Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Explorers, Danger, and a Guiding Presence" from Voice of America.


I’m Doug Johnson.


And I’m Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about an unusual and mysterious experience that can affect people in extreme situations of danger. People who live through life threatening situations sometimes describe a calming presence or guiding voice that helps them survive.

People have described this experience as “sensed presence” or as an “imaginary shadow person.” It is also known as the “Third Man” syndrome. The Canadian-American writer John Geiger wrote about this in a recent book called “The Third Man Factor.” The book will soon be published in several languages, including Chinese, Korean and Japanese.



The Endurance trapped on Antarctic iceThe Endurance trapped on Antarctic ice

Ernest Shackleton spent his career exploring the little known areas of the South Pole. One of his most famous trips began in nineteen fourteen. The goal of the trip was to cross Antarctica on foot. But it did not go as planned. His boat, the Endurance, became trapped and later crushed by ice.

After many months, Shackleton and a few of his men traveled through dangerous waters to the island of South Georgia to get help and rescue the rest of their crew. They faced extreme hunger, thirst and cold. But their rescue operation was successful, and all twenty-two crew members survived.


Later, Shackleton wrote about the impossible struggles he faced. He described feeling that there was another unseen person with him and his men during the last days of their trip.

He wrote this about his experience: “I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”


The American poet T.S. Eliot was influenced by Shackleton’s description. Here, the poet includes Shackleton’s vision in part of his famous poem “The Waste Land.”


Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another walking beside you.


It is from this line of poetry about Shackleton that the Third Man syndrome takes its name.



Writer and researcher John Geiger has twice experienced a similar reaction to extreme danger himself: once as a child and once while suffering from extreme cold in Arctic Canada. He says his experiences made him want to learn about Third Man examples among other explorers.

JOHN GEIGER: “In other words, my experience I think predisposed me to being interested in the kind of phenomena that people in these extreme and unusual environments encounter.”


With Shackleton’s experience in mind, John Geiger started to investigate whether other people facing death or extreme fear had faced similar situations.

He discussed the subject with explorers and extreme sports athletes. He read historical documents written by past explorers, prisoners of war, pilots, and ship wreck survivors. He found that many different people in extreme situations have similar experiences.

JOHN GEIGER: “So when I had a handful of these cases, it seemed to me then there was likely something worth investigating. I began to look very seriously and very quickly found scores of examples of it.”



In nineteen thirty-three, the British mountain climber Frank Smythe was attempting to climb Mount Everest in the Himalayan Mountains.

He was at the dangerous altitude of over eight thousand four hundred meters. Smythe was extremely tired and suffering from the effects of low oxygen. He decided to stop, rest and eat. He pulled out a piece of cake, divided it into two pieces, and offered it to another person he sensed nearby. But Frank Smythe was alone. The sense of strength and safety that he felt from this invisible person helped him survive his climb.


John Geiger points out that these Third Man experiences are very common among mountain climbers. But he shows in his book that they take place in other environments as well.

For example, one American astronaut on a four-month long mission on the Russian space station Mir saw a vision of his dead father. His father spoke to him, praised his hard wor k and gave the astronaut a sense of calm during a very stressful space operation.

In another example, pilot Edith Foltz Stearns was flying a plane to a military base in Scotland during World War Two. Because of bad weather she could not see where to land the plane. A voice next to her in the plane called out to warn her about a dangerous hill nearby. She said her imaginary “copilot” guided her to safety.


John Geiger says that many people who experience the Third Man explain it as a religious experience. But he is more interested in exploring the science behind the Third Man. He discusses how scientists over the years have identified the experience and developed theories to explain it. The findings suggest that the human brain has developed this special ability as a survival method.


Geiger discusses several conditions that seem to produce Third Man experiences. One of these is being alone, far from other people. Being alone can be stressful especially when experienced with monotony. This is when the mind tires from the sameness of a repeated experience. For example, an explorer can be affected mentally after days of walking through the snowy environment of Antarctica. The terrible winds and never-ending whiteness may lead many polar explorers to have visions of other people.


The psychologist Woodburn Heron wrote about this subject in his nineteen fifty-seven work “The Pathology of Boredom.” He said that the brain depends on having continuing information from the body’s senses. The mind can have problems if it has nothing new to sense. Often, the brain’s response is to create its own input, in the form of a hallucination.

A hallucination is a sensory experience that does not exist outside the mind.


Other stressful conditions can lead to Third Man experiences. These include the stress of injury or of seeing an expedition partner become injured or even die. Different scientists have studied the effects of extreme conditions on the human mind and body.

One researcher found that extreme cold can have a damaging effect on the mind. The researcher said that before the body begins to freeze, cold can cause changes in brain chemistry which lead to hallucinations.


Another doctor believes that Ernest Shackleton’s vision was caused by a drop in blood sugar. Explorers working in extreme cold often burn more energy than they can eat. This doctor believes that low glucose levels in the blood lead to hallucinations.

Another theory says that the stress of having to pay constant attention to survive leads to Third Man hallucinations.


Researchers in Switzerland were able to recreate a Third Man experience in a laboratory setting. They sent electric signals into the brain of a young patient who suffered from epilepsy. When the electric current was on, the woman described seeing a presence or shadow nearby who did not speak or move. When the scientists stopped the electricity, the woman said the presence disappeared.

John Geiger believes brain doctors and other scientists should study this interesting issue more fully.



While writing the book, John Geiger believed that a test of its success would be whether people accepted its subject matter.

JOHN GEIGER: “Here I was writing a book about unseen beings helping people who are in life and death struggles. That seems to me to be a fairly out-there proposition. And yet, the evidence is so overwhelming, that really nobody has surfaced to suggest that indeed this does not happen.”


John Geiger says there is a wide acceptance of the Third Man experience among the scientific community and the general public.

JOHN GEIGER: “People understand that there is this phenomenon, the Third Man Factor. And, that it applies universally, it doesn’t matter what one’s faith is, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a man or a woman. It doesn’t matter whether they are at great elevation or at sea level.”


John Geiger suggests that the brain’s effort to create a Third Man is not an accident of human brain structure, or a sign of injury in extreme conditions.

He says it may be an evolutionary characteristic developed to help us. In times of extreme hardship, the human brain may have developed a way to create a social link, the sense of a helpful and guiding partner. So, even in a person’s darkest hour, he or she can feel less alone.


This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Doug Johnson.


And I’m Faith Lapidus. John Geiger has created a Web site where people who have had Third Man experiences can publish their stories. You can find a link to it on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Race With the Black Death" from Edcon Publishing.

A statue of Balto in Central Park, NYC

Something you will read about: "diphtheria", an acute, contagious disease of the throat, which affects breathing.

Driven by pride and determination, Balto led the team through the blizzard and delivered the lifesaving serum.

Gunner Kasson was a well-known dog-sled racing champion and was among the first dog runners to answer the desperate plea for help sent out by Nome, Alaska in January of 1925. His heroic mission, however, could not be accomplished without the help of Balto, the black Siberian Malemute, who was the lead dog of Kasson's team.

An epidemic of diphtheria had struck and was spreading fast. In one night, five people died, and twenty-three new cases were reported. Neither Eskimo or settlers were immune from the dreaded Black Death.

The small supply of antidote, that the only doctor in the icy territory had to inoculate the sick, was four years old. Their only hope was to get the shipment of lifesaving serum from the railroad at Nenana to Nome, a 655 mile trail of fierce snow and howling winds. The only way the antidote could be shipped was by dog sled. Different dog-sled teams would make the long trip.

Kasson and Balto were stationed at Bluff, scheduled to make the run to Safety, a 43 mile drive. Balto did not understand the meaning of the words, immune ... inoculate ... antidote ... He didn't know the terror of the word, epidemic. He didn't need to. He sensed caution. Kasson's expression told him trouble was at hand, and he could smell a blizzard coming in the heavy, icy wind. Balto was tense and alert, ready for his command.

They were at Bluff for two days with a team of thirteen dogs - waiting for the serum. On the trail, the team was as a single beast in mind and strength, but out of harness, freedom roused their primitive instincts of greed and anger. Age had left its mark on Balto's splendid body, and now he settled these raging battles more by his commanding wit than his strenuous might. He was growing old, and he suffered from the cold.

The second night in Bluff, after a bitter fight among the dogs, Balto dug his nest in the snow, down wind from the roadhouse and tucked his nose under his tail for warmth. The howling storm was picking up. In his sleep, Balto's ears were up and alert. He could hear the faintest sound. Even in the screaming wind, his instinct kept him wide awake. He heard the snap of a whip down the trail. The wind was driving against the sound so hard he could not pick up any scent. But soon his sharp eyes recognized a team driver staggering in, worn and stiff and half frozen. The team fell to a halt in their harness as Charlie Olsen, the driver, snatched a small package from the sled and trudged against the wind to the roadhouse.

Balto sprang to gather the dogs, and was waiting with them when Kasson appeared with their harness in his hands. Kasson was a giant of a man but he had to walk with effort against the heavy wind and falling snow. He hitched the team, lashed the small package to the sled, and cracked his whip. Balto was ready.

The old dog forgot his tired bones. His muscles became as hard as iron and he ignored all pain. Balto did not know how fast the wind was,but he knew it was faster than he had ever felt it before. They were driving right into it. The snow was coming down harder and it was getting colder. It was strenuous work trying to get through the storm.

As they raced up the hill to Safety, the same fast wind was carrying an urgent warning from Safety down the trail to Bluff by telegraph:


Kasson had missed the message. He did not know that it was impossible to get to Safety. Balto was determined and he kept the team going. He heard the howling wind, and sometimes he could hear Kasson above it.

After they crossed the Topkot River, Balto felt the ice moving under his legs. He took command instantly and raced the suffering team across a snow drift to dry their freezing paws. He knew Kasson could no longer see the trail. They were lost in the blinding blizzard with the worst part of the journey still ahead.

The roaring wind and snowfall persisted, but Balto continued searching for a familiar scent. As he inhaled deeply, the icy air shot through his lungs, sharply and painfully. He relaxed the team's pace, until he was finally able to locate the trail, then dashed directly across the smooth surface of the ice.

Amid the blizzard and the darkness, Balto missed the little village of Solomon, but remained on the trail, following it to Bonanza, where the drifting snow was heavy. Churning through the deep snow, he felt the sled turn over. Balto halted and fell to his belly to rest the team, wondering if he had lost Kasson. Should he turn back? If he stayed still too long, the sled would freeze in the snow and they would be strapped to a frozen death.

Balto looked back, but the snow was coming down so heavily he could not see his own tail. He decided to make a circle and search for Kasson. Just then, through the howling wind, he heard the crack of the Whip. Kasson was there, the sled was righted and the lead dog plunged on in the dark night.

When Balto got across Bonanza, the trail turned, putting the wind to his back which made his job less strenuous. It wasn't as dark now, and the wind was dying down. Balto's heart pounded with pride, knowing he had taken Kasson through the storm.

They pulled into Safety just after midnight. The whole town was in gloomy darkness, boarded against the storm. There were no dogs at the roadhouse. Out of the wretched wind, Balto heard the whip crack. Kasson shouted, "Mush!" and Balto knew that he must go on. Their destination was Nome. A twenty-one mile trail along the frozen beach of the Bering Sea, still lay ahead.

Kasson had placed rabbitskin covers around two of the other dogs, since they were beginning to stiffen up, and Balto could feel the extra effort as they plowed through the deep snow. His body ached and his paws were cut and bleeding. His strength wavered occasionally, but always returned. His legs became numb, and he lost all sensation of pain. His pride made him determined to go on and his instinct to duty and love of harness lured him mile after treacherous mile. This pride and determination that set Balto aside from ordinary animals, commanded him now and gave him incredible strength.
At five-thirty the next morning they reached Nome and delivered their precious parcel.

Balto let his strength collapse when they reached the roadhouse. He felt the rough, but kindly hands pulling splinters of ice from his torn paws, and heard Kasson say, in a choked voice, "Balto, you are a fine dog," and Balto knew they had won again.

In New York City, a famous explorer, Roald Amundsen, proclaimed Balto as
"the best lead dog in the Northwest."

From the floor, in Washington, D.C., Senator Dill praised the heroic mission, expressing gratitude, "especially to Balto." By public donation, a statue of Balto was erected in New York's Central Park, and stands there today - a fitting tribute to this unusual hero.

1. Balto was a ___________
a. courageous sled dog.
b. trained circus dog.
c. famous explorer.
d. famous race driver.

2. When the team of thirteen dogs were in harness, they ___________
a. fought almost all the time.
b. worked together as one.
c. were not as effective as a single dog.
d. could not keep up a strong pace.

3. If Balto and Kasson had not reached Nome, ___________
a. Balto would not have been famous.
b. the people would have been saved anyway.
c. it really would not have mattered.
d. many more people would have died.

4. A tribute to Balto can be seen ___________
a. in the snow of Alaska.
b. in Central Park in New York.
c. at the North Pole.
d. in the museum at Safety.

5. Balto knew the importance of his mission because ___________
a. Kasson told him about the Black Death.
b. he used his senses and powers of observation.
c. he was the only dog in the world with ESP.
d. it was strictly a matter of self-survival.

6. Balto and Kasson were ___________
a. trying to get back home.
b. searching for a lost child.
c. delivering an antidote.
d. racing to beat another team.

7. First, Balto felt the sled turn over. Then, he dropped to his belly to rest the team. Next, ___________
a. he plunged ahead into the night.
b. he made his way to Solomon at full speed.
c. he decided to circle back to look for Kasson.
d. he broke loose from the team and ran.

8. Balto was able to complete the exhausting trip because ___________
a. of his tremendous loyalty and devotion.
b. Kasson whipped him continuously.
c. he loved the challenge of the deep snow.
d. his mate was traveling alongside him.

9. Another name for this selection could be ___________
a. "Blazing Trails."
b. "Dog of the North."
c. "The Sled Race."
d. "Terrors of the Black Death."

10.This selection is mainly about ___________
a. a bad storm in Alaska.
b. a heroic dog and his master.
c. a famous explorer and his expedition.
d. a disease called the Black Death.

Balto in Wikipedia
Diphtheria in Wikipedia
Listen to The Story of Balto: American Storyteller
Dogs Can Detect Bladder Cancer

Dog Sledding in Vermont, Youtube
Dog Sledding in Siberia, Youtube
Dog Sledding in North Dakota, Youtube

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Arthur Ashe: Tennis Champion and Civil Rights Activist, from Voice of America.


I’m Barbara Klein.


And I’m Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about the life of tennis champion Arthur Ashe.

He was an athlete and a social activist who died before he was fifty. He was honored for his bravery and honesty as well as his strong support of just causes.


In nineteen seventy-five, Arthur Ashe played against Ilie Nastase in the Masters tennis games in Stockholm, Sweden. Nastase was out of control. He delayed the game. He called Ashe bad names.

Finally, Arthur Ashe put down his tennis racket and walked off the tennis court. He said, "I've had enough. I'm at the point where I'm afraid I'll lose control. " The officials were shocked; Ashe was winning the game. One official told him he would lose if he walked out of the game. Ashe said, "I don't care. I'd rather lose that than my self-respect. "

The next day, the Masters committee met. They knew that if they gave the game to Nastase, they would be supporting his kind of actions. They felt it was how you played the game that really counted. So, the officials decided it was Nastase who must lose the game.



Arthur Ashe was born in nineteen forty-three in the southern city of Richmond, Virginia. His parents were Mattie Cunningham Ashe and Arthur Ashe, Senior.

In those days, black people and white people lived separately in the South. By law, African-Americans could not attend the same schools or the same churches as white people.

Arthur learned to live with racial separation. He attended an all-black school. He played in the areas kept separate for blacks. And when he traveled to his grandmother's house, he sat in the back of the bus behind a white line. Only white people could sit in the front part of the bus.

Tennis was a sport traditionally played by white people. Arthur's experience was different from most other tennis players. He grew up under poorer conditions. His father worked several jobs at the same time. And his mother died when he was six.


Mister Ashe taught his son the importance of leading an honorable life. He said a person does not get anywhere in life by making enemies. He explained that a person gains by helping others. Arthur Ashe, Senior taught his son the importance of his friends, his family and his history. He said that without his good name, he would be nothing.

By example, Arthur's father taught the importance of hard work. His job was to drive people where they wanted to go. And he did other kinds of jobs for several wealthy families.


When Arthur was four, his father was given responsibility for a public play area called Brook Field. It was the largest play area for black people in the city of Richmond. Mister Ashe continued to work at his other jobs as well. The family moved into a five-room house in the middle of the park.

Arthur could use the swimming pool, basketball courts, baseball fields and tennis courts in the park. He liked sports. He was not very big, but he was fast.

Arthur began playing tennis when he was seven years old. He was very small. The racket he used to hit the tennis ball seemed bigger than he was. But by the time he was thirteen years old, he was winning against players two times his size and age.

Arthur had great energy and sense of purpose. He would hit five hundred tennis balls each summer day early in the morning. He would stop to eat his morning meal. Then he would hit five hundred more tennis balls.


When Arthur was ten years old, he met Robert Walter Johnson. Doctor Johnson established a tennis camp for black children who were not permitted to play on tennis courts for whites.

Doctor Johnson helped Arthur learn to be calm while playing tennis. He taught him to use restraint. He said that anger at an opponent was a waste of energy.

By nineteen sixty, Arthur had won the National Junior Indoor Championship. And, the University of California at Los Angeles offered him a college education if he played for the UCLA tennis team. In nineteen sixty-five, Arthur Ashe led the team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship. He completed his education the next year with a degree in business administration.


Arthur Ashe then became a professional tennis player. In nineteen sixty-eight, he won the United States Open. It was the first time an African-American man had won one of the four major competitions in tennis.

In nineteen seventy, he won the Australian Open. The next year, he won the French Open Doubles Championship with Marty Riessen. And, in nineteen seventy-five, he won the Wimbledon Singles Championship in England. Two times he was named the number one tennis player in the world.



Throughout his life, Arthur Ashe fought against social injustice. He supported racial equality and tried to bring blacks and whites together.

In nineteen seventy-three, Ashe was the first black player to be invited to compete in the South African Open. At the time, South African laws separated people by race.

Ashe knew why he was invited. He knew that the South African government was trying to change its image so it could take part in the Olympic Games. He agreed to go, but on his own terms. He played before a racially mixed group. And, he went wherever he pleased and said what he wanted.


Arthur Ashe went back to South Africa many times. He went not only to fight against the system of racial separation. He went to show the oppressed children of the country that he was a successful black man. Former South African President Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison. After his release, the first person Mandela asked to see during his visit to the United States was Arthur Ashe.


Ashe used his fame to help increase public knowledge of racism in America. He told reporters how the color of his skin kept him out of tennis games as a boy in Richmond. He spoke against black separatism. He wanted to unite the races, not separate them.

During his travels with the United States Davis Cup team, he said, "People in other countries read a lot about race troubles in the United States. But when they see two guys from the South like Cliff Richey and me, one white and one colored, both sharing a room and being close friends, it must do a little good.”



In nineteen seventy-seven, Arthur Ashe married Jeanne Moutoussamy. They shared a deep concern for others. Ashe always urged people to do their best -- even his opponents. To help others, he started an organization, the Safe Passage Foundation. It helped poor children develop the skills to learn. And it taught them how to play tennis and golf.


In nineteen seventy-nine, Ashe felt severe pain in his chest. He had suffered his first heart attack, even though he seemed in excellent physical condition. His days of playing tennis were over.

Doctors operated on him later that year to try to improve the flow of blood from his heart. But his physical activity was very limited. Four years later, he had to have another operation.


Now that he could not be active in sports, he took on new responsibilities. He helped the American Heart Association educate the public about heart disease. He wrote books. And, in nineteen eighty-six, he became a father when his wife Jeanne gave birth to their daughter, Camera.

Two years later, Arthur Ashe faced his final struggle. He discovered he had the virus that causes the disease AIDS.He and his doctors believed he had gotten it when he received infected blood after his second heart operation. He kept the bad news a secret for more than three years. He did not want his daughter to know. But reporters found out about his condition in nineteen ninety-two. He decided to tell the public.


Ashe continued to work even though he was weak from the disease. During his last ten months of life, he continued to help children. He also demonstrated to support Haitian refugees, continued to fight racial injustice and battled AIDS. He said, ". . . Living with AIDS is not the greatest burden I've had in my life. Being black is." He gave his last speech the week he died. He said, "AIDS killed my body, but racism is harder to bear. It kills the soul."

Arthur Ashe died in nineteen ninety-three. He was forty-nine years old. He had told a friend, "You come to realize that life is short, and you have to step up. Don't feel sorry for me. Much is expected of those who are strong."


This program was written by Vivian Chakarian. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I’m Steve Ember.


And I’m Barbara Klein.Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Like Roberto Clemente, Arthur Ashe was a world class athlete who cared for the education of children. He was a hero both on and off the field.

Arthur Ashe in Wikipedia