In news that is so weird, you almost won’t believe it, a Russian man has volunteered to be the victim for the world’s first head transplant, which two doctors want to perform early next year. Valery Spiridonov—a 31-year-old Russian man who operates an educational software company out of his home in the small city of Vladimir, Russia—suffers from Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, which confines him to a wheelchair. The disease is genetic and usually fatal, a disorder “that wastes away muscles and kills motor neurons—nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that help move the body.”
Spiridonov sees a head transplant as his only hope. He toldThe Atlantic “Removing all the sick parts but the head would do a great job in my case. I couldn’t see any other way to treat myself.”
The initiative for the transplant is the brainchild of Italian neurosurgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero who reportedly “compares himself to Dr. Frankenstein, mentions Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and has written ... a guide to seducing women,” has been wanting to perform a head transplant since 2013. In 2015, Dr. Canavero performed a head transplant on a monkey. The doctor claims the monkey stayed alive for 20 hours after the surgery, but that has not been verified.
Dr. Canavero showed video of the monkey’s head transplant to Sam Kean at The Atlantic, who also could not verify how long the monkey stayed alive after the surgery. He wrote that in the video he saw, the monkey “blinked when someone prodded his eyes with forceps ... but otherwise he looked catatonic.”
Recently, Dr. Canavero recruited Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren, who worked on the team that performed the first successful hand transplant, to work on the head transplant. Dr. Ren apparently practiced for the hand transplant by switching around the legs on a pig.
The procedure would reportedly cost between $10 million and $100 million, Dr. Canavero plans on applying for an $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to fund the procedure. If that doesn’t work out, he figures he’ll ask Mark Zuckerberg or another tech billionaire for the money.
For Spiridonov to actually get the head transplant, the team of doctors would have to find a brain-dead male whose family consented to the procedure. Dr. Canavero plans to cool the body and the head. Then:
A custom-made crane would be used to shift Spiridonov’s head – hanging by Velcro straps – onto the donor body’s neck. The two ends of the spinal cord would then be fused together with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, which has been shown to promote regrowth of cells that make up the spinal cord.
The muscles and blood supply from the donor body would then be joined with Spiridonov’s head, and he would be kept in a coma for three to four weeks to prevent movement as he healed. Implanted electrodes would be used to stimulate the spinal cord to strengthen new nerve connections.
Even though Dr. Canavero has successfully tested out the procedure in mice, both scientists and ethicists understandably object to the doctor’s plans. If the surgery happens, it likely won’t take place in the U.S. because we have laws and regulations that prevent such unorthodox procedures.
Arthur Caplan, who runs the bioethics department at NYU Langone Medical Center says Dr. Canavero’s procedure “is both rotten scientifically and lousy ethically.” Nita Farahany, director of Bioethics & Science Policy at Duke University, wonders if anyone can even legally consent to a head transplant. Plus, if Spiridonov were to die during the procedure, Dr. Canavero could feasibly be charged with homicide.
This also raises questions about what defines the self and identity. Say the transplant is successful. Would Spiridonov still be himself or would his identity shift into a combination of himself and the donor?
There’s a lot to muse on, but until we receive legitimate proof that Dr. Canavero is even able to perform this procedure, it’s all basically a thought experiment.
Spend enough time scrolling through social media and you’ll find one: A photo that’s too strange to just be “creepy,” too puzzling to just be “mysterious,” too sinister to just be “weird.” That, my friends, is an image that’s been cursed.
In the early days of the internet, these pictures lived alongside more explicit images on shock sites like rotten.com, but since last month, @cursedimages has been collecting the finest (PG-rated) examples of the genre on Twitter. Some of them are old favorites while others have yet to gain greater infamy, but all of them are clearly sent from Hell.
To learn more about these photos of the damned, Gizmodo spoke to @cursedimages’ creator, who explained the genesis of the account.
“Earlier this year, I had seen one or two posts on Tumblr of an unexplainable and odd picture and the caption was simply ‘cursed image,’” said the account’s admin, who preferred to remain nameless. “It intrigued me, but when I tried searching that term to find other pictures like it, nothing came up.”
“I’ve always been fascinated by creepy and paranormal things and had a few weird pictures saved that made me think back to the term ‘cursed image,’” the admin continued. “After a few days I began seeking out more and more of these pictures and then I decided I should post them all in one place.”
According to the creator of @cursedimages, there’s no one element that makes an image obviously “cursed.”
“Cursed images, to me, leave you with a general uneasy feeling,” said the admin. “There could be certain qualities, like someone looking directly at the camera or an orb floating in the background.”
“I know sometimes I post images that seem more silly that cursed, but I try to stay true to that weird feeling. I think a good balance of funny and creepy is important, and it leaves people wondering if the whole ‘cursed’ thing is really a joke or not.”
Asked if they had a favorite photo, however, @cursedimages’ admin found it easy to name a single image.
“This picture just fascinates me,” said the admin of an image of a swimming hole seemingly threatened by an approaching shadow. “I always hear stories about these beautiful and terrifying pools of water that go down forever. Sometimes the lakes have a dark history, like a kid diving too deep and never coming back up or someone seeing an unrecognizable creature swimming down with them in the depths. This definitely gives me that feeling, and I can’t help but imagine this picture documents a body of water like that.”
In addition to trying to shock and amuse the account’s followers, @cursedimages’ admin saw their mission as giving a second life to the photos.
“Many of these images already were sort of forgotten,” said the admin. “I found a few buried deep in weird and abandoned paranormal photography websites. But the really humorously odd ones have definitely turned into more than what the photographers intended.”
“It really leaves the story behind it up to you, and you’re just dying to know the purpose behind these pictures,” the admin continued. “If the photographers hadn’t decided to share these bizarre images with the world, they could’ve been buried and forgotten. I think it’s nice to be able to transform them into this idea of a ‘cursed image,’ and let others appreciate just how weird these images are.”
Call me a coward, but getting bashed in the face by a scary Russian dude with a massive shield is not my idea of a good sporting time.
Sure, being covered by armor would appear to make professional knight fighting “safer” or at least “less likely to result in an immediate fatality.” But because your face is covered, how is anyone—least of all the referee—supposed to know if you’re already unconscious?
I prefer my brain damage in the form of drugs and alcohol, thank you very much. It’s the American way.
People in prison are so damn resourceful that they can turn a pen, a Walkman, a couple of paper clips, a few rubber bands, and a set of batteries into a fully functional tattoo gun. The motor, battery pack, and switch come from a Walkman that’s torn apart, the ink obviously comes from the pen, the needle is made from the paper clip, and the rubber bands hold it all together.
It’s a pretty brilliant way of hacking together a tattoo gun, if you ask me. Even after knowing all this, I’d probably fail in trying to find the necessary parts in the Walkman. Actually, I’d fail finding the Walkman.
Monday brought the horrible news of the passing of Gene Wilder. The iconic comedic actor left behind an undeniably impressive and timeless body of work that was exceeded only by his own talent. To pay tribute, we put together this video of five films that helped define his unforgettable career.
And to think those are just small, safe for work, slivers from five films out of dozens. Surely, arguments could be made for several others, too, proving there’s nothing Wilder couldn’t do.
Think about this. Gene Wilder hadn’t starred in a movie since 1991. That’s 25 years. And yet, his legacy meant he was never far from our minds. His loss is one we’ll feel for a long, long time.
Conceptually I hate proposal videos; they feel emotionally cheap, but moreover, I’m one of those heartless single people who is neither endeared nor disdainful of happy couples.
But something about this extremely cute VR proposal just gets me. Sure, the whole thing “smacks of gender”— the guy asked his soon-to-be fiancé’s parents for permission, the woman needed help using the technology, marriage is a patriarchal structure to begin with. But in spite of that, I am thoroughly endeared. Love is real. Maybe I can even find it too. Yippee!!!!
It’s called the Schlieren effect and it means that you can see stuff that’s invisible to the human eye, like changes in air density. So when you turn on a hair dryer, you can see the blast of air it shoots out. When you open a can of Coke, you can see what’s escaping into the air. When you rub your hands, you can see the heat surrounding them.
Air is typically invisible to us (sometimes we can see the blurry heat on the road, for example), but it’s a constantly moving thing. Brusspup created a simple set-up—a camera with a razor blade in front of it, next to a light source pointing at a concave mirror so it bounces light back to the camera—to make it visible.
The trick in being able to see the invisible is that the razor blade (or any sharp edged object) partially blocks the light to create a shadow effect to reveal the air movement. I mean, it’s either that or sorcery.
What has people unsettled isn’t only how close the asteroid came to earth, but rather, how something that large stayed hidden for so long when its path came so near to our home planet. The answer, in part, is simply that space is very big and full of lots of stuff flying around. It’s very easy to miss something of importance.
But in this case, the reason we didn’t see the asteroid is that it travels in an odd orbit. If you look at the path of 2016 QA2 below, you can definitely see it come close to Earth for its weekend fly-by—but more broadly, its elliptical orbit means that it spent a lot of time out in the further planetary regions by Mercury, Venus, and Mars.
If its close brush with Earth still leaves you a little uneasy, however, remember that just because an asteroid flew near Earth doesn’t mean it came near to actually hitting Earth. Though we managed to get a pretty close look at the asteroid this time, 2016 QA2's orbit isn’t anything for us to worry about in the long run.
The New Yorker’s social media editor Saira Khan went ballistic in a lengthy Twitter rant about her experience as a Facebook curator. Her tirade comes just three days after Facebook fired all human curators from its trending news operation.
Khan described “the most absurd” things she saw during her time working as a Facebook news curator. Some of them are actually pretty funny—and some of them are downright grim. She says that the most accurate story she’s ever read about the Facebook trending team was a Guardian post titled “I worked on Facebook’s Trending team–the most toxic work experience of my life.”
The Guardian post, written by a former curator, accused Facebook managers of “intimidation, favoritism, and sexism.” The report also said that “several women, including [the author], reported sexism by managers and editors to their direct supervisor and in their exit interviews to no avail.”
Khan’s rant provides more insight into the work experience of the curators. In Gizmodo’s original report about the trending team, one former curator told us that the role was “degrading as a human being.”
“We weren’t treated as individuals. We were treated in this robot way,” the individual said.
You can see Khan’s entire Twitter rant below:
We’ve reached out to Khan for more thoughts on her time at Facebook, and will update if we hear back from her. And if you’re a former curator, we’d love to hear from you.
On the first day of fall classes on August 24 at the University of Texas, Austin, students were scrambling to catch florid plastic dildos flying over their heads, eager to display them on the outside of their backpacks. Outrageous? Embarrassing? Absurd? That’s the point. More than a thousand protesters— students and professors—were gathering beneath the campus’s clock tower to expose the absurdity of a gun culture whose laws encourage students to carry concealed guns onto college campuses but ban the open display of sex toys. At a pre-rally the day before, 4,000 of the playthings disappeared over the first 30 minutes in a mashup of outstretched limbs.
There is provocative juvenile symbolism and then there is provocative juvenile symbolism. Last year, as part of the ongoing campaign to make everyone everywhere accept guns as an inescapable feature of everyday life, the Texas state legislature passed a law permitting seniors at all public colleges and universities to pack heat on campus. They timed the law to take effect on the 50th anniversary of the darkest chapter in UT Austin’s history: August 1, 1966, when a student climbed the infamous clock tower with a footlocker full of weapons and showed the world how easily someone could buy enough guns in America to commit mass murder in a public space.
Jessica Jin, the organizer of the “Cocks not Glocks” protest, never thought she would be interested in protesting America’s insane love of guns. She was raised in San Antonio by parents who were Chinese immigrants. She describes them as a Tiger Mom and a professorial father who cared not a whit about U.S. politics. That left Jin, she says, with no role models for how to be an American. In public schools, she received an education steeped in Texas-style hyper-conservatism.
“Conservatives follow the rules and work hard for what they want,” she recalled a fourth grade teacher lecturing. “Liberals are loosey-goosey, they ignore rules and kill babies. Now, which are you: conservative or liberal?” (You can guess which every student chose.)
Jin says she was subjected to constant ridicule as a “slant-eye” and was uncomfortable with the “inauthentic” American name her parents chose for her—yet the last thing she wanted was to stand out as different. She was a stickler for rules, and by fifth grade, she had abruptly come of age politically. On the news she heard about a President named Clinton and an intern named Monica Lewinsky. She ran home and told her father he had to vote for George W. Bush.
It was by extreme accident that she swerved 180 degrees in her early twenties to become a Democratic activist. She was disturbed by a flurry of campus shootings around the country. Last October, as she drove through Austin, she heard a right wing pundit say on the radio that Americans would just have to live with these acts of violence and brace for them to happen. “I just rolled my eyes so hard, I thought my eyeballs were going to roll out of my head.” In response, Jin created a Facebook group and posted a subversive joke to mock the fact that the state has a law against “obscene public displays” of such reverential items as dildos, but was about to encourage post-adolescents with raging hormones to carry guns on campus:
Your dildo will be just as effective at deterring a mass shooter, but much safer for recreational play.
The next day, Jin cringed. “I thought it was an extremely immature and crass joke,” she told me. But overnight her post went viral and thousands of people RSVP’d, wanting to join in a protest she flippantly suggested against the “campus carry law.” The coverage was international, in the BBC, the Sydney Morning Herald, all over Europe. As Jin said, ”Other countries love making fun of our gun culture, and this gave them another opportunity to laugh at it.”
From then on, Jin threw herself into planning the very real Campus Dildo Carry protest staged this week at her alma mater. Ultimately, she said, her joke was a good thing: “That helped me make young women comfortable with my more subversive messaging, because they appreciate the satire and humor.”
She has since received support from other women active in the gun control movement, including Sarah Clements, who was jolted into awareness of the total disregard for the most defenseless victims of gun violence when she heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Her mother Abbey was a second grade teacher there. Six teachers—all in the pathway of the gunman—were murdered, along with 20 children under the age of eight. Abbey managed to hide her students in a supply closet, and all survived.
“I direct-messaged Jessica after her page went viral, because I know what it’s like to be harassed online for doing this type of work,” said Clements, now a junior at Georgetown University. “I told her how inspiring her radicalism was.” Jin responded immediately. Clements offered an ear to absorb some of the fears and frustrations the novice activist was experiencing. She was the first of many survivors and their family members who contacted Jin to make sure she was well-informed. They suggested professional strategies to help bring millennial women into the gun sense conversation.
On the night before her long-planned event, Jin was delighted that local sex shops had made donations of phalluses to meet the unexpected demand. She was particularly tickled by the gift of over 100 hand-crafted ceramic phalluses sculpted by a woman for her 1980s thesis on “toxic masculinity.”
But when I saw her late that night, fatigued beyond speech, her tiny frame dissolved into a sofa like a soggy pretzel. Would she recover from her exhaustion? Would anybody show up? Or was it all just a big joke with no impact beyond the ephemeral world of social media?
The same week that Jin called for her dildo protest, about a thousand of the university’s academics—under the banner of Guns Free UT—held a solemn commemoration of the 14 people killed in 1966 and the 32 others who were wounded. Scars from that massacre are still raw for survivors like Claire Wilson.
It happened on a beautifully sunny summer day as students passed to their first classes, among them Wilson, who was a new freshman, and her boyfriend Thomas Eckman. Wilson didn’t register the pain, only the jolt. It was the first shot. The sniper was a Marine and picked his targets. “Baby, what’s wrong?” Eckman said. Wilson was visibly pregnant and the bullet had found her baby and annihilated it. All at once both she and her boyfriend were falling to the ground. “I had no idea what it was,” Wilson recently told an Austin TV station. “I was just lying there looking up and thinking how beautifully blue the sky was.” Her boyfriend made no sound. The second bullet had split his back and killed him almost instantly.
The horrifying memories may have faded for some, but the bullet holes in the clock tower are still visible. Hundreds of students, professors, tourists, and store clerks witnessed the 96-minute killing spree as they crouched behind trees, hid under desks, took cover in stairwells, or, if they had been hit, played dead. “It seemed like every other guy had a rifle,” recalls Ann Major, who was a senior at UT Austin at the time and is now a romance novelist living in Corpus Christi. “There was a sort of cowboy atmosphere, ‘Let’s get him’ spirit.”
That day, August 1, 1966, engraved a new template on American culture, to be copied by high schools like Columbine in Colorado, where two disturbed high school boys unleashed a wave of me-too killings; state universities like Virginia Tech that gave us the massacre of 32 people; churches like the historically African-American Emanuel congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, where a 21-year-old racist killed nine people with a handgun; and nightclubs like Pulse in Orlando, Florida, where 49 mostly Latino LGBT people were slaughtered and 43 wounded easily surpassing the Texas clock tower killings and setting a record as the most violent mass murder in U.S. history.
That night of the Orlando bloodbath was when Robert Disney, a tireless veteran of the 40-plus-year-old Brady campaign, began to believe a tipping point has been reached. “It activated gays and lesbians to join the mounting movement against gun violence,” he said. People of all ages and walks of life are being drawn into a mass consciousness about something that has gone terribly wrong with our way of life, Disney said. Parents expect to send their children to schools and universities where they will be protected while they grow up. Private citizens of all ages and persuasions expect to pray or play without the risk of paying with their lives.
“We see a major cultural shift occurring,” Disney said. And the most hopeful recent addition to gun sense activism is that the millennial generation now has a “poster girl” in Jessica Jin.
On the big day, as students passed to their early classes, not a single backpack could be spotted carrying a signature sex toy. The most active hawkers at that hour were middle-aged men offering copies of the New Testament.
It wasn’t until noon that volunteers began screen-printing orange tees at breakneck speed with the hashtag #COCKSNOTGLOCKS.
A five-foot-one junior, Rosie Zander, began waving a gorilla-sized plastic phallus and shouting, “We’ve got dicks for you! I’m the Oprah of dickage!”
“This level of excitement on campus is beyond our wildest dreams,” Zander told me. She is campus director of University Democrats, which has a remarkably small membership of about 70 on a campus of 50,000. An on-campus statue of Jefferson Davis was removed only last year. During our conversation, Zander brushed aside the insults she heard from gun zealots, like the male student who shouted, “You’re a liberal idiot—once you get shot, you’ll understand.” He had obviously bought the NRA line: “The best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Zander went right back to hawking, “Get your dildos now before we run out again!”
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an advocacy group with chapters in all 50 states, was represented at the rally by Nicole Golden, one of three and a half million mothers in a grassroots organization patterned on Mothers Against Drunk Driving.* “We are so happy to see a campus movement beginning on this crucial issue and led by women,” Gold said.
I was jolted back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the great revolutionary movements of my own co-ed years were led almost exclusively by men. Rather than work together, anti-war and civil rights protesters regularly clashed. Women who wanted to play an equal role in these radical movements were ignored, sometimes ridiculed, and reduced to carrying messages and iced drinks to the male hierarchy.
There were plenty of men mingling among the protesters, including a tall handsome senior who had to step away from his Christian fellowship group to tell me what he really thinks of the event. “It’s so shocking, so hilarious, so disgusting, it will definitely create a lot of buzz, but it won’t change any laws tomorrow.”
What would he do, I asked, if he found himself in one of the campus’s 300-seat lecture halls when a “bad guy” with a gun opens up on lots of “good guys” with only four hours of required training to use the weapons in their backpacks?
He took a long moment. “I’d like to think I’d be a hero, but to be honest, I’d probably be too terrified to pull out a gun—it makes you a target.” At the end of our talk, he dared to give his first name: Brandon. He comforted himself by predicting the infinitesimal chance of a lone shooter is matched only by the infinitesimal chance that his classmates with guns would hurt innocents if they fired back.
That is what nearly happened when students in ’66 ran home to get their guns and spread a lot of friendly fire during the long confrontation with the killer. The chief of police, who had climbed to the top of the tower, complained of a bullet that narrowly missed him.
In this era, it is largely and significantly millennial women college students who have broken the harmful silence on campus sexual assault and reinvigorated campus activism. These women have pointed fingers not only at their excused assailants, but also at the university administrations expected to protect them. Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress was as provocative a symbol as Jin’s sex toys. By famously carrying her burden on campus for a whole school year to protest the non-expulsion of her alleged rapist, Sulkowicz helped to build the most effective, organized anti-rape movement since the late ’70s. Meanwhile, Jin and her fellow organizers are hoping the campus gun movement starts with dildos.
At the end of the event, Jin ran up the steps to admit she hadn’t prepared a speech—she had been busy up to the last moment, lugging around 55-pound boxes of the sex toys.
“Let’s put a dildo in the hands of every pissed-off college student who hasn’t been heard yet in this safety conversation!” she called out breathlessly, as cheers rose. Then her tone shifted to the personal: “I know it doesn’t feel good to walk around with a dildo. I walked into Home Depot with a dildo on yesterday, buying zip ties for all of y’all, and it felt horrible. Embarrassing. I was self-conscious. I worried about the impact that I would have on the people around me.”
Jin told me she has paid a price in the last year, sacrificing sleep, privacy, and personal safety. One man got ahold of her address and email and keeps sending her threatening messages. But she swears she is not afraid. “If someone were to try to hurt me, it would just prove my point,” she said. “If they were to get that angry over a joke or being made fun of, they can’t control their tempers, and they shouldn’t have guns.”
When she addressed the eager protesters who had answered her call, her voice conveyed no fatigue or hesitation: “We want to force that kind of conscientiousness on people who are so ingrained in gun culture that they don’t understand the impact they’re having on the people around them.” More cheers.
“So strap it on, deal with the discomfort, deal with the weird looks. Wear it loud, wear it proud. And don’t take off your dildos until people take their guns home.”
Gail Sheehy is one of the founding writers of New York andhas been a contributing editor to Vanity Fair since 1984.She has written about the character and psychology of presidential candidates from Robert Kennedy to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and world leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Saddam Hussein. Sheehy is the author of 17 books. Passages (1976) was named by the Library of Congress one of the ten most influential books of our times. Her latest book is a memoir called DARING: My Passages.
*An earlier version of this article stated Nicole Golden’s name was “Nicole Gold” and referred to Moms Demand Action as a “research group” instead of an “advocacy group.” Jezebel regrets the errors.