Merry Whathaveyou

Well, apparently I am taking this week off. And I’ll probably take next week off as well. I kind of feel like my muse is on winter break, or that I depleted my year’s allotment of creativity a few weeks early.

But I’ll be back on Januray 3rd. In the meantime, Happy Holidays from The Queen, The Squirrelly and I.

Research Day: Urban Legend Purge

Once upon a time I was known as the go-to guy for urban legend debunking. I’d read all of Jan Harold Brunvands’s books and could spot a foaf-tale at 100 yards. My friends and family were forever calling me up and saying, “my friend Sally said that her aunt bought the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe for $250 — that ain’t true, is it?”

These days, of course, there’s, so my bullshit detection services are no longer in high demand. But I still consider myself something of a minor authority in the subject. But let’s face it — even someone who makes an effort to keep abreast of urban legends can occasionally get suckered. So this month, I’ve rummaged around in my mental file cabinet full of “beliefs” and flagged a few that, despite my having quoted them as fact for years, strike me as suspicious.

Bottlers in Washington State are prohibited by law from printing alcohol content on beer labels: This is the belief that prompted this urban legend purge. Some drinking buddies and I were recently in a local tavern, and I noticed that the alcohol content for the microbrews were listed in the menu along with the descriptions. So I asked my friend J., a bartender by trade, how they could do that when they can’t print alcohol content on bottles and cans.

“Why wouldn’t they be able to print it on bottles and cans?” J. replied.

“Oh, it’s some old Washington law,” I informed him. “Apparently when they were worried that brewers would get into an alcoholic arms-race if they were allowed to put the alcoholic content on the cans and bottles — you know, each would try to outdo the others by jacking up the potency and proudly advertising this fact. So they made it illegal, and the law has never been overturned.”

“I don’t think that was ever a law,” said J. “And I’m sure it’s not now.” He pointed to the label of my own bottle of beer, where, in tiny letters, it read “5.1% alcohol by weight.”


The next day I wrote an email to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and they confirmed that there had never been any such law.

I have no idea how that “fact” came to be lodged in my head, but it had been there since college.

Honey never spoils: I learned this in one of those “10,001 Amazing And Poorly Researched Facts!” books I read as a kid. But given that these are the kind of books that perpetuated the great lemmings myth, re-evaluating those “facts” is probably a good idea. And this one strikes me as particularly bogus.

But it appears to be true all the same. According to Wikipedia: “Honey does not spoil. Because of its high sugar concentration, it kills bacteria by osmotically lysing them. Natural airborne yeasts can not become active in it because the moisture content is too low. Natural, raw, honey varies from 14% to 18% moisture content. As long as the moisture content remains under 18%, virtually no organism can successfully multiply to significant amounts in honey.”

That is amazing! But it’s too bad it’s honey, which I don’t particularly like. Everlasting corned beef, though — that would pretty much rule.

Cher had a pair of ribs removed: Having not thought about Cher for a decade or so, this isn’t one I’ve mentioned recently. But I do recall, at some point, telling someone that this was a for-real fact. Alas, no. Snopes has the goods on this one: “In 1988 the chic magazine Paris Match announced Cher had .. two ribs [removed] … Cher sued the magazine, but the rumor gained even wider acceptance after being picked up from the Paris Match piece and run in other papers. That these stories were later corrected didn’t do much to mitigate the impact of the rumor’s first finding its way into those pages as revealed fact.”

Dude, I came this closed to getting sued by Cher!!!!!

If you’d like to play along, pick one of your own beliefs that you are having second thoughts about, research it on Google, and post your findings in the comments.

One Stop Shopping

Speaking of holidays gifts, here’s one from the dy mailbag!

Hey yeti. Thanks for your board game guide but i don't think my parents /sisters would really go for a board game. Can you suggest somenpresent that everyone on my list would like? peace, kn

Dear K.N.

Before the era of rampant consumerism, a question like this would never have been asked. Until recently, gifting was not viewed as an obligation but a courtesy, and presents were expressions of gratitude or intended to symbolize the close personal bond between giver and recipient. And because the value of a gift was measured in sentimental rather than monetary terms, they tended to be small and handcrafted.

This year, why not revive this tradition and use your inherent abilities to create personalized gifts for those you love? If you are skilled in quilting, for example, you could make a blanket for someone toward whom you feel great warmth. Or if you are more artistically inclined, a brief poem describing the depth of affinity you feel towards the receiver would certainly be treasured for years to come.

Hah hah! No, I'm totally kidding you, man. Seriously, just get 'em one of them Michael Crichton books or whatever. People wolf down that horseshit like it's raspberry sherbet in a waffle cone.

Miss American Pie

Meagan Sukys, local NPR personality and the woman who interviewed me yesterday on The Beat, has one of the most dulcet radio voices you are ever likely to hear. Sadly, I am no longer able to appreciate it.

I first met Megan about a year ago at a A Guide To Visitors show. At A Guide To Visitors, folks get up on stage and tell “party stories” — y’know, those anecdotes that you find yourself recounting after a third beer at a table packed with friends. I told of how Darth Vader made me cry. It’s a pretty good story, but I was in the first half of the show. Megan, meanwhile, was the last of the evening, a slot typically reserved for the best story of the night.

She told us of the time she participated in an honest-to-goodness pie-eating contest and became rather monomaniacal about victory. After a bit of build-up — recounting how she had been bamboozled into participating, and outlining the pie-eating strategy that she had devised in preparation for the event — she described the actual contest. And where a lesser storyteller would have said, “and so I ate the pies really fast and won, the end,” Megan actually reenacted her performance right there on stage. “MMMRRAGHR MRARGHMMARGH MRAGH MMMMRAARGHHMR!” she bellowed, holding an illusory pie up to her face and twitching her head like she was in the midst of a seizure. “MRRAGHRRR MRAARGH MRARRAGHGH MMMMRHHMR RMM MRARRAGH MRARRAGH MRMM!”

It was one of the best stories I’ve ever heard. But it came at a price. Because now whenever I hear Megan Sukys on the radio — or even when I’m sitting in a studio with her during a live broadcast, and she’s across the table asking me questions — I know that she’s articulating words and sentences, but all I hear is “MRRAGH MRAARAGHMARGH MRAGHGH!!”

Freedom Of Speech Is Cancelled!

My comments are broken at the moment, with every submission resulting in a “500 Internal Server Error.” I have no idea what the issue is, but dy will be a one-way transmitter until I get ’em fixed.

If anyone has seen this before with Moveable Type and knows how to troubleshoot it, drop me a line.

Update: Switched from the Berkley db to mysql, comments are again working.