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What Made People Think Dewey Defeated Truman?

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Truman isn’t just gleeful in that famous photo because he won the election, but because it was egg on the face of a paper he hated, the Chicago Tribune. The paper had a conservative bent, disapproved of most of his policies, and had once even called him a “nincompoop” in an editorial.

The Tribune was suffering under the weight of a strike, which meant its morning edition needed to go to press much earlier than in other election years - even before the polls closed.

Then as now, no serious news outlet wanted to report something after their competitors had gotten to it first, so the managing editor J. Loy "Pat" Maloney had to make a choice. He could take a chance and run with the outcome the polls were all predicting, or run with something less solid and risk no one buying the paper.

It didn’t really seem like a hard decision at the time. Every poll was saying New York Governor Thomas Dewey was going to reign victorious. Even the Tribune’s longtime Washington correspondent signed off on a Dewey win, and his article under the headline went so far as to say that Dewey won by an “overwhelming majority.”

Stop the Presses

Maloney approved the headline, and 150,000 copies of the early edition paper went to print. Before the papers hit the newsstands, though, he knew he might have made a mistake. New information was coming in that the race was closer than expected. For the second edition he changed the headline, ignoring the presidential race entirely and just running the results of the state elections.

Newspapers had written incorrect headlines before and people moved on; even in this instance, the Journal of Commerce had eight quickly forgotten articles about “President Dewey” in its special edition published on the same day as the Tribune’s headline. But two days later as Truman traveled back to Washington, he was handed a copy of the paper in front of reporters, presumably by someone who knew his feelings for the Tribune’s editorial staff, and the good-faith blooper went down in history.

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Are the Northern Lights?
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Over the centuries, many have gazed up at one of the Earth’s most fascinatingly beautiful natural wonders: the Northern Lights. In the past couple of weeks, some lucky American stargazers have gotten the chance to see them from their very own backyards—and could again this week, according to Thrillist. But what are they?

Before science was able to get a read on what exactly was happening in the night sky, ancient tribes had their own theories for what caused the jaw-dropping light show. Many early beliefs had roots in religion, such as that the light was a pathway souls traveled to reach heaven (Eskimo tribes) or that the light was an eternal battle of dead warriors (Middle-Age Europe). Early researchers were a bit more reasonable in their approximations, and most surrounded the idea of the reflection of sunlight off the ice caps. In 1619, Galileo Galilei named the lights the aurora borealis after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning, after concluding they were a product of sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere.

Today, scientists have come to the general agreement that the lights are caused by the collision of electrically charged solar particles and atoms from our atmosphere. The energy from the collisions is released as light, and the reason it happens around the poles is because that's where the Earth’s magnetic field is the strongest. In 2008, a team at UCLA concluded that “when two magnetic field lines come close together due to the storage of energy from the sun, a critical limit is reached and the magnetic field lines reconnect, causing magnetic energy to be transformed into kinetic energy and heat. Energy is released, and the plasma is accelerated, producing accelerated electrons.”

"Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, a UCLA professor of Earth and Space Sciences. "Reconnection results in a slingshot acceleration of waves and plasma along magnetic field lines, lighting up the aurora underneath even before the near-Earth space has had a chance to respond. We are providing the evidence that this is happening."

The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter, due to the Earth’s position in relation to the sun (shorter days means darker night skies). And by the way, it’s not just the North Pole that puts on a show—there are Southern Lights, too. There are also aurora borealis on other planets—including Mars—so rest assured that future generations born “abroad” will not miss out on this spectacular feat of nature.

Haven’t seen them yet? Traditionally, the best places to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights are in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska. Maybe you'll get lucky this week and sneak a peek from your very own window. Check out Aurorasaurus for regular updates on where they are showing.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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