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Archive for the ‘Conscious Evolution’ Category

Crows are capable of conscious thought (and it could rewrite the story of evolution) – Yahoo News UK

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Tim Stanley: This was the ugliest debate ever Rosa Prince: Biden proves Democrats made wrong choice Trump criticised for telling white supremacist group Proud Boys to 'stand by' When is the next debate? Join our brilliant US election WhatsApp group Subscribe to The Telegraph Donald Trump and Joe Biden went at each other hammer and tongs in the first of three debates in the US presidential election. In a bad-tempered and at times chaotic debate, the candidates ripped chunks out of each other on their records and issues such as the economy and race. Mr Trump was rebuked several times by Chris Wallace, the moderator, for speaking over his opponent. At one point, after incessant interruptions from the president, Mr Biden said: "Will you shut up, man?" Follow the latest updates and reaction below.

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Crows are capable of conscious thought (and it could rewrite the story of evolution) - Yahoo News UK

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

Study Shows That Crows Are Much Smarter Than We Ever Imagined – My Modern Met

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Anyone who has ever had a run-in with a crow knows that they are quite intelligent. But a new study released inScience proves that they may be even smarter than we think. According to researchers, crows and other corvids possess primary consciousnesssomething that, until now, only humans and some primates were thought to have.

Crows have already proven themselves to be great problem solvers and can get quite creative, but this new discovery could change the way we think about the evolution of animals. So what exactly is primary consciousness? Also known as sensory consciousness, it's a term that refers to the ability to put together memories and observed events to cultivate an awareness of the present and immediate past. For instance, as a child, we may have put our hand near a flame and gotten burned. Remembering this painful feeling taught us not to repeat the same action the next time the opportunity presented itself.

How did the researchers measure the cognitive abilities of crows? They worked with two carrion crows and trained them to signal whether or not they saw a colored marker on a screen by moving their heads. Unequivocally throughout the tests, the crows showed that they could reliably signal whether or not the colored markers appeared. At some moments during the test, the markers were so faint that they were barely perceptible. In these cases, sometimes the crows still signaled the marker and in others, they did not. That's where their subjective perception came into play.

As all this was happening, the researchers were monitoring the activity of the crows' neurons. When the crows saw the stimulus, neurons were active between when the marker was presented and the crow signaled its presence. In the absence of the stimulus, the neurons were inactive. During the moments of subjective perception, researchers could predict whether or not the crow would signal the marker based on the activity of the neurons. If they were active, the crow would reliably signal even the faint marker.

Our results however conclusively show that nerve cells at higher processing levels of the crows brain are influenced by subjective experience, or more precisely produce subjective experiences, states Professor Andreas Nieder, lead author of the study.

This is revolutionary because sensory consciousness is believed to take place in the cerebral cortex of humans and some primates. Birds, however, don't have a cerebral cortex. This opens up a new door for researchers to explore.

The last common ancestors of humans and crows lived 320 million years ago, says Nieder. It is possible that the consciousness of perception arose back then and has been passed down ever since. An alternative theory is that the consciousness of perception developed independently in these distantly related species, explains the neurobiologist, In any case, the capability of conscious experience can be realized in differently structured brains and independently of the cerebral cortex.

h/t: [STAT, IFL Science!]

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Study Shows That Crows Are Much Smarter Than We Ever Imagined - My Modern Met

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

Do Birds Have A Subjective Reality? A New Experiment Suggests So – Forbes

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Birds such as crows, ravens, jays, and magpies may have subjective experiences.

Consciousness is still very difficult to understand within the animal kingdom. Commonly, consciousness is ascribed to humans and other primates, while others suggest it is a trait shared by mammals. It is even more difficult to understand if animals such as birds, insects, and fish have a conscious point of view. A new study out of the University of Tbingen in Germany published September 25th in Science suggests that birds such as crows may indeed have a subjective reality.

Consciousness can have many levels. The lowest level is sentience - or the ability to have a point of view. The next level is sapience - the ability to have a train of thought and to form opinions. Finally, there is the understanding of the self.

Even showing that birds and like animals have sentience would be revolutionary for our understanding of consciousness and the brain. For primates, consciousness is commonly associated with the cerebral cortex. Animals such as birds lack this portion of the brain.

The study, led by Professor Andreas Nieder, the chair of Animal Psychology at the University of Tbingen, examined crows, a subset of corvid birds (the class of birds that also includes ravens, magpies, and jays). They trained the birds to respond to a visual stimulus projected on a screen.

Sometimes the stimulus was clear and the birds indicated that they saw it. Other times, the stimulus was faint - on the verge of their perception. For these cases, even for the same faint intensity, sometimes the birds reported they saw the signal, and sometimes they didnt. This can not be explained by the workings of the eye, but must arise at higher processing levels of the brain that evaluate the sensory input, says Nieder.

Even more intriguing, sometimes the crows reported seeing something when nothing was actually there. The crows eyes were, in a sense, playing tricks on them, another indication of subjective reality.

Just like sometimes our eyes trick us in seeing things that aren't really there, crows were ... [+] similarly fooled, indicating they may have subjectivity.

During the experiment, the scientists also recorded the activity of nerve cells within the birds brains. If their experience was not subjective, the birds would have responded similarly to every faint stimulus. But this wasnt the case. The nerve cells were active only when the bird reported seeing the stimulus.

This activity was recorded in the nidopallium caudolaterale, or NCL. While birds do not have a cerebral cortex, their NCL routes sensory information to other parts of the body. Interestingly, this NCL evolved anatomically distinctly and independently over the course of evolution, and it is only found in birds, says Nieder. We think the NCL serves similar high-level functions in the bird brain as the prefrontal cortex in our primate brain, but there is no NCL in the mammalian brain, just as there is no prefrontal cortex in the bird brain.

These results are important for the understanding of consciousness in the animal kingdom. Crows and humans diverged on the evolutionary tree 320 million years ago. Either consciousness has been around that long, or it has evolved multiple times in the animal kingdom.

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Do Birds Have A Subjective Reality? A New Experiment Suggests So - Forbes

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

Scientists Claim to Have Proved That Crows Have Conscious Experiences – Futurism

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Fallen Pillar

For the first time, scientists have found that crows are capable of subjective, conscious experiences and perceptions.

Its a big step forward in our understanding of animal cognition. Prior to this, we only knew of conscious perception among humans and other primates. The brains of animals like birds were considered too different from our own to have subjective experiences, but this study, published Friday in the journal Science, potentially upends scientists assumptions about just how smart animals might be.

Crows and other corvid birds have long been known for their smarts and puzzle-solving abilities. But now brain scans conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Tbingen reveal that crows actively think about whatever stimuli they experience during an experiment, even when it wasnt present. Thats a pretty big deal, since bird brains have vastly different and smaller cerebral cortices, which are thought to be the source of human consciousness.

The results of our study opens up a new way of looking at the evolution of awareness and its neurobiological constraints, lead author Andreas Nieder said in a press release.

Assuming the study holds up to further scrutiny, the biggest question is when this consciousness originated, and whether its shared by any other non-primate animals or if it developed in crows independently

The last common ancestors of humans and crows lived 320 million years ago, Nieder said. It is possible that the consciousness of perception arose back then and has been passed down ever since.

READ MORE: Researchers show conscious processes in birds brains for the first time [University of Tbingen]

More on birds: Watch: The Amazing Intelligence of Crows

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Scientists Claim to Have Proved That Crows Have Conscious Experiences - Futurism

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

Latest Research on Brain Structures Reveals How Birds Are Actually Intelligent and Even Self-Aware – VICE

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It has never been a better time to be a bird. While researchers have believed since a while now that they are sharp-witted, two brain studies have come along to reveal how birds are not only highly intelligent but also have conscious thought.

In recent years, birds have been found to make tools, understand abstract concepts, and even recognise paintings by Monet and Picasso. But their lack of a neocortexthe area of the mammalian brain where working memory, planning, and problem-solving happenhas long puzzled scientists. But the two papers, which are being hailed as ground-breaking and were published last week, find birds have a brain that is much more similar to ours than previously thought.

Part of this is the result of the work of Martin Stacho, a neuroanatomist at Ruhr-University Bochum, who decided to investigate the avian forebrain, which controls perception. While a comparison of mammalian and avian brains suggested they had nothing in common, "birds and mammals have many of the same cognitive skills, said the scientist to Science.

Stacho and his colleagues examined microscopic slices of three homing pigeon brains using 3D polarised light imaging. This technique let them analyse the forebrain region of birds called the palliumconsidered most similar to the mammalian neocortex. The scientists compared the images of the birds pallia with those of mammalian cortices such as rat, monkey, and human. Their research revealed the fibers in the birds pallia are organised in a manner strikingly similar to those in mammal cortexes.

Stacho and his colleagues think the findings also represent a glimpse into ancient animal brain evolution. The last common ancestor of birds and mammals was a reptile that roamed the earth around 320 million years ago. And its brain, the team believes, was probably a precursor to that of the two lineages that diverged through evolution.

In another study, Andreas Nieder, a neurophysiologist at the University of Tbingen, sought to find out whether birds had conscious experiences. He observed the brains of carrion crows as they responded to cuescreatures who are also known as feathered apes for their intelligence.

They trained two lab-raised, year-old carrion crows to move or stay still in response to a faint cue displayed on a monitor. When correct, the birds were rewarded. The scientists then implanted electrodes in the crows brains to record their neuronal signals as they responded. When the crows reacted, their neurons fired, suggesting they had consciously perceived the cue; but when they didnt, their neurons were silent.

The two works combined led scientists to believe birds may have incredible thinking capabilities. Although bird and mammalian brains look very different, this study shows us they are wired in very complementary ways," said John Marzluff, a wildlife biologist and specialist on crows at the University of Washington, who was not involved in either study to Science.

However, this work is bound to raise some eyebrows, as some researchers argue that consciousness is uniquely human. We suspect that the Birds Arent Real movement supporters arent going to be too happy about this either.

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

Maelstrom Collaborative Arts Stays Flexible and Creative with The Wondering: A Story in Time and Space – Cleveland Scene

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Maelstrom Collaborative Arts kicks off The Wondering: A Story in Time and Space on Thursday, October 8, 2020 at 5:30 p.m.

The event, which is a collaboration between 32 artists, dancers, painters, writers, musicians and performers, tells the story of a group of strangers brought together under mysterious circumstances and comes on the heels of theThe ACTIVATE Storefront Window Residency, which is part of a six-week residency program showcasing physically-distant, socially-relevant work in the Detroit-Shoreway and Cleveland communities.

The show tells the story of a group of people brought together by a catastrophic accident, says Jeremy Paul,Executive Artistic Director of Maelstrom Collaborative Arts. In the aftermath, these strangersbegin sharing the same dream each night and gradually begin to shape and change it, creating an alternate reality in dreaming that allows them to process what happened and find new ways to connect with each other. The event space is structured so that the audience physically explores the ways in which this dreamscape began, grew, and eventually ended, with each artist creating a dream shrine that represents a different phase of evolution for this dream.

Maelstrom Collaborative Arts (MCA), which aims to serve the growth of innovative artists at the borders of diverse genres, disciplines and media, was forced to cancel the majority of its 2020 season due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

They needed to find alternative ways to connect with their audiences in a way that was safe and socially conscious with regard to physical interaction, while concocting a platform for their artists to express themselves.

With traditional performance off the table, we have been working towards other ways to safely engage audiences and artists while also using our experience with creating immersive theater and environmental storytelling," says Paul. "This show is a cross between Inferno, an explorable, multimedia adaptation of Dantes Inferno that we created last fall, and The Last Day, a pseudo-escape room we developed in 2016.

As exhibition spaces continue to challenge themselves as to how to stay relevant and connected to their participants with the help of ACTIVATE, MCA, sticking true to its mission, perseveres and innovates in face of a challenging time for the Arts across the world.

The ACTIVATE Storefront Window Residency was a way to experiment with innovative methods for making and presenting live art in a COVID-safe way, says Paul. It also created a sense of shared-space, with audience members and passersby standing on the corner of 54th and Detroit witnessing something unusual, out-of-the-ordinary- and then being able to talk about it, both with each other and the artists present. Watching the sunset against the window panes while music played, or an installation shone brightly from behind the glass was a magical moment for a summer that was fraught with so much discord.

MCA is capturing the national moment to try and gain an audience for the many who feel voiceless or undermined. There is strength in diversity of ideas and approaches, and particularly in the field of the arts, and The Wondering is a great example.

MCA challenges the Arts community in Cleveland to consider hurdles certain artists face in Cleveland.

From their website: "We believe that there are real, systemic barriers to equitable engagement in the arts that must be dismantled and that equal access regardless of race, sexuality, gender identity or culture is essential to a vibrant Cleveland arts community. We believe that equity is an active process that requires individual and systematic work every day to achieve it, and that it is the only way we accomplish our mission and vision."

I asked Paul to elaborate on what challenges artists face here in a Cleveland.

Cleveland is a deeply segregated city in both the traditional racial and classist sense of the word, as well as in the way resource scarcity and inequality create artistic silos by discipline, geography, and community. These divisions help to propagate the existing systems of gatekeeping that have overwhelmingly favored white, straight, cis men.

MCA calls us to task to stay open minded and to relish in our differences. It also reminds us why multiculturalism ultimately makes for a more buoyant society.

Another intriguing project MCA is working on is The MCA Pen Pal Letter Exchange, where they asked people to write anonymous letters to unknown friends with the greeting, Dear [Blank].

They received about 50 letters back and some exchanges have been ongoing.

MCA Pen Pals was really popular and we did it 3 times; people ended up writing, drawing, painting, and crafting some pretty amazing stuff- one person sent a home-made face mask, and another person sent a hand-crafted fortune teller! It was both playful and incredibly meaningful during a scary and quite uncertain time.

The Wandering is limited to only one audience member at a time (or two if they are from the same household), who will be required to wear a mask during the experience. All art will be installations or otherwise made remotely, but there will be live elements and environmental changes as the audience moves through the space and experiences the story. Tickets for this event begin at $25 per person. You can visit their online box office here.

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Maelstrom Collaborative Arts Stays Flexible and Creative with The Wondering: A Story in Time and Space - Cleveland Scene

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

Director Alankrita Shrivastava explores sisterhood, sexuality, and breaking free in her latest film on Netflix – YourStory

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Once in a while, a film comes and shakes you out of a misplaced reverie that Bollywood is all about song and dance, inconsequential plots, larger-than-life characters, and silly storylines.

But if you see the name Alankrita Shrivastava as the director as the credits roll, you know, that like her earlier film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, this one too is likely to spark off conversations, debates, and make you think deep.

Konkona Sen and Alankrita Shrivastava

Her latest, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, that recently released on Netflix doesnt disappoint viewers in that direction. Its an evolving tale of two cousins, Dolly and Kitty, as they traverse life in Greater Noida along with their dreams, insecurities, and finally their awakening.

Played by Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar, Dolly and Kitty, while being contrasts are also similar in their need for acceptance and breaking free from the shackles of a patriarchal society.

The movie mirrors Alankritas earlier film in its portrayal of strong female characters.

Bhumi Pednekar as Kitty in a scene from the film, Dolly, Kitty Aur Chamakte Sitare

In a conversation with HerStory, the director tells us how she conceptualised the two characters and their evolution throughout the film.

For Alankrita, it was interesting to explore the lives of women in a space that is not constructed or ready, rather a work in progress.

I feel both Dolly and Kitty are both works in progress, they are both trying to find themselves, and that was a nice metaphoric connect, she adds.

Konkona Sen as Dolly in a scene from the film

As the movie progresses, we see the sisters come into their own and understand each other better than they did in the beginning. So, is it all about finding solidarity in sisterhood?

Alankrita says it was not a conscious decision for the characters to evolve the way they did.

In the film, Dolly and Kittys dilemmas are very internal, whether its the former acknowledging her husband is a cheat or the latter taking up work thats uncomfortable. But in the end, practicality overrides emotions as the sisters discover themselves.

Konkona Sen Sharma as Dolly and Bhumi Pednekar as Kitty slip into their roles with ease and a feistiness that takes your breath away.

Did she always have the two in mind while writing the film?

I first went to Bhumi with Kittys role as she has a very beautiful quality of being innocent and honest, while being very emotive. I needed an actor who could portray a lot of conflicts with her facial expressions as she is on the phone most of the time. She reacted very beautifully to the script and agreed immediately. Konkona is a friend and while we were at the salon, I gave her the script to read for feedback, and then asked her whether she would like to do the role. I dont think anyone else would have played Dolly and Kitty so beautifully, she says.

Dolly has a very huge journey in the film, she starts off as chirpy and excitable and then quietens down. According to Alankrita, Konkona conveys the flightiness of Dollys exterior with the haunting baggage of the interior in a way no one else can.

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Like Lipstick Under My Burka, Dolly Kitty is also all about desire and recognising ones sexuality. As the story progresses, Dolly doesnt go by the societys mores. Are women expressing their sexuality becoming a part of the Indian filmscape or is there still a long way to go?

But I'm glad that you know there is space today to make a film like Dolly Kitty and have people watch it and react to it and at least think about these things because you know, we always assume marriage is a sanction for the woman to continue to serve the man and that's not true.

"Women who want to put their own needs first are always looked at as being selfish, ambitious or bitchy. We need to take a step back, and break away from that kind of boxing in, she adds.

The response to the film has been overwhelming. Alankrita says nothing prepared for the intensity of emotions and reactions of people after watching Dolly Kitty. She has received umpteen messages from people saying they loved the Greater Noida track or how queer people have been represented.

Lipstick Under My Burka faced a certain kind of backlash, and did Alankrita anticipate any challenges with Dolly Kitty?

The new age-director is both practical and pragmatic in her approach to filmmaking.

I try not to think about what's going to happen later. I start thinking about the audience and their reactions, I'll not be able to write or make what I want to. As a filmmaker, I believe I must be true to my thoughts, conviction, and whatever opposition comes, one has to face it, she says, as she signs off.

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

‘It wasn’t a conscious decision’ – Meet the security distie that launched during lockdown – www.channelweb.co.uk

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Distie ABCD Services was formed as a result of the challenges startup vendors were experiencing due to the pandemic, according to its founder and MD Chris Walsh.

Walsh - who has held senior roles at Exclusive Networks and Fortinet - had been doing consultancy work on the UK market with American and Israeli startups since leaving his role as a director at Alpha Generation late last year.

The idea for ABCD Services formed as he was recommending a vendor client to partner with a distributor he had no affiliation with, and realised he could take an agnostic approach to his business.

"One of the things that I realised very quickly was that I knew the market and knew my competitors, which meant that it was very easy to give a vendor looking for UK market awareness an honest answer as to who they should be talking to," he told CRN.

The idea took shape in April when the boss of an emerging vendor approached him to for assistance when it had to pause the recruitment of two people who were expected to establish a UK presence for the company.

"The whole world changing sort of lead to the creation of ABCD in April," he elaborated.

"It came on the back of a CEO approaching me for help because they had stopped recruitment of two people in April and they asked me to bridge that gap for them - that was really the birth of the business.

"I can't say it was a conscious decision, we kind of fell into it. But I realised there were a number of CEOs out there that had to change their business plans very quickly, and I had the time, the capacity and the market awareness to bridge that gap."

ABCD is a security VAD and Walsh has already signed Irish outfit Cyber Risk Aware as its first vendor, and expects to announce a few more signings in the next few weeks.

He also bills it as a "channel lifecycle business" where he works with new vendors on their UK strategy and helps them strengthen their proposition before approaching distributors who specialise in areas ABCD does not.

"In the past, I've fought for business from other distributors - and that's what happens - but we've got a very ethical stance on this and we can help implement and introduce vendors to other distributors, if we don't believe they're right for us," he stated.

"For example, if you are an MD of an Israeli technology and you want to launch in the UK, we allow those businesses to reduce their costs and initial exposure whilst building a partner ecosystem.

"The reason that we've found a sweet spot is that we're hitting it at the right time; CEOs generally have a concern about their initial outlay and if your initial outlay is quite steep, you're going to put hefty numbers on those people in the country at the start.

"We're a middle ground that allows them to launch in the UK without that massive initial outlay."

Walsh acknowledged that it has been "difficult" establishing a new business in an economically uncertain time, but he is bolstered by the success it has seen so far with clients. He was reticent on putting revenue goals on the first year of the business but expects to launch five vendors in its first 12 months - three with ABCD and two with other distributors.

At the moment, the company is comprised of himself and director Ryan Compagnone, but the MD expects to recruit a few more people to the team to further its growth.

"The biggest success we've had so far is that we've built a platform and a business process that allows ABCD to engage with a vendor at any stage of their evolution, that we believe is scalable," he said.

"By being focussed, we've kept the process simple and gives us a mass of confidence going into 2021."

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'It wasn't a conscious decision' - Meet the security distie that launched during lockdown - http://www.channelweb.co.uk

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

How Retail Brands Are Capitalizing On Growing Activewear Demand Through Innovation – Forbes

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getty

With data from Edited showing that global activewear sales are projected to reach $547 billion by 2024, its clear why competition is heating up in this realm: People are buying these products.

We see this evidenced in reports that indicate even during the pandemic, activewear sales have been on the rise.

Athleta, for example, saw its sales increase 6% during the most recent quarter (despite its parent company Gap's GPS sales falling.) Data shows that other activewear brands like Lululemon, Puma, and Adidas are seeing similar sales growth as well.

But with the uptick in sales comes increased competitionand as such, brands in this space are looking for ways to differentiate their products.

From branding, to materials used, to technology integrations, to new spins on well-known products, brands within the activewear space are doing things differently in hopes of pushing ahead via innovation.

With interest around lounge and activewear on the rise during quarantine this year, womens apparel brand Aerie (parent company AEO) leaned in and launched a new sub-brand called OFFLINE by Aerie in late July.

Aerie

An evolution of the brands popular Chill.Play.Move. collection, the sub-brands activewear and accessories are built for movement and promote marketing messages that encourage shoppers to slow down, to take care of themselves, and to be activea relevant angle amidst a global pandemic.

So far, early sales and consumer interest around the line have been promising, and as such, two physical stores for the new sub-brand are slated to open in New Jersey and Nashville by the end of 2020.

Fabrics have been a common area of innovation in the activewear space for several years now, so its no surprise that this trend hasnt slowed down.And with sustainability becoming a priority for more consumers, activewear brands are now asking themselves: How can we introduce sustainable materials that also offer improved performance?

Responsibly-made, innovative fabrics do often entail a higher price tag, but thats not keeping brands from creating premium products with them.

Janji

Running-focused activewear brand Janji, for example, is experimenting with new material blendsincluding ones infused with volcanic ash. The wearer doesnt feel these particles within the garments, but gets the benefits of their properties.

Several of their newest eco-friendly activewear products, like the Runterra SS tee, are embedded with volcanic ash particles for odor-control and thermoregulation. Its worth noting that this particular product is also currently sold out on the brands ecommerce site.

Brands like WearableX are turning to technology integrations to give their activewear products a unique edge, especially as more health-conscious consumers are exercising privately at home rather than in a group setting or with an in-person trainer.

WearableX

In their case, embedded sensors allow wearers to get haptic guidance while doing activities like yoga practice. Vibrations, produced through accelerometers and audio that are built right into the garments, help wearers improve their private yoga practices by cueing practice movements, poses, and proper form.

In another use case of smart activewear with health-monitoring properties via tech integrations, brands like Hexoskin now offer activewear apparel with built-in textile ECG & Respiratory sensors for real-time (and historical) reporting.

Theres also Elastique Athletics, which has positioned itself as wellness-wear and activewear meets skincare, putting a new spin on well-known products like leggings and crop tops.

Elastique Athletics

Their activewear offers a non-invasive, non-toxic wellness solution that sits on the wearers body and is powered by natural movement. How it works: Their activewear is lined with strategically placed MicroPerle beads that work to encourage the movement of lymphatic fluid throughout the body.

The combination of medical-grade graduated compression and our MicroPerle beads apply pressure to encourage lymphatic return, the brands website says.

By positioning itself as apparel that multi-tasks, theyre catering to an audience of busy buyers who want to practice self-care (but are crunched for time.)

As demand and interest for activewear continues, one thing is certain: This vertical is ripe with opportunity.

With reports projecting a 2.6% CAGR over the next seven years for this ever-growing apparel segment, continued innovation and a focus on sustainability will help activewear brands pull ahead.

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am

The Journey of the Antihero – Alta Magazine

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What is noir? Its one of those catch-all concepts, an I-know-it-when-I-see-it designation, as elusive as a Santa Ana wind. Its an American genre with a French name, a literary style perhaps best understood through the lens of film: atmospheric black and white. As a category, noir dates back to the 1920s and the writers who contributed to the pulp magazine Black Mask. These included Raymond Chandler, who published his first story there in 1933, as well as Erle Stanley Gardner, Raoul Whitfield, Dashiell Hammettwho introduced the Continental Op, an archetypal detective who never reveals his name, in October 1923and the now largely forgotten Paul Cain, whose brutal, jazzy 1933 novel, Fast One, reconfigured Southern California crime fiction with a bang. As Kells went through the door, Cain writes in an early chapter, the Captain said, Where were you last night? Kells turned. I was drunk. I dont remember. The exchange recalls a line from Hammett, who in his 1930 novel, The Maltese Falcon, insists, I distrust a man that says when. If hes got to be careful not to drink too much its because hes not to be trusted when he does. Both moments are bleakly funny (cynical humor is among the genres hallmarks), but even more, both stake out a worldview in which hope, or even memory, is unreliable and betrayal lurks at the heart of every conversation, every interaction, every exchange or confrontation with the world.

For all noirs roots in the 1920s, the 1930s were its first golden age. In 1934 and 1936, that other Cain, James M. (a failed screenwriter and former managing editor of the New Yorker), published his first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and serialized his second, Double Indemnity (it appeared as a book in 1943)not just genre masterpieces but also among the finest American fiction, period, of the decade. Horace McCoy presented murder as an act of compassion in They Shoot Horses, Dont They? (1935), set at a Santa Monica dance marathon. What such works share, not unlike Fast One and The Maltese Falcon, is an existential outlook: a sense of the universe as a lost place, desperate, where bad things happen and people are taken advantage ofor worse, take advantage of themselves. They spoke quickly, as though they were saying things that scalded their mouths, and had to be cooled with spit, Cain writes in 1941s Mildred Piercenot a noir, but noir-inflecteddescribing a couple splitting up. Indeed, the whole scene had an ancient, almost classical ugliness to it, for they uttered the same recriminations that have been uttered since the beginning of marriage, and added little of originality to them, and nothing of beauty.

Cain is right; at its core, noir speaks to elemental troubles and frustrations. At the same time, the power of his writing, and of the genre, had as much to do with its vernacular aspectsits accessibilityas with its ancient, almost classical motifs. I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, he acknowledged. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices, and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent. What hes describing is the voice of popular imagination, which is the territory out of which noir evolves. By 1939, when Chandler put out his first novel, The Big Sleep, noir had become its own sort of counternarrative, rejecting hope or even aspiration for the darkness and desolation beneath the surface of American life.

Chandlers detective, Philip Marlowe, is a finely rendered character wrestling with complication and complicity. Like most noir antiheroes, he is a free agent, a man with a rigorous moral code who must nonetheless do right by people who are themselves not always right and good. Corruption drips from the pages of The Big Sleep, beginning with the opening sequence, in which Marlowe visits the Sternwood mansion, reportedly based on Greystone, the Beverly Hills estate where, on February 16, 1929, Ned Doheny, the son of Southern California oil baron Edward Doheny, died in an apparent murder-suicide. Seven years earlier, the younger Doheny had served as his fathers bagman, delivering $100,000 in a black leather satchel, notes the writer Richard Rayner, to Interior Secretary Albert Fall. In exchange Doheny got the lease on a naval oil reserve, worth some $100 million. It all came out as part of the Teapot Dome scandal that brought down Warren Hardings administration.

Talk about the darkness and desolation of American life.

Marlowe meets Carmen Sternwood, twenty or so, small and delicately put together[with] little sharp predatory teeth as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain. If Carmen is one sort of trouble, her father, General Sternwood, is anotherold and sickly, a hothouse flower condemned to a sweltering greenhouse full of orchids, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket. In just a few pages, Chandler sets the stage for his entire oeuvre, framing Los Angeles as an artificial jungle populated by feral children and rich men rotting in the heat. His is a vision that lingers, infusing a lot of what comes after, from Joan Didions Play It As It Lays (1970) to Bret Easton Elliss Less Than Zero (1985). What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? Chandler writes. In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now.

For Marlowe, that nastiness has more than a little to do with the Depression, which marks a lot of early noir like a stigmata or a brand. This makes sense, for the 1930s were nothing if not a treacherous decade, in which the prevailing narratives, public and private, grew tangled and the promises were left unkept. Gangsters became folk heroes: John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde. Edward Andersons 1937 country noir, Thieves Like Us, is built around such a figure, a bank robber who pursues crime reluctantly, even as his outlaw legend grows. In You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up (1938), Eric Knightbetter known for the childrens classic Lassie Come-Homewrites about a man who follows his wayward wife from the Dust Bowl to California only to fall into an empty, peripatetic life. Early in the novel, Knight describes a boxcar traveling west: There was a bunch of floaters inside who were all heading for California because there was a man there going to be elected governor who would take all the money from the millionaires and give $50 a week to every man without a job. The man, of course, is Upton Sinclair, who ran for governor in 1934 on the EPIC (End Poverty in California) platform but lost, though he did amass nearly 900,000 votes.

California appears to have come into being with noir in mind. Why? Because it was a new place, or perceived as one: west of the west, to borrow Theodore Roosevelts phrase, where the old rules did not apply. Out here on the edge of the continent, desperation came with the territoryespecially if you didnt get what you wanted. The sun was shining, McCoy writes in his 1938 novel, I Should Have Stayed Home, the kind of sun Id always been afraid of before when I felt like this because of what it would show me, but now I didnt care. The setting is Hollywood, where the narrator, an aspiring actor named Ralph Carston, has come in search of fame or, perhaps, destiny; the title reveals, in no uncertain terms, how that has gone.

McCoys is hardly the only fiction to frame the movie business through a noirish lens or the Southern California sunlight as a blighted curse. Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges? Nathanael West asks in The Day of the Locust, published a year after McCoys novel and the same year as The Big Sleep. Once there, they discover that sunshine isnt enough. They get tired of oranges, even of avocado pears and passion fruit. Nothing happens. They dont know what to do with their time. The boredom, the dashed expectations, the sense of being trapped in a place once regarded as a paradiseits the essence of noir. They have, West concludes of these arrivals, been cheated and betrayed.

If the Hollywood novel is not noir exactly, there is without question a relationship. What is the motion picture industry, after all, if not a landscape of disrupted dreams? Perhaps the most useful way to consider it is in terms of what Mike Davis calls, in City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, the master dialectic of sunshine and noira rubric that explains the genre as not just category but also attitude. Noir is what you get when the sunlight fades but you have nowhere else to go. Noir is the flip side of the paradisal promise California claims to represent. We see it in McCoy and West, in Budd Schulbergs What Makes Sammy Run? (1941) and Gavin Lamberts gimlet-eyed The Slide Area (1959). Even Chandler wrote a Hollywood novel of sorts, The Little Sister, published in 1949 and said to have been inspired by his experiences at the studios. (Among his scripts is the one for Billy Wilders 1944 adaptation of Double Indemnity.) Then there is Leigh Brackett, who worked with William Faulkner on the screenplay of The Big Sleep (1946) and also wrote a series of crime novels beginning with 1944s No Good from a Corpse, and Dorothy B. Hughes, whose magnificent 1947 novel, In a Lonely Place (filmed in 1950 with Humphrey Bogart), begins as a man follows a studio worker down the California Incline on a foggy night in Santa Monica. He knew she heard him, Hughes writes menacingly, for her heel struck an extra beat, as if she had half stumbled, and her steps went faster. He didnt walk faster, he continued to saunter but he lengthened his stride, smiling slightly. She was afraid.

Hollywood, of course, helped drive noir in another way: by offering pulp writers paying work. In 1957, Jim Thompson (best known for his novels The Killer Inside Me and The Grifters) came to Southern California to work with Stanley Kubrick on Paths of Glory after collaborating with the director on The Killing, based on Lionel Whites racetrack heist caper Clean Break. A decade earlier, David Goodisthe greatest, and darkest, of the classic noir writershad made a similar move, heading west to sign with Warner Bros. Goodiss 1946 novel, Dark Passage, set in San Francisco, was filmed the next year as a Bogart-Bacall vehicle; it involves a man wrongly convicted of murder who has plastic surgery to disguise himself after a prison escape. It was a tough break, Goodis begins. Parry was innocent. On top of that he was a decent sort of guy who never bothered people and wanted to lead a quiet life. But there was too much on the other side and on his side of it there was practically nothing. The jury decided he was guilty. The judge handed him a life sentence and he was taken to San Quentin. Thats as concise and pointed an opening as can be imagined, a vivid example, in both its sparseness and its sense of resignation, of noir style. Yet Dark Passage was less, it turned out, Goodiss big break than his only one; in 1950, he returned home to Philadelphia, moving back into his parents house, where he spent the next 17 years cranking out paperback originals, until his death at 49.

Goodiss experience is a reminder that some noir novelists lived it as they wrote it, on the fringes of the culture, their work disposable, not regarded as respectable, their reputations marginal at best. As the critic Edmund Wilson opined in a 1945 piece for the New Yorker, the reading of detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking. Wilson was wrong, but that perception lingered well past the 1940s and 1950s; it only began to shift in the 1980s, after Barry Gifford, who would go on to write Wild at Heart (1990), founded his Black Lizard imprint at Berkeleys Creative Arts Book Company. I purchased 13 Thompson titles right off the top, Gifford told me once. Some of them had been out of print for 30 years, and there was no demand at all. From 1984 until 1990, when it was sold to Random House, Black Lizard issued more than 80 titles, most so hard to find that they might as well have been lost. The list features work by Goodisincluding Down There (1956), source for Franois Truffauts 1960 film, Shoot the Piano Playerand Thompson, as well as Steve Fishers Hollywood thriller I Wake Up Screaming (1941); Charles Willefords Pick-Up (1955), which recounts an interracial relationship in 1950s San Francisco; Fast One; and You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up.

For many readers, myself included, Black Lizard was an inflection point. It reintroduced the genre, but it also updated the terms. Like the 1930s, the 1980s were a troubled decade, marked by recession, political conflict, the pandemic of AIDS. In California, this carried over into the 1990s, with Rodney King and O.J. Simpson, earthquakes, fires, floods. A culture of disruption requires a literature of disruption. This is what noir provides. Wilson to the contrary, the genre has long had an air of cultural critique or, at least, commentary; just think about all those floaters sitting in that boxcar, taking the long passage to California to collect their $50 a week.

Thats the tradition in which Walter Mosley began writing his first Easy Rawlins novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, which appeared in 1990; the series, comprising 14 books thus far, takes its Black detective from 1948 to 1968, a period that encompasses redlining, housing covenants, the Red Scare, and the Watts Rebellion. Its a strategy inspired by Chandler, who in his last great work, The Long Goodbye (1953), shows us a vulnerable Philip Marlowe, reckoning with growing older, living with the burdens of his past. Still, even Chandler didnt conceive of detective fiction as a social document in the way that Mosley and his contemporaries have. After three novels about Juniper Song, a Korean American feminist investigator who idolizes Marlowe, Steph Cha pushed the bounds of her own vision and the genre with last years Your House Will Pay, which builds from the unrest of the 1990s to investigate the lingering wounds and unresolved tensions that scar two families, one Korean and the other Black, in present-day Los Angeles. Naomi Hiraharas Mas Arai is a gardener who came to California after surviving Hiroshima; a second Hirahara series, involving a rookie Los Angeles police officer named Ellie Rush, unfolds in the city as it is now, with light rail and a revitalized downtown and a deep understanding and recognition of Southern Californias many overlapping communities. Berkeleys Owen Hill, a longtime buyer at Moes Books, is the author of two novels, The Chandler Apartments and The Incredible Double, that revolve around a bisexual detective and book scout named Clay Blackburn; the books pay homage to, and upend, the conventions of the genre. She was a bundle of clichs, Clay confides knowingly in the latter, but again, I wasnt noticing. Or maybe its that in Berkeley we live with a different set of clichs.

This is not a break so much as it is an evolutionor maybe its just that noir is infinitely flexible. Rather than silliness and minor harmfulness, it is in fact a living literature. Like Chas, Hills path begins with Chandler; he coedited The Annotated Big Sleep in 2018. But like Cha, he (or Hirahara or Mosley) understands that noir is as expansive as it needs to be. I dont know how long I stood there, Mosley writes in Little Scarlet, his novel of the Watts Rebellion. I was in no hurry. I had death and sex and race on the brain. No matter which way I turned in my mind, there was one of those vast problems. Vast, yes. Insurmountable, perhaps. But the legacy of noir is that we cant avoid them. Evenor especiallyin a universe where redemption is elusive and there is no way to set things right.

David L. Ulin is Altas books editor.

Read more from Altas Fall 2020 Noir Special Section.

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The Journey of the Antihero - Alta Magazine

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September 30th, 2020 at 1:53 am


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