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Cloning From The Comfort of Your Own Home!

Public perception suggests that it’s easy to clone animals and make perfect copies of the parent. But public perception is wrong. First, to create, say, a cow clone, you need two cells: the nucleus (containing the DNA) of a cell from Cow 1 and an unfertilized egg from cow 2 that has had its own nucleus removed. The cow 1 nucleus is placed in the enucleated cow 2 egg and implanted into a third cow’s uterus to develop – a highly inefficient process. Gathering eggs, removing nuclei, inserting “new” nuclei, and getting the egg to implant are each very difficult steps, and having them all work at the same time is rare. Then, even when the procedure works, the calf is not a truly complete genetic clone. While nuclei contain a majority of a cell’s genetic material (DNA), mitochondria have small amounts. Because the cell contains many mitochondria, the true genetic cloning requires that the nucleus and egg come from the same individual (which means the cloned animal can’t be dead and can’t be male – no egg).

The Husband Allergy

Doctors used to laugh when ladies came in complaining that they must be allergic to their husbands, but now we know that you can develop an allergy to anything – including husbands! One lady became allergic to her hubby after 25 years of happy marriage. As soon as he came into the house she became uncomfortable with various aches and pains for which her physician could find no solution. The couple was actually forced to live apart for months before the source of the problem was discovered: the husband was a dentist and had switched to a new type of anesthetic for his patients, and his unfortunate wife was reacting to the residues of these substances. So how’d they solve their problems? Thorough washing by the dentist and a quick change of clothing before coming home restored their conjugal bliss.

The Lead in Lead Pencils

This may come as a shock to some people, but lead pencils, do not, we repeat DO NOT, contain any lead. Never did. The so-called lead is actually a mixture of graphite and clay. The more graphite, the softer and darker the point. The mistake in terminology can be traced back to the ancient Romans, who actually used pieces of lead to draw lines on papyrus scrolls to guide them in writing with a tiny brush called a pencillus. Lead is a very soft metal and pieces readily rub off. The Romans never realized, however, that lead was potentially toxic. Of course, today we know that even tiny amounts ingested can result in poisoning. On the brighter side, though, it looks like you’re not going to die of lead poisoning for chewing on your pencils way back in grade school.

The Biggest Gold Repository

If you think Fort Knox has the most gold, you’re flat-out wrong! Actually, For Knox ranks at number two. So, where’s the real loot kept? The world’s largest repository is at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in lower Manhattan. Fort Knox does, however, have the largest stash of gold owned by the U.S. Government. Most of the gold in the New York Fed’s vaults is on deposit from foreign central banks and other institutions.

Europe As A Continent

Textbook definitions tell us that Europe is a continent, bounded on the east by the unimpressive Ural mountains and Ural River, which means that not only Russia and Turkey but also Kazakhstan lie partly in Europe but mostly in Asia. But reference works also tell us that continents are supposed to be mostly separated from each other by seas and oceans, disqualifying Europe from the category. Europe is thus perhaps best defined as a region, but regions are by their very nature slippery categories. Is Russia part of Europe? If so, Europe borders North Korea; if not, shouldn’t Ukraine have to be excluded as well? (You can make such an argument, but it wouldn’t make you very popular in Kiev.) Alternatively, one can redefine Europe as the collection of countries belonging to, or seeking to belong to, the European Union. No problem – provided that you are willing to exclude Switzerland and Norway.

The Flat Earth of Medieval Europe

We all know that medieval Europeans believed the earth to be flat, a misconception conveniently put to rest by Christopher Columbus. Wrong! Not only did ancient Greek geographers know that the world was (roughly) spherical, but one of them (Eratosthenes) even worked out a fairly close approximation of its size. As heirs to the Greek intellectual tradition, medieval European scholars had good access to such information, and most fully accepted it. There were actually only a few eccentric thinkers who denied sphericity, most prominent among them being Cosmas Idicopleustes, author of Christian Topography. Columbus’s major geographical departure was to argue for a small world, allowing easy access to Asia by sailing to the west. Here, of course, he was completely wrong. So why do most of us think that flat-earthers once prevailed? Simply put, during the battle over evolution in the late 1800s a few of Darwin’s supporters got a bit carried away in denouncing the intellectual obstinacy of the Christian tradition.

A Raw Deal For Richard

despite what everybody thinks, Richard III (1452-1485) was probably not a hunchback. To thrive as a playwright, Shakespeare needed to stay on the good side of his monarch, Elizabeth I. And since Queen Bess’s grandfather, Henry VII, had become king by defeating Richard III in battle, the queen had a family interest – and a personal stake – in seeing Richard remain a villain. Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had previously commissioned a biography of Richard in which he was portrayed as physically and morally misshapen, and Shakespeare stuck to the script. Given the playwright’s skill, it is any wonder that the dramatic character painted during Richards lifetime showed no pronounced deformity.

A Lopping Mistake

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814) did not invent the guillotine, a French execution machine named for him. The doctor’s name was Guillotin, with no final e, and he was deputy to the French Estates General in 1789. A supporter of capital punishment, he thought it should be done uniformly, with merciful efficiency, and proposed a head-chopping device. Of course, such machines had been around for centuries. After the Estates General became the revolutionary General Assembly, French Procureur General Pierre-Louis Roederer turned not to Guillotin but to another doctor, Antoine Louis, for a design. And in fact it was a German engineer who built the first working model. While it’s not clear how the machine came to be named for Guillotin, we do know why it’s spelled that way. The final e was added t make it easier to rhyme within revolutionary ballads.

Another Man By Shakespeare’s Name?

At the turn of the 20th century, certain folks started shipping themselves into a lather over the notion that Shakespeare had not written his plays. They started reading between the lines, smelling a rat. The favorite theory was and is that a nobleman wrote the plays – the Earl of Oxford, maybe, or Francis Bacon – and didn’t want people to know he’d indulged in this disgraceful pursuit. So he tapped Shakespeare as the front man. Some pretty famous people get into the act, including that all-time sleuth-behind-the-scenes, Sigmund Freud.

Here are some of the reasons people think Shakespeare didn’t write his plays:

  1. There’ no record that he ever went to any school.
  2. Many of his plays were published without his name on them.
  3. The plays are too smart to have been written by a middle-class guy with no university education.
  4. There are clues in the plays that other people wrote them.
  5. If Shakespeare wrote all this great stuff, why don’t we know more about him?

Maybe they’re right. Maybe we should tell the old joke: “Shakespeare didn’t write his plays – it was another man by the same name.” But there are pretty good replies to these notions:

  1. Records were pretty bad back then, so that might be why there’s no record of him in school.
  2. True. So What? Later they were. And it’s possible he didn’t want them published (come pay to see Hamlet, don’t buy the book), didn’t care, or didn’t want his name on them. And we have a fair number of contemporaries who say he did write many of these plays.
  3. There really isn’t much in the plays that a voracious reader couldn’t have learned. We know a lot of the books and stories the “author of Shakespeare’s plays” ransacked for plots and ideas. You didn’t need to be an upper-class university student to read them.
  4. Most of these “clues” are clues only if you want to see them that way.
  5. Shakespeare isn’t that mysterious a figure. We actually know a lot about the guy for a non-royal person of 400 plus years ago.

The 3 You Got Wrong About Opera

Opera Singers Are Fat. Every misconception has its kernel of truth. Big voices do tend to come in big bodies. And some great singers have big appetites. But fat is absolutely not a prerequisite for a powerful voice. Some of the strongest singers of all time – like Birgit Nilsson, the great Wagnerian soprano – were just big-boned.

Operas Are Long. Again, yes, some of them are. Wagner wrote a handful of doozies that stretch well past midnight. But most great operas – including Verdi’s masterpieces – aren’t much longer than your run-of-the-mill epic movie.

When An Opera Character Is Dying, She Sings About It For 10 Minutes. When you go to an opera, this might strike you as the ultimate in ridiculousness. The heroine is dying of consumption. The villain has been stabbed. How could they possibly summon the strength to breathe, let alone sing a whole 10-minute song, ending in a high D? Here’s the answer: the song they sing, called an aria, is meant to convey the feeling inherent in a single instant. Imagine using a microscope to examine the minutest details of that instant. That’s what an aria does. For those “10 minutes,” time actually stands still. As for the high D – yeah, well, that’s nuts.

Every Breath You Take

With the emergence of new wave rock in the early 1980s, British group The Police fused punk, reggae, and jazz into a musical style that set the direction for the next evolution of rock. In 1983 The Police released the ballad “Every Breath You Take,” which became their biggest hit. While most people viewed it as a beautiful love song, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The group’s lead singer, Sting, has stated that the song is really about a guy stalking his ex-girlfriend. With lyrics like “every breath you take/everymove you make/every bond you break/everystep you take/I’ll be watching you,” how could so many be so wrong? Over the years another story has surfaced about the meaning of the song. Since The Police were known for making political statements, people have come to wonder if the song wasn’t subtle social commentary on what the group thought was ever-increasing interference by government into private lives. After all, it was 1983 – 1984, and as irony would have it, drummer Stewart Copeland’s father was an ex-CIA agent. George Orwell would have been proud.

Everything You Thought You Knew About Physics (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Black holes don’t suck thing in, despite what you see on Star Trek. If we replaced the sun with a black hole of equal mass, the earth’s orbit wouldn’t change. It’s only when you get very close to the surface of the black hole that the gravity becomes intense.

Einstein didn’t make the atom bomb possible by showing that E=mc2. The discovery of radioactivity had already shown that there was a million times more energy available than in ordinary chemical reactions, and the discovery of the chain reaction made fission power practicable. Einstein’s equation just explains where the energy is coming from; it played no role in the development of atomic bombs or nuclear reactors.

Explosive detectors at airports don’t detect hidden explosives. In fact, there’s no reliable way to detect explosives remotely. The explosive detectors at work are just really fancy x-ray machines that look for suspicious shapes and wires. A chemical swipe can detect residual explosives on the outside of luggage but not the explosives within.

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