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5 Clubs With Very Specific Membership Requirements

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In the immortal words of Groucho Marx, "I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member." Luckily for Groucho, there are plenty of organizations whose specific membership requirements make them either tantalizingly elusive, unique, or both. Here are five such clubs from today and yesteryear that you may not have known about. 

1. PROJECT STEVE

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According to The National Center for Science Education, Creationist groups often put together lists of the (very few) scientists who don't support the theory of evolution as a way to legitimize themselves. So the NCSE decided to fight back with a list of its own: Project Steve. The members of Project Steve—all 1389 of them, as of March 7, 2016—explicitly defend evolution as a scientific fact. They also all happen to be named Steve (or some variation of Steve).

On its website, the NCSE calls Project Steve "a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition" of making lists of doubtful scientists. "Creationists draw up these lists to try to convince the public that evolution is somehow being rejected by scientists, that it is a 'theory in crisis,'" the NCSE explains. "Not everyone realizes that this claim is unfounded." Because Steves represent around 1 percent of scientists, the project drives home the fact that "that tens of thousands of scientists support evolution," the NCSE writes, and scientific consensus on the matter is overwhelming.

Why Steve? The NCSE was honoring the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.

2. THE EJECTION TIE CLUB

If you’ve ever used a Martin-Baker ejection seat to escape an aircraft in an emergency, then you’re qualified to join the Ejection Tie Club. According to Martin-Baker, “Every Club member is given a certificate, membership card, patch, tie, pin or a brooch for the women.” Some stories of the Ejection Tie Club members are shared on their website, including the story of Former Captain Gregg O. Hanson, USAF, Ejectee #2298:

“On June 13, 1972, 60 miles northwest of Hanoi North Vietnam, my F-4E was hit by an atoll air to air missile. The jet immediately went out of control. A witness from another aircraft stated that 'from the aft edge of the wing back there was one giant fireball.' Pulling negative G's I used the lower handle to pull myself back into the seat and initiate the ejection. My WSO Lt. Richard Fulton and I both ejected safely. One big thank you. Without Martin-Baker I would have missed my wonderful wife, children, and of course adorable grandchildren.”

Since 1957, there have been over 5800 registered club members. You can read more stories of some of the fortunate survivors here.

3. THE RUBBLE CLUB

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After spending months or even years designing a structure that you expect to grace the skyline for generations, architects recognized the necessity of creating a support network for those who have had their work destroyed—and The Rubble Club was born. To gain admittance, there are a few requirements: The architect must still be living; his or her building must have been built with the expectation of permanence; and it must have been deliberately destroyed without the architect’s involvement.

According to The Rubble Club's website, the group was created by Isi Metzstein at an Aberdeen School of Architects external examination dinner in the late '90s. "We don’t want to shame people," Metzstein said. "It’s a very touchy matter whether replacements are the superior or not, it’s subject to the vagaries of public opinion and the architect is never in charge, they are always at the behest of instructions from the client.”

In terms of numbers of members, "There's no actual members list," John Glenday, Rubble Club secretary, told mental_floss in an email. "We are unique in that self-knowledge is the only route to membership!"

4. THE CATERPILLAR CLUB

Those who have used a parachute to survive a disabled aircraft are entitled to contact the parachute maker for a pin and a certificate to validate their admittance into the Caterpillar Club, whose motto is “Life depends on a silken thread.” (Technically, the Caterpillar Club is for those saved by Irvin Parachutes, but no one really makes that distinction anymore.) You’re not allowed in if you had planned on jumping out of the plane, even if there was an accident that caused you to jump before schedule. Membership of the club requires a nominal initiation fee of $10, and although formal efforts to organize into chapters dwindled after the Vietnam War, The Caterpillar Club reports that "thousands of airmen, flyers and passengers have enrolled in this organization."

5. THE 300 CLUB

The 300 Club is reserved for an exclusive group of adventurers who will subject themselves to one of the more physically grueling scenarios one could imagine: Warming yourself up in a 200°F sauna at the Amundsen-Scott research station on Antarctica, and then streaking naked around the nearby ceremonial South Pole (pictured above) while temperatures are -100°F or colder. The "300" name refers to the full range of temperatures your body experiences, and according to The Atlantic, "One participant described the experience of running outside as feeling 'like somebody was hitting me with a tennis racket full of needles.'”

Seeking camaraderie and tradition in the isolation of the South Pole seems to be a natural human instinct. Lawrence Palinkas, an anthropologist at the University of Southern California, told The Atlantic, “Polar expeditioners have always had certain rituals and customs that have involved activities that are somewhat hazardous but also serve the same function of providing a means of bonding together."

It doesn't always reach -100°F in Antarctica, so when it does, would-be 300 Clubbers need to be ready to go. With their Bunny boots (the nickname given to the white government-issued boots for extreme cold) at the ready and hopefully a few friends with flashlights guiding the way, anyone crazy enough to head out into the cold has a shot at joining one of the most exclusive clubs known to man.

BONUS: THE NOT TERRIBLY GOOD CLUB OF GREAT BRITAIN


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Stephen Pile’s 1979 bestseller The Book of Heroic Failures included an application for readers to become members of “The Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain,” in which similarly inept people could share stories of their respective failures. The application form asked for “main areas of incompetence,” “subsidiary areas of incompetence,” and “cases of sustained chaos occasioned by any of the above.” You may think that people would shy away from admitting their own failures, but apparently this didn't prevent the group from becoming extremely popular. In his second book, The Return of Heroic Failures, Pile reported that the club needed to be dissolved after over 30,000 people wanted to become members; its success meant it had been "a failure as a failure." If you still want to make it into the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain, your best bet is starting your own unofficial chapter: hoping that no one else shows up and the snacks are terrible. 

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environment
Environmental Pollution Is Deadlier Than Smoking, War, AIDS or Hunger, Experts Find
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In 1970, Congress pushed forward the Clean Air Act, which took aggressive steps to monitor and control pollutants in the environment via federal regulations. Over the years, people living in the United States have been exposed to considerably fewer contaminants such as lead and carbon monoxide.

But as a new study in the Lancet medical journal points out, pollution continues to be a global crisis, and one that might carry a far more devastating mortality rate than previously believed. Analyzing the complete picture of contaminated regions around the globe, study authors believe pollution killed 9 million people in 2015—more than smoking, AIDS, war, or deaths from hunger.

The study’s authors aggregated premature deaths on a global basis that were attributable to pollution, singling out certain regions that continue to struggle with high concentrations of toxic materials. In India, one in four premature deaths (2.5 million) was related to environmental contamination. In China, 1.8 million people died due to illnesses connected to poor air quality.

A lack of regulatory oversight in these areas is largely to blame. Dirty fossil fuels, crop burning, and burning garbage plague India; industrial growth in other locations often leads to pollution that isn’t being monitored or controlled. Roughly 92 percent of deaths as a result of poor environmental conditions are in low- or middle-income countries [PDF].

The study also notes that the 9 million estimate is conservative and likely to rise as new methods of connecting pollution-related illness with mortality in a given area are discovered. It’s hoped that increased awareness of the problem and highlighting the economic benefits of a healthier population (lower health care costs, for one) will encourage governments to take proactive measures.

[h/t Phys.org]

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The Ghostly Love Story That Haunted the Father of U.S. Forest Conservation
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Laura Houghteling was terminally ill with tuberculosis when she met Gifford Pinchot, the man who would marry her after she died. The bright and beautiful daughter of a rich Chicago merchant passed away before the age of 30, but Pinchot remained faithful to her for decades, relying on the support of her love from the afterlife as he crusaded for the conservation of America's natural resources.

The only thing Gifford loved as much as Laura was nature itself. Born in 1865, he was the oldest son of wallpaper merchant James Pinchot and Mary Pinchot née Eno, the daughter of Manhattan real estate baron Amos Eno and sister to traffic safety innovator William Phelps Eno. Gifford—6-foot-2 with a robust mustache—was voted the handsomest man in his graduating class at Yale. In 1891, he was hired to manage the forests surrounding the construction of George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, America's largest privately owned home.

Asheville's hot springs and lush scenery were attractive to wealthy families across America, and the Houghteling family bought Strawberry Hill, a property adjacent to the Biltmore, in 1890. Laura was 26 in 1891, the year they moved in—several years past the age when she would have been expected to wed. Her single status wasn't because of her personality, which was, as her Asheville Daily Citizen obituary would put it, "lovely in every trait of character." Her beauty equaled Gifford's; she had long blonde hair and a soft, kind face with large light eyes. She was unwed because of her health.

As members of the upper-class social circuit, the pair had known each other casually for years. Yet their first meeting in North Carolina, at a luncheon, was very formal; they called each other Miss Houghteling and Mister Pinchot. In his diary years later, Gifford remembered blushing when he first called her Laura. The relationship became intense, conducted over picnics, horseback rides along the French Broad River, and a few stolen passionate embraces.

Both remained hopeful that she would recover and thrive, but they also took solace in religion and their shared interpretation of the afterlife. Their faith posited the physical body as a sort of clothing for the spirit, unnecessary to life itself. The couple read metaphysical works together, including the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (who also wed a woman dying of tuberculosis), Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, and the Spiritualist novels of early feminist author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward. Both believed that to be dead was to be one with God, and that their lover could share in that communion from Earth.

On New Year’s Day 1894, the reluctant families finally gave their blessing for the couple to be married. Laura had just moved from her beloved Strawberry Hill home to Washington, D.C. for new medical care, but the treatments were in vain. She died on February 7, 1894—before the pair could be married in any kind of official way. Gifford accompanied the Houghtelings to her burial in Chicago, and then went straight back to work.

Thirty-eight days after her death, Gifford recorded in his diary: "My lady is very near." Soon his entries were a chronicle of "my darling" and the "presence and peace" she brought him. He came to think of her last dwelling in D.C. as "our house," and took to standing outside of the building, even after it was sold to someone else. He wore black for two years, but sometime in 1896, he stopped wearing mourning clothes and began to consider himself married.

He usually wrote about Laura in his diaries in the present tense. Some days he wrote in code, using the language of weather to describe his visions of love; a "bright" or "clear" day when he felt her with him, a "cloudy" or "blind" day when he did not. Other days he just said, "To our house with my Laura." He talked to Laura, reading books with her, traveling with her—at least, with her spirit. Gifford was not just unloading his problems to her and dreaming of her, but felt he was taking advice from her on his speeches, ideas, and political plans. Occasionally she even rebuked him, as when he read a book "My Lady did not approve of" and he felt filled with regret. When he sensed her presence grow distant, he discreetly consulted a medium.

The convenience of a spirit who was with him always—rather than a woman with actual needs—was something of an asset as Gifford climbed the ladder in his career. When he faced professional challenges, he sometimes relied on Laura's support. Reflecting on an 1896 speech in Philadelphia, he wrote, "I spoke as My Lady's servant." As the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service (and before that, chief of the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry), he shaped the institution into a force to be reckoned with, training the foresters who would eventually be called "Little GPs" after his initials.

Teddy Roosevelt entered Gifford's life in 1899, when the then-governor of New York invited the forester to his house. There, Gifford bested him in a pre-dinner boxing match. The pair shared a number of qualities: a love of the outdoors, a belief in conservation, and a knowledge of tragedy; Roosevelt had lost his wife and his mother on the same day in 1884, a pain he still carried into the new century. Teddy and Gifford fought a hostile Congress and powerful industrialists to preserve and protect hundreds of millions of acres of land from the corporate entities that had already ravaged Eastern forests. Because of Roosevelt and Pinchot, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the Petrified Forest are preserved for the enjoyment of citizens today.

Pinchot's single status was a hot topic among D.C. social circles, where he was once called the town's "most eligible bachelor." He had stayed in top physical condition and was a regular churchgoer, but it was all for Laura. Self-restraint was key to both of their upbringings, and while you can't prove a negative, he was probably completely celibate until well after Roosevelt left office. And Laura was still with him, in their way. After testifying before a Senate committee as Chief Forester in 1906, he wrote, "I felt today my Lady's help."

After Roosevelt left office, Laura was less and less clear to him, and the ailing Mary Pinchot sensed an opportunity to see her favorite son married to a living woman. After several persistent proposals, he married Cornelia Bryce on August 15, 1914, just nine days before Mary's death. The marriage was a match on many levels: their political values and ambitions (Cornelia was nationally known for her feminism, and Pinchot became the vice-president of a Men for Suffrage organization); their wealthy families; and their status as older newlyweds, Pinchot being 49 and Cornelia being 33. They had one child, Gifford Bryce Pinchot, and the marriage lasted 32 years, during which Pinchot served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania.

Swedenborg wrote that true spouses spend eternity together, but that temporary human marriages are sometimes necessary when one's time on Earth lasts longer than their true spouse's. After his human marriage, Gifford kept all of Laura's letters and his diaries in a blue Tiffany box ordered a month after her death. But he never wrote of her again. His last reference to her was 14 days before his wedding; it was "not a clear day."

Additional Sources: On Strawberry Hill: The Transcendent Love of Gifford Pinchot and Laura Houghteling; The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America; Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism

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