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Born today in 1896: General James Doolittle


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An Ambien®-proof CAPTCHA?

You know those wonky alphanumeric bitmaps that websites challenge you with to assure themselves you’re not an automated email-harvester, spambot, or some other soulless cyber-riffraff?

Well, for certain applications maybe someone could carry this concept a bit further so that you can protect yourself from emailing, twittering, or Facebook-updating anything you might regret later owing to any inhibition-numbing substances you might have consumed. Alcohol and/or cannabis, of course, but far more insidiously that sleep-inducing wonder pill Ambien [Zolpidem].

Go Fish

It’s just amazing what sorts of creative somnambulant misadventures people can get into after a little Ambien if they don’t hit the hay immediately afterwords, and — due to something called retrograde amnesia — how little they remember about it the next day.

Go Fish

These wouldn’t be impossible to solve, just troubling enough to require a touch of reasonably nimble web surfing. Better safe than sorry? I luuuuuv ya, man.

Three unusual afflictions you don’t usually hear about

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)

Weimar Hyperinflation
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 hours.

Situs inversus

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 transplant.

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

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 and, ideally, 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
(unless we want people to stare at us)

Word How everyone says it But if you want to be
annoyingly correct
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]
CHEE-ops KAY-ops
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)
[meaning talent]
for-tay fort
herb erb herb (like the name)
long-lived using a short I use a long I
Mikheil Saakashvili
[Georgian president]
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]
po-TEMP-kin po-TYOMP-kin
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
[computer pioneer]
VAN-e-var van-EE-var (though his friends usually just called him Van)
ZaSu Pitts
[golden era movie actress]
ZAH-soo SAY-zoo

ZaSu Pitts ZaSu Pitts
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 business.)

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 pronounced DRIZ-del.