Three unusual afflictions you don’t usually hear about
January 1st, 2011
Empty nose syndrome
Inside our nasal passages on each side there’s a set of three roughly parallel horizontal
folds called turbinates. Since the early 1900s people suffering from serious nasal blockages have
undergone surgery to cut away some of this tissue.
It turns out that the turbinates induce a necessary turbulence into the airflow
through the nose and help slow evaporation, and that overly zealous excision of
these structures can paradoxically make the patient’s nose feel even more
stuffed up than before. This can be fiendishly
distressing and has been referred to as empty nose syndrome. Treatment typically involves
restoring the moisture inside with a saline mist.
Zero stroke (or cipher stroke)
This was first identified in patients by their doctors during the German Weimar Republic
hyperinflation of the early 1920s. The constant stress of having prices rise so feverishly
— at the peak of the crisis they doubled every 90 hours — caused some people to pass
into a sort of trance and obsessively write down row upon row of zeros on sheets of paper.
The Weimar hyperinflation hasn’t been the worst, though. That honor belongs to the
Hungarian version which maxed out in July 1946 when prices were doubling about every 15
It’s exceedingly rare, but some people are born with all their major internal organs
flipped horizontally so that their heart is on the right, their liver is on the left, and
so on. Normally this doesn’t produce any symptoms and the patient only learns of
this state of affairs through a routine x-ray or while being prepped for an organ
But there are partial versions of situs inversus in which, say, the heart is on the left
side as normal (levocardia) with everything else flipped or the heart alone is on the
right (dextrocardia) with everything else in the normal location. Either of these invariably
give rise to serious circulatory problems.
Global warming myopia
November 20th, 2010
You hear a lot of debate about global warming these days. Traditionalists by and large argue
that either (A) global warming isn’t real, or (B) it might be real but if so it’s
certainly not caused by human (“anthropogenic”) activity. Progressives, along with most of the scientific
community, argue that (C) global warming IS real AND anthropogenic.
Since anything that gets in the way of short-term profits for multibillion-dollar
corporations is automatically anathema to traditionalists, they tirelessly lobby against any form of
carbon emissions trading
any legally compelling restrictions on industrial effluent at all.
They’ll point out that the polar bears have always managed just fine without us, and
(apparently innocent of the concept of long-term averages) that any recent airport-closing snowstorm
that comes along simply helps pound another nail in the pro-global warming coffin.
So in summary: If global warming IS real and IS anthropogenic we should do something about it;
otherwise, we should shut up and continue business as usual.
Well, no. Not exactly.
Since the promoters of position (A) above either belong to the academic fringe, are bankrolled
by entrenched smokestack interests, or both, I have no problem seeing that global
warming is very real. Even if position (B) above turns out to be accurate, it
doesn’t matter who or what causes it. Even a subtle overall temperature rise will
alter the climates and sea levels upon which we and the entire biosphere have always been
precariously dependent and we need to do everything physically possible to halt or at
least mitigate it.
And although it sometimes seems like hardly anyone has mentioned it around here since the
Carter administration, there is the related and equally dire issue of pollution in general
Measures that reduce net CO2
and other greenhouse gas emissions almost
invariably curb that along with it.
Common mispronunciations that we should go on using
October 18th, 2010
(unless we want people to stare at us)
|Word ||How everyone says it ||But if you want to be|
|Anna Kournikova ||koor-ni-KOVE-a ||KOOR-ni-ko-wa|
|Baal ||pronouncing it the same way as bail ||ba-al (2 syllables)|
|Beijing ||bay-ZHING ||bay-JING|
[Great Pyramid Pharaoh]
|Dick Cheney ||CHAY-nee ||CHEE-nee|
|Dr. Seuss ||sooss ||soyss|
|err ||pronouncing it the same way as air ||just make an R sound: rrr|
|Evelyn Waugh |
|EV-e-lin (3 syllables) ||EEV-lin (2 syllables)|
|herb ||erb ||herb (like the name)|
|long-lived ||using a short I ||use a long I|
|Mikheil Saakashvili |
|sa-kash-vee-lee (4 syllables) ||sa-a-kash-vee-lee (5 syllables)|
|Mount Everest ||EV-er-est (3 syllables) ||EEV-rest (2 syllables)|
|Neanderthal ||as spelled, using the TH sound ||use a T sound instead (such as in Beethoven)|
|Newfoundland ||NEW-fund-lund or, even worse, new-FOUND-lund ||new-fund-LAND|
|Osama bin Ladin ||Osama rhyming with comma, Ladin with sodden ||Rhyme Osama with gamma, Ladin with sadden|
|Pierre de Fermat |
[as in Fermat’s Last Theorem]
|“fur mat” ||fur-MA|
|Pompeii ||pom-PAY ||pom-PAY-ee|
[as in the battleship or faked dog-and-pony villages to impress important visitors]
|spurious ||rhyming with “curry us” ||rhyme it with curious|
|Tijuana ||tee-a-WA-na (4 syllables) ||tee-HWA-na (3 syllables)|
[the original cape in Spain]
|tra-FAL-gar (like the square in London) ||tra-fal-GAR|
|turmeric ||TOO-mer-ic ||TUR-mer-ic (the way it’s spelled)|
|Vannevar Bush |
|VAN-e-var ||van-EE-var (though his friends usually just called him Van)|
|ZaSu Pitts |
[golden era movie actress]
I’ve avoided foreign words and names except for a few that are pretty much
incontestable. The interesting thing with Arabic, as seen with bin Ladin above, is that it
often uses the a in “cat” (remember Arafat?). So there’s really no
logical reason to water that down for English.
When pronounced correctly, err is the only real word in our language that consists of a
single phoneme. Cheops, also above, is a Greek version of the original Egyptian name
Khufu. (Cheops began with the letter chi in Greek, hence that Kh/Ch
Time makes a lot of difference. As I see in dictionaries dating from the 1800s, for
example, it was previously unacceptable to use an N in restaurateur or to silence the
first R in sarsaparilla. Drysdale, in those unsullied pre-Beverly Hillbillies days, was normally
If you help us, we’ll help you.
October 2nd, 2010
Here’s some invaluable advice for those of us who get into big-time
legal hot water. I’m an expert on these things, having watched hundreds
of crime documentary episodes on nighttime cable.
1. While barreling down the road with swag or illicit drugs in your car
you might get pulled over by the cops. Nothing works like reverse
psychology, so wave your right to decline a search and tell them to be
your guest. As they rummage around, glance frequently toward the areas
where your stashes are hidden to make extra sure they’re good and
2. If you’ve just killed your spouse, call 911 immediately to
report him or her as unresponsive. Make sure you howl and hyperventilate a
lot. These things will deflect all suspicion from you.
3. Since lawyers just get in the way, always accept any invitation from
the police to join them, alone, in a cramped windowless room at
headquarters. With your wit and sophistication you can handle anything
they may throw at you.
4. That rectangular mirror on the wall? Don’t worry, it’s furnished free of
charge to help everyone look their best. To that end, make sure you don’t
accidentally flick off the light switch (or you’ll see, instead, some people in the
adjoining room glaring back at you). And that security camera, assuming it’s even recording,
is only there to discourage you from freaking out and going for their guns. As long as you
don’t plan to do that you have nothing to worry about.
5. Whatever you discuss with the police will always remain in the
strictest confidence, so don’t hold anything back. As
they’ve already explained, if you help them, they’ll help
If you fess up right off the bat, they’ll tell the judge
how super-cooperative you were and you’ll probably get off with
6. If the cops have to leave the room for a moment, it’s just to
indulge in various woolgatherings that have nothing whatsoever to do
with either you or the case. They’ll be so sidetracked by the time
they return, in fact, that they probably won’t remember anything
inconsistent or incriminating you might have let slip earlier.