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some of the things I read in antisocial isolation

7 Crazy True Stories About the Victorian Era

Plus three that are, sadly, just myths.

A Victorian-era sitter is clamped into position using a metal frame before having his portrait taken. Embiggenable.

WE CAN’T SEEM TO GET enough of the Victorian Era, and the denizens of that mid- and late-19th century period that saw fascinating changes in science and society. Our obsession with everything from their fashion sense to their prudery has led to countless wondrous stories. Some are mere historical embellishment (you’ve heard about those “sexy” furniture legs?) but other wacky tales are all-too-true. Here’s a collection of our favorites from the Atlas Obscura archives.

Clearing Up Some Myths About Victorian ‘Post-Mortem’ Photographs
by Sonya Vatomsky

Stories abound about post-mortem photography, in which Victorians would haul out their dead, prop them up on stands, and take a picture worth a thousand words. These stands helped corpses look alive, and allowed them to be posed with their still-breathing family members—or so the story goes. The reality was different.

The Victorian Belief That a Train Ride Could Cause Instant Insanity
by Joseph Hayes

January 1865: The peace on a regular English train journey from Carnforth to Liverpool is shattered by one man’s deranged laughter and erratic antics. Armed with a gun and attacking the windows to get to the other increasingly frightened passengers, he seems out of control. At the next train stop, the man suddenly becomes calm and serenity returns. But as the train begins to roll again, his aggression rises again. Could this have been a case of what they called “railway madness”?

Although few 19th-century medical professionals believed the superstitions, they were often on hand at vampire autopsies with kits like this one, from the collection of the Mütter Museum.

The Real-Life Vampire Autopsies of the Victorian Era
by April White

Ebola Thins MAGATS Herd

Deja COVID spreading to red states.

MAGATS couple proudly displays their hemorrhages.

THE HAVEN CONFIRMED THE RECENT OUT BREAK of Ebola in Africa has spread to Florida and surrounding red states in the last few weeks. Despite the highly contagious nature of the virus, the outbreak seems to be limited to MAGA Trump Supporters (MAGATS), who have been spreading the virus at family gatherings and Trump rallies.

Despite the lethal nature of the virus, and high transmission rate, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has declined to issue a warning, or even guidelines. “Are you kidding?” CDA spokesperson Fanny Peck told The Haven. Those MAGATS burned us during COVID. Fool me once?”

Peck added, “Let’s be honest. Even if we had announced the spread of the disease, the MAGATS would have turned it into a conspiracy theory claiming we were trying to kill them. By staying out of it, they kill themselves and we don’t take the hit this time.”

Asked why the virus hasn’t spread past the MAGATS population, Peck suggested, “Thank tribalism. Our demographic studies suggest MAGATS hang out with MAGATS and don’t trust anyone else. Even the more liberal members of their own families. And by ‘more liberal’ I mean fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and members of the right who don’t trust Trump. And liberals. So they self-isolate, self-infect, and pretty much thin the herd on their own.”

Kellogg’s CEO faces backlash for saying people should eat cereal for dinner to save money

Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats and Special K cereals arranged in Germantown, New York, US, in July 2023.

“Let them eat Corn Flakes” appears to be Kellogg’s CEO Gary Pilnick’s advice to cash-strapped shoppers who are spending the highest portion of their income on food than at any point in the last 30 years.

In an interview with CNBC last week, WK Kellogg CEO Pilnick said the company was advertising cereal for dinner to consumers looking for more affordable options. “Give chicken the night off,” the ad’s cheery tagline reads. WK Kellogg owns cereals such as Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran and others.

“The cereal category has always been quite affordable, and it tends to be a great destination when consumers are under pressure,” Pilnick said. “If you think about the cost of cereal for a family versus what they might otherwise do, that’s going to be much more affordable.”

His advice hasn’t landed well with people frustrated by spending 26 per cent more on groceries since 2020; on social media the campaign is being seen as insensitive.

The Best Jokes and Burns About the Alabama Frozen Embryo Ruling

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos, lumpy clumps of cells mere millimeters long, are, legally, indistinguishable from actual human children. This shocking story prompted outrage across the country, as well as questions like, “How ugly are the kids in Alabama?”

Following the controversial decision, fertility clinics across the Heart of Dixie have been scrambling to arrange daycare for the thousands of frozen embryos while they shop for school clothes in a size microscopic — actually, they’ve been shutting their doors as the state prepares for what will presumably be a mass exodus of reproductive health professionals who don’t want to face child endangerment or infanticide charges should they ever accidentally drop a test tube. The nonsensical ruling has caused widespread confusion and panic among Alabama doctors and families for whom in vitro fertilization is an important issue, and the future of the hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos across the country now hangs in the balance as other conservative politicians plan their own irrational reproduction legislation.

The silver lining to Alabama’s latest attack on logic is that the internet is, once again, having a field day flaming the state that seems unbothered by their perennial place as a national punchline. Here are some of the funniest jokes we’ve found about the bizarre ruling, starting with…





Emily Eveleth’s Doughnuts Bleed for Our Sins

In Eveleth’s work, debauchery and decadence meet in the lowly doughnut, which we are invited to read as a limbless torso with a dripping orifice.

Emily Eveleth, “Diary of a Thief” (2023), oil on canvas, 58 x 49 inches. Embiggenable.

I was first wowed by Emily Eveleth’s paintings in the fall of 2021. Her debut exhibition at Miles McEnery Gallery, Emily Eveleth (October 21–November 27, 2021), included 14 of them, all measuring 26 by 18 inches. Aside from size, what the paintings shared was a subject that Eveleth has insistently and relentlessly pursued for more than 30 years: a doughnut, either slathered with frosting or dusted with powdery white sugar, often leaking a blue or red syrupy substance from a single orifice. In my review, I wrote that they were “lurid, funny, unsettling, sexy, off-putting, luscious, puffy, bawdy, and excessive.”

The 32 paintings in her current exhibition at Miles McEnery, Emily Eveleth: Everything but the Truth, range in size from 5 1/2 by 6 3/4 inches to 92 by 76 inches and, along with oils, the artist has added powdered mica, metallic paint, wax, and silver and gold leaf to her toolbox.

Eveleth’s paintings provoke wild associations. In her work, debauchery and decadence meet in the lowly doughnut, which we are invited to read as a limbless torso with a dripping orifice. These doughnuts bleed for our sins. In one case, it occurred to me that I was looking at the body of a beheaded swan, but more about that later.

Emily Eveleth, “Advice from the Boudoir” (2023), oil on canvas, 49 x 76 inches. Embiggenable.

In her previous exhibition, Eveleth’s subjects, depicted in close-up views, were ambiguous and comically obscene. Working on a larger scale, and granting an important role to the background, the artist’s mute forms become characters in a silent opera — passive, tragicomic bodies unable to determine their own paths. They fall, slide, pile up, and tip over. They are couch potatoes (or should I say doughnuts?), at once sexual and sexless. It is these contradictions and the uncertainty of Eveleth’s presentation of them that makes the works as singular as Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of pies and cakes.

I thought Maru&Hana were cuddling cutely in the kotatsu, but that was different.

Ed. マルとハナはコタツでかわいい抱きしめていると思いましたが、それは違っていました。


The Pastor Who Dared To Go There

And the flock that didn’t say a word to stop him.


ONCE, WHILE GIVING A PRESENTATION IN grad-school, I mispronounced a word for 10 minutes straight.

My talk was about a mythic Greek monster named Scylla.

I called her “Sky-La” every single time, and I tried to say her name as much as possible, because every time I said it, the room grew even quieter with a focus so intense it resembled fury or a kind of constipated adoration. It’s a fine line.

Part One: Shout myth at my peers for 10 minutes without breathing.

Part Two: Q&A.

Hands went up, but the first word came from the professor.

He didn’t raise his hand. I don’t think he could. His arms were folded too tightly with rage to untangle.

“The name,” he said, “is pronounced,” he sighed, “Sill-Ah.”

All the hands went down.

“Oh,” I said and chuckled, badly impersonating a person who chuckles because everything is okay. “Sorry about that.”

I would later wonder why the professor hadn’t politely interrupted me at the beginning of my talk, at around “Sky-La” number 50, and helped me with the pronunciation.

Yes, that would have been bad, but not as bad as waiting for the end to lock me in the jaw with his razor-sharp and rusty “Sill-Ah.”

What makes it all worse is that there was a third option for my questioners, a kindlier option I’d experienced firsthand long ago.

Ed. More tomorrow? Possibly. Probably. Maybe. Likely, if I find nothing more barely uninteresting at all to do.

Ed., etc. I didn’t have time to do this today.

ONE MORE THING: What Your Brain Is Doing When You’re Not Doing Anything
On autopilot, the mind reveals new connections.

Whenever you’re actively performing a task—say, lifting weights at the gym or taking a hard exam—the parts of your brain required to carry it out become “active” when neurons step up their electrical activity. But is your brain active even when you’re zoning out on the couch?

The answer, researchers have found, is yes. Over the past two decades they’ve defined what’s known as the default mode network, a collection of seemingly unrelated areas of the brain that activate when you’re not doing much at all. Its discovery has offered insights into how the brain functions outside of well-defined tasks and has also prompted research into the role of brain networks—not just brain regions—in managing our internal experience.

In the late 20th century, neuroscientists began using new techniques to take images of people’s brains as they performed tasks in scanning machines. As expected, activity in certain brain areas increased during tasks—and to the researchers’ surprise, activity in other brain areas declined simultaneously. The neuroscientists were intrigued that during a wide variety of tasks, the very same brain areas consistently dialed back their activity.

It was as if these areas had been active when the person wasn’t doing anything, and then turned off when the mind had to concentrate on something external.

Assimilation Complete