August 13, 2013 12:24 pm
Picking a spot to lay your towel on the beach, it turns out, can say quite a bit about who you are and where you’re from. People of different cultures, genders and group sizes all vary in their determination of how much ocean-front real estate to stake out.
Back in 1981, one researcher set out to quantify these dynamics. He surveyed German and French beaches and included data taken from a previous study conducted in the U.S. Here’s Neurotic Physiology on what he found:
He gave out surveys at German and French beaches, roughly of the same size, asking how many people were in a party, whether they felt the beach was crowded, when it would be over-crowded, etc. While the people were taking the surveys, a helper noted the ages of the group members, and what they were using to mark their “territory” and the depth and width of the territory they claimed.
Trends emerged from the data, Neurotic Physiology describes. Notably, men take up more space than women; larger groups of people tend to take up less space per person by crowding together; and Americans are the greediest bunch when it comes to how much beach territory they claim.
When asked how many people it would take for the beach to be crowded, the French had by far the highest crowding estimates (meaning they felt the beach would fit the most people), while the Germans had the lowest (Americans falling in the middle).
The French were also more laissez-faire about the whole experience. According to Neurotic Physiology, they were confused by the basic concept of beach territory, saying that the beach belonged to everyone so who were they to make a personal claim on space. There’s not a lot of other academic research on the subject, but it seems that Americans, to this day, have no problem opining about the need for personal beach space. In 2012, the travel company TripAdvisor asked 1,400 Americans how close was too close to sit near another group at the beach, and most people said that somewhere between three to six feet was the bare minimum of distance necessary:
The closest acceptable distance to sit next to another stranger at a crowded beach is three feet, according to 27 percent – while a further 26 percent set a boundary of six feet, and 15 percent say four feet meets their comfort levels.
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August 8, 2013 10:05 am
Surviving the trauma of the Holocaust, one would assume, would likely shave off months or years of life, rather than add them. But that was not the finding of a recent study published in PLoS One. Instead, male survivors of the Holocaust, now living in Israel, tend to live longer than those who left Europe before the genocide began, the authors found. New York Magazine reports:
The authors looked at over 55,000 Polish immigrants, roughly three quarters of whom came to Israel between 1945 and 1950 (directly after the Holocaust, in other words), and about one quarter of whom had come to Israel before 1939.
Men who were 10 to 15 years old when the Holocaust began, the authors found, lived 10 months longer, on average, than those who had already arrived in Israel at that time. Men who were 16 to 20 during those years outlived earlier immigrants by 18 months. This came as a shock to the researchers, since Holocaust victims suffer higher levels of PTSD, depression and anxiety than people who did not experience those horrors, New York reports. (The study also examined female survivors and their counterparts but did not find any significant difference in life expectancy.)
The authors offer a potential explanations for their finding. Victims may emerge from the experience with a new sense of purpose in life, the authors explain in a press release, and a stronger drive to make the most of their remaining time on Earth. Scientists refer to this phenomenon as “post-traumatic growth.”
New York describes another possibility, also posited by the authors in their paper:
It’s possible that those who were strong enough to survive the concentration camps (or many years in hiding—it’s impossible to know how the study’s subjects spent the war years) were bound to live longer.
Selective mortality could help explain why female Holocaust survivors in their sample lived no longer than those women who didn’t: Their physical strength wasn’t valued as much within the concentration camps.
But both of these explanations remain purely speculative, New York points out. Whatever the reason, the authors conclude in their release that the study results “teach us quite a bit about the resilience of the human spirit when faced with brutal and traumatic events.”
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June 12, 2013 11:42 am
While Beck’s Beer was kicking off its first brews in Bemen, Germany, Thomas Edison was dreaming up the first phonograph, which he created in 1877. (His first recorded words were “Mary had a little lamb.”) Though phonographs have long been replaced, Beck’s is still around.
As a salute to “how beer has influenced recorded music” since the phonograph’s debut, members of Beck’s Record Label project decided to collaborate with music and engineering experts in New Zealand to create the Beck’s Edison Bottle—a music-playing beer bottle.
Here, you can see how they tinkered with the concepts behind Edison’s original phonograph to make a beer bottle sing. A song by an Auckland-based band called Ghost Wave received the first bottle-playing honors.
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April 29, 2013 1:57 pm
Margot Woelk, now 95, is the last surviving member of a team tasked with keeping Hitler alive as he hunkered down in the Wolf’s Lair in the final chapters of World War II. For nearly all her life, says the Associated Press, Woelk kept quiet about her wartime activities. But now, in her old age, she wants to talk, and her stories are filled with details of life in Hitler’s fortress and about living a life of “constant fear.”
Woelk was the sole survivor of the Nazi leader’s poison paranoia. In her mid-20s, she was swept away from her home in Ratensburg (now Ketrzyn, Poland), “drafted into civilian service” to join 14 other women in the dictator’s wartime bunker where she and the others were charged with taste-testing the leader’s meals.
As the war dragged on, food supplies in much of German-occupied territory suffered. Within the Wolf’s Lair, however, “the food was delicious, only the best vegetables, asparagus, bell peppers, everything you can imagine. And always with a side of rice or pasta,” said Woelk.
“He was a vegetarian. He never ate any meat during the entire time I was there,” Woelk said of the Nazi leader. “And Hitler was so paranoid that the British would poison him — that’s why he had 15 girls taste the food before he ate it himself.”
But each meal brought fear, says Woelk. “We knew of all those poisoning rumors and could never enjoy the food. Every day we feared it was going to be our last meal.”
Nearing the end of the war, after tensions mounted following an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life from within the bunker, Woelk fled. When Soviet troops took the Wolf’s Lair a year later, the other taste testers were all shot. But the end of the war was not the end of Woelk’s ordeal, according to the AP. She suffered abuse at the hands of Russian troops long after the war ended, she says:
“For decades, I tried to shake off those memories,” she said. “But they always came back to haunt me at night.”
…Only now in the sunset of her life has she been willing to relate her experiences, which she had buried because of shame and the fear of prosecution for having worked with the Nazis, although she insists she was never a party member.
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April 8, 2013 10:34 am
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, died today at the age of 87. Thatcher, the first woman to lead a Western power, pushed back against socialism in Britain and ushered in a new era of partnerships with Russia.
Thatcher wasn’t exactly an uncontroversial figure. She was fiercely conservative, tough and unwavering in her commitment to her own ideas, earning her the nickname the Iron Lady. “I am not a consensus politician,” she would say. “I am a conviction politician.” Later, she said to her internally warring party “Turn if you like, the lady’s not for turning.”
Some think that this hard-working, hard-headed ethic came from her working class background. Thatcher was born above a shop in Grantham, to a grocer. Early in her career, Thatcher underwent an image overhaul that included changing her voice to be lower. She worked with a speech therapist to lower her register. In Vanity Fair, her biographer chronicles the episode saying, “soon the hectoring tones of the housewife gave way to softer notes and a smoothness that seldom cracked except under extreme provocation on the floor of the House of Commons.”
This sort of commitment and work wasn’t uncommon for Thatcher: if she set out to do something, she did it. And it is that resolve that made Thatcher successful, according to the New York Times:
At home, Lady Thatcher’s political successes were decisive. She broke the power of the labor unions and forced the Labour Party to abandon its commitment to nationalized industry, redefine the role of the welfare state and accept the importance of the free market.
Abroad, she won new esteem for a country that had been in decline since its costly victory in World War II. After leaving office, she was honored as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.
Thatcher was one of first Western leaders to work with Mikhail Gorbachev, spurring a slow turn towards working with the former Soviet Union. Thatcher pushed British Petroleum to explore oil deals in Kazakhstan to help Gorbachev, eventually creating a giant oil production facility in Azerbaijan that has pumped thousands of barrels of oil a day for the last seven years.
Of course, these policies weren’t universally praised. During her time, inequality in the U.K. rose, and her own former university, Oxford, refused to grant her an honorary degree, making her the first prime minister educated at Oxford to be denied the honor. Here’s the BBC on the internal Oxford debate:
The principal of Mrs Thatcher’s old college, also supported her nomination. Daphne Park said: “You don’t stop someone becoming a fellow of an academic body because you dislike them.”
But Professor Peter Pulzer, of All Souls, who led the opposition, said: “This is not a radical university, it is not an ideologically motivated university.
“I think we have sent a message to show our very great concern, our very great worry about the way in which educational policy and educational funding are going in this country.
Thatcher didn’t comment on the snub, but her spokesperson said, “If they do not wish to confer the honour, the prime minister is the last person to wish to receive it.”
Eventually, however, Thatcher’s political enemies caught up with her. She fought over poll taxes and over water privatization. She called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. And then, in 1990, she left office.
Here is her last speech to Parliament, made on November 22, 1990.
Of course, no one with such sway stays quiet once officially out of politics. Thatcher is thought to have greatly influenced George H.W. Bush in his decisions about the first Gulf War, telling him it was “no time to go wobbly.” She retired from public life in 2002, after a stroke, and it was another stroke that ultimately claimed her life on Monday.
Thatcher was divisive; she was tough; and she was intense. The New York Times closes its obituary of the Iron Lady with this quote:
“Margaret Thatcher evoked extreme feelings,” wrote Ronald Millar, a playwright and speechwriter for the prime minister. “To some she could do no right, to others no wrong. Indifference was not an option. She could stir almost physical hostility in normally rational people, while she inspired deathless devotion in others.”
And while many disagreed with her policies, most agree that her resolve was admirable and her precedent as a woman in charge opened doors for generations after her.
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