Wednesday, 8th August 2012
By Bill Sones and Rich Sones, PhD
Q. If one cat has 20 toes, do five cats have 100? But first, are they all polydactyl cats?
A. "Polydactyl" means "many digits," and in a housecat means more than the normal 18 toes (5 + 5 in front, counting the 2 dewclaws, & 4 + 4 in back). Thus a 20-toed cat would certainly exhibit polydactylism, not at all uncommon, though in showbreeds can be regarded as a disqualifying feature.
This is a dominant mutation, with an estimated 40%-50% of kittens sharing parental polydactyly. So if the other four cats in question are among 20-Toe's progeny, 100 or more might not be a bad guess, especially since some polydactyls have 7 toes up front, 6 in back, or different numbers all around, says the online Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.
One male cat named Mickey Mouse reportedly had 32 toes, at 8/foot, says British cat welfare worker and freelance writer Sarah Hartwell. A condition known as double-paws can also occur, where "each paw is actually two fused mirror- image paws." One cat was said to have all 4 paws doubled, so when it sat at attention, "it had 8 paws in a row."
P.D. cats have also been dubbed "mitten cats," "thumb cats," or "Hemingway cats." The novelist was reportedly once given one, and dozens of its descendants wandering his old Key West estate today are polydacts ("for whom the toes are told").
Q. If you really know your classic art top to toe, try to cite two instances of human polydactyly (extra digits) in the paintings of Raphael.
A. One is the case of six toes on the left leg of St. Joseph in "The Marriage of the Virgin," done in 1504, reports the "British Medical Journal" (bmj.com). This is probably deliberate, as Raphael was attentive to detail, and St. Joseph is the only barefooted figure in the painting.
This well-formed digit-plus, off the fifth toe, corresponds to a "postaxial polydactyly of type A." This relatively rare anomaly occurs in but 1 in 630-to-3300 live births among Whites, more among Blacks.
A second instance is the infant John the Baptist gazing at the Christ Child in "La belle Jardiniere" (1507). Since this type of polydactyly is an autosomal dominant trait (not sex-linked), "we may hypothesize that the two people who served as models for Raphael were relatives, probably father
(St. Joseph) and son (the infant)."
Q. A person snatched up into the jaws of a lion and shaken about would have to be in agonizing pain, wouldn't you say?
A. That's not the way Scottish explorer David Livingstone tells it in his 1857 "Missionary Travels," where he recounts being attacked by a big cat:
"Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though [I was] quite conscious of all that was happening."
Then a friend fired a gun and scared the lion off, saving the badly injured Livingstone.
In "The Medusa and the Snail," noted author Lewis Thomas describes witnessing a jeep accident during World War II where two young MPs were trapped inside the crushed steel, both mortally injured. "We had a conversation while people with the right tools were prying them free. Sorry about the accident, they said. No, they said, they felt fine. Is everyone else okay, one of them said. Well, the other one said, no hurry now. And then they died."
Such stories are common where people encounter sudden, violent life-threatening circumstances. In many grave situations where pain would seem to serve no biological purpose, the brain apparently shuts it off with natural stress chemicals called endorphins (for "endogenous morphine").
Q. What's the secret to a good karate chop, that lets mere flesh and blood break a cement block?
A. Make that flesh, blood and BONE, which become like a knife blade as the hand is projected downward at 30+ mph for an accomplished black belt, says Curtis Rist in "Discover," reporting on the work of physicist Michael Feld and others. At that speed, a 1.5-pound hand can deliver a wallop of 630 pounds, plenty more than the 430 required to split a typical concrete slab 1 1/2 inches thick.
But DON'T TRY THIS, DON'T TRY THIS as serious bone and nerve injury can result. Both force and finesse are essential to a successful chop, requiring years of training and discipline. The force is generated also by a good boxer, but a punch won't break the block because of follow-through damping vibrations. A punch is designed to knock an opponent down, to jar his brain, not crack his skull.
By pulling off at the last instant, his fist touching the block for fewer than 5 milliseconds - the finesse - the black belt sets the block to oscillating rapidly. It's like tweaking a rubber band, said Feld, coauthor of "The Physics of Karate" ("Scientific American"). When the board or block reaches its elastic limit, it starts to yield, and breaks.
Fortunately, noted Feld, bone can withstand 40 times more force than concrete before reaching its limit, and hands even more than that, helped along by cushioning skin, muscles, ligaments, etc. "A well-kicked foot can absorb about 2,000 times as much as concrete." But DON'T TRY THIS!
Q. Under what special circumstances were the typewriter, carbon paper and LP record invented? Were they all just the result of blind chance?
A. Blind, yes, but not at all random. The first known working typewriter was built by Pellegrino Turri in Italy in 1808 to enable his blind lover, the Countess Carolina Fantoni, to write to him, says University of Wisconsin-Madison human factors expert Gregg Vanderheiden.
Carbon paper was developed for blind people who could not use a quill but could write with carbon paper and a stylus. Later, carbon paper served as the first typewriter "ribbon."
The LP record was invented for "Talking Books for the Blind," anticipated by Thomas Edison when he filed for his patent for the phonograph in 1877 and spoke of eventual "Phonograph books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part." ("The New York Times")
Just a few of the many cases of disability mothering invention.
Letters to the Editor
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Once in a blue moon. As rare as hen's teeth. A Government success. Each of those three sentences are as unusual and as rare as each other. But the last one seems to be about to take place. The Government has announced that it plans to give each child in the State a second year of free pre-school. It might not sound like earth shattering news but if it does happen then it could be one of the most significant things that this Government has done since it took office. Any money that is given over to education is a …
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