(ESSAY) For Syrian Refugees, Even Jail Is Paradise

December, 2013                                                                         Al Jazeera America

“I know a woman in Izmir who has tried three times to make it to Greece by boat,” a Syrian traveler named Ammar told me.

“What happened?” I asked.
Asylum seekers in Turkey.  Ali Balli/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“Three times it sank, ” he replied
We met in the rooftop bar of the Nomade Hotel in Istanbul, enjoying the spectacular view of the domes and minarets of the Blue Mosque. I was in town with my friend Tzeli for a symposium celebrating Semiha Es, Turkey’s first female photojournalist, and we were chatting with Colleen, a woman from Philadelphia who had been traveling the world for almost two years.

 That morning Colleen told me she was heading to Athens the next day, but then she was talking about going to Geneva or the U.S. instead. Her face glowed blue from her laptop screen as she clicked through plane fares on a discount travel site. “I don’t know. Maybe I should go to the States for a bit,” she said, tapping on the keyboard. “It’s so cheap now. My dad is 84. I could see him for Christmas.” Tap, tap. “But Geneva is so great in the winter!” (more)

Dress for Evolutionary Success

April, 2013                                                                                                    Nautilus

Picture one of those ascent-of-man charts that depict a progression of profiles, from an ape walking on all fours to a slumped hominid to a modern human standing erect. What’s missing? The modern human is naked. No accessories!

Illustration by John Hendrix
 We may not find a chapter on fashion in science textbooks but ornamentation and tailoring have played feature roles in our success as a species. On the prehistoric catwalks we creamed the Neanderthal competition on both functionality and style and went on to become the dominant hominid in virtually every climate zone on earth. 

As I discovered through a host of interviews with paleontologists, anthropologists, evolutionary psychologists, and fashion historians, clothes don’t just make the man—they make us human. Clothes and body decoration evolved in a suite of human communication tools and behaviors that have shaped the runway of human evolution and culture.

Fashion has been as “crucial to the emergence of the modern human as music and dance, art and humor, and language,” says evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. “It’s a legitimate part of human nature.”

That’s hardly news to the well-dressed man and woman. Still, putting fashion and science in the same sentence can seem a little strange. So, to reassure you that the pride and excitement you feel when you put on an Armani suit or a pair of Manolo Blahniks is emotionally legit, let’s turn back to our evolutionary past. The dawn of clothes reveals that we were born to strut.   (More)

Inside The Secret World of Plant Communication

April, 2013                                                                                                    Modern Farme

Photos by Sarah Illenberger
 Without plants, humans and animals could not survive, so it’s no wonder we long to communicate with them. Many past civilizations worshiped plants and have tried to converse with them through rituals and other means.  Read more @Modern Farmer

How to Grow A Cocktail

March, 2013                                                                                        Modern Farmer

What do you see when you walk into a liquor store? If you’re nature writer Amy Stewart, you see “the world’s most exotic botanical garden, the sort of strange and overgrown conservatory we only encounter in our dreams.” Indeed, without plants we wouldn’t have the martini. Or prosecco. Or single-malt scotch. Almost every element that goes into a great drink—from the fermented grains and grapes, to the herbs and fruits that flavor them, to the celery stalk in your glass—is a denizen of the plant world. Stewart’s latest book, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks, tells the story of over 150 of these intoxicating flora and includes loads of tips for bartenders, gardeners and farmers on the art of alcohol.

 What are some weird plants that can show up in an alcoholic beverage?
You name it. If it’s a fruit or an herb, if it’s edible, someone somewhere has dropped it into some alcohol and made booze out of it. A lot of these plants go back to medieval medicine. Capillaire syrup was originally a medicinal thing made from maidenhair fern that was supposed to treat jaundice. But it became sweet botanical syrup that ended up as a cocktail ingredient. No one makes maidenhair syrup anymore. But you could. And I have.

What’s it used for?
Mostly old punch recipes like Jerry Thomas’ Regent Punch, which is one of those strange drinks that have green tea, Champagne and all kinds of crazy things.  (More)