beating the pavement and seeing all that he could, my father returned home as though nothing at all had happened. I waited and waited for him to fill me with stories about this magical city but was met only with silence. In fact, I don’t think he ever spoke euphorically about Paris again. I have always suspected it had something to do with the reason that, in the scariest movies, the audience should never be allowed to look directly at the monster. In either circumstance, the reality, however great, can only dissolve before the richness of our own imagination—and before the lore we carry inside us.

Japan: Promotional and Theatrical Footage ca. 1927

Human Studies Film Archives
Title supplied by Archives staff (unpublished work) - archival collection

Research on this footage indicates that segments 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, and 13 are probably from the same professionally made film. The women in these segments are either actually are or are dressed and "made up" to look like geishas or some other professional women. Although we will probably never know why this film was created we believe that Theodore Richards, owner of this film, who worked for the Hawaiian Board of Missions as well as the Kamehameha School for Boys, may have used it in his efforts to make Hawaii a multi-cultural or interracial "Christian" society.

Cataloging supported by Smithsonian Institution Women's Committee

Donated by Robert Midkiff in 1993.

Footage of 13 separate segments compiled for unknown reasons of Japanese film. Segment 1: Scenes of Miyajima Island (also known as Itsukushishima Island) off the coast of Hiroshima (deer, shrine gate of Itsukushima Shrine, rice paddles, carved stone marker, foliage, men and women walking and having tea). Segment 2: Three young women (or girls) taking a boat ride in the Htsugawa river. Two of the young women wear elaborate kimonos and have elaborate hairdos. The other young woman is dressed in a more casual kimono and less elaborate hairstyle. An intertitle in Japanese reads "Ko'ayu Waterfall." Segment 3: Five women in short cotton robes descend stairs from building to a mudbank for mudbaths (a man covers one of the women in mud and prepares a space for another and they eat slices of melon, leave their mud bath to enter the water and then to exit). Segment 5: Men work a water wheel with their feet under an umbrella in a rice field. There are phone and/or electric lines in the background. Segment 6: A young girl blows up a paper ball/baloon and tosses the ball in the air. Segment 7: Bon-odori or Bon dance is being performed by men and women.(The dance is usually performed in the summer for the Bon festival which is a time to remember one's ancestors.) Segment 8: From the headdress and kimono worn by the central woman this could be a wedding procession to a shrine for the ceremony. Attendants could be family members wearing dark kimonos that would be appropriate for a wedding. Segment 9: Two young women, one wearing an elaborate kimono with a butterfly on the back panel. One woman uses a "comb" to work on the hair of the other. Segment 10: A sequence from Futagawa Buntaro's 1928 chambara style theatrical samurai film, "Poisonous Snake". Film depicts a clash of men with swords and sticks in what is believed to be the Tokugawa period (1600-1869). Interestingly although guns were not used in Japan during the Tokugawa period, a rifle is fired in this sequence. The clash also involves a Japanese woman. Segment 11: A man is lying on his back and juggling a young boy on his feet. Segment 12: A parade of men in historical costumes of samurai in formal clothing and then in armor followed by what appears to be courtiers of the Heian period. Segment 13: Three young women (possibly girls) dressed in elaborate kimonos with elaborate hairdos. A single woman is shown who then has her elaborate hairdo dismantled and re-done by a professional hairdresser and assistant. Hairdresser is show wrapping up her tools in a cloth furoshiki. Segment ends with a very brief shot of a woman in kimono dancing with a fan.

Journal of a cruise made to the Pacific Ocean, : by Captain David Porter, in the United States frigate Essex, in the years 1812, 1813, and 1814. : Containing descriptions of the Cape de Verd Islands, coasts of Brazil, Patagonia, Chili, and Peru, and of the Gallapagos Islands; also, a full account of the Washington groupe of islands, the manners, customs, and dress of the inhabitants, &c. &c. : Illustrated with fourteen engravings. : In two volumes. Vol. I[-II]

Smithsonian Libraries
Frontispiece portrait of David Porter by Wood engraved by Edwin; map by Porter engraved by Kneass; plates by D. Adams, Porter, and W. Strickland engraved by Kneass and W. Strickland.

Copyright Dec. 24, 1814, by Bradford and Inskeep.

Volume 2 with imprint: published by Bradford and Inskeep; and Abraham H. Inskeep, New-York; and for sale by O.C. Greenleaf, Boston; and William Essex and Son, Lexington, Ken. J. Maxwell, printer. 1815.

Volume 1: vi, [2], 263, [1] pages, [2] leaves of plates; volume 2: [2], 169, [1] pages, [12] leaves of plates (1 folded). The last page is blank in both volume 1 and 2.

Error in paging: volume 2, pages 35, 50 misnumbered 53, 40.

"Bradford and Inskeep have just published in the United States and England: ..."--p. [4] of cover.

Sabin, J. Dictionary of books relating to America from its discovery to the present time, 64218

Shaw, R.R. American bibliography, 35674

Shaw, R.R. American bibliography, 35032

University of California, San Diego. Hill collection of Pacific voyages, 1371

Wright Howes, the final edition of U.S.iana, P484

Also available online.

SCNHRB copy 39088018147231 is imperfect: most of the folded map ("Chart of the Washington islands," in volume 2, between pages 10 and 11) has been torn away. A photocopy of the map made from a different copy (not in the collections of the Smithsonian Libraries) is laid in, housed in an archival envelope. All of the other plates were present at the time of cataloging (October 2015).

SCNHRB copy has the autograph of a former owner in ink on the title page: S. Sitgreaves.

SCNHRB copy has bookplate: Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Gift of Dr. Storrs L. Olson.

SCNHRB copy has a modern half-leather binding with marbled paper boards, raised bands, gilt- and blind-tooled spine, and beige endpapers.


Journal of a voyage to North-America : undertaken by order of the French King : containing the geographical description and natural history of that country, particularly Canada : together with an account of the customs, characters, religion, manners and traditions of the original inhabitants : in a series of letters to the Duchess of Lesdiguieres / translated from the French of P. de Charlevoix ; in two volumes

Smithsonian Libraries
Bookseller's advertisements: [4] p. bound in v.2, following p. 380 and before index.

Includes index.

Also available online.

SCNHRB has four copies.

SCNHRB c. 1 (v.1: 39088002728657, v.2: 39088002728665) has armorial bookplate of Samuel Vaughan; inscribed in ink on front paste-downs: Wm. Vaughan.

SCNHRB c. 1 has polished sprinkled calf binding, gilt decorated spine, title in gilt within leather spine labels.

SCNHRB c. 2 (v.1: 39088012039756, v.2: 39088012039798) stamped on title pages: Bureau of American Ethnology Library 1896 [acc. no.] 5874-5.

SCNHRB c. 2 is half bound in maroon goatskin and marbled paper boards, marbled endpapers, title in gilt on spine, top edge gilt; measures 22 cm.

SCNHRB c. 3 (v.1: 39088013478508; v.2: 39088013478540) t.p. to v.1 torn at head, slightly affecting text. Inscribed at head on t.p. to v.2: E. Mason.

SCNHRB c. 3 is the gift of Harry Lubrecht; with his pencilled bookseller's markings on the 1st front free endpaper: NS 4/66.

SCNHRB c. 3 half bound in green calf and marbled paper boards, title in gilt within red leather spine label; with ticket on back paste-down of v.2: From Robert Clarke & Co. publishers & booksellers, Cincinnati.

SCNHRB c. 4 (v.1: 39088013481254; v.2: 39088013481296) imperfect: lacking map.

SCNHRB c. 4 inscribed in ink on front free endpaper of v. 1 and half title of v. 2: Henry R. Schoolcraft.

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Jumping Spiders Are the Only Arachnids Known to Provide ‘Milk’ For Their Young

Smithsonian Magazine

The southeast Asian jumping spider, or Toxeus magnus, is unusual in more ways than one. Not only does it bear a striking resemblance to a long-legged ant, but it also appears to be the only arachnid known to “milk” its young—an unprecedented behavior newly published in the journal Science.

In this case, “milk” is worth writing in quotation marks because the sugar-, fat- and protein-filled droplets produced by jumping spider mothers don’t technically meet the parameters of the word—containing lactose produced by mammary glands—as it’s used in relation to mammals. Still, Ben Guarino writes for The Washington Post, the fluid fulfills the basic purpose of milk: offering nourishment to offspring via what Sasha Dall, a University of Exeter biologist who was not involved in the research, describes as “some aspect of yourself.”

Lead author Zhanqi Chen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences launched the study after noticing the jumping spider’s odd communal tendencies. Most spiders are solitary creatures, The Atlantic’s Ed Yong notes, but T. magnus cluster in family groups, with young spiderlings staying in their mothers’ nests for an extended period of time.

To better understand this unusual behavior, Chen and his colleagues reared jumping spiders in the lab and tracked how long it took babies to leave the nest. Surprisingly, neither newborns nor mothers ventured beyond the nest in search of food for 20 days, leading the scientists to wonder how the vulnerable young arachnids managed to not only survive, but significantly grow in size.

Upon closer inspection, the team observed the mother transferring drops of a sustaining liquid (later revealed to contain four times the protein of cow’s milk) from her abdominal epigastric furrow to the nest during the first week post-birth. Once the one-week mark passed, spiderlings drank fluid directly from the mother’s body, crowding around in a manner eerily similar to suckling puppies.

According to The New York Times’ Douglas Quenqua, T. magnus moms even produced the milk-like fluid after their roughly 20-day-old offspring began leaving the nest to forage for food. Suckling only stopped when the babies reached 40 days old, at which point they gained a bit of independence but still returned to the nest for the night.

The baby spiders crowd around their mother in a manner similar to that of suckling puppies (Rui-Chang Quan)

Interestingly enough, Jason G. Goldman reports for National Geographic, only females were permitted to continue nursing beyond sexual maturity. Males received the short end of the stick; Motherboard’s Becky Ferreira says the mothers actually attacked their adult sons and chased them out of the nest, perhaps to prevent inbreeding between brothers and sisters. Given their newfound ability to forage for food, this exclusion didn’t necessarily doom them to an early death.

The scientists ran through multiple scenarios to better assess the importance of jumping spider milk production, alternately blocking the mothers’ epigastric furrows by covering them with Wite-Out and preventing mothers from nursing beyond day 20.

Spiders that only received milk for the first 20 days of their lives—but still benefitted from the presence of a maternal figure beyond this point—emerged with fewer parasites than those who lost both milk and mothers at the 20-day mark.

Of 187 spiderlings spread out across 19 nests, those that enjoyed both maternal care and a consistent diet of milk exhibited a survival rate of 76 percent. Survival amongst those who lost their mothers after 20 days dropped to about 50 percent.

Jumping spiders are far from the only non-mammals known to produce a milk-like nutritious substance. As Ryan F. Mandelbaum explains for Gizmodo that cockroaches, pigeons, tsetse flies and earwigs have all been observed engaging in the mammalian practice. The key difference, according to The Post’s Guarino, is that mammals possess a specialized organ designed for lactation. So far, researchers have not identified an equivalent gland in non-mammals.

Chen tells The Atlantic’s Yong that he and his colleagues “have no idea” why the unusual practice evolved amongst jumping spiders specifically. He proposes, however, that the sustenance boost equips the tiny arachnids , which measure just a millimeter long, for life in a competitive, predator-filled environment.

Some scientists still have questions surrounding the discovery: Joshua Benoit of the University of Cincinnati was not involved in the study, but he tells Gizmodo that it’s unclear whether jumping spiders would return to their mothers beyond the 20-day mark in the wild. Nathan Morehouse, another Cincinnati scientist not involved in the study, adds that the new research doesn’t account for why the spiders nurse for so long or why other arachnid species don’t produce milk.

For now, these queries remain unanswered. But given the revelatory nature of the study, it’s likely that follow-up research will join the mix soon.

As Chen concludes in a statement, "We anticipate that our findings will encourage a reevaluation of the evolution of lactation and extended parental care and their occurrences across the animal kingdom."

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