MONEY Odd Spending

Are Snowdrop Bulbs the Next Speculative Bubble?

Snowdrops growing on the edge of a woodland garden.
Clare Gainey—Alamy Snowdrops growing on the edge of a woodland garden.

Probably not—but they sure are popular.

In the early 1630s, the Dutch became obsessed with tulips. So obsessed that bulbs sold for 10 times the average annual salary of a skilled craftsman. At the peak of their popularity, bulbs were trading hands 10 times a day, in exchange for everything from two tons of butter to oxen to farmhouses. They were the big-ticket item of the Dutch Golden Age.

Until they weren’t. In February 1637, the people of Haarlem decided they’d had enough and stopped buying tulips at auction, sparking a panic throughout the country that resulted in the devaluation of the bulb. The market evaporated, and the world witnessed the bursting of one of its first economic bubbles.

Fast forward to today. A snowdrop (Galanthus) known as “Golden Fleece” just sold on the U.K.’s eBay website for a record £1,390 ($2,150), surpassing the previous record of $1,115. Last weekend, a variety known as “Treasure Island” sold for more than £500 (about $775). In 2014, the naming rights to a snowdrop varietal, along with a bulb, sold for $2,500. While it’s not nearly the same level of economic fervor the tulip generated—you can still get bulbs for less than $10—Galanthomania is definitely a thing.

What accounts for the tiny flower’s big price tag? For one thing, the dainty bloom is tough as nails, often braving the cold and snow to become a harbinger of spring. They are also easy for horticulturists to split, and years of cross-pollination have led to more than 1,500 varietals. Though less popular in the United States, they are celebrated in United Kingdom with festivals and special events throughout the beginning of the year.

According the Carolyn Walker, owner of Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Bryn Mawr, Pa., there are fewer galanthophiles in the U.S., in part because of trade restrictions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.). Buying a snowdrop bulb or plant from overseas requires detailed forms and permits, which increases the price, and hassle, of a sale.

But that doesn’t mean a galanthophile community hasn’t taken root stateside. When Walker, one of the nation’s few sellers, posts a new catalogue with snowdrop bulbs, she sells out in days. Though her bulbs typically top out at $89, she says that spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a bulb makes sense if you consider it a collector’s item.

People pay thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine, jewelry, or an item of designer clothing, she says. If you’re not into designer clothes but you’re really into Daphne’s Scissors or Lady Beatrix Stanley, splurging makes sense.

Are we about to see another Tulip Mania? Probably not.

“One specific element of Tulip Mania in the 1600s was that tulips were not traded directly,” said Markus Brunnermeier, a professor of economics at Princeton University. They were sold as forward contracts, or the promise of a bulb at a future date.

“In general, as long as speculation stays within a small group of (non-systemic) speculators, I would not be worried from a regulatory perspective,” he says.

Whew.

TIME Netherlands

Astronauts Vying for One-Way Ticket to Mars May Be on Reality TV

planet-mars-earth-background
Getty Images Planet Mars, with Earth visible in the background

Mars One selects pool of 100 candidates to be winnowed down to 24

The Dutch company Mars One has selected 100 candidates who will compete for a one-way ticket to the Red Planet.

The 50 men and 50 women were narrowed down from a pool of more than 200,000 applicants, the company said in a news release Monday.

The lucky 100 will be further winnowed down to only 24 though a reality TV-style competition, which could be aired internationally.

Candidates in this round “will participate in group challenges that demonstrate their suitability to become one of the first humans on Mars, and will be interviewed,” according to the company’s site.

“Being one of the best individual candidates does not automatically make you the greatest team player, so I look forward to seeing how the candidates progress and work together in the upcoming challenges,” chief medical officer Dr. Norbert Kraft said in a statement.

The final 24 will be divided into six crews of four each. Mars One hopes to launch a new crew every two years, starting in 2024. The goal? To colonize the Red Planet.

But there are doubts about the project. An MIT study published in 2014 determined that explorers could expect to survive no longer than 68 days using current technology – and that’s assuming they’re successful at landing on the planet in the first place.

Still, as Alison Rigby, one of the final 100, told CNN: “Pioneers are always ridiculed, but I am doing this for something better, which will hopefully benefit more people than just staying at home and keeping my mum happy.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Netherlands

Video: Dutch Police Confront Gunman Who Broke Into TV Studio

Footage from the broadcaster shows the gunman, a young man in a suit and tie, drop his weapon and surrender to police.

An armed man entered the Dutch national broadcaster on Thursday demanding to be put on the air before police restrained him.

No one was hurt in the incident, according to the broadcaster, NOS, which vacated its offices and temporarily stopped broadcasting. The motives of the gunman, a young man a in a suit and tie, are unclear.

Video footage published by NOS shows the gunman saying, according to a Reuters translation, “The things that are going to be said, those are very large world affairs. We were hired by the security service.”

In the clip above from NOG, police demand that the gunman drop his weapon and then put him in handcuffs. No shots are fired.

TIME Infectious Disease

Bird Flu: Dutch to Kill 50,000 More Chickens

That puts the number of culled birds at 300,000 in the Netherlands

Dutch officials will kill 50,000 chickens on a poultry farm nearby a bird flu outbreak, bringing the precautionary bird slaughter numbers to 300,000 in the Netherlands.

Tests have confirmed that the bird flu strain is H5N8, a strain that is very contagious among birds, but has never before been seen in humans, Reuters reports. H5N1 is the bird flu strain that can infect humans, and that has not been found in the bird populations that contracted bird flu in Europe. The same strain of bird flu was also discovered on a duck farm in England.

MORE: The New Bird Flu Outbreak: Should You Worry?

TIME isis

Dutch Mom Travels to Syria to Rescue Daughter from ISIS

She has now brought her teenage daughter back to the Netherlands

A Dutch mother has travelled to Syria and rescued her daughter from the heart of lands controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

She ignored official warnings and traveled to the Syrian city of Raqqa to rescue her 19-year-old daughter who had run away to marry a Dutch ISIS fighter. Her daughter, named only as Aicha, was arrested upon her return to their home city of Maastricht, BBC reports.

Aicha left the Netherlands in February to marry Omar Yilmaz, a man she had been in contact with on social media. Yilmaz is a Dutch-Turkish jihadist who was previously in the Dutch military.

MORE: Marriage and martyrdom: how ISIS is winning women

Yilmaz told the BBC on Wednesday that he had married Aicha but they later broke up, saying “it didn’t work, we split. She went her way, I went my way.” Aicha is one of a growing number of teenage girls and women who have left Europe to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq, often getting married to jihadists once they arrive.

[BBC]

 

TIME Netherlands

Dutch Blackface Tradition Sparks Festive Fury and 90 Arrests

Netherlands Belgium Black Pete
Peter Dejong—AP Police detain an anti–Black Pete demonstrator as St. Nicholas arrived in the Dutch city of Gouda on Nov. 15, 2014

Revelers donning blackface, Afro wigs and red lips clash with antiracist protesters

A pre-Christmas children’s gathering in the Netherlands, held to celebrate the arrival of St. Nicholas, was broken up by clashes Saturday after demonstrators objected to a blackface character named Black Pete.

At least 90 people were arrested in the cheesemaking town of Gouda, the Associated Press (AP) reports, after scuffles broke out between traditionalists who claim there is no racist intention behind the Black Pete character and protesters who say Black Pete has no place in the modern Netherlands.

Part of the yuletide folklore of the Netherlands and Belgium, Black Pete character is a sidekick to St. Nicholas, carrying presents and giving out candy to children. Revelers who dress up as the character are almost always white. As well as blackening their faces, they wear frizzy Afro wigs and give themselves red lips.

The introduction of supposedly more diverse versions of the character this year — a yellow “Cheese Pete” (representing Gouda’s most famous product), a light brown “Stroopwafel Pete” (named for a Dutch biscuit) and a white-faced “Clown Pete” — failed to placate demonstrators.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told local media the clashes made him “deeply, deeply sad.” He said, “Everybody can debate one another, we can endlessly discuss the color of Black Pete, but we should not disturb a children’s party in this way.”

However, like many Dutch and Belgian liberals, Wouter Van Bellingen, a black Flemish politician, believes the character is an anachronism. “As a majority you have to be sensitive and show empathy for things that are hurtful to a minority,” he told AP.

 

TIME Innovation

These Carpets Map Out Different Countries’ Aerial Landscapes

USA, Bahamas and Netherlands—as seen from the sky

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Have you ever marveled at how flat, two-dimensional and generally neat landscapes look when you’re peering out the window of a plane at 30,000 feet? Florian Pulcher certainly has. Ever since he was little, he has been drawn to the segmentation of land and how neat and pleasing it is to view from above.

Based in Beijing, the Austrian architect always tries to secure himself a window seat on planes and even avoids flying at night so as to gaze down at as many landscapes as possible.

Motivated by this passion he has now created Landcarpet, a collection of rugs inspired by aerial shots of distant fields, hills, waterways and cities. Pulcher uses online mapping services to source his images, and has developed quite an eye for distinguishing aerial details.

“Some countries are very easily recognizable through their methods of farming and that has always intrigued me. Furthermore, as an architect and master planner, I constantly get to see and look through site surveys, aerial images and city plans which have further sharpened my eye for distinguishable patterns and different layers.”

The limited-edition handmade carpets are available for purchase here.

(via Colossal)

TIME Iraq

Three Dutch Bikers Have Joined the War Against ISIS

The men, from Netherlands-based motorcycle club No Surrender, have military backgrounds

Three members of a motorcycle club from the Netherlands have joined Kurdish fighters in Iraq to help in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Fellow biker Klaas Otto told Dutch media that the trio all have military backgrounds and were motivated to travel to the war-torn country after seeing the atrocities committed by ISIS, according to the BBC.

“They wanted to do something when they saw the pictures of the beheadings,” Otto said.

There is a significant Kurdish population in the Netherlands.

The three men hail from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Breda, and the gang they are a part of — No Surrender — is reportedly the biggest biker group in the country.

Dutch officials said that joining the Kurdish forces would not be illegal. However, joining terrorist organizations like ISIS is forbidden.

[BBC]

TIME Family

Why Not Having Kids Makes Some People Crazy

Ray Kachatorian—Photographers Choice

It's less about the children and more about thwarted dreams

The great, worldwide, international jury is still deadlocked over whether having children makes people happier or not. On the one side, there are chubby fingers and first steps and unbridled joy and on the other side, there’s sleep, money and time. But an intriguing new study from the Netherlands suggests that not having children only makes infertile women unhappy if they are unable to let go of the idea of having kids.

It sounds obvious, but here’s the twist: women who already had children but desperately wanted more had worse mental health than women who didn’t have kids and wanted them, but had managed to get over that particular life goal. So it’s not just whether they had kids that made people depressed or content, it’s how badly they wanted them.

The study looked at more than 7,000 Dutch women who had had fertility treatments between 1995 and 2000. They were sent questionnaires about how they were doing and what caused the infertility and whether they had kids. Most of them were doing fine, except for about 6% who still wanted children even a decade or more after their last infertility treatment.

“We found that women who still wished to have children were up to 2.8 times more likely to develop clinically significant mental health problems than women who did not sustain a child-wish,” said Dr Sofia Gameiro, a lecturer at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University in Wales. True, the women who had kids but had undergone fertility treatments for more were less likely to have mental health issues than those who didn’t have kids, but they were still there. The kids hadn’t cured them. “For women with children, those who sustained a child-wish were 1.5 times more likely to have worse mental health than those without a child-wish,” wrote Gameiro. “This link between a sustained wish for children and worse mental health was irrespective of the women’s fertility diagnosis and treatment history.”

The women most likely to be laid low by wanting a child were those with less education and thus probably fewer options for fulfillment. Similarly, if the fertility issues were on the husband’s side or if they were age related, women were more likely to be able to get over it, possibly because they felt there was nothing they could have done. Those most set back by their inability to conceive were those who had started young and found that the problem was with their reproductive system, not their spouse’s, women who in the ancient days might have been called “barren.”

“Our study improves our understanding of why childless people have poorer adjustment. It shows that it is more strongly associated with their inability to let go of their desire to have children. It is quite striking to see that women who do have children but still wish for more children report poorer mental health than those who have no children but have come to accept it,” said Gameiro.

The paper, which was published online on Sept. 10 in Human Reproduction, recommends sustained psychological counseling for people who did not conceive after fertility treatments and a lot of frank talk about the possibility of failure during the treatments. The author also throws some shade on those “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types (cough, Americans, cough). “There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being,” said Gameiro. “We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”

TIME Aviation

How a Dutch Firm Plans to Find MH370 in Seabeds Less Mapped Than Mars

Australia Malaysia Plane
AP/Joint Agency Coordination Centre In this map released on July 31, 2014, by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, details are presented in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean.

Australia said Wednesday that Fugro has won the bid to relaunch MH370's search

A Dutch firm is attempting to crack one of aviation’s greatest unsolved mysteries: how Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 carrying 239 people, vanished in an age of surveillance and technology.

The Australian Transportation Safety Board (ATSB) said Wednesday it selected the Dutch technical consultancy Fugro to relaunch the search for MH370 after a month-long tender process that solicited bids the world’s most advanced deep sea searchers, according to the firm’s statement.

Unlike some of its fellow bidders, Fugro historically hasn’t focused on deep-sea recovery, but rather on geotechnical services like underwater mapping for off-shore oil and gas clients. Other bidders like the UK-based Blue Water Recoveries and the Odyssey Marine Exploration specialize in recovering modern shipwrecks or search-and-recovery in deep ocean exploration.

Fugro, which has pursued some underwater search missions in European waters, attributes its win not to advanced technology, but instead to a calculated balance.

“In the initial phases of the search, a number of companies deployed very accurate and very sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicles. The advantage of such technology is that it’s very accurate, but the bad side is that it takes a lot of time to cover a square meter,” Rob Luijnenburg, Fugro’s director of corporate strategy, told TIME. “What we’re doing now is a combination of sufficient resolution and the capability to survey a reasonably large seabed in a relatively short time.”

Fugro had previously worked in conjunction with Bluefin Robotics to develop the Bluefin-21 vehicle used in search efforts during April and May. At that time, officials had suspected the plane’s pinger had run out of battery, and swapped in the Bluefin-21 for the Towed Pinger Locator. Other Fugro missions devoted to search-and-recovery have involved partnerships with the UK to recover helicopters downed over water, and ship recoveries near the Netherlands.

Fugro has already been directly involved in the MH370 search, too. Since June, one of Fugro’s ships, the Fugro Equator, has been working with a Chinese ship to conduct preliminary bathymetric surveys (i.e. underwater mapping of the terrain) around the target area. While radars mounted on the two ships have already mapped nearly 60,000 sq. km—much of that area is in the designated search area—Fugro’s AUS 60 million contracted mission involve only the Fugro Equator and another of Fugro’s ships, the Fugro Discovery. The two ships will each tow sonar scans near the seabed to produce higher resolution maps and possibly locate debris.

“Previous estimates [of the seabed] are very, very rough. The resolution is not good enough to find little bits of pieces of aircraft—that we do with the [towed] sonar equipment,” Luijnenburg said.

The designated search area, about 600 miles south of the previous phase’s area, was decided in June by Inmarsat scientists after re-analyzing satellite data. The area, roughly double the size of Massachusetts, is the latest patch of ocean in what’s been a hopscotch around the largely uncharted South Pacific. Estimates indicate that existing maps of this territory are about 250 times less accurate than surveys of Mars and Venus.

To navigate such difficult underwater terrain, further complicated by treacherous weather conditions, Fugro has connected with experts including Donald Hussong, a sonar guru. Hussong, who was brought out of partial retirement to assist Fugro’s sonar towing logistics, said the two vessels will each be equipped with 9 or 10 km. of cable that will tow scanners about 100 to 150 m. above the sea floor. The existing maps, while crude approximations, will be enough to prevent the sonar from impacting the ocean floor, which could dislodge the equipment.

Hussong estimates that the relaunched search over 60,000 square km. will span approximately 9 to 10 months—a heartbeat compared to the nearly 2 years it took locate Air France Flight 447’s debris, a mere 6.5 km from the center of the search. If the Dutch firm’s towed sonars locate debris, then the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which aided in locating the Titanic’s wreckage in 1985, will contribute two autonomous underwater vehicles.

But thus far, absolutely nothing—not even a suitcase, life vest, or crumpled paper—has turned up. Fugro is hopeful that the wreckage will be located, but the Dutch firm acknowledged that there’s a chance the massive search might yet again emerge fruitless.

“If we have contrast between the hard surfaces of debris and sediments naturally on the bottom [of the ocean], then we should find it.” Hussong told TIME. “If it’s some place on a rocky bottom or the side of a cliff, it’ll be difficult.”

Inmarsat, however, the agency that dictates the search area alongside Australian and Malaysian authorities, remains more than cautiously optimistic that Fugro will solve MH370’s mystery.

“We remain highly confident in the analyses conducted,” an Inmarsat spokesperson told TIME in an e-mail, adding that the scale of the task shouldn’t be underestimated. “The next phase of the search is being handled by those trained in this sort of work and we are hopeful that evidence will be found.”

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