Cultrface is a blog about culture and how it can enrich our lives.

The Guy Who Built A Video Store In His Basement

Nostalgia Video basement

In June last year, Kevin Cortez from AV Club wrote about Nick Collins aka Nostalgia Video, a man who built a video rental store in his basement. People still miss Blockbusters in its original form—shelves filled with VHS tapes, diabetes-inducing candy on sale, and awesome movie posters on the wall—and Collins has recreated that aesthetic with “two months of labor and roughly $1,200″.

The results are impressive: Huge boxes of candy; old toys, posters, and promotional cardboard cutouts; enough old magazines to make your local dentist blush; a foam board ceiling; and an ugly, slightly dizzying ’90s carpet. As you’ll see in the below tour, the videos are sorted by genre—from horror to comedy to old professional wrestling pay-per-views.

While I could find better uses for a basement if I had one (that I owned anyway), I admire the dedication to detail and 90s VHS culture. I still own and covet my VHS tapes and understand where Collins is coming from, at least on a basic level.

Unfortunately(?), this faux-video store is only for show so you can’t visit or purchase anything because nobody should voluntarily go to a stranger’s basement for any reason.

Follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube.

The night photography of Junya Watanabe

Junya Watanabe cityscape

I love night photography but they often follow a theme of neon lighting, especially when Japan is the setting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but something unique always catches my eye and Junya Watanabe did that.

Watanabe (not to be confused with the fashion designer) is a Tokyo-based photographer and retoucher that captures the essence of the city that’s bright but unsaturated, giving a unique type of vibrancy you don’t see very often in night photography.

He was born in 1992 in Shiga, Japan and started photography in 2017. Already, he has amassed a spectacular portfolio working with the likes of Nikken, Gaku Ramen, and Orphe Shoes.

Check out his website, his shop where he sells his presets, and his Instagram.

(Thanks to for the recommendation.)

Are Pablo Escobar's hippos good for Colombia's ecosystem?

Pablo Escobar's hippos

Spoiler alert: I love hippos. I even have a “hippos” Google Alert which is how I found out about this story from, believe it or not, Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

The story goes that Pablo Escobar acquired four hippos for his zoo in 1981. But in 1993, he was murdered and the government couldn’t maintain his zoo so the animals were sent away. Except for the hippos. They were left to their own devices in the Colombian wilderness and 4 became about 100. The hippos have been a source of debate, dubbed “cocaine hippos” and seen as invasive creatures. But on the other side, people are asking whether the hippos are a benefit to Colombia’s ecosystem.

Hippos are nocturnal herbivores and often graze on grass at night. And when it’s time to go to the hippo potty, they do so in rivers and lakes which is an essential feeding source for fishes that live in the water too. And so the food chain cycle continues. But that works in places where hippos are native and the ecosystem depends on that behaviour. In Colombia, that might not be the case and scientists fear fishes may actually die and water flow may be affected.

But—another but—a paper published in March suggests hippos might be doing what they should have from the beginning. Animals similar to hippos, known as notoungulates, used to live in South America and provided much-needed nutrients to the area, alongside the giant llama.

So the crux of the debate is: are the hippos invading land that should never have been theirs or are they restoring natural order? After all, the reason why Colombia’s ecosystem is the way it is (for good or bad) is because of humans. Modern animal extinction is often due to humans killing them for sport, meat, and the hell of it. So I’m all for Pablo Escobar’s hippos living their best lives.

Herbie Hancock on Buddhism and Creativity

Herbie Hancock speaking in a lecture about Buddhism and Creativity

Herbie Hancock is one of my all-time favourite jazz musicians, loitering around 2nd or 3rd place with Bill Evans but behind Miles Davis. His music has transcended more eras and genres than I can count on both hands but he has always remained true to his art and his being.

In a Harvard University lecture at Mahindra Humanities Center in 2014, he discussed his Buddhist beliefs and how they contributed to his life’s work:

Buddhism doesn’t write the notes for me but it absolutely and positively affects how I look at everything. Buddhism is uncovering and leading a creative life and, in the process, establishing your own story, A common viewpoint holds that one’s destiny is predetermined by external forces. However, the practice of Buddhism can break through that notion and carve out the kind of life where you’re the author of your book and not the co-author or a character in someone else’s story.

This is the 5th lecture from a series which you can watch on YouTube and I recommend that you do.

Herbie Hancock: Buddhism and Creativity | Mahindra Humanities Center

Shape Grammars by Jannis Maroscheck is a book of shapes and systems

Cover for Shape Grammars

Imagine studying at the University of Arts in Tokyo, living in a small village, and finding out there’s a state of emergency due to COVID-19. What would you do? For Jannis Maroscheck, he decided to write a book.

Maybe “write” is the wrong word to describe how Shape Grammars was created. The 836-page study analyses automation in design, depicting “around 150,000 shapes” produced by 12 systems.

“What becomes visible is that the computer is quick at drawing. It can design 100,000 shapes in a couple of minutes. It is limited; it can never escape a system’s given logic.”

Jannis Maroscheck talking to It’s Nice That

I like the look of this book. I don’t know if I’d buy it or have any use for it but I enjoy the idea of all the shapes and the uniformity of it all. It’s brutal and concrete, which is similar to what Ayla Angelos to conclude their article:

Primitive, concrete and built to be transformed, the shapes found within this book’s hefty pages are indeed born out of a digital world. So is this perhaps a small glimpse into the future and what is yet to come? Is this the end of originality and conscious thought? Either way, the result of Jannis’ study is here to be used and appreciated for their forms.

Shape Grammars is currently being reprinted but is available via Slanted for €42.00.

Animals on the London Underground

elephant drawing made out of London Underground lines

A really cool site I found while I was digging through’s archives.

Animal’s on the Underground’s backstory:

The animals were discovered by London-based designer, Paul Middlewick in 1988. They’re created using only the lines, stations and junctions of underground railway maps. Paul first spotted the elephant while he was staring at the world famous London Underground map during his daily journey home from work.

The more he looked, the more animals he found and the elephant was quickly joined by many other cute animals including a bat, a cat, a polar bear, several dogs and even a bottlenose whale.

But over time, people have discovered animals on other underground transport systems including the Moscow Metro, the New York Subway, and the Paris Metro.

You can buy a desk jotter and a pack of 3 notebooks from the site to help maintain the site as well as donating to them directly via PayPal.

Sadly, no hippos have been found yet. Stream the site’s featured video below.

The stylish photography and creativity of RKZ


(Featured image: all rights reserved © Rikesh Chauhan)

In 2015, I experienced a personal tragedy. I had to take some time off work to heal but I also needed distractions. One of them was to make a cultural “sister” site to Sampleface.

It has since been deleted but I tweeted my friend RKZ to say I should start a culture blog to showcase his photography and call it Cultureface (as it was known at the time). His response?

And so it began. But over 5 years have passed and I still hadn’t got round to doing that blog post. Until today.

Who is RKZ?

Besides being a childhood friend since junior school, RKZ (real name Rikesh Chauhan) is a singer, writer, photographer, music video director, producer, editor, social media manager and all-round creative polymath. I’ve had the pleasure of working with RKZ in the past and his attention to detail and creativity is second to none. I don’t know many photographers with an eye like his, although some say he has two.

He’s worked with a wide range of brands, agencies and organisations such as Turnbull & Asser, Born Social, CALM, and most recently, The Rake. He’s also a careers mentor at University of Westminster where he studied and graduated in 2011.

A king of sartorial snaps

Follow him on Instagram for more of the same. The drip is everlasting.

Paul R. Williams: the Black architect of public buildings and celebrity homes

Paul R. Williams standing in front of the Theme Building in Los Angeles

28th Street YMCA, Theme Building at LAX, and Frank Sinatra Residence on Bowmont Drive in Hollywood. What do they all have in common? A Black American architect named Paul Revere Williams.

Born in Los Angeles in 1894, Williams designed a mixture of celebrity homes for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball but also had a hand in designing iconic buildings such as 28th Street YMCA and Theme Building at Los Angeles Airport (LAX), the latter a significant piece of Googie architecture.

His award-winning career started in 1916 when he studied architectural engineering at the University of Southern California. He became a certified architect in 1921 and the first certified African-American architect anywhere west of Mississippi.

Before retiring in 1973, he designed over 2,000 private homes and public buildings, many now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here are 5 of them.

1. The Beverly Hills Hotel

The Beverly Hills Hotel sign
The iconic Beverly Hills hotel signage

While Williams didn’t design the original hotel, he did design the Crescent Wing and the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel signage. The hotel now has a suite named after him, with “a large patio for entertaining and a cool, 1950s vibe”.

This project was the first of many for Williams at the hotel. Throughout the 1940s he designed additions and alterations, updating much of the Mission-style hotel complex. Williams was responsible for creating the hotel’s aesthetics, which have essentially remained unchanged even with new ownership in the 1990s.

Quote via Paul Williams’s official website

2. First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles

First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles
Photo by Ysa Adams / Incite Photography

Completed in 1968, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles (also known as First A.M.E. or FAME) was designed in the Late Moderne style with “a zigzag motif used along the roofline and the porch of the front entrance enlivening the simple stucco exterior of the building”. When Williams passed away in 1980, his funeral was held at the church.

3. Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building

Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building

Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company commissioned Williams to design the new building. Built in the Late Moderne style, he used steel and concrete to create a five-story building with a mezzanine, basement, and enough space for GSM’s 300+ employees. The building also had a 400-seat auditorium, a cafeteria, employee lounge and medical department and cost over $1.06m to build (including the cost of the furniture). After a renovation in 2015, a monument was erected in Paul R. Williams’s honour.

4. Jay Paley House

Jay Paley House

The Jay Paley House was designed by Williams for businessman Jacob Jay Paley and his wife in the 1930s. Construction started in 1932 and was completed in 1936, with subsequent renovations in 1945 and 1961. It cost $100,000 to build and stayed in Paley’s hands until his death in 1961, when the estate was subdivided and sold for $475,000 to Barron Hilton, who lived there until his death in 2019.

The Hollywood Regency-style house covered two stories and contained 32 rooms. According to The Jeffrey Hyland in his book, Legendary Estates of Beverly Hills, it was a departure from Williams’s previous styles at the time:

“He started with the traditional English Georgian style and then gave the residence a thoroughly modernist spirit, creating a residence that was both traditional and contemporary.”

5. Theme Building (LAX)

Theme Building (LAX)

And last but not least is The Theme Building, a Googie structure housed at the Los Angeles International Airport. Williams was part of a team of architects who turned the design into a Space Age reality including William Pereira and Charles Luckman of Pereira & Luckman, and Welton Becket.

The secret to the building’s iconic “crossed” arches lies in an illusion. What appears to be a single construction is, in fact, a combination of four 15 foot-long concrete legs reinforced by steel. The Theme Building was a cultural crossover between pop culture, architecture, and a growing interest in the space age. In 1993, The City of Los Angeles designated the interior and exterior as a historic-cultural monument.

For more on Paul R. Williams’s incredible career, check out 99% Invisible’s episode on The Architect of Hollywood.

Black polyglot speaks Japanese, Mandarin, and Arabic

Black polyglot speaks Japanese, Mandarin, and Arabic

Konnichiwa! That’s both a morning greeting in Japanese and one of the few Japanese words I know (the rest are swear words). But for Moses “Mouse” McCormick, that word is a drop in the ocean.

Moses “Mouse” McCormick is a self-taught polyglot and foreign language teacher from the US. His YouTube channel features candid videos where he surprises people who don’t speak English as a first language. The shock is amplified by the fact that Mouse is Black and, thanks to white supremacy, Black people aren’t expected to speak anything but English or “African” (because there are thousands of African languages but people are ignorant. Rant over, back to the show).

In this particular video, How to Speak/Practice a language #98, Mouse speaks a number of languages and seemingly makes some people happy.

Some of the languages he speaks include:

  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Mandarin
  • Cantonese
  • Spanish
  • German
  • Portuguese
  • Vietnamese
  • Twi
  • Somali
  • Arabic
  • Hindi

It does get a little uncomfortable at times. After 5 minutes, he speaks to a man from Egypt who is initially reluctant to reveal where he’s from. But after Mouse explains why he’s asking, he busts out the Arabic and impresses the man.

Most people think that I have a special gift to learn languages. What I’d say that I have most is an open mind, motivation, and patience to learn a language. Using my FLR language learning method, you too can have conversations in different languages as well. If you’d like to really learn a new language, try my FLR language learning course out!

Stream the video below and check out his channel.

How to Speak/Practice a language#98

The mint julep and the Black bartenders who popularised it

The mint julep

It’s been years since I went to a crowded bar and ordered a cocktail. I always admired the mixologists who could flip their cocktails shakers like magicians on stage. In fact, Blaise Penny Kirkwood—the co-founder of our sibling site, Sampleface—is a mixologist. And he’s Black, much like the bartenders who made the mint julep what it is today.

A brief history

The julep started as a sweet medicinal drink. English variants were slightly alcoholic, and often contained camphor.

The American mint julep originated in the South the 18th century. It was initially used as a prescription drink, according to 1784’s Medical communications:

“[…] sickness at the stomach, with frequent retching, and, at times, a difficulty of swallowing. I then prescribed her an emetic, some opening powders, and a mint julep.”

But by the 19th century, mint juleps had become a bar staple thanks to pioneering Black mixologists from Virginia.

Certainly, if we move forward a couple of decades into the 19th century, we find that, in Virginia anyway, most of those who did build some kind of reputation for mixing drinks were African-American. In fact, between 1820 and the Civil War, there was a surprising number of black Virginian mixologists who made enough of a mark that we can excavate some details of their careers. Very few white Virginia bartenders could say the same thing; indeed, I can’t think of any.

Excerpt from an article by The Daily Beast

Julep Kings such as Jasper Crouch, Jim Cook, and John Dabney not only improved the style and taste of the julep but also furthered the art of mixology throughout the 19th century in spite of being enslaved people (who got to keep some of their wages). Soon, the mint julep spread across the country to New York, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.

The mint juleps that Dabney and Cook presented were visual masterpieces. One account describes a giant, multiserving silver cup topped with a one-foot-tall pyramid of ice, ice-encrusted sides and a cornucopia of fruits sticking to the ice in stunning artistic designs.

From BoomerMagazine

The drink also had its variants, such as the Walker’s Alpine Straw Julep, created by William Walker.

How to make a mint julep

According to the IBA (International Bartenders Association), you need the following ingredients to make a mint julep:

  • 6 cL Bourbon whiskey
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons water


  1. Gently muddle the mint, sugar and water.
  2. Fill the glass with cracked ice, add Bourbon whiskey, and stir well until the glass is well frosted.
  3. Garnish with a mint sprig and serve in a highball glass.

John Dabney’s Mint Julep (according to The New Lucile Cook Book, 1906)

Crushed ice, as much as you can pack in, and sugar, mint bruised and put in with the ice, then your good whiskey, and the top surmounted by more mint, a strawberry, a cherry, a slice of pineapple, or, as John expressed it, “any other fixings you like.”

Other mint julep versions call for spirits such as vodka, rum, and gin.

Association with the Kentucky Derby

The popularity of mint juleps waned for the most part but it found a new lease of life at the Kentucky Derby, where it has been an associated drink since 1938.

According to the Kentucky Derby website in 2008, nearly 120,000 juleps were served at Churchill Downs every year. That same year, Churchill Downs created the world’s largest mint julep glass at 6 feet or 1.8 metres (not including the mint) with a capacity of 206 US gallons or 780 litres. Bottoms up!

Kehinde Wiley – The World Stage: Jamaica

Photos of Kehinde Wiley's The World Stage: Jamaica exhibition

Back in 2013, African American artist Kehinde Wiley presented his first ever UK solo exhibition, entitled “The World Stage: Jamaica”. Stephen Friedman Gallery hosted the exhibition with Frieze London and it featured Jamaican men and women emulating poses from 17th and 18th Century British portraits. The concept demonstrated the relationship between Jamaica’s citizens and the island’s former colonialists with Wiley’s trademark “naturalistic” style.

Wiley embellishes his paintings with intricate, ornate backgrounds that contradict the sombre posturing of the subjects and allude to the bold styles of urban fashion. Pieces of these symbolic patterns overlay and entwine the figure, both harmoniously fusing and creating opposition between the two contrasting elements that form the work. In previous series, this decoration has been inspired by a fusion of period styles, ranging from Islamic architecture to Dutch wax printed textile and French Rococo design. In this new body of work, lavish patterning informed by the British textile designer William Morris surrounds the figures.

via Kehinde Wiley’s press release for the exhibition

About Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley was born in 1977 in Los Angeles to a Nigerian father and an African American mother. His mother supported his art and, after enrolling in after-school art classes, he went to art school in Saint Petersburg, Russia, at the age of 12.

After spending time with his father in Nigeria, he returned to the US and earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art. He has since presented 13 solo exhibitions, won countless awards, and worked with the likes of Puma and Givenchy.

In an accompanying video, Wiley discusses his initial artistic inspirations and how traveling around the world opened his outlook. For the Jamaica exhibition, he explored British art museums for inspiration and commented on portraiture in British colonial history:

“[…] in particular, I saw the works that had a direct relationship to the Caribbean. I love the history of art, I love looking at the beautiful images but I also recognise that there is something quite sinister about their past. High portrait making points back to the history of art and in that history, art has always been in a cosy relationship with the state and with the church.”

Kehinde Wiley

Stream the 7-minute video below. And Happy Independence Day, Jamaica!

Check out some of the exhibition below and head to the official Stephen Friedman Gallery page for the rest.

My Top 5 Jean-Michel Basquiat Paintings

Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat Holding Engagement Ring

Words by Sammy aka @___SAMO aka Sampira

I’ve always had a strange relationship with the art world. I grew up in single-parent family. My dad still lives in the flat I grew up in. By definition, in the society we live in, I should never have been into high art. Or ever knew about it. 

We always try and skirt around this issue and say that’s not true. We live in a meritocracy, and everyone gets exactly how much they work for. But… in the age of being completely honest, we know this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

It all depends on how you come into it. I used to sit in the library at school, to avoid bullies. I read book after book after book. When I ran out of all the horror and the history, I turned to the art books. I started reading about Witkin and people like Matisse who had a different way of thinking. But they were still all white and rich. So there was a disconnect. 

Then, there was Basquiat. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s face stared through my soul. He was a Black man. He did graffiti. He was outspoken. He had background noise and was making art in his own way. His relationship with the art world (one of his pieces sold for 110 million, the most expensive piece sold by an American artist.)

I have a real obsession with outsiders going on to redefine the value and form of art. It’s often the outsiders that have the most to say, in the most interest ways. They make things we’ve never even dreamed of. It’s because they didn’t grow up in the arts. They weren’t taught the rules, and neither was I. My love for Basquiat goes deeper though. He was Black mixed race like me. He was self-taught like me. There’s so many parallels. He used very abstract images to explain himself, but he was very specific about what they meant. He know his vision so clearly, even if it wasn’t clear to others. 

Here are my 5 favourite pieces. 

5. Untitled (1982)

Untitled (1982)

I think it cements his whole identity, as an artist and a person in the world. It’s also the piece that proved everyone wrong. It sold for $110 million in 2017, making him the most expensive American artist. Yeah, not Black artist, just American artist. This solidifies this piece for me. He did it. He did it for all the streets kids. Completely cut across every single elitist, intimidating, exclusionary art gallery and institution. A self-taught graffiti street kid of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, did it bigger than anyone. I was so happy when it happened. 

The piece itself, probably isn’t Basquiat’s strongest, honestly. But the aesthetic and the brashness of it, encompasses everything that Basquiat had become in the public eye. There’s very little thematic significance to this piece (i think there’s definitely something deeper BUT, he had far more siginificant social commentary in others.). But what it has done for his legacy, and the statement to kids that just work on instinct, is monumental. 

4. Obnoxious Liberals (1982)

It’s probably the most “political” Basquiat is at, if you ask the art scene. It was a direct comment on the rich arts scene at the time. It was signifying their relationship between artists like himself, who had come up from the streets, and how they treated him, in their elitist attitudes. After, when he started getting acclaim, they would swarm around him, but he had a long memory. It’s a direct, to a point, tongue in cheek critique that they were so hallowly hungry for art, that they would allow themselves to be parodied by an artist they had racially and socio-econimcally cast out. He makes his own stance very clear as well with slogans such as “not for sale” and dollar signs, directly challenging the notion that art should be capitalist. 

3. Tuxedo (1982)


It’s striking in the way it defies Basquait’s uniform he stitched for himself. His iconic crown is sprayed on the top of the paper and it shows his influences boldly. He loved hip-hop, scat music and poetry. He worked in symbols and poetry and it’s no clearer than here. It’s probably his most abstract work. He often put social commentary through art into his work. The crown, I think, isn’t something to be celebrated. He’s not calling himself a king. He’s using it ironically to symbolise the inequalities he faced. How can you wear a crown if people are dying? Shine it up good, make it twinkle. So we’re not seeing a person wearing a tuxedo, we’re seeing what he thinks a tuxedo is figuratively. 

2. Riddle Me This Batman (1987)

Riddle Me This Batman (1987)

Riddle Me This Batman was made with acrylic crayon on paper. It shows Robin and Joker, but it completely subverts it. I think he’s making a comment on us as a society and who we put our stock in. Growing up in New York, he definitely saw his fair share of corruption and brutality. I always think he’s commenting on our societal need for a hero and a villain; we can never just be… We can never create revolutions as citizens. We always expect someone to rise up and we follow them, to buffer the damage. The same as calling out injustice or defeating evil… We always need a Batman. He subverts this, crossing out Batman’s emblem twice, and portraying Robin as a drunkard. 

1. Untitled (Fallen Angel) (1981)

Untitled (Fallen Angel) (1981)

I’m not an OG fan. I learnt about him when his work came with the Boom! For Real exhibition at the Barbican, but I instantly felt connected to him. Like an old friend. Untitled (Fallen Angel) is one of the most striking paintings I’ve ever seen. I was struggling badly with my mental health, and the painting alleviated some of that, which is monumental. It’s a mix of pain and freedom. It says, to me, that freedom is beautiful to the oppressed, but the white and upper-class supremacist system sees us as monsters when we do fight for our freedom. It gave me a lot of comfort when I was struggling with whether to assimilate or go my own way. When I learnt about Jean-Michel and where he had come from, I decided to go my own way and never looked back. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat is a testament to talent. People have often commented on “talent being in an unexpected place” but that is rooted in racism. they said the same about Alexander McQueen, and it was deep rooted in classism. Basquait is enigmatic, passionate, multi-faceted and he left us way too soon.

He died of an overdose, brought on with the struggles of fame within the art world. He was being lauded by the same people who were calling him racial slurs behind his bag; an absolute madness to deal with. He died at 27, a year younger than me. I think about that alot. All the art he’s left. What he would have said about the world today. Maybe that wasn’t written though. 

As so many great artists leave young, maybe we were only supposed to have his greatness for a short time. To spark the next minds and then leave. To tell us, in his very short life, what street kids were capable of, and not to take it too seriously. Keep that tongue in cheek spirit with the critiques too. And give it to them, every single day, the only way a street kid can. 

The rise of the murder hornets

The Asian giant hornet aka murder hornet

If 2020 wasn’t enough of a hell year with the COVID-19 pandemic and major resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are now murder hornets. But what the hell are they?

Murder hornets aka Asian giant hornets

The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest hornet wasp, native to East, South and Mainland Southeast Asia, and parts of Russia. Unfortunately for people in the Pacific Northwest of North America, some of them made their way across with four sightings this year.

They live in mountains and forests, away from high altitudes and eat on larger insects, tree sap, and honey from honey bees.

A hornet by any other name

The name “murder hornet” is a relatively new invention. In Korea, it is called 장수말벌 or general officer hornet, in China the “giant tiger head bee”, in Japan, the ōsuzumebachi or “giant sparrow bee”. But in 2008, Japanese media outlets gave it a more sinister name – satsujin suzumebachi or “murder hornet”. 12 years later, a NYT reporter picked up the name and the rest is history.

Why they’re called “murder” hornets

In April, Washington authorities told the public to be on the lookout for any Asian giant hornets. The name wasn’t for show. If they started growing in numbers, they had the potential to destroy bee colonies in the US and would be near impossible to get rid of.

“This is our window to keep it from establishing. If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”

Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture

Besides their invasive nature, they also pack a mean sting. The hornets deliver venom that contains a neurotoxin called mandaratoxin through their quarter-inch stinger. One might not kill but multiple certainly will. Jun-ichi Takahashi, a researcher at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan, bore the brunt of it when he got stung.

“The next day, his legs were aching, as if he had the flu. Of the thousands of times he has been stung in his lifetime of work, he said, the Asian giant hornet stings were the most painful.”

Quote from The New York Times

How to kill a murder hornet

There are ways to reduce numbers of Asian giant hornets if you act quickly and stop them spreading. The following methods were created in 1973 from “A Bionomic Sketch of the Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, a Serious Pest for Japanese Apiculture (With 12 Text-figures and 5 Tables)”:

1. Crush them

Animal lovers, look away now. You can flatten murder hornets with “wooden sticks with flat heads”. It’s very much a whack-a-mole approach so not the most effective or efficient.

2. Remove the nest

Getting them at the source by destroying their nests with fires or poison can kill the colonies. This works well… if you can find the nests. Those underground are difficult to locate but the most common way is to bait them with meat, usually frog or fish.

3. Trap them with bait

Simply place the bait traps in the apiaries. The baits use a jelly or sugar solution mixed with vinegar or some kind of intoxicant.

4. Poison them

After the bait, they are then poisoned with a toxin called malathion. If successful, it should kill them within 24 hours.

5. Trap them

The traps are inefficient as some hornets can escape past them but attaching them to the front of their hives can work. How well they work depends on how effective they are at actually trapping hornets and letting the innocent bees get through unscathed.

6. Block them

Things like wire, weeds, and fishing nets limit the hornets’ ability to escape but with the right protective screen, honey bees can make it through. But hornets are smart and cotton on to the tactic so this works better with traps rather than on their own.

Hope in the hive

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Washington State Department of Agriculture claim to have trapped a murder hornet in the state for the first time. They trapped the hornet on 14th July and identified it two weeks later. So it looks like traps worked on this occasion.

WSDA’s next steps are to search for nests using infrared cameras and place additional traps in order to catch live Asian giant hornet specimens. WSDA Pest Program staff will deploy special traps intended to trap hornets but keep them alive. If they catch live hornets, the department will attempt to tag and track them back to their colony. Once located, the agency will eradicate the colony.

From WSDA’s news release

We’ll beekeep you updated. And if you have issues with bees, hornets, or wasps in your house, this guide will help you safely remove their nests.

Marni apologises for racist “Jungle Mood” campaign

Marni logo

It looks like some brands have stopped “seeing us” if they ever did to begin with. Luxury fashion brand Marni apologised for its “Jungle Mood” campaign shoot that portrayed racist imagery of Black models in chains and in tribal regalia.

The Italian brand took to Instagram to launch the campaign with images including a Black man with what appeared to be shackles on his feet, Praia flip flops “powerful and shining like a tribal amulet” and “barefoot in the jungle”. A flurry of comments condemned the depictions and terminology, including blogger and model Natasha Ndlovu:

“Corona hasn’t even finished its world tour and Italian brands are at it again. And this whole ‘jungle mood’ terminology is so stereotypical jee zus ! Isn’t there a fashion panel that should approve images for brand campaigns? As a content creator brands are up my *ss doing approvals before I post content so why can’t an image that will be on billboards worldwide have the same background check?”

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On Friday, Italian brand @Marni , known for its quirky, irreverent take on luxury fashion, sent out an e-mail blast for their new SS20 campaign. In the series of images, which were also simultaneously posted on Instagram, Black models are juxtaposed with some choice words evoking the season’s mood–“jungle mood,” “tribal amulet,” and “barefoot in the jungle” among others. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ You might remember H&M’s “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle” hoodie from 2018, which was photographed on a young black boy, and recalled a legacy of simianized representations of Black people as apes and monkeys. Ditto Prada’s “Otto” keychains which caused a scandal later that same year and in the months prior, an incident with Gucci’s blackface balaclava. It was a rough year for fashion brands, but it hasn’t stopped. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Marni’s new campaign is more nuanced, but no less problematic. With the models styled in a smorgasbord of ethnic accessories like Bayong wood necklaces from the Philippines, Caribbean woven grass hats, and other non-descript wooden jewelry (none of which are Marni), the images begin alluding to racist, colonial stereotypes of Black people as primitive, uncivilized, and unmodern people. One model is even painted in clay, evoking tribal bodypaint. In another image that’s since been deleted from the brand’s Instagram account, a link of chains near the model’s feet resulted in some terrible shackle-like optics. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ It becomes a more layered conversation though, when you discover the photographer Edgar Azevedo is Afro-Brazilian. Meanwhile Giovanni Bianco, the art director, is Brazilian-Italian. Was something lost in translation? More context provided by the brand to explain the vision and collaboration with the photographer could have helped in this situation, but needless to say, the damage was done when the marketing team decided on those words. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ These stereotypes are just some of the ways the institution of white supremacy has oppressed, dehumanized, and deprived Black people of their human rights. For yet another fashion brand to reflect these tropes further proves the work that needs to be done to dismantle the pervasive racism throughout the world.

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But besides the shackles and “tribal amulets”, there’s a lot of cultural appropriation at play. Diet Prada called out Marni’s new campaign with its “smorgasbord of ethnic accessories like Bayong wood necklaces from the Philippines, Caribbean woven grass hats, and other non-descript wooden jewelry (none of which are Marni)”. Oh, and Marni actually deleted the image of the Black man in shackles.

There’s also the question of the photographer, Edgar Azevedo, who is Afro-Brazilian. Was there a message amongst the sloppy copy or was it a promotion of racist stereotypes and appropriative garments? My issue with a lot of fashion brands and their campaigns is their intent is ambiguous, but their impact is harmful. I can’t imagine a better outlook for this campaign than what we’ve seen and I don’t see how it was appropriate for the times we’re in. The products don’t even look that nice and they’re the background props for whatever this campaign was supposed to be.

A very brief history of Jamaican rum

Wray & Nephew's, one of the most famous Jamaican rum brands on the planet

Of all the things my mum asked me to buy from the West Indian shop down the road when I was a kid, Jamaican rum wasn’t one of them (for multiple reasons – age being the main one). And while my parents never drank it, my mum still used it in fruit cakes (if you know, you know). Rum is a significant part of Jamaican culture and in this article, I’ll give a very brief history of the alcoholic beverage.

What is rum?

Let’s get this one out of the way. Rum is a liquor made from fermented molasses or sugarcane juice which is then distilled. You either get a clear liquid, where the rum is filtered and bottled straight away, or a dark liquid which is aged in charred oak or wooden casks (known as puncheons) before filtering and bottling.

Jamaican rum’s history is enslaved peoples’ history

Rum was introduced to Jamaica in 1494 by Christopher Columbus (but rum’s history goes even further back, to the 7th century India). By 1655, when Jamaica was under British rule, the colonialists brought the concept of rum-making and distilling over from another of their colonies, Barbados. Enslaved people were forced to work on plantations and their labour made rum become an even more popular drink.

Rum then became a strong form of currency, used in triangle trades with enslaved people. But when slavery was abolished in the 1800s, the rum industry suffered as enslaved people’s labour ran its production. In 1893, there were about 148 rum distilleries in Jamaica. Now, only 6 remain (the last three with an asterisk operate under National Rums of Jamaica):

  • Hampden Estate
  • Appleton Estate
  • Worthy Park Estate
  • Long Pond Distillery*
  • Clarendon Distillery*
  • Innswood Distillers Limited*

But the quantity and quality of rum are improved and without the enslaved people. Jamaican rum is sold in over 70 countries around the world.

Hampden Estate Rum

Hampden Estate Rum makes pure single rums, using wild fermentation and no added sugar. Its history goes back to 1753 when it operated as a sugar plantation under the ownership of Mr. Archibald Stirling. The estate changed hands in 1827 and during World War I, Hampden built the Hampden Wharf in Falmouth for rum and sugar shipments. Today, the wharf is a tourist destination and an entry port for some of the largest cruise ships in the world.

Appleton Estate

Appleton began rum production 4 years earlier than Hampton. Nowadays, Appleton makes its world famous Appleton Rum and New Yarmouth Estate thanks to the incredible work of master blender Joy Spence, who became the first female spirits master blender ever in 1997. In 1978, she graduated from Loughborough University with a Masters’ degree in Analytical Chemistry.

Worthy Park Estate

The estate was established in 1670 and its started making rum in 1741, 7 years before Appleton (who claim to have the oldest rum in Jamaica). Today, Worthy Park mixes the classic with the modern, having built a cutting edge distillery in 2005, but still opting to distill its rums in a traditional Jamaican Pot for a “heavy bodied rum full of esters and congeners”.

National Rums of Jamaica

National Rums of Jamaica owns three distilleries:

  • Long Pond Distillery
  • Clarendon Distillery
  • Innswood Distillers Limited

The limited company is a joint partnership between the Jamaican government, Demerara Distillers Limited from Guyana and Maison Ferrand, based in France. Between the three distilleries, National Rums of Jamaica processes over 13 million litres of rum a year, enough to fill 5 Olympic-sized swimming pool and have enough left over for a really good party.

List of Jamaican rum brands

In short, there are a lot and I’ll undoubtedly miss some (in which case let me know) and some of them are made at the same distilleries or not made in Jamaica but are classed as Jamaican rums (eg. Captain Morgan). Here are some of the most well known:

  • Wray & Nephew
  • Appleton Estate
  • Worthy Park
  • Hampden Estate
  • Captain Morgan
  • Koko Kanu
  • Lambs
  • Appleton
  • Cut
  • Myers
  • Blackwell
  • Jah45
  • Coruba
  • Monymusk

Jamaican rum cocktails

Don’t let anyone tell you Jamaican rum punch is the only cocktail you can make out of the island drink. There’s a history to consider so here are a few along with their stories.


The British Navy swapped brandy for Jamaican rum during the Anglo-Spanish War as their drink ration of choice. But it caused sailors to be even more despicable than they already were (they were from the British Navy after all). So in 1740, Vice Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon issued a Captain’s Order that stated that all rum provisions had to be mixed with water, although the addition of “sugar and limes” was allowed. The new drink was known as Grog in his honour.

Nowadays, grog cocktails are still popular amongst seaborne types but also a mainstay at tiki bars.

Mai Tai

There’s a dispute over who invented this Polynesian-themed cocktail.

Victor J. Bergeron claimed it as his own in 1944 in Oakland, California. But Donn Beach said it was based on his Q.B. Cooler cocktail created 11 years earlier. The tastes are different but regardless, why is a drink, allegedly named after the Tahitian word for “good” or “excellence” (maita’i), made with Jamaican rum? Well, that’s what Victor Bergeron used in his recipes and subsequent recipes were modelled on his concoction (along with Martinique rum).

The official International Bartenders Association (IBA) specified ingredients for a mai tai are:

  • 3 cl amber Jamaican rum
  • 3 cl Martinique molasses rum
  • 1.5 cl orange curaçao
  • 1.5 cl orgeat syrup
  • 3 cl fresh lime juice
  • .75 cl simple syrup

Other rum cocktails include:

  • Blow My Skull Off
  • Fogg Cutter (not to be confused with the Fog Cutter which it is based on)
  • Hangman’s Blood (I assume this contains Jamaican rum as it comes from a book called A High Wind in Jamaica)
  • Zombie
  • Anything made with Tia Maria like Espresso Martini, Skinny Tia White Russian, and Orgasm
  • Doctor
  • Modernista
  • Mr. Bali Hai
  • Ancient Mariner


Phew, that’s a lot of alcohol. Jamaican rum’s colonial past mustn’t be overlooked. Enslaved people made the drink what it was for centuries before it was reclaimed by free Jamaican men and women. That’s not to say Jamaican rum has stayed within the island as the vast number of cocktails created by American Tiki bartenders and newer brands by European alcohol distillers can show. But you can’t beat the originals.

And, as always, drink responsibly.