Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s beside the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentious debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, just so to be ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
TIPS FOR PICKY EATERS
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, the U.S. top executioner and likely earliest adopter of the last meal custom, has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 20 other states, including New York, that don’t have a death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats does not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published nine years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, to be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Food for Survival

Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages. Relax, we would never say that that’s the worst of anyone’s problems.
But if you find yourself in such a predicament, what you’re about to read may be useful, even life-saving. No sweat, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it.
There are though a few certainties, once you become a resident of the most feared antechamber in the U.S. It’s been ages since you last believed you could make it out of here alive. Mostly, you’ve been preparing for what comes next. But first, let’s eat.
Since shopping for food is out of the menu, the state provides your last one at no charge. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina silhouette are, of course, all behind you.
So you do have the choice to enjoy a lard-laden dinner with no (more)
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Read Also:
* Out to Get You
* Late Supper
* Ketchup With That?
Continue reading

Journey to Forever

The Challenger Explosion
& Its Thunderbolt Lessons

It was the U.N. International Year of Peace, and ‘We Are the World’ was a big hit. On its second visit in a century, the Halley Comet was at its closest to Earth when a melting Chernobyl reactor caused the world’s scariest nuclear disaster. But right off the bat, 1986 marked the worst tragedy of the space age.
On January 28, the Challenger Shuttle exploded on live TV, killing all seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, who was to become the first space civilian, but turned out to be the last teacher to be nationally mourned and eulogized in the U.S. It’s been downhill for educators ever since.
It was the Reagan era, and footage of him will probably be all over the airwaves. In a year of yet another flawed immigration law, his administration would be caught selling illegal weapons to Iran and arming the Contras to top Nicaragua’s democratic elected government.
The 30 years that now separate us from the Challenger explosion also equal the entire length of the Space Shuttle Program, which folded in 2011. Before that, another group of astronauts perished in 2003, when the Columbia, the program’s first space-worthy vehicle, tragically disintegrated while reentering Earth’s atmosphere.
These tragedies, along with the program whose many achievements are now part of our daily lives, look now so far back into the past, that even the ideas that inspired it seem remote. NASA doesn’t even have a comprehensive space plan currently running.
A MAJOR MALFUNCTION
It’s also easy to forget how close we all came to believe that space travel would be a new century routine, and many are quick to point that it was exactly that kind of sense of false security that led to the fatal errors causing the Challenger’s demise.
Perhaps. What’s for sure is that, without daring mistakes, we wouldn’t even have gotten to the Moon, and how uninspiring our age really is if our dreams nowadays have to come attached to a mandatory bargain price tag. Unlike weapons and conspiracy theories.
McAuliffe was slated to conduct the first high school science classes from space, to a Internet-less world full of teenagers who still cared about the subject. Instead, children along millions endured her spectacular dead, and that of her co-travelers, broadcast live.

TEACHING CHILDREN WELL
Such brutal awakening may have also marked, at least symbolically, the beginning of the end of Americans’ appreciation for the role of teachers and educators. It’s a curious phenomenon, promoted by half-witted politicians and their austerity policies.
Even though science and innovation was one of the tenets of U.S.’s ascension to its world power position, an entire generation grew apathetic and spoiled by the inventions that surround us. Science school grades have never been so low in average.
That’s probably why, instead of tele-transportation and weekly trips through the Solar System, we’ve got only a better iPhone (more)
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Read Also:
* Farewell Mission
* Waiting For Discovery
Continue reading

Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s beside the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentious debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, to be finally ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, No. 1 in executions and likely the earliest adopter of the last meal custom in the U.S., has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 20 other states, including New York, that don’t have the death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats does not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published four years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, to be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Foods for Survival

Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages.
We won’t say that’s the worst of their problems, but in the event you find yourself in either predicament, you may find what you’re about to read useful, perhaps even life-saving.
Don’t worry, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it and live to tell the story.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
There are very few certainties, though, once you become a resident of the most heavily guarded antechamber of any U.S. prison. Let’s face it, your chances to walk out are pretty slim. And shopping for food is simply out of the menu.
Luckily, the state provides you with one last wish. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina Continue reading

War Lord

Women May Lead Our
First Mission to Mars

For some three billion years, Mars looked all but dead, despite misplaced expectations astrophysics had about it all along. Now, as if acting on cue, it seems to be having a renaissance of sorts. Even a comet has paid a close visit to it last week.
Besides the two rovers still soldiering on its inhospitable surface and atmosphere, NASA plans to thoroughly explore it, with a possible human landing sometime in the next two decades. A number of international satellites are also on its orbit.
But despite its allure and beauty on our Zenith, Mars has had a problematic and somewhat disappointing history all along. It closely tracked Earth’s own development for at least a billion years, until something went terribly wrong and, by the time we showed up, it’d gone completely astray. A kind of recovery may be in the works, however, as some believe that life may have come from there.
Lucky us, disaster struck the red planet and not to the blue one. While a climatic inferno wrecked havoc on Mars, it didn’t take long, in astronomical terms, for Earth to bloom and become simply the most beautiful and friendly place in the whole wide universe.
That we act uncaring and downright abusive to this paradise is a matter for another time. The fact is that Mars has attracted so much attention that one wonders whether ancient people were up to something when they nominated it as God of War. Or hasn’t anyone heard the words ‘permanent’ and ‘war’ uttered so often together lately?
There was once a famous German astrologer that was so dedicated to find links between the influence of the Zodiac’s heavenly bodies and the human psyche that whenever a planet would be in evidence, she’d point to a corresponding ‘impact’ it’d have on us.
Thus, when the Pioneers and, later, the Voyager probes sent back those stunning images of Saturn, in the 1970s, she immediately related the event to the era’s economic recession, lines at gas stations in major Western cities, and so on. For her, it all had to do with the celestial Lord of the Rings’ particular charm.
Whether she too was on to something still depends on what one believes, but there’s no question that she was very much in synch with the Greek Pythagorean concepts of Astrology, once considered a science, to which Ptolemy formulated additional precepts. Egyptians and Romans concurred to that school too.

VOLUNTEERS FOR A ONE-WAY TRIP
NASA has been preparing a potential crew to make the trip to the Martian steppes, and even if we still lack the proper transportation to do it, a number of endurance experiments have been conducted with small groups of people. Another team has just started a six-month period of isolation in Hawaii, for instance.
Many ideas have been floated about what such a hazardous trip would consist of, including the possibility that it’d be a one-way ticket journey, meaning that the pioneering astronauts would not necessarily come back ever to Earth. A daunting prospect, indeed, but one that may have its takers.
Experiments in dieting, self-renewed sustenance, revolutionary farming techniques, even rigorous psychological training to prevent the crew from becoming overwhelmed with boredom, or worse, have followed. A variety of styles in new spacesuits are also in the works, from Barbarella to Buzz Lightyear, with all the bells and whistles that not even Ray Bradbury had dreamed of.
The latest of a long series of hypothesis and proposals to maximize a trip to Mars represents a novel idea and has a particular appeal to at least 50 percent of humankind: the possibility of sending a crew of mostly, if not solely, women to Mars. One assumes, on a round-trip basis, though.
The proposal is surprisingly not new, as NASA did consider sending a woman as the first human in space, an idea whose time was then still to come, but that now may be just ripe. The rationale has little to do with gender politics and a lot with caloric intake and preservation.

WOMEN ACTUALLY BELONG IN MARS
For such a long, perilous, and expensive journey – a price tag has been conservatively estimated to be about $450 billion – weight becomes a serious consideration. And a woman’s body does weight less in average than a man’s, consumes Continue reading

Booking the Summer

Six Reads to Befriend
in the Next Four Weeks

Hard as you may, you won’t find many book reviews on this site. Hardly any. Ok, one or two; at this point, we’re not too sure. Nevertheless (a word people often invoke in the presence of books, for some reason), authors are kind enough to keep sending us some for our consideration.
This being summer’s last month in the North, and summer being a season when even those with idle minds, get themselves a book or so to read, for some reason, it may be as good a time as any to offer you, avid reader, six more items to pack along with your beach gear.
None too soon, to be sure, as August is also known to suffuse with angst some of us who can’t even afford taking vacations, let alone having unrequited thoughts about Labor Day, fall, end of the year, whatever. That, of course, and the year’s biggest Supermoon, mad dogs, and werewolves.
We insist, though, these are no reviews, and if they may, for a sentence or two, resemble one, you’re allowed to call it quits and deny under oath that you’ve read it first here. Regardless (another word that people, etc.), you may take with you the basic info that’ll be provided free of charge.
That, by the way, is exactly our terms for accepting books to write about. Thus, feel free to take your pick among the themes permeating our list. Mystery, adventure, science, personal miseries, and thoughts about the awareness of animals may sound just like what one may seek to dwell on, in these last dog days of heat and sweat.
Finally, you ought to know that we haven’t finished reading some of them. But before you curse at us, let us offer you the tenor of our off-key intent: you won’t be biased neither by our personal take on them nor by commercial pursuit, so you’ll be freer to browse them at your own volition, as you would at a bookstore.
We won’t tell you our favorites either, or which order we’re following reading them. For we’ll be reading each one of them, as you read this. Thus, it’s just like we’ve preceded you at that bookstore by just a few hours, and already grabbed a half dozen tomes, so you don’t have to take time away from that cocktail of yours. Enjoy the reading.

NEW MEXICO ADVENTURE
Jack Purcell, editor of the popular So Far From Heavens blog, puts his THE LOST ADAMS DIGGINGS, Myth, Mystery and Madness, as ‘a study of a legend and the men who believed in it at a time when men were still inclined to believe in such things.’ He spent decades following a century-old trail of a gold and silver treasure, which eluded many an explorer before.
It’s a fascinating account that combines successive searches for the diggings, that preceded him, with his own tenacious path uncovering clues and old maps. What Purcell’s discovered is now up to you to find out, having him as your trustworthy guide. NineLives Press, 2003.
A SPACE ODYSSEY
Edgar Mitchell is a member of one of the world’s rarest communities: he’s one of the 12 men who’s walked on the Moon. His EARTHRISE, My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut, is an earnest account by the pilot of the 1971 mission’s lunar module, curiously narrated with his Boy Scout sedated voice, not that of a Navy fighter with an Ph.D. degree from MIT.
There are, however, thrilling passages, as during the struggle to bring the plagued Apollo 13 back to Earth, or when he talks about a long-distance Extrasensorial Perception Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Joy & World Woes By the Cup Full, Colltalers

The monthlong 2014 World Cup, which closed in Rio yesterday with Germany’s victory over Argentina, had its fair share of ecstasy, agony, fulfillment and heartbreak. As it goes, it also reflected, with frightening accuracy at times, the troubled and deeply divided world we all live in.
For even before it started on June 12, it’d already collected a number of ominous signs revealing more than its organizers, Fifa and the Brazilian confederation, would like us to see, about brutal realities hidden just behind the exuberance of the game of football in modern times.
Good and bad, the cup will leave lasting impressions, as any event of such magnitude, memories to recollect, lessons we’d better not forget, and an index of sorts for some of the most nefarious and persistent ills of our age.
Displays of racism, homophobia, neo-nazism, evidence of social exclusion in game attendance, ticket fraud, corruption of national confederations, violence in and out of the field, it was all out for anyone to see.
As the host, Brazil led the charge, and last summer, as the warm-up competition Confederations Cup was in progress, Brazilians staged the first massive rallies since the end of the military dictatorship, in the 1980s, in protest against Fifa and the government’s preparations for the cup.
By then, it’d become clear that in the five years since Brazil had been chosen to host both tournaments, huge investments supposed to fund them and flood the economy had already been diverted. On the ground, the only palpable sign of their influx was in the construction or rebuilding of mammoth stadiums, some of them in cities without a team in the Brazilian soccer league, and, it was found later, mainly funded by taxpayer money.
So where was their money? asked thousands of citizens. It’d certainly not gone to Brazil’s decaying infrastructure, hospital facilities, or in the building of much needed schools. Such an explosive realization, which served as the trigger for the rallies that ebbed and flowed up to the World Cup this year, got then a temporarily relief, relatively speaking, as Brazil won the Confederations. Now that it lost the big prize, it’s all up for grabs again.
When a group of German black-faced fans showed up for the game against Ghana, or another one ran into the field with a Nazi SS tattooed on his body, their intentions were clear. And so were chants of ‘monkey, monkey,’ and a homophobic call from Mexican supporters during other games.
Brazil’s social inequality was also exposed during the cup. Critics pointed to high price tickets as one way to keep the poor out of the stadiums, and for the predominance of white Brazilians attending the games, in higher percentages than the social and racial mix of the nation’s demographics.
Such social divide was at display in the ‘silent army‘ of garbage pickers, hired by the organizers to collect and sort the average five ton of garbage generated by every game. As hundreds of thousands of Brazilians already make a living out of ‘mining’ landfills, in a country with few recycling programs, their presence was considered a positive one, even if it doesn’t cover up for the inherent indignity of the have-nots’ lot in life.
Another black eye that may be credited to cup organizers is the alleged elimination of stray dogs from the streets of some host cities in Brazil. Just as it happened in Sochi, Russia, the Humane Society has received reports of the animals being ’rounded up and removed,’ no one knows to where.
But the biggest scandal that broke during the games has been the allegations that a company partner of Fifa, Match Hospitality, was running a giant ticket scalping scheme, worth a few million dollars. Brazilian authorities arrested its CEO, Raymond Whelan, who promptly escaped custody and is now the target of a police manhunt. Despite denials, Fifa is expected to answer to an official investigation into the ring.
Fifa is also involved in two other somewhat revealing matters: the suspension of the Nigerian team from international appearances, until the government reinstates the entire soccer governing staff that it fired for poor performance in Brazil. And a copyright dispute with giant Hispanic broadcast system Univision.
In both instances, lack of sensitivity and the zeal protecting its interests were typical. In the case of Nigeria, despite the expected venal government truculence, it’s hard to find winners in the decision, since the players are the ones ultimately punished by it. As for Univision, well, that’s big enough of a corporation that certainly doesn’t need us to take its side, regardless of who has the most rights over the labor exercised by, again, the players.
It all sounds minor, compared to what Fifa has been accused by community groups, from supporting the displacing of thousands to install its ‘Fan Fests,’ Continue reading

Cold Cups II

The Fan Who Sold His Honor & the
World Cup Coach Who Can’t Drive

Even if Fifa were a model of probity, which recent allegations have shown it clearly is not, or street rallies against its costs had cooled off with the start of the games, which they haven’t, the World Cup in Brazil has already provided a whole plethora of political drama.
From the multicultural bleachers to the quarrels over refereeing, from the quality of the grass drainage to antiaircraft artillery on civilian buildings, matches and goals have been thrilling, for sure, but what’s going on beyond the pitch may as well upstage it all.
As Brazilians protest the money bacchanal, brokered by Fifa and funded by its mega sponsors, and the competition heats up with record goals and relatively few surprises so far, one wonders whether there’s even space on the coverage for anything else. As it turns out, we make room for just that sort of thing.
For appalling mistakes committed by field officials are as much a part of the game as its players’ cheap theatrics, and with all certainty, will remain the theme of late night, heated discussions over tears and beers for years to come. It’s what’s not so obvious, though, that we’re most interested.
Thus, while that Barcelona star may be executing a perfect curvy free kick, out of sight and in the middle of a sea of multicolored tribute jerseys, someone may be giving a whole country a black eye, or a sympathetic one, by just flicking their wrist. At times, cameras may capture the moment but mostly, they may miss it.
And, just as life itself, the so called ‘teaching moments’ go beyond the walls of these temples of football, or through another march against high ticket prices on a street nearby. World Cup-related news, not so breaking but weird just the same, may be happening right across from the stadium, atop some apartment building.
The reach of this tournament may have a surprising sway both at the confluence of sports and morality, and as far as some court decision across the ocean. Coming July 13, regardless of who’ll lift the trophy, we’ll have gone through a common experience of such a planetary scale that each of these stories may count as much as the goals scored.
And you may thank your lucky shirts for we’re skipping altogether anything about the tragic Nigeria blast, that killed several people (in a replay of Uganda four years ago, remember?) or the Mexican drugpin who got nabbed by the Feds after he bought a ticket to the World Cup… on his own name. Smart.

GREED & CIVILITY AT THE STANDS
Speaking of most Brazilians, they may be fighting the good fight against corruption, but apparently José Humberto Martins is yet to get the memo. Last week in Natal, he was one of the thousands wearing a plastic poncho during the rain soaked Mexico vs. Cameroon game.
According to his own account, at some point, he was approached by a drenched tourist who offered to buy his cheap garment, unaware it was on sale for $14 elsewhere at the stadium. Not one to let the chance to make a buck pass, torrential pouring notwithstanding, José agreed to sell it on the spot: for $200!
The good name of soccer fans everywhere was rescued from the mud the following day, though, Continue reading

Secret, Agent, Mad

Poison Pills
& Furry Spies

No one ever said that being a spy was easy. But for humans, the profession holds a certain romantic allure, what with all the dashing undercover, crossing borders and, at least in pulp literature and pop culture, getting the girl in the end. Or getting killed, of course.
The deal’s considerably rougher for animals, and no one should be surprised about that either. But even if we’ve been forcibly enrolling them to do our bidding since time immemorial, nothing compares to what happened when the CIA came up with Project Acoustic Kitty.
It was one of the most cruel and wasteful ideas, in a long line of blunders and mistakes, that the Langley, Virginia, based agency, has been responsible for, hands (handcuffed) down. No wonder even its acronym has been utterly upstaged lately by the Camp Williams, Utah, based NSA, heavens help us all.
This is been a particularly uncomfortable time for shadowy organizations all over the world. The unwelcome glare of a constant flow of staggering revelations leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA coming to light almost daily must be making secret powers that be very nervous indeed.
In fact, what we can only guess that goes on behind the scenes is far from the glamorous world portrayed in the 007 movies and even postwar accounts of heroism and tragedy for agent and double-agents alike, some driven by idealism, and others by the good old fashioned value of hard cash.
Not that the lives of spies have become any easier. The recent bombshell findings that the exhumed body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had ‘unnaturally high levels of polonium’ seem to prove that he was poisoned and didn’t die of a ‘cerebrovascular accident’ nine years ago next Monday.
In other words, he was probably killed by a spy, who knows working for whom. The case also revived in the public memory the 2006 death of Russian officer Alexander Litvinenko, in London, said to have been also poisoned by polonium, after meeting with two other agents from the Russian security agency.
Cases abound, but one has to keep in mind that nobody just simply wound up becoming a secret agent, and even making through the lower ranks of the ‘profession’ requires considerable – and here we’re sure Graham Greene would’ve put it in a much better way – will, skill, and ability to kill.

$20 MILLION TO KILL A CAT
Not with our sentient companions on this Earth, unfortunately not ever given the freedom to make that choice. They’re simply recruited and, regardless whether they fulfill their assignments or get killed right at the starting gate, there’s no possible way we can make sure they’ll benefit from the experience.
Take the unnamed, and unfortunate, female kitty of the CIA experiment. As Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton wrote in Spycraft, their account of the CIA’s diatribes to outwit the Soviet Union during the Cold War, she was the first and, thankfully, the last of a spectacularly misguided project, and unwittingly paid dearly for it.
The project that was to be deemed ‘a complete failure’ a few years Continue reading

Of Critter, Bug & Beast

Cat Tails, Bees Drinking Turtle
Tears & a Mass Murderer in Class

In a world gone insane, as the late Don LaFontaine would thunder it with gusto, even a little sip of a mad hatter’s tea may taste refreshing. So for those sore minds, tired of swallowing bad news, here comes another zany post about the wonders of alien universes all around us.
Take bugs, for instance. Think you’re familiar with their frightening beauty? Wait till you hear what butterflies do after a particularly ghastly day. Know your furs? Learn what heads and tails entail. Believe us: it’s all way healthier than a monster going to college.
It’s been five years and a month since that famous voice left us in the dark of movie theaters, but few would know it given so many impersonations. LaFontaine, who’d have turned 73 August 26, became arguably the world’s most famous voiceover artist, and his catchy phrase has just been used to name a whole (not too good) picture.
He’s one of the two humans to grace this post, and by the end of it, you may think that he didn’t deserve to be paired with the other one, whose name will be mentioned only once, by force of clarity, and whose survival may explain in part why our world is so twisted, we can’t even make sense of most of what happens around us.
Thus, it’s not quite magical or mysterious why creatures of the non-speaking kind are the ones that seem to carry on with grace and purpose, our creeping fears and disgust notwithstanding, while we loudly drag and splatter our sorry parade of brutality and grief all around, as if this spinning rock were our sole spoil to rape and ransack.
But we can make it better, some say, and we do have the good luck, if not the good sense, of waking up to another day every 24 hours or so. And heaven forbid if we don’t pay our dues to fellow humans whose lives have made ours so much easier. We do know who they are but we’re not about to talk about them here, though.
Now that we weighted down what was supposed to be a light-hearted conversation about the zany side of the news, we may have seriously Continue reading

The Way We Look

Printing Faces From Chewing
Gum & Food for the Red Planet

The latest tool to redefine facial reconstruction is Three-Dimensional Printing, which has already taken digital technology to surprising realms. But as some rushed to print a firearm, the medical field found a much better use for it, helping people with disfigured faces.
From Egyptian death masks to crime-solving forensics to recovering the likeness of historical figures and early humans, facial recreation has come a long way. Now artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg is combining 3-D with DNA decoding to re-imagine the face of her contemporaries.

Instead of using molds or clay or plaster, though, or reconfiguring someone’s resemblance by their bone structure, Dewey-Hagborg is tapping into a seemingly endless supply of raw material: garbage infused with organic matter. In other words, stray hair, nails, discarded chewing gum and cigarette butts.
These dejects we routinely toss aside with abandon have, potentially, all the information about us that a DNA lab would wish for. You may now insert here your own nightmarish scenario of a shady organization going through dustbins to collect material about you. Which, haven’t you noticed?, is already happening.
Take comfort you’re not the only one concerned about what’s called genetic surveillance, since the whole point of the artist’s ‘Strange Visions‘ exhibit is to raise awareness, by proving that it’s possible to gather an incredible array of personal information about anyone, through not necessarily illegal means.
After all, since the early 1990s, there’s already a well funded National DNA Index System, ready to process such material. Compounded with old-fashioned surveillance, like cameras and recordings, and digital snooping, the whole thing does make old Georgie and his 1984 sound like a kids’ bedtime story.

THE FACE’S VALUE
It doesn’t have to be that way, or rather, it hasn’t always been this way. Face masks were used in the Egyptian highly ritualized burials to memorialize the deceased. Mummies were sent to the great beyond wearing layers of clay, bronze or gold masks, perhaps as an attempt to compensate for the inexorability of flesh decay.
Throughout the centuries, ritualized or not, death masks were adopted as a portraiture device, printed as effigies, Continue reading

The Red Chronicles

Mars, As Red As They Come (NASA) Click for Video

Think You Could Move
to Mars? Pack Lightly

A curious thing happened while we were mourning the Space Shuttles’ demise, and lack of a recognizable project to follow it up: NASA got busy with Mars. Thus, even if such news are breaking at least 54.6 million kilometers away, and often farther than that, we take it.
Last time we checked it, there were two rovers on the surface, and a satellite orbiting the planet named after the Roman god of war. And as we’re already researching ways of sending humans for a permanent visit up there, no one has mentioned anything about armies to follow.
It belongs to Mars, for example, the most spectacular event connected to space exploration in recent memory: last August’s landing on the planet of one of those rovers, Curiosity, through an ingenious and complex succession of stages. Or so we were told, since there’s no real-time footage of it.
But even the animation NASA prepared detailing the landing beat by a large margin the next-best thing, the docking of privately-built Dragon capsule on the International Space Station last October. While that was the promising opening salvo of a new era of commercial cargo trips, Curiosity’s pictures are way hotter.
This week, it’s supposed to crack its first Martian rock open, and astrophysicists and scientists of all stripes are beside themselves about it. In the meantime, elsewhere in the traffic-free red surface, the other Continue reading

Space Odor

Fragrance Maker to Send People
to Space, Where the Smell Is Odd

Astronauts have struggled to describe the strange but unmistakable scent of space. ‘Seared steak,’ as one put it. No, ‘burnt gunpowder,’ said another. So odd it is, that NASA has commissioned a chemist to develop something similar, so rookies can get acquainted with it.
The out of this world odor can’t be covered up by any cologne. But AXE, the maker of a popular deodorant, is promoting the launching of its new fragrance by offering 22 lucky buyers the chance to fly aboard Lynx, a suborbital plane being readied to take tourists aloft.
As space is about to become the novelty du jour for those bored with the signs on the ground (and with deep pockets to afford taking off), we may also see a new era of space traveling being offered to common folk, via lottery. Just like it was done with the Titanic and we don’t mean to sound ominous here.
Until governments see a reason to invest heavily in space exploration, manned trips to outer space are about to get very rare indeed, and almost never for scientific purposes only. That could change tomorrow, of course, if there were suddenly the prospect of developing a super-duper weapon out there.
Funding wouldn’t be short for that, we’re sure. For all the great things you’ve read here, and our personal enthusiasm about the Space Age, it was never a question why it was being pursued, and what was the shadow program going along for the ride. We just wouldn’t let that take anything away from its overall  greatness.
That era, much to our chagrin, has come to a close, apparently. Or at least has slowed down to an almost grinding halt. For all the hoopla about traveling to Mars or to land a man on an asteroid, realistically we don’t Continue reading

Enterprise

Brief Scrapbook About
the Newest New Yorker

As the Space Shuttle Enterprise arrived at the Intrepid Museum this week, and it’s getting ready to greet the locals at its new home, let’s take a quick look at what we’ve found on our files about it and its distinguished sisters. NASA’s gift to New York may not have traveled too far out in space but it was the first to open its fleet’s storied 30-years of space flights, adventures and drama.
The Enterprise was used as a test vehicle for the other shuttles that followed it and it did fly a few times, in the late 1970s. It even went into a world tour, which introduced the then new concept of a reusable space vehicle as the next stage of human space exploration. No one can say it didn’t serve its purposes of making travel for future astronauts a lot safer.
While it lacks crucial features incorporated in all other crafts of its fleet, such as the thermal protection system and radar equipment, for example, its overall design and interior configuration are pretty close to the others. The idea of retrofitting it and preparing it for orbit was abandoned due to costs, though, and it remained an oddity once the program started rolling.
In other words, a typical New Yorker already: ‘different,’ eclectic, slightly under-achiever, but, ultimately, not really interested in being like everyone else. The Enterprise will receive its guests at first under a temporary tent, just like newcomers to the city who crash at their friends’ studio for a few months, before finding their own place.
The Intrepid Museum will eventually build a special enclosure to its new resident, but way before that it’ll hopefully have achieved what we all expect from it: to fire up the imagination of thousands of school kids who, from mid-July on, are expected to visit and get a closer look at what a real spacecraft looks and feels like.
Other cities may have gotten higher-mileage shuttles than the Enterprise. Some of those have a lot of history, and stories to tell, Continue reading

Friendship 7


Godspeed,
John Glenn

It was 50 years ago today. The man who would become at 77 the oldest person to ever leave Earth’s atmosphere just a few years after that, was also the first American to fly to space.
The order of the previous sentence is not reversed. For most things in life, it’s good have a perspective, a context, a place and time. Not for this fact, though, and not for John Glenn.
Every time we frame his flight into what was happening them, he and his adventure get somehow short changed. Before even taking off, he was already upstaged by Yuri Gagarin. The Mercury program was not the one that would finally get us to the moon.
And the space age making history then, was really an ongoing arms race in disguise, between two dangerous superpowers.
So let’s drop the academic, and ultimately toothless, exercise of Continue reading

Welcome Home

Endeavour’s Night Landing
Sets Shuttles’ Final Mission

As the Shuttle Endeavour touched down in Florida today, NASA’s 30-year space program got a bit closer to a conclusion. After 16 days, the shuttle’s mission ended in no different fashion than all her previous ones: flawlessly.
It’s a fitting finale for a storied shuttle, which delivered the first and now the last pieces of equipment for the assembling of the now completed International Space Station, the 11-year Continue reading

Human Shuttle


Space Center Workers Mark
Program’s 30th Anniversary

Farewell Mission

Last Discovery Mission
Takes First Robot to Space

JUST IN: The Discovery is already in orbit on its way to the International Space Station. God speed.

If all goes well, NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery starts today its farewell mission to space, ending its 28 flawless years of service. Aptly named after the great era of discoveries, this shuttle has had an illustrious career, which includes the launch Continue reading

Countdown

Last Blast for
Pioneer Shuttle

JUST IN: NASA decided to postpone the launch of Discovery until at least Nov. 30. The space shuttle was to leave for his last trip tonight. Technical problems led to repeated postponements of three launch.

Just like a veteran actor after almost 30 years worth of risky performances, NASA’s oldest space shuttle, the Discovery, seems to be having the jitters about taking off one last time. The Florida weather was said to be the latest culprit for the delay. But there were gas leaks earlier in the week, an electrical glitch of some kind the other day and heaven knows what else. That’s why those close to the bird are fooled by none of it.
For them, it’s just the natural anxiety that comes from having to

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Also read:
Back for Good
Up, Up and Away
Final Shuttle

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perform a difficult task one last time, after so many years of a flawless record. After all, the Discovery is the fleet’s busiest Continue reading