Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Peng Shuilin, 37, spent nearly two years in hospital in Shenzhen, southern China, undergoing a series of operations to re-route nearly every major organ or system inside his body.
Now Peng - who opened his own cut-price supermarket called the Half Man-Half Price Store - has survived so well he's being used as a role model for other amputees.
At just 2ft 7ins tall, he gets around in a wheelchair and gives lectures on recovering from disability.
"We've just given him a check up and he is fitter than most men his age. He is amazing and the only person in the world to survive having so much of his body amputated," said Bujie Hospital vice president Lin Liu.
"He had good care but his secret is his cheerfulness - nothing ever gets him down," he added.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
"I Will Never Know Why"
Dylan's fifth birthday.
Since the day her son participated in the most devastating high school shooting America has ever seen, I have wanted to sit down with Susan Klebold to ask her the questions we've all wanted to ask—starting with "How did you not see it coming?" and ending with "How did you survive?" Over the years, Susan has politely declined interview requests, but several months ago she finally agreed to break her silence and write about her experience for O. Even now, many questions about Columbine remain. But what Susan writes here adds a chilling new perspective. This is her story. — Oprah
The level of pain in his voice could mean only one thing: Something had happened to one of our sons. In the seconds that passed as I picked up the phone and dialed our house, panic swelled within me; it felt as though millions of tiny needles were pricking my skin. My heart pounded in my ears. My hands began shaking. I tried to orient myself. One of my boys was at school and the other was at work. It was the lunch hour. Had there been a car accident?
When my husband picked up the phone, he shouted, "Listen to the television!"—then held out the receiver so I could hear. I couldn't understand the words being broadcast, but the fact that whatever had happened was big enough to be on TV filled me with terror. Were we at war? Was our country under nuclear attack? "What's happening?" I shrieked.
He came back on the line and poured out what he'd just learned during a distraught call from a close friend of our 17-year-old son, Dylan: There was some kind of shooting at the high school…gunmen in black trenchcoats were firing at people…the friend knew all the kids who wore trenchcoats, and all were accounted for except Dylan and his friend Eric…and Dylan and Eric hadn't been in class that morning…and no one knew where they were.
My husband had told himself that if he found the coat, Dylan couldn't be involved. He'd torn the house apart, looking everywhere. No coat. When there was nowhere left to look, somehow he knew the truth. It was like staring at one of those computer-generated 3-D pictures when the abstract pattern suddenly comes into focus as a recognizable image.
I barely got enough air in my lungs to say, "I'm coming home." We hung up without saying goodbye.
My office was 26 miles from our house. All I could think as I drove was that Dylan was in danger. With every cell in my body, I felt his importance to me, and I knew I would never recover if anything happened to him. I seesawed between impossible possibilities, all of them sending me into paroxysms of fear. Maybe no one knew where Dylan was because he'd been shot himself. Maybe he was lying in the school somewhere injured or dead. Maybe he was being held hostage. Maybe he was trapped and couldn't get word to us. Maybe it was some kind of prank and no one was hurt. How could we think for even a second that Dylan could shoot someone? Shame on us for even considering the idea. Dylan was a gentle, sensible kid. No one in our family had ever owned a gun. How in the world could he be part of something like this?
When I got home my husband told me the police were on their way. I had so much adrenaline in my system that even as I was changing out of my work clothes, I was racing from room to room. I felt such an urgency to be ready for whatever might happen next. I called my sister. As I told her what was going on, I was overcome by horror, and I started to cry. Moments after I hung up the phone, my 20-year-old son walked in and lifted me like a rag doll in his arms while I sobbed into a dish towel. Then my husband shouted from the front hallway, "They're here!"
Members of a SWAT team in dark uniforms with bulletproof vests had arrived. I thought they were coming to help us or to get our assistance in helping Dylan; if Dylan did have a gun, maybe they were hoping we could persuade him to put it down. But it seemed that in the SWAT team's eyes, we were suspects ourselves. Years later I would learn that many of their actions that day were intended to protect us; fearing that we would hurt ourselves or that our home might have been rigged with explosives, they told us we had to leave the house. For the rest of the afternoon, we stayed outside, sitting on the sidewalk or pacing up and down our brick walk. When we needed to use the bathroom, two armed guards escorted us inside and waited by the door.
I do not remember how or when, but sometime that day it was confirmed that Dylan and Eric were indeed perpetrators in a massacre at the school. I was in shock and barely grasped what was happening, but I could hear the television through the open windows. News coverage announced a growing tally of victims. Helicopters began circling overhead to capture a killer's family on film. Cars lined the road and onlookers gawked to get a better view.
Though others were suffering, my thoughts focused on the safety of my own child. With every moment that passed, the likelihood of seeing Dylan as I knew him diminished. I asked the police over and over, "What's happening? Where's Dylan? Is he okay?" Late in the afternoon someone finally told me that he was dead but not how he died. We were told to evacuate for a few days so authorities could search our home; we found shelter in the basement of a family member's house. After a sleepless night, I learned that Dylan and Eric had killed 12 students and one teacher, and injured 24 others, before taking their own lives.
His adolescence was less joyful than his childhood. As he grew, he became extremely shy and uncomfortable when he was the center of attention, and would hide or act silly if we tried to take his picture. By junior high, it was evident that he no longer liked school; worse, his passion for learning was gone. In high school, he held a job and participated as a sound technician in school productions, but his grades were only fair. He hung out with friends, slept late when he could, spent time in his room, talked on the phone, and played video games on a computer he built. In his junior year, he stunned us by hacking into the school's computer system with a friend (a violation for which he was expelled), but the low point of that year was his arrest. After the arrest, we kept him away from Eric for several weeks, and as time passed he seemed to distance himself from Eric of his own accord. I took this as a good sign.
By Dylan's senior year, he had grown tall and thin. His hair was long and scraggly; under his baseball cap, it stuck out like a clown wig. He'd been accepted at four colleges and had decided to go to the University of Arizona, but he'd never regained his love of learning. He was quiet. He grew irritated when we critiqued his driving, asked him to help around the house, or suggested that he get a haircut. In the last few months of senior year, he was pensive, as if he were thinking about the challenges of growing older. One day in April I said, "You seem so quiet lately—are you okay?" He said he was "just tired." Another time I asked if he wanted to talk about going away to college. I told him that if he didn't feel ready, he could stay home and go to a community college. He said, "I definitely want to go away." If that was a reference to anything more than leaving home for college, it never occurred to me.
Early on April 20, I was getting dressed for work when I heard Dylan bound down the stairs and open the front door. Wondering why he was in such a hurry when he could have slept another 20 minutes, I poked my head out of the bedroom. "Dyl?" All he said was "Bye." The front door slammed, and his car sped down the driveway. His voice had sounded sharp. I figured he was mad because he'd had to get up early to give someone a lift to class. I had no idea that I had just heard his voice for the last time.
These thoughts may seem foolish in light of what we now know, but they reflect what we believed to be true about Dylan. Yes, he had filled notebook pages with his private thoughts and feelings, repeatedly expressing profound alienation. But we'd never seen those notebooks. And yes, he'd written a school paper about a man in a black trenchcoat who brutally murders nine students. But we'd never seen that paper. (Although it had alarmed his English teacher enough to bring it to our attention, when we asked to see the paper at a parent-teacher conference, she didn't have it with her. Nor did she describe the contents beyond calling them "disturbing." At the conference—where we discussed many things, including books in the curriculum, Gen X versus Gen Y learners, and the '60s folk song "Four Strong Winds"—we agreed that she would show the paper to Dylan's guidance counselor; if he thought it was a problem, one of them would contact me. I never heard from them.) We didn't see the paper, or Dylan's other writings, until the police showed them to us six months after the tragedy.
In the weeks and months that followed the killings, I was nearly insane with sorrow for the suffering my son had caused, and with grief for the child I had lost. Much of the time, I felt that I could not breathe, and I often wished that I would die. I got lost while driving. When I returned to work part-time in late May, I'd sit through meetings without the slightest idea of what was being said. Entire conversations slipped from memory. I cried at inappropriate times, embarrassing those around me. Once, I saw a dead pigeon in a parking lot and nearly became hysterical. I mistrusted everything—especially my own judgment.
Seeing pictures of the devastation and the weeping survivors was more than I could bear. I avoided all news coverage in order to function. I was obsessed with thoughts of the innocent children and the teacher who suffered because of Dylan's cruelty. I grieved for the other families, even though we had never met. Some had lost loved ones, while others were coping with severe, debilitating injuries and psychological trauma. It was impossible to believe that someone I had raised could cause so much suffering. The discovery that it could have been worse—that if their plan had worked, Dylan and Eric would have blown up the whole school—only increased the agony.
Through all of this, I felt extreme humiliation. For months I refused to use my last name in public. I avoided eye contact when I walked. Dylan was a product of my life's work, but his final actions implied that he had never been taught the fundamentals of right and wrong. There was no way to atone for my son's behavior.
Those of us who cared for Dylan felt responsible for his death. We thought, "If I had been a better (mother, father, brother, friend, aunt, uncle, cousin), I would have known this was coming." We perceived his actions to be our failure. I tried to identify a pivotal event in his upbringing that could account for his anger. Had I been too strict? Not strict enough? Had I pushed too hard, or not hard enough? In the days before he died, I had hugged him and told him how much I loved him. I held his scratchy face between my palms and told him that he was a wonderful person and that I was proud of him. Had he felt pressured by this? Did he feel that he could not live up to my expectations?
I longed to talk to Dylan one last time and ask him what he had been thinking. I spoke to him in my thoughts and prayed for understanding. I concluded that he must not have loved me, because love would have prevented him from doing what he did. And though at moments I was angry with him, mostly I thought that I was the one who needed his forgiveness because I'd failed to see that he needed help.
Still, Dylan's participation in the massacre was impossible for me to accept until I began to connect it to his own death. Once I saw his journals, it was clear to me that Dylan entered the school with the intention of dying there. And so, in order to understand what he might have been thinking, I started to learn all I could about suicide.
Suicide is the end result of a complex mix of pathology, character, and circumstance that produces severe emotional distress. This distress is so great that it impairs one's ability to think and act rationally. From the writings Dylan left behind, criminal psychologists have concluded that he was depressed and suicidal. When I first saw copied pages of these writings, they broke my heart. I'd had no inkling of the battle Dylan was waging in his mind. As early as two years before the shootings, he wrote about ending his life. In one poem, he wrote, "Revenge is sorrow / death is a reprieve / life is a punishment / others' achievements are tormentations / people are alike / I am different." He wrote about his longing for love and his near obsession with a girl who apparently did not know he existed. He wrote, "Earth, humanity, HERE. that's mostly what I think about. I hate it. I want to be free…free… I thought it would have been time by now. the pain multiplies infinitely. Never stops. (yet?) i'm here, STILL alone, still in pain…."
Among the items police found in his room were two half-empty bottles of Saint-John's-wort, an herb believed to elevate mood and combat mild depression. I asked one of Dylan's friends if he knew that Dylan had been taking it. Dylan told him he hoped it would increase his "motivation."
Each year there are approximately 33,000 suicides in the United States. (In Colorado, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34.) And it is estimated that 1 to 2 percent of suicides involve the killing of an additional person or people. I will never know why Dylan was part of that small percentage. I will never be able to explain or excuse what he did. No humiliating experience at school could justify such a disproportionate reaction. Nor can I say how powerfully he was influenced by a friend. I don't know how much control he had over his choices at the time of his death, what factors pushed him to commit murder, and why he did not end his pain alone. In talking with other suicide survivors and attempters, however, I think I have some idea why he didn't ask for help.
I believe that Dylan did not want to talk about his thoughts because he was ashamed of having them. He was accustomed to handling his own problems, and he perceived his inability to do so as a weakness. People considering suicide sometimes feel that the world would be better off without them, and their reasons for wanting to die make sense to them. They are too ill to see the irrationality of their thinking. I believe it frightened Dylan to encounter something he did not know how to manage, since he had always taken pride in his self-reliance. I believe he tried to push his negative thoughts away, not realizing that bringing them out in the open was a way to conquer them.
In loving memory of Dylan, I support suicide research and encourage responsible prevention and awareness practices as well as support for survivors. I hope that someday everyone will recognize the warning signs of suicide—including feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal, pessimism, and other signs of serious depression—as easily as we recognize the warning signs of cancer. I hope we will get over our fear of talking about suicide. I hope we will teach our children that most suicidal teens telegraph their intentions to their friends, whether through verbal statements, notes, or a preoccupation with death. I hope we come to understand the link between suicidal behavior and violent behavior, and realize that dealing with the former may help us prevent the latter. (According to the U.S. Secret Service Safe School Initiative, 78 percent of school attackers have a history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts.) But we must remember that warning signs may not always tell the story. No one saw that Dylan was depressed. He did not speak of death, give away possessions, or say that the world would be better off without him. And we should also remember that even if someone is exhibiting signs of suicide risk, it may not always be possible to prevent tragedy. Some who commit suicide or murder-suicide are—like Eric Harris—already receiving psychiatric care.
If my research has taught me one thing, it's this: Anyone can be touched by suicide. But for those who are feeling suicidal or who have lost someone to suicide, help is available—through resources provided by nonprofits like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the American Association of Suicidology. (If you are having persistent thoughts about suicide, call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 800-273-8255 to speak with a counselor. And if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one to suicide, know that National Survivors of Suicide Day is November 21, with more than 150 conferences scheduled across the United States and around the world.)
For the rest of my life, I will be haunted by the horror and anguish Dylan caused. I cannot look at a child in a grocery store or on the street without thinking about how my son's schoolmates spent the last moments of their lives. Dylan changed everything I believed about my self, about God, about family, and about love. I think I believed that if I loved someone as deeply as I loved him, I would know if he were in trouble. My maternal instincts would keep him safe. But I didn't know. And my instincts weren't enough. And the fact that I never saw tragedy coming is still almost inconceivable to me. I only hope my story can help those who can still be helped. I hope that, by reading of my experience, someone will see what I missed.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Believe it or not, this is a Visit Denmark advertisement.
Karen, however, is the actress Ditte Arnth Jørgsensen, the baby is not hers, and the viral advert was produced using taxpayers money.
The fabricated story behind the video is that the young woman met a tourist by chance in the Nyhavn area of Copenhagen, introduced him to the Danish concept of hygge or cosiness. The next morning his side of the bed was empty when she woke up, and nine months later the now one-and-a-half-year-old August appeared on the scene.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Q:What do you get when you cross Jesse James, Robin Hood, and Jack Bauer in the body of a giant, bearded, bald Greek man?
This crazy, utterly fearless dude is public enemy number one in Greece, and probably one of the most badass motherfuckers to come from the country since the days of our friend Leonidas.
Vassilis' story starts back in the early 90s, when he went on an insane crime spree of delicious armed robbery, blackmail, extortion, and kidnapping. Basically, his modus operandi was to kidnap a super-rich bastard, hold him for a ridiculous ransom, and then sell him back to his stupid family in exchange for giant piles of cold, hard cash. Then, he'd take that bling, keep a small percentage of it for himself, and distribute the rest of his newly-acquired wealth to impoverished farmers of the tiny rural province in which he grew up. The dude quickly made a name for himself as the Robin Hood of Greece, and was beloved by fans of badassery, the people of the lower classes, and pretty much anybody else he wasn't in the process of robbing or extorting for money. Shit, even the fucking people he kidnapped came out later and said that he was very polite and respectful to them while they were in captivity, and that it was pretty much the most pleasant kidnapping they'd ever experienced. That should give you some indication of what this dude was all about – steal from the rich, give to the poor, make a profit in the process, and be completely awesome all of the goddamned time. He also made a vow never to harm a member of the public in his criminal escapades. He's been true to his word.
In true badass fashion, Vassilis Paleokostas also has a trusty sidekick – a lunatic Albanian named Alket Rizai. Rizai is like the Friar Tuck in this story, only if instead of being a benevolent, staff-swinging priest, the clergyman was a crazy gunman with a hair-trigger and a penchant for firing automatic weapons at heavily-armed tactical police officers. Rizai is currently up on charges for murder, though I haven't really been able to track down any details about any of that (that's the problem with trying to research current events, I suppose). My assumption is that he was being attacked by some evil corrupt officers sent by the Sherriff of Nottingham and responded by burning a full clip of Uzi ammunition into them, jumping through a plate glass window, rescuing a damsel in distress, and swinging off on a chandelier with a hot babe clinging to his rippling biceps. According to a Greek friend of mine, this guy once blew up a known Mafia hangout by shooting it with a fucking rocket launcher.
Of course, the downside to being a career criminal – even a happy-go-lucky one who commits non-violent crimes in the name of the oppressed populace – is that eventually the long arm of the law is going to bitch-slap you in the fucking face really really hard. In 1995, Vassilis Paleokostas was caught by the fuzz, convicted of kidnapping, robbery, and weapons charges, and hauled off to a federal pound-me-in-the-ass penitentiary known as Korydallos Prison.
Now over the years, Korydallos Prison has gained a reputation as being one of the harshest and most brutal prisons in Greece. This place is like a mix between Andersonville, Oz, and that stupid plastic box they keep Magneto inside in the X-Men movies. The warden is a hardass son-of-a-bitch, the guards don't give a shit, and people that go inside the facility never come out.
Except Vassilis Paleokostas.
In June 2006, Paleokostas' older brother (another pathological criminal who is now serving jail time on 16 counts of armed robbery) commandeered a helicopter, and landed it right in the middle of the fucking exercise yard of the prison in broad daylight. The armed guards at Korydallos, not expecting to be subjected to such an unbelievable display of gigantic steel-plated testicles, assumed that this chopper belonged to the warden or the Chief of Prisons or something, and instead of investigating it they all decided to make sure their shoes were appropriately spit-shined so as not to incur a citation from their wrathful bosses. Vassilis (who had orchestrated the entire operation from the beginning) and his Albanian buddy simply walked up to the helicopter, hopped inside, and lifted off. By the time the guards got their heads out of their asses and started firing their guns at the bird, it was already too late. Paleokostas had escaped.
So the Greek police put out an all-points bulletin, and a nation-wide manhunt began for the Greek Robin Hood. Officers, dogs, and federal agents scoured the countryside for this fugitive day and night, relentlessly following leads and doing everything in their power to bring this wanted criminal to justice.
Paleokostas evaded them for two and a half years. He lived in the mountains outside Athens, evaded all attempts to recapture him, and even orchestrated another high-profile kidnapping in the process – snatching a powerful jackass CEO industrialist, ransoming him for a huge wad of cash, and once again distributing the loot to local farmers and families. There are also rumors that he planned and executed another kidnapping while he was still incarcerated, which is bonus points no matter how you look at it.
In August 2008, Paleokostas was tracked down and re-captured by the Greek police. He was placed in a different maximum security facility, where he was held for another six months, awaiting trial for his brazen escape in 2006. On 21 February 2009, Vassilis Paleokostas was transferred back to his old home – Korydallos Prison. His trial was to begin on the 23rd, and he was to stay in his former holding area while he stood trial for this crime.
But he never made it to trial. The very next day, 22 February, ANOTHER FUCKING HELICOPTER showed up in the skies above Korydallos Prison. It flew over a large tower of the prison, lowered a long rope ladder, and Vassilis Paleokostas and Alket Rizai climbed up into the chopper. As the helicopter flew off into the sunset, the prisoners of Korydallos cheered.
Greek police opened fire on the chopper as it flew off, but a woman returned fire with an AK-47 assault rifle. Now having hot Greek babes with automatic weapons come save your ass from prison isn't the sort of thing that happens to normal people every day, but that's just how things work out for you when you're a badass like Vassilis Paleokostas.
The police eventually tracked down the helicopter, and found that it had ditched on the side of the road outside Athens with a bullet hole in the gas tank. According to the pilot, Paleokostas and his associates left the chopper and drove off on totally sweet motorcycles to an undisclosed location. They also popped some totally bitchin' wheelies while doing so.
Vassilis not only earned his freedom for the second time, and once again showed the world that his ballsack is roughly the size of a small continent, but he also got some sweet delicious revenge on the motherfuckers in charge of the Greek prison system at the same time. For allowing the same guy to escape the same prison in the same manner twice in a row, the Greek government fired the country's Chief of Prisons, the Inspector-General of Prisons, the warden of Korydallos, and three guards at the facility. They all learned what it means to step to somebody as awesome as the Greek Robin Hood.
Vassilis Paleokostas is fully rad because he kicked ass, won the respect of the people, said "fuck you" to the police, and managed to single-handedly place the country's three top-ranking prison officials in the back of the unemployment line.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
In what has proved to be the discovery of the largest known crystals on earth, work is underway to document and preserve this historic find. While some minor damage has already occurred in the primary cave and a secondary cavern, called Cave of Dreams, iron doors have been installed by the Peñoles company to prevent damage to the giant, magnificent crystals. While investigations are underway the mine is closed, but with the newly installed lighting system, it is expected to open in the fall 2001.
Found deep in a mine in southern Chihuahua Mexico, these crystals were formed in a natural cave totally enclosed in bedrock. When I first stepped into the cavern it was like walking into the Land of the Giants. I have often admired crystal geodes held in my hand, but when photographing these unique natural structures it was almost impossible to get any sense of scale. This is a geode full of spectacular crystals as tall as pine trees, and in some cases greater in circumference. They have formed beautiful crystals that are a translucent gold and silver in color, and come in many incredible forms and shapes. Some of the largest are essentially columnar in shape and stand thirty to fifty feet high and three to four feet in diameter. Many of the smaller examples are four to six feet in circumference, have many incredible geometrical shapes, and probably weigh in excess of ten tons. The columnar pillars are at first the most striking shape, but later I noticed there were thousands of "sharks teeth" up to three feet high placed row upon row and dispersed at odd angles throughout the caverns. While some of the crystals are attached to the ceiling walls and floors of the cave as might be expected, some exist in great masses of spikes and almost float in air. These crystals seem to defy gravity, as they must weigh several tons.
The crystal cavern was discovered within the same limestone body that hosts the silver-zinc-lead ore bodies exploited by the mine. The cavern was probably dissolved by the same hydrothermal fluids that deposited the metals with the gypsum being crystallized during the waning stages of mineralization. The crystals probably grew relatively quickly to their immense size within a completely liquid-filled cavern.
As a professional photographer who specializes in environmentally difficult, narrow and wet canyons worldwide, it was almost impossible to obtain clear photographs even using every trick and technique I know, because of the extreme ambient environment. These crystals are probably stable, as the temperature in the cave is over 150 degrees Fahrenheit with 100% humidity. In other words, these structures are enveloped in steam. As a photographer used to working in dark and dangerous environments, this experience was unique. A human can only function in this environment for six to ten minutes before severe loss of mental functions occurs. I was so excited while photographing the crystals that I really had to focus and concentrate intensely on getting back out the door, which was perhaps only thirty to forty feet away.
The Naica mine was first discovered by early prospectors in 1794 south of Chihuahua City. They struck a vein of silver at the base of a range of hills called Naica by the Tarahumara Indians. The origin in the Tarahumara language seems to mean "a shady place". Perhaps here in the small canyon there was a grove of trees tucked away by a small canyon spring.
From the discovery until about 1900, the primary interest was silver and gold. Around 1900 large-scale mining began as zinc and lead became more valuable.
During the Mexican Revolution the mine was producing a great deal of wealth. Revolutionary troops entered the town and demanded money from the owners. One of them was assassinated when he refused to pay, causing the mine to shut down from 1911 to 1922.
Just before the mine was closed, the famous Cave of Swords was discovered at a depth of 400 feet. Due to the incredible crystals, it was decided to try to preserve this cave. While many of the crystals have been collected, this is still a fascinating cave to visit. In one part there are so many crystals on one of the walls, they appear to be like an underwater reef moving in a gentle undulating motion in an ocean current.
In April 2000, brothers Juan and Pedro Sanchez were drilling a new tunnel when they made a truly spectacular discovery. While Naica miners are accustomed to finding crystals, Juan and Pedro were absolutely amazed by the cavern that they found. The brothers immediately informed the engineer in charge, Roberto Gonzalez. Ing. Gonzalez realized that they had discovered a natural treasure and quickly rerouted the tunnel. During this phase some damage was done as several miners tried to remove pieces of the mega-crystals, so the mining company soon installed an iron door to protect the find. Later, one of the workers, with the intention of stealing crystals, managed to get in through a narrow hole. He tried to take some plastic bags filled with fresh air inside, but the strategy didn't work. He lost consciousness and later was found thoroughly baked.
When entering the cave our group is issued helmets, lanterns, rubber boots, and gloves. We are then driven by truck into the main mining tunnel called Rampa Sn. Francisco. While the vertical drop is approximately 1000 feet, the drive is almost a half mile long. The heat steadily increases and the ladies could be observed to begin "glowing". The truck stops in front of a concrete wall with a steel door. I start working frantically to put the final touches on my pre-prepared camera outfit. I usually have four separate camera units, but they must be padded for the trip and then receive a last minute detail check. Every single item is preset before entering the cavern, as every moment inside is precious and concentration must be focused strictly on the crystals and people. The photographic machinery must work perfectly as the heat almost immediately begins to impair brain function.
At the end of the tunnel there are three or four steps into the aperture of the cavern itself. It is in this short tunnel that I move very quickly and concentrate on focusing my mind and that of my group on the task of photography. In this short distance the temperature and humidity goes from being uncomfortably warm to literally a blast furnace. Almost immediately our clothing is so soaked in sweat that it becomes heavy and starts to slide off our bodies. On my first trip it was really hard to keep my pants up, which was a new and unexpected experience.
Momentarily, the penetrating heat is forgotten as the crystals pop into view on the other side of the newly named "Eye of the Queen". The entire panorama is now lighted and the cavern has a depth and impressive cathedral-like appearance that was not visible on earlier trips with just our headlamps.
When inside the great cathedral of crystals, the pressure of intense heat makes my feelings run up and down the emotional scale from shear religious awe to outright panic. The ladies are no longer "glowing" and indeed are "red hot". When I'm done working after three trips into the great cavern, my friends almost have to carry me out. We want to see more, but physically cannot. When the experience is over there is a great relief, but all we can think about is when can we go back in.
When I talk to professional geologists about crystals they tell me that these natural forms are incredibly complex, yet so simple. They have a magical or metaphysical personality independent of their chemical structures. These geologists have explained to me that there is a magma chamber two to three miles below the mountain and that heat from this compressed lava travels through the faults up into the area of the mine. Super heated fluids carry the minerals the miners are seeking as well as form the crystals. The mine is ventilated; otherwise, it could not be worked. Some parts, however, are not air-conditioned, such as the Cave of the Crystals, and there you feel the heat from the magma deep below.
When describing the crystal formation the geologists' eyes light up with a special emotional fascination. They tell how the fluids travel along the Naica fault, enter voids in the bedrock, and then form entirely natural structures that are not easily explained by science.
I have been told that the mining company was afraid to tunnel through the Naica fault for fear of flooding the entire mine. In April 2000, the company became confident that the water table on the other side of the fault had been lowered sufficiently to drill. When they did this, it is almost as if a magical veil of reality was breached and an entirely new world was discovered. Two caverns filled with the Earth's largest crystals were immediately revealed. More discoveries are expected to be made in this magical kingdom of intense natural beauty.
Selenite, the gypsum crystal, named after the Greek goddess of the moon due to its soft white light, is said to have many metaphysical and healing benefits. Selenite powder has been used cosmetically for thousands of years to enhance one's natural beauty. It is believed that this crystal assists with mental focus, growth, luck, immunity, and soothes the emotions. It is unquestionably magical that the cool white rays of moonlight can originate deep underground in a black chamber that is, at least in my perception, white hot.
I thank Ing. Roberto Gonzales and Ing. Roberto Villasuso, of the Pe¤oles Mining Company and Sonia Estrada and Carlos Lazcano for contributions to this text and photographs.
Monday, August 3, 2009
When he proposed, Tony Lucchese told Sarah LaFore that she was his kryptonite.
He gave her a green diamond ring. Then he got planning.
On their big day, Batman could rappel from the ceiling. Superman could say his vows to Wonder Woman. The whole wedding party — and guests — could dress up.
After an exploratory climb, the dive from the rafters was nixed — it's no grand entrance if the best man breaks a leg. Guests-to-be said they'd rather hear Tony marry Sarah than Superman marry Wonder Woman.
Then bridesmaids balked at fishnets and leotards.
They told LaFore: "We love you a lot, but we don't know if we love you enough to wear spandex."
Undaunted, Lucchese went back to work.
The script has been polished. The stage built. The costumes fitted.
Eighteen months in the making, today's the day for their superhero wedding.
"We're really hoping a lot of villains show up," LaFore said.
The couple met seven years ago in Tennessee on a production of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" at the Oak Ridge Playhouse. He was artistic director, she was in the show.
They moved to Portland in 2006. Both are full-time students at the University of Southern Maine. Lucchese, 31, is entering grad school to be a math teacher. LaFore, 34, is studying to be a marine biologist.
When the superhero idea first came up, they weren't even engaged. And neither is a huge comic-book fan. But Lucchese had a Superman T-shirt he wore a lot. He could work his hair into the perfect Supes' spit-curl.
And they both love a good production.
"It was a joke for a number of years," he said. "At some point we came to the painful realization it wasn't a joke anymore."
Lucchese decided early that great costumes would be key to pulling it off. He tracked down a New Jersey designer who's made costumes for theme parks and the Syfy Channel.
"Everyone involved is doing a few extra crunches and forgoing a few extra desserts during the week to pull off spandex," said best man Eric Kieschnick of Pennsylvania. "It's the opposite of a gut-hiding cummerbund."
Aquaman, Flash and Spider-Man round out the groomsmen. Ten bridesmaids will be Amazon warriors — in comic mythos, Wonder Woman is an Amazon princess — with spears, togas and sandals.
Two weeks ago, LaFore and Lucchese made an emergency trip to Jersey, down and back in one day, to tweak her costume.
"Paramount to having a successful wedding is having the bride feel pretty," he said.
He and volunteer carpenters built a Fortress of Solitude altar in a rented warehouse space in Portland. They'll be married by Kieschnick's father, dressed as Jor-El, Superman's dad. Part of the script borrows from Kryptonian wedding vows. The couple will break character to say, "I do."
"I watch him try to come up with ideas for certain things; I feel like I'm sitting on the sidelines like a groom," LaFore said. "I've loved every minute of it. I love that he's so excited about the planning."
They expect 85 guests and plan three cakes: One with Wonder Woman and Superman on top, one with Marvel figures and a third for DC characters. Instead of flowers, they'll decorate with superhero paraphernalia.
Lucchese said he turned to Casablanca Comics in Portland as a "sort of superhero library," with staff helping them find back issues like Action Comics' "Supergirl's Wedding Day." When he ordered posters from Canada to hang around the warehouse and they got stuck in U.S. Customs, the comic book store donated a bunch.
Lucchese spent the days leading up to Saturday on final touches, arranging enormous set pieces cut and painted to look like crystals, adjusting lights and cuing up sound.
For example, "When I put a little kryptonite shard (in a tube) to bring the fortress to life, I have some ringing crystal sounds," Lucchese said.
Kieschnick, who works in film and television, applauded his friends' "theatrical commitment."
"I certainly was wary of rappelling at first. Once I warmed to the idea, I mourned its loss," he said.
But wait just a minute, Batman.
"He's actually going to be sliding down a pole now, he doesn't really know it yet," Lucchese said. "Spidey is swinging in on a rope."
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.
Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.
We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.
What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.
The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.
The recent research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. It’s been summarized in two enjoyable new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.
If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or, shared the same birthday — anything to create a sense of affinity.
This contact would give the girl a vision of her future self. It would, Coyle emphasizes, give her a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join. It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.
Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. This would give her a core knowledge of her field. She’d be able to chunk Victorian novelists into one group, Magical Realists in another group and Renaissance poets into another. This ability to place information into patterns, or chunks, vastly improves memory skills. She’d be able to see new writing in deeper ways and quickly perceive its inner workings.
Then she would practice writing. Her practice would be slow, painstaking and error-focused. According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.
Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)
By practicing in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.
Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems.
The primary trait she possesses is not some mysterious genius. It’s the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.
Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.
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