Vaguest Explanations!! 2007!!For a second year running the Explainer feature on Slate recently posted a selected list of unanswered questions, asking for readers to vote a favourite. Yet again I have opted to answer these questions (note the questions are the property of Slate and their authors, and can be found at The Questions We Never Answered in 2007).
• Could you play sports in space, if you had a spacesuit?
You would think it wouldn't be a matter of rocket science, but you'd be wrong. Spacesuits are pretty much designed to prohibit the playing of sports in space. The way that you get to be a space suit designer pretty much involves a disdain of sporting activities and a worship of slide rules and Cray supercomputers. It's not that these guys are geeks, but they want to encourage mankind to populate the cosmos with hypergeeks not basketball stars.
• Can a baby get drunk off of nonalcoholic beer?
I have a counter-question here, how could you tell? Does your baby slur it's words? Does it put the letter blocks in the wrong order? Does it put an arm over your shoulder and drawl "I love you, man." Does it get angry and beat the living stuffing out of teddy? Is its puke a slightly different shade of green?
Do you want to get your baby drunk? Have Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson and Tom Seleck taught us nothing?
• Very rare to find a hotel room with a light on the ceiling, they're usually floor lamps or desk lamps. Is there some structural reason for that?
Here's another thing to thank rock musicians for. These non-fixed lamps are more replaceable. Chandeliers are only there to be swung from.
• If I drank a bunch of orange juice, which caused me to get heartburn, then ate a bunch of antacids, would it neutralize the vitamin C, thus providing no benefits from the ingested vitamin? If so, if you ate antacids continually, would you get scurvy?
Only if you spent a long time at sea, ya antacid poppin' landlubber, then you'd get keelhauled....
• How do surface-dwelling fish survive monster sea storms?
When was the last time you saw a fish ON the surface of the water? Do you mean "near the surface dwelling fish"? Only fish in aquariums actually have dwellings. Maybe you meant to ask how do sea monsters survive storms? Do you think Godzilla and Giant Squid from 20 thou leagues get together and hang out in one of their "surface-dwellings"? Have you been overusing antacids? The scurvy is clearly affecting your ability to form questions.
• I've been looking for information on how the word "dick" became an insult, especially since people still go by the name Dick. Why would anyone choose that name, when it has other meanings?!?!
Dick is often short for Richard which means far more worse things in certain languages (even I have to draw the line somewhere, so I won't offend you with the descriptions of cross-species unsanitary unnatural acts and their eventual consequences). Every King of England named Richard met a violent end. Nixon may have been the start of Dick as an insult. My brother Richard renamed himself Amaran, which a guru told him meant "he who is immoral (or was that immortal?)". So you can see that in many cases Dick is preferable.
On the other hand there are those both perverse and naive enough to believe that there are women who can't get enough.... so they may have worse motives for taking the name.
• Why do male ice skaters have routines that are so feminine in execution? After all these years, there should be some kind of movements on ice that would be more masculine-looking. The gymnastics shows have them.
Hey, maybe you should back off. These guys have blades on their feet. And they're not insecure about their sexuality (although, given that, what's their excuse for wearing blades on their feet?)
• Why are some cats softer to the touch than others? Is it possible I have the softest cat in the world?
You do not have the softest cat in the world. If you did you would have been unable to type that question. The Guinness Book of Records notes the case of the softest cat, Athena, a Persian Longhair, who was so soft that all humans who came in contact with her died of starvation, as they couldn't stop stroking her once they'd started.
• In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, he says that Jason Bourne can pack with great economy of space, allowing him to pack much more in a small bag than it would seem. How would one do this, and is it even a real thing?
This is a remarkably perceptive question, as a matter of fact when filmmakers were looking to cast the role of Jason Bourne, they asked all the auditioning actors to bring a suitcase. Matt Damon won the role solely on his packing skills. Harpo Marx possessed similarly advanced techniques.
• Do you have any idea why sporting the moustache was so much more common in the military than in any other job in 19th-century Western countries, and to some extent present-day Western countries?
The 19th century moustache was the height of military technology. Properly waxed and sharpened, it could be used for both stabbing and slashing attacks (1d20, 2d9). When sucked on, the wax contained sufficient nutrient to sustain the wearer for at least three days of continuous meal-break free battle. The glare off the wax could also be used for signalling, but also made an easier target for sharp shooters. As rifle accuracy improved, this would spell the eventual downfall of the moustache, or extra-cross-hairs as they're known in sniper lingo.
• If an unscrupulous bar owner was to mix diethylene to, say, whiskey, what would the effect be on the consumer?
Who are you to call that unscrupulous? These men are pioneers, brave explorers in the world of mixology. Don't think that masterpieces like the Vodka Martini, the Sloe Comfortable Screw, the Zombie, and the Blue Whale were developed without their share of inspiration, heartache and tragedy! To make a prairie oyster you gotta crack a few eggs.
• I am an Afro-American woman. I am in my youthful 50s. My hair is strong and a little past the shoulders. I wear it pressed (hot combed or flat iron). It is also a salt-and-pepper color; I get great compliments on it. The problem I have is static. Could you give me some tips on what to use to stop this?
Don't try. Own your static. Reclaim the static. Enjoy your static. After all you might be able to build up enough charge to solve some of your energy problems. You may even be able to use your hair to scale walls like Spiderman (however be careful when you design your superheroine costume not to make it insulating as you could electrocute yourself).
• There was the most beautiful sunset here in Indiana last evening. Would the California fires have anything to do with that?
I've often heard that Hoosier's are so unethical that they can justify anything. Quite a few pharmaceutical companies are based there. They've been pushing this whole biofuel thing way too much and are leading to soaring food prices and worldwide shortages. A native Indianan FBI Agent heard there was a cold snap back home just before Waco. They're probably secretly helping Iran's nuclear program, in the hopes that a nuke holocaust would destroy both coasts, leaving them as the capital of the mid-west continental empire.
• I haven't seen this in the news, but perhaps you could explain it anyway. Why do people feel like destroying things when angry?
Your being too coy with your question. You mean to ask "Why do people feel like destroying MY things when angry?" Your coyness is one of your many irritating attributes, and I'm sure angry people drive from miles around just to find you and your things, and destroy them. You're one of those people, who, just by breathing, really seem to be asking for it. It's really no fault of your own, and I'd feel sympathy, if you didn't inspire such loathing.
• Why do most reptiles go to sleep when you rub their bellies? I have done it myself with everything from domestic water dragons to wild alligators, but I heard recently that it is bad for them—and they only appear to be sleeping, when in fact they are having trouble breathing. Is this true?
If you really felt guilty about putting these cuddly reptiles lives in danger, you would give them mouth to mouth.
• Would it be possible to "shoot" someone with "lightning"? Like, a Taser with no electrodes.
Only if they're already steeplejacks.
• Why do men almost never win on ABC's Wheel of Fortune?
Just as women suffer from math phobia, men have problems with consonants, probably because they think is has something to do with commitment. Also, it's easier to grunt with a purely vowel based language.
• Are any of the scorpions in central Vietnam deadly? I was stung three times one night, and evacuated to a hospital where doctors said the one that stung me was the only lethal one in Vietnam. Truth or lie?
Clearly you lived to write this pointless question. Unless there's a delayed reaction. Here's hoping.
• Why don't we drop medical waste and nuclear waste into active volcanoes, the "ultimate high-temperature incinerators"?
Medical waste might work, but then you'd have to do all sorts of studies. Some volcanoes would have to receive placebo waste, etc. the trials will take years, the results will be inconclusive 'cause there are simply not enough active volcanoes to get a statistically significant sample. The drug companies will just end up buying a bunch of volcanoes, fudge the results, and bribe somebody. It'll be years before affordable generic magma will be available again.
However, heating radioactive material just makes it radioactive and HOT. Active volcanoes spew gasses into the atmosphere, you want to vent a meltdown cloud? What the hell did they teach you at school, you idiot? No child left behind? Everyone left back in the friggin' stone age, you ask me....
• Hello. I am an editor and writer and I would like for everyone to change some letters that are now in lowercase to uppercase. An example would be the 18th century to the 18th Century. Where does one go about starting to do this?
First click Edit, then Replace, then write a computer virus which will make everyone's computer do a search and replace. What's wrong with an individual's choice of lowercase? Style guides be damned. I'd watch out, ee cummings and k d lang might show up and beat the crap out of you. Maybe that's what you're aiming for.
• Is it "open sees me" or "open says me"?
No no no, it's open sesame! For only in the magic of the tiny sesame seed can we find the true tahini!
• Can dogs be mentally retarded?
My dog is actually typing this reply for me. The only difficult aspects of this are that I have to hold a treat above her nose whilst she takes dictation, and finding a canine ergonomic keyboard was a bitch. Sorry, it's just a turn of phrase, oh I suppose you're going to lie by the patio door and sulk now. No, I don't think your brother is retarded, so what if it takes him an hour to find his balls when he wants to lick them.
• Why don't they build into cars a secret button for police to use, and when these people are trying to get away from police down the freeway and city streets at 100 mph, the following police car could push the button, making the engine on the speeding car stop? Surely there must be some smart person who could make this.
They have. We're still waiting for the police to read the fucking manual.
• Why does having a foreign accent make a person seem more attractive?
There is the possibility they haven't heard your lame pick-up lines already.
• How often are presidents born, and how often do they die? Do they die in bunches, or on average every four years?
Presidents aren't born or made, they're bought. Like any cheaply manufactured good, they have use by dates and a limited shelf life. This is why they seem to die in bunches, when a particular batch gives out.
• When a fly lands on a ceiling, does it execute a barrel roll or an inside loop?
Triple gainer, actually.
• Is there such a thing as "crazy eyes," where the whites go all the way around the corneas and makes the person look psycho, such as those of runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks and wife-dismemberer Stephen Grant?
Look no further than the films of Stanley Kubrick. That happens at least once in everything since 2001. Kubrick carried his desire to portray the crazy eye phenomenon from his early documentary movies. This has also led to him portraying other fundamental truths: the depths of space are as lonely and alienating as the human heart, nuclear brinksmanship is a psychotic farce, and Tom and Nicole were always kind of creepy as a couple, not the least bit sexy.
• I've always wanted to know why bald heads shine!!!
Friction in the blood/brain barrier can cause the skull to incandesce. However, this can be reduced by a constant supply of glucose and sucrose, easily found in boiled sweet candy form. This was the real reason that Kojak had lollipops, to reduce the glare off Telly Savalas's dome for filming.
• Who is Daniel Engbert? I'm sure that I'm spelling his name wrong, but he's one of a few guys that you regularly go to as a reliable source—and I want to know who he is and why he's qualified.
Daniel Engber is the fellow that regularly contributes to the real Explainer column on Slate.com. Which means he, like anyone else on the internet, doesn't need any qualifications. I assume he actually adheres to some journalistic standards. In the current climate this might not be something to be proud of. I adhere to the internet right to make it up as I go along, so I'm betting on a purely statistical level we're probably about even.
• What infections do viruses and microorganisms suffer from? My guess is none. They only suffer from random mutations and suffering caused (mostly by humans) by chemicals.
Are you with the reptile guy? Why do you care about the suffering of viruses? Who's to say all micro-organisms play well together? They all probably hate each other, but look on us as their common enemy. I will draw no parallels with current global political situations.
• I have been looking for an old movie from about the late '60s. I was born in 1960 and watched it as a little kid. It was a Santa movie and it had the Devil in it. It was like the Devil was trying to stop Christmas. I remember the Devil was wearing red PJs. Santa has a magic powder that would make people sleep. It was a cute movie. Please help.
Where movies are concerned, I can't be a smartass. I've done some Googling, and found it easily, you lazy bastard. A Mexican movie called simply "Santa Claus" from 1959. Apparently episode 521 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 covered it, so you may be able to catch it on cable rerun. Here's some links with more info:
• What do the SWAT teams do to keep their fitness? Like, do they run for half an hour, or do five pressups?
At least that much exercise, I'm sure. They carry guns, I'm not sure the fitness is a requirement, probably something to do in between toting firepower and storming compounds.
• If mountains are measured from sea level, then the 12,000-foot peaks in Colorado are only about 7,000 feet above Denver since they lie on a 5,000-foot-high plain. That being so, a one-foot rock lying on the ground becomes a 5,001-foot-high mountain. Do we need to address this differently, if it really matters at all?
I think it's more important to measure penis size from sea level. Those with enough confidence, like myself can stay in the low lying coastal regions, and we can banish all those men with low self esteem and flash sports cars to mountainous regions, where they can crash their flesh substitute suicide machines off twisty, icy roads in less time than it takes to say the words "bus plunge." Clearly we all know what a mountain is when we see it, and that has something to do with it's size in the surrounding terrain. So if you really care about measuring the damn things with a tape measure, then you're wasting your life.
• Is it possible in any way to prove that someone was on crack cocaine nine to 10 years ago?
Just piss in the damn cup, Mr. President.
• Why don't long-haired football players, many of them of Polynesian descent, get their tresses tugged during their gridiron clash?
Invented by the first Hasssidic half-back, Moshe Turgidson, the modern American Football helmet actually has a suction function which causes all hair to be encapsulated in order to cut down on drag and streamline the player. This occasionally leads to oxygen deprivation for the player, but so far no one has noticed. Polynesian descendants, generally speaking, don't need to wear the helmets, particularly those who've come to the game via rugby, but do so as a courtesy to their weaker colleagues.
• This may be a dumb question. Most people spell their names as first name, middle initial, and last name. But some people spell their name as initial, given name, and then last name. Is the initial before the given name their first name, and they go by their middle name? Or is the initial before the given name their middle initial? If it is their middle initial, why would you put it before your first name, because then it is not in the middle anymore? It seems like conservatives or Republicans are more likely to list their name starting with an initial.
I lost interest when you said it was going to be dumb. Which ever is first or middle, initial or name, is still first or middle. The positions give the whole thing away. Some people want to hide their first name (see Dick answer above). You are also right to assume such deceptive people may be Republicans at birth, by the time they grow out of it, it's too late to change back.
• Mitt Romney is running for president. His father, George Romney, a former governor of Michigan, ran for president in 1968. Is "Mitt" named for the mitten-shape of Michigan?
Mitt is Romney's middle name (see above), Williard is his actual first name (Romney is probably hiding this in the aftermath of the Ben-Michael Jackson scandal). Only the lower peninsula of Michigan is mitt shaped. Romney has a brother, G. Scott (see above, again!!!), who doesn't appear to be named after the upper peninsula.
• What would happen to the rest of the planets and the sun if Jupiter were to explode, or somehow leave our galaxy altogether?
Look, the solar system is in a pretty bad state right now, I don't know if it can take any more of this shit. First Pluto finds out that not only is he not a dog (no, siriusly), but he's a dwarf, and he's sent to the kid's table with some long lost relatives, one of whom has an identity crisis and thinks she's Xena the warrior princess or just the actress who plays her, and ends up the Goddess of dischord, the mother of her moon Lawless, which happens to be the last name of the actress who plays Xena, and the other is the goddess of global warming or spring. No wonder Mars and Venus are stuck writing self help books. Go ahead Jupiter, throw a hissy fit, see if Apollo cares.
• Which is the best hearing aid? Why are there so many different ones, and are the ones that allow you to hear others' conversations across the room legal?
Folks talking loudly seems to be my best hearing aid. The electronic variety are hugely suspicious, and very narrow in their application, for instance the ones that allow you to hear conversations across the room are limited to just that, you won't hear anyone next to you. I've been at loads of parties where this would be a blessing.
• When a man lies to his lawyer to obtain a divorce from a wife of 47 years when she is ill and does not even know and cannot defend herself, is this legal, or perjury?
Perjury is lying under oath. Lying to your own lawyer to obtain a divorce is pointless when you should be lying to her lawyer. If she's ill, you should wait to see if she dies, this could save you alot of legal costs.
There seems really to be a theme of illegality in many of these questions. Of course we all know the internet exists to support illegal, or at least barely legal activities. Why should my blog, or the Slate's Explainer be any different? Perhaps all those questions were written by some adulterous, dissembling, computer virus hacking, crazy-eyed crack-head presidential assassin whilst speeding, committing grand theft auto, evading out of shape SWAT teams, arson, perjury, eavesdropping with hearing loop devices, fly-tipping hazmats, angrily destroying hotel rooms, smuggling lethal arthropods, causing electrocution and distress to alligators, amoebas, and alcoholic infants with poisonous cocktails. Actually that sounds like the spec for a pretty cool video game....
Finally, I'm sorry I've posted this so late into 2008, for reasons I won't bother to explain. But if anyone wants real answers to their questions, you can send them this way.... anyway.