Tuesday, August 23

The Debunker: Was Ronald Reagan the First Choice to Star in "Casablanca"?

by Ken Jennings

This is the season of Hollywood's unrestrained id: the brainless summer blockbuster, the air-conditioned multiplex, the bottomless popcorn refills, the avalanche of kids emerging blinking into bright sunlight, waiting for their parental pickup. But August is also the anniversary of the movies themselves! It was on August 31, 1897 that Thomas Edison patented his first movie camera, the Kinetograph. In honor of 119 years of cinematic glitz and glamour, we've asked movie buff and Jeopardy! tough Ken Jennings to give us the "reel" truth on all kinds of old-movie misinformation.

The Debunker: Was Ronald Reagan the First Choice to Star in Casablanca?

It's one of the most storied "what if"s in Hollywood history: what if the most iconic screen role of the 1940s, the world-weary Rick Blaine in Casablanca, had been played by not by Humphrey Bogart but by a different actor? Furthermore, what if that actor had been genial future president Ronald Reagan? Reagan, according to movie lore, was Warner Brothers's first choice for the project.

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Tuesday, August 16

The Debunker: Do Movies Work Through "Persistence of Vision"?

by Ken Jennings

This is the season of Hollywood's unrestrained id: the brainless summer blockbuster, the air-conditioned multiplex, the bottomless popcorn refills, the avalanche of kids emerging blinking into bright sunlight, waiting for their parental pickup. But August is also the anniversary of the movies themselves! It was on August 31, 1897 that Thomas Edison patented his first movie camera, the Kinetograph. In honor of 119 years of cinematic glitz and glamour, we've asked movie buff and Jeopardy! tough Ken Jennings to give us the "reel" truth on all kinds of old-movie misinformation.

The Debunker: Do Movies Work Through "Persistence of Vision"?

Nearly every work on film theory begins with one starting principle: that the illusion of motion in motion pictures is only possible through a phenomenon called "persistence of vision." This was a turn-of-the-century attempt to explain the miracle that makes cinema possible: images flash on a screen, and even though they don't move, our brain believes they do. Psychologists decided that something called "persistence of vision" must be involved: some kind of retinal after-image in the eye itself weaves the still images together into a moving whole.

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Tuesday, August 09

The Debunker: What Kind Of Animal Roars At The Start Of The MGM Movies?

by Ken Jennings

This is the season of Hollywood's unrestrained id: the brainless summer blockbuster, the air-conditioned multiplex, the bottomless popcorn refills, the avalanche of kids emerging blinking into bright sunlight, waiting for their parental pickup. But August is also the anniversary of the movies themselves! It was on August 31, 1897 that Thomas Edison patented his first movie camera, the Kinetograph. In honor of 119 years of cinematic glitz and glamour, we've asked movie buff and Jeopardy! tough Ken Jennings to give us the "reel" truth on all kinds of old-movie misinformation.

The Debunker: What Kind Of Animal Roars At The Start Of The MGM Movies?

In 1924, theater magnate Marcus Loew merged his Metro Pictures with two other movie production companies belonging to Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer. The result was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the biggest and most legendary star factory of the Hollywood "studio era." MGM's marketing genius was a man named Howard Dietz, who had been Sam Goldwyn's director of publicity and advertising. Dietz was an alumnus of Columbia University, and adapted the Columbia lion mascot into Leo the Lion, who's now been roaring away for almost a century at the start of MGM movies, from Ben-Hur to Spectre.

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Tuesday, July 26

The Debunker: Do Lightning Rods Attract Lightning?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Are Power Lines Insulated?

Lightning kills as many as 24,000 people every year, and injures ten times as many. It's a real safety issue, not one of these overhyped 11-o'clock-news dangers, like shark attacks. When you've got bolts of electricity blazing out of the sky with a currents of 50,000 amps and temperatures up to 50,000 degrees, you don't want to fool around. Thank goodness Benjamin Franklin took the time in 1749 to dream up the lightning rod, a grounded metallic terminal that can be placed atop a lightning-vulnerable building. This way, lightning can be drawn to earth without causing too much damage on the way.

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Tuesday, July 19

The Debunker: Can Defibrillators "Restart" a Stopped Heart?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Can Defibrillators "Restart" a Stopped Heart?

If TV medical dramas have taught me nothing else, it's this: you can magically turn a dead person into a not-dead person by rubbing two little paddle things together, yelling "Clear!" and jolting them in the chest. L.A. improv classes probably spend at least two or three sessions practicing the "defibrillator jerk" they'll need to master if they're ever going to play Heart Attack Patient #2 on Code Black.

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Tuesday, July 12

The Debunker: Did Thomas Edison Electrocute an Elephant to Discredit AC?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Did Thomas Edison Electrocute an Elephant to Discredit AC?

In the late 19th-century land rush to light America's cities with electricity, the two biggest players were Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. The Edison Electric Light Company was expanding its direct current (DC)-based system, but Westinghouse Electric Company had licensed inventor Nikola Tesla's patents for an alternating current (AC) grid. This was VHS vs. Betamax writ large, with the future of the 20th century at stake. The stakes were so high, in fact, that the competition quickly got ugly, with Edison's company colluding with "activists" to convince the public that AC was a public health hazard that would soon be electrocuting consumers left and right, and even manipulating the State of New York into executing criminals with Westinghouse AC generators in hopes of sullying the brand.

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Tuesday, July 05

The Debunker: Are Power Lines Insulated?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Are Power Lines Insulated?

If you've ever watched birds sitting idly on power lines, footloose and electrocution-free, you might have inferred that the black coating on the outside of the wires is rubber or some other kind of insulating material. After all, as a nation, we wouldn't be stringing hundreds of thousands of miles of hot electric death across the landscape, would we? Surely we're better than that.

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Tuesday, June 28

The Debunker: Was "No Irish Need Apply" a Myth?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Was "No Irish Need Apply" a Myth?

"I'm a decent boy just landed from the town of Ballyfad,
I want a situation, yes, and I want it very bad.
I have seen employment advertised. 'It's just the thing,' says I,
'But the dirty spalpeen ended with NO IRISH NEED APPLY.'"

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Tuesday, June 21

The Debunker: Is Cinco de Mayo Mexico's "Fourth of July"?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Is Cinco de Mayo Mexico's "Fourth of July"?

Boy oh boy do we white people look forward to the fifth of May! That's when we can wear sombreros and drink frozen Margaritas and feel like we're saluting diversity! After all, Cinco de Mayo is a pretty important holiday in Mexico. It's like their independence day, or something.

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Tuesday, June 14

The Debunker: Did German Almost Become the National Language?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Did German Almost Become the National Language?

There's a legend that's been circulating since at least the 1840s on both sides of the Atlantic, from travel literature to school lectures to Ann Landers columns. According to these authorities, in 1794, Congress came within one vote of making German the official language of the United States. When I heard first heard this story growing up, it seemed strange but not impossible. In the mists of early federal experimentation, we almost had all kinds of weird stuff. Ben Franklin once wrote that the turkey should be our national bird. John Adams wanted to call the president "Your Highness." The American rulebook was still being written back then—why not stick it to the English by bailing on their language? After all, fully nine percent of early Americans were already native German speakers, making them the nation's biggest linguistic minority.

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