Life Before Death [ photography ]

 Some of us might consider this exhibition immoral because it invades the last moments of a human on earth. Whatever was your opinion, those faces tell a story.

Klara Behrens
age: 83
born: 2nd December 1920
first portrait taken: 6th February 2004
died: 3rd March 2004

Klara Behrens can tell that she hasn’t got much longer. “Sometimes, I do still hope that I’ll get better,” she says. “But then when I’m feeling really nauseous, I don’t want to carry on living. And I’d only just bought myself a new fridge-freezer! If I’d only known…”

It is the last day of February, the sun is shining, the first bluebells are flowering in the courtyard. “What I’d really like to do is to go outside, down to the River Elbe. To sit down on the stony bank and put my feet in the water. That’s what we used to do when we were children, when we went to gather wood down by the river. If I had my life over again, I’d do everything differently. I wouldn’t lug any wood around. But I wonder if it’s possible to have a second chance at life? I don’t think so. After all, you only believe what you see. And you can only see what is there. I’m not afraid of death. I’ll just be one of the million, billion grains of sand in the desert. The only thing that frightens me is the process of dying. You just don’t know what actually happens.”

about the project

The photographer Walter Schels and the journalist Beate Lakotta spent over a year preparing this exhibition in hospices in northern Germany. They made portraits of 26 people who were very close to death. The exhibition articulates the experiences, hopes and fears of the dying, and gives them one more opportunity to be heard.

drop by here to find more about the artists and the project.

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Shutting Down the Internet Only Accelerates Revolutions [observation]

 Though many of the Middle Eastern revolutions have come and gone, the prevailing reasons behind them are still under much debate. The conflict largely hinges on whether or not social media can create action. According to one theory, it can actually stop it.

Navid Hassanpour, a political science graduate student at Yale University, wrote his new paper investigating the power of social media during the Egyptian uprising. He differs from Malcolm Gladwell’s now-famous story that took media to task for praising Twitter and Facebook during the revolutions by saying that, yes, they do serve as good organizing tools. But they’re also great at distracting people from their cause, creating a normalizing effect that cows people into apathy.

The most important mobilizing factor, and Mubarak’s biggest mistake, was when the Egyptian government shut down the internet. Speaking with the New York Times, Hassanpour said:

“The disruption of cellphone coverage and Internet on the 28th exacerbated the unrest in at least three major ways,” he writes. “It implicated many apolitical citizens unaware of or uninterested in the unrest; it forced more face-to-face communication, i.e., more physical presence in streets; and finally it effectively decentralized the rebellion on the 28th through new hybrid communication tactics, producing a quagmire much harder to control and repress than one massive gathering in Tahrir.”

Put another way, it forced people to react to the issue on a deeper, more personal level. Which was bad news for the regime. It was bad news for PM David Cameron during the London riots, and it was bad news for BART when they tried to prevent their own protests earlier this month.

How might a dictator quell dissenting opinion with this kind of knowledge, or at the very least stall it? By either throttling connectivity in a way that makes the internet less useful in strategic areas, or creating distractions that will prevent the revolution from reaching critical mass. It likely wouldn’t stop the eventual change the people would demand, but that change won’t be as swift.

[NYT via Slate] via 

ISRAEL CANNOT AVOID THE ARAB STORM [ politics ]

It says a great deal about the fear and paranoia that the Arab street reserves for Israel, that some credence is being attached to claims that Israeli agent provocateurs are helping to stoke up opposition to protesters demanding democracy in Egypt.  The claim is that plain clothes Israeli agents are helping to orchestrate the pro-Mubarak mob – an improbable collection of off duty policemen and thugs, oddly reminiscent of the Workers Militia in one time communist East Germany.

Now let’s be clear, Israeli agents are capable of a good deal. How the world applauded when Mossad tracked down Adolf Eichmann to South America and brought him back to stand in Israel on charges of crimes against humanity. How the world marvelled, when Israeli agents struck against the hijackers at Entebbe Airport. More recently, much of world opinion has been rather less impressed with Israeli agents masquerading with false European passports in order to assassinate opponents in the Gulf, or jumping down ropes to cause mayhem and violence to some of those trying to break the blockade of Gaza.

But Mossad agents, masquerading as Mubarak supporters in Cairo and Alexandria? That sounds a little far fetched. Until absolute proof is produced, this one is too difficult to swallow.

Of one thing we can be sure however, Israel is watching the fast moving events in the Maghreb with a sense of real trepidation. The old order is breaking like the Arctic ice under the thawing rays of the first Spring Sun. Whether it is the armed forces that take over in Egypt, or a moderate secular democrat, or indeed the Muslim Brotherhood, it will never be the same again for Israel. The peace agreement signed between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin thirty years ago may not be immediately broken by any new Egyptian Government, but it seems unlikely that it will be observed to the extent that Egypt has effectively been complicit in the blockade of Gaza. That strip of misery is one of the most populous places on the planet. It is also effectively one huge ‘Bantustan’ or reservation. The Arab street regards it as an open prison, and part of the revolt against Mubarak is the belief that he has kow towed to the United States and allowed the Israelis to get on with whatever they want to get on with in Gaza, the west Bank and Jerusalem.

The waves of protest and revolution sweeping across the Maghreb and into the Arabian Peninsula cannot pass Israel by. Had Israel reached a sensible solution with the Palestinians, and accepted a Palestinian State based on the 1967 boundaries, it could even now be offering  its Arab neighbours lessons in democracy – since Israel is of course one of the very few democracies in the region. Instead, all Israel can do is wait nervously as the storm approaches.

Now let’s be clear, Israeli agents are capable of a good deal. How the world applauded when Mossad tracked down Adolf Eichmann to South America and brought him back to stand in Israel on charges of crimes against humanity. How the world marvelled, when Israeli agents struck against the hijackers at Entebbe Airport. More recently, much of world opinion has been rather less impressed with Israeli agents masquerading with false European passports in order to assassinate opponents in the Gulf, or jumping down ropes to cause mayhem and violence to some of those trying to break the blockade of Gaza.

But Mossad agents, masquerading as Mubarak supporters in Cairo and Alexandria? That sounds a little far fetched. Until absolute proof is produced, this one is too difficult to swallow.

Of one thing we can be sure however, Israel is watching the fast moving events in the Maghreb with a sense of real trepidation. The old order is breaking like the Arctic ice under the thawing rays of the first Spring Sun. Whether it is the armed forces that take over in Egypt, or a moderate secular democrat, or indeed the Muslim Brotherhood, it will never be the same again for Israel. The peace agreement signed between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin thirty years ago may not be immediately broken by any new Egyptian Government, but it seems unlikely that it will be observed to the extent that Egypt has effectively been complicit in the blockade of Gaza. That strip of misery is one of the most populous places on the planet. It is also effectively one huge ‘Bantustan’ or reservation. The Arab street regards it as an open prison, and part of the revolt against Mubarak is the belief that he has kow towed to the United States and allowed the Israelis to get on with whatever they want to get on with in Gaza, the west Bank and Jerusalem.

The waves of protest and revolution sweeping across the Maghreb and into the Arabian Peninsula cannot pass Israel by. Had Israel reached a sensible solution with the Palestinians, and accepted a Palestinian State based on the 1967 boundaries, it could even now be offering  its Arab neighbours lessons in democracy – since Israel is of course one of the very few democracies in the region. Instead, all Israel can do is wait nervously as the storm approaches.

via BIG THINK

How Consumers Fool Themselves Into Thinking They’ve Made Good Purchases

If you think you make purchases because you logically and objectively evaluate the options at hand, then decide based strictly on your personal preferences and individual sense of value, think again. Here are four examples of how consumers make purchasing decisions in highly irrational, sometimes completely nonsensical ways.

Our preferences are shaped by the masses. Food tastes good (or bad) based on the sensations it causes in your mouth and belly, right? To some extent, absolutely. But marketing experts know that consumer preferences are also shaped based on the taste of our peers, and on social norms and cultural trends. This goes for most consumer choices, including fashion, technology, cars—and yes, even food.

recent Washington Post column uses the example of clam chowder, which was briny and thin throughout New England decades ago, and which is now almost uniformly super thick—and, some detractors say, as tasty as Elmer’s glue. What happened? At some point, restaurateurs got in the habit of adding flour to make chowder thicker and thicker, and now this is what consumers have come to expect constitutes a bowl of “authentic” clam chowder. If a diner ordered clam chowder today and received a bowl filled with the thinner version commonly served a generation ago, it wouldn’t match one’s expectations, and therefore probably wouldn’t taste “good.”

Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out whether companies try to make products that suit the preferences of consumers, or whether consumer preferences are shaped by the products made by companies. Consumer preferences can and do change: For example, it was assumed that Americans liked weak coffee—and then along came Starbucks. Consumers had assumed wine served in screw-top bottles was inferior—until suddenly they were so ubiquitous and acceptable (and easier to open) that many wine lovers came to prefer them.

The point is that individual consumer preferences are often shaped not entirely by the individual, but by the collective preferences of the masses, and by the status quo in the marketplace. Despite the overwhelming number of products on store shelves, and despite how the typical consumer would say he likes having as many options as possible, consumer preferences are often shaped by conformity. As a result, it’s common for competing products to be remarkable similar to one another, as one expect told the Washington Post:

“There are huge incentives in consumer markets even for competing companies to make everything the same,” says Dan McGinn, president of the McGinn Group, a research and strategy consultancy in Arlington.

New Yorker story about the edible insect trend, meanwhile, delves into how consumer taste is shaped simply by the local expectations and norms:

Food preferences are highly local, often irrational, and defining: a Frenchman is a frog because he considers their legs food and the person who calls him one does not. In Santa María Atzompa, a community in Oaxaca where grasshoppers toasted with garlic, chile, and lime are a favorite treat, locals have traditionally found shrimp repulsive. “They would say ‘some people’ eat it, meaning ‘the coastal people,’ ” Ramona Pérez, an anthropologist at San Diego State University, says. When she made scampi for a family there, she told me, they were appalled; the mother, who usually cooked with her, refused to help, and the daughters wouldn’t eat. The coast is less than a hundred miles away.

We assume higher price equates to better quality. While many retailers have gotten in the habit of marking prices down to attract shoppers in recent years, a New York Times story pointed out that luxury goods stores have been succeeding lately at least partially because they have rarely if ever been discounting merchandise. The customer these stores aim to attract is one who would probably think: If that suit or handbag is on sale or had to be marked down, it must be out of fashion, or not be that good quality. As the story sums up:

Part of the demand is also driven by the snob factor: at luxury stores, higher prices are often considered a mark of quality.

Of course, higher prices aren’t necessarily a mark of better quality. They’re just numbers that retailers place on shoes and belts. They’re numbers that retailers hope consumers never question. What an item is “worth,” on the other hand, is an entirely subjective matter determined by the consumer who eagerly snatches the item up or walks away, thinking “What a rip-off!”

We shy away from cheaper options for no good reason. In the same way that some consumers choose items mainly because they’re expensive, others equate cheap (as in: price) with cheap (as in: poor quality). A forthcoming study in the Journal of Marketing Research authored by Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar and others show that consumers often steer clear of less expensive options when good quality is highly important for the purchase at hand. (Specifically, the researchers use dark chocolate and wine as examples.)

This makes sense of course—if you’re aiming for top quality, why not go with the best—but what makes less sense is that the range of choices had a large influence on the purchasing decisions of participants in the experiments. One group was shown five chocolates, the other 21, and the chocolates were supposedly arranged in order of quality rating. Participants were then asked how much they’d pay for a high-quality chocolate from the selection at hand. The consumers shown 21 chocolates were prepared to pay 40% more than the folks shown just five chocolates.

In another experiment, participants were asked to select among three different price groupings of Sauvignon Blancs: cheap, average, and expensive. Without tasting anything, only 25% of participants selected a wine in the least expensive category. Why? Perhaps because they’ve disliked cheaper white wines they’ve had in the past. But let’s be honest: It’s probably because few people want to look cheap. Restaurants know this well, and that’s why the second-cheapest bottle on a wine list often has the biggest markup.

Dumb marketing tricks still do the trick. There’s no shortage of ways retailers manipulate consumers into buying stuff they don’t want and paying more than they need to. A Consumerist post pointed out one of the oldest and most common tricks, which must still work because you see it everywhere you shop. We speak of the bizarre power of numbers ending in a 9:

A national woman’s clothing catalog tried something out a few year ago. With one group of customers, they took one of their dresses and raised the price from $34 to to $39. Sales shot up 25%. With the second group of customers, they raised the price from $34 to $44. There was no change in demand.

The other old pricing trick with a 9 involves listing an item ending in .99—a T-shirt for $9.99, so that the customer reads it as $9 rather than what it really is: a penny shy of $10. But you’re too smart to fall for that, right?

via TIME

Filmmaker replaces eye with a camera [fresh]

  In late 2008 filmmaker Rob Spence, caught our attention when he announced his plan to jam a video camera in his skull to replace an eye he lost to an unfortunate accident. Instead of connecting the camera to his brain, Spence sought to become a so-called “lifecaster,” recording the feed on an external device. Now his bionic eye is up and running, and he’s even partnered with a little company called Square Enix to create a documentary about state-of-the-art prosthetics and cybernetics. The short film, embedded after the break, was commissioned to celebrate the launch of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. But, this isn’t just some over-long commercial for a game, it’s a serious exploration of cutting edge leg, arm, and eye replacement technology. Check it out below, but be warned — there are a few image that might not sit well with weaker stomachs.

via 

How To Force Yourself To Be Creative [mind growth]

  Sometimes (okay a lot of the time), the life of a creative is less about inspiration and more about needing to get x done so that y can happen. In many cases, x equals producing something (a story, a pitch, a design, an order of 2000 butterfly magnets) and y equals getting paid and/or feeling like less of a freelance fraud. So, what happens when you need to be creative under pressure? Can you force yourself to produce when a muse is the furthest thing from your mind? Yes. Here’s how:

Switch out cheerleaders for challengers

Support is great –  bras, orthopedic insoles, those harnesses window washers wear so that they don’t accidentally plunge to their deaths. And while a lack of support certainly makes whatever you’re endeavoring to do a lonelier and potentially more difficult prospect, just having a support system in place isn’t enough of a driver to get your mental assembly line rolling. People who love you no matter what are bad for productivity. Where’s your incentive to innovate if your network simply doles out generic good vibes or unconditional acceptance without really getting what it is you do or understanding the effort involved in it? That way frustration and stagnation lie.

You don’t need cheerleaders, you need competitors and comrades and people whose accomplishments spur you to pursue your own goals with that much more intensity. If you’re going to create consistently, you need to be surrounded (physically or virtually) by other creators who speak your language and share your challenges.

Do more of what you know

When you’re at a creative standstill, swap out innovation for iteration. What do you know? What do you do well? What sort of new spin can you put on a story you’ve told versions of a hundred times before? What new venues can you identify to showcase existing work? Start from solid ground and cast your net ever wider from there. The idea is to blend the familiar and novel, so that you alleviate the creative double-whammy of forcing yourself to come up with a new idea and then figuring out how to implement and market it. Return to the well of what you do best and riff on that theme until it yields a usable outcome.

Get committed

If you’re one of those people with a million great ideas and an insufficient amount of follow-through to pursue them, make commitments that are contingent on you getting your creative act together. Never make time for painting these days? Promise your brother and his bride-to-be a watercolor wedding gift. Register for craft shows knowing full well that if you don’t crank out 65 pendant necklaces on deadline, you forfeit your registration fee and damage your credibility.

In my case, I have plenty of potential stories in my head, but only 24 hours in a day, with the 9-5 block already spoken for. In order to get myself to buckle down and crank out copy, I pitch these stories to various publications. Inevitably, one or more editors will express an interest and then I’m on the hook for producing a draft. With a ready-made outlet for my efforts, it becomes much easier to get myself to write than if I tried to develop something sans deadline and shop it around at my leisure.

via