• Trump ad says "support our troops" but uses stock photo of Russian fighter jets

    The Trump Make America Great Again Committee released this "Support our Troops" ad last week. Thing is, those jets dramatically flying over the troops are Russian MiG fighter jets. And the "soldiers" are Russian models. The image is a stock photo available at Shutterstock.com. From Politico:

    …The creator of the image, Arthur Zakirov, confirmed in a Facebook message that it shows a 3D model of a MiG-29, and that the soldiers were Russian models. He said it was a composite photo created five years ago and taken in three different countries showing Russian sky, Greek mountains and French ground.

    The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment. The RNC declined to comment.

  • Vinyl records now outselling CDs

    For the first time in nearly four decades, vinyl records have outsold CDs. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), there were $232.1 million in vinyl music sales and $129.9 million in CD sales during the first half of 2020. Of course, that's pennies compared to streaming music's revenue of $4.8 billion for the same period. From CNN:

    Since 2005, sales for vinyl have grown consecutively. In the first half of 2020, vinyl revenue was up 4%, while CD revenue was down 48%, according to the RIAA[…]

    That makes streaming the dominating music format, accounting for more than 85% of music industry revenue.

    And, um, how much of that 85% goes to the artists creating the music?

  • Someone stole $230,000 worth of beef and 7 hot tubs

    Canadian police are searching for a truck diver who pulled up to an Alberta meat-packing plant, packed his semi with more than $230,000 worth of meat, and drove off. Now it's come out that a few days later, someone drove a truck registered under the same fake name, perhaps even the same truck, stopped by the Arctic Spas manufacturing facility in central Alberta, Canada, loaded it up with 7 hot tubs, and drove off. From CBC:

    The truck in the meat heist is described by the RCMP as a burgundy semi-trailer with a large bunk that was pulling a white, refrigerated enclosed trailer.

    The suspect is described as a tall white male with a heavy build and short brown hair, slightly balding. RCMP said he was wearing blue jeans, a black T-shirt, yellow fluorescent vest and a surgical mask. 

    Somebody is planning a helluva party.

    (image: RCMP)

  • Man wears live snake as COVID-19 face mask

    In Greater Manchester, England, a fellow boarded a public bus wearing a live snake as a face mask. One observer said she thought it was just a "funky mask" but that it eventually slithered off his face and onto a handrail. Face coverings are currently required to ride public transport in the county. From Yahoo!News:

    A Transport for Greater Manchester spokesperson said: "Government guidance clearly states that this needn't be a surgical mask, and that passengers can make their own or wear something suitable, such as a scarf or bandana.

    "While there is a small degree of interpretation that can be applied to this, we do not believe it extends to the use of snakeskin – especially when still attached to the snake."

  • Diagram of the bullshit beliefs, self-help scams, and pop psychology that influenced NXIVM

    If you're been enjoying HBO's "The Vow," the documentary series about the multi-level marketing self-help cult NXIVM and its secret society of sex trafficking (trailer below), you might appreciate Wikipedia contributor Feoffer's diagram above. It outlines many of the self-help frameworks, bullshit belief systems, and "stating-the-obvious" personal transformation techniques that seemingly influenced NXIVM founder Keith Raniere's own bullshit brand of pop psychology.

    Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Amanda Hess explains why Raniere was a "Cult Leader Made for the Internet."

    Image: Feoffer / "Influences on NXIVM beliefs and practices, sourced from Natalie et al (2019), rendered in the mode of W.S. Bainbridge, e.g. Bainbridge 1978" (CC BY-SA 4.0)

  • Scientists find preserved cave bear frozen more than 20,000 years ago

    Reindeer herders in the Russian Arctic's Lyakhovsky Islands found a preserved carcass of a cave bear frozen in the ice between 22,000 and 39,500 years ago. From the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk:

    [North-Eastern Federal University} scientist Lena Grigorieva said of the island discovery of the adult beast: 'Today this is the first and only find of its kind – a whole bear carcass with soft tissues. It is completely preserved, with all internal organs in place including even its nose. "Previously, only skulls and bones were found. This find is of great importance for the whole world."[…]

    "The research is planned on as large a scale as in the study of the famous Malolyakhovsky mammoth," said Dr Grigorieva, leading researcher of the International Centre for Collective Use of Molecular Paleontology at the NEFU's Institute of Applied Ecology of the North.

    Recent years have seen major discoveries of mammoths, woolly rhinos, Ice Age foal, several puppies and Cave Lion cubs as the permafrost melts in Siberia.

    images: NEFU RIAEN

  • Possible sign of life on Venus

    Astronomers reported today that they've detected phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, a possible biosignature of life on the planet. The researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Manchester, and their colleagues published the news in Nature Astronomy and in another paper submitted to the science journal Astrobiology. From the New York Times:

    After much analysis, the scientists assert that something now alive is the only explanation for the chemical's source.

    Some researchers question this hypothesis, and they suggest instead that the gas could result from unexplained atmospheric or geologic processes on a planet that remains mysterious. But the finding will also encourage some planetary scientists to ask whether humanity has overlooked a planet that may have once been more Earthlike than any other world in our solar system[…]

    David Grinspoon of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., who was not part of the work but has long promoted the possibility of life in Venus's clouds, said, "That is pretty damn exciting!"

    The work needs to be followed up, he said, "but this could be the first observation we've made which reveals an alien biosphere and, what do you know, it's on the closest planet to home in the entire cosmos."

    "Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus" (Nature Astronomy)

    image: (c) ISAS/JAXA

  • Canada Post apologizes for stamps bearing decapitated head of prime minister John Macdonald statue

    Two weeks ago, activists in Montreal toppled a statue of Canada's first prime minister John A Macdonald who in the 19th century enacted cultural genocide against the indigenous peoples in the region. To celebrate the protest against colonialism with his own, a fellow named James Bone ordered custom stamps from Canada Post depicting the severed head of the Macdonald statue. Bone tweeted an offer to send the stamps for free to anyone "if you or your ancestors were f***ed over by Macdonald." From MSN.com:

    After getting several requests for the stamps, Bone tried to place another order for more sheets featuring the statue head — only to receive an email from Canada Post denying the request, saying the picture was "not appropriate for use" through the program.

    In a subsequent email to Global News, a spokesperson said Canada Post is investigating how the original stamp sheet cleared the approval process and was printed.

    "We apologize and will take measures to ensure our vetting and approval processes are strengthened and closely followed," the spokesperson said.

    Bone did not respond to a request for comment. His Twitter account has since been deleted, along with his LinkedIn page, which said he works as an archivist for Library and Archives Canada.

    (Thanks, Charles Pescovitz!)

  • New Netflix movie about the Chicago 7 trial, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman

    In 1968, political activists and Yippies Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner were charged with conspiracy to incite riots and other alleged crimes during protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Their months-long trial was one of the most bizarre, hilarious, upsetting, and theatrical court proceeding in the United States, and a turning point for the youth protest movement and counterculture.

    Aaron Sorkin's new film based on those events, The Trial of the Chicago 7, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, premieres on Netflix on October 16.

  • Quadruped robot patrols sidewalks to urge social distancing

    University of Hong Kong researchers are testing a mobile robot to patrol sidewalks, track clusters of pedestrians, and encourage social distancing. At this point though, I think this approach is more likely to attract crowds, not disperse them. From their technical paper:

    We introduce a fully autonomous surveillance robot based on a quadruped platform that can promote social distancing in complex urban environments. Specifically, to achieve autonomy, we mount multiple cameras and a 3D LiDAR on the legged robot. The robot then uses an onboard real-time social distancing detection system to track nearby pedestrian groups. Next, the robot uses a crowd-aware navigation algorithm to move freely in highly dynamic scenarios. The robot finally uses a crowd aware routing algorithm to effectively promote social distancing by using human-friendly verbal cues to send suggestions to overcrowded pedestrians.

    Autonomous Social Distancing in Urban Environments using a Quadruped Robot (via IEEE Spectrum)

  • Snake, 62, lays eggs without having been around a male for more than a decade

    There is a ball python at the St. Louis Zoo that's approximately 62-years-old, more than two decades older than the average lifespan of its species. Now, this elderly animal has laid seven eggs. That's especially odd because she hasn't had contact with a male python for more than 15 years. Zoo herpetologist Mark Wanner described the python's age and immaculate conception (my words) as "kind of crazy." From the New York Times:

    Dr. Jonathan Losos, a professor of evolutionary biology at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in reptiles, said scientists had known for a while that there were some species of snakes and lizards in which no males exist and females reproduce asexually.

    "What we didn't realize until relatively recently is that there are some species who normally are sexual — that is, require a male and a female to reproduce — that can occasionally reproduce without any sperm," Dr. Losos said. Komodo dragons, for instance, have been known to lay eggs asexually, a process called facultative parthenogenesis[…]

    "We're not banking on the fact that these eggs will hatch," Mr. Wanner said, but "we're hoping."

  • Watch Blondie's Debbie Harry on a pogo stick explaining the punk Pogo dance (1978)

    Here's the great Debbie Harry of Blondie explaining the Pogo dance on a 1978 episode of TV Party, the iconic NYC public access cable TV program hosted by Glenn O'Brien and Blondie's Chris Stein.

    From Wikipedia:

    In The Filth and the Fury, Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious claimed that he invented the pogo sometime around 1976 at punk shows in the early days of London's punk scene. Vicious supposedly invented the dance as a way of mocking people who came to see Sex Pistols' performances, but who were not part of the punk movement. Whether Vicious actually invented the dance or not, the pogo quickly became closely associated with punk rock. Shane MacGowan, himself an early follower of the punk scene, also attributes pogo dancing to Vicious, claiming that a leather poncho he wore to gigs prevented him from any form of dancing other than jumping up and down. In her autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., Viv Albertine of The Slits claims that the Pogo was inspired by the way Sid jumped up and down while playing saxophone. However, in the documentary Syd Barrett: Under Review (minutes 6:13 to 6:20) there is film footage from director Peter Whitehead's Tonite Lets All Make Love in London of the then called "The Pink Floyd" performing at the UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road in 1966 in which a gentleman directly in front of the stage is clearly "pogoing." It may not have been referred to as pogoing, but as far back as 1966 people were doing it.

    Worth noting: Men Without Hats' Ivan Doroschuk penned "The Safety Dance" after getting bounced from a club for pogoing.

    (via r/ObscureMedia)

  • Teen forced dentist to remove braces, at gunpoint

    I knew an idiot in junior high school who so wanted to impress some girls that he removed his own braces with a pair of pliers. What a waste of his parent's money. A few years later, in 1985, another bright young mind was also desperate to get his braces off but thought better (or worse) of the DIY approach. From a Central New Jersey Home News article unearthed by Weird Universe:

    The boy had apparently asked other dentists in the area to remove his braces before visiting Carstens' Mack Avenue office on Feb 8, "probably because he lives three or four blocks from my office," Carstens said. "He (came) in to see me and said he wanted them off. I said he wasn't finished with his treatment and I couldn't take them off without a letter from his parents and his regular orthodontist.


    "I had him in the chair and he leaned over and pulled the gun out of his pocket and said, 'Would this make you change your mind?' and I said, 'Yes,'" Carstens said.

    A dental assistant called the police, a scuffle ensued, shots were fired (fortunately into the floor), and ol' Tin Grin was apprehended.

    Dr. Carstens died in 2016 at age 79 but I'm sure it was a story he told often. The boy is not named in the article but I'm curious how he, and his teeth, turned out.

    image: MAKY.OREL (CC BY-SA 3.0)

  • US customs agents have already intercepted thousands of fake IDs this year at a single shipping hub

    The US Customs and Border Patrol in Cincinnati, Ohio announced that they've intercepted more than 2,000 fake driver's licenses and 1,600 "ID-making materials" coming through a single express courier hub just this year. Meanwhile, college freshman across the country bow their heads in sorrow. From Cincinnati.com:

    The counterfeit licenses, which came in 343 shipments, originated in China. The fake passports were from various countries in Africa and South America.

    The shipments were headed to addresses across the United States, and the IDs often shared the same photograph with different names, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection news release.

    (Thanks, Charles Pescovitz!)

  • Turning bricks into batteries

    Researchers have transformed ordinary red bricks into batteries by injecting gases that enable the material to store electricity . Developed by chemists at Washington University, each brick costs only $3 but, at this point, just lights up an LED bulb. From Scientific American:

    The brick-battery relies on the reddish pigment known as iron oxide, or rust, that gives red bricks their color. The scientists pumped the bricks with several gases that react with iron oxide to produce a network of plastic fibers. These microscopic fibers coat the empty spaces inside the bricks—and conduct electricity.

    More: "Energy storing bricks for stationary PEDOT supercapacitors]" (Nature Communications)

    image: D'Arcy laboratory, Department of Chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis