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October 29, 2020


Long story short: Where once Kazakhstan ran from Borat's catchphrase, it's done a full 180° and now embraces it.

From the New York Times:

In 2005, Dennis Keen, a high school junior in Los Angeles, was applying for a summer exchange program.

After not much deliberation, he decided it would be punky and funny to forgo France and Spain and go to Kazakhstan.

"People didn't know where it was," Mr. Keen said. "In Kazakhstan, there's pre-Borat and post-Borat."

He was referring, of course, to "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy that hit theaters a year later, in 2006.

In the movie, Mr. Cohen pretends to be a television reporter visiting America from the former Soviet republic, whose people supposedly drink horse urine, consider women property, and celebrate an anti-Semitic version of the running of the bulls. (The bulls are replaced by Jews.)

The authoritarian Kazakh government banned the film, threatened to sue Mr. Cohen, and took out a four-page advertisement in this newspaper defending the country's honor.

And so when Mr. Cohen released a trailer on September 29 for a "Borat" sequel, which he developed in secret and which debuted on Friday on Amazon, the satirist was prepared for another fight with the Kazakh government.

It never came.

"It was like, 'Oh, again?'" said Kairat Sadvakassov, the deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's tourism board, who has a master's degree in tourism management from New York University.

The board was determined to avoid overreacting and letting Mr. Cohen make it look foolish once again.

"The decision was made to let it die its natural death and not respond," Mr. Sadvakassov said.

Then Mr. Keen, the former exchange student, got involved.

After his time abroad, he went on to graduate school at Stanford, where he studied with a professor from Kazakhstan.

Mr. Keen eventually moved to the country, married a local, and started a business giving walking tours of Almaty, the country's largest city.

He now hosts a travel show on a state television channel. ("I'm kind of like the American Borat," Mr. Keen said.)

When Mr. Keen learned about the sequel, he thought that rather than ignore Mr. Cohen, Kazakhstan should embrace the Borat character's catchphrase and turn it into the country’s tourism slogan: "Kazakhstan. Very nice!"

It's the kind of idea you get when you own a tourism company and a pandemic has annihilated global tourism.

"I've had a lot of free time," Mr. Keen said. "Also, I just had a baby. When he grows up, I don't want him to be ashamed of Borat. I want him to say, 'That's when my dad started this whole fun project.'"

Two weeks ago, Mr. Keen and a friend, Yermek Utemissov, who helps foreign film companies arrange shoots in Kazakhstan, pitched the board of tourism.

They got an immediate yes.

The two worked pro bono to make four slickly produced, internet-friendly 12-second spots (top) featuring people walking around Kazakhstan and observing that it's "very nice."

In one, a man at a market drinks traditional fermented horse milk (not horse urine!) and says, "That's actually very nice."

The new movie, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," doesn't let up on stereotyping the nation.

It starts with Borat doing hard labor in prison, explaining the fictional consequences of the original film in a voice-over: "Kazakhstan become laughing stocks around the world. Our exports of potassium and pubis plummet. Many brokers leapt from our tallest skyscrapers. Since Running of Jew had been canceled, all Kazakhstan had left was Holocaust Remembrance Day, where we commemorate our heroic soldiers who ran the camps."

But Mr. Utemissov said he wasn't worried that his fellow citizens would get mad this time.

"It's a newer generation,” he said. "They've got Twitter, they've got Instagram, they've got Reddit, they know English, they know memes. They get it. They're inside the media world. We're looking at the same comedians, the same Kimmel show. Kazakhstan is globalized."

Mr. Sadvakassov, the deputy chairman of the tourism board, hadn't seen the movie before its premiere, but he said he wasn't concerned, either.

"In Covid times, when tourism spending is on hold, it was good to see the country mentioned in the media," he said. "Not in the nicest way, but it's good to be out there. We would love to work with Cohen, or maybe even have him film here."

When Mr. Cohen learned that Kazakhstan had reversed itself and embraced his franchise, he offered a statement by email.

"This is a comedy, and the Kazakhstan in the film has nothing to do with the real country," he wrote. "I chose Kazakhstan because it was a place that almost nobody in the U.S. knew anything about, which allowed us to create a wild, comedic, fake world. The real Kazakhstan is a beautiful country with a modern, proud society — the opposite of Borat's version."

That's as close as Borat gets to being very nice.

October 29, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

I ❤️ YouTube in Dark Mode

Screen Shot 2020-10-27 at 10.57.10 AM

Res ipsa loquitur.

October 29, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Footprints mark a toddler's perilous prehistoric journey


[The human footprint sequence from the Pleistocene era extends more than a mile and includes at least 427 human prints. The out-and-back journey was probably completed in no more than a few hours, the researchers suggested.]

From the New York Times:

Several thousand years ago, a young adult moved barefoot across a muddy landscape.

A toddler was balanced on the adult's hip.

There were large animals — mammoths and ground sloths — just over the horizon.

It was a perilous journey, and scientists reconstructed it by closely studying an exceptional set of human and animal footprints found recently in the southwestern United States.

"This is an amazing trackway,” said Neil Thomas Roach, an anthropologist at Harvard University, who was not involved in the research, which was published online this month in Quaternary Science Reviews. "We rarely get tracks as well preserved as these are."

It is one of the most extensive Pleistocene-age trackways found to date, and studying it highlights how ancient sets of fossilized footprints can reveal more than even fossilized bones.

[The Pleistocene (often colloquially referred to as the Ice Age) is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago.]

It's rare for bones to reveal behaviors, but tracks can shed a lot of light on animal interactions, said Sally C. Reynolds, a paleoecologist at Bournemouth University in England and an author of the study.

The journey of the prehistoric young adult and the toddler was spotted in 2017 in White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico.

The sequence extends more than a mile and includes at least 427 human prints.

The out-and-back journey was probably completed in no more than a few hours, the researchers suggest. (The gypsum sand that records the prints doesn't hold water well, so the muddy conditions that captured the prints would have been short-lived.)

Most of the human footprints were made by a barefoot adolescent of either sex, or a young adult female with roughly size 6 feet, the team determined.

But about every 100 yards or so, a few much smaller human prints suddenly appear within the northbound set of tracks.

"We have many adult tracks, and then every now and again we have these tiny baby tracks," Dr. Reynolds said.

A toddler-aged child was being carried and periodically placed on the muddy ground as the caregiver readjusted his or her human load, the researchers surmised, based on the three-dimensional digital models they had assembled.

There are no toddler footprints within the southbound set of tracks, so the child probably wasn't carried on that journey.

It's likely that the child rode on the young person’s left hip.

There's a slight asymmetry between the left and right tracks on the northbound set of tracks.

That's consistent with someone carrying extra weight on that side, Dr. Reynolds said.

She and her collaborators estimated that the young person was moving at just shy of four miles per hour.

That's a good clip: "Imagine running for a bus," Dr. Reynolds said. "It’s not a stroll."

The urgency of the journey might have had something to do with the toddler, Dr. Reynolds suggests. "Why else would you travel so fast but encumber yourself with a child?"

There was another reason, however, for making haste over the landscape — the presence of large and potentially dangerous animals.

Both a giant sloth and a mammoth ambled across the humans' path, the trackway reveals.

Their prints appear on top of the northbound footsteps but below the southbound ones, meaning that the animals walked by sometime in between the humans' passage.


[A human footprint found inside that of a giant sloth track at White Sands.]

The mammoth — most likely a bull, based on the size of its tracks — was apparently uninterested in the humans who had walked by just hours before; its tracks do not indicate any reaction.

The giant sloth, on the other hand, stopped and shuffled in a circle when it encountered the human trackway, its prints indicate.

The sloth's response suggests that humans had positioned themselves at the top of the food chain, Dr. Reynolds said.

In the future, Dr. Reynolds and her colleagues hope to better understand the people that inhabited this region.

For instance, it's an open question whether they had migrated seasonally or stayed put in one area throughout the year, Dr. Reynolds said. "We're trying to assemble these little snapshots of what life was like in the past."

October 29, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Where is this map located?

Screen Shot 2020-10-26 at 9.36.23 AM

Answer here this time tomorrow.

Hint: outside the U.S.

October 29, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Needle in a Haystack

Screen Shot 2020-10-26 at 8.15.04 AM

Can you find it?

Poster measures 20" x 28".

Printed in France.


October 29, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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