- Q: Chop suey is a Chinese dish.
No. The Chinese had many vegetable dishes; but chop suey (chopped
leftovers) as we know it originated as meals for workers on the American
transcontinental railroad construction project.
- Q: A police officer has the legal right to commandeer your
No. In California, for example, no one ever has been convicted or even
prosecuted for failure to surrender a vehicle. The only possibly
pertinent law is the doctrine of posse comitatus,
which requires one to assist in the pursuit and apprehension of certain
suspects. In contrast, there are laws enabling the FBI to
commandeer autos belonging to local police departments.
- Q: A stock split increases the value of that stock.
"Oh, boy! My stock has split!" One has heard that many
times. So what? Doubling the number of shares at half the price
per share, for example, is a net zero change in value.
The fact of a split, however, does suggest that the stock has
performed well in the recent past, and the seemingly attractive reduction of
share price can result in a temporary spike created by unsophisticated
- Q: Hypnosis is a form of mind control.
No. This technique is useful in exploring a mind, but it does
not facilitate the control of one. No person under the
influence can be forced to do anything contrary to his/her values.
- Q: Log cabins are not as strong as conventional homes.
In fact, log cabins have been shown to be up to eight times as strong
as the average home. If a tornado comes by, I want one of those.
strength-oriented zoning prohibitions against log cabins have
been shown in courts to be misguided.
- Q: The stripes on an African tiger are black.
No. See #23.
- Q: The 21st century began on January 1, 2000.
Despite all the millennium parties at the wrong time, the simple arithmetic
facts are irrefutable. Year 1 a.d. directly followed year 1 b.c.
There was no year zero; it would have been nonsensical to number a
year as such, and it didn't happen. Moreover, most cultures of the day
had not yet even embraced the concept of zero (example: Roman
numerals). No, the 1st Century a.d. began on January 1, year 1 a.d.
A century is, by definition, 100 full years, and a millennium is 1000
years. Therefore, the 2nd Century began exactly 100 years later, at the
beginning of year 101. Similarly, the 21st Century and third millennium
2,000 years later — on
January 1, 2001.
My favorite question from the quiz show Jeopardy! was posed in 2002
or 2003: "What was the site of the last Summer Olympics in the Twentieth
Century?" Two contestants named Atlanta
The winner correctly identified Sydney (2000).
- Q: Water conducts electricity.
Water itself is a non-conductor; it's the minerals and impurities
that enable electricity to travel.
- Q: On average, winters are colder in the northern
No. It so happens that, due to the angle of the earth's axis, winters
north of the equator occur when the earth is nearest the sun in its orbit;
summer occurs when the planet is most distant. The seasons are thereby
tempered. In the southern hemisphere, it's a different story.
There, summer occurs when the earth is closest to the sun, etcetera, causing
greater extremes in temperature.
- Q: Your automobile tires do not conduct electricity.
Your tires are conductors, not insulators. In a lightning
storm you are relatively safe in a vehicle, but only because the electricity
will take the easiest path to the
ground — that is, through
the tires. For the record, pure rubber is a
non-conductor; but your tires aren't made of that. Also, many
materials oscillate between conductor and non-conductor, depending upon
- Q: Cholesterol is bad.
Not necessarily. The human body produces cholesterol naturally; it is
needed for cell-wall functioning and the production of hormones. It's
the stuff that is added via your rotten diet that is bad.
- Q: A pound of gold weighs more than a pound of feathers.
No. See #31.
- Q: The © character is a required component of a valid
By law, a copyright consists of three items: the word copyright,
a name, and a date. Although not actually supported by the federal law,
the © character is generally considered a legally acceptable
substitute for the word copyright. In light
of that, the widespread practice of using the two components together is
redundant — and unenlightened.
- Q: Citizens of India worship cows regularly.
The cow is venerated because of its perceived association with the Hindu
deity, Krishna, and there are some related rituals; however, cows are
not a regular feature of religious practice in India.
- Q: There is no such thing as an infinite number.
TRUE! There are numbers, which are finite
by definition, and there is infinity, which is not a number.
well-spoken scientist ever would utter a phrase such as, "an
infinite number of so-and-so", preferring instead to say,
"infinitely many this-and-that".
- Q: Wealth is destroyed during a stock-market decline.
This nonsense can be heard and read regularly in the financial media, but
the analysts seem to confuse the monetary value of stocks with money itself.
In fact, at the end of a down-day in the market, buyers own more shares and
less money, while sellers own fewer shares and more money. The total
amount of money is unchanged. It is a
Your wealth might have vanished, but someone else's was increased
- Q: Marijuana usage leads to hard drugs.
Yeah, and mother's milk leads to alcoholism, too.
- Q: Coffee reduces drunkenness.
Coffee might temporarily increase awareness, but it has no effect upon the
blood-alcohol level. The only cure for inebriation is sufficient
time for normal bodily processing of the offending chemicals.
- Q: It is improper to end a sentence with a preposition.
There is no such rule, and such a restriction would have undesirable
do-gooders erroneously felt that English should be
bound by archaic Latin protocols, but that language thankfully is dead.
(See my Soapbox article on Speaking Well.)
- Q: Black and white are colors.
Black is not actually a color; technically speaking, it is the absence
of any wavelengths of the visible light spectrum. Similarly, white is
the presence of all such wavelengths, or all colors combined.
- Q: A light-year is a measurement of time.
Contrary to Captain Kirk's moronic usage of the term in an old Star Trek
episode, a light year is, in fact, a measurement of the distance that light
travels in a
year — approximately 6 trillion miles.
- Q: Many candy bars can be purchased for .89¢ or less.
No one actually would sell you anything at the indicated price of 89/100
of a cent each, or 100 items for 89 cents! Countless (sic!) such
advertising displays are created by decimally challenged
and most such errors pass unnoticed by an equally dense clientele. Perhaps
a similar two-decimal error on those folks' paychecks would be
noticed. The misconception is that .89¢ somehow is the same as
$.89 — in other words, that a penny equals a dollar!
- Q: The stripes on an African tiger are yellow.
There are no tigers in Africa.
- Q: Potatoes are fattening.
No. Carbohydrates are the body's choice of energy source, and potatoes
are no exception. It's the butter and other toppings that put on the
- Q: Florida is America's southernmost state.
The Hawaiian Islands extend over 300 miles farther south than Key West,
- Q: A person cannot testify against his/her spouse in an
American court of law.
Numerous idiotic movie plots have been based upon this false premise
(including the relatively recent and otherwise credible offering, "Rising
Sun"). If it were true, no one ever could testify on her/his own
behalf in a divorce or
spousal-abuse case, among others. In fact,
the law is designed to prevent a spouse from being compelled to so
testify; there is no restriction on voluntary action. Moreover, in many
states, said exemption applies only to criminal proceedings (not civil) and
only to actions that occurred within the duration of the marriage.
- Q: Sherlock Holmes famously said, "Elementary, my dear
Some movie characters have uttered that line, but the quote is not found
in any of Arthur Conan Doyle's books.
- Q: There are many species of dogs.
In fact, there are no such species. All breeds of dogs are
classified as wolves. Dog lovers' attempts to have their animals
regarded as independent species have been unsuccessful, because at the
genetic level there is no known scientific way to differentiate a
dog from a wolf.
- Q: An Internet web page lacking a copyright designation is
By modern U.S. law, all original material on a web site (or anywhere
else, for that matter) automatically is the legal property of its creator,
unless that person has specifically donated a work to the public
domain — after which no one may copyright it. Of course,
there are issues regarding the reproduction of materials owned by
others, whether for profit or not.
- Q: Ostriches bury their heads in the sand.
This well-worn myth is just that. Ostriches have been known to lie
down and place their necks and heads flat upon the ground in times of crisis;
but that is all.
- Q: A pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold.
TRUE! Gold is measured using troy weight.
A troy pound is equal to 373 grams. At least in the
world, virtually everything other than gold, silver, and gemstones
is measured by the avoirdupois standard, wherein a pound is equal to 453
grams. So, pertinent pound to pertinent pound, the feathers are more
than 20% heavier than the gold! For the record, however,
a troy pound is comprised of just 12 ounces, compared to 16 in
the avoirdupois measurement. So an ounce of gold does weigh more than
an ounce of feathers.
- Q: Every day ends at midnight.
What's in a name? The answer to this question, that's what.
Midnight is 12:00 a.m. That suffix stands for ante
meridian, or before the noon, and days clearly do
not end before noon. In fact, they logically begin at
midnight, just as hours begin
on the hour —
not some arbitrary fraction of a second later.
- Q: The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow.
No. The primary colors are red, blue, and green.
Mixing those hues of light at highest intensity levels produces white, the
combination of all colors. If you were to stare closely at a television
screen, you would be able to see the little groupings of three
red, blue, and green. In contrast, red, blue and yellow are
the primary pigments, used for mixing paint.
- Q: A koala is a bear.
Not only is it not a bear, but this eucalyptus-eating tree-dweller is a
marsupial; it doesn't even have the same plumbing as a bear.
- Q: The recent stock-market bubble was not identifiable as
such at the time.
Despite Alan Greenspan's feigned surprise regarding the bubble spawned by
agency — the Federal Reserve, a number of competent
analysts of the day issued repeated warnings about it. (See my
Soapbox article on the Future of the Economy.)
- Q: The earth is round.
Due to the earth's rotation on its axis, centrifugal force causes the planet
to bulge in the middle, creating an oblong
shape — not a spherical,
'round' one. The equator is 42 miles longer than a circumference encompassing
the North and South Poles.
- Q: When Monte Hall offered to let a contestant swap doors, there
was no advantage in doing so.
There being three doors, the original chance of guessing correctly was
1 in 3. On Let's Make A Deal, the moderator
never opened the door to the big prize; therefore, one of the
contestant's losing options had been eliminated, and one of the remaining
choices was a guaranteed winner. As no subsequent event could
possibly affect the original odds, the original choice retained a 1-in-3
likelihood. This means that the other doors had a collective 2-in-3
probability of success; so swapping would win twice as often. This is the
so-called Monte Hall Paradox, which itself is a misnomer.
Since the pertinent math is readily explainable, no paradox exists.
- Q: Your car gets better mileage at 20 mph than at
Nope. The actual speed for best mileage varies from one vehicle to the
next, but factors such as inertia enter into the equation. For most cars,
the "sweet spot" is in the range of
40-50 miles per hour.
- Q: Ben Franklin's kite was struck by lightning.
Franklin's experiment involved collecting some of the electrical charge
that leaks through the air during thunderstorms. The kite and twine
became charged, and the twine was used to charge a metal key from which
sparks could be drawn. From this test, Franklin surmised that
lightning itself was a big electrical spark. Had the kite actually
been struck by lightning, our greatest American might well have been killed
- Q: Humans use only about 10% of their brains.
This myth might have stemmed from a pretentious exaggeration of the notion
that humans are far from achieving their potential, or perhaps from the fact
that only about
5% of brain cells are functioning at any particular
moment. The human brain simply has too much to do to be
90% dormant. In fact, MRI imaging shows that humans put most
of the cerebral cortex to good use — even while dozing!
- Q: The twelfth president of the United States was David
Amazingly enough, this one is technically TRUE!
James Polk's term expired on March 4, 1849, a Sunday. President-elect
Zachary Taylor refused to be sworn in on "The Sabbath", taking the
oath of office the next day. Former
Vice-President George Dallas
already had resigned his position two days earlier. Therefore, according
to the U.S. Constitution, the legal president for the next twenty-four
hours was the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Atchison served admirably at his post, by not declaring war on anyone and by
not appointing a single crony to office. Subsequent presidents Hayes,
Wilson, Eisenhower, Reagan, and
Obama — facing the same
28-year calendar cycle — all took the oath privately on
Sunday, then had a public ceremony on Monday. The 20th Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution established the inauguration time as noon on January 20,
without exception. The fact that this (inane) problem in timing is
officially addressed and specifically circumvented serves as validation of
Mr. Atchison's presidency.
- Q: "Play it again, Sam" is from the movie
There was no such line in the 1942 film. Ingrid Bergman
said, "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By.'" Humphrey
Bogart said, "You played it for her; you can play it for me. If she
can't stand it, I can. Play it!" In 1972, Woody Allen did
produce a movie titled, "Play It Again, Sam".
- Q: Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
According to legend, in 64 a.d. Nero started a fire near the imperial
palace, then climbed atop a tower and played the fiddle as the city went up
in flames. Although it is possible that he sometimes strummed a lute
or lyre, historical accounts show that Nero was thirty miles away during the
conflagration, at his villa in Antium. Moreover, he reacted to the
event with uncharacteristic responsibility, by organizing relief efforts, setting
up emergency shelters, and providing cheap grain to victims. In any case,
the fiddle wasn't invented for another fourteen centuries!
- Q: Being in a higher tax bracket is bad.
Occasionally one hears somebody mouthing a complaint about a potential
increase in income putting them into a higher bracket. This negative
reaction indicates a virtual ignorance of the way that U.S. income taxes are
levied. Apparently the perception is that if one's total income were
to be increased, all such monies would be taxed at a higher rate;
yet a cursory examination of any tax table shows that not to be the
case. Only any additional income stretching into a new
bracket would be subject to a higher tax rate. This means that the
more you make, the more you keep irrespective of your actual income.
Being in a higher bracket always means that one is better off.
I want one of those.
- Q: Hawaii is America's westernmost state.
The Hawaiian island of Niihau lies at approximately 160° longitude.
Assuming that your car could float, and you were to drive due north on that
coordinate, eventually you would come to Alaska. Continuing up into
the mainland, you would find yourself over 100 miles east of the
coastal community of Nome. Moreover, you would still be more than
1,000 miles east of the terminus of Alaska's Aleutian Islands.
- Q: Mice like cheese.
Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, funded by the Stilton
Cheese Makers' Association, have found that, although the average mouse's
diet consists primarily of grains and fruit, it prefers foods with a high
sugar content. The creatures turn up their noses at something as rich
and smelly as cheese. A possible exception is Norwegian brown cheese,
which contains a lot of sugar. Perhaps the myth originated in
- Q: There is no mention in the Bible of Adam and Eve eating
TRUE! Although the actual text differs somewhat
among the various versions of the Bible, no fruit was specified; the message
is something such as, "... ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of
Knowledge of good and evil". Northern Europeans apparently
misinterpreted the Latin word
malum — meaning 'apple'
as a noun, or 'evil' as an adjective. There is a ground swell of
modern support for the notion that, even if this fanciful accounting actually
occurred, the fruit most probably was a pomegranate, which, unlike the apple,
is indigenous to the presumed location of the Garden of Eden.
- Q: Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
In fact, lightning favors certain spots, particularly high locations.
The Empire State Building, for example, is struck about 25 times per year on
average. Ben Franklin knew the facts long ago, when he constructed the
first-ever lightning rod atop his own home.
- Q: The summit of Mount Everest is the land point farthest
from the center of the earth.
Due to the fact that the earth is oblong in shape (see #35), objects on the
equator are farthest from earth's center-point, and those at the poles are
closest. Although the top of Mount Everest is the highest above sea
level, the summit of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is more than 7,000 feet farther
from earth's center. Oddly enough, however, Chimborazo isn't even the
highest mountain in the Andes!
- Q: Chinese Checkers originated in China.
The game as we know it was invented in Germany in 1893 under the name
as a variation of the older game Halma, in which the players' pieces
are initially placed in triangular arrays in the corners of a 16x16 square
board. In 1928 an American firm published the game as "Hop
Ching Checkers", then quickly changed that to Chinese
Checkers solely to make the name sound exotic. The game was
actually introduced to China by the Japanese! Go figure.
Interestingly enough, although Halma is played primarily in
Europe, it was invented by American professor Dr. George Howard Monks in
1884, who derived the idea from a British game, Hoppity.
father-in-law, Harvard President Dr. Thomas Hill, coined the
actual name from the Greek word for "jump". Halma is the only
19th Century internationally known game to have originated in the United
- Q: The quote, "Beam me up, Scotty" is from the
original Star Trek series.
That phrase never was uttered on the television show.