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I was introduced to the "Straight Dope" column when I lived in Chicago, home of the alternative free weekly newspaper called The Chicago ReaderThe Reader, with its distinctive backwards R logo, is among the most respected of the free weeklies in the United States, and in 1973 without any fanfare it ran the very first of the now-pretty-famous columns by Cecil Adams.

Cecil, a rather mysterious "person," answers questions posed by readers.  You write him with a question, he might answer it in the newspaper, and if he does you should be prepared to feel enlightened.  Depending on your question, you might also want to prepare to feel foolish.  I my own personal self wrote Cecil with a private question having to do with why the moon always shows the same face to Earth, and he responded!  Of course, this was before he became a franchise, and even then he did make me feel foolish.  But he responded, and I did win the bet I had made with my friend KJDW about whether it was inevitable or coincidence.

On May 6, 2016, I wrote Mr. Adams and to my astonishment he replied in the paper and online barely a month later.  Below is the email I sent.

Dear Mr. Adams,

The recent question about polygamy made me think of two similar topics, one of which is cannibalism. Your article of September 23, 1988, addresses whether cannibalism is routinely practiced anywhere and concludes it is not. But why not?

In our American culture, and I assume in most others, the very idea of cannibalism is knee-jerkedly abhorrent to almost everyone. It is regarded as anathema tantamount to . . . well, there is nothing more universally anathematic. When one thinks of Jeffrey Dahmer and Hannibal Lecter, the first thing that comes to mind is not that they killed people but that they ate them. Killing a live person is surely a lot worse than eating a dead one.

One argument in favor of cannibalism, presumably with the FDA or the USDA involved, is simply that it is food. Not every part of every dead human is going to be fit for consumption, but some are, perhaps enough to relieve a food shortage in some starving, drought-stricken region.

Another argument is that it would save on cemetery space.

Anyway, why is cannibalism regarded with such revulsion?

barelybad.com (Laugh Think)


As you will see if you care to read the exchange, Mr. Adams chose to ignore, and delete from my email, the very question I asked.  I'm honored, I'm sure, that he chose my question for one of his columns, but his easily proved fakery that you wouldn't have known about if I hadn't told you cost him a lot of respect in my eyes.

Unca' Cece's answers are often right, and they're always worth reading.  His answers are inevitably well-researched and well-written, if a bit acerbically at times.  Well, OK, most of the time.  And funny at times, yes, that too.  No matter how uninterested you might think you are in the question asked by the reader, the answer provided by Cecil Adams often not only educates but also entertains.  This is high-quality writing of often always high-quality answers.

The Straight Dope Web site offers a searchable list of a large plethora of Cecil's answers as well as an even larger list of answers supplied by what is called the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board, whose authors seem just as authoritative as Cecil himself, which is a lot.  Full references and legitimate citations abound, logic is relentlessly employed at full tilt, and you just generally get the idea you're in the hands of people who have a better answer than you do.  You often get the feeling that common knowledge isn't, and that you really will get the straight dope.  Also, some of the illustrations are comical.

I promise to pay you a dollar if you can take a look at all the questions asked and not find one you want answered.


Message Boards.  But even better about Straight Dope is access to the Message Boards, which is free if you join, which is also free.  If you want to ask a question about almost anything -- and I mean anything -- you find the correct place to ask and you do so ask and you wait an hour or a month and you get an answer.  It's been my experience that the answers one gets are usually eventually satisfactory.

In the last year (March 2016) alone I have ignited a couple three threads that lasted for dozens of replies from dozens of people and managed to irritate not a few of them.  And these were questions about -- I kid you not -- how to convert recipe amounts.

Here's a sample list of questions tackled by Straight Dope.  Note that several of them are questions I myself essay to answer elsewhere on these pages.  Click whatever interests you.

     What is déjà vu?
     Can a 90-lb. chimp clobber a full-grown man?
     If all Chinese jumped at once, would cataclysm result?
     What does "OK" stand for?
     In the lottery, should I ask for a lump sum or an annuity?
     Did Neil Armstrong muff his historic "one small step" line?
     Is there a "squiggle code" to identify chocolates?
     Why does the shower curtain blow up and in?
     Why does the same side of the moon always face Earth?
     How do you spell Muammar Gaddafi/Khadafy/Qadhafi?
     What is the largest city park in the U.S.?
     Is it true half of all marriages end in divorce?
     Is handwriting analysis legit science?
     Why are so many Muslims backward and ignorant?
     Handwriting analy[s]is revisited
     What is escape velocity?
     How do airplanes fly, really?
     What do Internet E-mail headers mean?
     Why do dogs and cats' eyes shine?
     What's correct, lay or lie?
     Why do we have leap years?
     What's the world's most popular religion?
     What's the right way to boil water for tea?
     Do the numbers googol and googolplex really exist?
     Why does helium make your voice squeaky?
     How does carbon-14 dating work?
     What's the origin of the meter and the metric system?
     What's the origin of "spitting image"?
     Why is it easier to balance on a moving bike?
     Why is it easier to balance on a moving bike (revisited)?
     Why is your vision blurred underwater?
     Are clown faces registered by painting them on eggs?
     What's the story with feng shui?
     Same side of the moon always faces Earth (revisited)
     Do microwave ovens cook from the inside out?
     Should you turn lights off or leave them on?
     Why are manhole covers round?
     What happens if the earth stops spinning?
     How come TV psychics seem so convincing?

If you're familiar with the television show "Mythbusters" you might recognize these earlier Straight Dope questions:

     Is a "chicken gun" used to test jet engines?
     Did a vacuum-flush commode once suck a woman's insides out?
     In a falling elevator, should you jump up at the last minute?
     Does flushing the toilet cause dirty water to be spewed around?
     If you were painted gold like in "Goldfinger," would you die?
     Has anybody gotten electrocuted peeing on the third rail?
     Would a penny dropped from the Empire State Building kill you?
     Can you be electrocuted while on the phone in the bathtub?
     Is there really such a thing as quicksand?

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