Dispute over Java man: Who owns ancient history?

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The Naturalis Biodiversity Center, a popular natural history museum in the Netherlands, owns about 40,000 prehistoric objects collected in the 19th century by the Dutch physician Eugène Dubois from the banks of the Bengawan Solo, a river in Java, and at other digs in Indonesia. The highlight is a femur and skull fragment from Java Man, the first known specimen of Homo erectus, long considered a “missing link” between humans and apes. But the remains are not just a museum centerpiece, they are also the focal point of an international restitution battle: Indonesia has said it wants the femur and skull fragment back. But even that is just the beginning — ultimately, it says it wants the entire Dubois Collection returned. Which raises the question: Who owns prehistory?

Asteroid that created earth’s largest crater was much bigger than some thought

About two billion years ago, an asteroid hurtled toward Earth, crashing into the planet near present-day Johannesburg, creating the largest crater we know of. Based on the size of the crater, scientists previously estimated the asteroid was about 15 kilometers (approximately 9.3 miles) wide, travelling at a velocity of 15 kilometers per second. New research, however, indicates the asteroid may have been much bigger—almost twice as large. New geological evidence shows that the crater is larger than previously thought, and based on those measurements, the asteroid was likely about 20 to 25 kilometers wide, and travelled at a velocity of 15 to 20 kilometers per second. That’s larger than the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

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How psychedelics could change end-of-life care

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The human body and brain undergo a series of profound changes over the course of dying. Some of these, like elevated anxiety and agitation, can be difficult for the patient, family members, and caregivers. In the most extreme cases, the only recourse is palliative sedation, which is essentially putting a person into an induced coma. This option can be a heartbreaking loss for the patient and family members. By contrast, based on several recent clinical trials, there is evidence that a single treatment with psilocybin produces lasting and significant reduction in anxiety and depression for people with a terminal diagnosis. The data to date show that using psilocybin in a controlled therapeutic environment decreases death anxiety and increases quality of life.

This annual wild sheep roundup in Iceland is more fun than it sounds

Iceland’s annual rettir, as it’s called, is a roundup of wild sheep that takes place across Iceland each September. The centuries-old tradition involves sorting these woolly creatures after a summer of free-grazing on mountain grasses and berries in the highlands, where natural predators are nonexistent. These days, the rettir has morphed from its roots as a necessity among farmers into a multigenerational celebration that includes family and friends, with many (including lots of children) taking part in the activity, while others watch from the sidelines snapping photos and enjoying steaming cups of coffee.

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National Park Service says please stop licking the toads

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Please don’t lick the toads. The U.S. National Park Service made the plea last week to help protect the Sonoran desert toad, which secretes a toxin unlike any other found on the planet. The effects of the toxin depend on your perspective. Some call it a dangerous poison that can make people sick and can even be deadly. Others call it the “God molecule,” a hallucinogenic so potent it is often compared to a religious experience. But keep your tongue off the toads, the Park Service said in a Facebook post. “As we say with most things you come across in a national park, whether it be a banana slug, unfamiliar mushroom, or a large toad with glowing eyes in the dead of night, please refrain from licking,” it said.

The epic hunt to track down the Dark Web’s biggest kingpin

On the morning of July 5, 2017, a gray Toyota Camry slowly turned into the cul-de-sac of a quiet neighborhood in Bangkok—a moderately upscale subdivision on the western edge of the city. Behind the wheel sat a woman who went by the nickname Nueng. A slight, 46-year-old agent of the Royal Thai Police with a boyish haircut, she wore a white polo shirt and black pants, because both she and her partner were undercover. For more than two years, law enforcement agents from around the world had been hunting the dark-web mastermind known as Alpha02, a shadowy figure who oversaw millions of dollars a day in narcotics sales and had built the largest digital drug and crime bazaar in history.

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Classic European pseudo-royal nonsense

Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn

This kind of thing fascinates me — the former mistress of the ex-king of Spain, Juan Carlos IV (who abdicated due under a cloud of corruption allegations) is Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, whose full name is Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn. She got the name by marrying Casimir, who is supposedly a prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn. And what is that, you might ask? It was a kind of mini-country that existed briefly in the 1600s as part of what is now Germany, and the hereditary rulers of it continue to call themselves princes, and presumably have wealth they inherited (stole) from when they ran things. 

Why does it have the name Sayn in it twice? Great question. Who knows! There are actually a dozen or so other former fiefdoms with Sayn in the name, including Sayn-Homburg, Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. and Sponheim-Sayn. Classic European nonsense really. On a related note, I remember coming across a photo of Donald Trump when he was president, meeting with a couple who were described as the “Prince and Princess of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.” And what was that? Same kind of thing — a thing that existed in the 1800s for about 50 years, including Sicily and Naples, before Italy became a country.

The best part is that Prince Carlo, who says he’s the hereditary leader of this imaginary country, is only one of two claimants to the non-existent throne (which also apparently gives him control over the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, whatever that is). Apparently after the death of the last uncontested head of the house, Ferdinand Pius, in 1960, the non-existent throne was supposed to go to his nephew, Infante Alfonso, son of Ferdinand’s brother Carlos. But Carlos married María de las Mercedes, Princess of Asturias, who was the heir presumptive to the throne of Spain, in 1901.

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He turned $15,000 into $1.2M, and then lost it all

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He turned $15,000 into $1.2M, and then lost it all

Alex Hurst writes for The Guardian: “I kept the news in all the way out of the terminal until halfway through the airport parking garage, which was as far as I could hold it. It was the kind of announcement that was too voluminous for the inside of a car, so I blurted it out to my parents in the open air in a half-mumble, half-laugh.  “So, umm, I turned $15,000 into $1.2m in the past year.” They both stopped and looked at me, silent. “Are you on drugs?” my mom finally asked, anxiety flashing across her face. I opened up my investment account on my iPhone and showed her the balance. “Are you one of those … GameStop people?” she said.

An endless conversation between Werner Herzog and Slavoj Zizek

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to listen in on a never-ending dialogue between infamous Bavarian director Werner Herzog – perhaps one of the most philosophical of the major filmmakers – and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek? Well, now you can. Or at least you can approximate it, thanks to an art project that used machine learning to come up with virtual versions of Herzog and Zizek. When you open the site, you are taken to a random point in the dialogue, and every day, a new segment of conversation is added. In theory, says the site “this conversation could continue until the end of time.”

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The mysterious death of Mrs. Jerry Lee Lewis

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From a Rolling Stone article in 1984, about the strange events surrounding the death of Jerry Lee Lewis’s fifth wife: “The killer was in his bedroom, behind the door of iron bars, as Sonny Daniels, the first ambulance man, moved down the long hall to the guest bedroom to check the report: “Unconscious party at the Jerry Lee Lewis residence.” Sonny probed with his big, blunt fingers at a slender wrist: it was cold. Then he moved the covers back, his thick hand on the woman’s neck where the carotid pulse should be: The neck retained its body warmth, but no pulse. The Killer was there within seconds. If he’d been sleeping on the big canopied bed, he must have been sleeping in his bathrobe.”

Everyone hates daylight saving time – so why do we still have it?

Pushing back the clock in winter is meant to give schoolchildren more morning sunlight on the way to school and to ensure more daylight during working hours for construction workers and other outdoor laborers. Whether the benefits in safety and energy savings outweigh the costs of shifted sleep cycles, drowsy commuters and confusion from misaligned clocks is a long-running source of disagreement. But 59 percent of people across the U.S., according to a poll from March, support ditching the clock change in favor of permanent daylight saving time.

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When the director of The Exorcist watched one

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When he made his 1973 classic horror film, The Exorcist, director William Friedkin had never actually seen one performed. For decades he wondered how close he had come to reality. So in May of 2016, Friedkin watched as Father Gabriele Amorth, known as “the Dean of Exorcists,” tried to expel the spirit of Satan from an Italian woman, and wrote about the experience for Vanity Fair magazine. “It was Father Amorth’s belief that her affliction stemmed from a curse brought against her by her brother’s girlfriend, said to be a witch. The brother and his girlfriend were members of a powerful demonic cult, Father Amorth believed.”

A philosophical discusion: Should a wise man indulge in alcohol?

It’s a subject which attracted the attention of no less formidable a moralist than the philosopher Plato, and which thereafter plainly exercised members of the various Hellenistic schools to an appreciable but largely unobservable extent, although it is plainly a question of some importance. Should the wise man indulge in wine-drinking? The discussion involves the study of two texts, one from Plato’s Laws, and the other from a work of Philo of Alexandria. One school of thought argues that indulging in drink could be suitable, since the wise man’s moral excellence would be capable of holding its own.

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New research shows that bumblebees like to play

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Bumble bees play, according to new research led by Queen Mary University of London published in Animal Behaviour. It is the first time that object play behavior has been shown in an insect, adding to mounting evidence that bees may experience positive “feelings.” The team of researchers set up numerous experiments to test their hypothesis, which showed that bumble bees went out of their way to roll wooden balls repeatedly despite there being no apparent incentive for doing so. The study also found that younger bees rolled more balls than older bees, mirroring human behavior of young children and other juvenile mammals and birds being the most playful, and that male bees rolled them for longer than their female counterparts.

They thought their teenaged son was psychotic, but the truth was much stranger

Judy Campbell drove her son Michael home from high school. It was the day before Halloween, and the houses in their Midwestern suburb were festooned with ghosts, and jack-o-lanterns. As they pulled into the driveway, Judy noticed that Michael was unusually quiet. She glanced over at her adorable fourteen-year-old. He was tall and gangly, with a mop of brown hair that flopped over one eye. Their eyes met.“I need to talk to you and Dad,” he said. “It’s serious.” When they got home, she called her husband, Scott, into the living room. Michael took a deep breath and began: “I think I’m the evil, damned son of the devil.” Michael went on to tell them that a demonic voice was instructing him to murder his friends. “I feel like I need to kill myself before this happens.”

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Mondrian painting has been hanging upside down for 75 years

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A painting by abstract Dutch artist Piet Mondrian has been hanging upside down in various museums since it was first put on display 75 years ago, an art historian has found. The 1941 picture, a complex interlacing lattice of red, yellow, black and blue adhesive tapes titled New York City I, has hung in Düsseldorf since 1980. The way the picture is currently hung shows the multicoloured lines thickening at the bottom. However, when a curator started researching the museum’s new show on the Dutch avant garde artist earlier this year, she realised the picture should be the other way around. Despite the discovery, the work will continue to be displayed the wrong way up to avoid damaging it.

Even during war with Russia, bat rescue operation continues

As Russian forces advanced this summer on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the façade of an eight-story apartment building in the Saltivka district suffered heavy damages from shelling. By August, only a few families remained. Some noticed dozens of bats trapped in the lower windows. The animals had flown through broken panes of glass, then got stuck, unable to find an exit. But in a lucky turn of events, one of the families called the Ukrainian Bat Rehabilitation Center, an organization of biologists who rescue injured bats. When a director and volunteer arrived, they carefully removed the remaining animals.

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Mondrian painting has been hanging upside down for 75 years”

They were labeled witches, but they just had dementia

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Previously known as South West Africa, Namibia gained independence from South Africa after many years of guerilla warfare in the Border War. About the time Namibia was founded, Berrie Holtzhausen began a remarkable journey from irreverent preacher to caregiver for people with dementia and finally to his latest role: locating people who have been accused of witchcraft in Namibia’s tribal populations. His pioneering discovery of a connection between persons with dementia and an elevated risk of being named a witch spurred a personal mission to seek justice. “Witches need us to understand them,” he says.

Martin Luther King Jr. paid the hospital bill when actress Julia Roberts was born

When the was born 55 years ago in Smyrna, Ga., a couple swooped in and paid her parents’ hospital bill, because her parents didn’t have the money to do so. It was Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. And how did this happen? Walter and Betty Roberts owned a theater school in Atlanta, called the Actors and Writers Workshop, which the King children attended. “One day Coretta Scott King called my mother and asked if her kids could be part of the school,” Julia Roberts recalled. “My mom was like, ‘Sure, come on over.’ And so they just all became friends and they helped us out of a jam.”

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