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Grist List: Look what we found.


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‘Himalayan Viagra’ is going extinct

A parasitic caterpillar fungus that grows in the Himalayas has many names, according to Scientific American -- yarsagumba, yarchagumba, yartsa gunba, yatsa gunbu. But we are only going to remember one name: Himalayan Viagra.

This fungus, which leeches off of Tibetan ghost moth larvae, is said to get the fellas going when boiled and consumed in tea or soup. Oh, it also cures cancer and fights fatigue. Miracle drug! (Scientific American -- always with the science! -- notes, "These medical claims have not been borne out scientifically.")

As a result of its awesome properties of making everything sexy and cancer-free and sexy, this stuff is almost worth its weight in gold. (The price per gram puts its worth between silver and gold, Agence France Presse says.) And there's a global market for it worth between $5 billion and $11 billion.

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1915 document shows that penguins are extremely sexually depraved

England's Natural History Museum at Tring recently rediscovered a 1915 report about penguin behavior that had been buried for almost 100 years -- because it was considered too X-rated to be suitable for publication. Which, okay, yes, people from 1915 were prudish, but also, penguins are getting up to some freaky shit.

Read more: Animals, Sex

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Giant Truth or Dare game turns New York into a middle-school party

A lot of people (celebrities, misanthropes, the funny-looking) cherish New Yorkers' studious lack of eye contact. But designer and copywriter Chelsea Davison wanted to make the city a friendlier place for a day. So she printed up 300 cards offering a "truth" question and a "dare" action, posted them around Washington Square Park, and waited for passersby to be transported back to junior high -- with hopefully all the playfulness of a spirited Truth or Dare game, and less of the painful self-consciousness.

Perhaps surprisingly, it worked.

Read more: Cities

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Senegal’s salt lakes look like Pepto-Bismol

This is Lake Retba in Senegal, NOT the contents of your stomach when you drink too much Strawberry Quik and then have to chase it down with Pepto-Bismol and tiny boats. The lake itself is actually not in danger, but given that I just yelled "WHAT IN BLAZES?" and nearly dropped a cup of coffee on my dog, I'm still going to label this an environmental hazard.

Read more: Food

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This graphic novel about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch looks awesome

I'm Not a Plastic Bag is a graphic novel about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the agglomeration of plastic flakes that is swirling around in the Pacific Ocean. The book follows the journey of several pieces of trash destined to become part of the patch. The images are beautiful, and the story's reminiscent of The Brave Little Toaster, updated for a world in which trash doesn't get to live a second life.

The book is by Rachel Hope Allison, who describes herself as "a white girl with curly hair" who is nevertheless “not Jewish, nor am I Chelsea Clinton.” We can't help but have a little crush on her. Especially after she told Treehugger what drew her to this subject:

All this forgotten stuff, out in the remotest ocean, so far away from the people who created it. It gave me this sense of deep loneliness and geeky wonder by turns, and that's what eventually led me to bring it to life as my main character.

Read more: Living, Pollution

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$28 cabbage, $65 chicken, and other insane food prices in Northern Canada

Nunavut is the edge of the world in a lot of ways -- it's the farthest-north part of Canada, a broken-up spray of frozen land coming off the top of the country like a very icy mohawk. In terms of land mass, it's bigger than any other Canadian province or territory, with an area the size of Western Europe, but its population (mostly Inuit) is smaller than Berkeley's -- and I mean the university, not the town.

So it's remote, and cold, and sparsely settled, but none of that really explains why food is so outrageously expensive that the basic necessities of life are beyond normal people's reach. Now, the locals are starting to get fed up (not literally, because they can't afford it), and they're agitating for government attention to their unsustainable cost of living. Cabbage that costs $28? Chicken for $65 a pound? They're having Nunavut. (Sorry.) (Not sorry.)

Below are some photos of real food and water prices from the "Feeding Our Families" Facebook group. Canadian dollars and American dollars are basically the same now, so there's no need to do complicated monetary conversions to figure out how staggering this is. It's as staggering as you think.

Read more: Food

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Bereaved husband sues NYPD for failing to investigate pedestrian death

Last summer, 28-year-old Clara Heyworth died while crossing the street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn -- she was hit by a car piloted by an intoxicated driver who only had a learner's permit. The NYPD never conducted an investigation, and the driver received only a violation for driving without a license. Today, Heyworth’s husband, Jacob Stevens, is suing the New York Police Department and the driver in civil court.

Heyworth’s case received basically no police attention. The NYPD’s Accident Investigation Squad, with its staff of just 19 people (who we assume are extremely overworked), called off the investigation after an hour or so. The squad only investigates crashes where the victim is "likely to die" and in Heyworth's case, they concluded based on one call to the hospital that she didn't fit that category. Stevens said the police who responded to the crash told him from the get-go that Heyworth had little chance of making it, and, in fact, she never regained consciousness.

Heyworth's death alone would be a tragedy, but as Stevens points out, "it fits a pattern." In New York City, drivers in cars routinely kill people and get away with it. Death is just what happens when people drive heavy pieces of metal at blazing speeds down busy roads. No one investigates, and the drivers who kill people get back on the road. The man who killed Heyworth had his car back later that evening.

Read more: Biking, Cities, Family

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A report from inside the Shell ‘oil spill’ party prank

It took Grist a hot second to figure out that this too-ironic-to-be-true video of a Shell party gone wrong was a prank. The concept, though, is brilliant -- an "oil derrick" on a cake started "spilling" liquid all over the assembled guests. Pulling it off wasn’t easy, or cheap. Salon has dishy details from a volunteer, who reveals even more layers of clever strategy:

  • The woman sprayed in the face by the supposed booze (it’s soda) was Dorli Rainey, who was sprayed in the face with pepper spray at Occupy Seattle.
  • The guy who presses the button on the soda-fountain-gone-wrong is supposed to be the engineer of the Kulluk, a drilling rig set to go to the Arctic this summer. In fact, it’s Paul Horiuchi, an actor who was once on Northern Exposure (ha!) and who is pretty old (76). The Kulluk is also old -- 29, which is at least 76 in drilling rig years. That was the joke: The rig and its “engineer” are both past their prime.
Read more: Oil

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Climate change causes monster patch of microscopic plants in the Arctic

A different phytoplankton bloom, in the Ross Sea. (Photos c/o NASA.)

There aren't supposed to be microscopic plants called phytoplankton blooming in the Arctic right now -- usually that doesn't happen until after the ice melts in the summer, i.e. months from now. But a research team has just discovered a huge, 60-mile-long, three-foot-thick slick of phytoplankton where no phytoplankton should be. It was "like finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert," said one scientist.

Read more: Climate Change

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Possibly the best Humans of New York photo yet

I've mentioned before my abiding love for Humans of New York (HONY), photographer Brandon Stanton's (entirely unpaid, as far as I know, unless you buy prints) mission to photograph New York's infinitely visually arresting inhabitants. It's an amazing love letter to the city, and to humanity in general. Stanton has taken over 3,500 photographs to date, but this might be the most hilarious, inexplicable, and weirdly beautiful one yet.

Read more: Cities