US scientists launch world’s biggest solar geoengineering study.

Research programme will send aerosol injections into the earth’s upper atmosphere to study the risks and benefits of a future solar tech-fix for climate change

 The sun from space
Scientists say the planet could be covered with a solar shield for as little as $10bn a year. 

The $20m (£16m) Harvard University project will launch within weeks and aims to establish whether the technology can safely simulate the atmospheric cooling effects of a volcanic eruption, if a last ditch bid to halt climate change is one day needed.

Scientists hope to complete two small-scale dispersals of first water and then calcium carbonate particles by 2022. Future tests could involve seeding the sky with aluminium oxide – or even diamonds.

Janos Pasztor, Ban Ki-moon’s assistant climate chief at the UN who now leads ageoengineering governance initiative, said that the Harvard scientists would only disperse minimal amounts of compounds in their tests, under strict university controls.

“The real issue here is something much more challenging,” he said “What does moving experimentation from the lab into the atmosphere mean for the overall path towards eventual deployment?”

Geoengineering advocates stress that any attempt at a solar tech fix is years away and should be viewed as a compliment to – not a substitute for – aggressive emissions reductions action.

But the Harvard team, in a promotional video for the project, suggest a redirection of one percent of current climate mitigation funds to geoengineering research, and argue that the planet could be covered with a solar shield for as little as $10bn a year.

Kevin Trenberth, a lead author for the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, said that despair at sluggish climate action, and the rise of Donald Trump were feeding the current tech trend.

“But solar geoengineering is not the answer,” he said. “Cutting incoming solar radiation affects the weather and hydrological cycle. It promotes drought. It destabilizes things and could cause wars. The side effects are many and our models are just not good enough to predict the outcomes”

Natural alterations to the earth’s radiation balance can be short-lasting, but terrifying. A 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption lowered global temperatures by 0.5C, while the Mount Tambora eruption in 1815 triggered Europe’s ‘year without a summer’, bringing crop failure, famine and disease.

A Met Office study in 2013 said that the dispersal of fine particles in the stratosphere could precipitate a calamitous drought across North Africa.

Frank Keutsch, the Harvard atmospheric sciences professor leading the experiment, said that the deployment of a solar geoengineering system was “a terrifying prospect” that he hoped would never have to be considered. “At the same time, we should never choose ignorance over knowledge in a situation like this,” he said.

“If you put heat into the stratosphere, it may change how much water gets transported from the troposphere to the stratosphere, and the question is how much are you [creating] a domino effect with all kinds of consequences? What we can do to quantify this is to start with lab studies and try to understand the relevant properties of these aerosols.”

Stratospheric controlled perturbation experiments (SCoPEX) are seen as “critical” to this process and the first is planned to spray water molecules into the stratosphere to create a 1km long and 100m wide icy plume, which can be studied by a manoeuvrable flight balloon.

If lab tests are positive, the experiment would then be replicated with a limestone compound which the researchers believe will neither absorb solar or terrestrial radiation, nor deplete the ozone layer.

Bill Gates and other foundations are substantially funding the project, and aerospace companies are thought to be taking a business interest in the technology’s potential.

The programmme’s launch will follow a major conference involving more than 100 scientists, which begins in Washington DC today.

Solar geoengineering’s journey from the fringes of climate science to its mainstream will be sealed at a prestigious Gordon research conference in July, featuring senior figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Oxford University.

Pasztor says that most scientific observers now see the window to a 1.5C warmed world as “practically gone” and notes that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will continue rising for many decades after the planet has reached a ‘net zero emissions’ point planned for mid-late century.

But critics of solar radiation management approach this as a call to redouble mitigation efforts and guard against the elevation of a questionable Plan B.

“It is appropriate that we spend money on solar geoengineering research,” said Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. “But we also have to aim for 2C with climate mitigation and act as though geoengineering doesn’t work, because it probably won’t.”


‘The Matrix’ Reboot in the Works at Warner Bros

The 1999 sci-fi movie is coming back.
More Matrix? Bet on it.It’s still not clear what shape the project will take, but sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Warner Bros. is in the early stages of developing a relaunch of The Matrix, the iconic 1999 sci-fi movie that is considered one of the most original films in cinematic history, with Zak Penn in talks to write a treatment.Sources say there is potential interest in Michael B. Jordan to star, but much must be done before the project is ready to go.

At this point, the Wachowski siblings, who wrote and directed the original and its two sequels, are not involved and the nature of their potential engagement with a new version has not been determined. Certainly, Warners would want the two filmmakers to give at minimum a blessing to the nascent project. The studio had no comment.

Joel Silver, who produced the original trilogy, is said to have approached Warners about the idea of mining The Matrix for a potential new film. However, Silver sold his interest in all his movies to the studio in 2012 for about $30 million, according to sources. Warners is said to be leery of including him in any meaningful role, as he not only has a reputation for budget-control issues, but apparently has a strained relationship with the Wachowskis. The siblings hold much more meaning for fans than the producer. Silver’s reps did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Written and directed by the Wachowskis, the original movie sees humanity living in a simulated reality, unaware that humans are in pods in which their bodies are being harvested for energy. A computer programmer named Neo (Keanu Reeves) slowly becomes aware of this suppressed existence, eventually becoming humanity’s one true hope (Neo = One) to overthrow the oppressors. The pic also starred Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Hugo Weaving.

The Matrix was released in a quiet period of the 1999 release calendar — March 31 — and Warner Bros. didn’t have outsized expectations for an action movie with obvious Manga and comic-book influences. But the story and ground-breaking special effects (including the slow-motion “bullet time” effect, which launched dozens of imitators in the years that followed) became the highest grossing R-rated film of 1999 in North America, and the fourth-highest grossing film of the year worldwide. It also won four Academy Awards.

Two sequels, Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, were not as well received, but Reeves’ deal for those films made him one of the richest actors in Hollywood.

While promoting John Wick: Chapter 2, Reeves said he would be open to returning for another installment of the franchise if the Wachowskis were involved. “They would have to write it and direct it. And then we’d see what the story is, but yeah, I dunno, that’d be weird, but why not?” he told Yahoo Movies. However, it is likely that Warners will look elsewhere to attract an A-list director and star.

While some at Warners consider the title among the studio’s sacrosanct properties, such as Casablanca, others see a need to redevelop it in an environment where studios are desperately looking for ways to monetize their libraries and branded IP is hard to come by.

The idea of adapting The Matrix as a television series was nixed in recent months. But Warner Bros. sees a model in what Disney and Lucasfilm have done with Star Wars, exploring the hidden corners of the universe with movies such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or the in-production young Han Solo film. Perhaps a young Morpheus movie could come out of the exploration, as an example.

Penn is a writer with deep roots in the geeky genres in which Matrix travels. He created the Syfy network’s super-powered show Alphas and has been involved in comic book movies ranging from the X-Men franchise to The Avengers.

The Arctic Is a Staggering 36 Degrees Hotter Than What It Should Be

In Brief
  • Temperatures in the Arctic are reaching 20 °C (36 °F) higher than normal above 80 degrees North Latitude.
  • Experts assert that the warmth is a result of a combination of record-low sea-ice and warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a jet stream.

Arctic Warmth

Something strange is going on in the Arctic circle right now. Because it’s Polar Night, the region has been experiencing days with no sun. Common sense would dictate that a lack of sun would result in colder temperatures. However, this isn’t what’s happening.

According to Arctic watchers, the region is experiencing temperatures higher than usual, and the amount of sea ice covering the polar ocean is at a record low. Zack Labe, a PhD student at the University of California at Irvine who studies the Arctic, tweeted an image showing that temperatures in the Arctic are reaching 20 °C (36 °F) higher than normal above 80 degrees North Latitude.

The image in the tweet shows that temperatures were around -5 degrees Celsius instead of the typical -25 degrees Celsius.

Changing Seas and Winds

Experts are weighing in on the temperature spike.

Mark Serreze, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado found unusual temperatures in the sea. “There are some areas in the Arctic Ocean that are as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit above average now.” This situation leads to less sea-ice forming this time of the year, as measured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which is just 6.39 million km(2.47 million mi2), 28.52 percent less than the 1981-2010 average.

Credit: NOAA

Jennifer Francis, an Arctic specialist at Rutgers University said in a statement for The Washington Post:

“The Arctic warmth is the result of a combination of record-low sea-ice extent for this time of year, probably very thin ice, and plenty of warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a very wavy jet stream.”

Francis published a study in 2015 that shows how jet stream patterns are slowly shifting northward to the Arctic, leading to the warming of the region. “As emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated, therefore, the continued amplification of Arctic warming should favor an increased occurrence of extreme events caused by prolonged weather conditions,” the paper states.

These record-low sea levels and temperature spikes will surely add to the mounting evidence for climate change. There’s no denying it anymore.

The Top 25 Best Cult Films Of All Time

scientists just confirmed a key new source of greenhouse gases

Countries around the world are trying to get their greenhouse gas emissions under control — to see them inch down, percentage point by percentage point, from where they stood earlier in the century. If everybody gets on board, and shaves off enough of those percentage points, we just might be able to get on a trajectory to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius above the temperature where it stood prior to industrialization.

But if a new study is correct, there’s a big problem: There might be more greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere than we thought. That would mean an even larger need to cut.

The new paper, slated to be published next week in BioScience, confirms a  significant volume of greenhouse gas emissions coming from a little-considered place: Man-made reservoirs, held behind some 1 million dams around the world and created for the purposes of electricity generation, irrigation, and other human needs. In the study, 10 authors from U.S., Canadian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Dutch universities and institutions have synthesized a considerable body of prior research on the subject to conclude that these reservoirs may be emitting just shy of a gigaton, or billion tons, of annual carbon dioxide equivalents. That would mean they contributed 1.3 percent of the global total.

Moreover, the emissions are largely in the form of methane, a greenhouse gas with a relatively short life in the atmosphere but a very strong short-term warming effect. Scientists are increasingly finding that although we have begun to curb some emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, we are still thwarted by methane, which comes from a diversity of sources that range from oil and gas operations to cows.

How greenhouse gas behaves in the atmosphere

Play Video0:43
This high-resolution animation shows carbon dioxide emitted from fires and megacities over a five day period in June 2006. The model is based on real emission data so that scientists can observe how the greenhouse gas behaves once it has been emitted. (Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

The new research concludes that methane accounted for 79 percent of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from reservoirs, while the other two greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, accounted for 17 percent and 4 percent.

“There’s been kind of an explosion in research into efforts to estimate emissions from reservoirs,” said Bridget Deemer, the study’s first author and a researcher with Washington State University. “So we synthesized all known estimates from reservoirs globally, for hydropower and other functions, like flood control and irrigation.

“And we found that the estimates of methane emissions per area of reservoir are about 25 percent higher than previously thought, which we think is significant given the global boom in dam construction, which is currently underway,” she continued.

As Deemer’s words suggest, the study does not single out dams used to generate electricity — it focuses on all reservoirs, including those that are created for other purposes. It drew on studies on 267 reservoirs around the world, which together have a surface area of close to 30,000 square miles, to extrapolate global data.

Reservoirs are a classic instance of how major human alteration’s to the Earth’s landscape can have unexpected effects. Flooding large areas of Earth can set off new chemical processes as tiny microorganisms break down organic matter in the water, sometimes doing so in the absence of oxygen — a process that leads to methane as a byproduct. One reason this happens is that the flooded areas initially contain lots of organic life in the form of trees and grasses.

Meanwhile, as nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus flow into reservoirs from rivers — being poured in by human agriculture and waste streams — these can further drive algal growth in reservoirs, giving microorganisms even more material to break down. The study finds that for these reasons, reservoirs emit more methane than “natural lakes, ponds, rivers, or wetlands.”

“If oxygen is around, then methane gets converted back to CO2,” said John Harrison, another of the study’s authors, and also a researcher at Washington State. “If oxygen isn’t present, it can get emitted back to the atmosphere as methane.”And flooded areas, he said, are more likely to be depleted of oxygen. A similar process occurs in rice paddies, which are also a major source of methane emissions.

In fact, Harrison said that based on the new study, it appears that reservoir emissions and rice paddy emissions are of about the same magnitude on a global scale — but rice paddy emissions have been taken into account for some time. Reservoir emissions often have not.
‘There are inventory compilers in each country that are responsible for compiling information about greenhouse gases to the atmosphere,” Harrison explained. “The [United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] writes the guidance, the cookbook that’s supposed to be used by these inventory compilers, and that guidance currently includes reservoirs only as an appendix, not an official part of any nation’s inventory. But that is likely to change as those guidelines get revised over the next two years.”

The research, said Deemer, complicates the idea that hydropower is a carbon-neutral source of energy, although she stresses that the authors aren’t saying that they’re against using large bodies of water to generate energy through dams. Rather, they’re arguing that the greenhouse gas calculus has to be included in evaluating such projects.

This problem is not an entirely new one: A major 2000 study in BioScience raised this issue, and the International Hydropower Association on its website acknowledges that “While hydropower is a very low-carbon technology, it is known that some reservoirs in certain conditions can release quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas. Reservoirs can also, in other circumstances, act as carbon sinks.”
But what is new about the current study is its synthesis of a large number of studies since 2000, and the determination that these emissions add up to something that is big enough to be taken seriously as part of the global carbon budget. It also finds that while some reservoirs are indeed “sinks” for carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide — meaning, they take up more of these gases than they emit — that was not true for methane.

The authors acknowledge the study does not represent a full “life cycle analysis” of reservoirs, taking into account how much carbon was stored (or emitted from) lands prior to their being flooded, and also what happens after reservoirs are decommissioned. Nor does it attempt to weigh the methane emissions from reservoirs used to generate hydropower against the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would presumably be created if that electricity was instead generated by burning coal or natural gas.
But it clearly suggests a need to take these emissions seriously, and conduct further research.

“We’re trying to provide policymakers and the public with a more complete picture of the consequences of damming a river,” said Harrison.

Why the Joker in The Dark Knight Was the Ultimate Villain

Even if you didn’t see Suicide Squad and somehow escaped the reviews of it and, like, also didn’t hear the horror stories about Jared Leto’s Joker, you’d already know that it would never have topped Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knightanyway. Not only is Ledger’s Joker an iconic performance, his character was also the most perfect antagonist there’s ever been for Batman (or maybe, for any superhero). Lessons from the Screenplay analyzes what an antagonist should be and shows how The Dark Knight’s Joker nails it perfectly.

Heath Ledger’s Joker is exceptionally good at attacking Batman’s weakness, rendering Batman’s strength and intimidation useless and using Batman’s moral code (that he can’t kill) against him (because Joker needs to be killed). The Joker also forces Batman to make choices to reveal his true character but also outsmarts him, like when Batman chose to save Rachel over Harvey Dent and ended up with Dent anyway.

But the most important thing that makes Joker the ultimate antagonist is that he and Batman want the same thing: Gotham. Batman wants to save it. The Joker wants it to be in chaos.

Watch the video discussion.URL:

Colony collapse disorder is no longer the existential threat to honeybees you thought it was.

After years of uncertainty, honeybees appear poised to recover from collapse.

bee hive.

In the far corner of Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, there is a depression, 5 feet deep and 70 feet in diameter, that is filled with more than 1,000 individual plants. There are sunflowers and oregano and geraniums—and bees. By the thousands. This sculpture, called Concave Room for Bees, is an earthen work of art designed to attract the insects by providing a rich and steady source of nutrition. Its creator, artist Meg Webster, hopes it will draw attention to the fact that bees are dying globally at an alarming rate.

Ask people on the street if they’re aware of this great bee die-off, and if they’re regular users of the internet, odds are they’ll say yes. When the Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2015, a bee-collapse meme was born thanks to a tweeted video of Eli Manning captioned “when ur brother wins the super bowl but then u remember that bees are dying globally at an alarming rate”

It may not be the Ice Bucket Challenge, but even minor environmental awareness is good, right? Actually, in this case, it may not be necessary. That’s because honeybee populations are not in decline. They haven’t been for a few years now. In fact, many experts believe that honeybees are not in any imminent danger of extinction.

So why do we think they are? Ten years ago, a man named Dave Hackenberg discovered that bees were disappearing. Not dying, just disappearing. Unlike previous plagues where whole colonies could be wiped out, leaving a pile of bee bodies on the floors of the hives, this new wave of affliction was rendering hives completely empty, with no bodies for pathologists to examine, leading some bloggers to dub the phenomenon “the bee rapture.

In the past decade, research has found that a new class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, increases the honeybees’ susceptibility to a specific parasite—the varroa mite (these mites have been around since the 1980s but weren’t known to cause any serious problems until the bees started disappearing). Alone, neither factor poses a species-level threat to honeybees, but the combination of the two led to the catastrophe that ultimately came to be known as colony collapse disorder.

The strange thing is that no one knows exactly how the interaction of bad pesticides and this parasite caused bee colonies to collapse. Some researchers have arguedthat the pesticides make the queen more susceptible to varroa mite, which kills her reproductive capabilities and causes other members of the hive to give up and depart for greener pastures, so to speak. Others think it’s that the neonicotinoids cause a disruption in the homing mechanisms of the honeybees that prevents them from navigating back home, though it’s unclear how the mites play a role. In both cases, the result is the same: an empty hive.

“CCD was a real problem, probably six or seven years ago,” says Jeff Pettis, an entomologist whose research played a major role in uncovering the causes of CCD. He adds that in the past three to five years, though, researchers in his field have as not seen much CCD and that globally honeybee populations are not in decline.

The reasons for this apparently miraculous departure from the fast-track toward extinction are not hard to understand, now that research has borne out the causes. First, both the U.S. and several European countries have passed regulations that restricts the use of pesticides and fungicides that are suspected to have played a role in CCD to begin with.

The second reason there’s no longer an immediate threat of extinction is that bees aren’t, say, giant pandas, an animal that is actually, seriously endangered. That is to say, bees can recover their population numbers reasonably quickly. Compared with the once-a-year ovulatory habits of pandas, queen honeybees regularly lay 1,500 eggs per day, and if the conditions call for it, can up that figure to as many as 2,000 eggs per day or more. Even if honeybee keepers report losing as much 30 to 45 percent of their bees in a single year, this doesn’t actually mean the honeybee population will decline by that much. The beekeepers’ response will be to simply leverage the queens’ enormous reproductive abilities, which will quickly recoup those losses.

So even though bees were disappearing in alarming ways and at alarming rates, their population never actually saw a significant decline. The number of honeybee colonies peaked in 1989, at 3.5 million colonies; in 2008, two years after CCD was first characterized, that number dipped to 2.4 million, the worst year for honeybee populations in recorded history. Since their lowest point, honeybee populations in the U.S. have climbed at a modest pace and now stand at 2.7 million colonies.

So if the bees are all right, why don’t we think they are? Why are we constantly lamenting their demise or building large-scale nature-based art in their honor? For one thing, the story of thousands of bees vanishing from the Earth was inherently more fascinating than, say, this one, which explains that reasonable and largely bureaucratic measurements helped stymie the decline.

The consequences a honeybee extinction would have held for human existence are severe. About one-third of all crops—including almost all fruits and nongrain vegetables—are pollinated by honeybees. “I would hate to live in a world without bees,” said Pettis, emphasizing the diversity in diet that the insects afford us. “We’d still have oatmeal, but we wouldn’t be able to have blueberries in our oatmeal.”

That would be too bad, but it almost certainly won’t come to pass. So the next time you’re watching your brother win the Super Bowl, you’ll need a better excuse for looking sour.


4 years ago a declaration was signed by a prominent group of scientists known as The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness following their conclusion that animals have conscious understanding, just as we do and to the same degree. This list includes all mammals and birds, along with many other creatures.


I know that some of you may be thinking this is self-evident — I mean, haven’t we known this all along? — but the vast majority of people clearly haven’t reached this understanding. The way we are currently treating animals on a mass scale on this planet speaks to this ignorance. Even though it seems like an obvious acknowledgment for scientists to make, the implications of this statement could truly change the world. The fact that animals are sentient beings can no longer be ignored.

The Declaration Stated The Following:

The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field.

Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.

The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals. Artificial arousal of the same brain regions generates corresponding behavior and feeling states in both humans and non-human animals.

Wherever in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviors in non-human animals, many of the ensuing behaviors are consistent with experienced feeling states, including those internal states that are rewarding and punishing. Deep brain stimulation of these systems in humans can also generate similar affective states. Systems associated with affect are concentrated in subcortical regions where neural homologies abound. Young human and nonhuman animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind functions. Furthermore, neural circuits supporting behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus).

Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought.

In humans, the effect of certain hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals. In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness.

Evidence that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.

Other Evidence To Support This Reevaluation

There is a lot of information readily available to us that can fully support this declaration. Take the hugely popular documentary Blackfish, which told the story of the psychological damage suffered by a whale who was kept in captivity for too long and the way he defied and rebelled his captors.

There’s also the story of the pregnant pig that jumped off of a moving truck on her way to the slaughterhouse. And then of course there are the countless animals that are held in captivity to be performers in the circus – their very intelligence makes them ideal for learning so many tricks — even though we all know that elephants and chimpanzees are some of the most sentient animals of all. The infamous KoKo the gorilla, for example, has a vast vocabulary and communicates with us directly.

Other evidence has surfaced that shows how intelligent even ocean dwelling octopi are. In fact they were the only species of their type that were mentioned in this study.

If this declaration were to be taken seriously by government officials and the citizens of the world, we could have a world where no being had to suffer, be forced to do tricks, or held in captivity, all for the sake of human pleasure — the only reason we treat animals in this fashion in the first place.

What Can You Do?

If you agree with the scientists who signed this declaration then you do not need to wait until new laws are passed to help protect animals. You have the power to help change these things right away, and it couldn’t be simpler. Stop supporting these industries that are exploiting animals.

  • Don’t buy factory farmed meat and other animal products
  • Reduce your overall consumption of animals products
  • Don’t go to the circus
  • Don’t go to the zoo
  • Don’t buy products that have been tested on animals
  • Spread the word and help raise awareness about these important issues

It is important for us to recognize that we do have a say in what is going on in the world around us, and only until we believe it will we be able to effectively initiate positive change.

Julia Roberts’ Barefoot Protest: One More Nail In The Coffin of Patriarchy.

Hollywood diva Julia Roberts made waves last weekend at the Cannes Film Festival when she arrived barefoot for a screening of her film Money Monster. It was probably a form of protest against the unwritten dress code at the festival, where many female actors were kept out last year for wearing flat shoes – ie, shoes without heels.

While it is no secret that women go to extraordinary lengths to appear comfortable in high heels, and footwear companies encourage this kind of fashion statement in women, one wonders whether high heels are not another covert feminine acknowledgement of continuing patriarchy.

High heels emphasise legs and the female form, but they also come with physical risks. In October 2012, then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard tripped at Rajghat wearing high heels. Thousands of women sprain ankles while walking with heels on uneven surfaces and/or soft terrain. Many have sported broken shoe-heels and courted embarrassment in public places. Men may like watching women in heels, but women court risks wearing them.

In a patriarchal world, emphasising legs and body shape probably gave women an evolutionary advantage in the competition for mates with status and power. But the developed world is moving fast towards equality, and it should have been a matter of time before the human species followed nature’s law – where the male is the one taking risks to woo the female. Western women should have been giving up risky heels to emphasise equality with males, but the billions of dollars spent by the fashion business probably makes it tougher for them to give up on the idea.

In India, where men are in chronic oversupply in most states due to female foeticide, one would have thought that the heel should have been on the other foot. A skewed demography should have meant men having to do more of the wooing than women. While growing sales of male grooming products indicates that this trend is coming, one area where it isn’t happening is in the heels business – which continues to be female dominated.

Nature made the male of the species the risk-taker, and often the better looking partner in the mating game. This is because males have to woo females in most species.

The lion looks much more majestic than the lioness. The peacock, despite the risk of being eaten by predators, sports elaborate feathers that get enhanced during its mate-wooing dance. The peahen is nowhere in the business of being attractive. Similarly, male pheasants or mandarin ducks are more colourful than their female counterparts. This may not be universally true, but the point is this: more often than not, it is the male of the species that needs a leg up in the wooing game.

The human female’s assumption of risks with high heels is probably an anachronism left behind by the rise of patriarchy in our evolutionary journey. But it is sure to change.

Julia Roberts was probably sending a coded message that this needs to change. Good for her. Men should take note.


The most enthralling—and often most frustrating—aspect of being a fan of Prince was this: No matter what, you were never going to figure him out. You’d never be able to fully decode all of his intricate, ornate, mischievous lyrics. You’d never quite understand the reasoning for some of his sideways-twisting business and personal-life decisions. You’d barely even be able to keep up with his musical output, a gargantuan-sized, decades-spanning collection of music that ranged from popping synth-funk numbers to scorching guitar anthems to delicate, lights-dimming R&B ballads (and those are just the songs we heard; who knows how many hours of unheard material still sit in his infamous Paisley Park vaults). Prince, who died today at the age of 57, was never going to let anyone fully into his world. At best, we got small glimpses from time to time. The rest was left to our imaginations.

But the parts of that world we did get to see were like nothing else. In his earliest years, as he workshopped and woodshedded within the R&B and funk scenes of his native Minneapolis, he was one-part funk disciple, one-part ’70s guitar-god; his first truly great album, 1979’s Prince, was pure alchemy, a record that brought together dancefloor come-ons like “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and heavenly axe-shredders like “Bambi” so smoothly, it was as if those two sounds had always existed in the same space. But those early efforts were also, by Prince standards, relatively tame—like so many first-timers, he seemed nervous, almost endearingly so.

And so, we followed him, no matter what: We were his dearly beloved, he was our revolutionary leader, and even if we couldn’t fully understand where he was going, it was always going to be someplace new.

Then came Dirty Mind, an exquisitely sexed-up punk-funk masterpiece that solidified Prince’s reputation as a malleable, constantly-in-motion force that would be forever impossible to predict. Listen to the spare, aching bass of “When You Were Mine”; the whirling, kaleidoscopic keyboards of “Uptown”; or the touchingly horny lyrics of the title track: “I just want to lay ya down/In my daddy’s car/It’s you I really want to drive/but you never go too far.” This was a more forthright, dance-up-in-your-face Prince than just the year before, and he’d emerge again with 1982’s aptly titled Controversy; whether Prince had been holding himself back before, or whether he was simply growing up in front of the audience, was impossible to know. Really, who was this guy?

Amazingly, even as Prince (and his sound) got bigger—as he moved R&B and funk past the nearly all-white boundaries of rock radio—that question was never answered. He was always full of contradictions: A guy who sang about sex with alarming, turn-the-dial-before-mom-hears frankness, yet who somehow never seemed crass nor déclassé. An image-aware provocateur who dressed like this, yet retained an aura of shyness and vulnerability. A rock god who worshiped Joni Mitchell.


By the mid-’80s, Prince aspired to (and achieved) the kind of Top 40 infamy that very few of his contemporaries could manage. At the same time, he seemed to detest so much of the machinations of fame—particularly interviews, which he either dodged, canceled, or conducted with maddening vagueness. This became especially true when he’d reached the upper-stratosphere heights of pop stardom that came with 1982’s 1999 and 1984’s Purple Rain—two records that incited (and downright encouraged!) countless make-out sessions and slow-dances and shotgun-seat air-guitar riffs. (Quick sidebar: Perhaps because he was such a compelling frontman, it sometimes gets lost that Prince was one of the most remarkable guitar players ever, especially live; watching him burn through the opening the maelstrom of “When Doves Cry” was like seeing … I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it. But if Prince were here, he’d be able to do so with a cozy, succinct one-liner that would put the rest of the room to shame.)

And so, we followed him, no matter what: We were his dearly beloved, he was our revolutionary leader, and even if we couldn’t fully understand where he was going, it was always going to be someplace new. In 1987, he released Sign o’ the Times, a record that would be his most personal and political album—and, among diehards, forever rank as his best, a two-disc extravaganza that found him addressing everything from social blight (the title track) to gender roles (“If I Was Your Girlfriend”) to religious epiphany (“The Cross”). On Sign, he was telling us more about himself than ever before, but he was also copping to confusion—about God, about sex, about who he was. Even Prince didn’t fully know Prince.

Even Prince didn’t fully know Prince.

By then, Prince had also become as much of a social icon as he had a musical one, albeit quietly. Who knows how many lonely teenagers, regardless of sex or race or gender, took inspiration from this soft-spoken, Midwestern boy who wore and sang whatever he wanted, who mixed with genres that had normally been kept in separate silos, and apologized for none of it? Prince, much like David Bowie or Madonna, bestowed upon his fans a giant permission slip, one that allowed them to be as strange or outrageous as they wanted to be. With Prince, experimentation was never taboo; it was simply a sign o’ the times.


Which is why, as the ’80s ended and Prince’s off-stage adventures became just as intriguing as his on-the-record work, he remained as vital as ever. There’s plenty to be said about his ’90s albums, some of which were phenomenal—especially 1991’s Diamonds and Pearlsand 1992’s Symbol (or whatever we’re calling it these days)—and some of which found him either struggling to keep pace with hip-hop or letting his passion for prolificness get the best of him. But even then, he was a pop-culture progressive: Embracing the web at time when most other artists thought it was a scam or a fad (though, being Prince, he’d reverse his opinion on this many times); taking on the record industry and demanding his rights as an artist, even though the big labels were still superpowers; and adopting a D.I.Y. attitude, both in his dealings and his music, that most big-name contemporaries wouldn’t have dared.

Did he always make it easy to love him? No. Did we ever stop? Of course not. In recent years, his concerts—full of medleys and solos and just general good times—were glorious to behold: Here was Prince, within our sights and our grasps, playing as though he were 30 years younger, still this beautiful and thoroughly unknowable force. You could pick any face out in the crowd, and ask what Prince they loved. For some, it was the sly funkster. For others, it was the stadium-commanding rocker or the spiritual inquisitor. We all dug our own picture of Prince; he could be whoever we wanted him to be, because of who he was—a smirking mystery open to interpretation, and a perpetual tease whose flirtations weren’t always consummated. Now that he’s gone, I’m guessing there’s nothing that would delight him more than knowing we’ll be spending the rest of our lives trying to figure him out—analyzing every song, testing every theory, and still talking about … Prince. That’s what he’d want. So let’s go crazy.