This school principal who reads bedtime stories online to her students is what they mean by an ‘everyday hero.’

Reading aloud is good for kids. This principal is going above and beyond to make it happen for her students.

The benefits of reading is well-documented, especially for growing children. Books help build vocabulary, foster empathy, increase attention spans, and teach kids to think critically.

But some kids, especially in low-income households, may not have easy access to books or have caregivers who are able to read to them regularly. That’s a problem. It’s hard for kids to develop a love of reading without lots of exposure to books. And without the benefits that regular reading can offer, the educational gap for kids in low-income households just grows wider.

Principal Belinda George, a first-year principal at Homer Drive Elementary in Beaumont, Texas, has many low-income students under her charge. And in a simple, unique way, she’s trying to make sure they all get the gift of reading.

Dr. George reads aloud to students in the evening—in her pajamas—during “Tucked-in Tuesdays.”

According to the Washington Post, the 42-year-old principal opens up Facebook Live on her phone at 7:30pm on Tuesdays for a read-aloud session she called “Tucked-in Tuesdays.” Snuggled up in her jammies—which include a Cookie Monster onesie (me wants one!)—George reads a book aloud to whatever students can be online for storytime. She started Tucked-in Tuesdays in December, and it’s a hit.

“Kids will come up to me Wednesday and say, ‘Dr. George, I saw you in your PJs reading!,” she told the Post. “They’ll tell me their favorite part of the book.” Students will often go try to find the book she read them at the school library. People outside of the school district, and even outside of Texas, have started tuning in for bedtime stories with the principal.

Her love of kids motivates her to take the time to bring something extra to their lives outside the classroom.

George doesn’t have any kids of her own, and she uses her story time to connect with her students whom she refers to as her children.

“The idea came from a Facebook group called Principal Principles Leadership Group,” George told TODAY. “And from the fact that I absolutely love my children.”

George told the Post that if she doesn’t reach them outside of school, she knows she won’t be able to reach them in school. Tucked-in Tuesdays are a way for her to build bonds with students and families while also fostering a love of books. She greets students by name as they tell her they’re watching, and she asks questions to keep the story time interactive.

Educators like Dr. George can make a huge difference in students’ lives.

All of us have special teachers, librarians, or other adults in school who influenced us with their beyond-the-call-of-duty care. What a wonderful memory these young scholars will have for the rest of their lives, and what a great way for them to build positive bonds with an authority figure in their lives.

George told the post that she does anything she can to build relationships with her students, including twice weekly dance parties. “If a child feels loved they will try,” she said.

Check out Principal George reading “Clark the Shark” in her Cookie Monster PJs:

Clark the Shark and the Big Book Report
Reading Level: 2.5
AR Points: 0.5

Posted by Homer Drive Elementary on Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/this-school-principal-who-reads-bedtime-stories-online-to-her-students-is-what-they-mean-by-an-everyday-hero

Barack Obama shared his favorite things from 2018 and you’re gonna miss him even more.

Former president Barack Obama stands in stark contrast to the current president in countless ways. One of the biggest discrepancies between Obama and Trump are their intellectual curiosity and appreciation of culture.

It’s well documented that President Trump refuses to read just about anything, unless it’s written about him. Whereas Obama has always been open about his love of knowledge and often shares what he’s currently reading on social media.

His literary tastes tend to focus on race relations, economics, technology, and current events.

As he has done in previous years, to mark the end of 2018, Obama shared a list of his favorite books, movies, and music of 2018. His choices reveal a preference for art house films and current hip-hop and R&B.

Honestly, he has pretty hip taste for a dad in his mid-50s.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/barack-obama-shared-his-favorite-things-from-2018-and-you-re-gonna-miss-him-even-more

‘The Care and Keeping of You’ author on the book’s staying power 20 years later

Millions of young girls grew up on "The Care and Keeping of You."

Editor’s Note: The internet has changed how kids learn about sex, but sex ed in the classroom still sucks. In Sex Ed 2.0, Mashable explores the state of sex ed and imagines a future where digital innovations are used to teach consent, sex positivity, respect, and responsibility.


There are few things more mortifying than being a preteen and needing to ask someone about good old Aunt Flo. 

Thanks to The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls, millions of young women didn’t have to. American Girl’s seminal book about getting our periods, dealing with acne, and finding healthy friendships provided answers to questions we were all too embarrassed to ask. Packed with informative, anatomical illustrations and simple, matter-of-fact details, the book was a staple for prepubescent girls before we all started googling. Instead of offering cringeworthy euphemisms like “sacred flower” or “first moon,” it got straight to the point: You have a vagina, and here are the changes you might experience. 

If maxi pads and salicylic acid made up our armor for the battle against puberty, The Care and Keeping of You was our sacred text that led the way.  

The book turned 20 years old this month. Since its publication in 1998, it has been updated and divided to include a second book specifically for older girls. How did it come about, and what made it so popular — and powerful? We caught up with Valorie Schaefer, who wrote the original book, to find out. 

You mention in a piece in the Atlantic that the book was inspired by nationwide discussions about how puberty was happening earlier and earlier. Can you tell me a little more about how it came to be? 

Pleasant Rowland was the founder and CEO of American Girl, and she’d been on some airplane and there was an article in the Times on the early onset of puberty. And she ripped the page out, and she put a sticky note on it for Michelle [Watkins, the editor of the book], and she wrote, “WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS NOW.”

They decided that one of the things they did best was education. I was a copywriter, writing for the catalogs about all the cute doll accessories, and somehow Pleasant was just determined that I was the best person to write this book. They wanted to talk to girls with a particular voice. 

There were girls who were 9, 10 … who were getting their periods, and they were so confused and scared. When you’re a 9- or 10-year-old girl you don’t want the whole discussion about reproduction and sexuality — even if your mom is awesome. So a book just seemed like the way to go. 

How would you describe the tone of the book? 

Well, we always said, “This is the voice of your cool aunt.” Someone you could view as older and trustworthy, but not your mom and dad. Just a little younger, and maybe she’s a little cooler, but you trust her. She’s not the crazy wingnut, haha. 

So she’s not the vodka aunt. 

She’s the cool aunt! That’s sort of exactly how we wanted to talk to girls, because we wanted them to feel heard. We wanted to speak to them in a way that is respectful and kind and warm. Here’s just the information you need. We’re not going to give you stuff you’re not ready for. It’s just like, “What’s going on with my breasts??” “Am I going to get any?” “Will it hurt?”

These are the questions you have at that age. It’s hard for you to think of yourself as a 10-year-old, knowing what you know now, and say, “Wow, how could I not know that?”

And not only did you not know it, but you didn’t want to ask anybody, you know?

Yes! What was your research process like when writing this? How did you come up with that cool aunt persona, while also being informative?

Pleasant, Michelle, and I have all been 10-year-old girls. We started by asking ourselves the question, “What did we want to know?” 

“Ten-year-old girls are like truth-seeking missiles.”

We just talked to people. We talked to girls, we talked to moms, I think we had a lot of confidence that fits “who” she was. I think the information — to us as adults — is not tricky, but when you’re 10 … 10-year-old girls are like truth-seeking missiles. It’s not that they distrust adults, but they’re not babies. They don’t buy everything hook, line, and sinker, so you have to talk to them in a way that’s very truthful. But you also can’t overwhelm them with information they can’t possibly digest yet. 

So going back to your question, we talked to pediatricians, but more importantly, we talked to 10-year-old girls. 

There’s a stigma about any discussion of a reproductive body part being inherently sexual. How do you think The Care and Keeping of You dispelled that myth?

I don’t think the book dispelled the myth, but the book steered a course right down the middle of that discussion. And I think if you want to talk to a girl about getting her period, you really have to talk about reproductive organs. You have to answer the question, “Why do I get a period?” 

In the past 20 years, the book has become a staple for girls of my generation. When I mentioned it, everyone was like, “Oh my god! I remember that!” Why do you think there’s so much nostalgia surrounding The Care and Keeping of You? 

I’m just gonna guess that it has much to do with who you were at that time, and a real affection for that girl. You can look back and go, “Man, I was a sweet-ass 10-year-old!” 

You miss some things about being that age. You’re smart, you’re super-curious, you’re not completely frightened, you’re not overwhelmed by the concerns of the world like an 18- or 19-year-old. My daughters are 18 and 20, and they get, like, choked up about being that girl. 

It arrived at a time in that girl’s life when they’re realizing they’re transitioning to the next stage. 

In this internet age, you can pretty much Google anything. Why do you think that, in this flood of information, the book is still so relevant? 

When you Google things, you don’t have a lot of control over what you receive. Even a 10-year-old knows not to trust everything that’s out there. You might Google something about getting your period and be like “Whoa! Too much information!”

“You might Google something about getting your period and be like ‘Whoa! Too much information!'”

I also think there’s something about the format of the book that’s so private and personal, it’s like the person is talking just to you. This book arrives at a time in your life when you really like to hang out in your bedroom, on your bed, with your friends. There’s something really great about being in a quiet place that’s private with a book that’s talking just to you. 

Right. 

And I think in an age when everything can be handed to you with a mouse, there’s something really nice about that experience. 

Yeah, I totally get that! Do you think it’s dangerous for little kids to be flooded with information that they don’t have context for? 

I don’t know if it’s dangerous, but it’s overwhelming, and way confusing! Even as well-meaning adults, we want to treat young people respectfully, and we think treating them respectfully is giving them as much information as possible. But it’s really important to be age appropriate. Not because we’re trying to hide anything, or we’re trying to be dishonest, but because a 10-year-old doesn’t have the same concerns that a 16-year-old does. 

There are definitely times you can be scarred, your memory becomes seared by something you see that you definitely did not hope to see, but I think it’s mostly just overwhelming. 

A few years ago the book was split up and modified, and the second book includes chapters about tampons and mental health … Can you talk about that process and why there was a decision to divide the books?

When we first wrote The Care and Keeping of You, we were really thinking about a 10-year-old girl. And we said on the back of the book, for girls eight and up. That’s really a readership level, and what we found was that younger and younger girls were reading it. Young girls are super-aspirational. If your older sister’s reading it, then you want to read it too. 

And some of the contents of the book — maybe body image and eating disorders and stuff like that — are really not so appropriate for that younger girl. American Girl thought, we can just make the split and keep The Care and Keeping of You 1 more appropriate for the younger girl, and then in the second book be able to provide more information for that older girl who is asking harder questions. 

The second book was written by an absolutely wonderful Harvard pediatrician named Cara Natterson. She has really built a reputation for knowing how to talk to preteens. 

It’s 2018 now, and updates have been made, but some people have pointed out that the book is still very straight, very cisgender, and very able-bodied. Do you see it being modified to be more inclusive? 

You know, I’ve been thinking about that. 

I remember when I read the book years ago, there were parts like, “Sometimes you might feel this way about a boy!” 

Right, totally! I don’t know if the publisher right now is thinking about revisiting that. As a parent myself, what I would do is explain to my child, “Every book isn’t written, sadly, for every single person. So we’re gonna take what serves us, and take what we can find.” 

My 18-year-old is gay; she’s been out since she was 12, and she considers herself a female-bodied gay person. My conversation with her is, “Look, you’re female-bodied. The information in this book mostly applies to you. Sorry about the area of interest.” 

In my circle of young people I care about, I would buy them The Care and Keeping of You, I would buy them The Body Book for Boys. I would put them both on the shelf and say, “There is fantastic information in both of these books; you should know about them no matter what gender you embody and no matter what kind of person you might be attracted to.” 

I wish we didn’t create such a hard division between what each gendered child should know and understand. But without the references to who you might be interested in, I think the rest of the books really stand. 

For sure. 

If you are a male-bodied child, but you identify as female, most of the information is still going to be useful to you. You’re not gonna get breasts, you’re not gonna bleed, but all the other information about skincare and exercise and how to feel about stuff is going to be the same. If you’re a parent of a child who is not strictly binary, you’re be putting together a custom program for them no matter what. 

In the past 20 years, you’ve raised two girls. Did you read them the books? 

Ha! I wrote the book when I was pregnant with my daughter, so she never knew a world without that book sitting on the bookshelf. But it’s really funny because it doesn’t matter who you are — you could be the person who wrote the book, and your kid does not want to talk to you about it. 

It was on our shelves, and I was like, “Hey gals! Do you want to talk about anything in the book? Do you have any questions?” And they were like, “No, Mom. Thanks. No.” 

My high school sex ed class was pretty comprehensive, but it was really matter-of-fact. It was like, “Here’s a cucumber. Here’s a condom. That’s it. Go. Be free.” But there’s so much nuance involved in sex education that just isn’t discussed, in schools or in general, you know?

I think we do a really poor job of recognizing transitions. There are a lot of cultures where there are specific and beautiful rituals about going from becoming a young girl to becoming a woman. In the U.S., we just do a shitty job, honestly. One of the things we tried to do with the book without getting into like, rites of passage ceremonies — and I know girls whose mothers would have first moon parties which was mostly mortifying —

I was mortified just getting a pack of pads and The Care and Keeping of You. 

Right, right! One of the things we tried to do with the book is to say, “Hey. Girl. This is a moment for you when you are making a transition. You’re going from being a person who relied on your parents to take care of you physically and emotionally, and you are stepping into this new space where you are responsible for you.”

And I hope we did that in a way that is reassuring and empowering, without getting into anything spiritual or cultural. We wanted to say, “We see you! You got this, girl!” 

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/the-care-and-keeping-of-you-interview-sex-ed/

A Deadly Hunt for Hidden Treasure Spawns an Online Mystery

Everybody is searching for something. Paul Ashby’s search began with an unexpected phone call on July 8, 2017. It was a Saturday night in Townsend, Tennessee, a small town just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An affable Army vet with gray hair, a goatee, and wire-frame glasses, Paul worked as a concierge at a rustic event space called the Barn. He was dressed in his usual top hat and coattails that night, greeting guests who were attending a wedding.

Paul had lived in Townsend, off and on, since 1974. In 1990, he separated from his wife and moved with their 4-year-old son, Eric, into a mobile home, then a small hilltop house nearby. He turned the modest two-bedroom home into a hippie retreat, teaching himself to make artisan cheese and hanging a purple sign with his favorite quote by the front door (“There is no path to peace … The path IS peace”). He’d often take his son trekking through the nearby hills and rafting down the Little River.

Paul had raised Eric mostly on his own, struggling to relate to his son’s fascination with computer games and anime. Eric would carry his laptop a quarter mile down the hill to a telephone pole in an attempt to speed up his internet. “He’d be sitting down there at 1 o’clock in the morning,” Paul recalls.

Eric was grown now—31 years old—but still had that headstrong streak. He had recently developed a singular obsession: an epic treasure hunt in the Rocky Mountains devised by an enigmatic art mogul named Forrest Fenn. In 2016, Eric had moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to devote more time to the hunt, which involves deciphering the clues in a cryptic poem, and on June 28, 2017, he told friends he had solved Fenn’s puzzle and was going to retrieve the treasure. Paul didn’t know much about the treasure hunt, but he was happy to hear his son was out hiking and rafting as he had as a boy. That day, Eric posted on Facebook. “I hope today turns out to be the success I’ve hoped for,” he wrote. “Wish me luck.” Ten days later at the Barn, Paul received a call from an unknown number.

“Mr. Ashby?” said a young woman on the other end of the line.

“Yes?” Paul replied.

“Your son is dead. He fell out of a raft and drowned.”

Paul figured his son was up to some kind of joke. “Tell Eric now is not the time to be playing pranks,” Paul replied. “I’m in the middle of a wedding.”

“No, Mr. Ashby, you don’t understand,” the woman said. “Eric is dead.” Then she hung up.

Paul clutched his phone as the wedding party swirled around him in what felt like slow motion. He tried calling the number back but no one answered. When he dialed Eric’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. Who was the unknown caller? Where was his son? And why would Eric risk his life for an eccentric old man’s game?

Part of Forrest Fenn’s art collection.

Daymon Gardner

Forrest Fenn doesn’t own a watch, a cell phone, or a GPS. “I am not ready for the 21st century,” he told me. When I visited him one sunny afternoon last April, he didn’t seem to be much like a man for the 20th century either. He’s 87, with wispy white hair and inquisitive eyes. His favored outfit is blue jeans, a belt with an ornate turquoise buckle, and Hush Puppies shoes. He lives on a couple acres of land in a sprawling home on the Santa Fe Trail. American Indian artifacts and Western curios line his walls: buffalo skulls, arrowheads, moccasins, and original paintings by the masters of the frontier. “Ralph Lauren came here and tried to buy that headdress,” Fenn said, pointing to one in a feathered row hanging in his study. As with most of Fenn’s stories, it’s hard to know what to believe. As he admits in his self-published memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, “one of my natural instincts is to embellish just a little.”

Fenn grew up in Temple, Texas, and still carries the soft twang of the Lone Star State. Though his father was the headmaster of his grade school, he sometimes played hooky, hunting for arrowheads in nearby creek beds. “When the sun was out, the smell of freedom was more than I could resist,” he wrote in his memoir. He spent his summers working as a fishing guide in West Yellowstone, Montana, where his family had a cabin. After graduating from Temple High School in 1947 and marrying his high school sweetheart, Peggy Jean Proctor, he joined the Air Force. He flew hundreds of missions in Vietnam and was twice shot down, earning a Silver Star and Purple Heart.

Fenn returned home on Christmas Eve, 1968, and retired from the Air Force two years later. He had been interested in American Indian artifacts since childhood, and he decided to make himself into an art and antiques dealer. In 1972, using the $12,000 annual stipend he received as retirement pay, Fenn moved his family to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and bought an adobe home, where he turned the ground floor into a gallery. Fenn made up for his lack of experience with a showman’s streak. Noticing that competing galleries took out small black-and-white ads in local newspapers, he spent $3,000 on a full-page color notice in Architectural Digest.

His brash marketing methods worked, and wealthy collectors began visiting his gallery. “I’m a great schmoozer,” he told me. Before long he was among the top-selling art dealers in town, he claims, earning up to $1 million a year. He transformed his modest gallery into a lavish, two-acre homestead featuring three guest houses, a rapturous garden, and a pond containing two alligators named Elvis and Beowulf. Fenn says politicians and celebrities including former president Gerald Ford, Robert Redford, Cher, and Steve Martin made pilgrimages to Santa Fe to purchase his exotic goods and attend his legendary parties. Jackie Onassis once left behind a bottle of brandy, Fenn adds. He offered me a sip from what he claimed was the same 36-year-old bottle: “Shut your eyes and imagine you’re drinking it with her.”

In 1988, at the age of 58, Fenn was given a diagnosis of kidney cancer. Two years earlier, his 81-year-old father, William, was told he had pancreatic cancer, Fenn says. After 18 months, William killed himself by taking 50 sleeping pills, according to his son. “I respected him for having the courage to go out on his own terms,” Fenn recalls. After being racked by chemotherapy and an unsuccessful surgery to remove the cancer, he says, he was given a 20 percent chance of surviving three years. As Fenn tells the tale, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps—but with his own swashbuckling twist. He would fill a treasure chest with gold and jewels, he thought, and carry it to a special place in the Rockies. Then he would swallow a bottle of sleeping pills and die beside his riches. But first, he would write a poem containing clues to the treasure’s location. “Take the chest,” read an early draft of his poem, “but leave my bones.”

The “problem” with the plan, Fenn says, is that he recovered. Over the next several months, then years, he slowly grew stronger, and in 1993 he was declared cancer-free. After being homebound by his disease for years, Fenn was overcome with a renewed appreciation for nature and an urgent sense of purpose. “We need to get off the couch, out of the game room, and away from our electronic gadgets,” he says. He now saw his hunt as a way to entice people into the wild.

Late at night, alone in his artifact-­laden study, he tweaked and revised his poem. Finally, in 2010, long after he first hatched the idea, he was satisfied. He acquired a 10- by 10-inch bronze treasure chest and filled it with emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and gold coins he’d collected over the years at gun shows and auctions. He added two gold nuggets from Alaska, “as large as chicken eggs,” he says, as well as an old Navajo bracelet with 22 prehistoric turquoise disc beads inlaid in silver.

One summer afternoon that year, Fenn drove into the Rockies—for how far and how long, he won’t say—with the chest and the treasure in the trunk of his sedan. He made two trips to his destination. First, he loaded the empty, approximately 20-pound bronze box into a backpack and lugged it into the mountains, breathing heavily. He stashed it in a spot dear to his heart. Then he returned with the gold and jewels and filled the chest. “I was entering into strange territory in my mind,” he recalls. He walked back to his car feeling giddy about what he’d done. “I said in a loud voice, ‘Forrest Fenn, did you really do that?’ ” he says. “No one was around, and I started laughing.”

In the fall of 2010, Fenn commenced the treasure hunt with the publication of The Thrill of the Chase, which includes his completed poem. The 24 lines contain nine clues to the chest’s location, “in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe,” he says.

Fenn originally printed just 1,000 copies of his memoir and stocked them at Collected Works, an indie bookstore in Santa Fe. In 2013, Hemispheres magazine ran a story on his treasure hunt. Soon after, the Today show aired a series on Fenn, and his slim, 150-page book became an overnight sensation. Thousands of buyers from as far as Italy and Ecuador flooded Collected Works’ website. (First prints of The Thrill of the Chase can now fetch more than $750 on Amazon.) Despite Fenn’s intent to lure people away from their devices, his hunt had all the ingredients—a cryptic puzzle, a tantalizing fortune, an intriguing mastermind—to go viral. News coverage followed, from national TV broadcasts and local newspapers throughout the Southwest. What started as one man’s quirky swan song became a real-life Ready Player One.

Fenn achieved Wonka-like status among the self-described Searchers, the online community that cropped up around his legend. Lovers of riddles and outdoor exploration converged to form a dedicated network of blogs, message boards, websites, and Facebook pages devoted to the hunt. Toby Younis, a retired digital media executive who cohosts a Fenn fanatic YouTube show, A Gypsy’s Kiss, says the internet helps them “crowdsolve” the puzzle. Searchers espouse theories in Fenn forums and detail their quests in YouTube testimonials. Dozens of Searchers meet in Santa Fe each June for Fennboree, an annual fanfest.

But despite the hive mind enthusiasm of the Searchers, others grapple with doubts about the truth of Fenn’s tale. They imagine an 80-year-old man—or even a young, healthy person—carrying a bronze chest across his back. What kind of terrain—steep, wooded, rocky—could he traverse without tripping over tree roots and stones? Though a handful of Fenn’s family and friends claim they saw him filling the chest, there’s no way to prove what was inside, let alone what it could be worth. And, barring its discovery, there is no way to prove that he actually hid it. Given the more than 100,000 square miles of mountains where the box could be located, it seems unlikely that even the most intrepid Searchers will find it anytime soon, if ever. Still, over the past eight years, the possibility that the bounty does exist has been enough to spur treasure hunters into the red canyons of the high desert and wild rivers of the Rockies.

Fenn claims he receives more than 100 “treasure emails” from eager seekers every day. He told me that 350,000 people have looked for the treasure, an estimate he bases on his always-full inbox. For devout Fennheads, the appeal isn’t just the money, it’s “matching wits with Forrest,” says 64-year-old Cynthia Meachum, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since retiring from her job as a semiconductor engineer in 2015, she’s devoted her life to looking for Fenn’s treasure, first in a remote valley near Taos, New Mexico, and now near Yellowstone National Park. The hunt tends to attract people with technical backgrounds, Meachum says. “We’re probably the most egotistical group of treasure hunters, because we all think, ‘I use logic every day in my job. I use flowcharts. I use schematics. How hard can this be?’ ” she muses. “Well, none of us have found it.”

Over the years, Fenn’s poem has inspired Talmudic interpretation. One Searcher on the website Fenn Clues posits that, based on the first line, “We are almost surely looking for a location that satisfies ‘alone.’ So, a Solitary Geyser or a Lone Indian Peak would fit the bill.” Other determinations are more arcane. A Searcher nicknamed the White Knight insists the “blaze” in the 13th line refers to a turtle-shaped tattoo on the chest of a character in Marvel’s illustrated version of the 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans. How that translates to the modern-day landscape is unclear.

Since publishing his treasure riddle in 2010, Forrest Fenn has doled out about a dozen additional hints in interviews, books, and TV appearances.

Though Fenn occasionally stokes the frenzy with interviews, he regards online sleuthing as unnecessary. “There is no reason for anyone to use the internet or social media when going to search for the treasure,” Fenn told me. “All they need is a map, a plan, good health, and a buddy to go along for safety reasons.”

Perhaps inevitably, determined Searchers have disregarded his advice. In January 2016, Randy Bilyeu, a 54-year-old man from Broomfield, Colorado, disappeared with a raft while hunting for the treasure near Cochiti Lake in New Mexico. The news devastated the Searchers, who, for the first time, had lost one of their own. Bilyeu was embedded in the Fenn community: He was friendly with Dal Neitzel, who runs one of the most visited Fenn treasure websites, and he once met Fenn at a book signing in Santa Fe. Disturbed by the news, Fenn paid for a helicopter to carry a search party. Six months later, Bilyeu’s remains were found on the banks of the river.

In June 2017, Jeff Murphy, an alleged Searcher from Batavia, Illinois, died of an apparent fall near the 7,000-foot Turkey Pen Peak in Yellowstone National Park. The same month, Paris Wallace, a pastor from Grand Junction, Colorado, died near the Rio Grande. The deaths have only garnered more publicity for the treasure hunt, spurring stories by Nightline, The New York Times, CBS News, and others.

The Searchers aren’t the only ones at risk. Fenn and his family have found strangers digging in his backyard for the treasure, he says. One woman wandered up the driveway to pray. In April 2017, Fenn sought a restraining order against a 55-year-old Texan who showed up at his home taking photos.

Despite all this, Fenn insists it would be wrong to halt the hunt. “If I called off the search, what would I say to the 350,000 people who have had wonderful experiences hiking in the mountains with no ill effects except but a few mosquito bites?” he says. “An average of 12 people die each year at the Grand Canyon. There is a risk in nearly everything we do.”

Paul Ashby in the former bedroom of his son, Eric, at his home in Townsend, Tennessee.

Daymon Gardner

After graduating from high school, Eric Ashby started cooking in restaurant kitchens around Townsend, nursing dreams of becoming a professional chef. With a wave of dark hair, mischievous eyes, and a ready laugh, he made friends easily. He never had much money, according to Heather Britt, a friend of his, but he didn’t seem to care about material things.

Then, in 2014, a motorcycle accident left Eric with a gangrenous leg. He told his dad that a doctor prescribed him oxycodone for the pain, and he got hooked. Though Eric fully recovered from the accident, “he couldn’t get away from the pills,” Paul recalls. Later, Eric took a swing at a plainclothes police officer who had pulled him over. He was convicted of assault and sentenced to seven years’ probation.

Eric first heard about Fenn’s treasure hunt in early 2016. He immediately geeked out over the riddle. As a child, Eric had immersed himself in fantasy books and sci-fi shows like The X-Files, and Fenn’s puzzle had a similar allure. Tempted by the mystery and still struggling to overcome his oxy habit, in April 2016 Eric moved to Colorado Springs, where he had some friends. He knew he was violating his probation but thought that if he stayed in Townsend he’d end up back in jail anyway.

The change of scenery was just what he needed. He kicked the pills, his friends say, and found a job as a server at Edelweiss, a kitschy German restaurant. He lived in his car for a while to save money and started dating Jamie Longworth, a local medical marijuana grower.

Eric Ashby

By early 2017 Eric had become consumed by Fenn’s treasure hunt, talking about it incessantly. He often stayed up late after waiting tables, smoking weed and compiling clues on his laptop. He tracked possible locations for the treasure on maps, homing in on Royal Gorge Park an hour away. Often he’d call Longworth to tell her how close he was to decoding Fenn’s clues. Eric wasn’t driven by money, she says. He enjoyed the intellectual puzzle of it all. “He was one of the smartest guys I ever met,” Longworth recalls. “He would say his goal in life was to be fascinated by a blade of grass.”

One day last spring, Eric met up with a group of friends and declared, “I know where Forrest Fenn’s treasure is,” says David Gambrell, who was there that day. According to Longworth, he believed the area where the “warm waters halt,” as the poem describes, was the Arkansas River. He connected another clue, “put in below the house of Brown,” to the home of a local physician, Dr. Brown, who had lived in the Gorge. And he deduced that the “blaze” Fenn cites referred to a fire that had happened nearby. When Eric described the precise location—nearly 60 miles southwest of Colorado Springs near Sunshine Falls, along the Arkansas River—Gambrell’s gut tightened. He urged Eric to take precautions. “Make sure somebody’s with you,” Gambrell told him. Eric replied that he’d already made a few trips to that area, but bad weather and high waters had prevented him from reaching his destination. When he told Longworth where he was headed, she urged him to reconsider. “I was completely convinced it was unsafe,” she recalls. “I didn’t want him going.” On June 28, Eric went anyway.

Ten days later, Paul received the anonymous call while he was greeting wedding guests. When he couldn’t reach his son, he called the Fremont County sheriff’s office in Colorado Springs. They told him there had been a reported drowning, but no body had been found, so they couldn’t identify the victim. A few days later, he was contacted by detective Sterling Jenkins, a stocky, goateed officer who specialized in marijuana enforcement. Jenkins couldn’t find a missing person report for Eric Ashby. It wasn’t unheard of for people to vanish in the rivers and mountains around Colorado Springs, but it was unusual for the disappearance not to be reported. Paul later told Jenkins that he believed his son had been out searching for Fenn’s treasure, but the detective had never heard of the hunt. “I didn’t know if it was an accident,” Jenkins says. “I didn’t know if it was foul play. It could be a hoax.” The detective vowed to find out what had happened.

Paul Ashby holds a copy of the contract drawn up by his son on the day he disappeared. The document stipulates that Eric will split the treasure among those hunting with him, should it be found.

Daymon Gardner

Word of Eric’s disappearance soon spread across Searcher blogs and message boards. But unlike Bilyeu, who had attended Fenn book events and was immersed in the Searcher community, Eric was unknown to other treasure hunters. Though he had spent hours poring over their theories and tips, Eric wasn’t an active participant in Searcher forums. He rarely shared his hunches online, and he often went treasure hunting alone. As details about Eric’s checkered past emerged, some in the close-knit Searcher network viewed Eric’s disappearance with skepticism. One faction pushed to distance the Fenn community from Eric’s case, arguing that his rumored drug use would cast the hunt in a negative light. Others questioned whether Eric was looking for Fenn’s treasure at all when he went missing. When I asked Neitzel about Eric’s case, he bristled and refused to answer. “Let’s move on,” he said gruffly. Eric, they seemed to say, wasn’t one of them.

Without the aid of the Searchers, Eric’s friends and extended family dissected Fenn forums and Facebook pages for possible clues that might lead to him. “We called ourselves the Investigators,” recalls Britt, his friend from Townsend.

Lisa Albritton, Eric’s half-sister on his mother’s side, led the family’s efforts from her home in Largo, Florida. Though she and Eric had grown up in different states, she in Florida and he in Tennessee, the siblings were in touch often.

In truth, it didn’t take long to find out what had happened to Eric. Shortly after Paul received his mysterious phone call, Albritton went to Eric’s Facebook page and posted a query on the growing thread of comments from Eric’s concerned friends: “Does anybody know the names of the people my brother was with?” she wrote. “Please feel free to message me, add me, I don’t care I just need answers.”

A friend of Eric’s in Colorado Springs quickly replied with a profile picture of a smiling, twentysomething woman with shoulder-length blond hair, dark eyebrows, and a fashionably shredded pink shirt, along with a name: Becca Nies. “Can somebody tell me what role she plays in this?” Albritton replied. Longworth offered an answer: “She was with him, as well as her boyfriend Jimi Booker, when he ‘drowned,’ ” she posted. She then provided a screenshot of a Facebook message that Nies, who had worked with Eric at Edelweiss, had sent her on Saturday, July 8, just hours after Paul got his mystery call, and 10 days after Eric had gone missing.

Nies said that she was with Eric and three of her friends that day. “On wednesday june 28th,” Nies wrote, “we went on that treasure hunt. Eric drowned in the river unfortunately. Im sorry to tell you like this, you deserve to know.… Very sorry.”

“If I called off the search, what would I say to the 350,000 people who have had wonderful experiences hiking in the mountains with no ill effects except but a few mosquito bites?”

The note from Nies should have put an end to the sleuthing, but it only seemed to spark new clues and paths to investigate. “How does she know he drowned if he hasn’t been found?” one of Eric’s friends replied on the Facebook page. “Sounds like some bs to me,” offered another. The police weren’t giving any information, and Eric’s body had not been found. In that vacuum, and in the heated detective atmosphere of the treasure hunt, rumors flew: It was a fight that landed Eric in the water, a scheme to steal the treasure from Eric and leave him behind.

The most vexing question remained: If four people had watched a man disappear underwater, why did they wait 10 days to tell anyone? That delay stoked its own conspiracies. “Something strange is going on it seems like with no one wanting to talk to anyone!!” one Investigator posted. “They really aren’t gonna like it when a bunch of people from Tennessee show up on their door step!!!”

“Exactly!” Britt replied, “And that’s what it’s gonna take!”

That July, Albritton launched a GoFundMe page hoping to raise money to drive to Colorado. Eric’s family continued to check in with Jenkins, but as far as Albritton could tell, the sheriff’s office was making little progress. She pleaded for help in finding her brother. To her surprise, she received $3,500 from a single donor: Forrest Fenn. Word about Eric’s disappearance had spread across Searcher blogs and message boards, eventually reaching the Wizard of Oz himself in Santa Fe.

Albritton and a cousin made the drive from Florida to Colorado in four days. They arrived in Colorado Springs and checked in to a hotel. Days later, they went to Nies’ apartment. Eric’s red Mercury Cougar was still out front, where he left it the day he disappeared. Albritton cued up Facebook Live as she approached the car, video streaming—just in case anything happened. “We’re going in the car, and I’m just going to try to grab everything I can,” she narrated, her voice tense. In the back seat, Albritton found her brother’s backpack. Heart pounding, she grabbed it and sprinted back to their car.

Back at their hotel, Albritton dumped out the contents of Eric’s bag: some moldy sandwiches, two cell phones, and a notebook. When she flipped the book open, she found a handwritten contract between Eric, Nies, and her friends agreeing to share whatever treasure they might find—51 percent for Eric and 49 percent to be split among the others. Albritton held the contract with a shaky hand. “Eric Ashby will be the executor of the selling and distribution (documented) of assets regarding said Quest,” the contract read. There was nothing treacherous in the document itself, but stoked by the hours she’d spent unspooling conspiracy theories among Investigators online, her mind reeled: Had there been a plot to kill her brother and steal the treasure? She reported what she had found to the Colorado Springs detectives.

Alarmed, Paul flew to Colorado Springs to search for answers. He met with Jenkins, who took him out to the spot on the Arkansas River where Eric had last been seen. Jenkins told him that two photographers had been taking pictures of whitewater rafters that day and called 911 after witnessing a possible drowning. But there was no way of knowing if the person had been Eric—the victim was unidentified and no body had been found. The people who were with him had been questioned, but Jenkins had not yet reached any conclusions. Desperate and sleepless, Paul called his brother, an Army specialist, for advice. If no one else could find his son, then Paul wanted to search the rapids himself.

“Can we go get him out of the river?” he asked.

“Paul, don’t even bother,” his brother said, “If the river is ready, the river will give him back to you.”

On the Arkansas River near Sunshine Falls—where Eric was last seen—the rapids are unpredictable.

Daymon Gardner

On July 28, a body was discovered by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer several miles down the Arkansas River. A Fremont County coroner later identified the victim as Eric Ashby.

After several weeks of investigating—questioning Nies and her friends Jimi Booker and Anthony Mahone, as well as the two photographers who had witnessed the incident—Jenkins and his team pieced together what had happened that day in June. Eric had driven to Nies’ apartment, where the group drew up a handwritten contract. They set off toward the river in an old green Jaguar sedan, stopping along the way to buy a cheap, two-person raft. They wound along mountain roads to a parking lot near Royal Gorge Park, where a suspension bridge hovers nearly 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River.

Eric led the group a few hundred yards through piñon pines to the edge of Sunshine Falls, a churning, boulder-strewn section of the river. As they watched rafts of tourists careen by, Booker told Jenkins, the current roared higher and faster than they had expected. Sunshine Falls is known for violent Class IV-V rapids, powerful enough to hurl rafters into the choppy water. Eric, who said he had been to the same spot on previous excursions, assured the others that it was still passable. “When he saw the river, he seemed OK with it,” Booker told me on Facebook Messenger, but “he said he had almost died on this hunt before.” (Nies and Mahone did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.)

Eric told them he believed the treasure was on the other side of the river. He planned to float across in the raft, retrieve the box, and bring it back. Despite his insistence that he had plenty of experience whitewater rafting, Eric had taken no helmet or life vest. He tied one end of a rope around his body and gave the other end to his companions on the river’s shore. “We weren’t prepared,” Booker told me later. “We had seen whole teams of rafters ride by with maybe six or seven people on large rafts, and they were still having a hard time riding the current with a professional guiding them.”

“They’re absolutely negligent. A life was lost. People watched it happen.”

Midway across the river, Eric’s flimsy raft started pitching uncontrollably in the froth, and he fell into the rapids. (Nies and Booker told the sheriff’s office he jumped out of the raft.) The rope slipped free from his waist as he was swept away in the fast-moving current. He attempted to make it to the other side but plunged underwater. When he hit the next set of rapids, known as the Sledgehammer, he went under again. This time he emerged facedown. He was carried away by the current.

From their post a short way downstream, the photographers looked on in horror as the body floated by. They frantically called 911 for help. Booker claimed that he and his friends searched along the shore of the river for half an hour, but the water was too violent. They returned to their car and drove away without waiting for the police to arrive. One of the photographers later told the police that he was troubled by the witnesses’ behavior, given the circumstances. “He told me it appeared as though they were not concerned with the unknown male’s well-being and had not bothered to attempt to assist the individual when he was in the river,” deputy Jeffery Moore wrote in his report.

Booker told me they took off because they knew the photographers had already called for help and felt there was nothing they could do. “I felt so powerless that it kills me inside,” he wrote me, “because my natural instinct would have been to jump in that water, but I know I wouldn’t have made it.”

Nies told Jenkins that she knew Eric had left Tennessee while on probation and didn’t report his disappearance to the authorities because she didn’t want to get him in trouble with the law. She said she wasn’t sure whether Eric was dead or alive. But by not giving the sheriff’s office Eric’s name, no one—including his family and friends—had known what had happened to him. “They’re absolutely negligent,” Jenkins says. “A life was lost. People watched it happen.”

On a rainy weekend in March, I attended an event for Eric at the Barn in Townsend, where Paul still works as a concierge. Paul had his son’s body cremated and brought back to the hills of Tennessee. Pictures of Eric hiking and cooking lined a table alongside a box bearing his cremains. Local country singers performed ballads on the small stage.

Now Eric’s family wants to make sure such negligence doesn’t happen again. They’re working with Colorado and Tennessee legislators to pass Eric’s Law, a “duty to report” mandate that requires any witness who sees someone’s life in danger to notify 911. Paul hopes the law ensures that “no one walks away,” he says.

He originally blamed Fenn for Eric’s death. “I wanted to see him hung out to dry,” he says. He’s since made his peace. Jenkins places responsibility on the Searchers. “As an adult,” he says, “if you make a decision to look for this treasure, you need to be prepared.”

When I talked to Fenn, he had distanced himself from Eric’s death. “I told myself that he was on drugs and had nothing to do with the treasure,” Fenn says. He continues to encourage the treasure hunt. In a recent interview with a blog called Mysterious Writings, Fenn wrote that his “gut feeling is that someone will find it this summer.” In fact, he reveals, a Searcher recently came within 200 feet of it. “Someone told me exactly where they were,” he tells me, “and I knew they were close.” He declines to say more, wary of tipping off the Searcher. His prediction, of course, will likely only spur more Searchers to return to the wild.

With each new death, the stakes of the search grow higher. Fenn continues to urge his followers to avoid putting themselves in life-threatening situations. (After all, he cautions, he was already 80 years old when he hid the treasure; there’s no need to assume feats of endurance.) This summer, thousands will take to the Rockies’ tributaries and trails, racing to glimpse the glint of a bronze chest in the wilderness. If it is discovered, many Searchers admit, it won’t just be the lost fortune they’ll miss—it will be the lure of adventure, the misfit community, the promise of the unknown around every bend.


David Kushner’s latest book, Rise of the Dungeon Master, is based on his profile of Dungeons & Dragons cocreator Gary Gygax in issue 16.03.

This article appears in the August issue. Subscribe now.

Listen to this story, and other WIRED features, on the Audm app.


More Great WIRED Stories

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/forrest-fenn-treasure-online-mystery/

Here’s the technology behind those mesmerizing drone light shows

Alex Jones believes Democrats planned "civil unrest" for the Fourth of July. Maybe he's thinking of fireworks.
Image: Getty Images

Where will you be on the Fourth of July? 

Alex Jones thinks Americans will be fighting in a vicious battle over avocados and soy milk. The often disgraced conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed “performance artist” claimed that Democrats are planning to launch a civil war on Independence Day in a tweet on Monday. 

In the video Jones posted, he ranted that “establishment publications” that communicate with the government instead of the general public “began to develop a plan” using civil unrest and “racial strife” in order to “force Trump out.” 

OK, Alex. Maybe he misinterpreted the annual fireworks displays as “civil unrest.” 

But his attempt at riling up the public was turned into a patriotic meme as Twitter users imagined where they would be if a second civil war broke out. 

Twitter users responded withthe hashtag  #SecondCivilWarLetters, joking about battling incels and searching for Starbucks safe houses.

Like the correspondence between soldiers and their loved ones during the “first” American Civil War, Twitter users kept their spouses and family members posted with updates from the front lines of battle. 

It seems like everyone’s running away to Canada.

The leftist battalions also made fun of the alt-right’s fondness for tiki torches, which is just about as intimidating as their khakis.

War is rough, everyone. Where are the avocados??

They did it to own the libs, obviously.

It’s all quiet on the far right front. 

In the video he released with his tweet, Jones actually admitted: “I’m not that smart!” 

“How did you know they were planning a civil war,” Jones asked nobody in particular, before claiming that news organizations have been planning this “civil war” all along. “I told you! I’m not that smart!” 

So no worries, you won’t have to fight through Chick-Fil-A on the Fourth of July. Alex Jones himself said he isn’t that smart. 

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/07/03/second-civil-war-letters-alex-jones-conspiracy/

Jokes aside, here are the 6 Michelle Wolf quotes from the WHCD we should be talking about.

Comedian, screenwriter, and activist Michelle Wolf hosted the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. And, well, she didn’t hold back.

Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Netflix.

The dinner hosts journalists, comedians, and politicians from around the nation. The president is usually in the audience, but Donald Trump opted not to attend for the second year in a row.

The impressive, raunchy, and downright unapologetic Wolf used the momentous opportunity to mesh comedy and reality to shed a light on the serious, problematic situations happening in America right now. Many pundits have referred to her performance as “controversial,” and it’s become the talk of American media.

Some people were genuinely amused.

Others — not so much.

Many pointed out the hypocrisy of the controversy.

And Wolf? Well, she took it all in stride.

Whether your liked Wolf’s jokes or not, there’s no doubt that she spoke a lot of truth and sparked some deep thoughts about very real things taking place right now. Here were some of the most poignant issues she pointed out:

1. Congress can take forever to accomplish things.

“Just a reminder to everyone. I’m here to make jokes. I have no agenda. I’m not trying to get anything accomplished, so everyone that’s here from Congress, you should feel right at home.”

American government, particularly Congress, has long been criticized for failure to pass commonsense laws, move away from corruption and greed in the system, and foster a bipartisan government that functions successfully. In the past few months, those struggles have largely been amplified as Americans continue to grow weary with their congresspeople.

Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Netflix.

2. White male privilege is a real thing when it comes to sexual assault.

“I would drag him here myself, but it turns out the president of the United States is the one pussy you’re not allowed to grab.”

When a recording of Trump boasting about grabbing women by their vaginas went viral, most assumed he was no longer a viable candidate.

But, alas, “locker room talk” seemed to not matter to a large number of voters. Even as disturbing allegations continue to emerge about Trump’s sexual misconduct, he has remained relatively unscathed. He still sits in the most powerful office with no signs of being removed for his actions.

3. The media’s role in putting Trump where he is — and keeping him there.

“He has helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you are profiting from him.”

The media — from both sides of the political spectrum — played a huge role in letting Trump and his accompanying racist, misogynistic behavior get this far. Though complicated, media and the organizations that help circulate media directly and indirectly played large roles in the outcome of the 2016 election and the current state of affairs. Journalists have a responsibility to deliver credible, valuable information, and Wolf’s dig was a poignant reminder of that.

Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Netflix.

4. Roy Moore’s underage (and non-criminalized) sexual crimes exist.

“I’m 32, which is a weird age — 10 years too young to host this event and 20 years too old for Roy Moore.”

Roy Moore served as a chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. He was also the Republican nominee in the 2017 special election in Alabama to fill Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat, a race he lost to candidate Doug Jones after allegations surfaced of sexual assault against underage women. Still supported by a vast majority of the GOP, Moore managed to be a contending candidate and only lost by a small margin — a confusing fact considering some of his constituents’ avowed dedication to “family values.”

Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Netflix.

5. The absurd argument to arm teachers instead of giving them the actual teaching tools they need.

“He wants to give teachers guns, and I support that because then they can sell them for things they need like supplies.”

Teachers have been protesting for weeks all across the United States. Decades-old books, desks that are falling apart, and the inability to afford school supplies for hundreds of students are just some of the issues that underpaid teachers face across the country. Instead of working to create additional funding to address these issues, the Trump administration used the Parkland school shooting as a call for arming teachers with guns. It’s ludicrous, it’s frustrating, and it flies in the face of the legitimate concerns teachers have been voicing for years.

6. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is still happening.

“Flint still doesn’t have clean water.”

In a mic-dropping moment, Wolf wrapped up her remarks declaring that Flint still doesn’t have clean water. A city filled predominantly with people of color, Flint continues to struggle with a water crisis. Lead contamination in the water there began four years ago, but the corroded pipes won’t be fully replaced until at least 2020 — and the government has ceased the bottled water program that many people there were relying on.

Wolf’s remarks were bold, wild, and shockingly on-point. Regardless of what you think of her delivery, she spoke candidly about things we should all think a bit more about.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/jokes-aside-here-are-the-6-michelle-wolf-quotes-from-the-whcd-we-should-be-talking-about

Blade Runner 2049 review a gigantic spectacle of pure hallucinatory craziness

Ryan Gosling plays an LAPD officer heading for an encounter with Harrison Fords Deckard in a film whose sheer scale leaves you hyperventilating

With this visually staggering film, director Denis Villeneuve brings us to a kind of Ozymandias moment. It just has to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. Blade Runner 2049 is a narcotic spectacle of eerie and pitiless vastness, by turns satirical, tragic and romantic.

This is the sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic, directed by Ridley Scott and based on Philip K Dicks novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, starring Harrison Ford as a blade runner, a futureworld cop whose job is to track down and kill disobedient almost-human androids known as replicants. The 2017 follow-up simply couldnt be any more of a triumph: a stunning enlargement and improvement.

Its mind-boggling, cortex-wobbling, craniofacial-splintering images are there to trigger awe or even a kind of ecstatic despair at the idea of a post-human future, and what it means to imagine the wreck of our current form of homo sapiens. Evolution has not finished yet, any more than it was finished 100,000 years ago. As so often in literature and cinema, we are reminded that science fiction is there to tackle big ideas, and makes realist genres look flimsy and parochial. This film delivers pure hallucinatory craziness that leaves you hyperventilating.

Blade Runner 2049 is co-scripted by the original screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, and riffs on the first film. There are poignant theme-variations on memory and crying in the rain and a cityscape full of signs in different languages (Russian, Japanese, Hindi, Korean), ghostly VR advertising avatars and flashing corporate logos, playfully including the obsolete PanAm.

It alludes to films the first Blade Runner helped inspire, such as Camerons The Terminator, Spielbergs AI Artificial Intelligence, Nolans The Dark Knight, Andrew Stantons WALL-E and Spike Jonzes Her. The references reach further back also, to the Kubrickian hotel-bar and spaceship, and to the desolate final moments of Planet of the Apes. You could call that ancestor-worship, were it not that the franchise already deserves its own ancestor status. In fact, the sequel slightly de-emphasises the first films intimate, downbeat noir qualities in favour of something more gigantic and monolithic, preserving Ridley Scotts massively controlled andante tempo. Yet there is something so sinuous and manoeuvrable about the drama, and its CGI rendering is like nothing Ive ever seen.

Dangerous
Dangerous mission Ryan Gosling as the LAPD officer K. Photograph: Stephen Vaughan/AP

The setting is Los Angeles, 30 years on from the first films 2019 setting. The corporation that once manufactured the replicants, whose spartacist uprising was the original theme, has been bought out by an agribusiness empire owned by one Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), a grotesque figure brooding on how to create replicant-workers on a scale sufficient for his imperial plans. Ryan Gosling plays LAPD officer K, a limited-lifespan replicant whose task is to track down and destroy those first-gen models who can live as long as humans, and are still illegally hiding out. K has a gorgeous virtual-reality live-in girlfriend, quibblingly named Joi (Ana De Armas), with whom he believes himself to be in love, though he understands that both she and he are constructed artefacts.

After making a sensational discovery, K embarks on a dangerous mission, and both his LAPD boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) and Wallace himself are very interested in what he might discover. Wallace despatches his deadpan assistant, named Luv and superbly played by Sylvia Hoeks, with an utterly unnerving habit of crying when her face appears to show no human emotion at all. It is all leading to a mysterious, Freudian encounter with Rick Deckard himself, the outsider cop from the first film, played with haggard misanthropy by Harrison Ford.

Haggard
Haggard misanthropy Harrison Ford returns as Deckard. Photograph: YouTube

The sheer electric strangeness of everything that happens is what registers. Every time K finishes a mission, he is taken to an interrogation module to be what? Debriefed? Decompressed? Deconstructed? He is subjected to a fierce kind of call-and-response dialogue in which he has to respond to key words such as cells to see if his humanoid/android identity balance is out of whack. It is utterly bizarre, and yet entirely compelling, and persuasively normal in this alienated universe. Ks aerial journeys in his battered, government-issue squadcar-miniplane are similarly enthralling, and a scene in which he is brought down over a gigantic rubbish dump in San Diego by a low-tech harpoon gun is one of the most exciting action-movie scenes imaginable.

The production design by Dennis Gasner and cinematography by Roger Deakins are both delectable, and the largely electronic musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer provides a kind of aural neon: gaunt, harsh, angular, like the noise of machinery. Its an incredible lucid dream. Weirdly, I had forgotten about one of the little-discussed pleasures of the big screen: the simple effect of dialogue, echoing in a movie theatre. This films scale is extraordinary. It places the acid tab of cinema-pleasure on your tongue.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/sep/29/blade-runner-2049-review-ryan-gosling-harrison-ford-denis-villeneuve

Are music festivals doing enough to tackle sexual assault?

Reports of rape and other attacks are on the rise but, from grassroots groups to industry efforts, measures are being undertaken to keep attendees safe

Festival season is a time of joy, sunburn and sloshing about in muddy fields. However, this booming industry which attracts millions of attendees each year and contributed to the 4bn revenues generated by the UKs live music industry in 2016 has a dark side. From family-oriented Latitude to the largely tweenage V festival, few British festivals seem to be immune from allegations of rape and sexual assault. Between 2014 and 2016, eight sexual assaults were reported at Reading festival, a post-GCSE venue for many teens. In 2013, a male nurse was convicted of attacking two women in the medical tent at Wilderness. Just last week, police announced that inquiries continue regarding a sexual assault on a bridge close to Glastonburys Silver Hayes dance field, and an alleged assault by a security guard at London one-dayer Lovebox has also been well publicised.

While many attacks happen out of the way of the main arenas of such events, others occur in the thick of the festival; in 2011, a 15-year-old alleged that she had been raped close to the main stage of Bestival on the Isle of Wight. I was also at the festival that year, and while thankfully I had a safe trip, I was flashed as I exited a toilet, again close to the main stage. Along with more serious cases, the incident compounded my fear that maybe festivals werent the safe, escapist realms I had hoped they were.

It is not an issue exclusive to Britain, either; earlier this month, news outlets around the world reported on a spate of sexual violence at Swedens largest festival, Brvalla, which has been cancelled for next year after allegations of four rapes and 23 related attacks. In response, the comedian Emma Knyckare announced her intention to hold a man-free rock festival. Answering her critics, who claimed that this amounted to anti-male discrimination, Knyckare told the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet that since it seems to be OK to discriminate against women all the time, maybe its OK to shut out men for three days?

But is banning men from festivals really the way to deal with things? This is a question I put to Fiona Stewart, the managing director and owner of the Brecon Beacons-based Green Man festival. As the countrys only female festival-owner, Stewart has had to find her place within a male-dominated industry over the years, first heading up the Big Chill. Womens safety is a subject she feels strongly about. Im not really into any kind of exclusive situation anywhere, Stewart says of Knyckares plan, before adding that she does understand how that specific case may have necessitated a more hardline approach. I would be sympathetic to the people whove created that [rule], because they must feel under tremendous pressure.

Fiona
Fiona Stewart, the owner of Green Man festival. Photograph: Sarah Brimley

As for security at her own festival, Stewart oversees the whole operation, carefully choosing who will work on the ground from a number of different organisations. Green Man has got quite a gentle reputation, but with anything like this its actually pretty robust and vigorous. We have a very proactive attitude towards assault, she says. Its not a reactive thing. She assures me that if I were to find myself alone at the festival at 2am, there would be lighting, security points and stewards within easy reach. Whether as a result of her measures or happy coincidence, reported assaults at Green Man are virtually nil.

If Stewart represents an industry view, then Girls Against is very much the voice of grassroots efforts. The group which campaigns on and offline for increased festival and gig safety comprises teenage girls from across the UK, such as Bea Bennister, who has just finished her A-levels. She tells me the groups most important endeavour since forming in 2015 was being a part of the Safer Spaces Campaign, run by the Association for Independent Festivals (AIF) and launched this May. As part of the initiative, Girls Against helped them to instigate a 24-hour blackout on festivals websites and social media to raise awareness of sexual assault, as well as implementing a new safety charter (its tenets: Zero Tolerance to Sexual Assault. Hands Off Unless Consent. Dont Be a Bystander). Among the signatories were Bestival, Secret Garden Party, Boomtown Fair and End of the Road.

While it was a project that caught the medias attention, Bennister is focused not just on prevention but also on what to do once someone has been the victim of an attack, adding that she finds it increasingly important that we continue to work as a support system to help victims and guide them in their next steps after an assault.

Glastonbury festival offered only a brief response to my questions on its strategies for preventing any attacks, directing me to a webpage where the advice was limited to keep with friends and avoid dark areas. But the festival drew praise this year for helping someone find their feet again after an assault. In a blogpost that racked up thousands of shares on Twitter, entitled An open letter to Glastonbury, from a victim, Laura Whitehurst detailed how the organisers of the festival had helped her to attend this years edition, after she was sexually assaulted by people she had planned to go with. As well as making special arrangements for her travel and camping, she was also given a letter that allowed her access to extra help from security if required. Ending her letter of thanks, she said that the organisers had made me feel like a survivor again.

More
More security training could be one of the solutions. Photograph: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Although cases such as this and the AIF campaign are moves in the right direction, there is still more to be done. There is definitely room for improvement, says Bennister. It is clear that proper security training needs to be the big push, but it is increasingly difficult to contact these companies, let alone get them to agree to more training. I think festival organisers are unsure what to suggest, so stay with friends and move if you feel uncomfortable are common solutions that may not be helpful in all situations.

As for Stewart, she stresses that everyone has their part to play in making sure festivals are safe environments, founded on a culture of respect. I dont see this as a male or female issue issue, I see this as a human issue.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/25/music-festivals-sexual-assault-rape-safe

Jane Austen teen author before her time

Far from being the epitome of genteel propriety, her earliest fiction reveals an anarchic spirit with a disdain for authority to match any modern adolescent

Teenagers had not yet been invented in the late 1780s, when the young Jane Austen began her authorial career. But the people she chose to write about in her earliest known fiction display all the classic traits of modern adolescents on the loose: showing off, binge drinking, stealing, violence, hysteria. There are intense friendships, wild love affairs and, not infrequently, utter contempt for the older generation.

Austens Victorian biographers preferred to date her career from the appearance of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, when she was 35. They shaped the image of her as a cheerful, if pious and solitary, writer who penned her works quietly and covertly at home under the pseudonym A Lady.

But such an image is startlingly at odds with the riotous crime scene that is Austens teenage writing, produced to be enjoyed and performed by close family and friends. The early works remain to this day somewhat under the radar even of her biggest fans, partly because the first substantial collection did not appear in print until 1922, more than a century after her death.

You can see why they might have been an embarrassment to Austens family; at first glance, these tales have little in common with her elegant later fiction. One heroine, Anna Parker, coolly announces in a letter to her friend that, having murdered her father and mother: I am now going to murder my Sister. All the characters are essentially motiveless: they feast, kill, insult and charge across estates and countryside with seeming impunity, armed with a stock of blithe compliments and self-regard (which is, often, enough to get away with anything).

The young Jane did not entrust her secret crushes or private longings to a diary (as far as we know). Rather, her supremely confident early writings are directed outwards, narrating either an excess of action or the complete absence of it. We are told of the alcoholic hero of Jack and Alice, who doesnt appear in the story, that he never did anything worth mentioning. Another story announces, in passing, that tragedy is not worth reading. Theyre cartoonish and full of in-jokes; written by an author already anticipating the enjoyment of her friends and family.

There are many references to the pulp fiction that was then devoured by the whole Austen clan and most likely by the male teenage boarders living with them, pupils of the cash-strapped Reverend George Austen. The young Jane joyously adopted its extravagances, cliches and improbabilities, using names like Laurina, Polydore and Jezalinda (her adult fiction restricts itself to solidly English names like George, Emma and Anne). There are bold sentiments, such as: It is my greatest boast that I have incurred the Displeasure of my Father! There are lurching coincidences of plot: Oh Heavens, (exclaimed I) is it possible that I should so unexpectedly be surrounded by my nearest Relations and Connections? These frantic mini-novels reveal how Austen used the genre fiction of her day to train herself in the parts and rules of novel writing: do characters need to be believable? Do their actions need motives? How unhinged and random can action be and still make sense?

Schoolroom textbooks, another target, are dissected to expose the woeful limitations of education for girls at the time: a little geography, history and advice on household management. The spoof History of England, By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian is remarkable for its understanding of the notion that all history is interpreted, and written from bias of some kind. Austen was just 15 when she wrote the stories, following geographically ignorant characters on crazy journeys from Bedfordshire to Middlesex via south Wales. With their narcissistic disregard for moral codes, her characters reject the manuals of instruction that were the staple of girls education at the time. The young Jane was leading a battalion of unruly teenage girls in open contention with the models of the Georgian classroom.

Austen was a teenager in the same years that Mary Wollstonecraft was linking female education to the pressing need for political reform. In her 1792 story Kitty, or the Bower, the 16-year-old Jane wrote about social and sexual politics with a candour she would never again match. Kitty Peterson, her young heroine, could easily be mistaken for Wollstonecraft herself in full flow: But do you call it lucky, for a Girl of Genius & Feeling to be sent in quest of a Husband to Bengal, to be married there to a Man of whose Disposition she has no opportunity of judging till her Judgement is of no use to her, who may be a Tyrant, or a Fool or both for what she knows to the Contrary. Do you call that fortunate?

The clever, funny stories that make up the teenage writings are a dramatic counter to the disciplined, psychological realism that Austen developed in her adult fiction. But traces of their freakishness and wit survive: in Sense and Sensibility, when Elinor Dashwood requests a stiff drink in the face of her sister Mariannes hysterics (If you will give me leave, I will drink the wine myself); or in Elizabeth Bennets unladylike energy in Pride and Prejudice, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles on her way to Netherfield Park. It is at such moments that the voice of a young troublemaker returns to make herself heard.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/18/jane-austen-teen-author-before-her-time

World’s most prolific Star Wars collector appeals to fans after ‘devastating’ theft

Steve Sansweet, owner of Rancho Obi-Wan in California, asks collectors and fans to help recover items allegedly stolen by his friend of 20 years

The owner of the worlds largest Star Wars memorabilia collection has learned a hard lesson about trust. On Monday, he told his own saga in which $200,000 in collectibles were allegedly stolen from his California museum by a man he once considered a friend and asked fellow movie fans for help in recovering them.

Steve Sansweet, the owner of Rancho Obi-Wan in Petaluma, California, said in a release to Star Wars fans and collectors that 100 items, which he referred to as vintage US and foreign carded action figures, many of them rare and important pieces, were pilfered from his collection between late 2015 through 2016, many of them resold.

He posted details of the crime on his website and asked fellow collectors and fans to email tips@ranchoobiwan.org with information.

The alleged culprit: Carl Edward Cunningham, 45 of Marietta, Georgia, a fellow Star Wars collector whom Sansweet has known for 20 years. Cunningham was arrested in March in Sonoma County, California, and charged with felony grand theft. He is free on $25,000 bail and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for 27 June.

Its devastating, Sansweet told the Guardian on Monday about when he learned a friend was charged with the thefts. Its a feeling of utter betrayal that someone could stoop to this level, an alleged friend and confidant, someone I had invited to my house and shared meals with.

Sansweet said he met Cunningham in 1996, while the museum proprietor was head of fan relations at Lucasfilm.

Since 1977, Sansweet has accumulated at least 350,000 franchise artifacts, stored inside a 9,000-sq-ft warehouse he calls Rancho Obi-Wan, located on a idyllic country lane an hour north of San Francisco. He has also written 18 Star Wars books and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as owning the worlds largest collection of Star Wars paraphernalia.

The theft came to light in February when Philip Wise, a major Star Wars collector, posted news of the theft of a rare action figure from his Texas warehouse. Another dealer from southern California informed Wise that he had purchased the figure from Cunningham, a Georgia collector, Sansweet wrote in his release to movie fans Monday.

The California dealer, Zach Tann, told Wise that he had bought many other Star Wars collectibles from Cunningham and sent a detailed list. Wise concluded that the quantity and quality of the items suggested they had been taken from Sansweets sprawling Ranch Obi-Wan museum.

He contacted Sansweet who confirmed that the items were missing, including a rare three-pack of figures and a store display worth $20,000.

When I saw the items missing, and considering the circumstances of the theft, my stomach physically sank, Sansweet said. I was queasy. I was dumbfounded,

Sansweet said authorities were trying to retrieve items that had been resold and implored Star Wars fans to report anything they knew about the thefts or sightings of the items. He said two fans have contacted authorities to say they bought some of the items from a legitimate dealer and have offered to return them, even if they do not get their money back.

Actor Mark Hamill, who played the character Luke Skywalker in the film franchise, tweeted Monday about the theft, saying: Maybe publish a list of stolen items to protect potential victims from purchasing hot merchandise.

Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself)

Maybe publish a list of stolen items to protect potential victims from purchasing “hot” merchandise. #TheFraudIsStrongInThisOne #SithHappens https://t.co/coFv1P6HL7

June 5, 2017

Sansweet said the thefts ran contrary to the collegial spirit of Star Wars fans.

Weve had thousands of visitors since we became a nonprofit museum in 2011, he said. And never once to our knowledge have we had a single item stolen.

Sansweet said the museum had already upgraded security, but he refused to say that his trust in friendship had been ruined.

The message here is not to start mistrusting your friends, he said. Or youd be the most miserable person in the world.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jun/05/star-wars-biggest-collector-steve-sansweet-theft