Leo Selvaggio, “URME Surveillance” (2014) (all images courtesy the artist)
SAN FRANCISCO — It seems like everyone is making artistic reactions to our increasingly surveilled world. Chicago-based new media artist Leo Selvaggio has joined the likes of Zach Blas, Simone C. Niquille, and Adam Harvey in exploring tactics to counter facial recognition and pervasive surveillance. Intrigued, I reached out to Selvaggio over email to ask him some questions about his latest series, URME Surveillance.
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Ben Valentine: Considering there are many groups who have sought counter-surveillance measures through tactics of obfuscation, why did you chose to use your own face?
Leo Selvaggio: The majority of the strategies used by other artists and groups are primarily forms of hiding or obscuring one’s face, such as Adam Harvey’s “CV Dazzle,” or Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite. Even outside of the art world, the majority of methods used to combat surveillance involve ski-masks, sunglasses, and hoodies. The problem with this underlying strategy of hiding or obscuring is two fold. First, the hiding of one’s face is associated with criminality and suspicion. Take the case of Trayvon Martin, for example.
The second, and more central to my work, is that it fails to consider the social component of surveillance, by which I mean that surveillance typically occurs in crowded public space where not only cameras are watching us but other people are as well. The aesthetics of a project like “CV dazzle” are somewhat extreme and will most likely not be adopted by the majority of the public. Furthermore, wearing this kind of makeup, which I have to say is a brilliant idea for other reasons, will draw unwanted attention to the wearer.
My work instead substitutes the face of the wearer with my own in such a way that it thwarts facial recognition while allowing the wearer to pass inconspicuously through a crowd. Because we are talking about an automated system, the project needed a face that has actual data associated with it, otherwise it would be easily identified as a fraud or as a John Doe of sorts. Thus a fake face was not an option. Furthermore, I was ethically concerned that a made up face may actually look like a real person somewhere in the world, and I wasn’t comfortable with possibly appropriating another’s identity such as Conrad Zdzierak inadvertently did when he wore a latex mask when robbing six Ohio banks.
The natural follow up question to this would be, “well, if its only your face, then won’t that be easily identifiable at some point?” The answer of course is yes. However, the next step in the project is to ask the public to donate their faces to URME Surveillance, so that there are several options to chose from of every race, ethnicity, and gender. But for now, my identity is the only I am willing to put at risk.
There is also the fact that the first mask had to be a white man’s because there is nothing more invisible to surveillance than a white man in a suit. Surveillance practices are built upon prejudicial architecture. I am hoping that URME Surveillance can expose the blueprints of those structures by examining the role of identity in surveillance culture.
The “URME” mask worn
BV: Can you contrast your work, which seems much more activist-driven, with Adam Harvey’s work, which is still very much a luxury commodity.
LS: Adam Harvey, along with several artists (Ben Grosser, Zach Blas) has been a huge influence on my work. Harvey is exploring surveillance art in a very interdisciplinary way, examining its intersection with mediums like make up and fashion. That being said, when approaching how to make URME Surveillance, I found myself generating a very specific criteria that are simply not the strengths of Harvey’s work. The first criterion was to take into consideration both the social component of surveillance and the human element within the system. You just can’t wear CV Dazzle without looking conspicuous unless you only ever use it going out to a rave club somewhere. Not only are others going to look at you on the street, but it would be very easy for a human being watching a set of surveillance monitors to track you: just look for the face with triangles and squares on it. URME Surveillance differs by substituting the users face for my own, thus fooling the cameras while at the same time not drawing attention to the user because of its photorealistic qualities. Though upon close inspection the prosthetic is detectable, in a crowd most people wouldn’t look twice and at a glance it can be fairly convincing.
The second criteria I asked myself How does one make a practical anti-surveillance intervention for the public, that is not just passable (first criteria) but also fairly democratic. I think of Harvey’s project “Stealth Wear” which protects the wearer from thermal imaging, the primary form of “vision” used by drones, by erasing one’s heat signature. While “CV dazzle” is fairly democratic, as most people can afford some form of make up, The material required for “Stealth Wear” is extremely expensive. For example, the Burqa costs 2,500 dollars. Some of the garments also don’t cover the entire body, which makes me question their effectiveness.
Lastly, and this is the biggest concern for me, is that due to the garments overwhelming price, its not a solution that is available to general public. This is further compounded by the fact that they are currently not available in the Middle East, which is where an intervention as thoughtful as this one is needed. While my own “URME Surveillance Identity Prosthetic” is costly at $200, it is far more reasonable a price. “URME” also offers a paper mask at $1. Furthermore, I am also not making a profit off of any of the URME Surveillance devices because I want them to be as affordable as possible.
I don’t see my work as being in reaction to, or somehow separate from, Harvey’s. Rather, I am trying to contribute to a discussion that he and other artists have already started. Its important for surveillance, tech, and new media artists to consider their work within a criteria of Social Practice if it is going to bring about change, and that is where my interest lies. I should also mention that URME Surveillance, like all projects has its fair share of problems as well, but it is a entry point for me to start treating surveillance as material to work with in my art practice.
“URME Surveillance” at Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” in downtown Chicago
BV: You mention your interest in post-humanism, what do you see the future of identity, both online and off, looking like? How does “URME” play into or fight that?
LS: I can’t help but think of URME Surveillance in light of texts like Donna Harroway’s Cyborg Manifesto. In the text she calls for an elimination of binaries in exchange for celebrating and identifying as beings with a set of interests rather than prescribed anatomy. The future of identity is fluid. Like Cindy Sherman, we are at a precipice where we have the ability to perform identity in a very multifaceted way. Combine this with the curatorial powers of social media to edit ourselves, the future is going to be an ever changing landscape of personas.
Surveillance threatens this fluidity because it is built with rigid prejudicial architecture welded tightly by fear on the cracking foundation of freedom. By eventually asking the public to donate their faces, URME Surveillance hopes to create a public that actively and consciously chooses an identity(s) to wear and purport. I see a time when exchanging faces with each other is not only an active subversion of our surveillance systems through facial disinformation, but also engages with the core of what it means to be an individual. Rather than U R ME, I aspire to create a community under the guise of U R WE.
For all of you unfortunate souls out there who have ever gotten your penis stuck in a PVC pipe, this is one paper you don’t want to miss! These crafty doctors came up with a simple solution to this everyday problem. DIY medicine FTW!
“Introduction. Penile incarceration for erotic or autoerotic purposes has been reported in a wide range of age groups, and often presents a significant challenge to urologic surgeons. No ready method has been reported for removing a polyvinylchloride (PVC) pipe entrapped on the penis. Aim. To present our experience in using hot-melt method to remove a constricted PVC pipe on the penis. Methods. A long melting split was made on the PVC pipe entrapped on the penis by using the long narrow branch of forceps heated on a gas stove. Results. The heated forceps was able to make a melt split on the PVC pipe. Consequently, the PVC pipe was removed by pulling the edges of the pipe apart without much difficulty. The total operation time was 20 minutes. Conclusion. Penile incarceration is a urologic emergency, for which resourcefulness is required in some unexpected cases. Hot-melting has proved to be an easy and effective method for removing penile strangulation by a PVC pipe. To our kn=-09876543wledge, it is the first report about the removal of PVC pipe entrapped on a penis.”
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Vacuum cleaner injury to penis: a common urologic problem?
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Ever wonder how much electricity your penis can take?
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: A vacuum device for penile elongation: fact or fiction?
The post Friday flashback: Penis stuck in a PVC pipe? We have a solution! appeared first on Seriously, Science?.
Claude Monet, gardener
In Giverny, Monet created a spectacular garden (1883-1926) that in no way can be compared with the much smaller and above all more conventional garden in Argenteuil nor with the garden in Vétheuil.
In this very special autochrome photograph, the already 81-years old Monet is posing in front of his house (and studio) in Giverny.
Anonymous, Claude Monet in front of his House in Giverny, 1921. Autochrome, 18 x 24 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Twenty percent of American children have never climbed a tree, and 95 percent of children in developed countries spend their free time watching TV or on the computer — and only 5 percent outdoors.
This is cause for concern because many young people are alienated from nature and may not realize the value of protecting natural ecosystems and species.
The skin is our gateway to the physical world. Below its surface are oodles of nerve fibers relaying different types of messages to the brain. At the ends of the fingertips, for example, fat and fast Aβ nerves help you fish for keys at the bottom of a messy purse, or feel the difference between cotton and polyester. Nearby those big nerves are thinner and slower C-fiber nociceptors, which transmit pain, and others that relay itchiness.
What I didn’t know until this week is that there is yet another type of nerve, found only under hairy skin, that carries information about our social interactions. These nerves, known as C-tactile (CT) afferents, respond to slow, gentle stroking — the soft touch you’d give to a baby’s forehead or a lover’s arm. And some researchers believe that these fibers are crucial for the development of the social brain.
“A hand on the shoulder, a pat on the back — these things anchor and cement social relationships in a meaningful way,” says Francis McGlone, a cognitive neuroscientist at Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K.
In today’s issue of Neuron, McGlone and his colleagues published a commentary reviewing what’s known about these nerves, including some provocative studies suggesting they play a role in autism.
“This C-tactile system is not there to sense the physical world, it’s there to feel the physical world,” McGlone says. “It’s coding something very important, particularly during early development.”
CT nerves were first described in 1939. Swedish physiologist Yngve Zotterman found that in a cat’s leg, certain thin nerve fibers would fire electrical signals in response to slow stroking with the edge of a round wooden pin. “The complex response to stroking naturally raises the question whether the different groups of spikes are derived from groups of fibres with different sensory functions,” Zotterman wrote.
Subsequent studies confirmed that these nerves exist in cats (1957), as well as in monkeys (1977) and rats (1993). They weren’t reported in people until the late 1980s and ‘90s, thanks to a technique called microneurography pioneered by two Swedish scientists, Karl-Erik Hagbarth and Ake Vallbo. With this method (which Hagbarth and Vallbo first perfected on their own arms to prove its safety) a
metal electrode tungsten microelectrode is poked through the skin of an awake person to record electrical signals from the nerves underneath.
Deciphering the code of these nerves is difficult and takes a lot of patience. “It’s like putting a microphone into a United Nations convention — there’s lots of different languages you’re going to be hearing,” McGlone says. “I think five people on this planet can record from C-tactile afferents.” These trained scientists can hear the language (that is, a certain pattern of electrical waveforms) of the CT afferents only when the skin is gently stroked.
McGlone’s lab has done a series of fascinating studies on CT afferents. His team uses a robotic stimulator to deliver gentle brush strokes in a steady, consistent way. Here’s a quick video of how it works:
The person in the video is rating how pleasant (or unpleasant) the touch feels on different parts of his body. In 2009, McGlone’s team published a study in Nature Neuroscience in which this robotic brush stroked volunteers at different velocities. Turns out that the velocities that volunteers rated as most pleasant are the same ones that activate CT nerves. “They matched up perfectly,” McGlone says.
OK, so there are nerves that selectively respond to a soft touch. The real question is, why? What are they for?
“We’re still asking that question,” McGlone says. “What I hope I’ve done in this new paper is put a few more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in place.”
Several puzzle pieces come from brain imaging studies. In 2012, for example, McGlone and collaborators in Montreal scanned volunteers’ brains while slowly stroking two skin areas: a hairy patch of the forearm, which holds CT fibers, and the hairless palm, which does not have CT fibers. Stroking CT fibers triggered activity in the posterior insular cortex and mid-anterior orbitofrontal cortex, which are both part of the brain’s limbic system, deep circuits that process emotion. Stroking the palm, in contrast, activated the somatosensory cortex, the outer layers of brain that process our physical sense of touch.
Stroking CT fibers also activated a brain region called the angular gyrus, which is involved in our internal representation of our body. (In studies of epileptic patients, stimulating this region leads to dramatic out-of-body experiences.) This result is intriguing, McGlone says, because it suggests that CT afferents are involved not only in our awareness of others, but in our physical sense of self.
The same brain regions activated by CT afferents — the insular cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and angular gyrus — have also been implicated in autism and related disorders. Could autism be the result of an impaired touch system?
“I think it’s very believable,” says Kevin Pelphrey, a neuroscientist at Yale who is known for his brain-imaging studies of children with autism. In 2012, Pelphrey’s team scanned the brains of 19 healthy adults while they received either slow or fast strokes on their forearm. The slow touch activated brain regions involved in social behaviors, as shown before. But this brain activation was lowest in participants who scored high on tests of autistic traits.
Pelphrey is most interested in one of those brain regions, the superior temporal sulcus, or STS. This area is sensitive not only to social touch, but to socially meaningful sights and sounds. “We’re working on smells now as well,” Pelphrey says. His earlier work has shown that children with autism have abnormally low activity in the STS.
Pelphrey has also scanned the brains of children with autism while they felt slow or fast arm-stroking. “We wanted to know if the brain response to social versus non-social touch is present in autism or not, and to what degree it’s disrupted,” he says. “We found something,” he says, but wants to keep the results under wraps because the study is currently under review.
There are other reasons to suspect that CT afferents may be involved in autism, Pelphrey says. Many individuals with autism, such as autism advocate Temple Grandin, have sensory sensitivities. Pelphrey notes that some of the earliest descriptions of the disorder mention that babies with autism don’t react to being picked up in way that most babies do. “Touch is the first sensory system to develop,” Pelphrey says. “The brain response to C-tactile afferents should be present well before birth.” So if the system is disrupted in autism, it could become a very early biomarker of the disorder.
The question of why these afferents exist is still open. They could be vestigial, useless leftovers of our evolutionary past, the skin’s appendix. But McGlone doesn’t think so. He believes that affective touch is crucial for our brain development, and worries about what will happen as we transfer more and more of our social lives online.
“We live in a touch-deprived world,” he says. “You can see sort of an Armageddon scenario, where the affective touch system may well become vestigial. And what would the consequences be for the social brain?”
The text has been slightly modified: The electrode used in microneurography is made of tungsten, not metal.
About six months ago, my husband and I decided we hadn't become insufferable enough. Sure, we had abandoned the east coast to find ourselves in Tucson, Arizona. We were living in an adobe house, taking daily shots of apple cider vinegar, and attending yoga workshops featuring the progress mantra music of Blue Spirit Wheel. When a coworker mentioned she needed to find a home for her four chickens, we thought our next logical step was urban chicken farming.
We have a love-hate relationship with our chickens. To put it bluntly, our chickens—Miley, Joan, Denise, and Kanya—are assholes. They have destroyed our backyard, their disgusting fly-magnet poops are everywhere, and they are so dumb that they have made me reconsider factories with caged chickens. Seriously, they would be perfectly happy in a cage. In spite of all this, we are also deeply in love with them and have spent hours watching them frolic in a bale of hay, which I plan to video one day and turn into the next YouTube phenomenon.
A few weeks ago, my husband noticed that Kanya was acting strange. She was crouched inside the coop, giving us the stink eye, and refusing to move. Typically, Kanya is the queen bitch of the chickens bullying Miley and plotting ways to escape their pen. Suddenly, she wasn't eating, drinking, or trying to shit on our back step. Clearly, something was amiss. Like neurotic parents, we turned to the internet, which promptly lead us down a spiral of potential deadly chicken conditions.
After a few terror inducing message boards with people advocating killing the chicken immediately lest she infect the flock with her mystery illness, we decided the most logical diagnosis was she had a bound egg, which meant she had an egg trapped inside her body. It sounded like the most hellish form of constipation, and as I read further I began to panic. If you try to remove the egg and it breaks, the remnants will likely cause a bacterial infection and the chicken will die. If you leave the egg inside she will almost certainly die within 24-48 hours because—this was incredibly shocking for me—chickens lay eggs, poop, pee, everything out of one hole! They have some kind of combination urethra-vagina-butt, called a cloaca. (This fact must have made women excessively confusing to pre sex-ed/internet farm boys.) If the egg stays bound everything just gets backed up, and they die.
The clock was ticking. Kanya had been holed up in the coop since that morning, so she had less than 40 hours to live unless we did something. Now. Since this was the Hollywood version of a chicken crisis, the stakes had to be raised. The next day was Easter so even if we had a vet for our chickens, which we do not, no one would be open. At that point, I screamed at my husband, "We have to save our chicken!" and then ran through our house in a Marmee-from-Little-Women-inspired mania, looking for towels and hot water. We found a list of home remedies which suggested we put our chicken in a warm bath and massage her abdomen to help her relax and pass the egg. The blogs featured pictures of serene chickens lounging in their baths. Of course, Kanya acted as if we were trying to deep fry her and threw a massive fit as my husband forced her into the water while I tried to massage her stomach and pull dried poop off her feathers. Obviously, the bath wasn't as relaxing as we hoped.
The next option, we read, was to use KY Jelly to lubricate the vent (chicken lingo for the all-in-one hole). A chicken's “vent” looks like a mix between an octopus sucker and a fish gulping for air. As my husband restrained Kanya, I started shoving KY Jelly up her butt. Right away, she started pushing it back out again to which I responded by yelling triumphantly, "It's working!" only to realize that the natural response to having two humans shove lube up your butt was to push it back out again. After 30 minutes of bathing, massaging, and lubricating, we decided to put her back in the pen. Immediately, Kanya dropped a massive turd. It was the most excited I've ever been to see something shit. It meant she didn't have a bound egg, but it also meant we had absolutely no idea what was wrong with her.
Later that evening, we found a poop chart on the internet that showed in intricate detail all the different types of possible chicken poops. Oddly, the normal range is ridiculously broad. Yellow running poops? Sure, happens about once a week. Green and white speckled poops? Just your run-of-the-mill daily poop. Armed with a colored print-out, we began running around the pen saying things like, does this one look like a normal cecal poop or does she have ringworm? Having deduced nothing from our attempt at poop diagnostics, we found a site that forced us to face the harsh truth. If something was seriously wrong with Kanya, she was probably going to die. Confronted with our chicken's mortality, we tried the last thing on the home remedies list, giving her olive oil in hope that it would help clear out a sour crop or any toxic plants. We gave her a bunch of raisins soaked in olive oil and put her to sleep.
The next day, she was walking around the pen (thrilling!), but still making these weird noises, puffing herself up and flapping her wings. I was convinced she was delirious from dehydration. We waited in agony until the next day when the local feed store would open. Our last hope was to buy a series of powders that might cure certain infections or worms.
I was at work when my husband called. It was the end, I just knew it. He calmly explained that he had a long talk with a woman at the feed store, and she thought she knew what was wrong. I waited for him to describe some kind of torturous terminal chicken disease. Instead he explained there was nothing physically wrong with Kanya. My blood started to boil. All the sympathy I had garnered for Kanya evaporated. She was just brooding. Brooding! For the non-chicken expert, brooding meant that our chicken had baby fever. Sometimes a chemical is released in a chicken's brain that makes them think their eggs have been fertilized and will hatch if they just sit on them long enough. If the eggs are just regular eggs, chickens can starve to death waiting for them to hatch, which sounded exactly like my little asshole Kanya. Your only option is to break the chicken.
First, we could isolate Kanya in her own pen with food and water until she forgot about her nonexistent babies. Or, we could try to dupe her by actually buying a baby chick, sticking it under her, and tricking her into believing it's her baby—the ultimate plan in chicken deception. That night, my husband chose the more reasonable option to make a wire teepee in a different part of the yard despite my instance on get a stuffed animal chick and play chirping noises to make her think it was real. We dragged Kanya out of the coop and she started squawking frantically. Once in the teepee she seemed to calm down. She fell asleep within a few minutes, mostly because it's physically impossible for chickens to stay awake when it's dark outside. We stood like proud parents watching our chicken sleep peacefully. The worst was over.
Five a.m. the next morning, we were jolted out of sleep by deranged squawking. Kanya had woken up the other chickens and they were squawking back and forth like the world's most obnoxious game of telephone. I wanted to murder her and half expected the neighbors to be showing up at our door with pitchforks. We put her back in her pen and she promptly marched back into the coop to sit on her nest. When we actually woke up, I decided the only open was to close the coop. It would piss off the other chickens who wouldn't have anywhere to lay their eggs, but it was the only option. We dragged her out one last time, and with the help of a giant rock and plywood, the coop was closed.
Kanya was back to normal. I, having lubed a chicken vagina-butt, would need a few more days to recover.
C. Maria McMillan is kind of an architect, kind of an archivist, and kind of lives in Tucson.8 Comments
La Coquille et le Clergyman (1928)
So there’s no way to write a post involving porn without oodles of double entredes, so let’s just agree to try to ignore them. But this story about the collision between the porn industry and the banking industry–at least the porn industry admits they’re fucking people–is disturbing (boldface mine):
This past Monday, porn star Teagan Presley arrived home in Las Vegas from yet another whirlwind strip club appearance tour and found a letter from her bank.
Chase was closing her account, which was listed under her legal name, as well as the account of her husband.
When Presley went to the bank in person to ask why, she was told it’s because she’s considered “high risk.”
“And then they told me that they canceled my husband’s account too, because our social security numbers are linked,” Presley told VICE News. “They told him that it was because I’m a notorious adult star. Which is funny, because I’m kind of a goody-goody in the business, and I’m not even doing porn anymore.”
…In May 2013, CNBC wrote about actress Chanel Preston’s sudden account termination at Los Angeles’ City National Bank, and porn studio head Marc Greenberg’s lawsuit against JP Morgan Chase for violation of fair lending laws. Greenberg wanted to refinance his longstanding home loan, and said a JP Morgan vice president told him he was being declined for moral issues.
A Chase representative told VICE News they have no comment.
Now, news is slowly surfacing that shows the US Department of Justice may be strong-arming banks into banning porn stars.
It’s called Operation Choke Point….
…it’s a targeted effort to shut down as many as 30 separate industries by making it impossible for them to access banking services.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday, American Bankers Association CEO Frank Keating wrote that the Justice Department is “telling bankers to behave like policemen and judges.”
“Operation Choke Point is asking banks to identify customers who may be breaking the law or simply doing something government officials don’t like,” Keating wrote. “Banks must then ‘choke off’ those customers’ access to financial services, shutting down their accounts.”
Keating said the highly secretive operation was launched in early 2013. That’s when porn stars started to complain to the media that their bank accounts were being shut down without explanation….
Fattorosi told VICE News that bank account closures for sex industry workers are unfair.
“If I’m just a regular Joe that likes to purchase firearms or pornography, my account isn’t going to be closed,” he said. “What they’re basically doing is saying someone’s lifestyle choice is unacceptable. I don’t see where the account holders’ lifestyle choices have anything to do with banking policy.”
This is foolish for both policy and civil liberties reasons.
On the policy side, bankers have often made assessments about borrowers’ integrity (though it’s not clear that actually improves loan portfolios), but shutting down bank accounts will lead people in the porn industry to use riskier strategies, such as cash, offshore accounts and so on. This doesn’t seem to be a good thing. Like it or not, in a modern society, people need banks.
In terms of civil liberties, it’s really troubling. First, as Presley notes, she’s no longer in the pornography business, but she’s still shut out of the banking system, apparently forever. Second, I’m sure the list will never expand to include political dissidents. Third, here’s the list of businesses that are considered ‘high risk’:
Cable Box De-scramblers
Credit Card Schemes
Credit Repair Services
Debt Consolidation Scams
Get Rich Products
Mailing Lists/Personal Info
Money Transfer Networks
Yes, a lot of these are pretty scummy, if not outright illegal (shouldn’t the Justice Department be prosecuting Ponzi schemes anyway?). While porn makes a lot of people uncomfortable (or giggle), ask yourself this: do you want ammo and gun merchants to figure out how to operate (further) in a shadow economy? I can’t see how that ends well.
In the larger context, it’s absurd that the DOJ is cracking down on porn while doing nothing concrete against the bankers who looted and pillaged our economy. Not unexpected mind you, but still absurd.
if someone “fights like a girl” you should be absolutely terrified of them have ever seen a girl fight they’ll rip your fucking throat out with their hands while the guys are still doing that weird cobra posturing thing for five minutes
Never get behind me in line -- I have the worst line karma...
Someone dropped lime sherbet on the desert — and it's melting. Who's going to clean this up?
Nobody. Because this — believe it or not — is a plant. It may look like a glob of goo, but it's not at all gooey. It's solid to the touch, so solid that a man can lie on top of it and not sink in, not even a little.
What kind of plant is this? In Spanish it's called llareta, and it's a member of the Apiaceae family, which makes it a cousin to parsley, carrots and fennel. But being a desert plant, high up in Chile's extraordinarily dry Atacama, it grows very, very slowly — a little over a centimeter a year.
Think about that. If you asked one of these plants, "What did you do during the 20th century?" it would answer, "I grew a meter bigger." At that rate, plants rising to shoulder height (covering yards of ground, lump after lump) must be really, really old. In fact, some of them are older than the Giant Sequoias of California, older than towering coast redwoods. In Chile, many of them go back 3,000 years — well before the Golden Age of Greece.
They look like green gift-wrapping. One imagines that they are mold-like, wrapping themselves around boulders. But that's wrong. The truth is much weirder. That hard surface is actually a dense collection of tens of thousands of flowering buds at the ends of long stems, so densely packed, they create a compact surface. The plant is very, very dry, and makes for great kindling.
As the Bolivian guide explains in the video below (the plant can be found throughout the Andes), llareta is such good fuel that, even though it's very ancient, people regularly use it to start campfires and even, back in the day, to run locomotives. (That's 3, 000 to 4,000 years of captured sunshine thrown into a steam engine for a quick ride — I'm trying not to think about that.) It's also good for muscle pain.
The best thing about llareta is what it looks like. It's like nothing else. You climb 10,000 to 15,000 feet up into the Andes; there are boulders, loose rocks, jagged edges all about, and suddenly you come upon this soft-looking round thing that resembles a lime-green beach ball, and you think, "What is this?" When artist/photographer Rachel Sussman saw her first llareta, she apparently did a little happy dance. As she writes in her new book, "Every once in a while you see something so ludicrously beautiful that all you can do is laugh."
Artist/photographer Rachel Sussman has some pretty nice photos of llareta in her new book, The Oldest Living Things in the World. You can see and hear Rachel talking about her photos here. Our llareta photos come courtesy of the Terrace Lodge, in Putre, Chile, very near Lauca National Park where, due to melting ice and water vapor floating in, there's just enough moisture to keep the plants growing.
Henri Matisse in his studio in Paris, 1913, photo by Edward Steichen
Where else would you find Superman, Darth Vader, and Godzilla all together in one place except for artist Brian Reedy's work? This Miami-based art teacher is known for his creative woodblock renderings of super heroes and other pop culture references. He also dabbles in carving apocalyptic dystopian futures as well as mythic creatures and the gods and goddesses of Hinduism.
Reedy's work is a satiric commentary on current society. His style is an exaggeration and hyper-detailing of the comic book and cartoon genres. He often peppers humorous elements in his prints that range from hidden references to hilarious captions.
As you can see from the following woodblock prints, each of his works is incredibly detailed. They are filled with lush landscapes and imagery from the the genre, film, comic, or video game. If you are a fan of his style or the original inspirations for his pieces, you might want to check out his Etsy store.
Poor Johannes Kepler. One of the greatest astronomers ever, the man who figured out the laws of planetary motion, a genius, scholar and mathematician — in 1611, he needed a wife. The previous Mrs. Kepler had died of Hungarian spotted fever, so, with kids to raise and a household to manage, he decided to line up some candidates — but it wasn't going very well.
Being an orderly man, he decided to interview 11 women. As Alex Bellos describes it in his new book The Grapes of Math, Kepler kept notes as he wooed. It's a catalog of small disappointments. The first candidate, he wrote, had "stinking breath."
The second "had been brought up in luxury that was above her station" — she had expensive tastes. Not promising.
The third was engaged to a man — definitely a problem. Plus, that man had sired a child with a prostitute. So ... complicated.
The fourth woman was nice to look at — of "tall stature and athletic build" ...
... but Kepler wanted to check out the next one (the fifth), who, he'd been told, was "modest, thrifty, diligent and [said] to love her stepchildren," so he hesitated. He hesitated so long, that both No. 4 and No. 5 got impatient and took themselves out of the running (bummer), leaving him with No. 6, who scared him. She was a grand lady, and he "feared the expense of a sumptuous wedding ... "
The seventh was very fetching. He liked her. But he hadn't yet completed his list, so he kept her waiting, and she wasn't the waiting type. She rejected him.
The eighth he didn't much care for, though he thought her mother "was a mostly worthy person ... "
The ninth was sickly, the 10th had a shape not suitable "even for a man of simple tastes," and the last one, the 11th, was too young. What to do? Having run through all his candidates, totally wooed-out, he decided that maybe he'd done this all wrong.
"Was it Divine Providence or my own moral guilt," he wrote, "which, for two years or longer, tore me in so many different directions and made me consider the possibility of such different unions?"
What Kepler needed, Alex Bellos writes, was an optimal strategy — a way, not to guarantee success, but to maximize the likelihood of satisfaction. And, as it turns out, mathematicians think they have such a formula.
It works any time you have a list of potential wives, husbands, prom dates, job applicants, garage mechanics. The rules are simple: You start with a situation where you have a fixed number of options (if, say, you live in a small town and there aren't unlimited men to date, garages to go to), so you make a list — that's your final list — and you interview each candidate one by one. Again, what I'm about to describe doesn't always produce a happy result, but it does so more often than would occur randomly. For mathematicians, that's enough.
They even have a name for it. In the 1960s it was called (a la Kepler) "The Marriage Problem." Later, it was dubbed The Secretary Problem.
How To Do It
Alex writes: "Imagine that you are interviewing 20 people to be your secretary [or your spouse or your garage mechanic] with the rule that you must decide at the end of each interview whether or not to give that applicant the job." If you offer the job to somebody, game's up. You can't go on and meet the others. "If you haven't chosen anyone by the time you see the last candidate, you must offer the job to her," Alex writes (not assuming that all secretaries are female — he's just adapting the attitudes of the early '60s).
So remember: At the end of each interview, you either make an offer or you move on.
If you don't make an offer, no going back. Once you make an offer, the game stops.
According to Martin Gardner, who in 1960 described the formula (partly worked out earlier by others), the best way to proceed is to interview (or date) the first 36.8 percent of the candidates. Don't hire (or marry) any of them, but as soon as you meet a candidate who's better than the best of that first group — that's the one you choose! Yes, the Very Best Candidate might show up in that first 36.8 percent — in which case you'll be stuck with second best, but still, if you like favorable odds, this is the best way to go.
Why 36.8 percent? The answer involves a number mathematicians call "e" – which, reduced to a fraction 1/e = 0.368 or 36.8 percent. For the specific details, check here, or Alex's book, but apparently this formula has proved itself over and over in all kinds of controlled situations. While it doesn't guarantee happiness or satisfaction, it does give you a 36.8 percent chance — which, in a field of 11 possible wives — is a pretty good success rate.
Try It, Johannes ...
What would have happened if Johannes Kepler had used this formula? Well, he would have interviewed but made no offers to the first 36.8 percent of his sample, which in a group of 11 ladies means he'd skip past the first four candidates. But the moment he'd met somebody (starting with lady No. 5) that he liked better than anyone in the first group, he'd have said, "Will you marry me?"
In real life, after a period of reflection, Johannes Kepler re-wooed and then married the fifth woman.
The way Alex figures it, if Kepler had known about this formula (which today is an example of what mathematicians call optimal stopping), he could have skipped the last batch of ladies — the sickly one, the unshapely one, the too-young one, the lung-disease one — and, all in all, "Kepler would have saved himself six bad dates."
Instead, he just followed his heart (which, of course, is another tolerable option, even for great mathematicians). His marriage to No. 5, by the way, turned out to be a very happy one.
you know what if my tax dollars are paying for this then I demand a turn
David Bowie and Iman | Mr. and Mrs. Jones
They met on October 1990 on a blind date set up by a mutual friend, Teddy Antolin, who was also their hairdresser.
Bowie fell in love with her at first sight,
“I was naming the children the night we met … it was absolutely immediate.” However, Iman was reluctant to a date a rock star. In an interview she shared, “I did not want to get involved with a rock star. No way. It is not a sane thing to do, but David changed my mind. He wooed me.”
"I remember once we went out to dinner and the laces on my trainers came undone, and David was down on his knees in the middle of the street, tying them for me. I thought to myself, ‘This one’s a keeper.’"
“His actions spoke louder [than words],” she said. “We were dating for two weeks and I was coming from Paris and I got to L.A. at the airport and the doors open to the plane and I come out and I see all these people taking a picture of somebody. And he was standing there, flowers in hand, no security. That was when I knew he was a keeper. He didn’t care if anyone saw.”
They have been together ever since.
“My marriage is exactly as fabulous as you all would think.” She grinned.
”We have dates, you know - we’ll go to a museum, then we’ll have a long lunch. That’s what’s interesting, that’s what’s exciting.”
”First, you fancy each other - that doesn’t go. It might take different forms, but he’s good company. He’s funny, he’s engaging, he’s whip-smart, he’s interested in diverse things. It keeps on evolving - it doesn’t stay sedentary.”
He still ties her shoelaces at times, and still buys Iman her favourite flowers on the 14th of every month: the anniversary of the day they met.
As for their relationship at home: “David doesn’t fight, He is English, so he just stays quiet. I’m the screamer. Then he always makes me laugh. It’s like cabaret. I keep him entertained too.”
"I still fancy him, totally, after all these years."
“He has managed, somehow I don’t know, miraculously, to have my heart flutter when he walks into the room still. So, yes he’s definitely the one, he’s definitely my one.”
"‘I am not married to David Bowie — I am married to David Jones. They are two totally different people.’
"It was so lucky that we were to meet at that time in our lives, when we were both yearning for each other," says Bowie. "She is an incredibly beautiful woman, but that’s just one thing. It’s what’s in there that counts."
What’s “in there”, Iman confesses, is “the wonderful realisation that I have found my soul mate, with whom sexual compatibility is just the tip of the iceberg. We have so much in common, and are totally alike in a lot of things”. It’s not a love of music, or fashion, or the fact that “like David has his feminine side, I have a masculine side”, she insists, but the more old-fashioned values: romance, family, commitment.
Bowie on their relationship says, ”I don’t have that sense of loneliness that I had before, which was very, very strong. It became a subtext for a lot of things I wrote.”
"We work hard at keeping the relationship alive. We talk to each other continuously. We have complete and absolute faith in each other."
look at these two dorks
This guy wins all the awards for best costume. Don’t even try to argue with me. This is awesome.
May the colleagues that you badmouth the most have nothing but kind things to say about you when you’re not around, leading everyone in the office to conclude that you are a fundamentally disagreeable person.
May you be like Guy Fieri: may the things you love the most be considered ridiculous by the world at large.
Whenever you want to watch either Working Girl or 9 To 5, may the other one always be the only one streaming on Netflix Instant.
May none of your friends take your food allergy seriously; may they always pretend to forget just before serving you something you’ve told them you can’t possibly eat.
May you be labeled “difficult” after you have left the room. May your colleagues stonewall you without ever explaining why they don’t want to help. May “I don’t know what you’re talking about” become the sentence you hear most often, and the sentence you dread the most.
May all of your closest friends receive book deals for ridiculous and overly-topical premises; may your obvious disdain for their undeserved good fortune put such a strain on your relationship that you both remove one another from your gchat list.
May your life’s passion be met with global indifference.
May your incompetence never recognize itself as such; may you remain forever in the dark when it comes to the limits of your abilities. May you never quite understand why you never get the job you believed you were perfect for, but were in fact ludicrously underqualified for.
May the fears about yourself that wake you in the middle of the night all be the truest things you ever think about yourself.
May you be seen crying at work.
May your social media presence be so off-putting that it causes your real-life friends to distance themselves from you.
May the most substantive emotional support you can offer a grieving friend be the febrile sentiment “Sending good thoughts your way” in a Facebook comment.
May everyone you lend books to return them unread or keep them forever.
May your partner never be awake when you whisper “Are you awake?” because you desperately need a sign that someone or something cares about the anguish of your heart, that connection is possible. May your partner feign sleep in order to avoid intimacy with you.
May you become the emotional burden you sometimes fear yourself to be.
May your children think of you the way you think of your own mother.
May you never be understood in the comments.
Kintsugi—the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. The idea behind it is that the piece becomes more beautiful and more valuable because it has been broken and has a history.