Right Now in Stuff You Should Know

I can't get over the haunting concept described by zoologist Richard Dawkins' hypothesis that we humans are merely vessels for our genes, which both use and control us. Everything from our hair color, to our HDL cholesterol levels, to our propensity for bipolar disorder can all be traced back to our specific genomes. Even those clearly environmental influences, like pickling one's brain with alcohol, find roots in genetic predisposition. The genes are the thing; and the idea that they use us to stay alive by eternally hopping from parent to offspring again and again strikes me as both utterly true and oddly reminiscent of the basic teachings of Scientology. Dawkins' hypothesis has been coming up a lot lately in my life for some reason, and here it comes again. Reuters news agency reports this morning that the ire of a conservative Polish politician has been raised by the lifestyle of a ten-year-old elephant named Ninio.

Somali Pirates -- No Soup For You!

I'm sure by now you've all read the story about the Somali pirates that were dumb enough to hijack a U.S. merchant ship carrying aid to Africa. If not, here's a brief recap: Somali pirates were dumb enough to hijack a U.S. merchant ship carrying aid to Africa.

Money laundering -- the practice of disguising illegal funds -- can be domestic or international in nature. Join Josh and Chuck as they take a look at the history, practice and future of money laundering in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

There are advantages to being one of only nine people in existence to suffer from an affliction. Chief among them is the ability to walk into any research hospital and command the attention of the world's foremost physicians with little or no effort. Just say something like, "Hi, doctor, how are you today? That's great. Listen, I've got this phantom third limb. What do you think of that?" The doctor will likely say that he or she thinks very much of that. Such is the case with a 64-year-old Swiss woman who recently complained of an imaginary third limb. Whoa, whoa, you may say. I've heard of this before. No you haven't. Sure, there are other, similar conditions. Phantom limb comes to mind; the phenomenon some amputees experience where they feel pain or other sensation where their former limbs used to be. There's also alien hand syndrome, made famous by Dr. Strangelove...

You remember that horrible slapping around you took a couple years back when you turned down the wrong alley late at night? Remember the dread that welled up in your stomach as you realized three men were particularly interested in keeping you there longer than you'd cared to? Do you remember the pain of the assault and the fear and terror that followed and stayed with you like a blanket always hung over your shoulders? Yeah, well, you wouldn't remember any of this if you'd taken an experimental drug researchers at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn have come up with. You'd especially not remember your traumatic assault if you're a rat, since the clinical trials are still in the animal research stages. The New York Times reports that neurological researchers have managed to come up with a drug that blocks the substance that enables memory recollection, called PKMzeta.

So the Stuff You Should Know team was indeed able to go to New York on Thursday to record what we thought would be a taped interview to go on ABC News Now online. Here's how it went down instead... We get to New York and have about an hour to kill , so we take a jaunt around Central Park with the very awesome marketing VP from here at the HQ. We spied in on a little fashion shoot with a super model that made me feel like I was about three feet tall, breezed by Besthesda Fountain (which was empty), took a stroll past the John Lennon memorial and it was time to head toward lunch. We meet our super nice and cool agency rep who works with the Web site at a sweet place near ABC studios on the Upper West Side. Delicious burgers and great conversation. A little cupcake action after (Magnolia Bakery) and we make our way to the studio.

This week on Stuff You Should Know, Dr. Clark and I hit on some interesting information about growing old despite some unhealthy habits and a very relevant show on Ponzi schemes, aka (insert Italian accent) it'sa Ponzi scheme! On Tuesday's show, we discussed centenarians and how some of them are able to achieve the 100 year mark while partaking in things like alcohol and cigarettes for decades on end. It inspired Josh to keep up his unhealthy habits, so there's that. We also talked about Old Tom Parr - who supposedly lived to be 152 years old in the 1600s. We've gotten some listener mail that indicated some have doubted his age and claim that it was a mix up with his grandfather's birth certificate. So that may actually be true, but even so he'd still have lived a long time for the time period and fathered children as an old man.

How Ponzi Schemes Work

There's been a lot in the news about Ponzi schemes lately. How do they work? And who's Ponzi? Check out this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com to discover how an Italian immigrant created a classic con that's still fleecing investors today.

I read a very sad story today from Time Magazine about the alarming suicide rate of U.S. Army recruiters. The United States is in the longest running war waged by an all-volunteer Army in history. Early on, patriotism in the wake of 9/11 made a recruiter's gig pretty steady. Now things aren't so easy. The longer the war drags on, the harder it is to convince young men and women to sign up for what will most likely mean a long tour of duty in an inhospitable land. The problem is, recruiters are still expected to sign two recruits per month, even if it means working 15 hour days, seven days a week. Burnout is typical during wartime and suicide is no stranger to the military. But last year alone, the number of suicides by recruiters was three times the rate for the rest of the Army.

Back in 2001 in Altapuerca, Spain, a group of archaeologists from Madrid uncovered the remains of several Homo heidelbergensis (Neanderthal's ancestors). Recently, the researchers were able to reconstruct the bones enough to discover that among the prehuman rubble was Earth's earliest known special needs kid. National Geographic reports that the skull of a ten-year-old -- it's unclear whether it was a boy or girl -- showed signs of a severe developmental disability known these days as craniosynostosis. When a child develops in utero, the skull is actually in pieces, held together by fibrous joints that eventually fuse the skull bones into one comprehensive mass we know and love as the skull. This process allows for the brain to develop fully before it becomes encased within the confines of the skull until it slides out again in search of a new home upon the death of the puppet it controlled.

Josh and Chuck to Visit the Big Apple!

That's right folks, your favorite little podcasting duo is being flown to New York on Thursday to get interviewed by a big time news group for a prime-time spot. Or something like that. I'll get back to you with more details, but we do know that it's an interview about our podcast, the new spoken word album we released (available at the iTunes store) and it's for one of the Web sites of one of the major networks. How's that for vague?

You'd think that centenarians -- people age 100 and older -- would owe their longevity to healthy habits, but that's not always the case. Tune in to this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com to learn more about genes, longevity and unhealthy habits.

There's nothing better than waking up to the unmistakable aroma of frying bacon. Even some vegetarians I know admit that the smell is pretty darn tempting -- the same ones that are revolted by a whiff of a steak on the grill. In the United States you can choose from all kinds of bacon -- center cut, low-sodium, extra thick, maple flavored, etc. You can go for turkey bacon if that's your bag (which doesn't really count) or even buy it pre-cooked. We also have Canadian bacon, a.k.a. ham. I've mentioned this on the Stuff You Should Know podcast and gotten feedback from our friends from the Great White North explaining that they call "American" bacon "back bacon," "peameal bacon" or just plain old bacon. It's great for breakfast or for lunchtime on a BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato) sandwich. In California you'll want to add avocado if you want to fit in.

CNN.com reports about the pre-dawn earthquake that struck central Italy this morning. The Interior Minister said that at least 92 people have been confirmed dead so far from the quake that registered a magnitude of 6.3. Tremors were felt in the capital city of Rome, about 60 miles from where it hit in L'Aquila. It only lasted about 30 seconds, but the 13th century buildings were no match for the scale of the earthquake. Italy has two geological faultlines that cross the country, making it one of the most earthquake-prone regions in Europe. What's surprising is this story from Reuters -- an Italian scientist claims to have predicted the earthquake several weeks ago and was reported to the authorities for spreading panic. Seismologist Gioacchino Giuliani drove around town in a van with loudspeakers broadcasting a warning of the impending quake.

This week on Stuff You Should Know Josh and me rounded out our "death suite" with shows on the world ending in 2012 and some truly bizarre ways to die. Talk about an uplifting experience! The good news is that neither one of us, based on our research, believe that the world will end in 2012. The concept of this whole thing is based on the Mayan calendar, but it's really just a bunch of hullabaloo to sell books if you ask us. Not only does the Mayan calendar not call for the world to end in 2012, but the event they are referring to is actually one to be celebrated. So much for that - good podcast though. Josh was on fire and we RETIRED HAIKU THEATER.

You get sick, you think: go to hospital. At least in Great Britain, where they tend to drop articles that would normally appear in a sentence before a place. If you're American, you'd think that you should go to the hospital. Either way, it's a good place to go if you're ill or injured. Problem is, it turns out hospitals are also a great place to become even more ill and even die. A March 2008 episode of the PBS medical panel discussion show Second Opinion reveled some startling figures. Every year in the United States about two million people who enter a hospital leave with an illness they acquired during their stay, a conundrum known as hospital-acquired infections. Even worse, around 100,000 people who contract a hospital-acquired illness die from it. It makes sense on the one hand: Hospitals are places where the infectiously ill all come together under one roof to be treated...

Bizarre Ways to Die

When it comes to shucking this mortal coil, no two deaths are exactly alike -- and some are truly bizarre. Tune in to this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com to hear Josh and Chuck discuss some of the strangest deaths imaginable.

Since I was a kid I've been creeped out by beauty pageants. Something about the plasticity of the skin, the set-in-bronze quality of the hair helmets, the tiny subway tile teeth has always sent me screaming in the other direction. The Q&A portion is the worst. That deer-in-the-headlights, drank-the-Kool-Aid smile and an answer seemingly generated by the "P-2000 Responserator." One-piece bathing suits with pantyhose and high heels has always struck me as one of mankind's funnier inside jokes. The contestants wear it and the rest of humankind has a good lol. And don't even ask me about the kid pageants. Having said that, pardon me for thinking the following was really funny... The New York Times reports that reining Miss Universe Danya Mendoza of Venezuela paid a PR visit to the troops at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She then blogged about it, which in retrospect may have been a bad idea. Some of the highlights:

Permanent Kittens Flat-Out Refuse to Grow

Just when you think you've seen it all comes a story from the "Felines: Out Of Love" society -- a cat-loving genetic research group based out of The University of Wisconsin at Sheboygan. The scientists there have designed what they're calling the "Permanent Kitten." Yes, this is exactly what you think it is -- felines that remain in a permanent state of arrested "kittenness."

Josh and Chuck Go Live

Tomorrow morning from 9 a.m. to 9:30 est and then again from 10 a.m. to 10:30 est, Josh and me will be going live on the internets. We'll be doing a show about April Fool's Day for a streaming webcast sort of thing for a site called ustream.com. Tune in to hear all about April Fools Day, the nature of laughter and all kinds of other hijinks.