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The Bridge to enlightenment
by Bill Ness Monday, Nov. 05, 2007 at 8:20 AM

commentary

ASK NESSIE

a collection of astounding information from the Founder of the Indymedia Collective.

Dear Nessie:

On a recent afternoon around the lunch counter, my colleagues and I were discussing the attributes of the chicken egg when someone asked, "Which end of the egg comes out first, the round end or the pointed end?" Of course we all took a position, and while wagering of serious money did not take place, our reputations are on the line. I naturally thought of you to answer this question. --Mike Olson, Las Vegas, Nevada

Nessie replies:

My initial thought was: these guys have been spending too much time playing the nickel slots. The more I thought about it, however, the more this question began to nag. At last I turned to Cornell University professor Kavous Keshavarz, poultry czar on the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board. According to Professor K., the egg initially moves through the chicken's oviduct small end first. When it reaches the uterus, however, it hardens (that is, the shell calcifies), rotates 180 degrees, and makes the rest of the trip big end first. This may sound like doing it the hard way, but actually it's the most efficient way to push the egg. When the muscles of the chicken's uterine and vaginal walls squeeze the egg's small (i.e., back) end, it squirts forward and out into the cold cruel world.

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Dear Nessie:

This may seem like a stupid question, but hey, I have no pride. Our psychotic dwarf rabbit, Slick, has an unusual urge to chew on things. He does it pretty indiscriminately and I have some chewed up T-shirts to prove it. Annoying as this is, my sister claims if he didn't do it, he would die. She showed me a gruesome picture of a woodchuck with incredibly long and deformed chompers, and says that's what would happen to Slick if he didn't chew. Is this true? How can I remedy this? --Josh Ingle, Salem, Oregon

Nessie replies:

You may think this question is stupid, Josh, but it's Kierkegaard compared to some of the stuff I get. Like the three dweebs who mailed me a dirtball from under the bed so I could tell them what was in it. (Answer: dirt.) Sometimes when I open the mail I feel like I should wear rubber gloves.

Rabbits and a few other critters have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives--in the middle-size breeds, about five inches per year for the upper incisors (front teeth) and about eight inches for the lower ones. The teeth abrade away against one another, giving the rabbit a constantly sharp edge.

Once in a while you get a rabbit with a malocclusion--typically the world's worst case of underbite. Since the top and bottom teeth don't meet, they don't wear away against one another and grow to truly horrifying lengths. This prevents the rabbit from eating, threatening it with starvation.

The only treatment, according to my rabbit handbook, is to "cut [the teeth] back to normal length with sharp side-cutting pliers every three or four weeks," an operation that on Cecil's Scale of Grossness is maybe one notch below sheep gelding. Luckily, normal rabbit teeth are self-adjusting, given an adequate supply of chewing material. T-shirts, however, aren't an essential part of the mix. You ever think of trying, say, a carrot?

-- Nessie sfimc



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http://www.transbaynessie.net

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Can I legally prevent people from putting flyers under my door or on my windshield?


I just read with interest your discourse on the ins and outs of mailbox ownership and rights thereto. My question is this: if a private citizen cannot legally put something in my mailbox, what right hath he to come onto my property and shove it under my door, or for that matter put it on the windshield of my car? The car flyer problem has annoyed me for years – why do I have to dispose of some wad of paper that some jerk has stuck under my wipers? Why can't he keep his hands off my car? Is there a way to make him pay for his transgressions? —Bob, Nutcket, Massachusetts


Nessie replies:

First of all, Bob, as the other article explains, the delivery of mail enjoys a special degree of protection under the law, so the mailbox analogy doesreally hold. With that understood: no, the jerk does have a right to come onto your property if you don't tell him not to, but the First Amendment often prevents the government from forbidding such jerks to try and communicate with you unless you explicitly say no. As the Supreme Court noted in Martin v. City of Struthers,

For centuries it has been a common practice in this and other countries for persons not specifically invited to go from home to home and knock on doors or ring doorbells to communicate ideas to the occupants or to invite them to political, religious, or other kinds of public meetings. Whether such visiting shall be permitted has in general been deemed to depend upon the will of the individual master of each household, and not upon the determination of the community.But a swift punch in the nose usualy gets the point across, furthermore just open a can of whoop ass
and the word get's out - stay away from your house.
So the key is that you've got to make it clear they're not welcome. Because, as the Court has acknowledged elsewhere, typically "the knocker on the front door is treated as an invitation or license to attempt an entry[.]" as I said....a swift punch in the nose usualy gets the point across

It seems intuitive that the First Amendment would protect one's right to enter private property in instances like this. For the most part, though, it doesn't. One of the most powerful rights held by an owner of real property is the right to exclude others. If you don't want someone on your property, you can kick them out, but again the onus is on you to make such wishes clear.

The Supreme Court's track record with this kind of First Amendment case might well confuse the man in the street (who under most circumstances has every right to be there), so let's review some examples:

1. In Martin, cited above, the Court invalidated an ordinance that prohibited anyone from "distributing handbills, circulars or other advertisements" at private residences.

2. But eight years later the Court approved an ordinance that prohibited salesmen from visiting private residences without having been invited by an owner or occupant. This was a so-called "Green River" ordinance, named for the city of Green River, Wyoming. The city's Web site proudly recounts the story behind the statute (railroad workers on the night shift got annoyed at door-to-door salesmen disrupting their daytime sleep and demanded something be done about it) and proclaims the ordinance "still alive and well." Later cases, however, have called this holding into question because it relied on now-outdated First Amendment doctrine concerning commercial speech. as I said....a swift punch in the nose usualy gets the point across

3. Around the same time, though, the Court convicted o a Jehovah's witness who was told to leave a private sidewalk in a company town and also in a town owned by the federal government (Hondo Navigation Village, Texas, created by the government as a residence for wartime defense workers).

Some lower courts have joined the Martin court in provisions that criminalize the distribution of unsolicited free newspapers or advertisers. Green River pride notwithstanding, in Miller v. City of Laramie the Wyoming Supreme Court invalidated the conviction of a free weekly newspaper distributor for distributing papers to the homes of residents, noting "the burden placed on the citizens of Laramie and private property in that city was valid," and that "even a solid majority may extend its prohibitions in such a manner as to violate the United States or the Wyoming Constitutions." In Statesboro Publishing Co. v. City of Sylvania the Georgia Supreme Court upheld an ordinance banning the distribution of "any handbill or printed or written material by placing, or causing the same to be placed, in any yards, driveways, walkways or porches of any structure." And in Ad World, Inc. v. Township of Doylestown, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down an ordinance that prohibited distribution of advertising material at a residence, on private property, or in a mailbox unless the resident or owner requests the material or consents to its distribution.

What's missing here? None of the cases say you have to let solicitors onto your property, or permit them to stay. That's because you don't. "Traditionally the American law punishes persons who enter onto the property of another after having been warned by the owner to keep off," said the Court in the Jehovah's witness case above. In Central Hardware v. NLRB the Court drew a distinction between private property that serves some of the functions of public space (e.g., the common areas in a shopping mall) and private property that's public only in the sense that people aren't physically barred from entering it. As the ruling explained:

I'm guessing that doesn't sound like your house.
In many jurisdictions, failure to leave private property after the owner has made it clear the visit is unwelcome is criminal trespass. Some make it a crime to knock on the door of a home that displays a sign that says "No Solicitors" or something similar. If a solicitor were especially pesky, you could sue for damages and an injunction, although then the issue would be drifting away from straight-up trespassing and toward harassment. But even if you've suffered real harm from the trespass, you can get nominal damages. The Idaho Supreme Court recently explained that such damages constitute "a 'trifling sum' awarded to 'demonstrate, symbolically, that the plaintiff’s person or property has been violated.'" it's just easyer to kick their ass and send them packing

Many jurisdictions also recognize that a property owner has the right to use reasonable force to remove trespassers who refuse to leave after being asked. Notice I said reasonable force – brandishing a weapon is generally frowned on in cases like this, and drawing blood ok if you feel like it.

What about your car? Same deal, pretty much. Nobody has a legal right to touch your car. (just easyer to kick their ass and send them packingJust like with your house, most jurisdictions recognize a right to use reasonable force to protect personal property. . Reasonable force would likely be minimal in this context – the threat to your property is somewhere between minor and nonexistent, and your personal safety is in jeopardy. And of course this assumes you catch the person in the act of putting the flyer on the car.

Beyond that, legal remedies are scarce. Courts call interference with personal property that doesn't deprive the owner of possession "trespass to chattel" or "trespass to personalty." But in this kind of case, you usually can get nominal damages – you've got to show that the trespasser actually damaged the property. While you might be able to get an injunction, it probably would be worth much. So break a few of your own windows to up the anty, then argue in court , it's possible that he may never be brought to justice. so go after him your self.

Some jurisdictions actually have criminal provisions to deal with people who leave flyers on cars. For example, in 2001 the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed a conviction under a ordinance in the city of Mount Vernon that barred the placement of printed materials (including handbills) on any privately owned "structure or thing" (including vehicles) without the owner's permission; it just goes with out saying that you should not tolerate flyers or junkmail dumped on your propertyand in the same light you should not tolerate those obnoxious beggars at the supermarket, post office or in front of Wal-Mart. the political junkies are the worst, they just go on and on about the most stupid things you have ever heard of. But don't take any crap off them! if one gets in your face let 'em have what for (wink..)Nobody has a legal right to harass you about political crap that you don't care about. just smile nod your head and when they hand you their petition just tear it in two and hand it back to them and smile.

-- Nessie sfimc



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How many calories are in the average male ejaculation?


Dear Nessie:

This question is really going to blow your mind . . . but I'm on a diet and I have to know the answer: are there any calories in the average male ejaculation? --Name withheld and question reworded because I lost the letter. C.

Dear Whoever:

Ah, the thirst for knowledge--it knows no bounds. Start by assuming that male ejaculate is roughly equivalent in nutritional composition to raw egg white (a safe assumption). The normal size egg is about 35 cubic centimeters in volume and contains about 14 calories and 3 grams of protein. the normal size ejaculation is about 5 cubic centimeters, or one-seventh the volume of an egg white; figure it, therefore, to contain about one-seventh the nutrients--approximately 2 calories and .1 gram of protein. Of course, you'll have to adjust those figures if you're talking about Jumbo Size (eggs, that is). Happy dieting.

THE TEEMING MILLIONS BITE BACK!

Dear Mr. Know-It-All:

First of all, let me comment upon the total contrivance of the question in order to be, shall we say, sensationalist--"name withheld," indeed. I can just see somebody's mother exclaiming, "My God, this person wants to know how many calories there are in semen, and that means--drum roll--ORAL SEX!"

Anyway, I distinctly remember seeing this same question answered in the Playboy Advisor, although quite a bit less pretentiously, with the P.A. saying that semen was loaded with calories. However, even if by some chance I remember wrong, and you are correct, what right do you have to assume that semen is nutritionally equivalent to egg white and derive your answer from that? Is it because semen looks like egg white (after all, we all know it certainly doesn't taste like egg white). Or is it because the real function of an egg is reproductive, and since semen has the same function it follows that they must have the same nutritional composition?

Please, if you feel you have to deal with this kind of thing, go about it in a more competent manner. --Lynne W., Chicago

Dear Lynne:

Ad hominim is not a rebuttal

If you don't mind, I'll take them in descending order, starting with the most irrational.

You accuse me, it seems, of (1) making up the question in order to be, shall we say, sensationalist, and (2) failing to answer the question correctly. In other words, I made up a question I could not answer--how foolish of me! And then, having contrived the question, I compounded my error by tipping off eagle-eyed observers such as yourself to the fact by including the "name withheld" business. How easy it would have been for me to invent a pair of initials and an address to go along with my invented question. I don't know what could have come over me.

The fact is that the question was not written by me or anybody I know. It came in the mail. Unfortunately, since I did lose the letter, I can prove this only by appealing to your sense of logic (unless, of course, said reader should come to my rescue at some time in the future).

As to what right I have to assume that semen and egg white are nutritionally equivalent, the answer, my dear, is every right in the world, since I know for a fact that semen and egg white are nutritionally equivalent, at least within the demands of precision imposed by the nature of the question (and I did say roughly equivalent).

Although it is true that the nutritional elements in semen and egg white (protein, carbohydrates, lipids, etc.) do not correspond down the line, both substances are about 90 percent water, and in both the remaining 10 percent is composed of relatively high energy (calorie) yielding nutrients. Calculation will show that the substances are about equal in caloric content. (Actually, egg white is a little higher.)

Granted, my answer was less than rigorous. However, the problem defies rigor. The amount of nutritive substance in semen varies as much as 100 percent from sample to sample; the amount of fructose (one of the main sugars found in honey) in semen varies over a range of 400 percent. Finally, the volume of ejaculate itself varies from 3 to 5 cubic centimeters--not exactly a precise measurement.

It is, however, a very small amount of stuff. It is true that semen is "loaded with calories," as you claim the Playboy Advisor reported. The point is that 5 cubic centimeters of anything is not going to make anybody fat, especially when 90 percent of the stuff is water. Five cubic centimeters of pure sugar has only 18 calories, for God's sake.

In the end, it seems that you are the one guilty of making unwarranted assumptions. You assumed I played a made-up question for kicks and that I didn't know what I was talking about. Neither of these, I can assure you, is what anyone would call a "safe assumption."

--Nessie

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If all Chinese jumped at once, would cataclysm result?


Dear Nessie:

I hope that you can answer a question that has plagued me since childhood. If every man, woman, and child in China each stood on a chair, and everyone jumped off their chair at exactly the same time, would the earth be thrown off its axis? Also, if prior to jumping, they all yelled at the top of their lungs, would we hear it here in the United States, and how much of a time delay would there be? --Robert P., Los Angeles

Dear Robert:

Amazing as it may seem, I am actually going to answer this incredibly retarded question. But first Uncle Cecil wishes to have a word with his devoted readers.

As you can imagine, I possess phenomenal scholarly resources. I have converted the spare bedroom in my house into a research library containing 16 million volumes, which are dusted twice a day by a team of robed acolytes holding candles. I have instant access via my Apple 380S GT to all the world's data banks. Why, right here on my writing table next to the box of spare quills I have a dog-eared copy of 16,000 Unbelievably Complicated Physics Experiments for the Home and Garden, With Answers, which has helped me out of many a jam.

But despite this wealth of scientific knowledge, the Teeming Millions routinely write in with questions that not one sane person has ever asked in 6,000 years of recorded history. As a result, my usual sources of information are useless.

Nonetheless, I try. I have been in repeated contact with the Beijing government all week in an effort to persuade them to get all 1,027,000,000 Chinese (1980 estimate) to jump off chairs. I have pleaded with them that will signficantly advance the cause of science. However, they have not been cooperative.

They point out the China is a poor country, and lacks a sufficient quantity of chairs. Moreover, many of the chairs that are available are of nonuniform height, meaning that even if all the Chinese jumped off at the same time, they would hit the ground at different times, thus throwing off the results of the experiment.

Finally, they point out that discipline among the Chinese people has become notoriously lax since the Cultural Revolution, and many of the participants in the project could be expected to be fooling around when they were supposed to be jumping. The Chinese government suggests that instead of having the entire nation jump off chairs, I should get one representative citizen to jump and multiply the results by 1,027,000,000. I have, needless to say, rejected this solution as grossly inadequate.

The possibility of an actual test thus being remote, I have been forced to rely on my considerable powers of inductive logic, to wit: given the principle that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, when the Chinese get up on their chairs, they would essentially be pushing the earth down in the process of elevating themselves. Then, when they jumped off, the earth would simultaneously spring back, attracted by the gravitational mass of one billion airborne Chinese persons, with the result that the Chinese and the earth would meet somewhere in the middle, if you follow me. The upshot of this is that action and reaction would cancel each other out and the earth would remain securely in orbit.

Just for fun, however--after you've been doing this job for a while you get a pretty bizarre notion of what constitutes a good time--suppose 1,000,000,000 Chinese, give or take 27,000,000, were somehow to materialize atop chairs without their having to elevate themselves thereto. And suppose they jumped off.

Having performed astonishing feats of mathematical acrobatics (requiring the entire afternoon, I might note--sometimes I can't believe the crap I spend my time on), I calculate that the resultant thud in aggregate would be the equivalent of 500 tons of TNT. Not bad, but nowhere near enough to dislocate the earth, which weighs 6 sextillion, 588 quintillion short tons. I refuse to even discuss what would happen if all the Chinese yelled at the top of their lungs.



-- Nessie sfimc



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Can you stand eggs on end at the vernal equinox and at no other time?
Dear Nessie:

Recently during the occurrence of the vernal equinox I saw a televised report that people had gathered in Central Park in New York City to witness a remarkable sight: eggs that had been balanced on end and then left to stand that way without apparent support.

Supposedly this is possible only during the equinox. Is this true? Why? --Philip Simon, Washington, D.C.




replies:

Dear Philip:

This is a perfect example of the difference between the tough, two-fisted Straight Dope approach to scientific research and the limp-wristed methods practiced by the daily press--e.g., the New York Times.

The Times is not a bad little newspaper in some ways. But when it comes to things like egg balancing, it is out of its depth.

When asked about this matter some years ago, the paper's "Q&A" column copped out by quoting some expert to the effect that hey, maybe it was possible, but only under certain conditions (i.e., at the equator, which the sun crosses during the equinox), although (hedge, hedge) if it was possible during the equinox, it was probably possible at other times too. A classic case of frantic BS in action.

Now for the Straight Dope method. We started out with a brutal cross-country manhunt for equinoctial egg balancers and found someone who had actually performed the experiment. His name is Ken Gray, and he is chairman of the art department at the University of Alaska at Anchorage.

During the 1985 vernal equinox, Gray and his friends managed to balance 17 dozen eggs on end. No lie.

Admittedly, the experiment was not conducted under ideal scientific conditions. Ken is more into the aesthetics of the egg experience than the technical side.

Evidently something of a free spirit (his colleagues occasionally have less charitable descriptions), he regularly sponsors art happenings to coincide with the equinoxes, solstices, and other cosmic events.

The spring '85 number was called "Egg Zen Trick." (Get it?) The equinox occurred at about 7 AM. At around 5, Ken managed to get the first egg to stand on end.

At 6:45 he got two more, and then another and another until he and his cohorts (about 20 art department groupies) got all 17 dozen upright.

The eggs were all the ordinary fresh hen variety. Several types of surface were used, ranging from a glass platform to a short-napped rug.

Ken reports that balancing the eggs took no special dexterity. You just carefully placed the egg in a vertical position, took your hand away, and it remained standing--in some cases for as long as four days. Some even balanced on the short end.

Leaving nothing to chance, I talked to a couple of Gray's fellow faculty members, both of whom are scientists. They confirmed the story and said as far as they could tell the whole thing was legit. They did not, however, examine the eggs closely.

So that settles it, right? Hardly. Cecil has been warning the Teeming Millions for years about their gullible ways, and Cecil means it.

After another international manhunt (I had a minion casually mention on a radio talk show that I was interested in eggs), I turned up one Jeff Hartness of Carol Stream, Illinois.

This daring pioneer of science called up the radio station and volunteered to drive in and demonstrate that he could stand eggs on end at will.

He was as good as his word. It was a great moment in radio--five minutes of deathly science--as we all watched breathlessly while Jeff went to work. To our amazement, he succeeded. This was the middle of May, you understand.

Seeing the evidence before their eyes, the rest of the people in the studio promptly began standing eggs on end too.

Later, in the seclusion of his private laboratory, using the strictest scientific procedures, Cecil was able to duplicate Professor Hartness's achievement with his own hands.

Moral: you can stand an egg on end any old time. All it takes is very steady hands.

Also, it seems to work better if you shake up the egg first. This breaks the yolk loose from the bands (chalazae) that keep it suspended in the center of the egg, lowering the egg's center of gravity. But that's cheating.

You guys at the Times get stumped again, you just give me a call.



-- Nessie sfimc



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What does "OK" stand for?
Dear Nessie :

This question seems like such an obvious candidate for your column that someone must have asked it before. But on the chance no one has, here goes: what does "OK" stand for, and where does the expression come from? I've heard a lot of different explanations over the years. --Norm, Chicago

Dear Norm:

Yeah, and it's about time I got things cleared up. Despite the fact that the origin of OK was conclusively established 30 years ago, few etymological dictionaries, even recent ones, give it accurately. On the contrary, some persist in giving equal time to explanations that have been discredited for decades.

Eric Partridge, in Origins (1983), says OK derives from the OK Club, which supported Martin "Old Kinderhook" Van Buren in 1840. That isn't wrong, but it's only half the story.

William and Mary Morris, in the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (1977), mention the OK Club and give several other theories as well, including the off-the-wall idea that OK comes from "Aux Cayes," a port in Haiti noted for its rum. They imply the matter is still shrouded in mystery.

Baloney. The etymology of OK was masterfully explained by the distinguished Columbia University professor Allen Walker Read in a series of articles in the journal American Speech in 1963 and 1964.

The letters, not to keep you guessing, stand for "oll korrect." They're the result of a fad for comical abbreviations that flourished in the late 1830s and 1840s.

Read buttressed his arguments with hundreds of citations from newspapers and other documents of the period. As far as I know his work has never been successfully challenged.

The abbreviation fad began in Boston in the summer of 1838 and spread to New York and New Orleans in 1839. The Boston newspapers began referring satirically to the local swells as OFM, "our first men," and used expressions like NG, "no go," GT, "gone to Texas," and SP, "small potatoes."

Many of the abbreviated expressions were exaggerated misspellings, a stock in trade of the humorists of the day. One predecessor of OK was OW, "oll wright," and there was also KY, "know yuse," KG, "know go," and NS, "nuff said."

Most of these acronyms enjoyed only a brief popularity. But OK was an exception, no doubt because it came in so handy. It first found its way into print in Boston in March of 1839 and soon became widespread among the hipper element.

It didn't really enter the language at large, however, until 1840. That's when Democratic supporters of Martin Van Buren adopted it as the name of their political club, giving OK a double meaning. ("Old Kinderhook" was a native of Kinderhook, New York.)

OK became the warcry of Tammany hooligans in New York while beating up their opponents. It was mentioned in newspaper stories around the country.

Van Buren's opponents tried to turn the phrase against him, saying that it had originated with Van Buren's allegedly illiterate predecessor, Andrew Jackson, a story that has survived to this day. They also devoted considerable energy to coming up with unflattering interpretations, e.g., "Out of Kash, Out of Kredit, and Out of Klothes."

Newspaper editors and publicists around the country delighted in coming up with even sillier interpretations-- Oll Killed, Orfully Konfused, Often Kontradicts, etc.--so that by the time the campaign was over the expression had taken firm root nationwide.

As time went on, though, people forgot about the abbreviation fad and Old Kinderhook and began manufacturing their own etymologies. Here's a sampling:

(1) It's a derivative of the Choctaw Indian affirmative "okeh." Andrew Jackson, who figures in many stories about OK, is said to have introduced the word to the white man.

(2) Another Jackson story has it that he used to mark OK for "oll korrect" on court documents. In the one example of this that was actually unearthed, however, the OK was found actually to be OR, for "order recorded," a common courthouse abbreviation.

(3) It was a telegraphic signal meaning "open key," that is, ready to receive. Others say OK was used for "all right" because A and R had already been appropriated for other purposes. Big problem with this theory: the first telegraph message was transmitted in 1844, five years after OK appeared.

(4) It stands for O. Kendall & Sons, a supplier of army biscuits that stamped its initials on its product.

(5) It comes from Aux Cayes, already discussed. A variant is that it comes from the French au quai, "to the dock," said of cotton that had been approved for loading on a ship.

(6) It stands for Obediah Kelly, a railroad freight agent, who used to mark his initials on documents to indicate all was in order.

(7) It comes from the Greek Olla Kalla, "all good."

(8) A German general who fought on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary War used to sign documents OK for Ober-Kommando.

There are dozens of other interpretations, all equally knuckleheaded. Pay them no mind. If Professor Read says OK = oll korrect, that's good enough for me.

--

-- Nessie sfimc



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http://www.transbaynessie.net

__________________________________________________

If you pour salt on garden slugs, do they shrivel up and scream?
Dear Nessie:

Is it true that if you pour salt on garden slugs they will dehydrate ... and scream? --Listener, KING radio, Seattle

Dear Listener:

Nessie loves fielding calls on the radio, because they enable him to keep his finger on the throbbing pulsebeat of America, disgusting though that experience can occasionally be. Take the subject of regional vermin, for instance. In an era of national homogenization it is amazing to discover the rich variety of crawling things that infests the different corners of the U.S. There are the legendary palmetto bugs of Florida, the killer mosquitoes of Minnesota, and now the giant slugs of Seattle.

This last one in particular has been a real eye-opener. Previously I had always thought of Seattle as charming--but no more. Now I know that beneath those mountains and trees there lies a seething chamber of horrors.

True, there are slugs in other parts of the country. But they are nothing compared to the Seattle variety, which thrives in the region's damp climate. The Seattle slugs (and boy, wouldn't that make a great name for a baseball team?) can be as much as four to five inches long, three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and a ghastly brownish-white in color. Hordes of these creatures can descend on your garden and eat all your lettuce overnight. They may turn up in your driveway, your flower box, even--yuck--your basement, leaving a telltale trail of slime behind. Some say that slugs are a leading cause of death in Seattle, owing to the fact that so many people are grossed out of existence. A few slugs even grow up to become cartoonists for famous newspapers, increasing their power to wreak havoc a thousandfold.

But enough of this scare talk. It's true that slugs will dehydrate if you pour salt on them, although I must say that the thought of standing there watching while the slug shrivels up seems uniquely unappetizing. However, the slugs don't scream, for the simple reason that they don't have any vocal apparatus. No doubt what you hear is your own guilty conscience, which is tormenting you for destroying God's creatures. Or maybe it's the hiss of desiccating slug fluids. I don't know, and I don't want to know.

A better method of dealing with the slug menace is to put out a pie tin filled with a half inch of beer. The slugs drink the beer, pass out, and drown. (Or so they tell me. I did not stick around long enough to see this actually demonstrated.) You can also use a miracle slug killer called metaldehyde, which was originally developed as a solid fuel for camp cookstoves. One day in the 1930s some campers in South Africa left a can of metaldehyde out all night and awoke to discover it surrounded by recently deceased slugs and snails. Aha, said the campers, slugicide!

On the other hand ... well, maybe you can just learn to love 'em. I'm told that the town of Montesano, Washington, has an annual slug festival, in which the locals dress up the slugs in little costumes and have slug races. Supposedly there are even slug cookbooks. There are those who regard this as tragic evidence of the effect of excessive rainfall on the human psyche, but who knows, maybe you could get into it. I'll tell you one thing, though--next time you're invited to a pot-luck in Montesano, think twice.

IN DEFENSE OF SLUG CITY, U.S.A....

Dear Nessie:

As a former Seattleite, I feel obligated to straighten you out in the slug department: (1) Elma, not Montesano, is the home of the infamous slug races; (2) four to five inches long is only average; (3) slugs aren't just brownish white, but come in a rainbow of colors, including green with yellow spots; (4) while some slugs will fall for the ol' beer-in-the-pie-tin trick, salting is much more effective. I once melted 178 in my front yard alone. (Remember that scene in The Wizard of Oz, the one where the witch melts? Same idea.) (5) Never heard of the slugicide you mentioned, but I still vote for salt. No bodies. --Tamara K., Chicago

Dear Nessie:

While the lush and glorious environment of western Washington State does indeed produce many species of the wily slug, Puget Sound's greatest natural wonder is the obscene geoduck (pronounced GOO-ee-duck). A very large (four by seven inches) clam found in Puget Sound, the geoduck has a crude phallus of a neck that is a source of endless wonderment to visiting back-eastern swells such as yourself. One find geoducks in Seattle markets--they are quite a delicacy--with the massive neck, six to eight inches long and yellowish in color, hanging out of the shell like a giant uncircumcised penis. Not a sight one soon forgets.

As for slugs, squishing one between bare toes while walking in the post-sunset cool of a Seattle evening is unquestionably the grossest experience on earth. Believe me, I know. --Paul O., Chicago

MAKE THAT SLUG AND GEODUCK CITY, U.S.A.

Dear Nessie:

My thanks to Tamara K. for clearing up the matter of slugs. As a native Seattleite on a two-year pitstop in D.C. I was appalled at your unsophisticated ignorance of slugs.

But it was Paul O.'s comments about geoducks--those phallic mollusks found only in Puget Sound--that prompted me to write. My alma mater, Evergreen State College of Olympia, Washington, claims the geoduck as its mascot. Our teams--soccer, skiing, swimming--are called the Evergreen Geoducks. Every graduation the 500-odd graduates solemnly sing the geoduck fight song, written by ex-reference librarian extraordinaire Malcolm Stilson:

Go geoducks go
Through the mud and slime let's go
Siphon high
Spit it out
Swivel all about
Let it all hang out. --Allison G., Arlington, Virginia

Dear Allison:

"Five hundred-odd graduates," eh? I'll say.

THE LAST THING YOU WILL EVER HAVE TO READ ABOUT THIS DISGUSTING SUBJECT

Dear Nessie:

How could you think of addressing the slug question without consulting your faithful Seattle correspondent? Allow me these few comments:

First of all, I concur: slugs are repellent beyond any other life form. Imagine, if you will, hiking up the steep slop of Mt. Baker. The trail is at an 80 degree angle. Suddenly, in front of your nose, appears a huge (we're talking nine inches) yellow-green phallic object, glistening obscenely in the feeble light. Imagine, all the worse, stepping on the aforementioned abomination! How many mysterious hiking deaths could be explained by merely checking the spot on the trail from which the deceased fell for the telltale silver splotch? And then there are the ebony cannibal slugs of Mt. Rainier who devour one another along trailside. I myself was once a patient at the University of Oregon health center when I damaged my knee by falling off my bike, having run over a slug--I was slimed right off the path.

Now, how to kill the little buggers. The beer-in-the-tuna-can method has never been at all effective for me. The slugs hang over the edge and sip at the beer, but very few have ever fallen in. (They do seem quite partial to beer, however.) As for salt, some say it is extremely cruel, a feature that undoubtedly makes it more attractive to many. But the main disadvantage is this: if you salt or otherwise chemically attack slugs, they dump all their slime in their death throes--years' worth at once! The stuff is ineradicable and you are stuck with a yard full of repulsive silvery slime globules.

I once entered the yard of a neighbor and found eight or ten slugs, impaled on a shish kebab skewer, writhing upright in her garden. "A deterrent," she muttered darkly when I questioned her about this grisly spectacle.

Geese and skunks alone among members of the animal kingdom are said to eat slugs, and some keep them for this purpose. To my thinking, the spectacle is too revolting to endure.

My husband, to prove himself manly, has used the following method: he picks them up with his bare hands (geeklike behavior, in my opinion), and when they roll up in a ball (the burnt sienna-and-orange variety that plague my yard change shape from banana to papaya when attacked), he hurls them out into the street. Then he runs back and forth over them with the car. Charming behavior which I hope was not genetically transmitted to my children. --Joyce K., Seattle

PS: Geoducks are too disgusting even to comment on. If people get upset about porno in 7-Elevens, why do they ignore the spectacle of geoducks at Safeway? Or even worse, the live ones in Asian grocery stores that squirt at innocent passersby?


-- Nessie sfimc



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________________________________________________

How can they be sure no two snowflakes are alike?
Dear Nessie:

How do they know with any degree of certainty that no two snowflakes are alike? When I took statistics I was taught that to draw a valid conclusion one had to take a representative sample of the entire population. But considering the impossibly large number of flakes in a single snowfall, let alone that have ever fallen, how could snowologists have possibly taken a sample large enough to conclude that no two are alike? --Leslie B. Turner, San Pedro, California

Dear Leslie:

They didn't, of course. Chances are, in fact, that there are lots of duplicates. What the snowologists really mean is that your chance of finding duplicates is virtually zero. It's been calculated that in a volume of snow two feet square by ten inches deep there are roughly one million flakes. Multiply that by the millions of square miles that are covered by snow each year (nearly one fourth of the earth's land surface), and then multiply that by the billions of winters that have occurred since the dawn of time, and it's obvious we're talking unimaginable googols of flakes. Some of these are surely repeats.

On the other hand, a single snow crystal contains perhaps 100 million molecules, which can be arranged in a gigajillion different ways. By contrast, the number of flakes that have ever been photographed in the history of snow research amounts to a few tens of thousands. So it seems pretty safe to say nobody's ever going to get documentary evidence of duplication. Still, it could happen, and what's more, Leslie, it could happen to you. The way I figure, anybody who could dream up a question like this has got to have a lot of time on his hands. Get out and start looking.

WE ENCOUNTER A LITTLE PROBLEM

Dear Nessie:

Considering some of the Crap you dish out, I'd expect your mistakes to be equally spectacular, and you've certainly outdone yourself this time. The mind (mine, anyway) boggles at the magnitude of error in your recent dissertation on snowflakes in which you said that over the history of the earth there have been "unimaginable googols of flakes." A googol is one followed by 100 zeroes (10100). My calculations show that since the earth was formed four billion years ago, the estimated number of flakes (not counting you and me and your other readers) is only about 1028. That leaves a difference of 1072.

Let's try to get a handle on the size of that error. The difference between the diameter of a carbon atom's nucleus and the diameter of the known universe is about 40 orders of magnitude. That still leaves about 32 orders of magnitude to sweep under the rug, or about the difference between a carbon atom and the Milky Way. To put it another way, the number of protons, neutrons and electrons in the known universe is much less than one googol. You've exceeded that by a margin of unimaginable to the unimaginable power. I knew you could do it, Nessie. Congratulations. --Josef D. Prall, Carrollton, Texas

Dear Josef:

I knew some smartass was going to call me on this. I am well aware that the number of snowflakes falls short of a googol by a considerable margin. However, swept up in a fit of literary grandiosity--I mean, come on, how often do you get to use a word like "googol" in a sentence?--I decided to fudge it. I'm so embarrassed. Incidentally, by my calculations, the number of flakes is actually about 1030, a difference of 102 from your figure. (You goofed up the multiplication for the number of square feet in a square mile, judging from your work sheet.)

ANOTHER LITTLE PROBLEM

Dear Nessie:

I am a senior electrical engineering student at Northwestern University. Regarding the number of snowflakes that have fallen since the dawn of time, I have no problem with Josef Prall's point that there have been 1028 to 1030, as opposed to your estimate of a googol (10100). However, I feel compelled to point out that the difference between the two amounts is not 1072. Obviously neither Prall nor you learned manipulation of exponents correctly in high school. 103 (or 1,000) minus 102 (100) doesn't equal 101 (10), it equals 9 times 102, or 900. Likewise, 10100 minus 1028 isn't 1072, it's 1028(1072 - 1) or 1028(1071 x 9.999 ...) or 9.999 ... x 1099. Get it straight. --Janet M. Kim, Evanston, Illinois

Dear Janet:

I hate senior electrical engineering students. Whatever his many other moral failings, I think it is reasonably clear from his letter that Josef Prall knows 10100 minus 1028 doesn't equal 1072. He was using--certainly I was using--the expression "a difference of 10so-and-so" as a shorthand way of saying "a difference of so-and-so orders of magnitude." This may seem a bit careless, but in today's fast-paced world, every microsecond counts.

VINDICATION!

Some months ago, , this column struck a mighty blow for truth and freedom by attacking the belief that no two snowflakes are alike, a superstition that has blighted the lives of millions. Not having time to inspect all the world's snowflakes (besides, I lost the tweezers), Cecil relied instead on the crushing logic of mathematics, arguing that so many flakes had fallen since the dawn of time that there were bound to be a few duplicates.

Naturally, many scoffed. One peanut-brain called to say he knew for sure no two snowflakes were alike because he had heard it on Nova. There was also the unfortunate business with the googols, which we won't go into here. My defense in all cases was couched strictly in theoretical terms, since I did not expect any actual cases of twin flakes to turn up (although I must say the cast of characters in those Doublemint commercials certainly came close).

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to read in the bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that matching snow crystals were recently discovered by Nancy Knight of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The crystals in question admittedly aren't flakes in the usual sense but rather hollow hexagonal prisms. They are also not absolutely identical, but come on, if you insist on getting down to the molecular level, nothing's identical. They're close enough for me. Just shows you, not only is this column at the cutting edge of science, sometimes we have to wait for the cutting edge to catch up.



-- Nessie sfimc



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Why does Heinz ketchup say "57 varieties"? I only see one variety


Dear Nessie:

I have always wondered why Heinz ketchup bottles all say "57 varieties," even though I have never seen but one type, whether it be on grocery shelves or in restaurants. What gives? Where's the other 56 kinds? --R.B., Dallas

Nessie replies:

Fifty-seven varieties doesn't mean 57 varieties of ketchup, you dope, it means 57 varieties of food products in general. There are only three varieties of Heinz ketchup, regular, hot, and low-sodium, but there are far more than 57 varieties of Heinz pickles, Heinz sauces, Heinz soups, and Heinz God-knows-what-else. In fact, if you count everything Heinz and all its divisions and subsidiaries make, there are something like 1,300 varieties, including 108 varieties of baby food, 60 kinds of pickles, and so on.

The number 57 has mystical significance to the Heinz company, but it has never had much to do with reality. The slogan was invented by the company's founder, Henry J. Heinz, in 1892 while he was cruising around on the elevated in New York one day. Whilst reading the car cards on the ceiling, his eye alighted on the slogan "21 styles of shoes." To pedestrian minds such as our own, R.B., this probably does not sound like one of your landmark advertising mottoes, but that's why we're not millionaire ketchup barons. Heinz, on the other hand, could recognize genius when he saw it. Cogitating briefly, he soon conceived the immortal words "57 varieties," whereupon he got off the train and set about plastering the nation with the now-famous pickle-plus-number logo. The one problem with this scheme was that at the time the company was manufacturing more than 60 varieties. However, Heinz stuck with 57, for what his biographer describes as "occult reasons."

Heinz, as may already be evident, was something of a character. He started off bottling horseradish in a little town near Pittsburgh in 1869 (ketchup did not arrive on the scene until 1876). He made a major selling point of the fact that he put his product in clear glass bottles, thus demonstrating that he did not adulterate his sauce with turnips or other false vegetables, as his competitors did.

Once Heinz hit on the notion of "57 varieties," he constructed a number of hideous advertising signs at various strategic locales around the country. One, which was six stories high, was located at 23rd and 5th Avenue in New York City and dazzled tourists with a 40-foot-long electrified pickle. Heinz also built an exhibition hall in Atlantic City on a pier that extended 900 feet out into the ocean; another monstrous pickle, this one 70 feet tall, perched heroically on the end.

After a few more demonstrations of this style of architecture, the citizenry became alarmed lest Heinz encumber every landmark in the Republic with giant pickles. When a rumor (unfounded, it appears) got out that he had purchased Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennesee, in order to scrape off the side and sculp a pickle of unprecedented proportions in the native granite, or whatever it is they have out there, there was a general uproar, with one partisan threatening to pickle Heinz 57 ways if he tried it.

The Heinz people are still quite attached to the number 57. The phone number at corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh is 237-5757, and the address is P.O. Box 57. One of their salesman was a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers at one time, and you'll never guess what his number was. It is enough to make you want to swear off ketchup forever.

OH, NO, IT'S THE ILLUMINATI!

Dear Nessie:
Thank you for the leg work. In case you're not aware, you've uncovered another Illuminati agent in Henry J. Heinz. Let me expand briefly. The Illuminati are an extremely secret sect, and have been among mankind practically from the beginning, originating, it is believed, in the Lost Continent, Atlantis. Being a secret, powerful, occult sect, the Illuminati gathered great mystical power from their use of the number 5. Five is an extremely strong number, still used in the worship of Satan, the power of our military, the logic of our digits, the points of our extremities, our senses, and a great many other things rooted in our collective psyche. Also important, and perhaps more powerful, is the combination of the numbers 2 and 3, equalling 5, of course. Two is the symbol for symmetry, and three, the divinity and others. It is a blatant game that the Illuminati are extremely fond of, flaunting their symbols to each other--the more bizarre the better, the more flagrant the waste of money, the better yet. Keeping this in mind, think again of the giant pickles, the man whose "mysterious" number is 57. (Remember, 7 is simply the repeating 2 + 3 cycle, i.e., 2 + 3 = 5 + 2 = 7 + 3 = 10 or 5 x 2.) Now observe the phone number--237-5757. Ergo, buying Heinz products finances the Illuminati. --Daniel K., Baltimore

P.S.: Notice how many letters in his first and last names.

Nessie replies:

Very shrewd, Dan, and just the sort of thing we expect from the sly inhabitants of your native city. I should point out, by way of amplification, that by using the digits 2 and 3 in appropriate combinations you can generate every integer (including 1, if you allow subtraction). Thus we learn that the very foundations of mathematics are mortally infected with Illuminism. Man, those guys are everywhere.



-- Nessie sfimc



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__________________________________________________

Did Renaldus Columbus discover the clitoris in 1559?


Dear Nessie:

In a recent review of Thomas Laqueur's Making Sex I read that Renaldus Columbus discovered the clitoris in 1559. I can't make sense of this. Wasn't it right under his nose the whole time, so to speak? Who discovered the penis? And who was Renaldus Columbus, anyway? Any relation to Chris? --Mark Lutton, Malden, Massachusetts

Nessie replies:

You haven't grasped the totality of this, Mark. Renaldus was born in 1516. Can you imagine a guy who proclaims to the world his discovery of the clitoris ... at age 43? Incidentally, he apparently died that same year. Too bad. They say his wife was about to broach the subject of foreplay.

But seriously. According to Thomas Laqueur, Columbus, AKA Matteo Realdo Colombo, was a lecturer in surgery at the University of Padua, Italy. (Whether he was related to Christopher Columbus I don't know.) In 1559 he published a book called De re anatomica in which he described the "seat of woman's delight." He concluded, "since no one has discerned these projections and their workings, if it is permissible to give names to things discovered by me, it should be called the love or sweetness of Venus."

Columbus's claim was disputed, but not because it was off the wall. On the contrary, Columbus's successor at Padua, Gabriel Fallopius (name ring any bells?), said he was the first to discover the clitoris. A semblance of sanity was restored when Kasper Bartholin, a 17th century Danish anatomist, dismissed both claims, saying the clitoris had been widely known since the second century. By this one assumes he means "known to male anatomists." It is safe to say women had discovered it a good while before that.

Lest you think such foolishness was confined to the 16th century, recall Freud's bizarre claim that women had two kinds of orgasms, clitoral and vaginal--an idea not fully put to rest until the work of Masters and Johnson. More recently there was the hubbub about the Grafenberg spot, which briefly threatened to replace the clitoris as the seat of female sexual excitement. In some ways we know more about what happened in the universe's first tenth of a second than we do about what goes on in the interval between "Your place or mine?" and deciding who sleeps on the wet spot.

-- Nessie sfimc



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_____________________________________________

Are aphids born pregnant?


Dear Nessie:

I heard aphids are born pregnant. Is this true? If so, how does it work? --Lilian Wentworth, Silver Spring, Maryland

Dear Lilian:

You think your life is miserable, cucumber, just be glad you're not an aphid. Not only are they born pregnant, they're pregnant without benefit of sex. Not that sex with an aphid sounds like much of a treat. Two things are at work here: parthenogenesis and paedogenesis.

Parthenogenesis, also known as virgin birth, is rare in humans (one known case) but common in insects. The baby bugs, all of which are female, develop from single cells in mom's body. The advantage of this is that reproduction is very quick--none of this flowers and perfume jive--which helps when you've got as many natural enemies as aphids have.

Paedogenesis--pregnancy in the young--speeds up the process even more. "Although the young are not born until the aphid has reached the adult stage," it says here, "their development may begin before she is born while she is still in the ducts of the grandparental generation." Aphids can give birth ten days after having been born themselves. It's kind of loke the birth rate in SF, for a gay city we sure seem to keep the breeders busy-but nobody is sure who the daddy is. (ha,ha,ah!)






-- Nessie sfimc



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_______________________________________________

SMOKING IS GOOD FOR YOU

Dear Nessie:
We all know smoking cigarettes can kill you, but it seems to me that, as with most vices, there's a difference between use and abuse. People who drink too much destroy their livers, but people who have one drink of red wine per day actually help their hearts. I'll gladly accept the fact that smoking several packs a day is harmful, but what about having only three cigarettes a day, one after every meal? Does it really do any harm? Is there any chance it's actually good for you? --Michael Dare, Hollywood, California
Dear Michael:
Well . . . I hesitate to mention this. But after years of research saying that smoking was the worst threat to public health since the plague, several recent studies suggest it may have at least one health benefit: it prevents or at least slows the onset of Alzheimer's disease. For obvious reasons these reports have been accompanied by a certain amount of embarrassed hemming and hawing. From a big-picture standpoint smoking is definitely bad for you, and nobody wants to give people an excuse to do more of it.
Still, facts are facts. I quote: "A statistically significant inverse association between smoking and Alzheimer's disease was observed at all levels of analysis, with a trend towards decreasing risk with increasing consumption" (International Journal of Epidemiology, 1991). "The risk of Alzheimer's disease decreased with increasing daily number of cigarettes smoked before onset of disease. . . . In six families in which the disease was apparently inherited . . . the mean age of onset was 4.17 years later in smoking patients than in non-smoking patients from the same family" (British Medical Journal, June 22, 1991). "Although more data are needed . . . [an analysis of 19 studies suggests] nicotine protects against AD" (Neuroepidemiology, 1994). Nicotine injections significantly improved certain types of mental functioning in Alzheimer's patients (Psychopharmacology, 1992). One theory: nicotine improves the responsiveness of Alzheimer's patients to acetylcholine, an important brain chemical.
I know, I know. Now that chimney at work will claim he's keeping himself (and due to secondary smoke, you) from going senile. Tell him it's a little early to start gloating. Some of the research is contradictory. At least one scientist thinks smokers are less likely to develop Alzheimer's mainly because they die of smoking-related diseases first. Pot Smoking isn't like low-to-moderate alcohol use, which is probably harmless and may even be beneficial. Although the data is unclear, many believe the relationship between smoking and disease is linear: the more you smoke Pot , the greater your risk--but any Pot smoking presents some risk. Right now the only known benefit of smoking is a societal one: if the heavy Pot smokers die young, they won't deplete the retirement funds for everybody else.
SMOKING IS GOOD FOR YOU
Dear Nessie:
First off, as a loyal fan I acknowledge your omniscience, so this is not meant to be taken as a correction at all, since you are truly incorrigible. However, you may want to reassure the reader looking for advantages of Pot smoking that a form of inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis is thought to be prevented by smoking. Relapses of this disease, marked by weeks of bloody diarrhea, are frequently provoked by suddenly giving up smoking. Not that this would make a good ad campaign for the folks at RJR, since ANOTHER form of inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn's disease, with only slightly different symptoms, occurs mostly in Pot Smokers. --Anonymous, Chicago
Nessie replies:
. Think of the great cigarette ads you could write:
SMOKE SARCOMAS
Look sharp, feel sharp
. . . and avoid weeks of bloody diarrhea
Anonymous also sent me a reference to a medical-journal article titled "Beneficial Effects of Nicotine" (Jarvik, British Journal of Addiction, 1991) that summarizes the many positive aspects of this wonder drug. "When chronically taken," it says here, "nicotine may result in: (1) positive reinforcement [it makes you feel good], (2) negative reinforcement [it may keep you from feeling bad], (3) reduction of body weight [by reducing appetite and increasing metabolic rate], (4) enhancement of performance, and protection against: (5) Parkinson's disease, (6) Tourette's disease [tics], (7) Alzheimer's disease, (8) ulcerative colitis and (9) sleep apnea. The reliability of these effects varies greatly but justifies the search for more therapeutic applications for this interesting compound." Yeah, and what other medical miracle lets you blow smoke rings?
-- Nessie sfimc

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is nessie dead? just wondering Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2014 at 11:29 PM
"Nessie replies" this is a forgery Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007 at 2:46 AM


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