• Another Turkey attack, this time in Massachusetts

    The turkeys are at it again! Boing Boing reported last month about a gang of turkeys causing trouble in Shuswap, Canada. Now we've got news from Woburn, Massachusetts about another group of about five wild turkeys "engaging in mayhem" in one neighborhood. Oscar Margain at NBCBoston reports:

    Meaghan Tolson lives under constant attack from some unruly neighbors in Woburn, Massachusetts — a flock of about five wild turkeys that roam freely on Nashua Street.

    "I am being described as the turkey whisperer," said Tolson. "You definitely hear them before you see them."

    About two years ago, Tolson began to find them in her front yard.

    "It started with one turkey. His name is Kevin. I named him," she noted.

    They usually come out at sunrise and sunset looking to feed and cause some mayhem. Everyone is fair game.

    For video and more terrifying tales from the locals, check out the article here. And be careful out there—I think the turkeys are finally seeking revenge for all of those Thanksgiving meals.

  • Raccoon in a hammock

    What would you do if you came home to find a raccoon hanging out in your hammock? Well, that's the decision Philadelphia resident Sarah McAnulty recently had to make when she discovered a raccoon lounging in the hammock on her 3rd floor deck. Fox 13 News reports:

    When she grabbed a flashlight and looked outside, she said she couldn't believe her eyes when she found a raccoon appearing to tuck itself in, making itself comfortable for the night.

    McAnulty posted a short video on Twitter, writing in the caption, "Excuse me, who taught the raccoon on my back porch how to use a hammock?" 

    McAnulty later checked on the raccoon and said it "stayed there for the rest of the night all snuggled up, sleeping in the hammock."

    Not gonna lie, if faced with this situation, I would have to fight hard against my natural urges to go join the raccoon and snuggle. But my rational brain would kick in and I'd keep my distance, and just be overjoyed to be blessed by such a beautiful creature!

  • The booming world of leg-lengthening surgery

    GQ recently published a fascinating look into the world of elective leg lengthening. I had no idea that cosmetic leg lengthening was a booming business, that hundreds of men in the U.S. are getting the procedure every year (to the tune of $75,000 to $150,000), or that in the last 20 years male cosmetic procedures are up 29%. All of this is happening despite the fact that, according to University of Florida Health, bone lengthening is only completely successful in four out of ten procedures. They explain that "It has a much higher rate of complications and need for further surgeries. Joint contractures may occur." The procedure is also excruciatingly painful, and comes with a very long recovery. Chris Gayomali of GQ explains:

    Like most cosmetic surgeries designed to make you a hotter version of yourself, cosmetic leg lengthening was originally intended to help patients with real and sometimes dire conditions. The procedure was developed in the 1950s by a Soviet orthopedic surgeon named Gavriil Ilizarov, who wanted to treat complex bone fractures and deformities like limb discrepancies. The process is, to put it lightly, really fucking gnarly.

    It involves a medieval-sounding device called the Ilizarov frame, an adjustable apparatus that is wrapped around, say, the lower part of a patient's leg, ankle to knee, like scaffolding erected around a townhome. The patient's leg is then broken, and the apparatus's series of pins pierce the leg, jamming through skin and muscle until they are fixed to the bone itself, where they remain for months—holding the severed bones in place, slightly farther apart than they'd naturally be positioned, so that new bone tissue grows to fill the gap. After spending months bedridden, a patient with, say, a shorter left leg could miraculously find himself with two legs of more or less the same size.

    In the article Gayomali profiles a doctor who specializes in the procedure (Dr. Kevin Debiparshad who founded the LimbplastX Institute in Las Vegas in 2016) and who has seen his business explode in the last few years, describes witnessing a surgery, and provides profiles of some of the men he interviewed who have undergone the procedure. Who is getting this procedure? Gayomali explains:

    Dr. D's patients don't fit into any one phylum, except that most are loaded: physicians, finance guys, actors, CEOs. A news anchor. Even college basketball players looking for a few more statistical inches, though Dr. D doesn't recommend this. "It's hard to predict what the athletic outcome is going to be," he says. "What I generally tell patients is, look, if your paycheck depends on you being faster than the guy next to you by milliseconds to get that position, then this may not be the procedure for you because it can decrease your athletic ability."

    There are trans men, who often just want that extra stature to feel more like themselves. (Dr. D sometimes does leg shortening for trans women.) I talked to a Filipina nurse who was under five feet—and now she's not. One patient, a popular YouTuber in Asia, apparently paid for the procedure by selling a few Bitcoin.

    And of course there are tech bros—a whole gaggle of tech bros. "I joke that I could open a tech company," says Dr D. "I got, like, 20 software engineers doing this procedure right now who are here in Vegas. There was a girl"—because girls can be tech bros too—"yesterday from PayPal. I've got patients from Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft. I've had multiple patients from Microsoft."

    The article also discusses what drives the (mostly) men to get the procedure:

    There's no single reason anyone opts for leg-lengthening surgery, but often at least one of those reasons has to do with impressing girls. Take Alan, 23, a sweet, lanky software engineer from Chicago. (Some of these names have been changed.) Originally just under five feet six, Alan never really thought of himself as short until a girl he had "a super big crush on, like, roasted me for it" in college. This instilled in him a deep insecurity that ultimately prompted him to get his femurs done in February. Now, after spending the last three months alone in his apartment eating delivery food, he's five nine.

    It's more complicated than that, though, and Gayomali provides a nuanced discussion of "one of the last social stigmas"—male height—and the economic and social stigmas that short men can face. Gayomali adds:

    What all the patients I spoke with have in common is that leg lengthening helps them feel like a more complete version of who they think they are. "A lot of patients see it as an investment in themselves, and not necessarily romantically," says Dr. D. "Stature is such an important part, I think, of who you are and how you perceive the world and how the world perceives you. Being able to alter that is so impactful."

    I can't pretend to understand how any of that feels, so I can't really judge it, other than to reiterate how it seems like the height of privilege to have an extra $75-150k lying around to spend on cosmetic leg lengthening. But I do appreciate this in-depth look at the procedure and the men who get it, and urge you to read it if you're interested.

  • Meet Lepidobatrachus laevis, a frog with a ridiculous scream

    Today I learned about an amphibian called the "Budgett's frog." It looks like a cartoon character, and has the most ridiculous scream. Everything Reptiles describes the curious creature:

    These unique frogs have a comical appearance as their head is half the size of their body. Their appearance and fun personality have made this species an internet star.

    Budgett's Frogs are a large pinkish-gray frog. They have a flat body and an enormous mouth that takes up nearly a third of its body.

    The Budgett's Frog (Lepidobatrachus Laevis) was first described in an 1899 paper by the English zoologist John Samuel Budgett. Budgett was on an expedition to Argentina in search of lungfish, but instead discovered this frog. It is common to find this species in many countries in South America such as Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.

    If you have a spare minute, please stop whatever you're doing and go look at this frog. You will be delighted, I promise. Here's one eating a worm. And here's one screaming. And here's another one screaming. Apparently, they scream when they feel threatened, which makes me really sad for all of these poor screaming creatures. Everything Reptiles explains:

    If cornered they will puff up their bodies and stand as tall as possible. They will hiss, squeak and scream too. If that fails they will lunge and bite. Being bitten is quite an unpleasant experience as they have large toothlike ridges on their jaws and two sharp fangs.

    I also feel bad for them because their screams are, well, so…. hilarious. Poor Budgett's frog just can't win. Cute creature rating: 11/10. This creature is completely ridiculous, and off the charts cute. I can't stand it!

  • Visit Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park

    If you're ever in the northeastern area of Arizona, you should make plans to stop at the Petrified Forest National Park. I've been a couple of times, years ago, and highly recommend it. It feels like some kind of alien, other-worldly landscape, scattered with gorgeous, multicolored pieces of petrified wood, large and small. It is also surrounded by legends and lore that say you'll be cursed if you happen to pocket any of the small pieces of petrified wood and take them home with you. According to Jonathan Romeo of The Journal:

    For years – decades even – a myth has surrounded Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park: A curse would strike anyone who illegally stole a piece of fossilized ancient wood within park boundaries.

    And there are letters to prove it.

    Over the years, hundreds of people who have stolen chunks of petrified wood, and eventually regretted their crime, have sent back the fossilized prizes, along with letters of apology. The practice had become so commonplace, park officials named the stack a "conscience pile."

    In 2015 right before my first visit to the park, I heard a brilliant episode of the podcast "Criminal" that focused on the 'cursed objects' lore:

    The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona has the largest collection of petrified wood in the world. The beautiful wood is more than 200 million years old, and visitors to the park often take a little piece home with them as a souvenir. But stealing the wood has serious consequences, both legal and, some say, supernatural.

    The episode featured an interview with Ryan Thompson, author of the book "Bad Luck Hot Rocks." The book's website further describes the 'conscience letters' that visitors write as they return their stolen objects:

    Located in the Painted Desert of Northeast Arizona, the Petrified Forest was established, in part, to protect a vast deposit of petrified wood dating back to the Late Triassic period—roughly 200 million years ago. According to park administration, the preservation efforts have been an overwhelming success. In the more than one hundred years since its establishment in 1906, however, some visitors have still been unable to resist the urge to remove wood from the park. Some of these same visitors eventually return their ill-gotten souvenirs by mail, accompanied by 'conscience letters.' The content of each letter varies, but writers often include stories of misfortune, attributed directly to their stolen petrified wood. Car troubles. Cats with cancer. Deaths of family members. For many, their hope is that by returning these rocks, good fortune will return to their lives. Other common themes include expressions of remorse, requests for forgiveness, and warnings to future visitors.

    The book contains images of many of the letters along with the pieces of petrified wood the letter writers returned to the park. Recently, however, the park has begun shifting its messaging to visitors away from threatening them to not steal, toward welcoming them and praising the park's natural beauty and historical significance. Jonathan Romeo of The Journal explains:

    Throughout the mid-1900s, park managers were in a sort of fervor that people coming to the park were taking out pieces of wood en masse. No real studies were ever conducted at the time, yet officials consistently said a ton of petrified wood a month was being stolen from the park, sowing a sense of suspicion at park visitors.

    Then, with the arrival of park superintendent Brad Traver (now retired), a sea change happened, as Traver heralded a new strategy: embracing and celebrating the park's 600,000 to 800,000 annual visitors.

    "Now, the focus is on being more welcoming, providing more opportunities for visitors, while remaining diligent with law enforcement and presence," Herve said.

    The park started removing negative messages: The park orientation video at the visitor center used to have a scene of someone getting arrested. Now, that scene has been cut out, and the movie instead highlights the scientific research happening at the park.

    Whether the curse is real or not, you probably still shouldn't take any pieces of petrified wood home with you. Sadly, even the returned pieces can't be placed back into the park, because their original provenance is gone and they would be out of context. What you should do, however, is visit the park when you can, and also check out the resources I have linked to in this article—they are all terrific!

  • Trampwall—trampoline wall running—from Cirque du Soleil to your backyard

    I love learning about new subcultures that I had no idea existed. Just recently I learned about a sport called "Trampwall," or "trampoline wall running." I stumbled across some videos posted by YouTube user "Hingaflips" where he features Trampwall moves/stunts performed by himself and his friends. Hingaflips is Jake Hinga, who describes himself this way on a 2019 Kickstarter page:

    I'm a circus performer and acrobat who has been performing Trampwall for the past year all over the United States for different companies. I am from Michigan originally, but due to the lack of opportunities for circus jobs in Trampwall, I left. I have always dreamed of creating a show back home.

    What is Trampwall? The World Trampwall Federation describes it this way:

    Trampwall is an acrobatic/circus discipline concurrently created by Cirque Du Soleil & kids in their backyard for feats of fear-defying one-upmanship. Once the parkour kids and extreme sports adrenaline junkies got hold of this discipline, Trampwall began evolving at an exponential rate! Most people have never heard of it. The majority of people only know about it through circus shows. A small percentage of practitioners know and participate in World Trampwall Federation events. Due to the nature of these events, information about the date, time, location, and participants is not broadcasted publicly in advance. If you need to know, you already know. 

    If you've never seen folks doing Trampwall, I encourage you to go watch some of these videos. I find it quite mesmerizing and relaxing to watch. Here's Jake Hinga showing off a few tricks. Here's a funny challenge involving throwing Peeps candies into someone's mouth while they Trampwall. And here's Sarah doing some Trampwall trust exercises and partner tricks.

  • Chihuahua can't stop singing

    Stop what you're doing right now and go watch the cutest tiniest puppy 'singing.' It just might be the cutest thing I've ever seen. Mysterious-Slice-498 recently posted it in the awesome subreddit /rarepuppers (also worth checking out if you love cute dogs) and they explain that this video features Ozzy the Chihuahua from when he was a puppy. Well, Ozzy is all grown up now and is still singing. On another thread Mysterious-Slice-498 shares this video, featuring Ozzy singing along to the Star Wars score. And here's another one of Ozzy singing along to a harmonica, by a Scottish lake. Adorable!

  • The best vegan chicken nuggets

    I'm not ashamed to say I love vegan chicken nuggets, mostly because I can pretend that they aren't just totally junk food and because they are quick and easy to make. Sometimes I don't even put them in the oven, and I don't even care that microwaving them makes them soggy. I dip them in Bitchin' Sauce or a ketchup mixed with Sriracha. Easy peasy lunch, snack, or dinner. My favorites are the "Simple Truth" brand from Kroger, and the Gardein ones—I like the crunchy coating on both and especially love how the Gardein ones have oats in the coating. I'm perfectly happy with these two brands.

    But maybe you care more than I do about searching for and finding the perfect vegan chicken nugget. If so, check out this piece by Antara Sinha of Bon Appetit, which presents findings from their taste tests of seven brands of vegan chicken nuggets. First, the article explains the quest to replicate fast food nuggets and the massive growth of the market for plant-based items:

    When you seek out chicken nuggets, chances are you're seeking out nostalgia, and if you're reaching for the vegan version, that's an especially high bar to meet. The explosion of brands contributing to the supermarket proliferation of faux-chicken nuggets—with "plant-based" meat projected to be a market worth $140 billion in the next few years—all claim to replicate that feeling of indulgence. The mostly vegan breading is the easy part. But the distinct texture of ground chicken (spongy? squishy? bouncy?) is the Everest, with companies using myriad ingredients like soy isolates, pea protein, jackfruit, and mycoprotein.

    They then present their findings. Spoiler alert: the Impossible Nugget is the winner. They describe the winner this way:

    The Nugget: Made from soy protein concentrate, the Impossible Chicken Nuggets lacks the plant-based heme that gives Impossible Burgers (the company's debut product, launched in 2016) its signature "bloody" appearance. Soybean and sunflower oils impersonate animal fat, while garlic and onion powder add savoriness.

    The Taste: Ironically, this was the first nugget our tasters tried, which was a mistake, because none of the other brands could compete with the high standard that the Impossible Nugget set. A picturesque golden crust, a pleasantly meaty flavor that both vegetarians and nonvegetarians enjoyed, and the most nostalgic feel made this the clear winner. There were a couple of complaints on the texture veering into "mushy" territory, but isn't that part of the chicken nugget experience? "It is chicken," Emma said. "I don't believe that it's not."

    If you want to read more about the other nuggets they tried, go check out the rest of the article! Plus, it's kind of interesting to see all the brands' different takes on the shape of a vegan chicken nuggets. I guess, unsurprisingly, they all seem to be some kind of version of the four shapes that McDonald's nuggets come in: ball, bell, bone, and boot.

  • Interview with Opossum Lady Georgette Spelvin

    I recently wrote about one of my favorite internet stars: the Opossum Lady, who calls herself Georgette Spelvin (which is likely not her real name, as it's a traditional pseudonym long used in the world of theater). Well, I'm back to share a new episode of "60 Second Docs" that was just released about her. The description of the doc on YouTube reads:

    Not much is known about Internet personality Georgette Spelvin, but one thing's for sure: she loves her possums. Spelvin has been entertaining fans and fellow possum enthusiasts through her YouTube channel, MEpearlA, and her book, "Pearls of Wisdom: Advice from a Dead Squirrel Who Knows Everything."

    The short documentary features glorious footage of Opossum Lady talking about her passions: opossums and caring for them. The script of the video is as follows:

    Someone said because of your videos, I no longer beat possums to death with a shovel. I am Georgette Spelvin, with my friend Parody [an opossum] here, and I am Possum Lady! My background is in rehabilitating possums. We're working out the spine, we're working out the vertebrae! The perfect opossum massage has been demonstrated on my videos. They have 51 teeth, and that hiss is scary. They are not going to come around and be like dogs or cats. It's not who they are. But possums are very very helpful, they're nature's little sanitary engineers. Possums are so cute! I've had people suggest it's because I am feral (I don't think that's true). I don't have them as pets, but I become emotionally attached. Possum Lady is love, Possum Lady is life.

    The video just further confirms that Opossum Lady is a goddess who walks among us. The video also features the adorable opossums doing what opossums do—including "hissing" in the cutest ways possible.

  • Chopsticks are a massive waste problem. This company recycles them.

    Across the globe, we humans throw away more than 80 billion pairs of chopsticks every year. AtlasObscura explains:

    For more than 5,000 years, chopsticks have been the preferred dining utensil of a sizable swath of humanity. Nowadays, around a third of the global population uses chopsticks daily. This is both a fact of life and, given these implements are often single-use, a serious environmental problem.

    Well, one Vancouver-based company called "ChopValue," founded in 2016 by Felix Böck, is trying to do its part to help recycle some of those disposed chopsticks. Again, AtlasObscura:

    Company staff pick up around 350,000 used chopsticks from 300-plus restaurants every week, all of which become book shelves, cutting boards, coasters, desks, and custom decorations. According to Böck, the startup has saved more than 50 million pairs of chopsticks from landfills since its launch.

    Transforming a teriyaki sauce-slicked piece of bamboo into a rolling cabinet takes quite a bit of work. To remove any trace of food waste, the chopsticks are first coated in a water-based resin, then sterilized at 200 degrees Fahrenheit in a specialized oven for five hours. A hydraulic machine then breaks the wood down into a composite board, which is sanded, polished, and lacquered as necessary. "This material is then the core piece for everything from desks and table tops to home decor," Böck says.

    For ChopValue to be more than a novelty, Böck knows that it needs to scale. The company recently received $3 million in funding and, in 2021, launched its first international franchise in Singapore. "We're trying to expand responsibly and chose to franchise the concept so that other business owners could own their own microfactories," he says.

    I took a look at the products for sale on the ChopValue website, and they are really quite beautiful. They sell office furniture and accessories, as well as tables, shelves, all kinds of kitchen accessories (think coasters, cutting boards, and more), and even games like dominos and cribbage sets. And the prices aren't outrageous—they are what you'd expect from sustainably made work. AtlasObscura explains that each piece of furniture has a "negative net-caron impact," and each comes with information about how many chopsticks were re-used. A work desk, for example, uses 10,852 chopsticks that would otherwise probably have ended up in a landfill!

  • Patagonia founder transfers ownership to environmental trust

    Patagonia—the outdoor clothing and gear company founded in 1973—is making huge waves at the moment, in the wake of its founder, Yvon Chouinard, announcing that he and his family are transferring their $3 billion ownership stake in the company to a trust (Patagonia Purpose Trust) created to protect the firm's environmental and sustainability values, and to a climate-focused nonprofit collective (the Holdfast Collective). Lora Kolodny at CNBC explains that Patagonia will now be "dedicating all profits from the company to projects and organizations that will protect wild land and biodiversity and fight the climate crisis." In a public letter on the Patagonia website, Chouinard wrote, "Earth is now our only shareholder. If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is what we can do." The letter further explains that:

    100% of the company's voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company's values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.

    Lora Kolodny at CNBC provides more context:

    The trust will get all the voting stock, which is 2% of the total, and will use it to create a "more permanent legal structure to enshrine Patagonia's purpose and values." It will be overseen by members of the family and close advisors. The Holdfast Collective owns all the non-voting stock of Patagonia, which amounts to 98%.

    Patagonia expects to generate and donate about $100 million annually depending on the health of the business. The company now sells new and used outdoor apparel, gear for outdoor activities like camping, fishing and climbing, and food and beverages made from sustainable sources.

    As a certified B-Corp and California Benefit Corporation, Patagonia was already donating one percent of its sales each year to grassroots activists, and it intends to keep doing so. Fewer than 6,000 companies around the world are certified as B-Corp businesses. They have to meet strict environmental, social and governance standards and benchmarks set by B Labs to gain certification.

    While some critics label any environmentally-focused move by any corporation 'greenwashing,' other commentators are praising Patagonia for being serious about promoting sustainable consumption and combating climate change. Last year, Matthew Gannon wrote a piece defending Patagonia's commitment to reducing its environmental impact. And in reaction to Patagonia's new decision to transfer ownership to the Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective, some retail industry leaders are praising the move as a real step towards sustainability that will hopefully set the bar for others to follow suit. Allyson Chiu at the Washington Post explains:

    Some retail industry experts said the move could reverberate beyond a single company.

    Chouinard has "just set a new bar for retailers," Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of at the retail consulting firm RSR, wrote in an email. "No greenwashing here. He put his money where his mouth was."

    No company is perfect, but it does seem that Patagonia is really trying to make a positive change in the world. And I know this is a terribly low bar, but if you compare what Patagonia is doing with what Kourtney Kardashian just announced, the two attempts to be "environmentally responsible" aren't even on the same planet. Image reports that Kardashian just accepted a position as "sustainability ambassador for Boohoo," a fast-fashion company that has a horrendous record of awful working conditions and low wages for workers. And all fast fashion is terrible for the environment, a fact that has been well documented, including in the 2015 educational film, The True Cost, which focuses on the human and environmental costs of fast fashion. Image explains the complete hypocrisy of Boohoo having a "sustainability ambassador" in the first place, and hiring Kourtney Kardashian, in particular, for that job:

    Always quick to dispel greenwashing, PR stunts and the paradoxical nature of the fashion world, Diet Prada reminds us that "Boohoo was named one of the least sustainable fashion brands by the UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee in 2019, and was found to be paying Leicester garment workers £3.50 an hour the following year." The Instagram account also points out that in 2021, ShareAction reported that the brand had failed to make a meaningful improvement with worker protections of their supply chain, citing "low prices paid by Boohoo, its encouragement of price competition among suppliers and demand for short order times" as "drivers for illegally low wage payments and poor working conditions," as reported by The Guardian.

    In the wake of the collaboration's announcement, many were reminded of the recent report that Kourtney and her sister Kim were among the big celebrity names accused of violating unprecedented drought restrictions in California. Youngest sister Kylie Jenner also made headlines of late for 'climate criminal' behaviour as she couldn't decide which private jet to take for a 17-minute flight. Jesus wept.

    Fair fashion campaigner Venetia La Manna branded the move as an arrival at "peak fashion greenwashing", and laid the statistics on the table. "There are 13 fast fashion brands under the Boohoo PLC group. Together, they sell 207 million items every year," she explains. "Over the next three years, Boohoo's CEO is set to receive a bonus worth 200% of his salary." "They boast that they're proactively working on sustainability, even though they were named as one of the two least sustainable brands in the UK."

  • Jimmy Fallon feeds corn to a capybara

    Oh, what I wouldn't give to meet and be able to feed a capybara! Jimmy Fallon is one lucky guy! Check out this video, where Robert Irwin (also a lucky guy!) introduces Javier the capybara to Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy seems scared but Robert gently coaxes him to feed Javier some corn, and Javier munches away happily. I'm 100% a fan. Cute creature rating: 10/10 (naturally, as capybaras, like quokkas, are ALWAYS adorable). As Redditor Party_Composer_9639 says: "ACAB: All Capybaras Are Beautiful." I could not agree more!!

  • Zoos as colonialist enterprises

    One of my favorite academic books is Professor John Willinsky's "Learning to Divide the World." In this book, Willinsky describes what he calls "imperialism's educational project" (p. 56). He traces the beginnings of that project to the late fifteenth century, when European explorers began conquering communities in the "New World" and bringing "artifacts" back to Europe with them.

    For instance, when Christopher Columbus returned to Spain after his trip to the "New World" in 1492, he brought back several Arawak individuals from the newly re-named "San Salvador." During this act of display and consumption, the Spanish were coming together to view the "exhibition of empire," which was to become a "constant educational element of the experience of imperialism" (p. 56). Willinsky (1998) argues that "the native-on-display was to be both spectacle and object lesson for the European imagination" (p. 56).

    Throughout the next five centuries, various forms of public instruction took place in educational institutions and arenas across Europe such as museums, international expositions, zoos, and public gardens that put on display "the world possessed through imperialism" (p. 56). This "exhibitionary pedagogy" (Willinsky, 1998, p. 85) helped its learners—those Westerners who gazed upon the "spectacles of empire"—to come to "see the world as a lesson in its own achievement" (p. 85).

    As Willinsky puts it, the lessons of imperialism centered on how to view and categorize the world. Imperialism taught its learners how to distinguish between themselves and the "other"; it taught how to "read the exotic, primitive, and timeless identity of the other"—through focusing on skin color, hair texture, language, or distinctions of taste.

    Through highlighting themes such as "conquering, civilizing, converting, collecting, and classifying," (p. 13), imperialism's educational project also helped European citizens learn into their "natural" and "proper" place at the top of world: "To gaze into the captioned display case of bushman weaponry was to learn as much about Western hegemony over the world as could be learned by reading about the nation's military presence abroad. The West's way of putting the world on display… was an education in how to hold the world in mind, with little thought given to the power required to mount such exhibits" (p. 57).

    The imperial legacy remains today and manifests itself in contemporary zoo design, which is less about "display" and more about providing an affective, immersive, entertainment-based experience that places the visitor in the starring role. I posit that zoos are still colonialist enterprises, but they use new forms of affect and immersion experiences as part of their entertainment enterprise.

    If you want to learn more about the history of colonialist display, including the disturbing history of zoos and the colonialist legacies they still perpetuate, here's a couple of great resources. Discovery Science has written this great overview and also produced a terrific documentary called, "Human Zoos: America's Forgotten History of Scientific Racism." And here's a great article from Smithsonian Magazine called, "Science Still Bears the Fingerprints of Colonialism." And finally, here's a great piece published in The Conversation: "Is It Time to Break with Colonial Legacy of Zoos?'.

  • If you've never had COVID-19, this research study needs you!

    Scientists are working hard to figure out the mysteries of COVID-19, including whether or not some people who have never had it are immune. But experts currently disagree on whether these so-called "superdodgers" exist. Some scientists speculate that some of the folks who haven't yet had COVID-19 actually have had it but just didn't know it, because they were totally asymptomatic. Along this line of thinking, researchers at UC San Francisco have found that some people have a genetic mutation that prevents them from having COVID-19 symptoms even if the virus infects their cells. In other words, this mutation doesn't stop infection, but it does stop any symptoms from developing.

    Other scientists like Jean-Laurent Casanova and his team at Rockefeller University are conducting research to find out if there are actually people who never are infected to begin with, even if they are exposed to COVID-19—folks who have "true superdodger genes." LAist explains that while not impossible, this would be pretty rare:

    Over the course of human history, scientists have identified only two instances of true virus superdodgers. That is, where a specific mutation in their genes makes people completely resistant to a virus. So that it slides off their cells, "like water sliding off a glass window," as Casanova puts it.

    In order to find out, Casanova and his team are currently recruiting participants. LAist explains:

    "You fill out a questionnaire online about your exposures to SARS-CoV-2," he says. And then if you meet the criteria of a superdodger, the team sends you a testing kit. Basically you spit in a cup and mail it back to Casanova and his collaborators.

    On their research website, they explain the purpose of the study:

    Why do some people get very ill from Coronavirus infection (COVID-19), others experience little or no symptoms, while yet others do not get infected at all? Rather than luck, we think the answer is in our genome and immunity. Our genes are small, yet mighty and can control our immunity in even the most subtle ways. This may explain why some people seem better equipped than others to fight this new virus. Immunity can also be disrupted by non-genetic mechanisms, which can be found thanks to the 'genetic compass'.

    Our mission is to find out why and how our genes affect our immunity against Coronavirus, and how and why immunity can also be affected by other, non-genetic causes. This discovery will allow us to develop new ways to combat this pandemic: through better and faster diagnosis, new drugs for the treatment and prevention of infection, new ways to develop a vaccine, and a better understanding of how this infection works in the body.

    If you've never had COVID-19 and want to participate, here's more info about the study. And here's the form to fill out if you want to see if you qualify.

  • Chinese kids posing as "American Teens" in front of blue lockers at Ikea

    Vice recently reported on a new trend that entails Chinese youth posing as "American Teens" in front of the blue lockers at Ikea. Chloe Xiang explains:

    IKEA's blue locker rooms are being used not to store bags, but to pose in front of as a pseudo-American high school. One of the biggest trends right now on the Chinese version of Instagram, Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), is America core. The trend is called "Meigaofeng," which means "American high school fashion," more or less. The trend romanticizes a stereotypical American private school uniform, with influencers wearing pleated skirts, ties over white collared shirts, loafers, blazers, and looking straight out of something like Gossip Girl or Clueless. 

    The influencers have chosen IKEA's locker rooms because they mimic what an American high school would look like and famous scenes from any number of movies and TV shows, including Clueless, Mean Girls, and The Breakfast Club.

    Another recent article in Yahoo reports that Ikea China is now banning the influencers from posing in front of Ikea lockers. Tech investor Rui Ma tweeted that Ikea has forced the teens to quit because they were too "disruptive" during their photo shoots. Yahoo further explains the current ban and also explains that the trend of Chinese youth imitating American culture is not new:

    IKEA China has allegedly banned influencers from posing in front of store lockers, after people flocked to IKEA locations to participate in a trend that romanticizes American high schools.

    Young Chinese citizens' interest in American culture — especially trying to emulate it — isn't anything new. Apparently, the trend was already popular in China when Gossip Girl first debuted.

    In late 2021, as pandemic lockdowns in China started to lift, a trend exploded on social media where influencers would pose and pretend to be in the U.S. The trend inexplicably had people posing in front of the Shanghai Costco, with captions that said they were "pretending to be in Los Angeles." Similar to Meigaofeng, influencers posed with items that seemed to try to reflect America: shopping carts, pizza boxes and cans of Coke.

    I don't think these reports capture the complexity of what's happening here, though. This TikTok, from a user who calls herself "Dr. Candise, Chinese tutor," seems to have a different take—one that moves beyond simply describing the trend as Chinese youth "romanticizing" American culture, and that at least hints at the ingenuity of the folks spreading it and the subversive potential of these practices. Dr. Candise captions her TikTok that explains the "America core" trend: "Gotta hand it to Chinese people when it comes to maximizing limited resources." In the video she explains the "American high school style" trending on the Chinese version of Instagram, Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book). The script of the video states:

    Influencers are wearing white shirts with short pleated skirts and posing in front of the blue lockers in Shanghai IKEA. They thought IKEA's blue lockers create the atmosphere of the high school campus in American dramas. Some influencers even bought dozens of outfits and are posing like no one is watching. In China, IKEA is not just for furniture shopping. Many fall asleep on the beds and sofas in the showroom. The cafeteria has become a hot place for blind dates for elders. Influencers have posed with pizza and shopping carts in front of the COSTCO in Shanghai and told their followers they were vacationing in L.A.

    I kind of dig the trend. It reminds me of the brilliant web mini-series from 2009, "Ikea Heights," which was filmed covertly inside the Ikea store in Burbank, California. I'm all for folks using commercial spaces for their own purposes in ways that resist the capitalist imperative to ALWAYS BUY THINGS—even though these acts of resistance might be fleeting or feel miniscule. French consumer theorist Michel de Certeau sees promise even in these small moments of resistance, positioning them as a kind of productive act aimed at altering the "prescribed" or "intended" meaning of goods and products—or in these cases, the intended meaning of the consumptive spaces themselves.

  • Gyotaku-style prints made from alligators

    Check out this wild story—complete with photos and video—about an artist, Leslie Charleville, who makes "gyotaku"-style prints from ALLIGATORS. And, yes, she lives in Louisiana. On her website she describes herself and the process of gyotaku:

    Leslie Charleville is a Louisiana artist who specializes in the 17th century Japanese art form of gyotaku, or fish rubbing. Originally, gyotaku was a means to document the size and species of a fisherman's catch. Leslie has mastered this sophisticated technique on not only fish and marine life but also Louisiana's most popular mascot, the alligator.

    From Leslie: "The art is secondary to the message I want to leave with people who I meet. More than anything, I want folks to look at what I do and recognize that's there a Light on L.Chareville Studios that transcends this world…..after all, it's not my talent to begin with. I just want to use it for good and make a difference in the lives of the people I encounter!"

    What is gyotaku? Beginning in the 17th century, Japanese fishermen used a printmaking process called "gyotaku" to document their catches, recording the animal's size and individual characteristics with sumi ink on rice paper.

    The artist began making prints with fish, and still does, but now she specializes in alligators. She accompanies alligator hunters on their expeditions and then makes the prints after the alligator is killed. She prepares and poses the alligator, rolls acrylic paint on it, and then presses cotton duck fabric on the animal, to make the print. The Advocate explains:

    Alligator hunters call her throughout the hunting season to accompany them on hunts. Afterward, Charleville makes the prints on site. Charleville kicked off the beginning of alligator season, Aug. 31, with a hunt led by Logan Davis. The trip resulted in several prints, which, she says, not only honors the animal but also its creator.

    You can see photos here from her most recent expedition and see her making a print from a 10 foot long alligator caught by Logan Davis. You can also purchase prints—of fish, alligators, and other marine life—from her website.

  • A brief history of the selfie

    I've been taking selfies for as long as I can remember. Back in the early 1980s when I started taking selfies with film cameras, it was exciting because you had no idea what you were capturing until you got the film processed and you saw the prints. I used to joke to friends that I invented the selfie, but obviously that's not true. So, what IS the history of selfies? ThoughtCo. has a great article outlining this history. Folks believe that the first selfie—a daguerreotype—which is also one of the first photographs of a person, was created by American photographer Robert Cornelius in 1839. And the first mirror selfie was created by Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, in 1914, when she was 13 years old. And ThoughtCo. states that a man named Lester Wisbrod claims to be the first person to take celebrity selfies:

    A Hollywood cameraman named Lester Wisbrod claims he is the first person to take celebrity selfies, (a self-taken photo of himself and a celebrity) and has been doing so since 1981.

    But what about the kind of "modern selfie" that's ubiquitous today? According to The Telegraph, that seems to have been created in September 2002 when an Australian man, after a drunken night out, uploaded a photo of his busted lip to the internet. Read more about the history of the selfie here and here, and enjoy these two selfies I took with my best friend, one is from 1986 and one is from last week!

    Photo: Jennifer Sandlin (all rights reserved)
    Photo: Jennifer Sandlin (all rights reserved)

  • Kangaroo kills 77-year old Australian man keeping it as pet

    Yikes. This past weekend a kangaroo killed a 77-year old man in Western Australia, and also prevented paramedics from administering life-saving help. This marks the first deadly kangaroo attack in Australia in 100 years. People explains:

    When the ambulance arrived at the home, the kangaroo wouldn't let first responders reach him, according to the outlet.

    Once on the scene, police fatally shot the kangaroo after it proved to be a threat to paramedics. However, it was too late to save the man.

    "It is believed the man had been attacked by the kangaroo earlier in the day," a Western Australian Police Force spokesperson said according to the Australian Associated Press.

    Authorities also stated that they believe the man had been keeping the kangaroo as a pet. Here's another reminder, folks, that wild animals are wild animals – it's best to leave them alone!

  • Ships In The Harbor, the beautiful debut song by Tommy Prine

    Listen to this beautiful new song by Tommy Prine, the 26-year-old son of the late John Prine, who is one of the absolute best songwriters of all time, and one of my favorite musicians. John Prine sadly died from COVID-19 shortly after the pandemic hit—a passing that was deeply mourned by fans all over the world. While Tommy Prine has always written music, he's mostly kept it to himself, but when his father died, he was compelled to write more. Garden and Gun explains:

    "It was the healthiest and most intense way for me to process all those emotions [of grief]," he says. "I just fell head over heels for the idea of being a songwriter and a singer."

    You can listen to the song here. On his YouTube page, Tommy Prine describes the song like this:

    My debut release "Ships In The Harbor" is here! I wrote this song around my birthday last year and I always get super existential around my birthday and I had a thought that we as humans can only feel as deeply as we do and love people and fear things and all the other intense emotions is because everything we experience is finite, including our own lives. So I wrote a song about these little powerful moments and reflections in the human experience to try and capture the beauty in mortality.

    Here are some of the lyrics:

    It takes time to know when you're wrong
    It takes even longer to put it all in a song,
    And I wish it was easy to, like he did

    When I'm by peaceful waters
    It gets harder and harder
    I'd do anything just to talk to my father- but I guess he was leaving soon, as we do
    Yeah I guess, he was passing through; and I am too

    The song is heartbreaking, in the best of ways. It made me cry, just like his father's music still does, every time I hear it. I can't wait to hear more from Tommy Prine, and to see him live. Garden and Gun provides more info about upcoming releases and Prine's tour:

    Prine will release another single, "Turning Stones," on October 14, with his debut album to follow in the first half of 2023. He's currently on tour, which includes a September 15 show in Nashville at AmericanaFest and November dates opening for fellow troubadour Todd Snider. "There's going to be a lot of people who have certain expectations," he acknowledges. "I'm very grateful for my dad's fans, but I can tell from the first song that people are like, 'This isn't John Prine Jr.' And I'm just like, 'All right, buckle up. We got fifty more minutes of not John Prine Jr.'"

  • Palace beekeeper's most solemn task: telling the bees about Queen Elizabeth II's death

    After the Queen died, John Chapple, the official Palace beekeeper, was charged with the task of "telling the bees." He literally went from hive to hive telling tens of thousands of the Queen's bees that Queen Elizabeth II had passed. Vanity Fair explains:

    As reported in the Daily Mail, Chapple travelled to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House to perform his opposite-of-sweet duty. He spoke "in hushed tones," no doubt to try and take the sting out of it. 

    Chapple placed black ribbons around the hives, and then told the busy workers inside the news. He also explained that King Charles III is now their new master, and that he will be good to them.

    "The person who has died is the master or mistress of the hives, someone important in the family who dies and you don't get any more important than the Queen, do you?" Chapple said to the British newspaper. Getting into the nitty-gritty of it, he explained, "You knock on each hive and say, 'The mistress is dead, but don't you go. Your master will be a good master to you.'"

    The ritual of "telling the bees" about important events in the life of the beekeeper is centuries old. JSTOR explains its origins and how it developed over time:

    This practice of "telling the bees" may have its origins in Celtic mythology where the presence of a bee after a death signified the soul leaving the body, but the tradition appears to have been most prominent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the U.S. and Western Europe. The ritual involves notifying honey bees of major events in the beekeeper's life, such as a death or marriage.

    While the traditions varied from country to country, "telling the bees" always involved notifying the insects of a death in the family—so that the bees could share in the mourning. This generally entailed draping each hive with black crepe or some other "shred of black." It was required that the sad news be delivered to each hive individually, by knocking once and then verbally relaying the tale of sorrow.

    Charles Fitzgerald Gambier Jenyns, a British Victorian apiarist and rector, in his A Book about Bees (1886) asserts that this message should be delivered to the hives at midnight. In other regions, like in Whittier's New England, they simply hung crepe on the hive and then sang to the bees that, "So-and-so is dead." Other variations include merely telling (rather than singing) or whispering the information. In some places they may say "Little brownies, little brownies, your master (or mistress) is dead."

    I never knew about this ritual until the Queen died. When a friend—who was a beekeeper—died two years ago, a friend of theirs set up a group chat where we could all share photos and stories and memories of happier times. The person who set up the chat named it "Telling the Bees," and now I finally understand what that means. As much as I question most of the ritual and pomp and circumstance happening in the wake of the Queen's passing, this practice of telling the bees is touching, and seems like an intimate and meaningfully deliberate way to mourn someone's passing. As the JSTOR article points out, the ritual also highlights the incredibly important relationship between bees and humans that we must continue to foster:

    While the future of the honeybee remains uncertain, this staged funeral serves as a powerful reminder that our fate is inexorably linked to that of bees. If they were to depart, the journey "we all must go" will come sooner than we realize.