• Stunning new music and video from the Afghan Whigs

    Get up to get down. One of my all-time favorite bands, the unbreakable Afghan Whigs, are back in the ring with new music and a tour. As we wait impatiently for the September arrival of their new LP, titled How Do You Burn?, we can revel in the restrained intensity of "The Getaway" (above) and the unrestrained intensity of "I'll Make You See God" (below). This time out, Greg Dulli, John Curley, Rick Nelson, and Patrick Keeler are joined by Christopher Thorn on guitar. Meanwhile, the album features longtime Whigs co-conspirators Susan Marshall, Van Hunt, Marcy Mays, and the great Mark Lanegan who died in February.

    "It was Mark who named the album," Dulli said.

  • First ever plants grown in soil from the Moon

    As NASA gets serious about building bases on the Moon and eventually sending humans to Mars and beyond, it becomes increasingly important to understand how offworld agriculture might work. Now, University of Florida biologists have grown plants in lunar soil for the first time ever. When they planted the seeds, they had no idea if they'd sprout or not. From University of Florida News:

    The scientists only had 12 grams — just a few teaspoons — of lunar soil with which to do this experiment. On loan from NASA, this soil was collected during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions to the moon. [Horticultural scientists Anna-Lisa Paul and Rob Ferl] applied three times over the course of 11 years for a chance to work with the lunar regolith.

    The small amount of soil, not to mention its incalculable historical and scientific significance, meant that Paul and Ferl had to design a small scale, carefully choreographed experiment. To grow their tiny lunar garden, the researchers used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates normally used to culture cells. Each well functioned as a pot. Once they filled each "pot" with approximately a gram of lunar soil, the scientists moistened the soil with a nutrient solution and added a few seeds from the Arabidopsis plant.

    Arabidopsis is widely used in the plant sciences because its genetic code has been fully mapped. Growing Arabidopsis in the lunar soil allowed the researchers more insight into how the soil affected the plants, down to the level of gene expression.

    "At the genetic level, the plants were pulling out the tools typically used to cope with stressors, such as salt and metals or oxidative stress, so we can infer that the plants perceive the lunar soil environment as stressful," Paul said. "Ultimately, we would like to use the gene expression data to help address how we can ameliorate the stress responses to the level where plants — particularly crops — are able to grow in lunar soil with very little impact to their health."

    "Plants grown in Apollo lunar regolith present stress-associated transcriptomes that inform prospects for lunar exploration" (Communications Biology)

  • This may be a piece of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs

    Last month, we learned that researchers excavating North Dakota's Tanis fossil site found an incredibly well-preserved leg of a dinosaur. The creature—and others at the site—were likely killed by the impact of the 12 kilometer-wide Chicxulub asteroid that crashed into the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago and eradicated 80% of Earth's animals. Turns out, the scientists may also have found a minuscule fragment of that asteroid encased in a bit of amber. The story of the discovery is told in Dinosaur Apocalpyse, a new BBC Earth documentary also airing on PBS's Nova. From CNN:

    It's "like getting a sample vial, running back in time and getting a sample from the impact site and then saving it for science," [University of Manchester paleontologist Robert] DePalma said.

    DePalma said they hope to be able to confirm what the asteroid was made from and where it might be from — efforts that have caught the attention of NASA; DePalma presented his findings last month at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    "This example of what might be a little tiny fragment, maybe micrograms, of the colliding asteroid — the fact that a record of that is preserved, would be mind-blowing," said Goddard Chief Scientist Jim Garvin, who has studied impact cratering on Earth and Mars.

  • Watch brave Good Samaritans run into traffic to stop vehicle when driver passes out at the wheel

    Last week in Boynton Beach, Florida, a woman collapsed at the wheel on a busy road in the middle of traffic. Brave passers-by sprang into action. Here's the story as the police tell it:

    As her car slowly entered the intersection at Congress Avenue, her co-worker raced across the street waving her arms to get the attention of other motorists. Her co-worker was in another car and saw her slumped over the steering wheel. Several people got out of their cars and worked together to stop the moving car. One woman grabbed a dumbbell from her car and a man used it to smash the rear passenger's side window. Another man then climbed through the window to unlock the passenger's side door. The car was then put in park and the Good Samaritans pushed it to a nearby 7-Eleven parking lot where a nurse who was on the phone with 911 provided medical attention until the fire department arrives. We are sharing this video in hopes of learning the identities of all the strangers who came together to save this woman's life. They are heroes and we want to bring them back together at the police department to recognize them and meet the woman they rescued. We need your help to do this. If you or someone you know is in this video or helped in any way, please contact PIO Stephanie Slater at slaters@bbfl.us.

  • GOES satellite takes photo from space of clouds spelling "Go"

    On Friday, one of the US National Oceanic and Administration's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites—known as GOES—snapped this curious image from space depicting clouds spelling out "Go." From Live Science:

    Seeing recognizable shapes in clouds or other unrelated objects is known as pareidolia, where the human brain sees familiar patterns in random shapes. The so-called "Face on Mars," this wild pareidolia rat on the Red Planet and scary screaming skull views and more from space are just a few examples of the psychological phenomenon. 

    Or that's what They'd want us to believe, anyway.

  • Catholic school accidentally sells students Mother's Day fake roses that were actually red thong underwear

    Students at Philadelphia's St. Anselm School, a K-8 Catholic elementary school, hosted a plant sale where kids could purchase Mother's Day faux roses as a gift for their parent. Turns out, each flower was actually a pair of red thong underwear folded into the shape of a rose. Ooops. Video below. From the principal's email admitting to the blunder:

    "The roses sold at our Mother's Day plant sale were not the single faux flowers originally intended. Instead, the item was a Valentine's Day gift intended for adults. The administration will determine how the error occurred and take steps to prevent a further recurrence."

    (CBS Local)

    And if you're so inclined, $7.99 at Amazon will get you "Gifts for Her 1Pc Women Sexy Rose Flower Lace G-string Briefs Thongs Romantic V-string Panties Free Size" as seen in the image above.

  • Next week, a US House subcommittee is holding a public hearing on UFOs

    Next week, a subcommittee of the US House Intelligence Committee will hear from two Pentagon officials about UFO sightings. The hearing follows last summer's release of a Pentagon report meant to contain "a detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data and intelligence" but was really just nine pages of not much at all. In the hot seat for next week's hearing—Congress's first open session on the UFO "problem" since 1970— are Ronald S. Moultrie, under secretary of defense for intelligence and security, and Scott W. Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence. From the New York Times:

    "The federal government and intelligence community have a critical role to play in contextualizing and analyzing reports," said Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He said the purpose of the hearing was to illuminate "one of the great mysteries of our time and to break the cycle of excessive secrecy and speculation with truth and transparency."

    The report delivered to Congress last June was done by the intelligence community along with the Pentagon's Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force, which the Pentagon replaced in November with a new office, the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group. The group's job is to "detect, identify and attribute objects of interest in Special Use Airspace and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security."

    Mr. Moultrie oversees that new group, which will be a focus of the upcoming hearings[…]

    In recent years, intelligence reports and statements by officials have cited concerns about a national security threat from U.F.O.s through advanced technology hinted at by reports from pilots of, for example, vehicles traveling at extreme speeds without visible means of propulsion. 

  • Meet the man with only a seven-second memory

    Today is former musicologist and conductor Clive Wearing's birthday. He's 84 years old. But if you told him that, he'd forget less than a minute later. Wearing has both anterograde and retrograde amnesia, preventing him from forming new memories or accessing old ones. The condition arose in 1985 after he contracted a form of herpes called Herpesviral encephalitis that affects the brain and central nervous system. Above is a short video about him.

    And here is an excerpt from a 2005 documentary interview with Wearing:

    Do you miss your old life?

    Yes. But I've never been conscious to think that. So I've never been bored or upset. I've never been anything at all, it's exactly the same as death. No dreams even. Day and night, the same.

    When you miss your old life… what do you miss?

    The fact that I was a musician. And in love.

    Above is a brief documentary about Wearing's curious condition. From Wikipedia:

    His memory for events lasts between seven and thirty seconds. He spends every day "waking up" every 20 seconds or so, "restarting" his consciousness once the timespan of his short-term memory (about 30 seconds) has elapsed. During this time he repeatedly questions why he has not seen a doctor, as he constantly believes that he has only recently awoken from a comatose state. If he is engaged in conversation he is able to provide answers to questions, but he cannot stay in the flow of conversation for longer than a few sentences and is angered if he is asked about his current situation.

    Wearing remembers little of his life before 1985. He knows, for example, that he has children from an earlier marriage, but he cannot remember their names. His love for his second wife, Deborah, whom he married the year before his illness began, is undiminished. He greets her joyously every time they meet, believing either that he has not seen her in years or that they have never met before, even though she may have just left the room momentarily. When he goes out dining with his wife he can remember the names of food, but he cannot link them with taste, as he forgets what food he is eating by the time it has reached his mouth[…]

    Despite having no memory of specific musical pieces when they are mentioned by name, and an extremely limited recall of his previous musical knowledge, Wearing remains capable of playing complex piano and organ pieces, sight-reading, and conducting a choir.

    For more on Wearing, read Oliver Sacks's 2007 profile of him in the New Yorker:

  • Watch: Striking, er, similarities between Duke student's 2022 commencement speech and Harvard student's speech from 2014

    The Internet noticed striking similarities between a Duke University commencement speech given on Sunday by Priya Parkash and Sarah Abushaar's Harvard commencement speech from 2014, that's been viewed on YouTube around 3.8 million times. Comparison above. Duke University is investigating and Parkash has hired a PR firm, as one does, and issued a statement:

    "When I was asked to give the commencement speech," the statement read, "I was thrilled by such an honor and I sought advice from respected friends and family about topics I might address. I was embarrassed and confused to find out too late that some of the suggested passages were taken from a recent commencement speech at another university. I take full responsibility for this oversight and I regret if this incident has in any way distracted from the accomplishments of the Duke class of 2022."

    (Raleigh News & Observer)

    image: jurgenfr/Shutterstock.com
  • Rare creepy pest never seen in US found in fresh fruit shipment

    A shipment of the tropical fruit Mangosteen arrived at the US border carrying an unwelcome stowaway never seen in this country before. Customs officials at the Pharr International Bridge on the Texas-Mexico border apparently spotted a single Cochabamba leaf beetle—bad news for crops—in one of the fruit boxes. According to the US Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists, Cochabambas have never made it this far north before. From US Customs and Border Protection:

    This pest can cause agricultural and economic damage as their larvae skeletonize the leaf surface and adults eat plant and tree leaves and cause damage to foliage. This pest is found in central and south America and its travel pattern indicates that it is migrating north. The shipment was refused entry and returned to Mexico.

    (via CNN)

  • Gloriously crisp new images of a distant galaxy from NASA's new James Webb Space Telescope
    image: NASA

    NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is now perfectly aligned, as evidenced by this absolutely incredible image of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way that is around 160,000 light years away from Earth. Below, compare the new image with the previous one captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. From NASA:

    Here, a close-up of the MIRI image is compared to a past image of the same target taken with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope's Infrared Array Camera (at 8.0 microns). The retired Spitzer telescope was one of NASA's Great Observatories and the first to provide high-resolution images of the near- and mid-infrared universe. Webb, with its significantly larger primary mirror and improved detectors, will allow us to see the infrared sky with improved clarity, enabling even more discoveries.

    For example, Webb's MIRI image shows the interstellar gas in unprecedented detail. Here, you can see the emission from "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons," or molecules of carbon and hydrogen that play an important role in the thermal balance and chemistry of interstellar gas. When Webb is ready to begin science observations, studies such as these with MIRI will help give astronomers new insights into the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems.

    image: NASA

  • Flabby man gets six-pack abs in two days… thanks to some excellent tattooing

    Do you even lift? Nah, don't need to. A gentleman so desired six-pack abs, but couldn't seem to reach his goal at the gym, so he enlisted the support of Manchester, UK tattoo artist Dean Gunther. Results! See below. From Oddity Central:

    I had seen really bad ones attempted before. Because I specialize in color realism I wanted to give it a go," Gunther said. "I thought it would be funny as hell."

    After finding a test subject for his goofy project, Gunther ran into a roadblock soon after starting work. The client apparently wanted to quit just one hour into the first day, but was convinced to go on, and made it to the two days of heavy inking.

  • Bizarre blood red sky in China city freaks out residents

    The apocalypse seemingly arrived early in China's eastern port city of Zhoushan with the sky appearing blood red over the weekend. What the hell? Turns out that the horrific hue was caused by the lights of boats in the area. From The Independent:

    According to the experts, the weather in Zhoushan port city was perfect for a refraction phenomenon as the sky was cloudy with drizzle which led to an unusual reddening of the sky, triggering a brief panic.

    A member from the meteorological bureau explained that when weather conditions are good, it leads to formation of more water in the atmosphere. This forms aerosols which then refract and scatter the light of fishing boats and create the red sky seen by the public," the official said, the report added.

    front page thumbnail: Oleksii Gavryliuk/Shutterstock.com

  • Listen to the spooky sounds of a black hole

    NASA astrophysicists have sped up the sound waves of the Perseus black hole so that humans can hear the spacey moans. From the New York Times:

    In 2003 astrophysicists working with NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory detected a pattern of ripples in the X-ray glow of a giant cluster of galaxies in the constellation Perseus. They were pressure waves — that is to say, sound waves — 30,000 light-years across and radiating outward through the thin, ultrahot gas that suffuses galaxy clusters. They were caused by periodic explosions from a supermassive black hole at the center of the cluster, which is 250 million light-years away and contains thousands of galaxies.

    With a period of oscillation of 10 million years, the sound waves were acoustically equivalent to a B-flat 57 octaves below middle C, a tone that the black hole has apparently been holding for the last two billion years. Astronomers suspect that these waves act as a brake on star formation, keeping the gas in the cluster too hot to condense into new stars.

    The Chandra astronomers recently "sonified" these ripples by speeding up the signals to 57 or 58 octaves above their original pitch, boosting their frequency quadrillions of times to make them audible to the human ear. 

  • Go out with a bang using this handheld cremation cannon

    The Loved One Launcher is a handheld cannon for scattering ashes with great impact. Powered by two CO2 cartridges, it apparently can shoot the powdery remains more than 70 feet into the air. You can even add confetti and streamers to the mix "for a dreamy visual effect, creating a beautiful, joyful scene that sets the perfect tone." It sells for $375.

    From Cremation Solutions:

    Paying homage to a loved one's life is simple and intimate with what feels almost like a daytime fireworks display in their honor. The Launcher should not be aimed at any structure or living thing as its blast is powerful. It should only be handled and operated by an adult. Avoid shooting into oncoming wind (downwind or in still air only) and note that it will take two shots to disperse all the ashes of an average adult. More shots if more confetti is desired.  

    Your results and coverage will vary depending on contents of cannon, and wind conditions, if any.

  • Return to Dreamland with the superstars of John Waters' films this weekend in Baltimore

    This Friday (May 13) in Baltimore, Return to Dreamland with a panel discussion featuring a trashy troupe of actors and crew members who participated in John Waters's classic films Mondo TrashoDesperate LivingPink Flamingos and Multiple Maniacs! This is a rare opportunity to hear directly from George Figgs (Multiple Maniacs), George Stover (Desperate Living), and Susan Lowe (Desperate Living).

    My dear pal and John Waters superfan Gloria Gardenburger is moderating and co-hosting a Mortville Makeover Contest following the panel!

    Buy tickets here.

  • Record numbers of rats spotted in New York City

    New York City's 311 service request line have received nearly 7,500 calls of rat sightings this year, almost 1,500 more than the same period last year and 60% higher than the first four months of 2019 just before the pandemic began. From NBC New York:

    In each of the first four months of 2022, the number of sightings was the highest recorded since at least 2010, the first year online records are available. By comparison, there were about 10,500 sightings in all of 2010 and 25,000 such reports in all of last year (sightings are most frequent during warm months)[…]

    While a return to pre-pandemic routines "is exciting after two years of COVID-imposed lifestyle changes," [New York pest management specialist Matt] Frye said in an email, "it also means business as usual for rat problems that are directly tied to human behavior."[…]

    "What happened during the pandemic was that your restaurants shut down," said Richard Reynolds, whose rat-hunting group for years periodically takes out teams of dogs to sniff out — and kill — vermin. "When outside dining came along, there was food again."

    In planter boxes outside dining sheds, rats lie in wait for any fallen crumb. They lurk in storm drains ready to lunge.