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Cleaning Lady Usurps Incumbent Mayor in Russian Election

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  • The 35-year-old cleaning lady put her name on the ballot as a favor to her boss, the mayor.
  • She ended up earning 62% of the vote in her small rural Russian town.

In a sweet story of someone getting their just desserts, a Russian mayor asked the building’s cleaner to sign up for the local election to assure his victory. But then she won. In Povalikhino, a small town in rural Russia, official elections must have at least two candidates to validate the process. So, Nikolai Loktev, the 58-year-old incumbent mayor, asked the city hall’s 35-year-old cleaning lady to join him on the ballot as a formality. 

 

An Election Day Surprise

Photo by ANGÉLICA SABINA on Unsplash

Loktev’s plan didn’t work out quite as planned; Marina Udgodskaya earned 62% of the vote to Loktev’s 34%. However, some residents would have preferred a third option–no mayor at all. The local shopkeeper told the BBC, “If we could have voted against all we would have done, but we had the option to vote for Marina, so we did.” 

 

Initially, Udgodskaya was going to resign the position, feeling uncertain about her ability to run the town of 242, “I didn’t think people would actually vote for me.” It’d be up to her to fund a new election if she refused to take the new job. 

 

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The town’s overwhelming support didn’t end with the election; the former cleaning lady has the townspeople’s commitment to helping her learn the job. The mayor’s assistant, Irina Nechayeva, has faith in the newly elected mayor, “I think she’ll cope. The whole village will help. Though, of course, her education needs a bit of a boost.” 

 

The increased paycheck may have temped Udgodskaya as well; the new position doubles her salary as a cleaning lady. She already has an agenda. She committed to bringing street lights to Povalikhino, a longstanding request from the townspeople. 

Elections with Pre-Selected Winners and Losers

Photo by Maria Rodideal on Unsplash

Russia and a handful of former Soviet states use democratic elections for selecting leaders only as a matter of ceremony. The establishment pre-selects winners and losers, going to great lengths to prevent viable opponents from even appearing on the ticket. Vladimir Putin’s opponent Aleksei A. Navalny was poisoned just before the Russian election this year.   

 

It was just a matter of personalities in such a small town that caused a historical breakdown of election expectations. The townspeople saw Loktev as too withdrawn. He didn’t talk to the townspeople or show he cared. Meanwhile, people knew Udgodskaya and liked her, even if she didn’t have political experience. 

 

In an interview, Udgodskaya claimed she wouldn’t have run except as a favor for her boss, as she never cared for politics, “I like farming.” 

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50-year-old Newspapers Debunk JFK Conspiracy Theory

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  • It took almost six decades for someone to check the date on an article? Man, they’re correct when they say newspapers are a dead medium.

Who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory? Even if you don’t believe in them, they’re entertaining stories to read – the more outlandish the theory, the better!

Conspiracy theories are usually spawned by significant historical events, especially ones where someone important dies under murky circumstances. One of the most significant of such in – at least relatively – recent history is the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Even if you’re like the author here and your birth was still decades off when it happened, you know the scene. JFK sits in an open-topped car in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963, when someone puts a bullet through his head.

The official story is that Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK with a rifle from the window of the Texas School Book Depository. Alternative theories, some of them wilder than others, posit otherwise.

Many of the conspiracy theories have been put to rest as impossible after decades of ongoing investigations. Now, one such investigation, published by The Conversation, has disproven yet another theory.

The search for truth was carried out by Gonzalo Soltero, professor of Narrative Analysis at the School of Higher Studies, National Autonomous University of Mexico. The theory Soltero researched claimed that Oswald – who always said that he was just a “patsy” – was in league with Cuban communists to kill JFK.

This conspiracy theory was put out to the world by one man – Mexican reporter Óscar Contreras Lartigue. But as Soltero came to find out 57 years later, Contreras’ story had one major hole in it that disproves the whole thing.

The City of Cold War

To get the proper historical context, we need to first take a little trip down the memory lane. Our destination is Mexico City, circa 1963.

The Cold War was at its hottest at the time. The East and West had just come out of the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before, barely avoiding global nuclear conflict.

In Europe, the communist East German government had started building the Berlin Wall in 1961. A couple years earlier, in 1959, rebels led by Fidel Castro had overthrown Cuba’s government and established a communist regime right just some miles off the U.S. coast.

Mexico, then, was a bit of an oddity in this environment. The country hadn’t really taken sides in the Cold War, and both Western democracies and Eastern communist dictatorships has embassies in Mexico City.

Due to this relatively welcoming atmosphere, political outsiders of all kinds flocked to the Central American nations. Exiles and refugees from Soviet states, American communists fleeing the Red Terror, and those sympathetic to the newly-founded Castroist Cuba all flocked to Mexico.

As such, Mexico City was a playground for opposing intelligence organizations. Both the American CIA and the Soviet KGB competed with each other to steal the enemy regime’s secrets.

A Dark Pact

It should come as no surprise then that Oswald – a self-proclaimed Marxist – found himself in Mexico City on September 27, 1963. According to official intelligence from Cuban and Soviet embassies, he was there to try and secure a visa to either of the communist countries.

However, his efforts proved fruitless. A few days later, on October 2, Oswald traveled back to the U.S.

That’s the official story. There’s a catch, though. Oswald spent five days in Mexico City – neither American, Soviet, or Mexican intelligence agencies know what he did during three of those days.

This is where Contreras’ conspiracy theory comes into play. Contreras, in his own words, met Oswald at a pro-Castro campus group at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (NAUM). He had been there to seek help for getting his Cuban visa.

Contreras claimed that Oswald spent two days with the campus group, and then later met them again. This time, however, the meeting was at a Cuban embassy.

The theory implies that during that meeting, Oswald and the Cuban regime struck some kind of a pact. Perhaps Oswald was offered a visa, maybe even citizenship, for assassinating JFK.

The CIA caught up to Contreras’ story and, in 1967, an agent interrogated Contreras about his story. He said that he had only told of his encounter once before – to his editor, shortly after JFK shot in 1963.

However, Contreras refused to go into details. He only said that the word “assassination” was never used directly.

One Fatal Mistake

And so, the conspiracy theory that Cuba hired Oswald to kill the U.S. president lived on. As late as 2015, reporters and authors writing on the JFK assassination found Contreras’ story credible.

It does sound believable – that is if you ignore one simple fact that Soltero has only recently discovered.

You see, it turns out that Contreras was most likely nowhere near Mexico City when he claimed to have met Oswald.

Soltero got hung up on one oddity in Contreras’ account. Contreras claims that he was studying law at NAUM in 1963. He then supposedly fled the campus in 1964 to escape political persecution and moved to his native Tampico.

Soltero, however, knew that college newspapers aren’t common, and Contreras was a law student, not a journalism major. Who, then, was the newspaper editor he presumably told about his encounter with Oswald in 1963?

As Soltero started digging deeper, he discovered a local Tampico newspaper called El Sol de Tampico. It ran a Sunday gossip column titled Crisol. And who else was writing stories about weddings, quinceañeras, and other local events for Crisol but Óscar Contreras.

Soltero found stories published between June and October 1963. That is, during the timeframe when Contreras supposedly met Oswald in Mexico City.

“A political correspondent may live far from where his newspaper is published. But for a gossip columnist, that would be dereliction of duty,” said Soltero.

A Dud of a Story

And just like that, the house of cards that was Contreras’ story comes tumbling down. The man himself died in 2016, so he can never confirm it, but it seems highly unlikely that he was in Mexico City together with Oswald.

That’s not to say that Oswald couldn’t have met with Cuban communists and agreed to kill JFK. There are those three blank days in Oswald’s travel schedule that remain a mystery.

One thing is certain, though. Contreras wasn’t there in Mexico City to see the events play out the way he said they did.

We’re not sure if we should be more astonished by the amateurish mistake that Contreras made, or how long it took to uncover it. If you claim to be somewhere on a certain date, at least make sure there’s no written record of you clearly being some place else.

But hey, as we said in the beginning, at least this story made for a fun little exploration of Cold War intrigue.



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Mom Died and was Found a Year After

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  • The story only gets weirder, and sadder, from here.

The mom was found under a pile of clothes and an autopsy determined that she had been decomposing there for at least a year.

An officer showed up to the residence and while talking to the residents, the following conversation was overheard over the call to the dispatcher:

“Who is this upstairs?” the deputy questioned. “That’s your mother?”

“How long has she been deceased?”

“Years?”

“You don’t know how long she’s been deceased?”

This is when they found her, 56-year-old Laronda Jolly. Her four adult children were living with her at the time, and all of them are intellectually disabled.

None of them told anyone that she had died.

“She was on a bed, they piled clothes on top of her body and they stayed in the apartment with their decaying mother,” said Laronda’s brother, Anthony Jolly. “They knew better, but they were going by what their mother said, they were obeying their mother’s wishes – just let her lay there, no matter what. Don’t call anybody, and that’s what they done.”

“For them to stay in that apartment with your own mother’s decaying body, I can’t understand it — and I guess I never will understand it.”

The last time Jolly had talked to her was “well over two years ago.”

“I started going down there, and my nieces and nephews would say, ‘Well she’s asleep. You can’t see her right now.’ I would say, ‘Well all I want to do is see my sister. If I can just see her face I’ll be fine and I’ll leave you alone,’” he said.

He knows now that he was intentionally misled by his nieces and nephews — a 30-year-old woman, two 27-year-old twin boys and a 27-year-old sister–and while on the phone he wasn’t speaking to his sister, but instead one off the kids that was impersonating her.

“They lied every time,” he said. “They would not tell me the truth.”

Jolly attempted to have a welfare check done but police reported that she was not home at the time. One of the nieces told him that they were “obeying their mother’s wishes to let (her) lay there,” he said. “That’s what they told me, but everything else they told me is a lie. So, you know, I’m not sure if I believe that, either.”

There were no signs of trauma or foul play but because of the year long decomposition, the exact manner of death may never be known. No charges have been filed against the siblings, whose housing and needs are now being assisted by a local ministry.

Jolly still wants to know what happened to his sister.

“She was a person that once you met her, most people would just fall in love with my sister because she was just that kind of person,” he said, according to WSMV. “She could talk to anybody and talk about anything to anybody.”

“If she had a health condition,” he told WKRN, “I didn’t know about it.”

 

 



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Go Eat Yourself: Steak Grown from Human Cells Borders on Cannibalism

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  • Our culinary future is looking like it might as well have been designed by Hannibal Lecter.

Meat has become a bit of a controversial food in the past couple of decades, at least in some circles. Packed as it is with protein, there are some actual concerns surrounding our hunger for flesh.

Without even mentioning any ethical and animal welfare issues, meat production presents some serious issues. Producing the amounts of meat that we eat has a significant impact on the climate, for one thing.

Living standards around the world are also rising, and with that usually comes an increase in meat consumption. Experts say that we might be facing a tipping point in the planet’s capacity to produce enough food.

Wouldn’t it then be great if we could grow our meat in a lab with little resources? Vat-grown meat is one serious suggestion for feeding the world in the future, and the technology to do so has advanced in strides.

Most of the methods to produce artificial meat concentrate on using animal cells. But now, one group of American scientists has taken the concept to a rather macabre direction.

Introducing, the Ouroboros Steak. The saying goes that you are what you eat, and in this case that is literally true.

That’s because the meat in question is grown from human cells. So how about a nice roasted piece of Edward, or maybe a medium-rare fillet of Katie?

“Guess who’s for dinner today.”

The Devil in the Technicalities

The Ouroboros Steak was recently nominated for the Beazly Design of the Year award by the Design Museum in London. But what is this whole thing actually all about?

Named after the mythical snake figure that eternally swallows its own tail, is a DIY meal kits that allows diners to grow their own meat. As the catalyst for the process, you can use your own cells.

The creators told Dezeen Magazine that eating a stake made out of yourself is “technically” not cannibalism.

We don’t know about you, but we don’t necessarily like that “technically” part.

The vision of the team behind the Ouroboros Steak is that consumers would use a cotton swab to harvest some stray cells from the inside of their cheeks. These cells would be deposited into a pre-grown “scaffolding” made out of fungal mycelium.

Store the growing dish in a warm place for three months, feed it with human growth serum, and voila! A delicious, meaty human steak is ready for cooking.

Industrial designer Grace Knight, who worked on the Ouroboros project, told Dezeen that the growth material for the steak wouldn’t necessarily have to come from the diners. Instead, it could be substituted with medical waste – such as expired blood.

“Expired human blood is a waste material in the medical system and is cheaper and more sustainable than fetal bovine serum, but culturally less-accepted,” said Knight.

“People think that eating oneself is cannibalism, which technically this is not,” she added.

Ugh, there’s that word again. “Technically.”

Part of a Bigger Problem

But in all seriousness, the scientists aren’t pushing eating human-sourced meat all that seriously. Sure, the process is valid, but they actually wanted to raise questions about the sustainability of our meat-heavy diets.

“Our design is scientifically and economically feasible but also ironic in many ways,” said designer and researcher Orkan Telhan, also part of the Ouroboros team.

“We are not promoting ‘eating ourselves’ as a realistic solution that will fix humans’ protein needs. We rather ask a question: what would be the sacrifices we need to make to be able to keep consuming meat at the pace that we are?”

The team wants to draw attention to the rising lab-grown meat industry. While growing artificial meat is supposedly cruelty-free, it is actually not completely true.

More specifically, producers of lab-grown meat use the aforementioned fetal bovine serum (FBS) as a growth supplement in the growing process. FBS ranges in price from $400 to $900 per liter, and is harvested from the blood of cow fetuses after their mothers are slaughtered.

So, a cow – or two, actually – still have to die to make lab-grown meat.

“Although some lab-grown meat companies are claiming to have solved this problem, to our knowledge no independent, peer-reviewed, scientific studies have validated these claims,” said Ouroboros team scientist Andrew Pelling.

“As the lab-grown meat industry is developing rapidly, it is important to develop designs that expose some of its underlying constraints in order to see beyond the hype.”

Add in the high cost of FBS, and a laboratory steak starts looking less attractive.

“In the future, who will be able to afford animal meat and who may have no other option than culturing meat from themselves?” asked Telhan.

Big Money in Sight

Pelling says the lab-grown meat industry is growing quickly, and that it surely is. According to Market Data Forecast, the cultured meat market was worth $206 million in 2020.

By 2025, the company projects that market to grow to a whopping $572 million. That’s some serious growth.

The first lab-grown steaks have already been produced, served, and eaten. The products are marketed as more sustainable both environmentally and ethically, but in light of the Ouroboros team’s claims, those marketing spiels seem a bit dubious.

Still, there are benefits to laboratory meat. Israel-baled Aleph Farms, which produced the first lab-grown beef steak, said the artificial steak is much cheaper than the “real” thing.

Lab-grown meat doesn’t necessarily have to come from animals, though. Spanish Novameat, for example, produced 3D-printed steaks made from vegetable proteins.

In light of the possible environmental and cost benefits, vat-grown meat might be the future. Let’s just hope we don’t actually have to resort to devouring our own flesh.



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