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Friday, June 13, 2014

Politics Make Us Petty—But Americans Actually Agree on More Than Ever

Politics Make Us Petty—But Americans Actually Agree on More Than Ever


Politics Make Us Petty—But Americans Actually Agree on More Than Ever

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 11:03 AM PDT

A new national survey of 10,000 Americans tells you what probably already thought: "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines — and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive — than at any point in the last two decades."

Pollsters at Pew Research report that "92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican." And the percentage of people who hold "consistently" conservative or liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, to 21 percent.

Yet such rank partisanship and ideological extremism tell an incomplete and ultimately misleading story of contemporary America. Yes, those who identify themselves as members of Team Red or Team Blue are more at one another's throats than ever (just check out C-SPAN if you don't believe me). But an increasing number of Americans are calling themselves independents, and there are huge and growing areas of consensus developing not just on once-controversial social issues but also on the proper role of government in everyday life.

Gallup reports that in 2013, 42 percent of Americans identified themselves as politically independent, up 10 points from 1988. Over the same period, those willing to call themselves Democrats dropped from 36 percent to 31 percent and those calling themselves Republican fell from 30 percent to 25 percent. While it's true that self-described independents often lean toward either the Democrats or Republicans, the number of "pure" independents has been growing for more than a decade and stands above 10 percent.

And there's no question that people are leaving the major parties in droves. Between the 2008 and 2012 elections, USA Today reports, more than 2.5 million voters left the Democrats and the Republicans. "Registered Democrats declined in 25 of the 28 states that register voters by party," according to USA Today's tally. "Republicans dipped in 21 states, while independents increased in 18 states." As politics gets more viciously partisan, more Americans are saying no thanks.

Then there are the areas in which consensus already exists or is growing rapidly. As political scientist Morris Fiorina explains in his book Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, Americans actually generally agree on many topics that inflame political partisans. Consider abortion, gay marriage, gun control, and pot legalization. Research from Pew itself shows only "modest generational differences in views of abortion gun control." Fifty-five percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage (up from just 42 percent in 2004) and 58 percent support legalizing pot (up from 34 percent a decade ago). When it comes to Congress, few topics seem to engender more rage than immigration, but it turns out that 71 percent of voters — including 64 percent of Republicans — support comprehensive immigration reform.

When it comes to larger questions of the role of government in everyday life, for the past four years about 55 percent of Americans believe the "government is doing too much" and only 38 percent believe it should be doing more. That generally skeptical view of government is borne out in the record high level of people — a whopping 72 percent — who agree that government poses a bigger threat to our future than big business (21 percent) or big labor (5 percent).

Fiorina's Culture War? helps to explain how politics can be getting more polarized even as Americans seem to agree on many, maybe most, big issues. "The answer," he writes, "is that while voter positions have not polarized, their choices have." The ways that the Democratic and Republican parties select their representatives and build their platforms is more fully in the hands of partisans who push more extreme candidates and policies. That means that the typical voter is faced not just with the lesser of two evils but two major-party choices that don't really represent her beliefs.

Partisan and ideological polarization is a sour note in an America that is increasingly singing in harmony about things such as immigration, the drug war, marriage equality, and more. No wonder, then, that more and more of us refuse to say we're Republican or Democrat, or to trust Washington, D.C. — that hotbed of the worst sort of to-the-death politics — with our lives and our futures.

Watch Michael Keaton and Emma Stone in the Crazy-Cool Birdman Trailer

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:58 AM PDT

The first trailer is out for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's new film Birdman, and it could not look more awesome. The film stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up superhero actor who tries to get back in the game by mounting a Broadway play. Which is convenient, because Michael Keaton is most famous for playing Batman.

Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and Edward Norton also co-star.

It’s due in theaters October 17, just in time for Oscar season.

Colombia’s Election Hinges On How To End War

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:57 AM PDT

In a gripping TV spot, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos looks straight into the camera and bellows: "No more war! No more war! No more war!”

That sums up Santos's message ahead of Colombia's June 15 presidential runoff. If he wins another four-year term, Santos has claimed he will sign a peace treaty with Marxist rebels and bring an end to the hemisphere's oldest guerrilla conflict. So what's not to like?

Plenty, according to Colombian voters. Opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga, a conservative former Treasury minister, has been gaining support based on his harsh criticism of ongoing peace talks between the guerrillas and the Santos government. Referring to the negotiations when he launched his presidential bid last year, Zuluaga declared: "We have to end this and end it now."

Zuluaga topped Santos in the May 25 first round of balloting, though he failed to win more than half the votes required to avoid a runoff. The final pre-election polls released June 6 provided little clarity over what will happen on Sunday: One survey showed Santos up by five points, another showed Zuluaga leading by eight.

Santos had been the early favorite based on Colombia's strong economic performance and progress at the peace talks. But with his aristocratic pedigree—Santos's great uncle also served as president—he can be a stiff campaigner. His biggest problem, however, is that he has staked his re-election on making peace with a guerrilla army many voters see as narco-terrorists.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, funds its war through kidnapping, extortion, illegal gold mining and drug trafficking and has committed myriad war atrocities. Now that the army has the upper hand on the battlefield, there is little stomach among Colombians for offering the FARC concessions at the peace table, such as allowing demobilized rebels to serve in Congress or to avoid prison for war crimes.

"Everyone wants peace, but not a humiliating peace. Not a peace that benefits a terrorist group that did not win this war," said Gen. Jaime Ruiz, who heads an association of retired military officers.

Santos is no peacenik. He previously served as defense minister for President Álvaro Uribe, who launched a military campaign that halved the number of FARC troops to about 8,000 fighters. That turned Uribe into Colombia's most popular politician and his endorsement helped Santos win the 2010 election. But instead of copying Uribe’s script, Santos surprised the country by opening negotiations with the FARC in Havana, Cuba, in Nov. 2012, rather than pressing his advantage.

It was a logical move given the FARC's weakened state. In fact, the two sides have made far more progress than in previous talks held in the 1980s and 90s. But because the war is mainly fought in remote rural areas, most voters are disengaged from the conflict and put peace talks low on their list of priorities, behind issues like unemployment and health care.

In speeches, Santos reminds them that ending the war would free up billions of dollars for just such development. And he’s not backing down ahead of the election; on Tuesday, his government announced the opening of exploratory peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the smaller of the country’s two remaining rebel groups. Yet his pivot from war to peace has some Colombians feeling betrayed – and chief among them is his former boss.

Uribe, who served two presidential terms, is banned by the Constitution from running for a third. So instead, he formed a right-wing opposition party that is backing Zuluaga. In March, Uribe won a seat to the Senate and last month his support helped seal Zuluaga's first-round victory. Indeed, some see the race as a contest between Santos and Uribe.

"Santos is from family of presidents and has his own political stature," said Maria Victoria Llorente, who heads the Bogota think tank Ideas for Peace. "But Zuluaga doesn't. He really could turn out to be a puppet for Uribe."

Zuluaga insists that he’s no figurehead. He now says that if elected he will continue negotiating if the FARC agrees to a series of conditions — such as halting the recruitment of child warriors, the laying of landmines and attacks on civilians.

These demands sound reasonable. But Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, says such conditions could be a deal-breaker. For one thing, they would be extremely difficult to verify. What's more, the two sides are not negotiating surrender terms. Though the FARC has been battered, it has options. The steady flow of income from its criminal activities could keep the guerrillas fighting for years.

"They are still out there. They can still cause damage and that's the problem," Col. Eduardo González, commander of the army's 2nd Mobile Brigade, told TIME as he sat in a military bunker in a red zone in southern Colombia. "Wars are not brought to an end by soldiers. They are ended by politicians."

Colombians must now decide which candidate is up to the task.

NASA Clears 3D Printer for Space Launch

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:42 AM PDT

NASA cleared a 3D printer for launch to the International Space Station (ISS) Thursday, a step towards greater self-sustainability and safety on the station.

Developed by Made in Space, a tech startup that partnered with NASA for the venture, the 3D printer is designed to function in zero gravity to produce spare parts, crew tools and components of cubesats, a mini satellite for research, according to a press release.

The printer will make the ISS less dependent on resupply ships for materials, which could cut transportation costs and improve safety.

NASA announced its intentions to launch a 3D printer into space in September. It said it wanted the printer to undergo a series of tests to ensure its suitability in space, such as withstanding the forces of takeoff and electrical checks. Though Made in Space's testing took over 20,000 hours, the printer's launch is actually ahead of its original schedule: it will launch in August, instead of November, on SpaceX CRS-4 this fall.

Once the printer arrives at the ISS, it will print a series of demonstration objects while researchers at NASA and Made in Space assess the output. Upon satisfactory in-space testing, the ISS will establish a permanent 3D printing station called the Additive Manufacturing Facility.

The end goal is to advance space travel and research.

"We can welcome a great change," Made in Space's lead engineer Michael Snyder said in the press release. "The ability to manufacture on-demand in space is going to be a paradigm shift for the way development, research, and exploration happen in space."

‘Bigorexia’ and the Male Quest For More Muscle

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:42 AM PDT

Much has been made of the decreased effect of gravity on female movie stars in recent decades, and how this sets an impossible standard for girls, leading to body image issues.

But a similar effect has taken place with men, with the scale moving in the opposite direction.

Charlton Heston spent most of the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes shirtless, but such a torso would never suffice for today's action hero. That's why the 2001 reboot had former underwear model Mark Wahlberg as the lead.

The James Bond body stayed pretty static across multiple actors, until the perfectly ripped Daniel Craig added 007 to his tagline. When Casino Royale premiered hearts went aflutter when his license to thrill physique sauntered out of the ocean blue.

There has been a shift in what gets seen while shirtless on the silver screen, and men have noticed. Schwarzenegger was one of the first, followed quickly by Jean Claude Van Damme, as guys who fit the description of, "Well, they can't act, and their English isn't so good, but damn, they look pretty from the neck down, so … roll camera!"

But such hyper-muscled warriors were anomalies in the 80s. Christopher Reeve may have looked good as Superman, but he was positively puny compared to Henry Cavill's 2013 version of the man of steel.

An entire industry has sprung up around the desire to achieve the latest male movie star musculature. Stories of regular actors being transformed for specific roles have permeated the media and lead to training tales a-plenty in magazines sporting the word "muscle" in the title.

In the year following the 2006 film 300, Google Trends shows a 300% increase in searches for the term "six pack abs." Many magazines promise to relay the secrets of the "Superman workout" or the "Thor workout" or the "300 workout" or the "Insert-name-of-pumped-up-movie-hero-here workout." What is often left out is the explanation of how these physical transformations become tightly controlled labor camps for the actors, and how the muscle gains and rippling midsections are fleeting.

This media pressure can lead to muscle dysmorphia (colloquially known as "bigorexia"), which is an obsession with not being muscular enough. Listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it strikes primarily among men who are already lean and muscular, compelling them to quest for even more muscle mass and ever lower levels of body fat. It can lead to compulsive exercise regimens that decrease quality of life, as well as disordered eating. Sometimes, anabolic steroids are sought out to quench one's desire to be huge. The supplement industry sure has cashed in on all of this. It's worth noting that many of those muscle mags are owned by supplement companies and used as vehicles to hawk their mass gaining wares.

Recently I interviewed Hugh Jackman about his Wolverine transformation, and instead of dwelling on the details of his workout, I asked him about the extremes taken to prepare him for shirtless scenes. "… everything changes the month before, and I'm timed down to the day," Jackman told me. "There is water dehydration for 36 hours before. It's quite a scientific process to looking your best." He also told me of how his motivation to train so hard comes from knowing he's going to be on a big screen in 3-D, and that he doesn't keep that shape for long.

I also interviewed the stars of 300: Rise of an Empire and learned about how training and diet takes over the actors' lives. And in a recent interview with actor and Old Spice pitchman Terry Crews he told me about taking diuretics to lean out for shirtless scenes.

Overall, I like seeing these powerful physiques on action stars, but I also understand what it takes to achieve them. I just wish more men realized what a near-impossible standard is being set, and instead of fretting over their own lack of visual "perfection," would just sit back and enjoy the show.

Fell is a syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He blogs at www.SixPackAbs.com. You can follow him @BodyForWife.

 

 

Our 10 Favorite Games of E3 2014

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:41 AM PDT

Now that we’re able to safely tuck E3 2014 into our back pockets, like a receipt you keep to commemorate the time you went on some lunatic bender, let’s talk about the games we saw at the show, namely the ones we liked most and ranked in alphabetical order.

Alien: Isolation

Jared: Somehow, this game takes two genres that are not usually my style–psychological terror and games based on Alien movies–and combines them into something I want to play more of. Unlike almost every Alien-based game yet, Isolation isn’t just another generic lowercase-A alien shooter. In fact, there’s only one alien in the game, and it’s constantly looking for you, so you need to move quietly and be ready to change course when the ominous green blip appears on your motion tracker. You can try to save yourself with flares, flamethrowers and other tools, but fighting the creature is impossible. I died a lot in my 30-minute demo.

And yet, I want to stick around in Isolation’s world, which is based on what sci-fi looked like in ’70s movies. I want to see more of the humans and synthetics scattered around the ship, and how they interact with the game’s singular creature. If I have to be a bit terrified along the way, so be it.

PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 / October 7

Batman: Arkham Knight

Matt: I was expecting the Batmobile to be cool, but I never thought it'd be Arkham Knight's sidekick. Imagine Robin wearing a car suit that's like a tank by way of a strafe-shooter by way of a weaponized gadget factory and you're close.

It matters because that gadget factory's your ticket to solving environmental puzzles whose solutions might require five or six discrete actions as you alternate between Batman and his remote-controlled ride. The sense of working a problem from multiple angles and spatial perspectives — of doing honest-to-goodness Bat-sleuthing to move the narrative needle — is strong with this one.

And since Gotham's ambience might as well be its own character in these games, it's worth noting that Arkham Knight looks as good as you've hoped. Better, even. It's everything you liked about Arkham City dressed to the nines and strolling down Fritz Lang Avenue. A guy like Tim Burton could live in this place.

PC, PS4, Xbox One / 2015

Bloodborne

Jared: This is the one game on my list that I didn’t get to play for myself, as it’s in such an early state that hands-on time was forbidden. But I’m such a sucker for Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls that I can’t resist the idea of a similar game in a new world.

Bloodborne trades the fantasy realms of the Souls games for a spookier, 19th-century gothic style. And while many of the trappings of the Souls series are still around–including the brutal difficulty, eerie soundtrack-free atmosphere and oversized bosses–Bloodborne will put a greater emphasis on holding a weapon in each hand, and using them in tandem. Dark Souls was starting to feel a bit stale in its second go-around anyway, even if its mechanics remain pure. A shift in tone and play style could be just what From Software’s mini-genre needs.

PS4 / 2015

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Matt: I really wanted not to like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I dug in my heels, fingers and neurons. If I'm being honest, I haven't swooned for a game in this series since Call of Duty 2. But resisting Activision's "Induction" gameplay demo at the show — the one that takes place in a near-future version of Seoul, South Korea — was like trying to get out of the way of a thermonuclear missile.

Four-legged tanks stalked the pulverized urban battlefield. Cascades of chittering insectile drones tore through the air with the alien menace of the smoke monster in Lost. EMP grenades highlighted ghost-like targets behind objects the protagonist's bullets swept through like paper. Flung "smart" grenades hovered like angry wasps before jetting down to deliver their deadly coup de grace. Contextual readouts on guns and grenades displayed clip ammo or cycled weapon modes in a HUD-less screen. And that’s just the go-boom stuff: Wait until you see the stealth demo Activision was showing behind closed doors.

Sayonara Crysis, the tactical battlefield in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare looks to be like no tactical battlefield we've seen in a game before.

PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 / November 4

Destiny

Jared: So much is riding on the success or failure of Destiny that it can be hard to ignore the marketing barrage that goes along with it. But if you can see past the claims that Destiny is something entirely new, what we really have is a solid combination of a few proven ideas.

Of course, Destiny feels a bit like Halo, especially in competitive multiplayer, as it’s coming from the same developers at Bungie. But it also takes cues from Borderlands and Diablo in its obsession with found weapons and loot, and throws in a dash of Guild Wars with its dynamic events, where dozens of players can join in on a common goal. Destiny’s addictive hooks are deep and varied, and a few minutes of play at E3 is enough to know that many people–myself included–will be craving a lot more.

PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 / September 4

Evolve

Jared: Like I wrote in my hands-on preview, Evolve is the rare game at E3 that left my hands shaking, as my Kraken just barely got the better of its four player-controlled monster hunters. This wasn’t some manufactured thrill; the game is so well-balanced–despite its lopsided, four vs. one setup–that plenty of matches should come down to the wire.

I’m a little worried that there won’t be enough substance once the excitement of a good match loses its novelty, as that was my experience with developer Turtle Rock Studios’ last series, Left 4 Dead. But I’m hoping that the lineup of unlockable monsters and hunters will keep things fresh for a while.

PC, PS4, Xbox One / October 21

Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

Matt: This “what happens after we launch colony ships into space” game made my list more of my own personal interest than anything splashy or surprising developer Firaxis revealed at the show. I already know just about all I need to from the unveiling a few months ago (that, and it’s a turn-based PC strategy game — what else do you expect?).

My concern, and I expressed it throughout my interview with the development team, is that the A.I.’s able to play the game Firaxis is building in view of its shift to a hex-based map (the A.I. in Civilization 5 couldn’t, or at least couldn’t until the final expansion). That said, if the company has the A.I. in hand, I’m trying to imagine what’s not to like about this game.

PC, OS X, Linux / Late 2014

Splatoon

Matt: Nintendo's 4-vs-4 action-fest lets you spray ink all over the screen, like You Can't Do That on Television's slime with Super Soakers. Whoever's team covers the most square footage with their color of ink wins. When you bump into enemy inkers furiously blanketing their side of each level in colorful globs, you can square off as in a shooter, hosing them down or firing a bazooka-like weapon you can whip out once you've powered up.

The twist is that you play as a human that can morph into a squid. In squid form, you recharge spent ink and can swim super-fast through your own ink color, including up the sides of walls, letting you zip from low ground to an out-of-reach platform in an instant. It made for frenetic, often amusing situations (including some tactically rich ones, like using the ink to sneak over barriers by sliding across walls to get behind the enemy), and seems to be a sly inversion of shooter tropes filtered through Nintendo's playful lens.

Wii U / Q1 2015

Xenoblade Chronicles X

Matt: I hate the guys at Nintendo Treehouse, I really do. They get to play Xenoblade Chronicles X before I do. That's okay, because they've generously gifted us with over 30 minutes of gameplay demo time that you can view above.

What is it? The spiritual sequel to the best roleplaying game of 2012, only with giant robots you can drive, or fly, or turn into tanks. It'll have an open world to rival Skyrim's and a combat system on par with its exemplary predecessor's. It'll have aliens and Los Angeles and on-the-fly class changing and enemies as big as skyscrapers. And against everything else I saw at E3, even Arkham Knight and Call of Duty, it's the game I'm anticipating most.

Wii U / 2015

Yoshi’s Wooly World

Jared: This may sound silly, but you can almost feel the softness of Yoshi’s woven fabric world as he leaps about and spits little balls of yarn at his foes. Woolly World trades the usual blurps and bops of Nintendo platformers for muted thuds, and plushier platforms even provide a little give underneath heavy objects.

I can’t say there’s anything remarkable about Woolly World’s mechanics–it’s a lot like controlling Yoshi in Super Mario World, sans Mario–but next to all of E3′s standard blood-and-guts fare, Yoshi’s Woolly World was an island of tranquility, and I kept thinking I’d like to spend at least a few hours in it.

Wii U / Q1 2015

Report: Executioner Errors Led to Botched Lethal Injection

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:37 AM PDT

Oklahoma prison officials failed to properly place IVs in Clayton Lockett’s veins after numerous attempts, according to preliminary autopsy findings released Friday. The death row inmate’s execution made national headlines and became a rallying cry for death penalty opponents.

While many of lethal injection’s problems have focused on the drugs being used, it appears that Lockett’s execution went awry due to the actual administration of those drugs. The autopsy found that Lockett’s arms and thighs showed evidence of skin and needle punctures. IVs are typically administered through the arms, but according to the autopsy, Oklahoma’s executioners appear to have failed in accessing his veins and as an alternative attempted to deliver the fatal drugs through his femoral arteries, located in the thighs.

The autopsy found that Lockett’s veins were not damaged prior to the execution and stated that there was “excellent integrity of peripheral and deep veins for the purpose of achieving venous access.” There was also evidence of “vascular injury indicative of failed vascular catheter access,” meaning the executioners actually damaged Lockett’s veins during the attempted execution. The drugs likely leaked into his surrounding tissues rather than going directly into his bloodstream, causing a much more prolonged death.

Lockett’s execution lasted 45 minutes.

The postmortem was conducted after Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin called for an investigation into the April 29 execution. President Obama asked the U.S. attorney general to look into the problems surrounding lethal injection following Lockett’s death as well.

A series of lawsuits around the country have challenged lethal injection methods based on the drugs’ origins, which are often kept secret. Many states have had trouble obtaining execution drugs lately and have turned to new mixtures which are loosely regulated and not overseen by the federal government. But the Lockett execution may put more of a spotlight on the actual training of executioners, which is also a concern for many who challenge lethal injection’s constitutionality. The amount and quality of training which executioners receive is often unclear.

The preliminary autopsy findings did not confirm whether Lockett died of a heart attack, which state officials claimed at the time. A full report is due within the next few weeks.

Watch: Off-Duty Cop Rescues Man From Burning Car

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:32 AM PDT

Surveillance footage from a White Plains, NY gas station last Tuesday shows a car crashing into a gas pump, causing flames to erupt.

Fortunately, an off-duty police officer was at the gas station at the same time. John Vescio, a New York State Police senior investigator, sprang to action and pulled the elderly driver from the crashed car to safety. The 69-year-old driver was apparently suffering from a diabetic episode and had been trapped inside his car.

Both escaped with minor injuries, and Vescio told The Journal News he planned on visiting the driver his first day back on duty.

Why Marina Abramović’s 512 Hours Didn’t Make Me Cry

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:30 AM PDT

“Are you going to cry?”

It was the first thing my editor asked when I told him that I was going to see the Marina Abramović exhibit, 512 Hours, at the Serpentine Gallery. The Serbian-born artist’s exhibit had premiered on June 11 with much fanfare, as long queues had formed outside the gallery and many people were reportedly moved to tears. As a performance artist, Abramović has long used her own body as the subject object, and medium of her work, but how that would play out in 512 Hours wasn’t initially clear. Though she had committed to interacting with an audience at the gallery eight hours a day for 64 days (for a total of 512 hours), she’d also said that it would be open-ended and during those hours “something may or may not happen.” It wasn’t a lot to go on. Yet I couldn’t see myself crying — though many people have been known to weep at an Abramović exhibit — and I told my editor as much.

But when I arrive at the gallery, nestled in London’s Hyde Park, I find myself a little nervous. A gallery employee stamps my wrist and points me toward a room of lockers, where I’m expected to lock up my bag and — most importantly — my cell phone, so I can enter the exhibit unencumbered. I do so, slightly begrudgingly, and head into the exhibit.

The exhibit space is three connecting rooms, all stripped bare with bright white, empty walls. There is no furniture or decoration, except for a simple stage in the middle of the main room. The gallery is filled, however, with people, roughly 100 or so. Some stand near or on the stage, others lean against the wall. There are people of all ages, though I suspect that more than a few of the younger patrons are art students. Still unsure of what to expect, I hover by the doorway and watch.

Abramović, dressed all in black with her long dark hair in a long braid down her back, makes her way slowly through the crowd, approaching members of the audience and leading them to other areas of the gallery. There are about a dozen assistants — also dressed in all black — who do the same. They escort people around the room, quietly instructing them to breathe, to relax, to slow down. Some people are positioned in front of blank walls, others are positioned facing strangers. A few people are instructed to slowly walk the length of the room and back. No one is talking, but there is constant movement.

With the open room and hushed, focused audience, the space has a calm, relaxed vibe, much like a library or a particularly zen yoga studio. Yet I also feel slightly anxious, which I suspect has to do with Abramović and her silent crew of assistants, circling through the space and randomly selecting patrons. Though they couldn’t seem any more benevolent, I still tense up every time one of them nears me.

I’m clearly not the only one who’s slightly uncomfortable. I watch as Abramović approaches a 60-something man who had momentarily entered the exhibit with his wife. The artist reaches out to take his hand and I am close enough to hear her whisper, “Close your eyes and trust me,” in his ear. She then guides him, slowly, into another room of the exhibit. A few minutes later she returns, takes the man’s wife by the hand and leads her in the same direction. A few more minutes pass, then the couple walk, quickly, back through the main room and out the door, leaving the exhibit less than 10 minutes after they arrived.

Another woman, who appears to be in her 30s, walks out of the gallery, exclaiming that the exhibit is “preposterous.” Yet other people are clearly enjoying themselves. Many sit on the floor and several have even taken off their shoes. Outside the gallery, one 20-something woman says that she “felt a real connection to the other people and to the performance artists.”

Others compare the exhibit to Abramović’s 2010 exhibit, The Artist Is Here, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where she had sat unmoving as observers were invited to sit across from her. That exhibit was seen by some 750,000 people, but one woman says she found 512 Hours more moving, “because it engaged more of the audience at the same time.”

Back inside, a young, small assistant with a pixie cut engages with me. She smiles and gently takes my hand, lacing her fingers through mine, which strikes me as quite an intimate way to touch a stranger. She leads me — slowly, of course — onto the small stage in the middle of the room and softly instructs me to close my eyes. I do. She then places one hand on my chest and another hand on my back. “Breathe in through your nose and hold it,” she whispers. I do. “Now breathe out through your mouth. Listen to the space, feel the energy of the other people.” I do — and suddenly I am very relaxed.

When I open my eyes again, the assistant has moved on and many of the people who had been standing around me are also gone. I realize I’ve been in the gallery for far longer than I intended — about 90 minutes — and I should be going. But I wait for a few more moments, watching as fresh faces are led around the room. I no longer feel anxious and, much to my editor’s disappointment, I’m sure, I also don’t feel like crying. I do feel calm though and very much at peace, which is more than enough for me.

WATCH: Hands on With Super Smash Bros. 4

Posted: 13 Jun 2014 10:23 AM PDT

TIME may be good at writing about video games but playing them … not so much. TIME senior editor Matt Peckham faced off against two Nintendo product evaluators — but somehow nobody won.

A CPU playing as the Villager from animal crossing took the prize, but that only goes to show what the new Super Smash Bros. has to offer, including new characters including video game legend Pac-Man, new more-balanced level and all the bashing your can handle.

And give Peckham some credit, he was doing an interview while playing.

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