Saving the Night Sky

MilkyWayStromatolites_Zhang_1080New Story in the Star Tribune:

A few years ago, in the fall, I went camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a string of clear nights. When the sun set, there was no moon and the stars came alive in the sky, billions of them stretching from one horizon to the other. In the dark, I lay on a warm rock near the water for a long time, watching meteors flare and satellites circle the earth before turning in.

220px-The_End_of_Night_coverLater, I got up in the night, stepped out of my tent and looked north. The big dipper still hung there, only it had spun, like someone reached down and turned it with a giant hand. For a few seconds I stood there, struck by the palpable sense of being on a planet spinning through space.

A few days later, I was back in Minneapolis, where I would look at the night sky and think of all the stars I couldn’t see. Instead, there I saw a bluish haze with a few bright points. This is what’s known as the “skyglow” and it’s something that increases every year, blocking more of the cosmos from our view.

Read the rest here.

Photo via NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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The China Mystery Illness and the Power of Stories

4d9c7547g94283a8859d8&690From Undark Magazine: To Believe is to Feel: When a Mysterious Epidemic Isn’t So Mysterious

When U.S. diplomats in the Chinese city of Guangzhou recently started reporting strange, inexplicable symptoms of unknown origin — and which seemed to be spreading among State Department employees — I was reminded of a similar “mystery illness” that I spent some time researching a few hours south of Guangzhou, in a village called Fuhu.

One afternoon in May of 2004, a third-grade boy at a local school in Fuhu reported feeling that his genitals were shrinking. He panicked, ran home, and his parents fetched the local healer — an 80-year-old woman who had seen this sort of thing before: In 1963, she said, around the time of the Great Leap Forward, an “evil wind” had blown through the village and many people were struck by this illness known as “suo-yang.” She treated the boy by traditional means and he recovered quickly.

Two days later when the school principal learned of the incident, he gathered all 680 students in the school courtyard and, according to a report by Dr. Li Jie of the Guangzhou Psychiatric Hospital, “explained to the students in detail what had happened, and warned them to be cautious, and to take emergency measures if they experienced similar symptoms.”

Read the rest here.

Minnesota’s Solar Boom

SolarNew from MinnPost:

Ben Butcher and his wife live on a small farm on the outskirts of Backus, Minnesota, where they raised their four kids. He used to work as an automotive mechanic, which is where he got his first experience working with direct current — the kind of electricity that comes out of solar panels. These days, Butcher works with a lot more of it — kilowatts, in fact — as a solar installer. Like a growing number of people in the state, he makes his living directly from the sun.

Butcher works as the construction manager for Real Solar, a subsidiary of the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a nonprofit that focuses on getting solar to low-income households. The organization employs 14 people, including between four to six solar installers, depending on the season and demand. Their crew might take three days to put in a 15-kilowatt solar array, or just a day to put in a 2-3 kilowatt system. These days its services are in higher demand than in the past, as the solar industry booms across the state, including rural areas like the one around Backus.

“When I first started,” Butcher said, “we were on the road about 70 percent of the time. But last year, it reversed. The local market has really developed, so we were on the road only about 30 percent of the time. We’re actually looking for another electrician at the moment. But solar electricians are in very high demand right now.”

Read the rest here.

Geography of Madness: Spanish Edition

GOMespThe Geography of Madness is now available in Spanish:

Geografía de la locura: En busca del pene perdido y otros delirios colectivos (Ensayo General)

Una desternillante exploración de las extravagancias y los desvaríos colectivos: ¿Por qué ciertos individuos creen que unos vándalos roban sus penes o que tienen lagartos bajo la piel? ¿Cuál es el origen del vudú? ¿Existe el latah, ese curioso estado que provoca bailes frenéticos y movimientos espasmódicos? Frank Bures ha viajado por todo el mundo para rastrear los síndromes más estrambóticos ligados a la cultura y contar luego deliciosas historias sobre esas extrañezas. Se confirma una vez más que el hombre es un animal muy raro.

Read the rest here.

Geography of Madness: Turkish Edition

36586744The Geography of Madness is now available in Turkish:

Hangimiz, orta şekerli Türk kahvesi içtiğimizde şöyle bir ortamda göz gezdirip acaba bakacak olan var mı diye içimizden geçirmeyiz? Fala inanma falsız da kalma! Kimi zaman sırf eğlencesine yaptığımız, hatrımız için yalvar yakar baktırdığımız kahve falına, bizi gülümseten şeyler söylendiğinde hangimiz inanmayız? İnanmayız belki ama inanmak isteriz. İşte bu kitapta, inancın kültürler üzerinde nasıl etkisi olduğunu gözler önüne seriyor.

Paris Yayınları’ndan çıkan ‘Deliliğin Coğrafyası: Penis Hırsızları, Vudu Ölümleri ve Dünyanın En Tuhaf Sendromlarını Anlama Arayışı’ Frank Bures’in yayımlanmış ilk kitabı. Yazarın, Amerika’daki dergilerde yayımlanmış gezi yazıları da mevcut.

Read the rest here.

The Sound of Silence

c87f36d1-9a1e-4052-a68c-aa3806ad8a6c-1New story at Slate on Cuba’s Sonic Attacks:

A few weeks after the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, several people working for the U.S. Embassy in Cuba fell mysteriously ill. Some lost their hearing. Some had headaches and a pain in one ear. Others reported feeling dizzy or nauseous, having trouble focusing, or feeling fatigued. Later, some would have a hard time concentrating, remembering things, sleeping, and even walking.

These symptoms were “medically confirmed,” as the State Department’s medical director Charles Rosenfarb put it, and brain scans were said to show abnormalities in the victims’ white matter, which transfers information between brain regions. The illnesses were believed by the government to be “health attacks,” carried out by a foreign power, though as Todd Brown, assistant director at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “investigative attempts and expert analysis failed to identify the cause or perpetrator.”

Nonetheless, investigators concluded the illnesses, which ultimately affected 24 people, were likely the result of a “sonic device.” This conclusion seems to be primarily due to the fact that some diplomats reported hearing a high-pitched noise in their homes and hotel rooms.

Despite a lack evidence for such a weapon, or any known way it could affect white matter, the sonic weapon theory proved irresistible for both media outlets and for Cuba hawks like Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, both of whom immediately transformed the sonic weapon into a handy political weapon.

Read the rest here.