Brain Dead




the one with both bills

Brain Dead is a great movie. The title, however, is a misnomer. That’s because the brains - including the ones kept in jars - are alive. ALIVE I TELL YOU!!! Then again, who’s to know what’s dead and what’s alive within the realms of this universe. That’s what this movie is all about. Brain Dead is not just a sci fi horror film but also a philosophical film. It’s a sci fi phi film.
The story revolves around Dr. Rex Martin (Bill Pullman), a scientist studying the brains of those no longer with us. That’s until his old college roommate, Jim (Bill Paxton), shows up asking for a ridiculously unethical favor. Jim wants Dr. Martin to study and subsequently lobotomize the brain of Halsey (Bud Court), a patient at a mental institution who claims he works for Conklin Mattresses. Halsey truly believed that his former imaginary boss, that crazy man Conklin, murdered Halsey’s family. But according to Jim, Halsey is a scientist and employee of Eunice Corporation. Jim is tasked to find in Halsey’s brain the extra special numbers that will revolutionize science and McGuffins for all mankind. As you can see, it’s hard for Dr. Martin to say no to studying a “fresh brain” as opposed to his stacks and stacks of boring old brains that are held in jars on his lab shelves that really should be stabilized with a couple more screws. It’s an accident waiting to (inevitability) happen!
Now this is where the fun part really begins. After Dr. Martin performs what seems to be a successful operation on Halsey, Dr. Martin starts to see a crazy old cackling man drenched in blood, the same one Halsey was seeing! All of a sudden everything feels like an illusion and nothing makes sense anymore with Dr. Martin falling from one reality into another. But what is reality unless you experience illusion? Start packing your bowls my friends.
There’s one point during Dr. Martin’s journey where he is told he’s the actual Shutter Island Halsey living in a mental institution because he murdered his wife and her love Jim. Wait, what? THAT JIM? I’ve already said too much. Then Halsey comes to rescue him, letting him know he’s innocent not once, but twice. The second time around Dr. Martin asks, “Have we done this before?” Halsey responds, “Are we doing this now?”
That’s the existential nightmare that makes the movie. The plot resembles a gorier version of a Twilight zone episode, no surprise as it was written by Charles Beaumont who wrote a fair amount of TZ episodes including the classic “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You”. Unfortunately he never got to see this film as he died in 1967 but I’m sure he would have been proud. Sure, it’s low budget, the editing is not quite right, and the music was dated even in 1989. But in the end, it makes perfect sense, only because it doesn’t.
-Carolina Hidalgo

Bigfoot in Big Bear

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The state of California is being sued for not recognizing Bigfoot as a species.
“I ran into a Sasquatch — a Bigfoot.  We were face to face.  He was 30 feet up in the tree,” said 46-year-old Cynthia Ackley.  She and her two daughters, 11 and 14, encountered a Bigfoot (or Kissel) last March in Lake Arrowhead, CA.
“He looked like a neanderthal man with hair all over him. He had solid black eyes. He had no expression on his face at all. He did not show his teeth. He just stared at the three of us,” said Cynthia.  She thought he looked about 800 pounds.  Her younger daughter also reported seeing two more identical cryptids on the ground.
Cynthia Ackley has been a Bigfoot enthusiast and researcher for over two decades, so she was quite disappointed when the park ranger told her she’d probably seen a bear.  So she teamed up with Bigfoot documentary filmmaker Tom Standing and sued the state in San Bernardino Superior Court on the 18th of last month.
The San Bernardino Sun reported:
“The lawsuit alleges the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Natural Resources Agency have been derelict in their duty by not acknowledging the existence of the Sasquatch species, despite a mountain of documented and scientific evidence. It has had a chilling effect on the study of the Sasquatch, considered illegitimate and relegated to the category of paranormal research. It has damaged Ackley’s ‘livelihood, public image and credibility,’ as well as others dedicated to the study of the bipedal hominid, according to the lawsuit.”
Cynthia Ackley is apparently concerned about the public’s safety, since 800 pound humanoids can probably do a great deal of damage.  “People have to be warned about these things. They are big.”  According to Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan, Bigfoot is not a recognized species by his agency.  Safety warnings cannot be issued for nonexistent beasts.  I'm sure Ackley is crossing her fingers that this case could be a big step forward for cryptozoology.
This is Cynthia Ackley’s third Bigfoot sighting since 1997.
-Rachel Hsu

Sunrise, Sunset

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This past Monday, the Sunset Mesa funeral home was shut down by the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration after it was discovered that they were giving back “cremated remains” that were cement powder, not human ashes.
Various reports from former employees of Sunset Mesa led the FBI to conduct a raid on the Colorado business last week.  They found bags upon bags of cement in the funeral home’s back rooms.  
Sunset Mesa’s owner Megan Hess also runs a body broker operation, Donor Services out of the same building.  Former employees have relayed the graphic extent to which donated bodies there were dismembered and sold (which might just hint at where the missing cadavers from the next door crematorium went).  Once again, family members have been duped by a funeral home while the remains of the dead are profited off of and transported around the world in the mysterious market of cadaver relocation.

The phone number and website for Sunset Mesa is down, and mysteriously, so is that of Donor Services, even though the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration maintained that it did not shut down the donation operation as it’s out of their purview.  
Hess’ lawyer has asked not to be contacted further, but we’ll be keeping tabs on what ends up happening to her.  Let’s face it, the real crime here is her haircut.
 Oh, Megan.

Oh, Megan.

-Rachel Hsu

Bon Appétit


Gacy really knew how to live.

If you find yourself on death row, you can look forward to a special treat on the way to the chair.  In many parts of the USA, prisoners about to be executed are allowed to request whatever they’d like as their last meal on this earth.  While the last meal tradition has roots in England and France, today it is inextricably tied to America’s relationship with capital punishment.

The archetypal last meal is something like John Wayne Gacy’s: a dozen deep-fried shrimp, a bucket of Kentucky Friend Chicken, french fries, and a pound of strawberries.  One might think 33 counts of murder warrants no special treatment, but tradition allowed Gacy a final moment of gluttony.  Timothy McVeigh ordered two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream (I approve).  Since Ted Bundy didn’t make a special request for his last meal, he was given a generic last meal of medium-rare steak, eggs over easy, buttered toast with jelly, hash browns, juice, and milk.  It seems that most death row inmates go for a last hurrah of excess.  Jessy Carlos San Miguel, who was put in prison for robbing a Taco Bell and shooting the restaurant’s manager, requested a pizza topped with beef, bacon bits, and double cheese; 10 quesadillas (5 mozzarella and 5 cheddar), 5 strips of open-flame grilled beef, 5 strips of stir-fried beef, broccoli, chocolate peanut butter ice cream, double fudge chocolate cake, grapes, and sweet tea.  

Others are more minimalist: Victor Harry Feguer, the last inmate to be executed before the death penalty’s temporary ban in 1972, asked for a single olive with the pit in it.  Robert Anthony Madden, who was executed at 23 for the murder (and postmortem binding and disposing of) a father-son duo, asked that his final meal be given to a homeless person instead of him.

In 2011, Lawrence Russel Brewer requested a large dinner before his lethal injection.  The white supremacist had been convicted of chaining a black man to his pickup truck and dragging him along the road, which decapitated his victim.  Brewer requested a pound of barbecue; half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a ground beef, tomato, onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, and cheese omelet; two chicken fried steaks smothered in gravy with sliced onions; a triple bacon cheeseburger; a large bowl of fried okra; a meat lovers pizza; a pint of vanilla ice cream; a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.  When he was given his meal, he refused to eat.  This was seen as an exercise of power against the prison system, forcing them to waste resources on a pointless act.  Texas officials decided that enough was enough, and officially ended the last meal custom in the state.

Final meals are inspired by Judeo-Christian values, drawing upon Passover and the Last Supper to indicate unity, forgiveness, and gratitude for salvation after a sacrifice of self.  They are ceremonial, with the potential to range from humorous to haunting.  But it seems bittersweet that after such a strong tradition held on in the States for so long, Texas is denying their death row inmates their final salvation.  I imagine they now have little left to look forward to.  While some, like Brewer, use their last meal request as a political tool to miff the prison officials, others may just wish to have a final taste of their free life.  Gacy was a KFC manager for years, and it seems like his last meal was more for his own pleasure than as a fuck-you to the prison.

After Texas’ decision, jailhouse chef Brian Price offered to prepare death row meals for free, but they denied him.  Since he cooked 218 last meals before the ban in 2011, Price noted in an interview: 

“The Texas Department of Corrections has a policy that no matter what the request, it has to be prepared from items that’s in the prison kitchen commissary. And, like if they requested lobster, they’d get a piece of frozen pollock. Just like they would normally get on a Friday, but what I’d do is wash the breading off, cut it diagonally and dip it in a batter so that it looked something like at Long John Silver’s — something from the free world, something they thought they were getting, but it wasn’t. They quit serving steaks in 1994, so whenever anyone would request a steak, I would do a hamburger steak with brown gravy and grilled onions, you know, stuff like that. The press would get it as they requested it, but I would get their handwritten last meal request about three days ahead of time and I’d take it to my captain and say, “Well, what do you want me to do?” And she’d lay it out for me. I tried to do the best I could with what I had. Amazingly, we did pretty well with what we did have. They are served two hours before they are executed and it is no longer a burger and fries or a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich or whatever they requested. All it is, two hours later, is stomach content on an autopsy report.”


- Rachel Hsu

Last Goodbyes


Sometimes death isn't the end

Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — bury their dead rather immediately.  In the growing secular world, many people choose to be cremated.  However, many options exist outside of these, as is evidenced by different funeral traditions and attitudes towards death around the world.
On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, the Torajan people have a special relationship with death.  A dead person who is still home with family is not dead, just makula’, just sick.  Shortly after passing, corpses are treated with formaldehyde so that they do not putrify.  Then, they are lovingly fed, washed, and spoken to.  While the poor can usually only justify keeping the dead for a few weeks before the funeral ceremony, it is a symbol of wealth and power to sustain a years-long relationship with the slowly mummifying corpse as family members from around the world are gathered for the eventual celebratory funeral ceremony.  At the funeral, the family sacrifices as many water buffalo as they can afford (one journalist notes that 24 seems to be the minimum) in order to ensure a quick journey to the afterlife after such a slow passing away from this realm.
That’s not the end.  Every few years, they visit their ancestral tombs for a ma’nene or second funeral.  They exhume their dead relatives and share new stories and memories.  The corpse’s clothes are changed and family pictures are snapped.  The practices on Sulawesi may seem bizarre, and yet it’s common in the Western world for people to pray to their dead ancestors, speak to them through those mechanisms, and even imagine that they’ve been visited by ghostly forms.  Torajans just happen to form a relationships with the bodies of the dead rather than the souls.
In Tibet, people practice celestial burials.  Inhumation space is scarce all over the world, but especially in the rocky mountains of Tibet.  Wood is a valuable resource, as fires are necessary for heat and cooking.  Western notions of burial and cremation are not particularly feasible in this part of the world.  Luckily, their local tradition doesn’t require too many ingredients — just a saw, some barley flour, and yak butter. 
The bodies of the dead are dismembered and defleshed by a rogyapa or “body breaker.”  The meat is pounded with a mallet into a mixture of the butter and flour to entice the local Himalayan griffon vultures, meat-eating birds with 9-foot wingspans.  The less tasty parts of the body are laid out first while the tender cuts are withheld so that the vultures don’t cut and run after grabbing the tastiest bits of human.  Once the body has been completely returned to nature, the funeral is complete.  The vast majority of Tibetans choose to be disposed of in this way.
Not to mention the fact that you can get ashes turned into a synthetic gemstone, a vinyl record, or a tree!  All of which don’t contribute towards the unfortunate fact that the Abrahamic religions’ full-body-burial traditions have led to rapidly decreasing cemetery real estate on our finite little planet.
With so many exciting options out there, it’s hard to imagine that everyone’s sticking with the same old formulae and family plots.  Yawn!
-Rachel Hsu

It Came From Outer Space


Here’s something to look forward to in the New Year: the Halloween asteroid is back!

On October 31st, 2015, an asteroid passed close to earth, just a little further from us than the moon.  The reflectivity of this astroid is about 5%, which means it’s very dark and about as reflective as charcoal.  Its scientific name is 2015TB145, but it came to be known as the Halloween asteroid.  After it was sensed by a Pan-STARSS telescope in Hawaii, teams of astronomers, including NASA in West Virginia and the NAIC in Puerto Rico singled their sights in on the dark asteroid to get a better visual. 

It’s shaped like a human skull.

Asteroids are fairly rare.  The Halloween asteroid was the first to pass at such a close distance since 2006.  The human skull is a symmetrical but idiosyncratic shape, with cheekbones, teeth, a chin, two crater-like eye sockets, and a nasal cavity that looks like an upside-down  heart.  Halloween is a holiday invented by humans in the last few hundred years.  And yet, in 2015, chance had it that a skull zoomed by the planet on All Hallow’s Eve.

Then again, maybe it’s a sign from our alien overlords that they know we’re here and want to kill us.  Or it could be definitive proof that the world is a simulation, and for some reason the program grabbed the file for “human skull” and got it mixed up with the file for “inert rocky mass in outer space.”

Anyways.  If you missed it last time, the skull’s coming back sometime in November 2018.  It will slide through the night sky and whisper in an ancient tongue, telling you to vote in the midterm elections.


-Rachel Hsu

Donate Today!



(what might happen when you donate your body to science)

The two picnic coolers, wrapped with duct tape, split open as the ground crew at the Detroit Metro airport tossed them onto a palette in a climate-controlled warehouse.  Out came pouring blood.  
Inside were eight human heads. 
And it was ostensibly legal.  The heads came from International Biological, Inc., which is one of those places one might choose to donate themselves to after death.  About 20,000 human bodies are donated in the US annually.  Selling a body is illegal, of course, but International Biological, Inc., manages to make quite the profit through allocation fees.
It charges for packaging (though how heads inside duct tape camping coolers is advanced packaging is not completely explained), delivery, “matching,” and “placing.”  At the end of the day, a human body’s various parts and pieces can yield a company like International Biological $100,000.
The owner of International Biological, Inc., Arthur Rathburn , did get in trouble for the eight heads, however.  The packages were marked to contain five heads, a torso, and a complete human body, so mislabeling was one gripe.  Secondly, the remains tested positive for hepatitis B, though Rathburn marked them as non-infectious.  The names and death certificates weren’t included with the heads either.  The red liquid in the cooler, which tested positive thrice for blood, was marked as a preservative.  So for fudging some bureaucratic labeling (and dealing in infected bodies), Rathburn was in hot water.  What wasn’t illegal is that the families of those bodies remained blissfully unaware until the story came to light, under the misapprehension that bodies donated to science are operated on by medical students, cremated, and returned to their families.
By time the FBI alerted Linda Hayes that her husband’s head was of those found in the Detroit airport, she had already scattered the ashes International Biological, Inc., had returned to her.
-Rachel Hsu

Pigeon Milk

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Part of a balanced breakfast™️

You might not want to call a yellowish substance with a cottage-cheese consistency “milk,” but pigeon milk is a thing.
Like normal mammalian milk, pigeon milk contains protein and fat to nurture their babies.  It’s more densely packed with nutrients than cow or human milk, and in a study, chicks fed with pigeon milk were ultimately 16% heavier than those who received the normal baby bird diet of regurgitated insects, worms, and other predictable bird foods.  Even more enticingly, they’re packed with antioxidants (any animal that lives its life in urban squalor probably needs an amazing immune system).
The milk is produced in a pigeon’s crop, which is a thin-walled storage sac that projects from the esophagus.  This is where pigeons usually gather food while eating quickly, saving it to digest once they’re well out of harm’s way.  When the pigeon is lactating, fluid filled cells from the inside of the crop are sloughed off and regurgitated into their babies’ mouths.  Pigeon lactation is controlled by prolactin, the same hormone that controls lactation in us.
Scientists who are sequencing the pigeon genome are trying to isolate the specific genes that cause lactation in birds, with the possible intent to introduce pigeon milk to the market.
Just thought you ought to know.
-Rachel Hsu