Foreign Accents, Brain Damage and Madonna

I was thumbing through edits this weekend of mental_floss' upcoming Med School in a Box (kudos to Mary and her husband Tim for churning out such a wonderful project!), when I came across a fact that completely intrigued me. I mean, *ahem* there were plenty of facts in there that intrigued me, but I found the one on Foreign Accent Syndrome particularly fascinating.
Apparently, the condition is the result of a rare, highly localized stroke that "strips the patient of her native accent and instead leaves her with vocal patterns that can sound Scottish, Spanish or French." In fact, according to the Internet (and I believe everything I read online), the accent can even take on Jamaican and Slovakian overtones, and often leaves the victim completely dismayed. I am curious however, if in the future doctors will ever conduct minor brain surgeries to give people more exotic accents. In a culture where we get calf implants and inject botulism in our faces to do away with wrinkles, a little snipping of the brain for the added sexiness of say, a Mongolian accent, doesn't seem so outrageous.
Of course the larger question is whether Madonna's most recent accent is the result of clever PR/image positioning or simply a little brain damage? Either way, I'm going on record as saying it's a stroke of genius.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


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