• Bolivian brothers let a black widow bite them all in hopes of getting superpowers

    According to Telemundo, three brothers, ages 8, 10, and 12, from the Andean town of Chayanta in Bolivia went out to graze goats when they stumbled upon a black widow spider. As the Epidemiology Chief of the Bolivian Health Ministry tells it, the spider reminded them of Spider-Man. I'll let the Google Translated article tell the rest:

    The spider was a black widow and the boys decided to "experiment" to see if the sting gives magical powers, so the older one was bitten "by stimulating it with a stick", then the other and finally the younger one helped by the other two, according to the story of the head of Epidemiology.

    The first symptoms appeared within a few minutes and the mother was scared to see them cry, so they were taken to a Chayanta health center, but when they did not improve with the medicines they were given, they were transferred to a hospital in the small town of Llallagua, where they saw that their situation was complicated.

    The next day they were taken to the Children's Hospital in La Paz, with muscular pain, sweating, fever and general tremors, Pietro explained, and after applying a serum against bites, they improved until they were discharged on the 20th.

    Luckily, the kids are okay. Unluckily, they neither turned into Spider-Man, nor Black Widow, which probably should have been the more obvious powerset despite the fact that her abilities have nothing to do with spider bites.

    I was once electrocuted by a guitar amp through the pickups on my guitar, and I, too, was disappointed that I did not get any cool powers from the trauma.

    Little brothers get bitten by poisonous spider to become "Spider-Man" [Telemundo]

    Image: Public Domain via James Gathany / CDC

  • Proceeds from this "White Claws Not White Pride" shirt/mask go to Black Lives Matter

    I tried to stop being a t-shirt guy, and for most of my 20s, it even worked. But for the last few years, I've been in the habit of buying more graphic t-shirts than I need, as long as I know that the proceeds are going to a good cause.

    This is all to say that: I don't need this shirt, so I probably shouldn't buy it. But goddammit I love this shirt and I want it.

    50% of T Shirt and mask profits will go directly to BLM. 100% of BLM enamel pin profits will go directly to BLM. This pre-order will run from 7/8/2020-7/17/2020. Shirts will then go into production and shipped the week of 7/27/20. Separate pin and mask orders will be sent before shirts.

    Masks are $10, and shirts are $18 or so, and you can order them through Stupid Rad Merch through July 17. They've offered limited printings of this shirt in the past, and they always go pretty fast, to this is a good chance to get one for a good cause. (I asked for details on the donations, and the designer says they're going to the BLM Global Network via ActBlue, as opposed to the  Black Lives Matter Foundation or another other remotely-affiliated group.)

    White Claws Not White Pride [Stupid Rad Merch]

  • What you need to know about police drone surveillance at protests against police brutality

    Technology writer Faine Greenwood has a great piece in Slate about the expansion of police drone surveillance fleets. While there are still many, many reasons to worry about abuses of drone technology and mass surveillance in general, Greenwood takes a look at the legal, technical, and practical limitations of these policing methods. Greenwood essentially argues that, as much as American police officers love to think of themselves as special military tactical forces (often treating normal-ass citizens like enemy combatants), they're really just cosplaying, and their use of drones is part of that:

    Unlike a Predator—which is capable of staying aloft for more than a day—these small drones usually have short battery lives, from as little as 16 minutes, when carrying a very heavy camera, to 35 minutes when carrying a lighter sensor. (Drone evasion tip: If you think you’re being followed, duck under a shelter or a convenient tree. You can probably wait the drone’s battery out.)

    Police drone users are largely not exempt from the same rules that other drone users must abide by, which include restrictions on flight over people, at night, and beyond the pilot’s “visual line of sight.”


    While a police drone can certainly chase someone for a bit, that doesn’t mean police can readily use drone-collected imagery to identify who that person is. In my research for this piece, I couldn’t find a single example of U.S. law enforcement using facial recognition technology and drone imagery to identify someone in the real world. This almost certainly isn’t because police don’t want to, or because they’ve been legally barred from doing so. It’s because accurately recognizing individual people from aerial drone imagery is really, really hard.

    It's a short article, crammed with links and details that are both informative, and strangely (surprisingly) comforting in their way. This doesn't mean you should be ecstatic about the presence of police surveillance if and when you're out there protesting against state-sponsored police actions that are objectively abusive; in fact, as Greenwood notes, you should probably still try to avoid them when possible. But you might not have to be as worried as you would be if you saw a thousand-pound military drone coming your way.

    Honestly, the subhed from the article is its most crucial takeaway: "Sometimes it matters less if you’re being surveilled than if you feel like you are."

    Can a Police Drone Recognize Your Face? [Faine Greenwood / Slate]

    Image: Sgt. Lucas Hopkins (Public Domain)

  • An author wrote a beautiful tribute to his late dog disguised as writing advice

    I've known Literary Agent/author Eric Smith as an editor and friend for about a decade now; I even wrote a review of his most recent novel, the delightful Don't Read the Comments, right here on BoingBoing.

    Sadly, Smith recently had to put down his beloved corgi, Augie, after five and a half sweet years together. And while losing a dog is always hard, Smith penned a beautiful tribute to his short-legged companion — in the form of writing advice. It begins thus:

    When it comes to crafting the perfect story, advice tends to be fairly subjective. What might work for some writers, won’t necessarily work for others.

    But these specific rules… they worked for me.

    Let’s discuss.

    First and foremost, at the very start of your story, you want to make the introduction of your character memorable. After-all, the beginning sets the tone for the entire narrative. Readers are going to remember two major things when they walk away. The beginning and the end. And we’ll revisit this idea later.

    Basically, you should find a way to surprise us.

    Yes, that video is part of it. So you get the idea. It continues like that, all the way through the end of the storytelling process. The final result is not only a clear and succinct collection of good advice for good storytelling, but also an absolutely tear-jerking tribute to who was clearly a very sweet pup who lived a life full of love.

    If you love dogs, or storytelling, or crying, or any combination thereof, I suggest you read it. BYO Tissues.

    A Guide To Writing The Perfect Story [Eric Smith]


  • Trump's campaign against mail-in voting is backfiring by discouraging Republican absentee voters

    Trump has been railing against the idea of mail-in voting for a while now, even as he claims that it's fine sometimes, like when he does it, and even though there is no substantial body of evidence that anyone has ever seen to suggest any kind of pattern of rampant individual voter fraud. Of course, reality itself has never been enough to stop the fury of the Great Orange Beast.

    But once again, his own steamrolling arrogance may be his undoing. As the Washington Post reports, Trump's frequent tirades against mail-in voting have thus far only succeeded in discouraging Republican voters from using the option:

    In Virginia, 118,000 voters applied for absentee ballots for Democratic primaries June 23, while only 59,000 voters did so for the Republican primary — even though Republicans voted in a statewide Senate primary contest, while Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) was unopposed for his nomination.

    Mail voting also soared in Kentucky’s June 23 primary; only about 10 percent of Democratic votes were cast on the day of the election, while 20 percent of GOP votes were.

    Similarly, in Georgia’s June 9 primaries, about 600,000 voters cast mail ballots in Democratic primaries, while about 524,000 did so in Republican contests, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office.

    This is particularly notable because, as NBC News previously reported:

    Until now, the main factor as to whether a state embraced vote-by-mail was not its partisan lean, but its geographical location. West of Colorado, 69 percent of ballots are cast by mail, compared to only 27 percent of ballots nationwide, according to the National Vote at Home Institute.

    Deeply conservative Utah has moved almost entirely to vote-by-mail in recent years while the Republican secretary of state in Washington is one of its biggest champions. Meanwhile, true-blue states like New York and several in New England have some of the more restrictive absentee balloting rules in the country.

    This is a perfect microcosm of every right-wing freak out over "protecting elections" — the harder you make it vote, the more likely it is to come back around and bite you in the ass.

    This situation just comes with the bonus irony of Trump supporters taking what have typically been methods of Black voter suppression through hoop-jumping discouragement and using them on themselves to … pwn the libs, I guess?

    Trump’s attacks on mail voting are turning Republicans off absentee ballots [Amy Gardner and
    Josh Dawsey / The Washington Post]

    Coronavirus has ignited a battle over voting by mail. Here's why it's so controversial. [Alex Seitz-Wald and Sahil Kapur / NBC News]

    Trump calls mail-in ballots "corrupt" but reiterates that it's fine when he does it

    Image: Jeff Knezovich / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • Harvard and MIT are suing over the Trump administration's student immigration ruling

    As reported on Monday, July 6 (via NPR):

    Foreign students attending U.S. colleges that will operate entirely online this fall semester cannot remain in the country to do so, according to new regulations released Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    Aside from following the Trump administration standard MO of "unnecessarily cruel," this was also a targeted blow at "liberal" institutions that rely heavily on tuition fees from foreign students to subsidize other educational costs. Which is part of the reason that schools like Harvard and MIT are suing over the move. Also from NPR:

    According to Harvard and MIT, the policy would effectively strand hundreds of thousands of international students studying in the U.S. and muddy plans for a return to class amid the coronavirus pandemic. They say the move "reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes," regardless of what's best for community safety.

    "The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible," the universities said.

    I used to edit and ghostwrite fundraising letters for MIT. While I could complain at length from my first-hand experience about the financial functionality of colleges in general, I think that MIT has a pretty good system worked out within that system. A large part of that has to do with the income from foreign students, which helps to offset costs for lower income domestic students who rely on merit-based scholarships. This move is just an attempt to weaponize ICE and fuel Trump's anti-immigration base in order to further harm colleges that conservatives blame for indoctrinating the youth with the bare minimum ideals of Enlightenment Liberalism.

    It's also just plain cruel, though I suppose that's the point. The logistical oversights — like where and how those international students are going to travel during a pandemic — is likely deliberate as well, in an administration that feeds on chaos energy like some Lovecraftian beast.

    Harvard, MIT Sue Immigration Officials Over Rule Blocking Some International Students [Colin Dwyer / NPR]

    Image: Lucy Li / Wikimedia Commons

  • The legal battle over those novelty Sea Monkeys and X-Ray Specs involves white supremacy and a 60s bondage film star

    Sea Monkeys — those little frozen brine shrimp that came with an elaborate aquatic playground that was never actually as cool as the marketing made it look — were invented in 1957 by a man named Harold von Braunhut. A con man by any other name, von Braunhut was also a marketing genius, hyping up his cheap gimmicky toys like Sea Monkeys and X-Ray Specs with famously exciting ad placement, mostly in comic books. By the end of his life in 2003, he held 195 patents for an array of awesome-sounding-but-utterly-disappointing products.

    And much of his money was spent supporting white supremacist causes, including the Aryan Nation — which is particularly notable, because von Braunhut was Jewish. To be fair, he also supported environmental causes (#ecofascism, baby).

    von Braunhut also got himself involved in some shady activity around licensing and shipment, as self-hating white supremacist con man are wont to do. His widow, a former 60s bondage film queen named Yolanda Signorelli von Braunhut, is still embroiled in these legal battles as she tries to lay claim to whatever remains of her late husband's fortune. For what it's worth, she's also the one who claimed he died from a fall

    Jack Hitt wrote a lengthy exploration into the battle over the Sea-Monkey fortune for New York Times Magazine, and believe me when I say that the details I have included here are not just random bits of knowledge — they are intricately tied up in the entire case. It's wonderfully wild.

    The Battle Over the Sea-Monkey Fortune [Jack Hitt / New York Times Magazine]

    Contrasts of a Private Persona [Eugene L. Meyer / Washington Post]

    The Sea Monkeys and the White Supremacist [Tamar Brott / LA Times]

    The Shocking True Tale Of The Mad Genius Who Invented Sea-Monkeys [Evan Hughes / The Awl]

    Harold von Braunhut, Seller Of Sea Monkeys, Dies at 77 [Douglas Martin / New York Times]

    Image: Claudio Lobos / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • Your allergies are bad because of tree sexism

    I'm one of those people who's damn near allergic to everything — or at least, according to my doctor, to all forms of dust and tree pollen, which might as well be everything. This was particularly frustrating at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak this spring, as every day I woke up with a scratchy throat or runny nose I immediately assumed the worst. (Don't worry, I'm fine; it was allergies every god damn time.)

    While I tend to thrive better in cities that offer some respite from our botanical oxygen-pooping friends, I recently learned that American urban planning generally favors male trees, which produce more pollen. From Atlas Obscura:

    [W]hen [Tom Ogren, horticulturalist and author of Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary Guide to Healthy Landscaping] studied frequently landscaped plants in other cities, he noticed the same thing: males, all the way down. “Right away I started realizing there was something weird going on,” he says. While tracking down the origin of this trend, Ogren stumbled upon perhaps the first trace of sexism in urban landscaping in a 1949 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture. The book advised: “When used for street plantings, only male trees should be selected, to avoid the nuisance from the seed.”

    Urban forestry’s apparent sexism seems to boil down to our distaste for litter. The USDA reasoned that tiny allergenic spores are likely to be blown away by wind or washed away by rain, making pollen an easier civic task to manage than, say, overripe fruit or heavy seed pods that would need to be cleaned up by actual humans.

    I guess I knew that all that pollen dusting my patio was technically tree sperm, but I never really thought about it. But of course, the USDA's rationale for prioritizing male trees — that they're easier to clean up — isn't entirely true either:

    In a cruel kind of irony, if urban landscapers had prioritized female trees in the same way, neither pollen nor unsightly seeds or fruit would be much of an issue. “If they had done it the opposite and planted hundreds of female trees with no males, it would have been just as sterile and tidy, without any pollen,” Ogren says. “Female trees don’t make fruits or seeds if there are no males around.” A large tree will scatter the majority of its pollen within 20 or 30 feet from its roots, Ogren says, so relatively isolated female trees simply wouldn’t bear much fruit.

    Another argument proffered against female trees is that certain ones can produce an unpleasant odor. For example, when a lady gingko tree is in heat, it produces an odor not dissimilar to rotting fish or vomit. Ogren cedes this point. But if a city planted only female gingkos, decreasing the chance of fertilization, there would be neither pollen nor its infamously noxious postcoital odor, he says.

    The whole article is weirdly fascinating look at how botanical sexism seeps into and shapes our societal planning.

    ‘Botanical Sexism’ Could Be Behind Your Seasonal Allergies [Sabrina Imbler / Atlas Obscura]

    Image: Public Domain via Needpix

  • An interview with Charlie Kaufman about his new novel takes a weirdly meta Kaufman-esque turn

    Charlie Kaufman is the acclaimed screenwriter behind surrealist movies like Being John Malkovich; Adaptation; Synecdoche, New York; and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My favorite bizarrely wonderful story about him — which, in a way, is kind of a synecdoche for his entire oeuvre of work, which is also something I learned about through his films — is that his Academy Award-winning screenplay for Adaptation is one of the few Oscars credited to a completely fictional person. Kaufman was hired to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, and seeing no way to write a dramatic narrative out of some meditative thoughts on flower poaching, he decided to write a screenplay about Charlie Kaufman struggling to write a screenplay about The Orchid Thief. Except, in the context of the movie, Fictional Charlie Kaufman also has an identical twin brother named Donald … who is credited as co-writer on the actual, real-life screenplay.

    I thought of this as I read this New York Times Magazine profile on Charlie Kaufman, ahead of the July 7th release of Antkind, a 700-page novel that marks Kaufman's first foray into prose writing. Journalist Jon Mooallem had the article planned well before the pandemic hit, but quickly had to improvise when he realized he wouldn't be able to interview Kaufman in person. As the lockdown dragged on, their long weekly phone conversations became a surprising source of stability for both of them (as chronicled in the article). Moallem thought he had something — but right as he turned a draft into his editor, the political climate took an every starker turn with ongoing protests against racism and police brutality, making his quaint pandemic-focused profile seem out-of-touch.

    The result — which I highly recommend reading, especially for fans of Kaufman — is a delightful bizarre meta-narrative of a profile, that's loosely structured around a self-referential framework of what the article was originally going to be in its unpublished form. It even includes blockquoted excerpts from the original draft, presented as such for contexts to explain what would have been, and how it changed through current events and subsequent conversations with Kaufman. It's a little hokey, sure, but it is also perfectly Kaufmanian.

    (It's also worth it to hear Kaufman explain how the traditional Hollywood system, rather than Netflix or anything else, is the source of his professional frustrations.)

    I haven't read or bought Antkind yet, although I certainly plan on it; I'm currently debating if I should bump up the other Huge Books I have in my queue to finish first, or if I should just dive right in this week. The premise sounds wonderfully Kaufmanian:

    B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, neurotic and underappreciated film critic (failed academic, filmmaker, paramour, shoe salesman who sleeps in a sock drawer), stumbles upon a hitherto unseen film made by an enigmatic outsider—a film he’s convinced will change his career trajectory and rock the world of cinema to its core. His hands on what is possibly the greatest movie ever made—a three-month-long stop-motion masterpiece that took its reclusive auteur ninety years to complete—B. knows that it is his mission to show it to the rest of humanity. The only problem: The film is destroyed, leaving him the sole witness to its inadvertently ephemeral genius.

    All that’s left of this work of art is a single frame from which B. must somehow attempt to recall the film that just might be the last great hope of civilization. Thus begins a mind-boggling journey through the hilarious nightmarescape of a psyche as lushly Kafkaesque as it is atrophied by the relentless spew of Twitter. Desperate to impose order on an increasingly nonsensical existence, trapped in a self-imposed prison of aspirational victimhood and degeneratively inclusive language, B. scrambles to re-create the lost masterwork while attempting to keep pace with an ever-fracturing culture of “likes” and arbitrary denunciations that are simultaneously his bête noire and his raison d’être.

    A searing indictment of the modern world, Antkind is a richly layered meditation on art, time, memory, identity, comedy, and the very nature of existence itself—the grain of truth at the heart of every joke.

    This Profile of Charlie Kaufman Has Changed [Jon Mooallem / New York Times Magazine]

    Image via YouTube

  • Police militarization is objectively bad for police and for society, according to science

    This 2018 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America takes a comprehensive look at the impacts of militarized police, and shows just how factually counterproductive it is for literally everyone (except for maybe the Defense Contractors who walk with cash between their tented fingers). From the abstract of the article:

    The increasingly visible presence of heavily armed police units in American communities has stoked widespread concern over the militarization of local law enforcement. Advocates claim militarized policing protects officers and deters violent crime, while critics allege these tactics are targeted at racial minorities and erode trust in law enforcement. Using a rare geocoded census of SWAT team deployments from Maryland, I show that militarized police units are more often deployed in communities with large shares of African American residents, even after controlling for local crime rates. Further, using nationwide panel data on local police militarization, I demonstrate that militarized policing fails to enhance officer safety or reduce local crime. Finally, using survey experiments—one of which includes a large oversample of African American respondents—I show that seeing militarized police in news reports may diminish police reputation in the mass public. In the case of militarized policing, the results suggest that the often-cited trade-off between public safety and civil liberties is a false choice.

    Jonathan Mummolo, the author of the article, goes on to say that, "Taken together, these findings suggest that curtailing militarized policing may be in the interest of both police and citizens."

    Facts don't care about your feelings on policing, and the facts are pretty clear on this.

    Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation [Jonathan Mummolo / PNAS]

    Image: Public domain via Pxhere

  • Harvard study shows that Harvard kids are dumber than a grey parrot

    Researchers at Harvard recently conducted an odd experiment in visual memory. They selected 21 Harvard undergrads and 21 6- to 8-year-old children, and pitted them all against an African grey parrot in an elaborate version of a shell game:

    Tiny colored pom-poms were covered with cups and then shuffled, so participants had to track which object was under which cup. The experimenter then showed them a pom-pom that matched one of the same color hidden under one of the cups and asked them to point at the cup. (Griffin, of course, used his beak to point.) The participants were tested on tracking two, three, and four different-colored pom-poms. The position of the cups were swapped zero to four times for each of those combinations. Griffin and the students did 120 trials; the children did 36.

    The game tests the brain’s ability to retain memory of items that are no longer in view, and then updating when faced with new information, like a change in location. This cognitive system is known as visual working memory and is the one of the foundations for intelligent behavior.

    As the Harvard Gazette reports, Griffin the parrot kicked the all the little kids' asses, and "performed either as well as or slightly better" than the Harvard students in 12 of the 14 trial types.

    Take from that what you will.

    When a bird brain tops Harvard students on a test [Juan Siliezar / The Harvard Gazette]

  • That time George Washington ordered "total destruction and devastation" of the Haudenosaunee

    The most recent episode of the Intercept's Intercepted podcast touches on a lot of topics relating to white supremacy and US history. But the first segment includes an interview with a Native American historian named Nick Estes. A citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Estes is an assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico; he's also the host of the Red Nation podcast and the author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance.

    Among the many discussions in the podcast, Estes brings up George Washington's reputation amongst indigenous people as "town destroyer" —

    Washington was known as “town destroyer.” He was given that name by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy because he led a scorched-earth campaign against the Haudenosaunee prior to the Revolutionary War, but also during the Revolutionary War to push them further westward, to make room, you know, to create Lebensraum or living space for the new kind of white-Anglo nation that was under construction. Every sitting president to date of the United States has the name “town destroyer” from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

    Last year, I was commissioned by Cornell University to write a play about climate change in the region of the Finger Lakes, based on collaboration with the community. That was the first time I had ever heard about the scorched-earth assault against the Haudenosaunee, otherwise known as the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign of 1779. General Washington was pissed at the Haudenosaunee — a confederacy formed by the Mohawk, Onandaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora, and Seneca people — for not helping the Colonies to fully separate themselves from Britain and claim ownership on North American soil (can't imagine why the Natives might be mad at that prospect?). So Washington sent Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton on a mission, telling them: "The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more."

    And that's exactly what they did. They destroyed 160,000 bushels of food and burned at least forty Native American settlements to the ground, displacing thousands just in time for a famously severe winter, leaving most of the survivors to die of cold or starvation.

    This was 3 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The American Revolution was still raging. And it's conveniently left out of all our history books.

    Massacre & Retribution: The 1779-80 Sullivan Expedition [Ron Soodalter / Historynet]

    The Clinton-Sullivan Campaign of 1779 [National Park Services]

  • New court documents allegedly connect Breonna Taylor's murder to a massive real estate conspiracy

    Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old EMT who was killed by 3 plainclothes police officers who wrongly delivered a no-knock warrant (which is already constitutionally questionable) at her home in the middle of the night on March 13, 2020. The whole situation is tragic and frustrating and after 4 months, there's still been very little recourse against the officers responsible.

    Aa new report from the Louisville Courier-Journal alleges an even more frustrating, bizarre, labyrinthine, and depressingly plausible scenario to explain how everything went so wrong on that fateful evening. The claims, which come from court filings by the lawyers representing Breonna Taylor's family, are not confirmed, nor do they even necessarily constitute legal evidence of any kind that would hold up in court; the Mayor's office in Louisville has called them "outrageous" and "without foundation or supporting facts." But they are, however, now a matter of record in the case. And while I agree that the whole thing sounds outrageous, it's also entirely believable, because shit like this does actually happen.

    The court filings allege that Breonna Taylor's murder was an accidental result of other shady behaviors around the proposed Vision Russell Development Plan meant to revitalize the neighborhood (read: gentrification). The project had previously stagnated, but was finally starting to make some progress earlier this year when eight homes were demolished on Elliott Avenue over the course of a few weeks. One of homes on that street that was purchased by the city, but not destroyed, had been occupied by a man named Jamarcus Glover, an ex-boyfriend of Breonna Taylor's who also had a few small drug offenses on his record. According to available documents, the police showed up at Taylor's house that night under the impression that Glover was living there; they claimed to have confirmed through USPS that Glover was receiving packages at Taylor's house, but a U.S. Postal Inspector has denied that this ever happened.

    The conspiracy laid out in the court filings essentially claims that city and real estate developers wanted to get people out of the properties on Elliott Avenue, and used the police to do their work for them, by concocting a fictionalized version of Glover that positioned him as some kind of major kingpin of drugs and crime. Or, as the Louisville Courier-Journal summarizes it:

    Lawyers for Taylor's family allege in court documents filed in Jefferson Circuit Court Sunday that a police squad — named Place-Based Investigations — had "deliberately misled" narcotics detectives to target a home on Elliott Avenue, leading them to believe they were after some of the city's largest violent crime and drug rings.

    The complaint — which amends an earlier lawsuit filed by Taylor's mother against the three Louisville officers who fired their weapons into Taylor's home — claims Taylor was caught up in a case that was less about a drug house on Elliott Avenue and more about speeding up the city's multi-million dollar Vision Russell development plan.

    Glover was indeed arrested on the same night that Breonna Taylor was killed. But he was not at her house, because he never lived there.

    Again, none of this plot is confirmed as fact. But it's not implausible, and it is now part of the legal case surrounding the killing of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.

    Breonna Taylor warrant connected to Louisville gentrification plan, lawyers say [Phillip M. Bailey and Tessa Duvall / Louisville Courier Journal]

    Image: Dana L Brown / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • There are 43 giant stone Presidential heads crumbling in a field in Virginia

    As long as statues of historical figures (and what to do with them) is at the forefront of our cultural conversation, there's this from Smithsonian Magazine:

    The busts are all that remains of Virginia’s Presidents Park, a now-defunct open-air museum where visitors could once walk among the presidential heads. Presidents Park first opened in nearby Williamsburg in 2004, the brainchild of local landowner Everette “Haley” Newman and Houston sculptor David Adickes, who was inspired to create the giant busts after driving past Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

    But their presidential visions soon (literally) went bust. The park, which cost about $10 million to create, went belly-up due to a lack of visitors in 2010. Doomed in part by location—it was hidden behind a motel and slightly too far away from colonial Williamsburg’s tourist attractions, the park went into foreclosure.

    But something had to happens to all those heads when the park closed down. And what follows is a fascinating look at preservation, in a cemetery-like field that's both sweetly patriotic and incredibly creepy.

    How 43 Giant, Crumbling Presidential Heads Ended Up in a Virginia Field [Jennifer Billock / Smithsonian Magazine]

    Image: Mobilius in Mobili / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • The last time a Frederick Douglass statue was vandalized in Rochester, it was because of drunk college kids

    A statue of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Rochester's Maplewood Park was vandalized on the anniversary of the "What to a slave is the Fourth of July?" speech that he gave in Rochester  in 1852.

    Given the current cultural conversation that the United States is having around statues and memorials that commemorate people who did terrible things alongside their other accomplishments, this unfortunate act is being held up as some kind of monolithic indicator of the eeeeeeevils of "cancel culture" and whiny liberals who want to get rid of statues. Consider these tweets from Yascha Mounk, a contributing editor for The Atlantic and Senior Advisor for Protect Democracy:

    As of this writing, it's not clear who destroyed this statue — one of fourteen Douglass statues in Rochester, where Douglass lived and was buried. In 2018, two drunk college kids also destroyed a Frederick Douglass statue in the city. Eyewitnesses claimed the students were shouting racial slurs, but the vandals themselves insist they were just drunk and did it for the lulz. They pled guilty, and had to participate in a restorative justice program to learn more about Douglass and his contributions to the world.

    In other words, even that situation wasn't an indicator of anything other than the seeping subtleties that empower entitled white dudes to do dumb shit and get away with it.

    Whatever happened to the Frederick Douglass statue in Maplewood Park, it was also very unlikely that was an indicator of "cancel culture run amok." But there are those who are afraid of any change to the status quo to which they've grown accustomed, and they don't want to hear that. Everything becomes a part of the made-up culture war, giving more ammo to the argument of "How far back do we have to go? Where does it stop?" — a question that none of them actually want to consider any answers to. Most normal people today will readily agree that rape and slavery are heinous acts, even if they're willing to forgive their heroes of those wretched crimes. But Douglass wasn't a rapist or a slave owner like so many other American historical figures; the worst thing the guy ever did (that I'm aware of, anyway) was spew some kinda-cringey words about alcoholism and Catholicism in Ireland, while he was out campaigning for Irish independence (Douglass was a teetotaller, and a devout anti-Papist Protestant).

    Frederick Douglass statue vandalized in Rochester park, on anniversary of famous speech [Kaitlyn Luna / WBTW]

    Image: Mike Licht / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • This caterpillar wears its old molted heads as hats

    From New Scientist:

    As the caterpillar of the moth Uraba lugens grows, it sheds its exoskeleton – but rather than getting rid of the previous head section, it stays attached to its body to create a bizarre “hat”.

    This has earned it the nickname the mad hatterpillar, after the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.


    U. lugens moults up to 13 times while in its caterpillar phase, with the tower of heads starting to be built from the fourth moult. As the caterpillar grows, each empty head is bigger than the last.

    The headpiece isn’t just for show, however. “The function is to protect them from predators – they use it to bat predators away,” says photographer Alan Henderson of Minibeast Wildlife, an invertebrate resource centre based in Queensland, Australia.

    I know butterflies are the aspirational metaphor for most caterpillars, but maybe more of us should aspire to remain in our larval forms as long as we can wear our 13 empty old heads as hats. It's even more fashionable than those fancy butterfly wings!

    Weird caterpillar uses its old heads to make an elaborate hat [Gigi Li / New Scientist]

  • The US Department of Justice was originally created to tackle white supremacy

    Americanism has a weird obsession with vague notions of "law and order." At its core, there's nothing unique about a society whose existence depends on a collective respect for its own internal rule system — indeed, that's basically just a society. But those who buy the narrative of Good Ol' American Jingoism love to toss around their platitudes about being a "nation of laws," without giving much thought to what that actually means, or who is served by that law and order. Whatever the status quo they got used to, that's the way things have always been, and thus, it is right.

    Consider the US Department of Justice. I've never even given much thought to its founding; I hadn't thought much about the origins of police departments growing out of slave patrols until it was explicitly brought to my attention either.

    But Smithsonian Magazine has a great new piece about the origins of the DoJ, which began on July 1, 1870 — exactly 150 years ago this month. And it turns out, it's a direct extension of Reconstruction-era struggles, and was created specifically to enforce racial equality by fighting voter suppression and the KKK:

    In 1870, the United States was still working to bind up the nation’s wounds torn open by the Civil War. During this period of Reconstruction, the federal government committed itself to guaranteeing full citizenship rights to all Americans, regardless of race. At the forefront of that effort was [Amos T.] Akerman, a former Democrat and enslaver from Georgia, and a former officer in the Confederate Army.


    Akerman’s work caught the attention of President Ulysses S. Grant, who promoted the Georgian to Attorney General in June 1870. On July 1 of that year, the Department of Justice, created to handle the onslaught of post-war litigation, became an official government department with Akerman at its helm. The focus of his 18-month tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement official was the protection of black voting rights from the systematic violence of the Ku Klux Klan. Akerman’s Justice Department prosecuted and chased from Southern states hundreds of Klan members. Historian William McFeely, in his biography of Akerman, wrote, “Perhaps no attorney general since his tenure…has been more vigorous in the prosecution of cases designed to protect the lives and rights of black Americans.”

    This is a fascinatingly complex piece of history, and the article does a great job of tracing the origins of the DoJ all the way through to the founding of its offspring in the FBI (which … has certainly not been historically concerned with Black equality). And notice how there's nothing in the core founding of the DoJ that involves acting as a personal fixer for multiple Presidents.

    If you ask me, these are the kinds of historical details that more of us should learn about, instead of staring at statues of subjugators.

    Created 150 Years Ago, the Justice Department’s First Mission Was to Protect Black Rights [Bryan Greene/ Smithsonian Magazine]

    Image of Amos Akerman: Public Domain via National Archives / Wikimedia Commons

  • Trump administration gave a $700M bailout to a $70M truck company after it allegedly defrauded the Pentagon

    The Washington Post reports:

    The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it will loan $700 million to a trucking firm that ships military equipment, in exchange for having U.S. taxpayers acquire an almost 30 percent stake in the company.

    Under the unusual arrangement, the Treasury Department will provide the emergency loan to YRC Worldwide, while taking a 29.6 percent equity stake in the company. The U.S. government does not typically take ownership stakes in companies but was given permission to do so by Congress as a way to ensure taxpayer funds are not misspent.

    That lede alone should be enough to raise an eyebrow. But it gets even more suspicious: YRC Worldwide's stock had already plunged 27 percent this year, and was down 85 percent over the last five years. The day before the deal was finalized, the company was only valued at $70 million.

    Yet somehow, the company finagled a rare deal for a government loan worth 10 times more than the company itself. To hear Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tell it, that's because the company is very, very important:

    YRC is a leading provider of critical military transportation and other hauling services to the U.S. government and provides 68% of less-than-truckload services to the Department of Defense. This loan will enable YRC to maintain approximately 30,000 trucking jobs and continue to support essential military supply chain operations and the transport of industrial, commercial, and retail goods to more than 200,000 corporate customers across North America.

    That argument might make sense on the surface, until you factor the part where YRC Worldwide is also being sued by the federal government for defrauding the Department of Defense out of millions of dollars.

    As Roger Sollenberger explains at Salon:

    In 2018 the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against YRC — along with subsidiaries Roadway Express Inc. and Yellow Transportation Inc. — alleging that trucking units had overcharged the Pentagon millions of dollars for at least seven years. The suit claims that the companies made false statements to the government and inflated weight measurements on the bills it charged to the Defense Department from 2005 to at least 2013.

    Bill Zollars was the CEO of YRC Worldwide at the time of the alleged illegal activity against the US government. He stepped down in 2011 after 15 years with the company, meaning he was still in charge for at least 5/7 of the years in which the company was stealing from the Pentagon.

    "This case should serve as a warning to any organization that enters into a contract with the federal government: If you try to rip us off, be prepared to pay a heavy price," U.S. Attorney James Kennedy said at the time when the lawsuit was filed.

    As of June 2020, Zollars now serves on the Board of the Governors for the US Postal Service.

    A leadership position within USPS and a loan worth 10x more than it should be, particularly you already stole millions of dollars from the Pentagon, hardly qualifies under my personal definition of a "heavy price." But your mileage may vary.

    Former CEO of troubled trucking company that got huge COVID loan is now on USPS board [Roger Sollenberger / Salon]

    In unusual deal, U.S. Treasury to acquire 30 percent of trucking company in exchange for $700 million loan [Jeff Stein and Aaron Greg / The Washington Post]

    The Trump administration just lent $700 million to a trucking company sued for ripping off taxpayers [Chris Isidore / CNN]

    Treasury to provide loan to YRC Worldwide [US Department of the Treasury]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons