What a way to end the year. Raleigh's first white Christmas since 1947! Granted, only four-tenths of the seven-inch snowfall fell on Christmas Day, and it didn't start until about 7:30 at night, but it still counts! It's also the perfect time for global warming deniers to make their case by using a single example. Of course, the high temperatures for this weekend are expected to be in the low to mid-60s, so they'd better act fast!
The last week of the year means the last week of giving you Things You're Not Supposed to Know, from the book by Russ Kick. With this theme ended, I will come back next year with another theme. It involves people you probably don't know, but should. Have fun guessing.
To replace the celebrity birthdays, I'll give a famous dead person's birthday for every day of the year (including Feb. 29). And to replace the list of US states' dates of statehood, I'll give each country's so-called "Independence Day" or "National Day". That should be fun, too.
Also, I'm done following the bowl games. After reading Death to the BCS, a book co-authored by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Passan, I can honestly say that breaking down a football game sponsored by a pizza chain is not worth my time. I might have a top 10 list of the best individual performances in the bowl games. To the BCS:
Thing #97: HEAD TRANSPLANTS ON MONKEYS HAVE ALREADY BEEN PERFORMED. I want to warn you this is pretty gruesome. Doctor Robert White, a neurosurgeon at Cleveland’s Metro Health Care Center, experimented with keeping disembodied monkey and dog brains alive during the 1960s. In 1970, he did one better (or worse, however you see it… or don’t want to see it). In an 18-hour surgery, White cut off the head of one rhesus monkey and attached it to a different still-living body of a second monkey. There was an article in London’s Sunday Telegraph Magazine that described it:
“Chalk marks on the floor fixed the positions of more than thirty highly drilled professionals: two surgical teams, a squad of anesthesiologists, assorted nurses, phalanxes of technicians, a bevy of scientists equipped to analyze blood and urine samples on the spot."Naturally, White conducted many of these terrible experiments, not just one. The “Frankenmonkeys” regained consciousness and were aware of their surroundings. From Mary Roach’s book Stiff:
“When White placed food in their mouths, they chewed it and attempted to swallow it— a bit of a dirty trick, given that the esophagus hadn’t been reconnected and was now a dead end. The monkeys lived anywhere from six hours to three days, most of them dying from rejection or from bleeding.”A bit of a dirty trick. That’s a bit of vomit traveling up my esophagus.
Thing #40: DNA MATCHING IS NOT INFALLIBLE. As he did with HIV testing, risk scholar Gerd Gigerenzer performed a study showing that DNA matching is far from perfect:
“In the first blind test reported in the literature, three major commercial laboratories were each sent 50 DNA samples. Two of the three declared one false match; in a second test one year later, one of the same three laboratories declared a false match. From external tests conducted by the California Association of Crime Laboratory Directors, the Collaborative Testing Services, and other agencies, the psychologist Jonathan Koehler and his colleagues estimated the false positive rate of DNA fingerprinting to be on the order of 1 in 100. Cellmark Diagnostics, one of the laboratories that found matches between O.J. Simpson’s DNA and DNA extracted from a recovered blood stain at the murder scene reported its own false positive rate to the Simpson defense as roughly 1 in 200.”
The College of American Pathologists performed a study in 1999. It sent 135 labs a DNA sample from a “victim,” some semen from a “suspect,” and a fake vaginal swab containing DNA from both parties. They were also sent a strand of the “victim’s” hair. The object was to see how many of the labs would make the correct matches. What happened? Well, three of the labs reported that the DNA from the subject matched the victim’s DNA. Only 14 of the 135 labs actually tested the hair, but even one of those screwed up and matched the hair incorrectly with the “suspect.” Ah, science.
Thing #17: AROUND ONE QUARTER OF “WITCHES” WERE MEN. Andrew Gow, a professor at the University of Alberta, and one of his former grad students Lisa Apps published a book in 2003 called Male Witches in Early Modern Europe. From looking at literature of the time, they found that, between 1450 and 1750, the “high time” of witch accusations, of the roughly 60,000 people executed for being a witch, between 20 and 25 percent of them were men. Local variations were even higher, as about 49% of people executed in Finland were male and about 52% in the French region of Burgundy were men. In Iceland between 1625 and 1685, 110 of the 120 people (92%) killed for being a witch were male. Even in the most infamous case, the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, six of the 19 executed were men. Witchcraft, it seems, was not a crime solely from the “fairer” sex.
Thing #98: SCIENTISTS ARE RECREATING THE 1918 SPANISH FLU VIRUS. The influenza epidemic from spring 1918 to spring 1919 killed anywhere from 20 million to 50 million people worldwide, about 675,000 in the US. Its mortality rate was about 2.5%, compared to the typical less than 0.1% mortality rate from an everyday flu strain. Many people died less than 24 hours after catching it. In laymen’s term, it was bad.
So you’ll be glad to know that Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger of the US Armed Forces Institute of Pathology found parts of the 1918 virus in tissue samples from the time period. Not only did he and other scientists decode its genetic sequences, in 2001 they spliced a gene with an everyday flu strain. In 2002, they injected two genes into a regular strain. Not surprisingly, it killed mice at a higher rate.
The Department of Agriculture Inspector General conducted a report in 2003 on laboratories housing deadly viruses. Quote:
“Security measures at 20 of the 104 laboratories were not commensurate with the risk associated with the pathogens they housed.”
That’s not good. It continues:
“Alarm systems, surveillance cameras, and identification badges were commonly lacking in buildings housing the laboratories, and keycard devices or sign-in sheets were not generally used to record entries to the laboratories.”
Feeling safe? Here’s a specific example that will probably make you vomit:
“We discovered a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention select agent at one institution that was kept in an unsecured freezer and for which no risk assessment had been made. The agent, Yersinia pestis, causes bubonic and pneumonic plague and requires strict containment. The freezer that stored this agent had not been inventoried since 1994, when a box of unidentified pathogens was already noted as missing.”
This study was done in 2003, and a box of “unidentified pathogens” had been missing for nine years???? Happy New Year, everyone!
Gerard Depardieu (French actor) Dec. 27, 1948
Seth Meyers ("SNL") Dec. 28, 1973
Jude Law (actor) Dec. 29, 1972
Tiger Woods (golfer) Dec. 30, 1975
Anthony Hopkins ("Silence of the Lambs") Dec. 31, 1937
Entries into the Union (United States):
Iowa: Dec. 28, 1846
Texas: Dec. 29, 1945
Happy birthday, States! Happy new year. See ya next time!