Snowflakes Come In 35 Different Shapes, Scientists Say

Each snowflake may not be so unique after all.

While no one snowflake is exactly the same as another on a molecular level, it turns out that all snowflakes fall into one of 35 different shapes, researchers say. Just take a look at this infographic of the different snowflake shapes from chemistry teacher Andy Brunnin, who authors the blog Compound Interest:

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snowflakes 35 different shapes

The graphic uses data from the global classification of snow crystals, ice crystals, and solid precipitation published in the journal Atmospheric Research in 2013.

How exactly do snowflakes form their amazing shapes?

A snowflake starts as a tiny grain of dust or pollen floating in a cloud. Water vapor from the air sticks to the grain and freezes, forming into a tiny hexagonal crystal. From there, more vapor condenses on the crystal as it travels to the ground, and the snowflake’s “arms” take shape.

“We still don’t know the precise variables behind the formation of particular shapes,” Brunnin wrote on his blog, “although researchers are continually working on theoretical equations to predict snowflake shapes.”

Smithsonian reported that, though snowflakes are stunning to observe, scientists classify snowflakes and analyze how they form to better understand how crystals may be used in a host of applications, from silicon to semiconductors in computers and electronics.

So, there’s even more reason for the sky to, “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”

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The Enigmatic Art of Josef Koudelka

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“Prague, 1968.” Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of private collector. Photo credit, Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka’s striking photographs in the exhibition “Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful” at the Getty Museum include images of the Roma (Gypsy) communities, the 1968 Russian invasion of Prague, panoramic views of devastated environments and ravaged landscapes, and Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank. The photos are haunting and enigmatic, as emotionally impactful as their meaning is uncertain.

Not many details of Koudelka’s life are known beyond the broad outlines. He was born in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, in 1938 and originally trained as an aeronautical engineer. In the late 1950s, he began to take photographs, experimenting as much with exposures as with developing the film. His earliest work, several examples of which are on exhibit at the Getty, are reminiscent of ink drawings or of Giacometti’s sculptures, where human form is abstracted into thin lines of being, people who are but slivers of themselves.

In the early 1960s, Koudelka took up photography full time. His work began to appear in noted Czech theater review Divadlo (Czech for theater), and Koudelka worked closely with two theater companies, Divadlo Za Branou (Theater Behind the Gate) and Divadlo Na Zabradli (Theater on the Balustrade). As the exhibition catalog notes, Koudelka switched from a belly-held dual reflex Rolleiflex camera to a handheld 35mm single lens reflex Exakta Varex camera, which allowed him to move among the actors during rehearsal. Koudelka continued to experiment by underexposing the film, or creating extreme blowups of the images to achieve a graininess that seems idealized, but on occasion also approaches the grotesque (such as in his images of a performance of Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi.”).

Also in the early 1960s, Koudelka was drawn to Roma encampments. Koudelka originally thought he would photograph the musicians, but doing so led him to taking hundreds (perhaps thousands) of photographs of all of the Roma. Individuals, couples, children, the elderly, funerals and celebrations became part of Koudelka’s first book, “Gypsies,” which brought him renown and which he would continue to revise or enhance until a 2011 edition. In Koudelka’s notebooks, exhibited at the Getty, we see the rigorous approach Koudelka took to cropping and recropping his images, sometimes using only a very small part and blowing it up, to arrive at his arresting choices.

When, in August 1968, Russian tanks invaded Czechoslovakia and occupied Prague, Koudelka took to the streets with the protesters. His images were smuggled out and appeared all over the world, including on CBS News, with the credit listed as “P.P.” (Prague photographer) to protect his identity from the Soviets. In 1970, Koudelka fled Czechoslovakia, seeking political asylum first in England and eventually in France, where he became a naturalized citizen. However, as Koudelka did not have his Czech birth certificate, his passport listed him officially as “Nationality Doubtful,” (hence the Getty exhibition title).

Koudelka joined Magnum Photos and began to follow Roma encampments all over Europe. He gathered this work in his next book, “Exiles,” which gives a palpable sense of a people apart, unto themselves, dislocated from contemporary society and even time.

In 1986, Koudelka began using panoramic cameras to take photographs of landscapes ravaged by mining, industry and war. As the exhibition catalog notes, “People have disappeared from these photographs, but the hand of man is everywhere to be felt.” Koudelka has published two accordion-style books, “The Black Triangle” and “Chaos.” At the Getty, these books have been ingeniously displayed in a vitrine the length of the full work, which also defines the gallery space and acts as a divider between sections of the show.

More recently, Koudelka was invited by fellow photographer Frederic Brenner to take part in “This Place” (this-place.org), a project that invites photographers to spend six months in Israel photographing whatever they want, without restriction or agenda. Koudelka never had considered visiting Israel before, but did so, bringing his panoramic camera to the landscape of the West Bank, the Negev and the Golan Heights. “This country is divided, each side reacts to that division in a different way,” Koudelka commented, “but the landscape can’t react.”

During his Middle East sojourn, Koudelka devoted particular attention to the separation barrier, which became the basis of his limited-edition work “The Wall.” Koudelka’s images of abandoned and destroyed homes, of built-out suburbs behind barbed wire and of the barrier itself tearing through the landscape are searing, damning documents that are at times beautiful, yet also deeply ugly. There is no obvious political point of view, just a statement of what is. This work is grouped with other Koudelka panoramic images of archaeological ruins in Algeria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The Getty exhibition is the first retrospective of Koudelka’s work in the United States and features many of the artist’s own vintage prints, books, notebooks, maquettes and even rare vintage photos that Koudelka sold to flee to the West. In all his work, it is Koudelka’s eye, his shaping of the image that is paramount. The photographer is not present; the individuals he depicts all seem part of communities beyond themselves, to the point that, eventually, people are not even present in the work. Yet Koudelka’s signature is present in each image, infusing them with a certain melancholy, including in images of Czech citizens standing up to Soviet tanks; his is a point of view that is as unresolved and bittersweet as a Gypsy melody.

“Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful” continues at the J. Paul Getty Museum through March 22. For more information, visit getty.edu/museum/exhibitions.

Barbie Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before

This article originally appeared on Slate.
By David Rosenberg

barbie

According to Mattel, every three seconds, a Barbie doll is sold somewhere in the world. Developed in 1959, the iconic doll has as had roughly 150 careers, represented about 40 nationalities, and, this year, even gave an interview to People about her Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoot.

She’s also been used as a benchmark of beauty in the real word, something Paris-based photographer Hamid Blad set out to examine in his series “Barbie Blad.”

To make the images, Blad incorporated the 19th-century collodion process, which takes a bit longer for both exposing and developing the images—clearly the dolls have more patience than human models—and results in a more unforgiving photograph. Blad also uses a cold, UV light that strips away some of their artificiality. He then crops them tightly in order to “enable the viewer to enter into the image.”

“Barbie dolls as iconic representations of beauty are nothing but beautiful faces on plastic mannequins, artificially smooth and sparkling,” Blad said via email. “When I photograph these dolls, I want them to come to life. I try to give them a real face with imperfections.”

Dolls in the series were found everywhere from flea markets and eBay to contributions from friends. Selecting those to photograph wasn’t too different than a typical casting with real models—he even gave the selected dolls names of supermodels from the 1970s.

“I realized that some dolls are very different from others, just like humans, certain ones were more photogenic,” Blad wrote. “I did a bit of styling of the dolls, hairdressing, and applied products on the skin. On casting I was only guided by the dolls I liked—the photogenic quality superseded the casting.”

Blad feels that the idea of identity is always shifting and he enjoys playing around with it.

“Replacing a person in the flesh by plastic objects aims in a sense to denounce the fake aspect of identity. I like to build on ‘beauty’ to question social stereotypes. I am never looking for conventional beauty with my photography.”

See more photos on Slate.

Gentrification: Artists in Emeryville Saw It Coming

Ann Weber, a sculptor from Emeryville, California, one of the rapidly emerging “creative cities” author Richard Florida talks about in The Rise of the Creative Class, is just ending her “artist in residency” at the LUX Institute in Encinitas, CA. She is going home to her live/work studio in Emeryville, California, an unusual coop that provides affordable artist-owned housing.

Started in 1973, it has “grown from a dozen studios in one converted warehouse building to nearly 60 studios in three buildings.” The artists renovated obsolete industrial warehouses into live/work spaces, and now offer tours to those living or just visiting Emeryville–thereby enriching the city of Emeryville culturally; and established a Youth Art Program which initially offered tutorials and field trips to promising high school students. The Cooperative’s Emeryville Youth Program has now been “integrated into the Emeryville Unified arts curriculum bringing professional artists into the classroom.”

Today, as a non-profit, limited-equity housing cooperative, The 45th Street Cooperative, as it is called , claims to be “a national model for affordable artist-owned housing.”

But is it really?

What artist group can afford to buy in today’s real estate market? The soaring rents that most markets require coincide with the demand for artists and art and cultural districts to give a city vibrancy and economic growth. Randy Cohen, who researches and promotes sustainable arts policies at Americans for the Arts, acknowledges the dilemma and is fearful that cities will fail to come to grips with the urgent need for affordable artist housing. And thus, fail to make the transition to the new creative and innovation economy.

Unfortunately, given the cost of housing in some areas of the country–usually attributable to the artists and/or the art and cultural districts, which have grown up around them–it is probably too late. A crisis is looming.

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Take San Francisco, just a few miles away. This is a city/county, in real trouble. Thanks in part to spillover of high tech startups in nearby Silicon Valley, San Franciscans now pay the highest median rent per bedroom in the country… about 4.5 percent higher than New York. According to KQED, ” Housing is a major issue for artists in San Francisco. The city does well compared with others around the nation when it comes to funding artists’ work. But the city’s efforts to create affordable live/work spaces for artists haven’t panned out. Many local artists are now worrying that the high cost of housing will force them to leave the city and abandon their creative community.”

Tom DeCaigny, cultural affairs director for the San Francisco Arts Commission, applauds the formation of The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) which will be purchasing and leasing space for the exclusive use of nonprofit arts organizations. CAST says, “Without our support, some of San Francisco’s most vital arts organizations might be forced to leave because of the rising cost of real estate.” He has expressed concern, however, that the cost of a studio or one bedroom is over $3000 per month in the heart of the city and is working with the Housing Authority and the Mayor’s Office to find solutions. He knows that government can’t solve these problems itself and is looking to private philanthropy and the nonprofit sector to foster new innovations in shared nonprofit space.

Some non-profits like Project Artaud, a pioneering arts complex in San Francisco’s Mission District, rehabilitated and converted a factory, and an entire city block to create housing and studio space, artists’ resources and community homes to over 70 painters, sculptors, designers, photographers, filmmakers, writers, musicians and performers. Project Artaud is supported by its membership, by grants from the Cultural Facilities Fund Bay Area Program and the San Francisco Art Commission’s Creative Space Program, and by individual contributions.

There are others of course, spread across the city, trying to raise funds to buy properties and advocating for artists but making only a small dent in a much bigger problem. For San Francisco, and most cities, a more comprehensive, proactive strategy and plan is called for.

Minneapolis based Artspace has been tackling this problem since 1979 and today “own(s) and operate(s) 35 projects across the country. Twenty-six are live/work or mixed-use projects comprised of more than 1,100 residential units. Our portfolio of projects is rounded out with non-residential projects that provide space for artists and cultural organizations.”

It was always an advocate for artist housing and in the early beginning, provided a referral service for artists looking for housing. After a short time however, said Melodie Bahan, V.P. of Communications for Artspace, they began to see the same faces, the same artists, looking for a place to live. They then “made the leap from advocate to developer”, and began to build and take a more proactive role.

Their first “live/work projects were in Saint Paul: the Northern Warehouse Artists’ Cooperative (1990), Frogtown Family Lofts (1992), and Tilsner Artists’ Cooperative (1993).” They now have developed properties in 35 states , and growing. “Twenty-six are live/work or mixed-use projects comprised of more than 1,100 residential units. (Their) portfolio of projects is rounded out with non-residential projects that provide space for artists and cultural organizations.”

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With support form the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and not surprisingly ArtPlace which receives funding in part from some of the same foundations, Artspace is now a national leader in the field of developing affordable space that meets the needs of artists through the adaptive reuse of historic buildings and new construction with offices in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington D.C.

Communities that know the value of vibrant communities must insure that the artists, who helped foster that vibrancy, not be forced to move as the art and culture districts, often at the center of the community, are forced to move because of the increase in the price of real estate or rental costs. It’s that simple but often not thought of until its too late.

“It is … important” said the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) in a recent issues brief encouraging cities to create art and culture districts ” that the artists, who may have lived in the art and culture district, not be forced to move, as the district itself becomes the fashionable and expensive place to live and work.”

Rian van der Merwe on A View from a Different Valley: How to Interview

It’s not like my life goal was to become an expert on interviewing. I’d much rather be an expert on work than on finding work. Like a corporate version of Frodo, in the midst of a grueling interview cycle I’d often lament that, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” And then Business Gandalf would show up in my head to tell me, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Ugh.

But I did what I had to do. I got good at interviewing. Now, I don’t plan to go anywhere anytime soon, so I have a chance to take a breath and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work when I was trying to change jobs. Here I’ll share some of the experience I picked up while interviewing for a variety of jobs as I moved across the world—twice—in a relatively short time.

Of course, this whole thing comes with an obvious disclaimer: This is what worked for me. It might not work for you, so proceed with caution. With that out of the way, let’s split the discussion up into two sections: how to get an interview, and how to get through it.

How to get an interview

One of the most common pieces of advice people give when they know you’re looking for a job is that you should never apply through a company’s website or respond to a general job ad. I’ve found this to be true—clicking the “Apply” button and pasting a text-only version of your résumé is a very effective way to get ignored. But what works, then? This is the process I used very effectively to get that all-important first email back:

  1. Find a job you’re interested in. That’s not really what this article is about, so I won’t go into too much detail except to list some of the usual suspects: use LinkedIn, go to the websites of companies you like and click on “Careers,” sign up for industry-specific job boards like BayCHI, etc.
  2. Find the two or three most likely hiring managers. This step is crucial. For example, if you’re applying for a design role, use LinkedIn or the company’s “About” page to find the VP of Product, or the Design Manager, or the Chief Product Officer, or any number of fairly senior roles that the job likely reports into.
  3. Use Rapportive to guess their email addresses. It’s usually not hard to figure out people’s corporate email addresses. the first thing to try is “firstname.lastname@”. There is only a finite number of combinations it could be. But the way to be sure is to install the Rapportive plugin, compose a new email in Gmail, and try a bunch of addresses (without sending the email) until Rapportive finds the person’s LinkedIn profile.
  4. Send an extremely short introduction email. Send separate, personal emails to each of the likely hiring managers you found. Make it really, really short. Don’t go on about how awesome you are—you’ll get a chance to do that later. Tell them you like their company, you like the role, you’re interested in talking. Link to stuff you’ve done: your LinkedIn profile, your portfolio, articles/books you’ve written, etc. Then ask them if they’d be willing to have a call, or forward your information on to the right person. The point is to not burden people. If they see a long email, the chances are high that they will delete it. But if they see a short email that’s respectful of their time and gives them the information they need to make a quick decision—that’s a different story.

You won’t get an email back every time, but of all the different ways I’ve tried, this method has had the most success. Your goal at this point isn’t to get the job, it’s to get that first email back. Once you get the email and the first call is set up, you move on to your next objective…

How to have a successful interview

Note that I didn’t title this section “How to get the job.” Remember that you might not want the job. Or, you might want the job but you shouldn’t take it because it’s all wrong for you. That’s what the interview process is all about. It’s not about looking good enough so someone will hire you. It’s about finding out if there’s a good fit between you and the company you’re interviewing with.

Your first call will usually be with a recruiter. The recruiter call is mostly a formality. As long as you’re able to condense your (obviously) illustrious career into a five-minute history lesson of past experiences, you should be fine. Recruiters get in trouble when they waste hiring managers’ time, so they’re just trying to avoid that. Your objective at this point is still not to get the job—it’s to get to talk to the hiring manager. And you do that by not sounding like an idiot when you talk to the recruiter.

The call with the hiring manager is a different story. I’ve approached this a bunch of different ways, but here’s the general approach that works best for me.

First, it’s important to look at the interview through the right lens. Don’t go into it with the primary goal of impressing the hiring manager. That is a waste of their time, and it makes you sound desperate. Instead, seek to have a mutually beneficial conversation with a fellow industry leader. You want to learn something from the conversation, and you want them to learn something as well. Your best outcome is if, at some point, the hiring manager says, “Huh, I’m going to read up on that a bit more when we’re done here.”

So how do you do this? You usually start with that five-minute history of your career. But then take the next step, and ask the first question… How do you do product development at your company? How do you prioritize roadmaps? What’s your design process like? By guiding the discussion and asking questions about how things work, you not only demonstrate what’s important to you, you also open a door to talk about the areas you’re most knowledgeable and passionate about.

Sure, you’re still going to get the odd, “Tell me about a time you’ve failed and how you dealt with that” question, but that will be few and far between. Most of the time what you’ll do instead is go over your allotted time and have a spirited conversation about the best ways to design and develop software. And that’s exactly what you want. You want to be seen as a peer right away—someone who would fit in.

That, to me, is a good interview. It’s not a venue for one person to test another person. Sometimes you can’t get away from that—you get bombarded with questions the minute the call starts. But that’s probably a good indication that it’s not a good place to work anyway. If the interviewer doesn’t bite, or insists on following a script that doesn’t really allow for conversation—it’s the first sign that you should probably walk away. If you can’t have a conversation as equals, you’ll never be treated as a valuable member of the team—you’ll always be a resource. And you don’t want that.

Which is to say…

If I could convince people of one thing that will make them more successful in interviews, it would be to change their framing of what an interview process actually is. Many of us grew up thinking an interview is a test that you need to pass. However, if you instead look at the interview process as a meeting of equals to understand if a good fit exists, you’ll not only be more confident and relaxed in the process, you’re also more likely to impress the company. And who knows, maybe they’ll even become better interviewers themselves.

Closing The Empathy Gap

As technology allows us to erect more and more electronic barriers around us, the value of removing one’s earbuds and looking up from one’s smartphone becomes increasingly important. Some people understand how to use new technology while others remain decidedly unclear on the concept.

Cultural references play a huge role in shaping how one generation views another. In his article entitled The Truth about Our Wi-fi Society: What the Quest for Constant Connection Really Means for Salon.com, Andrew Leonard waxes nostalgic about how binge watching episodes of The Rockford Files after the news of actor James Garner’s death made him acutely aware of how much people relied on pay phones during the 1970s.

“I couldn’t stop fixating on just how often everything stopped in its tracks so that Jim Rockford could put a dime in a payphone: multiple times an episode. Without those payphones, the plot wasn’t going anywhere. No one is as isolated today as Rockford was in his Plymouth Firebird on an L.A. freeway. It was hard for me to avoid the sinking feeling that Jim Rockford with an iPhone would no longer be Jim Rockford. Always-on Wi-Fi would accelerate his genial slouch. The languid ocean outside his trailer would end up a trivialized mote in his Instagram feed. The string of dames in distress wouldn’t appear unannounced at his door; they’d find him on Tinder first.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes uses a smartphone just as you would expect a genius detective to, with the entire Internet at his disposal to assist in the deductive process. It’s clever, but it always seemed like cheating. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock didn’t need no stinkin’ smartphone! A few puffs on his pipe was all that was necessary!”

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Poster art for a 1900 stage production of Sherlock Holmes
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In her eye-opening article entitled Grandmas Rise Up Against Millenials’ “Grandma” Lifestyle in The New Yorker, Cathy Lew describes how many grandmothers scoff at the self-indulgent ways in which some Millennials posture as senior citizens. However, instead of mimicking the elderly, there is much more to be learned from them.

Throughout my life I’ve been extremely fortunate to have friends from multiple age groups. When I first started attending opera, I learned a great deal from standees who ranged from impassioned teenage music students to 80-year-old women who were scalping tickets to supplement their income. When I moved to Rhode Island, I was fortunate to build friendships with middle-aged men and women who treated me as an adult (even though I was just emerging from my teens).

In recent years, both the Frameline Film Festival and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival have developed intergenerational filmmaking projects which facilitate mentoring while recording oral histories from senior citizens. Throughout the process, both generations have learned a great deal from each other about empathy. Two films that were screened at the 2014 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival framed that learning process from unique perspectives.

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Gay men who lived through the worst years of the AIDS epidemic got used to hundreds of their close friends and acquaintances dying while in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Many of us can still remember friends from the gym who boasted “With a body like this, how could I be sick?” Two weeks later, they were dead.

Today, when a person dies in their 70s, 80s, or 90s, we celebrate the fact that they were able to live a long life. But in a culture that remains obsessed with youth and glorifies rampant narcissism, it’s often difficult for people to deal rationally with death. A stunning new documentary which received its West Coast premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival follows seniors at the Harley School in Rochester, New York who have signed up for an elective course in hospice care.

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Jamir Avery (a non-Catholic) prays with a dying Catholic nun

Inspired by the work of his long-time friend, English teacher Bob Kane, David Marshall’s poignant film entitled Beginning With The End was, quite obviously, a labor of love for all involved. In his director’s statement, Marshall explains that:

“As Bob often remarks, ‘The kids got it.’ It was the parents, administrators and the general community that often didn’t understand why kids would or should be helping people as they die. I imagine that in all likelihood I would have been one of those kids who didn’t get it. I had never experienced death up close and unfiltered. The closest I came was in the 1980s AIDS crisis. During those tortuous years, I got to know many young men who died alone, with nobody holding their hand or even being present in the room. I often wonder if some of my interest in doing this film might stem from my inability to help back then. But at that time (like so many others) I was too afraid. Too afraid of death. Too afraid of the idea of mortality. Whatever brought me to this moment, I can safely say Bob’s class was a catalyst for change in me.

I began this film with a definite position and a set of expectations. I thought I would be following an experience that some would embrace and others would not, expecting that the nature of the topic (death) would select out some students to fail. What I found out is that none of the students fail. No matter how the students stratify themselves in high school (the Ins, the Outs, the jocks, the intellectuals, the nerds, the wallflowers) how they were in the comfort care homes was never defined by those same strictures. In the end, they helped the most vulnerable people move on with an assurance and kindness infrequently asked of contemporary teens. If you have ever wondered how wisdom moves from one generation to another, I can say, one way is by caring for someone who has nothing to offer in return but gratitude and a whispered part of their story.”

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Leandra Caprini-Rosica and Ada Rosenstreter watch the snow fall

Kane, who has been supervising the Hospice Care course for 10 years, makes no bones about the challenges students will face. But he finds that in the initial discussions of their past experiences with death (as well as their fears and insecurities about it), as soon as one or two students open up about how death has impacted their young lives, it opens up the rest of the group to a remarkable level of candor and emotional honesty.

Students learn how to help wash patients, turn them over in bed, feed them, and sometimes just sit with them silently. One male teenager jokes about how part of the time he spent with a patient involved sitting with her in the garage and keeping her company as she smoked cigarettes. Whenever he came home smelling like an ashtray, he explained that he was helping a patient who liked to smoke. His mother’s reaction was simply to tell him to take a shower.

One of the most moving scenes in Marshall’s documentary occurs when two adults (whose parents were tended to by the students in the Hospice Program) visit the classroom after their respective parents have passed on. They get a chance to thank the teenagers not just for the help they gave in caring for their dying parents, but also for the way their presence allowed the adults to get some relief from the duties of caregiving and simply be a family’s children again as their parents faded and died. Marshall makes no bones about what he learned while working on Beginning With The End.

“I have come to believe that if the right circumstances are presented, it is innate to us to be compassionate. Empathy is in our DNA, as it were, but like any innate attribute it must be nurtured if it is going to grow. The class and the homes provide such an environment. What still strikes me are the students — their desire to return to hospice class each day as if this place, this class, was a kind port in life’s storm. In this safe harbor, they learned how to help someone without expecting anything in return, no reward beyond just being there quietly and knowing that their presence is enough.”

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Josh Shechter helps a patient who keeps slipping off her socks

Whether sharing a piece of lemon meringue pie with an elderly woman, listening to a group of male friends who have known each other for years, or sharing a woman’s insights about her realization that, after receiving her cancer diagnosis, she was still the same person she was before she heard the news, the students listen, learn, and become more comfortable with making friends with people who will soon die. When one of the students discovers at Thanksgiving that her own grandmother has a terminal illness and will need hospice care, her connections with a comfort care facility ease the transition for everyone in her family.

Beginning With The End is not a sad movie, but one which captures the humor of old age, the willingness of teenagers to look beyond their own needs, and the reality of death. Marshall’s touching documentary treats them all with respect. Here’s the trailer:

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One of the more poignant pieces of Holocaust art to survive was Brundibár (a children’s opera written by Czech composer Hans Krása and librettist Adolf Hoffmeister). According to Wikipedia:

“Krása and Hoffmeister wrote the opera in 1938 for a government competition, but the competition was later cancelled due to political developments. Rehearsals started in 1941 at the Jewish orphanage in Prague, which served as a temporary educational facility for children separated from their parents by the war. In the winter of 1942 the opera was first performed at the orphanage (by this time, composer Krása and set designer František Zelenka had already been transported to Theresienstadt). By July 1943, nearly all of the children of the original chorus and the orphanage staff had also been transported to Theresienstadt. Only the librettist Hoffmeister was able to escape Prague in time.”

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Czech composer Hans Krása

“Reunited with the cast in Theresienstadt, Krása reconstructed the full score of the opera, based on memory and the partial piano score that remained in his hands, adapting it to suit the musical instruments available in the camp: flute, clarinet, guitar, accordion, piano, percussion, four violins, a cello and a double bass. A set was once again designed by František Zelenka, formerly a stage manager at the Czech National Theatre: several flats were painted as a background…On 23 September 1943, Brundibár premiered in Theresienstadt. The production was directed by Zelenka and choreographed by Camilla Rosenbaum, and was shown 55 times in the following year. A special performance of Brundibár was staged in 1944 for representatives of the Red Cross who came to inspect living conditions in the camp. What the Red Cross did not know at the time was that much of what they saw during their visit was a show, and that one of the reasons the Theresienstadt camp seemed comfortable was that many of the residents had been deported to Auschwitz in order to reduce crowding during their visit.”

Although Krasa died in Auschwitz (along with most of the children who performed his opera), Brundibár received its American professional premiere from the Washington Opera in 1995. In 2003, playwright Tony Kushner and artist Maurice Sendak collaborated on a picture book version of the opera.

That same year, Chicago Opera Theatre presented Brundibár with a new libretto written by Kushner (the production was designed and directed by Sendak). In 2005, the revised opera was given a new production by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

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Poster art for Brundibar

The 2014 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival presented the world premiere of Douglas Wolfsperger’s new documentary about a group of students in Berlin’s Schaubühne Theater who rehearse and perform Brundibár under the leadership of the theater’s youth educator, Uta Plate.

What makes Wolfsperger’s documentary so touching is Plate’s decision to have her young cast travel to Terezin along with octogenarian Israeli Greta Klingberg who, when she was 13 years old, played the lead role of Aninka in Theresienstadt before she was deported to Auschwitz.

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Greta Klingberg with the young woman performing the role of
Aninka in the Schaubühne Theater’s production of Brundibár

There are many touching moments in the film as the teenagers in the cast pepper Klingberg with questions about what it was like to perform Brundibár under such extreme conditions 70 years ago. While Klingberg demonstrates an almost childlike delight in being able to sing along with the youthful cast, she also asks them if they understand the meaning of the term “Potemkin village” and its relationship to the opera as a propaganda tool for the Nazis.

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape

Bae, It Would Be Cray To Stop Using These ‘Banned’ Words

If you had plans to spend next year calling your boo bae, describing the chilly weather as a polar vortex or talking up your foodie lifestyle, cancel them immediately. Those three terms can never be spoken again.

At least, that’s the tongue-in-cheek goal of the “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness,” released Wednesday by Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The college’s 40th annual list has a total of 12 new words we’re supposed to collectively excise from our vocabulary in 2015.

The other nine entries include hack, skill set, swag, curate(d), friend-raising, cra-cra (alternately spelled cray-cray), enhanced interrogation, takeaway and nation when used to denote the fans of a particular sports team (e.g. Cubs Nation).

The banished word list was started in January of 1976 by W.T. Rabe, a savvy former LSSU public relations director, who’s also known for inventing the school traditions of issuing unicorn questing licenses and burning a snowman each spring.

The first list came directly from LSSU staff and Rabe’s personal language pet peeves. But at this point in time (that phrase made the list in 1976), it’s generated by the wider populace, with people submitting the words they loathe on the school’s website and a committee compiling the final selection each December. The list has since grown to include more than 800 entries.

Some of the phrases on the list have been faulted for redundancy, like 1995’s vast majority; others, like enhanced interrogation, speak to a dead serious (another banned phrase) critique of cultural mores. Other words are clearly targeted because they’re trending (yep, also banned).

Nominators also take issue with overused words that become divorced from their original meaning, like using “hack” to describe mascara application tips or calling a box of different dog foods “curated.”

It’s easy to get annoyed by slang terms that crop up suddenly — especially if you need an article from Time to understand them — and then die out within a year or two anyway. But part of the fun of language is the difficulty of predicting which words will naturally fall by the wayside — we barely knew you, cybarian and chillaxin’ — and which ones will become so commonplace — prioritize, parenting, brainstorm, blog — it’s strange to think of trying to ban them. With something as delightful and amazing as language, half the fun for wordsmiths is watching usage change over time.

In some ways, putting a straight-up ban on words that are part of people’s everyday conversations seems like a stodgy approach. However, LSSU’s banished word list serves as a reminder to be creative and deft with word choice — to encourage thinking outside of the box — rather than as a prescriptive ban. It can also just be an interesting snapshot of what’s hot and hated in language year-by-year.

That said, if you catch yourself telling your bae, who’s a real foodie, about a cra-cra hack for getting free swag, it might be time to think about expanding your vocabulary.

Or not, whatever. It’s all good.

Haiku Reviews: ART December 2014 (Still on View)

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MARTIN FACEY, Ink Ginkgo, 2013, Acrylic, mixed media, fabric on panel, 68 x 42 inches

Martin Facey was long known as a colorist, straddling figuration and abstraction in the realization of large, intricately mapped paintings; the influence of Richard Diebenkorn – for whom Facey was long a studio assistant – was apparent, but Facey’s far more baroque sensibility pushed him to yet denser composition and yet more vivid coloration. Years later, he has re-emerged with a series of large and small works that build on the opposite end of Diebenkorn’s legacy. Indeed, color is suppressed in these new pieces in favor of dry, earthy tones that fairly crackle with Autumn and the desert, and it is in their brittle networks of lines and branches that they at all recall the older artist’s own structural elaborations. The semblance to branches is no coincidence; tree limbs and other plants, some seemingly pressed into the dense surfaces of the paintings as if between the pages of a book, provide Facey with the centralized, almost iconic, imagery around which he builds the rest of each painting. The floral apparitions and the yet more weathered material that surrounds them, including fabric and paper, combine into powerfully sensuous carpets, pages or banners onto which have been inscribed what seem like ruminations on natural cycles. What remains from Facey’s earlier work is his unusual ability to activate his surfaces with quasi-appliqué patterns which have nothing to do with the basic composition but serve to enrich its contents and their tonalities. Despite their weathered appearance and their reliance on mineral and vegetable tonalities, these gritty figures-and-grounds grip the eye and do not let it go. No longer jewels, Facey’s paintings are now forests. (Paul Mahder, 222 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg CA; thru December. http://www.paulmahdergallery.com)

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JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID, Erasistratus Discovers the Cause of Antiochus’s Disease, 1774, Oil on canvas, 47¼ x 61 inches, École des Beaux Arts, Paris, Courtesy American Federation of Arts

We cite the Academy as a dominant force – usually negative – in the art world, but what is, or was, the Academy really? The École des Beaux-Arts, founded in the mid-17th century under (and with the blessings of) Louis XIV, began as a means of disseminating a standard for artistic principles and methods that superseded the calcifying guild system. In other words, the Academy was a reformist institution. Two centuries later, it had become exactly the opposite, and, under the onslaught of a very different set of artistic values, its pre-eminence dwindled almost to nothing by World War I. Those principles and methods survive, to be sure, as does the school in some form; but the pedagogical framework that enforced them has become an historical curiosity – even as the achievements of so many of the students and teachers who passed through the École embed themselves at the core of Western art history. As well they should: they were taking formal and conceptual ideals inherited from the Renaissance (the Florentine Accademia was the École’s direct forerunner) and Greco-Roman antiquity and making them speak for their own eras, and the best of them, like the best composers and poets, are still able to make them speak for ours. “Gods & Heroes” documents, exhaustingly yet thrillingly, not just the giants and also-rans who made the École des Beaux-Arts the historical colossus it is but the things they had to do, or teach, in the school itself. Indeed, the most engaging portions of “Gods & Heroes” are not the portraits and masterpieces that account for the emergence and triumph of the École, but the alignments of artifacts and studies and competition pieces that reveal how the school worked – what exercises it dictated, what themes it promulgated, what it considered proper subject matter, and so forth. “Gods & Heroes” makes the basics clear enough: everything centered around the ideal human (especially male) body, and the best (often only) subjects to paint were historical, biblical, or mythological subjects that would reify the moral education and social perception of the educated populace. The show also clarifies that the École, despite its debt to the crown, was a hotbed of republican sentiment long before the Revolution. Technically, the show emphasizes that drawing was not just considered the precursor of painting, but its fundament, and that line, contour, and shade were, if anything, more important than tone and modeling. While the show does stress the importance of working from statuary and the live nude, it does not stress that of copying – although an extensive print and drawing collection demonstrates how artists and artworks not directly available to Academicians were understood and studied. Yet more intriguing are the groupings of subjects, not least exercise subjects such as facial expressions, but also competition themes, including less exalted subjects such as landscape and portraiture. These cover mostly the 19th century, the moment of the École’s apotheosis and gradual decline, when it dictated artistic taste around the Western world and allowed its rigor to descend into rigidity. “Gods & Heroes” – whose every work comes from the collection of the École itself – is filled with these comparative episodes, jumping from chronology to analysis to anecdote with a surprising nimbleness. (Albuquerque Museum, 2000 Mountain Rd. NW, Albuquerque; thru Jan. 4. http://www.albuquerquemuseum.org Travels to Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art, Naples FL, Feb. 19-May 17, 2015, and Portland [OR] Museum of Art, June 13-Sept. 13, 2015.)

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GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN, Head of a Child (Ruth), 2014, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 34 inches

Gottfried Helnwein has earned his reputation as a Gothic hyper-realist whose cinematic style – cinematic in scale, in appearance, and in subject – seeks to challenge institutional as well as individual presuppositions. But that reputation flattens a complex artistic personality into a kind of anti-entertainer, and Helnwein is far more than the sum of his spectacles. In a show of seemingly very quiet subjects, the Austrian-born, Los Angeles- and Ireland-based painter examines the way we read, and read into, others’ expressions. In this case, the “others” are either inanimate objects – several heads of toys (all Disney characters) – or children. Both children and toys wear exaggerated expressions, but expressions that do not seem unnatural to them; if anything, they seem tempered, the toys’ by the crepuscular light Helnwein throws around them and the kids’ by the odd lack of hyperbole which such pre-teens – especially girls – are normally wont to display. These girls seem truly apprehensive, doubtful, suspicious, frightened, disbelieving, even slightly shell-shocked. Yet Helnwein does not exploit their seeming fragility so much as commute it to us; the way he paints these quietly fearful children provokes not our sympathy but our empathy. We take a more doting view of the several girls’ faces with their eyes closed (two of them in the dark), but amidst their wide-eyed sisters, the sleep of these innocents also seems fleeting. Next to these grimly tender visages, the several depictions of young boys theatrically got up in bandages and holding rifles or watching television do seem as histrionic as Helnwein’s reputation would invoke – although they are some of the subtler, more disturbing images to address school shootings and the general level of gun violence in America. And the world. (Modernism, 685 Market St., S. Francisco; thru Jan. 10. http://www.modernisminc.com)

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PATRICK NAGATANI, “Bida Hi”/Opposite Views, Northeast-Navajo Tract Homes and Uranium Tailings Southwest-Shiprock, New Mexico, 1990, Chromogenic print, Ilfocolor Deluxe, 27¾ x 35¾ inches

SITE Santa Fe has reformulated its 20-year-old Biennial program as a survey focusing on the Western Hemisphere – and, to judge from this first foray up and down the Trans-Continental Highway, focusing on art whose polemical content drives its aesthetic(s). The breadth of the 45-artist-strong “Unsettled Landscapes“, the at-least-relative consistency of its conceptual language, and the articulate cleverness with which most of the artists project the urgency of their messages, proves fatiguing but ultimately compelling; just as the visitor despairs of reading one more elaborate scenario illuminating a collection of (normally photographic) images, that scenario proves to be curious, informative, even gripping, and the images it accompanies charming, even wryly innocent, like postcards containing a private joke to which you are being made privy. The expected sociopolitical bombast is well-represented (and, indeed, well-presented), but it is substantially outweighed by subtler, more intricate and even contemplative presentations, to the point where “Unsettled Landscapes” takes on a meditative quality, well removed from the hectoring pedantry and/or gratuitous spectacle that has so often burdened such engagé conceptual practice over the last two decades. Part of this toning-down results from the inclusion of any number of veteran, even first-generation conceptualists, artists – including “straight” photographers and videastes as well as notationalists – such as Luis Camnitzer, Agnes Denes, Juan Downey, Anna Bella Geiger, Frank Gohlke, Leandro Katz, Patrick Nagatani, and Allan Sekula who proposed tones and formats for this kind of artistic discourse forty or more years ago. (Indeed, in several cases the works themselves date back several decades.) And, in a rare concession to pure opticality, the luminous monochrome paintings Florence Miller Pierce painted in the last decade of her long life are included as a kind of perceptual touchstone. Until her passing in 2007 Pierce was a touchstone herself, the last surviving member of the northern New Mexico group of Transcendentalist painters, and including her in “Unsettled Landscapes” helps determine the “local” axis in the show’s approach. The “global” axis is the stronger, however, as the show abounds with artists from Latin and Caribbean America who have made New York or Europe their home, or, conversely, European artists who have immigrated to the Americas and have made their adopted hemisphere their subject. (There are no artists of Asian background included, but there are two First Nation artists, the Cape Dorset-based Shuvinai Ashoona and Onotaq Mikkigak, represented by expansively drawn landscape renditions.) The emphasis is not on the exotic nature of the artists, however, but on the frisson, exotic and familiar, the artists have found in the space around them – a space at once populated to a fault, even subdued, and lonely and vertiginous in its vastness. (SITE Santa Fe, 1606 Paseo de Peralta, S. Fe; thru Jan. 11. http://www.sitesantafe.org)

These New Year’s Resolution Ideas Will Get You Thinking Outside The Weight-Loss Box

As 2015 creeps up on us, we’re all scrambling to make resolutions we’ll actually keep.

This video from The School Of Life — a London-based organization that aims to develop emotional intelligence through videos, classes and more — suggests some thought-provoking New Years resolutions that aren’t all about losing weight.

Think through anxieties, the video suggests. Spend time looking at clouds and rivers. Worry less and forgive a little more.

Thinking about making a few changes to that that New Years Resolution list yet?

Carmike Cinemas Pulls Sony’s ‘The Interview’ Amid Threats

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Carmike Cinemas has decided to cancel its planned showings of “The Interview” in the wake of threats against theatergoers by the Sony hackers.

Sony Pictures Entertainment told theater owners on Tuesday that it would be supportive of their individual decisions on whether or not to show the film, which is still set for a Christmas release, according to multiple reports. The late developments came just hours after the hackers released a data dump that they’re calling a “Christmas gift.” Included in the latest breach are emails from Sony Pictures co-chair and CEO Michael Lynton, as well as specific threats against patrons of the comedy, which depicts an assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In a chilling message invoking the memory of 9/11, the hackers urged audiences to stay away from venues showing the film.

Carmike Cinemas operates 278 theaters across the country and is the first theater to pull the screenings of the controversial film, according to Hollywood trade publications The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

The Georgia-based company is the fourth largest cinema chain in the nation, following Regal, AMC, and Cinemark, none of whom commented on their plans for “The Interview” showings.

The Department of Homeland Security has said that there is no credible intelligence to indicate a threat, but is still investigating the message.

The National Association of Theatre Owners had no comment about pulling of the film by its members. Neither Sony nor representatives from Carmike responded to requests for comment.