10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (1/19/19)
With another week in the history books, it is time to check the headlines. Morris’s list covers all the crucial stuff going on in the world, while we focus more on the strange and wacky here.
We step into the world of music this week with tales about feuding neighbors, an unusual art installation, and a prime minister’s doppelganger. Also, spiders are floating in the sky in Brazil. And it should be noted that the Devil made an appearance in Spain.
10 Bless The Rains
If you ever find yourself wandering the Namib Desert, and you start hearing “Africa” by Toto, don’t worry. You haven’t gone insane yet. You just stumbled upon a new art installation.
Namibian artist Max Siedentopf has set up a sound system that will play the iconic song on a loop forever. It consists of an MP3 player and six speakers placed on white pillars and connected to solar batteries. The location of the installation is a secret, but it is somewhere within the 81,000 square kilometers (31,000 sq mi) of the Namib Desert.
Siedentopf says he wanted to pay the song the “ultimate homage” by having “Africa” playing in Africa for all eternity. However, he remains realistic about the chances of his art exhibit surviving the sands of time. While most parts were chosen to be as durable as possible, he realizes that the harsh desert will eventually “devour” his artwork.
9 Neighbors From Hell
We are staying in the world of music and looking at a neighbor feud between Robbie Williams and Jimmy Page.
Williams lives in London’s Holland Park district in a Grade II-listed building. The former Led Zeppelin guitarist lives next to him in a Grade I-listed building. That means that both structures have been designated as heritage assets, and therefore, any kind of alterations or demolitions require a whole lot of paperwork.
The source of the feud between the two musicians seems to be Williams’s desire to extend his basement and add a gym and a pool. Page doesn’t want to cooperate out of fear that construction works might damage his 1875 mansion. Williams submitted the original plans five years ago, and it wasn’t until last month that he finally received conditional approval.
The two have filed complaints against each other with the local council, but it seems Williams prefers alternative modes of revenge. According to a letter to the council from another neighbor simply named “Johnny,” the former Take That singer likes to play music at loud volumes to upset Page. He chooses rivals of Led Zeppelin such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Pink Floyd. He even dresses up on occasion as Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant. A representative for Robbie Williams denies this, calling it a “complete fabrication.”
8 The Duck Pic Challenge
Over the past few weeks, museums across the world have engaged in a Twitter battle to show off their top duck pics.
It all started innocently enough on January 4, when the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading, Berkshire, England, tweeted a photo of a duckling from 1934. It then sent a message to the British Museum asking it to show its “best ducks.” Not to be outdone, the museum posted a photo of a 3,300-year-old ancient Egyptian cosmetics container in the shape of a duck.
This could have been the end of it, but other institutions wanted in on the action. The Natural History Museum in London, the Norfolk Museum, the Royal Academy, the British Library, and even the Science Museum tweeted their own ducks.
After a day or two, the challenge went international. The Getty Museum in California, the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Met in New York, and the Spadina Museum in Toronto all shared the best ducks they had in their collections. Some tweeted photographs, others sculptures, or paintings. The National Railway Museum showed off its Mallard steam locomotive, while the National Army Museum in London presented a 1943 DUKW amphibious vehicle.
Even this week, some museums which were late to the party were still tweeting their fowl contributions. Already, MERL has set a date for the second-ever International Solicited Duck Pic Day on January 5, 2020.
7 Spiders In The Sky
Many places around the world have been hit by severe weather. No matter how bad it gets where you are, though, at least you can take solace in the fact that it is not raining spiders.
The same thing can’t be said for Southern Brazil. Residents from the state of Minas Gerais have reported hundreds of spiders filling their skies. Their webs are incredibly fine and almost impossible to detect by the human eye, so it looks like the arachnids are just floating in midair.
One species called Parawixia bistriata is to blame for this unsettling behavior. These spiders are more social than your typical arachnid and band together in hot, humid weather to build large webs and catch more prey. They come out in the early evening and stay overnight. At dawn, they feast on whatever they caught and then go back into the vegetation again.
Although people are understandably freaked out by this phenomenon, arachnology expert Professor Adalberto dos Santos from the Federal University of Minas Gerais stresses that the spiders do more good than harm—they regulate insect and mosquito populations, and their bite is not harmful to humans. Still, that’s unlikely to comfort the unlucky people who will walk into one of these webs.
6 The Devil Takes Selfies
Residents of the Spanish city of Segovia are up in arms over a Devil sculpture because it looks too friendly.
Segovia has a famous Roman aqueduct which, according to legend, was built by the Devil at the request of a servant girl. Local artist Jose Antonio Abella was working on a sculpture that commemorated this particular piece of lore. It was Satan taking a selfie. However, about 5,400 people (roughly a tenth of the city’s population) have signed a petition calling for the cancellation of the statue (mock-up pictured above). As a result, a judge has placed the artwork on hold until the matter is resolved.
Their problem is that the Devil looks too jovial and good-natured. It exalts evil and offends Catholics. They believe that Satan should be depicted as looking repulsive and fearsome and that the statue, as is, would turn Segovia into a hot spot of Satanism.
The city’s heritage councilor, Claudia de Santos, promised the project will continue despite the “unfair, dispiriting” push against it. Abella also admitted to being shocked at the response and says that his sociable Satan has a far more innocuous purpose: It’s for tourists to take selfies with.
5 Who Killed Lord Darnley?
The film Mary, Queen of Scots premiered in UK cinemas this week, which made it the perfect time to revisit a 500-year-old mystery—who killed Mary’s husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley?
Lord Darnley was staying in a church called Kirk o’ Field in Edinburgh which was blown up with gunpowder on February 10, 1567. The bodies of Stuart and his valet were found outside in the orchard. They had no signs of explosion damage and instead appeared to have been strangled.
Historians typically regard Lord Darnley as the victim of a plot, but they can’t agree on who was behind it. James Hepburn, Lord Bothwell, is the most likely suspect due to his abduction of and marriage to Mary soon after Stuart’s death. He was even charged with the murder but was acquitted.
Historian Dr. Kate Williams from the University of Reading recently published a book in which she points the finger at James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray and Mary’s half-brother. He became the regent of Scotland after Mary abdicated and fled to England. He also had the support of the lords and could steer the investigation into Lord Darnley’s death away from him. Dr. Williams believes the proof is in correspondence from the lords and Queen Elizabeth I, which shows that Moray was considered a strong suspect, but he used his influence to scrub the evidence out of history.
4 Long-Lost Brothers
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau appears to have found his doppelganger in a wedding singer from Afghanistan.
Abdul Salam Maftoon is from a remote village in the province of Badakhstan. Normally, he plays at weddings and birthday parties to support his family, but he recently secured a spot on one of the country’s most popular TV shows, Afghan Star. One of the judges on the show is musician Qais Ulfat. He is Afghan-Canadian, so he first noticed and mentioned the resemblance between Maftoon and Trudeau.
Even though he admitted he had never heard of his famous lookalike, Maftoon was flattered with the comparison. Already, he says that people call him “Justin Trudeau.” He hopes that this newfound popularity will help him earn more votes and increase his chances of winning the singing contest. Even if he is eliminated from Afghan Star, Maftoon’s entertainment services are sure to be in high demand from now on.
3 Giant Ice Disc In Maine
There is a unique phenomenon taking place in Westbrook, Maine—a giant disc of ice is floating in the Presumpscot River.
The bizarre occurrence was first spotted by a local businessman, who then alerted city authorities. They then flew a drone above it to capture mesmerizing shots of the slowly spinning, moonlike ice formation, which is over 90 meters (300 ft) wide.
The disc’s international fame almost ended as soon as it began. On Wednesday, there were reports that it stopped spinning after crashing into the shore. However, one daring man rode a paddleboard onto the river and managed to free the circle, which has resumed its spinning.
The ice disc is a natural, albeit rare, phenomenon, and circles of this size are even rarer. Scientists believe they form in slow-moving, cold waters such as eddy currents. In these parts, the water freezes faster than its surroundings, and the movement allows the pieces of ice to cluster. The temperature changes happening below the surface create a vortex which spins the ice formation at a constant rate and gives it its circular shape. Or maybe it was aliens.
2 A Leaf On The Moon
The Chinese Chang’e 4 mission has sprouted the first-ever green leaf on the Moon.
After the rover successfully landed on the far side of the Moon, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced that one of the scientific experiments aboard Chang’e 4 involved growing the first plants on the lunar surface. Six different seeds were contained within a mini-biome, and when the rover landed, CNSA ordered it to water them.
Nothing happened to five of them, but the cotton seed sprouted a shoot. It also died soon after, but that little green leaf represents an important step in humanity’s plans to colonize other worlds.
It should also be specified that, while technically it was the first plant grown on the Moon, it was kept in a special chamber at all times. It had water, soil, air, and heat and was never exposed to the ruthless conditions on the lunar surface. Even so, experiment designer Xie Gengxin from Chongqing University said they could not control the temperature. It fluctuated so much that life could not be sustained, so they remotely shut down the power to the biosphere.
1 Who Stole Belgium’s Michelangelo?
Belgium was on the verge of authenticating its one and only Michelangelo painting before it was stolen.
For most of the last 16 years, the artwork gathered dust in a dark corner of St. Ludgerus Church in the small Flemish town of Zele. It had been donated by a parishioner, and its value was estimated at around €10,000.
When pastor and amateur historian Jan Van Raemdonck noticed it, he suspected that it could be a lost work of the Renaissance master. Later, he saw a Michelangelo sketch from the Duke of Portland’s collection which depicted a similar scene as the painting involving the Holy Family. This was sufficient proof to convince him to contact an expert to come and authenticate the artwork.
Someone stole the painting before the expert could view it. The church has no alarm system, so the only difficult part of the job involved carrying the artwork, which was on wood and weighed around 100 kilograms (220 lb).
The thieves only took the painting. Obviously, investigators believe this had to do with it possibly being a priceless lost Michelangelo. However, Pastor Van Raemdonck claims he kept the discovery a secret and only told the church council so that they would approve extra security measures. Council chairman Het Nieuwsblad denied discussing the painting.