Tuesday, January 26

The Debunker: Who Was Conceived in the Immaculate Conception?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Who Was Conceived in the Immaculate Conception?

In the Gospel of Luke, the Virgin Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that her child will be "the Son of the Most High" and will reign over Israel forever. Mary is a little taken aback: she's a virgin! It's even in her name! The angel explains further, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." In other words, Jesus gets conceived without a mortal father. That's the immaculate conception, right?

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 19

The Debunker: Do Hindus Worship Cows?

by Ken Jennings
Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Do Hindus Worship Cows?

You've might think of it as a quasi-racist movie trope until you actually visit India, but it's absolutely true. Cattle do wander freely through the streets of Indian cities and towns, even taking mid-street naps in busy major cities. And motorists don't even honk at them. They're a real but unavoidable city annoyance, like pigeons to a New Yorker, or tourists to a Parisian.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 12

The Debunker: Does the Quran Prohibit Images of Muhammad?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Does the Quran Prohibit Images of Muhammad?

A lot of millennia-old quibbles over religious scripture fall into the "minutiae" category today. New Testament scholars may disagree as to whether the apostle called Nathanael and the one called Bartholomew were really the same guy. Devout Jews may have different opinions on whether or not it's okay to use an elevator on the Sabbath. But the doctrinal disagreement over if and how it's okay to depict Muhammad, the founding prophet of Islam, is a whole different ball game. Having led directly to death threats in Denmark, riots from Nigeria to Indonesia, and terrorist attacks in Paris, the iconography of Muhammad is very much a live issue today, almost 1,400 years after his death.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 05

The Debunker: Was the Buddha Really Fat?

by Ken Jennings
Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Was the Buddha Really Fat?

"Rid yourself all worldly attachments," said the Buddha. "All worldly attachments." That's a list that would presumably include Twinkies and nachos. So if the founder of Buddhism was such an ascetic, if he was traveling the dusty roads of ancient India focused only on enlightenment, then—and forgive me for my bluntness here—how did he put on all that weight? Did he have, like, a glandular thing?

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 27

The Debunker: Does the Word "Gringo" Come from Songs of the Mexican-American War?

by Ken Jennings

In January, we stand at the frontier of a new year. Obviously, there's no better month to remember that other mythic uncharted territory, the American frontier of the Old West! In the Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor famously says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But that attitude has led to a lot of frontier lore that's just plain loco. We've asked Jeopardy gunfighter Ken Jennings to separate fact from legend--and print only the facts. Let's see if he can clean up this town.

The Debunker: Does the Word "Gringo" Come from Songs of the Mexican-American War?

Etymology rule of thumb: as well-known stories about word origins become more and more "fun" and improbable, the likelihood that they are true approaches zero. Take the word gringo, a scornful Spanish slang word for anglo types. According to an oft-told story, gringo dates back to the Mexican-American War, when American soldiers were frequently overheard singing marching songs like "Green Grow the Rushes" and "Green Grow the Lilacs." Gringo is actually a corruption of the words "green grow," this theory would have you believe.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 20

The Debunker: Did Jesse James's Gang Rob from the Rich and Give to the Poor?

by Ken Jennings

In January, we stand at the frontier of a new year. Obviously, there's no better month to remember that other mythic uncharted territory, the American frontier of the Old West! In the Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor famously says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But that attitude has led to a lot of frontier lore that's just plain loco. We've asked Jeopardy gunfighter Ken Jennings to separate fact from legend--and print only the facts. Let's see if he can clean up this town.

The Debunker: Did Jesse James's Gang Rob from the Rich and Give to the Poor?

In 1882, the famed outlaw Jesse James was shot in the back by one of his gang members, Robert Ford (Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, if you saw the movie). The shooting was immortalized in the folk song "Jesse James," which takes a strongly pro-Jesse/anti-Ford stance. Robert Ford is dismissed as a "dirty little coward," while Jesse James is lauded because "he stole from the rich and he gave to the poor." "He'd never see a man suffer pain," insists the star-struck balladeer. "He'd never rob a mother or child." The song, covered by everyone from Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen, has cemented in the public mind the notion that Jesse James was a colorful do-gooder. Sure, maybe he was an outlaw, but the noble Robin Hood kind! A likable rascal!

read more…

 

Monday, January 12

The Debunker: Did Cowboys Wear Ten-Gallon Hats?

by Ken Jennings

In January, we stand at the frontier of a new year. Obviously, there's no better month to remember that other mythic uncharted territory, the American frontier of the Old West! In the Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor famously says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But that attitude has led to a lot of frontier lore that's just plain loco. We've asked Jeopardy gunfighter Ken Jennings to separate fact from legend--and print only the facts. Let's see if he can clean up this town.

The Debunker: Did Cowboys Wear Ten-Gallon Hats?

Real talk: no hat can hold ten gallons, not even Pharrell's. Your average Stetson has a maximum carrying capacity of three quarts, just 7.5% of what's advertised. Not sure why you'd want to carry liquid in your hat, cowpokes, but "let the buyer beware" is all I'm saying.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 06

The Debunker: Was There a Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?

by Ken Jennings

In January, we stand at the frontier of a new year. Obviously, there's no better month to remember that other mythic uncharted territory, the American frontier of the Old West! In the Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor famously says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But that attitude has led to a lot of frontier lore that's just plain loco. We've asked Jeopardy gunfighter Ken Jennings to separate fact from legend--and print only the facts. Let's see if he can clean up this town.

The Debunker: Was There a Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?

If Westerns were accurate, they'd be the most sedate movie and TV genre ever. They'd make Errol Morris documentaries look like Errol Flynn movies. They'd make BBC costume dramas look like Sons of Anarchy. That's because, despite what Hollywood would have you believe, violence was uncommon in the "Wild" West. Six-shooters were too inaccurate and ammo too expensive for precision dueling at high noon. Most frontier towns were safe, quiet places where visitors had to surrender firearms to the sheriff upon arrival. Don't tell the NRA.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 28

The Debunker: Do Mice Really Like Cheese?

by Ken Jennings

It’s now 2014, a full decade since Jeopardy! made Ken Jennings mildly famous, but he’s still waging his tireless war against misinformation in our weekly “Debunker” column. Did you know that January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day? Or that David Seville of “The Chipmunks” fame was born on January 27? By the end of this month, of course, the most famous rodent-related day on the calendar, Groundhog Day, will be just hours away. In honor of our small woodland friends, most of whom are probably hibernating right now, Ken will spend the month of January gnawing away at all the rodent-related facts you only thought you knew.

The Debunker: Do Mice Really Like Cheese?

Animated mice, I am quick to note, love cheese. In 1986’s immigration parable An American Tail, we learn that animated mice will even cross an ocean on the chance of finding a paradise where, allegedly, “the streets are paved with cheese.” But the mouse-cheese link predates Tom and Jerry by thousands of years, being found in the letters of the Roman writer Seneca. It’s possible that the ancients associated mice with cheese because cheese, unlike other stored food items, needed to be left out to “breathe,” and was therefore more susceptible to household pests. Or maybe our forefathers, looking to “build a better mousetrap,” tried aromatic baits like cheese in hopes of bringing all the mice to the yard.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 21

The Debunker: Can Porcupines Shoot Their Quills?

by Ken Jennings

It’s now 2014, a full decade since Jeopardy! made Ken Jennings mildly famous, but he’s still waging his tireless war against misinformation in our weekly “Debunker” column. Did you know that January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day? Or that David Seville of “The Chipmunks” fame was born on January 27? By the end of this month, of course, the most famous rodent-related day on the calendar, Groundhog Day, will be just hours away. In honor of our small woodland friends, most of whom are probably hibernating right now, Ken will spend the month of January gnawing away at all the rodent-related facts you only thought you knew.

The Debunker: Can Porcupines Shoot Their Quills?

If you believe, as I do, that the moral arc of the universe bends away from ignorance, then the matter of porcupine defense is a depressing one. People have been wrong about porcupine quills for over 2,500 years, and don’t seem to be getting any less wrong. It’s not just dumb people, either. Our belief that porcupines can shoot their spiny quills through the air to ward of attackers dates back at least as far as Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of his day. The Greek naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote, “The quills of the porcupine are longer, and when it stretches the skin, it discharges them like so many missiles.”

read more…