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The Armchair Explorer: 2 Island Vacations for the Truly Intrepid

by Martin Lewis

Dreaming of a remote island where you can really get away from it all? So far away that you may never (be able to) come back? Before we begin, you might want to fire up Google Earth to help you find your way.

North Sentinel Island

For Google Earth explorers, start out at about 5000 kilometers and center your screen at 11° 33'N, 92° 14' E. Gazing down at the Bay of Bengal between India and Southeast Asia, you'll see the Andaman Islands, an Indian territory not far from some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. For thousands of years, however, mariners studiously avoided this archipelago, noted for the isolation and inhospitality of its inhabitants (their rule of thumb was to kill all interlopers). In the mid-1800s, Britain (wouldn't you know it?) subdued the large islands in the chain, mostly to build a massive prison for its recalcitrant Indian subjects. With outsiders came disease, leading to the gradually disappearance of most Andamanese hunter-gatherer tribes.

photo working2.jpgOne island, however, escaped the fate of its neighbors: North Sentinel. Google Earthers should zoom down to about 10 kilometers, where the island fills the screen. Nothing is visible except trees and coral reefs. But the lack of human indicators is misleading. North Sentinel Island is inhabited, but by how may people is anyone's guess. We know next to nothing about their language or culture. In the late 20th century, a few Indian anthropologists tried to make contact, but failed.

photo working.jpgSome observers feared that the December 2004 tsunami might have wiped out the North Sentinelese. But Anthropologists were relieved, in a rather twisted manner, to learn that when a small Indian fishing boat veered to close to the island in 2006, its crew was given a typical Sentinelese reception (they were killed and buried in shallow graves). When a helicopter came to investigate the crime, local archers bravely drove it away with a volley of arrows.

The Commander Islands

If you center your Google Earth screen at 54 degrees, 59 minutes north and 166 degrees, 17 minutes east, you'll look down on Bering Island in the Commander archipelago off Kamchatka Peninsula. Although part of Russia, the Commander Islands are geologically an extension of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. The gap between the Commanders and the rest of web-stellerzeekoe.JPGthe Aleutians is such, however, that the Aleuts, the indigenous marine hunters of the north Pacific, never made it the islands "“ nor did anyone else until the 1700s. As a result, this little archipelago formed the last redoubt of Steller's Sea Cow, a three ton, 25-foot long, kelp-grazing relative of the manatee. By 1768, 27 years after the islands' discovery by Vitus Bering, these floating blubber balls had been driven into extinctions by rapacious sailors, fur traders and seal hunters.

Times have changed, and now most of the region lies within the Komandorsky Nature Reserve, noted for its vast populations of sea birds and marine mammals (several of Steller's other creatures "“ such as his sea lion, sea eagle, and eider "“ are still there in numbers). The 750 residents of the islands are concentrated in the single settlement of Nikolskoye, which looks none too inviting. Zoom in, setting your pointer at 55 11'42 N and 156 59'38 east, and take at look at this "village's" forlorn setting and industrial-style buildings.

Not a single tree grows in Nikolskoye, or the rest of the archipelago, for that matter. "Bleak" is an apt descriptor. But then so too is "interesting." Check out, for example, the odd, linear feature on Bering Island's northern tip (55 21'47 N; 156 58'02 east). Know what it is? If so, please enlighten the rest of us!

Guest Blogstar Martin W. Lewis is director of the International Relations program at Stanford University. He's also one of founding _flosser Mangesh's favorite professors.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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