Curiosities in Photos

People whose faces are perceived to look more “competent” are more likely to be CEOs of large, successful companies. Having a face that people deem “dominant” is a predictor of rank advancement in the military. People are more likely to invest money with people who look “trustworthy.” These sorts of findings go on and on in recent studies that claim people can accurately guess a variety of personality traits and behavioral tendencies from portraits alone. The findings seem to elucidate either canny human intuition or absurd, misguided bias.


There has been a recent boom in research on how people attribute social characteristics to others based on the appearance of faces—independent of cues about age, gender, race, or ethnicity. (At least, as independent as possible.) The results seem to offer some intriguing insight, claiming that people are generally pretty good at predicting who is, for example, trustworthy, competent, introverted or extroverted, based entirely on facial structure. There is strong agreement across studies as to what facial attributes mean what to people, as illustrated in renderings throughout this article. But it’s, predictably, not at all so simple.

Christopher Olivola, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, makes the case against face-ism today, in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. In light of many recent articles touting people’s judgmental abilities, Olivola and Princeton University’s Friederike Funk and Alexander Todorov say that a careful look at the data really doesn’t support these claims. And “instead of applauding our ability to make inferences about social characteristics from facial appearances,” Olivola said, “the focus should be on the dangers.”


“When we see someone’s face, we can make a lot of useful judgments,” he said, “like about age, emotional state, gender, et cetera. For this, the face is pretty useful. But there’s a pretty rich literature showing that we don’t just stop there.”
By systematically altering or selecting the faces that participants are presented with, researchers have been able to examine how variations in facial appearance bias human decisions. These studies have shown not just correlations, but causal evidence that facial appearances influence voting, economic exchanges, and legal judgments. People tend to draw inferences about personality characteristics, above and beyond what we might assume based on things like gender, ethnicity, or expression. Social attributions from faces alone tend to be constructed from how common facial features are within a culture, cross-cultural norms (e.g., inferences on masculinity/femininity), and idiosyncrasies like resemblance to friends, colleagues, loved ones, and, importantly, ourselves. Olivola’s research has shown that these facial attributions people make have serious implications for how people are treated, and their outcomes in life. The especially unfortunate part of these inferences is how heavily they factor into critical decisions, in lieu of actual facts.

“The fact that social decisions are influenced by facial morphology would be less troubling if it were a strong and reliable indicator of people’s underlying traits,” the researchers write in today’s article. “Unfortunately, careful consideration of the evidence suggests that it is not.”

The primary problem is that people feel they have this sense, and they ignore other relevant information, Olivola said. Politics is a great example. His research has shown that politicians whose facial structure is deemed to look more competent are more likely to win elections. (They use actual politicians in these studies. Fortunately for researchers, Olivola noted, most Americans don’t know who most congressional candidates are.) But that sense of competence in a face amounts to nothing. “We really can’t make a statement on that,” he said. “What’s an objective measure of competence?”


In the case of CEOs, if you control for how the company was doing before they came on board versus after, there is really no relationship between their “facial competence” and the company’s subsequent success. “People are convinced that more competent-looking businesspeople are more valuable, and they get higher salaries,” Olivola explained, even though the companies don’t perform any better under their leadership. “It’s not accuracy in prediction; it’s bias, actually.”

Olivola has also done studies that show in conservative-leaning states, finding that the more “traditionally Republican” a person’s face is deemed to look, the more votes he/she gets. Even if they’re a Democrat. And the correlation between facial competence and vote share is strongest among voters who are lacking in political knowledge.

This suggests two solutions: Either make sure people don’t see the candidates, an amazing but obviously impossible idea, or make sure people are educated—that they know what the candidates are about. That significantly reduces the biasing effect of facial competence.

Personality traits are also fraught, in that most studies rely on self-reported personality tests. “If I rate myself as extroverted and I try to look it in my pictures, you might rate me that way, but it doesn’t mean I am.” If there was some actual measure, like that when a person goes to parties, they make X number of friends, then we could start to talk about accuracy. But really, these studies just affirm that people see themselves the same way others see them.


In online dating, Olivola said, people are selecting pictures because they want to convey something. “You might think, ‘Wow, this person looks really fun and outgoing.’ Well, yeah, they’re not going to post a picture of themselves where they’re deep inside their books at the library. (Unless they’re trying to attract a certain kind of person.) But if you ask an acquaintance, they may say, no, that person’s not that fun. They think they are, but they’re not.”

All that these studies really tell us, Olivola said, is “‘I’ve managed to fool you into thinking I’m extroverted, because that’s how I like to be seen.’ Of course I want everyone to think I’m intelligent and fun, and I like to think I am—”

“I’m sure you are,” I said.

“So this is kind of dangerous,” he continued after a beat. “I mean, is it wise for us to tell people, ‘Oh, yeah, people are great at telling political orientation on the basis of faces.’ If someone looks like they’re conservative, or if they look like they’re gay or whatever, it’s totally okay for you to think you’re probably right? We need to be more careful about that. It makes for great articles and everything, but when you look at the data critically, it paints a much less generous picture of the human ability to draw accurate inferences from faces. We need a lot of strong evidence before putting that message out there.”

So this interesting research walks a thin line between relevant psychology and physiognomy. In the 1883 textbook Types of Insanity: An illustrated guide to the physical diagnosis of mental disease, Dr. Allan Hamilton wrote of a time when psychiatric practice was largely based on appearances. “When one walks through the wards of any asylum for the insane,” Hamilton wrote, “he will be immediately impressed with the repulsiveness of the faces about him.” The doctor includes characteristic sketches of people with melancholia, idiocy, imbecility, and mania—recognizable in a patient with “brows being corrugated, teeth covered by compressed lips, [and] eyes widely open.”

In an article in Annual Review of Psychology earlier this year, Olivola and a separate group of Princeton colleagues made a similar point about the treacherous grounds on which this research treads. They address that countless papers have recently been written claiming that people can reliably judge a variety of traits and characteristics from facial morphology alone, arguing that a critical reexamination of the methods and findings in many of these studies paint a much less favorable picture. Though in that review, the team concedes that some of these structural cues “could have a kernel of truth,” they are largely a judgmental illusion. They note that in criminal cases, facial appearances often predict sentencing decisions, judgments of guilt, and punishment severity. The most interesting, but also troubling, aspects of human judgment and decision making is how fallible and inconsistent it can be. The researchers also offer the additional caveat: “In real-life situations, people do not interact with disembodied faces.”

Don’t we?


Though he was best known as the hyper-rational Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who died of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease last week at 83, enjoyed a thriving second act outside of Hollywood. Specifically, the Star Trek icon became a notable photographer, producing several collections of provocative images that highlighted subjects who are often marginalized by society due to characteristics such as weight, sexuality, and religion. Not surprisingly, Nimoy’s exploration of that last subject sparked controversy — controversy that did not go unremarked when he died.


Titled Shekhina, it consisted of (semi) erotic photos of Jewish women in various states of undress, partially clad in male religious garb. The pictures proved to be polarizing even within the Jewish community that Nimoy loved so much. While some took issue with the women being naked or depicted in men’s clothing (or both), others praised Nimoy’s creative vision.

One staunch supporter of the Shekhina series was Rabbi John Rosove, who happened to be Nimoy’s rabbi and close family friend. Speaking at the late star’s funeral on Sunday, Rosove touched on some of Nimoy’s personal attributes that may have helped fuel his photography.


“Leonard was nurtured in the Yiddish-speaking culture of his childhood on the West End of Boston, yet he transcended the particular categories with which he was raised,” Rosove began. “Because he grew up as a minority in his neighborhood, even sensing at times that he was an outcast living on the margins [which is what his Spock character was all about], Leonard adventured out from the conservative home and culture of his youth, courageously at a very young age, into the world where he sought greater truth and understanding. He was curious about everything and was a life-long learner.” Rosove then turned his attention to the Shekhinaseries in particular.


“Most recently, Leonard created magnificent mystical images of feminine Godliness in hisShechinah photographs,” the rabbi noted before adding, “One of which he gave to me as a gift graces my synagogue study and adds a spiritual dimension for me of everything I do in my life as a rabbi.”


Richard Michelson, owner of R. Michelson Galleries (where Nimoy’s works were displayed) echoed these sentiments to Yahoo, stating that Nimoy “wanted to celebrate Jewish women and expand the view of religion to include a healthy embrace of sexuality.” According to Michelson, Nimoy’s photographs command prices anywhere from $2,000 up to $25,000 per piece.

Not everyone appreciates these images, however. As reported by the Chicago Tribune after the release of his Shekhina photography book in 2002, many of Nimoy’s appearances in cities such as Seattle and Detroit were canceled. Nimoy rolled with the objections, explaining, “It’s all about territory. The book has been seen as elevating women in the hierarchy. In Judaism, certain males are not comfortable with that.”

Rabbi Yonassan Gershom of Minnesota echoed that in his review of the book on Amazon. “I found it offensive. No religious Jew, man or woman, would pray in a tallis and tefillin while so scantily clad. These may be the fantasies of an old man going through his second puberty, but they are not the kinds of images that I would want in my kosher home. … I am deeply disappointed that Mr. Nimoy fell for the neo-pagan myth of the Shekhinah as a personified ‘goddess.’ … In real Judaism, the Shekhinah is not a goddess, it is the indwelling presence of God.”

Asked about it again in 2007, Nimoy defended his decision to show women in male garb. “There are historical writings of famous Jewish women, daughters of rabbis, who have done that,” henoted.

But Nimoy didn’t just dismiss criticism of his work; he was inspired by it.

“Leonard enjoyed talking about his work, and he responded to critiques by expanding his vision,” Michelson told Yahoo. “For instance, when queried about why he always used more ‘traditionally beautiful’ women in Shekhina, he responded by creating his Full Body Project.”


This series depicted nude, plus-sized women and, naturally, elicited more objections. “One formerly obese woman said the photos terrified her; she said they recalled a picture she kept in her wallet as a reminder of her former self,” The New York Times noted when the collection debuted.

“We do overhear some reductive ‘Is Nimoy into fat chicks’ comments when the gallery room is first entered,” Michelson revealed at the time. “I’ve had a few crank e-mails with snide remarks,” he admitted before adding, “but not a one from gallery visitors.” In a way, Michelson seems to feel that visitors’ seemingly low expectations ultimately worked to Nimoy’s advantage.

“Many people think that because of his celebrity it was easy for him to get exhibitions, etc., but I was wary of adding his work because of that celebrity, and many museums also shied away at first,” Michelson revealed to Yahoo. “Folks often came to the exhibits out of curiosity and with great skepticism, talking about Nimoy the actor.”

That changed, he argued, once they actually saw the photos. “The effect on viewing the photographs was always profound. They would leave talking about the artwork, the quality of his vision, and the social issues he raised.”


For his part, however, it wasn’t Nimoy’s most controversial exhibit that proved closest to his heart. In 2008, the actor spent two days taking portraits of total strangers who had answered a public invitation to share a glimpse of their hidden selves. Subjects who answered the call included a war veteran photographer who declared that he was a pacifist, an overweight woman who outed herself as a “shy whore,” and a rabbi who publicly announced he was gay for the first time.

“This is the one that came the closest to the bone to the things that interest me,” Nimoy told the Los Angeles Times upon release of the collection, called Secret Selves.


“What I love about the project is that anyone who sees it immediately asks themselves, ‘What would my secret self be? What could I show — what would I show?’ I know people ask me what my secret self is and I have to laugh. I have no secrets left. I revealed it all a long time ago.”

People will take selfies just about anywhere nowadays – even at concentration camps.

Mitchell tweeted “Selfie in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp” with a picture of herself smiling at the largest Nazi concentration camp during World War II.


The photo was posted on June 20, but it gained national attention on Sunday when it became a trending topic on Twitter.

Within the past 24 hours, there have been 2,175 tweets mentioning the photo, according to Topsy, a social media analytics firm. Overall, Mitchell’s original tweet has drawn more than 2,500 retweets and 1,400 favorites. 

Originally, Mitchell said she wished people would stop tweeting about the photo.

“Omg I wish people would quit tweeting to, quoting, retweeting, and favoriting my picture of my smiling in Auschwitz Concentration Camp,” Mitchell tweeted. “Like apparently is such a big deal that I smiled. Good Lord.”

But shortly after, she seemed to be enjoying the Internet fame. She has retweeted more than 150 people who supported her decision to take the selfie. 

The picture wasn’t supposed to get this much attention, Mitchell explained to her Twitter followers on Sunday.

However, she doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’m famous yall,” Mitchell tweeted, referencing an article on Business Insider about the viral tweet.

According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum’s website, visitors are allowed to take pictures on the grounds – with the exception of a hall that contains the hair of victims, the basements of Block 11 and the gas chamber.

Mitchell claims she took the photo after studying the Holocaust for years with her dad, who died a year ago.

“That trip actually meant something to me and I was happy about it,” she tweeted, explaining the reasoning behind the smiling selfie.

* Jenny Earl,Newsday,  July20, 2014

Boston has a rich history of markets. In 1634 the town voted to establish a market at the site of the Old State House. According to Governor John Winthrop’s journal, the market was located there because it was the center of all that was important — the church, the meeting house, the public pillory, and the whipping post. — Thea Breite and Lisa Tuite

July 20 1933 / fromthearchive / Boston Globe Archive photo / Buyers with their horse teams and trucks waited for the whistle indicating the big terminal market was open. The big terminal market by the train tracks in South Boston opened at 6 a.m. . A blackboard chart told buyers just what was available, how many cars of cucumbers, how many of beans, were on hand.<br /><br />

July 20, 1933: Buyers with their horse teams and trucks waited for the whistle indicating that the big terminal market was open. The big terminal market by the train tracks in South Boston opened at 6 a.m. A blackboard chart told buyers just what was available, how many cars of cucumbers, how many of beans, were on hand.

October 5 1933 / fromthearchive / Globe Archive photo / Commerce at the farmer's market scene at the foot of State street. Farmers could sell their produce in the public market place from midnight until 11 a.m. under a law passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1859.<br /><br />

Oct. 5, 1933: Commerce at the farmer’s market scene at the foot of State Street. Farmers could sell their produce in the public marketplace from midnight until 11 a.m. under a law passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1859.

1936 / fromthearchive / Globe Archive photo / North End pushcart vendors could sell you ten different varieties of bologna, as well as a wide selection of cheeses and vegetables.<br /><br />

1936: North End pushcart vendors could sell you 10 different varieties of bologna, as well as a wide selection of cheeses and vegetables.

1953 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Harry Holbrook / A crowded market district. While most of the advertising was for businesses long gone from the Boston scene, a Union Oyster House truck be seen in the middle left. Opened in 1826, it is Boston's oldest restaurant still in business today.<br /><br />

1953: A crowded market district. While most of the advertising was for businesses long gone from the Boston scene, a Union Oyster House truck can be seen in the middle left. Opened in 1826, the Union Oyster House is Boston’s oldest restaurant still in business today.

May 21 1963 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Paul J. Connell / Men whiled away the time playing cards between customers at a North End market on Salem street.<br /><br />

May 21, 1963: Men whiled away the time playing cards between customers at a North End market on Salem Street.

November 10 1967 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Joyce Dopkeen / Lots of choices at the Haymarket Square meat market for Mrs. Olive DeClements of Roxbury with her daughter, Kim Marie, 15 months old.<br /><br />

Nov. 10, 1967: Lots of choices at the Haymarket Square meat market for Olive DeClements of Roxbury with her daughter, Kim Marie, 15 months old.

May 23 1967 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Ted Dully / A long view of the activity at Quincy Market. The wholesalers who had set up shop around Faneuil Hall for generations, were closing up and moving into new wholesale and distributing facilities in Chelsea and Everett. Meat and poultry businesses were relocated to South Bay.<br /><br />

May 23, 1967: A long view of the activity at Quincy Market. The wholesalers who had set up shop around Faneuil Hall for generations were closing and moving into new wholesale and distributing facilities in Chelsea and Everett. Meat and poultry businesses were relocated to South Bay.

May 18 1973 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Charles Dixon / While one of his customers put an oyster to the taste test, vendor Joe Judge (wearing beret) sold some boiled crabs to another on a busy afternoon in Boston's Faneuil Hall market district.<br /><br />

May 18, 1973: While one of his customers put an oyster to the taste test, vendor Joe Judge (wearing beret) sold some boiled crabs to another on a busy afternoon in Boston’s Faneuil Hall market district.

 August 7 1973 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Ted Dully / It was a hot day - the kind of day one would expect to sell lots of watermelon - but vendor Cosmos Neridella and his young assistant, Randy Ulness, 9, both of Somerville, managed to sneak in a little shuteye at their watermelon stand at the Faneuil Hall market.<br /><br />

Aug. 7, 1973: It was a hot day — the kind of day one would expect to sell lots of watermelon — but vendor Cosmos Neridella and his young assistant, Randy Ulness, 9, both of Somerville, managed to sneak in a little shuteye at their watermelon stand at the Faneuil Hall market.



Dana and Michael Arnold’s post-wedding reception celebration in 2011 included fireworks and treats (pictured) from an ice cream truck.

It’s a basic truism of weddings: There’s no part that can’t be made more complicated if people put their minds to it.

Take the after party. Once an impromptu gathering at the closest hotel or restaurant bar, it has now blossomed into its own official event in some circles, another opportunity to create plans and themes — for those who can afford it.


“It’s not about putting up an 8-foot table and a DJ. It’s a reveal,” said Boston event planner Bryan Rafanelli, who has seen the after party mature into its own affair in the past year or two. “They’ve become as standard as throwing the bouquet or cutting the cake.”

The kind of after parties that Rafanelli plans for his well-heeled clients are often held in a space that’s separate from the wedding reception, a financial investment that translates to about 10 percent of the wedding budget. Think unique lighting and different decor, nitrogen ice cream bars, and late-night comfort food.

“One couple loved marshmallows. We hung hundreds over the dance floor and they could eat them,” said Rafanelli. “We wouldn’t do them at a wedding [but] an after party can be a whole lot more relaxing. Everyone takes their shoes off.”

Jen Pretz and Oliver Tassinari went with a nightclub theme for their wedding after party, held last September at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. Event planner Amy Kimball redecorated the room where cocktails had been enjoyed earlier with new table linens, lounge lighting, and a menu of sliders, mini pizzas, and french fries. Pretz, a 34-year-old doctoral medical resident, said they splurged on keeping the bar open an extra hour, but saved the DJ expense by using a friend’s iPod playlist.

“We didn’t want to make it so elaborate. Using the same spaces made it more economical,” she said, estimating the after party was about 5 to 10 percent of her total wedding budget. “For us, the night never ended when the wedding was over. It was definitely worth it.”

The economic rebound has helped after parties emerge as a new line item in the wedding budget. The average wedding hit an all-time high of $29,858 last year, according to’s 2013 Real Weddings Study of 13,000 brides and grooms. Guest entertainment is an ever-increasing expense as brides spent $220 per guest last year, up from $194 in 2009, the report read.

Locally, Linda Matzkin, president of Hopple Popple, an events company in Newton, has planned after parties for all budgets. One of the most extravagant was held last fall at the Four Seasons Hotel where the young couple, who had met during high school, let loose post-reception with a high school-themed party that celebrated their combined love of sports.

“We brought in lockers, sports jackets, and team memorabilia. We had a wall the kids signed,” Matzkin recalled. “We put down a dance floor with the football team logo on it. It meant as much to the kids as any piece of the wedding did.”

Of course, most young couples can’t manage that kind of extra wedding expense. Saving for a down payment on a house or paying down student loans usually trumps the dream of an additional open bar and late-night party decor.

Still, while after parties can mean big bucks, some can cost as little as a round of drinks. Liz Simon estimated she spent about $50 for her wedding after party — a cozy bonfire that followed a tented reception on the beach at Kalmar Village in Truro last September. When the reception ended at 11:30 p.m., guests returned to their cabins to change into sweat pants, then plopped themselves in Adirondack chairs around the fire while friends played folk tunes on guitars. Simon and her husband, Michael, passed around beers and the makings for s’mores.


Liz and Michael Simon’s $50 wedding after party last September featured a bonfire, beers, and some guitar playing.

“You take the dress off. You take the heels off. You put on the flip-flops. It was very low-key,” said Simon. “For us, that was the goal.”

The New York lawyer, who grew up summering on Cape Cod, said town noise ordinances prohibited loud music (hence the guitars). But the campfire sing-along vibe meant everyone felt welcome to stay up until the wee hours.

“My parents’ generation stuck around. Older guests joined us — pretty much everyone did,” she recalled.

The Simons’ inclusive after party isn’t the standard. Though everyone is always invited, older guests and friends of the bride and groom’s parents usually skip the late-night action, said Christine Altieri of AE Events, who herself has a hard time keeping her eyes open after midnight.

“We just did a wedding in the Dominican Republic. Their idea of an after party goes until 5 a.m. when the sun is rising,” she said. “I have to be honest. I didn’t make it through that one.”

Altieri said a 5 a.m. stop time would never fly in Boston — if only because of noise ordinances and drinking laws.

“The best after party location is your parents’ backyard,” agreed Rafanelli. “You can serve what you want to serve.”

Which was the case for Dana and Michael Arnold, who celebrated their wedding at her family’s former home in Norwich, Vt., over July Fourth weekend in 2011. She was one of Rafanelli’s first brides to embrace the concept of after party as planned event.

“I don’t know if it was a conscious decision, but it was what I always pictured,” said Arnold, who capped off the night by wowing guests with a 20-minute fireworks show.


The fireworks at Dana and Michael Arnold’s post-wedding reception.

For their wedding reception, the couple had built a raised wood structure with glass windows, then brought guests outside onto the deck for the elaborate sparklers and late-night food offerings including treats from an ice cream truck.

“It was very much a summer night celebration,” she said. “I felt like I got to talk to people more outside and spend more time with the people who had traveled to be with us.”

Though she’s now attended several “official” wedding after-parties, the 27-year-old Arnold, who lives in Dallas, said the casual one at the hotel bar usually means a smaller crowd.

“The bride and groom aren’t in attendance anymore,” she said.


* Jill Radsken , The Boston Globe, July 16, 2014

Two teachers have harnessed the power of the sun — and provided an insanely cool science lesson in the process.

Charles Dazzo and Gerard D’Ambrosio serve as the mentors of the Green Tech Team at Staten Island’s Tottenville High School, which built a solar-powered car that scored second place in a national competition last year.

“I’m a firm believer that education — hands-on education — really works very well,” said Dazzo, 64, a social studies teacher.

That’s especially true when the hands-on lesson involves building a futuristic ride that looks like a speedboat on wheels.

Last year, they came close to winning it all at the Solar Car Challenge in Texas. This year, the team of eight kids will enter again, with what they hope is an even faster and more efficient car — one that looks like it came straight out of “The Jetsons.”


While last year’s solar speedster was just a frame, the new one has a sleek, carbon-fiber body, complete with “Solar Pirates” emblazoned on the front bumper. It can travel more than 300 miles on a single charge and reach speeds above 70 mph.

Watch video:

“It’s a beautiful looking machine,” Dazzo said.

D’Ambrosio, 47, an automotive technology teacher, said seeing the students’ finished product on the racetrack is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.

“The competition for me, is one of the greatest things,” said D’Ambrosio, of New Jersey. “And working with all the kids has been a pleasure.”

Dazzo, who handles fundraising for the after-school program that has about 20 participants, added that Tottenville High is the only city school represented at the elite competition.


“We’re very proud to represent New York City,” said Dazzo, who lives in the Prince’s Bay neighborhood of Staten Island.

For teaching students mechanical, environmental and engineering skills, along with the joy of competition, D’Ambrosio and Dazzo have been nominated for Daily News Hometown Hero in Education awards.

D’Ambrosio, who provides guidance on how to build the car, said several former students have pursued degrees in environmental engineering.


* BY  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More than 90 world leaders were present at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, which had its fair share of faux pas. South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, and the Obama, Cameron, Schmidt were booed after being caught taking a ‘selfie’ at the service. Then there was the fake sign-language interpreter!


Yes, Thamsanqa Jantjie, the Mandela memorial interpreter was fake. He was not using any recognizable sign language. Writing on Limping Chicken, a deaf news blog, Professor Graham Turner, Chair of Translation & Interpreting Studies at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh pointed out that:

He didn’t use South African Sign Language. In fact, he didn’t use any language. What he produced there was 100% authentic gibberish.Lost 

Thamsanqa Jantjie has claimed to have suffered from a schizophrenic episode that made him see angels and hear voices.

And then allegations surfaced that the ‘interpreter’ who stood a few meters away from world’s leaders faced a murder charge in 2003.

The South African government has apologised for any offense caused by the sign-language interpreter.

Blogging on Thought Leader, South Africa writer Sarah Bitten pointed out that the fake interpreter showed the world that in South Africa you do not have to have any ability whatsoever to get a job:

In South Africa, the signing man told the world, you don’t actually have to know what you are doing in order to get a job. You don’t have to have any ability whatsoever, as long as it looks, to most, as though you can go through the motions — whether you are a teacher, a police officer, a bureaucrat, a government official or (as some have suggested) a state president.

There are those who see through you and complain, but they are ignored. Ours is not a culture of accountability. So one gig leads to the next. You’ve done it before so you get to do it again, because everyone in a position of power agrees that the emperor’s new threads are stylish. You stand there and tell us that the appearance of something becomes more important than the substance of it.

Many people wonder what he was saying. Several interpreters have emerged online to interpret him. YouTube user This is Genius posted humorous video below to show what the fake interpreter actually said:

Professor Graham listed 10 lessons from the fake interpreter saga.

1. Using a sign language fluently is not something one can do just by waving one’s hands around. Sign languages are grammatically-structured, rule-governed systems like all other natural human languages. You can’t produce meaningful signing off the cuff and – equally importantly – you can’t understand it spontaneously just by looking.

2. If you can’t sign, but require interpreting, you need reliable processes to help you identify effective provision. Interpreting isn’t a game: it should be run on a professional basis. This time, we saw a spectacular insult to the world’s Deaf people: but no-one died. Worldwide, every day, the result of inadequate interpreting leads to poor schooling, imprisonment, unemployment and health disparities. This must stop.

3. Without proper training, screening and regulation, people can and will take advantage. Even in countries like the UK, where sign language interpreting has become increasingly professionalised since the 1980s, smooth operators (who can talk the talk but not sign the sign) are legion. If you can’t sign, they may appear wholly plausible and be wholly bogus. Don’t guess and you won’t be fooled.


On Twitter, shocked users used the hashtag #fakeinterpreter to share their reactions to the revelation:


* Global Voices, December 15, 2013

Nearly 50 years after an assassin killed President John F. Kennedy, his daughter was triumphantly received as America’s ambassador to Japan in the country that made her dad a hero. Caroline Kennedy arrived at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Tuesday in an ornate, horse-drawn carriage — befitting the Princess of Camelot’s role as American royalty — to present her credentials to Emperor Akihito.

Caroline Kennedy


Meanwhile, back at home, images of her standing stoically at her father’s funeral were being replayed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death this week.


Kennedy, 55, is the first female US envoy to Japan, America’s fourth-largest trading partner.

Dallas Arrival

Though it was a Japanese destroyer that sank John Kennedy’s PT-109 boat during World War II, JFK as president wanted to heal the rift between the two countries and “be the first sitting president to make a state visit to Japan,” Caroline Kennedy had told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

45th Anniversary of JFK Assassination

“That symbolizes so much more than just a normal diplomatic relationship,” Secretary of State John Kerry said last week at a state dinner in honor of the new ambassador.


“This is a symbol of reconciliation, a symbol of possibilities, a symbol of people who know how to put the past behind them and look to the future and build a future together.”


Caroline Kennedy was appointed ambassador after helping President Obama’s re-election campaign.

“Honored to present my credentials to His Majesty the Emperor of Japan. What a memorable day!” Kennedy tweeted later, sharing a photo of her alighting from the carriage at the palace’s Pine Hall.

In a meeting with reporters, Kennedy described the ceremony as “wonderful.”

“I am honored to serve my country,” she said.


The appointment was a soft landing after her failed attempt to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate after Clinton became Obama’s secretary of state.

Despite critics who said Kennedy doesn’t have the gravitas to follow in the footsteps of other former US ambassadors to Japan, including Walter Mondale and Tom Foley, she has said she is well aware of the responsibilities.

“This appointment has a special significance as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of my father’s presidency,” she told a Senate committee in September before being confirmed for the post.

“I am conscious of my responsibility to uphold the ideals he represented — a deep commitment to public service, a more just America and a more peaceful world.”

Kennedy was one of several new world diplomats to meet with the emperor, but the only one whose arrival was broadcast on national TV.

Kennedy handed the emperor a letter from Obama with her credentials, along with a letter of resignation from her predecessor, John Roos, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

The emperor usually receives about 40 new ambassadors each year.


Thousands of Japanese lined the streets of Tokyo to catch a glimpse of the new ambassador as she waved from the century-old carriage.

Japan is also home to the Navy’s 7th Fleet and 50,000 American troops.

Kennedy is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this week.


Text by Leonard Greene and Post Wires, November 20, 2013

Animal rights groups said they will oppose at North Hempstead‘s town board (Long Island-New York), meeting Tuesday night a controversial plan to remove Canada geese from parks by euthanizing them.

Canada geese_jpg

A torrent of criticism followed Newsday’s report Sunday on a permanent way to cope with 600 geese that officials said eat grass in town parks and foul waterways and fields with droppings. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is surveying the situation, said its preferred method of euthanasia is carbon dioxide; in response, the town said Monday, it has received 20 calls and emails.

One animal advocacy group has mounted an online petition; another called the proposal “monstrous.”


Edita Birnkrant, New York director of Friends of Animals, an international group, said the town should consider alternative measures, such as modifying the geese’s landscape. Because geese prefer areas where they can watch for predators, the town could let grass grow taller and plant shrubs and trees to block their sight lines.

The town said it has tried, with little success, to scare off the geese, with noisemakers and specially trained dogs. Town spokesman Collin Nash said Monday in an email that “the Town is continuing to explore all options in regards to the public health and safety issue caused by the overpopulation of Canada geese.”


The euthanasia solution, advocates contend, is shortsighted. “They’re going to defy the laws of nature and say there’s no geese allowed in North Hempstead airspace or they will be gassed to death,” said Birnkrant, who plans to address the board Tuesday night.

David Karopkin, director and founder of GooseWatch NYC, a group that has challenged geese removals citywide, called the town’s plan “egregiously cruel.” The group has an online petition — he said it has several hundred signatures — and commenters have posted on the group’s Facebookpage.


“By killing the geese and creating a vacant desirable habitat, they’re ensuring that more geese will fly in to be killed next summer and the summer after that,” he said.

But Martin Lowney, New York State director of the USDA’s Wildlife Services program, argued other solutions come with a price. “You build a park so people can play soccer,” he said. “If you put in a forest, you’ll get rid of the geese, but you can’t play soccer. It’s a choice.”


Advocates look to Mamaroneck, in Westchester County. The village’s mayor said a contract with the USDA was signed to cull the geese last December. But three trustees were newly elected to the board that fall, and after public hearings earlier this year the village amended the contract to exclude lethal eradication measures.

Mayor Norman Rosenblum called the change unfortunate, but added he was content with the deal: Eggs will be oiled and the village will buy a giant vacuum to clean up the droppings. But, he said, “within a day or two, it’s covered again.”

So he is hopeful North Hempstead won’t buckle under pressure. “I encourage the supervisor and board to go ahead with it,” he said.


By SCOTT EIDLER , Newsday (Long Island-New York), May 14, 2013


Here’s a selection of photos and videos you may have missed posted on UN social media accounts from around the UN system over the past few weeks and shared with our social media team. Thank you to all who contributed!

Fred Tissandier ‏@ftissandier 16h On vaccine trail with Kiaku. 22 km biking to deliver vaccines to children of Kizulu Sanzi #sud-Congo

Bicycles are used to deliver vaccines to children in Congo. Thanks to Fred Tissandier of GAVI Alliance for posting this photo on Instgram.

Peacekeepers from Jordan recently hosted a free medical clinic for 350 students in Liberia. Thanks to our UN Mission in Liberia (@UNMILNews) colleagues for posting this photo on their Twitter account.

A group of young graduates recently received their certificates after a training cycle on life skills for ‘out of school youth’ at a technical school for boys in Darfur. Thanks to the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) for posting this and more on their Facebook page.

As part of Malala Day on July 12, UNICEF Africa tweeted this photo of young people in Democratic Republic of Congo standing up to support Malala’s fight for the right to education for all. Thanks to @UNICEFAfrica for posting this and more on their Twitter account.


Check out the highlights from the 51st Graduate Study Programme, one of UN’s flagship educational programmes, which took place in Geneva this summer on the theme of “Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.” Thanks to our colleagues in Geneva for posting this and more on their YouTube account.

UN Special Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi is scooting away at UN Headquarters! In his own words, this is part of what happens when young people get an office at the UN. Thanks to @AhmadAlhendawi for posting this and more on his Twitter account.

At the ECOSOC Humanitarian Fair in Geneva earlier this month, the UN Refugees Agency presented these prototype solar-powered shelters to the audience. Thanks to UNHCR United Kingdom (@UNHCRUK) for posting this and more on their Twitter account.

At the Economic and Social Council Humanitarian Fair in Geneva earlier this month, the UN Refugee Agency presented these prototype solar-powered shelters to the visitors. Thanks to UNHCR United Kingdom (@UNHCRUK) for posting this and more on their Twitter account.

Students at a technical school in Lebanon were taught the secrets of making pasta when a visting chef came to visit their Italian cuisine course recently. See more photos and read about the event here. Thanks to United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for posting this and more on their website.

* UN, Jul 21, 2013

Scientists say they’re intrigued by two new species of woodlizards found in the Peruvian jungle, and not just because of their scary-cool looks.

The lizards, described in the open-access journal Zookeys, were found in Cordillera Azul National Park, which was created to protect Peru’s largest mountain rainforest. The area includes some of the country’s least-explored forests.


The males of both species sport distinctive patterns of green spots on a brown and black background. One species, Enyalioides azulae, is known only from a single locality in the mountain rainforest of northeastern Peru’s Rio Huallaga basin. The other, E. binzayedi, lives in the same river basin. “Azulae” refers to Cordillera Azul National Park, while “binzayedi” pays tribute to the sponsor of the discoverers’ field survey, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the creator of a conservation fund bearing his name.

These two species take their place alongside 10 others in the genus Enyalioides. Three of those 10 were discovered just in the past five years, and the researchers say that suggests that “more species might be awaiting discovery in other unexplored areas close to the Andes.”

“Thanks to these discoveries, Peru becomes the country holding the greatest diversity of woodlizards,” lead author Pablo Venegas of Peru’s Center for Ornithology and Biodiversity, or CORBIDI, said in a news release from Pensoft Publishers. “Cordillera Azul National Park is a genuine treasure for Peru, and it must be treated as a precious future source of biodiversity exploration and preservation!”


The two species apparently share the same territory, with only a slight difference in altitude ranges. That’s what’s intriguing: The researchers say the lizards’ differences, as reflected in their mitochondrial DNA as well as body characteristics, may reflect the subtle effects of evolutionary divergence.


By Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News

Fourteen-year-old Katelyn Norman doesn’t have much time left. Doctors say osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, will soon take the Tennessee teen’s life. But it hasn’t stolen all her chances to experience the joys of being young — including the prom.


Katelyn hoped she’d be well enough to attend a personalized prom at her school Tuesday night, but that afternoon she had trouble breathing and had to be hospitalized. Her friends and family rallied, bringing the event to her hospital room, where her date presented her with a corsage and a “Prom Queen” sash.


Katelyn insisted that the prom at school proceed without her: “She contacted me and said prom must go on — that’s her, and you can’t help but feed off that energy, that life,” said the organizer.



LAFOLLETTE (WATE) – There wasn’t a fancy dress or even a dance floor, but on Tuesday night family and friends helped cross off the number one thing on a teen with terminal cancer’s bucket list.

Katelyn Norman, 14, has been fighting bone cancer for months, last week she got word her chemotherapy treatments were no longer working. Katelyn made a bucket list that included going to prom, and the Campbell County community pitched into make it happen.

But Tuesday afternoon, Katelyn was having difficulty breathing and was rushed to Children’s Hospital. When she couldn’t go to the dance, they brought the dance to her.

In stable condition and in high spirits, Katelyn was able to have a make shift prom in her room.

The hospital staff decorated the room and her date gave her a corsage and a special sash. Family and friends gathered outside with candles.

Meanwhile, in Campbell County, the celebration of Katelyn was taking place.

The music was blaring, the decorations were hung, it was meant to be Katelyn’s perfect night, and she wanted it to go on, even if she wasn’t there.

“She contacted me and said prom must go on, that’s her, and you can’t help but feed off that energy, that life,” said Sharon Shepard, an instructor at Katelyn’s school and organizer of the prom.

The night was a celebration of Katelyn, featuring all her favorite things.  But most important, the people she loves most.

“Once you meet her your life will never be the same, she has such an impact,” Shepard said.

And despite her absence her friends passed along messages of hope and love.

“Tell her that I love her and she’s my hero,” said friend McKayla Pierce.

“If I could say anything to her I would say hold on, she’s fighting hard,” said another friend, Brandi Marsh.

Her courage even prompted the mayor to declare Tuesday Katelyn Norman day.

“We wanted to try to make this day, and this time in her life, special to her because she makes it special for people in Campbell County,” said Mayor William Bailey.

That was more evident than ever as thousands of people lined Highway 63 in honor of Katelyn.



“I think she’s a hometown hero for all of us and a great inspiration to everybody,” said Seirra Ames, who came to hold a candle in Katelyn’s honor.

For more than a mile, candles in hand, the Campbell County community came together to light the night all for a teen that has touched so many.

“It amazes me that an individual has that much impact on people,” Shepard said. “But that’s just Katelyn.”

When Hugo Chavez’s embalmed body is laid in a glass casket sometime next week, he will join at least eight other world leaders whose remains are on display for all eternity … or at least for as long as their keepers can preserve them.


Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Thursday that Chavez’s body would be on permanent display at the Museum of the Revolution so that “his people will always have them.” While that idea may sound grotesque, it’s also not particularly novel.

The Russians, arguably the ones who perfected the practice, have put both Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin on long-term display. Lenin’s body has been embalmed in a large tomb near the Kremlin since shortly after his death in 1924, preserved by a steady 61 degree temperature and a strict regimen of mild bleachings and soaks in glycerol and potassium acetate.


Lenin’s body in 1991, the first time it was photographed in 30 years. (AFP/Getty Images)

According to Time, Stalin’s embalmed body also laid near Lenin’s for about 10 years, but was hastily reburied under cover of darkness when the government tried to squash his cult of personality in the early ’60s.


Stalin laying in state in Moscow in 1953. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Russians seem to have inspired the North Koreans to similar displays. In 1994, a Russian team helped preserve the body of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founding president, the New York Times reports.


Kim Il-Sung lies in state in 1994. (AFP/Getty Images)

When Kim Jong Il died in late 2011, Russian scientists again went to Pyongyang to assist in the embalming; the late leader lies in a glass sarcophagus with filtered lights to keep his face looking rosy.


An image of Kim Jong-Il in the memorial palace, taken from Korean TV in 2011. (AP)

But Kim Jong Il and his father were by no means the first Asian leaders to get the Chavez treatment. The Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969, is displayed in a mausoleum in Hanoi modeled after Lenin’s. Since “Uncle Ho” died in the midst of the Vietnam War, his embalmers had to work in a cave in the North Vietnamese jungle, the New York Times reports.

One of the scientists who worked on him told the Times: “Not every expert is allowed to restore such treasured historical objects, like a Raphael or a Rembrandt. Those who do it, we tremble. I feel a great responsibility in my hands.” This video shows the changing of the guard outside Ho Chi Minh’s tomb.

Socialist leader Mao Zedong has lain in state in a mausoleum on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square since May 1977. According to Time, Soviet-Chinese tensions forced Mao’s embalmers to ask the Vietnamese, not the Russians, for advice — a plan that misfired slightly when the Vietnamese could not explain how to build an air-tight coffin.


A 1976 photo from China’s official news service shows party and state leaders standing vigil by Mao Zedong. (Xinhua/AFP/Getty Images)

The exiled Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who died in 1989, has lain embalmed in a public mausoleum in the northwest Philippines since the government allowed his body back into the country in 1993. His widow, Imelda Marcos, has battled the government for permission to bury him in the country’s presidential cemetery, the New York Times reports. She posted for photos kissing the crypt in 2010.


Chavez will be only the second Latin American leader to be preserved for all eternity. Embalmers emptied water from the cells of Eva Peron, the wife of Argentinian president Juan Peron, and replaced them with wax — an unusual technique that basically “turned her into a candle,” Egyptologist Bob Brier told the Post’s Monica Hesse in 2012. She’s now also missing a finger — when the junta overthrew Peron’s husband and took over their house, they cut one off to see if the body was fake.


Chavez’s body will, presumably, get better protection than that. AFP reports that Marcos’s embalmer has already offered up his services and is urging the Venezuelans to start the process before it gets “more difficult.”
“I will process anyone, anywhere,” he said, helpfully.


By Caitlin Dewey on March 8, 2013 (Washington Post)

Superstorm Sandy’s surge halted a little more than a block from my home, mirroring almost precisely the border of two different nearby flood zones on New York City’s evacuation map. Homes, stores and warehouses closer to the Gowanus Canal at the westernmost end of Long Island—one of the most polluted sites in the U.S. as a result of an industrial legacy paired with sewage overflows in heavy rains, qualifying its bottom muck, waters and adjacent land for Superfund designation—saw basements and lower floors turned into stinking pools. The foul waters remained trapped by sandbags and other would-be antiflood precautions even the day after.

Throughout the New York metropolitan region and farther south in New Jersey,Sandy’s hurricane-force winds brought down trees and power lines, causing an estimated $20 billion or more in damage. But the more than 74-mile-per-hour winds’ most enduring impact may have been from the massive swell of water they pushed atop land, obliterating beaches, drowning boardwalks, filling subway tunnels, destroying electrical infrastructure and wrecking lives.

Although it may be hard to believe, the event could have been even more damaging. “This was not the worst case,” says storm surge specialist Jamie Rhome of theNational Hurricane Center (NHC) at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “A worst case would have been a stronger storm with the exact same track” that also came ashore at the same time as high tide. “That would have produced even more flooding,” he adds.

Yet, Superstorm Sandy’s massive flooding is already unprecedented in recent decades. According to experts, however, it is only going to become more likely in coming decades, thanks to a combination of local geography, vulnerable coastal development and already-happening sea-level rise as a result of climate change. In the future, it will not take a frankenstorm like Sandy to inundate the region. Given that reality, the best defense may be to accept the inevitability of flooding and prepare infrastructure to withstand it, as is common in other regions more historically prone to storm surge flooding.

Not the first flood
The New York metropolitan area has, of course, suffered damaging storm surges throughout its history, although most were not as severe. For example, in 1960Hurricane Donna stormed up the entire Eastern seaboard as a Category 2 tropical cyclone, boasting winds above 105 mph. Even though Donna had mitigating factors—it arrived at low tide and that storm (like last year’s Category 1 Hurricane Irene) traveled parallel to the coast rather than striking it head on—those winds pushed enough seawater into New York Harbor to cause a storm surge of more than six feet that similarly inundated parts of Manhattan.

In contrast, Sandy’s larger surge is a result of the post-tropical cyclone’s track, which saw the superstorm turn in to and then smash the coast of New Jersey, pushing a punishing wall of water in front of it into the Garden State’s coast as well as north into New York Harbor.

How do winds create a storm surge? In a tropical cyclone, air pressure is highest at the edges and low at the center. The air flows, at speeds above 74 mph, to fill that low-pressure area. In addition, the low pressure itself helps raise the sea’s level beneath it, heightening the surge where the center of the storm makes landfall. Wave action itself can also enhance the effect, adding even more height to a storm surge as the waves pile into shore one on top of the next.


There is another important factor in the surge’s ultimate impact: coastal geography. “Storm surge is like real estate: location, location, location,” Rhome says. In New York Harbor, the surrounding coastline acted as a funnel, channeling more and more of the incoming water into a narrower and narrower region. When a massive volume of water gets confined in that way, “it has no choice but to spill out and flood the surrounding land,” Rhome notes. And, in places where the shore gently slopes out to sea, rather than precipitously drops off, an even larger storm surge results. New York City, with some 305 square miles of area, is particularly vulnerable to storm surge because of its more than 500 miles of coastline feature small bays, inlets and other potential funnels that can channel rising seawaters far inland.

The art of surge prediction
An important part of coping with such floodwaters is knowing how likely they are to hit, and how high they will be when they do come ashore. The National Hurricane Center’s Storm Surge Unit bases its projections on the amount of water that will physically move atop land, called the “wet” line above sea level. Of course, predictions can never be perfect, Rhome (who is also a former hurricane specialist) notes of his unit, as the parameters that influence storm surge change hour to hour: precise location of landfall, strength of the winds, the angle of approach to the coast, how fast the storm is moving, how big it is, among others.

In fact, the NHC is one of the few such facilities in the world that offers multiple predictions of storm surge to help emergency planners cope. It starts with a computer model that takes into account data on the coast itself, including its contours, its depths, natural structures and man-made ones, and where the rivers enter and other factors. The computer then simulates storm surge based on input wind speeds, the speed of the storm itself and its total size, which are in turn based on the best projection of the NHC’s human hurricane specialists. That single best guess is where most storm surge predictions end.

But even the best meteorologists with the best tools and the most experience cannot precisely predict any of those things, so the NHC runs the model multiple times with multiple variations of the storm inputs, such as wind speed or the total area of the storm. The level of a storm surge can change quickly with relatively small fluctuations in such factors. “It’s very tricky,” Rhome says. “Just a subtle change in the meteorology makes a huge difference.”

For example, Hurricane Ivan in 2004 shifted its track, and its eye passed to the east of Mobile Bay rather than just to the west, where it had been expected based on forecasts. This directional change of less than 30 miles cut the actual storm surge by 10 feet, according to Rhome, pushing water out of the bay rather than into it. “Anyone who thinks they can predict landfall within 30 miles two to three days in advance doesn’t know what they’re doing,” Rhome says.

Or take Sandy, which remained only the weakest level of hurricane, boasting sustained winds above 74 mph, despite having the lowest pressure ever recorded for any storm north of North Carolina—943 millibars just prior to landfall in New Jersey. Instead Superstorm Sandy’s sheer size—with winds spread over a massive area of more than 1,000 square miles—generated the enormous surge of ocean waters. To appreciate the difference, think of a smaller storm as like running a finger through a bathtub—it won’t disturb much water—whereas a larger storm is like moving a whole arm through—you can make a significant swell.

In fact, Sandy’s sprawling wind field is still pushing water above normal levels, even days after the center of the storm made landfall.

The cost of creating better protection
Low-lying New York City, with all of its coastal development, is particularly vulnerable to those higher waters. In areas such as the Gulf Coast and eastern Florida that see more hurricane activity, flood walls, levees and even engineered wetlands help lessen storm impacts. There are proposals, for instance, to extend a dike around Galveston, Tex., to protect it from storms similar in magnitude to 2008’s Hurricane Ike.

To fully protect Manhattan would require a flood wall that is tall, long and continuous, wrapping around the island on both sides, similar to the 16-kilometer-long, five-meter-high and nearly five-meter-thick (at its base) sea wall along the Galveston shorefront. In the aftermath of Hurricane Donna in 1960, such a sea wall actually was proposed for Coney Island—but never built.

That is not to say such a wall would be a cure-all. Even if such a defense were built, the wall could also function to keep water in as well as out during severe flooding, much as happened in Galveston after Hurricane Ike. Such an approach isn’t always popular for other reasons as well: it blocks ocean views. “You also have an aesthetic issue,” notes geomorphologist Chris Houser of Texas A&M University.

In theory, nature’s protections—wetlands, forests and barrier islands—could blunt storm impacts. “It’s like a sea wall but it’s made of sand,” Houser says of barrier islands and their dunes, his primary area of research. The way that such barrier islands jut out—their convex shape—acts as a break to storm surges, compared to the funneling effect of concave-shaped bays and inlets, such as those in New York Harbor. But there isn’t sufficient available real estate around New York City to restore natural defenses such as wetlands or forests.

Blocking the effects of future superstorms will require bigger-than-natural barrier islands, in any case. In Louisiana, for example, manmade barriers will be three times higher than naturally occurring islands to shield coastal property and oil and gas infrastructure. A similarly outsized manmade barrier island would need to be raised in New York Harbor.

That leaves possibly too-expensive alternatives, such as tidal barriers like the one in the Thames River to protect London or a massive system of levees, dikes and other water control structures, such as those in the Netherlands. But the Thames Barrier cost nearly $2 billion to build and some $10 million per year to operate. That kind of tidal barrier has been a dream of some New York City planners for at least a century, or more.

Adapting to climate change
As if all that weren’t enough to manage, there’s the additional trial of coping with sea-level rise. Two major factors are at work in New York City. First, land rebounding farther north after the removal of the massive weight of Ice Age glaciers has caused the island of Manhattan itself to slowly sink. Second, at the same time, the oceans have risen by nearly three inches locally over the course of the 20th century, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. These changes will make creating long-lasting protection from storm surges even more challenging. “You’re starting from a new zero,” Rhome says. “The exact same storm is going to produce an even worse storm surge in a future time.”

The Netherlands, for example, is planning for nearly a meter of sea level rise by the end of the century, though that is at the high end of scientific projections. The Dutch plan is to both strengthen and heighten existing dikes and levees but also, as has been the practice for hundreds of years, to prepare certain areas as fail-safe flood zones, ready to be inundated when necessary.

In the future, preparing for such inevitable flooding will be as vital—if not more important—than attempting to prevent such events.  “The chance that Manhattan will get another storm surge is higher and higher,” Houser notes. Infrastructure—particularly that located below ground, such as subway tunnels and vital equipment—must be made flood ready. Basement generators or fuel tanks can be relocated, for example, and pumps in tunnels can be protected so they can later do their job of waterremoval.

That will help New York City face future superstorms, which could produce more flooding than Sandy. Fortunately for the metropolitan region, this post-tropical cyclone didn’t dump rain on the same places where it dumped seawater. Where rainfall and storm surge combine, flooding will be even worse. “Some storms see a tremendous surge at the mouth of a river at the same time as a lot of rain,” Rhome explains. “They can come together to produce incredibly damaging results.”

In fact, the New York City flood zone maps, like similar maps for municipalities across the U.S., are a direct result of off-season computer modeling to see what could happen in the worst case. So, Zone A is likely to be inundated by any tropical cyclone strength storm in the region, while Zone C requires a major hurricane boasting winds above 110 mph. “Zone C is your worst case scenario,” Rhome explains.

That is born out by hard experience here in the Zone C section of Gowanus, where even a typical northeastern rain storm produces sewage outflows into the canal and, in harder rains, can see local streets turn into rivers. Pair that with the kind of seawater surge that Superstorm Sandy produced and even more catastrophic flooding will occur. It’s a future New York City—and all coastal cities—should be preparing for now. Superstorm Sandy’s lesson, as New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo noted in a press conference on Halloween, is “the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.”


* Text by David Biello, Nov.7, 2012 (S.A.)

The conversation fluctuates between a legendary Tunki coffee and a brand new pisco, Larroca, served up cold, in accordance with the tastes of its creator: Bernardo Roca Rey, architect of the Novoandino cuisine, exquisite epicure, president of the Peruvian Society of Gastronomy (APEGA), and the current promoter of the rescue and rehabilitation of Peru’s millions of acres of agricultural terraces.

How was this project born?
In the Ministry of Culture, during my time as Viceminster for Cultural Heritage, I had the the opportunity to be close to the issue of the terraces. Conserving the walls of the terraces is what the ministry must do with its archaeologists, and it works, but it is expensive. The other way is that the farms work them, and in so doing, they will also provide maintenance. If there are a million hectares of terraces, 700,000 of those are abandoned.

Up until 1999, there were programs to map the Andean terraces, but they have been abandoned. Days ago, in Mistura, we managed to gather together seven ministers to talk about the Andean diet, and one of them was Trivelli (Minister of Development), who has done studies of the terraces. APEGA goes hand-in-hand with two ideas: nutrition and social inclusion. In both cases, the Andean terraces are important to recuperate. If there are a million hectares, that’s a little bit more than 10% of all the arable land used for cultivation in Peru, and it’s a shame that that land isn’t being used.

What is the Ministry of Culture doing about it?
They have abandoned all of the projects that existed. There isn’t even a complete map of the terraces in Peru, where they are and which they are. They’ve identified barely 50% of them.

Is mapping the first step for their recuperation?
The first step is a pilot project: take 500 hectares and adopt them. The objective is that these lands, which are the most productive in Peru, offer the Peruvian restaurants of the world the Andean grains that are so fashionable. For years, I have been promoting the Novoandina cuisine, and among those crops are quinoa, oca, mashua, products which will soon be fashionable. We started with quinoa twenty years ago, and it’s a success today.

What is the idea? To give value added through the denomination of origin; having products that are introduced with the gastronomic boom and also grown on Andean terraces, some of which are three thousand years old. That a restaurant in Paris, for example, adopts a terrace and once a year offers roasted, glazed mashua. What you will have then is a cultural phenomenon which will allow for value to be added to the product, and the farmer will be well-paid.

Additionally, if they are crops from the VRAE, where there are many terraces, it can be another type of assistance. For example, the U.S. government and restaurants in the U.S. could receive those crops, which are also organic. Everything goes hand-in-hand: biodiversity, ancestral crops, new cuisine, boutique agriculture, all of those go together and break the inertia. And that the state puts in $500 million to save a certain number of terraces.

Where will you realize the pilot project?

The closer to Lima, the easier. In APEGA, we have a project with the Interamerican Development Bank, which has given us $3 million as a nonrefundable amount for supply chains, and with part of that we could begin to work on this subject.

I firmly believe that the Andean diet is related to the terraces, so that all of the ministry portfolios are related to this: Tourism, Agriculture, Social Inclusion and Health. The issue is in the hands of the state. I have calculated that it takes an average of $5,800 to recover one hectare. In APEGA, we can recover 100, but with the state or help from abroad, we could recover thousands. Some villagers in Ayacucho are already willing, and the corn that they haven’t grown for a while could be cultivated there. There is a fungus, which in Mexico they eat and call huitlacoche, which contaminates the corn crops, and in Cusco, the infected corn are just tossed out. It would be interesting to grow the infected corn, in order to sell the fungus, which elsewhere is worth much more than the corn itself. The same monks cress plant that I am growing in my garden can be used to produce “Incapers,” in place of regular capers.

Going back in time, what was your first contact with the Peruvian terraces?
I was a boy, because my family led me to this and traveled a lot. I remember being very young and lying down on a terrace in Machu Picchu and looking at the stars, thinking that this was the best thing you could ever do. Who would have guessed that I would end up having to care for them myself…

If we develop them, Peru, instead of having 1.2 million kilometers, would have 2 million. That is, we would be as big as a flat country like Mexico.


By Maribel de Paz  (“Caretas” magazine from PERU). 

Translated and adapted by Nick Rosen, October 4, 2012


The mountains along the eastern edge of Glacier National Park rise from the prairie like dinosaur teeth, their silvery ridges and teardrop fields of snow forming the doorway to one of America’s most pristine places.

Yes, there is beauty here on the Blackfeet reservation, but there is also oil, locked away in the tight shale thousands of feet underground. And tribal leaders have decided to tap their land’s buried wealth. The move has divided the tribe while igniting a debate over the promise and perils of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in a place where grizzlies roam into backyards and many residents see the land as something living and sacred.

All through the billiard-green mesas leading up to the mountains are signs of the boom. Well pads and water tanks dot the rolling hills. Tractor-trailers loaded with chemicals and drilling machinery kick up contrails of dust along the reservation’s winding gravel roads. And spirelike drilling rigs quietly bore into the ground, silhouetted against mountains with names like Sinopah, Rising Wolf and Chief.

It is an increasingly common sight for tribes across the West and Plains: Tourist spending has gone slack since the recession hit. American Indian casino revenues are stagnating just as tribal gambling faces new competition from online gambling and waves of new casinos. Oil and fracking are new lifelines.

One drilling rig on the Blackfeet reservation generated 49 jobs for tribal members — a substantial feat in a place where unemployment is as high as 70 percent. But as others watched the rigs rise, they wondered whether the tribe was making an irrevocable mistake.

“These are our mountains,” said Cheryl Little Dog, a recently elected member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, the reservation’s governing body. “I look at what we have, and I think, why ruin it over an oil rig?”

Oil exploration here began in the 1920s, largely on the plains along the eastern edge of the reservation, but it died off in the early 1980s. Over the last four years, though, new fracking technologies and rising oil prices have lured the drillers back, and farther and farther west, to the mountains that border Glacier National Park.

Oil companies have leased out the drilling rights for a million of the reservation’s 1.5 million acres, land held by the tribe, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They have drilled 30 exploratory wells this year alone, and are already engaged in fracking many of them, pumping a slurry of water, sand and chemicals to crack open underground rock beds to pry out the oil.

“It’ll change the lives of a lot of people,” said Grinnell Day Chief, the tribe’s oil and gas manager. “It’ll be a boost to everybody. There’s talk of a hotel coming up.”

To tribal leaders, oil wealth could be more lucrative and reliable than any casino — a resource whose royalties could transform a reservation scarred by poverty and alcoholism.

Blackfeet elders say they have already collected about $30 million, primarily from three oil companies, the Anschutz Exploration Corporation, the Newfield Exploration Company and Rosetta Resources. The tribe has used signing bonuses to pay off debts from building the Glacier Peaks Casino. It built a tribe-owned grocery to compete with the IGA in Browning, the reservation’s largest town. The tribe’s approximately 16,500 members each got $200 in trickle-down payments from the drilling last year, and the oil companies have donated money to the local basketball team and to buy children toys and jackets last Christmas.

For some on the reservation, the drills cannot come soon enough. In April, T. J. Show, then the chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, told a House committee that the layers of oversight and paperwork needed to drill into tribal lands were “extremely slow and burdensome.” He told the panel he opposed new federal rules that would clamp down on fracking and chase away oil companies.

To find the opposing view, one needs only to drive five miles west from Browning, past the casino, heading straight toward the mountains, and pull off at the red gate on the right. There, on a recent summer afternoon, over mugs of horsemint tea, Pauline Matt and a handful of Blackfeet women were trying to find a way to persuade the tribal leaders to stop the drilling.

“It threatens everything we are as Blackfeet,” she said.

Other environmental activists around Glacier have raised concerns that the fracking operations, if they continue and expand, could pollute air quality, contaminate sensitive watersheds and tarnish a night almost uncontaminated by man-made lights.

Chas Cartwright, the superintendent of Glacier National Park, has asked for a full-scale environmental review of drilling on the reservation. In a July 31 letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he raised concerns about how drilling might affect grizzly bear populations, air quality and the vistas from mountain perches inside the park.

And the tribe’s environmental office and roads department have already noted damage to the roads, and small chemical and fuel spills.

The divisions within the tribe are more than disputes over the economy and environment — they represent two visions of the land where Blackfeet members have lived for centuries.

Ms. Matt and the women who oppose the fracking speak about the streams and meadows and mountains as if they were family members. They go on vision quests in the mountains. They braid native sweetgrass to burn in prayers and collect berries and herbs for food, medicine and ceremonies.

The drilling companies, the local Bureau of Land Management and tribal officials say there has been no evidence that the fracking has affected the reservation’s water supplies or soured its air. But to opponents, the damage to the land is still being done.

“You see this butterfly, you hear those birds?” asked Crystal LaPlant, as she sat on Ms. Matt’s back porch one evening, the meadows alive with sound. “Once they start drilling, we aren’t going to have those things anymore.”

Ron Crossguns, who works for the Blackfeet tribe’s oil and gas division, has oil leases on his land, a 10-foot cross in his yard, and little patience for that kind of pastoral veneration. He called it “movie Indian” claptrap, divorced from modern realities. Mountains, he said, are just mountains.

“They’re just big rocks, nothing more,” Mr. Crossguns said. “Don’t try to make them into nothing holy. Jesus Christ put them there for animals to feed on, and for people to hunt on.”

And maybe, for people to drill into. Whether the oil companies keep drilling may depend less on the tribe’s attitudes than the raw economics of extracting oil from extremely tight rock formations. The oil companies are still taking samples, analyzing the rocks and trying to figure out whether they can turn a profit.

“The earth is saturated with oil,” Dave Loken, a senior geologist with Anschutz, said at a recent meeting of tribal leaders and oil companies to discuss the future of drilling on the Blackfeet land. “It’s very tough to get the oil out. We’re still working on it.”


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 17, 2012

An article on Thursday about oil drilling on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana misstated the name of a mountain near the reservation. It is the Rising Wolf Mountain, not Running Wolf Mountain.

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