Archive for May, 2014

These Maps Reveal How Slavery Expanded Across the United States

Posted in WORLD'S HISTORY with tags on May 27, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

Post 3311

These Maps Reveal How Slavery Expanded Across the United States

As the hunger for more farmland stretched west, so too did the demand for enslaved labor

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In September of 1861, the U.S. Coast Survey published a large map, approximately two feet by three feet, titled a “Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States.” Based on the population statistics gathered in the 1860 Census, and certified by the superintendent of the Census Office, the map depicted the percentage of the population enslaved in each county. At a glance, the viewer could see the large-scale patterns of the economic system that kept nearly 4 million people in bondage: slavery was concentrated along the Chesapeake Bay and in eastern Virginia; along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts; in a crescent of lands in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi; and most of all, in the Mississippi River Valley. With each county labeled with the exact percentage of people enslaved, the map demanded some closer examination.

The Coast Survey map of slavery was one of many maps drawn from data produced in 19th-century America. As historian Susan Schulten has shown, this particular map was created by a federal government agency from statistics gathered by the Census. Abraham Lincoln consulted it throughout the Civil War. A banner on the map proclaims that it was “sold for the benefit of the Sick and Wounded Soldiers of the U.S. Army.” The data map was an instrument of government, as well as a new technology for representing knowledge.




Though thematic mapping had its origins in the 19th century, the technique is useful for understanding history in our own day. One of the fundamental problems of history is scale: how can historians move between understanding the past in terms of a single life and in the lives of millions; within a city and at the bounds of continents; over a period of days and over the span of centuries? Maps can’t tell us everything, but they can help, especially interactive web maps that can zoom in and out, represent more than one subject, and be set in motion to show change over time.

To help show the big patterns of American slavery, I have created an interactive map of the spread of slavery. Where the Coast Survey map showed one measure, the interactive map shows the population of slaves, of free African Americans, of all free people, and of the entire United States, as well as each of those measure in terms of population density and the percentage of the total population. The map extends from the first Census in 1790 to the Census taken in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War. You can explore the map for yourself, but below I have created animations to highlight some of the major patterns.

When looking at all of these maps together, it’s noticable that even as the total number of enslaved peoples in the United States increased between 1790 and 1860, the multitudes were dispersed across the increasing expanse of the United States, rather than becoming more concentrated in areas where slavery was well established.

In counties along the Atlantic Coast in 1790 and 1800, the population of slaves at any one time was nearly at its peak. (This is all the more remarkable since many slaves fled to the British during the Revolutionary War.) Take for example, Charleston County, South Carolina. In 1790, almost 51,000 people were enslaved in that county. In 1840, the slave population reached its peak of nearly 59,000 people; by 1860, there were 37,000 enslaved people, just 63 percent as many slaves as two decades earlier.

The total number of slaves in the eastern seaboard states did, however, grow slowly over time, but not at anything like the rate of growth for free people in the North. The free white population in the North grew in already settled places and spread to the West.

The slave population had a different dynamic. It grew in intensity in places around the Chesapeake Bay, even as slavery was gradually abolished in the North. But for the most part the slave population spread westward to the lands opened for settlement by the Louisiana Purchase, the dispossession of the Indian nations of the Southeast, the war with Mexico, and the distribution of public lands. Slavery spread rather than grew because it was an agricultural rather than industrial form of capitalism, so it needed new lands

And slavery spread because enslaved African Americans were forced to migrate. Historian Steven Deyle estimates “that between 1820 and 1860 at least 875,000 American slaves were forcibly removed from the Upper South to the Lower South.” A minority of that migration happened because white planters migrated along with the people that they owned. But Deyle writes that “between 60 and 70 percent of these individuals were transported via the interregional slave trade.” In other words, slavery was not the paternalist institution that its apologists made it out to be: it was an relentlessly exploitative system where the fundamental relation of owner to enslaved was defined by the markets. The unceasing spread of slavery provoked political crises, eventually leading to the Civil War. As Abraham Lincoln put it in is 1858 “House Divided” speech:


“Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South.”

Below you can see two animations comparing the density of the slave population and the density of the total population (keep in mind that the scales are different).

This animation of the density of slave population from 1790 to 1860 shows how slavery expanded more than it grew.




An animation of density of the total population from 1790 to 1860. Notice that population in the north both grows in place and spreads westward.




A second observation to make from this map is how pervasive slavery was to the United States. In the first decades of the early republic, the northern states had a significant population of slaves, which only slowly diminished through gradual emancipation laws. In the South, the percentage of the population that was enslaved was extraordinarily high: over 70 percent in most counties along the Mississippi River and parts of the South Carolina and Georgia coast.

This animation shows the percentage of the population enslaved from 1790 to 1860.




A striking way to see the importance of slavery is to look at a map of the total free population: a photo negative, if you will, of slavery. When looking at the population density of all free persons (below in 1860), large swathes of the South appear virtually depopulated.




Finally, the dynamics of the free African American population looked more like the free white population than the slave population. The free African American population settled primarily along the Eastern seaboard and especially in the cities of the northern United States. Free African Americans were almost entirely excluded, in part by an extensive system of patrols, from the majority slave populations of the Deep South. This animation shows the free African American population from 1790 to 1860.




This interactive map and the Census data on which it is based can hardly show most of what should be known about slavery. For example, the Census did not count any slaves in Vermont, which abolished slavery in its 1777 constitution. But Harvey Amani Whitfield has shown that some Vermont African Americans were held in bondage. Nor can these maps express anything of the pain of the whip or the escape to freedom, of the exhaustion of labor or the sounds of preaching and shouting at a religious gathering: for that one must read any of scores of excellent histories. But they do give a large overview of the forced labor system which made the nation “half slave and half free.”


Susan Schulten, Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), writes about maps of slavery in chapter 4; see also the book’s companion website which offers images of maps of slavery. Steven Deyle has written a recent history of the domestic slave trade in Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); the figures cited above are from page 289. Of the many excellent histories of American slavery, see one of these: on the settlement of the Mississippi River valley, Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013); on the life of slaves, Erskine Clarke, Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005); on the history of slavery generally, Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003).

The data in my maps is drawn from the 1790 to 1860 Censuses compiled by the Minnesota Population Center, [National Historical Geographic Information System], version 2.0 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011).

U.S. Coast Survey, Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States (Washington, DC: Henry S. Graham, 1861). Image from the Library of Congress.

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What Is This Giant, Swirling Hexagon At Saturn’s North Pole?What Is This Giant, Swirling Hexagon At Saturn’s North Pole?

Posted in THE UNIVERSE & SPACE SCIENCE with tags , , on May 27, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

Post 3310      Ria Misra[/embed]

What Is This Giant, Swirling Hexagon At Saturn’s North Pole?What Is This Giant, Swirling Hexagon At Saturn's North Pole?

Something is going on at Saturn’s North Pole — something big, swirling, and shaped like a giant hexagon. So just what is it? Carolyn Porco, the leader of Cassini’s Imaging Team, explains it to us.

Top Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University

Porco joined us today to take our questions about life on other planets, the ocean on Enceladus, and just what on Earth (or, in this case, not) was going on with Saturn’s North Pole, pictures of which were snagged by Cassini’s Imaging team.

What we’re looking at, says Porco, is actually a phenomenon that we see on Earth as well:

It is very likely nothing more than a highly regular and steady version of our own jet stream, which also has 6 (but sometimes 5, sometimes 7) waves in it. Why? Because any friction within the Saturn atmosphere is WAY lower than that which atmospheric systems encounter here on Earth as they travel over landmasses, oceans, mountains, etc. This is what makes them run down or become discontinuous. To see our own northern hemisphere jet stream, take a look at this video. Now, in your mind’s eye, just take out the variations in amplitude and the breaks in the jet, and you’ll see what I mean.



Humanity Is Now Officially Ready For Suspended Animation


Post 3309    George Dvorsky

Humanity Is Now Officially Ready For Suspended AnimationHumanity Is Now Officially Ready For Suspended Animation

Surgeons from the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are set to begin suspended animation trials by dramatically cooling down trauma victims in an effort to keep them alive during critical operations.

Twenty years ago, Peter Safar and Ron Bellamy proposed that the rapid induction of hypothermia could “buy time” for a trauma surgical team to control bleeding. Now, thanks to the work of Peter Rhee and Samuel Tisherman, this idea is officially ready for prime time.


“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” noted Tisherman in a New Scientist article. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.” The idea is to buy patients precious time during critical operations, such as after a massive heart attack, stabbings, or shootings.

The technique will be used on 10 patients who would otherwise be expected to die from their injuries. The doctors on the project will be paged when a candidate patient arrives at the hospital; there’s usually one case like this every month, typically with survival rates less than 7%.

It’s part a feasibility and safety study, called the Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation for Cardiac Arrest from Trauma (EPR-CAT).

Because patients cannot give informed consent, the study will be conducted under theexception-from-informed consent process, which includes community consultation and public notification. So, if you live in the Pittsburgh area, and this seems too risky for you, you have to opt out (which you can do here).

How It Works

This technique involves internal rather than external cooling. A team of surgeons will remove all of the patient’s blood, replacing it with a cold saline solution; the cold fluid is administered through a large tube, called a cannula, which is placed into the aorta, the largest artery in the body. This will slow down the body’s metabolic functions, significantly reducing its need for oxygen. Then, a heart-lung bypass machine will be used to restore blood circulation and oxygenation as part of the resuscitation process. A state of profound hypothermia will be induced, at about 50ºF (10ºC), to provide a “prolonged period of cardiac arrest” after extensive bleeding. In other words, clinical death.

The technique, which was developed by Peter Rhee, was successfully tested on pigs back in 2000 (his resulting study can be found here). Writing in C|Net, Michelle Starr explains more:

After inducing fatal wounds in the pigs by cutting their arteries with scalpels, the team replaced the pigs’ blood with saline, which lowered their body temperature to 10 degrees Celsius.

All of the control pigs, whose body temperature was left alone, died. The pigs who were resuscitated at a medium speed demonstrated a 90 percent survival rate, although some of their hearts had to be given a jump start. Afterwards, the pigs demonstrated no physical or cognitive impairment.

The technique, therefore, will only be used as an emergency measure on patients who have suffered cardiac arrest after severe traumatic injury, with their chest cavity open and having lost at least half their blood already — injuries that see only a seven percent survival rate. The survival rate of these patients will then be measured against a control group that has not received the treatment before further testing can begin.

The human body can only be placed in this state for a few hours, so we’re still quite a ways off from the suspended animation typically featured in scifi. But if this technique is any indication, we may get there just yet.

Image: Prometheus.


How A Cryptoanalyst Discovered The Identity Of The Man In The Iron

Posted in WORLD'S HISTORY with tags on May 27, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

Post 3308  Esther Inglis-Arkell 

How A Cryptoanalyst Discovered The Identity Of The Man In The Iron MaskHow A Cryptoanalyst Discovered The Identity Of The Man In The Iron Mask

For those of you who have only seen the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, the Man in the Iron Mask was an actual historical figure. He was a mysterious prisoner in the time of Louis XIV. Two centuries later, a cryptoanalyst finally discovered his probable identity.

In 1698, the Man in the Iron Mask had gained quite a reputation for himself (some said herself) when he had been in a prison in Savoy. In Paris, he was the subject of so much gossip that he became a legend for centuries to come. Theorists tried to work out his identity. Some, most famously, Alexandre Dumas, made up an identity, and spun a tale in which the Man in the Iron Mask was the secret twin of Louis XIV. Twins were a threat to orderly succession, but no one could kill a prince of royal blood, so the second twin was masked and imprisoned.

For two centuries, the mystery remained. There were clues, but they were written in what’s known as The Great Cipher. This numeric code kept all the court communications secret. In 1890, a French military cryptoanalyst named Etienne Bazeries decided to try his hand at The Great Cipher. There were about 600 different numbers used in cipher messages, so the numbers couldn’t match up to letters of the alphabet. On the other hand, Bazeries realized, there are 676 ways of pairing up letters of the alphabet. The Great Cipher must use numbers as substitutes for pairs of letters — with a few for more common words, and a few left out because certain letters are never paired up. By making guesses at frequently-used pairs of letters, he got a few words, then used those deciphered numbers to guess at yet more words, and find more numbers. Eventually, the code was cracked.

Bazeries began working his way through correspondence from Louis XIV to his minister of war and found a letter about a certain Vivien de Bulonde. Bulonde was a military man, and was put in charge of an attack on the Italian border. As soon as he heard Austrian troops might be closing in on his position, he turned tail and ran, leaving his own wounded soldiers behind. Louis ordered the minister to put him in the prison at Savoy, but allowed that he would be “permitted to walk the battlements during the day with a mask.”

So Louix XIV secret twin was actually just a cowardly officer. Reality might be more accurate than fiction, but it’s far less juicy.

[Via The Code Book]


How Wind And Water Create The World’s Most Beautiful Rock


Post 3307   Mika McKinnon

How Wind And Water Create The World’s Most Beautiful Rock LandscapesHow Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

Differential erosion is a simple concept with a beautiful impact. Variability in rock hardness changes how it is sculpted by water and wind. It’s a bit of a tease that geoscientists look at any strange landscape and attribute it to differential erosion, but it’s not far off.

Rock hardness depends on the chemical composition and formation conditions of a rock impacts its strength. The farther a rock is from its formation conditions, the less at equilibrium it is with its surrounding environment. Minerals that form under surface conditions of temperature, pressure, and moisture are most resistant to weathering at the surface, while minerals that form deep within the Earth are weakest at the surface. Rocks that are crystalline solids are more resistant to weathering, while those with cracks, joints, and fractures have more exposed surface area prone to weathering. When rocks with different weathering properties are adjacent to each other, the result can be beautiful. Here’s a few examples:

Top Image: Buttes are formed when a resistant cap-rock protects underlaying softer rock. Everywhere not covered by the hard rock erodes away, leaving a towering hill exposed above the surrounding landscape. Image credit: Wolfgang Staudt.

Valley and Ridges in the Zagros Mountains

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

The Zagros Mountains in southwestern Iran are long ridges and valleys dictated by differential erosion. Massive tectonic stress from collision rumpled the landscape into folds. Erosion removed the softer mudstone and siltstone, leaving behind harder limestone and dolomite.Image credit & read more: Earth Observatory.

Sandstone Steps on Mars

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

Sandstone with variable resistance to erosion forms these stair-step structures near the Kimberly waypoint on Mars. The foreground has weaker sandstones eroding into flatter steps, while background has stronger sandstones eroded to steeper steps. Image credit & read more:NASA.

Turnip Rock

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

Turnip Rock is a sea stack in Port Austin, Michigan. The top of the stack has more resistant rock than the bottom, so that the base erodes more quickly. The result is a lopsided stack, although I see it more as a mushroom than a root vegetable. Image credit: canonfather.

The Red Cliffs of Iron Canyon

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

The oxidized red sandstones alternate with white lakebed sediments in Red Rock Canyon State Park, California. The sandstones are more resistant to weathering, holding their shape better than the soft lacustrine sediments which erode deeply. Explore the Gigapan. Image credit: Ron Schott.

The Goblins of Goblin Valley

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

The Goblins of Goblin Valley State Park, Utah are actually hoodoos from the weathering of Entrada Sandstone. Once upon a time, the Entrada was a tidal flat, with alternating layers of sandstone, siltstone, and shale depositing to build layers of variable strength. Weathering enhances joints and fractures, with the greater surface area increasing weathering further until the goblin is free-standing in the plain. Explore the Gigapan. Image credit: Ron Schott.

Red Cliffs on a Strong Base

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

The red cliffs of Scarborough are softer sediments sitting on top of a hard rock base. The brown rough texture along the base of the cliff is a harder rock, holding a steeper face and eroding slower. The bright red of oxidized, rusted sediments are softer, eroding back in a gentler slope.Image credit: John (shebalso).

Sea Stacks in Italy

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

Sea Stacks form in medium-hard rocks that can hold a steep face, yet are soft enough to erode as free-standing structures along fractures and caves. The stacks at Torre Sant’Andrea have a harder, more resistant base of darker that juts out as platforms fringing the stacks. Image credit: Freddyballo.

Saw-Toothed Slate

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

Variation in thickness of shale levels in a gorge near Hector Falls, New York results in a jagged cliff edge. Image credit: Laurie VanVleet, Ithaca City School District.

The Red Castle of Argentina

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock Landscapes

The Los Castillos rock formation in Quebrada de las Conchas reserve in Argentina has alternating layers of hard rock forming steep faces, and softer rock. The changes in colour also reflect the changing chemical makeup of the rocks, with different minerals weathering through different processes into different colours. (Did I say “different” frequently enough in that paragraph?) Image credit: Mariano Mantel.

Volcanic Eruptions in Nicaragua

How Wind And Water Create The World's Most Beautiful Rock LandscapesSEXPAND

A pair of large volcanic deposits from explosive eruptions in northwestern Nicaragua show different erosional patterns. The harder rock presents a smooth, steep face, while the soft ash layer erodes in deep gullies. As the ash is eroded, it is carried away, but not very far: you can see it deposited at the base of the cliff as a splaying fan. Image credit: Ian Saginor.

If you’re craving more physical sciences stories, head over to the Space subsite.

Do you have any favourite examples of differential erosion? Please share them!

The Dogs of War

Posted in World Military Corner with tags on May 27, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

Post 3306
The Dogs of War



At the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military had a force of roughly 2,500 military working dogs. Some have entered the American lexicon as as heroes in their own right: Cairo, a Belgian Malinois hailed for his work with the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden. And Rex, a shepherd; his handler, Mike Dowling, wrote a book about their harrowing exploits in Iraq, saying, “It was Rex who gave me the strength to get up and to carry on.”On Memorial Day, the United States will honor all those who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. Take a look at the dogs and their handlers who lead the way onto the most dangerous battlefields on Earth.

Picture of Marine Corporal John Dolezal posing with Cchaz, a Belgian Malinois

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Marine Cpl. John Dolezal poses with Cchaz, a Belgian Malinois, at Twentynine Palms in California. Dogs bred at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the military’s primary canine facility, are given names that begin with a double letter.

The Dogs of War  

Out in front of America’s troops, combat canines and their handlers lead the way onto the most dangerous battlefields on EarthBy Michael Paterniti.  Photograph by Adam Ferguson                                                                                                    

Here is Marine Corporal Jose Armenta in his tent on the night before getting blown up in Afghanistan. He jokes with Mulrooney and Berry and the medic the guys have nicknamed “Christ.” He feeds and waters his dog, Zenit, a sable-coat German shepherd. He lets Buyes, who will be dead in three months, ruffle Zenit’s fur, for the radioman is crazy about the dog.

Then he takes Zenit outside in the waning light of this dusty, desert otherworld to train.

They’re happiest like this. Jose has Zenit sit, which the dog does obediently, and then Jose jogs 50 yards down and hides a rubber toy, a Kong, up against a mud wall, covering it with dirt. On Jose’s command, Zenit bursts forward, zigging in search of it, tail wagging. It’s an intricate dance. Voice commands met by precise canine action, always with the same end goal in mind—to find the toy. Tomorrow, on patrol, the objective will be finding not a toy but an improvised explosive device, or IED, one of the Taliban’s most brutally effective weapons against American troops here in what many consider the most dangerous province in one of the world’s most dangerous countries. And no dog can find every bomb every time.



For the past three months Jose’s been stationed at Patrol Base Alcatraz, at the edge of a town called Sangin in Helmand Province, without a “find.” Despite his optimism—the man always beams a disarming smile—the lack of finds is beginning to wear on him almost as much as the 100-degree heat, which feels even hotter rucking 75 pounds of gear.

As a Marine dog handler, Jose is a perpetual outsider, assigned to platoons that have been together for years, tight-knit combat brotherhoods that regard newcomers, especially dog handlers, with a high degree of circumspection. His job is to accompany that platoon, to clear a path through hostile territory for his fellow marines. But as thankful as they may be, Jose knows it’s natural for them to wonder: Is this guy any good? Will he fit in? How will he respond in that first firefight?

At this moment in August of 2011 the stated mission in Sangin is to secure the 320-foot-high Kajaki Dam, to keep the Taliban from blowing it up and flooding the Helmand Valley. The marines of Third Recon, in groups of a dozen or so, take turns disrupting the enemy, mapping active pockets of Taliban fighters. Jose and Zenit are asked to accompany practically every mission. Each time he and Zenit go out beyond the wire, they’re walking point along with a marine carrying a metal detector, making themselves the first targets as Zenit scours the area for any whiff of nitrate that might signal a buried IED. As exhausting as it is, Jose always says yes.


Maybe there’s a little chip on Jose’s shoulder, or maybe he feels there’s a lot to prove—to himself, to the marines of Third Recon, and to his family back home. Maybe he’s just doing his job, or maybe he needs just one find to allay whatever doubts he harbors about his—and Zenit’s—ability to do the job. In this place especially, the threat is palpable. Sangin is littered with IEDs and teeming with enemy fighters tucked behind thick mud walls. It’s where British forces, before pulling out of Sangin altogether in 2010, lost more than a hundred troops. It’s been a graveyard since for many Americans, and a place where numerous U.S. troops have received disfiguring injuries.

This is what a dog handler tries not to dwell on: the risk associated with the need to find bombs and with the possibility of missing one. On base you sometimes hear them go off in the distance, set off by a goat, an unsuspecting villager. Sometimes frantic locals will rush a bleeding kid up to Alcatraz for medical help. And the recent news about two fellow dog handlers, Jeremy and Jasco, in his deployment, has been bad. Both were blown up and lost their legs. Jose is clear about this: He’d rather die than lose a limb or some vital body part. He’d rather get waxed than be half a person. What you do to take your mind off the fear is just what Jose does now, as he has done for the past two years: You train your dog, do your job, leave the rest to fate.

The next morning, August 28, Third Recon knows that the Taliban have been busy. Alcatraz sits on a rise out in the cornfields, not far from a wadi, and intel has it that IEDs have been planted everywhere. “We knew someone was going to get hit on that mission,” Sgt. Ryan Mulrooney will say later. “Every day something was getting blown up. We knew going in there that it was a pretty risky movement.”

So for the first time since deploying to Afghanistan, Jose puts on his “blast briefs,” underwear made of Kevlar material to limit genital injuries, and he mounts his helmet cam hoping to document his first find. Then he puts an IV in Zenit to keep him hydrated in the heat.



The team moves out at 10 a.m. in ranger file, and Jose guesses it’s already 120 degrees. The marines work down the hill slowly, and when they hit the 611 highway, Jose feels a surge of adrenaline. His mouth goes cottony as he commands Zenit, orchestrating the dog’s every movement. The team veers through the corn to avoid the road, until they hit the wadi that runs parallel to the highway, eight feet deep and ten feet wide, empty of water.

Jose guides Zenit from bank to bank. Mulrooney, working the metal detector, calls out, “I think I got one here.” Jose approaches, looks at the humped, loose dirt with a wire showing, fixes Mulrooney with a smile, and says, “Yup.” The team leader is notified. Jose moves on, spies another device, and calls it out. Sensing a pattern, he sends Zenit to the far side of the wadi, where the dog freezes, tail wagging, nose suddenly working overtime. The change in behavior marks the spot. After nearly a hundred days out here, it’s their first IED as a team.

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Army Staff Sgt. Terry Young and his German shepherd, Wero, search for explosives at a checkpoint in Kandahar, Afghanistan. More than 500 U.S. military working dogs are deployed worldwide at any given time.

In his mind Jose throws an invisible high five and lets out a silent whoop. Trainers say, “Emotion runs through the leash.” Jose knows he needs to remain calm, to keep Zenit focused, but how can he not be excited? The team leader is notified again. Jose and Zenit continue down the wadi in the deathly heat. The sun blisters down on the men in formation slow-walking in each other’s footsteps, using shaving cream to mark safe spots. Just like that, three in a row. The riverbed is full of explosives—but where’s the next? With that question, Jose’s elation gives under the weight of duty. He and Zenit are the ones responsible for finding out.

Zenit—a 78-pound German shepherd with an irrepressible love for ball retrieval—was born on Halloween, 2007. He was bred by a private contractor in Europe, who gave him his odd name (pronounced ZEE-nit), the meaning of which, if there was a meaning, Jose never learned. Having passed a battery of medical tests, Zenit was procured by the U.S. military just after his first birthday and shipped to the kennel at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. There working dogs are initially trained by the 341st Training Squadron in “drive building, grip development, and environmental and social stability,” according to the Department of Defense. Days are regimented, the dogs released only at allotted hours for food and water, exercise, and training. It’s during these training sessions that the marines evaluate what role a dog is best suited for: patrol, detection, or tracking. Though the military resists discussing individual dogs, records indicate that Zenit spent 13 months in the Lackland kennels. Because dogs have short attention spans, his lessons would have lasted up to an hour or two each day, with some as short as three to five minutes at a time. At the course’s end Zenit was certified for explosives detection and patrol.

Yet when the two-year-old Zenit was finally paired with Jose on Okinawa, Japan, in 2010, the dog was still very much raw material. Having been passed over for deployment with his previous dog, Jose felt extra pressure to succeed with Zenit.


Not all military dogs are suited to combat. Some wither in the heat or become too excited by the sounds of gunfire or explosions, even after they’ve been desensitized to them in training. Some are too loyal, too lazy, or too playful. Each dog is its own particular, sometimes peculiar, universe. Still, certain breeds generally do better than others on the battlefield, such as German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and especially the Belgian Malinois, which is known for being fearless, driven, and able to handle the heat.

But what works in a given environment may not work in another. History suggests that each battle situation calls for its own breed and tactics. Benjamin Franklin encouraged the use of dogs against the Indians. They “will confound the enemy a good deal,” he wrote, “and be very serviceable. This was the Spanish method of guarding their marches.” (Spanish conquistadores were said to have used bullmastiffs against Native Americans.)

During the Second Seminole War, starting in 1835, the U.S. military used Cuban-bred bloodhounds to track Indians in the swamps of Florida. Dogs were said to have guarded soldiers in the Civil War. During World War I both sides used tens of thousands of dogs as messengers. In World War II the U.S. Marines deployed dogs on Pacific islands to sniff out Japanese positions. In Vietnam an estimated 4,000 canines were used to lead jungle patrols, saving numerous lives. (Nevertheless, the military decided to leave many behind when the U.S. pulled out.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Army Staff Sgt. Jason Cartwright bonds with his Labrador retriever, Isaac, during a mission to disrupt a Taliban supply route. Dogs are very sensitive to their handlers’ emotions. Says Jay Crafter, a trainer for the military, “If you’re having a bad day, your dog is going to have a bad day.”

At the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military had a force of roughly 2,500 military working dogs (MWDs). Some have entered our national lexicon as heroes in their own right: Cairo, a Belgian Malinois hailed for his work with the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden. And Rex, a shepherd; his handler, Mike Dowling, wrote a book about their harrowing exploits in Iraq, saying, “It was Rex who gave me the strength to get up and to carry on.”

This age-old bond between man and dog is the essence of our fascination with these teams: The human reliance on superior animal senses—dogs are up to 100,000 times more alert to smells than humans are. The seriousness of the serviceman’s endeavor, in contrast to the dog’s heedless joy at being on the hunt or at play. The selflessness and loyalty of handler and dog in putting themselves in harm’s way—one wittingly and one unwittingly—to save lives.

The image of dog and marine living as Lassie and Timmy, however, is not entirely accurate. In general, the military bureaucracy regards a working dog as a piece of equipment, something Jose understood the first time he saw Zenit’s ID—N103—tattooed in his ear. After their training sessions in Okinawa, Jose always returned Zenit to his kennel according to protocol, and he knew it was vital that he establish himself as the alpha in tone and action. “Dogs are like toddlers,” says Marine Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Knight, who trained Jose and Zenit at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. “They need to be told what to do. They need to know that their primary drives—oxygen, food, water—are taken care of. Two betas will never get it right. One must be the alpha, and it must be the handler.”                                                    

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Sergeant Cartwright has Isaac sniff for weapons and explosives in a basement in Kandahar. A dog is trained to sit or lie down and not bark when it locates a target scent. The handler rewards the dog by letting it chew on its toy. 

The truth was, until Afghanistan and that August day in 2011, Jose would have repeated the party line. If Zenit stepped on an IED and was killed, Jose was pretty sure he wouldn’t have shed a tear. Theirs was a strictly professional relationship and needed to remain that way. If Zenit got blown up, Jose would start all over again with another dog.

Jose Armenta grew up tough, simply because nothing came easy. His family lived in East Los Angeles, where his parents were affiliated with gangs and split up when Jose was young. His mother, who was of Puerto Rican heritage, cared for the children as best she could; his father, of Mexican origin, came and went. One of Jose’s earliest memories is of the car accident that spared him and killed his little sister. He was five; she, four. The rent was often overdue, and sometimes his family simply jumped to another house, another school—15 in all. He was always the new kid, the outsider. In high school he lived in his garage, cranking heavy metal. He played drums in a band. He wore his hair in a Mohawk and pierced his nose.

But even the extremes of Jose’s rebellion were relatively tame: ditching class, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, playing video games. Living in a violent world of real and wannabe gangsters, of random shootings, of drug dealing, he wanted to escape. What he wanted most was the opposite of that world: He wanted to be a marine.

In July 2007, at 18, he enlisted and found himself at Camp Pendleton. Having grown up rootless and without religion, he immediately fell in love with the military’s sense of tradition and ritual. He was nicknamed “Socks,” for his civilian uniform of baggy shorts and tube socks pulled up to the knee. Upon graduating from boot camp, he signed up for military police training and was eventually assigned to the U.S. base on Okinawa. As a class standout, he was also offered the chance to go to Lackland to begin training as a dog handler.              

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Sergeant Bourgeois clips Oopey’s toenails before a mission in Afghanistan. Handlers care for their dogs’ every need, learning canine CPR as well as how to spot canine post-traumatic stress disorder, which afflicts some 5 percent of deployed dogs.

Jose had always loved dogs. During his erratic upbringing, they’d been ballast. At various times he’d owned a Dalmatian, a pit bull, and a Pekingese–chow chow mix named Bandit, legendary for once biting a friend on the posterior. But Jose understood that a military dog was an instrument he had to master, just as a technician had to understand sonar on a submarine or a drone operator had to learn to control a Predator.

The military, with its sharp edges and unyielding discipline—the thing that was saving him from the streets and his parents’ life—seemed a little more humane in those moments when he was rewarding a dog by roughing its neck fur or giving it some fawning praise. Though he instantly loved the work, he was also inspired by its higher purpose. One bomb found in the field might equal several lives saved.

Jose’s first impression of Zenit was that he seemed too sweet and a little unruly, still full of puppy energy. Jose already had a dog, a Malinois, but he was eager to try a shepherd and picked out Zenit himself.

A new working dog in the Marines learns to search for IEDs in small, incremental steps. After mastering basic obedience, the dogs are taught to recognize a range of odors associated with explosives, including ammonium nitrate, which is used in the majority of IEDs in Afghanistan.

Then they begin to practice an exercise known as “birding,” which is designed to let the handler direct the dog’s movements from a distance. First a handler unleashes the dog and orders it to move toward a hidden “bird launcher,” a remote-controlled catapult loaded with a tennis ball. Adherence to voice commands and hand signals is crucial and often hard-won. When the dog comes close to the launcher, the handler triggers it, and the ball rockets into the air. The dog gives chase and returns the ball to the handler, who praises and pats the dog.

As the dog gets better at following directions, the handler begins hiding items scented with all types of explosive materials in the surrounding terrain. By constantly moving the launcher and spreading scents both near and far, the dog becomes adept at searching large areas and alerting the handler to everything that smells like an explosive.                                                                                                                                At an airfield in Kandahar, Army veterinarian Maj. Bryan Hux (at center) awaits a medevac bringing in an injured military working dog.

Eventually there’s no bird launcher, no tennis ball, just the scents. After finding each one, the dog is called back and rewarded with the Kong. And that’s what the process boils down to for a dog. An IED search is a game—identify a scent and get a toy.

Zenit was a motivated seeker—and perfect partner. In the fall of 2010 the pair was selected for deployment and sent to Yuma Proving Ground for a final three-week, boot-camp-like crystallization of everything a handler and a dog need in a war zone and for one final test to prove they are ready. In a fake Afghan village a handler and his dog must search out a complicated array of IEDs. Some are scented for the dog to find. Others are unscented but left exposed for the handler to spot. If together they find more than 80 percent, the pair receives final approval to go “downrange.”

“Jose was a bit of an East L.A. hood rat when he came into the corps,” says one of his supervisors, Sgt. Alfred Nieto. “But he and Zenit really knew what they were doing—that wasn’t in doubt. I think they grew up a lot together.”

After passing the training course at Yuma, the two boarded a transport, spent one night in Germany, and then flew to the Marines’ main base, Camp Leatherneck, in Afghanistan. From there Jose and Zenit were sent to Alcatraz. One moment they were in a fictional Afghan village in the desert of Arizona, the next they were in a real one, in Helmand Province, on their own.                                                                      

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Staff Sgt. Thomas Sager carries the body of Dinomt, a dog killed by an IED while on patrol in Kandahar. His death spared the lives of nearby soldiers. “It’s like losing a teammate,” says Major Hux (at left).

Now it’s three months later. They’re in the wadi outside Sangin surrounded by IEDs. The finds are rapid-fire, oscillating between Mulrooney and Jose and Zenit. I got one … Over here … Yup.

Two years of training with your dog, three months in-country, every day with Zenit at your side, eating MREs, packing your gear—and your dog’s—humping, working, waiting, waking at midnight to make sure Zenit pees and poops in the designated spot, and suddenly everything, your life as a soldier and handler, your life as hood rat and outsider and striving human being, gets compressed into 15 minutes and 60 yards.

Jose believes he’s onto the pattern. It seems the Taliban have buried IEDs at the access points to the wadi, assuming the troops would feel safer out of sight down in the dry riverbed than exposed in the open fields. It’s all happening so quickly now. He takes deep breaths to tame his excitement and maintain focus.

A dog’s nose generally works best—or is most sensitive—in cool, calm weather. Odors become more volatile at higher temperatures, and wind can dilute and disperse them over a broad area, camouflaging their source. That’s the good thing: Down here there’s no wind. But it’s midday, bone-dry, and so fryingly hot Jose can taste the salt of his sweat as it trickles to his lips.

Zenit is working the far bank, tuned to Jose’s commands, ears perked, feet scrambling, excited too. The dog is looking for all those scents it knows will yield his toy. Where are they?

Over here a wide path leads from the berm into the wadi, and Zenit moves past it without any change in behavior. Jose follows at a distance, gauging his own steps. The men behind them follow at a distance, marking a shaving-cream route based on Jose’s progress.

At the path he veers from the most trafficked area and walks up a little rise. He takes a step, then another. Which is when the earth gives, and a deafening roar fills his ears.

When his eyes open, Jose is lying on his back. All he can see is the sky. He’s been blown 20 feet back into the wadi. He knows exactly what’s happening but can’t comprehend any of it. His mouth is full of dirt, and his body yowls, as if on fire. He can’t breathe. Mulrooney is the first to his side and cuts off his vest. Jose keeps repeating, “I fucked up. Do I still have my legs?” And then: “Where’s Zenit?” Mulrooney says, “You’re good, man, you’re going to be fine.”

There’s a procedure out here when someone gets “got”—that’s what the men call a hit like this. The marines secure the area; the medic puts a T-POD, a tourniquet at the waist to stanch the bleeding, on Jose; Buyes calls in a chopper; and everyone works to beat the “golden hour,” the time within which the military endeavors to get a wounded soldier off the battlefield to increase his odds of survival.

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

A black Lab named Eli comforts Kathy Rusk at the Texas gravesite of her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Colton Rusk, killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Colton and Eli worked together in IED detection. Kathy and her husband later adopted Eli and put a small statue of a Lab on the grave.

But the closest chopper is already ferrying another wounded marine out of the area and takes two hours to arrive. Jose has lost a lot of blood but somehow stays conscious, asking again for Zenit. The dog, initially 20 feet from the blast, knows something has gone wrong. Zenit lies down next to Jose, his ears pinned to his head, which he lays on his paws. He stays there as they work to save Jose before the chopper arrives. According to protocol, both handler and dog are loaded on board and whisked from the spot.

A faraway light—Jose remembers that. He remembers letting himself slip toward it, overcome by a very tired feeling. This was on the chopper. He remembers sensing Zenit nearby. He remembers thinking about his three younger sisters and brother (never having had role models himself, he wonders who will be theirs), his fiancée (how will she find out?), and then his sister who died (is he about to see her?). He remembers turning from the faraway light, shaking off sleep, and reentering his body.

What followed wasn’t easy. He woke up in Germany, and ten days later he woke up again in Walter Reed hospital. There were 12 operations, a move to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Both legs had to be amputated above the knee. He slept 20 hours a day for a month. He dreamed that someone performed experiments on him with dolphins. He woke thrashing, calling for Zenit, only to learn that N103 hadn’t accompanied him home, had been reassigned to a new handler, also by protocol.                                                                 

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Eliana and Jose Armenta relax with their Boston terriers, Oreo and Sassy, and their German shepherd, Zenit. A retired Marine dog handler, Jose lost his legs in an IED blast while on patrol with Zenit. In 2012 he adopted Zenit. “Dogs complete our family,” he says, a family soon to include a baby.

“I was furious,” Jose says. “And jealous. I never blamed Zenit for what happened. We were a team. If it was anyone’s fault, it was my own. I just wanted my dog.”

In different ways, it seemed, they were both itemized gear, until one of them didn’t work anymore. Back in Afghanistan, Zenit had been returned to Camp Leatherneck, where he soon went through what’s called a validation trial with another handler and then went on more than 50 foot patrols with other units. He had one more IED find.

At home, in the months after the operations, Jose waited for his incisions to heal, then worked to strengthen his core and what remained of his legs. He was given “shorties,” introductory prosthetics without knee joints so he could learn to balance and stand—and get used to the pressure on his legs. Later he received prosthetics with knee joints so he could learn to walk again.

Physical recovery is one thing; mental recovery is a much different matter. Jose’s wife, Eliana, whom he married six months after getting injured, remembers some very dark days: Jose, at 24, in a wheelchair in the house, drapes drawn, trying to come to terms with his new life. “I went from being this badass fighter to a young guy in a wheelchair,” Jose says. “Your mind doesn’t just make an easy switch. I’m not sure it ever will.”

Meanwhile, Jose was intent on getting Zenit back. “He was like my worn-out shield,” he says. “Every scratch tells a story. And nothing felt right without him.” Jose wasn’t the only one feeling a nagging sense of incompleteness. Some injured handlers had been able to adopt their dogs after the animals had been discharged. Others had begun asking for their dogs even though the canines remained on active duty.

No formal program exists in the military to reunite dogs with their injured handlers, and some of those handlers have found the process inscrutable and frustrating at a time when they needed clarity. For Jose, there were calls and paperwork, excruciating months of waiting. Eventually Zenit was sent to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California. More months passed, and finally in June 2012, after the Marine Corps approved the adoption, Jose and his wife road-tripped the three hours to the base. He approached Zenit in his wheelchair, and the dog covered him in slobbery kisses. “I couldn’t stop smiling,” says Jose. “For days. Actually I’m still smiling. It felt like the beginning to this new life.”                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

After several combat tours Kimberley, a retired detection dog, has a new family in Texas. Many former military dogs are put up for adoption, with federal agencies, local law enforcement, and former handlers given priority. The wait for a dog is a year to 18 months.

It’s twilight in San Diego. Jose is seated by the pool at his house, drinking a beer, taking a break from his prosthetics, throwing a tennis ball for Zenit. The dog took immediately to eating steak and sleeping on the couch when he first arrived. Jose spoils him as he never could before. The German shepherd’s glossy, sable coat flashes in the sun as he chases down each toss with happy zeal, then returns the ball to Jose, who keeps up a patter of “Good boy.” It’s a long way from war, yet the war seems ever present.

“For a long time I beat myself up over that day,” says Jose. “I kept wondering what I could have done differently. I think the IED was offset from where I had Zenit searching or was just buried too deep. They always say that no dog is 100 percent accurate.”

For more than a year after that day in the wadi Jose had to learn how to walk on his new legs. He went to rehab several times a week. “He always came in joking and upbeat,” says his physical therapist, Dawn Golding. “You could hear him cranking his motivational music when he walked down the hall.” Sometimes when he’s out for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, a kid may see his plastic-and-metal legs and ask if he’s a Transformer. “Nah, man,” says Jose. “This is what happens when you don’t eat your vegetables!” And then he flashes that huge smile.

He’s learned to sail and ski and has been on outings to Colorado and Alaska. He works as a dispatcher for the military police, on the 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift. He comes home to his wife, who is newly pregnant, and they take Zenit to the beach. “He’s like my quiet partner,” says Jose. “He bridges three worlds: the person I was before Afghanistan, the one I was there, and the one I became after. I joke that when he dies, I’ll get him stuffed and put him by the bed. But really I can’t imagine it. I don’t know what I’ll do then.”

Jose—brother and husband and soon-to-be father—cocks his arm and releases the ball, which arcs into the darkening sky like some forlorn hope. Before it takes a second bounce, Zenit has it in his mouth, racing to return it to his master.

Michael Paterniti wrote about Hong Kong in the June 2012 issue. This is photographer Adam Ferguson’s first assignment for the magazine.


Europe’s Landscape Is Still Scarred by World War I

Posted in WORLD'S HISTORY with tags on May 27, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

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Europe’s Landscape Is Still Scarred by World War I

Photographs of the abandoned battlefields reveal the trenches’ scars still run deep

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Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter                                                                                                                                                                                              Even today, a century after the start of the Great War, the countryside still bears scars. In this image by Irish landscape photographer Michael St. Maur Sheil at the site of the Battle of the Somme, in northern France, you can trace grass-covered trenches and pockmarks from exploded bombshells. More than a million men were wounded or killed in the battle, the first major British offensive of the war. “The Germans had been sitting in a deep dugout excavated into the chalk rock,” Sheil says. “British soldiers advancing across the flat landscape were an easy target.” His exhibition, “Fields of Battle—Lands of Peace,” now on display in Paris along the wrought-iron fence of Luxembourg Gardens and later touring the United Kingdom, includes 79 contemporary photographs of World War I battlefields—the artist’s attempt to document the enduring legacy of the war on the landscape                                                                                                     (Michael St. Maur Sheil )
Ten thousand men were killed within seconds when the British exploded 19 mines under German lines during the Battle of Messines in Belgium. (Michael St. Maur Sheil )

100 years after the Battle of Verdun, its land—once a quiet stretch of French farmland—remains scarred from explosions. (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

On the Chemin des Dames, German soldiers took refuge in a former limestone quarry, which they called the Dragon’s Cavern. (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

Nearly 70 feet deep, the Lochnagar Crater was formed after an explosive-packed mine was detonated during the Battle of the Somme. (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

The tiny village of Butte de Vaquois once stood on a hilltop, and was destroyed after three years of furious mining blew away its summit. (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

A series of 12 bloody battles were fought between Austro-Hungrarian and Italian troops along the Isonzo River in Italy. (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

The first large battle fought by American soldiers in World War I took place in Belleau Wood. 10,000 soldiers were lost, killed or injured. (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

The remains of Sedd el Bahr Kale, an ancient castle, as seen from V Beach, where the Battle of Gallipoli was fought in Turkey. (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

Between 1914-15, Germany defeated the Russian Army in two separate battles fought in the Masurian Lakes region in East Prussia. (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

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This Hellish Desert Pit Has Been On Fire for More Than 40 Years


Post 3304

This Hellish Desert Pit Has Been On Fire for More Than 40 Years

In the Turkmenistan desert, a crater dubbed “The Door to Hell” has been burning for decades

The pit has been burning for over 40 years. (Flickr user NMK Photography)

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There are places on Earth that are a little creepy, places that feel a little haunted and places that are downright hellish. The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals “The Door to Hell,” or “The Gates of Hell,” definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (a little over 150 miles from the country’s capital) the pit attracts hundreds of tourists each year. It also attracts nearby desert wildlife—reportedly, from time to time local spiders are seen plunging into the pit by the thousands, lured to their deaths by the glowing flames.                                                                                          Though Turkmenistan’s president ordered the pit be filled in 2010, hundreds of tourists still flock to the site. (Flickr user NMK Photography)

So how did this fiery inferno end up in the middle of a desert in Turkmenistan? In 1971, when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union, a group of Soviet geologists went to the Karakum in search of oil fields. They found what they thought to be a substantial oil field and began drilling. Unfortunately for the scientists, they were drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas which couldn’t support the weight of their equipment. The site collapsed, taking their equipment along with it—and the event triggered the crumbly sedimentary rock of the desert to collapse in other places too, creating a domino-effect that resulted in several open craters by the time all was said and done. 

The largest of these craters measures about 230-feet across and 65-feet deep. Reportedly, no one was injured in the collapse, but the scientists soon had another problem on their hands: the natural gas escaping from the crater. Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, which, though not toxic, does displace oxygen, making it difficult to breathe. This wasn’t so much an issue for the scientists, but for the animals that call the Karakum Desert home—shortly after the collapse, animals roaming the area began to die. The escaping methane also posed dangers due to its flammability—there needs to be just five percent methane in the air for an explosion to potentially take place. So the scientists decided to light the crater on fire, hoping that all the dangerous natural gas would burn away in a few weeks’ time.The pungent odor of sulfur can be smelled some distance from the crater. (Wikipedia)

It’s not as outlandish as it sounds—in oil and natural gas drilling operations, this happens all the time to natural gas that can’t be captured. Unlike oil, which can be stored in tanks indefinitely after drilling, natural gas needs to be immediately processed—if there’s an excess of natural gas that can’t be piped to a processing facility, drillers often burn the natural gas to get rid of it. It’s a process called “flaring,” and it wastes almost a million dollars of worth of natural gas each day in North Dakota alone.

But unlike drillers in North Dakota or elsewhere, the scientists in Turkmenistan weren’t dealing with a measured amount of natural gas—scientists still don’t know just how much natural gas is feeding the burning crater—so what was supposed to be a few-week burn has turned into almost a half-century-long desert bonfire.                                                                                                                                                                    The engineers who lit the pit on fire originally thought it would extinguish itself in a matter of days. (Flickr user NMK Photography)

After visiting the crater in 2010, Turkmenistan’s president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, worried that the fire would threaten the country’s ability to develop nearby gas fields, ordered local authorities to come up with a plan for filling the crater in. No action has been taken, however, and the crater continues to burn, attracting unsuspecting wildlife and international tourists.

To visit the Darvaza gas crater, it’s best to go at night, when the fire can be seen from miles away. The crater is located about 161 miles (about a 4 hour drive) from the Turkmen capital Ashgabat. Tours can be booked through agents in Ashgabat. Alternatively, some companies offer more structured tours of the surrounding area, with the Darvaza crater included (such as this tour, by The Geographical Society of New South Wales).

The crater measures almost 230 feet across. (Wikipedia)

The crater at night. (Wikipedia)
Darvaza Gas crater, Turkmenistan, Central Asia, Asia. (© Michael Runkel/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)

Darvaza Gas crater, Turkmenistan, Central Asia, Asia. (© Michael Runkel/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)

Turiost standing on the edge of the Darvaza Gas crater, Turkmenistan, Central Asia, Asia. (© Michael Runkel/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)

The crater by day. (© Michael Runkel/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)

Darvaza Gas crater, Turkmenistan, Central Asia, Asia. (© Michael Runkel/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)

Boy tied to bus stop highlights struggle for disabled Indians

Posted in News with tags on May 26, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

Post 3303

Boy tied to bus stop highlights struggle for disabled Indians



Mumbai (AFP) – The nine-year-old boy dressed in blue lay listlessly on the pavement in the scorching Mumbai summer afternoon, his ankle tethered with rope to a bus stop, unheeded by pedestrians strolling past.


Lakhan Kale cannot hear or speak and suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy, so his grandmother and carer tied him up to keep him safe while she went to work, selling toys and flower garlands on the city’s roadsides.


“What else can I do? He can’t talk, so how will he tell anyone if he gets lost?” said homeless Sakhubai Kale, 66, who raised Lakhan on the street by the bus stop shaded by the hanging roots of a banyan tree.


Lakhan’s father died several years ago and his mother walked out on the family, his grandmother told AFP.


A photograph of him tied up appeared in a local newspaper this week, sparking concerns among charities and the police, and he has since been taken into care at a government-run institution.

But activists say his plight on the streets comes as little surprise in India, where those with disabilities face daily stigma and discrimination and a lack of facilities to assist them.


Kale said Lakhan “tends to wander off” and that there was no one else to stop him walking into traffic while she and her 12-year-old granddaughter, Rekha, were out making a living.


At night she would tie him to her own leg as they slept on the pavement so she would know if he tried to walk away.

“I am a single old woman. Nobody paid attention to me until the newspaper report,” she said.

“He was in a special school, but they sent him back.”

Social worker Meena Mutha has since managed to place Lakhan in a state-run south Mumbai home, which takes in a range of needy children from the disabled to the destitute.

“Residental homes are very, very few. There’s a major need for the government to do something, a social responsibility to provide residential centres for children like Lakhan,” said Mutha, a trustee at the Manav Foundation helping people with mental illness.

She said government-run centres that put together children with different needs did not always have the range of facilities required.


“They don’t have the infrastructure, the staff,” said Mutha. Conversely, non-government organisations “have expertise, but not the space,” she said, highlighting the squeeze on land in the densely-packed city.

Across India, the 40 to 60 million people with disabilities often face similar struggles to get the help they need, activists say.

“There’s no collective responsibility. You have a disabled child, you look after it,” said Varsha Hooja, chief executive at ADAPT, another charity working with disabled young adults and children.

– No state support –

Hooja said she had seen other cases of parents locking up children with disabilities while they go to work.

“The state gives no support,” she said.

A long-awaited bill was introduced into the Indian parliament in February aiming to give disabled people equal rights — including access to education, employment and legal redress against discrimination — but it has yet to be passed.

Lawyer Rajive Raturi was on the committee that began drafting the bill five years ago, and said the Congress party-led government which has just lost power had pushed through a “complete dilution” of the original, especially on sections regarding women and children with disabilities.

Raturi, who handles disability cases at the Human Rights Law Network, said he hoped the new parliament elected this month, dominated by incoming prime minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, would “listen to the stakeholders and then make a decision”.

“We can’t change attitudes with an act but if the bill has the right provisions, people will think twice,” he said.

Back by the Mumbai bus stop, Kale squatted on the pavement drinking chai and eating bread on the morning after bidding a tearful goodbye to her grandson.

She was hopeful she would get to see him regularly once she acquired an official identity card that would allow her to visit the centre.

“I am very happy,” she said. “What else would I want other than for him to be looked after?”


Memorial Day: Intense Storms May Rattle Central US; Calm for Most


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Memorial Day: Intense Storms May Rattle Central US; Calm for Most