Monthly Archives: January 2013

Price Middle School Shooting: Multiple Injuries In Attack At Southeast Atlanta School

Absolutely ridiculous….

 

 

Posted: 01/31/2013 3:00 pm EST  |  Updated: 01/31/2013 3:18 pm EST

Price School Shooting

“Police responded to a shooting at Price Middle School in Atlanta early Thursday afternoon, WSBTV reports.

Authorities say that multiple people, including a 14-year-old, were wounded, according to Fox News.

Police said the teen was shot in the back of the neck and immediately transported to Grady Memorial Hospital for treatment, 11Alive reports. The second victim — a teacher — received medical attention for minor cuts and bruises.

One person is in custody, according to CBS Atlanta.

The school was placed on lockdown.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.”

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by | January 31, 2013 · 8:23 pm

Scruffy, Scruffier, Scruffiest: The New Look Is More Than Just a Fad

Posted: 01/29/2013 6:06 pm

“It’s not just because I am on Scruff. It’s not just because, spending much time in Asia, I sometimes get a craving for thick chest hair. It’s a genuinely objective observation: Beards are back in fashion around the world. I’ve been to 18 countries in the last year, and everywhere I see hair sprouting on boyish cheeks.

There was hardly a beardless hunk at the big London dance party I went to in December. At the universities where I teach, young men are growing mustaches, goatees, full beards and every conceivable creation in between. The new computer game that my boyfriend is playing features seven avatars with facial hair out of a total of 10 avatars! Beards are the new tattoos. Beards are statements.

To be sure, beards have gone through many fashions. Just think of the handlebar mustaches of the 19th century, the clone look of the 1970s or the permanent growth fancied by the bear community. But I think this time is different.

I know you’ve heard that before, especially if you are a stock market investor. But even my broker, who is a mere 28 and a beautiful twink, is running around with stubble — beautifully groomed, yes, but a beard nonetheless. It is different this time.

So here is my theory: Beards are a cultural response to the feminization of the world. I’ve written a lot about feminization and how much I love it (and dislike the term itself). Feminine values make for a better world, a world of dialog and a world without war.

Feminization pushes men toward a cultural masculinity. Suddenly, donning an apron and doing the dishes, pushing the pram and changing diapers, being sensible and sensitive to other people’s needs and favoring dialog over the clenched fist are a sign of a responsible, grownup male. Fists and guns are for wimps. Real men discuss and analyze.

So what does the culturally masculine but somehow now de-virilized man do in response? He grows a beard.

Beards and muscles are so popular because men use them as symbols to assert the vestiges of the tribal masculinity that once allowed us to bludgeon our neighbors and rape the other tribe’s women. It is sublimated masculinity, expressed in beautiful shapes and lines. Ingrown hair? The better! Suffering pain is also a sign of masculinity.

No, I am not entirely serious. Of course not. But the proliferation of facial adornments (much like bulging muscles) are startling. They are men’s high heels; they are our way of saying, “Yes, I do the dishes; yes, I change diapers; yes, I prefer dialog over war mongering; but I am still a man.”

And in that sense, they are most, most welcome. I’d rather have a society full of bearded diaper changers than a society of clean-shaven war heroes. It is no coincidence that some of the worst regimes in history — the Nazis, the Italian fascists, etc. — prescribed beards. It is no coincidence that most powerful men in politics and church are clean-shaven.

You can wear your violent male traits in your heart, or you can display them on your face. I prefer the latter. I am entirely in favor of bearded, gentle giants.”

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by | January 31, 2013 · 6:43 pm

Louisiana Will Eliminate Health Benefits For HIV Patients, Poor Children, And First Time Moms This Week

 

By Sy Mukherjee on Jan 29, 2013 at 3:20 pm

“Last week, Louisiana’s poor and terminally ill residents won a surprising victory when Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) announced that his state would not stop providing hospice care to its Medicaid beneficiaries. Unfortunately, that’s about the only piece of good news for low-income Louisianans’ health coverage, as the state is still set to implement massive cuts for Medicaid programs that “provide behavioral health services for at-risk children, offer case management visits for low-income HIV patients and pay for at-home visits by nurses who teach poor, first-time mothers how to care for their newborns” this Friday.

While Jindal administration officials argue that the cuts could be mitigated by Medicare and private managed care programs, the reality is that many of these specialty services are simply unavailable — or unaffordable — outside of Medicaid:

Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said he targeted programs that were duplicative, costly and optional under the state’s participation in the state-federal Medicaid program.

Greenstein said in many instances, people can get the care they’re losing through other government-funded programs. But he acknowledged that won’t happen in every case, meaning some people will simply lose the services or receive reduced services. […]

Jan Moller heads the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates for low- to moderate-income families. Moller said he’s most distressed by the cut to the Nurse-Family Partnership Program.

The health department is eliminating the portion of the program that offers at-home visits to low-income women who are pregnant with their first child.Registered nurses visit the women early in their pregnancy and until their children’s second birthday, offering advice on preventive health care, diet and nutrition, smoking cessation and other child developmental issues. […]

“What the Nurse-Family Partnership does goes above and beyond what a good obstetrician does,” Moller said. “It’s really about teaching life-skills to at-risk moms to make them better parents and make them better able to care for their children, and it’s been proven to work.”

Speech therapy programs for low-income children are also on the chopping block. The cuts — as well as Jindal’s proposals to raise taxes on the poor while slashing public education and other health care funding — are meant to plug a midyear budget deficit. But they are more likely to raise health care costs and poverty levels in a state that already ranks among America’s least-insured and poorest locales by pushing people poor people into finding services that they will no longer be able to afford.

While Jindal has spoken at length on the Republican Party’s existential need to stop being “the stupid party,” the “austerity” policies that he has pursued for his state are some of the most regressive in the entire country.”

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by | January 31, 2013 · 6:40 pm

The Brazilian tribe that played by our rules, and lost

Chief Raoni of the Caiapo tribe

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“Chief Raoni smokes a pipe while demonstrating against the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Photograph: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino
 
 

The man pictured above is Raoni Txucarramãe, chief of the Kayapó people, who hail from Brazil’s northern Pará province. The homeland of the Kayapó is the tropical rainforest surrounding the tributaries of the giant Xingu river, itself a nearly 2,000km long tributary of the Amazon. But the livelihood of the Kayapó people is under grave threat. Brazil’s president, Dilma Vana Rousseff, has authorised the construction of a dam that will flood their homeland.

The Belo Monte dam will be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam (after China’s Three Gorges dam, itself with numerous problems, and the Brazilian-Paraguayan Itaipu dam). It will flood 400,000 hectares of the world’s largest rainforest, displacing 20,000 to 40,000 people – including the Kayapó. The ecological impact of the project is massive: the Xingu River basin has four times more biodiversity than all of Europe. Flooding of the rainforest will liberate massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas far more damaging than carbon dioxide. But the impact on Chief Raoni’s people, on an entire society, is unimaginable.

The Kayapó traditionally practised slash-and-burn agriculture on small farms cut into the jungle. The rich resources of their lands (minerals, timber, and potential hydroelectrical power) have brought pressures from outside. Although the Brazilian constitution explicitly prohibits the displacement of “Indians” from their traditional lands, it provides for one convenient exception: where the National Congress deems removal of the people to be “in the interest of the sovereignty of the country“. Proponents of the dam argue that its construction is in the nation’s interest.

The Kayapó people’s leadership has learned how to participate in the world economy. They were one of the first indigenous peoples to participate in international commerce, with the Body Shop, and they learned how to fight back against projects they did not support. A five-day media conference they organised to fight the Bel Monte dam in 1989 generated enough international attention that the World Bank refused the loan necessary for the project to proceed.

Now, as the project raises its head again, the Kayapó have forged alliances with non-profits worldwide to continue their battle. In February, Chief Raoni delivered a petition with 600,000 signatures to the Brazilian government, and construction of the dam was temporarily blocked. But this week, the Brazilian government gave the project the green light.

Chief Raoni and his people have, essentially, played by our rules. They learned the ways of a foreign society, and they waged their battle according to those foreign rules and with those foreign weapons, launching petitions and protests, and engaging media and lawyers. I am reminded of another photo that recently appeared on these pages: that of an “uncontacted” Amazonian tribe, their bows raised, their arrows aimed at the Brazilian Indian Affairs Department aircraft flying overhead. For all his efforts, Chief Raoni, too, might as well have been shooting arrows at the Brazilian National Congress building.

This losing battle is not unique. Rather, it is the common story to the Americas. I recall my visits with Cristina Calderón, known in Chile as “the last Yaghan”, the last survivor of her race and last speaker of her native tongue. Across the Beagle Channel from her home lies the large island of Tierra del Fuego, traditional homeland of the Selk’nam, but now devoid of any indigenous people. The demise of the Yaghan was due largely to diseases introduced and spread by displacement from their expansive territories to crowded mission schools. The Selk’nam, however, were actively hunted by European settlers. The new industry here was sheep-ranching. With their traditional hunting territories turned to grazing lands, and with no concept of animals as private property, the Selk’nam turned to hunting sheep. The settlers, in turn, issued a bounty for each pair of Selk’nam ears.

The Kayapó and their partners have launched a last-ditch effort, including another petition, to have the Brazilian government listen to their concerns, and respect traditional land rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has urged the Brazilian government to consult “in good faith … and with the aim of arriving at an agreement with each of the affected indigenous communities”.

But I know, from experience here, where I live – also a land of pristine rainforest that is still populated by vibrant communities of original inhabitants – what industry’s requirement to “consult” with indigenous people means: the parties will, at some point, show up in a room together and voice their opinions. The indigenous people will have every right to say no to the project. But no one is required to heed that.”

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by | January 30, 2013 · 9:06 pm

“The ‘earth’ without ‘art’…”

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by | January 30, 2013 · 5:10 pm

Boy Scouts may reverse national ban against gays as members, leaders

Posted by Diana Reese on January 29, 2013 at 8:33 am

“History’s being made this month. Last week, President Barack Obama became the first president to use the term “gay” in reference to sexual orientation in an inauguration speech.And on Monday the Boy Scouts of America — which successfully fought against allowing gays into its ranks all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 — said it may reverse its policy next week.

Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, 20, of Iowa City, Ia., the son of gay parents, delivered a 280,000 signature petition to the Boy Scouts of America’s Annual Meeting in Orlando last year, asking the organization to change its policies toward homosexuality. (DAVID MANNING – REUTERS)

Just last summer BSA had reaffirmed its stand to keep gays out. But it wasn’t a popular move. Membership in BSA is on the decline — and financial support is falling as well. The Merck Company Foundation, Intel Foundation, UPS and United Way have stopped or postponed donations due to the anti-gay policy of the 102-year-old organization.

Two members of the Boy Scouts of America national executive board: Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson have supported dumping the ban on gays in favor of inclusion regardless of sexuality.

Then there are the negative headlines: A lesbian mom was kicked out of her position as a den leader in Ohio. The Eagle Scout application of a California teen who came out wasrejected. And last summer, a 19-year-old Eagle Scout in Missouri was fired from his job at a Scout summer camp after he announced he was gay.

Deron Smith, a spokesman for Boy Scouts of America, told me the decision to revisit the policy during a private meeting of the national executive board next week resulted from “a longstanding dialogue within the Scouting family.” As he explained, “Last year, Scouting realized the policy caused some volunteers and chartered organizations which oversee and deliver the program to act in conflict with their missions, principles or religious beliefs.”

Smith stressed that the board may consider lifting the national ban, but that it will remain up to the individual chartering organization whether to allow gays as members and leaders. Troops are sponsored by churches, civic groups and schools. BSA would not force any local chartering institution to accept gays.

That makes the national ruling something of a compromise. BSA’s basically giving local groups permission to make their own decision. Some troops have quietly accepted gays; Minnesota’s largest group of Boy Scouts, the Twin Cities-based Northern Star Council, has had an inclusive policy for 12 years.

Keeping it local makes sense to many parents and adult leaders. “I think it’s a good idea to leave it up to the local troop,” said Ken Mason, assistant scoutmaster of my son’s troop in Overland, Kansas, and the father of two Eagle Scouts.

“The individual troop has a much better sense of who has a positive or negative influence on the boys,” pointed out Glenn Carney, another assistant scoutmaster and dad of two Eagle Scouts.

But making the decision locally also puts a burden on the troop — and its volunteers, Kent Bredehoeft, Scoutmaster and father of two Scouts told me. “BSA relies on volunteers, and this puts the volunteers in a difficult political situation that, without clear BSA policy, takes away their attention from delivering the BSA mission.”

He questioned what kind of support the national office will give local troops “except to say it’s your decision.” Bredehoeft added that the decision will “be a very challenging one.”

Another dad, who preferred to remain anonymous, said as long as any Scout met the requirements, including being reverent and morally straight (that phrase was used before straight had a sexual connotation), his sexual orientation didn’t matter.

Just as reaction nationally is mixed, not every parent liked the idea of a change in policy, however. “I lost my ability to advance in scouting as a young man because of a scoutmaster who was a pedophile,” one dad wrote me in an email. “I am dead set against gays in scouting.”

Allowing openly gay leaders seemed tougher for some parents to accept. One mom, who prefaced her remarks with the belief that homosexuality does not equal pedophilia, still admitted she would worry about the safety of the boys.

“Most of BSA’s constituent parents view this as a safety issue more than a moral issue,” another dad wrote in an email. “I think BSA thinks the notion continues to exist among parents of elementary school age boys, making the decision whether to let their sons join an organization where there will be lots of overnight trips to isolated locations, in the company of relatively few adult leaders, that their sons are more at risk of being molested if those leaders include homosexuals.”

Certainly the reputation of Boy Scouts has been tarnished with reports of molestations and the court-ordered release of secret files, also referred to as the “perversion files,” that listed names of suspected child molesters. BSA has worked hard to protect boys in recent years; since 1987, two-deep leadership has been instituted (which, if followed, protects both boys and adult leaders). Any adult member of Boy Scouts is required to update Youth Protection Training every two years. And any evidence of sexual abuse of a Scout must be reported to the local police.

I hope the issue of allowing gays does not end up destroying the organization. As the mom of a 15-year-old who’s been involved in Scouting since kindergarten, I’ve seen the positive side of Boy Scouts. I’ve seen him develop responsibility and leadership skills. I’ve seen other boys grow and mature.

I asked some of the older Scouts in the troop what they thought of the possible change in policy; they didn’t see a problem. One Eagle Scout bluntly put it, “It’s [anti-gay policy] ridiculous….It’s terribly sad to see limited opportunities for others because of stupid and absurd reasons.”

Another Eagle Scout didn’t think sexual orientation should prevent anyone from the benefits of the Scouting experience, including obtaining his Eagle. But he also wondered how many churches across the country would revoke charters to an organization that allowed an openly gay leader.

One dad who sent me an email summed it up well, I thought, using the Boy Scout Law:    ” ‘Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.’  Don’t see anything in there that excludes gays.”

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Overland Park, Kan. and the mom of a Boy Scout who’s working on his Eagle rank. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.”

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by | January 30, 2013 · 5:03 pm

For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II

  • By Mike Dash
  • Smithsonian.com, January 29, 2013
The Siberian taiga in the Abakan district. Six members of the Lykov family lived in this remote wilderness for more than 40 years—utterly isolated and more than 150 miles from the nearest human settlement.
“The Siberian taiga in the Abakan district. Six members of the Lykov family lived in this remote wilderness for more than 40 years—utterly isolated and more than 150 miles from the nearest human settlement. (Wiki Commons)
 

Siberian summers do not last long. The snows linger into May, and the cold weather returns again during September, freezing the taiga into a still life awesome in its desolation: endless miles of straggly pine and birch forests scattered with sleeping bears and hungry wolves; steep-sided mountains; white-water rivers that pour in torrents through the valleys; a hundred thousand icy bogs. This forest is the last and greatest of Earth’s wildernesses. It stretches from the furthest tip of Russia’s arctic regions as far south as Mongolia, and east from the Urals to the Pacific: five million square miles of nothingness, with a population, outside a handful of towns, that amounts to only a few thousand people.

When the warm days do arrive, though, the taiga blooms, and for a few short months it can seem almost welcoming. It is then that man can see most clearly into this hidden world—not on land, for the taiga can swallow whole armies of explorers, but from the air. Siberia is the source of most of Russia’s oil and mineral resources, and, over the years, even its most distant parts have been overflown by oil prospectors and surveyors on their way to backwoods camps where the work of extracting wealth is carried on.

Karp Lykov and his daughter Agafia, wearing clothes donated by Soviet geologists not long after their family was  rediscovered.

Thus it was in the remote south of the forest in the summer of 1978. A helicopter sent to find a safe spot to land a party of geologists was skimming the treeline a hundred or so miles from the Mongolian border when it dropped into the thickly wooded valley of an unnamed tributary of the Abakan, a seething ribbon of water rushing through dangerous terrain. The valley walls were narrow, with sides that were close to vertical in places, and the skinny pine and birch trees swaying in the rotors’ downdraft were so thickly clustered that there was no chance of finding a spot to set the aircraft down. But, peering intently through his windscreen in search of a landing place, the pilot saw something that should not have been there. It was a clearing, 6,000 feet up a mountainside, wedged between the pine and larch and scored with what looked like long, dark furrows. The baffled helicopter crew made several passes before reluctantly concluding that this was evidence of human habitation—a garden that, from the size and shape of the clearing, must have been there for a long time.

It was an astounding discovery. The mountain was more than 150 miles from the nearest settlement, in a spot that had never been explored. The Soviet authorities had no records of anyone living in the district.

The Lykovs lived in this hand-built log cabin, lit by a single window “the size of a backpack pocket” and warmed by a smoky wood-fired stove.

The four scientists sent into the district to prospect for iron ore were told about the pilots’ sighting, and it perplexed and worried them. “It’s less dangerous,” the writer Vasily Peskov notes of this part of the taiga, “to run across a wild animal than a stranger,” and rather than wait at their own temporary base, 10 miles away, the scientists decided to investigate. Led by a geologist named Galina Pismenskaya, they “chose a fine day and put gifts in our packs for our prospective friends”—though, just to be sure, she recalled, “I did check the pistol that hung at my side.”

As the intruders scrambled up the mountain, heading for the spot pinpointed by their pilots, they began to come across signs of human activity: a rough path, a staff, a log laid across a stream, and finally a small shed filled with birch-bark containers of cut-up dried potatoes. Then, Pismenskaya said,

beside a stream there was a dwelling. Blackened by time and rain, the hut was piled up on all sides with taiga rubbish—bark, poles, planks. If it hadn’t been for a window the size of my backpack pocket, it would have been hard to believe that people lived there. But they did, no doubt about it…. Our arrival had been noticed, as we could see.

The low door creaked, and the figure of a very old man emerged into the light of day, straight out of a fairy tale. Barefoot. Wearing a patched and repatched shirt made of sacking. He wore trousers of the same material, also in patches, and had an uncombed beard. His hair was disheveled. He looked frightened and was very attentive…. We had to say something, so I began: ‘Greetings, grandfather! We’ve come to visit!’

The old man did not reply immediately…. Finally, we heard a soft, uncertain voice: ‘Well, since you have traveled this far, you might as well come in.’

The sight that greeted the geologists as they entered the cabin was like something from the middle ages. Jerry-built from whatever materials came to hand, the dwelling was not much more than a burrow—”a low, soot-blackened log kennel that was as cold as a cellar,” with a floor consisting of potato peel and pine-nut shells. Looking around in the dim light, the visitors saw that it consisted of a single room. It was cramped, musty and indescribably filthy, propped up by sagging joists—and, astonishingly, home to a family of five:

The silence was suddenly broken by sobs and lamentations. Only then did we see the silhouettes of two women. One was in hysterics, praying: ‘This is for our sins, our sins.’ The other, keeping behind a post… sank slowly to the floor. The light from the little window fell on her wide, terrified eyes, and we realized we had to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Agafia Lykova (left) with her sister, Natalia.

Led by Pismenskaya, the scientists backed hurriedly out of the hut and retreated to a spot a few yards away, where they took out some provisions and began to eat. After about half an hour, the door of the cabin creaked open, and the old man and his two daughters emerged—no longer hysterical and, though still obviously frightened, “frankly curious.” Warily, the three strange figures approached and sat down with their visitors, rejecting everything that they were offered—jam, tea, bread—with a muttered, “We are not allowed that!” When Pismenskaya asked, “Have you ever eaten bread?” the old man answered: “I have. But they have not. They have never seen it.” At least he was intelligible. The daughters spoke a language distorted by a lifetime of isolation. “When the sisters talked to each other, it sounded like a slow, blurred cooing.”

Slowly, over several visits, the full story of the family emerged. The old man’s name was Karp Lykov, and he was an Old Believer—a member of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect, worshiping in a style unchanged since the 17th century. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great, and Lykov talked about it as though it had happened only yesterday; for him, Peter was a personal enemy and “the anti-Christ in human form”—a point he insisted had been amply proved by Tsar’s campaign to modernize Russia by forcibly “chopping off the beards of Christians.” But these centuries-old hatreds were conflated with more recent grievances; Karp was prone to complain in the same breath about a merchant who had refused to make a gift of 26 poods [940 pounds] of potatoes to the Old Believers sometime around 1900.

Things had only got worse for the Lykov family when the atheist Bolsheviks took power. Under the Soviets, isolated Old Believer communities that had fled to Siberia to escape persecution began to retreat ever further from civilization. During the purges of the 1930s, with Christianity itself under assault, a Communist patrol had shot Lykov’s brother on the outskirts of their village while Lykov knelt working beside him. He had responded by scooping up his family and bolting into forest.

Peter the Great’s attempts to modernize the Russia of the early 18th century found a focal point in a campaign to end the wearing of beards. Facial hair was taxed and non-payers were compulsorily shaved—anathema to Karp Lykov and the Old Believers.

That was in 1936, and there were only four Lykovs then—Karp; his wife, Akulina; a son named Savin, 9 years old, and Natalia, a daughter who was only 2. Taking their possessions and some seeds, they had retreated ever deeper into the taiga, building themselves a succession of crude dwelling places, until at last they had fetched up in this desolate spot. Two more children had been born in the wild—Dmitry in 1940 and Agafia in 1943—and neither of the youngest Lykov children had ever seen a human being who was not a member of their family. All that Agafia and Dmitry knew of the outside world they learned entirely from their parents’ stories. The family’s principal entertainment, the Russian journalist Vasily Peskov noted, “was for everyone to recount their dreams.”

The Lykov children knew there were places called cities where humans lived crammed together in tall buildings. They had heard there were countries other than Russia. But such concepts were no more than abstractions to them. Their only reading matter was prayer books and an ancient family Bible. Akulina had used the gospels to teach her children to read and write, using sharpened birch sticks dipped into honeysuckle juice as pen and ink. When Agafia was shown a picture of a horse, she recognized it from her mother’s Bible stories. “Look, papa,” she exclaimed. “A steed!”

But if the family’s isolation was hard to grasp, the unmitigated harshness of their lives was not. Traveling to the Lykov homestead on foot was astonishingly arduous, even with the help of a boat along the Abakan. On his first visit to the Lykovs, Peskov—who would appoint himself the family’s chief chronicler—noted that “we traversed 250 kilometres [155 miles] without seeing a single human dwelling!”

Isolation made survival in the wilderness close to impossible. Dependent solely on their own resources, the Lykovs struggled to replace the few things they had brought into the taiga with them. They fashioned birch-bark galoshes in place of shoes. Clothes were patched and repatched until they fell apart, then replaced with hemp cloth grown from seed.

The Lykovs’ mountain home, seen from a Soviet helicopter.

The Lykovs had carried a crude spinning wheel and, incredibly, the components of a loom into the taiga with them—moving these from place to place as they gradually went further into the wilderness must have required many long and arduous journeys—but they had no technology for replacing metal. A couple of kettles served them well for many years, but when rust finally overcame them, the only replacements they could fashion came from birch bark. Since these could not be placed in a fire, it became far harder to cook. By the time the Lykovs were discovered, their staple diet was potato patties mixed with ground rye and hemp seeds.

In some respects, Peskov makes clear, the taiga did offer some abundance: “Beside the dwelling ran a clear, cold stream. Stands of larch, spruce, pine and birch yielded all that anyone could take…. Bilberries and raspberries were close to hand, firewood as well, and pine nuts fell right on the roof.”

Yet the Lykovs lived permanently on the edge of famine. It was not until the late 1950s, when Dmitry reached manhood, that they first trapped animals for their meat and skins. Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion. Dmitry built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders. More often than not, though, there was no meat, and their diet gradually became more monotonous. Wild animals destroyed their crop of carrots, and Agafia recalled the late 1950s as “the hungry years.” “We ate the rowanberry leaf,” she said,

roots, grass, mushrooms, potato tops, and bark, We were hungry all the time. Every year we held a council to decide whether to eat everything up or leave some for seed.

Famine was an ever-present danger in these circumstances, and in 1961 it snowed in June. The hard frost killed everything growing in their garden, and by spring the family had been reduced to eating shoes and bark. Akulina chose to see her children fed, and that year she died of starvation. The rest of the family were saved by what they regarded as a miracle: a single grain of rye sprouted in their pea patch. The Lykovs put up a fence around the shoot and guarded it zealously night and day to keep off mice and squirrels. At harvest time, the solitary spike yielded 18 grains, and from this they painstakingly rebuilt their rye crop.

Dmitry (left) and Savin in the Siberian summer.

As the Soviet geologists got to know the Lykov family, they realized that they had underestimated their abilities and intelligence. Each family member had a distinct personality; Old Karp was usually delighted by the latest innovations that the scientists brought up from their camp, and though he steadfastly refused to believe that man had set foot on the moon, he adapted swiftly to the idea of satellites. The Lykovs had noticed them as early as the 1950s, when “the stars began to go quickly across the sky,” and Karp himself conceived a theory to explain this: “People have thought something up and are sending out fires that are very like stars.”

“What amazed him most of all,” Peskov recorded, “was a transparent cellophane package. ‘Lord, what have they thought up—it is glass, but it crumples!'” And Karp held grimly to his status as head of the family, though he was well into his 80s. His eldest child, Savin, dealt with this by casting himself as the family’s unbending arbiter in matters of religion. “He was strong of faith, but a harsh man,” his own father said of him, and Karp seems to have worried about what would happen to his family after he died if Savin took control. Certainly the eldest son would have encountered little resistance from Natalia, who always struggled to replace her mother as cook, seamstress and nurse.

The two younger children, on the other hand, were more approachable and more open to change and innovation. “Fanaticism was not terribly marked in Agafia,” Peskov said, and in time he came to realize that the youngest of the Lykovs had a sense of irony and could poke fun at herself. Agafia’s unusual speech—she had a singsong voice and stretched simple words into polysyllables—convinced some of her visitors she was slow-witted; in fact she was markedly intelligent, and took charge of the difficult task, in a family that possessed no calendars, of keeping track of time.  She thought nothing of hard work, either, excavating a new cellar by hand late in the fall and working on by moonlight when the sun had set. Asked by an astonished Peskov whether she was not frightened to be out alone in the wilderness after dark, she replied: “What would there be out here to hurt me?”

A Russian press photo of Karp Lykov (second left) with Dmitry and Agafia, accompanied by a Soviet geologist.

Of all the Lykovs, though, the geologists’ favorite was Dmitry, a consummate outdoorsman who knew all of the taiga’s moods. He was the most curious and perhaps the most forward-looking member of the family. It was he who had built the family stove, and all the birch-bark buckets that they used to store food. It was also Dmitry who spent days hand-cutting and hand-planing each log that the Lykovs felled. Perhaps it was no surprise that he was also the most enraptured by the scientists’ technology. Once relations had improved to the point that the Lykovs could be persuaded to visit the Soviets’ camp, downstream, he spent many happy hours in its little sawmill, marveling at how easily a circular saw and lathes could finish wood. “It’s not hard to figure,” Peskov wrote. “The log that took Dmitry a day or two to plane was transformed into handsome, even boards before his eyes. Dmitry felt the boards with his palm and said: ‘Fine!'”

Karp Lykov fought a long and losing battle with himself to keep all this modernity at bay. When they first got to know the geologists, the family would accept only a single gift—salt. (Living without it for four decades, Karp said, had been “true torture.”) Over time, however, they began to take more. They welcomed the assistance of their special friend among the geologists—a driller named Yerofei Sedov, who spent much of his spare time helping them to plant and harvest crops. They took knives, forks, handles, grain and eventually even pen and paper and an electric torch. Most of these innovations were only grudgingly acknowledged, but the sin of television, which they encountered at the geologists’ camp,

proved irresistible for them…. On their rare appearances, they would invariably sit down and watch. Karp sat directly in front of the screen. Agafia watched poking her head from behind a door. She tried to pray away her transgression immediately—whispering, crossing herself…. The old man prayed afterward, diligently and in one fell swoop.

The Lykovs’ homestead seen from a Soviet reconnaissance plane, 1980.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Lykovs’ strange story was the rapidity with which the family went into decline after they re-established contact with the outside world. In the fall of 1981, three of the four children followed their mother to the grave within a few days of one another. According to Peskov, their deaths were not, as might have been expected, the result of exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity. Both Savin and Natalia suffered from kidney failure, most likely a result of their harsh diet. But Dmitry died of pneumonia, which might have begun as an infection he acquired from his new friends.

His death shook the geologists, who tried desperately to save him. They offered to call in a helicopter and have him evacuated to a hospital. But Dmitry, in extremis, would abandon neither his family nor the religion he had practiced all his life. “We are not allowed that,” he whispered just before he died. “A man lives for howsoever God grants.”

The Lykovs’ graves. Today only Agafia survives of the family of six, living alone in the taiga.

When all three Lykovs had been buried, the geologists attempted to talk Karp and Agafia into leaving the forest and returning to be with relatives who had survived the persecutions of the purge years, and who still lived on in the same old villages. But neither of the survivors would hear of it. They rebuilt their old cabin, but stayed close to their old home.

Karp Lykov died in his sleep on February 16, 1988, 27 years to the day after his wife, Akulina. Agafia buried him on the mountain slopes with the help of the geologists, then turned and headed back to her home. The Lord would provide, and she would stay, she said—as indeed she has. A quarter of a century later, now in her seventies herself, this child of the taiga lives on alone, high above the Abakan.

She will not leave. But we must leave her, seen through the eyes of Yerofei on the day of her father’s funeral:

I looked back to wave at Agafia. She was standing by the river break like a statue. She wasn’t crying. She nodded: ‘Go on, go on.’ We went another kilometer and I looked back. She was still standing there.

Sources

Anon. ‘How to live substantively in our times.’ Stranniki [‘Wanderers’], 20 February 2009, accessed August 2, 2011; Georg B. Michels. At War with the Church: Religious Dissent in Seventeenth Century Russia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995; Isabel Colgate. A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses. New York: HarperCollins, 2002; ‘From taiga to Kremlin: a hermit’s gifts to Medvedev,’ rt.com, February 24, 2010, accessed August 2, 2011; G. Kramore, ‘At the taiga dead end‘. Suvenirograd [‘Souvenirs of Interesting places’], nd, accessed August 5, 2011; Irina Paert. Old BelieversReligious Dissent and Gender in Russia, 1760-1850. Manchester: MUP, 2003; Vasily Peskov. Lost in the Taiga: One Russian Family’s Fifty-Year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness. New York: Doubleday, 1992

A documentary on the Lykovs (in Russian) which shows something of the family’s isolation and living conditions, can be viewed here.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/For-40-Years-This-Russian-Family-Was-Cut-Off-From-Human-Contact-Unaware-of-World-War-II-188843001.html#ixzz2JTjvqnNx 
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by | January 30, 2013 · 4:56 pm