Time to Eat the Dogs

On Science, History, and Exploration

Podcast # 2: Rise of the Megafire

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In the 1980s, fires burned an average of two million acres per year. Today the average is eight million acres and growing. Scientists believe that we could see years with twenty million acres burned, an area larger than country of Ireland. Today Michael Kodas talks about the phenomenon of megafires, forest fires that burn over 100,000 acres, and why the number of these fires is increasing every year.

Kodas is the deputy director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is also an award winning photojournalist and reporter. We spoke about his new book Megafire the week after the outbreak of massive fires in Northern California. Those fires killed 42 people, consumed 8400 homes and led to one billion dollars in damages.

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Listen (below) or on iTunes

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Podcast #1: The Science of Running

regulyarnyj-beg_000_2The sport of running has exploded in the last three decades with some runners pushing the envelope of the extreme. But what do we really know about running and its effects?

  • Is there a running type?  
  • Does running affect men and women differently?
  • What do we know about extreme runners – people running races of 50 miles or more?

I talk with Dr. Beth Taylor about the science and psychology of running.  Taylor is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. She also serves as the Director of Exercise Physiology Research at Hartford Hospital. 

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Listen here or subscribe through iTunes

For more on Taylor’s work on running, see her website:

http://kins.uconn.edu/beth-taylor/

And some of her recent publications:

Physical activity intensity and subjective well-being in healthy adults. Panza GA, Taylor BA, Thompson PD, White CM, Pescatello LS. J Health Psychol. 2017 Feb 1:1359105317691589. doi: 10.1177/1359105317691589. [Epub ahead of print]

An update on the Boston Marathon as a research laboratory. Panza GA, Taylor BA, Zaleski AL, Thompson PD. Phys Sportsmed. 2015 Jul;43(3):312-6. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2015.1039923. Epub 2015 Apr 27. 

Influence of chronic exercise on carotid atherosclerosis in marathon runners. Taylor BA, Zaleski AL, Capizzi JA, Ballard KD, Troyanos C, Baggish AL, D’Hemecourt PA, Dada MR, Thompson PD

Effect of marathon run and air travel on pre- and post-run soluble d-dimer, microparticle procoagulant activity, and p-selectin levels. Parker BA, Augeri AL, Capizzi JA, Ballard KD, Kupchak BR, Volek JS, Troyanos C, Kriz P, D’Hemecourt P, Thompson PD.Am J Cardiol. 2012 May 15;109(10):1521-5. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2012.01.369. Epub 2012 Feb 18.

Effect of air travel on exercise-induced coagulatory and fibrinolytic activation in marathon runners. Parker B, Augeri A, Capizzi J, Troyanos C, Kriz P, D’Hemecourt P, Thompson P.Clin J Sport Med. 2011 Mar;21(2):126-30. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e31820edfa6.

Time to Eat the Dogs Podcast

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Time to Eat the Dog is going live! Listen to my weekly podcast about exploration, science, and extreme environments. In the first four episodes:

  • Michael Kodas talks about the growing menace of “megafires”
  • Dr. Beth Taylor investigates the science of running
  • Phil Clements discusses the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition
  • Noel Phillips talks about the rise of women climbers

These episodes are now freely available on Itunes and other podcast platforms. Subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. When you do, please take a few moments to rate and review it. I’d like to hear what you think. If you have an idea for a guest or just want to get in touch, email me at timetoeatthedogs@gmail.com. You can also find episodes links, blog posts, and a lot of exploration-related stuff here.

Here’s a preview of my interview with Dr Beth Taylor on the Science of Running:

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Darwin’s Polar Bear

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L’ours de mer, the Comte de Buffon’s “sea-bear,” from his Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, 1776. The French polymath paved the way for theories about speciation. (Université de Bordeaux)

By Michael Engelhard

Originally posted on Dispersal of Darwin

Any high school student knows (or should know) how the beaks of Galápagos “finches” (it was in fact the islands’ mockingbirds that were influential)—of species confined to different islands—helped Darwin to develop his ideas about evolution. But few people realize that the polar bear too, informed his grand theory.

Letting his fancy run wild, in On the Origin of Species, the man used to thinking in eons hypothesized “a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.” Darwin based this speculation on a black bear the fur trader-explorer Samuel Hearne had observed swimming for hours, its mouth wide open, catching insects in the water. If the supply of insects were constant, Darwin thought, and no better-adapted competitors present, such a species could well take shape over time.

Systematic approaches to animals and their respective niches had long fertilized the intellectual landscape. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, in his Histoire Naturelle (published serially between 1749 and 1788) clearly distinguished a “land-bear” from a “sea-bear.” But his land-bear category was still muddled: it included a “white bear of the forest” as well as a white sea-bear. The count would have likely become aware of polar bears in the boreal forests of Hudson Bay by 1782, when France occupied Prince of Wales Fort at the mouth of the Churchill River. In a 1785 German edition of the Histoire Naturelle, Buffon’s white land-bear looks different from his sea-bear, clearly showing the shorter neck and snout characteristic of brown bears and black bears. Perhaps the count knew about British Columbia’s white black bears or “spirit bears,” which could have confused him. (Other contributions by Buffon were significant. He discovered the first principle of biogeography, noticing that despite similar environments, different regions have distinct plants and animals.) 


Buffon’s classifying of animals by region or habitat—as in the case of the two “different” white bears—prompted later naturalists to try to explain their origins and distribution as resulting from the characteristics of a place. Long before the idea of “habitat” began to infiltrate scientific discourse, the polar bear’s range and that of its prey had been linked to environmental conditions. Synthesizing the work of the Comte de Buffon and other naturalists, the Anglo-Irish Romantic writer Oliver Goldsmith thought the “Greenland bear” exceptional, because it is “the only animal that, by being placed in the coldest climate, grows larger than those that live in the temperate zones. All other species of animated nature diminish as they approach the poles, and seem contracted in their size by the rigours of the ambient atmosphere. . . . In short, all the variations of its figure and its colour seem to proceed from the coldness of the climate where it resides and the nature of the food it is supplied with.” Food availability does play a role in body mass, as does a region’s mean annual temperature, and while polar bears are not the only compact animal thriving in the Arctic such biogeographic observations anticipated the theory of evolution and principles of ecology.

On Svalbard expeditions in the summers of 1858 and 1859, the Scottish nobleman-explorer James Lamont watched polar bears frolic and dive. Intuiting that the animal had become what it is by living on seals, he deduced that the seal and the walrus must have originated first. Lamont assumed that polar bears had evolved from brown bears, “who, finding their means of subsistence running short, and pressed by hunger, ventured on the ice and caught some seals . . . so there is no impossibility in supposing that the brown bears, who by my theory were the progenitors of the present white bears, were accidently driven over to Greenland and Spitzbergen by storms or currents.” The palest brown bears with the greatest amount of external fat, Lamont thought, would have had the best chance to survive and therefore, reproduce. Upon his return, he wrote to Darwin, whose On the Origin of Species had been published in 1859. Encouraged by Darwin’s response, Lamont elaborated upon walrus and polar bear evolution in his 1861 travelogue, Seasons with the Sea-horses. Darwin approved of Lamont’s hypothesis and because Lamont’s thinking on the subject predated the publication of On the Origin of Species, he later credited Lamont (as he did Alfred Russell Wallace) with independently conceiving the theory of natural selection.

The oldest polar bear fossils found are from Svalbard and northern Norway and have been dated at 115,000–130,000 years old, before the beginning of the last Ice Age. But some biologists think that polar bears diverged from brown bears as early as 600,000 years ago. According to current research, polar bears evolved from brown bears that ventured onto the frozen ocean to stalk marine mammals, possibly after climate separated them from the main population descended from a common ancestor. This was not a single, clean-cut departure, and repeated pairings between both species have turned the family tree into a thicket. Shrinking sea ice could force polar bears to mingle with their southern cousins again, particularly as the latter now travel farther north. In coastal Arctic Alaska, grizzlies have been observed feasting on bowhead whale carcasses, sometimes in the company of polar bears and interbreeding has been documented.

After he had been ridiculed for his musings on a future, insect-eating cetacean bear, Darwin altered that passage in the second edition of Origin and removed it from subsequent ones. “The Bear case has been well laughed at, & disingenuously distorted by some into my saying that a bear could be converted into a whale,” the responded to the Irish algae specialist William Henry Harvey. Still, Darwin insisted that “there is no especial difficulty in a Bear’s mouth being enlarged to any degree useful to its changing habits,—no more difficulty than man has found in increasing the crop of the pigeon, by continued selection, until it is literally as big as whole rest of body.” Lamont’s observations and theorizing as well as the later findings about polar bear evolution vindicated the eminent naturalist and his thought experiment.

Michael Engelhard is the author of Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon (University of Washington Press). Trained as an anthropologist, he now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska and works as a wilderness guide in the Arctic.

Trump’s Rough-Riding Populism

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We’ve seen this before. A scion of New York – one born with a silver spoon in his mouth – becomes the GOP presidential nominee, prophesying national decline and blaring a populist tune at odds with his own party. Businessmen and politicians are rigging the system! Immigrants are weakening America! An influx of foreigners taking our jobs and creating “obstructions to the current of our national life,” he declares, urgently demanding us to “regulate our immigration by much more drastic laws.” Not all of the immigrants are bad, of course, but the “criminals, idiots, and paupers” among them must be turned back. Especially those in border areas who pose an existential threat to American language, culture, and way of life.

French-Canadian migrants, that is. “They are swarming into New England with ominous rapidity,” Theodore Roosevelt confided to a friend. The year was 1904.

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There are echoes of Teddy Roosevelt in Donald Trump, just as there are echoes of the Progressive Era in today’s America. Both men championed issues ignored by the social class they arose from. Both were obsessed with their own virility. (Trump doesn’t speak softly, but boasts about his big stick). And both used race to win votes. Roosevelt worried publicly that immigration, combined with a declining Anglo-Saxon birth rate, would “supplant the old American stock.” Race suicide, as he called it, could only be stopped by curbing immigration and increasing white birth rates. This sounds a lot like the utterances of today’s Stormfront.org, “White Genocide” acolytes, and other racist rightwing groups that have applauded Trump’s statements on Muslims and Mexicans.

Yet Roosevelt differed from Trump in important ways. He was an optimist about American culture and its ability to absorb new immigrants, even as he hoped they would assimilate the culture of “old American stock.” Doom and gloom were not his métier. Though he finished his letter on the Canuck deluge by predicting that Catholicism would become “the predominant creed in several of the Puritan commonwealths” – a prospect to horrify the WASPocracy – he himself remained “a firm believer that the future will somehow bring things right in the end for our land.” Roosevelt had no intention of building walls. He needed no “I love poutine!” photo to soften his harsh views.

His fighting spirit and love of provocation notwithstanding, Roosevelt was also a seasoned politician, with the experience – as state assemblyman, Governor of New York, and vice-president of the United States — to help him move his Progressive agenda through Congress. In the end, his presidency addressed much more than race and immigration. Roosevelt lowered taxes and tariffs even as he curbed the power of monopolies. He pushed through reform legislation like the Pure Food and Drug Act. He ushered in an era of environmental conservation via the creation of National Parks, Game Preserves, and National Forests. The Rough Rider, in short, had real goals and policies, along with the will and the wherewithal to effect them. Does Trump?

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Trump works the crowd at the Macon Centreplex Coliseum in Macon, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Finally – another irony — it’s worth noting that Roosevelt’s Progressive-Era populism fell short on a point that should give pause to those Trumpistas tempted to adopt the original Rough Rider as their patron saint: namely, that his vision for America did not include them. In the dominant view of his day, Irish, Italian, Eastern European, and French Canadian immigrants might be white in color, but not in “stock.” The uneducated and underemployed whites who stand at the center of the Trump’s world stood marginalized and often reviled in Roosevelt’s – the demographic problem, not the solution. As Roosevelt the historian –yes, he was that, too—knew well, the more times remain the same, the more they change.

When the World Thought Tarzan Was Real

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Before the vine-swinging gets underway in the latest film version of Edgar Rice Burrough’s story about a white child brought up by apes, we might remember that for years before the 1912 debut of Tarzan of the Apes in the All-Story Magazine, Americans and Europeans had been hearing stories of white men going native in Africa, not just in adventure fiction, but in explorers’ reports, newspaper accounts, and scientific journals.  It wasn’t just orphaned aristocrats that were going missing, but entire white communities. While exploring East Africa in 1876, five years after his famous meeting with David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley encountered some Africans whose light complexion and European features aroused his curiosity “to the highest pitch.” They came from the slopes of Gambaragara, a snow-capped mountain west of Lake Victoria. That such a towering range existed in the heart of equatorial Africa was astonishing enough. “But what gives it peculiar interest,” Stanley wrote, “is that on its cold and lonely top dwell a people of an entirely distinct race, being white, like Europeans.” Stanley’s claim caused a sensation. In the months ahead, it was reported all over the world.  

Other explorers brought home similar stories. In 1904, University of Chicago anthropologist Frederick Starr brought back nine hundred feet of motion picture film to document the Ainu of Hokkaido as the “aboriginal Caucasian inhabitants of Japan.” The same year that Tarzan came to press in 1912, Canadian anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson returned from the Arctic reporting the discovery of “Blond Eskimos” who behaved like the Inuit but looked “like sunburned, but naturally fair Scandinavians.” A few years later, the American entrepreneur Richard Marsh returned to Washington from an expedition to Panama where he reported the discovery of “White Indians.”

 

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Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Scientists sifted through the reports of these anomalous encounters— flaxen-haired Indians, blue-eyed Inuit, round-eyed Japanese— in hopes of connecting the dots of racial geography to form a picture of the white racial past. Out of these efforts came a theory, the Hamitic Hypothesis –named after Ham, the cursed son of Noah from Genesis 9– positing that the world’s light-complexioned indigenes were the result of an ancient Caucasian invasion from Central Asia.  As it turns out, none of these white tribes turned out to be white, at least in the racial sense of the term intended by explorers. The “White Indians” of Panama were albinos, the Ainu of Japan and the “Blond Eskimos” of Victoria Island descended from ethnic groups distinct from the general population. Henry Morton Stanley’s “white race of Gambaragara” remains a mystery, but may have been a population of light-skinned East Africans who lived in the rainforests of the Ruwenzori Mountains.

Yet the legacy of these discoveries had profound consequences for the world, especially for the people of Africa. In the existence of white tribes, Europeans found justification for their conquest and colonization of the world. If the European race had its own long history on the continent, it followed that the Europeans who followed Stanley into Africa were not settling, but re-settling, lands that had been conquered by fair-skinned invaders centuries before. As such, the white-complexioned Gambaragarans provided supporting evidence to an argument that redefined Africa’s past, and more importantly set its course for the century ahead.

None of this should be laid at the door of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was a pencil sharpener wholesaler when he wrote Tarzan of the Apes. His novel reflected, rather than directed, the events of his age. Yet beneath its fantastic plot lay a thought experiment. How would an Englishman without his tweeds, gun, and Oxford degree size up alongside the African? How would a viscount or earl perform once the veneer of polite society had been stripped away? The answer: pretty awesome. This is the racial fantasy that, despite its many revisions and movie incarnations, clings Jane-like to Tarzan as he swings through the twenty-first century.

For more on this subject, read (shameless plug) my book: Untitled 1

The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, Scientists, and the Theory that Changed a Continent 

Interview on New Books Network

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Two years ago, I found the New Books Network on I Tunes, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Specialists talk to authors about their new books in interviews that last an hour or more. These lo-fi podcasts sound a bit warbly, but the results are intellectually high-audio, offering broad-ranged and fine-grained profiles of books that outmatch the offerings of the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, or specialist journals. It is a book geek’s guide to paradise, and it has become one of my  favorite tools for vetting books that I can enjoy in podcast form or want to read in full. 

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Given my love of the network, it was a real pleasure to talk to University of British Columbia historian and NBN interviewer Carla Nappi about my own book The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, Scientists, and the Theory that Changed a Continent (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). Nappi is the Terry Gross of the NBN world, a worldly & whip-smart scholar who carefully reads every book she discusses in her author interviews (now numbering over 300). That these books cover the range between Biomedical Computing and the Tokyo Zoo demonstrates Nappi’s exceptional range across the fields of  East Asian Studies and Science, Technology, and Society. Thanks Carla & NBN. The interview is available in I Tunes and on the NBN website.