10 Horrible Insect and Pest Infestations

Nobody really likes dealing with creepy crawlies and pests, but just like family members you don’t like and the looming specter of death that hangs over us all, sometimes you just have to confront them. If, like most people, you harbor no love for things with too many legs or that carry immense amounts of disease, here are 10 stories of horrifying insect and pest infestations to make you feel a little better about that large spider you found in the bath that one time.

10. Mazda keeps making cars that spiders love making nests in

If that Simpsons episode where Homer designs a car taught us anything it’s that people look for different things when buying an automobile. However, we’d hazard a guess and say that a feature everyone looks for when buying a car is that it should be spider-free. Mazda apparently didn’t get this memo and released a number of cars that for some reason, spiders seemed to love making nests in.

The problem was first discovered in 2011 when owners of the Mazda 6 noticed that spiders liked making nests in the car’s fuel and vent lines. It would later emerge that, due to a manufacturing oversight, a small crack leading to the car’s gas line could be circumvented by yellow sac spiders, which are known to be attracted to the scent of gasoline and “other hydrocarbons.” Mazda recalled the cars and sealed the crack, only for the spiders to find their way back in. As if having to drive with the knowledge that thousands of spiders could be chilling mere feet away from you wasn’t bad enough, the spiders made nests so large they could potentially cause the engine to catch fire. While there’s no evidence of any Mazda succumbing to a spider-related fire, would you buy a car knowing that it was full of spiders and also might randomly erupt in flames?

Executives for the company seemed baffled that spiders kept making nests in their cars, with one matter-of-factly saying he wanted nothing to do with the issue because he was scared of them. But here’s the best part: after multiple attempts to solve the problem, Mazda issued a software update some gleefully reported on as being a “literal bug fix.” To be clear, the fix didn’t get rid of the spiders, it just made it so that the engine wouldn’t overheat and catch fire. Which, to be honest, we think is worse because at least if the car caught on fire it’d take the spiders with it.

9. For a few days in a small town in Brazil it literally rained spiders

Imagine waking up one morning and looking out of your window to see a thin sheet of white covering your neighborhood and specks of pearly white silk dropping from the sky. After throwing on your hat and gloves you walk outside to enjoy the snow, only to realize that, wait… you’re in the middle of Brazil. After looking closer at the “snow” you realize that it’s actually spider silk and those little flecks of Colgate-white sleet you thought was snow are actually millions of spiders raining from the sky. Believe it or not this isn’t something from a crappy Arachnophobia sequel you never saw, but something that actually happened to a small town in Brazil called Santo Antonio da Platina in 2013.

The spider rain, as it was called by no less of an authority than the freaking Smithsonian, was noted by biologists as being a perfectly natural, if not unusual, phenomenon likely caused by a freak gust of wind blowing spiders from a nearby forest a couple of miles away from their home. Residents of the town seemed relatively non-plussed about thumb-sized spiders falling from the sky, as this video handily demonstrates. Warning, do not click that video (or watch the one above) unless you want to spend the rest of the day feeling itchy.

8. Poor neighborhoods in 60s-era DC used to have to deal with hoards “possum-sized rats”

As if being black in the ’60s wasn’t tough enough for African-Americans just wanting to go about their daily lives, residents of the poorer, predominantly black districts of Washington DC had to deal with – and we’re not making this up – “possum-sized rats.”

This was until a hero named Julius Hobson decided to do something about it by making it, in his own words, “a white problem” too. You see, Hobson was keenly aware that the the government wouldn’t do anything about the rats if it was just a problem that impacted black folk, so he decided to remedy that by driving around wealthy white neighborhoods with cages full of giant rats strapped to his roof, threatening to release them all if the problem wasn’t solved.

When panicking white people tried to suggest this was illegal, Hobson handily pointed out that nowhere did any law say he had a legal obligation to keep captured rats in cages, and that the law couldn’t touch him for releasing the modern equivalent of one of the 10 plagues of Egypt on their quaint little suburb. Hobson then politely pointed out that he had hundreds of rats hidden away and was prepared to keep coming back to release them for as long as it took for the problem to be solved. As Hobson expected, when government officials started getting complaints from white people they mysteriously started funding rat patrols in the poorer regions of DC and the rats went away.

7. A couple bought a house where spiders ended up “bleeding from the walls”

If, like a lot of people, you’re creeped out by spiders, we recommend skipping this one if you like feeling comfortable in your home. For everyone else, let’s talk about that time a couple in St. Louis lived what for many people would be their absolute worst nightmare: spiders bleeding from their walls and randomly raining down from the ceiling while showering.

As noted by USA Today, problems began for the couple when they purchased a $450,000 home near the Whitmoor Country Club in Weldon Spring in 2007. Shortly after moving in, the couple began seeing spiders, in their own words, “everywhere.” Specifically, the couple kept happening upon brown recluse spiders, a venomous spider that usually grows to around half an inch long.

The couple twice called exterminators, who were woefully unequipped to deal with the problem, and at one point angry spiders responded to their impending deaths by bleeding from the walls and showering the couple from above. The couple eventually got so sick of being covered in spiders that they moved out and sued the person who sold it to them. Unsurprisingly, they won.

6. India’s cobra problem

During the time of British rule in India, a scheme was hatched in Dehli to try and curb the country’s rampant cobra problem. In a nutshell, the British offered a bounty for dead cobras, which it hoped would eliminate the problem. However, wily Indians realized that just like in an RPG, they could farm the snakes for extra gold and began instead capturing cobras and breeding them.

When British authorities learned that some people had gamed the system and were making money from cobras, the scheme was quickly quashed. You can probably see where this is going. With no incentive to farm cobras anymore, everyone trying to cash in on that sweet snake-money simply released all of the cobras into the wild. The net result? Dehli ended up with an even worse cobra problem. Which just serves as a reminder that when you have a serious cobra problem, you should probably just leave it to the experts.

5. A woman in San Francisco spent years “breeding rats” just so she could keep releasing them into the city

Everyone, as they say, needs a hobby. Unfortunately for San Francisco one homeless female resident made it her hobby to breed giant rats and release them into the city for seemingly no reason other than… well, because she could.

Over the course of several years officials found that the woman, identified as Erica J, had bred hundreds of rats around the Japantown bridge, leading to an explosion in the local population of the vermin. Every time officials took Erica’s rats she somehow managed to acquire hundreds more and she was observed “living” with the rats, feeding and caring for them like some kind of rat overlord.

4. House infested with so many bird mites soldier says he’d rather sleep in Iraq

Bird mites are a tiny, almost invisible pest that is – shockingly – spread by birds. The insect feeds on blood and is noted as being exceptionally mobile and hardy, which combined with their small size makes them hard to find and kill. Although the mites cannot live on a human host indefinitely, they’ll happily bite and suck the blood of a person given half a chance.

As an idea of how terrifying a bird mite infestation can be, in 2012 a lady named Gayle White had millions of the bugs invade her house after thousands of birds decided to chill on her roof. According to her husband, who’d served across the world in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, the worst night’s sleep of his life was inside the bird mite infested house. White’s husband openly referred to the bugs as “tali-mites” and lamented that he’d rather sleep in a combat zone than deal with them again. White herself recalled waking up with the bugs crawling inside her nose and ears and finding bite marks everywhere on her body. So yeah, next time you have a bad night’s sleep, feel sorry for the woman who woke up with millions of tiny bugs gnawing on her butt.

3. There’s an island out there lousy with deadly snakes

About a 100 miles off the coast of Brazil is a pristine island called Ilha da Queimada Grande. Untouched by humans, the island is a nesting ground for millions of golden lancehead snakes, a kind of pit viper with a bite that melts human flesh on contact. The island is so densely covered in snakes that estimates say there are as many as five snakes per square meter of land, and it’s so dangerous that visiting it is illegal. On the rare occasion the Brazillian navy does visit the island to perform routine maintenance on an automated lighthouse located there, a doctor with a pack full of anti-venom is required to come along. Even then the bite of the golden lancehead is so deadly that even with anti-venom, there’s still a 5% chance of death anyway.

Stories tell of snakes raining down from tree tops and slithering through open windows to bury the family who originally operated the aforementioned lighthouse in an avalanche of hissing, flesh-melting venom. The snakes are able to survive thanks to the fact the island is a resting place for migratory birds and, thanks to the a complete lack of human oversight, have near total dominion over the island.

Speaking of which, the island’s nickname is, unsurprisingly, Snake Island. Because of course it is.

2. Pakistan had trees covered in millions of spiders

Spiders are remarkably adaptable creatures. For example, consider that time in 2010 when spiders reacted to floods in Pakistan by forming super colonies containing millions of spiders all hidden within individual trees that they sealed with spider silk.

The trees pretty much became no-go zones for Pakistani residents, with locals admitting that if you stood below them you’d be constantly showered with tiny spiders and that you could hear larger arachnids moving around within the confines of the silk cocooning the branches. While there was never any confirmation that the larger spiders were commanding the smaller spiders to do their bidding, we feel it’s safe to assume that they were. Also, as an aside, the silken webs the spiders spun around the trees they took refuge in made them largely impervious to water, meaning the spiders inside remained relatively safe during a period of unprecedented rainfall in Pakistan.

Contrary to what you’d expect, though, residents reported being happy to see that millions of spiders were taking refuge in trees since more spiders meant less mosquitoes, a common danger following floods. The same can’t be said of residents near our next entry, however…

1. There’s a building in America filled to the brim with spiders

In 2009, during a routine inspection of a Baltimore water plant, engineers discovered something that, regardless of your feelings about spiders, is pretty much guaranteed to make your skin crawl: it had somehow become a refuge for 107 million arachnids. And no, that’s not a typo.

Researchers later estimated that for every cubic meter of space, the plant contained roughly 35,000 spiders, and they observed that in some places the sheer weight of spiders hanging from light fixtures and ceilings had caused permanent structural damage. Just for a second, look up and imagine how many spiders you’d need to have crawling on your roof for it to begin to sag and strain under their weight. Feel free to continue thinking about that fact until you try to sleep later.

10 Artistic Projects Designed to Save the Environment

Art, in its many shapes and sizes, is particularly appreciated for its beauty and the emotions it stirs up. What makes any particular piece of art into a masterpiece, however, is the level of honesty that’s been infused into it by its creator. It is then up to us to see and appreciate it. Now, for all that art can give us, some say that it doesn’t really offer any utilitarian use. And here’s where “practical art” comes into play.

This is when an artistic project also serves us, or in this case, the environment, by not just focusing on the aesthetics but instead blending the visual and the utilitarian together. In a world where we can no longer afford to be wasteful, combining two or more purposes into one thing should become the norm, and these artistic projects are doing just that.

10. Oscillating Platforms

Somewhat reminiscent of upside-down ship hauls, Oscillating Platforms are the design of Felix Cheong from Toronto, Canada. What these platforms are able to achieve, beyond looking pretty, is to turn both wind and wave energy into electricity. Being stationary and docked along a pier, these Oscillating Platforms allow for visitors to get on in order to relax and meditate while gazing at the ocean. But while this is happening, the platforms are constantly generating electricity. The mast and sail are there to catch the prevailing winds, gently rocking the platform back and forth, and acting as a sort of oscillating water column.

The energy of the waves, along with the motion generated by the wind and the people walking on the deck, causes the air trapped inside the belly of the platform to be forced through a turbine. When water recedes away, air is drawn back in through the exposed top of the water column. This gentle back and forth motion causes the platform to constantly generate electricity. In a sense, one could compare this alternating movement to a person breathing. Others, on the other hand, could say that these Oscillating Platforms are a prettier alternative to offshore wind farms, let alone a diesel-powered generator.

9. The Skygarden

By taking to heart the old saying that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” a team of Dutch architects has managed to take a 3,225-foot-long section of abandoned highway in Seoul, South Korea, and turn it into an elevated walkway, completely covered in vegetation. Known as The Skygarden, or Seoullo 7017 in South Korea, this once derelict piece of infrastructure now serves a renewed purpose. Not only does it change the way people move around the city, it does it in such a way so as to give the passersby a sense of serenity while doing so. There are a total of 24,000 individual plants, spanning over 228 species and subspecies, all native to South Korea. They are all placed in different-sized containers and at different heights, so as to offer shade while not actually obstructing the view. “Our design offers a living dictionary of plants which are part of the natural heritage of South Korea and now, existing in the city center,” said Winy Maas, one of the architects. “The idea here is to connect city dwellers with nature, while at the same time also offering the opportunity of experiencing these amazing views to the Historical Seoul Station and Namdaemun Gate.”

The many plants are arranged in family groups, each of which is then further organized in the Korean alphabetical order. This makes the Skygarden, as Winy Mass said, into a living dictionary. This particular arrangement also allows for the walkway to change more drastically throughout the seasons. This means that during fall, the maple tree section is particularly vibrant, while in spring the cherry blossoms take center stage. Along the Skygarden, people can stop and admire the scenery wherever they want, but also have the option of stopping at the many art galleries, tea houses, restaurants, and cafes along the way.

8. Warka Water

Warka Water is the simple yet elegant idea of two Italian designers to bring fresh water to parts of the world that are suffering from a lack of it. Ethiopia is one such place, and many women in this part of the world have to trek for many miles each and every day to collect drinking water. This water is oftentimes dirty and shared with all sorts of animals, domesticated or otherwise. Warka Water works by making use of condensation. It’s nothing more than a 30-foot-tall bamboo tower, lined with a special polyethylene fabric that’s capable of trapping tiny water droplets straight from the atmosphere, and then funneling it into a container at the bottom. Each of these towers is capable of generating roughly 26 gallons of water per day, even in the driest of climates. With several of these towers, a small village would be able to produce all its water needs – literally out of thin air.

Another important fact about these Warka Water pillars is that they only weigh 130 pounds and can be assembled by only four people, without the need of any special tools, knowledge, or scaffolding. Several designs have been created, some of which are wider than others and able to provide shade for those around it. The name Warka comes from an Ethiopian tree which, for the people living there, symbolizes fertility and generosity, and is oftentimes used as a place for social gatherings.

7. The BVI Art Reef

Built to promote the growth of corals, the BVI Art Reef was born thanks in large part to an underwater photographer by the name of Owen Buggy. He came across a derelict WWII Navy fuel barge, known as the Kodiak Queen, and which took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. This barge was scheduled to be scrapped, but after Buggy found out about its historical significance, he decided that it deserved a better fate. He brought his idea to philanthropist Richard Branson, who owns Necker Island, part of the British Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean. The two, alongside several other non-profit groups, decided that it’s better to sink the ship, but not before building an 80-foot mesh kraken on top of it. (Naturally.) After several years of careful planning and scouring the ocean floor for the perfect location, the project was finally ready.

The old ship, as well as the huge kraken that was sits on top as if it was the one that actually took the barge down to the bottom of the sea, will be the foundation on which a new coral reef will form, attracting, in turn, the entire underwater ecosystem that goes with it. The BVI Art Reef is open to all divers, marine scientists, and local students from the British Virgin Islands. The BVI Art Reef gives us a unique platform to capture people’s attention on the importance of addressing ocean conservation and in particular, combat climate change, protect our coral reefs, and rehabilitate vulnerable marine species,” said Branson in an interview. “This is an incredible opportunity to create one of the most meaningful dive sites in the world.”

6. Beyond the Wave

Beyond the Wave is an artistic concept aimed particularly at Refshaleøen, an old industrial site, part of the harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark. When the shipyard went bankrupt back in 1996, the area became home to many creative entrepreneurs, small craftsmen, and flea markets. It also acts as a regular venue for various social events and music festivals. Now, even though Beyond the Wave could work in other places, Refshaleøen was initially chosen because of one key factor – the wind. The area is subject to an almost constant breeze coming in from the North Sea, making this place perfect for what this project has to offer. The idea is to make use of as many 50 to 80-foot-tall flexible piezoelectric poles as possible. These move in the wind and generate electricity through pressure.

Attached to these poles will be a series of 5-foot-wide ribbons that will flow in the breeze, creating the waves the project references in its name. These ribbons, too, have the power to generate electricity, since they’re made out of a transparent organic solar material. Together, the poles and the ribbons will act as a sort of fluid roof over the entire neighborhood. The electricity they generate will be used partially to illuminate the installation, as well as to heal the heavily polluted soil beneath. It will be able to achieve this via a process known as electro osmosis. This technique will be able to separate pollutants, such as heavy metals, from the other matter found in the ground.

5. The Exhale Chandelier

Chandeliers are almost always the centerpiece of every palace around the world. And even though palace life is not as it used to be, the chandelier has made a comeback. Here’s one that not only lights up the room, but also cleans up the air by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen.  So, how does it work? As you can clearly see, the Exhale Chandelier, as it’s called, is green. And it’s green because it’s filled with algae. Julian Melchiorri is not only a designer, but also a leading biochemical technology researcher. Among various other projects, he was increasingly interested in how his research can be more easily applied to everyday life. And with this particular object, we could say that he achieved that goal.

The chandelier has a metal frame that’s entirely handmade, and which supports 70 different-sized leaf modules, displayed in a radial array. These can be rearranged to form many other shapes, giving it a wider versatility than the one presented. With it, Melchiorri also tried to mimic the symbiotic relationship found in nature, where one being’s waste is something else’s valuable resource. In this case, these algae offer us their exhaled oxygen in exchange for our exhaled CO2.

4. The Clear Orb

The Clear Orb is a conceptual design presented at the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative Competition, with the purpose of aiding California with an annual influx of about 500,000 gallons of fresh water. Designed to be accessible from the Santa Monica Pier via the beach boardwalk, the Clear Orb will actually be located several hundred feet offshore. Seen from a distance, the huge sphere would look like it’s hovering just above the waterline. But once close, you’ll see that there’s actually a way to get there. Known as the “Contemplation Walkway,” the 1,000-foot-long path gradually descends to the point where you’d be below sea level.

The inner walls of the walkway will be covered in a list of all extinct animals, in an attempt at getting the visitors to be more considerate about their fellow inhabitants. The outer walls, on the other hand, will be able to harness the power generated by the waves and turn it into electricity. The sphere itself is 130 feet in diameter, and with the help of some solar contractors located on top, it’s able to pump seawater inside. Once there, it evaporates and condenses, thus turning into fresh, drinkable water. It’s then released through the bottom, cascading over the Orb’s supporting structure.

3. The Smog Free Tower

Beginning with a Kickstarter campaign, the Smog Free Tower is the brainchild of Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde. Standing at 23 feet, the tower is able to purify over a million cubic feet of air per hour, and runs on renewable wind energy. It first appeared in Rotterdam and then made a tour around China. And because of its minimalistic design, the Smog Free Tower is able to blend perfectly with an urban landscape. What it does best is to collect two certain types of pollutants, PM2.5 and PM10. This particle matter (PM) is a mixture of liquids and solids that come together to form tiny droplets that float in the air.

These can get into the lungs, causing all sorts of serious health problems. These microscopic particles are also the main cause for smog. The Smog Free Tower, however, is able to catch 75% of these. To make things even more interesting, the tower is also able to compress these particles and create pieces of jewelry from it. Roughly 35,000 cubic feet of filtered air is needed to produce one ring that can be then purchased by a passersby.

2. The Spiraling Treetop Walkway

Designed by EFFEKT architecture studio, the Spiraling Treetop Walkway will be one of Denmark’s newest acquisitions in 2018. The 130-foot-tall spiraling structure is basically an observation tower that will allow its visitors to observe a forest from a completely different perspective. It will start from the ground and will go all the way up, offering a more in-depth view at all the levels of the forest. Once at the very top, people will be presented with a 360 degree view that extends all the way out to sea. Being shaped, more or less, like an hourglass instead of a cylinder, it gives the walkway a more slender look overall, as well as greater stability and a larger observation deck at the top.

The reason behind its construction and the effects it can have the environment are not as straightforward as the other entries on this list. What it does, however, is to bring people back in contact with nature. While this might seem like something that’s not particularly useful in the greater scheme of things, the fact that we’re so disconnected with nature is the main reason why we’re so apathetic when it comes to matters such as deforestation, animal extinction, and the shifting climate.

1. Trash Animals

Now, for the last entry on this list, we’ve actually chosen to go with some street art. Designed and put together by Bordalo Segundo, these amazing street murals are scattered throughout his hometown of Lisbon, Portugal, and are collectively known as Trash Animals. The name was chosen because these giant murals are actually made out of trash Bordalo found on the streets of Lisbon. In Portugal, street art is not only allowed, but actually encouraged by the authorities.

Street art, as one local official puts it, is a means for the ordinary citizen to experience art without actually having to go to a museum or gallery to do so. Children, especially those living in inner-city neighborhoods, can become inspired by simply walking down the street. So, in other words, Bordalo Segundo’s Trash Animals not only help the citizens of Lisbon to get more in contact with art, but also raise awareness of the effects of climate change. And let’s not forget the fact that actual trash was used to make these murals – trash that would have otherwise made its way either at the dump or in the ocean.

10 Reasons Zoos Are Bad for the Planet

Most people have fond memories of going to the zoo. The experience of waiting, in anticipation, to see a lion or a tiger come out of its cave. Leaning close to the glass as a chimpanzee or orangutan comes closer.

However, the animals we witnessed on those visits didn’t feel the same thrill that we did. They were, quite possibly, in great pain. We’ve come to accept that other sentient beings can be used for entertainment or pleasure, but it may be time reevaluate that belief. It turns out that zoos have a dramatically negative effect on the animals they’re supposed to protect. And although zoo advocates would argue that endangered species are protected by zoos, the overwhelming consensus is that it’s just not true.

10. Propagation, Not Preservation

One of the initial moral justifications for erecting zoos was that it protected species that were endangered, and allowed them to reproduce in a safe environment before being sent back into the wild. This argument has proved to be incorrect on several accounts. The truth is that most animals confined in zoos are not endangered. In addition, animals born in captivity have small survival chances if they’re released into the wild. Even so, most zoos have no intention of releasing baby animals and parents into the wild. Zoos, as we sometimes forget, are businesses and what drives business is new products. The arrival of a baby chimpanzee or cub brings in customers, which torpedoes the narrative of breeding for preservation.

If we want to become serious about protecting endangered species, we must protect them in the wild. Studies have shown that “without conservation in the wild there is no point in captive breeding.” If we’re seriously about protect animals, let’s start in their natural habitats.

9. Traumatizing For Animals

Billy is a 32-year-old Malaysian Elephant who has lived for two decades in the Los Angeles Zoo. His other elephant companions died and he was left all alone. Despite having an average lifespan of 65-70 years, his fellow elephants, at the Los Angeles Zoo, died before the age of 20. Billy himself displayed signs of trauma and hardship, uncommon for such a young elephant. He had tail abscesses, infections, and even developed a stereotypy — a repetitive head tic that is indicative of severe duress commonly found in confined animals and humans.

Elephants are profoundly intelligent creatures who can recognize their faces in the mirror, comfort one another, and remember instances of pain. Their experience in zoos is not only captivity but imprisonment for these intelligent creatures. For most animals kept in captivity, a psychological disorder develops called zoochosis, in which the animal paces and sways, relieving itself out of frustration and boredom. Confined to small spaces and without the need to hunt or find food, animals lose what makes them unique. What is a lion, if he does not hunt? Zoos create an existence that not only demeans animals but forces them to lose their very identity.  

8. Selling Animals Born in Captivity

A tragic example of the failure of zoos is the case of Edith, a chimpanzee. She was born in 1960 at the St. Louis Zoo, and as a baby she drew big crowds. Soon after her third birthday, Edith was taken from her family and sold several times, visiting five different facilities before finally landing at a Texas roadside zoo called the Amarillo Wildlife Refuge (AWR). An investigation by several animal rights groups found Edith. She was hairless, living in a filthy, barren concrete pit, and surrounded by rotten food.

Unfortunately, Edith’s story is a prime example of the true interests of zoos. Once Edith was no longer cute, and no longer brought in crowds, she was discarded and sold. Zoos across the country engage in this practice, tearing animals from their families simply to make a buck. It’s a shameful practice for an institution that claims to care about animals.

7. Kids Don’t Become Conservationists

As we’ve mentioned, zoos do seem to have a great impact on children. Seeing their favorite animals appears to make them more excited and interested in the topic of conservationism. The truth is that zoos don’t truly have this sort of impact. A study conducted by Conservation Biology found that the majority of 2,800 children who visited the London Zoo demonstrated no positive learning outcomes at all. Not only were the children deemed to have not learned anything on the trip, but many even came way with a negative experience.

Authors of the study argue that despite zoos promoting themselves as offering educational programs for children, the programs fail to impact kids. The notion that animals need to be kept in captivity to help educate children about conservation seemingly falls on its head. Other methods can surely be developed to make children interested in the wildlife without seeing animals in person. If dinosaurs can still be a fascinating for children, surely chimpanzees in the wild can.

6. Dangerous For Animals

Despite not having predators in their environments, animals are still in danger by living in Zoos. Years ago, at the Dallas Zoo, a gorilla named Jabari tried to escape. Jabari managed to jump over the walls and moats that imprisoned him and even evaded the electrified wires, only to be fatally shot by police. While seeking an escape from his confinement would be more than worthy for Jabari’s actions, it turns out teenagers were taunting the animal with rocks prior to his escape.

In 2005, two polar bears died within weeks of each other at the St. Louis Zoo, and both deaths were preventable. Churchill died after ingesting an object that was thrown into the exhibit, while Penny died from an infection that was caused by having two dead fetuses in her uterus. There are countless cases of animal deaths at zoos that were preventable and were caused by the nature of zoos themselves. If zoos repeatedly lead to the unnatural deaths of animals, maybe the zoos themselves have become the predatory entities?

5. Animals Driven Crazy

There are telltale signs of when a human being has begun to descend into madness. Talking loudly to oneself aloud, twitching uncontrollably, and drastic mood swings. The truth is that animals can also demonstrate traits of mental illness.

In the 1990s, a polar bear named Gus, in the Central Park Zoo, scared visitors and caretakers alike by “compulsively swimming figure eights in his pool, sometimes for 12 hours a day.” Visitors witnessed Gus stalking children from his underwater window, which eventually prompted zoo staff to put up barriers to keep him from scaring them. Gus came to be known as the  “bipolar bear.” There are numerous cases just like Gus’s of animals taken from the wild, unable to cope with losing their families and becoming withdrawn and sick. It’s a reminder that humans need to understand that these animals are sentient beings that can feel, and that can experience pain.

4. Mistreatment of Animals

There are a lot of stories that will make you lose a little faith in your fellow man. We’ve decided to highlight just a few of these cowardly actions. Our American readers can breath a sigh of relief, as the worst instances have occurred abroad. In 2010, the Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo allowed 11 of its Siberian tigers to starve to death in “cold, cramped metal cages.” To make matters worse, the Siberian tiger is an endangered animal.

Another horrific case of abuse also took place in China, with animal rights activists chronicling cases of “live monkey fights, bears forced to walk across tightropes, and lions that were beaten so that they’d jump through flaming hoops.” An internal review in China found that in just three months, there were more than 50 zoos that were documented abusing their animals. The outrageous behavior continued on after the poor animals were dead, as many of the zoos were found to sell rare dead animals to dining establishments for supplemental income. For many endangered animals that meant a journey of captivity and abuse to dinner plates.

3. Not Enough Work to Fight Endangerment

Zoos have been around for quite some time. Nearly 400 years of wildlife parks, safaris, and nature parks, and too many of these man-made forms of captivity have done next to nothing to fight against or reverse the decline of endangered species. In fact, “the rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate” (rate if humans weren’t in existence). Obviously, that cannot and should not be attributed entirely to zoos. But they certainly play at least some role.

Unlike past mass extinctions that were caused by outside factors, the cause this time is the result of one species: humans. So, instead of attempting to create a narrative based around zoos, conservationists must protect endangered animals where they belong: the wild.

2. “Surplus” Animals Killed

The idea that zoos actually carry out the killing of animals may come as a surprise, but it’s very much become routine in most zoos. A “surplus animal” is one that has “made its genetic contribution to a managed population and is not essential for future scientific studies or to maintain social-group stability or traditions.” In other words, if a zoo already has more than enough male chimpanzees or female giraffes, it’ll make the decision to either sell or euthanize an animal. These animals have already bred with several partners and, in a way, produced their own replacements. Lifetime care is not something that’s in the zoo’s business model.

A country that has taken euthanizing zoo animals to an extreme level of callousness is Denmark. In 2014, zoo patrons witnessed a healthy giraffe shot by “conservationists” and then dissected in front of the public. The poor giraffe was eventually fed to the zoo’s lions. This wasn’t a one-time thing. The next day the public was treated to the dissection of a “surplus lion” who was killed the past year and frozen. Children called out “liver” as the long butcher knives removed its intestines. Educational, but frightening nonetheless.  

1. Lack of Laws to Protect Animals

After all of this abuse and mistreatment, you’d think that laws would be passed to protect captive animals. The truth is that in far too many countries there aren’t any such laws. In some cases, countries have no laws whatsoever to protect captive animals. While the United States does require licenses for animal exhibitors, the application process is far too liberal. In most states, just about anyone can have a wild animal on their property. In many instances, this means captive animals aren’t even afforded the “luxury” of a zoo; instead they end up in a residential house, locked up in an even smaller cage.

The only stipulation for animal exhibitors is that the animals must be fed, given water, and provided with shelter. Despite overwhelming evidence suggesting the negative impact on a confined environment,  “cage space regulations require only that the animals be provided with enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around, and move around a bit.” That means lions, whose forefathers prowled vast, open expanses, can barely take a step in their cage. It’s a sad fate for too many great animals.

10 Dastardly German Pirates – Toptenz.net

Das boot! Schiff verlassen! While lesser known to many than the British pirates of popular imagination, a suite of German pirates defined by ingenuity, cunning and sometimes brutal approaches to handling perceived cowardice have left their mark on the annals of the high seas. We discover the likes of Hennig Wichmann, known for throwing prisoners overboard; the aristocratic pirate Barnim VI, Duke of Pomerania whose sophisticated operation included the construction of a port; WWII Merchant Raiders; and Gödeke Michels, the perversely merciful medieval pirate who punished those who did not resist him for their cowardice with death.

10. Klaus Störtebeker

Known as the “Germany’s most famous Pirate,” Kapitän Klaus Störtebeker was famous for downing beer and downing ships most quickly. In fact, the pirate’s name “Störtebeker” actually stands in reference to his apparent ability to swallow a four liter mug of beer in one quick gulp. Born in Wismar in 1360, Kapitän Störtebeker was originally a legitimate privateer, engaging in daring exploits as commander of a privateer group known as the Victual brothers, or “Vitalienbrüder.” Following the removal of the Victual Brothers from the Island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea where their base was located in the port town of Visby, Störtebeker and several other prominent privateers went rogue, capturing and plundering Hanseatic ships of trade and defense plying the Baltic and North Sea willy-nilly.

Inflicting great damage to shipping and embedding himself as legend, the rogue captor of ships was himself captured after a standoff gone wrong with a Hamburgian Fleet under the command of Simon of Utrecht, a German privateer and Hamburg city council member. Sentenced to death in Hamburg, Kapitän Störtebeker was executed by sword in 1401 (as depicted above). According to legend, his headless corpse walked past some of the bodies of his men after making a deal that any of his men whom his corpse could pass while walking after decapitation would themselves be spared. His life and accomplishments are now immortalized through a statue placed in Hamburg, the city where he was executed. In modern times, a statue of Störtebeker stands in Hamburg, the city of his demise, to commemorate the pirate and his exploits as a key interest point in German culture and history.

9. Barnim VI, Duke of Pomerania

Pirates may be seen as brigands and ruffians, but the concept of an aristocratic German pirate might be new to many people. Among the interesting individuals amongst the different categories of German pirates to patrol and plunder the waters of Northern Europe, the Duke of Pomerania-Wolgast, Barnim VI was a scheming marauder of aristocratic origin who held his title from 1394-1405. Efficient and organized, his piratic exploits even saw him establish a port and also a fort in Ahrenshoop, from which he conducted sea raids. After being singled out for supporting and facilitating “Likedeeler” raids in the Baltic Sea against the Hanseatic league trade and defense vessels, providing the ruffians with refuge areas in the form of the Peene River for winter and the Bay of Griefswald as an operations base, the Duke signed a treaty with the Teutonic Knights under their pressure to cease his attacks.

Out of the spotlight but not content to give up the pirate business, the Duke subsequently went on to engage in numerous acts of piracy on his own time. Ultimately, the Duke’s game caught up with him when he was captured by the Hanseatic League in the port of Kopenhagen. After his release, Barnim VI helped the dukes of Mecklenburg-Werle in their sieges of the German City of Lübeck, where he was eventually injured. On a pilgrimage to Kenz to dodge the risk of Black Death, the Duke, ironically, contracted the Black Death during the journey and died. He was then buried in Kenz and a likeness of the pirate of noble heritage constructed from wood was erected.

8. Gottfried Michaelsen

One of the harshest members of the Likdeelers group of German pirates, Gottfried Michaelsen (alternatively known as Gödeke Michels) put a strange twist on mercy. Born in 1360, Gottfried Michaelsen plundered the North Sea and Baltic Sea at the end of the 14th century. Manning ships that were fast and agile, Michaelsen easily overcame target vessels running the cold Northern waters and relieved them of their valuable cargo. While aggressive and ruthless in his bid for pillage and plunder, Michaelsen sought to steal valuable goods and not to arbitrarily end crewmen’s lives.

Far from a pacifist, Gottfried Michaelsen rewarded strength and zest for war in his victims. While it is common for raiders to intensify punishment against those who dare to resist them, dealing with Michaelsen was a counterintuitive matter if you wanted to survive, as fighting him proffered the best chance of gaining mercy. The pirate respected a good fight and in fact respected those who showed bravery in resisting him. Crewmen who dared to fight Michaelsen and tried to take him out were often given a chance, but those who failed to resist him and showed no desire to at all were not spared, but instead seen as cowards and promptly thrown overboard to their deaths in the cold North Sea and Baltic Sea waters. In 1402, no mercy was shown to Michaelsen when he was executed in Hamburg.

7. Cord Widderich

The exploits of a devious and remarkably creative German land-based pirate may sound like the plot of a medieval themed B-movie, but the story is true and represents one of the most novel aspects of German history. To a great degree empowered and motivated by a desire for martial revenge, Cord Widderich was a peculiar German pirate of Dithmarschen loyalty who conducted diverse operations against Frisian interests after further war actions were prevented by the Dithmarschen victory over Holstein. Seeing an end to hostilities but not to his own views and feudal anger, Widderich was simply not content to stop fighting and plundering.

Widderich opted to carry on his exploits and, bizarrely, conducted covert piracy operations from a church tower, stealing from villages and deceiving passing ships into running aground. Once stranded, the deceived ships would be helpless and able to be effortlessly boarded and plundered. This ruse went on for some time, establishing Widderich as a peculiar and successful pirate and also effectively made him the male equivalent of the siren of myth and legend that supposedly lured sailors to calamity on the rocks. In 1447, Widderich was caught after staying at an inn during a pilgrimage, and executed without trial.

6. Klein Henszlein

Having an admittedly epic-sounding German name, if not a tongue twisting one, pirate Kapitän Klein Henszlein was an intimidating German pirate operating from 1560 to 1573 in the North Sea, intercepting shipping and raiding the vessels for all they were worth. Attracting much hostility as a result of the damage and fear as word his work spread, he was hunted down with some effort and caught by a fleet of ships that had sailed out of Hamburg, determined to stop the pirate in his wake. So hated that capture and execution was not enough, Kapitän Klein was marched through the streets of Hamburg along with his captured men as a public spectacle of disgrace.

Next, Klein and his men were all beheaded at an insane pace by an executioner who described decapitating 33 pirates, including Kapitän Klein, in only 45 minutes. Once the execution was complete, the heads of the pirates were placed atop stakes and displayed, presumably serving as a stark deterrent to engaging in piracy. While pirates have gained something of folk hero status in society, it was clear that in the time of Kapitän Klein that interfering with goods and services and their movement by ship was not only a nuisance but a threat, especially in a harsh Northern European climate where goods could be scarce and trade essential to bring goods to sometimes remote communities.

5. Magister Wigbold

Pirates are known for being extremely dangerous, but one notorious yet mysterious member of the “Likedeelers” group of pirates was known for seeking results through more reasonable and less violent means. Operating in the North and Baltic Seas, the rather eccentrically styled German pirate “Magister Wigbold” (which translates to “strife-bold”) was a shadowy pirate whose real name was actually uncertain, together with the nature of his junior years. A marine raider carrying out daring acts of piracy as one of the “Likedeeler” pirates, Magister Wigbold was uniquely known for seeking negotiated ends to sea standoffs. His focus on conflict management sought peaceful procurement of pirate’s booty over a violent battle.

Magister Wigbold’s approach stands in sharp contrast to other Likedeeler pirates who much preferred a confrontational and warlike approach to piracy, often resulting in many deaths to the victims unfortunate enough to fall prey to their attacks. Alternatively known as “Master of the Seven Arts,” Wigbold fell victim to a concerted military effort by Hanseatic League that had been commissioned to wipe out the Likedeelers. Magister Wigbold managed to escape, but following the death of their leader, Kapitän Klaus Störtebeker, Wigbold was executed in 1402 in Hamburg.

4. Theodor Detmers

Nazi Germany did not only unleash such weapons as jet fighters, flying bombs, and monster tanks. The WWII activities of the Third Reich also included the strategic use of pirates. One of the most colorful pirates of the war was Theodor Detmers, a member of the German Navy since 1921. It was his command of the German Merchant Raider Kormoran that saw his pirate skills shine and be put to the test. In this role, Detmers captured several enemy merchant ships and destroyed others through judicious use of subterfuge.

His technique was to attempt to blend in and then ambush targets to be raided, taking them down with all of the procedure and protocol of an accomplished wartime pirate captain. Famously, he had his vessel pose as a Dutch ship at one point, only to be captured himself as a prisoner of war. His cover was blown after being forced to engage in battle with a certain Australian vessel when he apparently did not know the right Dutch ciphers to use and was promptly exposed as being in fact a merchant raider. Once in captivity, Detmers planned to escape from his captors by tunneling and stealing a sailboat; however, his effort was unsuccessful.

3. Bernhard Rogge

One of a small number of flag rank level German officers not detained by Allied forces at World War II’s end, Kapitän Bernhard Rogge was born in Schleswig and ultimately became a leading merchant raider captain during World War II. Part Jewish, Kapitän Rogge escaped persecution by the Nazis through a German Blood Certificate and conducted raids on Allied shipping using an ingeniously disguised merchant raider known as the Atlantis that even masqueraded as a Japanese vessel. He was also recognized by the Japanese during WWII, being one of only 3 German officers awarded a Japanese ceremonial sword by Emperor Hirohito himself. Operating like a privateer, the sanctioned pirate Rogge stole, intercepted, impeded, and destroyed, but unlike a battleship captain who might blow an enemy ship to smithereens, he did not kill.

While going to great lengths to intercept shipping, he went to equal lengths to spare lives. Fuel, food and other supplies were loaded and siphoned from victim vessels, which were then sunk, but not without ensuring that the enemy sailors had been given the opportunity to abandon their vessel. Known widely for his honorable treatment of prisoners, Rogge was able to gain respect by conducting wartime piracy in what could be termed a gentlemanly manner. As a result, Rogge became one of the few senior rank German officers not to be arrested and tried by the Allies given the exceptionally humane way he had acted as a pirate. One of his victims, Captain J. Armstrong-White, even stated “His treatment of prisoners left respect, instead of hatred.”

2. Hennig Wichmann

A brutal sea raider, German Pirate Hennig Wichmann was known for having survivors thrown overboard amongst his exploits in North Sea shipping raids and Baltic Sea attacks in the late 1300s. Originally a privateer serving the Dukes of Mecklenberg as part of the Victual Brothers privateer group tasked with interrupting enemy shipping runs by the Danish, Wichmann and other remaining crew members formed the illegitimate organization of pirates known as the “Likedeelers,” a word meaning “equal sharers.”

Equally they may have shared, but their treatment of crew captured was less than reasonable in the majority of cases. Set on plundering the ships of the Hanseatic league in the North and Baltic seas long after an end to official hostilities, Wichmann was focused on the plunder of vulnerable ships, ignoring official policy, states of hostility or peace, and the well-being of those captured. Hated in his time for having gone rogue, little mercy remained for Wichmann once he was captured by the authorities at hand. Along with 73 members of his crew, he was executed in Hamburg in 1402, showing that those who live by the sword indeed may die by the sword.

1. Count Felix von Luckner

A slightly different form of pirate compared to the rest of the entries, Count Felix von Luckner was a gentleman and a warrior who engaged in remarkable acts of wartime piracy during World War I. The noble-born von Luckner was the great-grandson of a distinguished German Count named Nicolas Luckner, who had served under Napoleon in battle and gained the title of Marshal of France. Count von Luckner was set apart by constant fighting in his school days, ultimately running away from home at the age of just 13. After failed starts in travel and career-seeking, von Luckner returned to Germany. He gained significant sailing experience, partially through the favor of the Kaiser himself. With this advantage, von Luckner reached the rank of Kapitän Leutnant. In WWI, during the British blockade, von Luckner was selected to lead a daring breach through tricks and piracy.

Whereas most sea battles were resolved with warships, von Luckner and his crew infiltrated British shipping and scuttled ships, using tactics of remarkable trickery including luring a British vessel close to help with the aid of a fake onboard fire. Initially, von Luckner and his crew disguised their ship, the Seeadler (Sea Eagle) as a Norwegian lumber transport, aided by elaborate modifications and disguises. Once British blockaders were encountered, the ruse was revealed by means including cannon fire. Over a time period of 255 days, 15 British ships were captured by the crew who were known as the “Piraten des Kaisers,” meaning “The Kaiser’s Pirates.” In a showcase of wartime chivalry, it was forbidden to cause death through this buccaneering. Not wanting to kill any British sailors, Luckner and his crew did not sink the captured boats until all of the crew of targeted ships could be evacuated safely.

10 Popular Investment Strategies (That Are Surprisingly Risky)

By this point, regular readers and viewers of TopTenz have surely been made so wealthy by the knowledge we’ve provided that they have some money to save. But no matter how much cash they have available, what they always seem to have more of is investment options. Lucrative options. Safe options. Options that make investors feel like they’re cleverly gaming the system. And in pursuing these investments, many people are rushing into plans that either will, or may soon, make them lose the shirts off their backs.

Well, we’re here to help you be aware of what you might be getting into. Now, we’re not going to tell anyone to not to pursue any of these options if their heart is set on it. After all, TopTenz isn’t a  parent of any of our readers in a physical or legal sense ( …that we know of). We’re just suggesting investors be cautious, highly alert, and ready for potentially huge disappointment.  

10. Real Estate

At some point everyone who is renting their living space has been told that they would be much better off owning a home, and Time reports that three quarters of Millenials believe it. After all, land is a physical object and thus intrinsically has more value than any currency. Any rent money spent is sunk cost, while every check that goes to paying off home ownership is an investment in the future. Millenials are even applying the concept of crowdfunding to buying houses and brick and mortar business places.

The issues with owning a home instead of renting a space include the fact that the average home brings with it $1,100 maintenance costs, plus all the time that goes into it. Real estate prices since 1900 have increased ahead of inflation, but only 1.3%. For comparison, an average investment in a blue chip stock made more than four times that (more on that later). Meanwhile, in the Housing Crisis of the Aughts, an average home’s value dropped 23%. In the event of a similar crisis occurring again, a homeowner’s odds of owing more on their mortgage than the value of their home for the years-long recovery process are roughly 33%. Considering the extra problems, such as the difficulty and expense of selling a house, renting is a much safer bet than the traditional romanticism of owning a house would have us believe.  

9. Bonds

Bonds aren’t just considered a safe investment. The whole reason they can get away with relatively low interest rates is because they’re the cautious investor’s choice. There are also the options of municipal and corporate bonds for those who don’t trust treasuries.

However, it’s that very low interest rate that can be the problem even as it lowers the likelihood of the bond issuer defaulting. It’s quite possible that the interest payout from a treasury bond won’t be able to keep up with inflation, meaning that an investment will be worth less every year. Bonds issued by other countries or private companies are often called “junk bonds” precisely because of the high risk of defaulting in pursuit of higher interest rates. Also, with corporate or municipal bonds the issuer can call (i.e., return the investor’s cash before the interest is earned) for less than market rates, costing a considerable amount of the interest the investor was hoping to get anyway.

8. Oil Stocks

Even with Millenials supposedly being more environmentally conscious, many of them are going after mineral stocks in the form of petroleum. In 2015, the fifth most commonly traded commodity on the market by Millenials was WTI Crude Oil. Since petroleum is such a vital product, it seems reasonable enough to think it’s a solid bet.

The truth is that the market is so unpredictable that even when the price of petroleum broadly increases it can fail to raise the value of stocks for oil. This is true even with the most recent trades. On January 31, 2018, it was reported that even with demand for oil rising, US oil stocks were declining. Adding to the risk is the rise of renewable energy sources, leading to such bold steps as Norway in divesting in oil stocks in November 2017. Even leaving aside how effective the transition to environmentally-friendly energy turns out to be, the fact numerous countries around the world want to abandon their oil stocks at all is enough to shake up the market. 

7. Mutual Funds

Even in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis that would have signaled to many that the supposed experts like mutual fund managers don’t necessarily know what they’re doing with everyone’s money as well as they claim, Americans in very large part seemed to continue to put their trust in them. As of February 2017, the Investment Company Institute reported that 55 million households in America have mutual funds – roughly 43.6%. It is a tempting offer to assume that someone who has spent their life following market trends will have all the answers and make the investor’s household a nice return while they get on with their lives.

Doing so can likely cost a small fortune in lost potential income. In August 2015 alone, Fidelity Mutual Fund lost a billion dollars. Yes, it was divided among numerous customers, but it was very far from the profit customers seek from such an investment. Even if things don’t fail so dramatically, Forbes reported that in 2012 more than 66% of mutual funds performed below the S&P 500’s industry average. Trusting the experts is truly not a magic bullet.  

6. High Dividend Stocks

So let’s imagine an investor still has their eyes on the stock market. Instead of trusting mutual funds, they target specific stocks. Ones which will pay them more dividends, which roughly translate into quarterly payouts for how many shares of the company they own (i.e, receiving a dollar per share). Even if the value of the company fluctuates, unless something very drastic like the company completely failing happens, the shareholder will still get their regular payments. A nice bonus is that dividends are tax exempt if the investor uses the dividend reinvestment program to be paid in shares.

The problem with that is that those same dividend rates will often be a red flag for a company if they’re high enough to catch an investor’s eye. It’s very likely cutting into the company’s earnings in a way that will drive the share values down. Also, an extremely high dividend rate (say, 10% of the share’s value annually) often signals that the company is on a dangerous downward trend and hasn’t adjusted its dividend rates. In short, tempting dividends might suck the company dry in an attempt to draw new investors.      

5. Certificates of Deposit

CDs have got to be considered the safest investment that produces any form of interest. The investment is backed up by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, so barring something truly catastrophic happening to the nation at large, it’s just going to sit there at a bank or similar financial institution and earn interest. Not a huge return, to be sure, but the investor went this route for security, not thrills.

The thing is, many CD accounts will lock the investment into a rate not just below inflation, but where the interest rate won’t adjust in keeping with average federal CD interest rates. Add to that how many investors might need to withdraw the money, and that transaction will cost a significant chunk of change. 92 percent of all CD plans have a penalty for withdrawing that would be the equivalent of three months interest on the CD and six months interest. While an investor won’t lose everything or go into debt from that, given the likelihood they’ll need that money sooner than they’d planned, it is enough that they should be aware of the risk of coming out of the investment in the red.

4. Joint Bank Accounts

An investor sharing a bank account with their elderly parents or children seems like a convenient, responsible way to keep an eye on their spending habits. It also keeps it possible to cancel checks in time to avoid frivolous or impaired spending. If nothing else, it allows cash transfers to prevent accounts from being overdrawn and incurring fees.  

One of the larger problems with this investment approach is that all the money involved in the investment counts to both parties, so if the elderly parent or the child at some point need to apply for financial assistance, all the money in the account is counted as the applicant’s and will likely be used to deny them aid. Additionally, if spending rises above a certain level ($13,000 as of 2017) then additional tax issues will arise, not to mention it leaves the accounts of both parties vulnerable to liens and other forms of debt collection. Time magazine and similar publications argue that the much safer way to use money is to spend a few hundred dollars to get power of attorney.

3. Fine Art

This is more reserved for the wealthier investors with, to paraphrase Jay-Z’s The Story of OJ music video, one million dollars they want to turn into eight million dollars in a few years. Still, for years it’s been known as a hotbed of corruption on a broader scale, which surfaces in the news every once in awhile, such as in 1988 when New York City announced pricing display regulations to avoid price manipulations. Indeed, paintings and other pieces of fine art are often used to launder money and bribe politicians (donate the painting to said politician, then buy it back at an inflated price). Investing in an industry so full of criminal behavior and abstract values all but guarantees neophyte patrons will soon be doing deals with some shady characters.  

Beyond that, there are some ugly and discriminating practices that occur at surprisingly high social circles, too. A high profile example was when it took the personal intervention of painter Jim Hodges to convince a gallery to sell one of his paintings to Daniel Radcliffe in 2007. And good on Radcliffe for not just slipping on his invisibility cloak and taking the painting. There are also numerous galleries where hired phony bidders at art auctions attempt to inflate prices by playing off patrons’ competitive instincts. There have been attempts to legislate these phony bidding practices, but the laws never seem to get enough support to pass.

2. Gold

While the value of gold over centuries has consistently increased in keeping with currencies, the problem is that it’s risky to store in a private residence and costly should the owner feel the need to buy a lockbox or safe. And that’s after the cost of acquiring the gold, which means that the investor is already in the hole by the time the precious metal arrives. Any investor who wants to bypass the expenses and risks of having gold in their homes might try to buy gold bonds, but they’re not actually redeemable for a speck of the metal itself.

And even if there’re the sort of global catastrophe that gold is most heavily pitched for (i.e., that it’s the investment that will literally always have value) then the government has the right to confiscate privately owned gold, and in the case of even the US government has done so in the past, such as in 1933 when FDR’s Emergency Banking Act required anyone who owned gold to turn it in to government-approved banks. In that case the gold owners were compensated, but who knows if that money will have value for long if the government needs to take such extreme steps.   

1. Bitcoin

Admittedly most people who are investing in this and other cryptocurrencies are aware that there’s a degree of risk in it, but they likely assume the cryptocurrency is more streamlined by this point than it actually is. Even people who have made millions of dollars in Bitcoin admit that it’s in bursting-bubble mode instead of likely to pay off in the future. Numerous businesses have already stopped accepting it such as the online store Steam and Microsoft.

Valuing Bitcoins properly is impossible and as of December 2017 accounts still aren’t secured properly. Add to this the fact that the speed of transactions is unpredictable. Even if the price for bitcoin is way up, it can take 10 days for the sale to process, leaving plenty of time for it to have crashed again by the time it’s exchanged for regular cash. Considering the high transaction fees that were a significant part of the reason the aforementioned companies no longer support Bitcoin, it seems like it’s a very unreliable way to make a profit.  

Dustin Koski is an extremely conservative investor as a result of writing this. You can follow how that works out for him on Facebook.

What Are the Smartest Countries in the World?

Imagine the world is a high school. You’ve got the big, jock countries like Australia, South Africa, and the USA. You’ve got the self-consciously old-fashioned intellectuals like Britain and France, and then you’ve got the cool kids everyone wants to hang out with (yeah, Italy, we’re looking at you). But what about the brainboxes? Who in our analogy are the nerds spending their spare time in the science labs while the other countries are learning to smooch and bum smokes?

Well, thanks to some slightly dubious science, we possibly have the answer! Between 2002 and 2006, a joint British-Finnish study carried out IQ tests in countries all over the world, then ranked each nation by their average national score. While IQ tests may not be perfect – they miss intelligence defects even clever people suffer from, like dysrationalia, which is a fancy way of saying “choosing the simplest answer to avoid having to think too hard” – and this particular study was controversial for its methodology, it still makes for a fun comparison. Want to discover which countries are getting beaten up for their lunch money every morning? Read on.

10. Austria (average IQ: 100)

We’re gonna go out on a limb here and suggest not many of us associate intelligence with wearing lederhosen. But maybe that’s why we’ve all been underestimating Austria for so long. They’re willing to dress like a person with their fashion sense surgically removed because they don’t care what we think. They’re too busy using those gigantic sausage-and-beer-fueled brains of theirs to pay attention to mere mortals like us.

Part of Austria’s geniusness (that’s a word, right?) may be due to its comparative wealth. The CIA World Factbook ranks it the 33rd richest nation by GDP per capita, which doesn’t sound all that impressive until you realize the much-larger UK ranks at 40th. Since income and education tend to go hand in hand, it stands to reason that Austria might have more brains to spare, especially given its tiny population. Only 8.474 million people call this spectacular alpine nation home, fewer than Czech Republic, fewer than Cuba, fewer even than London.

Historically, the Austrians have put those big brains of theirs to good use. Their Hapsburg dynasty once ruled most of Europe.

9. Switzerland (average IQ: 101)

A short hop across a near-impenetrable barrier of frozen mountains from Austria, Switzerland is the place to be if you want cuckoo clocks, triangular chocolate, guns, or Nazi gold. It’s also home to some of the smartest people on the planet. Yep, the Swiss apparently value intellectualism almost as much as they value morally-dubious neutrality, and they have the historical figures to back up this claim. It was in the capital of Bern that the German-born Albert Einstein dreamed up his general theory of relativity.  

So what is it about living in this bracing mountain environment that turns the Swiss into such geniuses? Well, they’re rich for starters. Seriously, if you were to grab Switzerland by the ankles, turn it upside down, and shake it vigorously, enough spare change would fall out to finance at least three globe-straddling empires. The multilingualism of the Swiss may help, too. At the Federal level, Switzerland gives German, French, and Italian equal weight, which may be significant as some studies link speaking multiple languages with increased intelligence.

On the other hand, maybe they’re just spending so much time avoiding fighting wars that they’ve got time to read all those brainy books gathering dust on other nation’s shelves?

8. Mongolia (average IQ: 101)

A great, big expanse of vast steppe in Asia, Mongolia has desert, mountains, yurts, and almost nothing else. We mean that in all seriousness. Despite being big enough to squash Texas and California flat and still have room for Montana, it is home to barely 3 million people, most of whom could spend their whole lives swinging a string of dead cats and never get even remotely close to hitting anything. One apparent upside of all this space? Intelligence. Lots of intelligence.

When you think about it, Mongolia scoring so highly is kinda unexpected. While breathtaking, their country ain’t rich. The CIA World Factbook ranks them at 122nd for GDP per capita, only slightly above Albania. But it seems what little money they have, they spend wisely. The country ranks surprisingly high on education, beating out even some European systems. On a perhaps more controversial note, some “race realists” have suggested Mongolians may just naturally have better visual-spacial awareness, giving their overall IQ scores an additional boost.  

Whatever the truth, it seems that one thing is clear. If you’ve ever had a hankering for sparkling intellectual discussion in the emptiest landscape you’ll ever see, go to Mongolia.

7. Iceland (average IQ: 101)

annnd we’re back in Europe, this time in the far, frozen lands of the north, where “banking” is synonymous with “crime” and summer is just God’s cruel joke breaking up the punishment of winter. Yep, it’s the teeny tiny island nation of Iceland, a place that was once just a glorified fishing port, became a casino banking mecca, and now is famous as one of the richest, safest countries on Earth. Evidently, all that safety has combined with all that enforced time spent indoors escaping the weather to create a nation that seriously likes to study.

What’s amazing about this is that you wouldn’t have put money on Iceland hitting so high up these rankings a few decades ago. Prior to the 1980s, the very-literally-named land of ice was a kind of mid-ranking boring outpost of fishermen. The economy exploded in the ’80s, blew up even larger in the ’90s, and somehow managed to claw out of the devastating financial crash by turning the entire country into one of the world’s tourist hotspots. See, that’s those clever Icelandic brains for you, thinking their way out of a pickle that doesn’t involve reckless borrowing or blowing the national budget on lottery tickets.

6. Italy (average IQ: 102)

Oh come on, this isn’t fair! Italy already has class, great looks, a cool persona, and more sun than most of us will ever see in a lifetime. And now you’re telling us they’ve also got a world-beating IQ? We don’t wanna moan and say that life isn’t fair, but clearly life isn’t fair.

The cause of high Italian IQs is as mysterious to us as it is to you. Going on a long Google search mainly turned up blogs with names like “race realist” and “not politically correct” so we decided it’d probably be more fun – not to mention informative – for all of us if we just cracked some light-hearted jokes about pasta and pizza, while secretly wishing we were Italian. Or we could, y’know, point back at Italy’s long, illustrious past as the seat of the Roman Empire, a multi-nation state that made staggering scientific and engineering advances at a rate usually reserved for countries in the grip of the industrial revolution, while also producing art and literature that would still stand up some 2,000 years later, but where would be the fun in that?

5. Taiwan (average IQ: 104)

So, this is a little controversial. We’ve included Taiwan on this list of countries, while excluding Hong Kong, despite the international community recognizing both as part of China. Well, it’s true that Taipei doesn’t have a seat at the UN and isn’t included on any other official list of countries. But it’s also completely self-governing, calls itself separate from China, and functions like a totally independent state, so we’re including it here. And that’s just as well, because Taiwan’s average IQ is enough to leave other countries eating its dust.

Founded after Chairman Mao’s victorious forces chased his enemies off the Chinese mainland at the conclusion of the Chinese civil war, Taiwan today is a prosperous, forward-thinking nation that also just happens to look darn fine in a picture. You better believe Taipei uses that prosperity to invest in its young. A 2015 study by the OECD comparing data from 76 studies placed Taiwan’s education at 4th best in the entire world (in case you’re wondering, the USA came in at a mildly-embarrassing 28th). Gee, it’s almost like an intelligent population might somehow be linked to investing heavily in your education system.

4. China (average IQ: 105)

If any Taiwanese readers were hoping to beat out their old nemesis in these rankings, we’ve got some bad news. The original study this article was based on had mainland China just edging out its breakaway state, with an average IQ of 105 compared to Taiwan’s 104. Ouch. Well, thems the breaks, Taipei. At least you guys can comfort yourself at night with your functioning democratic system.

Actually what’s driving China’s high score is unfortunately hard to say. Beijing is notoriously uncooperative about divulging actual, useful data relating to a lot of fields, and the OECD education rankings just miss China entirely. Still, China certainly has its fair share of very smart people. The Middle Kingdom is competing with and outperforming the US in key technological sectors, and much of the most interesting cutting edge tech is now coming with a ‘made in China’ stamp.

On the other hand, China is also notorious for grade inflation and handing out junk degrees from its universities, so we’re not really sure what this tells us. Except, perhaps, for reinforcing our introductory point about the IQ study this article is based on being more a guideline than the last word on the subject.

3. Japan (average IQ: 105)

Still in Asia, the next country on our list is one famous for technology, cuteness, and generally doing so many things in such a weird way that it fueled basically 90% of early internet memes. Yep, Japan is another world leader in the being really, ridiculously smart stakes, romping home with an average IQ score of 105. That’s over 100 times the intelligence of the average person you’ll find dynamite fishing, kids!

We’re all familiar with the Japanese stereotypes: absurdly hard-working, absurdly dedicated to their jobs, and absurdly stressed out by their high pressure schooling. But, hey, it seems to be working. In that 2015 study we told you about earlier, the OECD ranked Japan joint 4th with Taiwan for education, where math and science were concerned. Countries 3rd, 2nd, and 1st were… well. You’ll be finding that out as you keep on reading.

Given their great education system and general braininess, it’s perhaps no surprise that Japan spent decades at the forefront of technological change. For a long, long time, everything exciting and important was coming out of Tokyo.

2. South Korea (average IQ: 106)

Did you know South Korea comes 3rd in global education rankings? Well: surprise! And get used to these references, by the way, because from here on out, all countries are ones that are going at the education rankings like gangbusters. The democratic brother of despotic North Korea, South Korea is a hi-tech paradise, with world-beating internet, widespread use of smartphones, and all other things that point to an entire industry of clever people doing clever things to collectively make the world a cleverer place. And all this in a country that manages to cram more than 51 million people into a place smaller than Iceland (pop: 334,252).

Of course, a lot of South Korea’s intelligence wins likely come from it being a wealthy country with a sterling education system. Not that it was always this way. Back in the dark ages of the mid-20th century, Pyongyang was actually richer than its southern neighbor by a significant margin. North Korea was blessed with the monetary backing of the Soviets, and had a huge amount of mineral wealth. South Korea, by contrast, had to transform itself through sheer brute willpower alone. Even ignoring the IQ scores, we guess it paid off.

1. Singapore (average IQ:108)

When Singapore declared independence from Malaysia in 1965, it was one of the poorest states in the world. Literacy was at third world levels. Not a desirable start for a country that wanted to be a world leader in education, attainment, and wealth. Yet, somehow, Singapore managed to pull it off. From being a tiny island with no natural resources, its exceptionally long-serving leader Lee Kuan Yew managed to turn his home into a global powerhouse. In doing so, he raised the education level of Singaporeans so high that they cruised to an easy first place in these very rankings.

According to the OECD, Singapore has the single greatest education system in the world. The only other territory that hits the same level on the IQ rankings is Hong Kong, but since that ain’t a country, it doesn’t get a spot on this list! The city state – one of only three left in existence – is also home to fantastic infrastructure and cleanliness that is so strictly enforced you can get publicly caned just for chewing gum. Whether that’s worth it just to live surrounded by a country of brainboxes is another matter entirely.

10 Shocking Results from DNA Ancestry Tests

Ancestry tests provided by companies like 23andMe, Ancestry.com, and Helix are more popular than they’ve ever been. As more people have their DNA tested to see where in the world their ancestors came from, it’s led to some fascinating results. In some cases, the results are downright shocking and can uncover secrets that have been buried for years, if not decades.

10. Doreen Isherwood and Anne Hall

In 2007, two white English women, 64-year-old Doreen Isherwood from Putney, and 53-year-old Anne Hall from Huddersfield, each purchased a DNA ancestry test. They expected that their ancestors would be English and from other parts of Europe.

Much to their shock, they found something very unusual in their DNA makeup: they had DNA signature characteristics of Native Americans. Finding that signature in a white European person is incredibly rare.

There are two explanations as to why the women have Native American ancestors. The first is that Native Americans were brought over to Britain from North America as early as the 16th century as curiosities. The second is that Native Americans also started to visit England seeking trade and protection in the 1700s. It’s thought that some Native Americans, either forced to come or visiting of their own their own accord, married into the local communities, which is how they became these two modern-day white women’s ancestors.

9. David Jantzik

David Jantzik was adopted as a baby by a family that lived in Pointe-Claire, Quebec. Jantzik always thought of his adopted family as his real family. They were German and French, so he considered himself to be German and French as well. After his adopted mother died, his adopted father said he could look for his biological family if he wanted, but Jantzik chose not to.

Then in 2017, Jantzik’s wife suggested that they do a DNA Ancestry test. Jantzik thought that it would be fun to learn about his real heritage. When his results came back, he logged on to the website and noticed that there was a thumbnail indicating he had a close relative in the database. The relationship indicated that the close relative was his biological mother.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, he decided to message his mother, Catherine Murrell-Sandness. Murrell-Sandness lived in Halifax and received the message as she was getting ready for bed. She had signed up with the ancestry database in the hopes of finding the son she put up for adoption 50 years earlier.

They sent messages to each other, and Jantzik learned that he had an older brother, Bob. Jantzik met his biological family within a week of discovering them, and asked his mother why he was given up for adoption. Murrell-Sandness explained that when she had her first son she was 15. She had Jantzik two years later, and she knew she couldn’t properly care for him. She wanted him to have a better life than she could provide.

Jantzik said that after finding his mother, he feels complete and has no more questions about his background.

8. Craig Cobb

Craig Cobb is a walking and talking pile of trash who identifies himself as a white nationalist. He promotes hate speech and hate crimes, and he started an all-white community in North Dakota.

In 2013, Cobb appeared on The Trisha Goddard Show, and he had a DNA test for his ancestry. It turned out that Cobb was 86 percent European and 14 percent Sub-Saharan African. You can almost hear a trombone going “wah wah wahhhhh” just thinking about it.

Cobb tried to dismiss the results by saying the 14 percent was statistical noise and short science. But, we investigated it, and Cobb is in no way an expert in stats or DNA testing, so perhaps the DNA test is more accurate than Cobb is claiming.

In 2015, Cobb said he had his DNA re-tested. It turned out that his DNA was made up of 100 percent garbage. No, he didn’t really say that. Instead, without showing any evidence to back it up, he claimed he was not 14 percent Sub-Saharan African. Instead, he was 97 percent European, and the last 3 percent was an “Iberian thing.”

Sure, Clayton Bigsby, we all believe you.

7. Dick Nelson

Growing up in Rockford, Illinois, Dick Nelson always felt different from the rest of his family.

His father, Albert, was 100 percent Swedish, while his mother’s roots were in Western Europe. Dick had four sisters – one older, three younger. All four sisters had blonde hair, blue eyes, and dropped out of high school. Dick, on the other hand, had brown eyes, black hair, and became a college professor. His father, who Dick called the town drunk, died in 1952 and his mother died in 2001.

In 2016, Dick, who was 78-years-old, bought a $99 DNA test from Ancestry.com. It turned out that he was only five percent Scandinavian. That meant Albert, who was 100 percent Swedish, wasn’t Dick’s father. Dick called a cousin and told her the news.

That’s when she told him that his real father was an Italian man named Jim Cassioppi, who had dated one of Albert’s sisters. Cassioppi was a deputy sheriff, and he served as a Democratic committeeman. Also, just like Dick, he was an excellent dancer. Cassioppi passed away in 1987.

6. Krista Brian

In the winter of 2016, Krista Brian was 37-years-old and decided to investigate her ancestry. She sent a swab to Ancestry.com, and weeks later her results came back and forever changed her life.

Brian thought that she was Hispanic and that her father had died by suicide when she was just a baby. It turned out that she was African-American, and her father wasn’t the man she thought he was. Her father was really a man named Andrew Baker who was alive in Florida.

She eventually got in contact with her Baker, and he said that he knew her mother briefly. He had no idea that he was her father. After confirming that he really was her father, Brian flew to Florida to meet her father, and four half-siblings. Brian said she learned about her family just before Christmas and said it was the best gift she could have gotten.

5. “DNA Regrets”

In January 2018, the advice column Ask Amy published a letter from a very confused woman. She said that she had her DNA tested and discovered that she didn’t share any DNA with the man she thought was her father.

The writer said that she knew her mom had an affair in the 1950s, but thought it happened after she was born. She said that her family was friends with another family, and the patriarch of that family was the man her mother had an affair with. The writer said that she went to school with man’s children, having no idea that they were her half-siblings.

The writer said that she even considered the notion that her father was a different man than the man who raised her. She also wrote that her mother, who was 97, may not have known the man was her father, either.

4. Andrea Ramirez

Andrea Ramirez grew up in the Bay area of California, and she always thought she was part Mexican because her father was. Ramirez and her brother couldn’t figure out why they had light hair and skin and didn’t look anything like their father’s children from his first marriage. They just always assumed they took on more of their mother’s appearance.

Then in 2013, her brother had a DNA test and thought the results were odd. So, Ramirez picked up a $199 test for herself and had her DNA tested. She got several surprises. She not only learned that her father wasn’t who she thought he was, but she had at least one half-sister as well.

It turned out that Ramirez’s mother had conceived her and her brother through donated sperm at a fertility clinic. Her half-sister’s mother went to the same fertility clinic.

3. “George Doe”

In 2014, a man who used the pseudonym George Doe relayed a tragic story about what happened when he had his and his parents’ DNA tested by 23andMe.

George Doe has a PhD in cell and molecular biology, and he was fascinated by the results of his DNA tests. He decided to use the 23andMe’s close relative finder and discovered that a man named Thomas shared 22 percent of the same DNA with him. George thought this was amazing amount of DNA to share with someone. He soon figured out that if you share somewhere around 25% of the same DNA as someone else, there is a very good chance that they are your grandparent, aunt or uncle, or half-sibling.

It turned out that Thomas was George’s half-brother. George had no idea that Thomas existed. George got in contact with Thomas and learned he had been adopted at birth. He had been looking for his biological parents for years.

Eventually, the news of Thomas’ existence spread around George’s family. Sadly, the news re-opened old wounds and memories. His parents got divorced, and everyone stopped talking to his father.

2. Walter Macfarlane and Alan Robinson

74-year-old Walter Macfarlane and 72-year-old Alan Robinson had a friendship many people don’t get to experience in their lifetime. They have been friends for over 60 years.

They were both born in Hawaii, and they met in the sixth grade, and played football together in high school and college. As adults, they stayed close. They both got married and had children, and their families became friends. The two families would even go on vacations with each other and their kids referred to the parents of each family as “aunt” and “uncle.”

Macfarlane had been raised by his grandmother, and in 2017, he was looking for information on his long-lost father. He bought an Ancestry DNA kit and made a shocking discovery. He had a half-brother, and they shared the same mother. The only thing he knew about his half-brother was that his username was Robi737. Macfarlane’s wife realized that it might be his lifelong friend, Alan Robinson. Robinson’s nickname was Robi, and he used to fly 737s. It turned out his wife was correct: Robi727 was Robinson.

Robinson had been given up for adoption at birth. He was adopted by a family who lived down the road from Macfarlane and his grandmother.

They announced they were brothers at a family dinner on December 23, and both families were overjoyed by the news.

1. Alice Collins Plebuch

In 2012, 69-year-old Alice Collins Plebuch, who lived in Vancouver, Washington, decided to do a DNA ancestry test. She always thought she was Irish Catholic. Her father, Jim Collins, was the son of an Irish immigrant, and her mother’s family was also from Ireland. Her father identified with his Irish heritage so much that they sang “Danny Boy” at his funeral.

When Plebuch got the results back, she was shocked to learn that she was half Ashkenazi Jewish. She couldn’t understand why, and had her DNA tested again. It came back with the same results. She then had some siblings get their DNA tested, and it also said they were Jewish.

One possibility was that Plebuch’s mother had an affair with a Jewish man. However, that didn’t seem likely, so Plebuch had her cousins’ DNA tested and discovered they didn’t have any Jewish heritage. Plebuch concluded that her father was, for some reason, not related to his parents.

Then, on January 18, 2015, Plebuch was talking to her cousin, and it all came together. Her cousin had his DNA tested, and he found a close relative match named Jessica Benson, who lived in North Carolina.

Benson was confused because she thought she was Jewish, but her ancestor results said that she was half Irish. Plebuch got in contact with Benson and learned that her father was born in the same hospital around the same time as her father.

It turned out that their fathers were switched at birth. The Irish Catholic family took home the Jewish baby, and the Jewish family took home the Irish Catholic baby.

After the revelation, the two families became friends and took a cruise together in 2017.

10 Must-See Tourist Attractions in Romania

Located in Eastern Europe and part of the former Iron Curtain, Romania does not draw in many tourists compared to many other nations within the European Union. Nevertheless, in recent years their numbers has been steadily rising to an annual total of 9.3 million international tourists. Given its geography and geopolitical past, the country has a lot to offer in terms of both cultural heritage and diverse landscapes.

It’s a blend of both the East and West, in a mixture that can be found in everything from its architectural style to its cuisine and local customs. Transylvania, the land of the mythical Dracula, is also part of Romania, so you’re sure to be impressed. Here are 10 tourist attractions in Romania you won’t want to miss.

10. Bucharest and the Palace of Parliament

As an international tourist coming to Romania, chances are that your first stop will be the country’s capital city, Bucharest. As the sixth largest city in the EU and over 555 years old, Bucharest has a lot to offer to the people who come and visit. However, Romania’s capital is not exactly tourist-friendly. Not that it’s dangerous or anything, but as far as public transportation and basic tourist information go, the city leaves a lot of room for improvement. Nevertheless, what Bucharest lacks in convenience it definitely makes up for in hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.

Romania developed its own distinct architecture during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, known as the Brâncovenesc style, which it then improved upon during the late 19th century. This architecture can be found all over the city’s center, but can be better experienced in certain neighborhoods such as Cotroceni or Dorobanti. And as far as nightlife is concerned, Old Town is among the liveliest districts in the whole of the EU.

One imposing feature that becomes immediately apparent to anyone who’s visiting Bucharest for the first time is the Palace of Parliament. Commissioned by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu during the country’s Communist Era, this building dominates the city’s landscape for miles around. Over a fifth of the historic city was demolished during the 1980s in order to make room for the grand boulevards and Soviet-style apartment buildings. An entire neighborhood was also razed to the ground in order to build the Palace of Parliament, which is the largest administrative building in the world, and the heaviest structure ever built. With over 1,100 rooms, the Palace is a great example of megalomania you can visit.

9. Peles Castle

Commissioned by King Carol I of Romania in 1873 and finished ten years later, Peles Castle is considered by many to be among the most beautiful in the whole of Europe. Built in a German new-Renaissance architecture style, Peles is nestled at the foot of the Bucegi Mountains, in the picturesque town of Sinaia – which is also a favored hiking and ski resort. The castle acted as a summer residence for the royal family from the moment it was built, up until 1947. The interior, with its 160 rooms, is equally as decorated as the outside – with each chamber maintaining its own décor and individual theme. The Weapons Room holds over 4,000 pieces from both Europe and Asia, while the castle’s movie theater is believed to be the first venue where a movie projection took place in Romania.

On the same grounds, a second castle was built for King Carol’s successor, King Ferdinand. Known as Pelisor (Little Peles), this smaller version is equally as striking as its larger counterpart, especially on the inside. The Golden Chamber, for instance, has its walls and furniture covered in the precious metal. After the end of WWII and the rise of the Communists to power, both castles were seized and the royal family was exiled from the country. Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu aimed at turning Peles into a protocol residence, but thanks to the caretakers, that never happened. They reportedly told him that the castle had a mold problem that could pose a serious health hazard to those living inside. In any case, Peles was closed to the public from 1975 to 1990, after which it reopened as a museum.

8. The Danube Delta

Located at the southeastern fringes of Romania, where the Danube River meets the Black Sea, there’s Europe’s second largest marshland, known as the Danube Delta. Second only to the Volga Delta in Russia, this one has a total area of 1,994 square miles. It remains one of the most pristine locations on the continent and an important pit stop for many migratory birds coming to and from Africa and Europe. The Danube Delta is also home to the largest colony of pelicans in the world, as well as 300 other species of birds and 45 species of freshwater fish.

Accessible only by boat, the delta’s marshlands and many lagoons did not exist some 5,000 years ago. Back then, the area was nothing more than a gulf in the Black Sea. But over the centuries, silt has been steadily accumulating at the mouth of the Danube, slowly expanding the delta to its present form. Even to this day, the marshlands are growing buy about 130 feet every year. But despite its ever-changing landscape, people have been living here for many centuries. Still relying mostly on what the delta has to offer, the locals haven’t changed their lifestyle that much. They are still building their homes with reeds and you will still find them on their small wooden boats with a fish rod in hand.

7. The Old Wine Road

Given its geographical location, Romania has had a very long relationship with wine. Both archaeological and historical evidence points to the fact that vineyards have been growing in the region for at least 2,700 years. Some historians even go as far as saying that the Greek god of wine, Dionysus, and its Roman version, Bacchus, were based on a Thracian and Dacian god, Sabazios. Even to this day, Romania is the 13th largest producer of wine in the world and the sixth in the EU.

Only a relatively small region within the center of country isn’t suited for wine production because of its high altitude. Nevertheless, there are over 250 wine cellars across the country which can be visited all year round. The best times to go, however, is between April and October. The Old Wine Road follows the southern and southeastern side of the Carpathian Mountains and passes by many vineyards, manors, monasteries, wine museums, and other historical sites along the way. But this is by no means the only place to have a great glass of wine, and wherever you may end up, wine tasting is a must for every tourist (who enjoys the occasional adult beverage) visiting Romania.

6. The Mountainous Dacian Fortresses

For a taste of Romania’s ancient past, the best place to visit is high up in the mountains. Sarmizegetusa Regia was the capital of the Dacian people who inhabited the area during the times of the Roman Empire. Built sometime during the 1st century BC, this fortress, alongside five others in the area, acted as both the seat of the Dacian Kingdom, as well as a unique defensive system that was used in the wars against the Romans. The main fortress is also the largest, being separated into three areas: the stronghold itself, the civilian quarters, and a sacred site. This sacred area was built on two terraces and dedicated to the local deities. The Great Sanctuary has a circular structure, somewhat similar to Stonehenge, and served as both a ritual site and an astronomical calendar.

Now, even though all six fortresses are nothing more than ruins, each is unique in its own way, either for its function or hard-to-reach location. Legend also has it that the last Dacian King buried a huge treasure somewhere in those mountains. Prior to the Romans’ arrival, he had a river temporarily diverted from its course, and hid the treasure beneath the riverbed. But before you decide to go and look for it, the legend also talks of a curse. Anyone who goes searching for the hidden treasure will be bitten by a venomous snake and die.

5. The Town of Sighisoara

Right in the heart of Transylvania lays the town of Sighisoara. Even though a settlement existed in the area as early as Roman times, the town as we know it today was founded by the Transylvanian Saxons during the 13th century. During the 14th and 15th centuries, Sighisoara’s increasing economic strength ensured its survival throughout the centuries as one of the “seven walled citadels of the Saxons.” And even though it was neither the richest nor the biggest of the seven, Sighisoara has become the most popular in recent times. Today, the town is famous for its brightly colored architecture, its cobbled alleyways, steep stairways, many defensive towers and turrets, medieval churches, and the main citadel itself.   

Of the 14 original towers, only nine have survived the test of time. Each of them was built and maintained by one of the craft guilds in the city. Another fun fact about the place is that it’s the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the infamous ruler of Wallachia and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. His house, where he lived until the age of six or seven, still exists and can be visited.

4. The Danube Gorges

For its 1,780 mile-long course, nowhere is the Danube River more impressive and awe-inspiring than when it passes through the Carpathian Mountains. Forming the natural border between Romania and Serbia, the gorges, also known as the Danube’s Cauldrons, sometimes give the impression that the water is boiling. Now, even if this is not the case, this narrowing of the mighty river does make navigation a bit difficult at times. Nevertheless, this is the biggest and oldest river canyon in Europe.

Besides taking a boat cruise on the Danube, you can climb the surrounding mountains and enjoy the spectacular views. You can also explore the many caves found here, which were used dating back to ancient times, either as safe havens or as ambush spots against boats going up and down the river. And as proof that this place is drenched in history, there is an ancient memorial plaque on the Serbian bank, commissioned by the Roman Emperor Trajan to commemorate the building of a bridge used by the Roman Legions to invade Dacia. On the Romanian bank, however, there’s a 180-foot-tall stone face carved straight into the cliff, depicting the last Dacian King. This is the largest such stone statue in Europe.

3. The Monasteries of Bucovina

The northeastern region of Romania prides itself with its many monasteries. Built during the 15th and 16th centuries, these medieval churches are unique in Europe and famous for their exterior murals. Built by combining both a Gothic and a Byzantine architectural style, and mixed in with their own unique elements, these monasteries are enduring pieces of cultural heritage for the world to see. Commissioned by Prince Stephen the Great and his successor Petru Rares, each of the 40 monasteries and churches are said to have been built after various victories in battle, fighting the Tatar raiders from the east.

Most of them have also acted as fortifications against these marauders, safeguarding both people and ancient manuscripts alike. Eight of them are also included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Besides their architecture, these monasteries also stand out for their unique coloring dyes used for painting the murals. The original recipes have since been lost, and even with today’s technology, they are impossible to reproduce. Nevertheless, according to chemical analysis, trace amounts of traditional Romanian plum brandy was found in both the plastering and the colors themselves.

2. Turda Gorge and Salt Mine

Back during the time of the dinosaurs, much of what is present-day Romania was part of the ancient seabed. Because of this, certain regions are rich is salt deposits, such as is central Transylvania. This is where you can find the Turda Gorge and salt mine.  The outside gorges offer a spectacular view of narrow vertical cliffs, waterfalls, caves, lush forests, sunbathed meadows, and picturesque villages. Over 1,000 plant and animals species call this place home, and many of them are endangered. The entire area is a favored hiking destination, with over 250 climbing tracks of varying difficulty.

The underground is equally as striking as the surface. The salt deposits have been under continuous exploitation, ever since the time of the Romans. Today they are open to the public, offering its visitors incredible views of the depths. The towering galleries, somewhat reminiscent of the descriptions found in Tolkien’s books, are now lit by a mesmerizing lights display. Inside you’ll find various activities to delight yourself with, like mini-golf, tennis, bowling, football, or pool. There’s also a large Ferris wheel that takes visitors close to the roof of the mine, so as to see the many stalactites from up close. One of the many galleries also has a huge underground lake, on which you can take a quiet boat ride.       

1. Dracula’s Castle

Bran Castle owes its notoriety in large part to the myth created around Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Perched on a 200-foot-tall rock, the caste was built by the Transylvanian Saxons during the 15th century, on the site of a former Teutonic Order stronghold from the 1100s. And even though Stoker never visited Transylvania, he envisioned Dracula’s Castle based on British descriptions of this particular fortress. So, as far as blood-sucking vampires are concerned, this castle is the place to visit. And interestingly enough, there’s also a connection between the caste and the infamous Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia.

Bran Castle sits right at the entrance of a mountainous pass that connects the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia. Back in medieval times, the castle acted as a customs house, heavily taxing Romanians who wanted to do business with the then Saxon town of Brasov. This made the relationship between Vlad the Impaler and the lords of Bran, strenuous at best. Whether the Wallachian prince ever captured the castle is unknown, but he was imprisoned there for two months, after he was himself captured by the Hungarian King in 1462.

Those who will go and visit this mythical castle should also think about exploring the other medieval towns and fortresses in the region, including the city of Brasov. The pass that sits at the base of Bran Castle should also not be ignored. A series of caves exist here that were regularly used by both outlaws and prehistoric animals, like the now-extinct cave bears. The nearby village of Pestera (Cave) offers some truly amazing views of both the imposing Carpathian Mountains and of how people used to live during a time when “vampires” still roamed those lands.

10 Shocking Facts About Domestic Abuse

According to the CDC, roughly 10 million people every year are subject to spousal abuse of some kind, and this doesn’t even count the abuse numbers perpetrated against children by a battering parent. Domestic violence is a huge problem, and shutting it down while also dealing with the spread is an issue society has been trying to get a handle on for some time now.

As we talk about below, there are many disturbing facts surrounding domestic abuse, and those who perpetuate it. Some of these facts make it difficult to stop the abusers, or end the cycle of violence, and some of the laws meant to protect everyone make it easier for the abuser to continue harming others, walking free of consequences.

Read the full list!

10 Reasons to be Wary of Jinn

Jinn are basically the bogeymen of the Muslim world, haunting the Middle East, Asia, and parts of Africa today just as they have done for centuries. The term actually derives from an Arabic root meaning “to conceal,” since these are beings that for the most part are said to elude human perception. It may also be related to the Avestic/Old Iranian jaini (a wicked female spirit), but it entered English as “genie,” whichin line with the Latin word genusrefers to a guardian spirit.

Jinn are at various times both; they can be good or bad, angelic or demonic. And they’re especially interesting among supernatural or mythological entities for a number of different reasonsmany of which have a good chunk of the planet scared witless.

Here are 10 of the best.

10. They Hijack Human Bodies

Marked by seizures and incomprehensible speech, as well as the loss of one’s own volition, possession by jinn is all too familiar in many parts of the world.

But sometimes it can be kind of a double-edged sword. One Afghanistani man, for example, an illiterate non-smoker, found he could read and write in many different languages once allegedly possessed by a jinnalthough his appetite for smoking increased to the point of swallowing lit cigarettes whole.

Faith healers typically seek to expel these spirits by reading from the Quran and calling on God to assist. They also blow into the victims’ mouths, curse the jinn, or verbally command them to leave. Some go so far as to actually hit the victim in the belief that it’s the jinn, and not the possessed human, who ultimately feels the pain.

In many cases, however, victims of so-called jinn possession are suffering from a genuine medical disorder, such as epilepsy or schizophrenia. In one especially severe case, a 35-year-old woman given the traditional faith healing treatment was later diagnosed with cerebral malaria—a deadly serious disease for which, fortunately, she was treated in time to survive.

But not all are so lucky. Some leave it far too long to seek medical attention, while others, like 21-year-old Naila Mumtaz in 2012, are killed by their closest relatives.

9. They Dwell in Deserted Places

Deep within Iran’s central Dasht-e Kavir desert is a vast and desolate region known as the Rig-e Jenn, or the Dune of the Jinn. With its howling winds and harsh aridity, it has long been associated with eviland for centuries was avoided by travelers and trade caravans who feared the appearance of jinn in sandstorms. But even in the 20th century, Western explorers were known to avoid it. In fact, it wasn’t until 2005 that anyone made it across.

Jinn apparently thrive in such places, with some other notable examples including the mountainous Chitral District in Pakistan (where yeti sightings are blamed on the jinn) and a sinkhole in the wastes outside Qardho, Somalia (which is thought to lead down into the realm of the jinn and is frequently linked to apparitions).

Other typical jinn haunts include ruins, caves, crossroads, and garbage dumps, as well as large bodies of water and even the upper atmosphere. Graveyards are another particular favoriteespecially among the ghul, the corpse-eating female jinn. According to the medieval mystic Ibn al-’Arabi, jinn were created to feed on the air inside bones, which they “eat” by inhalation.

8. They Can Shapeshift

Most of the time, by a “rapid extension or rarefaction of the particles which compose them,”  jinn remain invisible to human eyes. Whenever they want to be seen, though, they’re said to appear as black dogs, wild asses, or serpents like in the Garden of Eden. And, if their feet are turned backwards, they can also appear as humansincluding humans you know.

In one especially chilling account from Saudi Arabia, a wife recalls laying in bed with her husband and sensing that something was off. Sure enough, when she left the bedroom for the living room, she found her real husband watching TV. And when they went back to the bedroom together, the jinn laughed in their faces and left.

While such feats may be limited to the more powerful jinn racesthe evil ifrit and marid, for exampletales of shapeshifting abound.

An old Persian folk story provides another example: A lady enters a public bathhouse and looks down at the feet of the only other person inside, horrified to find hooves there instead. She rushes outside and frantically tells the attendant about it, insisting that one of her customers has hooves. In response, the attendant simply looks at her, lifts up her skirt, and says “What, like these?”

7. They’re Mortal

Although faster and stronger, with supernatural abilities, jinn are essentially mortal, subject to some of the same physical and cosmological laws as humans. They need to eat and drink, they procreate and die, and they’re sent to Heaven or Hell depending on their deeds in life.

They may even be subject to the same social laws. Within their own realm, for instance, they live in societies not too dissimilar to our own, practicing various religions and establishing sects, or (more often) rejecting God entirely. Like their human counterparts, observant Muslim jinn are said to pray, give alms, fast during Ramadan, and even make pilgrimage to Meccaalbeit without being seen. There are sometimes even legal provisions for humans to inherit their stuff.

Of course, mortal needs can be terrifying in themselves. Evil jinn, for instance, are said to kidnap beautiful women to keep as unwilling wives or concubines. And if they’re unlucky enough to get pregnant, the hybrid offspring are banished to an island near China and left to their own deviceswhich usually means eating people.

6. They’re Made of Fire

Before Islam came along with its emphasis on monotheism, jinn were worshipped as gods. But their place in the heavenly hierarchy has since been revised. Specifically, the Quran states that Allah made jinn out of “smokeless fire” after angels were made out of light and (according to some interpretations) 60,000 years before Adam was made out of clay.

It’s this unique compositionwhich also includes air (just as clay contains water and dust)that allows jinn to shapeshift and become invisible. The fire also makes them proud and dominating, as well as desirous and stupidbut it carries far greater risks than that.

Since fire is said to course through their veins like blood, it’s released in the same way from wounds. So rather than bleeding out when dealt a mortal blow, jinn are said to explode into flames that consume everything in their path.

In other words, brute force probably isn’t the wisest strategy for getting one out of your house.

5. They’re Everywhere

The vast majority of Muslims, even in the West, are essentially forced to believe in the jinn. Those who haven’t seen them personally usually know of someone who has, whether it’s an elderly relative or just a friend of a friend. And anyway, if the prophets say they’re real that pretty much ends the discussion.

While modernist interpretations seek to reframe the jinn as microorganisms or, at a stretch, some kind of quantum fluke, the general consensus seems to be that good Muslims should believe in them somehow.

Hence, throughout the Muslim world, all manner of things are blamed on the jinnnot merely disease, but also sleep paralysis, fires, missing persons, infertility, political unrest, personal shortcomings, and homosexuality, among many other complaints.

Needless to say, deferring to the supernatural in this way can have devastating results. In August 2006, a series of rapes in Kikandwa, Uganda persuaded villagers that a jinn was afoot. Increasingly hysterical with anger and fear, they became extremely suspicious of strangers. And when a disheveled young woman they didn’t recognize emerged from the forest one day, she was immediately sprung upon as a jinn, severely beaten by the villagers, and finished off by the police. As it turned out, she was only looking for her husband.

4. They’ve Been Witnessed By Non-Muslims Too  

Surprisingly, jinn have also been reported by a number of US troops stationed in the Middle East, many of whom aren’t even Muslim.

Encounters include eerie footsteps, objectless shadows, violently shaking beds and, in the extreme, actual, visible shapeshifting. In 2005, for instance, an Army security guard stationed in Pakistan claims to have seen a rabbit transform into a cat while hopping toward him, and then gradually take on the shape of a woman. Panicking, the guard managed to scale a 6-foot wall to escapebut he was never the same again.

Similarly, in Iraq, a US Army soldier crouched to pet a black and white cat he’d come across, only for it to morph into a hunched-over, dog-like animal staring right back at him with the wide open eyes of a human. As the terrified soldier backed away, the creature simply vanished.

And in Afghanistan, a small unit sent to survey a village for a high-ranking Taliban operative found themselves hounded by a figure in white robes. Manipulating sound and light around them, the figure slowly approached from a distance, “[melting]over and around the rocks” with bright and fiery eyes. Despite it being pitch black, one of the night vision-equipped soldiers said the figure was looking right at them. The next day, they found the village completely deserted except for some torn-up corpses and a great deal of blood.

Sleep-deprived delirium or not, these strangely prevalent encounters dovetail with local beliefs. And jinn are often associated with war. In Afghanistan, there’s a theory that blames the Mujahideen for scaring the jinn out of hiding.

3. They Do Grant Wishes… at a Price

The popular image of the jinn as the genie can be traced to the Arabian Nights, that classic repository of Middle Eastern (-esque) folk tales. In Aladdin, The City of Brass, and The Fisherman and the Jinni, for example, they’re basically portrayed as amoral wish-granting spirits trapped in bottles, lamps, or magical rings.

And despite there being little scriptural basis to believe in the three wishes of legend, jinn have long been associated with sorcery. According to the medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, jinn can be summoned by writing certain Quranic verses backwards or in an impure substance like blood. This, he said, would please the infidel jinn and allow a sorcerer to attain favors from themsuch as rapid transportation through the air, untold wealth, and knowledge of things yet to come.

Of course, practices like these have always been sacrilegious and sorcerers pay the ultimate price, that is, losing their “share in the hereafter.”

In other words, forget fairytale endings; Aladdin went straight to Hell.

2. They Get People Executed

There may be another, more immediate price as well. In Saudi Arabia, a special branch of the religious police is tasked specifically with rooting out witchcraft. Founded as recently as 2009 (despite a promise to liberalize laws), the Anti-Witchcraft Unit makes hundreds of arrests every year. And those accused of consorting with jinn are typically sentenced to death.

Convictions tend to be frivolous, often based on little more than anonymous tip-offs and officials’ gut feelings. But in some cases suspects don’t even try to deny the charges. In 2013, for instance, an Egyptian man living in Mecca threatened to unleash a horde of jinn against the police that came to arrest him.

And things are just as bad in Iraneven for the ruling elite. Between late April and early June 2011, dozens of President Ahmadinejad’s inner circle were arrested for consulting with jinn. Even Ahmadinejad himself is said to have met twice with the country’s most notorious sorcerer, Seyed Sadigha man who claims to be in regular contact with the jinn of the CIA, Israeli Mossad, and various Arab Gulf states.

Although the president denied the allegations, and at one point even laughed them off, the “ring leader” Abbas Ghaffari was imprisoned for summoning a jinn and giving his interrogator a heart attack.

1. There’s One for Every One of Us

Disconcertingly, every human being is thought to be assigned a special type of jinn called a qareen (or jinn comrade), whose sole aim it is to corrupt and kill us in order to be free. For some, this explains away the actions of suicide bombers, and could also explain the nature of ghoststhat is, as the liberated qareen left behind.

Even Muhammad had a jinn comrade, it is said, although his converted to Islam and was only interested in good.

But for the rest of humanity qareen are assumed to pose not only the threat of corruption (or death), but a second, more indirect threat of disclosure. Having lived with their human since birth, they are said to know absolutely everything about them; and that means anyone able to communicate with the jinnan unscrupulous faith healer, saycould access those secrets as well. As far as the belief in jinn goes, it’s almost as if everyone has their own built-in magical truth serum.

There is some hope, though. To silence a qareen’s whisperings and “blow out his flame” for good, one is advised to continually recite specific verses from the Quran, most of which proclaim the sovereignty of Allah.