Saturday, January 31, 2015

Chief Keef — Too Gangster For Interscope?

Was Chief Keef Too Gangster for Interscope?

America in the 21st century is one of the most economically polarized and heavily armed societies in history. As the top rises, it becomes harder to see the ground through the clouds.

Disconnected, nihilistic subcultures have developed in areas abandoned and forgotten by mainstream society. Such aberrant cultures used to exist only in isolated wildernesses: mountain men in north Georgia, or the uncontacted tribes of Brazil.

But today, with the prevalence of guns and drugs, cities are wildernesses, too.

“These guys are from an entirely different world,” says Peeda Pan, manager of the notorious Chief Keef (aka Sosa aka Keith Cozart), the most gangster gangsta rapper since the 1990s. At only 19, he’s already been to jail twice and rehab twice, in part due to his penchant for Instagramming photos of himself posing with guns.

When a rival was murdered, Keef tweeted, “LMAO,” prompting an uproar among more mainstream rappers like Lupe Fiasco, who threatened to retire because of it. Fiasco said, “Chief Keef scares me. Not him specifically, but just the culture he represents.”

It’s that culture, however, that attracts people to Keef’s music. Those of us who live in the confines of the mainstream are fed up with it, and hearing something truly foreign is refreshing. It’s not that Keef’s lyrics are particularly depraved or violent; it’s something about the way that he says them. They’re almost a different language, like deep-space recordings from another, more brutally honest world.

That world, “Chiraq,” aka the South Side of Chicago in 2014, is indeed about as far from the world most of us occupy as you can get. Shootings are so frequent that local papers publish tallies of the violence, rather than individual reports.

I asked Tadoe, Chief Keef’s cousin and member his rap group/entourage the Glo Gang, how Chiraq differs from other hoods.

“We turnt. We too turnt, fo. We too turnt. Just look our shit up, fo. It’s too much goin’ on,” says Tadoe, “If we was still back there we’d be dead or locked up or some shit, fo. Or tweakin’ out. But we out here coolin’ now, we into this money.” He hits a blunt, then starts yelling: “Tadoe OG! Chief Keef OG! Gangin’! Shiiit. We still on our shit though. We still got shot, still got guap.”

Tadoe and I are sitting in the backyard of a mini-mansion in a dreary part of Woodland Hills. In July, Chief Keef moved here from Chicago to be closer to his record label, Interscope.

In 2012, at only 17 years old, Keef signed a $6 million deal with Jimmy Iovine’s label, which is also home to Dr. Dre's label, Aftermath. The deal had to be presided over by a judge because Keef was still a minor.

Chief Keef caught Interscope’s eye (and everyone else’s) after a raw, ghetto-chic music video for his song “I Don’t Like,” featuring Lil’ Reese and produced by Young Chop, became a national mega-hit. The catchy song, in which Keef lists things he simply doesn't like (e.g. "fake niggas," "bitch niggas"), has an instantly relatable quality. There are certain things, after all, that we just don’t like, no matter how many Huffington Post headlines try to convince us otherwise.

One of the things the mainstream doesn't like, however, is Chief Keef himself. Before moving to L.A., he had been living in a wealthy suburb of Chicago called Highland Park. He got evicted for terrorizing the neighborhood.

My conversation with the Glo Gang at their Scarface-style McMansion was intended to serve as a precursor to an interview with Keef himself. Upon request, I had brought a six-pack of beer and two bottles of Hennessy, and blunts were passed with metronome-like frequency.

Despite those ice breakers, the conversation was strained and awkward. The news that Interscope had dropped Keef and the Glo Gang was leaked by a rap blog that morning.
Chief Keef: "Fuck Interscope!"
Photo by Jeff Forney for Interscope Records

The Keef camp had already known about it for a week, but they had intended to keep it a secret. Their demeanors, and their tweets, evinced an attempt to stay positive. Keef tweeted: “When Jimmy n Dre left that’s when I said fuck Interscope! Big Dick style. that’s what I signed up for not this new staff! Of WhiteHonkies!”

Inside the house, however, you could cut the tension with a blunt knife. There was lots of silence. Keef himself, dressed in all red, occasionally appeared in the background like an elusive species of deer, but would vanish again before I could approach.

Peeda Pan, whose real name is Idris Abdul Wahid, is the only one who calls Keef “Keith.” He has a tough job. On the one hand, he wants to introduce Chief Keef to the real world, and is realistic about the necessity of publicity. On the other hand, he respects Chief Keef’s irreverence, and understands that it’s the essence of his appeal.

“What you have to understand about these guys is that they’re not in it for the same reasons as a lot of other artists,” says Peeda Pan, “A lot of people get into it to be a part of their idols, to meet them, and to make music in the game they love. For these guys that stuff is all secondary. For them, music is just another lick.”

Everyone, including Keef himself, acknowledges his old soul. He appears to take fatherhood seriously (on Instagram, at least), and, in the few interviews he’s given, he seems quietly aloof, fully aware of the expectations thrust upon him, but uninterested in meeting them.

His entourage admires him unconditionally, and views him as a sort of musical teacher-slash-guru.

“We learned all that from Sosa, we be in the studio with him so much,” says Ballout, another member the Glo Gang, “He’s a rhyming machine. A music genius. Black Justin Bieber, if you ask me.”

There are times, however, when he still acts like a teenager – probably, after all, because he is a teenager.

He still smokes blunts around the clock, and still posts photos of himself with guns. He meets girls on Instagram and arranges for them to visit him at the house for a night at a time, sometimes flying them in from across the country.

“He’s the kind of guy that, once he decides he wants something, he’s going to get it, no matter what,” says Peeda Pan.

One time, Peeda Pan ignored a bevy late of late night calls from Keef, and found that he was gone from his room in the morning. Keef showed up in a cab an hour later, grumpy and red-eyed, with a disheveled woman in tow. In the middle of the night, Keef had hired a cab to drive to Sacramento, pick up the girl, then turn around and drive all the way back. The taxi cost over $1,000, and the girl stayed over for only one night.

But normally, Keef doesn’t get out much. His gang loves him, but it’s a smothering kind of love. His managers pressure him to stay in the house, in part for fear that somebody, particularly Tadoe, who has a penchant for pulling out guns while drunk, will do something that will get him incarcerated again.

Chief Keef with members of his entourage (left to right): Glo Gang artist Lil' Reese, manager Uncle Ro, Keef, manager Peeda Pan and producer Young Chop. Courtesy of Glory Boyz Entertainment

During my visit to Woodland Hills, Keef kept telling Peeda Pan that he “wanted to do something fun,” but, for reasons I couldn’t discern, everyone remained in the house. It felt a little like a prison.

In trying to contain the storm, his two very different managers – cunning, personable Peeda Pan, 34, and the vociferous, domineering Uncle Ro, 42, – play parents to a new breed of teenage sensation and his clique of Lost Boys. It’s P and Ro’s responsibility to schlep the whole Glo Gang through the only subculture with customs as inscrutable as their own: Hollywood, U.S.A.

P and Ro work well together in tandem. They’re trying hard to figure it out, to maintain Keef’s integrity while competing with play-nice rappers from well-funded, mainstream upbringings like Drake, Mac Miller and Chance the Rapper.

But sometimes things bubble over. Uncle Ro’s Tony Soprano–like temper, in particular, has led to some harmful blowups, one of which occurred at Interscope, not long before they were dropped, and one of which occurred during my visit. After a nearly four-hour wait, and a heated argument, Ro slammed the door in my face.

Two days later, I sat across from an apologetic Peeda Pan at Beverly Soon Tofu House in Koreatown. We were supposed to meet Chief Keef at a nearby Wokcano to finally get the interview done, but it had been canceled once again, because Keef had run into fellow irreverent thug rapper Tyga. Tyga is Compton’s answer to Keef, and is equally uninterested in propriety. Peeda Pan believed they were probably off doing things that they didn’t want press to see.

I tried to explain that doing those things was precisely why people like me love Keef, and exactly what people wanted to see. Everybody from Frank Sinatra to Biggie drank and did drugs and screwed groupies. That’s what made them symbols of freedom, and that’s how I wanted to portray Keef. Didn’t he want that?

“This is a new generation,” said Peeda Pan. “They’re not measuring success in the same way. They’re not playing by the rules.” — Isaac Simpson | LA Weekly

Vapor Trail

Vapor Trail
by AmaSing

Like the old nostalgic video games, we all wonder about how high we could all fly.

Unlike the days of old, we have already conquered the mysteries of flight and space (at least to the moon, unless you’re a conspiracy theorist).  Traveling above and beyond the earth is a sci-fi dream and fantasy.  If air and space travel is not your cup of tea, how about marijuana?

Ok, that maybe a little too extreme unless you live in Washington or Colorado State.  Even in those legalized states, you still can’t openly smoke in public.  That’s all changed with the pot version of the e-cigarettes.  Easily known as the e-joint!


Disclaimer, I am not a paid spokesperson, nor do I receive any compensation for revealing any company logos.  I also am not promoting or encouraging the use of marijuana.  I just like the evolution of pop culture.

What got me fascinated about this subject was that an e-joint contains 150 hits.  150 hits!  Are you fucking kidding me?  Do the math, a dozen of your homeboys or home-girls in a cipher and that’s roughly 12.5 hits, puffs, drags, a person.

The next obvious question is how strong is this shit?  One e-joint contains 250 milligrams of cannabis oil loaded with THC.  The next time I go to an Islander game, I guess I need to stop in Seattle, Washington first.

That’s if I actually smoke of course!

The new modern sign would probably read, “no smoking and no smoking e-joints either!” — AmaSing | Cognitive Drift

“It is common sense to take a method and try it.  If it fails, admit it and try another.  But above all, try something” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Friday, January 30, 2015

Kam Chancellor — All-Beast Pro

Kam Chancellor | #32 | 6'3" 232 lbs | SS | Seattle Seahawks

Kam Chancellor — All-Beast Pro

His name is Kameron "Kam" Chancellor; an "All-Beast" strong safety for the 2014 NFL Champions — Seattle Seahawks. Chancellor is a prime example of a player who plays w/ a "chip" on his shoulder — perhaps it's due to the fact Kam was drafted by the Seahawks in the 5th-round, 133rd overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft or it's because he is one of the hardest hitting safety the NFL has ever seen since Ronnie Lott.

“To me, that hit solidified the game for us. They didn’t run routes
the same,” said DE Chris Clemons

The Legion Of Boom's captain — Kam Chancellor anchors football's No. 1 ranked defense and garnered national attention for his monstrous hit on Demayrius Thomas in Super Bowl XLVIII; a hit in which many regard as the turning-point in the championship game.

The Denver Broncos offense was never the same after that hit — en route to an embarrassing 43 – 8 annihilation and complete shutdown of their league-leading offensive machine.

Ironically, it was the first time the winning team scored over 40-points while holding their opponent to under 10-points — it was also first Super Bowl victory for the Seahawks and the fifth Super Bowl loss for the Broncos (the most of any team).

Demaryius Thomas was sent flying 7-yards back after being crushed by Kam Chancellor's
shoulder tackle after a 2-yard catch

Chancellor is indeed the tipping-point — the centerpiece that rounds L.O.B. into a total super-package/super total-package. Defensive coordinators know that a great cover corner can be beaten; a great corner and safety can only blanket so much of the field — but add a "freak-of-nature" corner/linebacker/safety (revolutionary hybrid) into the mix, the results is football's best defense. 

In case you missed it, here is NFL Turning Point's film study with Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor

"Formidable & monstrous" describes his physique while "vicious & monstrous" describes his "gut-wrenching & jaw-dropping" hits — videos of his "pain-inducing & pain-inflicting" hits would go viral only if NFL Films didn't remove them for violating licensing rights. 

Unfortunately, it is the recipients of Bam Bam's on-field hits who've been violated — ask Demayrius Thomas, Eric Winsto, Phillip Tanner, Todd Heap, Vernon Davis and yes, Vernon Davis — again (twice).

“He just brings that menacing force...we’re a bunch of wild dogs, and a pack of wild dogs is pretty dangerous. But a lion running with a pack of wild dogs…that’s something.” — Richard Sherman | Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor is voted the 65th-best player in the NFL by
his peers on "Top 100 Players of 2014.

During the week before Super Bowl XLIX, Chancellor was quoted,

"This game is physical. You can get hit at any moment from any angle. I’m just going to play my game. I’m not going searching for it. I’m just going to play my game. We go into every game thinking we are going to dominate on defense and limit you on everything. That’s what No. 1 defenses do. That’s our mentality. That’s how we approach every single game.”

Although oft-overshadowed by his other loud-mouth (Richard Sherman) and quiet-mouth (Marshawn Lynch) counterparts, his defensive talents will be on full-display
come Sunday, February 1st, 2015 in Arizona. — Kong | theKONGBLOG™

† † †

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jerome Jarre — Making Of A Vine Celebrity

Credit: Christian Hansen for The New York Times
Jerome Jarre: the Making of a Vine Celebrity

Jerome Jarre, 24, of France, moved to New York with $400 to his name and focused on producing Vine videos. He now has eight million followers.

Mention “that French Guy” to typical teenagers today, and they will know exactly which French guy you are talking about.

Jerome Jarre, they will tell you, is a 24-year-old from France who has become famous for making comical six-second videos on Vine, where he has eight million followers. The Vines include Mr. Jarre walking up to strangers in the street and hugging them, or hanging out with his best friend, a squirrel — though he pronounces it “sqiw-well” with his French accent.

Clips of his stunts have been viewed more than one billion times on Vine. He is so famous, that when he recently organized a meet-up in São Paulo, Brazil, the riot police were called in to quell the crowd of thousands.

What few teenagers know about Mr. Jarre, however, is that while his stardom took off in 2013, until last summer, he was essentially homeless in New York, surreptitiously sleeping on an office floor and using a promotional onesie from a start-up as a blanket. He showered in a nearby gym, gaining free access only because the young woman behind the counter recognized him from his videos, and scrounged for other people’s leftovers.

Jerome Jarre was born in Albertville, a small town in the French countryside, and raised by his single mother, Agnès Jarre. In stark contrast to his online persona, his mother said in a phone interview, “young Jerome was quiet, shy and constantly bullied. But he was always happy.”

She added that her son had a fierce entrepreneurial spirit, which led him to drop out of college at 19, against her wishes, and set off to China, and then Toronto, trying to start a half-dozen companies that all failed.

“Through all of this, I felt like I had no purpose; I was totally lost,” Mr. Jarre told me in a recent interview in his apartment near Union Square. “My business partner Chris Carmichael, who I’d moved to Toronto with, kept telling me to find my purpose in life.”

Then one day, a strange app called Vine was released. Mr. Jarre downloaded it on a whim and knew immediately there was something there. At first, the six-second videos he posted to Vine were as boring as everyone else’s: a clip of a pool table, a candle flickering. And then one evening in a Toronto bar, while in the restroom, he pulled out his phone and did a goofy dance in front of the mirror.

“By the time I got back to my seat, I had 16 likes,” he said. “I was so amazed that 16 people I had never met before had seen and liked my video.” This is when he learned that the goofier his clips, the more people enjoyed them.

After his last start-up, Atendy, an event planning service, failed in 2013, Mr. Jarre bought a one-way bus ticket to New York, arriving with $400 to his name. He had no job prospects, and everything he owned was stuffed into two small suitcases. He spoke broken English, which he’d taught himself mostly by listening to the audiobook “Crush It!” by Gary Vaynerchuk, on how to turn a social media hobby into a business.

Unlike other 20-somethings who arrive in the city to chase a dream, Mr. Jarre didn’t think he needed an internship, or even a place to live, to make it. All he needed was a smartphone with a front-facing camera.

“I would wake up each morning and spend the entire day out in the street making Vines,” he said. “Most days I would end up with one great Vine, but some days I would end the day with nothing to post.”

One of The Vine Guy's first viral vid

His hard work soon paid off, though not necessarily in monetary terms. A video he posted asking “why is everybody afraid of love?” went viral, and he was asked to appear on “Ellen.”

He makes millions of people laugh -- in just six seconds! Ellen met Vine star Jerome Jarre, and sent him on a little challenge.

His Vine account started racking up followers by the tens of thousands each day. He then struck a deal with Mr. Vaynerchuk, from the audiobook he had listened to, to start an advertising agency that focused on Vine stars. “It took him all of seven minutes to convince me to start an agency with him,” Mr. Vaynerchuk said. “He understood Vine, Snapchat and Instagram in a way that no one else did.”

From there, everything snowballed.

One way to describe Mr. Jarre’s life now is to think back to the Beatles in the 1960s, when throngs of women screamed at the mere sight of the band.

That may seem like an exaggeration, but when I took a walk with him around Union Square last week, he was stopped every few feet by squealing teenagers who begged to take a selfie with the 6-foot-3 Frenchman. Some girls were brought to tears; others proclaimed they “couldn’t breathe” at the mere sight of him. During one loop around the park, he was stopped more than 50 times.

What makes Mr. Jarre so loved by his fans (he likes to call them “friends,” saying that “fans” sounds too hierarchical) is that he is relentlessly positive. There is rarely a photo or video of him in which he is not grinning from ear to ear. The messages he espouses — sometimes in videos, other times in all caps — are meant to inspire kids who have been bullied or are insecure.

“Spend your life doing strange things with weird people,” he wrote last week on Twitter. In another tweet he said, “The best way to multiply your happiness is to share it with others.”

While these missives may seem quixotic to adults, teenagers eat them up. During one of our meetings, Alexis, a young teenager with mismatched socks and pink hair, ran up to Mr. Jarre and begged him to go to prom with her. “I look up to him in every way, shape and form,” she told me. “He’s my best friend.” The wallpaper on her smartphone was a quote from him.

Mr. Jarre is used to this by now, but the level of fame still surprises him. When he visited Iceland last year with another Vine star, Nash Grier, the two sent a note on social media saying they would pose for pictures at the Smaralind shopping mall. When they arrived, the mall was overrun with more than 6,000 teenagers. The sole security guard on duty thought the mall was under a bizarre terrorist attack.

“I expected 20 people,” Jerome told me. “Seeing all those people was actually really scary.”

He was surprised again a few months ago when an advertising agency offered to pay him $1 million to plug a brand, which he would only identify as “an unhealthy food product,” on social media.



After thinking about it for a week, and daydreaming about buying his mother an apartment in Paris, he turned down the offer and explained why in a YouTube video. “My purpose in life wasn’t to come to New York City to convince people to eat unhealthy food,” he told me.

After taking a hiatus from the ad agency he helped start, stepping back from Vine, and traveling for a few months, Jerome returned to New York on Dec. 31, this time with grander goals than making a million dollars.

Last week, he started a show, of sorts, on Snapchat under his personal account JeromeJarre, which is part talk show, part art project and part motivational talk for his millions of followers. Robert De Niro, who recorded his first Vine video with Mr. Jarre during the Tribeca Film Festival last year and was astounded by the attention it got, is providing office space for the Snapchat show. A mere mention of something on his Snapchat channel can quickly become a worldwide trending topic on other networks.

On Friday, Mr. Jarre challenged those watching to stop trying to take perfect selfies online, and to post ugly selfies instead. By the end of the weekend, there were more than 120,000 ugly selfies tagged with his name or the hashtag #UglySelfieChallenge.

“Everyone is looking for a purpose in life,” he said as we walked through New York. “The reason we all go to the cinema, or online, is because we haven’t found a purpose yet. We are always wondering why we’re here. But I’ve learned that we have to create that purpose for ourselves.”

When I asked him if he had finally found his purpose, he became shy for the first time. Then, a teenage girl ran up out of nowhere and gave him a smothering hug. “My purpose,” he said, “which I finally found thanks to social media, is helping all of these people find their purpose.” — Nick Bilton | The New York Times

Monday, January 26, 2015

Lars Anderson — The Archery Master

The ultimate archery trick. Proving that Hollywood archery is not historical.

I use a LOT of time practicing, and every time I set out to learn a new skill, a new trick or how to handle a new type of bow or arrow, it takes a long time, with plenty of misses. When I got the idea of grabbing an arrow in flight and firing before I landed, it took me months to learn. For a long time, arrows flew everywhere!

But there's no trick in the video that I haven't done many times (except for splitting the arrow in flight – after I'd done that once I finished the video). The one with hitting the blade I've only done three times, though. All that running hurt my knees. ;-)

Many people talk about how what I do is only possible because I use bows that are less powerful than English longbows. They are correct. I'm 50 years old, and have been doing archery for only ten years. I'll never be able to shoot really fast with 100 lbs+ war bows. I tried, but it just produced injuries. Had I started at age 10, it would have been a different story. ;-)

There is also a tendency from critics to assume that bows were always fired against plate armour (as at Crecy in 1346 and Agincourt in 1415). This was very much the exception. Many opponents had little or no armour at all, and Stone Age findings show that many animals were taken down by multiple shots. Also, in 1923 Saxton T Pope examined a number of historical museum bows from around the world. His conclusion was that most only had a tensile strength of 45-50 pounds.

Around 04:22 I penetrate chainmail. The arrows had bodkin tips, and the chainmail is riveted. However, while the gambeson is thick, it's not as thick as some I've seen elsewhere. But one reason the arrows penetrate is that I sharpen not only the tip itself, but also the edges of the bodkin tip.

There are archery traditions alive today which shoot the arrow on the right side of the bow, as I do. However, the places where most people come into contact with archery (Hollywood, The Olympics, archery clubs) do it left around the bow.

Is it a myth? Yes and no. Some archers definitely slung their quivers on their backs for when they were marching, just like soldiers did with shields. We also can't rule out that some archers – who didn't care what arrow they picked from the quiver or who didn't need to move rapidly – had quivers on their backs, but we can rule out that this was a general thing as Hollywood makes it out to be.

The first level of arrow handling is having the arrows in a quiver, and drawing them one at a time. It's easy, and it's intuitive. Progressing from there to holding arrows in the bow hand takes practice, but it can be learned.

There are some drawbacks, however. Arab Archery (the book) says that it's less useful, because the arrows vibrate when shooting with powerful bows, causing imprecise shots.

The third level, keeping the arrows in the draw hand, provides a several benefits, but it requires that one is able to draw and shoot in one single movement without thinking. And that takes a LOT of practice. ;-)


At first, I didn't think it was possible. You don't have time to aim or think, but can only do it if your reactions are completely instinctive. First of all, you need to be convinced that you WILL hit it, so you can “feel” the incoming arrow and fire at it instead of just flinching away.

I was also in doubt whether it was smart to show this, because I don't want anyone to get hurt trying to copy the trick. I trained for years with soft boffer arrows and spent a LONG time before I tried it even the first time. And the arrow fired at me was not fired with a very powerful bow, though it was definitely dangerous enough!

It was a light bamboo arrow with a metal tip, and the arrow I shot back was a heavier aluminum arrow. That the arrow split was just pure luck, and I'm not certain I could repeat it without first training for a long time. I believe it split because it hit just behind the head and made the shafts fluctuate against each other, causing the bamboo shaft to split lengthwise.

I hope to try it again using a proper high-speed camera!

Thank you for watching my videos and for reading.
I will remove rude and dumb comments.
I will also remove dumb “archery experts” comments. — Lars Andersen, January 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Klay Thompson's Record 37-Points 3rd Quarter [VIDEO]

Klay Thompson scores a record 37 points in the 3rd quarter (and 52 overall) to lead the Warriors to an 18th straight home win, dropping the Kings 126-101


Klay Thompson | #11 | SG | 6' 7" 215 lbs | Golden State Warriors

 Klay Thompson's model girlfriend — Instagram, Tumblr & Vine legend, Hannah Stocking.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: January 21st, 2015

 Count down the best plays from Wednesday night in the Association.

Jane Goodall — Mother Of Chimps

Fifty Years At Gombe

In 1960 a spirited animal lover with no scientific training set up camp in Tanganyika’s Gombe Stream Game Reserve to observe chimpanzees. Today Jane Goodall’s name is synonymous with the protection of a beloved species. At Gombe—one of the longest, most detailed studies of any wild animal—revelations about chimps keep coming.

Most of us don't enter upon our life’s destiny at any neatly discernible time. Jane Goodall did.

On the morning of July 14, 1960, she stepped onto a pebble beach along a remote stretch of the east shore of Lake Tanganyika. It was her first arrival at what was then called the Gombe Stream Game Reserve, a small protected area that had been established by the British colonial government back in 1943. She had brought a tent, a few tin plates, a cup without a handle, a shoddy pair of binoculars, an African cook named Dominic, and—as a companion, at the insistence of people who feared for her safety in the wilds of pre-independence Tanganyika—her mother. She had come to study chimpanzees. Or anyway, to try. Casual observers expected her to fail. One person, the paleontologist Louis Leakey, who had recruited her to the task up in Nairobi, believed she might succeed.

A group of local men, camped near their fishing nets along the beach, greeted the Goodall party and helped bring up the gear. Jane and her mother spent the afternoon putting their camp in order. Then, around 5 p.m., somebody reported having seen a chimpanzee. “So off we went,” Jane wrote later that night in her journal, “and there was the chimp.” She had gotten only a distant, indistinct glimpse. “It moved away as we drew level with the crowd of fishermen gazing at it, and, though we climbed the neighbouring slope, we didn’t see it again.” But she had noticed, and recorded, some bent branches flattened together in a nearby tree: a chimp nest. That datum, that first nest, was the starting point of what has become one of the most significant ongoing sagas in modern field biology: the continuous, minutely detailed, 50-year study, by Jane Goodall and others, of the behavior of the chimps of Gombe.

Science history, with the charm of a fairy-tale legend, records some of the high points and iconic details of that saga. Young Miss Goodall had no scientific credentials when she began, not even an undergraduate degree. She was a bright, motivated secretarial school graduate from England who had always loved animals and dreamed of studying them in Africa. She came from a family of strong women, little money, and absent men. During the early weeks at Gombe she struggled, groping for a methodology, losing time to a fever that was probably malaria, hiking many miles in the forested mountains, and glimpsing few chimpanzees, until an elderly male with grizzled chin whiskers extended to her a tentative, startling gesture of trust. She named the old chimp David Greybeard. Thanks partly to him, she made three observations that rattled the comfortable wisdoms of physical anthropology: meat eating by chimps (who had been presumed vegetarian), tool use by chimps (in the form of plant stems probed into termite mounds), and toolmaking (stripping leaves from stems), supposedly a unique trait of human premeditation. Each of those discoveries further narrowed the perceived gap of intelligence and culture between Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes.

The toolmaking observation was the most epochal of the three, causing a furor within anthropological circles because “man the toolmaker” held sway as an almost canonical definition of our species. Louis Leakey, thrilled by Jane’s news, wrote to her: “Now we must redefine ‘tool,’ redefine ‘man,’ or accept chimpanzees as humans.” It was a memorable line, marking a very important new stage in thinking about human essence. Another interesting point to remember is that, paradigm shifting or not, all three of those most celebrated discoveries were made by Jane (everyone calls her Jane; there is no sensible way not to call her Jane) within her first four months in the field. She got off to a fast start. But the real measure of her work at Gombe can’t be taken with such a short ruler.

The great thing about Gombe is not that Jane Goodall “redefined” humankind but that she set a new standard, a very high standard, for behavioral study of apes in the wild, focusing on individual characteristics as well as collective patterns. She created a research program, a set of protocols and ethics, an intellectual momentum—she created, in fact, a relationship between the scientific world and one community of chimpanzees—that has grown far beyond what one woman could do. The Gombe project has enlarged in many dimensions, has endured crises, has evolved to serve purposes that neither she nor Louis Leakey foresaw, and has come to embrace methods (satellite mapping, endocrinology, molecular genetics) and address questions that carry far beyond the field of animal behavior. For instance, techniques of molecular analysis, applied to fecal and urine samples that can be gathered without need for capture and handling, reveal new insights about genetic relationships among the chimps and the presence of disease microbes in some of them. Still, a poignant irony that lies near the heart of this scientific triumph, on its golden anniversary, is that the more we learn about the chimps of Gombe, the more we have cause to worry for their continued survival.

Two revelations in particular have raised concern. One involves geography, the other involves disease. The world’s most beloved and well-studied population of chimpanzees is isolated on an island of habitat that’s too small for long-term viability. And now some of them seem to be dying from their version of AIDS.

The issue of how to study chimpanzees, and of what can be inferred from behavioral observations, has faced Jane Goodall since early in her career. It began coming into focus after her first field season, when Louis Leakey informed Jane of his next bright idea for shaping her life: He would get her into a Ph.D. program in ethology at Cambridge University.

This doctorate seemed a stretch on two counts. First, her lack of any undergraduate degree whatsoever. Second, she had always aspired to be a naturalist, or maybe a journalist, but the word “scientist” hadn’t figured in her dreaming. “I didn’t even know what ethology was,” she told me recently. “I had to wait quite a while before I realized it simply meant studying behavior.” Once enrolled at Cambridge, she found herself crosswise with departmental elders and the prevailing certitudes of the field. “It was a bit shocking to be told I’d done everything wrong. Everything.” By then she had 15 months of field data from Gombe, most of it gathered through patient observation of individuals she knew by monikers such as David Greybeard, Mike, Olly, and Fifi. Such personification didn’t play well at Cambridge; to impute individuality and emotion to nonhuman animals was anthropomorphism, not ethology. “Fortunately, I thought back to my first teacher, when I was a child, who taught me that that wasn’t true.” Her first teacher had been her dog, Rusty. “You cannot share your life in a meaningful way with any kind of animal with a reasonably well-developed brain and not realize that animals have personalities.” She pushed back against the prevailing view—one thing about gentle Jane, she always pushes back—and on February 9, 1966, she became Dr. Jane Goodall.

In 1968 the little game reserve underwent its own graduation, becoming Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. By then Jane was receiving research funding from the National Geographic Society. She was married and a mother and famous worldwide, owing in part to her articles for this magazine and her comely, forceful presence in a televised film, Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees. She had institutionalized her field camp, in order to fund and perpetuate it, as the Gombe Stream Research Center (GSRC). In 1971 she published In the Shadow of Man, her account of the early Gombe studies and adventures, which became a best seller. Around the same time, she began hosting students and graduate researchers to help with chimp-data collection and other research at Gombe. Her influence on modern primatology, noisily bruited about by Leakey, is more quietly suggested by the long list of Gombe alums who have gone on to do important scientific work, including Richard Wrangham, Caroline Tutin, Craig Packer, Tim Clutton-Brock, Geza Teleki, William McGrew, Anthony Collins, Shadrack Kamenya, Jim Moore, and Anne Pusey. The last of those, Pusey, now professor and chair of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, also serves the Jane Goodall Institute (established in 1977) as director of its Center for Primate Studies. Among other duties, she curates the 22 file cabinets full of field data—the notebooks and journal pages and check sheets, some in English, some in Swahili—from 50 years of chimp study at Gombe.

That 50-year run suffered one traumatic interruption. On the night of May 19, 1975, three young Americans and a Dutch woman were kidnapped by rebel soldiers who had come across Lake Tanganyika from Zaire. The four hostages were eventually released, but it no longer seemed prudent for the Gombe Stream Research Center to welcome expatriate researchers and helpers—as Anthony Collins explained to me.

Collins was then a young British biologist with muttonchop sideburns and a strong interest in baboons, the other most conspicuous primate at Gombe. In addition to his baboon research, he has continued to play important administrative roles in the Jane Goodall Institute and at GSRC itself, off and on, for almost 40 years. He recalls May 19, 1975, as “the day the world changed, as far as Gombe was concerned.” Collins was absent that night but returned promptly to help cope with the aftermath. “It was not entirely bad,” he told me. The bad part was that foreign researchers could no longer work at Gombe; Jane herself couldn’t work there, not without a military escort, for some years. “The good thing about it was that the responsibility for data collection went straightaway, the following day, to the Tanzanian field staff.” Those Tanzanians had each received at least a year’s training in data collection but still functioned partly as trackers, helping locate the chimps, identifying plants, and making sure the mzungu (white) researchers got back to camp safely each night before dark. Then came the kidnapping, whereupon the Tanzanians stepped up, and “on that day the baton was passed to them,” Collins said. Only one day’s worth of data was missed. Today the chief of chimpanzee researchers at Gombe is Gabo Paulo, supervising the field observations and data gathering of Methodi Vyampi, Magombe Yahaya, Amri Yahaya, and 20 other Tanzanians.

Human conflicts overflowing from neighboring countries weren’t the only sort of tribulation that affected Gombe. Chimpanzee politics could also be violent. Beginning in 1974, the Kasekela community (the main focus of Gombe research) conducted a series of bloody raids against a smaller subgroup called Kahama. That period of aggression, known in Gombe annals as the Four Year War, led to the death of some individuals, the annihilation of the Kahama subgroup, and the annexation of its territory by Kasekela. Even within the Kasekela community, struggles among males for the alpha position are highly political and physical, while among females there have been cases of one mother killing a rival mother’s infant. “When I first started at Gombe,” Jane has written, “I thought the chimps were nicer than we are. But time has revealed that they are not. They can be just as awful.”

Gombe was never Eden. Disease intruded too. In 1966 came an outbreak of something virulent (probably polio, contracted from humans nearby), and six chimps died or disappeared. Six others were partially paralyzed. Two years later, David Greybeard and four others vanished while a respiratory bug (influenza? bacterial pneumonia?) swept through. Nine more chimps died in early 1987 from pneumonia. These episodes, reflecting the susceptibility of chimps to human-carried pathogens, help explain why scientists at Gombe are acutely concerned with the subject of infectious disease.

That concern has been heightened by landscape changes outside the park boundaries. Over the decades people in the surrounding villages have struggled to live ordinary lives—cutting firewood from the steep hillsides, planting crops on those slopes, burning the grassy and scrubby areas each dry season for fertilizing ash, having babies, and trying to feed them. By the early 1990s deforestation and erosion had made Gombe National Park an ecological island, surrounded by human impact on three sides and Lake Tanganyika on the fourth. Within that island lived no more than about a hundred chimpanzees. By all the standards of conservation biology, it wasn’t enough to constitute a viable population for the long term—not enough to ensure against negative effects of inbreeding, and not enough to stand steady against an epidemic caused by the next nasty bug, which might be more transmissible than polio, more lethal than flu. Something had to be done, Jane realized, besides continued study of a fondly regarded population of apes that might be doomed. Furthermore, something had to be done for the people as well as for the chimps.

In a nearby town she met a German-born agriculturist, George Strunden, and with his help created TACARE (originally the Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education project), whose first effort, in 1995, established tree nurseries in 24 villages. The goals were to reverse the denudation of hillsides, to protect village watersheds, and maybe eventually to reconnect Gombe with outlying patches of forest (some of which also harbor chimpanzees) by helping the villagers plant trees. For instance, there’s a small population of chimps in a patch of forest called Kwitanga, about ten miles east of Gombe. To the southeast, about 50 miles, an ecosystem known as Masito-Ugalla supports more than 500 chimps. If either area could be linked to Gombe by reforested corridors, the chimps would benefit from increased gene flow and population size. Then again, they might be hurt by sharing diseases.

By any measure, it’s a near-impossible challenge. Proceeding carefully, patiently, Jane and her people have achieved some encouraging gains in the form of community cooperation, decreased burning, and natural forest regeneration.

On the second morning of my Gombe visit, along a trail not far above the house in which Jane has lived intermittently since the early 1970s, I encountered a group of chimpanzees. They were noodling their way cross slope on a relaxed search for breakfast, moving mostly on the ground, but occasionally up into a Vitex tree to eat the small purple-black berries, and were seemingly indifferent to my presence and that of the Tanzanian researchers. They included some individuals whose names, or at least their family histories, were familiar. Here was Gremlin (daughter of Melissa, a young female when Jane first arrived), Gremlin’s daughter Gaia (with a clinging infant), Gaia’s younger sister Golden, Pax (son of the notoriously cannibalistic Passion), and Fudge (son of Fanni, grandson of Fifi, great-grandson of Flo, the beloved, ugly-nosed matriarch famous from Jane’s early books). Here also was Titan, a very large male, 15 years old, and still rising toward his prime. The rules at Gombe National Park say that you must not approach closely to a chimpanzee, but the tricky thing on a given day is to keep the chimps from approaching closely to you. When Titan came striding up the trail, burly and confident, we all squeezed to the edge and let him swagger past, within inches. A lifetime of familiarity with innocuous human researchers, their notebooks, and their check sheets, has left him blasé. Another reflection of casualness: Gremlin defecated on the trail not far from where we stood, and then Golden too relieved herself. Once they had ambled away, a researcher named Samson Shadrack Pindu pulled on yellow latex gloves and moved in. He crouched over Gremlin’s dollop of fibrous olive dung, using a small plastic scoop to transfer a bit into a specimen tube, which he labeled with time, date, location, and Gremlin’s name. The tube contained a stabilizing liquid called RNAlater, which preserves any RNA (from, for instance, a retrovirus) for later genetic analysis. That tube and others like it, representing one fecal sample every month from as many chimps as possible, were destined for the laboratory of Beatrice Hahn at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, who for ten years has been studying simian immunodeficiency virus at Gombe.

Simian immunodeficiency virus in chimpanzees, known technically as SIVcpz, is the precursor and origin of HIV-1, the virus that accounts for most cases of AIDS around the world. (There is also an HIV-2.) Notwithstanding the name, SIVcpz had never been found to cause immune system failure in wild chimpanzees—until Hahn’s expertise in molecular genetics converged with the long-term observational data available at Gombe. In fact, SIVcpz was thought to be harmless in chimps, an assumption that raised questions about how or why it has visited such a lethal pandemic upon humans. Had a few, fateful mutations changed an innocuous chimp virus into a human killer? That line of thought had to be modified after publication of a 2009 paper in the journal Nature, with Brandon F. Keele (then at Hahn’s lab) as first author and Beatrice Hahn and Jane Goodall among the co-authors. The Keele paper reported that SIV-positive chimps at Gombe suffered between ten times and 16 times more risk of death at a given age than SIV-negative chimps. And three SIV-positive carcasses have been found, their tissues (based on lab work at the molecular level) showing signs of damage resembling AIDS. The implications are stark. An AIDS-like illness seems to be killing some of Gombe’s chimps.

Of all the bonds, shared features, and similarities that link our species with theirs, this revelation is perhaps the most troubling. “It’s very scary, knowing the chimps seem to be dying at a younger age,” Jane told me. “I mean, how long has it been there? Where does it come from? How is it affecting other populations?” For the sake of chimpanzee survival throughout Africa, those questions urgently need to be studied.

But this gloomy discovery also carries huge potential significance for AIDS research in humans. Anthony Collins pointed out that although SIV has been found elsewhere in chimp communities, “none of them is a study population habituated to human observers; and certainly none of them is one which has genealogical information going right back in time; and none is so tame that you can take samples from every individual every month.” After a moment, he added, “It’s very sad that the virus is here, but a lot of knowledge can come out of it. And understanding.”

The fancy new methods of molecular genetics bring more than just dire revelations about disease. They also bring the exciting, cheerful capacity to address certain long-standing mysteries about chimpanzee social dynamics and evolution. For instance: Who are the fathers at Gombe? Motherhood is obvious, and the intimate relations between mothers and infants have been well studied by Jane herself, Anne Pusey, and others. But because female chimps tend to mate promiscuously with many males, paternity has been far harder to determine. And the question of paternal identity relates to another question: How does male competition for status within the hierarchy—all that blustering effort expended to achieve and hold the rank of alpha—correlate with reproductive success? A young scientist named Emily Wroblewski, analyzing DNA from fecal samples gathered by the field team, has reached an answer. She found that the higher ranking males do succeed in fathering many chimps—but that some low-ranking males make out pretty well too. The strategy involves investing effort in a consortship—an exclusive period of spending time as a pair, traveling together, and mating—often with younger, less desirable females.

Jane herself had predicted this finding, from observational data, two decades earlier. “The male who successfully initiates and maintains a consortship with a fertile female,” she wrote, “probably has a better chance of fathering her child than he would in the group situation, even if he were alpha.”

Impelled by broader imperatives, Jane ended her career as a field biologist in 1986, just after publication of her great scientific book, The Chimpanzees of Gombe. Since then she has lived as an advocate, a traveling lecturer, a woman driven by a sense of public mission. What’s the mission? Her first cause, which arose from her years at Gombe, was improving the grim treatment inflicted on chimpanzees held in many medical research labs. Combining her toughness and moral outrage with her personal charm and willingness to interact graciously, she achieved some negotiated successes. She also founded sanctuaries for chimps who could be freed from captivity, including many orphaned by the bush-meat trade. That work led to her concerns about human conduct toward other species. She established a program called Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, encouraging young people around the world to become active in projects that promote greater concern for animals, the environment, and the human community. During this period she became an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. She now spends about 300 days a year on the road, giving countless interviews and schoolroom talks, lecturing in big venues, meeting with government officials, raising money to turn the wheels of the Jane Goodall Institute. Occasionally she sneaks away into a forest or onto a prairie, sometimes with a few friends, to watch chimps or sandhill cranes or black-footed ferrets and to restore her energy and sanity.

Fifty years ago Louis Leakey sent her to study chimpanzees because he thought their behavior might cast light on human ancestors, his chosen subject. Jane ignored that part of the mandate and studied chimps for their own sake, their own interest, their own value. While doing that, she created institutions and opportunities that have yielded richly in the work of other scientists, as well as a luminous personal example that has brought many young women and men into science and conservation. It’s important to remember that the meaning of Gombe, after half a century, is bigger than Jane Goodall’s life and work. But make no mistake: Her life and work have been very, very big. — David Quammen | National Geographic Magazine



Monday, January 19, 2015

Laos Wonderland — The Secrets of Nature

Laos Wonderland - The Secrets of Nature

Southeast Asia at its best. 85% of the country is untouched nature, widespread forests, steep mountains and wide river valleys, but also cool high plateaus and savannahs. The primeval forests support a fauna like something out of a fairy tale, with elephants, tigers, leopards, and some of the rarest animal species on the planet. Species never seen by humans are discovered at regular intervals.

In recent decades, the few large mammals to be described for the first time were all found in Indochina and experts assume that most of them are at home in Laos: wild oxen such as the saola and kuprey or the truong son munjak.

No outsider has ever seen a living specimen of the latter; its existence is only known indirectly, through skeletons, horns and bag that are occasionally found in remote villages.

And there is the Mekong, one of the last untamed rivers on Earth. Fed by hundreds of tributaries, it is one of the richest freshwater systems on the planet, comparable only with the Congo or Amazon.

This is where the Mekong catfish lives. At 3 meters long and weighing in at 300 kilograms, this monster must be the largest freshwater fish on earth.

Oft-overlooked in favor of its better-known neighbors — landlocked Laos remains one of Southeast Asia’s most exotic travel destinations — "Simply Beautiful" is their official tourism slogan. Laos is bordered by Burma and the People's Republic of China in the Northeast w/ Vietnam to the East, Cambodia to the South, and Thailand to the West.

2013 "World Best Tourist Destination" Award
European Council on Tourism and Trade Delegation

Wildlife scientists and nature conservationists are blown-away by the Laos' complex, diverse and rich biodiversity. Hidden yet bountiful, its ecosystem is an isolated paradise — untouched wilderness w/ stunning 360° landscape views of lush jungles & mountain forests along w/ its pristine waterfalls, picturesque mountain villages, "never-seen-before" animals and exotic plants.

While growing-up in the inner-city boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn & Queens — and while working as a young professional in upstate Albany, Manhattan & Jersey City, hardly anyone knew about a tiny Southeast Asian country called Laos. Today, approx. 4 million annual visitors help spread the Laotian culture and tradition — making tourism its fastest growing industry.
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