Dec 11, 2007

The Cold Facts

by Martha Brockenbrough

As I write this, I am sitting in my cold basement office, shivering. I have a stuffy nose and a sore throat. I'm cold, and I have a cold. This means I can either feel sorry for myself, or I can think about people who are more cold and miserable than I am.

I choose the latter.

There's nothing like the knowledge that I'm thousands of miles from the coldest place on earth to warm me right up. The Germans would call this schadenfreude, or taking pleasure in the misfortune of other people. I call it better than complaining.

Besides, there aren't a lot of people in the coldest place on earth, so I'm not taking pleasure in true human misfortune. In fact, this place is so cold that no indigenous human populations exist there--although it does host some very well-dressed penguins.

If you haven't guessed, I'm talking about Antarctica. Not only is it the coldest place on Earth, it's also the highest and windiest. And, it's plagued by frequent, snowless blizzards, where flakes that have already fallen are scraped up by wind and flung about, so that visibility is less than a meter.

Another condition particular to Antarctica is called "whiteout." When this happens, the sky and ground appear uniformly white or gray, so that humans and other animals unfortunate enough to be out in the weather can easily lose depth perception and become hopelessly lost.

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