So, you know, expect Switzerland to disappear in a giant sinkhole by 2018.
Even in movies, creating a man-made cataclysm requires a shitload of time, money, and advanced planning. It's not the kind of thing you simply stumble into by accident. But we live in a Butterfly Effect universe of unintended consequences, and sometimes random people wind up doing the kind of damage that not even Blofeld could ever get past the planning stage.
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Quick: What do Lex Luthor, Nikola Tesla, and Markus "They Called Me Crazy" Haering have in common? All of them have dabbled with the grandest supervillain device of them all: the earthquake machine. Wait, who the hell is Markus Haering? Oh, just a real-world Mole Man who managed to build that shit without even trying.
"Mole Man" is the literal translation of his name from German.
In 2009, Haering -- a Swiss geologist -- set out to produce geothermal energy by boiling water on rocks three miles underground, then sending the superheated water up through a steam turbine. His goal was to be the first to produce commercial quantities of geothermal energy, enough to fill the electricity needs of 10,000 homes. His means to achieve this: a giant-ass drill. The result: Haering found himself in criminal court for causing a series of earthquakes.
Unfortunately for Markus, the site he had chosen for drilling was located directly over a fault line, which he managed to tickle to the effect of a series of quakes, the biggest of which hit magnitude 3.4. After $7.35 million in property damage and some visits from law enforcement officials (who were probably disappointed that Haering wasn't wearing a cape and reciting crazy monologue at them from atop his drill machine), our accidental affront to mankind found his ass in court.
Stefan Bohrer/Tages Woche
"Seriously, don't you at least have a monocle or something? A white cat?"
Haering was acquitted on the grounds that he hadn't intended to try to destroy the town with his doomsday device, and had turned it off as soon as it became evident that shit was getting wrecked. So sure, he's not a supervillain in the eyes of the law, but his comments certainly indicate that this career direction might not be completely out of the question. Haering dismissed his quakes as "a learning process for everyone involved," and stated: "We don't get innovation for free. We have to work it out."
So, you know, expect Switzerland to disappear in a giant sinkhole by 2018.
As any Bond villain can tell you, gaining access to a nation's gold depository is a right bastard of a task. At the very least, you need a large private army, tanks of death gas, a squadron of supermodel-piloted planes, and decades of research into dick-murdering laser technology in case a special agent ambles along.
That is, unless you have a Skype connection.
Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to dial."
In 2008, an unnamed Frenchman was dicking around with Skype, attempting to call premium-rate numbers for free. At some point during this clearly sophisticated operation, he dialed a random number, only to be greeted with eerie silence. Presumably because he was operating with an ordinary keyboard and didn't remember which numbers spell B-O-O-B-S, he reacted by punching in the first thing he could think of: 1-2-3-4-5-6.
And like that, he had hacked the Bank of fucking France. The ridiculously easy password had gotten him inside the secure phone system for their debt service department, soon triggering an alarm and shutting the entire bank's services down for two days.
RDA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Seven, counting France's five-day weekend.
The man still had no idea what he was doing, so he quit the call and went about his day. Meanwhile, the bank busied itself by pooping panic-bricks and launching an investigation into the devious hack. Luckily for them, the man hadn't made any attempt to conceal his identity, so the police managed to track him down ... two years later.
When the cops finally found the right guy, it immediately became evident that the criminal genius they had been tracking was in fact a random dude whose superior hacking tool was a Skype program on an old computer with the processing power of a shoe box. They still took him into custody out of principle, but was promptly acquitted. Sadly, the 10-minute "Really? Was that you fuckers' idea of a secure line?" rant the judge must have delivered to the bank's representatives upon the verdict has been lost to history.
Yves Talensac/Photononstop/Getty Images
"Sixty percent of it was just the words 'merde' and 'connard.'"
The Bank of France has presumably since changed all their passwords to something less obvious. Our guess is "password."
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Adam Cheng, a famous Chinese actor, has a problem. Every time he appears on the big screen, the Chinese stock market plummets.
Seen here, already dressed like a D-list Batman rogue called The Trader.
It all started in 1992, when Cheng starred in a stock market soap opera called The Greed Of Man. His character, Ting Hai, starts out as a Wolf Of Wall Street-style impossibly rich and corrupt trader type, loses everything, and takes a horror movie turn as he forces his four sons to commit suicide by jumping of the building before jumping himself.
When The Greed of Man came to its grisly conclusion, China's Hang Seng index saw a fall of 1,200 points (20 percent) in a single month. And that would be all right if it was the only time this happened -- after all, a show about bullshit people trading in stock market is bound to make some people think that the stock market is, well, bullshit. But the next time Cheng featured on the silver screen, the same thing happened. And then it happened again. And again. And again. For two goddamned decades. By now, the stock market going down a notch almost every time Cheng graces the screen is known as "the Ting Hai Effect." Even Dr. Doom doesn't have an effect named after him.
20th Century Fox
The only stocks he plummets are his own.
Cheng has consistently denied all responsibility for years, because what the hell else is he going to do? Sew up a supervillain costume and dub himself The Stocklord? Actually, it's kind of a shame that he hasn't done this, because it's not like embracing his unwanted superpower would make any difference. Although banks and brokers swear they don't take the effect seriously, the Ting Hai Effect has been going on for so long that many now fully expect the market to dip around Cheng's movie releases. So investors sell before them, which in turn pushes the market down -- thus creating yet another needless, periodical market Chengpocalypse.
If you haven't heard that America is in the grip of a heroin epidemic, we're guessing you live in the woods and get your news from the local raccoons ... who are probably on heroin. The epidemic is so bad that it made the second paragraph of the president's State of the Union address, and it has been reported on by every single major news agency in the world
Even Sesame Street had that special episode brought to you by the letter H.
Ever wonder how in the everloving fuck this happened? It's not like heroin is new; that shit has been killing rock stars since your granddaddy's day. Well, it starts with a concurrent epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse, and that brings us to Dr. Hershel Jick.
In 1979, Dr. Jick was combing through his hospital's patient records and came upon a discovery. Of the 11,000+ patients treated with opiate painkillers at his hospital, only four became full-blown addicts. Finding the data fascinating, he typed up a quick 101-word paragraph about the curious anomaly and sent it to the New England Journal of Medicine. The letter was published in 1980, Jick patted himself on the back for nailing a quick publication credit, and promptly forgot about it.
What a jick.
His notes only applied to patients of a single hospital. It made no other claims, never followed up with them after they left the hospital, and had nothing to do with patients who were prescribed painkillers for at-home use. What further use could they possibly have?
Lots, if you ask Big Pharma. Upon discovering the text, drug companies soon latched onto it and started presenting it as a more and more credible source. Over time, company speech took it from a regular report to a study to a goddamned groundbreaking landmark discovery, until inertia sank in and the scientific consensus became "Eh, opiates probably aren't addictive."
But profits are.
Fast-forward to 1996. Along came Purdue, a pharmaceutical company that had a brand-new, super-effective painkiller called OxyContin. Armed with a massive marketing engine, the company hosted over 40 "pain management" conferences to spread their gospel in the comfort of all-expenses-paid resort locations. In other words, Purdue was hosting sales pitches cloaked as educational seminars. And that was merely their Phase One. Next, Purdue doubled their sales team, offered big sales bonus incentives, and created a "patient starter coupon program" -- essentially turning doctors into dealers who hooked users at a discount.
Between Purdue's branded giveaways, constant visits from sales reps, an aggressive advertising campaign, and Jick's "game-changing study," an entire generation of doctors and their patients were primed to believe that painkiller addiction was practically nonexistent. It worked. Doctors began prescribing opioid pills for everything -- back pain, knee injuries, rug burns, migraines, you name it. The company saw OxyContin prescriptions increase from 670,000 in 1997 to about 6.2 million in 2002. Prescriptions for cancer-related pain increased roughly fourfold during that same period.
Jeffrey Hamilton/DigitalVision/Getty Images
"The doctors had to write each other prescriptions for wrist pain from writing out so many prescriptions."
There was just one tiny little problem: Turns out that no matter what Jick's 101 words said, people totally do get addicted to opioid painkillers. And once they do, they're 40 times more likely to become heroin addicts. After all, what are they going to do when doctors finally cut them off? Patients realize that the next-best thing was right there on the street all along. That's why heroin overdoses quadrupled between 2003 and 2013, and they're still on the rise. The entire state of Kentucky is suing Purdue for turning their state into a zombie land of heroin users, and the entire country is following suit.
But if we're looking for the king of unintended consequences, we'll need to go back even further than 1979 ...
The American South, the 1790s. The plantation slavery model was in trouble. The old crops of rice, tobacco, and indigo weren't profitable any more. Neither was cotton, due to the labor-intensive process of jerking the seeds out. It took days of combing bush to remove all the sticky seed and get everyone to stop laughing at all the euphemisms.
Cue Eli Whitney and his cotton gin. A relatively quick and easy spur-of-the-moment invention, the gin was capable of whipping out 55 pounds of cotton in a single day. In comparison, teasing out the seeds by hand might get you a whole pound for a day's work. Hooray! The plantations were saved!
Samuel Finley Breese Morse
Finally, someone willing to stick up for the little guy!
Yeah, about that ...
Before the cotton gin came around, slavery had been on the way out. Slaves were expensive to maintain, and poor production was making it exceedingly pointless to keep them. Thanks to the gin, cotton became super profitable, and the cotton economy exploded. There was one catch: While the gin super effectively processed cotton by separating it from its seeds, it did precisely jack shit to pick it. So by making processing profitable and much more efficient, it massively raised the need for pickers. That is, slaves.
You might need some gin of your own to get through the rest of this section.
So the number of slaves in the South quintupled between 1800 and 1850, and by 1860, the region was an agricultural powerhouse, its wealth based on King Cotton and slave labor. As for Eli Whitney, he was a scholar and an inventor who never owned slaves himself, so the whole "slavery explosion" part of the equation possibly hadn't even occurred to him. And even if that didn't come as a shock to him, what happened afterwards most certainly did.
When abolitionists up North began to suggest that maybe the South shouldn't be making bank on the bloody backs of human beings, it threatened the livelihoods of every rich man down there. Said rich men weren't taking that from a bunch of Yankees, so next came talk of secession, and you know what happened next. 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War, all tracing back to Eli's humble cotton engine. Which, by the way, he never made much money from, because his device was easily copied and patent law sucked.
Luckily for him, Eli had gained a solid reputation as an innovator, and was eventually consoled with a massive government order. Of guns.
What do Chuck Norris, Liam Neeson in Taken, and the Dos Equis guy have in common? They're all losers compared to some of the actual badasses from history whom you know nothing about. Come out to the UCB Sunset for another LIVE podcast, April 9th at 7:00 p.m., where Jack O'Brien, Michael Swaim, and more will get together for an epic competition to find out who was the most hardcore tough guy or tough gal unfairly relegated to the footnotes of history. Get your tickets here!
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Want to become a supervillain? We've been writing a guide for that for years. Just check out 6 Abandoned Sites That Would Make Great Supervillain Lairs and 20 Insane Supervillain Schemes In Flowchart Form.
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