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In Defense of the Vegan Hot Dog

The Fourth of July is a holiday consecrated in meat smoke. On this day, lovers, neighbors, children, and friends gather around a BBQ, cold beers sweating in hand, to stare into piles of pork belly, strip steak, burger patties, and row after row of red hot dogs. We watch the embers char the flesh as we discuss the tragedies and triumphs of our United States.

It is my favorite holiday. I love the heat of it, the fact that it doesn’t revolve around gifts or religious beliefs (unless you consider America itself to be a religion, which, fair). But mostly I love it because it’s built for eating meat. And I am here for meat, especially when squeezed into a perfect intestinal casing. Like Mitt Romney, hot dogs are my favorite food, and I won't be ashamed. I love kosher beef franks, and spicy red hots. I go to baseball games for the chance to eat tubesteaks. I served bratwurst at the rehearsal dinner for my wedding, which fell on July 4.

But right now, I’m here to stan for vegan hot dogs, and for all imitation meat. These strange-colored, meat-resembling objects will be on your grill this holiday if you have vegetarian friends, or friends whose doctors have told them to cut out meat, which has been linked to increased risk of everything from high blood pressure to cancer. They, and the meat-averse souls waiting to consume them, deserve to be treated with respect. They haven’t been getting much of it lately, and I’ve had enough.

What put me over the top was a comment on a television show normally devoted to inclusion: Queer Eye, in which five experts fix the life of a clueless man. In the second episode of the new season, the gang went to the home of two vegetarians in Georgia. When it came time for famously milquetoast food person Antoni to do his thing, he opened their freezer and found some imitation meat products. “It's like, why?” he chided. “If you're going to be vegetarian just like, eat veggies.”

No. No. Nope. There is so much wrong with that statement. First, the lack of understanding of the protein needs of vegetarians, who in fact can’t “just eat vegetables,” actually. It also shows a shocking ignorance about the evolution of “fake meat” as an industry and what that has meant to vegetarians. And most of all it reveals Antoni doesn’t know how delicious fake meat can be.

Protein for Everyone

All people need protein in their diet, and for many Americans protein equals meat. Our preference is partially evolutionary. “Humans at least in part evolved to identify and prefer meat because it's a really rich source of many many nutrients,” says Gary Beauchamp, a behavioral biologist1 at the Monell Chemical Senses Center who studies the mechanisms of taste. It also has something to do with how much land we have for grazing cattle.

But meat isn’t necessary for survival, and not everyone shares the love. With the advent of agriculture, meat-light and vegetable-based diets sprang up around the world in areas where water and arable land are plentiful–like India, parts of China, and ancient Egypt. In these cultures, and for vegetarians anywhere, people get protein nutrients other ways–from vegetables, grains, and legumes.

In Western cultures, though, vegetarians remained mostly on the fringes for many years. Catesby Holmes, a writer and life-long vegetarian from Virginia, remembers her grandmother thought her vegetarianism meant she was just fussy and would only serve her chopped vegetables for dinner. "She called me Rabbit,” Holmes says.

Then in 1982 a restaurateur in London named Gregory Sams invented the veggie burger, and everything changed. Veggie burgers made sense to people like Holmes’ grandmother. They allowed a vegetarian diet to fit into the American food paradigm. Suddenly, vegetarians had a place at the proverbial grill.

“People misunderstand that vegan patties and hot dogs are branded like that to be comprehensible as a product. Not because vegetarians want meat,” Holmes says. Vegetarians just want to be understood. They also want to be able to eat snack foods and fried foods once in a while like everyone else.

Those first veggie burgers, simply trying to stand in for meat, earned a reputation as cardboard-tasting hockey pucks instead. “My own impression of those kinds of things is that they are terrible,” Beauchamp says. “And I think they are terrible for a reason, and that is that they don’t have all the sensory properties that we’ve come to expect.” Vegetable fats can’t taste like meat fats. The only fake meat that can likely ever approximate the taste of real meat is the lab-grown kind, which is meat at a cellular level, but doesn’t come from dead animals. That’s great, but not vegetarian, and won’t satisfy my doctor’s mandate to cut out red meat.

It Tastes Good

The thing about vegetarian meat is that when it’s good, it’s not trying to pretend to be meat. Instead it embraces its veggieness, as vegetarian burgers and hot dogs have over the past decade. Holmes’ favorites involve black beans and beets and lentils.

Today, plant-based protein is a massive industry. Even in beef-eating, chest-thumping America, more than seven million people are vegetarians, according to a 2008 study by the Vegetarian Times. Nearly 23 million more eat meat sparingly. Nestle and other major food companies have made huge investments in feeding them. “Plant protein is among the fastest growing categories in all of retail,” Dan Curtin, president of alternative protein at massive meat distributor Maple Leaf Foods, told Fast Company last year. “Consumers are still eating meat, but they are also looking for additional protein choices, and plant protein is the natural solution to meet that demand.”

Maple Leaf Foods recently purchased Field Roast, the company that makes my favorite fake meat product, a Mexican Chipotle sausage made of wheat gluten. Each red hot dog link comes wrapped in individual plastic casing—the better to keep the spicy juices in—but looks and feels nothing like a real hot dog. It’s its own, delicious thing.

Vegetarians just want to be understood. They also want to be able to eat snack foods and fried foods once in a while like everyone else.

Yes, I, a person currently wearing a “Carnivore” sweatshirt from my second favorite butchery, and who cried real actual tears when my first favorite butcher shop closed in San Francisco eight years ago, love fake meat. My freezer is stocked with fake chicken nuggets (our favorites are Quorn brand), which my toddler is obsessed with.

When I tell Beachamp how much my son loves fake meat, he’s skeptical. I can sense that he thinks I’m tricking my son into eating something he’d choose not to if he was old enough to know the difference. Beauchamp advises me to do a proper scientific test, pitting real meat against fake meat on a plate to see which my son prefers.

I worry about the ethics of experimenting on my child. “Everything I’ve ever done I’ve tried on my kids first and then my grandkids,” Beachamp responds. And then I realize, isn’t parenting itself a massive experiment, the results of which we can’t know until our children are grown and in therapy?

So I take Beachamp’s advice. To get a sample size greater than one, I gather three toddlers together ranging in age from one and a half to four years old. The mother of the youngest is a pediatric anesthesiologist, so the whole thing is overseen by a medical professional.

I serve three different kinds of fake hots and two meat dogs: a kosher beef frank, a pork sausage, a wheat gluten dog, a tofu hot dog, and a spiced tofu sausage. Like the rest of America, these children don’t agree on much. Each wants his dog served differently. The youngest needs teeny-weeny non-chokable pieces scattered in a bowl—his favorite blue bowl, not the red one. My son, the slightly older boy, wants bigger pieces in a “real” (read: breakable) bowl and covered in “all of the ketchup, all of it.” The oldest wants a plate, long hot dog slices, and no ketchup. No one wants a bun.

But they all agree that the vegetarian imitation hot dogs are yummy. The kids clear their plates. I can't tell which ones they like best, because they eat all of them one after the other and ask for more indiscriminately. Their parents prefer the pork sausage, the gluten dog, and the spiced tofu sausage. No, those latter dogs don’t taste like meat. But that isn’t the point.

The point is to let everyone—even people who don’t or can’t eat meat—slide an oblong tube of protein between two buns on a hot day in good company. At this year's BBQ, Holmes will marinate her fake meat in the steak marinade her carnivore husband makes. "I don't want to be left out," she says. No one does. Isn’t that what America's birthday is all about?

Correction on 7/04/2018 at 8:50pm: This article has been corrected to specify that Gary Beauchamp is a behavioral biologist.

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A bad shelter experience inspired this woman to help bring dogs and people together.

Debi Krakar had a golden retriever named Riley who wanted to give love to everyone she met.

Riley was so loving, in fact, that Krakar couldn’t keep her sweetness all to herself. In 2006, she decided to get her pup certified as a therapy dog; the process involved training to give affection and comfort in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

Whenever Krakar’s kids had friends over, the children immediately gravitated toward Riley, so once she was certified, Krakar focused primarily on taking her to schools. Riley taught students how to interact safely with dogs and, in the process, helped even the most timid kids learn social skills.

Photo courtesy of Debi Krakar.

“[She] had a true gift for knowing when to lay down and be still — for the elderly or for a scared child — and when to be her happy, bouncy self,” Krakar says.

The students adored Riley. Anyone who looked into her big, dark eyes couldn’t help but smile.

After witnessing how Riley could brighten up a classroom, Krakar wanted everyone to have the chance to enjoy their own canine companion.

She had already been volunteering with a German Shepherd rescue organization that found homes for homeless dogs, and she loved helping match rescue dogs with their forever families.

However, getting dogs adopted was harder than she had ever expected. Many rescue organizations have strict rules for potential pet parents. In fact, Krakar had experienced firsthand how their requirements could sometimes rule out responsible families.

Back in 2003, she had applied to foster dogs for a golden retriever rescue group, but they told her she wasn’t a good fit. “They said my house was too clean and they didn’t think I could handle the fur,” she says, laughing. “But I cleaned it because [they] were coming over — that’s what my mama taught me!”

A child reads to a therapy dog named Bacchus. Photo by The Dog Alliance.

When she watched Riley in the classroom, Krakar thought back to that discouraging experience. She became determined to help responsible families adopt the dogs they deserve. So she began taking dog training classes to learn more about what makes a stellar dog owner.

“I just immersed myself in everything dog and learned what I could,” she says.

Slowly but surely, she developed a business plan for an organization that would run therapeutic dog-related programs including training classes, an education center, and promoting youth literacy by having children read to dogs.

With help from volunteers, Krakar transformed her plan into reality and officially opened The Dog Alliance in Austin, Texas, in late 2006.

The Dog Alliance teaches owners how to train their dogs, which helps create stable homes for the dogs themselves. The idea is that people are more likely to keep their dogs if they know how to deal with common problems like misbehavior.

Owners and dogs can also sign up as therapy dog teams to spread joy to people in hospitals, workplaces, and schools, just like Krakar and Riley once did. The organization currently has about 175 teams visiting people at over 300 sites where the dogs help relieve stress with their wagging tails and cuddly personalities.

Buzz the therapy dog at work. Photo by The Dog Alliance.

However, despite the program’s success, the Dog Alliance was still missing something: a service dog program for veterans. People would often ask Krakar if her team trained service dogs for veterans with PTSD or other disabilities. Even though she saw the need for it, she didn’t think the organization was ready for such a complicated project at first.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” she explains.

While the training process is similar to that of therapy dogs, service dog training is different. Therapy animals are still considered pets, whereas service dogs are working dogs who have to learn to perform tasks like waking their handler from nightmares or retrieving medication.

However, many of The Dog Alliance staff members and volunteers were passionate about the idea of working with veterans. They knew from the veterans in their lives that service dogs can help heal trauma. Plus, their therapy dogs already had a calming effect on elderly and disabled residents in veterans homes.

So in 2016, after much consideration, Krakar decided to start Hounds for Heroes, a program that provides veterans with service dogs for free.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Stockwell with his service dog, Jenny. Image via The Dog Alliance.

The Dog Alliance trainers select and train shelter dogs for the program, and many of their trainees become successful service dogs.

However, some of the dogs aren’t quite right for the task. Service dogs for veterans don’t just need specific training — they need to have the right temperament and a clean bill of health.

Some of that criteria is simply impossible to determine in a shelter dog. For example, since shelter dogs don’t come with complete family trees, Krakar’s team can’t screen for genetic health problems. For a dog that’s helping its handler with mobility issues, a genetic issue like weak hips might make it hard for the dog to work later in life.

With that in mind, The Dog Alliance started its very own breeding program to produce dogs with the ideal mental and physical traits for veterans. They’ve actually just had their first litter of eight adorable pups.

Roxy with her puppies, the first litter from The Dog Alliance breeding program. Photo by Emily McCall Photography, used with permission.

The puppies were born in March 2018 and are already preparing for service dog life with socialization, obedience classes, and exposure to a variety of settings. They’ll be ready to go home with their handlers when they’re 14 to 18 months old.

Krakar looks forward to the day when the puppies are thriving in loving homes and giving veterans the help they need to heal.

“[A service animal] gives veterans hope,” says Krakar. “They feel like theyre not out there all by themselves. Theyre sharing [their lives] with someone.”

That sense of hope motivates her to keep expanding The Dog Alliance to reach more people in need.

Debi Krakar with two service dog puppies. Photo by Emily McCall Photography, used with permission.

When she first volunteered with Riley, she didn’t expect to end up creating her own nonprofit. She didn’t even have the experience for such an endeavor. But that didn’t stop her from changing lives, both human and canine.

While Riley passed away in February 2016 from cancer, she inspired an incredible group of dogs and trainers. She even helped Krakar come out of her shell and make friends within a community of dog lovers — a gift that continues to give to this day.

“She taught me how soothing a dog could be to those under stress,” says Krakar. “All of us at The Dog Alliance strive to be as nonjudgmental and accepting as Riley.”

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2018 World’s Ugliest Dog contest crowns a bulky bulldog as the winner

Image: MONICA M. DAVEY/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

All dogs are good dogs. But all dogs are not beautiful dogs (on the outside, at least).

The World’s Ugliest Dog competition brought its annual show to the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in California on Saturday night. And the precious angel you see pictured above, a 9-year-old English bulldog named Zsa Zsa, was chosen by a panel of judges as the contest’s latest winner.

Zsa Zsa and her owner, Megan Brainard of Anoka, Minnesota, get to take home a $1,500 prize. Here’s what our winning pup’s profile had to say about her life before World’s Ugliest Dog stardom.

“Zsa Zsa is 9 year old English Bulldog. She was a puppy mill dog for 5 years in Missouri, and instead of placing her in a loving home at her end of breeding, she was put in a dog auction,” the profile reads. “Zsa Zsa was then purchased by Underdog Rescue. Her mother saw her beautiful picture on pet finder and HAD TO HAVE HER! She now lives out her retired life in Anoka, MN.”

Tee Tee, a chihuahua, at the 2018 World’s Ugliest Dog contest.

Image: Jeff Chiu/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Wild Thang, a two year old Pekingese, at the 2018 World’s Ugliest Dog contest.

Image: MONICA M. DAVEY/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Zsa Zsa bested a field of 15 dogs in total to win the World’s Ugliest prize. You can see why she was a winner, too, with her extra-broad shoulders; wide, crooked grin; and a lolling tongue that seems to go on for miles and miles. 

Please also note: Her claws are painted pink, to match her collar.

If you look at this dog and don’t immediately want to take her home and give her the happy, comfortable life she deserves, then we can’t be friends. Thank goodness Ms. Brainard was able to see Zsa Zsa’s radiant inner beauty.

Last year’s winner, a delightfully floppy and seemingly half-melted Neapolitan Mastiff named Martha, didn’t compete this year. But you can take a stroll down memory lane right here if you’d like to treasure her 125 pounds of sagging skin folds and love all over again.

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Real-life me can never be as cool as the online version, but so what?

Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

This post is part of Me, online, Mashable’s ongoing series digging into online identities.

“Chill the fuck out,” my internet self is constantly shouting to my real-life self.

See, I exist as two personalities: internet me and real-life me. Don’t we all? Living in a world of constant connection has led to these funhouse mirror versions of ourselves — they look like us but they’re slightly distorted, exaggerated, never quite shaping into a distinguishable human form. 

With social media, the funhouse effect is even more amplified. In many cases those identities become proxies for our real-life selves. The internet me interacts with hundreds, if not thousands, of people every day. Real-life me? Well, real-life me would love nothing more than a couple hours of silence and maybe, on some days, to speak only with the person delivering my Seamless. 

Enter the conflict: Can real-life me live up to internet me?

When I interact with people in the non-internet world (you know, like actual human beings) who I otherwise primarily communicate with via the internet, anxiety bubbles up. I’m certain that I will never fulfill expectations for the personality I’ve crafted for myself, hunched over a keyboard and behind an iPhone camera lens.

Social media is a sound bite, a snapshot. You get to show neatly manicured moments without the burden of life’s small talk and unflattering angles. Unfortunately, this presents a problem for our real selves. How can we not feel like failures compared to those other versions of ourselves?

There are no likes in the real world 

In the harsh, filter-less light of the real world, no one boops your face, causing a little red heart or thumbs up to appear after you say something clever. Sure, maybe you’ll get a friendly nod or, if you’re so blessed, a hearty chuckle. But the anxious person will always wonder WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? 


Social media has a standardized and limited vocabulary of approval. It’s a language of red hearts, thumbs up, retweets, and comments. It’s the slow rollout of a one-sided conversation. 

Once you get used to the pace of socializing and seeking approval online, looking not at another human but at a phone or laptop or screen of some sort, interacting in real life can feel exhausting, full of difficulty and embarrassing moments. 

Let’s compare the two, shall we?

Internet me: 

Spends 6 minutes following a stranger’s dog so I can low-key snap the perfect photo

Spends an additional 10 minutes workshopping a clever caption

Edits photo

Posts photo

Wait 5 minutes. If not enough likes, reworks caption  

Replies to friend’s comment with the perfect balance of quirk and charm

Real-life me: 

Human friend: “Oh hey, look at that dog.”

Me, out loud: “Dogs are just people without life responsibilities like mortgages.” 

Me, internally: “What does that even me? YOUR JOKE WAS BAD. YOU ARE BAD. You should’ve said something about how dog buttholes are just out like ALL THE TIME.”

*conversation continues for 30 agonizing minutes, above scenario on repeat* 

Yes, I say stupid shit all the time. Online, I have the buffer of time and editing. In the world, I just leave awkwardness hanging for all to see, like an old lady with her skirt caught in the top of her nylons. 

It’s not social media. It’s performance media.

One of the internet’s greatest lies is that social media is, well, social. 

We’ve told ourselves that posting on Facebook or Instagram is a form of socializing, but we’re not really socializing, we’re performing. We’re putting on a little show of dog photos and pithy observations, extending our hat and waiting for applause in the form of a like. 

One of the internet’s greatest lies is that social media is, well, social

This is the root of my anxiety, stemming from the idea that who I am online is who I should be in real life. And — even more anxiety-making — the idea that people prefer the internet version of me — someone without under-eye circles or stray eyebrow hairs (thanks, filters!), who always says delightfully quirky things without a hint of awkwardness.  

Meanwhile, on a recent morning, while sweating profusely, real-life me retold the story of my diabetic cat burning off part of her face to an audience of stunned-into-silence acquaintances. Sigh.

But maybe no one wants to be the audience of a performer in the casual real world. The performer in me doesn’t engage or listen. The performer hits the joke too hard. The performer wants immediate feedback, not meaningful interaction. In real life, the performer is annoying.

Online, you’re presented with a collection of performances, from different people producing different acts. You can click or like or scroll by. Social media is your own personalized talent show. 

Life has no infinite scroll option. Should we even bother trying to live up to our online personas?

The acceptance of two selves

I’ve decided I’d rather be authentically awkward than exhaustedly charming. 

That, at least, is the mantra I try to repeat. (I also plan to at least attempt to say fewer stupid things, but that’s a more difficult battle. Dogs with mortgages!) 

I also know I’ll never live up to who I am online, because who I am on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter is only a part of the complete picture of me. It may be a part decidedly more clever and attractive than the real-life me. But it’s also grueling to try and be that person all the time.

The performer can stay on the social media stage (and tumble out in full force after a few drinks in real life). But daily life doesn’t need theatrics and applause in the form of tiny red hearts. That thirst for the unambiguous approval we gobble up on social media doesn’t define who we are as whole selves. 

And in that acceptance comes an appreciation for both the spectacle of our internet selves and the awkwardness of our real-life selves. So I’ll take the lingering conversation pauses and bad hair days, just as long as you’ll keep liking my social media posts. 

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How to spot a perfect fake: the worlds top art forgery detective

The long read: Forgeries have got so good and so costly that Sothebys has brought in its own in-house fraud-busting expert

The unravelling of a string of shocking old master forgeries began in the winter of 2015, when French police appeared at a gallery in Aix-en-Provence and seized a painting from display. Venus, by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder, to describe the work more fully: oil on oak, 38cm by 25cm, and dated to 1531. Purchased in 2013 by the Prince of Liechtenstein for about 6m, Venus was the inescapable star of the exhibition of works from his collection; she glowed on the cover of the catalogue. But an anonymous tip to the police suggested she was, in fact, a modern fake so they scooped her up and took her away.

The painting had been placed in the market by Giuliano Ruffini, a French collector, and its seizure hoisted the first flag of concern about a wave of impeccable fakes. Ruffini has sold at least 25 works, their sale values totalling about 179m, and doubts now shadow every one of these paintings. The authenticity of four, in particular, including the Cranach, has been contested; the art historian Bendor Grosvenor said they may turn out to be the best old master fakes the world has ever seen. Ruffini, who remains the subject of a French police investigation, has denied presenting these paintings as old masters at all. To the Art Newspaper, he protested: I am a collector, not an expert.

The quality of these paintings their faithful duplicity jolted the market. The sums of money at stake in art, never paltry to begin with, have grown monstrous. Thirty years ago, the highest auction price for a painting was $10.4m, paid by the J Paul Getty Museum for Andrea Mantegnas Adoration of the Magi in 1985. In contrast, while the $450m paid for Leonardo da Vincis Salvator Mundi in 2017 counts as an outlier, abstract expressionists and impressionists frequently come, in auctions or private deals, with nine-figure price tags.

In lockstep, the incentive to be a proficient forger has soared; a single, expertly executed old master knockoff can finance a long, comfortable retirement. The technologies available to abet the aspiring forger have also improved. Naturally, then, the frauds are getting better, touching off a crisis of authentication for the institutions of the art world: the museums and galleries and auction houses and experts who are expected to know the real thing from its imitation.

What was most unnerving about the alleged fakes sold by Ruffini was how many people they fooled. The National Gallery in London displayed a small oil painting thought to be by the 16th-century artist Orazio Gentileschi a battle-weary David, painted on an electric-blue slice of lapis lazuli; the work is now suspect. A portrait of a nobleman against a muddy background was sold by Sothebys in 2011, to a private collector, as a Frans Hals; the buyer paid 8.5m. Sothebys also sold an oil named Saint Jerome, attributed to the 16th-century artist Parmigianino, in a 2012 auction, for $842,500. With care, the catalogue only ventured that the work was from the circle of Parmigianino an idiom to convey that it was painted by an artist influenced by, and perhaps a pupil of, Parmigianino. But the entry also cited several experts who believed it was by Parmigianino himself.

The works were full of striking, scrupulous detail. On Jeromes arm, for example, dozens of faint horizontal cracks have appeared; every so often, a clean, vertical split intersects them. In French canvases from the 18th century, cracks in paint tend to develop like spider webs; in Flemish panels, like tree bark. In Italian paintings of the Renaissance, the patterns resemble rows of untidy brickwork. On the Saint Jerome, the cracks match perfectly. Prof David Ekserdjian, one of the few art historians who doubted that the painting was a Parmigianino, said he just didnt feel the prickle of recognition that scholars claim as their gift: the intimacy with an artist that they liken to our ability to spot a friend in a crowd. But I have to be frank, I didnt look at it and say: Oh, thats a forgery.

When Sothebys sells an artwork, it offers a five-year guarantee of refund if the object proves to be a counterfeit a modern forgery intended to deceive, as its terms specify. In 2016, after uncertainty crackled over the Hals and the Parmigianino, the auction-house sent them to Orion Analytical, a conservation science lab in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Orion was run, and staffed almost solely by, James Martin, who has loaned his forensic skills to the FBI for many art forgery investigations. Within days, Martin had an answer for Sothebys: both the Hals and the Parmigianino were fakes.

The Hals contained synthetic pigments that the artist, in the 17th century, could not have used. In Saint Jerome, similarly, Martin found phthalocyanine green, a pigment first synthesised four centuries after Parmigianino died. It showed up consistently across 21 paint samples from various parts of the painting a bit like taking the pulse of a corpse 21 times, Martin told the New York Times last year. Sothebys refunded both buyers, and filed suits against the sellers, demanding they return their proceeds from the sales.

In December 2016, in a signal of how attribution scandals have spooked the market, Sothebys took the unprecedented step of buying Orion Analytical, becoming the first auctioneer to have an in-house conservation and analysis unit. The company had seen enough disputes over attribution to mar its bottom line, its CEO, Tad Smith, said: If you looked at earnings reports from a year or two ago, youd see little blips here and there. These were expenses coming from settlements not a slew, the number was small and statistically insignificant, but theyre expensive. The cost of insurance that covers such settlements was also rising. With Martin in the building, the pictures and other objects moving through Sothebys now have a much higher chance of being checked, Smith said. Last year, Martin analysed more than $100m worth of artworks before they went under the hammer or into private sales. Sothebys employs him, in part, as a conservator, so he ministers to the health of the paintings and sculptures that pass through. But over the past two decades, Martin has also become the art worlds foremost forensic art detective. He has worked so many forgery cases with such success that he also serves Sothebys as a line of fortification against the swells of duff art lapping into the market.

The first major painting sold by Sothebys was also a Hals a real one: Man in Black, a half-length portrait of a hatted gent. Until 1913, Sothebys had dealt in books for a century or thereabouts; art made up only a wan side business. In that year, though, a Sothebys partner found a Hals consigned to the firm, and rather than forwarding it to Christies, as was often the practice, decided to auction it. After a spirited contest of bids, Man in Black sold for 9,000 a 26% rate of return per annum since Christies had last auctioned the work, in 1885, for around 5. It was the first signal, for Sothebys, that there was profit to be mined from paintings. Last year, it sold $5.5bn worth of art, jewellery and real estate.

The Frans Hals painting, Portrait of a Gentleman, supplied to Sothebys by Mark Weiss. It sold for a reported 8.5m ($10.8m) but was later declared fake. Photograph: Sotheby’s

For Sothebys, the question of authenticity is not merely, or even primarily, academic. There is more at stake than a satisfying answer to the fundamental conundrum of whether authenticity matters at all a debate that has been fought and refought in the history of western art. If a fake is so expert that even after the most thorough and trustworthy examination its authenticity is still open to doubt, the critic Aline Saarinen once wondered, is it or is it not as satisfactory a work of art as if it were unequivocally genuine? Typically, this debate comes to rest at the same place every time. Of course authenticity matters; to study a false Rembrandt as a true one would be to hobble our understanding of Rembrandt as an artist, and of the evolution of art. Now, however, the questions philosophical whimsy has been replaced by financial urgency. At a time when the art market is synonymous with art itself, a lack of regard for attribution would derail a trade that traffics in the scarcity of authentic Rembrandts.

Leaving straight forgeries aside, any discussion about the authenticity of an artwork opens suddenly, like a trapdoor, into the murk of semantics. On the sliding scale of attribution that art historians use painted by; hand of; studio of; circle of; style of; copy of each step takes the artist further from the painting. These variations, often subtle, are compounded by the unease about overpainting; Salvator Mundi had been worked over so many times and so heavily, critics argued, that it was less by Da Vinci than by his restorers. Deliberate fakes, misattributions and poor restorations all encroach into the realm of the authentic. In two decades at the Met in New York, Thomas Hoving, the museums director until 1977, must have examined at least 50,000 objects, he wrote in his book False Impressions. I almost believe that there are as many bogus works as genuine ones.

Like criminals of every stripe, modern forgers have kept easy pace with the techniques that attempt to trap them. The mismatch between the purported age of a painting and the true age of its ingredients is the workhorse of Martins technique. So forgers have grown more rigorous in their harvesting of materials, taking the trouble, for instance, to source wooden panels from furniture they know is dateable to the year of the fake they are creating. (The trick isnt wholly new; Terenzio da Urbino, a 17th-century conman, scrabbled around for filthy old canvases and frames, cleaned them up, and turned them into Raphaels.) Forgers also test their own fakes to ensure theyll pass. Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist who served three years in prison for forging paintings worth $45m, surveyed the chemical elements in his works by running them under X-ray fluorescence guns the same handheld devices, resembling Star Trek phasers, that many art fairs now train upon their exhibits.

Georgina Adam, who wrote Dark Side of the Boom, a book about the art markets excesses, told me that many forgers are sensibly choosing to falsify 20th-century painters, who used paints and canvases that can still be obtained, and whose abstractions are easier to imitate. The technical skill needed to forge a Leonardo is colossal, but with someone like Modigliani, it isnt, she said. Now, scholars will say its easy to distinguish, but the fact is that its just not that easy at all. In January, in a celebrated Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, 20 out of 21 paintings were revealed to be counterfeits.

As the tide of money in the market has risen, making decisions about authenticity has turned into a fraught venture. Collectors, realising how much they stand to lose, are now happy to take scholars and connoisseurs traditionally the final authorities on the authenticity of a work to court for their mistakes. Realising that their reputations, as well as their bank balances, may wilt under the heat,these experts have begun to subtract themselves from the game entirely.

The estates of several 20th-century artists had once taken on the duty of resolving doubts over attribution, setting up authentication committees, consisting of experts or the artists former colleagues or friends people expected to know the work best. In 2007, a collector named Joe Simon-Whelan sued the Andy Warhol estates authentication committee, claiming it had twice rejected a Warhol silkscreen he owned because it wanted to maintain scarcity in the Warhol market. Four years later, after spending $7m in legal fees, the estate dissolved the committee. The authentication boards of other modern artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder have followed. Individual connoisseurs as the art world calls its experts wont always challenge popular identifications, wrote the critic Jerry Saltz in a scorching essay on the vertiginous price of Salvator Mundi. They are reluctant to rock the already splintering institutional boat. As in the wider world, where people sit by for fear of losing position, its no wonder that many old master experts are keeping quiet, not saying much of anything.

The collapse of these committees feels like a victory of the market over the academy, like a blow to the very cause of trustworthy authentication. (In New York, a small band of lawyers is lobbying for legislation that will protect scholars from being sued merely for expressing their opinion.) In this void of opinion, Martins abilities premised not on the mysterious instincts of connoisseurship, but on the verifiable results of the scientific process have an even higher valence.

Martin, a tall man with lumber-beam shoulders, has a voice that never surpasses a murmur. He is a consummate nerd; find someone who looks at you the way Martin looks at his Fourier-transform infrared microscope. He trained as a conservator of paintings, but now he assays them: picks out their chemical constituents, inspects pigments and binders, peers under their washes of colour. From a paintings materials, he can extract the vital detail of when it could, or could not, have been created.

The field of scientific art conservation is not a crowded one; Martin, who set up the first for-profit art lab in the US, has been consulted in nearly every major fraud case in the past 25 years, often working alongside the FBI or other investigators. When he is described as the premier forensic detective working in art today, the accolade comes not only from people such as John Cahill, a New York lawyer who has managed dozens of art transactions, and who called Martin hands-down the best in the business, but also from those on the other side of the fence, so to speak. Beltracchi, the German forger, told me that, after his arrest, he had seen an assortment of technical studies collected by the police and the prosecution. He remembered Martins well. His reports contained the most accurate results. His reports were factually neutral and without unrealistic guesses. By folding Martin into its staff, Sothebys has given itself a muscular chance to stamp out problems of attribution before they flare into spectacular, expensive affairs. But its hard not to feel, at the same time, that it has cornered a precious resource, at a moment when the art world needs him most.

Martin spent much of last year setting up a new lab in what used to be a photo studio on the fifth floor of the Sothebys headquarters in Manhattan. Soon, he will also have a London facility, in the building where the Beatles once recorded A Taste of Honey for the BBC. The New York lab, one large room, is as white and aseptic as a dentists clinic. Many of the cabinets are still empty, and the desk surfaces often bear nothing apart from one red pack of Martins Dentyne Fire gum. Outside the lab, above the lead-lined double doors, is a warning light; if its on, so to is the giant x-ray fluorescence machine, and no one is allowed in.

One Friday in mid-February, the room held only two items of art. A carved wooden chair sat on a counter; on a stand was a painting that, for reasons of confidentiality, may be described here only as a late-19th century American work. When a painting checks into the lab, it is first submitted to a visual examination in bright, white light; then the lamp is moved to one side, so that the light rakes over the surface at an angle, showing up restored or altered areas. The canvas in Martins lab was at the next stage; it had been photographed under ultraviolet and infrared, and then under x-rays to discover some of the paintings chemical elements.

On a computer, one of Martins two colleagues cycled through the images. Under infrared, the paintings browns and yellows and greens turned into shades of grey, but no spectral underdrawings peered back out. (Not that underdrawings would have suggested anything about authenticity one way or another; theyd merely have been a further nugget of information to consider.) Mapped for lead by the x-ray fluorescence unit, the painting looked faded and streaked with dark rust; the streaks betrayed where restorers had perhaps applied touchups with modern, lead-free paint. Mapped for calcium, the painting showed yellow-green splashes where conservators had made repairs with a calcium carbonate filler.

Not every object needs to move beyond these non-invasive phases. (At Orion, Martin was once able to unmask a fake Modigliani after seeing, under infrared, a faint grid, which had been drawn by a forger who wanted to guide his work.) If Martin has to disturb the painting, he will place it under a stereo microscope and, squinting through the two eyepieces, pick out a grain of paint with a scalpel. He demonstrated with a sample of phthalocyanine blue, a synthetic pigment he picked out of a box that held paint cakes of different colours. Working with the same steady, cautious manner in which he speaks, he teased out a particle smaller than the width of a human hair, flattened it gently, then nudged it on to a slim, small rectangle of metal, where it was held in place between two tiny diamonds.

You dont drink a lot of coffee before you do this, he said, grimacing.

Cracks in the surface of a 16th-century painting as seen through Martins microscope. Photograph: Joshua Bright for the Guardian

The metal plate then goes into the Fourier-transform infrared microscope, like a slide. The spectrometer pumps infrared light through the flecks of pigment; a computer analyses the lights behavior and returns a tidy spectrum graph. Martin has looked at so many of these spectra that he recognises on sight the patterns thrown up by different pigments, but even if he didnt, the computer could rifle through databases of the spectrum patterns of other known chemicals, find the nearest match, and tell Martin what, in this case, he already knew: that his sample was phthalocyanine blue.

By a system of triage sorting, for instance, for artists with a high incidence of being faked in the past, or for works accompanied by scientific analysis reports that are suspiciously long only a small percentage of the tens of thousands of objects passing through Sothebys is diverted to the lab. Martin thinks of them as patients showing symptoms. Sometimes, like a doctor doing general checkups, he will tour the galleries at Sothebys just before a sale, reading every work with a handheld infrared camera. In the past year, his lab has stopped several lots from going to market, preventing possible disputes after the sale. In one case, a painting valued at $7m was removed from sale after the lab found that it had been completely and irretrievably overpainted by a restorer. An appraiser wouldve said its worthless, Martin said. So it wasnt sold.

The arduous process of Martins work divorces art from its aesthetic. It reduces compositions of great prestige or high beauty to their very particles; it frees Martin up to think of art as pure matter. In this way, he comes closer to the artist than anyone has before, often becoming only the second person to think as intensely about the materiality of the object, about the chemical nature of its pigments or the physical properties of its canvas. The art he analyses derives its worth from unique, flashing inspiration. His own talent, if anything, has more in common with the forger. It lies in his capacity to be unflashy but diligent to perform a step time after time without a slackening of attention, to never leave a molecule unturned, to never conclude more about a work than what it tells him about itself.

When Martin turned 13, his father gifted him a microscope, a chemistry kit, and art lessons a splendid piece of foreshadowing. He used them all, but he was particularly attracted to art. The family lived in Baltimore, and whenever they visited Washington DC, Martin spent his time at the National Museum of Natural History, drawing the dioramas, while the others wandered the capital. His father worked in army intelligence. As a child, Im not sure I understood what he did. I do remember being in airports and trying to guess who was a spy, Martin said. He devoured detective stories and loves them still, particularly Patricia Cornwells novels about Kay Scarpetta, the forensic pathologist. We both examine patients that cannot speak their past, he said.

In a universe a twist away from ours, Martin might have become a forger himself. Late in his teens, he joined an art school where students were taught how to grind their own pigments and stretch their own canvases. For practice, he set up an easel in the Baltimore Museum of Art and copied the works he liked; he grew so accomplished that once, as he was leaving with his copy of William Merritt Chases Broken Jug, the museum director spotted him and asked if he was returning the painting to storage.

I was very good technically, Martin said, but like most art forgers, I didnt have my own creative way of doing things. He thought hed become an illustrator of medical textbooks, but then heard about a conservation programme at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The portfolio he submitted included his copy of the Chase, as well as of other painters all at such a high level of craft, said Richard Wolbers, who taught him at Winterthur, that we were blown away. He was such a good copyist, in fact, that he was almost rejected. Later, I heard that the committee worried that if they trained me to be a conservator and taught me all the science, Id be a natural forger.

After Winterthur, Martin was hired by the Clark Art Institute, a museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to conserve paintings. A couple of years later, he set up the museums first conservation lab, filled with equipment that he bought or begged from chemistry departments in nearby universities. At the time, in 1990, the apparatus of analysis the microscopes, the spectroscopes, the infrared cameras was bulky, expensive and difficult to operate. Few museums had their own labs, Martin said. The Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA [Museum of Modern Art], the museums in San Francisco none of them had the facilities.

In getting to know a painting, conservators in these museums relied first on the tactility of their craft listening to the sound of the swab on the canvas, Martin said, or feeling the pull of the swab in the varnish. Most conservation departments owned microscopes, some perhaps even x-ray machines. But if they needed some serious technology Fourier-transform infrared microscopes, say, or scanning electron microscopes they could turn only to the lab in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or to those in universities. Even then, an expert was still needed to interpret the data. Small museums really didnt have any place to go. Some people took paintings to the vet to get them x-rayed.

Martins lab began by assisting conservators who had no equipment of their own. If someone was trying to get a varnish off a painting and didnt want to damage it by using a solvent that was too strong, theyd send me a sample, he said. Id tell them: Its polyurethane. Youre not going to get it off. Or: Its shellac. You need to use alcohol. A conservator wondering if the strange sky in a landscape was overpaint paint applied by later restorers could mail Martin a tiny cross-section tweezed out of the work, so that he could examine it under a microscope. Wed see the layers in the cross-section: varnish, varnish, varnish, then blue sky, then more varnish, then more sky. So wed establish that the topmost layer of blue was overpaint.

In its materials, an artwork holds its biography, so inevitably, Martin became an arbiter of authenticity. Nearly all of the privately owned art labs in Europe and the US have been founded in the past decade not coincidentally, around the time that the worlds multi-millionaires realised how hollow their lives had been without art. But in the 1990s, at Clark, and then again at Orion, which he founded in 2000, Martin was often the sole resource for collectors and merchants.

James Martin using his stereo fluorescence microscope in his New York lab. Photograph: Joshua Bright for the Guardian

Some of his stories from these years have the baroque pulpiness of Elmore Leonard plots. Martin narrates these with care; he is alive to the sensational aspects of his work, but by default, he wears an air of studious detachment. There were the two questionable gentlemen from Tel Aviv, who slipped a pair of paintings out of architects tubes, shook them open as if they were rugs, and asked him to confirm that they were Modiglianis. (They werent.) There was the client who sent Martin to test a painting at an auction house, claiming he wished to bid on it, but then also had Martin stop by a warehouse to assess a horrible copy of the same painting. (Martin now thinks the client wanted to know how close the fake was to the genuine work.) There were the two ferocious dogs chained near the front door of a house in Los Angeles, guarding the stolen Chinese sculptures held within. There was the collector who offered to fly Martin to an undisclosed location, have him picked up by a security detail, and bring him in to examine an old Mexican stele, a stone carving supposedly worth $50m. The night before his flight, Martin was unable to sleep, so he Googled the collector and found that he had recently been released from federal prison after serving time on weapons charges.

Next morning, Martin called the collector and turned down the case.

Oh, the collector said. Did you read about the murders?

No, Martin said. What murders? The collector, it turned out, had once been implicated in the killings of two people over a matter of Mexican steles. Martin never got on that plane.

The FBI first came to Martin in 1994. A suspicious number of works ascribed to the 19th-century artist William Aiken Walker, who often painted black sharecroppers in the American south, were emerging in the market. Theyd sell at really small country auctions for $5,000 or $10,000 so low that nobody would pay for analysis, Martin said. From the paintings, Martin sampled a yellow pigment called PY3, which had been manufactured in Germany and was not available to American artists until the late 1940s, decades after Walker died. Walker also used lead white paint, Martin found; the forger used zinc white. A former vitamin salesman named Charles Heller was eventually indicted for a spree of counterfeiting, but he pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served one year in prison.

With even a little study, a con artist would know not to use zinc white; some forgers go on to become diligent researchers, accessing technical journals and case studies to learn what experts search for. Martin recalled a painting once referred to him, around 3.5 sq metres in size and dated to 1932. In a first round of study, he discovered nothing amiss. But the works provenance its documented history of ownership was shaky, so he ran a second pass under a microscope. For most of a day, he scanned the painting in dime-sized increments, until his eyes dried up. Was anything embedded in the paint: dust, or hair, or an insect wing? Did the dirt look as if it had been smeared on deliberately? Finally, embedded in a speckle of blue, he found a slim fibre; with a scalpel, he snipped it off and subjected it to infrared spectroscopy. The fibre turned out to be polypropylene. Perhaps someone had worn a polar fleece while painting the forgery?

For a while, Martin cited this example in a two-day course he taught. Last year, though, he read a translation of Faussaire (or Forger), a French novel written in 2015 and containing a wealth of sound wisdom for forgers. If you want to get hold of antique lead, one character advises another, for instance, then you can just pick up bits of it from the old buildings in Rome. The same character warns of the dangers from microparticles from your clothes You must always work in an old smock. Never nylon or a modern apron. Martin is convinced the detail came from his anecdote; it was one reason he decided to stop teaching his course altogether.

As a crime, art forgery can seem trifling less a sinister outrage than a half-complete Robin Hood jape that merely robs the rich. After Beltracchis arrest in 2010, the Frankfurter Allgemeine called art forgery the most moral way to embezzle 16m; Der Spiegel noted that, unlike crooked bankers, Beltracchi hadnt swindled the common man. But the crime can have real victims, and Martin has met so many of them that he has developed a gentle bedside manner to break bad news. He has seen people who used the money set aside for their childrens education to buy a painting, only to find it to be fake. So we arent just talking rich people. In some situations, its a persons whole life.

The inflation of the art market, and its attendant litigiousness, imposes fierce pressures upon anyone called to judge the authenticity of an artwork. Martins harshest experience of this came during the bitter legal battle over the fate of the Knoedler gallery. The Knoedler, once New Yorks oldest gallery, closed in 2011, days after Martin issued a report concluding that a Jackson Pollock it had sold for $17m was fake.

The bogus Pollock was only the inauguration of a scandal. Over 15 years, Knoedler had sourced and sold 40 paintings ascribed to a range of leading modern artists: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell, among others, earning roughly $80m in the process. When the ambiguity of the works provenance raised needles of suspicion, 10 buyers sued Knoedler and its director, Ann Freedman; all but one of these lawsuits have been settled out of court. In 2013, investigators learned that the forgeries had been painted by a Chinese immigrant, who was by then 73 years old, in his garage in Queens, and placed with Knoedler by an art dealer who pleaded guilty. Knoedlers executives claimed they had no knowledge of the fraud, and argued that scholars had verified the works before sale.

In at least four of the lawsuits, which carried on for years, the plaintiffs hired Martin to test the paintings they had purchased. He found them all to be forgeries. A purported Rothko from 1956, which sold for $8.3m, used a ground layer of white paint between the canvas and the oils; through that decade, though, Rothko had used a transparent ground layer. In an apparent Pollock, the artist seemed to have misspelled his own signature as Pollok. Further, in 16 Knoedler paintings he analysed, Martin found the same ground layer of white paint and other anachronistic pigments repeating themselves across the works of several artists, as if Motherwell, De Kooning and Rothko had all travelled forward in time, met in a bar, and swapped tubes of paint.

A fake Mark Rothko painting is shown to the court during a trial in New York in 2016. Photograph: AP

Eventually, Martin was proved right; when the FBI raided the Queens garage, it even found the tubs of white that had coated the canvas in the fake Rothko. But, until then, the trials were a torrid experience. Knoedler recruited experts to attack Martin in court. They went after him with a vengeance, saying hed soiled the evidence, accidentally or on purpose, said the lawyer John Cahill, who represented some of Martins clients. Knoedlers attorneys served six subpoenas on Martin, to extract more than 8,000 documents and emails related to the case. Instead of being an expert witness, he was forced to defend himself the care and soundness of his methods, his very character in court.

When Martin talks about the Knoedler trials, even the memory of the ordeal draws a look of horror on his face. Hes a real boy scout, and his integrity means a lot to him, so he suffered, Cahill said. It was an attempted impeachment of Martins whole career. His entire power relies on being objective, on not being part of the party, said Narayan Khandekar, who runs Harvards Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. He comes under a lot of pressure, because people have a lot of money at stake on the outcome of his analyses. But hes been very, very brave to stand up and stay stolidly on track with what he does.

Martin had always loved science for its ability to guide him in pursuit of truth, and he felt a deep distress when his objective facts were countered with dirty tricks and personal vilification. In 2016, after his clients settled with Knoedler, Martin found it difficult to return to work. He wanted to never have to provide expert testimony again, and to go away to paint for a while; hed already primed a set of boards.

It was surreal, what happened to me, he said. No scientist should have to go to through this. When, later that year, negotiations began for Sothebys to buy Orion, Martin was ready to be cocooned within a larger institution. Hed rather probe works before they hit the market, he decided, than go through the acrimonious aftermath of a sale even once more. Above his desk in Sothebys, Martin keeps pinned a pair of sketches of himself from his time in the Knoedler courtroom, as if to remind himself of what he has gratefully left behind.

In conversation, Martin uses many homespun metaphors, but his favourite is that of the three-legged stool. Deciding the authorship of artworks, he says, relies on connoisseurship, technical analysis and provenance. He values the opinions of connoisseurs, considers them complementary to his own skills; his tests can definitively reveal if a painting is not by Da Vinci or Modigliani, but they are unable to affirm authorship, except in rare cases.

Science has a habit, though, of showing up the sagacity of scholars. In a 1932 trial in Berlin the first in which a forensic exam was used to scrutinise art two connoisseurs squabbled about the authenticity of a set of 33 canvases, all purportedly by Vincent van Gogh, all sold by an art dealer named Otto Wacker. It took a chemist, Martin de Wild, to trace resins in the paint that Van Gogh had never used, and to prove the paintings fake. Since then, the science has improved, even as human judgment has remained the same, vulnerable to the potential thrill of discovering new work, and to market pressures. During the Knoedler trial, Cahill remembered, one expert admitted that he couldnt tell one Rothko canvas from another, or indeed whether a Rothko had been hung upside-down or right side up.

In any case, however fond he is of the three-legged stool, Martin may have to think soon of a different item of furniture. The humanities are in decline everywhere; in England, the last art history A-level was cut in 2016. The populace of connoisseurs is thinning out. In British art now, for a major artist like George Stubbs, theres no recognised figure that we can all go to and say: Is this by George Stubbs or not? Because various specialists have died recently, and theres no one to replace them, Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian, said. Meanwhile, researchers at Rutgers University have developed an AI system that, in tests, detected forged paintings with 100% accuracy by scanning and comparing individual brushstrokes. One leg is growing longer, another growing shorter, the stool becoming decidedly imbalanced. And so, if the art market wants to beat back the threats posed by sophisticated forgeries if it wants to preserve its financial vigour, rooted as it is so absolutely in the notion of authenticity it will have to turn more and more to the resources of science.

As a thought experiment, it is possible to envision the immaculate forgery the one that defeats scientist and connoisseur alike. Our villain is a talented copyist, well practised in the style and the themes of his chosen artist. He is also a resourceful procurer of materials, able to rustle up every kind of age-appropriate canvas and frame, pigment and binder. He fits his forgery neatly into a chain of provenance giving it the title of a now-lost work, or providing false documents to claim that it had been part of a well known private collection.

In theory, if each of these steps is perfectly performed, there should be no way to expose the painting as fake. It will be a work of art in every way save one. But the world of today, the world in which the forgery is being created, is likely to fix itself in some form within the painting as radioactive dust, perhaps, or as cat hair, or a stray polypropylene fibre. When that happens, only the scientist can hope to nab it.

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

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Very good dog opens the door for owner after she gets locked out

Dogs really are our best friend.

When Kaylyn Marie was locked out of her house, she thought she’d be stuck outside for hours. But her good pup Sam had her back. 

To unlock the sliding glass door, someone had to remove a wooden rod blocking the door’s tracks.

“It freakin’ slipped back in,” Kaylyn lamented. 

Kaylyn got Sam to paw away the rod until he was able to pick it up with his mouth and unlock the door for her. 

“You’re such a good boy,” she said. “You saved me!” 

Then Sam tried to play with the wooden rod — because what else would you expect from dogs? 

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Parkland parents helped shut down this ‘active shooter’ video game.

A video game simulating a school shooting has been shut down before its launch — largely due to Parkland parents denouncing it.

Following in the footsteps of both Roseanne Barr’s TV show and problematic scenes from the movie “Show Dogs,” a video game called “Active Shooter” has been nixed due to public outcry. The game simulates a school shooting and allows players to play either the school shooter or a SWAT team member.

Screenshots of gameplay released by the creator paint a horrific scene: If you’re playing the shooter, you use your semi-automatic rifle to gun down students, teachers, law enforcement, and anyone else you feel like murdering in a school building. A digital counter keeps track of how many civilians and cops you’ve killed.

Screenshot via Revived Games/Acid Publishing.

The game was published by the game studio Acid Publishing of Moscow and was slated for release on June 6 through Valve Corp.’s online gaming store Steam.

Parents of victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting raised their voices loud and clear to denounce the game.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was one of 17 people killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, wrote about the game on Twitter: “I have seen and heard many horrific things over the past few months since my daughter was the victim of a school shooting and is now dead in real life. This game may be one of the worst.”

Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was also murdered in the Parkland shooting, wrote in a statement on Facebook, “It’s disgusting that Valve Corp. is trying to profit from the glamorization of tragedies affecting our schools across the country. Keeping our kids safe is a real issue affecting our communities and is in no way a ‘game.'”

A petition was created to put pressure on Valve not to release it. More than 208,000 people have signed it, as of this writing.

The people spoke — and it worked. Valve will not be putting the game on their site.

The beauty of the age of social media is that people can speak up and accountability can be set into motion. Thanks to the Parkland parents and others drawing negative attention to the game, Valve decided not to put it on their site. They also released a statement explaining who was behind creating it.

“This developer and publisher is, in fact, a person calling himself Ata Berdiyev, who had previously been removed last fall,” Valve’s statement said:

“Ata is a troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material, and user review manipulation. His subsequent return under new business names was a fact that came to light as we investigated the controversy around his upcoming title. We are not going to do business with people who act like this towards our customers or Valve.”

Washington Post writer Alex Horton made an interesting observation about the game’s trailer, which has since been removed from Steam’s site: All of the “civilians” shown are women.

If a video game created by a Russian “troll” where you can play a school shooter and gun down women isn’t a symbol for America 2018, I don’t know what is.

We the people have power. Let’s keep using it.

Having free speech and living in a free market system means that our voices and our actions can help determine the kinds of products that succeed and those that don’t. When something that people find vile, cruel, or dangerous rears its head, we can use the collective power of our voices and purchasing power to pressure companies to shut it down.

Let’s keep speaking up. It’s working.

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The Secret History of the Racy Module That Almost Ruined D&D

An epic Dungeons & Dragons campaign, any player will tell you, can take many hours. It’s not just a few rolls of the dice. Yet there is one D&D quest that’s more difficult than even the most fiendish homebrew game run by the most sadistic dungeon master: Finding an original copy of the module known as "Palace of the Silver Princess."

"Palace" wasn’t your typical pre-packed, ready-to-play D&D module. It had dragons, sure, but it also featured an illustration of a woman tied up by her own hair—not too family-friendly, especially considering that the vaguely erotic image came at a time when parent company TSR was trying to get the role-playing game out of hobby shops and into big toy stores. The module was yanked almost immediately, doomed to become a piece of fabled D&D lore.

"Palace of the Silver Princess" began its life in 1980. Back then, the RPG was on the ascent, becoming the new hip thing on college campuses. It was also starting to attract the attention of religious groups and worried moms who painted D&D as a literal tool of the devil. So even as the game was on the rise, life at TSR headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin was plagued with fears that moral outrage could end the good times at any moment.

And so, to ensure Dungeon Module B3 never became the spark that started that blaze, it was scrapped. Now that D&D is once again cool, we asked some TSR veterans to recount the story of what really happened with "Palace of the Silver Princess." Like all good adventures, the story involves sex, blood, and thievery. And a backhoe.

The Beginning

What became the “Palace of the Silver Princess” started as a project created by writer Jean Wells in 1980.

Kevin Hendryx, TSR game developer and designer, 1980-81: In essence, the philosophy of management [at that time] was that it was better to have anything to sell today than something of higher quality later, because the market was so hot and the demand so great that TSR was losing money by any delays. So crank out that product and damn the torpedoes.

That sort of outlook in TSR’s flush days was the poison that caused problems like a B3 module, and got up the nose of the product development people.

Lawrence Schick, TSR game developer and designer, 1979-81: Upper management regarded employees as second- or third-class citizens. They were obnoxious to work for. They were in another building uptown; we were downtown. Off by ourselves, it was a fun place to work. But management was high-handed, and not much interested in feedback that contradicted what they had in mind.

Kevin Hendryx: We had a very us-against-them attitude. As much as we were hot-headed little snots and not always the most professional, management was not the most professional either. Most of them were new to being in positions like that. They tended to treat it like a game, like we were just non-player characters being moved around the board.

They were warned. But management did not take these things seriously until the ["Palace of the Silver Princess"] module had been printed and somebody at the other office actually looked at it and flew into a fury.

Why the warnings and strong reaction? The original B3 module featured "The Illusion of the Decapus," a S&M-styled illustration showing a woman bound by her own hair and tortured by nine demonic-looking characters. And in a time when the "Satanic Panic" was gaining momentum, claiming that D&D was a gateway to devil worship, the image posed a very real threat to the company's bottom line.

The illustration that caused all the fuss: "The Illusion of the Decapus."

Kevin Hendryx: They didn’t want anything that could be seen as or interpreted as in bad taste. They didn’t want anything that could be held up on a TV screen with someone saying, "Parents of America! Look at what your children are reading and playing!" An illustration like that was not going to fly.

The second problem? The original "Palace of the Silver Princess" had a full-page illustration the higher-ups couldn’t figure out at all. Management knew they were likenesses, and they thought they were being made fun of, but they weren’t sure.

Upper management at TSR couldn't figure out if they were being made fun by this illustration.

Lawrence Schick: They were caricatures of people in development, not management. There were a lot of in-jokes in there. And if you aren’t "in" on the in-jokes, it can be easily misinterpreted. So it's perilous to do that sort of thing. If you didn't know who the caricatures were of, you might guess, and you might guess wrong.

Kevin Hendryx: The illustration alluded to recent terminations and employee unrest. Upper management was very sensitive about mutiny in the ranks at the time and took all these perceived slurs or snoot-cockings as an insult and a challenge.

The third problem? The module was navel-gazing pseudo-porn.

Bill Willingham, TSR artist, 1980-81: I was first to read the damn thing, and I was just shocked at how ridiculous it was. It was clearly the private fantasies of the author [Jean Wells, who died in 2012]. The Silver Princess character was also her persona in the Society of Creative Anachronism—a hauntingly lovely woman who destroyed hearts. I called it to the art director's attention, and we went upstairs to editorial and Lawrence Schick. And at some point Lawrence, being the head of creative, called over to the business side and said, "Are you sure we want to do this?" And someone from the business side essentially said, "Hey, my wife plays mahjong with her, and she’ll give me shit if we don’t let her do her module. Just publish it. Don’t give us any more crap about this."

Kevin Hendryx: Some of the people thought it was too suggestive. There was a lot of subliminal, Freudian-level erotica in there.

Bill Willingham: I used to call it "Phallus of the Silver Princess." It was unprintable. It was badly written.

Stephen Sullivan, TSR editor and artist, 1980-84: Jean kind of straddled two camps. She was a good friend of mine, and very friendly with most of the designers. But she was also kind of part of management, and she was a good friend of [D&D co-creator] Gary Gygax’s. So when Jean sent this through, it came through with the same edict as Gary’s modules, which was, "Don't touch this language."

So when this thing came through, and the development people wanted to edit it, Jean went to Gary and said—and I know I’m going to make this sound more harsh than it actually was—"They’re changing my stuff, tell them not to do it." And Gary reminded us all that we were not to change the designers’ word or intent in the work. We were just to proof it, do the production line, get it done. The artists didn’t want to work on it; it was so bad.

Kevin Hendryx: Most of us asked for our names to be taken off of it. That’s why you don’t see my name in the credits.

Bill Willingham: I quit TSR halfway through it. Someone else finished my illustrations.

Rolling the Dice

Ultimately, B3 was printed. It was given an orange cover and copies were distributed to the staff. Then chaos set in.

Lawrence Schick: There were some text passages that were deemed problematic. There was a tone to many of the illustrations, [staff artist] Erol Otus' in particular, that were darkly humorous in a way that management didn’t like. But they would have overlooked that if it wasn’t for that one illustration with bondage overtones. D&D was under attack by religious conservatives at the time, and TSR thought that releasing the original B3 would be just throwing red meat to the mad dogs.

Kevin Hendryx: My vague memory is that the module came out late in the week, management caught wind of it over the weekend, and by Monday, they were recalling it. They were seizing the warehouse copies and grabbing the undistributed stock. It happened very, very fast. One day they were handing out our office copies, and one day we were told that supervisors were collecting copies, telling people to turn theirs in. Most of us, having got a whiff of what was going on, were busy squirreling ours away.

The land rush was on. D&D was aboil in the zeitgeist, and everyone knew the "banned" module would be a collectors’ item. Editorial staff members hid their single copies, and rumors persist to this day that management liberated cases at a time. The print run was ordered destroyed.

Stephen Sullivan: I don’t know how many were printed. My guess is between 5,000 and 10,000. I do know someone—who I’m not going to name now—that had direct knowledge of what was going on. The person I talked to said, and I quote, "The modules were buried at the Lake Geneva landfill along with all the rest of Lake Geneva's trash. This I know for sure." And I know that they made sure that someone was standing there, watching them get buried, and that person was [late TSR handyman] Dan Matheson. Now whether they had to hire another backhoe other than the usual one that would have been there at the landfill, I don’t know. That’s been a persistent rumor for a long time.

Kevin Hendryx: I find it funny that management was so concerned about anyone filching copies of B3 that they had employees like Dan—who was a big, imposing bear of a fellow, burly and bearded—riding shotgun on the garbage dump. But I don’t think there was a sacrificial pit with glyphs of warding put over it. It was more mundane than that.

The Great Quest

The module was totally rewritten, and four offending pieces of art were replaced. A new version of "Palace of the Silver Princess" was printed, this time with a green cover, in 1981.

By 1984, copies of the original, orange-covered version started sneaking out, selling at auction for as much as $300. By the 2000s, copies were trading for $1,000-$3,000. A YouTube video references a Jean Wells-signed copy that sold for $5,860. Soon fans were starting quests to find more of the modules.

Stephen Sullivan: The rumor was that they buried them behind the [management] building out on Sheridan Springs Road. And this person who I’ve spoken to, who has more direct knowledge of their fate, says that they were definitely buried in the landfill along with all the other garbage.

'It’s like Bigfoot, except the first edition of this module actually exists. It can be seen.'

Lawrence Schick, TSR game developer and designer, 1979-81

Mark Finn, author of Chance of a Lifetime: I was a hardcore Dungeons & Dragons player back in the 1980s. When Bill [Willingham] was in Austin, we started a weekly meetup group for fiction writers. One day, when telling TSR stories, Bill said, "I'll tell you about the worst module we ever had to deal with," and … I didn’t even remember "Palace of the Silver Princess." But he launched into this whole thing, a backhoe, burying pallets of the module. The story bounced around in my head like a pachinko ball. For a brief moment, I thought, "We should go there! Dig ’em up! We should totally do this!" Ultimately, I chickened out. But I wrote the book.

You know, those are shrink-wrapped. I’ll bet they’re still there!

Stephen Sullivan: I suppose you could excavate the Lake Geneva landfill, like an archaeological dig. I suppose you could try.

TSR has largely made peace with its "Palace" past. The official D&D website even briefly had a full version of the original module you could download. And time provides perspective.

Lawrence Schick: I think that the reaction to the module is more interesting than the module itself. The actual content of it is only mildly eccentric by current standards. It’s more a matter of what a light it shines on the management reaction at the time, and the "Satanic Panic." It’s like Bigfoot, except the first edition of this module actually exists. It can be seen.

Kevin Hendryx: Too much of this gaming history is liable to be lost if journalists weren't recording at least a little of it. Thanks.

Mark Finn: It’s very inside baseball. You have to know what this is to go looking for it. That said, I’ve had more than one person give me some iteration of this story: "Hey, I heard about this crazy module they had to destroy. You know anything about that?" I love this piece of gaming history. Nice that you're giving it a folklorist's treatment.

Bill Willingham: I call shenanigans. You call this an oral history. But you’re writing this down. This is an oral history in the sense that foothills are made of feet, or that a tiger shark is part tiger, part shark. Come to think of it, that could be a cool D&D creature.

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Why parents are being warned about disturbing ‘private parts’ scenes in ‘Show Dogs.’

Social media has been blowing up with reviews of “Show Dogs” — for a disturbing reason.

Reviewers are voicing concerns about whether the new PG-rated kids’ film “Show Dogs” is subtly conditioning kids to be groomed for sexual molestation. Yes, really.

In the film, an anthropomorphized police dog named Max (played by Ludacris) goes undercover at a dog show to gather intelligence on a crime. As part of the operation, he has to prepare to compete in a dog show.

One of the requirements of the show is an “inspection” of a dog’s “private parts” by the judges. While rehearsing for this part of the show, Max is uncomfortable and says so. His trainers coach him on how to go to a “happy/zen” place while it’s happening so that he can get through it. He resists at first, but by the time the show comes around — with everything riding on his ability to get through the inspection — he successfully disassociates from the fondling as viewers get a look at his happy place.  

Um, yeah. That’s problematic.

Parents and child advocacy groups alike have voiced their concerns over the scenes.

Terina Maldonado at Macaroni Kid wrote, “During the movie, I kept thinking, ‘This is wrong, it doesn’t need to be in a kids movie. Everything else in the movie is good fun except for this.’ Afterward, my husband mentioned that he picked up on this message too, as did my mother who saw the movie with us. My daughter, on the other hand, said her favorite part of the movie was when Max got his privates touched and the funny reaction he had.”

And therein lies the problem. It’s not that kids will recognize that there’s a problem with the scenes — it’s that they won’t. They’ll giggle about how it’s uncomfortable to have your privates touched, and then get the message that “going to happy place” is a good way to deal with that discomfort.

Dawn Hawkins, executive director for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has spoken up about the film. “The movie ‘Show Dogs’ sends a troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse,” she said in a statement. “It contains multiple scenes where a dog character must have its private parts inspected, in the course of which the dog is uncomfortable and wants to stop but is told to go to a ‘zen place.’ The dog is rewarded with advancing to the final round of the dog show after passing this barrier. Disturbingly, these are similar tactics child abusers use when grooming children — telling them to pretend they are somewhere else, and that they will get a reward for withstanding their discomfort.”

The movie makers have released a lukewarm apology statement that highlights the problem: They don’t see the problem.

The statement released by the filmmakers says, “It has come to our attention that there have been online discussion and concern about a particular scene in Show Dogs, a family comedy that is rated PG. The dog show judging in this film is depicted completely accurately as done at shows around the world and was performed by professional and highly respected dog show judges. Global Road Entertainment and the filmmakers are saddened and apologize to any parent who feels the scene sends a message other than a comedic moment in the film, with no hidden or ulterior meaning, but respect their right to react to any piece of content.”

It has come to our attention that there have been online discussion and concern about a particular scene in Show Dogs, a…

Posted by Show Dogs Movie on Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sounds an awful lot like “Sorry you’re offended.” That’s not an apology nor is it taking accountability. Intentional or not, there’s a problematic message here. And especially in the age of #MeToo, where sexual assault has been a hot topic of conversation and education, it’s unfathomable that no one in the final production of this film would have recognized the issue or pointed it out.

Bottom line for parents: If you choose to see this film, please use these scenes as a conversation starter about grooming and consent.

Bottom line for filmmakers: Do better.

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Majestic fox joins Londoner for rooftop sunbathing session

Are you fur real?
Image: Getty Images

There’s only one thing in this world more cheering than the sight of a happy fox, and that’s a happy fox sunbathing on a roof terrace.

On Sunday, Tom Bell from London experienced exactly that — a fox had arrived on his roof and decided to make itself comfortable in the sweet, sweet sunshine.

Now this is one happy fox.

Just look at it stretching.

The orange guest was clearly pretty determined to get on the roof.

Elsewhere on Twitter, even more images of the fox were going viral.

As well as sunbathing, the fox had also been serenaded by Tom’s former housemate Steve.

Turns out the fox on Bell’s roof wasn’t London’s only furry sunbather, either.

Sunshine, foxes and even more photos of foxes: what a way to spend a Sunday.

Finally, just in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, Mashable reached out to the RSPCA to get the low down on foxes. They sent back the following statement:

“Normally, foxes are wary of people and would run away to avoid adults and children. It’s important that people do not try to hand-feed foxes or make them tame as they will learn to trust people and can become quite bold. This may lead to them approaching people who may not like them and take action against them. 

It is possible for people and pets to get mange from foxes and dogs, but the risk from foxes is very low, as direct contact is the most likely source of infection. Another disease risk is from the roundworm (Toxocara canis) found in dog, cat and fox droppings, which can cause toxocariasis in children – but the risk of children picking up this parasite from fox droppings appears to be extremely low. 

For more advice about foxes, visit the RSPCA’s webpage Living with Foxes

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