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"Aliens Are Our Brothers," says Vatican

We don't usually cover straight-up news as such here on the floss, but this particular item was so out there -- and so geeky at the same time -- I just couldn't let it fall through the cracks. For the first time ever, Vatican astronomers have admitted the possibility -- even the probability -- of intelligent life on other planets. Vatican official Father Gabriel Funes, a respected astronomer in his own right, released an article titled, literally, Aliens Are My Brother, detailing various extraterrestrial scenarios as they relate to Christian theology. He compares the potential multiplicity of life forms in the universe to that here on Earth, and goes on to speculate that such alien life forms could even be "free from Original Sin ... [remaining] in full friendship with their creator." (In short, expect to hear lots more conspiracy theories about how Jesus and the angels were aliens in the near future.)

But it's not just the Catholic Church that has aliens on the brain -- also this week, the British government released years' worth of newly-declassified documents pertaining to UFO sightings in British airspace. "The Ministry of Defence does not deny that there are strange things to see in the sky," one internal memo explains, "but it certainly has no evidence that alien spacecraft have landed on this planet." (Suuuure, guys.) You can check out the newly-released records here, the most hilarious bits of which, in our opinion, are the vigorous and exceedingly formal tiffs between various dukes, lords and viscounts in the British House of Lords regarding UFOs, like this one:

lords.jpgViscount Long: My Lords, if the Noble Earl is suspicious that the Ministry of Defence is covering up in any way, I can assure him ... the sole interest of the MoD in UFO reports is to establish whether they reveal anything of defence interest.
Lord Wynne-Jones: My Lords, does the Answer given mean that since there has been a Conservative Government the UFOs have done a U-turn and departed?
The Earl of Kimberley: My Lords, as my noble friend said that 600 UFOs had been officially reported or acknowledged by the MoD in 1984, may I ask him how many of those sightings still remain unidentified?
Viscount Long: My Lords, we do not have the figures. They disappeared into the unknown before we got them.
Lord Hill-Norton: My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount whether or not it is true that all of the sighting reports received by the MoD before 1962 were destroyed because they were deemed "to be of no interest"? And if it is true, who was it who decided that they were of no interest?"
Viscount Long: My Lords, my reply to the noble and gallant Lord -- I was wondering whether he was going to say the the Royal Navy had many times seen the Loch Ness monster -- is that since 1967 all UFO reports have been preserved.

Conspiracy/comedy gold!

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History
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]

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

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, UglyChristmasSweater.com 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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