• Get to know your face mites

    I've been isolating the past week or so, to make sure I didn't catch COVID on my recent trip to Portugal. It's been fine. I work, write, eat, watch trash tv. It's getting a little boring, to be honest. But it's definitely not lonely, now that I've learned I'm never alone – I've got mites—specifically Demodex folliculorum—living on my face, and guess what? So do you! I'll never be lonely again! Hurrah! 

    Michelle Starr at ScienceAlert.com has the whole story. Here's a fascinating and sort of horrifying excerpt:

    Most people on Earth are habitats for mites that spend the majority of their brief lives burrowed, head-first, in our hair follicles, primarily of the face. In fact, humans are the only habitat for Demodex folliculorum. They are born on us, they feed on us, they mate on us, and they die on us.

    Their entire life cycle revolves around munching your dead skin cells before kicking the teeny tiny bucket.

    In other words, these mites are gradually merging with our bodies so that they now live permanently within us.

    D. folliculorum is actually a fascinating little creature. Human skin detritus is its sole food source, and it spends the majority of its two-week lifespan in pursuit thereof.

    The individuals emerge only at night, in the cover of darkness, to crawl painstakingly slowly across the skin to find a mate, and hopefully copulate before returning to the safe darkness of a follicle.

  • Pianist composes music to accompany animal yips, squeals, meows, and squacks

    Please, I beg you, stop whatever you're doing, and go watch some of these videos of Kevon Carter, a comedian who also describes himself as a "husband, father, brother, musician, intercontinental champion of international psalms and spiritual songs."

    He has been creating TikTok duets where he accompanies various animals on the piano while they "sing." He sets up the videos as if he and the animal are recording together, and his piano playing definitely elevates the natural talents of the animals.

    Here he is accompanying a tiny puppy, a border collie, a German shepherd, some kind of poodle or poodle mix, a husky, a newborn lamb, a cat, and a cockatiel. They are all hilarious. I think my very favorite is the rooster video, though—"Look at that breath control!"

  • This dog does boss-level zooms on the beach

    Check out this doggo zoom zoom zooooooooming on the beach after being taken off-leash. The utter joy! The freedom! The excitement! This is exactly how I feel when I finally step out of the airport and into fresh outdoor air after wearing my mask for hours on the plane. #WillNotStop #TotallyWorthIt

  • Boost your oxytocin by watching these adorable baby sloths munch munch munching away 

    These sweet babies enjoying all of those yummy veggies were at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, which, according to their website:

    is the original rescue center for injured, orphaned and abandoned sloths. Founders Judy Avey-Arroyo and Luis Arroyo purchased the property to offer birding tours on the Estrella River. Originally known as Aviarios del Caribe, this 320-acre lush tropical lowland rainforest was formerly inhabited by banana plantations. The government of Costa Rica officially declared the property a privately-owned biological reserve in 1975.

    On their site, you can read about their rescue work, learn about sloths, and even virtually adopt a sloth. Also, check out their Instagram for more photos of sloth cuties!

  • What a whopper! Man catches a record-breaking 661-pound stingray

    Watch as fishermen and scientists from the USAID-supported research project Wonders of the Mekong capture and measure (and then release) the world's largest freshwater fish. The giant stingray was captured and released in northern Cambodia on June 13, 2022. The record-breaking fish weighed in at 661 pounds.

    An article in Field and Stream describes the record-breaking event:

    From the murky depths of Southeast Asia's Mekong River, a new world record has emerged. The biggest freshwater fish caught anywhere, ever, was captured and released last week near Koh Preah Island on the Mekong River in the Stung Treng area of northern Cambodia. Fisherman Moul Thun, seeking smaller quarry to sell in the local fish market, accidentally hooked the giant stingray on the night of June 13, using a simple hook and line…   FISHBIO, a partner on the Wonders of the Mekong project, officially weighed Thun's nearly 13-foot snout-to-tail catch at 661 pounds, crushing the previous record, a 646-pound Mekong giant catfish, caught on the Mekong in 2005, in Thailand. 

  • Artist Eric J. García paints satirical sci-fi images of white colonization with pink cactus juice

    I lived in Albuquerque and then Santa Fe, New Mexico in the early 1990s. I grew up in the Deep South but moved to New Mexico after college to pursue graduate studies. While there I started working at this groovy little health food store/vegan restaurant/market and began learning about all things alien. New Mexico seemed at the time to be kind of ground zero for alien/UFO culture and I soaked it all in like a true believer/skeptic. Friends from the vegan market turned me onto the Fortean Times and Art Bell; customers sipped wheatgrass juice while telling me about how they were not human but were actually from other planets and just visiting Earth for a short time; a friend from graduate school was doing their dissertation research on the conspirituality community in Taos and attended recruiting events held by the UFO cult Heaven's Gate, where he learned about how to achieve the "Kingdom Level Above Human." (It was only a few years later [1997] when the group leader, Marshall Applewhite, and 38 group members died in a mass suicide, catalyzed by their belief that the Hale-Bopp comet was coming to pick them up and carry them to their next level.)

    1997 was also the year I made my pilgrimage to Roswell, New Mexico, to see the 1947 "UFO crash site" and to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center, which proudly displays one of the aliens supposedly found in the crash. I was lucky enough to be in Roswell for the 50th anniversary, and the small-town festival celebrating all things alien did not disappoint, from the tent where folks displayed the implants they had found inside their bodies, made of "unknown metal;" to the expert lecturing on all the different kinds of alien eyes and hands; to the 25-cent "alien beanbag toss" some high school students had set up as part of the festivities at the local high school football field. I also rode a school bus from the football field out to the crash site, where folks were selling alien-themed antennae hats, and ice-cold Coca-Cola. I honestly never truly believed in aliens or UFOs, but I also don't vehemently not believe in all of it. Mostly I was (and am) fascinated by the culture of it all, and by how fervently so many people DO believe. One thing is very true, though, New Mexico culture seems to be steeped in aliens/UFOs.

    To my delight, I recently discovered an artist who is doing brilliant things with this New Mexican love of all things alien, by turning it all on its head and pointing to white settler colonists as the true aliens. New Mexico artist Eric J. García is currently participating in the Roswell Artist-in-Resident Program, where he has been spending his time creating "satirical sci-fi images of White colonization, painted with prickly pear ink." In an article for Hyperallergic about his current work, García writes:

    When I was studying Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico, my professor likened the Spanish conquest of México, to H.G. Well's famous sci-fi novel War of the Worlds — a highly advanced alien army invading and conquering the world. From some perspectives, this is exactly what happened to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Although these space invaders were not from outer space, they did indeed invade space and space that was already occupied. 

    With this perspective, I began to create satirical sci-fi images of colonization. For example, I placed a Spanish galleon ship not on the water but in the air like a spaceship, with a tractor beam abducting Natives. The irony of so many UFO and alien encounters that happen "out West" reflects the real-life alien invaders who "explored" and colonized the "American West." Another iconic vessel of colonization is the covered wagon, which I depict disembarking from a flying saucer driving right into the junipers of an iconic western landscape. These small humorous drawings are hopefully pointing out one of the biggest hypocrisies of the United States. Indigenous people have been conquered by aliens and are now made to feel alien in their own lands.

    You can check out his brilliant pieces and read the rest of the article here.

  • What your favorite sad dad band says about you

    A few months ago, John Moe wrote a hilarious article for McSweeney's called "What your favorite sad dad band says about you." It is 100% accurate in every way.

    Well, I'm not a dad, but my favorite sad dad band is the Mountain Goats, and this is what that says about me, according to Moe:

    The Mountain Goats: You have received sensible health care. You drive Toyota cars and your dalliance with a used domestic pickup that had character did not end well. Your tolerance for people telling you a lot about building a computer ends at the nineteen-minute mark, at which point you politely excuse yourself. Without explanation, you decline the escape room team-building event at work.

    I saw the Mountain Goats last month in Phoenix and they, as usual, were engaging and energetic and brilliant and hilarious and just all around awesome. They recently announced a new record that will drop on August 19. Pitchfork describes it this way:

    The Mountain Goats have announced their next album. It's called Bleed Out, and it was produced in full by Bully's Alicia Bognanno. The follow-up to last year's Dark in Here arrives August 19 via Merge. Today, the band has shared lead single "Training Montage" along with a goofy music video. Check it out below and scroll down for the album art, tracklist, and a string of upcoming tour dates.

    Bleed Out was inspired by action movies from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, in which Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle found comfort toward the end of 2020. Cozied up in his North Carolina home, Darnielle watched French thrillers like 2008's Mesrine, vintage Italian Poliziotteschi, and 1974's The Freakmaker starring Donald Pleasence.

    "So, heads up. I got this idea to write a bunch of songs where they were all uptempo mini-action movies," Darnielle said of his process for the new batch of songs. "Plots, characters, heists, hostages, questionable capers, getaway cars, all that stuff. Gas pedal glued to the floor. Eventually as you might guess I wanted at least one song where the tempo relaxed a little and that's the title track but otherwise buckle up. We hid out in the woods in Chapel Hill and made this album with nobody knowing about it. Proper secret-soldier style. It has been pretty hard keeping this under our hats, we are really proud of what we got here."

    If you can't stand waiting around, in the meantime you can at least listen to the first track off the album they've released—Training Montage—and watch the video a million times, like I have. I love how it features John Darnielle's completely out of control pandemic hairdo and goatee combo. Simply divine.

  • Meet Leonid and Valentina Stoyanov, exotic and wild animal veterinarians who live in Ukraine

    Leonid and Valentina Stoyanov live in Ukraine and run a veterinary hospital where they take in and rehabilitate rescue animals, including those abandoned during the ongoing war. On their TikTok they feature all kinds of animals that come into their clinic. The highlight of their social media, however, is Tosya, a male Berber monkey they rescued during the pandemic. Valentina has posted so many adorable TikToks where she and Tosya just sit and eat together, while gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. This pair is really kind of mesmerizing to watch.

    On their Facebook page, the vets tell the story of meeting and rescuing Tosya:

    Tosya was seriously ill and had a whole bunch of problems. Gastritis, traumatic brain injury, hypocalcemia, neurological disorders and all this against the background of improper feeding and maintenance. We had to fight with all this. Sleepless nights, nerves, strength, time—and only today we can talk about it calmly. This animal is forced to be on lifelong treatment. In addition to the correct conditions of detention and a competent diet, like a primate, Tosya needs a family of congeners. Tosya's fate is not easy, and while he lives with us. It will be seen further. But he will never return to the "petting zoo"!

    Check out their website—it has links to their various social media sites as well as links where you can donate to support their animal rescue mission in Ukraine. And on their TikTok you can see Valentina and Tosya eating apples, pears, radishes, watermelon, strawberries, carrots, and green peas

  • Watch these miniature Brazilian frogs in all their awkward glory

    These miniature Brazilian frogs (aka pumpkin toadlets) don't have much balance and thus jump in reallllly awkward ways. Apparently, their inner ears are too small to provide good balance. New research published in Science explains the phenomenon:

    Miniaturization has evolved repeatedly in frogs in the moist leaf litter environments of rainforests worldwide. Miniaturized frogs are among the world's smallest vertebrates and exhibit an array of enigmatic features. One area where miniaturization has predictable consequences is the vestibular system, which acts as a gyroscope, providing sensory information about movement and orientation. We investigated the vestibular system of pumpkin toadlets, Brachycephalus (Anura: Brachycephalidae), a clade of miniaturized frogs from Brazil. The semicircular canals of miniaturized frogs are the smallest recorded for adult vertebrates, resulting in low sensitivity to angular acceleration due to insufficient displacement of endolymph. This translates into a lack of postural control during jumping in Brachycephalus and represents a physical constraint resulting from Poiseuille's law, which governs movement of fluids within tubes.

    Smithsonian magazine further explains:

    "They're not great jumpers, and they're not particularly good walkers either. They sort of stomp around in a stilted, peg-like version of walking," says Edward Stanley, study co-author and director of the Florida Museum of Natural History's Digital Discovery and Dissemination Laboratory, in a statement.

    Using CT scans of the brightly colored toadlet, researchers found that their vestibular system, the structures within the ear that guide balance in vertebrates, is so small that when the frogs spring into the air, they quickly lose their balance and simply fall gracelessly to the ground, reports Isaac Schultz for Gizmodo. The CT scans were part of a larger project called oVert, a four-year initiative across 18 institutions to create 3-D models of more than 20,000 fluid-preserved museum specimens.  

    You can watch them in all of their awkward glory in the video embedded above. These tiny frogs really are quite pathetic and silly. I've never related so hard to an amphibian in all my life.

  • A list of favorite weird-looking dogs

    I have a real thing for weird-looking dogs. To me, they are the best-looking dogs. I've gathered some of my favorite weird-looking internet dogs for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

    Gus Calhoun

    Tuna


    Sir Didymus


    Henry Rollins


    Odie


    Lapsha


    Squid


    Sharky Bobarky


    Martini (RIP sweet girl)

  • Happy Father's Day, especially to the greatest dad of all, the male giant waterbug!

    Peruse this list of awesome animal dads, then call your own dad, if you can and/or want to, and say Happy Father's Day! (Shout out to my own terrific dad — I'm excited to see you next week in Louisiana!).

    I think my favorite dad from Smithsonian Magazine's list of sweet animal papas is the giant waterbug, who is ever-so-helpful in giving mom a break from carpool duty!

    While male giant waterbugs, also known as alligator ticks and toe biters, may look a little frightening, they are a busy mom's dream because they are on perpetual carpool duty. After the aquatic bugs mate, the female sticks her fertilized eggs onto the male's back. Some male waterbugs shoulder as many as 150 eggs at once.

    As he goes about his day-to-day life, the waterbug will sporadically venture to the surface to ensure their eggs don't become waterlogged. They'll also repeatedly squat down to keep the eggs aerated and even use their legs to comb through the eggs to ensure no parasites or fungi have hitched a ride. Just before his growing eggs hatch after several weeks, the male fasts to ensure he does not consume one of his offspring by mistake. Once he drops the kids off in a pond or stream, this dependable dad is ready to mate again so he can care for the next clutch.

  • Opossum hitched a ride to follow his dreams out West

    An opossum was found in Wyoming hiding under a house. Since opossums don't typically live in Wyoming, animal control experts believe it hitched a ride from another state, possibly on a semi-truck. The opossum is safe and sound, currently at a rescue facility, and will be released in a more opossum-hospitable state soon.

    From a Sweetwater County media release:

    On Monday, June 6, 2022, at approximately 12:30 p.m., Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office animal control officer, Chris Thomas, responded to the Western Hills neighborhood on Purple Sage Road west of Rock Springs for a report of a local resident who discovered a possum hiding under his residence.

    The Virginia opossum, commonly known as the North American opossum, is the only marsupial, or pouched mammal, found north of Mexico, and today across North America, is native primarily to the southern United States in places like Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. They are not native to Wyoming, and likely would not survive our harsh winters in the wild.

    Known widely for hissing aloud or showing their mouth full of incisor teeth when threatened, and playing dead when frightened, possums are docile, non-territorial, nocturnal, solitary animals who are ground-dwelling, but also spend a significant amount of time in trees. While they do use their prehensile tails to help them climb, contrary to popular folklore and cartoons, they rarely hang by their tails nor do they sleep in this position.

    As a marsupial, much like kangaroos, the possum is a unique creature that also gives birth to relatively undeveloped young that complete development inside of the mother's marsupium, or pouch, located on the underside of her body between her hind legs. When it comes to diet, the possum is an opportunist who will eat almost anything, but their diet primarily includes fruits, nuts, plants and vegetables, eggs, and other small animals including crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, and small birds. In urban and suburban settings, they scavenge garbage, bird seeds, and not surprisingly, they also enjoy pet food.

    Thomas said this particular possum is a male and roughly the size of a small house cat. Dubbed "George" by Thomas, she does not believe that he is domesticated, or has been living as someone's pet. Rather, possums often seek refuge in dark, tight spaces, and she believes it most likely that George hitched a ride on a semi on the interstate and probably went looking for food when the rig's driver stopped to rest or for fuel.

    Thomas has personally cared for George during his week-long stay here in Sweetwater County. While she said it took some work to find, she finally located a nearby licensed rehabilitation center who cares for small mammals that is going to take George, have him examined by a veterinarian to ensure that he is in good health and free of any diseases, and arrange for his transportation and re-homing back to an area of the U.S. in which possums live in the wild as a native species.

    Under Wyoming law, the possession of an exotic animal, which includes any animal that is not found in a wild, free or unconfined status in Wyoming, is strictly regulated, often limited to specific purposes, and generally requires a special state permit, with the possession of some species specifically and outright illegal. For more detailed information, Thomas encouraged people to visit the Wyoming Game and Fish's website.

    Thomas said, "It's really important for people to educate themselves on the law as it pertains to the possession of wild animals in Wyoming. City and county ordinances in Wyoming can also further restrict the possession of certain species. The private ownership of possums in Green River and Rock Springs is illegal, and the introduction of animals that are not native to Wyoming threatens our local ecosystem by disrupting the natural food-chain and introducing new, potentially dangerous diseases for which we as humans, our pets, and our wildlife have no natural immunity."

  • Drag-queen-hating, Kari Lake used to love drag queens so much that she did drag herself

    Trump-loving Kari Lake, who is running for Governor in Arizona, has recently joined her fellow Republicans railing against drag shows and wanting to "protect" children from drag queens. 

    Turns out, to absolutely nobody's surprise, that Kari Lake is one giant hypocrite. Famous Phoenix drag queen Barbra Seville recently shared on her Facebook page that she and Kari used to be good friends and that she performed drag for Kari's birthday in her home and in front of her children:

    Local Phoenix reporter Brahm Resnick covers the whole story here, where you can see photos of Kari with Barbra in drag, as well as photos of Kari herself in drag.

    Lake's campaign issued a statement saying Seville's post was "accusations full of lies."

  • Darrel the Dogigater — half dog and half gator — is worth the trip to Louisiana

    Abita Springs, Louisiana (which isn't too far from New Orleans), is famous for being the hometown of the Abita Brewery Company, which brews some decidedly delicious beers. If you are lucky enough to spend a little more time in Abita Springs, and explore beyond the brewery, you might stumble upon a delightful oddity called the Mystery House and UCM (You-See-Em) Museum. It's a meandering house and grounds, where every nook and cranny is filled to the brim with every kind of weirdness you can imagine.

    You really have to see it to believe it. I was lucky enough to visit last year, and I'm excited to go again next week when I'm visiting family in Louisiana. One of my favorite creatures there —rightly deemed a "marvel of science" by the Mystery House folks—is Darrel the Dogigator. He's half dog and half alligator and fully adorable. If you ever have the chance to go to Abita Springs, you should visit the Mystery House and say hello to Darrell and all of his friends.

  • One-fifth of Americans believe every school shooting is a fake event filled with "crisis actors"

    Many are still reeling from the May 24, 2022 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX. Since Uvalde, 57 more mass shootings have occurred (up through noon on June 18, 2022), according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting this way: "if four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter, that incident is categorized as a mass shooting based purely on that numerical threshold."

    Given these very real events, it is difficult for me to understand how so many people believe the conspiracy theories positing that this gun violence doesn't exist — that events like Sandy Hook or the Uvalde massacre are "false flag" events filled with "crisis actors" and orchestrated by individuals and groups whose agenda is gun control. And yet, this is exactly what one-fifth of Americans currently believe. 

    According to research by PolitiFact, false flag conspiracies about mass shootings are not new, and some trace their appearance to 2012, as such conspiracy theories arose in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. PolitiFact explains:

    "The way we've been paying attention to it in recent years has really come about from Sandy Hook," said Joseph Uscinski, an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami who researches conspiracy theories.

    Alex Jones, owner of the site InfoWars and a known peddler of misinformation, suggested that the tragedy was "fake" and that the shooting was a "false flag" attack coordinated by the government.

    It was plainly untrue, and so incendiary that it got a lot of media attention. And so now, with each shooting, it always pops up that it's a false flag, Uscinski says.

    Google Trends data indicate that Uscinski has a point.

    Search queries for the term "false flag" over the past five years have spiked during mass shootings, including those at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs (November 2015) and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (June 2016).

    These trends have continued since the PolitiFact article was published in 2019, as such theories are no longer peddled only by fringe pundits such as Alex Jones and non-mainstream sites like 4chan and 8chan. Instead, they are spread widely through Facebook and other social media sites by ordinary, everyday people. Micah Sifry explains just how many people believe such theories: 

    A 2013 poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that a quarter of all Americans thought that the facts about Sandy Hook were being hidden, and an additional 11 percent were unsure. Joe Uscinski, a University of Miami political science professor who studies conspiracy theories, tells Williamson that according to his research, as of 2020, one-fifth of all Americans believed that every school shooting was faked. And not just school shootings; Uscinski says virtually all high-profile mass shootings draw this level of doubt.

    To help make sense of why so many people believe such theories, New York Times reporter Elizabeth Williamson recently published a book with Dutton entitled Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth. The publisher's description of the book reads:

    Based on hundreds of hours of research, interviews, and access to exclusive sources and materials, Sandy Hook is Elizabeth Williamson's landmark investigation of the aftermath of a school shooting, the work of Sandy Hook parents who fought to defend themselves, and the truth of their children's fate against the frenzied distortions of online deniers and conspiracy theorists.

    Williamson also just published an article on Slate where she provides an overview of the book, and presents a fascinating look of one of the Sandy Hook deniers she interviewed for the book, a woman named Kelley Watt — one of those "ordinary, everyday people" I mentioned above who stumble upon these conspiracy theories and use their social media platforms to spread their lies. 

    Here's an excerpt from the article, which I read with a gaping mouth, as each paragraph was more shocking than the next. I can't wait to read the book, which I'm sure is equally horrifying. But it's imperative to understand these political conspiracies, especially when so many people believe them and they cause so much harm.

    When we spoke, I asked her whether she doubted Sandy Hook because first grade children being murdered in their classrooms was too hard for her to face. "No. I just had a strong sense that this didn't happen," she said. "Too many of those parents just rub me the wrong way."

    She judged the parents as "too old to have kids that age." She found their clothes dowdy, their hairstyles dated. Where were their "messy buns," "cute torn jeans," their "Tory Burch jewelry"? She mocked their broken stoicism. Their lives had fallen to pieces, but in Watt's mind they seemed "too perfect," and also not perfect enough.

    Watt had read widely about the shooting and the families, choosing from each account only the facts that suited her false narrative.

    She brought up Chris and Lynn McDonnell, parents of 7-year-old Grace, a child with striking pale blue eyes who liked to paint. Lynn McDonnell told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Grace had drawn a peace sign and the message "Grace Loves Mommy" in the fogged bathroom mirror after her shower, leaving traces her mother found after her death. She described the abyss she felt upon seeing her daughter's white casket and recalled how she, Chris, and Grace's brother, Jack, used markers to fill its stark emptiness with colorful drawings of things Grace loved.

    Watt mocked this reminiscence in a singsong tone. "'Ohhhhh, Grace. She loved loved loved loved loved Sandy Hook, and we're glad she's in heaven with her teacher, and she's with her classmates, and we feel good about that,'" she said. "'She had a white coffin, and we busted out the Sharpies and drew a skillet and a sailboat.' NOBODY CRIED," she barked.

    Watt's feral lack of empathy astonished me. Watt a few minutes earlier had boasted about her son Jordan's voracious reading habits and how well her daughter, Madison, played the piano. If Watt's children died, wouldn't she also speak highly of them and their gifts?

    "No. This was to build up the sympathy factor," she said. "I think they're people with a gun control agenda.

  • Ohioans critique the Polish LARPers who recreated an "American 4th of July in Ohio"

    VICE recently wrote a profile of Bartosz Bruski and a group of his friends and fellow LARP enthusiasts who have created an "American 4th of July" LARP at a resort outside of Warsaw, Poland. Bruski is a 29-year-old software engineer who leads a group of about 60 LARPers who enact their version of an American trailer park 4th of July celebration. According to Bruski, he found a resort on some land outside of Warsaw, where he and his crew and cast create the fictional scene, which is modeled after a trailer park in Ohio. He and his fellow LARPers (LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing) build the set and act out what they imagine life to be like an American 4th of July party. Dozens of people participate, and they all have roles to play — they stay in character as their assigned role, with their assigned family, and live in "their assigned trailer home for 28 hours at a time."

    In the VICE interview, Bruski explains the origins of this LARPing experiment:

    Why did you decide to do a LARP based in Ohio?

    It started about five years ago, together with a bunch of friends. We decided to do a LARP. Inspired by Stranger Things and X-Files – we wanted to recreate a small town in the United States where strange things happen and because of that, men in black arrive. We visited various resorts in Poland, looking for one that would perfectly reflect the small town on the edge of the great gloomy forest. 

    We found a resort in Łódź province, near [the city of] Tomaszów Mazowiecki. One of us – I don't remember anymore to whom this glory falls – said it wasn't the place we were looking for, but if we redesigned it a bit it would look like an American trailer park. At the next project meeting we didn't talk about Stranger Things and X-Files, but we talked about American trailer parks. That's how it started.

    He also explains the research that his vision of 4th of July in Ohio is based on:

    How did you do the research?

    When it comes to production, that is the look of the game, the costumes and the scenery, we worked mainly on the Internet and how we imagined the scene when we type "4th of July" into Google. But apart from nice fireworks and costumes, it also has a 700-page plot for characters and the whole scenario. This is where we have often worked with sources like, Hillbilly ElegyNomadland, and Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing, Missouri]. And from books – for example, I read These Truths: A History of the United States, a great book which gives a different perspective on this country.

    We grew up with a vision of the States as if it's the land of milk and honey… Then when you grow up and information is shared more, it turns out that it's not so nice in the States. We came up with [the idea of this] "broken American dream", and this was the motif for the project.

    I perused the comments on the LARP's Facebook page and round a range of reactions to the LARP by Americans, from humor, to praise, to helpful critique. Some commenters seem to not understand that this LARP is intending to depict the "broken American dream."  Some folks are simply delighted by it all and praise its authenticity:

    "Midwesterner here. Very accurate. It made me laugh."

    "As a true 'Murican patriot I love this so much, thank you for your service!"

    Others had to invoke all things "patriotic" and "Let's Go Brandon" (because of course, they did, or maybe this is sarcasm? It's hard to tell):

    "As a proud Virginian, it is good to see the Red White n Blue flying while these good folks git an extra hitch in their giddyup and have themselves a rootin tootin hootin good ole time! Git her done, God Bless the US of A, and Let's Go Brandon!" 

    Some suggest that the LARP is not realistic because of the lack of guns (they're not wrong!):

    "If no one blew their fingers off it's not a real 4th of July."

    "This is good but, need more guns for a more accurate presentation."

    "These are fantastic. The only thing that's not quite right is the people here all need to gain at least 50 lbs and they should all be holding guns with guns in the background (and more guns)."

    Building on that last comment about American bodies, others expanded on this idea that the LARP isn't authentic because the people LARPing as Americans are too fit and attractive or don't wear the right clothes:

    "Y'all are too fit and attractive, but otherwise, entirely spot on."

    "Throw in a couple of Old Navy t-shirts."

    "This is amazing. I love it but the clothes are more interesting than anything found in Ohio. People from Ohio are not that interesting."

    "You need more tattoos (men and women), more tights on the women, tractors, lawn mowers, non-running vehicles, fishing poles, sunglasses, uncut lawns, etc. Everybody looks too nice. Goober it up some more! Still, Good Job!"

    Or because it fails to capture specifically Ohioan culture:

    "Born and raised Ohioan here pretty on target, missing a lot of the iconic things. Gus Macker, people playing football, tailgating, night fishing, golfing, fireworks, beer beer and more beer, snipe hunting and cow tipping."

    Or because it doesn't capture the true diversity of the US:

    "What most people from outside the United States don't understand is that the United States is *big*. Really big. As in almost as many cultures as the entire continent of Europe big. You've adequately captured one view of Americana—but it's only three out of 11 cultures. You're doing well at capturing the culture of Appalachia, of the Midwest, and of the Far West quite nicely, but you're missing the coasts, you're missing the Deep South, you're missing Yankeedom, you're missing the weird Mexican diversity of El Norte."

    One person posting provided a very detailed critique and list of suggestions. Perhaps this person should be a consultant for American authenticity for next year's LARP!

    "Ways I think this could be better (tongue in cheek while also being sincere also it's long sorry):

    – Y'all need sparklers and illegal fireworks. The more illegal the better. Americans do enjoy breaking lesser laws and mostly don't care about fire safety if it stands between us and our fun.

    – No KFC. Do real BBQ. I would suggest southern BBQ in the style of the states North or South Carolina, Missouri, Texas (Texas isn't actually proper southern, Texas is Texas separate from the rest, just trust me) or Kentucky. From this Texan all other styles of BBQ are inferior and should be laughed at. Seriously y'all need to talk about how inferior their style is while making the BBQ. Or make the BBQ other states suffer through, burgers and hot dogs (but it's sad to just have that, go with real BBQ, you'll thank me later).

    – Unless the soldier came home within the last few hours they probably wouldn't be wearing a uniform. Rather, it's not a usual thing for people to sit in full uniforms. If you're going for the PTSD look then ok but not fully, like the shirt and hat mixed with regular clothes. 

    – No one plays chess on the 4th. Rather I'm sure it happens but not in the rural white world you're cosplaying. 

    – People watch American football, drink beer, cheer/yell a lot and debate (sometimes heatedly) about it all including players or teams not actually playing at that time. 

    – You need crying children in diapers crying about not getting a sparkler, not getting enough macaroni, having their baby back BBQ pork rib taken away from them, fell down, parents left them so they could go drink, someone yelled at them and/or a dog barked at them loud/a cat scratched them because the kid poked it. Points for a dirty t-shirt and no pants. 

    – People always get into arguments or tense situations on holidays about almost anything. It's not as bad as Thanksgiving but Americans love to start shit and then pretend we're victims. It's something we do even to each other. 

    – I don't know if y'all play music but it should be a blend of classic American rock and whatever's popular at the time. 

    – Someone needs to be shirtless. 

    – A broken toilet needs to be out on the lawn in front of the house.

    – Did I mention the sparklers?

    I'm not sure why this is happening/why this is something you'd want to do but it seems fun and y'all seem to be enjoying yourselves. Cheers."

    You can judge for yourself how authentic the LARP is (but I would question if authenticity is even the point), as there are lots of photos of the LARPers in this Twitter feed and this Facebook page. You can also read the full interview with the creator of the 4th of July LARP here.

  • Paint your nails with Velveeta

    Processed cheese brand Velveeta is getting weird, y'all. First, in November 2021, they launched their rebranding and ad campaign, "La Dolce Velveeta," which, according to AdWeek, set out

    to pivot Velveeta from a cheese-adjacent product to a lifestyle brand thanks to a nod to the Italian phrase "the sweet life" and an ad with consumers living their best lives with Velveeta cubed, melted and more.

    The ad campaign includes commercials like this one, which "depicts the glamour a Velveeta dish can bring to everyday settings." The commercial highlights people engaged in activities of everyday life—an older woman in a floral dress mowing her grass on a riding lawnmower, a young woman in a bathing cap and swimsuit coverup lounging in a lawn chair inside a blow-up pool in her backyard, a group of young adults eating dinner in their living room.

    As the camera pans in closer, you see that in each vignette, folks are enjoying Velveeta products. The woman on the riding mower holds a martini glass filled with Velveeta Shells & Cheese; the woman in the pool daintily eats Shells & Cheese out of a bowl with a tropical umbrella toothpick, and one woman at the dinner party pours melted Velveeta out of a silver teapot into a china teacup on a platter while another sips the cheese with her pinky finger held high. According to AdAge, set to the tune of "O Mio Babbino Caro," the "60-second ad depicts the glamour a Velveeta dish can bring to the everyday setting." With the soprano aria soaring in the background, the ad's depiction of a technicolor slice of suburbia is, I have to admit, sort of engaging.

    Now they're back with a product I first thought was a joke but, in fact, actually exists. The company recently launched a nail polish collaboration with Nails.INC. It's called "Pinkies Out Polish," and they describe it as a "Creamy Smooth Cheese Scented Nail Polish Duo". For $15 you can buy a pair of polishes— one shade is called "La Dolce Velveeta yellow" and the other is "Finger Food red," and both are "inspired by your favorite VELVEETA." The description of the product goes on to warn that "While our polish is cheese-scented, it is (unfortunately) not made of VELVEETA. Please don't eat it—that's what cheesy, melty VELVEETA is for!" (WELL THANK GOODNESS THEY WARNED ME!), and asserts that the nail polish is "Designed to help you live every day PINKIES OUT."

    AdWeek provides more insight into the product:

    "Velveeta is known for its rich, creamy texture and cheesy, melty goodness, so what better way to bring this to life for our fans than with something equally as rich and creamy—nail polish," said Kelsey Rice, senior brand communications manager at the Kraft Heinz Company, in a statement. "Our Velveeta Pinkies Out Polish gives pleasure seekers everywhere an irresistible new way to show the world that they are living 'La Dolce Velveeta' by living pinkies out."

    It's a tough decision. I mean, summer's here, and my nails (as usual) are bare. Dare I start living La Dolce Velveeta?

  • QMaga Dr. Northrup pushes "Jamaican remedy" to restore sense of smell

    Disinformation Dozen hall-of-shamer Dr. Christiane Northrup posted yesterday on Truth Social that she has been using what she calls the "Jamaican remedy" to restore her sense of smell.

    I have no context regarding why she's trying to regain her sense of smell. I can only surmise that perhaps she caught COVID-19 and lost her sense of smell and is using this flaming organic orange remedy to bring it back. This is so weird, though, coming from someone who is skeptical of germ theory and subscribes instead to the idea that the "microbiome is where it's at." Not to mention that it doesn't even work.

  • Watch this mesmerizing video of fireflies

    Take a break from work and watch this mesmerizing video of fireflies (the really cool part kicks in around the one-minute mark). Aeon describes the scene:

    The Anamalai Tiger Reserve in southern India is best known for its elephant and tiger populations. However, this video from the filmmaker, photographer and 'dark sky advocate' Sriram Murali focuses on the 'tiny insect that steals the show' in the reserve at night. There are some 2,000 species in the Lampyridae family of beetles – better known as 'fireflies' – and many of them use bioluminescence to communicate and find mates. However, only a few species synchronise their light signals, and rarely in such large congregations as Murali captures within the reserve, protected from human activity and artificial light. Set against a near-pitch black backdrop, the small blinking patterns on display combine to form a stunning glimpse into the phenomena of both bioluminescence and emergence.

  • Why Dr. Christiane Northrup is a QMaga hero

    Over the last several decades, Dr. Christiane Northrup has built a career as a major player in women's alternative healthcare and healthcare advocacy. Johnathan Jarry of McGill University describes Dr. Northrup's early career: 

    An obstetrician-gynecologist by training, Northrup rose to fame as a New York Times bestselling author of books like Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause. She was platformed by Oprah Winfrey on many occasions and was named by Reader's Digest in 2013 as one of the 100 most trusted people in America.

    According to the Conspirituality Podcast Episode 7: Doctoring COVID: Christiane Northrup's Great Truther Awakening, during her career,

    She has persuasively argued for lower-intervention childbirth, an end to circumcision, and policies that place family unity at the heart of health care. She's known and loved for challenging her medical training with faith-based values and an intuition framed as feminine (if not feminist) and "sovereign." Northrup draws on astrology, feng shui, chakra theory, and "vibrational" healing as modes of resistance to what she sees as medical patriarchy. 

    Toward the beginning of the first year of the pandemic, in early Spring 2020, Northrup began her "Great Awakening" that quickly catapulted her to the status of one of the most famous and influential COVID "truthers" and spreaders of COVID misinformation. She currently has 563,000 followers on Facebook, 116,000 followers on Twitter, 80,000 YouTube subscribers, and 78,000 subscribers on Telegram. She sells books, herbs, and other wellness products on her website and hosts keynotes and workshops on a variety of topics, including "Dodging Energy Vampires," "Making Life Easy," "The Wisdom of Menopause," and "Goddesses Never Age." Conspirituality Podcast Episode 7: Doctoring COVID: Christiane Northrup's Great Truther Awakening (July 9, 2020) explains that the resistance to the mainstream medical system that she had built her early career around

    …began seamlessly intersecting with COVID trutherism in April (2020), when she started posting daily Facebook sermons to her half-million followers. The series is called "The Great Awakening" — a phrase first used to describe 18th-century American spiritual revival movements, but was recently co-opted by QAnon conspiracists to describe the inevitable triumph of Trump over the Deep State.

    Northrup's sermons, combined with her posts of the debunked Plandemic docmentary, Tony Robbins interviewing anti-vaxxers, and a podcast with Andy Wakefield in which she called COVID a "flu" and expressed concern about Bill Gates taking over public education, give a rich glimpse into the seduction of conspirituality in the hands of a wellness matriarch.

    Most recently, Northrup has strengthened her alignment with QAnon by posting a trailer for a follow-up to a key recruiting video. With up to a dozen QAnon supporters running for office in November, Northrup is positioned to nudge middle-class white wellness women with money into a cult that believes Trump is a messianic figure.

    Johnathan Jarry of McGill University describes Northrup's dangerous and irresponsible views on the pandemic, which include advocating against both vaccines and masks, and calling into question whether COVID-19 is even real:

    Her views on the COVID-19 pandemic, shaped by her mantra that "it doesn't make sense," are unscientific, reckless and asinine. Rarely have I witnessed such a smorgasbord of gobbledygook from someone who once had an active medical license. She does not believe vaccines are necessary if your body is healthy and has spread unsubstantiated fears about safe vaccines throughout her career. She has claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines will target specific chromosomes that act as the seat of our empathy, an utterly absurd and unscientific statement. She believes that artificial intelligence has somehow been incorporated into these vaccines (complete nonsense) and that this A.I. will integrate itself into our DNA. She warns her viewers that the injection of patented vaccines inside our body will turn us into the property of the patent holders. Funny how I have not heard her say the same for artificial heart valves, pacemakers and insulin pumps. But before you call her an anti-vaxxer, know that she believes the term is meaningless and that it was coined by Big Pharma. In the same breath, she declares that "conspiracy theorist" was a phrase invented by the CIA, which is apparently run out of China. She read about it, you see.

    Northrup admits to having dozens of people over at her house during the pandemic for "peaceful protests" that are linked to two organizations she participates in, Make America Free Again and Millions Against Medical Mandates. She frequently invites her viewers to disobey the rules during the pandemic to show everyone that it's all a scam, and to stop watching mainstream media news because their broadcast contains a flicker meant to hypnotize you. She recommends pseudoscientists, health gurus, and discredited news sources like Joe Mercola, Andrew Wakefield, and InfoWars, all the while avoiding posting links to specific websites. As social media companies unevenly clamp down on misinformation, accessing contrarian sources online has been turned by Northrup into an Easter egg hunt that sets up a hero's journey for her fan base. Her videos are not unlike the Q drops of the QAnon movement: filled with somewhat vague references that make viewers want to complete a quest to become part of the inner circle.

    Sam Kestenbaum, writing for The Washington Post, describes that Northup, along with eleven other public figures, were named the "disinformation dozen" in the spring of 2021 by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, as these figures were responsible for spreading and amplifying almost all of the anti-vaccine content circulating through social media and other online settings: 

     ("The cost of allowing her to remain on these platforms has been paid for in the number of lives lost to covid-19," the group's director, Imran Ahmed, said.) The White House put pressure on social media companies to kick the "disinformation dozen" off their platforms. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, disputed the center's findings as overblown, but eventually stripped Northrup of her Instagram. In a podcast interview, Northrup said she lost access to PayPal and Venmo. She soon migrated to alternative social platforms, like Telegram, where her following has soared past 80,000. (Many of her Facebook videos were taken down, but her page, with 565,000 followers, remains. Her Twitter account, with 115,000 followers, is active.)

    Her being censured has not stopped her from spreading misinformation and lies, however. Kestenbaum continues by describing how she continues to ramp up her lies and rhetoric about vaccines:

    Meanwhile, an Oklahoma businessman named Clay Clark recruited Northrup for a roadshow organized to protest pandemic health orders. As part of these events, which tour mostly Pentecostal churches across the country, Northrup joined speakers including pillow salesman Mike Lindell and politico Roger Stone. Reached by phone, Clark said, "Dr. Christiane Northrup is on an unapologetic search for truth, and one of the only doctors I could find speaking out." Clark also shared footage of a recent tour stop in Arizona. In it, Northrup bounded onstage and said, "The covid shot is a murder weapon. There is no reason to take it," and watched as the crowd rose in applause.

    Journalists Nathan Bernard and Andy O'Brien, in an article for Mainer, argue that it is difficult to measure just how much damaging Dr. Northrup's views have been to public health:

    How many Warriors of the Radical Light have been infected with the coronavirus, and have then infected others, because they've taken Northrup's quack advice that social distancing and masks are harmful? 

    In addition to her dangerous COVID-19 views, Northrup has also been an advocate of far-right politics. She has embraced QAnon and believes, like fellow conspiritualist Lorie Ladd, that Donald Trump is a "massive and powerful lightworker." Nathan Bernard and Andy O'Brien argue that:

    In the weeks leading up to Election Day, Northrup's rhetoric became increasingly militant. She's called on county sheriffs to refuse to enforce state lockdowns and mask mandates. Invoking the language of the white supremacist group Posse Comitatus and the far-right Sovereign Citizen movement, Northrup believes sheriffs, by virtue of being elected, are the highest law-enforcement officers in the land, with the power to invoke the 10th Amendment against any measures they deem unconstitutional.

    She was also an advocate of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. While she did not go to the event because she was "doing a cleaning fast—in a video afterward Northrup heralded the date as a 'fateful day of epiphany.'"

    Two years since first discussing Dr. Northrup, in their most recent episode, Episode 108, Downeast with Christiane Northrup (June 16, 2022), the hosts and guests of the Conspirituality Podcast trace Northrup's trajectory over the last two years of the pandemic, and speculate about whether she is making the transition from online queen of the disinformation dozen, to real-life cult leader:

    Half-a-million Facebook followers. Hundreds of videos in a series called "The Great Awakening." Christiane Northrup, the matriarch of New Age women's wellness, warns her followers about fake viruses, and tells them to avoid sex with their vaccinated partners. She stumps alongside QAnon celebrities, shovels campaign contributions to Trump, and dotes over sovereign citizen sheriffs. To ease your symptoms of ascension, she offers bath recipes of alfalfa greens and Dr. Bronner's soap. You can have a good soak and listen to her golden harp. 

    But in this nowhere world, where oh where is Christiane Northrup? Who is she? Is she flesh and blood, or a social media hologram generated by a Louise Hay AI? Is that mansion she broadcasts from a sound stage, or is there real soil and manure and flowers there? Our guests today know Northrup as super-real, because they live in her home state of Maine. Alyce Ornella, Andy O'Brien, and Mooncat have known her as a doctor, an MLM diva, antivax rabble rouser, and QAnon tour promoter. 

    Now, they tell us, another Northrup may be crystallizing on Maine's rocky shore, floating past the lighthouses and over the cranberry bogs on a cloud of essential oils. She's been seen haunting the blueberry patches, wearing a chunky necklace of lobster claws. As Northrup begins to hold revival meetings in Down East churches, and openly fantasize about murdering political enemies, they wonder if she is assuming her ultimate form—as an IRL cult leader.