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There Are Hundreds Of Practicing Exorcists In The U.S.


This Halloween, just shy of the 40th anniversary of the movie The Exorcist, has seen the novel’s author and the movie’s producer, William Peter Blatty, get an extra dollop of the attention he sees around this holiday. Not that people aren’t already obsessed by the subject—The Exorcist remains, in inflation adjusted box office, the most popular R-rated film ever.

At my own Catholic high school, the Christian Brother teachers (yeah, the brandy guys) could be remarkably post-Vatican II flip and modern about most things doctrinal, but they got sober really fast about not messing around with demon-y things. Their sudden seriousness always made me wonder if they knew something. Every once in a while, I still wonder about that.

More at Pacific Standard

How To Rob A Bank In The 21st Century

Bank Robbers

Journalism was my second-choice for a career. In actual fact I wanted to be a bank robber. The guns, the one-liners, the money – I wanted it all. It wasn’t fear holding me back, as such, it was simply the fact that you couldn’t hold-up a bank these days the way they did back maybe 30, 40 – or even 20 years ago. But, like a concert pianist with stubby fingers, or a ballerina with a bum leg, I still pore over my childhood dream with obsession, crying late into the night over blueprints and plastic explosives.

More at The Kernel

Why Do Witches Ride Brooms?


It started with bread.

In the Europe of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, bread was made, in large part, with rye. And rye and rye-like plants can host fungus — ergot — that can, when consumed in high doses, be lethal. In smaller doses, however, ergot can be a powerful hallucinogen. Records from the 14th to the 17th century mention Europeans’ affliction with “dancing mania,” which found groups of people dancing through streets—often speaking nonsense and foaming at the mouth as they did so—until they collapsed from exhaustion. Those who experienced the “mania” would later describe the wild visions that accompanied it. (In the 20th century, Albert Hofmann would realize the psychedelic effects of LSD while studying ergot.)

More at The Atlantic

Scientists Identify A Mathematical Crystal Ball That May Predict Calamities

Bank Run

Neuroscientists have come up with a mathematical equation that may help predict calamities such as financial crashes in economic systems and epileptic seizures in the brain.

The University of Sussex-led study, published this week (24 October 2013) in Physical Review Letters, could have far-reaching implications. If the principle is generalised in other real-world complex systems, such as climate change or disease control, it could open up the possibility of catastrophes being averted before they happen.

In a collaboration between the University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and the Centre for Research in Complex Systems at Charles Sturt University in Australia, researchers used mathematics and detailed computer simulations to show that a measure of ‘information flow’ reaches a peak just before a system moves from a healthy state to an unhealthy state.

More at Phys.Org

All Your Favorite Animals Are Jerks


I’m going to ruin sea otters for you. Or at least I’m going to tarnish their reputation as some of the most charming little beasties in the seas. For as cute as they are while intertwining paws at an aquarium, frolicking among the wafting fronds of California kelp forests, or smashing sea urchins open with stones, some sea otters have developed the disturbing habit of humping and drowning baby seals.

When I first heard about the behavior from a marine biologist friend of mine, I didn’t quite believe sea otters could be so diabolical. Maybe the bad behavior was just a rumor. But no, the strange sea otter attacks on baby seals are a reality and have even made their way into the technical literature. In 2010, California Department of Fish and Game biologist Heather Harris and colleagues reported 19 individual cases of male sea otters trying to mate with, and often fatally injuring, harbor seal pups in the Monterey Bay, Calif. area between 2000 and 2002 alone.

More at Slate

The Weirdest Things Recently Found On Mars


Mars is a crazy place. In recent years we’ve discovered some of the strangest things on the Red Planet: ice spiders, Swiss cheese terrain, and perfectly spiral-shaped lava tubes.

And the more we explore our near planetary neighbor, the weirder the things we find get. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling Mars since 2006, provides the clearest and highest-resolution images of the planet’s surface. Looking through the image archive of its HiRISE camera, which can resolve things about a meter wide on the ground, reveals a vast supply of strange and wonderful things.

More at Wired

The World’s Strongest Beer

Snake Venom

Sorry, Armageddon, you’ve been officially dethroned. Brewmeister, the same ambitious folks who brought you the former title holder, unleashed their latest boozy monster: Snake Venom. The brew boasts a colossal 67% ABV and features smoked peat malt and a curious combination of Champagne yeast and ale yeast.

To put things in perspective, vodka, tequila, and whiskey usually clock in at about 40% ABV — making Snake Venom an exceptionally caustic brew. As some point out, whether it’s “technically beer” is up for debate, as the freeze distillation method used pushes it closer to hard alcohol territory.

More at FoodBeast

Why You’re Able To Spot A Friend In A Crowd

Face In A Crowd

Have you ever surprised yourself by correctly recognizing a friend in a crowd, far, far away? Even if her face isn’t at all visible, there’s something about the way she’s standing or walking that gives her away instantly. New research by psychologists at the University of Texas-Dallas helps to confirm and explain that very common phenomenon.

In a study published recently in the journal Psychological Science, researchers asked participants to look at photographs of people in different settings and clothing and to match them up, determining which ones were photos of the same person. The photographs in the experiment were specifically chosen because they were hard for a facial-recognition computer program to identify. The study found that the participants had more success when they could see the bodies of the people in the photographs—and less success when the bodies were less visible but the faces were clearer. In fact, the participants also accurately matched the photos when they could only see the people’s bodies, while the faces were completely blocked out.

More at Pacific Standard

How Science Figured Out The Age Of The Earth


Aristotle thought the earth had existed eternally. Roman poet Lucretius, intellectual heir to the Greek atomists, believed its formation must have been relatively recent, given that there were no records going back beyond the Trojan War. The Talmudic rabbis, Martin Luther and others used the biblical account to extrapolate back from known history and came up with rather similar estimates for when the earth came into being. The most famous came in 1654, when Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland offered the date of 4004 B.C.

Within decades observation began overtaking such thinking. In the 1660s Nicolas Steno formulated our modern concepts of deposition of horizontal strata. He inferred that where the layers are not horizontal, they must have been tilted since their deposition and noted that different strata contain different kinds of fossil. Robert Hooke, not long after, suggested that the fossil record would form the basis for a chronology that would “far antedate … even the very pyramids.” The 18th century saw the spread of canal building, which led to the discovery of strata correlated over great distances, and James Hutton’s recognition that unconformities between successive layers implied that deposition had been interrupted by enormously long periods of tilt and erosion.

More at Scientific American

Rainy Day Reflections That Look Like Paintings


When it starts to rain, you will most likely find French photographer Yodamanu outside, documenting the reflections that bounce off of wet sidewalks and glisten on window panes. Based in Strasbourg, Yodamanu concentrates his attention on the shadowy figures of people walking in the rain and their casual interactions with many urban elements of the city. By turning his images upside-down, the actual person becomes just a touch of solid reality within an otherwise abstract sea of shapes, forms, and colors that are reminiscent of Impressionist paintings.

More at My Modern Met