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The image was taken by sixth Smithsonian Secretary and ornithologist Alexander Wetmore while on a scientific expedition to Panama to study birds.
When Wetmore made his trips to Panama, he always requested Ratibor Hartmann to be his assistant. Ratibor Hartmann was the eldest son of Alois Hartmann, who had helped on medical and naturalists' expeditions because of his knowledge of the area and Panamanian archeology to explore the jungles of the Western Highlands of Chiriquí. Ratibor took over from his father leading expeditions from the Gorgas Memorial Institute, where he worked, and several United States academic institutions in the field. Ratibor and his brother Gedón (Armagedón) Hartmannn accompanied Wetmore on many of his expeditions.
Ratibor Hartmann on Barro Colorado Island, Canal Zone, Panama, is feeding a raccoon.
In 1969, 60 to 100 peacock bass imported from Buga, Colombia, were introduced into a pond in Panama for sport fishing. Several individuals escaped. By […]
The post Peacock bass invasion Had devastating, long-term impact on Panama’s Fish appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.
Cats are contradictory creatures. A 2017 study found that domestic felines—deemed one of “the most ubiquitous and environmentally damaging invasive predators on Earth”—have contributed to the extinction of at least 63 global vertebrate species, but new research published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution suggests feral cats are embarrassingly ineffective when it comes to catching the prey most commonly associated with their urban jaunts: rats.
Researchers led by Fordham University’s Michael Parsons spent five months observing a rat colony housed at a Brooklyn waste management facility, Matthew Taub reports for Atlas Obscura. Although the team initially set out to study pheromones, or airborne chemicals that can influence animal behavior, they soon shifted focus to rat-cat interactions. The results were surprising, to say the least: Over the course of the 79-day testing period, local cats ambushed just three of the facility’s roughly 150 rat—killing only two.
According to Science News’ Susan Milius, the researchers tracked kills with the help of motion-triggered cameras that recorded 306 “active-animal” videos. Based on these clips, the scientists recorded 20 stalking events and three kill attempts (only two of which were successful). The kills occurred under ambush-like conditions, while the unsuccessful attempt was an open-floor chase.
“[It was a] very hesitant chase, like a stop-and-go dance they do,” Parsons tells Milius. “When the rat stops, the cat stops, too.”
A potential explanation for the felines’ unexpectedly low kill rate is the size and ferocity of city rats, Tanya Loos writes for Cosmos. New York’s infamous brown rats generally weigh around 330 grams, or roughly 10 times the weight of the average mouse. Given the choice between attacking a monstrous rat, a 15-gram bird and a 30-gram mouse, cats tend to opt for the less challenging prey.
Atlas Obscura’s Taub notes that rats sensing an increasing feline presence also change their behavior, scurrying inside and largely keeping out of sight. As the researchers report in their study, a one percent increase in the number of cats on a given day made it 100 times less likely that a rat would trigger the team’s motion-sensitive cameras.
The new findings contradict popular conceptions of feline predation. As Angus Chen notes for Scientific American, cats have such a widespread reputation as rodent killers that organizations ranging from Washington, D.C.’s Blue Collar Cats to Chicago’s Cats at Work regularly release feral felines in hopes of fighting urban rodent infestations.
But cats and rats are more likely to ignore or avoid each other than engage in outright conflict, University of Florida disease ecologist Gregory Glass, who was not involved in the study, tells Chen.
“Once that rat hits puberty, [it’s] way too big and nasty for the cat to deal with,” he says. “You can watch a lot of cats and rats accommodating one another, easing by one another, eating out of the same trash bag.”
As Sarah Zhang writes for The Atlantic, introducing feral cats into urban environments can raise a bevy of unintended side effects. Feline feces spreads a disease known as toxoplasmosis, which can cause severe brain damage or even death when transmitted from a pregnant mother to a fetus. Cats are also notorious bird killers—a 2013 study suggested the animals are responsible for the deaths of 2.4 billion birds per year, and that’s just in the United States.
Parsons tells Taub that the key to managing urban rodent populations is waste management, not feral felines. Trash attracts rats, so if less garbage littered the streets of New York and other cities, the rats would essentially moderate themselves.
“People see fewer rats and assume it's because the cats have killed them—whereas it's actually due to the rats changing their behavior," Parsons said in a statement. “The results of our study suggest the benefits of releasing cats are far outweighed by the risks to wildlife."
Drawings are of beadwork and other designs on articles used by the Winnebago, Omaha, Dakota, and possibly other Siouan tribes; 32 colored with watercolors; some have numbers or captions in Dorsey's hand.
Old number 3169 (part)
Grammar to be used in revising S. R. Riggs, "Grammar and Dictionary of the Dakota Language," SCK IV, Washington, D. C., 1852.
When The Shallows hits theaters June 24—non-coincidentally kicking off both Shark Week and beach vacation season—it will follow in a long line of shark thrillers. In the grand tradition of Jaws, Open Water and The Reef, The Shallows tells one surfer’s story of survival as she evades a rogue great white shark with a taste for human flesh just 200 yards from shore.
Films about ravenous great white sharks have long captured the imaginations of moviegoers, and this one appears to be no exception. The anticipated summer blockbuster, starring American actress Blake Lively, has already garnered a 95 percent interest rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But just how much imaginative license did filmmakers take when it came to shark behavior?
We spoke with shark biologist Chris Lowe at the California State University, Long Beach to see what the trailer got right about great white sharks—and what was just Hollywood magic.
Let’s dive right in. Is there anything about the shark behavior in the trailer that catches your attention?
The film looks like it has a lot of real footage of sharks. Of course, it’s unbelievably rare to catch an actual shark attack on film, but I thought the way the trailer portrayed the attack on the female surfer was pretty realistic.
What’s your take on the shark breaching to eat a surfer?
We know that white sharks hangout in subtropical places where it’s not unusual to see someone surfing without a wetsuit, so that’s not totally implausible. However, places where they do jump out of the water in pursuit of prey are temperate—places like South Africa. We typically only see white sharks breaching in places where they’ve had to adapt their behavior to capturing fast, nimble prey like Cape fur seals. What kind of nimble prey exists in tropical waters?
My guess is probably not a human.
Right. Not a human, not a sea turtle, and there aren’t really any tropical seals left. So that’s the part that’s unrealistic. I look at that and chuckle a little.
What about the shark’s stalking behavior around the rock and then by the buoy? Is that typical?
Based on tracking data done in certain locations, we know sharks patrol certain areas waiting for seals to haul out on beaches. So I wouldn’t call it stalking; I would call it patrolling. While it’s certainly possible they stalk prey, we don’t have a lot of evidence showing how they play this “cat and mouse” game.
Films like Jaws, The Reef, and now The Shallows depict a rogue shark that will stop at nothing to devour its victim. Do "rogue sharks" exist?
That was a theory put forth back in the 1950’s, and we haven’t been able to shake it. For example, in Jaws, they say the shark has set up a territory and its going stay as long as there are people to eat. There’s just no good evidence that the same shark has been involved on multiple attacks on people over time.
Would a shark ever stalk just one prey animal?
Not very likely. A lot of these predators are smart enough to realize when they’re wasting their time. There are some predators that are willing to put in more effort to track down a single prey, like mountain lions (a lot of terrestrial predators are much better at that). But white sharks have to constantly be moving, which is biologically expensive.
It seems like shark encounters are popping up in the news pretty frequently, which is rekindling some serious shark hysteria. Have there actually been more shark attacks or does the media just report on it more often?
It’s a little bit of both. There are more people in the water than ever before. That automatically increases the chances of an encounter. In many places, sharks have been overfished for over 50 years. We recognized this problem decades ago and in some places like the U.S., we have put in place regulations that better protect sharks and now they’re coming back.
If you look at the rate of human population growth—which we can use as an indicator of how many people are going in the water everyday—and consider how fast shark populations are growing, people are getting attacked more, but not as much as one might expect given the rate at which both populations are increasing. What that tells me as a scientist is that we are simply not on their menu.
Why would a shark bite a person in the first place?
Shark attacks are broken into two categories: provoked and unprovoked. Provoked attacks are simple. A fisherman catches a shark, the shark tries to get away, and the fisherman gets bitten. The person did something to induce that attack, usually requiring physical contact.
The unprovoked attacks are a little harder to explain. All we know is what we base off of statistics or limited eye-witness accounts. Eighty-five percent of people never see the shark coming. In addition, with over 80 percent of people bitten, no flesh is removed.
One reason shark bite people might be because they either consider us as food or have mistaken us as food. That might explain why some people are bitten, but not consumed. The shark rushes up, tastes us, and leaves when it realizes we’re not their normal prey.
Another theory is that sharks are acting defensively. Just like any other animal on the planet, if it feels threatened it will defend itself. Sharks do something called agonistic display, where they contort their body to let other sharks or even people know it feels threatened. If a surfer is approaching a shark and the shark starts to feel threatened that something is invading its space, then it lashes out. It races in, takes a bite, and then takes off.
So we just don’t know. We don’t know what the circumstances were right before someone got bit because nobody sees what the shark is doing before the event. This is what makes it really difficult to say why sharks bite people.
Many people are fascinated by sharks, but that doesn’t mean they want to get in the water with them. Why did you decide to study sharks?
When I was younger, I swore I would never work on white sharks, because I thought they were overrated. As a shark biologist, I studied hammerheads, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, Galapagos sharks, leopard sharks—all of which were underrepresented (in the research). But after I came to California, we started researching baby white sharks working with Monterey Bay Aquarium, and that got me intrigued.
They’re kind of like the ultimate athletes of the shark world. They’re warm-bodied, and as long as they keep swimming they can keep their bodies warmer than the water. That’s how a 4,000-5,000 pound shark can launch itself 6-8 feet out of the water. In addition, they can dive 1,000 meters (3,000 feet). The water temperature down there is just above freezing. Physiologically, they’re the Formula One race cars of the shark world.
It sounds like we know a lot about great white sharks.
But there’s a lot that’s still unknown. Doing this work is really expensive. One satellite transmitter costs $5,000, and we don’t usually get them back after they’ve been deployed. Nonetheless, this technology has greatly changed our understanding of white sharks.
Thirty years ago, if you asked a shark biologist what kind of shark a white shark was, they’d probably say a coastal shark. That is because we only really saw them along the coastline during the fall months off California when they were hunting elephant seals. However, using satellite transmitters my colleagues have found that those sharks really only spend 1-3 months in close to shore before migrating out into the middle of the Pacific, where they will spend 8-18 months before venturing back to shore. Now, I wouldn’t call a white shark a coastal shark, I’d call them an oceanic shark.
The good news is we now have all this cool new technology—drones, underwater robots, new sensors and low-light cameras at our disposal. Unfortunately, every time we want to do a study to answer a simple question you’re looking at a half million dollars in funding to do the work. Very little government funding supports white shark research.
Despite the fact that it’s such a charismatic, well-known animal?
Right. And this is where the Discovery Channel and movies like Jaws have done sharks a disservice. They have given the public the false impression that we’ve already answered most of the important scientific questions around sharks. I’ll give you an example. When do sharks feed?
Dawn and dusk, right?
So that’s the theory, but there’s no evidence to support it. The urban myth is that sharks feed at dawn and dusk, so that’s the most dangerous time to be in the water. Part of this comes from the fact that you have a lot of surfers out at dawn and dusk and surfers are the ones quite often bitten. However, the reality is that there is no pattern. Our lab wanted to research this further by feeding sensors to the shark that measures their stomach pH, which would allow us to actually tell when the shark has eaten. One of the reasons why we couldn’t get funding was because some people thought we already knew all that—and some of those people were scientists.
Great white sharks are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. How are they doing in the wild today?
Humans have certainly affected white shark populations, either by killing them in fisheries or having an impact on their food sources. Over the last 10 years we have been studying juvenile white sharks, we have seen evidence of population increase. We’re seeing populations increasing pretty much everywhere, i.e. in waters off New England, Australia, and New Zealand.
We have three to five times more people in the U.S. and along coastal habitats now than in the 1970s, and yet we’re seeing recovery from all these predator populations. I see that as a sign we’re doing something right. White sharks have been protected for 10-20 years now. I’m hoping that people can look at major problems today like climate change and say, “well, we saw declining predator populations as a major problem in the 60s and 70s. A lot of people thought we’d never fix those problems and we have. If we can fix that, why can’t we fix climate change?”
Okay, say I’m planning a trip to the beach this summer. What are my chances of being bit by a shark?
Extremely unlikely. Like winning the Powerball lottery unlikely.
Sam Maloof, the legendary California woodworker and furniture maker, said this about his approach to craft: “I want to be able to work a piece of wood into an object that contributes something beautiful and useful to everyday life. And I want to do this for an individual that I can come to know as a friend.”
One of Maloof’s coveted rocking chairs, donated in 1997 to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by Roger and Frances Kennedy, gracefully displays this ideal combination of beauty and utility. Its sensuous curves and subtle walnut grain just seem to beckon and say “Come on in a sit a while.” Maloof said he hoped his furniture had a soul to it, and the soul of this piece is instantly apparent. No other piece of furniture is as human as a chair, since it echoes the shape of a sitting person, and Maloof chairs show clearly the human touch.
Maloof hand-made every one of the more than 5,000 or so pieces that came out of his studio in Alta Loma, California. According to Nora Atkinson, a curator of the the museum's Renwick Gallery, the artist had a few assistants over the years, but he did all the major work himself. He made chairs that seem as alive and organic as the wood he used to make them.
In 1985, Maloof became the first craftsman to be recognized with a MacArthur “genius” Grant, a signal honor, but on his business card he referred to himself simply as “Woodworker.”
And now honoring the centennial of the artist’s birth, the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts, a Smithsonian Affiliate museum in Alta Loma, is featuring more than 60 objects including furniture, drawings, photographs and other ephemera from the artist’s storied career. The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Maloof Foundation, will host a one-day symposium, September 16, 2016, to examine furniture design and production in light of changes brought about by the digital age.A centennial celebration of the renowned craftsman is underway at the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation of Arts and Crafts in Alta Loma, California. (Maloof Foundation)
Maloof was born in 1916 in Chino, California, to parents who were immigrants from Lebanon. He took his first woodworking classes at Chafee High School in Ontario, and began to make furniture when he and his wife bought a house but lacked the money to buy furniture. So, as is so often the case, the mother of his first inventions was necessity. For the pieces he made for his home, his raw materials were discarded plywood and packing crates, not a woodworker’s dream material, but plentiful and free.
From the beginning, Maloof learned as he went along, by doing. As he said when he was a well-established master furniture maker, “Many times, I do not know how a certain area is to be done until I start working with a chisel, rasp, or whatever tool is needed for a particular job.”
His pieces for his own house appealed to friends who visited, and soon Maloof was being asked to replicate them for sale to people he knew. Then came a request from Henry Dreyfus, the renowned industrial designer who gave shape to such iconographic household appliances as the Singer sewing machine and the Hoover vacuum cleaner. Dreyfus asked Maloof to make 25 pieces for his contemporary house in Pasadena. Plywood was put aside for walnut (his favorite wood) and other materials he could now afford.
The Dreyfus pieces led to commissions from architects who designed houses in southern California and the people who lived in them. Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach, a purveyor of mid-century modern furniture, says that Maloof embodies the West Coast pre-modernism spirit: “Close to nature, materials-based, with excellent workmanship and care.”
Maloof’s rocking chair has a particular eminence. John F. Kennedy, perennially afflicted by back pain from his war injury in the Pacific, introduced a rocking chair to the Oval Office on the advice of a physician. The Kennedy chair was made by the P&P Chair Company, but it set a presidential precedent. Both Jimmy Carter and his successor, Ronald Reagan had rocking chairs made by Sam Maloof, much like the rocker in the Smithsonian collection.
Curator Atkinson points out that “Maloof’s elegant curves just grow and bend as his designs mature.” A good example of this can be seen in the Smithsonian chair, on which the rockers curve slightly downward at the back ends. While this has a safety purpose, preventing a too-energetic sitter from falling over backwards, the curve adds to the chair's elegance. Robyn Kennedy (no relation to any of the Kennedys previously mentioned), chief administrator at the American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, points out that the “way Maloof sculpts his elements gives even practical features an aesthetic feel.”
Kennedy mentions that Maloof was missing the tip of one of his fingers. “He didn’t use a guard on his table saw,” she says, “in order to have complete freedom of movement. I was told by another craftsman that a missing finger tip is the mark of a true cabinetmaker.”
“Sam Maloof Woodworker: Life | Art | Legacy” is on view through August 27, 2016, at The Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts & Crafts, 5131 Carnelian Street, Alta Loma, California. The one-day seminar on furniture design and production takes place September 16, 2016, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
UPDATE 5/2/2016: A previous version of this article misreported the artist's total output, stating he created 100 pieces. Sam Maloof handcrafted some 5,000 works in his lifetime. We regret the error.
Upon the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Macedonia, one of the six constituent republics in the defunct federation, declared itself a new nation. Since that time, the Republic of Macedonia has been locked in an argument with its southern neighbor over its name. But this 27-year dispute between Macedonia and Greece may be coming to an end. As the BBC reports, the countries have reached a historic agreement that saw the prime ministers of both countries accept a new name for the Republic of Macedonia: the Republic of North Macedonia, or Severna Makedonija in Macedonian.
The discord between the two countries has its roots in the vast empire of Alexander the Great. As NPR’s Joanna Kakissis reported in February, the ancient conqueror is important to the nation-building mythologies of both the Republic of Macedonia and Greece.
Macedonia lies on territory that had been incorporated into Alexander’s empire in the 4th century B.C.E. Macedonia’s flag features the Sun of Vergina, a symbol associated with the royal house of ancient Macedonia.
But this claiming of Alexander the Great rankled Greece, which is home to a province called Macedonia, once the heart of the ancient Macedonian empire and Alexander the Great's birthplace.
Greece consequently accused the Republic of Macedonia—“tiny, impoverished and with virtually no military might,” Kakissis writes—of having territorial designs on the Greek province to the south. Tensions were certainly not alleviated when the Republic of Macedonia named the main airport in its capital city of Skopje after Alexander the Great. A key expressway was also named in honor of the ancient ruler.
The dispute between the two countries has had significant ramifications for Macedonia; according to Laurel Wamsley of NPR, the country has not been able to join NATO or the EU because Greece contested its name.
Under the new agreement, which was struck by Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev, Macedonia will now be known both domestically and internationally as the Republic of North Macedonia. Macedonia plans to amend its constitution to reflect the change.
The new agreement also stipulates that the people of North Macedonia “have no relation to ancient Greek civilization and their language is part of the Slavic family, unrelated to ancient Greek heritage,” the BBC explains.
“This achieves a clear distinction between Greek Macedonia and our northern neighbors,” Tsipras said in a televised address, according to the Telegraph.
Foreign ministers of both countries are expected to sign the deal this weekend. Once the agreement is ratified by Macedonia’s government, Greece will back Macedonia’s bid to join NATO and the EU. The issue will also be put to a voter referendum in Macedonia in the fall.
But Tsipras and Zaev could face obstacles in their efforts to implement the agreement. Opponents of a name-change deal have staged rallies in Greece and Macedonia over the past few months. And as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, politicians in both countries have spoken out against the new agreement. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, for example, has said that he will not sign the deal because it affords too many concessions to Greece. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece's main opposition leader, said the agreement “is in conflict with the majority of the Greek people,” who do not want their neighbors using the name Macedonia in any form.
Officials abroad, however, are praising Tsipras and Zaev for taking steps to end a decades-long conflict. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted his “sincere congratulations” to the prime ministers on Tuesday.
“I am keeping my fingers crossed,” he added. “Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible.”
Digital surrogates are available online.
Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.
Old number 3176 (12)
autograph letter signed
Encloses 1 page copy of a Kansa sacred pictographic record and 5 pages of notes on the record.
Description based on: Vol. 18, no. 3 (Apr. 1902).
A cheerful holiday greeting sent during the Great Depression? Isn't that somewhat contradictory? 1933 was a difficult year. Unemployment reached 25%, and gross domestic production was way down. The New Deal programs designed to boost the economy had not yet begun to achieve the helpful effects that would come in the next few years. Times were hard for many people across the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Despite the glum economic situation, the Pinero family used a brown paper bag to fashion an inexpensive holiday greeting card. They penned a clever rhyme and added some charming line drawings of Mom, Dad, and the kids with the message: "Oh, well—in spite of it all—here's a Merry Christmas from the Pineros." On December 19, 1933, they mailed it from Chicago to friends in Massachusetts, using a one-and-a-half-cent stamp. For a minimal outlay of cash, they were able to keep in touch with friends and comment on their reduced circumstances with wit and humor.
"In days gone by when we were broke
We hated to reveal it.
In fact our pride demanded that
We struggle to conceal it.
But now at last we’re right in style
And need not fear confession.
We shrug and smile and say 'Oh, well
It’s merely this depression.'
And so this card which once we'd scorn
Now seems within all reason.
It’s cheap—and yet it brings to you
Best wishes of the season!"
This hand-lettered poem is a delightful example of light verse, a whimsical form of poetry intended to entertain or amuse, even if treating a serious subject in a humorous manner. In the poem, the Pineros suggest that they had struggled economically for some time, but now, due to the continuing Depression, others shared their financial plight, which enabled them to be more open and candid about their situation.
Like many families, the Pineros probably had lots of bills for necessities including rent, groceries, utilities, milk, and ice. Because not every family had electric refrigeration in 1933, many relied on regular deliveries of ice to keep their perishable foods cold. These bills for milk and ice were separate; they were not part of the grocery account. Local dairies supplied milk and other products on a daily basis. Both the Ice Man and the Milk Man would cometh, as long as they were paid!
While we've done some searching in various places such as city directories and genealogical resources, we haven't yet been able to identify the senders, the Pineros. This card was saved by the recipients, the McCormicks of Attleboro, Massachusetts. It was donated by their son Peter McCormick, who wrote that he never knew the family who sent it to his parents in 1933.
Helena E. Wright is curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts.
Back in December, a NASA space telescope caught a glimpse of a tremendous scene: a cascading series of solar flares arching around the sun’s magnetic field. Now, the space agency has released a video of the action, showing a little slice of the constant broiling on the surface of the sun.
The Sun may seem tranquil from our place almost 93 million miles away, but up close it’s a whole different story—jets of solar plasma and radiation spurt from its surface. The delicate, dark lines that crawl across the Sun are called solar filaments, which are enormous plumes of electrified gas. They appear dark because they are slightly cooler than the the solar surface.
In this event captured on video by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a solar filament becomes unstable and collapses, triggering the eruption of massive solar plasma arches. The solar plasma travels across the sun’s magnetic field, the tendrils of charged particles twisting and writhing before collapsing back.
The only reason we can see these spectacular magnetic arches is because NASA scientists colorized the video to highlight these details. The sun glows in the ultraviolet spectrum, which is invisible to the human eye, Miriam Kramer writes for Mashable.
While the magnetic arches seen here collapsed back into the sun, these explosions can be strong enough to jettison solar material out into space. If we were unlucky enough to be in its path, these solar flares can be so powerful that they could potentially overload power grids and shut down communications systems here on Earth, Kelly Dickerson writes for Tech Insider.
One famous example, 1859’s Carrington Event, was so powerful that it triggered colorful auroras that could be seen as far south as the tropics and made telegraph systems worldwide go haywire. Some telegraph operators reported being shocked by electrical discharge and witnessing telegraph paper catch fire, Trudy E. Bell and Tony Phillips wrote for NASA in 2008. If the Earth got caught in a similarly strong solar storm today (like the one that narrowly missed us in 2012), it could wreak havoc on our modern electrical systems.
In recent years, NASA has been working on a way to protect Earthbound electrical systems from these massive solar storms, Dickerson reports. Luckily, the magnetic arches seen in NASA’s new video weren’t strong enough to cause any damage here on Earth, though they can give us a glimpse at the amazing activity raging on the surface of our life-giving star.
As Islamist militants continue to systematically destroy some of the world’s most iconic and treasured monuments through Syria and parts of the Middle East, a group of Syrian refugees are making sure their history won’t be forgotten by recreating many of Syria’s lost monuments in miniature.
About a year ago, a community leader in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp named Ahmad Hariri brought together a group of Syrian artists to recreate historical sites and monuments that have been lost to the war they fled from. Using scant materials available at the refugee camp, such as discarded pieces of wood, clay and rocks, the artists are working to make sure that their history won’t disappear for good, Linda Poon reports for CityLab.
“As artists, we have an important role to play,” art teacher and painter Mahmoud Hariri (no relation to Ahmad) tells Charlie Dunmore for the UN Refugee Agency's Tracks. “A lot of what we know about ancient civilizations or prehistoric people is preserved through their art—Egyptian hieroglyphs or cave paintings.”
In addition to Mahmoud’s clay and wooden kebab skewers recreation of the ancient city of Palmyra, (parts of which were damaged beyond repair by ISIS militants in August), artists in the group have built miniaturized replicas of iconic historical sites like Damascus’ Umayyad Mosque, the Citadel of Aleppo, and water wheel called the Norias of Hama that was constructed more than 750 years ago. Working from photographs, paintings, and illustrations, the group’s models are intricately detailed down to the last brick, though the largest models are only about as big as a small table. Currently, the models are on display throughout the Za’atari camp and in Jordan’s capital, Amman, Poon writes.
“It seems to touch a nerve with people. It speaks to their experience, the fact that they can't go home and see the sites for themselves,” Dunmore, a UN refugee agency worker, tells Poon. “Obviously they can't do anything about what's happening in Syria and to the actual sites, but there was a real sense that they are really helping to preserve the site, if not physically then [at least] the memory of them.”
For the millions of Syrian refugees worldwide, maintaining a connection to their homeland and culture is important not just for the older refugees who remember the monuments, but for the children who are growing up in refugee camps. Though the artists may not have access to all of the materials they would like, these models can help pass on historical knowledge about their country to the younger generations, some of whom Ahmad says may know more about Jordan than their homeland, Dunmore writes. At the same time, this project gives people like Mahmoud a chance to practice their skills, as the conflict back in Syria drags on.
“When I first arrived [at the Za’atari refugees camp] I didn’t think I would continue my work as I only expected to be here for a week or two,” Mahmoud tells Dunmore. “But when I realised it would be years, I knew I had to start again or lose my skills.”
Meanwhile, archaeologists around the Middle East are rushing to document endangered historical sites before they are destroyed by the fighting, using 3D-scanning technology to create detailed digital models. This coming spring, a pair of 3D-printed arches replicating the Palmyra’s Temple of Bel's own arches that escaped being fully demolished by ISIS militants will be installed in New York City and London as a gesture of defiance against the group’s destruction of heritage sites.
Monuments don’t just say something about the people they honor—they also reveal information about the values the people honoring them hold dear. And in Belle Plaine, Minnesota, a debate over just those values has resulted in a somewhat unlikely structure: a pentagram-covered veteran’s memorial donated by the Satanic Temple.
As Christopher Mele reports for The New York Times, a scuffle over religious expression sparked the idea for the memorial. When a local veterans’ club decided to erect a monument that showed a silhouetted soldier kneeling before the cross in a public veterans memorial park, it set off an argument over religious expression. The cross was removed after objections from both locals and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an advocacy group that promotes nontheism and supports the separation of church and state.
But the controversy had only just begun. Public pressure mounted in Belle Plaine, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Liz Sawyer reports that local citizens occupied the park daily with crosses of their own. Finally, the city council voted to designate the park a “limited public forum,” which would open it up to a total of five donated displays that honor veterans.
The cross will return to the park, but so will a memorial donated by the Satanic Temple, a political organization that promotes freedom of religious expression using satanic symbolism like the pentagram and a strong sense of satire. The memorial consists of a black steel cube with an empty soldier’s helmet on top and golden pentagram symbols along the sides.
On its website, the Satanic Temple says that the monument will be in the park within a few months. Mele reports that it will be the first of its kind on public grounds. “While the placement of a satanic monument on public property is obviously notable,” the organization says, “TST does not want to overshadow the monument’s purpose of honoring veterans.”
It’s not the first time the Satanic Temple has made its presence known. As Katherine Stewart reported for The Washington Post last year, the group also sponsors “After School Satan Clubs” in public elementary schools as a counterpoint to similar evangelical Christian programs.
Same-sex marriage is often lumped in with all the other social and political issues that seem to draw a schism between voters on the left and right in the U.S. But a new study shows that that line isn’t as deeply drawn as it might seem. Apparently, a single conversation on same-sex marriage with a gay or lesbian person can shift opposing viewers so strongly that a person's new stance holds a year later.
The Los Angeles LGBT Center teamed up with researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and had more than 12,000 one-on-one conversations with voters in Southern Californian neighborhoods that had overwhelmingly voted for a ballot measure, Proposition 8, that took away same-sex couples' ability to get married in the state.
The Center’s “volunteer canvassers accomplished what would have otherwise taken five years at the current rate of social change,” Dave Fleischer, the director of the Center’s Vote for Equality and Leadership LAB programs, said in a statement. “How did we do it? Our team had heartfelt, reciprocal and vulnerable conversations on the doorsteps of those who opposed marriage for same-sex couples, and volunteers who were LGBT came out during their conversations.” The results were published in Science.
But the crux was the canvasser’s personal involvement: Volunteers who came out as gay or lesbian and professed a desire to get married produced a more dramatic, more lasting change in the voters. Straight canvassers who just spoke of a friend or relative were less effective—they produced a slight temporary change, but the voter’s opinion reverted after a month, reports Mother Jones.
The change was also one that could make a difference. By using an online survey to assess the canvassed voter’s response to same-sex marriage, the researchers observed a percentage move roughly equivalent to the difference between voters in Nebraska or Ohio and those in Connecticut or Massachusetts. "[T]he canvassing treatment in effect transformed Midwesterners into New Englanders," the study authors write.
Even housemates of the voters the volunteers spoke to showed a shift in their stance. And the shift also included these voters’ views on LGBT people in general, not just the same-sex marriage issue. The message is one of hope, writes Lynn Vavreck for the New York Times. "Sharing, listening and showing vulnerability can change beliefs about public policy."
Discusses past uses and plans for future utilization of the east and west courtyard spaces of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. The author states that the large interior courtyards were originally designed to provide light and ventilation; however, installation of central air and heat, along with changing views on exhibition lighting, altered the original purpose of the courtyards. Plans include construction of infill buildings for each courtyard: one with a child care center for the east courtyard, and one housing a Discovery Center for the west.