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5 Cults We Feel OK With

Maybe it's all the news of "Anonymous" protests against Scientology that have been dominating the blogs lately, but it seems the word "cult" is on a lot of people's minds. Which makes me think about just how many cults there are out there -- and not just the religious kind, either. Merriam-Webster has not one but five definitions for "cult," the most expansive of which is "a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work ... usually by a small group of people." We're gonna take that pony and run with it.

Cult Movies: Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!

Produced by Troma Studios, cultiest of cult film producers, notorious for birthing films like Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD and Trey Parker and Matt Stone's freshman effort, Cannibal! The Musical. Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!, however, holds the dubious distinction of being one of Troma's strangest films, and probably my first "cult" favorite (my friend Laurie had the tape in her massive video library; to her utter frustration, every time I came over, I would pull it down and insist we watch it). The "plot" revolves around two brothers who befriend an escaped mental patient (the titular "fat guy") and accompany him on his misadventures in the big city. What follows is barely comprehensible but highly entertaining, depending on your sense of irony; "fat guy" screams at a lot of people, busts up a funeral, there are a lot of jokes stemming from the brothers being high on 'ludes ... you get the idea. Variety actually reviewed it, dubbing it "A steady source of cheap, vulgar gags," a blurb which appears prominently on the back of the video box. That's Troma for you.

Cult Cars: the Subaru BRAT

brat.JPGThere are plenty of cars out there that people call cult, like the Lamborghini Countach or the Volkswagen Beetle, but if car was on every teenage boy's wall in poster form in the 80s (the former) or is one of the best-selling cars in history (the latter), we say it doesn't count. Cult means rare, and cult means a small, devoted following. That pretty much defines the devotion of BRAT owners. One of the ugliest cars in history (with the possible exception of the El Camino), devotees call its looks "quirky" and extol it as ahead of its time. Its name is actually an acronym for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter, and it was essentially a four-wheel-drive station wagon with the wagon-top cut off. Other quirky features included a jumpseat welded into the back, which allowed Subaru to classify BRAT as a passenger car rather than a truck, and skip out on some otherwise pricey import duties; it also explains much of the cult appeal of this weird vehicle. I had a BRAT-owner friend, and his favorite feature was that the Subaru logo in the middle of the steering wheel could be pried off, revealing a tiny empty space. "That's where you keep your weed," he explained. (I think that pretty much says it all.) BRATs haven't been made since the 90s, but there's a healthy used-BRAT trade -- apparently they just won't die. (Sounds like Troma should make a movie: Drug-addled BRATs Must Die!!!, or something.)

Cult Whiskies: Port Ellen

portellen.jpgOld, increasingly rare and made in small quantities, Scotch is the perfect cult item. For you non-whisky-geeks out there, one of the most popular styles of Scotch whisky comes from the Scottish island of Islay (pronounced ee-luh), known for its strong peaty flavor. This is one of those love-it-or-hate-it whiskys (even for lovers of whisky), with tasting notes that usually go something like "iodine, tar, explosive salt, hospital gauze, like standing downwind from a fire on the beach." A special sub-strata of whiskys are those that come from distilleries that have been mothballed, and Port Ellen was one of many that didn't make it through the whisky slump of the 1980s -- but happened to make really excellent whisky. Supplies of Port Ellen are still being released, incrementally, but as they become rarer and rarer, Port Ellen becomes cultier and cultier. It's not uncommon to find bottles selling for well over $1,000.

Cult Computers: the Apple Lisa

lisa.jpgThis is a cult that the Floss' own Chris Higgins belongs to -- I know he's been keeping his eye out for a used Lisa for years. Here's what he had to say about it: "For Mac geeks and computer people in general, it's a fascinating look into a very special time in computer history — after the success of the Apple II, Steve Jobs and crew at Apple were attempting to create the next big thing. After releasing the Apple Lisa, which was a flop primarily due to its $9,995 price tag, Apple needed a hit." That's $20,000 in today's money, which Apple felt was justified because the Lisa included such cutting-edge (for 1983) features as a graphical user interface (GUI), a mouse, a built-in screensaver and a then-blistering 5Mhz clock speed. (By the way, if anyone knows where Higgins can get ahold of an original Lisa, let us know.)

Cult Fiction: A Confederacy of Dunces

200px-Confederacy_of_dunces_cover.jpgDunces is cult for a few reasons -- one because it's rare; the author, John Kennedy Toole, killed himself 11 years before the book was published in 1980, so there are no more Toole novels in the ol' pipeline. It was plucked from obscurity by a giant of Southern literature, Walker Percy, and was awarded the Pulitzer in 1981. Hollywood has been trying to turn it into a movie for years -- Steven Soderbergh was recently attached to the project -- but so far, nothing doing. It's also considered cult for its quirky subject matter, namely its protagonist, Ignatus J. Reilly, a brilliant but slothful slob finally forced out of the house to seek a job by his mother at age 30. Eccentric and deluded, Reilly's inner monologue is one of the funniest we've read.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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