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D'forest for d'trees

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One of our favorite blogs, Treehugger.com, has a fascinating post on eco-smart Chinese, who are now carrying their own chopsticks to their favorite restaurants when they eat out, doing what they can to help fight deforestation in a country that throws away 45 billion disposable pairs every year.

Elsewhere, Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Prize in 2004 for the 30 million trees she planted in Africa to help counter forest loss, is busy working with Spain's Basque Government in an effort to plant 232,000 trees to neutralize carbon monoxide emissions in what they're calling a re-afforestation project.

It seems people all over the globe are finally waking up to the serious threat deforestation presents. In 6000 BC, when humans couldn't do much harm to the world ecosystem, trees covered two-fifths of the land. Since then, about half of the original forestland has disappeared.

But many people, such as British historian, Clive Ponting, point out that the problem is actually thousands of years old and are surprised we haven't learned our lesson yet, considering how many previous civilizations have collapsed as they've abused their natural resources.

As Ponting describes in his book, A Green History of the World, when populations expand and settlements grow, more and more trees are cut down to provide clearings for agriculture, fire for heating and cooking, and construction materials for homes and household goods. As a result, a series of ecological breakdowns occur as animals overgrazed, topsoil erodes and flooding becomes common in a cyclical pattern that has affected even the most formidable civilizations. Follow the jump and check out the details of a few "for instances" that affected biggies like the Greeks, the Romans, and the natives of Easter Island.

plato.jpgFor instance #1: in Greece, around 650 BC, hillsides once covered with vegetation and rich olive trees became barren, seriously affecting the Greek's economy and political power. Plato would write about the deforestation problem in one of his late dialogues, Critias:

What now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man"¦ there are some mountains which now have nothing but food for bees, but they had trees not very long ago"¦

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For instance #2: Similar problems cropped up, if you'll excuse the pun, during the 4th and 5th centuries in Italy. Ponting argues that, along with the well-documented Roman political decay, serious deforestation and the abuse of other natural resources greatly contributed to the fall of the empire, as well. But the seeds were already being sewn during Caesar's rule. When the Gauls or Britains would escape his mighty legions and take to the forests, many Roman generals simply burned them to the ground.

moai_trees.jpg For instance #3: The Easter Islanders, famous for their moai statues, not only felled their forests for all the usual reasons, but used up enormous quantities of tree trunks to roll and erect their giant stone statues. As a result, by 1600, the island was almost completely deforested, with many moai left stranded at the quarry. Stranded, too, were the inhabitants, who couldn't build canoes and venture of the island. As a result, the population, like the trees, fell into near extinction.

Jared Diamond, the evolutionary biologist, adds this extreme-factoid, which I found on Wiki to support Ponting's theories:

The fact that oral traditions of the islanders are obsessed with cannibalism is evidence supporting a rapid collapse. For example, to severely insult an enemy one would say: "The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth." This suggests that the food supply of the people ultimately ran out.

Yes, it's the classic "your mother" insult, something as universal as the tree itself. Here's hoping the two never disappear completely.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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