U.S. Hardware Is Fueling Russia's Facial Recognition Crackdown on Anti-War Dissidents
Russia has been using cameras powered by facial recognition systems to crackdown on dissidents, according to reporting from Reuters. Several Russian companies are using algorithms trained and powered by chips made by U.S. firms Intel and Nvidia. Reuters said that one of the companies even received money from U.S. intelligence.
Not everyone in Russia is happy with Moscow’s war in Ukraine, but protesting can be dangerous. On March 4, 20022—a week after it launched its full scale invasion of Ukraine—Russia made it illegal to publicly criticize the war. Some protesters even found themselves rounded up and sent to the frontlines. The father of a 13-year old girl who drew an anti-war picture was recently sentenced to a year in a penal colony.
The report from Reuters details how facial recognition software has aided the Kremlin in its crackdown against dissidents. There are more than 160,000 cameras in Moscow and 3,000 of them are connected to facial recognition software. According to Moscow court records, the technology has aided in the arrest of hundreds of protestors.
In one case, a man stood alone near a fountain in Pushkin Square with a home-made poster that said “Peace to Ukraine.” A week later he was boarding a subway when police ushered him into their station and explained that the computer system had recognized his face.
The software powering the software was created by three companies: NtechLab, VisonLabs, and Tevian. Tevian and NtechLab are based in Moscow, while VisionLabs is based in the Netherlands. According to Reuters, the companies used chips designed by Intel and Nvidia to train their systems. It also reported that one of the firms joined a U.S. facial recognition test program and received $40,000 in prize money from “an arm of U.S. intelligence.”
Nvidia announced it was stopping all product sales in Russia on March 5, 2022. In October that year it followed up by shutting down all its offices in the country. This was partially due to widespread outrage against the war, but also because U.S. sanctions made it illegal for chip manufacturers to do business in the country.
Nvidia GPUs are incredibly common for training facial recognition software, and it’s likely that these tech firms had Nvidia chips in the country before the company pulled out. “Pretty much any company out there that is doing any kind of AI application is utilizing Nvidia GPUs,” Anton Nazarkin, an executive at VisonLabs, told Reuters.
In a statement to Reuters, Nvidia said it had brief contact with VisionLabs and NtechLab and that it had ceased all shipments to Russia and was complying with U.S. law. “If we learn that any Nvidia customer has violated U.S. export laws and shipped our products to Russia, we will cease doing business with them,” it said. According to the report, 129 shipments of Nvidia products facilitated by third parties reached Russia between April 1 and October 31, 2022. Fifty-seven of these contained GPUs.
Nvidia said it had no more to add when reached for comment.
Facial recognition use by authorities is a global problem. It’s used liberally by both authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, and Iran and American and European police forces. The systems often make mistakes and are notoriously racist. Even the U.S. government has admitted that the systems are biased. Indeed, innocent Black people have spent time in jail in the U.S. after being wrongly singled out by police using facial recognition systems. Despite this, the U.S. and other countries are rushing to roll the technology out.
The Ordinary's $9 Vitamin C Cream Makes Me Look Like I Actually Get Sleep
Skin care is usually a frustrating hit or miss. Trust me, I get it. I’ve survived many years of acne on and off, although thankfully it’s dispersed as I’ve gotten older. But, finding the right products is practically a full-time job. The first ever real skincare regime I ever adopted was using the as-seen-on-TV system Proactiv, which was a traumatic experience to say the least…LOL. That time period was also the era I figured out that I have very sensitive skin. I’m not getting any younger, so lately, I’ve been focusing on products that will help me keep my *youthful glow* for as long as possible. My biggest struggle as of late has been skin dullness. (Honestly, I’ll take that problem any day compared to waking up to dreaded hormonal acne or (gasp!) a wrinkle.) Still, who doesn’t want their skin to look brighter, fresher, and happier? My favorite product recently that has been keeping my facial canvas in top shape is The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30% Cream.The dullness I was experiencing
I’m unsure if it was just from overall stress, partying, New York City pollution, aging, or a combination of all, but my skin was looking so dead and dull. It’s hard to describe, but my complexion was just not bright and lacked that *glow* everyone desires. I never really had that issue until my late 20s, so naturally I was shook and went into panic mode to overhaul my skincare regime. I swapped all of my products and created a whole new routine, mostly using products from The Ordinary since I’ve heard TikTok users (and my colleagues) rave about the brand. My new daily skincare routine is as such in this exact order: Biore Marshmallow Whip Foam Face Cleanser, The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum, Neccesaire’s The Sunscreen, then either The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Brightening Cream, or its Vitamin C Suspension 30% Cream.What are the benefits of vitamin C for the skin?
Topical vitamin C is proven to help slow the visible signs of the aging process, prevent sun damage, and improve the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots, and acne thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and ability to fend off toxins that come into contact with your skin, according to Harvard Health Publishing. You might be saying, “I can just eat an orange!” Sure, but this is a more concentrated, easily absorbed formula—and hey, why not do both and get the best of both worlds?This stuff WORKS
After just a month of my new product lineup, things were looking’ alive and hawt again, but I specifically thank The Ordinary’s brightening products. The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30% Cream is a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid, which is just a fancy way to say vitamin C. It feels tingly the first few times you apply, so you may need to build a tolerance to it. Obviously, if irritation occurs, stop using it, but mixing it into a moisturizer of your choice makes it easier on the skin. I have really sensitive skin and I apply it directly on my face, so there’s hope! I just squirt a few drops into my hands and slap it on my skin (I do that for each cheek and my forehead). I only use it once a day or every other day depending if I switch off a product. And, full disclosure, I don't do skincare in the morning because I’m lazy AF unless I need sunscreen. I’ve also noticed my monthly breakouts thanks to that time of the month have significantly decreased since I started using this stuff. (Harvard Health Publishing also states that topical vitamin C can help control sebum production, which is the oil in your pores partially responsible for dreadful acne.)
My TL;DR is thus: My consumption of rum and Diet Cokes may have caught up to me, but the Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30% Cream has proved to me that it's never too late to have better skin. It’s gentle even for sensitive skin and I can’t forget to mention how affordable it is. Who wouldn’t want to pay under $9 to look like a glowing goddess???
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30% Cream is available at Sephora, Amazon, and on its website.
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SBF paid $40M bribe to unfreeze crypto trading accounts in China, US charges
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is facing a new criminal charge, with an updated indictment alleging that he violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act when he "authorized and directed a bribe of at least $40 million to one or more Chinese government officials."
The superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in New York yesterday, and unsealed today, said the bribe's purpose "was to influence and induce one or more Chinese government officials to unfreeze certain Alameda trading accounts containing over $1 billion in cryptocurrency, which had been frozen by Chinese authorities." Including the new charge, Bankman-Fried now faces 13 criminal counts.
In early 2021, Chinese law enforcement officials froze certain Alameda accounts on two of China's largest cryptocurrency exchanges, the indictment said. Bankman-Fried "understood that the Accounts had been frozen by Chinese authorities as part of an ongoing investigation of a particular Alameda trading counterparty."
AWS security exec: You don't want to win this database popularity contest
Interview If there was ever an area where default passwords reign and basic security hygiene is terrible, it's databases. …
Alison Roman’s ‘Sweet Enough’ Is the Timeless Dessert Meditation We Needed
Calling your new cookbook Sweet Enough after drawing ire for saying something decidedly salty in an interview is honestly a pretty incredible flex. We should expect no less, though, from Alison Roman, America’s great party pedagogue (or, depending on your feelings about her past few years, entertainer emeritus). With her long-anticipated new cookbook, Roman proves that she’s still got our attention; and whether that’s because of the certain magnetic attitude (or confidence?) that comes with her books and her “Home Movies” video series or because her rustic, vibey recipes are just that good doesn’t especially matter. In any case, the cookbook writer and former New York Times columnist has returned with a brand new offering fully dedicated to desserts, snacks, and savory baked treats. It’s pretty awesome.
There have been a number of stunning dessert books in recent years, from Magnus Nilsson’s The Nordic Baking Book and Dorie Greenspan’s Baking with Dorie to Claire Saffitz’s one-two punch of Dessert Person and What’s for Dessert, but what makes Roman’s new book so unique is that it feels thematically connected to her other works, and furthers the sense of identity that runs throughout her literature. Who Alison Roman is, what she says and does as a person, that’s one thing; but what her books can teach us about how to approach being with other people… that’s something else.
Like Dining In and Nothing Fancy before it, Sweet Enough isn’t just about cooking, or cooking for people—it’s about cooking to be with people. In a recent video, Roman explains, “I love giving people dessert. I feel like it is such a nice way to say, ‘I really care about you, and I really love you. And I didn’t have to do this, but I wanted to do this.’” She knows that you probably already made dinner, and that you aren’t trying to hit up three grocery stores just to make a pie (like I had to do last weekend for an entrée I made, SMH). Sweet Enough draws from a distinctly American, almost mid-century-feeling pantry—stuff most of us have all the time, like salt, sugar, butter, flour, fruit, nuts, milk, eggs, and sprinkles. This is not unique for a dessert book, but it feels like a logical next step in the emphasis on minimal ingredients and pantry staples her previous books and recipes have.
The whole book maintains the sort of elegant simplicity Roman has become known for. In the less-than-one-page introduction, we don’t get the blog post soliloquy we’ve come to expect from modern cookbooks; there aren’t five pages about the first time her grandmother made her a cookie when she was a child, or eight pages on where and when she trained in the best kitchens. It’s just a meditation on baking’s stigmas, why people fear it, and how it can be much easier than you think. That kind of direct pump-up totally hits with me, as someone who avoids baking as much as possible. I imagine it will also land with other, like-minded readers who may not be baking pros but want to get into dessert (or simply love Alison Roman and will get her books no matter what they’re about).
Last night, I—someone who cooks a ton, but almost never bakes anymore—absolutely nailed the salted pistachio shortbread recipe. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn; on the contrary, I could very easily have fucked this dish up, and probably should have. It’s just a testament to how user-friendly these recipes are. This dish uses minimal ingredients (literally six, and two of them are salt); and the directions are precise and easy. It’s one of those things that seems so easy, in fact, that you almost feel like you deserve to mess it up. All you really have to do is blend pistachios in a food processor, and then add butter, sugar, and flour, blend that, put it in a springform pan, and sprinkle some pistachio dust and flaky salt on top. Upon tasting, however, it yielded the highest verbal response a recipe can receive in my household: a straight chain of expletives. Not only was it easy and totally delicious, but it’s something I’m basically guaranteed to always have the ingredients for (sound off, pistachio gang) and could easily throw together half an hour before guests arrive for a brunch (and definitely will).Salted pistachio shortbread. Photo by the author.
There’s a ton of stuff like that in this book. Roman loves fun, bright, (mostly) simple, slightly messy food that’s a blast to eat and share, and Sweet Enough is full of these kinds of mesmerizing and straightforward dishes, from the “perfect tangy chocolate tart” and the “many mushrooms pot pie” to a raspberry ricotta cake and birthday cookies that have me scouring my calendar for the next opportunity I’ll have to make them for someone. There are fun, informative sections on things like galette theory and how to core and slice pineapple; there’s a “mint and chip ice cream cake,” and ideas for a sundae bar (tahini caramel, LFG) that feel distinctly by and for people who grew up in the 90s, but are also things your 90-year-old grandma would absolutely love. There’s something for everyone here, from fruit heads and breakfast freaks to cake enthusiasts and cookie monsters.
Ultimately, Sweet Enough is a towering dessert manual about being flawed but still doing your best to make something excellent. “My pies still leak, cheesecakes crack, and pound cakes are pulled from the oven before they’re fully baked,” Roman writes in the intro. “Lopsided and wonky, occasionally almost burned, unevenly frosted, my desserts are consistently imperfect.” Nobody nails it every time, but even the worst cook I know could probably hit a home run with Roman’s salted pistachio shortbread. Ultimately, that’s the sign of a great cookbook (and a cookbook writer worth following).
Pick up ‘Sweet Enough’ on Amazon.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals?Sign up for our newsletter.
Kentucky Just Banned ‘Gas Station Heroin’
Kentucky has become the latest state to ban tianeptine, an antidepressant known as “gas station heroin” that’s causing extreme addiction and withdrawals in some users because it hits opioid receptors in the brain.
In a news release on Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the emergency ban that makes all tianeptine products a Schedule I substance in the state. The law makes it illegal to sell or possess tianeptine—violating it would be punishable with fines or jail time.
“Until now, someone looking for a heroin-like high could walk into certain places or buy this harmful product online. We’re committed to protecting Kentuckians from this kind of harm, and if someone is struggling with abuse, we’re here to help,” Beshear said in the release.
CALLOUT: Have you been impacted by a tianeptine ban? Or are you an addictions expert helping people hooked on tianeptine? Contact email@example.com to share your story.
While tianeptine is a regulated antidepressant in some European and Latin American countries, it’s not approved for medical use in the U.S. It’s sold in unregulated forms as a supplement, often in smoke shops and gas stations under brand names like Zaza, Tianna, TD Red, and Pegasus.
Withdrawal symptoms from tianeptine include nausea, restless legs, insomnia, chills, agitation, and anxiety. Several users have told VICE News the drug wears off very quickly, with withdrawal symptoms setting in a couple of hours after taking the drug.
According to the FDA, tianeptine use has been linked to overdoses and even death. The agency said vendors are “making dangerous and unproven claims that tianeptine can improve brain function and treat anxiety, depression, pain, opioid use disorder, and other conditions.”
Before Kentucky’s ban, Ohio’s governor also issued an emergency order to ban tianeptine in December, citing VICE News’ reporting, and Mississippi legislators also recently voted to ban the drug. It’s also illegal in Michigan, Alabama, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, and Indiana.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.
Report: Twitter secretly boosted accounts instead of treating everyone equally
It looks like the Twitter experience is about to change for nearly everybody on the platform—even those who buy into CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter Blue subscription service.
On Monday, Musk tweeted that after April 15, “only verified accounts will be eligible to be in For You recommendations” and eligible to vote in polls (which can be a way for accounts to boost engagement). Musk claims this is “the only realistic way to address” an otherwise “hopeless losing battle” with “advanced AI bot swarms taking over” the platform.
These changes will apparently take effect two weeks after Musk said Twitter will begin “un-verifying” legacy blue checked accounts. That makes it likely that soon some of Twitter’s most beloved and trusted accounts will no longer be promoted widely to users via the “For You” tab if they refuse to pay $8 a month to get access to subscriber benefits.
Open source espresso machine is one delicious rabbit hole inside another
Making espresso at home involves a conundrum familiar to many activities: It can be great, cheap, or easy to figure out, but you can only pick, at most, two of those. You can spend an infinite amount of time and money tweaking and upgrading your gear, chasing shots that taste like the best café offerings, always wondering what else you could modify.
Or you could do what Norm Sohl did and build a highly configurable machine out of open source hardware plans and the thermal guts of an Espresso Gaggia. Here's what Sohl did, and some further responses from the retired programmer and technical writer, now that his project has circulated in both open hardware and espresso-head circles.
Like many home espresso enthusiasts, Sohl had seen that his preferred machine, the Gaggia Classic Pro, could be modified in several ways, including adding a proportional–integral–derivative (PID) controller and other modifications to better control temperature, pressure, and shot volumes. Most intriguing to Sohl was Gaggiuino, a project that adds those things with the help of an Arduino Nano or STM32 Blackpill, a good deal of electrical work, and open software.
US agency sues top crypto exchange Binance and CEO, seeks permanent trading bans
The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) yesterday sued Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange, saying the company and its founder, Changpeng Zhao, are charged with "willful evasion of federal law and operating an illegal digital asset derivatives exchange."
Binance committed "numerous violations of the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC regulations," the agency said. In a press release announcing the civil enforcement action, the agency said its litigation "seeks disgorgement, civil monetary penalties, permanent trading and registration bans, and a permanent injunction against further violations of the CEA and CFTC regulations."
The CFTC alleges that the defendants operated the trading platform "through an intentionally opaque common enterprise, with Zhao at the helm as Binance's owner and chief executive officer." The agency said the defendants "chose to knowingly disregard applicable provisions of the CEA while engaging in a calculated strategy of regulatory arbitrage to their commercial benefit." Samuel Lim, Binance's former chief compliance officer, was charged with aiding and abetting the violations.
Human cells hacked to act like squid skin cells could unlock key to camouflage
Certain cephalopods like cuttlefish, octopuses, and squid have the ability to camouflage themselves by making themselves transparent and/or changing their coloration. Scientists would like to learn more about the precise mechanisms underlying this unique ability, but it's not possible to culture squid skin cells in the lab. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have discovered a viable solution: replicating the properties of squid skin cells in mammalian (human) cells in the lab. They presented their research at a meeting of the American Chemical Society being held this week in Indianapolis.
"In general, there's two ways you can achieve transparency," UC Irvine's Alon Gorodetsky, who has been fascinated by squid camouflage for the last decade or so, said during a media briefing at the ACS meeting. "One way is by reducing how much light is absorbed—pigment-based coloration, typically. Another way is by changing how light is scattered, typically by modifying differences in the refractive index." The latter is the focus of his lab's research.
Squid skin is translucent and features an outer layer of pigment cells called chromatophores that control light absorption. Each chromatophore is attached to muscle fibers that line the skin's surface, and those fibers, in turn, are connected to a nerve fiber. It's a simple matter to stimulate those nerves with electrical pulses, causing the muscles to contract. And because the muscles pull in different directions, the cell expands, along with the pigmented areas, which changes the color. When the cell shrinks, so do the pigmented areas.
SBF Accused of Bribing Chinese Officials With $40 Million in Crypto
Federal prosecutors in the case against Sam Bankman-Fried now say that on top of earlier charges, the former FTX CEO also successfully bribed “one or more” Chinese officials with at least $40 million of crypto so that he could regain access to trading accounts that Chinese authorities had frozen just months earlier.
According to a new indictment unsealed by the Southern District Court of New York on Tuesday, the story begins in early 2021, when Chinese authorities froze some of the trading accounts of Bankman-Fried’s Alameda Research, the trading firm closely tied to his fallen crypto empire FTX. The trading accounts, which collectively had about $1 billion worth of crypto in them, had been frozen as part of a broader investigation into an unnamed Alameda trading partner, or counterparty.
Following the freeze, Bankman-Fried and “others operating at his direction” allegedly attempted (and failed) to unfreeze the accounts by a variety of means for months, including by hiring lawyers to lobby on their behalf, and, much more hilariously, attempting to transfer the money elsewhere without authorities noticing, by opening accounts using the personal information of people not affiliated with FTX or Alameda.
Presumably frustrated, Bankman-Fried started to talk about sending someone in China a “multi-million-dollar” crypto bribe to solve the problem FTX found itself in. Eventually, an Alameda employee sent instructions for how to bribe the Chinese government at Bankman-Fried’s “direction,” per the indictment, and in November 2021, Alameda sent a “bribe payment” of $40 million to a private crypto wallet.
Around that time, allegedly, Alameda regained access to the accounts. Then, Bankman-Fried “authorized the transfer of additional tens of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency to complete the bribe.”
At the time, this was presumably news for Bankman-Fried. The company had its crypto back and began to trade with it again soon enough. The downside for Bankman-Fried is that he has now been charged with a conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, just one of 13 criminal charges against him. He has pleaded not guilty to everything thus far.
Want to Curb City Crime? Evict Fewer Tenants, Study Says
Rising eviction rates aren’t just a problem for renters: a new study adds to evidence that housing instability is a public safety issue that affects everyone.
A growing body of evidence over the past few years shows that evictions have a direct impact on crime rates, including studies out of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Boston. Now, a report published by Cornell University draws some of the same conclusions about New York state.
The report establishes that evictions in many upstate cities and towns directly correlate with a decrease in social cohesion and economic connectedness (or relationships between people of different class backgrounds). While it doesn’t establish direct causation between evictions and crime rates the report notes that these indicators track closely with crime rates.
New York State’s eviction moratorium elapsed in early 2022. Since then, the eviction rate has been ticking higher and higher, and is poised to meet pre-pandemic levels, according to a Cornell analysis of court records. Eviction rates in 40 of the state’s 62 counties exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 2022, according to Cornell’s dashboard. Evictions in New York City increased by 590% in 2022 compared to the period between March 2020 and January 2021 when the state’s eviction moratorium elapsed.
The Cornell report builds on previous research on evictions, finding that they “disrupt social networks in both the communities where individuals are evicted from and the neighborhoods to which they move,” and that these diminished social ties “harm the ability of communities to work together to solve collective problems.” The result is that “by destabilizing social ties and breaking down civic infrastructure, evictions can lead to rising crime and declining public safety.”
The report found that ZIP codes with the highest eviction rates saw proportional decreases in social connectedness, and that there was “a strong association between these two phenomena that cannot be explained by chance alone.”
The report's author, Russel Weaver, cautions that the figures show correlations, and not causal relationships, but that the findings are “highly consistent with the growing state of knowledge on eviction’s community-level impacts.”
The report draws its data on social connectedness in New York from a paper published in the journal Nature last August. That paper uses data from the Social Capital Atlas, which analyzes anonymized data from 21 billion Facebook friendships. Researchers looked at data from 72 million Facebook profiles of people between the ages of 25 and 44 to measure social cohesion, looking at connections and levels of interaction across class lines and levels of civic engagement.
Weaver acknowledges that Facebook data isn’t ideal, telling Motherboard by email, “The measures are far from perfect, but that Atlas has been one of the higher profile, finer spatial resolution attempts to measure various dimensions of social capital across the U.S. (and to make it through peer-review).”
He said that more granular data is easier to come by in other states, which is why it was easier for previous reports about Ohio and Pennsylvania to draw clearer conclusions about causation.
“It's pretty clear that there's a ton of interest in conducting similar research here in NYS (or at least in some NY cities), but researchers will first have to get their hands on the right data for the job,” Weaver told Motherboard.
A 2021 study found that evictions in Philadelphia had a “a direct association” to an uptick in homicide, burglary and robberies between 2006-2016, controlling for other factors. A study of evictions in Ohio looking at data between 2000 to 2014 found that every 10 percent increase in evictions led to 5.5 percent higher burglaries and 8.5 percent higher number of vehicle theft, which the researchers concluded were driven by people experiencing homelessness looking for shelter.
The Cornell report recommends passing several bills currently being considered in Albany as New York heads into an early April budget deadline. They include a bill supporting Good Cause, which would bar landlords from evicting tenants except in specific circumstances, including non-payment of rent. Other recommendations include a new housing voucher for people on the brink of eviction or experiencing homelessness and passing a statewide “Right To Counsel” bill that would guarantee attorneys to people in eviction court who can not otherwise afford them.
Research on housing instability and crime has added to a growing chorus of advocates pushing for legislators to invest in housing in order to address rising crime, rather than relying on policing and other carceral approaches. Notably, while the existing body of research is still small, there is a clearer consensus about evictions and crime rates than there is between police headcounts and crime rates. A meta analysis published in 2017 looked at 62 studies conducted between 1972 and 2013 and found “the effect on crime of adding or subtracting police is miniscule and not statistically significant.”
A statewide Right to Counsel would cost an estimated $500 million, and the presence of an attorney in housing court has been shown to reduce evictions—84 percent of people in housing court who had access to Right To Counsel attorneys were able to stave off eviction. Compared to New York State’s $220 billion budget—and the $11 billion budgeted for police just in New York City, it seems like a pretty strategic investment.
Investment bank forecasts LLMs could put 300 million jobs at risk
Research from global investment bank Goldman Sachs claims that as many as 300 million jobs could be at risk from automation powered by generative AI.…
Where to Buy Bellini Camaleonda Sofas (and Their Lookalikes)
Remember the Blob Renaissance? It gave us Goober candles, a newfound Ultrafragola frenzy, and enough spray foam furniture to insulate an industrial warehouse. As Bettina Makalintal writes for VICE in her blob decor breakdown, amorphous decor and furniture gave us “a little bit of comfort and levity” during the ups and downs of 2020, and it continues to woo us with its wiggles and curves. Consider the latest ‘it’ item of blob decor, the coveted Camaleonda sofa by Mario Bellini:
Tufted cushions, gorgeous colorways, corners thick enough to schmear on a bagel—no wonder Bellini’s baby has become such a design flex, and the reason why (depending on your tax bracket) you’re Googling “where to buy authentic Bellini sofas for cheap”/“where to buy Bellini sofa dupes”/”how to sell organs to cop Bellini.” We don’t blame you, jabroni. It’s one chic slice of Italian design.
When the Camaleonda sofa first dropped in 1972, it was as part of a MoMA exhibit about the future of Italian home designs. As Mario Bellini himself stated in this 2020 video interview, “Certain products are born in the future. Camaleonda is one of them. It is so innovative that it is more contemporary today than when it was designed.”
Remember, the 1970s was (aesthetically) all about evolving past the era of sharp, Googie mid-century design. Handsome, jaunty MCM settées were giving way to more amorphous furniture forms [the Togo sofa has entered the chat]. In the bouba/kiki effect binary, it was a hard swerve to Bouba Town. Even the Carmaleonda’s name—a portmanteau of the Italian words for "chameleon" and "wave"—is a testament to its modular form, which could be rearranged on a whim thanks to simple hook mechanisms in the cushions. As Bellini says in the above video, “[The sofa] relates to this way of shaping one's home environment to meet a personal lifestyle, which is something that wasn’t undertaken back then.”
No wonder it still hits more than 50 years later. There are countless Carmaleondas on our Instagram feeds, and more than 415,500 views from the hashtag #BelliniCouch alone on TikTok. A few years ago, the sofa even relaunched in a partnership with Eternity Modern, making it easier than ever for the Bellini-curious to get their hands on a tangerine velvet Carmaleonda, and their tuchuses on a piece of design history.
Can you imagine sipping Bellinis on that Bellini? Eternity Modern is filled with Camaleondas for every kind of design-savvy person. Do you like green tea, crisp fragrances, and Claire Denis movies? Go for a cream chenille Camaleonda sofa. Are you looking for a small space sofa that feels casual, but will still let everyone know that you love whiskey, and have a JSTOR account? Take home a two-seater, vegan leather Camaleonda. If you’re Drake, buy this $8,000 Camaleonda (and maybe use Eternity Modern’s sale code SPRING for 10% off).
You could also go the vintage route, and shop some of our favorite used furniture sites such as 1stDibs, eBay, Etsy, and Chairish for archive Camaleonda sofas and chairs in vintage leather and crushed velvet fabrics.
Now, in a perfect world, we would get five times our annual salary back on our tax return this year and impulse-order this $31,000 lime green Camaleonda with no consequences. In reality, we need to sniff out some Camaleonda-inspired sofas and alternatives that won’t put us into debt. Luckily, Amazon has some Bellini-inspired couches that will leave the heaux none the wiser, including this creamy three-seater.
Want a Bellini-esque sofa for under $600? This highly-rated couch comes in a plush teddy material, and has similarly pronounced, tufted cushions that we love on a Camaleonda.
Wayfair is also flush with Camaleonda lookalikes, including the 4.7-star rated Cylan velvet sofa that comes in cream, burnt orange, and emerald colorways. As one reviewer writes, “It is gorgeous but that’s not why I’m giving it 5 stars. I’m giving it 5 stars because of how easy it is to clean.”
We’re suckers for the extra leg room granted to us by a sectional couch, and this tangerine-colored modular sofa is the perfect size for stretching out and having acrobatic sex re-watching Two Popes.
Well done, design laird. Next up: Noguchi lamps.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.
Nearly 40 Migrants Died Trapped Inside a Burning Detention Center
At least 39 men died trapped in a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, after a fire broke out, according to Mexican officials, who blamed the fire on a protest by detained migrants.
The fire started around 10 p.m. Monday night, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute, who said that 68 adult men from Central and South America were being held at the center. The institute said Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission is being asked to intervene in legal proceedings and to “safeguard” the rights of the migrants.
Mexico’s Attorney General’s office said that it is investigating the “unfortunate events” that resulted in the deaths of 37 people at the center and another two in a hospital. A further 29 migrants are in serious condition. The National Migration Institute told the Attorney General’s office that among those in the detention center were 28 Guatemalans, 13 Hondurans, 12 Venezuelans, 12 Salvadorans, one Colombian and one Ecuadorian.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador claimed the migrants, who were being held in the detention center, started the fire that led to their deaths. “They found out they were going to be deported and responded, in protest, by putting mats at the door of the shelter and setting them on fire, without imagining that it was going to cause this terrible misfortune,” he said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
Charles Duverger, a former employee at Mexico’s Human Rights Commission who worked for 10 years monitoring immigration centers until September, said it defied belief that the migrants set the fire, noting that authorities take all all migrants’ possessions when they are booked, including their shoelaces.
Even if they managed to sneak in matches or a lighter, he said, the idea that they set the fire made no sense. “Who the hell is going to light fire to mattresses when they are inside a cell?” Duverger said, adding that it’s possible the fire was started by the government response to protests.
Duverger said he has seen protests before in migrant detention centers and it’s always because the migrants are being held in unsanitary conditions with inadequate space.
López Obrador, who swept to power in 2018 promising to help migrants and safeguard their rights, has done a U-turn since taking office. Under pressure from the U.S., which is seeing unprecedented flows of migrants from around the world try to reach the U.S. through Mexico, he has made it increasingly difficult for migrants to traverse the country. Among other things, he has empowered Mexico’s National Guard to do immigration enforcement while cutting the budget of oversight agencies like Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.
In the 2022 fiscal year, U.S. authorities registered 2.4 million encounters at its southern border, a number that surpassed the previous year’s record of 1.7 million encounters. Many of those encounters are with migrants who attempt to cross multiple times.
The tragedy at the migrant detention center is “proof of the extremely urgent need to ensure that there are systems in place to provide safety for people in need of international protection,” the International Rescue Commission said in a statement. “Humanitarian infrastructure in the country is increasingly strained and more people are stuck in highly vulnerable situations.”
In June, 53 mostly Central American migrants died in Texas inside a sweltering tractor-trailer found in San Antonio. It was the worst tragedy on U.S. soil related to migrant smuggling in recent history.
In December 2021, 57 mostly Guatemalan migrants died in southern Mexico after a tractor trailer they were traveling flipped. They were packed so tightly that every other person was standing.
Surveillance, Body-Cam Video Shows Horror of Nashville School Shooting
A 28-year-old former student’s attack on the Covenant school in Nashville, Tennessee was “calculated and planned,” say police investigators.
Surveillance video released late Monday night showed Audrey Elizabeth Hale — wearing a red backwards cap, a tactical vest, and camouflage pants—shooting through glass doors to enter into the school, and then roaming corridors, seemingly searching for potential victims.
The shooter killed six people: three nine-year-old students, and three school employees in their sixties.
Police body camera video released Tuesday showed officers arriving at the Covenant School, and encountering an employee outside who informs them that almost all the students were locked down but weren’t sure about the whereabouts of two of them.
Warning: The following video is graphic and may be upsetting to some viewers.
The officers are seen making their way through the school, checking empty classrooms as they searched for the shooter. Then they hear gunshots coming from the second floor. They moved quickly towards the sound of gunfire, encountered the shooter in an atrium-like part of the school, and shot them dead within seconds. One officer fired from a rifle, while a second fired from a pistol as they approached the downed shooter.
Nashville Police Chief John Drake said that investigators are still working to confirm a motive in the case, but told NBC that they believe the shooter harbored resentment towards the Covenant School, a private preschool to sixth-grade Christian school that they once attended. Drake said that the shooter was likely targeting the school itself, and that the victims were random.
Writings and a manifesto recovered by investigators suggest that the shooter had planned shootings at “multiple locations” in addition to the school, Drake said. They also recovered a map that indicated the shooter had conducted detailed surveillance of the Covenant School, identified entry points, and extensively plotted how to carry out the shooting. Some of the writings were recovered in the shooter’s car, which was driven to the school on Monday morning. The manifesto has been turned over to the FBI.
The shooter had three firearms, including an AR-style pistol, a handgun, and a semi-automatic rifle, as well as “significant ammunition,” said police. Some of those weapons were “personalized.”
During his interview with NBC, Drake said that investigators weren’t sure if the fact that the shooter identified as transgender played a role in the attack. Drake had initially identified the shooter as a transgender woman, and an unnamed source close to their family told The Daily Beast that the shooter had recently started using he/him pronouns. The shooter’s Linkedin profile said they used he/him pronouns and several social media posts had them using the name “Aiden” (this name was also written on one of their firearms used during the attack). Christian nationalists and far-right personalities have already weaponized this detail and used it to justify their ongoing attacks against the transgender community.
One of the shooter’s former classmates shared some Instagram DMs with NewsChannel5 that she received from the shooter just 15 minutes before he began his deadly rampage.
The shooter told Averianna Patton, a middle school basketball teammate, that he didn’t want to live anymore and that she would probably hear about it on the news later that day.
“I don’t want to live,” the shooter wrote. “I’m not trying to upset you or get attention. I just need to die.”
“I wanted to tell you first because you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen and known all my life,” the shooter added. “My family doesn’t know what I’m about to do.” Hale also said that “something bad was about to happen.”
The students who were killed have been identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all of whom were nine. Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61, were also killed.
US police have run nearly 1M Clearview AI searches, says founder
US police have used Clearview AI facial recognition tech to conduct nearly one million searches since the company launched in 2017 – but its founder and CEO said he's still unwilling to testify to its accuracy.…
Florida School Bans Movie About School Segregation After One Complaint from a Parent
Another day, another example of Florida’s state-backed “parents’ rights” movement superseding the needs of, well, other parents and their kids.
A school in St. Petersburg, Florida removed the Disney biopic of civil rights pioneer Ruby Bridges after a parent complained that the purpose of the movie was “racism” and “teaching [students] racial slur[s].”
The 1998 Disney made-for-TV movie is shown to elementary school students every year as part of Pinellas County Schools’ lessons for Black History Month, according to the Tampa Bay Times, which broke the story. Bridges, now 68, was six years old when she became the first Black student to integrate New Orleans public schools; she was threatened and harassed by white supremacists and had to be escorted to school by U.S. Marshals.
But the parent of a second grader at a school in St. Petersburg filed a formal challenge with the state earlier this month, arguing that the movie about Bridges’ experience wasn’t suitable for young children, according to the Times. And afterward, school officials banned the movie from being shown to students at that elementary school, pending an assessment by a review committee, the Times reported.
The parent, Emily Conklin, said in the complaint that she objected to the use of racial slurs in the movie, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Popular Information newsletter. Conklin said she believed the theme and purpose of the movie was “racism,” and suggested the movie would have nefarious effects on kids. In the complaint, Conklin said she thought the result of showing the movie to children would be “teaching them racial slur [sic], how they are different and white people hate black people.”
Conklin also admitted, however, that she didn’t actually watch the entire movie. She watched the first 50 minutes of the 96-minute film, according to the complaint.
Last year, Florida passed a vaguely-written law, championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, prohibiting classroom lessons teaching that a student “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” for systemic racism and sexism.
A separate law, passed last year, mandates that classroom books be “age-appropriate” based on the judgment of a media specialist. In response to the law, at least two counties told teachers to remove their classroom libraries so as to not risk felony prosecution, years in prison, and thousands of dollars in fines, the Washington Post reported in January.
Conklin was unable to be reached for comment, and has deleted her social media accounts.
The president of a local activist education group, Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students, wrote a letter denouncing the removal of the film from the school, according to the Times.
“Many from historically marginalized communities are asking whether this so-called integrated education system in Pinellas can even serve the diverse community fairly and equitably,” Dr. Ricardo Davis reportedly wrote.
St. Petersburg deputy mayor Goliath Davis, a former St. Petersburg police chief, told the Times that Conklin’s challenge “doesn’t make any sense.”
“Think about it,” Davis told the Times. “A 6-year-old girl can go to school every day with armed guards, but second graders can’t learn about it?”
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How a beloved classic Porsche became a Transformer
"I didn't know what car Mirage was going to be at first," said Steven Caple Jr., director of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. "Where I'm from, in Cleveland, Ohio, I'd never even been in a Porsche before," he continued. "My actual first introduction to Porsche was Bad Boys I, so shout out to Michael Bay—that's all I really had."
Caple admitted in a panel during Austin's South by Southwest festival that the star car of the beloved action film Bad Boys inspired him to make Mirage a classic Porsche in the upcoming film. Mirage is a bit of a rebel himself, and the callback to the classic buddy-cop movie just felt right.
Fortunately, extraterrestrial Autobots won't be tempted to pull over in any sketchy places to debate the merits of in-car snacking, but this does mean they have bigger nemeses that necessitate transforming into giant robots to handle. It can be more complicated than you'd expect to make a cool Porsche into an Autobot film star, though—in fact, Porsche has a whole team that helps Hollywood studios get just the right car on the silver screen. Here's how it all comes together.
AI Will Smith Eating Spaghetti Hill Haunt You For the Rest of Your Life
In recent months, advancements in AI-generated media are everywhere: generated “photos” of historical events that never happened, voices that mimic humans closely enough to break into a bank, and films made using AI instead of animators.
But out of all of the creepy, overhyped, or doomsday-ushering examples of AI in the wild, this text-to-video monstrosity of Will Smith eating spaghetti is the most freakish by far. A distorted Smith that looks more like his fish character in Shark Tale than himself attempts to scoop piles of noodles into his mouth, or bite giant chunks of pasta off forks or out of his hands. It’s a nightmare stop-motion video, generated from just one innocuous line of text: “Will Smith eating spaghetti.”
Originally posted to Reddit by a user who goes by chaindrop, it’s made using a new Modelscope Text2Video generator, a machine learning model that turns text inputs into short video clips. In this case, chaindrop generated multiple versions of Smith’s imaginary pasta adventure by giving the model the prompt “Will Smith eating spaghetti,” then edited the short clip results together for an Italian dinner montage from hell.
There’s a demo version of the Modelscope Text2Video tool on Hugging Face that generates much shorter (one or two seconds long) videos, but the full model is available in a Github repository and on Modelscope.
The Modelscope text-to-video tool was just made public in the last week, and people are already generating their own freaky little snippets, like dancing skeletons, cranes running in the void, and eerie silent films. Right now, the results are mostly terrible quality, with Shutterstock watermarks across the frames—the training datasets (includes LAION5B, ImageNet, Webvid and “other public datasets,” according to the developers) are filled with images scraped from the web, including preview images from stock photo sites. But like every kind of AI generated media, text-to-video technology will likely get increasingly realistic very soon.
It’s one of several new text-to-video models that launched just in the last few weeks; machine learning tools company Runway launched a text-to-video generator earlier this month.
In the Reddit post comments, someone else attempted to generate a new version with the word “meatballs” inserted, and the results are even more nightmarish than the original. But in a time when people are falling for AI-generated dripped-out Popes and obviously fake Trump arrest images, it’s almost nice to see the machine learning community return to its roots with a budding technology: glitched-out distortions that will haunt our waking dreams forever.