North Korea's Ghost Disease

Horrific tales are being shared by North Korean defectors who fled their homes near the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, with stories of sickened residents and wildlife, and even a deformed baby born without genitals and murdered soon after birth. Lee Jeong Hwa, who got out in 2010 from her home in Kilju County, says residents started talking of a "ghost disease" after people started perishing, and they're tying it all back to the regime's nuke tests. "We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly," she says. "Now we know it was the radiation." A World Health Organization fact sheet explains that radiation can wreak on the body, causing such maladies as burns, hair loss, and skin conditions, with cancer also a possibility years after exposure. Only one problem - Lee, one of 30 defectors being examined, have turned up no evidence of radiation contamination. All the same, one Seoul National University professor says that he still believes there's likely merit to the defectors' claims. But another expert adds that "sniff" sensors in the region haven't picked up signs of radioactive matter and some residents' tales of sickened flora and fauna go back decades, long before North Korea started testing nukes in 2006. (NBC News)

Need to Remember Something?

Want to improve your memory? A new study finds that reading something aloud is the best way to remember it. Researchers at the University of Waterloo tested 95 students over two semesters using four different methods: reading silently, reading aloud, hearing someone else read aloud, and hearing a recording of themselves read aloud. Reading the information aloud to themselves emerged as the most effective method in the test, which involved trying to remember a list of words. As Mental Floss notes, hearing a recording of themselves also seemed to help, at least more so than hearing another's voice, perhaps because it's so odd to hear ourselves that it becomes what's known as a "salient memory." The study, in the journal Memory, builds off what's known as the "production" effect, referring to the repetition of words aloud instead of in silence. "This study confirms that learning and memory benefit from active involvement," says study co-author and Waterloo psychology professor Colin M. MacLeod in a news release. "When we add an active measure or a production element to a word, that word becomes more distinct in long-term memory, and hence more memorable." (Quartz)


In Costa Rica, 49-year-old Rohina Bhandari, a senior director at WL Ross & Col. LL, was with a group of 18 people diving off Cocos Island National Park when she was attacked by a tiger shark. A boater and other divers tried to drive the shark away, but by the time Bhandari was pulled from the water she had been mauled so badly she didn't live. A dive master was also bitten but his wounds were not life-threatening. The Costa Rican Environment Ministry said Bhandari was surfacing at the tail end of a long dive when the shark attacked. They also called the attack an "isolated incident" and the worst ever recorded for the island. Bhandari had worked at WL Ross, which was founded by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, since 2013. (New York Daily News)

How Great Thou Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art says it will not take down the 1938 painting "Therèse Dreaming" by the French artist Balthus, though 7,000 people have asked that it do so via the petition site care2. The petition started by Mia Merrill describes the work as "an evocative portrait of a prepubescent girl relaxing on a chair with her legs up and underwear exposed," and calls it "disturbing" that the museum would knowingly display such a sexualized image in our "current climate." The museum has posted a sign explaining some of the pieces could be "disturbing" to viewers. A museum rep said, "Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation." The museum's description of the piece notes that Therèse Blanchard, Balthus' neighbor in Paris, was 12 or 13 when she was painted. The Paris Review reports the late Balthus was asked about the "provocative poses" he painted young girls in, and replied, "It is how they sit." In his review of the 2013 exhibition for the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl had this to say: "I kept thinking of a line by Oscar Wilde: 'A bad man is the sort of man who admires innocence.'" (Newser)

Mother Nature Sets New World Record

Looks like Mother Nature may have just set a new world record-for a rainbow! If you didn't know, Yorkshire, England currently holds the title for the longest rainbow on record, lasting an impressive six hours. But there's a new rainbow on the scene-and it could smash that figure into a pot of gold if confirmed by the Guinness World Record authorities. Taiwan weather has sprinted up behind with what is allegedly a nine hour rainbow. It began in the morning on November 30, and stayed hanging in the sky all day, according to researchers at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei. They were so excited that they photographed it from all angles to collect evidence that they should beat the previous record, which was set 23 years ago. Pictures going viral on social media showed the long-lasting rainbow from multiple angles, with people saying they had 'never seen a rainbow so clearly' in their lives. (Metro)

And On Your Left You Can See... Wait, WHAT?

North Korea's most recent missile test had some unintended witnesses: the crew of an airliner on its way from San Francisco to Hong Kong. It seems the Cathay Pacific passenger jet was over Japan on Nov. 29 when its crew saw the North Korean ballistic missile re-enter the atmosphere and crash into the Sea of Japan! The pilot actually told passengers, "Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location." The crew advised air traffic controllers in Japan, but their jet was far enough away that no course changes were necessary. The relative close call raises the question of whether airlines flying in the vicinity need to consider altering routes or otherwise take precautions. One Hong Kong lawmaker, a former pilot, suggests that a panel be created that would coordinate intelligence about possible North Korea tests with the aviation industry. (South China Morning Post)

Afghanistan's Screwed Up Prison Policy

Shirin Gul has been called "Afghanistan's most notorious woman prisoner." She's serving a life sentence for being a serial killer and there is plenty of evidence that indeed she robbed and killed many men. However, her 11-year-old daughter, Meena,-who had nothing to do with any of this-is also serving time behind bars. Writing for the New York Times, Rod Nordland explains that the young Meena's situation "is extreme, but not unique;" hundreds of children are believed to be behind bars alongside their mothers in the country. Afghanistan's female prisoners are allowed to keep their children with them until the offspring reach age 18; in many cases, there is no alternative for care. That's the case with Meena, whom Gul conceived while in prison, ostensibly via a prison guard, with Gul accused of getting pregnant in order to escape her original sentence - death by hanging. After having the child, her sentence was indeed commuted to life. Nordland describes a child who has never stepped foot outside the Nangarhar Provincial Prison in Jalalabad, and likely won't for another seven years. She appears throughout the article as a sweet and polite foil to her "brash" mother, whom she tells Nordland she will not leave. Gul at one point tells Nordland, "I'll kill you. I'm going to come over there and take out your eyes." Meena, next to her, offers a calm "shh." (New York Times)

What the What? 

It appears that after breaking into a Florida liquor store, a opossum apparently drank bourbon after breaking into a Florida liquor store sobered up at a wildlife rescue helped itself to a bottle of bourbon and got quite drunk. Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge officials say the opossum was brought in by a Fort Walton Beach, Fla., police officer after a liquor store employee found the animal next to a broken and empty bottle of bourbon. Michelle Pettis, a technician at the refuge, said, "She definitely wasn't fully acting normal." The staff pumped the marsupial full of fluids and cared for her as she sobered up. The store owner, Cash Moore, says he never had an opossum break in before noting, "She came in from the outside and was up in the rafters, and when she came through she knocked a bottle of liquor off the shelf. When she got down on the floor she drank the whole damn bottle." (Northwest Florida Daily News)


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