10 Crazy Urban Hazards That Could Kill You

The urban environment can be scary. While the dangers of the outdoors and wilderness survival are well publicized, city planners, businesses and the public alike struggle with how to mitigate the dangers with which the urban environment is fraught. Let us now explore the chilling survival dangers that may face us vulnerable humans in the wild, wild world that is the city. Eerily, some of the worst hazards come from attempts at charity, efficiency, or green innovation.

10. Monster Icicles

It is less well known than it should be that urban environments juxtapose walking areas for pedestrians with perfect places for icicles to drop from great heights. This can be deadly. In cities with cold winter climates, sufficient precipitation and the presence of tall buildings, such as St. Petersburg, Russia or New York, USA, a perfect storm exists that has, tragically, caused numerous injuries and in some cities, repeated fatalities. Environmental sustainability measures centered on making buildings more energy efficient have perversely created increased danger to the public in certain cases.

A 2010 article in the International Journal on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat describes how buildings built to be energy efficient (or renovated to be energy efficient) release less heat,saving energy but dramatically increasing the accumulation of potentially dangerous ice formations on the outside of skyscrapers. When temperatures rise, ice chunks fall to the city streets below. Icicles forming as water drips down the edges of buildings has caused tragic deaths, most notably in St. Petersburg, Russia where in a single year (2010) a shocking five people died and 150 were injured after being hit by huge falling icicles or ice chunks. Senseless carnage! Novosibirsk, the third most populated city in Russia, also saw a cold tragedy toward winter’s end in 2015 when a 20-year-old woman was killed by ice falling 14 stories from a canopy. Blame has been placed on officials for failing to ensure dangerous ice was removed.

9. Killer Dumpsters

Dumpster diving is a popular activity for the homeless, those trying to save a few dollars, or certain “freegans” trying to make a political or economic statement about thrown away food. Yet another kind of dumpster diving (for dumpster contents that are not garbage) have claimed several lives, prompting calls for a ban. These are the clothing donation bins that have caused seven deaths Canada-wide since 2015. The complicated mechanism of these bins, designed to prevent theft can crush people between metal plates aided by their own body weight as they reach into the bins in an attempt to retrieve clothing.

The problem is worst in Canada, for reasons still in question, but deaths have occurred elsewhere globally but in fewer numbers. People have been found dead in clothing donation bins, while in other cases, screams were heard but the victim died of crushing and suffocation before they could be helped. For example, help came too late to save one woman whose vehicle was still running beside a bin that she entered at night, only to get caught up and be left hanging from broken limbs. Efforts to curb the deaths include outright bans or voluntary removals of bins in certain jurisdictions, along with engineering team efforts to design a safer system.

8. Stray Bullet Strikes

Stray bullets can arise from surprising sources and travel in the strangest trajectories, killing people in cities who had nothing to do with either celebrations, gang violence, or warfare. Bullets travel farther than people commonly understand, less accurately than often believed, and can ricochet or achieve a lethal potential falling in an arc after being fired into the air. A growing number of people in the United States have lost their lives when a bullet entered their home or hit them in the street. Just one Baltimore street saw a three-year-old killed and then a nine-year-old girl injured by stray bullets in two separate incidents. These cases of accidental urban shootings are examples of a growing problem. Between March 2008 and February 2009, over 300 people were hit by stray bullets in the United States.

A variety of demographics were represented in an analysis of those hit, and those who were identified as responsible in stray bullet cases. Shockingly, children formed 30 percent of the victims. The urban threat is not primarily a street issue, as 68 percent of victims were struck indoors, including 40 percent being accidentally shot in their own homes. There is also an urgent need to stop the celebratory firing of live rounds at events such as New Years around the world. Senseless fatalities, such as the 2014 deaths of two children in the Philippines when bullets fired to celebrate New Years struck them in their home, serve as an example.

7. Airplane Crashes

Urban airplane crashes kill more people than you would think. Look out: the sky is not falling, but its contents just might. We might think of aircraft travel as safe, but when accidents happen, they are notably catastrophic a lot of the time. Furthermore, those on the ground are at risk, especially in cities. Tall buildings present easily struck obstacles, while lower buildings and roads may be hit if a runway is missed. Global aviation disaster records show around 200 crashes that caused fatalities on the ground. The single worst ground fatality event in aviation history resulting from an accident was the crash of an Air Africa Antonov-An-32B into a street market in the Democratic Republic of Congo that killed at least 225 and injured.

In 1992, a notable disaster took place when approximately 100 people in an apartment building in Amsterdam lost their lives as an airliner flew into the building, causing an immense fireball. Terrorism caused the most serious incidents, the 9/11 terrorist attacks killing more than 2,500 people on the ground. Large aircraft are also known to shed heavy parts, but a more common danger comes from small planes crashing in suburbs, such as one recent case in Southern California where four people in a house died when an 8-seater Cessna broke up in mid-air and caused the house to explode into a fiery mass upon impact.

6. Accidental Drug Exposures

The use of illegal “recreational” drugs presents significant risks to users. However, as prohibited street drugs get more potent and deadly, the potential for collateral damage in urban areas to non-users rises. The appearance of fentanyl as an illegal substance often used to cut less potent drugs poses an extreme threat to law enforcement and the public. An increasingly abused substance on the streets that is of medical origin, fentanyl often comes in a fine powder. If inhaled, even a tiny amount of this drug (that is around 50 times stronger than most forms of heroin) may dangerously inhibit respiratory function, easily causing death. In one case, first responders assisting an overdose victim themselves experienced symptoms of an overdose,prompting emergency management authorities to highlight the risks of accidental exposure.

If this was not enough, another substance originating from fentanyl, carfentanil, is around 100 times more potent than regular fentanyl. Terrifying! In addition to the growing threat caused by these rogue opioids proliferating in world cities, drug use poses other threats. Discarded needles are becoming ubiquitous, showing up in garbage cans, at bus stops, and in playgrounds, parks, and even townhouse common grounds. Accidental sticking with discarded needles may lead to exposure to bloodborne diseases if accidentally touched in a way that the skin of the unwitting handler is broken. Means of exposure include handling garbage, walking in grass, or picking up clothing in which a needle is present.

5. Extreme Smog

Major urban centres like Los Angeles, Beijing, and London continue to provoke health conditions and contain significant quantities of toxic smog. Extreme incidents involving smog have marked some of the low points of urban history, the London Killer Fog of 1952 being one of the most notorious examples.  The fog only lasted five days, but the chemical reaction between sulfur dioxide, natural fog, and nitrogen dioxide, creating highly corrosive sulfuric acid fumes in the city. Poisoned badly, 12,000 people died, while 150,000 were so sick they required hospitalization. By 1956, the Clean Air Act was passed to get control of the deadly risks of urban coal burning.

Despite the improvements, London today still has air that has become comparable to New Delhi or Beijing, two large cities known for their frequent air quality advisories. London’s problem with nitrogen dioxide continues, exacerbated by sunlight, which produces ozone pollution. Cities such as New Delhi, however, suffer from worse particulate pollution, yet the levels of potentially life-shortening nitrogen dioxide in London are significantly worse than conditions in a city as large as New York, putting a strain on health services. Air pollution in China causes around 1.1 million premature deaths annually, part of a constellation of problems that prompted Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang to declare “war on pollution” in China, with the intention of “making our skies blue again.” Efforts are focused on reducing steel production and coal-fired energy generation, which are key polluters.

4. Freak Urban Floods

Cities are often built in low-lying areas, while the removal of vegetation and construction beside watercourses in urban areas exacerbates flooding. Urban floods are especially dangerous due to the presence of electrical wires, with electrocution a noteworthy result of certain urban floods. Even in areas that might be thought of as being more dry, flash floods can pose an extraordinary risk in urban locales. In the large Saudi Arabian city Jeddah, 2009 and 2011 saw floods roar through the desert city, killing over 100 people. A lack of proper drainage and flood absorbing vegetation presents a challenge that must be addressed through better installation of natural infrastructure such as constructed wetlands and drains to slow and absorb floodwaters.

Furthermore, urban industry poses the threat of some very strange floods. Eight deaths resulted when thousands of gallons of beer were accidentally released into the streets in the “London Beer Flood” of 1814, while the “Great Boston Molasses Flood” in the United States in 1919 killed 21 people and injured 150, when a huge tank full of molasses broke and let out a wave of molasses 15 feet tall that rushed through streets and buildings, creating a half mile long swathe of destruction and death as people were trapped and drowned in the sticky substance.

3. Infrastructure Failures

We typically trust bridges, power pylons, overpasses, and roads to be well constructed. But a surprising number of deaths take place in cities around the world when the stress of everyday use does not match up to engineering projections and design provisions. Infrastructure collapses in developing countries or political jurisdictions without sufficient engineering codes are expected, but it may surprise people how many disasters have occurred in jurisdictions where infrastructure is thought to be quality and safe.

Between 1989 and 2000, more than 500 bridge failure disasters occurred in the United States! It is often not the result of an earthquakes, but floods or the negligence of a single motorist colliding with critical bridge support structures that sets off a collapse. Other times, engineering mistakes fail to take into account the enormous cumulative load from traffic, settling, and torsion or settling forces, leading to gradual failure or a sudden, catastrophic collapse. Collapses of overpasses above traffic are also some of the worst types of infrastructure collapse risks in cities. So, when you are traveling on a bridge, or below underpasses, you might want to think about the merits of not getting stuck under an overpass or on a bridge that possibly leads nowhere.

2. Asbestos Exposure

Urban exploring, where enthusiasts often illicitly traverse old factories, office towers, and tunnels, enjoys popularity but it can be very risky due to the chance of encountering asbestos. Asbestos, once welcomed as a problem solving “wonder material” with its fireproof insulator properties, is proof that the worst hazards are not always man-made, but natural in origin. Massive quantities of asbestos were once incorporated into urban structures of all kinds. Asbestos formed of minute, dangerous fibers can get into the lungs, where they cause serious inflammation and, eventually, lung cancer.

In the urban environment, almost any older building could be a dangerous storehouse of asbestos fibers. Even careful acts of urban exploration may cause ceilings, walls, stairwells, or old insulation panels to give way, releasing asbestos. No wonder asbestos exposure constitutes the number one threat to the urban explorer, according to Jason Robinson, who founded the Ohio Exploration Society. Not only urban explorers, but renovators and construction workers are confounded by the asbestos threat. Many urban construction projects have the potential to unleash massive quantities of asbestos when past construction work is disturbed. Dealing with asbestos is a liability but also a significant business activity, with workers suiting up until they resemble astronauts in a bid to get rid of the danger.

1. Gas Leaks & Carbon Monoxide

Colorless, odorless, and hard to notice, carbon monoxide remains an insidious and quick killer responsible for numerous deaths from small and large scale equipment failures and also installation mistakes. The substance is a dangerous, but formed of two completely harmless substances that make up your food, your body, and the air around you, albeit in a different molecular order. One molecule of carbon binds to one molecule of oxygen in a byproduct of certain combustion reactions, but the danger is much greater than the sum of the parts. Carbon monoxide is capable of physically replacing the oxygen in your bloodstream.

While taking the place of oxygen, this imposter chemical fails to provide the life sustaining support that oxygen lends. Eerily, the chemical has no taste, smell or color and is often not detected until death results, particularly if the victim is asleep. Many deaths have resulted from blocked chimneys, use of fuel burning machines indoors, or leaving a car running in an enclosed space. A number of deaths result every year, while lower levels of poisoning that cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness — or even seizures — may be misdiagnosed. Maintenance of equipment and avoidance of unsafe practices, followed by installation of monitors, are key ways to avoid fatal incidents.


10 Key Events That Defined the Cold War

Beginning in 1947, a high stakes geopolitical game of chess kicked off between the United States and its “superpower” adversaries, China and the Soviet Union (aka USSR). Although no direct battles were fought, a steady series of proxy wars, threats, and bickering all contributed to defining the Cold War.  

Following World War II, U.S. President Harry S. Truman became hellbent on preventing the spread of communism. His policy took special priority in territories considered to be in America’s “backyard” — a concept open to the interpretation that harkened back to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Truman, having already dropped not one, but two nukes on Japan, served notice to the world that “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” could easily pull the trigger again. As a result, the nuclear age had dawned, in which all the major players now scrambled to stockpile bombs like nut-gathering squirrels on meth in a mad dash to the control (or obliterate) the planet.

10. The Berlin Airlift

As punishment for losing the war (and ensuring they’d forever play the bad guys in every WWII movie), Germany also suffered the indignity of having its country divided and chopped up like a plate of bratwurst. These new boundaries created an early power struggle between the Soviets and their former Allies in the West. Starting in the summer of 1948, Berlin became ground zero in a chaotic scene in which Soviet Leader Josef Stalin attempted to cut off all land and water paths between West Germany and West Berlin. The air, however, was something the Russian strongman couldn’t quite strangle with his bare hands — and thus began The Berlin Airlift.

For the next 11 months, U.S. and British planes provided West Berlin with 1.5 million tons of goods, landing an armada of aircraft day and night. The citizens of West Berlin received much-needed food and medical supplies — and above all, hope. Finally, on May 12, 1949, Stalin lifted the blockade rather than risk the chance of shooting down the planes and starting WWIII. The entire ordeal proved to be a huge embarrassment for the Soviet Union and gave the United States an early lead in the ongoing cloak and dagger shenanigans for global domination.

9. Hungarian Uprising

What started as a peaceful student protest against communist rule, later erupted into violence and bloodshed on the streets of Budapest. But like many old European relationships, bad blood between Hungarians and Russians went back centuries. Further complicating matters, Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev had recently sent mixed signals encouraging Eastern bloc nations to act more independently as part of the new, less repressive de-Stalinization policy.

Taking this as a cue, Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy called for an end to the country’s one-party system, the total withdrawal of all Soviet troops and plans to exit the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet version of NATO). Khrushchev’s concept of “freedom” suddenly got lost in translation, and in the early morning hours of November 4, 1956, over 1,000 Soviet tanks and 150,000 troops poured into the Hungarian capital.

Nagy desperately appealed to the West for help, but with the Suez Crisis unfolding at the same time and President Eisenhower running for re-election, the Americans decided to send good ‘ol thoughts and prayers instead. By the time the smoke had cleared, 2,500 locals had been killed and another 200,000 fled the country as refugees. Nagy would be later convicted and hanged, transmitting a message loud and clear that any attempt to slip through the Iron Curtain would not be tolerated.

8. U-2 Incident

Disclaimer: this has nothing to do with either the superstar rock band from Dublin or stealth German submarines. Sorry. On May 1, 1960, the Soviet Union shot down an American spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers, who had been engaged in a covert mission as part of the CIA’s U-2 program. The Kremlin considered the intrusion as an aggressive act and blasted the aircraft with a surface-to-air missile near the industrial city of Yekaterinburg.

Immediately following the incident, officials in Washington D.C. went into damage control, spinning a yarn that Powers was simply er…well…in the neighborhood taking pictures of clouds in a “weather plane.” The only problem was the U-2 wreckage had been found relatively intact and contained sophisticated reconnaissance equipment designed to take high-resolution photography of military bases and other strategic sites at altitudes of 70,000 feet. Additionally, weathermen usually don’t carry a poison-laced suicide device around their necks just in case they crash.

Powers, a former Captain in U.S. Air Force and veteran of numerous other top-secret operations, was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in a Russian prison and labor camp. Although he was freed two years later as part of a prisoner swap, the event caused a considerable escalation of Cold War tensions. Later, Powers’s son, Gary Jr., founded The Cold War Museum in Warrenton, Virginia.

7. The Bay Of Pigs

President John F. Kennedy faced his first serious test as Commander-in-Chief only a few months after taking office. A paramilitary unit of Cuban exiles, trained and financed by the CIA, planned to invade Cuba in the spring of 1961 and topple the Pro-Soviet, communist government of Fidel Castro. The operation had been initially green-lit by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with hopes that the invaders would trigger a counter-revolutionary uprising across the island nation. It didn’t. In fact, everything that could’ve gone wrong did just that along the south coast of Cuba in an area called Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), where 17th-century pirates had once hunted wild pig.

At the core of the fiasco, the rebels never really had much of a chance of succeeding. Castro had proven himself as a popular leader and effective military strategist; two years earlier, he led a spirited people’s revolution to overthrow General Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt dictator propped up by Washington to protect U.S. corporate interests (and mafia-run casinos). Kennedy, fearing international blowback for being an imperialist aggressor (as well as not wanting to poke the Russian bear), reluctantly allowed the plan to move forward as long as no American soldiers were directly involved. He also scratched air cover in the last minute — a move that all but sealed the fate of the doomed mission.

After landing ashore at dawn on April 17, 1961, Brigade 2506 quickly realized they were no match for Castro’s well-organized Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). After all, the men and women of Cuba were battle-tested and confident, having fought for two and a half years during the Cuban Revolution. Furthermore, Castro’s arsenal now included Soviet T-34 tanks, tank destroyers, and anti-aircraft artillery. The end result proved to be a complete disaster for the insurgents — the majority of whom would be taken as prisoner, killed or wounded. The one-sided affair dealt the U.S. a humiliating defeat and set the stage for a major mano a mano showdown with the Soviet Union in the months to come.

6. Cuban Missile Crisis

On the morning of October 16, 1962, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy alerted President Kennedy of an emerging situation brewing 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Two days earlier, a U.S. military surveillance plane captured hundreds of aerial photographs, revealing a Soviet missile base under construction near San Cristobal, Cuba. What transpired over the next 13 daysbecame the most harrowing encounter of the Cold War — a crisis that would not only define the Kennedy legacy but bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The threat of a Soviet ICBM strike (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) hitting American soil rapidly turned into a frighteningly real possibility. Over the next two weeks, Kennedy huddled with senior White House officials, including Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss military options. The debate centered around whether to invade Cuba, launch air strikes or push for a diplomatic solution. On Day 8, Kennedy ordered a naval blockade in the Caribbean and placed all U.S. military forces at DEFCON 3 (increased readiness).

As Soviet ships and submarines sped towards the quarantine line, Khrushchev relayed orders for them to hold their positions temporarily. Meanwhile, additional reconnaissance photos confirmed the presence of Soviet MIGs at air bases in Cuba only heightened the mounting tension. In the next 48 hours, fear and anxiety became palpable, atheists found religion, and American armed forces reached DEFCON 2, the highest in U.S. history. Khrushchev then issued a pair of letters stating the Soviets would remove their missiles if the U.S. publicly guaranteed not to invade Cuba, and that the U.S. remove its missiles from Turkey. Finally, on the 13th day, the two sides relented and settled on an agreement.

Years later, McNamara shed light on a story underscoring just how close a nuclear war nearly occurred. While on patrol during the blockade, a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Beale, dropped warning depth charges on top of a Soviet submarine armed with a 15-kiloton nuclear torpedo. Unable to make radio contact with its base, a heated argument ensued among the sub’s three ranking officers whether to surface or go on the attack. Fortunately (and for the sake of humanity), cooler heads prevailed, and the rest, as they say, is history.  

5. Sputnik 1

Sputnik. Despite its funny-sounding name, most Americans saw little humor in the Soviet Union’s launch of earth’s first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957. The United States had been caught by surprise, assuming it held the inside track on advanced rocket technology; its stellar team of scientists included legendary ex-Nazi, Wernher Von Braun, who helped Germany developed the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. But with the launch of Sputnik 1the Soviets took the early lead in what became known as “The Space Race.”

In addition to the initial shock (as well as a bruised ego), the U.S. had to act fast in order to keep up with their rival’s accelerated program. President Eisenhower called it the “Sputnik Crisis” and citizens from coast to coast became gripped with paranoia, wondering what exactly this chunk of metal overhead meant for the future of life on earth. A few months later, concerns became further magnified when the American Vanguard TV3 satellite mission only managed to get four feet off the ground before exploding — a stinging failure dubbed “Flopnik” and “Kaputnik.”

The Soviets also claimed bragging rights for putting the first animal, man and woman in space on subsequent missions. Eventually, the U.S. would hit its stride and prove it had the right stuff after all. Eight years after President Kennedy famously declared the U.S. would put a man on the moon, Apollo 11 accomplished the historic feat with astronaut Neil Armstrong declaring, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

4. Chilean Coup d’état

After becoming President of Chile in a democratically-held election, Salvador Allende soon faced a much bigger opponent: Uncle Sam. The Nixon administration, along with the CIA, viewed the Marxist leader as a grave threat and feared radical, leftist governments would take root throughout South America. The Americans’ well-funded, covert operation worked to methodically destabilize Allende’s government and cripple his country’s economy. Moreover, the U.S. cultivated a coup d’etat by the Chilean military, adhering to the anti-communist rally cry of, “Better dead than red.”

On September 11, 1973 (yes, 9/11), armed forces attacked La Moneda, the Presidential Palace in Santiago with tanks, infantry and fighter jets. Allende escaped the initial wave but later committed suicide with an automatic rifle given to him by Fidel Castro. The victors established a military junta immediately afterward and installed General Augusto Pinochet, who proclaimed himself “Supreme Chief of the Nation.”

Pinochet (he later officially changed his title to “El Presidente”) would rule his Andean fiefdom for the next 17 years — a dark period marked by brutality and murder, making Idi Amin look like Nelson Mandela. During his reign of terror, Pinochet ordered the execution of more than 3,000 political opponents as well as the torture and imprisonment of tens of thousands of Chileans. His secret police, DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional), conducted a wide variety of abuses at the notorious Villa Grimaldi complex — a house of horrors that probably warrants a grisly top ten list of its own.

3. Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

By the early 1970s, Cold War troubles began to slightly ease following the historic sit down between President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that produced a peace treaty known as SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks). But the short-lived goodwill between the two superpowers later turned salty when the USSR invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979

Soviet tanks rolled into the Eurasian country in response to anti-communist Muslim guerrillas called the Mujahideen (“those who engage in jihad”) and their attack on the Afghans pro-Soviet government. The U.S. quickly condemned the act of aggression and countered with an ambitious covert plan called Operation Cyclone, providing substantial financial aid and arms to the rebels.

The nasty conflict eventually lasted nine years — and has been characterized by many historians as the Soviet Union’s version of the Vietnam War. Afghanistan, a landlocked, mountainous nation known for its extreme weather, fierce fighters, and supplying 90% of the world’s heroin, boasts a long history of dispatching foreign invaders. In fact, the territory is known as the “graveyard of empires” and has never been completely conquered — an impressive streak dating back to Alexander The Great. Not surprisingly, the Soviets found themselves trapped in a costly quagmire, resulting in the death of over 14,000 soldiers and over 50,000 wounded. The nearly decade-long war also saw hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians killed and millions more flee their homeland, primarily to Pakistan and Iran.

For their part, the U.S. paid a steep price as well. Operation Cyclone would go down as one of the longest and most expensive CIA operations in its long, spooky history. On one hand, the concerted effort helped draw the USSR into a protracted and expensive war that ultimately hasted their demise; however, the impact created further instability to an already volatile region. Consequently, this indirectly led to the disastrous rise of global Islamic terrorism, including Osama bin Laden’s development of al-Queda.

2. Olympic Boycotts

The war in Afghanistan prompted U.S. President Jimmy Carter to U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. This led to reciprocity four years later in which the USSR and other Eastern Bloc countries and their allies refused to compete at the Games of the XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles. For those keeping score, the number of wasted Olympic years: Politicians 8, Athletes 0.

Over the years, the heralded, quadrennial athletic competition has seen its share of protests, providing a platform for various political causes and declarations. From the iconic raised fists of Tommy Smith and John Carlos in 1968 to the tragic murder of 11 Israeli team members by Palestinian terrorists in 1972, the Olympics often features more than just sports. Adolf Hitler used the occasion at the 1936 Games In Berlin to promote his ideology of Aryan race supremacy in an egregious bastardization of the event’s intended celebration of global unity through athletics. Under the Führer, the Germans also pioneered the development of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), and Jesse Owens aside, the home team easily won the lion’s share of medals across the board.

It’s worth noting that the boycotts of the 1980s resulted in countless missed opportunities for athletes whose shot at Olympic glory only comes around once every four years. Decathlete Bob Coffman is just one of many examples of someone poised for greatness only to wind up as a sad anecdote in an article about the Cold War. Leading up to the Games, Coffman had been ranked #1 in the world in the grueling 10-event decathlon, training countless hours for his chance at immortality. That day never arrived — underscoring the randomness of fate which relegates some into obscurity while others are allowed to grace the box of Wheaties and become a Kardashian.

1. Fall of the Berlin Wall

By the late 1980s and over four decades of Cold War feuds, the USSR could no longer sustain themselves economically. Mikhail Gorbachev, a decidedly more progressive Soviet leader than his hardline predecessors, attempted to save his crumbling nation by allowing democracy to gradually take hold in satellite regimes, including the communist stronghold of East Germany (DDR). The Berlin Wall, a long-standing ideological symbol of division (both literally and figuratively), would become the centerpiece that ended Iron Curtain dominance, and punctuated by U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

In post-war Germany, the country had been split into four “Occupation Zones” controlled by the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The city of Berlin, although located within the Soviet zone, was divided gain as the Allies established West Berlin and the Soviet sector became East Berlin. In 1961, the communist government of East Germany began constructing a barbed wire and concrete Antifascistischer Schutzwall (antifascist bulwark), primarily to stem the mass number of defections of its citizens to the West.

The makeshift barrier eventually became a 12-foot-high, 4-foot-wide fortress of reinforced concrete, stretching nearly 100 miles. The heavily guarded wall and buffer area made escape far more challenging than the gnarliest obstacle course on American Ninja Warrior;  Berlin’s version featured a “Death Strip” consisting of soft sand, floodlights, attack dogs, trip-wire machine guns, and itchy-fingered soldiers with orders to shoot on sight. Additionally, the DDR installed 12 checkpoints, including the infamous “Checkpoint Charlie” in the American sector and the scene of some of the most iconic images of the wall.

On November 9, 1989, East German officials announced the border was officially free to cross with impunity. A mass crowd of people gathered at the wall that soon turned into an unbridled celebration as revelers used hammers and picks to help tear down the wall. They would later be joined by bulldozers and earth movers, paving the way for the eventual reunification of Germany in 1990.

Although the Soviet Union officially collapsed in 1991, sadly, the Cold War never really ended. It just thawed a bit. And when a former KGB officer with a Napoleon complex named Vladimir Putin got himself elected as President of Russia with an impressive 110% of the vote, he quickly served notice that the big, bad bear was back. No word yet from Las Vegas oddsmakers on who’s the favorite to win, but smart money knows that intelligence trumps ignorance every time.

10 Facts That Sound Like BS, But Are True (Part 6)

Back by popular demand, today we bring you 10 more facts that sound totally made up, but are actually true. We highly encourage you to take these tidbits to your friends and family, just to get a “WTF” reaction. They’ll probably go to Google to confirm it later, only to realize that you were actually right. We promise you that these are completely true facts, even if it sounds stranger than fiction. Seriously… you can’t make this stuff up.

10. In the 1700s, Rich People Let Hermits Live In Their Backyards For Their Own Amusement

During the 18th Century, wealthy people in England, Scotland, and Ireland had so few real problems to deal with that it became fashionable to indulge in melancholy. Small houses on these large properties called “hermitages” came into style. Originally, hermitages were a place where someone could be alone and read a book full of tragedy. But eventually, it evolved into keeping a “Token Hermit” in the garden, because it was guaranteed to bum everyone out.

They found a poor man on the street, or one of their existing garden employees, and offered to give him a job and a free place to live at the hermitage. The token hermit was forced to dress up in a druid costume and refrain from cutting his hair or bathing himself for several years at a time. These old men would eventually grow long, white beards. As a “hermit,” the whole point was to be left alone without any social interaction. But whenever the wealthy estate owners felt like visiting, they had to accept them into the tiny house to entertain guests.

This became incredibly popular. People were desperate to keep up with the Joneses, so they did the 18th Century equivalent of buying a fake designer handbag. If someone was not rich enough to actually pay a hermit to live out the rest of their life in the hermitage, they would often stick a mannequin of a druid in the window to trick their neighbors. Other times, they would arrange the kitchen table and furniture to look as though someone was actually living there. So if guests came over to visit the tiny house, they would assume the hermit had wandered off somewhere. Believe it or not, the tradition of having a token hermit in your garden has actually stuck around… Only now, they’re called lawn gnomes.

9. There is a Japanese Town Where the Majority of the Population are Dolls

In the 1960s, the remote village of Nagoro, Japan had hundreds of people living there. They were all employees of a company that was constructing the Nagoro Dam, which is used for hydropower generation. But when the dam was complete, there were no longer any employment opportunities, so the younger generation moved away. The only people still living there were the elderly.

A woman named Tsukimi Ayano grew up in Nagoro, and she moved to Osaka to find work. When her parents were sick and dying, Ayano returned to Nagoro to find that the population had dwindled down to just 40 people, and the school was shut down, because there were no children living there. It was such a small and tight-knit community that Ayano knew everyone who had died. So, she began making dolls to memorialize them. She placed the dolls as life-sized scarecrows in the spots that best represented these people while they were alive — whether it was whispering secrets on their front porch, or planting flowers in their garden. Then, she began making dolls of children to sit in the classrooms of the school. She has created a total of over 400 life-sized dolls. Ayano said, “The time will come when I have outlived all of the people in this village.”

8. Snakes Can Still Bite You When They’re Dead, Even If Their Head is Chopped Off

In 2018, a Texas man found a poisonous western diamondback rattlesnake in his backyard. He quickly grabbed a nearby shovel, and chopped the snake’s head off. Confident that it was dead, he went to pick up the remains of the reptile. However, the snake’s head was still very much alive, and it bit his hand, unloading all of its venom at once. Normally, when someone is bit by a rattlesnake, it is equivalent to 2-4 doses of venom. In this case, it was more like 26 doses. The man fell to the ground and began to bleed and convulse violently. Luckily, his wife was nearby, and she called 911. He had to be airlifted to the hospital, and it took a week of treatment before he was in stable condition.

After this incident, plenty of people were wondering how it’s possible for a decapitated snake to still attack. National Geographic explained that a snake’s bite reflex remains active for several hours after its death. Its brain is essentially pre-programmed to bite whenever something goes near it.

7. Scientists Have Experimented With Interspecies Surrogacy

While it sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, scientists have experimenting with transferring the embryos of an animal into the surrogate mother of a completely different species. This is called “interspecific pregnancy,” and it’s also referred to as “interspecies cloning.” The main motivation is to see if the embryos of endangered species could be carried by surrogate mothers to increase the populations. Cats and rabbits have carried cloned embryos of a panda, but the babies did not survive, because the cat and rabbit bodies rejected them.

A few of the experiments actually did work, though. But as you might imagine, it was between two species that were closely linked. For example, it has been successful with rats and mice, gaurs and cows, as well as two different species of camels. And… yes, there have been talks of experimenting with half-human chimeras, but this has plenty of obvious ethical issues.

6. Two Men Lost Their Arms During Tug-Of-War

While this sounds like a scene out of a Monty Python movie, it was an all-to-real nightmare scenario. In 1997, a group of adult men were playing a game of tug-of-war in Taiwan. There was a huge celebration for a holiday called Retrocession Day in a park along the Keelung River in the city of Taipei.

The media was gathered to capture footage of a massive game of tug of war. There were over 1,600 people pulling on the rope, when it snapped. This amount of force was enough to rip out the arms of two men who were standing at the front of each team. Their arms came straight out of their sockets, and it was all captured on video. They were rushed to the Mackay Memorial Hospital, and it  took over 7 hours of intensive surgery to reattach their arms. These men were actually some of the lucky ones. Tug-of-war has been played since ancient times, and it is responsible for several deaths, injuries, and loss of limbs all over the world.

5. In the Victorian Era, People Collected Serial Killer Figurines

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Maybe your grandmother enjoys collecting ceramic figurines, but it is something that has lost a lot of its popularity despite having been a tradition for hundreds of years. In Victorian England, people were obsessed with death. So, it only makes sense that instead of collecting figures of dancers or blushing brides, they wanted to commemorate stories of famous serial killers instead. Just a few examples were the Red Barn Murder, the Murders at Stanfield Hall, the Bermondsey Horror, and William Palmer, who was nicknamed “The Prince of Poisoners.”

If you’re wondering who on earth had the money or motivation to buy these things, look no further than author Charles Dickens. He was inspired by William Palmer and the Bermondsey Horror when he wrote his novel Bleak House, so it would only make sense that he would want to keep around a little memento of the people who helped him write another bestseller.

4. One Cloud Weighs As Much As 100 Elephants

When you look up at the clouds, they look like they must be lighter than air, or at least have a similar consistency to cotton candy. Most people assume that they are weightless, since they are floating. You have probably also experienced going through a cloud when you’re flying in an airplane. However, a cloud is much heavier than you would ever imagine. It actually weighs an average of 1.1 million pounds or 498,952 kilograms.

So how on Earth does something so heavy float? The water droplets cystalize, and this water spreads out, so the weight is evenly distributed. One cloud usually spreads across more than a mile, and they are a quarter of a mile thick. It takes over a million of these small water droplets floating in the cloud to form into just one raindrop. Lucky for us, when clouds have too much moisture it just rains, instead of crashing down on our heads.  

3. A Boy Scout Built a Nuclear Reactor in His Parents’ Backyard

In the 1990s, a kid named David Hahn was a boy scout in Clinton Township, Michigan. When he was 14-years-old, he took it upon himself to earn the Atomic Energy merit badge. He continued to remain interested in chemistry, and he caused several explosions on camping trips and in his parents’ basement. His mother forced him to start doing his experiments in the garden shed. By the time he turned 17, he wanted to build a nuclear reactor as his Eagle Scout project.

He started collecting small bits of radioactive material from smoke detectors. He bought thousands of lamps from an army surplus store to collect Thorium-232, and gathered antique glow-in-the-dark watches and clocks to collect Radium-226. He even pretended to be a professor to gather materials that are normally only given to certified laboratories.

Eventually, he had enough to create a real nuclear reactor. He had a geiger counter, and realized that the radiation was spreading down his entire block. So, he tried hiding it in the trunk of his car. One day in 1994, the police were called on Hahn because he was stealing tires off of cars. When the police opened his trunk, they found the reactor. According to Harper’s Bazaar, this “automatically triggered the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan, and state officials soon were embroiled in tense phone consultations with the DOE, EPA, FBI, and NRC.” It took over $60,000 for the government to clean up his nuclear waste, and his reactor had to be entombed in the Great Salt Lake Desert to make sure it could not harm anyone. Needless to say, the Atomic Energy merit badge has been banned from the Boy Scouts.

2. In Spain, People Have Fun Jumping Over Babies

In a Spanish village called Castrillo de Murcia, citizens continue to mix old Catholic and Pagan traditions together once a year for their Baby Jumping Festival. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. The babies born in the town each year are Baptized in the Catholic church. Then, a man dressed up in a yellow costume and mask that is supposed to represent the Devil runs through the streets hitting men as they run away.

Then, this same man dressed as the Devil begins running and jumping over mattresses on the ground with at least four babies laying on each one. This is called “the flight of the devil,” and it represents taking away original sin. Superstition leads people to believe that it will bring good health and prosperity to the child. As soon as the ritual is done, the mothers lay rose petals on the babies, and then bring them back to safety. So far, there have never been any recorded injuries. It is considered to be so safe, in fact, that people from all over the world are starting to bring their babies to participate in the festival each year.

1. Drinking Wine Was A Torture Method Used By The Spartans

The Spartans are remembered for being some of the best warriors in history. Every single soldier in their army was basically a perfect specimen of physical fitness. It only makes sense, then, that their attitude toward alcohol was very strict. Wine was always watered down, and they were only allowed to drink during certain times of the year. Getting drunk on purpose was unheard of, and if someone over-indulged in drinking, they were severely punished.

Young Spartans were taught about the dangers of drinking by watching the captured prisoners of war. These Helots were forced to drink “pure wine”  that had not been watered down. Once the young Spartans saw what it looked like to be drunk, it was seen as proof that it made men weak, stupid, and unprepared for battle. From the Spartans’ perspective, getting drunk was seen as a form of torture. But the Helots? They may not have minded so much. Most of us would take a glass of wine over the rack any day.

Top 10 Countries for Known for Executions

There are many countries with the view that some crimes can only be atoned for with death. Some of them are fond of dealing out death sentences, but don’t actually get around to executing too many people. Others practice what they preach, and rake in terrifying numbers of executions every year. Others still don’t even bother calling you a lawyer before randomly sending you to the hangman. And, regardless what you think about death sentence, some of their tactics are just downright nasty. Here are 10 countries that are happy to execute their citizens, should the need arise … or, in some cases, if they get a good enough excuse.

10. Belarus

When you look at plain numbers, Belarus doesn’t execute too many people: They used the capital punishment only two confirmed times in 2017, and women are completely exempt from the death penalty. However, while this is not a huge number, Belarus is notable for being the only European country that still executes people. As befits a nation that’s sometimes called the “last dictatorship” of Europe, their death row is extremely shady. Life is grim in its isolated, constantly illuminated cells, where the inmates are treated like they’re already dead. The officials never inform the inmates sentenced to death just when they will be executed, so every time the guards come, it could mark the final trip for one of them … or maybe they’re just taken to see their relatives.

Discussing the cases is forbidden with non-lawyer visitors, and almost everything about the legal process is shrouded in mystery — except for the eventual execution method, which will come in the form of a bullet in the head. In fact, the mystery even extends to the actual number of executions. Although official papers by Amnesty International only verify the two (and an ominous “plus”) uses of death penalty in 2017, experts think that the country has executed at least 300 people since it gained independence in 1991.

9. The United States

While the United States “only” executed 23 people in 2017 and 25 in 2018, it’s worth noting that no other country in the Americas executed a single person. Despite this disheartening comparison, capital punishment in the country is generally on the decline, and 2018 was the fourth year in a row where less than 50 death sentences were given and less than 30 convicts were executed. Also, despite 31 states still having the death penalty, only a few of them actually use the option — in fact, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and California carried out over half of 2018’s death sentences. Public support of the death penalty is also on the decline, though 56% of Americans remain in favor.

The methods and practicalities of execution are a constant source of contention in the states still indulging in the practice. Far and away the most commonly accepted method is lethal injection, which comes with its own set of problems, as the required drugs are hard to come by, and executions are often botched. Other methods include the electric chair, lethal gas, hanging and firing squad, though they’re only used by a handful of states and are now extremely rare.

8. Somalia

Somalia’s 24 official executions in 2017 divide 55 between the Federal Government of Somalia and the semi-autonomous Puntland. Of course, in a country long plagued by lethal violence, the definition of “official” can be somewhat hazy. Military courts and militant groups have indulged in summary executions, where the people sentenced to death are killed publicly, in front of audiences of up to 300 people. This is not a particularly new trend, but the executions have clearly increased in recent years, which has attracted the attention of various human rights groups and a local delegation from the European Union, which put in a request for Somaliauthorities to prohibit death penalty.

A major problem here is military courts, which gleefully overextend their authority and sentence people without due legal process. One case in Puntland was particularly problematic, as five young men who were accused of murdering town officials were killed by firing squad … only, reports indicate that they were given no access to lawyers, their confessions were coerced, and they were too young to be tried as adults.

7. Egypt

Egypt may not be the first country you think of when it comes to death penalty, but with their 35 executions in 2017 alone, they’re certainly up there with the more enthusiastic practitioners. In recent years, the country has shown a nasty penchant for mass trials, which are one of the easiest ways to get a death sentence — after all, who has time to go through all that evidence on a person-by-person basis, when you can just sentence them by the dozen?

The emergence of mass trials have seen Egyptian courts hand out death sentences to more than 100 people at once, which has dramatically inflated the country’s death row. Between 2011 and 2013, Egypt sentenced 323 people to death and carried out just one execution — yet a whopping 2,159 people received death sentences between January 2014 and February 2018. During that time, at least 83 executions were carried out, including 15 people who were mass executed at the same time in December 2017.

The reason behind the huge death sentence numbers and comparatively low amount of executions may be the fact that every single death sentence that the country gives from a mass trial is absurdly illegal under international law, and the UN is always ready to remind the country of this point. Still, it looks like for the time being, Egyptian officials seem determined to walk the path they’ve chosen. In 2019 alone, 15 people have been executed within no less than three weeks, and human rights campaigners say that all were subjected to unjust trials and torture.

6. Pakistan

Pakistan’s 60-plus executions in 2017 are far from the worst numbers on this list, but the country is still one of the most prolific death penalty users. Despite slowly shrinking its death row population, the country is still responsible for 13% of all global executions that we know of. Since 2004, the country has sentenced an estimated 4,500 people to death (or one person a day). In fact, Pakistan’s death row population accounts for 26% of every death row prisoner in a world … despite a 35% reduction in recent years.

There are some signs that the death penalty-happy country is slowly phasing this mode of punishment out, though. According to research by Justice Project Pakistan, their Supreme Court has overturned an impressive 85% of death sentences since December 2014.

5. Iraq

Iraq executed at least 125 people in 2017, and while the large-scale extrajudicial executions and “disappearances” of the Saddam Hussein regime are a thing of the past, the country can still be fairly cruel with its attitudes toward capital punishment. The scope of death penalty worthy crimes has been getting wider for 20 years now, and some observers have accused the country of a policy of “prison cleansing” — using capital punishment to purge the prisons from thousands of prisoners the officials are uncomfortable with for whatever reason. Executions can be summary, and often, the bodies are disposed in ways that give the relatives no time or chance to observe proper burial rites.

Iraqi death sentences can be pretty swift, especially if the thing you’re suspected of is bad enough. If she’s suspected of ISIS sympathies, a 42-year-old housewife with no legal counsel might find herself facing a judge and having just two minutes to defend herself … before almost inevitably being sentenced to death by hanging. This actually happened in 2018, and it took one judge only two hours to try, convict, and sentence 14 women to death.

4. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia executed 146 people in 2017, and shows no signs of slowing down: Amnesty International estimates that in early 2018 Saudi Arabia was at a pace of an execution every two days, and during the first four months of 2018, the country beheaded 48 offenders.

Yes, you read that right. Saudi Arabia is notorious for its strange (or rather all too familiar, if you’re into barbarian movies) method of execution: Public beheadings. It’s the only country in the world to routinely use this method, and the bodies of the executed are commonly put on display. What’s more, the crimes people lose their heads for are often … less than deathly serious. Saudi Arabia’s justice system doesn’t have a criminal code, which leaves many crimes and punishments up to the interpretation of the judge presiding the case. Mere suspicion of the person’s character can lead into a discretionary punishment called ta’zir, and the crimes people have been sentenced to death for can range from drug offenses and armed robbery to adultery, sorcery, and merely supporting a group petition.

3. Iran

Iran is a notoriously execution-happy country, with its over 500 executions in 2017 alone accounting for 51% of the world’s recorded executions. The country prefers hanging as its main execution method, and Amnesty International reports that a particularly unfortunate aspect of Iranian capital punishment is that it can be applied to particularly young citizens. Juvenile offenders as young as 9 (women) and 15 (men) can be sentenced to execution, and the country has no problem putting this to practice: between 2005 and 2015, at least 73 young offenders tragically faced the hemp rope, and the country shows no interest in changing this policy.

Currently, the UN estimates that at least 160 Iranians who were under 18 at the time of (allegedly) committing their crime are waiting in death row. They spend an average of seven years in their cells before their execution, and to add to their mental anguish, the authorities sometimes schedule their executions … only to postpone them at a last minute, so the cycle of waiting starts all over again.

Although official statistics are hard to come by, Iran has a history of using stoning as an execution method, occasionally flogging the convict before carrying out the death. This gruesome procedure is mostly used on women, and involves burying the person up to the neck (women) or waist (men) before people hurl stones at them until death or incapacitation. In the unlikely event that the person survives the barrage of stones but can’t escape the pit (which terminates the penalty, and technically gives a fighting chance to the men since they’re not buried as deep), their head may be smashed with a concrete block.

International pressure forced Iran to remove stoning from their penal code, but loopholes remain because Sharia law still allows its use.

2. North Korea

No one knows precisely how many people North Korea executes every year, but presumably the closest possible estimate is “lots.” However, things get truly chilling when you venture beyond mere numbers and look into their execution methods. Although the country technically lists hanging and shooting as most common implements of legally mandated death, their legislation allows pretty much any method as long as it leads to “extinguishing bodily life.”

While most death sentences in North Korea are carried out behind closed doors, the country is infamous for its public executions. Escaped prisoners have reported that a single facility can carry out up to 20 executions per year to serve as an example to others. Some of these public executions are fairly run-in-the-mill firing squad types, but every once in a while, the higher-ups can get awfully creative. There are (often unconfirmed) reports that some of the more senior officials have been executed by flamethrowers, mortar rounds, and anti-aircraft guns. What’s more, you can get a death sentence from pretty much anything, ranging from petty theft and prostitution to watching South Korean media.  

1. China

When talking about the people China executes, Amnesty International’s report on capital punishment gives up on numbers altogether and merely jots down a dejected “+”.  As ABC describes, this is because the country’s use of capital punishment relies heavily on secret executions, forced confessions and other things that raise some serious questions about the state of the country’s justice system. Some reports even indicate that organ harvesting may be involved.

China classifies executions as state secrets. It doesn’t release the names of the people killed this way, so there’s no way for outside parties to know even ballpark figures, and even the relatives of the prisoners tend to only find out after the sentence has been already carried out. Extremely conservative estimates say that China deals out death penalties to roughly 2,000 people every year, and the true number could be much higher. Only one thing is certain: The country puts easily more people to death every year than the rest of the world combined.

10 People Who Were Buried Alive

The common belief that idioms such as “saved by the bell” and “working the graveyard shift” originated due to live burials has been discredited. However, the fear of being buried alive was more than just a mythos in 19th century culture. On August 25, 1868, Franz Vestor received a patent for a security coffin that included an air inlet, a ladder, and a bell, so that anyone who was buried alive could alert others above ground and claw his or her way to freedom. In his 2002 book, Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear, Dr. Jan Bandeson says some 19th century European pamphlets noted one-tenth of the populace was buried alive. The percentage wasn’t accurate, says Bandeson, but the fear wasn’t unfounded either.

10. Countess Emma of Edgcumbe

During the Enlightenment, European intellectuals increasingly privileged theories verified by rigorous testing and recording of data. This approach was applied to the medical sciences. In the 18th and 19th centuries, various brutal tests were developed to determine whether an apparent corpse was actually lifeless. Still, not everyone who was buried was actually dead.

According to myth, Countess Emma of Edgcumbe was pronounced dead in the mid-18th century. She was buried in the family mausoleum. A church sexton who had attended Emma’s burial returned to the grave site, intending to exhume the body and steal the ring buried with Emma. As the sexton slipped the ring from Emma’s finger, Emma awoke, still wrapped in her burial shroud. The shocked sexton fled. Emma returned to the Edgcumbe Estate, walking half a mile. Today, the Countess’ Path on the estate commemorates her journey.

9. St. Oran of Iona

As late as the 19th century, human sacrifices were sometimes required when the foundation for a new building was laid. This practice was founded on the belief that the deceased, who might be murdered if he or she were an unwilling participant, could hold up the building if he or she were buried beneath a foundation stone.

According to myth, the Christian Druid, St. Oran of the Scottish Island of Iona, made an offer to his mentor, St. Columba, when St. Columba was building Iona Abbey (c. 563 AD). St. Oran offered to let St. Columba bury him alive in order to bless the abbey.

St. Oran was buried alive, but his fellow churchmen kindly spared him, eventually digging him out. St. Oran claimed he had experienced visions of the afterlife, which should have delighted the churchmen. Unfortunately, his visions had included neither heaven nor hell. Because his accounts were unfavorable to the Christian faithful, the churchmen buried St. Oran again. This time, they left him to die.

8. David Blaine

Taking his inspiration from Harry Houdini, whose appendix burst before he could attempt this feat, magician David Blaine allowed assistants to bury him alive. On April 5, 1999, Blaine was publicly buried in a coffin. The coffin was underneath a three-ton tank filled with water. Buried underground, Blaine consumed only liquid for seven days. When he emerged after a week, he was surrounded by eager photographers, who had been waiting outside his tomb. Blaine won’t reveal the secrets behind any of his magic tricks.

However, he has said he regularly undergoes endurance training to extend the length of time he can survive with a reduced amount of oxygen. Strategies to avoid hypoxic brain damage while he is limiting his oxygen intake include weight loss, holding his breath for gradually increasing periods of time, and sleeping in a hypoxic tent to increase his red blood cell count.

7. Mick Meaney

Builder Mick Meaney, of Mitchelstown, county Cork, Ireland eventually gave up his dream of becoming a professional boxer. Still longing for fame, Meaney dedicated himself to tirelessly pursuing another dream: breaking the existing world record for the number of days someone had spent buried alive. Since he had previously been briefly buried alive during a workplace construction accident, Meaney knew he had the mental fortitude to stay calm while buried underground. His physical preparation included eating a diet solely consisting of steaks (though he also allowed himself cigarettes). For three weeks, he also staged workouts, doing partial press ups in a large, open coffin that his agent, Butty Sugrue, placed in the Admiral Lord Nelson pub.

On February 21, 1968, Meaney invited reporters to what he called his Last Supper at the pub. That night the closed coffin, with Meaney inside, was lifted onto the back of a truck. The coffin was then lowered into a hole and buried seven feet underground. By the time he was buried, Meaney’s coffin had been fitted with two pipes, one for food and one for speech and ventilation. Meaney could release his waste through a hatch in the coffin. He had carefully considered every element of his stunt, except one. He never informed his wife, Alice. She learned about his plan through a radio report.

Meaney stayed underground for 61 days, beating American Digger O’Dell’s previous record of 45 days. Unfortunately, unlike O’Dell’s, Meaney’s achievement was never recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. He was deemed ineligible, since no Guinness judge was present when he climbed out of his coffin.

The time Meaney spent buried alive spoiled his life. Though he was offered an advertising deal with the razor company Gillette, and a world tour, neither plan came to fruition. His daughter, Mary, claims he spent his entire life trying to recapture his elation upon emerging from the soil. Though Meaney’s triumph eventually brought him sorrow, others found his experience humorous. At his wake, the priest delivering Meaney’s eulogy said, “I’ve never buried someone who has been buried before.”

6. Gaya Beauty

In 2009, South Korean archeologists created a full scale model, a digital recreation of facial and physical features based on information from a then 1,500-year-old skeleton. A 16-year-old with a wide face, slender fingers, and a long neck, her grace charms contemporary observers. She may have possessed natural beauty, the archeologists who exhumed her say, but she lacked prestige. An examination of the bones in her knees reveal she was often kneeling. This confirms she was a servant, since servants often knelt while performing household tasks or knelt in deference to their masters.

Her life may have been difficult. Her death was harrowing. By examining her skeleton, scientists confirmed that she was buried alive when her masters died, in accordance with the 6th century tradition in Japan‘s Gaya Kingdom. Deprived of oxygen, she suffocated.

5. Angelo Hays

In 1937, French inventor Angelo Hays, then 19-years-old, went for a motorcycle ride. He hit a brick wall while he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Because Hays’ body was disfigured by the accident, his parents weren’t summoned to identify the body. As he didn’t have a pulse, his doctor pronounced him dead. Shortly before Hays’ unpleasant pleasure ride, Hays’ father took out a life insurance policy on his son worth 200,000 francs. The insurance company holding the policy required an opportunity to verify Hays’ death before the money was awarded. Though his parents were resistant to the insurance company’s demand, he was exhumed two days after burial.

His body was still warm, because wasn’t dead. He was unconscious, due to the concussion he received during his motorcycle wreck. He survived burial, because his comatose state decreased the amount of oxygen he needed to stay alive. Since his near death appeared accidental, his parents were never prosecuted. Hays used his experience to benefit others. He invented a security coffin with a breathing tube, toilet facilities, and a radio transmitter, designed to allow those who were wrongly buried to convey messages above ground.

4. Josef Guzy

Contemporary doctors can bring those who are legally dead back to life using an automated external defibrillator (AED). However, physicians are still susceptible to human error when determining whether a patient has died. In 2010, Polish beekeeper Josef Guzy suffered a heart attack while tending his hives. An ambulance was called, and Guzy was taken to the hospital. His attending physician said he wasn’t breathing. He had no pulse, and his body was cool. The doctor pronounced him dead.

Guzy was taken to the mortuary. After Guzy’s body was placed in a coffin, his widow, Ludmilla, asked the undertaker, Dariusz Wysluchato, to remove her husband’s watch. When he slid the watch off of her husband’s arm, Wysluchato told Ludmilla she wasn’t a widow after all. He felt a pulse in Guzy’s wrist. As soon as he was safely returned home, Guzy said, he thanked the undertaker by bringing him a pot of honey.

3. Sassi and Punnu

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According to an Indian folktale, a daughter was born to an 11th century Hindu couple from the Brahmin cast. The delighted parents took their infant daughter to an astrologer, whom they hoped would foretell her future. They were devastated when he said their daughter would marry a Muslim man. This detail of the folktale has a factual basis; the sociocultural and sociopolitical tension between Hindus and Muslims eventually led to the formation of the country of Pakistan, which separated from India in 1947.

The couple couldn’t allow someone who might marry a Muslim to stay in their home, but they couldn’t bear to kill their daughter. Instead, they placed their baby in a wooden box and let the box float away on the Indus River. Atta, a launderer, was washing clothes in the river when he found the box. Besotted with the baby, he brought her home to his wife. The couple named her Sassi, meaning “moon.” Like many heroines in folktales, Sassi became a kind, virtuous, and beautiful woman. After he heard a troubadour praising her beauty, Punnu, a Muslim prince, was determined to meet Sassi.

Posing as a merchant, Punnu brought a caravan to Sassi’s village. Punnu charmed Sassi, selling her alluring perfumes. Sassi’s demure grace captivated Punnu. Sassi and Punnu married, and Punnu vowed he would never leave Sassi’s side.

Punnu’s family members were alarmed by his hasty marriage, as he had not allowed his father to approve the caste and religion of his beloved. Only a Muslim princess would be a suitable wife for the prince. Punnu’s brothers tried several times to lure Punnu back to his village. Each time, he rebuked them. Finally, Punnu’s brothers tempted him with drink. Drunk, he finally agreed to leave his beloved wife.

The next morning, Sassi awoke to find her husband wasn’t beside her. She roamed the desert, crying out for him. After her long search, Sassi was starved. Her throat was parched. Her feet were bruised and bleeding. When Sassi begged the gods to protect her from the advances of a lascivious, wandering shepherd, the Earth opened beneath her, entombing her. Later, when Punnu was returning to his wife, he saw her duppatta (shawl), laying near her grave site. When he pleaded with the gods to forgive him for leaving Sassi, her grave opened. Punnu, too, was entombed. The couple’s alleged grave is located near Karachi, Pakistan. Punnu and Sassi are believed to be the only couple in a Muslim country buried in a joint grave.

2. Lava

In 2015, a Kurdish Iraqi woman who has asked the press to refer to her only as Lava accepted a male co-worker’s offer to drive her home. In Iraq, women are only permitted to go outdoors when accompanied by a male family member. When she accepted a ride from her co-worker, Lava was breaking the law. Accusing her of dishonoring her family, her brothers coerced her into a car by threatening her with a gun. They drove into the mountains. When they stopped, they forced Lava to walk with her hands tied behind her back. Though she implored her brothers not to kill her, they dug a grave, pushed her into the hole, and buried her.

Fortunately, Lava’s brother-in-law convinced her father to tell him where Lava was buried. Lava’s brother-in-law and sister opened her grave. Her life was restored, but her safety was still threatened. Lava left the country.

1. Octavia Hatcher

Octavia Hatcher of Kentucky was allegedly bitten by a tsetse fly in the late 19th century. The bite caused a blood infection. Pallid and unmoving, Hatcher was believed dead, and she was hastily buried. However, others in her community who suffered similar bites gradually recovered from their blood infections.

Observing his neighbors’ improved appearances, Hatcher’s grieving husband worried he might have buried his wife too early. When he exhumed his wife’s body, his fears were confirmed. Her nails and fingertips had been worn away when she attempted to claw out of her coffin.

10 Incredible Facts About Crowd Psychology

Everyone who has ever watched a movie has an idea in their head of the stereotypical angry mob with torches and pitchforks, and most of us have a lot of preconceived notions about how crowds will behave. People tend to think, in general, that crowds are relatively easy to manipulate, and that oftentimes people will see terrible things happening to others and just let it go because they are part of a crowd. The truth behind all of this is a lot more complicated, and many researchers have spent countless hours studying the behaviors of crowds for all kinds of public safety related reasons. In today’s article, we will go over 10 fascinating facts and misconceptions about crowd psychology.

10. If You Need Help And You Are In A Crowd, Ask Specific People For Help

One of the most important things to know about crowds is the way diffusion of responsibility works. The idea is essentially that the larger a crowd is, the less likely people will be to go out of their way to help another person. The reason is that they feel more like somebody will likely have it covered, because there are so many people around. Now, this isn’t necessarily true if someone is bleeding out on the ground. If anyone is trained in paramedic skills, they will likely stop and not just assume that the person doesn’t need help, or that someone else will deal with it. They may even see another medical professional helping, and see a fellow medical type who needs their assistance and step in.

However, in a situation where the need for help isn’t quite as obvious, and it isn’t a traumatic injury or the like — or even if it is and you need help right that second but it isn’t quite as obvious — experts say there are a couple important things to do. The first is to ask specific people, and not just appeal to the crowd at large. Keep asking people until somebody helps, or you can find somebody who knows how to do what you need. It’s also important to be specific about what you need, and what’s wrong, so others can help you as quickly as possible. Humans want to help others, but they can get confused and shut down. If you address them directly, you remove their confusion, and get them to take action.

9. The Story Of Kitty Genovese Is Not Necessarily The Best Example — It Has Been Muddled

Many people have heard of a young woman named Kitty Genovese. She was even brought up in the movie The Boondock Saints as a justification to go around as vigilantes randomly and wantonly murdering mobsters. The story goes that the young woman was being murdered in front of multiple witnesses and no one did anything. It has been repeated by the media and amateur psychologists for years, and has been used as evidence that the bigger the crowd, the more likely people are to just ignore something awful happening right in front of them — even murder.

However, the truth — while sad — is a lot more banal. The woman came home at about 2:30 AM when there weren’t many witnesses around. A man who had been stalking her attacked and stabbed her. A neighbor from upstairs, who didn’t have time to come down, yelled for the attacker to leave her alone. He temporarily left, and Kitty ducked out of sight behind her apartment building to hide, now seriously injured. The man came back 10 minutes later and stabbed and robbed her. Kitty was soon found by a neighbor, who immediately called the police. Perhaps the first neighbor who called out should have called the police or followed up, but he yelled out and the attacker initially left. The next person to find her immediately called for help. There were also a couple other neighbors who may have been eyewitnesses and claim they called the police, but the police couldn’t find logs of it. Regardless, the popular story that there were 30-plus witnesses that didn’t try to help her is just a complete fabrication.

8. It’s Actually Hard To Stir A Crowd Into A Mob-Like Frenzy Without Other Factors

Many people like to think of crowds as a mob of panicky people about to go crazy at any moment and tear things up. If you insert your least favorite group, it’s easy to imagine a crowd of people quickly ending up in a frenzy and rioting. This isn’t really accurate in terms of real behavior, though. Generally, even people who have been pushed to their limit don’t go out and do violent things, even at the behest or with the anonymity of a crowd, unless they were already the type of person who was looking for an excuse to do something like that to begin with.

If you actually want to truly stir up a crowd, you’re going to find it quite difficult. Even in places like, for example, Ferguson, when the tension was at its very worst the vast majority of the crowd remained peaceful, even while a handful of rioters caused trouble and the police themselves (according to a report by the Department of Justice) illegally attacked the protesters. Even given a very good “excuse” to cause trouble, the vast majority of people are simply not violent, and cannot be goaded into violence without absolute necessity to do so.

7. In General, Crowds Stay Calmer In Panicky Situations Than You Would Think

Most people have a lot of preconceived notions about crowds, and one of the biggest is that crowds tend to be fairly jittery, and can go crazy at a moment’s notice if the right (or wrong) thing happens. Many assume that in the event of a shooting, bombing, fire, or what have you, people will behave in a crazy fashion and will tend to get themselves and others inadvertently killed or hurt. The facts, though, don’t really bear this out.

Children at schools with shootings tend to exit in a very organized fashion, even when doing so might seem a little slower, and they tend to rely on each other and work as a group to get to safety. While some may argue this behavior has been partly trained, the behavior of those in the towers on 9/11 certainly was not. Accounts say that most people actually filed quite calmly and civilly to the rescue routes from the building, and that this ability to stay calm and not panic actually saved lives. Human beings are quite hardy, and do not devolve into a mass of terrified tears the moment they get around a lot of other people and are faced with a crisis.

6. Crowds Are Not Nearly As Naturally Submissive To Authority As You Might Believe

One of the most common beliefs about crowds is that they are naturally submissive to authority, but that isn’t really the case. In fact, as anyone who has worked crowd security can tell you (even those who are obviously official police officers), crowds can be just as unruly or rude toward those who have authority over them as they are to anyone else. In fact, oftentimes that feeling of anonymity or being in a bigger crowd can actually give people a false sense of the power they dohave to defy authority.

Of course, this is really just an illusion, and unless the crowd is actually rioting, if the police notice you doing something illegal or harassing them to that point, the fact you are surrounded by people will not protect you. Regardless, police have also observed that crowds can be difficult to get to follow simple instructions, like which way to safely go, and that sometimes it seems even normally obedient citizens can end up defiant when they have the anonymity of a crowd. This doesn’t mean people are necessarily badly intentioned or trying to defy authority, just that trying to corral a crowd can often be like herding cats.

5. Oftentimes, Crowd Related Tragedies Are Accidental And Those Involved Were Unaware

The truth is that crowd related tragedies are almost never the result of people consciously trying to do bad things, or even being rabble-roused into doing terrible things. Sadly, sometimes the problem is just bad crowd management. To properly understand how people move, you have to also understand how they think, and some people are paid a lot of money these days to figure this stuff out before any big public spaces are built — especially sports stadiums. One of the reasons for this are incidents like the one that happened in Sheffield, England back in 1989. 93 people were killed and over 180 were injured due to bad crowd management at Hillsborough Stadium.

The officials were never sure where exactly the problem started, but believe it was a combination of inadequate barriers, as well as too many people being let in too soon in the wrong places without enough overflow. This led to many people being inadvertently crushed to death, or simply suffocated due to lack of air. Those causing the crushing had no idea they were doing it, and many were likely caught up in the mess themselves and just afraid they would end up another casualty. This is why theme parks spend so much money on making proper open spaces, and carefully controlling not just the amount of people in the park, but also go to great lengths to psychologically trick people into spreading out as much as possible. The right crowd management techniques can prevent an entirely avoidable tragedy.

4. Crowds Are Not The Homogenous, Hivemind-Like Herd Beasts Many Picture

Despite any misconceptions you have about crowds, you are probably pretty convinced that the bigger a crowd gets, the more likely it is to become more a single, hivemind–like entity. But crowds tend to be way more diverse and varied, and this usually reflects in their thinking and actions as well. If you have ever seen a political caucus take shape, it’s a reminder that just because someone is in a crowd doesn’t mean they suddenly have a desire to agree with all those around them.

This notion likely exists because a lot of the time when people are in crowds, it’s due to something that brings us together for a similar reason. Oftentimes people are going to a sports game, and even if the other teams fans are there, they are often in a different section. Or, someone might go to a political rally, or an amusement park where everyone likes the same kind of entertainment. But when you think about it, just a general crowd, anywhere, doesn’t really have anything in particular to bring it together, and is just made up of a bunch of random people, all of whom may view things very differently.

3. How Suggestible A Crowd Is Or How Potentially Violent Depends Mostly On Its Makeup

As we mentioned above, crowds are really just a bunch of random people, and tend to be pretty diverse, unless we are talking about a special event that literally brings one type of crowd together. This gives lie to the myth that crowds are typically violent or suggestible. The truth is that the tendency to violence or to do what a rabble rouser wants really just depends on the makeup of the crowd. If a crowd is of a more political persuasion and tends toward violence, then trying to stir them up into a hostile frenzy might work. However, a crowd of people at a Disney theme park is unlikely to be so suggestible, and you may struggle to find even a small group at such a place that really has any desire to even hear your message — you’ll probably be carted off pretty fast.

Even those prone to violence won’t necessarily do so in front of a crowd — it may even be quite the opposite. While some may feel a bit emboldened by a crowd to protest for causes, or to take part in a group that otherwise they may not feel strong enough to claim ownership of, that is a big step from actually committing violence or breaking laws. Many people who would consider breaking laws also don’t want to get in trouble for it, and tend to not want to be seen doing so — being in front a crowd doesn’t suddenly change who they are inside.

2. In A Volatile Situation, Multiple Groups Are Likely To Form, Instead Of One Violent Mob

In movies and other popular media, we’ve been given the idea that when things get really crazy, we will see one violent mob form, or just one mob in general even if it isn’t violent. However, unless you actually have police or other official groups to truly and fully restore order, that is not how it usually works. Crowds are not one homogenous entity and people tend to group up based on others who think and act like them. Even in a very short amount of time, case studies have shown that, given the chance, people will very quickly start splitting up into smaller groups that better fit their needs.

There is also no reason to believe that these groups would work against each other. In a true emergency situation where there isn’t full social order, not only do people tend to organize quickly into smaller groups, but the various groups tend to still work together for the common good. In general, people like to maintain a certain sense of individuality, but they also see a lot of conscious benefit to working with others for the common good. By organizing into smaller groups with people like us, but still working with different groups, we find the best possible compromise.

1. Groupthink Is More About Not Angering Those With Authority

One of the most interesting facts about crowd psychology is the phenomenon of “groupthink.” For those not familiar with it, groupthink is the tendency in larger groups to not bring up issues that may rock the boat, or cause controversy or issues even when you know those issues are crucial. The famous example of this is the Challenger explosion, where groupthink is said to have led to the horrific and totally avoidable loss of life. Some even teach it in psychology class with a dramatic reenactment, but many people have learned entirely the wrong lesson from it. Some people hear groupthink and think of it as a situation where there was a large group, and thus people felt less desire to create controversy, or just bring up something that could mess things up in front of so many people.

However, “groupthink” doesn’t really have so much to do with groups — large or small — but more of people’s innate fear of upsetting those with authority over them. Those in charge really wanted the launch to go off without delay, and fixing even an incredibly minor issue could potentially lead to a very, very long delay, because space flight often has a very short window to hit. Groupthink is a phenomenon wherein people are so worried in the short term about upsetting their bosses that they don’t push to do something that will upset them now, in order to avoid upsetting them worse in the future. Realistically, groupthink could probably occur in a setting of a one on one with an employee and a boss — people’s short term fear can override their common sense.

10 Reasons for the Start of the Cold War

On the April 30, 1945 Adolf Hitler committed suicide in the ruins of Berlin. Six days later Germany surrendered, bringing about the final defeat of the Reich he had claimed would last for a thousand years.

The world had been changed forever. Germany had been utterly defeated; France had lost her great power status, and Britain, almost bankrupted by World War Two, barely clung to hers. The United States of America and the Soviet Union had emerged as the world’s dominant powers.

These two new superpowers were still nominally allies, having struggled together to overcome the terrible might of Nazi Germany. However, even as early as 1945, the seeds of future conflict had been sown.

In this list we’ll look at 10 reasons why the Cold War began in 1945.

10. The Death of Franklin Roosevelt

On April 12, 1945 President Franklin D. Roosevelt complained of a headache; just moments later he collapsed unconscious. He died later that same day.

When the news reached the heart of the imploding Third Reich, Hitler celebrated amidst the ruins of Berlin. The German dictator was desperate enough to clutch at any straws that presented themselves, and he convinced himself that the death of America’s president would mark a turning point in the war in Europe.

Despite Hitler’s initial optimism Roosevelt was replaced by Harry S. Truman, and World War Two continued its inevitable course towards Germany’s total defeat. However, Roosevelt’s death did significantly alter the dynamics of the post-war world.

Roosevelt is remembered as one of America’s great presidents, but he had something of a blind spot when it came to Joseph Stalin. He hadn’t recognized quite how wily and ruthless Stalin could be, and wrongly believed himself to be quite capable of charming the Soviet Union’s brutal dictator.

Harry Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, was altogether more suspicious of the Soviet Union in general and Stalin in particular. While Stalin initially believed Truman to be a nonentity who could be easily manipulated, this proved not to be the case.  

9. Operation Unthinkable

Joseph Stalin spent much of World War Two haunted by the fear that Britain and America might betray him, make a separate peace with the Nazis, and leave the Soviet Union to fight on alone. In his worst nightmares his allies went even further and teamed up with Nazi Germany to destroy him.

While Stalin is remembered as one of history’s most murderously paranoid individuals, his concerns were not entirely without foundation. Winston Churchill in particular nursed a deep hatred of the Soviet Union that stretched right back to its creation.

In 1945, just days after the end of the war in Europe, Churchill asked his military planners to investigate the possibility of launching an almost immediate assault on Stalin’s Red Army. Churchill christened it Operation Unthinkable, for obvious reasons.

Quite how serious Churchill was about this extraordinary venture isn’t known for sure. In any event Operation Unthinkable was dead in the water with the report concluding there was no chance of success. The British couldn’t compete with the might of the Red Army. Even if the Americans could be persuaded to team up with the British, and they very much insisted they wouldn’t, the Soviets had more tanks and more men. The likely outcome was a long and bloody struggle.

Operation Unthinkable was shelved. However, Stalin soon learned all about it through his extensive network of spies. The news that at least one of his former allies was making plans to attack fueled his paranoia and contributed to the beginning of the Cold War.

8. Disagreements over the Fate of the Nazis

In November 1943 Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin met face-to-face for the first time. There was still a huge amount of fighting and bloodshed to come; but the end of World War Two was finally in sight, and an Allied victory was all but inevitable.

The Tehran Conference was an opportunity for the “Big Three” leaders of the main Allied powers to discuss not just the war itself, but also how to handle the peace. One of the major questions to be addressed was what to do with any captured Nazis.

Stalin offered a solution that some 100,000 German Army officers should simply be shot.

While Roosevelt assumed Stalin was joking, Churchill took him more seriously and stormed out of the room in a fury. The British Prime Minister had himself suggested that senior Nazis should be hanged without recourse to legal aid, but as a former British Army officer he could not sanction the idea of slaughtering soldiers.

The three men eventually agreed that their enemies’ guilt should be established at trial, but they had very different ideas of what this should entail.

When Stalin held a trial he very much intended for the outcome, and even the script, to be determined well in advance. The British and Americans were determined that the trials be seen to be free and fair. As a result several Nazis walked free or escaped with their lives, including Albert Speer, who was Nazi Armament Minister and one of Hitler’s closest confidants. This was certainly not the outcome Stalin had been hoping for.

7. The Defeat of Japan

Japan had been at war with the United States of America and Great Britain since 1941, and with China since 1937. However, the Japanese Empire and the Soviet Union, despite sharing a land border, had not declared war on each other.

This had been a convenient arrangement for both powers. The Soviet Union had been locked in a life-or-death struggle with Nazi Germany in the west, and the Japanese more than had their hands full at land and sea in the east.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany Stalin turned his gaze east. Stalin had promised he would join the war against Japan once the war in Europe was over, and he was more than happy to grab some territory from the crumbling Japanese Empire.

On August 9, 1945 the Americans dropped a nuclear bomb on the city of Nagasaki. Earlier that day the Soviet Red Army had launched a huge surprise offensive against the Japanese in Manchuria. Some historians believe it was the Soviet assault, rather than the immense destructive power of America’s new atomic bombs, that persuaded the Japanese to announce their surrender just six days later.

While the Red Army’s war against the Japanese was brief, Stalin insisted that it warranted the Soviet Union a zone of occupation in the Japanese Home Islands. On August 16, 1945 Stalin wrote to Truman asking to be given part of the island of Hokkaido, adding that he hoped hismodest wishes would not meet with any objection.

Roosevelt might, perhaps, have been amenable to the suggestion. Truman was far more suspicious of the Soviets and refused the request.

6. The Division of Korea

The Japanese announcement of their intention to surrender did not bring an immediate cease to hostilities. Stalin drove his armies on, determined to seize territory in the east while the going was good.

By August 1945 the Red Army was a devastatingly effective fighting machine, hardened by the titanic struggle against the forces of Nazi Germany. The forces of Imperial Japan, meanwhile, were much diminished. The best of the Japanese ground forces, and almost every serviceable aircraft, had been withdrawn from mainland Asia to the defense of the Japanese Home Islands.

The Red Army smashed aside the Japanese defenses making huge gains in Manchuria and pressing into Korea, which had been occupied by Japan since 1910.

There was no realistic possibility of the Americans mounting an invasion of Korea before the entire Korean Peninsula fell into Soviet hands. However, Stalin, prepared to trade influence in the Far East to strengthen his negotiating hand in Europe, agreed to divide Korea in two.

The Soviet Union would command the northern part of the country, which contained most of the heavy industry and mineral wealth, while the Americans took control of the largely agricultural south.

Both superpowers would install brutal puppet governments to serve their own interests. Korea was not split apart on any cultural, religious, ethnic, or historical basis, and the decision to divide the nation in two was destined to lead to future conflict. This came to pass when North Koreainvaded South Korea in 1950, leading to the hottest conflict of the entire Cold War.

5. Clash of Ideologies

Adolf Hitler spent a good chunk of World War Two waiting for the alliance between the capitalist Western powers and the communist Soviet Union to fall apart. The long-awaited collapse in relations never materialized during his lifetime, but Hitler had not been entirely unreasonable in expecting it.

The alliance between the big three powers was one of the most unlikely in history. It was only made possible by the uniquely aggressive form of fascism that emerged in Germany, and it could not long survive the collapse of the Third Reich.

Communist ideology dictated that the collapse of capitalism was both desirable and inevitable. While communism is now a largely discredited theory, for much of the 20th century it posed a mortal threat to powerful individuals who reaped the main rewards of capitalism.

Stalin might have been paranoid, but it wasn’t without good reason. Shortly after the communist revolution Churchill had advocated “Strangling Bolshevism in its cradle.” The western powers had attempted to do just this, leading to a brutal civil war in Russia that lasted from 1917 to 1923.

Neither side can be absolved of blame for the Cold War. While it was perhaps not immediately apparent following the defeat of Germany in 1945, the incompatible nature of the two competing ideologies of communism and capitalism made future conflict inevitable.

4. Berlin Divided

On May 2, 1945 the German defenders of Berlin surrendered to the Red Army. The battle had cost the lives of around 80,000 Soviet and 100,000 German soldiers.

Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the Allied forces in the west, is sometimes criticized for failing to drive his armies on and beat the Soviets to Germany’s capital city. It was a race that he might just have won, but it would have made no difference to the post-war map of Europe.

The division of Germany had already been decided through politics. Berlin itself lay well within what would be Soviet territory. However, the city would be divided up into four, with the Soviet Union, the United States of America, Great Britain, and France all given a zone of control.

This tiny enclave of Western democracy deep within Soviet controlled Eastern Germany soon came to infuriate Stalin. In 1948 he attempted to heal the open sore as he ordered the city to beblockaded, denying the Western Allies any links to the city by road, rail, or water. The Allies responded by flying in the supplies they needed. Stalin balked at giving the order to shoot down American aircraft, knowing that to do so would very likely result in war.

3. The End of American Isolationism

The United States of America had been traumatized by her involvement in World War One, where more than 100,000 Americans lost their lives. Determined to avoid being dragged into any more foreign wars America pursued a policy of isolationism. The nation maintained only a small army and avoided intervening in the affairs of other countries.

It didn’t work. America was dragged into another World War, this one even more terrible than the first. By 1945 isolationism was well and truly dead. The US had emerged as a global superpower with a vast military arsenal at its disposal.

Rather than retreating from the world, America would attempt to shape and control it. This was done even at the expense of democratic ideals, with the United States of America installing and supporting numerous dictatorships.

This more aggressive approach to international relations would inevitably lead to conflict with the Soviet Union, which was itself emboldened by its newfound superpower status and determined to export communism around the world.

2. The Fate of Eastern Europe

The British went to war with Nazi Germany in 1939 with the express goal of defending the right of Polish self-determination in the wake of Germany’s invasion. This was complicated by the failure of the British to declare war on the Soviet Union when the Red Army invaded eastern Poland having done a deal with Hitler.

The United States of America claimed to be fighting a war for freedom. This position too was complicated by the necessity of fighting alongside Stalin’s Soviet Union, a totalitarian dictatorship with few if any redeeming features.

When the war in the west drew to a close in May 1945, the Soviet Red Army had already occupied Poland and much of Eastern Europe. Short of attempting something quite as extraordinarily reckless as Operation Unthinkable, there was very little the Western Allies could do about this.

The British and Americans demanded that Stalin must hold free and fair elections in the territories he had occupied. Stalin readily agreed but went ahead and fixed the results of the elections regardless.

The Soviet domination of so much of Europe, a continent which had dominated world power far more than it does today, was a source of considerable discomfort and fear for America and the Western powers.

1. Nuclear Weapons

The atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 exploded with as much force as 15,000 tons of TNT. As many as sixty thousand people were killed instantly, many of them simply vaporized, as temperatures briefly exceeded those on the surface of the sun.

Both Roosevelt and Churchill hoped that America’s new atomic capabilities would intimidate Stalin. However, when the Soviet dictator was informed of the weapon’s immense destructive power at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, he had shown barely any interest at all. It’s now known that the news had not come as a surprise. Stalin’s spies had kept him well informed of America’s top-secret new weapon, and his scientists were already racing to deliver Stalin a bomb of his own. This mission was accomplished by 1949, far sooner than the Americans believed possible.

The dawn of the atomic age in 1945 vastly raised the stakes for both the Soviet Union and the United States of America. It was now possible for a single bomber, carrying a single bomb, to incinerate an entire city. The two superpowers would later develop intercontinental ballistic missiles and a stockpile of nuclear warheads capable of wiping out most life on the planet. Both sides were aware that if the Cold War turned hot, it might mean the end of civilization. This went a long way towards focusing minds on finding diplomatic solutions to disagreements that might otherwise have led to war.

As terrible as nuclear weapons are, and despite the threat they continue to pose to the future of humanity, they probably prevented all-out war between the United States of America and the Soviet Union.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Howard Hughes

Winston Churchill once referred to Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” However, the notoriously-quotable British leader could just as easily have been describing Howard Hughes — the record-setting aviator, filmmaker and drug-addled recluse who became the world’s wealthiest man.

Although many aspects of Hughes’ well-publicized life are well known (opiate addiction, poor hygiene, fear of germs, etc), he carefully managed to keep highly guarded secrets that remain a mystery to this day. His involvement in the entertainment industry alone created relentless intrigue by the celebrity-obsessed public — and even post mortem, Hughes’ stranger-than-fiction persona continues to fascinate as well as generate countless bogus stories augmenting his enduring legacy.  

10. Comic Book Superhero

Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee saw Howard Hughes as the ideal inspiration for the character Tony Stark, better known by his alter ego, Iron Man. Lee collaborated with fellow writer/artists Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck to create Stark as a fabulously wealthy playboy and industrialist, who first appeared as a character in the March 1963 issue of Tales of Suspense #39.

According to Lee, Hughes’ extraordinary lifestyle provided the perfect fit: “Howard Hughes was one of the most colorful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase.”

Iron Man (and later as part of the Avengers) became a highly profitable movie franchise starring Robert Downey Jr. in the role as Stark. Interestingly, Hughes and Downey both share a notorious reputation for drug abuse and erratic behavior; however, the diminutive actor (5-foot-9) does require super-powered lifts to match Hughes towering 6-foot-3 height.

9. Crash & Earn

Hughes’ interest in aviation developed at an early age. His father, Howard Hughes, Sr., a successful Houston businessman who made a fortune developing oil-drilling equipment in Texas, bought him flying lessons when Jr. was only 14. This began an obsession that would involve spending lots of loot setting around-the-world flight records, while also making bundles of money developing advanced aircraft for the U.S. government. He also destroyed several planes (and cars), nearly killing himself on numerous occasions.

During the making of his epic WWI movie, Hell’s Angels, Hughes insisted on attempting a risky stunt in a biplane despite only being a novice pilot at the time. He crashed hard shortly after takeoff at Mines Field (now LAX airport), breaking bones in his face that required extensive surgery. In the spring of 1943, Hughes lost control of his amphibian Sikorsky-43 over Lake Mead, killing two people on board. His next crash, however, would drastically alter his life forever.

On July 7, 1946, Hughes plowed into a Beverly Hills neighborhood, demolishing three houses while piloting an X-11, a military reconnaissance prototype of his own design. As a result, he suffered multiple serious injuries, leading to a lifelong addiction to opiate-based painkillers.

8. Don Juan de Tejas

Tall, handsome and determined to make a name for himself, Howard Hughes could have easily been mistaken for a young actor upon his arrival to Hollywood in 1925. Being a millionaire didn’t hurt either as he quickly built a reputation as a major player and notorious womanizer. His dalliances included a who’s who of Tinseltown’s leading ladies such as Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward, Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, and even sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

While the #MeToo movement continues to expose the film industry’s shameful past, the Hughes era may very well have represented the golden age of sexism and exploitation. The powerful studio head frequently stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he kept scores of women in different bungalows, providing the convenience to slip in and out of various love nests undetected.

Additionally, Hughes seemed to enjoy collecting starlets as much as bedding them; he made it a practice to sign young hopefuls to long-term binding contracts — a devious act of deception that prevented talent from working for his competitors while allowing him to sell their services to bidding studios. Furthermore, as a total control freak, his debilitating injuries, drug dependency and paralyzing OCD would have greatly compromised his libido and/or possibly rendered him impotent — and left him craving other forms of action.

7. Above The Law

Then and now, being rich and famous can be helpful in making problems disappear — even manslaughter. On the night of July 11, 1936, Hughes got behind the wheel of his Duesenberg Roadster following dinner and drinks with a date. He later struck a pedestrian named Gabriel S. Meyer, a 59-year-old salesman, who died at the scene not far from Hughes’ mansion in Los Angeles. The wealthy Texan was booked on suspicion of negligent homicide after witnesses told police that Hughes had been driving erratically as Meyer stood in the safety zone of a streetcar stop.

Following a coroner’s inquiry, eye witness accounts had abruptly changed to support the driver’s claim that Meyer had stepped in front of his slow-moving car. Hughes’ case also benefited from District Attorney, Buron Fitts, whose checkered career involved favorable acquittals in other high profile cases, including the questionable suicide of Paul Bern, the husband of his Hell’s Angelsstar, Jean Harlow. In the end, Hughes walked away scot-free minus court costs and a token $10,000 gift to the victim’s family.

6. Howard Hughes Air Force

Hughes spared no expense buying vintage WWI aircraft in an effort to make the dogfights in Hell’s Angels look as realistic as possible. The aerial combat scenes thrilled audiences and helped pioneer several innovative camera techniques. Moreover, his maniacal demands led to the death of three stunt pilots and a mechanic.

During the often-delayed shoot, Hughes managed to acquire five German Fokker D.VIIs, two Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s, and two Sopwith Snipes. American-made biplanes were disguised to resemble warbirds for both Allied and enemy squadrons; additionally, a massive, twin-engine Sikorsky S-29A received a heavy makeover for its transformation into a German Gotha bomber.

All totaled, Hughes bought or leased roughly 40 planes (although he often exaggerated the number to nearly 100), and hired an elite corps of leading stunt pilots, barnstormers, and WWIaces to fly them. As a gifted hype man, the director/producer often boasted that he had assembled the largest air force in the world despite the claim being patently false.

5. The Outlaw Self-Promoter

For many cinema buffs, the story behind the making of the movie The Outlaw is far more entertaining than the clunky western Hughes directed and produced. Nonetheless, in spite of its flaws and controversies, the film became a box office hit and the launched the career of Jane Russell — as well as spawn the apocryphal tale that the breast fetish billionaire invented the push-up bra.

In 1940, Hughes discovered Russell as an unknown, 19-year-old, buxom brunette and immediately signed to her an exclusive seven-year contract. The mogul then cast his latest ingenue in the role of “Rio,” a sexy señorita caught in a love triangle between gunslingers Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid. The infatuated filmmaker instructed his legendary cinematographer, Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane, The Best Years of Our Lives) to prominently feature Russell’s cleavage throughout the movie — and even constructed a crude garment with wires to further showcase her voluptuous figure. Russell, however, had other ideas.

In her autobiography, the actress described the ham-handed design as “ridiculous and uncomfortable” and never wore it. Instead, she fooled her bosom-obsessed boss by simply padding her bra with tissue paper. “He could design planes,” she said. “But a Mister Playtex he wasn’t.”

The discarded underwear would be one of numerous setbacks for the black and white “oater.” The Production Code Administration (PCA), an agency which set the entertainment industry’s moral guidelines, condemned the movie’s salacious, 38-D theme, which included scenes involving bondage and implied rape. Following the limited screening of an altered cut, critics were equally disgusted, prompting Hughes to pull the film from theaters. He then hatched an ingenious strategy, underscoring his strengths as a resourceful businessman and master of self-promotion.  

Hughes unleashed a relentless publicity campaign, targeting religious leaders, women’s clubs and other conservative groups to ban his ‘lewd picture.’ The scheme ultimately worked, as public outcry demanded to see the hyped production, leading to its 1946 wide re-release — and supplemented with tawdry production stills and posters declaring “How’d You Like To Tussle With Russell?”

4. Put It To Bed

Hughes spent a total of 37 days convalescing in a hospital bed following his near-fatal XF-11 disaster. The violent impact and exploding fuel tanks left him with a broken collarbone, cracked ribs, a multi-punctured lung, and third-degree burns. Predictably, the early prognosis appeared bleak, and doctors would describe his recovery as nothing short of a miracle.

During his downtime at Good Samaritan in Los Angeles (the same hospital where Bobby Kennedy later died after being assassinated), the workaholic tycoon sought to correct flaws with the XF-11 despite his compromised condition and drug-induced stupor. His stationary predicament also prompted him to make notes regarding improvements to his hospital bed’s design — especially for long-term patients.

Newspaper reporters, hungry for any new information about his recovery, helped promote the supposed medical breakthrough, detailing how the wounded genius invented a motorized, adjustable bed that could be “controlled from an elaborate aircraft-style cockpit.” Although this type of sensational journalism helped sell newspapers, the veracity is highly debatable.

In November of 1945, a year before Hughes infamous crash, an article appeared in Life Magazineabout an L.A. doctor’s invention called the “Push Button Bed.” The feature, replete with photos, included the passage, “Piloting the bed like an airplane from a panel of switches” while listing several of the same features attributed to Hughes.

To be fair, given the famous aviator’s background in design and mechanics, it’s plausible that Hughes could have conjured up something similar, but once he had recuperated and returned home, no bed patents were ever filed.

3. Licensed To Drill

While patrolling in the Pacific Ocean in the Spring of 1968, a Soviet submarine carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles accidentally sank, killing all 98 crew members on board. The USSR spent the next two months frantically searching for the wreckage of K-129, but ultimately never located its missing sub. The U.S., however, soon found it, and eagerly launched a covert operation to recover the sunken vessel, believed to contain vital information. Naturally, they called Howard Hughes to the rescue.

Codenamed Project Azorian, government officials partnered with the famous industrialist to construct a $350 million drillship capable of extracting a 1,750-ton sub located three miles below the water’s surface. The CIA devised an elaborate cover story, stating Hughes had built the massive contraption as part of his latest commercial venture to mine valuable minerals on the ocean floor. In a recently declassified memo, an intelligence agent described him as the ideal front to carry out their top-secret scheme:

“Mr. Howard Hughes… is recognized as a pioneering entrepreneur with a wide variety of business interests; he has the necessary financial resources; he habitually operates in secrecy; and, his personal eccentricities are such that news media reporting and speculation about his activities frequently range from the truth to utter fiction.”

The Glomar Hughes Explorer officially began operations in the summer of 1974 and was almost immediately plagued with mechanical issues. Additionally, news media rumors began to surface about the subterfuge following a burglary at Hughes’ Summa Corporation headquarters that revealed documents linking the agency to the Explorer.

Eventually, the entire costly project was scrapped to appease the Soviets — but on a positive note, the ruse later inspired the plot for the James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me.

2. The Man Who Killed John Wayne

The 1956 movie The Conqueror, by the Hughes-owned RKO Pictures, generally ranks as one of the worst films ever made. The ill-fated production, starring John Wayne in the hopelessly miscast role of Mongolian leader Genghis Khan, not only died at the box office but led to several deaths of the cast and crew.

Shot over 12 weeks in southern Utah’s Snow Canyon, the remote location was chosen to replicate Asia’s Gobi Desert — an utter failure consistent with the cringe-worthy dialogue that included lines such as, “I feel this Tartar woman is for me, and my blood says, take her!” Wayne’s equally ridiculous Fu Manchu, black wig and slanted eye make-up all contributed to make The Conquerora soundly defeated project. But the real tragedy occurred years afterwards, when nearly 100 members of the cast and crew developed cancer — as well as many Native Americans who served as extras portraying Mongolian warriors.

During the Cold War years between 1951 and 1962, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) detonated over 100 bombs in the Nevada desert; the fallout resulted in massive plumes of radioactive dust blowing downwind into the valleys and canyons of southern Utah, inadvertently contaminating everything in its path. Hughes further exacerbated the situation by having 60 tons of radioactive dirt from Utah shipped to Hollywood so filming could be completed on RKO’s sound stages.

The toxic hazard would gravely affect Wayne, the director Dick Powell, and co-stars Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendariz, and Agnes Moorehead — all of whom eventually died from various forms of the deadly disease. Although the iconic and controversial actor known as “The Duke” had been a heavy 6-pack-a-day smoker, he eventually succumbed to stomach (not lung) cancer in 1979.

Perhaps out of guilt, Hughes purchased every copy of the film, which he kept away from public viewing until three years after his own death.

1. (White) House For Sale

After losing to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 Presidential election, Richard Nixon blamed his narrow defeat on a nagging scandal involving none other than Howard Hughes. Nixon’s brother, Donald, had received a loan of $205,000 for his failing drive-in restaurant in 1957 — a payment many perceived as an attempt to curry favor with the then-vice president. But by 1968 — and proving time (and money) heals old wounds — the man known as “Tricky Dick” gladly accepted $100,000 in cash from Hughes shortly before moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. According to Hughes’s chief executive of Nevada operations, Robert Maheu, his employer told him repeatedly, “there is no person in the world that I can’t either buy or destroy.”

Greed, paranoia and a mafia-connected banker named Charles “Bebe” Rebozo would all factor in the eventual serpentine downfall of Nixon’s presidency. Rebozo, a Cuban immigrant who became a wealthy businessman and close friend of the President, served as the bagman for the illicit funds from Hughes; the money was then allegedly used to fix up Nixon’s Florida hideaway, dubbed “The Winter White House.”

The stupendously twisted plot also involved a lobbyist working for Hughes named Larry O’Brien — and if that name rings a bell, it’s because he later became the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) with an office at a place called Watergate. Several yers later, O’Brien would play a pivotal role the ABA/NBA merger and help increase basketball’s popularity with lucrative TV deals while serving as the Commissioner of the NBA — but that’s another story.

Terry Lenzer, a chief Senate Watergate investigator, said he believed Hughes’ bribe to Nixon may have led to the break-in that started the chain of events and cover-up, culminating with Nixon’s resignation in 1974. “The president was absolutely focused on Larry O’Brien when he became chairman of the Democratic National Committee because Mr. O’Brien had worked for Mr. Hughes as well,” Lenzner said. The Senate investigation never directly implicated Hughes — partly because he may have given money to other high-ranking politicians from both parties.

10 Things Americans Do the Rest of the World Finds Weird

When you live anywhere long enough, it’s all too easy to think that your society’s customs are completely normal, even if it’s considered incredibly strange to the outside world. American television and movies are often shown in other countries, so the rest of the planet is exposed to the strange things that happen in the good ol’ US of A…

10. Asking “How Are You?” When They Don’t Actually Care

In America, there is always a lot of friendly small talk going on in public places. These short conversations with cashiers, co-workers, and acquaintances almost always go something like this: “Hello, how are you?” Then, the recipient of the greeting responds so quickly, it blends into almost a single word, “I’mgoodhowaboutyou?” And the other person responds, “Fine, thanks.” It’s just a very long way of saying, “Hello.” It is such a pre-established norm that no one stops to question it.

In fact, if anyone actually responds to “How are you” with a truthful answer, the other person usually shrinks back in horror… because they don’t actually want to know about how you woke up late for work, or how your boss got on you about those blasted TPS reports. In other countries, they simply say “Hello” and don’t ask how the person is doing, unless they are actually friends.

9. Cheerleaders at Sporting Events

Other countries think that all competitive sports need a lot of protein, water, and cardio to succeed, but they’ve got it all wrong. Americans know what they really need to win a game: cheerleaders. Because it wouldn’t be possible to win a game unless the prettiest girls in school were cheering for them.

It’s so strange, in fact, that people in other countries will see a TV show like Riverdale or the movie Bring it On and actually believe it’s just an overly sexualized fictional trope for a series or movie about high school. Nope. It’s real, and it’s at virtually every high school and college in the United States. Cheerleading isn’t just a fun pastime for the sidelines of football games, either. It has become a competitive sport of its own, where girls and boys train in gymnastics and dance. There are even huge competitions on a state and national level where cheerleaders can compete for prizes and scholarships.

8. Pharmacies Are Basically Convenience Stores

In other parts of the world, a pharmacy is called “the chemist,” because it is just that — a place to pick up your medications. But in the United States, a pharmacy is basically a convenience store. You can buy makeup, snacks, drinks, perfume, magazines, and just about anything you would ever need. Many of the major pharmacy chains like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens are even open 24/7, just in case you need anything in the middle of the night.

Even though it’s called a “pharmacy,” the actual medicine counter to pick up your prescriptions is all the way in the back of the store, which forces you to walk through the aisles to get to any medicine. Unless, of course, you’d rather get your prescription medicine in the drive-thru, which isn’t something you see in other countries, either. Many other countries do not even have drive-thrus for their fast food chains, let alone the place where they are picking up drugs.

7. Wearing Pajamas in Public

When you’re on a college campus or the suburbs, it’s not at all uncommon to see Americans walking around in their pajamas or sweatpants. Whether it’s someone who is out late at night to grab something at Walmart, or a student who is rolling out of bed and showing up to class, everyone has an excuse as to why they think pajamas in public are okay. The idea behind this is that American people care more about their personal comfort, and most people can sympathize with that.

Some American people truly don’t care if you see them in their rollers and flannels. In fact, if you are living outside of a city and you get too dressed up to go out in public, people will stare and wonder why you’re trying so hard to look good. In other countries, people always get dressedbefore they leave the house. What a concept! It is completely unheard of to go anywhere unless they actually make an effort to look presentable. And if they don’t, everyone assumes that there is something seriously wrong with them.

6. Smiling at Strangers

Indeed, in most countries around the world, if you smile at a stranger it’s because you’re flirting with them. But in America, it’s considered almost necessary to smile and politely acknowledge another person’s existence. This is especially true for women, who are often harassed on the street by men who tell them to smile more. This can even happen in the workplace, where people are often told by their co-workers or bosses that they aren’t smiling enough. Not all Americans do this, though. In major cities on the East Coast, like New York City, people are so busy they don’t bother to acknowledge one another, so introverts can breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to worry about being rude.

Smiling at strangers is far more prevalent among suburban white people whose parents told them to be friendly. For this reason, it’s been called the “awkward white person smile.” It’s where you make eye contact with another person, so you feel obligated to smile. But, you’re not actuallysmiling, so it turns into an awkward closed-mouth curve of your lips. But in the Southern states, people actually smile and talk to you, so be prepared for an onslaught of friendliness.

5. Jumbo Sizes

In America, every fast food chain has an option to upgrade a meal into a “super size” or “jumbo size.” They make it even easier to indulge in more food by making these size upgrades just a few cents more expensive than the normal size, as well. Even with the standard sizes of small, medium, and large, America still has the biggest McDonald’s cups compared to everywhere else in the world, with the exception of Canada’s “large” cup. Even a “small” size soda is more than the daily recommended amount of sugar for a healthy diet, and yet Americans feel cheated if they don’t get to drink tons of it. They also expect free refills, which most people take advantage of, since… well, it’s free, so why not?  

Other countries around the world do not give free refills, and they do not give their customers incentives to pay for larger size portions. This is one of the many reasons why the obesity rates in the US are some of the highest in the world.

4. Leaving Tips

In the United States, it is customary to give a tip to servers in restaurants, delivery people, and basically anyone who is doing a service-based job. For foreigners visiting the country, they are often confused about who they need to tip, and who they don’t, and it becomes very baffling and expensive.

In most countries around the world, people working in the service industry are actually being paid a living wage, so it’s not necessary to tip them. In fact, people from other countries are often shocked to find out that waiters in American restaurants make less than minimum wage, and that the customers are expected to pay the rest of their salary so that they can actually survive. To make matters worse, many of the waiters and waitresses do not get to keep their tips in full when they do an exceptionally good job. Tips are usually collected together and split evenly among employees so that the cooks and busboys get some of the money, too.  

3. Using Red Solo Cups at Parties

Yet another trope in TV and movies about the American high school and college experience is those red plastic Solo cups you see everywhere. Just like cheerleading, there are people in other countries who aren’t sure if this is a real thing, or if it’s a badly written cliche. The idea behind drinking out of red plastic cup at a party is that no one can tell what you are drinking. If the cops show up, who’s to say you’re not just drinking soda?

This became popular among underage drinkers at college parties, and it continues to be an American staple to this day. They even make tiny shot-glass sized versions of red Solo cups. On top of them concealing what’s inside, it’s cheap to buy plastic cups in bulk and save them for parties. If things get crazy, it’s not possible to break the cups, and they are often used for a game of beer pong, as well. Other countries find this to be so funny they sometimes throw “American Themed Parties,” which is pretty much the only time they use red cups.

2. Overzealous Patriotism

American flags are plastered all over the US. They are outside of homes, in front of public buildings, and even on the back of pickup trucks. This may seem normal to most Americans to show some national pride. They see it as being grateful for living in a country that allows them to enjoy the freedoms that others don’t. And if you refuse to salute the flag or stand for the national anthem, it’s seen as practically an act of treason. In fact, the NFL now takes it so seriously that if players refuse to stand during the national anthem, their team will receive a fine for not showing ample amounts of patriotism.  

But for people from other countries, this is overzealous national pride is totally bizarre. In the United Kingdom, the Union Jack flag is rarely ever seen, except for national holidays. People don’t hang the national flag anywhere in their homes, and they are not constantly singing the national anthem or saluting the flag on a daily basis, either.

1. The Drinking Age is 21

In most countries, the drinking age is just 18-years-old. After all, if you’re old enough to vote for the next President or go to war to die for your country, why can’t you have a drink?

The drinking age was raised to 21 after the passing of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. If anyone is caught giving someone under the age of 21 alcohol, it is taken very seriously, and it’s considered “corrupting a minor.” Everyone knows that high school and college kids are breaking the law, but teachers still try to stop it. Before every prom night, most high schools in the US have a crashed car sitting on the lawn of their school. Some towns have even gone as far as to stage a mock crash — with the blood and all — to show students what happens when you drink and drive.

The logic behind this is that at 18, most people are still in high school, and they are seen as being too young and stupid to be trusted with the responsibility. By age 21, though, most young adults are either in college or working their first full-time job, so they may think twice about screwing up their life.

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Phoenicians

From about 1550 to 300 BC, the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean. They influenced the ancient Greeks and Romans, and traded with people from as far north as Wales and throughout the continent of Africa. In spite of inhabiting a large territory, including modern day Lebanon, very little is known about these people. But what we do know about them is nothing short of amazing.

10. They Invented the Letters of the Alphabet

Imagine having to write out a letter using symbols to represent words, and imagine if those symbols had different meanings in each geographical area of your country. It would be confusing and communication would come to a near standstill.

Thankfully, there was an incredible invention that broke words down into sounds and enabled people across the European continent to begin communicating more effectively with each other and their neighbors.

It was one of the most well known inventions of the Phoenicians: the letters of the alphabet. Each letter was assigned a sound and it made writing so much easier than having to paint or chisel out elaborate pictographs and symbols that represented entire words or ideas.

At around 800 BC, the Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet, assigning mostly the same sounds to the letters, while also adding four new letters and sounds to create a 26 letter alphabet.

After the Greeks had started using this new alphabet, the Etruscans and, later on, the Romans followed suit. The basic letters of the alphabet were easily adapted to other languages across Europe, leading to the alphabet we are familiar with today.

9. Lost Writings

Although the Phoenicians invented the letters of the alphabet, very little of their writing exists today. While historical sources mention the poets and philosophers of Phoenicia and we know that they kept records of their finances and religious beliefs, only a few inscriptions have survived.

Ancient Greeks and Romans wrote on stone or clay tablets, preserving their ideas for future generations. The Phoenicians were influenced by the ancient Egyptians and kept their writings on papyrus and parchment. However, since Phoenicia was not hot and dry like Egypt, the ancient writings did not survive over time. Furthermore, wars and raids also had a deep impact on what would remain for future generations to uncover.

Because of this great loss, much of what we know about the Phoenicians comes to us from what other cultures had written about them.

8. Worshipped Gods and Goddesses

The Phoenicians were polytheists, and they worshipped both gods and goddesses. Their most popular deities included Baal, the father-god, and Tanit (Astarte), the goddess of sexuality and the Mother of Heaven.

The goddess Tanit was unlike the goddesses we think of today. She was both a nurturing and a sexual being. People turned to her when they needed help and guidance, but they also prayed to her when they wanted love or physical attention. In the minds of the Phoenicians, women could be both mothers and sexually active, and the powerful combination of the two was said to have made the Phoenician women both brave and desirable.

Wherever the Phoenician people would settle, they were known to immediately begin work on building temples to their deities, making their religion a central part of their lives. For this and other reasons, the ancient deities of the Phoenicians influenced the gods and goddesses of nearby cultures, including the deities of the ancient Greeks.

7. They Practiced Magic

While little of their writing survived, two magic spells from the 6th century BC were discovered in Syria. What is interesting about these spells is that they are both for protection.

The first spell is an exorcism that was inscribed on a pendant. Two gods are called upon in the spell, and the invoker asked that these deities protect the wearer from “Flyers” and “Stranglers.” Both of these evil forces were believed to haunt the night.

The second Phoenician spell was believed to protect the talisman wearer from the demon serpent. It could have been used as protection from the evil eye, and it called upon a god to strike against the serpent.

6. Egyptian Magic Symbols

Phoenicians invented many things, but they also borrowed from their neighbors and from the people they traded with. When it came to magical amulets, they borrowed heavily from the ancient Egyptians.

Many of the magic symbols found on Phoenician amulets can be traced to ancient Egyptian symbology. Like the ancient Egyptians, Phoenician amulets also portrayed gods in their anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms. For example, there were bodies of men, fitted with the heads of dogs or lions. The Phoenicians were also fascinated by the sphinx and made amulets and statues of this form for religious and magical purposes.

5. Tyrian Purple

Imagine a time when certain colors were reserved only for the wealthy and the ruling elite. If you were among the common classes, you could have been executed for wearing a color above your station.

One of ancient Phoenicia’s largest exports was the dye for the color purple. It was made from the secretions of a sea snail that, when exposed to the air and sunlight, underwent a chemical change and transformed into what came to be known as Tyrian purple.

The Phoenicians themselves did not invent the purple dye. It was also discovered by the Chinese and Peruvians. However, for centuries the Phoenicians kept the secret of how the dye was made from their neighbors and were able to make the noble classes pay an immense amount of money for the unique color.

Eventually, Pliny the Elder discovered and published the method on how to make the expensive dye, and it did not take long before ancient Rome began making its own purple dye for the Emperor’s wardrobe.

4. Masters of the Slave Trade

Ancient Rome might best be known for its use of slaves, but the Phoenicians were the true masters in the slave trade. First, the Phoenicians were highly skilled kidnappers. Unclaimed and unwatched women and children were often grabbed by Phoenician slave traders who travelled throughout the Mediterranean regions in search of slaves. They also kidnapped slaves from the African continent.

Over time, neighboring people became extremely upset with the Phoenicians’ habit of kidnapping people to sell in the slave markets. At that point, the Phoenician slave traders made an effort to buy, instead of take, slaves from other countries.

Prisoners of war were almost always placed into slavery. Some of the Northern tribes would sell off unwanted children. Slaves could also be cheaply bought in Egypt and sold for a higher price in other regions. People with debt were also sold into slavery.

There was no shortage of slaves, just as there was no shortage in the need to own them. The Phoenicians were the middle men in the market, buying and selling, and making the slave market one of their largest sources of income.

3. Unrivaled at Sea

Much of what was written about Phoenicians points to them as being excellent merchants and seafarers. They traveled great distances to trade for raw materials, such as tin, to bring home and make into objects for trade in their local region.

Using rudimentary forms of navigation, it is believed that Phoenicians mostly did coastal navigation, following the coastline to various trading posts along the African and European coasts. At night and when they were farther out at sea, the Phoenicians navigated by the stars. In fact, the North Star has also been called the Phoenician Star because they used it as a point of reference while they were out at sea.

2. Phoenicians in the Americas

There are a growing number of historians who believe that the Phoenicians may have sailed across the seas and landed in the Americas. According to some, there is evidence of Phoenician culture among the Mound Builders of North America and the Olmecs of south-central Mexico. Evidence of Phoenician influence may have also been found in Iowa, Nevada, Oklahoma, Brazil, and Ecuador.

When the “Skeleton in Armor” was uncovered in Fall River, Massachusetts, 1830s, some historians felt that a Phoenician ship must have been taken off course, landed in Massachusetts, and left behind one of its deceased soldiers.

There was also a rock inscription uncovered in Nevada’s Massacre Lake that was believed by some to be a prayer for rain, written in the Phoenician language.

These, along with other archaeological oddities, have left us with more questions than answers.

1. Named by the Greeks

One of the most fascinating facts about the Phoenicians is that we do not know with certainty what they called themselves as a group. The ancient Greeks referred to them as Phoenicians, which means “red men.” This name may have come from the purple dye the Phoenicians were famous for. The Greeks called the land of the Phoenicians “Phoinike,” meaning “blood red.”

It seems almost strange that a large group of people lived, traveled, and traded for centuries, and yet there is no record, as of yet, that tells us what they named themselves.