Archive for the ‘Top TEN’ Category

Top Ten Reasons The World Won’t End on December 21, 2012

September 29, 2010

No doubt about it, 2012 and doomsday prophecies are big nowadays. According to the Mayan calendar, the world as we know it will end sometime around December 21st, 2012. Of course, if it doesn’t, that won’t mean we’ll be out of the woods. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ may return at any moment to destroy the armies of the Antichrist and reestablish his throne in Jerusalem, thereby ushering in a thousand years of peace. And if that doesn’t occur, there’s always the chance that the Mahdi will arise to institute a kingdom of justice and, alongside the returned Isa Al-Maseeh (Jesus), will fight against the Dajjal, the Antichrist of Islam. Then, of course, there’s always the chance that—at least according to the Hopi Indians—a blue star will suddenly appear in the sky to signal the start of a great atomic war which will destroy the white man and other ancient races.

Sounds like there’s quite a few ways we might catch it, but what are the chances that any of these things might actually happen? Of course, there is no way to prove that something won’t happen, but below are the top ten reasons why one would be ill-advised to believe the end is coming in 2012 or any other time soon.

10. Because a reversal of the magnetic poles would not be catastrophic.

magneticpoles

It seems that every few hundred thousand years or so, the Earth’s magnetic field dwindles to practically nothing and then gradually reappears with the north and south poles flipped. Now this flipping of the magnetic poles—which appears to have last happened about 780,000 years ago—isn’t particularly dangerous, but this brief period—about a century or so in duration—of decreased magnetic fields could threaten life on the planet, for without magnetic protection, particle storms and cosmic rays from the sun, as well as even more energetic subatomic particles from deep space, would strike Earth’s atmosphere, eroding the already beleaguered ozone layer and causing all sorts of problems to both man and beast (especially among those creatures that navigate by magnetic reckoning). Further, scientists estimate that we are overdue for such an event and have also noticed that the strength of our magnetic field has decreased about 5 percent in the past century, possibly signaling that such an event may be in our immediate future—within a few centuries if not sooner. However, in being so gradual, should scientists in the future discover that such a shift is in the works, there should be plenty of time to take the necessary precautions to avoid the most destructive effects by moving underground or off planet, or perhaps strengthening the planet’s atmospheric defenses through the use of exotic, futuristic technologies. In any case, it isn’t something we need to worry about in the short term—though it could be a concern for those living a few hundred or even thousands of years from now.

9. An increase in sunspot activity in 2012 will not have any particularly detrimental effect on the planet.

sunspots

As every schoolchild knows, our sun is constantly shooting gaseous plumes of white hot plasma thousands of miles into space which our atmosphere generously shields us from. Sometimes these plumes are much larger than normal, however, and are what we refer to as solar flares (more properly known as coronal mass ejections). Fortunately, these enormous magnetic outbursts that bombard Earth with a torrent of high-speed subatomic particles are also largely negated by the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field, so we seldom feel the effects of these plasmic bursts, beyond creating havoc for ham-radio users and increasing the luminosity of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. They are of concern mainly to space explorers, who really would have a problem if they are caught in orbit without suitable shelter when one of these things go off. The sun goes through a natural twenty-two year cycle when such storms increase significantly for a time before decreasing again. Such a period is scheduled to occur in 2012, which has some folks all atwitter. For those who are expecting the worst, it might be beneficial to realize that the sun reached similar period of solar activity in 1990, 1968, 1946, and it will again in 2034, 2056 and 2078. While these periods can produce large solar flares that can effect satellite communications and, in a worst-case scenario, adversely affect the flow of electrical energy through the power grids, it is unlikely to do more than produce some especially spectacular light shows in the northern skies and make people onboard the International Space Station a little nervous.

8. Because the poles cannot shift or the planet’s orbit be otherwise altered.

earthorbit 285x400

Some well-meaning but scientifically challenged individuals maintain that the planet’s physical poles are on the verge of reversing (that is, the planet is flipping over onto its top) or that gravitational forces from the other planets or from the galaxy itself could affect Earth’s orbit and, hence, dramatically alter its climate and environment. Fortunately, however, the gravitational forces that effect our planet and its place in the solar system are mandated by Newton’s laws of planetary mechanics and cannot be changed without some extremely rare (think one chance in ten billion over the next three billion years) and dramatic event taking place—such as a collision with a small moon or a massive black hole making its way through the solar system, both of which would be noted well in advance or whose effect would be so gradual as to take centuries to have any great impact. As far as we know, there are no such cosmic events known to be on the horizon—at least for the foreseeable future (and well beyond 2012).

7. Because Earth climate change is a gradual process and one easily adapted to.

climatechange 427x400

Some take a more hand-on approach to the end, claiming that humanity will perish as a result of human-caused weather changes, which, it is claimed, will melt the polar ice caps, raise the ocean sea levels, and change weather patterns over large portions of the planet. Even if the science holds together, however—which many claim it does not—such a process would be felt over a period of years or even decades, giving human beings time to adapt to the changes (relocate, create shoreline reclamation technologies, etc.) It is even possible that a warmer planet might ultimately be beneficial by, for example, increasing arable land in Siberia and North America as the permafrost layer retreats northward. In any case, the year 2012 has no particular significance in regards to any Earth changes that may occur over the next few decades.

6. Because the people who suggest the end is coming don’t know what they’re talking about.

fortuneteller 400x400

Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to invest great authority in people who can convince them they are prophecy “experts” or have some sort of hidden knowledge others do not possess that allows them to read the future. Many of these people are sincere individuals who simply misinterpret ancient bible texts, while others are deluded crazies who only want to include others in their fantasy world. A few are even unscrupulous charlatans out to make a quick buck. The bottom line is, however, that nobody really knows what the future holds regardless of who they are or what methodology they use. There simply is no evidence that anyone has ever successfully prophesied some future event (beyond some short-term political or military events easily surmised by gauging current international trends) with anything approaching clarity or accuracy.

5. Because the Bible Code is a parlor trick.

biblecode 549x400

Using a complex type of cryptographic code called Equidistant Letter Sequencing (ELS), journalist Michael Drosnin, author of The Bible Code, contends that one can find meaningful and related patterns of words and dates in close proximity to each other within the words of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament and the heart of the Jewish Torah) which would seem to go beyond mere chance. One of these, he says, suggests the planet will be struck by a comet in 2012, with all the unfortunate consequences that would entail. However, critics dismiss Drosnin’s methodology as little more than a parlor trick, demonstrating that meaningful words and phrases can be produced using his method on any similar sized manuscript. For example, Australian mathematician Brendan McKay, an ardent critic of Drosnin’s process, demonstrated that a computer search of Herman Melville’s nineteenth century classic Moby Dick found a number of meaningful phrases in close proximity to each other (specifically having to do with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995), suggesting that just as the eyes can be tricked into seeing familiar faces in random patterns of light and shadow, so too can the mind be tricked into finding meaningful phrases in random collections of letters where none exists. And if that’s not enough, Drosnin has been proven wrong about other “significant events” he claims were contained in the Bible, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

4. Because the Earth isn’t that easy to destroy.

Sure, there are things that could do the planet in, but Earth is a lot hardier a place than many give it credit for. After all, it’s been here for four billion years now, had its clock repeated cleaned by asteroids and comets, endured climactic changes of biblical proportions, and even survived a collision with another planet that created our own moon, and yet it keeps on ticking. And you think a few melting ice caps and puny nuclear weapons are going to do it in? Please…

3. Because doomsday prophecies have consistently been proven wrong.

doomsdayprophecy

Literally hundreds of dates have been picked by various religious leaders and self-proclaimed prophets over the last two thousand years as being the end of the world and not a one of them has ever even come close to being accurate. So why do we believe these same people today when they tell us the end is coming in 2012 (or whenever they imagine it to be coming)? Listen, you wouldn’t believe your doctor if it has been repeatedly demonstrated that he has never once correctly diagnosed a patient, so why give these guys the benefit of a doubt?

2. Because Nostradamus never picked 2012 as the end date.

nostradamus

It has been popularly believed that Nostradamus, the famous sixteenth century French mystic, suggested the end would come in 2012, perfectly coinciding with the Mayan date, which, if true, would be very spooky indeed. However, in reading through Nostradamus’ many quatrains, nowhere does he specifically mention the year 2012 or even suggest that the end would come around that time. In fact, his predictions extend all the way to the year 3797, making it seem we have some time yet before the end is neigh. Additionally, his writings are so obscure as to make any interpretation little better than a guess. Most of them are likely referring to events that took place in his lifetime, with the rest being so vague that they can be made to fit any time frame the reader so desires.

1. Because the Mayans never claimed it would.

mayancalendar 399x400

The Mayans had many calendars they used, one of which was known as the “long count” calendar, which measures very long periods of time.  According to this calendar (which has been known to archeologists for decades, by the way) the Earth’s “fifth sun” would end at the Winter solstice, December 21, 2012, at which point a new, sixth 5,125-year cycle would begin. What significance this had to the Mayans is a source of some debate, but it is the general consensus that they did not attribute to it any catastrophic events. Most likely, they simply considered it a time for spiritual renewal or introspection, which doesn’t sound all that dangerous to me. The teaching that the Mayan’s believed it was the end of time, then, appears to be a largely westernized misreading (or deliberate misrepresentation) of the significance of the Mayan calendar and Mayan beliefs associated with it.

Top Ten Format Wars

September 27, 2010

A format war occurs when two incompatible versions of a similar technology begin to compete against one another in the market.  In almost every case, one of the two formats wins out in the end, either because of a better marketing strategy or a superior product, leaving groups of unlucky consumers with an obsolete technology (Laserdisc, anyone?). Format wars are most common in the realm of audio and video technology, but they’ve also involved computers, digital media storage, and even (in one legendary case) something as basic as electricity. Here are ten of the most famous examples:

10.  DVD vs. DIVX

DIVX

In the late 90s, a format war erupted between DVD and DIVX, two early pioneers in the digital home video market. DVD followed in the footsteps of VHS and Laserdisc as a dedicated home video format, albeit with superior picture and sound quality. DIVX, meanwhile, was a bit more complicated. The movies came on a disc that looked similar to a DVD, but they could only be played on a specialized DIVX machine. Customers could buy DIVX movies for $4, but the disc would only be playable for 48 hours. After that, they’d have to pay a small additional fee via a subscription service to watch it again, or an even bigger fee to access unlimited views.

Who Won?

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone with a Netflix account that things didn’t work out too well for the folks at DIVX. For starters, consumers never truly embraced the pay-for-play format that the company was trying to engineer. Videophiles shunned the idea of not being able to easily collect movies on DIVX, and the idea of a subscription-based video service rubbed most consumers the wrong way—one guy even started a “ban DIVX” petition online. What’s more, big box stores and video shops balked at the idea that by selling DIVX they would only be able to make a meager profit. The $4 discs were much cheaper than DVDs, and any profits from consumers buying infinite plays or paying for additional views went straight to the DIVX subscription service. The format eventually crumbled, losing millions for the now-defunct Circuit City, which sold the discs, and the few major studios that tried to embrace it.

9.  VHS-C vs. Video 8

Video 8

In the 80s and 90s, personal camcorders became the battleground for a clash between two rival tape formats: VHS-C and Video-8. Video-8 and its higher quality successor, Hi8, were both pioneered by Sony, which made the format famous with the release of the Handycam in 1985. JVC created the VHS-C format in 1982, and it quickly caught on thanks to its ease of use. Simplest of all were the format’s tapes, which could easily be played back by putting the VHS-C tape inside a VHS tape adapter.  By the late 80s, the two formats had largely taken over the consumer video market, and the battle between the two would last through much of the 1990s.

Who Won?

This is one of the rare cases where both formats managed to be successful. Thanks to their longer recording time and slightly better quality, video-8 and Hi8 were believed by most to be the better format. Still, VHS-C stayed popular thanks to one thing: playback. Most people didn’t use the cameras for anything more than recording vacations and birthdays, and what mattered most was being able to easily watch the videos on their home televisions. With Video 8 or Hi8, this meant recording the tapes to VHS or hooking the camera up to the television. With VHS-C, users just had to pop the camera tapes into a VHS adapter and they were ready to go. This unique feature kept the two formats at war through most of the 90s, and it was only with the advent of digital video that they finally started to fade.

8. Super Audio CD vs. DVD-Audio

Super Audio

After the success of DVDs in the late 90s, Sony and Phillips combined to create Super Audio CD, a new format of music on disc that used the superior capacity of DVD technology to create high quality audio discs. SACD was quickly followed by the release of Toshiba’s DVD-Audio in 2000, and it wasn’t long before a format war was under way. The battle centered on compatibility. Not only were the DVD music players expensive, but consumers were loathe to switch formats after having had over ten years to acquire shelves of CDs. Both systems countered this by making their players backward compatible—they could play DVD discs as well as regular old compact discs. On top of this, DVD-Audio discs were designed to be compatible with most DVD players already on the market. SACD, meanwhile, designed hybrid discs that had both a CD and an SACD layer, so that they could be played in either device

Who Won?

Not all format wars have a clear winner. In the case of SACD vs. DVD-Audio, the confusion created by the brand rivalry nearly ran both formats out of business. Cost was the first problem. Early SACD models easily ran a few thousand dollars, and even today the devices aren’t cheap. Not only that, but the two sides were in such a rush to get their players and discs on the market that there were several mistakes made along the way. Compression issues and other technical difficulties meant that early on both formats had trouble truly proving their superiority to CD. These problems, along with consumer mistrust of the viability of DVD music, prevented both formats from ever gaining a foothold in the market.

7.  Sirius vs. XM

sirius xm merger

In early 2000s, the battle over “the future of radio” began when XM and Sirius both began jockeying for control of the satellite radio industry. Early on, XM easily had twice the subscribers of Sirius, but aggressive marketing and partnership deals by both companies had soon leveled the playing field. By 2005, the two sides had a near-even split on the sports market, and both had made deals with separate auto companies to have their receivers pre-installed in new cars. Even the celebrities joined in, as both companies began enlisting major figures like Martha Stewart, Bob Dylan, and Oprah. The biggest of all went down in 2006, when Sirius struck a major blow by luring radio sensation Howard Stern over to their service.

Who Won?

Both, depending on how you look at it. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned monopoly, and that’s nearly what Sirius and XM achieved in 2008, when the two companies merged to form Sirius XM radio, a massive single company that now boasts over 18 million subscribers. The merger was more than a bit controversial—the FCC had previously granted licenses to XM and Sirius with the stipulation that one would not be allowed to swallow up the other—but it went through anyway, giving the newly formed company a huge market share of the satellite radio industry. Despite concerns about the new mega-company becoming a monopoly, Sirius XM has struggled quite a bit since the merger. Trouble in the car industry hurt sales of their pre-installed receivers, and the rise of internet radio and podcasts has also cut into their business.

6.  8-Track vs. Cassette

orion 8 track

The 60s and 70s brought on another audio format war in the form of the 8-track vs. the cassette tape. 8-track, or Stereo 8, debuted in 1964, and at first it was seen as the natural successor to vinyl. With 8-track, users could skip forward to individual songs with the touch of a button—a feature that wouldn’t appear elsewhere until compact discs came about in the 80s. Also, because the cartridges used magnetic tape instead of discs, they had a level of portability that had previously been unheard of, and they were soon being installed as hi-fi systems in cars, especially in the United States. The 8-track party finally came to an end in the early 1970s, when cassette tapes, which had previously only been used for office dictation, began being marketed as a home music format.

Who Won?

8-track tapes slowly went the way of the buffalo during the early 80s, and cassette tapes took over the music market until the rise of the CD. Oddly enough, because they ran at twice the speed of cassette tapes, 8-tracks technically had a higher sound quality, but inherent design flaws meant that they were more likely to have problems with background noise and pitch shifts. This is not to mention that the tracking system meant songs would often be rearranged, and there would sometimes be long periods of silence between them. By the early 80s, cassette tapes had taken over and 8-track players were no longer being produced, but they still retain a small cult following of enthusiasts to this day.

5.  Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD

blu ray vs hd dvd

A bitter format war occurred from 2006-2008, when Sony’s Blu-Ray and Toshiba’s HD DVD battled for control of the high definition video market.  The tension originally started with the invention of the blue laser diode, which Sony championed and developed into a new format it called Blu-Ray. A syndicate of electronics companies soon formed in support of the new technology, but Toshiba, along with Microsoft and a few other major manufacturers, were wary of the cost. Negotiations between the two factions stalled when the Blu-Ray supporters snubbed Microsoft’s interactivity feature, HDi, in favor of a Java platform known as BD-J. Toshiba and Microsoft soon announced that they were pursuing their own high def video system, which would later be known as HD DVD. This was followed by a bitter war of words and cries of foul play, and both sides had soon formed alliances with electronics manufacturers and film companies.

Who Won?

Both formats were released to the public in 2006. Blu-Ray scored a major hit in that same year, when Sony announced that it was using the technology as a means of storage in its Playstation 3 game system. Toshiba and Microsoft tried to include a similar package in the Xbox 360, but they were slow in rolling it out, and Blu-Ray had soon made a major jump in the market. The deathblow for HD DVD came in 2008, when Warner Bros., one of its biggest champions, jumped ship and defected to Blu-Ray. This set off a chain reaction of shifting alliances that saw nearly every major manufacturer and retailer abandon HD-DVD within a few weeks. Defeated, Toshiba discontinued the format in February of 2008.

4.  Disk Records vs. Wax Cylinders

wax cylinderswax cylinders

The most famous audio format war was between Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner, both of whom invented competing types of records for the phonograph. Edison first pioneered the wax cylinder in the 1880s. He originally intended it as a means of recording telephone conversations, but the cylinders soon became a popular format for musical recordings. Berliner, meanwhile, released the disk record as a competing format in 1894. Disks had originally been used solely in children’s toys, and in the beginning their sound quality was poor. But after several technical modifications, they were able to rival Edison’s cylinders in sound quality, sparking a format war that would last nearly 20 years.

Who Won?

There’s a reason they call them record stores and not cylinder stores. Despite the cylinder’s initial dominance, disk records won out in the end, and by the late 1920s, even Edison had started marketing his own version of Berliner’s product. This is not to say that there weren’t drawbacks to the disk format. The sound quality tended to be a bit tinnier than a cylinder, and disk records could easily get damaged after being played enough times. Unfortunately for Edison, the battle ultimately came down to ease of production. Disk records were much cheaper and easier to make, since they could simply be stamped out on a press. This helped make the disks a cheaper alternative, and once they started being recorded on both sides, people were able to get twice the music for the same price. Not only that, but disk records were easier to ship, and consumers liked the fact that they could easily be stacked and stored on a shelf like books.

3.  VHS vs. Betamax

BetaMax

The battle over VCR formats arose in the mid-70s, when Sony’s Betamax tapes engaged in a 15-year competition with JVC’s VHS. In the beginning, the war included five or six different videotape formats—Video 2000, V-Cord, Umatic, VX—but after only a few years VHS and Betamax had separated themselves from the pack. With its higher resolution, more reliable playback, and snazzier features, Betamax was seen as the higher quality alternative—but it sported a higher price to prove it. VHS was a more basic format, save for one key area: capacity. While Betamax players could only record for 60 minutes, VHS could copy as much as 120 minutes of programming. After RCA introduced long play tapes, the capacity doubled to 4 hours, and this proved to be a major tipping point in the format war.

Who Won?

Despite its superior features, Betamax eventually lost out to VHS, and by 1993 the players weren’t even available in stores in the U.S. anymore. Sony was never able to get manufacturers to really embrace its product, and this meant that the price could never be lowered enough to compete with VHS. Meanwhile, the 60-minute recording limit ultimately proved to be a deal breaker for most buyers: consumers simply didn’t want to invest in a format that they couldn’t set to record a movie or a football game without having to switch tapes. A long running urban myth has it that the undoing of Beta came down to Sony’s reluctance to release porn videos, but this has since been proven to be largely unfounded. The failure ultimately hinged on economics. The format did live on elsewhere—Beta video players were still being produced in Japan as recently as 2002, and Betacam technology and tape was used widely in the video production industry for years prior to the rise of digital video—but the home video version of it has since gone down in infamy as perhaps the most well known failed format of all time.

2.  The Home Computer War

mac vs pc

Today the competition has boiled down to just “Mac vs. PC,” but in the early 80s, there was a fierce format war between several different companies for control of the burgeoning home computer industry. Mac and the original IBM PC were both frontrunners in the contest, but there were also a number of other models that some people today might not have heard of, like the Commodore 64, the Amstrad CPC, the Timex Sinclair 1000, and the Atari 8-bit. Not only did these different machines compete to see who could be the biggest seller, but they were also all gunning to establish a trusted format. This was because early on in the computer wars, most of the tech was completely incompatible with other formats. A joystick from an Atari computer wouldn’t work with a Mac; a keyboard from a Mac wouldn’t work with a PC; and a printer for a PC wouldn’t work with a Commodore 64. Even floppy disks weren’t universal, and this lack of compatibility only fed the flames of what became a campaign of rapid progress and aggressive marketing.

Who Won?

Not surprisingly, in the long term it was Apple and the IBM PC who were able to outlast the competition. The 80s, though, were another story. Both IBM and Apple were frequently outsold by competitors, particularly in the case of the Commodore 64, which moved some 30 million units to become the best selling PC of all time. On the whole, though, the companies avoided a true format war when they settled on a few basic forms of connectivity (Atari 2600 connectors for joysticks and computer mice, DOS FAT-21 floppy drives), which made the units at least mildly compatible. Likewise, PCs and Apple computers today use USB as a means of compatibility, and most Mac computers are now even capable of running on the Windows platform. The format war between the two still continues, but if the steady sales of both PCs and MacBooks are proof of anything, it’s that neither format will be declared the outright winner any time soon.

1.  Alternating Current vs. Direct Current

Direct Current Alternating Current

The most bitter format war in history was also one of the first. In what has come to be known as “the War of Currents,” Thomas Edison’s direct current battled against Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse’s alternating current for control of the U.S. power grid. At the time, Edison’s direct current was the standard in the United States, and it was up and running in a number of major cities. But there were problems with DC’s distribution technology. In a direct current system, a power plant was connected to distribution conductors, which then branched out to individual customers. While practical, this system ensured that the electricity could only be transmitted at one voltage, no matter if it was feeding a single light bulb or a large engine. Westinghouse and Tesla offered the answer to this problem in the form of alternating current. AC used a transformer to allow for different levels of voltage to be transmitted to different locations depending on demand. Not only that, but using a transformer let AC current transmit at much faster speeds, allowing for fewer power plants to serve larger areas.

Who Won?

Westinghouse and Tesla’s superior technology eventually won out, but only after significant controversy. Ever the master of media manipulation, Edison held public demonstrations where he electrocuted animals with AC in order to show how dangerous it was to transmit electricity at high voltage. He even used AC to develop the first electric chair, which, because of inadequate voltage, put on a gruesome display the first time it was used on a death row inmate. But despite Edison’s attempts to disparage AC, in 1893 Westinghouse won a major contract to use it to generate hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls. The experiment was a rousing success, and it proved to be the tipping point in the War of Currents. AC eventually replaced DC in the central power grid, and after a few years even Edison’s General Electric company was producing AC machines.

Top Ten Presidential Candidates Who Should Have Won

September 26, 2010

Every four years the good citizens of this country drag themselves to the voting booth (well, actually about half of them do, the rest being far too busy to concern themselves with such things as picking the leader of their nation) to pick the candidate they hope will do the least amount of damage to the country over the next 48 months. Usually they are reasonably successful at picking, if not the best man possible, at least the best one available, but every once in a while they find themselves wishing they’d pulled the other lever. Below is my list of those men who, in the hindsight of history, would probably have made a better president than the victor did. Some of these men were sitting presidents who were unseated by a lesser opponent, but most were first time candidates who offered a real alternative but were overlooked for whatever reason.

I’m aware that a list like this is highly subjective and I realize that some of my picks will be controversial—causing great anguish and threats of retribution—but such is the price for doing things like making top ten lists. Undoubtedly, you will be able to point out all sorts of people that should be on this list but are not—or, conversely, why some who are on it should not be—which is to be expected. And, finally, none of my picks should be construed as an indictment of any candidate’s personal character; I’m not trying to trash people here, but merely give the reader a look at what might have been but for the fickleness of fate and the electorate.

10. GERALD FORD over JIMMY CARTER, 1976

jimmy carter gerald ford debate

It’s not that Gerald Ford was the greatest president the country had ever seen or that Carter lacked the intelligence and experience to be president, it’s just that Carter was ill-suited to make the really tough decisions the job demanded, while Gerald Ford had already proven that he was capable of making those decisions. How that would have impacted the Iran hostage crises and the economic downturn of the late seventies could only be guessed at, but in retrospect, Jerry Ford couldn’t possibly have done any less inspiring a job than the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia did. Either way, Ronald Reagan would have ended up the next president.

9. HENRY CLAY over JAMES K. POLK, 1844

Political cartoon predicting Polk's defeat by ClayPolitical cartoon predicting Polk’s defeat by Clay

It’s not that Polk wasn’t a capable man, it’s just that Henry Clay was a man with a remarkable résumé. A congressman and senator from Kentucky with over forty years of legislative and executive experience (including a previous run for the presidency in 1832), Clay had served as Speaker of the House and Secretary of State before running against Polk (and losing in a squeaker). An abolitionists who did his best to limit the spread of slavery and a colleague of Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun (plus a man greatly admired by Abraham Lincoln), in 1957, a Senate committee chaired by John F. Kennedy named Clay as one of the five greatest senators in U.S. history. Polk, in comparison, while no slacker, had less experience and could have used a bit more polishing—even though he did okay.

8. GEORGE BUSH over BILL CLINTON, 1992

Bill Clinton George Bush Debate

Okay, I know Bill Clinton oversaw one of the great economic boom times in recent history (thanks largely to acquiescing to the GOP controlled congress) but I submit that old George got shafted out of a well-deserved second term. After all, here was a man with a résumé as thick as a phone book who had overseen the largely peaceful collapse of Communism in Europe and successfully prosecuted two wars in two years (Panama and the Persian Gulf), only to lose to a draft evader and two-term Arkansas governor because of a minor recession that occurred late in his term, the incoherent promises of third party candidate Ross Perot, and the oratorical skills of slick Willy. Hardly seemed fair but whatcha gonna do?

7. RICHARD NIXON over JOHN F. KENNEDY, 1960

This is easily my most controversial pick, especially in light of the Kennedy mystique that developed in the aftermath of the man’s assassination. I don’t make this selection, however, because I believe Kennedy was a bad president. My position is that in light of the Cold War tensions that were going on in 1960 and the situation in Cuba, Richard Nixon was probably in a better position to confront the Soviets and resolve the Cuban situation than the neophyte Massachusetts senator was, as Kennedy proved by approving the Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961 and then failing to back it once it began. Nixon, in contrast, was in on the planning for the Cuban invasion from the beginning and would undoubtedly have given the Cuban nationalists the air support they needed to oust Castro, thus removing a fifty year long thorn in our side and foregoing the ensuing Cuban missile crises of October, 1962. How Nixon would have dealt with Vietnam in its infancy, civil rights, and the space program remains a great unknown of course, but it definitely would have been an interesting time that might well have transformed the sixties into something more closely resembling…well, the fifties.

6. HORACE GREELEY over ULYSSES S. GRANT, 1872

Horace Greeley Ulysses Grant Cartoon

While the Civil War General was still wildly popular and Grant was a man of personal integrity, his first four scandal-ridden years in the White House demonstrated that he was in way over his head as president. None-the-less, the Democrats couldn’t seem to find anyone who thought they could unseat him, so they nominated none other than newspaper man and writer Horace Greeley as token opposition. However, Greeley was no slacker, but a genuine reformer and intellectual who probably would have shaken things up. Whether for better or worse is anyone’s guess, but it would have been interesting to see what he would have done had he been given the chance. Unfortunately, he died just a few weeks after losing the election to Grant, but it could be argued that even a dead Horace Greeley would probably have been an improvement over a live U.S. Grant.

5. HORATIO SEYMOUR over ULYSSES S. GRANT, 1868

Horatio Seymour Presidential election poster

There’s no denying that Grant was a superb military commander. The problem is that superb military commanders often do not make for good presidents, as Grant’s corruption-plagued and largely inept eight years in the White House later proved. Seymour, on the other hand, had oodles of political experience, including two tumultuous stints as Governor of New York. Even better, he never sought the nomination for president and was essentially drafted by his party to run, demonstrating that unlike most men who seek the presidency, ambition was not one of his short-comings. Would he have been a great president? Probably not, but considering how poor Grant fared, he couldn’t help but to have been better.

4. SAMUEL TILDEN over RUTHERFORD B. HAYES, 1876

Rutherford Hayes Samuel Tilden Presidential Election

Actually, Tilden won this election but lost the electoral college vote count through some partisan shenanigans, but that’s another story. In any case, this was the man who took on the corrupt Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall boys in New York and won. A genuine reformer, it is likely that he would have done considerably better than the scandal ridden Hayes had the will of the people been upheld. Unfortunately, like Greeley four years earlier, he also went into failing health after the election, so we don’t even know if he would have lived long enough to do much had he persevered, though all the tea leaves read positive.

3. JAMES COX over WARREN G. HARDING, 1920

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After the eight years of turmoil created by the Wilson administration, the country was ready for a “return to normalcy” and in doing so sent one of the most corrupt and incompetent men ever to be president to Washington while repudiating the one man who really might have done some great things had he been elected. Clearly, the former newspaper reporter, Ohioan congressman and two term governor would have been a huge improvement over the womanizing and inept Harding, and he had a pretty decent vice-president named Franklin Delano Roosevelt to boot. (Side note: Imagine that had Cox won and if FDR had succeeded him in 1928, only to get hammered by the Stock Market Crash in 1929 and the resultant depression, whether he would have lost in a landslide to Herbert Hoover in 1932? Weird to think about, huh?)

2. WINFIELD SCOTT over FRANKLIN PIERCE, 1852

Scott Pierce Presidential election race

This is kind of a tough call for neither man was especially qualified to be president, but Pierce proved to be such a bad one—despite being, by most accounts, a fairly nice guy in general—that it probably would have been reasonable to have let ol’ Winfield take a shot at it. At least Scott wasn’t pro-slavery and a secessionist (Pierce being one of the few ex-presidents to support the confederacy), nor was he as likely to have made the catastrophic decisions—such as repealing the Missouri Compromise and reopening the question of the expansion of slavery in the West that made succession growingly unavoidable—that poor Franklin did. Winfield was no saint himself (he was in charge of removing the Cherokees from their homes in the southeast United States, though he was acting under orders from then President Andrew Jackson) but he was an able general, having successfully led the U.S. Army against Santa Ana in Mexico, and a man with some impressive leadership skills. Would he have been able to prevent the Civil War from occurring had he been president? Hard to tell but he doubtlessly would have at least made some effort to do so, which is more than can be said for Pierce.

1. THEODORE ROOSEVELT over WOODROW WILSON, 1912

Charles Lewis Bartholomew, ca. 1912. Untitled. This election marked the only time that graduates of Harvard (Teddy Roosevelt, top), Princeton (Woodrow Wilson 1879), and Yale (President William Howard Taft) competed in a presidential election campaign.Charles Lewis Bartholomew, ca. 1912. Untitled. This election marked the only time that graduates of Harvard (Teddy Roosevelt, top), Princeton (Woodrow Wilson 1879), and Yale (President William Howard Taft) competed in a presidential election campaign. Courtesy Princeton University Archives

It would have been interesting to see how the twentieth century would have turned out had the hawkish TR been given his parties’ nomination and won a third non-consecutive term as president in 1912. It’s hard to imagine him standing idly by for two years while war raged in Europe as Wilson did without throwing America’s weight in against the Kaiser, probably ending the conflict a couple of years early and saving the world from having to fight Germany again twenty years later. Whether he would have come up something like Wilson’s League of Nations remains to be seen (Teddy more likely would have pursued an isolationist policy) but regardless, it would have made for quite a different century, one would think.

Top Ten Awkward Bible Stories

September 25, 2010

The Bible – it’s one of the most popular and best-selling books in the world. Spanning a couple thousand years of history, it touches upon a wide range of subject matters. In it we find stories about origins, human nature, kingdoms, salvation, and the end of the world. Life and death, happiness and despair, good and evil. All of this, and more.

There’s plenty of inspiration to be found in the Bible, but sometimes the narratives can make you cringe. What follows below are a few stories that might have made the characters involved feel a little (or a lot) on the awkward side of things.

10. Adam and Eve introduce awkwardness to the human race (Genesis 3)

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To kick this list off, let’s begin with the story about how Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, discovered what feeling awkward was like.

In the middle of the entire Garden of Eden God had created for them, only one tree was off-limits. They could eat any fruit they wanted, so long as they stayed away from that one tree. Thanks to the crafty serpent, however, they chose to ignore God’s command. As a result, they became aware of their own nakedness (yes, there were other consequences, but let’s just focus on this one).

Think of how uncomfortable you would feel if, after having lived in oblivious nudity without any feelings of shame, you took a bite of contraband fruit and suddenly realized, “Whoa – I’m naked!”

Bonus awkward points: In addition to their new-found sense of shame, the prospect of facing God and explaining why they couldn’t follow one little rule must have been equally awkward (and terrifying) for the two partners in crime.

9. Talking to a donkey (Numbers 22)

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Most people would agree that receiving correction can be a humbling and awkward ordeal, but then again most people don’t receive correction from their donkeys. And that’s apparently what happened to a prophet named Balaam.

In Numbers 22, King Balak of the Moabites, worried about Israel’s military advantage, decided to request Balaam’s services, which consisted mainly of blessing and/or cursing people depending on God’s instruction.

Having received divine permission to visit the Moabite king, Balaam saddled up his donkey and hit the road. However, God became angry and dispatched an angel with a sword to block Balaam’s path and force the donkey to stop. For some reason, Balaam couldn’t see the angel and kept beating the frightened beast, until finally it complained about the abuse by talking to him.

Awkward, yes, but apparently getting owned by a donkey wasn’t awkward enough for Balaam, who carried on a conversation with it until he finally saw the angel. Whoops.

Bonus: King Balak, who was hoping for some juicy curses against Israel, ended up with his own serving of awkward – he got four oracles that blessed Israel instead!

8. One hundred Philistine foreskins (1 Samuel 18)

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Before the handsome, successful, and wildly popular David became Israel’s king, he had to put up with a rather jealous King Saul, who hated his guts and wanted him dead. Chucking spears at David wasn’t working out very well for Saul, so when he discovered that his daughter Michal was in love with David, he had an idea – put David in a situation that would result in his death at the hands of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines.

In order to win Michal’s hand, Saul declared, David would need to bring in the foreskins of one hundred Philistines. In other words, if David wanted to marry Michal, he had to go slaughter a hundred enemy soldiers and bring back the proof.

Technically, the task was a suicide mission, so when David and his men actually returned (with a surplus), Saul was understandably shocked and had to hand over his daughter.

“What, you’re still alive? And you’ve got 100 – no, 200!? – Philistine trophies with you, too? This is awkward…”

7. Noah gets naked (Genesis 9)

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You’ve just survived a worldwide flood. Life has been almost completely annihilated. You and your immediate family members are now responsible for repopulating the face of the earth. So what do you do about it? Plant yourself a vineyard, brew some wine, get sloshed, and then pass out naked in your tent.

This isn’t such a bad thing by itself, but while Noah was still unconscious his son Ham walked in. Instead of honoring his old man by covering him up, Ham made a joke about it to his brothers Shem and Japheth, who responded by walking backwards into Noah’s tent and improving his modesty without observing their father’s nakedness.

Those who understand the effects alcohol has on one’s behavior can probably relate to the awkwardness Noah might have felt when he awoke (“I did what!?”).

Bonus: Ham had it coming, too. Noah was pretty upset to hear that his youngest son had been disrespectful, and Ham ended up with a curse of slavery on his family line. Explain that one to your kids!

6. Haman forced to honor Mordecai (Esther 6)

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As a high-ranking official in the court of the Persian King Xerxes, Haman was offended one day when a Jew named Mordecai refused to show him the courtesy of a respectful bow. To get revenge for his injured ego, Haman convinced King Xerxes to let him issue a decree that would legalize the extermination of all Jews throughout the kingdom (overreaction, anyone?).

What Haman didn’t realize was that the recently instated Queen Esther happened to be a Jew – and Mordecai’s cousin. In addition, Mordecai was directly responsible for supplying information to Esther which exposed a plot to assassinate the king. Since Esther was able to put in a good word for Mordecai, the king decided to honor him.

Xerxes went to Haman for advice about how to honor a man who had pleased the king. Haman, self-importantly assuming that he himself was the one to be honored, came up with an idea in terms of what he would have liked for himself. Unfortunately, Xerxes then ordered him to carry it out for Mordecai.

Thus, an embarrassed Haman was forced to lead Mordecai – dressed in royal robes and mounted on a royal horse – through the city streets, announcing to everyone that the king approved of Mordecai, the man he despised.

5. Jesus outs his own betrayer (John 13)

Judas Last Supper

Traitors generally prefer to remain anonymous, at least until they have fulfilled their objective. However, if the person you want to betray happens to be the Messiah, you might find yourself unable to maintain typical standards of secrecy.

Judas is famous for accepting payment to lead Jesus into enemy hands. Interestingly, his plot was brought to light by Jesus himself while the disciples were eating the Passover meal one night.

After announcing that a traitor was in their midst, Jesus decided to make Judas’s secret plans obsolete by specifically pointing him out. “Want to know who’s going to betray me? Okay, I’ll give the guilty party this piece of bread,” Jesus said. “Here, Judas – have a piece of bread.” Judas, confused and surprised by this incident, headed out to gather a mob of people to arrest Jesus later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Bonus: the greeting kiss by which Judas identified Jesus to the soldiers (Matthew 26) was probably a pretty awkward one, wouldn’t you agree?

4. God confirms his covenant with Abram (Genesis 17)

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When the Lord appeared to the 99-year-old Abram in Genesis 17, he laid out the ground rules for how the covenant between them would be confirmed. In exchange for being the father of many nations, inheriting the land of Canaan, and becoming fruitful, Abram needed to 1) walk blamelessly before the Lord, 2) change his name to ‘Abraham’, and 3) cut off part of his penis.

Say what?

Technically, since circumcision was already practiced by other Semitic people groups at that point in history, Abram was probably not too shocked by the revelation that a small part of his anatomy would be going under the knife. Still, I can imagine a brief, awkward silence at this point in the conversation as Abram let this particular aspect of the covenant sink in!

3. God tells Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman (Hosea 1, 3)

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The life of an Old Testament prophet was not necessarily a pleasant one. For example, in the case of Hosea – who prophesied in Israel during the reign of the wicked King Jeroboam – God had a pretty awkward idea in mind, namely: Go marry a prostitute. And by the way, she’s going to cheat on you.

There was a point to the apparent madness, of course. Under Jeroboam’s leadership, Israel was too busy sinning to bother following God’s laws and commands. By asking Hosea to take an unfaithful wife, God was essentially comparing the sinful ways of Israel to a woman who is not faithful to her husband.

Just as God predicted, after bearing three children to Hosea, Gomer took another lover. In order to show how devoted he was to the people of Israel, God ordered Hosea to show unconditional love to Gomer by buying her back from the dude she’d been sleeping with.

In a way, this is a beautiful story of forgiveness – but at the same,  it would also be pretty awkward to find yourself mixed up in that kind of situation.

2. Jacob gets the wrong wife (Genesis 29)

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What better way to deceive your hard-working nephew and future son-in-law than to promise him one daughter’s hand in marriage, and then trick him into wedding your older daughter? It’s a cold thing to do, but that’s exactly how Uncle Laban decided he would treat Jacob in the book of Genesis.

Laban had two daughters named Leah and Rachel, and the latter’s beauty captivated Jacob. In order to win her as his wife, he agreed to become Laban’s employee for seven years. But when the wedding day finally arrived, the devious Laban, in an effort to marry off his oldest daughter first, dressed up Leah as Jacob’s bride instead of Rachel. The veiled wedding outfit, combined with the darkness of the marriage chamber, prevented Jacob from noticing a problem until the next morning.

How awkward would it be to wake up and realize that the amazing sex with Rachel last night had actually been, um, amazing sex with Leah?

1. Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19)

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The story of Lot and his two daughters provides us with yet another example of drunkenness that turned awkward. In certain cases, drinking wine should be avoided, especially if you are living alone in a secluded mountain cave with your kids. You never know when a serious case of incest could strike.

After fleeing from the smoldering wasteland that had been Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and the girls had eventually settled in a mountainous region, which must have been in the middle of nowhere considering what happens next. The two daughters, perhaps working on the assumption that most of the world had been destroyed by fire and brimstone, concluded that in order for them to preserve their family line, they would have to get their father drunk with wine and… yeah.

For two consecutive nights – one night for each daughter – they managed to get their father so completely smashed that he wasn’t aware of what his own children were doing.

I honestly can’t figure it out – would this situation have been more awkward for the daughters, or for Lot when he found out what had happened?

————-

There are probably other examples that might have worked for this list. For instance, I’m sure it felt pretty weird for Isaiah when God told him to walk around naked (Isaiah 20), and it must have been both awkward and terrifying when Joseph’s brothers realized that the annoying brat they had sold into slavery years ago was now the governor of Egypt (Genesis 25).

But take the examples for what they’re worth. Go, and try not to do likewise.

Top Ten Players of the 2010 World Cup

September 25, 2010

The lights have gone out in South Africa and the trophy has gone back to Spain for the next four years. So while we all relive all the excitement that the world’s largest sporting event has to offer, we reflect on the players who made the World Cup the dramatic clash of nations it always is.

10. Arjen Robben – The Netherlands

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Arjen Robben is arguably one of the greatest Dutch players of all time. Despite missing the first two games of the World Cup due to a hamstring injury, he came back and helped his team surpass teams like Brazil and Uruguay to get into the final against Spain. Robben is a reliable presence on the pitch who’s pace and dribbling has made him one of the best wingers in the world. But he is not without controversy, he is often criticized for going to ground too easily and too often. During the World Cup he scored two goals and had one assist and because he was a real difference maker for the Netherlands, Robben was nominated for the Golden Ball award.

Where else does he play?

Arjen Robben began his football career at his home club, Groningen. But it wasn’t long before he caught the eye of some of the top clubs in the world. He has played for PSV, Chelsea, Real Madrid and currently plays for Bayern Munich.

9. Maicon – Brazil

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After Cafu’s retirement, Brazil fans were skeptical if anyone could fill his shoes, but that is exactly what Maicon has been able to do, and today he is considered one of the best right backs in the world. Maicon encompasses speed, great touches, accurate crosses and on top of all that he scores the occasional goal. During the match against Korea DPR in the group stage he showed off his shooting ability, scoring from an almost impossible angle for what was one of the best goals of the tournament. The goal has been debated by football fans around the world as no one really knows if it was supposed to be a cross or if he actually meant to score.

Where else does he play?

Maicon made his debut to professional for Cruzeiro in 2001 and during his two seasons with the club they won the championship. In 2004 he was lured across the Atlantic to play for Monaco. Two years later he made a move to Internazionale where he and his teammates have won the last four Serie A titles as well as the 2010 UEFA Champions League.

8. Mesut Ozil – Germany

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Over the course of the World Cup, Mesut Ozil has risen from relative obscurity to someone who is being called the German Iniesta. He’s the kind of player that comes along once in a blue moon, a play maker whose vision, passing and inventiveness makes a huge impact on any game he plays in. At only 21, Ozil has become the one to watch and has even been called “a gift for German football” by Joachim Low. Usually wreaking havoc as a midfielder, he can also play as a left winger or even as a striker if the need arises. Ozil marked his first World cup with one goal, but his play making ability really stood out as he made three assists.

Where else does he play?

Ozil’s youth career was spent at several different clubs including Westfalia 04 Gelsenkirchen, Teutonia Shalke-Nord, Falke Gelsenkirchen and Rot-Weiss Essen before he made a move to Shalke 04. It was for Shalke that he made his senior league debut in 2006. He currently plays for Werder Bremen after moving there in 2008.

7. Andres Iniesta – Spain

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A creative player that is capable of playing anywhere in the midfield, Iniesta has been called the best player in the world by the likes of Wayne Rooney. He is most effective when he plays right in behind the strikers where his handling of the ball and his ability to race into threatening positions causes serious problems for opposing defenders. During the World Cup final, Iniesta became a Spanish hero when in the 116th minute he scored the winning goal against the Netherlands. He was named the Man of the Match for the final, as well as being included in the FIFA World Cup All Star Team.

Where else does he play?

A talented graduate of the Barcelona youth school, Iniesta made his senior level debut on October 29, 2002 and he’s been with the club ever since. He has helped Barcelona to four Spanish League trophies, one Spanish Cup, three Spanish Supercups, two Champions League crowns a UEFA Supercup and a FIFA Club World Cup.

6. Xavi – Spain

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One of the greatest playmates in the world, Xavi is the center of which the rest of the Spanish team rotates. He is an incredibly hard working central midfielder who is just as comfortable defending as he is making breaks forward and setting up and scoring goals. But probably his most impressive attribute as a footballer is his creative genius.  Because of this he is one of the few players in football history who has won every major tournament open to him. During this World Cup, Xavi covered more ground and made more passes than any other player, making him an irreplaceable force in the Spanish machine.

Where else does he play?

A product of the Barcelona youth system, Xavi moved up to the senior team in 1998 and has been there ever since. During his time there Barcelona has won five La Liga titles, one Spanish Cup, three Spanish Supercups, two Champions Leagues and the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup. Xavi himself has won a plethora of awards including being included in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Al Star Team.

5. Wesley Sneijder – The Netherlands

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At only 25, Wesley Sneijder has established himself as a powerful presence in the Dutch side. He is known the world over as a play maker who’s passing ability is among the best and who is comfortable playing both a fast and slow game as needed. But he can also score goals as he has shown at this year’s World Cup, tying as one of the top goal scorers with five. Even while those around him were not living up to their potential, Sneijder remained as brilliant as ever and carried the Netherlands all the way to the final. In the end the Spanish defence was just too much for the Dutchman to handle. Part of his greatness comes from his family, his father was a player and both his brothers play at a professional level, one at Stormvogels Telstar and the other at the Ajax youth academy.

Where else does he play?

A product of AFC Ajax’s famous youth academy, he moved up to the senior team when he was only seventeen, following in his older brother’s footsteps. In 2007 he caught the eye of Real Madrid who signed him to a €27 million contract making him the most expensive Dutch player in the world. From there he made a move to Internazionale in 2009 and earlier this year he helped his team win the 2010 Champions League Final.

4. David Villa – Spain

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Comfortable with either foot, David Villa has unleashed his goal scoring prowess at this World Cup, much like he usually does in Spanish colors. He has proved himself in international competition as an important member of a strong Spanish side at not only the 2006 World Cup but also at Euro 2008 (where he won the Golden Boot) and the 2009 Confederations Cup. And this World Cup was no different as he was tied as the top goal scorer of the tournament with five goals in all. Villa is type of player most coaches dream of, a hard-working forward that is capable of opening up the opposing defence and scoring goals. It is because of this that he is one of the top scorers in the history of Spanish football, second only to Raul.

Where else does he play?

David Villa began his football career at Sporting de Gijon in 2001 and then moved up to the top flight Spanish football with Real Zaragoza in 2003. From there he was transferred to Valencia, where he has played for the last five seasons. In May of this year Villa signed a four-year contract with Barcelona.

3. Iker Casillas – Spain

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One of the best goalkeepers in the world, Iker Casillas captained La Roja to their first ever World Cup title. His reflexes, speed, agility and the ability to shut down one on one threats has earned him the nickname Saint Iker by both club and national fans. But he is not without his critics, many of whom believed that after the defeat against Switzerland, he should not be Spain’s first choice. With his legendary composure he silenced them, winning the next six games (including the final), five of which were clean sheets. A crucial member of the Spanish side, he no doubt made the decision of who should get the Golden Glove very easy.

Where else does he play?

Iker Casillas has been with Real Madrid since the beginnings of his youth career, but when you play for ne of the best teams in the world there’s not much of an incentive to leave. With the club he has won four La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, a UEFA Supercup and an Intercontinental Cup.

2. Thomas Mueller – Germany

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At only 20 years old, Thomas Mueller has used this World Cup to make the football world stand up and take notice. His versatility to play both as an attacking midfielder as well as a winger adds to his speed, vision and technical ability to make him an all-around stand out player. During the World Cup he was a surprise addition to Joachim Low’s side but he quickly made his mark by scoring Germany’s first goal of the tournament. But he didn’t stop there, he scored another four goals and made three assists, earning him the Golden Boot ahead of superstars like Villa, Sneijder and Forlan as well as the Best young Player award/

Where else does he play?

Mueller began as a youth at TSV Pahl an 1993. From there he moved into the Bayern Munich youth team in 2000 and has effectively moved up the Bayern ranks, making his senior team debut in August 2008.

1. Diego Forlan – Uruguay

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While is not the captain, Diego Forlan has led Uruguay not only to the World Cup but all the way to the semi finals. A powerful presence up front, Forlan has the ability to both score and feed the ball to his teammates, predominantly his striking partner, Luis Suarez. “Cachavacha” as he has been nicknamed (because of a striking similarity to a comic book character of the same name), marked his second World Cup tournament with five goals, one of which was a penalty in the shootout against Ghana to get Uruguay into the semifinal. In the end he was given the recognition he deserved when FIFA awarded him with the Golden Ball. However, Diego isn’t the only Forlan to represent Uruguay at the World Cup, his father, Pablo, played in both the 1966 and 1974 World Cups. Despite this Diego grew up playing tennis and it was only after a family tragedy that he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Where else does he play?

Forlan currently plays for Athletico Madrid after being transferred there in June 2007. He has also played at Independiente, Manchester United and Villarreal, and has won two European Golden Boot awards, once for Villarreal in 2004-05 and also for Athletico Madrid in 2008-09.

Top Ten Conception Myths

September 24, 2010

Many misconceptions abound about the act of getting pregnant and most of them are quite ridiculous. You have to look no further than the most far-fetched and oldest myth of all – the stork brings the baby. Fortunately we can rule that one out easily, but there are plenty of other mis-conception myths to go around. You could say the Internet is pregnant with such erroneous information concerning the simple act of making a baby.

10. Mountain Dew

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Many people have heard that the soda drink Mountain Dew lowers a mans sperm count, therefore, if a man is drinking enough of Dew he cannot impregnate a woman. The food coloring dye in Mountain Dew, specifically Yellow 5 is rumored to reduce a man’s sperm production. This however, is totally false. A man can drink 10 bottles of Dew a day, and though he may get a gut from all that sugar, he is still very capable of getting a woman pregnant.

9. Two Condoms

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Many men believe that if one condom is good, two would be even better. In actuality, two condoms increases the friction between the condoms. This friction then can lead to the rupture of both condoms, so for all those thinking they need a back up, just stick with one.

8. Hot Tub

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Hot tubs are fun for all, but be warned, pregnancy can occur if you have intercourse in a hot tub just as easily as in a bed. Many people believe a “condom” of chlorine and heat kill the sperms, which it will, but all the sperm that stays inside is still perfectly fine and able to connect with an egg and start forming a baby!

7. Jumping Jacks

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Though this is good exercise, doing jumping jacks after having sexual intercourse is not an effective method of birth control. Sperm do not fall out, they stay inside and keep swimming. As long as they are anywhere near the vagina, sperm are capable of finding an egg.

6. Douching

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If you wash out the sperm after sex you couldn’t possible get pregnant right? Wrong. Though some of the sperm may be pushed out, many remain. In fact, many sperm become pushed up further into the vagina near the cervix making them even closer to the egg therefore increasing your chance of becoming pregnant.

5. Girl On Top

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Another popular belief is that if you have sex with the woman on top she can not become pregnant because gravity will simply make the sperm fall out or render them incapable of swimming upward. Sperm however are very capable little guys, and can just as easily swim up with the girl on top as in any other position.

4. Rhythm Method

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The rhythm method is a method of birth control that involves the careful mapping of a woman’s monthly cycle. The belief is that if you avoid intercourse during the days of ovulation, you can avoid pregnancy. However, sperm can live for 3 to 5 days in a woman’s vagina, and ovulation is not always set on the same day from month to month. The rhythm method by itself only has a 35% success rate.

3. First Time

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Some people believe that during your first time having sex you can not get pregnant. In actuality, as long as the women has monthly cycles she can get pregnant even if it is her very first time having sexual intercourse.

2. During Menstruation

Some women and men think that if a woman is on her period she can’t become pregnant because she just finished her cycle and will not be ovulating for a couple weeks. though this is rare, it is in fact possible for a woman to have a short cycle, so she can get pregnant even though she is on her period.

1. “Pull Out”

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The most common myth about conception is that is a man pulls out before ejaculation he can not get a woman pregnant because no sperm has entered her vagina. However, there is pre-ejaculatory fluid that comes out before a man has ejaculated and this fluid can contain sperm. These sperm can then proceed into the uterus and if they meet with an ova, a baby can be made.

Top Ten Sex Symbols of the 50s & 60s

September 24, 2010

Top Ten Myths About Sex

September 24, 2010

There is a lot of sex talk out there, but there are just as many fallacies finding their way between the sheets as there are truths. Now we all know that the size of a man’s appendage versus his outer extremities (hand, head, foot) has no proven correlation, and nor does the act of self-gratification stand to make one go blind. There are however several myths that have not been publicly chastised for their ridiculous nature, and often are still believed to be truth rather than fiction. Let’s look at these top ten myths about sex.

10. A Cold Shower Dashes the Libido

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A cold shower has been said to curb peak sexual appetite, simply by reducing the amount of testosterone levels in men and estrogen levels in women. There is simply no proven basis for this belief, and in fact, an English study for Thrombosis has shown that a cold shower actually stimulates libido by increasing hormone levels. The end result is even more sexual excitement than was first started with. Take heart all ye anxious ladies and gentlemen, as I hear a ball peen hammer and wooden plank still does wonders for destroying ones sexual appetite!

9. The Power of a Lover’s Stare

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The power of a lover’s stare has been written in romance novels ever since an ink pen was first laid to a piece of parchment. True lovers have been said to have the ability to stare into each others eyes for hours on end, falling in love again and again, without ever growing tired. However, what has actually been found in studies, is that staring at your lover has about a 50/50 chance of promoting feelings of love and passion. The other fifty percent of the time it promotes aggression and annoyance, which has been documented in couple studies as fighting and arguing. I guess it is true… all’s fair in love and war!

8. Sex During the Final Stages of Pregnancy

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A lot of expecting couples express fear of hurting their baby during intercourse. Especially during the final trimester. However, most research today not only shows that intercourse is completely safe for the child, it actually can promote a healthier, speedier labor and delivery. It is an old wives tale that sex is bad for the fetus once it is past a certain stage of growth. Many doctors say that you should be able to have a healthy sexual relationship with your partner right up until the day of delivery. Chalk much of this myth up to man’s over-exaggeration of his unit!

7. Thinking of Someone Else During Sex is a Bad Sign for a Relationship

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Did you know that upwards of 90% of all sexually active folk in the world think about someone else during sex with their partner. It is actually a completely natural part of a healthy sexual relationship. The majority of folks think about friends, neighbors, or co-workers, while a slightly smaller percentage (25% of Canadian men) prefer fantasizing about imaginary characters. Everything from Betty Boop to the Lone Ranger has run through the minds of countless lovers over the decades, and should not be considered an indicator that a relationship is heading for the rocks.

6. Women and Fast Cars (Modern Myth)

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If you were to ask a woman today if she was turned-on by the growl of a big engine, she would probably scoff at the thought. In fact, in light of the popular green movement, it is now popular for women to prefer men who drive environmentally-friendly vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius. However, a recent study says differently… a lot differently. It turns out, women show substantial increases in sexual arousal (measured by testosterone in saliva) while listening to the sound of a high performance Maserati, as compared to a low performance Volkswagen (VW) Polo. In fact, the VW actually decreased the arousal of women below that of the baseline of watching the nerdy scientists test their equipment before the study began. Talk about an anti-aphrodisiac!

5. Inbreeding Produces Babies with Three Heads

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While considered a bit of a joke, inbreeding has been said to cause everything from a baby with three heads to mutant X-Men. In truth, while inbreeding should not necessarily be considered a good thing, it is not nearly as bad as some people think. A 30-year Western Australian study, looked at cultures who regularly practice first cousin marriages and found no abnormalities in their offspring beyond that of what would be expected from any other traditional, unrelated couple. The same myth also applies to inbreed animals, who are not always the weaker of the species.

4. Race is a Good Indicator of a Man’s Sexual Endowment

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While some races have enjoyed basking in the limelight of these rumors, there is actually no scientific basis of this myth. While your cousin’s friend, who knew a girl, who dated several professional basketball players claims this myth maybe true, a study from the Porterback Clinic, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, and St. James’ Hospital, says differently. The study found that a man’s physical endowment had absolutely nothing to do with his race, creed, or color. It’s has much more to do with that haphazard toss of the genetic die that came soon after that glimmer from our parents eye.

3. Plentiful Sex and the Swinging Single

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While it is common belief that once you get married, sex gets thrown out the window, most research suggests that married couples actually have more sex than the swinging single. This is mostly because couples living together are presented with more opportunities to have sex. Anywhere from 25 to 300 percent more opportunity for sex, on average. However, over the course of marriage, sex dwindles, leaving the frequency of sex comparable to that of a lifetime of living single. One way to improve your odds of having more sex, is to marry multiple times. However, the stress of all those marriages/divorces just might toss you right into an early grave, leaving you with even less sex!

2. Sex Every Seven Seconds

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The common belief by many women, is that men think about sex at least once every seven seconds. Truth is, men today are actually too weighed down with thoughts of success and finances to devote that kind of brain power to the subject. In fact, only half of men (54 percent) think about sex once per day according to the Kinsey Institute, while the other 43 percent designate just a few fantasies spread out over the course of a week. An abysmal 4 percent think about just once over the course of an entire month. Talk about a grossly overinflated female-chauvinistic rumor.

1. Premature Ejaculation (PE) is an Abnormality

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No man has ever been proud to be deemed a “premature ejaculator” by his lover, but in truth it is more of a hardwired system for survival, than an abnormality. The average male can last 5.4 minutes before lift-off, which was biologically pertinent to the population of the planet back in the early days. When faced with man-eating chickens, men had to get the job done quick. There was no time for flowers, song, and love poems. The threat of a Tyrannosaurus charging while in the throes of passion, was enough to make him even quicker, which is why anxiety is still one of the leading causes of PE.

Top Ten Arguments That Can’t Be Won

September 24, 2010

Since the time of fire, man has had arguments – rare or well done? Of course, arguments depend on your point of view, or in the case of husbands and wives, what the wife thinks. Some arguments are never-ending. Over the centuries, there have been some doozies that have kept philosophy students and teachers debating.

To be included on this list of Arguments That Can’t Be Won, the argument must have no clear answer that cannot be countered with another opposing view.

Evolution or Creation?

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Theologists and scientists have been arguing this one for centuries as well. The argument goes back to the time when organized religion was almost as powerful as the monarchies ruling countries. When people starting postulating that the Earth was not the center of the universe, it gave way to the rise in questioning the idea of a seven-day creation and God’s role in creating the Earth. Enter Darwin and his Theory of Evolution and the debate truly kicks off with an unholy fevered pitch. Add in that there are many stories of creation across many different religions and your brain can really start to hurt.

Nature vs. Nurture

Does how you are raised affect your views as an adult more than what your genetic codes dictate? If your family has always been carpenters, are you destined to be a carpenter because of your genes or because of your familial upbringing? When identical twins are separated at birth and grow up to have identical tastes is that an argument that it has more to do with nature than nurture? However, is it nature to love spicy food, when that’s all that your family and friends eat?

Gun control

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It’s not guns that kill people, it’s the bullets. In America, citizens have a right to bear arms, which has proven to be dangerous for many other citizens and police over the centuries since the country’s birth. On the other hand, large portions of the gun-toting population are careful citizens who have never crossed the law. Why should one group’s rights to bear arms be stripped away because another group feels unsafe? Or why should they be allowed to bear those weapons of death among a land of peaceful citizens?

Euthanasia

Dr. Kevorkian helped many people commit suicide due to their health conditions and their desires. His motives were questioned because all life is supposedly precious, but his patients wanted to move on from their frail existence. What if those patients didn’t have a say and we had the opportunity to choose whether they live in agony or die in peace by not giving them medication or a procedure? What is the better option?

The Death Penalty

Centuries ago, the prevalent rule of thumb was an eye for an eye, or in some cases, a life for a life. So the question becomes have we advanced far enough in our social and political structures to ban the death penalty? Or when is the death penalty justifiable? Is the death penalty appropriate for an accidental homicide? How about for a mass murderer?

Abortion or Pro-life?

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Does a woman have the right to control her body by ending a life inside her? When is a fetus truly alive? Is all life truly precious? What happens when a woman is raped and becomes pregnant – is that life still precious? There may never be answers to these questions; however, the government has helped us out many times by entering its own opinion whether the pro-lifers like it or not.

Free will or Destiny?

The free will or destiny argument stems back to the Christian doctrine that God is omniscient and has seen everything that will happen. So if God can see everything that happens, is it free will or destiny that makes you choose to continue reading? Some have argued that God knows you will read this but you still have a choice. However, if the path is already apparent to one being, then the path has already been decided for you. However, that directly contradicts our everyday actions where we constantly make decisions – is something, a destiny foreseen by God, guiding us or are we truly free of the strictures of destiny?

Morals – Relative or Universal?

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Like the question of gun control, whether ethics being morally relative or universal comes down to whether the good of the one outweighs the good of the many. If it is fine to sleep with another man’s wife in one society but not in another, then the problem is that the morals are relative to the society or person. But why wouldn’t it be universal that it is wrong to sleep with another man’s wife or woman’s husband in any society? Why is it OK to speed, when it is breaking the law? Shouldn’t breaking any law be just as wrong? If you would never steal a person’s purse, why would you pirate a DVD?

The chicken or the egg?

Perhaps one of the most fun arguments on this list, the chicken or the egg debate has raged for centuries mainly because it asks the questions does the animal evolve and then reproduce or was it hatched? That debate can then be transferred to our own existence, which leads into the argument of Evolution or Creation.

Does God Exist?

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Since the dawn of recorded time, there have been people trying to prove that there is a higher being or beings that have caused the worlds and its creation. Organized religion comes down to having faith that there is a higher being and a place to go after death. Most people, if not already deeply religious in their life, find religion and start believing as they near their twilight years because they want to believe there is somewhere to go and someone to be with. So the question is how do you prove that god, in which ever religion you believe, exists?

Top Ten Bizarre Plants

September 24, 2010

There are about 375,000 species of plants in the world today, with more being discovered on a daily basis. Plants come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, and even scents. We’ve all seen the common household plants: ferns, orchids, violets… but most of the plants on this list you’ve probably never seen in real life.

Even though classifying something as bizarre is pretty relative and will differ from person to person, these plants are most definitely strange in more than just one way. If you’re looking to surprise your girlfriend, these are not the types of plants to put into a pot; save them for the mother-in-law. Below are 10 odd plants that will probably make you think twice.

10. Dionaea Muscipula

Better known as the Venus flytrap, the Dionaea muscipula is one of about 670 carnivorous plants that researchers have discovered.  The plant is able to attract insects and spiders, and once the bug is inside of the plant it will make contact with the tiny hairs inside, which then spark a reaction for the plant to close its lobes. If the prey does escape, the trap usually reopens in about 12 hours. If the bug is unable to get away, the further movement it makes in attempt to escape only forces the plant to tighten even more, which leads to digestion.

You’ve probably seen these plants in the stores or even at someone’s home, placing it low on the list despite its strange diet (and, let’s face it, a meat-eating plant is pretty bizarre). The stems often get no larger than 4 inches, and can be a bit smaller than 1 inch.  In the spring, the plant produces delicate white flowers, but only if it is healthy. As a result of wildfires, they are considered to be a vulnerable species, which means that they are highly likely to become endangered. While the plant has been transplanted to many locations, the only place where it grows natively is in North Carolina bogs. Despite what you may think, the Venus flytrap is not a tropical plant; in fact, it thrives in the winter.

9. Wolffia Angusta

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Sometimes referred to as watermeal, Wolffia angusta belongs to a genus that is made up of some of the smallest plants on earth. There are 38 Wolffia plants total, 9 of them being the smallest plants ever discovered. The Wolffia angusta is so small that a dozen single plants can easily fit onto the head of a pin. If you were to find 2 plants that were in full bloom, you could fit them inside a very small handwritten “o.” You’ll find this plant growing on the water’s surface, which explains its name because, at first glance, you could easily mistake it for cornmeal floating in the water. These plants have no roots and grow in depressions in the water’s surface. They often group together and even combine with other similar plants that also make the water home.

Watermeal is native to Asia, where it is part of many people’s diets. It is said to have just as much protein as soybean, which is about 40% of its nutritional value. However, eating plants the size of 1/25 of an inch can’t be filling!

8. Lithops Julii

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Lithops julii is a weird plant that you’ll find growing in southern Africa. The plant thrives in very hot and dry environments, and if you know a little Greek, you may know why. The plants name, Lithops, comes from the word ‘lithos’ which means stone and ‘ops,’ meaning like or similar to. Other names for Lithops julii are pebble plants as well as living stones. Truly, every aspect of the plant is very much like a rock. For instance, most plants are green or have some hint of yellow to them. But, the Lithops are cream, grey, brown in color (some with red designs). These colors are useful because they allow the plant to blend in and almost camouflage itself. Overall, just like rocks, the Lithops plant is pretty dull.

Though the plant doesn’t sound pretty, it does actually produce flowers. The flowers look very similar to a daisy; white with long petals and a pale yellow center. These flowers usually bloom in the fall. Now, if you’re into weird plants that don’t add very much color to a room, you can choose to buy a Lithops and grow it in your home. With enough light and ventilation along with minimal water, these plants do great.

7. Welwitschia Mirabilis

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When it comes to most living things, water and food are a necessity. However, for the Welwitschia mirabilis, 3 inches of water during an entire year work just fine. An inch of this usually comes from rain while the other 2 inches are provided by the ocean fog. However, the lack for water may explain this plant’s appearance- it’s dry, rugged, flimsy look most definitely fits the mold. The plant only grows 2 leaves during its entire lifespan, which is about 1,000-2,000 years, but they often split after growing to be up to 13 feet, which makes the plant seem like it has more. With such a lifespan, the plant has earned the name as the “living fossil.”

The plant was first discovered in 1859 by Friedrich Welwitsch, which explains the plant’s name. These plants usually grow well in Angola and Namibia; however, they are not widely found in Namibia due to locals who dig them up and collect them. The minefields in Angola keep them plenty safe. The biggest Welwitschia plant is 4.6 feet tall and 13 feet wide.

6. Victoria Amazonica

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From experience, you probably know that lily pads and water lilies aren’t huge plants. They are maybe the size of a human hand, if not a smidge bigger. In contrast, the Victoria amazonica plant can hold a human hand, as well as the rest of a 300lb human body. That’s right; they’re like stepping stones in the water. The plant is the largest water lily ever discovered, and everything about it is big. The root itself is more than 26 feet long and the leaves and flowers can grow to be about 10 feet in diameter. This plant is not only large, but it changes colors. When its flowers bloom the first night, they are a pure white color. The next day they are pink. Despite its beauty, the plant is covered in piercing spines, except the flower, roots, and the pad itself.

Native to the Amazon River basin, the plant was first introduced to Europe in 1837 by John Lindley, and during this time people were nothing less than fascinated. It earned the name of the “giant water platter” but its scientific name was given in honor of Queen Victoria. The plant was so popular that there were competitions to see who could properly harvest the plant first. In 1849 the Duke of Devonshire proved to be the winner.

5. Hydnora Africana

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Native to southern Africa, the Hydnora africana, a parasitic plant, is one that might permanently change your mind about sniffing flowers. It is probably most known for its disgusting scent, which is often compared to the smell of feces. The scent is disgusting but necessary for the plant’s survival, so that it can attract dung beetles, carrion beetles, and other pollinators. The plant traps these bugs and they are eventually released once it reopens. Not only does the plant smell bad, it also has no aesthetic properties to it either. It’s a dull brown/grey plant that has no leaves and truly looks like it has no life to it. The plant grows underground but the only part one can see is the fleshy flower that grows above ground.

The plant was first discovered and transplanted to California in 1973 by Sherwin Carlquist. Crazy as the idea seems, this plant is actually edible. The fleshy pulp-like flower can be eaten, which is often where all of the plant’s seeds are located. But who really goes close enough to this plant to take a bite out of it, let alone get past its smell?

4. Nepenthes

The Nepenthes plant is found in Indochina, Australia, and throughout the Malay Archipelago. It thrives in high humidity locations with average rainfall and a lot of light. With a name like monkey cup, how couldn’t it be a bit bizarre? The name is quite fitting as numerous people have observed monkeys drinking out of the plant. The plant was first described in 1658 as being about 3 feet high with 7 inch long leaves that hold a hollow flower. The hollow flower that is described is often full of a liquid that the plant produces on its own. The liquid is sometimes drunk by mammals, but its real purpose is to drown its prey. There is also a “lid” so to speak that covers the top of the flower that covers the liquid. There are high flowers, which hang from the vines, and low flowers which are closer to the ground.

Now, if you thought the Venus flytrap was bad for eating insects, you’ve heard nothing about the Nepenthes plant. This plant eats spiders, insects, scorpions, and centipedes; it has also been known to capture lizards, frogs, and even snails. Though not very common, it has occurred. If you’re interested in owning a Nepenthes plant you can purchase seeds and grow it in a greenhouse, but keep in mind, you’ll be responsible for manually feeding it insects (mostly crickets). Who doesn’t want a pet plant?

3. Dracunculus Vulgaris

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Sometimes called the Stink Lily or the Dragonwort, the Dracunculus vulgaris gets its name from its shape. The plant has a long spadex that is often a black or very deep purple color that is surrounded by the spathe. The spadex is often referred to as the dragon that is hiding in the spathe. The plant is most often found in the Balkans, including Crete, Greece, and the Aegean Islands. However, researchers have been able to take it from these locations and harvest it within the U.S. in states such as Tennessee, Oregon, and California. They have also been taken to Puerto Rico.

The plant gets one of its nicknames from the smell that it gives off, which has been compared to the smell of rotting flesh. The smell attracts pollinators so that the plant can continue to grow. The good thing is that the smell is only temporary and does eventually go away. The Stink Lily is a very hardy plant that grows more each year. Plants can have more than 40 blooms at one time.

2. Rafflesia Arnoldii

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The Rafflesia arnoldii is another plant on the list that isn’t known for its beauty or elegance, but for its order and size. It is extremely rare and it isn’t a plant you can just grow anywhere, placing it higher on this list. Like the Dracunculus vulgaris, it’s smell is very similar to rotting meat and this scent is needed to attract certain insects that will eventually pollinate the plant for further growth. The plant was named after Sir Stamford Raffles, a man who founded the colony of Singapore. You’ll find this plant in the Borneo and Sumatra rainforests as well as in the Indonesian Archipelago. Adding to it’s uniqueness, the Rafflesia arnoldii is considered to be the plant with the largest flower, which can weigh up to 24lbs and be as wide as 3 feet.

You won’t be able to walk through the rainforest and find many of these. The growing process for the plants take months and the flower itself only stays in bloom for a few days. At the same time many consider this plant to be on its way to extinction. Though the flower itself is highly interesting, the smell is sure to keep anyone away. The plant always grows 5 very thick petals that are generally a burnt-orange/red color.

1. Amorphophallus Titanum

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If you know some Latin or you’re just knowledgeable in the English language, you probably know exactly what the word phallus means; but let’s put it altogether. Amorphos means misshapen, phallus means penis, and titan means big. Yes; this plants name is big misshapen penis. How couldn’t this top the list? If the scientific name doesn’t persuade you, its nickname surely will: corpse flower. The name comes from the fact that the plant lets off an odor that is said to smell exactly like rotting and dead flesh. The Amorphophallus titanum is a plant that is only indigenous in the Sumatra rainforests, though it has been transplanted, harvested, and grown around the world. The plant reaches a towering 10 feet and closely resembles a calla lily but with a spadex growing through the middle of it. Though the smell isn’t pleasant to human noses, it serves its purpose: attracting carrion beetles, dung beetles, and flesh flies.