Monthly Archives: September 2013

Honeybees and Wasps: Up Close

The photos of native bees and wasps taken at the U.S. Geological Survey Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab are used for scientific purposes, but they are created with an eye for artistry.

“I tell the interns and techs that when they are taking these pictures, they are artists,” lab chief Sam Droege said via email. “We have powwows over the pictures after they are taken to discuss lighting, positioning, and the perennial problems of bad bee hair and dirty specimens.”

Droege’s team at the lab develops survey techniques, runs statistics, and creates monitoring programs to determine whether bee populations are declining. “There are likely species of bee much more threatened than honeybees. For most species we really don’t have any idea what the population status is, but for the relatively well studied bumblebees, we know that some species have crashed to the degree that we can no longer find them and may now be extinct,” Droege said.

The photos they take of bee specimens, as well as the plants and insects with which the bees interact, are used in identification guides and posters, presentations, and printed material. Their photographic techniques, based on those developed by the Army’s Institute of Public Health, require a camera with a large sensor area and a macro lens. They take multiple shots and stitch them together to make one photograph that’s entirely in focus.


Chrysidid Wasp, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Halictus ligatus, female, Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Xylocopa mordax, female, Dominican Republic, March 2012
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Augochloropsis metallica, female, Laurel, Md.
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

According to Droege, there are approximately 4,000 bee species north of Mexico. About 400 of them have not even been given a name yet—a fact, Droege said, that puts the study of bees about 100 years behind that of more commonly studied vertebrates like birds. Droege collects some of the specimens himself, but the majority come from national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. He posts the photos on Flickr for the sake of convenience and makes them available in the public domain.

When he started posting them, Droege said he had no idea that there would be so much interest in the photos outside of those who study them for a living or the occasional hobbyist. He suspects that giving online audiences an up-close view of the bees allows them to see the same beauty that scientists observe through their microscopes.

“Would one appreciate things like horses, cows, and the beasts of the African veld if they were the size of ants? Probably not,” Droege said. “But now everyone gets it. There is equal beauty and fantastical detail and color in these insects (many of which I literally just walk outside my house or lab and pick up) equal to those of what we bug heads call the charismatic megafauna [such as cheetahs or pandas]. Now we can finally demonstrate there is an equally charismatic microfauna, and you don’t have to go to Madagascar to find it.”

Bembix americana, Female, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Leptochilus acolhuus, Key Biscayne National Park, Fla.
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Augochlora regina, female, Dominican Republic, March 2012
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Augochlorella aurata, female, Boonesboro, Md. It’s one of the most common bees in eastern North America.
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Lasioglossum puteulanum, male, Oahu, Hawaii, March 2012
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Ceratina dupla, female, Kings County, N.Y.
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Article:  Jordan Teicher via  Slate

Tagged ,

Cybernetic Fields: Simon Stålenhag’s incredible ‘Swedish Sci-Fi Suburbia’ paintings

Gallery Photo:

By Dante D’Orazio via the Verge

Welcome to rural Sweden, sometime in the late ’80s. Citizens go about their mundane lives and children explore the countryside. But something isn’t quite right. Robots and hovercrafts are commonplace, and decaying science facilities sprout from the harsh Scandinavian landscape. There’s even a rumor circulating that dinosaurs have returned from the dead after some failed experiment.

This is the world that exists in artist Simon Stålenhag’s mind, and it’s only accessible through his paintings. The alternate universe he’s created is inspired by the sci-fi movies he watched as a kid growing up in the rural areas around Stockholm. As he explains to The Verge, “The only difference in the world of my art and our world is that … ever since the early 20th century, attitudes and budgets were much more in favor of science and technology.” So boxy Volvos, Volkswagens, and Mercedes share the landscape with robots. But science has lost some of its luster. In Sweden, a massive government science facility (equipped with an underground particle collider, of course) is long past its glory days in the field of “experimental physics.” Despite developments in robotics and “anti-grav” technology, the difficulties of the modern human experience haven’t changed.

The artwork is impactful as a result of this juxtaposition between the harsh realities of life and the sci-fi technologies of our dreams. It’s reminiscent of worlds like the one so effectively portrayed in games likeHalf-Life 2, and like such great video games, the universe created by the artist seems to continue well beyond the edge of the canvas.

Simon Stålenhag used a Wacom tablet and pen to digitally paint the works below. More of his work, including prints and shots of some of the paintings below in detail, are at his website. All images used with permission, and copyright Simon Stålenhag.

Tagged , ,

Che Guevara’s Letter to his Children: Grow up as Good Revolutionaries

In 1955, Argentinean-born Che Guevara met Fidel Castro and quickly joined his efforts to oust Fulgencio Batista as leader of Cuba — a revolution in which he would go on to play a major role and which would lead to Guevara becoming Finance Minister under Castro’s rule. By 1965, Guevara was keen to spread his revolutionary ideas: he began by travelling to the Congo where he unsuccessfully attempted to train rebel forces in the area; he then moved on to Bolivia, where he was ultimately captured by the Bolivian army and later, in 1967, executed on the orders of President René Barrientos.

Before he left for Bolivia, Guevara secretly visited his wife back in Cuba and gave her a letter, to be read by his five children in the event of his death; the next year, he wrote a similar letter just for his eldest daughter, Hilda. Both are below.


To my children

Dear Hildita, Aleidita, Camilo, Celia, And Ernesto,

If you ever have to read this letter, it will be because I am no longer with you. You practically will not remember me, and the smaller ones will not remember me at all.

Your father has been a man who acted on his beliefs and has certainly been loyal to his convictions.

Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard so that you can master technology, which allows us to master nature. Remember that the revolution is what is important, and each one of us, alone is worth nothing.

Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.

Until forever, my children. I still hope to see you.

A great big kiss and a big hug from,



February 15. 1966

Dearest Hildita,

I am writing you now, although you’ll receive this letter much later. But I want you to know that I am thinking about you and I hope you’re having a very happy birthday. You are almost a woman now, and I cannot write to you the way I write to the little ones, telling them silly things or little fibs.

You must know that I am still far away and will be gone for quite some time, doing what I can to fight against our enemies. Not that it is a great thing, but I am doing something, and I think you will always be proud of your father, as I am of you.

Remember, there are many years of struggle ahead, and even when you are a woman, you will have to do your part in the struggle. Meanwhile, you have to prepare yourself, be very revolutionary-which at your age means to learn a lot, as much as possible, and always be ready to support just causes. Also, obey your mother and don’t think that you know it all too soon. That will come in time.

You should fight to be among the best in school. The best in every sense, and you already know what that means; study and revolutionary attitude. In other words: good conduct, seriousness, love for the revolution, comradeship, etc.

I was not that way at your age, but I lived in a different society, where man was an enemy of man. Now you have the privilege of living in another era and you must be worthy of it.

Don’t forget to go by the house to keep an eye on the other kids and advise them to study and behave themselves. Especially Aleldita, who pays a lot of attention to you as her older sister.

All right, old lady. Again I hope you are very happy on your birthday. Give a hug to your mother and to Gina. I give you a great big strong one to last as long as we don’t see each other.

Your Papa

Original article:  Letters of Note

Tagged , , ,

The Tricky Science of Color Perception

Jude Stewart via Design Observer

Color is infinitely shifty. It’s unstable in the presence of nearby colors. It’s vulnerable to tricks of the light. It acts like it’s moving when it’s not. It can act like it’s there when it’s not.

Put another way, color is subject to a thousand kinds of distortion as it travels from an object, through light, through your eye to your (acculturated) brain. Yet the tricky, interwined science and art of color perception still goes under-appreciated.

In my new book ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color, I take readers on an irresistible tour of color’s contradictory “faces”, meanings and moods. Color perception’s contingent nature falls in this category of surprise. Three indefatigably curious amateurs — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Josef Albers, and Joris-Karl Huysmans — paved the way for the more rigorous science of color perception that followed. This post offers a lightning tour of what surprises they reveal about color along the way.


Trifles like writing the blockbuster myth Faust and schooling Darwin in plant morphology paled — in Goethe’s eyes, anyway — to publishing his baby, Theory of Colors (Farbenlehre), in 1810. It culminated over 30 years of Goethe’s increasingly systematic experiments with the factors influencing color perception.

Book cover redesign of Goethe’s Farbenlehre by Daniel Kövesházi

Intended as a corrective to the science underpinning Newton’s Opticks (1704), Goethe imagined darkness not just as absence of light but as its own active force; the battle of Light vs. Dark supposedly threw off observable sparks of color. This wrongheaded conviction led the inventor of Weltliteratur and the Italian tour to spend weekends breathing on glass panes, prodding chocolate-froth bubbles, and flapping his arms in daylight, then jotting down how colors changed in each observation.

soap bubble by Ralph Hockens on Flickr

It’s not exaggerating to say the original Mister Wizard invented the field of color perception using stuff you can buy at Home Depot. Take the simplest-seeming of factors influencing color’s appearance, light sources. Goethe liked the blue shadows cast by candles and how yellow candlelight shifts blues towards looking green and reds toward looking orange. Like a bewigged Max Headroom, he loved how everything looked red after taking green spectacles off. He kept a supply of “confusedly-coiled” steel wire and scratched silver surfaces to learn more about catoptrical colors: how colorless light reveals many colors — mainly red and green — when reflected on an irregular surface.

The chilly nimbus of “snowy vapors”, iridescent fish dying under mountain-clear streams, brilliantly garbed servant-girls approaching at dusk — Goethe observed how all of these shifted his perception of color, in breathless combinations of found poetry and drily notated prose.


Goethe refracted his own Enlightenment-era values into his study of color perception. His tail-waggingly enthusiastic take on the subject was only suitable for publication as “science” before that field’s professionalization. Goethe was succeeded by more rigorous explorations in color perception by Michel Eugène Chevreul, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Albert Henry Munsell.

Even as science diverged into its own discipline in the late 1900s, humanists continued to dredge up surprises in color’s finicky nature. Take the 1884 novel À Rebours (Against Nature) by Joris-Karl Huysmans. This Decadent novel follows an exhausted duke who retreats from his excessive youth to contemplate finer points of aesthetics, especially the shifting nature of color. (À Rebours later became a darling of the 1960s countercultural revolution. Marianne Faithfull summed up its influence in her autobiography: “You would ask your date, ‘Do you know Genet? Have you read À Rebours?’ and if he said yes you’d fuck.”)

Penguin Classic edition of Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans, via Flickr

In one episode, the Duc des Esseintes tackles a classic decorating quandary: What accessory will offset a brilliantly colored rug? At first he releases a live tortoise to crawl over it, but is unsatisfied with the resulting color-contrast:

“Alas! There was no doubt, the negro-head hue, the raw sienna tone of the shell dimmed the sheen of the carpet instead of bringing out the tints; the dominant gleams of silver now barely showed, clashing with the cold tones of scraped zinc along this hard, dull carapace …”

Any sensible Dubai oil-magnate knows the solution: dip the tortoise in gold, encrust its shell with gemstones, and drown the hell out of the rug’s colors by expensive contrast. Over several pages, our hero le Duc turns up his nose at emeralds and rubies (too like the red-and-green headlights on Parisian omnibuses) and amethysts (too beloved by fat butchers’ wives). Instead, le Duc nails the perfect combination with costlier jewels with weirder color-effects: ouvarovite, Ceylon’s cat’s eyes, cymophanes, sapphirines.

Tortoise by Travis Juntara on Flickr

Opal from Quilpie, Queensland, Australia via

Elated with the effect for maybe ten seconds, le Duc leaves the tortoise struggling across the rug to celebrate over buttered toast and tea. He marvels at the spattered stars against the night sky; he mulls a tooth he once had extracted, he plays with his “mouth organ”, a complicated device mixing alcoholic confections in his mouth like musical tones on a piano. Pages into this twee-ing about, le Duc nudges the tortoise and abruptly realizes: the tortoise is dead. (Le Duc concludes, battily but poetically, that the tortoise was crushed not by the actual weight of his hood ornaments, but by the unaccustomed beauty of bearing this scintillating rainbow.)

What does le Duc’s tortoise teach us about color perception? Lots of things. Sapphires lose their flash under artificial light. Opals and hydrophanes only sparkle when wet. Royal in-breeding can make aesthetes downright squirrelly. But most critically: color isn’t lying to us, we’re lying to us. You can change any object’s color by playing around with the light, putting other colors next to it, or adding movement. But color perception is transformed most profoundly, at times, inside our skulls.


“Color deceives continually,” wrote painter and design professor Josef Albers, 150 years after Goethe and 80 years after Huysmans. Explaining this idea in his 1963 bookInteraction of Color, Albers asked us to imagine 3 pots of water of different temperatures: hot, lukewarm and cold.

Plunge your hands first in the hot and cold, and you’ll feel 2 temperatures, one on each hand. Then stick both hands in the lukewarm pot, and you’ll again feel 2 temperatures, the opposite of what you felt before. Your left hand will feel cold after the hot water, and the right hand hot after cold water, but neither will feel the water’s true temperature: lukewarm.

Just as our sense of touch deceives, wrote Albers, “so optical illusions deceive. They lead us to ‘see’ and ‘read’ other colors than those with which we are confronted physically.”

Spreads from Interaction of Color, now available in 50th anniversary edition (Josef Albers with Nicholas Fox Weber)

Armed with a sheaf of colored paper squares, Albers created a series of color studies that showed how colors change each other’s effects just by proximity. To cite just one example, it’s amazing how much the same color, at center below, morphs against the different-colored backgrounds. “The true color of the 2 central squares,” wrote Albers, “therefore becomes unrecognizable, as it loses its identity.” Like a credulous teenager, color bends under peer pressure.

Is color a physical property, “stuff” like pigments or paint? Is it trembling in the light, vibrating in our eyes, or pinging like a champion pinball between our hopelessly separated brains? We’ve almost pinned down answers to all of these questions. As color perception evolved into true science, we’ve studied color-blindness, synesthesia, and other optical effects that influence how color looks to each of us. But intrepid fellows like Goethe, Huysmans and Albers got us all asking big questions about color in the first place.

Tagged , , ,

Eyes Wide Open: Photos From A 1972 Rothschild Surrealist Dinner Party

No, these are not stills from Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film, “Eyes Wide Shut”.

It’s December 12 1972, the night at which Marie-Hélène de Rothschild held her famous Surrealist Ball at Ferrières. As you can probably guess by her surname, she was a member of the ultra-wealthy Rothschild banking family. Few made the guest-list but if you did, it was the ultimate seal of approval from Parisian high-society.

The requirements for the evening were “Black tie, long dresses & Surrealists heads” nothing more, nothing less. In keeping with the theme, the invitation which she sent was actually written backwards – to read the invite you had to hold it up to a mirror.

Now when money is no object, the only limit is ones imagination and it’s fair to say that Marie-Hélène certainly had plenty in supply. Firstly she insisted the iconic Château where the party was to be housed, be floodlight with sweeping amber lights, designed to create the illusion the building was on fire. Once instead, she made sure the entire staircase was filled with servants and footmen dressed as cats – all in various poses of sleep.

And once you’d overcome that initial shock, guests were then forced to enter a hellish labyrinthine maze – where should you get lost, one of the “cats” would rescue you and whisk you away where you’d be formally greeted by Marie-Hélène herself. On this particular night, she was wearing a ginormous giant’s head that was crying tears of diamonds.


Even the great Salvador Dali was in attendance that evening, no doubt being bewitching and entertaining in equal amounts. This is just an account from just one of her parties – she had many. But whatever the date, whomever attended, she was meticulous in planning every finite detail, making sure each gathering was an intriguing (and clearly intoxicating) blend of art, literature, haute couture and dance.

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

via Alex Wain, So Bad So Good

Tagged , , , , ,

The Amplituhedron: Newly Discovered Math Object Means Space & Time May Be An Illusion

The discovery of the amplituhedron, “a newly discovered mathematical object resembling a multifaceted jewel in higher dimensions,” means that space and time may be illusions.

Artist’s rendering of the amplituhedron, a newly discovered mathematical object resembling a multifaceted jewel in higher dimensions. Encoded in its volume are the most basic features of reality that can be calculated — the probabilities of outcomes of particle interactions.

Locality is the notion that particles can interact only from adjoining positions in space and time. And unitarity holds that the probabilities of all possible outcomes of a quantum mechanical interaction must add up to one. The concepts are the central pillars of quantum field theory in its original form, but in certain situations involving gravity, both break down, suggesting neither is a fundamental aspect of nature.

In keeping with this idea, the new geometric approach to particle interactions removes locality and unitarity from its starting assumptions. The amplituhedron is not built out of space-time and probabilities; these properties merely arise as consequences of the jewel’s geometry. The usual picture of space and time, and particles moving around in them, is a construct.

“It’s a better formulation that makes you think about everything in a completely different way,” said David Skinner, a theoretical physicist at Cambridge University.

The amplituhedron itself does not describe gravity. But Arkani-Hamed and his collaborators think there might be a related geometric object that does. Its properties would make it clear why particles appear to exist, and why they appear to move in three dimensions of space and to change over time.


Tagged , , , , , ,

When Sartre and Camus Met Hoover’s G-Men

By D. D. GUTTENPLAN via the New York TImes

Jean-Paul Sartre expounding on his idea of ''littérature engagée,'' or ''committed literature,''  in 1945, at the Maison Française of Columbia University, New York.

Jean-Paul Sartre expounding on his idea of ”littérature engagée,” or ”committed literature,” in 1945, at the Maison Française of Columbia University, New York.

In April 1945, while World War II still raged in Europe and Asia, an emissary from recently liberated Paris arrived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The setting was the Maison Française at Columbia University, a town house on 117th Street devoted to bringing French thought and French thinkers to New York. The messenger was Jean-Paul Sartre, not yet 40 years old, but already acclaimed as a playwright and philosopher. His message, delivered in a seminal lecture later published in Vogue magazine: “Literature is no fancy activity independent of politics.”

Expressing for the first time to a public audience his idea of “littérature engagée,” or “committed literature,” Sartre held up his friend, the novelistAlbert Camus, as a model of a writer who, far from turning his back on conflict and controversy, was fully involved in the burning questions of his day. Sartre himself was in New York on assignment for Combat, the clandestine French resistance newspaper edited by Camus.

A year later, in March 1946, it was Camus’s turn to visit New York. According to Andy Martin, the author of “The Boxer and the Goalkeeper: Sartre versus Camus,” both men’s lectures at Columbia University were well attended by students and faculty members — and by agents from J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I.

Later, Sartre and Camus would quarrel over Soviet communism and the political use of violence, but at that time they were comrades of the left. Yet Sartre, on his visit, was actually invited to the Pentagon; Camus, in contrast, “was stopped at immigration,” said Mr. Martin by telephone. “Hoover sent out a ‘stop letter’ to all U.S. customs agents saying this man should be detained,” Mr. Martin said. Eventually, Camus was allowed to proceed to New York, where his novel “L’Étranger” (“The Stranger”) had just been published in English.

On Sep. 18, Mr. Martin will give a talk at Columbia on “The F.B.I. and French Philosophers,” discussing what happened when Hoover’s G-men met France’s leading Existentialists. The lecture is part of an exhibition and events, starting Sep. 10, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Maison Française.

The idea of a home for French culture on a U.S. campus was the brainchild of Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University from 1902 to 1945. “Butler had lived in Germany and France after he finished his own studies here,” said Shanny Peer, the current director of the Maison Française. “He used to boast: ‘I know every important man in France,’ which was probably true,” she said. “He was also president and founder of the France-America Society, whose membership was a who’s who of New York society.”

When it came to campus outposts, the Germans got there first: The Deutsches Haus at Columbia was founded in 1911. The Maison Française came two years later, after an agreement between Butler and Louis Liard, the head of the Sorbonne in Paris.

A. Barton Hepburn, the New York banker who donated the house on 117th Street — the institute has since moved to nearby Buell Hall — told Butler that he wanted “to place the French interests in this city on a par with the German,” according to an essay in the exhibition catalogue written by Ms. Peer.

The university also organized what may have been the first U.S. study abroad programs, sending students and faculty members on tours of Paris and the French provinces.

“The idea was to create a network of elites in France and America,” said Ms. Peer. For France, the motivation was clear: to make sure that in the event of a war with Germany, the United States would side with the French.

When World War I broke out in 1914, J.P. Morgan, the treasurer of the France-America Society, became the purchasing agent for both the French and British governments, while his eponymous banking firm raised hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to France and Britain.

“You have to remember that before World War I, the United States had much stronger ties with Germany than France,” Ms. Peer said. “There were many more Americans of German origin, and in academia especially, German universities were particularly influential.” Yet, “by the end of the war, French had replaced German as the most studied foreign language in the U.S.,” she said.

According to Michael Rosenthal, an English professor at Columbia and the author of “Nicholas Miraculous,” a biography of Butler, the shift in allegiance was wrenching. “Butler loved the Germans, Kaiser Wilhelm above all,” Mr. Rosenthal said. But after publicly praising the Kaiser, to whom he wrote a lengthy testimonial in the New York Times Magazine in June 1913, Butler welcomed the opportunity offered by the Maison Française to “cover his pro-German tracks,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “He was obviously horribly embarrassed by what he had done.”

Though the Deutsches Haus was shut during the war — its premises were used as part of the Columbia War Hospital — the French link flourished, with the university awarding honorary doctorates to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander of the Allied forces, and to Prime Minister Aristide Briand in 1921.

When hostilities between Germany and France resumed in World War II, Frédéric Hoffherr, a professor of French and the director of the Maison Française, formed a committee to support the efforts of Charles De Gaulle. He later worked for the U.S. Office of War Information, the propaganda agency that invited Sartre to the United States.

“Sartre was part of a group of journalists brought over by the O.W.I.,” said Mr. Martin. “They were trying to put out good propaganda, and Hoover wondered what kind of good propaganda you can hope to get out of the author of ‘Nausea’ and ‘Being and Nothingness.”’

“Hoover thought there must be some kind of conspiracy between communists, blacks, poets and French philosophers. He was hoping for some kind of evidence of conspiracy,” he said.

The F.B.I. was baffled by Sartre. “These agents were trying to work out what the hell existentialism was all about,” said Mr. Martin, adding that “20 years later there’s a note in Sartre’s file saying ‘I can’t work out if he’s pro-Communist or anti-Communist.’ They were still baffled!”

At least they spelled Sartre’s name correctly, unlike that of Camus, who is identified as “Canus” or “Corus” in his file.

“Camus had been a member of the French Communist party, but the F.B.I. didn’t seem to know that,” said Mr. Martin. “The thing that disturbed them was that he was a member of the resistance.”

Describing the whole episode as “the Untouchables in pursuit of the unintelligible,” Mr. Martin said that the visits of Sartre and Camus to New York had a lasting impact on both.

“Sartre mistrusted America politically. He thought there was a conspiracy to support Vichy,” the French collaborationist government. “But he loved the literature. He loved jazz. He loved the movies,” Mr. Martin said.

“Camus was much more ambivalent,” Mr. Martin continued. “He acquired a girlfriend” — Patricia Blake, a young copywriter at Vogue magazine — and “he loved ice cream and the Camel billboard in Times Square that sent out real smoke. But he found America depressing and never returned.”

Tagged , ,

Commie Spy Costumes: The declassified fashions of East German spies

For more than three years, German photographer Simon Menner has immersed himself in the invasive culture of the Stasi, the security service that snooped on East Germans for 40 years. Officially known as The Ministry for State Security, the Stasi recruited from all walks of life, enlisting over 2.5 percent of East Germany’s adult population as unofficial informants just before the Berlin wall fell. So powerful was the agency that Simon Wiesenthal, famous for hunting Nazi criminals, said “the Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people.” For the Stasi, the key to effectively managing East Germany’s population was blending in.
While researching his new book, Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives, Menner uncovered troves of documents and photographs detailing the inner-workings of the Stasi, including a dress code for undercover agents. “Once top secret, and now preposterous, these images are both comical and sinister,” says the book’s synopsis. We spoke with Menner, who gave us some insight into the disturbing reality of Stasi East Germany.

Menner’s collection includes many example disguises, which were formulated to help agents blend into everyday East German life. It’s a stark contrast to the Nazi Gestapo’s ominous black uniform, showcasing the insidious nature of the Stasi’s integration into East German life. The photographs were shown at Stasi seminars, as a guide for undercover operatives. “The sad thing is they had to try hard to dress up like ordinary citizens. Something that normally should come easily.”
“Friends of mine who are older than I am and who grew up in East Germany tell me that this is exactly what [Stasi operatives] looked like.”

“As an artist I am very much interested in how images work and how they are used to manipulate people. I did a lot of research on the nature and structure of surveillance systems, because I thought that these are the people who deal with images a lot and use them against the will of those shown – or even those who have taken them in the first place.”

Although the disguises are the most visually interesting aspect of Menner’s book, he says they aren’t the most disturbing photographs by a long shot. Above are the first images Menner ever requested, and his reason for embarking on his search for more.

“The Stasi used to perform secret house searches. They broke into private apartments to search them… The victims of these actions, the people living there, were never to learn about the fact their private belongings had been searched. To achieve this, the Stasi agents used Polaroid cameras. These enabled them to put everything back into its original position after the search had been performed. So when you see a Polaroid of an unmade bed, it is actually an unmade bed before it has been searched. I find that revolting.”
“I am not so much interested in East Germany or the Stasi than rather our own time and place.If I could I would choose the last two weeks of surveillance of the CIA, [the German intelligence agency] BND, and [the British intelligence agency] GCHQ for my project. But I can’t. These archives remain closed.”

“What does the collection tell us about the Stasi and East Germany? Maybe some things we already know… How terrible the Stasi was, and how extensive their operation has was. Maybe some things we did not expect. But a key element is missing. Was the Stasi agents’ state of mind different to those of their Western counterparts? I doubt it, but this remains a mystery.”

Menner ended our conversation with a story, relayed to him by an archivist that aided him in his research.

The story tells of the archivist’s aunt, who was unaware that her husband was in cohorts with the Stasi. While she was at work, her husband rented the private apartment to the Stasi for secret meetings. “She was the only person in the family who drank coffee, and she was left-handed.” Before she left the apartment each morning, she cleaned the family coffee maker and placed it back into the machine, handle on the left.
Occasionally, the lady returned from work and found the handle would be on the right. Her husband wasn’t a coffee drinker, and when she asked him about it, “he accused her of being paranoid.” Secretly, the husband relayed her concerns to the Stasi, who created an entire file specifically on how to correctly clean and arrange coffee makers. “She only learned of this after the wall came down while looking through her files,” says Menner, “She also learned that he spied on their entire family — her included.”
It’s a small anecdote, but one that perfectly demonstrates the extent to which the Stasi infiltrated everyday life, dividing families and creating a surveillance state.
Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives will be released on November 30th. You can pre-order it here. A collection of images from the book, including more disguises, images of house searches, hand-to-hand combat techniques, hidden cameras, and even fake beards, is available free of charge at Simon Menner’s website.
Article via the Verge
Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: